Book Review: Tremper Longman, Introducing the Old Testament.

Tremper Longman, III. Introducing the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2012. 192 pages, pb. $14.95.

This book is a handy guide to the books of the Old Testament, ideal for students or laymen who want to get an brief overview of the Hebrew Bible. It is an unfortunate fact that the Old Testament is ignored in contemporary preaching and that most laymen have very little idea what is in the first two-thirds of their Bible.  This little book will help fill this gap in Christian discipleship.

For each book of the Old Testament, Longman provides a summery of the contents of the book. This is usually the longest section of the chapter, moving quickly through the book. Remarkably, there is no separate outline, something which is expected in this kind of primer.

After the laying out the contents of the book, Longman briefly treats authorship and date. Authorship is not much of an issue for many books of the Old Testament. Isaiah and Jeremiah have longer sections than Joshua. After authorship, there is a section entitled “genre,” although sometimes this goes beyond identifying the genre of a book. For example, Longman deals with minimalist / maximalist views of Israel’s conquest in Joshua. Other times the genre section is only a short paragraph.

Following genre, every book has a unit entitled “Connections: How does this book anticipate the Gospel” In this section Longman ties the content of the book the New Testament story of Jesus. These are not fanciful or strained, but (in my view) represent real connections. When I noticed that these connections were in every chapter, I immediately went to Song of Solomon as a litmus test of how fanciful Longman’s connections to the Gospel might be. Longman is clear that the Song of Solomon is about human love, and he refuses to allegorize the book. He merely states only that Paul used a marriage metaphor in Eph 5:21-33, so this book could “inspire us to think about the intimacy we enjoy in Jesus.”

There are occasional excursuses, one on the purpose of Kings (p. 66-68) and another on “theological history” (p. 84-85). The genre of the Psalms section is a nice introduction to forms of Hebrew poetry.

These introductions are a little more than one expects to read in a good Study Bible (the ESV Study Bible, for example). Personally, I find the introductions too short, but that is because I would rather read Longman’s Introduction to the Old Testament. I suspect for many people this book will be a handy introduction to books of the Bible which are less familiar.