1 & 2 Samuel. Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary

By Tony W. Cartledge
Macon, Ga. : Smyth & Helwys (2001). xx + 748 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Grisanti
15.2 (Fall 2004) : 247-248

As part of the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series, the present volume offers many features that facilitate one’s use of its contents. In addition to a full table of contents, the volume concludes with a complete bibliography, and several thorough indexes (modern authors, sidebars [explained below], Scriptures, and topics. The commentary series seeks to be visually stimulating, user-friendly, and provides an accompanying CD (containing the entire commentary text, sidebars, and visuals) that offers searching and research tools. Each commentary in this series employs “a stunning array of art, photographs, maps, and drawings to illustrate the truths of the Bible for a visual generation of believers” (xiv). Each chapter considers a pericope or textual unit and arranges the comments under two general headings: “Commentary” and “Connections.” The “commentary” section focuses on linguistic issues and historical concerns, seeking to explore the theological issues presented by the passage under consideration. The “connections” section presents potential applications of the insights given in the “commentary” section. Set off from the text of the commentary, in each commentary in this series, sidebars (or special-interest boxes) are provided with the following kinds of supplemental information: historical information, literary structure, definitions of technical or theological terms, insightful quotations, history of interpretation information, photographs or illustrations, related works of fine art. Each sidebar appears in color to provide a distinctive appearance.

Although Cartledge acknowledges that “a historical basis underlies the books of 1–2 Samuel,” he contends that what really happened “may be irretrievably buried beneath centuries of literary accretions” (10). He regards 1–2 Samuel as part of Deuteronomistic History, compiled fairly late in Israel’s history. He also views biblical history as often imaginative and imprecise and not necessarily factual (12). In spite of this, Cartledge makes numerous helpful observations on key passages throughout the books of Samuel.

This volume would not be the first commentary on 1–2 Samuel that a serious student of the Scriptures should buy, but it deserves a place on the shelf of a preacher who intends to preach through these two biblical books. The cost ($65.00) might be an obstacle for potential users. If possible, check the volume out from a nearby library and have a “courtship” with the book before purchasing it.