1 Kings. By Jerome T. Walsh. Berit Olam. Collegeville: Liturgical, 1996, 393 pp., $39.95.
Berit Olam is a "multi-volume commentary" that focuses on the final form of the Biblical texts in the belief that an appreciation of their qualities as literary works can aid in an understanding of their truth. Walsh's fine treatment of 1 Kings is thus a kind of narrative theology. He states that "the narrative quality of a work is independent of its correspondence to an external 'real' world" (xii). The relationship between the books and history, therefore, remains tacit. In practice, his views about authorship and historical criticism appear from time to time, and turn out to be rather orthodox in critical terms (he takes for granted the traditional theory about the "Succession Narrative," for example, and also the "Deuteronomistic History"; see e.g. pp. 28, 3738). But these tenets remain in the background. As he points out, when he says "the author" he normally means the "implied author" (explained as a reader's construct on the basis of the text); access to the historical author of 1 Kings is "difficult, if not impossible" (p. xviii).
The real interest is in narrative. The facets of narrative interpretation break down into structural analysis, verbal techniques, an awareness of the narrator and implied author, plot and point of view, and characterization. The project thus determines the procedure. The text is analyzed into larger units (ultimately 1 and 2 Kings, though only the former is actually dealt with); these are broken down in sections spanning a chapter or group of chapters, and finally into smaller units measured in verses. The analysis at every level displays the text in terms of literary patterns, chiastic, concentric and other forms. The commentary focuses on the small units, while stepping back frequently to see them in the context of the larger canvas, 1-2 Kings and beyond. This always produces stimulating reflection, not least for the preacher.
The main strength of the work is in its sustained exposition of the narrative. The following features may be mentioned. (1) Narrative analogies are highlighted, such as the ironic analogy between Bathsheba and Abishag (p. 6), or, beyond 1-2 Kings, between Elijah and Moses, where Elijah is seen as the prophet "like Moses," yet who does not quite match his predecessor (pp. 287-289). (2) The force of the Hebrew is often well elucidated, by observing word order, alliteration, repetition and other features. For example, the word plays involving melek and the name Adonijah (1:13-14, 18-21, pp. 11, 13) have a definite effect, namely to show Bathsheba's loyalty to David. (3) The speeches of the characters have a certain power by virtue of the careful choice of word and phrase. Thus Nathan cleverly presents the issue of succession as putting Adonijah at odds with David, diplomatically deemphasizing Solomon's claim (p. 17). In the same category are characters' slight alterations of reported words. David himself prefers "throne/God of Israel," rather than "of David." Thus in 1:30 (contrast 1:17) Walsh finds in David's words "a subtle repudiation" of ancient Near Eastern royal ideology (p. …