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An Annotated Guide to the Study of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible
Annotated Guide to the Old Testament | OT Commentary Survey | Charts & Handouts
The Old Testament/Hebrew Bible is an ancient book (or better: an ancient collection of books). While its basic content and story line may be grasped by the careful modern reader, to appreciate and understand it within its ancient context with all its intricacies and beauty requires serious study. There are numerous books and reference works written to help readers access the OT/HB. In fact, perhaps there are too many such works!
This page highlights some of the best English resources for the study of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, including translations and study Bibles, introductions, reference works, and some select areas of OT/HB research (coming soon), as well as some internet resources.
Translations & Study Bibles | Introductions | Ancient Near Eastern Context |Reference Works | Internet Resources
Translations & Study Bibles
There are more excellent translations of the OT/HB available today than ever. Most modern English translations, such as the New International Version or the New Revised Standard Version, are based on the best text and modern translation principles. One translation I want to highlight is the New JPS translation, otherwise known as the Tanakh. I like to recommend this Jewish translation of the OT/HB because it provides a fresh translation outside the tradition of most Christian translations:
- Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures, The New JPS Translation according to the Traditional Hebrew Text (Jewish Publication Society, 1985). Note that this translation has the OT in the traditional Jewish order, so you may have to refer to the index to find certain books. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
There are a number of Study Bibles available that help guide your reading of the OT/HB:
- The New Oxford Annotated NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha, Third Edition (Michael D. Coogan, Marc Z. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins, eds.; Oxford, 2001). This study Bible is ecumenical in breadth and represents the best of scholarship to bear on the biblical text. It is not evangelical, though some contributors to specific books represent the evangelical tradition. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- NIV Study Bible (Fully Rev. edition; Kenneth L. Barker and Donald W. Burdick, eds.; Zondervan, 2002). This is the best evangelical study Bible available. Its notes reflect the most current conservative Bible scholarship. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
There are numerous introductions to the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible written from a variety of theological and critical perspectives. The one I use in my introduction classes is Bandstra.
- , Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (3rd ed.; Wadsworth, 2004). This is a student-friendly textbook that highlights key terms, helpful timelines, and questions for review and reflection. It is written from a moderately critical perspective. It also includes an excellent CD-ROM with many other helps (students will especially want to make use of the concept questions and progress tests on the CD-ROM).Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com.
- An Introduction to the Old Testament (Zondervan, 1994). This is an excellent introduction from an evangelical perspective that focuses on three aspects of the OT: historical background, literary analysis, and theological message. I have used it in seminary-level classes with great success. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 1996). This is another solid evangelical introduction that I can highly recommend, though its approach is not as consistent as Longman and Dillard. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
In addition to the comprehensive introductions to the OT/HB, there are many books that introduce readers to specific sections or books of the OT. Here are a few that I believe are worthy of mention (though there are many more excellent works!).
- From Paradise to the Promised Land: An Introduction to the Pentateuch (Baker Academic, 2002). This is a solid evangelical introduction to the first five books of the OT/HB. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- , The Pentateuch: An Introduction to the First Five Books of the Bible (Anchor Bible Reference Library; Doubleday, 2000). This is one of the best introductions available from a scholarly perspective. It focuses on the historical and literary character of the text. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- Introduction to the Pentateuch (Eerdmans, 1995). A good introduction from a balanced scholarly perspective characteristic of the late biblical scholar. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- An Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books (Moody, 1993). A conservative evangelical introduction. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- A Biblical History of Israel (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox, 2003). While not an "introduction" per se, this work deals with many of the hermeneutical issues surrounding the interpretation of the historical books and provides a conservative perspective on the history of ancient Israel. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- , The Poetics of Biblical Narrative: Ideological Literature and the Drama of Reading (Indiana Studies in Biblical Literature; Indiana University Press, reprint edition 1987). An excellent book examining the artistry and ideology of the historical narratives of the OT/HB. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- Is the Bible Fact or Fiction? An Introduction to Biblical Historiography (Paulist Press, 2004). This is an interesting look at biblical history writing that includes the Old and New Testaments as well as the Apocrypha. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
Psalms & Wisdom
- , Psalms: Reading and Studying the Book of Praises (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1990). This is an excellent (and brief) introduction to the book of Psalms that focuses on form-critical interpretation. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- Introduction To The Psalms: A Song From Ancient Israel (Chalice Press, 2004). A good introduction that covers all the bases of psalm interpretation, especially the more recent interest in the shape and shaping of the book of Psalms. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- The Poems and Psalms of the Hebrew Bible (Oxford Bible Series; Oxford, 1994). A broad introduction that covers Hebrew poetry, the book of Psalms, as well as psalms outside of the Psalter. Read my review in Critical Review of Books in Religion 8 (1995) 124-125. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- The Psalms Through Three Thousand Years: Prayerbook of a Cloud of Witnesses (Augsburg Fortress, 1996). An excellent introduction that also covers the history of interpretation of the Psalms. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- Character in Crisis: A Fresh Approach to the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 1996). An interesting introduction that focuses on the wisdom books as a guide to character formation. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction (Westminster John Knox, revised edition 1998). A solid work by a biblical scholar noted for his work with OT wisdom literature. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- , The Tree of Life: An Exploration of Biblical Wisdom Literature (Eerdmans, 2002). A good introduction from a balanced scholarly perspective characteristic of the late Catholic scholar. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
In addition to the works noted above, InterVarsity Press has produced a series of introductions to the different sections of the OT/HB that are well-researched and represent a broadly evangelical perspective:
Ancient Near Eastern ContextOne of the most important things to consider when reading the OT/HB is its ancient Near Eastern context. The OT was written over two thousand years ago by people who lived in a very different world than we do. It is essential that we have some grasp of this ancient context in order to prevent us from reading our modern presuppositions and ideas into the ancient text that is the OT/HB.
There are a number of resources to help us understand the ancient context of the Scriptures. First and foremost it is important that we are well-read in the literature of the ancient Near East:
There are also a number of good introductions to the history, culture, and theology of the ancient Near East:
- , The Context of Scripture: Canonical Compositions, Monumental Inscriptions and Archival Documents from the Biblical World (3 volume set; Brill, 2004). A detailed reference work for the study of the OT/HB and the ancient Near East, this book provides reliable access to ancient Near Eastern texts that have some bearing on the interpretation of the Bible. Translation of recently discovered texts is included, alongside new translations of better-known texts. The recognized replacement of Pritchard's ANET. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament with Supplement (3rd edition; Princeton University Press, 1969). This is the classic collection of ancient texts that shed light on the OT/HB. Dated, though still highly recommended. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- Readings from the Ancient Near East: Primary Sources for Old Testament Study (Encountering Biblical Studies; Baker, 2002). A college-level collection of excerpts (with introductions) of the most relevant ancient texts; written by a couple evangelical scholars. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- Old Testament Parallels (Fully Expanded and Revised; Paulist Press, 1997). An accessible college-level collection of ancient Near Eastern texts relating to the OT. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- , Civilizations of the Ancient Near East (2 vols.; reprint edition; Hendrickson, 2001). This is an excellent resource for the civilizations of Egypt, Syro-Palestine, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, the Arabian Peninsula, northeast Africa, and Aegean cultures such as Troy, Crete, and Rhodes. Highly recommended. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- The Ancient Near East: A History (2nd edition; Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1997). A solid introduction. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- Ancient Near Eastern History and Culture (Longman, 2002).
A recent thorough introduction. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- The Ancient Orient: An Introduction to the Study of the Ancient Near East (Donald G. Schley, translator; Eerdmans, 1994). This is a very good introduction by the noted Assyriologist. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
There are innumerable reference works to the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. I will highlight a few more recent works that I believe are excellent aids to the study of the Bible. (Note: I have included one-volume commentaries below; for commentaries on single books of the OT/HB please see my OT Commentary Survey.
- , The Anchor Bible Dictionary (6 Volume Set; Doubleday, 1992). This is the standard multivolume dictionary of the Bible. It is the most comprehensive, up-to-date, and authoritative reference work in the field, with over 6,000 entries as well as tables, charts and diagrams, photographs and illustrations. An essential to use, if not to own. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com.
This great resource is also available on CD-ROM: Buy CD-ROM from Amazon.ca | Buy CD-ROM from Amazon.com
- International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) (Revised version; Eerdmans, 1979, 1995). This is the most up-to-date multi-volume Bible encyclopedia written by conservative scholars. It's characterized by careful and contemporary scholarship and a wealth of illustrations. An excellent resource. (N.B. This is not the public domain 1915 edition of ISBE that comes free with many Bible software programs). Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Eerdmans, 2000). I wrote a number of entries for this excellent one-volume dictionary of the Bible. Broadly evangelical in perspective; represents the best of biblical scholarship. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised & Updated edition; HarperSanFrancisco, 1996). Sponsored by the Society of Biblical Literature, this work represents the best of biblical scholarship. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- New Bible Dictionary (3rd edition; InterVarsity, 1996). One of the best evangelical dictionaries available. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (Eerdmans, 2003). A quality one-volume commentary from a broadly evangelical perspective. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition (4th edition; InterVarsity, 1994). One of the best evangelical one-volume commentaries available. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- HarperCollins Bible Commentary (Revised edition; HarperSanFrancisco, 2000). Sponsored by the Society of Biblical Literature, this work represents the best of biblical scholarship. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
- The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Prentice Hall, 1989). Represents the best of Catholic scholarship; includes commentaries on the Apocryphal books. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com ,
Internet & Computer Resources
There are a number of great computer and internet resources for the study of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. For some of the best computer software, such as Accordance Bible Software, please see my Software for Biblical Studies page.
While these are ever growing and changing, the following links provide a wealth of resources for biblical study:
- iTanakh: Resources for Academic Study [A very good index to Internet resources that might be of use in the scholarly study and teaching of the Hebrew Bible.]
- ABZU: A Guide for Information related to the Study of the ancient Near East on the Web [Since 1994, Abzu is a guide to the rapidly increasing, and widely distributed data relevant to the study and public presentation of the ancient Near East via the Internet. The editor of Abzu is Charles E. Jones, Research Archivist - Bibliographer at The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.]
- Old Testament Gateway [The Old Testament Gateway is a comprehensive, annotated, academic directory of internet sites on the Old Testament. There is a wealth of information on this site.]
- anduril.ca: biblical studies, movies, and more [Maintained by Ken Ristau, a former student of mine, this site has a number of excellent resources for the study of the Old Testament and more.]
- Assisting You to Learn: The Teaching Website of Ehud Ben Zvi [Ehud Ben Zvi is a colleague and friend at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. His site includes a number of resources for the study of the ancient Near East and the Hebrew Bible, among other things.]