Building an Old Testament Library: Psalms—Daniel

Diana Abernethy

For anyone interested in theological readings of the Old Testament, one of the most exciting recent publications has been Robert Alter’s The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary (3 vols.; Norton, 2018). Alter is a distinguished Jewish scholar with keen sensitivity in English language literature, and one of the finest Hebraists of his generation. Not only has he been one of the few modern translators to produce an entire translation of the Hebrew Bible, but his translations do a remarkable job of conveying the literary artistry of the text in readable and engaging English. Alter also includes numerous helpful notes. His notes are not as in-depth as a full commentary, but when I’m reading, I find that more often than not, if a phrase intrigues me, I look at the bottom of the page to find perceptive literary and theological insights in his notes. I frequently assign his translations in my undergraduate courses, and the students really enjoy reading his translations.

Alter published his entire Hebrew Bible in 2018, but over the years he has published sections of the Hebrew Bible (which are now more affordably priced). These smaller volumes include The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary (Norton, 2009), The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: A Translation with Commentary (Norton, 2011), and Strong as Death Is Love: The Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Jonah, and Daniel: A Translation with Commentary (2016). Alter’s translations of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel are only published in The Hebrew Bible.

Another outstanding recent resource is Opening Israel’s Scriptures (Oxford University Press, 2019) by Ellen F. Davis. Drawing on her years of teaching seminary students, Davis offers a series of essays on reading the Old Testament as Christian Scripture. As she dives into the particulars of texts, she guides her readers in understanding the theological logic of whole books in the Old Testament. She offers pastors rich resources for thinking about how the Old Testament enlivens Christian discipleship. Davis includes reflections on all the books between Psalms–Daniel in this collection.

Building on Joel LeMon’s excellent recommendations from 2017, which include many classic and foundational commentaries, the following list focuses on recently published resources for pastors interested in Psalms–Daniel.

The following are two profitable theological commentaries on the Psalms with pastors as their target audience. In his two volumes on the Psalms (vol. 1, Psalms 1–72, and vol. 2: Psalms 73–150; Baker Academic, 2015), published in the Teach the Text Commentary Series, C. Hassell Bullock uses an accessible format that includes reflections on the main themes of individual psalms as well as verse-by-verse commentary. In Psalms Old and New: Exegesis, Intertextuality, and Hermeneutics (Fortress, 2017), Ben Witherington III focuses on connections between Psalms in their Old Testament context and their use in the New Testament and later Christian theology.

For recent theological commentaries on the book of Proverbs, pastors can turn to the works of Lindsay Wilson and Ernest C. Lucas. In Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary (IVP Academic, 2018) in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries Series, Wilson provides a beneficial perspective for understanding the book of Proverbs as a whole. Wilson explores how themes in Prov 1–9 illuminate proverbs in the latter part of the book of Proverbs. Wilson also helps pastors navigate historical questions in the introduction. In his Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary, Proverbs (Eerdmans, 2015), Lucas takes a distinctive approach by examining “clusters” of proverbs. He connects his theological exegesis with contemporary issues, including virtue, gender, economics, and creation care.

For a theological commentary on Ecclesiastes, Julie Ann Duncan’s Ecclesiastes (Abingdon, 2017), in the Abingdon Old Testament Commentary Series, is an excellent and accessible resource. Duncan guides pastors through historical questions in scholarship, and this commentary fruitfully probes the deep theological questions about life before God that are at the heart of this often-challenging book in the Old Testament.

Though it has long been cherished in the Christian tradition, preaching and teaching the Song of Songs remains a challenge for many pastors, in large part because, through the centuries, many Christian interpretations of this book have been allegorical. Ilana Pardes’s The Song of Songs: A Biography (Princeton University Press, 2019) unravels this fascinating history. Pardes traces the history of allegorical and literal readings of the Song of Songs in both Jewish and Christian traditions. This resource is a deep dive into the history of interpretation of the Song of Song—such an in-depth study is well worth a pastor’s time. When I teach Song of Songs in undergraduate courses, some students have expressed a sense of betrayal that their pastors had not equipped them to read this book about which so many in the pews wonder.

Isaiah has also been an enormously significant book of the Old Testament throughout Christian history. For an accessible theological commentary, pastors can turn to Jo Bailey Wells’s Isaiah (BRF, 2006) in the People’s Bible Commentary series. Wells provides thoughtful theological reflections on God’s faithfulness to Israel through the exile as well as on the role of Isaiah in Christian theology. Another profitable resource for exploring the interpretations of Isaiah in the New Testament and Christian theology can be found in Isaiah Old and New: Exegesis, Intertextuality, and Hermeneutics (Fortress, 2017), by Ben Witherington III. In Isaiah through the Centuries (Wiley-Blackwell, 2018), John F. A. Sawyer traces the reception history of Isaiah in and beyond the Christian tradition by exploring how it has been interpreted in art, music, and literature. Sawyer’s work provides stimulating reflections for pastors interested in the intersections between Scripture, art, and music throughout Christian history.

For pastors seeking a theological commentary on Jeremiah and Lamentations in an accessible format, J. Daniel Hays’s Jeremiah and Lamentations (Baker Academic, 2016) in the Teach the Text Commentary Series is a useful resource. Jack R. Lundbom’s Jeremiah: Prophet Like Moses (Cascade, 2015) is a thematic study of Jeremiah that includes chapters on a range of theological themes that run throughout Jeremiah. Lundbom’s resource would be of interest to pastors seeking an accessible way to understand the book of Jeremiah as a whole.

For Ezekiel, Nancy R. Bowen’s Ezekiel (Abingdon, 2010), in the Abingdon Old Testament Commentary Series, provides an accessible theological commentary. Bowen reflects theologically on Israel’s exile and trauma and gleans insights for Christians today. Stephen L. Cook’s Ezekiel 38–48: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Yale University Press, 2018) in the Anchor Bible Commentary Series is a helpful resource for pastors interested in a scholarly treatment of Ezekiel that engages historical questions. This volume follows Moshe Greenberg’s earlier volumes in the Anchor Bible series (Doubleday, 1983, 1997).

Corrine L. Carvalho and Paul V. Niskanen’s Ezekiel, Daniel (Liturgical Press, 2012) in the New Collegeville Bible Commentary provides an accessible theological commentary on these two challenging texts.

For accessible theological commentaries on the book of Daniel, these are two resources will be of interest to pastors: Paul R. House’s Daniel: An Introduction and Commentary (IVP Academic, 2018) in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries Series and Ronald Pierce’s Daniel (Baker Academic, 2015) in the Teach the Text Commentary Series. For pastors interested in more scholarly conversations about Daniel, André LaCocque’s second and thoroughly revised edition of The Book of Daniel (Cascade, 2018) will be an excellent guide. LaCocque delves into many of the puzzling yet theologically rich aspects of Daniel, including its apocalyptic perspectives, the Son of Man, and the kingdom of God.

Posted Apr 01, 2020