Edited by John Barton and John Muddiman
Oxford University Press. 1386p $65
This one-volume commentary contains expositions (with introductions and bibliographies) for every book in the Bible (Old Testament, Apocrypha, New Testament) as well as general articles on various parts of the Bible and other topics. It is similar in scope, size and format to the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Harper’s Bible Commentary and the Collegeville Bible Commentary. The international and interconfessional team of commentators includes John J. Collins on Sirach, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., on Tobit, Dale C. Allison on Matthew, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, O.P., on Colossians and Harold W. Attridge on Hebrews. The scholarly perspective can be described as moderately critical, and most of the authors have proved their ability to communicate with both biblical specialists and the general public. The volume is beautifully produced and full of information. This grand synthesis of contemporary biblical scholarship would make a splendid gift for someone beginning theological studies or pastoral ministry.
This comprehensive treatment of everyday life in Iron Age Israel (1200 to 586 B.C.) is a magnificent blend of biblical interpretation, archaeological research and social history. King is professor emeritus at Boston College and former president of the American Schools of Oriental Research, and Stager is professor of the archaeology of Israel and director of the Semitic Museum at Harvard University as well as director of Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon in Israel. After explaining the importance of everyday life in ancient Israel, they deal with the Israelite house and household (architecture, family and kinship, meals, illness and healing), the means of existence (farming and animal husbandry, water sources, arts and crafts, travel, transport and trade), the patrimonial kingdom (royal city, urban water systems, warfare, armies and weapons), culture and expressive life (dress and adornments, music, song and dance), literacy and schooling, and religious institutions (sacred sites, ritual objects, religious practices, death, burial and afterlife). The main text is written in a simple and accessible style; the 228 illustrations are aptly chosen and beautifully presented; and the bibliographical information is abundant. This is biblical archaeology at its very best.
Mendenhall, professor emeritus at the University of Michigan, has been especially influential among biblical scholars for his research on the ancient Near Eastern context of the covenant and on the formation of early Israel. This historical reading of the biblical tradition is both a textbook and an intellectual synthesis. Mendenhall treats the development of the biblical tradition in five stages: the prologue (from Abraham to Moses), the formative period (Moses and the exodus), the adaptive period (the 12-tribe federation, David and the monarchy), the traditional period (the monarchy, with particular attention to Solomon and Josiah) and the reform period (post-exilic Judaism, and Jesus and the early church). As a historian he deplores both fundamentalism and historical minimalism. As a biblical theologian he dislikes politicians (even David and Solomon) as well as priests and scribes. He regards the Sinai covenant with its Ten Commitments as the heart of biblical faith, and views Jesus and the early Christians as standing in close continuity with the ancient core of Israel’s faith.
One of the methods that has become prominent in biblical studies in recent years is the effective history of biblical texts. Focusing on Genesis 2-3, Anderson, professor of Old Testament at Harvard Divinity School, gives an excellent illustration of the value of this approach by examining how Jewish and Christian interpreters have treated the biblical story of Adam and Eve. He shows himself conversant with a wide range of early Jewish and rabbinic texts as well as Eastern and Western patristic writings and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. He gives particular attention to the influence of Israel’s story as a whole (with a focus on Sinai) and of the Christian narrative of redemption brought about through Jesus’ death and resurrection in the history of the interpretation of Genesis 2-3. Far from being a scholarly catalogue, this book is an engaging presentation that is accessible to the general public.
The search for paradise is a major theme in the Bible, which in its Christian form begins with the Garden of Eden and ends with the New Jerusalem. This extraordinarily beautiful and informative volume takes the story of the quest for paradise back to ancient Sumeria and forward to the utopian visions of modern times. It examines how heaven and the afterlife have been understood in the ancient cultures of Egypt, Greece and Rome, as well as in the Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim religions, and among the native peoples of Australia, America and Africa. The visions of paradise take different forms, but there are some constants. Ashton is a British biblical scholar, and Whyte is a former BBC journalist. While casting their net widely in time and place, they give particular attention to the biblical notions of paradise and life after death and their influence on Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The many full-color illustrations are well explained and complement the main text nicely.
The time between the Assyrian conquest (732 B.C.) and the conquest by Alexander the Great (332 B.C.) was a tumultuous and decisive period in the history of the Holy Land and of the Jewish people. Whereas the Assyrians (732 to 604) influenced the several peoples of the land in various ways, the Babylonians (604 to 539) plundered the land of its wealth and inhabitants and left it in ruins. However, the Persians (539 to 332) allowed organized ethnic groups to return to the territories that were theirs or to settle in deserted regions. Stern, one of Israel’s most experienced and knowledgeable archaeologists, presents a magisterial survey of what can be learned from archaeological excavations about life in the Holy Land in each of these periods. He deals with topics as varied as architecture, inscriptions, pottery, coins, seals, weights and measures, temples and cult objects.
Goldstein, professor emeritus of ancient history and classics at the University of Iowa, is best known for his learned Anchor Bible commentaries on 1 and 2 Maccabees. On the basis of almost 40 years of teaching and research, he offers in this volume his comprehensive account of ancient Near Eastern history from the eighth to the second centuries B.C., with particular attention to Israel from Isaiah to Judas Maccabeus. He defines a people of an almighty god as one that believes that a god stronger than all other powers combined is ultimately committed to be its protector, even though the people may suffer temporary adversity. He describes Israel and Babylon in this period as peoples of an almighty god (Yahweh and Marduk), and Egypt and Persia as peoples of an almost almighty god. He investigates their historical interactions in light of his thesis that the beliefs of a people in an almighty god lead eventually to peculiar courses of history and to the production of peculiar forms of literature. Goldstein’s magnum opus presents many original and ingenious interpretations of events and texts in a fresh and illuminating framework.
The work known as 1 Enoch is a collection of Jewish apocalyptic traditions that date from the last three centuries before the Christian era and are associated with the patriarch Enoch whom God took (see Gen. 5:21-24). They purport to describe what was revealed to Enoch in his heavenly journeys, and are concerned especially with the last judgment and related end-time events. The fullest text now exists in Ethiopic, but the original language was Aramaica scholarly theory dramatically confirmed by the discovery of several Aramaic manuscripts of 1 Enoch among the Dead Sea scrolls. Nickelsburg, professor emeritus at the University of Iowa, has devoted over 30 years to preparing this full-scale critical commentary for the Hermeneia series. This first volume (of two) provides a 125-page introduction to 1 Enoch, as well as detailed expositions of Chapters 136 and 81108. The so-called Book of Watchers (136) is the main source for the story of the fall of the angels (rooted in Gen. 6:1-4). Nickelsburg’s exemplary work of technical scholarship offers a window onto some fascinating developments within Judaism in the centuries leading up to the New Testament.
Honor and shame in ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean cultures have become important topics in biblical studies. While this book contains very few references to the Bible, it will be illuminating for those who wish to understand better the world in which the early Christian movement and the New Testament took shape. Barton, professor of ancient history at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, set out to explore the inner life and emotions of the ancient Romans, and she has succeeded in a dazzling fashion. Her main topics include honor and embodiment in a contest culture, the Roman soul and confession and the experience of shame. She explores these subjects with thousands of quotations (in English and in Latin) along with perceptive and stimulating comments based on classical scholarship, psychology, modern literature, films and personal observation. Her literary style facilitates empathy with the material under discussion. While Barton insists on the differences between the ancient Romans and us, she also provides fresh and challenging insights into the human condition for readers today.
The study of Christian originstrying to discern what was really going on behind our sparse and fragmentary literary sourcesrequires the skills of a detective. This volume presents in a simpler and less technical form the main findings and principal arguments made by Taylor and Étienne Nodet in their larger work entitled The Origins of Christianity: An Exploration (Liturgical Press, 1998). The authors are professors at the École Biblique de Jérusalem, the famous Dominican faculty of biblical and archaeological studies that has led the way in Catholic biblical research for a over a century. Their main theses are that Christianity came from a Jewish environment whose religious culture was close to that of the Essenes (generally identified as the group behind the Dead Sea scrolls), and that the Essene rituals of initiation through special ablutions and the sacred meal set the pattern for the Christian rites of Baptism and the Eucharist. The authors provide fresh readings of many texts and a novel approach to Christian origins that manages to respect the Jewishness of Jesus and his first followers as well as the distinctiveness of the early Christian movement.
The third volume of Meier’s magnum opus focuses on Jesus the marginal Jew in his relationships to other contemporary Jewish individuals and groups. It first considers Jesus in relation to his followers: the crowds, the disciples, the Twelve and individual members of the Twelve. Then it discusses Jesus the Jew in relation to his Jewish competitors: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and other groups. Meier, professor of New Testament at the University of Notre Dame, succeeds in situating Jesus the marginal Jew within first-century Palestinian Judaism while highlighting his distinctive and characteristic teachings and activities. The author’s knowledge of the relevant primary and secondary sources is prodigious, and his clear and logical presentations are easy to follow. This volume is a rich resource not only for students of Jesus and the Gospels but also for those who are concerned with Christian-Jewish relations in the first and 21st centuries. The fourth and final volume will treat Jesus’ teachings on the Mosaic Law, his parables, self-designations and death. [Editor’s Note: This book is a selection of the Catholic Book Club.]
Part of the 28-volume Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture project, this anthology of patristic (up to the eightth century) comments on the first half of Matthew’s Gospel contains abundant material for meditation, prayer and preaching during this Year of Matthew in the Sunday Lectionary cycle. The excerpts have been selected by an expert in patristic biblical exegesis and placed in context by his 16-page introduction. For each pericope the volume provides the Revised Standard Version text, an overview of the patristic interpretations, quotations taken from patristic sources and brief notes. Simonetti, who teaches at the University of Rome and the Augustinian Patristic Institute in Rome, notes that the patristic writers were especially interested in the symbolic significance of names and numbers, the defects in the literal sense as an opening to allegory and the value of interpreting Scripture by Scripture. The anthology illustrates both the perduring values and the limitations of patristic biblical interpretation.
William G. Thompson, S.J., (1930-96) was passionately committed to the study of Matthew’s Gospel and its significance for Christians today. He correctly regarded Matthew the Evangelist as a pastoral theologian, and through some 30 years of teaching and writing on Matthew’s Gospel he showed himself to be a very good pastoral theologian. By his charismatic manner and enthusiasm, Big Bill made a lasting impression on all whom he met, taught and encouraged. To celebrate the memory of an esteemed colleague, Loyola University of Chicago organized a conference at which nine biblical scholars were invited to assess the current state of research on Matthew’s Gospel. The papers contained in this memorial volume include contributions by Donald Senior on directions in Matthean studies, Graham N. Stanton on the early reception of Matthew’s Gospel, Elaine Wainwright on the Matthean Jesus and the healing of women, Wendy Cotter on Greco-Roman apotheosis traditions and the resurrection appearances in Matthew and Anthony J. Saldarini on reading Matthew without anti-Semitism.
Branick, professor of religious studies at the University of Dayton, describes Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians as above all a letter written about the church, a church of sinners, but a church which becomes nothing less than the body of Christ. Part of the Spiritual Commentaries series, this volume presents a brief introduction to the letter and an exposition of each passage, along with suggestions for reflection. First Corinthians treats issues that were pressing in the church of the first century and remain so in the 21st century: church unity and order, moral disorders in the Christian community, marriage and celibacy, participation in non-Christian rituals, problems at church, the spiritual gifts and the resurrection of the dead. Branick is a skilled and experienced teacher, and one can learn much from him about Paul and church life then and now. His book can be used with profit by individuals and by Bible-study groups.
At the center of Paul’s theology is the theme of conformity to the crucified Christ. Using the term cruciformity, Gorman, professor of New Testament and church history as well as dean of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, explores Paul’s narrative spirituality of the crossthat is, the dynamic correspondence in daily life to the strange story of Christ crucified as the primary way of experiencing the love and grace of God. He first examines how Paul’s experience of God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) was centered on the cross, and considers the meaning of the cross as God’s act and Christ’s act. Then he treats Paul’s experience of the cross as faith (the fundamental option and the faith of Jesus Christ, the character and cost of faith), love (the pattern of the crucified Messiah, apostolic cruciformity, the narrative shape of the faithful community), power (the paradox of weakness) and hope (the future of cruciformity). Finally he deals with the church and challenges of cruciformity today. This scholarly work would make good reading during Lent and Holy Week.
While 1 Peter is one of the most theologically rich documents in the New Testament, it also provides a glimpse of what it felt like to be a Christian in the Greco-Roman world and how the missionary strategy of good example helped the church to grow even in hostile surroundings. Elliott, professor of theology at the University of San Francisco and author of several books on 1 Peter, is not only the premier specialist on 1 Peter but also a pioneer in using social-science approaches in biblical studies. He has produced a commentary on 1 Peter for the Anchor Bible series that is monumental in size and scope. Besides the 152-page introduction and the 150-page bibliography, he provides for each passage a fresh translation, a literary analysis, notes on the text and general comments. He views 1 Peter as illustrating the situation of the Jesus movement at the early sectarian stage of its development: its predicament of social alienation and its strategy for survival and growth. He also notes that 1 Peter offers one of the most sustained reflections on innocent suffering and so is one of the most pastoral writings in the New Testament.
One of the major issues dividing the Christian churches is apostolic succession. Rather than focusing directly on this neuralgic issue, Sullivan, who taught ecclesiology at the Gregorian University in Rome from 1956 to 1992 and now teaches at Boston College, emphasizes the need to recognize that the threefold structure (bishop, priests, deacons) was the product of a long and complex development, and so he surveys the history of the ministry of leadership in the early church up to the mid-third century. Trained in patristics and always a keen interpreter of difficult Roman ecclesiastical documents, Sullivan provides extensive quotations of the ancient sources and is the ideal guide to this material. He concludes that there is good reason to believe that the Holy Spirit guided the development of the episcopate in this period, since that office played a primary role in achieving consensus on the canon and in combating gnosticism.
Few issues are as timely and controversial as capital punishment and now the response to terrorism, and the theories of justice that underlie the different positions on them. Marshall, professor of New Testament at the Tyndale Graduate School of Theology in Auckland, New Zealand, contends that the New Testament deals primarily with the world of persons in relation to God and to one another, and promotes a vision of restorative justice. He maintains that the first Christians experienced in Jesus’ teaching (as seen in the Gospels) and in his death and resurrection (as seen in Paul’s letters), and lived out in their faith communities, an understanding of justice as a redemptive power that heals, restores and reconciles rather than hurts, punishes and kills. At its heart are the healing of hearts, the renewal of relationships and the re-creation of community. Marshall argues that the redemptive-restorative approach to justice goes beyond (while not entirely denying) the usual theories of criminal justice (rehabilitation, deterrence, retribution) and that it ought to shape and direct a constructive Christian contribution to the debate about criminal justice (and the response to terrorism) today.
These two books fall into the category of little gems. Witherup provides a concise but thorough response to questions that Catholics have about biblical fundamentalism. He offers instruction on the origins and main ideas of biblical fundamentalism, compares and contrasts a Catholic perspective on the Bible with that of fundamentalism and provides practical advice and recommends resources to assist Catholics in responding to fundamentalism. Richard examines the theological and pastoral impact of the biblical command to be hospitable to the stranger (see Rom. 12:9-13; Heb. 13:1-2; 1 Pt. 4:8-10; Eph. 2:19). He then uses the theme of hospitality as a lens for viewing the whole of life in relation to God, and so makes biblical-theological themes such as the kingdom of God, the character of God and the incarnation come alive in fresh ways.
This is the most comprehensive and up-to-date treatment of the biblical texts that are generally associated with homosexual practice and of the arguments used to interpret them. Its treatment of the pertinent Old Testament, early Jewish and New Testament texts places before the reader the full dossier of ancient textual evidence, the various interpretative possibilities and full references to modern scholarly debate. Gagnon, assistant professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, contends that the Bible unequivocally defines same-sex intercourse as sin, and that there are no valid hermeneutical arguments for overriding the Bible’s authority in this matter. He regards affirming same-sex intercourse as not an act of love, however well-meaning the intent. His critical analyses of the main objections to applying the biblical texts that reject homosexual practice to the contemporary context are sure to attract controversy.
Sugirtharajah, reader in biblical hermeneutics at the University of Birmingham, takes as his starting point the observation that along with gunboats, opium, slaves and treaties, the Christian Bible became a defining symbol of European expansion. He seeks to trace how the Christian Bible has been transmitted, received, appropriated and even subverted by third world people in the precolonial, colonial and postcolonial periods by both the colonized and the colonizers. His main frame of reference is the British Empire of the 19th and 20th centuries and in particular the work of the British and Foreign Bible Society. His fascinating story has many aspects: the arrival of the Bible as a marginal and minority text in India and China through the Nestorians and other Eastern Christians, the use of the Bible by colonized persons against their oppressors, the role of Bible sellers in disseminating the biblical text and the emergence of liberation theology and postcolonial biblical interpretation in recent years.
This is an informative, balanced and mature presentation by a Christian ethicist who knows Scripture and its interpretation very well. Verhey, professor of religion at Hope College in Holland, Mich., describes churches (at their best) as communities of moral discourse, deliberation and discernment. He maintains that the best service that Scripture can provide to Christian ethics is help in answering three fundamental questions: Who am I? What do I want to become? What kind of story do I want to tell with my life? Then with reference to the areas of medicine, sexuality, economics and politics, respectively, he considers what Scripture might say on these topics to Christians today as they seek to remember Jesus. Verhey contends that following Jesus requires remembering him, that in order to remember Jesus Christians must read and understand Scripture, where the memory of Jesus is found, and that by remembering Jesus Christians can discern the shape and style of life worthy of the Gospel.