Books

Cover Image: Five Festal Garments

Five Festal Garments:
(NSBT)

Barry G. Webb (Apollos, 2000)

Blurb Review by Dr. Eric Ortlund

Review by Dr. Eric Ortlund

The title of Webb's work is taken from Gen 45.22, where Joseph, newly reconciled to his brothers, gives them all gifts-but gives Benjamin "five festal garments." Although Benjamin's new outfits must have been impressive, they doubtless caused some unease among the other brothers. It is the same, Webb suggests, with the five Scrolls: while vibrant and fascinating books in themselves, they have all caused problems (for different reasons) for later Jewish and Christian interpretation. Webb thus sets out to interpret these books by asking three questions of each: how can we approach each book individually, on its own terms? What contribution does each book make within its wider OT context? Finally, how can we read each book through the lens of the NT by means of a promise/fulfillment dynamic? (As a result of this approach, Webb does not make a sustained argument throughout the whole of his work, instead focusing on one book at a time.) Webb succeeds admirably in answering these three questions for all five books, treating the reader to a sensitive and cogent reading of each-as well as exposing some interesting facets of biblical theology done well.

To summarize his investigations into the first of the five Scrolls: the Song of Songs is taken essentially as a narrative between two lovers (with the references to Solomon understood as an idealization of the male of the couple), some significant elements of which are the refrain of 2.7, 3.5, and 8.4, the dream sequence of chs. 3-6, and the climax of 8.5-7; this last passage, because it contains generalizations about love itself instead of declarations between the lovers, is taken to summarize the didactic content of the poem. With regard to its place in the OT, Webb keeps from too quickly explaining the passion of the poem with reference to the love of God, grounding the book instead in a wisdom context. Similar views about marriage and sexuality in Proverbs are thus brought into the discussion, but not in order to mute the particular contribution of this book, which Webb understands to constitute the OT's essential statement on the almost inexpressible sweetness and beauty of love and the goodness of physical existence; as a result, part of the implication of this text is that those who are single (voluntarily or involuntarily) do undergo real deprivation. The relationship of this book to the NT is one in which the NT's teaching on marriage and sexuality is reinforced (Webb includes at this point a sensitive discussion of the NT statements commending singleness), but not in such a way that this OT reinforcement can be dispensed with once the fulfillment has come, for Song of Songs highlights (in a way no other biblical book does) the affective, passionate nature of love, whether divine or human. As a result, even as this OT book is fulfilled in the eschatological love of Christ for the Church, Song of Songs fills out the picture of what this fulfillment looks like. It is at this juncture that the strengths of Webb's biblical-theological method are most clearly seen, for it becomes clear that, even as OT books look for a greater fulfillment, the consummation of that fulfillment does not relegate them to an inferior status, as if these OT texts were of no more use; rather, these already fulfilled texts continue to give expression to the various dimensions of the fulfillment which has now (at least in part) come.

As stated above, Webb's discussion of the other four books is consistently strong. Each book is genuinely allowed to set the agenda for its interpretation and read on its own terms (Ruth and Esther are analyzed according to the implications arising from plot developments, for instance, while Lamentations is approached with regard to its large-scale chiastic structure). Furthermore, Webb commendably avoids moralizing or allegorizing interpretations, instead relying on explicit connections with the rest of the OT and following them through to the NT (Ecclesiastes, for instance, although not contradicting the eschatological promises of the NT, at least in part warns us against expecting too much immediate fulfillment in our work before the consummation of all things [cf. Rom 8.19ff]). It is obvious that Webb's hermeneutical instincts have been finely honed by reading the Bible as a whole. The salting of Rabbinic quotations only increases appeal of the work. In short, it is easy to recommend Webb's study, not just for the sake of better understanding the five Scrolls, but also for the way in which OT and NT texts are set in continuing conversation. Five festal garments-texts which are easier to "wear" without hesitation with Webb as one's guide through the problems of their interpretation.


Review by Dr. Eric Ortlund

Dr Ortlund is an Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Briercrest Seminary in Saskatchewan, Canada.

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