ACADEMIA

Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies

Pagola, JESUS AN HISTORICAL APPROXIMATION, 2009

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Sep• 05•14

Pagola, Jose Antonio. 2009. Jesus, an Historical Approximation. Miami, Fla.: Convivium Press.

This is the English translation of Pagola’s book on Historical Jesus originally published in Spanish in 2007.  Studies on historical Jesus are plenty but Pagola’s work stands out among them as he attempts to reconstruct Historical Jesus from a faith perspective.
To quote: ‘In any case, an encounter with Jesus is not the fruit of historical research or of doctrinal reflection. It only happens through personal commitment and faithful following.’
Though Jesus re9781934996096constructed through historical research is not essential for our faith, the faith demands that we use the methods available to us to have a better understanding of his historical dimension and his concrete human life. Pagola argues that this is required because Jesus Christ was incarnate in our history and he is a person of history.
However, Pagola’s work is not just a pious retelling of the story of Jesus of Nazareth. But throughout this book he interacts with other Jesus scholars and sifts in an immense amount of insights on the Roman and Jewish world of first century produced by contemporary scholarship. The result is: ‘a profound and extensive scholarly theological reflection about Jesus’ as the blurb claims and any reader would discover. It is certainly a feast to the mind and to the heart!

See also: Pagola, Jose Antonio. The Way Opened Up by Jesus: a Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. 1st ed. Convivium Press, 2012. Pages: 256. ISBN: 978-1-934996-28-7.

O’Murchu, ADULT FAITH, 2010

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 02•14

Murchu Adult FaithO’Murchu, Diarmuid. Adult Faith: Growing in Wisdom and Understanding. Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 2010.

The book begins with the personal note sketching the author’s own intellectual and spiritual growth. Brought up in Catholic Ireland, he questioned the imperial mindset imposed by the culture that one grows in. In his case, three factors influenced this growth—Television, which brought in the visual experience of a wider world, writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and exposure to other cultures.

The book is divided into two parts. Part one is a deconstruction of all that inhibits ‘adult appropriation of faith.’ The second part is an attempt to reconstruct. In this part the author tries to define or redefine what it means to be an adult and then how to appropriate religious faith as an ‘adult.’ He tries to explain how evolutionary factors impact the new understanding of being human.

The presentation of his thoughts are clear and very well structured. Each chapter ends with three summaries. First the ‘Conventional wisdom’ which keep people trapped in the old mind set. Secondly, what he calls ‘embedded codependency’ or the factors that keep people subjugated. Thirdly, ‘adult empowerment’ the new awareness of the responsible adult, or what is expected of an adult as defined.

The book argues that adult is not someone who plays by the rules of the game dictated by a patriarchal structure. But the working definition of adult used in this book is largely based on the concept of ‘protean self’ popularized by Robert J. Lifton. A protean adult is not just mature biologically as often considered but one who grows and adapts according to the ever changing world and even value systems.

However, such evolution is often hampered by codependency that is imposed by the patriarchal mindset which enslaves people. ‘Codependency’ is a term coined by Melody Beattie in 1987 to explain behaviour where one person ‘let another person’s behaviour affect him or her.’ Codependent people is unable to challenge the person who controls their life and even go to an extent of justifying or protecting their behaviour which has negative impact on their life. Thus the codependent people remain subjugated by the person/system that they ought to disagree with.

The possibility of being a ‘protean adult’ and the reality of ‘codependency’ seems to be the warp and woof used to weave the thoughts in the book.

The book re-examines almost everything that many of us accept unquestioning. The author points out to new possibilities of being responsible adults in relation to religious beliefs, rituals, nature, learning and a whole lot more. The book that begins with ‘being’ an adult ends with thoughts on how the protean adult signs off from this world. The last chapter is titled: ‘When Adults Die Gracefully.’

This book is a great synthesis of scholarly reflections from many disciplines: biology, theology, ecology, pedagogy, behavioural science and so on. It questions existing systems and ‘liberates’ human mind. However, many readers will remain suspicious and cautious with the questions it raises and the liberation it offers.

Griggs, PELICAN IN THE WILDERNESS, 2014

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jun• 10•14

CASCADE_TemplateGriggs, Robert W. A Pelican of the Wilderness. Depression, Psalms, Ministry, and Movies. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2014.

This is not an academic book and thus doesn’t really qualify to be reviewed on this site! However, this is a book that every academic should read! This is about a pastor who holds degrees from Harvard Divinity School, University of Minnesota and Andover Newton Theological School who suffered severe depression to the extent of attempting suicide. So, this is a ‘must-read’ for all academics for a reality check and see where they are heading. There is a second reason for reading this book. In this autobiographical account Griggs has woven his academic knowledge and personal experience into a beautiful fabric. That is what makes Walter Brueggemann comment on the blurb that, ‘Robert Griggs has deftly transported them (the Psalms) into his own story of depression, anguish, and recovery of health, life, and faith.’

This is not just about Psalms. As the title indicates Griggs tells us how many contemporary American films helped him in his recovery. Thus he benefited from two resources that is available to all of us. The ancient text of the Psalms still maintain the power to help us cope with our present day realities of pain and joy. Then there is quite a lot of wisdom in the contemporary world as well. This comes in the form of books that interpret for us the modern society, culture and religion. Griggs has compiled a very useful bibliography as well as a filmography—a list of films that helped him.

With all the degrees and experience of serving the same church as pastor for twenty-six years Robert Griggs had lot of knowledge and helped a lot of people. However, he discovered in the Psych Unit that he is dried up—literally, because the chemicals that help people to keep their balance (like Serotonin and Norepinephrine) had dried up in his brain. These had to be replenished through rest and medications. He had to be trained to cope with life with the help of his doctors and fellow inmates over a period of five weeks that he was in the ‘loony bin.’ He had to readmitted for another week because he seems to have ignored the lessons he learnt.

In his depression he was like a ‘pelican in the wilderness’ (Psalm 102:6). He borrows the language of the Psalms to understand and cope with his situation. And he comes out of it finally as the prophetic fulfilment of the words of another psalmist: ‘They that sow in tears shall reap in joy’ (Psalm 126:5). In the process of narrating his story Griggs also helps us to understand the importance of making choices, struggles with issues of faith, hope etc. This story aptly illustrates what Brueggeman describes as ‘disorientation’ and ‘reorientation’ in the Book of Psalms: ‘From Pulpit to Psych Unit’ (first chapter) and ‘From Psych Unit to Pulpit’ (last chapter). For any academic this gives a very useful, helpful break from the daily encounter with the ‘heavy stuff.’

Vanhoye. A DIFFERENT HIGH PRIEST (2011)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jan• 03•14
9781934996201Vanhoye, Albert. A Different Priest: The Letter to the Hebrews. Miami, Fla.: Convivium Press, 2011.

Though it is popularly known as “the letter to the Hebrews,” Scholars were divided if this book is a sermon or a letter. It seems to show the characteristics of both. Vanhoye has a very simple solution to this debate. According to him the book is a homily and the writer is an itinerant preacher. However, the sermon is written down and sent to Christian communities far and wide by adding epistolary material (13:22-25) after its conclusion (13:20-21). Take the epistolary intrusion away, it is a great sermon.

This understanding of the book as a homily from beginning to end is the basis of the rhetorical analysis of in the present work. Being a homily, it is rhetorical in nature. However, the rhetoric of the book of Hebrews is not very much in line with that of the Greco-Roman world. Vanhoye argues that the author/preacher has Judaeo-Hellenistic education. However, his rhetoric style is very much Semitic in style.

Albert Vanhoye is a French Jesuit who taught scripture in a number of schools and is a noted biblical scholar on the Book of Hebrews. He was appointed Cardinal by Pope Benedict xvi in 2006. This book is the fruit of his many years of work on the study of Hebrews.

Hamilton Jr. What Is Biblical Theology? (2014)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Nov• 18•13

Hamilton Jr., James M. What Is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns

9781433537714Hamilton proposes a new method of doing biblical theology. In his opinion most of the biblical theologies that are written enforces a modern, rationalist world-view on the bible which mutes the biblical authors. The conservative scholars, those who stand for the unity and coherence of the Bible also used the tools and methods use by those whom they oppose. Both are wrong because they failed to see the world-view of the biblical authors.

In his opinion, biblical theology is done by sharing the world-view of the biblical authors and by trying to understand the scripture in that perspective.

The author’s convictions are deeply rooted in the divine inspiration of the Bible. This leads him to argue that the biblical authors share the same world-view. In other words, there is only one world-view that is shared by all the authors, though they lived in different places, different times and addressed different issues. That is the bible’s one story.

His treatment of biblical theology follows a three-fold pattern. To quote, “The rest of it falls into three parts: the first sets out the Bible’s story, the second looks at the way the biblical authors use symbols to summarize and interpret that story, and the third considers the part the church plays in that story. So the three parts of the books can be put in to three words: story, symbol, and church.

This book is innovative in its approach to biblical theology. Its attempt to navigate a third way between the “liberal” and the so called “conservative” biblical theologians let in a lot of fresh air. However, the assumption that all the biblical authors share one world-view ignores the multiple voices (sometime even contradictory but certainly complementary) that we find in the Bible. Moreover, though this method very well can accommodate the narrative sections, the poetry of the Bible and especially the wisdom tradition seems to fall out of its scope.

Estes. Job, 2013

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Oct• 18•13

Estes, Daniel J. Job. Teach the Text Commentary Series. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013.Print

I was always at a loss when a pastor approached me for recommendations on the ‘best’ commentary. The ‘best’ in my list (as a seminary professor) were the highly academic ones filled with details that doesn’t really help pastors to prepare their Sunday School lessons or pulpit ministry. On the other hand, the ‘simple’ ones were too simple and shallow. The need for a commentary series where the technical details are kept to the essential minimum so that the pastors are not bogged down but still based on sound and contemporary scholarship is met by the Teach the Text Commentary Series. I haven’t had a chance to look at the other commentaries in this series except the one on the Book of Job. However, judging from this book under review, I can surely say that this series fills that great need.

The commentary is structured in such a way that all the academic issues in the study of the Book of Job are touched upon but in a non-intimidating way. Only those details that have some bearing on the preaching or teaching the book of Job are dealt with.

The commentary on each passage/chapter of the book of Job is divided into three sections as: ‘Understanding the Text’, ‘Teaching the Text’ and ‘Illustrating the Text.’ In the first part all that are necessary for a proper grasp of the passage are dealt with. This includes the context of the text, its historical and cultural background, etc. This takes the form of an almost verse by verse commentary. Key themes of each section are also dealt with. Suggestions as to how to teach the text follows. In the third section (Illustrating the Text), we find suggestions on how to relate each theme of the passage to the present context. For example, the author suggests that the stock market crisis of 1929 or something similar to that may help us to understand the magnitude and serious of the calamities that are reported in Chapter 1 of the book of Job. Then illustrations on the major themes of each section from literature, films, art etc are also suggested.

A simple introduction to the background of the Book of Job is useful. It looks at all the important critical questions like the place of Job 28 (the Poem on wisdom), the question if the Elihu speeches are later interpolations or not, etc. Detailed discussions are not allowed in order to avoid distractions and the author goes straight to suggestions on how the book in the present form (canonical shape) could be used for preaching. The question of the historicity of the book is also touched upon. However, the author suggests that the uncertainty on this issue need not deter anyone in appropriating in for teaching and preaching. The author concludes that the book could be historical or imaginative. However, this should not hinder preaching the book to contemporary audience; Since, ‘in the Bible, the Holy Spirit employed both historical narrative and imaginative literature to teach divine truth….’ The book is very well illustrated with photographs of places, people and archaeological artefacts that are related to the book of Job. Its layout along with the colour photographs makes it really attractive.

The book is complete with an index of scripture passages. The bibliography and the the scanty but annotated endnotes is for those who want to venture beyond what the book presents. Thus it is simple, but rich. It is a nourishing commentary: lean but wholesome; strikingly simple and pastor-friendly.

Jensen. God, Desire, and a Theology of Human Sexuality. 2013.

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Oct• 04•13

Jensen. God, DesireJensen, David Hadley. God, Desire, and a Theology of Human Sexuality. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013.

Jensen’s work on human sexuality falls in to seven chapters as:
(1) Scripture and Sex: Narratives of Desire
(2) God and Sex: Holy Desire
(3) Christ and Sex: the resurrection of the body
(4) Eschatology and Sex: Making all Things New  (5) Lord’s Supper and Sex: A Sumptuous Banquet
(6) Vocation and sex: living in light of desire
(7 )Ethics and sex: flourishing desire
It is complete with index and bibliograpy. However, a book such as this which covers so much of biblical material should have a scripture index as well.
The author invites us to join him in his journey of exploring the the theme of human sexuality through the Bible and Christian traditions by the rather ‘puzzling’ opening statement: ‘Sex is an expression of Christian faith.’ Throughout the book we see an attempt to liberate the notion of sex from its traditional understanding and also to critique its distortions and misrepresentations in modern consumer culture. It is thus a double-edged sword wielded against the conservative Christian view of sex as well as against the distorted views of sex that the contemporary secular society promotes.
Certainly sex for the author is not just the act of making love but it is broader than that. It is this broader view of sex which has to do with desire, intimacy, etc. that allows him to see the theme of sex in the various aspects of Christian faith. He takes the Bible as a narrative of desire and maps the theme of desire throughout the Bible. In his exploration he disagrees with many popularly held Christian notions. For example, the author doesn’t agree with the popularly held notion that in the risen body the sexual attraction disappears though there will be sexual difference. He affirms that, ‘Sex in its ambiguity, is neither left behind in the resurrection nor consummated as the chief activity of heaven; rather it is redeemed in the risen body of Christ who gives us new life.’
He critiques the modern north-American consumer culture that promotes sex as being about possessiveness, that involves violence and deprived of real joy. He also takes in to account modern realities of life in shaping his views on sex. For example, his views on sex before marriage. The average age of marriage is now around thirty which is much higher than the medieval times where age of marriage and puberty was very close. The Christian doctrine of sex within marriage is framed against the background of this social reality. His new broader view of sexuality allows him to advocate sex before marriage, but consider sex outside marriage as dangerous because sex has to be celebrated within a framework of covenant.
Even though many may find it diffcult to accept all the views of the author, any reader will be highly impressed by the thorough research that has gone behind this work. This book on a  topic that is a taboo for many Christians is well articulated and engages anyone’s mind. The author’s engagements with ancient authorities on the topic is highly impressive.

Harper. From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality…. (2013)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Aug• 27•13

Harper, Kyle. From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2013. Pages: 304. ISBN: 9780674072770.

Harper. From Shame to Sin

There are works that have studied the sexual morality of the Greco-Roman world. This book is different to the best of the reviewer’s knowledge, the only book that tells us how the sexual morality of the Roman empire was transformed by Christians and Christianity. It is also a good treatment on the development of the Christian theology of human sexuality and how it became the norm for the Western cultures.

The book is divided into four chapters: ‘1. The Moralities of Sex in the Roman Empire’, ‘2. The Will and the World in Early Christian Sexuality’, ‘3. Church, Society, and Sex in the Age of Triumph,’ ‘4. Revolutionizing Romance in the Late Classical World.’ In the concluding section the author sketches briefly the view on sex in the periods that follows.

The main argument is that Christianity transformed what was considered as just shameful act in the Roman world to be considered as sin. Sex thus has to do with righteousness, God’s order in the world, and individuals free will.

The book is based on meticulous research on the classical sources, especially classical literature both Christian and non-Christian. The book argues that the ‘Christianization of sexual morality’ began later than the second century contra to previously held by many scholars. It surveys the period from the second century to the period of emperor Justinian. Though many books have focussed on the same-sex eros, this is the one book that moves its focus from that theme to focus on prostitution or ‘porneia.’ The author also argues that the Christian ‘invention’ of the free will is the factor that decided the sexual morality of the ancient world by fourth-fifth century.

In chapter 1, the author portrays the sexual life in the Roman empire in the second century by analysing the classical literature of the period. This the author does by analysing the Greek romantic novel of the period structured around a heroine by the name Leucippe. The second chapter follows a similar methodology to see how early Christian thinkers were re-interpreting and critiquing the sexuality of the secular society following a Pauline line of thought. The source that is under scrutiny is the the work by Methodius titled ‘Christian Symposium’. The third chapter looks at how the Church after the conversion of Constantine attempts to control the sexual morality of not only of its adherents but also of non-adherents. This process thus leads to legalization of Christian sexual morality as the morality for the empire. In establishing this argument, the author takes us through the thought world of Saint Paul, John Chrysostom and the like. Chapter 4, ‘Revolutionizing Romance in the Late Classical World’ reviews some classical romances where the Christian values of sexuality and chastity are upheld. Through this the Christian ideas of human sexuality, especially virginity were trying to transform the culture of the ancient Roman world.

Here is a wonderful contribution to the study of the history of human sexuality. This diachronic treatment of human sexuality is well researched and a must-have title!

Gonzalez. GOD’S REIGN AND THE END OF EMPIRES

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 24•13

Antonio, Gonzalez. God’s Reign and the End of Empires. Miami, Florida: Convivium Press, 2012. pages. 365. ISBN: 978-1-934996-29-4

Here we have a great work on social theology which is contemporary, incisive and amazingly relevant for the world that we live in. This work of social theology helps us to focus on the threat of globalization and seeks biblical alternatives. Though Christian faith communities have voiced their concerns about the adverse effects of globalization a comprehensive social theology was lacking. This work is a great contribution to fill th

Gonzalez. Reign of God

Gonzalez. Reign of God

at lacuna. In the chapter ‘Problems of the Global Village’ the author opens our eyes to realities of globalization. Globalization creates and maintains poverty and inequality besides causing serious threats to our ecology, democracy, etc. thus threatening our life and existence. Gonzalez strongly believes that globalization is not going to solve any of our problems but will not only worsen it. However, in stating this he is not ignoring the positive aspects of globalization.

In the context of globalization which poses a serious threat to human life and existence he moves on to find a biblical basis to formulate a social theology. In the second chapter he goes to analyse Genesis 3-11 to give a biblical diagnosis of the problems that plague humanity. However, this is not limited to the time of Genesis but a diagnosis of the contemporary world as well. In the third chapter the author continues his biblical analysis through the rest of the Old Testament. Though Genesis 11 ends with gloom, the call of Abraham is the light at the end of the tunnel as Abraham is presented as the figure-head of a new humanity. The analysis that begins with the call of Abraham and goes through

the rest of the biblical traditions concludes that, ‘The biblical alternative to poverty and injustice consists in something quite exceptional, namely, the formation, on the margins of the system, of a different kind of society, one over which God reigns directly. This society will be radically egalitarian and truly fraternal and, as such, will be an alternative that is unique and yet highly attractive to all the earth’s peoples, who will be invited to make a final pilgrimage toward it.’ (p. 105).

In chapter 4 he looks at solution that Jesus Christ offers to all these ills. Faith in Jesus Christ solves what the Mosaic religion could not solve. The reign of God is experienced through the people transformed by their faith in Jesus Christ. The message of Jesus has tremendous relevance for our society. However, Jesus’ message of social transformation lost its thrust as the church spiritualized its message as time went by.

In the fifth chapter titled, ‘The Messianic Communities’ the author first of all gives us an overview of the Roman world and its social stratification. This part is basically a re-presentation of the work of E. Stegemann. The Roman society was a highly stratified one. It was dominated by a small (5% of the population) of the social elite. Social mobility was minimum and social violence at the highest. It is into this society that the Christians entered with a message of the Reign of God. This was possible because the proclamation of the reign of God did not end with the ministry of Jesus but continued on through the preaching of the Apostles and the early Church.

The early church was not composed of entirely of poor people nor of rich. But it was a mixture of all the different social strata of the Roman world probably excluding the ruling class. He argues that the Christian communities as the household of God were organized structurally different from that of the Roman world. ‘It was not a structural change decreed from the palaces of the emperors; rather it was one brought about immediately and from the grassroots.‘ (187). These were communities that challenged the social and gender barriers of the Roman world.  However, these were not utopian ideals nor limited to the early church alone. But persisted throughout history among various groups to the present. They certainly pervaded the first three centuries of Christian history.

In chapter six he presents that the transformation that was brought out in the Christian communities were not limited to these communities but was meant to be universal affecting the entire society as well. However, by the advent of ‘Contantinism’ or the nationalization of the Church, the Church gained political power but lost the power that the Reign of God gave to the believing communities. Though the general picture is one of gloom, there were always believing communities who lived out the ideal that Jesus had established. The transformation of the society without power and political influence. He also ends with a positive note that the signs of the times also indicate that the biblical ideal doesn’t belong to the past but is highly possible in our own days.

The author argues that the time is ripe now for such communities to continue. The dream of the transforming communities where the reign of God is experienced is possible because the signs of our times points in that direction. This is the concern in chapter seven titled, ‘The signs of our Times.’ The new popular economy, the relevance of non-violence that has been discovered by contemporary movements, the new forms of dissidence that is possible in the network society all indicate the possibility of emerging new communities away from power structures.

Chapter eight thus leads to clarify his proposals. The solution of alternate communities is defined mostly in negative terms. It is not communitarianism, not biblicism, not ecclesiocentrism and certainly not sectarianism. It is building a new world up from the grass-roots up. Gonzalez is optimistic that such a project is possible and it is for our day and not for future.

This is an English translation of the Spanish work by the same title.

Limburg. PSALMS FOR SOJOURNERS (2002)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Apr• 09•13

Limburg, James. Psalms for Sojourners (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002) pages xiii, 128.
James Limburg is known for his two major works; the commentary on Psalms in the Westminster Bible Companion Series and that on Jonah in the Old Testament Library Series.
Psalms for the Sojourners is a simple introduction to the book of Psalms without  intimidating jargons and does not require any specialized training in the area. Limburg takes examples of each type of Psalms and illustrates the relevance of each of these poems. In this book Limburg has very aptly closed the gap that is there between Psalms scholarship and the ordinary person in the pews. The most commendable thing is that he does it without compromising valuable academic insights but also not being very patronizing.  In fact he harnesses scholarship for the service of those sojourners. Sojourners for Limburg are those who consider their life as a pilgrimage. He believes that the Psalms, “… address the days of our own lives, in times of hurting as well as times of happiness, helping us to learn how to pray and also how to praise.”
The message of the Psalms are made very clear and is significance for all of us in the modern world is evident in this treatment of selected Psalms. The style is anecdotal. The author tries to bring his point home by referring to stories from his life and of others. Such real life illustrations makes the message so relevant and something from which the readers can not run away from.
The format of this small book is as inviting  and unthreatening as its content. All those who love the Bible and particularly the Book of Psalms will find it reading this book exciting, relieving and building.