“Reading David and Goliath in Greek and Hebrew” by Benjamin J. M. Johnson

ReadingDavidandGoliathinGreekandHebrewBenjamin J. M. Johnson. Reading David and Goliath in Greek and Hebrew. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 2. Reihe 82. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2015, xiv + 275 pp., 79,00 €  (sewn paper).

Benjamin J. M. Johnson (PhD at University of Durham) analyzes the nuances of the LXX translation of 1 Samuel 16-18 in order to understand the unique focuses of the LXX as a literary document in its own right. Through Robert Altar’s definition of literary analysis (Revised ed. New York: Basic Books, 2011, p. 13), Johnson examines the minor contours of the LXX in the Goliath story. His methodology employs three parameters: 1 Reigns 16-18 is a Greek literary text in its own right, the MT and 4QSama are used when the assist in discerning what the translator is attempting to communicate, and the final product “is interpreted as a final literary communication with reference to how it has communicated its source” (20). As lately I havebeen indulging myself in some of Robert Altar’s commentaries and translations, I have come to greatly appreciate his focus on the literary artistry of the Hebrew Bible. Consequently, I admire Johnson’s focus on reading 1 Samuel/Reigns 16-18 as its own work of art. His methodology should be employed in other reading of Septuagint texts because it avoids an a priori assumption of the MT’s value over the LXX.

Chapters 2-4 each analysis 1 Reigns 16-18, Chapter 5 analyzes the Hebrew reading to draw out how it compares to the Greek reading, and Chapter 6 summarizes the previous analyses.

One feature I appreciate about Chapters 2-4 is reflective of his methodology: he still discusses the Vorlage, MT, and 4QSama. Although the majority of Greek and Hebrew comparative linguistic analysis takes place within the footnotes, it still establishes his work as a valuable place to begin any sort of research about the MT. Another major strength is Johnson’s discussion of verbal variation. In utilizing the MT to elucidate the LXX, he notes that translator switches “from imperfect to aorist verbs [in 17:34-36] despite the consistent chain of weqatal forms in the Hebrew” (94). This translation changes the narrative texture to one in which foreshadows the battle between Goliath and David. Although such an issue is often absent to the average reader of the LXX, Johnson’s ability to elucidate and put reason to the translators choice draws out the translators theological focus within his own time period. Perhaps translation choices like Johnson draws out in 1 Reigns 17:34-36 will help to expand our understanding of other LXX translations.

One critique I have of Johnson’s work is that he doesn’t focus enough on a more contextualized reading of the LXX. Although he draws on non-biblical authors, it only comprises roughly 12% of the primary source material. Johnson does notes that the LXX should be read at a literary text in its own right; however, in order to do so it is important to interact with contemporary Greek literary texts, texts potentially informative of the translators choices. Choices may have been merely linguistic or culturally dependent. Regardless, more interaction with contemporary Greek literature would greatly strengthen his work.

In conclusion, I highly recommend Johnson’s work. Like most volumes in FAT II series by Mohr Siebeck, it is a highly specialized work; however, the Septuagint focus of this work, namely his methodology and study of the literary sensitivity of the translator, holds potential to influence future works which analyze the LXX in its own literary right. This book is best for research on the LXX, Samuel or Reigns, and analysis of the distinct, nuanced literary aims between various manuscripts.

“Joshua 1-12: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary” by Thomas Dozeman

DozemanThomas Dozeman. Joshua 1-12: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. The Anchor Yale Bible Commentary, Volume 6B. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015, 656 pp., $100.00  (hardcover).

*I’d like to express my gratitude to Yale University Press for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

In one of the most recent additions to the renowned Anchor Yale Bible Commentary series, Thomas Dozeman (Professor of Old Testament at Union Theological Seminary) explores developments in the study of the book of Joshua and proposes new arguments in order to further our understanding of the book of Joshua. The first volume of the commentary, especially focused on interpreting the theme of religious violence, includes valuable commentary on passages, up-to-date scholarly arguments about interpretive issues, fresh translation comparison of the MT and LXX, and comparison of geographical terms in the MT and LXX.

He operates on the basis that Joshua is a post-exilic, independent book from the Deuteronomistic History, written from a Northern point of view and acquired present literary form late in the development of the Pentateuch and former prophets.[1] On the issue of source priority, he draws from the Vorlage of the LXX, MT, and the Joshua scrolls from Qumran, in agreement with E. Ulrich’s characterization of the “pluriformity” of  textual traditions in Joshua, by arguing that textual expansion operates in multiple directions. This is in contrast to textual critics who assume a linear progression of development within the composition history of the book of Joshua.

The format is, of course, the same as every commentary in the series: (1) Central Themes and Literary Structure, (2) Translation, (3) Notes, (4) Composition, and (5) Comments. Additional to this general layout, Dozeman provides a valuable comparative translation by placing the LXX and MT side-by-side in Appendix I, which should be consulted in any studies. Another valuable tool is Appendix II, which should be consulted for geographical terms as it compares location titles from the Masoretic Text, Codex Alexandrinus, and Codex Vaticanus.

Like any commentary, Dozeman offers insightful and detailed reviews of various arguments through the history of studies in Joshua. Contributing to the tapestry of historical and composition positions, he consistently draws on major predecessors like Wellhausen, Eissfeldt, Noth, and Nelson. Numerous non-biblical texts are also referenced in order to demonstrate how Joshua reflects ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts. Importantly, his use of ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts, especially, those of Neo-Assyrian royal inscriptions, move forward interpretation of the Joshua conquest account in significant ways. One major movement forward relates to how ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts relate to Joshua.”Van Seters and Younger illustrate the influence of the ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts on the author of Josh 9-12. But their emphasis on similarities tends to obscure significant differences” (71). Dozeman arranges six themes used in Assryian conquests and demonstrates how Joshua 9-12 only uses four of the themes. The author excludes acts of rebellion that create disorder (no. 1) and forced submission of rebels to reestablish empire order (no. 2) (72-73). His new and innovative paradigm about how Assyrian conquests and Joshua 9-12 compare is an invaluable contribution to biblical studies.

Other major contributions flow and ebb, of course, through the whole work. His sustained focus of herem, geographical terms and locations, and the divine warrior motif surely mark it as an incredibly valuable contribution. His many nuanced conclusions also provide important conclusions for future research and scholarship. Without a doubt, Dozeman’s commentary is a must for any research relating to Joshua.

Overall, I only had one major contention that would significantly affect interpretation of portions of Joshua 1-12. He notes in the introduction that the Pentateuch, being composed in the exilic or post-exilic period, functioned in an authoritative manner as the Torah of Moses (28). While this is true to a certain extent, he fails to clarify what “authority” signified in a post-exilic context. This is something Michael Satlow explores well in How the Bible Became Holy. Dozeman’s lack of clarification on this point results in a later statement in the commentary that the Torah of Moses was authoritative for Diaspora Jews and that it played “the central role of a Torah-based religion”, which is “underscored in the divine demand that Joshua mediate on the Torah” (217). Without a doubt, his focus on the centrality and authority of Torah is true, but to what extent? Clarification of this issue would significantly improve the value of his commentary by exploring the historical nuances of what “authority” actually represented in the post-exilic period and early reception and pluriformity of Joshua 1-12. It would also assist in interpreting what the author is implying by pushing for Joshua to mediate on the Torah and his choice to include the ceremony in which the Torah is written and read. With regard to inner-biblical exegesis, a major tool of the author, it would clarify what the author thinks about Joshua’s relationship to Deuteronomy. Moreover, it would reflect what the author, within his post-exilic context, thought about how people should relate to the Torah.

In conclusion, Dozeman’s commentary on Joshua 1-12 is a necessity for libraries, students, and scholars working with Joshua. While the price is steep, $100.00 through Yale University Press, its contribution to biblical studies is invaluable. Through the commentary, Dozeman’s nuanced arguments are compelling and essential for developing a better understanding of how the book of Joshua functions as literature and how it functioned historically. While he does need to clarify what he means by the Torah being “authoritative”, this does not take away significantly from his sustained focuses on herem, ruralism, anti-monarchism, and composition history. Without a doubt, Dozeman’s commentary is valuable to libraries. For lower and upper-division undergraduate students, it is an excellent option as a secondary source. For graduate student, the bibliography and discussion provides incredibly important resources for moving forward into more nuanced arguments about Joshua. All-in-all, Dozeman’s commentary and translation of Joshua 1-12 is fantastic.


[1] Edit: In response to some confusion about how Joshua was post exilic and written from a Northern point of views, Dozeman’s words explain this: “The literary themes of Joshua and its dependence on a form of the Pentateuch suggest its composition in the postexilic period; it represents a myth of origin, in which the promised land is heavily populated with kings and royals city-states requiring holy war to empty the land of its urban culture, as the ark processes to its northern cultic site near Shechem… The origin story in Joshua contrasts with the competing myth of the empty land in Ezra and Nehemiah, where the promised land has lain fallows during the exile with the absence of cities so that the returning exiled Judaeans had to rebuild the temple and reestablish the lost city of Jerusalem. The rebuilding of Jerusalem in Ezra/Nehemiah represents a response of assimilation to the rule of the Persians… In the book of Joshua, there are no benevolent rulers or royal city-states in the promised land. All are condemned by Yahweh and thus require extermination under the ban” (31). He follows that with some brief notes on later revisions into its present narrative context.