Review—Dominion & Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible

Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible. IVP, 2003. 267 pp. R140.00

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From Marcion of Sinope to Andy Stanley, many in church history have been tempted to approach the Old Testament in the same way that the members at the church at Corinth were tempted to approach one another, “I have no need of you” (1 Cor 12:21). Perhaps this is not borne out of arrogance as much as it is a matter of indifference or confusion; my own journey of growing in appreciating the Old Testament has centered on questions such as ‘how do we piece together the Old Testament?’ ‘How do the many parts relate to one another?’ ‘Is the Old Testament one coherent literary unit?’ Stephen G. Dempster’s Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible seeks to answer these very questions. Serving as the Stuart E. Murray Professor of Religious Studies at Atlantic Baptist University, Dempster is no stranger to biblical theology and Old Testament studies, having contributed to the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (2000) as well as Biblical Theology: Retrospect and Prospect (2002). As part of the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, edited by D. A. Carson, Dominion and Dynasty argues for a more holistic framework, approaching the Old Testament as a literary unit, one ‘Text’ (20–24) in which geography (dominion) and genealogy (dynasty), being realized through the Davidic house (49), are its organizing themes.

Summary

Dominion and Dynasty is organized into four sections: an introduction and three parts. The introduction aims to substantiate both the approach to the study and the overarching storyline of the Old Testament. Regarding the former, Dempster argues for a literary approach to the Old Testament that entails reading and re-reading, applying a wide-angled lens to the book (30), seeking the Text’s conceptual unity since “behind the human authors stood the single author, God.” (31) Essential to this approach is the ordering of the Old Testament seen in the Tanakh. This acronym inherently speaks to an “alleged unity” and divides the Old Testament into three main parts: the Torah (Pentateuch), Nevi’im (Prophets), and the Ketuvim (the Writings) (36). On this foundation, Dempster argues that “The Tanakh is not a random concatenation of texts, but a Text with a discernible structure, a clear beginning, a middle and an ending.” (46) The discernible structure, according to Dempster, is that of the dual themes of geography and genealogy, of God establishing a “domain over which humans are to realize their humanity.” (48)

The remaining three sections then aim to prove this thesis by engaging the Tanakh, book by book. Section one traces the narrative of the initial establishing of this dominion through the dynasty of Adam (Genesis) all the way to its supposed collapse through the Davidic house (Kings). Section two engages the retrospective commentary on the narrative provided by the major and minor prophets (excluding Daniel), and the Writings, who collectively point forward to the restoration of the God’s dominion and dynasty realized through the Davidic house. Finally, the third section observes the anticipation of the dominion regained through the final narrative storyline of Daniel, Esther, Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles.

Dempster concludes with a brief look at typology and New Testament reflections, observing that the Tanakh leaves the story of Israel in a “type of exile, waiting for someone from David’s house to come and build a house to bring about the restoration of all things.” (231) It is in the midst of this overarching narrative: from Adam to David, from creation to temple, in the interplay of both genealogy and geography, that the Tanakh comes together as one coherent whole; the story “about the reclamation of a lost human dominion over the world through a Davidic dynasty.” (231)

Critical Evaluation

Foundational to any interaction with Dempster’s proposal requires an assessment of his literary and biblical theological approach to the Tanakh. I am of the opinion that Dempster’s approach is both theologically and literarily well founded. Decrying the dominant interpretative methods applied to the Old Testament that typically see the New interpret the Old “without first trying to engage the latter in any meaningful way,” (36) Dempster’s Dominion and Dynasty provides an alternative that results in a reading of both testaments that is pregnant with theological depth and precision. Personally, merely surveying the Old Testament fairly briefly through the lens of the Tanakh’s structure brought the narrative to life; the storyline’s main contours become more apparent when approached from this angle. Working from the foundation of the Tanakh’s structure agitates, as Dempster notes, “the task of discovering a fundamental theme,” which is no futile “exercise,” but is instead an “imperative of responsible hermeneutics.” (43)


Readers will be wonderfully aided by Dempster’s careful typological connections that unearth significant contributions and commentary on the Tanakh’s storyline.


The ensuing result of Dempster’s literary and biblical theological approach (seeing the Tanakh as one literary whole) allows for and establishes, quite naturally, typological connections that serve to, firstly, further the Text’s unity, and secondly, to propel the narrative forward through recapitulation (both by escalation and or antithesis). Readers will be wonderfully aided by Dempster’s careful typological connections that unearth significant contributions and commentary on the Tanakh’s storyline.  For example, Dempster proposes that Samson, far from being a proto-Superman, “is a particularly striking mirror-image of the nation [of Israel].” Dempster explains,

He represents his own people, who had a supernatural origin, were set apart from among the nations with a distinctive vocation, broke their vows and were enamoured of foreign idols, until finally they lost their identity and spiritual power and became blind slaves of their oppressors in exile. (132)

In the above example, this typological connection serves to propel the narrative forward, revealing that “the institution of the judges is finally not able to help the people of Israel,” (132) which, when we zoom out, justifies the anticipation of God’s dominion being located in a peculiar dynasty: David’s. In respect to recapitulation or typology by antithesis, Dempster elaborates on how the image reflecting the four kingdoms in Daniel’s vision (Daniel 2) serves to “parody…the divine creation of Genesis 1.” (214) This may seem unfounded, but when one considers Daniel within the Tanakh’s formation, it serves to “answer the narrative question of the destiny of the people of Israel,” (213) that is, it harkens back to the story as it first began: God creating man in his image to exercise his rule over the world, and thus attempts to pick up that story and develop it toward its terminus: the coming kingdom of God.

As one who has been greatly assisted by Dempster’s Dominion and Dynasty, providing criticism is a tough ask. The only question I can, for now, propose is does Dempster’s proposal sufficiently hold, that is, are the dual themes of ‘dominion’ and ‘dynasty’ the actual center of the Old Testament? Readers will be inclined to agree with Dempster’s proposition, as I was. These dual themes appear, especially so through the Tanakh’s form, to cascade upon the reader; indeed they are the common thread to its beginning, middle, and end (46). My only question is, to what end? What is the driving force behind these dual themes? Dempster alludes to God’s dominion, as it is his rule that the dynasty is to represent, but could the Old Testament’s dominant impetus lie elsewhere, such as in his own glory, as others[1] have argued? Questions aside, I am of the conviction that Dempster’s Dominion and Dynasty provides a more concrete proposal than potentially more abstract concepts such as ‘God’s glory’.


Those with searching questions about how to read and interpret the Old Testament, those inquiring after its significance, will see that, far from being an optional extra, the Old Testament is in fact indispensable.


Conclusion

It is Stephen G. Dempster’s opinion that the Old Testament, when approached in Tanakh form, gives rise to a very certain shape and form. From the singular ‘Text’—although made of many parts, much like our bodies, and the church at Corinth (1 Cor 12:20)—emerges the dual themes of ‘dominion’ and ‘dynasty’; God’s dominion being realized through the Davidic house. This is sustained by a careful literary and biblical theological approach, setting forth how these two themes govern the Text and drive it toward its terminus: a story awaiting its conclusion. Besides some periphery questions of potential criticism, readers will only wish that Dempster could provide more on this all-important topic. Those with searching questions about how to read and interpret the Old Testament, those inquiring after its significance, will see that, far from being an optional extra, the Old Testament is in fact indispensable (1 Cor 12:22).


[1] James M. Hamilton Jr., God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010).

This review was presented to Dr. James M. Hamilton Jr., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for 20220.

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