Volume 2 of the ZIBBC covers the books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth and 1-2 Samuel. Like volume 1 (Pentateuch), this volume is a go-to resource for ant pastor and serious Bible student. It is aimed at supplementing a traditional commentary that seeks to pay close attention to the text by providing a braod spectrum of useful background information. Not surprisingly, for the most part, it succeeds admirably.
This portion of volume 2 is written by Rick Hess. There’s simply no better choice in the evangelical orbit for a commentary on Joshua. Hess is one of my favorite scholars. Anything he writes is worth reading. The Joshua contribution is a model of how literary form and cognate material is useful for interpretation. Hess is well-versed in ANE literature and this contributions shows it. Particularly helpful in this regard are his introductory essay on how the book is framed with certain ANE literature in mind and his material on parallels to historical annals.
All that said, the reader may feel some disappointment with the Joshua contribution. Hess makes it clear that he isn’t going to focus on the dating controversy of the book and the exodus from Egypt–things one would find in a text-focused commentary. Hess’s strengths are cognate literature and linguistic analysis, not archaeology. The commentary really has nothing to offer in terms of any pottery analysis, an issue (again) crucial for the chronological question. However, it is also germane with respect to whether we have a conquest, migration, or indigenous origin of Israel in Canaan, and so it seems to me that this should have received more attention. Another disappointment some may express over Hess’s contribution is the fact that he substantially ignores the work of early date scholars who have written on Jericho (Bryant Wood), Ai (Livingstone), pottery and chronology (Bimson), and the general oversight on the part of commentators that the biblical text actually describes *few* destructions in the conquest and allows for at least a partial non-violent migratory entrance into the land (Merrill, Mattingly). One can see how all this could be ignored in the name of avoiding the chronological issue, but all of this work relates directly to the entrance into the land (no matter when that was). Readers will not get much exposure to the questions these writers raise in terms of the archaeology of the conquest in Hess’s treatment.
This portion of volume 2 was written by another favorite scholar of mine, Dan Block. Block is well known for his work on Judges (and Ezekiel). As with the Joshua portion, Block’s treatment is rich in its exposure to cognate literary parallels and artifacts that illustrate various items in the book. Unlike Joshua, Block devotes a good bit of space to chronological issues, and his material here is very helpful. On pages 98-99 he has a detailed table of parallel chronologies covering the Hittites, Babylonians, Egyptians (high and low chronology), Early and Late date schemes for the exodus, and the Levant in general. Block also has an excellent table that illustrates how the chronological language in Judges (e.g., lengths of judgeships) affects the dating of the exodus and conquest. He is quite fair to both sides, taking care to explain how each position would handle the data.
Aside from these chronological matters, there are helpful sidebar discussion on baalism and the “Yahweh and his Asherah” material. The latter issue deserved much more attention than it received, though. I was a bit surprised at the brevity. Personally, I found his excurses on literary parallels to the Gideon’s fleece incident and Hammurabi’s laws and concubinage the most interesting. I have an interest in Israelite divination and so I really appreciated the former.
As a short book, I don’t want my brief comments on Ruth to be taken as though there was little of interest in Dale Manor’s contribution. Not so. Granted, Ruth lacks the pizzazz of Joshua and Judges for me (it’s like comparing movies a guy would like — warfare, destruction, action — to a chick click. I’m just not as intrigued. But that said, I was struck by how much background information Manor could come up with for Ruth. There’s a lot in here — agricultural customs and practices, marriage customs, field work — that really matters for the book. Manor has a very interesting sidebar on the “Widow in Ancient Society” that was informative. One quibble, though. The explanation of levirate marriage, so critical to this book, really ought to have been longer and more detailed. I really don’t think it was sufficient.
Both portions of the books of Samuel were written by the capable Phil Long, know for his work in OT historiography and these two books. His excursus on the Hab/piru was clear, concise and well done. I also liked the extended discussion on Dagon. He produced a startling number of artifacts (artistic, iconographical) that illumined both books. This was the first time I was really taken back by the amount of material that could be marshaled for these two books. We usually associate background material with books of the Pentateuch or Joshua, assuming that the early monarchy doesn’t have as much “cool stuff” that opens the text for us. Not so.
In light of this richness of data, I was very surprised at two omissions. First, it was hard for me to believe that there was no discussion of the recent work on Aren Maeir’s archaeological work that put forth a strong case that instead of “hemorrhoids” the five golden ‘opalim delivered to Israel as guilt offerings for capturing the ark were uncircumcised penises. The discovery at the Philistine cities of Gath and Ashkelon of situlae (small vial-shaped flasks) in the form of uncircumcised penises prompted Maeir’s proposal (and the word ‘opalim can point to this meaning as well). As Maeir states in a 2008 article, the Philistines offered the penis-shaped vessels because Yahweh had afflicted them with some sort of penile dysfunction, not hemorrhoids. Whether Long buys this interpretation or not (I find it coherent), it should have been included in the discussion.1 Second, it also struck me that no mention was made of David Howard’s article detailing Gerbrandt’s work on how kingship was expected and permissible in Israel. This wouldn’t be backgrounding per se, but it at least deserved a mention.
Now some (slight) criticisms for the publisher. I couldn’t help wondering what the point was on page 294 to include an artistic rendering of Dagon before the ark. There was nothing authentic about the modern rendering, so what value does it offer? I liked the picture (at least the cherubim in it actually resembled real cherubim iconography), but in a commentary focused on artifactual data, this seemed pretty odd. Also strange was the placement of an excursus on monotheism on page 446 — coinciding with 2 Samuel 8, David’s growing empire, which has ZERO to do with monotheism. The material was good, but I’d expect it would be better place in a half dozen other locations — how about exodus, especially since the excursus featured a picture of a bust of Akhenaten! Well, at least it made it in.
- Aren N. Maier, Did Captured Ark Afflict Philistines with E.D.? BAR 34:03 (May/June 2008). ↩