The Oxford Companion to the Bible

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NNic | Forum Activity | Posted: Mon, Jul 9 2018 6:09 AM

Now that Logos has the excellent resource, The Oxford Bible Commentary, can anyone advise whether there are plans afoot for The Oxford Companion to the Bible.

I would recommend it be seriously considered as it's a  wonderful companion to the Commentary for Hebrew Bible students and teachers.

Posts 393
Jordan Litchfield | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jul 10 2018 12:00 AM

Can you provide the link to The Oxford Bible Commentary? I tried searching for it on Logos but didn't find it...

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NNic | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jul 10 2018 2:04 AM


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Leo Wee Fah | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jul 10 2018 2:46 AM

It was offered in Logos in those day..., and now it disappears? Tongue Tied

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Joseph Turner | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jul 10 2018 6:06 AM

The Oxford Bible Commentary has actually not been available for quite some time.  It was available in earlier versions of Libronix on CD.

Disclaimer:  I hate using messaging, texting, and email for real communication.  If anything that I type to you seems like anything other than humble and respectful, then I have not done a good job typing my thoughts.

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jul 10 2018 3:24 PM

Joseph Turner:

The Oxford Bible Commentary has actually not been available for quite some time.  It was available in earlier versions of Libronix on CD.

You are right but it is a crying shame that FL has not pursued this (it was sort of an external product, as was common in those days). But unlike the much asked for Jerome Biblical commentary which we have been told the publisher does not want in electronic format, OUP seems to be a company that Logos deals well with quite well, having many of their products. I fully expect it would need to go through the PP system but would be it would be through there relatively quickly. If we compare it to its nearest equivalent in Logos I would say Eerdmans is closest but if we randomly compare a section I think you will see OCB still has much to offer, even if you own ECB.

Numbers 22:1-40 (I choose this because I was studying it last week) and while only quickly skimming i so feel OCB offers several important insights you do not get in ECB:

(22:1–24:25) The Story of Balaam   This text has been deemed intrusive in its context, and its central figure Balaam thought less than worthy of God’s purposes for Israel. He is a travelling professional seer, and a non-Israelite at that, who seems all too ready to pronounce curses if the price is right. But the story with its oracles has in fact been cleverly woven into the larger fabric of Numbers and God uses Balaam in remarkable ways to bring blessing to Israel.

Source-critical attempts to divide this story into J and E (only 22:1 is P) have not been successful. Coherence difficulties and the various divine names may reflect a long history of transmission and editing of both narrative and poetry, the earliest forms of which may date from before the monarchy. An Aramaic inscription from the eighth century bce has been found at Tell Deir ˓Alla in Jordan, the contents of which are ascribed to a ‘seer of the gods’ named ‘Balaam, son of Beor’. He reports a vision of a meeting of the gods who are planning disaster for the earth (for text and details, see Milgrom 1990: 473–6). Scholars agree that this text and Num 22–4 both have roots in Transjordan traditions about this legendary figure. A few biblical traditions have a negative assessment of Balaam, perhaps having access to still other traditions (cf. Num 31:8, 18; Josh 13:22; Rev 2:14).

The text combines a narrative and four poetic oracles, the basic content of which is blessing. Literary studies have noted the repetition of key words such as ‘(not)seeing’ and the number three, including a probable tripartite structure: (a) Balaam’s three encounters with God (22:1–40); (b) Balak’s three attempts to curse Israel thwarted by Balaam’s three blessings (22:41–24:13); (c) A climactic fourth blessing (24:14–25).

The function of this material at this juncture in Numbers has been delineated by Olson (1985: 156–64) especially. With its focus on the blessing of Israel and its remarkable reiteration of divine promises, the story envisages a marvellous future for Israel at a key transition between old generation and new. The material also functions ironically; a non-Israelite with less than sterling credentials voices God’s promises in a way that no Israelite in Numbers does, not even Moses. God finds a way to get the word through in spite of the rebellions of Israel and its leaders (and Balaam’s own failings, 22:22–35; 31:8, 16). The disastrous activities in 25:1–18 make the words of Balaam stand out all the more brightly. That the people do not actually hear these words is testimony that, contrary to appearances, God continues to be at work in fulfilling these promises. Indeed, God turns even the worst of situations (the potential curses of Balaam) into blessing.

(22:1–40)   Balak, king of Moab, is fearful that Israel, given their numbers and victories over the Amorites, will next turn on what is left of his kingdom (which includes Midianites, 22:4, 7; 31:7–9) and overcome his armies with ease. And so, as kings were wont to do in that world (cf. 1 Kings 22), he turns to a mercenary diviner from Syria (the exact location is uncertain), famous for his effective blessings and cursings (v. 6, an ironic statement, given later developments!). Messengers, prepared to pay for his services, inform Balaam of Balak’s request to have him curse Israel so that he can defeat them (in v. 11 the compliment of v. 6 is omitted). Note that the curses were not thought to be finally effective apart from Balak’s subsequent actions. Divination (usually condemned in Israel, Deut 18:9–14) was a widely practised ‘art’ whereby the meaning and course of events was sought through interpretation of various natural phenomena.

Asking for a delay in order to consult YHWH(!), Balaam has the first of three encounters with God. That YHWH’s name is placed in the mouth of Balaam, that he is called ‘my God’, converses with him, and is accepted as a matter of course by the visitors, is remarkable. Such a usage expresses, not a historical judgement, but the narrator’s conviction that the god with whom Balaam had to do is none other than YHWH (cf. Ex 15:15; Gen 26:28). The divine enquiry into the visitors’ identity (v. 9) is designed to elicit the response Balaam gives; how he responds—absolute divine foreknowledge is not assumed—will shape the nature of God’s response. God prohibits Balaam from going to Moab to curse Israel, for they are blessed (see 6:22–7). Balaam obeys God and recounts the divine refusal to the visitors (both acts relate to Balaam’s faithfulness to God), who report back to Balak but without any reference to God (v. 14).

Readers would expect such a reply from God and think this is the end of the matter, but not Balak: he sends a larger and more distinguished delegation, who make a more attractive offer—promising honour and writing a blank cheque (v. 17). Even with such a tempting offer, Balaam again demonstrates his faithfulness by consulting with ‘YHWH my God’ and telling the visitors that he is subject exactly (not ‘less or more’, v. 18) to the divine command. In view of Balaam’s demonstrated and promised faithfulness, God changes the strategy and commands him to go and do ‘only what I tell you to do’ (v. 20), a word which the reader is led to think God can now speak with more confidence. Balaam goes, but the reader is left to wonder what God might tell him to do.

What follows is surprising (v. 22), probably to both ancient and modern readers (in view of various disjunctions most regard vv. 22–35 as a later interpolation). The reader (but not Balaam) is told of God’s anger because he departed (for the translation, ‘as he was going’, see Ashley 1993: 454–5); indeed, God has become Balaam’s ‘adversary’. To create curiosity about the reason, the narrator delays informing the reader until v. 32, where it is clear that God still has questions about Balaam’s faithfulness, remarkable in view of his responses in vv. 13–21. This strange encounter thus amounts to a ‘blind’ test. The reader will remember Jacob in gen 32:22–32 and  Moses in ex 4:24–6, both of whom encounter a God who creates trials as they embark upon a new venture relative to God’s call. The language is also similar to Joshua’s experience (josh 5:13–15). At the end of this test (v. 35), God’s command to Balaam remains the same as it was in v. 20—to speak only what God tells him.

But to get to that goal, the narrator makes use of fable motifs with a talking donkey (cf. gen 3:1–6; judg 9:7–15) to portray the test. God here uses irony and humour to get through to Balaam. The donkey becomes his teacher (!), one who sees the things of God (including potential disaster) more clearly than Balaam sees and subverts Balaam’s supposed powers. Balaam’s treatment of the donkey during the journey is a sign of his unfaithfulness; he does not see the God who stands before him in increasingly inescapable ways and respond appropriately (cf. Joshua in josh 5:13–15). The donkey is a vehicle through which God works to show Balaam’s dependence upon God for his insight and words and to sharpen his faithfulness.

With sword drawn, the angel of YHWH (God in human form, see 9:15–23) confronts Balaam and donkey three times in increasingly restrictive circumstances. The donkey alone sees the figure in the road; twice it is able to avoid a confrontation, but the third time it proves impossible and so it lies down under Balaam. Each time Balaam strikes the donkey, becoming angry (like God in v. 22) the third time. God opens the donkey’s mouth and it questions Balaam about its mistreatment. Balaam thinks that he has been made to look the fool; if he had had a sword, he would have killed the animal. When the donkey queries him about their long history together, Balaam admits that the donkey has not acted this way before.

At this point God opens Balaam’s eyes so that he can see as the donkey sees. When he sees the angel with drawn sword he falls on his face, presumably pleading for his life. It was not the donkey who was against him but God. The angel gives the reason for the confrontation, noting that if it had not been for the donkey’s manœuverings, he would have killed Balaam. Balaam responds that, though he did not know that God opposed him, he has sinned; he offers to return home if God remains displeased. But God renews the commission (v. 35) and Balaam proceeds.

The three episodes of Balaam with his donkey are mirrored in the first three oracles of 22:41–24:13. These oracles show that the experiences of Balaam with his donkey parallel the experiences of Balak with Balaam. The donkey’s experience becomes Balaam’s experience. Just as the donkey is caught between God’s threatening presence and Balaam’s increasing anger so Balaam is caught between God’s insistence on blessing and Balak’s increasing anger about the curse. From another angle, Balaam’s difficulties with the donkey are like God’s experience with Balaam. It is a conflict of wills. Balaam has to be brought more certainly to the point where he will allow God to use him as God sees fit (see v. 38). God will open Balaam’s mouth just as God opened the donkey’s mouth (v. 28). From still another angle, the donkey becomes a God figure(!), speaking for God and reflecting God’s relationship to Balaam (vv. 28–30). God has been mistreated by Balaam along the journey because Balaam thinks this trip is making him look the fool. The donkey reminds Balaam of their long life together and his faithfulness to him.

Having arrived at the boundary of Moab (v. 36), Balaam is greeted by Balak, who chides him for his initial refusal. Balaam responds by saying, rhetorically, that he does not have the power ‘to say just anything’ (v. 38). What God puts in his mouth, as with the prophets (see Jer 1:9; 15:16; Ezek 2:8–3:3), this is what he must say (cf. Jer 20:7–9).

 John Barton and John Muddiman, eds., Oxford Bible Commentary (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), Nu 22:1.


The Story of Balaam (22:1–24:25)

The three chapters containing the story of Balaam are in many ways a unique feature of the Pentateuchal books. They are a largely self-contained piece of tradition, embodying narratives and ancient poems and celebrating Israel’s place in the purposes of Yahweh.

The self-contained character of the tradition suggests that it has been drawn in from some other source or setting by a biblical author and used to give further substance to the Transjordanian journey. The author in question would probably be one of the early narrators since traces of priestly influence are entirely lacking and, characteristically, Israel is depicted as “the people” (e.g., 22:3, 41). Substantial parts of the tradition are Elohistic and the deity identified as “God,” and this might assist in identifying earlier elements. The priestly writers make no contribution to the tradition except to identify Balaam as one of the casualties in the Midianite war (31:8) (but note the suggestion of Douglas 1993: 216–34 that the story is political satire for early postexilic times). Inclusion of the story here (after 21:35) is appropriate because Balak the hostile king is a Moabite and Israel has now reached the plains of Moab (22:1).

The general aims of the narrators in taking over this older story and deploying it here seem to be to renew faith in Yahweh’s commitment to Israel and in his good purpose for the people. The faithlessness exhibited at Kadesh by spies and people alike (Numbers 13–14), and the rebellions and deaths associated with Dathan and Abiram (Numbers 16) and the snakes (Num 21:4–9), belong to the past and have not affected Yahweh’s determination to support and sustain his people against enemies. The success achieved against King Og (21:33–35) is confirmed by the frustration of Moabite attempts to undermine Israel and defeat the march toward the land.

It is difficult to know with certainty what ensues in the early narrative. Some have thought the story ends here, but others would see it continuing into the book of Joshua or even as far as the story of David. If we are correct to see the story as a product of court scribes at Jerusalem, whatever earlier elements may be embedded in it, some account of the processes of settlement in the land is likely. Otherwise the story fails to provide a full enough account of present experience. Joshua’s farewell address (Josh 23:1–16) and the covenant making at Shechem (Josh 24:1–33) would appropriately round off a work completed during Hezekiah’s reign. The bearers of Shechem’s traditions came south after the collapse of the Northern Kingdom (721 bc) and were accepted there, as is clear from the elements preserved in Deut 27:1–26. The conclusion of the early narrative may mark this acceptance, though Joshua 23–24 in their present form have clearly been influenced by Deuteronomistic editing.

The Narrative

The introductory material in the Balaam story (22:1–6) sets the scene, indicating clearly the basis of Balak’s fear (vv. 2–4) and the plan to involve a diviner capable of invoking a powerful curse on Israel (vv. 5–6). The civilizations of the East were well known for their skills in these arts (cf. Isa 2:6, where some such expertise seems implied). Nonbiblical evidence about Balaam the seer has been found in the Deir ‘Alla texts (for a discussion of their importance see Davies 1995: 281–84). Balak has unbounded confidence in the power of Balaam to weaken Israel and to remove the threat that it poses (22:6).

The initial request for assistance is rebuffed (22:7–14). The story affirms that Balaam, though a non-Israelite resident in a distant land, is genuinely in touch with God and has no initial intention of disobeying God’s will.

The story is skillfully developed by means of a second embassy, more numerous, more distinguished, and offering bigger rewards (22:15–21). Balaam’s resistance to these blandishments remains firm, but he is prepared to consult God again, and on this occasion he is encouraged to go with Balak’s officials, on condition that he adheres strictly to God’s instructions.

The fable about Balaam’s donkey and the angel of Yahweh (22:22–35) may well be an intrusion, introduced perhaps by the early narrators themselves, since “Yahweh” predominates as the divine name. Such an assumption makes it easier to understand why the divine anger, somewhat inconsistently in the light of v. 20, is stirred against Balaam. Nevertheless the tension at this point in the story still needs to be interpreted. Why should the narrators have voluntarily introduced material which they must have known generated a logical unevenness? The answer perhaps is that the episode allows them to insist again on the essential hostility of God to the whole enterprise and to reaffirm that Balaam is allowed to engage in it only on strict conditions, and under strict control. So it is that God’s anger is renewed (v. 22) and the controls reaffirmed (v. 35).

The fable of the talking donkey brings ridicule on the head of a foreign diviner. This supposed “expert” in discerning the mind and will of the gods is outperformed in spiritual insight by his donkey! His cruel treatment of the animal, in contrast to its own reasoned response, only accentuates his blindness and folly. The essential elements of the story might have an earlier point of reference which has been applied by the early narrative to the story of Balaam.

The “angel of Yahweh” also appears to Hagar (Gen 16:7), and it is clear here, as there, that the words this messenger utters are Yahweh’s. The insistence that Balaam should speak only what he is told to speak (22:35) is reminiscent of the control on Balaam’s actions in v. 20. These points are stressed yet again in the conversation between Balaam and Balak when they finally meet (vv. 36–38). The sacrifice of oxen and sheep (v. 40) and the shared meal that presumably ensues are acts of welcome on Balak’s part.

 Philip J. Budd, “Numbers,” in Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, ed. James D. G. Dunn and John W. Rogerson (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), 147–148.


PS: Here is the Oxford Companion to the Bible article on Balaam (I have it as an ebook having converted it from the oxford Bible reference library CDROM I got years ago).


.A non-Israelite prophet who figures most prominently in the narratives of Numbers 22–24; there is also a lengthy prophecy of the same Balaam in the text from Deir >Alla in the Jordan Valley dating to around 700 BCE.

The Bible evaluates Balaam’s character in two quite different ways. On the one hand, Balaam is often portrayed as an example of an evil diviner who would sell his prophetic powers to the highest bidder, often in conflict with God’s will (Numbers 31.8; Numbers 31.16; Deuteronomy 23.4–5; Joshua 13.22; Joshua 24.9–10; Nehemiah 13.2; Micah 6.5; 2 Peter 2.15; Jude 11; Revelation 2.14). In a particularly humorous scene, Numbers 22.21–35 makes fun of Balaam’s powers as a seer; he is repeatedly unable to see the divine messenger that even his donkey can see.

On the other hand, Numbers 22–24 as a whole portrays Balaam in a favorable light. When the Moabite king Balak hires Balaam to curse his enemy Israel as they cross his territory on the way to the Promised Land, Balaam replies piously that as a prophet he can speak only the words that God gives to him (Numbers 22.18; see also Numbers 24.13).

On four occasions when Balak asks Balaam to curse the Israelites, Balaam instead obeys God and speaks only words of great blessing upon Israel. The most famous of these oracles of blessing includes a prophecy about a great future king or messiah of Israel. The oracle may originally have applied to David, but later it was interpreted as the promise of a ruler who would come as a deliverer in the end time. Using royal images, Balaam proclaims, “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24.17); this text probably underlies the account of the star followed by the Magi (Matthew 2.1–12).

A passage from Balaam’s final oracle was quoted in the first telegraph message: “What hath God wrought!” (Numbers 23.23 KJV).

Posts 18644
Rosie Perera | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jul 10 2018 4:38 PM

can anyone advise whether there are plans afoot for The Oxford Companion to the Bible.

This is just the user forum. None of us would know. Faithlife rarely reveals whether they have plans afoot in advance.

Your best bet is to post it as a suggestion on the SuggestBooks forum on UserVoice and drum up interest among other users so they vote for it. I have yet to see any correlation of high vote-getting books over there making it into Logos Pre-pub, but it's basically our only recourse.

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