donderdag 21 februari 2013

Review of: Tony W. Cartledge, 1 & 2 Samuel (SHBC), Smyth & Helwys, 2001; in: Interpretation

Tony W. Cartledge, 1 & 2 Samuel (SHBC), Smyth & Helwys, 2001.

Review in: Interpretation 2004 58: 404
Review door: K. L. Noll
Gevonden op:

1 & 2 Samuel
by Tony W. Cartledge
Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary. Smyth & Helwys, Macon, 2001.
748 pp. $65.00 (cloth). ISBN 1-57312-064-2.

BECAUSE A BIBLICAL TEXT IS A CULTURE-BOUND artifact from a dead world, Jewish and Christian readers seek words to explain their Word, to make the dead come to life once again. The venerable genre called "the commentary" reflects the needs of the reader, not the intention of the biblical authors. This is no surprise. The intention of a long dead author is difficult to discern in any case, and the Bible's status as sacred scripture has obliterated any hope the ancient authors might have harbored that their words will be taken at face value. It is all the Word of God now, for better and for worse.

Nowhere is the ironic artifice of the genre more visible than when the subject of a commentary is the books of Samuel. Commentators treat Samuel's god as the God, the supernatural being who, one presumes, created and sustains the universe. The fit between textual god and actual God is unnatural, for Samuel's god is fiction, a capricious story-world character, at this moment destroying a priest who dares to protect a holy object, at that moment murdering some 70,000 people to punish the sin this same god seduced his anointed king to commit. Like the book of Job, Samuel seems designed to undermine all piety, all theodicy, all doctrine. Unlike Job's reader, Samuel's reader is not forewarned that it is all a test. Thus, there is no textual guidance for parsing a literary god who is neither the reliable covenantal partner of Deuteronomy nor the majestic Holy One of Isaiah. An author of the commentary genre faces a formidable task when writing on 1 and 2 Samuel.

Antony Campbell and Tony Cartledge are two recent scholars rising to this challenge. Each has produced a serviceable commentary with flashes of brilliance. But like every commentator before them, these two scholars, in this reviewer's view, fail to tame the capricious god of Samuel.

Complete with CD-ROM and packed with sidebars illustrating various aspects of the text, the massive tome penned by Cartledge is part of the Smyth 8c Helwys series, which strives to become a standard resource for every pastor's Sunday sermon preparation. To that end, Cartledge consistently rehabilitates Samuel's god, finding excuses for the god's excessive behavior and packaging the deity as the Christian God, ready for Sunday morning congregational consumption.

Cartledge's methods can be illustrated with the tale of King David, Uriah the Hittite and Bathsheba. The god of 2 Samuel 12:8 boasts that he has delivered other men's women into David's control (as well as an entire kingdom) and would have been happy to deliver more. Samuel's god punishes David not for taking another man's wife, but for taking the wrong man's wife. This story's god prefers the dirty work of eliminating men (1 Sam 16:14; 25:38), while David is permitted Saul's women and Nabal's wife, but not Uriah's. In Cartledge's reading (pp. 513-21), this aspect of the story is ignored, and Samuel's god becomes a more transcendently righteous God who stays above the earthy deeds, punishing David for more generalized sins of adultery and murder, but sparing David from full punishment. That this divine "grace" (p. 518) results in a divine command to rape several women publicly (2 Sam 12:11) is whitewashed by Cartledge. He mentions it only briefly (p. 517) before changing the subject by inserting a word study devoted to "Troublesome Terms" (p. 518), such as whether David's son Absalom (who will perform the public rape in 2 Sam 16) can be considered a "neighbor" as the divine prediction requires. Cartledge completes the public relations make-over by hinting that the death of Bathsheba's baby in 2 Sam 12:18 is a kind of typology for Christ (p. 519), and then finishes with a flourish of evangelical rhetoric in semi-pelagian mode (pp. 520-521).

The cosmetic surgery performed on Samuel's god is no minor element of Cartledge's commentary. It is the central concern, and Cartledge is a master of the game. His skill in this regard will render the book useful to innumerable pastors who seek safe topics for their sermons. Cartledge can not be accused of malfeasance. He has delivered what the genre requires, what those who purchase commentaries most urgently desire, and he has done so with the finest craftsmanship and scholarly expertise. This reviewer would prefer a commentary (and a preacher, for that matter) to admit freely that the Bible's god is a fictional character and any resemblance to actual deity is purely coincidental. That is unlikely ever to occur in print or pulpit, so Cartledge's commentary represents something close to the finest that this genre can produce.

K. L. Noll

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