T Muraoka’s Biblical Aramaic Reader (2015)

Muraoka Aramaic

 

Any time you see a T. Muraoka volume that retails at under $30, it’s worth paying attention to.

Peeters has released the short but sure-to-be excellent volume, A Biblical Aramaic Reader: With an Outline Grammar.

Here’s the publisher’s description:

This reader is for anyone very eager to read the story of Daniel in the lions’ den and many other fascinating stories in their original language, Aramaic.

A brief outline of Biblical Aramaic grammar is followed by a verse-by-verse grammatical commentary on the Aramaic chapters in the books of Daniel and Ezra. Both the outline grammar and the grammatical commentary presuppose basic knowledge of the grammar and vocabulary of Biblical Hebrew. Constant references are made in the commentary to relevant sections of the outline grammar. The commentary is written in a user-friendly, not overtly technical language. Some grammatical exercises with keys and paradigms conclude the Reader. Also suitable for self-study.

At just under 100 pages, it looks great. Find it on Amazon here.

Va-yikra’: A JPS Companion for Reading Leviticus

I think I am actually on pace to finish my Bible-in-a-Year reading plan in two years–but, as I’ve said before, as much as I value getting a good overview of all of Scripture in a short time, it’s so deep and rich (and sometimes surprising and/or befuddling) that I keep wanting to go slow. This is not, of course, a bad thing. The reading plan can wait.

JPS Torah LeviticusThe JPS Torah Commentary has been my go-to companion for reading through the first five books of the Bible. I’m three volumes in, and each one has been excellent. See what I say about the Genesis volume here, and the Exodus volume here and here. Now I’ve found myself similarly aided by Baruch A. Levine’s JPS Torah Commentary: Leviticus as I’ve made my way through that dense book of the Bible.

Levine’s commentary is more difficult to sit down and read through than Nahum Sarna’s Genesis or Exodus volumes, but this is less because of Levine and more because Leviticus does not have the same narrative flow of Genesis and Exodus. Its descriptions of laws and rituals are difficult for the uninitiated (um… and for the initiated) to wade through. It’s dense.

But Levine matches the density of the text with detail of his own, drawing also on rabbinical traditions to help the reader understand the world of the text. Levine addresses historical background and theology, as well as exegetical detail at the word level. But even his detailed exegesis highlights the larger literary context, so you can see the interrelations of Scripture as you read this commentary.

Allow me to share a specific example.

Here is the Hebrew text (nicely included in this commentary) of the admittedly harsh-sounding Leviticus 26:21:

 

Hebrew text of Leviticus

 

Here’s the verse in the Jewish Publication Society’s New JPS translation–also included in this edition:

And if you remain hostile toward Me and refuse to obey Me, I will go on smiting you sevenfold for your sins.

Levine’s comment for the verse focuses on the phrase, “And if you remain hostile toward Me.” Note how he balances lexical analysis with both extrabiblical and biblical references (the Hebrew in the commentary is transliterated throughout):

 

Here, again, is a transition, where the conditions for God’s forgiveness are stated.

Hebrew keri, “hostility,” and the idiom halakh ʿim. . . be-keri, “to walk with. . . in hostility,” are unique to this chapter. Targum Onkelos translates be-kashyu, “with hardness, obstinacy,” deriving keri from the root k-r-r, “to be cold.” Compare the noun form karah, “cold wave,” in Nahum 3:17, and mekerah, “cool chamber,” in Judges 3:24. The reverse of “walking in hostility” is “agreeing to obey” (ʾavah li-shmoʿa) suggesting that keri is synonymous with meri, “rebelliousness.” Note the contrast in Isaiah 1:19–20: “If, then, you agree and give heed, / You will eat the good things of the earth; / But if you refuse and disobey (u-meritem), / You will be devoured by the sword.” The notion of meri as “rebelliousness” is a major theme in the prophecies of Ezekiel, but the term keri occurs nowhere else in the Bible; hence its meaning remains uncertain.

 

There is one other portion I need to quote at length, since it comes in Levine’s opening explanation of the sacrificial system in Leviticus 1. Maybe I’m obtuse or just not familiar enough with Leviticus, but I had somehow missed until now that one could not sacrifice to expiate for intentional sins:

It should be emphasized here, as the workings of the sacrificial system are introduced to the reader, that the laws of the Torah did not permit Israelites to expiate intentional or premeditated offenses by means of sacrifice. There was no vicarious, ritual remedy—substitution of one’s property or wealth—for such violations, whether they were perpetrated against other individuals or against God Himself. In those cases, the law dealt directly with the offender, imposing real punishments and acting to prevent recurrences. The entire expiatory system ordained in the Torah must be understood in this light. Ritual expiation was restricted to situations where a reasonable doubt existed as to the willfulness of the offense. Even then, restitution was always required where loss or injury to another person had occurred. The mistaken notion that ritual worship could atone for criminality or intentional religious desecration was persistently attacked by the prophets of Israel, who considered it a major threat to the entire covenantal relationship between Israel and God.

Is this why David in Psalm 51 says,” For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased”?

Levine comes back to this theme as Leviticus introduces the various offering types. He also explains the difference between sin and impurity, in a way that is really helpful for more fully engaging Leviticus.

The Introduction is some 30 pages, addressing both “The Leviticus Text” (which summarizes the book, highlights its structure, discusses its formation, and compares early versions) and “The Context” (Levine spells out how this commentary supports “the realism of Leviticus”). The 11 Excursuses (spanning some 40 pages) are utterly fascinating, covering topics like dietary laws, the scapegoat ritual, the festivals, and more.

All that is already more than enough to help the reader or teacher in her/his quest to better enter the world of Leviticus. But then the icing on the cake is the section called, “Leviticus in the Ongoing Jewish Tradition.” Here Levine hopes that “the reader of the Commentary may catch a glimpse of continuity and change and focus attention on the lasting relevance of Leviticus.”

And here’s some icing to go on that other icing: the binding is sewn and the book is beautifully bound. I’m quite sure I’ll be returning to this commentary again, but first–I’ve got more of the Torah to read through.

 

Tolle, lege.

 


 

Many thanks to the folks at University of Nebraska Press/Jewish Publication Society for sending me a copy of the commentary for review. The book’s JPS product page is here; you can order it through Nebraska Press here. Find it on Amazon here.

Prefer an electronic edition? Accordance has the JPS Torah Commentary here.

Hearing the Message of Scripture: A Fantastic (the Best?) Commentary on Jonah

HMS Jonah

 

When I preached through Jonah last Advent, I knew the JPS Commentary on Jonah would be helpful. What I wasn’t expecting was how often I would eagerly turn to Kevin J. Youngblood’s new Jonah volume in the recently begun Hearing the Message of Scripture commentary series. It might be the best commentary (in this reviewer’s humble opinion) written on Jonah.

 

Format of the Commentary

 

Each passage of Jonah includes the following sections:

  1. Main Idea of the Passage–a short, couple-sentence overview, where Youngblood helps you get oriented to the text.
  2. Literary Context–The author shows how the passage under consideration ties in with the rest of the book.
  3. Translation and Outline–the author’s original translation and visual layout of the biblical text.
  4. Structure and Literary Form–this looks at literary features and the rhetorical aims of Jonah. This section is especially strong.
  5. Explanation of the Text–the primary section of each passage, comprising the verse-by-verse commentary proper.
  6. Canonical and Practical Significance–though Youngblood is plenty practical throughout, this section is especially helpful for preachers, teachers, or any Bible reader wanting to know how to apply the message of the text.

For example, here is Youngblood on the main idea of Jonah 4:1-4:

 

HMS Jonah 4 Main Idea

 

He then situates the passage in its larger context:

 

HMS Jonah 4

 

From there he relates Jonah 4:1-4 to the patterns of the rest of the book (“Every encounter with Gentiles brings Jonah to a crisis point”), surmises why Jonah wants to die (“Jonah cannot see how YHWH could simultaneously maintain his covenant faithfulness to Israel and grant clemency to Nineveh”), explains the text in detail, and then relates it to Moses and the other prophets and their interactions with “the nations.”

 

Youngblood’s Insights Make the Text Come Even More Alive

 

Youngblood makes the literary features of the text come alive. Regarding Jonah’s short stint in the belly of a fish, Youngblood writes:

The fish, however, functions as a means of deliverance and transportation from the murky depths back to the orderly realm of dry land. In this respect, the fish is the antithesis of the ship, which carried Jonah from the orderly realm of dry land out to the chaotic deadly sea.

Correspondingly, Jonah’s disposition and activity in the fish is the antithesis of his disposition and activity on the ship. Whereas Jonah pays out of his own pocket for passage on the ship, the journey in the fish back to land and life is free, courtesy of YHWH.

He continues to unpack the “important contrast” between ship and fish to help the readers with “the peak episode of the book’s first main section.”

This sort of analysis and clear explanation is emblematic of what the reader will find in every section of the book.

 

Final Evaluation: Easily a Top 3 Jonah Commentary

 

And what’s not to love about the first paragraph of the Introduction mentioning a Bruce Springsteen song? Here it is, by the way:

 

 

To write a nearly 200-page commentary with a 20-page introduction on a 4-chapter book of the Bible is no small feat; and none of what’s here is fluff. Youngblood notes in his introduction: “An understanding of three overlapping contexts–canonical, historical, and literary–is critical to the book’s interpretation.” He helps the reader attain ample understanding of those contexts and more.

Youngblood says only that this volume “strives to advance the discussion regarding Jonah’s message.” I think it does far more. This is easily a top 3 Jonah commentary–maybe even the best one I’ve used.

You can read a .pdf sample of the commentary here. See also my review of Obadiah in the same series.

 


 

I am grateful to Zondervan for the gratis review copy of this commentary, which was offered for an unbiased review. You can find the book on Amazon here. The Zondervan product page is here.

This is Why I’m Behind on my 2015 Bible-in-a-Year Reading Plan

JPS Torah ExodusThe reason I’m so far behind on my Bible in a Year reading plan is that I’ve been reading Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus via the JPS Torah Commentary volumes. No, I’m not reading the Hebrew alongside the English–it’s just that the introductions, essays, and verse-by-verse notes are so gripping and elucidating, that I am moving more slowly through the Torah than my plan dictates. (I’m still on track for Bible in Two Years–maybe.)

With the exception of a few chapters, my recent reading of Exodus was all from Nahum Sarna’s volume, which, like other JPS Torah volumes, has all of the following:

  • the full Hebrew text of Exodus, with vowel points and cantillation marks,
  • an English translation (the Jewish Publication Society’s New JPS translation)
  • commentary that addresses the text and its background at the section-by-section, phrase-by-phrase, and word-by-word level
  • an introduction and excursuses
  • sewn binding and beautiful construction

Sarna begins with just a 5-page (!) introduction. Leviticus in the same series, by contrast, has a 30-page introduction. Sarna discusses the book’s title, the division of Torah readings, the book’s setting and events, and it’s “contents and character.” Broadly speaking, Sarna divides Exodus like this:

  1. Exodus 1:1-15:21–oppression and liberation
  2. Exodus 15:22-18:27–toward Sinai
  3. Exodus 19-40–at Sinai

He notes that Exodus’s “influence is due to the special orientation and perspective of Exodus. It is a document of faith, not a dispassionate, secular report of the freeing of an oppressed people.” (Again–I love this guy’s writing style.)

Sarna blends what I experienced as a faith-filled and a critical approach to understanding Scripture. He understands God in the book as “the sole actor, the only initiator of events.” In addition to verse-by-verse and phrase-by-phrase commentary (sometimes down to the word level), Sarna sets up each chapter with a short introduction, which is always good and always useful.

The glossary, which takes up almost as many pages as the introduction, gives a really helpful orientation to readers like me, who keep needing reminders on the distinctions between Talmud and Targum, Mishnah and Mekhilta, Rambam and Ramban.

Sarna’s Exodus commentary does not initially seem to be as thorough as his Genesis volume. (Here there are six as opposed to 30 excursuses at the back of the commentary.) On the other hand that short introduction allows the reader to get into the text right away with Sarna, who makes up for the initial brevity of his work along the way. In the end I found that the comments really did seem to be just the right amount of detail for the kind of reading I was doing of the text–Sarna had addressed nearly all my questions by the time I made it through Exodus 40.

And Sarna’s comments are delivered beautifully. On Israel’s response of faith to the LORD’s “wondrous power” in Exodus 14:31, Sarna writes:

“Faith” in the Hebrew Bible is not belief in a doctrine or subscription to a creed. Rather, it refers to trust and loyalty that finds expression in obedience and commitment.

The commentary on the following chapter of Exodus 15–the one with the “Song at the Sea”–is one of the most moving, incisive, and compelling commentary sections I’ve ever read… and why I’m so far behind on that reading plan!

By way of critique, I only offer two things: (1) a few places could have benefited from more exegetical or grammatical-historical detail and (2) having Sarna’s detailed outline of Exodus all in one place–beyond what’s in the Table of Contents and section headings throughout the book–would have enhanced the introduction. His passage divisions are clear enough throughout the book, but I found myself wanting a summary sketch of Exodus all in one place for quick reference.

When I preach or teach on Exodus (or when I just want to remember what I sensed God speaking to me when reading through Exodus this spring), I will reach first for this exceptional volume.

If you want to look more in-depth with me at the body of the commentary, I interacted a bit with Sarna’s take on the 10 plagues here.

 


 

Many thanks to the folks at University of Nebraska Press/Jewish Publication Society for sending me the copy of the Exodus commentary for review. The book’s JPS product page is here; you can order it through Nebraska Press here. Find it on Amazon here.

Prefer an electronic edition? Accordance has the JPS Torah Commentary here.

The JPS Bible Commentary on Exodus: Sarna Does it Again

JPS Torah ExodusI’ve come to Nahum Sarna’s JPS Torah Commentary on Exodus with high expectations. His Genesis volume in that series is one of the best commentaries I’ve read (on any book of the Bible).

So far, after spending long periods of my last Sabbath with the book, it’s lived up to expectations.

While I work on a review of the full volume, here are a couple compelling sections of Sarna’s commentary on the 10 plagues:

The present narrative is a sophisticated and symmetric literary structure with a pattern of three groups each comprising three plagues. The climactic tenth plague possesses a character all its own. The first two afflictions in each triad are forewarned; the last always strikes suddenly, unannounced. Furthermore, in the case of the first, fourth, and seventh plagues Pharaoh is informed in the morning and Moses is told to “station” himself before the king, whereas in the second of each series Moses is told to “come in before Pharaoh,” that is, to confront him in the palace. Finally, in the first triad of plagues it is always Aaron who is the effective agent; in the third, it is always Moses.

Having this literary outline in mind made me really appreciate the narrative artistry of Exodus in a way I might have otherwise missed.

Not only does Sarna offer expert literary analysis, his writing itself is lucid and reads more like a compelling novel than what you might expect from a technical commentary. That Chaim Potok is the literary editor of the JPS Torah Commentary does not hurt, either! It shows.

Sarna strikes an interesting balance between (a) reading the plagues as God’s using natural events and (b) reading the plagues as purely supernatural. Regardless of how the reader understands the text in this regard, Sarna highlights the theological import of the plagues:

The controlling purpose behind this literary architecture is to emphasize the idea that the nine plagues are not random vicissitudes of nature; although they are natural disasters, they are the deliberate and purposeful acts of divine will–their intent being retributive, coercive, and educative. As God’s judgments on Egypt for the enslavement of the Israelites, they are meant to crush Pharaoh’s resistance to their liberation. They are to demonstrate to Egypt the impotence of its gods and, by contrast, the incomparability of YHVH, God of Israel, as the one supreme sovereign God of Creation, who uses the phenomena of the natural order for His own purposes.

Plague by plague Sarna returns to this theme and draws it out.

I’m 12 chapters in (out of 40) and am appreciating Sarna’s wisdom on Exodus as much as his excellent work on Genesis. More to follow.

 


Many thanks to the folks at University of Nebraska Press/Jewish Publication Society for sending me the copy of the Exodus commentary for review. The book’s JPS product page is here; you can order it through Nebraska Press here. Find it on Amazon here.

Prefer an electronic edition? Accordance has the JPS Torah Commentary here.

Debate: The Lifeblood of Judaism, a “Holy Act”

Phenomenology of SpiritEver since reading Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit in my undergrad days, I’ve often considered the world through the lens of Hegel’s dialectic. Plus, I always thought (and still think, if my sermon yesterday is an indication) it sounded really cool to talk about the “Hegelian dialectic” at work in the world. Yes, a little pretentious, too.

Dialecticophile that I am, I resonate with Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz’s idea that in Judaism, debate (thesis/antithesis) is “more than a valued intellectual exercise…. it is a holy act.”

What a refreshing outlook for anyone who grew up in religious settings that discouraged asking questions!

Schwartz’s Judaism’s Great Debates: Timeless Controversies from Abraham to Herzl (Jewish Publication Society, 2012) considers 10 debates in Judaism. He splits the book into three sections: Biblical Judaism, Rabbinic Judaism, and Modern Judaism. The 10 debates he considers are far-ranging: theological, ethical, legal, spiritual, and sociopolitical.

Here’s the publisher’s description of the book:

Ever since Abraham’s famous argument with God, Judaism has been full of debate. Moses and Korah, David and Nathan, Hillel and Shammai, the Vilna Gaon and the Ba’al Shem Tov, Spinoza and the Amsterdam Rabbis . . . the list goes on. Jews debate justice, authority, inclusion, spirituality, resistance, evolution, Zionism, and more. No wonder that Judaism cherishes the expression machloket l’shem shamayim, “an argument for the sake of heaven.”

Judaism's Great DebatesEach of the 10 debates comes to a head with a question that Schwartz considers. For example, the conflict between David and Nathan in chapter 4 considers the question, “Does Might Make Right? The Debate over Accountability and Morality.”

Schwartz helps the debates come alive by blending direct quotes from the Hebrew Bible or other primary source (in italics) with his own “added dialogue” (in regular print). As reluctant as a Bible-lover like myself might be to see words added to a biblical story, Schwartz does this with great reverence and care, in a way that really draws out the characters.

David, in Schwartz’s rendition of Nathan’s calling him out in 2 Samuel 11-12, for example, says, “What are you talking about? I am the king!”

That same chapter refers to prophets as those who “speak truth to power.” Schwartz puts it well:

The prophets were equal-opportunity gadflies; they clashed with kings and countrymen alike.

Issues for modern-day Judaism are included here, too–whether full inclusion of women (as in the Reform movement) or whether holiness is individually ascribed or somehow taken on by osmosis as member of a community. Each debate includes coverage of its original context (“the basic historical backdrop”), content (with emphasis on primary sources), and continuity (“how they echo throughout Jewish history”).

Judaism’s Great Debates would be great for a class or small group setting. Its reflection and discussion questions on p. 99 and following are thought-provoking and much better-written than most discussion questions at the back of a short book like this. (Any Palestinian Jews or Christians reading this book will probably be put off by what come across as pointed questions like, “Are civilians who aid terrorists innocent and deserving of noncombatant immunity?” and, “Should Israel negotiate with sworn terrorist organizations?”)

One other drawback (and the drawbacks are few) is the appearance of typos and some errant punctuation marks every few pages or so. This does not detract, though, from the overall high quality of the writing.

Anyone who wants to know more about Judaism–or anyone with a religious background of any type–will appreciate Schwartz’s boldness, even if it’s alarming:

Abraham’s bold challenge of God for the sake of justice was the first Jewish debate. Generations would look back at the founder of the Jewish people and follow his example. If Abraham argued, so should we. If Abraham had the courage to challenge God, so should we. If Abraham stood up for justice, so should we.

I would love to hear Rabbi Schwartz treat how we hold that reality in tension with the story of Job, whom God does not seem to appreciate being challenged by. That would be an interesting debate to have!

Here‘s an excerpt from the book. I found myself making a lot of pencil notes in the margins, which is a good sign of a book’s ability to engage its readers! It’s a book well worth reading and thinking through.

Thanks to the Jewish Publication Society for the review copy of the book! You can find Judaism’s Great Debates here at the publisher’s page or here at Amazon. See also my book note on the JPS Torah Commentary volume on Genesis, and my review of the JPS Commentary on Jonah.

The JPS Bible Commentary on Jonah

Jonah JPS CommentaryNahum Sarna’s JPS Torah Commentary on Genesis is easily one of the best three commentaries I’ve read on any book of the Bible. I’d put it up there with R.T. France’s Mark commentary, a technical and detailed commentary of which I read every word–France is that good, and so is Sarna.

So as I geared up to preach on Jonah during Advent (see some of the results of that unlikely pairing here), I wanted the JPS Bible Commentary in hand. It’s by Uriel Simon, professor emeritus at Bar Ilan University in Israel, where he also directed the school’s Institute for the History of Jewish Research. Dr. Simon aims for a similar approach to the one that made me appreciate Sarna’s Genesis commentary so much. In the Preface Simon writes:

The present commentary has been written under the sign of a dual commitment: academic rigor, which aims at uncovering the original meaning of the Book of Jonah; and a Jewish commitment to Scripture as the taproot of our national existence and wellspring of our religious life.

The commentary is not very long. The Preface and thorough Introduction make up 38 pages. The commentary itself has 46 pages, followed by a four-page bibliography. Each page in the commentary includes the Hebrew text, an author-modified version of the New JPS translation, and Simon’s comment on passages, verses, and individual words and phrases.

 

Simon’s Introduction to Jonah

 

The Introduction begins with a treatment of the book’s theme(s), as well as its history of interpretation. Simon realizes that he “stands on the shoulders of his predecessors,” and gives the reader a nice lay of the land of Jewish/rabinnical exegesis up to the current day. (You can read a good summary version of Simon’s treatments of potential themes in Jonah here.)

I disagree with Simon’s dismissal of “Universalism versus Particularism” as a possible uniting theme for Jonah. He does not think Jonah symbolizes Israel, “and Nineveh does not symbolize the gentile world.” Of course, it is my being a Christian (as Simon would expect) that contributes to this read, but neither did I think Simon’s case against the gentiles as anything more than just “supporting characters” was compelling. I don’t think Jonah has to symbolize Israel–and the book doesn’t even have to be an indictment against God’s chosen–for the text to still have “panhumanist connotations” of the extension of God’s mercy to all people (even vile oppressors of the innocent!).

I do find the author compelling, though, when he speaks of the “Compassion: Justice versus Mercy” motif as one that is “compatible with the entire narrative from beginning to end and encompasses most of its elements.” Simon explains:

Jonah foresaw both the submission of the evildoers of Nineveh, terrified by their impending destruction, and the acceptance of their repentance by the merciful God; but he was totally wrong to believe that he would be allowed to escape to Tarshish. Subsequent surprises undermine his pretense to knowledge‑-the fish that saves him from death but imprisons him in its belly until he gives up his flight and begins to pray; and the plant that saves him from his distress but vanishes as suddenly as it appeared, so that he can feel the pain of loss and open his heart to understand the Creator’s love for His creatures. Only when the proponent of strict justice realizes his own humanity can he understand the fundamental dependence of mortals on human and divine mercy.

The Introduction also treats Jonah’s place in the canon, its literary genre and features, structure (it’s got “seven scenes”), style, links to other biblical books, vocabulary, date of writing, textual history (there is an “excellent state of preservation of the text”), and a section on the unity of the book and its prayer/psalm in Jonah 2. I’m not totally opposed (in theory) to Simon’s idea that the prayer of that chapter was a later addition, but its absence of “confession and an appeal for forgiveness” don’t have to make it an interpolation–it could just point more to the character of Jonah, in all its complexities and with all his foibles.

Regarding the historicity of Jonah and the large fish (which is “really external to the [meaning of the] story” itself), Simon has a great insight:

The repentance of the Ninevites, from a psychological standpoint, is less plausible than the physical possibility of the miracles that happened to Jonah. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the Bible. What is more, their repentance, unlike miracles, cannot be ascribed to divine intervention, because it is emphatically described as a human action (3:10).

 

 The Commentary Proper

 

The questions that arise as one reads the text (reprinted in the commentary in Hebrew and English) so often seem to be the ones that Simon answers. Regarding “Nineveh, that great city” in Jonah 1:2, Simon gives historical background, but only insofar as it serves Jonah’s literary purposes:

Nineveh’s size is mentioned, not to emphasize the difficulty of the task, but to highlight its importance–as is the size of the city, so is the magnitude of its wickedness….

The reader, in other words, will find just about anything needed to profitably make her or his way through Jonah.

Like Sarna does for Genesis, Simon goes in depth with Hebrew word meanings in a way that even a non-Hebrew reader will (usually) be able to understand. For example, when the king of Nineveh calls that city to repentance in Jonah 3:7, Simon comments:

In the hif’il (causative), z-‘-q generally means “call to an assembly, muster” (e.g., Judg 4:10; 2 Sam 20:5). Here, though, it means to “proclaim or spread a message”…. The narrator probably selected this verb to reinforce the formal linkage with what took place on the ship–in view of the danger of foundering the sailors cried out to their gods (1:5), while the king of Nineveh had the criers (cf. Dan 3:4) cry out the message of repentance for his subjects to hear.

Simon highlights little nuances readers might miss: the “great fish” of Jonah 2:1 echoes the “great city” (1:2), “great wind” (1:4), and the sailors’ “great fear” (1:10). Everything in Jonah is big–and therefore important–it seems.

There’s more in this well-written and carefully-prepared commentary that deserves further engagement, but this review is already long enough. Don’t be fooled by the commentary’s low page count–its stated 52 pages do not include the nearly 40-page introduction. That may still feel short for a commentary on four chapters of Scripture, but it’s as substantive as most readers will need. If you’re working your way through Jonah, Simon’s JPS commentary is one of three or four you should make sure to use.

 

Many thanks to the folks at University of Nebraska Press/Jewish Publication Society for sending me the copy of the Jonah commentary for review. The book’s JPS product page is here; you can order it through Nebraska Press here. Find it on Amazon here.