The Old Testament: A Very Short Introduction

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Eminent biblical scholar Michael D. Coogan offers here a wide-ranging and stimulating exploration of the Old Testament, illuminating its importance as history, literature, and sacred text.

Coogan explains the differences between the Bible of Jewish tradition (the "Hebrew Bible") and the Old Testament of Christianity, and also examines the different contents of the Bibles used by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and Protestants. He looks at the rise of modern biblical scholarship as well as the recovery of ancient Near Eastern literatures and their significance for biblical interpretation. Coogan explores the use of invented dialogue and historical fiction in the Old Testament, the presence of mythic elements in apparently historical accounts, and the relationship of ancient Israelite myths to those of their neighbors. The book considers the Old Testament's idea of divine justice, especially in Ecclesiastes and Job, and looks at notions of the afterlife in the ancient Near East and in ancient Israel. Coogan highlights the significance of the history and literature of the Old Testament and describes how non-biblical evidence, such as archaeological data and texts, has placed the Old Testament in a larger and more illuminating context. The book also discusses law and ritual in the Bible as well as the biblical understandings of prophecy.

Here then is a marvelous overview of one of the great pillars of Western religion and culture, a book whose significance has endured for thousands of years and which remains vitally important today for Jews, Christians, and Muslims worldwide.

About the Series: Oxford's Very Short Introductions offers concise and original introductions to a wide range of subjects--from Islam to Sociology, Politics to Classics, and Literary Theory to History. Not simply a textbook of definitions, each volume provides trenchant and provocative--yet always balanced and complete--discussions of the central issues in a given topic. Every Very Short Introduction gives a readable evolution of the subject in question, demonstrating how it has developed and influenced society. Whatever the area of study, whatever the topic that fascinates the reader, the series has a handy and affordable guide that will likely prove indispensable.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"By skillfully examining well-selected biblical texts, Coogan has offered readers a valuable window into the complexity, beauty, and importance of the Hebrew Bible. Through compelling analogies, he clarifies the meaning of the Bible, and allows the modern student to appreciate this complex ancient collection in its context."--Marc Zvi Brettler, Dora Golding Professor of Biblical Studies, Brandeis University, and Author of How to Read the Jewish Bible (Oxford), and co-editor of The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford).

"This book is a remarkable achievement. Accessible, informative, and authoritative, it packs into its small size an amazing amount of information, not only about the literature of the Old Testament and its cultural and historical context, but also about the methods of biblical scholarship that revolutionized the understanding of the Old Testament during the last two centuries. It is an ideal introduction for a wide range of readers: the non-religious who are curious about this cultural monument, Jews and Christians who want an orientation to their complex scriptures, and students seeking an overview of the Old Testament in critical perspective."--Carol Newsom, Candler Professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, Emory University

"Marked by an astonishing comprehensiveness, this book presents established facts and contested issues alike with irenic clarity. Balancing panoramic views with deeper exegetical probes, Coogan deftly interweaves insights gleaned from Canaanite, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian texts, archaeology, reception history from Ben Sira to Luther to Kierkegaard, and contemporary feminist criticism. The result is a compelling invitation to readers who seek to understand the ancient sociopolitical conflicts, rituals, and theologies that animate the Old Testament."--Carolyn Sharp, Associate Professor of Hebrew Scriptures Yale Divinity School

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195305050
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2008
  • Series: Very Short Introductions Series
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 447,701
  • Product dimensions: 6.70 (w) x 4.30 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Coogan is Professor of Religious Studies at Stonehill College and Director of Publications for the Harvard Semitic Museum. One of the leading biblical scholars in the United States, he is editor of The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Third Edition, and is a contributor to such standard reference works as The Encyclopedia of Religion, HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, and The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Collaborative works that he conceived and edited include The Oxford Companion to the Bible, The Illustrated Guide to World Religions, and The Oxford History of the Biblical World.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Flawed but worthwhile read

    To anyone but those who have been exposed to the field of Biblical scholarship, the basic premise and the narrative tone of this book may come as a surprise. From the opening pages of this very short introduction the Old Testament is presented as a collection of literature of one particular ancient people, the Hebrews, which by some inadvertent accident of history has survived to this day, unlike most other ancient collections of literature. The religious aspect the Old Testament is downplayed, and at times even ignored. This approach completely ignores the fact that the only reason why we are even remotely interested in the Old Testament is because it has been the primary religious text for untold millions of people throughout much of its history. This special place that the Old Testament holds is the reason why it was so scrupulously preserved. It is downright intellectually dishonest to ignore this point.

    However, once one does accept the basic premise of the attitude of this very short introduction, it becomes easier to accept it for the insights that it does provide. It introduces the reader to the main scholarly approaches to the Old Testament. It provides the insights into the source criticism, historic criticism, and the analysis of various narrative types that are encountered in the Old Testament. Many of these insights are interesting, and can greatly contribute to the understanding of the Scriptures. However, most of the insights are just a short taste of what that particular line of inquiry can lead to. This is, however, is to be expected from a book of this length, and in no way does it diminish its values. Even though this is a conceptually flawed book, it has many redeeming qualities that make it a worthwhile read.

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    Posted March 15, 2011

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    Posted May 24, 2013

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