A Hebrew Bible/Old Testament scholar looks at the Bible and culture…

Why Read OT (4): Great Stories

Why read the Old Testament? For me, the best reason of all is that it has great stories.

Compared to the NT, OT narratives are long and complex.  They run for multiple chapters, even full books, and we often trace generations of the same family.  The tales are psychologically and ethically complex: who did Jacob really wrestle in the night?  Why didn’t/couldn’t David care for or punish his children?  What was the real nature of David’s sin–raping a woman or taking someone’s wife?  For centuries, readers have found (and lost) themselves in these stories.

Because of my interest in the stories of the Bible, I’m launching a new project on my website:  Reading the Bible as an Adult:  A Reading Guide for Book Clubs, Bible Studies, Reading Groups, and Anyone Else Who Wants to Read the Bible as a Grown-up.  The goal of the project is help readers appreciate the richness of the stories, to go beyond childhood images, and to have conversations based on the Bible that are as deep and real as the conversations their book club may have had over The Red Tent or A Million Little Pieces.  The stories of the Bible deserve to be read as the powerful literature they are.

2 Responses to Why Read OT (4): Great Stories

  • Three thousand five hundred years have past since a mixed group of oppressed Egyptian slaves made their way to freedom and into the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula. Yet their collected writings still ring in our ears, whether we are aware of it or not, as they did for previous generations, defining our societies, shaping our thoughts and holding timeless truths for all humanity.
    The enduring impact and legacy of this collated library of ancient texts is, in part, due to its main subject ‘beauty and wonder’. The narrative weaves a complex tapestry of human striving against chaos, heartache and death through which shines many disparate voices who cry out ‘in awe of the divine’.
    This archaic tapestry then forms the fabric from which some of the poets sew delicate, almost shimmering, silken verse while others construct entangled canopies within the same genre. The reader’s thoughts now soar across these old mystic forests as magnificent birds adorned in brightly coloured feathers preened by these and other reflections drawn from the high prose within this dusty corpus.
    Unfortunately the translations into English from this language seldom even reflect the craft of these ancient authors let alone the beauty that prophets, kings, scribes and bards weaved over a thousand years.

  • Duncan, you’re a poet at heart, yes? You’ve given a beautiful description of the power of biblical texts. Of course, I believe other (non-biblical) ancient literature is powerful, too. It’s nice that they don’t have to be in competition. I think your comments about Hebrew fit here. It’s true that Hebrew has a feel that English can’t capture, but the English is pretty dern good.

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