Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible

Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible


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No one familiar with the Bible needs to be told that it is a truly remarkable work. But it takes help to understand this ancient collection of diverse forms of literature written by different people across many centuries. The Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (ECB) is the finest, most up-to-date single-volume Bible handbook now available.

Written by world-class Bible scholars, the ECB encapsulates in nontechnical language the best of modern scholarship on the sixty-six biblical books plus the Apocrypha. The only one-volume Bible commentary to cover all the texts (even including 1 Enoch) regarded by one or more Christian churches as canonical, the ECB provides reader-friendly treatments and succinct summaries of each section of the text that will be valuable to scholars, students and general readers alike.

The primary objective of this work is to clarify the meaning of each section of the Bible. Rather than attempting a verse-by-verse analysis (virtually impossible in a one-volume work), the ECB focuses on principal units of meaning -- narrative, parable, prophetic oracle, section of argument, and so on -- highlighting their interconnectedness with the rest of the biblical text. The volume also addresses and answers major issues -- including the range of possible interpretations -- and refers readers to the best fuller discussions. Beyond providing reliable, informative commentary, this hefty volume also includes thirteen introductory and context-setting articles that do justice to the biblical documents both as historical sources and as scriptures. 

The sixty-seven contributors to the ECB come from a wide variety of backgrounds and are acknowledged leaders in the field of biblical studies. Their contributions stand out either for their fresh interpretations of the evidence, or for their way of asking new questions of the text, or for their new angles of approach. While the translation of choice is the New Revised Standard Version, many of the contributors offer their own vivid translations of the original Hebrew or Greek.

Cutting-edge, comprehensive, and ecumenical, the ECB is both a fitting climax to the rich body of interconfessional work undertaken in the latter part of the twentieth century and a worthy launching pad for biblical study in the twenty-first.

Special features of the ECB

  • The only one-volume commentary to cover all the texts (including the Apocrypha and 1 Enoch) regarded as canonical
  • Thirteen major essays that introduce each section of Scripture and its study
  • Encapsulates in nontechnical language the best of modern scholarship
  • Includes superb bibliographies and an extensive subject index
  • Written by sixty-seven first-rate Bible scholars
  • Designed for use by scholars, students, pastors, and general readers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802837110
Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
Publication date: 11/19/2003
Pages: 1649
Sales rank: 390,343
Product dimensions: 7.50(w) x 10.00(h) x 2.45(d)

About the Author

Widely regarded as one of the foremost scholars in the world today on the thought and writings of St. Paul, JamesD. G. Dunn is Lightfoot Professor Emeritus of Divinity at the University of Durham in England.

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William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2003 William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
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ISBN: 0-8028-3711-5

Chapter One

The History of the Tradition: Old Testament and Apocrypha

John W. Rogerson

1. The History and Purpose of the Old Testament and Apocrypha

How, when, and why were the Old Testament (OT) and the Apocrypha written? The obvious place to look for answers to these questions is in the texts themselves. Exod 24:7 refers to "the book of the covenant" which Moses read to the people at Mt. Sinai, while Exod 34:28 reports that Moses wrote "the words of the covenant, the ten commandments" on stone tablets according to God's instructions. Many of the regulations concerning priesthood and sacrifice in Leviticus and Numbers begin with the formulae "the Lord said/spoke to Moses/Aaron," implying their divine origin as well as their mediation through Moses and Aaron. Deuteronomy is an address by Moses to the Israelites gathered in the plains of Moab. In 1 Sam 10:25 Samuel writes in a book "the rights and duties of the kingship," while 1 Kgs 4:32 attributes 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs to Solomon. The prophet Isaiah is told to seal the testimony and the teaching (i.e., to write them down)among his disciples, while Jeremiah dictates two sets of prophecies to Baruch, the first of which is destroyed by King Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 36). In the Apocrypha the grandson of the author of the original Hebrew of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)and its translator into Greek tells us something about himself and his grandfather (Sirach, Prologue),while Bar 1:1-2 claims as its author the Baruch who was Jeremiah's scribe. The Letter of Jeremiah (Baruch 6) is "a copy of a letter that Jeremiah sent...." 2 Maccabees describes itself as a condensation of a five-volume work by Jason of Cyrene (2 Macc 2:23), while 2 Esdras claims to be the work of Ezra (2 Esdr 1:1-3).

In the history of interpretation far more attention has been paid to the claims made about authorship in the OT than in the Apocrypha; indeed, in Protestant circles that rejected the Apocrypha as Scripture some of the claims to authorship in the Apocrypha were subjected to critical scrutiny in order to show that they were false and that the Apocrypha were therefore discredited. Out of the hints found in the OT a view of its authorship emerged perhaps as early as the second century AD and was recorded in b. B. Bat.14b-15a. Those who held this view attributed "his book" (presumably most of Genesis to Deuteronomy) and Job to Moses, the book of Joshua and eight verses of the Torah (presumably Deut 34:5-12, recording the death of Moses) to Joshua, the books of Judges, Ruth, and 1 and 2 Samuel to Samuel, and the Psalms to David assisted by ten elders, including the first Adam, Melchizedek, and Abraham. Jeremiah was credited with 1 and 2 Kings, Jeremiah, and Lamentations, and Hezekiah and his helpers (cf. Prov 25:1) with Isaiah, Proverbs, Canticles, and Ecclesiastes. The remainder were attributed to the "Men of the Great Synagogue" and Ezra.

Positions similar to, but not identical with, these were to establish themselves in Christian scholarship and to last into the nineteenth century. They can still be found in the young churches of the developing world which are innocent of biblical criticism. The traditional views of authorship had two strengths. First, they provided a clear account of the origin of the faith of Israel. It was divine revelation communicated directly to individuals such as Moses. Secondly, if the authors of OT books were known, it became possible to regard them as writers inspired by God. The seemingly neutral question, "Who wrote this book?" became closely tied up with theories about the authority and inspiration of the OT such that to question traditional views of the authorship of a book could be regarded as an attack on that book's status as inspired Scripture. This difficulty is still felt by Christians who are not necessarily "fundamentalists."

This is not the place to describe how and why the traditional positions on authorship were abandoned from the late eighteenth century onward. This abandonment did, however, have serious consequences for the study of the OT. The traditional views accounted for the origin of the faith of Israel. Where, however, did this faith come from if it was no longer possible to accept at face value statements such as "the Lord spoke to Moses, saying ...?" If, as is often maintained, much of the priestly and sacrificial legislation in Leviticus and Numbers is a late development rather than something revealed to Israel at the outset, how is the history of Israel's faith to be reconstructed?

This question must now be addressed because it is fundamental to any attempt to sketch the origin and formation of the traditions and books that make up the OT and Apocrypha; and it must be said at the outset that only some broad indications can be given. As a first step, we will consider several attempts to account for the origin of the faith of Israel and the traditions witnessing to it. Some or all of them may be familiar to readers, and their strengths and weaknesses are informative.

A consensus that emerged in the latter part of the nineteenth century was that the prophets of Israel, especially those of the eighth century (Isaiah of Jerusalem, Hosea, Amos, and Micah), were the main force behind the formation of Israel's faith. Reacting to Canaanite fertility cults and despotic rulers, the prophets proclaimed ethical monotheism and social justice and challenged Israel to look beyond national interests to God's universal rule. Failure to respond to these challenges would bring divine punishment upon the people, who had been chosen by God for responsibility and not for complacency. The sixth-century prophets (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Deutero-Isaiah) enabled Judah to survive the Babylonian captivity and to learn new and deeper lessons about sin, punishment, and vicarious suffering. Some of these insights were consolidated into the developing sacrificial rituals of the postexilic Jerusalem temple with its emphasis on expiation. At the same time, personal piety found expression in the composition and use of the Psalms, while contact with Hellenism from the late fourth century resulted in the OT "wisdom" traditions (Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes), including those in the Apocrypha (Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach).

This consensus was set in the context of various developmental and evolutionary schemes. One approach, influential in Britain, traced in the OT a progressive development of religious belief from animism, polytheism, and henotheism (belief that the God of Israel was supreme among the gods)to monotheism (belief that the God of Israel was the only God). It also held that Israel had experienced a progressive moral and ethical development. The OT thus became the record of a progressive revelation or education. Other approaches focused on Israel's social development: from a "nomadic" people to one surrounded by fertility cults in a settled land; from a loose association of tribes to a dynastic state ruling other small states. A popular source for Israel's faith was the supposed clarity and purity of the desert in which there were no shades of grey and where God's moral being and ethical demands could be more readily apprehended than elsewhere.

A major factor highlighted by this consensus was that if appeal was no longer made to divine revelation communicated to known individuals as the origin of the faith of Israel, alternative explanations had to be found; and these were likely to be taken from secular theories that were popular at the time, such as those influenced by social Darwinism.

In the twentieth century two notable attempts were made to correct or modify the nineteenth-century consensus and to offer alternative explanations of the origins of Israel's faith. The first, associated with W. F. Albright and his students John Bright and G. E. Wright, believed that archeology supported a mildly critical, traditional reading of the OT. The ancestors (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) were located in second-millennium Mesopotamia and Syria/ Palestine, and the exodus was dated in the thirteenth century. The faith of Israel derived from acts of God in history such as the exodus, events which could be dated and reconstructed with the aid of historical and archeological research but which inspired witnesses who experienced them had perceived to be acts of God. Wright's books Biblical Archaeology and God Who Acts: Biblical Theology as Recital were classic statements of this position.

The second approach, that of G. von Rad, was more skeptical about what could be known about figures such as Moses and the ancestors and events associated with them in the biblical record. It did not so much search for the origins of Israel's faith as concern itself with proclamations of that faith which were held to be connected with two great festivals, one which celebrated the occupation of the land and one which celebrated the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai. The datum, in other words, was the faith that was confessed rather than the revelations or events that gave rise to the faith. Those parts of the confession that referred to revelatory events such as the exodus referred to happenings beyond the scope of historical research, either because the necessary evidence was not available or because theological reflection on the events and the celebratory retelling of them had altered them beyond recognition in the tradition. According to von Rad, the core of the Pentateuch was to be found in the "creed "recited at the festival of first fruits, according to Deut 26:5-9:

"A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place...."

Two other features of von Rad's position were important: belief in the "Solomonic Enlightenment," a period in the tenth century during the reign of Solomon in which the traditions relating to Israel's faith began to be written down; and acceptance of A. Alt's attempt to identify the "God of the fathers" (i.e., the ancestors) by means of comparative studies. According to Alt, the "God of the fathers" (a common phrase in the tradition) identified a manifestation of the divine to a particular person, whose descendants then worshiped that manifestation as, for example, the God of Abraham or the God of Nahor (Gen 31:53), Abraham and Nahor being the names of ancestors to whom, it was believed, the deity had been manifested. This accounted for the traditions about Abraham and the other ancestors.

Since the work of Wright and von Rad (both of whom died in the early 1970s) OT studies have undergone a transformation in radical directions which has completely changed the landscape of the discipline. New literary-critical study of the Pentateuch and the "historical" books (Joshua to 2 Kings)has suggested later dates for their composition. The nineteenth-century consensus dated the sources for these books from the tenth/ ninth to the seventh/sixth centuries. There is now a tendency to regard all of them as postexilic. Von Rad's "Solomonic Enlightenment" has been abandoned. At the same time, archeological research has produced an account of the history of Syria/Palestine that suggests that Israel, Judah, Moab, Ammon, and Edom did not begin to emerge as "states "until the ninth-eighth centuries BC. The biblical accounts of the empires of David and Solomon hardly fit in with this picture, although it is going too far to deny the existence of David and Solomon. Events such as the exodus or the time of the ancestors are now so remote compared with the proposed dates for the traditions about them that they have become invisible as far as any historical attempt to recover them is concerned. At the same time, much more has become known about the popular religion of Israel thanks to the researches of Othmar Keel and his associates on cylinder seals, amulets, and the like.

The task not only of writing a history of Israel but also of accounting for the faith of Israel and the origin and growth of the OT traditions has become more formidable than ever. OT specialists are faced with accounting for a faith that developed within a nation, in circles that often came into conflict with the rulers and ordinary people of that nation. Furthermore, the "history" of the nation that these circles produced was not a history in the modern sense. Although the writers used historical sources such as royal chronicles, their aim was not to present a chronological account of the nation's fortunes but to write what has been called a "decision history" -a story containing incidents with outcomes that would challenge readers/hearers to faith in God. Also, the religious beliefs and practices of the postexilic community were explained in terms of an overall story that was projected back to the creation of the world. In what follows, we will attempt to sketch the origins of Israel's faith and the growth of its Scripture in the light of present OT studies, while taking into account the dynamics indicated in the preceding sentences.

"Israel is laid waste, its seed is no more." These words from the twenty-seventh line of an inscription from the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah (variously dated 1224 to 1214 or 1212 to 1202) are the earliest known reference to Israel or an Israel. Through its determinative (a sign that precedes a name and indicates whether the name is that of a god, a person, or a country) the name indicates a group organized along tribal lines. Thus, toward the end of the thirteenth century BC there existed, probably in ancient Palestine (see Görg 1997:60), a people that was sufficiently distinct for it to be recognized and named by a foreign invader. To what extent this Israel corresponded to a later group or groups bearing the same name has become a battleground of recent OT scholarship.

It is interesting that, however the first part of the name "Israel" is to be understood (it has been connected with sara, "to fight," "to rule," or "to heal" or with yashar, "upright"),the second part is "El," the common Semitic word for God. The group is thus named according to the general Semitic term for God rather than the distinctive name for the God of Israel, YHWH, thought to have been pronounced Yahweh. The earliest non-biblical reference to Yahweh in connection with Israel is in the Inscription of Mesha, king of Moab in the first half of the ninth century BC. Lines 17 and 18 read, "I took from there [i.e.,


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Table of Contents

Old Testament
The History of the Tradition: Old Testament and Apocrypha1
Premodern, Modern, and Postmodern in Old Testament Study13
Syro-Palestinian and Biblical Archeology21
The Pentateuch25
1 and 2 Samuel213
1 and 2 Kings246
1 and 2 Chronicles282
Song of Songs474
Introduction to Prophetic Literature482
Old Testament Apocrypha
Greek Esther758
The Wisdom of Solomon763
Additions to Daniel803
1 Maccabees807
2 Maccabees831
1 Esdras851
Prayer of Manasseh859
Psalm 151862
3 Maccabees865
2 Esdras876
4 Maccabees888
Introduction to the Pseudepigrapha902
1 Enoch904
The Hebrew Bible in the Dead Sea Scrolls942
New Testament
The History of the Tradition: New Testament950
Hermeneutical Approaches to the New Testament Tradition972
Introduction to the Gospels989
Letters in the New Testament1268
1 Corinthians1314
2 Corinthians1353
1 and 2 Thessalonians1413
The Pastoral Epistles: 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus1428
1 Peter1493
2 Peter1504
1, 2, and 3 John1512
New Testament Apocrypha1573
The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament1577

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