After the 1971 famine of Old Testament books (particularly commentaries), 1972 brought us a feast. We will attempt to digest it one course at a time, identifying the works that are special treats as we go along. An asterisk (*) will designate those books that are suitable fare for the student whose teeth have not been sharpened by formal theological education.
SURVEYS At least five new volumes that attempt for the general reader a synthesis or synopsis of the Bible have come to light in 1972. Two may be treated together as they form part of the introductory material for the “Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible”: The Making of the Old Testament*, edited (and largely written) by Enid B. Mellor, and Understanding the Old Testament* by O. Jessie Lace (with D. R. Ap-Thomas) give the literary, archaeological, and historical background of the Old Testament story. Both books are helpful, though brief, introductions, and form part of the library of useful and relatively inexpensive laymen’s commentaries included in this series.
Three additional books are of interest as a reflection of current trends within diverse religious communities. Marc Lovelace, a Southern Baptist, has written Compass Points For Old Testament Study* (Abingdon), a book designed as something of a self-study course for laymen, and stressing the historical-geographical-cultural setting of the various writings. The Threshing Floor* (Paulist) by John F. X. Sheehan, an American Jesuit, approaches the subject from a literary-theological perspective, focusing on various themes such as exodus, chaos and creation, covenant, and messianism. In contrast to Lovelace’s work, Sheehan’s book is a call to the unconvinced, and seeks to show on every page how the biblical world of thought has meaning in the context of modern Christian humanism. A third book, The Enjoyment of Scripture* (Oxford), comes from the facile pen of Samuel Sandmel, a leading Reformed Jewish scholar. Sandmel’s book is rich in its understanding of the symbolism, the literary development, and the spiritual significance of dominant motifs in the Old Testament, and he is the only one of the three who openly bases his work on classic documentary hypotheses. Readers schooled in any one of the three traditions represented could benefit from an exposure to one of the other approaches.
HISTORY OF ISRAEL The appearance of a revised edition of John Bright’s A History of Israel* (Westminster) is naturally a landmark in Old Testament studies. Probably no book has had a wider sale or a greater influence on the undergraduate seminarian. Special significance must be attached to the fact that, fourteen years after the almost contemporaneous issuance of the first edition of Bright’s History and the English translation of Martin Noth’s The History of Israel, Bright, with his considerably more confident acceptance of early Israelite traditions, still dominates the American scene. It is with no small sense of relief that we discover in the foreword to the new edition that its author has in no essential element been forced to alter his position. His keen sense of the important in Israel’s history and religion is just as vividly expressed, and we predict for the new edition the same long and prosperous career enjoyed by the old.
For many reasons, references to Gibeon in the Old Testament have fascinated scholars. The very fact that Solomon went to that city’s high place to pray (1 Kings 3:4) has long suggested that there may have been more cultic significance to Gibeon than our canonical Old Testament is willing to admit. Now all that can be known and a good bit of scholarly speculation (quite sober generally) have been brought together in a dissertation by Joseph Blenkinsopp entitled Gibeon and Israel (Cambridge). Blenkinsopp, whose research is generally limited to analysis of the biblical text, concludes that Gibeon was probably the resting place of the ark of the covenant prior to its removal to Jerusalem, a fact that conservatives will find difficult to accept in light of direct biblical evidence that it was at Kiriath-jearim during that time. Nevertheless, Blenkinsopp’s study is of great value and will probably remain the last word on the subject for years to come.
Another doctoral thesis concentrates on the titles and functions of civil officials under David and Solomon. Tryggve N. D. Mettinger in Solomonic State Officials (Lund: CWK Gleerup) takes in order the office of secretary, herald, friend of the king, house-minister, chief of the district, and superintendent of the corvée. His approach is biblical, philological, archaeological, and comparative. In the latter aspect he has carefully considered all available evidence from surrounding cultures, especially Egypt, and has concluded that both David and Solomon borrowed many (but not all) elements of Egyptian administration, and that the channel was undoubtedly the scribal wisdom school. A very important historical study.
Though not stated as such, Edward E. Hindson’s The Philistines and the Old Testament* (Baker) apparently began as a thesis. The careful scholarship of the two previous monographs is missing, and there is a slight feeling that the entire work is second-hand. Evidence that is cited for Philistine presence in the Palestinian littoral prior to the migrations of the twelfth century often seems taken out of context (e.g., does G. E. Wright’s statement about “pre-Israelite” anthropoid coffins from Tomb 570 in Lachish mean the same thing chronologically to Hindson, who, undoubtedly, takes an early date for the exodus?) and in any case can hardly prove much about Philistines in the time of Abraham. Certainly the appeal to Cyrus H. Gordon (p. 98) is hardly relevant, for Gordon dates Abraham in the Late Bronze Age, a fact that Hindson conveniently forgets to note. There is much that is good in this book, making it doubly unfortunate that the whole is marred by sloppy scholarship.
RELIGION AND THEOLOGY OF ISRAEL Noteworthy in this category is the English translation of Georg Fohrer’s History of Israelite Religion (Abingdon). The German edition, which appeared in 1969, was designed as a revision of and substitute for the major work of G. Hölscher (1922), and the translation will certainly become a standard textbook on the subject in the English-speaking world. Fohrer’s historical analysis builds on the critical conclusions expressed in his own revision of E. Sellin’s Introduction to the Old Testament, and ideally the reader should have access to that volume. Fohrer is well versed in various positions and eminently fair in his treatment. His own conviction that the religion of YHWH began with Moses will be stimulating to all, but hardly acceptable to critics of either the right or the left.
A volume that should take its place as a standard preface to Old Testament theology is Gerhard Hasel’s Old Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate (Eerdmans). This short book divides contemporary Old Testament theologians into five categories based on methodological presuppositions, and then goes on to discuss in detail the problem of theology and its relating to history, the question of a unifying theme, and the relation between the testaments. In a closing chapter, Hasel opts for what he calls “a new approach” that will be both historical and theological. Evangelicals will readily respond to the suggestions, whether or not the claim for newness can be sustained, and indeed we may hope that Hasel is representative of a fresh concern for a truly historical approach among conservative theologians.
The same author’s doctoral studies are presented in a new Andrews University monograph entitled The Remnant: The History and Theology of the Remnant Idea From Genesis to Isaiah. In his research, carried out at Vanderbilt, Hasel discovered that the remnant motif had its roots deep within the earliest literary traditions of the ancient Near East. He then traced the concept in the Hebrew Bible from Genesis through the rise of prophetism in the eighth century. The study closes with a detailed account of writings of Isaiah of Jerusalem, in which the remnant theme is seen as a dominant theological motif. It is hoped that soon a major publisher will issue a more popularized form of this work.
No study of Old Testament theology since Eichrodt has been able to ignore the concept of “covenant.” Old Testament Covenant: A Survey of Current Opinions (John Knox) by Dennis J. McCarthy is just what the name suggests. McCarthy is one of today’s foremost covenant researchers, and he does not hesitate to evaluate the various claims of a wide variety of scholars. Covenant studies affecting every aspect of Old Testament research are discussed (e.g., covenant as treaty, covenant and the prophets, covenant and kingship, covenant and theology), and in closing the author offers suggestions for additional labors.
A short monograph by James L. Crenshaw entitled Prophetic Conflict: Its Effect Upon Israelite Religion (Berlin: de Gruyter) looks at the seemingly scant impact of prophecy in pre-exilic Israel and asks why it eventually disappeared before the forces of wisdom and apocalyptic. He concludes that the prophets never did gain much of a hearing, partly because their convictions about where history was going were simply contradicted by experience. The shift to wisdom and apocalyptic was a natural and inevitable development. Some intriguing comments on the development and nature of false prophecy form part of the study, while many still unanswered questions about the origin and dating of wisdom influence are raised anew in this context.
One of the most basic hermeneutical questions facing the Church is its relation to the Old Testament. Standing within the classical Dutch reformed position, but aware of the works of contemporary theologians, is the contribution of A. A. Van Ruler in The Christian Church and the Old Testament (Eerdmans). Van Ruler claims for the Old Testament full equality, and with the claim raises questions that penetrate every aspect of contemporary church life. This book, published in German in 1955, should become a standard reference on the subject and is one more fruit of the prodigious translation labors of Geoffrey W. Bromiley.
BIBLICAL CRITICISM Twenty years ago the venerable Oswald T. Allis gave a series of lectures at Fuller Seminary on the theme “Old Testament Introduction.” The lectures, expanded and revised, now appear as The Old Testament; Its Claims and Its Critics* (Baker), and the result turns out to be a veritable potpourri of assorted data on the Old Testament. More than five hundred pages deal with such matters as the doctrines of Scripture, the literary forms (Allis ignores contemporary research in favor of what he considers more truly representative forms), the history of higher criticism, the individual passages on which critics have spoken (always with a scholarly defense of the conservative alternative), and the whole subject of comparisons between Bible and the ancient Near East (very little connection is admitted). The book, which stands in the tradition of J. A. Alexander, W. H. Green, and R. D. Wilson, is not bedtime reading, and it is questionable whether the format and breadth will encourage a wide sale. Nevertheless, as a personal statement of one of the last of the conservatives of the old Princeton school, this volume should take its place as a period piece in Old Testament scholarship.
With the current rush to translate any respectable bit of German biblical scholarship (and some works that don’t fit that description!), it is surprising that Martin Noth’s A History of Pentateuchal Traditions (Prentice-Hall) didn’t see the light of day much earlier. As translator Bernhard W. Anderson points out in his introductory essay, Noth’s work has been highly influential in developing the “traditio-historical” approach to Old Testament study. Briefly, Noth is committed to a series of themes (such as promise to the patriarchs, the exodus, the revelation at Sinai) that developed separately as the core of Israelite tradition. The themes were kept and developed around various sanctuaries and in the pre-literary stage were combined into one great cultic confession. This reconstruction is considered axiomatic by many North American professors of Old Testament, so it is especially gratifying to have the basic work available in English.
Continuing its series of “Guides to Biblical Scholarship,” Fortress has published Tradition History and the Old Testament* by Walter E. Rast. These little books present, in easily digestible form, definitions for and history of the subject at hand, usually followed by some application of the method to Scripture portions. G. M. Tucker’s earlier Form Criticism of the Old Testament discussed the literary form and its setting; Rast’s book takes up the theme of transmission of the original unit and its eventual redaction into final form, though this is properly labeled “redaction” criticism. Rast, who builds on the work of both M. Noth and the Scandinavian oral tradition school, has left us a most useful handbook on a subject that evangelicals often find confusing as well as, in many instances, objectionable.
COMMENTARIES Turning to treatments of particular books, we find special emphasis given to Exodus, Isaiah, and the Minor Prophets. The “Cambridge Bible Commentary” offering on Exodus* is by Ronald E. Clements, and provides no surprises. Very different is John J. Davis’s Moses and the Gods of Egypt* (Baker), an in-depth laymen’s treatment of the archaeological and historical backgrounds to the account of the Exodus. Davis opts for an early date, and much of his material becomes irrelevant if one does not accept his conclusion, but this is a small fault and hardly avoidable in such a study. Moses, the Servant of Yahweh* (Eerdmans) by Dewey M. Beegle, a study of the life of the great lawgiver in its context, is much more dependent on the reconstructions of standard Old Testament scholarship than is Davis’s volume. For many a reader, much of what both Davis and Beegle include will seem unnecessarily detailed, though all of it is in laymen’s language for the one who cares. None of the volumes mentioned fills the need for a standard, contemporary, English-language commentary on Exodus, but each is valuable for its intended purpose.
A major work in the Alt-Noth tradition is the commentary on Joshua (Westminster) by J. Alberto Soggin. The author, a prominent Waldensian scholar, finished the French edition in 1970. Soggin posits as author/editor of Joshua a Deuteronomic historian somewhere in the exile, though he acknowledges that most critics would hold to a Palestinian provenance. Good bibliographies are accompanied by solid exegesis and helpful discussion of the text, though we wish Soggin were less prone to abandon the Massoretic text. All in all, the book is a first-rate product and a welcome addition to the limited literature on the subject.
Another contribution to the “Cambridge Bible Commentary” for 1972 is R. N. Whybray’s brief study of Proverbs*. The author is a recognized authority in the field of Wisdom study, and his work will stand as a useful supplement to the much more extensive works now available.
For many a contemporary Christian, the poetry of Bernard of Clairvaux, the great twelfth-century mystic, expresses the height of Christian devotion. Newly available is a collection of twenty sermons by that great saint in a volume entitled On the Song of Songs I* (Consortium Press). Already published are his treatises, and soon to come is another volume of sermons on the Song of Songs. For those too sophisticated to indulge in the kind of mystical and typological exegesis here represented, Bernard will still serve as a prime example of medieval exegesis at its height.
1972 will be known as the year Isaiah study came into its own. Posthumously published is The Book of Isaiah*, Volume III (chapters XL–LXVI), by Edward J. Young (Eerdmans). Though not the last word in a commentary—discussion of the Servant Songs and any kind of form-critical studies are conspicuous by their rarity—this book and its predecessors do provide a major exegetical tool for students of all parts of Isaiah. Understandably, the work lacks the polish of earlier volumes, but it is nevertheless a gold mine of careful scholarship for the intelligent English-speaking student.
As part of the “Old Testament Library” of Westminster comes Otto Kaiser’s volume on Isaiah 1–12. It fills a long-felt need for a depth treatment of the opening chapters. However, we are disappointed that Kaiser has given so little introductory material, and his discussion of the text seems limited to accepting various conjectural readings from the Biblia Hebraica. Critical discussion follows standard patterns (material in these chapters is dated all the way from the eighth century to the post-exilic period), and there is good discussion of the historical-theological development of the time.
A major translation and commentary on chapters 1–39 comes from the Jewish-Christian scholar Victor Buksbazen in The Prophet Isaiah* (Spearhead). A third of the book is concerned with helpful introductory material, in which standard conservative positions are staunchly defended, while the latter two-thirds is devoted to the text and comments. Finally, a volume by Virgil H. Todd, Prophet Without Portfolio* (Christopher), examines the themes and background of the so-called Second Isaiah. Todd’s work presupposes a prophet of the exile responsible for chapters 40–55, and his style is a bit tedious, but the work is well researched and the ideas will be found stimulating.
A major contribution to the study of a little-known book comes in the form of Delbert R. Hillers’s “Anchor Bible” volume on Lamentations* (Doubleday). In recent years, only Robert Gordis (in the Jewish Quarterly Review) has given major comment on Jeremiah’s short lament, and his work is still relatively inaccessible. Hillers, who sees as the central theme of the book an expression of hope and confidence in God despite the circumstances, follows recent AB translators in offering both extensive notes on the text and an expanded selection of commentary.
To round out the feast, three new volumes on the minor prophets appeared. Probably the most significant will be the volume by Joyce Baldwin on Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi* (Inter-Varsity) in the Tyndale series. Miss Baldwin has packed much valuable insight and careful research into her slender book, not only giving help on the text but also illuminating the entire period of post-exilic prophecy.
A general coverage of the twelve minor prophets is given in volume seven of the Broadman Bible Commentary* (Broadman), edited by Clifton J. Allen, and also by Homer Hailey in A Commentary on the Minor Prophets* (Baker). Broadman continues to represent a solid combination of informed scholarship and a moderately critical approach. Hailey is equally well informed (though his book often avoids critical discussion), but he, in contrast to Broadman’s contributors, invariably ends with an affirmation of the traditionally conservative position of a commentator like Keil. A case in point is the unity of Zechariah; J. D. W. Watts suggests that, despite an overriding unity of theme, there are probably two prophets at work, while Hailey claims with Keil that such suppositions are “founded upon false interpretations and misunderstandings.” A more important watershed is illustrated in the handling of “messianic” sections, again illustrated by the commentary on Zechariah. Zechariah 9:9, 10 is seen by Watts as “fitting” to explain the Christ and his entry into Jerusalem, while Hailey sees in this reference a primary allusion to the Christ. For the student seeking help on the text, Broadman is probably best; for the preacher preparing a sermon, Hailey is both dependable and lucid.
COLLECTED ESSAYSStudies on the Ancient Palestinian World, edited by J. W. Wevers and D. B. Redford (University of Toronto), is a festschrift presented to Professor F. V. Winnett. Papers by J. B. Pritchard, W. L. Reed, and A. D. Tushingham concern archaeological subjects, and incorporate unpublished technical material. In a section on text and versions, E. J. Revell discusses Hebrew vocalization, while R. J. Williams studies energic verbal forms in a section on syntax. History and exegesis are then offered, opening with W. S. McCullough’s study of eschatology in which he argues that the important features of Israelite eschatology down through Daniel (secondary century) can best be accounted for by Israel’s own background rather than by influence from Persia or Greece. Robert Culley goes outside the field of biblical studies to look again at the question of historicity in oral traditions; N. E. Wagner resurrects literary-critical arguments that would place the origin of much of Abraham’s legendary status in the post-exilic period. And finally, D. B. Redford writes on the taxation system of Solomon.
Long known as one of the most creative of contemporary biblical scholars, Professor Robert Gordis has pursued an active career in publication for over thirty years. In Poets, Prophets, and Sages (Indiana University) we have fifteen of those essays, covering a variety of themes. What Gordis says is always challenging, seldom dull, and consistently important.
A number of old but valuable essays are presented in Classical Evangelical Essays in Old Testament Interpretations*, edited by Walter C. Kaiser (Baker). Among the contributors are W. H. Green, R. D. Wilson, P. Faribairn, and W. J. Beecher. With the publication, Kaiser challenges evangelicals to return to the mainstream of hermeneutical debate and non-evangelicals to reconsider the contribution of their conservative brethren.
Twenty-seven essays on a subject that needs more contemporary attention are presented in Ktav’s No Graven Images: Studies in Art and the Hebrew Bible.* Edited by Joseph Gutmann, this volume includes a few essays in French and German, together with some illustrative material, including several of the famous Chagall windows in Jerusalem.
LANGUAGES For students seeking a knowledge of beginning Hebrew, Harvard philologist Thomas O. Lambdin’s Introduction to Biblical Hebrew (Scribner) will provide an additional tool. The book is remarkably clear in presentation and format, making it one of the better choices for the student seeking to learn without a teacher. A foundational study in semantics comes in John F. A. Sawyer’s monograph, Semantics in Biblical Research: New Methods of Defining Hebrew Words for Salvation (SCM), a book concerned with both methodology and theology. The lexical groups hoshia and hiṣṣil form the basis of the study. A basic work on the kethib-qere is reprinted and brought up to date with Ktav’s issue of Robert Gordis’s 1937 dissertation, The Biblical Text in the Making. Two additional books function as lexical aids and special supplements to the Hebrew or Greek concordance. A Synoptic Concordance to Hosea, Amos, Micah by Francis I. Andersen and A. Dean Forbes (Biblical Research Associates) not only lists every Hebrew word but separates out particles such as the prepositions be, le, and ke and gives a computerized listing of each. “The Computer Bible” series of which this is volume six will be a prime research tool. From the Pontifical Biblical Institute’s press comes Xavier Jacques’s List of Septuagint Words Sharing Common Elements, a study of the morphological cognates in every word found in the Hatch and Redpath concordance.
From the same press comes a Johns Hopkins dissertation entitled Personal Names in the Phoenician and Punic Inscriptions by Frank L. Benz, a scholarly work that will be useful within a limited circle of interest. If further evidence is required to show the Pontifical Institute in the forefront of scholarly publication, it is found in Loren R. Fisher’s edition of The Claremont Ras Shamra Tablets. Working in collaboration with M. C. Astour, M. Dahood, and P. D. Miller, Fisher presents translation and commentary, together with plates and drawings, of four Akkadian and two Ugaritic texts. Considering the exhorbitant prices of recent scholarly work from other presses, these works from Rome continue to be a bargain in every way.
By now something of the magnitude of the literary banquet should be apparent. If you have persevered to this point in the article, you are obviously a person who is ready to do some serious reading in the coming twelve months. Blessings, fellow bookworm!
George M. Marsden is associate professor of history at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has the Ph.D. (Yale University) and has written “The Evangelical Mind and the New School Presbyterian Experience.”
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