Sh. Ul Islam Ibn Taymeeyah said: “As for the Tafseers that are in people’s hands then the most correct is the Tafseer of Muhammad Ibn Jareer At Tabari. This is because it mentions the statements from the Salaf with its established chains of narration and it doesn’t have innovations. And it does not relay from those who are accused of lying such as Muqatil Ibn Bukair and Al Kalbi.”
The one that says that Imam Ibn Jareer was not a scholar of Tafseer but just a historian who simply collected everything under the sun either does not know the station of this Imam in terms of tafseer or has never read his full tafseer regarding one of the verses. But for those who may not know, think they know or are simply misinformed the following is a summary of the methodology of Ibn Jareer in his tafseer (regarding the statements of the Salaf and the tabi’een).
1. Putting forth the different opinions of the scholars. In some cases the differences may contradict each other but in most cases they complement each other.
2. He gives his opinion regarding the most authentic statement regarding the particular verse.
So yes, in a way it is an encyclopedia of statements regarding the verse but at the same instance Imam At Tabari displayed his expertise in Tafseer when he distinguished the sound opinions from the weak opinions according to the foundations and principles of the aforementioned science.
Furthermore, from those who benefited from such a Tafseer was Imam Ibn Katheer who summarized much of what Imam At Tabari said and employed his methodology in treating with the statements of the Salaf.
Now, as I said in posts regarding Yasir Qadhi, I know where my lane is. I am not an expert in the field of Tafseer and upon taking from the wisdom of the scholars I have relegated myself to Al Jalalayn (with the checking of Safi Ur Rahmaan Al Mubarakfuri) and Tafseer As Sa’di at this point in time. However, to speak of Imam At Tabari’s excellent Tafseer in that manner is nothing but high handed disrespect for the science of tafseer, its principles and its commentators.
May Allah guide us all.