Logos “Free Book of the Month” for May 2016 – Why God Won’t Go Away by Alister McGrath

why-god-wont-go-awayFormer atheist Alister McGrath has a doctorate in molecular biophysics has been nothing if not a prolific writer since becoming a Christian. Most of his books would be apologetics and often concern the relationship of science and religion. He is the Andreas Idreos Professor in Science and Religion in the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Oxford and has written or edited dozens of books. Logos is offering his book, Why God Won’t Go Away as a free download in the Logos Library for the month of May. Thomas Nelson published this 200 page book in 2011.

As an added bonus, you can purchase McGrath’s response to Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion for $1.99. The book was written by Alister and Joanna McGrath and answers Dawkins’s claim that faith intellectual nonsense and that science and religion locked in a battle to the death. This short 119 page book was published in 2010 (originally by SPCK in England and IVP Academic in America).

Both books are challenging, but like most apologetic from Christian publishers, they are intended to be read by Christian laypeople. This means McGrath is not as rigorously philosophical and technical as he could be in his presentation of the merits of Theism. Usually people who already believe in God will find these books convincing and those who are equally entrenched in their atheism will remain unconvinced.

As always, Logos has a giveaway related to their free (and almost free) book of the month promotion. This time you can enter to win a ten-volume SPCK collection of McGrath books. So head over to Logos, get the free books for your Logos Library, and maybe win the collection!


Book Review: L. Michael Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?

Morales, L. Michael. Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus. New Studies in Biblical Theology 37. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015. 190 pgs., Pb.; $22.00 Link to IVP

In this contribution to the NSBT series, L. Michael Morales examines the theology of the often overlooked book of Leviticus as the center of the Pentateuch. Morales begins by describing the placement of the Lampstand and the Table of the Presence in the Tabernacle. The Lampstand appears to have been intentionally placed to shine light on the bread arranged on the table in order to visually portray God’s intention that his people should live continually in his presence. The book of Leviticus is about “dwelling with God in the house of God” (20). In the first chapter of the book Morales argues the Pentateuch is “shaped as a journey led by YHWH to himself at Mount Sinai” (37) where Israel is given the house of the Lord, the Tabernacle. Leviticus stands at the center of the Pentateuch in order to instruct God’s people how they may “ascend the mountain of the Lord” and live in the presence of the glory of their God.

Morales, Who may ascend the moountain of God?Humans are unable to live in the presence of God because of the rebellion of Eden. In the second chapter of the book Morales describes this “longing for Eden” as the foreground for reading Leviticus as the center of the Pentateuch. God created Eden as a mountain temple in which humans were placed to worship God and Genesis itself provides a “cultic cosmology” as humans move away from life within the order of Creation to death and chaos (49). Adam becomes an exile from God’s presence and wanders east, prevent from returning to the presence of God by cherubim. Because of their rebellion, humans are exiled from the presence of God in Eden and cannot return to God’s presence.

Israel has an opportunity to “Return to Eden” in the book of Exodus (Chapter 3). The narrative context of Leviticus stands on the foundation of the redeemed people of God passing through the through the waters of chaos as they are led to the mountain of God. The goal of Israel’s redemption from Egypt was worship at the house of God (82) at another mountain of God, Sinai (86). There is a crisis at this point since no one is able to ascend the Mountain of the Lord. Only Moses is permitted to go up Sinai in his role as mediator. For Morales, the mountain represents approaching God in worship (89).

The Tabernacle is introduced after the covenant in Exodus (Exod 25-40). The Tabernacle is the way back to the living in the presence of God, but the book of Exodus ends with a another crisis: no one is able to enter the Tabernacle because it is filled with the Glory of God (Exod 40:35).

This crisis is answered by the book of Leviticus. In chapters 4-6 Morales demonstrates that the overall structure of Leviticus is a way of dealing with the uncleanliness which separates man from God, with the Day of Atonement at the center of not only Leviticus, but the whole Petnateuch. Leviticus 1-8 describe the sacrificial cult as a journey back to the presence of God, yet there is another crisis in Leviticus 9-10. At the very moment Israel experiences the presence of God and the priest begin their sacrificial ministry, Nadab and Abihu make unauthorized sacrifices and fall under God’s judgment (Lev 10). Morales suggests Nadab and Abihu may have drunkenly attempted to go past the veil which separates the glory of God from the people (149). They were unfit to be in God’s presence, so Leviticus 11-15 represents a “cleansing the house of God.”

For many Bible readers, the laws on clean and unclean in Leviticus 11-15 seem random and focused on matters which are not related to real spirituality. But as Morales points out, these chapters describe what it means to be clean, or “fit for the Presence of God” and what it means to be holy, or “belonging to God.” Things that are profane cause uncleanliness and therefore separate humans from God. They can be made clean, and clean things can be sanctified so they are fit for God’s presence. The Tabernacle is therefore a “sacred bubble . . . set within a sea of uncleanliness” (161). The most important demonstration of this concept is the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16. On this day, an Adam-like priest approaches the presence of God with blood of atonement and the way back to the Lord is opened. This is a reversal of Adam’s expulsion to the east as the priest walks past the cherubim guarding the way back to Eden, For Morales, this is a “liturgical drama” (176). But there is also a sacred geography present on the Day of Atonement as well: the scapegoat carries sin into the wilderness, back to the chaos of non-creation (179).

This reentry into the divine presence is the key to understanding Israel’s call to holiness in Leviticus 17-22. Returning to the symbolism of the lampstand and bread of the Presence, Israel is to continually live in the light of God. The purpose of the lengthy “holiness code” is to deal with the crisis of uncleanliness which might prevent Israel from experiencing the presence of God. The goal in this unit is always communion and fellowship with God.

Having described Leviticus as the center of the Pentateuch, Morales traces the movement from Sinai and the tabernacle to Zion and Solomon’s Temple (chapter 7). Zion will be the mountain of God when Israel finally enters the land, but Morales sees the place of Abraham’s sacrifice (Moriah) as pointing ahead to Zion. Unlike Sinai, Zion will be the permanent place of God’s habitation (227), even though Israel’s unfaithfulness results in another “exile to the east.” After the exile Israel will return to Zion as a new Eden, citing Isaiah 51:3 (237). The prophets also look forward to a future when God’s presence will return to a “new Zion” (255).

This prophetic expectation leads Morales to conclude the book with an intra-canonical reading of his “drama of Leviticus,” from the earthly Zion to the heavenly Mount Zion. For the Gospel of John, the incarnation is the means by which God dwells once again with his people (260) and the sacrifice of Jesus at Passover deals with the ultimate uncleanliness separating humans from the glory of God. This is perhaps the weakest point in Morales’s typology, since in Leviticus it was the Day of Atonement which opened access to God, not the Passover. This is of course a problem for any attempt to create a typology between the Law and Jesus. But Morales is able to make the connection because the original the Passover provided redemption for Israel and brought then to Sinai; the new Passover initiates a new exodus in the Resurrection (277). Ultimately the eschaton will be the decent of the messianic kingdom to earth (299). Revelation 20-21 include a great deal of Eden language, including the Tree of Life.

Conclusion. Morales has contributed a very readable book on the theology of Leviticus. He places Leviticus in its immediately canonical context as the center of the Pentateuch. Although he does not develop his thesis for Numbers and Deuteronomy in as much detail as for Genesis and Exodus, it is clear the book of Leviticus is designed around the Day of Atonement as the means by which access to God is opened for Israel.

Since he attempts to read the theme of “ascending the mountain of God” across the canon, I would have expected Isaiah 2 and 25:6-8 to be more important to the argument of the book. Both texts refer to gathering of all the nations to the mountain of God in the eschatological age to worship in the presence of God. This shortcoming is a result of a limited section on the prophets, so it is understandable that he is unable to cover all of the reference to mountains in the prophets.

I have one minor problem with the book, and that is the overuse of the word “drama” as a metaphor for the book of Leviticus and the plotline of the Pentateuch. I understand this is a popular way to describe the movement of a book in biblical studies, but it has become an overused metaphor.

Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book not only for those interested in Leviticus, but also for the theology of the Pentateuch.

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

Logos “Free Book of the Month” for January 2015 – H. E. Ryle, Genesis

Ryle from Vainity Fair, 1912

Ryle from Vainity Fair, 1912

Logos Bible Software returns to the classics for their “Free Book of the Month” promotion. For the month of January you can download the first volume of The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, Genesis, by H. E. Ryle. Ryle was appointed Dean of Westminster in 1910 and began services at Westminster Abbey the following year. During World War I, Ryle personally led special services at the Westminster Abbey.While he is known primarily as an Old Testament scholar, during his time at Cambridge he won every distinction open to students of theology. He is the son of  J. C. Ryle, the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool and author of many commentaries on the New Testament.

The commentary is very brief because the book is a companion to one’s reading of the book of Genesis, although it is nearly 500 pages the book was originally printed in a small, handbook format. I only have one physical copy of a Cambridge Bible in  my personal library, Daniel, by S. R. Driver, which pre-dates Ryle’s Genesis. The book includes a number of pages of advertising for the series as was the fashion of the day. The Church Sunday School Magazine said of the whole series: “We cannot imagine any safer or more helpful commentaries for the student of the Holy Scriptures” (this advert appears on the Logos Website as well).

As I browse Ryle’s commentary now, he comments on key phrases in the text, offering textual and linguistic comments, with occasional comments on the history presented in the text when necessary. Sometimes this is very brief, Gen 45 is covered in only five pages. As most students of Genesis have discovered, the earlier stories are far more complicated and take up much more space in a commentary!

The commentary has five appendices. First, “Babylonian Myths Of Creation” offers some illustrations from Ancient Near Eastern literature. Second, “A Legend Of Lamech” is an illustration of Jewish Haggadah. Third, “The Duplicate Account Of The Flood” is a reprint of Chapman’s Introduction to the Pentateuch (74-81), also in the Cambridge Bible series. The fourth appendix is a brief introduction to “The Tel El-Amarna Tablets” which were discovered in 1887 and only just being used in biblical studies. Ryle includes a very brief note on the Apuriu mentioned in the Inscriptions of Thothmes III (1501–1447 B.C.), Finally, the fifth appendix offers a chronology of Israel in Egypt. These are all of historical interest, although there has been much work done on the history of Genesis since the commentary was written.

This raises an objection. Someone might ask why we should be reading a commentary on Genesis originally written in 1914 and published in 1921. It is certainly true some Ryle’s use of the documentary hypothesis seems antiquated: sections are designated J or E, occasionally P, and R (for the final redaction). It is obvious a commentary written after the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered will have a much more clear understanding of Hebrew and Aramaic. This is all true, but the commentary is an artifact reflecting the time it was written. Ryle (and the other writers in this series) were master exegetes and worked very hard at their scholarship to present the Scripture to the Church in England. Like J .B. Lightfoot’s recent commentary on Acts, Ryle’s commentary is valuable because the man himself was committed to a scholarly life dedicated to the study of the Scripture. This book should probably not be your “first off the shelf” commentary on Genesis, but it has retained value in the 100 years since it was written.

In addition to this free book, Logos is also offering an “almost free” book, An Introduction to the Pentateuch by A. T. Chapman. Like Ryle’s commentary on Genesis, this book is an introduction to the Documentary Hypothesis. He presents a method and argument for the following propositions:

  • The chronological order of the codes being JE, D, P, the steps would be J and E, each containing records of the early history, were combined D, when accepted as a law book, would be added to JE
  • Deuteronomic recension of Joshua and the history in Judges-Kings
  • Efforts during the exile to preserve the ancient traditions embodied in the book of the Law brought by Ezra
  • When accepted incorporated with JED Joshua probably separated

So for 99 cents you can have two excellent books reflecting the state of Pentateuch scholarship about 100 years ago. But Logos is also giving away the whole 58 volume set of  The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. This is about 15,000 pages of commentary on the Old and New Testaments as well as some of the Apocryphal books. Even if you do not win a set, the Cambridge series appears in several Logos base packages.