Tigay and Brueggemann have each authored what are apparently complete opposite (in terms of approach and focus) commentaries on Deuteronomy. This much seems clears from the outset, given among other factors, the nature of and purpose of the two series that they are writing for, JPS Torah Commentary and Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries, respectively.
Tigay’s work is certainly one of, if not the most, detailed and comprehensive commentaries on Deuteronomy available today. In addition to the verse by verse explanations (which comprise the majority of the content) there are three other sections of material that are extremely beneficial. The first is the introductory material which thoroughly covers the themes, date and background of the book, its’ composition and history and its role in the ongoing Jewish tradition. The second section is a collection of thirty-three excurses. The excurses alone, numbering more than one hundred pages, are invaluable additions to any students’ library. Some of these deal with issues from specific passages of scripture, for example, “The Ceremony of the Broken-Necked Heifer 21:1-9;” while others focus on more general or wide-ranging topics such as “The Historical Geography of Deuteronomy.” The third substantial section of the commentary is the notes that are included for the introduction, the main commentary and the excurses. Along with providing the standard citation sources, they also include extremely helpful comments concerning the nuances of the passage/translations, punctuation and grammar and additional interpretive perspectives. The majority of the text is comprised of verse-by-verse material commenting on the text.
It would be incorrect to say that this portion of the work is limited relative to that of Bruegemann. However, this is one area is which their distinctive approaches are most apparent. Tigay seems to view Deuteronomy solely in light of the reforms of Josiah and he writes with that historical context in mind. Conversely, in this regard, Brueggemann is considerably more concise is his summary of the current scholarly arguments; and instead of primarily taking a socio-historical approach, he leans towards working through the text by drawing the reader to consider literary, theological and ethical aspects. With regard to the history of the formation of Deuteronomy, Brueggemann offers three rather concise explanations of sources and then proceeds to move quickly ahead: (1) Levitical source which emphasizes the authority of the priests regarding the Torah, (2) a prophetic source that focuses on Israel’s special union with YHWH, (3) and a scribal source (p.20-21).
Where Tigay provides a line-by-line explanation of the text, grammar, syntax and philology, Brueggemann (as previously mentioned) focuses his attention on the theological and ethical dimensions of the text. In fact, one of the greater strengths of Brueggemann’s work is the manner in which he uses the biblical text as a means by which to speak a theological message into the current culture, specifically for the Christian and Jewish context. An example of this is found in his comments on p. 89-91 where he is speaking of Deuteronomy 6:1-25 (The Greatest Commandment). Within this context, Brueggemann invites the reader to connect this Deuteronomy text with the “costly summons to discipleship . . .” and the manner in which “the same command to love Jesus issues in the same uncompromising demand of obedience”—i.e. theology and ethics.
This being said, we should not presume that Brueggemann altogether ignores or fails to offer any exegetical analysis. On the contrary, he begins each scriptural section with an entry titles “Exegetical Analysis.” The primary differences from Tigay here are that he does not insist upon following a verse-by-verse treatment. Instead, Brueggeman is comfortable in dealing with each passage pericope by pericope (and does so following the theological breaks in the text itself). Nor does he interest himself in much, if any, technical points of grammar and the like. These two features provide offer a greater readability—which is sure to endear the work to laypersons, pastors/teachers and introductory students of theology.
Perhaps the greatest strength on Brueggemann is the manner in which he brings together the theological and ethical dimensions of the text to form something of a “public theology” where he highlights the nature in which Deuteronomy serves to inform the Israelites how they ought to live out their lives as a response to God’s blessings as His chosen people. In that regard, Brueggemann highlights several different sociological ethical points that, as was previously mentioned, are especially relevant in today’s post-modern culture (though it is likely that Brueggemann may have not been specifically interested in addressing this audience). For example, with regard to our consumer-driven influences, he states that the “warning issued in this text does not seem remote from the circumstance of the faithful in a society as affluent and secure as in the United States. Ours is an economy of abundance that lives by an ideology of satiation” (p.91). Similarly, he comments on immigrant communities (p.111) and environmentalism (p.74).
Conversely, where Brueggemann provides the greatest benefit to the reader by “connecting dots” so to speak to the modern culture, Tigay’s greatest advantage is the depth with which he seeks to explore the very items that Brueggemann glosses over (i.e. grammar, syntax and philology). Ultimately though, despite their differences in approach and strength, both works provide a great benefit to the serious student of Deuteronomy.