Book Review: John Goldingay, Genesis (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament)

Goldingay, John. Genesis. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament: Pentateuch. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2020. 808 pp. Hb. $59.99.   Link to Baker Academic

The goal of the first volume of the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament: Pentateuch is to be critically engaged and theologically sensitive. Although less important for a commentary on Genesis, this series on the Pentateuch will consider advances on how the legal corpora relates to narrative. John Goldingay is a prolific writer well known for his WBC Commentary on Daniel and this ICC Commentaries n Isaiah 40-55 (with David Payne) and Isaiah 56-66.  He has previously contributed a three-volume commentary in this series on the Psalms for this series published by Baker Academic and his Hosea-Micah volume is due in January 2021. In addition to a popular commentary on each First Testament book (to use his preferred title for the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible) and his own translation of the First Testament, Goldingay also wrote a massive three-volume Old Testament Theology (IVP Academic, 2003-2009).

Goldingay, Commentary on GenesisGoldingay outlines his method for writing this commentary in the introduction. Commentaries in this series begin with a fresh translation of the Hebrew text. Goldingay uses his own The First Testament (IVP Academic, 2018). He then wrote the commentary with “what I had in my head and my imagination” using only the latest Hebrew text (BHQ). The initial commentary used no secondary resources at all. He then read commentaries in several categories: early Jewish interpretation (LXX, Jubilees, the Targums) and interpretation early Christian interpretation (Theodotion, the Vulgate, Jerome, Origen, and Augustine). He then turned to medieval Jewish interpreters such as the Genesis Rabbah, Rashi and Qimchi, and Reformation Christian interpreters (Calvin, Luther, and Willet), nineteenth-century interpreters such as Keil and Delitzsch, Skinner, twentieth-century interpreters such as Von Rad, Westermann, Wenham, and finally twenty-first-century interpretation, including African and Asian American commentators. After this reading, he modified and expanded his draft with the help of his wife Kathleen. He does not indicate where his views agree or disagree with the majority or with recent scholarship. The result is a readable commentary that does not get bogged down with minute details of the text yet reflects both the best Jewish and Christian scholarship.

The introduction to the book is quite short, only twelve pages. This might disappoint some readers, since Goldingay almost completely ignores critical questions about the origin of Genesis. He suggests the canonical form of Genesis dates to after the fall of Judah to Babylon in 587 B.C. although it certainly makes use of earlier tradition. “It is implausible to think of Genesis being created from scratch in the Babylonian” (8). In the body of the commentary usually does not refer to the latest critical views on the origin of Genesis, “not least because they will not be the latest critical conclusions by the time you read this commentary” (9). Nevertheless, occasionally he says things like “according to traditional source criticism…” (364) in the body of the commentary.

Like most outlines of Genesis, Goldingay divides the book into four parts based on the book’s use of genealogies (tolodoth): Genesis 1:1-11:26 (The lines of descent of the heavens and the earth); 11:27-25:11 (Terah’s line of descent, focusing on Abraham); 25:12-35:29 (Isaac’s line of descent, focusing on Jacob); 36:1-50:26 (Jacob’s line of descent, focusing on Joseph).

The bulk of the introduction deals with defining what he means by story, and how story relates to history. Goldingay suggests “the Holy Spirit inspired an author or authors to use their imagination to tell their factually based story” (5). The trouble is determining what is based on facts and what is based on the imagination of the author. Goldingay doesn’t seem to care: he believes the text of Genesis is what the Holy Spirit and the human author wanted us to study. Questions of historicity are therefore not of interest in the commentary. He has a similar view on the date of composition for the book of Genesis. “One cannot base and understanding of Genesis on knowing the date of its stories or on seeing it as an expression of the ideology of a particular group or period in Israel’s history” (9).

Each section of the commentary begins with an overview of the new chapter/unit in Genesis. Some units are brief. Goldingay’s chapter on Genesis 21:22-34 is a mere five pages. Others cover entire chapters, such as the section on Genesis 24 (sixty-seven verses in twenty-eight pages). Goldingay’s translation follows with footnotes for lexical and textual issues (alternate readings found in the LXX, Samaritan Pentateuch, Targumim, etc.) These notes occasionally deal with technical matters of Hebrew syntax. The interpretation by subunits. Occasionally he does a few verses at the time. When referring to the original text, Hebrew appears in transliteration, but this is not a detailed commentary on the Hebrew text of Genesis. Goldingay uses his footnotes to point readers to other interpretive voices. Often these are other Genesis commentaries, but it is not unusual to see references to Church Fathers, Jewish sources, Reformation commentators, or even Karl Barth.

In many sections, Goldingay concludes with a brief section entitled “Implications” where he treats historical or theological ramifications of the section, reception history or other canonical connections. For example, this section compares the Flood narrative in Genesis 6:9-8:22 with other ancient flood myths. He comments on the theological implications of God seeing and opening wombs in Genesis 29:31-30:24. On the Sarah and Hagar story (Genesis 16), Goldingay’s comments drawn on postcolonial studies which point out Hagar is an African woman. Surprisingly, he does not deal with Paul’s reception of this story in Galatians 4, but rather how Hagar’s story overlaps with Philemon and the return of the slave.

The book concludes with a forty-page bibliography and forty-four pages of indices (subject, author, and Scripture and other ancient writings).

Conclusion: In his introduction to the commentary series, Bill Arnold described this commentary series as a reliable resource for the church dealing with themes rooted in the Pentateuch. This commentary achieves that goal. Goldingay is an excellent writer, and the commentary is entertaining to read. For example, at the end of the section dealing with Jacob wrestling the angel in Genesis 32, he adds a footnote “or rather a thigh-note” on the use of this story to prohibit eating the sciatic nerve even though this is not found in the Torah (516). This commentary is a serious contribution to the study of the first book of the Bible and will be valuable for both students and pastors working on Genesis.

 

NB: Thanks to Baker Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: John Goldingay, Genesis (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament)

    • Almost not at all. The introduction makes it clear he is only commenting on the canonical form of Genesis, the one the author wanted us to read. He therefore is not interested in potential sources.

      As I say above, “occasionally he says things like “according to traditional source criticism…” (364) in the body of the commentary.”

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      • Okay, thanks for responding, but I find it to be very interesting even with its weaknesses. It makes you realize that there was a process to the Bible’s genius.

        Woodrow Nichols

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