Two new books on the Gospel of Mark (@fortresspress and @ivpacademic)

both look interesting…

Scholars of the Gospel of Mark usually discuss the merits of patristic references to the Gospel’s origin and Mark’s identity as the “interpreter” of Peter. But while the question of the Gospel’s historical origins draws attention, no one has asked why, despite virtually unanimous patristic association of the Gospel with Peter, one of the most prestigious apostolic founding figures in Christian memory, Mark’s Gospel was mostly neglected by those same writers. Not only is the text of Mark the least represented of the canonical Gospels in patristic citations, commentaries, and manuscripts, but the explicit comments about the Evangelist reveal ambivalence about Mark’s literary or theological value. Michael J. Kok surveys the second-century reception of Mark, from Papias of Hierapolis to Clement of Alexandria, and finds that the patristic writers were hesitant to embrace Mark because they perceived it to be too easily adapted to rival Christian factions. Kok describes the story of Mark’s Petrine origins as a second-century move to assert ownership of the Gospel on the part of the emerging Orthodox Church.

The Gospels contain many hard sayings of Jesus, but perhaps none have puzzled and intrigued readers as much as Jesus’ discourse on the coming of the Son of Man in Mark 13. Is Jesus speaking entirely of an event in the near future, a coming destruction of the temple? Or is he referring to a distant, end-of-the-world event? Or might he even be speaking of both near and distant events? But in that case, which words apply to which event, and how can we be sure?

Seasoned Gospels scholar Robert Stein follows up his major commentary on Mark with this even closer reading of Mark 13. In this macro-lens commentary he walks us step by step through the text and its questions, leading us to a compelling interpretive solution.

Review, @ivpacademic’s “Suffering and the Search for Meaning: Contemporary Responses to the Problem of Pain”

Richard Rice has written a marvelous little book on the problem of suffering, or rather, the mystery of suffering. He has written it in gentle, direct language, without the need of an interpreter. He has done so through parables, stories, and letting authors speak for themselves. Rice provides, in this short little book, a multitude of views on theodicy, their respective high and low points, and a way forward respective of these wide ranging views and Christian tradition. Indeed, I can think of no better introduction to the philosophical problem of suffering as grasped in the Christian Tradition and how to form our own theology than this book.

Rice divides the book into 9 chapters, with 7 chapters to explain the various theodicies and 1 to explain why we need to examine this. The final chapter is his personal view. He knows full well, and uses noted apologist Alvin Plantinga as his support, that the one challenge atheists have best over theists is the problem of evil. He begins in chapter 2 with the easiest — the easiest to grasp at the very least. As he does with all other theodicies, Rice gives an overview, usually accompanied by a personal anecdote. Our author then gives the philosophical backdrop as to how these viewpoints came to take shape. Following this, he gives questions about the theodicy in view. In chapter 2, he examines the perfect plan wherein the holder sees God’s perfect will behind every action, good or bad. He raises the right questions, as he does in each and every viewpoint. He is not biased towards any one over the other.

There are only a few issues I have with this book. One, he relates what I would consider personal stories falling under the restricted structures of teacher-student, or otherwise, considerations. He may have reached out to those students, but this was not related to us. Perhaps it is not a problem with many, but I bristled at it, recalling some of the private conversations I had with teachers. Further, I would liked to have seen a stronger approach to the actual problem of the philosophy of evil. Why do we need to define evil and then use it as a litmus test for God? Overall, given the limitations of the nature of the book, these issues are perhaps more personal and should be taken into consideration if you are exactly as I am. Finally, in examining the non-theist view of theodicy, he takes an apologetic track. This was not as oft-putting as when others did it, but I’m not completely satisfied with the answers he gave.

I’ve chosen to include the best of this book last, forgoing my usual book review structure. In the last chapter of the book, Rice gives us a practical way forward. He admits that the previous views, even the view of the non-believer (he calls this “protest theodicy” in chapter 8), all hold something for him, but do not answer the question completely. He lays out four tenets of how he maintains the separation between God and evil (the most basic definition of theodicy). Without giving them away, they reside on the things Christians believe and hope for, falling into the realms of the doctrines of creation and salvation. It is in Rice’s practical theodicy we find a real path forward, consistent with the Christian tradition of mystery and confession over theories and facts. While you and I will have our own views of God and suffering, Rice’s understanding should be one we can give an ear to and learn from.

In all, this book does not answer the question of suffering — why good things happen to bad people; rather, it admits that, admits we do not know, and calls us to live in that place where a great deal of Christianity remains…the great mystery of Godliness.

Book Notes, @ivpacademic’s “The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas”

Periodically, Christians will awaken to the fact we no longer live in a pure, unadulterated Christendom. Since 1776, the West has been rocked by the notion that pluralism can happen and if it does happen, previously secure groups will begin to lose adherents. Such is the fate of the Christian Church in the West. In Europe and in the United States, we have seen a marked decrease in church attendance and identification as Christians. We have also seen Christianity challenged by various movements. There are reactions, not necessarily good ones either. There is a general consensus, however, that Christians need to understand the times in which we live (the end of a Christian-dominated West) and how this will shape our message. Paul Copan and Kenneth D. Litwak attempt to deliver a plan by using Paul’s time and context to show how it shaped his preaching so that we may learn how to use the pluralism today to shape ours. Think of postmodernism, relativism, and a heavy reliance on science and how this is shaping reactions to Christianity and Christian reactions to the world at large. They divide the book into 10 chapters, with each chapter adding something to the conversation about social context. We are introduced to ancient, pluralistic Athens before Christianity. It is a time that was dangerous to new messages. Yet, Paul succeeded. How so? He used rhetoric, persuasion, and followed God. They used the language of the time and place to teach about Christ, using the hallmarks of the time to point to him. I’m not sure I would call this apologetic, Copan’s usual fare, but is it evangelical (without the capital ‘E’). The book gets a bit repetitive at times, but this may be helpful in driving home what Paul was up against. This is a needed book as we face the graveyard of American Christianity.

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber to be an example of a charismatic religious leader. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Review of @fortresspress’s “The Vine and the Son of Man: Eschatological Interpretation of Psalm 80 in Early Judaism”

In the last few decades, academia has produced few, but great intertextual scholars. I suspect that soon we will add a name such as Andrew Streett to that list. His work, The Vine and the Son of Man traces the interpretation and reinterpretation of Psalm 80 in Early Judaism, ending with the Gospel of John. But, it does more than that. Indeed, Streett offers an interdisciplinary approach — Second Temple Judaism, rhetoric, canonical theism, and intertextuality — to understanding not just how the Fourth Evangelist used Psalm 80, but so too the inherited methodology allowing him, or requiring him, to employ the strategy. This volume is a richly rewarding experience whereby the reader is able to digest the complete context of Psalm 80.

And a very detailed introduction, Streett begins the work in earnest with an examination of Psalm 80 in its historical context. He presents his speculation that it was originally a response to the end of the Northern Kingdom, offered to call to God’s remembrance the covenant. Already, we can see why this particular psalm could become important to early apologists defending the messiahship of Jesus. It includes vine imagery, the request for a strong leader, and the restoration of the nation. Thus, the original context supplied the needed theology to develop John’s Son of Man imagery.

Following this, Streett examines the psalm within it’s setting of the psalter. This first use of the psalm allowed the receptive audience (the 6th century BCE) to see it pertaining to them. Further, by placing it within Book III of the psalter, Psalm 80’s already rich royal connection is magnified, assuming an eschatological presence that produces the connection to the Temple and Jerusalem. This is interesting in of itself because it allows the reader to see how portions of Scripture are shaped by their literary placement.

I a (not-as) convincing chapter on Daniel 7, the author argues that the natural imagery of Daniel’s Son of Man vision is supplemented by Psalm 80. He bases this on the beasts, primarily. I remain unconvinced, wishing he had devoted more time to intertextual clues — or included this chapter either in, or after, the following chapter in which he examines our psalm within Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism (chapter 4). In this portion, Streett investigates such works as pseudo-Philo and the Dead Sea Scrolls to understand how Psalm 80 figured into their works. It is during this time, and with the help of the developing eschatological hope, Psalm 80 is reworked to represent better what early Christians would have recognized as the “real” meaning. Had Street placed his chapter on Daniel within this framework, it would be more convincing.

Streett’s chapters on Mark are completely convincing — not simply because he delves deep into the concept of allusion and what this means when reading texts into, or out of, of another. In chapter 5, he stands out from the crowd(s) — the crowds arguing neither for Daniel 7 or Isaiah 53 as the genesis for the suffering Messiah — holding Psalm 80 as the theological instigator for seeing Jesus’s passion as necessary and “biblical.” Chapter 6 deals well with Mark 12.1-12 and its allusive connections to Psalm 80. Streett continues to build upon the idea of intertextuality, connecting Mark to his theological heritage — Second Temple Judaism. By doing so, he gives a literary depth to Mark rarely seen by a surface reading.

In his seventh chapter, Streett tackles Psalm 80 in John 15.1–8. He does not simply offer the psalm as the only intertext, but examines it next to the passages commonly associated with pericope such as Isaiah 5.1–7 and Sirach 24.17–21. He maintains that while other passages may contribute to John’s choice of words here, it is Psalm 80 supplying the spine of the passage.

How did we read the New Testament without the aid of Psalm 80 before? Sure, we did pretty well for ourselves, having rested easily enough on Psalm 110 — but, it seems we were lacking something. And if we ever believed christology suddenly sprang forth ex nihilo, we missed something there as well. Often times, we are told scholars live to find something new. Here, Streett brings back something old and gives us more things to consider in reading the New Testament. He helps us to understand just how Jewish, and continuous, New Testament theology really is. It is a rewarding experience for those seeking to understand the zygote of the New Testament as well as how previous texts were used, reused, and transformed by later writers.

Review of @fortresspress’s “Reading Theologically (Foundations for Learning)”

After spending a considerable amount of time reading theology and thinking through some of the more serious matters in biblical scholarship, I went to seminary. I was joined by more than a few fellow students who had read little more than Scripture itself and considered it the total of theological evaluation. This reality disheartened me about the future clergy and how they are going to respond to the increasing barrage of questions from parishioners and others. To serve the Church in any way, you have to know how to read and think theologically. There are scarcely any tools focused solely on that missing element in our ministerial training.

The editor’s introduction to Reading Theologically does not state this fact in as dark of terms as I but instead focuses on the positive. Eric D. Barreto writes, “reading theologically is about the formation and cultivation of a particular posture toward texts…(r)eading theologically is not just about building your academic skills, but about your formation as a ministerial leader.” (11). To do this, Barreto has assembled “eight exemplary scholars” who are likewise teachers and theologians. Their essayed voices bring to light different goals and methods for reading while in seminary — goals that should be the intended result of each seminarian. I am more than pleasantly surprised at the inclusion of a variety of voices in this volume.

Educational Comic:  "Developing Understan...

Educational Comic: “Developing Understanding when Reading” (Photo credit: Ken Whytock)

The eight chapters cover everything one needs to read academically. Seminary is not a Jesus/summer camp (a fellow student believed this). It is an academic institution of higher learning, requiring reading that goes beyond understanding the words on the page. As Melissa Browning says in the first essay, reading is an enterprise whereby one engages with the person writing. She offers several helpful (even out of seminary) strategies to engaging the material — even the material the is uninteresting, or worse, challenging. Of interesting note is Jacob D. Myers’s chapter, “Reading Critically,” which begins with an acknowledgement that authors have ideologies. How often do we see books castoff because the author is “X?” Myers suggests otherwise – admit this, admit we have our own ideology, and then because to read the text. This stance is his ideological criticism (77) and it works well. He writes to encourage us to look at the author, understand their place and our own, and then read the book. The final essay I will call attention to is “Reading Spiritually,” by Shanell T. Smith. After all of the ways to read, after all of the things to read — after all of the confirmation and challenges — there is a need to read for spiritual formation. This method does not exclude the previous ones, but is “intentionally reflective” and “deepens your connection with God as you read.” (126). Her model, S.o. W.h.a.t?, is a very helpful paradigm for the seminary reader who may find they no longer know how to read for a connection with God. This capstone shows the editorial intent of providing a whole reader.

I’ll be blunter than the editor or the essayists. Americans are the poorest readers in the world. Maybe that is a bit much, so don’t read too much into it. However, we take things at face value and apply an “all/or nothing” approach what we intellectually digest. There is little to no engagement across the broad-swath of the reading public. It gets worse in seminary, I believe, because each person becomes protected to challenges, first, by the capitalistic system for paying for the degree and, second, due to the “call of God.” Because God called them into the ministry, and because the denominational requires seminary, they do not need to be challenged. The seminarian never becomes a student, but is always the customer. I believe this is detrimental to our Church(es) and is part of the reason we see a decrease in Christianity in the West today. It comes down to reading. Do you read to learn or to read simply?

If I could, I would commend and command to every seminarian this single-volume and a class on it. I would implore them to take it apart and to eat it up as John was commanded by the Angel in Revelation. The words on these pages should become the theological sojourner’s nutrients. This book, without exaggeration, is a godsend to seminarian students.

 

in the mail from @hendricksonpub, “UBS5 Greek New Testament with Dictionary”

From Hendrickson (click through, as there is a sample chapter on the publisher’s site):

While the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece is designed for scholarly research, the Greek New Testament, 5th Revised Edition is designed for translators and students. Like NA28, this is the leading edition of the original text of the New Testament. It contains the same Greek text as NA28, differing only in some details of punctuation and paragraphing.

The critical apparatus includes exegetically significant variants (fewer than NA28) but adds extensive manuscript evidence (more than NA28) for each variant, thereby offering in-depth instruction for students on how variants and the evidence for them work together. An introduction in English is included and an optional Concise Greek- English Dictionary of the New Testament by Barclay Newman is available.

This user-friendly volume comes in three editions:
• The Greek New Testament (UBS5) hardcover
• The Greek New Testament (UBS5) with Greek-English Dictionary, hardcover
• The Greek New Testament (UBS5) with Greek-English Dictionary, Flexisoft Black Leather

Review of @KregelAcademic’s “Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook”

If I were to survey the current state of hermeneutical exegesis, I would get the strong sense of a blathering mess of chaotic interpretation fostered upon Holy Writ by people who simple have no idea what they are doing. Perhaps I would then seek to find ways of helping them to bring order to chaos and engineer something of a return to sound dogmatic portrayals of Scripture. To assist me, I would need to turn to easy-to-understand books appealing to both the trained and untrained. I believe Herbert W. Bateman’s book, Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook, is easily one of the volumes I would use.

Un/fortunately, there is little in the way of telling the reader why this book should be used so I’ll fill in the gaps. There is a constant urge among us proudly post-modern members of our species to interpret everything according to our own experiences. This has led to an increase in biblical illiteracy and a terrible mess of practical theology. Thus, we need books that will train us to think biblically — in the sense that our interpretative strategies should be rooted in what lays before us rather than what we see. Further, unlike other books that give a broad stroke approach to biblical exegesis, this book (and this series) breaks down the various components of the New Testament and focuses on them. Thus, you will get a focused approach, and extended examples, to interpreting Scripture according to standard practices.

Interpreting the General Letters is divided into 8 chapters. Let me further offer a division of these chapters. The first three chapters provides the basic setting of the letters, including genre (ch 1), context (2), and theology (3). Chapters 4 and 5 deal with the working out of interpretation. It is a pleasant surprise to see that step one (in chapter 4) is actually creating a translation and attempts to help the reader avoid common pitfalls. Only then can the reader move into English translations. The final portion of the book, chapters 6 and 7, deal more with extending what you have done in chapter 5 to a general audience, such as preaching. Communication (ch 6) and Exposition (ch 7) not only carry your work off the page, but puts it into a realm where it will be challenged, and hopefully, where it will challenge others. Finally, chapter 8 serves almost like a substantial appendix where the author gives sources for everything discussed in the book — sources that will propel the reader, and exegete, to better exegesis. A very helpful chart is given on commentary selection, although the use of “liberal” in describing some of them (Hermeneia) seems a bit pejorative.

When I went to seminary, one of the books we were required to purchase was one on general biblical exegesis. You probably know it. It was helpful in many ways, but having a book like Bateman’s helps to really focus the skills we are trying build. While Bateman may easily reveal his hermeneutic tendencies (hint, read the Preface), I do not see any such restrictions placed upon his readers.In fact, I believe his work will give great freedom, within proper boundaries, to those earnestly attempting to read and communicate the Sacred Text.

Book Notes on “For Our Good Always: Studies on the Message and Influence of Deuteronomy in Honor of Daniel I. Block”

Note, this is a Book Notes (a possible new feature), not a full review which may follow later. The goal of this feature is to give you a brief summary.

There is not a more important book to understanding Paul’s theology than Deuteronomy. Likewise, we may suspect that there is no important book to the Gospels’, especially John, understanding of Jesus than the final book of Moses. Finally, there seems to be no better book in understanding, if not the entire Jewish canon, than a sizable portion along with several literary strains of Second Temple Judaism, than the capstone to the Torah. Given Daniel I. Block’s work in Deuteronomy, it is not surprising then that his “colleagues, friends, and former students” would choose to honor him via this massive volume. I note with welcome the inclusion of a variety of voices found among his friends and contributors. The book is divided into 3 sections. The first examines the message of Deuteronomy, focused solely on the book itself while the second focuses on Deuteronomy’s reception both in the Jewish canon as well as the Christian canon. Pay attention the first part to Peter T. Vogt’s essay suggesting a pre-monarchy dating to the book while in the second, look especially to Grant R. Osborn’s “Testing God’s Son: Deuteronomy and Luke 4.1–13.” The third part is more practical, with the contributors giving essays on immigration (M. Daniel Carroll R.), human trafficking (Myrto Theocharous), and even a way to preach (Daniel L. Akin) — all based on Deuteronomy. While many of the essays are notable, there are outstanding ones, such as Douglas Moo’s essay on Paul’s use of Deuteronomy and Jason Gile’s essay on the theology of exile in Deuteronomy and Ezekiel. This volume is made complete with Thomas H. McClendon Jr.’s essay on Block’s (Christian) theology of Deuteronomy. In total, this volume is much more than a contribute Block; it is a lauding of the current multi-discipline work on the book of Deuteronomy itself. To that end, the essays explore the work via critical appraisals of Deuteronomy’s importance in the ecumenical canons and how it can impact our discussions of justice and grace today.

Book Notes, “The Ethical Vision of the Bible: Learning Good from Knowing God” @ivpacademic

Note, this is a Book Notes (a possible new feature), not a full review which may follow later. The goal of this feature is to give you a brief summary. 

Peter W. Gosnell, associate professor of religion at Muskingum University, attempts to examine ethics via the lens of “biblical theology,” where the entirety of the text (the individual books) inside the whole Holy Writ are examined as a final product rather than individual verses or statements (p16; note, the author does not identify his approach as “biblical theology,” but it is clearly recognizable). Further, Scripture is not a monotone voice of a distant narrator, but contains different voices relevant to both time and space. This allows the author to counter what are clearly unethical stances (such as rape victims forced to marry their attackers) with the overarching theme of the progressive revelation of God. The title may throw some people off, especially ethicists who will rightly maintain a lack of ethical vision of Scripture. Gosnell agrees, but does not agree this means ethical teachings can’t be drawn from Scripture. To briefly sum up Gosnell’s approach, “people’s ethics flow from their relationship with God.” (18) His approach, like other biblical theologians, is a teleological approach. Thus, the end redefines the whole. The Ethical Vision of the Bible is divided into 10 chapters focused on the Torah, Proverbs, the Prophets, the Gospels, and Paul. After an introduction to the discussion of ethics, Gosnell begins to discuss various ways of drawing out ethics from the above mentioned areas. For example, his three chapters on the Torah are divided between discussing Order (ch 1), Mercy (ch 2), and Holiness (ch 3) all within a covenant framework. In discussing Paul, he examines Pauline ethics as transformation in practice (ch 9) and results (ch 10). With all of this, his goal is simply, to use Scripture to begin to think ethically. For those interested in the ethics of Scripture (v. Scriptural ethics), this is an ideal book.

 

Review of @ivpacademic’s “Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering”

There is something to be said about a person who continues to be an active part of a denomination in which they are at odds, especially when the topic is interpretation of Scripture. It must present something of an identity crisis, where you identify as one thing, but your denomination identifies as other and in doing so,identifies you as another. Your goals are not always the same and it will present problems. It will cause you to sometimes drift away from your stated purpose as part of that denomination and perhaps engage in snipe hunts that, while charitable, is not always profitable. Such is the case with Ronald E. Osborn and his latest, Death Before the Fall, Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering.

Osborn identifies with the Seventh Day Adventist Church, a denomination largely rooted in Young Earth Creationism and other forms of biblical literalism, and yet he does not hold to many of the views considered orthodox by the SDA. Because of this, the book takes a meandering path to his ultimate goal, arguing for animal ethics and how this may play into our vision of both the Fall and subsequent theological drama. Often times, Osborn argues more against biblical literalism than for any position. He accepts, it seems Augustinian approaches to original sin, but at the same time follows the Waltonian response to the six-days creation account. It is confusing and perhaps betraying something of an identity crisis of the author.

Osborn Caribou

Osborn Caribou (Photo credit: IslesPunkFan)

This is not to say the book is not worth reading. Indeed, it is a book directed towards biblical literalists argued the way a biblical literalist would make their case. He even favors the King James Version. Except, the author shows just how theological inconsistent literalism really is — not only with the Holy Text itself, but so too with Tradition and God’s other book, science. It is important to note that while Osborn does employ some modern scholarship (it cannot be missed that John Walton wrote the foreword), he makes his case in easy to follow analogies and examples with an appeal, always, to faith.  And, he is not afraid to mix it up and call out the modern day gnostics and deists that make up too much of the biblical literalism community (even if they are unaware of their identification with those ancient heresies).

I cannot fully describe this book as gracious (something Joel Green has in his endorsement). Osborne, by his existence, is polemical. (Any ex-fundamentalist/biblical literalist will understand this). However, he does take some time to try to write measurably and without personal attacks. He is not always successful; however, I could and will argue that sometimes, it is necessary to rough it up a bit.

The book is divided into 14 chapters, between two unequal parts. The first part (9 chapters) deals with biblical literalism while the second (5 chapters) attempts to turn to animal suffering. Each chapter is a nicely contained essay — almost as if each chapter was written as a stand alone portion with a brief segway paragraph added at the end (as an afterthought). In the first part, he takes to task biblical literalists and their own self-imposed, and extra-biblical, hermeneutics. In one important chapter, however, Osborn really lays out the argument against biblical literalism. Chapter 7, “The Gnostic Syndrome, When Literalism Becomes a Heresy” is perhaps one of the most important chapters written in this book, if not the entirety of the apologetic enterprise. My only quibble here is that it is not long enough. It would not take a gigantic editorial imagination to see Osborn taking this chapter and turning it into a rather welcomed work.

The book does suffer from something of an identity crisis, but perhaps so does the author. He is writing more against himself than he is for others, something he has admitted. While this is the definitive weakness of this work (his reasoning, his insights, this theology — they are not lacking in this volume), it does not seriously undermine the thesis of the book. Biblical literalism is a problem. It creates heresies, anxious believers, and mutes the faith of the sincere. Further, literalism does nothing to help us in understanding how we are to treat creation (something, unfortunately, given little attention to in the book and thus sliding in at the end of my review). However, if we take the Scriptures seriously, which is Osborn’s ultimate goal, we can begin to see Creation for what it is.

Review of “Esther and Her Elusive God: How a Secular Story Functions as Scripture”

How do you bring to bear a cross-disciplinary approach to a generally discarded book of Scripture, suddenly transforming it from a canonical oddity to a pearl? You do it the way John Anthony Dunne has — with careful attention to detail, a wonderful writing style, and an innovative, but sacred, way of looking for the story beneath the headlines. Rarely have I read a more enjoyable and engaging book dismantling previous notions while asserting new ones — with arrogance and any slight against previous notions. Dunne does not get bogged down in a superficial need for footnotes, but simply lays out his argument in an narrow, but supported, manner.

How do we properly treat the book of Esther? As Dunne shows, Christians have treated it in a variety of manners, but always between the two poles of outright ignoring it or twisting it that it doesn’t even look like the story. He also shows just how little difference there is in what modern exegetes do and what the deuterocanonical additions did. They work at adding God into the story.

Esther and her Elusive God is divided between two parts — with the first part having three of the five chapters, an appendix, a bibliography, and indices of sources used along with a subject index. In the first part, Dunne examines the (lack of) evidence for Esther as a sectarian document, concluding that it is a rather secular story. If you are a critical reader, you will not be surprised at the accounts of how Esther pleased her king and thus earned her crown, or the suggestion of how Esther and Mordecai came to be named. In three chapters, Dunne dismantles the usual patina around the story — that of a faithful and docile Jewish girl from the country, a story of love-at-first sight, and of a caretaking God — to bring forth a tell the story of an exiled and accommodating people whose good fortune is based solely on luck.

Not only does Dunne present critical scholarship around the book, but he likewise presents modern (Christian) accounts of the snipe hunt theologians and others go on to find a Christian theme in the book. Quoting from a variety of sources, he is able to deconstruct the usual sentiments around the book to show that what is thought to be exegesis is more often than not an attempt by the reader to force upon the book their own need. Simply, no matter what you do with this story it is not a wonderful book about a faithful God preserving a faithful people. His conclusions are meritorious. They are valid. More than anything, they are interesting and truthful to the text.

Nederlands: Jan Lievens, Feest van Esther, 162...

Nederlands: Jan Lievens, Feest van Esther, 1625, North Carolina Museum of Art, oil on canvas, 134.6 x 165.1 cm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am unsure if I can say enough about Dunne’s work. My largest complaint in working in Christian education at the Church level is the continued need to gloss over tough passages, and books, in Scripture. Esther gets such a treatment. We ignore the sexual congress it took to win the crown, the injustice to the previous queen, and the absent God. None of that needs critical scholarship to pinpoint. In ignoring this, we force upon the story our canonical perspectives of having to have God in every story of the bible. This had to some rather silly interpretations along the way — including novels and movies, something Dunne uses constantly as reference points. However, if we listen close enough to the story, via Dunne’s aid, we will see something much more breathtaking in Esther. The story revealed is one, even with all of the adult behavior enshrined therein, that we must tell ourselves and our children.

After all, as Wesley said, “There are no coincidences.”