Covenant: A Vital Element of Reformed Theology

Covenant: A Vital Element of Reformed Theology provides a multi-disciplinary reflection on the theme of the covenant, from historical, biblical-theological and systematic-theological perspectives. The interaction between exegesis and dogmatics in the volume reveals the potential and relevance of this biblical motif. It proves to be vital in building bridges between God’s revelation in the past and the actual question of how to live with him today.

Qumran

Die Schriftfragmente und Ruinen, die 1947 – 1956 am Toten Meer entdeckt wurden, geben bis heute Rätsel auf. War die Gemeinschaft, die hier lebte, eine Art Kloster, eine absonderliche Sekte oder eine Schreibwerkstatt? Kam Johannes der Täufer oder Jesus hierher? Der renommierte Bibelwissenschaftler  Reinhard Kratz verabschiedet in seinem bahnbrechenden Buch viele der gängigen Hypothesen und zeigt, dass wir in Qumran Zeugnisse des entstehenden «biblischen Judentums» vor uns haben, das sich von anderen Jahwe-Verehrern abgrenzte und bis heute in Judentum und Christentum lebendig ist.

Die Fragmente von rund tausend hebräischen, aramäischen und griechischen Handschriften, die in Höhlen nahe der Siedlung Hirbet Qumran zutage gefördert wurden, sind eine der spektakulärsten Entdeckungen des 20. Jahrhunderts. Die Texte geben Einblick in die Lebens- und Vorstellungswelt einer bis dahin völlig unbekannten Gruppe des Judentums der hellenistisch-römischen Zeit. Reinhard Kratz erklärt die Geschichte der Funde und ihrer Erforschung, rekonstruiert die Organisation der Gemeinschaft und erläutert, wie und warum hier so viele Texte entstanden. In einem souveränen Durchgang durch die wichtigsten Schriften macht er deutlich, dass die Gemeinschaft Teil einer Bewegung war, die sich auf die biblischen Schriften, besonders Tora und Propheten, berief und vom traditionellen jüdischen Opferkult distanzierte. Klar und anschaulich entsteht so ein neues, plastisches Bild von der Vielfalt des antiken Judentums und der frommen Bewegung, aus der auch das Christentum hervorging.   

Die Propheten der Bibel

Die Entstehung der jüdischen Religion ist eng mit den Propheten verbunden. Der renommierte Bibelwissenschaftler Reinhard G. Kratz rekonstruiert die Geschichte der biblischen Prophetie von ihren Ursprüngen in der altorientalischen Mantik über die Entstehung prophetischer und apokalyptischer Schriften bis hin zu ihrer Rezeption in Judentum, Christentum und Islam. Sein konziser Überblick auf dem neuesten Forschungsstand bietet einen einzigartigen Schlüssel zum Verständnis der abrahamitischen Religionen.   

Die Druckmacher

Der Buchdruck veränderte die Welt, doch es bedurfte einer zweiten Generation von «Printing Natives», die mit Ablassbriefen, Thesen, Diffamierungen und Sensationsmeldungen als Massenware einen tiefgreifenden Kulturwandel entfesselte. Der renommierte Kirchenhistoriker Thomas Kaufmann zeigt in seinem anschaulichen, Augen öffnen den Buch, warum wir die «Generation Luther» besser verstehen, wenn wir die heutigen «Digital Natives» betrachten – und umgekehrt.

Die ersten Autos waren motorisierte Kutschen, der Computer diente als Schreibmaschine, und gedruckte Bücher setzten die handgeschriebenen fort: Innovationen werden zunächst in den gewohnten Bahnen genutzt, bevor eine zweite Generation die neuen Möglichkeiten ausschöpft. Thomas Kaufmann beschreibt, wie um 1500 eine junge Generation die Drucktechnik nutzte, um gegen die «Türkengefahr» zu mobilisieren, Ablassbriefe zu vertreiben und für eine «Reformation» der Kirche zu kämpfen. Drucker wie Aldus Manutius, Graphiker wie Albrecht Dürer, Humanisten wie Erasmus von Rotterdam und Johannes Reuchlin oder Theologen wie Martin Luther und Ulrich Zwingli vermarkteten sich auf Flugschriften und in Traktaten selbst und machten Druck: Gegner wurden in wachsenden Echoräumen diffamiert, Ereignisse zu Sensationen gemacht, um eine sich zerstreuende Aufmerksamkeit zu fesseln. Die Reformation war, wie Thomas Kaufmann zeigt, nur ein Teil dieses viel breiteren kulturellen Umbruchs. Schließlich veränderte die neue Technik die Art des Forschens und mit Enzyklopädien oder druckgraphischen Werken die Weise, wie Menschen die Welt wahrnehmen.   

Christliches Leben und die Verbesserung des Menschen: Enhancement und Heiligung bei Calvin

Be better, be more beautiful, perform better! Self-optimization is all the rage. What do theology and the church have to say about it? Should they issue a warning and strike up a cultural pessimistic tune? Maybe they could activate their own resources, which have the potential for discursive compatibility with phenomena of self-improvement. This study brings the discourse of enhancement into dialogue with the locus of healing in Calvin.

Freely available in Open Access or for a cost for a hard copy.

Understanding Texts in Early Judaism: Studies on Biblical, Qumranic, Deuterocanonical and Cognate Literature in Memory of Géza Xeravits

This volume remembers Géza Xeravits, a well known scholar of deuterocanonical and Qumran literature. The volume is divided into four sections according to his scholarly work and interest.

Contributions in the first part deal with Old Testament and related issues (Thomas Hiecke, Stefan Beyerle, and Mattew Goff).

The second section is about the Dead Sea Scrolls (John J, Collins, John Kampen, Peter Porzig, Eibert Tigchelaar, Balázs Tamási and Réka Esztári).

The third section deals with some cognate literature (József Zsengellér and Karin Schöpflin). The last section about the Ancient Synagogue has the paper of Anders Kloostergaard Petersen.

The largest part is the forth on deuterocanonica (Beate Ego, Lucas Brum Teixteira, Fancis Macatangay, Tobias Nicklas, Maria Brutti, Nuria, Chalduch-Benages, Panc Beentjes, Ben Wright, Otto Mulder, Angelo Passaro, Friedrich Reiterer, Severino Bussino, Jeremy Corley and JiSeong Kwong).

Some hot topics are discussed, for example the Two spirits in Qumran, the cathegorization of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the authorship and antropology of Ben Sira, and the angelology of Vitae Prophetarum.

Render Unto Caesar: The Struggle Over Christ and Culture in the New Testament

John Dominic Crossan’s latest volume:

Leading Bible scholar John Dominic Crossan, the author of the pioneering work The Historical Jesus, provides new insight into the Christian culture wars which began in the New Testament and persist strongly today.

For decades, Americans have been divided on how Christians should relate to government and lawmakers, a dispute that has impacted every area of society and grown more rancorous over the past forty years. But as Crossan makes clear, this debate isn’t new; it can be found in the New Testament itself, most notably in the tensions between Luke-Acts and Revelation.

In the texts of Luke-Acts, Rome is considered favorably. In the book of Revelation, Rome is seen as the embodiment of evil in the world. Yet there is an alternative to these two extremes, Crossan explains. The historical Jesus and Paul, the earliest Christian teachers, were both strongly opposed to Rome, yet neither demonized the Empire.

Crossan sees in Jesus and Paul’s approach a model for Christians today that can be used to cut through the acrimony and polarization roiling our society and dividing us.

A companion video to this volume offers readers a nice thematic overview of the aims and intentions of the work:

More particularly, the current volume consists of three major divisions, the first two of which examine the Book of Revelation in the first instance and Luke-Acts in the second in pursuit of an understanding of how some early Christians approached the intersection of Christ and Society. Revelation offers a repudiation of culture, demonizing it. Luke accepts culture, and canonizes it.

Crossan thinks both of these approaches are inadequate. So he offers a third way. Accordingly, the third division of the book, Culture Confronted and Criticized, gives readers a middle way between the outright demonization of culture and its outright acceptance.

Crossan advances the notion that nonviolent resistance is the path modern Christianity should take in its dealings with culture.

Three appendices offer readers further insight into Crossan’s understanding of Christian response to social upheaval.

As is always the case when Dom writes a book, readers are provided the opportunity of seeing things in a different light. Crossan is the sort of author gifted with the ability to take what most perceive to be well known biblical material and reading it and interpreting it in a very new way. He is like a skilled jeweler who can hold a gem up to the light and by slightly adjusting the viewing angle, expose colors and brilliance the regular observer would never have noticed on his or her own. That is certainly what he does here.

From something so mundane as the story of a coin, Crossan is able to relate heretofore unobserved facts which shed immense light on the Gospels. That is his greatest talent. That is, his ability to relate new things about well known old texts.

As thoroughly immersed as Crossan is in the material, he is never dull or boring in his presentation of it. Nor does he take for granted that his readers know what he knows. Instead, he writes in a manner as clear as the river flowing down the center of the street in the New Jerusalem. It’s a manner that is neither condescending nor assuming and that in itself is an incredibly rare thing among Biblical Scholars, who are either far too often talking down to their readers or assuming they know facts that they do not know.

Dom Crossan has been writing books for decades. He’s been, in equal measure, enthralling (to those well acquainted with historical-critical biblical scholarship) and annoying (to those of a fundamentalist outlook). Some of those books have been very good. All of them have been worthy of a reading. All of them have been educational. But this is the best of them all. This is the most instructive of them all. It shows wit and wisdom in equal measure and invites readers to see the present relevance of the biblical texts and their theology in relationship with their own lives and interests.

An exceptional volume such as this deserves attention. I hope it gets it. I hope you’ll read it.

Protestant Bible Scholarship: Antisemitism, Philosemitism and Anti-Judaism

Historical criticism of the Bible emerged in the context of protestant theology and is confronted in every aspect of its study with otherness: the Jewish people and their writings. However, despite some important exceptions, there has been little sustained reflection on the ways in which scholarship has engaged, and continues to engage, its most significant Other. This volume offers reflections on anti-Semitism, philo-Semitism and anti-Judaism in biblical scholarship from the 19th century to the present. The essays in this volume reflect on the past and prepare a pathway for future scholarship that is mindful of its susceptibility to violence and hatred.

The table of Contents is this:

Karl Georg Kuhn (1906–1976) – Two Academic Careers in Germany- Hermann Lichtenberger

Judaism as Religious Cosmopolitanism: Apologetics and Appropriation in the Jüdisches Lexikon (1927–1930)- Irene Zwiep

Anti-Semitism and Early Scholarship on Ancient Anti-Semitism- René Bloch

The Rise and Fall of the Notion of “Spätjudentum” in Christian Biblical Scholarship- Konrad Schmid

“Circumcision is Nothing”: A Non-Reformation Reading of the Letters of Paul- Paula Fredriksen

Anti-Judaism and Philo-Judaism in Pauline Studies, Then and Now- Matthew V. Novenson

The Sibylline Oracles: A Case Study in Ancient and Modern Anti-Judaism- Olivia Stewart Lester

Anti-Judaism, Philo-Semitism, and Protestant New Testament Studies: Perspectives and Questions- Jörg Frey

American Biblical Scholarship and the Post-War Battle against Anti-Semitism- Steven Weitzman

10 Jewish and Christian Approaches to Biblical Theology- John Barton

Index

The volume is the product of a conference whose organizers are to be thanked for arranging it and whos participants are to be thanked for writing their presentations out more fully for publication.  And the editors of the work are to be thanked for their hard work in putting the volume together.  Works like this are never easy to pull off given the always dicey proposition of getting people to ‘turn in their work’ in a timely manner.

Professors may often be good at giving assignments to their students and requiring their being turned in at a particular time, but many of them are quite bad at meeting deadlines; and this puts lots of pressure on editors and publishers.

The work at hand

… is the product of a two-day conference held in Oriel College, Oxford at the Centre for the Study of the Bible. Faculty, invited scholars, students and community members came together to think about the interaction between scholarship and society, about the redemptive and destructive impact that scholarship can have, and about our responsibilities as citizens, scholars, students and teachers. None of us has invented or created the scholarly heritage to which we contribute and which we pass on. Rather, through many years of painstaking study and various forms of renunciation, we have become initiated into a community of learning, which we love and with which we identify in the deepest possible sense.

Indeed, our teachers have had a deep influence upon our lives and their teachings have shaped our thinking and perception of the world, and of each other. But our discipline is not innocent. This volume asks of each of us to reflect on our past as scholars, to acknowledge our responsibility to our students, and to prepare the pathway for scholarship that is mindful of its own power and susceptibility to violence and racism. We mark the past in order to help shape a future which is full of hope and generosity, and a future that does not recycle or repeat the hatred of the past.

Essays in the collection are both engaging and saddening.  They are engaging because they are written by a bevy of scholars who are incapable of being boring.  And they are saddening because they tell us how Jews have been so horribly treated by people named Christians.  But it also tells us how scholars have sought to set the situation right.  For instance, Steven Weitzman observes

Despite signs of a recent resurgence in anti-Jewish prejudice, America’s efforts to overcome antisemitism still counts as a success story. In the 1920s and 1930s, antisemitic attitudes were widespread in many sectors of American society, including within prominent universities like Harvard and Princeton. While some degree of antisemitism has persisted in American culture, polling confirms it as far less common. According to the Roper poll from 1938, the first poll to gauge antisemitic attitudes in the United States, the percentage of Americans who believed Jews had too much power was 41%. When American attitudes toward the Jews were surveyed in 2016 by the Anti-Defamation League, the number of Americans harbouring antisemitic attitudes was around 14%, half of what it was when the ADL began to poll for antisemitic attitudes in 1964. Dramatically diminishing antisemitism – not eliminating it, but significantly lowering it and discrediting it – was a major and enduring achievement of post-war America.

John Barton’s essay is, however, the high water mark of the collection.  He begins it by writing

In this paper I want to examine some recent Jewish ventures into biblical theology, which until a few years ago had been largely a Christian interest, and suggest ways they could be fruitful for Christian biblical theology too. These thoughts are prompted by Jon Levenson’s well-known article ‘Why Jews are not interested in Biblical Theology’, published in his collection The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and Historical Criticism in 1993, though the underlying original piece, ‘Why Jews are not interested in the Bible’ goes back to 1987.

After examining the situation as it presently exists, Barton offers suggestions for moving forward.   He begins that segment by saying

How would a Theology of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament look if one started from a Torah-centred perspective, seeing it as primarily about how life should be lived? As well as (obviously) the legal sections of the Pentateuch, the wisdom literature would then move into central focus, along with, importantly, Psalm 119, the great Torah-Psalm, whose theme is the sanctification of life by observance of God’s statutes (from a historical point of view we do not know what exactly constituted Torah for this psalmist, though in a canonical perspective it has to be taken as referring to the Torah in more or less its current sense). Much less emphasis will fall on the story, or history, of Israel and of the world than has been usual in Old Testament Theologies.

In all, one finds here genius.  It is an Open Access volume and thus anyone who wishes to have a copy in PDF format is able to, freely.  So my suggestion is that people download a copy at the link above and read it for themselves.  You certainly will not wish you had watched TV instead.

40 Questions About Arminianism

The actual life and teaching of Jacobus Arminius are often unknown or misunderstood across many Protestant traditions. Answers beyond a basic caricature can be elusive. What are the essential historical backgrounds of Arminianism, and what theological teachings connect to the Arminian point of view? Mixing solid historical research with biblical and doctrinal precision, Baptist scholar J. Matthew Pinson clarifies the foundations of this influential tradition.

Arminius.  Pelagius. Marcion. Servetus.  And many others are inhabitants of a list of influential (albeit mostly heretical) persons in the history of Christianity who have been rehabilitated in recent years.  There’s a trend among historical theologians to take a fresh look at long scorned (in certain corners of the Christian tradition) souls.  The present book isn’t one of them.

The present book doesn’t attempt to rehabilitate Arminius in the eyes of Calvinists.  The present book isn’t titled ’40 Questions About Arminius’.  The present book is titled ’40 Questions About Arminianism’.  Accordingly, its author asks, and answers, 40 questions (I suppose since that’s such an important number in the Bible it was landed upon quite naturally.  After all, who wants to read a book titled 38 Questions or 13 Questions or the like) about the theological camp called Arminians.  A group of people as divergent and diverse of opinion as the Calvinists.

Pinson is aware of the great diversity of opinions one discovers when one peeks into the murky world of Arminianism.  The dank halls and smoggy recesses of that theological structure have enticed many and ever since their entry into that edifice they have been lost to general theology.  So instead of focusing on the most remote of corners hidden by the densest smoke, Pinson centers his study on those ideas which the bulk of Arminians hold to.

The book is divided into 5 major parts:

  1. Introductory and Historical Questions
  2. Questions About the Atonement and Justification
  3. Questions About Free Will and Grace
  4. Questions About Election and Regeneration
  5. Questions About Perseverance and Apostasy

Part 3 is the longest, and Parts 2 and 4 are the shortest; each having 12 and 6 sections, respectively.  Accordingly, Free Will and Grace gets the most thorough look.

In Part Three we’re treated to discussions of Semi-Pelagianism, the notion of free will as held by Arminians, Compatibilism, God’s sovereignty, prevenient grace, and irresistible grace.

Each question has a summary following its discussion, and reflection questions following the summary (so it’s great for group discussions).  Indices of Scripture, names, and subjects also are provided.

Pinson mentions Zwingli twice, and in neither instance does he do him violence.  That makes the book even more enjoyable than it is thanks to its clarity of expression and thoroughness of presentation.  It is an authentically helpful book and persons who care about such things as theological debates between Reformed and Reformed will find it sensible and cogent.  Though naturally no one will agree with every snippet.

Calvinists will take umbrage with the style in which Calvinism’s views are sometimes represented.  Take, for instance, the phrasing of page 169-170, where in the midst of his discussion concerning Arminianism and the Glory of God, P. writes, polemically (at least in the minds of his Calvinist readers):

How Calvinism Detracts from the Glory of God.

Arminians need to emphasize that Calvinism is the system that detracts from God’s glory, which is rooted in his justice, because the logical outcome of its system makes God the author of evil.  No matter how much Calvinists insist that it is not so, the Arminian maintains that this must be the outcome of a metaphysic that claims that God meticulously and directly ordains every aspect of reality.

Calvinists wouldn’t agree, would they.

I suppose it’s inevitable that when one takes a viewpoint it is inevitable that other viewpoints will be minimalized or misstated or even downright misrepresented.

This book is thoroughly Arminian in its outlook.  Knowing that will disabuse anyone of the false suspicion that it is an even handed thoroughly fair presentation of non-Arminian views.  Thus readers will not be disappointed when fairness is absent.

Still, I enjoyed reading this book.  I’m not averse to a bit of polemic, after all, so seeing it in print is not at all off-putting.  More tender souls may feel otherwise.

Whether or not one appreciates a nice slap of polemics, take this book in hand and give it a read.  You’ll learn a lot.

Medieval Writings on Sex between Men: Peter Damian’s ‘The Book of Gomorrah’ and Alain de Lille’s ‘The Plaint of Nature’

What happens if a cleric breaks his vows of sexual abstinence? What happens if the cleric in question does so repeatedly with other men of his vocation? Eleventh-century theologian Peter Damian provides a response.

What happens if an author uses metaphor as a metaphor signifying and excoriating male same-sex relations, yet does so in a text showing an exuberant and unabashed orientation towards metaphorical language? Is the author in question rhetorically perpetrating precisely the so-called affront to nature he grammatically denounces? Twelfth-century poet Alain de Lille enacts an ambiguously enigmatic response.

Setting in their historical context two works from the Medieval era which have as their subject same sex male sexual practice, the current work then provides a detailed, articulate, and masterful commentary on those Medieval works.

More particularly, Peter Damian, The Book of Gomorrah (Liber Gomorrhianus); and Alain de Lille, The Plaint of Nature (De planctu Naturae) are here rendered.  The authors writings are introduced and so are the purposes for which they were composed.  Of Damian’s efforts we read

The eleventh-century theologian Peter Damian composed the text today known as The Book of Gomorrah with a twofold intent: to warn the pope of the time, Leo IX, that members of the clergy were having sex, largely with one another, and to suggest the pontiff introduce measures of reform that would return to Church to its former state of worldly prestige and spiritual power. Faced by what he considered the unfettered tyranny of the flesh, Peter inveighs against all sexual activity pursued for pleasure, arguing that, unless cleansed by confession and penance, even a single act of autoeroticism will occasion an eternity of infernal damnation. He holds, nonetheless, sexual relations between men to be a particular anathema: like all carnal sin, it is an affront to clerical chastity; yet, Peter contends, it also runs counter to the laws of nature. In an attempt to extirpate such purported depravities, Peter first documents each of the “unnatural” acts he censures and attributes them to devilish machination. He then directly addresses the fallen cleric and enjoins him once again to aspire to chastity and the union with the blood and body of Christ it will entail.

Their works are analyzed and an English edition of each is provided.

The translations themselves are, in a word, extraordinary.  Take, for instance, this snippet from de Lille’s book:

This plague is enemy not only to men of the plebeian masses. It also makes the haughty necks of prelates bow before it. For them, the graces that the benevolence of Nature has showered upon Bacchus are insufficient. Taking on the sucking power of a reed straw, and with the voracious throat of Charybdis, they swallow down a Bacchus who now rejoices in marriage to the rose, now breathes the fragrance of another flower, now arrogates for himself certain privileges from consorting with the hyssop, now enjoys the wealth conferred by the extrinsic riches of still other sources. They take this so far that they experience a shipwreck without a sea, tears without sadness, lethargy without illness, drunken dreams without sleep. When, struck by the intoxicating effects of inebriation, they apply themselves to the psalms, they insert the unwelcome wind of crapulous excess, punctuating their verses with inordinate interruptions.

Peter Damian’s work sounds like this:

Sodomites, therefore, endeavor violently to burst in upon angels when unclean men attempt to approach God through the offices of the holy order. Yet they are without doubt struck by blindness since, by the just judgment of God, they fall into internal darkness and cannot therefore find the door. Because divided from God in sin, they do not know the way to return to Him.

It’s fair to say that these Medieval authors make use of extremely colorful language in order to paint a portrait for their contemporaries regarding male with male sexual practices.

The service the present volume provides for historians of the Medieval period in general and historians focused on gender studies is immense.  Few have a copy of the two books at ready hand and fewer still have the linguistic capacity to do what David Rollo has so magnificently achieved.  It is, further, culturally relevant here and now.  This is no dusty tome which will be of interest only to a tiny group of elite academics.  It is a book widely interesting.

Amid the myriads of things scholars have to make time to read, this is the sort of volume that they will actually want to read.  It is a grand experience and one which rewards richly those who make the journey into what is authentically a fascinating segment of history.

Tolle, lege!

Edwards, Germany, and Transatlantic Contexts

Jonathan Edwards engaged in notable ways with the church in Germany through his writings on spirituality, theology and missiology, but this contribution has rarely been acknowledged in academic publications. In this book scholars who have an interest in both Edwards and the church in Europe offer contributions to a significant worldwide conversation on Edwards’s texts and teachings. He found an ally in Martin Luther, sought out encouragement from German Pietists, and engaged with Western traditions of philosophy which proved useful in sharpening subsequent reflection on God’s work in the world. Edwards was not just a remote colonial American pastor, but an active participant in the transatlantic republic of letters and contributed to the birth of the global missions movement, for which the church in Germany was itself a significant base.

Having fallen into disfavor in recent years for his pro-slavery views and other aberrations from absolute morality (whatever that means in the moment in which it is uttered) here in America, it’s worth the time it takes to read the essays here collected to see how Edwards was received in a European context.

I won’t repeat here the table of contents but instead will simply direct your attention to the Leseprobe at the link above.  All of the essays are in English save one, in German.  They all do a bang up job of showing how Edwards was received in places like Germany and the Netherlands and how his ideas influenced and interacted with people like Schleiermacher and Kant.  And how Edwards was himself influenced by European, and particularly German theology.  The theological flow between Europe and America made its way via Edwards in key instances.

Like it or not, Jonathan Edwards was a theological force to be reckoned with, not only in America but in Europe as well.  This handy little volume goes a good way in showing how Europe reckoned with him, and conversely, how Europe influenced him.

The chief takeaway is that Europe, in many ways, actually understood Edwards better than his American compatriots.  And Edwards understood German Pietism better than most Americans.  This is made particularly clear in Ryan Hoselton’s ‘Jonathan Edwards, Halle Pietism, and Benevolent Activism in Early Awakened Protestantism’.  The mildly off-putting title of the essay belies the absolute genius of its contents.  H. shows in such a clever and clear way Edwards emphasis on charity as a key aspect of Evangelism derives from the Halle Pietists.

Students of Edwards will learn a lot from this collection.  Chiefly that he is perhaps more important than they formerly imagined.

Sprachliche Aggression bei Martin Luther

With a long subtitle

Argumentationsformen und -funktionen am Beispiel der Streitschrift “Wider das Papsttum zu Rom vom Teufel gestiftet” (1545)

Martin Luther was not just a great reformer and bible translator, but also an extremely pugnacious and, in his argumentation, sometimes polemical contemporary. This form of linguistic aggression is very clearly expressed in his pamphlet “Against the Papacy of Rome, Founded by the Devil” of 1545. This volume reveals the linguistic means that he used to implement this by undertaking a practical argumentation analysis.

When Martin Luther said things like 

  • You ought to feel shame in your hearts, you great gruff asses’ heads.
  • Wither now, dear factious spirits? I will let you write and shriek for a thousand years and need not oppose you with more than one word. O how one word smashes you prophets and spirits into one lump in the gutter.
  • My soul, like Ezekiel’s, is nauseated at eating your bread covered with human dung. Do you know what this means?
  • What else can one say here, except that these ideas originate in your own wanton concoctions, or in a drunken dream?
  • What devilish unchristian thing would you not undertake?
  • You are raging like mad dogs.

And many other similar things, he earned a reputation in his own day and for all time afterwards as a man who could wield with great skill an insult.  No one was better at it, not in his day nor since.  The wit of Luther could bite down hard and leave its victims with a lifelong scar.  Woe betide anyone who fell into his wrathful crosshairs.

Many writers have worked with Luther’s grainy side.  Few have examined his insults from the point of view of linguistics.  Which is why the present book is so important, and engaging.

Focusing on Luther’s ‘Against the Papacy of Rome, an Invention of the Devil’ of 1545 when Luther was at the end of his life and the peak of his rage, the present work is the most careful linguistic study yet penned concerning any of Luther’s works.  Can Luther be accused of ‘hate speech’?  That is the overarching issue at hand.  And if so, how?

At the link above interested persons can find the table of contents and several bits of the book that are available in PDF. 

The first four chapters are the locale of the reasons why the fifth chapter exists and the fifth chapter is the heart of the matter at hand.  Here, in extraordinary detail, Hundt provides examples of the linguistic varieties of Luther’s ‘aggressive speech’.  These include but are not limited to  

  • fictive argument
  • a-fortieri argument
  • tertium non datur
  • argumentum ad absurdum
  • biblical arguments
  • ad hominem argument
  • scatalogy
  • sexual innuendo
  • historical example
  • metaphor
  • double negation
  • pleonasm
  • hyperbole
  • irony
  • Latin
  • mixed italian-latin
  • ad nauseam

and dozens of others.  In short, Luther mustered every linguistic trick in the book when he wanted to assail a foe.  And he did so with immense effect.

The sixth chapter shows how these argumentations worked in the book on the papacy.

In an appendix the citations of the Bible which are found in “Against the Papacy’ are tabulated.

This isn’t a mere listing of Luther’s insults.  It is an examination of many of the insults Luther generated and how they function linguistically.  Without making any judgments about why and how Luther said what he did, Hundt shows us what it means that he said what he did.

This is a superb study.  Detailed and clever but not so clever as to be tiresome or annoying.  Clever the way ‘House’ was clever television.  Indeed, Hundt examines every nook and cranny of Luther’s language (in one particular text) and then offers a diagnosis that few have seen previously, or even could see.

Scholars of Luther and students of the German language will find this book informative.  Give it a read.

Literary Depictions of the Scribal Profession in the Story of Ahiqar and Jeremiah 36

This is the first study to compare the allusions to scribal culture found in the Aramaic Story of Ahiqar and the Hebrew Tale of Jeremiah and Baruch’s Scroll in Jeremiah 36. It is shown that disguised in the royal propagandistic message of Ahiqar is a sophisticated Aramaic critique on the social practices of Akkadian scribal culture. Jeremiah 36, however, uses loci of scribal activity as well as allusions to scribal interactions and the techniques of the scribal craft to construct a subversive tale.

When studied from a comparative perspective it is argued that the Story of Ahiqar, which has long been associated with the well-known court tale genre, is an example of a subgenre which is here called the scribal conflict narrative, and Jeremiah 36 is found to be a second example of or a response to it. This observation is arrived at by means of rigorous manuscript examination combined with narrative analysis, which identified, among other things, the development of autobiographical and biographical styles of the same ancient narrative.

This study not only provides new perspectives on scribal culture, Ahiqar studies, and Jeremiah studies, but it may have far reaching implications for other ancient sources.

At just over 200 pages, Moore’s reworked 2017 doctoral dissertation is here presented. It’s contents are

Preface

  1. Introduction
  2. Allusions to the Aramaic Scribal Profession in the Story of Ahiqar
  3. Allusions to the Hebrew Scribal Profession in the Tale of Jeremiah and Baruch’s Scroll
  4. The Story of Ahiqar and the Tale of Jeremiah and Baruch’s Scroll in Comparative Perspective
  5. Conclusion

Appendix: Syriac Ahiqar Manuscripts Cited

Bibliography

And of course indices of ancient sources, foreign words, abbreviations, and sigla.  Three chapters of research flesh suspended on two chapters of structural bones (the introduction and conclusion) may not, at first sight, appear to be much.  But there is plenty here to think about.

The work overall is straightforward enough in its format and aim: to investigate scribal practices and to do so through a close examination of two ancient texts, Ahiqar and Jeremiah.  These two sources of information concerning scribal practice are then compared and once that’s done, the work concludes.

Naturally the questions ‘why pursue such a topic?’ and ‘what can we learn by dong so?’ stand at the forefront of any encounter with this work.  Moore admits that the tales in Jeremiah and Ahiqar concerning scribes might not even be historical; but they may contain information about scribal practices in the ancient world which we can then extract and use as windows on antiquity.  We can, in sum, see into the workshop of the scribes and that is itself reward enough and reason enough to undertake such a quest.

What do these texts tell us then?  They tell us that

What unites them …  was a shared experience about a fickle profession and a looming worry that, either due to a self-assigned character flaw or an uncontrollable social force, they would be unable to do their jobs.

They, in short, worried about their jobs.  That is not unique to scribes, and the whole of the book shows precisely how they struggled to communicate, against overwhelming odds.

Thus, rather than being an eye-drying gaze into past dust, this work brings the past into the present and shows just how tenuous the scholarly pursuit really is.  The subtext, and maybe the unintended subtext (or maybe the intentional subtext) of Moore’s work is that scholars have plenty to worry about when it comes to their work.  The ancient scribes occupied shaky limbs, and so do modern academics.  The ancient scribes could never be quite certain what would become of their hard work; the result of a lifetime of study and effort, and neither can modern scholars (our day’s own scribes).

Read through the scarlet thread of academic tenuousness, Moore’s book is not only engaging, it is in equal measure encouraging and terrifying (especially for younger scholars just beginning their journey).  It is worthy of a reading.

And even if I’m wrong about its subtext and the subversive message concerning academia found in it, it is still a remarkable scholarly achievement.  It is worthy of a reading indeed.

John Davenant’s Hypothetical Universalism: A Defense of Catholic and Reformed Orthodoxy

Recently there has been a revival of interest in the views held by Reformed theologians within the parameters of confessional orthodoxy. For example, the doctrine known as ‘hypothetical universalism’–the idea that although Christ died in some sense for every person, his death was intended to bring about the salvation only for those who were predestined for salvation. Michael Lynch focuses on the hypothetical universalism of the English theologian and bishop John Davenant (1572-1641), arguing that it has consistently been misinterpreted and misrepresented as a via media between Arminian and Reformed theology.

A close examination of Davenent’s De Morte Christi, is the central core of the study. Lynch offers a detailed exposition of Davenant’s doctrine of universal redemption in dialogue with his understanding of closely related doctrines such as God’s will, predestination, providence, and covenant theology. He defends the thesis that Davenant’s version of hypothetical universalism represents a significant strand of the Augustinian tradition, including the early modern Reformed tradition. The book examines the patristic and medieval periods as they provided the background for the Lutheran, Remonstrant, and Reformed reactions to the so-called Lombardian formula (‘Christ died sufficiently for all, effectually for the elect’). It traces how Davenant and his fellow British delegates at the Synod of Dordt shaped the Canons of Dordt in such a way as to allow for their English hypothetical universalism.

I’m reviewing it for The English Historical Review.

It’s a fantastic book, and, I confess, much better than I expected it to be. You’ll be able to read the review, which I’ve sent off to the editor, at EHR in due course (I’m not sure when since I don’t know their publication schedule, but I’ll let you know when it’s out).

Message and Composition of the Book of Isaiah: An Interpretation in the Light of Jewish Reception History

The study deals with the theological message and composition of the Book of Isaiah and promotes a thesis that an early Jewish reception history helps us to find perspectives to understand them. This study treats the following themes among others:

1 Hezekiah as Immanuel was an important theme in the reception as can be seen in Chronicles and Ben Sira as well as in rabbinical writings. The central event which makes Hezekiah such an important figure, was the annihilation of the Assyrian army as recounted in Isaiah 36-37.

2 The Book of Isaiah was interpreted in apocalyptic milieu as the Animal Apocalypse and Daniel show. Even though the Qumran writings do not provide any coherent way to interpret Isaianic passages its textual evidence shows how the community has found from the Book of Isaiah different concepts to characterize the division of the Jewish community to the righteous and sinful ones (cf. Isa 65-66).

3 Ezra and Nehemiah received inspiration from the theological themes of Isaianic texts of Levitical singers which were later edited in the Book of Isaiah by scribes. The formation of the Book of Isaiah then went in its own way and its theology became different from that in the Book of Ezra–Nehemiah.

Reception history continues to be very fertile ground for biblical studies.  Studies have attempted to examine the way the biblical texts have been utilized in literature, art, architecture, music, film, television, and of course, religious texts.  There is, in fact, a very extensive multi-volume multiple-years-long project ongoing from the same publisher as this volume of a work called the Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (EBR).

Some of these forays into reception history (which has been a thing for a bit more than a couple of decades now it seems) have been very, very good.  Some have been ok.  Some have been mediocre.  And some have been the intellectual equivalent of a visit to the bedroom of a 13 year old boy that hasn’t been properly cleaned or sanitized since said boy was 10.  I.e., they stink.

Fortunately for all of us, the present work falls into the first category and not the last.  The effort of a number of years of thinking and research, this work is exemplary.  It is the result of many smaller projects and is itself part of a larger still ongoing project; so it is clear that Laato is heavily engaged with the methodology.

The introduction is devoted to delineating the task of the study and surveying preceding studies.  Chapter two is titled, in part, ‘The Pro-Hezekiah Reception of the Book of Isaiah’.  Here the meat of the matter is served up, along with chapter three and its focus on the ‘Book of Isaiah and the Eschatological Plan of Salvation.’  Chapter four brings attention to the theme of the ‘holy seed’ in Isaiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah.  The fifth chapter then draws all the elements together and strives to provide a basic ‘Understanding [of] the Message and the Composition of the Book of Isaiah’.

An astonishingly thorough bibliography and indices of the Bible and other ancient texts along with an index of authors brings the volume to a close.  Unsurprisingly neither Zwingli nor Luther appear in that list of authors.  One can hope.  But alas…

This is a thoroughly academic book with an audience in mind that can only be rightly described as being academically oriented.  It is a scholarly work of scholarship for scholars by a scholar.  It won’t suit a Sunday School class or a book club unless that book club is comprised of people well versed in exegesis and reception history and able to manage articulate and erudite diction whilst simultaneously being able to read Hebrew and understand arguments based on words in that language.

The audience intended is, in sum, narrow.  But members of that narrow audience will really enjoy the work and they will find it stimulating and engaging.  When they sit down with their spouses and friends over a nice ice cold Coke it would be best if they didn’t drone on about it but when they are in the faculty lounge or the library or other academic arenas they may well find themselves sharing what they’ve learned.  And the book will have served its purpose quite nicely.  Because not only is it helpful, it is absorbing.

Tolle, lege!

Unfamiliar Selves in the Hebrew Bible: Possession and Other Spirit Phenomena

Spirit possession is more commonly associated with late Second Temple Jewish literature and the New Testament than it is with the Hebrew Bible. In Unfamiliar Selves in the Hebrew Bible, however, Reed Carlson argues that possession is also depicted in this earlier literature, though rarely according to the typical western paradigm. This new approach utilizes theoretical models developed by cultural anthropologists and ethnographers of contemporary possession-practicing communities in the global south and its diasporas. Carlson demonstrates how possession in the Bible is a corporate and cultivated practice that can function as social commentary and as a means to model the moral self.

The author treats a variety of spirit phenomena in the Hebrew Bible, including spirit language in the Psalms and Job, spirit empowerment in Judges and Samuel, and communal possession in the prophets. Carlson also surveys apotropaic texts and spirit myths in early Jewish literature—including the Dead Sea Scrolls. In this volume, two recent scholarly trends in biblical studies converge: investigations into notions of evil and of the self. The result is a synthesizing project, useful to biblical scholars and those of early Judaism and Christianity alike.

A thin book, at 161 pages of text plus the usual indices, this volume may not be hefty, but it is certainly weighty.  We are led on a tour of horrors ranging from a murder in Connecticut south to Cuba where the ‘spiritualists’ are active to the culture of the Gullah where the dead are regularly spoken to and women are possessed by spirits to the amazing tale of the exorcism of Robert Briggs and finally we meet up with the Umbanda and their rituals of possession and the belief that ‘holy spirits’ are preventative care.

The book consists of 5 chapter covering the topics mentioned above and there are bits and pieces of biblical material scattered about as points of contact with present practices.  In particular, we hear about Saul and the witch of Endor.  Though it makes use of contemporary and recent ‘spiritual’ occurrences,

The central argument of this book addresses a straightforward question: Does the Hebrew Bible depict possession and other spiritual phenomena?

Readers are familiar with the New Testament know that there are numerous depictions of possession in the gospels and Acts (though no where else really).  Reed Carlson strives to show that the Hebrew Bible, too, has such stories.  He goes on to argue that many of the texts relevant to this topic have been under-investigated, ignored, or misread.

He makes his point, and proves it.  Through various tales and details, Carlson tells the story of spirit phenomena found within the pages of the Hebrew Bible.  His modern tales of horror buttress his argument and make the work far more accessible, intelligible, and relevant.  This is a fantastic work.  Students of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament will find in it the kind of research that fills gaps in our knowledge that many do not realize are even there.

Furthermore, this is the kind of book that is the perfect illustration of the value and importance of multi-disciplinary approaches to the study of the Bible.

Read this work.

Divine Violence and the Character of God

There is much violence in the Old Testament, both human and divine. Christians and non-Christians react differently to what they read about the God of the Old Testament. Some people are so affected by the violence found in the Old Testament that they give up on God, stop going to church and reading the Bible, and eventually lose their faith. Others are offended by divine violence and seek to find an alternative explanation for the violent acts of God in the Old Testament. A popular alternative in the twenty-first century is to return to the second century and adopt some form of Marcionism and make the God of the Old Testament to be a different God from the God revealed by Christ in the New Testament. The purpose of this book is not a defense of God and his use of violence. The author seeks to understand why God acted the way he did and to understand the reason for divine violence in the Old Testament. Yahweh did use violence in his work of reconciliation. However, the use of violence was necessary when everything else failed. Israel provoked God to anger. When God brought judgment upon his people, he did so with tears in his eyes.

This may be the finest book on the subject of the violence purportedly ordered and perpetrated by God in the Old Testament yet written.  It is sage and succinct and engaging and most of all, theologically profound.

M. begins his investigation of the God of the Old Testament, the God so despised by Marcion and his followers from his time to our own as violent, capricious, and murderous, with  a one hundred page study of the character of God.  M. describes OT texts which portray God as violent and clearly and convincingly demonstrates that the God so described is in fact a God who suffers and who is sympathetic and empathetic; a God of extraordinary pathos.

In the second segment of the book M. moves on to look more closely at the notion of the justice of God.  God’s dealings with idolaters and his orders to exterminate the Canaanites and their contemporaries in the land given to Israel and the awful brutality exhibited against pregnant women and the obliteration of Sodom and Gomorrah and ultimately the rejection of violence by Yahweh and what M. fascinatingly calls the ‘nonviolent conquest of Canaan’ are all taken in hand and examined under the microscope of divine intention and theological interpretation.

The final segment of the book takes readers on a tour of the acts of reconciliation which Yahweh undertakes.  Yahweh, M. insists, aims to reconcile the world to himself and each act purposefully attempts exactly that.  Indeed, God attempts to reconcile the world through Israel and through Israel restored and through Israel renewed (in and with the Church) and through his Son’s death on the Cross.  The ‘violent’ God of the Hebrew Bible is really the Redeeming God of the cross of Christ.  The one who takes upon himself all the violence which sin and rebellion can muster.

The volume ends with a conclusion and the usual indices of people, scriptures, subjects, and the like as well as a bibiliography.

Procedurally, M. takes something of a wide-ranging approach to the Old Testament material.  He doesn’t address texts chronologically (the destruction of Sodom and then the genocide of the Canaanites for instance); rather, the topics are addressed where they fit into the larger scheme of the book.  The outline of the book, in other words, guides the discussion rather than the canon or the chronological timeline of events.  This can be, at first, a bit jarring since it seems that M. is jumping all over the place.  But what he is doing is following a carefully logical exposition which situates texts within their theological milieu.  This makes the volume work as a whole, together.

As suggested at the very commencement of this review, This may be the finest book on the subject of the violence purportedly ordered and perpetrated by God in the Old Testament yet written.  It is sage and succinct and engaging and most of all, theologically profound.

M., for example, writes

Divine violence is found throughout the Old Testament and it cannot be explained away.

Indeed it cannot, and M. faces the implications of that very simple fact head on, without wavering and without making excuses for God.

Readers will find this book to be a kind of Will Smith slapping of Chris Rock.  It is an unwavering defense of the essential goodness of God against all of those who would speak ill of God without consideration of the many nuances of the Old Testament texts.  It is a slap in the face of Marcion and his Marcionites.  It is a gauntlet tossed at the feet of those who would declare God to be a vicious, capricious, mean spirited tyrant.  And it is a declaration of victory over all such claims.  I cannot recommend it highly enough, and so I do.

James: An Exegetical Guide for Preaching and Teaching

To read the Greek text of James is to face a rugged style and brief phrasing that match the fervency of the letter’s meaning. The book of James powerfully exhorts the earliest Christian believers to faithful living. Biblical Greek experts Herbert W. Bateman IV and William C. Varner lay out the linguistic and grammatical features unique to James–such as his specialized vocabulary and prolific use of imperatives–to show how the book’s many strong statements connect to one another in this masterwork on living according to the teachings of Jesus.

The Big Greek Idea series provides all the relevant information from the Greek text for preaching and teaching the New Testament. Each New Testament book is divided into units of thought, revealing a big Greek idea (the author’s main idea in the passage), and individual clauses are displayed visually to illustrate their relationships, portraying the biblical author’s logical flow. Greek clauses are accompanied by an original English translation.

The authors of this work go to great pains to help readers understand the Greek text of the Book of James.  Following the introduction, which includes a very nice description of independent and dependent clauses in James (the understanding of which is critically essential for proper exegesis) and a look at James’s style and vocabulary, each pericope is treated individually.

The Table of Contents gives readers the ‘Big Greek Idea’ in a paragraph and these paragraphs are then fully and completely fleshed out in the pages which follow.

After the exegetical work is done, the authors provide a fresh translation of James based on their work and provide a very useful overview of the figures of speech which James utilizes.  A bibliography and a listing of further notes (in their terms a ‘nugget index’) conclude the volume.  Also included are charts and sidebars scattered throughout.

Coming to the heart of the matter, the exegesis itself, our authors provide, phrase by phrase, the Greek text and its English equivalent.   They then explain the syntax of the pericope.  Amidst the explanation grey boxes containing ‘nuggets’ of insight are offered.  These can be lexical or syntactical, text critical, theological, structural, or grammatical.

In most instances these ‘nugget’ boxes offer really intriguing possibilities for interpreting the text of James.  Take, for instance, the ‘Lexical Nugget’ on page 142 related to the word γυμνοι.  Bateman and Varner suggest that ‘naked’ may here not mean ‘without clothing’ but rather, ‘insufficient clothing’ implying poverty and shame.  That certainly makes better sense of the word than woodenly translating it ‘naked’ since it is highly unlikely that anyone actually showed up at Church in James’s day nekkid (as we say down here).  Though of course this use of ‘naked’ is not new.  Oesterly writes

Of course it is not literal nakedness that is meant in the passage before us; in the case of men the Hebrew ערום (= γυμνός), while often used in a literal sense, is also frequently used in reference to one who was not wearing a כתנת (= χιτών) and thus appeared only in סדינים, “under-garments,” see Am. 2:6; Isa. 20:2 f.; Job 22:6, 24:7–10.

This book is an astonishingly helpful, detailed, and frequently-to-be-consulted volume.  It, more than any other linguistically centered commentary since the days of ‘The Expositor’s Greek New Testament‘ by W. Robertson Nicoll, brings readers to a better and clearer understanding of the Epistle of James.

It doesn’t accomplish this tremendous goal because it is offering new insights on every page.  Rather, it provides solid exegesis on every page, whether by means of older scholarship or recent, ‘newer’ scholarship.  Exegesis is the aim well achieved and many fields are harvested in order to provide it.

I recommend this work.  It is super.

Available in Open Access from Brill: “Broadsheets: Single-sheet Publishing in the First Age of Print”

This volume offers an expansive survey of the role of single-sheet publishing in the European print industry during the first two centuries after the invention of printing. Drawing on new materials made available during the compilation of the Universal Short Title Catalogue, the twenty contributors explore the extraordinary range of broadsheet publishing and its contribution to government, pedagogy, religious devotion and entertainment culture.

Long disregarded as ephemera or cheap print, broadsheets emerge both as a crucial communication medium and an essential underpinning of the economics of the publishing industry.

Download it here.  I reviewed this gem back in 2017 when it was published here.

Witness at the Cross: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Friday

Experience Holy Friday from the perspective of those who watched Jesus die: Mary his mother; the Beloved Disciple from the Gospel of John; Mary Magdalene and the other women from Galilee; the two men, usually identified as thieves, crucified with Jesus; the centurion and the soldiers; Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Jews and Romans, friends and strangers, the powerful and the powerless, the hopeful and the despairing.

The story of Jesus’s death is not something we just read: we think about it, and we experience it; we hear the taunts of the soldiers, the priests, and the passersby even as we hear the famous “seven last words” from the cross.

In Witness at the Cross, Amy-Jill Levine shows how the people at the cross each have distinct roles to play. Each Evangelist presents a distinct picture of the death of Jesus. Each portrays different individuals and groups of people at the cross, each offers different images and dialogues, and so from each, we learn how those meanings and messages cross the centuries to any who would come to the cross today.

Each Gospel has its own story to tell, all the witnesses have their own memories, and every reader comes away with a new insight. The witnesses at the Crucifixion watch Jesus die, and we watch with them, and we watch them. And we come away transformed.

Additional components are available for a six-week study include a DVD featuring Dr. Levine and a comprehensive Leader Guide.

Levine begins her newest volume with an introduction featuring Simon of Cyrene, a person who gets very little ‘air time’ in the Bible but whose part in the Passion narrative is critical, proving, I think, the truth of the old adage, ‘there are no small parts, just small actors’.  Pointing out the reasons which the Gospels do (or do not) mention Simon, Levine ends the introduction with this sage remark:

Each Gospel has its own story to tell, all the witnesses have their own memories, and every reader comes away with a new insight.  The witnesses at the Crucifixion watch Jesus die, and we watch with them.  And we come away transformed. (p. xxi).

Levine then proceeds to try to help us see the events of Good Friday through the eyes of those near the scene.  First, the bystanders and scoffers lend us their eyes.  Next, the other victims of that day’s happenings are the topic.  Third, the soldiers engaged in the act are called to offer their perspective.  The Beloved Disciple is the fifth pair of eyes through which we see the events that transpired.  In the fifth instance, it is the perspective of the women at the cross who tell their story.  And finally, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.  The final chapter, the Conclusion, is a brief discussion of God and Nature as witness to the crucifixion.  What Levine has in sight here are things like the tearing of the Temple veil, the darkness that descended, and the rocks that split and the dead who walked.

Levine is keenly aware that the Gospels each have a reason for including the people and events that they do around the Cross.  She is keenly aware of the fact that the Gospels differ in their presentations.  And she is keenly aware of the fact that the historical happenings are not easily disentangled from the theological narrative which encases them.  She remarks

In the end, we can’t with much surety determine who was at the cross, other than the soldiers.

That is what we can fairly well assert historically.  We also know that Jesus was a real person and that he really was crucified.  A point Levine makes at the very outset (offering a not so subtle broadside at the absurdity of the ‘Jesus mythers’).

The reason the Gospels tell their stories as they do is because they believe in Jesus.  They aren’t providing a transcribed videotape…

They are telling a story about Jesus of Nazareth, his life and his death, and the story they tell is based on how they understand Jesus.  With their templates, the story continues.

And what can we take away from these stories?

I see the witnesses at the cross first as figures we all might try on: Do we doubt, or sometimes even scoff?  (Etc).

This little volume is both well written and engaging.  Readers are drawn into the stories in the Gospels and become involved themselves as witnesses to the events surrounding Jesus’ death.

It is an academic book in the sense that it follows the rigorous rules of research.  But it is also a ‘popular’ book because it aims to communicate clearly to the populace the things that happened at the cross.  And it does so in a way that charms.

A-J Levine has been a scholar for a good number of years and she has written a substantial number of books.  I have read, over the years, many of them.  And I have never been disappointed by either her scholarship or her presentation.  I’ve also heard her give papers at SBL and other academic meetings and they are always, without exception, the highlight of the event.

She has a breadth of knowledge that is astonishing and she is totally at home in every part of the New Testament and is not one of those people who have spent their whole life working in Paul and who know only Paul and nothing else.  She is, in the fullest sense of the word, a New Testament scholar.

And, given that, further, she is, in my estimation, the greatest living New Testament scholar, bar none. If she writes something, read it.  If she gives a lecture, attend it. You will never be disappointed.  And you won’t be disappointed by this book either.

I’m a fan of everything she does.  And I’m a fan of this book.