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Commentaries on Genesis

21st January 2007

westermann_genesis.jpgI am teaching an undergraduate course on the book of Genesis this semester, so I thought I would put together a post on what I consider some of the better commentaries on this foundational book of the Bible. I have focused on commentaries in English and have made recommendations for scholars, teachers and preachers, as well as students and lay people.

There are many good commentaries on the book of Genesis, though with Genesis — perhaps more so than other books — the critical commentaries can focus extensively on matters of historical-criticism. While this may be valuable for questions of authorship and the development of a book like Genesis, it doesn’t help with the interpretation of the final canonical form of the text. That being said, Claus Westermann‘s three-volume commentary is excellent, both for its engagement with the critical questions and matters of interpretation (and Speiser to a lesser degree). I also find Nahum Sarna‘s commentary to not only be beautifully typeset, but also rich in its dealing with the Hebrew text and Jewish interpretation. wenham_genesis.jpgFrom a more evangelical perspective, Gordon Wenham‘s masterful volumes are second to none. While Wenham is more concerned with literary and theological issues, he also engages most critical issues with scholarly responsibility. As such, Wenham is my choice for best overall commentary on Genesis.

sarna_genesis.jpgOther good critical commentaries include Coats (somewhat limited by the nature of the FOTL series) and von Rad (a classic tradition-history commentary albeit somewhat sparse), while Brodie‘s literary analysis is interesting to say the least. For a conservative Jewish perspective on the opening chapters of Genesis check out Cassuto. In addition, for those interested in the history of the interpretation of this book, the volumes in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture by Louth and Sheridan are worthy of careful perusal. Finally, Hermann Gunkel‘s ground breaking commentary on Genesis has been recently translated into English by Mark Biddle and is full of many insights for the assiduous reader.

hamilton_genesis.jpgFor pastors and teachers, there are ample commentaries to choose from. Brueggemann, Cotter, Fretheim, Gangel, Hamilton, Mahthews, Ross, and Waltke are all good, though I would probably go with Hamilton if you are looking for one solid commentary written from an evangelical perspective. If you want a broader perspective, then both Brueggemann and Fretheim are excellent. While not a full commentary, Alter‘s translation is refreshing and his comments are also quite insightful.

walton_genesis.jpgMore popular-level commentaries include Gowan, Hartley, Janzen, Kidner, Roop and Walton. I have used Roop as a textbook in the past and have quite liked its style and theological substance. I also find the ITCs by Gowan and Janzen quite insightful. And Kidner, of course, always provides solid exposition from an evangelical point of view. I have to say, however, that I have been nothing but impressed with John Walton‘s commentary in the NIV Application Commentary Series. While he may be a bit more on the conservative side of the spectrum, his knowledge and engagement of the ancient Near Eastern literary, cultural, and historical background to the book are evident on every page. I highly recommend his commentary for pastors, students, and laypeople alike.

Here is an (almost) exhaustive listing of commentaries on the book of Genesis in English:

For more listings and evaluations of commentaries on other biblical books, see my Old Testament Commentary Survey.


4 Responses to “Commentaries on Genesis”

  1. martin Says:

    This is most informative. Could you also recommend an up to date book or books that review the different methods of scientific biblical interpretation?

    Thanks

  2. JohnFH Says:

    Thanks, Tyler, for a very well written survey.

    I note only one important omission: the commentary of Skinner in the ICC series. It falls into the category of “old but very good.” It is widely available on the used book market, and in downloadable and searchable form from at least one distributor. Another commentary in this category is that of Benno Jacob, never translated, unfortunately, into English.

    Those of us who attended the 2006 annual meeting of SBL were given a sneak preview of commentaries soon to appear. The one I am especially looking forward to is that of Ronald Hendel, which will be the successor volume to that of Speiser in the AB series.

    Finally, I would beg to differ with you when you say that historical criticism – the examination of questions of authorship and compositional history – doesn’t help with the interpretation of the final canonical form of the text. Admittedly, it takes a master exegete to pull it all together. But it has been done. Westermann, as you yourself seem to admit, is a counter-example to your statement. The essays of von Rad, more than his commentary, are another counter-example (available now in English)- though of course they lie outside of the purview of your survey.

    Have you seen Ska’s lists? They lack your helpful commentary, but they are very competent. I link to them on my website: http://www.ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com

  3. Mark Olson Says:

    How about Leon Kass’ Beginning of Wisdom, which is essentially a commentary on Genesis.

  4. Alex Says:

    What do you think, please, of Obadiah Shoher’s interpretation of the story? (here: samsonblinded.org/blog/genesis-37.htm ) He takes the text literally to prove that the brothers played a practical joke on Yosef rather than intended to murder him or sell him into slavery. His argument seems fairly strong to me, but I’d like to hear other opinions.