Saturday, February 16, 2008

Book Review of Sandy and Geise's "Cracking Old Testament Codes"

Sandy, D. Brent and Ronald L. Giese, Jr. Cracking Old Testament Codes: A Guide to Interpreting the Literary Genres of the Old Testament. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995. Pp. 1-298

Sandy and Giese have put together an excellent volume on the interpretation of the various literary genres of the Old Testament. By attracting some very high-profile authors of the individual chapters, Sandy and Giese have given this volume credibility as well as weight.

The book is made up of fourteen chapters, ten of which discuss various genres while the other four cover more general matters. Particularly strong are the two chapters on lament (Longman) and praise (Barker) which focus mostly on the psalms, with references to other psalm-like literature in the Old Testament. The last chapter, focusing on preaching and teaching ministry, is likewise a strong chapter filled with insight for the pastor or teacher of the Old Testament. The opening three chapters, covering general issues, are also important. Kaiser and Merrill ably handle narrative and history. Averbeck covers law. VanGemeren, Butler, and Sandy and Abegg cover the sections commonly referred to as prophecy, and Hildebrandt and Hill cover proverbial literature. Almost each chapter has a helpful “case study” of relevant text, giving explanation and example of how the principles of the chapter should be applied.

Reading these treatments did raise this author’s eyebrows in a few spots. For example, in his mostly well-done article on narrative, Kaiser talks about the rhetorical device of “omission … a gap [that] was an unstated piece of information that was essential for getting at the meaning of the text” (p. 78, emphasis mine). One is left to wonder how essential something is that God omitted, and what ramifications that has for the doctrine of the sufficiency and perspicuity of Scripture.

Merrill’s chapter is notable for its discussion of the differences between Chronicles and the books of Samuel and Kings, but he makes the curious statement that “biblical history is not precluded from … the possibility that some imagination was at work in its composition” (p. 104). Again, one should wonder how much imagination can figure into an inspired account of history.

Averbeck’s chapter on law is interesting. He gives a good definition of a covenant as expressing or defining a relationship (pp. 116, 134), and rightly does not see any distinction between “universal and culture-bound laws” in authorial intent which destroys a number of approaches to the Law (p. 135). However, Averbeck does not, at least in this author’s opinion, sufficiently deal with the covenants and the Christian. Concerning the Mosaic covenant, Averbeck says that “the law continues to demonstrate God’s expectations, though Christians live under the new covenant and have a different relationship to the Mosaic Law” (p. 124). His assertion that the Christian is under the New Covenant is absent of any argumentation in its favor and it neglects the serious exegetical case that can be and has been made that the Christian is not under the New Covenant. In addition, Averbeck’s view of the Christian’s “different relationship to the Mosaic Law” is unclear. He concludes that the Mosaic Law “applies under the new covenant, though not in the same way” (p. 135). Given the exegetical significance of the believer and the Law, Averbeck’s treatment seems insufficient, even in an article this short.

The articles by VanGemeren and Butler on prophecy seem driven by a distinction between “Oracles of Salvation” and “Announcements of Judgment.” Yet neither author offers any support for this proposed division. VanGemeren’s assertion that “oracles address individuals … comfort them … and promise deliverance” (p. 141, cf. 153) seems not to address the fact that many oracles (whether נֽאֻם or מַשָּׂא) are pronouncements of judgment. It seems an invalid distinction, at least given the argumentation he has presented here. VanGemeren’s chapter is perhaps the weakest in the book.

Overall, this book is well done, and these minor and periodic quibbles should not overshadow the positive contribution this book makes to Old Testament study.

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