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Zoe, Vi, and the OT

21 October 2016

John Rogerson on an approach to scripture through conversation

Conversations with the Old Testament
John Holdsworth
SCM Press £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30



JOHN HOLDSWORTH invites readers to join him in imaginary conversations with various characters who have problems with the Old Testament.

Richard, a physics teacher, wonders what to make of the account of creation in Genesis. Zoe, a sixth-form student, is interested in the Israel/Palestine problem and wonders how to understand the account in Joshua of the Israelite warlike occupation of Canaan. Seventy-year-old Trevor loves the Old Testament prophets. Are they mainly political activists or do they teach about religion?

Vi is a horoscope addict. What does the Old Testament say about how the world will end? Peggy is a district nurse and wants guidance from the Old Testament about how to help people cope with suffering, while her friend Edith leads worship and wishes to make best use of the psalms in worship. Gary asks whether there is any point in reading books such as Chronicles, while Sarah wants to know whether the ethical teaching of the Old Testament has any relevance for human living today.

Readers are drawn into the conversations by being asked for their own reactions to the problems faced, and the answers that are offered. They are also asked to undertake their own researches, by reading passages of the Bible suggested by the author, and doing things such as viewing relevant films.

The answers to the questions posed lie in the fact that the Old Testament is a library of many different genres from many different periods of ancient Israel’s history, and that it is necessary to know the historical and literary backgrounds to the texts as well as how the different genres should be read and interpreted.

The author guides his putative enquirers and readers through the disciplines of biblical criticism which most directly affect their problems, and the book is thus an introduction to the modern study of the Old Testament, presented in an attractive way. It deserves to be used widely: in study groups in churches, for example, as well as by individual readers.


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

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