Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Brief Remarks About "The Layperson's Introduction to the Old Testament" (Robert B. Laurin)

I once taught an Old Testament course for Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC) along with a separate New Testament class. For the OT course, our department used The Layperson's Introduction to the Old Testament by Robert B. Laurin (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1991 [1970]). The decision to change books was eventually made by the powers that be and CVCC religion instructors now employ a work by Jerry Sumney that covers both the Old and New Testament in one volume (The Bible). However, I can't help but recall those fun days when we taught Old Testament classes with Laurin's book.

Most of my students hated The Layperson's Introduction, and it wasn't exactly my favorite book either. Like all writings, Laurin's intro has its own agenda, and he makes numerous comments that stirred avid discussion in my classes. I guess his agenda just did not comport with most of those taking my Old Testament class, but the chief reason that administrators and other instructors wanted a change from Laurin is because the work became outdated. The author died in 1977. So the date of publication for my copy is 1991 whereas Sumney's introduction to the Bible is 2014.

I inwardly and publicly wrestled with Laurin's publication when teaching Old Testament. For instance, his discussion regarding Ecclesiastes is filled with holes, in my opinion. He claims that the author of Ecclesiastes wants his readers to "Forget God and trust in the moment; that is all that is real and dependable" (page 101). How he gets that impression from the Congregator (Qoheleth) is beyond me. Moreover, Laurin asserts that the Congregator assumes, "unlike the rest of the Old Testament (except for Proverbs 30:1-4), that God is unknowable and unrelated to humanity. There is no communication from the divine (3:11)." See page 101.

So Ecclesiastes 3:11 is supposed to buttress the idea that God doesn't communicate with humankind? Read the text for yourself, research its contents, and then see if you get that idea from the verse.

The other incredible part of Laurin's commentary on Ecclesiastes is when he claims that Qoheleth is an agnostic philosopher. After all, the writer is not denying God's existence, "but only denying that God's ways and purposes can be determined by humans" (101). To label the writer of Ecclesiastes as "agnostic" because he refuses to believe that puny mortals can shape or determine God's purposes simply befuddles the mind. I would also encourage those inclined to agree with Laurin to consult Eccl 12:13.

While I have major issues with many aspects of Laurin's book, I did enjoy his treatment of Hebrew poetry on pages 80-83. All things considered, I'm thankful for the cessation of an era at CVCC.

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