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on 6 December 2003
Another volume in the stellar series by the Crossroad Press, like the other volumes in this series, 'How to Read the Old Testament' by Etienne Charpentier comes from the French series by Le Editions du Cerf.
This is in some ways a guide for those who don't know how to read the Bible. It is in some ways done as a travel guide – the Bible is the destination, but like most geographic places, there are actually a variety of landmarks and stops to make in any location, and these will all vary.
This book is richly illustrated with maps, line-art drawings, side-bar boxes and pull-boxes, and other graphic-design features that make reading an adventure. One can read through each chapter as a narrative, and then return to fill in the blanks with the sidelined information.
The first twenty-five pages are a sort of preparation for the journey. It looks at the basic structure of the Bible (more of a library of books than a 'book' itself). Then, it gives general historical and cultural information to see how the people of the Bible related to and were affected by their geography, their language, their neighbours, etc. There is a basic timeline that the reader can reference as she proceeds through the rest of the text.
Following this introduction, there are seven chapters roughly following the outline of the history of ancient Israel, and talks about the books of the Bible as they were written, which is not the order in which they are arranged in any of the canons (the Hebrew arrangement and the Christian arrangements are different, but none follow the pattern of original date of authorship as the primary guiding principle). The history begins essentially at the Exodus, as the beginning of the people of Israel as a self-determining group. It proceeds from there to the settlement of Canaan/Palestine, the united kingdom of Saul, David and Solomon, the period of the two kingdoms, the Babylonian exile, the return to partial freedom under Persian domination, and finally existing under Greek and then Roman rule. There is a special chapter on the book of the Psalms, an important book that crosses many boundaries.
This guide can be used individually or as part of groups in church or school settings. It's outline would make for a good one-semester course on the Old Testament at the undergraduate or even advanced high school level, a Sunday school or Bible school series, or for an individual to use as 'traveller's friend' while going it alone.
This book assumes the reader will have a copy of the Bible to use side by side with the text – it does not replace the Bible or the necessity of reading the actual texts in the Hebrew Scriptures. The author recommends the Revised Standard Version or the Jerusalem Bible; both of which have also been updated since the original writing of this volume.
Charpentier recommends reading the last section, Journey's End, first, if there is any question as to why one should read the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures. Not just a prelude to the New Testament for Christians, the Old Testament contains so much core materials that is vital to the subconscious and underlying sensibilities of the Western world, that it is important for all people to have some familiarity with the text.
Again we return to the Journey's End, where Charpentier looks at Jewish and Christian continuations in worship and theology from these early texts, and provides a good (albeit somewhat outdated) list for further reading. There is also a section on Jewish literature outside of the Bible,
The final timeline, a rather complex and involved grid, found on pages 118-119, is a very valuable study tool, worth keeping for study in biblical and historical subjects. It combines the history of persons, places and events on the top with the history of the writing of the actual texts below.
A great study aid, interesting and useful. Fr. Etienne Charpentier dedicated much of his effort to encouraging Bible study, particularly among his fellow Catholics. He gives tribute to those who worked with him in Chartres and across France as co-workers in the production of this volume.