The Old Testament, Keystone of Human Culture

by William F. Irwin

William A. Irwin was Professor of Old Testament Languages and Literature at Southern Methodist University, formerly Professor of Old Testament Languages and Literature at the University of Chicago. He is the author of The Problem of Ezekiel, and The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man, and many other books.

This material was published by Abelard-Schuman, London and New York, 1959. Prepared for Religion-Online by Paul & Shirley Mobley.


(ENTIRE BOOK) Schools of interpretation agree and affirm the unique historic significance of the Bible. Coupled with God’s people down through the centuries is revealed the influence of the Hebrew people, and the Bible, on those who interacted with the Hebrews, and remoter cultures surrounding them. From these Old Testament studies come a better understanding of the Hebrews, and therefore the Old Testament.


  • Chapter 1: The Hebrews in Their World

    Israel came late into the course of Oriental history. Though a small nation, there is need to understand how she differed from her neighbors and contemporaries. Israel transcended them attaining a world of thinking and concepts much like our own. Though Greece has distinct regards in some attributes for us today, Israel can be considered the great divide of humanity. Through commerce Israel affected all who came into contact with her.

  • Chapter 2: The Hebrew Thought of God

    Surrounding cultures worshiped multiple gods. In sharp contrast, the Hebrews had one God who was personal, their national God, and for them the God of all the earth and everyone in it. Being loyal to, and trusting in, one god, was not always understood by other cultures, but the Hebrew culture influenced others by their beliefs and religious practices.

  • Chapter 3: What is Man?

    Israel was fully aware of that most critical question of all man’s thought — the problem that man is to himself. So here the question of what is man is delved into seeking the answers that the Hebrew arrived at, and thought processes which we can use today.

  • Chapter 4: God and Man

    Man has always considered his relationship to the stars, sun, moon, weather, and the physical earth. More than these has been his relationship to each other. Above all is his relationship to God. All these are considered yielding thinking and positions useful for man today.

  • Chapter 6: History and Nature

    The Old Testament is a history of peoples, but primarily the Hebrews. Necessarily a part of history is nature, or natural events such as planting and harvest seasons, the great flood, etc. And nature connects with God.

  • Chapter 7: Nation, Society, and Politics

    The Israelites thought of themselves as a nation with loyalty to one God which in practice affected their personal lives, their religion, and their national and social obedience. Yet their practices were affected by nations about them, and by their own interpretations and desires. Nonetheless, the experiences of the Israelites can benefit us today.

  • Chapter 8: The Hebrews and the Bible

    Merely in terms of its creative influence upon human society, far and away the greatest of the books is the Bible. However, personal opinions do not enjoy the repute of the ages. A look then at the Hebrews and the Bible is worthwhile.

  • Chapter 5: The Theory of Law

    Jewish thought favored an honest acceptance of government, whatever it might be, and loyal conformity to promulgated law, but only within the limits of Jewish conscience.