Book Review: Michael J. Buckley, What Do You Seek?

Buckley, Michael J. What Do You Seek? The Questions of Jesus as Challenge and Promise. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 158 pages; pb. $18.00   Link to Eerdmans

This short monograph collects fourteen short meditations on questions asked by Jesus in the Gospel of John. Many of these questions are recognized as programmatic in the Gospel of John. For example, Buckley draws his title for the book from the first question Jesus asks in the book. In In John 1:35-38, the first words Jesus speaks in the book asks two disciples following him, “What do you seek?” The Gospel of John returns to this theme frequently as people seek something from Jesus (healing, living water, bread from heaven, etc.) In his final question in the Gospel Jesus asks Peter, “Peter do you love me?” (John 21:15-16). Jesus’s question demands a response just as the whole Gospel of John demands a response from its readers.

Buckley’s short reflections on the text focus on the challenge issued by Jesus’s questions. For example, his comments on Jesus’s question to Peter in 21:15-16 concern forgiveness. He devotes two chapters to questions asked in the passion narrative, “what shall I say, save me from this hour?” and “shall I not drink this cup?”) On occasion the meditation ranges far from the original intention, such as in John 2:3-4, when the wedding runs out of wine Jesus asks his mother, “What has this to do with us?” Buckley uses this question to address concern for the suffering and responding to those in need. Perhaps, but Jesus used the opportunity to reveal something about himself by providing wine at a wedding. When Jesus asks his disciples “how can we buy bread” (John 6:5), he reveals something about himself as “bread from heaven,” but Buckley develops an application from the text about the unpredictability of the power of God and our weakness in service. Since this book is devotional reading, these applications are inspiring and challenging even if they seem tertiary to the text.

The book is rich in allusions to classic literature (many citations of T. S. Eliot, Dostoyevsky), philosophy and especially classical of western spirituality (St. John of the Cross, Cardinal Newman) and a few nods to modern scholarship (Bultmann, Barth, and Raymond Brown). Buckley reflects his Roman Catholic background (pp 34-24, for example) but this is not at all distracting.

Readers will be challenged by Jesus’s questions and Buckley’s thoughts on these questions.

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

Core Beliefs of Second Temple Judaism: Election

“Yet out of the whole human race He chose as of special merit and judged worthy of pre-eminence over all, those who are in a true sense men, and called them to the service of Himself, the perennial fountain of things excellent” (Philo Spec. Laws 1.303).

“I will give my light to the world and illume their dwelling places and establish my covenant with the sons of men and glorify my people above all the nations” (Pseudo-Philo Bibl. Antiq. 11.1f)

One of the foundational assumptions of the Hebrew Bible is that the one creator God chose Israel out of the nations to be his own people. For example, Deuteronomy 7:6, “The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession.” God rescued his people from their slavery in Egypt, brought them to Mount Sinai and entered into a special covenant with them. And despite the rebellion in the wilderness, God gave them a special land promised to Abraham.

Image result for chosen people IsraelWith respect to the basis of this election (works or grace), it is best to use a both/and approach. There is no reason given for the choice of Abram in Genesis, but there are responsibilities within the covenant which will result in continued blessings for the elect people of God. Paul says in Romans 9 the basis for God’s choice of Jacob over Esau was the “electing purpose of God” rather than foreseen faith or good works on the part Jacob.

In Sifre Deuteronomy 343 God offers the Torah to other nations, but they all refuse.

“At first God went to the children of Esau. He asked them: “Will you accept the Torah?” They said right to his face: “What is written in it?” He said: “You shall not murder.” They replied: “Master of the universe, this goes against our grain. Our father, whose hands are the hands of Esau (Genesis 27:22), led us to rely only on the sword, because his father told him, ‘By your sword shall you live’ (Genesis 27:40). We cannot accept the Torah.”

The text goes on to say “not a single nation among the nations to whom God did not go, speak, and, as it were, knock on its door, asking whether it would be willing to accept the Torah.” But finally God came to Israel and they said, “We will do and hearken” (Exodus 24:7).

The basis of Israel’s election was a matter of some discussion in the Second Temple period. The Testament of Abraham describes Abraham’s realization the gods his father Terah crafts are nothing but wood and stone. His father asks him to sell five idols of Marumath, but Abraham loses three in the river.  Later, while cooking his father’s dinner he sarcastically asks the god Barisat to watch over the cooking fire while he went to ask his father what he should cook.  When he returns, the fire was still going and the god was burning himself. Abraham and Terah argue over this; Abraham says the god is nothing and says the gods are only honored because Terah made them well. While Abraham is pondering the gods, a voice from heaven calls to him and says he is the God of gods and commands him to leave the house of Terah (Test.Ab. 8). The story was likely written to offer an explanation of why God chose Abraham, but also to encourage Jews in the Second Temple to avoid idolatry.

It is little wonder many other nations thought Israel was exclusivist. They were, to some extent, separate from the nations because they alone were the elect of God. Monotheism alone requires exclusivism.  But his exclusivism was not snobbery (or at least should not have developed into snobbery). The nation was set apart in order to be preserved from false beliefs and therefore raise the whole world.

 

Bibliography: Simon Gathercole, “Election,” pages 571-23 in Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010).

Core Beliefs of Second Temple Judaism: Shema

The belief in only one God is the most basic aspect of Judaism. As expressed in Deuteronomy 6:4-6, the shema. The first four of the Ten Commandments clarify how Israel was to worship God (worship God alone, without a graven image, without using his name in vain, by honoring the Sabbath). The first four of the Ten Commandments clarify how Israel was to worship God (worship God alone, without a graven image, without using his name in vain, by honoring the Sabbath).

The Shema was fundamental to daily practice of Jewish. The word refers to Deut. 6:4-5 (which begins “Hear O Israel,” shema is Hebrew for “Hear.”) The passage directs Jews to keep the commandments upon their heart and to teach them to their children. These commands are the Ten Commandments which immediately precede this command, but essentially the whole law is to be kept in mind and taught to the next generation.

Tamid 5.1 The superintendent said to them, “Say one blessing.” They said a blessing, pronounced the Ten Commandments, the Shema [Hear O Israel (Dt. 6:4–9)], “And it shall come to pass if you shall hearken” (Dt. 11:13–(21), and “And the Lord spoke to Moses” (Num. 15:37–41). They blessed the people with three blessings: True and sure, Abodah, and the blessing of priests. And on the Sabbath they add a blessing for the outgoing priestly watch. (Translation, Neusner)

Although the practice of reciting the shema is well-known in rabbinic sources, it is not possible to date those sources earlier than the second century. Avery-Peck, for example, suggests “there is no reason to posit a long history of legislation concerning its recitation” (Alan J. Avery-Peck, “Oral Tradition: Early Judaism,” ABD 5:35). Tan, on the other hand, argues the practice of reciting the shema dates to the pre-A.D. 70 period on the basis of b.Berakhot 21a.

However, there are several indications in the New Testament that the shema was used as a prayer even in the first century. Jesus alludes to the shema in Matt 22:34–40//Mark 12:28–34, Paul alludes to the 1 Corinthians 8:4, “there is no God but one” (See Erik Waaler) and James 2:19 appear to quote the shema. This is not evidence of twice-daily prayers, but the prayer was familiar neough to appear in three diverse contexts in the New Testament,

According to Berakhot 1.1-3. The shema was placed in doorways (the modern mezuzot) and in tephillin, boxes strapped to the hand and forehead during prayer. We know the tephillin were used in the first century since the pharisaical practice of making wide straps is criticized in Matthew 23:5. Aristeas 158 refers to the “words” posted on gates and doors and Josephus refers to the practice of binding scripture on the arm (Antiq. 4.213).

At the very least, the evidence suggests Jewish people in the Second Temple period recited the shema regularly and were ultimately committed to the idea of one God. There are obviously ramifications of this belief (rejection of other gods, for example). But there are other implications as early Jewish Christians described Jesus as divine (Phil 2:5-11, for example). How did Second Temple Jewish believers integrate their new believing Jesus into their understanding of “one God”?

 

Bibliography: Kim Huat Tan, “Jesus and the Shema,” pages 2677-2707 in Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus (ed. Tom Holmén and Stanley E. Porter; Leiden: Brill, 2011); “The Shema and Early Christianity,” Tyndale Bulletin 59 (2008): 181-206. Erik Waaler, The Shema and the First Commandment in First Corinthians: An Intertextual Approach to Paul’s Re-reading of Deuteronomy. WUNT 2/253. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008).

Book Review: Faithlife Study Bible

Faithlife Study Bible. Edited by John D. Barry, Douglas Mangum, Derek R. Brown, and Michael S. Heiser. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2017. Hb. $49.99  Link to Zondervan

The Faithlife Study Bible is a new Study Bible designed to help readers to find their place in the story of the Bible and to “feed your curiosity about God and his work in this world.” In order to achieve this goal, the FSB uses some traditional features of a study Bible (notes, introductions, maps), but also info-graphic charts and illustrations to set stories into their historical and social contexts. The FSB uses the New International Version 2011 text with notes charts, and graphics edited by John D. Barry (general editor), Douglas Mangum, Derek R. Brown, and Michael S. Heiser (academic editors).

Each book of the Bible has an introduction including an outline, authorship, background, structure, themes, as well as maps or timelines where appropriate. Since this is a study Bible, there is a running commentary at the bottom of each page offering insight into cultural and social issues and original biblical languages for modern readers. There are a few small charts in the notes and occasional definitions of key terms or people (for example, “Marduk” in Jeremiah 50:1 or “Pharisees” in Mark 2:16).

There are a number of articles scattered throughout the FSB. Zondervan’s advertising says these were written by “respected scholars and best-selling authors including Charles Stanley, Randy Alcorn, and Ed Stetzer.” Perhaps these are not the first people I think of when I read “respected scholars,” but the list also includes Douglas Stuart (How To Study the Bible), Duane Garrett (Pentateuch), Daniel Block (Covenants of God), Mark Futato (Significance of Names in the Bible), Craig Bartholomew (Wisdom Literature), Nicholas Perrin (Synoptic Gospels and Acts), Craig Keener (Gospel of John and Johannine Letters), Michael Bird (Paul’s Letters), Peter Davids (Hebrews and the General Letters), and John J. Collins (Apocalyptic Literature). Some articles are more theological, such as William Klein on Election or N. T. Wright on “The Glory of God in Paul’s Letters.” These do represent top scholars in their field, although the introductions are brief, sometimes not much more than a single page. This is to be expected in a Study Bible of this kind, even if I would have liked to see more detail in nearly every case.

One of the more intriguing features of the FSB are the one hundred full color infographics. The infographic style is a popular way to display information to a reader at a glance (click here for an example). For example, since Isaiah 63 describes the Lord “treading the winepress,” there is an illustration of a winepress explaining the process. There is a cut-away illustration of the synagogue at Magdala associated with Luke 13 and Acts 19 has a nice illustration of the Temple of Artemis with a comparison to an American football field. On the next page is an overview of the theater in Ephesus compared to Wrigley Field. There is an illustration of a Roman Tullianum (prison) presented in 2 Timothy 2. There are an additional twenty-seven family trees and “people diagrams” designed to help readers visualize the relationships between key characters in Scripture.

For the life of Jesus, a timeline in Matthew runs along the bottom of eight pages (up to Peter’s confession), then a second part in Mark runs eight pages up to the triumphal entry, The third part appears over eight pages in Luke covering the Passion. These timelines use brief descriptions and icon-like illustrations but lack any references. Perhaps this timeline feature would be more useful by including Scripture.

The Faithlife Study Bible was first distributed as part of Logos Bible Software. The Logos version appears to have identical notes and introductions. The illustrations mentioned above all appear in the online version and appear to be the same (although I did not check every illustration, the ones I did were identical). The articles also appear in the online version, although there are more articles in the online than in the oriented version (Alcorn on Giving, The printed tables look better than the online versions, at least on my desktop installation of Logos. The Logos version of the FSB has a number of context, thematic and word studies which do not appear in the print version, such as “Sabbath” or “Jesus as Wisdom,” both by Michael S. Heiser. These are more detailed articles which would have lengthened an already large book. The online version also has the advantage of linking to the Lexham Bible Dictionary and other resources in the Logos library.

Conclusion. The Faithlife Study Bible joins an already crowded field of Study Bibles published in the last decade, including the ESV Study Bible, the HCSB Study Bible, the Zondervan NIV Study Bible, and the Zondervan Bible Backgrounds Study Bible. The Faithlife Study Bible does not always have the same level of detail as the competition, but it does excel in being user friendly. If the ESVSB is overwhelming to a student, then the Faithlife Study Bible will be much more accessible.

To view a sampler that includes the text of Genesis and Matthew, please visit the Faithlife Study Bible site.

Book Review: Leslie T. Hardin, The Spirituality of Paul

Hardin, Leslie T. The Spirituality of Paul: Partnering with the Spirit in Everyday Life. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2016. 192 pp. Hb; $16.99. Link to Kregel

Leslie Hardin is a contributor to the Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care and wrote The Spirituality of Jesus for Kregel (2009). Like his previous book Hardin does not write a book on practice spiritual disciplines, but rather a series of short reflections on what Paul thinks is key to spirituality. Although this is not a “how to” guide for spiritual life, readers will be encouraged as they reflect on what Paul says about these topics. For Hardin, Pauline spirituality is a “practical partnership with the Spirit,” an expression of the Spirit of God already at work in the life of the believer (17).

Spirituality of Paul, HardinIn the introductory chapter, Hardin discusses Paul’s sometimes controversial commands to “imitate me.” Hardin expresses a common frustration with Paul’s somewhat arrogant view that he is worthy of imitation, especially in matters of spiritual discipline. After all, Paul seems opinionated and angry, perhaps even demanding of his congregations. Why imitate Paul, when Peter and John are original disciples of Jesus? In fact, why imitate Paul when we ought to be imitating Jesus? Like Randolph and O’Brien recent Paul Behaving Badly, Hardin wants to read Paul’s letters in order to answer some of these objections while focusing on the “shape” of Paul’s spirituality.

Hardin discusses ten themes in Paul: Scripture, prayer, disciple-making, proclamation, worship, holiness, spiritual gifts, edification and suffering. Some of these are certainly within the sphere of spirituality, but several are in the category of imitation. Disciple-making, for example, is not usually included in a list of spiritual disciplines. However, as Hardin explains, Paul’s missionary method intentionally sought out individuals to develop into disciples who were told to go and find others to disciple. This process of discipleship hands down tradition from Jesus to Paul, to Paul’s disciples and then to their disciples. Hardin’s discussion of spiritual gifts is good and approaches a potentially contentious issue with wisdom, but it does not always speak to the topic of “spirituality in Paul.”

Hardin discusses the shape of Pauline spirituality in his final chapter. First, Paul was faithful to Scripture. According to Hardin, Paul saw Scripture as a tutor leading to godliness through Christ. Second, Paul was an imitator of Jesus (1 Cor 1:11). Although he encouraged his disciples to imitate him, his eyes were fixed on Jesus. This is not a lame “year of living like Jesus,” but rather living out the lifestyle of Jesus in a way which impacts the world. Third, living life as an imitator of Jesus is, for Paul, a life of freedom. Hardin is clear imitating Jesus is not living exactly like Jesus in every single detail, but embracing the freed from guilt one has as a child of God. Fourth, imitating Paul as he imitates Jesus should result in glorifying Jesus. Paul sees glorifying Jesus as the goal of everything Paul says in his letters. Fifth, Paul’s spirituality is committed to unity. It is undeniable Paul desires his churches to be unified both in doctrine and practice. Finally, Hardin points out the basis of any talk of the spiritual of Paul is his emphasis on the activity of the Holy Spirit.

There are a few things missing in the book. For example, Hardin has consciously avoided interacting with any of the classics of spiritual discipline. Although the focus on Paul might have limit the use of some of these classics, I would have expected some interaction with Rodney Reeves’s Spirituality According to Paul (InterVarsity, 2011). It is also remarkable (or refreshing depending on your perspective) that a book on the spiritual of Paul does not use the work cruciform. In fact, there are only one or two citations of Michael Gorman in this book. Gorman’s Becoming the Gospel is likely too recent to have had an influence on Hardin, but certainly his previous books merit more than a brief citation (Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross, Eerdmans 2001 and Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology, Eerdmans 2009).

Conclusion. Despite this reservations, Spiritual of Paul is a good introduction to the several key areas of discipleship in the Pauline letters. Hardin’s style is inviting and will be appreciated by both layperson and scholar. The book would be ideal for a small group Bible study.

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

 

 

Book Review: John E. Johnson, Under an Open Heaven

Under an Open HeavenJohnson, John E. Under an Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2017. 256 pp. Pb; $15.99. Link to Kregel

John Johnson has served as a pastor and a professor of Pastoral Theology at Western Seminary in Portland. This blend of experience serves him well as he presents thirteen conversations from the Gospel of John. Each chapter is a meditation on an encounter with Jesus in the fourth Gospel. Johnson uses this conversation to present the theology of John’s gospel in a personally challenging way. Some of the conversations are with seekers (Nicodemus and the woman at the well), people seeking healing (the blind men), and others with people antagonistic toward Jesus (his brothers and the Jews in John 8:30-59, even Pilate in John 18:28-19:11).

Johnson presents enough historical and cultural detail (although not exegesis) to set the story in its proper context. For example, he explains the Jesus’s unusual response to his mother in John 2:4 or the clear parallels between Nicodemus and the woman at the well, or the contrasts between the two blind men in John 5 and 9. But since his goal is not to write a fully researched commentary on John, many details are overlooked. For example, there is far more to say about the Feeding of the 5000 than “pointing to a better meal” (116), or the quantity and quality of the wine Jesus provides in John 2 than “Jesus can be so generous” (50). Still, Johnson’s goal is a devotional reading of the text, it is not fair to expect him to fully tease out all of the theological implications of John’s Gospel.

The thirteen chapters of the book read like sermons, with introductory illustrations drawn from pop culture or personal experience, and chapter sections with alliterative headings. He even cites Bob Dylan, which is always a plus. Since the book is written on a conversational level, it would work well in a small group environment or as personal devotional reading. Johnson has included a few questions at the end of each chapter to prompt discussion. Johnson also maintains a blog which touches on some of the topics in this book.

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

 

 

A Day at Ephesus

Our full final day included a walk through Ephesus. This really the highlight of any tour to western Turkey. Although Perge and Heriopolis were large sites and restored very nicely, Ephesus has more to see and it is a far more significant location historically.

The drive from Izmir approaches the city at the upper entrance at the Magnesia Gate. There is an Odeon dating to A.D. 150 just inside the entrance to the site, but the first thing to interest me is the Square to Domitian, an indication of the strength of the imperial cult in Ephesus at the end of the first century and the early second century. In the Square to Domitian there is a reproduction of a Nike relief (the real on is in the Ephesus Museum). From this spot tourists can get a great photo of the sloping Roman street (the “Avenue of the Curate”) leading to the Library of Celsus and the Agora.

There are several interesting things to see on this street, including a public toilet and bathhouse. The entrance to the bathhouse has inscriptions dedicated to both the Empire and Artemis. For some reasons people love to see the ancient toilets, although Ephesus has roped these off so tourists can no longer take those awkward photos. The Hadrian temple has been largely replaced with replicas, but still offers a view of the imperial might of Rome in Ephesus.

Although an additional ticket is required, the Terrace Houses were a highlight for me. These six residences are across from the Hadrian Temple and demonstrate how the wealthy and elite citizens of Ephesus lived in the Roman period. These houses look like modern condos, with open air courtyards, water pipes (and at least one indoor toilet). Many of the walls have the original art and a few have ornate mosaic floors. The entire complex is covered to protect it from the elements, and the stairs work their way up the hill, exiting with a view of the street which passes by the agora, leading to the large theater. From this point on the hillside you could hike to the Cave of Paul and Thecla, assuming you have arranged for the visit (and paid the fee).

Terrace Houses at Ephesus

Terrace Houses at Ephesus

The Library of Celsus dates to the second century (completed about A.D. 114), so this is not the place Paul rented space from Tyrannus (Acts 19:9). Although the library was destroyed in a earthquake in A.D. 262, the reconstructed façade of the library is spectacular, with replica statues of Sophia (wisdom), Episteme (knowledge), Ennoia (intelligence) and Arete (virtue). The library was eventually converted into a bathhouse, although only a large pool remains.

Next to the library is the entrance to the entrance to the agora. This is the largest we have visited on this trip (525×240 feet), although very little has been excavated or restored. The Hellenistic agora sits lower than the street running from the Terrace Houses and the theater (Roman period). This theater seats up to 25,000 and is the location of the riot in Acts 19:21-34. Since it faces the harbor, the noise of the riot would not have been heard in the boule near the Magnesia Gate, explaining why it took some time for the town clerk to arrive. A street leads from the theater to the ancient harbor.

After our tour of Ephesus, drove a short distance to what is left of the temple of Artemis. There is not much to see, only a single pillar and a few stones remain. The temple of Artemis at Sardis was a far better was to see the grandeur of this kind of temple.

Following Artemis, we ate lunch at a Turkish rug factory. This is fairly typical of a tourist visit, and the shop gave a very interesting demonstration on how they obtained from the worms and how the women who make the rugs work the loom. They brought out about 50 rugs while we waited and I am glad someone in our group bought one to offset our free lunch. I would have preferred to skip the rugs and spend another hour at Ephesus, but that it was not a total waste of time.

We tried to visit the Basilica of Saint John, the traditional burial site of the apostle John. Despite a sunny morning during our walk through Ephesus, a serious rain storm rolled in while we were entering the church as we needed to retreat to the van.

It was much warmer in the Ephesus museum, and there is a great deal to see there. The museum houses some of the major finds from Ephesus, including two statures of Artemis, one dating to the first century.  These are on display at the very end of the walk through the museum along with the gigantic head and forearm from a statue of Domitian (or possibly Titus). In addition to these more spectacular displays, the museum has a large display of statutes from Ephesus, all very clearly arranged and labeled. A number of displays were dedicated to items discovered in the Terrace houses. These illustrate the lifestyle of the wealthy in the city. In the courtyard between the two buildings are several important inscriptions, but these lack transcription and translation.