Jul 2008
In this interview, Andy Cheung caught up with leading O.T scholar Tremper Longman III to discuss his recent writing activities notably the recently released 
Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings published by IVP. Professor Longman (PhD, Yale University) is the Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies and the chair of the religious studies department at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California.

Professor Longman, you're well known as a prolific writer and editor of books and I would like to start by asking you about your latest publication, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings. Perhaps you can tell us a bit about this book and your role in producing it.

Thanks Andy.  The DOTWPW is in a well-known series of dictionaries published by InterVarsity with Dan Reid as editor.  Their purpose is to cover important topics and scholarly developments in a particular area of the canon. This volume is the seventh in the series and covers, as the subtitle indicates, the Psalms, Poetry, and Writings.  Actually, it is kind of a difficult portion of the canon to describe, but to put it in terms of books, it covers Ruth, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Lamentations.

Our volume has individual articles on each of these books and separate articles on their ancient Near Eastern background as well as their History of Interpretation.  Further there are individual articles on poetic conventions like parallelism, imagery, merism, meter, acrostic, and so forth.  There are also articles on important topics like the afterlife, oral poetry, honor and shame, God, creation theology, and much more. 

My role, along with my co-editor Peter Enns and Dan Reid, was to decide what topics to include in the volume and how long they should be.  We then recruited scholars to write the articles.  Once they came in Peter, Dan, and I read them and gave the contributors feedback and read them again when they came back to us.  In addition, I wrote some of the articles. 

How long has this work been in progress?

Gosh, now you are stretching my memory.  I think that Dan Reid first approached me to consider being editor of the volume in the late 90s.  I remember meeting with him in Vancouver one summer while I was teaching a course at Regent. He was just finishing up on the Historical Books volume edited by Hugh Williamson and Bill Arnold.  It was probably 2001 or 2002 when we started in earnest on conceptualizing the volume.  I know that the articles started coming to us in late 2004.  The final articles came to us in early 2008.  I remember these dates because I wrote the first and the last articles!  The latter were because a couple of our contributors were not able to come through at the end.

What would you say are the highlights of this volume?

Well, I am very happy with how this volume turned out.  It is hard to choose highlights because our contributors did such an excellent job on all the topics.  I don’t think there is a comparable volume, a place to go to get a scholarly, yet accessible introduction to these books on a literary, historical, and theological level.

Yes, it certainly sounds like it will set a new standard.  Given that scholarship changes all the time how long do you think it will be before a volume like this needs to be updated?

Well, of course that it up to the publisher but I would think something like this should be updated every twenty-five years.  Certainly there is new scholarship every year but it takes about twenty to twenty five years for real substantial changes to be made.
Was it your role as the editor to choose the contributors, and if so how did you go about deciding who would write what?

We first determined what articles needed to be written and then Peter Enns, Dan Reid, and I met and discussed who would be the best contributors.  Of course, we wanted the best people on the subject and fortunately all three of us have many friends and acquaintances who work in the area.  We have contributors from Britain, USA, Canada, Australia, Singapore, the Philippines, South Africa, and  Korea.  We were very happy that almost everyone we asked agreed to contribute, a fact that I would chalk up to the fabulous reputation of the previous volumes.  We have senior scholars as well as newly minted PhDs who contributed articles.

I see you've also recently contributed a new commentary to the New International Biblical Commentary series on Jeremiah and Lamentations. There's quite a mixture of evangelical and critical scholarship in that series. How would you place your commentary?

Well, I am an evangelical, though one who has learned much from critical scholarship, though not without sifting it through a kind of presuppositional analysis.  With Jeremiah there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that it was written over a long period of time and most people will admit that there are additions from his disciples after his death.  However, those are not the kinds of issues I focus on in my commentary.  I am comment on the literary and theological aspects of the book.  I want to exposit the meaning of these books and discuss their theological significance.  I hope ministers in particular find it helpful.

On the subject of commentaries, you are the editor of a series of Old Testament commentaries by Baker. Is this the Old Testament equivalent of the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the  New Testament (BECNT) edited by Robert Yarborough and Robert Stein?

No, not really.  This is a series on Psalms and Wisdom literature that really is its own animal.  I helped conceptualize the series with Jim Kinney at Baker and we see it as something between NICOT and NIVAC (both great series for what they intend to do).  There are plans for other series, one on the Pentateuch and then one on the Historical books.

Can you give us an idea of what are the next volumes is coming out in this series?

Yes, this fall the third volume of John Goldingay’s wonderful Psalms Commentary will appear.  Craig Bartholomew’s volume on Ecclesiastes is done and will come out probably in the first part of 2009.  The final volume will be mine on Job.  I am guessing that will come out in early 2010.

Besides your academic work, you've also produced a number of devotional books on subjects such as marriage, family, temptation etc. What advice can you offer on the question of joining practical Christianity with academic theology?

I think it is critical to do so.  On the one hand, it can keep us from becoming too abstract in our academic work and on the other hand, it allows us to bring the fruits of our academic work to the church.  I often hear academics complain about “popular” works on theology, and I tell them they ought to write those books.
Finally, what are your next writing projects?

Thanks for asking.  Well, I just finished How to Read Exodus, the fourth volume in an informal series that I do for IVP (volumes on Psalms, Proverbs, and Genesis are already out).  I hope that comes out in about a year.  I am well into my commentary on Job.  I am also writing commentaries on Psalms and Exodus as well as a Theology of Wisdom.  I am editing a lay dictionary for Baker and working on a couple translation projects.  I know that is a lot (and it is not everything), but I tend to work best when I am working on multiple projects.  It keeps me from getting stale on a subject.

A book on the theology of wisdom sounds interesting! Is that the theology of the wisdom books, or on the subject of wisdom itself?

It will be on the subject of wisdom, but of course the focus will be on the wisdom books.  I have already written commentaries on Proverbs and Ecclesiastes and, as I said above, I am writing a commentary on Job.  So that should give me a good exegetical foundation to say something, I hope helpful, on wisdom.

Prof. Longman, many thanks for taking the time to discuss you work.

The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of the faculty members of the Midlands Bible College and Divinity School. Prof. Longman's  faculty page can be found here

The Talks with Scholars series is a regular feature at the Midlands Bible College and Divinity School. Visit the interview page for more engaging dicussion and conversation with world class academics.