In preparation for next year’s Gospel Doctrine course of study, we have created a list of helpful resources on the Old Testament. In this post, we share some general, introductory texts—in an upcoming post, we will recommend more specialized titles that deal with textual matters, issues of canon and so on. Because the non-LDS titles below are likely less familiar, we have included some brief thoughts based on our perusal of the books. Some of the titles (particularly the non-LDS books) will be special orders, so please let us know by Jan 2nd so we can place an order. As always, you may order by phone (801-486-3111/800-486-3112) or e-mail (email@example.com). Free shipping on any orders from this post.
From the publisher: Lucidly written by leading biblical scholar Michael D. Coogan, this balanced, engaging, and up-to-date introduction to the Hebrew scriptures distills the best of current scholarship. Employing the narrative chronology of the Bible itself and the history of the ancient Near East as a framework, Coogan covers all the books of the Hebrew Bible, along with the deuterocanonical books included in the Bible used by many Christians. He works from a primarily historical and critical methodology but also introduces students to literary analysis and other interpretive strategies.
Our thoughts: Though a bit pricey, this is a fantastic introduction. Coogan is a good writer and takes pains to make sure the narrative is understandable. Discusses the literary character of the Old Testament at length. Structured as a textbook with questions and such at the end of each chapter. The most recently published of all the introductory texts.
From the publisher: In this balanced and thorough introduction to the Hebrew Bible, John J. Collins takes readers on a historical-critical journey through biblical texts. With an accessible yet authoritative tone, he identifies the complex ethical issues raised by the text and challenges readers to understand the responsibilities of interpretation. Drawing on his many years of expert teaching, Collins produces a clear and concise tool with maps, images, and suggestions for further reading.
Our thoughts: John Collins, a specialist in the Hebrew Bible (particularly Daniel and the apocalyptic materials), presents a standard one-volume introduction with brief overall chapters and then a trip through all the books of the Hebrew Bible. He does an excellent job of distilling a field of study into a readable and approachable analysis. As the title indicates, this does not assess the “Old Testament” but rather the “Hebrew Bible”—in other words, Christian interpretations are not included. A CD in the back of the book has the e-book (using the Libronix software) version.
From the publisher: This comprehensive, introductory textbook is unique in exploring the emergence of the Hebrew Bible in the broader context of world history. It particularly focuses on the influence of pre-Roman empires, empowering students with a richer understanding of Old Testament historiography. Provides a historical context for students learning about the development and changing interpretations of biblical texts.
Our thoughts: Rather than going straight through the Old Testament book by book, Carr brings up each section of the Hebrew Bible as it emerged within historical and regional context. Styled as a textbook, it is accompanied by many side-boxes, questions, maps and charts. More basic than the T&T Handbook or the Coogan/Collins introductions.
T&T Clark Handbook of the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Literature, Religion and History of the Old Testament by Jan Christian Gertz, et al. T&T Clark, 2012. 872pp. Paperback–$49.95/Hardback–$160.00.
From the publisher: Beginning with methods and sources, this Handbook looks at the Biblical text, archaeology, other texts, and iconography. It explores varying exegetical methods, including historical criticism, canonical approach, feminist, social scientific and liberation theology. The second section is devoted to the history and religious history of Ancient Israel. Introductory matters, such as fundamental terminology and definitions, ethnic identity, ancestors and the dead, geography and time reckoning are explicated before the book moves on to a historical survey from the Iron Age (c. 1200 BCE) to the early Roman period (ending about 63 CE). The heart of the book is a detailed survey of the Hebrew canonical books, section by section and book by book. The discussion for each book includes: biblical presentation and content; problems arising from the history of literary analysis and research; the origin and growth of the writing; the theology; and notes on reception history.
Our thoughts: A fantastic collection of entries that highlights European scholarship (much of which is still available only in the original languages). Marches through the books of the Old Testament, giving commentary along the way—also covers general topics such as history, archaeology and regional context. Exhaustive but avoids too much jargon. An excellent and comprehensive introduction.
From the publisher: Michael D. Coogan offers here a wide-ranging exploration of the Old Testament, illuminating its importance as history, literature, and sacred text. He explains the differences between the Bible of Jewish tradition (the “Hebrew Bible”) and the Old Testament of Christianity, and also examines the different contents of the Bibles used by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and Protestants. He looks at the rise of modern biblical scholarship as well as the recovery of ancient Near Eastern literatures and their significance for biblical interpretation.
Our thoughts: Obviously, a book of 140 pages will not be able to cover all of the Old Testament. Coogan chooses several key topics such as prophecy, biblical law and ritual to discuss—in addition, he does “deep probes” into the Exodus and the Assyrian conquest to show how archaeological evidence and other regional texts can illuminate the Bible. Very brief but interesting.
From the publisher: In his new book, master Bible scholar and teacher Marc Brettler (co-editor of the Jewish Study Bible) argues that today’s contemporary readers can only understand the ancient Hebrew Scripture by knowing more about the culture that produced it. And so Brettler unpacks the literary conventions, ideological assumptions, and historical conditions that inform the biblical text and demonstrates how modern critical scholarship and archaeological discoveries shed light on this fascinating and complex literature.
Our thoughts: A guide through the Hebrew Bible from a scholarly Jewish perspective. A couple introductory chapters and then one chapter on each of the major books. Along the way, Brettler points out wordplay and other literary devices. Very readable and sparks questions for further study.
Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament: An Illustrated Reference for Latter-Day Saints by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Dana M. Pike & David Rolph Seely. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2009. 397pp. Oversize hardback. $45.95. This helpful guide to Old Testament culture, language, history, and teachings is richly illustrated with hundreds of images and photographs, artifacts, inscriptions, timelines, and accurate maps of the area, Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament presents and in-depth look at life in the ancient world and provides much-needed context for the biblical test. These illustrations bring ancient Israel to life, and with many informative historical explanations, cultural clarifications, and thoughtful insights, they will help readers come to value and understand the Old Testament as never before. More than 400 topics provide important background for Old Testament times, from representations of key personalities such as Enoch and Aaron to detailed explanations of specific issues to legends that have persisted to our day, such as what happened to the ark of the covenant or the location of Mount Sinai.
A Latter-day Saint Commentary on the Old Testament by Ellis Ramussen. Deseret Book, 2001. 718pp. $34.99. Paperback. In this commentary, Ellis T. Rasmussen ably guides us through a reading of the Old Testament. His explanations will be welcomed by those taking a tentative first step into the ancient writings. But they will also be welcomed by more seasoned travelers — those already familiar with the terrain — who seek added meaning, deeper insights, and broader applications in their study of the Old Testament. Based on the text of the King James Version of the Bible, the commentary uses the extensive footnotes, Topical Guide, Bible Dictionary, and other study aids found in the Latter-day Saint edition of the Bible.
The Pearl of Great Price: A Verse-by-Verse Commentary by Richard D. Draper & S. Kent Brown & Michael D. Rhodes. Deseret Book, 2005. 447pp. Hardback. $27.95. Although the Pearl of Great Price is relatively short, its scope is remarkably broad, recording revelations to prophets in several dispensations — from Abraham and Moses to Joseph Smith. It provides deep and powerful insights into crucial Restoration doctrines, particularly doctrines relating to the plan of salvation. Three authors who are experts in ancient cultures bring you this verse-by-verse, even word-by-word commentary, the most thorough and reader-friendly treatment available. It will immeasurably enrich your understanding of such doctrines as the nature of God, pre-mortal life, the Creation, the Fall, the Atonement, the establishment of Zion, the Last Days, and the Second Coming.
In God’s Image and Likeness: Ancient & Modern Perspectives on the Book of Moses (4 vols.) by Jeffrey Bradshaw. Eborn, 2010. 1098pp. $59.99. This set contains the most comprehensive commentary ever published on the beautiful and doctrinally rich early chapters of the Book of Moses, combining prophetic insights, excerpts from ancient texts, current scientific perspectives, and up-to-date biblical scholarship — all presented from a perspective of faith. Each section of the book is prefaced by an overview illuminating major themes and issues. This is followed by the text of each chapter of scripture, accompanied by a detailed phrase-by-phrase commentary designed to give the reader both an understanding of the plain sense of the words, as well as their significance in context. Based on the first complete transcriptions of the original manuscripts of the Joseph Smith Translation, significant textual variants are identified and discussed.
**vol. 2 (covering the Enoch materials) will be released early next year–see our review here)
Verse by Verse, The Old Testament vols. 1 & 2 by D. Kelly Ogden and Andrew C. Skinner. Deseret Book, 2013. 512/480pp. $37.99/ea. The authors shed clarifying light on the five books of Moses (the Pentateuch), the history of Jehovah’s dealings with Israel through the reign of Solomon, and the beloved and beautiful psalms of ancient Israel. Here we learn how to discover our Savior, Jesus Christ, in the scriptures of ancient Israel. Brought to life are the stories of Esther, Job, Daniel, Jonah, and others in ways that connect our lives with theirs. And the authors explore with us the book of Isaiah, enabling us to grasp better than ever the treasures of prophecy and poetry of the great seer who foresaw Jesus Christ, our own day, and the millennial era. We gain insights into the blessings of offering sacrifice and keeping covenants. Quotations from latter-day prophets and apostles enhance these doctrinal discussions to help us liken the scriptures of ancient Israel unto ourselves.
400 Questions & Answers about the Old Testament by Susan Easton Black. Covenant, 2013. 272pp. Paperback. $17.99. Of all the standard works, the books of the Old Testament often seem most shrouded in mystery. Unfamiliar vocabulary, cultural references, and symbolism can feel like daunting prospects for gospel study. So how can members of the Church avoid the spiritual pitfalls of misunderstanding these books of scripture? The answer lies in taking the time to decipher the text one topic at a time. In 400 Questions & Answers about the Old Testament, renowned BYU religion professor Susan Easton Black addresses a wide range of biblical topics designed to answer an array of common questions related to Old Testament study.
The Essential Old Testament Companion by Kerry Muhlestein. Covenant, 2013. 548pp. Paperback. $34.99. Third in a series of scripture guides, this companion is meant to be a user-friendly fellow traveler on your journey through the Old Testament. Between its covers, you’ll find a thorough overview for every book in the millennia-old sacred text, and a highlight of key concepts, passages, helpful character descriptions as well as storyline summaries. This guide offers accessible lists of main themes, suggestions for how we might “liken the scriptures” to ourselves, and insights into what the Old Testament teaches us about the nature and character of Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament. Useful before, during, and after reading portions of the Old Testament, this engaging guide, filled with imagery, is a perfect resource for family and personal study as well as preparation for talks and lessons.
Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis–Deuteronomy by David Bokovoy. Greg Kofford, 2014 (this book is forthcoming—look for it in Jan/Feb). For the last two centuries, biblical scholars have made discoveries and insights about the Old Testament that have greatly changed the way in which the authorship of these ancient scriptures have been understood. In the first of three volumes spanning the entire Hebrew Bible, David Bokovoy dives into the Pentateuch, showing how and why textual criticism has led biblical scholars today to understand the first five books of the Bible as an amalgamation of multiple texts into a single, though often complicated narrative; and he discusses what implications those have for Latter-day Saint understandings of the Bible and modern scripture. Two forthcoming volumes will discuss the rest of the Old Testament.