>A God So Near

>The following book review was published in Review and Expositor 101 (2004): 782-784.

A God So Near: Essays on Old Testament Theology in Honor of Patrick D. Miller, ed. by Brent S. Strawn and Nancy R. Bowen. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2003. xviii + 439 pp. $47.50. ISBN 1-57506-067-1.

This volume contains a collection of twenty-four essays dedicated to Patrick D. Miller, Charles T. Haley Professor of Old Testament Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. Professor Miller has made significant contributions to the study of the Psalms and the book of Deuteronomy. The essays written in Miller’s honor reflect the interest of the honoree. The articles deal with the books of Psalms and Deuteronomy and other topics that are related to the main focus of the festschrift. The theological emphasis of many of the articles reflects Miller’s concern to bring together the work of academia and the work of the church.

The book is divided into two sections. Part I, entitled “‘Near Whenever We Call’: God’s Nearness in Israel’s Crying Out (The Psalms and Beyond),” contains the following essays:

“Reading the Lament Psalms Backwards” by H. G. M. Williamson (pp. 3-15); “‘Without Our Aid He Did Us Make’: Singing the Meaning of the Psalms” by W. Sibley Towner (pp. 17-34); “The So-Called Elohist Psalter: A New Solution for an Old Problem” by Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger (pp. 35-51); “A Fairy Tale Wedding: A Feminist Intertextual Reading of Psalm 45” by Nancy R. Bowen (pp. 53-71); “Notes on Psalm 93: A Fragment of a Liturgical Poem Affirming Yahweh’s Kingship” by Frank Moore Cross (pp. 73-77); “There the Blessing: An Exposition of Psalm 133” by James Luther Mays (pp. 79-90); “Certainty, Ambiguity, and Trust: Knowledge of God in Psalm 139” by Carolyn Pressler (pp. 91-99); “Quoth the Raven: Psalm 147 and the Environment” by James Limburg (pp. 101-111); “Prayer and/a Self-Address: The Case of Hanna” by J. Gerald Janzen (pp. 113-27); “Naomi’s Cry: Reflection on Ruth 1:20-21” by Katharine Doob Sakenfeld (pp. 129-43); “Jonah 2: A Prayer Out of the Deep” by Gerhard Sauter (pp. 145-52); “Songs in a New Key: The Psalmic Structure of the Chronicler’s Hymn (1 Chr 16:8-36)” by Mark A. Throntveit (pp. 153-70); and “Wild, Raging Creativity: The Scene in the Whirlwind (Job 38-41)” by Kathleen M. O’Connor (pp. 171-179).

Part II, entitled “‘As Just as This Entire Law’: God’s Nearness in the Torah (Deuteronomy and Beyond),” contains the following essays:

“Law in the Service of Life: A Dynamic Understanding of Law in Deuteronomy” by Terence E. Fretheim (pp. 183-200); “How Does Deuteronomy Do Theology? Literary Juxtaposition and Paradox in the New Moab Covenant in Deuteronomy 29-32” by Dennis T. Olson (pp. 201-213); “Keep/Observe/Do–Carefully–Today! The Rhetoric of Repetition in Deuteronomy” by Brent A. Strawn (pp. 215-40); “Divine Warrior Theology in Deuteronomy” by Richard D. Nelson (pp. 241-59); “Reading Deuteronomy 5 as Narrative” by Norbert Lohfink (pp. 261-81); “The Travail of Pardon: Reflections on slH” by Walter Brueggemann (pp. 283-97); “Circumcision of the Heart: The Journey of a Biblical Metaphor” by Werner E. Lemke (pp. 299-319); “Huldah, the Prophet: Reading a (Deuteronomistic) Woman’s Identity” by Renita J. Weems (pp. 321-39); “Prophets and Kings: A New Look at the Royal Persecution of Prophets against Its Near Eastern Background” by J. J. M. Roberts (pp. 341-54); “From Mountain to Mountain: The Reign of God in Daniel 2” C. L. Seow (pp. 355-74); and “Sola Scriptura? The Authority of the Bible in Pluralistic Environments” by Michael Welker (pp. 375-391).

The book concludes with a bibliography of the works of Patrick Miller written by Brent A. Strawn covering the years 1964-2001 (pp. 393-416). The 372 entries in the bibliography demonstrate the breadth and scope of Miller’s work and the influence he has exerted in Old Testament studies. The book also includes an index of authors and an index of Scriptures cited.

Because of limitations only a few articles are discussed here. Williamson’s essay begins the collection by offering an alternative interpretation to the accepted view that the psalms of a lament should be read from the perspective of the actual time of the suffering of the psalmist. He proposes the view that many of the psalms of lament should be understood from the situation presented at the end of these psalms. Thus, according to Williamson, the psalms of lament should be understood from the context of thanksgiving and celebration that arises after deliverance has been experienced and at the time the payment of the vows the psalmist had promised is made.

Fretheim’s article deals with a dynamic understanding of the laws of the Pentateuch and how individual laws can be applied to Christian faith and practice. Fretheim sees the laws of the Pentateuch as a gracious gift of God to Israel. These laws were given to Israel “for the sake of life, health, and well-being of individuals in community” (p. 184). Since life changes with time, the laws of the Pentateuch cannot be understood as unchangeable. The book of Deuteronomy offers many changes to the laws in the Book of the Covenant. These changes reflect the way God deals with his people. Since Christians also deal with the laws of the Pentateuch, Christians must study each and every law of the Pentateuch in order to discover whether these laws contribute to the health and well-being of the community.

Walter Brueggemann discusses the theme of Israel’s disobedience and divine pardon. Although Yahweh is known as a God who pardons the iniquity of his people, his pardon is not readily granted. Brueggemann declares that the issue of pardon is not a primary emphasis in Deuteronomy, for Israel was expected to obey the demands of the Law. The consequences of disobedience would be judgment and exile and Deuteronomy emphasizes that Yahweh was “unwilling to pardon” (Deut. 29:20) those who abandoned Yahweh to follow other gods This unwillingness to pardon was reaffirmed to Israel because of this sins of Manasseh. Brueggemann studies the biblical material to discover whether the concept of pardon was a theme in the theology of exile. At the end of his study, Brueggemann discovers that the biblical material concerning divine pardon goes from “absolute rejection . . . to a bid for repentance . . . through an insistence on the cruciality of obedience without pardon . . . to a full, unilateral pardon without reference to repentance” (p. 293).

These and the other essays contributed to this festschrift merit careful study for the contribution they make to Old Testament scholarship. The essays are a fitting recognition of the life and work of Patrick Miller and of the impact he has made on the life of his students and on those who admire his works.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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