Martin Murphy’s The Dominant Culture is an introductory exposition of the book of Judges in the Bible. Judges is my favorite book of the Bible for a number of reasons, but mostly for the people. Samson was my most loved story when I was a child–it was like a real-life superhero. Deborah has grown to be a story of great importance for me as it demonstrates a woman in the role of leader and prophet over the people of Israel. Gideon is another exciting story with all sorts of action. The cycle of Judges also draws interest by being mirrored in our own lives as we experience sin, consequence, cry for help/repentance, and deliverance.
Murphy’s book brings much of the book to life as he retells the stories with an eye for application in the present day. How do Israel’s stories point to truths in our own lives? The book proceeds effectively through the major stories of Judges, with a few comments on minor stories as well. The beauty of the way Murphy does this is that he doesn’t try to make a kind of direct correspondence between the nation of Israel as theocracy and our own world in a kind of one-to-one correspondence; rather, he draws from the stories of Judges to show how we live in a world in which each goes his/her own way, sin reigns, and we need repentance. These and other applications are drawn throughout the book with rather remarkable insight.
There are some downsides in the book, particularly with the marked reading of gender hierarchy into the narrative of Deborah. Here, it seems, Murphy goes off track of what is otherwise marvelous exegetical skill, as he must continually appeal to silence (by saying things like the Bible never says God approved of Deborah as a prophetess) rather than allowing the text itself to demonstrate that Deborah simply was a leader and prophet. The very fact that the author of Judges does not condemn a woman as a prophet and judge when they are quick to condemn other wicked practices (such as using the refrain of “everyone did as they pleased”) in fact seems to point in the opposite direction as that which Murphy goes regarding Deborah. This is, thankfully, just one unfortunate aberration of exegesis among what is otherwise a quite solid job navigating between the need to stay true to the text and draw out applications for today.
+Often shares insights that bring new light to familiar or unfamiliar texts
+Applicable interpretation rather than merely analytic
+Explains key terms in meaningful way
-Unfortunate comments about Deborah and women in leadership
The Dominant Culture is a solid introduction that ties the book of Judges in to our own era. It does so remarkably well without falling into the possible errors of only going for current relevance or making direct 1-to-1 connections between Israel and a country like the United States. If one can get past a few specifics of doctrinal stances that take away from the general appeal of the work (in particular the discussion of Deborah and women in leadership), it provides a good introduction to and application of Judges.
I was provided with a copy of the book for review. I was not obligated by the publisher to write any type of review whatsoever.
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Martin Murphy, The Dominant Culture.