Category Archives: Books

Zondervan Essential Companion to Christian History

The Zondervan Essential Companion to Christian History gives you what it promises: the essentials. This highly informative, broad-ranging book provides vital facts on the growth and impact of Christianity from the apostles to the present day not only in the Western world but also globally, including the development of Eastern Orthodox and Armenian Christianity, as well as considering Christianity in Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Baltic and Slavic states, and India. The companion is organized by century, going through the major events, ideas, and personalities that have shaped Christian history around the world.

Following a brief introduction that outlines the key events of the New Testament era, there is a chapter devoted to each century of Christian history beginning with the year 100 and ending roughly at the year 2000. Each chapter flows chronologically featuring:

  • A brief overview, highlighting the main threads and issues running through the relevant century
  • Key historical developments explained
  • Thematic connections between centuries
  • Color-coded sidebars on Persons, Ideas, or Events
  • Persons: key figures either within or without the Church who have impacted Christian history significantly or who otherwise deserve special mention
  • Ideas: important Christian books, as well as heresies, doctrines, or political movements
  • Events: world-historical occurrences such as battles, natural disasters, inventions, or elections that have affected the development of Christianity in the world

The final chapter, devoted to the present century concludes the companion identifying key themes that the Christian Church is presently dealing with and suggesting future issues. A select Glossary of terms is provided at the end of the book, as well as a bibliographic list of suggested reading.

My review of this useful, if imperfect volume will be posted tomorrow.

Latomus and Luther- The Debate: Is every Good Deed a Sin?

V&R have now published a new work in the Refo500 Academic Series.  And I’m very excited about it because Luther’s ‘Against Latomus’ is one of his very best books.

Who was Jacob Latomus? What did he write in the series of lectures to which Luther penned an answer in 1521, an answer which is now so central to many interpretations of the great reformer? And how is the reading of that answer affected when it is preceded by an interpretation of what Latomus wrote?The study goes through the most important parts of Latomus’ treatise against Luther (1521). The aim is to identify Latomus’ theological convictions and thus to pin down who and what Luther was up against. The second and major part of the book is a reading of Luther’s pamphlet against Latomus (1521). Parallels are drawn with Latomus’ theology in order to facilitate as much as possible an appreciation of the differences between the two.The comparison between the two theologians shows that they speak completely different languages and that their viewpoints do not square at all. Basically their ways depart in their understanding of God’s word and how it is communicated to man. This generates two ways of perceiving the matter of theology, and of speaking theologically –: and prevents mutual understanding. Latomus cannot understand Luther’s view of the autonomy of God’s word and the special character of proclamation, and hence a theology which is incompatible with natural reason. Even though he accepts a division between a natural and a supernatural rationality, and thus admits that natural reason has a limit, he grants the very same natural reason an important role in the ascent of cognition towards revelation. Everything else – such as Luther’s theology – is a dehumanization of the human being. Luther, on the other hand, regards Latomus’ theology as a result of the impulse in sinful man towards ruling and controlling the word of God with his own inadequate natural abilities. In Luther’s eyes that proclamation of Christ, which in the shape of a human being comes to man in contradiction of everything human, here disappears in the twinkling of an eye.

For many it seems that Latomus, the foe of Luther, appeared as though out of no where.  But as is often the case in matters historical, there’s a lead up, a back story, to the events we are familiar with.  To change metaphors, the great historical iceberg called the Latomus affair is mostly submerged and the only part most see is the exposed point rising above the surf where Latomus and Luther enter battle.

The present work is an examination of the backstory, the submerged part, of the history of Latomus.  Beginning with a debate Erasmus was involved in shortly after his arrival in Leuven and moving forward as that debate unfolded (on theological methodology and the investigation of good works and sin) till the arrival of Latomus on the scene, our author sets the stage.  Eventually Luther enters the fray (as was his regular custom; i.e., where there’s a theological fight, Luther wants a piece of it).  And that, as they say, is when the stuff hit the fan.

Latomus was compelled to respond to Luther and he does so in relationship to many of the chief heads of theology.  Surprising no one, then, Luther attacks.  Once Luther has set the ground rules of scriptural interpretation, as he sees those issues, he goes to the heart of the debate:  are good works actually sinful works?  And here we have the central issue addressed:

Here for the first time we see a difference in the understanding of sin in Luther and Latomus. Latomus would never say that the justified man had sin as his everyday companion, as does Luther. That is why he cannot accept the presence of concupiscentia as a sin, but only a punishment. According to him the righteous man is devoid of sin until in concrete cases he is tempted to commit minor sins of commission, the so-called peccata venialia. Even though they are concrete separate sins, they remain nevertheless minor, because they are committed by one who is otherwise righteous, and Latomus would never think of saying that the righteous commit peccata robusta. In his ears that would be a contradiction.

Furthermore, and quite insightfully, we are informed that

The point therefore is that the truly righteous are not justified in themselves by their own goodness or righteousness, but only by Christ’s righteousness, in faith in Him. There is nothing of their own they can abide by and be safe in their relation to God. It is all nothing. No one, to look back briefly at what has been said in this section, is given a gift by the grace of God (acceptum donum gratiae) (WA 8, 79,32–33), which makes him righteous in himself and by nature (cf. WA 8, 69,4–6), and which he can present to God. Nobody has “through the grace of God” (per gratiam dei) (WA 8, 80,6–7), anything he can muster in this life and before God’s judgement, anything by dint of which “we can safely set aside His mercy as well as His judgement”. If we believe we do, we trust in ourself instead of God, and according to Luther that leads to the opposite of true good deeds.

Luther’s argument continues to the end of the work, giving Luther the last word (and the loudest) and thereby making sure that Luther’s viewpoint is the viewpoint which readers too should adopt.

When it comes to debates about faith and good works; sin and evil deeds, and all of the theological subheadings associated with those themes our author makes clear the importance of each.  This is a valuable and useful work.

The volume concludes with a helpful bibliography.  And this review ends with a helpful bit of advice: read this book.  It clarifies more than it obscures and answers more questions than it raises.  And for an academic monograph that’s quite an accomplishment.

From Scribal Error to Rewriting: How Ancient Texts Could and Could Not Be Changed

Coming soon from V&R

How ancient texts could and could not be changed has been in the focus of vibrant scholarly discussions in recent years. The present volume offers contributions from a representative group of prominent scholars from different backgrounds and specialties in the areas of Classical and Biblical studies who were gathered at an interdisciplinary symposium held in May 2015 at the Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University in Tbilisi, Georgia. In the first part of the volume Ancient Scribal and Editorial Practices, the authors approach ancient scribal and editorial techniques in Greek, Latin, and Syriac sources concerning classical and biblical texts, their textual criticism, and editorial history. The second part Textual History of the Hebrew Bible focuses on scribal and editorial aspects of the textual history of the Hebrew Bible. The third part Writing and Rewriting in Translation deals with a variety of writings from the Old Testament, New Testament, Apocrypha, and Patristic texts in various languages (Greek, Coptic, Arabic, Armenian, and Georgian), focusing on issues of textual criticism and translation technique. The volume contains an especially rich assortment of contributions by Georgian textual scholars concerning ancient editorial practices and ancient Georgian translations of biblical and patristic texts. This collection of papers provides insights into a variety of different areas of study that seldom come into contact with each other but are clearly in many ways related.

Were We Ever Protestants? Essays in Honour of Tarald Rasmussen

This anthology discusses different aspects of Protestantism, past and present.

Professor Tarald Rasmussen has written both on medieval and modern theologians, but his primary interest has remained the reformation and 16th century church history. In stead of a traditional «Festschrift» honouring the different fields of research he has contributed to, this will be a focused anthology treating a specific theme related to Rasmussen’s research profile.

One of Professor Rasmussen’s most recent publications, a little popularized book in Norwegian titled «What is Protestantism?», reveals a central aspect research interest, namely the Weberian interest for Protestantism’s cultural significance. Despite difficulties, he finds the concept useful as a Weberian «Idealtypus» enabling research on a phenomenon combining theological, historical and sociological dimensions. Thus he employs the Protestantism as an integrative concept to trace the makeup of today’s secular societies.

This profiled approach is a point of departure for this anthology discussing important aspects of historiography in reformation history: Continuity and breaks surrounding the reformation, contemporary significance of reformation history research, traces of the reformation in today’s society.

The book relates to current discussions on Protestantism and is relevant to everyone who want to keep up to date with the latest research in the field.

Free in Open Access from De Gruyter: “Sceptical Paths: Enquiry and Doubt from Antiquity to the Present”

Download it here.

Sceptical Paths offers a fresh look at key junctions in the history of scepticism. Throughout this collection, key figures are reinterpreted, key arguments are reassessed, lesser-known figures are reintroduced, accepted distinctions are challenged, and new ideas are explored.

The historiography of scepticism is usually based on a distinction between ancient and modern. The former is understood as a way of life which focuses on enquiry, whereas the latter is taken to be an epistemological approach which focuses on doubt. The studies in Sceptical Paths not only deepen the understanding of these approaches, but also show how ancient sceptical ideas find their way into modern thought, and modern sceptical ideas are anticipated in ancient thought. Within this state of affairs, the presence of sceptical arguments within Medieval philosophy is reflected in full force, not only enriching the historical narrative, but also introducing another layer to the sceptical discourse, namely its employment within theological settings.

The various studies in this book exhibit the rich variety of expression in which scepticism manifests itself within various context and set against various philosophical and religious doctrines, schools, and approaches.

New From Sheffield Phoenix

Sheffield Phoenix Press is pleased to announce a new publication: David Willgren (ed.), God and Humans in the Hebrew Bible and Beyond: A Festschrift for Lennart Boström on his 67th Birthday. The List Price is £70 / $90 / €80 and the Scholar’s Price is £32.50 / $47.50 / €37.50.

You can order the book from our website, https://www.sheffieldphoenix.com, or from your bookseller.
(ISBN 978-1-910928-62-2)

God and Humans in the
Hebrew Bible and Beyond

Edited by David Willgren

In 1990, in his important study The God of the Sages: The Portrayal of God in the Book of Proverbs, Lennart Boström tackled the issue of how the sages viewed their God and God’s relationship with the world. In honour of Boström, and in line with that study, this Festschrift takes up this issue anew. A number of international specialists, including James Crenshaw, Göran Eidevall, Mark A. Throntveit, and Antti Laato, discuss various aspects of how God and humans are portrayed in the Bible.

The first section of the book focuses on notions of God. There is a fresh look at monolatry in the Hebrew Bible, and at God’s faithfulness in Paul’s soteriology. The second section deals with humans, featuring, for example, two articles on Psalm 8.5, one with a focus on the Hebrew Bible, and the other reading the psalm through the eyes of women in Myanmar. There is also an article on angst in wisdom literature.

The third section brings God and humans into dialogue, looking at how various interpretations of suffering in the psalms shape the view of the divine–human relationship, or how God and humans relate to each other in books like Jonah and Ruth. The fourth and last section of the book focuses on God and God’s people, where new proposals are presented on the roles played by Zion and by the ten commandments.

This volume presents stimulating and up-to-date engagements with its theme, an excellent resource for scholars of both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.

Series: Hebrew Bible Monographs, 85
978-1-910928-62-2 hardback
Publication October 2019.
xx + 341 pp.

New Volumes from Mohr

Eduard Käfer, Die Rezeption der Sinaitradition im Evangelium nach Johannes

Eduard Käfer shows that in the Gospel of John the revelation of God at Sinai is highly valued, but interpreted through a »figural reading« (R. Hays) as a testimony of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It helps to describe his identity, to elucidate his extraordinary claim and to point out the misunderstandings of his interlocutors.

J.I. de Keijzer, Bonhoeffer’s Theology of the Cross: The Influence of Luther in »Act and Being«

Engaging Bonhoeffer’s dialogues with Barth and Heidegger in »Act and Being,« J.I. de Keijzer shows how Bonhoeffer both in his critical assessment of Barth’s dialectic and his appropriation of Heidegger’s ontology articulates a contemporary »theologia crucis« that proves to be deeply influenced by Luther.

God’s Spies


This interesting volume arrived some weeks back and I have enjoyed reading it very much.  The publisher’s notice says

East Germany only existed for a short forty years, but in that time, the country’s secret police, the Stasi, developed a highly successful “church department” that—using persuasion rather than threats—managed to recruit an extraordinary stable of clergy spies. Pastors, professors, seminary students, and even bishops spied on colleagues, other Christians, and anyone else they could report about to their handlers in the Stasi.

Thanks to its pastor spies, the Church Department (official name: Department XX/4) knew exactly what was happening and being planned in the country’s predominantly Lutheran churches. Yet ultimately it failed in its mission: despite knowing virtually everything about East German Christians, the Stasi couldn’t prevent the church-led protests that erupted in 1989 and brought down the Berlin Wall.

The work reads more like a spy thriller than a work of non-fiction and it tells the genuinely appalling story of the ease with which Pastors were persuaded to inform on others to the East German government.  It tells the story of the willingness of pastors and university theologians to cast their lot in with the State against the Church.  It shows, in stunning detail, the means by which the State co-opted willing Pastors and by doing so undermined the Gospel’s very proclamation.

The biggest mistake the Church ever made was to baptize Constantine.  The second biggest mistake it ever made was to follow Luther’s doctrine of the ‘two kingdoms’.  And the third biggest mistake it has made is a combination of those two things: the submersion of truth and faith to political interests.  The story here told makes that painfully clear.

Braw begins her tale of woe with personal remembrances of her family in Sweden and her grandfather’s interaction with East German Pastors who, it turned out, were working for the government.  She then tells of her interviews with leaders of the East German government’s Church division as well as details she gleaned from talking to Pastors who both collaborated with the government and who stood in opposition to the State.

The most amazing thing about this story is its contemporary relevance to the American church; for it too is being pressured to submit to State power and manipulation.  And there are many clerics and high profile Evangelical leaders like Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, Eric Metaxas, and Jerry Falwell Jr who are doing their best to meld the Church and the State in the same way that the Church and State were melded in the East German spies whose ultimate goal was to advance an ideology (Communism) at the expense of the Gospel.

There really is nothing new under the sun. The temptation for the Church has always been to clutch on to worldly power.  And we are seeing that again in our time just as the East German church officials saw it in theirs.  Just as Constantine saw it in his.

Constantinianism, then, is the threat posed by the East German government and the American Right.  And Constantinianism will always be a threat until the Church as a whole realizes that man cannot serve God and something, anything else.

In sum, this volume is a reminder of what happens to a State when its Christians become its agents instead of the agents of the Gospel.  It is an important warning and one that needs to be heeded.  I commend it to you.

Pauline Dogmatics: The Triumph of God’s Love

Say what you must, Doug writes big books.  And when it comes to big books….

  • I like big books and I cannot lie,
  • you other brothers can’t deny…

(That’s the only part I know, sorry).

The eschatological heart of Paul’s gospel in his world and its implications for today

Drawing upon thirty years of intense study and reflection on Paul, Douglas Campbell offers a distinctive overview of the apostle’s thinking that builds on Albert Schweitzer’s classic emphasis on the importance for Paul of the resurrection. But Campbell—learning here from Karl Barth—traces through the implications of Christ for Paul’s thinking about every other theological topic, from revelation and the resurrection through the nature of the church and mission. As he does so, the conversation broadens to include Stanley Hauerwas in relation to Christian formation, and thinkers like Willie Jennings to engage post-colonial concerns.

But the result of this extensive conversation is a work that, in addition to providing a description of Paul’s theology, also equips readers with what amounts to a Pauline manual for church planting. Good Pauline theology is good practical theology, ecclesiology, and missiology, which is to say, Paul’s theology belongs to the church and, properly understood, causes the church to flourish. In these conversations Campbell pushes through interdisciplinary boundaries to explicate different aspects of Pauline community with notions like network theory and restorative justice.

The book concludes by moving to applications of Paul in the modern period to painful questions concerning gender, sexual activity, and Jewish inclusion, offering Pauline navigations that are orthodox, inclusive, and highly constructive.

Hmmm… as they say.  And hmmm…. concerning the date of publication:

Hmmm….

A Long ‘Out of Print’ Festschrift

Is this gem, presented to Emil Brunner on his 60th birthday.  I tracked down a copy at a bookshop in the Netherlands and it arrived today.  In amazing condition!  Yeah!

Excited to dig in.

You Need a Commentary That Helps Make Sense of the Bible

the-person-the-pew-commentary-seriesThe ‘Person in the Pew’ commentary series is the only series of Commentaries in modern history written by a single person on the entire Bible and aimed at layfolk .  Everyone needs a commentary on the Bible that they can understand and that answers their questions about the meaning of the text.  So I wrote one.

If you or someone you know wants to get a copy of the entire 42 volume collection in PDF format, you can do so from yours truly for the exceptionally reasonable price of  $75 by clicking my PayPal Link.  Leave your email in your paypal payment note so I can send it to you right away.

Should you only wish one volume, email me and we can arrange it.

***

Saint Paul knew more than I can ever imagine about Christians living in tension with the Gospel and with each other, and his several letters to the Church in Corinth are pivotal to the entire New Testament. Which is why I am so pleased to mention here some recent commentaries by a friend of mine, Jim West, on I and II Corinthians.

Subtitled ‘for the Person in the Pew’, and published by Quartz Hill Publishing House of Quartz Hill School of Theology, California, these two commentaries are in fact part of a much larger project by West to write similar commentaries on every book of the Bible, and to make them available in print and electronically for everyone to read. That project is now nearly completed and the results are tremendous.

I think there are three main reasons why these commentaries are so successful. First, West is a first-class Biblical scholar, one who makes the intelligent critical study of the text central to his theological interpretation. That commitment is rarer than one might imagine and to have it realized across the entire Bible is an astonishing feat that gives us now a unique resource.

Second, and delightfully, Jim West is a great writer: his pages fizz with sharp words and phrases and he appears incapable of saying anything boring about these texts. This ability keeps us reading along with him and, more importantly, reading along with Saint Paul. I have rarely come across any Christian writing project, aimed at ‘the person in the pew’, that has succeeded so brilliantly in bringing alive its subject matter.

Third, West couldn’t dodge an issue if his life depended on it, which can be an uncomfortable position for a Christian theologian. Corinth, as with most churches in most places, had some strange people believing and practising some odd things. The knack, as West points out, is to engage them endlessly with love and grace rather than self-righteous anger, but to engage them: ‘Paul lived with a purpose. And he urges the Corinthians to do the same. As we all who name the name of Christ must’ (West on I Cor. 9:27, p.60).

I am going to be talking to Jim about making these commentaries available through Ming Hua’s website, but inspect them for yourselves if you have the time: you will find them a superb companion to your own reading of the Bible and, as importantly, a great reminder of just how much the early Church struggled with some of the same problems we face now.

– Gareth Jones, Principal, Ming Hua Theological College, Hong Kong

Don McKim has a New Book Coming out November 1: ‘Everyday Prayer with John Calvin’

It’s titled ‘Everyday Prayer with John Calvin‘.

Drawing from the Institutes and Calvin’s Old and New Testament commentaries, Donald K. McKim comments on Calvin’s biblical insights on prayer and intersperses his short readings with Calvin’s own prayers. Reflection questions and prayer points help you to meditate on Scripture, understand Calvin’s teaching, and strengthen your own prayer life.

Jennifer Powell McNutt likes it-

Everyday Prayer with John Calvin offers a helpful and thought-provoking guide to better understanding the purpose and practice of prayer in the Christian life. . . . There’s no better way to encounter Calvin at his best than in the reverence that he showed for the practice of prayer.”

The publisher has kindly sent along a review copy and I’m keen to dive in.  In fact, I’ll be taking it with me to Hong Kong in two weeks to read on the plane.  Stay tuned.  More anon.

Another Free Book from Logos, And This is a Good One

Get your copy here.

When Pastors Become Instruments of the State…

I’ve been reading ‘God’s Spies‘ for a couple of weeks during some free time I’ve snatched and it’s absolutely a stunning and – frankly – depressing read.  Stunning because it’s so well written and because of the story it tells and depressing because it shows what happens to the Church when it partners with the State.

I have to tell you, the results are not good for the Church.  They never have been (curse you, Constantine, curse you).

The depressing bit comes in when you recognize that the Evangelicals in America are doing to the Church exactly what the Communists in East Germany did to it: weaken and disempower it.  And I don’t mean politically, I mean spiritually.

Anyway, get this book and read it.  My full review should appear next week sometime.

Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth

Two thousand years ago, 967 Jewish men, women, and children—the last holdouts of the revolt against Rome following the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple—reportedly took their own lives rather than surrender to the Roman army. This dramatic event, which took place on top of Masada, a barren and windswept mountain overlooking the Dead Sea, spawned a powerful story of Jewish resistance that came to symbolize the embattled modern State of Israel. The first extensive archaeological excavations of Masada began in the 1960s, and today the site draws visitors from around the world. And yet, because the mass suicide was recorded by only one ancient author—the Jewish historian Josephus—some scholars question if the event ever took place.

Jodi Magness, an archaeologist who has excavated at Masada, explains what happened there, how we know it, and how recent developments might change understandings of the story. Incorporating the latest findings, she integrates literary and historical sources to show what life was like for Jews under Roman rule during an era that witnessed the reign of Herod and Jesus’s ministry and death.

Featuring numerous illustrations, this is an engaging exploration of an ancient story that continues to grip the imagination today.

Of it Eric Cline writes

“Internationally renowned archaeologist Jodi Magness plunges the reader directly into the story of the fall of Masada, unpacking the dramatic tale as told by Josephus. She also recounts the fascinating adventures and misadventures of the region’s explorers, from the nineteenth century through the 1960s, and compellingly describes the excavations there, including her own, providing a welcome tour of the site.”—Eric H. Cline, author of 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed

Jodi has graciously arranged a review copy, so more once I’ve read through it.

A Great Reminder of a Great Book

Here.  Enjoy.

Social Memory among the Literati of Yehud

Ehud Ben Zvi has been at the forefront of exploring how the study of social memory contributes to our understanding of the intellectual worldof the literati of the early Second Temple period and their textual repertoire. Many of his studies on the matter and several new relevant works are here collected together providing a very useful resource for furthering research and teaching in this area.The essays included here address, inter alia, prophets as sites of memory, kings as sites memory, Jerusalem as a site of memory, a mnemonic system shaped by two interacting ‘national’ histories, matters of identity and othering as framed and explored via memories, mnemonic metanarratives making sense of the past and serving various didactic purposes and their problems, memories of past and futures events shared by the literati, issues of gender constructions and memory, memories understood by the group as ‘counterfactual’ and their importance, and, in multiple ways, how and why shared memories served as a (safe) playground for exploring multiple, central ideological issues within the group and of generative grammars governing systemic preferences and dis-preferences for particular memories.

A review copy arrived some time back.  I’ve worked through its contents and wish to make the following observations on the book.  But before I do, please note the Table of Contents (the contents tab on the left of the page).

There are 31 essays in this volume and all but six of them have appeared previously.  There is a fairly wide range of texts examined and most of the essays are interesting.  But three of them are VERY interesting:

  1. Reading Chronicles and Reshaping the Memory of Manasseh
  2. When Yhwh Tests People: General Considerations and Particular Observations Regarding the Books of Chronicles and Job
  3. Social Sciences Models and Mnemonic/ Imagined Worlds: Exploring Their Interrelations in Ancient Israel

The work in hand extends to over 700 pages and every page has one central point:  memory.  Or to be more precise, ‘Site of Memory’.  And what is that exactly?

‘Site of Memory’ is used here to refer to any socially constructed space, place, event, figure, text or the like- whether it is manifested ‘materially’ or only in the mind of members of a social group- whose presence in the relevant cultural milieu evokes or was meant to evoke core images or aspects of images of the past held by the particular social group who lives in that cultural milieu.

If that seems an ambitious project, it’s because it is.  How, after all, are we supposed to glean what memories various texts provoke in modern readers, much less those who lived thousands of years ago?

To state the problem another way, how are we supposed to know what the person on the other end of a phone call is saying when we only hear what the person near us is saying?  How are we to know what ancient readers hear when ancient texts speak when all we have is the text doing the speaking and not the ancient doing the hearing?

There is no doubt that we are well equipped to infer certain facts when we hear just half of a ‘call’:

‘No, I can’t make it to dinner tomorrow, how about we make it Saturday?’

‘Ok then, Saturday works.  See you at 7.’

It’s fair to infer that the person on the other end of the line has declined dinner on some day of the week and that he or she has agreed to both a time and a day.  But that’s all we know.  We don’t know the details of the restaurant or anything about the other person at all.

And that, it seems to me, is the problem with memory studies on the whole.  Texts surely do intend to provoke something in the readers.  Jeremiah’s ‘remember Shiloh’ certainly is a very fine example of that provocation to remembrance of a particular textual event.  The problem we run into though is that we may well understand Jeremiah’s meaning but we are lost in terms of his audience’s understanding of that sermon.

Ben Zvi realizes all of that, I think, which is why he writes

Of course, written texts or collections of texts are not themselves memories.  They may, inter alia, encode, communicate, shape, reshape, recall memories, but they are not memories. Only people can have memories.

Indeed!  And we are at a loss precisely because we have no people to question concerning how texts provoked or affected memories in their minds or in the minds of anyone else.

In short, then, the entire ‘memory’ project is a pipe dream.  It bears the resemblance of scientific enquiry because it uses social-scientific terminology and is very popular in various corners of biblical studies.  There are memory sessions and sections at academic conferences.  All of which serves to legitimize what is, as far as I can objectively tell, a pursuing of imaginary readings.

That doesn’t mean that there are interesting things to be found in the present volume or in the whole ‘social memory’ quest.  There certainly are.  But what are we to do with the delights we pluck off the tree of social memory studies once we have them in hand?  If we bite into them with any force at all they evaporate into the ether because they are ephemeral and imaginary.

There is plenty of ‘fruit’ to be plucked from the social memory tree here planted and tended by Ben Zvi.  Unfortunately, there’s nothing nutritious in that fruit because it consists of air.  It is wispy and attractive and tempting like cotton candy.  But like cotton candy there’s nothing to it except a bit of a sugar high headache and sticky fingers that have to be washed off before you can get back in the car of scholarship to make your way back home to the study of substantial matters.

It is impossible to ‘get inside’ someone’s head and the simple truth of the matter is, we have no idea how memories arise or affect individuals or societies.  Not in any meaningful, practical way.

I wish things were otherwise.  I wish the hopeful and helpful promises made by the memory theorists actually delivered what they hoped they would deliver.  But they don’t.

The tool doesn’t work.

NIV Life Application Study Bible, 3rd Edition

I’ve been sent along a copy of the new 3rd edition of Zondervan’s NIV ‘Life Application Study Bible‘ for review by the good folk at Biblegateway.  In due course, I’ll let you know what I think of it.  In the meanwhile, I’m obliged to tell you that I received the bible with the understanding that it 1) costs me nothing and 2) I should review it here, and 3) that I am free to offer my opinion unencumbered by any requirement to make the publisher happy (but of course that’s always true of reviews here, isn’t it?).  Ok cool.  I am also reminded that I need to include the hashtag #BibleGatewayPartner which, naturally, I am happy to do.

I’ve also been asked to point out that there is an interview with the general editor of this edition right here.  You may find it helpful.

More, as we say, anon.

New Titles from Mohr Siebeck

Essays on the Book of Isaiah, by Joseph Blenkinsopp

This volume of essays by Joseph Blenkinsopp on different aspects of the book of Isaiah is the product of three decades of close study of the most seminal and challenging texts of the Hebrew Bible. Some of the essays deal with major themes in Isaiah, for example, universalism, theology and politics, and the Suffering Servant of the Lord God. Five of them are published here for the first time.

Der Richter und seine Ankläger: Eine narratologische Untersuchung der Rechtsstreit- und Prozessmotivik im Johannesevangelium, by Benjamin Lange

The Gospel according to John is replete with legal terminology and motifs detailing the run-up to Jesus’ crucifixion – yet a formal process in front of the Jewish Sanhedrin is not part of the narrative. Benjamin Lange shows that reading the first half of the book as a metaphorical trial reveals a new perspective on the Gospel and its message. At the centre stands the paradox of Jesus as accused judge.

Glaube in fremder Zeit, by Dietz Lange

Biblical criticism and secularization mark neither the demise of Christianity nor the apex of Christian freedom. Dietz Lange shows that the loss of a cultural monopoly calls instead for a reappraisal of the certitude of faith in Jesus Christ as the »Word of God« and its non-apologetic assertion in both internal and interfaith dialogues.

Preview: The Theology of Heinrich Bullinger

Enjoy it here.  And of course the book is available here.