The curriculum for 2018 is the Old Testament. I hope to share some resources with you that might help the Old Testament feel a little less foreign, although it should feel somewhat foreign no matter what because it originated in a very distant and different culture. As the Harper Collins Study Bible puts it, “even the most excellent translation from the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts cannot by itself completely remove the strangeness that many modern readers sense when they encounter the Bible. It is, after all, an ancient book. Indeed, it is a collection—no, several collections—of books that were formed and written in cultures distant from our own not only in time and space but also in character. Indeed, what is required of us as readers is rather to enter, through these texts, into another world of meaning. Only when we have sensed the peculiarity and integrity of that other world can we build a bridge of understanding between it and our own.”
It is my goal this year to help you to enter into that other world of meaning so that we can draw closer to Christ. My approach is one that is centered on the principle outlined in D&C 109:7 “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith.” Sometimes we cast suspicions on the “study” part of the couplet and neglect the “best books” part too. Elder Maxwell said that “for a disciple of Jesus Christ, academic scholarship is a form of worship.” (On Becoming a Disciple-Scholar, ed. Henry B. Eyring (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1995), 7). And Elder Ballard recently made this comment at a BYU Devotional:
“I am a general authority, but that doesn’t make me an authority in general. My calling and life’s experiences allow me to respond to certain types of questions. There are other types of questions that require an expert in the specific subject matter. This is exactly what I do when I need an answer to such questions. I seek others including those with degrees and expertise in such fields. I worry sometimes that members expect too much from Church leaders and teachers, expecting them to be experts in subjects well beyond their duties and responsibilities. The Lord called the apostles and prophets to invite others to come unto Christ, not to obtain advanced degrees in ancient history, biblical studies, and other fields that may be useful in answering all the questions that we may have about scriptures, history, and about the Church. Our primary duty is to build up the church, teach the doctrine of Christ, and help those in need of our help. Fortunately the Lord provided this counsel for those asking questions: “seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118) If you have a question that requires an expert please take the time to find a thoughtful qualified expert to help you. There are many on this campus and elsewhere who have the degrees and the expertise to respond and give some insight to most of these types of questions.”
In the spirit of this counsel, you will find resources here from a variety of experts who have degrees in Biblical scholarship or who have studied the texts of the Old Testament in much more depth than I ever will. Our goal is still to come closer to Christ, but we also need to understand the culture and the context of the texts we will be using to do so.
My first suggestion is that you watch Benjamin Spackman’s fireside that he originally gave as a talk at the Sperry Symposium at BYU. It is a very helpful introduction to big picture ideas on how best to approach the Old Testament this coming year. Find the video here.
My next suggestion is that you listen to a podcast with Benjamin Spackman on Misunderstanding the Bible. The podcast is here.
I also suggest that you purchase a study Bible. I recommend the Harper Collins Study Bible. It is commonly used in Bible as Literature classes at Universities across the nation. It has introductory essays to each book in the Bible and it includes annotations throughout which help us to learn the history and cultural context and genres of the books we will read this year. I am not suggesting that you replace your King James version of the Bible, but I am suggesting that a study Bible can be a valuable resource this year for the Old Testament and next year for the New Testament.
Here are some additional recommendations (from Benjamin Spackman):
1. Matthew Richard Schlimm, This Strange and Sacred Scripture: Wrestling with the Old Testament and Its Oddities (2015).
2. Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament is available at Deseret Book for $45.95, but if you order it through the online store it is only $10.00. Correction: They have now raised the price even at the online store. Sorry! Here is the link.
3. E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (2012).
4. Hershel Shanks, Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple, 3rd Edition (2010).