Encountering the Old Testament: A Christian Survey
Dr. Richard Hess' review of, "Encountering the Old Testament: A Christian Survey," by Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer.
Arnold, Bill T. and Bryan E. Beyer. Encountering the Old Testament: A Christian Survey. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999. ISBN 0-8010-2176-6. Hardback, 512 pp. + CD Rom. $49.99.
This volume presents the best and most complete college-level survey of the Old Testament presently available. It incorporates contemporary media and formats, not only in terms of its CD-Rom, but also with the splendid use of color illustrations, photos, charts, maps, and inserts throughout the book. The language is easy to read with the introduction of new terms highlighted and discussed in each chapter. There is a complete analysis of the Old Testament, beginning with a chapter on background issues such as canon, inspiration, interpretation, etc. The Protestant Christian canon largely forms the sequence of books as they are treated in the volume. In every case there is an outline, a survey of the contents, a discussion of the major historical and interpretive issues, a consideration of date and authorship, and a review of significant theological themes. There is a full awareness of the historical and archaeological context of the material in the Old Testament with a large amount of discussion of key historical issues and many significant passages from contemporary ancient Near Eastern literary sources quoted in relelvant contexts. Further, the generous use of color photographs of sites, realia, and archaeological discoveries brings home to the reader a reality and interest that is otherwise not accessible. In addition to a list of key terms just discussed, each chapter concludes with boxes that provide a summary of key points, a number of study questions to guide in reviewing the literature, and usually about half a dozen recommend sources for further reading on the subject of that chapter. Arnold and Beyer have brought to life the world and study of the Old Testament in a way that will stimulate their readers and provide the sort of survey worthy of college level texts at the end of the twentieth century.
The addition of a CD-Rom is to be expected in this day and age. Nevertheless, the graphics, video clips, and pictorial materials packed into the disk far exceed anything that this reviewer has seen in the field. Although the book can be read and fully appreciated apart from the CD-Rom, this latter aid forms a valuable means of study for the student who wishes to explore areas in more detail and to review each of the chapters in terms of key points. Thus the CD-Rom provides additional “study sessions” that supplement but do not replace the material contained in the book.
The subtitle, “A Christian Survey,” hints at the importance that the authors attach to relating the “Old Testament” to the New Testament and to the Christian faith. Beyond the matter of theological and thematic links of the two sets of scriptures, there lies the much more important application of doctrine, ethics, and morals to the world of today (including topics of social justice and gender issues). Perhaps nowhere more than in the prophets does the application of modern issues become relevant. Illustrating this is the chart on p. 357, “Today’s Twisted Morals,” which is an attempt to apply and exemplify Isaish’s indictment of the twisting of evil and calling it good.
The value of this survey has repaid its use again and again. Instructors of college level Old Testament survey courses have confirmed their satisfaction with the volume and the high degree of appreciation and learning that their students draw from it.
It remains to repeat the observation that there is presently no better survey of the Old Testament, whether Christian or otherwise, and to endorse its wide use among students of this topic. The following problems (both content and technical) were noted in the CD-Rom used with a Macintosh computer: In the introduction MB and LB are confused. The map for the central route of the exodus shows the suggested location of Mt. Sinai in Midian too far to the south. In the outline for Leviticus the Holiness Code is attached to chs. 11-16 rather than to 17-26. That the most likely author of Nehemiah is Ezra would be surprising to Nehemiah scholars such as Williamson, Clines, and Hoglund. Noth is consistently mispronounced. Strange symbol keeps appearing in place of what may be a dash. It appears as an “o” with an accent mark on it. In the outline on 2 Samuel where is ch. 9? The outline of 2 Kings has no entries when one moves to the second page. Pronunciation is sometimes an embaressment reaching a high point when pronouncing Qohelet as Ko-hay-let. Sometimes rather sexist language is used as with the “fathers of prophecy”. “Messiah” is misspelled as “annointed one”. Regarding the discussion on the origin of prophecy, ecstatics were not limited to Mari. The two different dates for Sennacherib’s invasion include either 714 or 701. However, 714 is impossible because Sennacherib was not yet king (he ascended the throne in 705B.C.). The Roman numerals for the outline of Is 40-66 have some gaps and problems with their arrangement. In the outline for Hosea I could not move “God Takes Israel to Court” to its slot. The same is true of the last line in the Micah outline. The outlines of Habakkuk and Zephaniah are reversed.
Richard S. Hess
Professor of Old Testament