The Old Testament (Teach Yourself Books Series: World Faiths)

Written by J. Gordon McConville Reviewed By Keemun Sung

One might wonder why an evangelical Christian scholar rather than a rabbi or Jewish scholar writes an Old Testament Introduction in this style for the general reader. Even though this book deals with most of the various subjects and results of OT scholarship within a very limited space, the author seems to finish his work successfully with an evangelical perspective. His clear presentation and vast knowledge could prevent some embarrassment to readers and satisfy their critical taste.

In Chapter I, McConville deals with the cultural and religious background of the OT in the context of the ANE and gives precisely the similarities and differences between the two.

In Chapter II, according to McConville, the history of Israel from Abraham to the return of Israel from captivity must be understood through both theology and history. McConville explains the meaning of the significant events in Israelite history alongside discussion of the archaeological evidence. He also describes the struggles between the ideal and real life of Israel vividly (e.g. the programme of conquest and settlement, and kingship). It is very interesting that the inner framework of OT history begins and ends with enslavement (p. 56) while the outer framework begins with the blessing of Abraham and ends with the reconfirmation of the blessing of Abraham.

Chapter III deals in detail with the contents and composition of the books of the OT. Some explanations are repeated as McConville deals with the same subjects. The author’s simple and clear style helps the reader understand what he says, but in some cases (e.g. the authorship of the Pentateuch, pp. 78ff.) we need to consult his other books to avoid confusion. He discusses the possibility that the Deuteronomistic History (DtrH) (a least Kings, p. 58) was edited by an exilic writer and based on older traditions (p. 87). Even though this area still needs more investigation, agree with McConville that the presentation of kings in DtrH is not used to justify the religious reformation by the deuteronomic movement in the days of Josiah, but to stress that every effort (even by pious kings and prophets) to resist the sinfulness of the people and restore them to the older covenant was finally proved useless and a failure in the time of the exile (pp. 57, 85). However, in the prophetic message, the exile is not the final word of God, and God will restore blessing and fortune (including land?) to his covenantal people by changing their hearts in a new way. The author successfully defends the authenticity and composition of the prophetcial books by the prophets themselves, not by the redactors McConville also deals clearly with the issues and contents of the Writings by using ANE parallels.

In Chapter IV, McConville shows the merits and shortcomings of the various criticisms (e.g. literary, form redaction and canonical criticism). However, it might have been better rhetorical criticism had been included in his analysis of critical methods. McConville then deals with the formation of the canon, and the ancient texts and translations of the OT.

In Chapter V, McConville shows the difference between Jews and Christians in OT hermeneutics. Perhaps comment on Islamic interpretation of the OT would also have been helpful. McConville also deals with some issues on Christian interpretation of the OT (e.g. allegory and typology) and recent trends of radical interpretations (e.g. feministic and political theology).

Lastly, after defining the OT as the book of God, McConville describes the God of the OT as a unique, holy God, who has the covenantal relationship with his people through history. In the covenantal relationship, God judges the people because of their rebellion but finally saves them because of his love. McConville properly and consistently emphasizes the relevance of the OT in our world. We need to hear something more from him on OT ethics in this despairing generation (e.g. on abortion, euthanasia and genetic experimentation). Although three religions accept the ancestorship of Abraham and the divine authority of the OT (p. 161f.), we must show the difference that Jesus makes. Isn’t that our goal in life (including of our study)?

I found some grammatical errors (missing punctuation, inconsistent abbreviation of first names, etc.) in the book (pp. 32, 145–6). The maps need more details for the reader (e.g. important places in Egypt).

This book will help us as we struggle to interpret the OT properly in the contemporary world.

Keemun Sung

Cheltenham and Gloucester College, Cheltenham.