"A Covenant People: Israel from Abraham to the Present" by James P. Eckman is a very informative and many faceted presentation of the history of Israel. If it were to be given a different title, then 'History of Israel 101' would be a very appropriate one.1
Though the book is designed to provide a 'spiritual' perspective of that history, it yet retains the feel of a history book, as opposed to a 'religious' book. It is replete with maps, genealogical charts and more than four hundred references from perhaps 90 academic books, reinforcing the impression that the presentation is academic in nature.
In the introduction Mr. Eckman points out that God made three unconditional covenants, which is to say that God made these covenants with himself. These covenants were the Abrahamic Covenant, the Davidic Covenant and the New Covenant. The Mosaic Covenant he points out, was a conditional covenant. With this as his starting point he proceeds to provide readers with a very straightforward history lesson, taking us from Abraham to today.
My personal specialization being chronology, I found I disagreed with some of the dates provided, but the book is not about dates but the progression of historical figures and events through history. I can't imagine a better book for anyone just starting out to understand Jewish history. The presentation is neither complicated nor specifically theological.
Because of my over-familiarity with the subject matter, by the time I was halfway through reading the book I was tempted to put it aside and write my review. I'm glad I didn't! Chapters 12 through 15 were for me somewhat of a revelation, and I eagerly sat at the master's feet and soaked in as much as I could.
These chapters deal with the history of Israel from the time of the Byzantine Empire to the present. My knowledge of history for most of that period is minimal, and I am thoroughly grateful for the manner in which the author presented the material. It provided me with great insight.
As for the history of the Middle East from the late 19th century to today, I could not imagine a more succinct explanation of the background to the foundation of the modern State of Israel, and the complexities of its ongoing existence. To see it all laid out in one easy to read book was a joy.
Whilst the book is principally about the History of Israel, it necessarily includes the history of Christendom and of Islam. With regard to Islam and the foundation of Modern Israel, that section dating from the 1800's to today likewise put everything into perspective. It provides the reader with what I consider to be an evenhanded academic approach to the realities on the ground, something from which many western anti-Israel political activists could learn a lesson.1
The author concludes the book by suggesting that the impossible return of Israel as a nation demonstrates that God's Covenant with himself has not been forgotten, and that it is only a matter of time before the covenant is manifested/concluded.
1 "Not only are people generally ignorant of the Bible, they are woefully ignorant of Old Testament history and the general sweep of history as it applies to the people of Israel," Eckman says. (Publicity Material in Book Basket)
James P. Eckman is president emeritus and professor of history, theology and ethics at Grace University in Omaha, Nebraska. He holds graduate degrees from Lehigh University (MA), Dallas Theological Seminary (ThM) and the University of Nebraska (PhD). An ordained minister, Dr. Eckman lectures and teaches widely on historical theology, ethics, and worldview issues.
"A Covenant People: Israel from Abraham to the Present"
By James P. Eckman