Category Archives: Books

The Return of the Avignonian Carnival

This month’s fun is Chronological:  The best post of each day as determined by a panel of experts are listed here in the order of their appearance.  And some of what follows, especially mid-month, is sure to infuriate.  For that I cannot apologize.  You’re welcome to see things as you wish, but by the same token, so am I.

zwingli_laptop1 – Antonio Lombatti has a great post on early Judaism.  Not to be missed.

2 – Jennifer Guo and SBL have announced the hashtag for the upcoming Annual Meeting which, to my eternal sorrow, will include the unwashed masses of the AAR.  Remember when John reports that ‘Jesus wept’?  Yeah, that.

3 – I read with great interest and personal profit George Athas‘s post on depression.

4 – Dom Mattos wrote a piece which rounded up reviews of T&T Clark’s amazing volume on Geza Vermes.  Take a look.  You won’t regret it.

5 – Word was shared that J. Louis Martyn died on the 5th.  It saddened all of us and provoked Beverly Gaventa to write this beautiful testimonial.

6 – Words can’t express how much I find Richard Goode a delightful wit.  His post on two recent carnivalesque things will endear him to you as well.  Unless you’re insane and unhinged.

opitz_zwingli7 – Christian Brady posted a lovely series on the subject of suffering, about which he knows more than any parent should. You need to read it.  And need is emphatic.

8 – Joel Watts received a volume to review that looks genuinely of interest.  Keep an eye out for his review here.

9- Chris Tilling posted a nice and nicely titled bitlet on Barthing.  If you immediately thought the word ‘barfing’ then you hit the mark.

10- Gershon Galil offered a very intriguing reading of the second recently discovered Qeiyafa inscription.  Consider it.

11 – Larry Hurtado is writing a new book and in it he evidently is going to talk about the likes of Julius Africanus, whom he calls an interesting fellow.  Thanks, Larry… now I have to chase that rabbit to see if he really is interesting or if he’s just ‘Joel Watts’ interesting…

12 – A very intriguing and sensible essay on the emergence of the Codex for those interested in the history of books and writing.  The British Library has posted it.

zwingli13 – Jim Tabor is doing a series on John the Baptist and Messianic expectations.  Here’s a segment.  If you enjoy it you might also enjoy the rest of them.

14 – Deane Galbraith has an as always intriguing post on- this time – Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’.

15- Peter Head reviewed a book that sounds pretty good.   But I can’t link to it because that would be unfair to Peter who, a few years back, said academics shouldn’t blog (and other derogatory things about books on blogs).  And linking to it would make him seem to be a tad disingenuous.  So if you want to read it you’ll have to track it down using your own devices.

16 – Scot ‘The Canadian’ McKnight has some thoughts on how one shouldn’t talk about faith and science.  Being a big, big fan of the whole faith … science dialogue I can do nothing but commend it to you.

17 – Christoph Heilig has written a nearly ingenious review of the NIDNTTE.  It’s exceptional.

ZWINGLI-GOS-DIGITAL18 – On the evening of the 17th a young man walked into Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC and murdered 9 people- including the Pastor.  I searched the biblioblogs to see who else had mentioned the event and I’m sorry to say that hardly any could be bothered with it.  I can’t express sufficiently how sad it makes me that so many people who are ‘interested in the Bible’ are not at all interested in contemporary events; nor do they see it as a part of their responsibility to say something to society in the face of such disgusting acts.  Ivory towers are for pulling down, not for settling into.  Notable exceptions:

Our Prayers are with Charleston, Scot McKnight and Greg Hillis.

Thank you, Scot and Greg (and perhaps others who are unknown to me).  To be sure, people can, and do, blog what they want.  But the disconnect between Scripture scholarship and current events is just so stunning as to be note-worthy and remark-able.

19 – George Athas says a big hearty ho NEIN to ridiculous claims being made that a Canaanite coin has been discovered.

conacher_zwingli20 – Day off.  Was sick.  Did nothing.

21 – Chris Rollston had some important things to say about the newly discovered second Qeiyafa inscription which maximalists especially owe it to themselves to read.

22 – Steve Wiggins posted a review of a book by a person of whom I have never heard on a topic which is of no interest to me.  But in order to be inclusive, I include it here.

23 – Nijay ‘Sanjay’ Gupta has announced that EP Sanders is going to publish a ‘big book’ on Paul this year.  I’m betting just in time for SBL.  Oh boy…. Paul… Who can’t get enough of Paul………..  Paul… It’s almost as though the NT consists only of Paul and the Synoptics and everything else is the red headed step child.  But in reality, John and the Johannine lit are the high water marks of the NT.  Everything else, including Paul, is of lesser interest.

More interesting than another book on Paul could ever be is the interview of Konrad Schmid on Swiss television.  Unmissable.

zwingli_1513_22.jpg24 – Very sad news this day: Eduard Lohse has died.  :(    (I’d have linked to another blog but evidently none of them could be bothered with noting the death of one of the best New Testament scholars to grace the planet).

25 – Richard Goode posted an announcement of a Greek Summer course.  You should go.  Yes, YOU!  If you don’t read the languages in which the Bible was written, you shouldn’t be preaching it or teaching it.

26 – A day that will live in infamy…  Oh, and Brian Small reviewed Herbert Bateman’s book on the Catholic Epistles (I don’t know why he calls them ‘General’).

27 – James Spinti had some historical and biblical thoughts about the SCOTUS decision which are quite worth reading.

28 – Jose da Silva posted a summary of the RBL reviews which, if you missed, you should take a look at.

zwingli_165029 – Daniel *The Big Haired Aussie Transplant to America* Gullotto posted a piece of homosexuality and Christianity as discussed by a book which isn’t nearly as good as Helmut Puff’s Sodomy in Reformation Germany which is, in my not uninformed opinion, the very best study on the subject of sexuality and the Church yet written in any Western European language.

But if that isn’t your ‘cup of vinegar’ then surely Brice Jones’ rampaging denunciation of rampant speculation and pure guesswork concerning early Christian texts will be.

30 – The last submission was that of Deane Galbraith‘s provocative essay on the sin of Sodom. And it’s fitting and proper that the final entry of the month is an analysis of the final book of the Bible- Revelation.  Ian Paul does a fine analysis of the components of the book and argues for a unified composition.

Join us next month as we return, once more, to offer Avignonian Contrarian posts intended to compete with those offered by the heretical official carnival hosted by the non-heretical Phil Jones (or one of his minions).  There’ll be plenty to annoy even those with the disposition of Mother Theresa.  After all…

It makes me tingle with pleasure from head to toe when I see that through me, poor wretched man that I am, God the Lord maddens and exasperates you hellish and worldly people – Luther

David Congdon’s “The Mission of Demythologizing”

9781451487923hFortress sent a copy and I’ve completed my review.  The publisher suggests

Rudolf Bultmann’s controversial program of demythologizing has been the subject of constant debate since it was first announced in 1941. It is widely held that this program indicates Bultmann’s departure from the dialectical theology he once shared with Karl Barth. In the 1950s, Barth thus referred to their relationship as that of a whale and an elephant: incapable of meaningful communication. This study proposes a contrary reading of demythologizing as the hermeneutical fulfillment of dialectical theology on the basis of a reinterpretation of Barth’s theological project.

That nicely summarizes this volume’s goal.  The immediate question potential readers will ask, then, is ‘did Congdon manage what he aimed to do?’  The aim of what follows is to answer that question.

In 1953 Barth wrote a telling little volume titled Rudolf Bultmann: Ein Versuch, ihn zu Verstehen (2nd ed). Barth failed. And he did so because Barth’s chief flaw was arrogance and an inability to think along with others. Mind you, Barth could think. And he could analyze. But he couldn’t read sympathetically. He couldn’t enter into the mind of others and follow their thoughts with them and thus Barth really couldn’t understand anyone else. Especially those who disagreed with him.

This is why Barth could never understand either Brunner or Bultmann. And why he could never love them. And why he was always combative and dialectical. Barth HAD to be right and he couldn’t conceive of anyone disagreeing with that basic premise.

But Barth was so influential and so important a thinker that his views of both Brunner and Bultmann were adopted by his followers and students and because they numbered in their thousands and found academic homes in Universities across Europe and America, the screeching voice of Barth echoed around the world and, therefore, without even really knowing why, Brunner and Bultmann were denounced by persons who had, like Barth, never thought their thoughts with them.

By the time Brunner died, his name was already slowly sinking from public view. When Barth died, societies rose in his place to continue his legacy. And lastly, when Bultmann died, Barth and Brunner were being eclipsed by new fads in theological thinking.

Then something incredible happened: Gareth Jones wrote a study on the thought of Bultmann and kicked off what can only be called a renaissance in appreciation for the old Marburg Professor. The year was 1991 and the title of that remarkable volume was Bultmann: Towards a Critical Theology (American edition, 1990 for the UK). That kicked the block from underneath the wheels and Bultmann studies began to rise from the ashes of historical indifference.

Fast forward to 2015 and David Congdon’s very large doctoral dissertation on Bultmann and demythologizing finds a home at Fortress Press and comes to public awareness in the volume currently being considered. Each word of the title is a carefully chosen window on the volume’s intent. The Mission- that is, the goal or aim, of demythologizing- that is, of restating the truth of Christian faith in a way sensible to its audience in whatever time and place it resides. Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology- that is, Bultmann’s aims as a member of a theological movement which he took in new directions which Barth could neither understand nor appreciate.

Congdon’s volume is 863 pages long (though it could have been shorter had the font been smaller and the sentence spacing less generous) and, as one might easily suppose because of it, amazingly thorough. In eight chapters Congdon describes and discusses

  1. The Problem: They Mythical Picture of Bultmann
  2. Reinterpreting the Myth: A Periodization of the Barth-Bultmann Relationship
  3. The Missionary Essence of Dialectical Theology
  4. The Mission of Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology
  5. The Truth of Myth and the Necessity of Demythologizing
  6. Toward a Dialectical Intercultural Hermeneutic
  7. The Problem of Myth and the Program of Deconstantinizing
  8. Eschatological Existence and Existentialist Translation

And then in a concluding chapter (which readers ought to read first, and not last), titled The Future of Demythologizing, Congdon wraps things up.

Congdon’s work is extremely thorough.  He clearly is well acquainted with the historical period of the early and middle 20th centuries in Europe.  He knows German right well (although he does follow the crowd in at least one instance where he shouldn’t have), and he – unlike Barth – understands Bultmann.

But, with all due respect to Karl Barth, understanding Bultmann is not at all difficult.  You simply need remember that he was a pious Lutheran who stood at the door with the poor box in his hand and received monies for the destitute at the Marburg Church every Sunday he was in town.  He was never ordained, but instead was a lifelong lay teacher of Scripture in the University graced and enriched by his presence and a man who loathed what Liberal Christianity had done to the faith at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century and so spent his life showing to all who had eyes to see that the core of the Gospel is not tied to the historical happenstances of its appearance and those historical happenstances could be done away with by moderns whilst the truth of the Gospel could, and should be retained.

In point of fact, his program of  Entmythologisierung des Neuen Testaments, whilst usually translated ‘De-mythologizing’ should by rights be translated ‘Re-mythologizing’.

Which brings me to my first criticism of Congdon’s work (and there’s just one)-  he writes

In continuity with more recent scholarship, I have not maintained the earlier tradition of differentiating between geschichtlich and historisch by using the terms “historic” and “historical”  (p. xv).

This is, in my view, a mistake.  To the theologians of the early 20th century (like von Rad and Bultmann and Brunner and the majority of the practitioners of the historical-critical arts) the distinction between geschichtlich and historisch is absolutely critical.  In our own context they reflect the difference between minimalists and maximalists.  To use the same word to describe both approaches would be completely misleading.  Similarly, to abandon the very crucial difference between the concepts explicated by geschichtlich and historisch will only hinder proper understanding not only of Bultmann’s program but of the entire era.

It is absolutely essential that words written in a particular historical Sitz im Leben are allowed to carry the same weight in different historical periods elsewise the subtle and careful arguments of the past will be lost to us.

Moving forward from those slight concerns, the book at hand is a genuine masterpiece of Bultmannian goodness.  As indicated in the chapter listing above, Condgon moves carefully through the proper materials and gives readers a better introduction to the work and theology of Bultmann than has ever been done since Gareth Jones got the ‘ball rolling’ in 1990.  Few have comprehended Bultmann better and only one has done a superior job of letting insiders and outsiders alike into the inner workings of Bultmann’s mind.

My usual inclination is to tell people to read books BY Bultmann before they read books ABOUT Bultmann.  But in this case, this book should be read by those interested in discovering Bultmann before they read anything by him.  Doing so will ensure that those readers of the Marburg-ers still incredibly important works will correctly interpret them in their time and place.

Congratulations to Irene Dingel

irene_dingelLutherische Theologische Hochschule – Heute Vormittag ist an der LThH der Hermann-Sasse-Preis der SELK für lutherische theologische Literatur für das Jahr 2015 an Frau Prof. Dr. Irene Dingel für die Neuedition der Bekenntnisschriften der Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche (BSELK) verliehen worden. Den ganzen Tag noch läuft ein Studientag zum Thema “Lutherische Bekenntnisschriften”. (CB)

It’s a brilliant series and this is a well deserved honor for Prof. Dingel.  The publisher of the volume, V&R writes

Wir gratulieren unserer Autorin Irene Dingel zum Hermann-Sasse-Preis 2015!  Erhalten hat sie ihn am Wochenende für die Neuedition der »Bekenntnisschriften der Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche«.
Das Buch stelle »einen Markstein in der Editionsgeschichte des Konkordienbuchs« dar, heißt es in der Pressemitteilung des Leibniz-Instituts für Europäische Geschichte in Mainz.

The prize was announced some months back but the presentation took place Saturday.  There’s more on the volumes for which the honor was received here.

A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament

This looks great!

9780825443404An up-to-date commentary on all the significant manuscripts and textual variants of the New Testament.  This small and insightful volume is an essential resource for the committed student of Greek New Testament. Using the same trim size as UBS and NA28 Greek New Testaments, this reference commentary, based on the latest research, is designed to aid the reader in understanding the textual reliability, variants, and translation issues for each passage in the New Testament.

Unlike any other commentary, this volume contains commentary on actual manuscripts rather than a single version of the Greek New Testament. There are nearly 6,000 existing manuscripts, and just as many textual variants, with thousands of manuscripts having been discovered since the time of the King James Version. This commentary is filled with notes on significant textual variants between these manuscripts.

Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript

706477Bobby K. of Hendrickson has sent a copy of Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript. It’s available in the UK from the British Museum but won’t be available here in the States until September.

The table of contents of this very impressive volume is available here.  Readers will want to visit that link before proceeding to the review which follows.  And do note, the siglum for Sinaiticus (א) will be used throughout the remainder of the review to spare readers from having to see the phrase ‘Codex Sinaiticus’ over and again.

The volume’s opening essay by Gamble sets the Codex in its historical context by discussing in the first place ancient book production techniques.  Then Gamble leads readers into the sometimes murky history of the biblical canon and א place in it.  Thirdly, and the heart of Gamble’s presentation, is a discussion of the ‘Origins and Uses’ of א.  The essay concludes, as do they all, with a very nicely thorough bibliography as well as the (by many) dreaded endnotes.

The second segment of the book consists of three essays and focus on the latest research on the Septuagint.

Section three, the longest, is also the most ‘technical’ and the most important.  In particular, the essays by Wachtel (The Corrected New Testament Text of Codex Sinaiticus) and Myshrall (The Presence of a Fourth Scribe?), as well as  Batovici’s (The Appearance of Hermas’s Text in Codex Sinaiticus) are what would fall under the category of ‘cutting edge research’ and, as a result, really should be read in whole even if other parts of the volume which do not interest particular readers are set aside for a later time.

Various of the essays include fantastic illustrations.  For instance, Wachtel’s previously mentioned contribution has a couple of tremendous photos which show scribal corrections up close in full color (at Mark 6 and John 6).  These sorts of illustrations are indispensable and whilst many volumes would simply provide black and white and somewhat grainy reproductions the present volume offers crystal clear color examples.

Section four of the volume turns to the interesting topic of א in modern history, and the four articles in this segment describe and investigate such matters as the discovery of the manuscript, and the acquisition of א by the British Museum.

The fifth and final section concerns itself with א in modern research, conservation and presentation.  Steve Walton’s essay, which closes the volume, is titled ‘Codex Sinaiticus and its Importance for Contemporary Christianity’ is particularly engaging.  He writes

Academics are regularly caricatured in the popular media as people out of touch with reality.  Thus, the topic of Codex Sinaiticus might be seen as abstruse and irrelevant to most.  However, three observations should make us hesitate about such a view (p. 295).

Perhaps most intriguing about Walton’s essay is his discussion of א and Christian dialogue with Islam.  Walton makes the very interesting point that whilst א shows numerous corrections, the Qur’an, believed to have been dictated from heaven, lacks such textual markings because there can only be one correct text to which all others must be aligned.  The implications of this historical fact are then fleshed out by Walton.

He writes in conclusion

So is Codex Sinaiticus only of antiquarian interest?  μη γενοιτο! (‘by no means’)!  This Codex is highly significant for Christian thinking, belief and living in the twenty-first century (p.301).

The same could, with the appropriate modifications, be said of this volume.  It is an important contribution to our understanding of an important text which is highly significant for Christian faith and practice in the present day.

The volume closes with a list of papyri and manuscripts, along with a website containing manuscript catalogs:  LDAB – Leuven Database of Ancient Books, which currently has 14761 Greek, Latin, Coptic, Demotic, Syriac and other literary texts.  There are, of course, the usual indices of Scripture and general topics.

This collection of essays will be of value to Septuagintalists, Text Critics, and historians of the biblical text.  It is a well produced, well written, engaging, informative volume.

“Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript” – Win a Copy

706477I’ve been sent an additional copy of this volume and since I don’t need two I’m giving away a copy of Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript. It’s available in the UK from the British Museum but won’t be available here in the States until September.  Unless, that is, you win it.

To win, here are the rules (which will be adhered to without any deviation whatsoever):

  1. In comments below, tell me when you first encountered the Codex.
  2. Describe what you think of the manuscript.
  3. Tell me why you’re deserving of it.
  4. Do you own a cat?
  5. What is your favorite blog?
  6. If you are on twitter or facebook, share this post there.
  7. Are you a resident of the United States?
  8. What is your email address?

The contest runs from right now till next Wednesday, July 1. The winner will be notified by email.