Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 4 (2002-2003) - Review

John Drane, Introducing the Old Testament (Completely Revised and Updated; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001). Pp. 366. ISBN 0-8006-3432-2. Cloth. $26.00

This revision of the 1987 original incorporates scholarly developments during the intervening years on a number of topics, while also adding completely new material, most notably dealing with the deuterocanonical/apocryphal literature. As such, it does not just provide minor revisions, but in its own words, constitutes a "completely revised and updated" version of the first edition. In the introductory chapter, Drane gives a very brief summary of the history of biblical Israel, discusses some of the literary genres contained in the Hebrew Bible and the tripartite organization of the material into Torah, Prophets, and Writing. Along the way he articulates his own approach to the material: while Drane reads the Old Testament from an explicitly Christian perspective, he also indicates his desire to allow the material to speak in its own context first and foremost. In this regard, he generally, although not always, succeeds.

In the next seven chapters Drane retells the biblical narrative, in canonical and more or less chronological order, followed by another four chapters that consider the "theology" of the Old Testament under the titles, "The Living God," "God and the World," "Living as God's People" and "Worshipping God." A final chapter ("From Hebrew Bible to Old Testament") considers significant points of contact with Christian beliefs. For the most part the biblical material is taken at face value as historically correct, and although there is some critical analysis incorporated into the initial presentation of the narrative (for example, discussion of the competing models of Israelite origins), such analysis remains at a minimum. This is offset by forty-four "Special Articles" interspersed throughout the text, covering such issues as "Were Abraham and Sarah and their family real people?" (yes) and "Understanding sacrifice." It is in the latter that scholarly questions are addressed, but therein lies a problem with this volume. These articles often span a few pages, usually sharing those pages with the more general narrative. But not only are the two not always related, this layout can be distracting and even confusing, forcing the reader to leave the main discussion of the biblical text to read ahead in the "scholarly" track and then go back in the text to resume the main discussion. Moreover, their very designation as "Special Articles" further separates them from the basic content of the book. The end result is that deeper consideration of the biblical material is relegated to a separate section that could easily be ignored. On one level this fits with the volume's intended audience ("students and general readers alike"), but ultimately I think it does them a disservice. By not integrating the more in-depth material with the general discussion, not to mention having the former in a smaller, different typeface, Drane implies that it is secondary and can be ignored. As a result, he misses an opportunity to challenge his entire audience to go beyond a surface reading of the text and actually study the Old Testament.

Drane's straightforward retelling of the biblical narrative reflects his generally conservative approach to the material. As indicated above, for the most part he considers the biblical text to be historically accurate, and he does not find traditional historical-critical methods to be overly useful. For instance, while he considers the possibility of individual sources in the Pentateuch he ultimately rejects a diachronic analysis as unhelpful to understanding the biblical message and opts for a decidedly synchronic approach. While there are certainly advantages to this approach for the beginning student, at times it results in harmonization of diverse material (see, for instance, his brief discussion of the "God of the Fathers" and Yahweh [as part of a Special Article] on p. 245). This becomes especially problematic in the final chapter when his synchronism incorporates the New Testament as well. He identifies three areas in which the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament itself anticipates further development: a new covenant, a messiah and a renewed world, and indicates how Christians came to see these as fulfilled in and through Jesus. Unfortunately, by failing to include any discussion of how such fulfillment was also articulated within purely Jewish traditions (e.g., at Qumran and in the concept of tikkun olam ["mending the world"]) he leaves the impression that the Christian understanding is the only one possible. Worse is when he links post-exilic developments with "self-righteous legalism and hypocrisy" (p. 200) opposed by Matthew and Paul, without considering how their specific contexts affected the way both Christian writers portrayed their opponents. Fortunately, this is not consistent with his approach in the rest of the book.

Drane fares much better in illustrating the relevance of the biblical material for the contemporary situation. For instance, his consideration of female imagery for God is a helpful corrective to one-sided patriarchalism. Especially welcome is his identification of ways in which the traditions of the Hebrew Bible have been misappropriated, such as Christian supersessionism (p. 343) and the misuse of the Conquest stories over the years by such diverse groups as the Crusaders, European settlers in Australia and the Americas, Afrikaners in South Africa and recent ethnic cleansers in the Balkans (p. 350). It is regrettable that many of these points are only touched upon in passing rather than developed at greater length.

In sum, while this volume does introduce the Old Testament, for the most part it does so on a fairly basic level, and I think it would need a good deal of in-class clarification and supplementation if used as a text-book. However, there are a number of introductory textbooks that do that job already.

John L. McLaughlin
Faculty of Theology, University of St. Michael's College