Book Review: Jason DeRouchie, What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About

DeRouchie, Jason S., editor. What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of Jesus’ Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2013. 496 pp. Hb; $45.99. Link to Kregel.

This new classroom textbook takes its place alongside the New Testament companion volume edited by Kenneth Berding and Matt Williams (Kregel in 2008). Jason DeRouchie (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Bethlehem College and Seminary) edited What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About as a basic introduction to the Old Testament and a worthy competitor to Baker’s Encountering the Old Testament (Second Edition, 2008), Telling God’s Story by Vang and Carter (Broadman & Holman, 2013), or Old Testament Today by Walton and Hill (Zondervan, 2004). Of the four mentioned here, What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About is the most conservative.

DeRouchie, What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared AboutLike most textbooks, there are a number of pedagogical features to help the student understand each unit. Each chapter begins with a few key verses from the chapter and a summary of three or four key themes for the book. Chapters are less than 20 pages and include numerous charts and illustrations. Each chapter concludes with a list of “key words and concepts” for the student to review and a short list of resources for further study. In almost every case these are commentaries from evangelical scholars and there are no journal articles or monographs. Color photographs appear throughout the book, but they do not dominate the text. A major criticism I have of many of the newer “classroom” style textbooks is that there is not all that much text in each chapter because there are so many photographs, charts and sidebars. The text also includes some 160 sidebars connecting the Old Testament to the New. This is a well-designed and printed book, using a glossy paper that reproduces colors photographs and charts well.

DeRouchie explains in his introductory overview that the Old Testament is “authoritative kingdom instruction for God’s people” (p. 28). Since Jesus never read the New Testament, when he spoke of God’s word he meant the Old Testament. Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom, therefore, is predicated on a proper understanding of the Old Testament. With this in mind, DeRouchie constructs a kind of rubric to describe the “progress of covenants” in the Old Testament that climax in Christ (p. 30). This seven period chart uses the word KINGDOM: Kickoff and rebellion (creation fall flood), Instrument of blessing (Patriarchs), Nation (Exodus, Sinai, wilderness), Government in the Promised Land (conquest and kingdoms), Dispersion and return (exile and initial restoration), Overlap of the ages (Christ and the church age), and Mission Accomplished (Christ’s return and kingdom consummated). DeRouchie does provide of more familiar covenant structure (Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New covenants) of the “grand narrative” of Scripture as well as the now-standard “already/not yet” presentation of the ages.

There are several useful appendices. In the section of “expanded charts” there is  a list of the genre of every psalm with additional comments by Larry Crutchfield, a chart summarizing the general content of the Old Testament Law by DeRouchie, and a handy one-page chart of key people in the Old Testament (more or less a time-line). Appendix two is a single page chart collecting all of the “key chapters” of the books of the Old Testament and appendix four is a KINGDOM Bible reading plan. Appendix 4 collects all of the single line “taglines” for the books in a single chart, while appendix 5 collects all of the themes from each book into a single list.

What sets this introductory text apart from other similar books is that each chapter is written by a different scholar, providing a range of voices on the books of the Old Testament. A total of seventeen authors contribute to the volume, including Preston Sprinkle (Ezekiel), Andrew Schmutzer (Numbers), Gary V. Smith (Isaiah, Esther) Stephen Dempster (Genesis, the Twelve), and John Crutchfield (Psalms).  DeRouchie contributes Leviticus (with Jeffery Mooney), Deuteronomy, 1-2 Kings (with Donald Fowler), Nehemiah (with Daryl Aaron), and a number of additional essays and the introduction page for each chapter.

One twist in this textbook is that the books are arranged in the canonical order of the Hebrew Bible. I personally appreciate this, since that is the way I have taught Old Testament intro for the last few years and it is difficult to find a textbook that follows the “canonical order.” I am not sure that I would have used the canonical order from Baba Bathra 14b (p.45), since that canonical list the Major Prophets as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and the Twelve. By using that order, students will be confused, especially since there is no real explanation for why the order is different from even modern printed Hebrew Bibles.

Evaluation. This book is targeted to conservative, evangelical students. There is a high view of scripture and only rarely touches on higher critical issues. For example, in the introduction to Genesis written by DeRouchie, Moses wrote Genesis using source material, but there is no hint that other theories of authorship exist. In the chapter on Genesis there is a comparison of the biblical story with Mesopotamian creation myths and the Gilgamesh Epic appears in comparison to the Flood narrative, but only briefly. But this is no knee-jerk conservatism; there is nothing at all on the age of the earth.

The book does not deal with alternative views in other classic Old Testament debates. Chronological notes only appear in Exodus where DeRouchie favors an earlier date for the Exodus. In Isaiah there is no indication that some scholars separate 40-55 and 56 -66 as a “second” and “third” Isaiah. Likewise, the short chapter on Daniel does not deal with challenges to the early date for the book. In my view, it is better to address the issues at least in a side-bar format so that students are aware that alternative views are out there on these issues and that there are conservative answers for them.  Other OT introductions marketed to conservative classrooms do acknowledge these alternatives and attempt to give some sort of a response. To ignore them seems to set the student up for a shock the first time the read a commentary that talks about Second Isaiah or encounters the JEDP theory.

Nevertheless, the book does meet its goal of providing a readable, Christian, faith-affirming introduction to the Old Testament. My criticism is something like, “this is not the book I would have written.”

Conclusion. It is written at a fairly easy reading level so that non-seminary students should be able to use the book without difficulty. I could see this book being a good textbook at an advanced high school level or Bible college as well. I am not aware of any additional features (online images, quiz banks, etc.) that might help a college professor teach a course based on this text, Kregel should consider that as a possible “added value” to their academic customers.

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.