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Old Testament theology by Gerhard von Rad
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Old Testament theology

by Gerhard von Rad

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Old Testament Theology represents a vast and thorough work that attempts to make sense of the Old Testament and its perspectives as a whole, and also considers the New Testament and how it perceived the works that came before it.

von Rad comes from the more liberal school of thought, and provides his analyses based on a form-critical and a traditio-historical perspective. In his estimation, Israel really represented a coalition of tribes that had always been in Canaan who were bound together in their belief in Yahwism (the "amphictyonic clan league") who developed a "saving history" which involved memories and concepts of the patriarchs and an Exodus narrative. These traditions were eventually wrapped up in monarchical perspectives that came after the accession of the kings. von Rad accepts the documentary hypothesis, three Isaianic authors hypothesis, and the strong hand of the Deuteronomist (or its school) on the works of history, with the Chronicler coming later.

While these operating assumptions make it hard to agree with a lot of what von Rad presents, he provides much food for thought in terms of his understanding of the texts and their relationships. He ends up being an outspoken critic of the methodology of his age and the presupposition that an analysis of the OT really is the analysis of what can be historically ascertained as viable and what must be discarded. von Rad demonstrates well that this is not a study of Old Testament theology-- one must actually approach the texts and try to give Israel the benefit of the doubt.

While I do not agree with all of his conclusions regarding the main element of his argument, I can appreciate some of the lessons one can gain from the approach: the belief that what we have revealed in the Bible is a series of traditions involving YHWH's saving actions in Israel's history. We have traditions regarding Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the Exodus; Joshua and the Conquest; Judges; David and the future King; the return from the exile; and so on. von Rad points out how the Old Testament is entirely written with a view to the future: YHWH has acted, and His deliverance awaits. After all, God makes promises to Abraham that are only partially fulfilled in Moses and Joshua. When establishing David as king, God points further to a line of kings, and of course the ultimate King. von Rad then takes this line of thought to its "Christian" conclusion, and provides a nice continuity between the Testaments: the belief that YHWH has enacted a major and groundbreaking saving event through Jesus Christ, representing the fulfillment of prophecy and OT expectations, provides the crescendo for what the OT was always seeking after. We find the ultimate fulfillment of the promises to Abraham; the promise of Moses regarding a prophet; the ultimate conquest; the King of Kings; the true return from exile.

While it is challenging to work with some of the presuppositions in the work, one can mine von Rad's magnum opus and find much that is worthwhile. ( )
  deusvitae | Jun 14, 2008 |
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