The Divine Drama: The Old Testament as Literature

By John Dancy

The restoration of the literature of the Old Testament to a general readership, combining insightful commentary with extracts of artistic and dramatic interest.

ISBN: 9780718829872


The Bible, as is often said, is the world’s least-read bestseller. That is particularly true of the Old Testament. People are often put off by the sheer bulk of the material and its frequently undistinguished quality. John Dancy has selected large samples from most of the canonical and apocryphal books, amounting to just under a third of the total, chosen for artistic merit and intrinsic interest rather than for representative status or theological value. Literature of this stature, he says, should not be restricted to academics and believers.

To make it more approachable, the text is presented with commentary on the same page, in smaller type so that attention is never diverted from the original. The commentary mostly concentrates on literary matters but provides technical explanations where necessary. In addition a sensitive and sound introduction also puts the Hebrew writings in the historical context of the ancient Near East.

Extracts are used from a variety of translations, preferring the most faithful in language, tone and style for each section. Accuracy is a prime concern, but so is poetry. Above all, the selections bring out the inherent dramatic qualities of the verse dialogues and narrative prose.

Nothing quite like this has yet been made available. The Divine Drama will be a welcome addition to the library of any thoughtful reader who cares for good stories.

Additional information

Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Pages 800

Trade Information LGEN

About the Author

John Dancy is a classicist by training and a teacher by trade. He has been Master of Marlborough College, Principal of St Luke’s College of Education at Exeter and Professor of Education at Exeter University. Among his previous publications are commentaries on 1 Maccabees and on the shorter books of the Apocrypha and an admired biography of Sir Walter Oakeshott (1995). He started learning Hebrew at the age of 33 in order to carry out this project, his life’s work.


References and Abbreviations

Purpose, Plan and Principles
The Hebrew Language
Hebrew Story-telling
Hebrew Poetry
Archaeology and the Old Testament
Names of God and of Men

Text and Commentary – The Old Testament
Introduction to the Pentateuch
Introduction to the Books Joshua – 2 Kings
Introduction to the Historical Romances
Introduction to the Wisdom Literature
Introduction to the Psalms
Introduction to the Prophets

The Old Testament Apocrypha

A: Hebrew Literature in its ANE Context
B: Hebrew and Greek Literature: Contacts and Comparisons

Date Chart
Books for Further Reading


Endorsements and Reviews

The comments which accompany the individual extracts are admirably clear and pack a good deal of information and insight into a comparatively brief compass …The non-specialist reader will be greatly enlightened by the introductory sections on the Hebrew language, Hebrew storytelling and Hebrew poetry. Two appendices set the Old Testament in its earliest literary contexts, the Ancient Near East and Greek Literature, then latter being particularly interesting and reflecting the author’s training as a classicist.
J.R. Porter, in The Times Literary Supplement, 4 January 2002