Why does Hurston prefer the Old Testament over the New Testament?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Hurston first learns how to read, the Bible is one of the first books that she discovers.  The Bible's universality provided the necessary appeal for the emerging reader and thinker:

I came to start reading the Bible through my mother. She gave me a licking one afternoon for repeating something I had overheard a neighbor telling her. She locked me in her room after the whipping, and the Bible was the only thing in there for me to read. I happened to open to the place where David was doing some mighty smiting, and I got interested. 

The Bible provides a sense of empowerment to the young Hurston.  It is important to note that Hurston discovers the Bible when she is punished.  The Bible, as a text, provides a sense of power to her at a time when she lacks it.

For Hurston, her preference of the Old Testament over the New Testament is rooted in this condition of power and control.  Hurston senses that the Old Testament provides more in way of autonomy over the New Testament:

Not one time did David stop and preach about sins and things. All David wanted to know from God was who to kill and when. He took care of the other details himself. Never a quiet moment. I liked him a lot. So I read a great deal more in the Bible, hunting for some more active people like David. Except for the beautiful language of Luke and Paul, the New Testament still plays a poor second to the Old Testament for me.

For the young Hurston, there was an intensity in the Old Testament absent in the New Testament.  Hurston felt that David was a figure of power, an individual who "smote ’em hip and thigh" and went out and smote some more." This provides a sense of control to a young reader who lacked it in her own world.  This sense of impatience and demand for immediacy is another reason why Hurston writes about her Old Testament preference:

The Jews had a God who laid about Him when they needed Him. I could see no use waiting till Judgment Day to see a man who was just crying for a good killing, to be told to go and roast. My idea was to give him a good killing first, and then if he got roasted later on, so much the better. 

The activity and sense of purpose that was perceived to be a part of the Old Testament is something that Hurston herself embodies with a desire that  “took to wandering.”  Discussing David's travels foreshadows her own. The Old Testament proves to be appealing to Hurston because it calls for individual action at a time when such calls are absent in her own life.  The Old Testament speaks to a condition of how she perceives life should be as opposed to how it is.

Read the study guide:
Dust Tracks on a Road

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