On K. A. Kitchen’s “On the Reliability of the Old Testament.”
There is, perhaps, no scholar of higher repute capable of satisfying one’s concerns over the historicity and reliability of the Old Testament than British evangelical scholar, K. A. Kitchen. With a massive array of publicized writings and research projects to his name, Kitchen — Personal and Brunner Professor Emeritus of Egyptology and Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Archaeology, Classics, and Egyptology at the University of Liverpool, England — is among the foremost Old Testament apologists of the last century. Consequently, Kitchen’s unique demonstration of specialization in ancient Egyptian chronology furnishes one with ample material in which to wade in order to arrive at a more certain grasp of OT historiography and theology.
One might be startled, at first, when reading On the Reliability of the Old Testament, especially considering the approach Kitchen employs to formalize his claims. After more than a dozen pages of preliminary material, Kitchen pens a brief first chapter in which he introduces the prevailing dilemma at hand — namely, the modern scholastic tendency to ascribe Dead Sea Scroll dating to the Old Testament, making the bulk of Old Testament material feel dubious, if not altogether fictitious. “With that late date,” Kitchen avers, “they [the minimalists] would couple an ultralow view of the reality of that history, dismissing virtually the whole of it as pure fiction, as an attempt by the puny Jewish community in Palestine to write themselves an imaginary past large, as a form of national propaganda.”The stakes for remainder of Kitchen’s work are, then, well-established, his aim being twofold: to demonstrate the Old Testament Scriptures are not limited to 400—200 B.C. authorship and to establish their reliable historicity.
But rather than compose a straightforward chronology of Israel’s history, though, Kitchen’s impetus remains affirming the authenticity of the Old Testament and, therefore, begins his pointed polemic by examining the segment of Old Testament Scripture which is anchored by the greatest quantity of extra-biblical data and documentation, that is, the period of the two kingdoms. Kitchen’s ten-chapter effort at vindicating the factuality of the Hebrew Scriptures begins by conversantly establishing the operative framework in which one is able to be convinced of the Old Testament’s certifiability. Kitchen brings one from a place definite scriptural reliability to ambiguous scriptural reliability in an argument to show that all of the material in the canonical Old Testament is unimpeachable. Such is the impetus behind the reverse chronological arrangement of arguments which culminates in the ninth chapter, “Back to Methusaleh — and Well Beyond.” This backwards progression of historical scriptural apologetics likewise serves to imbue one with the Old Testament’s sweeping overarching narrative. “Anyone who opens and reads the books of the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament,” writes Kitchen, “will find the essence of a fairly continuous story.”
On the Reliability of the Old Testament is a corpus of exemplary apologetic and historical insights with which the student of Scripture is able to find abundant fortifications against the skeptic’s darts. This is not to say, however, that Kitchen’s work is without flaw. Indeed, there are several instances throughout On the Reliability of the Old Testament when Kitchen’s parlance appears less apologetic and more caustic. He christens his opponents the “ignoranti,”even going so far as to describe their perspective as “bunkum” and the “ignorant pronouncements of some species of neo-Nazi thought police.”
Name-calling is not the only shortfall, however. Kitchen’s enterprise to have the Old Testament rightfully viewed as history alongside other ancient tomes, regardless of one’s faith, seems to fall slightly askew of the prevailing objective of the Old Testament. That is to say, that while upholding the historicity of the Old Testament is a noble cause, the Old Testament was never meant to be seen as solely a work of history precisely because it was work which it meant to reveal. It is a theological exposé, in which the grand divinity of the Godhead is put on display. This revelation is, indeed, corroborated by but not limited to historical narrative. Evangelical belief is not bound to historical verities but to God’s covenant of grace and faith.
Even still, one can appreciate Kitchen’s endeavor to deconstruct the “claptrap deconstruction” of Old Testament Scripture. “The only worthwhile thing one can really do with claptrap deconstruction,” he writes, “is . . . to deconstruct it.”This he does, for better or worse, in his particular style and expertise. Notwithstanding the sardonic dismissal of opposing scriptural outlooks, On the Reliability of the Old Testament represents a readily available, pro-evangelical defense of Old Testament historicity which remains just as expedient and necessary nearly two decades later.
K. A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 2.