Evaluating Commentaries on Joshua -- By: David M. Howard, Jr.
SBJT 2:3 (Fall 1998) p. 4
Evaluating Commentaries on Joshua
David M. Howard, Jr. is Professor of Old Testament at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, a post he assumed after teaching at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota and at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. His works include An Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books (Moody Press) and numerous scholarly articles.
What is a Commentary?
In its most basic sense, a commentary simply makes comments on a text. In the best commentaries, these comments are not random or impressionistic statements that may or may not have a legitimate connection with the meaning of the text at hand. Rather, they focus on the text, and on making the text’s meaning clear.
Commentaries achieve this goal using different tools. The first step is determining which text is to be clarified. Many commentators provide their own original translation and textual notes, which explain which ancient versions are being followed. Others use an established English translation as the basis for their comments. The commentaries written by Woudstra, Butler, Boling, Freedman, and Nelson mentioned below provide an original translation, while the others use an existing translation. The best commentators always refer to the original languages in their research, however, and all thirteen works evaluated below do this. Expositors whose Hebrew skills are weak or who do not know Hebrew should not despair. All the commentaries recommended below can be used profitably even without such a knowledge; most of them refer to technical details in footnotes, endnotes, or special sections, and, when Hebrew is included in the text, it is usually transliterated into Roman characters and translated into English.
Good commentaries orient readers to the manifold settings of the text. These include historical, archaeological, literary, and theological settings, at least. Knowing the historical context of the events discussed in a text and what light archaeological excavations might shed on them is important for an expositor in establishing a proper framework for interpretation. An expositor should also have confidence in the historical accuracy of the text, and attention to the historical context can help in this regard as well. The literary and theological settings of the text concern how it fits with the message of other biblical books and the major theological motifs of the Bible.
Good commentaries then take readers through each passage, digging deep into the content of the chapters, paragraphs, and verses. They explain the meanings of the words, phrases, clauses, sentences, and paragraphs, and follow the flow of logic in the text. They take readers back and forth between the “...
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