The Canonical Hebrew Bible: A Theology of the Old Testament

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The Canonical Hebrew Bible: A Theology of the Old Testament by Rolf Rendtorff Deo, Leiden, 2005. 813 pp. $54.95. ISBN 978-90-5854020-1.

ONE OF GERHARD VON RAD'S most distinguished students (and his successor at Heidelberg University) has followed in his steps with the production of a major theology of the OT, two volumes in German, but now available in one (very long) volume in English. The rapid translation of the original now makes widely available this valuable treatment of the OT from a thoroughly theological perspective.

Two figures provide primary impetus for the direction Rendtorff takes in this work. One is von Rad. The other is Brevard Childs. Rendtorff acknowledges both explicitly. With regard to the former, the influence is felt in two ways. One is von Rad's conviction that the course of the biblical canon should provide the basis for a theological interpretation of it. In that sense, von Rad is the initiator of a canonical approach to the theology of the OT. Von Rad's other contribution to Rendtorff's way of doing OT theology is his focus on the retelling of the OT by means of a rich and deep theological exposition. Here, of course, von Rad's approach arises from his perception that the heart of Israel's faith rests in the ongoing stream of confessional testimony to God's acts in Israel's behalf, itself a continual retelling of the people's story with their God.

As for Childs' influence on this work, Rendtorff refers explicitly to his Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Augsburg Fortress, 1979). For Rendtorff's work, it is "the crucial stimulus" (p. 718). That is readily evident in the title of the book with its highlighting of the "canonical" character of the HB/OT. Rendtorff does not copy what Childs does. Indeed, Rendtorff's Theology is very different from both Childs' Introduction and his Old Testament Theology (Augsburg Fortress, 1989). Childs' impact is in his persistent call for interpretation of the OT in its final canonical form, for reading and interpreting the books as they are presented in the present canon. For Childs, this is an important theological point, centering in the character of the OT/HB as Scripture. Thus, it is to be theologically interpreted in that authoritative final canonical form and not in some earlier and usually hypothetical levels of the text that historical criticism has worked so hard to uncover. It happens that Childs' theological emphasis coincided with a rising interest in literary interpretation of the OT, which also attends to the text in its present form. If von Rad generally followed a canonical approach, it is Childs who has insisted on both a) the determinative character of the fact that the OT is canonical literature and b) the necessity of dealing with it in its final form. One might argue that no single figure has so shaped OT studies in the second half of the twentieth century and into the new millennium as Brevard Childs. Few major interpretive efforts do not at least acknowledge the validity of Childs' insistence that the final form and shape of the text is the primary interpretive base.

To date, Rendtorff is the first to shape his OT theology primarily from that perspective, though the canonical framework is definitive for the first part, but much less evident in the second. In part 1, Rendtorff offers-to a degree not found in von Rad's own work-a theological retelling of what is found in the HB. He moves through each book within each section, following their sequence and flow, telling and interpreting the material as he goes, identifying literary segments as the reader confronts them, rather than genetically. He is fully conscious of all the discussion and proposals for a more genetic and diachronic approach to the text, but that is not the way to read and interpret the text theologically. Where the more diachronic approach comes in, through attention to literary and historical critical matters, it is confined to brief, smaller print paragraphs and thus, in a sense, bracketed within the ongoing theological interpretation. …