An Introduction to the Old Testament

Carr’s book is a basic introduction to the academic study of the Old Testament. Unlike traditional introductions, it does not start with Genesis and proceed through book by book; rather the books are presented as products of wider historical, religious and political context. His main two concerns in the book are the historical context and the varied interpretations by faith communities, both ancient and modern.

He starts with an overview of historical periods of Israel and Judah, a chronological timeline and a comprehensive map of Israel in the context of world empires. The prologue is an orientation to the multiple Bibles and translations in Judaism and Christianity in a chart form. By this he seeks to show how the faith communities have shaped their received scripture. He introduces textual criticism, which is an important tool a student of the Bible would need to understand the transmission and changes in the Scripture over the centuries. The first chapter is an introduction to major historical periods, empires, the geography and the major characters in the Hebrew Bible. He introduces historical critical tool to glean history from the background stories. In chapter two his main concern is to present early Israel, its origin, culture and religion, which showed close resemblance to Canaanite culture and religion. Some of the earliest oral traditions of Israel are Jacob stories, Songs of Deborah and the traditions of Exodus. He then presents the tools to study Israel’s traditions: The oral and tradition-historical methods. Chapters three and four concern the emergence of monarchic Israel, particularly David and Solomon and the texts relating to them and Zion. Parts of Proverbs and Psalms are included within this time period.

The rest of the chapters three to thirteen deal with various historical periods that shaped the history of Israel and Judah. Carr categorises and explains how each book of the Old Testament was shaped and reshaped continuously throughout the various periods of Israel’s historical and socio-political situation finally shaping into the Old Testament we are familiar with today. He uses brilliantly various types of highlighted boxes where he presents the basic information on each book, along with methods of studying various genre of writing. He has very helpfully included numerous maps, photographs and charts. The book is a useful tool for first year theological students. I would hesitate to recommend this book to those without pastoral or tutorial support as it is highly critical study and interpretation of the Old Testament.

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