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Bird, Michael F. An Anomalous Jew: Paul among Jews, Greeks, and Romans. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2017. xii + 322 pages; Pb. $28.   Link to Eerdmans

This new collection of essays from Michael Bird includes three chapters previously published and two lengthy chapters written for this volume. A lengthy thirty-page introduction explains what Bird means by “an anomalous Jew” (aside from the play on John Meier’s work on the Historical Jesus, A Marginal Jew or Daniel Boyarin’s Paul: A Radical Jew). Although it is commonplace in contemporary scholarship to acknowledge Paul’s Jewish roots, Bird points out Paul says things that no other Torah-affirming Jew would say and he was opposed violently by Torah-affirming Jews. Paul’s view of what God is doing in the present age through Jesus Christ led to his “decentering of the Torah” (7). So if Paul is a Jewish thinker, how should he be situated in what we know about Second Temple period Judaism?

Prior to the twentieth century, situating Paul within Judaism was not even considered since Paul was read as completely rejecting his Jewish (legalistic) religion and “converting” to Christianity. Aside from the historical anachronisms, the traditional view of Paul was at best anti-Semitic. But since the Holocaust Pauline scholarship had returned the idea Paul represents some form of early Judaism. Bird offers several contemporary scholarly opinions that Paul was a Former Jew (Martyn), a Transformed Jew (Sanders, Dunn and the New Perspective), a Faithful Jew (Mark Nanos), or even a Radical Jew (Daniel Boyarin). Bird picks up on a suggestion from John Barclay that Paul was an anomalous diaspora Jew, although he wants to include the “thoroughly Judean Paul” of W. D. Davies, E. P. Sanders and the New Perspective (27).

Having charted the course in his introduction, Bird then turns to “Salvation in Paul’s Judaism” (chapter 1, a shorter version appeared in Paul and Judaism, LNTS 463; T&T Clark 2012). He begins by surveying several recent attempts to describe Paul’s view of salvation as being either against Judaism or within it. If Paul was against the Judaism of his day, then he was necessarily supersessionist and conceived of Christianity as the replacement for Israel. But if Paul stayed in some sense within Judaism, then Paul viewed Jews and Gentiles as a “remnant within Israel who occupy a special place within an irrevocably elected Israel” (45). Bird concludes Paul was somewhere between these two poles since he seems intra-Judaism with respect to halakic discussions, but contra-Judaism in the sense he says things no Second Temple Jew would, such as the Torah leads to death.

Written specifically for this volume, the second essay in the collection asks if Paul was an Apostle to the Gentiles and Jews. Bird begins with the observation that Paul’s title of “apostle to the Gentiles” has obscured his continued mission to the Jews. Since the epistles of Paul may be used to argue Paul only went to the Gentiles after his conversion, the accuracy of Acts is questions (since Paul continues to reach out to Jews throughout his whole career). Bird therefore focuses this essay on the place of the Jews in Paul’s apostolate to the Gentiles (71). In order to achieve this goal, he begins with an overview of the vocabulary Paul used for non-believing non-Jews (ἔθνη, Ἕλλην, ἀκροβυστία, περιτομή, ἄνομος). This vocabulary is more “fuzzy” than often observed, especially when used to describe the target of Paul’s mission. Bird has a helpful chart on page 85 demonstrating that there are both lawless Gentiles and Jews, Greeks (Hellenes who may also be lawless) but Diaspora Jews (who might be Hellenistic but keep the Law).

Bird argues Paul did in fact target Jews in the Diaspora, but also that his mission evolved over the years. Although this is not controversial as far as I can see, Bird goes on to ask when Paul received his commission to go to the Gentiles. He argues the evidence from Acts is ambiguous. Acts 9:15 indicates he was to carry Jesus’ name to “Gentiles and Kings and the sons of Israel.” In fact, Paul does go to synagogues where he preaches that Jesus is the Messiah, and he does continue to go to synagogues in the book of Acts. One potential problem is Paul’s time in Arabia, but Bird argues Paul’s focus was on Jews living in the Nabatean kingdom, especially around Damascus. What may be controversial in this essay is Bird’s contention the commission to go to the Gentiles occurs after the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. It is only after this watershed moment that Paul begins to partition his Gentile churches from the synagogues (96). Bird thinks this may help understand Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22 that he became a Jew in order to win the Jews, and a Gentile to win the Gentiles. Given the flexible vocabulary Paul uses to describe his mission, Paul’s target were those who were not in Christ, which may include some Jews. The door was opened to the Gentiles, but as Bid says, it was never closed to the Jews (104).

By the end of this chapter, Bird indicates Acts is a trustworthy guide, which raises a question for the thesis Paul’s Gentile mission developed more fully after the Jerusalem Council. Although he acknowledges the synagogue sermon in Acts 13 is paradigmatic for Lukan theology, he overlooks the important symbolic miracle earlier in that chapter. After “Barnabas and Saul” visit synagogues on Cyprus, Saul approaches a Roman official. This man is not a God-fearing Gentile (like Cornelius) and appears to be a pagan Roman. When Saul attempts to share the Gospel with him, a Jewish sorcerer attempts to stop him. At this point in the story Luke tells the readers Saul is also called Paul, and Paul delivers a judgment speech on the Jewish sorcerer and he is blinded for a time. After this dramatic incident, Luke only uses the name Paul and almost always places Paul first (“Paul and Barnabas,” the only exception is at the Jerusalem council). This symbolic blinding is explained in the synagogue sermon later in Acts 13, where Paul and Barnabas “turn to the Gentiles” for the first time in the book of Acts. Luke has used this story at a crucial turning point in his overall story, but the incident also seems to indicate Paul was targeting a Roman official before the Jerusalem council. I have no doubt Bird is correct that Paul’s missionary strategy developed and matured over the years and it is absolutely the case Paul continued to use the synagogue as a platform for preaching Jesus as Messiah. But perhaps he was engaged in Gentile mission such as approaching Romans such as Sergius Paulus from the beginning.

At a combined one hundred pages, chapters 3 and 4 are a kind of mini-commentary on Galatians. In chapter three Bird offers an assessment of recent apocalyptic readings of Galatians (“An Invasive Story: An Apocalyptic and Salvation-Historical Rereading of Galatians”). As his first two footnotes make clear, apocalyptic readings of Galatians are a hot topic for Pauline scholars in recent years. There are two ways of nuancing the issue. For many Pauline scholars such as Krister Stendahl, a salvation-history or covenantal approach is an adequate explanation for Paul’s theology. Paul’s theology is set within the larger story of Israel. But for others (Käsemann and Beker), apocalyptic is central to Paul’s thinking. By apocalyptic, these scholars focus on Jesus as the messiah and his death and resurrection as an apocalyptic event which creates a new world, perhaps a new “kingdom of God.” Louis Martyn and Douglas Campbell make a sharp distinction between these two approaches, although others (Wright, Dunn, for example) see a unity between salvation history and an apocalyptic reading of the Christ event. After surveying some of the literature, Bird engages with Martyn’s apocalyptic interpretation of Paul (especially in his Anchor Bible Galatians commentary) in order to show the dichotomy between salvation history and apocalyptic is not necessary. Bird says “there is no requirement we divorce Paul’s apocalyptic theology from its metanarrative of the Jewish Scriptures” (116) because apocalyptic properly understood is the climax of God’s saving purpose for his people, not a whole new start, and certainly not a repudiation of the past” (121). After examining several key texts in Galatians, Bird concludes “Paul’s apocalyptic gospel is necessarily salvation-historical by nature of the Jewish context of his eschatology and Christology” (167).

This conclusion helps unpack the title of the collection, Paul was truly anomalous in the sense that the Law was preparatory for salvation rather than necessary for salvation, a conclusion which was provocative and an affront to Paul’s Jewish opponents. I am reminded of F. F. Bruce’s comment in his Galatians commentary, the Law was a parenthesis between the promise to Abraham and the present age (NIGTC, 153-4). This view of the Law would certainly be anomalous in Second Temple Judaism.

In chapter four, Bird returns to Galatians 2:11-14 and argues the incident at Antioch represents “the beginnings of Paulinism.” An earlier version of this essay was published in Earliest Christian History (ed. Bird and Matson; WUNT 2.320; Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012): 329-61. In this essay, Bird returns to one of the more tantalizing sections of Galatians, Paul’s confrontation of Peter in Antioch. In chapter 2 Bird has already suggested Paul’s mission to the Gentiles developed over time and that the Jerusalem council (Acts 15) played a significant role in targeting Paul’s missionary efforts at the Gentiles.

The final chapter in this collection (“The Apostle Paul and the Roman Empire”) is an expansion of Bird’s contribution to Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not (IVP Academic, 2013). Bird thinks “anyone vaguely familiar with the Roman imperium could see Paul articulating the vision of an alternative empire” (254). In the earlier essay, Bird made four points in favor of an anti-imperialism in the Pauline letters. Each are considerably expanded for this new essay, as are his “lingering doubts.” His literature survey is slightly expanded and now includes interaction with “Augustus guru” Karl Galinski and some account of the “scholarly melee: between John Barclay and N. T. Wright with respect to the importance of the imperial cult to this discussion. What is extremely valuable is the inclusion of all of the texts in Romans which may (or may not) be read as anti-imperial. In the shorter essay Bird was limited to only Romans 1:16-17; 13:1-7 and 15:5-13. In this longer form essay he is able to be more comprehensive as well as draw more scholarship into the dialogue. However, his conclusion remains the same: “Romans is not a political manifesto” (Jesus is Lord, 161; An Anomalous Jew, 253), both essays citing William Ramsay’s statement that “a universal Paulinism and a universal Empire must either coalesce or they one must destroy the other.”

Conclusion. As with any collection of essays drawn from various sources, there is potential for lack of cohesion between the chapters. Bird has worked hard to draw previously printed essays back to the title of the book: why does Paul appear to be an anomalous Jew? Although this is achieved by editing the introductions and conclusions to each essay, each topic does in fact demonstrate Paul operated within the world of Judaism, but he certainly did not fit the pattern of other early Jewish Christ-believers or other Jewish groups from the Second Temple period.


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

Collins, John J. Apocalypse, Prophecy, and Pseudepigraphy: On Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 399 pp. Pb; $34.   Link to Eerdmans  

Apocalypse, Prophecy, and Pseudepigraphy collects nineteen essays published by Collins in various journals and collections, some of which are expensive and difficult to find. Three of the chapters were originally presentations at conferences. The introductory chapter was presented at a symposium on Forms of Ancient Jewish Literature in Its Graeco-Roman and Ancient Near Eastern Setting, University of Manchester, January 19-21, 2009. Collins reconsiders the definition of the genre of Apocalyptic Collins developed in Semeia 14 in 1979. That volume represented a report on the first stage of the work of the Apocalypse Group of the SBL Genres Project and produced a “first stage” definition of an apocalypse:

A genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world. (Semeia 14 [1979]: 9).

In Semeia 36, this definition was expanded to include “intended to interpret present, earthly circumstances in light of the supernatural world and of the future, and to influence both the understanding and the behavior of the audience by means of divine authority” (Adela Yarbro Collins, Semeia 36 [1986]: 7). Near the end of this book, Collins cites T.S. Eliot, apocalypses are written for times when humankind cannot bear very much reality (324).

Collins-ApocalypseThis definition distinguished between apocalypses which featured an extended review of history and “otherworldly journey” apocalypses. Collins surveys some of the responses to this definition, beginning with the objection that genre cannot be defined, although “we know one when we see it” because of “a family resemblance.” Citing Wittgenstein, a genre like “game” covers everything from card games to the Olympic Games. Even though there is little resemblance between the two, we recognize them both as “games.”

Collins thinks this is “too vague to be satisfying” (11). A second challenge uses prototype theory to suggest a particular example is an ancestor of later similar members of the genre. All subsequent examples of the genre are really variations on the prototype, so that boundaries between genres are blurred. He goes on to offer two problematic examples. Jubilees and Joseph and Asenath. Both have sections which have been identified as apocalyptic, yet cannot be described as apocalyptic as a whole. Jubilees “belongs on the fuzzy fringes of the genre” (18).

The first section of this collection relates the genre of apocalypse to prophecy. In “The Eschatology of Zechariah,” (originally published as L. L. Grabbe and R. D. Haak, eds., Knowing the End from the Beginning: The Prophetic, the Apocalyptic, and Their Relationship [New York: T&T Clark International, 2003]: 74-84), Collins argues the future expectations of Zechariah are eschatological in the prophetic sense, and even messianic, but not apocalyptic (33). In the second essay in this section Collins examines a common element in both apocalypse and prophecy, the end of the world (originally published as “The Beginning of the End of the World,” in John Ahn and Stephen Cook, eds., Thus Says the Lord: Essays on the Former and Latter Prophets in Honor of Robert R. Wilson [New York: Continuum, 2009]:137-55). In the Hebrew Bible and all examples of Jewish apocalyptic, the end of the world always leads to restoration and renewal (53). The only exception Collins finds is Sibylline Oracles 5.512-31, and even this example is debatable.

The third essay in this section discusses the shift from classic prophecy to apocalyptic (originally delivered as the Johannes Munck Lecture: “Apocalypticism and the Transformation of Prophecy in the Second Temple Period,” University of Aarhus, October 10, 2013). During the post exilic period prophecy shifted from a spoken form to a textual form, which had the effect of unmooring a prophecy from a historical context (63). For example, Daniel 12:1-4 makes six references to Isaiah 53. Daniel is “drawing on the linguistic resources of Isaiah” to react to the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes (65). This is a new text, not a pesher (interpretation). For Collins, the apocalyptic prophets were not simply creating a pastiche of older texts, they were “engages in wide ranging bricolage drawing on many sources” (67), transforming prophecy, wisdom and myth in the face of cultural disruption (69).

The essays in the second section concern “variations on a genre.” First in this section is an evaluation of Gabriele Boccaccini’s “Essene Hypothesis” (originally published as “Enochic Judaism: An Assessment,” in Adolfo D. Roitman, Lawrence H. Schiffman, and Shani Tzoref, eds., The Dead Sea Scrolls and Contemporary Culture: Proceedings of the International Conference Held at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem (July 6-8, 2008) [STDJ 93; Leiden: Brill, 2011] 219-34). Although Collins agrees with Boccaccini that the Enoch literature is a distinctive form of Judaism, it is still a movement with Judaism and it is not clear the Essenes were distinct because of their use of Enoch.

As suggested in the introductory essay, Jubilees is problematic for a definition of apocalyptic. In the third essay in this section Collins suggest Jubilees is an hybrid work which does not fit into any one category (originally published as “The Genre of the Book of Jubilees,” in Eric F. Mason et al., eds., A Teacher for All Generations: Essays in Honor of James C. VanderKam [JSJSup 153/2; Leiden: Brill, 2011]: 737-55). He critiques Hanneken’s suggestion that Jubilees imitates apocalypses on the surface level, but the basic elements of an apocalyptic worldview are “caricatured, inverted and refuted” (103). But as Collins points out, if this is irony it is humorless in the extreme.

The fourth essay in this section examines another genre which is not apocalyptic, yet has some elements of the genre, the Sibylline Oracles (originally published as “The Sibyl and the Apocalypses,” in David E. Aune and Frederick E. Brenk, eds., Greco-Roman Culture and the New Testament [Leiden: Brill, 2012]: 185-202. There are some common features such as universal world history (and often violent destruction), but the Sibylline Oracles were not modeled on the apocalypses (125).

The fifth essay in the section critiques a recently published text sometimes called The Gabriel Revelation (originally published as “Gabriel and David: Some Reflections on an Enigmatic Text,” in Matthias Henze, ed., Hazon Gabriel: New Readings of the Gabriel Revelation [SBLEJL; Atlanta: SBL, 2011] 99-112). This text describes an eschatological attack on Jerusalem and refers to an “evil branch” as a kind of Antichrist and a messiah from Ephraim, the son of Joseph rather than David. Collins carefully works through Knohl’s argument and concludes it is problematic on many counts, not the least of which is the uncertainty of this particular text.

Finally in this section Collins discusses the apocalyptic theology of 4 Ezra (originally published as “The Idea of Election in 4 Ezra,” Jewish Studies Quarterly 16 [2009]: 83-96). Although 4 Ezra is certainly an apocalypse, it is quite different from other representatives of the genre. The book has three long dialogues between Ezra and an angel which become increasingly concerned with the election of Israel. Because of the book’s unique view of election, Sanders considered the book as an exception to his “covenantal nomism” and Bruce Longenecker described book as “ethnocentric nomism” (148). Collins suggests the book is in dialogue with wisdom tradition (especially in the laments), but has an “apocalyptic solution” to the problem of covenant theology and the fall of Jerusalem. God’s chosen people will survive, a theology which would serve to “reassure a relatively small and powerless people” (155).

The third section of the book develops themes in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. First, “Jerusalem and the Temple in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature of the Second Temple Period” (originally a presentation at Bar Ilan University in 1998 (International Rennert Guest Lecture Series). Although many Jews in the Second Temple were satisfied with worship at the Temple, “apocalyptic visionaries, by definition, wanted something more” (177). Daniel and the Animal Apocalypse respond to the Maccabean crisis by looking forward to a “more spectacular restoration” than Judas Maccabees provided (165). Collins also examines the Song of Sabbath Sacrifice and the Temple Scroll from Qumran and concludes “the Dead Sea sect evidently expected some kind of restoration of the temple before the new creation” (173).

In “Journeys to the World Beyond in Ancient Judaism” Collins focuses on the earliest ascent apocalypses (originally published in Martin McNamara, ed., Apocalyptic and Eschatological Heritage: The Middle East and Celtic Realms [Dublin: Four Courts, 2003]: 20-36). He considers Bousset’s view these heavenly journeys were an anticipation of the ascent of the soul to heaven after death as an “overgeneralization” (195). There is a real interest in life after death, whether to encourage righteous behavior or warn against punishments to come.  The third article in this section is related to this topic, “The Afterlife in Apocalyptic Literature,” (originally published in A. J. Avery Peck and J. Neusner, eds., Judaism in Late Antiquity, Part 4: Death, Life-After-Death, Resurrection and the World-to-Come in the Judaisms of Antiquity [Handbuch der Orientalistik; Leiden: Brill, 2000]: 119-39. Collins repeats the well-known fact that a belief in actual resurrection of individuals was not accepted until the Persian period (199). This belief is developed in several Second Temple apocalypses so that 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch look forward to a general resurrection at the end of history. Collins concludes, however, the more typical apocalyptic description of afterlife is the heavenly ascent (216).

The fourth section of three essays is devoted to pseudepigraphy in apocalyptic literature. First, Collins explores the importance of pseudepigraphy for group formation (originally published as “Pseudepigraphy and Group Formation in Second Temple Judaism,” in E. G. Chazon and M. Stone, eds., Pseudepigraphic Perspectives: The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls [Leiden: Brill, 1999]: 43-58). He surveys apocalypses written in the name of Enoch, Daniel and Moses and concludes these names provide legitimization for the group by creating prophecy ex eventu supporting the group. By way of contrast, the Dead Sea Scrolls do not use pseudepigraphy because of the authority of the Teacher of Righteousness. Rather than create prophecies in the style of some ancient authority, the DSS practice exegesis on prophecy to legitimatize the group (the pesher on Habakkuk, for example).

The second article in this section is closely related to the first. Collins asks why anyone would choose to write in the name of Enoch or Ezra (originally published as “Enoch and Ezra,” in Matthias Henze and Gabriele Boccaccini, eds., Fourth Ezra and Second Baruch: Reconstruction after the Fall [Leiden: Brill, 2013]: 83-97). Enoch seems an obvious candidate since all that is known about him is he “walked with God” or “walked with angels.” But Ezra is a well-known character from the Old Testament. Collins suggests 4 Ezra transforms Ezra into a kind of Moses, subverting the covenant theology of the past “almost beyond recognition” (245).

The final essay in this section focuses on the use of the Sibylline oracles as a pseudepigrapha (originally published in Eibert Tigchelaar, ed., Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the Scriptures [BETL 270; Leuven: Peeters, 2014]: 195-210). Collins argues a non-Jewish person would be unimpressed by the Sibylline Oracles, knowing them to be forgeries. A Jewish (or Christian) reader, however, may have been impressed to find a prophetic voice in the Greek world which rebuked paganism (266). As such, the oracles function as an expression of anger toward a colonial oppressor.

The final section in this volume concerns ethics and politics in apocalyptic literature. First, Collins disagrees with a common opinion that there was a distinct “apocalyptic Judaism” responsible for the collect of books now known as 1 Enoch (originally published as “Ethos and Identity in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature,” in Matthias Konradt and Ulrike Steinert, eds., Ethos und Identität. Einheit und Vielfalt des Judentums im hellenistisch-römischer Zeit [Munich: Schöningh, 2002]: 51-65). The apocalyptic genre could be used by diverse groups often motivated by a desire for higher (or hidden) wisdom and an interest in another life beyond this one.

Collins’s article “Apocalypse and Empire” (originally Svensk Exegetisk Årsbok 76 [2011]: 1-19) evaluates another common view of apocalyptic, namely that it is a kind of resistance literature. This view was popularized by Richard Horsley, who claimed the problem behind both Daniel and 1 Enoch was oppressive violence by foreign rulers. But to describe this literature as “opposition to empire” is “simplistic and misses the nuances of the mode of resistance” and “obliterate the generic that are essential for nuanced interpretation” (306-7).

In “Cognitive Dissonance and Eschatological Violence: Fantasized Solutions to a Theological Dilemma in Second Temple Judaism”(originally published in Nathan MacDonald and Ken Brown, eds., Monotheism in Late Prophetic and Early Apocalyptic Literature [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014]: 201-17), Collins explores potential links between apocalyptic literature and violence in monotheistic religions. He takes as a starting point the recent claim that monotheistic religions lead to acts of violence like 9/11. He surveys several Old Testament examples of “violent fantasy” and combat myth, such as Isaiah 63:3-4. The claim these violent texts contribute to the Jewish Revolt in A.D. 70 is an open question, since Josephus states “deceivers and imposters” were the cause of the rebellion (322), but Josephus may be more interested in exonerating the majority of the Jewish people after the war was over. Although this literature may fuel a revolutionary spirit, Collins points out that “imagining an alternative universe can be therapeutic in times of crisis” (324).

Finally, Collins engages the embarrassing legacy of apocalyptic millenarianism such as Hal Lindsey and Left Behind (“Radical Religion and the Ethical Dilemmas of Apocalyptic Millenarianism,” originally published in Zoe Bennett and David B. Gowler, eds., Radical Christian Voices and Practice: Essays in Honour of Christopher Rowland [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012]: 87-102). In Collins’s view, the ambiguity of the genre of apocalyptic and overly simplistic interpretations of apocalyptic has generated many unfortunate views hoping to “decode the text” of Daniel and Revelation. As in the previous essay, Collins points out that violent fantasies common in these interpretations are often cathartic. Apocalyptic literature itself can be “harnessed for good or evil” (342).

Conclusion. Eerdmans has done a great service for Jewish apocalyptic scholarship by bringing these essays together in a single, affordable volume. Readers interested in apocalyptic Second Temple literature will find Apocalypse, Prophecy, and Pseudepigraphy to be a valuable resource.


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

Published on May 24, 2016 on Reading Acts.

NewDocs 10Now that I have completed my grading for the spring semester and turned in the last of my grades, I am ready to announce the winner of the latest volume of the New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, edited by S. R. Llewelyn and J. R. Harrison, with E. J. Bridge (Eerdmans, 2012).

I collected all of the comments, randomly sorted them in a spreadsheet then used to generate a winner. And the winner is…

Lindsay Kennedy

So Lindsay can contact me (email, plong42 at, twitter DM, @plong42) I will arrange to send the book out to ASAP. And if pastorjimmyreagan sees this, you one the last giveaway and need to contact me with shipping info.

Thanks to everyone who participated. I have at least one more book set aside as a giveaway to celebrate One Million Hits at Reading Acts.  Check back next week for details.

NewDocs 10

This is the second book I am giving away in celebration of One Million Hits at Reading Acts as well as the end of the spring semester.

I have an extra copy of the latest volume of the New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, edited by S. R. Llewelyn and J. R. Harrison, with E. J. Bridge (Eerdmans, 2012). I reviewed it when it came out a year ago and have found all ten volumes to be valuable resources. This volume has about 100 pages of cumulative index for volumes 6-10 as well as 175 pages of newly published inscriptions and papyri.

For those unaware of the New Documents series, it began under the editorship of G. H. R. Horsley in 1981. E. A. Judge was a contributor to that first volume and now serves as the director of the project. He wrote the preface to the first volume explaining the rationale for the series. Since the publication of Deissmann’s Light from the Ancient Near East (1908) and Moulton and Milligan’s Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament illustrated by the Papyri (1930), there has been a flood of new published papyri documents and inscriptions, many which are important to historians of early Christianity as well as interpreters of the New Testament. The New Document series proposed to survey newly published material and collate that material into a single printed volume as a “fresh digest of the ancient evidence.”

As I concluded in my previous review of the book, virtually every section of New Documents Volume 10 is worthy of attention.  The entries make for fascinating reading and they all contribute to our understanding of the world of the New Testament and early Christianity. I highly recommend this volume to students and scholars. Every serious library should own all ten volumes of this important series.

The book is new but has a remainder mark and a partially removed sticker on the cover. To have a chance at winning this book, leave a comment with your name (and anything else you need to say, think of this as a chance for catharsis). I will select on comment at random and announce the winner on May 3, 2016.

Boxall, Ian. Discovering Matthew: Content, Interpretation, Reception. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 216 pp. Pb; $22.   Link to Eerdmans

Ian Boxall’s Discovering Matthew is the first of two contributions to the new Discovering Biblical Texts series from Eerdmans, joining Discovering John by Ruth Edwards. The sub-title for the series is “Content, Interpretation, Reception,” indicating an interest in both the general content of the Gospel of Matthew but also how the Gospel ought to be read in the light of the reception of the Gospel by the church.

Boxall_Discovering Matthew_wrk04.inddMatthew has been a popular gospel because it was thought to be the earliest Gospel and written by an eyewitness, the tax-collector turned disciple, Matthew. As a result it was used in liturgy and catechisms by the early church, so that many Christians are only familiar with the forms of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew or the Lord’s Prayer only in Matthew.  In the nineteenth century that consensus broke down, Mark became the earliest of the Gospels and Matthew was written by an anonymous writer as many as sixty years ears after the death of Jesus. This author used (and sometimes abused) Mark’s Gospel. Some are offended by Matthew’s vitriolic attacks on the Jewish leaders, especially the Pharisees, yet others are drawn to the Gospel’s interest in the Gospel going out to the nations.

The first three chapters of this introduction deal with introductory matters, including strategies for interpretation and the text of Matthew. Boxall surveys various exegetical approaches to the Gospel beginning with Aquinas and other pre-critical readings (allegorical, etc.) He introduces Historical Criticism (source, form and redaction criticism) as well as social scientific readings of Matthew and Narrative criticism and Reader-response approaches. For each of these categories he offers a brief description and evaluation supplemented with a few key references to representative scholars. With respect to Matthew’s sources, Boxall briefly summarizes the arguments for (and against Q), although he does not come to a firm conclusion (“leaving Q aside,” p. 35). He dates the Gospel after A. D. 70 and before A.D. 100 and later in the book Boxall surveys several possible provenances for the Gospel and concludes a precise identification does not add much to the interpretation of Matthew (74).

Chapters 4-5 describe the characters of Matthew’s story (following Jack Kingsbury) and the historical and social setting of the first Gospel. The setting of Matthew is a hotly debated topic, with some scholars following W. D. Davis suggestion Matthew was written as an alternative to “Jamnia Judaism,” the Judaism which formed out of the Jewish response to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Others (Richard Bauckham, for example), reject this view of the background of Matthew since it is not tenable Matthew addressed a specific situation as if it was a Pauline letter. Boxall thinks Bauckham has overstated his case: there are passages which do appear to address a specific situation (65). But what is that situation? Was the Gospel written to people who were essentially Jewish who believed Jesus was the Christ, or Christians who were ethnically Jewish (intra vs. extra muros)? Unfortunately, Matthew’s Gospel is ambiguous, both are possible given the evidence of the book. It is even possible Matthew was a gentile, or at the very least has a pro-Gentile bias. John Meier suggested this, Boxall is not convinced (70).

The next seven chapters treat major themes of Matthew’s Gospel, beginning with the Infancy Narratives (ch. 6), Jesus as Teacher (ch. 7), Jesus as healer and exorcist (ch. 8), Jesus as fulfilment of the Law (ch. 9), The Gospel of the Church (ch. 10), The Passion (ch. 11) and resurrection (ch 12). These chapters provide light commentary on genre, sources and content, but also reflection on Matthew’s theology as presented in the unit. As with the other sections of the book, Boxall offers a wide range of opinion in order to introduce students to secondary literature on Matthew.

A concluding chapter offers a few comments on interpreting Matthew today (ch. 13). First, Boxall observes they growing awareness in scholarship that a text is capable of meaning several things. Authorial intent is only one possible meaning sine a text tends to take on a “life of its own once it leaves the author’s hand. If this is the case, Boxall’s second observation is that there is a need for a variety of interpretive tools to more fully interpret a complex text like Matthew. By focusing only on historical-critical questions, one will miss the rich theological possibilities raised by narrative criticism or the study of Reception history. Third, as newer approaches to the text have made clear, interpretations have consequences. Here Boxall alludes to the unfortunate consequences of some interpretations of the phrase “his blood be on our heads” (Matt 27:25). Finally, Boxall concludes modern interpretive methods have increased our understanding of the participation of readers in the process of interpretation. The days of the detached, unbiased historical critic are long gone and it is difficult to separate interpretation from application.

Conclusion. Discovering Matthew offers a brief overview of the Gospel of Matthew with special attention to recent trends in New Testament interpretation. What is remarkable is the vast amount of secondary literature surveyed in this short book. Boxall is able to summarize a wide variety of views on virtually every aspect of Matthew, including historic Christian writers as well as modern commentators. The most significant shortcoming of the book is its frustrating brevity. Virtually every topic could be expanded to a chapter length presentation. Nevertheless, Boxall’s Discovering Matthew is an excellent introduction to the ongoing exegetical and theological discussion generated by the First Gospel

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

Edwards, James R. The Gospel according to Luke. PNTC. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 831 pp. Hb; $65. Link to Eedrmans

James Edwards previously contributed the volume on Mark to the Pillar New Testament Commentary. It is unusual for a commentary series to assigned two Synoptic Gospels to a single scholar. What is more, Edwards did not write Edwards, Lukethe Acts commentary in the series, David G. Peterson did in 2009. This allows Edwards to read Luke without having a second commentary on Acts in mind. As a result, Luke nor Luke is not merely a prologue for Acts. Edwards notes in the preface he has not paid attention to reception history in the commentary, referring interested readers to François Bovon’s Hermneia commentary on Luke.

At only 22 pages, the introduction to the commentary is brief, especially since it is divided into nine sections. Edwards accepts the traditional view the author of both Luke and Acts was a companion of Paul and quite possibly Jewish (10) native of Antioch (12), although he is less open to the suggestion Luke was a doctor (8). It is nearly certain Luke used the gospel of Mark, which Edwards dates about A.D. 65, suggesting a date for Luke’s Gospel about a decade later. If Like is dated after A.D. 70 then Luke 19:43-44 may be an allusion to the destruction of the city.

Edwards argues Luke used a Hebrew source along with Mark. In the introduction to this commentary he briefly summarizes the argument of his The Hebrew Gospel and the Development of the Synoptic Tradition (Eerdmans, 2009). There are, Edwards argues, a disproportionally large number of semiticisms in the Gospel of Luke, especially in the unique material in the third Gospel. Semiticisms are words and phrases can be best explained as reflecting a Hebrew or Aramaic original, such as the “divine passive.” Sometimes these phrases are called “Septuagintisms” because Luke sounds like the Septuagint. The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible obviously is based on a written Hebrew source and often reflects the style of the Hebrew original although it is written in Greek. Edwards finds many of these examples of semiticisms in the Gospel, especially in the prologue.

With respect to the sayings source (Q), Edwards remains unconvinced. Of the approximately 175 verses usually associated with Q, some are narrative and at least one is found in the Passion narrative. This so-called double tradition does not exhibit the semiticism found elsewhere in Luke (17). Edwards suspects the double tradition is the “skeletal remains” of one of Luke’s sources and it is likely Matthew received the sayings from Luke, although this cannot be state with certainty (17-18). The body of the commentary is not overly concerned with matters of Source Criticism, most references to Hebraisms appear in the footnotes.

There are eleven excurses scattered throughout the commentary. These brief notes cover key terms in the Gospel (“Son of Man”), literary features (“Elijah and Elisha Typology,” “Pairs in the Third Gospel”), and historical issues (“Pharisees in Luke,” “Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas”). These are useful and placed at appropriate places in the commentary. When Edwards offers some additional detail on a historical, exegetical or geographical point within the commentary which are shorter than an excursus, the theme is identified in bold print (tax collectors, 3:11; slavery. 16:1-9).

The body of the commentary follows Edward’s outline of twenty-two sections, roughly equivalent to about a chapter of Luke per section. Each unit is divided into several pericopae with comments on groups of verses rather than words or phrase. All Greek appears in transliteration with most technical details relegated to the footnotes (textual variants, references to various theological dictionaries and wordbooks). Since there are few in-text notes, the commentary is very readable. Edwards has several memorable phrases, such as his description of perceptions of Jewish tax-collectors as “the husk of an individual whose soul had been eaten away by complicity with Roman repression” (169). He is able to use brief contemporary illustrations to make the text clear, such as comparing the shrewd manager in 16:1-13 to a CEO who says “you’ve turned your pink slip into a promotion” (455). Although this is an exegetical commentary which wrestles with lexical and syntactical issues, Edwards finds ways to elegantly draw out meaning and present it in language appreciated by students and busy pastors who desire to teach the text of Luke in various contexts.

The commentary often provides cultural details drawn from Second Temple period practice. Commenting on 11:37-40, for example, Edwards explains the importance of ritual washing before meals, citing the work of Neusner (354). His observations about the piety of the Pharisee in 18:9-14 make it clear the Pharisee is “not to be denigrated for declaring his commendable record” (504) based on Tobit 1:6-8 and other early texts. His presentation of Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple refers to many Second Temple texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls (594).

In addition to the literature of the Second Temple period, Edwards draws on the insights of patristic writers throughout the commentary. There are numerous references to Origen’s Homilies on Luke and the writings of Justin Martyr, Jerome and Eusebius.

Conclusion. Each volume of the Pillar series has been a solid contribution to scholarship, Edward’s Luke commentary continues this legacy. There are more technical commentaries available, but this commentary is a pleasure to read and will serve pastors and teachers well as they continue to study the third Gospel.

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

Porter, Stanley E. and Andrew W. Pitts. Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 202 pp. Pb; $22.   Link to Eerdmans

This new introduction to New Testament textual Criticism is intended as a companion to Porter’s Fundamentals of New Testament Greek (with Jeffrey T. Reed and Matthew Brook O’Donnell, Eerdmans 2010). Porter laments the lack of an intermediate textual criticism handbook for use on college or seminary classrooms. Metzger or Aland is too detailed for many students, others are too brief (Black or Greenlee, for example). In addition, textual discoveries often render the data in a handbook out of date, so new editions are always necessary.

Porter_Fundamentals of NT Textual Criticism_wrk 03.inddThere are some sections of the book which are similar to other textual criticism handbooks. After a brief chapter introducing textual criticism, there are chapters on materials used for making manuscripts, types of manuscript evidence (papyri, majuscules, minuscules, lectionaries, versions and patristic quotations) and text-types. These chapters are brief and accompanied by charts illustrating key manuscripts in each category. In general this material is presented clearly, although there is little in this section which sets this textbook apart from others.

There are four chapters dedicated to method. First, Porter and Pitts survey four modern methods (stemmatic, Byzantine/Majority text, eclectic methods, and a single text model). Although the stemmatic/genealogical methods have become popular in recent years, Porter and Pitts conclude that only reasoned eclecticism can provide objectivity for determining the original reading of a text (96).

Chapter 8 concerns weighing external evidence, including date, text-type and geographical distribution. The authors place a priority on external evidence for determining a reading, weighing the date and text-type, geographical distribution and genealogical relationships. The strongest reading, they conclude, is “supported by the oldest manuscripts representing the widest geographical spread and having no genealogical relationship” (108).

Internal evidence is divided into two sections (chapters 9 and 10). The first section deals with “transcriptional probabilities” (including eight scribal errors). In this chapter Porter and Pitts deal with the traditional rules of textual criticism, more difficult reading, shorter vs. longer readings, harmonization and more difficult grammar. While they do recognize there are some doctrinal changes made in the copying process, “theological tampering was not typical” and should only be appealed to if all other canons of textual criticism fail (120). Here they have Bart Erhman’s Misquoting Jesus in view. Because of the popularity of that particular book, there Porter and Pitts discuss several examples from Erhman’s book cited as evidence for doctrinal changes.

A second chapter on internal evidence deals with the “intrinsic probabilities” such as the author’s style, theological and literary coherence, linguistic and source consistency. This is a far more subjective method and requires a great deal from the text critic in terms of familiarity with Greek grammar used by authors.

There are a few features which I found helpful which are not common in other textual criticism textbooks. First, Porter and Pitts include a chapter on canon (ch. 2). To a certain extent this material seems extraneous to the method of textual criticism. I am not sure they make a clear connection between their interesting discussion of the development of the canon and the process of textual criticism. A professor could easily omit it without losing the argument of the book, although from my experience students often have questions about canon at this point in their Greek training.

Second, they include two very useful chapters on the development of the Nestle-Aland and UBS texts.  Chapter 12 is particularly good for professors since it describes how to use both the NA27/28 and the UBS4/5. The book is therefore a good resource regardless of the chosen Greek New Testament chose by the professor. The story of how the two major critical editions developed is more than interesting, this section places the activity of textual criticism into its proper place in church history.

Third, the book includes a helpful summary of translation strategies as they relate to textual criticism (chapter 13). The chapter includes lists of the various abbreviations and marginalia of both editions. Page 148 has a photograph of a page from the NA28 Greek New Testament with arrows identifying everything on the page; page 163 does the same for the UBS4. For some students, this chapter alone will be worth the price of the book.

Each chapter has a list of key terminology and a useful bibliography. There are a handful of B&W illustrations in the chapter on materials. These could be expanded greatly, perhaps with a section of illustrations. I assume these are limited in order to keep the cost of the book lower for students. Ideally Eerdmans could provide illustrations by way of color PowerPoint slides in a teacher’s supplement. One additional resource I would like to see in a textbook such as this are a series of assignments included as a part of the methodology chapters. For example, after introducing the various kinds of scribal errors, it would be very helpful to have a sheet of examples for students to work through and identify the variants. After learning the method of weighing internal evidence, I would like to have several pages of examples so students can work through evidence and make some textual determinations for themselves.

Conclusion. I have used J. Harold Greenlee’s small handbook for many years to supplement Bill Mounce’s Graded Reader from Zondervan in a third semester Greek class. I share same frustrations expressed by Porter about both brevity and datedness. I plan on using this book next year for third semester Greek and intro to Textual Criticism.

Porter and Pitts have written a useful textbook which incorporates additional material the smaller handbooks cannot, yet is still accessible for early Greek students. The information in this handbook will be valuable to anyone reading the Greek New Testament.


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

Edwards, Ruth B. Discovering John: Content, Interpretation, Reception. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 272 pp. Pb; $22.   Link to Eerdmans

This book joins Ian Boxall’s Discovering Matthew as the first volumes of a new (or rebooted) Discovering the Bible series from Eerdmans and SPCK. The series intends to be a “comprehensive, up-to-date and student friendly” introduction to the books of the Bible. Edwards originally published this book in 2003, so this is a second edition even if the fact is not noted on the cover the book. As Edwards comments in the preface to this second edition, in the ten years since the original Discovering John was published, a number of significant commentaries have appeared. She has attempted to update this second edition with as much as this new material as possible.

Edwards_Discovering John_wrk 03.inddThe book breaks into three sections. The first five chapters cover what is normally included in an introductory text (authorship, purpose, audience, place and date of composition, etc.), but also a short chapter on reading strategies for John’s gospel. Edwards’s study is based on the historical-critical method but she fully understands the contributions of literary, social, historical and religions settings for illuminating the text of John (22).

With respect to authorship, she weighs various views on the Beloved Disciple as the author, and concludes there no proof for any specific individual in early Christianity. He is not the author of the Gospel, but the person the author uses to enhance the reliability of the Gospel (32). She reviews the Johannine Community hypothesis and concludes the Gospel would have been produced in the context of a community, but this codes not imply the Gospel was intended only for that community (53). The Gospel was written sometime between 75-95 CE to a Jewish Christian community in Asia Minor or Syria.

With respect to the historicity of John’s Gospel, Edwards recognizes it is “a well-nigh impossible task” to find Jesus’ exact words even in the Synoptic gospels (43). John’s Gospel is not a historical archive of Jesus’ words and deeds, but a “dynamic interpretation of how the Gospel’s author(s) understood him in the light of the Holy Spirit’s guidance (44). More could be said on the cultural content of John’s Gospel as an accurate reflection of Jewish life and religious practice in the first half of the first century.

The next four chapters of the book deal with the Christology of John. First, miracles serve as a catalyst for faith in Jesus (60). Although Jesus is a healer and worker of miracles, John intends his readers to see Jesus as the inauguration of the new eschatological era (71). Second, there are a number of Christological confessions in the Gospel which serve as a kind of “narrative theology: reinforcing the signs (85). Each of the titles given to Jesus in the Gospel contribute to John’s Christology, culminating in Thomas’s “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28). Third, in the Passion and Resurrection narrative, Jesus is presented as willingly submitting to the cross as the means of his glorification (99). The cross is not a humiliation inflicted on Jesus, but the very reason he has come into the world. Fourth, Edwards discusses John’s prologue as a presentation of Jesus as the Word Incarnate. Jesus as Logos associations him with both Creation and Revelation; Jesus is the agent through whom all things were made as well as the agent of God’s revelation in the Gospel. As the Word of God incarnate, the “Only Son is the Father’s Exegete” (110). John 1:18 claims Jesus made known the Father, but as Edwards points out, the Son explains or interprets the Father, focusing on the verb exegoumai.

The final four chapters deal with some special issues in John’s gospel. First, Edwards surveys the characters in John’s story. She divides this into male and female disciples. Do the male disciples function as “ideals” or role models for the later church? Do they represent future Christian leaders and the rivalries of the early church? She concludes they do not, in fact, nothing in John connects Peter with “Jewish Christianity” or the Jews at all. The so-called rivalry between Peter and John is not an accurate portrayal of their relationship (119).

Edwards approaches the difficult problem of Anti-Semitism in John’s Gospel by first examining John’s use of the word “Jews.” Bultmann, for example, thought the term was always used for “representatives of unbelief.” Edwards does not think this can be sustained since not all Jews in the Gospel are “ignorant, deceitful and unbelieving” (134). Certainly the Gospel is confrontational and paints the Jews as Jesus’ opponents, but this is not unique to John’s Gospel either in the New Testament or in Second Temple Judaism (137-8). The Qumran community refereed to their rival Jews as “Sons of Darkness” who would be destroyed when the messiah comes. This sort of language is not anti-Semitic, but rather the language of the prophets.

A related issue is potential “Replacement Theology” in John’s Gospel. Jesus certainly challenges some aspects of Second Temple Judaism, but Edwards concludes he does not attack Jewish worship nor is there a clear replacement of Jewish practice with Christian practice. John depicts Jesus as a Jew and writes his Gospel in order to appeal to both Jews and Gentiles (148). More problematic is John’s claim that Jesus is God. There are hints throughout the Gospel that Jesus is divine, but they remain hints. The “I Am” statements, for example, may disclose who Jesus is, but that is not always obvious. John is not setting Jesus up as a separate deity who is a rival to the Jewish God (as if one should worship either the Jewish God or Jesus). As Edwards points out, John in not unique in the New Testament in calling Jesus God, both Paul and the writer of Hebrews refer to Jesus with divine language.

In the final chapter, Edwards suggests a number of reasons John’s Gospel has value for the Christian reader today. These short meditations attempt to draw on John’s Gospel as a source for “being Christian” today. The book concludes with two excurses, the first on the text of John, the second on the problem of “eyewitness” testimony in John.

Conclusion: Edwards’s introduction to John’s Gospel is a brief introduction to many of the key issues one encounters when studying the Fourth Gospel. She fairly presents major view on controversial topics without prejudicing her own view. This book would be an excellent textbook for a university or seminary class on the Gospel of John, but is written at a popular level so most readers will find it enjoyable. I look forward to future installments of this series (Discovering Genesis, Iain Provan and Discovering Romans, Anthony C. Thiselton are scheduled for 2016).

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

Michael Bird - The Gospel of the LordIt is the time of year to be thankful, and I am thankful that I have an extra copy of Michael Bird’s new book, The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus (Eerdmans, 2014) to give away to some lucky reader of this blog. This is a new copy; mine is well read, marked and dog-eared by now. I will send a clean copy to a reader of this blog. There are no geographical limits here, although I am hoping someone from Antarctica does not win.

I plan on posted my review of the book in a few days, but for now let me say this is a nice introduction to several related topics at the foundation of Gospels studies, touching on related by diverse topics like Oral Tradition, Source Criticism, and the Genre of the Gospels. Each chapter has an excursus which digs a little deeper into some aspect of the chapter, so it is like getting two books in one. I highly recommend the book as an introduction to Synoptic Gospels study.

To have a chance at winning these books, leave a comment telling me what Famous Gospels Scholar you are most thankful for this Holiday season. Or at the very least, leave your name.  I will announce the winner picked at random on December 1.

NewDocs 10

Congrats to Eric Palac, who blogs at White Flag Beacon. Get in touch with me (plong42 at or twitter @plong42) and I will ship your copy of NewDocs Volume 10 out ASAP.

Thanks for all who tossed their name in hat. I reviewed New Docs Volume 10 when it came out a year ago and have found all ten volumes to be valuable resources. This volume has about 100 pages of cumulative index for volumes 6-10 as well as 175 pages of newly published inscriptions and papyri.

For those unaware of the New Documents series, it began under the editorship of G. H. R. Horsley in 1981. E. A. Judge was a contributor to that first volume and now serves as the director of the project. He wrote the preface to the first volume explaining the rationale for the series. Since the publication of Deissmann’s Light from the Ancient Near East (1908) and Moulton and Milligan’sVocabulary of the Greek New Testament illustrated by the Papyri (1930), there has been a flood of new published papyri documents and inscriptions, many which are important to historians of early Christianity as well as interpreters of the New Testament. The New Document series proposed to survey newly published material and collate that material into a single printed volume as a “fresh digest of the ancient evidence.”

As I concluded in my previous review of the book, virtually every section of New Documents Volume 10 is worthy of attention.  The entries make for fascinating reading and they all contribute to our understanding of the world of the New Testament and early Christianity. I highly recommend this volume to students and scholars. Every serious library should own all ten volumes of this important series.

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