SNU Professor KIM Hodong (Department of Asian History) and expert in the history of Central Asia, recently wrote a book entitled A Bible Story Written by a Historian: The Old Testament (Kachi Publishing, 2016). The book narrates the Old Testament in the style of a story, centred on figures such as, Abraham - ‘the forefather of faith’ - Jacob, Moses, Saul, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Nehemiah. Professor Kim presents to the readers the world of the Old Testament in relation to these biblical figures. The Old Testament is a challenging read in that the names, locations, and customs are difficult to understand without historical context. Although Professor Kim is not a biblical scholar – his research focuses on the history of the Mongol Empire – he sought to provide a version of the Old Testament that would be more accessible to readers.
Professor Kim began to write this book during his sabbatical last year at The Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University (USA). Living apart from his family, and without a car, Professor Kim recalls this six-month period as “a situation in which there was nothing else to do except study.” For ten weeks, he woke up at dawn, started his day with prayer, researched, and wrote his book until dusk. He wrote at a rapid pace, completing about a chapter each week.
Compiling information from historical and archeological sources, Professor Kim pieces together the story of the Old Testament like a puzzle. He also relates the Old Testament to the classical theory of the ages. The author believes that the period of Saul and David was the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron, which marks the transformation from a tribe to a kingdom. Also, while iron weapons were scarce, the slingshot and stone that David used to attack the giant Goliath was discovered to have been a common weapon used in this period. There were armies of hundreds that used this as their main weapon.
The Old Testament mentions that the income of King Solomon’s kingdom in 970 BC was 660 talents of gold. Professor Kim gives an idea that this amount would be equal to KRW 1.1 trillion today, given that a talent is equivalent to 34 kilograms, and a gram of gold in today’s market is worth KRW 50,000.
The book includes 30 maps, such as the route that Abraham took to Canaan, and the route that Moses and the Jews took from Egypt. Professor Kim also connects the judges in the book of Judges to the officers responsible for establishing punishments and decrees in the classical Chinese text, Rites of Zhou.
The book is intended less of a college textbook than an expression of his personal faith. There are ‘confessions of faith’ throughout, such as when describing the final moments of Moses, the author exclaims, “O, how difficult it is to be obedient to God!”
Professor Kim Hodong, who holds a PhD from Harvard University, is an internationally recognised researcher of Central Asia. His previous published books include The Revolution and Failure of Modern Central Asia (Sakyejul Publishing, 1999) and Eastern Christianity and Civilizations of the East and the West (Kachi Publishing, 2002). Currently, Professor Kim is co-editing the Cambridge History of Mongol Empire.
“Since I am not a theologian, I felt greatly burdened and was extremely hesitant to write a book on the stories of the Bible. However, I was able to muster courage, thinking that I would use my area of expertise to provide a service for people to read more easily a spiritual history book that I enjoyed.” Professor Kim writes in the epilogue that it was “an abundant grace to me more than to anyone else.”
After retiring, Professor Kim plans to write another book on the New Testament adopting the same style.
Written by Hye Bin Lee, SNU English Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Reviewed by Professor Travis Smith, Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations, email@example.com