While all are united in their belief in the divine inspiration, essential trustworthiness and practical relevance of the sacred writings, individual authors have freely made their own contributions within the limits of the space available. These restrictions on length - essential if the books are to be produced at reasonable prices - bear more hardly on authors handling larger books. This is one reason why commentaries in the series will differ from each other in treatment, a fact exemplified by the two contributions brought together in this volume. Another is the impossibility, and indeed undesirability, of imposing detailed uniformity of method in the handling of such varied subject matter, form and style as the books of the Old Testament.
In the Old Testament in particular no single English translation is adequate to reflect the original text. The authors of these commentaries freely quote various versions, therefore, or give their own translation, in the endeavour to make the more difficult passages or words meaningful today.Where necessary, words from the Hebrew (and Aramaic) Text underlying their studies are transliterated. This will help the reader who may be unfamiliar with the Semitic languages to identify the word under discussion and thus to follow the argument. It assumed throughout that the reader will have ready access to one, or more, reliable rendering of the Bible in English.
There are signs of a renewed interest in the meaning and message of the Old Testament and it is hoped that this series will thus further the systematic study of the revelation of God and his will and ways as seen in these records. It is the prayer of the editor and publisher, as of the authors, that these books will help many to understand, and to respond to, the Word of God today.
D. J. Wiseman
Few periods in Israel's eventful history are as important as the period of the judges.During these centuries the nation took the wrong turning that led to her downfall and near-destruction. The apostasy of the later generations has its origin in the early years of the settlement, and there is a clear line between the time when the nation first went after Baal and the dark age when the Jerusalem Temple itself was defiled with all the trappings of the Baal worship, not excluding cultic prostitutes (2 Kgs 23:4-7). There is much in Judges to sadden the heart of the reader; perhaps no book in the Bible witnesses so clearly to our human frailty. But there are also unmistakable signs of the divine compassion and long-suffering. It may be that the modern reader of Judges will hear the warning voice of the Spirit, `This is not the way, walk ye not in it.' Or, as the lives of these lesser-saviours are considered, there may be a realization of the need in modern times of a greater Saviour, of unblemished life, who is able to effect a perfect deliverance, not only in time but for eternity.
I am conscious of the limitations of this commentary especially when the need for brevity has led to an over-simplification of some of the problems, but I trust that the advanced student will not be misled, even if discussion of some technical points has had to be curtailed. An endeavour has been made to set the history and religion of the period in the wider sweep of the biblical revelation. Many students shrink from the very immensity of the Old Testament, including as it does 39 books, covering over 1500 years and involving so many other nations besides Israel. But there are rich rewards waiting those who make the effort to grasp the detail of the historical revelation. Books that were treasured before will shine with a new lustre and the Bible itself will come alive in a new way. Incidentally, Judges is one of the books where the use of a good Bible atlas is essential. ...
Arthur E. Cundall
(From the) AUTHOR'S PREFACE (Ruth)
There are not many commentaries in English on the book of Ruth, so no apology is needed for producing this one. It is meant primarily for the general reader. For this reason it is not a technical work, and the translation most often referred to is the Authorized Version, since this is most generally available. But I hope that the general reader will not mind the fact that, since there are so few commentaries on this book, I have sometimes ventured on a rather technical piece of information for the benefit of the student who reads Hebrew. These notes are all brief and can be passed over by those who have no use for them.
It may help, too, if I explain for the non-Hebraist that Hebrew was originally (and often still is) written without vowels.When we speak of `the consonantal text' we mean the text written without vowels. Usually this presents no problem, for the Hebraist becomes quite used to reading the vowelless text. Now and then it results in ambiguity, for it is sometimes possible to think of more than one set of vowels which might be supplied to the consonants. Because of this there are some passages where the possibilities must be looked at very carefully.
In the early centuries of our era certain Jewish scholars, whom we call `the Massoretes', did a great deal of work on the text of the Hebrew Bible. They compared the manuscripts known to them and copied only those which seemed superior. In this way they standardized the text, which is thus called `the Massoretic text'. And, as a help to those who followed them, they developed a system for indicating the vowels which the consonantal text lacked. They had a great reverence for the sacred text, so they did not disturb it. Their vowel-signs, or `points', were little marks for the most part placed above or below the consonants. This process is called `pointing', and the old text they worked on may be called `the unpointed text' as well as `the consonantal text'.
Before the Massoretes did their work, the Old Testament was translated into Greek, the translation being called `the Septuagint'. This translation sometimes appears to have been made from a text slightly different from the Massoretic, and it thus repays careful study. Almost all the Hebrew manuscripts of the biblical books known to us contain the Massoretic text. Thus lacking anything with which to compare it, we cannot tell whether the Massoretes decided wisely or not. But when the Septuagint enables us to say, `such and such a Hebrew text must have been before the translators who produced this translation', we can compare this reading with that in the Massoretic text. The Septuagint is thus valuable as giving us information about textual variants which otherwise would be lost to us. A similar comment may be made about other ancient translations, notably those into Latin and Syriac.
The book of Ruth is sometimes regarded as very simple, so simple indeed that no commentary on it is required. Obviously I do not share that opinion! It is true that much in the book is straightforward. But it is also true that there are quite a few difficulties, including some which seem insoluble in the light of our present knowledge. But there is much that can be learned from a close study of the text, and by taking into consideration recent archaeological discoveries, notably those at Mari, Nuzi, Alalakh and Ugarit. I trust that this commentary will be useful in helping to bring before the general reader some of this new knowledge. ...