Bible Review 4:4, August 1988

Bible Books

The Bible without theology: The theological tradition and alternatives to it

Robert A. Oden, Jr. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987) 198 pp., $18.95

Twentieth-century biblical analysis has been governed by the interpretive principles of 19th-century European theology. This critical idea connects the five essays and epilogue that compose The Bible Without Theology, a sophisticated and insightful book concerning contemporary biblical study.

In his first chapter, Oden wears the hat of the intellectual historian. He traces the theological bent in biblical studies back to the German tradition of historiography. This may appear to be tough going and a far cry from the biblical world, but Oden is admirably direct about his enterprise. With both clarity and brevity, he guides the reader through the maze of 19th-century academe. Oden demonstrates that ancient Israel has traditionally been analyzed from the viewpoint of a 100-year-old European theological tradition. This essay may now be added to an earlier one by Jack Sasson, concerning American historiography.1 Together they place much of the standard and popular work of biblical scholarship into an historical context.

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