Reading The Old Testament -- By: David W. Baker

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 28:0 (NA 1996)
Article: Reading The Old Testament
Author: David W. Baker

Reading The Old Testament

Tools and Techniques

David W. Baker

David Baker (Ph.D. - University of London) is Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at ATS.

As a Bible teacher, students of Scripture are constantly asking me which books they should add to their library on a particular topic or Bible book. While not precluding the necessity of answering their individual questions, a forum such as this might help answer the question for a wider audience. This article will set out various criteria for evaluation of books, specifically those relating to the Old Testament, though other disciplines should be able to use them also. Using these criteria, I will evaluate a range of books on the Old Testament which have appeared in the past several years, coming from a number of different approaches and looking at different topics.

I. Evaluative Criteria

Several years ago, Douglas Stuart published a useful guide to commentaries in which he included criteria through which they may be judged.1 These will be adapted for this article. Such criteria are necessary since each person coming for advice has different needs, often unarticulated, so one cannot make a sweeping, general recommendation (except for one’s own books, of course!). Hopefully the categories and observations noted below will help frame the questions, and also lead in a search for answers.

Five major areas need to be explored in selecting one’s reading resources. They involve questions of genre or form, breadth, depth, audience, and perspective or slant. (1) First one needs to note the obvious, that there are available different books to address different needs. Commentaries explain a text sequentially, while introductions highlight questions asked of a text and its history of interpretation, histories explore the socio-political background and other studies might look at theological motifs. Still other works explain the methodology of how to read or interpret a text. (2) Breadth concerns the amount of material covered in a piece. Some volumes cover the entire Bible, while others focus down even to a single verse. Clearly the wider the breadth of coverage, the more difficult it is to cover a topic or text with any (3) depth. This concerns the amount of detail available for any given point. Some commentaries, for example, can devote several pages to a single verse, while others spend the same on an entire chapter. (4) Audience concerns the intended readership of a piece, whether the linguistically-trained scholar or graduate research student, the working pastor, the

educated layperson, or the interested inquirer. This can...

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