A critique of A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament part 1

New Testament scholars write of High Christology and Low Christology. St. Mark and St. Matthew represent the later; St. John is clearly the former. In the same way, it is proper to think of the Torah, Prophets, and Writings in terms of High Theology and Low Theology. The creation accounts and most of Genesis represent High Theology. The stories about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob represent Low Theology. The creation accounts depict God as transcendent over all creation. The stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob refer to God, or the gods, as the gods of place, or of the family clan.

Book coverA Theological Introduction to the Old Testament by Walter Brueggeman tries a chronological path as it travels from Genesis through the later prophets as it grapples with understanding Torah, Prophets, and Writings. It would be better to view Torah, Prophets, and Writings in terms of a diamond or an onion.

St. Augustine in “On Christian Doctrine,” Book Three, Chapter Four, seems to say that when choosing which translation is the best, we should read them all. We can compare our Bible to a diamond, with many facets. No one translation can ever grab more than one facet of the incredible diamond. Properly to see the diamond, we must look at it from multiple views, translations. Likewise, it is best to compare Torah, Prophets, and writings to an onion. The translation we have before us comes from the men of the Great Assembly, a group of 120 men who wrote during the Fifth Century before the Common Era. This is the outer layer of the onion. We read Torah, Prophets, and Writings as the Men of the Great Assembly present them to us.

To do this, we must ask what Torah, Prophets, and Writings are. Who commissioned the work? Why did they write this work? Whom were they writing to? To do this, we need to read Nehemiah and Ezra first. They present the chaos of the time these men were writing.

To understand this chaos, we can look at a recent novel by a Molly Maguire McGill, “Eight Friends From Washington D.C.” In this novel, weak leadership in our country has lead to America splitting into eight parts. At the novel’s end, the eight young people who helped divide the country try to find a way to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. In the case of Torah, Prophets, and Writings, we see the men of the Great Assembly trying to do this.

The unnamed person commissioning this work is the Persian satrap governing the new province of Judah. He is not interested in world history. He learned that in his college days. He wants to know if this backwater is in fact a people, and he commissions the work to give the writers a chance to show this people is in fact a people.

This brings us to the two-audience view for the writing of Torah, Prophets, and Writings. The first audience is the Persian Satrap. The work must convince him that this people, is in fact a people. The other audience is also a multiple audience. It is the returning exiles, some of whom are from the northern kingdom of Israel, and some of whom are from the southern kingdom of Judah.

As we compare this with “Eight Friends from Washington D.C.,” we start to see the difficulty of the task. Some people are from the Confederate States of America. Some are from Appalachia. Some are from New England, some from the Confederate States of the Great Plaines. Still others are from Texas and others from the Pacific. Some are from rural areas and some from the city. Looking at the demographics of our last election, we see how differently rural areas vote from urban areas.

As noted earlier, there is a clear High Theology and a Low Theology among the masses. The writers must address all of these groups or the groups the writers miss will not identify with the text, voice their disagreement with it, the Persian satrap will notice, and the rabbis will not get to rebuild their temple. The women with their children will want to see Humpty Dumpty, Paul Bunyan, and George Washington with his cherry tree and his famous dollar on the other side of the Potomac River.

We cannot leave our interpretation of Torah, Prophets, and Writings at this level, any more than we could leave an American history at the level our eight friends would write. Where did these men get these stories anyway? Who is Humpty Dumpty? Who are Hansel and Gretel and why are they an important part of our history? Who is Paul Bunyan and why do we read about him in grade school? As we tear into these questions we learn what it mean to be an American.

Likewise, why is there a talking snake and a talking donkey in Torah? Do we really think the writers of a text, which survived two millennia, were so stupid as to think God could create light on the first day, the trees on the third and the source of the light on the fourth day? Did they really believe in talking snakes and donkey’s, or were they more likely putting together a time capsule of Jewish heritage?


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