Hubbard Jr., Robert L. and J. Andrew Dearman. Introducing the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 560 pp. Hb; $40. Link to Eerdmans
This new textbook from Eerdmans intended to be an up-do-date and user friendly textbook usable in both undergraduate and graduate level classes. In fact, EerdWorld has already published Ten Reasons to use Introducing the Old Testament in your classroom. Robert L. Hubbard Jr. is professor emeritus of biblical literature at North Park Theological Seminary. He wrote the commentary on Ruth in the NICOT series (Eerdmans, 1988). Andrew Dearman is associate dean for Fuller Texas and professor of Old Testament. He wrote the commentary on Hosea in the NICOT series (Eerdmans 2010) and Jeremiah and Lamentations in the NIV Application Commentary series (Zondervan, 2002).
Two introductory chapters at the beginning of the volume. The first is a short introduction to the volume, the second intends to set Old Testament history in context. The authors provide an overall sketch of ancient Near Eastern history and briefly explains how historians date ancient events. They discuss how ancient history selects and interprets events using the Omride dynasty in Israel. The modern historian must draw on several streams of data (biblical texts, Assyrian and Moabite texts, archaeology) to understand this history more fully. The introduction deals with the contentious debate between “minimalist” who dismiss textual evidence in favor of archaeology and “maximalists” who favor the written record. The authors chart a middle course and argue for a 1250 B.C. Exodus, followed by no more than 150 years of tribal life before some form of monarchy emerging about 1100 B.C. The book concludes with a final chapter on the canon and text of the Hebrew Bible and a four-page glossary of key terms.
For each unit there is an introductory chapter for each unit (for example, “What is the Torah”). “What is Hebrew Poetry” is added to the unit on the prophets along with a chapter on the prophets in general, the unit on poetry has “What is Wisdom?” The authors provide a chapter on each book in the Hebrew Bible, although Genesis divided into primeval (Gen 1-11) and patriarchal history (Gen 12-50) and all the two-part books in the English Bible are combinesd. The twelve Minor Prophets are combined into four chapters of three books each. The authors re-order the Minor Prophets into logic units such as the three the eighth century prophets (Hosea Amos and Micah) and the three post-exilic prophets.
Each book is set into the context of the story of the whole Hebrew Bible using timelines charts and maps. Following a summary of the contents of the book the authors provide reading assignments with though provoking questions. For example, after reading 1 Kings 22, the student is asked to respond to the idea of God sending a “lying prophet.” How might this affect one’s view of God? (p. 190). For Leviticus, the student is asked to connect the instructions of Leviticus to God’s mission in the world: will these commands advance or impede God’s mission? (p. 82). These questions are well-designed for short papers or discussions in a classroom on online forum. Following the questions is a short bibliography directing students to more advanced studies.
The book is illustrated with a variety of tables, diagrams, maps and timelines. In addition, there are color photographs illustrating key archaeological finds and many examples modern art to illustrate a concept. For example, Vanitas Still Life by Hendrick Andriessen (1650) is used in Ecclesiastes. Too many times an introductory textbook is over-illustrated with photographs, sacrificing actual text. This is not the case for Interpreting the Old Testament.
With respect to content, although the authors do engage with modern scholarship, most of the material in this book will fit well in any classroom setting. They often simply avoid extremely controversial issues. For example, they discuss potential parallels between the creation and flood stories and other ancient Near Eastern myths. But there is no engagement of the highly charged issue of creation and science or the historicity of Adam. The bibliography points students to Walton’s Lost World of Genesis, but also Kenneth Matthews’s commentary on Genesis in the conservative NAC series. They do present Isaiah as a compendium written over 350 years (p. 282) but invite the student to reflect on why (or why not) this may be an important issue.
Any survey of the whole Hebrew Bible is open to the criticism of brevity. With so much material to cover, some chapters are less than ten pages including study questions and bibliography. Considering the book is printed with wide margins and frequent illustrations, some chapters are very brief indeed. Given the importance of Genesis 1-11 for the rest of the Hebrew Bible, there is less than six pages of actual text, and this is broken up by several illustration. However, this brevity allows the classroom teacher to fill-in material according to their own preferences.
Introducing the Old Testament achieves its goal to provide a readable and user-friendly textbook for an introduction to the Old Testament class. But the book ought to be useful for any individual or small group which desires to understand the overall flow of the story of the Old Testament as well as gain sufficient background to read these books with clarity.
NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.