The Old Testament: Text and Context

Written by Victor H. Matthews and James C. Moyer Reviewed By James McKeown

This is an introductory textbook to the literature, history and social world of the OT. It presents material in the context of the OT as a whole and of the Ancient Near East. The work is illustrated by maps, charts and photographs.

The first chapter introduces the student at a basic level to archaeology and the Bible, geography and climate of the Ancient Near East, and oral tradition and the development of the canon. The main body of the book is divided into four historical periods: premonarchic, monarchic, Persian and Hellenistic. Within this framework the order of the canon is followed except for the prophets. An introduction to Wisdom Literature and the Psalms is included, somewhat arbitrarily, in the section on the monarchic period. Four themes are singled out for more detailed treatment: covenant, universalism, wisdom and remnant. A brief explanation of each theme is given in the introduction and this is expanded in the appropriate contexts throughout the rest of the book.

Throughout the textbook there are references to ancient extra-biblical material and some comparisons with more recent events. For example, the book of Judges is compared to frontier life in America in the late nineteenth century, and the judges likened to ‘Billy the Kid’, ‘Jessie James’ and ‘Wild Bill Hickok’! America is not the only source for such comparisons since Jael, who murdered General Sisera, is put in the same company as ‘Lizzie Borden’ and ‘Mata Hari’.

Special features of the book include ‘insets’, shaded areas of text which draw attention to various topics that the authors want to underline. These range from an excursus on the authorship of the Pentateuch to an outline of ancient Israelite grief rituals. Technical terms associated with biblical studies are set in bold print throughout. Usually they are defined where they occur, and a complete list is also given at the end of the book. A list of study questions concludes each chapter. The student will find these questions helpful in identifying some of the main issues raised in biblical studies but comprehensive answers will not always be found in the textbook itself.

Views on issues such as authorship and dating of the literature tend to reflect modern scholarship. The issues are not discussed in detail and often only one view is expressed. Thus Daniel is ‘most likely a Hellenistic work’ (p. 256). There is very little bibliographical material. Students are referred to the main dictionaries, encyclopaedias, atlases and one-volume commentaries, but there is no guidance on further reading on specific issues.

In conclusion, this is a basic textbook introducing OT studies. It will assist newcomers to gain an overview of the subject and will introduce them to some of the technical terms employed.

James McKeown

James McKeown
Union Theological College
Belfast, Northern Ireland