Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Review: Pinegar and Allen, "Unlocking the Old Testament: A Side-By-Side Commentary" (reviewed by Richard Packham)


Title:  Unlocking the Old Testament:  A Side-By-Side Commentary
Authors:  Ed Pinegar and Richard J. Allen
Publisher:  Covenant Communications
Genre:   Scripture Study
Year Published:  2009
Number of Pages:  x, 501
Binding:   Paper
ISBN10:   1-59811-851-X
ISBN13:   978-1-59811-851-3
Price:   $ 27.95

Reviewed by Richard Packham

With the Old Testament as the subject for the new year's Gospel Doctrine classes, various LDS-oriented publishers are coming out with materials to supplement the official Church lesson manual.   This in spite of the gentle admonition in the manual's teacher edition that one should be "judicious in your use of commentaries and other nonscriptural sources of information. Class members should be taught to seek knowledge and inspiration from the scriptures and the words of the latter-day prophets."

Among such unofficial supplements this large-format volume (8.5 x 11 x 1.25 inches) must be the weightiest, tipping the scale at exactly three pounds.   The publisher could not have supposed that any faithful Saint would tuck it under his arm, along with his Quad and his official lesson manuals.   Clearly it is intended for home study only.

The authors have been quite prolific in producing such supplemental Gospel studies, having co-authored over twenty volumes.   And the present manual is only the latest in their "Unlocking" series, with previous study guides for the Book of Mormon (2007) and the Doctrine and Covenants (2008), when those scriptures were due for study in Gospel Doctrine classes.

Not having seen their previous books in the series, this reviewer can only assume that this one follows a similar format to the previous ones, as indicated by the "side-by-side" in the subtitle:   Complete passages from the scriptures in a left column, with comments and elucidations by the authors on the right.   Where the comments are too lengthy for the right-hand column, additional material is in one of the appendices, of which there are 42, numbered A through PP.   This device is not original with these authors, but has been used for centuries by scripture commentators.

The passages from the Old Testament are selections, presumably corresponding to those to be studied from the Church lesson manual.   In addition to these, the authors include corresponding passages from the Pearl of Great Price (Moses and Abraham).   No indication is given, however, as to which lesson's material is being commented on.   The student is apparently expected to find the appropriate material on his own.

That is made more difficult, however, by the complete lack of any research apparatus.   There is no index, no table of scriptural citations, not even a table of contents.  A bibliography or "further reading suggestions" is also lacking.  The only search aid is the fact that the articles and appendices are arranged in the same order as the books occur in the Bible itself.

Does the book live up to its promise, to "unlock" the Old Testament? I suppose that depends on how one defines "unlock."    The definition which the authors seem to use is that "unlock" means to explain, to make meaningful, to interpret in terms of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  They view the Old Testament as "a grand and glorious exposition of the character, qualities, and mission of Jesus Christ" (p. v).

What the authors provide is only to a small extent supplemental factual information (pronunciation of names, explanation of some Hebrew customs), but rather consists mostly of sermonettes, which would be excellent scripts for a sacrament meeting talk based on a passage of Old Testament scripture.   The style is often emotional, hortatory, and florid, such as would be very effective when spoken from the pulpit. And like many talks in sacrament meeting, the authors frequently go on and on, and get off the topic.   In providing more information about Esther, for example, they wax warmly about courage and determination, expanding a metaphor about a tree of courage into an entire forest, and how we should be grateful for the beauties of nature.   No mention of the historical problems of the book, nor explanation of why the names of the main characters in the story (Esther, Mordecai, Haman) are derived from the names of pagan deities.

The basic theme of the entire book is that the Old Testament is about the atonement of Christ, God's Plan of Salvation, and the need for courage, obedience, righteousness, and the keeping of covenants.    The authors make frequent use of the "type" comparison as used by Christian exegetists.   Like beauty, however, "types" are solely in the eye of the beholder.

The authors assume that the Old Testament (supplemented by corrections and emendations from modern scripture) is historically accurate, that the events occurred as reported.    They make no mention of the many textual, archaeological, scientific or linguistic problems that any thoughtful student will uncover if straying even momentarily outside the LDS world into the non-Mormon world of Bible scholarship.   In the introduction the authors even warn against the "claims of unsympathetic interpreters" who would suggest that any part of the Old Testament is "only legend and myth" (p. v).

The authors are clearly referring to remarks such as the following, from Prof. Ze'ev Herzog, who heads the archaeology institute at Tel Aviv University:  "There has been an important revolution in biblical history in the last decades. We are now uncovering the difference between myth and history, and between reality and ideology of the ancient authors. This is the role of our generation of archaeologists -- to unearth the real historical reality to find out why and how the biblical records were written."  Tel Aviv University (2007, November 21). Digging Biblical History At 'The End Of The World'. Science Daily. Retrieved December 29, 2009, from <a class="moz-txt-link-freetext" href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071120142829.htm">http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071120142829.htm</a> .

The only authoritative sources for scripture study, then, are the scriptures themselves, taken at face value, as interpreted by the words of the modern oracles.

For example, no mention is made of the elementary fact that the Hebrew words "Elohim" and "Jehovah" both refer to the same Hebrew God, "elohim" being the word for "god" and "Jehovah" (actually YHWH) being God's name.  This is problematical for LDS theology, and is the basis for the now widely accepted Documentary Hypothesis of the multiple sources for the original Pentateuch.

No mention is made that the last part of the Book of Isaiah is considered by most Bible scholars to be post-Captivity, or that Daniel is a product of the Hasmonean era, not the Captivity.   Or that the "virgin" passage in Isaiah 7:14 (repeated in 2 Nephi) is a mistranslation, as is the "Lucifer" at Isaiah 14:12 (also repeated in 2 Nephi).

Minor errors and misleading statements abound:  The name "Adam" does NOT mean "many," as the authors assert (p. 4), but rather "man" and is a pun on the Hebrew word for "ruddy, earthy."    The authors depart from the text of Jonah, which says that he was swallowed by "a great fish," and adopt the common assumption that it was indeed a whale.   They correctly give the meaning of the name "Jesus" (Greek Jesous, Hebrew/Aramaic Jeshua) as "Jehovah saves," but then take that to indicate that Jesus is indeed the Savior because that's what the name means.   This ignores the fact that Joshua of the Old Testament had the same name, and that it was a relatively common name in Jesus' time.

The authors accept the LDS identification of "the Ancient of Days" with Father Adam, although non-Mormon Bible scholars generally believe that the term refers to God, not Adam.   But it is misleading to say, as the authors do (p. 431) that the term occurs three times in the Old Testament, when all three occurrences are confined to one chapter of the Book of Daniel.

Noah is praised for his obedience and righteousness.   Any Bible reader who wonders about the practical problems of the Ark story, or why Noah is the first recorded drunk in history, or how he was justified in cursing one third of his descendants to be slaves (because of his own drunken nakedness) is left wondering.

In discussing the important passage at the end of Malachi (4:6), the authors interpret it correctly (according to LDS doctrine) as foretelling the important work for the dead in the latter days.  They do not mention the problem with the text of this verse, however.   The King James Version and the Joseph Smith Translation, as well as the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 25:5-6) all have the identical wording.   However, the Prophet reports that the Angel Moroni, in his 1823 appearance, gave a somewhat different wording (JS-H 1:36,39).  And the authors do not mention that later even the Prophet disregarded both the words as given by Jesus (in the Book of Mormon) and the angel who had been custodian of the sacred record for fourteen centuries (and had presumably read it) in a sermon he delivered January 21, 1844 (History of the Church 6:183-184, also in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 330).

The authors ignore the difference between Malachi's "Sun of Righteousness" (4:2) and the Book of Mormon's"Son of Righteousness" (3 Nephi 25:2).  Perhaps they assume no one will notice?

Should not these variations be included, and clarified, if one is truly attempting to "unlock" the meaning of the passage?

This book will be useful to faithful Saints in preparing inspirational talks and in preparing for Gospel Doctrine classes.  For those who tend to ask hard questions or who need help in dealing with Old Testament problems that occur to them during their  own reading of passages not discussed in the lesson manual, this book will not unlock anything.  The authors could have done a great service to such Saints who want explanations rather than sermons.   It is an opportunity missed.

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