Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Exodus (New Cambridge Bible Commentary) by Carol Meyers (Book Review #11 of 2016)

Exodus (New Cambridge Bible Commentary)
I used Meyers work alongside Victor P. Hamilton's own Exodus commentary in working through the book of Exodus; the latter is far superior, particularly for exegesis. Meyers book has some value, but I could not recommend it over other works. The publisher advertises that "It explains important concepts and terms as expressed in the Hebrew original," but Meyers largely does that by ignoring looking at how the Hebrew words are translated and used in other contexts in the Hebrew Bible. This book is a not a verse-by-verse commentary, but mostly an overview of how a few aspects of Exodus fit into Israel's national identity. She assumes the documentary hypothesis (most good commentaries these days have good critiques of the weaknesses of this approach) which leads to her to assign meaning to certain texts that the authors most certainly would not have. The book is devoid of any biblical theology--seeing how the work fits in the total arc of scripture--and does not connect much with other passages in the Hebrew Bible that rely on Exodus; Exodus is mostly left on an island by itself, and even its Genesis roots and parallels are largely ignored. That makes her assertations about Israeli identity questionable, in my opinion.

The strength of the book are the "closer look" sections on topics like circumcision, the Sabbath, comparison of the Decalogue to the Laws of Hammurabi, and more. Meyers draws from modern anthropology and archaeology to make her points.
Meyers also draws more attention to the role of female heroins in Exodus than other male authors, this is worth noting. The Torah truly elevates the status of women, and Exodus is no exception. An example (pgs. 51, 69):

"Jochebed is a theorphoric personal name with a shortened form of Yahweh (see Exod 6:20), making her arguably the first person in the Hebrew Bible to bear such a name and signifying the origin of Yahweh as the name of god with her son...A name is related to identity; and the name of Israel's god indicates an open and fluid identity, not linked to any specific cosmological, natural, or functional phenomena, as was the case for other deities in the biblical world...Jochebed's name is also significant - using a shortened form of yhwh, it means 'Yahweh is glory.'"

In some cases, she may stretch a bit to find feminine characteristics of God in the text. D.A. Carson might find some "exegetical fallacies." One example (p. 123):
"the use of the epithet "merciful" for God as the source of divine compassion is probably related to such maternal images. The adjective "compassionate" (or "merciful") and the noun "compassion" (or "mercy"), as well as the verb "to be compassionate, merciful," all are related to the Hebrew word for "womb" (rehem); and they all are used in relation to God more often than to humans in the Bible."

Nonetheless, there is some good commentary on law and legal customs among the Jews and other Near Eastern peoples that I found helpful. I give it two stars out of five. It gets a bit thin at the end as Meyers appears to get bored with the text.

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