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Book Review: The Consuming Fire

If you’re looking for a simple guide to the Old Testament, a little brush-up for your Bible study, this tome may scare you a little as it settles its almost 700 pages on your desk.  No simple thought-of-the-day book is this but rather a hefty work of Biblical scholarship but yet it remains relatively approachable even to the Biblical neophyte, assuming he is willing to do some homework.  If you are willing to put your shoulder to the plow your work will be richly rewarded as you work through this book and the Bible together.

The first hundred pages sets the stage for the rest of the book by providing a terminological and historical background.  This section is heavily influenced by the historical-critical method which could be a turn-off for some people as it unquestioningly introduces the JEPD sources (Yawist, Elohist, Priestly, Deuteronomic) as well as H (Holiness) and R (Final Redactor) which is a fine theory but hardly accepted as ultimate fact throughout the field of Biblical studies.  After making my way through this section I, to be honest, really wasn’t sure if I’d like the rest of the book.  Call it a personal bias, but unquestioned historical-critical analysis of the Old Testament left a few scars in my early development as a Catholic and I would hate to see others have to fight through some of those same issues – this is why I said above a neophyte would have to do some homework.

Given the above however the second, and by far the weightier, part of the book really does make it all very much worth it.  In this part the reader is taken through the major themes and structure of each book of the Old Testament.  While this in itself is useful for someone who is trying to put the various books into context both within time and the other books of the Old Testament, in my opinion that is not the gem cache hidden in this book.  No, that belongs to the section the author adds for each book, “New Testament Perspectives” wherein the book is shown in light of the revelation of the New Testament.  In these sections the famous quote of St. Augustine comes to life, “the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is revealed in the new.”  For someone working to understand how the Bible as a whole “fits together” these sections are absolutely invaluable.  In fact I don’t think it would be hyperbolic to suggest these sections alone would justify the purchase price of the book.

If you’re looking to gain a better understanding of the Old Testament, particularly in light of the revelation of the New, this book is an excellent resource.  If you are willing to work with the heavy reliance on the historical-critical method this book will offer significant insight into the “whole picture” of God’s great gift to us in the Bible.  For my part, as I continue working my way through the Old Testament, I retain this book nearby each time I start a new book and indeed it has deepened my appreciation for this rich tapestry that is the story of salvation history.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Consuming Fire. The Catholic Company is also a great online store for all your Catholic gift needs, such as baby baptism and christening gifts. You can also find a wide selection of Catholic Bible Studies for both parish groups and individuals, as well as a variety of other Catholic Bible study resources.

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