Book Reviews

An Introduction to the Old Testament

Walter Brueggemann Louisville 2003-11-30

As an Old Testament scholar Brueggemann here addresses a genre to which he has not previously contributed any lengthy work, that of a comprehensive overview of all the books of the Old Testament, including discussion of standard rubrics as authorship, date, setting, redaction, final form, and the like. At the same time, his approach differs from that of most works of this kind in a number of significant ways.

The subtitle “The Canon and Christian Imagination” points the way to the first of these departures. Leaning heavily on the work of Brevard Childs, Brueggemann, while sensitive to the need to understand the pro-cess by which the biblical text has achieved its present state, recognizes at the same time that that text is all that is available. Both theology and critical interaction with the biblical data must therefore give heed to the canonical shape of the material and be guided by it more than by hypothetical sources and religious evolutionism. To repeat, however, Brueggemann does not dismiss historical critical methodology. In fact virtually every page of the book reflects his commitment to at least a moderate application of it.

Another feature that sets this work apart from others, not surprisingly, is the author’s constant attention to the theological value of the literature and its practical application to the life of individuals and the church. Here he hits his stride, and given his pastoral concerns he makes perhaps his most important contribution. His “Concluding Reflection” (pp. 391–402) is particularly helpful in bridging the chasm between study about the Bible and study of the Bible. Previous scholars in works of this kind have focused almost exclusively on the former, neglecting the pressing question as to why there exists a Bible at all. Though not the first of more recent introductions to redress this oversight, this work carries it forward in fresh ways and in a more integrative manner.

Most evangelicals will still recoil at Brueggemann’s appeal to unnecessary, outmoded, and unproductive dogmas of classic higher criticism, but these aggravations can be set aside in favor of the greater good that exists in this engaging and enjoyable journey through the Old Testament literature, one guided by a scholar and churchman to whom the Word of God is a precious treasure.

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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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