Biblical studies: September 2006 Archives

Hosea 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.

Duane Garrett's NAC is usually the first place I loook on Hosea. It's toward the more in-depth end of the mid-level commentaries, a little more in-depth than most volumes in the series. It's the most recent of the evangelical works on this book, and I find his judgments to be sane and reasoned yet without dogmatism when the issues are less clear. Garrett has also done Song of Songs for WBC and Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (all in another volume), and Joel (in this volume) for NAC. His Rethinking Genesis is one of the more reasonable defenses of conservative views on the authorship of Genesis (and the Pentateuch in general). It's not surprising, then, that he is a conservative evangelical. His strengths include philology and a good sense of the literary features of the book, and he offers lots of detailed excurses on exploring some particular issues in more depth.

Douglas Stuart's WBC is the classic evangelical treatment. It's getting pretty dated now, but Stuart is revising it for publication next year (according to Thomas Nelson). Several reviewers I've read have said they Stuart is their favorite on Hosea. His work on Hosea and Jonah in this volume generally get placed as the best of the commentaries on the five books it treats (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah). He is especially strong on theology but handles other matters judiciously also. One key strength is his tying the prophetic oracles back to covenant blessings and curses in the Torah, with his conception of prophets as enforcers of the covenant. One reviewer wishes Stuart spent more time explaining alternative views and thinks he's a little too willing to emend the MT. Stuart has also written the NAC on Exodus, the Preacher's Commentary (formerly Communicator's Commentary) on Ezekiel, and a commentary on Malachi in the same series as McComiskey's Hosea (see below). He is currently working on a second WBC volume to replace the current one on Micah-Malachi. Stuart is also a conservative evangelical. I don't like the format of this series, but I do think it's easier to read than McComiskey below, and Stuart is usually a clear writer. I look forward to the revised edition, which may well replace Garrett as my first choice on this book. [add link to Thomas Nelson site]

Idolatry and Isaiah 40-66

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I've been reading through Isaiah, and I've just started the second half of the book (chs.40-66). Contemporary scholarship generally assumes these chapters are not written by the 8th century prophet Isaiah, despite the book's seeming attribution of the book to him. The main reason is that they seem to be about a time much later, the return from exile in the 6th century. Stylistic considerations are also cited, but this turns out to be a bit of ad hoc special pleading, since the same stylistic features are present throughout the first half of the book, and these scholars then pull themselves up on their own bootstraps by insisting that those earlier chapters must also be later additions. At some points this gets even as ridiculous as to minimize the contributions of Isaiah to only a very small component of the overall material even of chapters 1-35. It's taken rather to be the additions of this great school Isaiah must have founded, and thus it gets attached to his book because it's in the Isaianic prophetic school. All this makes me wonder what was so great about Isaiah to have merited this great school attributing all these great prophecies to him if what he actually did was only this tiny amount of material, none of it resembling in content most of the stuff that somehow ended up getting attributed to him.

Suffice it to say that I'm not even close to convinced that Isaiah did not write these chapters. He may not have delivered them as addresses, as he did the earlier chapters in the book, but the argument that he couldn't have written the second half of the book doesn't leave me very convinced, which leaves me taking the text's claim as the most important evidence available, and all the text does is introduce the book as the prophecy of Isaiah, with no new introduction of a new unit with other author information once you hit this second major section.

As I was reading chapter 42 this morning, something occurred to me that I hadn't thought of before.

Drunk Brainstorming

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Since I don't really have the time today (or the ability to focus) for putting a post together out of any of the several things I want to blog about, I'll just share an interesting piece of information I picked up from Karen Jobes's Esther commentary.

Apparently the Persian emperors had a special method of coming up with ideas for imperial policies. They would gather together their closest advisors, all get drunk, and then start tossing out ideas. If they still agreed with the policies after they'd sobered up, they would implement them. This isn't just the way some of their policies came about. According to Jobes, this was their usual method of figuring out how to deal with difficult policy decisions. This isn't unheard of in our day, either. I know several philosophers who come up with their best stuff when drunk. Since they have to wait until they're sober to write it up, I'm sure that allows some good quality control.

Of course, there's also the following corollary. If you have any ideas while you're sober, you should wait until you see what you think about them when you're drunk before implementing them.

The Presumption of Doubt

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About a month ago, I was going to blog about Ben Witherington's Justification by Doubt, but I got distracted, forgot, and it got off the first screen of my blogging file. I remembered it last night as I was going to bed and thought I should post a link to it before I forget again. Witherington points out a very strange standard in mainstream biblical scholarship. It's as if the word 'critical' has become a synonym for the word 'scholarly', when calling something critical actually amounts to speaking of a person or work's willingness to doubt positive claims. Somehow it's become a virtue not to believe anything you see but to think that some more complex conspiracy theory about the text underlies it rather than what might be seen as a more straightforward reading of the only information we have, which is what the text itself says.

Then this skeptical approach is called objective, as if it's less biased to assume from the outset that someone is misreporting the information but without any evidence that there's any deception. I have to agree that much of biblical scholarship is like this, and I cannot see how this constitutes critical thinking in the way that philosophers encourage us to submit our views and arguments to careful scrutiny. It seems to me that the push toward doubt is at least an attitude and plausibly a view, and there ought to be an argument for doing so if it means moving away from what the key evidence we have (the text itself) actually says. Such arguments should themselves be submitted to careful scrutiny, i.e. critical thinking, and they should not simply be presumed. Maybe there are good arguments, and if so maybe we should accept them, but this equation of doubt and skepticism with critical thinking and careful scrutiny seems to me to be a thoroughly uncritical acceptance of a bias.

A commenter on the Philosophy et cetera cross-posting of my Moral Pollution post says the following:

I don't feel that embryos are "persons" at all, in fact the only reasons I've seen to be against stem-cell research are religious ones. I admit, I haven't comprehensively studied the issue, but from what I have read, that seems to be the case.

I decided that my response was worthy of a post, which I've cross-posted at Philosophy et cetera. You don't need to know much of the abortion literature to know that this is wrong. All you need to do is pick up any of a number of standard applied ethics anthologies to know the most common argument for embryonic personhood. Most of them contain John Noonan's paper defending the traditional pro-life view, and that is indeed a philosophical argument, no matter how bad you might think the argument is.

This post 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.

D.A. Carson's PNTC is easily my favorite commentary on John. I consider Carson to be one of the most balanced theological interpreters of scripture. Those more skeptical might just think that's because I tend to agree with him, but I think it's because we've independently arrived at similar enough views that I happen to think he's just gotten it right much of the time. This is clearly a favorite among most evangelicals. Carson operates at an academically sophisticated enough level that serious research ought to interact with him far more than actually happens. He defends traditional Johannine authorship as the most likely explanation of the data we have without insisting on it as a point of orthodoxy. His theological perspective is mainstream evangelical and broadly Reformed.

Herman Ridderbos' mostly theological commentary (English translation 1997) is very widely appreciated across the theological spectrum despite its distinctively conservative conclusions. It's a little light on what's usually called introductory matters (i.e. date, authorship, and other issues usually covered in the introduction), but that's because its focus is on the theological meaning of the text. At this task, Ridderbos excels. On some issues, Ridderbos' moderately conservative views come through, but it's not usually front and center. The original commentary was published in two volumes, one in the late 80s and the other in the early 90s. Like other commentaries translated into English, the date might fool you into thinking it interacts with scholarship later than what the author actually had access to. His first volume was prior to Carson's, and his second was shortly after Carson's.

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