Creating the Old Testament: The Emergence of the Hebrew Bible.
Edited by Dr Stephen Bigger
Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1989. Available: print on demand.
know for certain very little about the history and times in which the Hebrew
Bible (Old Testament) was written. But the books were written (by anonymous
the work of fifteen scholars
the issues in this book therefore are essential as we move into the 21st
1. The Hebrew
2. The Authority
and Use of the Hebrew Bible in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Humanist
3. Symbol and
4. Genesis: History
6. Covenant and Law
7. The Former
9. Stories of the
10. Prophesy and the
11. After the Exile.
12. The Psalms.
13. The Wisdom
14. The Five
15. The Other Books.
Note: 'AD' and 'BC. derives from early Christian
In retrospect, I regret that there was no chapter on Feminist Interpretation. When I asked for volunteers in 1987 at the Society for Old Testament Study (SOTS) this was a new field. Two writers would happily have jointly written such a chapter, had I thought to ask them. That field has produced extensive literature since that time.
concept of 'Old Testament', the old covenant as contrasted to a newly emerging
covenant, emerged before the Christian era. The prophet Jeremiah saw the
possibility of a new covenant written on the heart, a spiritual faith in which
all will know God. It would replace the Sinai covenant made after the exodus
- a Jew, and a Pharisee turned Christian - spoke, in a vein similar to
Jeremiah, of the Torah of Moses as the old 'testament' or covenant, a written
code which kills, a 'dispensation of death, carved in letters on stone' (2
Corinthians 3.6-16). Its injunctions were so far-reaching that no one could
hope to obey them perfectly, and all must live with their failure and its implications.
The early Church regarded the Hebrew Bible as scripture, often quoting it as an
authoritative text. Melito of Sardis (died c.190 CE) and Tertullian (c.160-225 CE) are the first known writers to call the books 'Old
Testament' - the first in Greek, and the second in Latin. By the third century
CE, Christian writers had begun to contrast the Hebrew Bible with the
New Testament writings, often with pejorative overtones, to create the
impression of a group of archaic books, of little value except for Messianic
prophecies foretelling Jesus's mission - that is, to create the idea of an Old
Testament which looked forward to the coming of Jesus and Christianity,
preparing the way for something better. The contributors to this volume wish to
allow the Old Testament writings to speak for themselves, helping the reader to
understand what they are trying to say, and to appreciate the books for what
they really are.
books of the Hebrew Bible were created by anonymous writers during the first
millennium BCE. Their messages and concerns are the central theme of this book.
Ours is the story of how the writings which make up the Hebrew Bible emerged
from their mouths and from their pens as expressions of their great creativity,
interpreting life as they saw it and conveying meanings they glimpsed. Others
appreciated their ideas, preserved their words, and developed their teaching,
sometimes in new directions. It is easy for readers to get lost in the minutiae
of biblical criticism, interested for so long primarily in historical
reconstruction; but this book encourages those who will, to listen to the words
themselves with an open mind, and to allow the messages of the Hebrew Bible to
emerge once again after centuries of Christian interpretation, which has been
selective in its concerns and has obscured by reinterpretation some of the intrinsic
value of the Hebrew books. The Christian dimension is not unimportant - but it
is a secondary dimension, involving reinterpretation, and should not blind us
to other perspectives.
book is not an introduction to the books of the Hebrew Bible, nor yet another
fundamental aim of this volume on the Hebrew Bible is encourage readers to understand
the text and its implications. Since the text was handwritten, mostly in
Hebrew (some portions are in Aramaic) we need to explore whether the text has
been accurately transmitted. For example, 1 Samuel 13.1 notes that 'Saul was
son of one year when he became king, and he ruled over
studying the Hebrew Bible, we spend most of our time reflecting on a wide range
of interpretation, rather than on the text itself. A translation is
itself an interpretation which selects one line of thought: the original writer
would have been acutely aware of the wide range of meanings in a word and
intended these to interact. There are also traditions of modern interpretation
which are hard to break through: notably the Hebrew Bible is viewed from the standpoint
of Christian theology, which can blind the reader even to the obvious. Detailed
interpretation of the text is called exegesis - drawing out meanings and
interpretations. In the Jewish
tradition the same general process of interpretation is called midrash.
interpretation of any text is 'just a matter of opinion'. To reach an informed
view, the. reader has to develop a careful methodology. D. J. A.
Clines describes these (in Rogerson, 1983: 26-43) as 'first-order methods',
dealing with our understanding of the text; and 'second-order methods',
using the text for other purposes, such as historical reconstructions. His
firstorder methods are
historical-grammatical criticism: to discover the
natural sense of a text, for the authors in their own time;
textual criticism: to examine the
original texts, and in so doing seek to resolve problems of detail;
redaction criticism: to examine the
literary artistry of the writers (called here redactors or editors), and
to discover why a work has been constructed in the way it has been. (This is
sometimes called literary analysis or literary criticism.)
historical criticism: using the text
to reconstruct, as far as possible, what actually happened.
source criticism: examining sources if known and
reconstructing hypothetical sources behind a work.
form criticism: reconstructing the (now lost)
oral process, and the hypothetical oral layer underlying a text.
has often been given to these 'second-order' tasks, alongside historical-grammatical
commentaries. The interest in literary questions of a text’s flow and artistry
- is relatively recent. Robert Alter (1981, 12f) argues that the major emphasis
in biblical studies had been 'excavative', searching the text for data about
history - with astonishingly little interest in developing a disciplined way of
studying the text itself, as one might with Shakespeare or Tolstoy. Literary
studies have mushroomed over the past decade, and Alter's work is now viewed as
'pioneering'. R. Polzin (1980: 5), in agreeing with Alter, called the results
of historical-critical analyses of biblical material 'disappointing and
inadequate'. The present work strikes a balance between literary and historical
methods, in the belief that each is essential to the task of developing our
understanding and appreciation of the texts of the Hebrew Bible.
divine name in the Hebrew Bible is written with four letters, YHWH, which
Jewish readers have traditionally read as Adonai ('my Lord') in case the
divine name is uttered 'in vain' - so contravening the third commandment.
Attention here is focused on the dangers of insincerity. In Hebrew YHWH is
vocalized with the vowels Adonai, reminding readers to make the
replacement: this produced in English the hybrid name 'Jehovah'. To find the
appropriate vowels, scholars went to eatly translations and transliterations
(e.g. writing Hebrew in Greek characters). Critical works normally refer to the
Israelite god as Yahweh, or God if the reference is more general.
This convention has been followed in this volume because of its wide audience;
Jewish readers are asked to bear with this usage and make their own mental
adjustments. English translations generally replace Yahweh with 'the LORD' and
this too has been followed in biblical quotations.