Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 6 (2006) - Review

John H. Hayes, ed., Hebrew Bible: History of Interpretation (Nashville: Abingdon, 2004). Pp. xxiv + 366. Paper, US $40.00. ISBN 0-687-03666-6.

The volume under review contains forty-one articles on the Hebrew Bible excerpted from the valuable Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation (ed. J. Hayes, 2 vols.; Nashville: Abingdon, 1999; hereafter DBI). DBI contained over 1,000 signed articles treating the biblical and apocryphal books, ancient, medieval and modern interpreters, and methods and movements that have influenced the study of Scripture. The publisher's forward to this excerpted volume indicates that the original DBI articles have not been altered except for minor corrections and some updating of bibliographies. In some cases, however, there have been additions to the text that go beyond minor corrections. C. A. Moore's article on Esther, for example, includes an additional paragraph of nine sentences which makes reference to ten recent studies of that book. The article on the Songs of Songs adds over thirty new items to the bibliography, including reference to R. A. Norris's recent volume in The Church's Bible (The Song of Songs: Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentators; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003).

In general each book of the Hebrew Bible is treated in a single article, though Jeremiah is divided into two articles, one dealing with interpretation through the 19th century (A. Siedlecki) and another with interpretation in the 20th and 21st centuries (W. McKane). The articles typically offer a survey of the history of the interpretation of the book, beginning with inner-biblical and ancient interpretation and proceeding to the medieval and modern periods, concluding with a select bibliography. Most authors give particular attention to the last two centuries of interpretation. The article by C. Begg on 1-2 Kings is a case in point. Begg offers an in-depth survey of modern European and North-American scholarship on these books that combines deep learning with clarity of exposition and brevity of expression. The bibliography for this article is updated with eight additional references not included in DBI, though the text of the article is not substantially changed. Other articles, such as T. Dozeman's exemplary article on Numbers, offer extremely helpful reviews of several major recent commentaries. While the majority of the authors are biblicists, others, such as E. Ann Matter, author of the noteworthy article on the Song of Songs, are specialists in the history of biblical interpretation. Matter divides her analysis into six categories: Early Interpretation; The Early Middle Ages; The Twelfth Century; The Scholastic Period; The Early Modern Period; and Modern Interpretations. The bibliography is extensively updated but the text of the article is only slightly revised. A new sentence makes reference to six recent studies discussing violence and misogynist tendencies in the Song of Songs.

One of the great strengths of DBI was that in addition to fascinating articles on individual interpreters (e.g., Abravanel and Zimmerli), theological topics (e.g., Inspiration), and modern approaches (e.g., Ideological Criticism), it also included the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament, as well as articles treating many apocryphal works. This excerpted volume includes only five general articles: Decalogue by P.G. Kuntz, Deuteronomistic History by A.D.H. Mayes, Pentateuchal Criticism by C. Houtman, Poetry by A. Berlin, and Prophecy and Prophets by J. H. Hayes. While the editorial decision to limit the number of general articles is understandable given the stated purpose of this student edition, it is difficult to understand why only the 39 books of the “Hebrew Bible” have been included (though the article on Esther by C. A. Moore does include the Greek additions to that book). The decision not to include the DBI articles on the deuterocanonical and apocryphal books is regrettable in that it makes this volume less ecumenical than DBI while also limiting its scholarly usefulness.

An appreciative review of DBI by J. E. Wright in BASOR 319 (2000) 84-85 noted that its price of nearly $200 would make it too expensive for most people to own. This abridgement of DBI is one of three such volumes recently published by Abingdon Press, the other two treating the New Testament and method in biblical interpretation respectively. These soft cover volumes, each approximately 400 pages in length, are intended to make selections of DBI accessible for students at a more reasonable price. This is a welcome development. It should be noted, however, that DBI is now available from the publisher at less than half the original price. Specialists in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible who have not yet discovered DBI will still find it useful to have access to that larger work. This excerpted volume on the Hebrew Bible will be of interest primarily for its updated bibliographies and for the convenient and affordable way in which it makes some of the rich history of the interpretation of the Bible found in DBI available to students with limited budgets.

Stephen D. Ryan, O.P. Dominican House of Studies Washington, D.C.