Book Review: Grant Osborne, James: Verse by Verse

Osborne, Grant R.  James: Verse by Verse. Osborne New Testament Commentaries; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2019. 204 pp.; Pb.  $19.99  Link to Lexham Press    Link to Logos Version

The latest addition to the series of verse-by-verse commentaries by the late Grant Osborne is the Book of Acts. Lexham Press publishes this series simultaneously in both print and electronic Logos Library editions. Eleven commentaries are now published or announced: Luke, John, Romans, Acts, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon, Philippians, 1-2 Thessalonians and  Revelation.

James is an unusual book in the New Testament. Although it is one of the most popular book for personal and group Bible Studies, it has not always enjoyed this status. For most Christians today the letter is very clear and practical. But as is well known, Luther called the letter an “epistle of straw” since it lacked a clear Christology and seemed to contradict Paul.

For Osborne, James is the earliest letter in the New Testament, dating to the mid-40s. In the twenty-page introduction to the commentary he argues in favor of the common tradition that James the brother of Jesus wrote the letter. Although James is an example of early Jewish Christianity, James is not a Judaizer nor is there any conflict with Paul’s gospel as presented in Galatians and Romans. By dating the letter so early, Osborne is able to argue James wrote before the Pauline mission to the Gentiles began. It is therefore impossible for him to be addressing a perversion of the Pauline Gospel.

Osborne takes the address of the letter literally, the twelve tribes in diaspora refers to Jewish Christian who are facing oppression from “ungodly land owners.” Some commentaries on James suggest the oppressors are (early) zealots in Galilee, but Osborne does not detect any hint of the rebellion against Rome in the book. He suggests James sent the letter to Jewish Christian synagogues in Syrian Antioch or Asia Minor.

With respect to genre, the book is similar to both wisdom literature and a homily (paraenesis, like a synagogue sermon). He does not spend much time on genre and ultimately does not settle on one form for the book. Writes such as Martin Dibelius argue the book was a loose collection of isolated ethical meditations, others have developed an outline which reflects several topics (suffering, poverty and wealth, speech). These themes are introduced in James 1:2-11 and cycle through the book. Osborne sees the book structured like Matthew, in a series of triads (10). In his short summary of the theology of the letter, Osborne comments on God as the central theme, but also trials, eschatology (future judgment), wealth and poverty, wisdom and practical Christianity, speech and Law and Grace.

This last point is one of the main issues commentators on James must address. Does James’s statement “faith without works is dead” assume Paul’s gospel of salvation apart from the works of the Law? In his comments on James 2:1-17 Osborne dismisses the possibility James is responding to Paul (or as he says, some perversion of Paul’s gospel) primarily on the basis of his argument the letter was written in the mid-40s, before Paul’s mission to the Gentiles began. This assumes Paul did not preach a law-free gospel before Acts 13-14 (the first time Luke describes his gentile mission). However, it is entirely possible Paul did preach to gentiles prior to the late 40s, and it is likely he gentiles the same thing he would later teach the gentiles in Galatia. In addition, James’s words are so close to the later Pauline formulation it is hard to imagine he does not have a Pauline theology in mind. Although I agree with Osborne, the letter of James written before the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, it is more likely he has some report of Paul’s law-free Gospel in mind in James 2:14-17. Like most evangelicals who offer a solution to this problem, Osborne suggests James and Paul are looking at two sides of justification: Paul addresses regeneration and James addresses “the Christian life and professing faith” (84).

Although the letter has little Christology, Osborne points out many examples of the use of a Jesus tradition. For example, commenting on James 1:12, Osborne alludes to the beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12. Commenting on promised rewards in 1:12, he alludes to the Sermon on the Mount, especially the “meek shall inherit the earth” (39). The teaching of Jesus is assumed in the letter, even if it is not directly cited as the teaching of Jesus. He frequently draws parallels to the teaching of Jesus in the body of the commentary although there is no discussion of what James’s sources were.

Like other commentaries in this series, Osborne’s exposition is based on the English text with rare comments on specific Greek words when necessary. As the title suggests, he comments on each verse by offering light explanations of the text. He does not interact with other commentaries and scholarly literature, although he is clearly informed by them. This make for a distraction-free the commentary which is enjoyable to read.

Conclusion. As Osborne suggests, “if you can’t preach James, you can’t preach” (20). The same is true for writing a Bible-study oriented commentary on James. This Verse-by-Verse Commentary will serve pastors and teachers as they prepare sermons on the text of the Bible, but will also be a guide for laypeople as they read through James.

 

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

Book Review: Heath A. Thomas, Habakkuk (Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary)

Thomas, Heath A. Habakkuk. Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 243 pp. Pb; $25.   Link to Eerdmans

Following the methodology expressed in his Manifesto for Theological Interpretation (written with Craig Bartholomew, Baker 2016), Thomas attempts to use academically rigorous exegetical, historical, sociological and literary dimensions of the text in order to draw out theological implications for contemporary readers. In other words, this is “biblical criticism recalibrated within the larger aim of hearing God’s address through the prophetic book” (4). Later in the introduction to the commentary, Thomas calls this a dialectic between systematic and biblical theology which he considers a “hard-won ‘thick’ analysis of a biblical text” (34).

Heath Thomas, Habakkuk CommentaryIn his 55 page introduction Thomas observes the obscure prophetic of Habakkuk is sometimes dismissed as too “hellfire and brimstone.” Rather than a “ragbag collection of unintelligible material,” Thomas suggests the book is theologically rich and “extraordinarily pertinent” to contemporary church life and culture (3).

Thomas reviews the “drama of Scripture” in order to introduce the historical context of the prophet. The commentary assumes the context claimed by the book: Habakkuk is living in the final years of the kingdom of Judah, specifically during the reign of Jehoiakim just prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE (26). Thomas considers an earlier context in the reign of Manasseh or just after the death of Josiah. That the book mentions the Chaldeans and the imminent threat of exile favors a date around 587 BCE. He therefore understands the wicked and righteous in Habakkuk 1:2-4 are wicked Judeans oppressing the righteous.

Theologically, Thomas says, this context “pits the faithful prophet against his own people and culture” (27). A major theological point made by Habakkuk is that wicked nations will be swallowed up in their wickedness and “Yahweh will but them to rights. This is true…whether that nation is Judah, Babylon, or the United States” (30). Thomas revisits this interest in applying the words of the sixth century BCE prophet living through the final years of the kingdom of Judah to contemporary experience throughout the commentary. These asides are usually vague, allowing the reader to draw out the implications for their own time and cultural context. Habakkuk’s critique of evil in the leadership of Judah or Babylon is universal and speaks to every political climate in history.

The introduction concludes with a section on Habakkuk and the church. Here Thomas offers short surveys of the use of Habakkuk in the apostolic era (Romans and Galatians), patristic, Medieval, Reformation and modern periods, concluding with “Habakkuk today.” This final section includes one or two international commentaries, but this section could have been more robust. Although this would not fit into the Christian theology of the Two Horizons commentary series, the reception of Habakkuk in Judaism would have been a helpful addition especially given the interest in Habakkuk at Qumran.

The body of the commentary devotes one chapter to each of Habakkuk’s three chapters, Thomas sub-divides the material into several paragraphs in order to treat individual issues in the text. He comments on the Hebrew text and all Hebrew appears in transliteration. For the most part he only lightly touches on lexical and syntactical issues, although occasionally he draws on cognate languages for obscure vocabulary (Ugaritic, for example).

Two excurses appear in the body of the commentary, one on power of silence and the second on the power of memory. I comment only on the first excursus. Drawing on Habakkuk 2:20, “be silent, all the earth, before him,” Thomas offers a short reflection on “The Power of Silence (135-38). He suggests Habakkuk 2:20 is a “call for his people to recognize God’s power to vindicate the righteous and judge the wicked” (136). He moves quickly from this observation to the importance of contemplation as a spiritual discipline, “contemplation centers the church within God’s life so that she might live authentically as the body of Christ, rather than be conformed to the idolatrous patterns of this present word” (137). This is quite true and there is much to be said for the practice of silence as a spiritual discipline, especially in the context of suffering and injustice. However, in the context of Habakkuk 2:20, the climax of God’s judgment on the nations, perhaps this silence is “An overt eschatological hope is formulated whereby “the wicked are silenced in darkness” because “the LORD will judge the ends of the earth” (1 Sam. 2:9–10)” (G. K. Beale, Revelation [NIGTC; Eerdmans, 1999], 446). Rather than “be still and know I am God,” this text seems to say, “stand in silence before the Lord who judges from his holy temple.” Thomas’s interest in drawing theological implications from Habakkuk may go beyond the meaning of the text.

The final third of the book collects three essays on the theological horizons of Habakkuk. The first is somewhat typical of a biblical theology in that Thomas sets out the main theological themes of the book of Habakkuk: the destructive power of sin, waiting on the Lord, righteous suffering and God, Israel and the Nations. This unit also includes the New Testament use of Habakkuk, including a short interaction with Richard Hays’s view that Paul has an apocalyptic reading of Habakkuk 2:4b which makes the “righteous one” a messianic title. Thomas disagrees, arguing (briefly) Habakkuk 2:4b is not a prediction of a messiah but rather a pointer to the incarnation of God’s faithfulness in this present age. For Thomas, Habakkuk focuses on “faith in the faithfulness of God” (164). By this phrase he wants to draw attention to God’s faithfulness as the one who both judges the wicked and vindicates the righteous. With this emphasis “Habakkuk presses toward and eschatological hope” (168).

The second theological essay, “Centering Shalom: Habakkuk and Prayer” is in large part re-telling of the “drama of scripture common to the theological interpretation of Scripture. The bulk of the chapter describes shalom as the orderliness of creation, then shows how sin has destroyed the shalom of the original created order. Habakkuk’s laments are desperate cries to a Holy God in a world full of injustice because sin remains powerful. Yet “Habakkuk’s prayers do not shake an angry fist at God in the fashion of a petulant teenager moaning about the injustice of having to carry out the rubbish to the bin at the parent’s request. As Christian Polke rightly says, ‘To lament is not to whine’” (188).

In his third essay “Dead Ends and Doorways: Habakkuk and Spiritual Formation” Thomas addresses two common issues which prevent people from spiritual formation or even coming to faith in the first place. For many, the violence of God on display in a book like Habakkuk leaves no room for faith, and the silence of God in the face of great suffering in this world is the biggest stumbling-block to faith. Thomas argues that the book of Habakkuk addresses both of these issues by leading the reader to an overlooked form of worship, the lament. Although common in the Old Testament, lament is rarely practiced in the modern church. Thomas believes if the church slowed down and worshiped God through the form of lament it would avoid both “blissful naiveté” and “sterile ambivalence” (209).  By following Habakkuk’s lead in lament as worship, the church will see suffering through the cross and be open to a divine response.

Thomas’s Two Horizons commentary on Habakkuk is a model for the method of theological interpretation of Scripture. He does serious exegesis and pays attention to the historical and cultural context of this obscure prophet and is able to draw out implications for how the lives and breathes in contemporary culture.

 

 

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

 

Book Review: James Edwards, Between the Swastika and the Sickle: The Life, Disappearance, and Execution of Ernst Lohmeyer

Edwards, James R. Between the Swastika and the Sickle: The Life, Disappearance, and Execution of Ernst Lohmeyer. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2019. 341 pp. Hb; $30.   Link to Eerdmans

James Edwards is a New Testament scholar with major commentaries on the Gospels of Mark (2001) and Luke (2015) in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series and Romans in the New International Biblical Commentary (1992). Between the Swastika and the Sickle recounts Edwards’s fascination with a “baffling reference” in the introduction to Lohmeyer’s German commentary on Mark in the Meyer Commentary (first published in 1936). Edwards read the 1967 edition which included a fifty page Ergänzungsheft (a short supplement updating the original commentary) written by Gerhard Sass in 1950. Sass enigmatically says Lohmeyer was not able to update the commentary himself because “a higher power carried him off to a still-unresolved fate” (p. 8). Edwards could find nothing on this “unresolved fate” but remained fascinated with the mystery after he completed his PhD and began his first teaching assignment in North Dakota. In the late 1970s he became active in a ministry which supported believers in East Germany and found himself in Greifswald where he learned Lohmeyer was executed by the communists as an enemy of the state. Over the next twenty years Edwards continued to research Lohmeyer’s life, resulting in a 1996 article on Lohmeyer in the journal Evangelische Theologie and this new book, Between the Swastika and the Sickle.

Who was Ernst Lohmeyer? Lohmeyer (1890-1946) was a prominent German New Testament scholar who resisted the Nazis before World War II. Edward’s description of Lohmeyer’s academic output before and during World War I is impressive. Unfortunately, very little of Lohmeyer’s work has been translated into English. Had his life not been cut short, his scholarly reputation may have risen to the level of other German scholars such as Rudolf Bultmann.

Edwards traces Lohmeyer’s life as a scholar and pastor, focusing especially on his years at the University of Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland). Edwards does include many of the details one expects in a biography, but he is more interested in Lohmeyer’s intellectual development. He briefly summarizes Lohmeyer’s many publications and tracks his relationship with other intellectual movements in Germany between the wars.

Lohmeyer’s opposition to Nazism and anti-Semitism is the important element of the book. While at Breslau Lohmeyer publically clashed with both university administration and students over the treatment of Jewish professors and the developing Ungeist (antispirit) of National Socialism. Lohmeyer wrote to Martin Buber in 1933 that “the Christian faith is only Christian as long as it retains in its heart the Jewish faith”

In 1933 Gustav Walz, a “staunch National Socialist” according to Edwards, was appointed president of the university. After several clashes with the administration, Walz wrote to the minister of science, art and public education demanding the unconditional dismissal of Lohmeyer. The student body also demanded his immediate termination. As a result of his anti-Nazi activity, Lohmeyer lost his professorship at Breslau and was transferred to University of Greifswald. Although far less prestigious, than Breslau Lohmeyer continued to opposed Nazism while producing solid academic work.

During World War II Lohmeyer served in the Wehrmacht as an officer on the German East front 1939 to 1943. As Edwards narrates this period of his life, Lohmeyer was put into an impossible situation. He was German officer on the Eastern front, but also a Christian opposed to the war and the government which waged the war. He had to balance being a commander and helping those who were deeply affected by the ravages of war. By Edwards accounting, Lohmeyer was not guilty of any war crimes even if he was haunted by his participation in the war.

After the war Lohmeyer was selected as president of University of Greifswald now in the communist German Democratic Republic. He worked tirelessly to re-open the university after the war and thought he was relatively safe since he supported the city of Greifswald’s capitulation to the Russians at the end of the war. To his great shock, he was arrested on the eve of the re-opening of the university and executed on September 19, 1946 after several months in Soviet custody. Although his death was not confirmed by the Soviets until 1957 and his case was not rehabilitated by the Russian government until 1996.

Edwards’s account of the mystery of Lohmeyer’s death in a compelling and engaging fashion. He includes several personal stories and reflections on his own journey tracking down the truth about Lohmeyer. Lohmeyer’s stand against Nazism and anti-Semitism is an important challenge in the present climate of Western Christianity. Christian theologians and biblical scholars must stand up against anti-biblical trends in the culture even though it costs them prestige. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the struggle of faithful Christians against National socialism and the anti-Semitism of the Nazis. Sadly, this book is still relevant in the early twenty-first century.

Book Review: Eckhard J. Schnabel, Jesus in Jerusalem: The Last Days

Schnabel, Eckhard J. Jesus in Jerusalem: The Last Days. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 680 pp. Hb; $60.   Link to Eerdmans

Eckhard Schnabel contributed a commentary on Acts in the Zondervan Exegetical New Testament Commentary (2011), Mark in the Tyndale Series (IVP Academic, 2017) and Romans in the Historical Theological Interpretation series (in German; Wuppertal: SCM & R. Brockhaus). With David W. Chapman, Schnabel published The Trial and Crucifixion of Jesus: Texts and Commentary (WUNT/2 344; Tubingen: Mohr Mohr Siebeck, 2015; Hendrickson, 2019 forthcoming). Jesus in Jerusalem: The Last Days is similar to his Early Christian Mission (2 vol., IVP Academic 2004) in that Schnabel collects detailed notes on the people and places mentioned in the four Passion narratives. Essentially, Schnabel is interested in identifying who did what, where they did it and when it happened.

In the introduction to the book Schnabel argues this simple outline is an essential approach to help readers understand texts like the Passion Narratives. He rejects form criticism and more recent historical Jesus methods which employ the criteria of authenticity. Further, he wants to avoid the postmodern view that all history is subjective. He observes the fact very few practicing historians are impressed by philosophical objections to the possibility of truth in history (p. 4).

More positively, he reads the Gospels as similar to the Greek bios. The Gospels are expressions of faith, but they also provide examples from Jesus’s life and teaching which preserve the memory of Jesus. Here Schnabel builds on the work of Richard Bauckham and others who have focused on the significance of eyewitnesses for the transmission and preservation of the words and deeds of Jesus. To a large extent, many of the persons surveyed in chapter two of this book were eye-witnesses to the events of Jesus’s last week, and the earliest traditions concerning the authorship of the Gospels claimed Matthew and John were eyewitnesses. Schnabel believes this method of reading the “canonical Gospels as historical biographies of the life of Jesus that are based on the testimony of eyewitnesses and treating them as good historical sources is neither gullible nor uncritical” (p. 7).

Remarkably, Schnabel uses data from all four Gospels. For some this might not be a surprise, but in New Testament studies John’s Gospel is often dismissed as lacking historical details. For Schnabel, John’s chronological details are important (“six days before the Passover” in John 12:1, for example, p. 153). He includes John’s unique contributions to the Passion Narrative such as Jesus washing the disciple’s feet (John 13) and the farewell discourse (John 15:1-17:26).

Since he includes data from all four Gospels, the book can be read as a “harmony of the gospels.” An unfortunate result of this method is the flattening of the four gospels into one story so that the individual theological emphases of the writers are lost. But since this is a historical study of the last week of Jesus’s life not a biblical theology of any one of the Gospel writers, this observation is does not detract from the value of Schnabel’s work.

The first three chapters of the book can be read like a Bible Dictionary since they identify the people and places associated with Jesus’s final week in Jerusalem. The first chapter briefly identifies seventy-two people one encounters when reading the four versions of the passion stories in the Gospels. Some are named individuals like Annas, Caiaphas, Barabbas or Simon of Cyrene. Others sections treat groups of people, Pharisees, Sadducees, or experts in the Law. A few are rather generic, such as the gentiles, pilgrims, crowds, or the blind and lame. Schnabel includes brief units on the “rich people” in contrast to the widow who donates two coins (Mark 12:41). There are even brief paragraphs on obscure persons like the man with the water jar (Mark 14:13) or the soldier with the sponge (Mark 15:36).

Chapter two describes seventeen places, including larger areas such as the city Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives. Schnabel usually includes some discussion of the modern identification of locations such as Gethsemane, Golgotha and Jesus’s tomb. There are units on the residences of Annas, Caiaphas, and Herod and the location of the Sanhedrin building. These are important for reconstructing the trials of Jesus and his movements after his arrest. Throughout this section Schnabel uses detailed historical data to describe the locations mentioned in the Passion narrative.

In his brief third chapter Schnabel lays out his timeline for the events of Jesus’s final week in Jerusalem. He dates the crucifixion to A.D. 30 (Nisan 14, April 7-8) rather that A.D. 33 (Nisan April 3). He then offers a short description of what happened on each day, concluding with Sunday, Nisan 16 (April 9-10). He includes suggested hours of the day as well.

Chapter four traces the events of Jesus’s final days in Jerusalem from the anointing at Bethany to his resurrection appearances to the disciples. This is by far the longest chapter of the book, covering twenty-four topics in 223 pages. Since the topics are arranged chronologically, this chapter can be read sequentially as a commentary on the events of the Passion Week. Since the burden of the book is historical research rather than exegesis, there is little textual work in this chapter other than identifying Greek words. Schnabel sets important events like the Temple action into an Old Testament context. He states the symbolic action on the Temple Mount “was not anti-temple or anti-sacrifice. It was an action intended to announce the beginning of the messianic era” (p. 164).

He often refers to Second Temple literature in order to illustrate the events. When discussing the trial of Jesus he compares the accusations against Jesus as a mesit and maddiakah (a “seducer”) by comparing Deut 13:5-11 and the Temple Scroll (11Q Temple LIV, 8-LV, 10). When discussing the possibility the messiah was described as “Son of God” Schnabel cites 1Q28, 4Q174, and 4Q246 at length (p. 257-58). He interacts with Greco-Roman literature when necessary, such as Seneca’s description of crucifixion (Ep. 101.14, p. 315).

The final chapter of the book is a short theological essay on the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Schnabel concludes that Jesus exercised messianic, royal authority in his final week, a fact recognized by Pilate when he ordered “King of the Jews” to be written as the charge against Jesus (p. 377).  With respect to the theological meaning of Jesus’s death, Schnabel begins by reflecting on the suffering of God on the cross and concludes the deal was a sacrificial death “for sinners,” a substitutionary death which turned away the wrath of God (Romans 3:24-25; 5:1-2; 8:1). Using the sermons in the book of Acts, Schnabel argues in the earliest Christian preaching the resurrection did not supersede Jesus’s crucifixion (p. 390). Finally, Schnabel reflects on Jesus’s mission and the mission of his followers. Similar to his Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods (IVP Academic, 2008), Schnabel points to Luke’s commission of the disciples to go out from Jerusalem as witnesses “to the end of the world” (Acts 1:8). Similarly, Matthew concludes his gospel with a command to go, “making disciples” (Matt 28:18-20).

In addition, Schnabel includes thirteen excurses on details of the Passion Week which do not fit his people places and events scheme. For example, he has short notes on the Cursing of the Fig Tree and Peter’s Denials of Jesus. Some discuss historical details, such as Historicity of Annas’s Interrogation of Jesus or the Hour of Jesus’ crucifixion. Several of these sections concern the Greco-Roman context of the Passion Narrative, such as Crimes against the Emperor, The Passover Pardon and Roman Legal Precedent, Carrying the Crossbeam in Greco-Roman Sources, and Jesus’ Shout in Greco-Roman Perspective. He has a brief note on the ending of Mark, although it explains the shorter ending rather than a discussion of how the longer ending developed nor is there anything on the textual history of the longer ending.

The book includes occasional photographs, diagrams, and tables. Schnabel provides extensive endnotes (179 pages). For example, in chapter one there are 652 endnotes for only 90 pages. Although I prefer footnotes, endnotes make this book easy to consult on some detail of the Passion Narrative, further details are found in the notes. The book also includes a detailed bibliography (49 pages) and indices of authors, subjects, Scripture and other ancient writings references (51 pages). This means the body of the book is only 399 pages.

Conclusion. Schnabel’s Jesus in Jerusalem is a major contribution to the study of the final chapters of the four Gospels. The detail provide is staggering, yet the layout of the book is uncomplicated and comfortable for the non-expert.

 

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

Book Review: Jonathan G. Kline, A Proverb a Day in Biblical Hebrew

Kline, Jonathan G. A Proverb a Day in Biblical Hebrew. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2019. 392 pp.; Pb; $29.95.  Link to Hendrickson

Kline has already compiled Keep Up Your Biblical Hebrew in Two Minutes A Day and Keep Up Your Biblical Aramaic in Two Minutes A Day. This new volume provides one proverb a day with glosses and reading helps from Proverbs 10:1-22:16.

As Kline says in his introduction, proverbs are best internalized by “savoring them slowly in small quantities.” This is because proverbs are often difficult to understand. They are cryptic and ambiguous, and they are especially difficult to translate. His goal in this volume is to help students, clergy, teachers, and scholars who have not yet read much of the book of Proverbs in Hebrew begin to explore how these sayings work in Hebrew” (xiii). This is not a commentary and Kline does not provide any guidance for translating beyond lexical and syntactic glosses, not does he attempt any explanation of the cultural and historical background to obscure elements.

To produce this reader, Kline sorted 365 proverbs from Proverbs 10:1-22:16. The section was chosen since it is labeled the Proverbs of Solomon and it has 375 proverbs. Kline omits ten which are very similar. For example, he omits 11:4 since it is similar to 10:2; 15:22 since it is similar to 11:14. Another advantage to this section of the book of Proverbs is each proverb is formatted into two parallel lines. In Hebrew, the lines are usually three to five words long.

In some ways this is a graded reader. Kline selected proverbs with more common vocabulary for the earlier in the book, less frequent vocabulary towards the end. But there is no attempt to sort the proverbs by morphology and syntax. Although most of the vocabulary on day three is common for Proverbs, the noun עָרוּם is only found twice outside of Proverbs 12 and 14, nine times in the entire Hebrew Bible. A student also needs to know what to do with a hiphel infinitive construct. For most students with a semester or two of Hebrew, this book provides enough to read with clarity.

Each page contains a single Hebrew proverb divided into two lines. Each word is glossed and identified morphologically if necessary. In the example to the left, Proverbs 15:31 is divided into two lines, the first line has three units and the second line only two. The first word אֹזֶן is a very common word (ear, 155x) and does not need a gloss since this is the lexical form. The verb שֹׁ֖מַעַת is identified as a Qal participle feminine singular from שׁמע. Kline glosses this common verb as a participle, (one) that hears/listens/heeds. The final two words of the line are glossed together, תּוֹכַ֣חַת חַיִּ֑ים reproof / rebuke of life. Although literally this is “rebuke of life” it is an idiom for reproof. In the second line of the proverb, בְּקֶ֖רֶב חֲכָמִ֣ים is taken as a unit, קֶרֶב plus the inseparable preposition as the sense of “in” or “in the midst of” and חֲכָמִ֣ים is the masculine plural form of the common noun חָכָם. The verb תָּלִֽין is the Qal imperfect 3fs form of לין, to lodge/stay/spend the night.

Put this together, Kline translates Proverbs 15:31 “an ear listens to a life-giving rebuke, it makes its home among the comprehending.” This English translation is not at the bottom of the page. To keep students from using the English as a crutch he puts his translation at the bottom of the third page to avoid “accidental” peaking. As is clear from the previous paragraph, his translations are more periphrastic than expected. As he explains in the introduction, he is “drawing deeply from the rich reservoir of English vocabulary” to produce a translation which is “fresh, memorable, and—by dint of their novelty—defamiliarizing, thought provoking, and even fun” (xx).  This is an important feature since Kline wants the reader to stop and ponder the two simple lines of Hebrew, to chew on them for a few moments and meditate on what they mean in a variety of contexts and circumstances.

The book includes an alphabetical index and a frequency index. The latter would enable a student to memorize common vocabulary in Proverbs. For example, there are only the fourteen words occurring 25 times or more in the book (even a beginning Hebrew student will know most of them). The book is bound as in green cloth over boards with an attractive green pattern on the front and back. What is lacking is a string bookmark typical of a Bible.

This book certainly achieves the goal of providing a student with the necessary information to read a proverb a day and it will facilitate meditation on these important verses in Proverbs.

 

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

 

Book Review: Craig A. Evans, and David Mishkin, eds. A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith

Evans, Craig A. and David Mishkin, eds. A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2019. 354 pp.; Pb; $24.95.  Link to Hendrickson

This book attempts to be “a comprehensive yet concise primer on the Jewish roots of the Christian faith.” The book therefore contains a series of short articles on aspects of Judaism written from the perspective of Jewish Christianity. Co-editor David Mishkin is a faculty member of Israel College of the Bible in Netanya, Israel and contributor Erez Soref serves as president of ICB. Many contributors to this collection are also associated with ICB, but there are several sections written by New Testament scholars who have done significant work on their assigned topic. In addition to Craig Evans as an editor and contributor of two articles, there are three essays from Andreas Köstenberger, two each from George Guthrie, Scot McKnight, Brian Rosner, and Jason Matson and a section on early devotion to Jesus by Larry Hurtado.

The book has thirteen chapters divided between four sections; each chapter has three to five subsections written by various contributors. Since this is a handbook, the subsections are brief and can be read individually. The book uses in-text citations and each section concludes with a Works Cited. These references can be used for further study of the individual topics.

The titles for the four sections use a metaphor of an olive tree, beginning with the Soil (exploring the Jewish ground from which the Christian faith developed), the Roots (tracing the Jewish world, life and teaching of Jesus), the Trunk (developing the Jewishness of the disciples of Jesus and the apostle Paul) and finally the Branches (the parting of the ways between Judaism and Christianity).

In the first part of the book surveys the Jewish soil from which Christianity developed. The first chapter examines God’s plan for Israel by tracing various covenants in the Hebrew Bible. After an introductory chapter on the kingdom and covenants, there are short descriptions of the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and New Covenants. Seth Postell discusses the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 15 and 17, concluding “the Abrahamic covenant provides God’s unconditional commitment to restore the blessing through the provision of the seed and the land” (16).

Chapter 2 reviews God’s plan for the nations in the Torah, Prophets and Writings. The essays in this chapter recognize the nations as Israel’s enemy and enticer, but also the salvation of the nations “in the last days.” Like the second chapter, chapter three reviews messianic prophecies in the Torah, Prophets and Writings. The section on the Torah focuses on the “prophet like Moses.” Brian Kinzel’s section on messianic psalms is an excellent overview, including both Jewish and Christian interpretations of these Psalms. Craig Evans contributes a frustratingly brief section on the New Testament use of the Old. After about a page on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Evans divides the section into Matthew and John (“the two most Jewish gospels”), Mark and Luke, and Paul and Hebrews. Evans has a second contribution on the Jews and Judaism in the Gospel if John in chapter 9. It is impossible to do justice to Paul’s use of the Old Testament in a half page. Although the handbook has a chapter on Paul, there is nothing more directly on his use of the Old Testament. Likewise, the complex exegesis of the book of Hebrews needs further explanation. Fortunately chapter 9 has a good section on Hebrews by George Guthrie.

The fourth and fifth chapters deal with a few details of Second Temple Judaism. Chapter four surveys the “appointed times” (Sabbath, Passover, Shavuot, Purim and Hanukkah). For each special day, the authors provide a synopsis of the day in the Hebrew Bible, some discussion of the special days in the New Testament, and a short note on the practice today. Chapter 5 is entitled Tabernacle and Temple, although the chapter comprises two sections on the atonement and salvation in the Old Testament. A third section by George Guthrie concerns Jesus and the tabernacle/temple. He connects Second Temple period expectations of an eschatological Temple with Jesus’s apocalyptic prophecies and the “cleansing” of the Temple. Further, he draws attention to Paul’s teaching of the church as a temple of God (Eph 2:19-22) and Jesus’s replacement of the Temple in the Gospel of John. This section could have including the superiority of Jesus to the tabernacle in Hebrews and the apocalyptic replacement of the Temple in Revelation.

The second section of the book is focused on the life and teaching of Jesus as a representative of the Jewish world. Chapter 6 covers the archaeology, literature, social groups and institutions of Second Temple Judaism, including a section on Jewish messianic expectations prior to the time of Jesus. Sheila Gyllenberg contributes an excellent article on the archaeology of Jesus, briefly summarizing place names and material remains which bear on Jesus research. She contributes a second section in the chapter on the Jewish literature of the period, Jim Sibley surveys Second Temple social groups and Andreas Stutz has sections on Jewish institutions (synagogue, temple, etc) and Messianic expectations in the Second Temple period. After a short comment on general messianic expectations, he divides the expectations into three sections, Hellenistic Judaism, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Rabbinic Judaism.

Chapter 7 examines the “Jewish life and identity of Jesus” beginning with Craig Evans’s overview of the ministry of Jesus, Andreas Stutz gives a short piece on the Son of man in Daniel 7.  Stutz points out Daniel 7:13-14 was “unequivocally related to the messiah” and that Jesus applied the title Son of Man to “exclusively and unambiguously to his return (see Matt 24:30; 26:64, Luke 21:26-27)” (158). Andreas Köstenberger contributes two sections to this chapter, one on the I Am statements in John and another on the trials and crucifixion. Finally in this section, Larry Hurtado gives a brief summary of his view on early Christian devotion to Jesus. For Hurtado, although Jesus was revered during his ministry, devotion to Jesus as God “seems to have been a major escalation in which the risen Jesus was given the kinds of reverence that are otherwise restricted to God” (175).

After a short section by Köstenberger on Jesus as a rabbi, chapter 8 discusses two examples of Jesus’ teaching, the Lord’s Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount (both sections by Scot McKnight). McKnight points out Jesus was not a moral philosopher in the Greek (or modern) traditions, but a Jew, and Jewish ethics derive ultimately from God. Jesus’s teaching is therefore based on the law, prophets and wisdom (189). Russell Morton has a short section on one of Jesus’s most Jewish forms of teaching, the parables.

The third section of the book (“the trunk”) is devoted to the development of Christianity first by the Jewish disciples of Jesus (ch. 9) and then by Paul (ch. 10). The goal of both these chapters is to highlight the Jewishness of the earliest followers of Jesus. As Jim Sibley points out, the early church “did not need to conduct a careful search for its Jewish roots. It was entirely Jewish!” (206). For many Christians, Paul is an example of a Gentile Christianity which rejected the Law. But as Brian Rosner says in his section on Paul in modern scholarship, Paul was a Jew “who believed Jesus of Nazareth, Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, had called him to the servant, prophetic, and priestly task of heralding the gospel to the nations” (235). Although Paul is clear the Gentile followers of Jesus are not “under the Law,” he often has a positive view of the Law (242). Chapter 11 is devoted resurrection as key to the Jewish message of Christianity. Resurrection was anticipated in the Old Testament, developed in the Second Temple period and was the central to Paul’s theology.

The final section of the book concern the parting of the ways in early Judaism (David Mishkin), early Christianity (Jason Matson), and the Middle Ages (Ray Pritz). Although neither Mishkin nor Matson point to a specific event which forced Judaism and Christianity to develop in separate directions, Christianity’s developing Christology and devotion to Jesus as God forced Jews to consider Christians as blasphemous (286, following Larry Hurtado and Michael Bird).

The final chapter of the book offers some suggestions for the “mending of the ways.” Erez Soref traces the roots of the Messianic movement in modern Israel. This movement includes both Jews and Arabs (302), an alliance which is not without its problems. Messianic Jews and evangelical Arabs often view one another with suspicion, but hope to have a “weighty missiological effect on a war-torn land” (306).

Conclusion. A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith is just that, a handbook. As such, the articles are tantalizingly brief, but the authors provide sufficient bibliographical material to point interested readers in the right direction. Since many of the writers are associated with Israel College of the Bible or other Messianic Jewish organizations, some readers will find the perspective of the book too narrow. Given the purpose of the book to draw attention to the Jewish roots of Christianity, this should not be a reason to avoid the book. For readers interested in exploring the Jewish Christianity from the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, this Handbook will be a valuable guide.

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

Book Review: John Goldingay, Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour

Goldingay, John. Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2019. 278 pp. Pb; $28.00.   Link to IVP Academic

Goldingay describes this book as a spin-off from his popular commentary series The Old Testament for Everyone (SPCK and WJKP). Like N. T. Wright’s New Testament for Everyone these short commentaries targeted the average Bible reader looking for some guidance in personal Bible study. Old Testament Ethics has a similar goal. The book contains forty-three short reflections divided into five parts. Each chapter is a brief self-contained reflection on some aspect of Old Testament Ethics. Each contains key texts using Goldingay’s own First Testament translation (IVP Academic, 2018) and concludes with a few questions for reflection and discussion. The book is written a familiar style and lacks the sort of scholarly trappings which would make the book difficult for the non-specialist. This format makes the book ideal for personal devotional reading or in a small group Bible study setting.

The first section collects eight character traits a person needs to lead an ethical life. These include Godlikeness, compassion honor, anger trust, truthfulness, forthrightness and contentment. In the second section of the book, he examines nine aspects of life (mind and heart, wealth, violence, shalom, justice, reparation, Sabbath, animals, and work). The third part of the book deals with relationships with friends, neighbors, women, husband and wives, etc. In the fourth section of the book Goldingay comments on a series of texts: Genesis 1 and 2, Leviticus 25, Deuteronomy 15 and 20, Ruth, Psalm 72 and the Song of Songs. Like part four, the fifth section of the book reflects on a series people in the Old Testament. Some are well known (Abraham, David, Nehemiah) others are obscure (the women in Moses’s life, Shiphrah and Puah, Yokebed and Miryam).

Since each chapter contains a large amount of Scripture, it might be fair to describe this book as a sort of topical Bible. For example, the chapter on truthfulness is about five pages with about three pages of texts drawn from Proverbs. The chapter “Good Husbands, Good Wives” is similar, reprinting all of Proverbs 5:15-20, 6:28-35 and 31:10-31. This immersion on the Scripture is an important part of Goldingay’s goals for the book, even if some readers would prefer more expert commentary from him as the author.

A book on Old Testament ethics needs to deal with a few difficult problems. For example, the Old Testament is sometimes vilified for its view on women. Dealing with the unusual procedure for determining an accused adulterous woman’s guilt in Numbers 5, Goldingay observes “it’s not very egalitarian,” but there are aspects of the Torah which handle men and women in similar ways (126). He deals the troubling issue of the Canaanite genocide in a postscript. He admits “To exaggerate somewhat, the Canaanites got annihilated; and to exaggerate somewhat, the Israelites got annihilated too” (271).

There are a few topics which will be controversial. In chapter 22, “Who You Can’t Have Sex With,” Goldingay deals with rules for marriage and observes many of these commands have little to do with genetics, but with what causes disorder, scandal and disruption of the family (137). In addition, he says some of the prohibitions are based on the “built-in order about which we should adhere.”  Men, for example, are designed to have sex with women. “In Western culture we may but like that one, but it’s worth our seeing its rationale” (138). The next chapter deals with same-sex marriage under the title “People Who Can’t Undertake a Regular Marriage.” Goldingay thinks same-sex marriage falls short of the biblical vision for marriage (in fact it is “miles away from the vision that emerges from Scripture.” But Goldingay points out “but so do lots of other forms of marriage” (143).

There are a few unexpected topics for a book on Old Testament ethics. Several seem to cross over into biblical theology, but it is a fine line between a “biblical theology of friendship” and social ethics. Goldingay includes an interesting discussion of cities (ch. 27) He offers six observations about urban culture drawn from the book of Deuteronomy, concluding “if Christians want to play a part in the shaping of urban policy, we need to nurture economists, lawyers, planners, and civil servants in our churches” (168). The fourth and fifth sections of the book are engaging meditations on biblical characters are an attempt to illustrate ethical principles from the text of the Bible.

Conclusion. This book does not treat Old Testament ethics using traditional categories, nor does it approach modern ethical issues through the lens of the Old Testament in a systematic way. Goldingay does deal with modern ethical issues like violence and war, animal rights, status of women and immigrants, and homosexuality, but only as they arise in the texts he has selected. Although the title of the book suggests some similarities with more systematic works like Christopher Wright’s Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (IVP Academic 2013) or John Barton’s Understanding Old Testament Ethics (WJKP 2003), Goldingay’s book is more of a meditation on the text of the Old Testament.

 

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