Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Review: Old Testament commentary survey. Fifth edition. by, T. Longman III

Tremper Longman III. Old Testament commentary survey. Fifth edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013. ISBN: 0801039916. $16.99. Pp. 159.

                This latest edition of Longman’s OT commentary survey marks the fifth edition of this book.  As many of these projects start, Longman notes that it was out of necessity that he wrote his first edition of this work, and has continued to update these volumes.  The necessity, in this case, is to compile a resource that will assist people in the search for the best biblical commentaries in the area of the OT for quick reference, and likely, to save Dr. Longman time from answering the same question over and over.  I have been known to do similar things in the past.  But this is how the best tools are invented, namely, out of necessity. 
           Between edition 4 and 5 six years have passed, 2007-3013.  In this time many new commentary series have appeared as publishing of all things, including books, becomes more ubiquitous.   Longman is wise to limit his volume by noting that he had to drop some commentaries in this latest volume that had previously appeared in his other editions, and will by necessity not be able to address each commentary on the market.  One can only do so much!  We will explore the Minor Prophets as our test case to see what updates may have been made, and if any important holes are observed.  But first I will explore Longman’s approach to categorization and layout of his survey, and compare it to its sister survey, namely, D.A. Carson’s NT commentary survey.  Then, I will peruse the “One-volume Commentaries,” and “Commentary Sets and Series” chapters.  Finally, I will look at the Minor Prophets, since I feel most prepared to assess this section. 
                Longman’s volume is aimed primarily to the educated lay-person, theological-student, and pastor.  He does not explicitly mention the scholar as a target audience for his survey, but there is a category for “Scholar” (“S”) in his rating system, and I do not think that a scholar is ever above a volume such as this one, especially with the current, growing, ubiquity of publication.   Also, Longman has a subsection (just a half-page) on “The Use and Abuse of Commentaries” that should be widely read or passed on.  In the end of the fifth edition, as in the fourth, Longman lists his published commentaries so as to avoid conflicting interests.  However, as one that has used his commentaries, they are probably mostly made up of high-ranking works!
Carson and Longman both present helpful tools for quick commentary selection in each survey Note: Carson’s 7th edition of his survey should be released soon.  This comparison is upon Carson’s 6th edition published in 2007 at the same time as Longman’s 4th edition.  Here is how they compare, one-to-one.  Longman rates the commentaries by a star system (out of 5), and with a grading system of the content that spans three levels academic rigor, “Lay” (“L”), “Minister” (“M”) and “Scholar” (“S”), and at times the levels are combined, as in, “LM,” etc.  Carson gives no rating or grading system, only comment.  Longman’s layout is very organized, as in, a paragraph for each commentary, which means he has to be very selective about the commentaries he comments on, I assume, to keep his book within a reasonable page limit.  Carson's covers many more commentaries than does Longman, but organization is lost.  Also, Carson’s volume has the slightly wooden and cumbersome chapter-section-paragraph numbering system at each heading (ex. 2.2.1), which Longman’s volume excludes. At the end of his survey Longman gives a list of all the 5 star commentaries.  Unfortunately, the list of 5 star commentaries leaves out some OT books, like Deuteronomy, or some books only have one top-rated commentary, which can be limiting.  Maybe this is a challenge to the OT scholarly community? Thus, the list is not really a quick reference to the BEST commentaries for each book, but simply a list of the BEST OT commentaries.  Carson, however, gives a “best buys” list that lists three to four commentaries for each NT book, and in some cases gives option for “advanced students.” One will find, though, in Carson that most of these “best buys” are from an Evangelical perspective.  Simply an observation to keep in mind.  Overall, neither stands above the other for approach.  Each approach, in all honesty, has its equal amounts of pros and cons.
In the fifth edition, Longman drops three one-volume commentaries on the OT, and adds one.  First, Longman, opts to drop the Baker Commentary on the Bible, ed. W.A. Elwell, which in the fourth edition he had given a moderately high marking (LM, four-stars); The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, eds. C.F. Pfeiffer, and F.F. Harrison, which had receive a rather low rating in his fourth edition (LM, two-stars), because of the spotty nature of the commentary’s quality; and the well-known Eerdmans   Bible Commentary, eds. D. Guthrie and J.A. Motyer, which received a moderate overall score in his fourth edition, with a pretty good comment on the volume by Longman.  He adds the newly published  Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, eds. Burge, and Hill (2012).  Burge and Hill’s effort receive high-praise from Longman (LM, five-stars).  This volume includes a NT section as well, and in Longman’s words is “the most up-to-date and best available, and there are pictures!”  Longman wrote the Micah section in this work.
In this edition, Longman adds seven commentary series in his “Commentary Sets and Series” chapter, and does not subtract any from his fouth edition.  First, he rightly adds the Ancient Christian Commentary Series, ed. Thomas Oden.  This is a phenomenal series, and correctly receives five-stars from Longman (MS).  Next, he adds Brazos Theological Commentary, a theologically oriented series; Concordia Commentary, which is Lutheran in perspective; The Preachers’ Commentary, a set that has changed its name, now, three times (formerly: Communicator’s Commentary, and Mastering the Old Testament); Two Horizons Old Testament Commentaries, a series that, according to Longman, does what the Bazos series does, only better; Understanding the Bible Commentary Series, a series committed to “believing criticism” (formerly: New International Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament; and finally, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, ed. J.H. Walton, a five-volume commentary focused exclusively about the cultural background of OT books. It receives five-stars from Longman, and is Evangelical in approach. 
                For my test case, I explored his sections on the Minor Prophets.  What I found is that the updates are minimal, for instance he drops Smith, Ward and Brewer’s ICC commentary on Micah, Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Obadiah, and Joel (1911).  One hole in this section I noted is that James Nogalski’s superb two-volume commentary from the Smyth and Helwyn’s Commentary Series is omitted.  Nogalski’s work on the Minor Prophets is on the cutting edge in the field, and presumably compared to others listed in Longman’s survey, is one of the best.  The price for Nogalski’s volumes is a bit prohibitive, which is par for the whole SH series, but a comment from Longman on this work is deserved.  Overall, however, the lists look very similar to 2007.  But in all fairness, I did not get to peruse the entire book and its entire listing, only the Minor Prophets.  Significant updating may have occurred in other books.
                So how does the fifth edition stack up?  It is still the same great resource that it has always been.  For that reason, I will still recommend it to folks interested in a ready reference on OT commentaries.  It is also updated, and even if that updating is minimal, it saves me doing the work Longman has done to find where updates have occurred over the past six years.  It improves in small ways as well.  One very small way is that the citation of each commentary, and commentary set/series, is bolded.  It makes skimming through a page much easier.  In the end, I still believe that Carson’s approach has one thing on Longman’s, namely, the “best buys” list.  Longman’s “five stars” list needs to be expanded to include a couple options from each OT book, as Carson does, so that quick reference to the top two to four commentaries for each respective OT book can be observed without having to reference the rest of the book.  Overall, it is still a great resource, but for the average user finding a cheaper fourth edition may be the way to go! 

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