>Old Testament or Hebrew Bible?

>Timothy J. McNulty, the public editor of the Chicago Tribune, wrote an article in which he discusses the issue of how to call the first section of the Bible. The following is an excerpt of his article:

The message was polite but firm: Please stop referring to the “Old Testament.”

“Some, maybe many, Jews take offense at use of the term ‘Old Testament,’ ” complained reader Dick Nugent. “We don’t have a new testament, so our book is not an old testament.”

The historical context is obvious, but the reader is correct, newspapers do not commonly take one religion’s terminology to describe the works of another religion.

Better to say the “Hebrew Bible,” Nugent suggested helpfully. To be even more specific, the newspaper could use the term “Tanak,” an acronym for the five books of the Torah, the teaching of the prophets known as neviim, and the ketuvim, the other sacred writings.

Getting rid of the term Old Testament would stir some controversy and, more to the point, it may be confusing to many readers. The Tribune’s stylebook, a guide for consistency and fairness, is silent on the term Hebrew Bible, but language is dynamic and change is a constant at newspapers. More on this later

Language maven William Safire tried to deal with the Old Testament issue several years ago and, after consulting with experts, he found those who suggested “First Testament” or “Early Scriptures” as alternatives. Some dismissed the term Hebrew Bible because originally part of it was in Aramaic; others thought it meant that the text could only be read in Hebrew. There was also a problem in that Judaism, Catholicism and Protestantism don’t agree on which books are included, and in which order.

Safire ended up declaring himself a traditionalist and that his personal preference remained Old Testament.

In the conclusion of his article, McNulty declares his preference for Old Testament because of “its clarity.”

Personally, I prefer using Old Testament for theological reasons.

How do you feel about this issue? Let me know.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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9 Responses to >Old Testament or Hebrew Bible?

  1. D. P. says:

    >I commonly use the term “Old Testament,” although I can understand the Jewish objections to the term. “Hebrew Bible” sounds like a specific reference to the Scriptures in question in their original language. Perhaps in publications intended for a wider audience, one could say “Old Testament” in the context of Christian interpretations of those writings and “Jewish Bible” in the context of Jewish interpretations? I really don’t know what the best answer would be, so I’ll probably follow Safire and stick with the traditional terminology I grew up with.


  2. Richie says:

    >I would agree, it is the context that should determine the terms we use. In the least, I would not find it offensive if terms other than ‘Old Testament’ were used, provided that they show there was some thought behind the decision.I have written a little bit more on my own blog as well.rheimbro.blogzerk.com


  3. >Darrell,I have the same problem you do. In the context of Christian interpretation, I use Old Testament because I am speaking to Christians about a Christian understanding of the Jewish Scriptures. When I write for an academic context, I use Hebrew Bible because of the audience that is reading what I am writing. Since my blog offers a Christian perspective of what I write, I use Old Testament.Thank you for your comments.Claude Mariottini


  4. >Richie,Thank you for your comment. I had to make a decision when I began teaching. My decision was to use Old Testament because I teach men and women who are preparing for the Christian ministry. I explain to my students the reason for my decision. To this day, not one of my students has complained that I use Old Testament and not Hebrew Bible.I will visit your blog and read what you have writtenClaude Mariottini


  5. DrChrisHeard says:

    >Claude, I prefer “Tanakh” because of its clarity, although I commonly use “Old Testament” when I’m pretty sure I’m with a 90%+ Protestant audience. I’ve gone into more detail on Higgaion.


  6. Iris says:

    >As a Jew I am very active in interreligious dialogue activities in Germany. I know this discussion and that people want to express their respect by avoiding the term “Old Testament”.But my experience is also, that there are individuals who are very pc in using terms such as “Hebrew Bible”, “First Testameent” .. and who have in some respect an ant-jewish attitude (e.g. in using stereotypes such as the Jewish g-d of revengance and the Christian g-d of love”. As our (Christian versus Jewish) approaches concerning these texts (tanakh / old testament) are very difficult it seems to me that it might be difficult to find one term which fits for us all.Your Christian reading of these texts is inspired through the glasses of the New Testament and my Jewish reading of these texts is inspired by midrash (oral tradition). Even if we read the same text, we have a different framework. We are living a long time after these texts had been written down and there is a long and different history of these texts in our different traditions and the process of reception was and is very different. In christian-jewish dialogue groups I use sometimes the term “old testament”. This is when I want to emphasize the Christian view on these texts.I don`t feel insulted by the term “old testament” as long as Christans behave respectfully.What I find much more difficult is the use of the terms “Jewish Easter” for the Jewish festival of passover and “Jewish Pentecost” for the holiday of shavuot. I find this very inappropriate and disgusting.


  7. >Iris,Thank you for your comment. I agree with what you said. It is important for Jews and Christians to respect each other and the way each approaches the biblical text. As a Christian, I love the Jewish people and the Jewish Scriptures and it is with deep respect, love, and appreciation that I teach about Ancient Israel.On Monday, June 4 I will post an article that includes some of your comments.Thank you for visiting my blog.Claude Mariottini


  8. Anonymous says:

    >Claude,Interesting article.As a minister in a predominately conservative group, I’ve moved away from calling the “Old Testament” the, well, “Old” Testament. I now refer to it as the Old Writings.The reason in not so much who will it offend. No politically correct reasoning here. I simply do it because Jesus himself refered to the writings of David, etc. He also said he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.In our society, we have a bad habit of taking something that is old and deeming it unworthy. That, I believe, is what has happened with the “Old Testament”. If it’s old, then it’s of no use.However, as I know you are aware, that is far from the truth. The “New Testament” is really an explanation of the “Old Testament”. It works seemlessly.Therefore, I usually choose the “Old Writings”.Thanks,MWS


  9. >Dear MWS,Thank you for your comment. All of us who are in the ministry struggle with this issue. The reason people avoid using “Old Testament” is not because it is old and thus of no use. The reason is that Jews today claim that their covenant is not old. To the Jews and to many Christians, the use of “Old” means that the “New” has superceded the “Old.”Your use of the term “Old Writings,” however, may not express what Christians believe about the Old Testament. Since the Holy Spirit makes the text of the Old Testament relevant to believers today, I believe that the biblical text is always new, since both the Old Testament and the New Testament are the living Word of God. Since the text is the living Word of God, those old writings are always new and relevant to every new generation of believers.Thank you for your comment.Claude Mariottini


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