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Old Testament Turning Points

The Narratives That Shaped a Nation

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"The author offers great insights in each chapter and does an exceptional job weaving together literary, sociological, and canonical perspectives as he explains each narrative. [The book] offers something for the seasoned scholar as well as the beginning student of OT studies. . . . Well worth the read."--Jerry R. Harmon, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Adam and Eve, God's covenant with Abraham, the deportation of Judah and their eventual return to Jerusalem--these are a few of the key Old Testament stories that serve as signposts for guiding readers through much of the Old Testament. According to Old Testament professor Victor Matthews, these stories are essential to the identity of Israel as God's people.

Matthews identifies eight landmark stories that not only shaped Israelite identity but also continued to echo throughout the Old Testament as Israel grew into its role as the people of God. He examines the stories in detail, showing how they provide a foundation for later Old Testament stories and events. Helpful sidebars, a glossary, indexes, and a selected bibliography provide readers with tools for further exploration.

This book will be of interest to Bible students, their professors, and serious lay readers.


"Old Testament Turning Points draws the reader into selected pivotal moments in the life of ancient Israel. Matthews engagingly retells well-known narratives in a manner that allows the reader not only to hear these stories afresh but to recognize the echoes of these stories across the Old Testament canon. Rather than describe motifs, Matthews ably demonstrates themes through telling an appropriate story. Similarly, rather than inform the reader of the technical niceties of reading strategies and methods, Matthews demonstrates those strategies through his exposition."--Rick R. Marrs, Blanche E. Seaver Professor of Religion, Pepperdine University

"The Hebrew Bible is a story of transformation and change. Its heroes are forced to follow God into an uncharted future in times of uncertainty and crisis. Thus the central stories in the Hebrew Bible are often about turning points in life: some are cautionary tales of failure, while others point a way forward into a future with God. Matthews guides the reader through a handful of the most powerful stories of transition found in the narratives of Genesis through 2 Kings. For the reader who joins the journey, it becomes clear that in their retelling, old stories have the power to provide new insights for contemporary travelers."--Thomas Dozeman, professor of Old Testament, United Theological Seminary

"Matthews skillfully blends sociological, literary, and canonical perspectives into rich explorations of key biblical texts. Old Testament Turning Points focuses squarely on the biblical texts themselves and thereby offers an innovative and stimulating alternative to surveys of the Old Testament. Beginning and seasoned readers alike will find much to ponder in its pages."--L. Daniel Hawk, professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, Ashland Theological Seminary

"Readers of the Old Testament often find it difficult to keep the big picture in mind because of the myriad of details covered in the text. Victor Matthews has helpfully reminded us all of the big picture in his treatment of the major turning points in ancient Israel's story. His attention to both literary structure and historical context in ancient Israel and in the broader ancient Near East is most enlightening. Those who make the effort to read this volume will be richly rewarded with a storehouse of information to help in understanding the Old Testament."--W. H. Bellinger Jr., W. Marshall and Lulie Craig Professor of Bible, Baylor University

"Concerned to help contemporary readers hear the message of the Bible as it was originally heard, Victor Matthews has presented us with a splendid offering that goes a long way toward filling in many gaps that separate us from the biblical audience. His careful articulation of eight 'turning points' in the overall plot of the Old Testament, summarized and, more importantly, contextualized within the biblical canon as well as the ancient Near East, results in a very useful guide. Those seeking to gain an informed overview of the Old Testament story as originally heard should find this book quite helpful."--Mark A. Throntveit, professor of Hebrew and Old Testament, Luther Seminary

The Author

  1. Victor H. Matthews

    Victor H. Matthews

    Victor H. Matthews (PhD, Brandeis University) is dean of the College of Humanities and Public Affairs and professor of religious studies at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri, where he has taught for thirty years. He is the author of numerous...

    Continue reading about Victor H. Matthews


"Matthews has written extensively on Old Testament history and on Israel's setting in the ancient Near East. Consequently, the reader expects a thorough presentation of the historical events behind the biblical narrative and is not disappointed. More, the author provides occasional side-bar references to extra-biblical literature to show the historical and intellectual context of the people of the Old Testament. This presentation of history and culture may be this small volume's greatest strength. . . . This volume offers something to the reader regardless of theological stance. Matthews is a careful historian who knows the ancient Near Eastern world and the modern scholarly world. There is much to be learned here. . . . The author's twelve pages of 'Works Cited' is a good reading list for Old Testament history. Moreover, the author provides a brief, but helpful, glossary of terms. . . . A biblical index and subject index make the book more user-friendly, too."--Albert F. Bean, Midwestern Journal of Theology

"The explanatory inserts that direct the reader to other biblical passages and the glossary at the end of the book add to its usefulness for the beginning reader."--Dianne Bergant, CSA, Bible Today

"There are useful summaries in boxes about some of the main points that help readers clue in quickly to some of the salient points. . . . A Glossary of technical terms as well as an extensive bibliography at the end adds to the usefulness of this volume. For preachers, study group leaders or those who simply want to learn more about some of the key points in the Old Testament storyline, this is an engaging place to start."--Peter Ballantine, Anvil

"Matthews provides a helpful survey of those historical moments in Old Testament history that serve as watershed events as a new direction is taken in the revelational and redemptive history of God and his people. . . . He shows himself very conversant in the comparative literature of the ancient Near East. . . . Throughout the book there are many sidebars that set forth a sampling of biblical passages or related material from extra-biblical texts to illustrate a variety of themes and motifs that the author is discussing. This kind of cross-referencing is helpful in tying various portions of the Scriptural history and text together, thus enabling the reader to keep the 'bigger picture' of a broader cultural, historical, and political milieu before him. . . . The sidebars with Scriptural references are particularly useful in helping the reader see how many portions of the Old Testament are connected. . . . A very helpful feature of this book that students beginning the study of Old Testament biblical theology can appreciate is a glossary of terms at the end of the book. . . . This book can, in general, be read with profit."--Mark D. Vander Hart, Mid-America Journal of Theology

"In each chapter Matthews points to echoes of certain aspects of the story found throughout the rest of the OT canon. He summarizes each of the pivotal narratives, providing excellent historical insights, references to extra-biblical literature, and helpful sidebars along the way. The volume is valuable in that the selected narratives act as signposts for the reader as he makes his way through the unfolding drama of the OT. . . . The strength of Matthews's work is the storehouse of information the reader receives from the book. The author offers great insights in each chapter and does an exceptional job weaving together literary, sociological, and canonical perspectives as he explains each narrative. It offers something for the seasoned scholar as well as the beginning student of OT studies. . . . The book is well worth the read."--Jerry R. Harmon, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

"[Matthews] offers a book that delivers the sorely needed 'big picture.'. . . Throughout the book Matthews successfully blends literary, sociological, rhetorical, theological, and canonical perspectives. Numerous sidebars offer summary statements, ancient Near Eastern connections, and lists of similar OT texts."--Concordia Journal

"A fine book that becomes better with second and third readings. Why so? Because with multiple readings, one appreciates even more the depth of Matthews' scholarship and insights. I sense above all that Matthews . . . has pondered, mulled over, and meditated on the text and the stories he's chosen. The book reflects years of thought. Most helpful to me as a scholar, professor, and teacher of undergraduates are two things: Matthews offers his own opinions and Matthews provides boxes. . . . Matthew's handy boxes throughout the book often look at a concept canonically and see how it keeps cropping up. . . . Matthews breaks his work into eight chapters--'turning points' in the collective journey of Israel, the covenant people--of about 20 pages each. I found this helpful in assigning texts as we progressed in the semester through the Old Testament."--Robin Gallaher Branch, Horizons in Biblical Theology