- Series: THE THEOLOGIES OF ISRAEL'S HISTORICAL TRADITIONS
- Hardcover: 483 pages
- Publisher: Harper & Row Publishers; Volume 1 edition (1962)
- ASIN: B001TR7XQC
- Package Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 23 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,420,468 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Old Testament Theology * (the Theology of Israel's Historical Traditions) Volume 1 (Volume 1) Hardcover – 1962
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Though Brueggeman claims to accept development and redaction in reaching the final form of the text, he still tends to treat the text as it exists in its final form, though by no means as a harmonious whole. His willingness to embrace discontinuity gives him the freedom to explore exegetical possibilities that a conservative commentator simply wouldn't entertain. For instance, Brueggeman concludes that the text is teaching that “YHWH is unforgiving,” “Moses loves Israel more than does YHWH,” and that God “exhibits no interest in Job's suffering. These are all matters of complete divine indifference.” And yet he claims that scripture elsewhere teaches that YHWH has a love for Israel which is “the kind of love a mother has for a child”-- possessing a “will to be in a relationship of fidelity” and being ever “slow to anger.”
Two places where Brueggeman's skeptical reading of the text are especially apparent are in his treatments of the doctrines of monotheism and creatio ex nihilo. On the subject of creation out of nothing, Brueggeman asserts that the uniform testimony of the Old Testament is that, “creation is not ex nihilo; it is rather the imposition of a life-serving order on the preexistent mass of chaos... The opening phrase of Genesis 1:1 indicates that creation is an ongoing process, made necessary by the resilient power of chaos that must repeatedly be rebuked and swept back.”
On the topic of monotheism, Brueggeman paints the Old Testament as postulating henotheism to balance the sovereignty of YHWH and a view in the “reality” of the existence of other gods inherited from their pagan neighbors:
"In its long disputatious development, the Old Testament takes YHWH's sovereignty seriously but is not able to—or perhaps is not interested in—completely eliminating the claim and reality of other gods... The primary interpretive strategy for negotiating this issue is through the 'divine council,' a 'mythological phenomenon ubiquitous in the polytheistic world of ancient Near Eastern religions...' In Israelite imagination, YHWH was the presiding officer (high God) who had subjugated the other gods who were then compliant with YHWH and who became instruments through which the will of YHWH was decided and enacted.”
Perhaps Brueggeman's most moving emphasis, and certainly one that is less controversial, is on the Old Testament God's concern for the weak and powerless as underpinning the kind of horizontal relationships humans should seek to have. For instance, in his discussion of Exodus 2:23's claim that the Israelites cried out in their suffering and it rose up to God, though the text does not say that they were addressing God: “The slaves did not raise up a cry to God. But the cry had its own intentionality. The cry knew, all on its own, that it was precisely addressed to 'God...' The cry of the victim is central to the faith and practice of Israel... It is the oppressed human's cry, in other words, that will unleash the chain of events that will ultimately result in your being punished... If you victimize someone, then that someone will cry out and I will have to act against you.”
As a Christian with a high view of inspiration, I view Brueggeman's work as something of a mixed blessing. His emphasis on social justice is one that I find to be quite consistent with the heart of the God of the Bible, and one that many protestants, their faith having been grown in the soil of western rationalism and individualism, pass over in their reading of scripture. I recommend Brueggeman's insights into this topic with very few reservations. I have many more reservations when it comes to his presuppositions, and thus conclusions, about the unity of scripture. On the one hand, since he has no pre-commitments to inerrancy, he is able, helpfully, to highlight the places where tensions are in fact found in the text, whereas the conservative expositor would be tempted to undermine tension and paper over difficulties. However, the problem with such an approach is that he's eager to find contradictions around every corner. When harmony is not only possible, but likely, he still interrogates the text as if it were a criminal whose guilt he is already convinced of.
For example, why hypothesize a desire to harmonize the sovereignty of YHWH with a firm commitment to polytheism in the writers of scripture? If, as conservatives argue, there is a realm of demonic entities who draw worship to idols and away from YHWH, and yet they only have as much power as God, the creator of all things, allows them to have and so are not true gods at all, how might the Old Testament writers describe such a situation? Perhaps they might in some places utilize a polemic that describes idols as bowing down to YHWH or being sovereignly judged by Him (1 Samuel 5, Exodus 12:12, Job 1). In other places, the idols which represent the peoples' conceptions of deity might be described as worthless and falsely-called gods (Jeremiah 10:8, Isaiah 44:18, Habakkuk 2:18, Jonah 2:8). Such an approach would undermine the power of demonic entities and remind Israel that only YHWH is the Lord of all.
This understanding is clearly the one presented in Paul's letters in the New Testament, and he uses much of the same language as the Old Testament writers. In 1 Corinthians 10:20, he could describe the sacrifices of pagans as truly being offered to demons, and yet in another place say that, "'an idol has no real existence,' and that 'there is no God but one.' For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many 'gods' and many 'lords'— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist" (1 Corinthians 8:4-6, ESV). Paul is not arguing for henotheism--the claim that there are many gods but we should only worship one. For Paul, though there are many entities which are called gods, there is only one true God. Only He can rightly be called God because only He made everything that exists, including whatever spiritual powers that have fallen away and seek to draw worship away from Him. The view of Brueggeman, that the other deities are simply made to be compliant to YHWH, is utterly inconsistent with a text which tells us that God demolishes the pagan deities. As for Satan, one of the fallen sons of god, there was never a time spoken of when he could resist the demands of YHWH, even in his rebellion.
Though this understanding allows for a very reasonable harmonization of the text, it's out of bounds for Brueggeman, whose starting point is what skeptical critical scholarship presupposes about scripture. The same can be said for the view of God that underpins it, that of a supreme being creating all that exists out of nothing. The skeptical scholar, who seeks to explain Israel's view of God as arising naturally from its cultural context and not as something revealed to them by God from outside of their everyday experience, rightly cannot countenance such a radically different view of the world arising naturally, so they wrongly discount it. Why we should accept their naturalistic presupposition is never cogently argued by Brueggeman, but since it is the view arising naturally from the context of modernist assumptions which brought us Marxism and two great wars, we should naturally accept such views without questioning them.
Though my own views on scripture and revelation may bias me, I can't agree that Brueggeman has satisfied the goal of holding to what is worthwhile and defensible in the investigations of historical-critical scholarship while also meeting the needs of the confessional-interpretive Christian community. By taking naturalistic and post-modern assumptions for granted, he seems to have reached many conclusions about the text that are not warranted by historical-critical scholarship, nor do they meet the confessional needs of a church whose God is the same yesterday, today, and forever and who has truly revealed Himself to humanity.
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Otherwise, I would give it a higher ranking.