Book Giveaway Winner: Strack and Billerbeck, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud & Midrash, vol. 3

Strack and BillerbeckFor the last book giveaway of 2021, I offered a physical copy of  the new English translation of Strack and Billerbeck, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud & Midrash, Volume 3 (Romans – Revelation; ed. Jacob N. Cerone, trans. Joseph Longarino; Lexham 2021). I restricted this to North America since the book is large and heavy. I had 29 comments, which might be a record for a book giveaway. I put the names in Excel and generated a random number, and the winner is:

Brian Small

I made his name as large as a could. Brian blogs at Polumeros kai Polutropos, a blog dedicated to the book of Hebrews. Everyone congratulate Brian, and go visit his blog. Maybe buy his book.

For those who missed the original post, this book was originally published between 1922 and 1928 as Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch. Lexham Academic is publishing Strack and Billerbeck in English for the first time. The German set was over 4000 pages in four-volumes, volume 1 covered just the Gospel of Matthew (at over 1000 pages!) Volume 2 covered Mark through Acts and volume 3 covers Romans through Revelation. For a variety of reasons, Lexham is releasing the third volume first in both print and digital Logos Library format and there is no plan to publish volume 4.

Strack and Billerbeck is a running commentary pointing readers to (usually) relevant texts in the Rabbinic literature along with cross references to Old Testament texts, Josephus, Philo, as well as books from the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha. For example, on Revelation 6:1 they cite 1 Enoch 47:2; 90:20, and 4 Ezra 6:20. On Revelation 6:12, they cite 2 Baruch 70 and the Sibylline Oracles 5.528. In each case, the English translation of these works is from Str-B’s German, so there are slight differences when compared to modern translations. For many, an English translation of Strack and Billerbeck opens up a new world of Rabbinic literature for the first time. Using Strack and Billerbeck can enhance one’s understanding of the Jewish background to Jesus, Paul, and the rest of the New Testament. Go read the rest of my review here.

In case you missed it, this is the fourth of four end-of-the-year giveaways. Here is the winner of Karen Jobes’s John commentary, Grant Osborne’s Hebrews commentary and Davidson and Turner, The Manifold Beauty of Genesis 1. I have a few books set aside for giveaways in the spring, so keep an eye out for them.

Thanks to Lexham for providing me an extra copy to give away on this blog.

 

David Beldman, Judges (Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary)

Beldman, David J. H. Judges. Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2020. 316 pp. Pb; $30. Link to Eerdmans

David Beldman’s commentary on Judges in the Two Horizons series is an example of Theological Interpretation of Scripture. This is an attempt to do quality exegesis while reflecting on the biblical and systematic theological ramifications of the text in contemporary culture. Beldman previously contributed briefly on the book of Judges, Deserting the King (Lexham, 2017).

Beldman, JudgesHistorical questions (authorship, origin, audience, and date) typically dominate most Judges commentaries. Others employ a wide range of contemporary approaches, such as reception history and literary criticism. A reader needs to be interested in all these approaches. For Beldman, theological interpretation does not short circuit intellectual rigor, but it will redirect approaches to the task at hand: hearing God’s word in the book of Judges.

In fifty-six pages, the introduction to the commentary, Beldman describes the literary context of the book of Judges. Judges is part of the broad context of unfolding covenantal history. It is a literary composition in its own right even if it draws upon sources. Regarding the literary structure of the book, it focuses on narrative cycles associated with the careers of various judges.

Second, he discusses Judges as a Hebrew narrative. Nothing in the Bible was written solely for the purpose of history. Everything is theological. Beldman argues Judges was written from the perspective of an omniscient narrator who is reliable and trustworthy (it is not satire). But the narrator is reserved in making evaluative statements about the characters in the story. The stories unfold in a way that allows the characters to speak for themselves. For example, a common question for interpreters of Judges, “was Gideon a good guy or a bad guy?” The book does not answer this question directly. Whether Gideon is a good or bad character is for the reader to decide. Following Robert Alter and Meir Sternberg, Beldman argues the reader ought to follow the narrator’s clues to determine the author’s evaluation (16).

Third, Beldman briefly sketches the historical context. Judges presents a picture of Israel settlement. Between the conquest and the monarchy. It is a time when Israel takes on the characteristics and practices of the Canaanites. He sketches the social structure and economy of Israel and Canaan (the household-clan-tribe-nation) developing through the book (21).

Beldman has little to say about the date for the book because there is competing evidence. For example, Judges 18:30 mentions a grandson of Moses who ministered at the shrine at Dan “until the captivity of Israel,” implying a date after destruction of Samaria in 722 BC. But in Judges 1:21, the Jebusites dwell in Jerusalem “to this day,” implying a date prior to David’s capture of the city of Jerusalem. He remains unconvinced that the book is anti-Saul, and pro-David (implying a date during David’s reign). As a compromise, Beldman tries to “hear judges” from the perspective of the rise of the monarchy in Israel, the fall of the northern and southern kingdoms, the exilic experience, and even the post- exilic return to the land. How would a reader hear judges differently in each of these periods?

Fourth, Beldman surveys various perspectives in the history of interpretation, from early Jewish and Christian medieval interpreters to the Renaissance and reformation interpreters and (classic) art, music, and theater. He deals briefly with modern criticism, and both the literary and postmodern approaches to the book.

The body of the commentary is based on large sections of the book and focuses primarily on literary observations rather than detailed Hebrew grammatical and syntactical issues. When Hebrew appears, it is always transliterated. He interacts with major English commentaries web, block, Butler, etc. This makes for a very readable commentary.

Near the end of the exegetical portion of the commentary, Beldman provides a retrospective evaluation, observing that endings are the preeminent location of truth in a narrative. What does the end of the story tell you about the entire story? By the end of the book, the reader believes Israel has degenerated, or “Caananized” (222). The worst moral behavior in the book is found at the end and the book concludes with the words “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (21:25). But this conclusion circles back to the introduction. In the first section, Yahweh commanded Israel to drive out the Canaanites. But at the end of the book, Israel wages war on the tribe of Benjamin. The book ends with Israel wiping out one of their own tribes (224). The reader is therefore shocked: how did this depraved behavior emerge in Israel so early in the settlement period? There are two themes found throughout the book: a lack of kingship, and a lack of a central shrine. As readers, the author tricked us into thinking there was a steady decline of Israel into the chaos described at the end of the book. But there was no steady decline: the moral and ethical failures which result from a lack of central leadership were there from the very beginning (229).

In the Two Horizon commentary series, a large section of the book is devoted to theological reflection. Beldman therefore begins by placing Judges into the context of the overall “grand narrative of scripture.” Looking back to the Abrahamic covenant, two elements of God’s promise to Abraham were impossible to fulfill in Genesis 12: that Abraham’s descendants would become a great nation and they would live in a particular land. The fulfilment of those promises is the theme of the Pentateuch. Judges describes Israel as persistently unfaithful, a condition that will result in oppression by the foreign nations and exile from the land. But Beldman points out the promise to Abraham remained foundational for future restoration (Jer 29:5-7).

In the second section of the theological reflection, he connects the book of judges to systematic theology. Beldman covers Judges’ contribution to several topics (God, the Holy Spirit, sin, and providence). But far more interesting is his section on Judges’ contribution to a political theology. Like Daniel Block, Beldman rejects Judges as a pro-David and anti-Saul propaganda. For Daniel Block, Judges is a “prophetic book and not a political tractate” (271, citing Block’s Judges commentary, 57-58). However, Beldman interacts a length with Yoram Hazony’s article “Does the Bible have a Political Teaching” (Hebrew Poetical Studies, 2006). For Hazony, the historical core of the Hebrew Bible has a political ideal: a limited government situated on a scale between an oppressive imperial ideology (Egypt) and political chaos (Judges). Beldman thinks this suggestion is creative and insightful, but by expanding the “historical core” to include the exilic experience of diaspora communities (Daniel, Nehemiah, Esther), Beldman argues for a politics of “participation and subversion” (272). Stories like Daniel show that diaspora Jewish communities could participate in many aspects of imperial politics, although there were some issues that required active resistance. Beldman considers this a give unto Caesar type politics found in later second temple Judaism and early Christianity. I would suggest Portier-Young’s Apocalypse against Empire (Eerdmans, 2014) for readers interested in more details of the post-exilic period.

The last section of theological reflection covers two difficult issues in the book of Judges. First, Beldman discusses violence in Judges. As is well known, Judges describes the utter annihilation of the Canaanites (often referred to as the Canaanite genocide). That God himself commands the total destruction of the people of Jericho, every man woman child and animal, is disturbing for many modern readers. Beldman begins with the observation that all violence is alien to God’s creation. The cycle of violence begins when Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the garden. Second, he observes that the conquest of Canaan was a onetime, limited judgment on the Canaanite nations in the history of God’s redemption plan (281). Once Israel settled in the land, they were to cease military expansion and begin their priestly role, drawing the nations to the Lord. He admits that this may not be a satisfactory answer for everyone, but he is clear that the violence of the book of Judges is not a model for the church to follow today. He does not discuss any political ramifications for modern Israeli politics.

Second, he deals with the problem of the treatment of women in the book. The treatment of women in judges is unique. On the one hand, the story of Deborah and Jael seems to elevate women (and humble Barak and Sisera). But the horrific crimes against the Levite’s concubine and Jephthah’s daughter are shocking. Beldman observes this as “in line with the rhetorical purpose of the book, most women in Judges are exploited and victimized” (287). But it is also important to understand violence against women is not normalized or excused: it is part of Israel’s degeneration.

Conclusion. Beldman concludes “Judges is a book for our times because it exposes idols in our midst that compromise our way of being in the world” (297). More than a historical and grammatical commentary on the text of Judges, this Two Horizons commentary provides a challenge to readers of this difficult book in the Hebrew Bible.

 

Reviews of other commentaries in this series:

 

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 Giveaway: Strack and Billerbeck, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud & Midrash, vol. 3

Strack and BillerbeckA few weeks ago I reviewed the new English translation of Strack andl Billerbeck, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud & Midrash, Volume 3 (Romans – Revelation; ed. Jacob N. Cerone, trans. Joseph Longarino; Lexham 2021). I have an extra copy to pass along to a reader of this blog.

Originally published between 1922 and 1928 as Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch, Lexham Academic is publishing Strack and Billerbeck in English for the first time. Originally over 4000 pages in four-volumes, volume 1 of the original work covered just the Gospel of Matthew (at over 1000 pages!) Volume 2 covered Mark through Acts and volume 3 covers Romans through Revelation. For a variety of reasons, Lexham is releasing the third volume first in both print and digital Logos Library format and there is no plan to publish volume 4.

Strack and Billerbeck is a running commentary pointing readers to (usually) relevant texts in the Rabbinic literature along with cross references to Old Testament texts, Josephus, Philo, as well as books from the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha. For example, on Revelation 6:1 they cite 1 Enoch 47:2; 90:20, and 4 Ezra 6:20. On Revelation 6:12, they cite 2 Baruch 70 and the Sibylline Oracles 5.528. In each case, the English translation of these works is from Str-B’s German, so there are slight differences when compared to modern translations. For many, an English translation of Strack and Billerbeck opens up a new world of Rabbinic literature for the first time. Using Strack and Billerbeck can enhance one’s understanding of the Jewish background to Jesus, Paul, and the rest of the New Testament. Go read the rest of my review here.

If you want a free physical copy of this book (1000+ pages and $65 retail), leave a comment with your name and email (if it is not in your profile already) so I can contact you if you win. I will put all the names in a spreadsheet, randomize them, then use a random number generator to select a winner on December 22, 2021 (about a week from today). Since this is a heavy book, I have to limit this giveaway to the US and Canada. Sorry Nigeria.

In case you missed it, this is the fourth of four end-of-the-year giveaways. Here is the winner of Karen Jobes’s John commentary, Grant Osborne’s Hebrews commentary and Davidson and Turner, The Manifold Beauty of Genesis 1. This is the last book I plan to give away this year, so check back on December 22 to congratulate the winner.

Thanks to Lexham for providing me an extra copy to give away on this blog.

 

Book Giveaway Winner: Karen H. Jobes, John through Old Testament Eyes

Last week I offered a copy of  Karen Jobes’ John through Old Testament Eyes, the second in a new series from Kregel Academic as a give away to readers of this blog. I asked readers to leave a comment with their favorite John Commentary. Lots of variety, but Leon Morris’s NICNT commentary seems to be the favorite.

The winner of this week’s book is David Procter. David will contact me ASAP and I will get the book out to him soon. Everybody congratulate David!

If you don’t win this book, check back for my last book giveaway of the year starting December 14.

 

James K. Hoffmeier, The Prophets of Israel: Walking in the Ancient Paths

Hoffmeier, James K. The Prophets of Israel: Walking in the Ancient Paths. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Academic, 2021. 398 pp. Hb. $36.99   Link to Kregel Academic   

James K. Hoffmeier is emeritus Professor of Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern History and Archaeology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and previously Professor of Archaeology and Old Testament at Wheaton College. In addition to working on the Akhenaten Temple Project in Luxor (1975 to 1977), he was director of excavations at Tell el-Borg, Sinai (1998-2008). He has written numerous books of biblical and archaeological topics, including Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition (Oxford, 1996), Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition (Oxford, 2005) and Akhenaten and the Origins of Monotheism (Oxford, 2015).

Hoffmeier, The ProphetsIn a brief introduction to the book, Hoffmeier explains this book covers the usual literature expected in an introduction to the prophets, but places greater emphasis on the prophets in their literary context and the historical background that provided an impetus for their message. Hoffmeier describes himself as a “practicing field archaeologist,” so it is no surprise he emphasizes archaeological data for “setting the stage on which the drama of the biblical history is played out” (13). Archaeological and geographical data allow for more accurate and complete view of biblical narratives, which places the reader in a better position to make informed theological decisions.

Chapter 1 is a general introduction to the Hebrew prophets. Hoffmeier defines the role of a prophet within the Hebrew Canon in contrast with other ancient near eastern prophets and the Oracle at Delphi. He also observes that the Hebrew prophets differ in terms of prophetic method (no divination, augury, etc.). Hoffmeier traces the development of prophecy from Moses as a foundation, focusing on the importance of the Exodus and Sinai covenant, through the writing prophets. He rightly points out the writing prophets did not focus on the distant future, as is popularly assumed. They looked back at the Sinai covenant and the Exodus events in order to address their own historical situations.

Although not typically included in introductions to the prophets, chapter 2 is devoted to pre-writing prophets. Beginning with prophets like Deborah in the book of Judges, he briefly comments on Samuel, Gad, Nathan, Ahijah and Shemaiah (prophets of the split kingdom), and Elijah, Elisha, and Micaiah (prophets in the northern kingdom of Israel). He also includes three female prophets, Isaiah’s wife, Huldah and the ultra-obscure Noadiah (Neh 6:14).

Chapters 3-7 survey the writing prophets. Hoffmeier divides the prophets more or less by centuries, although chapters three and four both cover eighth-century prophets, subdivided into the northern kingdom of Israel and southern kingdom of Judah. For each chapter, he sets the prophet into a proper historical context in the books of 1-2 Kings. this requires a lengthy excursus on the Assyrian invasion (701 BC), including a detailed examination of the Lachish relief to illustrate the siege of this city. Hoffmeier defends traditional dates for each of the prophets and the unity of the prophetic books. For example, in his discussion on the authorship of Isaiah, he lists the usual arguments for multiple authors and then responds to each in detail. For Hoffmeier, Isaiah is a two-volume anthology of the ministry of the eighth-century prophet. Regarding the book of Daniel, he deals with the usual historical challenges for the book and leans towards identifying Darius as Cyrus the Great (following D. J. Wiseman), although he certainly entertains the other options. He quotes with approval R. K. Harrison’s statement that the Qumran literature “demonstrates that no part of the Old Testament canonical literature was composed later than the 4th century B.C.” (327). He places the book of Jonah in his chapter on eighth-century prophets. The book of Joel is post-exilic, written after the completion of the temple (after 515 B.C.).

Another unique element of Hoffmeier’s introduction is a final chapter on New Testament prophets (Chapter 8). The chapter is brief, only about fifteen pages. For the Gospels, he covers John the Baptist, Simon and Anna (Luke 2), and Jesus as a prophet. For Acts and epistles, he has a brief discussion of prophecy in the early church, such as Paul’s vision (2 Corinthians 12) and Agabus (Acts 11:28). There is less on early church prophecy than I expected. For example, something might have been included on 1 Corinthians 12-14 as the major discussion of early church prophecy in Paul’s letters. But this is an introduction to the prophets of Israel and the chapter is intentionally brief. Wisely, there is no discussion on the continuance of prophecy in the church after the Apostolic age. Hoffmeier covers the Book of Revelation in a brief two pages, with most of that devoted to Patmos.

What is missing? The book could have included a unit on the rise of apocalyptic as a prophetic genre, focusing on Isaiah 24- 27 portions of Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Daniel. The unit could briefly trace the trajectory from the Old Testament antecedence through the Second Temple period to the apocalyptic found in the Book of Revelation, since New Testament prophecy is part of this content of the book. Since apocalyptic literature has one foot in the Old Testament and another in the new, this chapter would have made a good transition between his discussion of the Old Testament prophets and a discussion of church prophecy.

The book is lavishly illustrated with stunning photographs, maps and sidebars. It is a pleasure simply to browse the book and look at the pictures! For example, in chapter one, there are twenty-five photographs and maps and six sidebars in only 32 pages. Todd Bolen contributed many photographs and the maps from drawn by A. D. Riddle. But many of the photographs are Hoffmeier’s own.

Each chapter concludes with study and discussion questions suitable for short papers or online discussion forums in a classroom setting. Although there is a six-page bibliography, there are no indices for the book.

Conclusion. Hoffmeier’s The Prophets of Israel is an excellent introduction to biblical prophetic books, suitable for both undergrad and graduate level courses. Interested layperson could pick up this book and use it to introduce themselves to prophetic literature in the Old Testament.

 

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