Jim West’s commentary on Ezra-Nehemiah, aimed at “the person in the pew,” faces a rather difficult task. By that I don’t mean the perennial challenge of trying to make biblical texts relevant to modern believers, although that is certainly part of the challenge. West’s commentary is trying to make one of the less well-known and, frankly, less exciting of the biblical books applicable to readers, and it does a fine job at it.
Moving briskly through the text, West pauses to expound essential perplexities and occasionally to provide an informative excursus, e.g., on grieving in the Old Testament, or the origins of the Samaritans. Rather than bogging down the text, these excurses come at appropriate intervals, anticipate a reader’s questions, and offer a wealth of helpful information useful beyond the reading of Ezra-Nehemiah. As far as his exposition of the text, West does a fine job of “cultural equivalence” translation of principles at work in Ezra-Nehemiah.
These are hard books of the Bible: hard to work through, a story of hard times for the returning exiles, and ultimately, books with very hard lessons for those would follow the God of Israel. With the verve and occasional sting that regular readers of his blog will recognize, West concisely points out to that person in the pew just exactly how challenging the Bible remains to modern believers, and that even something as seemingly unrelated to the 21st century as 2500 year-old genealogies and group wall-building activities have something to say to those who will listen.
Thomas M. Bolin ن, Ph.D.
Professor of Religious Studies
St. Norbert College
Hebrew Bible Book Editor Marginalia Review of Books