The Old Testament: Text and Context
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The Old Testament: Text and Context

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📖 eBook - ePub

The Old Testament: Text and Context

About This Book

This substantially updated edition of a classroom standard provides students with an accessible introduction to the literature, history, and social context of the Old Testament. Written by two seasoned Old Testament professors, the book pays attention to methodology, archaeology, history, and literary genre and includes illustrations, sidebars, maps, and study questions.

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The Purpose of This Book
The Old Testament: Text and Context provides an introduction for beginning students to the literature, history, and social context of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (OT/HB). Our effort is to attract and to keep the student’s interest with lively prose and a variety of study aids. In addition, we wish to explain why studying the literature of ancient Israel is relevant and why it is still relevant today. One only needs to consider our value system, our understanding of religion, our basic reaction to injustice, and our sense of appropriate behavior to see how profound these writing have been to the development of Western culture. A cursory review of our literature and even the plots of television dramas demonstrate the debt we owe to the peoples of the ancient Near East. The Bible cannot be dismissed as ancient, dead, or boring. It remains an integral part of our culture and will continue to provide guidance into the future.
The Bible’s general impact on modern society is reason enough for educated persons to study it whether they have a faith commitment or not. For those who revere the Bible as sacred literature and the God of the Bible as their own God, the text holds even greater significance. In either case, the richness of the stories, the vivid human emotions found in many episodes, and the practical advice that forms the heart of much of this literature makes it a remarkable literary achievement.
Student aids as well as teaching and discussion suggestions are found in each chapter of this textbook. The writing style and interactive textboxes are designed to draw students into the text without overwhelming them with too much information. Our aim is to tell the ancient stories and provide a variety of methods to explore their meaning and place them within their historical and social context. To achieve that goal, we have included information boxes, brief insets on aspects of daily life, and comparisons with extrabiblical texts. Each of these supplementary insets can be used for part of class discussion as cultural enrichment opportunities.
One key to learning any material is to grasp the ways in which diverse biblical materials interrelate. What we mean by this is that a single fact may be important in and of itself. However, it becomes infinitely more valuable when it is seen as a part of the whole picture of the biblical story. For instance, we know from the Bible’s many references that David is portrayed as a shepherd while he was a boy. That creates one picture in our mind, but it does not give us the larger picture. As the youngest member of his household, David is given the task of shepherding his father’s flock. The practical aspects of protecting his flock from danger are then applied when David, the warrior, struggles to win battles to make his people safe. David the shepherd manages his animals to ensure that their numbers increase and thereby contribute to the livelihood for his family. David the king administers the affairs of state in order to build up the economy and bring a greater prosperity to his country. And finally, David the shepherd, alone with his flock, examines God’s creation and builds a foundation of faith and a sense of God’s protection of the faithful (see Ps. 23). That experience then helps shape his policies when he establishes Yahweh as the God of Israel and brings the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem.
Making connections such as these helps to increase a basic familiarity with the stories. At the same time, these connections open the mind to a range of possibilities, including how choices are made and relationships are built. If characters remain only characters in a story, they will never become real to the reader. The persons mentioned in the Bible are too often idealized as a body of saints and sinners, not as real people. Once it becomes clear that many of the episodes involve normal human activities in a traditional society, then the social setting can be explored more fully. An approach such as this, which stresses the social world of ancient Israel, differs from that found in most devotional or religious contexts. However, what we are doing here is essential for understanding the Bible on any level. With that in mind, this textbook can benefit students in a variety of educational and religious contexts.
It is a simple reality that a textbook that does not follow a logical order will not be widely used by teachers or students. Some textbooks arrange the material based on literary categories or an attempt to place the material in the chronological order in which it was composed. For instance, it is accepted by many scholars that much of the Genesis material was composed or compiled during the monarchic (ca. 1000–600 BCE) and postexilic (ca. 500–300 BCE) periods of Israelite history. Therefore, some introductions begin their discussion with the monarchy and discuss the creation and flood epics and the ancestral narratives only as they relate to and are reflections of the monarchic or postexilic periods. Such an arrangement can be extremely confusing to students. We believe a better way is to present the material in the order of the books as they are arranged in most English translations of the Bible, starting with Genesis and running through much of 2 Kings. The only exception to this will be when dealing with the prophets, whose canonical order has little relation to their chronological order. They are divided in the Bible into major and minor prophets based on their length.
Because we both are historians, we place a great deal of emphasis on the historical narrative presented in the biblical text. As a result, a great deal of effort has gone into re-creating the social setting of basic institutions, including marriage, debt slavery, kinship ties, and business practices. Obviously it is necessary to be cautious so that we do not impose a solution or a rigid interpretation on these narratives. It is understood that there are always new data surfacing from archaeological and social-scientific research that will have an effect on biblical interpretation.
To provide a general focus throughout the book, we have chosen to emphasize four basic concepts: covenant, universalism, wisdom, and remnant. These concepts provide general themes for much of biblical narrative, plot, and dialogue. Here is a brief sketch of each.
Covenant. A covenant is a contractual arrangement between two parties. In the biblical text it is used in the context of the following:
1. The promise of “land and children” made to Abraham by Yahweh in exchange for Abraham’s sole allegiance and obedience to Yahweh’s word or law (Gen. 15:5–21). This is a conditional covenant that requires both sides to fulfill all the stipulations of the agreement. There are periodic renewals of this covenant as the people or their leaders believe a fresh start is necessary (Exod. 24:3–8; Josh. 24:1–28; Neh. 8:1–12).
2. The Law (Torah) grew out of the Abrahamic covenant. As the Israelite community becomes larger and requires more guidance, the covenant is expanded upon in the Decalogue (Ten Commandments), which is given to Moses (Exod. 20:1–17). Subsequent legal codes such as the Covenant Code (Exod. 21–23), Deuteronomic Code (Deut. 12–26), and Holiness Code (Lev. 17–26) reflect the growing complexity of the nation as it shifted from a village culture to one dominated, at least politically, by urban centers like Jerusalem. However, each of these legal codes retains the covenant as its central principle.
3. The “everlasting covenant” is made between King David and Yahweh (2 Sam. 7:4–16). According to this agreement, Yahweh promises that there will always be a king of the “line of David” ruling in Jerusalem. It is an unconditional covenant, which means that no matter how bad a particular descendant of David may be, that does not terminate the agreement. After the monarchy ends (587 BCE), this covenant is transformed into a messianic expectation, which assumes that Yahweh will provide a Messiah figure that will restore the nation to its former independence and proper relationship with Yahweh.
Universalism. This term is used in the sense of the presence, the power, and the concern of Yahweh extending over the entire creation (see Isa. 40:12–26). In their attempt to portray Yahweh as supreme among the gods, the biblical writers periodically inject this element into narratives. It generally involves the use of a non-Israelite character who, because of her or his knowledge of what Yahweh has done for the Israelites (e.g., crossing the Red Sea; see Rahab’s speech in Josh. 2:8–10) or because of a personal experience (e.g., cure from disease), makes a statement of faith that Yahweh is the most powerful or the only true God (see Naaman’s speech in 2 Kings 5:15). Eventually this will be expanded into an exclusive belief in Yahweh as the only true God, but this monotheistic belief will not take its full form or be widely accepted until late (after 400 BCE) in Israelite history.
Wisdom. While a specific section of the Bible is recognized as Wisdom literature (primarily Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes), examples of Wisdom speech or admonition are found throughout the biblical text. Wisdom embodies both common sense and basic social values in antiquity. Ultimately all wisdom comes from God (see Prov. 3:5–8). The Wisdom theme includes such ideas as wise behavior: no action taken hastily or without thinking (see 14:29); wise speech: no word spoken that may injure someone else (16:13); wise person: one who walks in the “way” or “path” of Yahweh and who recognizes that wisdom may be acquired from persons of all ages, genders, and occupations (see Prov. 12:15; Eccles. 8:1).
Remnant. Because the people were unable to keep the covenant, recognize the universal character of Yahweh, or act wisely, Yahweh periodically punished them. The theodicy (an explanation for God’s actions) that the prophets use to explain why the nation is conquered by non-Yahweh-worshiping peoples includes the idea that God is required under the covenant to provide a warning (see Isa. 10:5–11). It is assumed that the righteous (always a minority or remnant) will heed this warning, take appropriate action to come back into compliance with the covenant, and, after the punishment has occurred, become the people—a righteous remnant—who will restore the nation (see Ezek. 9).
How to Use This Book
The intent of this textbook is to be as objective as possible in providing a presentation of the materials found in the OT/HB. No denominational viewpoint will be espoused, and a variety of significant theories and interpretations of the text will be presented. The translation of the Bible that we have used is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). We have chosen it because of its literal translation of the Hebrew and Aramaic text and because of its use of inclusive language, which applies the correct pronoun based on the context. A number of features in this volume are designed to aid the student in dealing most effectively with the material. These include:
Insets. These boxes provide a variety of information for the student. They may have a translation of an ancient text that parallels the biblical narrative. There may be a chart outlining the structure of a biblical passage, or there may be examples of a particular issue addressed in the biblical text. In every case, the box will be referred to and attention drawn to it for specific purposes by the authors.
Key Points. At the beginning of each section or chapter, a box will be provided that includes several short statements intended to provide keys to understanding the information found here.
Maps. Maps are included to provide a visual and spatial sense of direction, distance, and topography for the student.
Glossary. Throughout the pages of the text, technical terms associated with biblical studies have been set in bold. They are often defined in the text at that point, but a complete glossary of these technical terms is also found at the end of the volume. Students are encouraged to consult the glossary whenever they need additional information on a technical term.
Study Questions. We have provided study questions at the end of each chapter. These are intended to promote student learning and class discussion and to reiterate major points in the chapter.
Indexes. At the end of the volume the following information is indexed: subjects, personal and place names, and Scripture citations. These will help the student find particular topics more easily in the text.
Abbreviations. Certain abbreviations and conventions will be used by the authors in this textbook. A key is found after the Table of Contents. Among the most important are:
Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (OT/HB). Since the material found in Scripture belongs to more than one religious tradition, we have chosen to use this longer title throughout the volume. It also identifies the portion of Scripture that has been recognized by Jews and Protestants as their canon. The expanded canon of the Septuagint and the Catholic Bible, which includes t...

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APA 6 Citation
[author missing]. (2012). The Old Testament: Text and Context (3rd ed.). Baker Publishing Group. Retrieved from (Original work published 2012)
Chicago Citation
[author missing]. (2012) 2012. The Old Testament: Text and Context. 3rd ed. Baker Publishing Group.
Harvard Citation
[author missing] (2012) The Old Testament: Text and Context. 3rd edn. Baker Publishing Group. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
[author missing]. The Old Testament: Text and Context. 3rd ed. Baker Publishing Group, 2012. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.