ExodusWritten by T. Desmond Alexander Reviewed By Joseph C. Triolo
T. Desmond Alexander is the Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Union Theological College in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Alexander is known for his biblical-theological approach to Scripture and for his expertise on the Pentateuch. A distinctive strength of Exodus is his ability to combine these two areas of expertise.
The Apollos Old Testament Commentary series is intended for “preachers, teachers, and students of the Bible” (p. ix). I believe scholars, too, will benefit from Alexander’s work. The introductory material is an up-to-date scholarly analysis of various historical and exegetical issues surrounding Exodus. In his lengthiest introductory section (pp. 16–30), Alexander surveys the main historical positions on the date of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. He reviews extensively the evidence for the thirteenth- and fifteenth-century positions from Egyptian literary texts, archeological evidence, and biblical chronology; he views the 1447 B.C. date as the most compelling at present.
Readers may find helpful the explanation of different exegetical approaches to Exodus. There is tension in scholarship between source-oriented approaches, which are diachronic and focus on the development of the literature, and discourse-oriented approaches, which are synchronic and focus on its final form (pp. 11–12). Alexander exemplifies the latter approach, yet he interacts with source-criticism by taking “note of source-analysis proposals … to caution readers against the exaggerated claims of critics who rely overly on these to exegete the text” (p. 13).
Throughout his commentary, Alexander elucidates not only the meaning and significance of Exodus but also the wider canonical implications of the exodus event and Sinai narratives. He reads Exodus as a narrative flowing out of Genesis, while engaging critical views that dissociate the patriarchal and exodus traditions (pp. 5, 35–40). Leviticus is viewed as the proper sequel, which presupposes the building of YHWH’s tabernacle and the intention of consecrating priests for its service (Exod 29; cf. Lev 8). On a grander scale, Alexander advocates for a metanarrative reading that includes the Pentateuch and Deuteronomistic History (Genesis–2 Kings). As such, YHWH’s glory dwelling amidst his people (Exod 40:34) may be viewed as “an important step towards the fulfillment of God’s aspirations for Eden” (p. 673).
In terms of the structure and design of this commentary, many sections of Exodus have their own special introductions, which frame their respective verse-by-verse comments. These sections are: “1:1–2:25: The Israelites in Egypt” (pp. 33–35); “Exodus 7:8–11:10: Signs and Wonders in Egypt” (pp. 145–57); “Exodus 15:22–18:27: The Wilderness Journey of the Israelites to Sinai” (pp. 309–10); “Exodus 19:1–40:38: The Sinai Narrative” (pp. 355–58); and “The ‘Book of the Covenant’” (pp. 437–51).
All of the individual partitions of Exodus—whether after special introductions or not—begin with Alexander’s fresh translation of the Masoretic Text. His translation brings out rhetorical connections and wordplays that would otherwise remain undetected by the English reader. For instance, the reference to “Jacob’s hip” in Exod 1:5 recalls Jacob’s wrestling match with YHWH at Peniel in Gen 32:30–32 (p. 38). On the basis of previous studies, the MT is held to preserve with astounding accuracy the most authentic and original text of Exodus over and above the LXX and Samaritan Pentateuch. The places where the LXX seems to preserve a more authentic reading prima facie are discussed in turn and found to be largely inconsequential to Alexander’s exposition (pp. 30–32).
The translation sections are followed by the “Notes on the Text,” which feature philological and textual-critical evaluations. Next, the “Form and Structure” sections place each smaller section within its wider context, interact with source-critical positions, and review its literary history. This is followed by the “Comment” sections, which feature close exegetical and historical evaluations. Lastly, we have the “Explanation” sections, which shed light on the theological implications of the text and include points of application. The commentary also contains two detailed excurses: “The Strengthening of Pharaoh’s Heart” (pp. 163–71) and “The Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread” (pp. 217–22).
When comparing Alexander’s commentary with others, a cautious and logical approach to the form and content of Exodus is evident. For instance, the position that elements of the text are derived from, say, the Chaoskampf motif of the ancient Near East, are found to be “highly questionable” (e.g., pp. 294–96 on Exod 15). This idea seems central to commentaries such as that of T. E. Fretheim (Exodus, IBC [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1991]). On the other hand, interpretations that focus on the text’s prehistory, often with conjectures about dating and the Sitz im Leben, are found wanting in their exegetical value (e.g., Thomas B. Dozeman, Exodus, ECC [Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2009]; for further comparisons, see p. 16). In accordance with Alexander’s discourse-oriented approach, the final literary context tempers possible extraneous interpretations. This is not to say that Alexander always adopts traditional readings (see his interpretation of ים סוף as “Lake of Reeds” rather than the traditional “Red Sea” [LXX: ἡ ἐρυθρὰ θάλασσα]; pp. 263–64).
Overall, Exodus is suitable for its intended audience. Given its size, it may prove difficult to assign at the undergraduate level, apart from, say, a specialized elective on Exodus. It is excellent, however, as a reference work for academic research and for teaching preparation—as the massive bibliography bears witness (pp. 675–723), along with the indices of Scripture references (pp. 725–46), authors (pp. 747–56), and subjects (pp. 757–64). I highly recommend Exodus to pastors and teachers who are teaching a series through the Book of Exodus and to any students who have a special interest in its history and theology.
Joseph C. Triolo
Joseph C. Triolo
Arizona Christian University
Phoenix, Arizona, USA
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