woensdag 6 februari 2013

Review of: Marvin A. Sweeney, Zephaniah: A Commentary (Hermeneia), Fortress, 2003; in: Interpretation

Marvin A. Sweeney, Zephaniah: A Commentary (Hermeneia), Fortress, 2003

Review in: Interpretation 2005 59: 428
Review door: Daniel Hojoon Ryou
Gevonden op: http://int.sagepub.com/content/59/4/428.full.pdf+html

Zephaniah: A Commentary
by Marvin A. Sweeney
Hermeneia. Fortress, Minneapolis, 2003.
227 pp. $47.00 (cloth). ISBN 0-8006-6049-8.

IN RECENT YEARS we have witnessed resurgent interest in the prophetic books, especially the Book of the Twelve, in the form of commentary, but the book of Zephaniah has been somewhat neglected. Marvin Sweeney has written a well-organized, well-argued commentary. As a part of the Hermeneia series, it offers a wealth of insightful information and interpretations on the text. It broadens the readers' perspective by providing illuminating interpretation of the various textual traditions such as the Masoretic Text, LXX, Scrolls from the Judean Wilderness, Targum, Peshitta, Vulgate, and Old Latin Texts. These are treated here as independent literary works, highlighting the different aspects of the meaning of the prophecy of Zephaniah. The diverse textual traditions presented in their own socio-historical settings are highly effective and make a welcome contribution to the study of prophetic literature.

Sweeney rejects the traditional tripartite division of the book of Zephaniah (judgment oracles against Jerusalem and Judah, judgment oracles against the nations, and salvation oracles of Jerusalem/Judah and the world). Instead, he views the book of Zephaniah as "the presentation of Zephaniah's parenetic speech to Jerusalem/ Judah in which the prophet calls on the audience to seek YHWH" (p. 9). Thus the book is divided into two halves: Announcement of the Day of YHWH (1:2-18) and Avoid Punishment on the Day of YHWH (2:1-3:20). Underlying this assertion is Sweeney's claim that Hosea, Amos, Micah, and Zephaniah (whose superscriptions are similarly formulated, implying a common editor) were probably produced in the Josianic era to support the King's reform program. Sweeney thus reads the book of Zephaniah as a prophetic call for national repentance and a renewed commitment to YHWH.

The gem of this commentary lies particularly in Sweeney's judicious examination of the texture of the text. Unlike traditional form criticism, however, Sweeney's "formal analysis" is grounded in a thorough investigation of various linguistic issues of syntax and semantics.

Sweeney's interpretation of the socio-historical setting of 3:14-20 does not make a strong case. He reads this portion of the text as a product of the Josianic era, a kind of exhortative address to Jerusalem under the Assyrian oppression reassuring the Israelites of future restoration (pp. 193-96). Whether this reading can persuade many skeptics who see it as a later expansion in the (post-) exilic period is a moot question. Still, Sweeney's thorough analysis of the book of Zephaniah as a literary product during King Josiah's rule offers a convincing alternative reading. His reading of the text also implicitly explores the subtle difference between the production of the book and the reception and appropriation of the produced text.

In sum, the valuable contribution of Sweeney's commentary lies in his hermeneutical strategy, his synchronic and diachronic reading of the text of Zephaniah within the Twelve Prophets. To him, the sequence "synchrony-diachrony," and not vice versa, is crucial, reflecting the influence of the "concept analysis school" pioneered by R. P. Knierim. Reading the book of Zephaniah as a part of the Twelve Prophets and locating it between Habakkuk and Haggai compels Sweeney to read the book "in relation to the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, Judah, and the First Temple and the exile of the Judean population in the early sixth century B.C.E" (p. 2), rather than in relation to Josiah's religious and political reform.

The book will encourage a plethora of responses, some in agreement, others not. In any case, Sweeney's careful and cautious handling of the text is a welcome addition to the prestigious Hermeneia series. It will serve as a standard commentary for a long time to come, for seasoned scholars and pastors alike. We are deeply indebted to him for that.


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