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Warfare in the Old Testament

Warfare in the Old Testament: The Organization, Weapons, and Tactics of Ancient Near Eastern Armies by Boyd Seevers

What seems at first like a title for a book straight out of an academic society, quickly turns into a illuminating and fascinating read.  The book, Warfare in the Old Testament, by Professor Boyd Seevers, takes what we know from the Ancient Near East concerning warfare into account by first weaving a story about a military warrior and then looking at the historical background of the people.  With chapters on Assyria, Babylon, Israel, Philistia, Egypt, and Persia, the reader gets a close up look at the various armor of the warriors, their military campaigns, and the role each people group played in the life of Israel.  With attention to detail and a keen eye for the worldview of each army, Boyd does a great job at getting us into the mind of an ANE army.  With full color maps and illustrations, you get a sense of the attire of the army, their fighting style, and the area of land they sought to conquer. 

The presentation of the material in these chapters was very appealing in its layout.  Boyd opens the chapters with a story about an army leader and one of their campaigns.  The chapter on Philistia was very compelling.  Boyd writes, “Eat or be eaten.” Dagarat the Philistine warrior muttered the words aloud as he tossed aside the last bone from the wild dog that he and the other soldiers in his unit had just finished eating.  Like most Philistines, Dagarat liked eating dogs occasionally, but he figured he savored them more than most.” (145)  The ruthless nature of the Philistines are evident here as the phrase ‘Eat or be eaten,’ was not only related to their palate for dogs but in terms of their military attitude.   We also get a description of Dagarat’s religious life here in the text.  Boyd writes, “Did the gods will the weak to occasionally eat the strong?  Perhaps.  Perhaps that was the only way to explain victories by the weak.  Dagarat considered himself religious as most Philistines.  They worshipped the gods Dagon, Ashtoreth, and Baal-zebub, but Dagarat preferred Dagon because of his temple in Dagarat’s city of Ashdod (1 Sam. 5:1-5).” (148)  Convenient worship was a matter not just for 21st century folk but also for Dagarat.  The gods were part and parcel of everyday life, from military victory and defeat, to sacrifice.  The way Boyd weaves these stories into each chapter gives us a very real look into life for these ANE armies, something that compels me to read more and more.

Another important point that Boyd brought up was the condition of the travel of these armies and the intelligence needed in battle.  Boyd writes, “When the time came for entering battle, the soldier might be too exhausted, ill, or frightened to perform well.  Many died, were placed in a big sack, and were buried in a strange land, far from home and family.” (130)  Traveling up to fifteen miles per day and carrying such heavy weaponry, Egyptian soldiers were often tired beyond belief.  As far as intelligence, we find that Thutmose III was advised of a clear path to Meggido free from Canaanite forces (131).  Without excellent intelligence, armies could fall very easily or many of their calvary would die.  The importance of a strategy and advisors was as much a vehicle for victory as it is today.

Overall, this was an excellent book displaying the armies of the ANE. With an eye toward story and the various campaign details, you won’t want to miss this gem.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


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