The Cambridge Bible Commentary On The New English Bible, Introductory Volume: The Making Of The Old Testament, edited by Enid B. Mellor
It is clear from the bias that this book is written by a “sophisticated” writer whose knowledge of the Bible is far from profound, who considers apocryphal works like Judith and Tobit to be part of the Scriptures, who has a great deal of sympathy with the Hellenistic Jewish thought and a misguided idea of the biblical basis of the typology of Hebrews, as well as some seriously misguided ideas about the Peshitta and Daniel, as well as the contents of Isaiah, and an overinflated idea of the worth of the Documentary Hypothesis.
Of course, this book was written with a huge agenda, and that agenda is to support the worthiness of the New English Bible as a translation, and so the book goes out of its way to praise the importance of the documents found at the Cairo Geniza as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the rather few corrections that need to be made to the Masoretic texts. The way that this agenda works seems to indicate that the author lacks any kind of respect or interest in the work of Tyndale or the Geneva Bible (and the author plainly ignores that the KJV largely plagarized Tyndale’s version of the Bible). These are not minor flaws.
Furthermore, the author seems to perversely misunderstand the relationship of the early Church to the Hebrew scriptures. By passing along old lies about the Church’s supposed reliance on the Septuagint and neglecting the greater importance of the Targums and Aramaic, and failing to point out the negative aspects of Hellenistic thought on both Judaism and Christianity (since the editor of this work appears largely in sympathy with Hellenistic aims), the book is a greatly biased work of only limited value.
This work will appeal mostly to an intellectually sophisticated audience that lacks any deep knowledge of the scriptures or any real faith in original inspiration and that wants to pass themselves off as rational and sophisticated ‘Christians.’ Even stripping aside the great level of incorrect legend passed down as fact and mistaken worldview, this work has as its value chiefly an appreciation for the Bible not only as inspired text but also as a work which requires a knowledge of the context in which it was written.
It is my belief that the flaws of this book arise chiefly from overemphasizing the importance of context, to cast aspersions on “proof texting,” for example. In addition, the authors of the book appear dim in their understanding of how Genesis was originally written as well as the early spread of literacy in post-conquest Israel. However, it is vital that works be understood in the context of how they were written. Poetry, for example, has a specific context and language because it is poetry, and it must be understood for the type of writing it is, with its own conventions. Likewise, we can better understand the Bible if we know something of the historical context of the time, and that includes the pagan beliefs the Bible reacts against and responds to, partly so that we may avoid falling into the same ditches ourselves.
One of the more ironic notes this book strikes is its recognition that our times are much like the Hellenistic times of late Second Temple Judaism. The more modern notes that radical heretics like Marcion strike relate to the similar corruption of our own times that Christ and the early disciples had to counteract. We ought to take pause that our own times are just as chaotic and corrupt as those wicked times, lest we fall under the same judgment ourselves. So, this book is of limited worth–it is principally worthwhile as an examination of a sophisticated ‘Hellenistic Christian’ viewpoint, if not of anything remotely approaching truth. Nonetheless, we ought to know our enemies so that we can better know what we stand for ourselves, and recognize the limited insights that have been provided by the NEB and other recent translations. And that small worth in some of the minor points of textual criticism keeps this work from being worthless. That is a small accomplishment.