A Commentary on Exodus by Duane A. Garrett
Many thanks to the kind folks at Kregel for this review copy!
I received this book for free in exchange for an unbiased review.
Virtually any commentary on the books of the Pentateuch that has been produced in my lifetime (and well before) invariably address the so-called “documentary hypothesis” and Garrett here is no exception. Perhaps not surprisingly, Garrett eschews the usefulness of the theory, claiming (among other things) that even scholars who espouse some form of the hypothesis as a window into understanding the sources and composition of the Pentateuch “themselves continue to use the terms P and J while no longer holding to anything that may be meaningfully called a consensus” (17). However, an elusive consensus does not itself preclude the validity or veracity of a particular theory. Nevertheless, I resonate somewhat with Garrett in that I’ve long had my reservations about this theory and though Garrett only briefly broaches the subject, he notes some common objections and boldly declares that the discussion of the theory should not remain in the 19th century—“that path is dead” (19). More sardonically, Garrett states “[c]ontinually flogging the dead horse of the documentary hypothesis is pointless” (20). On the matter of authorship, Garrett notes the book’s anonymity, though suggests that Moses certainly could have had a hand in editing it (20). Also, the book is a unity despite not knowing the process by which it came to be (20).
The bulk of the introductory material is focused on the cultural and historical background of Egypt. Here Garrett shines by dispensing a wealth of information (pp. 24–135!) on the various cultural components that figure into rightly understanding the story of the exodus against its Egyptian backdrop. Matters concerning geography, chronology and history, and language all receive a few pages of attention, with the lion’s share of this section devoted to questions concerning the date and historicity of the exodus from Egypt (56–92). Garrett suggests that Exodus is in some ways more foundational for OT theology than is Genesis—“For the people of Israel, their founding event was not the call of Abraham; it was the exodus” (137). This would explain in part Garrett’s lengthy discussion of the exodus event.
As for the commentary proper, Garrett shows a deft hand both exegetically and theologically when dealing with the text. He does this all the while keeping a keen eye on the Egyptian background. Garrett’s strength is obviously his knowledge of the Hebrew text and the culture it reflects, but his ability to accessibly convey that information clearly and concisely enhances this particular volume’s usefulness.
Perhaps the one drawback that some will find with this commentary is that Garrett, at points, can come off a little sharp when discussing the exodus event. As noted previously, Garrett sees the exodus as a defining event in the life and history of Israel and goes to great lengths to argue for its historicity. For those who believe it to be a fictional addition to the story of Israel will no doubt be at odds here, though Garrett’s arguments can’t be summarily dismissed. One might even say there is an apologetic bent to his discussion, the merit of which each interpreter will have to decide.
In sum, Garrett’s contribution to the study and interpretation of Exodus is a fine one and should serve well those looking to better understand the book and interpret its text.
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