Book Review—Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature: An Exegetical Handbook

9780825427619

Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature: An Exegetical Handbook
by Richard A. Taylor
Kregel | Amazon | CBD

In recent years, perhaps decades, there has been a burgeoning interest in apocalyptic. Of course, this fascination has played out in different ways for various sectors of society—I’m thinking of end-times-obsessed preachers/authors of more extreme conservative segments of Christianity—as well as in popular literature and cinema. However, perhaps part of what has spurred the interest and proliferation of scholarly attention to “apocalyptic” has been to offer a corrective to the often wrongly appropriated elements of apocalyptic into these various media ventures, eschatological schemes, etc. Even so, it seems as though scholarship’s attention to apocalyptic has been more of a hermeneutical venture than anything. This has been an endeavor not only to discover what exactly constitutes “apocalyptic,” perhaps the most difficult question to answer adequately, but also to better understand how it figures into various portions of Scripture. As such, the market has been flooded with many fine volumes that seek to answer these questions—and more—and Taylor’s contribution to the discussion is certainly worth your investment, provided you’re not already a seasoned expert.

Predictably, Taylor begins his book by asking the question “What is apocalyptic”? Because this volume assumes the reader is perhaps only somewhat familiar with apocalyptic, this chapter is a natural starting point. Once he walks through a brief history of apocalyptic in scholarship, Taylor turns his attention to a discussion of apocalyptic proper (if such can even be said)—first, the problem of definitions, and second, the unique literary features that give apocalyptic its particular flavor (23–40).[1] Taylor states early in this chapter that the focus of the book will be primarily on apocalyptic as it is found in the OT (26), which may disappoint some readers; however, there is sufficient discussion of non-canonical texts that will inform the reader of the relationship between the two.[2] This chapter is a concise and helpful guide through some of the thornier questions swirling about apocalyptic, e.g., separating “apocalyptic” from its cognates—apocalypticism, apocalyptic eschatology, etc. If I had any criticisms of this opening chapter, it would be this minor quibble. The discussion of apocalyptic as situated in communities that were in some sense marginalized is only given a couple of pages. This, I think, is an important element in understanding the genesis of apocalyptic literature and wish there had been a bit more on this element, though this can be a complex issue and I know authors must be judicious in their use of page space when discussing issues in an introductory capacity.

Chapter two focuses on Major Themes in Apocalyptic Literature and this is the heart of the discussion. Again, because Taylor’s focus in on apocalyptic as found in the OT, attention is given primarily to Jewish apocalyptic texts, the first to be discussed being the book of Daniel. The section on Daniel is a bit longer than the other texts treated in this chapter, which doesn’t surprise me since I know that Taylor has long had an interest in the book of Daniel.[3] For Daniel, Taylor looks at specific components—message, purpose, major themes, and structure. Initially, I suspected this section would be focused so much on these individual elements that the actual apocalyptic elements of Daniel would be somewhat sidelined; however, Taylor does tie these elements together to show how apocalyptic is ingrained in Daniel.  The remaining canonical works discussed here receive more attention on specific apocalyptic emphases, e.g., Isaiah’s “Little Apocalypse” (Isa 24–27), Ezekiel’s windstorm in 1:4–9 (and other elements), Zechariah’s visions, Joel’s vision of the outpouring of the Spirit (Joel 2:28–32), and Malachi’s divine epiphany in Mal 4:1–3. Again, the discussion of these texts is not to be in any measure exhaustive, but simply to highlight various apocalyptic motifs and/elements present in OT texts. Taylor devotes the next section of this chapter to extrabiblical Jewish apocalyptic texts, e.g., the Book of Enoch (with discussion of its major sections), 2 Enoch, Jubilees, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, Apocalypse of Abraham, Testament of Levi, Testament of Abraham, Apocalypse of Zephaniah, and the Testament of Moses. Taylor also brings the Qumran community (Dead Sea Scrolls) into the conversation—to leave them out, of course, would be criminal! For those familiarizing themselves with Jewish apocalyptic, this is an excellent sampling with which to begin. Having introduced these representative texts, the chapter concludes with a helpful discussion of what makes apocalyptic—its literary features. Though these disincentives have come in varying degrees in the previous section, there are here elucidated with more detail and this is a fitting conclusion for this chapter.

Those familiar with this series will know that these volumes are not meant simply to introduce a particular literary corpus, but rather to help its readers know how to better interpret said corpora, and this becomes the focus of the remainder of the book, beginning here at chapter three. Entitled Preparing for Interpretation of Apocalyptic Literature, Taylor guides the reader through what is perhaps the most difficult aspect of encountering apocalyptic—how does one interpret it? Again, not surprisingly, Taylor uses Daniel as his example and provides five areas that will help readers prepare: (1) comprehending figurative language, (2) learning from reception history, (3) evaluating issues of textual transmission, (4) working with the original languages, and (5) benefiting from previous studies (88). Naturally, this section deals with some more technical aspects of interpretation, particularly concerning apocalyptic, but Taylor navigates with aplomb, though it bears repeating that this is introductory in nature and thus should serve only as a springboard into more detailed analyses.[4]

If chapter three addressed the preparatory work of interpretation, chapter four—Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature—puts spade to soil and informs the reader how to go about this task. Tools in hand, Taylor leads the ambitious reader through the rocky and resistant ground that is apocalyptic literature in such a way that they have a handle on how to make their way through these often-bewildering texts and derive a sensible understanding from them. While the foundational material is a critical component of any working thesis/argument, this section begins the real heart of the book. Taylor begins with step one—interpreting grammatically and historically, or what is often referred to as the “grammatical-historical method” of interpreting texts. This means that to best approach any ancient writing is to situate a text within the contexts of its original language and its original historical context, an approach that is well within the mainstream. While I think Taylor’s articulations here are solid and agreeable, I do have pause over one particular point. Using Daniel as his example, he states that the interpreter doesn’t need to be an expert, but needs to have “a working knowledge of the morphology of both Hebrew and Aramaic” (119). I worry that such statements are too generalized and vague and, consequently, may lead some readers to assume that even a basic knowledge of biblical languages is sufficient for competent translation, exegesis, and interpretation. I know Taylor personally and have studied under him and certainly don’t think that he believes this level of knowledge is sufficient, but as stated, I fear it could be interpreted that way by some readers.

The next factor to consider is the matter of genre, where apocalyptic proves to be quite tricky. While Taylor reiterates the various features of apocalyptic, e.g., figurative language, there is less “how-to” as far as interpretive practice and more general caution to be attentive to these matters. Thankfully, the following sections concerning interpretive clues and macrostructure are more helpful and practical. Also of great benefit to less-experienced handlers of apocalyptic are the final two sections of this chapter—respecting the silence of the text and pitfalls of interpretation. On the first point, Taylor rightly admonishes readers to limit their exegesis to what the text affirms—“[w]here the text is silent, we must learn to be silent” (127). On the various pitfalls of interpretation, Taylor also rightly indicates that apocalyptic more than just about any other portion of the OT “presents an opportunity for readers to respond in various ways that are not productive” (127).[5]

Chapter five—Proclaiming Apocalyptic Literature—is geared towards those who will ultimately fashion their exegesis into a sermon and/or bible study lesson. Taylor here provides sounds principles for transition from exegesis to dissemination of the text and its meaning. The last chapter—Sample Texts from Apocalyptic Literature—provides a walkthrough of sorts of two OT passages in which apocalyptic is present: Daniel 8:1–27 and Joel 2:28–32. Taylor chose these passages because they show “two different stages in the use of apocalyptic themes and language in the Old Testament” (153).  Joel, argues Taylor, “is illustrative of a transition from traditional Israelite prophecy to an emerging apocalypticism,” whereas Daniel 8 “is illustrative of a fully developed apocalypticism” (153). Overall, this final chapter provides a helpful rubber-meets-road demonstration of how one should approach apocalyptic literature, at least as it is found in the OT.

The book contains one appendix and I am glad this was included—Antecedents of Apocalyptic Literature. Here Taylor briefly surveys the precursors to apocalyptic in the OT. Just as it is important to know how to approach the apocalypticism in the OT, it is also of great benefit to understand the historical development of apocalyptic in general. The best way to start that endeavor is to study other cultures for whom apocalyptic literature, or at least apocalyptic elements, formed part of their cultural matrix. Taylor touches on Canaanite mythology, Akkadian prophecy, Mesopotamian traditions,[6] Egyptian apocalypticism, Wisdom literature, and temple theology, Hellenistic syncretism, Persian religion (e.g., the dualism of Zoroastrian literature), and prophetic literature more generally.[7]

In sum, I think Taylor has provided a very useful volume, particularly those who are new to apocalyptic. Others who are better versed in apocalyptic will still find some benefit in this work, but substantially less than one would find in more specialized works. While there are some minor shortcomings, Taylor’s work is well written and accessible to students, pastors, teachers, and others who experience the virtually-requisite intimidation resulting in staring down apocalyptic texts in the OT. While I would probably recommend other works that more generally and comprehensively introduce apocalyptic literature,[8] for those hoping to know how to better interpret apocalyptic, especially with the end goal of preaching said texts, this would definitely be a worthwhile recommendation.

[1] I appreciate the analogy of Dorothy’s arrival in Oz from The Wizard of Oz to the experience many readers have when first encountering apocalyptic literature—it’s quite fitting!

[2] For those who are interested in further reading about apocalyptic beyond the confines of the Hebrew Bible, Taylor provides plenty of footnotes and bibliographic entries.

[3] Once in a seminar, he was discussing bibliographies and his on Daniel I want to say surpassed 2,000 entries.

[4] Interestingly, Taylor’s discussion of working with the original languages is actually an annotated bibliography of various tools available to assist in working with languages—it does not discuss linguistics, grammar, etc.—the how of working with/in languages.

[5] These various pitfalls are unnecessary ignorance, misplaced certainty, manipulation of details, and creation of arbitrary timetables.

[6] What exactly constitutes “Mesopotamian traditions” is somewhat vague, so readers will have to consult works in the footnotes to obtain a clearer understanding of what these are.

[7] Here Taylor highlights a facet of apocalyptic that has hitherto fore been neglected—apocalyptic as resistance literature. While brief, I am pleased to see this faced of apocalyptic introduced to the reader.

[8] Cf. John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016); Frederick J. Murphy, Apocalypticism in the Bible and Its World: A Comprehensive Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012).

 

Advertisements

Book Review—A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament

A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament
by Charles Lee Irons
Kregel | Amazon | CBD

Many thanks to the good folks at Kregel for this review copy!
Kregel continues to provide very helpful volumes on the many avenues of studying Greek—the various reader’s lexica (NT [Burer and Miller], Apostolic Fathers [Wallace], LXX [Jobes]), textual criticism (Philip Comfort’s A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament), and now syntax of the GNT—enter the new volume by Charles Lee Irons. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate that this volume measures up identically to Comfort’s volume. Aesthetical considerations are always important to me—who among us doesn’t appreciate the visual bliss of seeing the Loeb Classical Library series arranged just so? However, as I’ve noted before, it’s what’s on the inside that makes most books worth your investment, so on to the content.

Irons states that the primary purpose of this book, obviously deduced from the title, is to “assist readers of the Greek New Testament by providing brief explanations of intermediate and advanced syntactical features of the Greek text” (7). He further states that this volume doesn’t merely duplicate other works, such as the aforementioned reader’s lexicon by Burer and Miller or the reader’s edition of the GNT (those by Zondervan and DBG), but rather to build upon them. The goal is to help readers “make sense of the Greek text at a level of linguistic communication one step higher than the word to the syntactical level of the phrase, clause, or sentence” (7). All of this is geared toward the ultimate goal of facilitating the regular reading of the Greek text, which in turn (it is hoped) will lead reading of larger sections of Greek text (8). So, the question then is, does this book accomplish the intended goal/s? In sum, yes—these goals are met (to varying degrees depending on the reader).

The book proceeds through the text canonically, so no genre-oriented groupings or other arrangement schemes. Each canonical book is likewise handled sequentially in terms of the verses addressed—Irons goes one verse at a time. This is expected since the goal is to provide information about syntactical features present in a particular text rather than offer commentary or extended exegetical discussions. Each verse, then, follows a standard format—location (book chapter and verse number), Greek text in which the element discussed if found, brief explanation of said element, and various parenthetical references (this depends of the nature of the element at hand). The entries vary in length and detail depending on the complexity of the particular element in question. For example, Irons notes in Matt 1:1 the following:

Matthew 1
1:1
| Βίβλος γενέσεως ’Ι. Χρ. – nom. abs. (W 49–50); allusion to “the book of the generations” (LXX Gen 2:4; 5:1)

Perhaps (roughly) half of the entries throughout the volume provide this level of detail (here the “W” refers to Dan Wallace’s Greek Grammar beyond the Basics). Other entries provide substantially more information, such as the notes on Matt 1:18:

1:18 | δέ = “now” (W 674) | οὕτως ἦν = “took place in this way” (ESV), “was as follows” (NASB), adv. functioning as adj. (BDF §434(1); BDAG οὕτως 2) | μνηστευθείσης … gen. abs. (“after his mother 1:18 Matthew 2 : 1 22 A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament Mary had been betrothed to Joseph”) | Subject of εὑρέθη is same as the noun of the gen. abs. (Mary), which is unusual (BDF §423(4)) | πρὶν ἤ = “before,” the Ionic/Koiné equivalent of πρίν in Attic (see BDAG); on πρίν + inf., see BDF §395; W 596 (cp. Matt 26:43, 75); “before they came together [in marriage]” (BDAG συνέρχομαι 3) | εὑρέθη ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχουσα = “she was found to be with child,” εὑρίσκω + supplementary ptc. (BDF §416(2))

This is the pattern throughout the entire book and, in my opinion, is a great plus for this volume. Irons’ organization of the material makes it as easy as possible for readers to find information on a particular text, but also is arranged (akin to the textual apparatus in the UBS5/NA28) in a manner that keeps one element distinguishable from another. It’s also worth noting the useful element found in the back matter—the subject index. Here, Irons provides a list of numerous syntactical elements, all arranged alphabetically. For example, under the group “DISCOURSE STRUCTURE,” Irons includes asyndeton, coordination for subordination, parenthesis, and period. For each of these examples, he provides a reference to a text in which that particular element appears. While obviously not an exhaustive list of syntactical examples, those listed are plentiful and will provide a most helpful guide to locating them in the Greek NT.

Doubtlessly, some will disagree with a particular categorization of one thing or another; however, I would be surprised if those disagreements numbered beyond the point at which the book is useful. If that’s the case, then certainly other volumes are available that will meet whatever needs this one does not. Suffice it to say, Irons has provided a most helpful resource for those looking for something to help them grapple with (and ultimately understand) various syntactical elements in the Greek NT. It will not supplant texts whose design is to be more thorough and exhaustive (e.g., Wallace’s Greek Grammar beyond the Basics; BDF); it will, though, serve as a handy reference to the less intensive task of reading the text.

Read an excerpt here.

Αυτω η δοξα

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: What the New Testament Authors Really Cared About, 2d Edition

Review--What-the-NT-Authors-Really-Cared-About

What the New Testament Authors Really Cared About, 2d Edition

Edited by Kenneth Berding and Matt Williams

Kregel | Amazon | CBD

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

Berding and Williams have taken a standard type of work (NT surveys) and have brought a slightly different approach to reading the books of the NT. A collaborative work of NT scholars (from a largely conservative approach), this project seeks to hone in on what the writers of the NT books were most concerned with. While the book’s contributors do address traditional introductory matters, e.g., authorship, date, provenance, etc., the bulk of their writing is devoted to an issue that sometimes receives comparatively less attention—the issue of the biblical book’s purpose. The end result is more discussion of prominent themes in each book. It is also important to note that the approach of the contributors is geared toward undergraduates, who presumably have had less exposure to the introductory matters of the NT.

In terms of features designed to assist those who are relatively new to the enterprise of NT interpretation, there are several. In addition to the items mentioned above (color photos, marginal captions, et al), each chapter concludes with a word bank of terms considered to be significant to that chapter and, presumably, chosen to prompt further study of the book’s key themes. Additionally, each chapter features a very brief bibliography to serve as starting points for additional readings on each section. These bibliographies consist of 2–3 titles, which is suitable for starting points for broader and more in-depth exploration.

I’d also like to comment on the design of this book. While Kregel’s volumes are always well done, the ones I’ve read have always been designed with a more utilitarian slant—they’re made to be read, not so much to be appreciated visually. However, this volume has been designed with much more attention to the aesthetics. Not only are the pages semi-glossed, but they also include numerous hi-resolution, full color photos, along with the various sidebars and info boxes. These elements make for a visually appealing work. This volume reminds me of many of Zondervan’s works—a compliment to be sure—with its visually intense layouts and eye-catching designs. One may also make comparisons to Elwell and Yarbrough’s Encountering the New Testament, now in its third edition.

Overall, this is a well-designed and helpful introduction to the NT. However, I think it’s important to note that this volume is written from a very conservative approach. I don’t necessarily mean that to be a criticism or a fault, but a point of note for those considering purchasing this volume. When it comes to conservative intros to the NT, they are legion, so this volume is certainly not breaking any new ground or vying for any top spots in that category. However, when compared to other standard intros from a conservative viewpoint, e.g., Carson/Moo, Köstenberger/Kellum/Quarles, this volume stands out as more overtly conservative and less inclined towards discussions with critical scholarships at which the various authors may be at odds. However, I must reiterate that the authors’ audience should be kept in mind—conservative Christian undergrads with minimal exposure to the world of higher criticism. As such, this volume will serve as a decent start on the path to seeing the primary themes in each canonical book. Also, as mentioned earlier, the limitations posed by the authors’ audience necessarily preclude lengthier discussions of matters considered to be of critical importance by scholarship. Controversial issues, e.g., Mark’s “messianic secret,” the ending of Mark’s Gospel, the New Perspective on Paul, various interpretive approaches to the book of Revelation, do not occupy a great deal of space.

As with any book, there are also a few negative points. First is the use of transliterated Greek. I continue to puzzle over why publishers employ transliteration. If you don’t know the language, it is of no real value. Just being able to haphazardly pronounce a particular word serves no purpose in the work of exegesis and thus is unnecessary. Second, a number of the captions in the margins are somewhat hokey. For example, in the opening chapter (which discusses the historical backgrounds of the NT) one caption (p. 26) reads “Those from Qumran spent a lot of time copying and reading the Word of God. They would ask us how much time we spend in the Word.” Now, let me say that this may not be wrong on its face, but comes across as overly simplified and presumptuous. Perhaps the scribes there would ask moderns that question, but I have my doubts it would be toward the top of the list. Another example is found in the chapter on Acts, which reads “Luke would be delighted to remind us that God uses people to fulfill his plan” (p. 109). Again, it’s not wrong per se, but seems simplistic and overtly obvious. Third, on p. 27, the writer claims that apocrypha means “unveiling.” Frankly, I find this surprising. The term apocrypha derives from the word αποκρυπτω, which means “to hide/conceal.” The term αποκαλυπτω means “to unveil”, so I’m not sure how this made it through editing.

In sum, I think this volume is helpful for its intended audience, but for those who are more familiar with the NT and its contexts, numerous other volumes are available for more in-depth study.

Αυτω η δοξα

Book Review: Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul

Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul by Lars Kierspel

Kregel | Amazon | CBD

Thanks to the kind folks at Kregel for this review copy, which I received free of charge in exchange for an unbiased review.

For many readers in the fields of theology and biblical studies, the juxtaposition of “charts” and “theology” in a book’s title may conjure images of elaborately composed end-times scenarios or depictions of history’s progression toward that end. Thankfully, we need not entertain such possibilities here, for Kierspel has done a fine job amassing a wealth of material and condensing it all into a single reference volume. In fact, it’s really rather stunning to consider how much work must have gone into this volume when you begin poring over its pages. While it’s a bit overextending to say that Kierspel has left no Pauline stone unturned, it’s not far from the truth to say that he has indeed surveyed the landscape that is Paul and has put together a map of sorts to help students navigate his eventful life.

This review was a bit of a challenge simply because Kierspel covers so much ground. Thankfully, he organizes the book into four main sections: Paul’s Background & Context, Paul’s Life & Ministry, Paul’s Letters, and Paul’s Theological Concepts.

In the first section, Kierspel covers the ever-important topics of Roman rule before and during Paul’s lifetime and the Judaisms before and during Paul’s life that have been the subject of intense study over the last several decades. Given this tendency to focus on Paul’s Jewish roots, it is a tad surprising to see that  Kierspel actually devotes a bit more space to Paul’s Greco-Roman context. That’s not to say that the Jewish culture in which Paul lived and preached is in any way diminished, but simply a statement of fact concerning the author’s choices.

The second section concerns Paul’s life and ministry and covers many important topics, including a chronology of Paul’s life, parallels between Paul and Acts, autobiographical information, a comparison of Paul’s conversion accounts, his missionary journeys, and a host of other geographical and historical information.

The third section concerns Paul’s letters and it is here that many will find perhaps the most useful collation of data. Kierspel charts 40+ topics related to the Pauline corpus, including introductory information for the disputed and undisputed letters of Paul, the issue of amanuenses, manuscripts, OT allusions, quotes, and parallels, hapax legomena and a handful of other entries.

The fourth section concerns the many theological concepts on which Paul wrote. This chapter, as was the third, was/is immensely helpful. As you should expect with book of charts, there are no elaborations or scholarly discussions here, at least not in the sense that you would find in a commentary or NT intro. These topics include various references to God, Christological concepts (humanity, divinity), pneumatology, sin, death, and judgment, soteriology, salvation metaphors (!), eschatology, and a variety of other theological topics.

Some will register their disagreements here and there, particularly with matters of dating (Paul’s missionary journeys, the dating of various epistles, etc.), which one should expect any time dates and timelines for historical figures and/or events are the subject of discussion. Some will also quibble with the discussion of various theological themes, as in whether or not Paul was as specific about a particular topic as perhaps Kierspel suggests. However, these minor issues aside, Kierspel has put together an immensely useful volume that will serve as a welcome guide for many. This book may be likened to a map, in a way, in that it provides a general orientation to the Apostle Paul in his primary contexts. This will be a great resource, particularly for those who need a quick reference to a particular detail about Paul’s life that perhaps had not been cemented in their memory.

Additionally, this volume will prove to be beyond handy for those who wish to study a particular letter, concept, or theme of Paul’s. With so many issues concisely covered and topically arranged, this will be a go-to guide.

This is a wonderful tool and I look forward to other volumes that Kregel has in the works!

Αυτω η δοξα

Book Review: The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek

The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek: Grammar, Syntax, and Diagramming by Douglas S. Huffman

Kregel ǀ Amazon ǀ CBD

This short review is part of Kregel’s blog tour for Huffman’s book. The blog tour is technically past; however, there was a mix-up and this volume was sent to my old address, thus delaying its arrival for several weeks. Thankfully, Kregel sent along another copy.

The title aptly describes the book’s function—it is a guide, not an exhaustive reference. Huffman states that this book is “for second-year Greek students, pastors, teachers, and preachers,” “will not replace grammar and syntax textbooks,” “to be less cumbersome  and more readily accessible” than “larger grammar and syntax books,” “presumes some of the basics of NT Greek,” and is “intended as a useful tool and ready reference.” There you have it—why this book was produced.

The book is broken down into three parts: 1) Greek Grammar Reminders, 2) Greek Syntax Summaries, and 3) Phrase Diagramming.

There is a lot to commend about this book. First, it’s concise, just as you would expect a “handy guide” to be (in contrast, for example, to Brill’s four-volume, 3,600+-page Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus, ringing in at a staggering $1,200). The Brill example was merely to highlight that when we hear terms like “handbook” or “guide,” most of the time we expect something compact, just what this book is. A “handy guide” must be useful. It must glean important information from other volumes and put it in a more accessible work and that’s exactly what you should expect from Huffman.

Second, and perhaps the primary draw of this book, there are helpful little hints here and there that help the reader recall/remember the function of a particular part of speech or a category into which some element of grammar falls. After all, it’s meant to help fairly new students of Greek recall and retain information they had previously studied. These are often found in standard grammars, but I was glad to see some of them here. For example, in the section dealing with the cases, Huffman provides alliterative descriptions associated with each case’s function.

  • Nominative – typically nominates the subject
  • Genitive – typically generates some description
  • Dative – typically names “to/for” whom an action is done, as in “dating”
  • Accusative – makes accusation about what the subject did
  • Vocative – vocalizes who being addressed

Admittedly, these are very simplified descriptions (and even I shortened what was in the book) and don’t draw out the nuances each case can embody, but again, this is a resource for review not advanced study.

Another feature that you don’t find in many Greek grammars is the section on diagramming. My first- and second-year Greek professors instilled the importance of diagramming in us (thankfully so–it’s a very useful exercise), so I can appreciate Huffman’s decision to include them here.

Third, this volume is portable. I didn’t realize it at first, but it’s virtually identical in terms of width and height of the standard editions of the Greek New Testament (NA28/UBS4). It’s like they were made for each other!

As you might expect, there are also charts and tables aplenty! What is a good book on Greek without the requisite tables and charts?!

Though I may only refer to this volume once in a while, I can still appreciate its usefulness. I remember one of the assignments I had for an advanced Greek class was to take Wallace’s advanced grammar and make a summary outline of it, every category and sub-category trimmed down to the essentials (I still have it). The reasoning was so that we would have a more accessible guide handy when working through a Greek text. It was a long and tedious assignment, but I used that condensed outline for some time after the class. This is essentially what Huffman has done, only not having drawn from a single source.

In sum, this is a wonderful little volume that should aid students who haven’t quite found their footing on the sometimes-treacherous terrain of Greek grammar. The book’s greatest strength (its conciseness) will likely be its greatest weakness for some; however, if one keeps in mind the purpose for which it was written, this little volume should serve many and serve them well.

Αυτω η δοξα

Book Review: A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 1 (1-41)

A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 1 (1-41) by Allen P. Ross.

Kregel ǀ CBD ǀ Amazon

With thanks to Kregel Publications for the review copy!

While it may possible to read through this entire volume for the purpose of this review, I never read commentaries that way. As such, I will focus on a handful of psalms to serve as the focal point of this review. Volume 1 spans the first 41 psalms and from them I will provide a brief synopsis of Ross’s treatment of psalms 1, 2, 22 and 23. At the outset I must say that I am no expert on the psalter or the language in which they were written; in fact, I’m barely a novice, so my reflections will be in accordance with the measure of knowledge I have of the psalms. With that said, let’s commence with the review.

Ross’s introductory section (180 pages!) covers some of the typical issues (date, authorship, provenance, etc.) encountered in most commentaries, but he doesn’t devote whole sections to them. He instead intersperses discussion of these issues throughout the commentary itself as he finds them relevant. His attention then is paid to matters that are more particular to the psalter: abbreviations, the psalms’ value, the text and versions of the psalms, and titles and headings. Reading through these chapters shows the reader the psalms’ truly variegated nature. Following these chapters, Ross attends to other matters that are more broadly applicable, but important for understanding the psalms. These chapters cover the history of interpretation (which shows quite a diversity of approaches), biblical poetry (a notoriously untamable beast!), literary forms and functions in the psalms, theology of the psalms, and an exposition of the psalms. I won’t deal with these sections except to say they are helpful in equipping the reader with the appropriate tools necessary to begin the interpretive process in the psalter.

The first psalm I chose to evaluate is arguably the most important in the entire collection—Psalm 1. It’s place at the head of the psalter is not accidental and, as Ross argues, it along with Psalm 2 sets the theme for the whole psalter: the way the righteous are to live among the ungodly and the salvation the righteous have in their divinely chosen king (182). Psalm 1 is indeed concerned with the comparison of the righteous and the wicked and Ross ably works through the details so that the reader is clear on some of the important nuances in the descriptions. One aspect here I appreciate is his attention to the description of the ungodly (which plays out primarily in the footnotes). Discussing each of the three terms used to describe these “ungodly” each bear a slightly different nuance and drawing such distinctions can prevent unnecessary and inaccurate depictions of those outside the faith. Ross also draws attention to the apparent escalation of the descriptions of the two groups as well as to the verbs used to describe their actions (or inaction in the case of the righteous). All this reinforces the point—to enjoy the “heavenly blessedness” of God is to pursue life in the fashion of the righteous and abstain from undue influence from the ungodly. In general, Ross’s interpretation of this psalm is fairly consistent with how I understand it (not a claim to the veracity of said interpretation!) and there’s nothing here that one probably wouldn’t find in most standard commentaries.

Psalm 2 is a regal psalm that serves to remind God’s people of His plan for them in the absence of a Davidic king (199-200).  Here, as in the previous psalm, Ross offers a fairly straightforward interpretation that would find resonance with more conservative interpreters, though I don’t know that those who are less conservative would find much to disagree about.  I certainly don’t consider that a bad thing, for I myself am in that camp more times than not.  One thing that readers will notice here is that Ross does not spend a great deal of time tackling matters of how this psalm (or part of it) is used in the NT, specifically in Hebrews 1.  While he addresses the language of sonship in footnote 25 (p. 208), he leaves it at that and focuses on the psalm itself in the commentary.

Psalm 22 presents several challenges to interpreters, a couple of which are understanding the textual variants and how it (the psalm) is interpreted Christologically.  Ross gives some  attention to the text-critical questions, but keeps things fairly manageable due to the nature of the commentary, namely to remain accessible.  Though I personally do not enjoy reading about and sorting through text-critical issues, it is a good and necessary part of exegesis and Ross makes the issues fairly understandable without oversimplifying them.   As to the matter of Christological appropriation of the psalm, Ross claims that though Christians will find it nearly impossible to read the psalm and not think of Christ’s suffering, we must first read it in light of the psalmist’s experience of suffering.  Once readers can interpret the psalm in its original context can the parallels and Christological overtones be seen and heard.  Ross handles this psalm in the same erudite manner as those before and after it, providing a solid interpretation supplemented with abundant discussions of various theologically significant vocabulary in the footnotes.

Psalm 23, arguably the most well-known psalm of the whole collection, is also ably handled by Ross.  In fact, of the four psalms I focused on, this was the most enjoyable to read.  This is due partly to the general familiarity I have of the psalm, but also because of Ross’ explanation of the text (what’s a commentary for if not that!).  While certainly this psalm is committed to the memories of many in the KJV or other older translation, Ross demonstrates a number of points concerning how one translates the psalm that show more accurate ways in which to translate it.  As with the previous psalms (and others I skimmed), there are grammatical references aplenty!  Overall, Ross’ exegesis of the 23rd psalm is solid and thoroughly readable.

Though I’ve not read many commentaries on the psalter (and what I have read has been on particular psalms, never a whole volume), I’ve worked with them enough to know what I expect from the commentary in general and whether or not it will be helpful to the overall interpretive process. I can say that after my examination of Ross’s commentary I am assured that many will find great help in this volume (and presumably the coming volumes 2 and 3), even those whose training in Hebrew far exceed my own.

Perhaps the most commendable aspect of this commentary is its accessibility, a goal that many commentators either eschew or miss altogether.  To benefit from Ross’ commentary one need not have advanced knowledge of Hebrew to work through the exegetical discussions.  However, some facility in Hebrew will be beneficial, perhaps even necessary, to fully benefit from Ross’s work.  Ross, whom I know primarily through his introductory Hebrew grammar, offers plenty in the way of grammatical analysis and categorization of usage.  While for me this is helpful, it may not be to some, only because some of the categories require minor explanations (which are standard fare in Hebrew grammars).  In fact, it’s the one element that stands out about this volume in comparison to other commentaries on the same level, which is why I say some facility in Hebrew will help gain the fullest benefit from the commentary (just keep Ross’s grammar handy and you’re good to go!).

Another feature that I appreciate is the absence of transliterations.  I am no fan of them so I was glad to see that Ross does not employ it, but rather puts terms/phrases being discussed in quotes as a translation and provides the Hebrew in parentheses.  I also appreciate the relegation of more technical discussion to the footnotes (and by implication the absence of endnotes!), which of course is the whole purpose of footnotes, thereby providing opportunities for deeper study for those interested.  I must admit that at times I was a little frustrated that the information I was after was in the footnotes and didn’t receive quite the attention I would have liked, but again this is in a way a commendation for Ross for keeping more technical points and discussions out of the main text.

One other interesting aspect of the commentary is its layout—each psalm is arranged structurally according to the Hebrew text, yet Ross takes another step and arranges the discussion homiletically.  For those teaching or preaching through the psalms, this could be a great help.

I did encounter a few minor annoyances while reading through the commentary.  For one, there is the occasional use of rather esoteric vocabulary.  Because of the nature of Hebrew poetry, some technical jargon is to be expected and thankfully Ross keeps it to a minimum; yet, the presence of words such as epizeuxis and tapeinosis aren’t really necessary in a commentary written on this level, even with brief definitions provided.  Second, there were a few instances in which I was hoping for a more helpful discussion in the footnotes (as I mentioned above).  For example, in the discussion of Psalm 22, Ross claims that Jesus’ enemies knew Psalm 22 as a messianic psalm and thus quoted from it in order to mock and deride Jesus as he suffered (536).  While I find it very likely that by the time of Christ’s death this psalm was being read through a messianic lens, Ross only points to one example from Jewish literature that substantiates this idea.  I only wish there were more discussion of this.  Again, this is comparatively minor complaint, especially given the detail some Hebrew words/concepts are given, but I hoped for a little more here.  Third and finally, I had hoped for a little more background to explain the figurative language that permeates many of the psalms.  I am certainly not saying such was entirely absent—hardly!  The literal reality that stands behind figurative speech can really bring the text to life and such is the case when Ross fills us in, but it’s not quite enough to satisfy me.  Again, this is more a personal preference and not necessarily a critique of Ross.

You might think that a commentary that addresses 41 psalms in just over 700 pages (for the commentary proper) would be verbose, but not so. Part of this is due to the length of some of the psalms themselves and part is due to Ross’s extensive footnoting (as previously mentioned), but in general he provides rather concise discussion for each psalm.  Ross’s style is easily read and never comes across as pedantic and that makes this particular volume quite handy.  Again, this series is not going to be as helpful to some (those whose own scholarly pursuits intersect with the material presented), but there is more than enough insight and exposition to benefit the vast majority of those for whom it was written.  I would recommend this volume to any who are studying the psalms, but especially for those whose training in Hebrew and OT is/has been minimal.

Αυτω η δοξα