On Writing Book Reviews on Commentaries

I am knee-deep in book reviews right now and a couple of them are biblical commentaries.  Now, given that commentaries are a standard and popular genre of biblical research and didactic literature, I think it is helpful to cover a number of things in a book review so that the reader can make a decision about consulting/purchasing that resource.  I have some basic things I think people would like to know about, but I very much welcome comments on what other things I have missed which readers would like to know (and the most salient and useful comments will be added to the main post).

1. Audience/Depth – who is the commentary written for and at what level of depth?  Pastors?  Scholars? Is Greek in the main text or footnotes?  Is it transliterated?

2. Originality – Does the author take a fresh or original approach to the book(s) or is he or she distilling and expanding on other commentaries (BTW – I don’t think the latter is bad)?

3. Methodological tendencies/leanings – What is the scholar’s approach to the text?  What does he or she tend to focus on?  Rhetoric?  Social-scientific matters?  Historical considerations?  Canonical criticism?  Jewish backgrounds/Old in New? (many are a combination, but they all show favored issues)

4. Theological tendencies – Does someone tend to beat the Calvin hammer or the Wesley hammer?  Does someone seem to drive a “universalist” agenda?  Or a particular view of atonement?  Complementarianism?

5. Handling of Key Problem Texts – How does the scholar approach/resolve some key difficult passages?

6. Blindingly obvious errors in the commentary

7. Format – Is the commentary readable; does it flow well?  Are there too many rabbit-trails?

8. Prolegomena – Often times some of the most interesting and creative stuff takes place in the introduction to the commentary where the background, approach, setting, orientation, theology, etc… all are discussed.  Is the intro especially useful?

9. Appended items –If there are useful appended items (charts, excurses, epilogue) what are they?

Are there major things I am missing?


4 thoughts on “On Writing Book Reviews on Commentaries

  1. Interesting blog Nijay which commentaries would you state meets your criteria. I have recently found Robert Jewett`s Commentary on Romans a fascinating read. It feels that he has left nothing possibly explains the size of the Commentary

  2. This is minor, but regarding #1, does the author’s work actually fit with their intended audience? I’ve read some books that are supposedly written to lay-people and then I find grad students, including myself, who cannot understand what’s going on.

  3. Nijay,
    This list looks very helpful. You seem to be covering the key aspects of commentaries. #1 for me is always the FULL bibliographical data with construction (HB, HB with DJ, or PB) and number of pages.

    In “Audience/Depth”, I assume that you would be identifying the Type/Style of commentary (exegetical, expositional, theological, devotional, or a combination of any of these). Along these same lines, it is helpful to know how often the commentator interacts with secondary sources.

    In my book reviews, I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can about the author’s background and previous work. Patterns are often illuminated that help to show what might be expected in the book being reviewed.

    Again, this looks great!

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