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.

 

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

Earlier this year I reviewed Karen Jobes’ John through Old Testament Eyes, the second in a new series from Kregel Academic. Thanks to the kindness of Kregel, I have an extra copy of this book to give away to readers of this blog.

Near the end of John through Old Testament Eyes, Jobes observes “the Scripture of Israel are woven throughout the Gospel of John, though with a technique different from the other Gospels” (p. 319). Citing Richard Hays’s Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, John “simply and steadily presupposes the law of Moses and the words of Israel’s Scripture as the essential hermeneutical matrix for recognizing and understanding Jesus’s testimony” (p. 320). Jobes describes this as John’s “verbal artistry” (p. 24). She offers as an example Jesus changing the water to wine (John 2:1-11). As he tells this story, John has in mind the “symbolic value of wine in the Old Testament as a symbol of the messianic age and of blood” (p. 27). For example, the six stone jars are an odd detail for most modern readers, but Jobes suggests an allusion to messianic imagery in 2 Baruch.

As series editor Andrew Le Peau observes in his series preface, although the commentary represents solid scholarship, Jobes does not write for an academic audience. There is no extended discussion of method or technical exegetical comments connecting some aspect of John’s gospel to a particular Old Testament passage. Nevertheless, the book provides a way for modern readers to hear John from the perspective of Second Temple Judaism. Go read the review for the rest of my comments.

If you want a free copy of this book, leave a comment with your favorite Gospel of John commentary and 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 14, 2021 (one week from today).

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

 

A New English Translation of Strack and Billerbeck, Commentary on the Talmud, ed. Jacob N. Cerone, trans. Joseph Longarino

Strack, Hermann L. and Paul Billerbeck, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud & Midrash, ed. Jacob N. Cerone, trans. Joseph Longarino, vol. 3. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2021. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2021. 1008 pp.; Hb.  $64.99; Logos Digital edition $59.99  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 (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 BillerbeckThis new edition was translated by Joseph Longarino and edited by Jacob N. Cerone. Jacob N. Cerone is a doctoral candidate at the Friedrich-Alexander University at Erlangen-Nuremberg. He edited and translated Jorg Frey, 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). Joseph Longarino finished his Ph.D at Duke, “The Weight of Mortality: Pauline Theology and the Problem of Death.”

How important is Strack and Billerbeck? It is possible someone might see “published in 1922” and think this is an old, outdated resource. Despite being nearly a hundred years old, Str-B is still cited frequently in commentaries. I used the Logos to search for references to Str-B. In the second volume of Davies and Allison’s ICC commentary on Matthew, they cite Str-B 127 times. In the ten volumes of TDNT, there are 3,667 citations of this four-volume commentary. George Foot Moore described this word as “an immense collection of parallels and illustrations from all parts of the rabbinical literature, in trustworthy translation, with the necessary introductions and explanations” (cited by Baird, 422). In the introduction to this new edition, David Instone-Brewer calls the Commentary a “rich compendium of Rabbinic sources that help illustrate the language and thinking of many of the authors and initial readers of the New Testament” (xxi).

What is A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud & Midrash? Strack and Billerbeck present their purpose in writing the commentary:

We did not intend to present an actual interpretation of the New Testament, but that which is understood on the basis of material from the Talmud and Midrash; we intended to present objectively the beliefs, the ideas, and the life of the Jews in the time of Jesus and earliest Christianity.… We protest emphatically against the idea that a conclusion should be drawn about actual or alleged views prevailing in contemporary Judaism on the basis of the material collected here (Kommentar zum NT aus Talmud, l: vi., cited by Baird , 419).

Joachim Jeremias described the importance of this work: “A field of research basically important for the understanding of the Gospels, which was previously a terra incognita, accessible only to a few specialists, the Jewish environment of Jesus and the early church has been opened for general use to the theological world since 1922. Through it, a new basis for New Testament exegesis, especially of the Gospels, was created” (Jeremias, “Billerbeck,” TRE 4:641, cited in Baird, 419).

Use and Abuse of Strack and Billerbeck. The reception history of Str-B is worthy of a scholarly article. Instone-Brewer warns in his introduction that “easy access to all these texts can be both a valuable research tool and a source of temptation for lazy scholarship” (xxiv). This was Samuel Sandmel’s complain in his famous article “Parallelomania” (JBL 81 [1962]: 8–11).

What shall we make of the five immense books which constitute the Strack and Billerbeck Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch? Let us grant that it is a useful tool. So is a hammer, if one needs to drive nails. But if one needs to bisect a board, then a hammer is scarcely the useful tool. I would state here that NT scholars devoid of Rabbinic learning have been misled by Strack-Billerbeck into arrogating to themselves a competency they do not possess” (8-9).

Sandmel though Str-B was “shaped as though its compilers were out of touch with NT scholarship” and “misleads many into confusing a scrutiny of excerpts with a genuine comprehension of the tone, texture, and import of a literature” (9). In fact, the fundamental problem is the work is too Christian: “where Jesus and the rabbis seem to say identically the same thing, Strack-Billerbeck manage to demonstrate that what Jesus said was finer and better” (11).

Similarly, E. P. Sanders thought using Str-B led scholars to think they were appealing directly to the sources when in fact, they were citing the Commentary itself. For Sanders, Billerbeck “has distorted the clear meaning of the text or has prejudiced a question by his selection” (Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 42). Sanders thought there is a clear Lutheran bias in the Commentary work that skewed Jewish soteriology and implied Judaism in the Second Temple period had a “works for salvation.” This is something of a “ground zero” for the New Perspective on Paul: Lutherans like Strack and Billerbeck misunderstood Judaism and created a tool used by lazy scholars who did not read the material for themselves, thus perpetuating the error.

Instone-Brewer disagrees with Sanders’s assessment in his introduction, suggesting Sanders himself selected examples which prejudiced his view of Str-B. When the Commentary is read as a whole “it becomes clear that the authors certainly do not imply that Jews in general believed that salvation came from personal effort” (xxviii). Even though James Dunn accepts these criticisms of the work, “they do not destroy the value of Strack-Billerbeck” (“They Set Us in New Paths,” 204). However, a quick search of Dunn’s Jesus Remembered indicates only five direct references to the Str-B.  William Baird concludes, “for the understanding of Judaism, the weakness of the commentary is built into the design: Rabbinic material is presented in parallel to NT texts; the Christian sources are the lens through which Jewish teaching is viewed” (421).

Dating the Rabbinic sources is the biggest problem for Str-B. The Mishnah dates to at least AD 200, the Babylonian Talmud to at least the sixth century. But both works contain traditions that are much older. Each rabbi cited in the Mishnah and Babylonian Talmud needs to be dated accurately, a daunting task for experts in the field, let alone scholars dabbling in Rabbinic material. This is important since one cannot state a particular Rabbinic saying illustrates Paul’s thought if it dates 500 years after Paul. Even if a saying is attributed to an early rabbi (Hillel and Shammai, for example), the tradition was not written until after AD 200. It may not illustrate first century thinking or practice. In fact, as Instone-Brewer comments in the introduction, much of this material is not datable (xxxvi).

Instone-Brewer’s introduction has a list of rabbis found in the Mishnah with suggested dating by century. Rabbis quoted most often are printed in bold.

Strack and Billerbeck

 

Using Strack and Billerbeck in Logos Bible Software. I opened Str-B in Logos and synced it with my current Bible. Since Volume 3 covers the Epistles through Revelation, I opened my New Testament to 1 Corinthians 7:16 and Logos synced Str-B to that section, specifically the line, “Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” Str-B lists the following:

Genesis Rabbah 17 (12A): It once happened that a pious man was married to a pious woman; but they did not acquire any children from each other. Then they said, “We are of no use to God.” They got up and separated from each other. He went and took a godless wife, and this woman made him godless. She went and took a godless husband and made him righteous. You see that everything depends on the woman.

t.Demai 2.17 (48): R. Simeon b. Eleazar (ca. 190) said in the name of R. Meir (ca. 150), “It once happened that a woman was married to a ḥaber (a member of a Pharisaic covenant with the law) and tied the tefillin around his hand. Then she married a tax collector and tied the customs slip on his hand.”

Genesis Rabbah is not tagged, but the reference to Tosefta tractate Demai is. There is a cross reference to Volume 2 of the commentary (John 7:49, but this is not yet available in Logos) and references to the Babylonian Talmud, b. ʿAbod. Zar. 39A and b. Bek. 30B. Since I happen to own the Neusner translation of the Talmud, I can click the link and open directly to the passage. Alternatively, I can hover over the reference, but usually Talmud references are to whole pages, so I almost always just click and scroll down until I find the exact lines I want. I did look these up and found a discussion of a wife who meticulously keeps the Law, helping her husband.

Regarding dates, Genesis Rabbah is a collection of midrash (rabbinical interpretations) on Genesis written AD 300-500. Although this quotation might illustrate what Paul has in mind in 1 Corinthians 7:16, one cannot state this with any certainty at all. The Tosefta dates to the late second century, so the same warning applies. The significant section in the reference to the Babylonian Talmud (b. ʿAbod. Zar. 39A) is a saying attributed to R. Simeon b. Eleazar (before AD 200).

Strack and Billerbeck refers to much more than Rabbinic literature. There are many cross references to Old Testament texts. They cite 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. Logos tags all references, so if you own Charlesworth’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, clicking the link opens to the passage in context. All references to Josephus and Philo are tagged as well. It is occasionally frustrating that references to excurses in other volumes are unavailable, but these will be updated when the first two volumes are complete.

The more resources you own, the better Strack and Billerbeck works in the Logos environment. Since I have added Neusner’s translation of the Mishnah, the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmud and the Tosefta, I can click on many of the links presented in the commentary and read the reference in context (often leading me down a deep rabbit hole). If you do not own a version of the Mishnah or Talmud in Logos, you cannot click to read the saying in context. (Neusner’s Mishnah is not expensive, the Babylon and Jerusalem Talmud is fifty volumes and is more expensive, but reasonably priced for 25,000 pages!)

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. But with great power comes great responsibility. 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.

Lexham is publishing English translations of the first three volumes of Strack and Billerbeck, releasing the third volume first (on November 3, 2021) and volume 2 in May 2022. As of this writing, there is no release day for Volume 1. 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.

 

Bibliography: Samuel Sandmel, “Parallelomania,” JBL 81 (1962): 8-11; E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), 42-44; James D. G. Dunn, “They Set Us in New Paths VI. New Testament: The Great Untranslated,” ExpTim 100 (1989): 204; William Baird, History of New Testament Research, Volume Two: From Jonathan Edwards to Rudolf Bultmann (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 417-21.

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.

Karen H. Jobes, John through Old Testament Eyes

Jobes, Karen H. John through Old Testament Eyes. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Academic, 2021. 374 pp. Pb. $29.99   Link to Kregel Academic  

Karen Jobes’s new volume in Kregel’s Through Old Testament Eyes series joins Andrew Le Peau’s Mark commentary (Kregel, 2017). Subtitled “A Background and Application Commentary,” the series is a basic commentary on the English text with a special emphasis on using the Old Testament to illuminate aspects a New Testament book.

Near the end of the book, Jobes observes “the Scripture of Israel are woven throughout the Gospel of John, though with a technique different from the other Gospels” (p. 319). Citing Richard Hays’s Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, John “simply and steadily presupposes the law of Moses and the words of Israel’s Scripture as the essential hermeneutical matrix for recognizing and understanding Jesus’s testimony” (p. 320). Jobes describes this as John’s “verbal artistry” (p. 24). She offers as an example Jesus changing the water to wine (John 2:1-11). As he tells this story, John has in mind the “symbolic value of wine in the Old Testament as a symbol of the messianic age and of blood” (p. 27). The six stone jars are an odd detail for most modern readers, but Jobes suggests an allusion to messianic imagery in 2 Baruch.

In her brief fifteen-page introduction to the Gospel of John, Jobes observes we cannot know for sure the author is John, the son of Zebedee, nor if the Beloved Disciple is John. However, she cites B. F. Wescott’s view the fourth Gospel was written by the disciple whom Jesus loved, by John the son of Zebedee with approval (p. 22). There is nothing in the introduction on often complicated theories of composition. In fact, she is clear in the introduction this commentary only briefly addresses the topics typically encountered in exegetical commentaries (p 14).

The body of the commentary proceeds through each chapter of John (except for John 15:26-27 which is included with chapter 16). The commentary is verse-by-verse, with occasional reference to Greek and Hebrew words (always transliterated). There is some interaction with secondary literature, although almost entirely in the endnotes. These notes include recent major academic commentaries and monographs. As expected, Jobes takes notice of allusions to the Old Testament.

There are three types of sidebars in each chapter, set apart from the main body of the chapter with a grey background. First, most chapters end with an overview of the section’s contribution to the theme of the series, “Through Old Testament Eyes.” For example, Jobes discusses the dignity of menial labor in the context of John 13 (Jesus washing his disciples’ feet). Commenting on John 15:1-17, Jobes discusses vine and vineyard imagery in the Old Testament, such as Isaiah 5:1-7. Given the title of the series, it is curious there are no “Through Old Testament Eyes” sidebars in chapters 4, 5, 8 and 11.

Second, each chapter has at least one section entitled “What Structure Means.” For the most part, these sections discuss the outline of John and how the pericope in view fits into the overall context of the Gospel. There are occasional comments on Synoptic parallels or explanations of other literary features. For example, Jobes discusses the chiasm in John 4:4-42, which centers on true worship (p. 101). On one occasion she deals with a historical theological issue, the Filioque Debate.

Third, each chapter has at least one “Going Deeper” sidebar. Here is where Jobes deals with background details and practical implications of reading John through Old Testament Eyes. Some of these sidebars are theological in nature (the work of the Holy Spirit, p. 250-52). She discusses eating and drinking as a metaphor for faith (p. 144-45) and the sin of religious pride (p. 156).

This commentary does not attempt to point out the Jewish background to John’s Gospel as illustrated by the Mishnah and Talmud. For example, commenting on the six stone jars in John 2, Jobes discusses the regulations from Leviticus, but is not concerned with Rabbinic literature on utensils (m. Kelim 10:1, for example). Commentators tend to wear out their copy of Strack and Billerbeck to offer a “Jewish background” for details in John’s Gospel. Even her comments on the Jewish Festivals are grounded in the Old Testament rather than later traditions (p. 109, for example).

Conclusion. As series editor Andrew Le Peau observes in his series preface, although the commentary represents solid scholarship, Jobes does not write for an academic audience. There is no extended discussion of method or technical exegetical comments connecting some aspect of John’s gospel to a particular Old Testament passage. Occasionally the chapters seem frustratingly brief: John 15:26-16:33 is a mere eight pages, with no comments at all on 16:14-20, no sidebars on structure or “Through Old Testament Eyes.” In fact, two of the eight pages are a sidebar discussion of the work of the Holy Spirit in John 14-16..

However, John through Old Testament Eyes provides the reader with a basic guide for reading John’s gospel in the context of Israel’s scripture and Christian theology.

 

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.

Published on Reading Acts, May 20, 2021

 

Bruce Waltke and Ivan De Silva, Proverbs: A Shorter Commentary

Waltke, Bruce K. and Ivan D. V. De Silva. Proverbs: A Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2021. 472 pp. Pb; $38.00.   Link to Eerdmans 

When Eerdmans published Bruce Waltke’s two-volume NICOT Proverbs commentary in 2004, reviewers immediately recognized it as one of the most comprehensive and insightful commentaries on Proverbs written in the twentieth century. It was one of those books reviewers call “magisterial.” Now fifteen years later, Waltke and his student Ivan De Silva have simplified the technical aspects of the earlier commentary and brought it up to date.

Waltke Shorter Proverbs CommentaryThe authors are clear; they did not simply condense the earlier commentary. There is considerable revision, primarily in the recent literature now cited in the footnotes. Most influential is Michael Fox’s two-volume Proverbs commentary in the Yale Anchor Bible (2008, 2009). The only new research in the commentary is on the “foreign woman,” the Sitz im Leben for the dissemination of Proverbs in ancient Israel, the existence of doublets, and a few exegetical comments in the body of the commentary.

There are several differences from the original commentary. First, the book now conforms to the Chicago Manual of Style and Hebrew translations are more gender neutral, although in sections addressed to a son the masculine pronoun is retained. Second, Waltke translates the divine name as I AM. Readers familiar with Waltke’s An Old Testament Theology (Zondervan, 2007) will be familiar with this practice. Third, unlike the original commentary, the shorter commentary does not arrange proverbs into larger meaningful clusters. Since the shorter commentary does not engage in a detailed exegesis of the Hebrew text, the clusters are less evident. Fourth, the shorter commentary includes a subject index so teachers and pastors can quickly find proverbs on a subject (pages 442-55).

The sixty-two-page introduction discusses the various collections within Proverbs, suggesting “Solomon’s fingerprint can be found in all but the last two collections” (p. 6). After a very brief notice of Ancient Near Eastern parallels, Waltke introduces readers to the features of Hebrew poetry and the wisdom genre. Two-thirds of the introduction is a theology of the book of Proverbs, including expected topics like God, Revelation and anthropology. Proverbs commentaries normally include a section defining the wise and the fools. The wise are the righteous, the ones who are upright and blameless. The wise fear the Lord and will receive their reward, including wealth and life. In contrast, the fool is unrighteous, senseless and sluggardly. They too will receive their own reward, the grave. Because experience demonstrates many wise people suffer and fools prosper, Waltke asks, “does Proverbs promise too much?” After looking briefly at three common suggestions for solving the problem, Waltke suggests the promises found in Proverbs are “mostly validated by experience” (p. 43). Proverbs tell the truth, but not the whole truth (there are exceptions). The book is a “primer on morality for the young” (p. 44) and does require trust in I AM.

Since this is a Christian commentary, it is not surprising to see a section on Christology. Since the original commentary, Waltke contributed two books on reading Psalms as Christian scripture, The Psalms as Christian Worship (Eerdmans 2010), The Psalms as Christian Lament (Eerdmans 2014, reviewed here) and The Psalms as Christian Praise (Eerdmans, 2019). Like the Psalms, Waltke argues the Proverbs are directly relevant to the Christian, although the book is surpassed by the teachings of Jesus (p. 57). He also includes several pages surveying and evaluating the “Wisdom Woman as a type of Christ” (p. 59-61). Although commonly found in early church discussions of Christ, the apostles themselves ever use Proverbs for their Christology. He does offer a short list of “striking similarities” between the personification of wisdom and John’s representation of Jesus (p. 61).

The body of the commentary works through the book verse-by-verse, usually devoting a brief paragraph to each saying. All Hebrew appears in transliteration and the editors removed most technical details of Hebrew syntax present in the original commentary. Most readers will have no trouble following the commentary.

Conclusion. In the introduction to the volume, the authors state the commentary is “intended for the Bible lover” (xvi). This shorter commentary is exactly what most teachers and pastors need for understanding the book of Proverbs. Eerdmans is to be applauded for publishing this affordable major commentary and making Waltke’s work available to a wider audience.

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