Joshua, Judges and Ruth

Written by A. Graeme Auld Reviewed By H.G.M. Williamson

Many readers will by now be familiar with this series of commentaries on the Old Testament. Its aims, as described by the general editor, J. C. L. Gibson, are twofold: to introduce some of the more important results of Old Testament scholarship and, secondly, with all due caution, to draw out the contemporary relevance of the text for the lay Christian reader. The model, and hence the format, is based on the hugely successful series of the late William Barclay.

Clearly, Graeme Auld’s contribution must be judged by the aims which his editor has set him. As regards the first, he is generally able to indicate how these books are presented in moderate contemporary academic circles. Without becoming technical, he introduces the Deuteronomic history, relegates certain sections to later redactions, and so on. Curiously, however, this seems to have little effect on the exposition. Although Auld occasionally makes clear that he does not take a high view of the historical value of certain parts of the narrative, he nevertheless discusses them for the most part at face value; we might have hoped that, if he did decide to treat them under the fashionable category of ‘story’, this would have had a greater exegetical pay-off.

The second aim of the series—that of Christian application—is not so successfully handled, and certainly is not given the central prominence which the editor and the publisher’s blurb lead us to expect. Indeed, most of Auld’s modern examples are drawn from the Arab-Israeli problems in the Middle East. Though these are sometimes pointed and thought-provoking, I suspect that most church-goers will be disappointed to find so little guidance in terms of personal application. Of course, evangelicals must be aware that theirs is not the only framework within which the Old Testament may be regarded as part of Christian Scripture, but even taking the most catholic approach I still found that only little effort had been made under this rubric. All will be sympathetic to Auld in that Joshua, Judges and Ruth are by no means the easiest books to tackle in such a series. The need for expert guidance is therefore all the more necessary; it is difficult not to conclude that an important opportunity has here been lost.

H.G.M. Williamson

Christ Church, Oxford