Why Study the Old Testament?

This post is part of an online Intro to Old Testament “class” for the person on the go. Check it out.

For many people the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) feels like a tough nut to crack. Even for Christians and Jews who view it as sacred text, some of the content is puzzling or overwhelming. For those who do not believe the Old Testament is inspired by God, the stories might seem archaic and completely irrelevant for today. Sometimes it’s easier to set it aside, chalk it up to mystery, and move on.

But, studying the Old Testament has significant implications socially, culturally, politically, and spiritually.  Here are a few reasons I believe everyone, religious or not, can benefit from studying Old Testament. Continue reading


Noah, Russell Crowe, and Midrash

Have you seen the new movie Noah starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly? Given my interest in Old Testament reception history, I could not pass it up. How would two modern Jewish men interpret this flood story? The Genesis account itself is a product of unique Israelite interpretation of a common ancient Near Eastern narrative. The story appeared in ancient texts long before Genesis was written. But, the biblical authors offer their own theological perspective on the event. Similarly, the flood has been the subject of midrash (Jewish interpretation of the biblical text) throughout history. Ancient Jewish writers sought to fill in narrative gaps in Genesis with commentaries like I Enoch and Jubilees. In fact, from these pseudepigraphal works the movie draws content about the Watchers and Noah’s visit to Methuselah—narrative details not found in the biblical text. Those Transformer-looking rock creatures in the film might seem like fantasy fiction made up on the fly, but their role did not come out of thin air! They are the fallen angels of lore–albeit their appearance a bit embellished.

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“Take Your Only Son Isaac, Whom You Love . . .”

A couple of years ago I was sitting in the office of my spiritual director and was riveted by a large poster on the wall with this image. The picture is from a stained glass entitled “Isaac” located at Eglise de la Réconciliation in Taizé, France. What stands out to me is how innocent and completely subject the child is to circumstances beyond his control. I also notice one of Abraham’s hands turned outward and one inward, perhaps reflecting the father’s inward conflict.


“And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here am I, my son.’ He said, ‘Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’”      (Genesis 22:6-7)

This second image below is the top portion of the stained glass image. Now we see not only the hands that embrace, but also the anguish on Abraham’s face. His pleading eyes turned upward echoing his son’s question.

“When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son” (Genesis 22:9-10).