A book which begins by noting that it is written in an ecumenical spirit is one which, well, worries me, especially when it comes to the Old Testament. Can it be critical enough to give an accurate impression of the Torah if I assume it has to appease all sorts of belief systems? They even mention that a secular atheist could use this book of all people! However, in the same introduction, the authors note that one is Jewish and one Christian, and that while they are writing this book with a critical eye, they still hold to their respective convictions and thus one will find a sympathetic ear; therefore, my fears are allayed.
One of the most satisfying elements of this book is the fact the authors are able to present historical critical material in a sympathetic fashion. Unlike the more dry textbooks, Kaminsky and Lohr are able to tackle subjects such as JEDP and certain ideological strains found in modern scholarship of the Torah, with the touch of a believer. In other words, the usual criticism which students level at most critical books will not be found here. While not ‘preaching’ historical criticism, it takes a stand that the theories are accepted by scholars and helps to show a way for believers to accept them. In doing so, the authors easily handle objections, such as supposed Mosiac authority, and other factors. Added to this is a view of how both Jews and Christians, along with a brief section on Islamic views at the beginning, view the Torah and this is done so without polemics. I don’t want you to get the impression that this book is a dumbed down version of a real book which seeks to placate all views; it’s not. It presents critical theory, modern interpretation, and religious differences in clear, concise language so that a reader can be informed.
The first three chapters deal with the basics such as exactly what the Torah is, the Torah as religious book, and modern interpretations. Lines aren’t easily drawn, with various criticisms, such as historical, ideological, literary and even canonical criticism, having a chance to be heard. From there, the authors move to devote a chapter to each of the five books of the Torah. What has been set up is now exemplified when they begin to examine the books individually. Over all, they are fair to modern scholarship as well as historical (both Jewish and Christian) interpretation. My concern, and the only real issue, actually, is with the interpretative perimeters given to Genesis 1-11, and more expressly, the Creation account. While the authors show themselves to be knowledgeable of, or make allowance for, the various trends in interpretation and scholarship, here it seems they have have failed to include recent works by Walton, or even older works, by Levenson which point to Genesis 1 as being understood differently. They allow that the ancients would have seen Genesis 1 as an actual creation story of a young earth. Of course, I disagree with this, but this difference is in no way a turn off for me from this book. Indeed, there is such an ocean of knowledge in this short book that my one quibble makes barely a ripple. Each book of the Torah is given an overview, some regard as to modern controversies, a summary of the various passages with detail towards what an English translation misses, as well as Jewish and Christian uses of the book. Not every chapter is cookie-cutter either, with each book being handled as if it stood alone. For example, the book of Leviticus is given a different treatment from Exodus with brief essays on various topics which should be drawn from that book, as it is the center of the Torah and indeed, one of the most (badly) used books. In other words, the authors know the issues which surround each book and in a short space, seek to provide insight in how to approach them.
I would recommend this book to seminary students who are seeking an Mdiv as it helps to address critical issues with a sympathetic hear. Further, for the price and brevity, all students would do well to pick the book up. For those interested in historical criticism as well as an ecumenical approach to the Torah, this book should be in your pocket.