Any new book needs to have its existance justified, even one with an anti-Brillian price tag, and at US$17.50 plus postage (NZ25 from Laidaw or Carey) The Gospel and the Land of Promise: Christian Approaches to the Land of the Bible has a remarkable page to dollar ratio. Here1 from last night’s launch party is my somewhat polemic justification for our book:
Land and especially “the land” is such a focus of many OT books, looking forward, losing and regaining the land promised to the ancestors are frequent themes. Of course, in Hebrew the land ha’arets does not just mean that “land”, sometimes it is “lands” belonging to other inimical polities and claimed by foreign gods and their empires, sometimes ‘arets is land itself, as opposed to sea or sky. But within Scripture the prime sense, the one that risk being our default as readers is of the promised land and the political and religious entities that sought to control it (ideally in the name Yahweh, the one real creator God).2
Those promises to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob – who becomes known as Isra’el “God fights/God fighters” – are later claimed, in Yahweh’s name, by exiles dreaming of return. So this “land” has always been subject to contestation, not just by the easy to denigrate pagan Canaanites (the ‘am-ha’aretz “people of the land” of the day) but later by those worshippers of Yahweh we read of in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, whose ancestors were a ragtag collection of the leftovers of Imperial policy, the ‘am-ha’aretz who maintained worship in the land, while the exiles enjoyed complaining their lot closer to the heart of the imperium.
This book we have produced is of particular interest not just because it is produced – or at least composed – locally but because it was composed here, in Aotearoa – New Zealand also a contested land, where also an ‘am-ha’arets or tangata whenua cries out alongside, and sometimes against the voices of the more recent immigrants. What does it mean to live in the land of God’s promise, and can one inherit it? Is it heritable? The answers given from this land should not (and do not in this volume) echo the facile Christian Zionism of many Evangelical voices from nearer the heart of the current imperium. Yet if the voices in this book are in any sense “Evangelical” they cannot either neglect the concrete promises of God, for those promises are given as good news (gospel) long ago to the people called Isra’el (God fights/God fighters).