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The Oxford History of the Biblical World
Edited by Michael David Coogan
Oxford University Press. 643p $49.95

This is the right book at the right time. It needs to be read against the background of naïve reliance on archaeology to "prove" the Bible on the one hand and a highly skeptical critical perspective that reduces much of the Old Testament to Hellenistic fiction on the other hand. The Bible combines literary, historical and theological features. The problem is to discern which is which, and that is not at all easy. The 13 authors whose essays make up this volume steer a middle ground, and effectively place the various parts of the Old and New Testaments in their proper historical settings. Most of the writers were formed in the Harvard School shaped by Frank Moore Cross and G. Ernest Wright, which in turn carried on the work of William Foxwell Albright, their teacher at Johns Hopkins University. This work is to some extent an updated, expanded and more critical version of John Bright’s famous History of Israel. It brings the latest archaeological and historical research as well as the most important extrabiblical texts to bear on the Bible and its world. The editor has done outstanding work in organizing the project, giving consistency and coherence to a collaborative effort, and selecting the many helpful illustrations.

 

Interdisciplinary Atlas of the Bible
By Giacomo Perego
Alba House. 124p $24.95

Written for a general audience, this volume combines the features of an introduction to the Bible, a history of biblical times and a report on major archaeological discoveries pertinent to understanding various biblical texts. Its 24 chapters deal with the biblical books in their canonical and historical order (in the beginning, the call, exodus and conquest, and so on) and treat each topic in five steps: biblical context, historical setting, archaeology, "flash" (brief comments on social background, difficult concepts, interesting points and so on) and reflection (short quotations from ancient and modern authors). The main text is accompanied by 87 color maps, 148 images, 72 historical documents, 10 appendixes and 3 indexes (places, themes, names). The volume presents an enormous amount of information about the Bible in an attractive and accessible manner.

From Epic to Canon
History and Literature in Ancient Israel
By Frank Moore Cross
Johns Hopkins University Press. 304p $45

Cross, professor emeritus of Old Testament at Harvard University, is generally acknowledged to be one of the greatest biblical scholars of the 20th century. Building on intuitions from his own teacher, William Foxwell Albright, Cross has made brilliant contributions to many areas of ancient Near Eastern and biblical studies. Moreover, he has enlisted the help of several generations of graduate students in refining and developing the best insights of the Albright School. This collection of essays illustrates the range and the brilliance of his scholarship. They deal with the early history of Israel’s religion (family and covenant, traces of Israel’s national epic, the prominence of Reuben in the lists of patriarchs), the ancient Near Eastern background of the creation accounts and of the Tabernacle and Temple, analysis of early Hebrew poetry and the development from oral poetry to written prose, the early history of Israel’s return from exile and the place of the Samaritans in Jewish history, the significance of the Qumran discoveries for the history of the text and canon of the Hebrew Bible, and typology as a tool in archaeology and paleography (study of ancient handwriting).

 

Contours of Old Testament Theology
By Bernhard W. Anderson
Fortress. 358p $27

Many college and seminary students have been introduced to the Old Testament by Professor Anderson not only through his classes at Drew, Princeton and Boston Universities but also through his textbook Understanding the Old Testament. In this essay in Old Testament theology, he successfully manages the very difficult task of respecting the independence of the Old Testament while presenting it as a rich source for Christian theology. Taking Yahweh the Holy One of Israel as his starting point, he considers in turn the three dominant covenantal perspectives and their major blocks of literature: Abrahamic (Pentateuch, Ezekiel), Mosaic (Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic history, Hosea, Jeremiah) and Davidic/royal (Psalms, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Isaiah). Then he notes that, owing to the problem of evil, each of these perspectives was tried in the balance and found wanting, prompting a movement from Torah to wisdom and from prophecy to apocalyptic. This remarkably learned and wise synthesis is written with great clarity and obvious love for the biblical text.

The Ethos of the Cosmos
The Genesis of Moral Imagination
By William P. Brown
Eerdmans. 458p $35 (paper)

Brown, associate professor of Old Testament at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, explores the relationships between creation (cosmos) and moral worldview (ethos) in the light of five key Old Testament creation texts: the cosmic sanctuary of the Priestly creation account (Gen. 1:12:4a), the garden community of the Yahwist creation-and-fall account (Gen. 2:4b3:21), the temple garden of Second Isaiah (Isa. 4055), Wisdom’s cosmic domicile (Prov. 8:22-31) and Job’s wild and wondrous wasteland (Job 3842). In each case he asks how and why creation is so ordered, and examines the implications for cosmology, theology, anthropology and morality. How each biblical author perceives the world affects the moral outlook (and vice-versa); this is Brown’s basic concern. His impressive work will interest and challenge not only biblical specialists but also those concerned with biblical ethics and the relation between science and religion.

 

The David Story
A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel
By Robert Alter
Norton. 410p $30

The biblical story of Samuel, Saul and David in 1 and 2 Samuel (plus 1 Kings 12) is among the most beautiful and compelling narratives in world literature. Alter, professor of Hebrew and comparative literature at the University of California in Berkeley, has been a pioneer in the literary study of biblical texts and in the practice of biblical translation. In this volume Alter presents a literal, economical and fresh rendering of "the David story" that makes the ancient texts come alive as fascinating literature. His notes at the bottom halves of the pages are models of textual and philological learning, literary sensitivity and scholarly precision. In his illuminating introduction Alter describes the biblical David story as "not merely a report of history but an imagining of history that is analogous to what Shakespeare did with historical figures and events in his history plays." Alter’s lucid translation and concise notes help us to appreciate better the David story as both history and literary artistry.

 

Introduction to Psalms
The Genres of the Religious Lyric of Israel
By Hermann Gunkel and Joachim Begrich
Mercer University Press. 388p $45

Two of the most fruitful scholarly insights into the Psalmsthat they follow specific literary scripts or forms (hymns, laments, thanksgivings, etc.), and that they were written for and used in liturgical celebrations at the Jerusalem templeare inevitably connected with the name of Hermann Gunkel. When Gunkel died in 1932, his student Joachim Begrich completed the work, which was published in German in 1933. Specialists in the Psalms today describe Gunkel’s work as never surpassed and still valuable, though some of its historical hypotheses and (of course) the bibliography are out of date. Its appearance in English some 65 years after the German original confirms the truth of the maxim, "Better late than never." James Nogalski has done a good service in making this classic work available in English.

Isaiah 139; Isaiah 4066
By Walter Brueggemann
Westminster John Knox. 314p and 280p $20.95 and $18.95 (paper)

In these two volumes, one of the most prolific and popular Old Testament scholars active today presents an exposition of the whole book of Isaiah. While it has become customary among scholars to distinguish between First Isaiah (chapters 139), Second Isaiah (chapters 4055) and Third Isaiah (chapters 5666) on literary, historical and theological grounds, Brueggemann wishes to show the connections between the parts and to view the final form of the text as an integral statement offered by the shapers of the book for theological reasons. He describes the book as a whole as being like "a mighty oratorio whereby Israel sings its story of faith," and in particular as an oratorio about the suffering and destiny of Jerusalem against the horizon of international history and the cruciality of Yahweh. For those in search of a readable and reliable guide to the book of Isaiah (which is so important in Christian liturgy), these volumes will prove to be a valuable resource.

 

Proverbs
A Commentary
By Richard J. Clifford, S.J.
Westminster John Knox. 286p $38

Proverbs
Word Biblical Commentary, V. 22
By Roland Murphy, O.Carm.
Word. 450p $32.99

Two of the best American Catholic Old Testament scholars have produced marvelous new commentaries on the book of Proverbs. Writing in the Old Testament Library series, Clifford, a professor at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, offers a work noteworthy for its comprehensiveness and conciseness. He calls attention to five distinctive ideas in Proverbs: retribution, wisdom as including justice and piety (and folly as excluding them), the psychology of the human person as knower and doer, the two ways and the use of antithetical pairs to describe behavior and its consequences. Writing for the Word Biblical Commentary, Murphy, the "dean" of wisdom studies and professor emeritus at Duke University, notes the limitations of proverbs and describes them as acting "as a goad, a prod to further thought." He not only presents a learned commentary on each passage but also treats important general topics in nine excursuses (on such issues as fear of the Lord, speech, wealth and poverty, retribution and theology). These commentaries can be appreciated and used profitably not only by biblical specialists but also those who simply want to understand Proverbs at a basic level.

 

Introduction to Old Testament Wisdom
A Spirituality for Liberation
By Anthony R. Ceresko, O.S.F.S.
Orbis. 205p $18 (paper)

This up-to-date and uncomplicated introduction to the Old Testament wisdom books (and to wisdom in the New Testament) is distinctive for its effort at treating these writings from a liberation perspective. That means paying attention to the economic, political and social conditions in which each book was composed. It also means viewing their teachings as liberating individuals from the psychic sources of personal or social bondage as well as motivating and educating them in the virtues that lead to life. After providing background information about the wisdom movement, Ceresko, professor of Old Testament at St. Peter’s Pontifical Institute in Bangalore, India, provides for each book (Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Sirach and Wisdom) a general overview and an examination of key texts. The review questions that conclude each chapter enhance the value of the work as a course textbook or as a guide for a Bible study group.

 

Living Jesus
Learning the Heart of the Gospel
By Luke Timothy Johnson
HarperSan Francisco. 210p $22

To be a Christian means to affirm that Jesus is alive. Starting from this central claim of the New Testament, Johnson, professor of New Testament at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, proposes to think through the implications of a strong belief that the real Jesus is the resurrected Jesus, and that being a Christian means modeling one’s life on the living Jesus as best we can. With his title Johnson makes the points that the risen Jesus (and not the historian’s dead Jesus) is the object of Christian faith, and that the process of learning the gospel (Jesus’ life, death and resurrection) means encountering the living Jesus within the life of Christian faith and community. Johnson follows the lead of the various New Testament writers and explores how each of them portrays Jesus’ past, present and future significance for Christian identity and spirituality. At the same time he helps to put in clear focus the methodological and theological limitations of the quest for the historical Jesus.

 

The Religion of the Earliest Churches

Creating a Symbolic World

By Gerd Theissen

Fortress. 393p $29 (paper)

Theissen, professor of New Testament at the University of Heidelberg, has been a leader in applying literary and social-scientific methods to the study of early Christianity. In these Oxford Speaker’s Lectures he seeks to develop a theory of primitive Christian religion. He defines religion as a cultural sign language which promises a gain in life by corresponding to an ultimate reality and describes primitive Christian religion as a cathedral of signs, built on the basis of religious experience, to worship God. His perspective is that of an outside observer (though he is also an active participant) and guide who eagerly explains the semiotic cathedral to outsiders and insiders alike. His analysis highlights the significance of the historical Jesus for the origin of the Christian religion, how Jesus could be proclaimed as divine without transgressing Jewish monotheism, the centrality of love of neighbor and renunciation of status in the ethics of primitive Christianity, the significance of the sacraments and the interpretation of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice, the emergence of primitive Christianity as an autonomous sign world, the crises of primitive Christianity, the significance of the biblical canon and the plausibility of the Christian sign world.

 

The Call of the Disciple

The Bible on Following Christ

By Georg Fischer, S.J., and Martin Hasitschka, S.J.

Paulist. 166p $15.95 (paper)

In Christian theology the term vocation refers most basically to the call from God to follow Christ. Two Jesuit biblical professors at the University of Innsbruck have teamed up to present expositions of the major call stories in the Old and New Testaments. They deal with the calls of such Old Testament figures as Moses, Gideon, Samson’s mother, Samuel, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. They also treat Jesus’ calls of his first disciples as well as the call stories of Mary and Paul. They place each text in its literary and historical context, give an outline, provide an interpretation, consider the theological significance and offer some questions for reflection. The call stories are among the most beautiful and challenging parts of the Bible. The authors’ clear and reliable interpretations of them make this book perfect for a program of meditations or a retreat.

 

Windows on Jesus

Methods in Gospel Exegesis

By Wim Weren

Trinity Press International. 300p $20 (paper)

The expression windows on Jesus refers not only to the stories about Jesus in the Gospels but also to the methods and approaches used in studying those texts today. Weren, professor of New Testament exegesis on the theological faculty at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands, explains and illustrates the methods used in Gospel research in terms of four windows: synchrony (delimiting a text, structural and narrative analysis, meaning in context), diachrony (the history behind the text, the Synoptic problem and the analysis of parallel texts), intertexuality (the Old Testament in the New Testament, imaginative literature based on the Gospels) and history (Jesus as a character and figure of history). Weren’s explanations are clear and lively; his many illustrations bring the texts alive and show the value of methodical study; and his positions are generally representative of modern scholarship. Intended primarily for students of theology and literature, this book is a useful guide to Gospel study today.

 

A History of the Synoptic Problem

By David Laird Dungan

Doubleday. 526p $39.95

In this wide-ranging history of the Synoptic problem (the relationships among the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke), Dungan, professor of humanities at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, deals not only with the major components of the problem (the canon, text, composition and interpretation of the Gospels) but also with the cultural, political, economic and technological presuppositions undergirding and shaping the debate in every historical period. He treats the period of conflict and consolidation from the first to the fifth century (with particular attention to Origen and Augustine), the creation of the modern historical-critical method (with particular attention to the influence of Baruch Spinoza and John Locke) and the emergence of a third form of the Synoptic problem and its preferred solution today (the Two Source theoryMark and Q were used independently by Matthew and Luke). Along the way he expresses misgivings about the intellectual origins and the abiding validity of both historical criticism and the Two Source theory. While many biblical scholars will be unhappy with this book, they ought not to ignore it.

 

The Gospels for All Christians

Rethinking the Gospel Audiences

Edited by Richard Bauckham

Eerdmans. 220p $22 (paper)

Another assumption of much modern Gospel study is the idea that each Gospel was written for a specific church or group of churches. This challenge to the current consensus comes in the form of seven essays by British New Testament scholars who contend that the Gospels were really intended for more general circulation (for all Christians). In the lead essay Bauckham criticizes various aspects of the consensus and shows how unlikely it is that an Evangelist would have written for only one community that lived in isolation from other churches. He and his co-workers deal with such topics as communication among the early churches (the Holy Internet), ancient book production and the circulation of the Gospels, Gospel genre and audiences, the knowledge of Mark’s Gospel presupposed by John’s Gospel, how precisely we can identify Gospel audiences and the positive value of the literal reading of the Gospels. They too present a challenge that ought not to be ignored.

 

Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew

Jerome H. Neyrey, S.J.

Westminster John Knox. 287p $26 (paper)

The Gospel of Matthew and Christian Judaism

The History and Social Setting of the Matthean Community

David C. Sim

T&T Clark. 347p $54.95

These two impressive monographs place Matthew’s Gospel in its historical setting but work from different methodological perspectives. Neyrey, professor of New Testament studies at the University of Notre Dame, reads Matthew’s story of Jesus in terms of the general code of honor and shame, and in light of the widespread, conventional rhetoric of the Mediterranean world. On the basis of studying Matthew’s narrative as a whole and select passages in the Sermon on the Mount, Neyrey concludes that the Matthean Jesus does not destroy the traditional honor game but rather reforms it in his own interests. In a more conventional literary-historical study, Sim, lecturer in theology at the Australian Catholic University in Queensland, seeks to reconstruct the Matthean community at the time when Matthew’s Gospel was written and to trace its full history. He argues that the Matthean community was first and foremost a Jewish group of believers in Jesus, and that the Matthean community can and should be located in Antioch on the Orontes in the latter part of the first century A.D.

 

The Beginning of the Gospel

Introducing the Gospel According to Mark (two volumes)

By Eugene A. LaVerdiere, S.S.S.

Liturgical Press. 227 and 368p $24.95 and 29.95 (paper)

In this year of Mark in the Lectionary cycle, these two volumes by a well-known lecturer and writer constitute a valuable resource. LaVerdiere developed this commentary over many years in a series of articles for Emmanuel magazine and in workshops all over the world. He has a remarkable gift for presenting sound biblical scholarship in a way that engages nonspecialist audiences and leads them to make connections with other biblical texts and (even more important) with their own lives. Using literary and rhetorical analysis and supplying pertinent background information, he guides the reader first through Mark’s presentation of Jesus and the mystery of the kingdom of God (1:18:21) and then through Mark’s treatment of Jesus and the coming of the kingdom of God (8:2216:20). He explains the dominance of Jesus’ passion and death in Mark’s Gospel as reflecting the theological insight that what seemed like an end turned out to be a beginning.

 

Luke, Judaism, and the Scholars

Critical Approaches to Luke-Acts

By Joseph B. Tyson

University of South Carolina Press. 196p $29.95

One of the most puzzling problems in New Testament research is Luke’s attitude toward Jews and Judaism. Is Luke friendly or hostile? Is he really the father of Christian anti-Semitism (as some have charged)? Part of the problem stems from the ambivalence produced by various texts in Luke’s Gospel and his Acts of the Apostles. But another factor is the attitudes toward Jews and Judaism that some famous and very influential modern German Protestant scholars brought to Luke’s two-volume work. Tyson, professor emeritus of religious studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, shows how such towering figures as F. C. Baur, Adolf von Harnack, Adolf Schlatter, Ernst Haenchen and Hans Conzelmann approached these biblical texts with the cultural and religious prejudices of German Christianity regarding Jews and Judaism, and how the Norwegian scholar Jacob Jervell has initiated something of a paradigm shift. Tyson’s informative and objective study contributes greatly to the history of modern biblical scholarship and warns that the prejudices of great scholars can sometimes have disastrous social consequences.

First Corinthians

(Sacra Pagina series, Volume 7)

By Raymond F. Collins

Liturgical Press. 695p $39.95

The late Raymond E. Brown, S.S., is said to have advised that if you had only one Pauline letter to read, it should be 1 Corinthians rather than the more famous and theologically influential letter to the Romans. The point is that 1 Corinthians helps the modern reader to experience more sharply the problems that early Christians faced and the mistakes that they made, and to see at first hand Paul’s genius in responding theologically to complex pastoral situations. Brown would have loved this massive new commentary (which is dedicated to his memory). In this contribution to the Sacra Pagina series, Collins, professor of New Testament at The Catholic University of America, approaches 1 Corinthians as a Hellenistic letter written to people dealing with real issues in the Hellenistic world, focuses on Paul’s manner of communicating with the Christian community at Corinth and contends that Paul’s overriding concern was that Corinthians be the holy people that God had called them to be. He helps us to observe and appreciate Paul the pastoral theologian at work.

 

Second Corinthians

(Sacra Pagina series, Volume 8)

By Jan Lambrecht, S.J.

Liturgical Press. 250p $29.95

Lambrecht, professor emeritus of New Testament and biblical Greek at the Catholic University of Leuven and a former member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, is a master biblical exegete. In this contribution to the Sacra Pagina series he brings to bear many years of teaching and research on 2 Corinthians on what is perhaps the most difficult of the Pauline epistles. Taking 2 Corinthians as a single letter (and thus rejecting various compilation hypotheses), he contends that Paul wrote this apologetic letter to bring about a lasting reconciliation with the Christians of Corinth. His verse-by-verse expositions clarify Paul’s language and thought, and his essays on each pericope provide valuable insights into the literary structure, exegetical problems, theological significance and potential for actualization. For all its difficulty, 2 Corinthians is a precious witness to Paul’s self-understanding as an apostle. Lambrecht’s commentary contributes greatly to our understanding of this important epistle.

 

The Book of Revelation

A Commentary on the Greek Text

By Gregory K. Beale

Eerdmans. 1245p $75

This massive commentary on the Greek text of the Book of Revelation gives special attention to its use of Old Testament allusions and Jewish exegetical traditions. Beale, professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass., is a master not only of the biblical text but also of the secondary literature. His work will serve primarily as a reference commentary to be consulted when the reader wants a comprehensive and fair presentation of the evidence regarding a disputed point coupled with a clear line of argumentation and the author’s own conclusion. His judgments are generally balanced and centrist. As an evangelical scholar he takes seriously the scholarship of other evangelicals, while also treating with equal seriousness the views of scholars coming from other interpretative perspectives. His work belongs alongside David Aune’s three-volume commentary on Revelation (see America 3/7/98, p. 27) as a reliable and up-to-date guide to the many literary, historical and theological problems encountered in reading Revelation.

 

Unveiling Empire

Reading Revelation Then and Now

By Wes Howard-Brook and Anthony Gwyther

Orbis. 313p $ 24 (paper)

That the Book of Revelation had a political message in the Roman empire of the first century A.D. is generally admitted. Howard-Brook and Gwyther, both Christian social activists in the Catholic Worker tradition, are convinced that Revelation also has an important political message today. Their basic insight revolves around the contrast between Babylon and the New Jerusalem. For them, Babylon exists wherever sociopolitical power coalesces into an entity that stands against the worship of God alone, while New Jerusalem is found wherever the human community rejects the lies and violence of empire and places God at the center of its shared life. Revelation exhorts its audience to come out of Babylon and dwell in New Jerusalem. The authors situate the book in the historical context of Jewish apocalypticism and the early Roman empire, treat some key themes (time and space, violence and nonviolence, Babylon or New Jerusalem, liturgy and worship, the war of myths) and offer an incisive critique of global capitalism today through the lens of Revelation.

 

Uneasy Neighbors

Church and State in the New Testament

By Walter E. Pilgrim

Fortress. 224p $20 (paper)

In recent election years the relationship between church and state has become a lively topic. The year 2000 is proving to be no exception. In his wise and timely book, Pilgrim, professor of New Testament at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, discerns three different attitudes toward the state in the New Testament. He starts with the traditional ethic of subordination (yes to good government) in the Pauline, post-Pauline and Petrine writings (with particular attention to Romans 13). Then he turns to the Gospels and their representation of Jesus’ ethic of critical distancing (look out) from the possessors of religious and political authority (with an excursus on Luke’s opposition to the Roman Empire). Then he considers the book of Revelation and its ethic of resistance (no!) toward a totalitarian and idolatrous state. He concludes that today church and state can live as uneasy neighbors under varied forms and structures of government.

Sharing Her Word

Feminist Biblical Interpretation in Context

By Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza

Beacon Press. 222p $19 (paper)

The most famous proponent of feminist biblical interpretation is Professor Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza of Harvard Divinity School. In these seven essays, which began as lectures delivered all over the world, she explains and defends her approach of critical feminist liberationist hermeneutics. She insists on the liberating dimension of feminist biblical interpretation and on its challenge for church and society today. Focusing on the image of the rich table prepared by divine Wisdom according to Prov. 9:1-6, she considers seven aspects in the pursuit of Wisdom-Sophia: her invitation, call (feminist biblical studies), works (the ambiguous heritage of The Woman’s Bible), love (biblical interpretation as a site of struggle), public (reading the Bible in a global context), justice (love endures everythingor does it?) and sisters (justified by her children). These essays are valuable for clarifying the author’s distinctive approach and for her critical comments on biblical studies in general and on feminist hermeneutics in particular.

 

Does God Need the Church?

Toward a Theology of the People of God

By Gerhard Lohfink

Liturgical Press. 341p $39.95 (paper)

In 1986 Gerhard Lohfink stunned the guild of biblical scholars by resigning his professorship on the Catholic theological faculty at the University of Tübingen and joining the Catholic Integrated Community in Munich. This book is evidence that he has not ceased to think deeply and creatively about what was the focus of his academic work: the biblical foundations o

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