Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. and Tiberius Rata, Walking the Ancient Paths: A Commentary on Jeremiah

Kaiser, Jr., Walter C. and Tiberius Rata.  Walking the Ancient Paths: A Commentary on Jeremiah. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019. 633 pp.; Hb.  $49.99; Logos Digital edition $34.99  Link to Lexham Press

Longtime Professor of Old Testament and former President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Walter Kaiser is well known in evangelical circles for his work in biblical theology and commentaries on several Old Testament books. Tiberius Rata is Associate Dean of the School of Ministry Studies and Professor of Old Testament Studies at Grace Theological Seminary. Rata contributed a monograph on Jeremiah, The Covenant Motif in Jeremiah’s Book of Comfort: Intertextual Studies in Jeremiah 30–33 (Peter Lang, 2007). This commentary focuses on a clear exposition of the text of Jeremiah and will be useful for pastors and teachers preparing to apply Jeremiah to Christian communities.

Kaiser and Rata, JeremiahThe twenty-nine-page introduction deals briefly with the composition of the book. Jeremiah is obviously not arranged in a chronological order (chapters 36 and 45 date to the fourth year of king Jehoiakim) so there was some editorial activity. Kaiser takes the two scrolls in Jeremiah 36 seriously. When the king destroyed the first scroll, Jeremiah dictated a second scroll with added material. Beyond that, Kaiser is not interested in theories of composition. For example, he rejects Bernhard Duhm’s suggestion that the prophet Jeremiah wrote the poetry (280 verses), Baruch wrote the prose sections (220 verses) and the bulk of the book are post-exilic additions (880 verses). As Kaiser observes, most reject this theory today. Prose is close to Hebrew from the period (citing the Lachish letters).

The introduction deals with Jeremiah’s use of Deuteronomy. For conservative scholars, Moses wrote Deuteronomy much earlier and Jeremiah knew Deuteronomy after Josiah re-discovered in 622 BCE. Critical scholarship focuses on a Deuteronomic history (Joshua-Judges-Samuel-Kings) compiled during and after the exile. Kaiser points out there is no reference to Jeremiah in the Deuteronomic history, even though the prophet Isaiah figures prominently. Others detect a difference between Jeremiah and the Deuteronomic history; Jeremiah is optimistic about her return from the exile while 2 Kings seems pessimistic (there is no hope for return). For Kaiser, the historical Jeremiah wrote the book at the end of the Kingdom of Judah.

Kaiser deals briefly with the Septuagint text of Jeremiah in the introduction. The Septuagint text is 2700 words shorter than the Hebrew Masoretic text and arranged differently. Kaiser points out three fragments of manuscripts from the Dead Sea Scrolls, two of which are similar to the Masoretic text, and the third is closer to the Septuagint. This implies there were two text forms for Jeremiah in the third century BC (12). Although the translation in the body of the commentary often refers to the Septuagint, but the exposition relies on the Hebrew Bible.

The introduction summarizes the theological contribution of the book of Jeremiah. First, focusing on God, Yahweh is the God of creation, love, and “pathos.” More than any other book in the Bible, Jeremiah presents God as having deep feelings, emotions, and passions. God shows his love and affection for his people Israel and the people of the whole earth. But also his deep anger and wrath for the moral degradation of those flaunting his law (13). Second, Jeremiah presents God as using historical events as the means to accomplish his will. Third, God’s words of salvation echo the promises given to the patriarchs and David. In Jeremiah, promises of salvation intermingle with words of judgment. Commenting on Jeremiah 31:40, Kaiser asks, “has Israel forfeited… her share in the promises made in the covenant to Abraham and David? Surprisingly enough, the answer to that very good question is: Never! Never once will God retract and go back on what he has promised Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David” (375). In fact, the new covenant “does not envision a change in the partners to that covenant” (370). Kaiser rejects a supersessionist reading of Jeremiah 32:31-33. He suggests the church has “no grounding and no vitality except through the promises made to Israel and that at some point the Jewish people will turn to their Messiah in such vast numbers that it will be said ‘all Israel’ will saved (Romans 11:25b-27)” (370). The future of Judah will not depend on Judah’s own works, but on God himself. Because God made an everlasting covenant with his people, he will accomplish his covenant via a new covenant, the internalized law written on people’s hearts (31:31-33).

The introduction concludes with a detailed nine-page outline of Jeremiah, which forms the sections of the commentary. In addition, there is a short bibliography of major works cited in parentheses in the body of the commentary.

In the body of the commentary, each unit starts with a fresh translation with translation notes comparing the Hebrew text to other early translations (Septuagint, Syriac, etc.). For example, if the Septuagint omits or adds words, these appear in the notes with relevant Hebrew and Greek, along with a translation of the phrase. Expositional comments are verse-by-verse, written in clear prose without too much reference to the Hebrew text. When Hebrew appears, it is untransliterated. Footnotes deal with details of Hebrew syntax or variations of translation based on the Septuagint. There are occasional references to secondary literature.

Although not marked with a heading, each unit concludes with a paragraph drawing devotional or pastoral conclusions. For example, in his comments on Jeremiah 11 and Jeremiah facing his enemies, Kaiser comments that a congregation will stand or fall on how faithfully the word of God has been preached, and how well that congregation has responded to the word of God.

Kaiser interprets some of the prophecy in the book from a premillennial perspective. For example, commenting on Jeremiah 3:16, the phrase “in those days” points to “the messianic times coming in the future” (71). Commenting on the unification of Israel and Judah in Jeremiah 50:4, he says this will occur over a long period of time, “into the days of the second coming” (561). Commenting on the prediction “Babylon must fall” (51:61-64), Kaiser rejects the suggestion Jeremiah’s words are hyperbole since that “would verge on saying Jeremiah gave a false prophecy” (571). Instead, he suggests this prophecy telescopes from the immediate fulfillment of Jews returning from the Babylonian exile to an ultimate future when these prophecies will be fulfilled in the messianic age. But Kaiser is no dispensationalist. He rejects an interpretation of Jeremiah 30:7 which associates “the time of Jacob’s trouble” with a great tribulation after the rapture (342).

Although the commentary is nearly 600 pages long, some sections are brief. For example, the section on Jeremiah 52:1-34 is only nine pages, the bulk of which is translation. In the printed version, pages 357 have the wrong chapters for the commentary; Lexham corrected this error in the Logos digital version.

Conclusion. Walking the Ancient Paths is an excellent example of evangelical scholarship aimed at service to the church. Pastors and teachers will find this a valuable addition to their library as they prepare to preach and teach this important prophetic book. Although some academically minded readers may find the lack of engagement with critical issues frustrating, that is not the goal of the commentary.

 

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

 

W. Creighton Marlowe and Charles H. Savelle, Jr. Psalms, Volume 1: Wisdom Psalms

Marlowe, W. Creighton and Charles H. Savelle, Jr. Psalms, Volume 1: The Wisdom Psalms. A Commentary for Biblical Preaching and Teaching. Kerux Commentaries. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Ministry, 2021. 389 pp. Hb. $36.99   Link to Kregel Ministry  

This new commentary is part of Kregel Academic’s new Kerux commentary series. Projected to be a 46-volume series, seven are currently available. W. Creighton Marlowe (PhD, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary) prepared the exegetical portion of the Commentary and Charles H. Savelle Jr. (PhD, Dallas Theological Seminary) wrote the preaching and teaching notes. Marlow is associate professor of Old Testament at the Evangelical Theological Faculty in Leuven, Belgium. Savelle serves as an adjunct professor for Dallas Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Psalms Volume 1 KeruxThis commentary on the Psalter is unusual because it covers a genre of the Psalms rather than each Psalm in canonical order. This commentary only treats fifteen wisdom psalms, although there are as many as thirty-nine potential examples of the genre. Kregel Academic plans two more volumes, a second on Lament Psalms and a third on Praise Psalms. Presumably, the introductory material in this volume will not be repeated, allowing for more Psalms in each subsequent volume.

The commentary has a general introduction to the Psalter (29-69) and a second introduction to Wisdom Psalms in particular (71-77). The general introduction covers typical matters of introduction (authorship, pace and date of writing and occasion). This must be general since the background for each psalm is different. The authors have a firm commitment to inspiration of Scripture (31), so the introduction favors traditional answers to questions of authorship. Regarding superscriptions, Marlowe suggests inspiration may not extend to editorial activity. “The superscriptions, however accurate in terms of maintaining a tradition, were the result of human imagination and ingenuity” (31). This seems to allow for some flexibility for the seventy-three psalms with “of David” in the superscription. Psalms with occasions associated with David are consistent with David’s career, but the “of David” psalms may be written about David, or in David’s style. Superscriptions are therefore highly valued, but not authoritative (30).

The introduction compares the Psalter with psalms found in the ancient Near East, especially Ugarit. Like wisdom literature from Egypt and Assyria, similarities exist on technical levels of linguistics and stylistics. But this does not diminish the “revelatory and remarkable and revolutionary message of the Israelite Psalter” (34). The introduction also compares the Psalter to extracanonical psalms from Qumran and the Septuagint. Marlowe concludes “the individual psalms in our current Old Testament psalter were a unique means of understanding biblical revelation via poetic personal and public praise, prayers, protestations, and pleas for mercy and judgment” (37).

Much of the introduction is a chart summarizing the type, features, and associations of each psalm.

With respect to outlining the Psalter, scholars often simply follow the five sections indicated by the presence of doxologies (see Psalm 41:13, for example). There are many suggests for the overall structure of the Psalms, see for example Gerald H. Wilson, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter (Scholars, 1985) or John H. Walton, “Psalms: A Cantata About the Davidic Covenant” (JETS 34; 1991). Marlowe recognizes the five-part structure but suggests a different outline for the book. Psalms 1-2 are an introduction to the Psalter and Psalms 3-9 are an introductory section (all psalms of David). Psalms 10-139 are the main body of the Psalter, with psalms 140-145 forming a concluding section (all psalms of David). Psalms 146-150 for the conclusion to the whole Psalter.

The general introduction concludes with a summary of theological themes in the Psalms (54-66). As expected, the theology of the Psalter focuses on God (his names, descriptions, and character). Other themes include creation, salvation, evil, the afterlife, and the Messiah (including a three-page chart summarizing the messianic psalms). Under the heading of Anthropological Themes, Marlowe deals with the problem of hating one’s enemies. In many psalms, the opponent is the object of the psalmist’s hatred as he cries out to God for vengeance. This is followed by a second, related section on imprecations (curses) found in the psalms (specifically Psalm 137). Many Christians have a problem with hatred and curses on one’s enemies in worship literature, since this material seems to run counter to Leviticus 19:18 and the general teaching in the New Testament. More disturbing, it is often God who hates his enemies in the psalms. Marlowe draws a contrast between national Israel, which was used for military purposes to judge nations in the Old Testament, and the transnational church, which is never commissioned to wage war (65). This is a brief answer to a tough problem and may not satisfy everyone. What is more, is there is nothing here on how to preach and imprecatory Psalm (maybe the answers is “don’t preach those psalms”).

The introduction concludes the introduction with about two pages of Practical Theology drawn from the Psalms. First, a common question for readers of the psalms concerns God vindicating the blameless. Does this mean the Psalms demand us to be perfect? In the Psalter, “blameless” does not mean “sinless.” The one who is blameless trusts God and obeys his Law. Second, since the phrase “give thanks” appears frequently in the Psalter, connects giving thanks to an action of public witness, to make a public confession of faith in God.

The commentary for each psalm begins with a summary of the exegetical idea, theological focus, and preaching idea for the song. These are single sentences summarizing the big idea of the song. This preaching summary concludes with two paragraphs of preaching pointers.

The body of the commentary begins with a summary of the literary structure and themes followed by the exposition proper. Although there are a few brief notes on the potential historical context for some of these psalms, Marlowe is not interested in the Sitz im Leben for these psalms (which is less important for Wisdom Psalms than other forms).

The commentary proceeds verse by verse, although for longer psalms, groups of verses are treated together. Almost every verse of Psalm 119 has a brief comment! Transliterated Hebrew appears throughout the commentary. Marlowe only occasionally refers to secondary literature. Sometimes he compares major English translations, but there is little comment on Hebrew syntax in the commentary. Marlowe occasionally mentions variants from the MT. Following the exegesis of the Psalm is a short theological focus summarizing the Psalm, often with a larger canonical interest.

For the preaching and teaching strategies, Savelle begins an exegetical and theological synthesis (a summary of the exegesis provided above). He then provides a preaching idea, a one sentence big idea (following Haddon Robinson). Under the heading of contemporary connections, he briefly answers questions like “what does it mean?” “Is it true?” And “Now what? Under this heading, there are usually several action points which exhort the reader to apply the material from the Psalm to their lives. Under the heading of “Creativity in Presentation,” Savelle makes several suggestions on how to illustrate preaching points from contemporary culture. These sections may include references to history or recent events, but often to pop culture (Stephen Colbert and Jay Leno) and often popular music (from Ed Sheeran to Shane & Shane; even Leonard Cohen makes an appearance).

Each chapter ends with a few discussion questions.

As with other Kerux commentaries, the book contains frequent sidebars on issues found in the Psalm. For example, the Ruler of Tyre (Psalm 37:18), Holiness (Psalm 111), and Meditation (both Psalms 1 and 119). A feature of this commentary summarizes the preaching passages (13-22). This is the same material found at the beginning of each chapter, but it is helpful to see all the exegetical ideas and preaching ideas in one place. This will assist a pastor preparing a short sermon series on the Wisdom Psalms. The ratio of exegesis to preaching is about 2-1.

Conclusion. The goal of the Kerux series is to provide solid exegesis from leading scholars and teaching ideas for pastors. This volume achieves the goal of solid exposition of the text, and it offers help for pastors preparing sermons on these Psalms. I am curious if the next two volumes will cover the rest of the Psalter since there are quite a few Wisdom Psalms not included in this volume. Perhaps a volume of Messianic Psalms would be a popular addition to this series.

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

 

Other volumes reviewed in this series:

 

 

John L. McLaughlin, An Introduction to Israel’s Wisdom Traditions

McLaughlin, John L. An Introduction to Israel’s Wisdom Traditions. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 217 pp. Pb; $25.   Link to Eerdmans

James Crenshaw once suggested wisdom literature is sometimes considered “an orphan in the biblical household” (173). This new book by John McLaughlin attempts to connect the wisdom books to the rest of the First Testament (following John Goldingay’s nomenclature for the Old Testament).

McLaughlin Wisdom TraditionHe begins by describing the international context of wisdom literature (chapter 1). For example, Proverbs 17:1 has close parallels in the literature of Sumer, Egypt, and Ugarit. The bulk of this chapter summarizes and gives brief examples from the wisdom literature of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Canaan. He points out that wisdom is quite at home in Canaan. It is unnecessary to appeal to Egypt or Mesopotamia to explain similar elements in Israel. To a large extent, the wisdom literature of Israel reflects the same sort of traditions found in Canaanite cultures as represented by Ebla and Ugarit.

Chapter 2, McLaughlin briefly introduces the readers to Hebrew poetry, especially the various forms of parallelism found in wisdom literature. He discusses other features of Hebrew poetry, such as acrostic, inclusio, keywords, and mirror patterns (chiasm). McLaughlin defines a biblical proverb as “a sentence, plus command or prohibition” (35). But there are other forms, such as instruction, numerical lists, disputations or dialogues, allegory, fable, and riddle.

McLaughlin devotes a chapter to each of the biblical wisdom books, Proverbs, Job, and Qohelet and to two Second Temple books, Ben Sira (Sirach) and the Wisdom of Solomon. Each chapter begins with an overview of the structure, date, and major themes of the book. Proverbs is obviously a compilation of sayings drawn from several periods. McLaughlin suggests shorter sayings in the book may be pre-exilic, while the more developed speeches in Proverbs 1-9, what does the word in the post-exilic period. Regarding Job, the lack of historical references makes the book notoriously difficult to date. He favors a sixth-century BC or later date based on the use of the definite article with the word satan, consistent with the post-exilic use in Zechariah 3:1-2 and 1 Chronicles 21:1.

Although the author of Qohelet claims to be a “son of David,” McLaughlin argues the book was composed well past the time of Solomon, or any other kings of Jerusalem. He detects allusions to the Persian Empire, suggesting a date in the third century B.C. The author was a teacher or a writer (12:9-10) and his observations are consistent with a Judean setting. The writer may have been the head of a school like Ben Sira (Sir 51:23). Ben Sira is a rare example of a book where the author and date are known. Ben Sira 50:27 states the author was Jesus ben Eleazar ben Sira in the book can be dated between 190-180 BC. Ben Sira’s grandson translated the book into Greek in about 132 B.C. Finally, The Wisdom of Solomon does not identify an author, but it is certainly not Solomon. Since the book has some similarity to Philo of Alexandria, McLaughlin suggests the book could have been written under the reign of Caligula.

Chapter 8 traces the influence of this literature on other books in the First Testament. In the penalty, he focuses on Genesis (the Joseph Story), Exodus (Moses’s Birth), and Deuteronomy. He briefly examines the Succession Narrative and Solomon’s reign in the Deuteronomic History. He observes that there are as many as thirty-nine psalms identified as wisdom psalms, but in this short chapter, he can only focus on three (Ps. 1; 37; 49. With respect to the prophets, he spends most of the section discussing wisdom in the book of Amos, although there are scattered proverbs in several prophetic books. Most scholars associate Esther and Daniel with wisdom “court tales” because of their similarities to the Joseph story. Finally, following Brevard Childs, he briefly discusses the Song of Solomon as wisdom literature.

Chapter 9 summarizes the theology of wisdom literature. Most biblical theologies relate wisdom to a theology of creation based on Proverbs 3:19, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens.” McLaughlin offers several other examples of proverbial literature focusing on God as the creator (Proverbs 16:4; 17:5 22:2). Proverbs 8:22-31 and Ben Sira 1:4-10 describe the role of lady wisdom in the Lord’s creative activities. Since the created world is an orderly creation, wisdom literature implies that living one’s life within the harmonious social order of creation will lead to success. However, an interest in creation is a late development. The earliest stages of Israelite religion saw the Lord as a Warrior God and a Savior God. To see the Lord as a creator only became prominent during the Babylonian exile period.

The final chapter of the book discusses the continuation of this literature in the Second Temple period and New Testament. First, building on Gerhard von Rad, it is possible wisdom was the basis for biblical apocalyptic rather than prophecy (182). McLaughlin offers several examples from 1 Enoch in which the author considers the book to be wisdom (1 Enoch 5:6, for example). Second, theodicy is an important element of apocalyptic literature. Third, he briefly surveys wisdom texts in the Qumran literature. Like apocalyptic literature, some of these examples combine traditional experiential wisdom with eschatological expectations. Fourth, he examines wisdom literature as it appears in Paul, James, Q, the Synoptic Gospels, and finally the Gospel of John. For example, Paul refers to Jesus as the “wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1: 24) and he observes that John’s prologue is the “fullest expression of wisdom Christology in the New Testament” (191). This chapter concludes with a short two-paragraph section on wisdom in Rabbinic literature.

Conclusion. McLaughlin’s Introduction is an excellent introduction to the biblical wisdom books with a few added features to distinguish itself from other introductions. Including Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon extending the introduction into the Second Temple period and his chapter on the continuation of these traditions beyond the First Testament is helpful, even if too brief. This book will serve well in an undergraduate or graduate level introduction course.

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

Ralph K. Hawkins, Discovering Exodus

Hawkins, Ralph K. Discovering Exodus. Discovering Biblical Texts. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2021. 308 pp. Pb; $22.   Link to Eerdmans

The Discovering Biblical Texts series provides basic introductions of biblical books by focusing on the interpretation and reception of the book, as well as the contents of the book. Ralph Hawkins’s Discovering Exodus introduces readers to the overall canonical shape of the book and briefly introduces them to key interpreting issues.

Hawkins, Discovering ExodusThe book begins with a chapter on the structure and story of Exodus before turning to Exodus as literature. In chapter 2, Hawkins describes the rise of source criticism and the paradigm shift to literary criticism. This includes an overview of the origin and development of the documentary hypothesis, a theory which he considers flawed, even though he admits in North America the documentary hypothesis remains conventional wisdom. Following Brevard Childs’s work in the late 1970s, as well as the Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Narrative (and similar works), he considers Exodus to be a sophisticated literary work whether or not historical Moses wrote the book. However, in this book, Hawkins is interested in the final form of the text and how Exodus contributes to the whole canon of scripture.

Chapter 3 discusses the realia of Exodus. Since the 1960s, critical scholars seriously doubt the traditional view of Israel historiography. The absence of evidence for the exodus and the wilderness period has led many scholars to dismiss the Book of Exodus as a fabricated origin story, written long after the events it claims to record. However, Hawkins points out in methodological issue: doubts about the historicity of the exodus events are based on the use of data not collected or not found (an argument from silence, p. 23). Other events in Egyptian history are known only from literary sources and cannot be verified by archaeology. Few scholars would dismiss Thutmose III’s third military campaign in Canaan because of a lack of evidence for a battle near Megiddo. He argues a “hermeneutics of suspicion” creates preconditions that dismiss the biblical story because of lack of evidence (24). Hawkins argues the archaeology of the two storehouse cities Pithom and Rameses mentioned in Exodus 1:11 ought to be considered positive evidence for at least early Israelite presence in Egypt.

A historical exodus raises several issues, the first is the always difficult problem of the date of the exodus. Hawkins lists ten points favoring the later date in the mid-thirteenth century BC during the 19th dynasty. This is “essentially the consensus date for those who hold that a historical exodus occurred (27). Second, he agrees with the common explanation that the Hebrew does not mean 1000, but rather “unit” or “squad.” This unit was a few as six men and as many as twenty, so rather than 600,000+ men, the book of Numbers refers to “600 squads” representing a total fighting force of 5000 men. A third historical issue is the location of Mount Sinai. He comments on each of the three regions often suggested for the location of Sinai, but settles on the traditional site at Gebel Musa since it fits best with the eleven-day journey from Sinai to Kadesh Barnea.

Chapters 3-8 survey the contents of the book with occasional comment on key interpretive issues. This section is not a detailed commentary, but a survey of the contents of the book which intentionally highlight certain key historical and theological problems of interest to most readers of the book. These issues include the name of God, the uniqueness of Moses, the hardening of the pharaoh’s heart, miracles, the ancient Near Eastern background for the law, the Tabernacle, including the historicity of the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant.

Chapters 9-13 place Exodus into an overall biblical theology and deal with matters of reception history. In Chapter 9, Hawkins discusses the “gospel of Israel in Exodus.” In Exodus, sin and rebellion lead to restoration and renewal. The golden calf incident is the key for this theological theme. The people deeply offend God by creating an idol to worship while Moses is receiving the Law. The people are punished, but there is also restoration and renewal when Moses intercedes. This sets up the pattern for the wilderness period. The section also has a fascinating look at the Lord’s revelation of his glory to Moses (Exodus 34:6-7) and how that description of God echoes through the rest of the Old Testament and in both Jewish and Christian liturgy.

Chapters 11 and 12 trace themes from Exodus through the rest of the Old Testament and into the New Testament. Hawkins observes the exodus events represent the foundational act of salvation in the Old Testament and every part of the Hebrew canon rehearsed and reflected on Exodus (202). The Psalms often refer to the exodus events. For example, the Psalmist worships the Lord because he “turned the sea into dry land” (66:6). In Psalm 77, the Lord makes a way through the sea and led his people “like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (77:16-20). Although Hawkins mentions the exodus is important for the prophets, it is surprising he does not focus more on Isaiah 40-55 as a new exodus passage. Certainly, the idea of a new exodus becomes important in the New Testament. He points out exodus themes in the four canonical gospels, as well as the book of Acts. Paul made frequent allusions to the exodus events in the letters to the church at Corinth and much of what he has to say about the Law draws on the legal traditions found in the book. This chapter could have devoted more space to the importance of the exodus events for understanding the Book of Revelation, but it is difficult to be detailed in a survey chapter.

Chapter 13 deals with echoes of Exodus in culture. Here, Hawkins covers examples in art, literature, architecture, and film. More important is his discussion of Exodus in politics (241-55), although his focus is entirely on American history. Beginning with the pilgrims, colonialists thought of themselves as a new Israel traveling to a new promised land and building a new society guided by the Ten Commandments. For many colonialists, American liberty was understood through the lens of Israel’s liberation from slavery. This is ironic since those who later opposed slavery used Exodus to argue in favor of the freeing of slaves. He cites several examples from the United Methodist Hymnal, such as “O Mary Don’t You Weep” and “Go Down Moses,” a song Harriet Tubman sang as a signal to slaves to help them escape. He follows Exodus language in the speeches of both Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. This is an excellent survey of Exodus in American history, but Hawkins has nothing on how other cultures use Exodus, such as Liberation Theology in Latin America or how Exodus is read in an African context (see, for example, the forthcoming Kenneth N. Ngwa, Let My People Live: An African Reading of Exodus, WJKP, 2022).

Conclusion. The subtitle for the Discovering Biblical Texts series is “content, interpretation, reception.” Hawkins achieves his goal of surveying the content of the book of Exodus and interacting with key interpretive issues in this important book of the Old Testament and connecting the book with larger issues of biblical theology. The book is well-suited for academics as well as laypeople interesting this important biblical book.

 

Reviews of other commentaries in this series:

 

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

David Beldman, Judges (Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary)

Beldman, David J. H. Judges. Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2020. 316 pp. Pb; $30. Link to Eerdmans

David Beldman’s commentary on Judges in the Two Horizons series is an example of Theological Interpretation of Scripture. This is an attempt to do quality exegesis while reflecting on the biblical and systematic theological ramifications of the text in contemporary culture. Beldman previously contributed briefly on the book of Judges, Deserting the King (Lexham, 2017).

Beldman, JudgesHistorical questions (authorship, origin, audience, and date) typically dominate most Judges commentaries. Others employ a wide range of contemporary approaches, such as reception history and literary criticism. A reader needs to be interested in all these approaches. For Beldman, theological interpretation does not short circuit intellectual rigor, but it will redirect approaches to the task at hand: hearing God’s word in the book of Judges.

In fifty-six pages, the introduction to the commentary, Beldman describes the literary context of the book of Judges. Judges is part of the broad context of unfolding covenantal history. It is a literary composition in its own right even if it draws upon sources. Regarding the literary structure of the book, it focuses on narrative cycles associated with the careers of various judges.

Second, he discusses Judges as a Hebrew narrative. Nothing in the Bible was written solely for the purpose of history. Everything is theological. Beldman argues Judges was written from the perspective of an omniscient narrator who is reliable and trustworthy (it is not satire). But the narrator is reserved in making evaluative statements about the characters in the story. The stories unfold in a way that allows the characters to speak for themselves. For example, a common question for interpreters of Judges, “was Gideon a good guy or a bad guy?” The book does not answer this question directly. Whether Gideon is a good or bad character is for the reader to decide. Following Robert Alter and Meir Sternberg, Beldman argues the reader ought to follow the narrator’s clues to determine the author’s evaluation (16).

Third, Beldman briefly sketches the historical context. Judges presents a picture of Israel settlement. Between the conquest and the monarchy. It is a time when Israel takes on the characteristics and practices of the Canaanites. He sketches the social structure and economy of Israel and Canaan (the household-clan-tribe-nation) developing through the book (21).

Beldman has little to say about the date for the book because there is competing evidence. For example, Judges 18:30 mentions a grandson of Moses who ministered at the shrine at Dan “until the captivity of Israel,” implying a date after destruction of Samaria in 722 BC. But in Judges 1:21, the Jebusites dwell in Jerusalem “to this day,” implying a date prior to David’s capture of the city of Jerusalem. He remains unconvinced that the book is anti-Saul, and pro-David (implying a date during David’s reign). As a compromise, Beldman tries to “hear judges” from the perspective of the rise of the monarchy in Israel, the fall of the northern and southern kingdoms, the exilic experience, and even the post- exilic return to the land. How would a reader hear judges differently in each of these periods?

Fourth, Beldman surveys various perspectives in the history of interpretation, from early Jewish and Christian medieval interpreters to the Renaissance and reformation interpreters and (classic) art, music, and theater. He deals briefly with modern criticism, and both the literary and postmodern approaches to the book.

The body of the commentary is based on large sections of the book and focuses primarily on literary observations rather than detailed Hebrew grammatical and syntactical issues. When Hebrew appears, it is always transliterated. He interacts with major English commentaries web, block, Butler, etc. This makes for a very readable commentary.

Near the end of the exegetical portion of the commentary, Beldman provides a retrospective evaluation, observing that endings are the preeminent location of truth in a narrative. What does the end of the story tell you about the entire story? By the end of the book, the reader believes Israel has degenerated, or “Caananized” (222). The worst moral behavior in the book is found at the end and the book concludes with the words “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (21:25). But this conclusion circles back to the introduction. In the first section, Yahweh commanded Israel to drive out the Canaanites. But at the end of the book, Israel wages war on the tribe of Benjamin. The book ends with Israel wiping out one of their own tribes (224). The reader is therefore shocked: how did this depraved behavior emerge in Israel so early in the settlement period? There are two themes found throughout the book: a lack of kingship, and a lack of a central shrine. As readers, the author tricked us into thinking there was a steady decline of Israel into the chaos described at the end of the book. But there was no steady decline: the moral and ethical failures which result from a lack of central leadership were there from the very beginning (229).

In the Two Horizon commentary series, a large section of the book is devoted to theological reflection. Beldman therefore begins by placing Judges into the context of the overall “grand narrative of scripture.” Looking back to the Abrahamic covenant, two elements of God’s promise to Abraham were impossible to fulfill in Genesis 12: that Abraham’s descendants would become a great nation and they would live in a particular land. The fulfilment of those promises is the theme of the Pentateuch. Judges describes Israel as persistently unfaithful, a condition that will result in oppression by the foreign nations and exile from the land. But Beldman points out the promise to Abraham remained foundational for future restoration (Jer 29:5-7).

In the second section of the theological reflection, he connects the book of judges to systematic theology. Beldman covers Judges’ contribution to several topics (God, the Holy Spirit, sin, and providence). But far more interesting is his section on Judges’ contribution to a political theology. Like Daniel Block, Beldman rejects Judges as a pro-David and anti-Saul propaganda. For Daniel Block, Judges is a “prophetic book and not a political tractate” (271, citing Block’s Judges commentary, 57-58). However, Beldman interacts a length with Yoram Hazony’s article “Does the Bible have a Political Teaching” (Hebrew Poetical Studies, 2006). For Hazony, the historical core of the Hebrew Bible has a political ideal: a limited government situated on a scale between an oppressive imperial ideology (Egypt) and political chaos (Judges). Beldman thinks this suggestion is creative and insightful, but by expanding the “historical core” to include the exilic experience of diaspora communities (Daniel, Nehemiah, Esther), Beldman argues for a politics of “participation and subversion” (272). Stories like Daniel show that diaspora Jewish communities could participate in many aspects of imperial politics, although there were some issues that required active resistance. Beldman considers this a give unto Caesar type politics found in later second temple Judaism and early Christianity. I would suggest Portier-Young’s Apocalypse against Empire (Eerdmans, 2014) for readers interested in more details of the post-exilic period.

The last section of theological reflection covers two difficult issues in the book of Judges. First, Beldman discusses violence in Judges. As is well known, Judges describes the utter annihilation of the Canaanites (often referred to as the Canaanite genocide). That God himself commands the total destruction of the people of Jericho, every man woman child and animal, is disturbing for many modern readers. Beldman begins with the observation that all violence is alien to God’s creation. The cycle of violence begins when Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the garden. Second, he observes that the conquest of Canaan was a onetime, limited judgment on the Canaanite nations in the history of God’s redemption plan (281). Once Israel settled in the land, they were to cease military expansion and begin their priestly role, drawing the nations to the Lord. He admits that this may not be a satisfactory answer for everyone, but he is clear that the violence of the book of Judges is not a model for the church to follow today. He does not discuss any political ramifications for modern Israeli politics.

Second, he deals with the problem of the treatment of women in the book. The treatment of women in judges is unique. On the one hand, the story of Deborah and Jael seems to elevate women (and humble Barak and Sisera). But the horrific crimes against the Levite’s concubine and Jephthah’s daughter are shocking. Beldman observes this as “in line with the rhetorical purpose of the book, most women in Judges are exploited and victimized” (287). But it is also important to understand violence against women is not normalized or excused: it is part of Israel’s degeneration.

Conclusion. Beldman concludes “Judges is a book for our times because it exposes idols in our midst that compromise our way of being in the world” (297). More than a historical and grammatical commentary on the text of Judges, this Two Horizons commentary provides a challenge to readers of this difficult book in the Hebrew Bible.

 

Reviews of other commentaries in this series:

 

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