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HALL OF FAMEon 1 September 2003
This work by Walter Brueggemann is perhaps his most comprehensive view of the Old Testament to date. As the title implies, this is a Christian reading of the Old Testament scriptures (for scholars who approach the collection from a more objective standpoint prefer to avoid the use of the term 'Old Testament' in favour of the term 'Hebrew Scriptures'). However, Brueggemann is sensitive to the contemporary context of the scriptures and places them firmly in their rightful place for analysis.
Brueggemann concentrates on Yahweh -- there are other formulations of God in the text (Elohim, for example, or El-Shaddai in Job) but these don't tend to be dominant, so Brueggemann doesn't treat them so. As the subtitle suggests -- Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy -- Brueggemann uses an overall framework of a jury trial, with the presentation of evidence, argument, interpretation, and witnesses.
The first and final sections of the book are analytical and place this book in proper context of the history of OT research and writing, and where this is likely to continue, particularly with the idea of interpretation in a pluralistic context, which is fitting considering the plurality of voices present in the scriptures.
The first witness, of course, is Israel. Israel's experience in the scriptures, however, provides it with both a core testimony of God, as well as a counter-testimony of God. Brueggemann is good about maintaining a tension between poles in his writings, and here he has Israel's testimony pitted against itself, looking for Yahweh in the tension between.
Then there are components of unsolicited testimony, those of creation, humanity, the nations. Following are the concepts of mediators -- Torah, King, Prophet, Cult, Sage -- each of these things mediates the way in which God interacts with the community, and how the community receives and perceives God.
God is seen as a verb, a doer, Yahweh is the one who ... And yet, to have God fully uttered, fully named, a complete grammar must be built.
Perhaps this small bit has given you a flavour of the nearly 800 pages of this work. Brueggemann looks to provide a way of looking at God, without becoming rigid and inflexible. As a companion to this work, I would recommend 'God in the Fray' which is a tribute to Walter Brueggemann published shortly after 'Theology of the Old Testament', and has scholarly reactions to some of his major points.
Perhaps it is a feature of being part of a military-consumerist culture, to which might be added, media-saturated, but the idea of truth coming forward from the text and only the text seems unsatisfying in some regards. A failure of the courtroom method can be easily demonstrated. Testimony does not create reality in the ontological sense -- imagine an archaeologist finding, 5000 years from now, reports of courtroom proceedings with reports that juries returned not-guilty verdicts. In what sense would this non-guilt be a reality? While the defendants would be de jure not guilty, in fact they might have been guilty, and the testimony was simply unconvincing. The resolution to this problem, the link between testimony and more basic, ultimate reality, is not very clear. Perhaps it has no place in Old Testament theology, but that requires a fairly narrow definition of the field.
Also, is it indeed true (as Brueggemann intends) that there are no categories which are appropriate for all cultures and times? After all, there are certain universal principles in the physical world, and there are certain universal principles in language, such that while each retains a unique flavour, they can all be interpreted (albeit imperfectly) by other languages (Linear B and such illusive language bits notwithstanding). Of course, with regard to Old Testament theology, the universal constant will be the text itself.
Brueggeman warns against reductionism, saying that conventional systematic theology cannot seem to get a grasp on the polyphony of voices in the Old Testament text. He warns against coming to narrow, flattened conclusions, and does not accept the possibility of ontological arguments vis-a-vis knowing the Yahweh behind the text, stating that, like a courtroom drama, truth is constructed and made real through testimony. The key element in Brueggemann's character seems to be justice, and it is a very communitarian approach.
Of course, this makes the ultimate knowledge of God a never-ending quest. The text will always be subject to re-reading with cultured eyes and renewed interpretation (realising that 'literal' reading is itself an interpretation, and the 'literal' reading of the text today is quite different from the 'literal' reading of the text a thousand years ago, and will be different a thousand years from now).
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on 21 November 1998
The book is easy to read. It begins with two chapters on the historical process of Old Testament Theology, which Brueggemann calls "retrospects." The outline for those two chapters give insight not only into the major theologians but also Brueggemann's overview of their contributions. Later, the core of the book which revolves around the formation of Israel's concept of the nature of God is creative, using the ligation process of a courtroom, and shows great care and skill in linguistics and what Brueggemann calls "imagination," of which he is an expert! While fresh in presentation, this work builds on classical Old Testament theologies arriving at similar conclusions. His commitment to the polyphonic voice of the Old Testament is seen in action throughout the work. "Israel's Countertestimony" (part II) is one of the most interesting sections of the book. I enjoyed the book very much, and would suggest it for use by pastors and academicians who are serious about hearing the Word of God in today's multicultural society.
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on 5 September 1999
Brueggemann's magnun opus is truly that - a great work. It is very clear and readable. So much so that I took it on holiday and read it by the pool! While I did not always agree with him, I certainly found that I could not ignore him. Ultimately it sent me back to the Old Testament with a renewed appetite for this strange yet familiar book, and with a fresh thirst for the God Who speaks through it. I can think of no higher praise for such a book.
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on 17 May 1999
This book by Brueggemann is an interesting discussion on the problems of constructing an Old Testament theology. Brueggemann strives to find a way between the conflicting testimony/countertestimony of Israel while also taking into account the unsolicited testimony of other players in the world. Like a courtroom drama, the evidence is laid out for judgement, but there are no firm judgements here. Brueggemann states that the task of developing a coherent and systematic theology of the Old Testament is simply impossible for a host of reasons. The task is to find the character in the text, in the tension between the divergent testimony of Yahweh's actions. The historical chapters in the beginning and the final chapters looking forward to the future offer a good analysis of the state of the field and where it needs to go, what factors must be taken into consideration, etc. for the future of Old Testament theology.
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on 21 November 1998
The book is easily read sections beginning with two chapters on historical information, called "retrospects." The outline for those two chapters give insight not only into the major theologians but also Brueggemann's overview of their contributions. The core of the book which revolves around the formation of Israel's concept of the nature of God is creative, using the ligation process of a courtroom, and shows great care and skill in linguistics and what Brueggemann calls "imagination," of which he is an expert! While fresh in presentation, this work builds on classical Old Testament theologies arriving at similar conclusions. His commitment to the polyphonic voice of the Old Testament is seen in action throughout the work. "Israel's Countertestimony" (part II) was one of the most interesting sections of the book. I enjoyed the book very much.
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on 8 May 2015
Very good text book, certainly help[ed me with my essays
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on 16 November 2014
Another brilliant book by the servant of the Master.
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on 16 January 2015
Excellent reading and inspirational.
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on 20 April 1999
After a preliminary reading of Walter Brueggemans "Theology of the Old Testament" several questions immediately come to mind. The majority being related to the unsupported assertions of unqualified textual and contextual pluralism supposedly pervasive in the O.T. text. Also of interest is his certitude regarding the impossibility of certitude in the intent and interpretation of the text. He is adamant as to the scholarly consensus that there is no consensus in O.T. theology and from this presumption sets out to prove it. He speaks all but "ex cathedra" and then offers snippets as to his inconclusiveness all the while proceeding apace to support his conclusions. He emphasizes rhetoric and undermines ontology all the while assuming an ontology regarding himself, the reality of the contributions of others, the real existence of a text, the real existence of the human element of motivation by which any pursuit can even begin, and the ontic reality of contrary voices otherwise having no position of which to question or supercede. It all but appears an empty undertaking because of his refusal to grant substance to his own much less anyone else' propositions. Or should I rather say that his is miraculously immune to the relativization to which the others are paradoxically subject. His invoking of enculturation and logico-linguistic difference is convenient in that he assumes every one can follow his own logic - including the denial of his own or his interlocutors ability to mutually do so. He is insistent that the O.T. should not be read nor its theology formulated with preconceived "frames",even the supercession of Jesus or the N.T. and then assumes authorial incommensurability and competing rhetorical stratagies as constitutive of the O.T. text and canonization; causing one to ask is this in any way the nature of scholarship or blind capitulation to the tacit dynamics of his own plausibility crisis? Orthodoxy is relegated to the periphery as having been illegitimately hegemonic and is tacitly replaced by a naive postmodern politically correct "Orthodoxy". This all in the name of redeeming or repaying the dreadful dept of theological oppression imposed by the historically consensual Christian trajectory supposing that postmortem (oops - postmodern) "bleeding hearts" have saved the relativist\pluralist day without one reference to an "Old School" O.T. scholar anywhere in his sacred tome. If this is dialogue "on the margins" I would rather monologue with the truth. All in all I am not impressed. If such vacuity and illogic are the trends of contemporary scholarship then the gap between it and "Happy Time" day care drawing has - for all intents and purposes - been closed!
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