A New English Translation of Strack and Billerbeck, Commentary on the Talmud, Volume 2, ed. and trans. by Jacob N. Cerone

Strack, Hermann L. and Paul Billerbeck, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud & Midrash, Volume 2. Edited and translated by Jacob N. Cerone. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2022. xlii+981 pp.; Hb.  $64.99; Logos Digital edition $57.99  Link to Lexham Press

Originally published between 1922 and 1928 as Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch, Lexham Academic is publishing Strack and Billerbeck in English for the first time. Originally over 4000 pages in four-volumes, volume 1 of the original work covered just the Gospel of Matthew, volume 2 covered Mark through Acts and volume 3 covers Romans through Revelation. For a variety of reasons, Lexham published the third volume first in both print and digital, Logos Library format. There is currently no plan to publish volume 4.

Strack and BillerbeckThe second volume was translated and edited by Jacob N. Cerone, a doctoral candidate at the Friedrich-Alexander University at Erlangen-Nuremberg. He edited and translated Jorg Frye, Qumran, Judaism, and New Testament Interpretation (WUNT 2/424; Mohr Siebeck, 2919). He recently published Daily Scriptures: 365 Readings in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin (Eerdmans 2021) and is the editor and translator of Adolf von Harnack, The Letter of the Roman Church to the Corinthian Church from the Era of Domitian: 1 Clement (Pickwick, 2021).

For my comments on the importance of Strack and Billerbeck for biblical studies, see my review of volume 3 (published November 17, 2021).  In his introduction, David Instone-Brewer says, “For scholars studying a passage in the New Testament, Strack-Billerbeck provides an unparalleled introduction to useful background material from the rabbinic world” (xxxvi).

Volume 2 covers the gospels of Mark, Luke and John and the Book of Acts. There are three levels of commentary. Scripture is printed in the largest font, Old Testament and Septuagint in a slightly smaller font, and Jewish literature in the smallest font. Not all entries have all three levels. Compared to Matthew (about 1000 pages), the commentary on Mark is minimal at 61 pages, with very little on the Olivet Discourse (presumably because volume one covered the material). Luke is about 288 pages, John is about 323 pages, and Acts is only 211 pages.

As an example, I selected Luke 1:69. The first level of commentary prints the verse, “he raised up the horn of salvation.” The second level gives the Greek κέρας σωτηρίας and Hebrew וְקֶֽרֶן־יִ֝שְׁעִ֗י from Psalm 18:3 (English 18:2) with the explanation that horn was a common symbol of power in the Old Testament. The third level commentary is a page of Jewish sources: Mekhilta Exodus 15:14 and Midrash Psalms 75, both fully translated. At the end of the first paragraph are several parallel passages. The Midrash on Psalm 75 lists ten horns God has given to the Israelites, beginning with the Abraham (who is the horn in the vineyard of the Lord in Isaiah 5:1 in this midrash), the ram caught by his horn in Genesis 22:13, and the horn of Moses (Exod 34:29). Eventually, the midrash says the Lord will raise the horn of the righteous to break the horns of the wicked.

The final paragraph says “the ancient synagogue prayed daily for the exaltation of the Messiah’s horn” citing the Eighteen Benedictions, which may date to the first century CE. However, they then cite the Babylonian recension of the Habinenu prayer, “may the righteous rejoice in the rebuilding of your city, the restoration of your temple, the sprouting of the horn of David, your servant, and the restoration of the lamp of the son of Jesse, your anointed (messiah).” The Talmud attributed the Habinenu prayer to Samuel of Nehardea (165-254 CE). Since Luke 1:69 has a messianic context, it is tempting to quote this prayer as support for “horn of salvation” as a messianic image. However, the prayer dates at least 200 years later. Although it is possible “horn of salvation” is a messianic metaphor, the Habinenu prayer cited by Strack and Billerbeck cannot be used as evidence for this.

Strack and Billerbeck refer to much more than Rabbinic literature. There are many cross references to the Old Testament, Josephus, and Philo, as well as books from the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha. For example, on Acts 3:11, the so-called hall of Solomon, they cite Josephus, Jewish War 5.5.2 and Antiquities 15.11.5 on Solomon’s portico with the relevant text printed. For the Gate called Beautiful in Acts 3:2, Strack and Billerbeck include about six pages of data from Josephus and other Jewish sources on the Second Temple gates. Commenting on the alabaster jar of nard in Mark 14:3, they cite 1 Enoch 29 (the mountains of aromatic spices). There are a dozen pages of valuable information on the prohibitions in Acts 15. If you are using the electronic version in Logos Bible Software, all references are tagged. If you own Josephus or Charlesworth’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, clicking the link opens to the passage in context.

There are three excurses related to the Gospel of John. First, before the commentary on the Gospel of John, The Memra of Yahweh (34 pages). Essentially, they ask if the use of the phrase Memra of Yahweh (Word of the Lord) in the Targumim “offers a starting point for Johannine Logos.” Did the “ancient synagogue” think of the Word of the Lord as an embodiment standing between God and the World? This article interacts with German literature reflecting mid-nineteenth century scholarship. The short answer is no. The Memra of Yahweh is a descriptive substitute for the name of Yahweh (384). Nor does the phrase have messianic overtones.

The second excursus follows the commentary on Acts, the Feast of Tabernacles (42 pages). Of importance here is the data on the water libation ritual since on the last day of the feast, Jesus offers himself as living water (John 7:37-38). The third excursus concerns the day of Jesus’s death (42 pages). The subtitle is important: “when considered in relation to the halakah.” The article discusses what day they could have eaten that Passover meal that allowed for his execution the next day. The synoptic gospels imply 15 Nissan. John shifts to 14 Nissan.

Conclusion: Is this new English translation of Strack and Billerbeck worth the investment? This is not a reference work for the casual reader, it is a major tool intended for the serious Bible student and scholar. For many, an English translation of Strack and Billerbeck opens up a new world of Rabbinic literature for the first time. In fact, it is very easy to open this book randomly and read something fascinating.

Using Strack and Billerbeck can enhance one’s understanding of the Jewish background to Jesus, Paul, and the rest of the New Testament. But it is a tool which may lead to unintentional consequences and misreading the Rabbinic literature.

 

NB: Sometimes the commentary refers to Matthew. For example, on Luke 2:4, Bethlehem, the reader is directed to Matthew 2:5; The Son of man coming on the clouds in Luke 21:27 redirects to Matthew 24:30. This makes sense, although at this time volume, one is unavailable. This will no longer be a problem when the first volume is published. On page 883, Acts is misspelled in the header.

You can download the original German version of Strack and Billerbeck on archive.org. Browsing the free German version might convince you this new English translation is worth the investment.

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.

 

Tremper Longman, Revelation through Old Testament Eyes

Longman, III, Tremper. Revelation through Old Testament Eyes. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Academic, 2022. 351 pp. Pb. $29.99   Link to Kregel Academic  

This new volume in Kregel’s Through Old Testament Eyes is the first written by an Old Testament scholar. Longman is well-known in Old Testament circles for his excellent commentaries on wisdom literature. He wrote the NIVAC commentary on Daniel (Zondervan, 1999) and How to Read Daniel (IVP Academic, 2020). This new commentary on Revelation in Kregel’s “Through Old Testament Eyes” is a basic commentary on the English text, with a special emphasis on using the Old Testament to illuminate aspects a New Testament book.

Longman - Revelation Through Old Testament EyesIn the brief introduction to the Book of Revelation, he suggests the principal theme of the book is that, despite present trouble, God is in control, and he will have the final victory. He suggests that the wedding of political power and Christian faith does not lead to the strengthening of the church, but rather to its weakening. In fact, Revelation says “do not give up the faith or fall into lockstep with culture” (19).

Regarding authorship, date, and genre, Longman leans towards the traditional view that Revelation was written late in the first century, but he does not think there is enough evidence to decide which John wrote Revelation. But for Longman, authorship does not matter for interpreting the book. Unlike many commentaries on Revelation, the introduction has no interest in millennial positions or the usual discussion of preterist versus futurist interpretation. The driving concern throughout the commentary is “how is this text related to the Old Testament?” Or, “how does the Old Testament help understand this verse?”

Let me illustrate this with several examples. As might be expected, he suggests interpreters read Revelation in the light of the book of Daniel rather than Revelation into Daniel. Commenting on Revelation 11: 2-3, he asks if the 42 months are a literal time period. For Longman, Daniel 7-8 refers to a three-and-a-half-year period which was symbolic of the time when the sanctuary would be desecrated. Longman is, therefore, hesitant to take the time literally in Revelation. Rather than a three-and-a-half-year period, the message of Revelation 11 is that evil has a limit, the desecration of the temple will not last forever.

Some imagery in Revelation may allude to Greco-Roman culture rather than the Old Testament. Discussing God’s throne in Revelation 4, he draws attention to a series of Old Testament passages (1 Kings 22:14; Isa 6, Ezek 1:26). But following Ian Paul and David Aune, John models the throne room on the Roman Empire. In Revelation, only God who is deserving of worship, not the emperor or the empire.

The body of the commentary is based on the English text and rarely refers to the Greek text. Occasional references to secondary literature are cited in endnotes. The commentary is clear and concise. Longman avoids the parallelomania that often plagues Revelation commentaries. Rather than explain every detail of the text, Longman’s focus is squarely on Old Testament or ancient near eastern backgrounds. For example, commenting on the serpent in Revelation 12, he refers to the broader ancient Near Eastern background from Ugaritic literature. In the Baal myth, the sea represented the forces of chaos and evil which needed to be pacified for creation to happen. The Old Testament uses rivers and seas as symbols for chaos and evil, so it is no surprise the serpent spews water like a river.

There are several types of sidebars throughout the commentary. “What the Structure Mean?” appears at the beginning of a new unit, offering a summary and overview of the chapter. Many chapters include a “Through the Old Testament Eyes” sidebar. These focus on the Old Testament in more detail that the regular commentary. For example, commenting on Revelation 7:9, “every nation, tribe, people, and language,” Longman connects this to Abraham, to whom God promised “all people on earth would be blessed through him” (Gen 12:3). Longman points out the phrase “nation, tribe, people, and language” is not the same, but reminiscent of a phrase found in Genesis 10, the theological origins of various languages before the tower of Babel story in Genesis 11.

In the context of the seven bowls of God’s wrath in chapter 15, Longman suggests that the plagues on Egypt influenced these bowls of God’s wrath. He therefore surveys the plagues and compares them to Revelation 16. He concludes, “just as the Egyptian plagues overtook a recalcitrant leader, pharaoh, who represented a Kingdom that exploited God’s people, so the plagues described by Revelation come on those who resist God and persecute his people” (229). And like the Egyptian plagues, those who experience the wrath of God do not repent, but only further resist God.

Sidebars entitled “Going deeper” are an application based on the text. For example, commenting on wealth in Revelation 18, Longman suggests the seductive power of wealth is a common biblical theme. The Bible is not anti-money, but it is against the strong desire to accumulate wealth. Commenting on idolatry and adultery in Revelation 17, he connects the Whore of Babylon to the Old Testament, primarily Hosea, Ezekiel 16, 23, but also to Ephesians 5: 21-33 (the church as a pure, spotless bride). Commenting on the judgments in revelation 16, he makes a slight nod to Christian responsibility to care for the environment rather than a “let it all burn” attitude.

Because of the goals of this commentary series, there are several things missing one usually finds in Revelation commentaries. First, there is little interest in the Greco-Roman background for interpreting Revelation and nothing on the imperial cult in Asia Minor, either in his discussion of the seven churches or Revelation 13 and 17. Second, although theological comments appear throughout the book, this is not a theological commentary. Unlike John Thomas and Frank Macchia Two Horizons commentary (Eerdmans 2016), Longman does not include theological reflections on Revelation.

Conclusion. Longman achieves his goal in Revelation: Through Old Testament Eyes to shed light on Revelation based on the Old Testament. This commentary will serve pastors and teachers well as they study this difficult book of the New Testament.

 

Other volumes in this series:

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 Giveaway Winner: Strack and Billerbeck, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud & Midrash, vol. 3

Strack and BillerbeckFor the last book giveaway of 2021, I offered a physical copy of  the new English translation of Strack and Billerbeck, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud & Midrash, Volume 3 (Romans – Revelation; ed. Jacob N. Cerone, trans. Joseph Longarino; Lexham 2021). I restricted this to North America since the book is large and heavy. I had 29 comments, which might be a record for a book giveaway. I put the names in Excel and generated a random number, and the winner is:

Brian Small

I made his name as large as a could. Brian blogs at Polumeros kai Polutropos, a blog dedicated to the book of Hebrews. Everyone congratulate Brian, and go visit his blog. Maybe buy his book.

For those who missed the original post, this book was originally published between 1922 and 1928 as Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch. Lexham Academic is publishing Strack and Billerbeck in English for the first time. The German set was over 4000 pages in four-volumes, volume 1 covered just the Gospel of Matthew (at over 1000 pages!) Volume 2 covered Mark through Acts and volume 3 covers Romans through Revelation. For a variety of reasons, Lexham is releasing the third volume first in both print and digital Logos Library format and there is no plan to publish volume 4.

Strack and Billerbeck is a running commentary pointing readers to (usually) relevant texts in the Rabbinic literature along with cross references to Old Testament texts, Josephus, Philo, as well as books from the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha. For example, on Revelation 6:1 they cite 1 Enoch 47:2; 90:20, and 4 Ezra 6:20. On Revelation 6:12, they cite 2 Baruch 70 and the Sibylline Oracles 5.528. In each case, the English translation of these works is from Str-B’s German, so there are slight differences when compared to modern translations. For many, an English translation of Strack and Billerbeck opens up a new world of Rabbinic literature for the first time. Using Strack and Billerbeck can enhance one’s understanding of the Jewish background to Jesus, Paul, and the rest of the New Testament. Go read the rest of my review here.

In case you missed it, this is the fourth of four end-of-the-year giveaways. Here is the winner of Karen Jobes’s John commentary, Grant Osborne’s Hebrews commentary and Davidson and Turner, The Manifold Beauty of Genesis 1. I have a few books set aside for giveaways in the spring, so keep an eye out for them.

Thanks to Lexham for providing me an extra copy to give away on this blog.

 

Book Giveaway: Strack and Billerbeck, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud & Midrash, vol. 3

Strack and BillerbeckA few weeks ago I reviewed the new English translation of Strack andl Billerbeck, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud & Midrash, Volume 3 (Romans – Revelation; ed. Jacob N. Cerone, trans. Joseph Longarino; Lexham 2021). I have an extra copy to pass along to a reader of this blog.

Originally published between 1922 and 1928 as Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch, Lexham Academic is publishing Strack and Billerbeck in English for the first time. Originally over 4000 pages in four-volumes, volume 1 of the original work covered just the Gospel of Matthew (at over 1000 pages!) Volume 2 covered Mark through Acts and volume 3 covers Romans through Revelation. For a variety of reasons, Lexham is releasing the third volume first in both print and digital Logos Library format and there is no plan to publish volume 4.

Strack and Billerbeck is a running commentary pointing readers to (usually) relevant texts in the Rabbinic literature along with cross references to Old Testament texts, Josephus, Philo, as well as books from the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha. For example, on Revelation 6:1 they cite 1 Enoch 47:2; 90:20, and 4 Ezra 6:20. On Revelation 6:12, they cite 2 Baruch 70 and the Sibylline Oracles 5.528. In each case, the English translation of these works is from Str-B’s German, so there are slight differences when compared to modern translations. For many, an English translation of Strack and Billerbeck opens up a new world of Rabbinic literature for the first time. Using Strack and Billerbeck can enhance one’s understanding of the Jewish background to Jesus, Paul, and the rest of the New Testament. Go read the rest of my review here.

If you want a free physical copy of this book (1000+ pages and $65 retail), leave a comment with your name and email (if it is not in your profile already) so I can contact you if you win. I will put all the names in a spreadsheet, randomize them, then use a random number generator to select a winner on December 22, 2021 (about a week from today). Since this is a heavy book, I have to limit this giveaway to the US and Canada. Sorry Nigeria.

In case you missed it, this is the fourth of four end-of-the-year giveaways. Here is the winner of Karen Jobes’s John commentary, Grant Osborne’s Hebrews commentary and Davidson and Turner, The Manifold Beauty of Genesis 1. This is the last book I plan to give away this year, so check back on December 22 to congratulate the winner.

Thanks to Lexham for providing me an extra copy to give away on this blog.

 

Book Giveaway Winner: Karen H. Jobes, John through Old Testament Eyes

Last week I offered a copy of  Karen Jobes’ John through Old Testament Eyes, the second in a new series from Kregel Academic as a give away to readers of this blog. I asked readers to leave a comment with their favorite John Commentary. Lots of variety, but Leon Morris’s NICNT commentary seems to be the favorite.

The winner of this week’s book is David Procter. David will contact me ASAP and I will get the book out to him soon. Everybody congratulate David!

If you don’t win this book, check back for my last book giveaway of the year starting December 14.