Books on the Bible

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Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible
Edited by David Noel Freedman
Eerdmans. 1425p $45


Ideal both for spot reference and for opening up areas for further study, this entirely new one-volume dictionary contains nearly 5,000 alphabetically ordered articles by 600 biblical scholars on the books, persons, places and significant terms found in the Bible. It is a valuable resource for students, pastors, professors, editors and all who study the Bible in a serious way. The range of contributors is very broad confessionally, and the authors present an enormous amount of information reliably and concisely. The editors (Freedman, with Allen C. Myers and Astrid B. Beck) and the writers have struck a good balance between providing too much and too little information on most topics. Freedman was also the editor of the six-volume Anchor Bible Dictionary. That he oversaw both these projects plus the Anchor Bible Commentary is an indication of his learning, energy and devotion to Scripture. His two dictionary projects should be viewed as complementary rather than as competitors.

The Concept of Biblical Theology
An Old Testament Perspective

By James Barr
Fortress. 715p $48

Barr, now an emeritus professor at Vanderbilt University, is widely recognized as one of the most perceptive and trenchant critics within the biblical guild. In this massive volume he applies his critical powers to what has been one of the great interests of his academic career: biblical theology. This work is a book about biblical theology and what various scholars have conceived it to be, not a biblical theology itself. In it Barr offers detailed summaries and critiques of the classic works in the field, and along the way he constructs his own view of biblical theology. He shuns overly ambitious attempts that try to explain too much data, and prefers more modest textual studies that deal with particular passages, books and themes. While his criticisms are always sharp, they are not in the end destructive. In fact, the book as a whole helps us to get a clearer idea of how those who wish to do biblical theology can do it more effectively. At the same time this work is a lively survey of a large chunk of Old Testament scholarship during the 20th century.

The Nine Commandments
By David Noel Freedman
Doubleday. 217p $24.95

Freedman, professor in Hebrew Bible at the University of California, San Diego, offers a grand vision of how the first nine books in the Hebrew Bible (the Primary History) came to be.

According to Freedman, the Master Redactor was a Jew living in Babylon who was trying to explain that the exile was God’s just punishment for Israel’s having violated the commandments of God. He contends that the design of these books reflects the violation of the Ten Commandments: Exodus (no other gods or idols), Leviticus (taking God’s name in vain), Numbers (keeping the Sabbath), Deuteronomy (honoring parents), Joshua (stealing), Judges (murder), 1 and 2 Samuel (adultery) and 1 and 2 Kings (false witness).

He sees the 10th commandment (coveting) as the root of the violation of all the other commandments.

This ingenious thesis is developed in the context of ancient Near Eastern history, and the work also illumines the content of the Ten Commandments.

King David
A Biography

By Steven L. McKenzie
Oxford University Press. 232p $25

One of the historian’s tasks is to go behind literary and archaeological sources and to try to reconstruct what really happened. McKenzie, professor of Old Testament at Rhodes College in Memphis, adopts the persona of the historian as detective and presents a critically established portrait (a realistic likeness) of David in his ancient Near Eastern context.

In doing so he illustrates both the possibilities and the limitations of historical detective work. Without mentioning Ernst Troeltsch, he works with his principles of analogy, causality and no supernatural intervention. And there is abundant use of the hermeneutic of suspicion. Nevertheless, McKenzie is confident that we can know a good deal about David as a historical figure and shows how we can come to know it. The writing is uncluttered and easy to follow, and allows the nonspecialist to see how a historian might extract historical information from politically and religiously apologetic literary sources.

Whether one prefers the historian’s David (a Near Eastern tyrant) to the biblical David is another question.

The God of Israel and the Nations
Studies in Isaiah and the Psalms

By Norbert Lohfink, S.J. and Erick Zenger
Liturgical Press. 234p $39.95

Lohfink and Zenger, two of the most prominent Catholic Old Testament scholars in Germany, have long shared a theological interest in the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. In this volume they join forces to show that without Israel and its Torah there is no universal salvation from the hand of God. Lohfink contributes an essay on the concept of covenant in biblical theology as well as two detailed textual studies of covenant and Torah in the pilgrimage of the nations (Isaiah and Psalm 25) and of the covenant formula in Psalm 33. Zenger provides chapters on Zion as the mother of the nations in Psalm 87 and on the God of Israel’s reign over the world in Psalms 90-106. The two have collaborated on opening (theological context) and closing (theological relevance) chapters. Their textual analyses use the traditional methods of philology and literary criticism while giving particular attention to the canonical shape of the Psalter as a principle of interpretation. Their emphasis on Israel’s role as a mediator for the salvation of the nations gives theological depth to the claim that God’s covenant with Israel has never been revoked. They show that it is not scriptural for Jews and Christians to walk on two separate paths and to avoid each other.

A Time to Tear Down and a Time to Build Up
A Rereading of Ecclesiastes

By Michael V. Fox
Eerdmans. 422p $30 paper

Proverbs 1-9
By Michael V. Fox
Doubleday. 474p $42.50

These two volumes show why Fox, a professor in the department of Hebrew and Semitic studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is regarded as one of the most learned and insightful interpreters of the Old Testament wisdom literature today. The first half of his study of Ecclesiastes consists of essays on the key words and concepts, and the second half is a close reading of the Hebrew text. He gives particular attention to the contradictions or absurdities that Qohelet perceived around him (a time to tear down), as well to what he considered as good for humans (a time to build up). In his general introduction to Proverbs (in the Anchor Bible series), Fox observes that the book’s guiding belief is that the human intellectwisdomfounded on fear of God and tutored in traditional teachings is the prime virtue of character and the necessary means for creating a life of success. He interprets Chapters 1-9 as containing a prologue, 10 lectures from a father to his son(s) on moral behavior and five interludes. Four essays on the formation and meaning of Proverbs 1-9 as well as textual notes are included.

Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls
Edited by Lawrence H. Schiffman and James C. VanderKam
Oxford University Press. 1132p. $295

Once derided as the academic scandal of the century, the project to publish the Dead Sea scrolls has turned in recent years into something of an academic miracle. This encyclopedia, prepared by an international and interconfessional team of scholars, is an eloquent witness to that miracle. It contains 450 articles on various aspects of the Dead Sea scrolls: pertinent places and archaeological sites, architectural and artifactual remains, written materials discovered in the Judean Desert, related ancient texts, history, beliefs, institutions, practices, major figures in ancient history, and scrolls research. The essays open up to the general public not only the Dead Sea scrolls but also the world of Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity. The positions taken in the articles are representative of sound scholarship. While individual authors espouse different views on disputed matters, there is no hint of sensationalism or academic irresponsibility. The inclusion of entries on the books of the Bible and on Jesus and John the Baptist enhance the two volumes as an indispensable reference work. And it is even enjoyable to read straight through.

The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins
By Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J.
Eerdmans. 290p $25 (paper)

Best known for his magisterial commentaries on several New Testament books in the Anchor Bible series, Fitzmyer has also been a pioneer in research on and publication of the Dead Sea scrolls for over 40 years. This collection of his more recent essays gives a good sample of his interests and talents as a Qumranologist. Several contributions deal with the relevance of the Qumran scrolls for understanding the New Testament (including studies on the title Son of God, the beatitudes and the word Hosanna) and the nature and history of the Qumran community. Editions of specific texts (especially the Aramaic Son of God text and the fragments of the book of Tobit) along with analyses of other texts illustrate how scholars work on the scrolls and why Fitzmyer is regarded as a foremost specialist in Aramaic. The one essay not previously published concerns Qumran messianism. One of the longest essays in the volume, it seeks to introduce methodological clarity into the discussion of a topic of obvious importance. While some papers are very technical, the collection as a whole is an eloquent witness to Fitzmyer’s careful scholarship on the Dead Sea scrolls.

The Religious Context of Early Christianity
A Guide to Graeco-Roman Religions
By Hans-Josef Klauck, O.F.M.
T&T Clark. 516p $ 34.95

Although there are many fine treatments of the Jewish world of the New Testament, there has long been a need for a comprehensive and up-to-date handbook that deals with the Greek and Roman religions and philosophies that were the chief competitors of early Christianity. Klauck, professor of New Testament at the University of Munich, has written a splendid guide, in which he treats civic and domestic religion, the mystery cults, popular beliefs (astrology, soothsaying, miracles and magic), the cult of rulers and emperors, philosophy and religion and gnosticism. He displays a sophisticated understanding of religion in general, provides abundant bibliographies, offers reliable and concise descriptions of all kinds of religious phenomena, gives long quotations from ancient sources, and notes their relevance for understanding the New Testament and early Christianity. His guidebook is both fascinating to read and valuable as a reference tool.

The Cultic Origins of Christianity
The Dynamics of Religious Development

By William W. Meissner, S.J.
Liturgical Press. 261p $27.95 (paper)

From the title and the publisher one might imagine that this book is about worship in the early church. It’s not. Rather, it explores the origins of Christianity from the perspective of the psychoanalytic concepts of paranoia (introjection, projection and paranoid construction) and the cultic process (the expression of the paranoid process in the formation of groups and movements). Meissner, a training and supervising analyst at the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute and University Professor of Psychoanalysis at Boston College, explores the operation of the cultic process in pre-Christian Palestine, early Christianity and gnosticism, respectively. He not only provides a well-informed account of Christian origins but also shows that basic psychoanalytic concepts have social, political and religious ramifications. His book deserves serious consideration from all who believe that grace builds on nature. They will gain enlightenment about psychoanalysis, social psychology and the conditions in which early Christianity took shape.

Excavating Q
The History and Setting of the Sayings Gospel

By John S. Kloppenborg Verbin
T&T Clark/Fortress. 546p $32 (paper)

In New Testament studies the letter Q (from the German Quelle, which means source) is customarily used to refer to the hypothetical collection of sayings attributed to Jesus and used independently by Matthew and Luke to supplement the Gospel of Mark. Among scholars working on Q, Kloppenborg Verbin, professor of New Testament at the University of St. Michael’s College and the Toronto School of Theology, is generally regarded as one of the very best. In this comprehensive survey of what Q is and why it matters, he first discusses Q as a necessary postulate of the Two Document hypothesis, Q as a Greek document whose arrangement and wording can be reconstructed, the theological and literary principles by which it was composed, the social formations that are reflected by it and its place in first-century Galilean society. Then he discusses the history of the Synoptic problem, the recognition of Q as a document, its impact on New Testament theology and its social-historical environment. For those who want to learn about Q, there is no better resource than this book.

God With Us

By Ronald D. Witherup, S.S.
New City Press. 213p $12.95 (paper)

From Death to Life
By Dennis Sweetland
New City Press. 216p $12.95 (paper)

For individuals and Bible study groups seeking a combination of current biblical exegesis and application to contemporary life, these two Gospel expositions in the series Spiritual Commentaries on the Bible deserve serious consideration. Witherup, currently provincial superior of the Society of Saint Suplice, offers a section-by-section interpretation of Matthew’s Gospel in nontechnical language to help readers use this Gospel for personal spiritual enrichment. Sweetland, professor at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., synthesizes scholarship on Mark in a simple and attractive style, offers fresh insights on various Markan passages and raises theological and practical questions that will challenge readers today. Both authors know their texts well and display pastoral sensitivity.

Mark 1-8
By Joel Marcus
Doubleday. 569p $42.50

This first volume in Marcus’s projected two-volume commentary on Mark’s Gospel replaces C. S. Mann’s 1986 volume in the Anchor Bible series. It first presents a full translation of Mark 1:18:21, a 67-page introduction (author, setting, Gospel relationships, Markan composition, etc.) and a 49-page general bibliography. Then it provides for each pericope in the first half of Mark’s Gospel a translation, notes on each verse and general comments. There are appendices on the scribes and Pharisees, the messianic secret motif and the Son of Man. Marcus, who taught for several years at the University of Glasgow and is now professor of New Testament at Boston University School of Theology, has made a very good start on providing an up-to-date and reliable reference commentary on Mark. He combines a detailed knowledge of ancient sources, comprehensive coverage of recent bibliography, sound scholarly judgment and pastoral and theological insight.

The Hospitality of God
A Reading of Luke’s Gospel

By Brendan Byrne, S.J.
Liturgical Press. 209p $19.95 (paper)

Do You Love Me?’
Jesus Questions the Church

By Michael H. Crosby, O.F.M.Cap.
Orbis. 255p $20 (paper)

These two Gospel expositions intended for nonspecialists make connections between the biblical text and important theological topics: salvation (in Luke) and the church (in John). Byrne, a professor of New Testament at the Jesuit Theological College in Parkville, Victoria, Australia, uses the theme of the hospitality of God to show how Luke developed various aspects of his approach to salvation: reconciliation with God, physical healing, freedom from dehumanizing constraints and controls, and so forth. For this year of Luke in the Sunday Lectionary cycle, Byrne’s work can be a valuable resource. Crosby, a Capuchin Franciscan and a popular lecturer and writer, uses texts in John’s Gospel to address two problems facing the institutional church today: the way religions (especially religious leaders) can become so preoccupied with institutional preservation that they fail to be centered on Christ, and how discipleship should be exercised with reference to the different approaches to Jesus prefigured by Peter (apostolic authority) and the Beloved Disciple (loving service and discipleship).

The Religion of Paul the Apostle
By John Ashton
Yale University Press. 261p $28.50

Ashton, now an emeritus fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford, and best known for his work on John’s Gospel, has produced an engaging and elegant study of Paul’s religious experience. Based on the 1998 Wilde Lectures in Natural and Comparative Religion at Oxford, this volume takes the history-of-religions figure known as the shaman as its point of comparison for illumining Paul’s early life, his call and his ministry as the apostle to the Gentiles. Neither a biography of Paul nor a synthesis of his theology, it gives particular attention to those passages in Paul’s letters that give us a glimpse of what he experienced on the Damascus Road and how it transformed and gave direction to his whole life and ministry. After a chapter on comparing religions, it treats Paul as enigma, convert, mystic, apostle, prophet, charismatic and possessed, respectively. Particular attention is given to what Paul says about the Holy Spirit and the spiritual gifts. The book is full of fresh and thought-provoking observations.

Strategies for Preaching Paul
By Frank J. Matera
Liturgical Press. 192p $19.95 paper

On almost every Sunday in the three-year cycle of the Roman Lectionary, the second reading is taken from the Pauline epistles. One reason why the Pauline passages are generally ignored is that whereas the Old Testament reading, the psalm and the Gospel text are thematically connected, the epistle readings are on a separate and independent cycle. Matera, professor of New Testament at The Catholic University of America, has provided a wonderful resource for preachers and for all who use the Sunday Lectionary in prayer and in Bible study. For each Pauline letter (and Hebrews) he presents an overview of the historical and literary context, an exposition of each Pauline passage in the three-year Sunday cycle for Ordinary Time along with suggestions for actualization, and a synthesis of major theological themes. The biblical scholarship is sound, the writing is clear and the homiletical insights are fresh. The book helps to unlock one of the church’s treasures and deserves wide circulation and use.

Colossians and Ephesians
By Margaret Y. MacDonald
Liturgical Press. 390p $39.95

The letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians are generally regarded by biblical scholars as having been written in Paul’s name and spirit but not by Paul himself. As such, they are very important witnesses to developments in the early church and in the Pauline communities in particular. In her commentary on these documents in the Sacra Pagina series, MacDonald, a professor in the department of religious studies at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, not only includes the grammatical, linguistic and historical analysis that has traditionally been central to biblical exegesis but also draws upon insights from fields of sociology and cultural anthropology and gives particular attention to the relationship between these documents and the social life of the New Testament communities. The soundness of this approach is fully vindicated by the author’s ability to make these ancient writings come alive in their historical setting and to help readers today to see the social and theological dynamics at work in the early church.

The Promise of the Father
Jesus and God in the New Testament

By Marianne Meye Thompson
Westminster John Knox. 196p. $16.95 (paper)

The question addressed in this biblical-theological study is not so much whether we should continue to address God as Father as how it was that Jesus thought of God as Father, how the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection makes sense of that address, and how we today can make sense of it. Thompson, a professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., deals with these issues from a moderate Evangelical feminist perspective. After reviewing the debate about Jesus’ addressing God as Abba, she considers God as Father in the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism, Jesus and God the Father, and God as Father in the Synoptic Gospels, in Paul’s letters (heirs of God, heirs with Christ) and in the Johannine writings (the living Father). She gives particular attention to the biblical emphasis on the father’s role as head (founder and guardian) of the family, and notes that to trust in the one known through the Scriptures and through the words of Jesus as Father is to trust in God as the one who is and will be faithful.

Serve the Community of the Church
Christians as Leaders and Ministers

By Andrew D. Clarke
Eerdmans. 305p $30 (paper)

The early Christian movement took shape in the context of the Greco-Roman world of the first century A.D. Clarke, a lecturer in New Testament at the University of Aberdeen, explores the extent to which models of organization and leadership were taken over or modified by the churches of the New Testament period. He first describes (with ample coverage of recent scholarship) the social, political and religious dimensions and leadership patterns of five social institutions contemporary with the early churches: the Greco-Roman city, the Roman colony and city, voluntary associations, the family and the household and the Jewish synagogues. Then he considers the influence of these organizational and leadership patterns on the early church, shows how the different communities addressed by Paul had different social structures and explains Paul’s own ideal in terms of his roles (as father, model and apostle) and his concept of leadership as the service (diakonia) of others.

Sexual Ethics and the New Testament
Behavior and Belief

By Raymond F. Collins
Crossroad. 200p $17.95 (paper)

Collins, a learned and experienced Catholic biblical scholar who has taught for over 30 years at the Catholic University of Leuven and The Catholic University of America, describes this work as a study of texts (biblical and extrabiblical) pertinent to sexual ethics. Using the historical-critical method of exegesis, he looks to the meaning of the relevant New Testament texts in their literary and historical contexts. Rather than making applications to the present, Collins remains faithful to the descriptive task to which he has set himself. He places the New Testament texts in their proper literary settings and brings the results of current exegesis to bear on them. He also provides many quotations from Jewish and Greco-Roman texts roughly contemporary with the New Testament. The inclusion of these texts allows the reader to see better where the biblical writings accept or where they challenge the cultural assumptions of the Greco-Roman world. On the whole, his interpretations are not only fresh but also well informed and evenhanded.

Prayer and the New Testament
By Robert J. Karris, O.F.M.
Crossroad. 210p $25.95 (paper)

The New Testament not only provides matter for prayer but also contains model prayers and teachings about prayer. Karris, now a researcher in residence at the Franciscan Institute at St. Bonaventure University, seeks to place the New Testament prayers in the context of the writings in which they appear and of modern scholarship on them. He also gives attention to prayers outside the New Testament. After a chapter on prayer and the historical Jesus (especially the Lord’s Prayer), he discusses prayer in Luke-Acts, prayer in John’s Gospel and 1 John, Paul on prayer (especially Philippians), the hymns in Revelation and prayer in the letter of James (especially 5:13-18). Karris writes with a light touch and succeeds admirably in communicating technical scholarship to a general audience.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
James MacGregor
5 years 7 months ago
A book that I found to be most interesting (and enjoyable) and an interesting application of King David's relationship to God to the modern executive is "The Heart of an Executive: Lessons on Leadership From the Life of King David" by Richard D. Phillips. It chronicles the career of David, one of the best-known figures in the Bible, from his humble origins as a shepherd boy to his slaying of the giant Goliath, to his triumphant crowning success as king of Israel. David's story is that of a career executive. The author sees reflected the trials and triumphs that mark our own lives in today's business world. The lessons are clear, biblically based, and will challenge and equip men and women to raise their aspirations and heighten the impact of their leadership.


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