Is the Old Testament dying?

Abraham

The 1603 painting “Sacrifice of Isaac” by Caravaggio depicts an angel stopping Abraham from offering up his son Isaac in the book of Genesis. Image courtesy of Creative Commons

Source: Religion News Service

By

(RNS) Brent Strawn was teaching at a Methodist church in Atlanta when he asked his class to identify the origin of Jesus’ well-known cry from the cross — “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Silence.

The Emory University professor of the Old Testament was stunned.
How could it be that these mostly older adults, faithful lifelong churchgoers, didn’t know that Jesus was quoting directly from Psalm 22?

That’s when it dawned on him: The Old Testament is dying.

That realization, now a book by the same name, argues that many contemporary Christians have lost biblical fluency and can no longer speak the language of more than half their sacred Scripture.

It’s not unusual for scholars to talk about the Bible as a language, but Strawn may be the first to look at it as a dying language.

“If the Old Testament is (like) a language, then like any language, it can be learned and spoken, or conversely, can be forgotten and die,” he writes.

Strawn explains how dying languages revert to a pidgin-like form, with limited vocabulary and an even more limited sentence structure. The New Atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, often speak this broken language, Strawn says, picking and choosing the most extreme passages to support their arguments that the Bible is immoral or contradictory without bothering to understand the whole.

Eventually, Strawn writes, a dying language may become a creole, an entirely new language formed from the contact between an older language and a new one.
For Strawn, purveyors of the prosperity gospel, such as Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar or “Prayer of Jabez” author Bruce Wilkinson, have repackaged Old Testament stories and themes to such a degree that the text is no longer recognizable; indeed, it’s an entirely new language.

Read further

Suggested Reading and viewing

True Fasting: A Message of Compassion and Love from the Old Testament

A Message of Compassion and Love from the Holy Bible

Religion and the 21st Century: A Collection of Articles

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