Jack R. Lundbom is a life member at Clare Hall, Cambridge University, and author of several works of biblical studies including Jeremiah Closer Up and The Hebrew Prophets: An Introduction.
We recently had the opportunity to ask Lundbom a few questions about his newest book, Deuteronomy: A Commentary, which was released earlier this month. We’ll be sharing our conversation with him today and tomorrow here on EerdWord.
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EerdWord: You open your new commentary on Deuteronomy with some insightful comments on its significance for both Jews and Christians. In what ways do both the Jewish and Christian traditions owe their theological identities to the book of Deuteronomy?
Lundbom: For the Jewish people, the Shema in 6:4 affirming only one God is all-important. Jewish people also have education and benevolence at the heart of their faith, and both are rooted in the teachings of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is the source for basic theological ideas such as the election of Israel as a holy people, and Israel’s gift of the land. Jewish people have also learned from Deuteronomy the need to teach God’s mighty acts and the obligation to honor God’s covenant with Israel to their children.
Christian belief takes over all of this, and its emphasis on the love of God — which many think is a distinctively Christian idea — comes straight out of Deuteronomy. The Christian Church also takes seriously the prophetic message, which is well summarized in the Song of Moses (Deut. 32), as well as the conditional nature of the Horeb (Sinai) covenant. The latter is important background for the Church’s appropriation of the new covenant announced in Jer. 31:31-34.
EerdWord: What is distinct about your approach to interpreting Deuteronomy in this commentary? How does your volume stand apart from other major works on the subject?
Lundbom: I give considerable attention to the rhetoric of Deuteronomic discourse, which highlights its character as “preached law,” and not infrequently is a key to meaning and interpretation. I bring in a substantial number of parallels to Deuteronomy from ancient Near Eastern law, showing that some of Deuteronomy’s teachings are well documented in the law codes of other ancient societies. My commentary also lifts up (more than most commentaries) key theological ideas in the book, e.g., the love of God, the love for God, the fear (= reverence) of God, God’s faithfulness to his promises, the righteousness and justice of God, and, above all, the importance of doing the commandments. The Deuteronomic statutes and ordinances are not simply something you believe in; they are something you do.
EerdWord: One of the key features of your commentary, then, seems to be its emphasis on rhetorical criticism. What is special about the way in which Deuteronomy uses language that makes this such a worthwhile strategy?
Lundbom: By paying attention to the many repetitions in the discourse of Deuteronomy one sees where the author(s) of the book meant to put the emphasis. One also sees how the book came to be used in liturgy and worship. Luther’s small and large catechisms are rooted in Deuteronomy. For the reader interested in the book’s composition, rhetorical criticism corrects some older ideas on the book’s structure, while confirming other ideas advanced by scholars employing other methods in the study of the book.
EerdWord: On the surface, the bulk of Deuteronomy seems (to many readers, at least) to consist of a straightforward list of practical rules for holy living. Are there deeper theological undercurrents running beneath the surface? What overarching thematic patterns have you identified?
Lundbom: Reading Deuteronomy only to pull out a list of practical rules for holy living, without careful attention to the context, can be a superficial exercise and, in some cases, misleading. For example, one must realize in reading the Ten Commandments in Deut. 5 that God lays these obligations upon Israel because God has liberated Israel from slavery. Liberation in Deuteronomy is not a ticket to freedom; it is a change of masters. Pharaoh is the old master; the Lord God is the new. What is more, the law God lays upon Israel is not something difficult; it is something people can do (Deut. 30:11-14). In the New Testament, Jesus is the new master who liberates all people — Jews and Gentiles — from an old master, which is Satan and the power of sin. And the yoke Jesus lays upon his followers is an easy one (Matt. 11:29-30).
Don’t miss part two of our interview with Jack Lundbom — tomorrow morning on EerdWord.
Click to order Jack R. Lundbom’s Deuteronomy: A Commentary.