Comments on Exodus Commentaries by Jo Bailey Wells (Biblical Studies Bulletin, 2000)

Comments on Commentaries

An assessment of commentaries on a book of the Old & New Testament to keep you up to date with what will help in preaching and teaching in the local church.

OT: Exodus

Finally the long-prevailing scholarly preoccupation with source criticism in the Pentateuch has given way. Whilst the nature, scope and dating of the sources has been fascinating and illuminating for the study of Exodus, there is now wider interest (and opinion) in the way in which the differing materials have come together into the present book. If there ever was a source-critical consensus, then it has passed, and so have the commentaries that seek to find it – A H McNeile (Westminster, 1908; 3rd ed 1931), S R Driver (Cambridge, 1911), J P Hyatt (NCB, 1971; 1980 rev ed) – hallelujah!

Meanwhile, the debate has moved from source criticism to form criticism and on to the new literary criticism. The magisterial commentary of B S Childs (OTL, 1974) has become a landmark: not only in the study of Exodus but in the style of commentaries. This satisfies the demand for an exegesis that is both rigorous in its use of critical tools and committed to a discernment of the theological dimension of the texts. The heavy shelf need heave no further if you would own just one serious commentary.

Equally serious though more geared to the needs of the preacher is T E Fretheim (Interpretation, 1991). This attempts to do justice to both realities in Exodus – to our knowledge of its pre-Christian roots and to our experience of hearing it as a genuinely Christian word – without necessarily forcing the two-step process of ‘description-application’. Given the kerygmatic nature of Exodus, the two worlds merge naturally. Fretheim also enjoys the structure of the whole, noting various verbal, thematic and literary links. Not many commentaries make a good read – as opposed to a good reference – but this is certainly one of them.

Other ‘general’ recommendations would include R E Clements (Cambridge; CBC, 1972), H L Ellison (DSB, 1982) and J I Durham (Word, 1987). These are good and thorough, but not exciting: they tend to represent basic information in traditional ways. One last recommendation, which is exciting, would be G Larsson (Bound for Freedom, Hendrickson, 1999) who fruitfully brings together Jewish and Christian interpretation: you will not forget his exposition of God’s giving of the law at Sinai.

Revd Dr Jo Bailey Wells, Clare College, Cambridge

From Biblical Studies Bulletin 15 (March 2000)

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