Reading the Old Testament in Context


Ken Turner’s thoughts on the Old Testament really resonated with me, especially his use of the Hebrew language and Jewish culture. His dealing with the material and the class was blunt and straightforward, but he did not lack passion or care, which I found both engaging and refreshing. He was not scared to talk about potentially controversial subjects, and he often challenged students to think harder about their beliefs. This left some of us laughing, while some found themselves frustrated or confused. Once you got used to his delivery of the subject matter, he was immensely interesting and engaging. He has a knack for ruffling feathers, and he left us with so much to think about. 

Dr. Turner taught us very interesting lessons on the Old Testament. He specifically focused on understanding the context of the Bible through the Jewish culture and on learning how to not read the Bible. I found that his use of Hebrew brought a greater sense of credibility to his material. When we read the Old Testament, it’s very easy to get confused and even offended by the content, but Dr. Turner helped us to see where we need to go back and read with both cultural and historical context. Though he did not expect us to learn Hebrew, he demonstrated that what we are reading isn’t in the original language, and so we will miss certain meanings and intuitions. Our modern translations aren’t bad, but they can often leave us wanting more. Dr. Turner provided us with some ways to hopefully find that “more.” 

One thing I found particularly interesting was his exploration of the word “ Elohim.” “Elohim” is both the singular title of God and the plural form of “gods.” Dr. Turner unpacked this by bringing us to some verses which refer to God by different names which interact in overlapping ways in the story. This leaves room for the idea that there were multiple gods present, and it lets us engage with the idea of the Trinity and the term “Elohim” in a very thought-provoking and challenging way. Additionally, Dr. Turner left us with the idea that the gods of other nations in the Old Testament, like the gods mentioned in Exodus, may have been very real. 

I found Dr. Turner’s material and style to be illuminating and provocative, and he engaged us with challenging thoughts and intentional questioning. While he occasionally left us reeling trying to think about what he was saying, he would attempt to lighten the mood with subtle and often weird jokes that always left me quietly chuckling in class. This ability to challenge preconceived notions and assumptions is absolutely admirable and refreshing. I really enjoyed the time in class with him, and I will be continually uncovering the deeper layers of what he presented in class.  

Elora Birkenes is from Northern California. She joined this fall’s Summit Semester class on a whim and a gut feeling, which she fully attributes to God. She had been leading a slow pace in life, and she was looking and praying for a new adventure. God has already started to show up in her time at Summit Semester, and she is excited to see where the next three months lead.