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Markus Barth (son of theologian Karl Barth) and his student Helmut Blanke's "The Letter to Philemon" is a *comprehensive* commentary and analysis of Philemon. It is highly recommended for background reading on slavery and the social setting of the New Testament and the book of Philemon, as well as for deep critical and textual analysis. Barth and Blanke's work is appropriate both for scholarly study and for sermon preparation. The book can be read at a moderate pace; it contains substantial information but is not overly dense. If one were to purchase only one book about Philemon, this should be it.
The first 100 pages deal with slavery and social setting. The authors are methodical in their approach and take appropriate liberties without employing wild imagination. This section of the book reads like a novel in places.
The next section of 140 pages explores "Literary, Biographical, and Contextual Issues," includes a summary history of Philemon interpretation, as well as a foray into Liberation Theology.
The third section, which comprises more than half of the book's 500 pages, is an in-depth verse-by-verse commentary with excursuses into relevant historical and theological issues. Syntax and grammar of the Greek text are not the foci of the commentary; for those things I commend Murray Harris' book Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Colossians and Philemon. Barth and Blanke's work focuses mainly on translated text, and employs transliteration when the Greek text is addressed.
At the time of this review, May 2009, the Hardcover edition is available for about $11 shipped. I did not see any difference between it and the more recently printed paperback edition which was $50 at my local bookstore.
You won't find a more comprehensive commentary on Philemon. The authors go into (sometimes) excruciating detail and depth, making it difficult to keep up with their arguments sometimes. They tend to belittle any interpretation that does not line up wit theirs. Not as strong on lexical issues as other critical commentaries.
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