Reviewed by Thomas Middlebrook
This stand-alone commentary, initially to be published for the discontinued Eerdmans Critical Commentary series, provides the expert rhetorical criticism and the moderate historical conclusions of a seasoned scholar. Lundbom’s prior contributions to OT studies lie mostly in the area of the prophetic literature, especially his three-volume work on Jeremiah for the Anchor Bible series.
Along with the standard introductory fare of author, date and genre, Lundbom addresses the relationships between Deuteronomy and the prophets (Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah), the wisdom literature, and the New Testament (cf. his appendix of all the NT references to Deuteronomy). He briefly outlines fifteen “Theological Ideas” from Deuteronomy, including a number of Yahweh’s attributes, Israel, the Covenant, the Land, holy war, divine blessing and covenantal obligations. There are also three excurses on (1) worship during the reigns of Hezekiah and Josiah, (2) divorce in Judaism and early Christianity and (3) a history of research on the Song of Moses. The detailed table of contents makes up for the lack of a stand-alone outline of Deuteronomy; Lundbom also summarizes each of the major editions of Deuteronomy and his theory of their composition.
Lundbom claims that the Song of Moses (Deut 32) is the book of the law or temple lawbook discovered by Hilkiah during the Josianic reform (2 Kgs 22); most critical scholars argue that it was the entire book of Deuteronomy (16). Lundbom considers the mention of “this law” in Deut 31:24 and 32:44 to be the outer frame of an inclusio referring originally just to the Song of Moses – the “law” (torah) only later expanded to label the entirety of Deuteronomy, and eventually all of the Penteteuch (13-18). Thus, instead of the usual assumption of a near-exilic audience (at the earliest, late seventh or sixth century), Lundbom views Deut 1-28 as the “first edition” completed by the time of Hezekiah’s reforms (late eighth or seventh century), Deut 29-30 as a “first supplement” by the time of Josiah’s reign, and the Song of Moses (along with Moses’ blessing, final admonitions, and burial) as the “second supplement.” Afterwards, the canonical form of Deuteronomy was likely used as a framework for interpreting Israel’s history (Josh–Kgs) during the exilic period.
In the commentary proper, Lundbom discusses the text one rhetorical unit at a time – be it a few verses or two chapters. He sections the units into: Translation, Rhetoric and Composition, Notes, and Message and Audience. Lundbom translates close to the underlying Hebrew (formal equivalence yet readable) based upon an in-depth survey of the manuscripts. Whenever the Translation follows a non-Masoretic reading, he makes an argument in favor of his choice. And thankfully, whether Lundbom cites ancient or modern foreign languages, he always provides the reader with an English translation.
Lundbom’s evaluation of keywords, chiasms, inclusios and other framing devices is made obvious by the uncluttered presentation of structured texts in the Rhetoric and Composition section. The discourse elements are given special attention in the sermonic sections of Deuteronomy (see chs. 5-11, 29-30). His metrical analysis of the Song of Moses gives a stunning look at its tight and orderly construction. He also provides thorough documentation of Deuteronomy’s manuscript evidence, Masoretic paragraph divisions, and the like. While that may not interest everyone, Lundbom convinced me of the interpretive importance of paragraph and reading breaks in manuscripts and surprised me with the diversity of material (mostly from the sermons of Deut 5-11) that made their way into cherished mezuzahs and phylacteries of the Qumran community.
In the Notes, Lundbom does historic-critical exegesis in dialogue with the definitive scholarship of Deuteronomy by S. R. Driver (ICC), Moshe Weinfeld (AB), and Jeffrey Tigay (JPS), leaning also on the more tested results from the last generation of great ANE scholars, notably William Albright, Frank Cross, David Freedman, William Moran, and G. E. Wright. In this section, Lundbom goes verse by verse and gives exhaustive coverage of geography, place-names, relevant material culture, and anthropological data. He even engages medieval Jewish commentators (esp. Rashi and Abraham ibn Ezra). Overall, his notes are a high-quality reference tool for textual and archaeological comparative work with sporadic notes from the NT and historical figures (Plato, Mendelssohn, Martin L. King Jr.) about the moral significance of Deuteronomy.
Lundbom’s Message section (a paraphrase of the text) is unneeded and redundant given his fine translation and exegesis. Despite a nod or two to memories of “righteous” Jehoshaphat or the foundation of the monarchy, Lundbom interprets the text’s Audience in light of the destruction of the northern kingdom. Thus, the giants in the land (Deut 2:10-11) are types for the giant empire of Assyria, while the censure of astral worship (4:19) is due to Assyrian and Babylonian politico-religious influence. Interactions with the earlier, indigenous astral religions from the southern Levant are largely ignored in favor of the later contexts of the writing prophets, who were more prolific and explicit in their condemnation of astral religions (for an alternative view, see Jeffrey L. Cooley, “Astral Religion in Ugarit and Ancient Israel,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 70.2 (2011): 281-287).
There are three key limitations to this commentary. First, I would describe Lundbom’s observations throughout the book as rhetorically descriptive with modest proposals for their ancient, religious significance. That is no criticism; this is not an application commentary. Still, I found myself wishing for more of Lundbom’s mature, spiritual reflection on this theological treasure trove.
Second and relatedly, Lundbom does not interact with the major biblical-theological implications of the text. Questions such as “Is Deuteronomy a case of pure retribution theology?,” “What are the spiritual repercussions of these well-demonstrated keywords?,” “What is the mechanism of the on-going relevance of these laws beyond the OT?” are not addressed. However, Lundbom seems to justify this by his comment that “Deuteronomy is a rich book of theology, and this theology is embodied first and foremost in language and rhetoric, not in concepts derived from great philosophical thinkers ancient and modern” (xix, emphasis added). Readers must answer for themselves whether Deuteronomy’s theology was a conceptual revolution in its day. Nevertheless they can easily appreciate the unmistakable value of Lundbom’s historical and rhetorical scholarship.
Finally, the commentary refrains from recent “hot-topics” related to social theory – mnemonics, “lived” religion, etc. – and even some of the old trifecta: gender, class, race.
I would also like to highlight a few topics that Lundbom treats particularly well: the historical geography of the Transjordan (Deut 2:1-3:17), comparisons of ancient Law-Code (including Egypt), a respect for the importance of the Shema and the Decalogue on the message and the structure of all of Deuteronomy, the Song of Moses (Deut 32), and the Blessing of Moses (Deut 33).
Lundbom is clear, consistent, and excellent in his emphases. He does not forego the abundant fruit of older OT scholarship, nor does he over-extend speculation. This commentary will be an excellent resource for scholars and the academically inclined pastor; they will be well-poised to venture into the next levels of research and theological reflection.
Thomas Middlebrook is a PhD student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School with a concentration in Old Testament and the Ancient Near East.
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Deuteronomy: A Commentary