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Book Review: The Immigration Crisis by James Hoffmeier

Of the modern political controversies, the question surrounding illegal immigration is the one that causes me the most self-doubt. I have long held that contempt of law should never be rewarded and that amnesty is not the proper response. However, in the last few years, God has taught me to love justice. My compassion for the immigrant wars with the clear sense of right and wrong concerning the law. So, a while back (read a year and a half) I elected to receive an early review galley copy of a book on the subject. I shamefully have just gotten around to reading it.

The book is written by an Old Testament scholar at Trinity International University and attempts to collect the biblical evidence that might be applied to the issue of illegal immigration in an easy to ready format. I generally appreciate the books narrative structure, essentially tracing the story of Israel from Abraham to the Exile and then jumping to Jesus before concluding. Unfortunately, this narrative approach does not pay the dividends one might expect. Hoffmeier’s book contains lengthy paraphrasing of biblical stories set off by inordinately long block quotes of biblical text. He largely fails to actually make an argument when he works through this material instead choosing to leave his points only loosely connected to the present discussion.

Hoffmeier also makes several interpretive arguments that are more assertions than arguments. For example, he attempts to align certain Hebrew words with legal resident and non-legal resident arguing that the text makes an important distinction between them. This might be the case, but Hoffmeier offers no philological evidence to back up his claim with the exception of noting that the LXX uses proselytos indicating a religious understanding of the term for some. He does provide footnotes for this material, but he does not incorporate the arguments apparently given by the texts he cites. More troubling is Hoffmeier’s tendency to seamlessly weave together archeological material with the text of the Old Testament to make his arguments. Much of the information he provides is interesting but ultimately irrelevant, and awkwardly pins the text to the archeological material treating them as if they are the same sort of thing.

Hoffmeier’s consideration of the New Testament is extremely terse, and one wonders at the wisdom of spending six chapters on the Old Testament and rushing through the New Testament material. His points are generally fine, his argument based on Romans 13 is largely agreeable, but he makes awkward material choices. He spends a long time arguing that the “least of these” in Matthew 25 should only apply to Christians or disciples of Jesus , leaving us to infer that this means that the text cannot apply to illegal immigrants. Then, in the next chapter, he points out that the vast majority of illegal immigrants are Christians. I was left scratching my head at his logical inconsistency.

Ultimately, I largely agree with Hoffmeier’s conclusions, but I cannot help but say that he has done a poor job arguing them. Perhaps the great shortcomings of the book should be attributed to its obvious orientation to lay readers, but the book fails if it is read as a primer for ethical reflection on the issue of illegal immigration. If you want an easy to read book that will discuss some of the issues in a lay-friendly manner and do not mind its hasty conclusions, then this book would at least make a decent starting point. If you are hoping for substantive exegesis and ethical argumentation, look elsewhere. I give it two and a half French philosophers out of five.

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