Niehaus, Jeffrey J. When Did Eve Sin? The Fall and Biblical Historiography. Lexham, 2020. xi+172 pp. Pb. $17.99 Link to Lexham Academic
Gordon-Conwell Professor of Old Testament since 1982, Jeffrey J. Niehaus’s short monograph on the fall deals with a small detail in Genesis 2-3 as an entry into a larger discussion of how biblical history writing works.
The issue is simple. In Genesis 2:17 God’s command to Adam concerning the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is, “You shall not eat.” In Genesis 3:3b, Eve appears to add the words “neither shall you touch it” to God’s command. Niehaus affirms biblical inerrancy, so this cannot be a contradiction. It is therefore possible Adam or Eve added to God’s command or that Eve accurately reports the original command from God. Most readers have likely heard the explanation that Adam told Eve not to touch the tree, usually in the context of a sermon on legalism (adding to God’s commands, etc.) Niehaus challenges this common interpretation.
Niehaus’s thesis in When Did Eve Sin? is this: biblical history often uses a “laconic third-person omniscient narrator followed by a first-person retelling of the same story with additional details.” “Laconic” here means “using few words” rather than “aloof,” “rude,” or a lack of interest in the topic. As he will demonstrate in chapters 4-5, biblical histography often tells a story twice with slightly different details. These kinds of paired stories (doublets?) are not evidence of two often contradictory traditions, but rather the historiographic style of the Old Testament. One problem for Niehaus is that there is no evidence for this style in other ancient Near Eastern history. In his God at Sinai (Zondervan 1995), he explored what he called the Theophanic Gattung (or type scene). This pattern of reporting a theophany of the invisible and only God is unique among ancient histories because “these things do not happen” in pagan histories. Applied to the problem of this monograph, scholars do not need to use pagan histography to understand a literary genre in the Old Testament.
Chapters 2-3 survey the history of interpretation, including Jewish (Philo, Talmud, Cassuto) and Early Christian (Ambrose, Chrysostom, Augustine) writers. Niehaus includes Reformation writers (Luther, Calvin), Critical Scholarship (Driver, Gunkel, Von Rad, Westermann), and Evangelical Scholarly Tradition (Keil and Delitzsch, Vos, Kline, Ross, Beale, etc.). He concludes that there is a long tradition of interpretation that assumes the woman added to God’s commands, and sometimes Adam added to God’s commands. Only rarely does an interpreter suggest that the woman reported what God said (Chrysostom, Augustine).
Chapters 4-5 Examine the data supporting his view that biblical history often uses a laconic third-person omniscient narrator followed by a first-person retelling of the same story. Much if this is drawn from the Old Testament, but Chapter 5 demonstrates this style with the three versions of Paul’s Damascus Road experience. The first is a third-person omniscient narrator, the second two are Paul’s first-person reports with additional details. Rather than three contradictory stories, Niehaus concludes Luke follows the pattern of Old Testament historiography.
Conclusion: When Did Eve Sin? is a short book (172 pages, but 5×8 size) with a clear and concise thesis. Even did not add to God’s command in Genesis 2:17 when she said, “Neither shall you touch it” in Genesis 3:3b. This monograph contributes to the interpretation of Genesis. But perhaps more important is Niehaus’s suggestion there is no contradiction here because this is the way the Old Testament writes history.
NB: Thanks to Lexham Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. I purchased the Logos edition. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
Shepherd, Michael B. A Commentary on The Book of Jeremiah. Kregel Exegetical Library; Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2023. 928 pp. Hb; $57.99. Link to Kregel Academic
Michael Shepherd serves as Professor of Biblical Studies at Cedarville University. He has previously published several articles and monographs, including Daniel in the Context of the Hebrew Bible (Peter Lang, 2009), The Twelve Prophets in the New Testament (Peter Lang, 2011), and A Commentary on The Book of the Twelve (Kregel Academic, 2018; reviewed here).
In his introduction to this new volume of the Kregel Exegetical Library, Shepherd explains the justification for yet another major commentary on the book of Jeremiah. First, the base text for this commentary is the Hebrew source behind the old Greek of Jeremiah, not the Masoretic text. Shepherd states there is a growing consensus that the Hebrew behind the old Greek Jeremiah is the earlier edition. This is not a radically new idea, but basing a commentary on a reconstructed Hebrew text behind the Septuagint is unique. Shepherd argues that a single translator produced Old Greek Jeremiah (possibly Ezekiel and the Book of the Twelve). Following Joseph Ziegler’s Göttingen critical edition of the Septuagint and Louis Stuhlman’s 1986 monograph on the prose sections of Jeremiah, Shepherd reconstructs the “Hebrew source behind the Greek” (reproduced on pages 873-909). Throughout the commentary, he refers to the “Hebrew source behind the Greek Jeremiah” (perhaps an abbreviation could have been coined for this hypothetical source).
Second, Shepherd’s commentary is on the literature bearing the name of Jeremiah, not an account of his life in times or a study of the oral preaching of Jeremiah. Therefore, there are no reconstructions of the literary prehistory of the book. The commentary does not address the political history of the final years of Judah and Jerusalem. Shepherd says this commentary is “an analysis and exposition of the book’s composition in its final form.” However, by “final form,” he means his reconstructed text which stands behind the Old Greek of Jeremiah.
Third, Shepherd focuses on the eschatological shaping of Jeremiah in its first edition. He believes this gives the prophecy relevance for future generations of readers. Greek Jeremiah is less focused on the Babylonian invasion and destruction of Jerusalem, so the eschatology of the book is more open-ended. The book was designed to self-interpret and self-apply.
With these three contributions in mind, the introduction deals with the text of Jeremiah (12-18) and the making of the book of Jeremiah (18-25). As is well known, Greek Jeremiah is one-sixth to one-seventh shorter than the Masoretic text. Jeremiah 33: 14-26 and 39: 4-13 are missing from the old Greek. The old Greek is arranged differently than the Masoretic text. Jeremiah exists in two distinctly different editions. The Septuagint and some Dead Sea scroll fragments support the shorter Old Greek. Some Dead Sea Scroll fragments and the Peshitta, Targum Jonathan, and the Latin Vulgate also support a longer proto-Masoretic text. (By proto-Masoretic, Shepherd refers to the consonantal text before adding vowels, accents, and marginal notes.)
Shepherd argues that the Old Greek is the first edition of Jeremiah, while the Masoretic text represents a second edition. The second edition was thoroughly edited and had some theological differences. For example, in the first edition, the “enemy from the north” is not identified. Compare Jeremiah 25: 1-13 in the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible. In the Masoretic text, the second edition of Jeremiah, the enemy is Babylon. Since the first edition does not identify Babylon as the “enemy from the north,” the seventy-year captivity does not refer to the Babylonian captivity. This allows for the seventy-year period to be symbolic of an open-ended period. Shepherd suggests this is how the number was interpreted in Daniel 9:24-27 (not seventy years, but seventy times seven years). The second edition of Jeremiah (the proto-Masoretic text) historicized the seventy-year period as the Babylonian Captivity. The first edition is an open-ended, potentially eschatological edition read by Daniel and Ezekiel. The second edition is a longer, rearranged, and historicized edition (18).
Shepherd states that modern critical analysis has not led to a better understanding of Jeremiah’s book (19). Form criticism and the search for an original Sitz im Leben (Duhm, Mowinckel). “The way the book of Jeremiah presents itself is the way it is intended to be read” (20). He observes the frequent use of phrases like “the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah,” and 25:13 refers to “all that is written in the book.” Jeremiah 45 is the prophet’s message to Baruch and functions as a scribal colophon. In the first edition, this was at the end of the book, followed by an appendix describing the fall of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 52). In the second edition, these two chapters were separated. Concerning authorship and date, Jeremiah’s preaching ministry, as described in the book, dates to 627-587 B. C., although Jeremiah 40-44 indicates he accompanied refugees to Egypt after 587. The scribe Baruch gave the book its final form (the first edition, the Hebrew source behind Greek Jeremiah). Shepherd suggests a post-exilic date for the second edition (re-arranging and historicizing the first edition). Perhaps Ezra added Jeremiah 52 to the book as an appendix (30).
Shepherd begins each exegetical unit by translating the Hebrew source behind Greek Jeremiah. He includes the Masoretic Text in brackets where there are differences. There are also brackets for variations in the LXX, Syriac, Dead Sea Scrolls, Vulgate, Targumim, and other ancient witnesses to the text. He includes the ketiv/qere reading (marginal comments on variant readings in the Masoretic text) when necessary. More extensive comments appear in the footnotes on the translation. Occasionally he compares his translation to modern English translations in brackets and sometimes includes referents to HALOT or GKC. Since this is not a translation of the Masoretic text, there are sometimes major differences between the commentary’s text and a modern English translation. This makes the translation difficult to read. I would like a complete translation of his reconstructed text for undistracted reading, even if it was in an appendix.
Following the translation of the Hebrew source behind Greek Jeremiah, Shepherd provides a detailed commentary on the Hebrew source. Since a primary goal of the commentary is interpreting the first edition of Jeremiah (the reconstructed Hebrew text), Shepherd’s commentary focuses on vocabulary and variant readings rather than Hebrew syntax and grammatical nuances. All Hebrew appears without transliteration or vowel pointing (since the vowels are part of the later Masoretic text; when he refers to the Masoretic text, he includes the vowels).
He interacts with significant commentaries, both ancient and modern. Rashi, Redak (David Kimhi), and other rabbinic interpreters frequently appear, as do Calvin and (surprisingly) Bullinger (Figures of Speech). Recent commentaries by Holliday and McKane and a wide range of monographs and journal articles frequently appear. The commentary includes a select bibliography but not an authors index.
Exegetical units end with a short section on the application of the text, usually no more than a page. Sometimes Shepherd includes canonical connections and eschatological comments. For example, at the end of the section Jeremiah 21-25, he observes “the convergence of messianic hope with the hope of redemption from the enemy from the north,” but this is not the whole picture of the Messiah, “which awaits Jesus” (Luke 24:25-27; 459).
Conclusion. Some readers will find this commentary frustrating since it is a commentary on a reconstructed text rather than the canonical Jeremiah (the Hebrew Bible). There are occasional differences between Greek Jeremiah and the Hebrew used for English translations. Readers unfamiliar with the differences between Greek and Hebrew Jeremiah may need help navigating the commentary. There are other ways to explain the existence of two versions of Jeremiah. Duane Garrett’s recent Kerux Commentary (reviewed here) and John Goldingay’s NICOT commentary (reviewed here) explain the two versions quite differently.
Nevertheless, Shepherd has contributed a unique commentary on the Book of Jeremiah, which will be of interest to scholars interested in the development of the canonical form of Jeremiah.
Other Commentaries in the Kregel Exegetical Commentary series:
Schreiner, David B. and Lee Compson. 1 & 2 Kings. A Commentary for Biblical Preaching and Teaching. Kerux Commentaries. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Ministry, 2022. 315 pp. Hb. $36.99 Link to Kregel Ministry
The Kerux series is an exegetical commentary which includes as preaching strategies. The exegete in this volume is David B. Schreiner, associate professor of Old Testament at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Ridgeland, Mississippi. In addition to several journal articles, Schreiner previously contributed Pondering the Spade: Discussing Important Convergences between Archaeology and Old Testament Studies (Wipf & Stock, 2019) and has a commentary on 1 & 2 Kings in Cascade’s The Bible in God’s World series and a monograph The Omride Wars in Assyrian, Biblical, and Levantine Sources (Lexham, forthcoming). Lee Compson provides the homiletical notes. Compson serves as senior pastor at Milford First Brethren Church in Milford, Indiana, and Regional Resource Coordinator for the Midwest Region of The Brethren Church.
In the seventeen-page introduction, Schreiner suggests 1-2 Kings is “good history writing” but not in the same sense as modern history. Schreiner argues a single author produced 1-2 Kings, working with existing materials. The date of composition range from the middle sixth century or the mid-Hellenistic period. After a lengthy footnote on the Graf-Wellhausen Documentary Hypothesis, Schreiner states “options and reconstructions are legion” (43).
The occasion seems to point to the exilic community in the early Second Temple period. Ezra 9:5-15 draws lessons found in Kings “to declare humiliatingly that his community is on the path to committing the same deeds that precipitated the Babylonian exile” (43). Of course, this is a message that would resonate beyond the sixth-fifth centuries BC. Schreiner includes two pages on compositional history. He begins by observing that ideas about authorship were different in antiquity and writing was a “controlled skill,” part of the political infrastructure. The books certainly make use of source material, but he also sees the “ideological imprint of Deuteronomy.”
With this in mind, Schreiner offers an outline of the compositional history of 1-2 Kings. The first edition was Hezekiah’s history, sanctioned by the Judean court after Sennacherib’s third military campaign. A second edition is a Josianic history prompted by Josiah’s death just before the battle of Carchemish in 605 BC. The third and final edition was written during the exile while Jehoiachin was still living under house arrest 2 Kings 25:27-30).
The introduction makes several points under the heading theological emphasis, although this is really a literary analysis of the book. First Kings 1-14 serves as an introduction which sets the tone for readers and begins to answer the question “why did Judah survive longer but still end up in exile?” (49). The books contrast the Israelite Kingdom and the Judean Kingdom, helpfully summarized in a chart (53). Regarding the tone of the history, “positive memories are not permitted to overwhelm the reader” (54). Positive obedience stories are balanced with negative disobedience stories, all leading up to the Babylonian exile. “Kings does not celebrate Israel’s history. Rather, it mourns it through a sobering and critical evaluation” (54).
The body of the commentary is divided into twenty-three sections. Each section includes exegesis (about two-thirds of the chapter) and preaching strategies. Each unit begins by repeating the key ideas from the introduction. A short literary section traces the themes and offers an outline for the unit. The exposition is of the Hebrew text without transliteration. This is not a verse-by-verse commentary, key phrases appear in larger sections. For example, Schreiner discusses the phrase “fame of Solomon” in 1 Kings 10:1 (including a lengthy footnote on the phrase). Schreiner uses in-text citations to secondary literature and, occasionally, there are detailed footnotes. Following the exegesis is a section entitled theological focus. This develops the exegetical idea based on the exodus exegesis, usually highlighting a truth or principle for Christians, including occasional canonical connections to the New Testament. Even though the exegetical units are necessarily brief, Schreiner’s notes are excellent.
The preaching and teaching strategies section begins with an exegetical and theological synthesis (a general summary of the section plus another repetition of the preaching idea). Compson then offers a series of contemporary connections. What does it mean? Is it true? Now what? These sections make clear applications from the text to contemporary issues that will enhance a sermon or Bible lesson. Finally, the strategies section includes a unit on creativity and presentation. These are a few suggestions for illustrations and key ideas to apply the text in a sermon. These illustrations are drawn from contemporary culture (sports, film, etc.) as well as common life situations. Each section concludes with several discussion questions.
Like the other volumes of the Kerux series, the commentary includes numerous sidebars for historical details (Baal, Nebuchadnezzar, Neco) or an exegetical detail. Compared to other volumes in this series, there seem to be fewer sidebars, and none are more than a paragraph (no full-page sidebars). On the other hand, there are several long footnotes that might have been a lengthy sidebar. For example, the note on Naaman is nearly a full page (226, note 4). There are no sidebars in the preaching strategy sections. The exegetical section includes several types of additional analysis sections: syntactical, textual, lexical, and translation. In these sections, Schreiner deals with technical details which might be difficult for readers who have not taken a Hebrew at the seminary level.
Given the contents of the books, preaching a sermon based on 1-2 Kings is a difficult task. Some sections of the books lend themselves to preaching and teaching, others do not. The authors divide the forty-seven chapters of the two books into twenty-three preaching units, but twelve of these units cover the life of Solomon (1 Kings 1-11, about 40% of the total commentary). Some units on Solomon are quite brief. For example, one unit covers 1 Kings 3:16-28 in five pages. The unit on Elisha (1 Kings 17:1-2 Kings 1:18) is twenty pages. There is a great deal of difficult-to-preach material after Solomon, so it is understandable there is not much here on many of the Israelite kings (who preaches on Baasha anyway!) But only one preaching unit each for Elijah and Elisha seems brief considering the popularity of these stories. One preaching unit on 2 Kings 17-20 is far too brief, considering the importance of Hezekiah’s response to the Lord. Since they both appear in Isaiah, it is also a mistake to separate Ahaz and Hezekiah. It is likely the commentary had a limited page count, making it impossible to cover both books in as much detail as 1 Kings 1-11.
Conclusion. Despite the brevity of some sections of the commentary, Schreiner and Compson achieve the goal of guiding a busy pastor or Bible study leader through this lengthy and sometimes difficult material. The commentary remains focused on the goal of presenting this material in a church situation. Although this might frustrate some readers who want more historical detail, Schreiner and Compson remain dedicated to the goals of the Kerux series to combine exegetical and homiletical notes to serve Christian communities.
NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
Ashley, Timothy R. The Book of Numbers. Second Edition. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2022. xxxix+660 pp. Hb; $60.00 Link to Eerdmans
This second edition of Timothy Ashley’s 1993 NICOT commentary on Numbers is far more than a cosmetic upgrade. Ashley observes in the preface to the second edition, “I still agree with a good deal of what I wrote,” but there are some changes. He noticed that his earlier commentary tended to argue with the so-called documentary hypothesis. On the one hand, he appreciates the work of scholars looking for sources. However, fewer scholarly readers are asking the questions that those studies answered. For this reason, he has eliminated or reduced apologetic concerns, which took up space in the first edition. On the first page of the commentary itself, he deleted the phrase “so-called documentary hypothesis” and reference to Wellhausen (page 43 of the 1993 commentary, page 1 of the second edition). The second edition of this commentary “attempts to pull the reader into the final form of the Book of Numbers” which likely dates to the sixth or early fifth century BCE.
Nevertheless, the introduction includes an expanded and updated section on “authorship, composition, and the interpretation of the text.” He still begins with a summary of Wellhausen and form critical studies, but adds reference to Israel Knohl, The Sanctuary of Silence: The Priestly Torah and the Holiness School (Fortress, 1995, reprint, Eisenbrauns, 2007) as a major challenge to the documentary hypothesis. Several recent commentaries examine the literary features Numbers and argue for the “cogency of the final form of the text” (7). Ashley uses this approach as a model for the commentary.
Ashley thinks there is no reason to deny that the final form of the book was edited and re-edited until the post-exilic period. For example, Numbers presupposes a time later than the conquest, especially after chapter 22. The book certainly has a “more complex history of transmission than is recoverable” (9). Ashley has little doubt that there were sources, but also it is reasonable and practical to approach the final form of the narratives that probably “depended on a historical remembrance” (9).
As with any second edition, Ashely updated footnotes and bibliography to include many works on Numbers and the Pentateuch written in the last thirty years. However, he admits he has not attempted to be comprehensive. In addition, the indices for the commentary have re-compiled (only six pages in the 1993 edition, now seventeen pages). The select bibliography in the 1993 edition spanned 22 pages, in the second edition it appears on pages xxvii-l (28 pages). The commentary now conforms to the current NICOT style, including a smaller font size. Given these changes in pagination and font size, the new edition is 606 pages total, about 60 pages less that the first edition.
Conclusion. Ashley’s NICOT commentary on Numbers joins Baruch A. Levine’s Anchor Bible commentary (2 vols., Yale, 1993, 2000) as a top English scholarly commentary on Numbers.
As with any second edition of a commentary, someone might ask if it is necessary to replace the 1993 edition. Does the second edition include enough new material to merit the investment? Yes, if only for a shift in focus away from the discussion of the documentary hypothesis to the final form of the book. Ashley’s 2022 commentary reflects a mature understanding of the literary nature of the Book of Numbers. A second question, should you keep your 1993 edition? The 1993 edition does indeed enter a dialogue with the documentary hypothesis; if that is your interest, then the earlier edition will continue to have value.
Arnold, Bill T. The Book of Deuteronomy, Chapters 1–11. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2022. xxxix+660 pp. Hb; $60.00 Link to Eerdmans
Bill Arnold’s new commentary on Deuteronomy 1-11 replaces Peter Craigie’s 1976 commentary in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament series. In 2020, Arnold joined Robert L. Hubbard as the editor of this important commentary series. Arnold in the Paul S. Amos Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary since 1995 and has contributed many articles and monographs on the Old Testament. He co-edited Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books (IVP Academic, 2005).
In the eighty-seven-page introduction Arnold suggests Deuteronomy can rightly be called a compendium of the most important ideas of the Old Testament. “It crystallizes the themes and messages of the first four books of the Bible, while at the same time it establishes the theological foundation for the books of history and prophecy to follow” (1). The message of the book is without question: the exclusive worship and faithfulness to YHWH Israel’s God.
Regarding literary genre, Deuteronomy could be classified as law, covenant, or even a national constitution. Some suggest the book is an early Israelite catechesis. The book, however, considers itself to be Torah. Arnold argues for the unity of composition. Since the book uses a series of speeches employing distinctive phraseology and expressions such as “YHWH your God,” and “as YHWH commanded,” etc. But as he observes, citing Moses Wienfield, “the concept of composition is likely meaningless when applied to a book like Deuteronomy.” An ancient author with a collector and compiler rather than a creator of literature (11). Many hands worked on Deuteronomy over many years. He begins his discussion of authorship with a survey of Graf-Wellhausen and Martin Noth’s Deuteronomic History (critiquing Noth for isolating Deuteronomy from the other books of the Torah). Arnold concludes we cannot be dogmatic about authorship, but Deuteronomy claims to be to preserve a tradition of the “voice of Moses.”
But Deuteronomy is an exegetical enterprise. Ancient Israelite scribes preserved, updated, reformulated traditions using a method of composition which may be fairly described as an “inner biblical exegesis” (16). When did these scribes do the exegesis? Discussing the occasion of Deuteronomy, Arnold has two assumptions. First, there was an earlier form of Deuteronomy, but he also accepts the historical reality of Josiah’s reforms (24). But these kinds of reforms reoccur in Israel’s history (Hezekiah, for example); the exegesis of Deuteronomy could develop earlier
A second assumption is the parallels between Deuteronomy and Ancient Near Eastern treaty forms. First proposed by George Mendenhall and developed by Meredith Kline and K. A. Kitchen, there are clear parallels between Deuteronomy and ancient vassal treaties. But which treaties? When Craigie published his NICOT commentary in 1974, he discussed the format these Hittite Vassal treaties and states “the Hebrews adapted the treaty format for their own use” (Craigie, 23). But more recently, this thesis has been modified by comparing Deuteronomy to recently discovered Assyrian treaties (Esarhaddon, for example). Judean officials at the time of Josiah living in Jerusalem would know the Assyrian treaty forms and use them as they developed a core Moses tradition. Arnold suggests that such cohesive theology makes it easy to imagine a single mind behind Deuteronomy 12-16 and the poem in Deuteronomy 32. If so, the author “is one of the greatest biblical theologians of all time” (48).
Nevertheless, the book seems to fit Josiah’s reforms best. “Deuteronomy’s message of YHWH’s supremacy and its call for singular devotion to him alone would have been a bold and prophetic voice in the seventh century BCE, coming at the height of Assyrian imperialism, in perhaps the book’s penultimate edition” (32). Arnold observes that Josiah’s discovery of the Law suggests a “early form of Deuteronomy existed and was authorized by the prophet Huldah.” An additional factor is the impact of Deuteronomy on pre-exilic prophets (Joshua, judges, Samuel, Kings), so that Zechariah 1:4 can refer to the former prophets as an “already quasi-canonized set.” There are other hints that the book considered itself a canonical unit. For example, Deuteronomy 4:2, “do not add to or omit anything.” Arnold suggests this is a canonized self-awareness” (37).
With respect to the theology of Deuteronomy, Arnold begins with Shema: YHWH is one. This is the “cornerstone of an edifice constructed with the Ten Commandments, which houses the life-giving instructions for every facet of Israel society and daily life” (47). Deuteronomy serves as a kind of “Bible” for the rest of the Old Testament. Deuteronomy also is the first attempt to summarize the essential substance of the law (10:12-13). At the core of Deuteronomy is the conviction that Yahweh revealed himself at Sinai. The initiative for that revelation is God himself, and this establishes YHWH’s self-disclosure in God’s intervention in Israel’s history. The function of God’s revelation is to make YHWH’s gracious will known to Israel. Arnold divides the theology of Deuteronomy into two major categories, the God of Israel, and the Israel of God. here he is following John Goldingay’s Old Testament Theology.
Regarding the God of Israel, Arnold suggests we let Deuteronomy speak for itself and keep the New Testament (and Trinitarianism) out of Deuteronomy’s theology! What sort of God was revealed at Sinai? First, Yahweh is absent from the other gods of the Ancient Near East. Israel does not adopt a Canaanite god nor is there anything in Canaanite mythology quite like YHWH. He is deeply compassionate, longing to be worshipped, and therefore a jealous God who has a fiery passion for his people Israel. He expects to be obeyed by Israel and loved by all. Yahweh demands exclusive loyalty because of his great love for his people. This holy, loving God is in many ways present with his people. For example, Deuteronomy 4:7, “God is near to those who pray.” There are also many references in the book to God placing his name among his people. This is often described as a “Name Theology” which demythologizes an earlier theology which thought of God is dwelling in the Tabernacle or sanctuary (56). Arnold thinks name theology has been seriously overstated, it is simply not an accurate reflection of Deuteronomy’s theology.
The introduction also discusses more briefly the main themes of the book such as Torah, covenant, prophecy, retributive justice, centralization of the cult, education, individualism, warfare, exile, and poverty.
Each unit in the commentary’s body begins with a new translation of the pericope with extensive textual notes comparing the Masoretic text to the LXX, Syriac, Vulgate, Targumim, etc. Readers who are not interested in these issues can easily skip the notes. Following the translation is a brief introduction summarizing the contents and connecting it to the proceeding unit. The commentary proceeds verse-by-verse as much as possible. The commentary is oon the Hebrew text, but all Hebrew appears in transliteration. Comments concern lexical issues (what words mean) and syntax (how words are used), but this is not so technical a read without extensive Hebrew training will follow the discussion. Arnold uses footnotes for extensive interaction with secondary literature, but this is not a commentary on what other commentaries say.
There is some synthesis in the commentary itself. For example, commenting on astral bodies in 4:19b, Arnold suggests that there are two broad categories in dealing with the meaning of “astral bodies.” Some take this as a reference to a monotheizing process in ancient Israel, so that the mention of other gods does not imply their reality. Others take the gods as real and rightly worshipped by other peoples. However, YHWH is the only deity for Israel. Arnold presents these two broad categories with notes to representatives in the secondary literature.
Arnold’s comments on the difficult passage in Deuteronomy 7:1-6 merit comment here. Although this text is often associated with the so-called Canaanite genocide, Arnold focuses on the entire chapter and its emphasis on the election of Israel as God’s people based on divine love. It is somewhat astonishing therefore, to find the command to completely destroy the Canaanites in this passage. This command is an absolute obligation, using the word herem, devoted to YHWH, and there are to be no survivors. As he suggests, this is the single most morally and theologically problematic problem in the Old Testament (437). It is in fact a theological problem even if Israel never fully carried out the command. Arnold suggests that this is a rhetorical technique reconstituting an ancient battlefield strategy. The command is a metaphor, there “is no literal command envisioning the taking of human life” (438). However, as I read these verses, it does not read like a rhetorical strategy or a metaphor. And Israel does, in fact, take human lives in Jericho “under the ban” in the book of Joshua. This issue is, of course, extremely complicated and there are several published monographs on holy war in the Old Testament (see the recent Charlie Trimm, The Destruction of the Canaanites: God, Genocide, and Biblical Interpretation, Eerdmans, 2022).
More helpful is Arnold’s reading of this text within the context of Deuteronomy 7. This chapter is about the election of God’s people. He tells them not to make a covenant with the Canaanites nor are they to intermarry with them. Both commands are in line with the absolute loyalty that Yahweh demands. The reason Israel cannot make covenants or intermarry with the Canaanites is that they will turn them away from Yahweh. Although it is surprising to read “exterminate all the Canaanites because Yahweh loves you,” that is in fact what Deuteronomy 7 says.
Conclusion. Many surveys of “top commentaries on Deuteronomy” consider Peter Craigie’s commentary one of the best available. Bill Arnold’s new volume is a worthy replacement in terms of additional depth and broad engagement with both the text of Deuteronomy and a vast secondary literature. As is usually the case, Arnold’s volume is far more detailed than the Craigie volume it replaces. Arnold devotes 660 pages to the introduction and first eleven chapters of Deuteronomy; Craigie’s commentary was 424 pages for the entire book of Deuteronomy. Will Peter Craigie’s popular commentary in the NICOT move to the Eerdmans Classic Commentary series?
Bill Arnold’s Deuteronomy 1-11 is worth the investment for students of the Old Testament, and I look forward to volume 2.