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Abernethy, Andrew T. The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom: A Thematic-Theological Approach. NSBT 40; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2016. 245 pp. Pb; $25.  Link to IVP

This new contribution to the New Studies in Biblical Theology series focuses on the theme of Kingdom in the book of Isaiah. The topic of kingdom in the whole canon of Scripture is too large for a short monograph, but by limiting the discussion to Isaiah Abernethy is able to provide a reasonable foundation for understanding the book of Isaiah and its foundational role in a Christian understanding of Jesus. Abernethy’s previous book on Isaiah focused on the theme of food in Isaiah (Eating in Isaiah: Approaching the Role of Food and Drink in Isaiah’s Structure and Message. Leiden: Brill 2014, reviewed here).

abernety-isaiahIn his introduction, Abernethy describes his approach in this book as synchronic since he is interpreting the book of Isaiah as a literary whole without being concerned about the historical formation of the book. This approach recognizes the coherence of the whole book of Isaiah through a network of intentional literary associations in each of the major sections of the book. Be he is quick to point out that although questions of historical process for the formation of the book are set aside, history is important for interpreting the book of Isaiah. He will divide this large book into the standard three sections commonly used by scholars so that Isaiah 1-39 are rooted in the Assyrian era, Isaiah 40-55 are rooted in the Babylonian era (with 44-45 in the Persian era). Isaiah 55-66 represent the struggles of the post-exilic period in the light of the eschaton. This “metahistory” is derived from the final form of the book regardless of how the book was formed.

The whole book of Isaiah “endeavours to orient the allegiance of its readers around a king, namely YHWH” (13). The first three chapters survey what Isaiah says about God in the three major units of Isaiah. After commenting on a unit in Isaiah, Abernethy offers a few paragraphs on the unit in the canon of Scripture, specifically on how the unit “bears witness to Christ: (29). These brief reflections are intended to be more than sterile “Old Testament in the New” lists. Isaiah 1-39, especially since some of the texts Abernethy uses are not directly cited in the New Testament. For example, there is no direct citation of Isaiah 25:6-8 in the New Testament, but Abernethy finds intertextual allusions or echoes in the Last Supper (cf. Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper, 448-58 or my Jesus the Bridegroom, 202-4). Other canonical reflections seem strained For example, Abernethy relates Isaiah 36-37 to kingdom language in Matthew, especially the interactions between Jesus and Pilate. This particular example falls well below even a nebulous allusion, although the point may be more clear if this were a monograph on a biblical theology of Kingdom in Matthew.

Chapter 1 reviews the presentation of God as the “king now and to come” (Isaiah 1-39). Abernethy begins with Isaiah’s throne vision to argue that God is the only king and that he is about to render “purifying judgment” on his people (20). In fact, the theme of Isaiah 1-39 can be fairly described as “who is the real king?” The king in Jerusalem is dead, and despite his boasts, Sennacherib is not the true king. The throne vision therefore stands in the center of Isaiah 1-12 in order to throw light on the narrative of Isaiah 1-5 and 7-12 by focusing on the thrice-holy enthroned king. This king will judge the nations and rule from Zion (24:21-23) where he will host a feast for all people, destroying the ultimate enemy, death (25:6-8). This king will reign in beauty, and the eyes of the people will see him (Isaiah 33:17). Abernethy points out this is particularly stirring when read in the light of Isaiah 6. Isaiah sees God and is filled with dread; in Isaiah 33 seeing God is a “vision of hope” (43-4).

In the chapter 2, Abernethy examines Isaiah 40-55 and describes God as the only saving king. Much has happened between Isaiah 39 and 40; Israel has been sent back out into the wilderness and they are to prepare for God’s return. Although it is possible the wilderness is a positive image recalling Israel’s early, pure relationship with God, for Abernethy the wilderness “symbolizes Zion’s destruction” (57). God’s kingly presence will manifest itself as a shepherd king who leads his people out of the dangerous wilderness and back to the good land. Abernethy draws parallels between Isaiah 40:1-11 and 52:7-10, arguing these texts function “to orient our hopes, our desires for comfort, our longings for vindication around the prophetic declarations that God himself is promising to come as king” (65).

In his third chapter, God is “the warrior, international, and compassionate king” (Isaiah 56-66). These chapters are concerned with “eschatological judgment as a collar to salvation” (83), looking forward to a time when God will function as warrior king who will pacify the nations. In order to demonstrate this, Abernethy lays out a chiastic arrangement of 56-66 which sets Isaiah 60-62 in the center. This chapter examines the fourth level of the chiasm, the anticipation of God’s coming salvation (59:15-21) and the final expression of that salvation (63:1-6). The warrior king appears but only sees injustice (59:15a-16), therefore delaying his vindication of his people. When he finally arrives, it is a day of fury and vengeance (63:4-6). Here Abernethy draws a canonical refection to two images of Jesus in the New Testament, first initiating redemption (Luke 1:51) and rendering final judgment (Rev 14:9-11; 19:15-16).

As a conclusion to the first three chapters, Abernethy offers a short theology of kingship in Isaiah (112-17). The recurring themes in Isaiah are seeing the glory of the king, the international king enthroned in Zion; the coordination of judgment and salvation; history and eschatology. These themes are tied to the historical situation of the book (Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian eras) but by the end of the book Isaiah “directs our attention to the eschatological future” (117).

Having surveyed what Isaiah says about the kingship of God, Abernethy devotes chapter 4 to the “lead agents” of the king in each subsection of the book. First, by “lead agent” Abernethy means the character through whom God acts to accomplish salvation and judgment. Although the obvious term to use is “messiah” Abernethy prefers “lead agent” in order to avoid confusion about how Isaiah presents the agent of salvation in each unit of the book. He finds a different lead agent for each of the three units of the book. For Isaiah 1-39, the lead agent is a Davidic ruler who establishes righteousness and justice in the land. In Isaiah 40-55 the lead agent is the Servant who also brings justice to the nations by providing atonement. In Isaiah 56-66 it is the “messenger” of Isaiah 61 who declares God’s salvation at the very beginning of the eschaton.  As Abernethy concedes, most Christian evangelical readers will see all three of these figures as the Messiah, Jesus (169). However, each lead figure functions in their own historical context and are distinct characters from the perspective of the book of Isaiah. The claim of the New Testament is that Jesus takes on all three distinct roles.

Abernethy is content to allow some ambiguity in Isaiah with respect to how these lead agents function as messianic figures. I would suggest the ambiguity explains the variety of messianic expectations in the Second Temple period. If Abernethy is correct and there are at least three lead agents of the eschaton in Isaiah, Second Temple readers of Isaiah seem to have developed one aspect of the coming messiah (such as a Davidic king) and downplayed or missed the others (such as the suffering servant). Early Jewish Christianity may be unique in associating Jesus with all three of the lead agents described by Abernethy.

Finally, chapter 5 concerns “the realm and the people of God’s kingdom.” Abernethy describes Isaiah’s view of the kingdom as “bifocal” since sometimes God’s kingdom is the entire cosmos (40:28) in in other contexts the kingdom is particularized as Zion (65:17). Jerusalem and Zion are a microcosm of the universal kingdom of God (176), and Abernethy refuses to discuss how physical Jerusalem “fits into God’s plan on this side of the cross” (179). Isaiah is clear, however, the people who participate in this future kingdom will be purified and redeemed remnant who are obedient to the King and trust completely in God. The theme of trust is clear in the Ahaz and Hezekiah stories, but Abernethy shows how this theme appears in each of the sections of the boo (Isa 50:10, for example). This kingdom will also be an international community. Abernethy shows that Isaiah 2:2-4 and 66:18-24 frame the book with the prediction that in the latter times Gentiles will be part of God’s kingdom. Although the nations do participate in the eschatological kingdom in some way, I would point out the blood staining the warrior king in Isaiah 63:3 is that of Gentile nations who have opposed God and oppressed his people.

Conclusion. Abernethy contributes an overview of the whole book of Isaiah using the theme of the kingdom of God. Although there are other themes in Isaiah, kingship provides the reader with enough structure to make sense of the massive amount of material in the book of Isaiah. By describing the lead agents of God’s salvation in each unit of the book, Abernethy has provided a useful rubric for understanding how messianic expectations developed in different directions in the Second Temple period.

This is a very readable book for both scholar and layman. Abernethy is clear and structured in his presentation with occasional allusions to pop culture (Batman, the Matrix and Lord of the Rings). Although presenting an important scholarly argument about the book of Isaiah, his canonical reflections have a pastoral interest for the Christian reader. In fact, Abernethy offers two possible teaching outlines in an appendix for use in a small group Bible Study or Sunday School class.


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

Wilson, Lindsay. Job. Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 420 pp. Pb; $28.   Link to Eerdmans

Suffering is one of the few constants of human history. The early twenty-first century has witnessed daily suffering because of war, human greed and natural disaster. Most people have wondered if some suffering is just and deserved or unfair and undeserved. It is difficult to hear stories of innocent children suffering in the media without asking how it is “fair” a child starves to death while a despotic ruler grows even more powerful and wealthy. If God is really both ultimately righteous, just and all-powerful, how can he allow such suffering in this world?

Wilson, JobFrequently Christians appeal to the book of Job for answers to these difficult questions, although Job does not always offer the answers we hope for when we study the book. Lindsay Wilson’s contribution to the Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary series is an attempt to understand the book of Job in its proper biblical context and to sketch out some possible answers to these deep questions about God’s justice and human suffering.

Wilson’s twenty-eight page introduction asks a series of questions about the book of Job. Although the story of Job takes place in patriarchal times, it was written later, probably after the exile and a significant time after Proverbs. When the book was written is not matter for Wilson, only that it is a reaction to misunderstandings of Proverbs and other wisdom literature (5). In fact, whether the story “really happened” does not matter since the book may be something like a parable, a story illustrating important theological truths. Job is a protest against a “fossilized misunderstanding of retribution that had misrepresented the mainstream wisdom tradition of Proverbs” (8). In fact, Wilson suggests that reading Proverbs is the first step in understanding Job.

The main issue in Job is retribution: Does God reward the righteous and punish the wicked? Based on their misunderstanding of wisdom literature, Job’s friends think this is the case, yet the book of Job makes it clear not all suffering is a result of God’s punishment, nor is every good thing in life a reward for righteous living. Although this is the most common theological use of Job, the book also is about God’s relationship with humanity. Why should humans fear God? Does “fear of the Lord” cancel the need to question God? Ultimately, however, the book of Job is about the character of God. As Wilson comments, the theophany and Yahweh speeches make it clear God cannot be constrained by “narrow human categories,” the “majestic picture of God’s power” is foundational for understanding the theology book of Job (10).

The Commentary is divided into four sections. Although it is minimal in the body of the commentary, Hebrew appears along with transliteration. Often difficult vocabulary is compared in various English translations (NRSV, ESV, KJV). Wilson uses footnotes for details of exegesis and interaction with major recent commentaries on Job. Occasionally textual variants appear in the notes. Although this is not a full exegetical commentary like Clines’ 1200+ page WBC Commentary, Wilson provides enough detail to help read the text of Job with insight. This commentary section is necessarily brief, treating large paragraphs in summary fashion. Occasionally Wilson will focus on a particular word or phrase (Hebrew appearing with transliteration). He interacts with major exegetical commentaries in the notes, providing the interested reader a pointer to more in-depth discussions. The purpose of the commentary is not detailed exegesis, but a discussion of the theological themes of the book.

The prologue and epilogue are treated briefly. Wilson focuses on a few key questions the prologue asks which will illuminate the dialogues. Job is a man of unblemished righteousness, but we are not sure why he serves God. Does Job have a disinterested faith? Or does he serve God because of what blessing and protection he receives from God?  The Dialogue (3:1-31:40) naturally makes up the bulk of the commentary section. As Wilson comments in his introduction, the dialogues are long and repetitive, they are in short a “talkfest” (27). Any commentary on Job must be selective in its exegesis, so this main section of the commentary summarizes larger units and only selectively comments on difficult exegetical issues. The Verdict section (32:1-42:6) deal with the divine speeches. Wilson observes “some of Job’s problems are simply resolved by the appearance of Yahweh” (180).

As with other Two Horizon commentaries, the bulk of the book is 172 page section tracing nine theological themes of the book of Job. The obvious theme in Job is of course suffering. Wilson follows David Clines in seeing three main questions concerning suffering that arise from the book: Why is the suffering? Why do the innocent suffer? What should I do when I suffer? The book offers some answers to these questions, but they are not always satisfying (especially those presented by Job’s friends). As Wilson observed, not all suffering is linked to sin nor does an individual who suffers need to know why they have suffered (219). A related theme is “Retribution and Justice,” is all suffering deserved? Does life really work like the Book of Proverbs implies it should? Wilson tracing retribution through the book and argues the book of Job ultimately agrees with Proverbs, although Proverbs does not promise peace and prosperity as is commonly assumed.

Wilson covers several related topics concerning Job’s questioning of God (litigation motif; lament and complaint to God; preserving faith). Christians are sometimes shocked by Job’s questioning of God and his frank refusal to accept suffering as a punishment. Although he ultimately retains his faith in God, Job cries out bitterly to God and even demands his case be heard by the just and righteous God. Wilson has several pages describing the form of lament in the Hebrew Bible and wrestling with the disappearance of laments as a form of Christian worship. For Job, laments may question God, but the purpose of Job’s lament is to restore and strengthen faith. “Job’s complaints can never be understood as merely mouthing off to God” (252). Citing Tennyson, Wilson concludes “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds” (257).

The final section of the book examines Job’s contribution to biblical, systematic, moral and practical theology. Under the heading of biblical theology, Wilson sets Job in a canonical context. In order to do this, he reads Job alongside of the rest of the wisdom literature. As he observes often in the commentary, Job is a kind of protest against misunderstanding the theology of retribution of Proverbs. In some ways Job goes beyond Proverbs by describing the righteous life of Job. Wilson traces the use of the rest of the Old Testament in Job (creation, Decalogue, God’s kingly rule). He briefly examines the common view that Job is a type of Christ, concluding Job is not “all about Christ” in the sense Job prefigures Christ’s suffering. The central theme of the book is God’s kingly rule (320). Perhaps the most fascinating section in his biblical theology section concerns the New Testament use of Job. How should we read Job as a Christian? He rejects the search for Christ in every page of Job, arguing instead to focus on God as sovereign and to restore the kind of “robust, lamenting faith” demonstrated by Job (331).

Under the heading of systematic theology, Wilson rightly begins with what Job contributes to our understanding of God, especially what Job tells us about God’s relationship with evil. Yet Job does not give a direct answer to the problem of evil, rather the book “seems content to leave the question of theodicy unresolved.” (340). He also briefly discusses the contributions Job makes to a theological understanding of Satan, sin, justice, resurrection and the nature of faith.

Under the heading of moral theology, Wilson attempts to create an “ethics of Job,” both in terms of sources for the book’s ethics and the ethical content of book. Scholars who do anything like this in Job usually focus on chapter 31 since it contains a clear statement of what integrity and righteousness looks like. Wilson goes beyond this by briefly touching on Job’s social ethics, including the book’s view of the environment and wealth. He includes a fascinating discussion of suicide. Job’s wife seems to think it is possible for Job to “curse God and die” and Job longs for death. Yet he continues to hope in God for justice and possibly restoration. As Wilson observes, suicide results from the total loss of hope in God (365), Job never seems to reach this point in the book.

Under the heading of practical theology, Wilson covers several topics which will appeal to anyone who wants to teach or preach from the book of Job. It seems strange to think of the book of Job as a source for pastoral care or a guide for prayer, but Wilson shows how the book contributes to these important areas of ministry. In addition, he includes a section on preaching the book of Job. Since it is unlikely anyone would (or should?) preach a lengthy series of expositional sermons based on the book, Wilson offers some practical advice on how to relate this difficult yet important book to Christian audiences.

Conclusion. Like other contributions to the Two Horizons series, Wilson’s book is an important contribution to a Christian understanding of the book of Job. It is a solid albeit brief commentary on the Hebrew text of Job with extensive theological reflection on how Job contributes to the overall theology of both the Hebrew Bible and the whole canon. The book is an excellent support for a pastor, teacher or layperson reading and wrestling with the book Job

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

Beale, Gregory K., Daniel J. Brendsel, and William A. Ross. An Interpretive Lexicon of New Testament Greek: Analysis of Prepositions, Adverbs, Particles, Relative Pronouns, and Conjunctions. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2014. 96 p. Pb. $15.99. Link to Zondervan.

This short book combines a lexical analysis and exegetical syntax for the always troublesome “little words”: prepositions, adverbs, particles, relative pronouns and conjunctions. It joins Murray Harris’s Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament (Zondervan, 2012) and Dan Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Zondervan, 1996) as a specialized tool for Greek exegesis focusing on logical relationships between propositions (p. 6).

Interpretive LexiconIn the introduction to the Interpretive Lexicon, the authors explain the need for a handy list of words that used in the Greek New Testament to indicate relationships between clauses. The book uses a series of abbreviations for the types of logical relationships possible. For example, Alt = Alternative, C-E = Cause and Effect, C?-E = Condition, T = Temporal, +/- = Negative-Positive, etc. The authors provide brief descriptions of these abbreviations and offer a short introduction on how to read the entries in the Lexicon.

The main purpose of the books is to help interpreters tease out the often subtle connections between phrases and clauses in order to shed light on the text. Because the book is a brief handbook, a student can quickly identify the types of logical relationships possible for any given preposition when working on a discourse analysis of a pericope.

The lexicon itself is only 69 pages. It includes mores prepositions, adverbs and particles, but it is not exhaustive. Each entry begins by providing the page numbers in either the second edition of Bauer (1979, BAGD) or the third edition (2000, BDAG). Entries also include page references to either Harris or Wallace. Each entry is subdivided into usage (preposition with the dative, adverb, etc.) and the entry is “tagged” with an abbreviation indicating the type of logical connection the word usually indicates. The word ἐκεῖ, for example, is an “adverb of place” in BDAG, the Interpretive Lexicon identifies it has an adverb, either L (location) or NLR (no logical relationship). Other entries are more complex, ἐν includes six logical relationships as well as references to Wallace and Harris, plus separate entries for ἐν τῷ + and infinitive and ἐν ᾧ.

There are other guides that are similar to this Lexicon, such Steven Runge’s Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2010) or Harris’s text used throughout this Interpretive Lexicon. Runge is far more detailed, which is to be expected in a monograph that runs over 400 pages. This Interpretive Lexicon of New Testament Greek is therefore a valuable exegetical aid for the student reading the Greek New Testament. Considering the book low price of the book, it is an affordable addition to any student’s Greek reading aides. It will in a valuable handbook for those working on a discourse analysis of a text.

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




Burke, Tony. Secret Scriptures Revealed: A New Introduction to the Christian Apocrypha. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2014. 170 pages; pb. $18.00   Link to Eerdmans

Tony Burke’s Secret Scriptures Revealed is one of the few books to introduce the Christian Apocrypha to the general reader without engaging in sensational claims or overly emphasizing Gnosticism suppressed competitor to early Christianity. Burke has been blogging on the Christian Apocrypha at Apocryphicity since 2006. His site has a wealth of information on this literature, but this short introduction provides the background the average needs to read this diverse literature properly.

978-0-8028-7131-2_Burke_Secret Scriptures Revealed_cov.inddThe Christian Apocrypha is not really a collection in the same sense that the Old Testament Apocrypha is. There is no set “canon” for the Christian Apocrypha. Even the titles of these books are not official, since anything concerning Jesus is a “gospel” and the most prominent apostle gets his name attached. Books like Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Philip are not gospels in the same sense that Matthew is a gospel, nor is there a claim to have been written by Thomas or Philip. Burke includes some documents that seem to come from more orthodox Christian writers as well as documents from Gnostic writers that are clearly heterodox. Since most non-scholars only have only heard about this literature through highly sensationalized media reports on The Da Vinci Code or the Gospel of Judas, many have the impression that this literature was actively suppressed by the church. In some cases that was true, but all of these books were preserved and copied by Christians for centuries.

Some of the books were known only by name until several significant discoveries in the twentieth century. A full copy of the Gospel of Thomas, for example, was discovered in Egypt in 1945. Perhaps it is better to describe some of these books as “not very popular” rather than “suppressed” or “secret.” Many of the texts Burke discusses were found in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt. Some have only recently been published.

A “Christian Apocrypha” would include texts that are not only post-apostolic (although Burke suggestions some of the books may originate in the late first century), but also outside of what is usually described as the “church fathers.” The Apostolic Fathers is a fairly set collection, although that collection seems more dependent on the Loeb Library volumes. The oft-reprinted ante-Nicene, Nicene and post-Nicene collections edited by Philip Schaff represent more or less orthodox theology and traditions. The books Burke is describing are not going to be found in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture published by InterVarsity Press!

After two chapters explaining issues of canon and the origin of the books usually included the Christian Apocrypha collections, Burke examines apocryphal gospels. Chapter three concerns various lives of Jesus. This chapter covers infancy gospels—books that claim to tell the story of Jesus’ birth and childhood. Under “Ministry Gospels” he covers the agrapha, approximately two-hundred sayings of Jesus that do not appear in the canonical Gospels. There are also a number of fragmentary gospels were discovered at Oxyrhynchus. Burke briefly discusses the controversial Secret Gospel of Mark, leaving the question of authenticity open.

Chapter four examines passion and resurrection gospels. Here Burke briefly discusses the Gospel of Judas and the Pilate Cycle as well as a series of smaller fragments describing Jesus’ descent into Hell. The latter was highly influential in the development of the church teaching on the “harrowing of hell.” Chapter five surveys the many apocryphal books that develop legends about the early church. The Acts of John, Acts of Peter and Acts of Paul are the most important books Burke surveys, but he also includes a number of other stories about Mary, Joseph, John the Baptist, and Mary Magdalene. Stories about Mary obviously were important to developing devotion to Mary in the medieval period.

In a final full chapter Burke attempts to dispel misconceptions about this apocryphal material. Some of these are directed at popular scholars like Bart Ehrman or Elaine Pagels who make too much of this material. This material was not violently suppressed by the (male) establishment. These books were not forgeries written to undermine the true gospels. In fact, not all of this material can be described as Gnostic or heretical. Burke is clear that the Christian Apocrypha (as he describes it) is not as dangerous as the apologists claim, nor is it forbidden source for the real, original teaching of the church that Dan Brown makes it out to be.

This book intends to be a brief overview of the most important post-apostolic texts. Since it is an introduction, Burke does not include a chapter on Christian apocalypses. He places his four pages on Christian apocalypses in his chapter on resurrection stories. Perhaps texts such as the Christian Sibylline Oracles, the additions to 4 Ezra, and the Ascension of Isaiah were omitted because they are Christian editions of earlier Jewish books. Burke includes the Apocalypse of Peter, but there are apocalypses of Paul and Thomas as well. This criticism really falls under the category of “this is not the book I would have written.”

Burke does not include lengthy readings from the books he discusses. This appears to be a decision to make the book more readable to a broad audience. He occasionally quotes a few lines to illustrate a point, but for the most part he simply summarizes the original text. On the one hand this streamlines the book and makes it an easier read for the popular audience. But there are several times I would have liked more primary material embedded in the book itself. The readier can look the texts up in various collections if they are interested.

One feature that the non-professional will appreciate about the book is that Burke does not use footnotes. At the end of each section of a chapter is a box of “further reading” on topics covered in the section. There is a four page “for further study” appendix and a five pages bibliography provides the interested reader with full details for these more technical works. While I personally prefer full footnotes, these quasi-endnotes make the book much easier to read.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend this book to people wanting to know more about non-canonical Christian texts. Burke’s introduction is accessible to laymen and accurate in its presentation of the facts. I am very pleased that the book does not engage in sensationalism (aside from the title) in order to attract attention.

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

Seevers, Boyd. Warfare in the Old Testament: The Organization, Weapons and Tactics of Ancient Near Eastern Armies. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2013. Hb. $34.95   Link to Kregel

While there are a few books on warfare in the ancient world, there are few that attempt to cover how the military functioned in the biblical period for the major people groups of the Bible. Boyd Seevers offers a historical survey of warfare in Israel, Egypt, Philistia, Assyria, Babylon and Persia. Because of the wide range both historically and culturally, the book is necessarily brief on details. It does, however, provide a basis for understanding biblical descriptions of warfare, which is likely the interest of most readers of the book.

Seevers, WarfareEach section begins with a fictional story of a battle, told from the perspective of a soldier. For example, in chapter one Seever creates the narrative of Judah ben-Eliezer, a soldier about to participate in the attack on Jericho. In chapter 5 the story of Dagarat the Philistine introduces the reader to the Philistines as they engage King Saul. In chapter 9, we read about Chrysantes, a commander in the Median cavalry. These short stories are engaging and offer an insight into the content of the chapter. They are not the sort of thing one expects in a scholarly book, but Seevers intends them as a creative way to draw his readers into the topic at hand.

After setting the stage with a short story, Seevers offers a short “background” section explaining how a particular people connect with the story of the Bible. This means that the section is far from a comprehensive history of the nation, but only that narrow period of contact with Israel. After this background, Seevers describes the military structure and weaponry of the people. The chapters are divided into sections (infantry, navy, role of the gods, types of weapons, etc.) marked by marginal comments. Seevers does a good job describing the psychological warfare and cruelty of the Assyrians, something that can illuminate many prophetic texts (Jonah and Nahum, for example).

One special problem of warfare texts that Seevers treats is the meaning of the Hebrew word ‘eleph, traditionally translated as “thousand” (p. 53-55). As is well known, the word may refer to a military unit rather than a literal 1000. This means that instead of approximately 600,000 soldiers at the time of the Exodus, Israel had something like 5,500 units. This solves the problem of the extreme numbers in the Pentateuch. When Israel entered the Land in Joshua, they are portrayed as a small people compared to the Canaanites, but with an army of more than a half million they would have overwhelmed the Canaanite city states! In addition, when the city of Ai kills 36 men out of 3,000, Joshua sees this as a terrible defeat. If it is 36 men out of three military units, then perhaps a third or more of the soldiers were killed.

There are many line-art illustrations drawn from Ancient monuments or other illustrations.  Rather than reproduce a photograph of the siege of Lachish, for example, the author’s brother Josh Seevers faithfully reproduced parts of that wall relief to illustrate elements of the text. This is the same style as Othmar Keel’s Symbolism in the Biblical World. This means that the Assyrian image of the Siege of Lachish appears many times in the text. I would have liked a section that collected photographs of the original as well as the line art, but the illustrations work well in the text.

At the end of the book, Seevers includes a “further readings” section for each unit of the book. These brief reading lists point the reader to more detailed studies of the military in the Ancient Near East. The book uses endnotes placed at the end of each chapter. I prefer footnotes, but the use of endnotes does make for smooth reading.  When Hebrew appears in the text it is transliterated so the reader without Hebrew can follow the text without difficulty.

Missing in this book is any discussion of a theology of warfare in the Hebrew Bible. In addition, the problem of Holy War, sometimes called the Canaanite Genocide is not discussed. Almost nothing is said on the topic and there is no reference to placing a city “under the ban” (herem) as was Jericho (Joshua 1-6) and the Amalikites in 1 Sam 15. In addition, in 1 Sam 22 Saul puts the village of Nob “under the ban” when he orders the priests who helped David destroyed. While this book is historical in orientation and interested mainly in the material evidence of how Israel fought, a section on this extremely difficult problem would have been a valuable inclusion. On the other hand, the problem of war in the Old Testament is worthy of a monograph, perhaps a few pages would not be enough to do justice to the topic.

Conclusion. This book is a good introduction for the layman to the way the military functioned in the Ancient Near East. While the text does use some technical terminology, it is written for the non-professional. Most students of the Bible will benefit from reading this book alongside Joshua, Judges Samuel and Kings.

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

Hellerman, Joseph H. Embracing Shared Ministry: Power and Status in the Early Church and Why it Matters Today. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2013. 313 pp. Pb; $17.99.  Link

In 2005 Joseph Hellerman published Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi: Carmen Christi as cursus pudorum (SNTS 131; Cambridge University Press). There are a great deal of similarities between Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi and this new book published by Kregel Ministry. In fact, Embracing Shared Ministry draws on the insights of that earlier work and attempts to show that Paul’s vision of the church is counter to the Greco-Roman pursuit of honor and status.

HellermanThe first part of Embracing Shared Ministry concerns power and authority in the Roman world. Hellerman first describes social stratification in the Roman word, demonstrating that there was a rigid social order in the Roman world, from the extreme minority elites who had virtually all the power to the majority slaves who had absolutely no power. In fact, Roman life can be described as a “Quest for Honor” (cursus honorum). The second chapter of the book shows the lengths to which a Roman might go in order to gain honor. Hellerman offers by way of example a tombstone of C. Luccius (A.D. 134), on which all of the honors achieved by the man are listed. In contrast to this, Paul offers his own list of honors in Phil 3:5-6, which he considers “rubbish.”

Any status Paul has as a Roman citizen or an elite member of Jewish society is of no value to him whatsoever. As Hellerman points out, this turned the Roman world upside down (p. 77). While members of Roman culture were motivated by self-promotion, members of Paul’s churches were to seek the honor of others and to think of others more highly than themselves. This flies in the face of the Roman world, and as Hellerman points out, it flies in the face of power relations within the church (p. 99).

In the second part of his book, Hellerman applies the background he surveyed in the first part to the letter to the Philippians. He begins by point out that Paul simply identifies himself as a “slave” in Phil 1:1, despite the fact that a slave is the lowest class of person in the Roman world. In fact, Phil 2:5-6 will use that same language to describe Jesus.  In the Christ-Hymn Paul states that Jesus set aside his status as God and took on the status of a slave. Hellerman makes the point that this would be equivalent to a Roman senator setting aside his toga (his mark of status) and taking on the rags of a slave (also a mark of status). Because of that humble obedience, Jesus is exalted to the highest status imaginable, even above the emperor of Rome! That Jesus is called Lord is counter to a Roman world where Caesar is Lord and worshiped as a god (p. 167).

Is this view of Jesus “anti-imperial”? As Hellerman points out, “Paul’s agenda was not to influence the political process of Rome” (p.168). This means that “trendy academic portraits of anti-imperial Paul” are anachronistic.  Paul was not anti-Rome, although his gospel did subvert the social order by advocating Jesus as the Lord of a new social group. As I read Paul, I think that Hellerman is right that Paul is not consciously anti-Imperial, he in no way was advocating some sort of rebellion against the Empire. But the Gospel was so radical that it would erode the Empire if that Gospel practiced consistently. Perhaps the sad story of Church history is that by the time Christianity was the majority religion, it had become thoroughly Roman with respect to honor and status.

The third section of the book draws some very point application to contemporary Evangelicalism. At this point the book shifts from stories and illustrations drawn from the Greco-Roman world and focuses on real-world illustrations of the pursuit of honor and status in the church today.  These illustrations are drawn from Hellerman’s own experiences as a pastor and seminary professor. He is most interested in the problems of “corporate Christianity.” American Evangelical churches frequently turn pastors into CEOs who are expected to run their churches like they are big businesses. The problems with this church model are amply illustrated in two chapters with a number of anecdotes.

In the final chapter of the book, Hellerman makes some suggestions for returning to Paul’s vision for authentic ministry. It is no surprise at this point in the book that Hellerman argues that the church ought to have a “cruciform vision” for ministry. Rather than a CEO pastor, he advocates a “community of leaders” who together work as servant leaders who urge one another toward spiritual maturity and greater accountability. Just as Jesus set aside his honor and status as God in order to be a servant, Paul told his churches to set their own honor and status aside to serve one another. For Hellerman, that is the only effective model for the church today (p. 286).

Conclusion. What I find remarkable is that this book published by Kregel Ministry. It certainly is a book that pastors ought to read and the application of the book is important for developing vital ministry that seeks to live out the model of Jesus as the ultimate servant in modern communities. But this is not some sort of a post-emergent “let’s get back to Jesus” book. Nor is this book a popular leadership manual with plenty of pithy quotes and trendy jargon. Hellerman presents the data from the Roman world, applies it to the letter to the Philippians in order to tease out the nuances of the text modern readers simply miss. He then bridges the gap between that world and the modern world in order to challenge modern churches to follow Christ in a more authentic fashion.

I think that this book will appeal to scholars who study Greco-Roman backgrounds to the New Testament. Do not ignore this book because it was published in a ministry series since it collects most of the data from Reconstructing Honor in a handy (and less expensive) format. Pastors may find this a challenging read, but there is a treasury of background material here that will enhance teaching and preaching of the letter to the Philippians.

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

Nash PapyrusThe Cambridge Digital Library has published The Nash Papyrus online.  This is a famous fragment containing the Ten Commandments and the Shema. This document was discovered in 1898 and likely dates to 150-100 B.C. F. C. Burkitt described the text in a 1903 article in the Jewish Quarterly Review as a “Hebrew document based upon a text which is not the Masoretic text, but has notable points of agreement with that which underlies the Septuagint” (399).  After providing a plate of the manuscript, a transcription and translation, Burkitt says “I greatly rejoice to learn from the Nash Papyrus that the ancient Greek translation was even more faithful to the Hebrew which underlies it than some of us dared hope” (403).

Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, this fragment was the oldest example of Hebrew writing.  It is interesting to read Burkitt’s article since he writes well before the DSS were discovered.  He is elated at being able to study pre-Herodian biblical Hebrew.  This make me think how rich biblical scholarship is 100 years later.  Not only do we have the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, but much of this material is available in extremely high resolution.

While photographs of this text have been available for over a century, the Cambridge site allows the scholar see the manuscript in high resolution.  The site provides a brief description along with a bibliography.  There are hundreds of other manuscripts of interest on the Cambridge site, well worth spending an afternoon browsing!

Tremper Longman, III. Introducing the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2012. 192 pages, pb. $14.95.

This book is a handy guide to the books of the Old Testament, ideal for students or laymen who want to get an brief overview of the Hebrew Bible. It is an unfortunate fact that the Old Testament is ignored in contemporary preaching and that most laymen have very little idea what is in the first two-thirds of their Bible.  This little book will help fill this gap in Christian discipleship.

For each book of the Old Testament, Longman provides a summery of the contents of the book. This is usually the longest section of the chapter, moving quickly through the book. Remarkably, there is no separate outline, something which is expected in this kind of primer.

After the laying out the contents of the book, Longman briefly treats authorship and date. Authorship is not much of an issue for many books of the Old Testament. Isaiah and Jeremiah have longer sections than Joshua. After authorship, there is a section entitled “genre,” although sometimes this goes beyond identifying the genre of a book. For example, Longman deals with minimalist / maximalist views of Israel’s conquest in Joshua. Other times the genre section is only a short paragraph.

Following genre, every book has a unit entitled “Connections: How does this book anticipate the Gospel” In this section Longman ties the content of the book the New Testament story of Jesus. These are not fanciful or strained, but (in my view) represent real connections. When I noticed that these connections were in every chapter, I immediately went to Song of Solomon as a litmus test of how fanciful Longman’s connections to the Gospel might be. Longman is clear that the Song of Solomon is about human love, and he refuses to allegorize the book. He merely states only that Paul used a marriage metaphor in Eph 5:21-33, so this book could “inspire us to think about the intimacy we enjoy in Jesus.”

There are occasional excursuses, one on the purpose of Kings (p. 66-68) and another on “theological history” (p. 84-85). The genre of the Psalms section is a nice introduction to forms of Hebrew poetry.

These introductions are a little more than one expects to read in a good Study Bible (the ESV Study Bible, for example). Personally, I find the introductions too short, but that is because I would rather read Longman’s Introduction to the Old Testament. I suspect for many people this book will be a handy introduction to books of the Bible which are less familiar.

I am currently teaching a two-week intensive class on Daniel and Revelation.  I have toyed with the idea of renaming the class “Introduction to Apocalyptic” even if such a title would scare a few students away.  I approach the class from a hermeneutical perspective and try to give some strategy for reading Daniel and Revelation as examples of biblical apocalyptic.

For a text book I chose Brent Sandy’s Plowshares and Pruning Hooks (IVP, 2002).  I find this little book a helpful primer for not only apocalyptic, but also for the hermeneutics of metaphors. Maybe I am hoping for too much here, but I think that a solid understanding of how non-literal communication will help us steer clear of the traps ensnare many interpreters of Revelation.  (I used three metaphors in that last sentence intentionally)

In his second chapter, Sandy lists seven “problems” the reader must face when reading the prophetic books of the Old Testament.

1. Predictive of Poetic? Some language in a text is used to describe a writer’s current situation in poetic language. Yet other language may be used to predict something in the future (near or distant). Sandy uses Psalm 22 as an example. To what extent is the language of this psalm describing the Psalmists own state of dereliction, yet there are other elements which seem to predict the cross.

2. Literal or Figurative? For me, this is less of a problem since I have been emphasizing the metaphoric nature of language. It is virtually impossible to express thoughts without using implicit or explicit imagery. Some statements are propositions (such as the prophet describing a real historical event) Other times the prophet uses hyperbole to describe something. One of Sandy’s examples is Isa 48:4: “your neck muscles are like iron.” This is a clear image, the person does not have an iron neck. Yet it expresses a very real situation. So is this literal or figurative?

3. Exact or Emotive? Sometimes prophets predict things which will happen just as predicted. When Jonah said, “in three days Nineveh will be destroyed,” he meant that literally. When Isaiah said “a child will be born,” he meant that a child was about to be born. But in many other cases a metaphor will be used to stir an emotion or call to mind a feeling (usually of fear or dread).

4. Conditional or Unconditional? Predictive prophecy often has a conditional aspect, even if that is not explicitly stated. This is the case in Jonah’s prophecy that Nineveh would be destroyed. But other times the prophet describes a coming event which is certain. This is the case of the progression of empires in Daniel 2 and 7. There is no question that these empires will rise and fall.

5. Real or Surreal? This is more of a problem for apocalyptic literature, since many of the images used are by their nature surreal and other-worldly. There is little doubt that Daniel did not want us to imagine a literal bear with a mouth full of ribs. But when he describes a “sanctuary,” does he have in mind the real Temple in Jerusalem?

6. Oral or Written? For a prophet like Isaiah, the oral delivery of a prophecy is important – he delivered a message to a specific king at a specific time with a specific intention. But Daniel is not addressing a particular king, the book is a literary work which may verbally allude to other texts. To what extent is a prophet “preaching” or “researching”?

7. Fulfilled or Unfulfilled? From our perspective, a prophecy may be said to be “fulfilled” even if it was not from the perspective of the prophet. Certainly our presuppositions about the nature of the church and Israel will come into play here, but it is possible to read a text like Daniel 9 (the seventy-sevens) as wholly fulfilled or as partially fulfilled with aspects yet to come.

Sandy’s questions are more difficult for apocalyptic literature.  I am tempted to declare “it is all surreal” and walk away from a text like Daniel 8:1-14, yet the writer of this apocalyptic vision intended something by it.  The difficulty for us is determining the function of the metaphors.  The writer chose to describe real events as rams and goats battling on a great plain for a reason, by paying careful attention to the point of the metaphors the reader will be closer to the meaning intended by the author.

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