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The Literary Structure of the Old Testament: A Commentary on Genesis–Malachi

ISBN: 9781441253330



In modern writing, a variety of written markers—italics, bold type, punctuation, parentheses, and so forth—are used to indicate emphasis and clarify meaning. The authors of the Old Testament could not rely on such devices since their writings were originally composed for oral presentation. They instead used literary structure to highlight certain ideas and to convey meaning and emphasis accurately. Unfortunately, as we read the Old Testament we frequently overlook this inherent literary structure. What we need is a guide to help us see the literary structure that permeates the Old Testament and clarifies the meaning of each Old Testament book. David Dorsey has provided such a guide.

The author opens the book with a brief historical survey of the various approaches to understanding the structure of the Old Testament. He examines what is meant by the term literary structure and gives examples of how the structure of a given text illuminates the author’s writing, meaning, and purpose.

Dorsey then proceeds book by book through the entire Old Testament identifying the structure and offering commentary on how that structure clarifies the meaning of the text. He illuminates the big picture of each book, providing a framework for further study. No pastor, teacher, or student should embark upon the study of an Old Testament text without consulting this indispensable guide.

The Logos Bible Software edition of this volume is designed to encourage and stimulate your study and understanding of Scripture. Biblical passages link directly to your English translations and original-language texts, and important theological concepts link to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a wealth of other resources in your digital library. In addition, you can perform powerful searches by topic and find what other authors, scholars, and theologians have to say about the Word of God.

Resource Experts
  • Discusses Hebrew literary structure throughout the Old Testament
  • Analyzes the presence of structure patterns such as chiasmus, parallelism, and sevenfold patterns in the Hebrew Bible
  • Includes an extensive bibliography for further reading
  • Book of the Law of Moses
  • Historical Books
  • Poetic Books
  • Major Prophets
  • Minor Prophets
Herman Gunkel and the form critics have taught us that the meaning of texts cannot be divorced from the literary genres and forms in which they are composed. More recently the symbiotic connections between meaning and literature on a more macro-structural level have come to be appreciated. David Dorsey has now carried this important insight logically forward in his brilliant analyses and syntheses of not only Old Testament passages but of whole books and collections of books. With intuitively artistic sensitivity to texts in their wholeness, Dorsey has provided for the scholar and layman alike a fresh way of reading the sacred literature. He avoids the twin pitfalls of not seeing the forest for the trees or failing to discover the trees because of a focus on the forest alone. The trees are here all clearly exposed but not in isolation—they exist in such patterns and relationships as to produce a forest of wondrous beauty. Bible study will never be the same again for anyone who takes advantage of the creative insights afforded in this remarkable volume.

Eugene H. Merrill, distinguished professor of Old Testament studies, Dallas Theological Seminary

Understanding structure is pivotal to understanding the meaning of Scripture. David Dorsey ably guides us toward a better sense of the structure and style of the books of the Old Testament. This book will become a standard reference tool for all serious students of the Bible.

Tremper Longman III, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Religious Studies, Westmont College

This is an unusual and fascinating book. It is the first comprehensive treatment of the native structure of the Old Testament books and its significance for their meaning and message. Expositors will find it of inestimable value for looking at the books in a way that is natural to the literary nature of the Old Testament itself and, at the same time, the theological significance of that structure.

Richard Averbeck, professor of Old Testament and Semitic languages, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

The statement on the back of this helpful volume notes: ‘In modern writing, various markers—italics, bold type, punctuation, parentheses, and so forth—are used to indicate emphasis and clarify meaning.’ The authors of the Old Testament did not have or use such devices, writing out of an oral culture as they did. So what is the proper emphasis in certain texts? How do we understand the structure and style of certain Old Testament material? Dorsey . . . guides the reader into this subject with great care and sensitivity.

ACT 3 Review

Serious Bible students will discover many insights in this valuable volume.

Biblical Viewpoint

This is an important book because it provides in a large format volume an introduction to the study of structure of the books of the Old Testament. . . . This is one of the earliest works in this newly developing field. I expect much good from it in the future.

Presbyterian Banner

Dorsey writes with a clear, uncomplicated prose that enhances the value of the book. The Hebrew forms, all transliterated and translated, are kept to a minimum. I would certainly recommend this for all Old Testament translators and anyone looking for a good introduction to issues of literary structures in the Bible.

Bible Translator

  • Title: The Literary Structure of the Old Testament: A Commentary on Genesis–Malachi
  • Author: David A. Dorsey
  • Publisher: Baker Academic
  • Publication Date: 2004
  • Pages: 330

David was born in Charleston, W.Va., a descendant of the infamous Hatfields. His mother came from a family of moonshiners and his father was a coal miner. David became a Christian at a Methodist church camp in 1967. That same year his family moved to Little Falls, N.J., where David became involved in Child Evangelism, Word of Life Ministries, Talk with Teens (a weekly Christian radio program), and various evangelistic outreaches. David met his wife Janet at Northeastern Bible College. During the year of their engagement he pursued graduate studies at the American Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem, while Janet completed her master’s degree in Albany, N.Y. In 1973, after a year at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, they returned to Jerusalem, and David began a Ph.D. program at Hebrew University. From 1973 to 1975 David studied modern and Biblical Hebrew, archaeology, Arabic, and ancient history, traveled extensively throughout Israel by motorcycle, and participated in archaeological excavations. In 1975 he transferred to Dropsie University in Philadelphia to complete his Ph.D. in Ancient Near Eastern History. David has taught at Evangelical since 1979. He serves as the curator of the seminary’s Pense Archaeological Museum. Every other year he conducts study tours to Israel, helping students from Evangelical experience the Holy Land first hand. He speaks regularly at churches, retreats, camps, and seminars. He is the author of two books, The Roads and Highways of Ancient Israel (Johns Hopkins), and The Literary Structure of the Old Testament (Baker); and he has written dozens of articles for various scholarly and popular journals, Bible encyclopedias, Bible dictionaries, and archaeological encyclopedias. He served on the translation team that produced the New Living Translation. David and Janet have three children, Jonathan (born in Jerusalem), Benjamin, and Sarah. Jonathan and his wife Melissa have one daughter, Kierra; Benjamin and his wife Marie also have a daughter, Alissa. Sarah is following her dad’s footsteps in Old Testament studies. She graduated from Evangelical with an MAR in Old Testament, studied in Jerusalem for a year of post-graduate studies, and is currently applying to Ph.D. programs in Old Testament. David enjoys reading, especially books on Roman history and the Civil War. He also enjoys traveling. He and Janet have traveled to Israel, Jordan, Greece, Rome, and England, and they hope to visit Egypt, Cyprus, and Turkey in the near future.


8 ratings


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  1. Benjamin LeClair
    This is an outstanding work by Dr. Dorsey and well worth the investment for anyone teaching / preaching / studying the OT.

  2. Phil Siefkes

    Phil Siefkes


    Have the print edition, use is regularly.

  3. Willy Elmira

    Willy Elmira


  4. Jason M. Dickinson
  5. David Thomas

    David Thomas


  6. Cheryl



  7. Samuel Cerny

    Samuel Cerny


  8. Omar Stroppiana
    This is really a great commentary. If you are interested in structure of the old testament, this is a MUST!

  9. Jonathan Sedlak