OT introductions

Irene Riegner iriegner at concentric.net
Sat Oct 31 00:51:46 EST 1998

  I would like to respond to Tony Prete's comment:

> I recommend highly the fourth edition of Bernhard W. Anderson's Understanding the Old Testament (Prentice
> Hall). His only mention of "Christianity" is in the opening chapter where he describes the differences between
> the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament. The only reference to Jesus is in the section n the Wisdom literature
> where the last paragraph says that the Christian church sees the wisdom movement coming to fulfillment in
> Jesus, and shows this from Paul and John.
I used Anderson when I taught bible and was very unhappy with it.  A
college level course in the humanities, even on the bible and even an
introductory course, should encourage critical thought, weighing of
evidence, and examination of the assumptions of the writers---the
biblical writers and the interpreter.  Anderson does very little---if
any---of either.  He assumes the basic historicity of the text and
writes his text as if it were a history moving chronologically from the
patriarchal period to the post-exilic period. Concerning Sinai he
"...affirm[s] that the sequence of Exodus and Sinai is historically
correct" (p. 103).  Considering the lack of corroborating evidence of an
exodus, this is indeed a faith statement---acceptable in a setting of
faith but not in a college classroom.   He talks about the "Mosaic
faith."  What does this mean?  Is it faith in Moses?  Not only is this a
20th century, 19th century(?) retrojection but it assumes an exodus, a
Moses who somehow received law, and a group leaving Egypt.

And he refers to the "tribal confederacy" based on allegiance to Yahweh,
which formed at Shechem---a political organization whose existence is
considered dubious.  More importantly, there is no discussion of how an
elaboration of a  "confederacy" might serve the Deuteronomic editors of

And where is discussion of whether the Davidic and Solomonic empire
actually existed.  It's assumed to be factual.  More importantly, how
and why did the idea of an empire become so important?

He is subtly Christian---and not so subtly Christian.  He calls the
text, the Old Testament, which implies there is something new---and
better---which supersedes it (in our culture, new is considered
better).  He compares the absence of the Sinai covenant from Israelite
confessional summaries to the absence of the term Eucharist in Christian
confessions---rather than questioning whether the Sinai covenant was a
major part of the belief system. Moreover, use of the term
"confessional"  is basically Christian religious talk (see page 102).

The text is dated in its conceptualization of, among many things,
Israelite religion, taking the bible and its description of Yahwism as a
fairly accurate description of Israelite religion. He talks of "Israel's
faith" (a Christian theological perspective?).  Covenant
faith---Christian theological terminology? As current archeological and
textual research indicates, Israelite religion was certainly not the
religion to which the prophets adhered, but the religion they debunked,
the religion of the people---like Gomer.

He considers the great conflict of Israelite history is the conflict
between faith and culture (p. 244).  How can they be separated?  Belief
is revealed through cultural artifacts---literary or material.  This
dichotomy seems to mirror the spirit / body split and the mind / body
split that plague Western religions and Western thought.  Is this
dichotomy accurate for ancient Israel and Judah?  The conflict could be
understood as one between the popular religion of the people and the
esoteric religion of the prophets.

And the text book is basically old style history---political history.
Where does he have a reconstruction of Israelite  and Judahite society
based on the textual and archeological evidence?  And what about the
sometimes abusive references in the bible to women.  And the violence?

Since most of the Pentateuch is concerned with law and law-like codes
(and not history)---and the prophets use legal terminology---where in
the textbook is there a discussion of the importance of this in the
bible and in Israelite and Judahite society?  And its implications for
the biblical idea of an orderly cosmos?  If one purpose of a bible
course is to understand the Israelite culture and world-view, it is
imperative to include a discussion of the implication of law and
ritual.  The neglect of this aspect of Israelite culture reflects a
Christian theological bias.

In a confessional setting there is nothing wrong with theological terms
and perspectives, but in a university, where the emphasis should be,
ideally, on critical thinking, these have no place.  It is even more
disconcerting when the author of the text does not realize his biases.

Has anyone used Gottwald, "The Hebrew Bible?"  I think it's too
difficult for an introductory text.

irene riegner

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