Proverbs, by Tremper Longman III (Baker: 2006; 608 pages)
Longman's commentary on Proverbs is the third volume published in the new Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms series. The series preface (pp. 11-13) identifies the "primary users" as "scholars, ministers, seminary students, and Bible study leaders," with emphasis on "clergy and future clergy, namely, seminary students" (p. 12). Toward this end, the volumes will focus on the books' message. Authors do their own translation, provide explanatory notes, with both interpretive and theological sections.
So how do I give you a feel for a long book, in a relatively short review? Let's check out the features.
First: a very useful introduction to Proverbs (pp. 21-87). This section is very helpful in approaching Proverbs interpretively. I particularly appreciate how Longman puts Proverbs in the canon, and solidly acknowledges its theological orientation and contributions. For instance:
“…the conclusion that the book is not theological is wrong. Proverbs is not rightly understood if it is taken as a book of practical advice with an occasional nod of the head to Yahweh. The book is thoroughly and pervasively theological” (p. 57)Very well-put.
The section on the theology of Proverbs is quite thought-provoking, and the study of wisdom literature in other nearby cultures adeptly done.
Now, as to Proverbs proper. Like me, Longman isn't convinced that Proverbs has a "deep structure" providing a larger context even for the two-liners of chapters 10 and following (he grants that some sections seem thematically coherent, but he seems less inclined to see the grouping as hermeneutically meaningful than I).
Unlike me, Longman is agnostic as to authorship. As so many have done, Longman maddeningly says that 10:1 "explicitly connects Solomon to 10:1—22:16," yet the identical words in 1:1 have no necessary import as to authorship (p. 25). I wonder what Solomon would have had to have written, to convince gents such as Dr. Longman as to authorship. [UPDATE: I pursue this at great length in the appendix on authorship in my book.]
Second: as promised, the commentary uses Longman's own translation of Proverbs. I found his rendering interesting, and will refer to it for my own. However, at times it strikes me as a bit wobbly.
"Wobbly"? Translational style is both hither, and thither. Sometimes the translations are woodenly literal. "Yahweh detests stone and stone" (20:23); "Removing a garment on a cold day, vinegar on soda, singing a song to a troubled heart" (25:20); "Lambs, for your clothes, and he-goats, for the price of fields..." (27:26)
On the other hand, sometimes Longman paraphrases for no apparent reason. Most irritatingly to me, singulars often are rendered by plurals ("Go to the ant, you lazy people!" [6:6; verb and noun are singular]; cf. 13:24 [very awkward—first line plural, second singular]; 17:17; 18:24; 26:13-16; 28:25-26, and many others).
Sometimes he's fresh almost to the point of anachronism: "the tax man tears it down" (29:4; had me humming the Beatles' song [kids, ask your parents]).
What puzzled me for some time, as I read, was why a scholar such as TLIII so frequently refers to the New Living Translation, which is a pretty rank paraphrase. It was so frequent that I began to wonder whether he'd been involved in the production of that version in some way. Then I found it: Longman was senior translator for the Wisdom books in the NLT.
Third: the commentary itself. I struggle with what to say about this. Simply and truly, the commentary is mostly good and informative — but it is uneven. Perhaps it depends upon expectations.
Portions are quite good (such as the section on Proverbs 31:10-31, for instance). Longman virtually always deals with the Hebrew text, comments on the words, documents their meanings and the translation. His thoughts on the "fool" and "wisdom" synonyms are quite helpful, as are his comments on the eschatological possibilities in some of the proverbs. Whether or not you agree with his conclusions, you'll be challenged by Longman's lengthy wrestling with the identity of Woman Wisdom in chapter 8, and other knotty portions and topics. The footnotes and bibliography point the way to further investigation.
At the same time, other comments are disappointing, given the promised focus of the series. For instance, 18:24 is very difficult both to translate and to interpret, yet Longman deals with it in around 45 words. Sometimes one simply has the sense that proverbs have been hurried over rather than chewed over (i.e. 17:12; 27:21). He discusses the difficult 16:4, but doesn't really get to the bottom of it. Even his rendering overlooks the pronominal suffix ("Yahweh makes everything for a purpose," where the Hebrew has "his" or "its" purpose).
While the text is formally aimed at pastors, I have to say that the approach is more academic than pastoral. (For a modern example of the latter, see John A. Kitchen's commentary, which I mean to review...eventually.) [UPDATE: done. Kitchen chews over everything to the full extent of his ability.] The pastor will definitely find materials he can use for preaching and counseling, but they will be inferential rather than directed to those ends.
Appendix. Longman has an appendix of topical studies, where he groups and discusses related proverbs under 29 pages' worth of articles. His groupings are not the same as every other such study, and include: Alcohol; Appropriate Expression of Emotions; Business Ethics; Family Relationships; Guidance/Planning/Looking to the Future; Openness to Listening to Advice; Physical Discipline; Psychological Insight — and even Table Manners!
Small, but mighty. Footnotes, not end-notes! Indices! These are good things!
Less good are a few typos, and aspects of the layout. First the whole chapter is translated, and some textual/translational footnotes are placed here. Then the translation is reproduced verse by verse, with commentary; the reader must page back to the previous footnotes.
Summary. I'd say that Waltke and Kidner on Proverbs are two very different must-haves, for anyone who is seriously interested in diving deep. Longman's volume joins Duane Garrett's as a good-to-have: not indispensable, but I'm glad I own it, and will definitely use it in my studies.
Update: I have added some more meandering thoughts over at my own blog.