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Book reviewOld Testament Story, an introduction with CD-ROM

by: Don C. Benjamin • Fortress Press $29 • SBN 0-8006-3621-X
review by: Laurie Metzler

The Old Testament Story is a fresh scholarly look at the stories and culture of the Hebrew peoples. Dr. Don C. Benjamin, professor of biblical studies and religion at Arizona State University, states that his book “ teaches students how to listen to the words that the Bible speaks, and how to understand the people of ancient Israel who crafted these remarkable words.” It is not the answers that the biblical stories offer but the questions that eventually all of us must struggle to answer about life and death, right and wrong, the divine and human that is the focus of this text.

Dr. Benjamin is particularly sensitive to the women of the Old Testament, recognizing that the world of the Bible was patriarchal but that many traditions of interpretations have projected their own sexism into this world. Understanding the society and customs of these ancient peoples offers a greater understanding and respect for the ways in which biblical women believed and handed on their beliefs. The women in these stories display courage, faith, strength, ingenuity, dignity, talents and worth. In the story of Adam and Eve, Benjamin suggests that the writers of the story see Eve as the heroine who chooses fertility and mortality over immortality by eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Sarah and Hagar are seen as strong women who are both given land and children by God. The two midwives outwit the mighty Pharaoh by disobeying his order to kill all male Hebrew newborns. Their obedience to God rather than an unjust ruler, allowed Moses to live and eventually lead the Hebrews out of slavery. Rahab in the Book of Joshua saves the city of Jericho through her own cunning and quick thinking, outmaneuvering both the Israelite and Canaanite warriors. Ruth and Noami in the Book of Ruth are persevering widows who negotiate like monarchs for a new life and place for themselves and their children in Israelite society.

Old Testament Story includes very informative chapters on “Learning the Bible” and on “Living the Bible” for Jews, Christians, and Muslims who believe these stories to be God’s revelation. Also included with the book is a CD-ROM, featuring Libronix software, which provides a full searchable text of the book, links, discussion questions, and additional bibliography.

Understanding the meaning of these ancient stories to the people who lived them and the people who wrote them down can help break open God’s word to us today. What were the difficulties our foremothers and forefathers faced? How did they solve their problems? How did they listen to God’s voice?

Do we face similar problems today? Can these stories help us find answers? Often these stories have been encrusted with layers of cultural tradition. This comprehensive and engaging book can help us understand the original intent of the ancient peoples as well as make a new connection with this powerful God of ancient Israel.

Laurie Metzler is a Pastoral Associate at St. Paul Catholic Church in Houston, TX. She has a Masters of Religious Education from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, TX.

Fall 2004

 

 

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