Thursday, January 30, 2014

Jonah: The Scandalous Love of God - A Review

A Review

Let me begin with the same words I used to describe this new series as I did with my just finished review of the  commentary on the book of Obadiah.

I first fell in love with the Old Testament during the summer of 1972 while attending a four week leadership training workshop sponsored by Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.  The first week was a study of the book of Amos led by Carl E. Armerding. This book helped to continue that appreciation for the Old Testament.

This new commentary on Jonah and its companion on the book of Obadiah are the first two volumes in a new series, “Hearing the Message of Scripture” from Zondervan.  For lack of a better term, the titles in this series best classified as a “Rhetorical Commentaries” with the author of this first volume also serving as the General Editor of the entire series.  

Recognizing that most commentaries and readers apply the syntactical tools available to the Biblical scholar to the either the word or sentence level, Block is responding to recent studies in “rhetorical and discourse analysis” suggest that similar concepts can be applied to the both the paragraph and to the literary unit as a whole.  It is this background that serves as the backbone of this new series of commentaries.  The series certainly assumes the authority of scripture, quoting II Timothy 3:16-17 early in the introduction; though it does not explicitly adopt the inerrancy of scripture as part of its foundation.

With this in mind, each unit of the text will include address a number of “issues”:

  1. The Main Idea of the Passage: A one- or two-sentence summary of the key ideas the biblical author seeks to communicate.
  2. Literary Context: A brief discussion of the relationship of the specific text to the book as a whole and to its place within the broader arguments.
  3. Translation and Outline: Commentators will provide their own translations of each text, formatted to highlight the discourse structure of the text and accompanied by a coherent outline that reflects the flow and argument of the text.  
  4. Structure and Literary Form: An introductory survey of the literary structure and rhetorical style adopted by the biblical author, highlighting how these features contribute to the communication of the main idea of the passage.
  5. Explanation of the Text: A detailed commentary on the passage, paying particular attention to how the biblical authors select and arrange their materials and how they work with words, phrases, and syntax to communicate their messages. This will take up the bulk of most commentaries.
  6. Canonical and Practical Significance: The commentary on each unit will conclude by building bridges between the world of the biblical author and other biblical authors and with reflections on the contribution made by this unit to the development of broader issues in biblical theology — particularly on how later OT and NT authors have adapted and reused the motifs in question.  The discussion will also include brief reflections on the significance of the message of the passage for readers today.

(Copied from “Series Introduction”)
Though a few other comments are made, one caught my attention.  Though smaller books may allow room for a significant word for word commentary, space may not allow authors of commentaries of larger books to include as many details.  

My only additional comment at this point is that I can only hope that a similar set of commentaries on the NT will be forthcoming from Zondervan in the near future as well.

Like the commentary on Obadiah, this commentary on Jonah begins with a new translation of the whole book.

The commentary proper begins by noting that the “cultural impact of the book of Jonah is out of proportion to its small size - even referring to Bruce Springsteen’s new song, “Swallowed Up (in the Belly of the Whale).”   The author goes on to say:

Perhaps one reason for this story’s ability to transcend the normal barriers of cultural and religious differences is its emphasis on the universal scope of God’s sovereignty and mercy. Furthermore, the book’s subtlety and open-endedness lend the story to a multiplicity of interpretations as is apparent from the vast number of commentaries purporting to expound the book’s message.  (25)

From that point, the book proceeds to discuss Jonah’s place in the Minor Prophets, the larger genre of the Prophetic literature, and the Bible as a whole.  Part of this discussion is the historicity of  Jonah - particularly as it relates to known history of the Mideast.  The author understands that there are difficulties with determining the historic setting of the book, and the time of its writing but adds,

The possible chronological distance between the events recorded in the book and the book’s composition should not, however, deter readers from taking the narrative seriously. A brief and dramatic account like that of the prophet Jonah could easily have been preserved in Israel’s memory, having first circulated in northern Israel and then eventually making its way to postexilic Judah. It was finally combined with Judean prophetic traditions, at which point it was committed to writing with consummate artistic skill. (35)

Youngblood concludes with the “Canonical and Practical Significance” of the book of Jonah.  The author does this by drawing from the New Testament’s use of Jonah, concluding by comparing Johan’s behavior to that of the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  

Because this commentary makes significantly less use of the original languages, I can recommend this commentary on Jonah for the layman, as well as the pastor and scholar.  Institutional libraries would do well in adding this book to their collection as well. (176)
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are mine alone.  

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