How to Read the Old Testament and Get It.1

by admin on October 28, 2014

Reflections for 12 October 2014
Luke 4: 16-21; Deuteronomy 6:20-24

Overarching thoughts: Use of “Old” already prejudices judgment. Christian interpretation notorious about relegating Old Testament to dust bin: legalistic, outdated, and discarded, for Jews only. It is also regarded as merely a preface to New Testament seen only in terms of promise-fulfillment schema. Does Old Testament have integrity of its own? Jewish; ongoing conversation with a tradition of faith. I prefer “Hebrew Bible.”

Aim of good interpretation/reading is to get at the plain sense of the text. Most important ingredient one brings to the task is enlightened common sense. (Amy Levine of Vanderbilt Jesus parables are economic/ socialistic critiques of Roman world.) Awareness of your presuppositions.

Another overarching thought: Tensions in the Hebrew Bible eternal relevance—historical particularity literary forms at play (narrative, poetry, instruction….); cultural circumstances (monarchy; Exile).

Another overarching thought: Tension between Levitical—Deuteronomic traditions. Another overarching thought: The major point of organization: idolatry—don’t do that.

Our discussion will focus on Torah; Prophets; Writings.

This is how I approach Hebrew Bible. Walter Brueggemann. Bible Makes Sense. Two foci: shape of the traditions; function of the literature. What? So What? Think in terms of shooting target with four concentric circles.
Primal narrative—credo: non-negotiable story line. God acts to change situation.
Expanded narrative: how has this primal narrative affected people/events. Genesis 12-50; Wilderness narrative.
Derivative narrative: Israel after Moses; church after Jesus. Does primal narrative still have power with people historically removed?
Institution Literature: perversion, order, leadership, freedom. Exodus 25-40. Pastoral letters of New Testament
Mature Theological Reflection: Eloquent and insightful theology. Deuteronomy; Romans
Instruction and Vocation: faith claims in particular situation. Prophetic tradition; Paul’s letters.

In talking about Torah today you’ll see at least four of these circles at work. What? So What? Here’s a Now What? Can you name 2-4 basic events that have shaped your life? Think in terms of “shaping” not just “inconvenience.” How do you tell your story with these events? Orientation—disorientation—reorientation. What we were like—what happened—what we are like now.

Torah Pentateuch. From Hebrewthrow, cast, point instruction and guidance: road map. We have instruction + narrative = Yahweh’s single will for Israel. Creation; ancestors; Exodus; wilderness. In the act of remembering and reciting (Deut 26) instruction on “how to be Israel.” Torah is literature that intends and evokes a response of trust and obedience. Remember the threat of idolatry is ever present.

Torah is favorite word in Deuteronomy. This is the teaching tradition that is dynamic and moving, always developing through interpretation to meet new circumstances. Jesus at Nazareth is prime example of this. Hebrew Bible: Israel must respond to Yahweh in obedience in every aspect of life.

Genesis—beginnings: creation, nation. Yahweh at work in historical particularity.
Exodus—Freedom and how dangerous that is. Wilderness: beating Egypt out of them.
Leviticus—organization of worshipping community.
Numbers—never forget those 40 years. Murmuring tradition.
Deuteronomy—Moses farewell speech.

• What’s your favorite Hebrew Bible story? Why?
• Can you see how this primal narrative eventually morphs into words about Kosher kitchens and how many braids a woman could wear?
• Do you see the tension between the early freedom of Yahweh’s acts of freedom and Israel’s need to institutionalize that experience?
• Where would you rather be: the anxiety of the unknown future or the security of the past?

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