Tag Archives: Old Testament

Against the Gods: The Polemical Theology of the Old Testament Reviewed

Currid

Currid, John D. Against the Gods: The Polemical Theology of the Old Testament. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013. 153 pp., $17.99 paper.

Parallels between the literature of the Hebrew Bible and that found elsewhere in the ancient Near East (ANE) have long since been noted. While it is beyond doubt that some relationship exists between these texts, the nature of the relationship continues to be a matter of debate. Did the biblical authors simply plagiarize their material, sanitizing the pagan aspects? Or, did the Hebrews incorporate elements of ancient Near Eastern culture and religion for a driving theological purpose. In his book, Against the Gods: The Polemical Theology of the Old Testament, John Currid argues that the latter is the case.

In the prologue, Currid presents the basic elements of the work, including the topic, purpose, and audience. In describing the topic of the book, Currid states, “This book is about the relationship between the writings of the Old Testament and other ancient Near Eastern literature” (9). From the outset, he makes clear that he understands the worldview of the Bible to be “altogether unique, as confirmed by its all-pervasive monotheism” (9).

The explicit purpose of the book, as expressed by the author, is to advance the discussion regarding the parallels between biblical literature and its ANE counterparts by proposing an alternative explanation, namely, polemical theology (9). Though this stands as the authors goal, he writes the book “for those who know little about polemical theology, not the scholarly community (9-10).”

The structure of the book consists of eleven chapters exploring various aspects of the polemical theology; its history and notable occurrences in the Old Testament. The opening chapter seeks to provide a cursory outline of the history of ancient Near Eastern studies, considering the relationship between ANE studies and biblical studies. Through the discovery of a wealth of ANE texts beginning in the 19th century, scholars have uncovered various parallel accounts of familiar biblical narratives. During this time, Currid states, a hermeneutic of suspicion led some scholars to conclude that the biblical authors were guilty of “crass plagiarism.” On the other hand, the increase of material required greater degrees of specialization, producing fields of scholarship previously unknown. The chapter concludes with a brief sketch of the state of “evangelical” scholarship on the question of the parallels between the ANE and biblical texts. Currid says that many evangelical scholars have emphasized the similarities between these texts to the detriment of their dissimilarities.

The burden of chapter two is to define and explain polemical theology. Currid provides the following definition: “Polemical theology is the use by biblical writers of the thought forms and stories that were common in the ancient Near Eastern culture, while filling them with radically new meaning” (26, italics original). The new meaning that Currid finds in the biblical text is centered on monotheism. This device used by the biblical authors graphically contrasted their worldview and that of the rest of the Near East. Hence the differences between the texts are more telling than the similarities. Currid provides several introductory examples of polemical theology such as polemical expressions (eg. “the strong arm of the Lord”) and motifs (eg. The confrontation of the serpents in Exod 7). Currid makes clear that he is not proposing polemical theology as a king of theological center, but rather one of many lens through which to read the OT.

The remainder of the book focuses on specific instances of polemical theology in the OT including the creation account, flood narrative, the birth of Moses, and the self-designation of the God of Israel as “I am.” In each chapter, Currid summarizes the relevant data from the biblical and the ANE texts. In many cases, he discusses the provenance and date of the ANE texts, framing the biblical accounts as later compositions. As such, the biblical authors, who were familiar with ANE ideology and religion, intentionally employed linguistic parallels and structured the very events and objects of each episode as a critique of ANE practice (119).

In light of this summary, one may see the value of this work. Many have been unsettled upon the discovery that events and narratives in the biblical text may have preexisted in other pagan documents. Yet, rather than the biblical authors simply rehashing ancient mythology, Currid’s thesis provides a viable solution for many of these parallels. Though the subject of ancient Near Eastern textual data may appear to be inaccessible to a lay reader, Currid designed the book to reach such an audience. The clarity of his writing style, in addition to frequent charts comparing biblical and ANE texts, allows the reader to easily follow the discussion. Moreover, the length of the book (153 pgs.) serves as an invitation to lay readers, avoiding the intimidation of a large scholarly tome.

Yet with all of its strengths aside, the book, in my opinion, contains some significant weaknesses. First, one may quickly discern the tension between the intended purpose and audience of the book. Though written on a more popular level, Currid hopes “to advance the debate a little, stir up some thoughts, and perhaps make some progress in the discussion”  regarding the parallels between biblical and ANE texts (9). Yet this debate does not occur on a popular level, but rather in the halls of scholarship. Furthermore, the methodology and conclusions that Currid manifests would only be acceptable within an evangelical readership. For example, the claim that the worldview of the Bible is unique in its “all-pervasive monotheism” (9) would certainly not go unchallenged by critical scholars. Thus, the participants in the debate that Currid hopes to advance are limited from the outset. This critique would most likely not be an issue for the author, as both he and the publisher focus on a more conservative audience, but a clarification, however brief, could be helpful nonetheless.

A second point of critique I wish to raise, in my view, is the most significant. Throughout the work, Currid emphasizes both the literary artistry of the biblical author and the historicity of the events recorded, but nowhere satisfactorily explicates the relationship between the two. The question becomes, if the biblical authors deliberately employ polemical elements in the unfolding of these narratives, how is the historicity of these events to be understood. The problem would be greatly diminished if linguistic parallels were the only element employed by the biblical authors, but as Currid himself states, the Hebrews authors “[structured] the very events and objects of the episode[s] as a critique of [ANE] practice” (119, emphasis added). While I am sure that Currid would have an available answer to this question, an extended discussion of this relationship may benefit the careful reader. For, on the surface it appears to be a contradiction to defend the historicity of a particular event, while simultaneously affirming the creative artistry of the author in restructuring the events themselves.

One final point of critique that will be noted here is Currid’s extensive quotation of himself. On the one hand, this stands as evidence of his substantial achievements as an academic. Yet on the other hand, the reader may find the frequent quotations, many times without any introduction, to be odd. I could not help but wonder if there was not another way to make his point that did not require a self-quotation. This may be a preference on my part, but I did find it to be strange.

With these critiques noted, I recommend this work to anyone interested in Old Testament theology. While many of the specific cases mentioned may readily be found in technical commentaries, Currid distills them in a concise, readable fashion. For those with no exposure to ANE studies, this book could serve as door to more advanced study.

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Review of When God Spoke Greek (Blog Tour)

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This is the second stop of a blog tour on T. Michael Law’s book When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible (see here). Thanks to Oxford University Press for providing a review copy, as well as to Brian LePort for organizing the tour. Due to the nature of this project, this review will be confined to chapters three and four of the book.

Introduction

I remember traveling to Colorado as a young boy for a family ski trip. The beauty and majesty of the Rocky Mountain ridgeline left me breathless. One thing that I found striking was how distance changed my perception of the great mountains. The further away I was from the snowcapped peaks, the fewer mountains there seemed to be. Yet the closer I came to the mountains the clearer I saw that what appeared to be one massive rock formation was in fact a multitude of smaller mountains. Perspective changes everything.

When one looks at study of the Hebrew Bible, a similar reality is apparent. From a wide-angled perspective, the Hebrew Bible appears to be a uniform collection of canonical books, but upon closer inspection the complexities of the discussion come to the fore. One area in particular is the formation of what would later emerge as the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament canon itself. Interestingly, while everyone looks at the same evidence, interpretations differ, and in some cases are contradictory.

This paradox becomes clear when one approaches these two chapters of Law’s book. While many may  have preconceived notions about the place and purpose of the Septuagint, Law offers what may be to some an alternative perspective. This review will first detail the contents of each chapters. Secondly, several questions will be posed to further the discussion of how the book may better serve its readers.

Chapter 3

Chapter three asks the question “was there a Bible before the Bible?” In short, Law says no. To support this answer Law presents evidence of textual diversity/plurality from the early witnesses. The result of this situation is a Judaism without strict textual boundaries until the close of the Hebrew canon in the 2nd century CE.

Law surveys the forms of Hebrew Scripture attested by Hebrew manuscripts, the Septuagint (LXX), Dead Sea Scrolls, and Samaritan Pentateuch (S.P.), each with underlying Hebrew texts from which they were translated/edited. Each of these traditions, says Law, testifies to variant literary editions (ie. textual traditions).  In light of these manuscripts, especially those from the Judean Desert, Law contends that scholars are forced to abandon older assumptions about the homogenous nature of the textual transmission of the Hebrew Bible.

Law cites the varied manuscript evidence from Qumran and surrounding sites, as well as many examples of significant differences among the other textual traditions. Though contradictions and inconsistencies are of great concern to modern readers, Law states, peoples of the ancient world had no such concern (31).

It must be noted that the “textual diversity” found at Qumran is absent from surrounding sites (aligning instead with the Masoretic tradition). Though Law tips his hat to this phenomenon, he discounts its interpretive value. He reasons that the quantity of manuscripts outside Qumran (25 total) is not a large enough sample from which to draw meaningful conclusions.

Law also acknowledges the careful scribal practices of the Masoretes in the medieval period, frequently alluded to by more conservative scholars, but argues that it is illegitimate to project these scribal tendencies upon the earlier textual data. While the Masoretic Text (MT) does indeed evidence an ancient tradition, Law states that it consists of only one such tradition. The reality of the textual climate prior to the 2nd century CE was “characterized by plurality, not uniformity” (22). To disagree with this reality is to put the proverbial buggy of one’s formulated conclusions, so to speak, before the horse of the textual data.

Chapter 4

Chapter four turns the corner to the Septuagint as a translation. Law reminds the reader that the translators of LXX did not invent the art of translation, but contributed to a well-established practice in the ancient world. Yet the LXX is not  just another work of antiquity. Rather, the innovation of the LXX was to bring the work of translation to the realm of formal religion, a feat not previously undertaken (35).

As to the origins of the Greek translation, Law retains a tentative posture in light of the circumstantial evidence. He postulates a 2nd century BCE date for the latest Greek Pentateuch could have been composed based on linguistic features of the text and citations by later authors. The text itself betrays an Egyptian origin, most likely Alexandria.

Law discusses the Letter of Aristeas, which is a 2nd century BCE legend regarding the origin of the Septuagint. While certainty eludes scholars, one purpose of the narrative that Law presents is to affirm the authority of the Septuagint by rewriting the story of the Exodus (36). The resultant translation as told in the Letter of Aristeas is not simply a new edition of Torah, but rather “a new revelation” (37).

An analysis of the internal components of the LXX leads Law to conclude that the translators of the Greek Pentateuch were “moderately educated, Hellenized Jews in Alexandria” (40). Yet, this position too is held tentatively. Sure footing, Law states, is found not in hypothetical reconstructions of the Septuagint’s origins, but rather in the early reception of the text (42).

Comments and Questions 

This summary should provide readers with an overview of Law’s argument. The book itself is well written. It is as readable as it is scholarly. As any author can affirm, transferring the complexities of academic discussions to a more popular audience is no easy task. But Law presents his argument in a fresh and engaging way. Though I am left with several lingering questions, I can concur with the 21st century philosopher (formerly known as) Jay-Z that while the book may have 99 problems (not really), Law’s presentation ain’t one.

Several early responses have been released at this point (see here for example), so I will not rehash these points of critique with which I am in large agreement. Yet I do wish to raise a couple of questions that may allow the book a better servant to its readers.

First, would not the clarity of the book (geared to a more popular audience) benefit from a more careful treatment of terminology? While jarring phrases like “before the Bible, there was no Bible” (19) may have a strong rhetorical effect, they may miscommunicate the fact of the matter. The novice reader may be left with the impression that early Judaism operated as a literary free-for-all, with every, and any, religious text welcomed as equally authoritative. While this may indeed be Law’s intention, this conception blurs the continuity (if any!) between text and canon. Perhaps clarifying what exactly is meant by “Bible,” “canon,” and “scripture,” may better serve readers.

Second, could the reader not be helped by a more balanced presentation of state of Old Testament scholarship? Certainly Law represents a major position regarding textual plurality in ancient Judaism, but it is not the only voice in the conversation. Other scholars have proposed alternative theories to this view, favoring a greater degree of continuity. For example, in opposition to the plurality of literary editions, some scholars have argued for the preservation of a Temple Text, conservatively transmitted. If correct, this theory would offer an answer to the question of continuity with the later MT. While there may have been certain cases of free translations, a stable text was always in transmission. While some of these monographs are found in the “Further Reading” section at the back of the book, brief mention in the chapter may better orient the reader to the conversation.

Lastly, and perhaps most significant, is a question regarding the format of the book: are endnotes really the best option for any book ever? The use of endnotes can be a great challenge to many readers in turning to the back of the book 30 times in chapter three and 26 times in chapter four. I recognize that many of these decisions are outside the control of the author, but this review would be incomplete, as always, without my stereotypical lament of this point.

In conclusion, this book would best serve either students who have knowledge at an introductory level in LXX scholarship, or those who plan to further explore the field. I fear that novice readers may inadvertently be misled if this is the only book on the subject they read. Hopefully, readers will make use of the “Further Reading” section, which is subdivided by subject. The resources included are invaluable for entry into the world of the Septuagint/Hebrew Bible. For those who are familiar with the debate, this book affords an engaging presentation of a major position. Law is to be commended for both of these well-researched and well-written chapters.

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A Review of Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Overview

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Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Overview. Edited by John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012, xxi + 533 pp., $35.00 paper.

The complexity of Judaism between the conclusion of the events recorded in the Hebrew Bible and the trajectory set after the Bar Kokhba Revolt continues to foster much discussion between various fields of scholarship. For Hebrew Bible/Old Testament scholars, Early Judaism provides insights into questions of the formation of the Hebrew Bible, early interpretive perspectives, and the existential self-perception of Jews both in Palestine and the Diaspora. For New Testament scholars, Early Judaism sets the stage for life and ministry Jesus, reflecting his messianic identity and mission, as well as the emergence of the Christian movement.

The sheer amount of evidence, both literary and otherwise, is enough to occupy one for a lifetime. Students can easily find themselves lost in trying to sort through the available material. Yet, this recent volume published by Eerdmans, derived from the Dictionary of Early Judaism, makes an introduction to this complex world accessible to readers. The primary audience of this book is students with a working knowledge of Old and New Testament, as well as the historian.

Consisting on fifteen essays composed by twenty-one scholars, the volume takes a topical arrangement. In the first chapter, John J. Collins provides an introduction to Judaism in contemporary scholarship. A major issue in the study of early Judaism is what constitutes appropriate labels and terminology. Though no characteristic terminology for the Intertestamental period itself is without difficulty, Collins states “‘Early Judaism’ seems the least problematic label available” (2).

A further contributing issue is the question of what actually constitutes literary evidence of Judaism in this period. Collins overviews the place of rabbinic writings, the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, in the study of early Judaism. He rightly concludes that “the identification of a given text as Jewish depends on the profile of Judaism one is willing to accept” (12). In the course of his survey, Collins rejects the claim, set forward by Jacob Neusner for instance, that it is illegitimate to speak of Judaism in the singular. This view advocates for an understanding of Judaism as a plurality of separate, but equally valid, traditions. But, as Collins notes, an insistence on radical diversity in early Judaism “distorts the data just as much as an essentialist approach that would exclude ostensibly Jewish material that does not conform to a norm” (8). The chapter concludes with a call for further research in the field of early Judaism.

The second chapter, authored by Chris Seeman, Adam Kolman Marshak, traces a detailed chronology of the Jewish people from Alexander to Hadrian. The organization of the material, for the most part, takes its cues from the leadership under which the Jewish people were subject. The chapter hinges on the two major Jewish revolts (Maccabean and Bar Kokhba). In addition to the political leadership, the authors describe the religious climate during this period. The rise of priestly power marked a significant feature in the relationship between political leaders and the Jewish people. The centralization of the synagogue, as well as life in Diaspora, is also addressed.

In the following two chapters, Judaism in both the land of Israel (James C. VanderKam) and the Diaspora (Erich S. Gruen) are taken up. In Israel, facets such as the temple, festivals and institutions, religious groups, and Jewish literature characterized Judaism. Though different emphases of Judaism may be found, VanderKam identifies two commonalities at the core of Jewish religion: monotheism and covenant.

Life in the Diaspora was noticeably different than that in Israel. Yet, as Gruen states, such a life is not foreign to the Jewish people, but rather, “the notion of removal from the homeland is lodged deeply in the mythology of the nation” (95). This chapter covers a variety of topics from extent of the Diaspora to the relation of the Diaspora communities to the homeland. The author argues against the popular notion of a continuing exilic perspective in the mind of Diaspora Jews. Jerusalem, says Gruen, “possessed an irresistible claim on the emotions of Diaspora Jews, forming a critical part of their identity. But home was elsewhere” (115).

In the fifth chapter, Eugene Ulrich examines the literary evidence during this period with a goal of presenting his understanding of the development of what eventuated in the canon of the Hebrew Bible. He identifies two distinct periods in the history of the biblical text: 1) A period of developmental growth and pluriformity; and 2) A period of uniform text tradition since 2nd century C.E. (122). The competing theories of the origin of the text (Urtext, ect.) are briefly described, yet dismissed. Ulrich concludes his chapter by seeking to clarify terminology regarding canon, which he reserves for the final product in the 3rd/4th centuries.

The sixth chapter consists of James L. Kugel’s  exploration of Early Jewish biblical interpretation. Despite the circumstances of exile, “Israel’s ancient writings offered an island of refuge” (154) and eventually took on a prescriptive quality. Kugel outlines several instances of interpretation both by later biblical authors, as well as later Jewish interpreters. Regarding the latter, he lists four assumptions that later interpreters commonly shared in viewing the biblical texts as cryptic, relevant for later audiences, harmonious, and divinely inspired.

The next three chapters (7-9) introduce the reader to the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (Loren T. Struckenbruck), the Dead Sea Scrolls (Eibert Tigchelaar), and Early Jewish literature written in Greek (Katell Berthelot). Each of these chapters provides background information about the provenance, dating, and value of each respective body of literature for the study of early Judaism.

Two chapters (10-11) give attention to two major sources for Judaism of the time: 1) Philo (Gregory E. Sterling, David T. Runia, Maren R. Niehoff, and Annewies van den Hoek); and 2) Josephus (Steve Mason, James S. McLaren, and John M. G. Barclay). Both chapters chart the life and works of these two men, relating the significance of their massive literary legacies to the subject of early Judaism.

The twelfth chapter (Jürgen K. Zangenberg) examines the archeological data for Judaism during the Second Temple Period. The author adopts a broad definition of “Jewish,” noting the difficulty of identifying a particular artifact (ie. a piece of pottery, letter, ect.) as intrinsically Jewish. More specifically, Zangenberg asks not just whether an object can be identified as Jewish, but “what type of Judaism it might reflect” (322, italics original). He organizes the chapter chronologically and geographically, surveying the available evidence from the period.

The three final chapters of the book (13-15) discuss Early Judaism in relation to three relevant issues: 1) the Jews among the Greeks and Romans (Miriam Pucci Ben Zeev); 2) the relationship of Early Judaism to early Christianity (Daniel C. Harlow); and 3) the relationship of early Judaism to latter Rabbinic Judaism (Lawrence H. Schiffman). These three chapter, asking very different questions, evidence the range of questions involved in the discussion.

A significant strength of the book is the inclusion of supplemental material such as a timeline of the Second Temple Period, 13 maps of various regions, and 71 photographs/figures of locations and artifacts (manuscripts, pottery, ect.). At various points in the book,  authors reference these pictures as visual support for their presentation.

In addition, the volume includes substantial bibliographies at the conclusion of each chapter, providing further resources for the interest reader. These sources provides an invaluable compilation of both primary and secondary literature for further study.

With all the strengths of the book, there exists weaknesses in various chapters. In some instances an author may overstate the evidence, or present their conclusions as the settled consensus of scholarship, without acknowledging other voices in discussion. One example is the chapter authored by Eugene Ulrich on text, ancient versions, and canon. The assumption of the fluidity of the texts of the Hebrew Bible until a very late date, though common, is by no means the only explanation for the evidence. Others, such as Emanuel Tov, have put forward alternative explanations for what appears to be the “standardization” of the text in later centuries. Such alternatives are simply not included in the chapter. Though it is impossible to address every issue in the discussion, such a fundamental point as the dating of the canon should have received wider attention.

Yet for all of its content this book should be found on the shelf of anyone serious about the study of the Hebrew Bible, Judaism, or the New Testament. Indeed, the title “Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Overview” is well earned.

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The Problem of Time in Joel

For being such a short work, the book of Joel contains a host of problematic issues that have troubled its interpreters. One of the most significant is the historical/literary relationship between the first two chapters. The question is, is the locust plague of chapter one a literal infestation of locust portending the invasion of chapter two? Or, does the imagery portray the devastation left in the wake of an enemy army throughout both chapters? Indeed, answers do not come easy.

The latest issue of the Journal of Biblical Literature contains an article by Ronald L. Troxel that addresses the question once again. I have not yet had an opportunity to read the article, but the abstract does sound intriguing:

Scholarship on the book of Joel has long been vexed by the wayyiqtol verb forms in 2:18-19a. Ibn Ezra suggested that they are analogous to the prophetic perfect, expressing certainty about the outcome, while Adalbert Merx suggested that they should be read as simple wāw + jussive, and Julius Bewer argued that the imperative forms in 2:15-16 should be read as simple qatal forms, enabling vv. 15-17 to be read as a report of the people’s response to the exhortation of vv. 12-14. More recent studies of Joel 2 have found it difficult to explain the interchange of qatal and yiqtolverbs in vv. 2-11. Some have explained these as signaling the intrusion of redactional materials, while others have sought to accommodate them under a tense or aspectual understanding of the verbal system. Still others have despaired of finding a solution and have adopted readings of the verbs based solely on the context. Both of these problems are, however, amenable to rather straightforward solutions. On the one hand, the wayyiqtol verbs of 2:18-19a come into focus once we recognize the narrative structure of the book. The wayyiqtol verbs are embedded in speech by the narrator, whose voice was last heard in 1:4. On the other hand, the qatal and yiqtol verbs in 2:3-11 follow typical morphosyntactic and morphosemantic patterns, once we take into account their discourse settings, particularly the pragmatics of their clauses.

For those with access to JBL, you can find the article here.

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Zephaniah the Preacher

Zephaniah

The legitimacy of rhetorical analyses of the New Testament has been an area of lively debate in scholarly circles. For anyone who was not at IBR this last year, the tension in the room during the dialogue between Stan Porter and Ben Witherington III was a bit uncomfortable to say the least. The question is, “should the text of the New Testament be studied as texts that would first have been preached?”

While New Testament scholars have greater difficulty coming to a consensus on this question, those who study prophetic literature can enjoy much more common ground. For, before the  prophets’ messages were recorded, they were proclaimed to Israel and Judah. And as any good preacher knows, the power of a well managed illustration can hardly be underestimated.

In a previous post, I mentioned a paper I am presenting to a Prophetic Literature seminar on the rhetorical function of the remnant motif. Though I have since shifted the emphasis of my paper to a literary approach, I remain intrigued by the rhetorical usage of the motif, especially as it appears in negative contexts against both Israel/Judah and the nations. One instance that i found particularly stimulating was in the book of Zephaniah

In chapter 1, Zephaniah details the judgment of Yahweh “against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (v. 4a). Judgment is warranted for patterns of idolatry and syncretism, which had apparently seeped even into the king’s household (v. 8). In describing the objects of Yahweh’s judgment, Zephaniah says “And I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal” (v. 4c). The phrase “remnant of Baal” has posed difficulty for many scholars, as it appears at first enigmatic.

Yet, the remnant here, paralleling the idolatrous priest in the following clause (v. 4d), evidences its intrinsically negative character. Furthermore, when set in conjunction with the other wicked groups mentioned in verses 4-6, the remnant appears to refer to more than the idols themselves, identifying, rather, a group of people.

The reason for the appropriation of “the remnant of Baal” in reference to a group, presumably of Judahites, may at first appear enigmatic, but when assessed on a rhetorical level, the motif provides insight into the situation in Judah. Marvin Sweeney notes that there exists a “tendency of biblical traditions to employ the language of the Canaanite cult to polemicize against YHWHistic practices that were not considered to be legitimate.”[1] 

Hence, what Zephaniah describes is a band of syncretistic priests acting not as the religious leaders of the holy remnant of Judah, but rather as the remnant of Baal. Such an image would certainly provoke the attention of his original audience.

In my view, Zephaniah’s ministry coincided with the Josianic reforms of. 622 BC, and was indeed influential in its success. Thus, the announcement of judgment by Zephaniah, accords with Josiah’s purging of syncretism during the early stages of restoration. The proclamation of Zephaniah during this time functioned to undergird and validate the king’s program of reform. And the remnant motif was a potent rhetorical device to motivate the people to reject lawlessness and embrace a posture of covenant fidelity. Zephaniah was indeed an able preacher.

 

[1] Marvin A. Sweeney, Zephaniah: A Commentary, Hermeneia (Minneapolis; Fortress, 2003), 68.

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Some Helpful Guidelines for Evangelical Scholarship

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For Evangelicals who traverse the waters of biblical Scholarship, the tension between the critical study of the Bible and reverence for it as the inspired Word of God hangs in a delicate balance. While it is popular to simply write off Evangelicals as enemies of progress who unnecessarily resist the tides of contemporary scholarly opinion, others recognize the presence of presuppositions on both sides of the divide.

As those who have been saved by grace, Evangelicals cannot reduce the Bible to just another literary product of the ancient world. Rather, Evangelicals must seriously think through the various issues that intersect in our doctrine of Scripture. Questions of historical matters and textual problems must be addressed; context and canon must be understood; and, the place of reason and faith must be weighed. For the Church of Jesus Christ to be built, truth must be the catalyst for our endeavor.

Though these issues can be complex, the Baker Academic Blog has  posted a list of Ten Guidelines for Evangelical Scholarship from NT scholar Donald Hagner. This list synthesizes the central points of the matter, allowing for both an appreciation for the humanity of Scripture, notwithstanding its divine origin. As those with a high view of Scripture, Evangelicals must learn think critically, all the while proclaiming the good news of our resurrected king.

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A Review of James Nogalski’s Commentary on the Book of the Twelve

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Beth Stovell of St. Thomas University has written a review of the first volume of James D. Nogalski’s recent commentary on the Book of the Twelve (Hosea-Jonah). While it is certainly not plausible to provide a full critique of such a massive work (488+ pages), Stovell makes some helpful introductory comments. You can read the review here.

At the last annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, I attended a panel discussion reviewing Nogalski’s commentary. While some of the panelists raised sound critiques regarding both content and methodology, others proved to be not so helpful. Indeed, one panelist spent the lion’s share of his review chanting for more Wellhausen and less application in Nogalski’s approach. Text-critical issues aside, such a response obviously misses the target audience of the publishers. And though I diverge from Nogalski on  many significant issues, his approach provides many rich insights, especially on the front of intertextual links between the books of the Twelve.

For those unfamiliar, Nogalski has set himself apart for his research on the Twelve. Although many, including myself, reject some of his conclusions, I cannot say that I have not benefited greatly from some of his insights. And though the question of the unity of the twelve is one of perpetual debate, Nogalski remains at the forefront of the conversation. Those interested in the Book of the Twelve will find this work provocative, for good or ill.

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