More Free Books: The International Critical Commentary (ICC)

The International Critical Commentary (ICC) is one of the most important commentary series of the twentieth century. I was quite pleased to find volumes which have gone out of copyright are available through Google Books for free. When I was in college I used to be able to buy volumes of the ICC for about $10, so most of these I own. Several are very nice, well preserved books which I treasure. I will always opt for the “real book” whenever possible, but thanks to Google these excellent commentaries are free to download. The ICC is one of the truly great commentary series, preserving some of the best scholarship over the last 125 years. Even thought many of the volumes have been replaced by more recent scholars, the original commentaries are worth having.

Many of the early volumes are still available used, although they are not particularly cheap. W. R. Harper on Amos and Hosea is listed on Amazon in Hardback for $49.50, the “inexpensive” paperback reprint is available new for $43. This reprint is printed on-demand from the same scan which appears on Google books at no cost. Some of the less popular volumes can be found used for less that $20, but many are becoming quite rare.

There are several volumes which are essential commentaries to own. Alfred Plummer on Luke is classic commentary everyone should have on their shelf (virtual or otherwise). Volume one of R. H. Charles’ classic two-volume commentary on Revelation is available, although I cannot find volume two. Sanday and Hendlam on Romans is another excellent commentary, although the author is listed as S. R. Driver, the editor of the series Ernest Burton on Galatians is still consulted by anyone working in Galatians.

A few of the volumes are interesting, although after 100 years, they are not particularly cutting edge. Most commentary series have some volumes which are not as good as others, the ICC is no exception. Toy on Ecclesiastes and Paton on Esther are worth reading, but they represent scholarly opinion which has in many ways been abandoned. Likewise, while Driver’s commentaries on Genesis and Deuteronomy are pillars of the Documentary Hypothesis, they may very well boggle the mind today. Yet, in my opinion, every volume in the series is worth owning (especially since they are free through Google Books).

There are some drawbacks to Google Books, however. Even though there are four pages of books listed under International Critical Commentary, many are repeats with incorrect names. For example, J. Skinner is listed as the author of the International Critical Commentary, but when you examine the book, it is actually Plummer’s Luke commentary. Skinner did write the Genesis commentary in the ICC, and for some reason he is listed as the author on about a dozen volumes. Because of the nature of the scans, these volumes cannot be searched, nor can you cut and paste text from the books. The books are page scans, so you are viewing a graphic of the page, not text. If you need search capabilities, Logos sells the entire collection in their searchable, indexed format. This collection includes more recent volumes which are still under copyright.

Copies of the ICC can also be found at the Internet Archive in a variety of formats, but not all are very useful. For example, I downloaded T. K. Abbott’s Commentary on Ephesians and Colossians in the Kindle / mobi format, and frankly the conversion was terrible. Greek characters are not recognized and unreadable, many English characters are mis-read. I tried the epub version, using Stanza on my iPad and found the text to be the same unreadable mess. I was able to download the PDF file and read the scans, and the Internet Archive’s online reader displays the pages correctly.

One of the best ways to mange your e-book collection is Calibre, an open source reader for Windows and Mac. Not only will Calibre read many different formats, the software creates a database to help you sort through the mass of PDF and epub books you download from Google Books or I have used the Windows version of this program for years and have just started using the Mac version. Sadly, there is no iOS version. I would love to have Calibre on my iPad to read books stored in Dropbox or other cloud servers.

I would recommend downloading all volumes of the ICC from Google Books, there is a wealth of scholarship waiting for you to use.