Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies

Nelson, JUDGES, 2017

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 18•17

Nelson, Richard D. Judges: A Critical & Rhetorical Commentary. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017. Pages: 376. ISBN: 9780567673091.

Nelson JudgesThis is part of the series, ‘Critical and Rhetorical Commentary’ published by Bloomsbury. As the name suggests, these commentaries present us a critical study of the text and a rhetorical analysis.

The Judges commentary offers a fresh translation of the MT unit by unit. This is then followed by detailed notes that explains the translation. Then the structure and rhetoric of the unit follows. Finally, the genre and the composition of the unit is discussed. This pattern is followed throughout the 21 chapters of the book.

This thus serves the purpose of a critical commentary as it analyses the text, the grammar and usages of the Hebrew text. The critical analysis goes beyond the analysis of the language of the text to the text’s formation and transmission as well. According to the author chapters 2:6-10 and 3:7-16:31 is the oldest portion of the book while Judges 2:11-3:6 is later.

Then rhetorical anaylsis which follows careful analysis of the structures within the text offers us insight into what the text tries to do to the readers.

According to the author, the Book of Judges is divided into three parts as 1:1-2:5 (incomplete conquest), 2:6-16:31 (stories of the deliverers in a cyclical pattern) and finally 17:1-21:25 which is an account of the non-monarchic anarchy.

On the whole this serves the purpose of critical commentary for any student of the Hebrew Bible. In addition, it introduces the students to the praxis of rhetorical criticism. On every count, this is a valuable resource.


Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Oct• 11•16

9780190249588Olyan, Saul M., ed. Ritual Violence in the Hebrew Bible: New Perspectives. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. Pages: 190. ISBN: 978-0-19-0249588.

This volume, an anthology of eight essays (besides the introduction) is a timely contribution to the discussion about violence in the Bible. In the recent years, there has been a lot of attention on violence of all forms in the academia and the public media. A lot of discussion on the topic have focussed on the violence in the religious texts including the Hebrew Bible. However, most of the books on the subject circumvent one of the most important aspects of violence—the ritual aspect of it. This volume fills this lacuna by offering a detailed discussion of ritual violence in the Hebrew Bible.

Debra Soggins Ballentine (‘What Ends Might Ritual Violence Accomplish? The Case of Rechab and Baanah in 2 Samuel 4’) argues that ritual violence is a coded strategic version of normal acts of violence. The way David handled the violent act of Rechab and Baanah by burying Eshbaal’s head and mutilating the body of the villains had political goals as well.

T.M. Lemos (‘Dispossesing Nations. Population Growth, Scarcity, and Genocide in Ancient Israel and Twentieth-Century Rwanda’) is multi-disciplinary in its approach. He uses the case studies of violence in Rwanda and also that is described in Mesha inscription to understand violence in the Bible. The author concludes that the main reason for ritualized forms of violence in the Hebrew Bible is material scarcity. Population explosions and scarcity of land lead to violence of genocidal proportions. He also buttresses his argument by archaeological evidence. However, he doesn’t seem to suggest that it was material scarcity alone that lead to genocide in the Bible, a confluence of material, social, psychological aspects also contribute.

The third essay by Mark Leuchter (‘Between Politics and Mythology. Josiah’s Assault on Bethel in 2 Kings 23:15-20’) concludes that this act of Josiah is a more mythological re-enactment than being purely historical. However, this ethno-mythology was politicized.

The fourth essay in this volume, Nathaniel B. Lectow (‘Cognitive Perspectives on Iconoclasm’), is also interdisciplinary in nature. Levtow uses insights from cognitive science particularly, the modal theory of Harvey Whitehouse. He concludes that ‘iconism and iconoclasm are natural, durable, and inseparable forms of human thought and action.’

Exchange of women has been a practice in war times. Susan Nidtich in her essay, “‘The Traffic in Women” The Exchange, Ritual Sacrifice, and War’ studies three sets of texts that deal with violence on women. She studies (1) texts that deal with rape (Genesis 34 and Judges 19), (2) texts that deal with stealing of women in Deuteronomy 21, Numbers 31 and Judges 11 and (3) the case of Jephthah’s daughter in Judges 11. She concludes that exchange of women is an integral component of social relationships between men.

The editor of the volume who has made considerable contribution in the area of ritual violence discusses ‘The Instrumental Dimensions of Ritual Violence against Corpses in Biblical Texts.’ Olyan’s focus is on the biblical narrative that talks about the mutilation of dead bodies (particularly severing the head) of foreign or domestic enemies or of offenders. Decapitation served as means of humiliation and also as a threat to the survivors who may plan a rebellion. Decapitation as in the case of Eshbaal by Baanah and Rechab may be a sign of changed loyalties.

Rudiger Schmitt (‘Establishing Communitas. Royal Rites of Military Loyalty and Their Socio-Religious Function’ deals with war-related ritual acts that involve violence. The main purpose of such violence is to avoid intragroup violence. Legitimization of the ruler and formation of a communitas was also the purpose of these acts.

The last essay is devoted to the destruction of cities as part of violence related to war. In Jacob L. Wright (‘Urbicide. The Ritualized Killing of Cities in the Ancient Near East’, the author surveys the ancient textual, epigraphic and iconic evidence from AWA and Egypt to study the concept of urbicide (killing/destruction of cities). He concludes that urbicide is punitive action but it is also genocide. The urbicide also had a larger purpose of killing people’s cultural memories. The aggressors not only wiped out the people but also any memory that they cherished by destroying symbols of their culture and religion.

Discussions on religious violence are usually limited to either justifying it or disowning it. However, works that elaborate on the nature, motivations and goals of ritual violence is rare. This volume is a significant contribution in this direction.

Estes. Job, 2013

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Oct• 18•13

Estes, Daniel J. Job. Teach the Text Commentary Series. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013.Print

I was always at a loss when a pastor approached me for recommendations on the ‘best’ commentary. The ‘best’ in my list (as a seminary professor) were the highly academic ones filled with details that doesn’t really help pastors to prepare their Sunday School lessons or pulpit ministry. On the other hand, the ‘simple’ ones were too simple and shallow. The need for a commentary series where the technical details are kept to the essential minimum so that the pastors are not bogged down but still based on sound and contemporary scholarship is met by the Teach the Text Commentary Series. I haven’t had a chance to look at the other commentaries in this series except the one on the Book of Job. However, judging from this book under review, I can surely say that this series fills that great need.

The commentary is structured in such a way that all the academic issues in the study of the Book of Job are touched upon but in a non-intimidating way. Only those details that have some bearing on the preaching or teaching the book of Job are dealt with.

The commentary on each passage/chapter of the book of Job is divided into three sections as: ‘Understanding the Text’, ‘Teaching the Text’ and ‘Illustrating the Text.’ In the first part all that are necessary for a proper grasp of the passage are dealt with. This includes the context of the text, its historical and cultural background, etc. This takes the form of an almost verse by verse commentary. Key themes of each section are also dealt with. Suggestions as to how to teach the text follows. In the third section (Illustrating the Text), we find suggestions on how to relate each theme of the passage to the present context. For example, the author suggests that the stock market crisis of 1929 or something similar to that may help us to understand the magnitude and serious of the calamities that are reported in Chapter 1 of the book of Job. Then illustrations on the major themes of each section from literature, films, art etc are also suggested.

A simple introduction to the background of the Book of Job is useful. It looks at all the important critical questions like the place of Job 28 (the Poem on wisdom), the question if the Elihu speeches are later interpolations or not, etc. Detailed discussions are not allowed in order to avoid distractions and the author goes straight to suggestions on how the book in the present form (canonical shape) could be used for preaching. The question of the historicity of the book is also touched upon. However, the author suggests that the uncertainty on this issue need not deter anyone in appropriating in for teaching and preaching. The author concludes that the book could be historical or imaginative. However, this should not hinder preaching the book to contemporary audience; Since, ‘in the Bible, the Holy Spirit employed both historical narrative and imaginative literature to teach divine truth….’ The book is very well illustrated with photographs of places, people and archaeological artefacts that are related to the book of Job. Its layout along with the colour photographs makes it really attractive.

The book is complete with an index of scripture passages. The bibliography and the the scanty but annotated endnotes is for those who want to venture beyond what the book presents. Thus it is simple, but rich. It is a nourishing commentary: lean but wholesome; strikingly simple and pastor-friendly.