The Logos Bible Software “Free book of the Month” for April is E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (IVP, 2012). You may recall their recent Paul Behaving Badly (IVP 2016). When I reviewed that book several people told me they had read Misreading Scripture and found it to be an excellent and challenging book. In my own teaching I have always tried to set the text in the proper context, not only the context of the Bible but also the proper cultural context. This book is a good introduction to some of the important cultural and social realities an informed Bible reader needs to understand in order to read the Bible without imposing modern, western assumptions on the ancient, eastern text.
In addition to the free book, Logos is offering Christopher A. Hall’s Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers (IVP, 1996). EDIT: Logos changed the “almost free book of the month” to Kenneth Bailey’s Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels. This is an excellent book which sets Jesus’s life and ministry into its cultural context. It is also a great companion volume to Misreading Scripture.
Until April 30, you can enter (several times) to win the 29-volume set of Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Complete Set Updated Edition (ACCS).
Since Logos Basic is now free, there is really no excuse for not adding these two excellent books to your Logos library.
The Logos Bible Software “Free book of the Month” for March has an Easter theme. During the month of March, you can download This Risen Existence: The Spirit of Easter (Fortress 2015) by Paula Gooder for your Logos library. The book contains seven chapters for the weeks leading up to Easter, including one each on the four Gospels, the resurrection in the Epistles, one chapter on the ascension and a final chapter on Pentecost
In addition to the free book, Logos is offering Dennis Ngien’s Fruit for the Soul: Luther on the Lament Psalms (Fortress, 2015). This 373 page book studies the importance of the the lament Psalms for Luther’s theology. The book reviews Luther;s theological reading of Psalms 6, 51, 77, 90, 94, and 11.
Logos is also giving away one set of their Fortress Lutheran Library Expansion Bundle (30 volumes, $778 value). There are several ways to enter, but the giveaway ends April 30.
The Logos Bible Software “Free book of the Month” is really a Journal. For the month of January, you can add the first issue of the Bulletin for Biblical Research, published by the Institute for Biblical Research in 1991. According to the then editor of the journal Bruce Chilton, “the Institute for Biblical Research has launched the Bulletin for Biblical Research as an instrument for understanding the religious senses of scripture. The aim is to publish articles which are both fully critical and generally accessible to the scholarly community.”
The articles include in this issue are:
Robert L. Hubbard, “The Go’el in Ancient Israel: Theological Reflections on an Israelite Institution”
Richard S. Hess, “Lamech in the Genealogies of Genesis”
Ellen F. Davis, “Self-Consciousness and Conversation: Reading Genesis 22”
H. G. M. Williamson, “Ezra and Nehemiah in the Light of the Texts from Persepolis”
Jacob Neusner, “Uncleanness: A Moral or an Ontological Category in the Early Centuries A.D.?”
Marianne Meye Thompson, “Signs and Faith in the Fourth Gospel”
Darrell L. Bock, “The Son of Man in Luke 5:24”
E. Earle Ellis, “‘The End of the Earth’ (Acts 1:8)”
The are all substantial articles from recognized scholars. Be sure to add this volume to your Logos library. In fact, if you are interested in serious biblical research, you should consider adding all twenty-four BBR volumes!
For only $1.99, you can purchase Colin J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. This book was originally published in 1989 in the WUNT series, this electronic version is the third printing from Eisenbrauns (2008). The book retails for $40 and is well worth that price, let alone the mere $2 for the Logos version in January.
The contents include:
Chapter 1: Acts and Historicity
Chapter 2, Preliminary Questions including the Unity and Genre of Luke-Acts, The Meaning of Historicity
Chapter 3: Ancient Historiography, inclduing a section on Luke and Josephus
Chapter 4: Types of Knowledge Displayed in Acts
Chapter 5: Evidence from Historical Details in Acts
Chapter 6: Acts and Epistles, including the ‘Theological Disparity’ between Paul and Luke
Chapter 7: Galatia and the Galatians
Chapter 8: The Authorship and Sources of Acts
Chapter 9: The Date of Acts
Appendix 1: Speeches and Miracles in Acts
Appendix 2: The ‘God-fearers’
Thanks to Eisenbrauns and Logos for making these resources available. Be sure to get the books before January 31, 2017!
Provan, Iain. Discovering Genesis. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 224 pp. pb; $22. Link to Eerdmans
Discovering Genesis by Iain Provan is the first Old Testament volume in Eerdmans new Discovering Biblical Texts series (Discovering Matthew and Discovering John are currently available). The Discovering series attempts to apply author, text and reader based methods to the biblical text in a complementary way in order to invite students into a theological and historical discussions raised directly by the text. As with other contributions to this series, Provan lists and evaluates interpreters, often focusing on reception history.
After a short introduction to the structure and plot of Genesis, Provan devotes two chapters to “reading strategies” for Genesis, using the Renaissance as a dividing point for the two chapters, but he divides his history of interpretation into four major sections: up to A.D. 476, medieval readings 476-1350), Renaissance and Reformation (1250-1648) and modern readings (1648-today). Prior to the modern period, Provan gives examples from both Jewish and Christian commentaries showing how serious readers of Genesis tried to make the book apply to a new situation. For the most part, this involved allegorizing the text, but there are examples of writers who did take the stories at face value. What unites all these Jewish and Christian pre-modern readings of Genesis is an assumption of the authority of the book of Genesis.
By the modern period, Enlightenment thinkers had eroded the authority of Genesis. Baruch Spinoza, for example, famously declared that a plain reading of Scripture was not worth of a reasonable person’s assent (34). The study of history and geography, along with the rise of Darwinism, had a major impact on the study of Jesus. Post-Enlightenment commentaries reject allegory and return to the text, often with positive results. For example, prior to the modern period, Jacob is a model of virtue. By actually reading what the text says it is clear Jacob is a scoundrel (159)!
Provan surveys briefly Source, Form, and Redaction criticism. Although he does consider the emphasis on genre to be a positive contribution of Form criticism, Provan finds these methods problematic. Provan is skeptical about our ability to objectively reconstruct the documentary or oral sources behind the text of Genesis and he expresses his lack of interested in what lies behind the book (50).
In addition to these three, Provan comments on Muilenberg’s Rhetorical Criticism and Structuralism as a bridge to the now-popular Narrative Criticism. Provan thinks Narrative Criticism provides a “more satisfying resolution of the ‘difficulties’ in a text than that of which Wellhausen was capable” (44). He includes short sections on Social Scientific Criticism and Feminist Criticism. With respect to Social Science, Provan offers Norman Gottwald as an example, although he concludes “Gottwald does not illuminate the text at all; he suppresses it” (46). Finally, he briefly introduces Brevard Childs and Canonical Criticism, concluding that Childs’s method offers “a framework in which man previously illumination f the text through the ages . . . can be brought into fruitful conversation” (48). One element missing from this short survey of approaches to Genesis is a Theological Reading of Genesis, perhaps illustrated by James McKeown in his Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary on Genesis.
The third chapter locates the “word of Genesis” in its proper time and place. Although this is perhaps the most important “reading strategy,” the chapter is tantalizingly brief. Since modern study of Genesis focuses on the literal sense of the text, it is necessary to place the text in the proper historical, social, and literary context. For Provan, the world of the Ancient Near East included complex cultures which worshipped many gods in temples within emerging city states ruled by divine or semi-divine kings (52). By the sixth century B.C. these foundational beliefs were being questions by most cultures. Provan considers Genesis to be the response of Mosaic Yahwehists to the kinds of questions many cultures were asking about the “old religion” (55). Genesis develops a cosmology in which there is one God who rules as king of the universe and creates the cosmos as his sanctuary (56). Humans are marked out as his image and given dominion over the cosmos to rule on behalf of the divine King, God.
The next four chapters cover the first eleven chapters of Genesis. It may be surprising at first almost forty percent of Provan’s book is devoted to only these chapters of Genesis.. But since most of the theologically rich passages in Genesis are in the first eleven chapters appropriate Provan spend significant space unpacking the often difficult theological questions of Genesis 1-11. Anyone who has taught Genesis knows students have more questions about creation, the Fall and the Flood than any other section of book.
Provan treats the problem of two creation stories by suggesting a single author who wrote the stories in order to highlight the transcendence of God (60). Many (especially evangelical) readers approach Genesis with scientific questions, but Provan sticks to the text in order to argue the creation accounts are about God ordering chaos. God blessed his good creation, but after the human rebellion he curses the creation, creating conflict between humans and their environment. In these chapters Provan does cover many of the common questions asked about the first few chapters of Genesis, although given the brevity and purpose of the book, he can only hint at possible answers.
The final three chapters of the book are devoted to the Patriarchal narratives (Abraham, Sarah and Isaac. Jacob, and Joseph). Abraham and Sarah and placed in the context of the Ancient Near East. For example, Abraham’s lie about Sarah and the use of a hand maid to produce an heir can be illustrated in the culture of the second millennium B.C. Since the stories are far less controversial, he does not need to interact with scholarship as often as the first few chapters of Genesis
Provan makes use of rabbinic texts and early church commentaries to demonstrate how early readers received the text of Genesis. Frequently he makes reference to medieval commentaries, art and literature. What is more, he often refers to modern interpretations of the stories and Genesis in contemporary art and literature. Most of these are classical references, although he does include Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited as in contemporary allusion to the sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis chapter 22 (149). Most of these allusions are simply mentioned, however the footnotes tend to treat these allusions in more detail. A helpful addition would be a website collecting photographs the art referred to in the text.
Conclusion. Discovering Genesis is a short introduction to the study of Genesis ideal for use in a seminary class on the Pentateuch or a more specialized class on Genesis. Provan presents the material in way which will also be useful to the general reader interested in the theological and historical issues for reading Genesis with accuracy. As an introduction, the book is often frustrating in its brevity, but this is to be expected given the goals of the book and the Discovering series.
NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
Blenkinsopp, Joseph. Abraham: The Story of a Life. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 256 pp. Pb; $29. Link to Eerdmans
In this book, Joseph Blenkinsopp offers what he calls a “discursive commentary” on Genesis 12-22, the life of Abraham. In the preface he states his in this book goal is to write an exposition of the text which is “basically historical-critical” but also sensitive to the general theological and human interest found in the biblical text itself (xi).
The introduction to the book surveys the character of Abraham in the canon of the Hebrew Bible. In this book, Blenkinsopp assumes the stories reached a final form fairly late, in a “time of uncertainty” as a response to the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (21). The promise of land repeated throughout these stories would have been important to the struggling post-exilic community as would Abraham’s tenuous hold on the Promised Land. That God remained faithful to Abraham during his struggle to live in a land promised to him would have encouraged the post-exilic community.
The life of Abraham is divided into ten chapters, extending to the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah. There are few technical details in the text, the few times he references the Hebrew text words appear only in transliteration, and interaction with literature on Genesis appears in the footnotes. This makes for a readable text without too much distraction from technical details.
Occasionally he deals with theological readings of the text. For example, he discusses the sacrifice of Isaac (the Aqedah) foreshadowing the death of Jesus (155-8). Although the New Testament does not specifically connect the story in Genesis 22 to the crucifixion, “it was practically inevitable” the story would be seen as prefiguring Jesus’ death. That Paul would call Jesus “our paschal lamb” (1 Cor 5:7) may be the New Testament connection to the Aqedah. The Second Temple book of Jubliees associates the sacrifice of Isaac with the Passover. According to that book, the story begins on the twelfth of Nisan. Since the journey to Moriah took three days, he arrives at Moriah on the fifteenth of the month, the day Passover will begin later in history. Every year after the events on Moriah, Abraham celebrated a seven day “feast of the Lord.” Although there is no explicit New Testament connection between Genesis 22 and the death of Jesus, Romans 8:32 says “God did not withhold his own son” (cf. Gen 22:16). Blenkinsopp suggests the Isaianic Servant is also dependent on the Aqedah.
At the end of each chapter is a short reflection entitled “Filling in the Gaps.” These sections draw on the post-biblical legends about Abraham found in Second Temple sources such as Jubilees, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Philo. He often summarizes the Genesis Rabbah or other later Jewish traditions which interrogate the biblical narrative “probing fractures and fissures” (25). He omits these legends in the commentary on the text since is goal is accurate exposition of the story of Abraham, yet these “illuminations of the text” provide insight into the way later faithful readers of the text understood the story of Abraham. As he points out at the very end of the book, most of these retellings of the Abraham story developed in a time when there were no Christians or Muslims, although they are the paradigm for both Christian and Muslim expansions of the text (210).
A welcome addition to the story of Abraham is a chapter on Abraham’s “other beloved son” Ishmael. Despite the brevity of this chapter, Blenkinsopp deals with some of the historical problems associated with the Ishmael stories, but also the theological problem of “setting aside the firstborn.” Although not considered the firstborn of Abraham, Ishmael “is still recipient of blessing and inheritor of the promise made to Abraham” (167), as is demonstrated by the genealogy of the twelve Arab tribes in Genesis 25. He briefly traces the history of these tribes into the Second Temple period and beyond into the legends included in Qur’an.
Conclusion. As Blenkinsopp states in his introduction, book is a theological exposition rather than a detailed exegetical commentary. Blenkinsopp achieves the goal of presenting the story of Abraham in a way that is both faithful to the text and theologically insightful.
NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.