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As they have for centuries, people still turn to the Hebrew Bible to hear afresh the life-giving words of God’s everlasting covenant. Berit Olam (“The Everlasting Covenant”) brings the latest developments in the literary analysis of the ancient Hebrew texts.
Written for lay people, Bible scholars, students, and religious leaders, this multi-volume commentary reflects a relatively new development in biblical studies. The readings of the books of the Hebrew Bible offered here all focus on the final form of the texts, approaching them as literary works, recognizing that the craft of poetry and storytelling that the ancient Hebrew world provided can be found in them and that their truth can be better appreciated with a fuller understanding of that art.
The authors reflect a variety of religious traditions, professional backgrounds, and theoretical approaches. Yet they share a common desire: to make available to all of God’s people the words of the everlasting covenant in all of their beauty.
Berit Olam, an outstanding contribution to biblical literature, is a multivolume commentary filling a needed niche in the field. The commentary’s volumes look at the Hebrew Bible’s individual books in their final form; the writers approach the canon books as literary works, recognizing the fine arts of storytelling and poetry that make up the biblical corpus and therefore contributing to a fuller understanding and appreciation of the art forms that constitute the biblical text.
—Robin Gallaher Branch, Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education, South Africa
The Logos edition allows you to bring your studies much further than before. Integrating seamlessly with your software, these volumes appear in your guides and search results, contributing to your research whether you’re studying a topic or a passage. Footnotes and references to Bible passages appear on mouseover, so they’re not in the way when you’re digging into the expert literary analysis of the Berit Olam series.
The God who is revealed as a character in Genesis is always a savior. In Genesis, David Cotter, helps readers discern a structure in the book whereby the least and the weakest are the object of God’s saving help.
Genesis begins with an introduction to the methodology that is used throughout the book. The introductory essay deals with the theory of Hebrew narrative and the challenges posed to biblical exegesis by contemporary literary theory. The stories of the Creation, the Flood, and of Abraham’s generations were stories of salvation for the underdogs and the outcasts. With expert literary and narrative scholarship, Cotter analyzes the Hebrew narrative in a commentary unlike any other.
Cotter has provided an interesting resource. His will be a volume known for its focus on structure. It joins a growing number of commentaries that treat Genesis from a literary vantage point. . . . It can no longer be said that‘historical-critical’ studies dominate work on this biblical book.
—David L. Petersen, Candler School of Theology, Emory University
Genesis provides fresh insight into the book of Genesis. Cotter argues successfully that it has been redacted to form a single, coherent narrative, albeit constituted of several subplots. Cotter educes the narrative subtlety of the text. . . . Cotter’s use of narrative criticism provides a restrained reading that is convincing and provocative as he interprets the text in new ways based on nuances that often go unnoticed. This commentary will best serve those in confessional settings who are interested in narrative approaches to biblical interpretation.
—David G. Graves, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
David W. Cotter is general editor of the Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry series.
Many good intentions to read the entire Bible have foundered on the rocks of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Do these books have literary qualities? How does the storyteller tell the story? In Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Stephen Sherwood applies the tools of narrative criticism to look for the literary qualities of these three biblical books.
Sherwood identifies the narrative art of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy not only in such colorful stories as the Sabbath breaker, the threat from Sihon and Og, the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, the story of Balaam, the bronze serpent, Aaron’s rod, Miriam’s leprosy, and the water from the rock, but also through the extended discourses made by characters in the story. Sherwood studies the voices of several of these characters: the narrator, the Lord, Moses, Aaron, the Israelites, Balaam and Barak, and others, to see how each is "characterized" by their words and actions.
In Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Sherwood also shows how each of the three books has its own characteristics as part of a larger story. Leviticus deals mainly with divine speech. Numbers also contains divine speech but the voices of Moses and the narrator are more recurrent. Deuteronomy is presented in the form of a farewell speech of Moses before his death. The story is then retold from Moses’ point of view, with different emphases and even some changes.
Stephen K. Sherwood embarked on probably the most difficult assignment in the Berit Olam series: presenting Leviticus as narration. His discoveries while analyzing the text, although probably unsuccessful in the broad picture of changing entrenched ideas about Leviticus as a holiness code and priestly instruction book, nonetheless shed keen insights and needed light on its narrative elements. He argues that Leviticus cannot be anything but narrative because ‘it is part of a larger story.’ . . . Sherwood argues convincingly how important—nay, how essential—Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were to the writers of the New Testament; he cites the many times Jesus and the New Testament writers referred to Leviticus, for instance. . . . His careful, literary, word-by-word, painstaking analysis (which he acknowledges was helped by modern computer programs) contributes to an appreciation of three books largely overlooked by Christendom yet essential to both Jewish and Christian faiths.
—Robin Gallaher Branch, Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education, South Africa
Stephen K. Sherwood teaches at the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.
What does Joshua hold to be the essential marks of Israelite identity? What distinguishes “Israel” from all other peoples? In tracking these themes, L. Daniel Hawk reveals a profound struggle to define the people of the God of Israel.
Hawk shows that the themes surrounding Joshua express fundamental markers of national identity: religious practice (obedience to the commandments of Moses), ethnic separation (extermination of the peoples of Canaan), and possession of land (“the land that YHWH gives”). Through the medium of narrative, Joshua tests each of these markers and demonstrates that none clearly characterize the people of God. Instead, Joshua presents Israel as a nation fundamentally constituted by choosing: YHWH’s choosing of Israel and Israel’s choosing of YHWH.
In the present day in which ideologies of religion, race, and territorial possession have given rise to countless expressions of violence, Hawk expresses the particular value of reading Joshua. The Joshua story holds a mirror up to all who regard themselves as the people of God. The reflection is both repelling and inspiring but until we confront it, what it truly means to be the chosen people of God will remain elusive.
This contribution by L. Daniel Hawk interprets the Masoretic Text of Joshua as a structured and coherent whole, offering a balanced and generally persuasive example of close reading. Common sense takes precedence over methodological extremism, so that the reader has no trouble following Hawk’s argument and agreeing that it is consistent and sound. . . . Joshua can be a distressing book for modern people to read, reflecting as it does many of the most problematic aspects of recent history and current events. Hawk insists that Joshua must nevertheless be considered as ‘required reading’ among us, both as a mirror to reflect the repellant features of our quest to define ethnic identity and as an inspiring witness to healthier possible options.
—Richard D. Nelson, associate dean for academic affairs and W. J. A. Power Professor for Biblical Hebrew and Old Testament Introduction, Perkins School of Theology
L. Daniel Hawk is professor of Old Testament at Ashland Theological Seminary.
The biblical book of Judges contains culturally familiar stories such as that of Samson and Delilah and Deborah and Baraq. But despite the popularity of these stories, other important stories in Judges such as that of Achsah, the raped pilegesh, and the final civil war are virtually unknown to the average reader.
Approaching Judges as a unified literary document, Tammi Schneider shows that the unity of the narrative reveals that when the Israelites adhere to the covenant established with their deity they prosper, but when they stray from it disaster follows. This is true not only in the Deuteronomistic refrains, as is recognized by many scholars, but in the whole book, and is reflected in Israel’s worsening situation throughout its narrative time.
Schneider also highlights the unifying themes in Judges. She emphasizes the role of gender, family relations, and theology expressed in the biblical narrative, and uses intertextuality to better understand the text of Judges and its context in the Deuteronomistic history and the Hebrew Bible.
Tammi J. Schneider is assistant professor in the religion department at Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California. She received her BA in Hebrew language and literature from the University of Minnesota, and a PhD in ancient history from the University of Pennsylvania. She has excavated at a number of archaeological sites in Israel and is co-director of the excavation of Tel el-Fara’ South in Israel. She is project director at the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity in Claremont and area editor for Ancient Near East for Religious Studies Review. Her publications cover topics in Assyriology, ancient Near Eastern history, archaeology, and biblical studies.
Some ancient works of literature survive in fragments that appear so simple and complete it’s hard to imagine them as being part of a larger narrative. Such is the case with Ruth and Esther. On first reading they appear so simple, so whole, and their meanings so completely self-evident. Yet the closer you look, the more perplexing they become. Ruth and Esther offers that close look, enabling readers to discover the uncertainties of the texts and demonstrating how these uncertainties are not problems to be solved, but rather are integral to the narrative art of these texts.
In Ruth, the first part of this volume, Tod Linafelt highlights the most unresolved and perplexing aspects of Ruth. In doing so he offers an interpretation he calls “unsettling.” Linafelt states that it is unsettling in the sense that he often refuses to “settle” on a single, unequivocal meaning of a particular word, phrase, or theme. Rather, he prefers to underscore the dual or even multiple meanings that the narrative so often has. Another way Ruth differs from other interpretations is that Linafelt entertains the possibility that there might be complexity or ambiguity with regard to the various characters’ motivations, the presentation of God, or the book’s purpose. In this commentary, Linafelt explores the ambiguities of meaning built into the grammar, syntax, and vocabulary of the story to discover how these ambiguities carry over to the larger interpretive issues of characterization, theology, and purpose. He also lays forth an argument that the book of Ruth is intended to be read as an interlude between Judges and Samuel.
The second part of this volume focuses on Esther, a story of anti-Judaism that raises strikingly contemporary questions concerning relations between sexism, ethnocentrism, and national identity. In Esther, Timothy Beal guides readers into the meaning of the story using rhetorical criticism. He asks questions without assuming that there must be answers and allows for complexity, perplexity, and the importance of accidents in the text. In essence, Beal emphasizes specificity over generality, and temporality over continuity; however, he does not altogether dismiss the importance of broader interpretations of Esther, especially those focusing on narrative structure.
This double commentary begins with Tod Linafelt’s discussion of Ruth, a stimulating, well-written journey along the contours of the received text. It is a close reading of the story’s details with a perceptive eye open to key words and word play, intertextuality, chiasm, parallelism, rhythm, reversal, and, above all, ambiguity in the narrative. The commentary is a treat to read.
—Timothy S. Laniak, professor of Old Testament and academic dean, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
Tod Linafelt is assistant professor of biblical studies at Georgetown University.
Timothy K. Beal is Harkness Associate Professor of Biblical Literature at Case Western Reserve University.
First Samuel is a national autobiography of the Hebrew people. David Jobling reads 1 Samuel as a story that is complete in itself, although it is part of a much larger narrative. He examines it as a historical document in a double sense: firstly, as a document originating from ancient Israel, and, secondly, as a telling of the past. Organizing the text through the three interlocking themes of class, race, and gender, Jobling asks how this historical—and canonical—story relates to a modern world in which these themes continue to be of crucial importance.
While drawing on the resources of biblical “narratology,” Jobling deviates from mainstream methodology. He adopts a “critical narratology” informed by such cultural practices as feminism and psychoanalysis. He follows a structuralist tradition which finds meaning more in the text’s large-scale mythic patterns than in close reading of particular passages, and seeks methods specific to 1 Samuel rather than ones applicable to biblical narrative in general.
Powerfully written, emotionally charged, and abounding in daring, unconventional interpretations, it is both captivating and rewarding. Many of Jobling’s hypotheses are unlikely to change very many minds outside his interpretive community, but even struggling with them can prove a fascinating experience.
—Serge Frolov, Claremont Graduate University
In this contribution to a fascinating commentary series, Jobling examines 1 Samuel according to T. Eagleton’s triptych of class, race, and gender. It explores the tension between 1 Samuel as a book in itself and as a part of a larger whole. Jobling’s approach to 1 Samuel as Israel’s national autobiography is a summation of the course of his own academic career. The 1970s saw him engage structuralism and feminism, while poststructuralism and ideological criticism marked his career in the 1980s. In the 1990s, he turned to new historicism and psychoanalysis. All of these methods come together in an analysis that affords Jobling personal reflection on his own career in a seminary with a high percentage of female students.
—James R. Linville, post-doctoral research fellow, University of Alberta
David Jobling is a professor of Old Testament language and literature at St. Andrews College in Saskatoon. He is a co-chair of the Ideological Criticism section of the Society of Biblical Literature and a member of The Bible and Culture Collective.
The narratives of Solomon and Jeroboam, of Elijah and Ahab, have fascinated readers for millennia. Even apart from questions of historical authenticity, they are gripping stories of richly drawn characters caught up in the complex tale of God’s dealings with Israel. This study explores the narrative world created by 1 Kings’ ancient Israelite author: the people who inhabit it, the lives they live, the deeds they do, and the face of God who is revealed in their stories.
An introduction explains the significance of 1 Kings as a historical narrative. Originally intended as a literal history, after centuries of writing and rewriting it is now as much a literary work as a historical one: the views of those who formed it can be discerned and studied. Walsh also explains how the rich traditions of Hebrew prose narrative and the Hebrew language itself affect our reading of 1 Kings.
The author is able to engage the more sophisticated scholar with fresh and interesting insights into the narrative of 1 Kings. The book is ‘user friendly’ in the sense that it begins with a primer on narrative criticism that sets forth basic terminology and methodology. In the body of the commentary, arguments grounded on the grammar and structure of the Hebrew text are usually explained clearly in non-technical style. . . . The exposition is clear. The conclusions are usually believable and argued convincingly. The author handles his methodology with skill. . . . This is a well-crafted and highly serviceable commentary.
—Richard D. Nelson, associate dean for academic affairs and W. J. A. Power Professor for Biblical Hebrew and Old Testament Introduction, Perkins School of Theology
Jerome T. Walsh was professor of Old Testament at the University of Botswana and the University of Dallas. He has also authored Style and Structure in Biblical Hebrew Narrative and Old Testament Narrative: A Guide to Interpretation.
Opening with the prophet Elijah’s ascent into heaven and closing with the people of Judah’s descent to Babylonia, 2 Kings charts the story of the two Israelite kingdoms until their destruction. This commentary unfolds the literary dimensions of 2 Kings, analyzes the strategies through which its words create a world of meaning, and examines the book’s tales of prophets, political intrigue, royal apostasy, and religious reform as components of larger patterns.
2 Kings pays attention to the writers’ methods of representing human character and of twisting chronological time for literary purposes. It also shows how the contests between kings and prophets are mirrored in the competing structures of regnal synchronization and prophecy-fulfillment. Much more than a common chronicle of royal achievements and disasters, 2 Kings emerges as a powerful history that creates memories and forges identities for its Jewish readers.
This book is meant to be an aid to readers of an English version of the Hebrew Bible and to be read alongside it. Toward this end, the commentary on most of the longer segments is keyed to a structural outline of that episode. This is a tremendous asset, particularly for casual Bible readers and students finding their way through this labyrinth of strange-sounding names and superabundant detail. . . . Cohn affirms at the outset that ‘[t]he aim of a literary commentary is not the sources, but the discourse’ (xii). He delivers with interesting, often insightful, and invariably useful comments, often pointing out meaningful word order and assonance in the Hebrew original.
—W. Boyd Barrick, former dean and religious studies instructor, Montana State University–Billings
Robert L. Cohn is professor of religion and holds the Philip and Muriel Berman Chair in Jewish studies at Lafayette College. Under the auspices of the American Jewish Committee, he lectured on Jewish interpretations of the Bible as the first American-Jewish scholar-in-residence at four Roman Catholic seminaries in Poland.
Ezra-Nehemiah has been neglected in biblical studies, but it is important as one of the few windows into the Persian period of Israel’s history, the setting for so much of the final shape of the Hebrew Bible. To know this period is to know what influenced these redactors. In Ezra and Nehemiah, Gordon Davies provides that knowledge using rhetorical criticism, a methodology that reveals the full range and progress of the book’s ideas without hiding its rough seams and untidy edges.
The purpose of rhetorical criticism is to explain not the source but the power of the text as a unitary message. This approach does not look at plot development, characterization, or other elements whose roughness makes Ezra-Nehemiah frustrating to read. Instead, it examines the three parts of the relationship—the strategies, the situations, and the effects—between the speaker and the audience. Rhetorical criticism’s scrutiny of the audience in context favors the search for the ideas and structures that are indigenous to the culture of the text.
Rhetorical criticism is interested in figures of speech as means of persuasion. Therefore, to apply it to Ezra-Nehemiah, Davies concentrates on the public discourse—the orations, letters, and prayers—throughout its text. In each chapter he follows a procedure that: (1) where it is unclear, identifies the rhetorical unit in which the discourse is set; (2) identifies the audiences of the discourse and the rhetorical situation; (3) studies the arrangement of the material; (4) studies the effect on the various audiences; (5) reviews the passage as a whole and judges its success. In the conclusion, Davies explains that Ezra-Nehemiah makes theological sense on its own terms, by forming a single work in which a range of ideas is argued.
Biblical scholars as well as those interested in literary criticism, communication studies, rhetorical studies, ecclesiology, and homiletics will find Ezra and Nehemiah enlightening.
Gordon F. Davies is associate professor of Old Testament and dean of students at St. Augustine’s Seminary of Toronto.
The psalms are masterful poems that echo the tenors of community life and worship as they project the scope of the human drama from lament to praise. They chart a profound and vital relationship with God, with all the ups and downs that this relationship implies. Konrad Schaefer’s concise commentary on the psalms relates their poetic elements while respecting their historical context and traditional use in the liturgy and, more importantly, their ultimate value as a springboard to private and communal prayer.
In Psalms, Schaefer focuses on the structure of each psalm, its dramatic plot, the modes of discourse, the rhetorical features, and the effective use of imagery to portray theology and the spiritual life. Schaefer portrays each poem’s inner dynamic to acquaint readers with the poet and the community which prayed and preserved the composition, allowing the believer to transpose it in the contemporary situation.
Psalms is for those who would like to pray the psalms with more intensity of meaning; for those willing to touch the biblical world and taste of its fruit in the Word of God; and for devoted readers of the Bible to become more expert as it helps experts become more devoted.
Schaefer’s commentary on the psalms should be considered one of the better contributions of the Berit Olam series. In my opinion, anyone who produces a decent one-volume commentary on all 150 psalms deserves recognition. This goes double for Schaefer, whose work is to be praised as one of the finer single-volume commentaries on the Psalter. Even though his commentary may lean more at times towards the concerns of the lay reader with a devotional interest, Schaefer successfully maintains an exegetical thrust and is able to integrate the fruits of modern biblical scholarship on the psalms with theological and pastoral acumen.
—Richard G. Smith, associate professor of biblical studies, Taylor University
Konrad Schaefer is a monk of Mount Angel Abbey, Oregon. He currently teaches at Our Lady of Angels in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
Among all of the books of the Old Testament, the Song of Songs is one of the most intriguing. On the one hand, its unabashed sensuality has captured the imagination and has endeared it to those who appreciate passionate human love. On the other hand, more demure readers have frequently been chagrined by their own fascination with its erotic character and have cloaked their interest under the guise of metaphorical reading. Both interpretations of the Song of Songs have been endorsed. Down through the ages, both Jewish and Christian interpreters have delighted in the exquisite imagery of the book’s songs, but they have also frequently reverted to allegory in their interpretations.
This commentary views the Song as a collection of love poems and carefully examines features of Hebrew poetry in order to uncover the delicacy of their expression. It is unique not only in the attention that it gives to the obvious feminine perspective of the poems but in their ecosensitive character. Although it is a tribute to mutual love, the principal frame of reference is the amorous disposition of the woman. Her words open and close the Song and her voice is dominant throughout.
The imagery that the lovers use is drawn from nature. Whether it is the woman in awe of the strength and splendor of her lover or the man glorifying her physical charms, the descriptions all call on elements from the natural world to characterize the feature being described. Whatever they experience or know or even desire is somehow rooted in the natural world.
. . . the commentary stands as an accessible synthesis of some insights from works on the Song of Songs that are available in English, along with some interesting observations that do not appear in every commentary.
—David M. Carr, Union Theological Seminary, New York
Dianne Bergant is professor of Old Testament studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. She is author of the Preaching the New Lectionary series and general editor of The Collegeville Bible Commentary (Old Testament). She was also editor of The Bible Today from 1986 to 1990.
There is generally no common material that binds together the works of the individual prophets that comprise the Twelve, but through Sweeney’s commentary they stand together as a single, clearly defined book among the other prophetic books of the Bible.
The Book of the Twelve Prophets is a multifaceted literary composition that functions simultaneously in all Jewish and Christian versions of the Bible as a single prophetic book and as a collection of twelve individual prophetic books. Each of the twelve individual books—Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi—begins with its own narrative introduction that identifies the prophet and provides details concerning the historical setting and literary characteristics. In this manner each book is clearly distinguished from the others within the overall framework of the Twelve.
By employing a combination of literary methodologies, such as reader response criticism, canonical criticism, and structural form criticism, Sweeney establishes the literary structure of the Book of the Twelve as a whole, and of each book with their respective ideological or theological perspectives. An introductory chapter orients readers to questions posed by reading the Book of the Twelve as a coherent piece of literature and to a literary overview of the Twelve. Sweeney then treats each of the twelve individual prophetic books in the order of the Masoretic canon, providing a discussion of each one's structure, theme, and outlook. This is followed by a detailed literary discussion of the textual units that comprise the book.
Marvin A. Sweeney is professor of Hebrew Bible at the school of theology at Claremont and professor of religion at the Claremont Graduate School. He is the author of numerous works on the Hebrew Bible and Jewish studies, including Zephaniah in the Hermeneia commentary series.
This is volume 2 in Marvin A. Sweeney’s literary analysis of the twelve Minor Prophets. Continuing the same ambitious approach, Sweeney delves into each book from Micah through Malachi, demonstrating their uniqueness through his multiple metholodological approaches while keeping them grounded in the perspective of the Twelve as a larger narrative whole.
Marvin A. Sweeney is professor of Hebrew Bible at the school of theology at Claremont and professor of religion at the Claremont Graduate School. He is the author of numerous works on the Hebrew Bible and Jewish studies, including Zephaniah in the Hermeneia Old Testament commentary series.