The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50 / Genesis 1-11:26
Baker, David W., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50. By Victor P. Hamilton. NICOT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995, xx + 774 pp., $44.00.
Genesis 1-11:26. By Kenneth A. Mathews. The New American Commentary lA. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996, 528 pp., $36.99.
Victor Hamilton teaches OT at Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky. The second volume of his two-volume commentary on Genesis is welcome five years after the publication of the first. The reasons for the delay are unclear, since the publishers stated in the preface to the first volume that the work "was planned and written as a single volume." The untimely death of the original series editor, R. K. Harrison, and the transition to a new editor, Robert Hubbard, could have contributed to the delay. There appears to have been some minimal updating of bibliography to include some items appearing as recently as 1992, but most of the work was apparently finished upon submission of the first volume. There is no introduction to this volume, only a brief "Author's Preface" and an abbreviation list, the introduction for all of Genesis being included in vol. 1.
While external features of the NICOT series such as dust-jacket, cover color and trim size have changed, the internal layout of the volume will be familiar to those acquainted with the series. The Biblical text is divided into sections for comment. These run from larger cycles (Isaac/Jacob, Joseph), through pericopes (which correspond exactly to chapter divisions in all but three cases), to episodes ranging in length from one to fourteen verses. Comment is restricted to the lower two levels, which seems a missed opportunity to explain what unites a cycle, setting it off geographically, chronologically or theologically from its neighbors. Why bother with cycles if they are not worthy of discussion?
The discussion of each pericope begins with Hamilton's own translation. In footnotes, text-critical and linguistic points relevant to the translation are made. These would generally be of use only for the more serious student rather than the lay reader. If this is the case, one wonders why the Hebrew is transliterated. The discussion is of such a depth that one would need to know Hebrew (and Greek) to follow much of it, so why not use the scripts of the languages concerned?
Many pericopes have a paragraph of general discussion, summarizing it and placing it within its context. Then follows the verse-by-verse commentary. Where relevant, at the pericope's close there is a section entitled "The New Testament Appropriation," where NT citations are considered. The volume ends with indexes of subjects, (modern) authors, Scripture references and Hebrew words.
A single review cannot do justice to as detailed a work as faces us here, so sample soundings will suffice to illustrate the benefits (and pitfalls) of using the volume. Hamilton is especially strong in linguistic and historical areas, such as trying to place Joseph's job description in Potiphar's household (39:4) and the Egyptian kingdom (41:40ff), or determining the Egyptian meanings of names (e.g. 41:43). These points are important for an academic understanding of the text, but would be of less interest for one seeking to preach it. The author does show sensitivity to the psychology of some passages. Lot's daughters' impregnation by their father (19:31), while objectionable, is not condemned outright, since they are motivated by a world that seems to them to have lost its male population. Tamar's motive in sleeping with her fatherin-law (chap. 38) also is shown to have more validity than his motive in sleeping with her.
On the literary level, Hamilton is somewhat less sensitive. For example, he misses an excellent opportunity by failing to note that the only two people said to be goodlooking in form and feature are Rachel (29:17) and her son Joseph (39:6). This common feature made both compellingly attractive to at least one member of the opposite sex (Jacob and Potiphar's wife). …