Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 6 (2006) - Review
This commentary is part of the new Abingdon series written for clergy and theological students (p. vii). Simundson's volume serves the needs of the target audience by providing accessible first-rate scholarship and insight into these prophetic books. The author writes succinctly and with refreshing clarity.
The section on each biblical book begins with an introductory chapter organized according to: Key Issues; Literary Genre, Structure, and Character of the Writing; Occasion and Situational Context; and Theological and Ethical Significance. This is followed by a chapter of commentary on the specific book. The commentary does not include the author's translation of the text or reproduce a standard version, though the editor notes that the NRSV is the principal translation of reference (p. viii). Helpfully, the differences in the chapter / verse distribution between the Hebrew and English are noted, but the commentary references the English text throughout.
As should be expected, the length of the commentary varies with each biblical book; generally with longer books receiving more attention (with Hosea meriting 108 pages, and Obadiah, 8). Each chapter of commentary on the biblical books is divided into three parts: Literary Analysis; Exegetical Analysis; and Theological and Ethical Analysis. The organization of the commentary allows the reader to see how the literary analysis leads into the exegesis. The last section lends itself to appropriation by clergy and teachers in congregational settings, though instead of providing theological reflection aimed at contemporary issues (like an NIV Application Commentary [Zondervan]), it aims to instead provide a basis for reflection on them (p. ix).
For each prophet, his theological ideas are surveyed and his message is presented. Critical matters are not ignored, but are referred to only briefly. For example, the author notes that redaction has taken place in Micah, but seems interested in a final form reading (e.g., The whole book of Micah needs to be read in the light of the way that it ends. [p. 347]). This approach to critical matters is understandable, given the intended audience, but lamentable on some occasions. For example, in his commentary on the book of Amos, he categorically states that the redactional addition of the hopeful prophecy of Amos 9:11-15 does not contradict the beliefs and aims of the original prophet. However, many critical commentators assume that Amos's message was actually devoid of hope (thus the lack of hope in his authentic oracles). It seems a more helpful approach would note how the redactor has augmented (or perhaps contradicted) his message, rather than state that this redaction was not contrary to the original prophet.
Simundson proves adept at asking theological questions that cause the reader to wrestle with the text. For example, when noting Hosea's imagery of God as husband, Simundson raises the question How does one speak to the culture in language that will be understood, being true to the historical tradition, without becoming one with the current culture? (p. 9). Or concerning the book of Amos he queries How should those who claim to be chosen by God for a special relationship and a unique grasp of spiritual truth think about their special status? and Is everything that happens God's doing? (p. 156). His answers are tentative, befitting the difficult nature of the questions and leading the reader to reflect theologically on the biblical text for themselves.
This is not to say that Simundson fails to provide substantial answers as well. For example, in his Theological and Ethical Analysis on the book of Joel, tackling the question of whether God is involved in natural disasters, Simundson does not give pat answers. Instead he gives sage advice that affirms the belief that God is at work in the world but notes the danger of [persons] taking personal blame for every tragic thing that happens in their life (p. 145).
At times, however, his conclusions are potentially confusing. For example, he questions whether the prophet's words contradicted God's intentions (In short, are Joel and other prophetic oracles against real and imagined enemies more harsh than God intends to be? [p. 124]), but elsewhere states that, The prophet [Joel] does not speak only his own thoughts, opinions, prejudices, and biases but God's (p. 126). Or when commenting on Joel 2:28-29 he states that this verse does not eliminate the difference between Jew and Gentile (p. 141) but later argues that it means that all human beings will be equal before God (p. 147).
The volume concludes with a brief annotated bibliography that will assist interested readers with further study. Standard critical works (e.g., Jörg Jeremias The Book of Amos [OTL]) are listed, including one German commentary (Wilhelm Rudolph Hosea [KAT]), along with quite conservative resources (e.g., Walter Kaiser Micah-Malachi [Communicator's Bible]—which uses the NKJV as its principal translation). The annotations will be helpful for readers of all levels to select appropriate further reading.
In conclusion, this commentary provides excellent introductory information, concise but relatively full commentary on the biblical books and insightful theological exegesis. It would be a welcome and useful addition to the library of both undergraduate students and pastors alike.