dinsdag 5 februari 2013

Review of: Timothy M. Willis, Leviticus (AOTC), Abingdon, 2009

Timothy M. Willis, Leviticus (AOTC), Abingdon, 2009

Review in: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 52/4
Review door: Joe M. Sprinkle
Gevonden op: http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/52/52-4/JETS%2052-4%20831-884%20Book%20reviews.pdf

Leviticus. By Timothy M. Willis. Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009, xxvi + 241 pp., $35.00.

Timothy M. Willis, the Blanche E. Seaver Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University, has produced a short, readable commentary on the book of Leviticus. It is part of the Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries series based on the nrsv and under the general editorship of Patrick D. Miller of Princeton Theological Seminary. This series seeks to provide “compact, critical commentaries on the books of the Old Testament for the use of theological students and pastors,” as well as for “upper-level college or university students” and for “those responsible for teaching in congregational settings” (p. xiii). The authors of this series come from variety of ecclesiastical and confessional backdrops.

Willis generally takes a moderate-critical stance to Leviticus. Rather than dating the redaction of the earlier Holiness Code (H) together with the later Priestly Writer (P) to the period after the Babylonian exile as most source critics have done, Willis thinks H precedes Ezekiel and P precedes H (pp. xxi-xxii). His moderation also shows up in the respect he pays to contemporary conservative commentators (e.g. Gane, Harrison, Hartley, Wenham), whose views he often mentions alongside those of more strictly critical commentators.

The commentary proper analyzes each literary unit of Leviticus in three ways: Literary Analysis, Exegetical Analysis, and Theological and Ethical Analysis. The sections on literary analysis deal with questions of genre, structure, and style. These sections discuss things such as narrative formulas, major units, repetition of key phrases in the unit, and switching from singular to plural forms of the second person. One of the more insightful of these makes the observation that Lev 24:13–23 follows a fifteen element chiastic structure with the lex talonis (vv. 19–20) at the center of the chiasm. There is also a helpful chart outlining the topics of Leviticus 19. Despite an occasional insight, these discussions are usually on the dry side and less helpful than the other sections of the commentary for the general reader. To be fair, this may have more to do with the nature of the material in Leviticus than with the author.

The sections on exegetical analysis concentrate on key phrases and issues in each passage. Where there are multiple exegetical possibilities, Willis often lists them with minimal discussion. For example, where the hand is laid on the animal designated for a burnt offering in Leviticus 1, Willis lists four possibilities of the meaning of that gesture (identification with the animal; identification of the person offering the animal; transfer of ownership of the animal to God; and designating the animal as set aside for sacrifice) without any discussion to determine which may be more probable. He completely omits—save for affirming that the gesture here is different than the similar  gesture with the Day of Atonement offering in Leviticus 16—the possibility affirmed by traditional commentators (e.g. Kellogg, Bonar) that the laying on of hands has to do with a transfer of sin from the offerer to the sacrificial animal to make atonement for the offerer. Likewise, concerning the “mercy seat” in Leviticus 16 he notes that some take this term simply to mean a “cover” while others relate it to the verb “to make atonement.”

But Willis does not venture to give his opinion as to which of these is more likely. A similar thing happens in his discussion of the goat in the Day of Atonement ritual. Willis there mentions that “Azazel” may refer to “scapegoat” (the goat that escapes), may mean a hypothesized goat-demon named Azazel, may mean “for removal,” or may refer to a barren land to which the goat was driven. He finds all the views problematic, though he seems tentatively to opt for the goat-demon view despite the fact that this view is (as he put it) “unorthodox” and in contradiction with the teaching of the OT elsewhere.

The lack of discussion of exegetical matters is largely to be ascribed to the space limitations of a section-by-section commentary that only allows three to five pages of discussion per literary unit. For that reason many matters one might seek in a commentary are entirely omitted. For example, if one were to look for a discussion of the prohibition of “tattoos” in Lev 19:28—tattoos being a subject that comes up more often these days—one would search in vain for Willis’s discussion.

The sections on theological and ethical significance seek to bring out the contemporary relevance of the text. Thus, Leviticus 27, on redeeming votive offerings, leads Willis to discuss fulfilling voluntary gifts and commitments to God today. The year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25 leads to a discussion of overturning “the usual systems of privilege and self-advancement of the strong at the expense of the weak and vulnerable” (p. 218). The Day of Atonement ritual in Leviticus 16 leads to a discussion of everyone, and especially clergy, removing impurity from their lives.

These discussions of theological and ethical significance lean far more towards moral and ethical than the theological. A major weakness from a Christian-theological perspective of Willis’s commentary is that there is little attempt to integrate the theology of Leviticus into biblical theology as a whole. In particular, there is a paucity of references to the NT’s use of Leviticus, especially the use by the writer of Hebrews. The NT clearly sees the atoning sacrifices of Leviticus as typologically foreshadowing the atoning death of Christ. There is, of course, a danger of letting the teachings of Hebrews so influence one’s exegesis that one misses what the OT text actually says. On the other hand, Willis errs in the opposite direction by not sufficiently showing the ways the NT relates matters in Leviticus to the person and work of Christ.

Joe M. Sprinkle
Crossroads College, Rochester, MN

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