Wenham, Gordon J., Exploring the Old Testament, Volume 1: A Guide to the Pentateuch. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016. 226 pp.; Pb. $22.50. Link to IVP.
I have read three different books that provide a survey of the Pentateuch. The first was The Torah Story by Gary Edward Schnittjer, a large hardcover from Zondervan. The next two were read in tandem with one another—The Pentateuch: Introducing the Torah by Thomas Dozeman (Fortress Press); and the book for review today, Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Pentateuch. written by Gordon Wenham and published by IVP Academic. Gordon J. Wenham is lecturer in Old Testament at Trinity College in Bristol. Any familiar with his know the universal recognition he’s earned as an expert of the Pentateuch. IVP’s Exploring the Bible series is similar to other Biblical survey series. The purpose is to provide the foundational information for the literature being surveyed. In this volume, Wenham offers this overview in a succinct yet thorough fashion, albeit masterful.
Digging into the content of the book…
After the introductory materials, Wenham utilizes six chapters to present his overview of the Pentateuch. Each book of the Pentateuch receives its own chapter with the exception of Genesis which, like Wenham’s Word Biblical Commentary, is divided into two separate sections—the first is devoted to the primeval history (Gen. 1-11) and the second to the patriarchal narratives (Gen. 12-50). Each chapter of the book includes maps, charts and tables. I found this to be particularly helpful with the ANE parallels presented. It seems pretty standard for a student’s first exposure to ANE parallels to be in a class surveying the Pentateuch (especially with Genesis!); how Wenham presents them is incredibly clear and thought provoking with the questions he poses. The remaining chapters of the book deal with the Pentateuch’s theme, composition, and rhetoric. All three chapters are fruitful for engagement. Wenham approaches all three chapters the same, starting with a historical survey of scholarship, followed by his evaluation of the varying positions, and concluding with where he stands among them.
What needs to be mentioned on the chapters regarding composition and rhetoric is that they may call for supplementary resources depending on your area of study. This is not to criticize what Wenham provides in these fields, rather to an explanation for what is absent. To those considering purchase, be sure to remember that this book is an intermediate level resource targeting an audience being introduced to the Pentateuch. The amount of information on any one book of the Pentateuch is vast, let alone all five books in their entirety. Keeping this in mind, more than enough is provided in Wenham’s book. One does not need to seek different sources because of this unless they are in fact looking for a much deeper understanding of criticisms and their history in scholarship. For the purpose of this book, Wenham conveys an appropriate amount of information in an equally appropriate amount of space to befit the target audience.
This textbook is different…
Compared to the other Pentateuch surveys I’ve read, Wenham’s is unique in more ways than one. For starters, this is a paperback second edition of the hardcover first edition released in 2008. Hardcover books are clearly more durable than paperbacks, making them the preferred format if given the option. You can still purchase the hardcover version seeing that it is hardly dated. Be that as it may, the paperback edition is significantly less expensive. For students, this is huge. Why put sacrifice to practice on your “already too skimpy” wallet, when you can save the extra cash and just read about sacrifice in the Pentateuch instead? Another unique cost effective component is the lack of color in the book. All of the graphics and tables are black and white, and pictures are drawn rather than real-life shots. This may be a turn off to some, but the money you save is worth it.
My last observation distinguishing this survey from others is of authorship. To those familiar with my reviews, it is no secret that studying the Old Testament is still very new to me (regrettably so). Because of this, I haven’t engaged with many authors (outside of John H. Walton) consistently haven’t recommended many authors aside from John H. Walton because of this. Gordon Wenham, however, is without a doubt on an author I recommend to any level student of the Old Testament. Like Walton, his writing is crafted to draw students of the Bible in, regardless of education. He has authored advanced, intermediate, and introductory resources. I appreciate his ability to communicate with so much diversity; truly a gift I admire.
This is an excellent text for anyone seeking to gain basic knowledge about the Pentateuch. Given the purpose, I cannot note any particular weakness. Even in the content, Wenham presents his position against others in a way that is hardly biased, as well as both fair and respectable. If you want to save $15+ on a Pentateuch survey and don’t mind paperback books, then this is an outstanding resource introducing a deeper perception to the Torah and what it means for Israel. I highly recommend it.
Disclaimer: Thank you to InterVarsity Press for generously providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The thoughts expressed above are my own and were not influenced by their gesture.