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The Old Testament provides peculiarly powerful ways of thinking and seeing. Brueggemann considers the artistry of 1 & 2 Kings as it mediates between history and faith. He has spent many years engaged with the artistry and imagination of the Old Testament, pondering the ways of power in church and society and he makes clear that those issues of power in the ancient texts still pertain to contemporary times.
While the book proceeds text-by-text, special focus is placed upon Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, and Josiah as models of faith. Brueggemann provides a useful guide for the reader to maneuver between flat history and absolute faith. In commentary form, 1 & 2 Kings invites the reader to view fresh ways of faithful insight and wisdom.
Like all volumes in the Smyth & Helwys Commentary Series, 1 & 2 Kings provides a wealth of visual treats, from photography to classic works of art and maps. Each visual supports the commentary and enhances interpretation.
Book Notes Radio Review of 1 & 2 Kings
I love commentaries. Most people use them for reference, (as I myself do at times), but I especially enjoy reading them cover to cover. Some are more helpful than others, but in the last few years some publishers have worked hard to make commentaries more accessible. No publisher has more effectively accomplished this task than Smyth & Helwys with their series of Old and New Testament commentaries. While the scholarship of the contributors is unquestionably of the highest caliber, these volumes are highly accessible to the general reader. The format is simply brilliant with its easy to read print and the numerous and engaging sidebars. There are numerous copies of fine art throughout the commentary that are extremely helpful in conveying the sense of the commentator's interest. The binding is of fine quality and the artwork on the dustcover is beautifully done.
Smyth & Helwys are to be congratulated in choosing Walter Brueggemann to write the commentary on 1 & 2 Kings. Perhaps no other Old Testament scholar is better equipped to offer penetrating and scholarly exegesis in a way that the layperson can understand, and to make insightful connections of the text to the world in which we live. This is the beauty of Brueggemann's work in this volume.
The introduction is brief, yet it cogently encapsulates the movement of the "royal history." Brueggemann poignantly reminds us that Kings is not "history" in the modern sense of the term. In fact, Brueggemann points out: "Rather consistently the narrative 'footnotes' its text in order to alert readers who want detailed 'history' that they can go to the sources to check out the facts. These 'sources' -- now lost to us -- are often specified: The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah (see 1 Kings 15:7). The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel (see 1 Kings 16:20)." It is important to remember this, especially since so many interpreters have failed in trying to make all of the "historical facts" work out consistently. Brueggemann invites us to think in terms of a "theology of history", an "interpretive commentary" upon the royal history.
Brueggemann's detailed outline for 1 & 2 Kings is itself a goldmine for the preacher/teacher. There are clever titles that teachers will be tempted to use in their own outlines (e.g., section IX, The Global Economist, 1 Kings 10:1-29). The outline also makes referencing a breeze.
The sidebars throughout the commentary marked as "culture/context" are extremely insightful. For example, in 1 Kings 2 Adonijah is said to have "took hold of the horns of the altar." This phrase is found repeatedly in Kings and Brueggemann leaves us without question as to what this means. He even includes a picture of an altar found at Miggido which reveals the "horns" of each corner of the altar to which one could grab and hold thereby finding safety from a pursuer who knew better than to violate the holy sanctuary. This kind of help abounds throughout the commentary.
Language and word studies are offered in sidebars noted as "Alpha & Omega Language." A good example of the way this feature is used is in Brueggemann's keen observation in 1 Kings 10 of the Queen of Sheba's usage of the word pair "justice and righteousness" which "seems to embody the primary demands of Israel's Torah-prophetic traditions." Another interesting example is Brueggemann's insight regarding the technical term used for "gospel" in 2 Kings 7:9 (translated good news in our English Bibles). He points out that this term "refers to an actual change of circumstance evoked by Yahweh" rather than something understood spiritually. He points us to other texts in Isaiah that use this same term.
The "Interpretation" sidebars offer insightful illumination of the text through the use of historical and contemporary literature and other sources, and the "Additional Resources Study" sidebars direct the reader to studies by other scholars, journals, websites and more.
Smyth & Helwys and Walter Brueggemann have done a great service to the Church as well as anyone who desires to better understand 1 & 2 Kings.
Producer/Host of Book Notes Radio
The Bible Today Review of 1 & 2 Kings, July/August 2001
This commentary is extraordinary, in that it is accompanied by a CD-ROM. The reader is also invited to consult the commentary’s website for further information and updates. The text itself is user-friendly. A detailed outline of the biblical book precedes its interpretation. Written for the general reader, the section-by-section commentary demonstrates Brueggemann’s ability to relate biblical issues to contemporary situations. Each page is laid out in an attractive manner and sometimes includes icons that alert the reader to additional information about the meaning of a Hebrew word, insight into a detail of culture, a connection with a contemporary issue, or suggestions for further reading. Helpful maps and reproductions of classic art such as Picasso’s Guernica and Doré’s engraving of The Pentecost are found throughout the book.
Old Testament Abstracts Review of 1 & 2 Kings
his series is "built upon the idea that meaningful Bible study can occur when the insights of contemporary biblical scholars blend with sensitivity to the needs of lifelong students of Scripture." This series is meant to speak primarily to Christians and the Christian church and to communicate biblical scholarship to them. The analysis of various periscopes includes a section called "connections" that draws connections between the text and world of the Church today, as interpreted by the author of the given commentary. It also takes into account a visual readership, both in its general layout -- and particularly that of its clarifying notes, on matters of language, social and cultural context, and interpretation -- and its reproductions of works of art. Each volume includes a CD-ROM version of the text of the book and some searching capabilities. B.'s commentary includes a short introduction in which B. explains that the Book of Kings is not "history," but rather "prophecy," that is, a "a theological commentary and not factual reportage." B. identifies four main "reference points' in the perspective of Kings: (a) the city of Jerusalem, and the fact of its destruction; (b) the Temple; (c) the Torah: and (d) prophets who are Torah advocates. Most of the book consists of a unit-by-unit commentary. But it also includes well-laid out, succinct notes on historical, social and interpretative matters for a general audience. It includes also numerous artistic representations of scenes being discussed in the text, and a short comment on these that helps the reader ponder about the way in which they construct the text. As expected, the "Connections" sections feature B.s well-known theological (and socio-theological) positions.
Interpretation Review of 1 & 2 Kings
Publisher and author here collaborate in producing an entirely new kind of biblical commentary. The result is splendid, and both are to be congratulated. The intention of the series, of which this volume is the first to appear, is to provide serious, non-specialist students of scripture what they look for in commentaries but rarely find: scholarly interpretation of the ancient text, with some of the connections of the text to the contemporary world spelled out, with the visual imagination of readers stimulated and fed, and with special points and meaningful analogies from moral and political life underscored graphically as sidebars. Such a commentary series requires space; collaboration among writer, editors, and publishers; and the contribution of specialists in art and book design. All of these have been provided in this long and bulky work on the books of Kings.
Brueggemann's knowledge, theological and moral passion, and hermeneutical skill are all in evidence and fully coordinated in this stunning commentary. He knows the biblical text of 1 & 2 Kings intimately, as well as the scholarly literature on the book, and he brings to the writing a lifetime of experience in drawing the ancient text into conversation with contemporary theological and moral questions. He also sets the books of 1 & 2 Kings into relation with the book of Deuteronomy and its interpretive world, a world he also knows intimately.
Brief comments on three sections of the commentary may indicate how well the intentions of the series are being realized. At the beginning, Brueggemann retells the story of 1 & 2 Kings in such a way that analogies flood to the reader's mind: sexual politics, Saturday night massacres, ruthless elimination of one's enemies, gains and losses in the introduction of new forms of leadership. Artwork depicts the prophet Nathan with David, Solomon's anointing as king, and Marlon Brando as the Godfather plotting next steps. But Brueggemann regularly draws the analogies himself, moving back and forth between the world of the bible and our own world.
A second treatment, commenting on the enormously rich chapter 22 of 1 Kings, once again lays out the scene and its personalities with stark clarity, and shows how prophetic leadership can be corrupted in the interests of power politics but can sometimes stand firm against such pressure. (Missing from this excellent treatment is the impressive way in which the chapter illustrates the biblical tests of true prophecy; true prophets tend to say what people don't want to hear; their words prove to be true; and they have visions that they are ready to discuss, explain, or even re-evaluate.) Here too the artwork is excellent; a haunting presentation of King Ahab in his chariot, bleeding to death, but refusing to stop the conflict or withdraw for medical attention.
The commentary ends with a penetrating analysis of King Jehjoiachin's residence at the Babylonian court, showing what it meant and means for the Jewish community in exile, and for Christians as well, to accept exile as final. The author quotes George Steiner, who suggests that Jews in foreign lands may be destined to be guests whose task it is to make that society better than it is, while being ready simply to leave when the society seems irreformable: "(M)orality must always have its bags packed."
The volume includes a bibliography, a subject index, indexes of modern authors, the sidebars, and biblical texts. The type is large and readable, although the colored type in the sidebars may be difficult for persons with limited vision. Such a large book needs a strong binding, and that too the publisher has provided. Author and publisher have produced an extraordinarily attractive and luminous commentary form. Let us hope that coming volumes maintain the standard set here.
Wake Forest University Divinity School
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Theological Studies Review of 1 & 2 Kings, December 2002
David Penchansky review excerpt of 1&2 Kings
from the December 2002 issue of Theological Studies
I have long questioned whether the literary genre known as “the Bible commentary” has any future in the field of biblical criticism. The days are over when a single book purports to be an objective treatment of the whole of available information on a given text. For a commentary to be more than just a relic, the presence of the commentator and her/his perspective and opinion must come to the forefront of the narrative. This commentary, by internationally known and respected scholar Walter Brueggemann, succeeds on this point. His book introduces us not only to the imaginative world that the biblical books of Kings inhabit but also to the world that Brueggemann himself inhibits.
Christian Century Review of 1 & 2 Kings, June 20, 2001
Ancient times sound much like modern times -- power plays, the strange mix of sex and politics, the intricate dance between nations. Because the stories it tells are echoed by our contemporary ones, Israel's royal history is often mined by those interested in the interweavings of politics, economics and social realities. But Walter Brueggemann suggests that something is missing when we study these texts only as history.
Brueggemann, who is professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, and one of the most prolific and attentive modern readers of the biblical text, notes that the Book of Kings offers a theological exploration that centers on the interplay of the God of history with the political, social and economic realities of the day. "All of this means that the reader of these books must not expect too much 'royal history.' . . .The clue to the whole is that Yahweh is the definitive actor in the public life of Israel: therefore all claims for Realpolitik are in fact provisional and penultimate," he states.
Brueggemann never strays far from this focusing assumption. Throughout his exploration, these texts constantly confront the reader with the demanding claims of obedience to a God who will not be divorced from the historical process. In line with most critical studies, Brueggemann sees the string dependence of Kings on Torah as is understood in the Book of Deuteronomy.
Out of this grounding in Deuteronomy comes the demand for sole allegiance to Yahweh. It's a theme highlighted in the stories of Elijah and Elisha, where prophets challenge royal abuse of power. Brueggemann has an obvious affection and affinity for prophetic voices that counter royal assumptions about self-reliant and self-sufficient power with imaginative proposals about Yahweh's ultimate governance of the world.
This affinity is evident in Brueggemann's provocative interweaving of comments on the modern world with the ancient stories that refuse to bracket God's call for obedience from political and economic processes. Facilitating the linkage between the ancient and modern is the structure of the commentary itself, which moves between analysis of the biblical text and consideration of its relation to modernity. Modern conceptions of power, current historical situations and recent political, psychological and economic theories are brought into conversation with the insights gained from the biblical narrative and are found wanting.
Always prophetic and at times downright unsettling, Brueggemann challenges some of our most cherished assumptions about American prosperity and power -- assumptions he likens to those of the Judean kings who constantly found their claims of authority and superiority subsumed into Yahweh's activity in history.
Brueggemann's attentive reading of both the context and the modern situation distinguishes his commentary. He reminds readers that these are his readings and admits that he might have overread at times. Readers may be ill at ease or disagree with his conclusions. Yet that discomfort may be what the biblical text intents, as it invites us to rethink and remaining the world in terms of a God who does not abandon it and whose radical claims for obedience have concrete implications for the totality of life.
To facilitate further study, the commentary features numerous sidebars and contains and intriguing collection of art, maps and photographs. A CD-Rom version of the text is included with the book.
Thomas W. Walker
Second Presbyterian Church, IN