Nahum Commentaries

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This is part of a larger project reviewing commentaries on each book of the Bible. Follow the links from that post for more information on the series, including explanations of what I mean by some of the terms and abbreviations in this post.

This post in particular is heavily reliant on my earlier reviews of commentaries on Habakkuk and Zephaniah, since most commentaries on each of these books include all three. One Nahum-specific commentary appears here, just as there were some Zephaniah-specific and Nahum-specific commentaries in the other posts. Where possible, I have tried to key my discussion of each commentary here to the Nahum section in the commentaries that deal with more than one book.

Waylon Bailey's NAC (1999) is probably my favorite of all the commentaries I looked at. It isn't so detailed that it's hard to wade through, but he addresses most issues most people might ask of the text unless they're working on an academic paper. He deals with historical, theological and linguistic matters fairly well, and he's also concerned about connections with the New Testament. He's coming from a conservative evangelical perspective, but he's also good at presenting various views. This is my all-around recommendation for seeking the best balance of what I look for in a commentary. It doesn't shirk anything I consider truly important.
 
O. Palmer Robertson's NICOT (1990) is probably my favorite Nahum commentary in terms of theology. His theological reflections are probing and get enough time to explore the issues, with more time than any of the other commentaries on the list given to the task of simply reflecting on what the text means for Nahum's view of God and its implications for life. It's much weaker on linguistic matters, sometimes not even addressing important issues that most of the other commentaries will spend some time on. It doesn't get first place primarily for that reason.

His perspective is conservative, evangelical, and explicitly Reformed. His expertise is in covenant theology, and he has a keen eye for seeing New Testament connections, although on occasion I think he reads a NT perspective into a text that may not have originally gone quite so far. It's a shame that Eerdmans has contracted a replacement for his commentary in this series this early, though Thomas Renz will probably produce a good commentary that will give more detail on the things Robertson doesn't focus much on. See my more detailed review of Robertson here.

Klaus Spronk's HCOT on Nahum (1996) is one of the few whole-volume commentaries just on this prophet, although several others are schedule to appear in the near future. It is both the most in-depth commentary on this book to appear in recent years and the most recent in-depth commentary in publication. It  therefore probably counts as the academic standard for the moment, although I suspect that will change as it gains more competitors.

I find the format of this series especially difficult to navigate. I like it even less than the awful WBC format. It's akin to the terrible format of Brevard Childs's otherwise excellent commentary on Exodus, discussing matters in several sections that make it very difficult to figure out where to look to see the author's thoughts on some very particular matter. Even worse is the lack of an author index. It is thus very hard to use as a reference work, even though it's of such detail that only scholars are likely to want to read it straight through. Each section beings with a very brief summary of the passage's message and the historical interpretation of that message. He then gives what the series calls a scholarly exposition, with an emphasis on structural issues (a bit too much and with a bit too much certainty for my tastes) and literary and poetic features. An exegesis section then follows, which directly deals with the Hebrew.

The series is intended to be of help to both scholars and less-trained Bible teaches, but it will serve the latter group much less well. Spronk helpfully insists on taking Nahum not to be just a foaming-at-the-mouth prophet of vengeance. He recognizes that God's anger in Nahum results from God's compassion on Israel and moral outrage at oppression and injustice. He generally treats the final form of the book, but he is willing to conjecture that certain parts of the book are interpolations and additions.

patterrson.jpgRichard Patterson had the misfortune of writing his commentary for the WEC (1991), a series that didn't last very long. Bible.org has seen to it to republish some of the volumes of that series, so they are now available again, but for a while this just wasn't easy to get. For that reason, it's had less of an impact than it should have had in Nahum studies and appears in fewer libraries of those who teach the Bible than it deserves.

Patterson is a careful scholar. I'd place this commentary at the same level as Robertson and Bailey. Robertson is stronger on theology, and Patterson is stronger on lexical issues, historical background, and literary analysis. Bailey is probably not as strong as either on those issues but a little more balanced than either and able to interact with more recent scholarship.

Patterson's treatment of linguistic matters seems exhaustive compared to Robertson, who in comparison seems almost to ignore it. Patterson doesn't ignore theology, but it's not his main strength, and Robertson and Bailey both strike me as giving fuller treatments of those elements. Until Bailey came along, Robertson and Patterson complemented each other nicely. I still recommend Bailey as the best overall commentary, but if you have both of the others you're doing very well.

Tremper Longman wrote the Nahum section of this multi-author commentary (1993). As with the whole series, he treats the exegesis and exposition separately, each running in parallel with the other, one on the top of the page and the other on the bottom. The exegesis deals with the Hebrew text and is scholarly in its approach. It's hard to read if you don't know Hebrew. The exposition is intended to be readable to anyone. Longman is very strong on the theological aspects of the divine warrior theme in Nahum. For those who want an exegesis based directly on the Hebrew, you might be more satisfied with Longman than with Patterson, even though it's briefer, but for those who can't handle the Hebrew it might be better to go with Patterson, who is more readable (even though he does use Hebrew without transliteration).

What strikes me as thoroughly strange about this commentary is that the exegesis is on the Hebrew text and meant for scholars yet isn't too detailed. It picks out key details but isn't complete enough to count as a full-length scholarly commentary. Yet it's too difficult for someone less well-trained. The exposition is readable no matter who is reading it, but much of what supports the exposition is in the exegesis. It's for that reason that I can't recommend this commentary as a first choice for someone of any category of commentary reader. It's worth having as a supplement to a fuller and/or more readable work, but I don't put it as first place at either the popular or the scholarly levels.

David Baker's Tyndale commentary (1988) lives up to everything this series intends. It's brief, but Baker uses his limited space wisely. He addresses many of the questions non-scholars might ask when reading the text. He deals with some of the more fundamental theological questions in a way many commentators won't, but he also deals with the more important of the historical and linguistic issues. He doesn't treat them in much depth, and there are less crucial issues that he doesn't treat at all that are interesting and worth looking into if you're preparing a Bible study or sermon, so this commentary shouldn't serve as the only or primary resource for something like that, but Baker is an enjoyable read, has a lot more than you'd expect in such a short treatment, and is probably second only to Robertson in terms of theological insight. For more information, see my review of this volume.
 
James Bruckner's commentary (2004) is a decent example of what the NIVAC series seeks to do. It gives a very brief exegesis, briefer even than Baker's. Part two of his treatment of each passage is his reflection on the general principles from the original context that might transfer to ours. Part three for each unit moves on to suggestions for how those principles might apply in our context. I only looked at the Zephaniah part of this commentary, but someone I know who read the whole book was considerably disappointed with his Original Meaning sections. I liked some of what I read in the Bridging Contexts sections. He doesn't simply moralize but rather spends time thinking through what principles in the text can be generalized to move toward other contexts. I didn't come away with a strong positive or negative impression of his Contemporary Application discussions. I know readers outside the U.S. complain that this series tends to focus on American examples, but the main point of the series is to model how to apply the second Bridging Contexts section in a concrete setting. Surely the author doesn't think those ways are the only ways they will apply or even the most important for every setting. If you approach this series in that way, I think it's often excellent.

Peter Craigie (1985) had even less space to deal with than Baker did, something like half as many pages, and the Daily Study Bible series requires him to include the biblical text, which Baker doesn't do. For that reason he had to choose very carefully what to talk about. He did an admirable job. The commentary is suitable for devotional reading, and unlike many volumes in this series it really is suitable for that due to its more favorable attitude toward the authenticity of the text than some other writers in this series would have. Craigie raises the right sorts of theological questions.

You don't see most of Craigie's exegesis, but he does explain some of his reasoning. It's much thinner in argument and explanation than would be ideal even for a popular-level commentary, but Craigie's volumes in this series are some of the best in it because he was so good at choosing what would be best to focus on. It's inexpensive and short enough that there's no reason not to read it in addition to whatever else you're going to read.

J.J.M. Roberts' OTL (1991) seems to me to be a fairly standard representation of one strain of biblical scholarship throughout the mid-late 20th century. The overall tendency is to break the text down into its various components, looking at the meanings of all the words and the various grammatical constructions used, focusing at times on the historical background behind what's being said, with detailed discussion of the various textual traditions and an attempt to reconstruct what the original must have said. Roberts likes to emend the text rather than work hard to explain any coherent meaning in its current form.

There's usually a desire to find different sources for different parts of a work, and he does sometimes make connections with the New Testament and contemporary application, but he spends very little time even on how individual passages relate to the book as a whole, never mind moving to an even larger context than that.

This book is about as good as any in serving as a guide to exegesis in terms of the minutiae of the text, although Spronk has a little more detail. Unlike Spronk, however, the series is intended to be readable by non-scholars, and yet the level of detail on Hebrew language in this commentary is daunting for those who don't know the language, even if it's not quite as intimidating as Spronk. All told, this book is heavy wading for those who don't know Hebrew, and it isn't all that helpful for someone who wants what I want in a commentary, which is theological reflection and connections between this text and other parts of the Bible. It is nonetheless the standard critical commentary on the three prophets together, although I think Spronk takes that spot if you consider just commentaries on Nahum alone.

I didn't look at Elizabeth Achtemeier's Interpretation volume that includes Nahum (1986), and I'm sure there are other important or helpful commentaries that I didn't look at, but Achtemeier is so well-received by many people that I had to mention her book. She's not conservative on historical and some interpretive matters, but she's very good at thinking through how to preach on Old Testament books, which is what the Interpretation series is supposed to focus on. She's a good person to be doing it. I don't have anything in particular to say about her Nahum commentary, though, because I haven't read any of it. I have looked at her treatment of Zechariah, which is where some of these general thoughts come from.
 
Julia O'Brien's AOTC (2004) includes Nahum through Malachi. As with other volumes in this series, this is a popular-level exposition that tends toward the mainline, critical kind of theological perspective. For instance, she can at times consider prophecies to have been written after the fact (e.g. Haggai), and she treats some of the prophetic messages as immoral (e.g. Nahum's use of rape as part of the judgment on Assyria, Malachi's supposed patriarchy). She seems very excited about Habakkuk's questions against God at the beginning of the book, with less attention to his later faith and trust in God. I can't complain about a lack of theological reflection, but it's not always theology sympathetic to the prophet's concerns.

O'Brien is often hesitant about text-critical solutions. She includes a special section on the contribution of each book to the overall Book of the Twelve of the minor prophets, but she thinks each individual book is a work of its own, and thus her Nahum commentary focuses on Habakkuk as a book rather than as a piece of the Book of the Twelve. O'Brien and Achtemeier will probably be the main choices for expositions among those who accept more critical views. My impression is that Achtemeier will be the more conservative of the two, while O'Brien will be the more thought-provoking.

Forthcoming Commentaries:

On the academic level, Duane Christensen's forthcoming Anchor Bible volume on Nahum and  Kevin Cathcart's ICC will be serious contenders for the position of being the academic standard on this work. I'm guessing that both will probably surpass Roberts and Spronk.

Douglas Stuart's replacement WBC on Micah-Malachi may well produce the new evangelical standard. Thomas Renz's replacement for the NICOT on Nahum-Zephaniah will also be an important upper-mid level evangelical commentary. I know nothing about Renz. I'm very impressed by Stuart's work in the past.

At the popular level, several commentaries on Nahum are in development. Carl Armerding is revising his EBC contribution, which will be packaged with Daniel and the other eleven minor prophets. This is one of the most useful volumes in the original EBC, and I think the revisions and replacements are going to improve it even more. Armerding is well-regarded among evangelical reviewers of commentaries, and he is probably among the better contributors to the series. The only reason I didn't list him above is because it's worth waiting for the revision.

The NIBC volume on Nahum-Malachi will be co-authored by Duane Christensen and Pamela Scalise. I don't know if they are actually co-writing or if they will each separately author some of the commentaries on individual books. I suspect it's the latter, and I'm guessing that Christensen will contribute the Nahum commentary given that he is writing the AB on the same book. This may well be unnecessary for those who have that work if my guess is correct, although it's possible that his focus in the NIBC would be so far removed from the academic focus in the AB that there is little overlap.

Richard Patterson is doing a popular-level commentary for the CBC. It will almost certainly be bound with other minor prophets, many of which are being written by Patterson. James Nogalski is doing the commentary for Smyth & Helwys, a series that I do not recommend because of its outrageous price for thin content with lots of bells and whistles.

7 Comments

I'm hoping you get to some Daniel reviews/recommendations.

Not any time soon, unfortunately. We studied Daniel in sermons a while back (long enough ago that I wasn't reading commentaries much at the time), and I'm working on books I haven't studied before I go back to ones I have. I'm planning to do every book eventually, but Daniel probably isn't among the sooner ones.

Darn. I'm going to be teaching on it at my church sometime in February and although I have studied it and have several commentaries none of them are non-dispensational and the only other recommendations I have are from a single source (which I don't like to rely on by itself).

(Completely aside, for some reason on Firefox 2.07 on my laptop Parableman is showing up sans-template. I don't have a clue what's the difference between the 2.07 on my computer and on my laptop or why it shows up fine there and not on here. It's a recent problem.)

Well, I can give you recommendations for non-dispensational commentaries on Daniel. I'm just not going to do a whole post on it at the level of detail that I'm doing for this series.

For popular-level commentaries, Joyce Baldwin's TOTC has my top spot. I haven't seen Tremper Longman's NIVAC, but I imagine it's good also. Reviewers I've read seem to list it and not say anything, so I don't know if that means it's mediocre or lower than his usual standards or if they just haven't seen it. It's a lot more up-to-date in terms of scholarship than Baldwin, but I suspect Baldwin isn't superceded by Longman.

For mid-level, the best is the Apollos volume by Ernest Lucas. You probably won't appreciate his stance on the date of the book. I certainly don't. That does affect a lot of things. But it's the best non-dispensational commentary on Daniel at an intermediate level.

For technical, scholarly commentaries there are two main choices. John Goldingay's WBC is the more recent of the two. It has less detail but is significantly more theologically conservative (but still liberal on dating and his attitude to scripture). John Collins did the Hermeneia volume, and it's much more detailed, even more critical than Goldingay (in terms of attitude toward accepting the book at face value), and a bit harder to read for non-specialists.

Bro, thanks for that; immensely helpful.

Hi Jeremy,

Please forgive me for being a pedant. But Collins' Daniel commentary is the more recent of the two, being published in 1993 while Goldingay's came out in 1989.

For some reason I was thinking Collins' was written in the late 70s, but now that I see 1993 it sounds right to me even without checking.

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