A Study of the Old Testament, part 2

Published Dec. 14, 2016 |

It is important to remember that Christianity is a sect of Judaism.  It is further important to remember when reading the Old Testament that in the ancient Mediterranean, it was an Honor/Shame culture .  Our culture is a guilt culture.  The Bible, the canon within a canon is the way that we tend to interpret the Bible on an individual basis.  We select a perspective and then interpret the rest of the Bible based on this perspective.  Essentially, everyone has an opinion.  It was once believed that Moses wrote the books of the Pentateuch (five first scrolls of the Bible).  Modern scholars now believe, based on the different writing styles and elements that are stressed in the books, that there were four authors.  These are broken down by age and message focus. 

“J” – Yahweh Late 10th Century BC – Most feel it is the latest source.  (Southern Source)
“E” – Elohist Plural “Our God” (EL = God).  Strong emphasis against foreign gods.  God is more “holy” and distant. (Northern Source)
“D” – Deuteronomist Emerged in the 8th to 7th century BC.  Referred to as reformers.  Material is based from Book of Deuteronomy.  Stress on laws and obedience.
“P” – Priestly Early 6th century BC.  Shortly after this the tradition we know as the Torah was created, while in exile.  Focus point is Sinai.  How to remain faithful even until the end of the world as we know it.

During Solomon’s reign, someone pulled together what ended up as tradition in the “J” Yahweh source.  It is the view point of the southern kingdom.   In reading the Torah, the reader wasn’t to say the name of God, Yahweh.  They were told to use the term Lord (in Hebrew, Adonai).  Jehovah is a mixing of the two words YHWH and Adonai.  There are a variety of images of God in the Old Testament.  The authors were interested in portraying the Bible this way because this is how they perceived it.  It didn’t matter that in Genesis it talks about God not being able to find Adam and Eve but in later parts of the Bible man cannot look upon the face of God.  As stated previously, we must read the text as it was intended; A collective remembrance of the Israelites while in exile.  So much of Israel’s identify was invested in the land.  It was also rooted in its memory of antiquity (the United Kingdom).  Also in Temple and Cult.  After the Babylonia exile is when the Priestly compiled everything from the J.E and D.

Julius Wellhausen (17 May 1844 – 7 January 1918), was a German biblical scholar and orientalist. In the course of his career, he moved from Old Testament research through Islamic studies to New Testament scholarship. Wellhausen contributed to the composition history of the Pentateuch/Torah and the formative period of Islam. For the former, he is credited with being one of the originators of the documentary hypothesis.  Julius Wellhausen – felt “P” was the latest because it was the final articulation of God that was the most degenerate stage of a dead religion.  The priestly compile the text in light of the exile.

Genesis: Genesis 1-11, Liturgical text, Protest Literature.  Some of the memory that ended up in Genesis 1-11 was beginning to emerge in the story of orientation.

  • “J” – Human and Divine Interaction.  Reflects human sin, Gods warning punishments followed by God’s Divine mercy after repentance.  J’s purpose is that God remains faithful despite human resistance.
  • “P” and “J” merge together into the frame work or outline that constitutes the creation narratives.  The Priestly theology is built around the goodness of creation.  It concentrates on blessing, sacrament and covenant.  What scholars notice is that the Priestly isn’t tied to the land because of exile.

Tohu wa bohu is a Biblical Hebrew phrase found in the Book of Genesis 1:2 that describes the condition of the earth before God said, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3). Precise translation of the phrase is difficult, since it is a Hebrew wordplay, like ve-ha-oniyyah hishevah le-hishaver in Jonah 1:4.  A best example of Tohu wa bohu would be a Potters wheel with wet clay not controlled.  God grabbed hold and began to create.  This would, of course, imply that there was something already in existence for God to craft and work with.  A consensus of scholars who rendered the Hebrew text, believed that “matter” existed before God created the earth.  God took the tohu wa bohu and created form like a potter shaping pottery clay.

There are two creative narratives in Genesis.  Most who read the Book of Genesis fail to recognize these separate creation narratives.

1st Creative narrative

  • Created order  –  opposite of created order was Tohu wa bohu – a dark mass that God grabs a hold of.
  • Israel borrowed images in their creation story from older stories.
  • The crowning part of Creation is the Sabbath.
  • Garden of Eden and Jewish interpretations

2nd Creation narrative  

  • Adam is created from Adama (earth).
  • The serpent is part of God’s creation, which is good.  Serpent is described as cunning (not evil).  Even though it is implied that God finished creation, it does not mean that God stopped creating.  In the stories, God is always wrestling with creation.

Ancestral Narrative

(Chapters 12-50) Are really interested in progeny (son’s); heirs that can inherit the promised land.  Four generational account of the origins of Israel.  Interpretation of the form of the ancestral narratives – Situation in life.  The texts appear to reflect situations in life.  The form suggests lament.   The little stories tell a story upon themselves.   Hermann Gunkel – “father of form criticism for OT).  Form criticism looks at the narrower narrative.  He noticed there were forms within the ancestral narrative.   Robert Alter identified type scenes:

  1. Endangered ancestress (Genesis 12-20)
  2. Betrothal Scenes (Genesis 24 chapter 10)
  3. Theological Interpretation – looks as the larger criticism as a whole.  How these stories serve the larger interpretive framework.

A theology of promise runs through the ancestral narrative.  Gerhard Von Rad says Ancestral narrative is a liturgical assertion of promise.  Protected by the hidden and overt word of God in the protection of the orientation which comes from promise.  Dominated by this theme of promise.  Klauss Westermann, Genesis 18 chapter 1, noticed if you remove the whole idea of promise, the story doesn’t make any sense.  Walter Bruggerman, noticed that the promise is a specific utterance out of God’s own mouth.   Example: Gen 12:1-3 functions as a hinge for all that follows.  Old Testament family is huge – collectivists culture (large extended families).  Encourages Abraham to leave what he knows (orientation) to a strange land (become disoriented).  Gen 8:13 – is an example. An interesting note: Consensus of current scholars including Hebrew scholars, feel they cannot find any evidence of a chain back to any of the original characters in the Bible.  These traditions eventually merge with the Deuteronomy and the Israelites were given the land of promise and are charged with the obedience of the law.

The land of obedience is the land of promise.  The ancestral narrative get little attention during the monarchic (when Israel was prosperous) (pre-exile) period of Israel but the tradition of promise reemerges during the exile.  The Ancestral Narrative essentially tells the Israelites to keep Torah and be blessed.