05 Foundational Traditions

OFB, 71–88

PART TWO focuses more directly on the books of the Old Testament, including the books that comprise the Tanakh as well as the deuterocanonical texts that comprise the OT Apocrypha.

Implicit in this description is the tension between approaching these texts as part of the Christian Bible, and appreciating their Jewish character. The complexity arises in part from the fact that both the traditional forms of the Old Testament canon can trace their origins back to antiquity. For almost 2,000 years the shorter canon of the Tanakh has been the distinctive Scriptures of the Jewish community. However, the larger OT canon of the Greek Bible (the Septuagint, or LXX) is also an ancient Jewish collection and has survived because it was the preferred form of the Bible for the earliest Christians. The situation was further complicated when the Protestant Reformers in Western Europe chose to return to the shorter Jewish canon, but retained the order of the ancient Greek Bible. The "Christian Old Testament" known to most readers of this book is therefore a hybrid of the Tanakh and the LXX, and has no ancient pedigree.

Overview of chapter five

This chapter begins the discussion of the OT books by looking at the first five books, variously known as the Torah, the Pentateuch, or the Books of Moses:
  • As will happen with each chapter from now until chapter 11, the chapter begins with an overview of the biblical texts (pp. 71–73).
  • This is followed by a section (pp. 74–76) on Genesis, described as "The Book of Stories" on account of the importance of the Hebrew term toledot (generations). This is not the usual way of dividing the Genesis material, but I think you will find it helpful. At least, I hope that will be so!
  • The next section (pp. 77–81) discusses the great middle section of the Pentateuch, comprising the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. In these three books we have the story of Israel as the "tribes of YHWH"—enslaved, liberated, and covenanted.
  • The final section (pp. 81–85) considers Deuteronomy, which is the last book of the Pentateuch also, in some sense, the first in a series of books stretching from Joshua through 2 Kings that recount the story of ancient Israel.
  • The concluding cameo (pp. 85–88) outlines the history of critical scholarship on these important OT books.

Web links with particular relevance to this chapter include: