Category Archives: Book Review

Ancient Texts and Modern Readers: Studies in Ancient Hebrew Linguistics and Bible Translation

The chapters of this volume address a variety of topics that pertain to modern readers’ understanding of ancient texts, as well as tools or resources that can facilitate contemporary audiences’ interpretation of these ancient writings and their language. In this regard, they cover subjects related to the fields of ancient Hebrew linguistics and Bible translation. The chapters apply linguistic insights and theories to elucidate elements of ancient texts for modern readers, investigate how ancient texts help modern readers to interpret features in other ancient texts, and suggest ways in which translations can make the language and conceptual worlds of ancient texts more accessible to modern readers. In so doing, they present the results of original research, identify new lines and topics of inquiry, and make novel contributions to modern readers’ understanding of ancient texts.

Contributors are Alexander Andrason, Barry L. Bandstra, Reinier de Blois, Lénart J. de Regt, Gideon R. Kotzé, Geoffrey Khan, Christian S. Locatell, Kristopher Lyle, John A. Messarra, Cynthia L. Miller-Naudé, Jacobus A. Naudé, Daniel Rodriguez, Eep Talstra, Jeremy Thompson, Cornelius M. van den Heever, Herrie F. van Rooy, Gerrit J. van Steenbergen, Ernst Wendland, Tamar Zewi.

Of the many specialized volumes on linguistics that I have encountered over the years, this is the most specialized.   It’s purpose:

The chapters in this volume address a variety of topics that pertain to modern readers’ understanding of ancient texts, as well as tools or resources that can facilitate contemporary audiences’ interpretation of these ancient writings, and their language.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it.  And yet the essays herein are actually carefully reasoned scientific treatises with plenty of linguistic lingo and charts, tables, and indications of verbal percentages and the like.

A bit further along

[T]he chapters in this volume apply linguistic insights and theories to elucidate elements of ancient texts for modern readers, investigate how ancient texts help modern readers to interpret features in other ancient texts, and suggest ways in which translations can make the language and conceptual worlds of ancient texts more accessible to modern readers.

A goal which the works achieve magnificently.  But take note, this volume is not for the novice or the dilettante who makes use of Strong’s Concordance to offer their ‘opinion’ about a translation of the Hebrew text.  Indeed, Strong’s users and others unfamiliar with the intricacies of Hebrew and linguistics will be lost by paragraphs like this:

The BH construction would, therefore, have a copula functioning as a focus marker on a gap bound by a displaced subject. Possible evidence for this gap is the regular prosodic separation of the initial nominal from the copula by a disjunctive accent, even when the initial nominal is monosyllabic, e.g., וְחָ֕ם ה֖וּא אֲבִ֥י כְנָֽעַן (Gen 9:18). Such prosodic disjunction of an initial subject does not regularly occur in nominal sentences without the copula, e.g., שִׁמְךָ֣ יַעֲקֹ֑ב , “your name is Jacob” (Gen 35:10), הַבָּ֙נוֹתבְּנֹתַ֜י וְהַבָּנִ֤ים בָּנַ֙י וְהַצּ֣אֹן צאֹנִ֔י , “the daughters are my daughters; the children are my children; the flocks are my flocks” (Gen 32:43).

Essays are titled things like Copulas, Cleft Sentences and Focus Markers in Biblical Hebrew, and Categorial Gradience and Fuzziness—The QWM Gram (Serial Verb Construction) in Biblical Hebrew and Interpreting and Translating “Hanging” in Lamentations 5:12 as an Image of Impalement.  Among many others.

This, in short, is a specialists volume, by specialists, for specialists in linguistics and Hebrew.  A semester of Hebrew and a lack of familiarity with linguistic theory will simply make the volume unreadable.  On the other hand, a very good grasp of Hebrew and of linguistics will prepare the reader to enjoy the finely argued essays contained in this collection.

Geschichte des Gottesdienstes in Zürich Stadt und Land im Spätmittelalter und in der frühen Reformation bis 1531

Zwinglis liturgische Reformen umfassen sämtliche Feierformen von Abendmahl bis Sakramentenspendung. In vier Teilen führt der erste Band zur Zürcher Gottesdienstgeschichte ein in Formen und Praxis, die Zwingli in Zürich vorfand. Alfred Ehrensperger gibt einen Überblick über die Klostertopografie in Stadt und Land und zeigt insbesondere an den Originalschriften Zwinglis die theologische Argumentation und Zielrichtung der neuen Auffassung von Gottesdienst. Neue Formen, die Rolle der Heiligen Schrift und sein besonderes Verhältnis zur Musik lassen erkennen, wie der Zürcher Reformator in die Tradition eingegriffen und was er beibehalten hat.

Alfred Ehrensperger belässt es nicht nur bei einer kritischen Aufarbeitung der Quellen, sondern überprüft an diesen auch die verbreiteten Urteile über Zwinglis gottesdienstliches Wirken.

Alfred Ehrensperger provides readers with a volume that is extraordinarily rich in both secondary information and in primary sources.  He begins, in Part One, with an examination of the situation of the Zurich Church at the cusp of Zwingli’s arrival in the city.  In rich detail the piety of the people, their rituals, saints days, celebrations, ministers, and church services are all described.

Part two is a thorough examination of religion in the cloisters of the city.  Part three turns to a description of the efforts of Zwingli to reform worship and city.  Everything from the disputations to the reforms in worship music to the education of the clergy in the Prophezei are meticulously discussed with primary sources aplenty taken to hand and utilized.  Of particular interest to the present reviewer is the subsection dealing with Zwingli’s traditionalist opponents and their efforts to undermine his reform.

Part four goes into more detail about the reformation of preaching, the mass, and the first Church Ordinance enacted by Zwingli and his cohort.  The body of the text completed, readers then turn to a variety of indices of primary and secondary materials.

If I were to attempt to describe this book’s contents succinctly I would do so by calling it a primary sourcebook of historical significance.  Our author understands the historical enterprise so well that he is able to offer readers precisely what they need in order to understand what the Zurich Church was like before Zwingli arrived, what it was like while he was there, and what he was attempting to do in his reforms.  No one working in the field of Reformation History can afford to overlook this hefty work.

And no one working in the field of liturgy can afford to ignore it.  The liturgical reforms that Zwingli instituted were profound.  And they have abiding significance.  And readers of this work are allowed to understand what those statements fully mean.

TVZ is in the habit of publishing works that bring to our hands materials that no one else can or does.  Once more, the publisher is to be congratulated for doing work that really matters- not just in the short term, but for many decades and centuries to come.  And our author is to be congratulated as well, for doing the work of a team of researchers and presenting it in such a way that it is both engaging and stimulating.

History can sometimes be dull.  But there isn’t a dull line in this book.

‘Grounded in the Faith’ & ‘Internalizing the Faith’

These two little books arrived today from the publisher for review:

I’ve thumbed through them and they are both brief and will be easily read in an hour or so.  Look for my review as soon as I get to them and through them.  More anon.

A Proverb a Day in Biblical Hebrew

This book is a companion volume (of sorts) to the great series of books Hendrickson has published aimed at helping people keep up with their Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic.

Many of the sayings in the biblical book of Proverbs are difficult to read in Hebrew, even for those who know this language well. A Proverb a Day in Biblical Hebrew is designed to help readers of all levels of Hebrew competence meditate on and understand the concise and sometimes enigmatic sayings found in the book of Proverbs.

Each verse is presented on one page, which is marked with a day number (from 1 to 365) and a date (January 1 to December 31) so the book can be used as a daily reader or devotional. On each day’s page, the verse for the day is divided into two halves, based on the fact that each of the proverbs in the book constitutes a poetic couplet consisting of two parts. After each poetic line, all the words it contains are laid out and glosses are provided. All verbs (including participles) are fully parsed. Finally, at the bottom of the page, an English translation of the verse from two pages earlier is provided. This allows readers who are struggling with the meaning of a given day’s proverb, or those who wish to see one possible way it can be rendered, to flip the page and see a translation for it at the bottom of the next two-page spread. In this way, readers can choose to avail themselves of an “answer key” for any of the proverbs when they wish to, but they can also ignore this information (since it is located on the next two-page spread, there is no risk of accidentally seeing it while trying to puzzle through a proverb’s meaning).

A copy of the present book arrived on June 19th and I have made use of it each day since.  This wonderful volume presents readers with a simple two phrased Proverb each day along with glosses and Hebrew conjugations of various verbal forms.  It also includes an English translation of each Proverb, with a catch.  The translation can only be found on the bottom of the page two days later.  So, for instance, the translation of Proverbs 19:8 (Day 1) isn’t offered until Day 3, where it is found at the very bottom of the page.  And so on throughout the book.

The handy little volume also includes an alphabetical index of all the Hebrew words found in the book, along with the pages on which they are found.  Also found at the end of the book is an index of word frequency.  That is, words that occur on 52 days are listed.  Words that occur on 49 days, 48 days, 40 days, 38 days, etc. are all listed, all the way down to words found on just one day.  And finally, there is an index of passages from the Book of Proverbs.

The print on each individual day is large, and thus enjoyable.  And the opening pages of the volume are devoted to an explanation of the contents of the volume including a discussion of the selection of verses, the glosses, a brief overview of grammatical constructions, the parsings (or what we old timers call the conjugations), the Hebrew text used, text critical issues, and the English translations. Kline also spends a few pages explaining gendered and gender neutral language in the translations.

In a period of time when fewer and fewer Pastors and academics know Hebrew (or if they do know it they spend very little time retaining it or making use of it), this volume and the exceptionally well done volumes Hendrickson has published titled ‘The 2 Minutes a Day Biblical Language‘ series by the same author are a true boon.

The biblical languages are so utterly important that they genuinely need to be fully promoted and their learning fully supported.  This book helps do that.  If a person lacks the minute or so needed to read a proverb in Hebrew each day and to refresh their Hebrew thereby, they are far, far too occupied with trivialities and they need to examine their time management priorities.

All of us owe Hendrickson a great debt of gratitude for seemingly single handedly (in the biblical studies publishing field) striving to keep learning of the biblical languages alive.

To be sure, one can be familiar with the biblical text in many of the very fine translations available to English speaking people.  The REB for instance is superb.  But reading it is not the same as reading Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  Reading the Bible in translation is like kissing your spouse through a sheet.  It may be somewhat satisfying, but it is clearly not everything that it could be.

Kiss your spouse on the skin of her (or his) lips.  Once you do that, you’ll scarcely have any interest in kissing them through a sheet ever again.

The Johannine Monograph Series

Paul Anderson is overseeing the publication of a series of books titled ‘The Johannine Monograph Series‘.  He’s arranged for me to take a look at three of the volumes in the series:

 

The self evident importance of these volumes to older scholars is simple to understand.  The work of these three scholars is epic.  And their undertakings set the agenda for a generation.

The fact, however, that many of these works are unknown to a younger generation of scholars is tragic.  To set things right, Paul Anderson writes a foreword to these volumes in which he does a number of things.  First, he sets these books in their intellectual contexts.  Second, he introduces readers to the scholars who penned these works.  And third, he discusses the theological debate of which these works were a part and the theological dialogue that continues in their wakes.

The chief aim of this series is to help present day students and scholars come to appreciate the work of their forebears.  And Anderson and the other editors of this series are to be thanked for that.

If, for some reason, you have never read the works of this series, you owe it to yourself to do so.  Not only is the Gospel of John at the very peak of important New Testament literature; it deserves, along with the rest of the Johannine literature, far, far more attention than it generally gets and certainly far more attention than Paul receives.

The Johannine literature is fascinating, and these books contribute mightily to our understanding of that literature.  And have for a long time.  And now, thankfully, they are freshly published with very helpful historically rich forewords so that a new generation of students can make full use of them.

You will never learn more than when you read classic literature.  And these are truly classics.  For, in Käsemann’s words, both learning and unlearning.  And, yes, you’ll have to read Käsemann’s book to know what that means.  Just do it.

Between the Swastika and the Sickle: The Life, Disappearance, and Execution of Ernst Lohmeyer

New Testament scholars are familiar with his name, but they probably aren’t familiar with his amazing story.  This biography corrects that situation.  In fact, it is amazing.

Ernst Lohmeyer (1890-1946) was a stellar German New Testament scholar of the first half of the twentieth century whose work provided an intellectual counterpart to the prevailing liberalism and history of religions consensus among Biblical scholars of the day.

As a Breslau professor in the 1920s Lohmeyer published a half-dozen ground-breaking New Testament monographs, including commentaries on Philippians and Colossians, the Book of Revelation, and the Gospel of Mark, and twice that number of scholarly articles.

In the 1930s, however, his life, like so many in Germany, was commandeered by the rising tide of Nazism. A born leader, Lohmeyer was named president of Breslau University, during which time he joined the Confessing Church and opposed Nazism at its most evil point, its anti-Semitism. He was stripped of his university professorship and sent to the Russian Front in World War II.

Edwards begins his biographical masterpiece with a description of the long overdue installation of Prof. Lohmeyer at the University of Griefswald and the birth of his own interest in the man, and his very troubling and very mysterious last months.  Then Edwards highlights the secrecy surrounding Lohmeyer’s treatment at the hands of the Russians in East Germany.  It is only then that Edwards begins his biographical treatment in earnest, with a chronologically related tale that is both gripping and infuriating and contemporary in its relevance.

We learn of the boyhood and youth of Lohmeyer, a genius by all accounts and a sharp and gifted thinker who nevertheless allowed his opinions of his opinions gain mastery over good sense from time to time.  We learn of Lohmeyer’s service in the first world war and of his academic career in the intervening years between that war and the second.  We learn of a man who stood nose to nose with the Nazis without backing down.  And we learn of a man compelled to serve in yet a second war.

Edwards takes us through the post war years and the strange disappearance of Lohmeyer at the hands of the Russians and the many years of silence regarding his fate.  Finally, we return full circle- to the long overdue installation of Professor Lohmeyer, posthumously, to his rightful academic post.

Edwards’ work is completely dependent on interviews with those who knew Lohmeyer, records, and written evidence.  His love of the subject glows on each and every page and for a New Testament scholar by training the production of this biographical work is truly remarkable.

Endnotes, a list of abbreviations, notes, a bibliography, and an index round out the volume which includes photos (though no more than a few pages worth) and maps (so that readers are rightly oriented to the places the book describes).

Edwards does something else in the volume too: he cites extensively from Lohmeyer’s letters and other documents.  He offers a translation of each but he also allows readers to do their own translation of these primary texts, including them in the documentation for all to see for themselves.  Edwards also tells readers fragments of his own story, linking himself to those around Lohmeyer and familiar with him.  By doing so, Edwards guides us through Lohmeyer’s life as a guide with insider information.

Finally, readers will discover in this volume astonishingly familiar sounding historical tidbits.  Allow me to share two of them:

The fact that the Nazi party never won more than one third of the popular vote rings a contemporary bell, doesn’t it?

And the fact that isolationism followed by xenophobia and fear of minorities featured prominently in Nazi propaganda also sounds astonishingly familiar.

In sum, there is an undercurrent of warning here.  What has been, may be again, if we are not vigilant and willing to stand up to tyranny whenever and wherever it manifests itself.  Lohmeyer may not be the last ‘disappeared’ theologian, if we are not careful.

This is a remarkable volume.  It deserves a wide readership because it is well written, relevant, interesting, and provocative.  As I mentioned to friends the other day- if you read just one book this month, make it this one.

Doing Theology With the Reformers

Folk may be interested in this:

 

The Reformation was a time of tremendous upheaval, renewal, and vitality in the life of the church. The challenge to maintain and develop faithful Christian belief and practice in the midst of great disruption was reflected in the theology of the sixteenth century.

In this volume, which serves as a companion to IVP Academic’s Reformation Commentary on Scripture, theologian and church historian Gerald L. Bray immerses readers in the world of Reformation theology. He introduces the range of theological debates as Catholics and Protestants from a diversity of traditions—Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, and Anabaptist—disputed the essentials of the faith, from the authority of Scripture and the nature of salvation to the definition of the church, the efficacy of the sacraments, and the place of good works in the Christian life.

Readers will find that understanding how the Reformers engaged in the theological discipline can aid us in doing theology today.

A review copy has arrived.  More anon.

Nahum

This may be it

Das kleine Buch Nahum hat bis heute keine gute Presse, weil es gemeinhin unter die Zukunftsworte der biblischen Propheten gegen fremde Völker eingeordnet wird. Im Gegensatz dazu sind die Worte Nahums gegen die Hauptstadt des damaligen Weltreichs der Assyrer gerichtet, unter dessen Herrschaft die Einwohner Judas stöhnten, und daher von prinzipiell anderer Qualität. Zudem sind die Worte Nahums überliefert worden, weil sie sich mit dem Fall Ninives 612 v. Chr. schon erfüllt hatten. Als bestätigtes Gotteswort haben sie Jahrhunderte später Menschen, die unter Unterdrückung litten, als Stütze ihrer Hoffnung auf die Wende der Not gedient. Gewichtiger noch ist, dass die jüngeren Verfasser des Buches aus der zurückliegenden Prophetie Nahums grundsätzliche Aussagen über Gott gewonnen haben.

Jeremias arbeitet die Verwurzelung der Botschaft Nahums in der Tradition der frühen Propheten des Alten Testaments heraus und besticht dabei durch die Genauigkeit der Begründung exegetischer Entscheidungen im Gespräch mit anderen Ansichten. Zudem – so Jeremias – ist statt von mehreren literarischen Schichten im Buch nur von zweien auszugehen.

More anon.

A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith

Hendrickson sent a review copy of this new work some weeks back.  The publisher suggests that

This handbook serves as an introduction to the Jewish roots of the Christian Faith. It includes Old Testament background, Second Temple Judaism, the life of Jesus, the New Testament, the early Jewish followers of Jesus, the historical interaction between Judaism and Christianity, and the contemporary period.

It is no longer a novelty to say that Jesus was a Jew. In fact, the term “Jewish roots” has become something of a buzzword in books, articles, and especially on the internet. But what does the Jewishness of Jesus actually mean, and why is it important?

This collection of articles aims to address those questions and serve as a comprehensive yet concise primer on the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith consists of thirteen chapters, most of which are divided into four or five articles. It is in the “handbook” format, meaning that each article is brief but informative. The thirteen chapters are grouped into four major sections: (1) The Soil, (2) The Roots, (3) The Trunk, and (4) The Branches.

Unfortunately I am unable to be very enthusiastic about this work.  It is uneven in presentation and in places reeks of special pleading and eisegesis.  A variety of contributors at various levels of academic skill essentially guarantees such an outcome.  For example, seasoned scholars like Craig Evans and Scot McKnight intermingle with beginners like Eitan Bar and Andreas Stutz and the results are less than laudatory.  The intermingling of the divine beings and the daughters of men in Genesis 6, in fact, turned out better.

Allow me to illustrate: Craig Evans’ segment on the Old Testament in the New is brief yet well written and accurate.  It could have been a bit fuller, but given the aim of the volume and the purpose of the section, it does its job well and fairly.  Readers unfamiliar with the Use of the Old Testament in the New will be informed of the basics and will hopefully be spurred on to further research by the bibliography which concludes this (and every) section.

On the other end of the spectrum, Eitan Bar’s examination of the Sabbath is dry and uninspiring and for reasons not clear the me includes an equal amount of discussion of the sabbath in Israel today as it does for the sabbath in the Tanakh and Jesus and the Sabbath.  Why?  What possible relevance is the observance of the Sabbath in the modern secular state of Israel to the observance of the Sabbath as one of the ‘roots’ of the Christian faith?  Furthermore, whilst Evans’ bibliography is scholarly and appropriate, Eitan’s includes a work published by ‘Ariel Ministries’ in San Antonio, Texas.  If you aren’t familiar with this organization,

Ariel Ministries, created to evangelize and disciple our Jewish brethren, has been born from necessity to meet an urgent need. Ariel means “Lion of God,” representing the Messiah Yeshua as the Lion of Judah. It is also an alternate name for Jerusalem (Isaiah 29:1) — the city of peace now waiting for the Prince of Peace to return. It was in Jerusalem, in 1966, that a burning seed of desire was planted in the heart of Arnold Fruchtenbaum. On December 1, 1977, in San Antonio, Texas, Ariel Ministries was born and the seed began to bloom.  (https://www.ariel.org/about/ariel-ministries-history).

And that brings me to my chief complaint about the present work.  It is, in sum and substance, little more than a Messianic Christian primer.  It is not so much a handbook of the Jewish roots of the Christian faith as it is an apologia for Messianic Christians.

Mind you, I have no issues with that particular group or with their goals.  Those things are their business.  But a book purporting to be one thing which turns out to be another is something else.

If you are genuinely interested in the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith, might I suggest that you pick up a copy of Strack-Billerbeck’s 6 volume Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch.  That has everything you need to know plus multiple addenda explaining everything you need to know that you didn’t know you needed to know.  Or, get a copy of Emil Schürer’s A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (5 volumes).  Both are dated.  And even in that condition, miles better than the present work.

I wish I could offer a more positive assessment.  As I said, there are high points.  Alas, they are dragged down by the albatross of ideology hanging around their benighted necks.

Die Mitte der Reformation: Eine Studie zu Buchdruck und Publizistik im deutschen Sprachgebiet, zu ihren Akteuren und deren Strategien, Inszenierungs- und Ausdrucksformen

Die Bedeutung des Buchdrucks für Verlauf und Gestalt der Reformation ist seit der Reformationszeit ein zentrales Thema. Unklar war allerdings bisher, wie die unterschiedlichen Akteure des reformatorischen Kommunikationsprozesses – die theologischen Schriftsteller, die Buchdrucker, Verleger und Buchführer, Formschneider, Leser etc. – auf der Mikroebene interagierten. Hier setzt Thomas Kaufmann an und rekonstruiert zunächst, inwiefern die Reformatoren als »Printing Natives« frühzeitig Kontakte zu Buchdruckern unterhielten, bereits vor der Reformation an Herstellungsprozessen beteiligt und routinierte Editoren, Korrektoren und Publizisten waren, Verfahren beschleunigter Buchherstellung entwickelten und die Strukturen des Buchmarkts genauestens kannten.

Sodann arbeitet der Verfasser die Rolle der Buchdrucker und ihrer Familien heraus; hierbei zeigt sich, dass sie eine vielfach unterschätzte Rolle bei der Gestaltung und Inszenierung eines Buches spielten und originelle Strategien der Transformation des überkommenen Buchmarktes entwickelten.

In einem letzten Schritt arbeitet der Autor anhand von Schlüsselgattungen und -texten der frühen Reformation (Thesenreihen; Disputationsberichten; druckgraphischen Serien; Editionen; Gebet- und Liederbüchern etc.) heraus, dass die reformatorischen Publizisten einen immensen Drang in die publizistische Öffentlichkeit entwickelten, innerhalb kürzester Zeit traditionelle akademische Diskursformen wie Disputationen vermittels des Buchdrucks radikal veränderten und neue, ihren Bedürfnissen entsprechende Gattungen schufen. Nach Auffassung des Verfassers bildete die Interaktion zwischen den reformatorischen Inhalten und ihrer typographischen Reproduktion die Mitte der Reformation.

For many centuries biblical scholars have argued about the ‘center’ of the Bible.  Is it’s central reality the concept of ‘covenant’, or is it ‘salvation history’ or something else?  For Christians, the answer is usually ‘Jesus’, following Luther’s idea that the Old Testament is the cradle in which the Christ child lay.

Questions about the ‘center’ of the Reformation have also been raised, mostly by specialists.  Some have answered with ‘justification by faith’ or ‘sola scriptura’ or a plethora of other notions.  But Kaufmann has put his finger on the pulse of the Reformation in the present study where he shows, indisputably, that the ‘core’ of the Reformation is…. the book.

Following the introduction, Kaufmann carefully and methodically builds his case for the importance, indeed the centrality, of the book for the success of the Reformation.  In chapter one, with its 12 subsections, argues for the culture of the book and its importance for the Reformers as authors and for their publishers.  Special attention is given to Oecolampadius, whom Kaufmann cleverly calls an exemplary ‘Buckakteur’.

The second chapter is an investigation of publishing families and the cities in which they plied their trade.  Augsburg, Zwickau, Basel, Worms, Leipzig and other important cities are discussed and described.  This chapter is comprised of 5 subsections.

The third chapter is a thorough, indeed very thorough investigation of literary and publicity strategies and various styles and formats of printing.  This chapter too consists of five subsections.  Here Kaufmann illustrates his investigations with examples from the publication of the Leipzig Disputation, the Freedom of the Christian, and various early catechisms.

The final segment of the volume, a hefty 718 pages of text plus various indices and bibliographies, is devoted to early Reformation era interactions between German and English ‘Buchakteuren’.

The argument of the volume is so exceptionally detailed that many if not most of the pages are comprised of footnotes.  Several pages, in fact, have a line of text and the remainder of the page is devoted to notes.  That, to be sure, isn’t the case throughout; but it does occur often enough.  It also happens quite regularly that pages are half taken up with primary text and half taken up with notes.

Kaufmann’s volume is impressive, detailed, finely argued, and persuasive.  Books made the Reformation a reality.  Printed books.  Books made widely available by the invention and implementation of the  printing press.

This work is German historical scholarship at its finest.  It is about books.  It is about the Reformation.  What could be more glorious than the combination of those three things?  This large volume is worth your time.

Tolle, lege!

Anthropologie des Alten Testaments: Grundfragen – Kontexte – Themenfelder

Seit der klassischen Darstellung H.W. Wolffs von 1973 gibt es keinen Gesamtentwurf einer alttestamentlichen Anthropologie mehr. Diese Lücke versucht Bernd Janowski mit seinem Lehr- und Studienbuch zu schließen, das sich von Wolffs Lehrbuch nicht nur durch einen anderen Ansatz, sondern auch durch die Berücksichtigung der altorientalischen Religionsgeschichte und der neueren Kulturwissenschaft unterscheidet. Die vorliegende Darstellung, in deren Zentrum die anthropologische Grundfrage »Was ist der Mensch?« (Psalm 8,5) und ihre spezifisch biblischen, auf die Leiblichkeit, Gerechtigkeit und Endlichkeit bezogenen Antworten stehen, gliedert sich in sieben Abschnitte:

Inhaltsübersicht

  • I. Was ist der Mensch? Einführung (Grundfragen alttestamentlicher Anthropologie)
  • II. Von der Wiege bis zur Bahre. Phasen des Lebens (Biographische Aspekte, Genderfragen)
  • III. Mit Leib und ,Seele’. Elemente des Personbegriffs (Leib- und Sozialsphäre)
  • IV. Vom tätigen Leben. Formen des sozialen Handelns (Arbeit, Wirtschaft, Kommunikation)
  • V. Räume und Zeiten. Aspekte der Welterfahrung (Ordnung des Raums, Rhythmus der Zeit)
  • VI. Bilder vom Menschen. Anthropologien des ATs (Urgeschichte, Priesterliche Texte, Königsideologie, Prophetie, Psalmen, Weisheit)
  • VII. Der ganze Mensch. Resümee (Grundzüge alttestamentlicher Anthropologie).

Ein umfangreicher Anhang veranschaulicht darüber hinaus das Eigenprofil der Anthropologie des Alten Testaments im Vergleich zu den Anthropologien seiner Umwelt anhand ausgewählter Texte und Bilder von Mesopotamien bis zum Antiken Judentum.

Review forthcoming.

Son of God: Divine Sonship in Jewish and Christian Antiquity

In antiquity, “son of god”—meaning a ruler designated by the gods to carry out their will—was a title used by the Roman emperor Augustus and his successors as a way to reinforce their divinely appointed status. But this title was also used by early Christians to speak about Jesus, borrowing the idiom from Israelite and early Jewish discourses on monarchy. This interdisciplinary volume explores what it means to be God’s son(s) in ancient Jewish and early Christian literature.

New from Eisenbrauns and of potential interest to all of you.  A review copy has arrived and I’ll work my way through it soon.

Christians in Caesar’s Household: The Emperors’ Slaves in the Makings of Christianity

In this volume, Michael Flexsenhar III advances the argument that imperial slaves and freedpersons in the Roman Empire were essential to early Christians’ self-conception as a distinct people in the Mediterranean and played a multifaceted role in the making of early Christianity.

Scholarship in early Christianity has for centuries viewed Roman emperors’ slaves and freedmen as responsible for ushering Christianity onto the world stage, traditionally using Paul’s allusion to “the saints from Caesar’s household” in Philippians 4:22 as a core literary lens. Merging textual and material evidence with diaspora and memory studies, Flexsenhar expands on this narrative to explore new and more nuanced representations of this group, showing how the long-accepted stories of Christian slaves and freepersons in Caesar’s household should not be taken at face value but should instead be understood within the context of Christian myth- and meaning-making. Flexsenhar analyzes textual and material evidence from the first to the sixth century, spanning Roman Asia, the Aegean rim, Gaul, and the coast of North Africa as well as the imperial capital itself. As a result, this book shows how stories of the emperor’s slaves were integral to key developments in the spread of Christianity, generating origin myths in Rome and establishing a shared history and geography there, differentiating and negotiating assimilation with other groups, and expressing commemorative language, ritual acts, and a material culture.

With its thoughtful critical readings of literary and material sources and its fresh analysis of the lived experiences of imperial slaves and freedpersons, Christians in Caesar’s Household is indispensable reading for scholars of early Christianity, the origins of religion, and the Roman Empire.

I’ve received a review copy.  More anon.

«Den wahren Gott recht erkennen und anrufen»

Der Schaffhauser Reformator Johann Konrad Ulmer arbeitete jahrzehntelang an seinem Katechismus und schuf damit ein theologisch und pädagogisch herausragendes Werk: klar aufgebaut, theologisch sauber durchdacht und inhaltlich auf das Wesentlichste konzentriert. Im Zentrum des Buchs stehen die Edition einer bisher unbekannten Abendmahlskatechese, der unedierten Erstfassung des Katechismus (1568) und der gedruckten Fassung von 1569. Für die Kommentierung wurde auch nahezu unbekanntes Archivmaterial verwendet. Untersucht werden ausserdem sprachliche Probleme, die verschiedenen Auflagen und die Verwendung von Liedern im Katechismus, die analog zu den Fragen und Antworten gedruckt wurden.

TVZ sent a review copy in a box today, along with the volume previously mentioned and one to be mentioned next.

Barth lesen: Zentrale Texte seines Denkens

«Am folgenden Morgen fand ich mich, umgeben von einem Stoß von Kommentaren usw., vor dem Römerbrief des Apostels Paulus mit der, wie mir schien, ganz neu aufzuwerfenden Frage nach dem, was denn nun eigentlich dastehe.»

Karl Barth hat die Theologie des 20. Jahrhunderts wie kaum ein anderer geprägt. Dieses Lesebuch enthält eine repräsentative Auswahl seiner Texte. Sie zeigen die wichtigsten Themen und Stationen Barths in seinem Leben und in seiner Theologie auf.

Neben dogmatischen Texten finden sich deshalb auch Briefe, Predigten, Vorträge, Gespräche und autobiografische Notizen. In allen Texten schimmern Karl Barths Witz und seine theologische Brillanz durch und machen das Lesen zu einem Vergnügen. Die Herausgeber stellen jedem Kapitel eine kurze Einführung voran und ermöglichen auf diese Weise einen niederschwelligen Zugang zu Barth. Wer diese Texte liest, ist über Barth gut informiert.

TVZ have sent a copy for review.  Stay tuned.

Theology as Freedom: On Martin Luther’s »De servo arbitrio«

Veröffentlicht auf Englisch. Andrea Vestrucci präsentiert eine Analyse von Martin Luthers »De servo arbitrio«, einem der anspruchsvollsten Werke christlicher Theologie. Von Gottes Verborgenheit zur Vorherbestimmung, von der Rechtfertigung zur Ontologie, von der Logik zur Ästhetik erforscht Vestrucci Perspektiven der theologischen Sprache, die einen Paradigmenwechsel auslösen.

Visitors to this link will be able to download a PDF of the front matter and table of Contents.  Please do so before proceeding as that will serve as our point of departure for the present review.

The purpose of the present volume is to prove one simple point:  theology is freedom.  To prove that point, Vestrucci does a thorough deconstruction of Luther’s important work on Free Will.  Or perhaps dissection.  Or perhaps dismemberment.  All of those metaphors point in the direction of what is here accomplished.

Beginning, then, with a description of the conceptual framework that will serve as the skeleton of the argument, V. turns to a consideration of Erasmus’s work and ideas.  Paradox is next on the menu and then philosophical notions which are at play in Luther’s rejoinder to Erasmus.  We are then led down the path of the reception of Luther’s notion of freedom as it is understood by Barth, Ebeling, and others.

The book then turns a corner and moves away from the notions of the major players to a discussion and exposition of the main ideas: the possibility of freedom, forgiveness, justification, nature, grace, and virtually every other branch of theological enquiry.

A chapter devoted to Kant’s relationship to Luther concludes the second major division and frankly seems out of place.  To be sure, Kant and his notion of freedom is philosophically important, bust as one of the sections in the chapter recognizes, Kant was no theologian.  He, it seems to me at least, does not belong here.

The third division (and again, see the linked pdf above for the TOC) is the highlight of the book and everything leads to this fantastic crescendo (except for the sour note of Kant).  Here readers are exposed to the meat of the issue: Election, Salvation, Predestination, and Grace.  Here Vestrucci does the best work.  Here the issues are explained in clear, precise, intelligible, forceful, and helpful language.

The conclusion is the end of the matter and summarizes the aims and achievements of the volume in concise language.  It is a brief 4 pages and it should be read first and last.  A decent bibliography along with indices of the usual sort round out the volume.

Vestrucci is to be thanked for this good work.  My one criticism is of the inclusion of Kant.  The chapter interrupts the flow of the volume and annoys more than it enlightens.  Aside from that, this tome is a joyful experience.  Joyful and informative.

A History of The Bible

John Barton’s book arrived some weeks back And it’s FANTASTIC.

And while it isn’t my custom to review books that I buy, I’m going to this time.  First, because Barton’s work is worth the time.  And second, because a volume like this is needed at a time like this.

The publisher writes

The volume is comprised of four large sections:

  1. The Old Testament
  2. The New Testament
  3. The Bible and its Texts
  4. The Meanings of the Bible

Each of these large sections are divided into smaller segments which are themselves divided into smaller bits.  A dozen or so illustrations are found within its pages as well as copious endnotes (I wish they were footnotes, but that’s always a publisher’s decision), a ‘Further Reading’ section, a bibliography that is quite extensive, and indices.

In the author’s own words ‘This book tells the story of the Bible from its remote beginnings in folklore and myth to its reception and interpretation in the present day’ (p.1.).   If that sounds like a large project, it most certainly is such.  There are 489 pages of text and 40 pages of endnotes.  And they are all packed with detail.

‘A further purpose is to distil the current state of biblical scholarship’ (p. 2).  Accordingly, in constant dialogue with culture and society as well as the history of the Bible, Barton describes forcefully and insightfully the books now called the Bible.  Where it came from, what it is, what it means, and how it is used by people of faith and people without faith.

Barton accomplishes his goal by taking readers through the history and language of Ancient Israel, and then its narrative literature, legal and wisdom literature, prophetic literature, and poetic literature.  Having written what amounts to an introduction to the Old Testament, Barton then does the same for the New, describing in ingenious prose the beginning of Christianity and its early letters and Gospels.

Once the Bible is ‘introduced’ (in a way that is not remotely boring or uninteresting, which is itself quite a feat), Barton turns to consider how the books of the Bible were transformed into Scripture and how Christians and Jews both came to cherish their collections of texts in a way that was processional rather than procedural.  He even manages to discuss the niceties of textual criticism without provoking so much as a single yawn.  Barton writes, for example, of the ‘canonical process’-

‘The books had assembled themselves without debates or rulings being necessary.  The New Testament writers, like the rabbis who put together the Mishnah, took them for granted as holy texts.  No one ever canonized them, in the sense of taking a positive decision that they should be regarded as authoritative, still less insisted on this against opposition.  They were simply accepted’ (p. 221).

The fourth and final section of the book offers readers a chance to think deeply about the meaning of these sacred texts.  What is the Bible’s theme?  What role did the Fathers and Rabbis play?  How was the Bible utilized and interpreted in the Middle Ages?  The Reformation? Since the Enlightenment?  And today?

The conclusion of the book is called ‘The Bible and Faith’.

What Professor Barton has managed to produce here is a volume which is the ideal work for students of the Bible.  It is perfect for courses on the Bible whether undergraduate or graduate and it is also ideal for those laypeople who wish to understand the Bible.  I will be requiring it for both my Old and New Testament courses along with the much shorter but equally helpful work by Philip Davies’ ‘The Bible for the Curious’.

If you are looking for a volume which opens up the Bible and explains its various genres, themes, and historical development, then this is the work you have awaited.

One of the Proverbs famously declares

“Many daughters have done valiantly,
but you surpass them all!”

Mutatis mutandis, the same can be said of this volume, and its author:

“Many authors have done valiantly,
but you surpass them all!”

The Disciples’ Prayer: The Prayer Jesus Taught in its Historical Setting

Jeffrey Gibson’s book came out in 2015.  I’ve now reviewed it (because it was just recently that I laid hands on it).-

Christians around the world recite the “Lord’s Prayer” daily, but what exactly are they praying for—and what relationship does it have with Jesus’ own context? Jeffrey B. Gibson reviews scholarship that derives the so-called Lord’s Prayer from Jewish synagogal prayers and refutes it. The genre of the prayer, he shows, is petitionary, and understanding its intent requires understanding Jesus’ purpose in calling disciples as witnesses against “this generation.” Jesus did not mean to teach a unique understanding of God; the prayer had its roots in first-century Jewish movements of protest.

In context, Gibson shows (pace Schweitzer, Lohmeyer, Davies, Allison, and a host of other scholars) that the prayer had little to do with “calling down” into the present realities of “the age to come.” Rather, it was meant to protect disciples from the temptations of their age and, thus, to strengthen their countercultural testimony. Gibson’s conclusions offer new insights into the historical Jesus and the movement he sought to establish.

My review has been sent along to Reading Religion, where it will appear shortly.

Three Stones Make a Wall

Eric Cline’s book arrived for review last month and I’m happy to say that it’s an excellent volume. My review will appear here in a few weeks.

A Nice Review of Our Book, ‘From Zwingli to Amyraut’

Get your own copy here.  With many thanks to Hywel Clifford for passing it on.