4 Stars Out Of 5
A Solid Commentary
May 2, 2012
Ross's introductory section (180 pages!) covers some of the typical issues (date, authorship, provenance, etc.) encountered in most commentaries, but he doesn't devote whole sections to them. He instead intersperses discussion of these issues throughout the commentary itself as he finds them relevant. His attention then is paid to matters that are more particular to the psalter: abbreviations, the psalms' value, the text and versions of the psalms, and titles and headings. Reading through these chapters shows the reader the psalms' truly variegated nature. Following these chapters, Ross attends to other matters that are more broadly applicable, but important for understanding the psalms. These chapters cover the history of interpretation (which shows quite a diversity of approaches), biblical poetry (a notoriously untamable beast!), literary forms and functions in the psalms, theology of the psalms, and an exposition of the psalms. I won't deal with these sections except to say they are helpful in equipping the reader with the appropriate tools necessary to begin the interpretive process in the psalter.
Though I've not read many commentaries on the psalter (and what I have read has been on particular psalms, never a whole volume), I've worked with them enough to know what I expect from the commentary in general and whether or not it will be helpful to the overall interpretive process. I can say that after my examination of Ross's commentary I am assured that many will find great help in this volume (and presumably the coming volumes 2 and 3), even those whose training in Hebrew far exceed my own.
Perhaps the most commendable aspect of this commentary is its accessibility, a goal that many commentators either eschew or miss altogether. To benefit from Ross' commentary one need not have advanced knowledge of Hebrew to work through the exegetical discussions. However, some facility in Hebrew will be beneficial, perhaps even necessary, to fully benefit from Ross's work. Ross, whom I know primarily through his introductory Hebrew grammar, offers plenty in the way of grammatical analysis and categorization of usage. While for me this is helpful, it may not be to some, only because some of the categories require minor explanations (which are standard fare in Hebrew grammars). In fact, it's the one element that stands out about this volume in comparison to other commentaries on the same level, which is why I say some facility in Hebrew will help gain the fullest benefit from the commentary (just keep Ross's grammar handy and you're good to go!).
Another feature that I appreciate is the absence of transliterations. I am no fan of them so I was glad to see that Ross does not employ it, but rather puts terms/phrases being discussed in quotes as a translation and provides the Hebrew in parentheses. I also appreciate the relegation of more technical discussion to the footnotes (and by implication the absence of endnotes!), which of course is the whole purpose of footnotes, thereby providing opportunities for deeper study for those interested. I must admit that at times I was a little frustrated that the information I was after was in the footnotes and didn't receive quite the attention I would have liked, but again this is in a way a commendation for Ross for keeping more technical points and discussions out of the main text.
One other interesting aspect of the commentary is its layoutâ€”each psalm is arranged structurally according to the Hebrew text, yet Ross takes another step and arranges the discussion homiletically. For those teaching or preaching through the psalms, this could be a great help.
I did encounter a few minor annoyances while reading through the commentary. For one, there is the occasional use of rather esoteric vocabulary. Because of the nature of Hebrew poetry, some technical jargon is to be expected and thankfully Ross keeps it to a minimum; yet, the presence of words such as epizeuxis and tapeinosis aren't really necessary in a commentary written on this level, even with brief definitions provided. Second, there were a few instances in which I was hoping for a more helpful discussion in the footnotes (as I mentioned above). For example, in the discussion of Psalm 22, Ross claims that Jesus' enemies knew Psalm 22 as a messianic psalm and thus quoted from it in order to mock and deride Jesus as he suffered (536). While I find it very likely that by the time of Christ's death this psalm was being read through a messianic lens, Ross only points to one example from Jewish literature that substantiates this idea. I only wish there were more discussion of this. Again, this is comparatively minor complaint, especially given the detail some Hebrew words/concepts are given, but I hoped for a little more here. Third and finally, I had hoped for a little more background to explain the figurative language that permeates many of the psalms. I am certainly not saying such was entirely absentâ€”hardly! The literal reality that stands behind figurative speech can really bring the text to life and such is the case when Ross fills us in, but it's not quite enough to satisfy me. Again, this is more a personal preference and not necessarily a critique of Ross.
You might think that a commentary that addresses 41 psalms in just over 700 pages (for the commentary proper) would be verbose, but not so. Part of this is due to the length of some of the psalms themselves and part is due to Ross's extensive footnoting (as previously mentioned), but in general he provides rather concise discussion for each psalm. Ross's style is easily read and never comes across as pedantic and that makes this particular volume quite handy. Again, this series is not going to be as helpful to some (those whose own scholarly pursuits intersect with the material presented), but there is more than enough insight and exposition to benefit the vast majority of those for whom it was written. I would recommend this volume to any who are studying the psalms, but especially for those whose training in Hebrew and OT is/has been minimal.