Category Archives: Book Review

The Trial and Crucifixion of Jesus: Texts and Commentary

This may be of interest to folk:

The significance of Jesus’ death is apparent from the space that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John devote to the Passion narrative, from the emphasis of many speeches in the book of Acts, and from the missionary preaching and the theology of the apostle Paul. Exegetical discussions of Jesus’ trial and death have employed biblical (Old Testament) and extrabiblical texts in order to understand the events during the Passover of AD 30 that led to Jesus’ execution by crucifixion. The purpose of this book is to publish the primary texts that have been cited in the scholarly literature as relevant for understanding Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. The texts in the first part deal with Jesus’ trial and interrogation before the Sanhedrin, and the texts in the second part concern Jesus’ trial before Pilate. The texts in part three represent crucifixion as a method of execution in antiquity. For each document, the authors provide the original text (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, or Latin), a translation, and commentary. The commentary describes the literary context and the purpose of each document in context before details are clarified, along with observations on the contribution of these texts to understanding Jesus’ trial and crucifixion.

The materials here assembled provide interested persons the opportunity to examine primary sources regarding the trial and execution of Jesus.  Though indirectly.

What I mean by that is that what we have here isn’t material about Jesus’s own trial or execution.  Instead we have material about trials and crucifixion in general written during and slightly later than the first century CE.

So, for instance, in part 1, J. Schnabel discusses Jewish trials before the Sanhedrin.  He offers extra-biblical texts relating to such things as Annas and Caiaphas, the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin, capital cases in Jewish law, the interrogation of witnesses, charges of blasphemy, seduction, and sorcery, the abuse of prisoners, and transfer of court cases.

Part 2, again by Schnabel, turns to Roman trials before Pilate, and discusses, by means, again, of extra-biblical texts, Pilate himself, the jurisdiction of Roman prelates, and various Roman legal niceties.

Part 3 is written by D. Chapman and focuses on the act of Crucifixion (in all its gory details).  It also addresses what Chapman styles as ‘Bodily Suspension in the Ancient Near East’.  Greco-Roman sources on the topic are then laid out as are Hellenistic sources and Jewish sources.  Chapman then provides something of a who’s who of crucifixion victims in Roman literature.  This is followed by the various ways in which various societies reacted to the act of crucifixion and he closes out his very long third part with a listing of taunts and curses and jests which were hurled at the victims of crucifixion.  It’s worth reading.  Some of the taunts may be useful to readers of the volume at some point.  Especially if they are seeking a fresh rejoinder to hurl at some hapless ill prepared conference presenter.

There are, as one should expect, a fair number of illustrations and the work also includes a bibliography, an index of ancient sources, modern authors, and subjects.

The volume is a sourcebook of materials about trials and crucifixions in the ancient Mediterranean world.  It is not, strictly speaking, a volume about the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.  The title is, accordingly, a bit inaccurate.  It should have been titled ‘Trials and Crucifixions in the World of Jesus’, because that’s what it is about.

Inaccurate title notwithstanding, this is a fascinating sourcebook with mountains of important primary source materials.  In their original languages as well as in translation and with helpful commentary.  The authors have done a lifetime of work and they are to be congratulated for it.

This resource belongs on every New Testament scholar’s shelf.

2 Peter and the Apocalypse of Peter: Towards a New Perspective

Published by Brill

In the 2016 Radboud Prestige Lectures, published in this volume, Jörg Frey develops a new perspective on 2 Peter by arguing that the letter is dependent on the Apocalypse of Peter. Frey argues that reading 2 Peter against the backdrop of the Apocalypse of Peter sheds new light on many longstanding interpretative questions and offers fresh insights into the history of second-century Christianity. Frey’s lectures are followed by responses from leading scholars in the field, who discuss Frey’s proposal in ways both critical and constructive. Contributors include: Richard Bauckham, Jan Bremmer, Terrance Callan, Paul Foster, Jeremy Hultin, Tobias Nicklas, David Nienhuis and Martin Ruf.

A review copy has been sent.  More anon.

Nicodemism and the English Calvin, 1544–1584

In Nicodemism and the English Calvin Kenneth J. Woo reassesses John Calvin’s decades-long attack against Nicodemism, which Calvin described as evangelicals playing Catholic to avoid hardship or persecution. Frequently portrayed as a static argument varying little over time, the reformer’s anti-Nicodemite polemic actually was adapted to shifting contexts and diverse audiences. Calvin’s strategic approach to Nicodemism was not lost on readers, influencing its reception in England.

Brill have provided a copy for review, and when I’ve read through it, I’ll post my views,

Paul Althaus, Karl Barth, Emil Brunner: Briefwechsel 1922–1966

This new work has arrived for review.  More anon.

Scripture in Its Historical Contexts

Mohr sent review copies of these two volumes a while back.

Veröffentlicht auf Englisch: Vol 1- Diese wichtige Sammlung von Aufsätzen von James A. Sanders enthält seine bedeutsamsten Arbeiten zum Text und Kanon der hebräischen Bibel, zusammen mit bahnbrechenden Studien zu den Schriftrollen von Qumran. Er ist einer der führenden Forscher zur Entstehung des Kanons, der Geschichte seiner Deutung und Textkritik, und spezialisiert auf die Schriftrollen vom Toten Meer und der Verwendung des Alten Testaments im Neuen. Diese Studien dokumentieren die Vielfalt der Texttraditionen sowie ihre Verschiedenheit und den ungeklärten Zustand der Sammlung heiliger Literatur, die in der späten Zeit des Zweiten Tempels als maßgeblich oder kanonisch galt. Damit legten sie den Grundstein für die heutige Forschungsdebatte.

Vol 2- James A. Sanders ist ein Pionier in der Forschung zur Entstehung des Kanons, der Geschichte seiner Interpretation, Textkritik und Exegese im Kontext, speziell der Schriftrollen vom Toten Meer und der Verwendung des Alten Testaments im Neuen. Viele seiner Untersuchungen, die in diesem Band versammelt sind, werden als wegweisend angesehen und waren äußerst einflussreich.

Potential readers will want to click on the ‘contents’ (Inhaltsverzeichnis & Leseprobe) link on both volume web pages.  There, the front matter and the full table of contents are available.  The first volume contains 30 essays, all published by Prof. Sanders, one of the most important scholars of his generation.  The second volume is comprised of another 21 essays by the same scholar.  The two volumes, then, consist of 51 essays written over decades by James Sanders and here collected and edited by Craig Evans.

The only new material herein is the prologue, written by Prof. Sanders himself.  In it, Sanders provides an overview of his life and work, describing his various academic interests and positions.  For example, Sanders writes

Interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls (also known as the Judean Desert Scrolls) was piqued for the writer upon the first publication of them in the spring of 1950 when Vanderbilt University School of Religion (now Divinity School) Prof. James Philip Hyatt brought to our advanced Hebrew class Vol. 1 of The Dead Sea Scrolls of St. Mark’s Monastery, edited by Prof. Millar Burrows of Yale University Divinity School, under whom Hyatt had studied. Though Burrows had transcribed the text column by column into modern printed Hebrew, Hyatt opened the volume to the Plate XXXII photograph of the ancient scroll itself, set it in front of the three of us, pointed to the bottom line of the ancient column where Isaiah ch. 40 began, and said, “Read!” I was hooked!

His prologue is very engaging and shows him to be a scholar of wide interests and pursuits.  The essays themselves have been available in other places – some for decades, some more recently.  The benefit of having them all here, ‘under one roof’ (as it were) is that now the great range and profound knowledge of Prof Sanders is easily accessible to any and all who wish to access it.  All of the essays include full bibliographies and some of them also include updated bibliographic material in a second bibliography.  There are indices of modern authors and of ancient sources.

I had read several of the chapters in Grad school and several others since and am exceptionally happy to have the chance to see them again; as the experience is rather like walking into the study of an old friend and sitting down and having a chat about a subject we have chatted about before.  It’s a delight to be reminded of things we had known before and it’s also a delight to be introduced to new ideas from an old and trusted thinker.

I am, accordingly, grateful for Craig’s work and for James’s thoughts.  I think you will be too when you have the opportunity to give these two books a read through.  You will be stimulated, informed, and enlightened.

Knowledge and Profanation: Transgressing the Boundaries of Religion in Premodern Scholarship

Brill has published this intriguing looking book:

Knowledge and Profanation offers numerous instances of profoundly religious polemicists profanizing other religions ad majorem gloriam Dei, as well as sincere adherents of their own religion, whose reflective scholarly undertakings were perceived as profanizing transgressions – occasionally with good reason. In the history of knowledge of religion and profanation unintended consequences often play a decisive role. Can too much knowledge of religion be harmful? Could the profanation of a foreign religion turn out to be a double-edged sword? How much profanating knowledge of other religions could be tolerated in a premodern world? 

In eleven contributions, internationally renowned scholars analyze cases of learned profanation, committed by scholars ranging from the Italian Renaissance to the early nineteenth century, as well as several antique predecessors. 

Contributors are: Asaph Ben-Tov, Ulrich Groetsch, Andreas Mahler, Karl Morrison, Martin Mulsow, Anthony Ossa-Richardson, Wolfgang Spickermann, Riccarda Suitner, John Woodbridge, Azzan Yadin, and Holger Zellentin.

Very interesting indeed.

Melchizedek, King of ‘Sodom’

Sodom and its king, Melchezidek.  That’s the topic of Cargill’s third book.

Robert Cargill commences his study with an historical overview of the interpretation of Melchizedek.  Here he invites readers to an alternative theory concerning the city over which this character served as King.  A theory which appears to have arrived on the scene only in the early 20th century (1903 to be exact) as explicated by one Charles Edo Anderson.  Anderson believed (without any manuscript support) that Salem was actually Sodom in the story of Melchizedek in Genesis 14.

To carry on the Andersonian tradition, Cargill does a bit of exegesis in his second chapter, describing the structure of the narrative and the meaning of the King’s name and other such exegetical things and, frankly, he does a very good job of it.

Chapter three turns to the real heart of the matter: how did Sodom become Shalem in the Andersonian reading of Genesis 14?  To attempt to answer this question, Cargill looks at the text of the Hebrew Bible. He also takes a side glance at the propriety of adopting the more difficult reading.  Which is a bit odd here given the fact that the principle applies to text critical matters and there isn’t any ancient text which has Sodom in the place of Shalem.  Indeed, Cargill confesses

… I propose that in verse 18 the name is to be misunderstood as a gloss.  Specifically, I propose that in verse 18 the name Sodom was altered to Shalem for the theological purpose of distancing Abram from exchanging goods and oaths with the king of Sodom . … Melchizedek was originally the king of Sodom, not Shalem.  (p. 20)

I appreciate the proposal, but there, again, isn’t a shred of textual evidence for this supposition.  It is a hypothesis without a foundation.  It is speculation lacking evidence.

Mind you, Cargill will spend the remainder of the book building a very carefully constructed edifice in support of his hypothesis.  And readers may find themselves persuaded by his argument.  It is, after all, very good.  It is very Cargill-ian.  It is very bright and creative and almost persuasive save for the one troublesome fact that there is no support for it that isn’t imaginary.

At the end of chapter three, after arguing with all the acuity he possesses (and that is considerable), Cargill again opines

I propose that the change from Sodom to Shalem occurred in the post-exilic period, after the initial redaction of the Pentatuchal texts yet prior to the separation of the SP and MT traditions, and prior to any translations of the HB, including the LXX and the Targums (p. 35).

That’s convenient timing.  It allows the proposition to evade the unpleasant textual reality of the written text that we actually have.

Chapter four turns to the subject of how El Elyon became Yahweh.  This interesting chapter could stand on its own as an encyclopedia article on the subject.  It’s quite informative and ‘I find no fault in it’.

Chapter five is Cargill’s mighty attempt to demonstrate that there were sectarian redactions made to the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Masoretic text.  And of course he’s right.  There were sectarian redactions made and that fact is in and of itself well established.  Cargill’s abiding problem, however, is that there is no textual evidence that Sodom transformed into Shalem because of sectarian emphases.  Indeed, even if we posit the possibility of such changes, what could their motivation be?

But Cargill actually undermines his argument at this point, for he gives textual examples of sectarian changes!  A thing which he cannot do with Genesis 14.  So he provides readers with detailed, wise, and cogent illustrations from texts such as Ex 20 and Deut 5 and the SP’s 10th commandment; Dt 27:4 and its Mt Gerizim love.  And he’s right to insist that the Pentateuch was adjusted for sectarian reasons.  His problem is that Genesis 14 has no textual evidence of such a sectarian adjustment.   That sectarian changes happened does not prove that Genesis 14 is an example of them.

Chapter 6 is an examination of the transformation of Shalem to Jerusalem.  He begins

The evidence I have presented so far demonstrates clearly that there was an ideological competition, from the fifth through second centuries BCE and beyond between the Samaritan cult centered on Mt Gerizim and the Jerusalem cult centered on Mt Zion. (p. 55).

The word ‘clearly’ is always something of a red flag, isn’t it.  It may be clear to Cargill that his case has been made but others may not be equally convinced.  After all, we still have no textual evidence for the central claim.  And we don’t even have, yet, any corroboration.  We have instances and examples of various sectarian dabblings in the text; but we do not yet have any clear demonstration that sectarian interests affected Genesis 14’s choice of ‘Shalem’ and altered it to ‘Sodom’ or vice versa.

But Cargill continues quite manfully to muster evidence, even including a bit of Ugaritic (in Ugaritic font!!!).  When he arrives (after discussing Shalem  : Jerusalem) he brings readers to another aspect of his evidence: Tithes.  This too is an exceptionally written chapter which could also stand on its one in an extensive encyclopedia entry.  Cargill really is a very bright exegete and his work really is superb (even if his thesis in this volume lacks evidential support).  Chapter 8 examines Psalm 110.  And here, it has to be said, Cargill is at his very best as exegete.  He understands the text and its issues and he brilliantly describes the texts meaning.

His abiding problem, however, is that no matter what evidence he musters and what texts he assembles which happen to name Melchizedek, he has no reason besides supposition to assert that Sodom should replace Shalem as Melchizedek’s city.  In short he doesn’t make his case, in spite of his excellent exegesis, because the case cannot be made without textual support.  His is an impossible task because whatever case he makes, it stands on air.

Cargill, after his conclusion, provides readers with the Masoretic Hebrew text of Genesis 14.  This is followed by a second appendix with Cargill’s own translation of that passage.  A translation which – at verse 18 – describes Melchizedek as ‘King of Shalem’.  It’s hard to argue with what’s written when there isn’t any variant reading offering support for our speculative theories.

Finally there are a slew of other appendices (all the way to Appendix J) which offer the Hebrew language folk plenty of charts and tables to add to their other charts and tables (which things Hebrew language people dearly love).

There are endnotes instead of footnotes (why, Oxford?  Why?), a VERY thorough bibliography, an index of verses, and an index of subjects.

All in all this is a very interesting book. You should read it.  You should encourage your library to buy a copy.  Its central thesis is unproven but the material is well presented.

Perhaps at some point in the future there will be a discovery in the Judean desert and that discovery will be of a jar and in that jar there will be a scroll and on that scroll there will be a copy of Genesis 14 and in that copy of Genesis 14 there will be a variant reading and in that variant reading we will discover that Melchizedek was described as the King of Sodom.  And Cargill’s argument will be vindicated (if not entirely proven).


Le livre d’Esther: Une exégèse en images

Via the author, who graciously provided a review copy of his new book-

Ouvrage d’histoire de la Perse achéménide, d’exégèse biblique et d’histoire de l’art religieux permettant de mieux comprendre les sens profane, politique et religieux du Livre d’Esther.

Reception history is the cutting edge of biblical scholarship.  And this volume sits on the very edge of that cutting edge.

English readers shouldn’t be fearful of the French title of the volume.  There is a helpful English summary for such persons.  And since the bulk of the book’s 700 pages is images depicting scenes from the book of Esther, any absence of skill in reading French is negligible.

In other words, English readers can benefit from the book almost as much as readers of French.  The author writes

This book is a journey in Jewish, Christian and Islamic works of art illustrating the Bible story. The two versions, the Masoretic, the Hebrew version retained by the Judaic and Reformed canon, as well as the Greek one admitted by the Catholic, Orthodox and Eastern Christian churches are quoted . Christian exegesis and the flourishing two millenia old rabbinic comments and Jewish legends illuminate the meanings of so many representations of the Book of Esther.

The author’s English is a bit shaky in places (but it’s better than any sentence I might hazard writing in French, so I am not criticizing his efforts in any respect).  For instance

Exegesis chapter discuss the origins of the text, its various versions, its reception by the monotheist religions. Old Mesopotamia and Persia history research demonstrate that, if the biblical scripture is a fiction by a Jew of the diaspora living in Persia some time later after the Hebrew people were liberated by Cyrus. The story is not the history but is full of historic references to historic events and persons. In this book we reveal who was the historic personage who inspired Haman. We explain why Mordekaï is named from Mardouk and Esther from Ishtar.

Etc.  It becomes immediately apparent that the author could have benefited from having a native English speaker go through the English summary.  Indeed

More than 700 art works are eBook hypertext (url) linkedto let reader wathch them full page as well as all consult references.

has much in it that needs to be cleaned up.  Nevertheless, English readers will get the gist.  And the purpose of the volume is illustration rather than discourse though, naturally, an ability to read French will make the work more useful than simply following the links to the images.

What follows is a description of the methodology utilized in the work and this is followed by a discussion of the book of Esther by means of exegetical snippets and hyperlinks to works of art illustrating the passage under consideration.

Perhaps the best way to describe this book is as an art exhibition catalog.  As readers ‘walk through’ the book of Esther a guide explains to them the artistic representations of Esther’s various scenes.

As such, it really is quite an interesting work.  It has weaknesses; i.e., the exposition isn’t always ‘critical’ (in the historical-critical sense) but the fact that the author has gone through the laborious process of assembling art connected to text is praiseworthy.

This is a volume worth using.


Bullinger’s “Kommentare zu den neutestamentlichen Briefen: Hebräerbrief – Katholische Briefe”

The print edition is available from the publisher and an extracted electronic edition is available here. Click the link and then the ‘downloads’ tab.  Or enjoy the full volume by clicking on the ‘open access‘ tab.

Im Geist der Reformation verstand Heinrich Bullinger Theologie in erster Linie als Auslegung der Heiligen Schrift. Mit diesem Band – dem neunten in der Reihe seiner Theologischen Schriften – wird die Edition seiner Kommentare zu den neutestamentlichen Briefen abgeschlossen. Darin enthalten sind die Auslegungen des Briefs an die Hebräer sowie der Katholischen Briefe.

Die Texte sind anhand der Erstauflage sowie der ersten Gesamtausgabe der Kommentare Bullingers zu den neutestamentlichen Briefen (1537) historisch-kritisch ediert worden. Erschlossen wird die Edition durch eine Einleitung und insgesamt vier Register (Bibelstellen, Quellen, Personen und Orte).

Bullinger’s commentaries on the Catholic Epistles and the Book of Hebrews are to this day helpful guides to understanding the biblical text.

The introductory chapter is an indispensable aid for seeing the commentaries in their proper historical light.  Following that, the volume offers modern scholars a critical edition of Bullinger’s work on Hebrews, First Peter, Second Peter, First John, James, and Second and Third John.  And Jude.

After the presentation of the critically achieved text of these commentaries, the editor of the volume, the amazingly careful and academically gifted Luca Baschera provides readers with a thorough bibliography, a Scripture index, a listing of sources, an index of persons, and an index of places.

Those indices are wonderful tools for the reader of the printed edition of the volume and readers and users of the electronic edition can, naturally, search for terms or places or Scripture passages quite easily by using the search feature of the PDF.

If, for instance, one wishes to know where Zwingli is mentioned, one need simply ‘search’ Zwingli.

Another important feature of this important work is the marginal notes which, as is the case of the other volumes in the series, allows readers to scan the pages quite quickly and follow the main points of the presentation, stopping along the way at those places of personal interest.

The biblical text upon which Bullinger comments is the Latin.  This because these works were intended for the intelligentsia and not the average pew occupying Zuricher.  They were intended to be read by the learned clergy and those clergy were intended to take what they learned in the pages of Bullinger’s works to their own congregants.

Bullinger’s handling of the biblical text is, as hinted at above, remarkably timeless.  Take, for instance, his treatment of the crucially important James 2:14-17-

14 Qua utilitas, fratres mei, si fidem dicat aliquis habere se, facta vero non habeat? Num potest fides salvum facere illum? 15 Quod si frater aut soror nudi fuerint et egentes quotidiano victu, 16 dicat autem aliquis vestrum illis: abite cum pace, calescite et saturamini, non tamen dederitis illis, quae sunt necessaria corpori, quae erit utilitas? 17 Sic et fides, si 10 facta non habuerit, mortua est per se.

Bullinger observes

Refutat nunc validius hypocritas et titulotenus christianos vividis argumentis docens, non satis esse verbis profiteri fidem, nisi et operibus misericordiae et charitatis praestemus eandem. Isti, quod et paulo ante monui, iactabant solam fidem iustificare, se autem credere, ergo et iustos esse, et recte quidem si per fidem intellexissent coelestem, vivam et efficacem per charitatem vim, nunc autem iactabant vanam quandam de deo et religione opinionem, quam nulla sequebatur vitae morumque mutatio. Ea vero non est fides illa, cui scripturae tribuunt iustificationem. Appellatur tamen a Iacobo »fides« idque per mimesim; hypocritae enim de opinione sua ceu fide gloriabantur. Contra hos autem:  »Quae«, inquit, »utilitas, fratres mei, si dicat aliquis se habere fidem, facta vero non habeat?« Hoc est: »Nihil prodest homini, si tantum dicat: ›Credo in Christum‹, interim vero effectis caret fidei.« Efficit autem fides in pectoribus fidelium serenam conscientiam, tranquillum animum, securum minimeque de bonitate dei atque promissis, maxime de remissione peccatorum nihil ambigentem, sed in concussa spe aeternam vitam expectantem. Efficit praeterea, ut rebus studeamus sanctis piisque, abnegemus indies mundanas concupiscentias et desyderia carnalia. Praestat item, ut deum diligamus atque proximos, iis inserviamus officiis pietatis, misericordia ac charitate.

Haec, inquam, sunt facta sive fructus fidei. Iam ergo, qui his destituitur, nullum certe fructum ex eo sentit, quod dicit se  credere. Atque hoc est, quod dicit Iacobus: »Num potest fides salvum facere illum?«, iterum nominans fidem non vividam fidem, sed inanem de religione conceptam opinionem. Iactitat aliquis se habere vel herbam vel radicem, quae ex lacte hausta medeatur febribus. Haec quid, obsecro, prodest febricitanti, si hausta eam vim non habet, quam iste iactabat habere? Ad eundem modum quid proderit homini fidem iactasse et effectibus fidei caruisse? Iactitat aliquis fidem, sed fides iustificat et ad opera charitatis impellit; hic vero iniustus et immisericors est; quid ex his aliud colligas, quam istum fide carere? D[ivus] Iacobus huius rei evidentem producit parabolam: »Si quis«, inquit, »sorori aut fratri, cui vestis desit ac victus quotidianus, dicat blandis verbis: ›Abite cum pace‹ (Got t b e r adt üc h)  ›dominus provideat vobis victum et amictum‹, atque haec loquutus nihil interim eorum dederit, quae vitae necessaria sunt sustentandae, verba quidem bona loquutus est, sed illa nihil prosunt egentibus, qui nihilominus algent et esuriunt.«

Ioannes potius non sermone et lingua, sed in veritate et opere docet christianos diligere. Ad hunc autem modum habet et negotium praesens. Si quis dicat:  »Credo in Christum et habeo fidem evangelicam«, egregiam quidem professionem facit, at si nihilominus impurus est, avarus et immisericors, inutilis est illa professio. Id vero Iacobus sic enunciat: »Sic et fides, si facta non habuerit, mortua est per se«, hoc est sola; id est: inane fidei vocabulum inefficax est. Et mortuus homo speciem habet hominis, vim et opera hominis non habet. Inde autem tracta est metaphora ad fidem vocabulo tantum, non etiam re fidem.  ….

Etc.  For 8 more pages on these 4 verses.  Bullinger wasn’t averse to using a lot of ink and paper.

The print edition also includes, as do other volumes in the series, a cd-rom which is attached to the back inside cover in a plastic sleeve and said cd contains the volume and is ideal for searches of anything for which one would wish to search.  This is a fabulous and ingenious idea.  More publishers of primary source materials should follow the lead of TVZ and include a cd.

Stunningly, Bullinger still speaks today.  I think the reason for that is because his interpretation of Scripture is theologically oriented and the truth of Scripture is mirrored in the truths of Bullinger’s exegesis.

This is a remarkable volume.  Do obtain a copy and add it to your personal collection.  And then read it.  And what you read, share.  The publisher is to be thanked for making it available.  The editor is to be thanked for a stupendous job.


Um das 6. Jahrhundert v.Chr. traten in verschiedenen Kulturräumen der Welt unabhängig voneinander Philosophen und Propheten auf, die das bisherige mythische Denken überwanden: Konfuzius und Laotse in China, Buddha in Indien, Zarathustra in Persien, die Propheten des Alten Israel und die vorsokratischen Philosophen in Griechenland. Diese Zeit wurde von Karl Jaspers «Achsenzeit» genannt. Jan Assmann beschreibt, wie Historiker und Philosophen seit der Aufklärung die erstaunliche Gleichzeitigkeit der Achsenzeit-Kulturen erklärt und in der Achsenzeit die geistigen Grundlagen der Moderne gesucht haben. Die Annahme einer Achsenzeit der Weltgeschichte wurde so zu einem Gründungsmythos der Moderne. Sie hält einer historischen Überprüfung zwar nicht stand, wie das Buch anschaulich zeigt, aber an das damit verbundene Bestreben, eine eurozentrische Sicht auf die Geschichte zu überwinden, können wir bis heute anknüpfen.

A review copy has arrived.  More on this prize winning volume in due course.

How Old is the Hebrew Bible?

The age of the Hebrew Bible is a topic that has sparked controversy and debate in recent years. The scarcity of clear evidence allows for the possibility of many views, though these are often clouded by theological and political biases. This impressive, broad-ranging book synthesizes recent linguistic, textual, and historical research to clarify the history of biblical literature, from its oldest texts and literary layers to its youngest. In clear, concise language, the authors provide a comprehensive overview that cuts across scholarly specialties to create a new standard for the historical study of the Bible. This much-needed work paves the path forward to dating the Hebrew Bible and understanding crucial aspects of its historical and contemporary significance.

Ronald Hendel is the Norma and Sam Dabby Professor of Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and general editor of The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition.Jan Joosten is Regius Professor of Hebrew at the University of Oxford and editor-in-chief of Vetus Testamentum.

My review will appear in SJOT in a future issue.  For now I will simply summarize my findings.

First, this volume is both interesting and provocative.  Second, the examples offered which the authors opine support their thesis that the Hebrew language’s development can be traced within the Hebrew Bible are intriguing even if relatively sparse (given the data set (the entire HB)) that they have to work with.  More evidence will need to be found.  If their examples are the full extent of their evidence, then their thesis is very tenuous.  And third, their aim to

… reinscribe historical research on the Hebrew language where it belongs: at the heart of biblical studies…

is both noble and necessary.  Research on the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages do indeed belong at the heart of biblical studies.  Woe betide poor students in theology and biblical studies institutions where that is not the case.

If this little book (it’s just 125 pages plus a couple of appendices and indices) can persuade people to study Hebrew, then it is a glorious achievement, even if it proves unable to demonstrate that the development of Hebrew can be traced in the pages of the Hebrew Bible.

Septuaginta. Band 11,2 Ecclesiastes

Die Herausgabe der großen kritischen Edition des ältesten erreichbaren Septuaginta-Textes ist Ziel des 1908 gegründeten Septuaginta-Unternehmens der Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen. Anspruch und Aufgabe einer solchen Edition ist die auf möglichste Vollständigkeit angelegte Erfassung und transmissionsgeschichtliche Auswertung der handschriftlichen überlieferung, angefangen mit den griechischen vorchristlichen Papyri (3./2. Jh. v.Chr.) bis hin zu den Minuskelhandschriften des 16. Jh. n.Chr., sodann der lateinischen, koptischen, syrischen, äthiopischen und armenischen Tochterübersetzungen, ferner der Septuaginta-Zitate bei den griechischen und lateinischen Kirchenschriftstellern unter Einschluss der sog. Catenenüberlieferung und schließlich aller Druckausgaben der Septuaginta vom 16. bis zum 20. Jh. Erstmals erscheint mit Peter Gentrys Arbeit eine vollständige kritische Edition des Buches »Ecclesiastes«. Der vorliegende Band XI bildet den 2. Band der Gesamtreihe »Septuaginta« und setzt so die Göttinger Editio critica maior fort.

The chief concern for those potentially interested in the acquisition of new editions of biblical texts is ‘how is it different from or an improvement upon earlier editions already in my possession?’ This is especially important to those working with a limited budget or who are trying to make the wisest choices for their personal purchases.

And that is the question that many will wish answered concerning this new edition of Ecclesiastes in the extraordinary Göttingen Septuagint. How is it an improvement upon the edition already at hand in Rahlfs/ Hanhart or BHQ?

The answer to this very basic and yet very central question is fairly simple: yes, it is an improvement on Rahlfs and yes it does offer differences substantial enough to justify its acquisition even for those in possession of BHQ (for those interested in the textual history of Ecclesiastes and working in textual criticism in particular).

The numerous differences between the text of Rahlfs and Göttingen which will be detailed by the author in a separate volume (according to Will Ross). There is, unfortunately, no list provided of such differences in the Introduction to Gentry’s edition herein reviewed. This is something of a shame, as users of the volume are now forced to wait for the list of variations or hunt them down and discover them for themselves.

In the above cited interview the editor also remarks

The Greek Translation has only a dozen places where it differs from MT, and most of these are not serious issues. The differences between MT and LXX were exaggerated by the editor of the BHQ volume on Ecclesiastes.

Curious about this, I posed the question to Adrian Schenker, the Editor in Chief of BHQ, and he replied that the editor of Ecclesiastes for BHQ was not inclined to exaggerations.

To be sure, editors will often see things differently.  Yet there is no evidence within the edition of BHQ itself that its findings have been exaggerated.

A fairly brisk comparison of Rahlfs and Gentry yields the following samplings:


  • Rahlfs- Ῥήματα Ἐκκλησιαστοῦ υἱοῦ Δαυιδ βασιλέως Ισραηλ ἐν Ιερουσαλημ.
  • Gentry- Ῥήματα Ἐκκλησιαστοῦ υἱοῦ Δαυὶδ βασιλέως Ἰσραὴλ ἐν Ἰερουσαλήμ.


  • Rahlfs- Εἶπον ἐγὼ ἐν καρδίᾳ μου Δεῦρο δὴ πειράσω σε ἐν εὐφροσύνῃ, καὶ ἰδὲ ἐν ἀγαθῷ, καὶ ἰδοὺ καί γε τοῦτο ματαιότης.
  • Gentry- Εἶπον ἐγὼ ἐν καρδίᾳ μου Δεῦρο δὴ πειράσω σε ἐν εὐφροσύνῃ, καὶ ἰδὲ ἐν ἀγαθῷ· καὶ ἰδοὺ καί γε τοῦτο ματαιότης.


  • Rahlfs- Οὐκ ἔστιν ἀγαθὸν ἐν ἀνθρώπῳ, ὃ φάγεται καὶ πίεται καὶ δείξει τῇ ψυχῇ αὐτοῦ, ἀγαθὸν ἐν μόχθῳ αὐτοῦ.
  • Gentry- Οὐκ ἔστιν ἀγαθὸν ἐν ἀνθρώπῳ· ὃ φάγεται καὶ πίεται, καὶ δείξει τῇ ψυχῇ αὐτοῦ ἀγαθὸν ἐν μόχθῳ αὐτοῦ.


  • Rahlfs- Καὶ περισσὸν ὅτι ἐγένετο Ἐκκλησιαστὴς σοφός, ἔτι ἐδίδαξεν γνῶσιν σὺν τὸν λαόν, καὶ οὖς ἐξιχνιάσεται κόσμιον παραβολῶν.
  • Gentry- Καὶ περισσὸν ὅτι ἐγένετο Ἐκκλησιαστὴς σοφός, ἔτι ἐδίδαξεν γνῶσιν σὺν τὸν ἄνθρωπον, καὶ οὖς ἐξιχνιάσεται κόσμιον παραβολῶν.

Our third sampling (2:24a) and our fourth (12:9) show slight differences between Rahlfs and Gentry.  Text critics wanting to know the reason for these differences will find amazingly full textual notes and here we arrive at the chief difference between these two editions:  the incredibly thorough textual material brought to bear in witness to the readings provided in the Göttingen Septuagint when compared to the scant and slight materials of the critical apparatus of Rahlfs is astonishing.

The volume’s introduction comprises half of its entire contents and the text of Ecclesiastes barely occupies a fifth of the page whereas the textual notes and other materials take up 4’5ths of each page.

This is a remarkable work which students of Ecclesiastes will absolutely find indispensable (and I do not use that word lightly or carelessly).  Textual critics will make use of it for centuries to come (and I do not say that lightly either).  And finally, students of the Greek text of the Old Testament will need to consult if if they intend to do any serious work on the text of Ecclesiastes.

Gentry may be wrong about the viewpoint of the editor of the BHQ volume on Ecclesiastes, and he may be forgiven for holding off his list of variations between Rahlfs and his own work, but he is to be congratulated for producing an amazingly meticulous text critical masterpiece.

The English Bible in the Early Modern World

The English Bible in the Early Modern World addresses the most significant book available in the English language in the centuries after the Reformation, and investigates its impact on popular religion and reading practices, and on theology, religious controversy and intellectual history between 1530 and 1700. Individual chapters discuss the responses of both clergy and laity to the sacred text, with particular emphasis on the range of settings in which the Bible was encountered and the variety of responses prompted by engagement with the Scriptures. Particular attention is given to debates around the text and interpretation of the Bible, to an emerging Protestant understanding of Scripture and to challenges it faced over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.


  • Many of the essays herein are exceptional but some stand out for their intriguing content and wonderful writing styles.  These are
  • Nuts, Kernels, Wading Lambs and Swimming Elephants: Preachers and Their Handling of Biblical Texts, by Mary Morrissey
  • The Catholic Contribution to the King James Bible, by Gordon Campbell
  • ‘Not the Word of God’: Varieties of Antiscripturism during the English Revolution, by Ariel Hessayon

The volume is, as are so many these days, the outcome of a conference:

This volume is the third to emerge from the ‘Insular Christianity’ Project, based in Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin, and more especially from the symposium held in Trinity in 2011.

Clearly the production of the volume took a number of years, given that this collection was not published until 2018.  But, as the old saw goes, it was worth waiting for.

Morrissey’s wonderful essay includes this important observation, which is worth repeating at length:

I would argue that biblical commonplaces facilitated, rather than constrained, a preacher’s engagement with topical subjects. Preachers did not create new political meaning for passages from the Bible; such meanings were often already there, in the interpretations that had accrued around the text in previous ages. The preacher often needed only to give a renewed valence to those particular readings, and he could do this by demonstrating that current events were best understood in the light of already-instituted interpretations of his chosen passage from Scripture. Commonplacing provides us with a vital interpretative tool when approaching early modern sermons. A great many of the printed sermons are conventional: they say very much the same sorts of things based on the same biblical text.

Naturally there is little to argue with here, as she has put her finger on the pulse of early modern Christianity.  In much the same way, it has to be said, that Campbell has tapped into an important aspect of the history of the KJV and its dependence on the New Testament translation of the version of Douey-Rheims in his distinguished contribution.  For instance, he remarks

There are many different sorts of debts of the kjv to Reims, and many examples of each kind, but the scale of the debt is clearly very considerable. It is clear that on occasion Gregory Martin’s excellent ear for demotic English caught the eye of the kjv translators. The best known example occurs at Mark 1.45, when the leper whom Jesus has healed, in the words of the Bishops’ Bible, ‘began to tell many thynges, and to publishe the saying’. This is a perfectly adequate translation, as διεφημίσθην means ‘to spread a report’. Reims, however, has ‘began to publish and to blaze abroad the matter’.

He amply illustrates this dependence.  Brilliantly.

This is a wonderfully informative volume and I heartily recommend it to all who have interest in the history of the Bible in England.

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

Three little books arrived last month from the publisher for review:



They all have the same purpose:  spiritual formation.  Each, in its own way, is an appeal to readers to deepen their Christian experience through discipleship and spiritual growth.

‘Grounded in the Faith’ is a very short exposition of the Apostles Creed.  It includes the text of the Creed, simple and direct explanations of the Creed’s statements, and discussion questions for those using the booklet in a group setting.

‘Living the Faith’ is a little introduction to Christian devotion for new believers.  Its format follows the outline of the subtitle; upward, inward, outward, and onward; the four dimensions of Christian experience.  It too includes questions aimed at assisting readers in applying the lessons it strives to teach.

‘Internalizing the Faith’ is subtitled ‘A Pilgrim’s Catechism’ and it too is brief.  The Catechism itself is the invention of the author and extends 33 pages – is prefaced by an introduction which extols the virtues of learning the faith by means of a catechism, and is followed by endnotes which extend 43 pages.

The volumes are easily read in less than an hour- as the pages are fairly small and the print is fairly large.

But rather than ‘gulping’ them down because they are so slight readers are advised to read them slowly, thoughtfully, patiently.  Allow them to ‘sink in’ a bit before running on to the next sentence or page or question.  Chew their ideas; ponder their suggestions.

Spiritual formation, after all, should never be rushed.  Only weeds spring up overnight but real fruit bearing plants take time, patience, sun, water, and good soil to achieve their aim.  Too many Christians today are looking for quick fixes and easy answers and shortcuts.  But we all know in our hearts that spiritual development takes weeks, months, years, decades, a lifetime.

The three authors of these three little works are to be congratulated on achieving something that though not ‘great’ is profoundly meaningful.  Burks’ catechism will never be on the same footing as Luther’s Small Catechism; but it does have its own intrinsic worth.  Scacewater’s little guide for new disciples will never match Barth’s ‘Introduction to Evangelical Theology’ for its powerful influence, but it does have a part to play for those who have little patience for Barth’s wordy tome.  And Albert’s book will never achieve the fame of Oswald Chambers’ masterwork; but it too has its value.

My advice to readers and potential readers is- you will only be helped by reading these books.  You have nothing to lose in doing so and a deeper spirituality to gain.

Doing Theology With the Reformers

Folk may be interested in this:

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

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

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

In this (essentially) companion volume to the IVP Reformation Commentary on Scripture series (which I enthusiastically recommend), Gerald Bray provides a wise and well informed guide to the processes by which theology was undertaken by the Reformers.  Indeed, Bray’s opening sentence says

This book is designed to accompany the Reformation Commentary on Scripture series….  This companion volume is not a systematic theology, nor does it lean toward one branch of the Reformation as opposed to another.  Rather, its purpose is to introduce readers to the world in which the Reformation took place, to the mindset of those who led it and gave it direction, and to the way in which the initial burst of spiritual energy and enthusiasm was gradually codified into the confessional statements that now for the basis of denominational identities in the Protestant world.

This means that he discusses

  1. The Education of a Reformer
  2. The Sources of Theological Authority
  3. The Interpretation of the Bible
  4. The Work of the Holy Spirit
  5. The Godly Commonwealth
  6. The Emergence of Confessional Theology

And afterwards he draws conclusions from his study, offers a list of works cited, and provides a general index and a Scripture index, all in just over 200 pages.  Footnotes are limited to essential matters while citations are sufficient to make the point which Bray is attempting (and achieving).

Bray’s admirable accomplishment is in the fact that each of the major Reformers is treated with equal respect and their voices given equal air time.  This isn’t a Lutheran treatment disguised as a book about the Theology of the Reformers; nor is it a Zwinglian, Calvinist, or Bucerian apologetic.  So while these days it’s hazardous to describe something as ‘fair and balanced’, this work truly is.  And I for one appreciate that.

I also appreciate the utter absence of pedantry.  Bray writes to equals and not down to the common herd.  That’s not to suggest that this book isn’t comprehensible to anyone who wants to read it, but rather to say that Bray doesn’t look down his nose at his reader.  He writes as a friend discussing a subject of import rather than as an inhabitant of an Ivory Tower who cares nothing for the sad little people living in the hovels and huts below.

At hand, then, is a book which aims to describe, in fair and balanced terms, the key theological notions of our Reforming forebears.  Bray understands the primary sources so well that he is able to communicated their truths to readers clearly.  And as we all know, only those who genuinely know a subject are capable of teaching that subject to others in an accessible way.


This may be it if you are looking for a commentary on the Prophet Nahum

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

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

Jeremias introduces the Book of Nahum in 6 sections:

  1. The State of Research
  2. The Book
  3. The Era
  4. The Message
  5. The Book as Part of the Book of the Twelve
  6. The Text and its Witnesses

Then commences the commentary proper, which follows the outline of Nahum.  To wit:

  1. Superscript
  2. A Programmatic Hymn
  3. The End of Belial
  4. The Fall of Nineveh
  5. The Whore Nineveh
  6. The Unstoppable Judgment

Each textual unit is freshly translated and copious textual notes are provided.  And then the exegesis continues in the normal historical/ critical way.  There are also, as one would expect, plenty of bibliographic materials and supporting data to bolster Jeremias’ exposition and to include his work in the greater conversation taking place in biblical scholarship.

Included as well are illustrations along the way which pictorially represent historical evidence.  And finally, in terms of resources mustered, the author includes a couple of relevant excurses.

Now, for the benefit of the readers of this review and potential users of this commentary, a few examples of the contents:

On Nahum 3:1-7

In dem allen zeigt sich, dass der Prophet Nahum eine bemerkenswert andersartige Vorstellung als Jesaja vom Verhältnis der Weltmacht Assyrien zu Gott hat. Jesaja sah in Assyrien zunächst ein Werkzeug JHWHs, mit dem er sein schuldiges Volk strafen wollte, und warf ihm erst danach vor, eigene, widergöttliche Pläne zu verfolgen, mit dem Ziel, sich die Völker dauerhaft zu unterwerfen. Für Nahum dagegen ist Assyriens Weltmachtpolitik von allem Anfang an gegen Gott gerichtet und »Betrug« an Gott. Assyriens Macht stammt nicht von Gott, sondern es hat sich diese Macht zu Unrecht angemaßt mit unlauteren, ja gegen Gott gerichteten Mitteln (»Zauberei«).

Readers of this volume will discover that it follows the normal outline of commentaries in the historical-critical ‘tradition’ but to assume that the contents merely repeat old and well known facts would be a terrible mistake.  There is much that is new here in the sense of new insights and interpretations based not on speculation (which is so rife in the guild these days) but on well reasoned substantively demonstrated facts.  As, frankly, one would expect of Professor Jeremias.

I enjoyed reading this volume as much as I did reading his Old Testament Theology.  I love smart writers and smart writing.  I think you will agree that this work is both as well.

Tolle, lege!

Anthropologie des Alten Testaments: Grundfragen – Kontexte – Themenfelder

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


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

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

Janowski’s 2019 volume features the investigation of questions which have arisen in recent years about the Old Testament’s view of what it means to be a human being.  In particular, and of particular interest to many, will be section 3 of the Second Division, which deals with Gender and sexuality.  Everything from the creation of woman, an excursus on ‘helpmeet’, a very important treatment of eroticism and sexuality, marriage and family, and the place genealogical thinking has in Old Testament texts are brought into focus.

The present work is an encyclopedic treatment of the issue which begins with asking the central question, ‘what is man?’ and through such issues as birth, naming, death, gender and gender roles, marriage, children, body and soul, society, work and play, law and culture, law and righteousness, community, holiness, sacred and secular spaces, the rhythm of life and time, and feasts and celebrations.  And all of that in the first 5 chapters.

In chapter six begins even more specific treatments of the image of man in the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings.  And in chapter seven the whole is summarized and ends with the same question with which it begins: what is man?  Each small section also includes its own bibliography.  The chapters are rich in scriptural citations and helpful exegesis.

A series of appendices drawing materials from ancient societies around Israel showing similarities and differences between Ancient Israel and its neighbors is followed by a list of abbreviation and citations, various bibliographies, a listing of illustrations, and a source and subject index (each).

A book like this comes along once in a generation.  Its predecessor, by H.W. Wolff, appeared in 1973.  It was a justifiably well renowned volume and exceedingly well regarded and served for many decades the important task of helping readers of the Bible understand how ‘man’ was viewed in the Old Testament.  This book is better, more thorough, and will serve many, many generations of biblical scholars and students.

It is, without doubt, the best book I have read on an Old Testament subject this year.  I cannot recommend it more highly.

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

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

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

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

The thesis of this volume is fairly simple: slaves played a pivotal role in early Christianity.  To make his case the author sets the stage in the introduction, discussing such matters as the history of research into the issue of slavery in early Christianity and related matters.  He also offers a fairly in depth description of the chapters to follow, setting out the argument of the whole.

Chapter one (see the link above for the full table of contents, which needn’t be repeated here) offers the author’s first bit of evidence in support of his thesis: Philippians 4:22.  He examines in thorough detail the world into which this verse fits and provides tables, charts, and a map to help illustrate is viewpoint.  His takeaway is this:

Christians seized on the idea that Paul had made converts from among Caesar’s household in Rome.  The idea became a foundational narrative that not only shaped early Christianity through the second and third centuries but helped launch a tradition that would endure for millennia.

It strikes me as a bit of an exaggeration to say that converted slaves from the Emperor’s household were somehow made into a foundational narrative for Christianity.  Slaves converted, but so did others.  In sum, the ‘how so?’ question which looms over the thesis remains.

Chapter two moves readers into the issue of martyrdoms of Peter and Paul as described in noncanonical texts.  Here the central theme is the notion that the stories of those martyrdoms somehow connect the Apostles to the Imperial household and that this connection is somehow meaningful for the later Christian tradition.  While it may be possible that Paul’s imperial connections served an apologetic purpose, it remains the case that the still remaining ‘how so?’ question posed of the thesis of the volume remains unanswered.

Chapter three moves further forward into Christian history and examines later apologetic and polemic regarding Caesar’s household.  As well, chapter four moves even further forward.  Here readers discover (or are reintroduced to) the ways in which Christian piety and martyrdom demonstrate (tenuous) connections with the Imperial family.

Chapters 5 and 6 offer the same, this time with a focus on the evidence for Imperial freed men and the remnants of Christians connected to the Imperial family discovered in the catacombs.

Finally arriving at the conclusion, readers hear the summary of the argument for the claimed impact of Imperial slaves on early Christianity:

With ‘Caesar’s household’ in their cultural repository, Christians could reinvent themselves as a people who from the very beginning were destined, like Paul once said, to inherit the world (Rom 4:13).

How so?  What an odd argument this turns out to be.  Are we supposed to believe that the early Church made a big deal of the inclusion of slaves from the Imperial residence simply so as to be able to claim that they would inherit the earth?  All they needed for that was Jesus’s remark from the Sermon on the Mount!  The participation of slaves in the Church neither added to nor took away from that theological notion.

Flexhensar’s book is a very good examination of the early church.  It is loaded with important and interesting details.  But it is wrongheaded in that it doesn’t achieve its aim or goal of showing the importance of the connection between Roman slaves and Christian tradition.  Christian tradition would have developed with a notion that the meek would inherit the earth had there never been so much as a single slave join the movement, much less a single slave from Caesar’s house.

This would, in my view, be better as a book if it were simply a discussion of early Christianity in general and not an attempt to prove that early Christians somehow saw the slaves of the Imperial house who belonged to their number as their claim to fame in terms of ‘inheriting the earth’.

My advice, in sum, is that you read this book for the details it contains, but not for the argument it makes.

Son of God: Divine Sonship in Jewish and Christian Antiquity

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

The essays here collected were originally presented at  the St Andrews Symposium for Biblical and Early Christian Studies, in June of 2016.  The aforementioned essays are divided into two major divisions: Son of God in Early Jewish Literature and Son of God in Early Christianity and the Gentile World.

Part one consists of 5 essays by Reinhard Kratz, George Brooke, Jan Joosten, Garrick Allen, and Matthew Novenson.  Part two is comprised of 8 essays by Richard Bauckham, Max Botner, NT Wright, Michael Peppard, Sarah Whittle, Mateusz Kusio, Menahem Kister, and Michael Lyons.

Each contributor offers their own perspective on the phrase and each supplies evidence of a textual nature in order to do so.  None of the essays are terribly long and each is instructive.  Different readers of the work will have different impressions of the essays: some will seem well crafted, others a bit weak, and still others exceptional.  Most contain no surprises.

What I mean by that is that those who are familiar with Kratz’s work will find no revolutionary change of mind here in his discussion.  Those familiar with Bauckham will find vintage Bauckham.  Nevertheless those essayists included who lack the towering reputations of a Wright or Kratz or Bauckham have some fresh new insights (if not wholly fresh new thoughts).

For instance, Max Botner’s essay on Mark’s understanding of the ‘Son’ of God is well written and concise without being dry and uninspiring.  He avoids the buzzwords so common in the discipline and instead of fluff offers substance and solid thinking.  His is a solidly, well argued, intelligent essay.  You may never have heard of him before, but his is a name you should get to know. You will be hearing more from him.

Kusio’s essay on Hebrews too is really a fascinating piece.  The general conclusion that

… in no ancient text before the New Testament and nowhere as adamantly as in Hebrews is a divine figure called a sibling of humans.

Is supremely provocative.  You owe it to yourself to see how he arrives at that place.

The work concludes with a bibliography and a list of contributors as well as with an index of ancient sources.  It is a volume worth your time and your money.  I heartily recommend it.

«Den wahren Gott recht erkennen und anrufen»

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

Erich Bryner makes available to modern readers an edition of the Schaffhausen Catechism including a historical introduction by Jan-Andrea Bernhard (who describes the Catechism as the ‘Protestant Lay Bible’); an examination of the historical circumstances of the Catechism’s origin and author; three Catechetical texts and commentary on those texts; the strife provoked by the appearance of the Catechism; and discussion of the editions of the Catechism from 1568 and 1569, along with subsequent editions from 1579, 1591, and 1596.

The final chapter discusses the problems of the Catechism’s language and the volume ends with concluding observations.

The Catechism’s language is original to the period.  Readers, as a consequence, are privileged to be seeing on the page what the original audience of the Catechism saw on their page (though naturally the font and paper were different).

The benefit of such a work is that it allows modern researchers and scholars the opportunity to interact with materials which are historically significant.  It reminds readers of our era that the possession of an entire Bible was a rarity in the 16th century and rather than having the option of opening up and reading the Bible for themselves, many, many Christians instead had to make use of Catechetical materials designed specifically for the purpose of communicating core materials and ideas briefly yet accurately.

These Catechisms often contained the only Scripture many would own, and as a consequence of necessity had to be carefully crafted. And Bryner’s volume illuminates precisely these important facts.

This brief book of 197 pages is both stimulating and useful; and it makes clear that even today the Schaffhausen Catechism is instructive for the Christian Faith.