THE OLD TESTAMENT STORY: AN INTRODUCTION WITH CD-ROMWritten by Don C. Benjamin Reviewed By Mark Gignilliat
Introductions have carved out a unique niche in the community of biblical scholars. New ones seem to arrive on the scene every year. Don Benjamin’s new Old Testament introduction is an accessibly written volume intended for undergraduate audiences. There actually may be a lacuna in this particular market which Benjamin seeks to fill. Laudations aside, Benjamin’s new introduction to the OT is an attempt to bring together assumed historical-critical conclusions (e.g., JEDP) with narrative, social-scientific, and feminist criticisms. According to Benjamin, his approach to OT introduction is more critically analytical than traditional historical Critics who focused on history per se more than criticism. The result of Benjamin’s efforts, in the estimation of this reviewer, is an approach to OT introduction that is defined by social anthropology with little to no recourse made to categories of revelation or canon. In his concluding methodology chapter Benjamin states, ‘The Bible is not a textbook of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or even the American way of life, but an exquisite expression of the questions with which, eventually, every human being must struggle’ (19).
Benjamin’s stated aims and intentions are of more interest to this reviewer than the actual conclusions drawn in his discussions of the biblical books. Though not exhaustive, a few of these stated presuppositions need be rehearsed. Firstly, traditionally orthodox categories such as inspiration or the divine authorship of Scripture do not come into play in Benjamin’s work. In fact, assumed orthodox presuppositions are probably a hindrance in one’s reading. Benjamin states that the Bible is the Word of God ‘but it is not the autobiography of God’ (9). It isn’t God telling the story. Rather, the stories are told about God. And while evangelicals and/or orthodox Christians would want to affirm the incarnational aspect of the biblical texts, seeking to avoid biblical doceticism, this would not be at the expense of dispensing with the divine authorship of Scripture nor the constitutive role this presupposition plays in exegesis and interpretation.
Secondly, Benjamin wants to emphasize that his work is Biblical Studies and not Bible Study. Biblical Studies is an academic discipline, whereas Bible Study is religious devotion (17). Working with Enlightenment principles that tended to eschew the role religious devotion plays in interpretation, Benjamin is fully vested in the modernist period of Biblical studies without the nuancing of historical-critical judgements and theological concerns found in someone like Brevard Childs. The distinction between participation in the subject matter of Scripture and the actual task of exegesis itself is, in the estimation of this reviewer, unfortunate.
Finally, to call the Bible the Word of God or Scripture, according to Benjamin, reveals that ‘yesterday is important for understanding today’ (463). It does not reveal the over against-ness of Scripture, its authority, or any of the other categories that might be valued in an orthodox understanding of Christian Scripture. Rather, the Bible is a mirror of humanity’s general problems and concerns whether one is Christian, Jew, or Muslim (463).
There is much that one might find frustrating about this introduction from certain perspectives, theological or other e.g., why the move to Isaiah 60 from Isaiah 45 with no discussion of either the central role Isaiah 49 or the suffering servant plays in the text’s literary movement). One might assume that this particular work had general undergraduate programmes in mind and in that milieu may receive special reception. Indeed much of the background material is keenly interesting. For those who value a theology of Scripture as an essential pre-understanding for one’s approach to exegesis, this introduction might be found disappointing.
Beeson Divinity School