The next question that I must answer in my academic pursuits is why would a Christian get their PhD in the Old Testament? Wouldn’t you rather learn about Jesus? Isn’t Paul more edifying and instructive? Well the answers to those questions may be yes, for some. But I have always found the Old Testament (I do not say Hebrew Bible because I am thinking of both the MT and LXX, as I will be studying both) to be fascinating, edifying and immensely instructive. I have also found the OT incredibly difficult. Many of the most difficult issues in the Bible, especially those that repulse non-Christians, come from the OT. For this reason I feel the need to truly understand this greater half of the Christian Bible.
The OT also has the uncanny ability to be inexhaustible (I do not mean that the NT does not, but the OT does in a different way, as we will see presently). As a boy, my Mom tried all the tricks to get me to read my Bible. The most successful ‘trick’ was to point me to all the warfare and violent passages of the OT. I remember vividly reading about Ehud the left-handed judge and David’s mighty men. Nothing sounded more un-Biblical to me than these passages of testosterone filled heroism and unmitigated gore. They were fascinating to me as adventure stories on a very basic level and they got me asking questions about God and his dealings with people. I am now, however, going to study one of those stories (David and Goliath) on the most detailed level, a PhD dissertation, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that that text will not disappoint me on any level. My point is this, the OT narratives have the incredible ability of distilling their main messages to the most basic level where they are understandable to simple readers (not that there are not some significantly R-rated parts of the Bible that children should not read, there are), but on the other hand the OT was written with such literary sophistication and depth of meaning that a short passage can sustain a great deal of study and illumine a whole array of meaning. This is part of what draws me to the OT.
I am, however, a Christian and the NT is immensely important to me. I will always read the NT and I will always be a student of it. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that many of us Christians read our Bibles in the wrong direction…back to front. I have heard it said numerous times that it is only in light of the NT that the OT can be understood. This seems fundamentally backwards to me. I am more of the opinion that only in light of the OT can the NT be understood! Try reading the Return of the King without having previously read the Fellowship of the Ring and the Two Towers. You have no idea what this great climax is about. I feel the same way about the NT. Now, that does not mean that knowing where the story ends (NT) does not illuminate more precisely what has gone before. Any good novel reveals new information on a multiple readings because you know where the story is going. But that doesn’t mean that you should read the end first. So in my desire to understand the NT I find it necessary to start with the OT.
Furthermore, I have a suspicion that the OT is significantly under-appreciated within Christian circles. Aside from Psalms and Proverbs I don’t think the OT is widely read. I think this is incredibly unfortunate. Let me give you one anecdotal example of why this is so. When my dad told his friend Tony Campolo, that his son would be pursuing a PhD in the Old Testament, he said this: “That’s great. We need people to read the OT. You can know Jesus from the NT but YOU DON’T KNOW GOD, unless you read the OT!” I think he may have been intentionally overstating the issue, but I think he’s got a point. Thus, I will be studying the OT, as the greater half of the Christian Bible.