Book Reviews

Introducing the Old Testament

A Short Guide to Its History and Message

Tremper Longman III Grand Rapids 2012-07-08

The back cover describes this book as “based on the bestselling textbook An Introduction to the Old Testament by Tremper Longman III and Raymond Dillard.” This says much about it: (1) It clearly is not meant to replace the larger work; (2) by its very brevity, it cannot and does not go into the depth and detail of Longman and Dillard; and (3) it will be of primary use to laity and beginning students who have not had the advantage of grappling with the major issues of Old Testament scholarship. However, if that is indeed its intent, it has succeeded wonderfully well.

Longman is a leading American evangelical scholar whose works have benefited the church and the academy in many ways and for many years. Again he has risen to the fore, this time in packing into all too small a package a great deal of important and useful material. His plan is simplicity itself: He follows the order of the books as found in most modern Christian versions rather than the so-called Massoretic Hebrew order. Thus, his canonical sequence says nothing about the dating of the books according to their acknowledged (or in some cases putative) historical or chronological sequence. He does at least briefly address these matters as he deals with each of the books seriatim.

Addressing the book of Genesis first, Longman concedes that the book should be considered Mosaic, but, as do many current evangelical approaches, he uses qualifiers like “essentially Mosaic,” which of course leads the way open to reader-centered opinions. Moreover, he repeats the common mantra that Genesis does not say how things were created because the first 11 chapters, with the rest of the book, are theological in intent and not scientific. Longman bifurcates (unnecessarily) between the possibility that a biblical account can be both scientifically and/or historically accurate and theological in intent.

He dates the exodus and conquest late (13th century); declares Deuteronomy to be of anonymous authorship; errs on p. 42 in identifying the delegation that entered covenant with Joshua as coming from Ai rather than Gibeon; and leaves open the question as to how much of Joshua is historically reliable (p. 44). The later the period of history, the more confidence Longman exhibits with regard to authorship, dating, and historicity of the books. Yet when he comes to the unity of Isaiah and its composition by Isaiah of Jerusalem ca. 700 BC, he is noncommittal, suggesting that the matter is irrelevant (p. 121), when in fact it matters a great deal. The same attitude marks his dismissal of the date of Daniel, concluding only that “this debate will continue” (p. 143), which of course is true. Finally, with regard to Jonah, Longman presents the various views as to its historical character, but as for himself, he is content to “allow for a variety of views on the subject” (p. 163).

These negatives (and is that not what reviews are all about?) do not add up to the conclusion that this work is of no benefit, especially for evangelicals who are new in their critical study of the Bible. Longman writes clearly and concisely, holds the Scriptures in high regard, and in every chapter makes a New Testament connection. In short, he succeeds in his stated objective of providing “the literary, historical, and theological background to the reading of the individual books of the Old Testament” (p. 9).

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Eugene H. Merrill
Eugene H. Merrill is a former faculty member of DTS. Dr. Merrill has been heavily involved in international Christian ministry in Europe, Asia, and the Near East. As a scholar Dr. Merrill regularly contributes to leading journals, periodicals, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and commentaries. Academia runs in his family as his wife, Janet, holds a doctorate in counselor education from Columbia University and his daughter, Sonya, earned a Ph.D. in medical ethics from the University of London and an M.D. from Harvard University.
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