Building an Old Testament Library: Psalms—Daniel

Paul M. Cook

For Psalms, first mention should be made of the substantial three-volume commentary by J. Goldingay in the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms (BCOTWP; Baker, 2006/2007/2008), part of an excellent new commentary series. In this case, Goldingay offers his own translation of each psalm, followed by sections devoted to “Interpretation” and “Theological Implications.” The interpretation involves detailed exploration of textual and theological issues that is nonetheless accessible to pastors and students, while the broad discussion of theological implications leaves ample room for application to specific contexts. Geoffrey Grogan’s makes a useful contribution to the Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary series (Eerdmans, 2008). As the series editors explain, these commentaries are oriented toward students, pastors, and Christian leaders, and place special emphasis on theological exegesis and reflection. Thus, much of the volume is concerned with central theological themes of the Psalter, such as sin, suffering, prayer, and worship, while less than half is devoted to exegesis of the individual psalms. An appendix demonstrates how one might prepare a sermon on a psalm (using Psalm 8) and the introduction helpfully orient readers to a variety of approaches to the Psalms, including form-, redaction-, canon-, rhetorical-, and reader-oriented criticism. For a different sort of commentary, pastors and worship leaders may wish to consult Psalms for Preaching and Worship, edited by R.E. Van Harn and B.A. Strawn (Eerdmans, 2009). This work contains short exegetical essays by various authors based on the lectionary readings from the Psalter, which include most, but not all, of the Psalms (also Isaiah 12; Lamentations 3; Luke 1).

One of the best evangelical, one-volume commentaries on the book of Proverbs is the recent contribution by T. Longman III (BCOTWP; Baker, 2006). In addition to textual and literary matters, the introduction also discusses key theological themes, as well as the book of Proverbs within the context of wisdom literature in the ancient Near East. The extensive two-volume commentary by M.V. Fox in (AB; Yale University Press, 2000, 2009) provides the detailed textual interpretation that readers have come to expect from the Anchor Bible series. Bruce K. Waltke’s two-volume commentary (Eerdmans, 2004, 2005) offers what is probably the most thorough treatment of the book of Proverbs from an evangelical perspective in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament (NICOT).

Despite a tendency among some readers to perceive the book of Ecclesiastes as a work of skepticism, T. Longman III argues for an optimistic view of God and human involvement in the world (NICOT; Eerdmans, 1998). For a detailed exegetical study with robust bibliography, one will want to consult the work of T. Krüger on Qoheleth (Fortress, 2004) in the Hermeneia series. In a very different vein, E. Tamez’s short commentary (When the Horizons Close: Rereading Ecclesiastes; Orbis, 2000) offers a Latin American perspective that searches for hope in a world of injustice and despair.

Amid various approaches to the Song of Songs over the centuries, R.S. Hess (BCOTWP; Baker, 2005) views the Song as a poetic unity akin to other love poetry in ancient Near Eastern literature. As Hess points out, a central challenge in the interpretation of this book is “to remain sensitive to the language of imagery and attempt to follow its contours without imposing too much demand on specifics of interpretation” (34). This might be used alongside the work of T. Longman III (NICOT; Eerdmans, 2001), with introductory comments that orient the reader to Hebrew poetic texts and the history of the interpretation of this unique book. Readers may also want to take note of I. Provan’s commentary on the books of Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs (NIV Application Commentary; Zondervan, 2001), which is a valuable addition to a popular commentary series.

For many years, scholars of the book of Isaiah have generally been concerned with matters relating to the unity and authorship of the book. Joseph Blenkinsopp’s three-volume commentary (AB; Doubleday, 2000/2002/2003) is divided according to the usual tri-partite arrangement (Isaiah 1-39, 40-55, 56-66), and offers detailed discussion of the text and its historical context. This can be complemented by the one-volume work by B.S. Childs (OTL; Westminster John Knox, 2001), which reflects greater concern for the literary unity of the book and the development of theological themes throughout. Another useful commentary on the entire book is that by J. Goldingay (NIBC; Hendrickson, 2001), which is both critical and evangelical in its (mainly!) literary approach to the book.

As with the book of Isaiah, critical scholars of the book of Jeremiah have often been occupied with its authorship and literary complexity. Jack R. Lundbom’s three-volume commentary (AB; Yale University Press, 1999, 2004) avoids much of the discussion of the redaction of Jeremiah by employing a rhetorical approach to the book, which emphasizes the presentation of the message (in its final form) and its impact on the audience. The work of T. Longman III in the New International Biblical Commentary (NIBC; Hendrickson, 2008) focuses primarily on historical background, but scarcely more than a few comments for each section are given in this short commentary on one of the longest books of the Bible (this volume also includes a commentary on Lamentations). For theological exploration, one should certainly consult W. Brueggemann’s The Theology of the Book of Jeremiah (Cambridge University Press, 2007), which seeks to find theological coherence amid the complexity of a book that is sometimes declared “unreadable.”

The book of Lamentations expresses in poetic verse Israel’s attempts to come to grips with the horror and grief of the loss of the temple, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the deportation of many Judeans to Babylon. Delbert Hillers’ commentary (2nd ed.; AB; Doubleday, 1992) has served for many years as a reliable guide to the details of the text, and a revised version is most welcome. In his view, the unnamed sufferer penitently waits for God’s mercy, even if no hint of rescue can be seen on the horizon. By way of comparison, I. Provan in the New Century Bible Commentary (NCBC; Eerdmans, 1991) is reluctant to cast the book ultimately as a message of hope, maintaining that the deep expressions of despair reflect the universal nature of human suffering. Tremper Longman III (included with the commentary on Jeremiah; see above) is primarily interested in explaining many of the literary expressions, although he is concerned to view the circumstances of the people in light of their breech of the Deuteronomic covenant.

Many modern readers find specific details of the book of Ezekiel especially difficult to read and interpret. The commentary by J. Blenkinsopp (Interpretation; John Knox, 1990) is oriented toward understanding the book and communicating it to others. Another helpful guide is the comprehensive exegetical work by D.I. Block (NICOT; Eerdmans, 1997, 1998). For a slim volume with an explicit theological focus, the commentary by B. Vawter and L.J. Hoppe in the International Theological Commentary (Eerdmans, 1991) is surprisingly attentive to redactional additions to the prophet’s work. Nonetheless, it includes significant development of theological themes and draws out numerous connections between this prophet of the exile and the NT.

Similarly, the book of Daniel is notoriously difficult for modern readers to comprehend, but the commentary by J.J. Collins (Hermeneia; Fortress, 1993) has risen to the top for its detailed exposition. John Goldingay’s commentary (WBC; Word, 1989) is also very helpful, and is more attentive to theological themes that unify the book of Daniel. Finally, the commentary by C.L. Seow (Westminster Bible Companion; Westminster John Knox, 2003) offers discussion of both historical and theological aspects of the book.

Posted Mar 01, 2011