Old Testament Introduction. 2nd ed.

By Werner H. Schmidt
Westminster : John Knox Press (1999). xiii + 452 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
12.2 (Fall 2001) : 272-274

The second English edition of Schmidt’s work is based on the fifth German edition (Einführung in das Alte Testament [de Gruyter, 1995]) that offers three basic modifications to the previous English edition: (1) expansion of the section regarding Pentateuch research to outline briefly the differing points of departure for contemporary perspectives (see 50-52, 53-54), (2) addition of an essay on OT theology regarding anthropology (cf. 372-88), and (3) revision and expansion of the bibliography (399-447).

This introduction to the OT takes a stance consistent with liberal higher criticism. For example, Schmidt adheres to a form of the documentary hypothesis similar to that of Martin Noth (76), sees at least three redactions for the Pentateuch (49), connects the account of Israel’s slavery in Egypt to the time of the building of Solomon’s temple (77), and relates the contents of Leviticus to the post-exilic period (94). An evolutionary view of the development of religion is implicit in his rationale for dating the Priestly document of the Pentateuch: “The decisive arguments for assigning a late date to this source were drawn not so much from its language as from the history of ideas” (97). After all, he claims, in view of the fact that circumcision was well-known among Israel’s neighbors, it “was unknown in the Babylonian world and could therefore become a criterion of the Jewish religion amid the other religions of that environment” (98). The introduction to the Book of Deuteronomy is well written with valid biblical observations about the theme of the book (120-21). However, he denies Mosaic authorship, placing its composition “under the monarchy or even later” (123).

Not even Solomon’s prayer at the Temple’s dedication is exempt from being chopped into pieces to support a variety of redactions (148). Schmidt proposes the possibility that additions to the Chronicler’s work could have been made much later than 300 B.C. (161 ). He counts at least three “Isaiahs” (256). The reader senses the author’s frustration that the “strikingly uniform style of the book makes it difficult to distinguish between traditional material and secondary revision” (246). It is, indeed, difficult work to parcel out the OT in accordance with materialistic, humanistic, and evolutionary biases. The author also identifies two different Zechariahs (270), places Joel’s prophecies after the capture of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. (282), dates the Book of Daniel to “around 165 B.C.” (6, 288), and charges that that book contains inaccurate and unreliable prophecies (288, 295). In addition, he categorically denies Mosaic authorship of Psalm 90 in accord with attributing unreliability to the psalm headings (301). Combining the views of Wolff on Hosea 1 and Rudolph on Hosea 3, Schmidt concludes that there were two women involved in Hosea’s love life (204).

Late dating of books like Ecclesiastes and Daniel appears to be independent of any appeal to the existence of Aramaisms in them. Perhaps Schmidt’s failure to follow that run-of-the-mill argument for late dating is due to his recognizing that Aramaic was probably the original language of Israel’s ancestors and that the divine title Yahweh is probably Aramaic (9). O n the other hand, language is one of the key reasons for dating portions of the Song of Solomon to the late post-exilic period (312). Its “novella” literary style gains for the Book of Ruth an origin in that same late post-exilic period (317). Obviously, Schmidt’s evolutionary view of literature likewise prohibits any earlier Israelite period from possessing the capacity to produce such literature. Qoheleth’s thinking is too advanced for Solomon, therefore it must have been composed in the early Hellenistic period when there were minds worthy of such deep thinking (330).

Schmidt’s emphasis is upon literary and form critical analyses and OT theology. As a result, there are a few sections of his volume that provide some useful information. One of these is his fairly detailed description of OT Law in its casuistic and apodictic forms (110-14). The highlight of his discussion of OT prophecy is the description of the various forms of discourse the prophets employed (184-88). Amazingly, it appears that Schmidt did not hold that prophecies concerning the future were composed after the fact (vaticinum ex eventu) (cf. 188-90). In his discussion of OT poetry he correctly assesses the difficulty of ever resolving the problem of meter (300).

Schmidt’s major contributions are in the theological essays concluding the volume, although the volume is very limited in the areas of the Messiah and eschatology. Readers will find his OT introduction void of any conservative or evangelical voices both in the body and in the bibliography. Only an occasional volume from the New International Commentary on the Old Testament and the Word Biblical Commentary manage to be recognized by Schmidt. His academic context in this work is almost exclusively European. Schmidt’s volume is reminiscent of Otto Eissfeldt’s The Old Testament: An Introduction (trans. by Peter Ackroyd; Harper & Row, 1965) in its approach, tone, and context, though updated at least twenty years.