Patience in Torah (Bible) Study

I had an experience this morning, returning to something I had laid aside long ago, that brought this topic to mind.

To make a long story short, recently I dug my Keil-Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament out of its place in the deeply unused portions of my library.

Why did I do this? Well, Vine of David is publishing the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels in Hebrew and English. I have had a chance to read a lot of this translation in advance. I sort of rediscovered Franz Delitzsch, the Christian Hebraist who lived from 1813-1890 and taught at the University of Leipzig.

And my renewed interest in Franz Delitzsch only increased when I saw a blog post on John Hobbins’ Ancient Hebrew Poetry blog. Hobbins writes beautifully about the importance of Delitzsch’s work. See the post here:

Now I had long ago written Keil and Delitzsch off as a quaint, old-fashioned, and not-very-useful set of commentaries.

In my early days of Bible education, having obtained a “Christian Book Distributors” (known in the trade as CBD) catalogue, I ordered Keil and Delitzsch on a sale. I tried to use them in those early days and understood very little (especially since they incorporate some Hebrew along with the English).

But now, with two decade of Hebrew Bible studies under my belt, as I read their commentaries, I find they are incredibly perceptive and balanced. I am a new-found fan of a commentary from the 1800’s!

My experience with the Keil and Delitzsch commentary is like a lot of people’s experience with the Bible as noobs. And many people never get past the noob stage because the learning curve is high.

It is possible to remain a noob for life with the Bible, because you can, as so many do, just read the inspirational and relatively easy verses and enjoy them. You don’t have to penetrate the ancient Israelite culture to enjoy isolated parts here and there, the verses that show up on posters in places of worship (often out of context). You can enjoy the stories told in church Sunday Schools and synagogue Hebrew Schools even into adulthood.

But if many people think the Bible is barely relevant to life, it may be precisely because they never moved beyond “Daniel and the Lions Den” to a more complete education in the Bible.

The problem for the beginner is that all the Bible’s ideas are interrelated, even dependent on one another. When you are new to concepts like transcendence versus immanence, purity and defilement, Temple and sacrifice, covenant and compassion, legislation versus the ideal, and so on, the Hebrew Bible is a difficult book. So is the New Testament, especially the gospels. Many Christians stick to the easy sections of Paul’s letters, some of the more straightforward verses of scrupture.

But like any other field, as you begin cracking the code, more and more it all becomes readable.

You might compare it to any hobby or interest when you pick up a magazine at the store. What is the job of a hobby magazine: to catch the beginner up or to keep the enthusiast going? I like table-top wargames. But if you pick up a trade magazine, and you are thinking of getting into the hobby, you can barely read the magazine. What is flanking all about? What is the difference between a cover save, an armor save, or an invulnerable save? And there are a lot of jargon terms and acronyms and shorthand abbreviations.

So, my own experience of learning the Bible proceeded in stages. The process requires patience.

You have to be willing to read and learn when you don’t yet understand. And you can’t quit. You have to live with unanswered questions. Over time, the learning is mutually reinforcing.

The greatest breakthroughs for me in learning the Bible were learning to find good commentaries (something well-meaning Christian teachers early on told me not to do–since the commentaries would bias my reading and I shouldn’t need them anyway since the-Bible-is-all-we-need) and the practice of reading the Chumash (the five books of Torah, Genesis – Deuteronomy) over and over each year with the cycle of Judaism.

And I would now add that reading the gospels and Acts along with the five books of Chumash, over and over again, each year, is also an essential practice.

After two years of reading, light began to shine through.

After four years of reading, I remembered concepts that occurred in different places and I began to see relationships and structures in the text.

After eight years of reading the Torah cycle, it makes a lot more sense.

I highly commend patience, consistency, and perseverance in Torah and Bible study. Keep reading. Read strategically. And find good commentary as you go.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christian, Education, Franz Delitzsch, Judaism, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism, Vine of David. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Patience in Torah (Bible) Study

  1. amiel4messiah says:

    This is really helpful and also very inspiring as the task of mastering the Bible is really quite a daunting one. I wonder if you could point me to some good Commentary Resources Derek? Which ones are your favourites and why? You may have commented on this before? If this is the case, perhaps you can point me the link, so I can read up on it. Many thanks.

  2. amiel4messiah:

    I will write a post with some commentary recommendations. For now, it would help to know what part of the Bible you are looking for a good commentary on.

    Here are some recommendations for Chumash:

    (1) Leviticus (best commentary on planet earth) – the three volumes in the Anchor/Yale series by Jacob Milgrom. If you don’t want that much commentary, he has a short version in Fortress, but it is too short to stand alone. You could get his short one volume on Leviticus if you also use the JPS Torah Commentary volume (I think by Levine). I know of no good Christian commentaries on Leviticus. In my opinion, this is a blind spot for Christian scholars (I’m sure there must be fantastic Christian commentators on Leviticus, but perhaps they’ve only written journal articles and have not yet published a full volume?).

    (2) Numbers (in the top ten best commentaries on planet earth) – JPS Torah Commentary by Jacob Milgrom. Notice a theme in 1 and 2?

    (3) Genesis – Umberto Cassuto if you can find him (out of print) and does not cover the entire book, only ch 1-11. John Walton in the NIV Application series is good. Walton’s book The Lost World of Genesis One is awesome. If you want just one commentary, go with either Walton’s NIV Application or Nahum Sarna in the JPS Torah Commentary.

    (4) Exodus – Umberto Cassuto has an out of print volume on the first few chapters. I’ve not yet read Sarna’s commentary on Exodus (JPS Torah Commentary), but I bet it is great (too short though). I have not verified a great commentary for Exodus yet.

    (5) Deuteronomy – Weinfeld has one on ch 1-11. Haven’t read it. Supposed to be awesome. I am using Tigay in the JPS Torah Commentary. I find his to be good but not great. I will be trying a new commentary in next year’s cycle.

    (6) Keil & Delitzsch OT Commentary is quite good on the Pentateuch, exceptional in fact. It’s not reader-friendly in terms of layout. I recommend it as extra reading to use with the others. If someone were to lay out the Keil & Delitzsch with more headings and better design for modern readers, it would be primo. You can get it in many computer Bibles and that may be the best way to use it.

    Let me know if you want more recommendations for other books. I will post about this soon.

    Derek Leman

  3. Oh, and I always consult Rashi and Midrash Rabbah and sometimes Nachmanides.


  4. amiel4messiah says:

    Hi Derek, this is very helpful for starters – many thanks. I was thinking of ordering “Eerdman’s Commentary of the Bible” since it’s in one (rather large) volume. Are you familiar with this one? I have studied David Stern’s NT Commentary, which I find extremely helpful. I have heard you mention the JPS Commentary’s before and my Rabbi also recommended them to me. I think I mentioned here recently that I am reading Umberto Cassuto’s “The Documentary Hypothesis” (excellent), so I was very interested to hear you mention his other works.

    I guess in answer to your question, due to being extremely busy, I guess my ‘ideal’ commentary would be a David Stern for the Tanakh and Messianic Scriptures :-) A few years back I ordered a one volume (Christian) commentary (I think it was Zondervan’s illustrated one-volume Bible commentary) but I was deeply disappointed, due to its theological bias. I am a student of the Bible and desire to be ‘competently’ familiar with these unique scriptures. I have neither the time nor the aptitude to become a scholar, but I do wish to KNOW the book. I am after quality rather than quantity but from a Messianic, not Christian perspective.

    Your blog is in itself an extremely valuable educational tool for me (I wish I had more time, sigh) and I really do appreciate the effort you put into it. I might not agree with everything you say (goodness, life would be boring…) but I always go away challenged to rethink my position or consider alternative opinions.

    Oh, there is one BIG development I would like to share with you. As you know, I was asked to resign from my local synagogue when I told my Rabbi about my faith in Yeshua. It was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. However, I discreetly maintained contact with a few members who were also clients of mine. By keeping my own council and not dragging anyone else into this (private) matter, I managed to keep some friendships alive. Well, a new progressive shul has just opened its doors as many members became disillusioned with the Rabbi who forced my resignation. I have been welcomed with open arms and will attend my first Shabbat Service tomorrow morning. I am so excited. My faith in Yeshua is not a secret, but my Jewish status, loyalty and commitment is not being questioned and this (to them) is more important. This ‘home coming’ is so very precious. Baruch HaShem and Shabbat Shalom to you, your family and everyone on this site :-)

  5. amiel4messiah says:

    Derek, I just noticed on Amazon that JPS do a complete Torah Commentary in one volume – are you familiar with this work? Then there is the JPS Tanakh and Commentary in one volume. I guess you mean the ‘Sapirstein’ edition of the Rashi Commentary?

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