Review of Long’s 1 and 2 Samuel

1 and 2 Samuel book cover

During my time at Regent College, I had the privilege of studying under V. Philips Long. He is a scholar who combines a genuine love for Christ with a unique skill set to his reading of the Old Testament, including education in portrait painting and extensive experience with Old Testament archeology. His new commentary on 1 and 2 Samuel (replacing Baldwin’s volume in the “Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries” series) has been long coming; it is great to see it finally available.

For those familiar with Long’s other work (e.g. A Biblical History of Israel, with Longman and Provan; The Art of Biblical History;  1 and 2 Samuel in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary series), the commentary is what one would expect. Long combines a literary reading of the text, which pays attention to how the narrative is telling the story, and a thorough knowledge of relevant archaeology and historical matters. The reader who is convinced that archeology and history have a significant role in the Christian interpretation will benefit from having the material from Long’s background commentary and newer discoveries interwoven with his commentary on the narrative of the text. As with the newer instantiations of the TOTC series, each section of the text has an introduction giving the context and a reflection on the “meaning” after the comments; this is a great improvement over previous volumes of the series.

Long occasionally gives attention to text-critical issues, but given the limitations of the series, he is unable to do so to any great extent. He often refers to the reader to Tsumura’s commentaries on Samuel, which have the opposite problem—exploring the technical details with great depth and erudition but not giving attention to the larger theological themes and narrative. There is also occasional theological reflection, but Long does not attempt to present a cohesive theological reading of the text or exposition of its major theological themes.

The latter is the greatest weakness of the volume. The greatest strength of a close or literary reading of the Biblical text is its ability to make the theological intent of the text extra-ordinarily clear. Having the narrative of the book placed within a greater canonical framework and theological interpretation would have increased the value of the volume for practical ministry purposes. Long does not, for example, draw the connection between the deposition of Eli and the Davidic Covenant, which share a strong literary connection. In this category might fit Long’s reading of Joab, as a clever but fundamentally self-interested party (e.g. 304-305). I am not quite convinced of such an interpretation; I am not sure what to do with Joab, but at many times he is portrayed by the narrator as in the right over against David (2 Sam 24:2-4). His is one of the most complex characterizations in the book—after David, of course. Furthermore, as a reader of my books may be aware, I am not convinced that archeological insight is beneficial for exegesis (see The Gift of Reading – Part 1 & Part 2). Still, as I am in the minority on this issue, that can hardly be counted as a failing of the book.

For what it does well, literary detail and archaeological insights in a condensed volume, Long’s commentary is a fantastic contribution. If I had to pick a selection of essential Samuel commentaries, I would easily choose Tsumura’s 2 NICOT volumes, Youngblood’s commentary in “The Expositor’s Bible Commentary” series, and Long’s 1 and 2 Samuel (TOTC). I would perhaps include Gordon’s commentary in the “Library of Biblical Interpretation” series, a volume to which Long demonstrates a great debt. None of these works addresses the canonical and theological aspect of the narrative, for which reason I wrote my Th.M. thesis (God’s Kingdom through His Priest-King). For all its shortcomings, I still think that volume has a genuine contribution in this regard; I appreciated the occasional shout-out my book received!

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