BR 15:06, Dec 1999
Can We Find God Without History?
The story of one scholars failed attempt
How can we discoveror uncoverthe Israelite God in the text of the Hebrew Bible? That is the problem scholars refer to as Old Testament theology. A recent book that has created quite a stir in the academy, written by the prominent Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann, answers the question in a way that I believe is quite misguided. For Brueggemann, history is irrelevant to this subject. He doesnt care what really happened; he doesnt think it profitable to explore the real-life context in which the Israelite God was revealed. His approach is ahistorical.
To find the Israelite God, Brueggemann, of Columbia Theological Seminary, in Decatur, Georgia, would look only at what is said about God: His is an exclusively rhetorical approach. Thats why his new book, Theology of the Old Testament, has the subtitle Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy.1 What we have in the Old Testament is speech, nothing else, states Brueggemann. From this bold claim arises the structure of his theology. Brueggemanns entire book is framed as a courtroom trial, in which the theological substance of the Old Testament [is seen] as a series of claims asserted for Yahweh [the Israelite God].