Sunday, November 2, 2008

Calling for a Moratorium on New Commentary Series

I recently checked the list of forthcoming commentaries on Jeremy Pierce's Parableman blog, and discovered 13 on Acts, 4 of which are due out this fall:
Loveday Alexander (Black's)
J. Bradley Chance (Smyth & Helwys)
Youngmo Cho (New Covenant)
Joel B. Green (NICNT, to replace F.F. Bruce)
Carl R. Holladay (New Testament Library)
Craig Keener (Eerdmans, not in a series)
Todd Penner (Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity)
Richard Pervo (Hermeneia, Nov 2008)
David Peterson (Pillar, probably late 2008 or early 2009)
Stanley Porter (NIGTC)
Mikeal C. Parsons (Paidaia, Nov 2008)
Eckhard J. Schnabel (Zondervan Exegetical)
Steve Walton, Acts 1-14 (Word, Nov 2008)
Steve Walton, Acts 15-28 (Word, Aug 2009)
J. Weatherley (Two Horizon's)
When you add in the 2007 contributions by Richard N. Longenecker (Expositor's) and Darrell Bock (Baker Exegetical), that makes 6 commentaries all coming out at more-or-less the same time--as if scholars wanted to be spared the burden of reading each other's work. These commentaries are in addition to the 50+ selected English language commentaries on Acts I included on my Acts syllabus for next semester.

A few of the forthcoming commentaries will join my old friends Gaventa, Fitzmyer, Johnson, Cadbury and Lake, Haenchen, Bruce, and especially Barrett, whose dry wit never fails to make me chuckle. Since I am teaching Acts next semester, I expect to purchase Pervo's and Walton's commentaries at SBL, perhaps Parsons' too, and I can't wait until Loveday Alexander's commentary in the reasonable-length Black's series comes out.

But why, friends, do we need a Zondervan Exegetical Commentary to go along with the Baker Exegetical Commentary and the Eerdmans Exegetical Commentary, etc.? Why do we need the 40 or so NT different commentary series on Jeremy's list if not to provide publishing opportunities for scholars and $ for publishers? As Max Weber observed long ago (and I read recently on Ben Myer's blog):
“Many elements conspire to render unlikely any serious possibility of a new communal religion borne by intellectuals…. Nor can a religious renascence be generated by the need of authors to compose books, or by the far more effective need of clever publishers to sell such books. No matter how much the appearance of a widespread religious interest may be simulated, no new religion has ever resulted from the needs of intellectuals or from their chatter. The whirligig of fashion will presently remove this subject of conversation and journalism, which fashion has made popular.”
Weber's prediction was wrong, but his diagnosis was, I think, correct in this case: Publishers sponsor commentary series because they can be counted on to sell consistently. Most of the commentaries will repeat the tired old comments that everyone else has made already. The result: Whoever wants to research a passage thoroughly has to wade through the sludge of similar material or ignore it altogether. It doesn't help scholarship. It doesn't really serve the church.

I wish more commentators would begin their writing with the customary apology for writing yet another commentary on this or that book, convince themselves that another commentary is not, in fact, needed and go on to something more productive for scholarship in general, and for the church in particular. What we need from a scholarly angle is more detailed long-term projects that actually make a contribution to knowledge--the kind that don't make money or advance careers in the short term. What we need from a pastoral angle is scholars who are in touch with the needs of the church, who are able to write well. The occasional popular level commentary by a fine scholar is okay, but we don't need 40 on each book.


Miss T said...

Prof. Miller,
It sounds like you've done some research on the number of commentaries for specific books of the Bible. Would you happen to have any data on the total number of New Testament Commentary Series that have been published, say in the last century or two or three?

Miss T.

d. miller said...

Hi Miss T.,

No I'm afraid I don't. There's a good list of current English commentary series here, though:

Miss T said...

THANKS! This will help. If you don't mind I have another question. Are you aware of any new testament commentaries series that have been published entirely in a Q & A format?

d. miller said...

No...Do you have anything specific in mind?