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Friday, September 12, 2008
  Amos reviewed in BTB
I have just received another review of the Amos: Hypertext Bible Commentary "volume", this time in Biblical Theology Bulletin, by Anselm C. Hagedorn of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. I will quote the concluding paragraph:
However, these concerns are probably not the ones of the users whom Bulkeley had in mind for his commentary. There is certainly a wealth of information to be found on this CD, but the present reviewer remains sceptical whether a disc can really be an adequate substitute for some standard books such as a Hebrew Bible, a lexicon, and a concordance. Also in his goal not to offer a chosen path of interpretation for the user, Bulkeley runs the risk of losing his user/reader altogether. Sometimes it would have been helpful to know what Bulkeley actually thinks about the text, since I seriously doubt that the intended user without formal training is able to judge the scholarship adequately. All these quibbles aside, amongst the commentaries available for a general theological readership this is clearly one of the better ones.
First the detail: Hagedorn says he "remains sceptical whether a disc can really be an adequate substitute for some standard books such as a Hebrew Bible, a lexicon, and a concordance." The Logos and Bibleworks programs of course demonstrate that it can ;) But I do not see HBC_ as a competitor with these. A commentary complements such tools.

The issue that Hagedorn raises with his comment that "Sometimes it would have been helpful to know what Bulkeley actually thinks about the text" is a significant one, and one about which I still have mixed feelings.

On the one hand it is frustrating that most reviewers of the commentary assume that I believe that the book of Amos was somehow written very close to the period in which the prophetic speeches it contains are set. I don't. I am still convinced that something like Wolff's reconstruction of the redaction history of the book is likely, Coote's simplification of Wolff sometimes seems better because simpler, but at other times recognition of the complexity of everyday life convinces me that even Wolff's scheme is probably an over-simplification. But we do not and cannot know. We can make intelligent guesses, like Wolff's, about the history of the redaction of the book (though by the time I finish reading Van Seters I may be convinced we can dispense with the notion of redactors ;) But all we can know is the book, and the setting in which it presents "Amos", that is what I choose to read... My readers attributing to me a naive historicism is frustrating.

But on the other hand, I have been delighted when in one week an Orthodox Rabbi and a Messianic pastor write to me thanking me for the work, I chuckle when in the same month small groups of Brazillian Catholics were using my commentary in their study of Amos, while somewhere to the north of them whole Sunday Schools of Southern Baptists were doing the same! On the whole I would not choose to exchange this delightful (if ironic) understanding of Scripture by such diverse groups to undo the misunderstanding (of my position on the possible/likely history of composition and transmission of the book) by scholars.

It will be interesting when other writers for the series have written and we can compare how different judgement calls on this issue work.

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