Thought for the Day

From Ronald Osborn’s Death Before the Fall, p. 45:

Many literalists, though, live with a visceral terror, thinly veiled behind their statements of dogmatic certainty and superior faith, that the entire religious edifice they have dedicated their lives to constructing could at any moment come crashing down upon their heads. Theirs is a theology conceived as a high-stakes game of Jenga. Whatever you do, don’t touch the bricks at the base of the tower.

Osborn later clarifies the kind of literalist he has in mind, namely those who rigidly adhere to a literal interpretation even when compelling evidence suggests a non-literal approach is better.

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The Spirit was willing…

…but the flesh was weak.

I had good intentions when I began blogging through Walton and Sandy’s The Lost World of Scripture. However, as I suspected, it proved to be more of a chore than I wanted to deal with, especially with the intervening holidays and with the spring semester right around the corner.

So, I’ve decided to forego the remainder of the series and just post one last time on it, essentially a review of the book as a whole. Though my “series” was brief, it was helpful to go through the chapters more methodically. However, the engine lost steam and will soon pull into the station.

Read my previous entries here: Propositions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

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The Beginning of the End…

Well, sort of. Today marks the beginning of my last seminar of coursework in route to a PhD (only exams and dissertation will remain–piece of cake, right?).

This semester we will be studying the general epistles and Revelation, so there is plenty of fodder for lively discussions! I am a tad disappointed that my research for the semester will not have much relevance for my dissertation. The last few seminars have allowed me to research and write on topics that would in some way aid my later research, a bonus for sure, but since I’m writing on Paul it would be a stretch to tie the two areas together. Despite this, however, I am excited about my topic for the next few months. Basically I’ll be examining literary monsters/creatures from Greek and Roman literature and their relevance (if any!) to John’s Apocalypse. I’ve got a good start on it, but I always have an open ear to suggestions for resources. If you know of solid works that would relevant for this topic, please feel free to send me the info.

 

Book Review: James in the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament

James (Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament)

B&H | Amazon | CBD

Thanks to the kind folks at Broadman & Holman for this review copy! I received this copy free of charge in exchange for an unbiased review.

At first sight of this new series from B&H I wondered if this were simply going to be another commentary series. In part, it serves much of the same purpose as a commentary, though slightly different. While there are features present that you could certainly find in most commentaries, e.g., brief introductory discussions of date, authorship, structure, etc., there are a couple of primary differences that distinguish this series from a typical commentary.

First, these volumes are almost strictly exegetical in nature. As the series title suggests, each volume concerns the various elements that constitute exegesis of a text, though exegesis in reality involves a number of factors beyond what is presented in these volumes. The primary exegetical focus here is grammatical-syntactical and foregoes many of the elements found in traditional commentaries. Here, Vlachos discusses virtually every significant and/or difficult syntactical question, provides evidence for his interpretation, and surveys other sources to demonstrate how a particular clause, word, or other syntactical element is handled. There is little theological, historical, or other information provided, save for the instances in which historical usage helps explain a particular element.

Second, this volume (and each in the series presumably) also provides a short list of works one might consult for further study. While this is not uncommon in commentaries, these are slightly different because they are arranged thematically, rather than as simply a list of commentaries on the book of James. In addition, pastors and teachers will benefit somewhat from the inclusion of homiletical suggestions at the end of each section.

In sum, this is a very handy volume for those working through books of the NT. If you’re looking for a volume that discusses matters outside of grammar, you’ll need to look elsewhere; however, if syntax is your focus, this volume will be a handy addition to your library.

Read a sample here.

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Book Review: Roman Imperial Texts: A Sourcebook

Roman Imperial Texts: A Sourcebook by Mark Reasoner

Fortress | Amazon | CBD

Thanks to the kind folks at Fortress Press for this review copy! I received this copy free of charge in exchange for an unbiased review.

In the field of biblical studies, recent years have seen a resurgence of titles concerning one element or another of the Greco-Roman world, many focusing on the Roman empire and reading the New Testament in light of the hulking shadow it cast over the world of Jesus, Paul, and many others. Works that examine particular facets of Roman culture in the first century are certainly helpful, but Reasoner’s volume proves its usefulness not because of extended examination of Roman culture (though there is an ample of amount of such), but by providing relevant texts that depict and describe the Roman emperors and the kingdom they built and expanded. To study and attempt to understand a culture, more often than not the best place to begin is with its literature. Thankfully, ancient Romans produced a treasure trove of material to be mined.

Reasoner’s work is comprised of three parts: 1) Emperors, 2) Community and its various components, and 3) the city of Rome. The discussion of the emperors focuses primarily on texts and numismatic evidence that speak of them in terms of divinity, beneficence, and their status as sons of the gods. This, naturally, is important for studying the NT concept of Jesus as the Son of God, though Reasoner does not push terribly hard to convince the reader that Son of God language in the NT is directly related to empirical sonship, though Reasoner does believe it important. For example, Reasoner suggests that the use of the term euangelia in the Priene inscription is the use alongside which one should read the canonical Gospels’ association of Jesus’ birth, life, and teachings (30). Part two concerns community in ancient Rome and how participation in various societal events and customs helped establish and define Roman identity. For early Christians, according to Reasoner, this provided a starting point of sorts for understanding their place in the body of Christ, particularly in light of Paul’s multiple references to such through his writings. The creation of an alternative society, i.e., the church, is illuminated when reading against the various texts here provided by Reasoner. Likewise with the collegium and domus, both of which are important for understanding many things Paul (and others) teach. In part three, Reasoner discusses a few aspects of Rome as a city, particularly as it concerned its far-reaching influence in the Mediterranean and beyond. War, commerce, and games were some of the means by which Rome wielded its influence. Early Christians, of course, lived in this immense shadow and Reasoner briefly discusses how these texts might illuminate references in the NT.

One of the strengths of this work is that there is a steady eye on various concepts prevalent in the NT (e.g., Son of God) while discussing the Roman texts. This does not mean that Reasoner deviates from the path by engaging in efforts to demonstrate that certain NT ideas and/or texts are anti-imperial or otherwise; rather, he simply notes these potential connections and provides brief commentary. The reader, then, is given ample food for thought and hopefully ignites a spark to investigate any such connections further, however tentative or substantial they might be. While Reasoner occasionally tips his hand, for the most part he writes with the objective of providing a springboard for further investigation.

Selectivity is an unavoidable constraint on works such as this and will perhaps deter some in favor of other more extensive (and expensive) volumes, but for most this volume will serve as a highly accessible and immensely helpful resource for better understanding the imperial context of the NT world.

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Best Commentaries on Revelation

My last seminar this spring will be focused on the catholic epistles and Revelation. Though I haven’t narrowed my research topic for this semester yet, I will likely pick up a few commentaries on Revelation and was wondering what recommendations you might have.

I already own volumes by Osborn (BECNT), Smalley (IVP), Blount (NTL), and Mounce (NICNT). Beale is an obvious choice and I will likely invest in it as well as Aune’s in WBC, but what others? Malina’s volume I’ve considered, though I’m not sold. I’ve pondered Koester’s as well, but I don’t know that I’m going to plunk down that much change for a single commentary.

Any thoughts would be welcome!

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Book Review: A Commentary on Exodus

A Commentary on Exodus by Duane A. Garrett

Kregel | Amazon | CBD

Many thanks to the kind folks at Kregel for this review copy!

I received this book for free in exchange for an unbiased review.

Virtually any commentary on the books of the Pentateuch that has been produced in my lifetime (and well before) invariably address the so-called “documentary hypothesis” and Garrett here is no exception. Perhaps not surprisingly, Garrett eschews the usefulness of the theory, claiming (among other things) that even scholars who espouse some form of the hypothesis as a window into understanding the sources and composition of the Pentateuch “themselves continue to use the terms P and J while no longer holding to anything that may be meaningfully called a consensus” (17). However, an elusive consensus does not itself preclude the validity or veracity of a particular theory. Nevertheless, I resonate somewhat with Garrett in that I’ve long had my reservations about this theory and though Garrett only briefly broaches the subject, he notes some common objections and boldly declares that the discussion of the theory should not remain in the 19th century—“that path is dead” (19). More sardonically, Garrett states “[c]ontinually flogging the dead horse of the documentary hypothesis is pointless” (20).  On the matter of authorship, Garrett notes the book’s anonymity, though suggests that Moses certainly could have had a hand in editing it (20). Also, the book is a unity despite not knowing the process by which it came to be (20).

The bulk of the introductory material is focused on the cultural and historical background of Egypt. Here Garrett shines by dispensing a wealth of information (pp. 24–135!) on the various cultural components that figure into rightly understanding the story of the exodus against its Egyptian backdrop. Matters concerning geography, chronology and history, and language all receive a few pages of attention, with the lion’s share of this section devoted to questions concerning the date and historicity of the exodus from Egypt (56–92). Garrett suggests that Exodus is in some ways more foundational for OT theology than is Genesis—“For the people of Israel, their founding event was not the call of Abraham; it was the exodus” (137). This would explain in part Garrett’s lengthy discussion of the exodus event.

As for the commentary proper, Garrett shows a deft hand both exegetically and theologically when dealing with the text. He does this all the while keeping a keen eye on the Egyptian background. Garrett’s strength is obviously his knowledge of the Hebrew text and the culture it reflects, but his ability to accessibly convey that information clearly and concisely enhances this particular volume’s usefulness.

Perhaps the one drawback that some will find with this commentary is that Garrett, at points, can come off a little sharp when discussing the exodus event. As noted previously, Garrett sees the exodus as a defining event in the life and history of Israel and goes to great lengths to argue for its historicity. For those who believe it to be a fictional addition to the story of Israel will no doubt be at odds here, though Garrett’s arguments can’t be summarily dismissed. One might even say there is an apologetic bent to his discussion, the merit of which each interpreter will have to decide.

In sum, Garrett’s contribution to the study and interpretation of Exodus is a fine one and should serve well those looking to better understand the book and interpret its text.

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