Review: A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament

9780190238599Michael D. Coogan is Lecturer of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament at Harvard Divinity School, Director of Publications for the Harvard Semitic Museum, Editor-in-Chief of Oxford Biblical Studies Online, and Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at Stonehill College. Coogan is a respected and accomplished author of numerous scholarly publications and General Editor of The New Oxford Annotated Bible (4th ed.). Most recently, Coogan released an updated and revised edition of his well-known Old Testament textbook—an introductory textbook that is commonplace among undergraduate classrooms.

A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament: The Hebrew Bible in Its Context (3rd ed.) is largely a more condensed rendering of The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures (3rd ed.). The latter being more technical and detail than the former. For this updated and revised edition Coogan invited a collaborator, Cynthia R. Chapman of Oberlin College, to provide fresh insight and perspective. However, as Coogan explains in the preface, “She brought to the revision not just a fresh perspective, but also expertise in gender theory and anthropological approaches to the study of the Bible” (xix).

Coogan and Chapman have sought to provide updates and revisions throughout the volume that present the most recent scholarship with clarity, accuracy, and accessibility (xx). Moreover, the sections of the volume that deal with women have been more fully integrated into the context of the specific section rather than marginalized into subsections. Likewise, many interested readers will celebrate Coogan’s decision to decrease previous emphasis on the Documentary Hypothesis, and increase discussion of other interpretive strategies and methodologies of the Torah. These changes alone make this edition a welcomed and more balanced experienced.

Those familiar with the previous editions will recognize and rejoice in the overall layout of the volume. Each chapter begins with a short introduction that connects the previous section to the coming material, and closes with a summary section to review the material discussed. Within this framework Coogan has highlighted important names and terms, provided a list of curated review questions, and offered the readers a brief bibliography for further study. At the end of the book the reader will find a general bibliography organized topically for ease of use, a glossary of all the highlighted words for quick reference, and an index for ease of navigation.

A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament: The Hebrew Bible in Its Context (3rd ed.) by Michael D. Coogan and Cynthia R. Chapman provides a welcomed revision to an already well-known and well-received classic. Everything previously praised about this volume remains, and what has changed should only warrant additional adoration. While much of the content in this volume will come with criticism and disagreement from more conservative readers, Coogan has offered an introduction worth engaging for readers with a keen awareness of the underlying issues. This is an Old Testament introduction that you will want on your shelf. Who knows you may even need it for class one day. It comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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Review: Historical and Biblical Israel

9780198728771Reinhard G. Kratz is Professor of Old Testament at the University of Göttingen. Kratz previously served as an assistant in the Department of Old Testament at the University of Zurich and held a Visiting Fellowship position in Christ Church College, Oxford. Kratz has studied literary history and theology of the Old Testament, Ancient Near Eastern prophecy, and Judaism in both the Persian and Hellenistic periods. He is the author of several scholarly books, including, The Composition of the Narrative Books of the Old Testament and Law and Religion in the Eastern Mediterranean: From Antiquity to Early Islam (with Anselm C. Hagedron). Most recently, with the assistance of Paul Michael Kurtz (translator), Historical and Biblical Israel: The History, Tradition, and Archives of Israel and Judah was made available for the first time in the English-speaking world.

Historical and Biblical Israel is a tour de force into the life and literature of the people of Israel. Kartz has divided the book into three major sections: (1) The History of Israel and Judah, (2) The Biblical Tradition, and (3) Jewish Archives. Depending on the interest or needs of the reader, these sections can be read individually or together. The first section depends primarily on the broader, external scope of politics, culture, and religion for its reconstruction of the history of Israel and Judah (p. 6). Kratz helpfully seeks to divorce this initial investigation from the biblical narrative and focus attention on “the archeological . . . evidence and additional information that can be won from the biblical tradition by means of both critical analysis and historical analogy” (p. 2). This section is packed with careful scholarship and reflection, and the reader is guided from the origins of Israel to the Herodian Kingdom.

The second section of the book focuses attention on the biblical tradition of the Hebrew Bible. This includes a helpful chapter on the scribal culture, scribes and scribe schools, as well as writing and writing sources in the pre-biblical period. Kratz seeks to present a focused investigation on the transformation of the pre-biblical material into biblical tradition and then outlines the literary history of such through the forthcoming centuries. Kratz work here is especially helpful, but will undoubtedly be met with opposition from some readers. The final section of the book provides somewhat of a blended examination of the preceding methods, as Kratz seeks to broaden his investigation of historical and biblical Israel into the Jewish archives—namely the Elephantine, Al-Yahudu, Qumran, Gerizim, Jerusalem, and Alexandrian archives. The book concludes with three appendices (Timeline, List of Kings and High Priests, and Glossary), a lengthy bibliography, and source index that will be useful for future consultation.

Historical and Biblical Israel is a wealth of informed scholarly reflection. I found myself in disagreement with the presuppositions presented in this volume more than once, but the sheer usefulness of the approach taken therein outweighed such contention. Still, I think it may have the approach taken—the divorced examination of historical and biblical Israel—that made these presuppositions more evident. This is, of course, to the reader’s advantage, and I believe that the keen reader will likewise walk away with such observations. Nevertheless, even those entering into the conversation in disagreement with Kratz will learn much. Kratz is concise and direct in his presentation, and the reader will appreciate the scope of the investigation despite the apparent lack in page count. If you are looking for a book that will stimulate your present understanding (or misunderstanding) of the people of Israel, then Historical and Biblical Israel: The History, Tradition, and Archives of Israel and Judah by Reinhard G. Kratz would be a volume well worth the investment.

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: Reading C. S. Lewis

9780190221348Wesley A. Kort is Professor Emeritus of Religion at Duke University. He holds a Ph.D from the University of Chicago and has received numerous awards, honors, and distinctions throughout his academic career. Kort is the author of the well-received C. S. Lewis Then and Now (Oxford, 2004), where he sought to rehabilitate Lewis to demonstrate the continuing value and relevance of his work today. Most recently, in Reading C. S. Lewis: A Commentary (Oxford, 2015), Kort has delivered yet another excellent volume into the hands of Lewis enthusiasts everywhere. It is here that Kort offers an exciting investigation into some of Lewis’s major works, providing a fresh literary and academic evaluation that has set a new standard for C. S. Lewis studies.

Reading C. S. Lewis begins with an introduction that positions the reader to recognize the cultural milieu of Lewis’s day. Kort does the reader a service by bringing attention to the backdrop of the story before directing the reader towards the material that comprises the remainder of the book—which is organized around three structural components that constitute the framework of Lewis’s project (ix).

First, Kort seeks to independently comment on four of Lewis’s well-known works: Surprised by Joy (1955), The Problem of Pain (1940), The Screwtape Letters (1942), and Mere Christianity (1952). For Kort, these four books display Lewis’s assumptions concerning “basic and important moral and religious matters [that] are and have been generally agreed upon by reasonable people” (109). This is the preliminary structural component of the larger framework mentioned above—Lewis’s philosophical and moral theory. The commentary on each of these works is consistent and helpful throughout, and he often provides insight that would be unknown by the average reader with little exposure to Lewis (myself included).

Second, Kort guides the reader through the next major structural component, namely, Lewis’s cultural critique of modernity. Kort again provides commentary on four of Lewis’s well-known works: Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1943), The Abolition of Man (1944), and The Hideous Strength (1945). For Kort, the critique of modernity expressed in these texts “is sharply focused, well informed, consistent, and both theoretically and practically defended” (189). The reader will likely agree with Kort’s assessment at this point. I was personally intrigued by this section considering Lewis’s interaction within the academy and the cultural shift that was taking place therein. However, I anticipated more interaction by Kort regarding Lewis’s adoration for Dante and his influence on Lewis’s work—especially that of the Space Trilogy.

Third, Kort turns attention to the final structural component of Lewis’s project as he comments on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardobe (1950) and Prince Caspian (1951), The Four Loves (1960), and The Magician’s Nephew (1955) and The Last Battle (1956). Kort explains, “the third component, applied principals, relates to his distinction between principles and their embodiments and, second, to his [Lewis’s] constructive application of moral and doctrinal principals to delineate a worldview that he sees as preferable to its modern, particularly nonreligious, alternatives” (viii). The reader will find the observations that Kort details here both helpful and insightful. I personally found Kort’s discussion on charity within The Four Loves (233-235) to be of great practical significant, and it was full of witty and quotable content.

Reading C. S. Lewis by Wesley A. Kort is a brilliant book by a scholar well-acquainted with Lewis’s life and works. Kort was both fair and generous in his assessment, and the organization of the book was planned well for the interested reader. Some readers, especially those who are more familiar with Lewis’s work, will likely be disappointed in the limited scope of Lewis’s corpus presented here. Moreover, I was personally disappointed by the use of endnotes over footnotes. There is some truly outstanding material lingering in the endnotes of this book and it would have been more readily available for the reader at the bottom of the page. Nevertheless, despite these foreseen issues, it is clear that Kort has provided a commendable volume that is certain to be enjoyed by C. S. Lewis fans everywhere. I recommend it with enthusiasm!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.