Ryle from Vainity Fair, 1912

Ryle from Vainity Fair, 1912

Logos Bible Software returns to the classics for their “Free Book of the Month” promotion. For the month of January you can download the first volume of The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, Genesis, by H. E. Ryle. Ryle was appointed Dean of Westminster in 1910 and began services at Westminster Abbey the following year. During World War I, Ryle personally led special services at the Westminster Abbey.While he is known primarily as an Old Testament scholar, during his time at Cambridge he won every distinction open to students of theology. He is the son of  J. C. Ryle, the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool and author of many commentaries on the New Testament.

The commentary is very brief because the book is a companion to one’s reading of the book of Genesis, although it is nearly 500 pages the book was originally printed in a small, handbook format. I only have one physical copy of a Cambridge Bible in  my personal library, Daniel, by S. R. Driver, which pre-dates Ryle’s Genesis. The book includes a number of pages of advertising for the series as was the fashion of the day. The Church Sunday School Magazine said of the whole series: “We cannot imagine any safer or more helpful commentaries for the student of the Holy Scriptures” (this advert appears on the Logos Website as well).

As I browse Ryle’s commentary now, he comments on key phrases in the text, offering textual and linguistic comments, with occasional comments on the history presented in the text when necessary. Sometimes this is very brief, Gen 45 is covered in only five pages. As most students of Genesis have discovered, the earlier stories are far more complicated and take up much more space in a commentary!

The commentary has five appendices. First, “Babylonian Myths Of Creation” offers some illustrations from Ancient Near Eastern literature. Second, “A Legend Of Lamech” is an illustration of Jewish Haggadah. Third, “The Duplicate Account Of The Flood” is a reprint of Chapman’s Introduction to the Pentateuch (74-81), also in the Cambridge Bible series. The fourth appendix is a brief introduction to “The Tel El-Amarna Tablets” which were discovered in 1887 and only just being used in biblical studies. Ryle includes a very brief note on the Apuriu mentioned in the Inscriptions of Thothmes III (1501–1447 B.C.), Finally, the fifth appendix offers a chronology of Israel in Egypt. These are all of historical interest, although there has been much work done on the history of Genesis since the commentary was written.

This raises an objection. Someone might ask why we should be reading a commentary on Genesis originally written in 1914 and published in 1921. It is certainly true some Ryle’s use of the documentary hypothesis seems antiquated: sections are designated J or E, occasionally P, and R (for the final redaction). It is obvious a commentary written after the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered will have a much more clear understanding of Hebrew and Aramaic. This is all true, but the commentary is an artifact reflecting the time it was written. Ryle (and the other writers in this series) were master exegetes and worked very hard at their scholarship to present the Scripture to the Church in England. Like J .B. Lightfoot’s recent commentary on Acts, Ryle’s commentary is valuable because the man himself was committed to a scholarly life dedicated to the study of the Scripture. This book should probably not be your “first off the shelf” commentary on Genesis, but it has retained value in the 100 years since it was written.

In addition to this free book, Logos is also offering an “almost free” book, An Introduction to the Pentateuch by A. T. Chapman. Like Ryle’s commentary on Genesis, this book is an introduction to the Documentary Hypothesis. He presents a method and argument for the following propositions:

  • The chronological order of the codes being JE, D, P, the steps would be J and E, each containing records of the early history, were combined D, when accepted as a law book, would be added to JE
  • Deuteronomic recension of Joshua and the history in Judges-Kings
  • Efforts during the exile to preserve the ancient traditions embodied in the book of the Law brought by Ezra
  • When accepted incorporated with JED Joshua probably separated

So for 99 cents you can have two excellent books reflecting the state of Pentateuch scholarship about 100 years ago. But Logos is also giving away the whole 58 volume set of  The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. This is about 15,000 pages of commentary on the Old and New Testaments as well as some of the Apocryphal books. Even if you do not win a set, the Cambridge series appears in several Logos base packages.