woensdag 9 januari 2013

Review van Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17 (NICOT), Eerdmans, 1990 uit Hebrew Studies 32

Review van Victor P. Hamilton,  The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17 (NICOT), Eerdmans, 1990 uit Hebrew Studies 32

THE BOOK OF CHAPTERS 1-17. By Victor P. Hamilton. NICOT. Pp. xviii + 522. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990. Cloth, $27.95.

The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17 has long been anticipated by those who patiently await each new installment of R. K. Harrison's New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Like the other volumes in this series, Victor Hamilton's commentary represents the best of current evangelical scholarship, with its strong belief in the authority and infallibility of Scripture. Biblical scholars and informed lay persons will find this an excellent resource for the study of Genesis. Hamilton shows a remarkable familiarity with the central issues in the book of Genesis and leaves no doubt that he has searched far and wide for bibliography to fill its pages with learned footnotes. Nevertheless, the book has significant weaknesses.

Hamilton begins with a discussion of several introductory questions. Under the rubric "Structure," he focuses almost entirely on the role and meaning of the "toledoths," which he takes to be colophons providing the key to the book's present shape and meaning. His lengthy discussion ends inconclusively, however, leaving the reader with little understanding of just how this basic structural feature will affect one's reading of the book. Further discussion of the structure of Genesis is limited to a short page and a half of mere snippets of "other indicators of structural design in Genesis" (p. 10). In light of the fact that the following section, dealing with "Composition," attempts to give a refutation of classical and modern forms of literary criticism in favor of the book's unity, one would have expected a fuller discussion of the nature of the book's coherence.

In that following section, Hamilton gives a series of more or less typical conservative (a la Harrison, Cassuto, and others) arguments against the Documentary Hypothesis. Oddly enough, he fails to discuss or even mention Whybray's The Making of the Pentateuch (1987). Because he does not go beyond much of what was already said a generation ago, his arguments are not likely to be convincing to modern critical scholars, nor will his interaction with contemporary scholarship be found satisfactory. For example, he regards the difference between Rolf Rendtorff's view of the composition of Genesis and the classical Documentary Hypothesis as "more cosmetic than substantive" (p. 26). This leaves one with the impression that, for Hamilton, anyone who holds to a non-Mosaic view of the Pentateuch's composition can automatically be classified as adhering to some form of the Documentary Hypothesis. Nor does he offer a solution of his own to address the question of the book's authorship. Evangelicals will find it surprising that, for Hamilton, even the views of fellow evangelicals like K. A. Kitchen and R. K. Harrison are "neither more nor less hypothetical than Wellhausen's  JEP Genesis or Rendtorff's  Uberlieferungen Genesis" (p. 37). For Hamilton, the question of the nature of the composition of Genesis is an "exercise in futility" or an "endless" pursuit "never coming to a knowledge of the truth" (p. 38). Such a conclusion is very inadequate.

Hamilton's preoccupation with literary criticism comes out again in his section on the "theology" of Genesis. Here, the issue is not so much the theology of the book as whether it contains a single theology or multiple theologies. Since he holds that the narrative's theology resides in its repeated "promises," his discussion quickly reduces to the question of whether these promise sections are "original."

Some idea of this book's general approach to Genesis can be gained from a glance at the particular "Problems in Interpretation" singled out for discussion. First is the question of whether the "days" of Genesis are literal twenty-four-hour days or geological ages. This intramural evangelical discussion is of little importance to anyone outside those boundaries. Hamilton's solution-that the term "day" is to be read as a "solar day of 24 hours," but "it [the text?] understands 'day' not as a chronological account of how many hours God invested in his creating project, but as an analogy of God's creative activity" (pp. 55-56) is almost incomprehensible.

The next problem is "Genesis as Myth." Settling on B. Childs' definition of that term, Hamilton concludes that "it is irresponsible and incorrect" to speak of Genesis 1-11 as myth. The last two problems are "The Patriarchs as History" and "The Religion of the Patriarchs." One can quickly see that these topics are those which have long accompanied traditional and evangelical approaches to Genesis. As far as I can tell, however, Hamilton has made no new contribution to them.

A glance at virtually any page of the commentary will show that Hamilton's comments have been guided principally by the secondary literature of Genesis. One gets the distinct impression that this commentary was written not so much by going verse by verse through the book of Genesis as by going article by article through Elenchus Bibliographicus. There is no better example than the first page of the commentary on Gen 1:1-2. To explain his translation of the Torah's first word (een Hebreeuws woord), Hamilton directs us to Gordon's article on "Extensions of Barth's Law of Vocalic Sequence" in Orientalia for "the problems surrounding the vocalization of (een Hebreeuws woord), and (een Hebreeuws woord) (p. 103). It is hard to imagine this as the central question for Gen 1:1. There are other examples. Such a commentary is very different from those that begin with questions that originate out of the text itself.

Hamilton often devotes an inordinate amount of attention to a single issue in a passage, passing over other, sometimes more important points, without comment. In the NICOT series, every important aspect of the text is expected to be given its due attention. Unfortunately, such is not the case in this commentary. Again, as an example, Hamilton's five-and-a-half page discussion of Gen 1:1 is devoted solely to the question of whether (een Hebreeuws woord) is in the absolute or construct state and the verse's relationship to the rest of the chapter.

A final general observation relates to the history of interpretation. Hamilton pays a great deal of attention to ancient Near Eastern parallels and devotes a special section to each chapter's interpretation in the NT, but there is a noticeable lack of attention to the interpretation of the Genesis material in the rest of the Hebrew Bible, not to mention the vast and important resources of later interpretation. Though the LXX and Targumim are cited, there is little if any interaction with them as versions, and Hamilton's attention to Jewish interpretation (other than Cassuto) is nil. Thus in his treatment of Gen 3:15 he discusses the views of Francis Schaeffer, but not Rashi-nor Luther and Calvin for that matter. Given the wealth of fruitful interaction between Jewish and Christian scholars in previous centuries, this is a serious omission. Similarly, though Hamilton discusses the standard English translations of Gen 3:15 (AV, RSV, NAB, NEB, and JB), no mention is made of the Jewish Publication Society translation, even though on some key points it supports Hamilton's own translation.

With major paradigm shifts taking place in biblical studies these days, the prospect of writing a definitive commentary on Genesis can appear quite bleak. Hamilton's commentary fits a very definitive paradigm. For those who accept the virtues of that paradigm, this work will be seen as a major contribution to the study of Genesis.

John Sailhamer
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Deerfield, IL 60015

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