donderdag 21 februari 2013

Review of: Susan Niditch, Judges: A Commentary (OTL), Westminster John Knox, 2008; in: Interpretation

Susan Niditch, Judges: A Commentary (OTL), Westminster John Knox, 2008

Review in: Interpretation 2009 63: 196
Review door: Carol Meyers
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Judges: A Commentary
by Susan Niditch
Westminster John Knox, Louisville, 2008.
290 pp. $45.00 (cloth). ISBN 978-0-664-22096-9.

DRAWING UPON HER considerable expertise in folklore studies, Susan Niditch examines the "multilayered and multivoiced" book of Judges as a repository of traditional and oral literature. Recognizing its marvelously diverse narrative materials, she identifies three major voices, all emphasizing the role of God in Israel's fate:

1) an epic-bardic voice, perhaps dating to the late second millennium B.C.E., in Judg 5;

2) a covenant-oriented Deuteronomic theologian, probably of the late monarchic period, in Judg 2 and in the hero stories of chs. 3-16; and

3) a humanist voice with nationalist interests, reflecting the postexilic era, in Judg 1 and 17-21.

The introduction provides a clear summary of the characters and themes of Judges and of the major scholarly views about its historicity, redaction, and versions. It also explains Niditch's folkloristic approach, which involves sensitivity to the text, texture, and context of biblical literature.

The commentary itself examines Judges chapter by chapter. For each chapter, Niditch first offers her own translation, in which she strives to give contemporary readers a sense of the oral and aural qualities of the quasi-poetic text. The translation conveys the rhythms, word plays, and repetitions of the Hebrew while adjusting to English word order. (An appendix presents another version of the translation that is even closer to the word order of the Hebrew original.) The translation is annotated with information about selected words, phrases, and issues. The emphasis here is on textual variants, which Niditch takes seriously as witness to the oral-world mentality of biblical antiquity, in which different versions existed at the same time. Niditch then briefly discusses the overall contents and "voice" of the chapter and also, where appropriate, its possible authenticity. Finally, she provides an analysis of each subunit of the chapter, focusing on the folkloric features of the characters and reported events. In so doing she frequently points to parallels with other biblical materials as well as comparative materials from other cultures, especially from the Aegean.

Readers who expect a detailed treatment of virtually every term and concept may be disappointed, but those who are eager to learn how ancient audiences may have experienced the text will be richly rewarded. Niditch also offers refreshing new insights into Israelite views of war, violence, power, national leadership, ethnic identity, and women's roles. Her interdisciplinary folkloristic approach, although lacking attention to issues of collective memory, nonetheless delivers a lively exposition that does justice to the vibrancy of this biblical book.

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