Amy Erickson, Jonah: Introduction and Commentary

Erickson, Amy. Jonah: Introduction and Commentary. Illuminations. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2021. xxiv+466 pp. Hb; $70.00.   Link to Eerdmans 

Amy Erickson’s new commentary on Jonah is the second in the Illuminations series from Eerdmans, joining series editor C.L. Seow’s Job 1-20 commentary (Eerdmans 2013). This series is unique because it combines a solid exegetical commentary with an unusual history of interpretation. In the introduction to the series Seow suggests several ways the commentary could be considered a “history of interpretation,” or a “history of effects,” even a history of influence.” He settles on a “history of consequences” since the commentary will track how people have interpreted and been inspired by the biblical book in various traditions but also in a wide range of media including art, literature, film, music, and architecture.

Erickson JonahIn the sixty-four-page introduction to the commentary, Erickson deals with the texts and versions of Jonah. Although she does not suggest a specific date for the book, it is certainly post exilic and she argues Jonah is late biblical Hebrew. She does not think any theory of composition adequately explains the awkward juxtaposition of styles in the book (p. 28). She considers the book of Jonah to be an example of scribalization of prophecy. Revelation occurs through interpreting earlier prophets (p. 31). There are allusions to earlier texts that require the reader to make connections. Jonah is “dehistoricized and decontextualized” (p. 37). Erickson does not tie Jonah to aa single place or time.

As is well known, there is a wide range of options regarding the genre of the book of Jonah. She summarizes 3 examples, a didactic story about the prophet, a satire, or an epic. Erickson suggests “one may have better look identifying and classifying formal units within the book then trying to create a genre for the book as a whole” (p. 45). Yet Jonah is an artistic masterpiece filled with humor and allusions to earlier prophets. “Jonah is a narrative yawning with gaps and teeming with ambiguity (p. 50).

In the 171-page History of Consequences section of the introduction, Erickson tracks Jewish interpretations of the book, beginning with Second Temple and early Rabbinic literature. She collects examples from medieval Jewish writers (including the Zohar) and the modern period (including martin Buber and Abraham Heschel).

Christian interpretation begins with the New Testament, especially Jesus’s “sign of Jonah.” She surveys the early Greek, Syriac, and Latin interpreters and early Christian artistic depictions of Jonah’s story. She has a long section on the medieval period, including Christian Mystics such as Saint John of the Cross. This section also includes examples of illuminated medieval manuscripts of Jonah. There is far less in this section on modern Christian interpretation than expected, but the modern scholarly interpretations of Jonah would fill an entire book. Under Muslim interpretations of Jonah Erickson summarizes the four accounts of Jonah’s story in the Quran, which emphasize the importance of submitting to God. She also summarizes references to Jonah in Stories of the Prophets and other Islamic literature. Under “Jonah in the modern world,” Erickson mentions virtually every significant mention of Jonah in art, literature, and music. She even includes a modern Israeli stamp. Erickson briefly mentions the Veggie Tales Jonah film, perhaps the first such reference in a scholarly commentary on Jonah. She provides detailed bibliographies after each section throughout the commentary.

After her translation of the chapter, the body of the commentary includes three sections. The first unit (“Interpretation”) interacts with scholarship and makes a few literary or theological comments. Following this section Erickson provides additional History of Consequences (printed in a grey box, like a sidebar or excursus). For example, in the section dealing with the great fish Erikson discuss is early Christian interpreters who consistently read this as a figure of Christ’s resurrection. But Jonah’s association with resurrection is not limited to Christian interpretation. In Jewish interpretation associated Jonah with rebirth and resurrection as early as the second century BCE. Jewish writers identified Jonah as the son of the widow Elijah raises from the dead in 1 Kings 17 (Mdr. Pss. 26). Erickson provides several examples of Jonah’s resurrection in the past associated with a resurrection in the future. Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the fish provides a model for medieval commentators 4 prayers of confession. She finds a similar reading of Jonah’s prayer in the Quran.

Following this History of Consequence section is a literary reading of the chapter followed by a short summary (“Retrospect”). This sets the chapter into the context of the overall book Jonah. The third section is the commentary proper. She provides a phrase- by- phrase commentary on the Hebrew text. All Hebrew words appear transliterated, and she refers to secondary literature with in-text citations. She deals with matters of Hebrew syntax, often comparing early versions (Old Greek, Peshitta, and Targums). Using these versions is consistent with the goal of this commentary, the reception of Jonah by later readers.

The commentary concludes with subject, author and Scripture indices.

Conclusion. Amy Erickson’s book is really two useful contributions to the study of Jonah. The commentary on the text Jonah is clear and helpful for anyone studying this popular prophetic book. But the History of Consequences section of the introduction and the additional units in each chapter are fascinating reading. Erickson assembles an immense collection of sources documenting how Jewish, Christian, and Muslim readers have understood Jonah.

 

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

Daniel C. Timmer, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah (Tyndale Old Testament Commentary)

Timmer, Daniel C. Obadiah, Jonah and Micah. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2021. xxxvi+229 pp. Pb. $25.00   Link to IVP Academic  

This new volume in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series replaces the 1988 volume by David Baker (Obadiah), Desmond Alexander (Jonah) and Bruce Waltke (Micah). Daniel Timmer is Professor of Biblical Studies for the PhD program at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. Among his many publications, he contributed a commentary on Nahum (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary) and “A Compassionate and Gracious God”: Mission, Salvation, and Spirituality in Jonah (NSBT 26; IVP Academic, 2011).

Timmer, Obadiah, Jonah, and MicahObadiah is naturally the shortest section of the book at only twenty-nine pages, including seven pages of introduction. Timmer is not interested in any redaction history or sources for the book and grounds the prophet’s words in the events of the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.

Jonah (fifty-two pages, including twelve pages of introduction) is a carefully constructed, wonderfully simple, and theologically powerful work (p. 31). But since it is a book about a prophet, rather than the words of a prophet, it is difficult to establish either a date for the book or the relationship to the prophet. Timmer favors a date before the exile. He suggests the book is inseparable from the neo-Assyrian empire, and he observes “the punch of Jonah’s story would be felt most keenly by an audience familiar with the neo-Assyrian empire” (p. 34). Regarding genre, he considers the book a historical narrative he devotes four pages of the introduction describing the neo-Assyrian empire. Because of the brevity of the commentary, he does not have space to discuss the wide range of suggested genres for the book of Jonah.

The commentary on Micah is 144 pages, about 60% of the book. In his seven-page introduction, Timmer accepts an eight century B.C. context based on the four kings listed in Micah 1:1 and he devotes four pages outlining that history. Micah has a wide range of genre, and once again he is not interested in the often-complicated compositional theories associated with this prophet. Unlike the other two prophets covered in this commentary, he provides his own annotated translation for Micah. There is nothing in the introduction on intertextuality in Micah, although he provides a chart comparing Deuteronomy 10:12-13 and Micah 6:8.

The body of the commentary is based on the English text, although Timmer uses his own translation. The commentary itself has three sections. First, under the heading context he offers a brief paragraph placing the unit into the overall outline of the book. The second section is entitled Comment. He proceeds verse by verse through the text. On rare occasions when he refers to the original language, Hebrew words appear in transliteration. Although he occasionally deals with matters of Hebrew syntax, the commentary is not overly burdened with technical details and will be accessible for readers without training in the Hebrew language. Most interaction with secondary literature and technical details appear in the footnotes.

The third section of the commentary is a concluding paragraph entitled meaning. Under this heading he summarizes the unit with a focus on biblical theology and occasionally New Testament connections. For example, commenting on Obadiah 21 Timmer says, “With sinners removed from his temple-like kingdom, which is characterized by holiness, YHWH’s reign is fully established over his purified and multi-ethnic people (Rom. 2:28-29), who inherit, as Abraham’s seed, the kingdom that cannot be shaken (Heb. 11:10; 12:28)” (p. 29). He only briefly discusses is the use of Micah 5:2 in the New Testament. The commentary is not overly interested in larger canonical connections.

Like other contributions to the Tyndale Old Testament commentary series, the commentary does not have indices. Timmer provides twenty-page bibliography subdivided for each prophet.

Conclusion. Timmer’s brief commentary is exegetically sound and is a worthy successor to the 1988 volume. The commentary provides the necessary background for reading these three eighth-century prophets with clarity. This clearly written commentary i should be accessible to laypeople, pastors and teachers. Although more scholarly readers will look for more details in the introduction to each book, Timmer has provided what is necessary within the strictures of the Tyndale series.

 

Other reviewed commentaries in third Tyndale series:

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

Tchavdar S. Hadjiev, Joel and Amos (TOTC)

Hadjiev, Tchavdar S. Joel and Amos. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. 194 pp. Pb. $25.00   Link to IVP Academic  

This new volume in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series replaces the 1989 commentary by David Allan Hubbard. Tchavdar S. Hadjiev is lecturer in Old Testament and Hebrew at Belfast Bible College as well as honorary lecturer at Queen’s University, Belfast. He has previously published two monographs on Amos and Joel, The Composition and Redaction of the Book of Amos (BZAW 393; De Gruyter, 2009, reviewed here) and Joel, Obadiah, Habakkuk and Zephaniah: An Introduction and Study Guide (T&T Clark, 2020). In this new commentary Hadjiev provides historical context and concise exposition of the Hebrew text which will be helpful for anyone reading these two important prophets.

Hadjiev, Joel and AmosIn the sixteen-page introduction to Joel, Hadjiev suggests that there is little evidence that demands an early date for the book of Joel and finds the post-exilic context helpful for understanding Joel three in particular. One of the major issues for any introduction on the book of Joel is the prophet’s use of other scripture. He provides a helpful chart of literary connections between Joel and other parts of the Old Testament. He recognizes the difficulty in identifying whether Joel intended a particular allusion. Regarding the message of Joel, he focuses on the goodness and mystery of God in the first two chapters of the book. Joel interprets a past event (a locust plague) as the Day of the Lord, God’s warning intended to draw people to repentance.

He describes Joel 2:29-3:21 [MT 3:1-4:21] as a “proto-apocalyptic vision: God’s plan for the future” and argues the symbolic use of names in Joel invite us to “denationalize the picture of ethnic conflicts” in Joel 3. “So Joel, read in the light of the New Testament, anticipates the work of Christ who triumphed over the powers of wickedness through the cross and who will destroy every ruler, authority and power, even death, the last enemy at his second coming” (15).

The introduction to Amos is longer than Joel, as expected given Hadjiev’s previous work on Amos (thirty-one pages). The first section of the introduction deals with Amos as a work of literature. He is clear, the book is “not a random collection of prophetic oracles but a complex literary work that exhibits considerable sophistication and skill” (59). He is interested in the final form of the book and does not interact with the often-complex source critical approaches to the book of Amos. This is not surprising considering the aims of the commentary series.

After outlining the structure of the book, Hadjiev engages in a “quest for the historical Amos,” supporting the traditional view that Amos was a layperson from Judah who prophesied for a brief period in the northern Kingdom during the reign of Jeroboam II (69). He summarizes the final years of the Kingdom of Israel, placing the prophetic book in the context of the Assyrian threats against Israel. He outlines briefly these socioeconomic conditions of Northern Israel society in the 8th century BC.

This background leads to the main theology of the book of Amos: the justice and righteousness of God. It is God who is on the side of the poor and the weak. God rejects the worship of the northern Kingdom and the threat of the day of the Lord is clear in the book. Yet Amos indicates Israel will repent and be restored in the future. The community which is rejected is not simply let go; Israel is going to be “reconfigured in rebuilt” (87). Here Hadjiev has in mind the booth of David passage in the 9:7-15. The restoration of the booth of David is “a worshiping community of people living in their restored cities, symbolized and led by the Jerusalem Temple” (191). The Christian interpretation of this passage in Acts 15 is based on the Septuagint, but Hadjiev cannot comment on the difference between the Hebrew Bible and the Greek translation in this brief commentary. In Acts, the restored booth of David incorporates the nations who seek the Lord in the light of the resurrection of Christ. Hadjiev concludes Acts 15 reinterprets “the military conquest of the nations… in spiritual terms, as the advance of the gospel which invites all peoples to seek the Lord in this new universal temple [the church]” (194).

In the main body of the commentary Hadjiev organizes the commentary Joel and Amos into three sections: context, comment, and meaning. Both context and meaning are usually brief paragraphs. In the commentary itself, he precedes phrase by phrase based on the English text. Occasionally he refers to other secondary literature using in-text citations. Hebrew words appear in transliteration. Although necessarily brief given the confines of the Tyndale Old Testament commentary series, Hadjiev offers a clear exposition of the text which will be helpful four pastors and teachers preparing to present these two important Old Testament prophets to their congregations.

 

 

Other reviewed commentaries in third Tyndale series:

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

 

 

Book Review: JoAnna M. Hoyt, Amos, Jonah, Micah

Hoyt, JoAnna M. Amos, Jonah, & Micah. Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2019. 850 pp.; Hb.; $54.99. Link to Lexham Press

JoAnna Hoyt is visiting professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and an adjunct professor at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics. This new exegetical commentary on Amos, Jonah and Micah is a major contribution to the study of these three minor prophets.

Joanna Hoyt, Amos, Jonah, MicahIn the twenty-eight-page introduction to Amos, Hoyt offers a standard overview of the authorship, date, setting and audience of the book. The introduction includes about 20 pages on intertextual issues, including possible allusions to Amos in in Joel and Jeremiah and a brief comment on the quotation of Amos in Acts 15. After a summary of the theology of Amos she turns to the style in genres used by the book. There is nothing particularly controversial in this summary. However, in her section on the unity of Amos she summarizes various redactional theories, especially Hans Walter Wolff’s complex theory found in his Hermenia commentary on Amos (Fortress, 1977). Hoyt concludes, “The proposal that portions of Amos are late additions is based on criteria that cannot be substantiated” (23). The introduction concludes with a lengthy discussion of various suggested outlines for the book of Amos, and exegetical outline, and selected bibliography. A more detailed bibliography appears at the end of each commentary section.

The introduction to Jonah is much more extensive (about seventy-five pages). Authorship is problematic for the book of Jonah; Hoyt herself consider is it at least possible Jonah wrote the book himself, but it is more likely the author is an anonymous third-party who lived “during Jonah’s lifetime or at some later point” (339). She provides two pages setting Jonah into the context of 1 Kings 14 and deals in detail with the problem of when the story was actually written. Here she follows John Walton and dismisses Aramaisms as requiring a late date. Intertextual connections with Joel may be more important, but it must be admitted the date of Joel is not certain either. After providing several pages on the historical setting of the book of Jonah and the end of the Assyrian empire, she surveys several doubts scholars have about the historicity of Jonah. Most of these doubts center on the city of Nineveh, and why God would send an Israelite prophet like Jonah to Nineveh in the first place. These doubts also include the problem of three nights in a fish.

She cites approvingly Douglas Stewart who concluded “it is important to note that there is ample evidence to support the historicity of the book, and surprisingly a little to undermine it” (364). But of course, a fictional story could be set into a proper historical context, and the story could still be true. This leads to the very difficult problem of genre. Hoyt surveys and critiques suggestions including historical narrative, novella, parable, allegory, and midrash. The increasingly popular view of Wolff that Jonah is a parody or satire. A few have considered the book to be a fairy tale or a fable. Even the psalm in Jonah 2 has been identified as either a thanksgiving or lament, and possibly also satire. Ultimately, Hoyt concludes the book should be read as a historical narrative with satirical elements (377).

In the thirty-two-page introduction to Micah, Hoyt places Micah in the eighth century, responding to the last years of the northern kingdom and kings Ahaz and Hezekiah in Judah. The main context of the book is the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. and the Assyrian Invasion in 701 B.C. As with Amos, there are several suggestions to explain the so-called hope oracles scattered through the book. For some, the presence of hope-oracles presence shows either a late date for the entire book or a later revision of the book during the exile.

Each section in the commentary’s body begins with an introduction followed by an outline. She then provides a fresh translation with textual notes, followed by a verse-by-verse commentary. Hebrew appears in the text of the commentary without transliteration. Matters of technical Hebrew grammar and syntax are found in the footnotes. Each unit ends with a selected bibliography of journal articles or other resources pertaining to the unit. If there is a difficult syntactical or lexical problem in the unit, she will include an excursus, “Additional Exegetical Comment.” Readers without Hebrew can skip these sections without too much loss. Chapter units in with very short Biblical Theology comments, followed by Application and Devotional Implications.

Each commentary ends with an excursus. For Jonah, Hoyt examines Jesus’ mention of the Ninevites in Matthew 12:41/Luke 11:32. In Micah, she has a two-page excursus on high places and three pages on Migdal-eder, the Birth of the Messiah and Christian Myth in Micah 4:8. This is the belief that near Bethlehem there was a special flock of sheep set aside for cultic use at the temple. Pastors often try this special flock of sheep to the shepherds in Luke 2. Although this makes for a great sermon illustration at Christmas time, it is not based on facts. It probably entered popular preaching through Alfred Edersheim’s Life of Jesus the Messiah (1896).

Hoyt interacts with a wide range of secondary literature and commentary on Amos, Jonah and Micah; each unit of the commentary includes a short bibliography. As expected by the use of evangelical in the commentary series title, her conclusions are more conservative, although she fully interacts with major English commentaries and monographs on these three prophets.

As with other volumes of this series, Lexham published the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary on Amos, Jonah and Micah simultaneously in print and in the Logos Bible Software. The Logos book takes advantage of all the resources of the software, including tagging cross references and links to other resources when available. To date, there are thirteen commentaries in the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary available to Logos users, with a total of forty-four volumes planned. The series has been redesigned with new covers and Andreas Köstenberger is now the editor of the New Testament. Purchase all thirteen volumes at 20% off through the Lexham website or subscribe to the series and receive new volumes as they are published. See also my review of Mark J. Keown’s Evangelical Exegetical Commentary on Philippians.

NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book, both in print and Logos format. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.