Book Review: The First Book of Samuel, Part I

Tsumura, David Toshio. The First Book of Samuel. NICOT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007. (WTS Book Store) 

This book was an exciting “purchase” for me, being that I did not have to really spend money on it. I confess that I do not know Hebrew (well, I know the alphabet and I’m working on the vowel pointings), so this review is definitely incomplete. But I have read a reasonable amount about the condition of the Hebrew text of Samuel and about narrative in general so that I can at least give some thoughts about the potential impact of this volume on the first half of Samuel. In general, since And that is my focus. I’ll be writing less about the commentary itself (mainly because I have not yet finished it yet). The commentary proper will come later in a later installment of this review.

Because my focus in study is consistently the New Testament, mainly Ephesians, but Pauline theology in general, some might wonder why I’m reading this. Simply put, I love the OT. I love reading OT commentaries. Currently besides this one, I’m also reading Bruce Waltke on Proverbs (I’m in chapter 13) and J. A. Thompson on Jeremiah. I’ve also read Tremper Longman III on Song of Songs with my wife, bits of VanGemeren, Broyles, and Craige on Psalms, and Hamilton, Brueggemann and Matthews on Genesis. In terms of OT study, my favorite books are the Wisdom books, but I really love all of them.

Tsumura has been a quickly growing name in OT studies, particularly because of his work in Linguistics, narrative, cognate languages, and discourse analysis – all of which he puts to good use in this first volume on Samuel.

His introduction falls twelve parts, dealing with the title, text, date and authorship, background, grammar and syntax, discourse analysis, prose and poetry, literary structure, theology, purpose, outline, and bibliography. Total, Tsumura’s introduction fill an impressive 99 pages out of 698 for the book (there will be more introduction to come in the second volume dealing with 2 Samuel as well!). This leaves an impressive 557 pages of commentary on 1 Samuel. Tsumura’s volume is comparative in length to Omanson and Ellington’s Translator’s Handbook volume for the same book, but almost twice as much commentary than Ralph Klein’s WBC volume (three times as much introduction). Presently, I do not have access to McCarter.

I. Title:

The first section, “Title,” simply explains the difference between the LXX, DSS, and MT texts of Samuel.

II. Text:

This is the first major section of the book, being that “Title” only last for just over a page. The section is divided into two sections, one of which focuses on the history of research in Textual Criticism. Within this section, he describes the strengths and weaknesses of the past. During the pre-Dead Sea Scrolls era, the MT was viewed as thoroughly corrupt. Thus, in general, the text of the book was always put together with extreme eclecticism. The LXX showed vast differences at times. Textual Emendation was always done at some point. According to Tsumura, the problem with the activities of this era were than often times, the divergent text of the LXX could easily be seen as simply an attempt at glossing a difficult reading that paralleled that of the MT.

The discoveries at Qumran shook the world for textual study of Samuel since three different manuscripts were found. The results were that many people concluded that the LXX and the Qumran texts express a divergent tradition to that of the MT. In general scholarship is divided. Some think that original readings are found in one of the texts we have today. But others believe that at many points we have no access to any sort of original text. Tsumura criticizes McCarter saying,

There are strong objections to the validity of [McCarter’s] eclectic text. One major one is that, unlike the case of the NT, there are not enough witnesses to reconstruct a primitive text of Samuel…. At times there is no way to account for the readings based on textual evidence, and so decisions are made ad sensum. Especially in the case of the Qumran texts, we really have only one manuscript (“scroll”), since only in the case of 4QSama can we be reasonably sure that we have what could be called a biblical text (6).

Regarding the text of Samuel, Tsumura makes the following cautious conclusion to the history of TC:

Though there is not enough evidence available now to make final decisions, it is also wise not to give up the possibility of approaching a more original text in the future (6).

The second section dealing with the text introduces. Most notable in the section is Tsumura’s examples for dealing with certain kinds of textual problems in Samuel. He argues that relying on the LXX for making conclusions when the LXX has an easier text goes against lecio difficilior.

“But because the LXX translators were working from an MT-like text which they also found difficult … they made their own best guess as to what it meant. After all, as translators they felt they had to produce meaningful Greek (7).

One principle Tsumura introduces is the possibility of phonetic spellings for some Hebrew words. He argues that at times, difficult text are not scribal errors, but rather of someone writing the words the way they were pronounced..

For example, watte‘azzerēnî [I’m having trouble displaying Hebrew text] is usual taken to be corrupt. However, actually, the spelling probably reflects the phonetic realization of the word, that is how it was actually pronounced, rather than a copyist’s misreading. Since the form watte‘azzerēnî seems to be the original and normal form, as attested in Ps. 18.40 (MT) and 2 Sam. 22.40 (4QSama), the MT form might be explained as a sandhi [the fusion of two vowels] spelling as follows:

watte‘azzerēnî

  • (loss of the intervocalic aleph) -> watteazzerēnî
  • (vowel sandhi) -> wattazzerēnî
  • (shorter form) -> wattazrēnî

(Page 9)

He also argues that some instances of the text are idiomatic expressions that went out of use as the language changed and thus lost to later readers.

Now, I admit, once again, that my Hebrew is limited to the alphabet, but it seems that his solutions for the text makes a lot of sense here, as are his other explanations of why the MT can be trusted as not quite as corrupt than has been thought. Tsumura’s explanations have a simplicity to them that makes them conclusive. In spite of my Hebrew weakness, I do think that Ockam’s Razor applies quite nicely to his discussions of the text and text criticism.

NEXT–> Part II

4 thoughts on “Book Review: The First Book of Samuel, Part I

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