Quick Book Review: Reconstructing Karl Barth’s Pneumatology

BarthpneumatologyTitle: The Spirit of God and the Christian Life: Reconstructing Karl Barth’s Pneumatology

Author: JinHyok Kim

Bibliographic info: 288 pp.

Publisher: Fortress Press, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Fortress Press for the review copy!

Two of my favorite theologians, Jurgen Moltmann and Jacques Ellul, show a clear influence from Karl Barth. Because of this I myself have naturally taken an interest in the theology of Barth. In my readings of Barth, I have come across on a few occasions a criticism such as this: “A problem with Barth’s theology is that it is not adequately trinitarian as it is held back by an underdeveloped pneumatology” (Robert Jenson even once quipped that Barth’s theology was more binitarian than trinitarian). This criticism is due to the fact that Barth died before he could finish writing the volume in his Church Dogmatics on the Holy Spirit. This is where JinHyok Kim enters the scene for his book presents an attempt at reconstructing what Barth’s fully developed pneumatology would have looked like.

There have been two important English studies on Barth’s pneumatology published in decades past: Philip Rosato’s The Spirit as Lord (1981) and John Thompson’s The Holy Spirit in the Theology of Karl Barth (1989). JinHyok Kim’s contribution, which is a revised version of his doctoral dissertation completed at the University of Oxford, aims to show “that it is possible to read Barth as offering a robust Spirit theology, in which he attempted to rehabilitate human subjectivity and to facilitate ethics within a wider framework of God’s dealing with humanity and human response to God.”

The book breaks down into the following chapters:

  1. Introduction: Redemption, Pneumatology, and the Christian Life in Karl Barth
  2. Prayer, the Spirit, and Redemption: A Constructive Reading of Barth’s Pneumatology
  3. The Spirit and the Drama of Salvation in History
  4. The Spirit and the Revelation of the Word of God
  5. The Spirit and the Beauty of the Lord
  6. Conclusion: A Prayerful Seeking for the Fulfillment of God’s Promise

The introduction contains a good section on various modern receptions of Barth’s pneumatology. Kim looks at four types of modern critical appropriations of Barth’s Spirit theology: the first is the dangers of modalism and the evaporation of the Spirit’s personality; the second is pneumatology’s subordination to Christology and the lack of eschatological insights; the third is that there is no room for human autonomy and faith; and the fourth is insufficient reflections on history, nature, and the church. I’ve frequently encountered the charge that Barth had a modalistic view in his doctrine of the Trinity. Kim explains the issue this way:

Barth resisted using the term “person,” because this term might have implications of modern individualistic, psychological, and idealistic views of personhood. Instead, he opted for the German term Seinweise, which was translated as “mode of being” in English. When “person” was replaced by “mode of being,” it was inevitable that God would be understood as one personal Subject who exists in three modes of revelation – the Revealer as the Father, the revelation as the Son, and the revealedness as the Spirit. Many critics, however, have found that, because the role of revealedness is to unite the Revealer and the revelation, the bond between the two is already implied in their eternal loving relationship as the Father and the Son. In Barth’s theology, therefore, the Spirit is superfluous in the Godhead, or, at the very best, can be understood in an impersonal way.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on revelation in which Kim examines Barth’s theology of history within his doctrine of revelation, including a fine examination of the differences and similarities between Barth and Pannenberg. Kim demonstrates how Barth’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit bridges his theology of election and revelation.

Kim’s explication of the role of the Holy Spirit in prayer was also well done and quite beneficial. In regards to the topic of prayer, Kim actually coins two new terms – “pneumatic prayer” and “prayerful pneumatology” – which are derived from how Barth repeatedly links together the Spirit’s intercession with prayer (e.g. Romans 8).

The Spirit of God and the Christian Life: Reconstructing Karl Barth’s Pneumatology is not a general introduction to Karl Barth’s theology, thus if one does not have at least a modicum of familiarity with Barth’s thought (and the giants upon whose shoulders he stood), then you might not be able to fully appreciate this volume. However, if you are a fan of Barth and desire a fuller understanding of his pneumatology then this book is the perfect prescription. Kim provides numerous valuable insights into the role that the Spirit plays in Barth’s theology, specifically in the life of the Christian.

I am by no means well-versed on Barth’s theology. I’ve read his Evangelical Theology and Romans commentary, as well as some smatterings of his Church Dogmatics here and there. I am, however, quite interested in the great dialectician since he influenced two theologians I enjoy reading (Ellul and Moltmann). Most of what I learn about Barth is from literature written on him and his theology, and this book has certainly been the most helpful for explicating Barth’s theology of the Holy Spirit and I have learned a lot from it. If you’re a fan of Barth, I recommend you pick this volume up!

I will finish with this nice quote which summarizes what “theology” is to Barth:

For Barth, theology is not primarily a human construction or projection; rather each doctrine uniquely witnesses the triune God’s act of election, creation, reconciliation, and redemption in their unity.

Review: The UBS5 Greek NT


Publisher: Hendrickson, 2014.

Buy it at Amazon or straight from the publisher.

With thanks to Hendrickson for the review copy.

A sample chapter of the UBS5 can be seen here in PDF format.

I’ve been a fan of the Greek New Testament (GNT) ever since my wife bought me the NET-NA27 diglot back in 2008. Since that time I have amassed several GNTs, including several containing the Nestle-Aland (NA) text. I have never actually used a UBS version until now.

For the reader who is not well-versed in GNTs, there is no difference in the Greek base text of the UBS5 and NA28 editions, though they do differ a little bit when it comes to punctuation and paragraphing.

I read through the GNT and the LXX almost every day (currently I am working through Genesis, Psalms, Revelation, and the Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum). So I having been using the UBS5 quite a bit over the past few weeks and there are a few features in the UBS5 that make me favor it over my NA28 edition. But first, I will recap a few key changes that update the UBS5 from the UBS4:

  • Readings of papyri 117-127 are now included in the critical apparatus.
  • The discourse analysis tool has been revised.
  • The apparatus of textual decisions from modern Bible translations has been expanded.
  • The text and critical apparatus of the Catholic/General Epistles is from the Editio Critica Maior.

All great updates, especially the inclusion of the completed ECM text of the Catholic Epistles. I have the two-volume edition of the ECM for the Catholic Epistles, but it is great to have the shrunken down version of it in a portable GNT. Only the ECM text for the Catholic Epistles has been included in the UBS5 because that is all that has been completed for the ECM project so far (with the rest of the NT is projected to be completed by 2030).

Compared to the Greek text of the UBS4/NA27, the UBS5/NA28 edition has different variants in the following places: James 1:20; 2:3, 4, 15; 4:10; 1 Peter 1:6, 16 (x2); 2:5; 4:16; 5:1, 9, 10; 2 Peter 2:6, 11, 15, 18, 20; 3:6, 10, 16 (x2), 18; 1 John 1:7; 3:7; 5:10, 18; 2 John 5, 12; 3 John 4; and Jude 5, 18 (x2).

One aspect of the UBS5 edition that I prefer over the NA28 edition is the critical apparatus. I find the UBS apparatus to be much more valuable than the NA apparatus. Of course, “valuable” is a subjective judgment and others might rightly say that the NA apparatus is more valuable to them. But for me, I really like how the critical apparatus in the UBS gives you fewer variants but with greater depth, while the NA provides you with a greater scope of variants but less depth. There is nothing wrong with either approach; it just depends on what is more important to you. Personally, I much prefer the UBS approach as it is aimed more at translators, while the NA is aimed more for textual critics. And while I fancy myself an armchair NT textual critic, in my daily readings of the GNT I find the UBS apparatus more useful and valuable.

I also greatly appreciate how the UBS apparatus provides you with more information in regards to which early Christian writers support each variant reading, as well as the apparatus that shows what variant reading other modern English translations opted to take (including some important German, French, and Spanish versions).

Additionally, I really appreciate the dictionary in the UBS5 edition. None of my NA27 or NA28 editions have a dictionary in them, and while I have a good degree of proficiency with Hellenistic Greek, there are of course many instances where I cannot figure out what a word means (I obviously don’t know every Greek word and all of their forms!). Having a small dictionary containing all of the vocabulary of the GNT is a very useful feature!

The only pro I can see for my NA28 edition is that I like the feel and look of its blue cover better. But I ultimately don’t really care that much about a book’s cover and the black flexisoft version of the UBS5 I have will no doubt stand up better to use than a hardcover. Note: the UBS5 with dictionary also comes in a hardcover version (and a hardcover version without the dictionary).

All in all, the UBS5 is excellent and contains some great updates. I now read my UBS5 daily instead of my NA28. What else can I say apart from that!

Book Review: New Testament Language and Exegesis – A Diachronic Approach

NTcaragounisTitle: New Testament Language and Exegesis: A Diachronic Approach

Series: WUNT 323

Author: Chrys Caragounis

Bibliographic info: xiii + 311 + 96

Publisher: Mohr Siebeck, 2013.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Mohr Siebeck for the review copy.

To those who study New Testament Greek (beyond Mounce and Wallace) may be familiar with Caragounis’ first book on the Greek language, The Development of Greek and the New Testament. This volume, New Testament Language and Exegesis: A Diachronic Approach, is similar to that one in that it also attempts to examine the Greek of the NT by looking at it in the larger picture of the Greek language throughout the centuries. This volume consists of nine studies on a range of topics, covering issues ranging in scope from the broad to the very specific.

Chapter One (pp. 25-69) is on morphology and shows how the Greek of the NT has already noticeably changed from Attic and is on the inevitable route toward Neohellenic. This is demonstrated in how the language of the NT has excised words of Attic orthography and replaced them with words of other dialects or with neologisms. For example, the Attic γλῶττα is replaced with the NT form γλῶσσα, the Attic χάριν εἰδέναι was replaced with εὐχαριστῶ, and the Attic λεώς was replaced in the NT with λαός (those who know Modern Greek will probably recognize that the Attic form is preserved in the modern Greek word for boulevard, λεωφόρος). The chapter finishes with a look at επιουσιος – a new word from επι and ουσια – with the earliest extant appearance of it being in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Chapter Two (pp. 71-93) looks at the development of the case system, specifically how the genitive and accusative triumphed over the dative. Caragounis examines seven constructions that came into use after the Attic period, each of which substitutes for the dative (e.g. εις + accusative replacing εν + dative), with five of the constructions existing in the text of the NT and the other two springing up in Medieval times. Yet again, for those who know Ancient and Modern Greek, a very noticeable change is the absence of the dative case in the latter (except in some set phrases).

Chapter Three (pp. 95-112) is a study on the redundant use of personal and possessive nouns, which is especially seen in the Gospels (primarily Matthew). Caragounis classifies the redundant pronouns into three categories: clear instances where the pronouns are obviously redundant, borderline cases, and cases where there is a reason (e.g. rhetorical) that justifies the redundancy. Why the use of redundant pronouns in the NT? Caragounis calls it “linguistic inflation.” In other words, “Post-classical, Hellenistic Greek is the collapsing edifice of the Attic dialect. The stringency, the economy, the depth of meaning, the elegance, and the beauty of the Attic dialect are all falling apart. Words no longer mean what they used to mean. Thus, they need to be strengthened by extra pronouns”  (302).

Chapter Four (pp. 113-33) is on the confusion/interchangeability of the active and middle and the consequent pleonastic use of reflexive pronouns. In other words, sometimes in the NT there will be an instance of an active verb where one might have expected a middle verb (or vice versa), and there are other improper usages of reflexive pronouns with a middle verb. A couple instances of this occurring in the NT are Matt. 6:2 and 2 Cor. 11:2. Why was the reflexive pronoun put to use in this manner in the NT? Caragounis says it was due to “the lack of feeling for the true meaning of the middle – a voice or diathesis that had always proven difficult to master” (304).

Chapter Five (pp. 135-68) studies the confusion and interchange of the aorist with the perfect. Not only do the NT texts contain instances of the perfect tense where one might have expected an aorist, but there are also sentences where the two tenses are used in reference to the same subject. Caragounis provides as an example the phrase πέπρακεν καὶ ἠγόρασεν found in Matt. 13:46. Some translations (NEB, NASB, NIV, NRSV) translate it as “sold and bought” (i.e. two simple past tenses, which typically reflect the Aorist), while others (JB, TEV, NAB) translate as “sells and buys” (both perfect and aorist are here understand as gnomic aorists). Caragounis notes that some people have tried to find “special meaning” in NT perfects so that the distinction found between the two tenses in Attic is also found in the NT. He says that while NT perfects do preserve their perfect meaning, this attempt to read the NT use of the aorist and perfect in an Attic manner is the result of “not being fully at home with the nature and extent of later linguistic developments.”

Chapter Six (pp. 171-88) is concerned with the peculiar use (in the LXX and NT) of the nominative where we would have expected the vocative. Chapter Seven (pp. 189-208) is on the use of certain particles (e.g. ἤ, ἦ μήν) in Classical Greek literature and the LXX.

Chapter Eight (pp. 209-35) is on a NT crux interpretum, which is, did Paul behave as an infant or imbecile, or as a gentle nurse (see 1 Thess. 2:7)? This chapter contains thorough linguistic and philological examinations of ἤπιος, νήπιος, ἐν βάρει εἶναι, and the ὀρφανός-(ἀπ)ορφανίζω group, as well as an investigation of the parallelism between 1 Thessalonians 2 and 2 Thessalonians 3. Caragounis shows how a myopic synchronic approach to the question leads to “unwarranted results.” Instead, he opts for the diachronic approach, allowing the NT text to be placed in a correct perspective and leading to the right philological and exegetical conclusions. Caragounis concludes: “[This study] leave[s] no doubt that the case for νήπιος has been based on an inadequate investigation and a misinterpretation of the evidence” (234). Later, in the book’s epilogue, he states:

…linguistic, philological, contextual, and theological considerations support the reading ἤπιος. Consequently, if Paul, contrary to all expectations, actually had written or dictated νήπιοι, he must have done so in complete disregard of Greek lexicology and grammar. (309)

Chapter Nine (pp. 239-98) does not discuss a grammatical category or problem but rather the sublimity and grandeur in NT discourse. It is an endeavor to look at the NT from a literary point of view. While the language of the NT may seem somewhat inadequate when compared to Classical literary Greek, it nevertheless occasionally reveals “great flashes of grandeur and sublimity”, thus making it rhetorically accomplished writing that “often attain[s] a high score on the scoring board of ancient rhetoric.

The book finishes with an Epilogue (pp. 299-311), bibliography and indices (pp. 314-409). In summary, Chrys Caragounis has provided a number of studies in this volume which examine the language and exegesis of the NT from a diachronic perspective. This volume ably shows that the more holistic approach of a diachronic methodology can greatly illuminate the language of the NT and provide more adequate answers to problems of the NT text. If you want to take your studies of NT Greek to the next level, I would highly recommend picking up this volume (as well as Caragounis’ previous volume).


Quick Book Review: The Vine and the Son of Man

vinesonofmanTitle: The Vine and the Son of Man: Eschatological Interpretation of Psalm 80 in Early Judaism

Series: Emerging Scholars

Author: Andrew Streett

Bibliographic info: 232 pp.

Publisher: Fortress Press, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Fortress Press for the digital review copy.

The Vine and the Son of Man, a revised version of Andrew Streett’s doctoral dissertation, examines the interpretation and reinterpretation of Psalm 80 in early Judaism (in the Psalter, Daniel 7, Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism) and in early Christianity (in Mark, John 15, and the parable of the Wicked Tenants).

Streett’s thesis is simple:

The thesis of the study is (a) that Jewish and Christian interpreters found material in Psalm 80 pertaining to events at the end of the age, a time that some interpreters believed had already come upon them and their communities; and (b) that the meaning derived from Psalm 80 most often comes from the images of the vine (vv. 9-17) and the potentially messianic man (vv. 16b, 18), which because of the ambiguity of the text are open to a variety of interpretations.

Chapter One starts us of with an examination of Psalm 80 in its historical context. Streett himself sees the Psalm as stemming from the end of the Northern Kingdom and that it reminds Israel of Yahweh’s “former blessing on the twelve tribes and to plead for restoration through the leadership of a Davidic king.” Streett looks at various motifs found in the psalm e.g. creation and re-creation, exodus and a new exodus, the vine imagery, and the son of man. This chapter also contains a part on v. 15b being a later addition to the psalm.

Chapter Two sets Psalm 80 within the wider context of the Psalter. This includes a fascinating argument for the Psalter being deliberately designed and that the placement of this Psalm in Book III of the Psalter shows that the messianic and eschatological content found in nuce in its historical context becomes strengthened and even more explicit as its literary context is manipulated.”

Chapter Three attempts to connect the Danielic “son of man” imagery with that of Psalm 80 (with the primary connection being that of the beasts). Streett views the Danielic “son of man” as being “an exalted royal leader who plays the role of Adam as king and priest over a renewed nation and creation” and contends that “Daniel 7 is the first instance of eschatological and messianic interpretation of Psalm 80 by way of allusion.” He puts forth a vigorous case, but ultimately I found this the least convincing part of the book.

Chapter Four is on Psalm 80 within Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism, which includes examining pseudo-Philo, the Dead Sea Scrolls, 2 Baruch, Leviticus Rabbah, and the Psalms Targum. I particularly enjoyed Streett’s argument showing how Psalm 80 was messianized during the Second Temple period, drawing upon the changes made in the text of the LXX to prove this.

Chapter Five is quite interesting because here the author attempts to show that Psalm 80 was critical to seeing the passion/suffering of the Christ to be essential (whereas the suffering of the Christ is typically thought to have been drawn from the Suffering Servant of Deutero-Isaiah and maybe Daniel 7).

The final three chapters then look at the possible intertextual connections between Psalm 80 and the New Testament. Chapter Six does this by looking at the Gospel of Mark. Chapter Seven hones in on the parable of the wicked tenants. Chapter Eight looks at the connections between Psalm 80 and John 15.1-8 (the parable of the vine). And then the book ends with the standard concluding chapter.

All in all, this was quite an informative study on Psalm 80, specifically on how it very well may have contributed to Jewish messianic expectations. If you’re interested in Jewish messianic expectations or the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament, then this will be a valuable addition to your library.

Book Review: Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World

cookTitle: Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World

Series: Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament 327

Author: John Granger Cook

Bibliographic info: xv + 465 pp. + 55 pp.

Publisher: Mohr Siebeck, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Mohr Siebeck for the review copy.

The author of this book, John Granger Cook, has authored several articles on the topic of crucifixion, including such issues as the lex Puteolana (the law of Puteoli), the Palatine graffito, and so forth. Upon the request from Martin Hengel to revise his classic book on crucifixion, Cook found it expedient to write his new monograph on the subject.

Apart from Hengel’s book, two other important works on crucifixion are Crucifixion in Antiquity by Gunnar Samuelsson and David Chapman’s Ancient Jewish and Christian Perceptions on Crucifixion. Whereas Samuelsson’s work provides a focus on semantic research into crucifixion and Chapman’s provides a survey of Jewish and Christian attitudes towards it, Cook’s approach sees as of chief importance the need to read Greek texts that discuss crucifixion against the backdrop of Latin texts and actual Roman historical practice. Thus, Cook investigates the evidence of crucifixion by examining Latin texts and inscriptions together with the archaeological evidence (e.g. graffiti, the Arieti fresco, the calcaneum bone discovered with a crucifixion nail in Jerusalem, and so forth), and then once he has shed light on the meaning of Latin crucifixion terms (e.g. patibulum and crux), Cook turns towards the Greek texts and their crucifixion terminology.

In the Introduction (pp. 1-50), Cook begins by discussing definitions and methodology. He defines crucifixion as “‘execution by suspension’ is acceptable as long as one excludes impalement or hanging” (2), though notes that “it is impossible, of course, to completely exclude impalement in all cases that use crux, σταυρός (stauros) and the associated verbs, but explicit impalement is (textually) rare as a Roman punishment” (3). Furthermore, one must keep in mind that

Greek terminology for ‘cross’, ‘stake’, and ‘crucify,’ ‘impale,’ or ‘suspend’ is ambiguous at times. One must pay special attention to the context. The context is a reliable guide for determining if an act of suspension is a penal execution. During the Roman era there does not exist much doubt that suspension (i.e., crucifixion) was a frequent form of execution. (4)

Cook then looks at the Greek and Latin terminology for crucifixion. Some Greek terms he examines are σταυρός (pole, cross), σταυρόω (crucify), ανασταυρόω (crucify, suspend, impale), σκολόπς (stake, cross), ανασκολοπίζω (impale, crucify), κρεμάω and κρεμάνυμμι (suspend, crucify), and αποτυμπανισμός and αποτυμπανίζω (expose on a board/beam). And some Latin terms are Patibulum, crux, crucifigo, furca, and arbor infelix

Cook then concludes the introduction with the following summary:

The survey above does not encourage the researcher to demand a fundamental revision of the lexicons. There are no texts that describe explicit impalements (i.e., with details or additional semantic clues) or hangings (by a noose) of living bodies using σταυρός (stauros) and the associated verbs. Consequently, “to crucify” is still the preferred translation of the verbs when a text describes a person being execute, and “cross” or “pole” is the preferred translation of the noun. (50)

Chapter One (pp. 51-158) then takes up the task of examining the instances of crucifixion in Latin texts, which begins appearing in them during the second Punic war (218-201 BCE). Fifty-nine authors are looked at, from those of Quintus Ennius and Vitruvius Pollio, to those of Marcus Iunianus Iustinus and Hermetis Trismegisti. In summary of the Latin evidence, Cook says:

Latin texts provide good evidence for the practice of Roman crucifixion, not only because of the use of technical language such as crux and patibulum, but because of the details that often emerge that illuminate the practice of crucifixion. Only Seneca explicitly refers to impalement (twice), and his word of choice for that extreme penalty is stipes. (158)

Chapter Two (pp. 159-217) then discuss instances of Roman crucifixions, from the ear of the second Punic war to the time of Constantine. I was surprised to learn that there is a notable paucity of evidence for the Roman crucifixion of Christians, and even for Roman crucifixions in general there are many gaps of knowledge. For example, Tacitus mentions crucifixions several times, yet he never mentions any occurring in Palestine. If it wasn’t for Josephus telling us about crucifixions in Palestine, we would have a notable gap in the record. The following quote is pulled from the chapter’s summary:

The longest surviving narrative of anyone crucified by the Romans in antiquity is that of Jesus of Nazareth. Historical crucifixions per se seem to have been of little interest to Roman writers in the literature that has survived, with the exception of the crucifixion of Gavius, which Cicero mentioned frequently in his (never delivered) speech in prosecution of Verres. … Most of the juridical reasons for the crucifixions are commonplace: brigandage or political disturbance such as rebellion, slave revolts, disobedience of slaves, various crimes of soldiers including acts of disobedience, and piracy. (216)

Chapter Three (pp. 218-310) then examines the instances of crucifixion in Greek texts. While crucifixion was relatively rare in pre-Roman Greece (hanging and impalement were apparently not penalties used in Attic Greece), “crucifixion and related forms of execution have a rich and somewhat ambiguous history in Greek texts. Many are clear enough to indicate Roman crucifixions” (309).

Chapter Four (pp. 311-57) then tackles crucifixion in Hebrew and Aramaic texts, including sections looking at penal suspension in the culture of the Middle East and in the Muslim world.

Chapter Five (pp. 358-416) looks at crucifixion from the perspective of law and historical development. Emperor Constantine was responsible for the end of crucifixion in the Roman Empire, and the last known crucifixion was that of Calocerus in 335 are was probably at the direction of Constantine’s nephew Dalmatius. Of course, Constantine’s discontinuation of crucifixion was simply replaced by execution by other means (the furca and burning at the stake were favorites).

Chapter Six (pp. 417-49) then looks at the the New Testament and early Christianity. It goes without saying that the crucified Christ was a of central importance to the earliest Christians, from which arose much theological reflection on the meaning of Jesus’ death, e.g., the (possibly pre-Pauline phrase) θανατου δε σταυρου of the Carmen Christi of Philippians 2). Included in this chapter was an interesting section of the medical causes of death from crucifixion. To quote a part of it:

There are numerous medical hypotheses concerning the reason for an individual’s death on a Roman cross. One recent discussion by Matthew W. Maslen and Piers D. Mitchell lists the following possibilities that have been raised in the literature to explain the death of Jesus or “crucifixion in general”: “cardiac rupture, heart failure, hypovolaemic shock, syncope, acidosis, asphyxia, arrhythmia plus asphyxia, pulmonary embolism, voluntary surrender of life, did not actually die.”  (430)

One can merely conclude that individuals died from “different physiological causes” and that the orientation of the crucified individuals was also important. (435)

Another good section in this chapter was on the theology of the cross in the Gospel of Mark. Here are a couple of snippets:

Jesus’ cry of dereliction and the Greco-Roman material on the misery of crucifixion illuminate one another to a certain extent … Attempting to insert the entire psalm into Mark 15:34 fundamentally ignores the brutality of Roman crucifixion. (448)

Clearly results from Roman procedure are relevant for the interpretation of the NT. Although one cannot claim that there was one form of crucifixion used by Rome during the Republic and imperium, it is not difficult to find many threads that appear in many of the accounts, such as flogging. Hypotheses about the medical causes of death from crucifixion are too tenuous to formulate reliable conclusions.(448)

This volume ends with a brief Conclusion (pp. 450-52), eleven pages of images, and indices of ancient individuals, modern authors, and subjects. The following are a few interesting conclusions of the author’s:

There are no uses of σταυρόω or ανασταυρόω that refer to explicit impalements of living (or dead) bodies. By “explicit” I mean texts that have additional semantic clues that indicate impalement. (450)

Based on the methodology and linguistic results developed in the introduction and the rest of the work, it seems apparent that writing a history of crucifixion may not be possible. Near Eastern texts and images indicate that impalement was practice by cultures such as that of the Persians. Herodotus presumable was aware of this and probably used ανασκολοπίζω (and not ανασταυρόω) to refer sometimes to that penalty. He apparently was aware of another form of penalty used by the Persians, however, one that is closer to Roman crucifixion (the case of Sandoces in which he used ανασταυρόω ). (451-52)

Archaeological remains and some texts show that the ancient Greeks practice some form of execution in which individuals were nailed to boards or similar structures. It is also clear that the Greeks exposed individuals on a beam in various poses (standing or seated), and there are numerous depictions of the penalty on Attic vases. … Greek rulers such as Antiochus IV used crucifixion according to Josephus. Jewish authorities practice crucifixion in at least one instance [Alexander Jannaeus]. Beginning with the Second Punic War, it becomes clear that the Romans developed a form of crucifixion that remained in place until the reign of Constantine when it was replaced by the furca (fork), a form of execution that result in a quick death. (452)

Crucifixion was the fundamental servile supplicium (slave punishment) and this volume provides a great survey on its practice in Greco-Roman society. Research on crucifixion in the Mediterranean world can provide an important perspective for the study of the New Testament, particularly as it relates to a theologia crucis (theology of the cross) and to a deeper understanding of the “scandal” of the cross (Gal. 5:11).

Book Review: Jesus and Gospel Traditions in Bilingual Context

jesusgospeltraditionsTitle: Jesus and Gospel Traditions in Bilingual Context: A Study in the Interdirectionality of Language

Series: BZNW 186.

Author: Sang-Il Lee

Bibliographic info: 418 pp. + 103 pp. (biblio + indices)

Publisher: Walter de Gruyter, 2012.

Buy the book at Amazon or at Walter de Gruyter’s.

With thanks to Walter de Gruyter for the digital review copy.

 This volume is a revised version of the author’s Ph.D thesis, originally submitted at Durham University, 2008, under the supervision of Professor James D.G. Dunn and Professor Loren T. Stuckenbruck.

In this study Lee aims to examine the transmission of Jesus traditions by employing a model of the linguistic state of affairs of first-century Palestine. A classic view regarding gospel and Jesus traditions has been that of unidirectionality. Jesus traditions were transmitted unidirectionally in the following three ways (see pp. 1-2):

  • oral —–> written (i.e. modal unidirectionality)
  • Judaeo-Palestinian —–> Hellenistic (i.e. geographical unidirectionality)
  • Aramaic —–> Greek (i.e. linguistic unidirectionality)

The author seeks to expose the fatal flaws in the unidirectionality paradigm, specifically in regards to the linguistic unidirectionality (which would then undercut the other two unidirectional hypotheses listed above). This, of course, has implications for historical Jesus studies because the oral, Judaeo-Palestinian, and Aramaic attributes are reckoned to be earlier and thus contain more authentic Jesus traditions. But Lee argues that these three attributes do not necessarily indicate earlier traditions, nor that earlier traditions are necessarily more original than later traditions. If Lee is correct then the usefulness of the criteria of authenticity related to these attributes (e.g. the criterion of underlying Aramaic) are severely undercut.

Lee’s hypothesis is that from early on, even during the time of Jesus’ ministry, there could very well have been Aramaic and Greek traditions floating around, as well as oral and written. He says:

When the bilingualism of first-century Palestine and the Roman Near East is considered seriously, it must be granted that the Jesus and gospel traditions were interdirectionally transmitted. In other words, there was a complex and interactive relationship between Judaeo-Palestinian and Hellenistic tradition, between oral and written tradition, and between Aramaic and Greek tradition. (pg. 2)

Lee begins with the obligatory examination of the history of scholarship which is done by taking a look at specific scholars, their views, and how they impacted the field of research on the topic at hand. The three unidirectional methods are tackled independently:

  • Sitz im Leben unidirectionality from Judaeo-Palestinian into Hellenistic tradition (pp. 6-20)
  • Modal unidirectionality from Oral into Written tradition (pp. 20-36)
  • Linguistic unidirectionality from Aramaic into Greek tradition (pp. 36-58) [I was surprised not to see Maurice Casey discussed here considering he has been a notable proponent of the criterion of Aramaic in historical Jesus studies]

In the concluding sections Lee reinforces his thesis, saying that both the “transmission of Jesus and gospel traditions” and “the linguistic transmission” are “not unilinear, teleological, or unidirectional but hybrid, circular, and interdirectional” (pp. 36, 50-51).

Lee then looks at scholars who have shown flaws in the unidirectionality tendencies prevalent in scholarship (pp. 58-73). An obvious example of this is Martin Hengel whose work weakened the supposed boundary between Palestinian and Hellenistic Judaisms.

Part I (chapters 2-5) is on the bilingualism of first-century Palestine and the Roman Near East. In chapter 2, Lee argues that the linguistic milieu of first-century Palestine is best characterized with bilingualism rather than diglossia. A lot of various aspects of bilingualism are discussed here, such as sociolinguistic models for the analysis of a diglossic situation, primary bilingualism vs. acquired bilingualism, oral bilingualism vs. literate bilingualism, and so forth. Lee’s working definition of “bilingualism” follows the work of W.F. Mackey who sees it simply as the alternate use of two or more languages (80). This is then followed by examinations of the regional bilingualism of first-century Palestine (chapter 3), the Diaspora (chapter 4), and the earliest Christian communities (chapter 5).

Part II (chapters 6-8) discuss the interdirectional transmission of Jesus traditions in the bilingual contexts at the levels of syntax (chapter 6), phonology (chapter 7), and semantics (chapter 8). In regards to syntax, this includes examining alleged examples of Semitisms and Septuagintalisms to be found in the Gospels (from three different types of speech: verbs, conjunctions, and adverbs), with Lee considering them instead from the angle of grammaticalization theory, his argument being that they are due to internal-induced syntactic changes (i.e. the interdirectionality hypothesis), rather than as Semitisms or Septuagintalisms due to contact-induced syntactic changes (i.e. the unidirectionality hypothesis).  In regards to phonology, phonologically variant spellings of certain words in the Gospels are examined (e.g. Nazareth), with the idea being that the original spelling is not the correct spelling but only one of many conventional correct spellings (which is different to how most NT scholars look at these variant spellings from orthographical and monolinguist perspectives, naturally entailing that the more Semitic spellings are earlier and thus have temporal priority over Greek spellings). And, finally, in regards in semantics, the author looks at the Aramaic words embedded in the NT text (e.g. amen, maranatha), with a view to showing that they are instances of code-switching by the NT authors (with the purpose being to create vividness, emphasis, solidarity, etc), rather than the typical view which sees them as borrowings (or interferences) from the Aramaic-speaking church in Jerusalem. Furthermore, since they are deliberate instances of code-switching, they must be seen on the level of pragmatics rather than that of syntactics, morphology, or phonology.

The book finishes off with a summary of the author’s findings (chapter 9), as well as a bibliography and four indices (ancient sources, language and place names, modern authors, and subjects).

The only shortcoming I can see is that there seems to be an underlying assumption that the existence of Aramaic and Greek in first-century Palestine indicates that it was a largely bilingual society (even if one is –like the author– working with a pretty minimalistic definition of what constitutes bilingualism). After all, the data found in the NT that can be used to speak on the linguistic situation of first-century Palestine is rather thin and thus not able to give any really meaningful conclusions concerning the level of bilingualism, so maybe the study should have delved more into the concrete sociolinguistic condition of first-century Palestine.

All in all, this is undoubtedly one of the most interesting doctoral dissertations in the field of early Christianity I have had the pleasure of reading. Not only does it mesh together two fields of study I thoroughly enjoy –linguistics and New Testament studies– it also argues a thesis that, if accurate, has unavoidable implications for not only historical Jesus studies, but also for the synoptic problem, textual criticism, and much more.


Book Review: James, ICC (Dale Allison)

jamesdaleallisonTitle: James: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary

Series: International Critical Commentary

Author: Dale C. Allison, Jr.

Bibliographic info: 848 pp.

Publisher: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Bloomsbury T&T Clark for the review copy.

Dale Allison is a Professor of the New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary. He has authored a previous volume in the the International Critical Commentary series: the three-volume commentary on Matthew.

The introduction to this volume on James spans a little over a hundred pages, covering the expected issues: author, date, Sitz im Leben, sources, genre, structure, literary characteristics, leading ideas (on the epistle’s theology), the local origin of the epistle, the text used, and the epistle’s reception. Of particular value was the fantastic (20 page) section on the sources of the epistle.

After discussing the issue of authorship for a few pages, Allison states his position:

One can indeed slot James into pre-70 Palestine if so inclined. But one can equally read the epistle, as does this commentary, as a second-century pseudepigraphon composed in the diaspora. (13)

Allison also dates the epistle to the second century. His view on authorship and the date are due to a variety of reasons, amongst which is the lack of a “clear knowledge” of James prior to Origen, some early references to a pseudonymous letter of James, the resistance the epistle received at making it into the canon, and, of course, the dubious probability that “the brother of Jesus could have written fairly accomplished Greek, possessed such a large Greek vocabulary, employed the LXX, and adopted Hellenistic literary topoi(25).

The epistle was written “for a group that still attended synagogue and wished to maintain irenic relations with those who did not share their belief that Jesus was the Messiah” (43), and regarding provenance, Allison says, This author, while conceding that the evidence is circumstantial and fragile, believes that the best bet is Rome” (95).

On the Greek text used of James in this commentary, Allison uses the text of the Editio Critica Maior (1997), with one instance of him using a reading that the ECM relegated to the apparatus (in 5.19) and two instances where he goes with his own conjectural emendation (in 2.1 and 4.2).

Allison divides the epistle up into the following sections:

  • 1.1
  • 1.2-27
  • 2.1-13
  • 2.14-26
  • 3.1-12
  • 3.13-18
  • 4.1-12
  • 4.13-5.6
  • 5.7-12
  • 5.13-20

Mention has to be made, of course, to Allison’s view on the faith and works pericope (Jas 2.14-26). His commentary on these twelve verses is over 80 pages long, though this shouldn’t be surprising considering the controversial nature of the passage in the history of interpretation for the past five centuries. Indeed, Allison notes that “the secondary literature on Jas 2.14-26 seemingly exceeds that dedicated to the rest of James put together” (426).

A few tidbits from Allison’s commentary on this pericope:

The argument is complete in itself. It sets up a contrast between two sorts of faith. The first is no more than theological belief (v. 19). It has no deeds (vv. 14-17) and so is dead (vv. 17, 26) and barren (v. 20). It cannot make one righteous (vv. 21-25). But there is also a second and superior sort of faith. This is the saving faith that co-operates with deeds and is perfected by them (vv. 21-26). It is the faith of Abraham and Rahab, who were justified by their works. (443)

James is rejecting a view which allegedly claims that faith does not need works, a view associated with a scriptural argument that he seeks to overturn. (443)

For James, religion is walking, not talking; it is halakah, a way of life, not dogma. (444)

On the possible connection between James and Paul, Allison says:

The point to emphasize with regard to James and Paul is simply this: the constant reading of the former in terms of the latter is exactly what one would expect if the author of James intended auditors of his work to think about Pauline theology. To complain that readers too often and too readily turn to Paul may be akin to objecting that Heb 13.2–‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares’–has regularly moved readers to recall Gen 18, where Abraham hosts three mysterious visitors. Hebrews 13.2 is supposed to prod an intertextual exchange, to move informed readers to go back to Genesis. Maybe, in like fashion, Jas 2.14-24 is also a deliberately allusive text: it wants us to recall Paul. (445)

Allison then goes on to demonstrate why everyone reads James with Paul in mind. For example, Paul’s writings are the earliest extant texts to use δικαιοω in the passive + instrumental εκ (seven times in Romans and Galatians). And guess what… it shows up in three times in James as well (2.21, 24, 25).

Allison translates Jas 2.18 as follows:

Yet someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have deeds’. Show me your faith without deeds, and I by my deeds will show you my faith.

This verse has produced a lot of differing interpretations. After listing twelve of them, Allison says:

Not one of these explanations satisfies, and as this commentator is unable to offer anything better in their place, he reluctantly concludes either that the text is corrupt, the original beyond recovery, or that James expressed himself so poorly that we cannot offer any clear exposition of his words. If every interpretation seems dubious, it is best to defend none. (471)

A few of my favorite aspects of this commentary are the fifty page(!) bibliography, the copious amounts of in-depth footnotes (the author seems quite at home in all the secondary literature), and how each pericope of the epistle contains a section on its reception history.

All in all, I think that Allison’s contribution to the epistle of James will be held as the definitive commentary on the epistle for some time to come. This isn’t just because it is the latest commentary to have been written on the epistle. After all, look at Bauckham’s commentary on Jude and 2 Peter in the Word Biblical Commentary series. It was written way back in the early 80s and it is still the commentary on those epistles, despite the fact that several very good contributions have been published since then. In a similar manner, I think this volume by Allison will be the yardstick by which all other commentaries on James will be measured for quite some time. It is superb.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 108 other followers