Recommended Books July 11

Written 05 August 2011

Eds CP DeYoung, WC Gafney, LA Guardiola-Saenz, G Tinker, FM Yamada
The People’s Companion to the Bible
Minneapolis: Fortress 2010

This book is an intriguing venture in reading the Scriptures through a diversity of voices. Most of the book consists of short introductions to all the books of both Testaments and the Apocrypha, but there is also a collection of chapters at the beginning which explore the impact of cultural experience on how we read the Bible. There are perspectives here from all over the world, so challenging the European-American hegemony in biblical interpretation. Account is taken of familiar developments in Scriptural enquiry over the past 200 years, some of it a little staid (eg the 4-source theory for the Pentateuch and the 2-source/2 gospel theory for the Synoptics), but the significant feature of this volume is the range of the writers’ backgrounds and how they see this affecting their understanding of the text before them. Included in the opening chapters is a very helpful chapter on exegesis, which looks particularly at Christian readings of Hebrew writings. The People’s Companion to the Bible will be an asset to someone setting out to read the Scriptures, but it will also be a valuable resource to more experienced learners and ministers.

Miroslav Wolf
Captive to the Word of God: Engaging the Scriptures for Contemporary Theolo0gical Reflection
Cambridge: Eerdmans 2010

Wolf has included in this volume addresses and papers written over the last sixteen years and prefaces them with an introductory chapter composed specially for it. He writes on the Scriptures from a theological rather than biblical critical perspective, and he draws out some implications of this in his introductory chapter. He pleads for a hermeneutic of respect rather than suspicion in reading the Scriptures as sacred text, and he finds their very diversity fascinating and generative. The other chapters in the book address the value of theology for life, as evidenced in Paul’s understanding of the relationship between faith and faithful activity. He explores the interface between faith and culture with reference to 1 Peter, urging what he refers to as a sense of “soft difference” between one set of believers and another. His longest chapter examines oppositional dualities in John’s gospel in the context of today’s pluralistic society. Far from discerning a distaste in John for pluralism, Wolf highlights the fluid ways in which believers and non- or different-believers engage one with another in fruitful exploration. The next chapter considers 1 Jn 4:7-12 in the context of different world Faiths and suggests that when we say “God is love” we ar4e asserting the primacy of deeds over propositions. His final chapter uses Ecclesiastes in probing humans’ insatiable quests for the infinite and claims that only in God is this longing fulfilled, and that therefore all our systems, including economic, will work best when set in this larger framework. This is a book full of delights and of reflections designed to encourage as well as challenge people of faith.

CN Jefford The Apostolic Fathers and the New Testament
Massachusetts: Hendrickson 2006

This book breaks fresh ground in tracing streams of early but non-canonical literature to their origins in the New Testament. Jefford outlines key themes common to both the NT and the Apostolic Fathers, showing both dependency and departure. Many have heard of the Apostolic Fathers, but our knowledge of them is likely to shrouded in mystery, and yet, as Jefford shows, several key developments in mission, ministry and liturgy can be located in these writings. Ignatius is the instigator of the threefold orders of ministry, 1 Clement embraces the whole world in the scope of God’s mission, the Didache is the originator of the offertory prayer “As the grain once scattered on the hillside has been reunited, so may your church be gathered from the corners of the earth into your kingdom”. Other writings featured are: 2 Clement, the Letters of Polycarp, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the Letter of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, The Letter to Diognetus. Jefford shows the indebtedness of these writings to both Hebrew and Hellenistic texts, and he charts the ambivalence of the relationship between Christians and Jews, and between Judean and Gentile believers, over the first 150 years or so of the Church’s life. This is a book to dip into rather than read cover to cover, unless you are well acquainted with the Apostolic Fathers. I recommend interspersing chapters of Jefford’s book with segments of the Apostolic Fathers themselves.

A Le Donne Historical Jesus
Cambridge: Eerdmans 2011

This short and readable book intertwines the story of Jesus with post-modern understandings of memory, history and interpretation. The author does not retreat to a naïve understanding of history as facts which have to be accepted before interpretation can be set to work. Rather, he assumes the unknowability of events in the past but finds this no counsel for despair. History is interpretation and communication from the outset, and L Donne suggests a number of coherences which can give confidence about the nature of the memory being preserved and relayed. Dagmar Winter (priest and Officer for Rural Affairs in Newcastle Diocese), along with Gerd Theissen, gets an honourable mention here as pioneer of the “criterion of plausibility” when it comes to evaluating historical truth about Jesus, and Le Donne shows how this plays into particular episodes recorded in the gospels (most notably, his relationship with his family and his forecast of the temple’s destruction). There is also a fascinating interlude featuring Adolf Hitler and Martin Luther King about the difference attribution of particular sentiments cam make to our appreciation and memory. This is a book to commend for those concerned about issues of historical veracity and uncertainty.

TE Phillips Paul, His Letters and Acts
Massachusetts: Hendrickson 2009

This is a stimulating and clear presentation of the two different pictures we get of Paul from his own letters and from Acts. The author begins by setting this polarity at its sharpest, outlining the arguments of Bruce Chilton from an Acts perspective and John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan Read from that of the Letters. He then traces the history of this polarity from its origins 200 hundred years ago to today, before setting out his own understanding of Paul from both perspectives, focused on his life, his setting in the Greco-Roman world of the 1st century CE, his involvement, and that of others, in the Jerusalem Conference and his relationships with a range of associates. Although Phillips refers to a lot of detail, he presents his ideas in readable form, and his methodology is clear. He highlights both the commonalities and differences between the Acts and the Letters, so that we see both sets of documents in organic terms and reflecting the human and faith issues they wanted to promote. I commend this book thoroughly as a resource to draw on as well as book that can be read from cover to cover in one go. It is a splendid account of how Paul perceived himself and how Luke seems to have re-shaped that image for a later and different context.

NK Gottwald The Hebrew Bible: A Brief Socio-historical Inrtroduction
Minneapolis: Fortress 2009

Norman Gottwald has been associated for many years with social studies of Israel. In this book he has revised an earlier edition and added sections on literary perspectives. His writing is accompanied by clear and illuminating maps, charts, diagrams and photographs. He takes readers through the history of OT manuscripts, the canonical process and the questions facing translators, before exploring the different parts of the Hebrew Scriptures. He offers historical-critical, literary and structuralist approaches to the areas he surveys. Among his many engaging o0bservations is his application of JED and P to the Prophetic and Writings sections pf the OT, and, most helpfully, he sketches the theological distinctiveness of the four strands represented by these letters. This is a book to have readily available for consultation: it introduces readers to the delights of the Hebrew Scriptures and highlights the faith and social issues they raise and how they might be addressed.

Ed JB Green Hearing the New Testament
Cambridge: Eerdmans 2nd ed 2010

This is a revised edition of Green’s original collection of New Testament studies in 1995. It adds literary, narrative and canonical dimensions to the socio-historical focus of the first edition. In the eighteen chapters you will find reflections on the whole range of New Testament interpretation, from the texts themselves to ways in which we might hear them today and live them in practice. Liberationist perspectives appear under a variety of headings (Feminist, African, Latino-American), but there are also chapters on historical criticism, genre, reader-response, the use of the Old Testament in the New, theology and ethics. Collections of chapters by different authors can make for a piece-meal product, but such is the wisdom and accessibility of most of these writers that I can commend it warmly as a collection to treasure and keep going back to.

E Arndt Demanding our Attention: the Hebrew Bible as a Source
for Christian Ethics
Cambridge: Eerdmans 2011

This book is guaranteed to illuminate anyone interested in or rattled by the aqedah in Gen 22. Arndt describes and critiques a small number of modern interpreters of this awkward yet, from a faith perspective, central passage before exploring Kierkegaard’s readings and views from the medieval, rabbinic and New Testament eras. She wrestles with the narrative’s strangeness, its economy of detail, its resonances with but differences from the preceding account of Ishmael’s near-death experience in Gen 21 and other stories in the Hebrew Bible. She explores the complexity of the characters of Abraham and of God, as well as the imaginative possibilities presented in the almost totally silent portrayal of Isaac and the evocatively absent Ishmael, Hagar and Sarah. If you are looking for a clear statement of Old Testament understandings of ethical concepts and principles, you will be disappointed, but if you seek a rigorously engaged relationship with the text, in parallel with our relationships with one another, then I recommend this book highly. It does not shrink from the hard questions, and it does not offer a clear solution to the many questions the chapter raises, but it does show how a close and intimate reading of the narrative, as of another person, can put us in touch with our deepest yearnings, awaken us to our weaknesses and illuminate our ongoing quest for truth and experience of the God who is so near and yet so elusive.

Richard Bryant

August 2011

Reviewed By Richard Bryant

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