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Seven types of scripture

26 October 2012

An OT emphasis in this unusual way into Bible-study, says John Rogerson


Beatus vir: illustra­tion for Psalm 1 from the Utrecht Psalter, featured in Psalms Through the Cen­turies: Volume 1 by Susan Gilling­ham, now in paperback (Black­well Bible Com­ment­aries, Wiley-Blackwell, £24.99 (£22.50); 978-0-470-67490-1)

Beatus vir: illustra­tion for Psalm 1 from the Utrecht Psalter, featured in Psalms Through the Cen­turies: Volume 1 by Susan Gilling­ham, now in pap...

The Return of the Chaos Monsters: And other backstories of the Bible
Gregory Mobley
Eerdmans £10.99
Church Times Bookshop £9.90 (Use code CT895 )

THIS is an imaginative and unusual introduction to the Bible, based on the conviction that underlying all narratives are a number of basic stories, called by the author "back­stories". In the case of the Bible, there are seven, correspond­ing to seven divisions of its litera­ture: creation stories, Pentateuchal narratives, didactic stories in the Former Prophets (i.e. Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings), the Latter Prophets (i.e. Isaiah, Jere­miah, Ezekiel, and the Minor Prophets), the Psalter, wisdom litera­ture, and apocalyptic.

The seven corresponding stories are summarised as follows: return of the chaos monsters; it's love that makes the world go round; poetic justice; anger management; God needs us; the Blueprint; and con­spiracy theory.

It will be noticed that the concen­tration is on the Old Testament. Although the author writes as a Christian, he is heavily influenced by his former Jewish teachers. The chapter on creation stories uses the well-known theory that Babylonian creation stories underlie the biblical account; and the chapter on the Pentateuch argues that the laws of the Pentateuch enable people to live in harmony with God's universe (in which case, one wonders what to make, for example, of the law in Numbers 5 which prescribes an ordeal to be imposed by a husband on a wife he suspects of unfaith­fulness).

The chapter on Former Prophets elaborates the deed-consequence theory.

"Anger management" contains an interesting section on divine anger, and emphasises the part played by prophets as intercessors on behalf of Israel before God. "God needs us" means that worship unlocks things inside us that belong to God, while "Blueprint" explores the dilemmas of belief in an ordered world that is clearly not ordered. The final chapter sees in apoca-lyptic the return of the chaos monsters.

The book covers much ground, and assumes little prior expert knowledge on the part of readers. While not everything that it claims can or should be accepted uncritic­ally, and while a Reformed Christian position clearly underlies it, it should serve as a useful introduc­tion to the study of the Old Testa­ment for beginners.

Canon John Rogerson is Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies at Sheffield University.

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