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The Old Testament

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My two annual reading projects this year have been War and Peace, which conveniently has 366 chapters, and the Bible, for which I generated a reading scheme of my own, based on reading roughly the same amount of it each day (though giving short books a day of their own).

This morning I finished the Old Testament (full Catholic version, thus including Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and extra bits of Esther and Daniel) and I thought I should record my take on it before tackling the New Testament.

First off, I don't think I actually would recommend reading the Old Testament (or indeed the Bible) through from start to finish as I did. It wasn't written or compiled to be read in that way, and it doesn't do the text any services to read as if it were a novel, a short story collection, or a book of essays and meditations. I chose this approach because I wanted to feel that I had control of what I was reading, and that I was not missing anything, but if you want to get a fair flavour of it, it's probably better to follow one of the many reading guides available online and elsewhere, which are designed both to showcase the good bits and to keep the reader interested.

Second, a lot of it is pretty dull, actually. 2 Chronicles in particular comes close to Mark Twain's description of the Book of Mormon, as "choroform in print". Large chunks of the Pentateuch are lists of laws and, even less exciting, census returns. The historical bits have an awful lot of tediously horrible ethnic cleansing and dynastic struggle, leavened by the occasional good bit (the Saul / David / Solomon succession in particular). The prophets are rather indistinguishable in tone of outrage. I recommend finding some way of skipping the dull bits.

Third, the good bits are indeed good. I've singled out the Book of Job in a previous post; I found the Psalms generally inspiring and uplifting, and I've always been a fan of Ecclesiastes. The narrative histories, which I thought I knew fairly well, still had some surprises for me - in Numbers 12, God smites Moses' sister with leprosy for racism towards Moses' black wife, for instance. There are some fun bits in the prophets - Jonah, and the deuterocanonical addenda to Daniel (Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon). I also rather liked Sirach, aka Ecclesiasticus, which again is deuterocanonical. And 2 Maccabees is a fairly lucid, if brutal, historical note to finish on.

Fourth, there were indeed a few themes running through the entire OT whose importance I hadn't perhaps fully grasped: the importance of God's endowing his people with the land, the importance of the cult of the Temple, and the trauma of the Babylonian exile (which of course shaped most of the text we have very directly). I'm not saying that these are the only or even the main main themes, but that these are the ones whose importance was enhanced for me by reading through the entire thing.

So, an interesting experiment so far, but not necessarily one that I would urge others to emulate.

Genesis 1-15 January
Exodus 16-27 January
Leviticus 28 January - 5 February
Numbers 6-18 February
Deuteronomy 19-28 February
Joshua 29 February - 6 March
Judges 7-13 March
Ruth 14 March
1 Samuel 15-23 March
2 Samuel 24-31 March
1 Kings 1-9 April
2 Kings 10-17 April
1 Chronicles 18-26 April
2 Chronicles 27 April - 6 May
Ezra 7-9 May
Nehemiah 10-13 May
Tobit 14-16 May
Judith 17-19 May
Esther 20-22 May
Job 23-31 May
Psalms 1-22 June
Proverbs 23-30 June
Ecclesiastes 1-2 July
Song of Solomon 3 July
Wisdom 4-7 July
Sirach 8-21 July
Isaiah 22 July - 4 August
Jeremiah 5-20 August
Lamentations 21 August
Baruch 22-23 August
Ezekiel 24 August - 7 September
Daniel 8-13 September
Hosea 14-15 September
Joel 16 September
Amos 17 September
Obadiah 18 September
Jonah 19 September
Micah 20 September
Nahum 21 September
Habakkuk 22 September
Zephaniah 23 September
Haggai 24 September
Zechariah 25-26 September
Malachi 27 September
1 Maccabees 28 September - 7 October
2 Maccabees 8-13 October

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
inuitmonster
Oct. 18th, 2012 09:17 pm (UTC)
I have this somewhat uncharitable sense of the Old Testament as being all about smiting, unclean bodily discharges, and bizarre events reported in a deadpan tone where it is unclear whether you are meant to approve or disapprove of what is being described (e.g. the Levite and the Concubine and so on).
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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