ACADEMIA

Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies

Meynet. A NEW INTRODUCTION TO THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS (2010)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Feb• 15•11

Meynet, Roland. A New Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels (Miami, Florida: Convivium Press, 2010). ISBN: 9781934996119

This title is the English translation of the French Une nouvelle introduction aux evangiles synoptiques (2009).

This rhetorical critical study of the Synoptics is based on a notion that rhetoric is not just Greco-roman as the West understand but there is Hebrew Rhetoric which is very different from that of Greek and Roman. The New Testament follows this Hebrew Rhetoric and so this could be called Biblical Rhetoric which is akin to Akkadian, Ugaritic and other ancient texts. This Rhetoric is shared by not only Hebrew Bible or New Testament but also the Quran.

Meynet deviates from the traditional approach to the study of Synoptic Gospels where the pericopes are put in parallel columns but he insists that one should study the whole pericopes, the sequences and subsequences. He likens his approach to the study of three architectures of a building than comparing the stones of three similar buildings.

He applies this study to a number of selections from the Synoptics.

This is indeed a trail-blazer in Synoptic studies. The fact that the French original is made available in English within a year of its publication is remarkable. This means that the influence of this novel approach to the Synoptics will be farreaching in the scholarly community.

Domina. POETS AND THE PSALMS (2008)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Aug• 11•08

Domina, Lynn (Editor). Poets on the Psalms (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 2008), pages: 304 ISBN: 1595340483.

This collection of essays by a number of contemporary English poets (mostly American) on the Book of Psalms is fascinating. For the trained theologian and church-persons this is an offer of fresh air. The Book of Psalms has been read, chanted, sung, interpreted and preached from within the four walls of the churches for two thousand years. The Jews also had considered it sacred and had their life around it for still more years. The book of Psalms which has been the monopoly of the synagogue and the Church is approached by poets who are mostly from outside the walls of the Church and the Synagogue.
In this book, poets with a wide variety of religious experience and some having no serious religious experience have brought together their understanding of the psalms. For example, Carl Philips one of the authors claims to be biracial and gay. Having no religious upbringing the author started reading the Bible as an adult. On the other end of the spectrum is Pattiann Rogers who grew up with the KJV of the bible and even learnt memory verses. The KJV had a lasting impact on her poems. In between comes poets who were Jews but lived among non-Jews, practicing Christians and so on.
The wide variety of authorship means a wide range of freshness of the views in these essays. For example, violence in the Bible, particularly in the Psalms in the form of imprecatory Psalms and a God who advocate violence has been subjects of theological discussion for so many years. However, Alicia Ostricker has a new perspective on this, which is rather non-theological. Unlike Christian theologians she don’t want to reconcile God’s cruel nature. She rather would like to be a like “the abused woman who keeps forgiving her abuser.” She has a power conclusion to her essay which sums up her views on divine violence. Reflecting on her own poems she writes, “Like the Biblical Psalms, mine seem to be love poems of God. But I cannot justify my love.” In the midst of these rather non-academic essays we find Enid Dame, “Psalm 22 and the Gospels. A Midrashic Moment and a Hope for Connection” which has more of an academic tone. The author who is from a working class Jewish background and had to share space with Christians in schools and neighbourhoods explores how a Jew finds the reading of Psalm 22 by Christians. For the Jew Psalm 22 is metaphorical, however, for the Christian the victim and the enemies of Psalms are historical.
Most of the authors prove that it is possible to write on the Psalms without the usual theological jargons. In a similar manner this collection proves that there are multiple perspectives possible on the Book of Psalms. And each perspective is informing and fresh. This is a very small sampling and one has to really go through this exceedingly enjoyable book to enjoy its freshness and vigour.

Tamez. WHEN THE HORIZONS CLOSE (2000)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 11•08

Tamez, Elsa. When the Horizons Close, Rereading Ecclesiastes. (Trans. Margaret Wilde; . Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books), 2000.

In the words of the author, this book is, “More than a classical commentary, it is a proposed way of reading the scripture for our hopeless times.” (p. vi). Thus the work under review is a rereading of the book of Ecclesiastes from a particular position regarding its date, composition, and the reader’s own particular ideological position. In the words of the author, this book is, “More than a classical commentary, it is a proposed way of reading the scripture for our hopeless times.” (p. vi). Thus the work under review is a rereading of the book of Ecclesiastes from a particular position regarding its date, composition, and the reader’s own particular ideological position. The book has an introduction and the commentary that follows is arranged in three parts in addition to a prologue and epilogue. In each section the author first comments on the whole section and each subsection by way of synthesis before making verse by verse comments. The book also contains an appendix of sayings and proverbs from Latin America that reflect the complexity of life and popular wisdom. The author says she has arranged the booked around the theme “Take it all Together.” Key to the reading the book of Ecclesiastes the way the present author does is the date of the book. Tamez dates this book around second half of third century BC against the background of the Ptolemaic empire based on Alexandria. Her reconstruction of the times of the author of the book is also important for the present reading. Tamez identifies the particular position of the biblical author by looking at “the world not narrated by Qoheleth.” The world that the Ecclesiastes describes is one of frustration, toilsome labour, etc. The biblical author denies that there is anything that is new. See, Ecclesiastes 1:9-10. Tamez discovers that behind this blatant denial is the key to the mind of the biblical author! As a reader she goes a step further and reconstructs the Ptolemaic world, its achievements, struggles and the changes it has brought in various areas. She describes the newness in the areas of military tactics, politics, agriculture, economics, etc. However, why did the biblical author refuse to admit these facts and affirm that there is no newness under the sun. Ecclesiastes questions this newness by denying it because it fails to effect human fulfilment. Tamez identifies the author with one of Palestinian aristocracy in Jerusalem. He is someone who takes a position different from that of his contemporaries who supported the “globalisation” of the Ptolemaic empire. The author of Ecclesiastes points out the futility of the “globalisation” which demands a lot of human sacrifice. He finds hard work useless if there is no enjoyment and gathering wealth meaningless while there is no security that one can keep it. The reading of this book becomes very relevant to our times if we are able to see the Ptolemaic world as Tamez has seen. She argues that the “Globalisation” of the Ptolemaic empire not only caused frustration and hopelessness in its subjects especially the group that the sage who authored Ecclesiastes represents but also this is a period when utopian hopes were crushed, and hopes of changes were not really there. Adding to the frustration is the concept of time that the Ecclesiastes holds. Tamez contrasts the world view of Ecclesiastes with that of the Apocalyptic and Prophets. Tamez suggests that the apocalyptic and prophetic literature looked at future with its horizons widening. Unlike other traditions of the Old Testament, in this book we do not see any reflection on the historical past of Israel, no eschatology as far as future is concerned and the present is considered as “meaningless.” This is why Tamez would like to call this as a vision where the horizons are closed. She observes that in Ecclesiastes view of history is in a “comatose state.” Tamez seems to assume a linear development or evolution of Israel’s theological concepts. In this linear schema she places the Book of Ecclesiastes in between the Messianism of Isaiah and the Apocalypticism. Both of them had widening horizons beyond the frustrations of present reality. In contrast, Ecclesiastes can not see anything beyond the present reality, he can not see a future with Messiah or a new age different from this present age dawning. This is why he exhorts his people to eat, drink and find enjoyment in the present. Based on this essential presuppositions Tamez offers her reading of this ancient canonical text. This makes her reading of Ecclesiastes so relevant and meaningful to her own context of Latin America particularly and the developing countries in general. Her opening remarks sums it all: “The Book of Qoheleth or Ecclesiastes has become timely again today, when horizons are closing in and the present becomes a hard master, demanding sacrifices and suppressing dreams.” (p. v). This reading thus makes sense to our days. When we are offered an utopia for our hard labour many of us would like to do hard work and sacrifice our own happiness. Creating wealth becomes of paramount importance but no one thinks of how one is going to enjoy it or whether it is secure. Many of the important aspects of life and human existence that we forget to ask is brought to focus by this biblical author and Tamez is able to relate it our times; since she sees a direct relationship between Ptolemaic empire and challenges of our own times. Tamez has not dealt with many of the critical questions that are so crucial to the particular reading. For example, the date of the book is considered to be in the Ptolemaic period, the second half of third century BC. However, though the main body of the book does not deal with such crucial questions the author is not unaware of them; she discusses them in notes. She is aware of the early Persian dating as well as the late second century dating, but concludes without any discussion that even an early Persian dating will not alter her reading of the text. But why did she chose a third century date over against the other possible dates is not explained? Does this mean that she has chosen a date that would facilitate a particular reading? If so it is sad and unfortunate. A similar lacunae is found in her conclusion that the entire work is framed by the almost identical statements found in 1:2 and 12:8. For this she has to consider that the work ends with 12:8. Though this is an important conclusion, Tamez does not seem to care to tell the reader her reasons for such a conclusion. The concluding section does offer a widened horizon, and future which is beyond the present. How did those who gave the final shape to this amazing book read reality? This is the dimension lacking from Tamez’s work. In her rereading of Ecclesiastes, Tamez takes the ideological position that the present frustrations are the result of free market economy. Unemployment, discriminations of all sorts, lack of solidarity, all these make us feel that the horizons are closed. Tamez believes that it is the ideology of capitalism that has caused the present frustration in our world. She thinks that capitalism discourage us to have hope in any other than the hope it offers. In other words, it crushes the utopian hopes. If so, does the alternative namely, socialism offer a widening horizon?. Or does frustration go away from human lives when we change our ideology? Tamez’s position would fail to answer these questions because the reason for human frustration and disappointment is elsewhere. However, this is by all means a great experiment in reading the books of the Old Testament to speak to the contemporary situations. This book is commendable not only as a new way of appropriating the message of an ancient book for our times but also as a methodological guide for our approach to Old Testament books.

Anderson. CONTOURS OF OLD TESTAMENT THEOLOGY (1999)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 11•08

Anderson, Bernhard W. Contours of Old Testament Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999 pages ix, 357

In the first section titled “Preliminary Considerations” Anderson discusses issues like the place of the Old Testament in the Christian Bible, and the relative independence of the Old Testament. He then does a thorough survey of the problems in writing theology of the Old Testament by examining the contributions made by main figures in the field. This survey begins with Gabler and winds it way through the works of Hoffman, Terrein, Eichrodt, von Rad, and the most recent, Brueggemann. The conclusion of this survey is that we are in a period of uncertainty in biblical theology scholarship. He cashes on this uncertainty because it is the opportune time for experimenting in this area.

In the first section titled “Preliminary Considerations” Anderson discusses issues like the place of the Old Testament in the Christian Bible, and the relative independence of the Old Testament. He then does a thorough survey of the problems in writing theology of the Old Testament by examining the contributions made by main figures in the field. This survey begins with Gabler and winds it way through the works of Hoffman, Terrein, Eichrodt, von Rad, and the most recent, Brueggemann. The conclusion of this survey is that we are in a period of uncertainty in biblical theology scholarship. He cashes on this uncertainty because it is the opportune time for experimenting in this area.

He then offers his own “experimental Approach” to the Old Testament theology. This experimental approach involves, synthesis (an emphasis on the final canonical form), which he think is the shift this discipline has taken in the last thirty years. He acknowledges his indebtedness to the Canonical Approach of B. S. Childs as his concern is the final shape of the canon. However, he also wants to acknowledge the diversity of Old Testament material. He considers that the Torah is the centre of the Old Testament canon and he builds his theology with God of Torah, the Holy One of Israel as the starting point. However, he want to avoid the mistake of the previous generations of scholars who tried to squeeze everything to a central theme, but allows for diversity. He also wants to avoid extreme literalism and extreme historicism since the Old Testament is world construed by poetic imagination. He thus takes clue from the covenant patterns of symbolization in the Old Testament. His methodology also pays attention to the continuity and discontinuity between the two testaments.

In Part I, he discusses, Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel. This includes discussions on how Israel experienced the Holy, the Name of God, the Characterization of Yahweh, Yahweh and other Gods and finally the People of God. Part II elaborates on Yahweh’s covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David. Part III is on the crisis of the covenant theologies. He then discusses two lines of development in the third part; one line from the Torah to Wisdom and the other from Prophecy to Apocalyptic.

The conclusion discusses the link between the Old and New testaments by presenting the apocalyptic triumph of Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ as Prophet, Priest and King.

There are two appendices, one a course Précis on Biblical Theology of the Old Testament and the other a tribute to George Ernest Wright, to whom this book is presented. This is titled “The Relevance of Biblical Archaeology to Biblical Theology: A Tribute to George Ernst Wright.”

This book is not yet another addition to the list of Old Testament Theologies written in the 20th century but a book that marks a change in direction of the discipline. It is a book that tries to avoid the mistake of previous generations, but still trying to discover the coherence of the Old Testament literature. It is new, useful and original in its presentation.

Arrington. LIFE IN THE SPIRIT (1999)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 05•08

Arrington, French L. and Roger Stronstad (eds), Life in the Spirit, New Testament Commentary  (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999)

Life in the Spirit, New Testament Commentary was previously published under the title, Full Life Bible Commentary to the New Testament. The publishers claim that this one-volume commentary offers distinct Spirit-filled perspective on the New Testament; in other words, this is meant for the Pentecostal, Charismatic or empowered evangelical. Seventeen scholars including the two editors have contributed to this volume. The authors stress the importance of the presence and gifts of the Holy Spirit in addition to their belief in the inerrancy and authority of the scripture.

Life in the Spirit, New Testament Commentary was previously published under the title, Full Life Bible Commentary to the New Testament. The publishers claim that this one-volume commentary offers distinct Spirit-filled perspective on the New Testament; in other words, this is meant for the Pentecostal, Charismatic or empowered evangelical. Seventeen scholars including the two editors have contributed to this volume. The authors stress the importance of the presence and gifts of the Holy Spirit in addition to their belief in the inerrancy and authority of the scripture. A unique feature of this one-volume commentary is the order in which the New Testament books are dealt with. The Gospel of John comes first followed by Mathew, Mark and Luke. This arrangement helps to connect the Lukan account of the life of Jesus with the Acts of Apostles for the sake of continuity.
Like any commentary, this volume too offers detailed introductions to each book of the New Testament, which includes purpose, background as well as outlines of contents. Introductory material also covers literary aspects, authorship, date, provenance, and theological themes. To give it a scholarly depth, the introductions also deal with certain critical questions: For example, the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles, or a discussion of the synoptic problem in the introduction to the Gospel of Matthew are dealt with. Of interest is that the author seems to support why insights from critical studies (in the case of Gospels, Source Criticism) are important for the interpretation and understanding of this corpus (p. 121). Trying to earth critical scholarship with practical use is certainly welcome. Here is an implied welcome suggestion that Critical study of the Bible and spirit-filled interpretation need not be mutually exclusive!
Another very impressive aspect of this commentary (unusual in one volume commentaries) is the extensive bibliographies under each book. A sampler is the commentary on Luke, which has one full-page bibliography appended to it. Numerous maps, charts, photos and graphs scattered throughout in appropriate places is another distinct feature of this volume based on the New International Version. For example, you will find the photograph of a flat-roofed housing on the same page where Peter’s vision on the rooftop is commented up on (Acts 10:1-48). A map of the ancient world showing the countries represented in the crowd that gathered when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples is helpful and informative indeed.
Distinct Pentecostal perspectives are visible in the emphasis on passages of Pentecostal/Charismatic importance. Acts 2:1-4 takes up almost two pages. In a one-volume work, it is significant space devoted to mere four verses! However, the discussion takes the form of theological discussion and supersedes the text as it goes on to the fourfold significance of the event. It seems strange the commentator on this passage conclude that “As well as the initial evidence of Spirit-baptism, tongues may be a sign of God’s displeasure” (p. 543) but he doesn’t explain how. There are a number of such unwarranted claims throughout this work. Another important passage is the baptism of Jesus in Luke 3:21-22 two verses that get an extensive treatment. The focus shifts to the descent of the Holy Spirit rather than the baptism of Jesus. The author calls Jesus here “Pentecostal.” “His Jordan River experience means that he is Pentecostal, charismatic–a man of the Spirit par excellence” (p. 408).
The same Pentecostal fervour is not maintained throughout. An examination of passages where the Spririt-filled people are at loggerheads with the dispensationists for example reveals this. For example, 1 Cor 13:8 usually quoted by the cessationists is commented upon without any reference to the arguments of the opposite camp. The commentator at this point does not explain how the “perfect” is understood by others and no attempt is made to substantiate his position that it has to be understood eschatologically.
The authors seldom do engage in conversation with other scholars and schools of thought. For example, Luke 4:14-30, commonly known as the Nazareth manifesto among New Testament scholars is interpreted spiritually. Leave alone the fact that the author is not engaging in a dialogue with scholars who have pointed out the possibility of reading it from liberation perspective, he won’t even mention such alternative readings are in use. A person who has some exposure to such knowledge will find this unilateral treatment unprofitable. The word “poor” is completely glossed over; the author does think it is important to explain whether it should be understood in its spiritual sense or material sense.
Another observation is the unevenness that exists between different books. Most portions of the commentary addresses lay people without any prior theological training. However, at times the details are so elaborate and resplendent with technical details, which theologically trained mind cherish, but amateurs have an aversion to. The commentary on John pays attention to the theological intentions and hermeneutical characteristics of John so much so that laypersons may find it formidable.
As a commentary aimed at the Spirit-filled Christians, one is tempted to look at how the concept of Spirit-filled life is handled in this and naturally one turns the pages to Galatians 5. The comment on page 1014 on the commentary on Galatians 5:13-26 is remarkable: “As Pentecostals we have done a good job of emphasizing the gifts of the Spirit. The importance of the fruit of the Spirit deserves more attention.” I think this advice applies not only to this passage but also to all texts and hermeneutical traditions of Pentecostals. There is great need to re-examine, and re-read the so-called “Pentecostal texts.” At points, we see this trend exhibited by the commentators of this volume.

Delaney. ABRAHAM ON TRIAL (2000)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jun• 15•08

Delaney, Carol. Abraham on Trial(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 334 pages ISBN: 0691070504.

In her book- Abraham on trial, the author provides an originally refreshing perspective to the age old myth of Abraham and Isaac- the ultimate model of faith, one on which many have based their lives for generations.
In her book- Abraham on trial, the author provides an originally refreshing perspective to the age old myth of Abraham and Isaac- the ultimate model of faith, one on which many have based their lives for generations.
The book revolves around three main questions and seeks to answer the same. They are; why is the willingness to sacrifice one’s child the quintessential model of faith? Why not the protectiveness of the child? What would be the shape of the society had that been the supreme model of faith?

In a noble attempt to add a different dimension to the story the author challenges the very cornerstone of three major religion s of the world namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam by boldly presenting the negative impact of the story on the society of today when taken out of context of its own culture.

This book endeavors to sketch some of the connections between the patriarchal power as epitomized in the Abraham story and ways in which children are sacrificed today for example through physical and sexual abuse, poverty, war etc. Not to say that the story of the story of Abraham is responsible for these contemporary issues but rather the book tries to show its influence on our times, though subtle yet relevant, by illuminating some of the gross assumptions made within the story that make the story possible such as Patriarchy from which flows the concept of patrilineage and the moral justifiability of the practice of child sacrifice even in the days of Abraham.

The ultimate aim of the book in my opinion and from what seems obvious is not to down play the theological significance of the story nor put it on a pedestal where it does not belong but rather to put it in perspective in the context/wake of our times and so hint the need for a new moral vision, a new myth to live by and a new revolution in values.

Hens-Piazza. NEW HISTORICISM (2002)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jun• 02•08

Hens-Piazza, Gina. The New Historicism (Guides to Biblical Scholarship, Old Testament Series: Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002).

The series titled “Guides to Biblical Scholarship” from Fortress Press has now been accepted as the most affordable, concise textbook series on the various approaches to Biblical studies. The present volume on New Historicism is the timeliest addition to the series since New Historicism as a relatively new discipline is making its impact on Biblical Studies worldwide.

The format is same as that of the previous volumes: Definition and explanation of the approach under discussion, its history of development and entry into Biblical Studies, examples of the approach and then a critical evaluation of the method. Hens-Piazza tells us in this volume what is New Historicism and how is it different from Historicism. She also tells us in what ways it is unique among other approaches to the Bible or what is its contribution. Though, New Historicism is an approach which claims itself to be above the restrictions of any particular methodology but a mindset, she delineates the salient and recurring characteristics of this approach for those who are still eager to know its “methodology”. The three examples of New Historicist approach to the Bible illustrate and clarify this new approach to the study of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament.

The claim of the publisher that, “With lucid and jargon-free description, this study sets forth New Historicism for the nonspecialist” is definitely justified.

The series titled “Guides to Biblical Scholarship” from Fortress Press has now been accepted as the most affordable, concise textbook series on the various approaches to Biblical studies. The present volume on New Historicism is the timeliest addition to the series since New Historicism as a relatively new discipline is making its impact on Biblical Studies worldwide.

The format is same as that of the previous volumes: Definition and explanation of the approach under discussion, its history of development and entry into Biblical Studies, examples of the approach and then a critical evaluation of the method. Hens-Piazza tells us in this volume what is New Historicism and how is it different from Historicism. She also tells us in what ways it is unique among other approaches to the Bible or what is its contribution. Though, New Historicism is an approach which claims itself to be above the restrictions of any particular methodology but a mindset, she delineates the salient and recurring characteristics of this approach for those who are still eager to know its “methodology”. The three examples of New Historicist approach to the Bible illustrate and clarify this new approach to the study of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament.

The claim of the publisher that, “With lucid and jargon-free description, this study sets forth New Historicism for the nonspecialist” is definitely justified.