Book Review: Fant and Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible

Fant, Clyde E. and Mitchell G. Reddish. Lost Treasures of the Bible: Understanding the Bible Through Archaeological Artifacts in World Museums. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008. 471 pages, 12 color plates, pb. $28.00, Kindle Edition $15.40.

This book something of a guide to biblical antiquities which are housed in major museums around the world. As such, it is a “greatest hits” of archaeology illustrating the history and culture of the Bible. Some are completely contextual (creation and flood myths), others bear directly on the text of the Bible (Hezekiah’s tunnel inscription or Caiaphas’s Ossuary). All of the entries in the book are housed in museums, but that does not make them easy to find. Fant and Reddish provide a very helpful index sorted by museum. If one were going to visit the British Museum, for example, the index would provide a nice list of“must see” items for the student of the Bible. The entry for the artifact provides locations in the museum as well as item number to assist a visitor (or museum guide) in finding the artifact.

There ten categories of artifacts, arranged more or less chronologically from Creation Myths through the Roman period. The last category is entitled “Sensational Finds: Genuine or Forgery” and really only includes three recent and well-known forgeries (the James Ossuary, the Ivory Pomegranate, and the Baruch Bulla). Each entry has the item name, a category (clay tablet, seal, wall relief), then list of basic facts including provenance and current location, including the museum item number where available. A black and white photograph accompanies nearly every entry. Fant and Reddish then provide several paragraphs of description of the item, often including the circumstances surrounding the origin find. Finally, every entry has a section describing the biblical importance of the artifact. Many of these artifacts are documents, including cuneiform tablets and ostraca. In most cases key selections from these documents is provided in translations from ANET or COS.

Fant and Reddish dismiss so-called “scholars who twist the data to ‘prove’ the Bible” (xviii). This is a fairly clear dismissal of “biblical maximalism,” but may be more aimed at the sorts of popular books and websites which claim to have found Pharaoh’s chariots or some other spectacular find. While distancing themselves from this sort of popular sensationalism, they do provide a rather friendly list of artifacts which are extremely complementary to the text of the Bible. Even where there is opportunity for taking a “biblical minimalist” position, they usually reject it outright or simply state that there no evidence for the more negative view. For example, the Enuma Elish is not a source for the creation story of Genesis (p. 6) and the narrative of Sargon II’s birth is not the source for Moses’ birth narrative (although they do state that the author used “elements common to various legends” to “creatively tell the story of the birth of Moses,” p. 49).

In the explanation of the artifacts Fant and Reddish often report the circumstances of the find. These are interesting to me personally, since many of the major finds housed in museums come from a time when archaeology was more wild and edgy. Archaeologists of the nineteenth-century such as Charles Warren, Charles Clermont-Ganneau or Leonard Wooley lived in a time when one could buy a mummy’s head on the streets of Cairo or completely expose a mound searching for tombs stuffed full of treasures. Those days are gone (thankfully, these men also did a great deal of damage), but there is a sort of swashbuckling romance to the story of the discovery of the Moabite stone, for example.

The items covered by the book are all excellent choices, but there are a few oddities. The Epitaph of Uzziah (140-2) is clearly Hasmonean and likely has nothing to do with Uzziah. The plaque was found in the Russian Orthodox Monastery on the Mount of Olives, not a cave dating to the 8th century B.C. There is one unprovenaced seal (Shebnayau, 142-4), a category which could be expanded greatly. But an unprovenanced seal or bulla is an invitation for forgery! Occasionally the authors include long texts from the Bible which are not particularly helpful (Ezra 5:2-6:12, more than a full page!) I am not sure that statues of Alexander the Great and the Roman emperors qualify as “lost treasures” since these are apt to be well displayed. In addition, including Trajan seems to “go beyond” the Bible. Likewise the inclusion of the Winged Victory of Samothrace (a location Paul may not have visited) and the Corinthian synagogue inscription (as late as the 5th century A.D.!)  These two items are important, but tangential to the theme of the book.

Conclusion. This is an excellent book for general readers interested in archaeology as background for the Bible. Whether it is used in conjunction with a visit to a major museum or not, Lost Treasures provides the reader with good descriptions of the most important artifacts illustrating the world of both the Old and New Testaments.

Book Review Week

Next week is Spring Break my school, so all of the students are wandering off to warmer climates somewhere to the south.  My church starts a three-week missions conference, so my Sunday Evening Bible Study is on hiatus for a few weeks.  What is more, my dissertation is turned in and all I am waiting for is a defense date to be set.  All this means that it will be quiet and calm in my office for the week, giving me a chance to drink large quantities of strong, black coffee and catch up on the rather large stack of books I had intended to review on Reading Acts.

Some of these have been there since November (ETS/SBL purchases), I am ashamed to say.  So now, like Burgess Meredith, I can say, “time enough at last” and work my way through this stack.

Please notice the new “tab” below the title bar for Book Reviews.  I have culled older book reviews from the archives of Reading Acts and put them together on that page as an index.  I have also included software reviews and commentary on using technology for biblical studies.

What My Office Might Look Like

John 12:37-43 – A Final Summary of Jesus’ Ministry

These verses are John’s evaluation of Jesus’ ministry. Even though Jesus did many signs, he was rejected by his own people. In many ways this paragraph mirrors themes from the prologue in John 1:1-18.  John cites two verses of Isaiah as “fulfilled” by this rejection. Jesus himself quoted the description of the people’s rejection of Isaiah’s message ( See Matthew 13). The original context of these two quotes is important:

Isaiah 53:1 from the most important of the “servant songs” in Isaiah. This section of Isaiah describes a “servant of God” who will be exalted by God (52:13) because he suffers on behalf of God’s people. This whole section of Isaiah is filled with language which is applied to Jesus by the early apostolic preaching. The servant of Isaiah 52:13-52:12 is afflicted, oppressed and crushed “for our iniquities” and “transgressions.” He was silent before his oppressors and the Lord “laid the iniquity of us all” on this innocent sufferer.

The identity of the suffering servant was something which was discussed in first-century Judaism. In Acts 8 the Ethiopian Eunuch is reading this passage when Philip is led by the spirit to share the gospel with him. The Eunuch asks if the writer was describing himself, or someone else, both were live questions even in the first-century.

Early preaching of the apostles centered on the identity of the suffering servant, claiming that Jesus was that servant of God. His death was an atonement for sin, and his resurrection is the ultimate vindication from God that Jesus was truly his representative.

The second text John quotes is Isaiah 6:10, a line from the beginning of Isaiah’s ministry. When he was called to be a prophet he was told that the people to whom he was sent will not listen to him and that he will not be successful in turning the majority of the people back to the Lord and covenant faithfulness. Like Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the rejection of Isaiah 6:10 looms large in the preaching of the early church. Jesus himself cites Isaiah 6:10 to describe his generation after his Galilean ministry (Matthew 13:1-17, the Parable of the Sower, cf. Mark 6:52).

John’s point here is that the generation who heard Jesus preach and saw the signs he did refused to accept him as the messiah. Like Isaiah’s generation, those who reject the message of the Messiah have been rejected and face God’s judgment.

Like Isaiah’s day, there is still a remnant who believes in Israel. Just as in the time of Isaiah there is a small faithful minority who have responded properly to God’s clear revelation. But even this righteous remnant is not perfect. John is quick to point out that those who do believe refuse to openly confess Jesus because of fear of the “authorities”

John’s summary of Jesus’ public ministry draws on themes found throughout the first 12 chapters of the book – God revealed himself in Jesus, the true light of the World, but those who saw the light did not receive them and therefore remained in the dark.

John 12:27 – “My Soul is Troubled”

Jesus praying in the gardenIn John 12:27 Jesus says his “soul is troubled,” yet he will not ask the Father to save him from “this hour.”  In the Synoptic Gospels this prayer made in the privacy of the Garden of Gethsemane, after the Last Supper. In John’s Gospel the prayer is similar, but it is in public. John also makes a connection to a theophany which may suggest a different context, perhaps in the Temple courts. Since the witnesses are described as a “crowd” it does not seem likely that this Peter, James and John in the Garden.

While Jesus is deeply troubled, he knows that the reason he came into the world to be rejected, executed and buried.   Jesus may be alluding to Psalm 6:3 or 42:5, 11. The words are closest to Psa 6:3 (LXX 6:4), the verb is a perfect passive in John rather than the aorist passive of the LXX, and the adverb σφόδρα (“greatly”) is not used in John. Nevertheless, there is enough verbal similarity to say that John intended an allusion to Psalm 6:3 when he chose these particular words.

If this is an intentional allusion to Psalm 6:3, it is possible that Jesus (or John) means to evoke the context of the whole Psalm. The first two verses of the Psalm are therefore important.  The writer is calling out to God to not rebuke and discipline him, to not pour out his wrath and anger on him. The writer says that his is languishing, that his “bones are troubled” (v. 2), that he is weary from weeping, his “eyes are wasting away” because of his grief (v.  6-7).

Psalmist asked the Lord to deliver him and save him because in death he will no longer praise God (6:4). Perhaps this is the point of the allusion as well as the rhetorical question in John 12:27.  The allusion to Psalm 6 therefore emphasizes the inevitability of the suffering of Jesus which is about to occur. Jesus knows that his suffering will lead to death, but also that his death will not result in the silence of Sheol. Unlike the psalmist, Jesus knows that his death will result in vindication when God “raises him up” (John 12:32).

Unlike the writer of Psalm 6, Jesus is suffering willingly.  In fact, it is for “this very hour” that Jesus came into the world. The phrase “this hour” is always significant in John’s gospel, referring to the time of Jesus’s crucifixion. The writer of the Psalm asks “how long” until he is vindicated, while Jesus says that he cannot possibly ask to be saved from the hour.  If he is in fact the obedient Son sent by the Father, Jesus must endure the suffering of the Cross.

Similar to his baptism or the transfiguration in the Synoptic Gospels, a voice from heaven responds to Jesus’s prayer. The voice is not identified as God’s, but on the analogy of the baptism and the transfiguration it seems likely that this is the voice of the father responding to the Son.

The crowd is divided with respect to the origin of this voice. Was it thunder or was it an angel? While this seems like two very different things, there are other examples of angelic voices sounding like thunder (Revelation). When the resurrected Jesus appears to Paul on the road to Damascus, his companions did not hear the voice either.

It is possible this is an allusion to Sinai. In Exodus 19:16-19 God’s glory at Sinai is manifest with thunder and lightning. If this is an allusion to the wilderness period, then it may be part of the rejection theme of this whole conclusion to the first part of John’s gospel. The generation in the wilderness saw great signs and wonders, including the voice of God from heaven, yet they rejected those signs in the wilderness and refused to obey God as he led them into the Promised Land.

Whatever the allusion, once again there is a clear revelation of who Jesus is followed by a misunderstanding from the audience. John continues to reveal who Jesus is, he is the the one sent by God to suffer willingly on the cross.

Christology in 1 Peter – Searching the Scripture

1 Peter begins his description of salvation by explaining his methodology.  He states that the salvation he described in 1:3-9  is the subject of prophecy (1:10).  This is an interesting window into the preaching of the Apostles, since the Scripture to which Peter alludes here is found consistently in the the sermons in Acts as well as the letters of Paul.  It appears that the Apostolic preaching of the Gospel began with the idea that the Messiah should have to suffer and die, based on Isaiah 53.

Peter says that the prophets “searched and inquired carefully” into this matter.  The verb ἐκζητέω has the connotation of exertion, to work hard to find something. The compound ἐξεραυνάω also has the sense of diligently searching (John 5:39 uses a related word for “diligently searching the Scriptures.” Both words mean virtually the same thing and both emphasize the effort these prophets made in understanding the coming Messiah.

How did the prophets “diligently search” prophecies about the Messiah? It is possible that the prophets which are described here are not the Prophets of the Hebrew Bible, but rather teachers who read the scriptures and looked forward to the coming of the messiah.   If this is the case, then Peter is saying that all of the sages and scholars of post-Exlic Judaism were searching Scripture like Isaiah 53 in order to figure out when and how the Messiah should come.  What is remarkable is that Christianity is the only for of Judaism to understand the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 as the Messiah.

Perhaps Acts 8 can be used as an analogy here. Philip the Evangelist encounters the Ethiopian Eunuch reading Isaiah 53. The question the man concerns the subject of Isaiah 53. Jews in the Second Temple period would have that the passage described either Isaiah or some other person (like a new Elijah); if the messiah was in view, it was not a suffering messiah at all. Philip “begins with that very passage” to explain the gospel with the Ethiopian. Philip identifies Jesus as the innocent sufferer of Isaiah 53, making it clear that the new age described in Isaiah 56 has begun.

Their search was for the “person or time” the Spirit of Christ was predicting. The prophets predicted the “sufferings of the Messiah” and his “subsequent glory.” This implies a two stage-mission of the messiah, first as a suffering servant, the at a later time in glory.

It is possible to take the “sufferings of the messiah” as the trials of the Jewish people as the await the Messiah. The noun Christ is not genitive, so the common translation “of Christ” is not necessarily accurate. This phrase could be translated “suffering with respect to the Messiah” (for example, Selwyn, 134). But this translation does not take into account the context of Peter’s letter, since by chapter 2 it is quite clear that he means the suffering of Jesus in the cross (Jobes, 1 Peter, 99).

Peter therefore says that the prophets saw two events: the suffering and the glory of the Messiah.  While Peter is clearly standing on the shoulders of the Hebrew Prophets, this two-stage coming of the Messiah was unique in the Second Temple Period.

Frederick Dale Bruner – The Gospel of John: A Commentary

I posted a few days ago on the upcoming Keener commentary on Acts.  I notice that Eerdmans is releasing Frederick Dale Bruner’s The Gospel of John: A Commentary on February 28.  At 1311 pages, it is another a mammoth work ($75, hardcover).  Von Wahlde’s John commentary in the Eerdmans Exegetical Commentary series is a bit short of 1000 pages, but he has a separate book for introductory material.

Bruner wrote two volumes on Matthew which were fairly well-received.  He balances critical and exegetical comments with “history of interpretation” in a way which is quite readable.  Assuming the format is similar to the Matthew commentary, Bruner consults early church and Reformation reformation writers in smaller print after his exegetical comments.   These are often juxtaposed with modern commentaries so that the past and the present are in constant dialogue.

I look forward to this new commentary on John, although my shelf for John commentaries is already quite well-stocked.  Since I have been preaching through John on Sunday Evenings I am always on the prowl for a new book on John.  After a visit to The Bookstore (Eerdmans’ excellent shop here in Grand Rapids), I will post a review.

Peter and Diaspora Jewish Christians

Like James, Peter’s first letter appears to reflect a Jewish Christianity. Surprisingly, this is not the majority opinion. In his brief notes on 1 Peter in the ESV Study Bible, Thomas Schriener comments that “Most scholars are convinced that the recipients of 1 Peter were primarily Gentiles” (ESVSB 2402). Carson and Moo (Introduction, 647) assume a mixed congregation. Raymond Brown (Introduction, 720) also sees the target audience of 1 Peter as “Gentiles who have been heavily catechized with a strong appreciation of Judaism.”

There are several indications that Peter is addressed to Jewish Christians congregations, which may include God-Fearing Gentile converts, but I would prefer to see these primarily Jewish Christian churches.

1 Peter 1:1 addresses “the elect” who are “scatted” (1:1, NIV). Both words are significant in that they point to a Jewish audience. The “Elect” is a common self-designation in Judaism. They are the nation which God chose (via Abraham, or in the prophets, when he rescued the nation out of Egypt). “Scattered” is the Greek diaspora, the Diaspora. This was a word used frequently to describe Jews loving outside of the Land, including those regions addressed in 1 Peter 1:1.

These elect believers are described as being in exile (ESV). This word is better translated as “sojourners,” or “strangers.” The Greek parepidamos is rare in the New Testament, occurring here, 2:11 and Heb 11:13 referring to the children of Abraham (LXX Gen 23:24, LXX PS 38:13, 39:12 ET). The synonym paroikos appears in Acts 7:6 with a similar sense.

If one sees the addressees of 1 Peter as Gentile, then these descriptions must be taken as metaphors. It is assumed that the church is New Israel, and so Christians like Peter picked up on language once applied to the Jewish Diaspora and re-apply it spiritually to the Church (as Schreiner does in ESVSB 2405). If Peter, like James, is writing a letter to other Diaspora Jews, then there is no reason to take the language referring to anything other than Jewish believers.

There are several other examples of letters to Jews in the Diaspora. In Jer 29:4-23 a letter is sent to Jews living in Babylon. Similarly, 2 Baruch 78-87 imagines a similar letter sent from Baruch after the fall of Jerusalem. The first chapter of 2 Maccabees is a letter sent to Alexandrian Jews. James should also be included in this list, as well as the book of Hebrews, which is addressed to Jews living in Rome in the mid first century, although the word Diaspora does not appear there. It is therefore Peter stands in a tradition of Jewish writers and leaders writing to Jews in the Hellenistic world. to encourage them in their belief and practice.

What difference might this make for reading 1 Peter?  If the book was written to Diaspora Jewish Christians,