The Book of Zechariah. NICOT. Eerdmans, 2016.
The Gospel of John records in 5:39 a saying by Jesus Christ: “… it is they (the Scriptures) that bear witness about me, …”. Would that saying sensitize thenceforth any would-be interpreters how they approach the Biblical texts? If interpreters, while handling an OT text find it appropriate to engage with their fellow commentators, whether contemporary or ancient, how much more would it seem necessary for these same interpreters to also comment on those NT texts that make direct quotation or allusion to it? The response to the above queries is at best ambivalent if one reads Mark J. Boda’s 2016 commentary on the book of Zechariah. Apart from a brief paragraph entitled “Zechariah For Today” (pg. 44), Boda largely eschews making any messianic references in his commentary proper. At various points, he expresses his apprehension of characterizing Zechariah’s vision reports as eschatological (pgs. 102, 211): “ … there are reasons to see in Zechariah’s vision reports some of the ingredients that will be key components of the later apocalyptic form, it is not helpful to emphasize the connection, since the reading strategy associated with the later form cannot be imposed on the earlier form [vision reports that relate to recent events] without falling into anachronistic error”. (pg. 102, see also n.123) Such warning is indeed perspicacious and prudent, as Boda demonstrates trenchantly the historical groundings and relevance of the prophet’s message to its late sixth to the mid-5th century audience. Questions remain, however, whether interpreters of OT prophetic texts are inescapably caught between mutually exclusive quandaries of imminent visions and apocalypses. Given his rather restrictive definition of “eschatological” (pg. 211), it is apparent that Boda sees the answer in the affirmative. Apart from the above, Boda’s commentary on the Book of Zechariah is another (after his 2004 NIVAC) important contribution to the study of this prophetic book. He offers often exhaustive references to words used in other parts of the OT. His expert translation, explication of textual relationships, cogent exegesis and fair interactions with recent commentators are invaluable resources. One cannot help after reading this substantial commentary but feel thankful and musing at the same time. There is an urge to turn to those quotations in the NT and ask: “what about …?” Were these NT writers mistaken? For a commentary in a series that claims its affiliation, and by inference its readership, in “evangelicalism”, there is an interpretative void yet to be filled.
The Book of Amos. NICOT. Eerdmans, 2020.
M. Daniel Carroll R. dates Amos’ ministry in the latter years during the second quarter of the eighth century BC. The Biblical book that bears the prophet’s name was his message that heralded Yahweh’s sovereign judgment against the nations, and repudiated the distorted piety and societal injustice of Jeroboam II’s Israel. Carroll demonstrates particular sensitivity to the book’s literary design, thereby argues convincingly for the authenticity of the canonical text. The commentary is preceded by 100-plus pages of introduction, itself an invaluable primer to understand the book and related latest research. Every verse of the text is given careful, even prodigious, exegetical and expository treatments. Different approaches and viewpoints are presented, and the preferred interpretations are judiciously elucidated. The theological imports of Amos’ message are reinforced throughout. Another helpful feature of this commentary is the copious bibliographic notes. There, Carroll scrupulously tabulates works of scholars, from the reformers to those of modern time, that represent different perspectives on almost every pericope. Consummate knowledge of available literature is apparent, a feat not unexpected from a scholar who has devoted close to 30 years to Amos research. Carroll’s commentary on the book of Amos sits amongst the pinnacle of modern Biblical scholarship. What lies behind the exemplary erudition is a punctilious intellectual enterprise, one for which researchers, teachers, and students of generations to come should be grateful.
Revelation. 3 Vols. WBC. Thomas Nelson, 1997.
With over 1,200 pages of commentary texts, an introduction of over 200 pages, and another 100-plus pages of indexes, D. E. Aune’s commentary on Revelation (3 vols., published 1998) of the WBC series is certainly the most voluminous that has yet to be surpassed. One would naturally expect plenteous information from such a massive work, and a New Testament scholar as renowned as Aune surely does not disappoint. The work begins with a general bibliography, then a comprehensive Introduction ensues, in which topics such as authorship, date, and other literary analyses are tackled. Of particular interest within this section is where Aune puts forward his three-stage, two-edition composition hypothesis (cxviii – cxxxiv). It is on this source-critical hypothesis that his commentary largely based. The commentary proper follows the WBC convention, which provides the following in separate sections: a. Bibliography of the pericope (as in the general Bibliography, the egregious format adopted by WBC has been a constant source of complaints; it discourages use except by the most determined.) b. Translation – here Aune offers his own functional translation, which at times hides certain nuances of the original words. c. Notes – or textual notes, masterfully treated by Aune with exemplary details. d. Form/Structure/Setting – here Aune provides expanded outlines of the texts and other literary analyses e. Comment – where Aune provides his exegeses and textual references f. Explanation - concluding summaries that recapitulate points made in the Comment sections As one of the most important commentaries on Revelation published in the last four decades, the welcome by Bible scholars and students is understandable. Here are some obvious strengths of Aune’s commentary: 1. Textual notes and manuscript variants tabulated for nearly every verse, with Aune’s judicious indications on the likely original readings, are all invaluable resources for any who wants to pursue further in this respect. 2. Aune’s exegesis is solidly grounded on superb understanding of the linguistics and grammatical intricacies of the original language. His interpretations are invariably guided by a presupposition of authorial consistency in using the language. An assumption which possible nullification Aune is no doubt aware (clix). 3. As a recognized scholar in Jewish and early Christian apocalypticism, rabbinic teachings, and Graeco-Roman philosophical writings, Aune infuses his commentary with references to such literatures. His encyclopedic knowledge and sensitivity to contemporaneous literary context are perhaps without equal. 4. From the prologue in the first chapter of Revelation to the subscription in the last, Aune treats each verse in the book with consistent deft and thoroughness. 5. With his expert understanding of the apocalyptic form, Aune presents a balanced approach to interpreting the symbology in Revelation. This stands in stark contrast to many commentaries published in the same period that adopt literal readings and are often driven by theological presuppositions. When it comes to shortcomings, some have characterized Aune’s commentary as missing the forest for the trees. Indeed, it would not be exaggerated to analogize it as missing the tree for the parasitizing fungi. People reading the commentary have to wade through abundant chaff to find the occasional kernels. Despite the certain prodigiousness of Aune’s commentary, several aspects are found wanting: 1. Revelation’s literary structure proposed by Aune, whether the summary in the Introduction, or the detailed outline in each text unit, are mere microscopic dissections of the passages and are regrettably unimaginative. (See Bauckham (1993), Beale (1999), A.Y. Collins (1976), Fiorenza (1977)) Any schematic compositional strategy (e.g. the relations among the heptads) is only hinted at (xcv) but hardly committed to. The forward movement of the text as a literary piece that shapes its overall eschatological programs is obscured and therefore the core message of the book is diminished. 2. One of its strengths is also this commentary’s shortcomings. Aune’s acute awareness of contemporary literary environment and cognate writings and his copious referencing to these in commenting verses in Revelation is laudable. Yet precious pearl may just become grinding grit when the significance of the reference is not explicated. At times, many textual “parallels” with questionable relevance are discussed at length without bringing to bear to the understanding or interpretation of the Revelation texts. Such sensitivity to phenomenological historiography results only in some form of “parallelomania”. So much information, yet so meagre in synthesis. 3. While Aune’s exegesis is always astute, his interpretation is nevertheless hampered by his atomistic approach and predilection of source criticism. For the ultimate task of an exegete is to uncover a text’s intended meaning. And it is not just those of words that make up sentences, but also how the meanings of the parts cohere with the whole. It is one thing that words and phrases are dissected and examined in their subtlest details and their provenances probed in every way, but it is quite another when in doing so any authorial intent of a work is lost. This commentary may at times leave its readers bewildered in the literary labyrinths of Revelation’s cognate world, gasping for its meaning and its impact as a faith document. 4. Under a section entitled “Source Criticism” in the Introduction, Aune wrote substantially on his three-stage, two-edition hypothesis on Revelation’s composition process – an analysis which he prefers to call “diachronic composition criticism”. Though intellectually stimulating, to do justice to evaluate this hypothesis will go way beyond this review. It is necessary, however, to highlight some ramifications should this hypothesis be accepted, since evidently Aune is guided by it. a. What impact would this hypothesis have, if correct, to Revelation’s reception, particularly to its immediate audience in the Christian communities of late first and early second century? Clearly, they were closer in proximity to decipher alleged sources than any 20th-century scholar. At least some among them would certainly find the messages as rehashed and lose their force, since Aune postulates that the author-editor utilized sources (cxiv) that had been in existence for an extended period (cxviii). Even though people in the Graeco-Roman world would hardly espouse the modern idea of plagiarism, repeated apocalyptic messages, especially older ones, would be received no less different from how people in twentieth-century see doomsday propaganda. b. Another aspect to consider, should Aune’s hypothesis hold, is the Internal integrity and authorial credibility of Revelation. Aune assigns 1:12b–3:22 and 22:6-21 (plus others) as “second edition”, which coincide with the exalted Christ’s commissioning of John to “write … that you have seen…” (1:19); and also, the final warning against adding to or subtracting from the book (22:18-19). In effect, the person(s) responsible for the “second edition” was doing exactly the opposite: he (since the author self-designated as John) incorporated in his writing something not seen by himself, and added, quite significantly, to what he had as the “second edition” portion. It made him a fraud and false witness by attesting things he had not seen, and claiming authenticity of writings not his own authoring. Unless, by subsequent editing means simply that an author reorganizes and redacts his/her own earlier writing, which, in that case, the number of editions and the duration of elapsed time between them become moot. c. The limitation of historical critical approach to understand ancient texts has been recognized by many scholars since the 1980s. Although some have swung the pendulum too far, the pitfalls of conventional source criticism resulting in profusion of fruitless conjectures are not to be gainsaid. In Aune’s case, he grounds his diachronic criticism largely on linguistic analyses (Criteria cxviii-cxix). Arbitrariness aside, building a theory by speculating across centuries on how ancient writers utilized a language in a multi-ethnic and pluralistic environment is highly problematic. All human beings, even finest bards, are products of their own times and cultures. Their languages and how they use them are necessarily communal. In fact, good communicators make effective use of popular idioms and contemporaneous phraseologies. Likewise, symbology and imagery in apocalyptic writings bear certain familiarity so as to convey more effectively the messages. To postulate literary interdependence and composition sources based on language similitudes are therefore precarious. 5. In offering comments to each individual phrase, Aune typically first highlights OT texts to which the phrase alludes, then lists references and purported parallels in the OT, NT, apocryphal and pseudepigraphal works, Jewish and early rabbinic writings, Graeco-Roman literatures, etc. These references, however, appear at times unorganized and are read like cobbled lecture notes. OT references may be followed by Jewish apocalypses, then to Greek philosophical writing, and abruptly back to other OT references without apparent logic. There is seldom any hint of significance or degree of relevance in relation to the text at hand. Extra-Biblical materials are quoted at length, primarily to show lexical parallels, with little explanation of their pertinence or how they may impact interpretation of the Revelation texts. It is telling that for redaction critics these “seams", “inconsistencies”, or “disruptions”, are evidences of editorial intrusions, yet for readers on modern texts, such literary inelegances are read more as characteristics of lacking in editorial effort. 6. Following the detailed textual notes, literary analyses, and the extended comments, readers come to the Explanation sections, expecting in-depth interpretive insights and comparable theological reflections. Instead, Aune provides essentially recapitulations of what has been broached in previous sections. In that, Aune follows a tradition of commentary writing that eschews theological ruminations but concentrates on historical-critical grammatical analyses. Yet, having presented with mounds of information, readers are left with questions about synthesis with and coherence of the vision and message of the prophet at Patmos. All in all, Aune’s WBC commentary remains an invaluable sourcebook for studies in the book of Revelation, particularly in textual analyses; as for understanding of its literary meaning and theological insights, readers are well advised to consult widely.