A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament

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Mark W. Hamilton
  • Oxford, England: 
    Oxford University Press
    , August
     432 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament by Mark W. Hamilton takes the reader on a thirty-one chapter theological and historical journey through the books comprising the Old Testament (broadly conceived). I mention the term “broadly conceived” given that Hamilton’s value-added contribution to the literature is providing a review of Old Testament writings comprising the Apocrypha. In fact, the text includes some value-added dimensions that I will mention in this review. 

The Hamilton text serves a dual purpose: on one hand, it reads as a concise biblical commentary, offering outlines of each book of the Christian Old Testament canon, identifying key themes, terms, scriptures, and mentioning pertinent historical contexts; on the other hand, it contains an examination of concepts such as canon and historiography, which, when these sections are read closely, dovetail with the remaining chapters of the text (chapters 9-31).

The strength of the first seven chapters is that Hamilton explains to the reader early on that the text reads like “a handbook” and that to receive maximum benefit from the arguments and expositions, the reader should also have the bible in hand (2). 

Hamilton argues that the main purpose of the text is multifaceted; he not only examines issues pertaining to creating the biblical canon, but he also explores the issue of historiography, while adopting a post-critical hermeneutic. Hamilton further explains that his adoption of the post-critical hermeneutic is grounded in the hermeneutics of sympathy (9). Furthermore, Hamilton argues that his approach to Old Testament interpretation is based on two hermeneutical lines of inquiry—the line of tradition and imagination and the divine-human synchrony (10).

The examination of the notion of canon is presented from theological and historical perspective, which allows Hamilton to define canonas “denoting the collection itself, not the exact form of a given text within it” (4).Hamilton is quick to remind the reader that the idea of canonhas been problematic for a variety of reasons, including that different religious communities include different texts within the canon (4). Therefore, the expanded view of the concept ofcanonallows Hamilton to add the books comprising the Apocrypha or the Secondary Canon to the examination (chapter 30).

The analysis of the books comprising the Pentateuch by Hamilton is consistent with scholars of the Old Testament, in that they (and he) believe that the texts “do not comprise a hodgepodge of stories, laws and poems,” but that it contains many sorts of genres, which when combined, “comprise an integrated whole” (12). Additionally, in terms of the argument of Old Testament sources, Hamilton assesses the two prominent perspectives—the documentary hypothesis and the fragmentary hypothesis. However, it appears that Hamilton takes a neutral approach on the source controversy and which perspective he accepts, or is inclined to accept. Moreover, given Hamilton mentioned this concern, he did not include another perspective—the supplementary hypothesis

Chapter 8 is another value-added feature of A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament, entitled “Israelite Historiography.”This content sets the stage for the remaining chapters of the book (chapters 9-31). Hamilton presents the concept of historiography—as a reminder that readers must consider the fact that context does affect the production and interpretation of Old Testament texts. Hamilton maintains historiography includes two dimensions: the practical dimensions of paying attention to the physical environment, surrounding nations, social organization of Israel, and warfareand constructs of the Deuteronomistic History (DH) and the Chronistic History (CH) (97). 

In the final two chapters (chapters 30-31), Hamilton scrutinizes the Secondary Canon and answers the question: “What’s the Old Testament All About?” In chapter 30, Hamilton weds the examination of Chapter 8 (historiography) to his study of books of the Apocrypha for the purpose of “revealing the historical value of these texts before the rise of Christianity” (384)Finally, in the last chapter, Hamilton presents a question: “What are the texts of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) all about?” Hamilton states that scholars should not only ask about what a text means, but what a text means to a religious community. Hamilton claims that the text of the Christian and Hebrew Bible reveal how communities used them for liturgy, moral formation, and theological reflection (387-388).

Ultimately, A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament affords the reader scholarly commentary on the canon of Old Testament texts with the additional examination of the concepts of canon and historiography adding comprehensiveness. Other that the neutral stance taken by Hamilton on the documentary sources of the Old Testament, the lack of discussion of theological and/or biblical theology—I assume Hamilton supposes the reader will have a firm grasp of this term as he uses it—and the use of small font in the book, I highly recommend this text to pastors, Sunday School teachers, and interested laypersons who endeavor to read the Old Testament in its entirety, and to teach and preach from the Old Testament as well.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Joseph A. Deering is Adjunct Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland, University College and a licensed minister.

Date of Review: 
January 17, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Mark Hamilton has taught Hebrew Bible at Abilene Christian University since 2000. He has been a visiting professor in South Korea, New Zealand, and Croatia, as well as lecturing in many parts of the United States. He enjoys working with students of many cultures as they explore together the meanings of the ancient Israelite texts for life today.


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