In the mail, @FortressPress, “Telling Tales about Jesus: An Introduction to the New Testament Gospels”

A new book by Warren Carter? Yes, please.

Warren Carter leads the beginning student in an inductive exploration of the New Testament Gospels, asking about their genre, the view that they were written by eyewitnesses, the early church traditions about them, and how they employ Hellenistic biography. He examines the distinctive voice of each Gospel, describing the “tale about Jesus” each writer tells, then presenting likely views regarding the circumstances in which they were written, giving particular attention to often overlooked aspects of the Roman imperial setting. A sociohistorical approach suggests that Mark addressed difficult circumstances in imperial Rome; redaction criticism shows that Matthew edited traditions to help define identity in competition with synagogue communities in response to a fresh assertion of Roman power; a literary – thematic approach shows that Luke offers assurance in a context of uncertainty; an intertextual approach shows how John used Wisdom traditions to present Jesus as the definitive revealLer of God’s presence to answer an ancient quest for divine knowledge. A concluding chapter addresses how the Gospels inform and shape our understanding of Jesus of Nazareth.

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This coming week… In (pre-)reviews

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I intend to highlight and review these books this coming week.

I’ll update this post with links to those reviews, of course.

But, what would you like to see in these reviews?

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@FortressPress “Commentary on the Bible: The Old Testament and Apocrypha” – Additions to Esther

Since he-who-must-not-be-named is reviewing the “normal books,” I wanted to take some time and focus on the books you good Protestants are missing due to the drunk who threw them out. Frankly, they are among my favorites.

Yes, you Wesleyans like James and you Calvinists like the Institutes, but for those of us who love Jesus, there are books (used by Christians since the beginning) like Wisdom of Solomon and the (Greek) Additions to Esther. Admittedly, the former of these two is my favorite.

The introduction to the entire section (split off as as they do in Protestant bibles) is a short, but masterful work on the history of the deuterocanon (or “Apocrypha”) in Protestant bibles. I’m not going to spend much time reviewing it, but Eileen M. Schuller has done her considerable homework and gets it, as far as I can see, right. By this I mean, Schuller presents exactly what I want to see presented in a commentary of this scope and it is appreciated. She presents the ups and downs (the drunken brawl that led to the books being discarded right up to their reemergence in our wayward and biblically illiterate society) of these “hidden” books in Protestantism. Further, she doesn’t exclude, as many are apt to do, the Orthodox varieties of lists.

Let me spend just a moment on the (Greek) Additions to Esther, for no other reason than it was penned by my favorite seminary professor, Dr. Vivian Johnson. She begins by noting the surface problem with Esther — there is no God (at least in the book). Therefore, later Jewish scribes sought to remedy that, adding to the story as they needed to deliver the message they wanted. Rightly so, Johnson speaks to how this book dealt with identity in Empire and how the additions turn the book from a very limited scope to one that has far reaching cosmic implications.

After taking us through the additions and what they mean inside the text, she turns to the interpretative tradition and the text in contemporary discussion (as is the case with all other books in this commentary). Since the Additions to Esther are so short, this has allowed Johnson to expand these two discussion sections greatly to the benefit of the reader. To my great joy, her section on contemporary discussion discusses the contrast between the Greek additions (and the story it produces) compared to that of the original and Hebrew forms. This is important in deciding which story to read — not necessarily which story is authoritative. Like Daniel and his additions, the additions to Esther are important to us as we discover how stories were told, retold, and redacted/edited to meet new challenges — not simply with mimetic reuse, but by adding directly to a sacred text.

In all, Johnson does exactly what this former student expects, delivers supremely.

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“Romans” in @FortressPress Commentary on the Bible: The New Testament

Romans is one of the most difficult New Testament books. It has started Reformations and continues to plague us as the artificer of poor readings today. I am always interested in seeing how Romans is presented… and as my readers know, I believe Romans is a rhetorical set piece designed to represent a dialogue between Paul and his imaginary interlocutor, whereby Paul is able to give his message as an explanation rather than a set of points.

First, the introduction includes a reference to ]] and his “Rereading Romans.” Yet, nothing is mentioned about the scholarship on rhetorical practices involved in the letter. The author, Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, does mention rhetoric, not as a form of discourse so much as a figure of speech. ]] is nowhere mentioned, yet his proposals (and mine, although mine is only blogged) are central to the author’s presentation of Romans 1.18-3.31. Kittredge correctly notes that the “clobber passage” at the end of chapter 1 is Jewish agitprop against Gentiles and that Paul’s “you” in 2.1 is directed against them for this. In speaking about homosexuality, she doesn’t shy from the surface level statements but does offer a way around it by tackling “natural theology.”

If I read the passage the same as Kittredge (admittedly, I am close), I still would not buy her argument about Natural Theology; however, I believe she approaches this with unbiasedness and an admission that she understands why. It is, frankly, a pleasant read.

I have found a solid “New Perspective” throughout the chapter on Romans, much to my likely. Also included are connections (because they are there) between Paul’s Romans and the Empire.

Over all, I am impressed with what Kittredge gets right and could quibble over the rest — especially in reading Romans through a particular viewpoint. If anything, the sections may be too large I would like to have seen 1.18-3.31 divided up, as well as Romans 13-14.

 

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Review, @FortressPress’ “The Odes of Solomon (Hermeneia: a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible)”

Known until the 18th century only from fragmentary quotations and references in patristic literature, more recent discoveries of Greek, Coptic, and Syriac manuscripts have drawn fresh interest and attention to the Odes of Solomon, a collection of Christian poetry from the second century rich in imagery and exhibiting an exotic spirituality. Internationally renowned expert on the Odes, Michael Lattke, provides a meticulous translation and discussion of the textual transmission of the “Odes,” along with judicious commentary on the place of the “Odes” in the development of Gnosticism, Logos theory, and early Christian worship. Historians and students of early Christianity will find this commentary a valuable resource for years to come.

Have you read the Gospel of John? Have you sang hymns? So did the author(s) of the Odes of Solomon. But, the Odes are much more important than that. To the researcher in early Christianity, they provide a window into an early community still struggling to piece together something new from something old. Not only does the Hermeneia series offer one of the few commentaries available for the Odes, but it does so as the entire series does with other books of canon and non-canon — critically, with attention to the details of the past. These details include a focus not only on the manuscript evidence but the context of the Odes as well; the connection between these hymns and the canon, but so too to the various translation issues arising from the fact that the Greek manuscript is more likely a translation from a previous language.

Meticulously researched and assembled by renowned German scholar Michael Lattke, this volume allows the researcher to dig deep into the pre-history and transmission history of Odes. Lattke begins with a discussion of the early reception of the Odes, from its canonical as well as gnostic use. He discusses authorship alongside other pseudonymous Solomons and after much debate, assigns the the first quarter of the second century CE as the probable date. Lattke then proceeds to give some meaning to the Odes throughout pre-modern history (yes, the gnostics are included as well) and in early 20th century reception. We meet not only the Odes, but the scholars we do their best to present the Odes to us. Following this, Lattke gives us the commentary.

If you have never seen the Hermeneia commentary, then it may seem a bit daunting at first. However, once you master it, the layout becomes a tool to aid your reading. At the beginning of each ode (think chapter or psalm), Lattke gives his translation which is divided into the commentary sections. For example, Ode 20 has ten verses, but Lattke adds the ‘a’ and ‘b’ (ex. 1a and 1b, or 9a, 9b, and 9c) to the lines as he will examine then. There is an introduction, and overarching view,to the ode given first. Likewise, there is an interpretation which is the meat of the commentary section. The footnotes are there as a separate, added, tool to the commentary, providing further reading and succinct explanations. Using Ode 20 as an example, I can point out the charts Lattke has included to help illustrate his points. Table 4 and 5 show the intertextuality between Ode 20 and the canonical books of Exodus and Isaiah. Following this is an excursus whereby the author presents something unique to the book, but drawn from the ode. Again, I use Ode 20. Here, the excursus examines “soul” throughout the book.

This volume is essential to the study of the Odes, if not understanding early Christianity and reception of wisdom traditions.

The Odes of Solomon volume is included in the New Testament collection on Logos. I’ve attached several shots from the Mac version as well as the iPad version. 

First is the picture of the hardcover:

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One of the best aspects of having it on Logos is the each to search feature. I also like having the footnote “in the text,” so to speak
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And, I can add a running text, such as the Greek-English interlinear

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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