The Old Testament: A Very Short Introduction

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Oxford University Press, Mar 28, 2008 - Religion - 160 pages
4 Reviews
Eminent biblical scholar Michael D. Coogan offers here a wide-ranging and stimulating exploration of the Old Testament, illuminating its importance as history, literature, and sacred text. Coogan explains the differences between the Bible of Jewish tradition (the "Hebrew Bible") and the Old Testament of Christianity, and also examines the different contents of the Bibles used by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and Protestants. He looks at the rise of modern biblical scholarship as well as the recovery of ancient Near Eastern literatures and their significance for biblical interpretation. Coogan explores the use of invented dialogue and historical fiction in the Old Testament, the presence of mythic elements in apparently historical accounts, and the relationship of ancient Israelite myths to those of their neighbors. The book considers the Old Testament's idea of divine justice, especially in Ecclesiastes and Job, and looks at notions of the afterlife in the ancient Near East and in ancient Israel. Coogan highlights the significance of the history and literature of the Old Testament and describes how non-biblical evidence, such as archaeological data and texts, has placed the Old Testament in a larger and more illuminating context. The book also discusses law and ritual in the Bible as well as the biblical understandings of prophecy. Here then is a marvelous overview of one of the great pillars of Western religion and culture, a book whose significance has endured for thousands of years and which remains vitally important today for Jews, Christians, and Muslims worldwide. About the Series: Oxford's Very Short Introductions offers concise and original introductions to a wide range of subjects--from Islam to Sociology, Politics to Classics, and Literary Theory to History. Not simply a textbook of definitions, each volume provides trenchant and provocative--yet always balanced and complete--discussions of the central issues in a given topic. Every Very Short Introduction gives a readable evolution of the subject in question, demonstrating how it has developed and influenced society. Whatever the area of study, whatever the topic that fascinates the reader, the series has a handy and affordable guide that will likely prove indispensable.

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User Review  - stillatim - LibraryThing

Re-review: I'm flicking back through this (April 25, 2013), and I have no idea what I was talking about. This is really solid, and I'm happy to recommend it. As with many in the VSI series, this book ... Read full review

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To anyone but those who have been exposed to the field of Biblical scholarship, the basic premise and the narrative tone of this book may come as a surprise. From the opening pages of this very short introduction the Old Testament is presented as a collection of literature of one particular ancient people, the Hebrews, which by some inadvertent accident of history has survived to this day, unlike most other ancient collections of literature. The religious aspect the Old Testament is downplayed, and at times even ignored. This approach completely ignores the fact that the only reason why we are even remotely interested in the Old Testament is because it has been the primary religious text for untold millions of people throughout much of its history. This special place that the Old Testament holds is the reason why it was so scrupulously preserved. It is downright intellectually dishonest to ignore this point.
However, once one does accept the basic premise of the attitude of this very short introduction, it becomes easier to accept it for the insights that it does provide. It introduces the reader to the main scholarly approaches to the Old Testament. It provides the insights into the source criticism, historic criticism, and the analysis of various narrative types that are encountered in the Old Testament. Many of these insights are interesting, and can greatly contribute to the understanding of the Scriptures. However, most of the insights are just a short taste of what that particular line of inquiry can lead to. This is, however, is to be expected from a book of this length, and in no way does it diminish its values. Even though this is a conceptually flawed book, it has many redeeming qualities that make it a worthwhile read.


1 What is the Old Testament?
2 Interpretive strategies
3 The Old Testament and history
4 The Old Testament and myth
a deep probe
biblical law
ritual in ancient Israel
8 Prophets and prophecies
10 Poetry and dissent
11 Let us now praise famous menand women
12 The enduring significance of the Old Testament
The Canons of the Hebrew BibleOld Testament
Further Reading

another deep probe

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About the author (2008)

Michael Coogan is Professor of Religious Studies at Stonehill College and Director of Publications for the Harvard Semitic Museum. One of the leading biblical scholars in the United States, he is editor of The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Third Edition, and is a contributor to such standard reference works as The Encyclopedia of Religion, HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, and The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Collaborative works that he conceived and edited include The Oxford Companion to the Bible, The Illustrated Guide to World Religions, and The Oxford History of the Biblical World.

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