Brief Reviews of a Few More Books

Important note: All of the following review copies are digital copies I received from Westminster John Knox and all are jam-packed with formatting errors. I received the review copies through the Edelweiss review program, so it may just be the digital copies that come through there that are bad (and not the actual digital copies you can buy from Amazon), but I don’t know. I do know, however, that every single digital copy I’ve received from WJK through Edelweiss has had formatting errors. And one of the books I received for review, Political Theology: Contemporary Challenges and Future Directions was so bad that it was literally unreadable, so I just deleted it from my Kindle and will not be reviewing it.

Honestly, reading a terribly formatted ebook is so annoying that even getting the book for free doesn’t seem to make it worth the effort.

hiddenrichesTitle: Hidden Riches: A Sourcebook for the Comparative Study of the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near East

Author: Richard B. Hays

Bibliographic info: 288 pp.

Publisher: Westminster John Knox, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon

The author, Christopher Hays, is an Associate Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary.

This volume is one of many available that seeks to illuminate the Hebrew Bible by exploring the history, culture, and literature of the Ancient Near East. The aim of such an endeavor is, of course, to provide the reader with a better understanding of the history and theology of the Hebrew Bible, as well as demonstrate how Israel’s sacred scriptures were in fact shaped by such texts.

Throughout the volume, Hays provides translated sections of various Ancient Near Eastern texts, introductions to them, a select bibliography for further study, and, of course, the meat of the chapter: a comparison of the text to a text from the Hebrew Bible. For example, Hays discusses literary genres (e.g. oracles, treaties, hymns) and how they help clarify the text of the Hebrew Bible.

One chapter, to pick one at random as an example, provides a comparative analysis of Leviticus 16:1-34 to Ashella’s Ritual Against a Plague in the Army, The Ritual of Ambazzi, and Day Five of the Babylon Akitu Festival. The chapter then goes on to discuss such pertinent issues such as the separation of clean and unclean, atonement for sin, and the need to purify our spaces from sin.

All in all, this volume is an scholarly yet accessible treatment of the ancient context of the Hebrew Bible, and definitely one of the more useful ‘Scripture in context’ volumes I have read.

macabeesmishnahTitle: From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Third Edition

Author: Shaye Cohen

Bibliographic info: 328 pp.

Publisher: Westminster John Knox, 2014.

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The author, Shaye J.D. Cohen, is a Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy at Harvard University.

This updated and expanded edition of Cohen’s classic work–originally published in the 1980s–provides a very useful overview of the history of Judaism from about 200 BC to 200 CE, including aspects such as culture, religion, society, politics, and so forth.

Most of the updates to this third edition is updated footnotes and rewritten sentences. But the biggest change is the addition of a chapter on the parting of ways between Christianity and Judaism. In this chapter, Cohen contends that the separation that took place between the two faiths was a gradual process, rather than some clear-cut happening. Additionally, he says that this parting was really between Jews and Jewish Christians, as there wasn’t really a time of unity between Gentile and Jewish Christians.

If you’re a student of early Christianity and the New Testament, this volume is definitely a recommended book to read. It provides a lot of background information of Jewish life that really does help in understanding the New Testament writings. This is especially needed considering that some of the ‘common’ knowledge of the average person-in-the-pew Christian is false, e.g., depictions of Pharisees found in the Gospels are known to be stereotypes moreso than faithful historical representations.

As a random example of interesting tidbits the author provides: at one point he discusses “Hellenistic Judaism”, noting that in the post-Persian period there is not really such a thing as non-Hellenistic Judaism. Instead, Cohen views the term only as a useful chronological indicator of Judaism post-Alexander the Great.

I really enjoyed this book. Rather than being a background to early Christianity, it is an introduction to Second Temple Judaism that is cognizant of nascent Christianity, but which is ancillary to the book’s main thrust.

theologicaltermsTitle: The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Second Edition: Revised and Expanded

Author: Donald K. McKim

Bibliographic info: 352 pp.

Publisher: Westminster John Knox, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon

This updated edition contains almost 7,000 theological terms and their definitions—which is about 1,000 more terms than the first edition. The entry for each term is succinctly written, and the terms cover such topics as church history, ministry, philosophy, biblical studies, and theologies (whether it be liberation, postcolonial, Reformed, Catholic, etc).

As an example, here are a couple entries I picked at random:

infinite qualitative distinction A phrase associated with the early writings of Karl Barth (1886-1968) and drawn from the thought of Soren Kierkegaard (1813-55). It distinguishes between God and humanity by indicating that God is infinite and holy whereas humans are finite and sinful.

reification (Lat. res, “thing”) The fallacy noted in philosophy of treating a psychological or mental entity as though it were a thing. Also called “hypostatization.”

Even though I read theological works every single day, I still regularly come across terms and concepts that I am unfamiliar with, or have perhaps forgotten exactly what they mean or which figures are associated with it. The entries in this volume are short and do not go too deep, but they contain enough information to provide the reader with a basic understanding. I would, however, recommend the print edition over the digital edition for this book (due to having to use the search function in order to find an entry).

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