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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2008
Throughout his long life of service to church and academy, Bernhard Anderson updated his textbook, "Understanding the Old Testament," for both a changing readership and a changing world of Biblical interpretation. One hopes that, with his passing on in late 2007, his work will continue through the efforts of his co-authors. A word on the somewhat confusingly titled recent editions of this work follows.

The newest, 5th edition, was published in 2006, with co-authors Steven Bishop and Judith Newman (ISBN 01392380X). The original 4th edition, authored by Bernhard Anderson alone, was the blue hardcover edition of 1986 (ISBN 0139359257). This was followed by an "Abridged 4th edition" published in paperback in 1997, assisted by Katheryn Pfisterer Darr (ISBN 0139483993). Searching by using the ISBN numbers for the respective versions noted may help in getting the edition you want.

Anderson's brief, introductory study guide, "The Unfolding Drama of the Bible," has also been updated, as has his introduction to the Psalms, "Out of the Depths." His understanding of the covenantal theology of the Hebrew Scriptures as it may be extended to Christian theology is covered in-depth his "Contours of Old Testament Theology."
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 29, 2009
Bernard Anderson's book titled UNDERSTANDING THE OLD TESTAMENT is a well written explanation of the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible or Tanak)that explains the gradual development of Hebrew Monotheisem from a family God to a universal Diety. The book gives both clear explanations of changes of beliefs and the historical background in Palestine and Judea.

Prof. Anderson begins this book with the TORAH or the first five books of the Bible. He effectively explains the Documentary Hypothesis that four literary traditions composed the TORAH. These Anderson describes these sources as E, J, P, and D. The background to these sources consists of traditions originating in Mesopotamia(E Source), Egypt and Palestine(J Source), the Priestly Class( the priests), and the Law Codes(Ten Commandments for example). Anderson argued that the TORAH and other books of the Old Testament (OT for the sake of convenience)were based on these traditions. Basically the entire OT consisted of a redaction and editing of these sources to include those who held to the different literary traditions.

Anderson continued to emphasize that G-d was bascially a tribal Diety in the TORAH and in the book of Joshua. Prof. Anderson is clear that some of the events in Joshua were exaggerated such as the destruction of Jericho. The Ancient Hebrews were the area of Jericho c. the 13th.-12th. centuries BC. Yet archeological examinations reveal that Jericho was destroyed by an earthquake by c. 2200 BC and "was a heap of ruins" (p 89) by the time the Hebrews arrived there. Also later Hebrew scribes
had to moderate the blood thirsty narratives of Joshua.

The TORAH and the Book of Joshua showed contempt for urban life and an appreciation of agricultrual culture. Prof. Anderson uses the story of the Towert of Babel and Sodom/Gomorrah. Yet, this disdain was modified beginning with the books of Samuel I and II when the Ancient Hebrews decided to have a king (I Samue: 8). Yet, the history of Hebrew kings was often one of tragedy. Saul's tragic end and the story of Absolom are examples. One also notices that the Ancient Hebrews advanced technologically. During the eras of Moses and Joshua, the Ancient Hebrews were forced to have other peoples to fix and sharpen their tools and equipment. However, by the time of King David (c. 1012-972 BC)the Hebrews or Children of Israel could to this themselves.

Prof. Anderson cites attempts of the Ancient Hebrew priets and scribes to reveal their heroes in an honest way. For example, King David was excoriated by Nathan for the stunt David pulled to get rid of Urian the Hittite. King Solomon's waste and tyranny are clearly stated in I Kings 10:28, and I Kings 5: 13-18.

Prof. Anderson made an excellent transition from Ancient Hebrew kings to the Prophets. The Prophets got considerable attention after the separation of the Northern Tribes (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judea)which occured c. 932 BC. The Hebrews were caught in a power struggle between the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, etc. Prof. Anderson was clear that the Prophets were NOT fortune tellers which was a major taboo among the Ancient Hebrews. The Prophets were not innovators but social critics who reminded the Hebrew leaders of the moral codes which were emphasized in the Torah. Prof. Anderson also makes a good case that there were multiple writers of the Prophetic Books. For example, the Book of Isaiah may have had at least two or three authors (Isaiah 1-39, Isaiah 40-54, and Isaiah 55-66). According the Book Jeremiah, Baruch is described as Jeremiah's scribe (Jer 36:4).

Prof. Anderson made the case that the Hebrew Prophets were religious imperialists. Whoever wrote the Prophetic Books knew very well that Israel's glory days were over. The Prophets redefined G-d not just as the G-d of Israel or Judea, but the definition of G-d was universal and not national. This concept was important in the later development of Christianity and the following religious history.

Prof. Anderson's following treatment of the Literature Books (Psalms, Proverbs, Ruth, Esther, etc.) was done very well. Anderson gave examples of Pslams such Hymnic Psalms (Pslam 100 and 150), Lament Psalms (Psalms 106 and 137 for example), and Covenant Psalms (Psalms 19 and 119). In the original Hebrew, the Book of Esther is the only book in the Bible where G-d's name is not mentioned. In later Koine Greek translations, G-d's name is mentioned. One could spent a life time trying to explain evil accroding to the Book of Job. Anderson's commentaries of the Poetic Books is the most thughtful part of the book.

While Prof. Anderson was not Catholic, his examination of the Aporcrypha Books is very well done. For the uninitiated, the Aprocrypha Books are JUDITH, BARUCH, TOBIAS OR TOBIT, ECCLESIASTICUS (not to be confused with Ecclesiastes), WISDOM, and 1st. and 2nd MACCABEES. An interesting aside is that these books are in Catholic Bibles but not in most Protestant or Jewish Bibles. Yet religious Jews celebrate the events in 1st and 2nd. MACCABEES during the celebration of Hanukkah. St. Jerome (346-420 AD)included them in his Vulgate Bible which he said he had both in Hebrew and Greek. The celebration of Hanukkah is mentioned in John's Gospel (John 10:22-the dedication of the Temple).

Prof. Anderson briefly made some connection with the New Testament (NT). The latter books of the OT hint at an afterlife and are more mystic than earlier books of the OT. He also noted the different Judian (Jewish groups)mentioned in the NT such as the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Essenes, and the Zealots. These groups get attention in the NT and especially in the Gospels. Anderson makes brief but effective connections in the last chapter of his book.

Serious Bible scholars, Jews, Christians, etc. would benefit from a close reading of Benhard Anderson's book titled UNDERSTANDING THE OLD TESTAMENT. Catholics and Jews would be impressed at Prof. Anderson's honesty and fainesss. While the book is about 600 pages long, Prof. Anderson's readable style make the book a pleasure to read.

James E. Egolf-March 29, 2009
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59 of 69 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2001
No question the Old Testament is a great read, but face it, the original audience for this work is long dead and buried. Anderson's standard text on the world of the Old Testament is excellent in bringing the ancient world and the context for the collection that is the Old Testament to light. Reading the Bible without Anderson you get a story about some guy named Abram who took a walk one day and had some trouble with his new neighors. Reading it with Anderson, you get a deeper understanding of where Abraham came from, where he was headed, and how the belief of early Judahism developed through and in conflict with those of the neighboring Canaanites. The agrarian focused religion of the Canaanites get's it's own hearing as a people's attempt to make sense of the life around them. "Understanding the Old Testament" then provides this level of insight and background for all the other books of the Old Testament. How and why we now have the expression of the Jewish people's understanding of God gains more texuture and depth.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2008
"Understanding the Old Testament" provides historical settings and sociological background that help understand and enjoy the significance of the ancient people's continuing struggle over thousands of years to become a Covenant People in a repeatedly renewed relationship with God. The charts and photos also make the story clear and enjoyable. I heartily recommend this book for lay people who want to understand their Bible better. It's an excellent reference book for adult Bible study classes. No previous study of the Old Testament is necessary. This material is clear and basic for beginners, well organized, beautifully written with enough depth for serious Bible students.
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45 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 1998
Anderson uses easy to read sentences and aims his OT introduction at the lay person, but will be useful more to students and pastors because of the content. I was somewhat disappointed that he has nothing on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). R.K. Harrison's Intro to the OT is much more comprehensive, including discussion using both historico-critical methodology and conservative approaches, whereas Anderson assumes that the historico-critical method is the only way to go. Nevertheless, the information is readily accessible and easy to read, and illustrated well.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2008
Bernard Anderson opens up this magical land to us, with an experts eye and a critical academic mind. He delves into the tribal conflicts and conquests knowledgeably and with a sure hand and mind.

Undoubtedly, one of the best OT texts !

The Right Rev'd Richard G. Melli, CSP, Th.D.
Dean of Academics
Chapel of the Holy Spirit School of Theology
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2005
This is an invaluable guide to assist in understanding the Old Testament. The author provides important historical background to help the reader understand what the original authors/compilers were trying to say. I am currently using this text for my 1st year Education for Ministry class.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2010
Revised, updated edition is a great supplement to theological studies. It's well written, and the tone is conversational, so any reader with an interest in the OT might find it highly worthwhile.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2005
I have had a copy of the 3rd edition, which I have found truly helpful in understanding the OT in the context of the faith of the people. The material added in this edition makes the text even more useful. I highly recommend this to any serious student of the Bible.
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19 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 1999
An amazing, descriptive, objective, factual read about the beliefs, people and events that went on in ancient biblical times. Some great pictures too! I was captivated and fascinated!
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