M.W. Duggan, The Consuming Fire: A Christian Guide to the Old Testament

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 11 (2011) - Review

Duggan, Michael W., The Consuming Fire: A Christian Guide to the Old Testament (rev. ed.; Huntington, Ind.: Our Sunday Visitor Press, 2010). Pp. 686. Softcover. US$29.95. ISBN 978-1592765973.

This updated and revised version of Duggan's 1991 book under the same title, The Consuming Fire: A Christian Guide to the Old Testament, is a helpful introductory companion to the study of the Catholic canon of the Old Testament. Duggan notes in the introduction that his book is directed for those who “have never undertaken a systematic study of the Scriptures” (p. 22). He states that new information in articles of the latest edition of The Anchor Bible Dictionary[1] are a significant source of the updated material in the new edition and events and figures are dated in accordance with the most recent relevant articles from this source. The work of Richard Elliot Friedman[2] is singularly mentioned as the basis of Duggan's current analysis of the Pentateuchal sources. The greatest alterations in this new edition are within the chapters covering: compositional chronology (ch. 3), the Pentateuch (chs. 4–11), the Deuteronomistic History (chs. 12–15), 1–2 Chronicles (ch. 16), and Ezra-Nehemiah (ch. 17).

Each chapter in Duggan's text begins with a short section that suggests possible contemporary parallels to the ancient historical contexts or prominent themes within the biblical text. This is followed by background information regarding the historical setting, composition, and structure of the book. Within the large scope of this book, Duggan gives only cursory information regarding the original author and/or subsequent compilers, editors, and redactors, while giving greater attention to organizing and relating the content of each book mainly through discussing prominent themes or patterns in the book(s) contents. As an introductory text there are no footnotes and limited attention to extrabiblical evidence, text-critical issues, or scholarly debates. Following the discussion on ‘content,’ each chapter has a section entitled “New Testament Perspectives” in which Duggan explores quotations, allusions, or similarity to texts in the New Testament. At the end of each chapter a section entitled “Meditative Reading” lists and contains questions related to passages within the book(s), which highlight elements discussed in the chapter. The questions deal with issues such as: characterization, literary aspects, evidence of sources, and contemporary theological significance. Finally, Dugan rounds out each chapter with an outline of the book(s) with references for units and subunits of content.

After introductory chapters devoted to canonical issues (ch. 1) and an overview of the history and geography of the ancient Near East (3000 b.c.e.–135 c.e.), the remaining chapters are organized within larger categories (Pentateuch, Historical Books, Prophets, Writings, and the Deuterocanonical Books) subdivided further into chapters devoted to the individual books. Duggan notes that in addition to presenting the books of the Old Testament chronologically, there is also a blending of the Hebrew canon and Greek canon order. Ruth, Esther, and Lamentations are presented within the section on Wisdom Literature, and Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1–2 Chronicles appear after the Deuteronomistic History section. Deuterocanonical texts are covered in the last chapters of the book as the latest compositions. The order of biblical texts is based upon the chronological progression of periods narrated within the biblical texts as well as Duggan's historical reconstruction of each book's composition from earliest to latest.

The section on the Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve Minor Prophets), is organized chronologically, mostly centered upon pre-exilic through post-exilic settings but noting the presence and role of prophecy from pre-1100 b.c.e. to 250 b.c.e. According to Duggan's reconstruction, he presents the books of the prophets in the following chronological order: Amos and Hosea (ch. 19), Isaiah and Micah (ch. 20), Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk (ch. 21), Jeremiah (ch. 22), Ezekiel (ch. 23), Second Isaiah (ch. 24), Haggai and First Zechariah (ch. 25), Third Isaiah and Malachi (ch. 26), Obadiah and Joel (ch. 27), Second Zechariah and Jonah (ch. 28).

A chapter on Wisdom Literature (ch. 29) introduces sections devoted to the books of Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ruth, Esther, Lamentations, Song of Songs, Qoheleth, and Daniel. Duggan organizes and presents these books, along with the deuterocanonical texts, in different ways. First, he discusses Psalms (ch. 30) according to the various thematic categories while noting a long compositional period. The chapter on Proverbs (ch. 31) explores possible origins and historical settings that go back to ancient Near Eastern parallels from the 26th century b.c.e. and wisdom traditions in Israel from the Solomonic era (10th century b.c.e.) through to the Alexandrian wisdom tradition behind the Wisdom of Solomon (1st century b.c.e.). Duggan treats Ruth and Esther (ch. 33), Lamentations, Song of Songs, and Qoheleth (ch. 34) according to their place within the Hebrew Megilloth. The deuterocanonical texts have no introductory chapter and are presented as the latest group of texts (2nd century b.c.e.–2nd century c.e.) in the following progression: 1–2 Maccabees (ch. 36), Sirach (ch. 37), Tobit, Judith, Baruch (ch. 38), and the Wisdom of Solomon (ch. 39).

Some of the strength's of Duggan's book are the accessibility of the writing, thoroughness with regard to thematic overviews of each text, and the sections devoted to relationships between these Old Testament texts to those of the New Testament. Duggan offers a traditional presentation of the composition and transmission of the Pentateuch (J, E, D, P with final priestly redaction ca. 400 b.c.e.) and Deuteronomistic History (Josianic revision Dtr1, exilic revision Dtr2). His presentation of the texts of the Prophets functions within the paradigm of prophetic schools that preserved and added to the earliest material associated with the historical prophetic figure. This position lends towards the division of books like Isaiah and Zechariah into portions Duggan assigns to different periods. While this approach seeks to explain the distinctiveness of units within books by subsequent historical contexts, such attribution leaves out discussion regarding textual unity.

Duggan's introduction is less helpful for exploring scholarly debates or theories regarding compositional history, textual criticism (e.g., evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls), or extrabiblical evidence that challenges the dating and description of events in the biblical texts. The topical organization of the general bibliography (pp. 657–686) that lists short bibliographies for general subjects and each biblical book (including the New Testament books) is helpful for those seeking to read further. The interactive aspect of each chapter, entitled “Meditative Reading,” is a useful resource for summarizing and discussing each chapter's main points. Beyond this section, however, there are no outside resources such as websites, or other electronic resources integrated into the book, but there is significant space devoted to referential aids, such as a series of maps (pp. 339–347), charts organizing historical periods (pp. 50–54) and dates of composition for the biblical texts (pp. 65–68), as well as helpful outlines of the content of Pentateuchal sources (ch. 5). Duggan covers an admirably large body of material, making brevity in some areas necessary and understandable. As a companion text for beginning systematic study of the Catholic canon of the Old Testament, The Consuming Fire provides a helpful framework and foundation for general historical backgrounds along with good overviews of the thematic content of each biblical book and their literary and chronological relationship to each other. The revised and updated version of The Consuming Fire would be a valuable text for introductory courses within theological settings for seminarians, undergraduates, and interested lay people.

Sonya Kostamo, University of Alberta

[1] David N. Freedman, ed., Anchor Bible Dictionary (6 vols.; New York: Doubleday, 1992). reference

[2] Richard Elliott Friedman, The Bible with Sources Revealed (New York: HarperCollins, 2003); Commentary on the Torah with a New English Translation (New York: HarperCollins, 2001); The Exile and Biblical Narrative: The Formation of the Deuteronomistic and Priestly Works (HSM 22; Chico, Cal.: Scholars, 1981); The Hidden Book in the Bible (New York: HarperCollins, 1998); “Torah (Pentateuch),” ABD 6:605–22; Who Wrote the Bible? (New York: HarperCollins, 1997). reference