William P. Brown, professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, has written a hand-book of Old Testament exegesis in which he gives an example-filled introduction to exegesis that brings together various exegetical perspectives. The very concrete way in which examples are handled is certainly the strength of this handbook. After an introduction the second part of this handbook gives an oversight of analytical approaches starting with translation and ending with canonical analysis. The third part is devoted to what Brown calls ‘reading in place’. Attention is given among others to the relation between exegesis and science, exegesis and ecology and exegesis and gender.
Brown rejects the idea that the interpreter has an objective position vis-à-vis the text of the Bible. I would use the word ‘neutral’. An exegete is not a neutral observer, but at the same the text of the Bible has an objective meaning. The weakness of the approach of Brown that he gives not due attention to this last fact.
In this approach the text of the Bible is multivalent, when read and interpreted. Depending on the questions posed and the perspectives adopted a wide range of reading are possible according to Brown’s opinion. Certainly, there is much truth in this position, but we must say that there is an overall perspective we must have, wherever we live, to understand the Bible in its deepest sense. The Bible is the inspired Word of God given to make us wise unto salvation. The unity and inspiration of the Bible has not a real place in the exegetical approach of Brown.
Having stated these reservations there is much to learn for a critical reader from the second part of this handbook. I cannot say that in the same degree of the third part. There we see more than once how the exegete directs in a postmodern way the text of the Bible instead the text of the Bible directs him, although also in this part a critical reader can find useful information.
With regard to the second part I must add that I could not find the literary analysis of Brown very helpful. Here he follows to a large the degree the view that we can discern discrete compositional layers. These layers are always hypothetical and quite often seeing several layers in the text brings us in conflict with the self-testimony of the Scripture with regards to its message. I certainly would not say that Brown’s handbook to the Old Testament exegesis is a must in the library of every theological student or pastor. Then I would recommend other books, but Old Testament scholars can profit from insight it gives on the state of Old Testament scholarship related to the exegesis of the Old Testament.
William P. Brown, A Handbook to Old Testament Exegesis (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), paperback 380 pp., $35,– (ISBN 9780664259938)