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


Historical-Criticism: Friend or Foe?

The following post includes review and discussion of three books. I am grateful to BakerAcademic for providing me with copies.

I have had an interesting relationship with historical-critical study of the Bible. My upbringing and seminary experience in a conservative Baptist setting promoted a historical-grammatical approach to Scripture. We took historical context seriously. At the same time, study was often bent toward apologetics to prove historical reliability of the Bible, and we often read the biblical narratives as unilateral accounts of history. Extra-biblical sources from the ancient Near East and Graeco-Roman world were deemed less important. The world in the text was valued above the world behind the text. On one level, this makes sense. All history is written from a certain perspective. The biblical authors provide an interpretation of events. This interpretation of history is what is considered inspired. On the other hand, not attending to the world behind the text can lead to a wooden reading of the Bible. As one example, the biblical authors sometimes framed the Canaanites as sexually depraved, leading readers to believe the ancient Near East was rife with perversity. Yet, extra-biblical evidence indicates that sexuality was often similar to ancient Israel: patricentric with tight control of women’s relationships. This suggests that the biblical authors may have engaged in hyperbolic language to make a point.

While at Duke Divinity School and Marquette University, I delved more deeply into historical-critical study to the point that I started to lose the ability to engage in theological interpretation. As I dissected a book from a text critical perspective or compared Scripture with Ugaritic literature, I couldn’t get past the sense that scholarly historical reconstruction was more “true” or “correct” than theological “extrapolations.” When reading a theological interpretation, an inner voice would say, “Yeah, but that is not exactly what happened. This is reading into the text preferential views of God.” How could I spiritualize the Israelite conquest if I was also considering the historical possibility that the Israelites engaged in disturbing war practices? But, the more my studies were strictly historical, the less compelling the research was for me. I love history and study of the ancient Near East, but that is not why I went into biblical studies. I wanted to study Scripture to learn more about God and spiritual realities that I could base my life on. Continue reading

Are you a Biblicist? A Review of Christian Smith’s Impossible Bible

I recently read Christian Smith’s book The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture (2012) published by Brazos Press. My response was simultaneous recognition and alienation. Having grown up in fundamentalism, I understand the problem he is describing. At the same time, I often felt I was reading a book by an outsider who did not capture important nuances.  Continue reading

Introducing Anna Barbauld

This post has been cross-posted at the Women Biblical Scholars website.

Anna Barbauld, born in 1743 to Presbyterian parents, was a British poet and essayist who rejected detached, rationalistic interpretation of Scripture. From a young age she exhibited a love of learning and prodded her theologian and classicist father to teach her Greek and Latin. She published several works ranging from hymns, children’s literature, statements on women’s issues to objections against the use of Scripture to support slavery. Barbauld’s love of poetry gave her a particular appreciation for the Psalms. In Devotional Pieces Compiled from the Psalms and the Book of Job: To Which Are Prefixed Thoughts on the Devotional Taste, on Sects, and on Establishment she argues for the importance of emotion in the reading and study of Scripture. After presenting her thesis the book comprises a collection of select Psalms. Below are quotes from Devotional Pieces that give us a window into the mind of a Christian thinker squaring off against the rationalistic Enlightenment trends of her time: Continue reading