Cover Image: Dominion and Dynasty

Dominion and Dynasty:
A Theology of the Hebrew Bible (NSBT)

Stephen G. Dempster (IVP, 2003)

Blurb Review by Hetty Lalleman

Review by Hetty Lalleman

Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible.Stephen G. Dempster. New Studies in Biblical Theology 15; Leicester: Apollos, 2003, pg 267.

In the twentieth century many attempts have been made to write a Theology of the Old Testament. It has obviously never been easy to find an angle from which to write a systematic and theological study of the contents of this part of the Bible. Should such a work circle around one theme (covenant, community, promise) or re-telling the stories out of which the Old Testament was thought to have developed (Von Rad)? Dempster has added another attempt in Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology Of the Hebrew Bible. His approach is canonical. He treats the text of the Old Testament as a unified whole and follows the Jewish division into Torah, Prophets and Writings. He looks at texts from a rhetorical and literary point of view and notices many links between texts from different books of the Bible.

In his opinion two main themes run through the Tanakh: dominion and dynasty (or geography and genealogy). From the beginning of Genesis God's plans are about ‘land' (dominion) and about descendants, with texts about the latter often indicating a ‘royal line' (dynasty). In the first chapters of Genesis God's perfect plans were disturbed by sin, but in Abrahanm the blessing returns to creation and in Gen. 17:6, 16 we read about ‘kings' who will come from Abraham and Sarah. In the end it is the person of David on whom the Old Testament focuses, while at the same time it is conscious that a perfect king from the house of David is still awaited.

Dempster often refers back to the situation in Eden and the blessings accompanying it. Thus "Leviticus sketches a geography of holiness" (107) and the result of the Day ofAtonement is "that the camp almost becomes like a garden of Eden; the people can exist in the presence of God without fear of death" (108). The blessing of Balaam in Num. 24:5-9 "draws from Eden and exodus imagery; Israel is compared to rivers and gardens, trees that the Lord has planted ..." (115).

Sometimes this intertextual reading is not entirely convincing. In the language of "building and planting" in Jer. 1, Dempster sees connections with 2 Sam. 7:10, 13 and he therefore not only explains Jer. 1 in a geographical sense, but also applies the text to "dynasty" and the building of God's kingdom. In this case he seems to read more into the text than there actually is. Another example is the interpretation of Song of Songs. "When reading this text, the reader hears Jeremiah's oracle, Ezek. 16, and Hos 1-3. There is the reminder of the passionate and fiery love that Yahweh had for his people before the crisis" (207-208). Thus the emphasis in Dempster's approach is on the love of God for his people. Yet Song of Songs is about the love of the woman for the man as well and they are on terms of equality in their expression of love and affection, whereas Ezek 16 and Hos 1-3 are about the faithlessness of the woman and her prostitution, which is a completely different subject.

On the whole, however, Dempster's approach is helpful in that he allows the texts to speak for themselves and treats the Old Testament as a purposeful unity with a clear storyline. Sometimes the place he attributes to books within that storyline would require more explanation. Why, for example, does Isaiah follow Ezekiel, and why is Ruth suddenly read from an exilic perspective?

We may conclude that Dempster's theology deserves a place on book lists of students wanting to read a thorough study of the Old Testament.

Hetty Lalleman (Tutor in Old Testament, Spurgeon's College)


This review first appeared in Evangelical Quarterly 79 (2007), 176-77 and is used here with permission. No part of this review may be copied or transmitted in any form without the prior permission of the the publisher.

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