Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 9 (2009) - Review

Gina Hens-Piazza, 1-2 Kings (Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006). Pp. xx + 407. Paper, US$36.00, UK£21.99, CAN$48.99. ISBN 0-687-49021-9.

Hens-Piazza provides a compact commentary on the large 1-2 Kings corpus. Following a brief introduction, each chapter of the biblical corpus is treated in a separate commentary chapter, with few exceptions (1 Kings 6-7, 15-16; 2 Kgs. 6-7, 18-19, 22-23, 24-25 are each treated together). A select bibliography contains primarily English commentaries of the 20th century together with a limited selection of monographs and articles on specific texts.

The introduction discusses the genre of 1-2 Kings, concluding that the books are “‘salvation history’,… testimonies composed over time to witness to a people's experience of God's involvement in the unfolding events of their lives” (pp. 1-2). Further introductory discussion treats three elements “persistently present across these writings” (p. 1): historical, literary, and theological. The commentary's discussion of historical issues recognizes that 1-2 Kings does narrate the past, but does so through the ‘language of faith and is motivated by belief, rather than a historian's commitment to objectivity, factuality, or chronology’ (p. 2). Hens-Piazza acknowledges the sources behind the present work as indicated in the biblical text, and gives a brief nod toward scholarship on compositional history—choosing to cite only Noth and Cross in her overview. Her introductory discussion of literary elements in the books focuses primarily on the large structure of the book before mentioning narratological features such as plot, characterization, narrative speed, etc. Finally, her introduction addresses the theological nature of the book, citing several themes traced throughout the book. The primary theme she cites is that of covenant, which appears throughout 1-2 Kings as a complex interweaving of conditional and unconditional elements that both explains the peoples' failure in the land, and provides hope for a new kingdom in the age to come.

The commentary proper follows a tripartite arrangement for each chapter of the biblical text in which literary, exegetical, and theological analysis is undertaken. The literary analysis (which might be better titled “Structural Analysis”) provides a good discussion of each chapter's structure, with some discussion of the main lines of the narrative plot as it moves from exposition, to crisis, to resolution. Occasional discussion of literary features such as chiasms (e.g., p. 75), and repetitions (e.g., p. 131) are found throughout the commentary. Beyond the discussion of plot, narratological comments are found not in the literary analysis, but primarily in the exegetical analysis. In the exegetical analysis, the strength of Hens-Piazza's work is in providing an engaging commentary and retelling of the narrative. Her exegesis focuses on the final form of the text, rarely raising questions of compositional history and, sadly, other questions of a historical nature that one might anticipate (given her introductory comments on the nature of the corpus as historical). When such questions are engaged, it is sometimes difficult to see why the particular item merits discussion. For instance, why include a brief discussion of Ahab's building materials (p. 220) when more substantial questions such as the identity of Ben-hadad in 2 Kings 6-7 (p. 270) are only minimally engaged? However, given an apparent methodological decision to comment on the final form of the text through a narrative retelling, these historical issues have a minimal impact and do not hinder the commentary's progress.

The commentary's theological analysis is perhaps the most uneven part of the book. At times, the analysis satisfied in its congruence to the exegetical and literary observations arising from the biblical text. For instance, in literary observation and exegetical analysis she aptly holds in tension the positive and negative portrayals of King Solomon in 1 Kings 1-11. Her theological analysis shows that this portrait contrasts with that of the ideal king in Deuteronomy 17 (pp. 54-55) so that the commentary's constituent parts all argue against an ideal reading of Solomon's reign. Similarly, the theological analysis of Hezekiah's narrative (2 Kings 18-19) is congruous to the preceding commentary. Conversely, at times the theological comments are incongruent to the preceding commentary. An example of this is 1 Kings 18. There, the narrative retelling of the story focuses on the religious combat between YHWH and Baal, with infrequent comments about the social ramifications of Elijah's role in such a contest. Passing reference (p. 179) is made to the historical reality of credibility granted a prophet by his association to cultic shrines (without citation of secondary literature; a serious oversight in the commentary). The theological analysis chooses, however, not to take up the narrative focus of religious combat but rather focuses on the contest between court prophets and peripheral prophets (pp. 182-183) with Elijah seeking personal advancement within Ahab's court; this, however, has not been adequately explored in the commentary so as to warrant the conclusion. The application for this section urges against the temptation for religious workers to “social opportunism lodged in their ministries” (p. 183), again, an application not wholly supported by the preceding commentary.

Another disappointment, particularly within the theological analysis but also throughout the literary and exegetical comments, is a tendency to read and comment on each section without due attention to its canonical placement and connectedness to the surrounding narratives. There are some references to biblical texts that provide background for the narrative events (e.g., pp. 54-55, 314-15), or occasional references to the larger canon (for instance, the reflection on 2 Kings 23 includes passages from Jeremiah). Overall, however, the theological power of the Dtr message that holds the book together is dissipated by such isolated readings. And, particularly, as the intended audience is the “faithful” reader (p. 274) in (apparently) Christian theological settings (xix, and cover), the lack of canonical reading bridging into the New Testament is remarkable and weakens the commentary.

The commentary's strength is its engaging commentary and narrative retelling of the text. For a one-volume commentary, Hens-Piazza's work provides a handy initial reference for its intended audience of theological students and pastors.

Lissa Wray Beal, Providence Theological Seminary