Judges. By Susan Niditch. Old Testament Library. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008, xxviii + 290 pp., $44.95.
Susan Niditch is Samuel Green Professor of Religion at Amherst College. She is perhaps best known for her work in orality in ancient Israelite literature, Orai World and Written Word (1996), and her short book Ancient Israelite Religion (1998).
The commentary's format is consistent with that of other OTL volumes, a series that expressly aims to be readable while discussing the most significant linguistic, literary, historical, and theological elements in the biblical text. In this regard, Niditch's work is a model of uncluttered, focused discussion of the text, peppered with concise summaries of interpretive options and succinct judgments. The bibliography covers fourteen pages, and introductory matters of redaction, textual history, epic characterization, and literary structure are held to thirty pages.
Niditch does the reader a service by stating her presuppositions and aims clearly. After reviewing the standard models for approaching Judges, Niditch adopts "a theoretical approach that is interested in history and takes seriously the idea that Judges includes material that would have been meaningful in some form to Israelite audiences before there were kings in Israel" (p. 8). She adds that her approach does not involve "matching narrative details with specific historical events or testing for historical verisimilitude" (p. 8). The conquest narratives are the result of the work of pro-monarchical writers adapting "epic-bardic" poetry to suit their agenda (p. 9). Aside from epic poetic material, two other voices come through for Niditch: the "voice of the theologian" and the "voice of the humanist" (pp. 10-12). The former is the familiar Deuteronomist, whose stories are judgmental with respect to loyalty to Yahweh. This voice should not be confused with biblical theology. The commentary offers next to nothing in that regard. The latter voice is a teller of olden tales whose material is fictional and non-critical, aiming only to preserve ancient stories.
Niditch's commentary offers not one but two new translations of Judges. One translation, sensitive to "oral and aural aspects," opens each chapter. This translation "seeks to aid comprehensibility and readability by converting the Hebrew syntax to a more standard word order" (p. 25). The second translation, more literalized than the first, appears in an appendix at the end of the book. This translation "retains the Hebrew word order and even more closely conveys the register of the Hebrew" (p. 26).
Each chapter translation is followed by a short technical section that deals with textual, grammatical, syntactical, and literary issues. …