The Old Testament: An Introduction

The Old Testament: An Introduction

The Old Testament: An Introduction

The Old Testament: An Introduction

Excerpt

The Old Testament is a collection of writings which came into being over a period of more than a thousand years in the history of the people of Israel and which reflect the life of the people in this period. Therefore there is a reciprocal relationship between the writings or 'books' of the Old Testament and the life of Israel in its history. The understanding of the texts presupposes insights into the historical context and the development of the life of Israelite society, while at the same time the texts themselves are the most important, indeed for the most part the only, source for it.

This 'Introduction' attempts to take account of this reciprocal relationship. The first part deals with the history of Israel. However, its approach differs from most accounts of this history. It takes the Old Testament texts themselves as a starting point and first of all outlines the picture of historical developments and associations which the texts present. An attempt is then made, on this basis, to reconstruct historical developments by introducing material from outside the Bible. This method of working leads to close connections between the second and third parts, because it has to take account of the nature and original purpose of the texts and their function within the biblical books as they are now.

The second part attempts to present the texts collected in the Old Testament as expressions of the life of Israel. In so doing it follows the approach founded by Hermann Gunkel, which regards the Old Testament literature as 'part of the life of the people', to be understood on that basis. Here, more consistently than in most previous accounts, the starting point is the life of Israel and its institutions, and the texts are explained in terms of their particular 'Sitz im Leben'. This makes the formal characteristics of the genres understandable as an expression of the function of the texts. At the end of this second part there is a sketch of the way in which what were originally individual texts became 'literature'.

The third part discusses the books of the Old Testament in their present form. Here the main emphasis is a concern to understand the structure, composition and purpose of the final form of the individual books. This approach thus takes up the most important results of the critical analysis which now largely holds the field. However, the question of the composition of the books as they now are introduces another perspective, which attempts to go beyond the questions raised so far. As a result, the third part of the book at the same time refers back to the first, because the structure of a series of Old Testament books is based on a particular outline of history, and because in other respects, too, the history of the origin of the books often reflects historical associations and developments.

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