Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 10 (2010) - Review

Dick, Michael B., Reading the Old Testament: An Inductive Approach (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008). Pp. xxii+ 367. Hardcover. US$29.95. ISBN 978-11-56563-953-9.

“Of making many books there is no end.” This is certainly true with respect to introductory texts on the Bible, a category that has seen the addition of several new titles in the past few years. Add to that growing list this fine new volume on the Old Testament from Michael B. Dick. Introductory texts on the Bible, at least those designed for use in a classroom setting, face the challenge of balancing two areas that are not necessarily complementary: content and pedagogical usefulness. Dick aims to hold these two areas together, but the accent falls on the latter. As the subtitle indicates, the book takes an inductive approach that attempts to guide the reader on an interactive journey through various methodologies employed by biblical scholars. These include primarily source, redaction, form, literary, and historical criticism. The goal is to help the reader understand and develop rudimentary skills in using the various critical approaches found in the biblical scholar's toolbox.

The book is divided into ten chapters. The first five introduce critical approaches and apply them to a few select texts, especially Genesis 1–11. The second half of the book moves sequentially through the rest of the canon, and includes chapters on Torah, the Prophets, the Psalms, the Wisdom Movement (restricted to Proverbs and Qoheleth), and the Jewish Short Story (Ruth, Esther, and Judith). The biblical material covered is selective and tilts decidedly toward the Pentateuch or Torah. To accomplish his goal of inductively teaching the various critical approaches to this literature, Dick includes several questions throughout each chapter (not at the end) that guide the reader in thinking through various hermeneutical and interpretive issues. Most encourage the reader to read the biblical text with an eye toward noting how the reading process helps construct meaning. The book concludes with a helpful glossary and an appendix that contains an annotated version of Atrahasis and the Vassal Treaty of Esarhaddon. Finally, the book contains a CD-ROM with an interactive study guide.

The book's strength lies in its interactive hermeneutical approach aimed at helping the reader understand critical methodologies in biblical studies. The reader is an active participant, learning how to “think like a biblical scholar” rather than just learning what standard critical methods are and what their value is for reading and interpreting the text. Dick has done an excellent job of thinking through the challenges involved in helping the novice enter the occasionally bewildering world of critical biblical studies in an engaging way. By reading this text and completing the exercises included by the author, the reader discovers not only what critical exegesis is, but how to do it. This practical approach to teaching methodology in biblical studies makes this book valuable for those with little or not experience in reading the Old Testament (or the New Testament) critically. The text acts as a guide for helping the reader discover and practice the process of exegesis. It accomplishes more than this, however, by subtly demonstrating how important the reading process is in the construction of meaning.

The book is not without difficulties, however. First, the book gives scant attention to any of the newer critical methodologies employed by biblical scholars over the past two or three decades. One searches in vain for any mention of feminist, womanist, liberationist, ideological, or social-scientific criticisms. It would have been good to treat these at least in a rudimentary way, especially in light of the book's emphasis on exegetical method. Second, Dick's treatment of the history of ancient Israel, admittedly a contentious subject in recent years, is rather maximalist in many ways (e.g., uses the language of amphictyony). His description and depiction of the early monarchy in historical terms would be difficult for some to affirm. In this reviewer's judgment, it would have been good to see him raise some of the more recent criticisms of the older consensus view given his emphasis on illustrating critical method. Finally, while I recognize that the book's treatment of the biblical text is selective, there are nevertheless some curious omissions. For example, the book contains only a passing mention of Daniel and apocalyptic and there is no discussion anywhere of Job. Most perplexing, however, the chapter on the Prophets lacks a detailed exploration of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel (focusing instead on Amos and the Elijah-Elisha cycle in Kings). Taken together, these amount to some of the best-known texts in the Old Testament. One can only surmise that many (most?) readers will wonder about these neglected texts, so the failure to discuss these texts diminishes the usefulness and value of the book.

Despite these criticisms, I recommend the book. It will be particularly appropriate for introductory courses on the Old Testament at the undergraduate level.

J. Todd Hibbard, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga