Studies in the Religious Tradition of the Old Testament

Written by P. R. Ackroyd Reviewed By Mike Butterworth

Peter Ackroyd was formerly Samuel Davidson Professor of Old Testament at London University. Perhaps known best for his translation of the massive Introduction by Eissfeldt, he is respected by all who know him as a scholar of wide knowledge of the whole OT field and for his penetrating thought and balanced judgment. It is therefore very pleasing to have this collection of essays which date from 1961 to 1986 dealing with a theme which has interested Professor Ackroyd throughout that time: continuity within the religious tradition of the OT.

There are three parts to the book. The first deals with continuity and discontinuity. In other words he investigates the way in which the religion of Israel changed during its long history and in what way it remained the same. At different times in Israel’s history there were different emphases: new insights were gained, tension was perceived between certain aspects of their faith and experience. How did they relate their received traditions to new situations that arose? This is one of the central questions to which Professor Ackroyd offers some answers.

The second part of the book is entitled ‘Aspects of the Prophetic Tradition’. It concentrates on the book of Isaiah, chapters 1–12 and 36–39, with special attention to the way the material is slanted in the text that we have. Ahaz and Hezekiah feature prominently. Part three contains four essays that relate to the canon: ‘A judgment narrative between Kings and Chronicles? An Approach to Amos 7:9–17’ (which suggests that the brief story of Amos’s confrontation with Amaziah may be part of a longer narrative concerning the judgment of the Northern Kingdom); ‘The Open Canon’; and ‘Original Text and Canonical Text’. The Epilogue, the only new essay in the collection, is entitled ‘The Old Testament Religious Tradition: Unity and Change’. Professor Ackroyd attempts to look at what happens in living religions when they both attempt to remain true to their roots while living through changing circumstances. He concludes: ‘However much we may hope or believe that we are maintaining the past, even recovering the primitive, we are in fact making the adjustments without which faith ceases to be real.’

It is not an easy book to read. The style is concise and the reader is obliged quite frequently to refer to biblical references and to weigh carefully what is said. It will be more difficult, too, for evangelical students who do not accept his presuppositions. For instance, they may feel that he assumes a large body of editors at work on the biblical text, who were more concerned to get their own theological point across than to preserve a reliable record of Israel’s history and experience. If that is how the book strikes you—persevere! As long as you do not feel compelled to deny editorial activity or to regard editors as uninspired, there is a great deal to be learned from this book.

Mike Butterworth

Principal, St Albans and Oxford Ministry Course