This column will bring to an end my survey of the Hebrew Bible. This project started almost three years ago. It has been an interesting adventure, as I have relearned much of my Old Testament studies.
You may have noticed that I rarely called it the Old Testament. I preferred the terms the Hebrew Bible or the Tanakh. Old and New Testaments suggests that, somehow, the new has replaced the old. This is not true. The Christian Bible contains both testaments, and the new is founded and built upon the old. In some ways, it completes the Old Testament, but it does not replace it. To understand and comprehend the Christian Gospel, we must have a working knowledge of the Hebrew section of the Bible.
This series began when I read an article in the 2011 issue of Horizons, a Huron University College publication for alumni, of which I am one. A new Old Testament professor had been appointed that year, Dr. Tracy Lemos, and she had written an article entitled “Is Not My Word Like Fire? The Hebrew Bible and Anglican Theology.” This article rekindled my interest in the Hebrew Bible; it also reminded me that we Christians sometimes neglect this book and think it is not important in understanding the message of Jesus Christ. I hope I have helped you realize that it is important, even essential, in our Christian quest. Please do not neglect the Hebrew Bible.
I should also mention my three main resources for these articles; they have been invaluable in my research. First is the Tanakh itself. I have used the Jewish Study Bible, published by the Oxford University Press in 2004. It has some excellent articles as well as a good translation of the original Hebrew text. Next I have used Michael Coogan’s book, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, published by Oxford University Press in 2011. The third book, written by Dr. Christine Hayes, was Introduction to the Bible, published by Yale University Press in 2011. This is a compilation of her lecture series, which is available on the Open Yale Courses website, oyc.yale.edu. These lectures are well worth watching, and Dr. Hayes helped to bring this study to life for me.
So why study the Hebrew Bible? It forms the basis of our Christian faith and our Christian scriptures. Remember, Jesus and all his disciples were Jewish. So were most of the writers of the New Testament, with the exception of Luke. The writings of the New Testament were deeply affected by the writings from the Hebrew Bible. Our understanding of the messiahship of Jesus only makes sense against the background of the Tanakh. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah!
Do I believe that we must accept every word of the Hebrew Bible? Did God really order the destruction of all the enemies of the Hebrews? I think not, but this is how the Hebrew people saw and understood their God, Yahweh, at that time in history.
Dr. Lemos went on to say in her article that scripture is not the only source of truth in Anglican theology. There is a threelegged stool of truth that is comprised of scripture, tradition and reason. Unlike many reformers who maintain “sola scriptura” (by scriptures alone), Anglicans base our theology on the threefold notion of scripture, tradition and reason. This allows us to make judgement calls about the stories in the Bible. If God is a God of love and forgiveness and caring for all people, then it may be inconsistent for him to order the killing of our enemies.
It was the Hebrew people who developed and maintained their understanding of God as being one. This monotheism grew out of believing in and worshipping a multitude of gods, as did most of their neighbours. They developed a theology of monotheism, which prevailed through a very polytheistic society (worshipping many gods). The Hebrew scriptures were written to express this concept, although there is evidence throughout the Hebrew Bible of some Jewish people maintaining their household gods. Monotheism eventually became the norm for Jews, Christians and Muslims. I have enjoyed this adventure through the Tanakh, and it has helped to strengthen my own understanding of my Christian faith.
I have enjoyed the dialogue. Next month, we will begin to look at the life and writings of the Apostle Paul, the most important writer in the New Testament. Please join me in this new series of adventures and enjoy the dialogue.