Was Paul as an Apostle?

Paul claims to be called to be an apostle in each of the undisputed letters (Rom 1:1, 1 Cor 1:1, 2 Cor 1:1, Gal 1:1) as well as several other letters (Eph 1:1, Col 1:1, 1-2 Tim, Titus). In addition to the headings of these letters, Paul refers to his apostleship in several other contexts. In Rom 11:13 he calls himself the “apostle to the Gentiles” and in 1 Corinthians 9 Paul defends his status as an apostle on a par with Peter or Barnabas. But Paul never claims to be one of the Twelve. With the exception of Matthias, the replacement for Judas, this group were chosen by Jesus before the crucifixion.

Was Paul as an Apostle?In fact, in Galatians 1 Paul emphasizes his commission as an apostle but distinct from the Twelve.  An “apostle” is someone who is sent as a representative of another, usually some kind of a group.  Most lexicons suggests the English “ambassador, delegate, messenger” for the Greek concept of an apostle.  Most scholars now associate the Greek apostolos (ἀπόστολος) with the Hebrew shaliach. A person who was sent as a representative or agent acts on the same authority of the sending group.

For example, when the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to Antioch, it is possible he was send as a shaliach or apostle of the Jerusalem church (Acts 11:22).  He would have acted as their representative on the scene should questions arise. Paul is not an apostle sent by the church of Antioch to the churches of Galatia, nor is he an agent sent out by the Jerusalem church. He never claims to be one of the Twelve Apostles, in fact Galatians 1-2 make it clear he is not part of that particular group. Paul’s claim in Galatians is that is an apostle of Jesus Christ and God the Father.

In 1 Corinthians 15:9 Paul alludes to his status as an apostle in his discussion of the resurrection. Paul was not a follower of Jesus until his encounter in Acts 9. As is well known, he was a persecutor of Jesus’ followers prior to the resurrection appearance of Jesus. Paul claims in in 1 Cor 15 to be an eye-witness to the resurrection, albeit one with different credentials than Peter or James since he did not know Jesus before the resurrection.

This experience was like an “untimely birth” (ESV). This word (ἔκτρωμα) is used for a stillborn child or a miscarriage. Many commentators think this is an insult Paul faced in his ministry, he is not just a “Johnny-come-lately” or someone who is trying to “jump on the band-wagon,” or that he has some spiritual deficiency disqualifying him from being considered a “real apostle.” Rather than responding to an attack, Paul is simply listing himself as the final witness because he was the final witness, and his experience is unique among the apostles. But again, he does not claim to be one of the Twelve; like James, the Lord’s Brother, he is commissioned by the resurrected Jesus to be an apostle, but NOT one of the Twelve.

In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul sarcastically refers to his opponents in Corinth as “super-apostles.” But since this rare word can mean superior, it is possible the opponents considered themselves to be superior to Paul and described themselves as his superiors to the members of the Corinthian church. Some have argued this is a reference to the apostles in Jerusalem, but it seems unlikely Paul would refer the Twelve with this snarky title (like added “so-called” to something to question its authority). More likely the super apostles are Greeks in Corinth who have accepted the Gospel but are now behaving like Greek intellectuals. Like many of the other issues in Corinth, Paul is dealing with a pagan worldview in the church.

By way of summary, there was a group called the Twelve who were apostles, and a few other people who were commissioned by Jesus after the resurrection (James and Paul) and were therefore also considered apostles. There were others who claimed to be apostles, like the super apostles mentioned in 2 Corinthians who claimed authority as apostles but were not commissioned by the resurrected Jesus.

What is Paul claiming when he calls himself an Apostle?  What does it mean for a letter like 1 Thessalonians, where he does not use the title but then says he could have made demands as an apostle of Christ?

Paul’s Mission to the Gentiles

One of the basic assumptions most Christian have about Jews in the first century is they kept separate from the Gentiles. Josephus says Jews “did not come into contact with other people because of their separateness” (Antiq. 13:245-247). Any Gentile who chooses to live according to the Law of Moses may be admitted, but otherwise there is no real fellowship with Gentiles.  

Josephus, Against Apion 2.210 Accordingly our legislator [Moses] admits all those that have a mind to observe our laws, so to do; and this after a friendly manner, as esteeming that a true union, which not only extends to our own stock, but to those that would live after the same manner with us; yet does he not allow those that come to us by accident only to be admitted into communion with us.

But perhaps the situation was not as strict as Josephus would have us believe. Gentiles were not totally excluded from Jewish worship. The Temple in the first century was expanded to include a large “court of the Gentiles” providing a place for Gentiles to worship. On a number of occasions in the gospels Jesus speaks with Gentiles, although usually the faith of the Gentile is in contrast to the unfaithfulness of the Jews (see for example the story in Mark 7:24-30 or the parallel in Matthew 15:22-28)

One factor bearing on this issue is the long standing Jewish belief that purity laws did not apply to Gentiles even when they lived in Israelite territory. The “sojourner laws” (Deut 5:14) define Gentiles as resident aliens and require only a few general laws for them while they are living within Israel. These are similar to the commands given by James at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:24-29 for Gentiles. Although it seems odd to a modern reader, the two biggest factors for avoiding Gentiles were food laws and circumcision. Because Gentiles ate food the Jews considered unclean, for some Jews contact with Gentiles was to be avoid.

Did Jews of the first century consider Gentiles impure and therefore exclude them from the courts at the temple? In the Second Temple re-telling of the story of Joseph known as Joseph and Asenath we are told Joseph never ate with the Egyptians, for this was an abomination to him” (7:1). In fact, he refuses to even kiss the lovely Egyptian Asenath because her lips have touched unclean food.

Several Second Temple period texts indicate Jews did not mix at all with Gentiles:

Jubilees 22:16 And you also, my son, Jacob, remember my words, and keep the commandments of Abraham, your father. Separate yourself from the Gentiles, and do not eat with them, and do not perform deeds like theirs. And do not become associates of theirs. Because their deeds are defiled, and all their ways are contaminated, and despicable, and abominable.

Tobit 1:10-12 After I was carried away captive to Assyria and came as a captive to Nineveh, every one of my kindred and my people ate the food of the Gentiles, but I kept myself from eating the food of the Gentiles. Because I was mindful of God with all my heart . . .

Judith 12:1-4 Then he commanded them to bring her in where his silver dinnerware was kept, and ordered them to set a table for her with some of his own delicacies, and with some of his own wine to drink. But Judith said, “I cannot partake of them, or it will be an offense; but I will have enough with the things I brought with me.” Holofernes said to her, “If your supply runs out, where can we get you more of the same? For none of your people are here with us.” Judith replied, “As surely as you live, my lord, your servant will not use up the supplies I have with me before the Lord carries out by my hand what he has determined.”

In any case, it was certainly not normal for a Jewish missionary from Jerusalem to turn up in the home of a Gentile to teach them about the God of the Hebrew Bible (as did Peter in Acts 10). If a Gentile was worshiping in the Temple or synagogue, such as Cornelius, then that Gentile would be welcome to hear the gospel. But for the Jewish mission in Judea as described in the book of Acts, the home of a Gentile is not really the normal venue for missionary activity!

Yet Paul is called to be the “light to the gentiles” and planned to take the Gospel to places where it has not gone before. He immediately goes to the Roman province of Arabia and begins to do evangelism among the Gentiles. On the island of Crete Paul intentionally approaches the Roman governor Sergius Paulus, and in both Lystra and Iconium he targets Gentiles outside of the Synagogue with the Gospel.

If the examples listed above are a fair reading of Judaism in the first century, then how radical was Paul’s Gentile mission strategy? Is the reaction of both Christian and non-Christian Jews to his interaction with Gentiles a hint at how radical Paul’s mission to the Gentiles was for Second Temple Jews?

Paul and the Suffering Servant

Like Philippians 3, in 2 Corinthians 11:23–33 Paul boasts about his ministry. Since this letter is written in the mid-50s, the list refers to Paul’s early ministry. But Paul does not list his accomplishments quite the way we would expect them.

First, Paul claims to be a servant of Christ (v. 23a) and then proves it by listing his hard work and suffering on account of Christ Jesus. In fact, he claims to be a “better servant” because he has suffered! The opponents claim to be servants of Jesus and Paul does not deny the claim. Be the word “servant” and “slave” are identical in Greek. For someone to claim to be a “servant” in English has a different feel than claiming to be a “slave.”

Second, Paul says he has worked harder, been in prison more, been beaten countless times and has been near death many times. Paul uses a series of adverbs (περισσοτέρως twice, ὑπερβαλλόντως once, and πολλάκις once) to overemphasize his difficult life as a servant of Christ. These were not one-time problems he endured for a short time. This is the constant state of his life since he began his ministry!

Third, Paul has already suffered many times for the name of Jesus. “Five time lashed 40 less one” is a reference to Jewish punishment. The Greek says, “I received the forty less one,” which is a clear reference to a lashing. Josephus uses the phrase twice in describing the Mosaic Law (Ant. 4:238. 248). This punishment came from the Jews—it was an attempt from synagogues to bring Paul back in line with his heritage. The maximum punishment in the law was 40 lashes (Deut 25:3).

What is significant is Paul received this penalty five times!  Early in his ministry Paul may have been expelled from the synagogue for teaching that Jesus was the Messiah, and certainly if he taught God-fearing Gentiles they could be fully save without keeping the Law. In Acts 7, Stephen is lynched for teaching Jesus had replaced the Temple, although he did not go as far as Paul with respect to the Gentiles and the Law.

In addition to these beatings, Paul says he was “three times beaten with rods.” This is a reference to Roman punishment. The Greek (ῥαβδίζω) refers only to beating someone with rods, the Latin term fustigatio was distinct from catigatio, lashing, and verberatio, flogging with chains (BDAG). Paul received this treatment in Acts 16:22 for creating a “public disturbance” even though he was a Roman citizen.

Finally, Paul says he was “once stoned and left for dead.” This refers to Lystra (Acts 14:19). Stoning was a typical way for a Jewish group to execute someone. In Acts 7 Paul himself participates in the stoning of Stephen and he is about to be stoned in Acts 21:30 when he is falsely accused of bringing a Gentile into the Temple courts.

I suggest this list of suffering indicates Paul continued to reach out to the Jews in the synagogues early in his career. Acts indicates he never really stopped going to the synagogues to reach the “Jew first.” But he was also bringing the Gospel into the Greco-Roman world in such a way that he was thought to be a threat. In Acts 17:6 the leaders of Thessalonica claim Paul was “turning the world upside down.”

So Paul was Jesus’ slave who suffered greatly to bring the Gospel to both Jews and Gentiles. How does this level of suffering for Jesus function as a kind of “missionary strategy”? From a modern perspective, being arrested for rabble-rousing might be seen as counter-productive to evangelism. How might Paul’s suffering for Jesus be a model for Christians today?

 

Was Paul a Pharisee?

Paul claims to be a Pharisee in Philippians 3 and in Acts 22:2-5 he claims before the Sanhedrin to have been “educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers” (Acts 22:3). The Pharisees are well known in scripture and history. While Pharisees are the chief persecutors of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels, especially in Matthew, some Pharisees appear to be interested in Jesus’s teaching (Luke 7:36-50) and the Gospel of John presents Nicodemus as a Pharisee who approached Jesus with respect both before and after the resurrection. Acts 15:5 indicates some Pharisees were associated with the Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem.

The Pharisees represent a fairly conservative form of Second Temple Judaism although there concern for ritual purity put them at odds with Jesus on a number of occasions. Although Jesus questioned their interpretation and application of the Law and called the hypocrites, he did not object to some of their core beliefs nor indicate they were wrong on fundamental issues important to Second Temple Judaism. For example, the Pharisees believed God had chosen the people of Israel as his own but have been sent into exile as a consequence of their covenant unfaithfulness. They also looked forward to a coming messianic king who would rescue Israel from their oppressors and re-establish a Davidic kingdom. Jesus agrees with all of this (although he would claim to be that son of David and the kingdom is being restored in his own mission).

Just how much influence did Paul’s education as a Pharisee have on his thinking?

  • First, they struck a balance between freedom and human responsibility.  They believed in Divine providence, and the election of Israel, even the predestination of many vents of life, yet man has some freedom of choice that ensures his responsibility.
  • Second, Pharisees placed supreme importance on the Law and their own oral traditions and interpretations of the Law.
  • Third, unlike the Sadducees, they believed in resurrection and an afterlife. This appears to have been a point of contention between the two groups, as is seen in Acts 23:6-8.
  • Fourth, the Pharisees had messianic hopes; they were looking for the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead.  This is the reason that they are among the first of the leaders of Israel to examine the teachings of John the Baptist and of Jesus.

At least for these points, Paul’s thinking is similar to his early training as a Pharisee. He also has a balance between determinism and human responsibility and has a strong belief in God’s election of Israel (Romans 9-11, for example). Paul has a view of resurrection consistent with the Pharisees and he obviously believes in a messiah. The difference, of course, is the messiah is Jesus. As one of my students once said in this context, “that is a pretty big difference.” Although Paul is clear Gentiles are not required to keep the Law, he does use the Hebrew Bible extensively and in ways which would resonate with the methods of the Pharisees.

There other ways in which Paul is consistent with the Pharisees in his letters, such as marriage in 1 Corinthians 7. This might come as a surprise to Christian readers of Paul who tend to read the letters as if Paul was a member of an American evangelical church (or worse seminary faculty member!) How will this understanding of Paul’s Jewish background effect our reading of Paul’s letters?

Perhaps this leads to a more difficult question, how much of Paul’s thinking changed as a result of his Damascus Road experience?

Book Review: Douglas J. Moo, Romans. Second Edition (NICNT)

Moo, Douglas J. Romans. Second Edition. NICNT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. clvi+1027 pp.; Hb.; $80.00. Link to Eerdmans   

Douglas Moo’s 1996 commentary on Romans quickly became a standard reference on Paul’s longest and most important letter. Pauline studies have blossomed in the last twenty years since the first edition was published. Many important monographs and commentaries on Romans have appeared as well as several important Pauline theologies. Many important responses to the New Perspective on Paul were published, such as the two volume Justification and Variegated Nomism (Baker, 2004). Some of these nuanced and expanded Sanders others sought a return to the traditional view of Paul and Judaism. N. T. Wright’s Justification generated various responses, culminating in Wrights massive Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Fortress, 2013) and a collection of essays in response to Wright, God and the Faithfulness of Paul (Fortress, 2017). Since these developments in Pauline Theology often center on key texts in the book of Romans, an update to Moo’s NICNT commentary is welcome.

The introduction to the letter in this second edition is more or less the same, several paragraphs from the first edition have been omitted or re-worked and there are a few references to recent work on audience and purpose. For example, Moo has added a reference to Michael Gorman and Richard Longenecker as he describes the participationist view of Romans 5-8 (22). He adds a line at the end of his discussion of salvation history as the theme of Romans making it clear that although it is an important conceptual scheme for Romans, “it cannot be called the theme of the letter,” citing Douglas Campbell 2005 work on Paul’s Gospel (25).

In the body of the commentary, Moo begins each section with a translation of the text with footnotes indicating textual issues. In the first edition the footnotes had their own numbering for each pericope, in the second edition the numbers continue the footnotes for a major section. For example, there are now 1291 footnotes for the section Romans 5:1-8:39.

After a brief introduction to the pericope, he proceeds verse-by-verse commenting on key features of the text. Since this is not a Greek text commentary, all Greek appears in transliteration in the body of the text, more nuanced details are covered in the footnotes. His comments on the text not simply exegetical since the book of Romans demands some theological reflection. For example, after dealing with the difficult phrase “faithfulness of Christ” in Romans 3:21, Moo deals with two potential objections his understanding of the phrase as an objective genitive, both from a theological perspective, specifically that his view may violate sola fide and solus Christus. This attention to both exegetical detail and theological importance is well balanced in the commentary.

Moo has updated the footnotes in the second edition to include works written in the last twenty years. A comparison of the Index of Authors quickly shows the inclusion of major commentaries by Jewett, Longenecker, Schreiner, Wright and others. These are not simply appended to existing footnotes; often Moo interacts with these recent works in the body of the commentary.

In addition, footnotes are streamlined by only including a shortened citation. Occasionally only a commentator’s name is used without page number. Readers should refer to the greatly expanded bibliography in the new edition for details. The bibliography for the first edition of the commentary was twenty-five pages, the second has expanded to 156 pages of abbreviations and bibliography.

Some excurses have been expanded, others are added. For example, in the first edition after Romans 6:1-14 there was an excursus entitled “Paul’s ‘With Christ’ Conception.” In the second edition the title is “’With Christ’ and ‘In Christ’” and more than two pages have been added commenting on the 131 occurrences of “in Christ” in the Pauline letters, with references to recent literature. The excursus following Romans 1:16-17 on the righteousness of God has been re-worked and expanded; it now includes a section on righteousness language and Isaiah 40-66 and the section on the phrase “righteousness of God” now includes much more detail from Isaiah. Moo has also updated the essay with references to recent works on the righteousness of God by Mark Seifrid, N. T. Wright, and others.

After the commentary on Romans 9-11, Moo has added about five pages on “Recent Assessments of Paul and Judaism.” This short essay deals with the so-called Radical New Perspective or “Paul within Judaism,” Messianic Judaism, and bi-covenantalism. In every case, these approaches to Paul try to take seriously Romans 9-11 and to avoid supersecessionism. Also new is an excursus on Paul’s reading of the Hebrew text of Genesis 15:16 following the commentary on Romans 4.

Conclusion. Moo’s commentary joins an already crowded field of recent major Romans commentaries, including Richard N. Longenecker’s recent New International Greek Text Commentary (Eerdmans 2016) and Thomas R. Schreiner’s second edition in the Baker Exegetical New Testament Commentary (Baker, 2018). I consider Moo’s 1996 commentary the “first of the shelf” (see my Top Five Romans Commentaries). This second edition is an upgrade to an already excellent commentary, one that should be on the shelf for anyone seriously studying the book of Romans.

Book Review: Amy Anderson and Wendy Widder, Textual Criticism and the Bible. Revised Edition

Anderson, Amy and Wendy Widder. Textual Criticism and the Bible. Revised Edition. Lexham Methods Series 1; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2018. Pb.; 236 pp. $29.99   Link to Lexham Press

This volume is the first of five texts in the Lexham Methods Series. Each volume is edited collection of basic introductions to important concepts for biblical studies. The series appears in both print and Logos Bible Software format. Although there are several basic introductions to textual criticism, it is rare to find a primer on textual criticism of both testaments in a single volume.

Anderson, Widder, Textual CriticismThe first two chapters of this guide to textual criticism define the discipline by describing the goal of textual criticism as establishing the earliest reading text of a biblical text (40). This is not translation or interpretation since textual criticism precedes both of these steps. Textual criticism is necessary because of the massive number of copies, translations, and quotations of Scriptures in the literature of the early church, all preserved in hand copied manuscripts.

The bulk of chapter two catalogs the usual list of textual variations with several examples draw from examples from both testaments. Greek and Hebrew is used, but the texts appear in translation so a reader without language skills will be able to get the sense of the explanation of the variants.

  • Haplography, writing something once instead of twice
  • Parablepsis, “eye-skipping” that overlooks and eliminates or repeats text
  • Dittography, writing something twice instead of once
  • Conflation, combining multiple readings
  • Glosses, incorporating marginal notes into the text
  • Metathesis, switching the order of letters or words
  • Confusing one letter for a similar-looking letter
  • Homophony, Confusing words that sound alike

For the most part these are unintentional errors which slip into the copying process. Although there are a few difficult examples, most are easy to explain and do not cause much trouble. More difficult are intentional changes to the text. In many cases a copies will correct spelling and grammar with the goal of improving the text. This is especially the case when the original syntax of the text is difficult. Sometimes a copyist will harmonize two parallel texts. This may occur when a copyist remembers the parallel passage and unintentionally inserts it into section he is copying, as in the case of the two versions of the Lord’s Prayer. But sometimes this is an intentional attempt to harmonize two parallel passages. One a few occasions, a copyist made theological changes, perhaps to prevent a reader from misunderstanding a text. The authors include the tiqqune sopherim as Old Testament examples. These are eighteen modifications to the Masoretic text made because the reading of the text seemed to be irreverent. The classic example of this theological change in the New Testament is 1 John 5:6-8 where the Latin Vulgate is clearly Trinitarian.

The second chapter concludes the basic method of textual criticism. Anderson and Widder offer three principle for evaluating external evidence, preferring the older manuscripts (although this is nuanced slightly since early manuscripts are just as likely to have intentional changes), the reading that has multiple attestations, and the reading found in a variety of manuscripts (text types, families). With respect to internal evidence or transcriptional probability, the basic rule is “the reading that best explains the origin of the other readings is probably original” (45, citing David Alan Black). Three corollaries follow, usually called the “canons of textual criticism.” The critic prefers the shorter reading, the more difficult reading, and the reading which best fits the author of the text. This assumes (correctly) that copyists were more likely to expand a text rather than shorten it. This is the case for the name of Jesus, a copyist is more likely to add titles to the name of Jesus than delete them. It also assumes that a copyist is more likely to smooth out difficult grammar.

After the first two chapters outlining the science and art of textual criticism, there are two sixty-plus page chapters for both the Old and New Testaments. Both chapters feature brief description of the materials for doing textual criticism, such as critical editions of manuscripts, translations and versions. These are necessarily brief and concise, and often summarized with helpful charts giving names, dates, and scholarly conventions for abbreviating these materials in the textual apparatus of critical editions. There are helpful charts for important papyri, majuscules, minuscules, but not for church fathers or lectionaries. Some readers will find these charts frustratingly brief, but since comprehensive lists appear in the front of the critical editions of the Greek New Testament is unnecessary to include more than the important witnesses in a handbook like this.

Both chapters have a section on method with several examples of the process a student might follow in order to examine a particular variation. The tree steps are simple: (1) assemble the evidence for all variants, (2) analyze the variants, and (3) draw conclusions. I will comment on two examples, one from each testament. For Lamentations 3:22 there is a variant “we are used up” or “they are used up”? The evidence is drawn from the Peshitta, a Targum, and the Vulgate (although the LXX is not used in this example, it is for other examples in the chapter). The student then should work through the list of potential variations in order to explain which reading is likely to be the original reading.

Doing New Testament textual criticism is more complicated because there are far more manuscripts and two different ways of indicating variants. The critical apparatus in the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament uses a series of sigla to indicate a variant (see the chart on pages 150-51, this is worth memorizing) while the United Bible Society uses footnotes when a variant occurs. The general rule is the NA has more variations and less evidence, the UBS has fewer variants and more evidence. Using the same three steps as outlined for the Old Testament, the authors walk a student through the process for a variant in John 3:32 using the evidence in NA28. Each chapter ends with an annotated Resources for Further Study. These resources are often sections or chapters rather than a monograph or article.

The final chapter is a short reflection on textual criticism today. Anderson and Widder make two points as a conclusion to their book. First, they discuss how textual criticism is reflected in popular Bible translations. This includes a short note on what critical editions the translation used for their translations as well as the textual-critical approach used by the translators. Second, the chapter includes two pages considering the impact textual criticism has on the authority of Scripture. They conclude “we can have confidence that the Bible we use reflects an extraordinary degree of accuracy and integrity” (184).

Two items add value to this book for students. First, there is a twenty page glossary of terms used in the book. Second, the new edition of the book has an expanded, twenty page bibliography, including subsections for critical editions of the Old and New Testament, Peshitta, Samaritan Pentateuch, Septuagint and Vulgate). The previous edition of the book was heavily dependent on Bible dictionaries, especially the Anchor Bible Dictionary; that is not the case for the revised edition. The book includes subject and Scripture indices.

Logos Bible Software Features. The book has a number of illustrations and charts. Most key terms appear in a PowerPoint like slides. These images can be copied and pasted into presentation software. The Logos Bible Software version also provides links to the glossary for key terms and scholars. For example, on the desktop version, floating the cursor over terms like Origen, Vulgate, or haplography and the glossary entry will appear; clicking the link will go to the glossary. This is extremely helpful when reading the book on an iPad. I am not sure if this is easily done, but I would challenge Lexham to take this glossary and release it in a flash card format, such as Study Blue, Quizlet or the adaptive learning technology platform Cerego. This would make the book more useful to students, especially of the book is adopted as a textbook.

 

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

 

Book Review: Holger Gzella, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament Volume XVI: Aramaic Dictionary

Gzella, Holger. Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, Volume XVI. Aramaic Dictionary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. xlvii+884 pp. Hb; $75.  Link to Eerdmans  

After nearly fifty years, the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament is now complete. The final volume of TDOT is an unabridged translation of the German Dictionary published in seven installments between 2001 and 2016. This Aramaic Dictionary contains nearly all the vocabulary of biblical Aramaic (Ezra 4:8-6:19 and 7:12-26; Daniel 2:4-7:28; a brief clause in Jeremiah 10:11 and Genesis 31:47 (יְגַ֖ר שָׂהֲדוּתָ֑א, Jegar-sahadutha, Laban’s name for the Hebrew place-name Galeed).

In his editor’s preface, Holgar Gzella says this volume situates the Aramaic sections of Ezra and Daniel “in the context of its linguistic and cultural history and, thereby, frees Biblical Aramaic from its role as an appendix to the Hebrew Bible.” This “linguistic and cultural history” is illustrated throughout the dictionary with texts from Old and Imperial Aramaic as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The entries in the Dictionary look similar to the other volumes of the TDOT but are necessarily brief and the content for each entry varies. Other than the heading, all Hebrew and Aramaic appears in transliteration. Before the first footnote is a bibliography for the word including journal articles, monographs, and cross references to other Hebrew and Aramaic lexical words (ThWQ, TLOT, TDOT, often for Hebrew cognates). All references to non-biblical Aramaic texts are given with standard abbreviations, only rarely are these texts cited.

Several examples will suffice to demonstrate how each dictionary entry works. Under the heading עלי the word עליון, most high, and other related words appear. The entry begins with a brief etymology, the about a page surveying the use in biblical Aramaic and Qumran. The entry conclude with about a half-page on profane uses of the words in both Old and Imperial Aramaic (an inscription and the text of a contract from Elephantine) and biblical Aramaic and Qumran. The entry for ידע (“to know”) is more extensive and includes מנדע (knowledge). The entry begins with etymology and lexical field before a page of Old and Imperial Aramaic examples. The biblical Aramaic section includes sub-paragraphs in the ground-stem, causative-stem, constructions with an object clause, the noun and the translation of these forms in the Greek Old Testament. Finally the entry includes two pages of examples drawn from Qumran.

It may be helpful to compare the TDOT Aramaic Dictionary to the Aramaic volume in the popular The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 2000) edited by Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner (HALOT). From my example above, the HALOT entry for ידע (“to know”) runs about 300 words and contains glosses for all examples of biblical Hebrew. The entry begins with notes on the word in various forms of Aramaic, the entry does not offer examples. By way of contrast, the TDOT entry has six pages with about a third of the entry offering examples from Qumran and another page of Imperial Aramaic examples. If one were reading and translating Daniel, then HALOT would be an efficient tool. However, if one is doing exegesis on Daniel, then the TDOT Aramaic Dictionary is superior.

Following the dictionary proper, there two shorter lists. First, a list of seven Iranian official titles, second a list of numbers which appear in biblical Aramaic. Gzella provides a thirteen page historical outline of Aramaic grammar, am alphabetical Aramaic-English word list and an English-Aramaic glossary. Since the latter list indicates the root under which the word appears in the dictionary, this will be valuable (and well-used) too for students.

Unlike the Hebrew Volumes of TDOT, this new volume is more akin to a standard dictionary than a theological dictionary. In the TDOT entries often included expanded entries on the theological uses of a word. For example, the entry examined above for ידע (“to know”) in TDOT volume four is thirty-two pages long and includes sections on both secular and religious knowledge, revelation (including signs and wonders in the Exodus), and the use of the word at Qumran. As a second example, under חבל, rope, the entry includes the sorts of things one expects to define rope, but then has sections entitled “Rope in Everyday Life” as an instrument, in military contexts, and as a measuring line) and “Rope as a Metaphor.” The nature of biblical Aramaic precludes this level of detail and there are few scholars with the experience in a wide range of Aramaic to write detailed articles on non-biblical Aramaic.

Nevertheless, this new TDOT Aramaic Dictionary is an essential tool for anyone working on the Aramaic texts in Daniel and Ezra. The wealth of parallel material in Imperial Aramaic and the Qumran literature will serve scholarship for many years to come.

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