Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 17 (2017) - Review

Lundbom, Jack R., Deuteronomy: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013). Pp. 1,064. Paperback. US$80.00. ISBN 978-0-8028-2614-5.

This volume was originally commissioned for the projected Eerdmans Critical Commentary series, for which David Noel Freedman served as general editor. Unfortunately, with the decease of the editor, the series was terminated. Thankfully, Eerdmans agreed to publish Lundbom's work as a self-standing commentary on Deuteronomy.

Having written commentaries on Ezekiel and Deuteronomy in this order, I realize now that I should have done my research on Deuteronomy before I embarked on Ezekiel. Although some scholars debate the direction of influence, the same probably applies to Jeremiah and Deuteronomy. The conceptual and stylistic links between these two books are well-known. Having produced what is arguably the finest commentary available today on Jeremiah,[1] it is right that Lundbom should also write a commentary on Deuteronomy.

While not matching in volume or quality his work on the seventh- to sixth-century b.c.e. prophet, the present tome is impressive. Following a 154-page introduction, Lundbom guides readers through each literary segment of Deuteronomy. His treatment of each section includes the following: (1) a fresh English translation of the Hebrew text (based largely on the Leningrad Codex, as represented by BHS); (2) a discussion of the rhetoric and composition of the selected passage; (3) verse-by-verse and phrase-by-phrase commentary notes; (4) a summary discussion of the message and audience.

Concerning the date and authorship of the book, Lundbom associates chapters 1–28 with Hezekiah's reforms and dates this part to the late eighth and early seventh century. Chapters 29–30 and 31–34 represent two supplements to the core. I welcome Lundbom's more or less holistic reading of the core of Deuteronomy (chs. 1–28). For too long critical scholars have separated chapters 1–4 and 5–11 from the so-called “Deuteronomic Law Code” in chapters 12–26, and focused discussion of separate segments of the book on isolating an original core and identifying layers of redactional additions. Lundbom's striking contribution to this discussion is his claim that the scroll that Josiah's workers found while refurbishing the Temple (2 Kgs 8–13) contained only chapter 32 (pp. 13–18), a position he defended almost forty years ago.[2] His discovery of strong links between Deut 32:15–22 and 2 Kgs 22:16–17, on the one hand, and Deut 32:44–46 and 2 Kgs 22:8–23:25, on the other, is convincing. However, his restriction of the law תורה in 31:24–30 to the “Song of Moses” (pp. 844–45) is problematic. One could just as well argue that in the seventh-century the Song was attached to the preceding address and that the narrator of Kings deemed the Song a summary of Moses' first address.[3]

In his introduction Lundbom offers extremely helpful summaries of the links between Deuteronomy and the prophets (pp. 29–43). While his suggestion that Jeremiah was influenced by Deuteronomy is unobjectionable, he assumes rather than argues that Amos and Hosea preceded Deuteronomy.[4] Direction of influence is often actually difficult to establish, but for every link he notes it could just as easily be argued that these prophets borrowed from Deuteronomy rather than the reverse. All readers will benefit from Lundbom's lengthy treatment of the relationship between Deuteronomy and Israelite wisdom (pp. 44–60). My only comment on this discussion concerns his treatment of shame and honor in Deuteronomy (pp. 54–58). His only conversation partner here is David Daube, to whose memory this book is dedicated. While none would question Daube's expertise on all things legal in the Hebrew Bible, this subject has received a lot of attention from biblical scholars since 1969, when Daube wrote his paper.[5] The most recent detailed study by Daniel Y. Wu calls for a more nuanced understanding of honour and shame cultures.[6]

Lundbom's 57-page bibliography reflects the breadth and depth of his research. Perhaps the greatest strength of this work is his full citation of extra-biblical analogues to issues arising in the book of Deuteronomy. Lundbom typically cites the most important analogous inscriptional and literary texts but then points the reader to many additional extra-biblical resources.

However, Lundbom's use of secondary literature on Deuteronomy is less compelling on several counts. First, in his commentary on specific texts Lundbom often merely cites opinions expressed by his favorite authorities. That S. R. Driver's name appears on every third page (318 total), and that on many of these he is cited more than once, even though his work is more than a century old, leads me to wonder whether one of the goals of this project was to resurrect Driver's legacy for the present generation. Lundbom is also heavily dependent on Frank M. Cross, David Noel Freedman, Richard D. Nelson, Gerhard von Rad, Jeffrey Tigay, Moshe Weinfeld, and G. Ernest Wright. While these are all scholarly luminaries on issues related to Deuteronomy, Lundbom's comments often involve little more than a collage of opinions; I often found myself waiting to hear his own voice. Second, the imbalance in Lundbom's bibliography is also problematic. Despite significant contributions to the scholarly conversations in the past two or three decades, references to scholars who express caution with critical scholarship on Deuteronomy are rare, and when they occur they tend to concern a technical grammatical or stylistic matter. Gordon McConville's 500-page commentary appears in the bibliography (p. 104), but citations of this and other significant works by this scholar appear only three times.[7] But this is more than can be said about Duane Christensen's 800-page 2-volume commentary (in the WBC series), which is never cited.[8] One looks in vain for interaction with significant commentaries and studies by scholars like Peter Craigie, Christopher Wright, John A. Thompson, and Eugene Merrill, or monographs on key critical issues in Deuteronomy by persons like Sandra Richter and Ian Wilson. If I did not know otherwise, I would conclude that the general perspective on Deuteronomy represented by this commentary is the only option available.

Concerning the commentary proper, I heartily welcome Lundbom's appeal to discourse features like chiasms and repetition of key words to argue for the coherence of a selected unit of text. He rightfully treats 28:69[ET 29:1] as the colophon to the preceding address, rather than the introduction to the first supplement (chs. 29–30), though he might have strengthened his case by noting that Lev 26:46 concludes the so-called Holiness Code similarly. However, some of his demarcations seem forced, and I wonder about the weight he gives to setumah and petuḥah signals in ML in the identification of text units. Sometimes he links texts that are better divided and divides texts that are better treated together (e.g., on grounds of form and substance 12:29–13:1[ET 12:32] are better treated as the introduction to chapter 13 than the conclusion to chapter 12; cf. p. 419). At the end of the discussion of the “rhetoric and composition” of each demarked unit Lundbom helpfully lists the Qumran texts that contain this passage.

Rather than tracing the flow of the argument, in the actual commentary Lundbom's comments tend to focus on individual clauses and phrases, which is the pattern in many commentaries. Readers will applaud his interpretation of many texts and question his understanding of others. His departure from Luther in arguing that YHWH gave Israel a system of laws that were doable is certainly welcome (pp. 821–23).

The concluding discussion of “Message and Audience” for each segment of text is potentially the most helpful for developing a biblical theology arising from Deuteronomy. In speaking of the core (chs. 1–28) as preaching, Lundbom has departed from a longstanding and pervasive tendency to treat Deuteronomy as a legal—if not legalistic—document. This is a very good move. However, he is inconsistent in how he identifies this material. Sometimes he identifies the speaker as “the deuteronomistic preacher”; sometimes the speaker is Moses, though it is clear that he perceives Moses as a character in the narrative into whose mouth the real speaker has put these words. Unfortunately Lundbom's discussion of the message usually involves merely summarizing the content of the text, rather than developing its theology. His focus on the eighth- and early seventh-century as the audience for the core limits his discussion of each unit's relevance for the nation of Israel through time and sometimes leads to awkward interpretations (e.g., the significance of listing the Canaanite nations in 7:1 for the neo-Assyrian context is not clear).

Because all who study the Scriptures have different expectations of what a commentary should do, it is impossible to write a perfect commentary. Despite its shortcomings, this massive tome will be a great aid to those who wrestle with the book of Deuteronomy. Given the amount of time and energy Lundbom has devoted to all things deuteronomic, Eerdmans has performed a great service to the academy by making his extensive notes available to us.

Daniel I. Block, Wheaton College

[1] Jack R. Lundbom, Jeremiah: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (3 vols.; AB 21A–C; New York: Doubleday, 1999–2004). reference

[2] Jack R. Lundbom, “The Lawbook of the Josianic Reform,” CBQ 38 (1976), 293–302. reference

[3] A position proposed by Otto Eissfeldt (see p. 845), and recently argued in detail by Boon-Hui Andrew Lee, “The Narrative Function of the Song of Moses in the Contexts of Deuteronomy and Genesis–Kings” (D.Phil. diss., University of Gloucestershire, 2011). reference

[4] For a critical assessment of this view and a contrary conclusion regarding the latter, see Carsten Vang, “When a Prophet Quotes Moses: On the Relationship between the Book of Hosea and Deuteronomy,” in Daniel I. Block and Richard L. Schultz (eds.), Sepher Torath Mosheh: Studies in the Composition and Interpretation of Deuteronomy (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, forthcoming). reference

[5] David Daube, “The Culture of Deuteronomy,” Orita 3 (1969), 27–52. reference

[6] Daniel Y. Wu, Honour, Shame, and Guilt: Social-Scientific Approaches to the Book of Ezekiel (BBRSup 14; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2016)). reference

[7] Gordon G. McConville, Deuteronomy (Apollos Old Testament Commentary; Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2002). reference

[8] Duane Christensen, Deuteronomy (2 vols.; WBC 6a–6b; Dallas: Word, 2001–2002). reference