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Daniel I. Block. Obadiah: A Discourse Analysis of the Hebrew Bible. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament. Edited by Daniel I. Block. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015. Hb. 128 pp. $19.99. ISBN: 9780310529330.

Kevin J. Youngblood. Jonah: A Discourse Analysis of the Hebrew Bible. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament. Edited by Daniel I. Block. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015. Hb. 192 pp. $29.99. ISBN: 9780310528357.

Daniel I. Block. Ruth: A Discourse Analysis of the Hebrew Bible. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament. Edited by Daniel I. Block. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015. Hb. 304 pp. $32.99. ISBN: 9780310282983.

Allow me to introduce you to the first three volumes of a new Bible commentary designed for pastors and interested lay people. These volumes are the first of the Old Testament counterparts to Zondervan’s well established series called the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.

Zondervan describes the commentary in this way:

“Designed for the pastor and Bible teacher, the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament brings together commentary features rarely gathered together in one volume. With careful discourse analysis and interpretation of the Hebrew text, the authors trace the flow of argument in each Old Testament book, showing that how a biblical author says something is just as important as what they say.

“Each volume offers a set of distinctive features, including: the main idea of the passage, its literary context, the author’s original translation and exegetical outline with Hebrew layout, its structure and literary form, an explanation of the text, and its canonical and practical significance. The diagram of each passage enables readers to grasp quickly and accurately the main idea of the text, its development, and supporting ideas; and allows them to understand how the commentator arrived at this depiction and interpretation of the passage. The commentary places a special emphasis on identifying and discussing the main thrust of each passage and showing how it contributes to the development of the whole composition. Readers will find help in drawing out the meaning of the Hebrew for interpretation. While primarily designed for those with a basic knowledge of biblical Hebrew, all who strive to understand the Old Testament and better convey its meaning will find these books beneficial. Each unit concludes with a discussion of the canonical and practical significance of the passage, synthesizing its theology and message for readers today. There are many exegetical commentaries, but none accomplish what this series has achieved.”

As with any multi-authored commentary series, there are going to be volumes that are stronger than others. Before speaking of the individual volumes mentioned, I would like to touch on the distinctives of the series as a whole. The benefits of the series are clear from the advertising blurb above, but are there any faults – or potential faults – with this series? The answer is ‘yes.’

I can identify at least two potential faults with this commentary series. First, you will note that in the first paragraph of the Zondervan blurb, they claim that, “the authors trace the flow of argument in each Old Testament book.” This misses the fact that not every book of the Old Testament is making an argument. Is this true? After all, what is the single argument of the book of Psalms? What is the argument of Song of Solomon? It is true that broad level themes are readily identifiable in the Old Testament books, but I doubt that every Old Testament author intended to write arguments.

Secondly, there is a real potential for the commentators to become too distracted by micro level discourse features and miss larger narrative development and themes. This is a particularly relevant challenge with Old Testament texts, because themes within the Old Testament can develop over several chapters, rather than paragraphs. This points to the reality that discourse analysis is not the answer to all of the exegete’s problems. Discourse analysis is not a replacement for other tools of exegesis.

Of these three, the volume on Ruth is particularly strong when compared to the other two for a couple of reasons.

First, in the Ruth commentary, Block uses Hebrew text as opposed to transliteration. It is indeed peculiar that Block uses Hebrew for Ruth but not for the Jonah volume that is also authored by him. This use of Hebrew is vital to this series for at least two reasons. First, this commentary series claims to offer a discourse analysis of the “Hebrew Bible.” How can the Hebrew Bible be analysed if the Hebrew is not analysed. It should be a given that analysing an English translation offers less insight in the discourse features of the Hebrew text than the Hebrew text does. The fact that this is missing from the Obadiah and Jonah volumes is perplexing. Secondly, the use of transliteration in the Jonah and Obadiah commentaries is less helpful than the editorial committee hopes. Even pastors who have forgotten the Hebrew that they learned in seminary should at least be able to still read the text, and for those who can read Hebrew, transliteration is very cumbersome. Moreover, those who can’t read Hebrew are less likely to benefit from a discourse analysis of the Hebrew Bible than those who can.

I am pleased and thankful, therefore, that Block included the Hebrew in his volume on Ruth. This is especially true because Ruth is so often a book of choice for advanced Hebrew classes. Thus, I believe that Block’s volume will prove to be a useful text for these classes. The identification of discourse features in the Hebrew text will prove highly valuable for these students.

The second benefit of Block’s Ruth commentary is the thoroughness of the research. This is clear from the size and volume of the footnotes. It is clear even from a cursory examination that the footnotes in this volumes will prove more valuable to the reader than the other volumes.

In the end, I am very excited about this new commentary series from Zondervan. They have a strong track record of producing imminently useful and meaningful commentaries. And I hope that this series will not an exception. This series, I believe, has room to develop and grow, however. If the contributors can avoid the potential pitfalls of certain approaches to discourse analysis that were identified above and if the volumes consistently incorporate the strengths identified with Block’s Ruth volume, this series will be very helpful indeed.