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

Dietrich, Walter, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah (International Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament; trans. Peter Altmann; Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2016). Pp. 286. Hardcover. €74.00. ISBN 978-3-17-020657-1.

International Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament is a new commentary series that intends to feature the best of both North American and European scholarship. Also, in opposition to commentaries that favor either synchronic or diachronic criticism, this series intends to simultaneously present both perspectives on a given book. Although relatively few volumes in this series have appeared so far, the work under consideration here definitely indicates that the IECOT name will soon join the ranks of the trusted reference works that all Hebrew Bible scholars regularly consult.

The layout of this commentary is clear and logical. After a concise introduction that outlines the relevant issues in Book of the Twelve studies, the analysis of each section of each individual book begins with a translation with text-critical and grammatical notes, followed by a synchronic interpretation, a diachronic interpretation, and a synthesis of the two. Throughout the text, excursuses in smaller print provide more in-depth information on numerous specific matters. For the purpose of succinctness, the section on Habakkuk will be used to illustrate the various points made in this review.

The introduction begins by raising the problem of the location of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah in the Book of the Twelve: Why is a book about Babylon (Habakkuk) placed between two books about Assyria (Nahum and Zephaniah)? Synchronically, Dietrich argues this serves the purpose of depicting a narrative of impending judgement (Nahum), the devastation of foreigners attacking Israel (Habakkuk), and the eventual intercession of Yahweh (Zephaniah). Diachronically, Dietrich is to be commended for clearly identifying his view of the place of Nahum and Habakkuk in the formation of the Book of the Twelve, as he follows Kessler's hypothesis of an original redaction connecting Nahum and Habakkuk as a unified work prior to the incorporation of this literary creation into the larger collection of the Minor Prophets.[1] While he adequately summarizes the arguments for this viewpoint—primarily the similarities in their superscriptions, their incorporation of psalmic material (Nah 1:2–8; Hab 3:1–19), and their complimentarily polemics against Assyria and Babylon—he fails to consider the criticisms of this model voiced by Wöhrle.[2] Specifically, Wöhrle notes that the theological and conceptual parallels Kessler adduced between the two psalms are found in numerous places elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, weakening the likelihood they were deliberately created to mirror each other. Additionally, Nah 1:2–8 is a partial acrostic while Hab 3 does not use this poetic device, another area of disparity between the two psalms.

A short section discussing the reception history of Habakkuk outlines the portrayals of the prophet found in the apocryphal work Bel and the Dragon, the Habakkuk Pesher (1QpHab), New Testament citations, the Greek Barberini recension, and the sculpture of Donatello. Curiously, this neglects to mention the expansion of and commentary on the Bel account in the pseudepigraphal work Lives of the Prophets.

Regarding the compositional history of Habakkuk specifically, Dietrich adopts the relatively uncomplicated position that an original core (comprising the majority of chapter 1 and partial fragments of chapter 2) contains a lament by the prophet, a response by Yahweh, followed by another complaint by the prophet and further condemnation of evildoers in Judah. A second layer added anti-Babylonian polemic in chapter 2, and the final redaction added the hymn of chapter 3. Particularly notable is his courage to argue for the original unity of 1:2–10, as this avoids the wooden interpretive sensibilities of many partition theories that are unable to grasp the literary and theological weight of a complaint of Judean social problems being answered by a promise of Babylonian invasion. However, his position is somewhat weakened by the ascription of simplistic “pro-Babylonian” and “anti-Babylonian” sentiments to the first and second compositional layers respectively, a position that is seemingly in tension with Dietrich's emphasis on the negative implications of the descriptions of Babylon in the first layer in 1:5–10 (p. 119–121).

While the interaction with secondary sources throughout is excellent and the bibliography is a valuable resource in its own right, the same cannot always be said of the treatment of the issues related to the Hebrew text. For example, the term מַשָּׂא, which occurs in the superscriptions of both Nah 1:1 and Hab 1:1, is translated as “pronouncement” on the basis of a supposed relationship of meaning with the verb נָשָׂא (“lift, carry”). This kind of etymological extrapolation is considered fallacious.[3] Furthermore, this fails to interact with the most recent studies of the term, such as the article of Floyd,[4] which appears in the bibliography but is not cited in any of the relevant sections of the commentary, or the article of Weis,[5] which is missing entirely. Based on the study of the seemingly disparate prophetic discourses introduced with this term, Floyd and Weis concluded that it indicates a prophecy that in some way responds to or reinterprets previous revelation, a far more methodologically sound conclusion. Regarding engagement with lexical semantics in general, the only Hebrew lexica used throughout are those of Gesenius and HALAT, making other reference works (DCH, TDOT, etc.) notably absent. Elsewhere, outdated “tense” terminology is used unhelpfully, as in the discussion of 1:2–3, where the variation in verb types is said to be “deliberate,” but left unclarified, except for the interpretive comment, “Evidently, all linguistic (artistic) means are meant not only to draw the attention of the summoned divine audience, but also to awaken the addressed human addressees” (p. 114). Specialists looking for discussion of the meaning of other difficult features in the text of Habakkuk—such as the chiasm formed by verb types in 1:9–11—will have to look elsewhere.

A couple of other issues are worth noting. Sometimes (p. 131, 139, 153) extensive vocabulary use statistics will be adduced to argue for a particular meaning of a section, most notably that certain negative terms found in the woe oracles of chapter 2 must be referring to Judah, because they are never used to describe foreign nations elsewhere. This would seem to discount the possibility of these phrases being applied to new contexts and detract from the centrality of the co-text itself for determining meaning. On a lesser note, this commentary does not contain the “gender-criticism, social-history” as promised for the IECOT series on the back cover, and the English translations throughout are at times awkward and can exhibit unusual word order choices.

Overall, this commentary exhibits a careful balance between synchronic and diachronic criticism, and for that reason, will be of interest to any student or scholar working on Nahum, Habakkuk, or Zephaniah. Anyone encountering these books must address not only the questions raised by the individual books themselves, but also the myriad issues arising from their place and function within the Book of the Twelve as a whole. This volume is a useful map for this terrain.

David J. Fuller, McMaster Divinity College

[1] Rainer Kessler, “Nahum–Habakuk als Zweiprophetenschrift: Eine Skizze,” in Gotteserdung: Beiträge zur Hermeneutik und Exegese der Hebräischen Bibel (BWANT, 170; Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2006), 137–45. reference

[2] Jakob Wöhrle, Der Abschluss des Zwölfprophetenbuches (BZAW, 389; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2008), 325–6. reference

[3] See James Barr, Comparative Philology and the Text of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968). reference

[4] Michael H. Floyd, “The מַשָּׂא (MAŚŚĀʾ) as a Type of Prophetic Book,” JBL 121 (2002), 401–22. reference

[5] Richard Weis, “Oracle,” ABD 5:28–9. reference