Acts 5 – Potential Background to Ananias and Sapphira

There are a wide variety of attempts to explain the very unusual story of Ananias and Sapphira. In his article on this chapter F. Scott Spencer lists a few of the many suggestions scholars have offered for “unlocking the mystery of this shocking episode” (63). I am taking Spencer’s list, rearranging it and adding a few comments.

For some scholars, the harsh judgment can be explained in the light of Greco-Roman rules for benefactors. This is often overlooked because New Testament scholars have been slow to read Greco Roman literature has a light on the early part of Acts. The community described in Acts is in many ways like a Greco-Roman family, so material wealth should be shared and to hold back one’s sharing would be shameful to the whole family. To promise to share and then not fulfill the promise would have been shameful. The problem is that this is a Jewish Christian community and Roman benefaction rules may not have influenced how gifts were given. Even if someone has shamed themselves, is “striking them dead” deal an option?

Ananias-FraudIt is possible to read the community of Acts 5 in the light of the community rules of Qumran. Again this is a tempting option since the Community Rule for the Essenes did require members to sell their property in order to support the group. This is the same thing that we see in the Christian community in the first part of the book of Acts. There are some very real differences however. Luke does not imply the sale of property was required. As needs arose, individuals voluntarily sold their property and donated it to the community. There is nothing in Acts that can be called an “entrance requirement.” Keener reports followers of Pythagoras also sold property when they joined the community, although if they failed to become full disciples they would receive a refund (Keener, 2:1187).

Occasionally commentators will point to parallels between Judas and Ananias. Both are prompted by Satan to betray the community, and both appear to be greedy/ Keener points out both stories involve real estate: Judas’ money purchases property, Ananias sold property (1:1185). These are interesting parallels, but I am not sure Luke makes much of them in Acts.

The most fruitful comparisons of this chapter come from the Old Testament. Some suggest Luke is making an intertextual allusion to an Old Testament story or perhaps even to his own work in the Gospel. For example, Luke may be retelling the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis. If the Christian community is a kind of New Age or a kingdom modeled after Eden. The story does concern a man who rebels against God (the Holy Spirit) at the prompting of Satan. Like Adam and Eve, the wife is complicit. There are however more differences than parallels, and Luke does not really make much of the parallel if it exists.

Another story from the Hebrew Bible which is potential background for Acts 5 is Aachen’s theft for the plunder of Jericho (Josh 6). As I mentioned in a previous post, Luke describes the “holding back” as an economic crime. If this Christian community is to be like a new Israel then any theft from the community would be akin to Aachen’s sin. As Keener says, “Sin can disrupt kononia (fellowship) even in the primitive, idyllic community” (2:1184).

This disruption of the ideal community is perhaps why scholars point to Eden, Joshua 6 and Jesus’ disciples as potential background for the story. In each case, there is an ideal community which is devastated by sin. In each case the result of that sin is death. Not all those who call on the name of Jesus are really committed to what God is doing through the Holy Spirit.

Are there other indications in this story of “cracks” in the community in Jerusalem? Maybe this is not an idyllic community after all.


Bibliography: F. Scott Spencer, “Scared to Death: The Rhetoric of Fear in the ‘Tragedy’ of Ananias and Sapphira.” Pages 63-80 in Reading Acts Today. London: T&T Clark, 2011.

Jesus the Bridegroom only $4.99 in the Logos Bible Software Library

I was quite surprised today with a tweet from a former student who bought my book, Jesus the Bridegroom for the Logos Bible Software for $4.99. This is part of the Wipf & Stock sale through Logos which (I assume) runs through the end of November 2018.

Jesus the Bridegroom has been reviewed in a couple of places. Marianne Blickenstaff reviewed the book for SBL’s Review of Biblical Literature (click here to read the review) and Peter Leithart reviewed the book at First Things a bit earlier. Don K. Preston reviewed the book at Amazon, saying he loves “the research that went into this. While Dr. Long’s emphasis is on ‘source’ and my focus is on theology, Nonetheless, I did find this book to be very helpful. I particularly appreciated the linguistic studies, showing the marital language that is used in some texts (e.g. especially Isaiah 4-5) that I had never seen before, and I truly appreciated it. His inter-textual notations were also fruitful. Long’s conclusion that Jesus drew together several strands of Jewish thought, and conflated those strands into a harmonious message, thus, suggesting that Jesus stood well within the framework of a Jewish prophet, is very good”

The book is also available through Amazon and the Wipf & Stock website (the retail price is $33 but there are discounted copies at Amazon and Wipf & Stock). The Kindle version is only $9.99 and claims to have real page numbers, but I cannot see them reading the book with the Kindle App on an iPad. Still, the book looks great in Kindle.

Obviously I would love for you to buy a copy, but I know that is not always possible. Here’s how you can help get the word out for me:

  • Buy the book while it is on sale at Logos, it is only $4.99!
  • Request that the book be added to your college, university, or seminary library.
  • Leave a review on I cannot stress this enough, it is very difficult to get people to leave a review on Amazon, but the sad fact is Amazon reviews count for something in today’s book buying world.

What is the book about? The full title of the book is Jesus the Bridegroom: The Origin of the Eschatological Feast as a Wedding Banquet in the Synoptic Gospels. The book is an edited version of my dissertation. As I was working on my dissertation, people would ask what I was writing on. I usually said “an intertextual study on messianic banquet imagery in the Synoptic Gospels.” After a moment of awkward silence, I clarified: “Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven is like a Wedding Banquet – what’s up with that?”

The book attempts to study the marriage metaphor / motif in the teaching of Jesus. There are a few places in the Synoptic Gospels where Jesus describes the Kingdom of Heaven as a Wedding Banquet, Matt 22:1-14 and 25:1-13 are the most obvious texts. But there are a few places where Jesus describes himself as a bridegroom, and a marriage metaphor appears in a number of other places. My proposal is that Jesus combined the metaphor of an eschatological banquet with the common Old Testament marriage metaphor and described his ministry as an ongoing wedding banquet to which all Israel is now invited. The long period in the wilderness is over and it is time for Israel to return to her Bridegroom.

In order to make this case, I apply what might be called an intertextual method to traditions or set of metaphors. The “text” in this intertextual study is the Hebrew Bible, but that text was heard by Jesus’ original listeners rather than read. They knew the metaphors because they heard them taught in their homes and synagogues. Jesus used these metaphors because they were current, but by combining them to describe himself, he created a new image of the eschatological age as a wedding banquet.

I first examine the eschatological “victory banquet” motif in the Hebrew Bible, starting with Isa 25:6-8 (ch. 3), the use of the Wilderness Tradition in Isaiah 40-55 (ch. 4), and the Marriage Metaphor in Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah (ch. 5).  I trace the development of these three themes through the Second Temple Period in chapter 6, and finally apply that database to the sayings of Jesus in chapter 7.

There are a few things that you will not find in this book. First, I did not cover John’s gospel, although there is much there that can be described as “wedding motif.” My reason for this omission are simple-the dissertation was already too long to include another major section on John’s Gospel! Second, there is nothing in this book on the application of the Bridegroom metaphor to the church. I wanted a study of Jesus’ use of the metaphor, not the (much) later theological development of that metaphor. Again, the reason for this is simply that I was writing a New Testament dissertation, doing “biblical theology” rather than “systematic theology.” I wanted to focus on the teaching of Jesus and the origin of the wedding banquet metaphor.

I would really like to hear feedback from anyone who reads the book – feel free to send me an email to continue the discussion. Thanks!

Book Review: Andrew T. Le Peau, Mark through Old Testament Eyes

Le Peau, Andrew T. Mark through Old Testament Eyes. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2017. Pb. 352 pp. $28.99.   Link to Kregel

As Andrew Le Peau observes in the introduction to this new commentary series, the New Testament writers were Old Testament people. Although this seems like an obvious statement, the symbols and literary patterns of the Old Testament are often overlooked in popular preaching and teaching on New Testament books. Although scholarship has done a better job setting the documents of the New Testament into the context of the Old in recent years, there is still much to be done to develop the database of background material available to illuminate the New Testament. There have been a few recent contributions in this area, D. A. Carson and G. K. Beale edited a single-volume Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (IVP 2007) and the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary on the Old Testament and New Testament (2009 with many of the individual books available in separate volumes).  Although many commentaries include this sort of background material, there are few commentaries which focus exclusively on how the New Testament writers used the Old Testament.

Mark Through Old Testament EyesThis series of commentaries will provide a verse-by-verse commentary which integrates typical exegesis of the text with Old Testament background in order to help answer questions as they arise. With respect to the exposition of the text, Le Peau comments on key phrases with an eye to Old Testament parallels rather than the typical exegetical details found in most commentaries. For example, at Mark 9:43 “if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off,” Le Peau briefly discusses prohibitions on self-mutilation in the Law (Deut 14:1-3) as well as ancient  pagan practice (1 Kings 18:27-29). He also draws attention to the hand, foot and eye as a source of stumbling in Proverbs 6:16-10 and Job 31:1, 5, 7. In his commentary on Mark 3:37, Le Peau draws attention to the provision of abundant food as a “picture that looks ahead to Isaiah’s coming messianic kingdom” (123). He cites Isaiah 55:1-3 at length, but also notes the miraculous feeding in Numbers 11 and 2 Kings 4:42-44.

Throughout the commentary section, Greek and Hebrew words are used sparingly and always appear transliterated so those without language skills will have no trouble making use of the commentary. There is some interaction with contemporary scholarship, although this is light and all references appears in endnotes.

Throughout the commentary are a number of sidebars entitled “Through Old Testament Eyes.” These units focus on the big picture to show how a particular text picks up on themes and motifs from the Old Testament. For example, Le Peau offers a chart in his exposition of the feeding of the five thousand tracing parallels between Psalm 23 and Mark 6. I briefly commented on Psalm 23 as a messianic text and potential background for this miracle in Jesus the Bridegroom, so it is good to see the Psalm used to interpret a miracle often used to preach brotherly sharing rather than a miracle which reveals Jesus as the Messiah. Another example of this kind of sidebar is Le Peau’s short description of the suffering of the Messiah in the Psalms to illuminate Mark 14-15 (275-8).

A second type of sidebar in this commentary series is labeled “What the Structure Means.” These sections focus on literary devices such as metaphor, hyperbole, or other elements of story-telling. Often these take the form of an outline of a pericope with attention to chiasms or other features. In Mark 10:13-52 he lists four predictions and a prediction which frames the unit. In another place Le Peau offers a list of examples in Mark of sets of three events (272-3) and draws attention to this literary style in the Old Testament.

One problem with scholarly background studies is a failure to connect the context with the contemporary reader. This commentary hopes to avoid this my balancing the background element with an application section. These sections are labeled “Going Deeper” and intend to connect the text of a New Testament book with internal debates within the early church as well as draw out implications for contemporary church questions. For example, the “Going Deeper” section following Le Peau’s exposition of Mark 9:14-50 is a pastoral reflection on anger and quarrelsomeness (173-2). The section following Mark 13:12 deals with a non-eschatological understanding of “watching and being alert.” The focus is on understanding suffering as a part of the disciple’s calling. Although this application is quite preachable, I am not sure the application arises from the text of the Olivet Discourse. The actual text of the commentary does a good job with the Old Testament (Daniel 7) and Second Temple (1 Maccabees) backgrounds to Jesus’s words and even notices the shift in 13:27 from the Temple in A.D. 70 to the “end of the age.” It seems to me the natural application in that section ought to concern a warning against false predictions of the end in the light of the very real end which will eventually arrive.

I have a few minor problems with this commentary which probably fall into the category of “this is not the book I would have written.” First, Le Peau’s commentary on Mark does not deal with introductory issues in any depth. There are two pages under the heading “Who was Mark?” which deal with the few appearances of Mark in Acts and the epistles along with an ancient African tradition about Mark’s family. Since the purpose of the commentary to provide background to read the Gospel of Mark, perhaps more ought to be said about traditional authorship. For example, if the tradition Mark was Peter’s interpreter in Rome is accurate, what does his use of the Old Testament imply about the original audience and intention of the Gospel? What does the use of a New Exodus motif imply about the audience?

Second, there is a very short introduction to the use of the Old Testament in the Gospel. Most of this four page section involves an illustration drawn from contemporary movies. Although this analogy does explain how a writer might allude to an earlier work, it fails to explain why Mark would use the Old Testament in the way he does. Mark is not paying tribute to Isaiah for his contributions to prophetic writing; Mark is alluding to Isaiah’s New Exodus motif because he believes Jesus is really enacting the metanarrative of the whole Old Testament and placing himself in the center of that story. I realize Le Peau simply does not have space to write a fully argued methodology in the introduction to this commentary, but improving this introduction would pay dividends as readers use the commentary to read Mark.

Third, although this might be less interesting to evangelical readers, I think the commentary could be improved by occasionally tracing a motif through the literature of the Second Temple period. In my review of the text, I only noticed a few references to 1 Maccabees in the context of the abomination of desolation and there are no references to the Apocrypha or Pseudepigrapha in the Scripture index. Although this is not always possible, perhaps using the Dead Sea Scrolls as background for son of David sayings or the messianic banquet would set the Gospel of Mark into a more broadly Jewish context.

A final comment goes beyond the scope of the commentary, but I raise it since few scholars have asked the question. In the commentary, Le Peau understands allusions to the Old Testament are a product of Mark’s narration of the events. But to what extent did the historical Jesus shape traditions by alluding the Old Testament himself?  If Mark 4:11 fairly records the words of Jesus, then the allusion to Daniel 2 and 4 in the phrase “mystery of the kingdom” comes from Jesus rather than Mark. If this is the case, does it affect the exegesis of Mark 4?

Nevertheless, Le Peau contributes a good commentary on Mark which focuses on an often overlooked aspect of New Testament research.

This is the inaugural volume of a new series from Kregel Academic, with four other volumes planned at this time (David Capes on Matthew, Karen Jobes on John, Gary Burge on Galatians and Ephesians, and Tremper Longman on Revelation). My copy of this book has a number of strange spacing errors when the text is italicized, hopefully this can be corrected in future reprints of the commentary (p. 27, the word Spirit, p. 39, the phrase Kingdom of God; p. 49, the word quiet, p. 51, the word healed, etc.) This is a minor problem and does not detract from the value of the commentary.


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

Book Review: Ernest C. Lucas, Proverbs (Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary)

Lucas, Ernest C. Proverbs. Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 421 pp. Pb; $28.   Link to Eerdmans

Commentaries on Proverbs are often difficult write because proverbs are, by nature, easy enough to understand yet difficult to interpret. Proverbs in general are fairly easy to understand: we all know enough sluggards and fools to get the gist of most of the sayings in Proverbs. But there are several hermeneutical problems unique to the book of Proverbs since the genre is so distinct from Law or Prophets. To talk about the application of any given proverb seems to open up a broad discussion and some proverbs seem to contradict others. What is more, the collection in the canonical book of Proverbs developed over as many as 500 years, from Solomon to the post-exilic world. Ernest Lucas’s new commentary in the Two Horizons series provides a solid foundation for understanding Wisdom literature in general as well as a good commentary on the book of Proverbs.

Lucas ProverbsThe 44-page introduction begins by defining both wisdom and a proverb before examining the structure of the book. Lucas sees seven sections in Proverbs based on the headings provided by the final editor of the book. More challenging is the structure within these broad sections. He divides chapters 1-9 into ten lessons with several speeches and warnings from Wisdom interspersed.

Since it is almost impossible to suggest any structure in the other subsections of the book, Lucas attempts to identify “proverbial clusters” using criteria similar to Waltke and Heim. He compares his results for chapters 10-11 to these scholars and finds agreement in general, but diversity in specifics. It is almost better, in my view, to treat each proverb in chapters 10:1-22:16 and 25:1-29:27 as separate units. For example, he identifies Prov 19:4-10 as a cluster dealing with “Wealth and Poverty” (136). While verse 4 specifically mentions wealth, verse 6 mentions a generous man, verse 7 mentions a poor man, and verse 10 mentions luxury, verses 5 and 10 concern a false witness and verse 8 does not appear to concern itself with wealth or poverty, but discovering “the good.” What is more, verse 3 (associated with another cluster) refers to folly bringing a person to ruin, which could refer to poverty (financial ruin), especially since Lucas suggested the fool in verse 2 is a rich man. Verse 12 concerns the wrath and favor of a king, and verse 14 specifically mentions “house and wealth.” In fairness, Lucas does describe 19:4-10 as “loosely related proverbs,” but in my view Proverbs 19 is so diverse in topics it defies clustering.  In fact, some of the clusters Lucas identifies are only a single verse.

The 149-page body of the commentary is divided by chapter and cluster. Lucas first suggests a title for a cluster, for example, “11:2-8 True and False Security” or “17:10-16 Danger, Beware!” Within each cluster treats each verse briefly, usually commenting on rare vocabulary by comparing modern translations and suggesting an alternative translation if necessary. Hebrew appears occasionally and is always transliterated so readers without Hebrew will be able to use the commentary with no problem. Occasional footnotes refer to other major commentaries on Proverbs. As with virtually every commentary on Proverbs, exegetical detail is reserved for particularly problematic verses. Often the meaning of the proverb is sufficiently clear in translation that Lucas only needs a sentence or two of comment.

The most valuable feature of this commentary is the 162 page section entitled “Theological Horizons of Proverbs.” Lucas divides this half of the book into ten sections, almost all are chapter-length excurses on elements of Proverbs. Each topic is richly illustrated with individual proverbs collected from the book and references back to the commentary where necessary. These theological reflections could be read before (or instead) of the commentary, especially for those interested in teaching or preaching on topics in Proverbs.

Lucas first deals with perhaps the most difficult problem for Proverbs, does Proverbs really promise a successful life if one “lives out” the life described in the book?  Is there a straight-forward relationship between “acts and consequences” in Proverbs? If the answer is a dogmatic yes, then there are both theological and pastoral problems. For example, Prov 22:6 states that children “trained up” properly will not depart from that training when they are older. Since everyone has experienced a child who does in fact depart from their training, either the proverb is wrong, or we are misusing the proverb. Lucas challenges an oft-repeated axiom that Hebrew wisdom literature teaches “successful living.” That two of the three books considered wisdom literature in the Hebrew Bible disagree with this assertion (Job and Ecclesiastes), there is enough evidence to challenge, or at least modify the view that living out a proverbs lifestyle will result in success. After surveying several studies of the “Acts-Consequence Nexus” as well as a large number of proverbs similar to Prov 22:6, he concludes Proverbs was intended as a rule of thumb for teaching life skills. Proverbs provides models rooted in Yahweh’s character and purposes (218).

In the next two sections of the Theological Horizons Lucas describes the “characters in Proverbs” (the wise, the fool, the righteous, and the unrighteous) and “family, friends and neighbors in Proverbs.” Here he collects evidence from the whole book to define these regularly mentioned characters in the book. Often there is some overlap, a wise person is also righteous and there is a considerable spectrum of traits which define the wise person or the foolish person. His comments on the family collect a range of data from the book which will help a pastor create a “theology of family” (for example) for teaching or preaching.

Since Proverbs is often described as “secular,” Lucas offers several observations about God in the book of Proverbs. He demonstrates this common description is not exactly the case, since there was no “sacred/secular” divide in the ancient world. He agrees with Derek Kidner: Proverbs functions to “put godliness in working clothes” (249).

Since most commentaries on Proverbs examine the personification of wisdom in Proverbs, Lucas devotes a substantial section to this issue. He surveys studies which suggest various sources for Lady Wisdom (Egyptian Ma’at, or Isis, Canaanite or Israelite goddesses, Babylonian ummanu) as well as Sinnott’s suggest Lady Wisdom is a literary creation and Camp’s view the personification was based on Israelite women. Lucas concludes the personification was suggested by the feminine gender of the Hebrew noun translated wisdom (263). Included in this section is the personification of folly as a “strange” or foreign woman as well as various other female personifications in the book. Lucas points out these personifications need not be offensive since there are male counterparts for each (271).

Lucas devotes a section of his theological observations to “spirituality of the Proverbs.”  Beginning with the fear of the Lord, he argues Proverbs intends to form character, so that a person’s religious faith is expressed through action (279). An example of this action is developed in the next section. Since wealth and poverty are key issue in Proverbs, a lengthy section studies what the book has to say about the relationship of the wise person and money. This lengthy unit collects data on rich and poor people,

The most canonical section of this theological reading of Proverbs is Lucas’s section on “wisdom and Christology.” He begins by tracing the development to personify Wisdom in later Jewish wisdom literature (Sirach, Baruch, Wisdom of Solomon and Philo) before moving to the New Testament. Lucas focuses on three passages, Hebrews 1:1-4, Colossians 1:15-20 and John 1:1-18. In all three cases, the description of Jesus as the Word goes beyond anything in earlier Wisdom literature (331). Although a reader of John 1:14 may hear echoes of Sirach 24:8-12, there are clear distinctions. Lucas then surveys suggestions made by Dunn and Witherington to the effect that Jesus functioned as a sage. Finally, he traces these theological movements into the patristic era. For example, Theophilus of Antioch (d. A.D. 184), who identified the Holy Spirit with Wisdom. Although Arians used Prov 8:22 as support for the Son as a created being, Lucas points out no one in the early Christological debates attempted to understand the text from the perspective of its own horizon.

Lucas reviews suggestions that wisdom is part of Creation. The way to get the most out of life, according to Proverbs, is to “understand how the world works and understand its rhythms and patterns” (347). Since the sages rooted their social ethics in a creation theology rather than in salvation history, it was easier to share common ground with other ancient Near Eastern cultures (359). Lucas includes a fascinating application of this principle to the relationship of faith and science in the contemporary world.

Finally, he concludes this theology of Proverbs by examining “words in Proverbs and the New Testament.” He estimates about 20% of the Sayings in Proverbs 10-29 deal with the topic of speech (364). Lucas therefore creates a mini-biblical theology of speech in Proverbs and draws this material across the canon by using James 3:1-12 and Ephesians 4:17-5:20.

Conclusion. Although this is a commentary on Proverbs, the book could be used as a textbook in a college or Seminary class on Wisdom literature. More than half of the book deals with special problems associated with the Book of Proverbs. In fact, this section could have been edited as a short, stand-alone monograph on Wisdom. Although it is part of the Two Horizons series, Lucas does not employ canonical criticism or reception history quite the way other volumes in this series have. Perhaps the New Testament commentaries are more prone to these methods (see Wall and Steele on the Pastoral Epistles, for example).


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 Review: Craig A. Evans and H. Daniel Zacharias, eds., “What Does the Scripture Say?” (LNTS 470) – Part 2.2

Evans Craig A. and H. Daniel Zacharias, eds., “What Does the Scripture Say?”: Studies in the Function of Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity: Volume 2: The Letters and Liturgical Traditions. LNTS 470; Studies in Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013. Hb $130;  Pb $34.99; Logos $31.99. Link to Bloomsbury T&T Clark  Link to Logos

Craig A. Evans and H. Daniel Zacharias edited this two-volume collection of essays on the function of Scripture presented at the Society of Biblical Literature’s Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity program unit in 2008 and 2009. Volume one collects essays on the Gospels, the second volume includes epistles and other liturgical tradition.

Due to the length of this review, I will break each volume into two posts (Volume 1, part 1, volume 1, part 2, volume 2 part 1).

Evans Volume 2

Eve-Marie Becker examines Pauline Allusions to a Narrative Jesus Tradition in 2 Corinthians 3:14, 18. 2 Corinthians 1–7 is characterized by theological remarks on the apostolic ministry prompted by misunderstandings. Becker argues this “lack of information” 3:14 is a reference “a narrative Jesus tradition that we also find in Mark 9:2–8” (123). After analyzing the Traditional-historical background of 2 Corinthians 3:4–18, Becker suggests Paul is using the transfiguration story from Mark alongside Exodus 34. Why would both Paul and Mark refer back to Exodus 34? Paul focuses on the visibility of God’s glory, while Mark alludes to the Sinai story in order to create a theophany. Usually Mark 9 is explained as Jesus as revealing the same glory as Moses experienced on Sinai. Becker suggests both 2 Corinthians 3 and Mark 9 are linked to each other “in a more complicated way that exceeds the usage of Exodus 24/34 as pre- or inter-texts” (128). This means Paul presupposes a pre-Markan transfiguration story in order to claim the age of “veil wearing” is over: God’s glory is clearly and fully revealed in Jesus. But Paul’s revelation of that glory makes him a participant in the transfiguration and there receives similar authority (131).

Bogdan G. Bucur studies representations of “the vision of Habakkuk” in Byzantine mosaics, icons, and manuscript illuminations have some peculiar features (“Vision, Exegesis, and Theology in the Reception History of Habakkuk 3:2 (LXX)”). These mosaics often depict a majestic Christ escorted by two angels, or Christ enthroned on a platform upheld by four creatures, or a vision of Christ shared by Habakkuk and Ezekiel. What is odd is the canonical Habakkuk has no such vision. The Scriptural basis for the vision of Habakkuk of Jesus between two angels is found in the Septuagint of Habakkuk 3:2, “Lord, I have heard report of you, and was afraid: I considered your works, and was amazed: you will be known between the two living creatures.” How this peculiar Greek reading of Habakkuk 3:2 developed is unclear, but it is clearly the basis for these icons. Bucur cites Origen use of Habakkuk in conjunction with the vision of God enthroned in Isaiah 6 (140), and then traces the development of this interpretation in various church fathers. Finally, he suggests this interpretation is an example of a chariot vision (merkavah) as found in the Babylonian Talmud, where the “vision of Habakkuk” and the vision of Ezekiel as set out as readings for Shavuot, the feast of the giving of the Giving of the Law” (143).

Karen H. Jobes examines “The Greek Minor Prophets in James” in order to understand how early Christian writers interpreted the Minor Prophets. If the letter of James was written by James the Just, then it is the earliest evidence of how early Christians used prophetic tradition of the Minor Prophets. After the usual warnings about parallel mania, Jobes offers a short overview of her intertextual method of “lexical clustering.: Despite the fact James is lacking verbal parallels with the text of the Minor Prophets long enough to be called quotations, Jobes suggests James worked from the LXX of the Minor Prophets and created lexical clusters of tradition. Following Jeffery Leonard, she define a lexical cluster as “the accumulation of shared language suggests a stronger connection than does a single shared term or phrase” (148). She provides a chart summarizing 26 key word in James as they are found in Hosea, Amos, Zechariah, and Malachi. As for the Greek text, James follows the LXX in Genesis Leviticus and Proverbs almost exactly, his alludes to the Twelve in less formally. Although Amos is usually recognized as James’s main influence, Jobes suggests Hosea is most influential on the letter. For example, in James 3:13 is very close to Hosea 14:9. James alludes to Malachi 3:5-6 in six verses scattered throughout the letter, as Jobes demonstrates in a convenient chart (156).

Michael D. Matlock traces “Innovations of Solomon’s Temple Prayer in Early Jewish Literature” by focusing primarily on the prayers of petition in 1 Kings 8:22–53 and the larger context of 1 Kings 8 and 9. Beginning with the MT, Matlock makes several observations about the structure and theology of Solomon’s prayer, and then compares the MT to the OG, concluding “the OG enhances Solomon’s position in virtually all variations between OG and MT” (167). For example, the LXX seems to reject pantheistic theology made popular by the Stoics (that God is inseparable from all matter and form). The Old Greek translator adds the words μετὰ ἀνθρώπων (“with men”) in v. 27 to avoid this confusion. Moreover, in v. 44, the OG strives to avoid the implication that Yhwh was bound to Jerusalem by rendering the phrase אל־יהוה דרך העיר (“to the Lord, toward the city”) adding ἐν ὀνόματι (“in the name of”). Matlock observes the translator takes every opportunity to enhance Solomon’s position, including enhancement of the fame of Jerusalem and the glory of Solomon’s kingdom. The translator avoids anthropomorphism and anthropopathism (169) and “diverts any pantheistic notion found in the MT and avoids the notion that God is not omnipresent” (170). By way of comparison, Matlock examines the same prayer as reported in Josephus, (Antiq. 8.107–8, 111–17). Josephus rewrites Solomon’s short two-verse prayer (1 Kgs 8:12–13) in two extended sections which represent “explicit ideas of Josephus’ theology and philosophy” (172), including a “kind of Stoic pantheism” (173). Josephus embeds his own Hellenistic philosophical thinking and rational theology into this prayer (174). Matlock argues Josephus presenting the finest ideas in the Greek culture as part of the Hebrew genius.  Solomon’s prayer is therefore Josephus’ vehicle to enhance pantheistic Stoic views of God and place them in the mouth of Solomon (184). Matlock then compares this to the version of Solomon’s Temple Prayer in Targum Jonathan. The structure and organization of Solomon’s prayer shows no significant alteration and anthropomorphic language is avoided. The targumist eliminates references which might indicate the existence of competing gods (184).

Finally, Elsie Stern offers a study of tannaitic prayers (“Praying Scripture: Rethinking the Role of Biblical Utterances in Early Jewish Liturgy”). Her goal is to re-examine tannaitic construction of kriʾat shema from the perspective as a recitation of scriptural passages (188). The highly innovative nature of kriʾat shema, as it is constructed in the tannaitic literature. The ritual is the first case in which adult Jewish men, regardless of their professional class or educational background, are required to recite large units of scripture verbatim. For example, in M.ber 2:4, the form of precise, verbatim repetition “resonates strongly with the practice of literate text-brokers” trained in memorization and faithful reproduction of orally transmitted materials (193). She concludes that while written torah was “public property” of both Jews and Christians, the oral torah was the “private patrimony of rabbinic Jews” who saw this form as superior and therefore a marker of theological superiority (199).

Conclusion. The essays in this collection cover a broad range of topics than the first volume (Volume 1, LNTS 469), combining John’s Gospel, Paul’s letters and James, but also how the LXX, Josephus, the rabbinic traditions as well as early church iconography understood Scripture. Both volumes speak the wide variety of approaches the Hebrew Bible by later Christian and Jewish readers. It would be impossible to create a general statement which fairly describes how all Christian readers read Scripture, let alone the LXX, Josephus and other Jewish voices. The strength of this volume is its breadth, but perhaps this is also the weakness. A collection of twelve essays could be produced on just John or Paul, although these sorts of collections do exist. More work could be done on the LXX in comparison to other Second Temple Jewish readings of Scripture. Matlock’s essay, for example, opens up some interesting lines of inquiry by comparing the LXX and Josephus. I would have like additional essays on other Second Temple literature (Jubliees as Scripture re-written, DSS exegesis, etc.), but these go beyond the scope of the series.

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

Book Review: Craig A. Evans and H. Daniel Zacharias, eds., “What Does the Scripture Say?” (LNTS 470) – Part 2.1

Evans Craig A. and H. Daniel Zacharias, eds., “What Does the Scripture Say?”: Studies in the Function of Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity: Volume 2: The Letters and Liturgical Traditions. LNTS 470; Studies in Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013. Hb $130;  Pb $34.99; Logos $31.99. Link to Bloomsbury T&T Clark  Link to Logos

Craig A. Evans and H. Daniel Zacharias edited this two-volume collection of essays on the function of Scripture presented at the Society of Biblical Literature’s Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity program unit in 2008 and 2009. Volume one collects essays on the Gospels, the second volume includes epistles and other liturgical tradition.

Due to the length of this review, I will break each volume into two posts (Volume 1, part 1, volume 2, part 2, volume 2 part 1, volume 2, part 2).

Evans Volume 2Alicia D. Myers examines the use of synkrsis in John’s Gospel to portray Jesus as a new Moses (“The One of Whom Moses Wrote”: The Characterization of Jesus through Old Testament Moses Traditions in the Gospel of John”). Synkrisis is “language setting the better or the worse side by side” by Theon (Prog. 112).  She illustrate this method with Chariton’s romantic novel Chaereas and Callirhoe and Plutarch’s Life of Alcibiades. John repeatedly uses synkrisis and synkritic language to emphasize that the relationship between Jesus and Moses is complementary instead of competitive (2). After an introduction to synkrisis, characterization, and intertextually in the ancient world, Myers examines the passages in John (3:13–15; 6:1–59; the combined passages of 1:45 and 5:39–47) to show that John used synkrisis characterize Jesus as “the one of whom Moses wrote” in contrast to the Pharisees. John uses allusions and quotations of explicit Old Testament Moses traditions . . . in order to supplement the characterization of Jesus (12) and this method is much like he common rhetorical device synkrisis. With the exception of Dedication, the festivals were initiated by Moses. Passover is especially important since John makes the connection between Jesus and the Passover Lamb more clear than the Synoptic Gospels. But this is not to say the Gospel makes Jesus superior to Moses, by attending to the rhetorical form, we see a Jesus who is not in competition with Moses, Moses is the greatest witness to Jesus.

Bryan A. Stewart examines “Text, Context, and Logical Analysis: A Reexamination of the Use of Psalm 82 in John 10:31–39.”  Stewart is not interested in solutions to the exegetical problems to the very difficult problems found in this passage, but rather the “Johannine use of Ps 82 by merging a broader contextual examination with an exercise in logical analysis” (21). Surveying previous scholarship and relevant rabbinic texts, Stewart argues the gods of Ps 82:6 (θεοί) are human judges as opposed to angels or the nation of Israel. Jesus began in chapter 10 by declaring he is the good shepherd anticipated in Ezekiel 34, a text which was about the poor leadership of the nation. The Pharisees were questioning Jesus’ identity as the good shepherd and preparing to be both judges and executioners. “You are gods” is part of a traditional rabbinic qal wahomer argument, if scripture called those people (to whom the Word of God came) gods, how much more should one who is greater than them be called “Son of God.” Human judges were appointed by humans, Jesus was appointed by God; human judges received the word of God, but Jesus is the word of God coming to the people; humans were delegated to render justice, Jesus is himself the judge, although it is not clear if this is a divine or eschatological judge.  “To call Jesus “son of God” is, for the Fourth Gospel, to ascribe to Jesus an equality with the divine and an authority to grant eternal life.”

Steve Moyise asks “Does Paul Respect the Context of His Quotations? Hosea as Test Case.” It is well known that Paul sometimes makes minor changes in order to make his point, something which modern readers describe as not respecting the text. While this is impossible to prove and an anachronistic question Moyise examines several citations of Hosea in Paul in order to argue Paul does not respect the context of his quotations from Hosea, but he is aware of the overall message of Hosea and uses that context appropriately. Moyise argues we should distinguish Paul’s thought process (which we do not have access to) and Paul’s conclusions (which is all we have access to). As Moyise puts it, modern readers tend to hear Paul’s audaciousness rather than his conformity (50). Paul’s use of Hosea 13:14 in 1 Corinthians 15:54 is less a quotation than a blending of Hosea with Isa 25:8 based on the common word “victory.” Paul does respect the overall context of Hosea since the original context is judgment. Paul turns it into a statement of victory, but this is also what Hosea does eventually, in 14:4-7.  It would therefore be unfair to say Paul did not respected “the message of Hosea” (42).  To say Paul does not respect his sources makes him sound like a superficial writer who has no interest in the meaning of the text which he cites. Paul does not explain the exegetical process by which he went Hosea’s oracle of judgment to an assertion of victory over death.

David Lincicum compares “Paul and the Temple Scroll” as shared engagement of the book of Deuteronomy. Paul is usually described as the “law free” apostle, while the Temple Scroll can be fairly described as extending the Law for the Qumran community. By contrasting the two approaches to Deuteronomy, Lincicum argues that while “Paul’s reading may be “historically outrageous” in terms of a modern historical-critical perspective,” there are analogies in the Temple Scroll. Paul’s use of scripture is not strange or unique from the perspective of other Second Temple writers (61). By examine what Paul does with Deuteronomy, “Our purpose here is simply to point to the possible light shed on Paul’s practical concern with Deuteronomy when viewed against a document like the Temple Scroll, and to suggest that Paul’s ethics are not as “law-free” as sometimes alleged” (64). “Both Paul and the Temple Scroll are concerned with the contemporization of Deuteronomy” (69). Paul and the Temple Scroll are on opposite ends of the spectrum with respect to rewriting the Law, yet both are concerned with the application of Deuteronomy to the present situation. Paul did not know the Temple Scroll and the Qumran could not have known Paul, yet they are in dialogue in the sense that both have a great deal to say about the Law and use Deuteronomy extensively. Despite his critique of the Law and his Gentile mission, “Paul does not seem to have devoted less attention to Deuteronomy than his Jewish peers” (52).  The Temple Scroll can be understood as an extension of the Law at the very least, “Whether the Scroll means to displace the original form of those commandments which it reprises in modified form is more difficult to say” (58).

Kyle B. Wells also examines Paul’s use of Deuteronomy (“The Vindication of Agents, Divine and Human: Paul’s Reading of Deuteronomy 30:1–14 in Romans”). Wells wonders how a text like Deuteronomy 30 might have shaped Paul’s understanding of grace and agency. Briefly summarizing Francis Watson and J. L. Martyn, Wells concludes “Deut 30, because of its optimistic evaluation of human nature, could not have been understood by Paul as a positive witness to the gospel” (71). On the other hand, Deuteronomy 30 is ambiguous and open to differing perceptions with respect to Israel’s agency. These verses can be read as prioritizing human agency (Israel repents) or divine sovereignty (Yahweh returns to Israel). While the first is the consensus view, Wells suggests there is enough syntactical ambiguity to allow for the text to be read as an interplay between God’s action (circumcising the heart) and Israel’s turning to God (repentance). This is how Deuteronomy 30 was read at Qumran, at least in lines 1-2 in the Words of the Luminaries: “some at Qumran attribute heart-circumcision to divine initiative and agency and expect obedience to be the result”(85). Turning to Paul, Wells hears “reverberations of Deut 29–30 in Rom 2:17–29.” In reading Romans this way, Wells argues the Jew in Romans 2:17 represents all Jews and that by not believing in Jesus, they remain in exile and risk eschatological judgment rather that eschatological life (88). Just as in Deut 30, obedience is required for life, but what does Paul understands heart-circumcision as God’s restoration of a believer to the status of moral agent so that they can respond properly.

David Luckensmeyer examines an overlooked connection between Obadiah and 1 Thessalonians (“Intertextuality between Obadiah and First Thessalonians.”) The motif of the “day of the Lord” (ἡμέρα κυρίου) and the description of that day coming “as a thief,” ὡς κλέπτης appear independently in Obadiah, in vv. 15 and 5. But Luckensmeyer could only really find thematic parallels between Paul and Obadiah, and the no plausible sitz im leben could be suggested for Paul’s use of Obadiah in this case. In fact he admits “This whole exercise might be viewed as nothing more than an attempt to squeeze another publication out of a recently published revision of a Ph.D. dissertation” (119).  Luckensmeyer therefore follows a suggestion by Aichele, Miscall, and Walsh in a 2007 JBL article on postmodern interpretations of Scripture: “Meaning is not located in the single text, planted there perhaps by an originating author, but instead meaning is only found between texts” (99). Luckensmeyer therefore intends to reinterpret 1 Thessalonians in terms of a “reader-created intertextuality between it and Obadiah” (100). According this kind of intertextual reading, Paul has slipped into a prophetic role and (perhaps) unconsciously mimicked Obadiah’s style. In order to achieve this goal, Luckensmeyer lists verbal and thematic parallels between LXX Obadiah and 1 Thessalonians. He admits from a historical-critical perspective, some or all of these parallels are coincidental and may be part of a wider biblical tradition. Day of the Lord, for example, is so common it is impossible to state with any certainty at all Paul had a give text in mind. But reading the two texts in dialogue does create some new insights. For example, the “the awake/asleep” language may reflect Paul’s view of election and the biblical struggle between Jacob and Esau. Less convincing is Luckensmeyer suggestion that Paul uses polemical language against the Jews” similar to Obadiah’s polemic against Edom. There is, however, some warrant for reading Edom as a type or Rome (Philo, for example), so that the day of the Lord will catch a sleeping Rome unaware, like a thief. Another possible conclusion Luckensmeyer suggests divergences between the Hebrew and Greek texts of Obadiah may shed light on Paul’s emphasis on those “who live, who remain” (οἱ ζῶντες οἱ περιλειπόμενοι, 1 Thess 4:15, 17).  The Hebrew of Obad 14 and 18 has “survivors” (שׂריד), which is translated as “the escaping ones” (τοὺς φεύγοντας) and as “fire bearer” (πυροφόρος), respectively, the intertextual connection between “escaping” and “survival” to be quite relevant for interpretations of 1 Thess 4:15, 17.

Part two of the review is here.


Book Review: Craig A. Evans and H. Daniel Zacharias, eds., “What Does the Scripture Say?” (LNTS 469) – Part 1.2

Evans Craig A. and H. Daniel Zacharias, eds., “What Does the Scripture Say?”: Studies in the Function of Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity: Volume 1, The Synoptic Gospels. LNTS 469; Studies in Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013. Hb; Pb; Logos $31.99  Link to Bloomsbury T&T Clark    Link to Logos

[Due to the length of this review, I will break each volume into two posts:  Volume 1, part 1, volume 1, part 2, volume 2 part 1, volume 2, part 2].

Evans LNTS 469Jens Herzer suggests a solution to the “The Riddle of the Holy Ones in Matthew 27:51b–53: A New Proposal for a Crux Interpretum.” In this difficult passage many holy ones are raised to life at the time of Jesus resurrection and go into the Holy City. Herzer suggests Matthew has expanded on the well-known story of Jesus; death with “signs that seem to underline the apocalyptic character of Jesus’ death.” (143). For Herzer, the significance of Matt 27:51b–53 cannot be understood “an eschatological-apocalyptic interpretation based on traditional motifs or parallels, but only by an interpretation from the context of Matthew’s Gospel and its Christological and martyrological concept” (144). He surveys suggestions for parallel sources for this event (Ezek 37:12; Zech 14:4-5; Dan 12:2), but none are convincing. Nor are any parallels to Greco-Roman or Jewish literature. Following Joachim Gnilka, Herzer suggests the Holy ones in Matthew 27 should be understood in the light of the prophets and righteous ones Jesus refers to in Matt 23:29. These holy ones suffered and were killed, but now have been released from death by the death of Jesus and bear witness to the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (152). The resurrection of the saints is therefore not a foreshadowing of the eschatological resurrection but an allusion to the actual tombs of the prophets, their resurrection underscores the mission of Jesus to Israel and the meaning of his death and resurrection.

Jocelyn McWhirter discusses “Messianic Exegesis in Mark 1:2–3,” Following the lead of Donald Juel, McWhirter suggests the three texts cited in Mark 1 (Exod 23:20; Mal 3:1; Isa 40:3) are applied to John and Jesus because Mark “interprets them as messianic prophecies on the basis of shared vocabulary with acknowledged messianic texts” (159).The rest of Mark’s Gospel makes it clear these three texts are to be understood as messianic prophecies (161). She describes the “messianic exegesis” suggests all of Mark’s messianic interpretation are based on Psalms 89, 110 and 118. He is using messianic exegesis to argue Jesus is the one expected in the Psalm. Messianic exegesis is using any verse to shed light on another if there is shared vocabulary (166). “Mark seems to have inherited the rabbis’ method, but not their conclusion (170).” She challenges a near consensus that the New Exodus is sufficient to explain this combination of biblical allusions in Mark 1. Mark’s quotation of Isa 40:3 and other allusions to Second Isaiah would likely not be enough to evoke the “new Exodus” for the original audience. There is no direct evidence that anyone really used phrases like “new exodus” or “suffering servant” in the wan modern New Testament scholars do.

Jamal-Dominique Hopkins studies the “Levitical Purification in the New Testament Gospels” especially as the related to Jesus’ activity among marginalized people. The fact that Jesus appears to relax purity regulations for marginalized people is demonstrated in the “especially curious in the way impure persons are declared clean by Jesus” (180).  Judaism in the late Second Temple period frequently associated outward bodily state with consecrated status (181). Hopkins examines several purity issues, such as hand washing, corpse contamination, leprous contamination and  concludes there are “specific individuals who, prior to Jesus’ liberating pronouncements, were socially and religiously regarded as unclean under Jewish Levitical law.” These liberating acts suggest the “force and nature of Levitical purity was understood variantly during the late Second Temple period” (190). Hopkins concludes the followers of had less rigid attitudes with regard to Jewish legal stipulations and these attitudes compare to Pauline, Gentile congregations. For Hopkins, the Jesus movement is “moving from the observance of common ritual procedures to a more spiritualized ideology” (190).

Amanda C. Miller contributes an article on victory songs in the Second Temple period as background for reading the Magnificat (“A Different Kind of Victory: 4Q427 7 i–ii and the Magnificat as Later Developments of the Hebrew Victory Song”). Similarities between Hannah’s song (1 Sam 2) and Mary’s song indicate the poetic expressions is part of a larger tradition which celebrates God’s dramatic action on behalf of the “least of these” (193). Miller first introduces the hodayah in 4Q427 7 i–ii since it less familiar than the Magnificat and then proceed to examine the genre “victory hymn” in the Hebrew Bible (Song of Deborah and Hannah) and literature of the Second Temple period (Judith and The War Scroll).  She then offers a detailed comparison of the Magnificat and 4Q427 7 i–ii in four areas: theology, anthropology, status reversals, and eschatology. All of the songs she examines make use of military and divine warrior language, and she concludes the “Magnificat and the hodayah in 4Q427 7 i–ii are at home in the tradition of the victory hymn, but they are at the far end of the continuum” (204). If Miller is correct, then why would Luke use the genre of victory hymn for Mary’s prayer?  Miller suggests “early Judaism and early Christianity were both struggling with the problems of domination by Jerusalem elites, illegitimate client rulers, and ultimately the Roman Empire” (211). Luke’s gospel indicates Christianity was subtly opposing Rome and needed to hide subversive language in the voice of a marginalized character like Mary.

Adam Gregerman examines “Biblical Prophecy and the Fate of the Nations in Early Jewish and Christian Interpretations of Isaiah.” He investigates how a study of exegesis of Isaiah’s phrase “light for/to the nations/peoples” (42:6; 49:6; 51:4) and how this relates to early Christian mission to the Gentiles. As Gregerman observes, the idea Judaism was a “missionary religion” has been question by recent scholarship. Little evidence exists for missionary activity and much of the literature formally described as “missionary tracts” may not have been written for that purpose. In addition, it is not clear why Jews would attempt to convert Gentiles to a religion which was difficult and potentially dangerous for them. There is simply no evidence for intentional efforts at missionary outreach in the Second Temple period (218). Turning to the use of Isaiah 42:6, Late Second Temple period Jewish texts numerous interpretations of this phrase “light to the Gentiles” is never cited as support for missionary activity. Although the Septuagint “ratchets up hope for the Gentiles” by translating vague Hebrew phrases more explicitly, God’s blessings on the nature of the eschatological ingathering of the Gentiles remains unchanged. The same is true for Tobit 13:11, Testament of Levi 14:4, Wisdom of Solomon 18:4, and 1 Enoch 48:4. Allusions to Isaiah appear in several key texts on Luke/Acts (Like 2:32, Acts 1:8, 13:47, 26:18, 23). In each case, Gregerman sees the use of Isaiah as a justification for missionary activity among the Gentiles, on contrast to the use of the passage in contemporary Judaism. For Luke, “there is nothing accidental about the gentile mission, this was God’s will all along” (215).

Conclusion. This collection stands as a contribution to our understanding of how the writers of the New Testament used the Hebrew Bible in creative and sometimes unexpected ways as they sought to explain how Jesus related to earlier Scripture. It is clear from these essays that the Gospel writers used Scripture in ways which are consistent with the Second Temple Period even if they are only interested in Jesus and his ministry.


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