Review: Jesus and the Remains of His Day

707054_1_ftcJesus and the Remains of His Day: Studies in Jesus and the Evidence of Material Culture by Craig A. Evans is a captivating collection of up-to-date essays on a number of archaeological discoveries related to the earthly ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. In this book, Evans helpfully exposes the misuse of archaeology in relation to claims about Jesus and early Christianity, and rightly seeks to demonstrate the usefulness of archaeology within the discipline of biblical studies. Evans is an accomplished scholar and his work here is consistently well-documented and easy to read—the latter being one of the most surprising aspects of the book given the typical flavor of similar works.

Jesus and the Remains of His Day begins with an excellent discussion surrounding some of the most recent archaeological work at Bethsaida and Magdala. The reader will find the discussion both engaging and enlightening, and it sets the stage well for how the book will function throughout. For example, speaking of Peter’s hometown of Bethsaida, Evans writes, “The heights of Bethsaida rests on a rocky ridge of volcanic basalt . . . Indeed, the original name of Bethsaida may have been Zer (“rocks”) . . . Simon the disciple of Jesus was named the “Rock,” for Jesus planned to build his new community on rock” (p. 13-14). It is here that Evans guides the reader through the archaeological discoveries, detailing and engaging with various sources and opinions, only to eventually land within a sphere of immediate application—something the reader is able to recognize and remember from the ministry of Jesus.

As the book unfolds and each essay independently testifies to the world of the New Testament, the reader is continually confronted with a host of relevant material insight and application as mentioned above. While it would be beyond the scope of the present review to detail everything that I found to be helpful in the book, there are a few essays that I found especially interesting, and thus, will be worth mentioning here. First, in chapter 3, Evans provides a compelling and up-to-date engagement with the ossuary that has been attributed to Caiaphas, the High Priest during the time of Jesus. The evidence points to the authenticity of such claims, and the implications of such prove to be colossal. It is also here that Evans discusses the historicity of Pontius Pilate and Simon of Cyrene, both verifiable through recent archaeological discoveries. Second, in chapters 6-8, Evans provides fascinating insight into the practice of crucifixion, burial, and specifically the execution of Jesus. All three chapters, accompanied by chapter 9, are well-worth the price of the book alone.

It is hard to put into words the usefulness of this volume. As one familiar with the work of Craig A. Evans I thought that this volume would be worth the read. But, admittedly, and I assume like many readers, the world of archaeology is unfortunately a bit foreign and characterized as somewhat dry and unhelpful. I was pleasantly surprised when I started reading this volume, and it was difficult to set down. In fact, the above review doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface, but I trust the usefulness of this volume is transparent. If you are in the market for an up-to-date engagement with the archaeological work being done in the Middle East, specifically in relation to the world of the New Testament and the person of Jesus of Nazareth, then Jesus and the Remains of His Day: Studies in Jesus and the Evidence of Material Culture by Craig A. Evans is a must read. It comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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Review: Unless Someone Shows Me

WIPFSTOCK_TemplateLearning the biblical languages without a firm understanding of how your native language works is in many ways destined to be a disaster. There is a certain underlying grammatical foundation needed if competency is expected. The problem is that most grammars being used today, while they assuredly recognize the need, devote little if any, page real estate to the development and formation of a grammatical foundation for the English language. It is here that Unless Someone Shows Me: English Grammar for Students of Biblical Language by John A. Davies successfully fills a much needed grammatical gap.

Like everyone else native to the English language, I never formally learned English grammar prior to learning the English language. It was acquired by submersion rather than study. It wasn’t until much later in life that I was exposed to English grammar, and I use the term “exposed” loosely. When it came time to acclimate myself with the biblical languages my first major hurdle, still somewhat of a hurdle to this day, was the lack of a grammatical foundation and understanding of my own language. I was never trained to think about language in this fashion, and if I am completely honest, it was somewhat of a culture shock.

Recognizing this chasm in my understanding, I took it upon myself to be familiarized with English grammar as much as possible. I knew that with this understanding and exposure the process of learning the biblical languages would be easier and return a more fruitful payout, both in the comprehension of the grammatical language and rules being utilized by the grammars and the end goal of translational recognition. My only regret would be not having a resource like Unless Someone Shows Me at that time. Had this book been available at the beginning of my linguistic journey I could have saved ample time and energy.

Unless Someone Shows Me begins with a brief introduction into the world of grammar. For the reader, it will be easy to detect the level of experience that Davies brings to the table. He is clear, capable, and judicious in his discussion. Moreover, as one would expect from a good English grammar, Davies leaves no page unturned without a proper explanation and example. Still, the unique feature of this book is the intentional care that has been taken in orienting the explanations and examples towards the goal of the user for competency in the biblical languages.

While I believe that Unless Someone Shows Me would have been more than helpful at the outset of my journey, I still believe it will function as a helpful reference tool for those of us who have, for the most part, made it past that grammatical hurdle. The layout of the book is clearly oriented in such a way to cultivate cross-reference and usability. Moreover, the index, while it is certainly brief, can function as a quick look up guide for various topics that may arise in one’s studies. Lastly, each chapter ends with a number of exercise questions to aid in retention and application of the content.

If you are just beginning your journey into the biblical languages, as a native English speaker Unless Someone Shows Me: English Grammar for Students of Biblical Language should be a requires text. If it is not, make sure it becomes one for you. It will prove to be worth its weight in gold. If you have been on this journey for some time now and are in the market for a practical aid and/or refresher in English grammar, Davies has provided something special, and I trust that it will glean many years of use in the English-speaking world. It comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: 1 & 2 Chronicles

9780825425592Eugene H. Merrill is a seasoned scholar, well-situated for the task of writing an exegetical commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles. Merrill is distinguished professor emeritus of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary and the author of numerous books, including Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel, Everlasting Dominion: A Theology of the Old Testament, and The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament (with Mark E. Rooker and Michael A. Grisanti). Merrill has also previously authored another smaller and less technical commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles for the Lamplighter series published by Zondervan. However little comparison can, and should, be made between the present volume and the previous.

A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles opens with a sizable (almost the size of a small monograph at approximately 70 pages) introduction to the corpus of the Chronicler. Merrill discusses the typical introductory matters, such as the historical and cultural setting, authorship, genre, canonical placement, etc. Merrill also tackles issues such as the structure and sources of the book, textual criticism of the book, the theology of Chronicles, and provides the reader with an annotated list of major studies on Chronicles in recent years. This introductory section is a must read for anyone thinking about journeying through the text of 1 & 2 Chronicles. Merrill is thorough and careful in his treatment and provides the reader with a wealth of useful information that is helpful in positioning the reader for the road ahead.

The commentary itself is well-written and well-formatted. Each section begins with a translation of the designated pericope. The credit page states that the translation is the author’s own, but the translation provided is the NIV 2011. It would have been nice to have an original translation by Merrill, but the NIV 2011 works quite well. Following the translation is a “Text-Critical Notations” section that list various textual variants found in the designated section. For the most part, this section follows closely with that found in the BHS apparatus, but the technical jargon and apparatus sigla are easier to read. In some cases, additional comments are provided to discuss the variants. Lastly, there is an “Exegesis and Exposition” section which provides both exegetical and expositional comments of the text in a verse-by-verse format.

It is clear that Merrill is well-acquainted with the text and issues surrounding 1 & 2 Chronicles. His comments are consistently clear, helpful, and well documented. Throughout the commentary, there are also a number of subject-driven excursus sections, and various charts and sections dedicated to theological discourse (i.e. the theology of the rise of David, the theology of Solomonic reign, etc.). These sections are appropriately placed and the reader will appreciate the content therein. Still, as part of the growing Kregel Exegetical Library series, the commentary shines most brightly in the judicious presentation of Merrill’s exegesis. Merrill has produced a fine volume that is rich with exegetical insights. It will certainly be one of the first, if not the first resource to leave my shelf when working in 1 & 2 Chronicles.

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: Rudolf Bultmann

27792023David W. Congdon is associate editor at IVP Academic. Congdon has a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary and is the author of the massive tome The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Fortress Press, 2015), and a number of articles related to Rudolf Bultmann, his thought, theology, and relationships. In many ways, Congdon has positioned himself as the ideal candidate for the present volume in the Cascade Companions series, Rudolf Bultmann: A Companion to His Theology (Cascade, 2015).

Rudolf Bultmann is arguably one of the most important theological thinkers of the nineteenth century, if not the most important. He is a notoriously perplexing intellectual, despite his influence having penetrated nearly corner of the theological globe. Still, today, Rudolf Bultmann remains negatively characterized by many. Unfortunately, as Congdon rightly articulates in his introduction, most that have formulated such characterizations about Bultmann have done so without first seeking to understand the man within his educational and theological context. In other words, while disagreement with Bultmann may be valid and significant, it is important to remember that Bultmann was an intellectual mind birth within a historical context that shaped his thought—for better or worse. It is here that Congdon rightly positions the investigation into the theology of Rudolf Bultmann.

Congdon enters into the conversation quickly and constructs a proper historical framework for the reader to better understand the later and more mature Bultmannian thought. Congdon does well in setting the stage, introducing the players, and identifying how an eschatological foundation became the launch-pad of traditionally recognized Bultmannian thought. By starting with Bultmann’s eschatological dilemma, Congdon rightly sets the pace for the reader in seeing Bulman as a man wrestling with theological issues of his day and better positions the conversation around the issue pertaining to dialectical theology, kerygma, myth, and Bultmannian hermeneutics among other themes.

It would be beyond scope here to interact with everything Congdon has done in his examination and presentation of Bultmann’s theology, but a few highlights are worth mentioning. First, as stated above, Congdon has rightly positioned the reader to better understand and interact with Bultmann. He hasn’t cleared all the mud from the water, but he has certainly made the waters more manageable and enjoyable. Second, it is clear that Congdon has spent time with Bultmann and those within his immediate circle. Congdon’s ability to synthesize and explain the development and deployment of various Bultmannian themes to the beginning student is both astounding and uncommon. Third, while reading an introductory text such as this may result in greater familiarity with the figure or topic, only the naïve will assume there is no need for further investigation. Consequently, apart from a healthy bibliography, Congdon has provided a helpful “further reading” section to point the reader in the right direction.

It is hard to think of a more qualified individual than David W. Congdon to bring the reader into the thought and theology of one of Christendom’s most controversial biblical interpreters. Congdon has provided a provocative and engaging introductory volume that is certain to be enjoyed by both the familiar and soon-to-be familiar Bultmannian enthusiasts. In a moment of personal reflection, this is likely one of the most helpful books I have read all year. Bultmann is complex, but Congdon makes him approachable. If you are in the market for a short, well-written, and thoroughly distilled volume on one of the most important figures of the modern period, then Rudolf Bultmann: A Companion to His Theology should be at the top of your wishlist.

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: A Theology of Mark’s Gospel

26263482David E. Garland needs no introduction. He is Dean and Holder of The Charles J. and Eleanor McLerran Delancey Chair of the Dean and Professor of Christian Scriptures at George W. Truett Seminary Baylor University. Garland is the author of numerous books and articles, including numerous highly acclaimed commentaries, and the New Testament editor of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary.  Most recently, Garland has produced this landmark volume on the theology of the Second Gospel as part of Zondervan’s Biblical Theology of the New Testament (BTNT) series.

A Theology of Mark’s Gospel: Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God is the fourth volume in the projected eight-volume BTNT series. Like the other volumes in the series, A Theology of Mark’s Gospel seeks to (1) survey recent scholarship and the state of research, (2) provide a treatment of relevant introductory issues, (3) present a thematic commentary that follows the overall flow of the narrative, (4) discuss important individual themes, and (5) interact with the relationship between the gospel of Mark and the rest of the New Testament and the Bible.

A Theology of Mark’s Gospel opens and Garland immediately orients the reader for the study ahead. Having written two successful commentaries on the Gospel of Mark already, Garland is well-positioned to survey the recent trends of Markan scholarship, and provides a helpful starting point and framework for the less familiar reader. Following the brief orientation, Garland carries the conversation forward and tackles traditional introductory issues such as authorship, provenance and date, audience, etc. Each of these topics are treated with judicious detail and thoroughly documented throughout.

After the introductory material is set as a foundation, Garland guides the reader through the Gospel of Mark and provides a literary reading of the narrative. Garland is extremely helpful here and shows that he is well-acquainted with the Second Gospel. The remainder of the volume seeks to address various theological themes and topics within the Gospel of Mark. The highpoints are numerous, but there are several that would suffice the purchase price of the volume alone. Three such examples would be Garland’s examination of the Christological titles, Mark’s eschatology, and a lengthy discussion on discipleship and missions.

I have been a fan of the BTNT series since the initial volume was released in 2009. Not only does the BTNT series bridge a much-needed gap on the bookshelf by providing a thorough investigation of a given book through the lenses of biblical theology, but the series is intentionally designed for easy reference and usability. It is within this marriage between scholarship and usability that Garland has provided the reader a volume that is sure to shine brightly in an ever-growing market of Markan material. Each topic is well-documented and discussed, the chapters open with a thoroughly distilled bibliography, and everything addressed in the volume is easily discoverable within the detailed table of contents.

 A Theology of Mark’s Gospel: Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God by David E. Garland offers the reader and up-to-date and in-depth discussion of the Second Gospel. From the introductory orientation to the detailed dialogue of the disputed passages at the close of the Gospel, and the various theological themes in between, Garland has provided a superb volume that is sure to be received with open arms by many. While it would be difficult to pick a favorite volume from within the BTNT series, if pressed, Garland would be at the top of the list. It will be off my bookshelf with much frequency.

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: A Biblical History of Israel

A-Biblical-History-of-Israel-Second-EditionA Biblical History of Israel by Iain Provan, V. Philips Long, and Tremper Longman III has been a useful and well-respected textbook for over a decade. It has been received with both praise and criticism for its unapologetic approach in the reconstruction of Israel by scholars and students alike, but the former has always seemed outweighed the latter. Now, significantly revised and updated, this second edition of A Biblical History of Israel proves to be more refined and useful than ever.

If the reader is familiar with the previous edition of the book, the content, and organization of this second edition is largely the same as before. In part one, the authors provide a helpful review of the various scholarly approaches to the historiography of ancient Israel and argue against the minimalist consensus that seeks to negate the use of the Bible as a primary source for such task. This section constructs a needed framework for the conversation and provides the reader with a useful introduction to the issues surrounding historiography and ancient Israel.

In part two, the authors shape a history of ancient Israel from the time of Abraham to the Persian Period (2000 to 400 BCE) by integrating biblical sources, extrabiblical sources, and a number of relevant archaeological discoveries. In regards to the latter, the second edition has been thoroughly updated to concur with the most recent archaeological data and discoveries over the past decade, as well as new references have been added and updated. This section has and continues to be a helpful reference for the reader. It is well-documented throughout, clearly stated, convincingly argued, and judiciously presented.

Additionally, in this second edition of the book, the authors have intentionally sought to address a large array of criticism against the effort of the first edition. This interaction is witnessed throughout the book and makes for a more engaging read that is certain be enjoyed by readers of all persuasions. The authors have also included a designated appendix that is aimed more specifically at the criticism against the first edition, and the attentive reader is sure to find this level of interaction helpful. In total, there is approximately 60 pages of additional material, as well as the inclusion of a number of maps and charts for the reader’s use.

A Biblical History of Israel has been a useful and respected resource since first being published in 2003. This second edition has been clearly built upon a solid foundation. As expected, much of the content and organization that made the first edition successful has remained, but with this second edition, the reader has been provided a thoroughly revised, updated, and refined engagement with issues related to the history of ancient Israel. Add the intentional effort of the authors to interact with the criticism of the first edition and you have a recipe for a must-have and up-to-date volume for biblical studies enthusiasts everywhere.

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: John: A Commentary

John-2015Marianne Meye Thompson (PhD, Duke University) is George Eldon Ladd Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of Theology where she has been on the faculty for over three decades. Thompson is the author of several books, including, 1–3 John (IVP New Testament Commentary, InterVarsity Press, 2011), A Commentary on Colossians and Philemon (The Two Horizons Commentary, Eerdmans, 2005), The God of the Gospel of John (Eerdmans, 2001), The Promise of the Father (Westminster John Knox, 2000), and co-author of Introducing the New Testament (Eerdmans, 2001). She has also published numerous articles and reviews in scholarly journals with specific emphasis on Johannine literature. Most recently, Thompson released her much-anticipated commentary on the Fourth Gospel in the highly acclaimed New Testament Library series.

John: A Commentary begins with a substantial bibliography of up-to-date commentaries, monographs, and essays related to the Gospel of John. At 24 pages, a quick glance of the bibliography displays a well-researched commentary, and the content therein embodies the reality of this information well. Still, Thompson is clear that her efforts are not primarily about interaction with the scholarship of the Fourth Gospel. Instead, she seeks to present an understanding of the text within a narrative framework, as she traces and explores the holistic understanding of the ministry and significance of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of John. This unique approach to the Gospel of John makes this commentary both accessible and useful to the specialist and nonspecialist alike. Thompson has effectively guided the reader through the depths of the narrative without losing sight of the cultural context and scholarly concerns required for a top-tier commentary in a growing market.

The introduction to the commentary is filled with helpful information for the trained and untrained reader. Some readers will likely just skim over this section or skip it altogether. However, this approach is not recommended. Thompson has an excellent and stimulating discussion on the relation of the Gospel of John and the Synoptic Gospels. For Thompson, the Fourth Gospel is to be understood as an ancient historical biography, and thus the author maintains the complete liberty to expand and correct the material for his purpose (p. 8). Consequently, Thompson acknowledges that John did not intend to write a history about Jesus that would be “understood by all,” but rather understood by John (p. 13). This is thought, according to Thompson, to explain the divergence of the Fourth Gospel from Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Thompson’s arguments are convincing, but the reader will need to be the judge of such claims.

Thompson has done excellent work illuminating John’s understanding of Jesus, but there are a few likely concerns the reader will encounter. For the sake of space here, I will list only two. First, despite the almost universal internal and external attestation of Johannine authorship being attributed to John, the son of Zebedee, Thompson views the traditional understanding of the authorship of the Gospel as unlikely. Her reasons are explained and the case is well made, but she still doesn’t give a clear answer to the question of authorship. Second, the reader may be stunned to see some of the textual decisions that Thompson makes in her translation of the Gospel. For example, Thompson finds “the only son (huios)” to be the most natural reading of John 1:18. This reading is certainly possible, but the most difficult reading of “the only God (theos)” has both early and important attestation. In fact, it is almost universally understood that theos is the correct reading of the text, and huios was the result of later scribal assimilation to other passages in the Gospel (John 3:16, 18).

John: A Commentary by Marianne Meye Thompson is an up-to-date commentary on one of the most important and influential biblical books in the New Testament. Thompson approaches the author of the Gospel on his terms and guides the reader through the depths of the narrative. The reader will find Thompson’s reading of the text fresh and inviting. The introduction is a worthy starting point for readers of all background and expertise. Her exegesis is sometimes prematurely saturated with theological bias, sometimes making theological statements about the text that directly oppose even a mere reading of the text itself (e.g. John 6:44). Her textual decisions are also sometimes interesting, but the reader should find her conversation on such decisions as an added benefit to their library. Nonetheless, despite the pros and cons, this is a much-anticipated commentary by a seasoned and experienced Johannine scholar. It is true that in some cases the anticipation has outshined the publication, but this is certainly not one of those cases. If you are looking for an up-to-date commentary on the Gospel of John, this volume by Marianne Meye Thompson should be at the top of your wishlist.

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”