A Companion To The Old Testament: For The Interpreter Within Each Of Us, by Ted Leach
[Note: This book was provided by BookLook/Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]
There is much to like about this book, which is well-written and gives a very easy-to-read account of the general narrative flow of the Old Testament, while providing a certain amount of respect for Jewish and Muslim perspectives, even if this is written from a seminary-trained liberal evangelical Christian. Among the virtues of this book is the fact that the author is sensitive to genre and is appreciative both of the layered nature of the Hebrew scriptures as well as the heavy use of irony and understatement in the Bible, which many surface readers may be unfamiliar with. It is clear that this author has an eye towards readers that are unfamiliar with the Old Testament and seeks to provide a way for the Old Testament to be thought of as legitimate by those who are not knowledgeable about it or are prone to be deeply skeptical about it.
That said, there is much fault that can be found about the author’s perspective. For one, the author falls below the Kitchen line  that marks the minimum level of respect that must be granted to the scriptures from mere historical and archeological evidence alone, even without any religious faith to speak of. The author gives way too much credence to the bogus documentary hypothesis in his source-critical views of scripture, which betray a level of seminary education that has been harmful to his ability to speak accurately about biblical matters (including a belief that the laws of Leviticus and the Book of the Covenant were merely inserted into an existing narrative, which accounts for him giving them very little attention, lamentably). Even more embarrassingly for someone who professes to be a teacher about biblical matters, the author claims that Hazael is the king of Assyria in a couple of places around the middle of the book, when Hazael obviously usurped the throne of Aram (Syria) and was a lifelong opponent of the brutal Assyrians. Hopefully future versions of this book correct that sort of error, although few of the book’s intended reading audience would likely catch that sort of error.
Nevertheless, this is a worthwhile introduction not only to the Bible, but also to the intellectual world of Judaism from the perspective of a tolerant Christian with some interest in Jewish ways (including, it ought to be pointed out, the Sabbath, as a point of praise), and one who is refreshingly honest about his perspective and where he gets his so-called knowledge about textual criticism. Another considerable point of praise that must be offered is the way this book provides a thoughtful (if brief) examination of the writings and their themes as well as poetry (this book is not stingy on biblical quotations) and comments on some of the more important themes of the Hebrew scriptures for Christians (like the Messianic hope). If this book is not up to the level of K.A. Kitchen or R.K. Harrison, this is still a book with many virtues that ought to be appreciated by beginning students looking to become familiar enough with the Hebrew scriptures to be inclined to read them for themselves with a degree of respect and interest, which is a significant accomplishment for any book in these times, and written in such a fashion as to be greatly relevant to contemporary American Protestants, especially by pointing out that the way forward for Protestant Christianity is in a more thoughtful and more Jewish understanding of the Bible. To that, I add a hearty amen.
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