Barry G. Webb is senior research fellow emeritus in Old Testament at Moore Theological College, Sydney, Australia. He is also the author of Five Festal Garments: Christian Reflections on the Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther. I don’t think I’ve read a book from someone affiliated with Moore that I haven’t liked and The Book of Judges is no exception. And it’s part of the NICOT series, which are probably my favorite OT commentaries.
As the most recent installment in the NICOT series, Webb explains right off the bat what sets his volume apart:
Commentaries are generally judged good or bad according to what the reader expects of them. I hope this one will satisfy those who want the meatiness and analytical character normally expected of a commentary that includes an original translation and notes. But I have chosen to write it in an emotionally warm, rather than cool, detached, academic way, partly because that is my natural writing style, partly because I think it is what is needed to engage properly with a dynamic, narrative work like the book of Judges, and partly because I think it is what people who buy and read NICOT commentaries will most want and appreciate (xvi).
Bingo. After giving the book a thorough perusal, I can say Webb meets the typical NICOT reader’s expectations.
Back in the day, Webb wrote his dissertation on Judges. At the time, it was the first attempt (so far as he was aware) to apply a new literary approach to the book (36). This commentary advances much of the material and is particularly sensitive to scholarly works published on Judges since Webb’s original work. He details these in his introduction (35-53). This includes interaction with Daniel Block’s commentary, which I think it probably the next best evangelical exegetical commentary on the book. In addition, Webb has updated his work to reflect canonical criticism and situate within the canon of Scripture (rather than simply focuing Judges in isolation).
Because Webb’s main focus in the book is literary and theological, he doesn’t dig too far into background issues (10). The exception to this is when there are “matters of direct relevance to the meaning” in exegesis of a specific passage. He does though provide and extensive introduction to the book covering such areas as the formation and shape of the book (20-35), its place as Christian Scripture (55-67), and general issues in translation (67-74).
Like many commentaries on Judges, Webb outlines the book into 3 main parts:
- Introduction (1:1-3:6)
- Careers of The Judges (3:7-16:31)
- Epilogue (17:1-21:25)
Webb divides the introduction into 2 sections: 1:1-2:5 and 2:6-3:6. As part of his literary interpretation, he says part 2 “is a narrative abstract, an outline of the plot.” (154) He continues:
It reduces suspense (after reading it we already “know” the story), but it does not hinder our ability to appreciate the detailed presentation of character, situation, and theme in the fully presented narrative that follows. Indeed, it enhances it, as when one is given a summary of the plot of a complex drama before it is presented on the stage. Furthermore, suspense is not eliminated from individual episodes, where it often plays a significant role (154-155).
As he sees it then, 2:6-3:6 orients readers “not just at the level of plot but also at the level of theme” (155). It also serves to explain how Israel made it into the land (in the book of Joshua) but never really achieves secure possession of it. “The nonfulfillment of the promise to give Israel the whole land is acknowledged, but Yahweh is absolved of any blame in relation to it.” (156)
Throughout the middle section the outlined is further broken down by careers on the individual judges. His treatment of Jephthah is particularly insightful as he traces the 5 “episodes” of his story. He doesn’t shy away from Jephthah’s vow and makes a compelling case that he did indeed sacrifice his daughter. Samson and Gideon get their fair treatment as well, but space for comment is spread pretty equally throughout the text.
In the final section, Webb shows the literary patterning that occurs:
- 17:6 – “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in their own eyes”
- 18:1 – “In those days there was no king in Israel
- 19:1 – “In those days there was no king in Israel
- 21:25 – “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in their own eyes”
Within this framework, several unhappy episodes occur that further drive home the theme of Judges. Punning on Frank Sinatra, Webb shows how Israel insisting on doing it “their way.” This of course culminates in the story of the Levite and his concubine. This story, as Webb sees it is “essentially a piece of social criticism of a moral nature. It shows how Israel’s hospitality, warfare, justice, and politics were all debased because of the moral blindness and/or perversity of its citizens (including Levites and elders).” (509)
As Webb sees it, the introduction and epilogues balance out the framework and serve to bracket the history of the Judges presented through the middle section of the book. His analysis serves the reader well to see the cohesion of the account of the Judges and see its internal and rhetorically sensitive structure.
Overall, this volume is a superb installment to the NICOT series and an excellent resource on the book of Judges for an evangelical audience. I think you saw when I posted my list of recommended commentaries on Judges that if you pick 2, get this and Block’s. Both share a commitment to “theological exegesis for the contemporary church” (45) and both are steeped in the resources of historical-critical scholarship on the book (with Block providing maybe more in terms of footnotes to run to ground). Webb’s being newer and written in light of Block’s (published in ’99), is perhaps a better single buy (since both are sound exegetical commentaries on the book). But, for anyone who is interested in digging deeper into the book of Judges, this volume is a great place to start!
- Author: Barry G. Webb
- Title: The Book of Judges
- Publisher: Eerdmans (October 31, 2012)
- Hardcover: 555pgs
- Reading Level: Bible School/Seminary
- Audience Appeal: Bible students and Pastors looking for an up to date commentary on Judges sensitive to critical concerns
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Eerdmans)
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