Kaiser argues that Old Testament theology is a self-conscious development.

For evangelicals, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.’s Toward an Old Testament Theology (Zondervan) represents something of a landmark. Although such evangelicals as G. Vos, J. B. Payne, and C. K. Lehman have previously written Old Testament theologies, Kaiser’s is the first to take full account of modern theological debate. In particular, the author acknowledges an indebtedness both to the “structural” type of theology (Eichrodt) and the “diachronic” type (von Rad), but takes pains to steer a methodological course separate from both. Kaiser uses what he calls the “Analogy of Antecedent Scripture,” an approach in which he assumes that biblical writers self-consciously built on the theological ideas of their earlier counterparts. Sharply eschewing current tendencies toward “multiple theologies,” the author traces the theme of “promise” throughout the entire Old Testament as the conscious principle of selectivity used by the writers to build the present pattern of normative truth. Such a thesis can hardly be expected to gain widespread scholarly agreement. But most scholars will agree that Kaiser has given us a major evangelical entry into the confusing field of Old Testament theology.

Three additional volumes, each from a leading scholar, make this category easily the most important of the year. From a Cambridge Baptist, Ronald E. Clements, we have Old Testament Theology: A Fresh Approach (Attic). Clements is concerned mostly with method and with the ways in which the unity of the Testaments can be maintained without violating the integrity of Old Testament faith itself. Recognizing that God himself is the unifying theological theme of Scripture, rather than any single pattern or formula by which he is presented, Clements tries to bring together traditional approaches into a new synthesis.

From a different perspective, and written with an unusual measure of style and grace, Samuel Terrien’s The Elusive Presence (Harper & Row) also breaks new ground. Terrien is convinced that the unifying theme of both old and new covenants is the elusive but universal presence of God. Under this rubric he is able to incorporate both praise and wisdom literature, as well as the traditional historical and legal categories. And finally, without violating the Jewishness of the Old Testament, the author carries the theme over into a brief survey of the God who continues to be both hidden and revealed in the New Testament faith of Jesus Christ.

Article continues below

To round out the feast, we now have in an English translation Walther Zimmerli’s Old Testament Theology in Outline (John Knox). Zimmerli sees in the revelation of the name of Yahweh (Exodus 3 and 6) God’s affirmation of his involvement with the election and promises to Israel. He attempts to relate every aspect of Israel’s life to this center. Even the wisdom literature, through the formula “the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom,” is seen as part of Israel’s response to the revelation of the name.

A word of evaluation. The last three books mentioned all make use of fairly standard higher critical views of how the Old Testament developed. Each one finds the unity of the Testament, and indeed the unity of Old with New, in streams of thought that emerge from the finished product rather than in a true organic development. By contrast, Kaiser argues that Old Testament theology is a self-conscious development, traceable from the beginning in God’s activity and its interpretation by the more or less contemporary biblical authors. Kaiser likewise argues for a unity built around a specific theme or pattern in the way God revealed himself: the promise. Zimmerli, Clements, and Terrien—each in his own way—drive the center back a step to God himself. It is a truism that the more flexible the unifying point, the easier it is to prove. For one reason or another, all of these scholars will find ready critics. But before they have their full say, let me record for all students our debt for such a bountiful feast to fuel spiritual reflection.

Leading the way in the area of history is a massive unfinished tome published posthumously as a tribute to the prodigious labors of the French Dominican Roland deVaux: The Early History of Israel (Westminster). DeVaux, though an adherent of standard critical theories, staunchly defended the need to have a firm historical basis as a foundation for the faith of Israel. Now, in almost a thousand pages of closely reasoned textual study, deVaux has set a new standard for historical investigation of Israel’s history through the judges.

Almost as momentous is the publication of the final part of the magnum opus of Israeli historian Yehezkel Kaufmann. In 1960 an abridged translation was issued of the earlier part, The Religion of Israel. It was widely heralded for the challenge to dominant critical theories. Now, in The History of the Religion of Israel (Ktav), the period from the Babylonian captivity to the close of the canon is covered in full. Kaufmann argues for a developed monotheism early in pre-exilic times, thus finding in the Second Temple a continuation of an old religion and not, as many have argued, the promulgation of a new faith.

Article continues below

Also a translation, Othmar Keel’s The Symbolism of the Biblical World (Seabury) employs an iconographic approach to the Psalms to illustrate the graphic side of biblical life. Taking its cue from the art and architecture of the world around Israel, the book presents in over 550 line drawings an idea of what the Israelite worshiped on God’s holy mountain. Keel exercises caution to avoid facile parallelism between biblical and Near Eastern iconography, but the reader will still be amazed at the wealth of illustration. We are used to looking to the ancient Near East for explanations of physical objects; Keel’s great contribution is in bringing new light to the conceptual side of Israelite life.

Another useful tool comes from an original German work, Near Eastern Religious Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Westminster), edited by Walter Beyerlin. This book invites comparison with the earlier work by James Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Princeton). Beyerlin covers only religious texts (for example, myths, prayers, and hymns), while Pritchard includes a wealth of historical data. Beyerlin’s introductions are considerably more complete, particularly with regard to the biblical or religious significance of the text in question. And Beyerlin’s texts, with the lacunas from broken portions filled in, are better for the nonlinguist, while Pritchard’s translations are more suitable for those who want to be closer to the original. Those who own Pritchard need not rush to acquire Beyerlin, but for those who own neither, Beyerlin might well be the first choice.

From the pen of Irving L. Jensen comes a self-study course entitled Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament (Moody). The subtitle, “Search and Discover” characterizes the work; it is designed for the student wanting an elementary factual survey of content, and wishing to do it on his own. Although the search for biblical themes ranks high, there is little sense of theology beyond that. If one may accept the limited objective, the book succeeds admirably in what it sets out to do.

The Analytical Key to the Old Testament series from Harper & Row is launched with Genesis and Exodus, both by John Joseph Owens. Verse-by-verse grammatical information on every word plus the relevant page numbers in Brown, Driver, and Briggs make this a useful tool for preachers and others who try to (or want to) work from the original Hebrew.

Article continues below

A book that will be noted for the resemblance to its New Testament counterpart is W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old Testament Words (Revell). Vine, who died in 1949, left some notes on Old Testament terms and these have been edited by Professor F. F. Bruce into a useful, if regrettably brief, survey. The familiar format is followed: an English word explained by one or more Hebrew originals. The format is popular, but the scholarship is first class.

COMMENTARIES A lifetime of devout, creative scholarship is capped with the long awaited publication of Robert Gordis’s The Book of Job (Ktav). Well known for his stimulating studies of Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, Gordis wrote a major introduction to Job in 1965. Now we have over 600 pages of commentary explaining the Hebrew text with a rare combination of erudition and clarity. Even the reader with little or no Hebrew can mine the riches. The provision of such a splendid resource should stir many a preacher to dust off his Hebrew Bible and lexicon.

A short book, packed with accurate, useful, and theologically helpful material is John H. Dobson’s A Guide to the Book of Exodus (Judson). The commentary is brief enough to make the reader do his own digging in the text, but at the same time contains enough helpful comments to guide the neophyte toward the truth contained. Critical views are presented and irenically evaluated, with the author giving support for an evangelical stance. Here is a rare combination of solid scholarship, practical and readable guidance, and excellent reference help. Dobson has shown us what a study guide should be and we can only hope it will be the model for others.

A perennial problem is dating the Exodus. Redating the Exodus and Conquest (Department of Biblical Studies, University of Sheffield [Sheffield S10 2TN, England]) by John J. Bimson began as a doctoral dissertation. But both the problem it addresses and the style it follows make the book of interest to a wider audience. Bimson calls for a reevaluation of the archaeological shift from middle to late Bronze Age in Palestine. With the shift to a somewhat later date, he finds evidence to support the early fifteenth century B.C. date of the Exodus and conquest. In a day when the traditional archaeological support for a thirteenth century unified invasion of Canaan is increasingly under fire, Bimson offers a fresh look at an old and often ignored alternative. (The same publisher has recently issued several other scholarly monographs.)

Article continues below

A series of expositional commentaries entitled The Bible Speaks Today is continued and enhanced by the addition of John Goldingay’s lucid and practical treatment of Psalms 42–51, Songs From a Strange Land (InterVarsity). Building on solid exegetical treatment, but more concerned with the message of the book for today, this series has already helped readers better appreciate Amos and Ecclesiastes. Goldingay elucidates each poem with a fine sense of the lyrical qualities contained therein, and with a constant eye for contemporary application.

Another study guide designed for lay people but loaded with good meat for the scholar is Isaiah: Scroll of a Prophetic Heritage (Eerdmans) by William L. Holladay. The author is not committed to the literary unity of Isaiah, but he finds in the varied materials of Isaiah a theological unity that will provide a thematic guide to a solid biblical theology. The book is a kind of modern structuralist detective story, popular in style, but ending up rather like traditional literary criticism. The last chapter, dealing with the meaning of Isaiah for later generations, especially the early Christian community, is perhaps the best.

Mention should be made of two major commentaries on Daniel. The Book of Daniel (John Knox) is written by a French Protestant, Andre Lacocque, while the Book of Daniel (Doubleday) in the Anchor Bible reflects the combined labors of the late Louis F. Hartman and his successor at the Catholic University of America, Alexander A. DiLella. Both volumes present the text in English, both add grammatical and textual notes, and both offer a reasonably full commentary. Both find in Daniel two literary genres (chapters 1–6 are midrash or hagaddic tales, while chapters 7–12 are apocalyptic), and neither is convinced of the historical validity of much of the material. But having said that, there is still much useful material and fresh analysis in each of these volumes.

Volume two of S. G. DeGraff’s Promise and Deliverance (Paideia [Box 1450, St. Catherines, Ontario]) is a very good aid for the teacher wanting to know how to tell Bible stories theologically. A new conservative commentary series of twenty-four volumes, the Layman’s Bible Book Commentary, was launched by Broadman with S. G. Stevens on Genesis. Parts of Exodus are treated in fresh practical style in Jill Briscoe’s Here Am I, Send Aaron (Victor), while from her husband Stuart comes All Things Weird and Wonderful (Victor), a homiletical commentary on Ezekiel. Moody continues its Everyman’s Bible Commentary with Richard I. McNeely’s First and Second Kings. Added to the Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible are The Second Book of Samuel by Peter R. Ackroyd and The Books of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi by Rex Mason. A fascinating study of Nehemiah, God’s Builder (Moody) by Richard H. Seume demonstrates principles of leadership and motivation, while Wisdom From Above (Victor) by Leroy Eims shows the practical side of the Proverbs. Lastly, an anecdotal presentation of a dispensational approach to Daniel is found in Donald K. Campbell’s Daniel: Decoder of Dreams (Victor).

Article continues below

MISCELLANEOUS Several useful and unusual volumes appeared that are difficult to categorize. Leading the way is Battles of the Bible (Random) by Chaim Herzog and Mordechai Gichon. Subtitled, “a modern military evaluation of the Old Testament,” this richly-illustrated book demonstrates what the Bible might have looked like if written by modern secular Israeli military commanders rather than by prophets and sages. It is precisely the element of faith, so prominent in the evaluation of history within the pages of Holy Writ, that is totally absent here. Because much of the Old Testament is concerned with military maneuvers the book is both relevant and intriguing for the Bible student, but its major contribution may be in showing the extent of the secularist spirit, which has permeated the modern state of Israel.

Chronological Charts of the Old Testament (Zondervan) by John H. Walton offers in chart form much statistical information, including a lot that is not chronological. The Tabernacle of God in the Wilderness of Sinai (Zondervan) by Paul F. Kiene translates from the German an illustrated “typological” treatment of tabernacle details. Equally speculative at some points is The Bible Jesus Read Is Exciting (Doubleday) by T. S. McCall and Z. Levitt, a book that combines general survey with messianic prophetic teaching.

Two books that will appeal to a more thoughtful audience are M. D. Coogan’s edition of Stories From Ancient Canaan (Westminster). Students of the Bible have long awaited a translation of the important Ugarit mythological texts for the average reader, and this is a good one. More controversial and less convincing is Edward E. Hindson’s Isaiah’s Immanuel (Presbyterian and Reformed), in which the author argues for only one messianic fulfillment of the Immanuel prophecies of Isaiah 7–9. The Temple of Solomon (Scholars) edited by Joseph Gutmann brings together essays and visual material on the artistic side of the temple.

Article continues below

Jack B. Scott’s God’s Plan Unfolded (Tyndale) offers a kind of running comment on the text, with some attempt to get underneath the cultural, sociological, or political surface to discover the setting for God’s revelation. This book will be useful for high school students or undergraduates taking their first look at the Old Testament.

Woodrow Ohlsen is the editor of Perspectives on Old Testament Literature (Harcourt), a varied collection of articles, lacking continuity, on the literary qualities of selected Old Testament books.

SCHOLARLY MONOGRAPHS In Prophet Against Prophet (Eerdmans) Simon J. DeVries studies prophetic origins, reaching back to 1 Kings 22 and the cycles of pre-eighth-century prophetic narratives to find the roots of the prophets’ conflict with the establishment. 1 Kings 22 is seen as crucial for an explanation of later canonical prophecy, for only there do the elements of an independent prophetic voice stand over against both king and an established prophetic order (the “official” salvation prophets). In this important study, DeVries has broken new ground.

Rejecting both the liberal (secular social critic) and conservative (future teller) views of the prophets, Walter Brueggemann sets forth a fresh alternative in Prophetic Imagination (Fortress). Implications for contemporary ministry are never far beneath the surface.

Have you ever wondered just what lessons are to be gained from the Samson story? So did James L. Crenshaw, and in an evocative study of the form and content of Judges 13–16 entitled Samson: A Secret Betrayed, A Vow Ignored (John Knox), he unravels at least a part of the mystery. Crenshaw treats the story as saga, rejecting some of the mythical categories attractive to an earlier generation of scholars.

A major study of the relationship between Old and New Testaments comes from the pen of the German professor A.H.J. Gunneweg in Understanding the Old Testament (Westminster). Gunneweg concludes that the Church has been correct in retaining the Old Testament even while affirming historical-critical methods that seemed to render it obsolete.

A comprehensive study of the guilt offering is Cult and Conscience: the ’ASHAM and the Priestly Doctrine of Repentance (E. J. Brill) by Jacob Milgrom. He refuses to accept the oft-stated confusion between the sin and guilt offerings in Leviticus and has written a full-length examination of the evidence.

Article continues below

Roy F. Melugin reexamines the form-critical basis for finding literary genres in The Formation of Isaiah 40–55, (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter).

From Exposition Press comes Beth Green’s The Scientific Value of the First Chapter of Genesis, a brief defense of a kind of natural theology as the key to correlation between Genesis 1 and science.

A thorough and fresh study of the literary and historical problems associated with the initiation of kingship in 1 Samuel 8–12 is Covenant Renewal at Gilgal (Mack Publishing Company [Cherry Hill, NJ 08003]) by J. Robert Vannoy. He finds a covenant form in 1 Samuel 11:14–12:25 and, by so doing, claims to resolve the pro- and antimonarchial tension usually seen in this section of Samuel.

A lucid and provocative study of a key subject comes from veteran Old Testament professor Claus Westermann in Blessing in the Bible and the Life of the Church (Fortress).

Scholars Press (Box 5207, Missoula, MT 59806) continues to be a major distributor of dissertations and other scholarly works in the field of religion. The following works are available from Scholars:

The Meaning of Hesed in the Hebrew Bible by K. D. Sakenfeld is a book that challenges some of Nelson Glueck’s time-honored conclusions on the matter of “covenant-loyalty.” We are treated to a revitalized E Document (it is, after all, a continuous narrative) in The Elohist and North Israelite Traditions by Alan W. Jenks. The City in Ancient Israel by Frank S. Frick is just what the title implies, an archaeological and literary discussion of urban growth and development. John B. White compares the sacred and profane in his A Study of the Language of Love in the Song of Songs and Ancient Egyptian Poetry, finding a genre of lyrical love songs of considerable commonality within Israel and Egypt of the eighteenth dynasty. In Late Israelite Prophecy: Studies in Deutero-Prophetic Literature and in Chronicles, David L. Peterson isolates a category of post-exilic “deutero-prophetic” literature, sets it over against the theocratic ideals of the Chronicler, Haggai, and Zechariah, and then constructs a theology of the movement. Such a task is, by nature, speculative, and Petersen admits the perils but presses on to his solution. And in a study of The Apocalyptic Vision of the Book of Daniel, John J. Collins finds in Daniel’s later chapters a dual emphasis on polarization and wisdom. How these both fit into and transcend the historical circumstances of the Maccabean period (Collins’s setting for the final product) is provided as a model for liberation thinking today.

Article continues below

Who Overcame Evil by Good (After a homily by St. Amphilochius, 4th century)

They stretch Him
On a Cross to die—
Our Lord Who first
Stretched out the sky,
Whose countenance
The cherubim
Dare not gaze on …
They spat on Him
And gave Him gall to drink
Though He
Brings us wells
Of eternity.
He prays for them
“Father, forgive …”
For He was born
That all might live.
Round the sealed tomb
Of Him they’ve slain
They set a guard
In vain, in vain
Round Him
Creation can’t contain,
Who dies for us
To rise again.

G. Douglas Young is founder and president of the Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem. He has lived there since 1963.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.