A New English Translation of Strack and Billerbeck, Commentary on the Talmud, ed. Jacob N. Cerone, trans. Joseph Longarino

Strack, Hermann L. and Paul Billerbeck, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud & Midrash, ed. Jacob N. Cerone, trans. Joseph Longarino, vol. 3. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2021. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2021. 1008 pp.; Hb.  $64.99; Logos Digital edition $59.99  Link to Lexham Press

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 BillerbeckThis new edition was translated by Joseph Longarino and edited by Jacob N. Cerone. Jacob N. Cerone is a doctoral candidate at the Friedrich-Alexander University at Erlangen-Nuremberg. He edited and translated Jorg Frey, Qumran, Judaism, and New Testament Interpretation (WUNT 2/424; Morh Siebeck, 2919). He recently published Daily Scriptures: 365 Readings in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin (Eerdmans 2021) and is the editor and translator of Adolf von Harnack, The Letter of the Roman Church to the Corinthian Church from the Era of Domitian: 1 Clement (Pickwick, 2021). Joseph Longarino finished his Ph.D at Duke, “The Weight of Mortality: Pauline Theology and the Problem of Death.”

How important is Strack and Billerbeck? It is possible someone might see “published in 1922” and think this is an old, outdated resource. Despite being nearly a hundred years old, St-B is still cited frequently in commentaries. I used the Logos to search for references to Str-B. In the second volume of Davies and Allison’s ICC commentary on Matthew, they cite Str-B 127 times. In the ten volumes of TDNT, there are 3,667 citations of this four-volume commentary. George Foot Moore described this word as “an immense collection of parallels and illustrations from all parts of the rabbinical literature, in trustworthy translation, with the necessary introductions and explanations” (cited by Baird, 422). In the introduction to this new edition, David Instone-Brewer calls the word a “rich compendium of Rabbinic sources that help illustrate the language and thinking of many of the authors and initial readers of the New Testament” (xxi).

What is A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud & Midrash? Strack and Billerbeck present their purpose in writing the commentary:

We did not intend to present an actual interpretation of the New Testament, but that which is understood on the basis of material from the Talmud and Midrash; we intended to present objectively the beliefs, the ideas, and the life of the Jews in the time of Jesus and earliest Christianity.… We protest emphatically against the idea that a conclusion should be drawn about actual or alleged views prevailing in contemporary Judaism on the basis of the material collected here (Kommentar zum NT aus Talmud, l: vi., cited by Baird , 419).

Joachim Jeremias described the importance of this work: “A field of research basically important for the understanding of the Gospels, which was previously a terra incognita, accessible only to a few specialists, the Jewish environment of Jesus and the early church has been opened for general use to the theological world since 1922. Through it a new basis for New Testament exegesis, especially of the Gospels, was created” (Jeremias, “Billerbeck,” TRE 4:641, cited in Baird, 419).

Use and Abuse of Strack and Billerbeck. The reception history of Str-B is worthy of a scholarly article. Instone-Brewer warns in his introduction that “Easy access to all these texts can be both a valuable research tool and a source of temptation for lazy scholarship” (xxiv). This was Samuel Sandmel’s complain in his famous article “Parallelomania” (JBL 81 [1962]: 8–11).

What shall we make of the five immense books which constitute the Strack and Billerbeck Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch? Let us grant that it is a useful tool. So is a hammer, if one needs to drive nails. But if one needs to bisect a board, then a hammer is scarcely the useful tool… I would state here that NT scholars devoid of Rabbinic learning have been misled by Strack-Billerbeck into arrogating to themselves a competency they do not possess” (8-9).

Sandmel though St-B was “shaped as though its compilers were out of touch with NT scholarship” and “misleads many into confusing a scrutiny of excerpts with a genuine comprehension of the tone, texture, and import of a literature” (9). In fact, the fundamental problem is the work is too Christian: “where Jesus and the rabbis seem to say identically the same thing, Strack-Billerbeck manage to demonstrate that what Jesus said was finer and better” (11).

Similarly, E. P. Sanders thought using Str-B led scholars to think they were appealing directly to the sources when in fact, they were citing the Commentary itself. For Sanders, Billerbeck “has distorted the clear meaning of the text or has prejudiced a question by his selection” (Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 42). Sanders thought there is a clear Lutheran bias in the Commentary work that skewed Jewish soteriology and implied Judaism in the Second Temple period had a “works for salvation.” This is something of a “ground zero” for the New Perspective on Paul: Lutherans like Strack and Billerbeck misunderstood Judaism and created a tool used by lazy scholars who did not read the material for themselves, thus perpetuating the error.

Instone-Brewer disagrees with Sanders’s assessment in his introduction, suggesting Sanders himself selected examples which prejudiced his view of Str-B. When the Commentary is read as a whole “it becomes clear that the authors certainly do not imply that Jews in general believed that salvation came from personal effort” (xxviii). Even though James Dunn accepts these criticisms of the work, “they do not destroy the value of Strack-Billerbeck” (“They Set Us in New Paths,” 204). However, a quick search of Dunn’s Jesus Remembered indicates only five direct references to the Str-B.  William Baird concludes, “for the understanding of Judaism, the weakness of the commentary is built into the design: Rabbinic material is presented in parallel to NT texts; the Christian sources are the lens through which Jewish teaching is viewed” (421).

Dating the Rabbinic sources is the biggest problem for Str-B. The Mishnah dates to at least AD 200, the Babylonian Talmud to at least the sixth century. But both works contain traditions that are much older. Each rabbi cited in the Mishnah and Babylonian Talmud needs to be dated accurately, a daunting task for experts in the field, let alone scholars dabbling in Rabbinic material. This is important since one cannot state a particular Rabbinic saying illustrates Paul’s thought if it dates 500 years after Paul. Even if a saying is attributed to an early rabbi (Hillel and Shammai, for example), the tradition was not written until after AD 200. It may not illustrate first century thinking or practice. In fact, as Instone-Brewer comments in the introduction, much of this material is undatable (xxxvi).

Instone-Brewer’s introduction has a list of rabbis found in the Mishnah with suggested dating by century. Rabbis quoted most often are printed in bold.

Strack and Billerbeck


Using Strack and Billerbeck in Logos Bible Software. I opened Str-B in Logos and synced it with my current Bible. Since Volume 3 covers the Epistles through Revelation, I opened my New Testament to 1 Corinthians 7:16 and Logos synced Str-B to that section, specifically the line, “Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” Str-B lists the following:

Genesis Rabbah 17 (12A): It once happened that a pious man was married to a pious woman; but they did not acquire any children from each other. Then they said, “We are of no use to God.” They got up and separated from each other. He went and took a godless wife, and this woman made him godless. She went and took a godless husband and made him righteous. You see that everything depends on the woman.

t.Demai 2.17 (48): R. Simeon b. Eleazar (ca. 190) said in the name of R. Meir (ca. 150), “It once happened that a woman was married to a ḥaber (a member of a Pharisaic covenant with the law) and tied the tefillin around his hand. Then she married a tax collector and tied the customs slip on his hand.”

Genesis Rabbah is not tagged, but the reference to Tosefta tractate Demai is. There is a cross reference to Volume 2 of the commentary (John 7:49, but this is not yet available in Logos) and references to the Babylonian Talmud, b. ʿAbod. Zar. 39A and b. Bek. 30B. Since I happen to own the Neusner translation of the Talmud, I can click the link and open directly to the passage. Alternatively, I can hover over the reference, but usually Talmud references are to whole pages, so I almost always just click and scroll down until I find the exact lines I want. I did look these up and found a discussion of a wife who meticulously keeps the Law helping her husband.

Regarding dates, Genesis Rabbah is a collection of midrash (rabbinical interpretations) on Genesis written AD 300-500. Although this quotation might illustrate what Paul has in mind in 1 Corinthians 7:16, one cannot state this with any certainty at all. The Tosefta dates to the late second century, so the same warning applies. The significant section in the reference to the Babylonian Talmud (b. ʿAbod. Zar. 39A) is a saying attributed to R. Simeon b. Eleazar (before AD 200).

Strack and Billerbeck refers to much more than Rabbinic literature. There are many cross references to Old Testament texts. They cite 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. Logos tags all references, so if you own Charlesworth’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, clicking the link opens to the passage in context. All references to Josephus and Philo are tagged as well. It is occasionally frustrating that references to excurses in other volumes are unavailable, but these will be updated when the first two volumes are complete.

The more resources you own, the better Strack and Billerbeck works in the Logos environment. Since I have added Neusner’s translation of the Mishnah, the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmud and the Tosefta, I can click on many of the links presented in the commentary and read the reference in context (often leading me down a deep rabbit hole). If you do not own a version of the Mishnah or Talmud in Logos, you cannot click to read the saying in context. (Neusner’s Mishnah is not expensive,  The Babylon and Jerusalem Talmud is fifty volumes and is more expensive, but reasonably priced for 25,000 pages!)

Conclusion: Is this new English translation of Strack and Billerbeck worth the investment? This is not a reference work for the casual reader, it is a major tool intended for the serious Bible student and scholar. For many, an English translation of Strack and Billerbeck opens up a new world of Rabbinic literature for the first time. But with great power comes great responsibility. Using Strack and Billerbeck can enhance one’s understanding of the Jewish background to Jesus, Paul, and the rest of the New Testament. But it is a tool which may lead to unintentional consequences and misreading the Rabbinic literature.

Lexham is publishing English translations of the first three volumes of Strack and Billerbeck, releasing the third volume first (on November 3, 2021) and volume 2 in May 2022. As of this writing, there is no release day for Volume 1. You can download the original German version of Strack and Billerbeck on archive.org. Browsing the free German version might convince you this new English translation is worth the investment.


Bibliography: Samuel Sandmel, “Parallelomania,” JBL 81 (1962): 8-11; E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), 42-44; James D. G. Dunn, “They Set Us in New Paths VI. New Testament: The Great Untranslated,” ExpTim 100 (1989): 204; William Baird, History of New Testament Research, Volume Two: From Jonathan Edwards to Rudolf Bultmann (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 417-21.

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

Book Giveaway: Grant Osborne, Hebrews: Verse by Verse

Book Giveaway: Grant Osborne, Hebrews Verse-by-Verse

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed Grant Osborne’s commentary on Hebrews in his Verse-by-Verse series. Thanks to the kindness of Lexham Academic, I have an extra copy of the book to give to a reader of this blog.

Hebrews CommentaryGrant Osborne’s Verse by Verse commentary on Hebrews is the twelfth in the series and the first published after Osborne’s death in November 2018. The commentary was nearly complete when he died, missing only summary sections on chapters 10-13, commentary on the final verses of chapter 13, and the introduction. Osborne requested Lexham allow George Guthrie to finish the commentary. Even though George Guthrie is a well-known Hebrews scholar himself, the commentary belongs to Osborne.

Osborne’s commentary readable for academic readers, yet the layperson will have no trouble working the commentary as they read Hebrews. Like other volumes in this series, Osborne achieves his goal of helping pastors to “faithfully exposit the text in a sermon.”  Go read the rest of the review, I make some comments on Osborne’s views on the

If you want a free copy of this book, leave a comment with your favorite Hebrews commentary and 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 November 22, 2021 (one week from today).

If you don’t win this book, check back for another giveaway starting November 29 (after Thanksgiving).



Book Giveaway Winner: The Manifold Beauty of Genesis 1

Genesis 1A couple of weeks ago I reviewed Gregg Davidson and Kenneth J. Turner, The Manifold Beauty of Genesis 1: A Multi-Layered Approach (Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2021). Thanks to the kindness of Kregel Academic, I have an extra copy of the book to give to a reader of this blog. Sixteen people left comments, so I but those names into Excel, randomly sorted them, then generated a random number on random.org. The winner of the book is….

Ian Renwick

Good job Ian, the random winds of evolutionary fate have landed you an copy of Manifold Beauty. I will sen you and email asking for shipping info and I will get the book out ASAP.

I will launch another giveaway a bit later today so stay tuned. As they say on YouTube, subscribe to the blog to get updates.














Jacob Cerone and Matthew Fisher, Daily Scriptures: 365 Readings in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin

Cerone, Jacob N. and Matthew C. Fisher. Daily Scriptures: 365 Readings in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2021. 382 pp. Hb; $34.99.   Link to Eerdmans  

Students who take two years of Greek and a year of Hebrew in seminary often lose touch with those languages because they are not able to read in the original languages every day. The daily grind of language classes is usually replaced by the daily grind of ministry. This collection of biblical readings provides a way for people to keep their language skills sharp through brief daily readings.

Cerone and Fisher, Daily ScriptureIn the introduction to the book the editors explain their goal for the volume is to help students “keep up your languages” but also to “keep you fed in the Word and hopefully spark a desire to explore more deeply how the New Testament at its core relies upon the Old Testament Scriptures.”

For each calendar day, there are two sets of readings. The first is a passage from the Hebrew Bible with the corresponding verse in the Septuagint. The second is a passage from the Greek New Testament with the corresponding verse in the Latin Vulgate. Texts are drawn from Biblica Hebraica Stuttgartensia, Rahlfs-Hanhart, Septuaginta, Nestle-Aland 28, and Weber-Grayson, Biblia Sacra: Vulgata. All verses following the original language rather than the English Bible, but readers can use the Scripture index to find the verse in a modern translation.

Words are marked with superscript numerals are glossed in outer margin of the page. Words appearing less than one hundred times in the Hebrew Bible and the Greek Old Testament are glossed, words appearing less than thirty times in the Greek New Testament or Vulgate are glossed. For the rare Aramaic passages, all the words are glossed (the introduction says two passages from Daniel, but the index only has Daniel 7:13 listed). Irregular verbs are usually parsed. The editors also provide brief notes to help with Context (labeled CH) and Translation (TH), some textual critical notes (TC) and pairing aids (PA). A pairing aid is a short explanation of why the two passages are related. For example, In Matthew 4:9 Jesus responds to Satan by quoting Deuteronomy 6:13, although the quotation is in Matthew 4:10. The editors do not repeat texts in direct quotations. Some readings are marked with chain link indicating the whole context is related, such as 1 Samuel 2:1 and Luke 1:46 (Hannah’s song and the Magnificat). The editors only include one verse from the larger context and encourage the student to read the larger context.

There are thirty-three mostly chronological categories covering both Testaments. The editors kindly shifted readings on the Advent to December. In addition, there is a section on the Holy Spirit after the Resurrection and before the Apostolic Age. Each pair of readings are related, usually allusions rather than quotations. Sometimes the paired texts are thematically related rather than an allusion. Using several cross-reference systems and lists of “Old Testament in the New Testament,” the editors gathered a list and then ordered them in a “salvation-historical arrangement.”

Most books are represented, although there are no readings from Nehemiah, Song of Solomon, Lamentations Zephaniah, Haggai, Titus, Philemon, 2 and 3 John. The main reason for omitting these books is there is no corresponding New Testament passage. There are no apocryphal texts since there are no Hebrew manuscripts for most of those books.

With respect to the physical look and feel of the book, this is not a workbook like Mounce’s Graded Reader, but it is not designed to look like a Bible either. Eerdmans did include a sewn-in ribbon bookmark. Daily readings do not take up a whole page so there is plenty of white space for taking notes and making comments. Rarely does the list of glosses take up the whole outer column.

Conclusion. This volume differs from other similar collections on the market by focusing on biblical Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Jonathan Kline has several volumes of Keep up your Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek in Two Minutes A Day (published by Hendrickson; read my review of his A Proverb a Day in Biblical Hebrew).  Unlike Bill Mounce, A Graded Reader of Biblical Greek (Zondervan, 1996) or Van Pelt and Practico, A Graded Reader of Biblical Hebrew (Zondervan 2006), these readings do not start with easier texts and work up to more difficult passage. This is a result of arranging selections in chronological categories.

Cerone and Fisher’s Daily Scripture is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to refresh their language skills. Since this volume includes both Hebrew and Greek, it is an excellent book for post-seminary biblical language retention, whether one has just finished their language courses, or they are a distant memory. Including the Septuagint and Vulgate add depth to a daily regimen of Bible reading.


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: Davidson and Turner, The Manifold Beauty of Genesis 1

I have not done a book giveaway in a while. As it turns out I have several books I have been setting aside for a time such as this. In fact, I get occasional emails from readers wondering when I am going to give away another… today is that day.

Genesis 1A couple of weeks ago I reviewed Gregg Davidson and Kenneth J. Turner, The Manifold Beauty of Genesis 1: A Multi-Layered Approach (Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2021). Thanks to the kindness of Kregel Academic, I have an extra copy of the book to give to a reader of this blog.

As I mentioned in the original review, Manifold Beauty is a biblical-theological reading of Genesis 1. Each chapter represents a unique theological interpretation of the creation story. Although the authors do not deny Genesis 1 is a literal creation story, they are more interested in the theology of the creation story than the mechanics of creation. Although the principal topic is Genesis 1, the chapters provide a full canonical perspective for each theological topic.

In the introduction, Davidson and Turner are clear that none of their suggested layers are entirely new, each layer draws on previous scholarship. They argue the themes presented in this book are complementary, they all “contribute to and reinforce the unified message of Genesis 1” (11). The authors agree with the Chicago statement on biblical inerrancy but understand a distinction between the literal meaning and a literalistic interpretation. In the full review, I summarize the seven theological layers covered in Manifold Beauty, so read that post for more details on the book.

If you want a free copy of this book, 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 November 15, 2021 (one week from today).

If you don’t win this book, check back for another giveaway starting November 15.