Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 15 (2015) - Review

Coggins, Richard and Jin H. Han, Six Minor Prophets through the Centuries (Blackwell Bible Commentaries; Chichester, UK/Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). Pp. 296. Hardcover. US$136.95. ISBN 978-1-405-17675-0.

The Blackwell Bible Commentary series is devoted to the history of interpretation of the various biblical books. It also considers the history of a book's effects on culture: its “literature, art, music, and film, its role in the evolution of religious beliefs and practices, and its impact on social and political developments,” otherwise known as Wirkungsgeschichte (p. xii). Han was responsible for treating Nahum-Habakkuk-Zephaniah and Coggins Haggai-Zechariah-Malachi. It appears the project was not initially a collaborative volume, but subsequently Blackwell decided to include both independent projects in one volume (p. xv). Han and Coggins therefore have different formats in their respective sections, as one will see below.

Han begins his treatment of each biblical book with an introduction to the differing canonical placements of the particular book within the Twelve throughout history and what interpretive significance that may have had for a particular individual or community. For instance, Nahum follows Jonah in the LXX, which may indicate that it was read as a sequel to Jonah, a reading strategy also attested in Theodore of Mopsuestia's commentary on the book (p. 7). Han then provides a section on the reception of each biblical book in “literature,” “the arts,” and “worship,” followed by the commentary proper.

The “literature” section has in view poems, novels, and the like. For instance, Harriet Beecher Stowe uses Hab 1:13 as an epigraph to chapter 31 of Uncle Tom's Cabin (p. 39); thus, Han teases out the verse's significance in the novel and how the verse impacted the thought of Stowe (p. 39). The “arts” section has in view the visual arts—paintings, sculptures, and the like—and what a given depiction implies about the interpretation of the biblical text. For instance, Lisboa sculpted a statue of Habakkuk where the prophet's left arm is raised seemingly in protestation of Babylon (p. 44). Many visual images are discussed, but only a few picture illustrations are given in the book; I suspect that is not the choice of Han, but of the publisher. The “worship” section has in view the reception of Habakkuk in prayers, hymns, and the like. For instance, Han notes the impact of Hab 2:4b on Charles Wesley, and how the verse was incorporated into Wesley's hymn “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”

The commentary proper is more of the same and proceeds in verse-by-verse manner, referring to key debates and diverging opinions in the reception of a particular verse. The following are examples of individuals with whom Han interacts throughout his commentary: R. Akiba, Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Maimonides, Kimchi, Malbim, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Ambrose, Jerome, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Augustine, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Luther, Calvin, Matthew Henry, Wesley, Pusey, Kitto, and others as well. Additionally, Han refers to sources such as pseudepigrapha texts, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Talmud, and other corpora (p. 5).

Coggins's portion on Haggai-Zechariah-Malachi begins with a brief introduction on their varying canonical orders throughout history. Each book is then treated in turn, with a brief introduction to the book followed by a verse-by-verse commentary. Here one sees the divergence in the structure of the commentary, as Han's portion has the additional sections on the reception of each biblical book in literature, art, and worship. Like Han, the author of this section pulls from a variety of sources throughout his commentary. Unlike, Han, however, Coggins's discussion of each verse usually only refers to the comment of one or two figures for the interpretation of a given verse. Often times, Coggins may even say nothing of how a given verse was received throughout history, focusing instead only modern interpretations. Here are some selected examples of this trend in Coggins's approach

(1) His comment on Hag 1:11 only mentions that an article in Weekly World News (an article that Coggins admittedly did not read) mentions the verse was used by a Bible prophecy expert to refer to the end times (p. 141); (2) the comment on Hag 2:21 merely mentions that the verse is referred to in Heb 12:26 (p. 149); (3) the comment on Hag 2:23 only mentions that the Targum takes the “signet ring” as referring to Zerubbabel's value rather than authority (p. 149); (4) the comment on Zech 3:8 mentions two interpretations of the term Zemach. The first interpretation takes the term Zemach as a “gematria” (p. 159), but Coggins does not cite the origin of this view. Rather, he explains that he came across the view in a commentary, whose author also does not cite the origin of the view. The second interpretation mentions that the term in Greek means “rising.”

As these examples suggest, the reception of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi in the second part of this commentary is rather tenuous, and does not evince the same depth as per the reception of Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah in the first part. The commentary on Zechariah does not even interact with Didymus the Blind, whose work is one of the earliest extant commentaries on Zechariah. To be sure, there is the occasional insightful reference, but there was an opportunity to do something special with the reception of these three biblical books. The length of each commentary portion underscores my point. While Han treated three biblical books consisting of a total of nine chapters, and Coggins treated three biblical books consisting of a total of nineteen chapters (twenty by English versification), Han's portion of the commentary is approximately fifty pages longer.

I find it interesting that Seow provides his endorsement on the back of this book, labeling it a “treasure trove” for the interpretation and impact of these six biblical books throughout history. I agree with this statement, but it may be more apparent for the first part of the commentary than for the second.

Robert C. Kashow, Brown University