Monday, November 10, 2008

Goldingay on Psalms now complete

The three volume Psalms by John Goldingay in the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms Series is now complete! Volume 3 was released this month, and its 2195 pages (the total pages of the three volumes) rivals Kraus' masterful 3 volume commentary in the Continental Commentary series, and Erich Zenger's 2 volume Hermeneia commentary. The benefit of this series is that its more traditionally conservative comments and approaches taken for the interpretation of the Biblical text. By "traditionally conservative" I mean the Masoretic Text (MT) is considered reliable, and the specific dating/authorship is of less practical importance than in traditional historical criticisms. More on this later. He has already given us a depth and breath of material on Old and New Testament material including his erudite commentary on Daniel in the Word Biblical Series. Goldingay tends to be a middle-of-the-road scholar on most areas of higher criticism (for example, in Daniel he offers a well defined position that the book was written at about 300 BCE, whereas most conservative scholarship places it around 600 BCE and liberals place it around 165 BCE, or after the events of the books have happened), and the Psalms are no exception.

Amongst a myriad of methodological approaches to the Psalms, Goldingay's approach is from a Canonical context (think Brevard Childs). He sees almost no need to identify the author, or the Sitz im Leben, the "situation in life" in which the Psalms were composed for. In this way, he matches the series goal to write a commentary for "ministers, seminary students, and Bible study leaders. Of these groups we have most in mind clergy and future clergy, namely seminary students." (Volume I: Psalms 1-41, p. 8) But if you think the academic and textual comments are scant, think twice. Goldingay gives his own translation of each Psalm, followed by a large volume of textual notes both in the text and in footnotes. He then gives his interpretation and the "Theological Implications" of the Psalm.

After reading his 70-page introduction to the Psalms I had some reservation in giving the book a warm and positive review. This was partly because I have extensively studies the Psalms and read quite a bit of material on Psalm Studies. He believes that the Psalms anonymity, including the "Davidic" ones (see his notes on the Hebrew le in the superscriptions for his wonderfully grounded argument) open up the Psalms for use in both Israel and our own churches. Given the patriarchal society of the Old Testament this anonymity also may protect the fact that some of the Psalms may have written by women (although he only mentions this in passing).
He gives a good account for the MT's inclusion of the superscription in the text itself as well as a good synopsis of the words which appear in the margins of most translations as notes for singers/choir directors, eg., selah. He also gives a good overview of Hebrew Poetry and the use of parallelism.

The reason for my positive and warm review is that the introduction complements the actual commentary very nicely. The book is well organized, the layout is simple to understand and the writing is conversational and the book is actually enjoyable to read. Even for someone who has read so extensively in Psalms studies I was able to learn very valuable insights in the Psalter and how the church can benefit from them in their own worship.

Eric Karloski works in the Used Book Department at Baker Book House and has recently been accepted for a position as Professor of Old Testament Studies at Life Theological Seminary, Bhubaneswar, India

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