Tanak: A Theological and Critical Introduction to the Jewish Bible

Written by Marvin A. Sweeney Reviewed By Igal German

Marvin Sweeney, the author of Tanak: A Theological and Critical Introduction to the Jewish Bible, is professor of Hebrew Bible at the Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University. He has written numerous studies such asReading the Hebrew Bible after the Shoah: Engaging Holocaust Theology (2008), 1 and 2 Kings: A Commentary (2007),Form and Intertextuality in Prophetic and Apocalyptic Literature (2005), The Prophetic Literature (2005), Zephaniah (2003), King Josiah of Judah: The Lost Messiah of Israel (2001), The Twelve Prophets (2000), and Isaiah 1–39 (1996). Sweeney is currently preparing new commentaries on Ezekiel and Isa 40–66, as well as a two-volume study of Jewish Mysticism.

In Tanak, Sweeney offers a lucid critical theological introduction to the threefold division of the Jewish Bible: Torah, Prophets, and Writings. There is a detailed analysis of the larger and smaller textual units following the MT order of the books and their internal textual divisions. At the heart of this discussion, Sweeny underlines the historical and literary background as well as the overarching message. Throughout this book, he employs the conventional Jewish style of writing the divine name “G-d.” The biblical text is studied according to contemporary historical methodology with an eye on Jewish interpretation and tradition. To this end, Sweeney undertakes to study the central theological themes of the Hebrew Bible: the election of Israel and the institution of the Sinaitic covenant (Torah); breaking of the covenant with God and the emergence of Israelite prophets (Prophecy); and the national restoration of Israel (Writings). In his own words,

In an effort to interpret the Tanak as the foundational sacred scripture of Judaism, this volume proposes a systematic critical and theological study of the Jewish Bible. It draws upon the Christian discipline of biblical or OT theology, although its aims and presuppositions are very different, in large measure due to the different aims and presuppositions of Judaism and Christianity. It is critical insofar as it draws heavily on modern critical study of the Bible although throughout the volume it will be clear that the critical foundations must themselves be self-critically examined at every point in order to provide a secure basis for theological assessment of the biblical works. (p. 4)

This volume consists of five major parts: (1) Introduction (pp. 3–41); (2) Torah (pp. 45–167); (3a) The Former Prophets (pp. 171–261); (3b) The Latter Prophets (pp. 265–367); (4) Writings (pp. 371–483); and (5) Conclusion (pp. 487–89). Also it is furnished with a bibliography and indexes of authors and subjects. In chapter 1, Sweeney offers a thorough study of the Tanak as the foundation of Judaism, Christian OT theology, Jewish Biblical Theology, and the task of Jewish Biblical Theology. In particular, Sweeney aims to refute the myth of biblical theology as a uniquely Christian endeavour (contra Jon D. Levenson). For this reason, the author pays particular attention to his theological predecessors and contemporaries of biblical theological scholarship. In chapter 2, the readers are introduced to the literary framework of the toledot formula in Genesis along with a detailed study of the narratives of Israel’s journey in the wilderness and the entrance to the land (Exodus–Deuteronomy). The first part of chapter 3 focuses on the Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. Accordingly, the second part of chapter 3 goes on to unfold the literary-historical contours of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, along with the Twelve Minor Prophets. Chapter 4 unfolds the literary structure and theological message of the Writings: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, the Five Scrolls, Daniel, Ezra–Nehemiah, and Chronicles. Finally, chapter 5 concludes with some challenging thoughts: (1) biblical theology is an appropriate field of study for Jewish biblical scholars; (2) Tanak is the normative foundation of Judaism; (3) the Jewish Bible is a collection of diverse literary works that do not represent consistent Israelite theology; and (4) the Hebrew Bible is the common ground for interreligious dialogue between Jews and Christians.

Without a doubt, Tanak: A Theological and Critical Introduction to the Jewish Bible is a landmark in fostering Jewish biblical theology. This eloquent book will help Christians to discover anew the foundations of Jewish theological reception of the Hebrew Bible and cultivate fruitful dialogue with Jewish biblical scholarship. Bible teachers and seminarians from either Jewish or Christian background will enjoy studying and implementing this solid introduction to the Hebrew Bible written from a contemporary Jewish perspective.

Igal German

Igal German
Wycliffe College, University of Toronto
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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