John D. Currid on Deuteronomy

With this commentary on Deuteronomy, John D. Currid (PhD, Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago) exposits this book as part of his series of Pentateuchal commentaries published in the EP Study Commentary Series.  Currid is an archaeologist and historian giving his work the benefit of addressing not only philological and theological questions, but concrete matters of social setting as well.  Furthermore, as a minister, Currid’s exposition is sensitive to the role of Deuteronomy as part of Christian scripture and witness to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In this review post, I will offer some praise and critique of this book.  My comments assume that the ideal reader of this commentary is the lay person interested in a detailed understanding of Deuteronomy.  It is not technical enough for the scholar, though pastors will likely find a good conversation partner in this volume insofar as Currid’s writing style seems to anticipate the kinds of questions lay people might ask thereby allowing pastors to have the right kinds of issues on their radar as they teach or preach the book.

Several items commend this volume to readers:

First, piggy backing on what I wrote above, this volume is thorough.  At 600+ pages, it is an exhaustive treatment of every pericope in Deuteronomy.  From history to theology to ritual, Currid has an answer and a footnote to support it.  Readers who are generally frustrated by commentaries that don’t address the specific verse they are pondering will find Currid to be very helpful.

Second, also piggy backing on what I said above, this volume is popular.  Usually thorough commentaries are written with the scholar, or at least trained clergy in mind.  Non experts will thus find themselves wading through pages devoted to literary and diachronic matters in which they have next to no interest.  Currid is both thorough and popular; in my estimation, a bright high school student or non-bible major college student, could use this volume in a research paper and benefit from the material.

Third, since Currid views Deuteronomy as an exposition of the 10 commandments, this volume will answer questions people have when studying how the OT can be used in Christian ethics.  Though I think this is a potential drawback of this volume as well, to be discussed in a moment, it is nevertheless a unique resource in this regard.  Most scholars who have looked at Deuteronomy in this way have only done so in article length studies (e.g., S.A. Kaufman and John H. Walton).  Currid’s commentary is a book-length attempt to flesh out what these writers have proposed.

Finally, Currid’s application section will no doubt be appreciated by lay readers with a desire to understand Deuteronomy as Christian scripture.

Several items also seem to leave this volume open to criticism:

First, noted above, Currid’s view that Deuteronomy is essentially an exposition of the 10 commandments is actually quite speculative.  Richard Nelson notes in his own commentary on Deuteronomy that there is no evidence for this interpretive approach prior to Philo and that it does require a bit of interpretive liberty to make the commandments “fit” just right.

Second, Currid’s read of Deuteronomy felt a bit “flat” and simplistic.  This writer found his treatment of Deut 12 (the law of centralization) and its relationship to Exod 20.22-26 to be very “pat.”  By assuming authorial unity (i.e., no evidence of later editing) to the book, Currid has basically ignored some of the tough questions regarding what appears to be a later innovation in Deuteronomy from that of the covenant code in Exodus.  Translation of the word זבח as “slaughter” instead of “sacrifice,” done only here in the OT, should warrant closer examination.  His discussion of the feasts in Deut 17, especially the translation of בשל as “boil” rather than “roast,” likewise receives far less treatment than it needed.  (He simply asserts his view, then defers to J.G. McConville in an end note.)  One can still argue for the unity of the book while facing these tensions a bit more head-on.

Finally, some matters of formatting are worth mentioning.  The volume uses end notes, cumbersome to begin with, but since the commentary divides each commandment exposition into a single chapter, figuring out which chapter you are in so as to find the correct endnote proved to be quite challenging.  Likewise, the price ($45.99 from the publisher), is quite steep for a lay resource.

Nevertheless, in spite of these critiques, Currid’s exposition of Deuteronomy will serve non experts well in their desire to understand this book.  While Currid’s approach is a very conservative one, this will no doubt be a strength for Christians of similar persuasion.  And yet, though writing as a conservative Reformed Christian, Currid’s willingness to treat Deuteronomy as a Suzerainty treaty (following M.G. Kline) is a strong move.  Many evangelicals believe such a position “sells out” the “uniqueness” of God’s word.  Currid’s exposition shows that this is certainly not the case.