How do you begin to introduce the Old Testament?

In any writing or other communication, project where you start is really important. Most losses of audience occur near the start.

For this reason I’ve always been puzzled by how common it is to begin Introduction to the Old Testament books and courses start at the beginning. To a scholar the beginning is obvious, canon, what makes the object of study a “thing”. It is because first Jewish and then Christian communities used these writings as Scripture they became a “thing” – and because they did we study them. Logical as all get out :)

But does it work? Does this beginning grab a potential audience and drag them into the rest of the book/course?

Perhaps instead of beginning at the beginning we should start with “Why it matters”. If we start there we might grab our audience in ways that a description of the three-part nature of the Hebrew Bible canon, and a discussion of the difference between this and the organisation of the Christian canon of the Old Testament may not!

For followers of the Open Old Testament Learning Event 1 BTW since the name has the “The” (see the masthead of the website) should the hashtag not be “#tootle15” instead of #ootle15 ? it might be better to wait for the Biblical Scholar OOTLE Hangout announced for Thursday, February 5th, 3:00-4:00 pm Central Time.

Brooke describes the hangout like this

I will be joined by a few other biblical scholars for an “On Air” live Google Hangout. We will talk about why we love the Hebrew Bible and its academic study, and what kinds of things we hope for students to get out of an “Introduction to Old Testament/Hebrew Bible” course.

After that they may begin to understand why details of canon and canonical shape matter!

Notes   [ + ]

1. BTW since the name has the “The” (see the masthead of the website) should the hashtag not be “#tootle15” instead of #ootle15 ?

2 comments on “How do you begin to introduce the Old Testament?

  1. Leslie Erin

    When I began my education, I studied English literature at a liberal arts university. Learning what “canon” meant was pretty important — but one question I struggled with then, and continue to struggle with now, is “who decides what’s considered canon?”

    If a body of texts is canonized by consensus, what happens when later groups develop opinions or discover information that upsets the earlier conclusion? What if new texts come along, or old texts that seem authentic and useful? Do we ignore them, as laypeople or as scholars, or do we study them independently? Do we create a “New New Testament?”

    I have a vague idea about how to answer some of these questions, but I still wonder about them all the same!

    I’m sure we’ll explore this more in the OOTLE. Thanks for the engaging post!

    1. tim

      Interesting questions. In terms of canons of Scripture, communities (at that time through their leaders) decided over centuries what was included. Different communities came to differing conclusions (e.g. about the “deutero-canonical/apocryphal/Greek canon books in general and about Enoch in particular). But at some point decided that he list was (from them on) static. Since things like biblical literature are no longer being written this can more or less work, it could not work in a dynamic context where the literature is still expanding.

      Perhaps more challenging (if you consider Gavin’s “issues” with 2 Peter) is the question of whether we might (as Luther is reported to have wished) exclude some works!