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on 24 August 2010
If I'd never read any of the other Very Short Introductions, this is exactly what I would have expected - and wanted - a Very Short Introduction to the Old Testament to be like.

Most of the book consists of short 10 or 12 page chapters (the OT and history, the OT and myth, Biblical law, festivals and ritual, poetry and dissent...) illustrating interesting aspects of the Old Testament. There are also two "deep probes", on the Exodus and on Hezekiah and Sennacherib, where the geographical and historical context comes especially to the fore. The author's deep knowledge is evident everywhere, but he wears it lightly.

I found it all interesting, and bits of it fascinating - especially the parts on prophets (what were they in reality?) and on ancient Israelite festivals (esp. the "festival of the booths").

If I have a reservation about the book, it is that it didn't "light my fire" in the way that some of the other Very Short Introductions did (the one on Classics, for example, or the one on Kafka). On the other hand it didn't leave me stranded, as some have. If anything, I think I'd have liked it to be a bit more challenging.

There are one or two mild Americanisms, but the style is generally lucid and simple.
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on 24 December 2012
Wonderful insight for the novice to Old Testament theology. Explanations are concise and to the point. Of great use when taking Foundation Degree level theology.
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on 22 January 2013
This pocket size book was easy to read, very informative and helped me understand the background of the old testament.
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on 24 December 2012
Excellent. Just perfect for introductory course work. Supberb. Very authorative but very neat book. Able to carry with me anywhere to read. Compact
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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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on 24 October 2013
This is a book of contradictions. There is much in it of interest about Jewish festivals, prophets and the poetry of the old testament. But there is also a strange sense of detachment. Throughout, Coogan treats the Old Testament simply as a collection of manuscripts and secular myths; there is no sense of it being the sacred text for two world religions, or the story of God's unfolding relationship with his covenant people, the Jews.
It seems strange for him to be an authority on the Hebrew scriptures and yet have so scrupulously avoided talking about why it's message, narrative and theology have been so important. He writes as a literary critic examining ancient documents, and sometimes his conclusions are frankly bizarre. Writing of Genesis 1 he talks about a "battle before creation" and then says, "but there is no description of the battle itself." Quite! On p41 he wonders if the Jews regarded God (Yahweh) as just "one among many gods." Judaism is one of the most passionately monotheistic religions on earth. The most important verse for Jews in the whole Hebrew scripture is Deut 6:4 (The Schema) "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one." Bizarre again!
I have read with huge pleasure and gratitude many of the 'Very Short Introduction' series and the Old Testament itself is vivid, challenging, gritty, inspiring and has shaped the thinking of millions of people. Yet this book conveys nothing of the wonder and faith that it evokes. This particular curate's egg tastes strangely cold and unsatisfying in its failure to engage.
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on 22 July 2015
Extremely clear introduction - wide ranging and always interesting.
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on 23 October 2015
I bought this by accident but decided to keep it. Interesting.
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on 14 May 2016
Very satisfied
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on 11 January 2016
This is indeed a VERY short introduction and as such is fine – it covers the main themes concisely enough and would probably be suitable for a complete novice but it didn’t inspire me and I did suspect a deliberate secularist bias on the author’s part. It might make for a better book if it looked in a little more depth at some of the controversies that surround the OT as a sacred text.
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