Posts Tagged ‘OT History’

Special thanks to Adrianna from IVP for a review copy of this book.

Over the last few years of teaching in my church, I have searched in vain for a book to recommend to folks that will help them grasp the (often confusing) content of the Old Testament.  It seems to me that most books simply don’t communicate well enough to satisfy the needs of the church.

Enter Sandra Richter, and her new book, The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament.  Richter is an OT professor at Asbury Theological Seminary (and a Gordon-Conwell grad, so you know this has to be good).  I’ve been looking for exactly this kind of book for some time.  It’s hard for most readers to make sense of the OT; there are violent wars, strange customs, a bunch of funky sounding names, odd chronological arrangement of the books, etc.  The confusion alone makes it seemingly not worth the effort to work through the OT.  And when you add in things like the sacrificial system and the Law of Moses, which are no longer binding in the new covenant, some Christians wonder why it’s worth the time to figure all this out.

What Richter does is demonstrate masterfully not only why the OT is worthwhile (it is part of our story, after all) but how OT works.  She uses the metaphor of a “closet organizer.”  She  notes that for many, the OT is like a messy closet: there are all sorts of items in there, but seemingly little-to-no organizational structure.  Richter comes in to provide order to the chaos, and does so admirably well.

She breaks the OT down into 5 main portions based on 5 main characters: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David.  If you can understand these 5 men and why they are important, Richter claims you can have a good grasp of how the OT works.  Even before she does this she takes the time to explain basic customs of the Ancient Near East, as well as important concepts such as covenant.  Richter does all of this without coming across as dry or academic.  One gets the sense that she’s explained these things in non-academic settings before.

Richter focuses more on content rather than academic debates, but I don’t mean to say that this book is shallow.   She discusses Hittite treaties and how they effect our understanding of Deuteronomy, explains how covenants were made and why Abraham split the animals into 2 halves in Genesis 15,  mentions the disagreements over the date of the exodus (15th or 13th century?) etc.  All this to say, there is not a lack of depth.  But she doesn’t dive into these things merely for the sake of good information; she demonstrates how all these help us understand what is going on in the Bible.  Outside information serves to illuminate and illustrate the biblical text.

Richter includes a glossary at the end of the book, which will be useful for those who are having trouble sorting through all the new vocabulary.  She also added an appendix dealing with FAQs, a unique idea that I wish more books utilized.  The only downfall is that she only answers 2 questions: what role does the Law play in the Christian’s life and what do we make of the current state of Israel?  Those, of course, are big questions (and I happen to agree with her answers) so I can understand why she didn’t include more.

There are, of course, a couple points I would have liked for Richter to handle a little differently, most of which are fairly minor.  A subject index would have been nice, as well as perhaps a recommended reading list (though you can mine the endnotes if you want).  In her discussion on the Image of God (which was too short) she notes that to figure out what is meant by this phrase in Genesis 1:26 one must look at the context, an approach which I applaud.  But in her list she includes “self-aware and emphatic” (p107), which I don’t find in the text at all.

Also, Richter doesn’t say as much as one might like about the prophets.  Sure, they’re sprinkled throughout the book, but there’s no real sense of where they belong in the OT, which in my teaching experience has been an obstacle for many readers.  I don’t think she would have needed to write much, but maybe a subsection under the David chapter (which deals with the kingdoms of Israel and Judah as well) and how the prophets were operating during the time period of the Kings.  I also felt like Douglas Stuart’s emphasis on the prophets as covenant enforcement mediators would have been helpful here, to demonstrate how the prophets were calling the people of God to remain faithful to the covenant as outlined in Deuteronomy.

But those detractions are hardly detrimental to the effectiveness of the book as a whole.  Richter has done exactly what she set out to do, to help Christians make sense of the the storyline of the OT and how it impacts us as Christians (for instance, how God’s original intention as seen in Genesis and God’s final intention as seen in Revelation fit together).  And she has done this in such a winsome manner.  I was impressed again and again how easy this book is to read and how clearly she explained difficult and foreign concepts.  If all Bible scholars could write this well for a general audience, I’d be able to recommend many more books than I currently do.  I have yet to encounter a book that accomplishes so well the goal of organizing the apparent chaos of the Old Testament.  I have and will continue to recommend The Epic of Eden to anyone who is looking to learn more about the Old Testament and how it does actually make sense.   Go buy this book.

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