Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 4 (2002-2003) - Review

Volkmar Fritz, 1 & 2 Kings (Continental Commentary; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2003), Pp. xiv, 448. Hardcover. ISBN: 0800695305. $ 48.

This is a translation of two volumes in the Zürcher Bibelkommentare series (10/1, 1996 and 10/2, 1998). The translations of text units, ranging from two verses to two chapters in length, are modified versions of the NRSV. Longer units receive an overall analysis, followed by comments on shorter textual units of several verses each, not always in sequence. Shorter units simply receive commentary. Somewhat oddly, text critical notes disappear after 1 Kings 1-2, and the readings of the NRSV are generally adopted after that point without comment.

This commentary is concerned only minimally with matters of composition and textual growth and not at all with synchronic literary studies. Fritz broadly accepts the hypothesis of a Deuteronomistic Historian and inclines more to the exilic "layer model" of the Göttingen school. He often follows Ernst Würthwein's commentary (Das Alte Testament Deutsch, volume 11) on compositional questions. The chief strength of this commentary is that it takes seriously archaeology and ancient comparative sources, discussing texts against their historical context and utilizing insights from comparative materials.

By looking at three passages of varied character, one can capture the flavor of Fritz's approach. With respect to the highly theological and legendary account of Micaiah ben Imlah and Ahab's death (1 Kgs 22:1-38), he gives a brief analysis of the literary relationship between the prophet legend and the account of the king's death. Commentary is given first on the surrounding didactic tale (vv. 1-4, 29-38), then on the prophet legend incorporated within it (vv. 5-28). The former shows by example that even a king's cunning cannot help him escape God's will. "Against our divinely ordained fate, we humans and our schemes are powerless" (p. 220). Given its character, "a historical evaluation of the story is inappropriate" (p. 218). The prophet legend explains why "contradictory prophecies exist and why humans cannot resolve them" (p. 221). The exposition highlights the strategic importance of Ramoth-gilead and Micaiah's use of royal shepherd language common in the ancient Near East. The two verses of the concluding formula for Ahab (1 Kgs 22:39-40) receive proportionally longer commentary. This focuses on the archaeological evidence for Ahab's building programs, a description of the Samaria ivory plaques, and the Battle of Qarqar. Turning to the report and sermonic comment on the downfall of Israel (2 Kgs 17:3-23), one finds that vv. 3-6 with their historical content take up half of the commentary space. The political and military interactions between Hoshea and Shalmaneser V and the subsequent deportations are described in some detail. Fritz then contends that the basic judgment of the Deuteronomistic Historian is set forth in vv. 21-23 and has attracted two subsequent Deuteronomistic additions. Verses 7-12, 18 stress apostasy by the inappropriate worship of Yahweh and turning to other gods. Verses 13-17, 19-20 focus on Israel's disregard for prophetic warnings. The asherah poles of v. 10 receive extensive explanation.

The series editor has created a selected bibliography for English readers so that entries for works in English vastly outnumber those in German. The footnotes are more evenly balanced. Almost all references to ancient sources are to Texte aus der Umwelt des Alten Testaments (ed. Otto Kaiser). Citations of ANET (there are a few) or the The Context of Scripture (ed.William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger) would have better served English readers. There are three indexes listing biblical and ancient sources, divine names, and geographical names. In summary, this commentary critically presents a great deal of information, especially of a historical and archaeological nature, in a handy format of medium length. It does so in a way useful to the specialist, but also accessible to anyone who uses the Hebrew Bible professionally.

Richard D. Nelson
Perkins School of Theology