Category Archives: Book Review

King of Kings: God and the Foreign Emperor in the Hebrew Bible

From the eighth to second centuries BCE, ancient Israel and Judah were threatened and dominated by a series of foreign empires. This traumatic history prompted serious theological reflection and recalibration, specifically to address the relationship between God and foreign kings. This relationship provided a crucial locus for thinking theologically about empire, for if the rival sovereignty possessed and expressed by kings such as Sennacherib of Assyria, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Cyrus of Persia, and Antiochus IV Epiphanes was to be rendered meaningful, it somehow had to be assimilated into a Yahwistic theological framework.

In King of Kings, Justin Pannkuk tells the stories of how the biblical texts modeled the relationship between God and foreign kings at critical junctures in the history of Judah and the development of this discourse across nearly six centuries. Pannkuk finds that the biblical authors consistently assimilated the power and activities of the foreign kings into exclusively Yahwistic interpretive frameworks by constructing hierarchies of agency and sovereignty that reaffirmed YHWH’s position of ultimate supremacy over the kings. These acts of assimilation performed powerful symbolic work on the problems presented by empire by framing them as expressions of YHWH’s own power and activity. This strategy had the capacity to render imperial domination theologically meaningful, but it also came with theological consequences: with each imperial encounter, the ideologies of rule and political aggression to which the biblical texts responded actually shaped the biblical discourse about YHWH.

With its broad historical sweep, engagement with important theological themes, and accessible prose, King of Kings provides a rich resource for students and scholars working in biblical studies, theology, and ancient history. It is an important resource for understanding how the vagaries of history inform our ongoing negotiations with concepts of the divine.

We’ll see.  My review will appear in SJOT.

John Through Old Testament Eyes

Through Old Testament Eyes is a new kind of commentary series that illuminates the Old Testament backgrounds, allusions, patterns, and references saturating the New Testament. These links were second nature to the New Testament authors and their audiences, but today’s readers often cannot see them. Bible teachers, preachers, and students committed to understanding Scripture will gain insight through these rich Old Testament connections, which clarify puzzling passages and explain others in fresh ways.

In John Through Old Testament Eyes, Karen Jobes reveals how the Old Testament background of the Gospel of John extends far beyond quotes of Old Testament scripture or mention of Old Testament characters. Jobes discusses the history, rituals, images, metaphors, and symbols from the Old Testament that give meaning to John’s teaching about Jesus–his nature and identity, his message and mission–and about those who believe in him.

Avoiding overly technical discussions and interpretive debates to concentrate on Old Testament influences, volumes in the Though Old Testament Eyes series combine rigorous, focused New Testament scholarship with deep respect for the entire biblical text.

A review copy arrived today.  More anon.

The Invention of Papal History

How was the history of post-classical Rome and of the Church written in the Catholic Reformation? Historical texts composed in Rome at this time have been considered secondary to the city’s significance for the history of art. The Invention of Papal History corrects this distorting emphasis and shows how historical writing became part of a comprehensive formation of the image and self-perception of the papacy. By presenting and fully contextualising the path-breaking works of the Augustinian historian Onofrio Panvinio (1530-1568), Stefan Bauer shows what type of historical research was possible in the late Renaissance and the Catholic Reformation.

Crucial questions were, for example: How were the pontiffs elected? How many popes had been puppets of emperors? Could any of the past machinations, schisms, and disorder in the history of the Church be admitted to the reading public? Historiography in this period by no means consisted entirely of commissioned works written for patrons; rather, a creative interplay existed between, on the one hand, the endeavours of authors to explore the past and, on the other hand, the constraints of ideology and censorship placed on them.

The Invention of Papal History sheds new light on the changing priorities, mentalities, and cultural standards that flourished in the transition from the Renaissance to the Catholic Reformation.

A review copy arrived last month and my official review will appear in Reviews in Religion and Theology in due course.  In the meanwhile, I’ll summarize here:

The history of the papacy has seldom received such focused treatment as it does here in Bauer’s learned and articulate study.  But his is not merely a study of the papacy, or a segment of the papacy, or even of a particular Pope or two or three.  Rather, uniquely, Bauer brings his expertise to bear in a thoroughgoing analysis of a historian of the 16th century and that man’s investigation of the papacy.

The name of Onofrio Panvinio may not be on the lips of every scholar or student of the Reformation, but his work was significant and it here receives the serious study that it has long deserved.  To accomplish his task, Bauer leads readers through the twisted path of the quest for historical truth.  ‘What is truth’, Pontius Pilate once famously is reported to have asked.  Bauer is in search of it here and Panvinio is his case study.

The Samaritan Pentateuch: Volume 1, Genesis

A critical edition of the Samaritan Pentateuch is one of the most urgent desiderata of Hebrew Bible research. The present volume on Genesis is the second out of a series of five meant to fill this gap. It provides a diplomatic edition of the five books of the Samaritan Torah, based on the oldest preserved Samaritan manuscripts.

Throughout the entire work, the Samaritan Hebrew text as gathered from 30 different manuscripts is compared with further Samaritan witnesses (esp. the Samaritan Targum, the Samaritan Arabic translation, and the oral Samaritan reading tradition) as well as with non-Samaritan witnesses of the Pentateuch, especially the Masoretic text, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Septuagint, creating an indispensable resource and tool not only for those working with the Samaritan Pentateuch, but for any scholar interested in textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible in general, and particularly the Pentateuch.

This amazingly important volume, produced by Stefan Schorch and a multitude of specialists in Hebrew transcription, Samaritan Arabic transcription, textual critics of the DSS and the Septuagint, and targumists and Peshitta-ists is a wonder.

First, a preface and an introduction in German are provided.  Then, the same in English.  There is also a Hebrew introduction (on the other end of the volume, where the text of the Samaritan Pentateuch of Genesis commences).

The introduction covers such matters as previous editions of the SamPent, and provides a full description of the present editio maior of the text.  The base manuscript of this diplomatic edition is D1, MS Dublin, 751 (1225).  There are six full manuscripts and 15 well preserved partial manuscripts as well as 2 fragmentary manuscripts that are consulted and which are the stuff of the textual apparatus.

Here’s a photo of the page layout, which, frankly, it is simply easier to show than describe:

IMG_5008

Each symbol and segment as well as all of the manuscript evidence as presented is fully defined in the introduction to the volume. As is immediately apparent, the text itself takes up but a third of the page whilst the remainder is devoted to the textual evidence and apparatus. This is the case throughout the edition.

A thorough table of abbreviations is provided as is a table of the symbols which festoon the work. Those not quite familiar with the Samaritan alphabet are given a table containing it and its Hebrew equivalent:

Next, a very complete bibliography is provided. Each portion of text is carefully analyzed and the textual evidence is as thorough as practical. Indeed, it is as complete as any edition of the Bible can be.

What Schorch et al have here accomplished is a marvel of scholarly competence and thoroughness. The font is clear and legible and the apparatus is fantastic. The choice of the Hebrew font for the biblical text is based on the practicality of the scholarly endeavor. As the editor puts it

The Samaritan Hebrew texts, on which the edition is based, are not reproduced in Samaritan but in Hebrew square script. This decision is purely pragmatic as the latter is much more familiar in general scholarship (p. xi).

Textual critics, scholars of the Hebrew Bible, scholars of the Samaritan Bible, and scholars of the Samaritan faith will be delighted by the appearance of this volume and will hunger and thirst for the remainder of the Samaritan Pentateuch to appear in the same series. This tool will stand the test of time and will come to be the most important critical edition of the biblical text produced in many generations (alongside BHQ).

Aramaic: A History of the First World Language

In this volume—the first complete history of Aramaic from its origins to the present day—Holger Gzella provides an accessible overview of the language perhaps most well known for being spoken by Jesus of Nazareth. Gzella, one of the world’s foremost Aramaicists, begins with the earliest evidence of Aramaic in inscriptions from the beginning of the first millennium BCE, then traces its emergence as the first world language when it became the administrative tongue of the great ancient Near Eastern empires. He also pays due diligence to the sacred role of Aramaic within Judaism, its place in the Islamic world, and its contact with other regional languages, before concluding with a glimpse into modern uses of Aramaic.

Although Aramaic never had a unified political or cultural context in which to gain traction, it nevertheless flourished in the Middle East for an extensive period, allowing for widespread cultural exchange between diverse groups of people. In tracing the historical thread of the Aramaic language, readers can also gain a stronger understanding of the rise and fall of civilizations, religions, and cultures in that region over the course of three millennia.

Aramaic: A History of the First World Language is visually supplemented by maps, charts, and other images for an immersive reading experience, providing scholars and casual readers alike with an engaging overview of one of the most consequential world languages in history.

The volume here under consideration is comprised of the following:

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. The Oldest Aramaic and Its Cultural Context
3. Aramaic as a World Language
4. Aramaic in the Bible and Early Judaism
5. Aramaic between the Classical and Parthian Worlds
6. Syriac and the End of Paganism
7. The Second Sacred Language: Aramaic in Rabbinic Judaism
8. Not Just Jews and Christians: Samaritans, Mandeans, and Others
9. Aramaic in Arabia and the Islamic World
10. Modern Aramaic from a Historical Perspective

This book first appeared in Dutch in 2017.  Thankfully, it has now been translated and thus made available to a much wider audience.

Those of us of a certain age learned the importance of Aramaic by reading the (now dated) works of Joachim Jeremias, one of the most significant scholars of the New Testament of his or any day.  At Jeremias’ feet we discovered the amazing world of Jesus’ own mother tongue and the language in which he taught and prayed.  Yet there was then no academic treatment of Aramaic AS a language.

Gzella has remedied that situation with his present study.  Here he leads us to a deeper understanding of this critically important language, not only for reading various texts in the Old Testament, but for reading the New Testament in the proper light and the history of the earliest Church in its own words.  First, he does so by describing the importance of Aramaic and the history of its study.  He next turns to a description of the oldest Aramaic and its context in Syria-Palestine and its rise to international language in Babylon and Persia (as well as that slice of land we call Palestine).

Next, the Old Testament and the New and the influence of Aramaic therein are treated.  We are then taken down the path where we discover in more detail the language among the Parthians, and then the rise of Syriac and its importance for early Christianity.

Aramaic in Rabbinic Judaism and the varieties in which it occurs in Judaism are the subject of examination next and Aramaic bibles come to the fore.  The spread of Aramaic among Christians and Jews as well as Mandeans and Samaritans also comes up for detailed analysis.

In the final chapters G. illustrates the abiding significance of Aramaic and shows how it remains a minority language in parts of the world.  For 3000 years Aramaic has existed, and there’s no reason to believe that it will cease to be any time soon.

The volume concludes with an ‘Essential Bibliography’, a glossary of linguistic terms, and an index.

This fascinating work is a detailed historical study of a language.  I mention that again because readers should be alerted to expect lots of linguistic discussions.  It is not merely a book about Aramaic and the Bible.  It is far more than that, though of course it is that too.  Readers interested in the particular field of biblical studies could benefit from a reading of chapter 4 even if the time to read the other chapters escaped them.  And for persons interested primarily in Church history, chapters 6 and 8 would do the trick.

But if you are interested in the history of a language from beginning to present, then naturally the entire volume needs to be read, digested, and engaged.

Curiously enough, our friend Jeremias makes nary an appearance except in a footnote where his name is the title of a volume.  His work is ignored, eclipsed, as it were, by more thorough and accurate undertakings.  Gustav Dalman too is absent.

Scholarship rolls forward in time, crushing those in its path who cannot keep up (even though unable to because of their untimely departure from this life).  In time, Gzella’s work too will be eclipsed and his name will not appear in so much as a footnote.  But it will be a very long time until that happens, because scholarship can’t supersede one’s work until it catches up to it.  And no one is near to catching up to Gzella’s work on Aramaic.

This is a book worth reading for linguists, biblical scholars, and historians of Christianity.  If you are a member of those sacred throngs, this book should be read by you.

Simul: Inquiries into Luther’s Experience of the Christian Life

This volume introduces an important concept which hitherto has not gotten the recognition it deserves. The concept simul, the idea of a both-and in theology, is primarily associated with the Lutheran understanding of justification. The formula simul iustus et peccator is a shorthand for the nucleus and heart of the Reformation. But the concept, which implies a tension or even a paradox, appears to play a significant role in other areas of theological reflection. This volume highlights a number of areas in which this idea historically has played an important role, as well as its potential in the contemporary conversation. The aim of the work is to provide an informed and readable introduction to the simul concept in various areas of systematical theology and Biblical exegesis.

What’s the book about?  I’ll let the editors explain fully:

The present volume is born out of the celebrations of the Reformation in 2017 and preparations for the anniversary. The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation challenged us to identify overarching and synoptic elements of Martin Luther’s theology. The proposal of this volume is that the concept of simul grasps the essence of Luther’s theology, at the same time (!) as it broadens the perspective and goes beyond the traditional solas.

Simul takes you directly to the heart of Lutheran theology, justification by faith alone, at the same time as the concept constitutes a thought pattern which is a characteristic feature of much of Lutheran theology. An advantage of simul is that it includes and does justice to those features of Luther’s thinking which touch upon contradictions, paradoxes, and tensions. The Lutheran School of Theology in Gothenburg devoted four annual conferences to the uses of the concept simul, and many of the contributions in the present volume were first presented at these. One of our aims is to pay attention to how simul unites systematical-theological, historical, and exegetical perspectives. If simul constitutes a Lutheran way of thinking, it should, given its claim to establish all theology in Scripture, be possible to detect a biblical basis for simul and the present volume offers some evidence for this.

The work is divided into three parts:

  1. Luther
  2. The Lutheran Tradition
  3. Exegetical Perspectives

Each section provides learned and well written essays focusing on the section topic.  I confess to having especially loved Oswald Bayer’s Luther’s “Simul Iustus et Peccator”, Timothy J. Wengert’s Philip Melanchthon and the “Simul Iustus et Peccator”, and Daniel Johansson’s The Shema, Kyrios, Theos, and Simul.

How we are simultaneously sinner and justified has been a theme discussed since as early as Paul’s famous declaration in Romans 7 that though he knew the right thing he found it impossible to do; and instead found himself doing the wrong thing against his own intentions.

The essays here collected don’t solve the dilemma, but they do a very fine job in describing it in the thought of Luther and in those who followed in his beer-weighted footsteps.  Again, as the contributors note

Instead of having a rigid and invariable role, the simul dimension should function in a flexible way as a tool to understand and teach the message of the Holy Scriptures.

Those interested in theology and especially those interested in Lutheran theology will enjoy this work.  I would recommend reading section three first, and then moving on to sections one and two.  Seeing where we are, exegetically, on the question will help readers understand more fully where we have been (in Luther and his disciples).

The editors and the publisher are to be commended.  This book is a delight.

Buch der Reformation: Quellen und Zeugnisse zum frühen Reformationsgeschehen im deutschen Sprachraum

Das Buch mit knapp 200 Quellen aus der Vorgeschichte und Frühzeit der Reformation stellt eine völlige Neubearbeitung des 1917 von Karl Kaulfuß-Diesch herausgegebenen Werkes: “Das Buch der Reformation” sowie weiterer Neuauflagen dar. Die frühere Quellenauswahl wurde einer kritischen Revision unterzogen, ergänzt und teilweise erweitert. Alle Texte werden durch einen knappen Einleitungstext erläutert und mit weiterführenden Literaturangaben versehen. Es entsteht ein Kaleidoskop verschiedenster Zugänge zu den kirchlichen und politischen Reformforderungen des ausgehenden Mittelalters und deren konzentrierter Zuspitzung in den programmatischen Äußerungen der deutschsprachigen, vor allem lutherischen Reformation. Zugleich berücksichtigt der Band durch die Aufnahme älterer Quellenbearbeitungen einen vorläufigen Überblick zur nachhaltigen Wirkungsgeschichte der Zeugnisse reformatorischer Initiativen und des durch sie provozierten Widerspruchs.

This source book of primary materials is one of the most delightful works I’ve read in a good while precisely because it is a source book of primary materials. To be more precise, it is a book containing 191 documents stemming from the the Reformation in German lands.

The layout of the book follows a chronological order, beginning with materials setting the stage for the Reformation from the renaissance and from humanism, and moving through popular poems and criticisms of the Church and then moving into the early days of the Reformation itself. Texts by Karlstadt and Luther and Aurifaber and everyone imaginable really are the core and center of the volume. Documents continue through the Augsburg Conference and the death of Luther. The penultimate text is a letter describing Luther’s death.

An index of names and an index of places are included.

Each document is prefaced by a brief historical introduction and at each text’s conclusion there is a list of sources and a bibliography of related studies. Each text, then, is fully documented and further research is handily facilitated.

Rather, at this point, though, than simply describing the way the volume works, here are photos of the pages related to one of the entries:

This is a wonderfully full volume and no one interested in the Reformation can ignore it. Not safely anyway.

Exploring the New Testament: A Guide to the Letters and Revelation

Written by scholars with extensive experience teaching in colleges and universities, the Exploring the Bible series has for decades equipped students to study Scripture for themselves.  Exploring the New Testament, Volume Two provides an accessible introduction to the Letters and Revelation. It’s filled with classroom-friendly features such as discussion questions, charts, theological summary sidebars, essay questions, and further reading lists.

I earlier reviewed the companion volume of this work, ‘Exploring the New Testament: A Guide to the Gospels and Acts.’  As was true of that work, this one too has appeared in previous editions (this is the third).

As such, it will be familiar to some already and to others it is worth introducing.

It consists of

A. Setting the Scene
1. The World of First-Century Christians

B. Paul and His Letters
2. Letters in the New Testament
3. Paul, His Letters and His Life
4. The Letter to the Galatians
5. The Letters to the Thessalonians
6. The ‘First’ Letter to the Corinthians
7. The ‘Second’ Letter to the Corinthians
8. The Letter to the Romans
9. The Letter to the Philippians
10. The Letter to Philemon
11. The Letter to the Colossians
12. The Letter to the Ephesians
13. The Letters to Timothy and Titus
14. Paul—the Missionary Theologian
15. New Testament Letters—Interpretation and Authorship

C. Letters by Other Church Leaders
16. The Letter to the Hebrews
17. The Letter of James
18. The First Letter of Peter
19. The Second Letter of Peter and the Letter of Jude
20. The Letters of John

D. Apocalyptic Literature
21. The Revelation to John

The book isn’t a commentary and it really isn’t an ‘introduction’ in the classical sense of the word in New Testament scholarship, rather it’s a very nice ‘overview’ or ‘reader’s guide’ which helps persons looking at these biblical texts get an overarching idea of what each is about, why it was written, by whom, and when. There are numerous sidebars which aim to invite readers to engage with the text and think further about what it is that they are reading.

The font is a friendly size and the text is laid out in two columns (like a lot of bibles, which I suspect is intentional).  As was the case of its companion volume, there are bibliographies that are too heavily weighted towards the NT Wright school on thought.  The resource could have been much better if a broader spectrum of scholars had been reflected, at least in the bibliography.  Instead, readers will find essentially the same ideas found in the small circle of authors here included.  There is, after all, not much daylight between NT Wright and Scot McKnight and they are referred to frequently.  The general theological Tendenz is what I would call Witherington-ian.

It also can tend towards the ‘folksy’.  I.e., during the discussion of Hebrews and its audience, we find

As in the case of Jerusalem, we have here a collection of circumstantial evidence rather than a knock-down argument.

It’s a rather odd turn of phrase really, especially in an academic work intended for use as a classroom text.  At any rate, isn’t the phrase ‘knock-out’?

Aside from the relatively conservative nature of the work, as frankly one would expect from its publisher, the book is really a very fine addition to the plethora of ‘guides for readers’ that exist for biblical scholarship.  And, in the spirit of fairness, I think it’s fair to repeat here what I said in the review of this work’s companion:

But, as I remember every time I review a book, it’s far too easy to want authors to do what we want instead of appreciating what they did and honoring the decisions that they have made.  If I want a book that suits me in every respect, I need to write it myself.  Otherwise I fall under Kierkegaard’s condemnation of the critic:

Critics are like Eunuchs.  They know what must be done, but they cannot manage to do it themselves.

However, I would nonetheless maintain that if one is looking for an ‘Introduction to the New Testament’ with more critical acumen, then Ray Brown’s ‘An Introduction to the New Testament’ is still the best one can do.  It is unsurpassed both for its thoroughness and its fairness.

Until you have it, this work will do.

Reading the Times: A Literary and Theological Inquiry into the News

Whenever we reach for our phones or scan a newspaper to get “caught up,” we are being not merely informed but also formed. News consumption can shape our sense of belonging, how we judge the value of our lives, and even how our brains function. Christians mustn’t let the news replace prayer as Hegel envisioned, but neither should we simply discard the daily feed. We need a better understanding of what the news is for and how to read it well.

Jeffrey Bilbro invites readers to take a step back and gain some theological and historical perspective on the nature and very purpose of news. In Reading the Times he reflects on how we pay attention, how we discern the nature of time and history, and how we form communities through what we read and discuss. Drawing on writers from Thoreau and Dante to Merton and Berry, along with activist-journalists such as Frederick Douglass and Dorothy Day, Bilbro offers an alternative vision of the rhythms of life, one in which we understand our times in light of what is timeless. Throughout, he suggests practices to counteract common maladies tied to media consumption in order to cultivate healthier ways of reading and being.

When the news sets itself up as the light of the world, it usurps the role of the living Word. But when it helps us attend together to the work of Christ—down through history and within our daily contexts—it can play a vital part in enabling us to love our neighbors. Reading the Times is a refreshing and humane call to put the news in its place.

Bilbro’s book is a very much needed reminder that the role the ‘news’ plays in our lives may be exaggerated and that as Christians and as consumers of the media, we need to be very aware of the detrimental effect that media can have if we fail to see it as it is, in its proper theological light.

Bilbro walks us through the importance of the things we pay attention to and how those things can distort our perception of reality if we are not careful. He then helpfully reminds us of the differences between kairos and chronos and what happens when we forget those distinctions. Furthermore, he helpfully reminds us that, though this shouldn’t need to be said, it needs to be said; we Christians should use our time wisely. That is, social media, news consumption, and consumption of media in general needs to be properly prioritized. And in the final part of the volume, we are reminded that we are a part of a larger whole; a community.

The work includes a bibliography, a general index, and a scripture index.

This is a book that’s not only enjoyable but helpful, in an authentic way, as a gentle yet pointed re-centering of priorities in this information age of ours. Anyone who uses social media, or consumes cable or network news, or who reads newspapers should take a look at it. Once you pick it up, you’ll not put it down. And at less than two hundred pages, you’ll have it done in a restful weekend.

#ICYMI- The Early Karl Barth: Historical Contexts and Intellectual Formation 1905–1935

Paul Silas Peterson presents Karl Barth (1886–1968) in his sociopolitical, cultural, ecclesial and theological contexts from 1905 to 1935. The time period begins in 1905, as Barth began to prepare for a speech on the “social question” (which he held in 1906). It ends in 1935, the year he returned to Switzerland from Germany. In the foreground of Peterson’s inquiry is Barth’s relation to the features of his time, especially radical socialist ideology, WWI, an intellectual trend that would later be called the Conservative Revolution, the German Christians, the Young Reformation Movement, and National Socialism. Barth’s view of and interaction with the Jews is also analyzed along with other issues, such as radical thinking, anti-liberalism, alterity, anti- or trans-historicism, Expressionism, and New Objectivity. The author also addresses specific questions disputed in the secondary literature, such as Barth’s theological development, the place of WWI in his intellectual development, his role in the Dehn Case, his reaction to the rise of fascism in Europe, his relationship to 19 thcentury modern liberal Protestantism, his relationship to the Leonhard Ragaz-wing of the Religious Socialists, and his relationship to the Weimar Republic.

Mohr have provided a copy for review.

This volume lands like a bombshell on the playground of the Barthians, fragmenting preconceptions and blowing apart the facade of Barth the zealous anti-Nazi Confessing Church hero.  Peterson’s work will change scholarship.

… in 1935 Barth moved to Switzerland and became more critical of National Socialism.  Before this, he was not publicly opposed to it.  For over two years in National Socialist Germany, Barth never spoke out against it (p.2).

And

Even for his time, Barth was propagating disturbing racist ideas.  He taught young people in his confirmation courses that people with African backgrounds, the “Neger” (‘niggers,’ ‘negroes’ or ‘blackamoors’), are ‘little intelligent’ and that they ‘live on a lower level’ and are even ‘inferior to the Europeans’ (p.2).

And

In the early 1930’s, Barth did virtually nothing for the Jews- and this even after some Jews called on him to act.  He went so far to claim that he would lose his Professorship if he did do anything.  Barth also put the Jews in a negative light on many occasions. … In National Socialist Germany, Barth argued that the ‘Jew question’ did not belong in the pulpit (p. 4).

That’s just material from the Introduction.  Peterson goes on to make his case, point by point, line by line, jot by jot and tittle by tittle that the early Barth is not the man so many perceive him to be as they view him (wrongly) through the lens of the later Barth.

Peterson’s work is a revised version of his Habilitationsschrift accepted by the Protestant Theology Faculty at the University of Tübingen.  Following the foreword and the list of abbreviations Peterson launches right into his deconstruction of the early Barth.

The Introduction concerns itself with a biographical overview and then a socio-political historical study which places Barth squarely in his Weimar-ian context.

The first chapter, ‘Socialism, Marburg and WWI (1905-1919)’ is a stellar examination of Barth’s early socialist thinking and the impact that the first world war had on him.

Chapter two, ‘Romans, Overbeck, Harnack and Ethics (1919-1931)’ is a bit longer and more detailed than the first chapter as it takes Peterson a bit of space to explain the intertwinings of Barth’s teachers and the politics of the day.

The third chapter is fairly brief but focuses entirely on ‘The Dehn Case (1931-32).’  This case is pivotal and critical for a proper understanding of the early Barth and Peterson here makes that crystal clear.

Chapter four, ‘National Socialism and Theological Existence Today! (1932-1935)’.  Peterson here takes readers through the forest of the Altona Confession and the Young Reformed Movement along with, of course, the key materials published in Theological Existence Today! which addressed the current church-political situation and then Peterson offers readers a very compelling discussion of the Barmen Declaration in juxtaposition with Barth’s response to the loyalty oath to Hitler!

The oath runs thusly:

I swear: I will be faithful and obedient to the leader of the German Reich and Volk, Adolf Hitler, observe the law, and conscientiously fulfill my official duties, so help me God (pp. 328-329).

Peterson observes

On the 7th of September, 1934, Barth wrote to Niesel about the Hitler Oath.  He expresses concerns about it but also entertains ways of interpreting it which would allow one to sign it, for example, with a ‘reservatio mentalis’ (p. 329).

The notion that Barth was staunchly anti-Nazi and rabidly anti-Hitler in the early period is simply wrong.

The fifth chapter then widens the focus to a discussion of Barth and dialectical theology and National Socialism and the Jews and Authoritarianism.  It is superb.

In his concluding chapter Peterson asks a series of questions:  Is Barth best understood through the theological lens alone?  Was he in continuity or discontinuity with 19th century liberal theology?  Was he apolitical in the Weimar Republic?  And did Barth contribute to the toxic forces that led to the downfall of the Weimar Republic?

The work closes with a bibliography, a listing of Barth’s works, other literature, and an index of names.

Many volumes have been written on Barth but few have been as engaging or important as this one.  The light shed on Barth, from his own writings (which are seldom consulted or read with anything but from a backward glance through the late Barth) on his early development is immense.  I can only heartily recommend this volume.  The Barthians will hate it, but the rest of us learn so much from it that our perceptions of Barth are forever changed.

Verdammt und vernichtet: Kulturzerstörungen Vom Alten Orient bis zur Gegenwart

This will be of interest to persons following the destruction of antiquities across the Near East-

Fassungslos blickte 2015 die Weltöffentlichkeit nach Palmyra – die antike Ruinenstadt war der Terrororganisation IS in die Hände gefallen. Der uralte Baaltempel, das heilige Zentrum zahlloser Kulturen, wurde gesprengt. Doch ist Kulturzerstörung keine Erfindung der Gegenwart. Sie zieht sich wie ein blutiges Band durch die Jahrtausende. Hermann Parzinger schreitet die Horizonte der Barbarei ab, erzählt die Geschichte vernichteter Kulturschätze und hält ein fulminantes Plädoyer für den Schutz des Menschheitserbes und der künstlerischen Freiheit.

Seine Tour d´Horizont führt ihn von der Tilgung der Erinnerung im Alten Ägypten und den Großreichen Mesopotamiens über die Zerstörung des Tempels von Jerusalem durch die Römer im Jahr 70 n. Chr. weiter durch die Bilderstürme der Reformation und der französischen Revolution bis hin zu den Verheerungen des europäischen Kolonialismus, dem Zivilisationsbruch des Nationalsozialismus und darüber hinaus bis in unsere Tage. Immer wieder wird deutlich, dass gezielte Verwüstungen und Plünderungen von traditions- und identitätsstiftenden Kulturgütern auch Ausdruck eines neuen Deutungs- und Herrschaftsanspruchs waren. Doch waren jenseits machtpolitischer, ideologischer oder religiöser Beweggründe Bilderstürme häufig auch von handfesten finanziellen Interessen geleitet: Raub und Enteignungen erweisen sich bei näherem Hinsehen geradezu als systematische Vermögensumverteilung. So erwartet Leserinnen und Leser ein Buch von schmerzlicher Aktualität, das uns zugleich die Kostbarkeit der kulturellen Zeugnisse auf allen Kontinenten vor Augen führt.

This extraordinarily interesting and important historical work is comprised of the following chapters:

Vorwort
Einführung
1. Die Anfänge im Altertum
2. Die Umbrüche in der Spätantike
3. Der byzantinische Bilderstreit
4. Das Spätmittelalter und die Präludien der Reformation
5. Die Frühe Neuzeit und die Reformation
6. Die Französische Revolution und ihre Folgen
7. Das Zeitalter kolonialer Eroberungen
8. Die Umbrüche im frühen 20. Jahrhundert
9. Der Nationalsozialismus und seine Folgen
10. Die Zeit nach 1945
11. Der islamistische Ikonoklasmus
12. Schlussbetrachtung
13. Ausblick

Immediately apparent is the grand sweep of the work, including discussion, as it does, of the kinds of destruction of cultural artifacts which have taken place across a wide spectrum of societies and eras.  From antiquity through the Byzantine period and the Reformation and up to the Nazi era and modern Islamic fundamentalist obliterations, this work, by a world class specialist, details how cultures have been damned and destroyed through the destruction of their cultural artifacts.

Hermann Parzinger is the President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and is a trained archaeologist.  Among his many honors is his winning of the Leibniz Prize; and he was the first archaeologist so to be honored.  He has authored over a dozen books and this latest is a prime example of both his scholarship and his ability to communicate even the most complex historical data cogently and plainly.

Along with text, the book also features 47 photos and images and additionally, for the book lover, it also has a ribbon place marker sewn in.  Also included are indices of persons and places as well as endnotes and a very thorough bibliography.

One of the more important aspects of the present monograph is the fact that readers are clearly shown how cultural destruction is more than mere ruination of materials or the damnation of a memory; it is an ideological, political, and theological renunciation of the things destroyed and of the things represented by those things.  It is no mere plundering or vandalism; it is the extinction of the enemy and their ways.  That is the ultimate goal.  This is the case in the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Romans in 70 CE as much as it is in the Taliban’s destruction of Buddhist monuments in the Middle East and in the destruction of images and icons in the era of the Reformation.  Damnatio memoriae is not the aim; total damnation is.

Another amazing aspect of the work is how plainly it portrays the worldwide nature of the phenomenon of damnation and obliteration of cultures.  The Islamic fundamentalists and the Nazis and the Romans and the Reformers and others share the same goals and aims: the removal of all vestiges of competing cultures and ideologies.  This common practice is astonishingly proven in Parzinger’s work.

If you are interested in cultural history; the history of religion; or indeed, in human history in general, this is a volume that you should read.  Right away.  I cannot recommend it too highly.

Theoretical and Empirical Investigations of Divination and Magic

In Theoretical and Empirical Investigations of Divination and Magic ten leading scholars of religion provide up-to-date investigations into the classic domains of divination and magic. Spanning historical, anthropological, cognitive, philosophical and theoretical chapters, the volume’s authors invite the reader to explore how divinatory practices and magical rituals, both apart and in interaction, can be reconceptualized in line with 21st century scholarship.

Following an introduction addressing the ever-pertinent discussion of the status and epistemological value of the categories inherited from our scholarly predecessors, the volume includes analyses of divinatory and magic practices in particular historical areas, as well as comparative, theoretical and philosophical discussions, making this an indispensable volume for anyone interested in broader comparative approaches to magic and divination.

Contributors are Lars Albinus, Edward Bever, Gideon Bohak, Corby Kelly, Lars Madsen, Anders Klostergaard Petersen, Jörg Rüpke, Jesper Frøkjær Sørensen, Jørgen Podemann Sørensen, Dimitris Xygalatas.

The present volume is carefully written and meticulously researched and may, in the grand scheme of things, be the most specialized book I have ever read. The audience for this collection will be but a tiny fragment of humanity. Indeed, but a handful of highly trained experts will be able to engage its closely woven arguments.

Books range from general readership to interested niche to highly specialized to so highly specialized that only a small collective of persons will enjoy it. This book, to say it again, is the latter.

With essay titles like

  • Divination in the Pseudo-Platonic Epinomis
  • The Naturalness of Rhapsodomantics
  • The Relationship of Magic and Shamanism in Neuro-Cognitive Perspective
  • Demystifying Wittgenstein’s Concept of Magic
  • Force and Categorization: Reflections on Marcel Mauss and Henri Hubert’s Esquisse d’une théorie générale de la magie

readers, or potential readers, will see right off that the volume is quite narrowly focused.

I realize that I have now tried to make the point that the present work is highly specialized and intended for a quite narrow audience. So please allow me to provide the opening paragraph of the introduction, in order to simply make the point, again, by means of the editor’s own words:

In his anthropological classic, Evans-Pritchard described how the Central African people Azande explain all types of misfortune as caused by the actions of a witch. Witchcraft, mangu, provides “a natural philosophy by which the relations between men and unfortunate events are explained and a ready and stereotyped means of reacting to such events” (Evans-Pritchard 1937: 63). It is a local explanatory principle that deals with experiences of contingency – the famous “second spear” (umbaga) that, while recognizing the material causes of event (its “first spear”), allows the Azande to moor all unfortunate aspects of events securely to the social realm as ultimately being caused by human agency. However, as a cultural model and an explanatory principle, witchcraft cannot be seen. Nobody is ever observed performing witchcraft, even if anyone can be accused of being a witch. Therefore, in addition to the performative statements involved in accusations, in Evans-Pritchard’s view the stability of the belief depends on two types of concrete practices. The first one is constituted by oracles, soroka, used both to diagnose an event resulting from witchcraft and to identify the witch. The second one is represented by magic, ngua, used as a means to punish the alleged witch in cases where direct physical retribution is not an option. The three institutions, witchcraft, oracles and magic, form a triangle, each one supporting the other two and, thereby, creating a stable pattern of cultural representations and practice.

There is very little here of relevance to biblical studies or, indeed, ancient near eastern studies aside from general observations which may be deemed useful to various persons. And though the volume is interesting in its own arena, biblical scholars would find a better use of their time reading something relevant to their own pursuits.

If you are looking for a book which discusses the particular topic of magic and divination in Ancient Israel, this is, most decidedly, not the book that you are looking for. If, however, you are looking for a volume on the sociological phenomenon of ‘magic’ it may well be exactly what you need.

Christian History in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic

Since the ascension of Jesus and the birth of the church at Pentecost, the followers of Christ have experienced persecution and martyrdom, established orthodoxy and orthopraxy, endured internal division and social upheaval, and sought to proclaim the good news “to the end of the earth.” How can we possibly begin to grasp the complexity of the church’s story?

In this brief volume, historian Jennifer Woodruff Tait provides a primer using seven sentences to introduce readers to the sweeping scope of church history.

How do you summarize the history of Christianity in a book of around 140 pages?  How do you choose which pivotal events to highlight?  What madness would lead a person to even attempt it?   Indeed, even the subtitle of the book, ‘a small introduction to a vast topic’ indicates that the volume is smaller than it should be or even really ever could be.

And yet…

JWT has here provided readers with a 35,000 mile above head birds eye view of a topic that has generated books whose pages number in the millions, with books still coming and which will come till history itself ends that is both readable and sensible and cogent and helpful.

Does she cover everything I or others would?  No.  Does she include materials that I and others would not?  Yes.  And that is precisely why this book, in spite of its brevity, is useful.  She sees things in a way that others will not (as indicated by her choice of the edict of Milan and the Rule of Benedict for inclusion).  And that allows readers a fresh perspective.

The book ‘works’ because JWT tells the story of Christianity through lenses not usually utilized as well as those which are (like Luther’s theses and the Second Vatican Council).  

The volume is comprised of the following:

Introduction
1 The Edict of Milan (313)
2 The Nicene Creed (325)
The Rule of St. Benedict (c. 530)
4 The Excommunication of Patriarch Kerularios by Pope Leo IX via Cardinal Humbert (1054)
5 Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses (1517)
6 The Edinburgh Conference (1910)
7 The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965)
Conclusion

Each chapter concludes with a nice little listing of recommended readings.  It makes use of endnotes (unfortunately) and it has a quite full general index which, if used, makes the volume far more useful and expansive than the slim table of contents might indicate.

There are the occasional nuggets.  For instance, on page 109 she writes

Two hundred years before, John Calvin had sent missionaries to Latin America.

A fun fact indeed, and one which may not be as widely known as the fact that Calvin wrote the Institutes or that he is eternally associated with ‘predestination’.

JWT’s little book is a big contribution to general knowledge of the history of the Church.  Lay folk will enjoy it a lot, and they will learn a lot from it.  Experts will find it enjoyable even if not educational.  But it wasn’t written for experts anyway.  It suits its intended audience.  Give it a read.  And then give it to someone else to read.

Collective Memory and Collective Identity: Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History in their Context

“Collective memory” has attracted the attention and discussion of scholars internationally across academic disciplines over the past 40−50 years in particular. It and “collective identity” have become important issues within Hebrew Bible/Old Testament studies; the role collective memory plays in shaping collective identity links the two organically. Research to date on memory within biblical studies broadly falls under four approaches: 1) lexical studies; 2) discussions of biblical historiography in which memory is considered a contributing element; 3) topical explorations for which memory is an organizing concept; and 4) memory and transmission studies.

The sixteen contributors to this volume provide detailed investigations of the contours of collective memory and collective identity that have crystallized in Martin Noth’s “Deuteronomistic History” (Deut-2 Kgs). Together, they yield diverse profiles of collective memory and collective identity that draw comparatively on biblical, ancient Near eastern, and classical Greek material, employing one of more of the four common approaches. This is the first volume devoted to applying memory studies to the “Deuteronomistic History.”

The contents of this volume are viewable at the link above and interested persons can download the front matter as well.

When it comes to ‘memory studies’ and their usefulness in relationship to the biblical text I have, I admit, been extremely skeptical of the methodology’s usefulness.   It seemed to me to be yet another fad approach, used primarily in historical Jesus studies, and was more eisegetical and reader response oriented than anything else.  And like many such fads I didn’t expect it to be around for very long in biblical studies.

After all, the various attempts I had seen up to this point reveled more in speculation than reasonable exposition.  Memories of Jesus indeed…  The Bultmannian in me scoffed.

The present volume has changed my mind about the usefulness of the methodology.  And that alone is noteworthy.  Having seen so much absolute nonsense over the years it’s very difficult to imagine that something useful can come along now, given that there is essentially ‘nothing new under the sun’.  But it seems there is.

The essays here collected far surpass in sensibility any of the previous ‘memory studies’ I have read.  Not only do they make sense, they make sense clearly.

The three parts of the work each offer readers a particular vantage point from which to view the biblical text by means of an aspect of memory studies.  Amazingly helpful are the contributions by Edelman, Edenburg, Levin, Markl, and  Niesiolowski-Spano.  Indeed, these 5 scholars have made more sense of memory studies and its usefulness for study of the Bible than the numerous essayists I’ve read before.

As Ro informs us, the present volume is not the consequence of a conference or a symposium, it arose from his awareness that something need to be done to address the subject of memory studies and the text of Deuteronomy, a book self evidently involved in reciting memories.    And so he assembled an international group of very gifted scholars and each examined texts in light of the volume’s overarching aims.

I know of at least two forthcoming volumes which will focus on the Hebrew Bible and memory studies.  I suspect that there will be many more, as this methodology moves the discipline forward from the sand trap of ‘historicity’ and allows us to see scripture through the lens of community remembrances.

Were I to advise potential readers as to where to begin, I would suggest that they begin at the beginning and make their way from page one through page 426 consecutively.   The essays could be read in the order of personal interest, but I think there is something to be said this time for following the editorial arrangement.

Along with each essay, there are bibliographies (though these are called ‘reference lists’).  And naturally there are indices of subjects, modern authors, scripture, and other ancient sources.  The font is lovely to read though the Hebrew is a bit small for my aged eyes.  It’s legible.  But small.  And for the footnote v. endnote crowd, there are footnotes.

As to the content in particular- I found those by Levin, Edenburg, and Ro to be extraordinarily interesting.  The others were, or course, good to very good.  But those three were really astonishing.  And, I’m glad to say, not one of the essays was uninteresting.

As all readers of collections of essays know, there’s usually one sub-par that somehow sneaks its way into the work.  This book is not so cursed.

If memory studies is something that interests you; or if you’ve heard of memory studies but are not quite sure of what it is or how it works, read this volume.  Or if you’ve read previous memory study volumes and thought ‘well that’s just silly isn’t it’, then please do take a little time and read this volume.  You’ll change your mind too.

Voices from the Ruins: Theodicy and the Fall of Jerusalem in the Hebrew Bible

This work is incredible.

Where was God in the sixth-century destruction of Jerusalem?

The Hebrew Bible compositions written during and around the sixth century BCE provide an illuminating glimpse into how ancient Judeans reconciled the major qualities of God—as Lord, fierce warrior, and often harsh rather than compassionate judge—with the suffering they were experiencing at the hands of the Neo-Babylonian empire, which had brutally destroyed Judah and deported its people. Voices from the Ruins examines the biblical texts “explicitly and directly contextualized by those catastrophic events”—Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Lamentations, and selected Psalms—to trace the rich, diverse, and often-polemicized discourse over theodicy unfolding therein. Dalit Rom-Shiloni shows how the “voices from the ruins” in these texts variously justified God in the face of the rampant destruction, expressed doubt, and protested God’s action (and inaction).

Rather than trying to paper over the stark theological differences between the writings of these sixth-century historiographers, prophets, and poets, Rom-Shiloni emphasizes the dynamic of theological pluralism as a genuine characteristic of the Hebrew Bible. Through these avenues, and with her careful, discerning textual analysis, she provides readers with insight into how the sufferers of an ancient national catastrophe wrestled with the difficult question that has accompanied tragedies throughout history: Where was God?

The TOC is available at the link above.  Please take a look at it before proceeding.

Many years ago whilst but a lowly MDiv student one of our Hebrew Bible courses covered the topic of theodicy.  That is, the question of the justice or righteousness of God.  We were assigned a variety of biblical texts to read (and translate, including portions of Job) along with secondary literature.  We read von Rad and Eichrodt (which dates me, doesn’t it) among many others.  And we also read James Crenshaw’s work.

Crenshaw amazed me and I valued what he had to say for many decades, holding his work as the most useful in the field and the most helpful on the topic.

Rom-Shiloni has supplanted Crenshaw as the most valuable contribution to the question of the justice of God that I have yet read.  More than just a theological monograph, this is a theological monograph that is thoroughly based in Scripture itself.  Or to say it differently, this is an exegetical masterpiece.

Beginning with the topic of theodicy itself, and bypassing the usual Christian and Jewish routes on the way to an answer of the question, is God just?, R-S leads readers through the myriad of voices and experiences found within the Hebrew Bible that struggle with the issue of the Just God and injustice.

God is examined and the God who is called King, and Warrior, and the one who fights for his people, and who is also the summoner of the enemy and even at times the enemy himself.  But God is also the divine judge and the punisher of the evildoers along with their children.

The final chapter treats the mercy of God and a summary chapter pulls it all together and offers readers important insights into God and justification, doubt, and protest.

There is a fulsome bibliography, an index of modern authors, an index of subjects, and an index of Scripture and ancient texts.

That’s a short overview.  More specifically, then, what R-S does in this volume is look at texts and the implications of those texts for our understanding of the Hebrew Bible’s portrayal of God.  Who is this God?  What is he like?  Is he just?  Is he enemy?  Is he merciful?  Is he vindictive?  Or is he all of those things and more?

And R-S doesn’t just look at the typical texts connected with theodicy (like Job).  No indeed.  Instead, she looks everywhere that there is material relevant to the subject.  Accordingly, Jeremiah, Psalms, Ezekiel, Lamentations, and even Kings are brought to the witness stand and their testimony thoroughly cross-examined.

This book, she says, explores theological deliberations during one of the most critical periods in the history of Judah.

Her work is a tour-de-force in Hebrew Bible methodology as well as theological enquiry.  It demonstrates beyond all doubt that not only is the Hebrew Bible comprised of a number of differing theologies, it is also comprised of a number of differing theodicies.  The old notion that there is something called ‘Die Mitte der Schrift‘ must be thoroughly jettisoned.  There is no ‘center’ for the Hebrew Bible, there are only a multitude of voices, all speaking and all deserving of serious attention.

This wonderful volume should be on your desk and then in your hands and then on your shelf.  You will be returning to it.  A lot.

Every Leaf, Line, and Letter: Evangelicals and the Bible from the 1730s to the Present

From its earliest days, Christians in the movement known as evangelicalism have had “a particular regard for the Bible,” to borrow a phrase from David Bebbington, the historian who framed its most influential definition. But this “biblicism” has taken many different forms from the 1730s to the 2020s. How has the eternal Word of God been received across various races, age groups, genders, nations, and eras?

This collection of historical studies focuses on evangelicals’ defining uses—and abuses—of Scripture, from Great Britain to the Global South, from the high pulpit to the Sunday School classroom, from private devotions to public causes.

What an utterly wonderful and wide ranging book this is.   It consists of

Part One: The Eighteenth Century
1. British Exodus, American Empire: Evangelical Preachers and the Biblicisms of Revolution, Kristina Benham
2. Lectio Evangelica: Figural Interpretation and Early Evangelical Bible Reading, Bruce Hindmarsh
3. Faith, Free Will, and Biblical Reasoning in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards and John Erskine, Jonathan Yeager

Part Two: The Nineteenth Century
4. “Young People Are Actually Becoming Accurate Bible Theologians”: Children’s Bible Culture in Early Nineteenth-Century America, K. Elise Leal
5. Missouri, Denmark Vesey, Biblical Proslavery, and a Crisis for Sola Scriptura Mark A. Noll
6. Josephine Butler’s Mystic Vision and her Love for the Jesus of the Gospels, Mary Riso

Part Three: The Twentieth Century
7. The Bible Crisis of British Evangelicalism in the 1920s, David Bebbington
8. Liberal Evangelicals and the Bible, Timothy Larsen
9. “The Only Way to Stop a Mob”: Francis Grimké’s Biblical Case for Lynching Resistance, Malcolm Foley
10. “As at the beginning”: Charismatic Renewal and the Reanimation of Scripture in Britain and New Zealand in the “long” 1960s, John Maiden

Part Four: Into the Twenty-First Century
11. The American Patriot’s Bible: Evangelicals, the Bible, and American Nationalism, Catherine A. Brekus
12. The Evangelical Christian Mind in History and Global Context, Brian Stanley

Anyone wishing to engage the history of ‘evangelicalism’ (whatever that’s supposed to mean now, it used to mean something substantial in days gone by) will most definitely want to pick up a copy of this or get it from their library.

Following a chronological order, the essays here offered give readers a wonderful view of portions and segments of Christians in America and their handling and mishandling of the Bible.  There were excellent scholars among them and absolute dilettantes and everything in between.  There were mystics and academics and lunatics and racists and freedom lovers and they all used the very same book to make very, very different points.

But these essays are not only of interest historically, several of them are incredibly relevant.  Noll’s on slavery and the Bible is simply masterful.  And Brekus’ on the ‘Patriot’s Bible’ is perhaps the most important historical essay (for American history) that I have read in a very long time.

Thomas Larsen has done what can only be described as a masterful job of assembling a group of contributors who ‘know their stuff’ and can present it brilliantly.

The volume lacks but one thing- a bibliography.  Had it that, it would be as near to perfect as a historical treatment can be.

You should most assuredly read it.  Soon.

Synagogues in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods: Archaeological Finds, New Methods, New Theories

The study of ancient Judaism has enjoyed a steep rise in interest and publications in recent decades, although the focus has often been on the ideas and beliefs represented in ancient Jewish texts rather than on the daily lives and the material culture of Jews/Judaeans and their communities. The nascent institution of the synagogue formed an increasingly important venue for communal gathering and daily or weekly practice. This collection of essays brings together a broad spectrum of new archaeological and textual data with various emergent theories and interpretative methods in order to address the need to understand the place of the synagogue in the daily and weekly procedures, community frameworks, and theological structures in which Judaeans, Galileans, and Jewish people in the Diaspora lived and gathered. The interdisciplinary studies will be of great significance for anyone studying ancient Jewish belief, practice, and community formation.

There is simply no doubt that the topic studied in the present volume is an important one, archaeologically.   The presence of synagogues as free standing, dedicated to the purpose of worship and study, buildings in which Jews (and early on in the history of the movement, Christians) met, all across the Greek and Roman world means that we have solid material to deal with, evaluate, and examine.

The present volume is an extremely important contribution to the furtherance of our knowledge on the topic.  Here, advances in the study of synagogues, how material remains should be interpreted, filling in the gaps of our knowledge about practices in ancient synagogues, and the societal contexts of those structures and the gatherings which occupied them are explored.  Topics such as dress codes, torah reading practices, the practice of worship itself, and the ubiquity of synagogues across the Mediterranean world open up new vistas on old problems.

The essays include, as well, discussions of various particular synagogues, including  one in the Golan, the one at Delos, the one at Magdala, and of course Dura Europos.

And not to be overlooked, contributors also address issues that have significant bearing on the history of Christianity, including Ryan’s study titled ‘The Contributions of Historical and Archaeological Study of Early Synagogues to Historical Jesus Research’.   For the full table of contents, see the link above.

The volume originated in a conference, as papers there delivered.  Conference volumes are very popular these days and there’s an important reason why: they allow those of us who cannot attend various gatherings to ‘sit in’ on the proceedings by virtue of the preservation of and dissemination of those papers.  Though the conference took place in 2017, the essays here given remain cutting edge.

I found this collection particularly stimulating because when I was a student in grad school all those decades ago the conventional wisdom was that there were no ‘free standing’ synagogues until the third century.  That is to say, we were under the supposition that Jews, and Christians, scattered across the Roman world met in homes.  ‘The House Church’ and the ‘House Synagogue’ were the place of meeting until the third century, we were informed, when buildings devoted specifically to Church and Synagogue began to appear.   After all, we were reminded, even in Capernaum, the home town of Peter and the operational hub of Jesus’ ministry, they had a synagogue that only dated to the fourth century!

Along the years we’ve learned better.  This book continues the tradition of correcting old errors.  And for that reason alone, it is worth your time.

Obadiah, Jonah and Micah: An Introduction and Commentary

Obadiah’s oracle against Edom. Jonah’s mission to the city of Nineveh. Micah’s message to Samaria and Jerusalem. These books are short yet surprisingly rich in theological and practical terms. In this Tyndale commentary on these minor but important prophets, Daniel Timmer considers each book’s historical setting, genre, structure, and unity. He explores their key themes with an eye to their fulfilment in the New Testament and their significance for today.

The Tyndale Commentaries are designed to help the reader of the Bible understand what the text says and what it means. The Introduction to each book gives a concise but thorough treatment of its authorship, date, original setting, and purpose. Following a structural Analysis, the Commentary takes the book section by section, drawing out its main themes, and also comments on individual verses and problems of interpretation. Additional Notes provide fuller discussion of particular difficulties.

In the new Old Testament volumes, the commentary on each section of the text is structured under three headings: ContextComment, and Meaning. The goal is to explain the true meaning of the Bible and make its message plain.

The Tyndale OT Commentaries series is a solid, stable, reliable, middle of the road conservative, useful, trustworthy contribution to the field of Old Testament studies.

The present volume by Timmer is all of those things as well.  Along with being a careful exegete, he is also a gifted one.  He has the ability to plainly, calmly, and sensibly explain the text at hand with a manner which both scholars and laypeople can appreciate, and learn from.

Will all scholars agree with him?  No.  But most of them will not bother to write their own commentaries on these three books of the Bible.  Because they aren’t up to the task.  So they will take potshots at a work that they find wanting, but which they cannot do better than.

Lay readers will not agree with everything that Timmer writes either, but they will not be able to explain why and they will not be able to do better than he has done in explaining texts.

But Lay readers and scholars who have the gift of honest open-mindedness will admit, after reading the volume, that they benefited from it and learned from it.  It is, if I may go ahead and say so, far better than its predecessor in the series (by Waltke, et al).  A volume, frankly, far too proximate to fundamentalism for my tastes.

The layout of the work follows the standard commentary format: introduction to books, date, authorship, outline, genre, all the usual stuff.  Each pericope is then explained in proper order.  There are no indices, but there are a table of abbreviations and a select bibliography for each biblical book at the outset of the volume.  Those bibliographies are a balanced blend of both conservative and moderate scholarship, though, shockingly, Timmer fails to reference my own commentary on the Prophets.  Alas.

This, seriously, is a really enjoyable, readable, helpful volume.  It is better than most and could never be as bad as the worst commentary I’ve ever read, that of Block on Ruth.

I would recommend that Timmer’s work be added to your syllabi on any course on the Prophets you may teach; on your list of recommended readings; and it should also be added to your personal library.  You’ll wish to make use of it more than once.

NRSV Pew Bible with Apocrypha

Hendrickson sent a copy of this pew bible for review. 

For churches who prefer the beauty and accuracy of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, inexpensive but high-quality editions have been difficult to find. Until now. Hendrickson’s new NRSV Pew Bible combines thoughtfully designed features with a surprisingly affordable price. Boasting better-grade paper, clear and readable type, three pages of updated color maps, and a presentation page, this is a beautifully crafted Bible as well as the most affordable one on the market.

The best judge of any translation is its level of fidelity to the underlying source text.  One can attempt this sort of fidelity by being wooden and rendering word for word but this generally results in a version that is stuttering and unwieldy.  Wooden, as it were.  Which makes for a generally unpleasant reading experience and doesn’t really bring the reader closer to the original, since it at least has the benefit of being sensible and appealing.

Another method of translation is the sense for sense method.  This was the approach of Jerome when he rendered the Hebrew and Greek texts into Latin.  And his version, based on fairly faulty manuscripts, was as good as it could possibly be under the circumstances.

The second best judge of any translation is its ability to break free of the constraints of previous translations.  Some versions turn out to be little more than rephrasings of previous ones.  Think, for example, of the New King James Version and its relation to the 1769 edition which was itself a revision of the 1611 edition.  ‘There’s nothing new here’.  Just the same reading with modernization.

When Jerome translated his edition of the Vulgate it was so different in appreciable ways from the preceding editions (and there were several), there were riots in the street.  By the second measure, then, Jerome’s edition was a smashing success because it so differed from its predecessors that it angered the mobs.

The Revised Standard Version, appearing in the early 50’s, similarly caused uprisings of discontent.  It’s rendition of Isaiah 7:14 led many to find as many copies as they could and burn them in the streets as heretical (merely because the translators followed the actual meaning of the Hebrew word ‘almah’ with ‘maiden’ instead of the very incorrect ‘virgin’ which would have required the Hebrew ‘bethulah’.  Things any first year Hebrew student would know).  In that regard, it too was a departure from its predecessors and for that reason it was a very worthwhile edition.  It, as well, was a faithful rendering of the underlying texts, so that too spoke in its favor.

The New Revised Standard keeps many of the advantages of the RSV and improves them (even if slightly) and is, consequently, a very good edition to use as a pew bible.  The edition under review here also contains the Apocrypha, so that is an added benefit.

The Hendrickson pew bible is printed on nice paper (and not that terrible onion paper too many bibles use), and the font is legible, though not large.  There are a minimum of footnotes and these are variant readings when they are of some importance.  There are no maps, no indices, no frills, no fluff.  This is a bible designed specifically for sitting on a pew and providing worshippers a version they can follow along with when the Scriptures are read.   It is not a study bible.

The binding is firm.  The layout is dual column.  The margins are minimal.  The edition is super.

If your church is looking for a sturdy pew bible, containing a good, reliable, and faithful translation, then this may be exactly what you are looking for.

Or, if you simply want to give a bare bones Bible to a friend or new convert or seeker or young person then this is an affordable and efficient edition.

If, though, you want the best translation of the biblical text, the Revised English Bible remains the king of the English editions.  No translation surpasses it.

The Parables: Jesus’s Friendly Subversive Speech

Jesus’s parables used familiar situations to convey deep spiritual truths in ways that are provocative and subversive of the status quo. Prayerfulness was pictured by a persistent widow. The joy of salvation in the homecoming of a lost son. Love of neighbor by a marginalized Samaritan. If we’re not careful, we can easily miss details in the parables that reveal their subtle meanings as well as their contemporary relevance.

Drawing on scholarship on the parables as well as theological, pastoral, and practical insights, Douglas Webster guides the reader through each of Jesus’s parables, pointing out the important nuances that allow us to understand them and be transformed by them. Reflection questions at the end of each chapter can be used for personal or group study, and an appendix for pastors provides guidance for preaching the parables. Pastors, Bible teachers, and serious students of Scripture will find this tour through Jesus’s parabolic teaching to be a feast for both the mind and the soul.

Potential readers of the work can get a sense of its author’s intention by visiting the link above and clicking on the ‘read excerpt’ tab.  There, the front matter, table of contents, and first several pages of the volume are available.

There have been a lot of books written on the parables of Jesus.  The present is more accurately described as a series of sermons on the parables than an academic investigation of their intricacies.  Each parable treated is sermonized.  Accordingly, pastors and seminary students will find the book very useful for sermon prep (though to be sure the material found in the pages of this book should not be clipped and preached!  That would be both wrong and lazy).  The meaning of the parables is described and application to modern Christian believers made.

The subtitle of the book is a bit unnecessary.  Indeed, I get the impression that it was included in order to appeal to the folk enthralled by the idea of a historical Jesus who is a subversive.  But the book itself certainly does not paint Jesus with the colors of the subversive trouble maker.  Instead, the Jesus here encountered is the Jesus familiar to evangelicals from their years of attendance in Sunday School and church services.

Even the sources which Webster cites are the sort one finds read by and admired among evangelicals.  Calvin, Luther, Snodgrass, Thielicke, and Capon appear frequently but there’s nary a hint of Bultmann or Dibelius or even Jeremias.

There’s nothing new here.  There isn’t new light shed on the parables.  There isn’t a remarkable, revolutionary, epoch making, paradigm shifting insight provided.  It’s standard fare on the parables.

And that’s not a bad thing.  Some things are just simple to describe and the more people try to make them complicated, the more senseless they become.  That’s the way things are with the parables.  We know what they mean.  There’s no new light to be shed upon them (barring some amazing discovery).  They are what they are.  And they say what they say.  So trying to say something about them that ‘hasn’t been said before’ is a complete waste of time.

And that’s ok.  Anyone who wants to write a book on the parables, and is academically qualified to do so, should feel free to do so.  Perhaps someone new to Christianity will pick it up and learn something.  But the stream of such books that have already appeared are enough, for me.  Another one, whether pastoral sounding or academically focused, simply does nothing for me.  ‘I’ve heard it all before’.  And I suspect you have too.

I wish that instead of new books about old and already discussed enough topics like the parables or Paul, scholars and pastors would turn their attention to things that haven’t been treated so much that they’re like manna after day 340 of manna.

Manna sustains, but after a while, it’s just boring.  It may keep the pilgrims alive, but sooner or later the demand for quail will win out.

Give us quail.  We’ve grown weary of manna.