Christianity Today recently chronicled the Mark Driscoll/John Piper war-of-words regarding John Sailhamer’s newest book. To recap, here was the online verbal exchange:
Driscoll noted that he received Sailhamer’s newest work, The Meaning of the Pentateuch, a book he felt was appropriate for “hardcore uber geek theological types who love footnotes.”
John Piper responded with an appropriate verbal beat down:
To all pastors and serious readers of the Old Testament — geek, uber geek, under geek, no geek — if you graduated from high school and know the word meaning, sell your latest Piper or Driscoll book and buy Sailhamer… There is nothing like it. It will rock your world. You will never read the Pentateuch the same again. It is totally readable. You can skip all the footnotes and not miss a beat.
In fact, you might have to skip the footnotes unless your German, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and French are up to par!
A Little Background
I was first introduced to John Sailhamer and his writings when I came to SEBTS in 2006. After enduring four years of study at my undergraduate institution’s Religion department I was worn out from defending the historicity of the Hebrew Bible. Reading Pentateuch as Narrative and Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach was a breath of fresh air. This hermeneutic took the text of Scripture seriously and made sense of of the New Testament writers’ interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. These books provided a necessary corrective to my hermeneutic. I had been so preoccupied by secondary textual issues in my reading of the Old Testament I had neglected to let the Old Testament shape my questions and concerns when I approached the text. After listening to Sailhamer and re-reading the Hebrew Bible, I no longer felt self-conscious about the intentionality and cohesion of the Old Testament. Further, from a scholarly perspective, I was made aware of the shortcomings of previous historical-critical approaches to the Hebrew Bible. The method I was taught in my undergraduate studies (e.g., Wellhausen) had been demonstrated by modern scholarship to hold little prospect for consensus. The meaning of the Hebrew Bible was opened as I saw new perspectives in reading the text as intended by its author(s) (e.g., Childs, Sailhamer, Rendtorff).
The Meaning of the Pentateuch
Sailhamer’s most recent contribution to Old Testament Studies is a legitimate tome in the field. It is the magnum opus of his great career. This text combines years of classroom teaching, scholarly research, and published books and articles into one collection. The result is a comprehensive approach to the Pentateuch explaining and incorporating a robust Biblical Theology and well-defined Hermeneutic into serious, careful exegetical examination of the Hebrew Bible. The reader will gain large overviews of subjects such as Biblical exegesis, Biblical theology, historical method, and philology.
What I most enjoy about this book is Dr. Sailhamer not only makes summary hermeneutical/theological/philosophical statements but he also demonstrates how he arrived to these conclusions. Further, he demonstrates an exhaustive knowledge of the history of ideas in relation to Biblical exegesis and theology. As a historian, Sailhamer is able to trace the historiography of Old Testament interpretation and explain how modern evangelicals have arrived at their current hermeneutical guidelines.
Sailhamer takes seriously the compositional strategy and the words of the text of the Hebrew Bible. For Sailhamer, proper interpretation seeks to find the intended meaning of the author by the words he uses and the way the text is structured. As a result he spends a significant amount of time exegeting the theological commentary that occurs at the seams of the Tanak (e.g., Deuteronomy 34, Joshua 1, Malachi 3/4, Psalms 1-2, Chronicles 36). For him, these “seams” provide significant interpretive clues to the intended meaning of the Hebrew Bible. Within the Hebrew Bible (and, even, the New Testament), Biblical authors act as Biblical theologians as they interpret previous text (e.g., compositional themes, prophets, apostles, etc.).
Organization of the Book
The book is organized into three sections dealing with foundational issues (e.g, hermeneutics, Biblical theology), text specific issues (e.g., compositional strategy), and theological conclusions drawn from a reading of the Pentateuch (e.g., covenant, blessing, messiah, Mosaic Law, salvation).
Much more can be said about Sailhamer’s discussion of theology and compositional strategy. Hopefully what has been discussed will whet your appetite to read this book and (more importantly) to examine the intended meaning of the Pentateuch.
In order to increase the traffic at my new blog and be generous, I have decided to give a brand new copy of John H. Sailhamer’s The Meaning of the Pentateuch. To enter this giveaway merely comment on this post (make sure to use a valid e-mail address so I can contact you if you win). The winner will be chosen randomly and contacted via e-mail. Please share this contest with other people via Twitter, Facebook, blog, or neighborhood flyers. Only one comment per person, but you’ll get an extra entry if you link to this post on your own blog!