Commentaries: Judges (WBC 8)
Judges. Revised edition. Trent C. Butler. Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 8. Grand Rapids, Michigan. Zondervan, 2014. ISBN 9780310521754
Judges by Trent Butler is an outstanding addition both to the Word Biblical Commentary series and to scholarly literature on the book of Judges, being both very readable and rigorously scholarly. Butler’s approach is conservative and up-to-date, arguing for an early composition date and treating Judges as a literary unit. The volume contains an extensive and helpful bibliography and appendix of tables. The occasional division of the text into units of three or more chapters makes parts of this volume cumbersome, but Judges remains exceedingly useful and scholarly.
Judges by Trent Butler is an outstanding addition both to the Word Biblical Commentary series and to scholarly literature on the book of Judges. The purpose of the WBC series is to publish exegetical commentaries that remain accessible and useful to those without a strong background in biblical languages. Butler’s volume excels in both categories. It is consistently very readable while being insightful at the highest level and demonstrating a mastery of a remarkable range of scholarly literature. The bibliography is especially impressive and useful, being functionally a one-stop shop for what seems like almost every article, monograph, or commentary published on Judges in the last 100 years.
Butler’s method is measured, up-to-date, and conservative. He avoids idiosyncratic interpretations and text reconstructions, typically giving the Masoretic text the benefit of the doubt. While acknowledging the likelihood of compositional layers, Butler largely deals with Judges as a literary unity. His dating of the book’s final form is early by contemporary standards, somewhere in the reign of Rehoboam, which in his view accounts for the strong anti-Ephraim polemic and the less pronounced anti-Benjamin one. It would also appear to account for the book’s mixed attitude toward kingship in Israel. One of Butler’s most interesting contributions to the discussion of the structure of Judges is his assertion that Judges is strategically deconstructing everything that the book of Joshua constructs, thus arguing for intentional intertextuality (Butler also wrote the WBC volume 7 on the book of Joshua). The appendix contains 52 pages of tables containing a wide variety of helpful data conveniently arranged, many dealing with plot analyses according to the categories of both narratology and form-criticism.
The organization of WBC is typically very helpful, each passage being divided into a translation by the author with textual notes, a section on Form/Structure/Setting, a section labeled Comment (organized verse-by-verse or phrase-by-phrase), and a section labeled Explanation (to bring it all together). In most (but not all) WBC volumes I have encountered, the size of the passage of Biblical text for each section relates to the size of text one would single out for a sermon or basic exegetical paper, usually one chapter or less.
Butler’s volume is inconsistent in this respect. Particularly in the case of the Gideon and Samson stories, multiple chapters are grouped together (6-8 and 13-16). While the desire to look at these passages as a complete unit is laudable and even necessary, it does have the unfortunate side-effect of rendering these sections somewhat cumbersome to use. For example, if one were to want to see what Butler had to say on 6:11-24 (the appearance of the angel of the LORD to Gideon), a typical length of text for most standard usages, one has to flip among pages 181, 186, 192-196, 199-204, and 224-225 (not to mention any relevant information in the introduction), and it is possible that some comment Butler makes in the gaps might have significance, as well. This is a lot of busy work for the person who is not aiming at mastery of the whole Gideon story, or who has a very specific question of the text. Much better would have been for Butler to do with chapters 6-8 what he did with chapters 4-5: treat them separately and include an excursus at the end of the section that deals with overall issues. The grouping of 13-16 is even less justifiable, in my opinion, because of the even longer text and the less certain macro-structure.
Who Should Use This Commentary?
Butler’s WBC commentary on Judges largely manages to achieve the commentary “sweet-spot” – that magical place where a book is useful to the widest range of people, including pastors and educating lay-people as well as scholars doing highest level research. That being said, this volume, just like every volume of the WBC, will likely leave a beginner to the Bible, or even to the book of Judges, bewildered simply because of the sheer amount of information it conveys. There are other, more accessible commentaries on Judges if you are needing an introduction to the book or even if you are approaching it for serious study for the first time. K. Lawson Younger’s NIVAC volume is more user friendly, and the whole series is designed from the ground up to be appropriate for popular audiences. However, if you are a layperson with some experience with the book of Judges, or if you are a pastor needing high quality reference works, Butler’s commentary can function as your one and only commentary on Judges.
Because of its rigorous scholarship and consistent readability, Judges by Trent Butler should become and will remain a benchmark among Judges commentaries which will more than adequately serve the needs of a variety of users.
- Nearly 100 pages of introductory front matter
- Detailed treatment of the text with textual as well as theological analyses
- Revised in 2014
- Measured, conservative, and rarely if ever idiosyncratic
- Unmatched bibliography
- Accessibly written yet uncompromising in its level of detail
- Uneven division of the text results in a somewhat cumbersome experience when searching for all the comments on a single verse or short passage
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Judges: Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 8 [WBC] (Revised)