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Review of two Old Testament Introductions

Thomas Römer, Jean-Daniel Macchi, and Christophe Nihan, eds., Einleitung in das Alte Testament: Die Bücher der Hebräischen Bibel und die alttestamentlichen Schriften der katholischen, protestantischen und orthodoxen Kirchen. Trans. by Christine Henschel, Julia Hillebrand, and Wolfgang Hüllstrung. Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 2013. xiv + 888 pp. Hb. € 62.

Christian Frevel, et al. eds., Einleitung in das Alte Testament. 9th edition. Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 2016. 728 pp. Pb. € 34. 

How can a biblical scholar stay abreast of current trends in research? To draw out the specific challenges that I have in mind, allow me to ask the question a bit more pointedly, how can specialists in wisdom literature remain informed about discussions and developments in pentateuchal studies? The challenge is obvious, yet it remains a genuine obstacle that shows no sign of reversal: the rate of publishing is staggering and anyone attempting to stay informed can feel overcome with texts. The challenge becomes even more pronounced when we consider how language and geographical divides act as barriers to the exchange of ideas.

In the present review, which focuses on the field of Old Testament study, I hope simply to argue for the value of consulting German introductions to the Old Testament and inform the reader of two recent contributions to the genre.

In the first case, allow me to state the obvious: introductions to the Bible are meant to be reader-friendly overviews of key issues and major themes. Introductions are especially helpful when reading up on a field in which you are not a specialist as they provide great refreshers on all of the essential information that you forgot after seminary or your first graduate course. Additionally, if you are a bit out of touch with a particular field, introductions offer helpful bibliographic information that is, in theory, up-to-date. This feature of introductions is especially helpful in recent years as the proliferation of publications has become unmanageable.

Introductions also become a valuable method for keeping abreast of developments in other academic contexts. In pentateuchal scholarship, for example, a number of important projects have been launched or recently completed that have as their goal the building of dialog between different schools of thought and geographic regions. Over the years, the English, German, and Hebrew speaking worlds have gradually moved beyond previously held “consensus” views in importantly distinct ways.

Let us consider an example: If an American New Testament scholar were keen to understand development in the pentateuchal research within the German speaking world, he/she could pick up the recent Mohr Siebeck volume The Formation of the Pentateuch, but this would likely provide more information than the average New Testament scholar’s passing interest justifies.

Instead, our imagined New Testament scholar might consider picking up the latest German language introduction written for the undergraduate level. Not only does this guarantee an overview of the history of scholarship, but it will do so at a reading level that more readily accommodates our American scholar. At the risk of painting with too broad a brush, German biblical scholars are usually very thorough when it comes to literature reviews, and I have found this to be the case with the present introductions in view. Such literature reviews are invaluable in the case of foreign research contexts as they will often discuss scholarship that has not yet made its way into English translations or else the debate has remained contained within the German realm.

The first introduction in mind is a German translation of the French volume Introduction à l’Ancien Testament (2d. ed.; Geneva: Editions Labor et Fides, 2009). Although originally published in French, many of the contributors are Germans, thus we can still consider this a German introduction, however with the added benefit of encompassing the worlds of French and Swiss scholarship. As a Deuteronomy specialist, it was Thomas Römer that first attracted me to this introduction, as he makes the contribution to the chapters on the overview of pentateuchal research and the Deuteronomistic History. The book also has such esteemed contributors as Martin Rose, Konrad Schmid, and Christoph Uehlinger.

As the German subtitle suggests, a particularly noteworthy feature of this volume is the attention given to the Deuterocanonical and Pseudopigriphal texts, not a common feature in most American and British introductions to the Old Testament. Further, the books of the Protestant Old Testament are organized employing the traditional divisions of the Tanakh: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. Within each of these literary divisions, the editors have provided an introduction to discuss major interpretive issues and the history of scholarship. For example, Römer has excellent introductions to the Pentateuch, the Deuteronomistic History, and the wisdom literature; Schmid introduces the form and genre of the Latter Prophets; Macchi introduces the Book of the Twelve; and Christoph Nihan introduces Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. These have proven to be very helpful contributions again and again.

The second introduction that I wish to discuss is the Kohlhammer Einleitung in das Alte Testament. Without a doubt, this introduction is a standard text for German undergraduate students (especially within the Catholic tradition), evidenced by the fact that this is now the ninth edition since 1995. Begun under the editorial supervision of Erich Zenger, it has since his death, passed into capable hands of Christian Frevel. Like the previous introduction, this volume has all of the features that you would expect from an Introduction to the Old Testament: discussions of canon, textual criticism, and an overview of the content and research history of each book of the Old Testament. It also contains a helpful glossary of key terms and a timeline of Israel/Palestine in biblical times.

The text only discusses the books of the Protestant Bible (including Apocrypha) and does so according to the following genres: Pentateuch, Historical, Wisdom, and Prophetic. This organization reflects the German context in which those students studying theology in their undergraduate course will have the specific intention of entering the local parish ministry of the Lutheran or Catholic churches. The overall emphasis is on reading from a Christian perspective, although the specific hermeneutic that is demonstrated within the text is decidedly historical and not explicitly Christian.

In all, these volume are eminently readable and have proven useful for my research on numerous occasions. Such volumes are excellent ways to refresh one’s understanding of key interpretive issues, as well as to learn of recent developments in biblical studies. These texts also demonstrate a growing attempt within the world of biblical studies to stem the tide of new form-critical and redaction-critical theories and instead move toward a sustained period of synthesis and re-evaluation. Accordingly, these volumes not only act as surveys, but as serious efforts to examine the history of Old Testament scholarship and to make claims about what has been helpful and what has not.

— Stephen Campbell, University of Durham (UK)

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