Book Review


R.W.L. Moberly, The Old Testament of the Old Testament: Patriarchal Narratives and Mosaic Yahwism, Overtures to Biblical Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), xvi + 224 pps [repr. by Wipf & Stock, 2001, 240 pps.]. My pagination will refer to the original Fortress Press edition.

Readers of this blog will not need to be told of my bias for this book. Moberly is going to be my doctoral advisor at Durham, so obviously I think very highly of him and his scholarship. But don’t let my bias dissuade you, this really is a wonderful book.

Moberly’s stated purpose in this book is to explore the question of what it means to do biblical theology. The chosen topic for this exercise is the importance of the giving of the divine name in Ex. 3 and 6 and the relationship to the patriarchal narratives that went before, and the Mosaic Yahwism that followed. He begins in ch. 1, by establishing two things: 1) that in the texts of Ex. 3 and 6 “God was revealed to Moses, on behalf of Israel, as having the name YHWH,” 2) Moses and Israel did not previously know that name and 3) the one revealed as YHWH is the same God as the God of their ancestors (p. 35). This chapter is quite exegetical and a brief review cannot do it justice. Let us just say that Moberly is a very careful reader of Scripture and his exegesis is always worth reading.

Moberly follows the conclusion of the first chapter by asking the logical question: (more…)

 

Eddy and Boyd’s defense of the historicity of the Synoptic tradition is essentially a dialogue with a group of scholars who hold to what Eddy and Boyd call the “Jesus legend” thesis. They group in this definition any scholar who holds that the Jesus of the gospels is a “fictional legend” to any degree (13). They argue that most of these scholars come to the gospels with their own presuppositions and allow their presuppositions to rule their decisions. Eddy and Boyd admit their own presuppositions up front, they are largely within the evangelical camp. But they argue that if we follow their model which they call an “open historical-critical model” we will be able to conclude that “the Synoptic portrait of Jesus is quite historically plausible–in fact, that it is the most historically probable representation of the actual Jesus of history” (14).

Eddy and Boyd begin by defending their methodology which they refer to as an “open historical-critical” method. This is their way of reacting against the extreme skepticism that has dominated much of NT studies. They argue that the extreme skepticism of ‘miracles’ or supernatural events is actually a worldview that is limited to Western academia. for, they argue, “present human experience on a global scale is saturated with reported experiences of the supernatural” (67). The extreme critical view which unquestionably denies any possibility of the supernatural has “not been critical enough” (78) for it is not critical of its own presuppositions. Once we move beyond this extreme skepticism, and allow for the possibility of the supernatural we are at a much more appropriate place to study the NT.

In the second chapter the authors examine the often held claim that the high christology of the NT only develops as the early church “syncretistically mixed with Hellenistic philosophical and/or religious ideas” (92). After surveying the options both for and against, Eddy and Boyd find that “there is no compelling reason to suppose that first-century Jews as a whole–including Gallilean Jews–were open to a revision of their basic religious convictions via pagan ideas” (131). They thus conclude (more…)

So I originally intended to write book reviews on this blog for all of the books that I read in order to 1) force myself to summarize the content of the book after reading it, 2) to have a place where I can keep my summaries and 3) to allow others to benefit from my take on my readings. However, I have turned out to be a less than regular blogger and I haven’t been diligent in my book reviews. I am currently way behind in my book reviews but I intend to catch up. Below is a list of books that I have read recently and hope to have reviews of soon. This is my way of committing myself to finishing these reviews.

  • Paul Rhodes Eddy & Gregory A. Boyd, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition
  • James D.G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered
  • Michael Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel
  • R.W.L. Moberly, The Old Testament of the Old Testament: Patriarchal Narratives and Mosaic Yahwism
  • Kenton L. Sparks, God’s Words in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship
  • Jennifer M. Dines, The Septuagint
  • Martin Hengel, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture

Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006). 508 pp. + indices.

Bauckham begins his study by introducing what is to me the key contribution his work makes: the category of eyewitnesses. He points out that the way a lot of form critics of the NT operate it is as if they assume that the disciples (or eyewitnesses) first told the Gospel story and then went on permanent retreat, never to be heard from again. The argument that the Gospels are in the majority constructions of later Christianity is nonsensical in light of the fact that “The gospels were written within living memory of the events they recount” (7). Furthermore, he points out that contrary to our modern view of history, in the ancient world the most reliable witnesses to an event were those that were not only present at the event, but were intimately involved in the event which allowed them “to understand and interpret the significance of what [they] had seen” (9). In this regard, Bauckham notes, “the Gospels are much closer to the methods and aims of ancient historiography than they are to typical modern historiography” (11) but they must be understood as historiography in some form.

He next turns to a discussion of Papias (who we know only through citations in Eusebius). He will return to examine in detail Papias’ view of the Gospels in chs. 9 and 16. For his purposes here, he establishes the importance of eyewitness testimony in that it was considered “the best practice of historians” (27) to be most reliant upon eyewitness testimony in constructing a history.

The next several chapters (chs. 3-5) (more…)

 

Lawrence Schiffman, From Text to Tradition: A History of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism (Ktav Publishing, 1991), 299pp + Glossary.

Lawrence Schiffman has provided a readable and brief treatment of Jewish history, starting from the Biblical period through the Second Temple period and into the Rabbinic period, a span of over 1,000 years. Any history of this scope intended as an introductory level history must be necessarily brief and Schiffman’s book is no exception. This does not, however, keep it from being a useful and informative tool.

The author begins by stating that his method will be ‘historical’ but that his main focus is not ‘to tell the story of people, but rather to tell the story of ideas’ (2). His focus is therefore to trace the development of the Jewish religion from biblical to Rabbinic times against the backdrop of the historical realities in which it developed.

The second chapter contains a brief sketch of the the biblical heritage, summarizing the content and import of the biblical text. This chapter is really to set the scene for the following developments. He then turns to Judaism in the Persian period, which is a period of overlap between biblical Judaism and non-biblical Second Temple Judaism. Though his work is chronologically organized, in this chapter we see Schiffman’s strategy of treating each broad historical section topically. Thus, he begins by (more…)

D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, second edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996), 142 pp. + indeces.

D.A. Carson’s wonderful little book, Exegetical Fallacies, is a brief survey of some of the most common interpretive fallacies that exegetes face when they look at scriptural texts. While the subject matter of the book may make it seem negative, if one takes it for what it is, it is a very useful survey. 

Carson organizes his survey into four categories of fallacies: 1) word-study fallacies, 2) grammatical fallacies, 3) logical fallacies, and 4) presuppositional and historical fallacies. 

The first category is probably the most prevalent and the one that this author is the most guilty of. Carson recognizes the need for context and usage as the most important factor for determining meaning of a word rather than etymology. This section is a great introduction to biblical semantics if one has not read the more substantial works of Barr, Caird and Silva.

The second category recognizes the possible fluidity of grammar in actual usage and cautions against making too much of grammatical constructions. Thus for example, though the aorist tense in Greek is usually described as a point verb emphasizing that an event happened once it is a stretch to suggest, as commentators have, that the use of the aorist in 1 Cor. 5:7 (‘for Christ our passover lamb was sacrificed‘) means that his sacrifice was a ‘once for all’ kind of deal. While, theologically, this might be true, it cannot be argued on the basis of grammar.

In surveying logical fallacies, Carson recognizes the tendency to demand an either/or solution where a complementary view might be better suited.

The final category deals with historical and presuppositional fallacies. While it is here that the book reaches its highest ‘evangelical peak’ in that it is critical of views that do not accept the historicity of the Bible or who hold their presuppositions as above the Bible. It is also very helpful in that it recognizes the usefulness of the postmodern critique of the modern arrogance of interpretation. The recognition that we all bring our own presuppositions to the text can help us to make allowances for them an be even more true to the text.

All in all, there is nothing truly groundbreaking or profound in Carson’s book. But it is a very helpful introduction to the most common fallacies interpreters face.

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Messiah in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 235 + Appendices and Indices. 

In preparation for my ‘Messiah in the Old Testament’ class this summer I read Kaiser’s take on the subject. Having read Fitzmyer’s work, I found this one to be an entirely different take. Kaiser is only concerned with the biblical texts themselves, paying little attention to how they have interpreted historically (though he does touch on this at points).

Kaiser organizes his book diachronically based on a very conservative dating of texts. Thus, after an introduction, he looks at 1) messianic passages in the Pentateuch, 2) before an during the monarchy, 3) in the psalms, 4) in the ninth and eighth century prophets, 5) in Isaiah, 6) in seventh and sixth century prophets, and 7) in the post-exilic prophets.

Kaiser begins by citing what he believes is the usual definition of the term ‘messianic,’ namely, “everything in the OT that refers to the hope of a glorious future” (15). He is aware that this is problematic since many passages that speak of a glorious future speak of the Lord’s actions rather than the Messiah’s but he also claims that there are significant overlap between the actions of the Lord and the actions of His Messiah. 

From the start, as Kaiser surveys the various texts, he sees Messiah in almost every passage traditionally thought of as messianic. He argues that the ‘edenic promise’ is a messianic promise, even though he is aware it is only the beginning of a progressive revelation of the messianic message. Throughout his book he tends to make arguments (some very good, some less so) for Messiah in all the traditional passages. 

One major weakness of Kaiser’s book is that it reads like an insiders discussion amongst evangelicals. He interacts most often with James Smith, What the Bible teaches about the Promised Messiah; Charles Briggs, Messianic Prophecy; the commentaries of Keil and Delitzsch, and Kaiser’s own previous works. Almost no mention is made of classic texts such as Mowinckel’s. 

Despite that drawback, Kaiser’s work, though written at a semi-popular level is also capable of making fairly detailed arguments. For example, he argues that Jeremiah 23:5-6 should be understood as “the LORD our righteousness” (as opposed to “the LORD is righteousness”) based on the accent marks of the Masoretic Text (and not just the atnac or zaqef…)

It took me a while to get into this book but in the end I enjoyed it. If you are looking for a good defense of a conservative reading of messianic prophecies than this a good choice. If Fitzmyer is overly minimalistic in his views, Kaiser may be overly maximalistic. Hopefully, somewhere between them is a good view of the messianic passages of Scripture. It would be a great exercise to compare the arguments of Kaiser and Fitzmyer of some specific passages but that is fodder for another post, or series of posts.

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