Monday, July 21, 2008

Why So Many Biblical Commentaries?

The Commentary
Have you every wondered why biblical scholars write so many commentaries on biblical books? Prof. Alan Lenzi has some very interesting reflections on the question over on his blog (click here).

I'm sure it's true that much commentary writing is just the field re-writing itself on a cyclical basis---and the cycles seem to be getting shorter all the time! Makes you wonder if all your efforts as an author will really be remembered for long! On the other hand, I think of many useful commentaries that have appeared since I was in divinity school, that the church and the guild really are the richer for.

3 Comments:

Blogger thomas bushnell, bsg said...

i come at the question as a medievalist. for the medievals, commentary writing was the most essential genre. why are there many commentaries on Peter Lombard's Sentences? simple: it was a school exercise that everyone getting a degree from the Faculty of Theology had to complete. likewise, there are a jillion commentaries on the Nicomachean Ethics because the Faculty of Arts required it. (speaking here of Paris, but the story is the same elsewhere with the details shifted slightly.)

now, why are there lots of commentaries on Mark or Genesis? because--get this--the situation is exactly the same as it was in the middle ages. (can anyone say "tenure"?)

now, the next scene is a little different. the key about medieval commentary is that the commentary is a genre used to talk about whatever you want. think of Barth's commentary on Romans. or Gregory the Great's Moralia in Job. or Abelard's commentaries on ancient logic.

but getting there requires a different attitude about the text than the one most commentary authors have, whether conservative or liberal.

Mon Jul 21, 11:04:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Another phenomenon that's really interesting is the Jewish tradition of "super-commentary," that is, a commentary on the meaning of a commentary! But it's true about the elasticity of the genre. With some well know OT commentaries, you are essentially getting an occassion for presenting encylopedic information about the biblical world...

Tue Jul 22, 10:06:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Jonathan Bartlett said...

I think the underlying reason is we are too attached to our intellectual property. What if we treated commentaries like public property? Then you wouldn't have to re-create the wheel, you would just have to add to the public knowledge?

Thu Jul 24, 02:34:00 PM GMT-5  

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