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Old Testament Life and Literature (1968)

Gerald A. Larue

 

Preface

THIS book is concerned with the literature, history and religious thought of the Old Testament and the Apocrypha. The approach to these themes is chronological and utilizes literary and historical analytic methodology, as well as the results of archaeological, anthropological, geographical and Near Eastern studies.

The contents of this book have been tested during the past seven years in elective classes which ranged in size from fifteen to ninety-five, and which were composed of freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors (and occasionally graduates), of varying religious traditions. Included were Protestants from all the large, and many small, denominations, Roman Catholics, Jews, representatives of the Eastern Churches, Christian Scientists, Latter Day Saints, Seventh Day Adventists, fundamentalists, conservatives, liberals, Moslems, Buddhists, those without religious background, humanists, agnostics and atheists. Some students were religion majors; most were not. Their influence is reflected on almost every page of the book not only in format, but in ideas that have been modified through discussion with, and research by, these students.

The sketch of the development of human life in the ancient Near East in Part Two has been included in response to a persistent query from students: "Where do the Hebrews" (or "Where does the Old Testament") "fit into the pattern of human development?"

The book has been designed to be read with the Bible - students have called it "a working textbook." The underlying assumption is that the student will have an open Bible at hand to consult passages listed in the margins, for there are few biblical quotations and biblical narratives are sketched only when necessary.

Maps, pictures, diagrams and charts are placed in relationship to the discussion, because students believe that this is where they belong - not gathered at the center or the end of the book. Extended outlines at the beginning of certain sections and chapters are provided because students requested them. These outlines provide summary introductions and are useful for review.

The bibliography includes some resource materials drawn to my attention by students who were eager that I should be familiar with the work of scholars from their particular religious traditions. I have not thought it necessary to segregate authors according to their theological persuasions; if the work is listed, it is because it has something to say that merits attention.

Foreign words and technical terms are introduced and defined because these are words students will encounter in books listed in the bibliography. Biblical study, like other disciplines, has developed its own vocabulary with which the informed person should be familiar.

Nor have I spared detail. Each year entering students are better informed in the fields of history, literature, art, anthropology and languages. Those from parochial schools and those with extensive religious training assure me that they do not wish to repeat in college classes what they have studied with scholar priests, rabbis and ministers. Detailed analyses of certain parts of the Bible may be used for depth study.

There is some repetition. The brief treatment of the text and canon in Part One is expanded in Part Ten, where the issue of canon belongs chronologically. The basis for the separation of I and II Isaiah is introduced in Chapter 18 in the discussion of the work of Isaiah of Jerusalem, and again in Chapter 23 where the work of the anonymous prophet of Babylon is presented. Such repetitions serve as "re-enforcements" in the learning process (to quote the psychology majors) , and keep before the student the principles of literary and historical analysis which underly the organization of the book.

Some readings are repeated for study in different contexts. For example, Isaiah 9:2-7 and 11:1-9 are said to be the work of Isaiah of Jerusalem by some scholars and therefore should be read in the context of the eighth century; other scholars argue for an Exilic provenance, and when read in an Exilic setting the passages take on a different coloration. We read them in both periods, for the question of the time of writing is not settled. Parts of Deuteronomy are listed for double reading, first as general background to the understanding of the book, and again, in relation to specific themes.

Insofar as possible I have avoided any theological interpretation that might suggest the book is inclined toward one or another denominational or dogmatic point of view. It is the prerogative of the instructor and the class to introduce specific interpretative themes and principles. The book is, therefore, devoid of any desire to convert anyone to a specific theology or religious outlook. My fundamentalist and ultraconservative students challenge this thesis on the ground that the analytical method is in itself a product of "liberal" or "modernist" scholarship, and the use of this approach throughout the book is tantamount to an attempt to "convert" the reader. In response, I can only admit that I am committed to the analytical method as the best tool for understanding the literature and hence the religious thought of the Bible. To their credit, these students have gone along with me on the basis that it is well to be informed about differing approaches to the Bible, and with the understanding that as long as they knew and understood the methodology set forth here they were as free as any other student to present their views. I have found that the deepest understanding of biblical religious concepts consequently develops in the classroom rather than out of summary statements in textbooks. I have not sought to develop any formal introduction to biblical theology. The average student has no problem in recognizing pertinent issues such as the relationship of religion to society, or trust in God and the problem of international relations, or themes such as concepts of sin and salvation, if he reads his Bible. Read in context, in a good translation of the original writer's or speaker's words, religious concepts have relevance and can be grasped in their full strength; presented in textbooks or summarized form, most students have complained that these dynamic beliefs "sound like pedestrian preaching," or appear "blatantly dogmatic." I have followed their advice and simply introduced religious themes in historical and literary contexts, leaving the larger discussion for the classroom.

Two former students have been directly associated with the preparation of the manuscript, and I am most grateful to them: Leanne Lachman carefully read the entire manuscript and offered many valuable suggestions, and Margaret Ann Bennett worked diligently at the production of maps, charts and sketches.

I am deeply indebted to professional colleagues who read the manuscript and offered constructive, helpful criticism: Professor J. Kenneth Kuntz of Wellesley College, Professor Douglas Eadie of the University of Redlands, the Rev. Professor H. McKemie, s.j., of St. Louis University, Professor H. E. Yeide of George Washington University, Professor Henry Thompson of Syracuse University, Professor Robert Anderson of Michigan State University and Professor Alan Pickering of the University of Nebraska. Where I followed their counsel I am sure the book has been improved, and where I did not, perhaps I was unwise. Professor Toivo Harjunpaa, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley, California, and Professor Dimitri Zaharapoulos, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theological School, Brookline, Massachusetts, were particularly helpful in matters pertaining to the canon.

Gary Folven, Associate Editor of Allyn and Bacon, has been a source of continued support, encouragement, and help. To our wonderfully patient secretaries, Judy (Mrs. Kenneth K.) Kidd, Sheila (Mrs. Alvin A.) Koski, and Karen (Mrs. Brian Dennis) Drought, I can only continue to say "thank you" for typing and re-typing page after page of manuscript, and Susan Prindle has provided valuable assistance and guidance in the final stages of the book.

GERALD A. LARUE

Old Testament Life and Literature is copyright © 1968, 1997 by Gerald A. Larue. All rights reserved.
The electronic version is copyright © 1997 by Internet Infidels with the written permission of Gerald A. Larue.

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