Thursday, July 26, 2007

Reflections on Former Prophets I

More Reflections on Year 1, Semester 2 at HTC. This time it's the Former Prophets module, taught by Hector Morrison. The course is split roughly 50/50 between thematic treatments of Joshua and Judges and Exegesis of 1 and 2 Samuel. Texts for this one were Anderson's Living World of the Old Testament, Bright's History of Israel and LaSor's OT Survey. The exegesis text was Baldwin's Tyndale Commentary on 1 and 2 Samuel. So, reflections. What are they?

  • Alternative theologies: one of the real strengths of both this module and the previous Pentateuch module is the breadth of scholarship with which you must engage as you progress through - you can see that a bit in the textbook choices above. This comes out in the set readings from these and from supplementary texts, which are drawn from liberal as well as conservative theologians. This approach takes another step up when it comes to the module seminars. For example, in preparing for the seminar on how Israel came to settle in Canaan, we had to consider and weigh up a spectrum of views from a 'simplistic' reading of the biblical account right through to positions which deny that there was such an entity as Israel prior to the monarchy. This approach is fantastically stimulating and incredibly useful, training you to critically analyse rather than adopt a bunker mentality.
  • Thematic connections: throughout the module at various points, thematic connections were made both back to the Pentateuch and forward to the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. So, for example, the theme of Land is rooted in the Abrahamic Covenant but fulfilled in the Endpoint of the Kingdom as glimpsed in the Revelation to John. Herem and the cleansing of the land by the Israelites is a foreshadowing of the judgement to come on the global land, but also connects to the cleansing of the earth in the days of Noah. These regular biblical theological insights are a necessary and enjoyable complement to the more narrowly focussed work and they are often presented in an uplifting way.
  • Herem: this difficult concept is, I feel, either a stumbling block to some who see huge difficulties in reconciling it to a loving and merciful God, or it is dismissed with a cursory reference to the fact that it shows that God is holy - as if that somehow solves all the difficulties we might feel. The extreme violence of the herem overseen by Joshua is brought into sharp focus when it falls on Achan and his entire family after the raid on Ai. Linking herem with the theological theme of land was extremely helpful to me, but I found it an interesting question (one I pondered, not asked in the module) as to whether the fact that Achan took items which were considered to belong to God (in this case for destruction) could link Achan with Ananias and Sapphira. Tenuous? Probably.
  • Eyeopeners: you might have read something many times, but how come you don't notice pretty important things? Just how different the varying portrayals of the conquest are (swift, blitzkreig portrayal in Joshua vs. partially successful, ongoing counterinsurgency, 'Iraq War' portrayal in Judges) just hadn't made much impression on me before. Neither had the nature and makeup of Israel as they settled in Canaan: Egyptians, Kenites (family of Jethro), distinct possibility of accretions from those around Shechem who would have been aware of the patriarchal connections there. I guess that's why you go to college. Ah, you say, those things are not that important (maybe you don't say, but I'm sure that some would), but they are. Because they shed light on such things as God's covenantal purpose for the world in salvation history. And, 'simplistic' readings are a bad habit that open the church and the bible to justified criticism that they are not interacting faithfully with the text or, worse, that the text is contradictory. And, that kind of reductionism is plain unacceptable my friend! Sorting out these things is great, it's getting to know God in his glorious works and these things ought to bring us joy. So there!
  • Textual criticism of Samuel: Finally, the fact that the text of Samuel has so many variant readings between LXX versions, DSS etc poses some interesting questions for the evangelical doctrine of scripture does it not? Sorting some of these out in the Exegesis was excellent, as was looking at Hannah's Song and the thematic connections with the Rise of Elkanah's House vs the Fall of Eli's House and then on to the Magnificat and the Rise and Fall of Many in Israel. Cool.

Overall, again a quality learning experience on this module. The teaching style is excellent: focussed, serious, a lot of information, but with the biblical theological facets and the seminars to give variation, all in an easy style. Voila!