Wilda C. M. GAFNEY. Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2017. Pp. 224+xxxvii. $39.95 hb. ISBN 978-0-8146-8162-6. Reviewed by Nicholas R. WERSE, Baylor University, Waco, TX


Gafney’s commentary on Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah provides another welcomed addition to the Wisdom Commentary series—the first commentary series on every book of Hebrew Bible, Apocrypha, and New Testament from a feminist perspective. Following the anticipated Foreword and Editor’s Introduction outlining the goals and intention of the series, Gafney examines the historical context of each prophetic text and supplies theological reflections from a womanist and feminist lens.

Gafney examines the historical and cultural context that produced the violent imagery of Nahum. She presents Nahum as written for a Judean audience as “a response to Assyrian imperial domination.” In this sense, the text functions as a form of “postcolonial literature” (12). While recognizing the historical factors that produced shocking imagery in Nahum, Gafney’s theological reflection ultimately rejects the image of God in the text that propagates such violence. This rejection leads to several fruitful questions wrestling with the implications of this violent imagery for modern theological reflection. (I was unsure if perhaps the second to last question on page 65 reading, “Would anyone on the margins of racial, ethnic, gender, or identity hierarchies willingly embrace the God of Nineveh?” reflects a misprint and should rather end with “the God of Nahum”). Gafney finds in Habakkuk’s questioning of God an approach to theological discourse akin to the womanist approach. Gafney’s discussion of text-critical issues is particularly commendable in Zephaniah. She finds in Zephaniah’s proclamation of judgment against the nations a God whose wrath avenges the suffering of the people of God. Thus God’s judgment appears heroic to the people of God, yet destructive to the nations. The concluding pronouncements of hope for the people of God in Zephaniah look forward to a time when the wrath will subside and the divine action will turn to restoration.
One innovative feature of the Wisdom Commentary series is the commitment to presenting diverse voices throughout the volume, complementing or augmenting the interpretations of the primary author with supplemental discussions from other authors. Gafney’s volume is complimented by Rabbah Arlene Goldstein Berger, who supplies brief theological reflections on finding hope in the challenging text of Nahum (35-36); on waiting, women, and Habakkuk’s keeping watch (89-90); and on the Bat Zion in Zephaniah (191-192).

The interaction between historical context and theological reflection supplies one of the many strengths of this volume. Gafney frequently applies the womanist hermeneutic to supply theological responses to the gender and racial inequities and injustices of North American society. Writing during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, she reflects upon comparable tendencies in these texts (such as Nahum) and in modern North American society to disregard the lives of entire communities. These theological reflections make this volume particularly beneficial for the professors, preachers, and religious practitioners who approach these texts to inform modern theological reflections in conversation with the realities of the marginalized in North American society and around the world.