Breaking down the Old Testament

Guest author: Brother Kieran Fenn

For Jesus himself the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) was his Bible.

In the New Testament he quotes from the Book of Deuteronomy which concludes the Pentateuch, the most important section of the Bible for Jewish people.  Then he speaks the words of the prophet Isaiah, such a significant figure among the prophets of Israel.  And finally he draws on the Psalms at the heart of Wisdom literature.  The three sections of Pentateuch, Prophets, and Wisdom literature make up a large and important part of the Bible.

When St. Jerome said that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” he meant both parts of the Bible which is a huge library of books.  You know there are different types of books in a library, all with their own ways of being written.  You may also be aware that different cultures have their own stories of how the world came to be, how humans came into existence, and often stories were told about why things are as they are.  Genesis offers us many of these things, the understanding of the Jewish people, but their central message is that God created the world.  HOW God did it belongs in the realm of earth science; WHO did is in the field of religion.

After 38 chapters on the ancestors of Israel, its matriarchs and patriarchs, we have the founding story of how the people became a nation (Exodus) and how they were to behave (Exodus to Deuteronomy).  Nobody expects you to struggle through much of this later material (e.g. Leviticus) but its aim to create a holy people is still with us.  Deuteronomy, on the result of good and bad behaviour, leads into everything from Joshua to II Kings and gives us the stories of famous Judges (Deborah and Samson) and Kings (David and Solomon).

To keep the King and people holy, to call them to account when they took wrong paths, was the responsibility of the prophets.  Amos and Hosea are the easiest to read as is the Book of Jonah, but to really understand them all you have to know something of their historical back ground and this is true of every book in the Bible.

Wisdom literature is a large area of the Bible.  It is full of wise sayings that grew up in families and court, Proverbs and Wisdom.  Among the books you have Job (easy to read the beginning and end but then you miss the great struggle in the middle!).  Psalms are for every occasion in life; try Psalm 23, 8, 127, or 130 to get the wide field of feelings involved.  Do not miss that beautiful Song of Songs that celebrates the love of human beings and the love of God because the Bible is God’s love story for all of us.

By Brother Kieran Fenn

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