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An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination Paperback – November 30, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Eminent Old Testament scholar Brueggemann (Theology of the Old Testament) offers a clear and eloquent introductory study of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament that surpasses many older introductions such as Anderson's Understanding the Old Testament and Bright's A History of Israel. Focusing on the literature of the Old Testament rather than on the ways that such literature grows out of the history of Israel, he emphasizes that the development of the Old Testament was an act of imaginative remembering. It evolved through what he calls a "traditioning" process, whereby the texts grew dynamically out of a confluence of historical, ideological, political and religious forces in Israel. Brueggemann arranges his introduction in canonical order (Torah, prophets, writings) to demonstrate the ways that various themes built upon one another and how the texts reflect the ongoing development of Israel. For example, the "writings"-which include Proverbs, Psalms and Job as well as Esther and Daniel-reflect, in Brueggemann's view, the diversity of life and faith characteristic of post-exilic Judaism. Brueggemann's reading of the Old Testament makes it alive for us today. As we interpret the text in our own times, we engage in the "traditioning" process, for each time we read, new meanings are disclosed to us. Although Brueggemann sometimes veers off into territory for which a background in biblical studies is necessary, his crystal clear prose, lucid ways of telling stories and canny theological insights make this introduction a real gem.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
About the Author
Walter Brueggemann is William Marcellus McPheeters Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. He is the world's leading interpreter of the Old Testament, and is the author of numerous books, including Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination and Reverberations of Faith: A Theological Handbook of Old Testament Themes.
Top customer reviews
Brueggemann calls the transmission of the Hebrew Biblical narrative "imaginative remembering," which is really a catchy way of saying that the story drives the facts, rather than the other way around. But then he never tells the story. He merely dissects and analyzes the scholarship of the last 150 years and the "story" becomes lost in a maze biblical scholarship. Scholar NT Wright, Anglican Bishop of Durham, England, in his brilliant The New Testament and the People of God, carefully lays out the importance of the story in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Many other scholars have followed suit on relating the importance of "story" (sometimes simply referred to as "the narrative) which embodies the meaning of the message.
Current scholarship is fairly unanimous in saying that the theme of the Hebrew Bible is the story of "the faithfulness of God and the unfaithfulness of the People of God." The one example of faithfulness to God is the "ancestor" Abraham. Throughout the Hebrew Bible when YHWH identifies himself to the People of God he does so in terms similar to this: "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob" (Ex 2:24, 3:6, 3:15, etc., I Chr 16:16, Ps 47:9, etc.) The faithfulness of Abraham is reiterated in Paul's letters to the Romans and Galatians and especially in the anonymous homily to the Hebrews (possibly written by the great Alexandrian Christian and rhetorician, Apollos (Acts 18:24-28). In Galatians and Hebrews Jesus' faithfulness to God is compared with the faithfulness of Abraham.
What does Brueggemann do with this? Nothing. From pages 43-51 the section called "The Ancestors (Genesis 12 - 50)", although it embodies the story of Abraham, never focuses on his faithfulness, nor on its importance in either the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament. Yet following the story of Abraham's faithfulness the rest of the Hebrew Bible turns to the unfaithfulness of the People of God. That fact is railed against by the prophets, especially, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and Amos.
While the author mentions the documentary hypothesis of the Torah by German scholars in the late nineteenth century (an hypothesis largely dismissed by modern scholars as being basically irrelevant to the story itself), he never addresses the question as to why there are so many names for God in the biblical text: El (the chief god of the Canaanites), El Shaddai (usually translated God Almighty, but some believe it could mean "God of Violence"), El Elyan (Most High God), Elohim (the plural "gods" - a literal translation of Gen 1:1 would be "The gods created heaven and earth"), and finally YHWH who identifies himself to Moses as the "God of Abraham" (Ex. 6:3). Brueggemann fails to consider that the various names for God, which appear regularly throughout the narrative of Israel's history, may, indeed, point to the question of to which god they they were to remain faithful. All the while YHWH proclaims that He is the God of Abraham. It was not until the People of God returned from exile in Babylon in the sixth century B.C. that they seemed to know which God was theirs.
With all of this said, Brueggemann's book is still of immense value, however, it missed the story it could have told and which could have indeed sparked the "Christian Imagination."
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