Through the long centuries and the moving history that produced the Old Testament, the faith of the continuing community of Israel shaped and interpreted the several types of Israel’s literature. In the five chapters of this book I have selected and discussed outstanding examples of Old Testament myth, legend, history, prophecy and law in an effort to show that common theological presuppositions underlie all of these varying literary types, and that they must be read and understood as speaking from faith to faith. From faith the literature in all of its types came into being. To faith it is all addressed. From myth to law, Old Testament literature deals centrally with the same concepts of faith, such concepts as Creation, Sin, Judgment, Covenant and Redemption. As different from one another as are these varied literary types, as literature, they are remarkably unified in the common history and faith of the community of Israel.
Chapters might have been included on selections from the wisdom and devotional literature. But as a type of canonical literature, Israelite wisdom remained relatively peripheral and always more personal than communal in character; and the Psalter, to which occasional reference has been made, is self-evidently in a faith-to-faith category of expression. It is hardly necessary to add that what I have written is certainly not intended as a substitute for an introduction to, a history of, a commentary upon, or a theology of the Old Testament.
These chapters, then, are an effort to interpret certain fundamental aspects of the faith of Israel as they appear in common in varied types of her literature. But I have tried first to assess the quality of faith with empathy, from within the community in which the faith was created and nurtured. In this effort I have been most materially helped by my reading of Johannes Pedersen, H. Wheeler Robinson and Gerhard von Rad, some of whose works are cited in the essays. I have tried not to complicate the discussion unduly. Some will no doubt feel that I have succeeded too well. Matters of controversy (in which Old Testament study abounds) have been sometimes ignored and often passed over lightly. Footnotes, except in the last chapter, have been held to a minimum.
No book about the Bible is a substitute for the biblical literature itself. This is not offered in lieu of the texts with which it deals. If there is any value in what I have written here, it is to be realized only insofar as these chapters are employed as a companion to the Old Testament.
Quotations from the Bible follow, as a rule, the Revised Standard Version, Thomas Nelson and Sons, publishers, to whom grateful acknowledgment is made. On rare occasions I have given other renderings of the Hebrew text; italics are always mine; and I have often substituted the Hebrew divine name, Yahweh, for the R.S.V.’s "the Lord," a term, for most of us, loaded with connotations foreign to the ancient Israelite. Where the Hebrew and English versification differs, I have followed the English versions.
Gratitude is also expressed for permission to use Chapter V, which originally appeared in a slightly different form in Interpretation, Vol. VII, No. 4 (October, 1953) , Pp. 404 ff.
I am indebted to Mr. Everett Sims; Dean B. W. Anderson of Drew Theological Seminary; Professor Millar Burrows, my one-time teacher and now esteemed senior colleague; Professor Franklin W. Young, until recently an associate of mine at Yale and now Professor of New Testament at the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas; and Professor Claude Welch of Yale. All of these have read and criticized parts of this book in manuscript. None, of course, may in any way be held responsible for its shortcomings.
B. Davie Napier
February 12, 1955