John Goldingay, The Book of Lamentations (NICOT)

Goldingay, John. The Book of Lamentations. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2022. 228 pp. Hb; $40.00   Link to Eerdmans

John Goldingay’s 2021 Jeremiah commentary in the NICOT series replaced J. A. Thompson’s 1995 commentary (now an Eerdmans Classic Commentary). Besides his major commentary, Goldingay also recently published a short The Theology of Jeremiah (IVP Academic, 2021, reviewed here). There never was a NICOT volume on Lamentations. This new volume by Goldingay fills this gap.

The thirty-three-page introduction to the book introduces the five poems which make up Lamentations. Goldingay begins by comparing Lamentations with other ancient Near Eastern city laments, although some are a millennium older than Lamentations and from an entirely different culture. It is impossible to know if the author of Lamentations knew this literary genre, but some scholars suggest the canonical book is a parody of these ancient city laments.

Goldingay, LamenationsThe five poems manifest a tight unity which is unparalleled in the rest of Scripture. Even though the book describes a radical disorientation in grief, the acrostic poems make it one of the most orderly books in the Hebrew Bible (5). The Hebrew varies between qatal and yiqatol forms, but Goldingay consistently translates using the English aorist. For the poet, the destruction of Jerusalem is in the past.

Goldingay suggests Lamentations 1:1-4 is a “Textbook embodiment of many of the features of first testament poetry” (7). He assumes worshipers originally chanted this poetic material. The lines have a rhythm (he compares the Hebrew poetry of Lamentations to modern rap music). This poetry has a regular rhythm, which means exceptionally short or long lines draw attention to themselves. Following Allsop-Dobbs, the poetry of Lamentations has a “limping beat” (9). Other features of the book’s poetry include repetition combined with variation, terseness, imagery, and various points of view.  All Hebrew poetry omits the small words that aid communication, so his translation often assumes prepositions or an article. Terseness also implies the use of ellipsis, which can produce a certain “jerkiness in the translation.”

With respect to authorship and date, Goldingay is clear. The book is anonymous even if the Septuagint ascribed the book to Jeremiah. He suggests this results from “later guesswork or creative reflection” based on 2 Chronicles 35:25 (13). But there are many “Jeremiah-like similarities.” Like Jeremiah, the poets of Lamentations are acquainted with the devastation of the city of Jerusalem. Even though Lamentations follows Jeremiah 52 in the English Bibles, the books are quite separate in the Hebrew Bible. Lamentations does not have any direct historical data to suggest a date other than after the fall of Jerusalem. Goldingay suggests it is “plausible to follow the direction that the poems point in inviting us to think of the situation after 587 rather than starting from an alternative subtlety. The poets lived between the years 587 and the 540s B.C., “the same period that the Jeremiah scroll came into existence” (15). He suggests the poems Judahite communities used the poems in worship based on references to mourning, and fasting at places like Bethel or Mizpah (Zechariah 8:18-19).

Regarding the occasion, place of origin, and destination, he simply observes that the book was not written from Jerusalem. Even though the city was completely destroyed, a Judahite community remained in the land. But there is no direct information in the book regarding why the poems were written. Goldingay suggests the books guide worshippers on how to think about the 587 catastrophe and to encourage to express their feelings about the disaster. The goals of the writer are therefore “theological, educational, pastoral, cathartic, and religious” (17). Sometimes the poems address Yahweh, other times the poets address one another, although not in a dialogue. Following Leslie Allen’s suggestion, Lamentations is a “liturgy of grief.” The poems facilitate people expressing to the Lord their continuing grief over the state of their city and the community after the catastrophe of 587 (17).

There can be no systemizing the theology of Lamentations, “the book is a whirlwind” (27). The writers are casting around for some meaning in the darkness. The poems are often an expression of suffering rather than the meaning behind it. He suggests two central theological themes in the book: Yahweh as the God of Israel, and Israel as the people of Yahweh. Yahweh is actively sovereign (Lam 3:32-38) but his anger toward his people is blazing (2:1-2). Many commentators on Lamentations assume the theology of Deuteronomy, 2 Kings, and Jeremiah: wrongdoing results in trouble. This is true, but Goldingay sees more in the book than poetry based on Deuteronomic theology. The theology of Lamentations can be compared to the Psalms. God’s people need to trust in Yahweh, and his faithfulness to his promises. But like the Psalms, Lamentations encourages protest in the light of trouble. Also, with the Psalms and the prophets, Yahweh continues to be committed to David and to Zion. Goldingay suggests that the “genius of Lamentations” is to hold all this together at the same time. It is not a “theology in shreds,” as some describe the book.

Lamentations is often considered a theodicy. The book is an attempt to explain the disaster of 587. For many Christian commentators, the explanation is that God was acting justly by punishing Judah for their sins. But as Goldingay observes, Lamentations “spreads the blame around.” Judah is to blame, but God himself is responsible for the disaster. Following Zachary Braiterman, Goldingay briefly discusses the term antitheodicy to describe Lamentation’s theology. Antitheodicy is a response to evil or disaster that is a protest rather than an explanation. But Goldingay thinks neither term is quite right. In Lamentations, it works both ways. There is traditional theodicy, but also bitter protest and expressions of genuine grief. In fact, he concludes “if there is a way of living with the unresolvable, it lies outside Lamentations.”

He begins his commentary on each poem by summarizing its content and offering something like an outline. Sometimes verses can be grouped together, but this is not always possible. He offers a series of observations on the structure of the poetry in each of the five poems. The commentary treats each verse of the poems as units.

Goldingay’s translation follows the Masoretic text. In the introduction, he draws attention to 4QLam and 5QLam which are not too different from the Masoretic Text.  In his translation, Goldingay uses of the Septuagint, Aramaic Targums, and the Peshitta in the footnotes of the commentary. These notes sometimes explain translation choices and occasionally amended the text. But in his view, amending the Masoretic Text does not always clear up ambiguities. His translation in the commentary is a beautiful rendering of the Hebrew Bible in English (see also Goldingay’s translation of the First Testament).

Following the commentary on each poem, he offers a brief “Readers Response.” What would someone worshiping in Bethel or Mizpah think about the poem? These are short imaginary responses are creative and moving. They are not the sort of thing one usually finds an academic commentary. This is not a basic pastoral application, nor is it an attempt to create canonical connections with the New Testament is is all the rage in some commentary series. Goldingay invites us into the post-exilic world and asks us to think and feel along with the original worshipers who used these poems to cope with the catastrophe in which they were currently living.

There are several other unique features of this commentary. First, Goldingay writes in a very personal, familiar style. He captures the reader’s imagination and makes for a stimulating commentary to read. The commentary is not bogged down with minor exegetical details; he remains focus on the meaning of the poems. Virtually every page challenges the reader to deal with the grief of the poet. Second, Goldingay often uses bullet point lists of literary features or other data to summarize material. Third, there is more direct citation of other commentaries than usually expected in an exegetical commentary. Goldingay appears to have read every significant commentary on Lamentations ever written and plucks the most salient, moving, perhaps even shocking lines. Anyone using this commentary to prepare for teaching Lamentations will appreciate the fruit of Goldingay’s labor. He does not cite many ancient commentaries, but there are a few references to Ibn Ezra and Rashi. Fourth, occasionally he makes important comparisons to other ancient near eastern literature. It is very difficult to understand Lamentations without this parallel literature. But he uses this material judiciously, to illustrate and not distract from the poems themselves.

Conclusion. As one expects when John Goldingay published a commentary, this new commentary on Lamentations is well worth reading. In fact, it is a rare commentary that should be read cover to cover as one might a monograph.


Other Commentaries in the NICOT 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.

Kevin S. Chen, Messianic Vision of the Pentateuch

Chen, Kevin S. Messianic Vision of the Pentateuch. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2019. 338 pp. Pb. $35.00   Link to IVP Academic   

The thesis of Kevin S. Chen’s Messianic Vision of the Pentateuch is that Moses self-consciously wrote about the Messiah and that the Messiah is the primary focus of the Pentateuch. He argues a misguided equation of the Pentateuch with the Sinai/Deuteronomic law prevented Christian readers from seeing the messianic vision that was in the Pentateuch from the beginning.

Chen, Messianic Vision of the PentateuchWhat is distinctive about Chen’s approach is his insistence on authorial intent. Biblical theologies often treat these Messianic texts using typology, which would see messianic references as unintentional. Chen’s goal is to not to discover historical analogies (typology) but to exegete textual references to Messiah that were part of an author’s strategy (14). For example, “a typological approach allows for seeing the ‘seed of the woman’ as a type of Christ while at the same time remaining noncommittal regarding whether Genesis 3:15 is actually a direct Messianic prophecy” (15). Citing Johann Enersti (writing in 1809), some things are “true doctrinally, but not grammatically or exegetically.” Chen seeks messianic prophecies in the Pentateuch which are true grammatically and exegetically because the author intended them as messianic prophecies.

Some readers will disagree with Chen’s views on Mosaic authorship for the Pentateuch (25) as well as his insistence the Pentateuch has a single compositional strategy. Here he is following his mentor John Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative (Zondervan, 1995) and The Meaning of the Pentateuch (IVP Academic 2009). More challenging is his argument for messianic prophecy as the main theological theme of the Pentateuch rather than Law.

Chen introduces his argument with a reflection on John 5:46. In a dialogue with Pharisees Jesus says, “if you believed in Moses, you would believe in me; for he wrote about me.” In the context of healing on the Sabbath, Jesus declares Moses wrote (primarily) about the Messiah, not the Sabbath law. In a similar context in John 9, the Pharisees find it impossible for a person to be a faithful follower of Moses and a follower of Jesus at the same time because they equated faithfulness to Moses and his writings with attention to keeping the Pentateuchal law (2). (It is possible to include John 12 here as well, a passage rich with messianic implications). This raises the question: “is the main point of the Pentateuch the giving of the Sinai law, with the messianic passages playing a secondary role question mark or is it the other way around?” (4). For Chen, a coherent portrait of the Messiah is the center of the theological message of the Pentateuch.

Chen argues the translation “Law of Moses” distracts readers from the meaning of torah. Rather than “law of Moses,” he suggests it is better to read the phrase as “instruction of Moses” despite the deeply entrenched English translation “Law.” In the book, he distinguishes between the “instruction of Moses” (the Torah) and the Sinai Law. Chen sees this distinction in Paul’s letters as well. In Romans 3:21, for example, “Pentateuch’s message of faith and the system of Sinai/Deuteronomic” stand in contrast. For Paul, Chen says, the Pentateuch teaches the new covenant of the Messiah (29).

There are several texts in the Pentateuch Chen considers direct prophecy concerning the Messiah (for example, Genesis 3:15; Numbers 24:9). Using the metaphor of light passing through a series of lenses, Chen these texts form a complex array of interrelated texts designed to project a coherent sweeping vision of the Messiah. Other texts contain authorially intended foreshadowing of the Messiah, such as Genesis 28:10-22 (Jacob’s Ladder).

The book discusses nine passages spanning the whole Penateuch Chen considers intentional prophecies concerning the Messiah:

  1. The Seed of the Woman (Genesis 3:15)
  2. The Seed of Abraham in the Patriarchal Narratives
  3. The Lion of Judah (Genesis 49:8-12)
  4. Passover and the Song of the Sea (Exodus)
  5. Shadows at Sinai (Wilderness period)
  6. The Bronze Snake and Balaam’s Oracles (Numbers 24)
  7. The Prophet Like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-19)
  8. The Blessing of Judah (Deuteronomy 32:43)
  9. The Repeated Breaking of the Sinai/Deuteronomic Law

Rather that survey the whole volume in detail, I offer a few comments on the first three chapters.

In chapter 1, Chen argues the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15) is a direct messianic prophecy which boldly sets forth the key parameters of the messianic vision of the Pentateuch. It predicts the coming of a man who will defeat the serpent at the cost of his own life, securing victory over humanity’s ancient enemy. Using the broader context of the Pentateuch, Chen sees this prophecy as implying kingly and priestly roles for the messiah that Adam failed to achieve. The seed will rule and subdue all of creation as both priest and king. Salvation will come through the seed of the woman rather than through the Sinai/Deuteronomic law.

The seed of the woman prophecy resonates through the rest of the patriarchal narrative (chapter 2). Moses links promised seed directly to Abraham. Grammatical and intertextual considerations strongly suggest Abraham’s seed refers to a specific individual (Gen 15:3-4; 22:17b-18, for example). Chen argues these passages refer to the same seed as Genesis 3:15. Covenant promises are from Abraham to Isaac and then to Jacob, who receives the same blessing from his father that the Messiah will fulfil.

Although the principal lines of his argument are clear, some details seem coincidental. For example, Chen connects the pleasing aroma of Noah’s sacrifice after the flood (Gen 8:20-22) and subsequent Noahic covenant with the Jacob’s “scent” in Genesis 27:27. Both passages use the noun רֵיחַ, the only two places where the word appears in Genesis. Chen thinks this is “highly suggestive.” The scent of Jacob and his clothes is the same scent of an acceptable animal sacrifice (this is the common phrase in Leviticus and Numbers to describe an acceptable). Chen then connects this acceptable sacrifice to the death of the seed of the woman (Gen 3:15) and the near sacrifice of Isaac (Gen 22:1-19). But not all uses of רֵיחַ in the Pentateuch are pleasant. Exodus 5:21 the word refers to Israel’s reputation in Egypt (“you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh”).

In chapter 3, Chen suggests Genesis 49:8-12 is a “goldmine of Messianic prophecy in the Pentateuch” (144). A powerful king will come from the line of Judah in the last days (Gen 49:1) and this lion will reign over Israel and the nations and bring a return of Eden’s abundance. For Chen, this passage in an intentional compositional strategy which recalls earlier messianic prophecies in Genesis 3:15 and 27:27-29. Chen focuses on 49:8, “your brothers shall praise you” as a way of reading the whole Joseph narrative. Certainly, Joseph’s brothers bow to him, and he is greatly praised, but is it possible the author of the Pentateuch used a descent/ascent theme to predict he death and resurrection of the Messiah? Chen says the theme of Genesis 37-50 “is not Joseph becoming Pharaoh’s second-in-command but its eschatological projection: the resurrection of the Messiah” (129). Further, he says “the eschatological rule of Judah over his brothers and the nations in Genesis 49: 8, 10 matches the messianic rule described in Genesis 27:29” (131).  Again, is it possible Moses had the resurrection of the Messiah in mind when he included the Joseph story as a part of the book of Genesis? Did he intend for the “lion of Judah” to refer to a future Messiah or to the fact king David will come from the tribe of Judah?

By way of constructive criticism, I find myself in agreement with the larger ideas, but I question the smaller details. I agree, for example, Genesis 3:15 is a messianic prophecy. But I am not as sure about the details suggesting the death and resurrection of Jesus, and I resist the suggestion Joseph looks forward to the resurrection of the Messiah. I am more open to a developing theology of the Messiah, where later writers in both the Old and New Testaments use these ideas from the Pentateuch and apply them to the Messiah after the idea of a messiah developed in early Judaism. Even though Chen disavows typology in his introduction, the argument of the book still strikes me as a form of typology. I am not sure this is a bad thing and typology is certainly popular among those doing biblical theology in an evangelical context.

Conclusion. Chen’s Messianic Vision of the Pentateuch is a compelling argument for Messiah as a theological theme of the Pentateuch. Although he does not offer any reasons for the texts he chose, the nine texts Chen focuses on are important messianic texts in both Jewish and early Christian exegesis. Although some readers will question his conclusions or accuse him of reading the New Testament into these passages, he is not out of step with the goals of evangelical biblical theology.


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.

Logos “Free Book of the Month” for May 2016 – Why God Won’t Go Away by Alister McGrath

why-god-wont-go-awayFormer atheist Alister McGrath has a doctorate in molecular biophysics has been nothing if not a prolific writer since becoming a Christian. Most of his books would be apologetics and often concern the relationship of science and religion. He is the Andreas Idreos Professor in Science and Religion in the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Oxford and has written or edited dozens of books. Logos is offering his book, Why God Won’t Go Away as a free download in the Logos Library for the month of May. Thomas Nelson published this 200 page book in 2011.

As an added bonus, you can purchase McGrath’s response to Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion for $1.99. The book was written by Alister and Joanna McGrath and answers Dawkins’s claim that faith intellectual nonsense and that science and religion locked in a battle to the death. This short 119 page book was published in 2010 (originally by SPCK in England and IVP Academic in America).

Both books are challenging, but like most apologetic from Christian publishers, they are intended to be read by Christian laypeople. This means McGrath is not as rigorously philosophical and technical as he could be in his presentation of the merits of Theism. Usually people who already believe in God will find these books convincing and those who are equally entrenched in their atheism will remain unconvinced.

As always, Logos has a giveaway related to their free (and almost free) book of the month promotion. This time you can enter to win a ten-volume SPCK collection of McGrath books. So head over to Logos, get the free books for your Logos Library, and maybe win the collection!


Book Review: L. Michael Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?

Morales, L. Michael. Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus. New Studies in Biblical Theology 37. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015. 190 pgs., Pb.; $22.00 Link to IVP

In this contribution to the NSBT series, L. Michael Morales examines the theology of the often overlooked book of Leviticus as the center of the Pentateuch. Morales begins by describing the placement of the Lampstand and the Table of the Presence in the Tabernacle. The Lampstand appears to have been intentionally placed to shine light on the bread arranged on the table in order to visually portray God’s intention that his people should live continually in his presence. The book of Leviticus is about “dwelling with God in the house of God” (20). In the first chapter of the book Morales argues the Pentateuch is “shaped as a journey led by YHWH to himself at Mount Sinai” (37) where Israel is given the house of the Lord, the Tabernacle. Leviticus stands at the center of the Pentateuch in order to instruct God’s people how they may “ascend the mountain of the Lord” and live in the presence of the glory of their God.

Morales, Who may ascend the moountain of God?Humans are unable to live in the presence of God because of the rebellion of Eden. In the second chapter of the book Morales describes this “longing for Eden” as the foreground for reading Leviticus as the center of the Pentateuch. God created Eden as a mountain temple in which humans were placed to worship God and Genesis itself provides a “cultic cosmology” as humans move away from life within the order of Creation to death and chaos (49). Adam becomes an exile from God’s presence and wanders east, prevent from returning to the presence of God by cherubim. Because of their rebellion, humans are exiled from the presence of God in Eden and cannot return to God’s presence.

Israel has an opportunity to “Return to Eden” in the book of Exodus (Chapter 3). The narrative context of Leviticus stands on the foundation of the redeemed people of God passing through the through the waters of chaos as they are led to the mountain of God. The goal of Israel’s redemption from Egypt was worship at the house of God (82) at another mountain of God, Sinai (86). There is a crisis at this point since no one is able to ascend the Mountain of the Lord. Only Moses is permitted to go up Sinai in his role as mediator. For Morales, the mountain represents approaching God in worship (89).

The Tabernacle is introduced after the covenant in Exodus (Exod 25-40). The Tabernacle is the way back to the living in the presence of God, but the book of Exodus ends with a another crisis: no one is able to enter the Tabernacle because it is filled with the Glory of God (Exod 40:35).

This crisis is answered by the book of Leviticus. In chapters 4-6 Morales demonstrates that the overall structure of Leviticus is a way of dealing with the uncleanliness which separates man from God, with the Day of Atonement at the center of not only Leviticus, but the whole Petnateuch. Leviticus 1-8 describe the sacrificial cult as a journey back to the presence of God, yet there is another crisis in Leviticus 9-10. At the very moment Israel experiences the presence of God and the priest begin their sacrificial ministry, Nadab and Abihu make unauthorized sacrifices and fall under God’s judgment (Lev 10). Morales suggests Nadab and Abihu may have drunkenly attempted to go past the veil which separates the glory of God from the people (149). They were unfit to be in God’s presence, so Leviticus 11-15 represents a “cleansing the house of God.”

For many Bible readers, the laws on clean and unclean in Leviticus 11-15 seem random and focused on matters which are not related to real spirituality. But as Morales points out, these chapters describe what it means to be clean, or “fit for the Presence of God” and what it means to be holy, or “belonging to God.” Things that are profane cause uncleanliness and therefore separate humans from God. They can be made clean, and clean things can be sanctified so they are fit for God’s presence. The Tabernacle is therefore a “sacred bubble . . . set within a sea of uncleanliness” (161). The most important demonstration of this concept is the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16. On this day, an Adam-like priest approaches the presence of God with blood of atonement and the way back to the Lord is opened. This is a reversal of Adam’s expulsion to the east as the priest walks past the cherubim guarding the way back to Eden, For Morales, this is a “liturgical drama” (176). But there is also a sacred geography present on the Day of Atonement as well: the scapegoat carries sin into the wilderness, back to the chaos of non-creation (179).

This reentry into the divine presence is the key to understanding Israel’s call to holiness in Leviticus 17-22. Returning to the symbolism of the lampstand and bread of the Presence, Israel is to continually live in the light of God. The purpose of the lengthy “holiness code” is to deal with the crisis of uncleanliness which might prevent Israel from experiencing the presence of God. The goal in this unit is always communion and fellowship with God.

Having described Leviticus as the center of the Pentateuch, Morales traces the movement from Sinai and the tabernacle to Zion and Solomon’s Temple (chapter 7). Zion will be the mountain of God when Israel finally enters the land, but Morales sees the place of Abraham’s sacrifice (Moriah) as pointing ahead to Zion. Unlike Sinai, Zion will be the permanent place of God’s habitation (227), even though Israel’s unfaithfulness results in another “exile to the east.” After the exile Israel will return to Zion as a new Eden, citing Isaiah 51:3 (237). The prophets also look forward to a future when God’s presence will return to a “new Zion” (255).

This prophetic expectation leads Morales to conclude the book with an intra-canonical reading of his “drama of Leviticus,” from the earthly Zion to the heavenly Mount Zion. For the Gospel of John, the incarnation is the means by which God dwells once again with his people (260) and the sacrifice of Jesus at Passover deals with the ultimate uncleanliness separating humans from the glory of God. This is perhaps the weakest point in Morales’s typology, since in Leviticus it was the Day of Atonement which opened access to God, not the Passover. This is of course a problem for any attempt to create a typology between the Law and Jesus. But Morales is able to make the connection because the original the Passover provided redemption for Israel and brought then to Sinai; the new Passover initiates a new exodus in the Resurrection (277). Ultimately the eschaton will be the decent of the messianic kingdom to earth (299). Revelation 20-21 include a great deal of Eden language, including the Tree of Life.

Conclusion. Morales has contributed a very readable book on the theology of Leviticus. He places Leviticus in its immediately canonical context as the center of the Pentateuch. Although he does not develop his thesis for Numbers and Deuteronomy in as much detail as for Genesis and Exodus, it is clear the book of Leviticus is designed around the Day of Atonement as the means by which access to God is opened for Israel.

Since he attempts to read the theme of “ascending the mountain of God” across the canon, I would have expected Isaiah 2 and 25:6-8 to be more important to the argument of the book. Both texts refer to gathering of all the nations to the mountain of God in the eschatological age to worship in the presence of God. This shortcoming is a result of a limited section on the prophets, so it is understandable that he is unable to cover all of the reference to mountains in the prophets.

I have one minor problem with the book, and that is the overuse of the word “drama” as a metaphor for the book of Leviticus and the plotline of the Pentateuch. I understand this is a popular way to describe the movement of a book in biblical studies, but it has become an overused metaphor.

Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book not only for those interested in Leviticus, but also for the theology of the Pentateuch.

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

Logos “Free Book of the Month” for January 2015 – H. E. Ryle, Genesis

Ryle from Vainity Fair, 1912

Ryle from Vainity Fair, 1912

Logos Bible Software returns to the classics for their “Free Book of the Month” promotion. For the month of January you can download the first volume of The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, Genesis, by H. E. Ryle. Ryle was appointed Dean of Westminster in 1910 and began services at Westminster Abbey the following year. During World War I, Ryle personally led special services at the Westminster Abbey.While he is known primarily as an Old Testament scholar, during his time at Cambridge he won every distinction open to students of theology. He is the son of  J. C. Ryle, the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool and author of many commentaries on the New Testament.

The commentary is very brief because the book is a companion to one’s reading of the book of Genesis, although it is nearly 500 pages the book was originally printed in a small, handbook format. I only have one physical copy of a Cambridge Bible in  my personal library, Daniel, by S. R. Driver, which pre-dates Ryle’s Genesis. The book includes a number of pages of advertising for the series as was the fashion of the day. The Church Sunday School Magazine said of the whole series: “We cannot imagine any safer or more helpful commentaries for the student of the Holy Scriptures” (this advert appears on the Logos Website as well).

As I browse Ryle’s commentary now, he comments on key phrases in the text, offering textual and linguistic comments, with occasional comments on the history presented in the text when necessary. Sometimes this is very brief, Gen 45 is covered in only five pages. As most students of Genesis have discovered, the earlier stories are far more complicated and take up much more space in a commentary!

The commentary has five appendices. First, “Babylonian Myths Of Creation” offers some illustrations from Ancient Near Eastern literature. Second, “A Legend Of Lamech” is an illustration of Jewish Haggadah. Third, “The Duplicate Account Of The Flood” is a reprint of Chapman’s Introduction to the Pentateuch (74-81), also in the Cambridge Bible series. The fourth appendix is a brief introduction to “The Tel El-Amarna Tablets” which were discovered in 1887 and only just being used in biblical studies. Ryle includes a very brief note on the Apuriu mentioned in the Inscriptions of Thothmes III (1501–1447 B.C.), Finally, the fifth appendix offers a chronology of Israel in Egypt. These are all of historical interest, although there has been much work done on the history of Genesis since the commentary was written.

This raises an objection. Someone might ask why we should be reading a commentary on Genesis originally written in 1914 and published in 1921. It is certainly true some Ryle’s use of the documentary hypothesis seems antiquated: sections are designated J or E, occasionally P, and R (for the final redaction). It is obvious a commentary written after the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered will have a much more clear understanding of Hebrew and Aramaic. This is all true, but the commentary is an artifact reflecting the time it was written. Ryle (and the other writers in this series) were master exegetes and worked very hard at their scholarship to present the Scripture to the Church in England. Like J .B. Lightfoot’s recent commentary on Acts, Ryle’s commentary is valuable because the man himself was committed to a scholarly life dedicated to the study of the Scripture. This book should probably not be your “first off the shelf” commentary on Genesis, but it has retained value in the 100 years since it was written.

In addition to this free book, Logos is also offering an “almost free” book, An Introduction to the Pentateuch by A. T. Chapman. Like Ryle’s commentary on Genesis, this book is an introduction to the Documentary Hypothesis. He presents a method and argument for the following propositions:

  • The chronological order of the codes being JE, D, P, the steps would be J and E, each containing records of the early history, were combined D, when accepted as a law book, would be added to JE
  • Deuteronomic recension of Joshua and the history in Judges-Kings
  • Efforts during the exile to preserve the ancient traditions embodied in the book of the Law brought by Ezra
  • When accepted incorporated with JED Joshua probably separated

So for 99 cents you can have two excellent books reflecting the state of Pentateuch scholarship about 100 years ago. But Logos is also giving away the whole 58 volume set of  The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. This is about 15,000 pages of commentary on the Old and New Testaments as well as some of the Apocryphal books. Even if you do not win a set, the Cambridge series appears in several Logos base packages.