Book Notes: A Catholic Introduction to the Bible: The Old Testament

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If you’ve ever talked books with me, then you know that I love them. In fact, my books are some of my most prized possessions, and if anything ever happened to my house, I wonder if insurance would cover my large collection. Now, I love all my books (some more than others), but the ones I am most fond of are my Bibles and the ones that have to do with Scripture interpretation or commentary. I have an overflowing shelf, dedicated to those books alone, and with the recent offerings of publishers, I think I am going to need to bite the bullet and get a second shelf.

One of these books is one of the latest releases from Ignatius Press, entitled A Catholic Introduction to the Bible: The Old Testament. The book is authored by two amazing Catholic scholars: John Bergsma and Brant Pitre. It is over 1,000 pages long and retails for about $50.

Upon first opening the book, you are given an introduction which tells us this book was written “for anyone who wants to gain an in-depth understanding of the Old Testament from a Catholic perspective.” It also tells us that there will be a second volume on the New Testament (impatiently waiting for that now …), and who the intended audience is for this book: Catholic seminarians, graduate students, ordained ministers, college students, directors of religious education, scripture teachers, and interested lay people. Whew! Made it on the last one!

The introduction also tells us about the integrated approach this volume will take using Historical Exegesis and Theology, Faith and Reason, Scripture and Tradition, and finally integrating the Old and New Testament through the use of typology.

The next section gives us a broad introduction to the Old Testament with a focus on Canon, Language, and Study. We are first given a comparison table of the four different Old Testament Canon between Jewish (24 books), Protestant (39 books), Roman Catholic (46 books), and Greek Orthodox (49 books). Yes, you read that right … some people have even more Old Testament books than we do. We then see a comparison of the canon over time as it related to different councils from 350 A.D. to 397 A.D. There are also sections on “Deuterocanonical” books and how different Church Fathers made reference to them in their works. After this, the reader is educated on the four most important ancient texts: the Masoretic (Hebrew), the Septuagint (Greek), the Vulgate (Latin), and the Peshitta (Syriac). Last, there is discussion on different methods of Biblical study including, Textual, Historical-Critical, Source, Form, Tradition, etc.

We finally get to the meat of the book with Part Three: What is the Pentateuch? and Part Four: The Origins of the Pentateuch. These sections give us a summary of the Pentateuch, themes found in the five books, overview of important tribes/people (Hittites, Canaanites, etc.), and a look at the book through both an ancient and modern lens. No introductory section is given for the Historical Books or Prophetic Literature, but there is a section on “The Place of Wisdom Literature in the Canon.”

The rest of the book is divided into chapters, with each book of the Bible getting its own chapter. Exceptions to this are Genesis getting two chapters, historical books like 1st and 2nd Samuel getting one chapter, and all 12 Minor Prophets books also getting one chapter. Each book of the Bible is given an introduction, which outlines the book and provides some context for reading the book. Then, there are thematic breakdowns of every chapter or couple of chapters. In addition to explanatory text, there are pictures, tables, maps,  and little blocked asides that further explain key parts of the Scripture.

This work was an impressive undertaking and one that we Catholics should feel blessed to be able to obtain. I can’t imagine the time and the level of research involved in a work like this, but I’m sure it’s mind-boggling. Plus, there are copious amounts of footnotes given, so you can dive even deeper in the Old Testament if you so choose to do. Never before has the Old Testament been so thoroughly presented and readily available for Catholics, in a one-volume format. They could have easily made this a multi-volume set on the Old Testament alone and still had me hungry for more!

This is a book that will sit proudly on my study shelf, so that I can readily reference it every time I read through an Old Testament passage. I feel smarter having read through this book, and I already want to pick it up and read it again to glean more from everything I missed on my first read through.  I am eagerly awaiting the release of Volume 2 on the New Testament, and I’m sure it will be an amazing reference just like its predecessor.

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Copyright 2018 Stuart Dunn
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About Author

Stuart Dunn was born and raised in Mobile, AL and received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Master of Business Administration from the University of South Alabama. Stuart primarily does accounting and logistics at the Port of Mobile. He married his wife, Mary Katherine, in 2011 and welcomed their first child into the world in 2013. Stuart reviews all things Catholic including adult books, children’s books, Bible Study series, Catholic Courses, CDs, and DVDs in addition to board games at his blog Stuart’s Study at StuartsStudy.blogspot.com.

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