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Old Testament

What is the Old Testament Good For?

As I reflect on two semesters of study of the Hebrew Bible I think about the ways in which the Old Testament has contributed to our culture at large. Countless biblical allusions are embedded in our speech:  Adam and Eve, my brother’s keeper, manna from heaven, the scapegoat, and feet of clay.  The stories of the Old Testament have provided inspiration for beautiful works of art.  Words from the Psalms have provided solace and comfort in times of trouble.  The Prophets of old with their attention to the helpless and the oppressed have called us to act on behalf of those who are marginalized in our own day.  These are some of the most basic ways in which we are affected by the legacy we have received.

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King over All the Sons of Pride

Whoever confronts me, I will repay.  Under the heavens, he is mine!
– Leviathan, Job 42:10b-11 (Newsom, Book 623)

Leviathan…  On earth, we are told, he has no equal.  A creature without fear, who surveys all that is lofty.  At the climactic height of Yahweh’s response from the whirlwind, this mythic creature, the embodiment of primordial chaos, serves as the final word to a man’s [Instructor’s Comment:  no inclusive language?] complaint against God.  And then, like poetry in motion, Leviathan plunges into the depths and disappears, a shining wake marking his passing.

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History from a Perspective

As a general rule most readers approach a text differently depending on its perceived genre.  When reading a poem we often assign value to alliteration, wordplay, meter and the author’s ability to convey maximum imagery or meaning in a succinct form.  Novels are evaluated for their settings, character development, narrative technique and other literary attributes.  When presented with a research article or a nonfiction book we may look for coherent and convincing argumentation or a clear exposition of a body of facts.  In addition, the reader must make a decision about how to read the material.  Will the information presented be taken at face value or critically examined and perhaps questioned?

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Ideological Readings

Fueled by the philosophies of the Enlightenment, modernist approaches to biblical interpretation have optimistically presupposed an objective, scientific detachment as both possible and desirable when interpreting the biblical narrative.  However, beginning with the development of postmodern thought in the second half of the twentieth century, scholars have begun to question whether it is possible to achieve such a goal (Newsom 502).  As a conscious understanding of our own cognitive framework and its role in our perception of reality has emerged, scholars have begun to understand two things.  First, the authors of the biblical texts shaped their stories according to a set of assumptions about the nature of reality.  Second, readers filter the biblical narrative through a subjective lens that is shaped by their own assumptions about reality.

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Biblical Scholarship and the Creationism/Evolution Debates

In 1859 Charles Darwin published the first edition of his seminal work Origin of the Species, in which he presented his theory of evolution.  According to Darwin’s hypothesis, many organisms on our planet originated from other living things that have incorporated modifications over successive generations (Evolution).  In response to Darwinian evolution, Creationists presented an alternative theory, asserting that matter, the world and all life were created by God ex nihilo (from nothing).  Creationism today breaks into two primary strains:  Biblical Creationism, which invests the six-day creation story of Genesis with historicity, and Scientific Creationism, which attributes the role of creator to God but is less concerned with a literal six days of creation.  Both schools of creation thought eschew the notion that human beings may have evolved from lower animal forms. (Creationism)

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What to Call the Old Testament?

For centuries Christians have used the designations "Old Testament" and "New Testament" to organize works that they have included in the Bible.  Until recently these titles have been accepted within the Christian context without question.  But is there a need to examine our presuppositions?

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