An Introduction to the Old Testament: Exploring Text, Approaches and Issues.
Downers Grove: IVP, 2015.
Available at InterVarsity Press.
By Jill Firth
In his inimitable style, John Goldingay brings a distinctive approach to an Old Testament introduction. ‘I spend little time telling you what the OT says or what scholars say,’ Goldingay explains in the Preface. His aim is to enable students to study the OT for themselves, so the book focuses on background information, hermeneutics, and raising questions for students to ponder, accompanied by guidelines for approaching the questions. The book is in five parts. Along with an introduction and conclusion, the arrangement follows the Hebrew bible’s division into Torah, Prophets and Writings. There are also web resources at johngoldingay.com, including responses to students’ questions on the various sections.
The Introduction covers standard background questions for Old Testament, including a section on NT lenses, and another on the Apocrypha. The main body of the book is composed of topical 2 page spreads on text sections such as Genesis 1–11, or the book of Deuteronomy. Each text section may have several topics, some with content and others with questions or exercises. One example invites students to compare the accounts in Deuteronomy with accounts of similar laws in Exodus or Leviticus (pages 128–129), giving a table with the relevant texts.
The Prophets are structured chronologically, with Isaiah 1–39 followed by Micah, Joel, Hosea, Amos, Obadiah and Jonah. Isaiah 1–39 is allocated 16 pages (pages 200–215), with around 13 pages which are informational, and three pages of questions. The student is invited to list the topics of concern to Isaiah, and to investigate quotations of Isaiah in Matthew’s Gospel. Yahweh’s relationship with the nations is explored in Isaiah 13–27, asking ‘What is the reason for Yahweh’s interest in them?’ and what is the good and bad news for them, and why. The student is invited to consider the effect of the use of poetry in Isaiah 34–39. The page on Jonah offers eight options for interpretation, inviting students to evaluate these suggestions. Jeremiah is allocated 12 pages (pages 228–239). These include about ten pages of information and two pages of questions, which include reflecting on the prophet’s life and message. Isaiah 40–66 is treated after Ezekiel, but before Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
The Writings are structured under four headings according to genre as allocated by Goldingay: Story (Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles, Ruth, Esther), Worship (Psalms, Lamentations), Wisdom (Proverbs, Song of Songs, Job, Ecclesiastes), and a final section ‘Bringing it All Together’ (Daniel). The summaries of Wisdom and Daniel connect to Jesus as a wise teacher, and to God’s reign in the Gospels and Revelation. A page on praise psalms invites a comparison of Psalm 95 with Psalm 100, using information about poetry learned from Isaiah 31, and consulting Hebrews 3.7–4.13 for a sermon on Psalm 95 (page 290).
The Conclusion looks over the OT Canon as a whole, and the relationship of the OT and the NT. The book concludes with a Bibliography, and Indices for Subjects, Names, and Scripture.
The questions were my favourite part of the book. Goldingay’s arrangement of the Prophets and Writings will not appeal to everyone. This is a lively book whose brevity and investigative approach will promote engagement with the text of the OT.
Jill Firth lectures in Hebrew and Old Testament at Ridley College in Melbourne. She is writing on Psalms and Jeremiah.