on 5 February 2015
I hope to give a more detailed review when I've read more of this tome. But for now here is why I bought it and will get the other three volumes.
Books by Keener, whether commentaries or otherwise, are a vast and detailed mine of information about the Greco-Roman world around the first century AD. You find out about customs, rhetoric, opinions, processes...all sorts of things that shed some times fascinating light on the Biblical text. If you are reading a Keener commentary, you will get this in spades, but not so much in the way of a normal higher end commentary. His aim is to focus on the socio-rhetorical aspects of the text, and will not spend a long or equal time on each verse, hammering out all the details such as you might find in a commentary from series such as New International Commentary on the Greek Testament, International Critical Commentary, Hermeneia, or even New International Commentary on the New Testament or the Pillar series, etc. So I find Keener (Ben Witherington offers the same kind of commentary) to be an essential addition to one or two of these major commentaries which will handles the whole text and the scholarly issues. Keener in this first volume does devote most of it to introductory scholarly issues, though he does write clearly and should be accessible to the interested non-scholars. As far as I can tell, Keener has translations for Greek and Hebrew, but often will offer the original word in brackets rather than present the Greek without explanation.
What I really like about these volumes (I own 1 and 3 so far) are the excurses. These are often fascinating and I really applaud the layout of the detailed contents page for each volume, where the various excurses are highlighted and therefore easy to find. Some examples are 'Ancient Physicians', 'The Sabbath in Early Judaism', 'Astrology', 'Proposed Backgrounds for Baptism', and from vol. 3, 'Dreams', 'Pythoness Spirits', 'Patrons, Clients, and Reciprocity', 'Demons and Spirit Possession'. In each excursus, Keener will go through the various sources, Jewish, Roman, Greek, Christian, etc, and will show how the topic in question operated or was viewed in all its shades and differences. Two striking ones for me in vol. 3 were on 'Purple' (as in the production of) and 'Suicide in Antiquity', the latter of which went into detail about what were the approved of and despised reasons for suicide (some reasons were romantic, others military, others for honour etc) and what methods or weapons were approved of (some were approved for women but not for men). This was in relation to the jailer who was preparing to commit suicide when he thought Paul had escaped.
Everything has a source - Keener doesn't make a statement without a footnote to a source. He seems to have read everything. It also helps you organise material and think through data. Unsurprisingly the bibliographies and indexes are so large that there are contained on CDs at the end of each volume!
Anyway, I hope to update this review later when I have read more, but to summarise - these volumes are very readable and a wealth of information on the ancient Greco-Roman world. The excurses alone will keep you dipping into these volumes, and they are easy to find thanks to the excellent layout of the contents. You will need another commentary, however, for detailed exegesis on each and every verse with more attention to the usual scholarly details. You also don't need to be a scholar to read these, or need to know the Biblical languages.