Saturday, October 04, 2008

A Fresh Approach to Genesis by Dr. Bill Arnold

Dr. Bill Arnold and I have been colleagues and friends for a long time now, teaching together at both Ashland Theological Seminary, and then we both came to Asbury Theological Seminary at the same time in 1995. Bill is what the Britsh would call a top drawer OT scholar, and the proof of this is in this intriguing and very readable new Genesis commentary which reflects the careful hand of a mature scholar. Bill and I are the editors of the New Cambridge Bible Commentary series which now has a goodly number of both helpful OT and NT volumes. This is a series you will find affordable and stimulating, seeking to apply various new methodologies to the Biblical text. It is not the same ole same ole. Here below is the dustjacket blurb for this particular volume on Genesis.

"This commentary is an innovative interpretation of one of the most profound texts of world literature: the book of Genesis. The first book of the Bible has been studied, debated, and expounded as much as any text in history, yet because it addresses the weightiest questions of life and faith, it continues to demand our attention. The author of this new commentary combines older critical approaches with the latest rhetorical methodologies to yield fresh interpretations accessible to scholars, clergy, teachers, seminarians, and interested laypeople. It explains important concepts and terms as expressed in the Hebrew original so that both people who know Hebrew and those who do not will be able to follow the discussion. “Closer Look” sections examine Genesis in the context of cultures of the ancient Near East. “Bridging the Horizons” sections enables the reader to see the enduring relevance of the book in the twenty-first century."

And here are a couple of links which you can cut and paste into your browser and then go and purchase this volume. I highly recommend it! This is one of the most interesting Genesis commentaries I have ever read, and I have read a bunch of them.


samuellinde said...

This is great news, Ben. I've greatly enjoyed the other volumes in the NCBC series I've got (though I've got mostly the NT ones – including your Revelation commentary). Looking forward to picking up this one.

I'm glad to hear some news about the NCBC, there's not much info to find about them regarding the progress of the series! Thanks for the heads up on this one.

Michael Kruse said...

Does this book discuss the current state of the JEPD theory? I'm also curious about your thoughts on JEPD. Have you written anything online?

Bill said...

I won’t attempt to speak for BW3, of course, but I will make a comment here in response. The new commentary does, in fact, summarize the issues and offer a new approach to an old crux (pp. 12-18). In sum, I argue that what we have in Genesis is a carefully crafted and edited final product, comprised of the following earlier sources. First, an old Israelite epic narrative, which is among the earliest written texts of ancient Israel, and may roughly be understood as similar to source-critical definitions of the J document. I am not in agreement with many today who date this epic late, and I also do not accept several other features of the Graf-Wellhausen definitions. Second, priestly materials typically identified by the siglum P. Against the Graf-Wellhausen JEDP theory, I see this material as pre-exilic based largely on impressive linguistic data presented in recent decades by Avi Hurvitz and others. Third, materials originating in a Holiness school distinct from other priestly materials, also of pre-exilic origins and assuming the earlier P traditions (which reverses the sequence of these sources in the JEDP theory). So I suppose for Genesis, that leaves us with JPH, instead of JEP.

But the characteristic of this commentary is the convergence of such older diachronic methods with the newer synchronic approaches emerging from literary critics since the 1970s. Many today still work with an either-or approach, while I am more in agreement with those who believe we can and should combine these methodologies.

Hope this helps.

Justin said...

I've been looking forward to this one. Thanks for posting an update, & thanks for your work with the NCBC series.

Now, when are we going to get that Luke commentary?

Justin said...

Dr. Arnold (If you're still here):
Do you have time to flesh this out just a little more for those of us (like me) who haven't read much on the Documentary theory? In particular, you say that "J" (or something close to it), you wouldn't say is late, but how early would you date it? The same question for "P"...pre-exilic is a pretty wide-range. :) It seems like you would date "H" latest of all, so I am assuming that you see basically all of Genesis as pre-exilic (maybe giving room for editing?) Do you see Moses as playing any role?

I know that was long, and I don't expect you to lay out your full view here. :) I am ordering the commentary in the next few days, I just was looking for a general overview. It's not often I get the chance to ask an OT scholar a question like this.


Bill said...

Hi Justin.

Several good questions here. You’re right; I cannot detail here my views on all these things. But in a word, I think Genesis is comprised of an old Israelite epic, which has been supplemented by two strands of materials from the priestly guild of ancient Israel. Or more specifically, one priestly editor (the Holiness redactor) has combined the old epic with priestly materials and added his own explanations along the way. But these are ways of explaining what we’re seeing in the text, and for my money the older JEDP or Graf-Wellhausen documentary approach has simply lost its explanatory power.

Now as for your question about the role of Moses in all this, that’s where it gets dicey. The book is strictly speaking anonymous. Tradition ties the Pentateuch to Moses, and our contemporary conceptions of “authorship” lead us to make assumptions we shouldn’t make. So I’ll answer as follows: (1) I believe Moses existed (against much of today’s scholarship), and that (2) he was the fountainhead of Israelite law, in that he commissioned the sons of Aaron to keep and develop the laws. He may have left considerable amounts of material, perhaps in poetry or perhaps orally, which eventually came to be written down in the old Israelite epic I’ve referred to. But you will note I began this portion with “I believe…” In other words, we simply cannot know so much. My views of composition expressed briefly here and detailed a bit more in the commentary are based, I believe, on evidence as presented in the text of Genesis. But beyond this we’re left to faith issues, and we’re working with no data.


Justin said...

Dr. Arnold,
I appreciate your response. I agree with you that Genesis makes no claim of authorship. It seems to me that Deuteronomy does make a pretty explicit claim as being Mosaic at its core, though. You didn't mention the "D" source (and its unrelated to Genesis, anyway, I guess), but being that the "D" source, if it existed, clearly presupposes "P", wouldn't one have to either have "P" as being essentially from the time of Moses, or else Deuteronomy is...well, not really being truthful in its claims?

Following from that, it seems to me (and I am admittedly ignorant of much of this) like there are pretty strong arguments from the past 40 years or so of scholarship which seem to undermine the critical assumption that Deuteronomy is in fact, much later than Moses. Would you agree with that?

I'm probably missing a lot in all of this, but if the critical arguments regarding "D" don't show a late date (and possibly even suggest Mosaic authorship for the bulk of it), doesn't that imply that, whatever sources there were, none would be much later than Moses, as "D" would clearly be the latest?

On a lighter note, any idea when or if the commentary will be available from Barnes & Noble?