Review: Paul and Judaism Revisited

17364976Paul and Judaism Revisited: A Study of Divine and Human Agency in Salvation by Preston Sprinkle is an exciting and refreshing investigation into the thought and theology of Paul as it relates to Second Temple Judaism. This book follows in the footsteps of Sprinkle’s previous work Law and Life: The Interpretation of Leviticus 18:5 in Early Judaism and in Paul (2008). In fact, much of the research and questions answered in Paul and Judaism Revisited arose out of the latter investigation. In both of these works, Sprinkle has shown with clarity the divergence of Pauline thought from that of Early Judaism and thus has provided a significant contribution to the ongoing conversation pegged by the New Perspective on Paul (NPP).

Paul and Judaism Revisited sets out “to compare soteriological motifs in Paul and Qumran in order to better understand how these two Second Temple communities understood divine and human agency in salvation” (p. 36). For Sprinkle, there appears to be no straightforward line of continuity between Paul and the Qumran communities concerning a singular soteriological motif. Moreover, as Sprinkle acknowledges, there doesn’t even appear to be a line of continuity within the Qumran community itself. This diversity adds to the complexity of understanding Paul and does much to undermine traditional and NPP soteriological claims. Sprinkle presents a portrait of Paul that is framed within a Prophetic Restoration structure rather than the Deuteronomic Restoration structure generally found in the Qumran communities.

Paul and Judaism Revisited: A Study of Divine and Human Agency in Salvation by Preston Sprinkle is an excellent book for anyone interested in Pauline thought concerning salvation, the NPP, Second Temple Judaism, and the intersection of any of these areas of study. Sprinkle has offered a fresh and up-to-date exploration of one of the most frequently traveled roads in biblical-theological studies today. While disagreement will assuredly come from those rooted within the NPP, the caliber of Sprinkle’s work cannot be denied, and his presentation should be praised. This is a book that will make you think long and hard about the external influences on Paul’s thought and theology, and provide grounds for reevaluation and consideration therein. As with all of Sprinkle’s books, this book comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this 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: From the Maccabees to the Mishnah

24920714Shaye J. D. Cohen is the Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of Harvard University—one of the oldest and most distinguished professorships of Jewish studies in the United States. Prior to Harvard, Cohen was the Samuel Ungerleider Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies at Brown University, as well as the Dean of the Graduate School and Shenkman Professor of Jewish History at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Cohen has written numerous scholarly articles and authored several important books, which include, The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, and Uncertainties (University of California Press, 2001), Why Aren’t Jewish Women Circumcised?: Gender and Covenant in Judaism (University of California Press, 2005), and perhaps his most widely known book, now in its third edition and the subject of the present review, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah (Westminster John Knox, 2014).

From the Maccabees to the Mishnah is a calculated exploration into the history and development of Judaism between roughly164 BCE to 300 CE. It is here that Cohen carefully guides readers through a variegated landscape of transition, both before and after the rise of Christianity. However, Cohen does far more here than provide a mere historical survey of Judaism and its development into the rabbinic period. Rather, Cohen seeks to usher readers into the very heart of the social, cultural, and religious environment of Judaism as it was shaped and molded by the world and events around it.

Those familiar with the two previous editions of From the Maccabees to the Mishnah should welcome the revisions made to this third edition. Cohen has revised and updated the content for clarity and usability, and updated/added footnotes as needed. However, the most significant contribution to this third edition is the addition of a new chapter, titled, “Ways That Parted: Jews, Christians, and Jewish Christians (ca. 100-150).” This new chapter is a shortened and revised version of an essay Cohen wrote, “In Between: Jewish-Christians and the Curse of the Heretics,” in Partings: How Judaism and Christianity Became Two, edited by Hershel Shanks.

The strength of this volume are many, but the weaknesses are equally as numerous. For many readers, the approach to the topic brought by Cohen will be a breath of fresh air. He is lucid and judicious in his treatment of the period and its development, and the scope of material covered therein is well-organized, easily understandable, and presented with clarity. However, Cohen writes from a predominantly liberal Jewish perspective and his presuppositions can be seen on almost every page—especially the material on canonization and its implications. Still, apart from the content proper, the “Suggestions for Further Reading” section that has been included at the end of the book is alone worth the price of admission.

For some readers, Cohen’s approach and perspective will be value-added to their library even if they disagree with many of his conclusions. Others will find it to be rubbish. I am of the former persuasion. I found much of Cohen’s material extremely helpful and I appreciate the enduring nature of his work. But, like any book, this was only realized after understanding and evaluating the presuppositions therein. If you are looking for an informative guide into the social, cultural, and religious development of the Judaism underlying the New Testament, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah by Shaye J. D. Cohen is indispensable. Read it closely and carefully, and interact with it rigorously. It comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an 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: Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period

9780830826780Larry R. Helyer (Ph.D., Fuller Theological Seminary) is Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies at Taylor University, Upland, Indiana. Helyer has published numerous articles and reviews and has authored several books, including, Yesterday, Today and Forever: The Continuing Relevance of the Old Testament (Sheffield, 2004), The Witness of Jesus, Paul and John: An Exploration in Biblical Theology (IVP, 2008), and The Life and Witness of Peter (IVP, 2012). Still, it is within the present volume, Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period: A Guide for New Testament Students (IVP, 2002), that Helyer has offered the reader his most notable investment and contribution to the study of the New Testament.

Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period begins with a brief introduction outlining the history and importance of the Second Temple period for NT studies. While the information in this section may be considered foundational for the incoming reader, it is quite brief and could easily be ignored without consequence. However, the content that follows this section exhibits a much different story. Helyer systematically introduces the reader to the wealth of literature produced between the Babylonian exile and the rise of rabbinic Judaism. It is here that Helyer examines literary works generally categorized within groups such as the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Josephus, Philo, Dead Sea Scrolls, Mishnah, Targums, etc. Within each of the sections, the reader is carefully guided through various literary pieces, including information such as genre, sources, purpose, date, composition, structure and outline, content and characteristics, as well as a section devoted to the significance of the particular book to NT studies.

The examination of literature in this volume is impressive and includes such works as Tobit, Enoch, 2 Enoch, 4 Ezra, Thanksgiving Hymns, Damascus Document, Testament of Moses, Jubilees, and much, much more. Each major section of the book ends with helpful discussion questions for small groups or personal reflection, as well as a select bibliography for further study. One of the most impressive aspects of this volume is the sheer number of footnotes that accompany each section. This volume is both comprehensive and well-informed in its examination and research, and Helyer’s familiarity with the literature and context is evident with the turn of every page. Additionally, while the thoroughness of this volume will be enough to warrant its inclusion in your library, the readability will guarantee that it is met with equally good use.

If you are someone with even a remote interest in the study of the New Testament, Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period: A Guide for New Testament Students by Larry R. Helyer is an indispensable resource. I recommend a cover-to-cover read the first time around for familiarization with the content, and then the consultation of the various indexes for future reference. Regardless, this will be a volume you will use often. It comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an 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: The Chosen People

9780830840830The Chosen People: Election, Paul and Second Temple Judaism by A. Chadwick Thornhill (PhD, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary) is an exploration assigned the task of carefully guiding the reader through the early Jewish literature of the Second Temple period, specifically to examine how it discusses the concept of election in relation to the people of God. Thornhill seeks to answer two foundational questions: (1) How did Jews during the Second Temple period understand the nature of their election? And (2) how does one’s understanding of Jewish idea(s) of election influence how one might understand the key Pauline texts that address election? (p. 20-21).

For Thornhill, the early Jewish literature of the Second Temple period (namely the Dead Sea Scrolls, Apocryphal, and Pseudepigraphal works) predominantly display an understanding of the concept of election that is firmly positioned both corporately and conditionally. Still, when the concept of election explicitly relates to the individual, Thornhill argues that the literature of the Second Temple period predictably emphasizes the character or role of the individual, rather than the salvation. Although Thornhill rightly acknowledges the artificial nature of distinguishing between “individual” and “collective” from the text itself (p. 28).

Thornhill does an outstanding job systematically walking the reader through the literature of the Second Temple period in relation to the concepts of election. The reader will certainly learn a lot as the framework is being built to discuss Paul. Nevertheless, as someone who is not well-read in Second Temple literature, I often found myself wondering if any literature of the period actually disagreed with the central premise of the book. Of course, this may be the very point that Thornhill is seeking to bring to light. Still, the reader does not encounter much by the way of interaction with Jewish texts that seemingly oppose the argued concepts of election, nor is much attention given to opposing interpretive positions of the literature.

Following the construction of the framework of the Second Temple period, Thornhill directs his attention towards a number of important Pauline “election” passages. If the reader is familiar with the soteriological debate that stands in the foreground of these passages, then Thornhill’s exegetical conclusions will be nothing new—how he gets there may be a different story. For example, Thornhill argues for a corporate election view “in Christ” of Ephesians 1-2 based largely on the verbal forms in vv. 1:3-12 (p. 180), as well as a corporate election view of Romans 9. Thornhill functions extremely well within the framework of first-century Jewish thought as he exegetes the Pauline passages, and argues quite persuasively for his intended position.

To be honest, I was a bit surprised not to find any references or interaction with The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23 by John Piper (Baker Academic, second edition, 1993). This was one of the main disappointments for me. The judicious exegesis of Romans 9:1-23 presented by Piper in The Justification of God is in many ways definitive in the theological community Thornhill is arguing against. Thomas Schreiner is well-represented and engaged, and to Thornhill’s credit, but not a word is given about the important work by Piper. Nevertheless, Thornhill’s work is very well-documented and his interaction is admirable.

The Chosen People has offered the scholarly community a unique and important contribution to the conversation within Pauline studies. Thornhill has effectively probed through the forest of an old theological debate with fresh and exciting lenses. Even someone, like myself, who disagrees with the many of the conclusions that Thornhill advocates will find great benefit in this book. It has helped me re-engage a seemingly stagnant discussion with a renewed perspective and desire to invest more time in the understanding of early Jewish literature of the Second Temple period for New Testament studies. Those interested in a similar fate will embrace this book with open arms. The Chosen People 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.