A Multi-Part Review of ‘Bible Secrets Revealed’

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I confess to being mystified as to why CSNTM is reviewing this series and I’m even more mystified as to why they are just getting to part 3 now.  Is it airing again or something?  They reviewed the first two parts in May.  Did someone go on vacation, for several months?

Anyway, my mystification aside, they remark

Before looking at some examples in the four Gospels, the view of women in one of the Gnostic gospels, the Gospel of Thomas, provides a rather disparaging view of women. In it is the following dialogue between Peter and Jesus:

“Simon Peter said to them, ‘Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.’ Jesus said, ‘Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven’” (Gospel of Thomas, 114).

This quote was not mentioned at any time in the episode. Had any of the New Testament Gospels included a statement this bizarre and offensive toward women, there is no doubt it would have received much attention. Rather, it can be argued that the New Testament Gospels diminish the role of men and elevate the status of women.

My own memory of the episode aligns with this suggestion.  Gnostic stuff which bolstered the view of King et al was highlighted and stuff like the above is nonchalantly skipped.

Anyway, take a look at the review series.  It’s pretty spot on.

Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel

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Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel
Volume 3/1 2014


HeBAI_cover_01Thomas Römer
Introduction 1–2

Israel Finkelstein/Thomas Römer
Comments on the Historical Background of the Abraham Narrative. Between “Realia” and “Exegetica” 3–23

Jean Louis Ska
Abraham between History and Poetry 24–42

Matthias Köckert
Wie wurden Abraham- und Jakobüberlieferung zu einer „Vätergeschichte“ verbunden? 43–66

Irmtraud Fischer
Wenn „Völker“ geboren werden, entsteht kein Volk ohne Frauen. Eine gender-faire Reflexion der Sara-Figur im Kontext der Welt erzeugenden Erzählungen der Genesis 67–86

Mark G. Brett
The Priestly Dissemination of Abraham 87–107

New Projects
Jan Dušek, Mt. Gerizim Sanctuary, Its History and Enigma of Origin 111–136

New Findings
Dominique Charpin, The Assyriologist and the Computer: The “Archibab” Project 137–153

The Abraham Narrative

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Israel Finkelstein and Thomas Römer, Comments on the Historical Background of the Abraham Narrative: Between “Realia” and “Exegetica”, was just published in Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel 3 (2014), pp. 3-23.


Was the Forbidden Fruit an Apple?

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adam_and_eveIt’s a perennial question and, believe it or not, I actually enjoyed this essay about it.  Usually such things are mere supposition but this is right interesting.

(By the way, the right answer is – no, it wasn’t an apple).

Another Look at the Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception

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The ninth volume of EBR has been published (as noted a day or so ago).  I thought it might be worthwhile to grab an extract from it to demonstrate, or illustrate, the meticulous care taken in the preparation of articles and the extraordinarily high level of scholarship involved.

So here’s a snippet from the entry ‘Galatians, Epistle to the’* -

I New Testament

James D. G. Dunn

The letter to the Galatians has provided more controversy than the rest of the Pauline correspondence. This is not because there has been dispute as to its author; it is one of the three NT letters least controversial as to content and authorship. It was written by the Christian missionary Paul, in part as a way of asserting his apostleship in relation tochurches he founded in the Roman province of Galatia.

1. The Recipients

The problems begin with the identity of theGalatians.” The name derives from the Gallic tribes (the Gauls or Celts) who migrated into Asia Minor and settled in its heartland in the 3rd century BCE. But the Roman province of Galatia stretched further south, embracing towns such as Antioch and Iconium. So, when Paul identified the recipients of his letter as “the churches of Galatia” (Gal 1:2) and rebuked them as “foolish Galatians” (3:1), was he addressing only the descendants of the Gauls (northern Galatia) or was he echoing the disdain felt towards the northern Celts in addressing those who lived in the south of the province?

Correlation with Luke’s account in the Acts of the Apostles helps only a little. Acts 16:6 seems to imply that Derbe and Lystra (16:1), prominent in Paul’s “first missionary journey” (14:6–21), were distinct from Phrygia and Galatia. But the reference excludes even more emphatically a more northerly route, to north Galatia, “which lay some 200 kilometers… north-east of any natural route between Lystra and the region of Mysia” (Mitchell: 2:3, n. 8). So although German scholarship in particular has been strongly in favor of a north-Galatian destination for the letter, unknown churches founded by Paul during his “second missionary journey” (Acts 16:1–10; e.g., Kümmel: 296–98),the more probable conclusion is that Paul wrote the letter to the churches he established in the southern part of the Roman province of Galatia during his first missionary journey, with Barnabas (Acts 13–14; see further Dunn 2009: 416–94).

Etc.  The article is divided into these segments (and the highlighted part is reflective of the search terms I used):


What RGG 3 was to the last generation of biblical scholarship, EBR is to this and the next.  Yes, it’s that significant.

*Galatians, Epistle to the. In Encyclopedia of the Bible Online. 2014. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter. Retrieved 23 Jul. 2014, from

Fun Facts from Church History: the Day Calvin Completed his Commentary on the Psalms

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Jean_CalvinAfter a fairly long introduction, Calvin writes

…[I]n unfolding the internal affections both of David and of others, I discourse upon them as matters of which I have familiar experience.

Moreover, since I have laboured faithfully to open up this treasure for the use of all the people of God, although what I have done has not been equal to my wishes, yet the attempt which I have made deserves to be received with some measure of favour. Still I only ask that each may judge of my labours with justice and candour, according to the advantage and fruit which he shall derive from them. Certainly, as I have said before, in reading these Commentaries, it will be clearly seen that I have not sought to please, unless in so far as I might at the same time be profitable to others. And, therefore, I have not only observed throughout a simple style of teaching, but in order to be removed the farther from all ostentation, I have also generally abstained from refuting the opinions of others, although this presented a more favourable opportunity for plausible display, and of acquiring the applause of those who shall favour my book with a perusal.

I have never touched upon opposite opinions, unless where there was reason to fear, that by being silent respecting them, I might leave my readers in doubt and perplexity. At the same time, I am sensible that it would have been much more agreeable to the taste of many, had I heaped together a great mass of materials which has great show, and acquires fame for the writer; but I have felt nothing to be of more importance than to have a regard to the edification of the Church. May God, who has implanted this desire in my heart, grant by his grace that the success may correspond thereto!

GENEVA, July 22, 1557*

Calvin’s desire in publishing his commentary wasn’t to impress the academic world, it was to edify the Church. Few and far between (and in most places they don’t even exist) are scholars today who write commentaries for the Church. Rather, they seem much more interested in impressing one another.

As a consequence, Calvin’s commentary is still being read, because it’s still profitable while it is extremely unlikely that 99.9% of the commentaries written today will be read even a decade from now, much less 500 years from now.
*Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Vol. 1, pp. xlviii–xlix).

Textual Criticism Fun

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9783290177140The lovely folk at Theologischer Verlag Zurich have just published a new commentary on Qoheleth, by the excellent Annette Schellenberg:

Das biblische Buch Kohelet (oder «Prediger») übt seit jeher eine spezielle Faszination aus. Annette Schellenberg bietet einen Überblick über die Hauptthemen von Kohelets Theologie und zeigt die traditionsgeschichtlichen Zusammenhänge mit anderen Schriften aus dem Alten Testament und seiner Umwelt auf. Im anschliessenden Kommentarteil arbeitet sie heraus, von welchen Erfahrungen Kohelets Reflexionen ausgelöst sind: Weisheit führt nicht zwingend zu Erfolg, Gerechtigkeit setzt sich nicht immer durch, der Tod trifft alle gleichermassen. Dies zeigt, dass die Lehren der klassischen Weisheit zu kurz greifen, und entsprechend klingt manches im Koheletbuch pessimistisch. Doch dabei belässt Kohelet es nicht. Er nimmt die Dissonanzen zwischen der Erfahrung und den klassischen Lehren der Weisheit zum Anlass, um vertieft über Gott, den Menschen und die Welt nachzudenken. Diese Reflexionen führen ihn zu einer Lebensphilosophie, die alles andere als pessimistisch ist.

Schallenberg asserts in the very first sentence that her reading and interpretation of the book is not from the standpoint of a neutral exegete but rather that of a person who loves this book. That love shows on every page, from the foreword through the last word.  What Schellenberg provides, then, is the finest commentary on Qoheleth that has been written in half a century (and longer, truth be told).  She loves the book and as a consequence her exposition is thorough and exact and shows a grasp of the author(s) intention(s) in a way that the cold and calculating commentary written at arms length cannot.

What this suggests, then, is that the best commentaries are written by people who actually love and respect the books upon which they comment.  Schellenberg is not merely appreciative of the author’s work but understands it precisely because she appreciates it.  Sympathetic readers make the best exegetes.  There’s a lesson to be learned here.  And it’s just the first of many which readers of the volume will encounter.

Before, however, I discuss this particular commentary allow me the space to laud the series in which it appears.  The Zürcher Bibelkommentare is astonishing in that each published volume is of incredibly high academic quality.  Some commentary series are uneven and sometimes even contain volumes that are both very good and utter rubbish (as, for example, the Anchor Bible- which contains the brilliant Jeremiah in three volumes and the utterly horrible and completely meritless ‘Revelation’).

Returning to S.’s work- she commences, following the foreword, with the usual introductory material discussing authorship, canonicity, themes, traditions, and the date of the book.  The commentary proper begins on page 45 and concludes on page 165.  After it, S. provides a bibliography.

While the foreword is engaging, the discussion of authorship is eye-opening and provides, in perfect sincerity, many ‘aha’ moments for readers.  Many of those ‘aha’ moments are then immediately followed by those annoying ‘why didn’t I notice that myself’ moments which both thrill and madden.

Turning to the commentary proper, the translation upon which the work is based is really quite lovely.  Eminently readable, it is also amazingly modern and still faithful to the ‘authorial intent’ (if I might be forgiven for using such a term).  Every pericope is carefully explained and when necessary divided into subsections for ease of discussion.  The biblical text is in dark bold print, as are the verse numberings in the explanations so persons seeking information on particular verses can easily find them.

There are neither footnotes nor endnotes.  S. does something amazing for a writer of a biblical commentary: she thinks for herself.  To be sure, she has consulted all the relevant literature but, mercifully, she doesn’t feel compelled to slavishly restate what has already been stated elsewhere.

The volume is an academic tour-de-force which also manages to offer Pastors and Clergy and those responsible for proclamation grist for the mill.  In that, too, S. is nearly unique.  To illustrate the point, ask yourself how many academically rigorous commentaries you’ve read which offer anything useful for proclamation.  S.’s does.

This volume needs to be read.  It needs to be translated into English and published so non-German reading North American academics (their name is Legion) can have it to use.

In sum- Schellenberg disproves the author of Qoheleth when he says ‘vanity of vanities, all is vanity’.  No, not everything.  Not this book.

Quote of the Day

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“Exegesis is the only science in which everyone considers himself competent…to judge without special studies and to dispute every point without consulting those who spend their lives at this hard task.”  ~Marie-Joseph Lagrange

(Via Cliff Kvidahl)

The Evangelical Exegetical Commentary: Lamentations

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Newly published and arriving today.  Here’s the opening of Chapter One-

lamThe opening chapter describes the utter desolation of Jerusalem. However, this is not merely a historical or even poetic description of the city. Rather, the poet uses theologically charged imagery to communicate the nature of Jerusalem’s fall. The poet focuses on the immense redemptive-historical ramifications of this event. For example, the writer describes Jerusalem in terms of the exodus (e.g., being a slave, vv. 1, 3) as well as a lack of rest (v. 3; cf. Psa 95:11; Heb 4:5). This helps the reader, ancient or modern, grapple with the magnitude of this moment. The point of this chapter is that life and history will never be the same. It deals with the “horizontal” or redemptive-historical impact of 587 B.C.

The poet develops this idea by first presenting the post-siege realities (vv. 1–6). He describes the loneliness of the city, its slavery, its subjection, and the removal of all its joy in a way that shows that this is the current state of exile. Such an outcome was the product of a history of sin and covenant disobedience (vv. 7–11). Israel is guilty, but the fact that this is based upon God’s rightness provides an opportunity for Israel to appeal to God. Nevertheless, at the current moment, God has poured out his wrath against the city and they have no comfort (vv. 12–22). Hence this chapter does not merely present a theological portrait of the era of exile, but also the painful reaction to that reality (vv. 12–20). Jerusalem’s personified agony indicates the nature of suffering that the poet will continue to develop in the book. However, the chapter also concludes with hope, as the poet prays for God to intervene in their distress. The first chapter exhibits the various theological dynamics of exile relative to the poet’s view of the world, as the poet walks his reader through the suffering of exile. This is an era of sorrow.

I’ll have more to say about the volume in the coming weeks.