Conversations on Scripture: Blunt, 2

Blunt’s second chapter entitled “Old Testament Writers and Writings” contains just that: a survey of each of the Old Testament books after an initial discussion on the shape of the whole.

The introductory paragraph begins with the opening words of Hebrews to remind his readers that the the multiplicity of books are guided by a single mind and purpose: “these many writers were inspired by One Divine Mind to write with one purpose, that of setting forth the work of redemption and salvation by Christ” (Blunt, 30). The principle of the Unity of Holy Scripture is very important to him. He will not, however, trace the through-line in all cases which is good as identifying and bolstering this single purpose does get challenging in certain of the Minor Prophets.

Organizationally, Blunt notes the Jewish division of the Law and the Prophets, but denies that this division denotes a sacred character—certainly not one the English Bible recognizes. That is, the Law has no preference or precedence over the Prophets from a Christian perspective.

He can’t resist a potshot at Colenso and the German schools when he asserts the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch: “…and although elaborate guesses at a different authorship have been made by a few writers in recent times, such guesses are worth nothing in comparison with the weight which must belong to the testimony of so many nations and so many ages” (Blunt, 31). Following the 1650-4 dating scheme of James Ussher, Anglican Archbishop of Armaugh, Blunt places the composition of the Pentateuch between 1450 to 1490 B.C.

Blunt’s pattern going forward is to briefly introduce the author, assign a date of composition, then to describe the main theme of the book in a paragraph-sized synopsis. When necessary, he will provide a brief narrative outline like the one offers for Genesis:

The contents of Genesis are (1) [Chap. i. ii. (marginal notation)] an account of Creation, given, not as a full History of Creation, but with reference to the fall of man: (2) [Chap iii.] an account of the Fall: (3) [Chap. iv.-vi.] some few particulars respecting the history of the world between the Fall and the Deluge: (4) [Chap. vii.-viii.] an account of the Deluge: (5) [Chap. ix.-xi.] a few particulars of the history of the world between the Deluge and Abraham: (6) [Chap. xii.-xxv.] a rather full history of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, with which particulars of many other persons are interwoven. The last event recorded is the death of Joseph, which occurred about 1700 years before Christ, about 2300 years after the creation of Adam, and thus more than 3500 years from the present century.

Blunt, 32.

(Sharp-eyed readers will note that Blunt’s outline was summarily curtailed. I would guess he intended to break out the patriarchs separately since Genesis 25 wraps up the Abraham narrative, but either he or his editors decided to mash them all together and neglected to fix the margin notation! )

As seen at the conclusion of the quote above, Blunt concluded each synopsis with a description of the time elapsed within the events of each book and where that places them with respect to the timeline. For example, the summary of Leviticus emphasizes the brief timespan: “These laws were delivered by God to Moses during the first months after the dedication of the Tabernacle, at the beginning of the second year from the departure of the Israelites out of Egypt. To this month, therefore, the whole of the Book of Leviticus belongs” (Blunt, 34).

I really like his pattern here. The basic scheme looks like this:

  • Brief comment on the name of the book
  • Identification of the author (if needed)
  • Brief outline of the major movements/sections of the book
  • Relation of the book to the overall temporal narrative and the length of time encompassed

I attempted a video form of something like this in my now-defunct “Liturgical Look Forward” series, hoping to provide context for the Daily Office readings through Years 1 and 2, but was never satisfied with the results.

Before leaving the Pentateuch, I must call out his words on the conclusion of Deuteronomy; section 5 describes “the account of the death and burial of Moses, added by an inspired person at some time later, probably by Ezra” (Blunt, 35). This is him grappling with one of complications of Mosaic authorship: did God inspire Moses to write of his own death and burial, or did a later writer add it? Blunt goes with “addition” but assures his readers that it was an inspired author, likely one from a short, well-known, list.

The pattern above holds through the Histories, at least up through 2 Samuel. Blunt apparently despairs of offering a sufficient synopsis of 1-2 Kings, appropriately given its 400 year span, and summarizes each in a sentence (“in the first book the reign of Solomon and the building of the Temple are the most prominent subjects: in the second book the prophetic history of Elijah and Elisha, with the reign of Hezekiah, and the final destruction of both kingdoms” [Blunt, 38]). With regard to authorship, Blunt follows Talmudic tradition in assigning 1-2 Samuel to Samuel, Nathan and Gad; 1-2 Kings go to Nathan, the prophet Jeremiah, and Ezra. (And if the inclusion of Jeremiah makes you think of modern discussions around the editor of the Deuteronomistic History, well, you’re probably not wrong!)

Moving to the Wisdom portion, Blunt transmits the tradition assigning the Book of Job to Moses, suggesting that he might have learned of it or met the participants during his 40 years in Midian.

By far the longest section apportioned to any book of the Old Testament is that of the Psalms. Blunt describes the many authors, issues a caution on the accuracy of the superscriptions, describes the five books within the Psalter, addresses the numbering differences between the Hebrew/English text tradition and the Greek/Latin, explains the two chief English versions (the 1540 Coverdale in the BCP and the 1611 from the KJV), then enumerates four classifications: The Great Hallelujah (113-118), The Psalms of Degrees (120-134), The Passion Psalms (2, 22, 38, 59, 69, 88), and The Penitential Psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143). Finally, he concludes with a paragraph-length encomium on the Psalms worth quoting in full:

The Psalms, as a whole, form the central portion of Divine Revelation. They contain the words in which the Church of God has spoken to Him in public offices of praise day by day for 3000 years without intermission. They have formed the devotional utterances of individual saints innumerable during the same 90 generations—half the age of the human race; and they are supposed by some to be embodied in the praises which are being offered in Heaven.

Blunt, 45.

Moving to the prophets, Blunt connects the Major Prophets with sections of the Historical Books where they properly appear or to which their words pertain. By the time we get to the Minor Prophets each receives basically a paragraph. These sometimes mention Christological themes that can be found in these books or where they are used in Prayer Book services.

At the conclusion of Malachi, the chapter abruptly ends with nary a summary statement.

For my own conclusion, while I disagree with his assignments of authors and dates, the intention behind this chapter is both good and necessary. A quick, at-a-glance, summary of the OT books locating them in time and in the narrative/historical sequence remains a really good idea. Based on my reading of Blunt’s text, I can envision a spiral-bound guide of a similar fashion with bright color-coding to group thematic relationships, and including a variety of timelines and maps. Especially for those of us who encounter the Bible chiefly at the level of the pericope in liturgical services, this kind of overview is very helpful. I’d be shocked if such things don’t already exist—my only question is whether such things reflect the current state of biblical scholarship; Bible helps of this sort that I’m familiar with tend to be dominated by very conservative perspectives. A key difference in the kind of thing I’m envisioning vs. Blunt is that rather than one timeline at least two would be needed (and profitably superimposed at points): one to track the historic through-line, the other the track our best guesses on the composition of various sections of various books and editorial efforts.

(And if you are aware of a decent Mainline resource of which I speak, please add a shout-out in the comments!)

2 thoughts on “Conversations on Scripture: Blunt, 2

  1. Barbara

    The EFM Year 1 materials were really good for their discussion of the context and history of the Old Testament books and sources. In the old days, it was a huge binder full of texts written (I think mostly) by various Sewanee instructors. So it would have been current scholarship. I would think those materials would be somewhere on file at Sewanee; sadly I don’t think I have my binder anymore. Not sure it was concise enough for what you are looking for, anyway; I can’t remember if there was a summary chapter or page.

    FYI they are now using this book: “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” by John J. Collins. Which seems to be on the Internet Archive in its entirety! Not sure if this is quite what you’re looking for, but this section does deal with some of the chronology:

  2. Derek A. Olsen Post author

    John J. Collins is a rock star! His work on apocalyptic was one of the things that hooked me as an undergrad. Love that this is so easily accessible—and that people are using it.

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