woensdag 9 januari 2013

Review van Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50 (NICOT), Eerdmans, 1995 in Hebrew Studies 38

Review van Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50 (NICOT), Eerdmans, 1995 in Hebrew Studies 38

THE BOOK OF GENESIS, CHAPTERS 18-50. By Victor P. Hamilton. NICOT. Pp. xx + 774. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995. Cloth, $42.00.

Commentaries on Genesis abound. So what does this one have to offer? It has no introduction, which was in volume 1 on Gen 1-17, but it is part of a series whose purpose is defined: "In the Old Testament we read God's word as it was spoken to his people Israel. Today, thousands of years later, we hear in these thirty-nine books his inspired and authoritative message for us." It is therefore as an exposition of the biblical text as holy scripture that the commentary should be assessed.

There is a fresh translation of the Hebrew text which makes use of modern
philological    debate and comparative material. For students working with the Hebrew text there is a mine of useful information, although the mine does need a certain amount of quarrying. For example, at the famous crux in Gen 49:10, (Hebrew word), Hamilton sets out the various interpretive options fairly, but he does not advocate any of them, so it is only from his translation, "until he possesses that which belongs to him," that one deduces that he prefers to follow the early versions in presupposing a relative particle (Hebrew word) with preposition , in other words, a Vorlage. With regard to Moriah in Gen 22:2, Hamilton merely notes in passing that the versions interpreted this in terms of the root (Hebrew word) --which, given the usage of (Hebrew word) in verse 14, is surely the most likely construal on the part of the Hebrew narrator
, whatever the philological origins--and opts for the suggestion that the name is Hurrian, meaning "land which is the king's," which he then attempts to link with Jerusalem via David's purchase of land from the Jebusite Araunah.

With regard to classic source-critical analysis in terms of J, E, and P, Hamilton usually notes rather briefly the main positions held and makes some sensible, though limited, comments as to the limitations and, occasionally, strengths of such analysis; but such discussions tend to stand alongside of, rather than integrally contribute to, his own interpretation. For example, although he rightly notes that the division of Jacob's dream in Gen 28:10-22 into J and E misses "a progression in Jacob's reaction," he does not, as he might, relate this to Jacob's perception in verses 12-13: first a stairway (or whatever sullam means), then emissaries of God (elohi'm, generic), then Yahweh himself.

Hamilton is perhaps at his weakest in distinguishing between interpretation of the text in its final form and discussion of its possible
prehistory and composition; he shows some tendency to conflate
the two and so to do insufficient justice to either. For example, with regard to the difficult methodological questions posed by the similar stories in Gen 12:10-20 and Genesis 20, Hamilton says: "Who is to say that an individual, caught in a potentially dangerous situation, is not capable of stooping twice to use other people? Perhaps Abraham has not learned from his previous mistakes. If one views them as two separate events, then the Scriptures are showing that the post-covenant Abraham, for all his spiritual maturation (e.g., Gen 15:6), is still much like the pre-covenant Abraham" (pp. 59f). These are fair interpretative points, but they neither really address the classic "doublet" arguments nor utilize the "type-scene" suggestions of Robert Alter.

The interpretation of Genesis as Christian scripture is evident in regular sections devoted to New Testament appropriation of Old Testament material. However, Christian reflection is not limited to such sections. For example, the discussion of Abraham's behavior in Genesis 20 offers wide-ranging reflections on sanctification, which refer to I Corinthians and Romans as well as Lutheran and Reformed traditions of spirituality. Perhaps Hamilton is at his best in offering suggestive narrative theological insights. On Gen 18:16 he says: "Always the perfect host, Abraham escorts his guests on a portion of their journey. In a literal sense Abraham, like Enoch, 'walked with God"' (p. 17). Or on Gen 28:19: "The story is filled with incidents of transformation. A stone becomes a pillar. A (Hebrew word) becomes Bethel. A man running away from home runs into God" (p. 247).

Yet I was disappointed that Hamilton does not work more fully at probing the issues raised by the text. Genesis 24 is not introduced as the
story about guidance that it is. Nor does the relationship between intelligent thought, prayer, signs, and guidance receive any probing. When, in 24:12-14, the servant specifies the signs that are to mark God's guidance, Hamilton only says: "The boldness of the prayer is impressive ... Such is the servant's way of perceiving the will of God. As a method of finding divine guidance it may be compared with Gideon's woolen fleece (Judg 6:36-40) ... Lacking priest, or temple, or prophetic oracle, and hundreds of miles from home, how else shall this servant find the will of God in a strange land?" (pp. 145f). This is fine as far as it goes. But I miss a sense of engagement with the issue that probes it in the kind of way that, say, Calvin did. Calvin was greatly exercised by the servant's behavior as appearing to impose upon God, and so he used the passage to give an exposition of the dynamics of guidance. Whether or not Calvin's interpretation is persuasive is secondary to his sense that the text poses an important issue for the life of faith with which he, as commentator, must grapple. This is surely what a reader today of a commentary on Genesis as holy scripture may reasonably expect to find, yet Hamilton devotes perhaps disproportionate space to other issues.

Overall, therefore, I feel a sense of regret that Hamilton has spent too much time presenting the modem scholarly exegetical debate and too little time either engaging with the giants of moral and theological interpretation from down the ages or producing his own interpretation. What he has done is undoubtedly useful, but it might have been even more interesting had he followed a literary and theological agenda more confidently.


Walter R. W. L. Moberly
Abbey House
Durham, England

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