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The Old Testament

A Historical, Theological, and Critical Introduction

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A trusted scholar of the Old Testament and the ancient Near East offers a substantial introduction to the Old Testament that is accessibly written and informed by the latest biblical scholarship. Richard Hess summarizes the contents of the Old Testament, introduces the academic study of the discipline, and helps readers understand the complex world of critical and interpretive issues, addressing major concerns in the critical interpretation of each Old Testament book and key texts.

This volume provides a fulsome treatment for students preparing for ministry and assumes no prior knowledge of the Old Testament. Readers will learn how each book of the Old Testament was understood by its first readers, how it advances the larger message of the whole Bible, and what its message contributes to Christian belief and the Christian community. Twenty maps, ninety photos, sidebars, and recommendations for further study add to the book's usefulness for students. The Old Testament also includes an eight-page color insert.

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Part 1: Pentateuch
1. Genesis
2. Exodus
3. Leviticus
4. Numbers
5. Deuteronomy
Part 2: Historical Books
6. Joshua
7. Judges
8. Ruth
9. 1-2 Samuel
10. 1-2 Kings
11. 1-2 Chronicles
12. Ezra and Nehemiah
13. Esther
Part 3: Poetic Books
14. Job
15. Psalms
16. Proverbs
17. Ecclesiastes
18. Song of Songs
Part 4: Prophetic Books
19. Isaiah
20. Jeremiah
21. Lamentations
22. Ezekiel
23. Daniel
24. Hosea
25. Joel
26. Amos
27. Obadiah
28. Jonah
29. Micah
30. Nahum
31. Habakkuk
32. Zephaniah
33. Haggai
34. Zechariah
35. Malachi


"A groundbreaking historical, theological, and critical introduction to the Old Testament that goes far beyond other introductions in terms of breadth, depth, and scope. Hess's engagement with the history of interpretation, his sensitivity to the theological and literary aspects of texts, and his willingness to engage gender, globalization, and postmodern ideologies, make this a must-have for scholars and students. I look forward to using this outstanding book in the classroom."

Marion Taylor, professor of Old Testament, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto

"In this new volume, Hess has produced a truly outstanding introduction to the Old Testament. It provides a thoroughgoing, scholarly presentation of all the books of the Hebrew Bible yet at the same time is accessible for students with its well-structured, articulate text. Moreover, the excellent selection and placement of illustrative materials provides a wonderful undergirding that rightly serves the reader in the learning experience."

K. Lawson Younger Jr., professor of Old Testament, Semitic languages, and ancient Near Eastern history, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

"In this book Hess offers readers a current, critical, and hermeneutically instructive introduction to the Old Testament. Targeted at the graduate student, this book maps out the content of each book of the Old Testament via its canonical shape, theological import, and the critical scholarship brought to bear throughout the centuries. Particularly noteworthy are Hess's masterful introduction of the discipline of text criticism, his inclusion of premodern criticism, and his investment in issues of gender, globalization, and postmodern epistemology. This weighty volume provides student and professor alike a treasure trove of data regarding what the Old Testament is, what it contains, and why its study is essential to the Christian community."

Sandra Richter, professor of Old Testament, Wheaton College

"Among the plethora of introductions presently flooding the market, this new volume from Richard Hess distinguishes itself by its scope; its format; its attention to the full range of comparative, critical, and confessional issues; and its author's widely recognized expertise in all corners of the ancient Near East. For each book of the Old Testament, Hess treats matters of content (name, text, and outline, along with a summary overview), how the book has been interpreted (in the premodern period, according to 'higher' critical scholarship, in literary perspective, according to gender and ideological criticism, in the book's ancient Near Eastern context, and within the Christian canon, particularly the New Testament); and ends with coverage of the composition's theological themes. The coverage is extensive, but the writing remains accessible. This introduction will serve many for a long time to come as a standard go-to text."

Brent A. Strawn, professor of Old Testament, Emory University

"As any seminary instructor will tell you, finding a good introductory textbook on the Old Testament is no easy task. Some are too critical while others are too general. Some are too conservative while others are too progressive. Some are too comparative while others are too insular. Some are too historical while others are too theologically oriented, often with little or no regard for the literary-historical context of the text itself. Rick Hess, however, has truly found a 'golden mean' with this new introduction. Students, teachers, pastors, and anyone else interested in the Word of God will love it."

Michael S. Moore, faculty associate in Old Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary

"An intelligent introduction accessible to the neophyte while engaging the more experienced Old Testament reader. Hess ably balances the needs of seminarians and graduate students in a 'rich and multifaceted' exposition of the Old Testament. This is a go-to volume for thoughtful entry to not only the Old Testament but also the disciplines of its study. With attention to interpretative voices through time and surveys of interpretive methods behind, in, and in front of the text, this book is the work of a senior scholar engaged thoughtfully and passionately in the study and teaching of the Old Testament."

Lissa M. Wray Beal, Providence Theological Seminary

"Hess has provided a comprehensive introduction to the study of the Old Testament that covers a wide range of scholarship, including his own careful analysis of every Old Testament book. He writes on the subject with remarkable erudition and clarity, making the work accessible and comprehensible to a broad audience. This book is an invaluable resource for any serious student of the Bible. I highly recommend it."

Carol M. Kaminski, professor of Old Testament, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

"An accessible yet informed introduction to the Old Testament. Hess orients readers to a breadth of approaches from ancient to modern without losing sight of the content of Scripture and its theological message for today."

Mark J. Boda, professor of Old Testament, McMaster Divinity College; professor, Faculty of Theology, McMaster University

"This new introduction to the Old Testament offers a brief outline and overview of each book, considers the history of its interpretation, and provides an analysis of its major themes within the context of the broader biblical canon. It represents an impressive synthesis of the dimensions of modern biblical study identified in its title: the historical, the theological, and the critical."

Iain Provan, Marshall Sheppard Professor of Biblical Studies, Regent College

The Author

  1. Richard S. Hess

    Richard S. Hess

    Richard S. Hess (PhD, Hebrew Union College) is distinguished professor of Old Testament and Semitic languages at Denver Seminary in Littleton, Colorado, and editor of the Denver Journal. He is the author or editor of more than forty books, including...

    Continue reading about Richard S. Hess


"A truly impressive synthesis of scholarship. . . . This volume is written 'to meet the needs of the broad variety of students who come to study the Old Testament at a seminary or at a graduate level,' including students with no prior knowledge of the OT, and Hess masterfully accomplishes this goal. . . . Throughout the book, many sidebars, maps, and photos--including sixteen full-color plates--serve as helpful learning resources for the reader. . . . OT introductions abound, but [this volume] clearly stands out as one of the best in terms of its scope and synthesis. . . . To my knowledge at least, no modern OT introduction covers as much ground and synthesizes as much material as Hess does in this volume. This alone makes Hess's volume truly unique. In spite of its vast scope, this book is a joy to read. . . . A truly remarkable introduction to the OT. It surpasses other OT introductions by virtue of its vast scope, yet it remains accessible and easy to read. I highly recommend it as an introductory textbook for graduate-level study of the OT."

Benhamin J. Noonan,

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

"As an introduction, this work has several strengths. . . . One of the common criticisms by OT introduction students are the lengthy chapters regarding critical scholarship and the like. Instead, Hess contextualizes these discussions by placing them in chapters where they are most relevant. . . . A second strength of the book is the breadth of material to which it introduces the reader, without making the material too esoteric. Everything . . . is introduced and summarized in easy-to-understand language. This allows the student to gain a better grasp of the concepts introduced in the book and provides a good jumping-off point for further research. . . . One final aspect of the work that is unique, as well as helpful, for students is that Hess includes translations such as the Septuagint, Targums, and Vulgate in his 'Premodern Readings.'. . . By doing so, he prepares students for the concept that every translation is an interpretation."

Dougald W. McLaurin II,

Bulletin for Biblical Research

"This survey text . . . is intended for use in seminary and graduate school classrooms. However, the book assumes no prior knowledge of the Bible. This is an ideal combination, for although students enter higher theological education with varying degrees of biblical literacy, all of them want to engage the text deeply. . . . This is a very good survey text for the audience Hess intends. Students at Calvin Theological Seminary appreciated the clarity with which Hess writes, making it easy for both native and nonnative English speakers to understand, take notes, and stay engaged with the material. They also expressed gratitude for the way Hess charitably presents in the best possible light each approach in the readings section. This is an invitation to learn more rather than dismiss an unfamiliar method or interpretation wholesale. I look forward to using this book in future classes."

Sarah S. Schreiber,

Calvin Theological Journal

"Hess brings together an articulate synthesis of the Old Testament based on his years of academic research and publications about manuscripts translations, textual criticism, archaeology, theology, and exegesis. . . . The reader will primarily benefit from Hess's integration of various disciplines that provide a foundation for the understanding of canonical formation, historical backgrounds, and theological development. . . . This book may be of most value to the student/reader who is preparing for a career in academics. . . . The sections on Gender and Ideological Criticism provide the student/reader with unique contributions that are not typical in other Old Testament introductions."

John A. McLean,

Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies

"Many teachers find themselves having to choose a textbook for the course 'Introduction to the Old Testament,' but it is not easy to find the right one. Some are too critical, while others are too general. Some are too conservative, others too progressive. Some are too historical, others too theological. Hess, for his part, has written a textbook that strikes a good balance for the classroom. . . . Particularly worthy of note are Hess's presentation of the discipline of text criticism, inclusion of premodern criticism, and the attention he gives to issues of gender, globalization, and postmodern epistemology."

Old Testament Abstracts

"What sets this volume apart is the variety of perspectives with which [Hess] approaches each biblical book. . . . Maps and photographs throughout the book help readers get their historical bearings. In addition, Hess includes English translations of numerous ancient texts. . . . Hess is to be commended for this learned introduction. . . . I recommend this book as a textbook for Old Testament survey courses in graduate schools and seminaries."

Daniel C. Owens,


"The book has several features that distinguish it from most other introductions to the OT, going into much more depth than one typically finds. . . . For those who would like some further grounding especially in the scholarship surrounding each biblical book, Hess provides a good resource."

John R. Barker, OFM,

The Bible Today

"An up-to-date, sizable, and comprehensive introduction to the OT and the current landscape of OT studies. Hess leaves virtually no stone unturned while he guides the reader through the various layers of the field. . . . There is much to be praised about this volume. The organization and arrangement of each of the chapters is easily at the top of the list. . . . Hess has also included a number of sidebar articles, various maps and photos scattered throughout, and a handful of full-color plates in the center of the volume. The book is targeted towards a graduate-level audience and is scholarly and academic in nature. Nevertheless, as usual, Hess is both engaging and accessible, and thus, The Old Testament should find itself useful for a wide readership. Of course, the most praiseworthy aspect of this book is Hess's ability to make the OT exciting and applicable for the student, and thus, indispensable for the professor. . . . [It] contains all the marks of a go-to standard for the field of OT studies. Hess's expertise in ancient Near Eastern studies and his breadth of knowledge in the OT are on full display. The Old Testament is a must-have resource for scholars, students, and interested laypeople alike. It is accessible, extensive, and overflowing with riches. It comes highly recommended!"

John Kight,

Sojo Theo blog

"[Hess] presents the Old Testament in a comprehensible and thorough manner where scholars will find the information enough to peak curiosity for research and students/pastors will be satisfied with the depth to which the author takes the reader. . . . This textbook belongs in the classrooms where Old Testament is taught. Whether they be survey classes at the undergraduate level, graduate religion or seminary classes, or divinity schools, this book is accessible to all students. . . . Hess has provided the church a magnificent resource for understanding God's message that is the Old Testament."

Dylan Price,

Blog of a Wanna-Be Pastor