Tag Archives: William B. Eerdmans Publishing

Review of Francis Watson’s Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective @eerdmansbooks

Francis Watson’s newest tome, Gospel Writing, A Canonical Perspective, presents fresh ideas, refocuses others, and forces Gospel Critics into reconsidering cherished beliefs. It is a rather long examination of the totality of Gospel writing — including the process of validation for what is canonical. While Watson has many fine points along the way, some of which we will discuss shortly, his central thesis is not truly found until the later portion of the book.

“No book is inherently canonical: texts become canonical because their readers stipulate that they shall henceforth be so, and they stay that way only insofar as later readers uphold the earlier decision.”[1] Around this statement is built a premise of reading the Gospels not as a set of four, but as a line from existing sources, so that one may include known non-canonical writings as well as speculating on yet unknown sources. What Watson accomplishes is nothing less than expanding the canonical reading while at the same time preserving the Four-Fold tradition in ways even Augustine and Origen would have to admire.

The book is divided into three parts. Part One begins with Augustine and ends with the enlightened discovery of Q. Part Two examines various theories on the origins of the Gospels assuming a less-than-eyewitness account, focusing instead on the literary lineage. Finally, Part Three begins with Clement and marches us through time and space to Jerome whereby we see the preservation of the Four-Fold Gospel as something liturgical and ecumenical.

Part One, The Eclipse of the Fourfold Gospel, is filled with expert analysis of the criticism of the Gospels from Augustine to Schleiermacher and comprises two chapters. Watson begins not with the expected Irenaeus, who is saved for chapter 9, but with Augustine who is the first of what we might call the Gospel Critics.  As Watson reminds us, however, Augustine’s mission was to harmonize the Gospels rather than to seek any clues about their literary origins. The strength of these chapters lies not in the detailed history of Augustine’s textual comparison, but in the scholarly approach to each of the figureheads’ theological (or psychological) reading of the differences among the Gospels. Simply put, Augustine harmonized the Gospels with one another. Lessing and his descendants harmonized the Gospels with Reason.

Part One is the history of the interpretation of the individual passages of the Gospels, but of the reason we have four Gospels along with how do we understand them next to one another. Further, in this examination is a brief understanding of the rise of historical criticism. Without a doubt, my favorite portion thus far is Watson’s examination of Lessing.

Augustine was ready to throw away all of the Gospels if he could not harmonize them — if the story was not exactly the same. We see this same attitude today with those who rather than see the differences brought about by different methods of narrative recapitulation, call the disjointed similarities contradictions. Lessing, rather, could see them plainly as differences and allow the Gospels were not reporting historical fact. They were reporting the truth.

Part Two has five chapters, each examining one of the Gospels, either canonical or non-canonical. His focus here is not on why the first Gospel was written, but assuming that such a thing occurs, utilizes what Mark Goodacre called for in his 2001 work, The Synoptic Problem, A Way Through the Maze — Narrative Criticism. Watson accepts Markan priority, and generally holds to a non-Q theory of Matthew and Lukan expansion. This occupies chapters 3–5, with chapter 5 focused on the Gospel of Thomas. While Watson builds a solid defense against Q, he allows for a sayings collection (SC) to have existed before or even along side the earliest literary accounts of Jesus. Thomas, for Watson, is not the SC, but represents a likely derivative of the SC.

Early on in chapter 5, Watson blatantly defies standard New Testament scholarship first by de-Gnosticizing Thomas and then by suggesting, “The enduring influence of the canonical decision is also evident in connection with the Gospel of Thomas… which, some decades after its discovery, has still not been successfully integrated into any overarching account of gospel origins.”[2] What he does then is to in my opinion do what many have failed — he incorporates Thomas successfully into the “overarching account of gospel origins.” It is reminiscent of what Sanders and Davies’ once called “undefined sources.”[3]

Let us focus on chapter 5 just a bit more, as along with chapter 6, promises to be the highlight of this tome. I was pleasantly surprised to see him speak to the “gnosticism” of Thomas. Beginning with a discussion of what gnostic really means in regards to early belief systems and later literary developments, Watson cautiously demonstrates the uniqueness of Thomas among other Gnostic literature, arriving at the conclusion whereby we doubt Thomas‘ usually stated (by some) reason of its place at Nag Hammadi.[4] This is very most helpful because while Thomas does include secret sayings and a few liberating tendencies, we should no longer really ascribe to the book the belief system of later Gnostics if we actually compare it to other gnostic literature. Rightly so, the Fourth Gospel is sometimes alluded to as a gnostic type of literature. Further, we know from reading Clement of Alexandria the word and connotation of ‘gnostic’ was often a positive appellate for early Christians.

Equally so, I found Watson’s allowance for a non-Q sayings collection (SC) as typified by Thomas very intriguing.[5] By creating such an allowance, scholars can allow for Papias’ Logia and the non-cited sayings scattered in early Christian writings as still a non-Q document. I believe, if I have read him correctly, his thesis still allows room for Goodacre ‘s proposal for a Thomasine redaction of the Synoptics.[6] He does, after all, allow for the independence of the SC and the narrative of the Gospels.[7]

To show how a SC may provide a link between orality and textuality, Watson delves into Mark 4. Here, I am not so sure about his hypothesis, with Watson almost insisting on a shared source between Mark and Thomas. This is where our author seems to diverge from Goodacre’s excellent thesis. Further, he attempts to demonstrate Thomas as a SC, but not the SC that gave rise to Mark and Matthew. (Luke is still dependent upon Mark and Matthew.) Here, I find it interesting Watson has not referred to John Horman‘s book on a common Greek source shared by the authors of Mark and Thomas.[8] 

I hesitate to admit this, but a SC would help to answer some of the unknowns in the search for Mark’s literary sources, especially, as Watson points out, in the parables. Even without a narrative, several of the statements in Mark 9.14–29 (specially v19 and v23, and the exorcism formula in v25) could be part of the SC collection. Watson is right to recommend that any such SC remain hypothetical, cautioning scholars against spending precious time producing a critical edition, as they have done with Q.

All of this is immensely important as Watson turns to John and a probable (he insists and I am inclined to agree) connection between our Fourth Gospel as the Egerton fragments, or what Watson calls the Egerton Gospel. He begins this chapter with another thesis-like statement, writing “The creation of the canonical/non-canonical divide has a retroactive effect on the entire field, making it appear that canonical normativity is inherent to some texts while apocryphal marginality is equally inherent to others. This appearance cannot be dismissed as an illusion, for the fourfold canonical gospel remains a communally normative text which both includes and excludes.”[9]

I maintain a distinctive Jewish quality to Mark and Matthew (based in Deuteronomy) but a different sort to L(eviticus)uke. Where does John fit in? We know John has some issues with ‘us v. them’, ‘us v. Jews.’ This has been explained in a variety of ways. But, in the literary sense, there is little to mark the transition. I mean, how did we go from Mark to John?

This is where the work Watson has done begins to solve this problem. He provides for us a literary connection, even if he does not fully see it yet.

After discussing the movement from Egerton to John, Watson comments, “the Egerton evangelist is consciously seeking to counter the Johannine distancing of Jesus from Judaism, reincorporating him into the community” of a more Judaism-centric Christianity. He goes on, ‘This Jewish-Christian or Christian-Jewish feature of GEger is of a piece with its pre-occupation with the Moses/Jesus relationship… it is more likely to be pre-Johannine.”[10]

Might whatever Egerton represents be the literary transition between Luke and John? Unfortunately, Watson does not begin to tackle this question, failing to examine convincingly the connection between Egerton and the Synoptics. Where he does find a connection, he quickly assigns it to the SC. For example, Watson, after comparing Egerton and P. Köln 255r to Mark 1.40–5, suggests the Egerton-Köln story “may derive from a version independent of Mark.[11] Unfortunately, I think Watson stresses too much the importance of direct literary parallels. See Adam Winn‘s notes on this in his monograph on the Elijah-Elisha narratives.[12] Watson does, however, allow for some similar language at this point between Egerton–Köln and John. Had Watson allowed for a dependence on Mark, we might have seen another hallmark of a transition from the rather rabbinical Jewishness of the Synoptics to whatever new creation John is trying to be.

Watson’s seventh chapter, Reinterpreting in Parallel, examines the literary trajectory from Mark (and maybe before Mark) to John through Thomas and the afore-not-mentioned Gospel of Peter. Several of his conclusions are going to be rather essential in examining John’s relationship with the Synoptics, specifically Mark. This chapter is filled with example after examples of the trajectory we can see develop if we remove the subjective and imposed notion of canonical and non-canonical. Watson’s Figure 7.1 examines the parallel accounts of the trial narrative in Mark 15.2–18 and John 18.33–19.16. This examination is one of the most powerful examples of John’s reliance upon Mark. Watson concludes this chapter by saying, “It is only as the texts deemed non-canonical are taken into account that the true significance of the canonical boundary becomes clear.“[13]

Part Three consists of four chapters and a closing series of theses. Watson began the book by examining Gospel Criticism from Augustine to the near present. This time, he begins with Clement and studies the method by which the four gospels were selected as canonical. After all, he has shown persuasively that the literary trajectory from Mark to John includes an expanded collection.

Watson instigates the study in the East with Clement of Alexandria and a plurality of Gospels and agrapha. He pits this against the West, personified by Irenaeus. The Tradition in the East seeks to limit the number of canonical gospels while Irenaeus attempts to include just enough to keep the balance in the Church. While this may not be of interest to literary critics, Watson concedes time to the canonical theologians, showing essentially how their own view (pre-dating Childs) came to be. He does this primarily with a chapter on Origen. Wrapping up his work, he moves to showcase earlier liturgical reception of the Four-Fold Gospel in art and other imaginative spaces.

Instead of a conclusion, Watson offers a series of seven propositions. Theses I–IV center on the literary reception of Jesus. I find this rather odd as earlier in the book, Watson allows that a Jesus is not needed for the unfolding narrative of the Gospels.[14] Yet, a majority of his propositions deal with the ongoing development of the Jesus Tradition, something I could not easily tag to any particular section of the book. The remaining three statements, however, do match the thesis of the book and provide a fitting conclusion to his work in this volume.

As I have mentioned throughout this review, there are but a few issues. The first and perhaps the one encompassing all others is the length of the book. I would rather have seen this a two-volume work, with ample attention given to chapters 5 and 6 in the first volume with the second volume encompassing the sum of chapter 7. Finally, there are instances I felt Watson simply kept writing when he should have stopped. There are sometimes giant swaths of material I did not find germane to the overall thesis of the work. Beyond this, and a few minor disagreements with Watson’s conclusions, I can find nothing of serious concern. Some, no doubt, will (and rightfully so) find cause to question the publisher’s choice of paperback rather than hardback, although undoubtedly, this is kept the price low.

There will be a great distance in time between this volume and one successfully unseating it. What Watson provides is not a start or a stop, but a real way forward in the examination of the literary origins of the Gospels and canonical status. Perhaps it is up to later scholars — the New Testament scholar as well as the Patristic Scholar — to split this work into two heuristic volumes and continue the research more than begun here. Francis Watson’s work serves as a keystone in Gospel Criticism and will not be forgotten.


[1] Watson, 536

[2] Watson, 218

[3] E. P. Sanders and M. Davies, Studying the Synoptic Gospels (London: SCM, 1989), 117.

[4] Watson, 221

[5] Watson, 271

[6] Mark Goodacre, Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas’s Familiarity with the Synoptics, Eerdmans Publishing, 2012.

[7] Watson, 272

[8] John Horman, A Common Written Greek Source for Mark and Thomas (Studies in Christianity and Judaism), Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2011.

[9] Watson, 288

[10] Watson, 315

[11] Watson, 322

[12] Adam Winn, Mark and the Elijah-Elisha Narrative: Considering the Practice of Greco-Roman Imitation in the Search for Markan Source Material, Pickwick, 2011, specially pages 3–4, for no less a reason than he specifically compares a story from Matt/Luke to John.

[13] Watson, 407

[14] Watson, 157

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Watson on Reinterpreting in Parallel (chapter 7, @eerdmansbooks)

Watson’s seventh chapter, Reinterpreting in Parallel, examines the literary trajectory from Mark (and maybe before Mark) to John through Thomas and the afore-not-mentioned Gospel of Peter. Several of his conclusions are going to be rather essential in examining John’s relationship with the Synoptics, specifically Mark. This chapter is filled with example and example of the trajectory we can see develop if we remove the subjective and imposed notion of canonical and noncanonical.

By this, I call into question the Gospel of Peter. At one time, it was considered canonical, or rather, it was considered usable in the liturgical life of the Church at Rhossus. Remember, at one time, someone proto-orthodox used even Thomas.

As many of you know, I  would like to propose John’s purposed dependence upon the Synoptics, specifically Mark (beginning, historical present) and Luke (the internal structure, or the so called Signs Gospel). Watson’s Figure 7.1 examines the parallel accounts of the trial narrative in Mark 15.2–18 and John 18.33–19.16. This examination is one of the most powerful examples of John’s reliance upon Mark.

Anyway, Watson concludes this chapter by saying,

It is only as the texts deemed noncanonical are taken into account that the true significance of the canonical boundary becomes clear (407).

For those interested in mimetic criticism of the Gospels — how one Gospel was preserved in the other, this is a quintessential chapter.

 

Winn, Watson, John, Egerton, Jewish-Christian, and Christian-Jewish literary transitions @eerdmansbooks

My working – and this is super secret so don’t tell anyone because I haven’t done the research yet to back it all up – thesis, in part, is to suggest John wrote in such a way as to close the Torah of the Gospels.

I will maintain a distinctive Jewish quality to Mark and Matthew, and a different sort to L(eviticus)uke. But, then there is John… We all know John has some issues with us v. them, us v. Jews. This has been explained in a variety of ways. But, in the literary sense, there is little way to mark the transition. I mean, how did we go from Mark to John?

And this is where Watson comes in.

(for a fuller treatment of Watson’s chapter on John, see Rick Brannan’s post here.)

After discussing the movement from Egerton to John, Watson comments, ‘the Egerton evangelist is consciously seeking to counter the Johannine distancing of Jesus from Judaism, reincorporating him into the community’ of a more Judaism-centric /an/Christianity. He goes on, ‘This Jewish-Christian or Christian-Jewish feature of GEger is of a piece with its pre-occupation with the Moses/Jesus relationship… it is more likely to be pre-Johannine.”

That’s interesting… Might whatever Egerton represents be the literary transition between Luke and John?

Another note — Watson, after comparing Egerton and P. Köln 255r to Mark 1.40–5, suggests the Egerton-Köln story “may derive from a  version independent of Mark (322). Unfortunately, I think Watson stresses too much the importance of direct literary parallels. See Adam Winn‘s notes on this in Elijah-Elisha Narrative (3–4, and no less a reason than he specifically compares a story from Matt/Luke to John). Watson does, however, allow for some similar language at this point between Egerton–Köln and John. Had Watson allowed for a dependence on Mark, we might have seen another hallmark of a transition from the rather rabbinical Jewishness of the Synoptics to whatever new creation John is trying to be.

If his thoughts on the closing paragraph on 324 was carried out, we could easily see John pulling from Egerton-Köln and the Synoptics as he built his Gospel.

 

Canon, Thomas, Francis Watson (@eerdmansbooks)

I’m posting this under my new category of doctoral work. I will use this as a way to track different things that come to my attention I will need as I explore my thesis. 

And several thrilling chapters where I was able to watching Francis Watson demolish the need for Q, the author now turns to the place of Thomas in the Synoptic discussion. I have recently found this very interesting as I started to lay out my prospectus for my Ph.D. work. I will focus on the Fourth Gospel’s use of Deuteronomy. Because this hypersensitivity to the issue of Thomas among the Gospels, Watson’s statement on 218 caught my eye,

The enduring influence of the canonical decision is also evident in connection with the Gospel of Thomas…, which, some decades after its discovery, has still not been successfully integrated into any overarching account of gospel origins.

I need to keep this truth in mind as I explore my own thesis for the next few years.

Where do you think Thomas fits into the canonical discussion?

Interaction – Part One, Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective @eerdmansbooks

This is a rather long book and this is going to be a rather long series of reflections. Snippets really. 

Part One, The Eclipse of the Fourfold Gospel, is filled with expert analysis of the criticism of the Gospels from Augustine to Schleiermacher. I am a bit disappointed Watson did not begin with more of an examination of Irenaeus and Origen and how they received the various differences in the Gospels; however, his examination of Augustine (chapter one) and Lessing (chapter two) more than make up for this. Indeed, the strength of these chapters lies not in the detailed history of Augustine’s textual comparison, but in the scholarly approach to each of the figureheads’ theological (or psychological) reading of the differences among the Gospels. Simply put, Augustine harmonized the Gospels with one another. Lessing and his descendents harmonized the Gospels with Reason.

Part One is the history of the interpretation of the individual passages of the Gospels, but of the reason we have four Gospels along with how do we understand them next to one another. Further, in this examination is a brief understanding of the rise of historical criticism. Without a doubt, my favorite portion thus far is Watson’s examination of Lessing. This is why I say the approach employed by both men is not simply theological, but must turn to the psychological.

Augustine was ready to throw away all of the Gospels if he could not harmonize them — if the story was not exactly the same. We see this same attitude today with those who rather than see the differences brought about by different methods of narrative recapitulation, call the differences contradictions. Lessing, rather, could see them plainly as differences and allow that the Gospels were not reporting historical fact. They were reporting the truth.

This is truly a fascinating read already, and the more so since I am now into chapter 2 where Watson has some forthright words about Q.

IN THE MAIL: HOLY COW EDITION: Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective @eerdmansbooks

Cannot wait for this!!!!!!

That there are four canonical versions of the one gospel story is often seen as a problem for Christian faith: where gospels multiply, so to do apparent contradictions that may seem to undermine their truth claims. In Gospel Writing Francis Watson argues that differences and tensions between canonical gospels represent opportunities for theological reflection, not problems for apologetics.

Watson presents the formation of the fourfold gospel as the defining moment in the reception of early gospel literature — and also of Jesus himself as the subject matter of that literature. As the canonical division sets four gospel texts alongside one another, the canon also creates a new, complex, textual entity more than the sum of its parts. A canonical gospel can no longer be regarded as a definitive, self-sufficient account of its subject matter. It must play its part within an intricate fourfold polyphony, and its meaning and significance are thereby transformed.

In elaborating these claims, Watson proposes nothing less than a new paradigm for gospel studies — one that engages fully with the available noncanonical material so as to illuminate the historical and theological significance of the canonical.

@eerdmansbooks’s interview with @goodacre

As you recall, I placed Mark Goodacre’s book as my top book for 2012. It is just that important to the search for literary sources and writing styles of early Christians. Anyway, Eerdword has a video interview with the professor up at their blog:

Mark Goodacre is associate professor in New Testament at Duke University and author of Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas’s Familiarity with the Synoptics, in which he argues that, rather than being an early, independent source, the enigmatic Gospel of Thomas actually draws on the Synoptic Gospels as source material.

via Video Interview with Mark Goodacre « EerdWord.

Book Announcement: Acceptable Words Prayers for the Writer (@eerdmansbooks)

Acceptable Words offers prayers that correspond with each stage of the writer’s work — from finding inspiration to penning the first words to “offering it to God” at completion. Gary Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney, experienced writers themselves, introduce each chapter of prayers with pithy pastoral reflections that will encourage writers in their craft.

This welcome spiritual resource for writers includes both ancient and contemporary poems and prayers — some of which were written especially for this volume. A thoughtful gift for any writer,Acceptable Words will accompany writers on their spiritual journey, lending words of praise and petition specifically crafted to suit their unique vocation.

Read a blog post by Elizabeth Stickney on EerdWord.

Call me crazy, but that looks interesting…

Circling @goodacre’s book, Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas’s Familiarity with the Synoptics

I have had in my possession since 5 October 2012 this book that I have read. The arguments are sound, cohesive and convincing. So, what can I say?

I could cheesily speak about his writing style – one to be mimic, but Goodacre is a scholar who has several books under his belt. His writing style is, as always, just right. Of course, having heard Dr. Goodacre speak, I often hear his voice as I read, or maybe, I read it in a British accent. So, like watching Dr. Who, I read it really loud in my head. (Honestly, he is in this country – he could learn English!!!)

I intend to do a review before the end of the year because I need to. I have a list I am preparing regarding the top 5 books I have reviewed this year. This one is on it.

Why? Because this will narrow down literary criticism of the Gospels, early trajectories of Christianity, and  play into social memory, Markan priority, the so-called Synoptic Problem, and the difference between oral tradition and oral tradition based on a literary tradition.

So, expect a more thorough going review later, but if you are looking for a last minute Christmas gift, get this one.

For yourself, for your friends, for the entirety of the Q, Markan Literary Sources, and any other section at SBL dealing any any topic related to the Synoptics and/or Thomas.

Review: @eerdmansbooks A Cultural Handbook to the Bible

cultural handbook to the bible
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There are times that the dedication page is a bitter-sweet send off to this one or that one; there are times, such as this one, where the dedication page tells the reader more than the back-of-the-book blurb provided by the publisher. John J. Pilch, the author, dedicates the book to several social sciences groups in various organizations, including the Society of Biblical Literature. From this stand point, we know what to expect — a reasonable, scientific approach to interpretation that may in fact challenge and change the occasional open mind.

In his preface, Pilch offers advice for reading this book. Don’t. Well, maybe not “don’t” but do not read this book as a novel or other historical production. Instead, this is a handbook in the truest form — meant to systematically present various topics under a broader category. For instance, if you want to understand dragons, flip to page 47, but this does not lead into the next topic, Mirrors and Glass (page 52). They just happen to both fit under the theme of Earth. Each topic is arranged, easily enough, under such categories as the Cosmos (heaven, hell, and other places one may visit in the ethereal plane), Family (not always your children), and even Entertainment (whereby one can read about the performance of the Song of Solomon). See, this book is not just a linear progression of topics, but a series of previous published articles arranged in groups so that reading and studying such things are easier. Finally, as regards the set up of the book, each section is closed off with a bibliography for further reading. These further reading resources are well with in line of social sciences, including anthropology (disappointed not to see Girard, but…).

So, since this book is not about starting at page one and arriving at the end with a real reasoned argument giving us something to judge, I have selected several topics so as to bring out the wonder of this book. Let me begin with hell and ascend from there. Pilch begins with an earnest attempt at thwarting the reader’s comfort (the “theological freight” (p2)). The author takes us through the misuse of the word hell in our language, as if it is a one-to-one translation and was exactly what David and Jesus meant. It is not. From here, he tackles Sheol, defined from a point in the Hebrew bible and brought to where we see it in Second Temple Judaism — as something more than a dark place. It is infused with Greek thought, where we find Hades misapplied in a bad translation attempt as well. Then, the landfill Gehenna — or was it (p5)? With confusion well established, Pilch then moves to Christian (generally Catholic) reception of Sheol-Hades-Gehenna-Hell. What does this teach us? That our English language and later theological concepts are often overcome with patina and in need of a good scrubbing, something the drafters of Vatican II realized.

Likewise, in the thematic category known simply as Family (105-46), Pilch takes on seven topics — Virgin (no, not always); Marriage (Traditional? Hardly); Family; Adultery (economy); Rape (could not happen to a man although it could); A Noble Death; and Final Words. In reading the section on Rape, one becomes astutely aware of the differences we share with other cultures (again, where is Girard?) and sickened by the comments so easily made by our fellow society members. In discussing this terrible concept, Pilch’s focus is on the daughter of Jacob, Dinah who was rape (by modern ideals) but did was not the victim of the crime. Anthropological resources are called into service — enthography, Scripture, language, mores. The exegesis, then, is given and in such a way as to draw the reader more deeply into the story until they realize the full measure of cultural awakening given by Pilch.

I have encountered far too many well-meaning Christians who believe that even in English, the bible teaches in a structured language with a one-to-one meaning. Yet, the same modern word for an abstract concept — say, freedom or liberty — has a different definition depending upon the person, the location of the country, not to mention how such words are received by wives of abusive husbands, people subject to brutal dictators, or even alcoholics. The same is true, in many ways, of reading Scripture. Perhaps a book like this, written by a scholar with an empathetic ear, can help to change the way too many approach Scripture. Pilch offers not just his easy-to-read writing style, but his faith, and his helpful Catholicism — it tinges here and there, with mentions of the Church Fathers, of books of the Deuterocanon, and of ecumenical councils. And of course, the easily recognized palette is the deep love for anthropology.

One note, however — this is a book using social sciences to read Scripture. It is not a book that will entail every academic study available, such as the assumption Luke did not read Matthew (109), but it nevertheless serves, at this point, to highlight what virgin meant throughout Scripture.

Enjoy the book, but treat it as a handbook, not a novel. Use it as a commentary — use it to get under the headlines that have lulled you into a false sense of security in “knowing” what the authors meant, which is always what you thought they did. There is so much more depth to Scripture than what we have brought to it.

In the Mail: A Cultural Handbook to the Bible

cultural handbook to the bible
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Thanks to the fine folks at Eerdmans:

The task of interpreting the Bible — which was written by and to people living in very different cultural contexts from contemporary Western society — can seem monumental. The opposite is also true: people can easily forget that studying the Bible is a type of cross-cultural encounter, instead reading their own cultural assumptions into biblical texts.

In A Cultural Handbook to the Bible John Pilch bridges this cultural divide by translating important social concepts and applying them to biblical texts. In short, accessible chapters Pilch discusses sixty-three topics related to the cosmos, the earth, persons, family, language, human consciousness, God and the spirit world, and entertainment. Pilch’s fresh interpretations of the Bible challenge traditional views and explore topics often overlooked in commentaries. Each chapter concludes with a list of useful references from cultural anthropology or biblical studies, making this book an excellent resource for students of the Bible.