By Robert R. Cargill
(New York: HarperOne, 2016), 352 pp., $29 (hardcover)
Review by Cynthia Shafer-Elliott
The “Holy Land” is a common entry on travel bucket lists. People are fascinated with seeing and experiencing the settings of what may be the most influential book of all time—the Bible. Many are eager to visit historical and archaeological sites that are connected with their faith traditions. Unfortunately, such a trip is often beyond people’s reach due to money and time constraints. Even the sheer number of possible places to visit in Israel, Jordan and Palestine can be overwhelming. Without an experienced guide, many wonderful sites are overlooked or, if they are visited, their history and importance remains bewildering.
To remedy this situation, many people join a tour group or venture out alone with a guidebook in hand. Robert Cargill’s new book, The Cities That Built the Bible, would be an excellent travel companion. An archaeologist and Biblical scholar, Cargill is Assistant Professor of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Iowa. He has also hosted numerous television documentaries, such as the History Channel’s series Bible Secrets Revealed. What better guide to have in the lands of the Bible?
In The Cities That Built the Bible, Cargill serves the reader as both an expert guide and teacher. He focuses on 14 influential cities related to the Bible: Tyre, Sidon, Byblos, Ugarit, Nineveh, Babylon, Megiddo, Athens, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Qumran, Bethlehem, Nazareth and Rome. But this is no ordinary guidebook. Cargill focuses on these 14 cities because of the important role they played (directly or indirectly) in the composition, redaction and canonization of the Bible. Instead of examining the people and events that helped form the Bible as we know it today, Cargill guides the reader through the important cities that helped build the Bible. Each city’s background, history and archaeology are summarized, followed by its significance to the development of the Bible. Some of these cities may be familiar to the reader; others may not. Not to fear, as Cargill introduces the reader to each ancient city and its importance to the Bible’s development as only an experienced teacher and guide could.
Importantly, Cargill also provides examples to illustrate the complicated development of the Bible and explores the inclusion and interpretation of some of its more challenging verses. He approaches these topics with sensitivity, but he also does not shy away from covering the views of current scholarship concerning these verses—which are often at odds with more traditional readings. For instance, in the chapter on Qumran (the site associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls), Cargill introduces the topic of redaction criticism, which he defines as “[t]he science of identifying changes to copied and translated texts and then attempting to identify a reason for these changes.” In one example, Cargill examines the discrepancy of the height of the infamous Philistine champion, Goliath, as found in 1 Samuel 17:4. The Hebrew Masoretic Text states that Goliath was 9 feet, 9 inches tall, while the Greek Septuagint states that he was 6 feet, 9 inches. The copy of 1 Samuel found in Qumran Cave 4 helps solve this discrepancy (no spoiler alert needed; you will have to read the book). The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls—the oldest known copies of parts of the Hebrew Bible—is imperative to helping scholars study which Biblical manuscript tradition is the earliest—and, dare I say, most accurate. These types of analysis are then used in contemporary Bible translations.
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