This is something I’ve been pondering this year:
Along with my colleagues and our school’s administration we changed the title of our Biblical Studies classes for next year. ‘Old Testament’ will be ‘The Hebrew Scriptures’ and ‘New Testament’ will be ‘The Christian Scriptures’.
Obviously, these titles aren’t without their problems. The Hebrew Scriptures could be called ‘The Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures’ (but that would be weird). The Christian Scriptures could be called ‘The Greek Scriptures’. There’s a lack of symmetry: The Christian Scriptures maybe could be balanced better by the title ‘The Jewish Scriptures’. But at the end of the day, here was my logic for the proposal:
- My classes have a lot of Christians but I teach students with a variety of identities, including Jews. This pushed me to want a less Christian-specific name for what is called ‘the Hebrew Bible’; ‘the Jewish Scriptures’; ‘the Tanakh’; and ‘the Old Testament’ (to name the main ones). On the other hand, as weird as this sounds, ‘Jewish Scriptures’ may have been tougher to market because so many people would think they had something to do with Judaism and not Christian (or at least this was considered).
- Is ‘Hebrew’ better? Academically, it matches better with the ‘Hebrew Bible’ label used by scholars who want to avoid confessional titles.
- So, why not called the ‘New Testament’ ‘Greek Scriptures’. Again, there was worry that this might be more confusing to many students and parents (is this about Zeus?).
- Eventually, I proposed ‘The Hebrew Scriptures’ and ‘The Christian Scriptures’ because the first title allowed me to discuss the importance of these texts for Jews and Christians (and Muslims, though I haven’t found a way to make Islam’s view of these texts as central as Jewish and Christian interpretations) while the second avoided wording that made this collection seem like an ‘upgrade’ (as ‘new’ in contrast with ‘old’ tends to do in American society)..
The good news? Whether or not we got it right I think we fixed some misconceptions and I’ve had a colleague ask me about the change giving me a chance to explain my thinking. If the name change gets teachers, students, and parents thinking about how the Hebrew Scriptures relate to Jews, Christians, and others, then educating is happening, and that’s a win!