Building an Old Testament Library: 1 Samuel—Job

David B. Schreiner

Despite the advances of scholarship on 1-2 Samuel over the last 3 decades, the two-volume work of P.K. McCarter Jr. in the Anchor Bible is arguably still the standard historical critical commentary (AB; Doubleday, 1980/84). McCarter’s textual critical work, bibliography, and general grasp of Samuel are exemplary. Contributing to the Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary series, the work of T.W. Cartledge introduces the books in a single volume with a limited but adequate discussion of pertinent critical issues (Smyth and Helwys, 2001). Approaching Samuel as both story and history, Cartledge provides both scholarly commentary on the final form of the text and contemporary application. Robert Alter discusses the narrative of Samuel as literature, providing insightful and thought-provoking literary analyses (The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel [Norton, 1999]). Although certainly debatable, Alter believes that the author was committed to represent in an authentic manner only the general events and characters, thereby using his imagination to artistically communicate his message within the general framework. David T. Tsumura offers a unique interpretation of 1 Samuel through the lens of discourse analysis in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament Series (NICOT; Eerdmans, 2007). With an in-depth grammatical and syntactical examination, Tsumura draws attention to the oft-ignored psycholinguistic effects of language and their impact on interpretation.

Addressing the compositional history that lurks behind the final form of 1-2 Kings, M.A. Sweeney offers a commentary in the Old Testament Library that is sensitive to both redaction critical issues and the theological purpose of the final form—that is, to inquire of the realities of the exile (OTL; Westminster John Knox, 2007). While Sweeney’s idea of historiography is debatable, his attention to the text, particularly its syntactical transitions, and his incorporation of contemporary research constitute this work as an important resource. In a 2008 reprint in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary, D.J. Wiseman brings years of experience in Assyriology to bear upon biblical studies by offering a concise but thorough commentary (TOTC; InterVarsity, 2008). Wiseman firmly situates Kings in its ancient near eastern context by asserting numerous parallels between the literary conventions exhibited by Kings and other historical works. Yet Wiseman distinguishes Kings as a “sacred history,” a religious commentary on a select portion of history that communicates God’s (sometimes unobservable) omnipotence over world events. Peter Leithart’s contribution to the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (BTCB; Brazos, 2006) focuses attention upon the canonical form and reads Kings, not primarily as an historical, but as a prophetic text, emphasizing that the text orients the community to God most pointedly through the prophetic episodes and the theology expounded therein. Leithart also advocates a distinctly Christian perspective as he further nuances the nature of Kings as gospel—that is, the death of David’s kingdom is not the final word as the Davidic, or messianic, promise remains.

Interest in 1-2 Chronicles is increasing due to current fascination with the Persian Era with respect to its influence on the composition and development of the OT. Thus, the present scholarly landscape is somewhat fluid. Nonetheless, the work of S. Japhet still offers valuable insight (OTL [1993]). Demonstrating a great appreciation for the scholarly community, offering substantial commentary on the text, and presenting insights and theories that still influence contemporary scholarship, Japhet’s commentary is essential for those interested in the study of Chronicles. Gary Knoppers offers a two-volume commentary on 1 Chronicles (AB [2004]). Demonstrating the same organization and emphases of what we have come to expect from this series, Knoppers acknowledges the influence of recent scholars, such as H.G.M. Williamson and Japhet, and advances their work in order to provide the most up-to-date and comprehensive, historical-critical commentary. Mark Boda offers a clear, concise, accessible, and expressly evangelical commentary for the new Cornerstone Biblical Commentary series (CBC; Tyndale, 2010). Correctly expressing that an awareness of the Chronicler’s historical position is crucial to understanding his presentation of history, he asserts that the Chronicler wrote to address the successes and failures of the post-exilic period. “Israel’s failure to regain its former status is to be linked to the enduring need for renewal among the community” (16).

For Ezra and Nehemiah, Hugh G.M. Williamson’s award-winning work in the Word Biblical Commentary is an indispensible resource (WBC; Thomas Nelson, 1985). Despite its age, this work exhibits a commitment to discussing textual, literary, and theological issues, as well as tackling the mind-numbing historical problems surrounding these books. Similarly, J. Blenkinsopp’s work is another important voice in the historical critical tradition (OTL [1988]), particularly in light of his recent Judaism, the First Phase: The Place of Ezra and Nehemiah in the Origins of Judaism (Eerdmans, 2009). Providing an overtly theological commentary, M. Levering interprets Ezra and Nehemiah through his template, “holy people and holy land,” emphasizing the principle that the holiness of God’s people requires justice with respect to God and fellow humanity (BTCB [2007]). Moreover, Levering considers the canonical witness and the theological implications of studying history as more than a chronological linear progression. As such, Levering interprets Ezra and Nehemiah as faithful continuers of the covenant tradition, without whom Jesus’ ministry would not have been possible.

Bringing her expertise in narratological poetics to bear on Esther, A. Berlin’s contribution to the JPS Bible Commentary (Jewish Publication Society of America, 2001) emphasizes the literary quality of Esther, calling it a type of “imaginative storytelling” that drew upon Jewish experiences and paralleled other tales that circulated amongst the Diaspora Jews. More specifically, Berlin classifies Esther as a comedy, appealing to the exaggerated representation of many of the characters. Berlin’s poetic observations are sensitive to the text and always insightful, making her commentary a worthy investment. Similar to Berlin, the second edition of M.V. Fox’s Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther emphasizes the literary quality of Esther (Eerdmans, 2001). Fox employs the method of characterization that seeks to interpret the meaning and order of the text through what is said about the major characters. Fox concludes that Esther in part communicates to the Jewish Diaspora that its way of life exists on a knife’s edge and that choice and destiny coexist in a dialectical relationship. Yet potentially confusing is Fox’s proposition that Esther’s genre is something between fiction and history. Moreover, Fox challenges the stance of J.D. Levenson (OTL [1997]) when he says that the important issues raised in the narrative transcend a call to observe the festival of Purim. Although Levenson admits the complexity of the narrative—it should not be isolated to one message or theme—he does assert that the observable complexities are secondary to the text’s call to celebrate Purim.

David Clines’ multi-volume work on Job arguably still tops the list of important modern commentaries (WBC [1989/2006/2010). Merely to say that Clines’ work is thorough would be an understatement. His attention to detail, extensive commentary, and ability to communicate numerous interpretive issues establish this work as a most worthy investment. Perhaps such exhaustiveness is best exemplified in his lengthy orientation to previous scholarship in the first volume (lxiii-cxv) which by itself may be worth the price of the commentary. More manageable in scope is the collection of essays in The Voice from the Whirlwind: Interpreting the Book of Job (ed. L. Purdue and W.C. Gilpin [Abingdon, 1992]). Offering essays from prominent scholars such as M. Fishbane and L. Perdue, this work offers essays on selected topics from multiple interpretive perspectives, for multiple perspectives result in more attentive readers. Broader than simply the book of Job, but equally informative, is Studies in Ancient Israelite Wisdom (ed. H. Olinsky [Ktav, 1976]), compiled by J.L. Crenshaw, which contains reprints of seminal articles such as M. Tsevat’s “The Meaning of the Book of Job.”

Posted Mar 01, 2011