Book Review: Craig Keener, John (ZIBBC 2A)

Keener, Craig. John. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary 2A. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2019. 251 pp. Hb; $29.99.   Link to Zondervan

This new commentary from Craig Keener replaces Andreas Köstenberger’s John commentary in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Ed. Clint Arnold, Zondervan, 2001). Unfortunately Köstenberger work contained “accidental plagiarism,” something Köstenberger himself has recognized. This led to the decision to remove Köstenberger’s commentaries from the Baker Exegetical New Testament Commentary (2004) and the ZIBBC.

The result of this is another Craig Keener commentary on John. His earlier commentary on the fourth Gospel (Hendrickson, 2003; now Baker Academic) was two volumes and 1242 pages of introduction and commentary, plus another 166 pages of bibliography and 225 pages of indices. The ZIBBC is much more concise at a mere 212 pages of introduction and commentary and 39 pages of endnotes and indices. As a result, this new commentary is a useful tool for laypeople and busy pastors who want to read the Gospel of John with added clarity.

Like other volumes of the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary this commentary has only brief notes on the text, more than provided by a major study Bible. At the title of the series implies, the notes focus on cultural, historical, geographical, archeological, and literary backgrounds which may illuminate the text as one reads John’s Gospel.

As an example of a geographical note, Keener locates the pool of Bethesda (John 5:2) at the church of St. Anne’s in Jerusalem. The editors proved a photograph of the Jerusalem Temple model at the Israel Museum, an artistic reconstruction of the five-portico pool and a photograph of the remains of the pools as they appear to visitors today.

Throughout the commentary there are sidebars explaining cultural and theological issues. For example, Keener provides about a page of material on Second Temple Jewish mourning customs as the background for the mourners around the tomb of Lazarus (p. 114-15). He cites the Mishnah, the apocryphal book Judith and the pseudepigraphical book Jubilees. He provides two pages on the historicity of Jesus’s trial (p. 176-77), citing several texts from the Mishnah.

Keener frequently draws parallels to other Second Temple literature. As an example of literary background, on John 1:4 Keener points our Jewish teachers often associated life with wisdom, citing a series of Old Testament texts along with Baruch 4:1, Psalms of Solomon 14:2 and 2 Baruch 38:2. He includes a brief excerpt of each text since most readers will not have easy access to these books.

This short commentary on John provides the reader with sufficient background material for reading John’s Gospel in the context of the Second Temple period world. Advanced readers will find it too brief, but there are enough footnotes to point interested readers to more in-depth resources. Keener’s commentary will serve well as a supplement to personal Bible study or a small group setting.

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

Published on May 16, 2019 on Reading Acts.

Eerdmans Sale on Kindle Books for May 2019

During the month of May, Eerdmans has some great deals on Kindle versions of recent publications

Although I prefer real books to digital (and Logos books to Kindle), these are worth buying at the price. If you do not own a Kindle device, you can get an App on most devices to read Kindle books. I use the iPad Kindle App, it is very convenient for travel (or reading in the dark, which is sometimes a thing).

There are quite a few interesting books on the list this month, but I notice several volumes of the Socio-Rhetorical Commentary series for $4.99 each. As the title for the series implies, these commentaries focus on the social world of the author (Second Temple Judaism and the Greco-Roman world) as well as tracing the rhetorical strategies of the authors. The latter works best in the letters and sometimes can seem tedious, but this careful examination of how Paul (for example) argued his points has the potential to unfold the letters in new and exciting ways.

I have used many volumes in this series and usually found them helpful. Keener and DeSilva are always good,and Witherington always has something to stimulate my thinking. I looked for Witherington’s Acts but it is not available in Kindle format for some reason. It is really the best of the Socio-Rhetorical Commentary series.

In the non-commentary section of the sale, I noticed Richard Bauckham’s The Gospels for All Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audiences ($2.99). This is a collection of essays which argue the four gospels were not written to specific churches (Matthew to Syrian Antioch, for example) but to the whole church.

For archaeology, Fant and Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible: Understanding the Bible through Archaeological Artifacts in World Museums is a mere $1.99. The book discusses key artifacts now housed in museums all over the world. I reviewed this book soon after it came out, it is well worth reading. In the review, I concluded “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.”

For the philosopher/theologian, The Analytic Theist: An Alvin Plantinga Reader is $3.99. The book has thirteen essays and book excerpts in four sections (“Natural Theology and Atheology; Reformed Epistemology; Divine Nature and Attributes; Christian Philosophy). Think of this as Plantinga’s Greatest Hits.

There are quite a few others, so poke around the Eerdmans books on Amazon and see what you can find.

The sale runs through the end of May 2019.

Logos Free Book of the Month for May 2019 – I. Howard Marshall, ICC Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles

The Logos Free book of the Month for May 2019 is I. Howard Marshall, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (T&T Clark, Hb. 1999, Pb. 2013). This is a tremendous gift from Logos since Marshall’s commentary is a major contribution to scholarship on the Pastoral Epistles.The print version of this commentary in the cheaper paperback format is available on Amazon for $65, good luck finding hardback copies (list price $155)! In addition to the price, the major advantage of owning the book in the Logos library is all the Logos tools are available to reader. This goes far beyond simple searching and highlighting.

At over 900 pages, this commentary is one of the most comprehensive exegetical commentaries available. Marshall wrote the commentary in collaboration with Philip Towner, the author of the NICNT commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (Eerdmans 2006) as well as the short commentary in the IVP New Testament Commentary series.

I listed Marshall’s commentary in my “Top Five Commentaries on the Pastoral epistles” a few years ago. I said:

Marshall’s contribution is perhaps the most detailed exegetical commentary on the list, as is to be expected from an ICC volume. Marshall replaced Walter Lock’s 1924 commentary in the series. The book caused a stir when it was released since Marshall (beloved by many evangelicals) rejected Pauline authorship of these letters. The introduction to the commentary develops Marshall’s view of authorship. The body of the commentary contains detailed bibliographies for each section followed by an overview of the text. The format of the commentary is a phrase-by-phrase unpacking of the Greek text, including textual, lexical and syntactical issues. He interacts with a broad range of scholarship, with Marshall includes a number of excellent excurses (on Household Codes, in Titus, for example).

The International Critical Commentary has been one of the top critical commentaries for well over 100 years. Each commentary in the series comments on the Hebrew or Greek text, dealing with textual, syntactical, and lexicial issues. As with most commentary series, this commentary by Marshall replaced the 1924 volume by Walter Lock. Lock’s commentary had 46 pages of introduction and 159 pages dealing with exegetical issues for all three Pastoral Epistles. It is still available through Logos (and is often found used for $10 or so).

In addition to Marshall’s commentary, Logos is offering both volumes of C. K. Barrett’s Acts commentary in the ICC series for $1.99 and $2.99 each. Barrett is always worth reading and this Acts commentary is no exception. The two volumes were published in 1994 and 1998 and offer solid exegetical comments are remarkably readable. With respect to historicity, Barrett said “Where he agrees with other historical sources, his evidence is confirmed; where he disagrees, or where other evidence is lacking, he must at least be taken seriously (2:cxiv).

Logos usually does a related giveaway on their Free Book promo page. This month you can enter to win the The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew edited by David J.A. Clines (8 vols.; Sheffield,1993–2011; $299 value). This is an exceptional lexicon for serious students of the Hebrew Bible. In many ways the lexicon is like HALOT (Brill, 1994-2000) but is far more comprehensive and includes references to the Qumran literature. Enter early and often, Logos will give the Lexicon away to some lucky winner at the end of the month.

Logos recently released a major upgrade to their Bible Software. I did a “first look” review of Logos 8 here. There are plenty of new features to justify an upgrade and the software runs much more efficiently than the previous version. Everything seems to run faster than Logos 7 and the upgrade is well worth considering. Logos base packages are 20% off through May 31. As always, there are less expensive paths to upgrading and there are paths that will preserve your credit rating.

These three and almost free books of the month are only available through the end of May, so head to the Logos site and get them before the offer expires.

En-Gedi, Qumran, and Qasr al Yahud

Hyrax, En GediThe last day our the 2019 Israel tour began at En-Gedi, where David hid from King Saul in a cave (1 Samuel 24). This is one of the more beautiful hikes on the trip since the Israeli Parks service has developed Wadi David as a nature preserve. The mile and a half walk is relatively easy since there are cut stairs and handrails, but there are a few steep flights and one passage through dark tunnel made of river reed. The walk also has several waterfalls and pools, the highlight being the final one at the end of the canyon. We saw a few hyrax with their pups on the hike and a large group of ibex on the way out of the park.

From En-Gedi we drove north to Qumran, the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The archaeology of the site is relatively simple, although the water system collects far more water that the site might need to survive. The reason for this is large number of ritual baths used by the community for purification. Almost everything at Qumran is controversial and the Dead Sea Scrolls have encouraged a wide variety of fringe ideas about the nature of both early Judaism and Christianity. Even the video at the beginning of the tour tacitly suggests a relationship between John the Baptist and the Qumran community. This provided an opportunity to talk about these theories with the students. At the viewpoint overlooking Cave 4 we had a good discussion about the contents of the Scrolls and their value for Biblical studies.

Since we have a long drive to Tel Aviv, we stopped only briefly at Qasr al Yahud, the more likely of the traditional sites for Jesus’s baptism. This site has been open since 2011 and is now on the Israel National Parks card, so it is an easy add-on for for groups using the parks pass (see this Times of Israel story on the re-opeing of the site for tourist groups). Qasr means castle, and Greek Orthodox Monastery of St John the Baptist does indeed look at bit like a castle. Unlike the site at Yardenit in Galilee, this is a far more authentic location since it is in the general area John the Baptist was active (although it is still not certain this is the place). Another clear difference is the lack of commercialism compared to Yardenit. The majority of the crowds queuing to be baptized in the muddy stream of the Jordan were Orthodox, although there appeared to be a handful of protestants. The site on the other side of the Jordan is only a matter of feet from this location in Israel. The Jordanian site is called Al-Maghtas, “immersion” in Arabic. UNESCO listed the Jordanian side as a world heritage site, but not the western side (likely due to the political situation in West Bank).

Qasr al Yahud, Baptism of Jesus

My plan was to return to the Old City in Jerusalem for final shopping, but it was the first Friday of Ramadan and many streets were closed to traffic. We could have walked to Jaffa Gate, but that would have cut down on our time. Our guide suggested driving to Jaffa instead. As it turned out this was a good idea. He walked us through several points of interest in Jaffa, although there is little I can say is authentic. There is a traditional site for the home of Cornelius and a Franciscan church commemorating Peter’s departure from Jaffa to Rome (although that is not in the Bible, if he left for Rome by ship Jaffa is the likely port). After a 45 minute walk, we turned the group loose in the shops and they contributed much to the local economy.

We stayed at the Tal Hotel in Tel Aviv, just a block from the Mediterranean. This was a very nice stay, although it was far too short: our wake up call was for 2:00 AM and we were at the airport by 3:15 AM for a 6:15 departure. Since I am now back in Michigan, I can cay they long day of travel went well despite an hour delay in Vienna for engine maintenance and extremely long lines at immigration in Chicago (easily the worst I have ever experienced there).

Masada, Arad and the Dead Sea

Since we are staying at the En Gedi Hotel, we are not far from the entrance to Masada. In fact, we were one of the first groups to go up on the cable car. I have done Masada at the end of a day when it is very hot, but this morning it was cool and breezy. Masada is a highlight of any Israel tour, although I am surprised some Christian groups day-trip from Jerusalem or skip it altogether. This is unfortunate for both biblical and modern history.

Masada

Masada was king Herod’s monumental fortress on the top of a flat mountain some 1500 feet above the Dead Sea. To get to the top we ride a cable car (which claims to hold 80 people, and they put about 120 in the car I rode up). We spent most of our time on the north end of the mountain, where we had several really good conversations about what “really happened” here and how Josephus knew (or did not know) the speech of Eliazer. Several students walked down the 180 steps to the rooms on the front of the mountain

After walking down the back of Masada and meeting our bus, we drove to Arad. There are two parts to this hike, a lower city excavated to the Canaanite period and an Israelite upper citadel excavated and restored to the eighth or ninth century. I take my group through the Canaanite section first, but many groups skip it entirely in order to get to the “good stuff” more quickly. I want my group to see the differences and similarities between Canaanite culture and Israelite. One example is the Arad House, a reconstructed Canaanite house. At Tamar there is a partially reconstructed Israelite four-room house. The contrast between the two is one of the indicators of when Israelite culture enters The Negev.

But the real highlight of Arad is the Citadel. There is a massive Solomonic gate and a number of smaller rooms, but the main thing to see here is a Israelite high place. It is similar to the Solomon’s temple, but much smaller. There is an altar for sacrifice, a holy place and a Holy of Holies. Inside the Holy of Holies is a Canaanite standing stone, which may indicate the site allowed for both the worship of the Lord and the local Baal. In 2 Kings 18:4 Hezekiah removed all the high places, perhaps shutting down this particular Temple. Josiah will do the same thing in 2 Kings 23.

Since the time was getting late, we skipped Mamshit and drove back to the Dead Sea for the traditional swim in the salt water. We went to the En Gedi Spa this time, which was overly crowded with day trippers since it was the Jewish Independence day. We ate lunch there, but it was busy, expensive and not all that great. The swimming was good, although you have to take a shuttle down to the beach since the Dead Sea has receded so far.

Tomorrow is En-Gedi, Qumran, likely a stop at Jesus’s baptism site near the Dead Sea, then a final few hours in the Old City.

From the Red Sea to En Gedi

Every tour has a necessary travel day, in this case we left Petra about 7:5 and drove to the Arava Border crossing to return to Israel. The drive was uneventful, except for a short bathroom break at a new shop with very clean restrooms.

The passage through the Jordanian was quick and easy (you pay the money they let you through), but the Israeli side involved a lengthy bag inspection, about 75% of our group had to open their bags and the search was quick thorough. Since I tend to buy books as souvenirs I always get tagged for inspections (the xray machines cannot see through two or three thick books). It might be frustrating but I appreciate the extreme care for safety and security, as well as the generally friendly people digging through our filthy clothes to check out water bottles filled with Sea of Galilee water.

The only event on the agenda was a swim in the Red Sea at Coral Beach. This is on the national parks pass so entrance was paid for, but snorkeling gear cost about $10 to rent. Some of the group snorkeled, the rest waded into the water in the one or two open swim areas. Several sat in the shade and read a book (my favors option at the beach). It was a very cool day compared to previous years and there was a pleasant steady breeze.

After a stop at the shop at Yotatava (the one with the cows), we drove straight to the En Gedi hotel. This is a beautiful kibbutz turned hotel, The location is right next to the En Gedi Nature Park and the grounds of the hotel are a wild garden of plants and trees. Dinner was exceptional (finally, stuffed grape leaves!)

Tomorrow we will will visit several desert sites, including at Masada, Arad and Mamshit. Our internet is slow here, so I will add some photographs later.

Visiting Petra 

Today was our big walk through Petra, for many of our students this is a major highlight on the trip. I have been coming to Petra since 2005 and during this time the park has undergone a number of significant changes as tourism has continued to increase. The visitors center now has a large plaza with the number of shops and a small museum. Jeff’s Books and the Indiana Jones store is still there, but the whole entrance is cleaner and well organized, A new addition this year is a very nice museum just outside the entrance. I highly recommend a visit. It takes about an hour; there are several short films on aspects of Nabatean Petra as well a a good mix of artifacts from each period of the site. I would have a room dedicated to the Bedouin who lived in the caves until only a few decades ago, but other than that it is a well-designed museum.

Our guide Mo’Taz led us down the long walk to the treasury building, stopping from time to time to explain various features of the tombs or the water system in the Siq (the famous gorge through which one enters Petra). This is the coolest day I have ever had for a May visit to Petra, barely 80 degrees Fahrenheit most of the day (the morning was even quite chilly in the Siq).

Pwetra Group Picture

There was quite a crowd at the Treasury, which means tourism in Jordan is doing much better. I also noticed there are far fewer little boy is trying to sell things in the past few visits. Occasionally someone will try to sell a postcard set for a dollar but it was less oppressive then previous years. I also noticed several of the shops along the way have closed or perhaps moved. I’m not sure if this has to do with a lack of tourism over the last few years caused by fears of traveling in the least, but it is sad to see some of these shops closed. Nevertheless I did see a familiar older Bedouin selling obviously fake coins. Capitalism wins in the end

After our lunch of sandwiches and fruit (and ice cream, naturally), we split up into several groups. One other smaller group hiked up to the Canaanite cultic center. Although I’ve never been up there I understand it has an excellent view of the entire Petra area. Another group went up to the Monastery. This is another tomb like the Treasury, but it is quite a distance from the main site at Petra and up about 850 steps. (Better left to the young in my thinking.) There were a few really ambitious people on this trip who went to both (and visited the Royal Tombs as well!)

Another group went with me to the temple of Zeus and they walked to the Byzantine church to the Royal Tombs. This is a fairly easy walk up a series of steps, and provides an excellent view of the entire valley. I had not visited the church before, there are some unusual mosaics in the church (I would like to find documentation to identify a few of these). There was a cache of papyri found in this church as well.

By the time we reached the Urn Tomb there were fewer tourists and we were able to spend some time in the cool of the cave looking at the patterns on the walls. The Park service has put a large fence type barrier up inside the main cave so that you can’t walk all the way up to the front anymore. We walked back to the Treasury for final pictures and more water before the long uphill walk back up the seek to the visitor center. I got back to the visitor’s center about 4 PM so I visited the new museum for an hour before meeting the  rest of the group. I did contribute to the local economy by purchasing two books at the museum.

We met at 7 o’clock for dinner most of the students told me they were absolutely exhausted and ready for a good night’s sleep. SO naturally they stayed up late playing games in the hotel lobby for a few hours. that might have had something to do with teh lack of air conditioning in the rooms.

Tomorrow we crossed back into Israel at the Arava crossing near the Red Sea. Will have some time for the students to swim in the Red Sea and do some snorkeling if they want.