A Historical Theology of the Hebrew Bible

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Konrad Schmid
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
    , May
     456 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


This impressive study is the translation of an important German-language work in Old Testament Studies, Konrad Schmid’s Theologie des Alten Testaments (Mohr Siebeck, 2018). Schmid was born into a dynasty of theologians from Zurich, including his father, the Old Testament scholar Hans Heinrich Schmid (1937–2014) whom Schmid refers to as a “voice from the periphery” in the context of the rediscovery of creation theology (306, n. 64), and his grandfather, the Zurich pastor Gotthard Schmid (1909–1968).

The fact that it was published simultaneously in German and English (as A Historical Theology of the Hebrew Bible) testifies to the volume’s significance, and also to the publishers’ vision in making German-language theological scholarship available in English, thereby furthering the at times rough dialogue between German and Anglo-American theological scholarship. Peter Altmann’s excellent translation manages to keep the different style of scholarly publishing and theological thinking alive, which is visible from the structure and wording of the detailed table of contents, the topical sentences in capital letters at the beginning of sub-sections of the text, and the lists of reference works consulted at the beginning of paragraphs.

At the same time, he renders Schmid’s complex language into a readable English prose. The relevance of this endeavor is reflected in the fact that this recent translation has already been referred to, for example, in Jaco Gericke’s short study A Philosophical Theology of the Old Testament: A Historical, Experimental, Comparative and Analytic Perspective (Routledge, 2020).

Schmid’s account is exceptionally systematic without being unnecessarily narrative. In the forty-two chapters (paragraphs) of his study, he is able to cover more ground, also historically, than is covered by most Old Testament studies. His approach allows him to address in the short sub-sections in his chapters (A–I) topics as diverse as “constellational anthropology” (430), “theocracy” (240; 411), “Paradise Lost (Gen 2–3)” (317–23), “The Spiritualization of the Theology of Sacrifice and Individual Dietary Prescriptions” (390–92).

Schmid’s introduction (A) raises the question whether there is a theology of the Hebrew Bible, which he seeks to substantiate by addressing the use and concept of theology in relation to the Bible (B). He contextualizes the Old Testament in the Hebrew Bible (C), reflects on methodology (D), on theologies of extant Hebrew Bibles (E) and of the Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim (F), and examines the literary history of the Hebrew Bible (G), including its themes, genres, and forms (H), before returning to his initial question in a final chapter (I).

Schmid examines the theologies of the three constituent parts of the Hebrew Bible—the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings—before tracing how these theological concepts developed throughout the history of ancient Israel and early Judaism. Among his many insights is the “decentering” of the text of the Old Testament. He argues that “there is hardly any passage in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament that does not possess both interpreting and interpreted character.

For this reason, the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament marked primarily by its character as ‘text’ and ‘texts’ does not have a ‘center’” (445). This hermeneutic approach of “decentering” is particularly useful for current scholarship, which generally does not pay sufficient attention to the historical conditions and contexts that have influenced the interpretation of the Bible over the course of the history of Christianity. In this way it is possible to ask which biblical books, translations, printings, and interpretations have been privileged and why.

At the end of his detailed survey of the Old Testament, Schmid concludes that the Christian Bible is not to be viewed as the exclusive and immediate codification of revelation. For centuries the Christian churches were able to live without a fixed canon and “instead made do with a canon of biblical Scriptures whose core inventory itself became established to a considerable degree as a function of its use in the church” (455). Schmid invites more comparative studies of processes of codification of scripture, which would read the complex codification processes of both testaments against each other. He not only explores the theology of the biblical books in isolation, but also offers unifying principles and links between the distinct units that make up the Hebrew Bible. The systematic nature of this study makes it useful both as an entry point into studies of the Old Testament, and as a reference work to consult on specific topics.

The translation is impeccable and the volume is well edited. It includes references to the original Hebrew script, transliterations into the Latin alphabet, and detailed indices of authors, subjects (unfortunately focused on very few searchable entries), and scriptural citations (457–86). The latter also includes references to apocryphal literature, pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, rabbinic texts, and other writings.

Together with the lists of reference works consulted at the beginning of the paragraphs, which point mostly to German-language scholarship, these offer an especially potent tool for English-language Old Testament scholars interested in non-English scholarship. Peter Altmann has thus rendered the discipline a great service through his meticulous work. It can only be hoped that this will be the first of many more such publications in Old Testament studies appearing simultaneously in German and English.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Philipp Reisner is a visiting lecturer in American studies at Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf and Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany.

Date of Review: 
September 22, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Konrad Schmid is Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Judaism at the University of Zurich and author or editor of numerous books in Old Testament interpretation, including Is There Theology in the Hebrew Bible?, The Old Testament: A Literary History, Genesis and the Moses Story: Israel's Dual Origins in the Hebrew Bible, and A Farewell to the Yahwist? with Thomas Dozeman. In addition, he serves as main editor of the journal Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel.


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