Hebrew Bible? First Testament? Old Testament?

Clayboy raises the ever problematic issue of the terms  ‘Old Testament’, ‘Hebrew Bible’, ‘First Testament’ and so on. Anyone wishing to use the ‘First Testament’, and maybe even the polite liberal use of ‘Hebrew Bible’, might want recall our old friend NT Wrong and his comments on the not dissimilar issue of BCE and CE v BC and AD:

By using ‘C.E.’ and B.C.E.’, we universalize a peculiar tradition. We make it out to be ‘common’ or ‘natural’, not requiring any special marking or qualification…But the change from A.D. to C.E. (and from B.C. to B.C.E.) obscures the particular Christian basis of this ‘common’ calendar, misrepresenting it as ‘normal’ – as somehow transcending historical particularities…Stop this neo-colonialism! Use A.D. and B.C. again!! The specific marking of these older terms, which refers to the Christian concept of ‘Christ’, may well be offensive to some people. But this offence is substantial and systemic, not removeable by changing the name of the year which is dated from the birth of Christ. The hegemony of the Western calendar is a fact, and just one of the many effects of Western power in the world today — a minor but not insignificant fact, given the universal importance of local calendars in shaping culture…This is ideology at work.

While an admittedly different topic with its own nuances, does not the ‘First Testament’ and the ‘Second Testament’ take the bite out of ‘Old’ and ‘New’, which are Christian concepts, by replacing ‘Old’ and ‘New’ with ‘First’ and ‘Second’ ? And do we not make the supersession more banal and masked with what is effectively the same distinction? Or does it even bring Judaism under the Christian wing? And could we not say the same for the popular phrase ‘Hebrew Bible’, at least as used by non-Jews and/or Christians? Does ‘Hebrew Bible’ not give the old distinction a smearing of credibility?

Questions, questions, questions and no answers here unfortunately (just more questions). Quite remarkable how this seemingly basic issue is struggling to be resolved. Perhaps we need to abandon pedantry and precision once and for all.


4 responses to “Hebrew Bible? First Testament? Old Testament?

  1. Ah, BCE and CE: I remember it fondly as one of those (fairly rare) occasions when I and NT Wrong were in complete agreement>/a>

  2. And the world is a better place because of the occasion.

  3. The NT Wrong is very interesting, and something I have never thought of before.

    On the other hand, I have thought of the the main topic of your post, and I have always used the term “Jewish Scriptures”. It’s interesting that it is not an option that you listed. And after looking at your articles, I am happy with “Jewish Scriptures”. It seems to avoid any of the neo-colonialism wrong is talking about. It does not seem to be a different groups name for another groups text. And it is explanatory. They are “Jewish” and they are “the scriptures of those jews”. Seems like a good safe term.

    Cheers! webulite.com

  4. It’s too much of a loose canon to fix a label. So you can never be right. Only wrong. Except Wrong who is always right. (but never Wright)

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