David B. Schreiner, and Lee Compson, 1 & 2 Kings (Kerux)

Schreiner, David B. and Lee Compson. 1 & 2 Kings. A Commentary for Biblical Preaching and Teaching. Kerux Commentaries. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Ministry, 2022. 315 pp. Hb. $36.99   Link to Kregel Ministry  

The Kerux series is an exegetical commentary which includes as preaching strategies. The exegete in this volume is David B. Schreiner, associate professor of Old Testament at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Ridgeland, Mississippi. In addition to several journal articles, Schreiner previously contributed Pondering the Spade: Discussing Important Convergences between Archaeology and Old Testament Studies (Wipf & Stock, 2019) and has a commentary on 1 & 2 Kings in Cascade’s The Bible in God’s World series and a monograph The Omride Wars in Assyrian, Biblical, and Levantine Sources (Lexham, forthcoming).  Lee Compson provides the homiletical notes. Compson serves as senior pastor at Milford First Brethren Church in Milford, Indiana, and Regional Resource Coordinator for the Midwest Region of The Brethren Church.

1&2 Kings commentaryIn the seventeen-page introduction, Schreiner suggests 1-2 Kings is “good history writing” but not in the same sense as modern history. Schreiner argues a single author produced 1-2 Kings, working with existing materials. The date of composition range from the middle sixth century or the mid-Hellenistic period. After a lengthy footnote on the Graf-Wellhausen Documentary Hypothesis, Schreiner states “options and reconstructions are legion” (43).

The occasion seems to point to the exilic community in the early Second Temple period. Ezra 9:5-15 draws lessons found in Kings “to declare humiliatingly that his community is on the path to committing the same deeds that precipitated the Babylonian exile” (43). Of course, this is a message that would resonate beyond the sixth-fifth centuries BC. Schreiner includes two pages on compositional history. He begins by observing that ideas about authorship were different in antiquity and writing was a “controlled skill,” part of the political infrastructure. The books certainly make use of source material, but he also sees the “ideological imprint of Deuteronomy.”

With this in mind, Schreiner offers an outline of the compositional history of 1-2 Kings. The first edition was Hezekiah’s history, sanctioned by the Judean court after Sennacherib’s third military campaign. A second edition is a Josianic history prompted by Josiah’s death just before the battle of Carchemish in 605 BC. The third and final edition was written during the exile while Jehoiachin was still living under house arrest 2 Kings 25:27-30).

The introduction makes several points under the heading theological emphasis, although this is really a literary analysis of the book. First Kings 1-14 serves as an introduction which sets the tone for readers and begins to answer the question “why did Judah survive longer but still end up in exile?” (49). The books contrast the Israelite Kingdom and the Judean Kingdom, helpfully summarized in a chart (53). Regarding the tone of the history, “positive memories are not permitted to overwhelm the reader” (54). Positive obedience stories are balanced with negative disobedience stories, all leading up to the Babylonian exile. “Kings does not celebrate Israel’s history. Rather, it mourns it through a sobering and critical evaluation” (54).

The body of the commentary is divided into twenty-three sections. Each section includes exegesis (about two-thirds of the chapter) and preaching strategies. Each unit begins by repeating the key ideas from the introduction. A short literary section traces the themes and offers an outline for the unit. The exposition is of the Hebrew text without transliteration. This is not a verse-by-verse commentary, key phrases appear in larger sections. For example, Schreiner discusses the phrase “fame of Solomon” in 1 Kings 10:1 (including a lengthy footnote on the phrase). Schreiner uses in-text citations to secondary literature and, occasionally, there are detailed footnotes. Following the exegesis is a section entitled theological focus. This develops the exegetical idea based on the exodus exegesis, usually highlighting a truth or principle for Christians, including occasional canonical connections to the New Testament. Even though the exegetical units are necessarily brief, Schreiner’s notes are excellent.

The preaching and teaching strategies section begins with an exegetical and theological synthesis (a general summary of the section plus another repetition of the preaching idea). Compson then offers a series of contemporary connections. What does it mean? Is it true? Now what? These sections make clear applications from the text to contemporary issues that will enhance a sermon or Bible lesson. Finally, the strategies section includes a unit on creativity and presentation. These are a few suggestions for illustrations and key ideas to apply the text in a sermon. These illustrations are drawn from contemporary culture (sports, film, etc.) as well as common life situations. Each section concludes with several discussion questions.

Like the other volumes of the Kerux series, the commentary includes numerous sidebars for historical details (Baal, Nebuchadnezzar, Neco) or an exegetical detail. Compared to other volumes in this series, there seem to be fewer sidebars, and none are more than a paragraph (no full-page sidebars). On the other hand, there are several long footnotes that might have been a lengthy sidebar. For example, the note on Naaman is nearly a full page (226, note 4). There are no sidebars in the preaching strategy sections. The exegetical section includes several types of additional analysis sections: syntactical, textual, lexical, and translation. In these sections, Schreiner deals with technical details which might be difficult for readers who have not taken a Hebrew at the seminary level.

Given the contents of the books, preaching a sermon based on 1-2 Kings is a difficult task. Some sections of the books lend themselves to preaching and teaching, others do not. The authors divide the forty-seven chapters of the two books into twenty-three preaching units, but twelve of these units cover the life of Solomon (1 Kings 1-11, about 40% of the total commentary). Some units on Solomon are quite brief. For example, one unit covers 1 Kings 3:16-28 in five pages. The unit on Elisha (1 Kings 17:1-2 Kings 1:18) is twenty pages. There is a great deal of difficult-to-preach material after Solomon, so it is understandable there is not much here on many of the Israelite kings (who preaches on Baasha anyway!) But only one preaching unit each for Elijah and Elisha seems brief considering the popularity of these stories. One preaching unit on 2 Kings 17-20 is far too brief, considering the importance of Hezekiah’s response to the Lord. Since they both appear in Isaiah, it is also a mistake to separate Ahaz and Hezekiah. It is likely the commentary had a limited page count, making it impossible to cover both books in as much detail as 1 Kings 1-11.

Conclusion. Despite the brevity of some sections of the commentary, Schreiner and Compson achieve the goal of guiding a busy pastor or Bible study leader through this lengthy and sometimes difficult material. The commentary remains focused on the goal of presenting this material in a church situation. Although this might frustrate some readers who want more historical detail, Schreiner and Compson remain dedicated to the goals of the Kerux series to combine exegetical and homiletical notes to serve Christian communities.

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

 

Other volumes reviewed in this series:

 

Timothy R. Ashley, The Book of Numbers. Second Edition (NICOT)

Ashley, Timothy R. The Book of Numbers. Second Edition. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2022. xxxix+660 pp. Hb; $60.00   Link to Eerdmans

This second edition of Timothy Ashley’s 1993 NICOT commentary on Numbers is far more than a cosmetic upgrade. Ashley observes in the preface to the second edition, “I still agree with a good deal of what I wrote,” but there are some changes. He noticed that his earlier commentary tended to argue with the so-called documentary hypothesis. On the one hand, he appreciates the work of scholars looking for sources. However, fewer scholarly readers are asking the questions that those studies answered. For this reason, he has eliminated or reduced apologetic concerns, which took up space in the first edition. On the first page of the commentary itself, he deleted the phrase “so-called documentary hypothesis” and reference to Wellhausen (page 43 of the 1993 commentary, page 1 of the second edition). The second edition of this commentary “attempts to pull the reader into the final form of the Book of Numbers” which likely dates to the sixth or early fifth century BCE.

Ashley, Numbers NICOTNevertheless, the introduction includes an expanded and updated section on “authorship, composition, and the interpretation of the text.” He still begins with a summary of Wellhausen and form critical studies, but adds reference to Israel Knohl, The Sanctuary of Silence: The Priestly Torah and the Holiness School (Fortress, 1995, reprint, Eisenbrauns, 2007) as a major challenge to the documentary hypothesis. Several recent commentaries examine the literary features Numbers and argue for the “cogency of the final form of the text” (7). Ashley uses this approach as a model for the commentary.

Ashley thinks there is no reason to deny that the final form of the book was edited and re-edited until the post-exilic period. For example, Numbers presupposes a time later than the conquest, especially after chapter 22. The book certainly has a “more complex history of transmission than is recoverable” (9). Ashley has little doubt that there were sources, but also it is reasonable and practical to approach the final form of the narratives that probably “depended on a historical remembrance” (9).

As with any second edition, Ashely updated footnotes and bibliography to include many works on Numbers and the Pentateuch written in the last thirty years. However, he admits he has not attempted to be comprehensive. In addition, the indices for the commentary have re-compiled (only six pages in the 1993 edition, now seventeen pages). The select bibliography in the 1993 edition spanned 22 pages, in the second edition it appears on pages xxvii-l (28 pages). The commentary now conforms to the current NICOT style, including a smaller font size. Given these changes in pagination and font size, the new edition is 606 pages total, about 60 pages less that the first edition.

Conclusion. Ashley’s NICOT commentary on Numbers joins Baruch A. Levine’s Anchor Bible commentary (2 vols., Yale, 1993, 2000) as a top English scholarly commentary on Numbers.

As with any second edition of a commentary, someone might ask if it is necessary to replace the 1993 edition. Does the second edition include enough new material to merit the investment? Yes, if only for a shift in focus away from the discussion of the documentary hypothesis to the final form of the book. Ashley’s 2022 commentary reflects a mature understanding of the literary nature of the Book of Numbers. A second question, should you keep your 1993 edition? The 1993 edition does indeed enter a dialogue with the documentary hypothesis; if that is your interest, then the earlier edition will continue to have value.

Eerdworld has a sixty-five-page preview of the commentary.

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

 

Other Commentaries in the NICOT Series:

 

Bill T. Arnold, The Book of Deuteronomy, Chapters 1–11 (NICOT)

Arnold, Bill T. The Book of Deuteronomy, Chapters 1–11. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2022. xxxix+660 pp. Hb; $60.00   Link to Eerdmans

Bill Arnold’s new commentary on Deuteronomy 1-11 replaces Peter Craigie’s 1976 commentary in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament series. In 2020, Arnold joined Robert L. Hubbard as the editor of this important commentary series. Arnold in the Paul S. Amos Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary since 1995 and has contributed many articles and monographs on the Old Testament. He co-edited Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books (IVP Academic, 2005).

Arnold, Deuteronomy 1-11In the eighty-seven-page introduction Arnold suggests Deuteronomy can rightly be called a compendium of the most important ideas of the Old Testament. “It crystallizes the themes and messages of the first four books of the Bible, while at the same time it establishes the theological foundation for the books of history and prophecy to follow” (1). The message of the book is without question: the exclusive worship and faithfulness to YHWH Israel’s God.

Regarding literary genre, Deuteronomy could be classified as law, covenant, or even a national constitution. Some suggest the book is an early Israelite catechesis. The book, however, considers itself to be Torah. Arnold argues for the unity of composition. Since the book uses a series of speeches employing distinctive phraseology and expressions such as “YHWH your God,” and “as YHWH commanded,” etc. But as he observes, citing Moses Wienfield, “the concept of composition is likely meaningless when applied to a book like Deuteronomy.” An ancient author with a collector and compiler rather than a creator of literature (11). Many hands worked on Deuteronomy over many years. He begins his discussion of authorship with a survey of Graf-Wellhausen and Martin Noth’s Deuteronomic History (critiquing Noth for isolating Deuteronomy from the other books of the Torah). Arnold concludes we cannot be dogmatic about authorship, but Deuteronomy claims to be to preserve a tradition of the “voice of Moses.”

But Deuteronomy is an exegetical enterprise. Ancient Israelite scribes preserved, updated, reformulated traditions using a method of composition which may be fairly described as an “inner biblical exegesis” (16). When did these scribes do the exegesis? Discussing the occasion of Deuteronomy, Arnold has two assumptions. First, there was an earlier form of Deuteronomy, but he also accepts the historical reality of Josiah’s reforms (24). But these kinds of reforms reoccur in Israel’s history (Hezekiah, for example); the exegesis of Deuteronomy could develop earlier

A second assumption is the parallels between Deuteronomy and Ancient Near Eastern treaty forms. First proposed by George Mendenhall and developed by Meredith Kline and K. A. Kitchen, there are clear parallels between Deuteronomy and ancient vassal treaties. But which treaties? When Craigie published his NICOT commentary in 1974, he discussed the format these Hittite Vassal treaties and states “the Hebrews adapted the treaty format for their own use” (Craigie, 23). But more recently, this thesis has been modified by comparing Deuteronomy to recently discovered Assyrian treaties (Esarhaddon, for example). Judean officials at the time of Josiah living in Jerusalem would know the Assyrian treaty forms and use them as they developed a core Moses tradition. Arnold suggests that such cohesive theology makes it easy to imagine a single mind behind Deuteronomy 12-16 and the poem in Deuteronomy 32. If so, the author “is one of the greatest biblical theologians of all time” (48).

Nevertheless, the book seems to fit Josiah’s reforms best. “Deuteronomy’s message of YHWH’s supremacy and its call for singular devotion to him alone would have been a bold and prophetic voice in the seventh century BCE, coming at the height of Assyrian imperialism, in perhaps the book’s penultimate edition” (32). Arnold observes that Josiah’s discovery of the Law suggests a “early form of Deuteronomy existed and was authorized by the prophet Huldah.” An additional factor is the impact of Deuteronomy on pre-exilic prophets (Joshua, judges, Samuel, Kings), so that Zechariah 1:4 can refer to the former prophets as an “already quasi-canonized set.” There are other hints that the book considered itself a canonical unit. For example, Deuteronomy 4:2, “do not add to or omit anything.” Arnold suggests this is a canonized self-awareness” (37).

With respect to the theology of Deuteronomy, Arnold begins with Shema: YHWH is one. This is the “cornerstone of an edifice constructed with the Ten Commandments, which houses the life-giving instructions for every facet of Israel society and daily life” (47). Deuteronomy serves as a kind of “Bible” for the rest of the Old Testament. Deuteronomy also is the first attempt to summarize the essential substance of the law (10:12-13). At the core of Deuteronomy is the conviction that Yahweh revealed himself at Sinai. The initiative for that revelation is God himself, and this establishes YHWH’s self-disclosure in God’s intervention in Israel’s history. The function of God’s revelation is to make YHWH’s gracious will known to Israel. Arnold divides the theology of Deuteronomy into two major categories, the God of Israel, and the Israel of God. here he is following John Goldingay’s Old Testament Theology.

Regarding the God of Israel, Arnold suggests we let Deuteronomy speak for itself and keep the New Testament (and Trinitarianism) out of Deuteronomy’s theology! What sort of God was revealed at Sinai? First, Yahweh is absent from the other gods of the Ancient Near East. Israel does not adopt a Canaanite god nor is there anything in Canaanite mythology quite like YHWH. He is deeply compassionate, longing to be worshipped, and therefore a jealous God who has a fiery passion for his people Israel. He expects to be obeyed by Israel and loved by all. Yahweh demands exclusive loyalty because of his great love for his people. This holy, loving God is in many ways present with his people. For example, Deuteronomy 4:7, “God is near to those who pray.” There are also many references in the book to God placing his name among his people. This is often described as a “Name Theology” which demythologizes an earlier theology which thought of God is dwelling in the Tabernacle or sanctuary (56). Arnold thinks name theology has been seriously overstated, it is simply not an accurate reflection of Deuteronomy’s theology.

The introduction also discusses more briefly the main themes of the book such as Torah, covenant, prophecy, retributive justice, centralization of the cult, education, individualism, warfare, exile, and poverty.

Each unit in the commentary’s body begins with a new translation of the pericope with extensive textual notes comparing the Masoretic text to the LXX, Syriac, Vulgate, Targumim, etc. Readers who are not interested in these issues can easily skip the notes. Following the translation is a brief introduction summarizing the contents and connecting it to the proceeding unit. The commentary proceeds verse-by-verse as much as possible. The commentary is oon the Hebrew text, but all Hebrew appears in transliteration. Comments concern lexical issues (what words mean) and syntax (how words are used), but this is not so technical a read without extensive Hebrew training will follow the discussion. Arnold uses footnotes for extensive interaction with secondary literature, but this is not a commentary on what other commentaries say.

There is some synthesis in the commentary itself. For example, commenting on astral bodies in 4:19b, Arnold suggests that there are two broad categories in dealing with the meaning of “astral bodies.” Some take this as a reference to a monotheizing process in ancient Israel, so that the mention of other gods does not imply their reality. Others take the gods as real and rightly worshipped by other peoples. However, YHWH is the only deity for Israel. Arnold presents these two broad categories with notes to representatives in the secondary literature.

Arnold’s comments on the difficult passage in Deuteronomy 7:1-6 merit comment here. Although this text is often associated with the so-called Canaanite genocide, Arnold focuses on the entire chapter and its emphasis on the election of Israel as God’s people based on divine love. It is somewhat astonishing therefore, to find the command to completely destroy the Canaanites in this passage. This command is an absolute obligation, using the word herem, devoted to YHWH, and there are to be no survivors. As he suggests, this is the single most morally and theologically problematic problem in the Old Testament (437). It is in fact a theological problem even if Israel never fully carried out the command. Arnold suggests that this is a rhetorical technique reconstituting an ancient battlefield strategy. The command is a metaphor, there “is no literal command envisioning the taking of human life” (438). However, as I read these verses, it does not read like a rhetorical strategy or a metaphor. And Israel does, in fact, take human lives in Jericho “under the ban” in the book of Joshua. This issue is, of course, extremely complicated and there are several published monographs on holy war in the Old Testament (see the recent Charlie Trimm, The Destruction of the Canaanites: God, Genocide, and Biblical Interpretation, Eerdmans, 2022).

More helpful is Arnold’s reading of this text within the context of Deuteronomy 7. This chapter is about the election of God’s people. He tells them not to make a covenant with the Canaanites nor are they to intermarry with them. Both commands are in line with the absolute loyalty that Yahweh demands. The reason Israel cannot make covenants or intermarry with the Canaanites is that they will turn them away from Yahweh. Although it is surprising to read “exterminate all the Canaanites because Yahweh loves you,” that is in fact what Deuteronomy 7 says.

Conclusion. Many surveys of “top commentaries on Deuteronomy” consider Peter Craigie’s commentary one of the best available. Bill Arnold’s new volume is a worthy replacement in terms of additional depth and broad engagement with both the text of Deuteronomy and a vast secondary literature. As is usually the case, Arnold’s volume is far more detailed than the Craigie volume it replaces. Arnold devotes 660 pages to the introduction and first eleven chapters of Deuteronomy; Craigie’s commentary was 424 pages for the entire book of Deuteronomy. Will Peter Craigie’s popular commentary in the NICOT move to the Eerdmans Classic Commentary series?

Bill Arnold’s Deuteronomy 1-11 is worth the investment for students of the Old Testament, and I look forward to volume 2.

 

Other Commentaries in the NICOT Series:

 

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

 

Stephen Westerholm, Romans: Text, Readers, and the History of Interpretation

Westerholm, Stephen. Romans: Text, Readers, and the History of Interpretation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2022. ix+413 pp. Hb; $49.99  Link to Eerdmans

Rather than a commentary on Romans, this new volume by Stephen Westerholm in on the reception history of Romans. He is writing the Romans volume for Illuminations commentary series. (I reviewed Amy Erickson’s Jonah commentary in this series here.) This book is not a commentary on Romans, rather it is a commentary on the reception of Romans by later readers. Westerholm surveys commentaries from Lutheran, Calvinist, Wesleyan, Armenian perspectives many well-known but others quite obscure.

Westerholm RomansThe first section (pages 1-40) deals with the text of Romans as a witness to the earliest reception of Romans. He begins with a detailed description of papyrus 46, the earliest papyri copy of the book of Romans as an example of an early reception of the letter. Papyrus 46 dates to around A.D. 200 and was produced by a “blundering and not always attentive scribe,” to cite Michael Holmes (5). The codex contains 52 sheets folded to produce 104 leaves, 208 total pages. Only 86 pages survive (56 are in the Chester Beatty library and 30 are at the University of Michigan). The text was probably prepared for public reading. Westerholm suggests “his patron should have demanded a refund” (7). There are many variant readings comma often unintentional and easily recognized period. But there are some attempts at improvement that are unique to this manuscript. An early reader actively and thoughtfully engaged with the content of the text being read. “In limited but real ways, liberty was taken with the text of the epistle” (9). for example, the scribe had little use for Paul’s rhetorical repetitions, in Romans 8:17 he deliberately eliminated a redundancy. Occasionally the copiest substituted “what Paul might have said” for “what he appears to have written.” For example, when quoting Isaiah 9:27, the scribe replaces Paul’s word for remnant with a synonym because that is what is found in the Septuagint. Occasionally the text is simplified. Westerholm suggests this list of changes is “underwhelming” (12), but his point is that there are many different readings and not all these minor variants are accidental. “The word of the Lord (or of his apostle) is not tied to a particular wording” (12).

The second section (pages 41-76) is entitled “Readers” and interacts with how the “Paul within Judaism” scholarship reads Romans. The section begins with a short sketch on what can be known about the Roman church before Paul wrote his letter (following Peter Lampe, From Paul to Valentinius). Westerholm then introduces the so-called radical new perspective on Paul. Essentially, this view states that Paul did not convert from Judaism to Christianity and continued to live as a Jew for the rest of his life.

Romans has been wrongfully universalized; it addresses a specific situation in the Roman church. For “Paul within Judaism” scholars, Romans deals with the problem of how Gentile sinners become righteous, enjoy salvation, and become the people of God. Paul’s solution, according to this view, is that Gentiles are made right by faith in Christ, but Jews were already right with God because of God’s covenant with Israel. Paul is positive towards the Law, but the Law was only given to the Jews. Gentiles were never intended to keep the Law, so Paul essentially tells them the distinctively Jewish practices do not apply to them.

Westerholm thinks “Paul within Judaism” scholars are correct in denying that Paul in any of his letters denounces Judaism, but after his encounter with the risen Jesus Paul rethought the place of the Law ion God’s plan. The Law is hold, good, and righteous, but it paid out a path to righteousness humans are neither able nor inclined to take. The Law is weak to alter human capacities and dispositions since humans are sinners. Therefore, Westerholm concludes, righteousness can only be found apart from the Law.

As for the purpose of the letter, Westerholm surveys the usual suggestions, but ultimately suggests an unfavorable view of Paul’s theology may have reached Rome before Paul. Paul therefore presents his theology and calls on Jews and Gentiles to live in a single community of faith (73).

The bulk of this book is a survey of interpreters beginning with the Patristic Period, with short chapters on Origen, “Antiochene Interpreters” (John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrus), and Early Latin Interpreters (Ambrosiaster, Pelagius, Augustine).  For the Medieval Period, Westerholm focuses on Peter Abelard and Thomas Aquinas. For the Sixteenth century, Calvin and Luther are the main lights, but Westerholm includes John Colet and Desiderius Erasmus, and Philip Melanchthon. He concludes with comments on several English translations of Romans (Wyclif, Tyndale, the Geneva Bible, The Rheims New Testament and the King James Version).

The Modern Period begins in the 1600s with Philipp Jakob Spener, Matthew Poole, Richard Baxter, John Locke. Augustin Calmet, Cotton Mather, Robert Witham, and John Gill. He surveys several Arminian interpreters before covering nineteenth century interpreters John Taylor, Heinrich Meyer, Henry Alford, Benjamin Jowett, and John William Colenso. The final chapter is devoted to Karl Barth, perhaps the only writer that might be considered contemporary. In the introduction Westerholm specifically sets aside recent commentaries in this survey.

Westerholm concludes the book with an appendix on the popular Romans commentary by British writer D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who preached 372 sermons on Romans which were edited and published in fourteen volumes. I. H. Marshall said “if we ask who has been the most influential interpreter of Romans in the church in the twentieth century, one strong candidate is David Martyn Lloyd-Jones. You don’t hear about him in academic circles. Quite simply, he was the finest preacher and expositor of Romans in the evangelical wing of the church, and John Calvin and Martin Luther will have been the major influences on him. He did not always get it right, but of the breadth of his influence in the U.K. there can be no doubt” (351). Although he was not a great exegete, Westerholm describes Lloyd-Jones as “theological controlled preaching,” so the bulk of the chapter is devoted to describing how Lloyd-Jones develops key theological themes like justification and sanctification.

Conclusion. Westerholm’s book is a kind of pre-commentary on Romans, focusing on how a wide range of people in different theological traditions throughout the history of the church have read the Book of Romans. As a result, the book is more theological than exegetical, as a book on reception history must be. Someone might object their favorite ancient commentator was overlooked, but Westerholm provides clear summaries of the major interpreters of Paul’s letter.

 

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

 

Susan Ackerman, Gods, Goddesses, and the Women Who Serve Them

Ackerman, Susan. Gods, Goddesses, and the Women Who Serve Them. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2022. xiii+296 pp. Hb; $59.99  Link to Eerdmans

Susan Ackerman is Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Dartmouth. This new book collects ten essays Ackerman has written over the course of her career. Rather than simply reprint the essays, Ackerman has occasionally polished the writing, refined her arguments, and added some additional bibliography. In addition, for most chapters, Ackerman introduces the essay by giving a context for the article and reflecting on the article some years after it was originally published. These introductions are extremely valuable. I wish more authors would add these kinds of updates and personal recollections of the origin of previously published essays.

Ackerman GoddessesPart one collects three essays on goddesses.  First, in “And the Women Knead Dough” Ackerman discusses the worship of the Queen of Heaven in sixth century BCE Judah (Jeremiah 7:16-20; 44:15-19, 25). She stands by her original conclusion that the queen of heaven combines the East Semitic goddess Ishtar and the West Semitic Astarte (16). She returns to this issue in chapters 9 and 10. This cult prospered in sixth century Judah and gave women religious and political power. “Asherah, the West Semitic Goddess of Spinning and Weaving?” deals with an intriguing phrase in 2 Kings 23:7, Josiah tore down the quarters in the Temple “where women did weaving for Asherah.” Ackerman argues Asherah was a patron goddess for spinning and weaving. Women weaving in the temple is found in other cults in near eastern gods, although not for Asherah in particular. Ackerman focusing on Tiamat in “The Women of the Bible and of Ancient Near Eastern Myth.” Since Tiamat is not the sort of god anyone would typically worship, Ackerman argues Tiamat is a type that represents an object lesson regarding proper gender behavior (58). The stories of Tiamat’s conflict with Marduk have an unhappy ending because Tiamat defied gender norms in the Ancient Near East (70).

Part two comprises three articles on priests and prophets in the ancient Near East. First, chapter 4 is an update to her 2002 JBL article, “Why Is Miriam Also among the Prophets? (And Is Zipporah among the Priests?)” As she explains in the introduction, questions that were raised while she was writing her 1998 book on women in the book of Judges. There are four “anomalous women” who are counted as prophets rather than priests (Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, and Noadiah [Neh 6:14]). Ackerman suggests male-authored depictions of liminality and gender conventions restricted Miriam from religious authority (priesthood) but not the prophetic office. So, what about Zipporah? Since she occupies a priestlike role, “the Bible admits the possibility women could assume the role of prophet within Israelite society” (109). Zipporah implies women could take on priestlike functions.

In “The Mother of Eshmunazor, Priest of Astarte” (ch. 5) and “Priestesses, Purity, and Parturition” (ch. 6), Ackerman observes a curious thing about Israelite religion: there is very little evidence for priestesses although there is plenty of evidence “right next door” in Phoenicia. In these two chapters, Ackerman lays out the evidence for priestesses in Phoenicia and suggests the reason there are no priestesses in Israel is Leviticus 15:19-30. Women are unclean for seven days following menstruation, and there are other texts that cut women out of cultic settings during their reproductive years. Therefore, only pre-puberty and post-menstrual women may have had a cultic function. She draws attention to Psalm 68:25-26 [ET 24-25], “the young women playing the timbrels” in a sacred procession. “Young woman” (עַלְמָה) may refer to a sacred function for prepubescent women.

Part three comprises Ackerman’s two essays on queen mothers, the first on the Queen Mother and the Cult in Ancient Israel (ch. 7) and the second more broadly in the Queen Mother and the Cult in the Ancient Near East (ch. 8). 1 Kings 15:13 and 2 Chronicles 15:16 mention Ma’acah as “queen mother” (גְּבִירָה). The text describes Ma’acah as placing Asherah images. Ackerman suggests this was part of her duties as the Queen Mother. “It is artificial to seek to divorce the political role of the Judean Queen Mother from a cultic function” (169). In her survey of queen mothers in the ancient Near East, Ackerman observes Bathsheba was a Queen Mother, citing Canticles 3:11 as evidence for Bathsheba’s powerful role in crowning her son as king. The article ranges into the New Testament: The Gospel of Matthew understood Mary as a Queen Mother! Or better, the article hints, there is evidence in Matthew for the emerging cult of Mary in the apocryphal infancy gospels.

Finally, part four deals with women and worship. Chapter 9, “At Home with the Goddess” brings evidence from the other essays in this collection together to ask how the queen of heaven relates to the practical worship in the home. She examines places like Bethel and Dan, and how women like Ma’acah used her position as a Queen Mother to devote herself to Asherah. Part of this essay addresses how Asherah may have been worshipped in homes in the ancient near east through libations, offering cakes, etc. She concludes: at some points in Israel’s history, a significant cross section of the population was “at home” with the goddess. Finally, in “Women and the Worship of Yahweh in Ancient Israel,” Ackerman suggests later prophetic texts deem women as apostates (Hosea’s Gomer, for example). But texts outside the prophetic books have a more positive view of women worship gods other than Yahweh. Ma’acah worships Asherah. Some take part in the cult of heaven (Jer 7:16-20), others weep for Tammuz in the temple’s courtyard (Ezek 8:14).

Conclusion. Collecting and updating these essays makes them conveniently available to scholars and students working on religion in the ancient Near East and the Hebrew Bible. Ackerman’s introductions are extremely helpful. This should be standard practice for career-spanning essay collections like this. Although these essays overlap, Gods, Goddesses, and the Women Who Serve Them is a valuable collection for those interested in the development of Israelite religion and the role of women in worship in the Hebrew Bible.

 

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