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Book Review: A brief history of Old Testament Criticism

The aim of this book according to the authour ‘is a brief introduction to orient students and interested readers to the field while pointing them on to further study and inquiry.’

The athour accomplishes his purpose because reading this book has opened my mind to the history of Old Testament Criticism and to some of the major contributors in Old Testament historical and literary developments.

This book introduces the reader to seven major figures who contributed somewhat to Old Testament criticisms. Gignilliat approach is to focus on the life and work of these seven figures rather than just talk about their critical theories, although, in detailing briefly about their life and work, Gignilliat focuses specifically on the works which contributed to Old Testament criticism. This approach I found to be helpful because the figures behind the criticisms can be seen as people who genuinely struggled or in some cases were seeking to understand the biblical text even though they skewed from the orthodox outlook. For example, De Wette (Famous for his religious history approach of understanding the Old testament) writes of his own conversion:

An un-forgetful outward circumstance occasioned the happiest revolution in my inner life and gave me back the peace I had lost. The imperfect, cloudy faith of my childhood was replaced by one higher and better, the remembrance of God awoke in my heart to new life, and belief in immortality returned in a higher transformed form. Now theology was for me no longer cold, grim moral censor, nor even merely a daughter of history; it increasingly rose up before my eyes to higher, heavenly majesty, to divine dignity.

A fantastic religious experience for De Wette and yet I would disagree with his view or approach to the Old Testament. For de Wette, the historical character of the old testament has to do with the religious makeup of the various authours and redactors actually composing or compiling the material; it is not historical in any sense of reporting the events as they actually occurred.

Later Old Testament critics challenge De Wette’s approach such as William Albright and Brevard Childs who argues for the essential historical character of the old testament narratives was integral to the authority of the bible, even if the reporting of the events in the old testament was blurry in details.
For Brevard Childs, it was essential to retain the divine authority of Scripture where earlier critics elevated the human authors and their context higher than the divine authority. Where other critics have sought to find the true meaning of Israel’s religion behind the canonical text such as Welhausen who argues that  much of Israels early religious life was lost when Judaism formalised the law code, which in turn displaced ancient Israels more natural and intuitive worship. Childs counters this position by advocating the significance of the final form of the biblical text is that it alone bears witness to the full history of revelation. Thus the biblical texts are the locus of revelation and not the events in and of themselves apart from Gods revealed wisdom regarding their significance.

The seven major figures surveyed in this book are Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677). W.M.L De Wette (1780-1849), Julius Wheelhouse (1844-1918), Herman Gunkel (1862-1932), Gerhad Von Rad (1901-1971), William Foxwell Albright (1891-1971), and Brevard S. Childs (1923-2007).

This book is not a comprehensive attempt at expounding the very complex history of the Old Testament interpretation.

I will finish this review with a quote from Herman Bavink on how we should view scripture:

Scripture, accordingly, does not stand by itself. It may not be construed deistically. It is rooted in centuries long history and is the fruit of Gods revelation among the people of Israel and in Christ. Still, it is not a book of times long past, which only links us with persons and events of the past. Holy Scripture is not an arid story or ancient chronicle but the ever-living, eternally youthful word, which God, now and always, issues to his people. It is the eternal ongoing speech of God to us. It does not just serve to give us historical information; it does not even have the intent to furnish us a historical story by the standard demanded in other realms of knowledge. Holy scripture is tendentious: whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4). Scripture was written by the Holy Spirit that it might serve in guiding the church, in the perfecting of the saints, in building up the body of Christ. In it God daily comes to his people, not from afar but from nearby it is the living voice of God.divine inspiration, accordingly, is a permanent attribute of Holy Scripture. It is not only God-breathed at the time it was written; it is God breathing.

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