Last year I got this book for Christmas–it’s a fantastic, useful, easy-to-read greatest hits collection of works about a basic work of scripture. However, it’s also about language, doctrine, and history, without so much as a single page about supermoms, heroic pioneers, or vampires in sight, so of course it was on Deseret Book’s bargain table for a quarter of its cover price.
As I was preparing this post, I looked online to see where copies might be available for interested readers. Turns out the whole thing is reproduced on BYU’s Religious Studies Center website. Alas, there’s six bucks I could have saved. So there’s even more reason for you to read it.
I got this to help augment my “new” study of the Old Testament, which is still in the books of Moses, a year later. (The best thing to come out of it so far is a series of posts I put up over the summer about insights into the Pearl of Great Price.) As the OT will be the Church’s text for Gospel Doctrine next year, I’m happy to recommend it for people to add to their study in 2010. I picked away at this book, off and on, an essay at a time, on some Sundays throughout this year. In fact, I realize now that this is the one and only religious book I read in 2009. It was a good one, and I’ll have to beef up the spiritual reading next year.
The book contains 22 short chapters, each about an author, book, or topic in the OT. The thing about anthologies is that they’re never even–so many authors and topics are represented that some are bound to be better than others. My review says more about me than it does about the works themselves, so take it all with a grain of salt. For example, my least favorite essays, the ones by Madsen and Brown, both took only a cursory look at their scriptural material and spent most of their space to wring out banal spiritual lessons based on them–they read more like seminary devotionals than serious gospel study. My favorite chapters, the ones by Brandt, Thomas, and Parry, synthesize dozens of disparate references each in order to bring to our attention major strains of thought throughout the Hebrew scriptures . Your tastes in scripture study may be different from mine, and your preferred essays may be reversed accordingly.
However, hopefully everyone will be struck by the companion pieces by Nibley and Ball, which each approach the book of Isaiah as a tract for social justice, and do so very convincingly. I also highly recommend Draper’s work on some of the minor prophets, which often go overlooked, though he persuades us to take them seriously (Gillum and Huntington do the same for Obadiah and Haggai, respectively).
When I read an anthology, I keep notes on the table of contents, grading each entry and making a quick summary of my judgment of it. I gave each chapter in this collection a score on a scale of 1-5, and 11 of them, fully half of the book, scored as a four or a five. That’s a far better overall standard of quality than most anthologies I’ve ever read. That says a lot to recommend this work, which brings together the best works from several different major conferences, over three decades. This, truly, is the best of the best. You may not like everything in it, but there will definitely be much of great worth for any student of the Old Testament.