I disagree strongly with the reviewer who said that Penchansky makes a strong case for a polytheistic ancient Israel. Penchansky uses a few cherry picked verses and attempts to infuse his conclusion onto them. If one is intellectually honest and reads the whole of the Old Testament it is clear that although Israel came in contact with those worshiping other gods the Israelites were fiercely monotheistic. This is bad scholarship. Strongly do not recommend you buy this book.
Penchansky makes a compelling case for a polytheistic ancient Israel. Using scripture and archeology he provides evidence that the ancient society that gave birth to modern monotheism had a lot of different religious practices. This book certainly helps identify the places in scripture where readers can sometimes be left with a "wait a minute..." like 2 Kings 3. The author cites a lot of previous scholarship and the bibliography is worth the price of the book. Grad students, seminarians, and others who have undertaken studies on ancient Israel will recognize some of the scholars cited.
It is clear from reading the Old Testament, that Israel was confronted with other religions and other gods, and regularly warned by prophets or others to worship Yahweh only. As an evangelical, I was hoping to find a book that would explain who these other gods were and how they might have influenced Israel in turning away from their own God.
This book totally failed to convince me, as the argument of the author was based on a few hard to understand verses, and he consistently tried to push his point forward by jumping to conclusions that fit his view.
For example, the commandment to have no other gods, implies, according to this author, a recognition that there were other gods.
Basicaly, he is out to prove that Israel worshiped many gods, and the view we find in the Bible was mostly the result of those who wrote history, and managed to pass their monotheism as if it were the only true faith.
Comparisons with ideas of gods in surrounding religions are tenuous at best, and totaly fail to see that Israel's faith, even when badly practiced, was different from that of other nations.
Of course, as an evangelical, I give credit to the Bible as being the word of God that he intended for believers to remember and learn from. Once you think the Bible is only another religious writing put together by a religious elite to give themselves a History, I guess it becomes just one among many other equivalent religions that happened to be practiced by some near eastern people.
This is my first critique ever, but this book is so full of intellectual dishonesty that I coudl keep quiet.