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BUILDING AN OT LIBRARY: GENESIS—RUTH
Recommending commentaries on biblical books is something like recommending
restaurants in a large city. Possibilities are nearly endless and depend
in large measure on one’s taste and interests. But given a commitment to
excellent critical scholarship and interpretation that serves theological
interpretation for the life of the church, here are a few recommendations
for Genesis-Ruth. It needs to be said that there are many more very good
options than I can list here so none of these recommendations should be taken
as necessarily excluding other candidates.
For the book of Genesis, two excellent theological commentaries include
W. Brueggemann, Genesis, in Interpretation (Westminster John Knox,
1982) and, more recently, T. Fretheim in The New Interpreter’s Bible
([NIB; ed. Leander E. Keck et al.; vol. 1; Abingdon, 1994] 319-673). I used
to recommend C. Westermann’s three-volume commentary for those interested
in a full range of discussion of critical issues, with emphasis on the European
tradition of scholarship. Unfortunately, Westermann is now out of print but
still available through used book outlets. A current example of a more in-depth
critical and theological commentary is G. Wenham, two volumes, in Word Biblical
Commentary (WBC; Word, 1987/1994).
A standard critical and theological commentary on Exodus remains B.
Childs, The Book of Exodus, in the Old Testament Library (OTL; Westminster
John Knox, 1974). Childs includes a full range of discussions on historical-critical
matters, larger OT context, NT context, and history of exegesis. It has weathered
well over 30 years. More recent theological commentaries include W. Brueggemann
in the NIB (1; 675-981) and T. Fretheim, Exodus, in Interpretation
(Westminster John Knox, 1991). Mention should also be made of W. Janzen,
Exodus, in the Believers Church Bible Commentary (Herald, 2000),
and for those desiring some very heavy-lifting in their study of the scholarship,
C. Houtman, Exodus, vol 1-3, Historical Commentary on the OT (Kok,
1993-2000). Houtman provides both excellent and detailed reviews of
scholarship and history of interpretation.
A sometime overlooked book, Leviticus has been blessed by several
recent and excellent commentaries. One fine theological commentary is S.
Balentine, Leviticus, in Interpretation (Westminster John Knox, 2003).
J. Milgrom is a Jewish scholar who has spent a lifetime studying Leviticus.
He published a three-volume commentary on Leviticus in the Anchor Bible series,
but he has just released a more compact but still thorough one-volume commentary:
Leviticus: A Book of Ritual and Ethics (Fortress, 2004). One
could also note two additional possibilities from a more evangelical perspective.
They are G. Wenham in the New International Commentary on the OT (NICOT;
Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1979) and W. Kaiser in the NIB (1; 983-1190).
One scholar some decades ago called the book of Numbers the “junkroom
of the Bible” since he could not make sense of what seemed to be the disorganized
jumble of genres and texts in Numbers. Fortunately, several recent commentaries
have sought to revise that view with attention to the careful structure and
theological fruit of this sometimes neglected book. Good options include
D. Olson, Numbers, in Interpretation (1996); T. Ashley, Numbers
(NICOT ); and J. Milgrom, JPS Torah Commentary on Numbers
(Jewish Publication Society, 1990), among many others.
The rich and theologically important book of Deuteronomy is well represented
among commentaries. A sound critical and exegetical study is R. Nelson, Deuteronomy,
in the OTL (2002). Excellent theological commentaries include P. Miller,
Deuteronomy, in Interpretation (1991); J.G. McConville, Deuteronomy
in the Apollos Old Testament Commentary (InterVarsity, 2002), and W. Brueggemann,
Deuteronomy, in the Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries (Abingdon,
A fine critical and exegetical study of Joshua is R. Nelson, Joshua,
in the OTL (1997). It is currently out of print, but hopefully will soon
be reprinted and back in circulation. In the meantime, one can pick up a
used copy. Other commentaries include M. Woudstra in NICOT (1994) with a
more conservative slant, and L.D. Hawk in Berit Olam, Studies in Hebrew Narrative
and Poetry (Liturgical, 2001) with a more literary approach to Joshua.
Recommendations for Judges’ exciting OT account of judges like Deborah,
Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson might include D. Olson, “Judges,” in the NIB
(2; 721-887); J.C. McCann in Interpretation (2002); and D. Block, Judges,
Ruth, in the New American Commentary (Broadman & Holman,
On the book of Ruth, K. Sakenfeld, in Interpretation (1999), considers
the cultural diversity of readings of Ruth along with a sustained literary
and theological commentary. A. LaCoque provides a very recent and thorough
critical commentary with attention to issues of language, culture, and interpretation
(Ruth [Fortress, 2004]). A different kind of commentary treatment
is E. Davis and M. Adams Parker, Who Are You, My Daugher: Reading Ruth
through Image and Text (Westminster John Knox, 2003) which offers a new
translation, notes, and a series of 20 artistic woodcuts that interpret the
book of Ruth through visual image along with the text.
Many other good candidates could be mentioned for each of these biblical
books, but those listed would provide a good starting place for preaching
or teaching these books within the context of Christian ministry. So pick
your restaurant, enjoy the feast, and with these choices, you will not come
By Dennis T. Olson, Princeton Theological Seminary.