Kenosis: The Self-Emptying of Christ in Scripture and Theology

Seventeen distinguished scholars from the fields of biblical studies, historical theology, and systematic theology engage with the past and present significance of the doctrine of kenosis—Paul’s extraordinary claim in Philippians 2 that Jesus Christ emptied and humbled himself in obedience on his way to death upon the cross.

In the “Christ-hymn” of Philippians 2, the apostle Paul makes a startling claim: that Jesus “emptied himself” in order to fulfill God’s will by dying on the cross. The self-emptying of Christ—theologically explored in the doctrine of kenosis—is a locus within Christology and factors significantly into understandings of the Trinity, anthropology, creation, providence, the church, and even ethics. As such, it has been debated and reflected upon for centuries.

The present volume draws together some of the finest contemporary scholars from across the ecumenical spectrum to expound the doctrine of kenosis—its biblical roots, its historical elaborations, and its contemporary implications. With original essays from John Barclay, Beverly Roberts Gaventa, David Fergusson, Katherine Sonderegger, Thomas Joseph White, and more, this indispensable resource offers an extensive overview of this essential affirmation of Christian faith.

Contributors:

John M. G. Barclay, Matthew J. Aragon Bruce, David Fergusson, Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Kevin W. Hector, Keith L. Johnson, Cambria Kaltwasser, Han-luen Kantzer Komline, Grant Macaskill, John A. McGuckin, Paul T. Nimmo, Georg Pfleiderer, Rinse H. Reeling Brouwer, Hanna Reichel, Christoph Schwöbel, Katherine Sonderegger, and Thomas Joseph White.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Canvas of Kenosis (Paul T. Nimmo and Keith L. Johnson)
1. Kenosis and the Drama of Salvation in Philippians 2 (John M. G. Barclay)
2. Power and Kenosis in Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Beverly Roberts Gaventa)
3. The Vocation of the Son in Colossians and Hebrews (Grant Macaskill)
4. The Divine Name as a Form of Kenosis in Both Biblical Testaments (Rinse H. Reeling Brouwer)
5. Origen of Alexandria on the Kenosis of the Lord (John A. McGuckin)
6. Augustine, Kenosis, and the Person of Christ (Han-luen Kantzer Komline)
7. Cyril of Alexandria and the Sacrifice of Gethsemane (Katherine Sonderegger)
8. Divine Perfection and the Kenosis of the Son (Thomas Joseph White, OP)
9. Kenosis as Condescension in the Theology of Martin Luther (Matthew J. Aragon Bruce)
10. The Revisioning of Kenosis after the Critique of Schleiermacher (Paul T. Nimmo)
11. Kenosis and the Humility of God (David Fergusson)
12. Is There a Kenotic Ethics in the Work of Karl Barth? (Georg Pfleiderer)
13. Kenosis and the Mutuality of God (Cambria Kaltwasser)
14. Kenosis and Divine Continuity (Keith L. Johnson)
15. The Generosity of the Triune God and the Humility of the Son (Christoph Schwöbel)
16. The End of Humanity and the Beginning of Kenosis (Hanna Reichel)
Epilogue: Kenosis as a Spiritual Practice (Kevin W. Hector)
List of Contributors
Indexes

The Commentary

Stop watching the news and read something that will uplift your spirit.  The Commentary.

The ‘Person in the Pew’ commentary series is the only series of Commentaries written by a single person on the entire Bible and aimed at layfolk in modern history.

the-person-the-pew-commentary-series

The books are all available in PDF format from yours truly for a paltry $75 by clicking my PayPal Link.  It’s a good commentary.

[I] wanted to thank you for your commentary set I recently acquired. My daughter Chloe (age 11) and I are using the one on Mark as we read through and discuss the gospel every second evening. It helps shed light on the text without being academically burdensome for us to work through. .. [Y]our comments are pitched wonderfully for anyone wanting to begin serious engagement with the text. It also complements the more ‘scholarly’ works.

Blessings, David Booth

The Religion of American Greatness: What’s Wrong with Christian Nationalism

Long before it featured dramatically in the 2016 presidential election, Christian nationalism had sunk deep roots in the United States. From America’s beginning, Christians have often merged their religious faith with national identity. But what is Christian nationalism? How is it different from patriotism? Is it an honest quirk, or something more threatening?

Paul D. Miller, a Christian scholar, political theorist, veteran, and former White House staffer, provides a detailed portrait of—and case against—Christian nationalism. Building on his practical expertise not only in the archives and classroom but also in public service, Miller unravels this ideology’s historical importance, its key tenets, and its political, cultural, and spiritual implications.

Miller shows what’s at stake if we misunderstand the relationship between Christianity and the American nation. Christian nationalism—the religion of American greatness—is an illiberal political theory, at odds with the genius of the American experiment, and could prove devastating to both church and state. Christians must relearn how to love our country without idolizing it and seek a healthier Christian political witness that respects our constitutional ideals and a biblical vision of justice.

There are presently a plethora of books on the topics of Christian nationalism and the Christian (or better, ‘Evangelical’ [whatever that word is supposed to mean anymore- for me it’s just quite empty] and politics.  Or perhaps the Evangelicals and politics and their marriage and mangled offspring.  However one wishes to phrase it, twitter is filled with tweets by folk talking about their books on Jesus and macho society and politics.

This book is different, in a good way.  Rather than simply lambast Conservative Christianity and falsely equate the whole of it with Evangelicalism (whatever that word is supposed to mean; personally when I see someone identify themselves as an Evangelical these days I presume they really mean that they vote Republican and if you don’t, you aren’t a Christian, and that, furthermore, you must support Trump), Miller examines, fairly, judiciously, and intelligently what he calls ‘The Religion of American Greatness’.

Miller discusses at length both patriotism and nationalism; the latter a negative beast whose presence in Christian churches and Christian lives is extraordinarily problematic.  And Miller shows why clearly.  To be sure, the very people who should read this book won’t.  So Miller urges those who do read it to use what it has to say as a basis for civil, compassionate, and encouraging dialogue with those in the bubble of Christian Nationalism.

Miller also discusses identity politics, the Christian right, Trump and Evangelicals, and he even attempts to provide a guide on how to think about nation and gospel.

The strongest parts of the book are those in which Miller provides readers with a sociological explanation of the phenomenon of Christian nationalism.  He is very insightful here.  And very illustrative.

The book is at its weakest, in my estimation, in his chapter on thinking about the nation, the Gospel, and the Creed (Ch 10).  It feels to me like he here is infected a bit by the virus called Manifest Destiny.  This isn’t overt, of course.  He doesn’t anywhere state outright that America is God’s instrument in the world intended to fulfill some sort of divine mission from sea to shining sea.  It’s just a breeze gently wafting through the tops of the branches; invisible, insubstantial, a mere hint.  And yet you still feel it.  Ever so imperceptibly.

Miller hints that the present volume is the first in an intended trilogy.  The next work is planned to be on Christian Progressivism.  And the last planned in the trilogy to be on ‘Christian democracy or Christian republicanism or Augustinian liberalism’.  I hope he succeeds.  I would love to see his exposition of Progressivism.  If he is as thorough at that as he is regarding Christian nationalism, it should be a super book.  The third I may or may not read.

Miller is an excellent and expressive writer.  Take, for instance, this:

We have taken the name of Christ as a moral fig leaf while shilling for the whore of Babylon.

And

… when I spend the rest of this book calling fire on Christian nationalism, I do it as an American patriot and an orthodox Christian- and I do it because of my patriotism and my Christian faith, not despite them.

And multitudes throughout.

There are a lot of books that are important.  This book is significant.  And it is significant precisely because it fully describes a problem and then offers a way forward.  It’s easy to say ‘things are awful’.  It’s much harder to say ‘this thing is awful and here’s how we can move past it’.  Miller does that.

My only sadness, again, is that the very people who most need to read this book won’t.  Those people who hail Trump and attend his rallies and believe his lies and who stormed the Capitol and who, it’s fair to say, would be willing to do anything he ordered them to do- even to the destruction of American Democracy- will never read a page of it.  And they, most of all, should.

But so should you.

The “Exodus” in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31)

This book addresses the dearth of study in Lukan scholarship on the transfiguration account and provides a model of new exodus based on the Song of the Sea (Exod 15) beyond the two major—Deuteronomi(sti)c and Isaianic—models. The proposed Exodus 15 pattern explicates the enigmatic phrase “his ‘exodus’ in Jerusalem” in the transfiguration account. It also elucidates how the seemingly discordant motifs of Moses and David are conjoined within a larger drama of the (new) exodus and the subsequent establishment of Israel’s (eschatological) worship space. This shows how Luke deals with the issues of temple (Acts 7), circumcision (Acts 15), and the ambivalent nature of Jerusalem.

A Companion to the Waldenses in the Middle Ages

The medieval dissenters known as ‘Waldenses’, named after their first founder, Valdes of Lyons, have long attracted careful scholarly study, especially from specialists writing in Italian, French and German. Waldenses were found across continental Europe, from Aragon to the Baltic and East-Central Europe. They were long-lived, resilient, and diverse. They lived in a special relationship with the prevailing Catholic culture, making use of the Church’s services but challenging its claims.

Many Waldenses are known mostly, or only, because of the punitive measures taken by inquisitors and the Church hierarchy against them. This volume brings for the first time a wide-ranging, multi-authored interpretation of the medieval Waldenses to an English-language readership, across Europe and over the four centuries until the Reformation.

Contributors: Marina Benedetti, Peter Biller, Luciana Borghi Cedrini, Euan Cameron, Jacques Chiffoleau, Albert de Lange, Andrea Giraudo, Franck Mercier, Grado Giovanni Merlo, Georg Modestin, Martine Ostorero, Damian J. Smith, Claire Taylor, and Kathrin Utz Tremp.

The 10th Anniversary of the Claim that the ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’ Had Been Found, and the Refusal of Harvard to Retract the False Story it Floated

This is a terrific thread on the topic.  It includes (and read the thread for all of it) these snippets:

Ten years ago today, a senior Harvard historian of early Christianity walked to a lectern across from the Vatican and announced the discovery of what she believed was an ancient papyrus in which Jesus speaks of a wife.

Naturally, Harvard published an article with the claims.

More than eight years after the article’s publication, the Review, edited by @HarvardDivinity School faculty and published by @CambUP_Religion, has yet to retract or correct it.   Experts in academic ethics have sharply criticized the Review’s failure to correct the record, calling it a “cop out…of Biblical proportions” and a disservice to scholarly integrity and truth.

That essay is available here.  It begins thusly:

What should a journal do after publishing a blockbuster paper marred by fraudulent evidence, failed peer review, and undisclosed conflicts of interest?  If you’re Harvard Theological Review, the answer appears to be nothing.  An ongoing misadventure at one of the most prestigious journals in biblical studies traces to April 2014, when it devoted the better part of its spring issue to a single subject: a scrap of papyrus bearing the sensational phrase “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’”  It was a triumphant moment for the main article’s author, a world-renowned Harvard Divinity School professor named Karen L. King. A year and a half earlier, when she announced her discovery at an academic conference in Rome, her colleagues had revolted.

Ariel Sabar’s fantastic book on the whole sorry episode is here.

#ICYMI – Our Book On Bullinger Is Out and You Should Get a Copy on his Death-iversary

Get one.  Or better, get a dozen.

Heinrich Bullinger (1504-75) was an important and influential sixteenth-century Protestant Reformer. Sadly, today, many are unaware of his significance. This book serves as a gateway into understanding Bullinger’s life and theology, introducing them in a fresh and accessible way for non-specialists. After outlining Bullinger’s life-story, the main theological themes in Bullinger’s thought are explored through chapters on Holy Scripture, God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, predestination and covenant, sin and salvation, church and ministry, Word and Sacraments, the state, and last things. A concluding chapter considers the abiding significance of Bullinger’s theology and what his views can mean for faithful Christian living today.

Demons in Early Judaism and Christianity: Characters and Characteristics

For Jews and Christians in Antiquity beliefs about demons were integral to their reflections on fundamental theological questions, but what kind of ‘being’ did they consider demons to be? To what extent were they thought to be embodied? Were demons thought of as physical entities or merely as metaphors for social and psychological realities? What is the relation between demons and the hypostatization of abstract concepts (fear, impurity, etc) and baleful phenomenon such as disease? These are some of the questions that this volume addresses by focussing on the nature and characteristics of demons — what one might call ‘demonic ontology’.

Introduction
Hector M. Patmore and Josef Lössl

Demonic Exegesis
Hector M. Patmore

Δαίμονες and Demons in Hellenistic Judaism: Continuities and Transformations
Anna Angelini

The Demon Asmodeus in the Tobit Tradition: His Nature and Character
Beate Ego

Paul’s Suprahumanizing Exegesis: Rewriting the Defeat of God’s Enemies in 1 Corinthians, Romans, and Ephesians
John K. Goodrich

Courting Daimons in Corinth: Daimonic Partnerships, Cosmic Hierarchies and Divine Jealousy in 1 Corinthians 8–10
Matthew Sharp

Demons and Vices in Early Christianity
Tom de Bruin

The ‘Demonogony’ of Tatian’s Oratio ad Graecos: Jewish and Greek Influences
Josef Lössl

St. Jerome, Demons, and Jewish Tradition
C. T. R. Hayward

Demonic “Tollhouses” and Visions of the Afterlife in Pseudo-Cyril of Alexandria’s Homily: De exitu animi
Emmanouela Grypeou

10 The Naked Demon: Alternative Interpretations of the Alexamenos Graffito
Hagit Amirav and Peter-Ben Smit

11 Negotiating Danger: Demonic Manipulations in Jewish Babylonia
Alexander W. Marcus

12 Demons and Scatology: Cursed Toilets and Haunted Baths in Late Antique Judaism
Ilaria Briata

13 The King of Demons in the Universe of the Rabbis
Reuven Kiperwasser

14 The Gender and Sexuality of Demons in the Art of the Aramaic Incantation Bowls
Naama Vilozny

Towards a Theology of Relationship: Emil Brunner’s Truth as Encounter in Light of Relationship Science

We live in an era in which relations are considered to be of the utmost importance in almost every field of science and society. For theology, however, this is nothing new. Having a personal relationship with God is a common Christian expression, and while this notion of relationship with God usually lacks a clear definition and its explication is often deeply flawed, this book argues nevertheless for the centrality of a theology of relationship. By reintroducing Emil Brunner as a relational theologian, based on his seminal work Truth as Encounter, it is boldly proposed that relationship must be the prime leitmotif for the whole of theology. Furthermore, the relationship analogy is investigated in light of contemporary relationship science: is it accurate to speak of a relationship with God? Berra argues that God-human interaction is indeed categorically a relationship and existentially intended to be intimate. Consequently, this relationship needs to be the theological leitmotif leading to a theology of relationship.

A review copy has arrived.

Conversations on Canaanite and Biblical Themes

Arguments over the relationship between Canaanite and Israelite religion often derive from fundamental differences in presupposition, methodology and definition, yet debate typically focuses in on details and encourages polarization between opposing views, inhibiting progress. This volume seeks to initiate a cultural change in scholarly practice by setting up dialogues between pairs of experts in the field who hold contrasting views.

Each pair discusses a clearly defined issue through the lens of a particular biblical passage, responding to each other’s arguments and offering their reflections on the process. Topics range from the apparent application of ‘chaos’ and ‘divine warrior’ symbolism to Yahweh in Habakkuk 3, the evidence for ‘monotheism’ in pre-Exilic Judah in 2 Kings 22–23, and the possible presence of ‘chaos’ or creatio ex nihilo in Genesis 1 and Psalm 74. This approach encourages the recognition of points of agreement as well as differences and exposes some of the underlying issues that inhibit consensus. In doing so, it consolidates much that has been achieved in the past, offers fresh ideas and perspective and, through intense debate, subjects new ideas to thorough critique and suggests avenues for further research.

Julius Wellhausens Göttinger Licentiaten-Promotion von 1870

This volume analyzes Wellhausen’s Göttingen licentiate doctorate for a wider audience. Alongside the original Latin text, it includes German and English translations and a transcription of the doctoral file with a German translation of the Latin sections. Moreover, it places Wellhausen’s dissertation in the context of earlier and more recent research on the Chronicles and the Genealogies, and provides an extensive literary analysis of it.

A review copy arrived today.  More anon.

Karl V. – Schutzherr der jüdischen Gemeinschaft vor lutherischem Unheil?

In the 16th century Christian and Jewish people lived side by side in the territory of the Habsburg emperors. Like their Christian neighbours Jews were aware of the theological disputes and the political upheavals of the Reformation period. This book examines these, the Jewish perspective and interpretations of this time. It displays for example how Martin Luther or Charles V. were received in Jewish- Ashkenazi chronicles. The voices of Josel of Rosheim, a contemporary of Martin Luther, Zemach David, the World chronicle from the chronist David Gans from Prague and another chronicle from Prague from an unknown author , will be heard. The interpretations reflect the situation of the different Jewish communities. Rummel proves that the Reformation period is interpreted very plural.

Rummel’s intensely useful little volume begins with a discussion of Jewish historiography as a contribution to Reformation research, including sections on the Jewish ‘reception’ of the Reformation and Ashkenazi historians (or perhaps better, chroniclers’ of the 16th century.

The second chapter describes the most important of the Jewish chroniclers, Josel von Rosheim, Zemach David, and finally, an anonymous chronicler of Prague.  Each chronicler’s work is evaluated and their ‘readings’ of key players and events in the Reformation are provided.  These include Karl V, Luther, and the Peasants War among others.

The third chapter is the Conclusion and it provides a recap of the Jewish sources for Reformation research, the Jewish view of the Emperor, Luther, the Peasants War, the renewal of Christianity and a hope for a better future.

Chapter four, very briefly, sets out the author’s rules for transcribing Hebrew from the source documents and other such related matters.

There are the usual indices of primary and secondary sources along with a list of illustrations and a name index.

The book is, as is so often the case these days, a reworked doctoral dissertation.  It is well executed and I must say extraordinarily useful if your interests tend towards the Reformation period.

It is unique because it gives readers who may not be familiar with Jewish historians of the era an introduction to both the major personalities and to the works.  And, I confess, the material presented was all completely new to me,

It is, it’s fair to say, rare to find a book that doesn’t tell me a lot of things I already knew.  This book does just that.  It taught me a lot of things I hadn’t known, but now, I am grateful to say, I’ve been rightly introduced to.  Including, incredibly, how a major Jewish Chronicler of the 16th century saw Zwingli and his followers.

This is a book worth reading and meditating upon because this is a book that teaches.  I love books like this one.  I love this book.

Weavers, Scribes, and Kings: A New History of the Ancient Near East

In this sweeping history of the ancient Near East, Amanda Podany takes readers on a gripping journey from the creation of the world’s first cities to the conquests of Alexander the Great. The book is built around the life stories of many ancient men and women, from kings, priestesses, and merchants to brickmakers, musicians, and weavers. Their habits of daily life, beliefs, triumphs, and crises, and the changes that people faced over time are explored through their own written words and the buildings, cities, and empires in which they lived.

Rather than chronicling three thousand years of rulers and states, Weavers, Scribes, and Kings instead creates a tapestry of life stories through which readers will come to know specific individuals from many walks of life, and to understand their places within the broad history of events and institutions in the ancient Near East. These life stories are preserved on ancient clay tablets, which allow us to trace, for example, the career of a weaver as she advanced to become a supervisor of a workshop, listen to a king trying to persuade his generals to prepare for a siege, and feel the pain of a starving young couple and their four young children as they suffered through a time of famine. What might seem at first glance to be a remote and inaccessible ancient culture proves to be a comprehensible world, one that bequeathed to the modern world many of our institutions and beliefs, a truly fascinating place to visit.

Sounds fantastic.

YHWH’s Divine Images

By Daniel McClellan.

Download the open access edition here.

My primary target audience with this book is scholars and students—formal and informal—of the Bible and of religion more broadly, as well as cognitive scientists of religion and cognitive linguists. As someone trained in biblical studies but adopting methodologies from the cognitive sciences, I don’t believe I’ll ever fully shake the sense of imposter syndrome from presuming to have something to say about fields in which I am not a specialist.

However, I have been reassured by many kind and generous scholars from across these fields that that’s just the nature of interdisciplinary research. I have tried to widen the scope of
accessibility of this book to include interested laypeople, whom I hope can also find some value in it.

I anticipate some readers will approach this book from a devotional perspective, while others will approach it from a perspective adjacent to a devotional one, and still others in the absence of any such perspective.

Though I write as a faithful Latter-day Saint, this book is strictly academic, and I have made a concerted effort to recognize and mitigate the potential influence of any devotional lenses that may color my methodologies and my readings. There is certainly no conscious attempt on my part to promote any particular theological perspective in this book, though I do offer some critiques of the influence on the scholarship of certain theological sensitivities (including from my own tradition). Having said that, I suspect there are ways the book will horrify my coreligionists as well as others who are suspicious that I’m just trying to import Mormonism wholesale into the Bible. If such criticisms come in from all sides, I’ll consider that a win.

Publishers Who Value Academic Freedom and Reject Attempts to Silence It

You should patronize them.

  • Theologischer Verlag Zurich
  • Routledge / Taylor & Francis
  • Eerdmans
  • Fortress Press
  • Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht
  • Hendrickson
  • DeGruyter
  • Brill
  • Equinox
  • Evangelische Verlagsanstalt

There are others of course but these are academic treasures that are on the side of truth and not beholden to ideologues of any stripe.

The Book of Enoch for Beginners

Phil Long has a new book out:

The Book of Enoch is a fascinating yet often misunderstood apocalyptic text. It contains unique material on fallen angels, the great flood of Genesis, the final judgment, and the prophecy of a future messiah. This guide provides you with the necessary historical framework to examine and understand it, delving into the key events and figures of its stories, from The Book of Watchers to The Epistle of Enoch.

  • An engaging introduction—Dive right in with an overview that clarifies Enoch’s non-canonical status, explains how the work was rediscovered, and breaks down its place within Judaism and Christianity.
  • All five books—This guide explores all five books of 1 Enoch, providing valuable insight into the development of early religious beliefs.
  • Thoughtful examination—Divided into easily digestible sections, you’ll gain a thorough understanding of Enoch through a combination of smart summaries, key verses, and enlightening commentary.

Demystify the Book of Enoch with this comprehensive and compelling guide.

Phil has written a helpful, precise, and easy to read in a couple of hours volume that will, and should be of interest to every Christian and every New Testament scholar and Professor.  And though he dedicated it to his wife instead of to me (people, right????), it is a remarkably important little volume.  Remarkably important.

Why?  Because the Book of Enoch was a central piece of literature to the early Church and early Judaism.  It may not have been ‘scripture’ to most, it was still extraordinarily popular and as we all should know, sometimes popular trumps official when it comes to the common man’s perception of things.

Take, for instance, the painting by Da Vinci titled ‘The Last Supper’.  It is, historically speaking, utter and complete rubbish.  It gets every detail of the Supper wrong, from the seating arrangement to the type of table used to the presence of chairs (which wouldn’t have been anywhere near a triclinium).  And yet that portrayal of the Last Supper is the one people have in mind when they think of that critical event.

Likewise, the authors of the New Testament and their contemporaries were extraordinarily influenced by the Weltanschauung of Enoch, such that many of the notions that Christianity holds dear are Enochian.

I’m not sure who said it or wrote it or mentioned it in passing at a conference; but at one point someone said in my presence that

You cannot understand the New Testament if you don’t have a firm grasp of the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Enoch.

They were right.

And that’s why this little book by Phil Long is so incredibly relevant and significant.  He leads his readers to a clear understanding of this material so central to so much of Christian thinking.

In 10 pages he introduces Enoch.  And in around 115 (give or take a few) he describes the contents of its parts.  He summarizes what he is about to say, says it concisely and yet accurately, and moves on to say what needs to be said next.  Part by part, he opens up the book of Enoch for contemporary readers and thereby does a service to both the academy and the Church.

He includes ‘sidebars’ (though they aren’t on the side of the page; rather, they are blocks of material set off from the main text but totally intrinsic to the structure of the whole).  Here’s one on ‘demons’ (or as our friend Barth always called them, ‘Nothingness’, ‘chaos’).

He doesn’t reduplicate the whole of the text of Enoch, but he does excerpt ‘key’ bits of it concerning which he then offers his own commentary.

This may seem an excessive excerpt, but it’s necessary, in my view, to allow potential readers of this book an idea of what it is and how it works.

Do I think you should read it?  I do.  Should your students read it?  Yes.  Should your Church Bible Study group read it?  They certainly should.  Especially if the choices are between Oprah’s Book Club Choice and Phil’s book.  At least Phil’s book has the advantage of being related to the Church whereas Oprah’s book club books never do.  (By the way, stop using Oprah’s book recommendations- she gave us Dr Oz and Dr Phil and Joel Osteen.  She isn’t a very good judge of what’s good).

You, to be honest, need to read this work, even if you’re pretty familiar with the Enochic literature.

And that, as they say, is that.

Judas: Einer der nachösterlichen Zwölf

Judas wird in allen Evangelien als „einer der Zwölf“ – nicht wie die anderen als „einer seiner Jünger“ – charakterisiert. Die These Siegfried Berglers ist, dass „die Jünger“ und „die Zwölf“ zwei verschiedene Gruppen bezeichneten: Erstgenannte, in unterschiedlicher Zahl, waren Jesu Schüler; hingegen zeugen die festen Zwölf-Namen-Listen von einem nachösterlichen Gremium/Presbyterium der Jerusalemer Urgemeinde, das sich aufgrund einer Christophanie als Repräsentanz des endzeitlichen Israel verstand. Diesem Kollegium gehörten (auch) vormalige Jünger Jesu an – und Judas.

Daher der Titel Judas und die nachösterlichen Zwölf. Die Monographie umfasst neben der Exegese sämtlicher Judas-Auftritte eine Betrachtung aller Zwölfer-Stellen im NT – beginnend mit 1Kor 15,5 („erschienen den Zwölfen“) über den Befund der Logienquelle („…sitzen auf zwölf Thronen“, Mt 19,28 par Lk 22,30) bis zu Apk 21 („zwölf Grundsteine“). Auch erfolgt eine kritische Würdigung des ambivalenten Judas-Bildes im gnostischen Judas-Evangelium.

Judas, der in der Gemeinde eine prominente Funktion ausübte (vgl. Apg 1,20: „sein Aufsichtsamt“), dürfte den Glauben an Jesu göttliche Herkunft oder Messianität aufgekündigt, sich zum Judentum zurückgewandt (vgl. Joh 6,64.66.71) und dadurch zur Auflösung des Zwölferkreises beigetragen haben. Man hat ihn ver­teufelt, für tot erklärt (vgl. die drei verschiedenen „Tode“ des Gottlosen: Mt 27, Apg 1, Papias) und schließlich in die Vita Jesu als dessen „Verräter“, korrekt: „Auslieferer“, zurückprojiziert (re­trojiziert).

These two volumes are an exegetical masterwork.   Bergler has produced an exegetical study with forays into reception history that would make the master exegetes of the heyday of biblical studies (the 19th and 20th centuries in Germany) blush with envy.

Divided into 7 major sections, each divided and subdivided into digestible, sensibly organized, extremely well written pieces, this work looks hard and long at the biblical and reception-historical figure of Judas.

Beginning with the variety of images of Judas of Iscariot, and moving on to an amazing examination of the function and meaning of ‘The Twelve’, Bergler guides his fortunate readers into a meticulous, careful, astute, and well reasoned investigation of the betrayer of Jesus and even more broadly, the group of which he was a member.  And that’s just Part A.

In B, Bergler guides us through the material related to Judas and the Twelve in the Synoptics and in Paul.  The exegesis here too is amazingly erudite and wonderfully detailed.  And by detailed, I mean in depth to such an extent that no stone is left unturned.

In part C., the exegesis turns to the Gospel of John. This extends from page 391- 618 and at that juncture the first volume concludes and the second volume moves on to an absolutely stunning investigation of the death of Judas (Part D).

Part E is intriguing in that it looks at texts in the New Testament which connect the Twelve with other ‘groups’ or ‘bodies’.  For instance, what are the lines drawn from the Twelve to the Seven in Acts?  And what what is the significance and meaning of the Twelve and the various numbers of believers in the Apocalypse?

Part F brings us back the Judas himself and the Twelve, after Easter.  Here too, as you may by now expect, the exegesis is astonishing in its thoroughness.

The final section of the book is Part G.  Here conclusions are drawn.

The two volume work includes numerous indices, lists of texts, secondary literature, and all sorts of like things.

The work amazes on its every page and there is so very much to learn from it.  It begins with a note about a pizza restaurant in Germany called the “XII Apostel” where you can get a pizza named after any one of the twelve.  Including one named after Judas, with its sharp pepperoni and spicy salami.  There too you can pick up a ‘Judas Bier’ comprised of 8.5% alcohol.

From there it provides hearty readers (you have to be a hearty reader these days to take up a two volume work of over 1000 combined pages) with nothing but brilliance.  It examines every trope and every text and every historical notion of Judas, from his being a symbol of the Jews to his place on a menu at a pizza joint.  Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and countless others make an appearance and their ‘take’ on Judas evaluated.  Walter Jens witticism that ’11 disciples go to church and 1 goes to the synagogue’ is just one of many notions concerning Judas that are examined in these pages.

And there are things that you may not have heard about Judas before, but which are found in the various traditions which discussed him.  For instance- Judas was the son of Joseph of Arimathea.

You’ll also learn that in Rabbinic circles, 5 disciples were considered a sufficient number to manage at a time.  And that Jesus had 5 disciples; namely, Andrew, Simon Peter, Phillip, Nathaniel, and an unknown (the so called ‘beloved disciple, whoever that was).  You’ll then learn why the Gospels and the other NT authors talk about 12 disciples and how Judas fits in with this number although he never really fit in at all.

This work is an absolute gem.  Students of the New Testament should read it to see how exegesis can be done properly, expertly, and interestingly.

Folks interested in reception history should read it too.  As should all who aspire to write excellent scholarly books that are both interesting to read and informative (an art not common in our field, let’s be honest.  Too many academic books are so boring, readers have to consume a gallon of coffee and a 6 pack of red bull to stay awake while reading one chapter).

You won’t need any stimulation to keep you awake while you read this work.  It is stimulating enough on its own.  And that, when we speak of academic tomes, is the highest praise possible.

Tolle, lege!