The HarperCollins Bible Commentary, published in 2000, is a good volume to have sitting on one's shelf. So far as one-volume commentaries are concerned, this one is accessible, authoritative, and well conceived and written. 'The Commentary covers all of the Hebrew Bible, as well as the books of the Apocrypha and those of the New Testament, and thus addresses the biblical canons of Judaism, Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. Its innovative format covers the books of the Bible in three ways.'
These three ways include general essays that set context (literary, historical, sociological, etc.), major sections of the Bible, and individual commentaries on each book.
This book is the product of a cooperative effort between HarperCollins Publishers (a major publisher in the field of biblical and religious material, both scholarly and popular) and the Society of Biblical Literature (the major academic group of biblical scholars, of which I am a member). The range of contributors is international in scope, as well as incorporating the views of scholars and researchers from many faith traditions and points of view regarding the biblical text.
The general editor is James L. Mays, professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia. Associate editors include Joseph Blenkinsopp, Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Jon D. Levenson, Wayne A. Meeks, Carol A. Newsom, David L. Petersen, and Gene M. Tucker - a list of names second to none in the field of biblical studies, and a testament to the authoritative nature of this book, as well as its depth and accessibility.
'The positions and approaches presented in this volume represent the mainstream of scholarship typical of the Society of Biblical Literature; eccentric and improbable positions are avoided. The individual commentaries and articles, however, do express the learning and judgment of their authors as scholars. As a result, the volume includes a rich diversity of biblical scholarship. Those who use this Commentary encounter the variety that characterizes the continuing work of scholarship on the Bible rather than the single approach of one school of interpretation.'
This is meant to be a companion to the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, a book widely used as in homes, libraries, churches and classrooms for background material and ready reference. I had always considered the Dictionary to be a companion volume to the HarperCollins Study Bible, one of the more authoritative and annotated volumes of the New Revised Standard Version around (because Oxford University Press dragged its heels at getting the NRSV out in their version, HarperCollins has managed to steal Oxford's old pre-eminence). This Commentary is designed to be a companion volume to any English Bible, not just the HarperCollins versions, and not just the NRSV.
The introductory essay talks about the Bible as a whole, its history and development, with particular attention given to the stages of writing and development. For those studious enough to have compared Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Jewish Bibles, one finds many things that are different - the order of the Old Testament, for instance, is not the order of the Hebrew Bible, hence it is inaccurate to call the Old Testament the Hebrew Bible, and vice versa. The ordering makes a difference. Also, the apocryphal books (and sections in canonical books) have an ambiguous relationship both with the Jewish and Christian canons. To this discussion, Fred Craddock (the author of the introduction) concludes that the canon serves a purpose, whichever canon one might be speaking of.
'The community of faith embracing the canon has said yes to certain books and no to others. Individual preferences among believers has not altered that fact. ... Each community in each generation does not create its own Bible. The church exists in time and over time with traditions and memories received and passed along. The closing of the canon ensures that the process will not cease and that no one will chop down the family tree, no matter how strange the birds nesting in its branches.' After illuminating essays, the commentary is arranged in general order by broad section: Biblical History (those books that give a narrative historical tone, Genesis - Chronicles); Psalms and Wisdom (included in this are the books of Job and Song of Songs); the Prophetic Works (the major and minor prophets); the Apocrypha (Catholic and Orthodox); New Testament Narratives (gospels and Acts); and Books in the Form of Letters.
My general practice is to disapprove of reliance on one commentary only. For depth and breadth of interpretation, one really needs to consult many different treatments of texts. However, for many, the limitations of time and finances prevent having a number of separate commentaries on individual biblical books, much less a range of commentaries on each one. I think that the HarperCollins Bible Commentary will be to those who are looking for insight and assistance in interpretation but haven't the resources for research a worthwhile volume as companion to their Bible.