Category Archives: Book Review

Die Badener Disputation von 1526

9783290177577Die im Rahmen einer Eidgenössischen Tagsatzung vom 19. Mai bis 8. Juni 1526 im aargauischen Baden in deutscher Sprache abgehaltene Disputation war ein Grossereignis der Reformationszeit, vergleichbar der Leipziger Disputation 1519 und dem Reichstag zu Worms 1521, und von entscheidender Bedeutung für den weiteren Verlauf der Schweizer Geschichte. Sie war der mit der österreichischen Regierung und dem Bischof von Konstanz abgestimmte Versuch der damals noch mehrheitlich altgläubigen schweizerischen Orte, Zwingli zum Schweigen zu bringen und Zürich zurückzugewinnen. Über Realpräsenz, Messopfer, Heiligenverehrung, Bilder und Fegfeuer stritten Johannes Eck auf katholischer und (anstelle Zwinglis) Johannes Oekolampad und andere auf reformierter Seite. 

badenJetzt liegt erstmals ein kritisch edierter Text vor – samt Sprach- und Sachkommentar, einer historischen sowie einer philologischen Einleitung und einem bio-bibliografischen Verzeichnis von ca. 60 der namentlich bekannten rund 200 Teilnehmer: eine erstrangige Quelle für Historiker, Theologen und Germanisten.

It’s available from TVZ or, in North America, ISD.  And, if you’re in Switzerland, there will be a formal presentation of the book on the 19th of May.  All the details are available here.

The disputation which took place at Baden was extremely important for the development of the Reformation in Switzerland.  As Philip Schaff notes

The disputation was opened in the Catholic city of Baden, in Aargau, May 21, 1526, and lasted eighteen days, till the 8th of June. The cantons and four bishops sent deputies, and many foreign divines were present. The Protestants were a mere handful, and despised as “a beggarly, miserable rabble.” Zwingli, who foresaw the political aim and result of the disputation, was prevented by the Council of Zurich from leaving home, because his life was threatened; but he influenced the proceedings by daily correspondence and secret messengers. No one could doubt his courage, which he showed more than once in the face of greater danger, as when he went to Marburg through hostile territory, and to the battlefield at Cappel. But several of his friends were sadly disappointed at his absence. He would have equalled Eck in debate and excelled him in biblical learning. Erasmus was invited, but politely declined on account of sickness.

The arrangements for the disputation and the local sympathies were in favor of the papal party. Mass was said every morning at five, and a sermon preached; the pomp of ritualism was displayed in solemn processions. The presiding officers and leading secretaries were Romanists; nobody besides them was permitted to take notes.1 The disputation turned on the real presence, the sacrifice of the mass, the invocation of the Virgin Mary and of saints, on images, purgatory, and original sin. Dr. Eck was the champion of the Roman faith, and behaved with the same polemical dexterity and overbearing and insolent manner as at Leipzig: robed in damask and silk, decorated with a golden ring, chain and cross; surrounded by patristic and scholastic folios, abounding in quotations and arguments, treating his opponents with proud contempt, and silencing them with his stentorian voice and final appeals to the authority of Rome. Occasionally he uttered an oath, “Potz Marter.” A contemporary poet, Nicolas Manuel, thus described his conduct:—

“Eck stamps with his feet, and claps his hands,
He raves, he swears, he scolds;
‘I do,’ cries he, ‘what the Pope commands,
And teach whatever he holds.’ ”

Schaff continues

Oecolampadius of Basle and Haller of Berne, both plain and modest, but able, learned and earnest men, defended the Reformed opinions. Oecolampadius declared at the outset that he recognized no other rule of judgment than the Word of God. He was a match for Eck in patristic learning, and in solid arguments. His friends said, “Oecolampadius is vanquished, not by argument, but by vociferation.”1 Even one of the Romanists remarked, “If only this pale man were on our side!” His host judged that he must be a very pious heretic, because he saw him constantly engaged in study and prayer; while Eck was enjoying rich dinners and good wines, which occasioned the remark, “Eck is bathing in Baden, but in wine.”

The papal party boasted of a complete victory. All innovations were forbidden; Zwingli was excommunicated; and Basle was called upon to depose Oecolampadius from the pastoral office. Faber, not satisfied with the burning of heretical books, advocated even the burning of the Protestant versions of the Bible. Thomas Murner, a Franciscan monk and satirical poet, who was present at Baden, heaped upon Zwingli and his adherents such epithets as tyrants, liars, adulterers, church robbers, fit only for the gallows! He had formerly (1512) chastised the vices of priests and monks, but turned violently against the Saxon Reformer, and earned the name of “Luther-Scourge” (Lutheromastix). He was now made lecturer in the Franciscan convent at Lucerne, and authorized to edit the acts of the Baden disputation.

The result of the Baden disputation was a temporary triumph for Rome, but turned out in the end, like the Leipzig disputation of 1519, to the furtherance of the Reformation.

I cite this rather long passage in order to set the stage for the volume presently under consideration. It is, after all, best to return to the sources themselves, no matter how useful and insightful secondary sources may be. Schaff’s work is impressive, but it pales to insignificance in comparison to the first hand accounts. And that is exactly what this impressive book amply provides.

This very large volume weighs in at over 700 pages and is comprised of a Foreword, a thorough list of abbreviations, a historical introduction (from pages 27- 200), a philological introduction (pp. 249-253), the Baden Disputation texts (the first hand accounts of the events which took place at Baden and the reactions of those who were there) (pp. 249-542).  There next follows a series of indices covering the biblical text, persons, places, and authorities and sources (pp. 543-642).  Finally there’s a marvelously useful and really immensely interesting biography/ bibliography of all the major persons discussed in the texts.

The volume also contains a number of illustrations.  The book is festooned with valuable footnotes which direct readers to the copious literature available from the Disputation’s participants and witnesses.  Indeed, there are enough footnotes to make even the most meticulously minded Germanic scholar proud.

The amount of work it took for the editors to produce this volume is staggering.  From sifting through original hand written ‘minutes’ taken during the disputation itself to the examination of the official and not so official protocols later published by the Catholic and the Reformed participants and adherents must have taken many years to achieve.  Yet the careful scholarship pays huge dividends for Reformation researchers and students of history.

Extremely interesting especially to the present reviewer is the material presented in the historical introduction concerning Zwingli’s absence from the proceedings themselves and yet his presence through swiftly transported letters from Zurich to Baden and back.  Zwingli’s absence was not his wish but that of the Zurich council which knew that, had he gone, some harm would have befallen him.  As we read on page 101

Zwingli hatte sicherlich keine Angst vor einem Zusammentreffen und einen Kräftemessen mit Eck, aber die Badener Disputation hatte von Anfang an den  Charakter einer gegen ihn gerichteten Aktion und stand von Anfang an unter dem Vorzeichen einer altgläubigen Dominanz.

The texts of the disputation are presented in 16th century Swiss German but there are sufficient notes to assist modern German readers to comprehend the unusual vocabulary and orthography.

This volume is an utterly remarkable and thoroughly commendable work.  The Reformation cry Ad Fontes is here realized in an amazing way.

If I were to recommend any improvement at all it would be to add a cd-rom with the contents of the protocols (at least) on them so that searching any term or phrase would be quite simple and easily accomplished.  Several of the volumes published by TVZ contain cd’s (I’m thinking of the records of the Reformation in Zurich and Basle in particular).  Such a tool would add significantly to the already significant usefulness of this volume.

Still, I love this book.  It is scholarly, it is meticulous, it is brilliant.

Johann Froben, Printer of Basel: A Biographical Profile and Catalogue of His Editions

In Johann Froben, Printer of Basel, Valentina Sebastiani offers a comprehensive account of the life and printing production of Froben, a major representative of early modern Europe’s most refined printing traditions. Some five centuries after they first appeared in print, Sebastiani provides a bibliography of the 329 Froben editions published in Basel between 1491 and 1527 (including an analysis of some 2,500 copies held in more than twenty-five libraries worldwide), listing the paratextual and visual elements that distinguish Froben’s books as well as economic, technical, and editorial details related to their production and distribution. Sebastiani’s study sheds new light on Froben’s family and career, his involvement in the editing and publication of Erasmus’ works, and the strategies he adopted to market them successfully.

Folk who love the history of the Church and who love books and who love the art of printing will be interested in this, I think.

The volume is comprised of two major divisions.  In the first, a biography of Froben is provided.  In two chapters.  In the first, readers are introduced to the early life of Froben and in the second Froben’s work with Erasmus is the center of focus.

The second major division makes up 9/10ths of the book and is a meticulous listing of everything Froben ever printed from 1491 through 1527.  This catalog is thoroughly annotated and each includes title, contents, cost, and other historical data.

The volume also includes manuscripts of doubtful Froben-ian provenance, illustrations of title page border frames, printer’s devices, a bibliography of Froben, a general bibliography, an index of authors, contributors, editors, and translators, an index of works, an index of various catalogues, and indices of the title page frames and printer’s devices as well.  Finally, there is an index of libraries and archives. From the portrait of Froben at the opening of the volume to the final page of the index, this volume is a real goldmine of historical material.

To illustrate the author’s style I’d like to cite a fairly long section from the introduction, for two reasons: first, it provides a suitable example of the writer’s style and second it tells potential readers precisely what is in store for them between the covers of this tome:

Johann Froben’s name is a shining star in the firmament of scholarly and humanist publishing in Europe’s Early Modern Age. The authority and magnificence of the books he produced in Basel between 1491 and 1527 are well known—and not solely to specialists in the printed book. For nearly fifteen  years, the key concepts of modernity elaborated by the “Prince of Humanists”, Erasmus of Rotterdam, were advanced beneath the emblem of the caduceus which, like a modern corporate logo, was instantly recognisable as the symbol of Froben’s press. Froben’s publishing program met with success on the international book market, and most of the volumes that Froben published—classics in Latin and Greek, the seminal texts of the Church Fathers, the Bible, and the latest titles in the humanistic tradition—sold exceptionally well. Indeed, Froben reprinted them two, three, four, or even as many as eleven times to satisfy the enormous demands of his European scholarly readers. Notwithstanding the exemplary contribution to the history of print and to European culture that Johann Froben and his work represent, little is known about this representative of the most refined publishing house in early modern Europe. Although the scholarship in this area is substantial, it has offered a somewhat ambiguous image of Froben or, in any case, an unfocused one. Nor has a comprehensive bibliography of Froben’s publications ever been prepared, though such a work has long been a desideratum for a wide community of scholars in the multiple fields of Renaissance and Reformation studies, the history of the book, and Erasmus studies. This book aims to fill that gap.

This volume is a shining star in historical studies.  Readers will learn so very much about so important an artist and will come away from the experience fully inspired and totally appreciative of those giants upon whose shoulders all academics today stand.

Be advised, though: this is a gigantic book at over 900 pages.  The work takes effort.  But it rewards in spades.

Rewriting and Reception in and of the Bible

This new volume, in English and German, arrived in early April for review from Mohr.  I’m very excited about it because it is a Festschrift for my very dear friend Mogens Müller.  He’s a wonderful scholar and has long deserved the recognition brought via a Festschrift.  He deserves a celebration.

Die Beiträge dieses Bandes setzen sich kritisch mit der Arbeit Mogen Müllers zu antikem Judentum, der Septuaginta, den Evangelien des Neuen Testaments und der Rezeptiongeschichte der Bibel auseinander und decken dabei ein breites Themenfeld innerhalb der biblischen Redaktion und Rezeption ab. Neuschreibung und Rezeption sind Teil eines fortlaufenden Prozesses, der innerhalb der biblischen Literatur begann, und der sich in der Geschichte der interpretierenden Gemeinden fortsetzt, die die Bibel bis heute auf zahlreiche Arten rezipieren und wertschätzen. Der vorliegende Band möchte die wissenschaftliche Debatte über solch wichtige Themen innerhalb der Bibelforschung voranbringen. Er zeigt, dass man sich mit dem Begriff der Rezeption aus sehr verschiedenen Blickwinkeln und unterschiedlichen hermeneutischen und methodologischen Perspektiven befassen kann, welche alle neue Einblicke in die antiken Texte und deren Nachleben bieten.

Inhaltsübersicht

Jesper Høgenhaven/Jesper Tang Nielsen/Heike Omerzu: Introduction: Rewriting and Reception in and of the Bible

Part I: Rewriting and Reception in the Bible Ancient Judaism– Jesper Høgenhaven: Fortschreibung und Kanonbildung in der Bibliothek von Qumran: Bemerkungen mit besonderem Hinblick auf Genesis-Kommentar A (4Q252) – Ingrid Hjelm: The Coming of a ‘Prophet like you’ in Ancient Literature – Thomas Thompson: ‘Rewritten Bible’ or Reiterative Rhetoric: Examples from Yahweh’s Garden – Siegfried Kreuzer: New Testament Quotations and the Textual History of the Septuagint

New Testament– Michael Labahn: Die Königin aus dem Süden und ihr Auftritt im Gericht: Q 11,31 oder zur (Wirkungs-)Geschichte einer Begegnungserzählung – Troels Engberg-Pedersen: The Messianic Secret in the Fourth Gospel: On the Fundamental Importance of Mark for John’s Rewriting of the Story of Jesus – Jesper Tang Nielsen: Lukas und Johannes: Szenen einer Beziehung – Frederik Poulsen: A Light to the Gentiles: The Reception of Isaiah in Luke-Acts – Martin Meiser: Torah in Galatians: The Significance of the Reception of the Septuagint

Part II: Rewriting and Reception of the Bible Ancient Times– Martin Karrer: Reception and Rewriting: Beobachtungen zu Schriftreferenzen und Textgeschichte der Apokalypse – Heike Omerzu: Das Petrusevangelium als ‘rewritten Gospel’? Eine forschungsgeschichtliche Erörterung der Rezeption der Kategorie ,rewritten Bible’ in Bezug auf frühchristliche Texte – Tilde Bak Halvgaard: Reception of the Johannine Logos in the Trimorphic Protennoia: The Gnostics and the Bible – Part II – Francis Watson: Reception as Corruption: Tertullian and Marcion in Quest of the True Gospel – Thomas Hoffmann: Everywhere and Nowhere: On the rewritten Bible and Qur’ān – John Strange: Rewriting the Bible in Pictorial Arts: Some Examples and Observations

Modern Times – Christina Petterson: Zinzendorf’s New Testament and the Production of Gender – Halvor Moxnes: Desiring Christ: A Nordic Christology in the Time of Romantic Friendships – Gitte Buch-Hansen: Converting Refugees and the Gospel: Exegetical Reflections on Refugees’ Encounter with Denmark and with the Lutheran Church

The wide ranging interests of Mogens Müller are perfectly reflected in this well conceived and executed Festschrift.  Subject areas like the Septuagint, Ancient Judaism, the Gospels, and how those have been received throughout history fill the work.

I first met Mogens in New Orleans at a meeting of SBL and a few years later when I attended a conference in Copenhagen he graciously allowed me to stay with him and his wonderful wife at their beautiful home.  He is a friend and consequently I am positively disposed to his being celebrated.

I am also positively disposed to this volume because it celebrates his work properly.  Its contributors are experts in the fields for which they present essays and all well acquainted with MM’s contributions.  Of special note are the essays of Hjelm, Thompson, Kreuzer, Engberg-Pedersen, Poulson, Watson, and Moxnes (who in typical fashion for himself is more than willing to shake some cages).

My favorite essay, though, and the one which was most informative (in terms of new facts with which I had previously been unfamiliar) is that of Christina Petterson on Zinzendorf’s New Testament.  Here she describes the Moravians and their Bibles, and the choirs of the Moravian churches, along with the groups of which they were comprised (men, boys, girls, widowers, etc.).  All in an effort to delve into the understandings and implications of gender and social relations in the Moravian community.  Fascinating stuff to be sure.

The volume uses footnotes instead of endnotes (which every scholar I know prefers, i.e., footnotes), has a list of contributors, an index of sources, and an index of modern authors.  It lacks a subject index, but to be fair collections of essays really don’t need one and it also lacks a bibliography of the celebrant, which I think every Festschrift ought to have.  A number of essays are in German and most are in English.  Greek and Hebrew occur often enough and the font used for each language is clear and pleasant.  And, finally, Strange’s contribution features several reproductions of important works of art.

This is a fine collection; much to be appreciated is contained herein and much to be learned by virtually every reader.  It is worthy of its celebrant, who is himself worthy of accolades and appreciation.  It is my hope that students and scholars who have not yet come to know Mogens Müller’s work will be intrigued by what they find here and be led to read the many works which provoked such a positive response.

Metaphor Competition in the Book of Job

Within the book of Job, the interlocutors (Job, the friends, and Yahweh) seem to largely ignore one another’s arguments.

This observation leads some to propose that the dialogue lacks conceptual coherence. Lance Hawley argues that the interlocutors tangentially and sometimes overtly attend to previously stated points of view and attempt to persuade their counterparts through the employment of metaphor.

Hawley uses the theoretical approach of Conceptual Metaphor Theory to trace the concepts of speech and animals throughout the dialogue. Beyond explaining the individual metaphors in particular texts, he shows how speech metaphors compete with one another, most perceptibly in the expressions of job’s words are wind. With regard to animal metaphors, coherence is especially perceptible in the job is a predatory animal metaphor. In these expressions, the dialogue demonstrates intentional picking-up on previously stated arguments.

Hawley argues that the animal images in the divine speeches are not metaphorical, in spite of recent scholarly interpretation that reads them as such. Rather, Yahweh appears as a sage to question the negative status of wild animals that Job and his friends assume in their significations of people are animals. This is especially apparent in Yahweh’s strophes on the lion and the wild donkey, both of which appear multiple times in the metaphorical expressions of Job and his friends.

Fascinating.  V&R have sent a review copy, so stay tuned.

Caesar and the Sacrament – Baptism: A Rite of Resistance

When the earliest Christ-followers were baptized they participated in a politically subversive act. Rejecting the Empire’s claim that it had a divine right to rule the world, they pledged their allegiance to a kingdom other than Rome and a king other than Caesar (Acts 17:7).

Many books explore baptism from doctrinal or theological perspectives, and focus on issues such as the correct mode of baptism, the proper candidate for baptism, who has the authority to baptize, and whether or not baptism is a symbol or means of grace. By contrast, Caesar and the Sacrament investigates the political nature of baptism.

Very few contemporary Christians consider baptism’s original purpose or political significance. Only by studying baptism in its historical context, can we discover its impact on first-century believers and the adverse reaction it engendered among Roman and Jewish officials. Since baptism was initially a rite of non-violent resistance, what should its function be today?

This is the best  monograph on baptism that I’ve read since George Beasley-Murray’s.  In 11 carefully constructed chapters, Streett lays out his case.  First, he defines terms; then he discusses baptism in its historical context.  In Chapter three he turns to what is really the skeleton of his thesis: baptism and Roman domination.  He then layers on muscle in his examination of John the Baptizer, the baptism of Jesus, baptism and resurrection and restoration of the kingdom, baptism and Pentecost, and baptisms beyond Jerusalem.  The skin of his theory is found in the final three chapters, where he discusses Paul’s theology of baptism and baptism in the other letters and the Apocalypse.

Potential readers will naturally want to know if Streett’s argument is correct.  It is.  They will also want to know if his handling of the evidence is fair and accurate.  It is.  Does the book inform, they’ll wonder.  Yes, it does.  It is a volume that I should invest resources and time in, they may wonder as well.  And the answer is a resounding yes.

Streett includes a good bibliography, though not thorough; and he offers an index of Scripture.

I am no fan of the recent raft of New Testament studies Malina-esque in character and focusing on ’empire’ (a word so overused now that it has achieved the status of irritant).  Streett’s book is not like them, though, in spite of his interest in empire as a topos.  He sees baptism in a very interesting way and he sees its function as something more than it is usually understood to be- and I think he’s on to something.

Streett writes ‘The gospel of the kingdom was an alternative metanarrative to Rome’s claims of manifest destiny and its good news of peace (Pax Romana).  It was not about individual bliss in the afterlife.  The message of the resurrection of Christ in its first-century context was essentially a counter-imperial proclamation that was subversive to the core‘ (p. 157).

Buzzwords like metanarrative and imperial aside, this book is a master course in baptismal theology.  Take the course.

Present and Future of Biblical Studies

This is a terrible work and ultimately  a thoroughly unsatisfying volume.  The good folk at Brill (and I love them) have provided a review copy which I’ve read through and weighed in the balances and found more than wanting.

What is the current state of the field known as biblical studies? How will biblical studies continue to develop in this diverse, globalized, and digital age? In this book, a diverse group of scholars who are known for their innovative practice of biblical interpretation come together to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the critically acclaimed journal, Biblical Interpretation, by sharing their thoughts on and questions about the assumptions, practices, and parameters of biblical studies as well as their desires and fears about its disciplinary future. Covering a wide range of topics, geographical regions, resources, understandings, and viewpoints, this exceptional collection of essays will make you and help you rethink the conventions and convictions of biblical studies as an academic discipline.

I’ll say right up front that I found the work virtually useless.  Terribly irrelevant.  Depressingly self absorbed.  The essays fail to instruct and instead simply serve as a sort of mirror allowing their various authors to look at their own interests without regard for the reader on the other side of the page.  As a result, the essays don’t connect (at least with the present reader).

We’re treated to lots and loads and freight cars full of literary theory in the pages between the covers.  We hear a lot about this philosopher and that literary critic and how so and so’s work has influenced the essayists, but we don’t hear anything substantive or even interesting.

The introduction sets the tone for the volume: mind numbingly boring. We’re ‘treated’ to soul killing sentences like ‘If nostalgia is about entangled time as well as related to narrative, what we find in this volume are some rather entangled narratives about biblical studies, whether it is about historical criticism or about the place of the Bible’ (p. 9).   ZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…………

Reading the essays in this collection was literally one of the worst reading experiences I’ve had since I suffered through Hector Avalos’ grotesquely ignorant volume on the future of biblical studies.  Many words, signifying nothing.

The volume, were it a piece of art, would be a splotch of paint on a canvas dolloped by an elephant or an infant around which the pompous and silly would gather and exclaim that it was the most genius work of art they had ever seen.  It is a circle of rocks on a museum floor.

And it just doesn’t improve anywhere along the way.  Take this meaningless gem from page 147: “Reading alongside Edelman, unveiling, no matter who is being unveiled, maintains a heteronormative fantasy of reproductive futurity because it provides for a telos that preserves a fantasy of the subject and unified and unifiable, a possible future in which the Veil of Color or the white mask may be removed, and a truer self may be articulated and experienced.’

Such writing is full of itself.  And therefore completely pointless.  Essayists here are simply performing auto-erotic intellectualism and reaching satisfaction alone and singularly.  They are arrogant in their pretense and a travesty of wasted intelligence.  They could all do better: they could communicate.  But because they instead wished to ‘show off’ they achieved meaninglessness.  This is a meaningless volume.

I hate this book.  Every page of it.  I feel robbed of valuable time having read it and I regret with my entire being asking to review it.  I’ll know better next time.  In short, having read this work, I can echo, mutatis mutandis, this famous scene as my own final thoughts on this book:

The Violence of the Lamb: Martyrs as Agents of Divine Judgement in the Book of Revelation

The act of martyrdom in the worldview of the Apocalypse has been considered to be an exemplification of non-violent resistance. Paul Middleton argues here, however, that it is in fact a representation of direct participation by Christians, through their martyrdom, in divine violence against those the author of Revelation portrays as God’s enemies. Middleton shows that acceptance of martyrdom is to grasp the invitation to participate in the Revelation’s divine violence. Martyrs follow the model laid down by the Lamb, who was not only slain, but resurrected, glorified, and who executes judgement.

The world created by the Apocalypse encourages readers to conquer the Beast through martyrdom, but also through the experience of resurrection and being appointed judges. In this role, martyrs participate in the judgement of the wicked by sharing the Lamb’s power to judge. Different from eschewing violence, the conceptual world of the Apocalypse portrays God, the Lamb, and the martyrs as possessing more power, might, and violent potential than the Emperor and his armies. Middleton believes that martyrdom and violence are necessary components of the worldview of Revelation.

Bloomsbury have sent a review copy, so I’ll soon be able to tell you if Middleton proves his case or comes up short.  Stay tuned.

Luther’s Epistle of Straw: The Voice of St. James in Reformation Preaching

This work challenges the common consensus that Luther, with his commitment to St. Paul’s articulation of justification by faith, leaves no room for the Letter of St. James. Against this one-sided reading of Luther, focused only his criticism of the letter, this book argues that Luther had fruitful interpretations of the epistle that shaped the subsequent exegetical tradition. Scholarship’s singular concentration on Luther’s criticism of James as “an epistle of straw” has caused many to overlook Luther’s sermons on James, the many places where James comes to full expression in Luther’s writings, and the influence that Luther’s biblical interpretation had on later interpretations of James. Based primarily on neglected Lutheran sermons in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, this work examines the pastoral hermeneutic of Luther and his theological heirs as they heard the voice of James and communicated that voice to and for the sake of the church. Scholars, pastors, and educated laity alike are invited to discover how Luther’s theology was shaped by the Epistle of James and how Luther’s students and theological heirs aimed to preach this disputed letter fruitfully to their hearers.

DeGruyter have sent along a review copy.

The great achievement of Lane’s revised Promotionsarbeit is his proving beyond any reasonable doubt that Luther’s view of the Letter of James is more nuanced than his Preface to James and Jude in the September Testament would lead us to believe.  The common view of Luther’s opinion of James is gloriously and meticulously overturned and the wrong-headedness of the constant parroting of Luther’s little phrase ‘epistle of straw’ is on full and fantastic display.

Lane achieves this by first of all closely examining Althamer’s 1527 annotations on James and this is followed by a very useful and accurate exposition of Luther’s own exegesis of James.  This in turn gives way to a look at the Letter of James in the Postils and this naturally leads to a wider historical examination of James in the later Lutheran Orthodox tradition.  The volume concludes with a summary of Lane’s theses (46 of them.  He should have just done 95, but I’m sure he had his reasons for doing just under half of that), an appendix containing annotated editions of Luther’s five sermons on James in English translation, a bibliography, index of persons, index of subjects, and index of biblical texts.

Lane makes his way through the primary sources with the skill of a seasoned historical researcher.  His grasp of Luther’s Latin and German is superb and his familiarity with the secondary literature is remarkable (given the breadth of that literature in these troubled times).  Unlike too many Luther ‘scholars’, Lane doesn’t cite secondary sources as his first or only resource.  And that’s refreshing and noteworthy.  Far too many know Luther only at second hand and that lack of first hand familiarity shows on every page of their work (e.g., the horrifically ignorant book on Luther of Eric Metaxas is a premier case in point).  Metaxas is no Lane just as a firefly is no star.

Lane’s book is further worthy of commendation because he doesn’t drag his argument out unnecessarily.  He says what needs to be said and he moves on.  At around 226 pages, then, it is a volume that can be worked through in a few days instead of the few weeks required of those wordy tomes which strive too hard to say too much and at the end turn up saying hardly anything worth remembering.

I would like to conclude this review with a quote from Lane’s work with which I agree 100%-

I believe it is fair to say that modern scholars continue to underestimate the hermeneutical and rhetorical precision of Luther and his theological heirs of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  In their careful and often colorful exegesis of James 1, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Lutherans demonstrate a lively biblical theology that extends far beyond the Pauline context (p. 188).

Scholars today need to take that seriously.   Get this book.  Read it.  Learn.

Sprüche (Proverbia) 1-15

Bernd U. Schipper reads the book of Proverbs within the context of ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature and at the same time as an integral part of the Old Testament. As a work of literature from the Second Temple period, the book of Proverbs takes part in the theological debates of its time over issues such as the significance of the Torah (and particularly the Deuteronomic law) or whether humans are capable of living in accordance with the divine will.

The analysis of ancient Near Eastern parallels gives special attention to textual material that has previously not been applied to the exegesis of the book of Proverbs: the sapiential texts from the Egyptian Late Period (6th–2nd c. B.C.E.).

On the whole, the final form of the book of Proverbs emerges as a text from the late Persian and early Hellenistic periods that can be ascribed to a circle of “scribes” who were well-versed in the scriptures of ancient Israel.

The publisher, V&R, have sent a review copy.  More anon, but in the meanwhile visit here for the TOC and front matter.

Erfahrung im Alten Testament: Untersuchung zur Exegese des Alten Testaments bei Franz Delitzsch

Der Tatsache, dass die exegetische Arbeit des Leipziger und Erlanger Theologen Franz Delitzsch schon zu seiner eigenen Zeit als altmodisch galt, entspricht nicht die Rezeption und Aufmerksamkeit, die seine Schriften im deutschsprachigen wie im englischsprachigen Raum genossen haben und teilweise noch genießen. Diese Dissertation untersucht mit Blick auf dieses Phänomen den von Delitzsch angewandten Ansatz und dessen Wurzeln in der lutherischen Erlanger Schule, zu der er – so zeigt es sich – eindeutig gehörte. Gegenwärtige Debatten über die Stellung des Alten Testaments in christlicher Theologie bestätigen die dauerhafte Relevanz solcher Untersuchungen, gerade wenn man Delitzschs bemerkenswerte Beziehung zum Judentum bedenkt.

EVA has also sent a copy of this for review.  Stay tuned.

Loci praecipui theologici

Volume 1 of a new edition of the Loci praecipui theologici nunc denuo cura et diligentia Summa recogniti multisque in locis copiose illustrati 1559, by Philipp Melanchthon has just been published by EVA of Leipzig.

Philipp Melanchthons »Loci praecipui theologici« in der Letztfassung von 1559 sind die reife Summe ­seines theologischen Schaffens. Gemeinsam mit der »Institutio« Johannes Calvins sind sie die wirkmächtigste reformatorische Dogmatik. Sie liegen nun erstmals ins Deutsche übersetzt in einer lateinisch-deutschen Ausgabe im ersten Teilband vor.

Die philologische Seite der Übersetzung lag bei dem Basler Altphilologen Peter Litwan unter Assistenz der Altphilologin Florence Becher-Häusermann. Die theologische Redaktion hatte Sven Grosse, Professor für Historische und Systematische Theologie an der Staatsunabhängigen Theologischen Hochschule Basel. Die Ausgabe ist auf zwei Bände angelegt.

Der 2. Band der Loci erscheint im Juli 2020.

The publisher has sent along a copy for review.  More anon.

Early Sessions of the Synod of Dordt, Bd. II/2

The publisher provided a review copy, some months back which I have enjoyed reading tremendously.  All 950+ pages.

This volume is a part of a tremendously important series of volumes being published over the course of the next several years which will become the standard for research for decades to come: Acta et Documenta Synodi Nationalis Dordrechtanae (1618–1619).(ADSND), A Project of the Johannes A Lasco Bibliothek Emden.

The Synod of Dordrecht 1618/1619 was one of the most important church councils in the history of the reformed tradition. International delegates from all over Europe served as important participants and played a significant role in the evaluation of Remonstrant doctrine and in the formation of the canons. The Synod made important pronouncements on issues like Sunday observance, catechism instruction, and theological education.Given the continuing worldwide historical significance of the Synod’s canons and church order, the absence of a critical scholarly edition of the majority of documents composed at the time of the Synod is remarkable. The Johannes a Lasco Bibliothek in Emden, being a leading research center for the history and theology of Reformed Protestantism, has taken the initiative to edit the Acts of the Synod of Dordrecht 1618/1619. The edition is organized as a RefoRC project with the participation of several institutions and scholars in Europe and North-America.

At the link above the reader can find the table of contents for this work, so please do take a look at it before continuing reading the review below.

As is the case with all collections of primary sources, this volume proffers something extremely important for research: first hand material.  Such a work demands incredible devotion and meticulous care on the part of minor and major editors.  And when done properly, is literally indispensable.  Selderhuis, Moser and the others who worked very hard to make this volume happen are owed a debt of gratitude by all of us.

The materials here collected are composed in Latin, Dutch, English and French- depending on the place of origin and the purpose of the text.  English introductions are provided for every primary source and these introductions give readers critical information regarding the date of the document, the textual source of the document, collated sources for the document, and the editor of the document for the present edition.  As well, a brief history of the Synod of Dort is composed by Donald Sinnema and Christian Moser gives readers an overview of the volumes which will be found in the series of which this volume is part.  Footnotes are kept to a minimum and normally focus on important textual variants and historical notices.  Certain documents are also summarized, in English, for the benefit of the reader.

At the volume’s close there are a series of indices including names, scriptures, manuscripts, subjects and contributors.  Additionally, the index of names also offers a one sentence bio of the persons named.

The meat of the volume is historical documents related to the Synod at Dort.  To be precise, there are 298 historical documents covering everything from the credentials of those in attendance at the Synod to the Sermons preached at the Synod to the statements of various participants at the Synod and all manner of letters written about the Synod from those in attendance.

And what a slab of meat it is.  There is so much of interest between the outer covers of this book.  Reading the statements, sermons, letters, and other documents transport readers to the gallery of the Synod and indeed to the debate floor itself.  It’s no exaggeration to say that this book is exciting in that it excites a desire for further details about the Synod and awakens a desire for the forthcoming volumes in the series to appear now, today, without delay.

The Harry Potter series is popular because it leads readers to escape their own reality.  The Synod of Dort volume at hand is thrilling because it connects readers to real history.  As events unfolding.  Allowing us to be there in a very real sense.  In a sense that can never be true of fantasy works because those works are simply make believe.  Real history is always more engaging than pretend history because truth, as we all know is stranger than fiction.  It’s also more enthralling.

The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers: Learning to Interpret Scripture from the Prophets and Apostles

A method of interpretation–a hermeneutic–is indispensable for understanding Scripture, constructing theology, and living the Christian life, but most contemporary hermeneutical systems fail to acknowledge the principles and practices of the biblical writers themselves.

Christians today cannot employ a truly biblical view of the Bible unless they understand why the prophets and apostles interpreted Scripture the way they did. To this end, Abner Chou proposes a “hermeneutic of obedience,” in which believers learn to interpret Scripture the way the biblical authors did–including understanding the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament.

Chou first unfolds the “prophetic hermeneutic” of the Old Testament authors, and demonstrates the continuity of this approach with the “apostolic hermeneutic” of the New Testament authors.

Kregel have sent a copy for review.

Approaching the Study of Theology: An Introduction to Key Thinkers, Concepts, Methods & Debates

From the opening pages of the Bible, we learn of God as one who communicates with humankind—offering us first steps toward knowledge of the divine, the very foothold of theology. On this basis, Approaching the Study of Theology presents an engaging introduction to the breadth and depth of the study of theology, mapping the significant landmarks as well as the main areas of debate.

The book is divded into three parts:

Part I (Approaches) describes the major approaches to theology that have emerged and developed over time.

Part II (Concepts and Issues) explains the major concepts and issues, identifying theologians associated with each.

Part III (Key Terms) provides a helpful glossary of all the key terms that readers need to understand in order to better understand theology.

IVP have sent along a prepublication draft of this new work by Professor Thiselton.  In my review please note that no page numbers will be included because the draft manuscript includes none.

The work consists of an overview of theological trends in the introduction.  This overview discusses the biblical roots of theology and a description of  the major periods of theological development. Part One is very much akin to a ‘bible dictionary’ which lists, in alphabetical sequence, methodological approaches to theology including biblical theology, hermeneutical theology, political theology, and systematic theology among others.  Part Two adopts the same alphabetical sequencing but it’s concern is ‘Concepts and Issues’ like Atonement, Authority of the Bible, Justification, Resurrection of the Dead, etc.  These discussions, like those of part one, tend to be full and ‘encyclopedic’.  Indeed, part two is the bulk of the volume.  The third part of the volume, Key Terms, is simply a glossary.

The presentation is, necessarily, very general.  That is, each concept, term, method, etc. is described in quite sweeping terms.  The work aims to introduce, and merely introduce, the basics of theological enquiry.  The details are relatively accurate overall but sometimes they are incredibly inaccurate.

One glaring problem is what Thiselton writes about the Marburg conference:

In 1529 it became clear that there were disagreements among the Reformers on the nature of the Lord’s Supper.  Deeply concerned for Reformation unity, Luther sought a friendly conference with Zwingli, Melanchthon, and Bullinger (sic !)at Marburg. He did his best to achieve a united witness but Zwingli and others held firm in their beliefs…

The problems here are multiple: Luther didn’t seek any conference, friendly or otherwise, with Zwingli.  He was essentially forced into meeting with Zwingli and the others by Prince Philip.  He never wanted to participate and told friends on numerous occasions that the whole thing would be a waste of time.  He even wrote the Margrave thusly

I am indeed absolutely convinced that Your Sovereign Grace is completely sincere and has the best of intentions. For this reason I, too, am ready and willing to render my services in this, Your Sovereign Grace’s Christian undertaking, though I fear [my services] may be futile and perhaps dangerous for us. (Luther’s Works, Vol. 49: 230.)

Luther wasn’t interested in the meeting and thought it was a bad idea.

Further, Bullinger wasn’t there (see below).  And it wasn’t Luther who wanted to achieve a united witness but, again, the Prince and neither was it the others who were most intransigent- it was Luther.  In sum, then, the portrait of Luther here is totally wrong.  Thiselton simply misstates nearly every fact.

As mentioned just above, the draft contains one particular error that I have reported to the publisher in hopes that there is still time before printing to correct it: Thiselton remarks, wrongly, that the conference in Marburg included Zwingli, Luther, and Bullinger (!).   Bullinger will be quite surprised to learn that.  Having offered a correction I’m happy to say that, thankfully, the editor has indeed agreed that this is an error (in consultation with the author) and have asserted that it will be corrected before the printing is completed.

The rest of the volume is not free of such egregious mistakes either, though.  For instance, in his treatment in part 3 of terms, Thiselton writes

The Greek words daimon and daimonion occur over 1200 times each and the verb daimonizomai over 1200 times in the Synoptic Gospels.

This is simply untrue.  ‘daimon’ doesn’t occur at all.  δαιμόνιον occurs only 15 times. δαιμονίου occurs 4 times.  And the verbal form δαιμονίζεται occurs but once.  In fact, δαιμον* in all its various forms only occurs 78 times in the entire New Testament.

Thiselton has written a volume that contains much that is useful.  But readers should fact-check his assertions via other resources.  He isn’t always accurate.

Zwingli lesen

Ulrich Zwingli war ein epochaler Denker. Zwingli lesen bedeutet, an diesem Denken und Argumentieren teilzuhaben.

Dieses Lesebuch enthält deshalb die zentralen Texte von Zwingli selbst – und zwar in verständlichem heutigem Deutsch. Darüber hinaus wird jeder Text eingeleitet und kommentiert. Vollständig wiedergegeben werden: Das Pestlied (1520), Die Klarheit und Gewissheit des Wortes Gottes (1522), die 67 Thesen oder Artikel (1523), Göttliche und menschliche Gerechtigkeit (1523), Eine freundschaftliche und ernstliche Ermahnung der Eidgenossen (1524), die beiden Berner Predigten (1528) und das Kappelerlied (um 1529). Auszüge aus weiteren Texten und einige zentrale Briefe Zwinglis ergänzen den Band.

Die Auswahl greift die wichtigsten Themen und biografischen Stationen des Reformators auf. Wer diese Texte kennt, kann über Zwingli kompetent mitreden.

TVZ have provided a review copy.  And I’d like to first offer a photo of the table of contents- not merely to show what the volume contains, although that’s quite important- but to show how really very lovely the font is.  And the photo doesn’t do it justice.

IMG_4412

As to the works by Zwingli included here, the choices made by our learned editors are extremely appropriate.   These short works all show the mind of Zwingli at its most brilliant and the mixture of letters and theological treatises is superb.  Those looking for a first hand introduction to Zwingli’s theological notions, via primary rather than secondary sources, should start here.  And then proceed to the 4 volume collection of Zwingli’s works in modern German by the same publisher.  And then on to the critical edition, also by the same publisher.  With these volumes, this publisher is living up to the first name by which it was known- the Zwingli Verlag, Zurich.

The contents of the present work are punctuated by excerpts from Bullinger’s Reformationshgeschichte where color illustrations, by hand, are included in that fabled tome.

IMG_4413

I have to admit that I find such inclusions utterly endearing.  I love this publisher because it constantly produces volumes that really, really matter.  This is such a volume.  It is a work of art and a work of scholarship.

Concerning the translations of these key works by Zwingli with which this volume is populated; they are incredibly well crafted.  Zwingli is very, very hard to translate simply because he works in his own 16th century Swiss German and Latin.  He likes words, and like Luther he was super at creating new ones and using old ones in new ways.  This makes him both incredibly fun to read and incredibly hard to translate for modern folk.  Indeed, Zwingli’s German and Luther’s German were so different that the two theologians couldn’t understand each other at Marburg and had to use Latin.  Because Zwingli’s language is so arcane, anyone capable of translating that language into a modern language should receive a prize of some sort.  And that goes doubly for those who do it well like Opitz and Saxer.

Take, for instance, this bit from the sermon ‘On the Clarity and Certainty of the Word of God‘ from the critical edition from 1522-

Zum zehenden. Empfindstu, das es dich gewüß macht der gnaden gottes und ewigen heils, so ist es von got.

And now the modern German rendering-

10.  Spürst Du, dass dir die Gnade Gottes und das ewige Heil zur Gewissheit werden, so ist das von Gott.

I challenge you to do better.  I don’t think it can be done.

Opitz and Saxer have assemble as well a very brief but useful bibliography (though it pains me that my own work on Zwingli is not included) and they include footnotes in the body of the text but these are kept to a bare minimum.  At the conclusion of each text they also have the original source cited so interested persons can make their way to it.  And, finally, at the very end of the volume is an index of chief subjects so that if readers want to look in on Zwingli’s understanding of ‘Taufe’, for instance, the pages where that subject is touched upon are easily discovered.

By now readers of this review have surely sensed that I think in highly commendable.  If they haven’t, allow me to say it more forthrightly: I love this book.  Not just because it’s Zwingli, but because it’s so well done.  I recommend it to you.  Without hesitation or ambiguity.  It’s super.

The Bible and the Qur’an

The Bible and the Qur’an provides an overview of all the figures and groups who are mentioned in both the Bible and the Qur’an. Principal focus centres on the similarities and differences between the presentations of these characters in the two texts, with special emphasis placed on how they appear in the Islamic text. References are also included to how many of the individuals/groups discussed are treated in other Islamic sources.  Each figure or group includes: (1) a list of relevant Qur’an passages; (2) a description of how the individual/group is presented in the Islamic Texts; (3) questions and issues to consider; (4) suggestions for further readings. An introductory section provides a basic orientation to the Qur’an and other Islamic sources.

The present volume is something akin to an encyclopedia in that it is arranged in an alphabetic layout.  Each entry is independent of the other and each has its own set of ‘Questions/ Further Issues’ and its own bibliography.  Major personages are discussed and how they appear in various segments of the Qur’an is the focus of attention (not so much how they appear in the Bible which is for the most part presumed to be well enough known by readers of the present volume).

Persons discussed include but are not limited to Aaron, Moses, Adam, Joseph, Mary, Michael, the Queen of Sheba, and Unbelievers.  In all, forty-eight persons or groups of people (like ‘Prophets’) are treated.

The volume includes a very helpful introduction to the material and an equally helpful index of Biblical citations.  Readers looking for a person can easily find it in the table of contents and those looking for a passage from the Bible can find it just as easily in the index.

Readers of the Bible will find this a quite interesting work.  How the Qur’an handles major biblical figures is extremely interesting (in much the same way that the treatment of various biblical characters in the Babylonian Talmud is oftentimes very interesting).  Below is a sample from the entry on Eve:

The value of a work such as the present one is in its ability to construct a bridge between Christians (and Jews) and Muslims. Many of the persons who hold such important places in the faith of Jews and Christians also hold important places in the faith of Muslims. Perhaps the way forward to a more peaceful co-existence between the three Monotheistic faiths is to understand one another better. This book, rightly used, aids that understanding. I recommend it.

The Bible and the Qur’an

The Bible and the Qur’an provides an overview of all the figures and groups who are mentioned in both the Bible and the Qur’an. Principal focus centres on the similarities and differences between the presentations of these characters in the two texts, with special emphasis placed on how they appear in the Islamic text. References are also included to how many of the individuals/groups discussed are treated in other Islamic sources.  Each figure or group includes: (1) a list of relevant Qur’an passages; (2) a description of how the individual/group is presented in the Islamic Texts; (3) questions and issues to consider; (4) suggestions for further readings. An introductory section provides a basic orientation to the Qur’an and other Islamic sources.

A review copy arrived from the publisher some time back and my review will post this weekend.  Stay tuned.

Reading Christian Theology in the Protestant Tradition

Reading Christian Theology in the Protestant Tradition offers a distinctive approach to the value of classic works through the lens of Protestantism. While it is anachronistic to speak of Christian theology prior to the Reformation as “Protestant”, it is wholly appropriate to recognize how certain common Protestant concerns can be discerned in the earliest traditions of Christianity. The resonances between the ages became both informative and inspiring for Protestants who looked back to pre-reformation sources for confirmation, challenge, and insight.  Thus this book begins with the first Christian theologians, covering nearly 2000 years of theological writing from the Didache, Justin Martyr, and Origen to James Cone, José Míguez Bonino, and Sallie McFague. Five major periods of church history are represented in 12 key works, each carefully explained and interpreted by an expert in the field.

Imagine, for a moment, being in a cafe and sitting around with people who just happen to be experts in some of the most important theological works in the history of Christian thought.  And then imagine that said experts all go around the group and describe what they consider to be the most important books in that tradition- and specifically in the Protestant branch of that tradition.  And then imagine that each of those experts pulls out a few books they think are incredibly important and commence to describe the contents for you and the rest of the group- adding introductory remarks which place the work in its historical context and ample citations from the work to make each point along the way.  And that, in essence, is what you have in the present volume.

This collection of resources isn’t a ‘reader’.  And it isn’t a flat description of important works either.  It is a series of learned ‘book reviews’ which describe the contents and importance of very important Christian writings.  The book is arranged chronologically:

Part One- The Early Church Period (100-500) and we are introduced to works like the Didache, the Dialogue with Trypho, and other such things.

Part Two- The Medieval Period (up to 1500) and here we get such things as Lombard’s Sentences.

Part Three- the most interesting part, covers 1500- 1600 and here we find Luther and Calvin and Zwingli and other luminaries, including some notable women.

Part Four- the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.  With the likes of Wesley and Arminius and other terrible people.

Part Five- the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.  Yes, Barth and Brunner and that oddball Tillich and other strange but ‘important’ persons.

It’s fairly clear that once the 16th century passed, theology took a nosedive until Brunner.  But perhaps that’s just this person’s opinion.  In any event the work concludes with a great little section wherein each essay is summarized.

The collection leans on the expertise of its very knowledgeable contributors and 99% of the time they are on the mark.  They do, however, make tiny errors from time to time- not in their representations of the texts they handle but in their biographical observations about our theological forebears.  For instance, describing Zwingli, our contributor remarks

“As a preacher, Zwingli, a trained humanist and an ex-soldier…”

Zwingli was a trained humanist and he was an ex-chaplain but he was not an ex-solider in the sense of ex-combatant.  Zwingli never wielded a weapon in battle, either at Marignano or later at Kappel-am-Albis.  When modern readers see the word ‘soldier’ they instantly think ‘combat soldier’.  That was not who Zwingli was and the eventual confusion about the matter could have been avoided had our author simply used ‘chaplain’ instead of ‘soldier’.  But the rest, the 99%, is spot on.  (Still, I am driven to go and gather in the 1% of facts left out in the wilderness of inaccuracy and leave the 99% right in the safety of the fold, as Jesus commands…)

That leads me to make the cautionary observation that whilst this is an excellent volume, readers will certainly want to check out the facts with other works which are more specialized.

The choice of works is very good and though while I would have added some theologians left out and left out some that are included, I certainly cannot fault the editors for their selections.  Such a collection is by its very nature idiosyncratic (in the best sense of the word) and that would be true of any similar collection.

I also am compelled to admit that I learned a great deal about some theologians I had not had any dealings with since grad school.  And that, I think, is a good thing.  Other readers will be introduced to thinkers they have never heard of.  And that’s a good thing too.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable gigantic book.  Get a copy, take it to your local Starbucks, sit in a corner, turn off your electronics, and have some fun ‘discussing’ the important works of important theologians.  And be sure to read the chapters concerning persons you’ve never heard of.  Your theological world will be expanded.  And that, in short, is the glory of this volume.

NB- Below are the full table of contents:

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

#ICYMI – A Discourse Analysis of Ruth. A Review of a Book I Dislike Immensely

9780310282983_455_600_90Zondervan Academic have sent along this for a looksee-

The Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament serves pastors and teachers by providing them with a careful analysis and interpretation of the biblical text, rooted in a study of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and intended to track the flow of the argument in each book and passage.

The layout of the commentary isn’t the standard fare.  Instead, each pericope is titled, it’s ‘scenes’ are subdivided, the main idea of the passage is offered, the literary context is described, the structure and literary form are shown, extensive flow charts of the sentences and phrases are displayed (think sentence diagram charts), and then, finally, the text is ‘explained’.  Useful informational boxes and sidebars along with charts and graphs festoon the work, some of them resembling computer scroll boxes (I know not why).

After the text is treated, our author generates what he describes as ‘A Dramatic Reading of the Book of Ruth’.  This snippet includes a suggested stage arrangement along with the script of a play with various narrators and actors.  The work concludes with a Scripture Index, a subject Index, and an author Index.

I dislike the volume immensely.  I dislike its girth.  It attempts too much and delivers too little.  It rambles on and on endlessly in such a way that one feels as though one has visited Grandma and she’s talked about 15 disparate topics in an hour and you still have no idea what the point of it all was.  The Book of Ruth is tiny.  It shouldn’t take anyone 200 pages to explain it to modern readers of the Bible.

It’s too busy.  It’s too crowded.  The graphs and their little tiny arrows virtually gouge into the reader’s eyes and by the time a single chapter of the volume has been worked through the reader will be begging those little tiny arrows to bolt from the page and plunge themselves into and through one’s own eyes so that the misery of experiencing the volume is terminated.

There are so many excellent commentaries on Ruth.  Go buy one of them.  This isn’t one.  It isn’t even worth borrowing from the library.  it is infuriating and annoying and spite producing.  I literally hated it like I’ve not hated a book in a very long time.

Avoid this book like the plague it is.

Darkness Visible: A Study of Isaiah 14:3-23 as Christian Scripture

How does one read the Old Testament as Christian Scripture?  This question, voiced in both academic and ecclesial settings, invites a reflection on how to take these texts with both hermeneutical alertness and sustained imaginative seriousness. While scholars have recently engaged in robust discussion about theological hermeneutics, there have been relatively few worked examples with particular Old Testament texts. This book seeks to meet this need by providing a close reading of Isaiah 14:3–23, a text with a complex amalgam of textual, historical-critical, history-of-reception, and theological issues.

The author sent a review copy  a bit ago and though I finished the review a few weeks back I have been occupied with other tasks until now.

Bordjadze’s book (hereafter B’s) is a reworking of his doctoral dissertation from the University of Durham. In spite of that, he mercifully only references one volume by NT Wright- so the work is already a great blessing.

The chapters are as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Text, Translation, And Philological Issues in Isaiah 14:3-23
  3. The Meaning of משל
  4. Imaginative World of Isaiah 14:3-23
  5. Myth and History in Isaiah 14:3-23
  6. Isaiah 14:12-15 in Reception History
  7. Reading Isaiah 14:3-23 as Christian Scripture Today
  8. Conclusion

And of course there are the usual foreword, acknowledgement, abbreviations, bibliography, and index.

The first two chapters lay the groundwork for what follows and are fairly standard in terms of their approach and denouement.  B. here isn’t seeming to strive for originality or ‘shock and awe’ but rather calm and steady technical clarity.  And he does this well.

Chapter three is very good and should be consulted by all who wish to understand more thoroughly what the Hebrew morpheme משל is all about.  B. also does a good job here of showing the Isaianic context of the morpheme.

Chapter four appears to be the heart of the argument with chapter 5 playing the role of supplemental data added to the core material.  Chapter four, though, has a series of excurses which, while interesting and helpful, serve more the role of appendices than excurses proper (in my view they well could have been placed at the end of the volume and been called appendices).  But that’s a mere quibble.

Chapter six turns to an examination of how Origen (the heretic) and Calvin (the blessed) used and understood this passage in Isaiah.  On the face of it these two Church figures seem rather randomly chosen.  Why Origen and Calvin and why not Augustine and Luther or Chrysostom and Zwingli, etc.?  The reason is clear enough however- these two represent the main lines of interpretation.  And that’s the best reason to include them.  The volume would be unnaturally enlarged were every reception-historical avenue driven down so the author is to be appreciated for wise choices.

Given, however, that I despise Origen I’ll spend my time instead on B’s interpretation of Calvin.  B. does a good enough job with the Genevan Reformer; he seems to understand Calvin’s aims and intentions and methods though he’s too dependent on secondary sources and doesn’t, in my humble (!) view, make enough use of primary sources.  Indeed, B. seems more often than not to be in dialogue with B. Childs rather than J. Calvin.  When B. does eventually get around to engaging with Calvin directly (which he does on page 162), he cites but two of Calvin’s works- his Commentary on Isaiah and his Institutes.   But Calvin discusses the passage in question in his Psychopannychia.  Consulting it would have enriched and strengthened B’s work.

Nonetheless, B. is clearly very in tune with Calvin’s mindset and he is therefore a reliable guide here to Calvin’s thought.

The final two chapters pull everything together and offer the reader a thorough summary of the book’s point of view.

All in all, this is an enjoyable volume.  It is informative, stimulating, and intelligent.  There are a few minor problems (or better, issues) with it which have been noted above.  And in spite of them, I heartily recommend this work.  It teaches.