This fall I’m preaching through Genesis. Two Jewish commentaries have been exceedingly helpful and illuminating as I prepare each week. In a short series of two brief posts, I highlight each.
1. The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis
I’m a sucker for beautifully constructed books, and this is one. Nahum M. Sarna’s Genesis has the full Hebrew text of Genesis (with vowel points and cantillation marks), an English translation (the Jewish Publication Society’s New JPS translation), incisive commentary, and 30 Excursuses at the back of the book.
Already at Genesis 1:2 I found the commentary quoteworthy enough to cite it in a sermon. It notes that the Hebrew term create is used only of God:
It signifies that the product is absolutely novel and unexampled, depends solely on God for its coming into existence, and is beyond the human capacity to reproduce.
There’s this gem on Cain and Abel, where Cain’s sacrifice points to “a recurrent theme in the Bible–namely, the corruption of religion.” Sarna tersely (yet effectively) comments:
An act of piety can degenerate into bloodshed.
And in Genesis 6, where the reader struggles to understand how a loving God could all but eradicate his creation, the introductory essay to “Noah and the Flood” reads:
The moral pollution is so great that the limits of divine tolerance have been breached. The world must be purged of its corruption.
He goes on:
The totality of the evil in which the world has engulfed itself makes the totality of the catastrophe inevitable.
Every passage of the commentary I read is like this–the perfect blend of lexical analysis and devotional implication. Sarna makes good use of ancient Jewish sources, so the reader gets the sense that she or he is really being exposed to thousands of years of Jewish interpretation.
This has often been the first commentary to which I turn after reading the text.
You can find it here at the publisher’s page or here at Amazon. I waited a long time to purchase this volume, since it’s not cheap. This summer I found it on ebay, and have been grateful to own it since!
Next post, I’ll highlight the second of two Jewish commentaries on Genesis that I’ve been enjoying–The Torah: A Modern Commentary. UPDATE 10/16/14: See that review (part 2) here.