Best New Testament Academic Books of 2014 (Gupta)

oscar_book-trophyWell, it’s that time of the year when we look back on 2014 and proclaim the best academic New Testament books of the year! To be honest, I did not review as many books in 2014 as I have in previous years – mostly due to a cross-country move and a new job. But I think it worthwhile to have a short list.

Best Textbook

Bruce Longenecker and Todd Still, Thinking through Paul (Zondervan) – a textbook written by model interpreters, each complementing the other’s expertise.

Honorable mention goes to my colleague Paul Anderson for his textbook From Crisis to Christ (Abingdon).

Best Jesus/Gospels Book

Michael Bird, Gospel of the Lord (Eerdmans) – a fine textbook, I learned much from it and I even quoted it in class!

Honorable mention goes to Chris Keith, Jesus Against the Scribal Elite (Baker).

Best Paul Book

Galatians and Christian Theology (Baker). An excellent collection of essays from the St. Andrews conference. I will have more to say on this later.

Best Commentary

J. Weima, 1-2 Thessalonians (BEC; Baker). I am getting a little ahead of myself since I haven’t actually read the book, but I have read much of Weima over the years and I have every good expectation this commentary will become the evangelical standard for years to come.

Honorable mention goes to Mark Strauss, Mark (ZECNT, Zondervan).

Best Reference Work

Yamauchi and Wilson, Dictionary of Daily Life: Volume 1 (Hendrickson). This great resource offers broad perspectives on “daily life” in biblical times (everything from alcohol, to birds, to beards, to clothes).

Honorable mention goes to Richard Ascough et alAssociations in the Greco-Roman World: A Sourcebook (Baylor). Associations are talked a lot about by NT scholars, but I wonder how many of those scholars have actually read the literary evidence directly associated with these groups. This is a great tool for studying the world of the New Testament.

Best Book Overall

Richard Hays, Reading Backwards (Baylor). This should come as no surprise since I have been a Hays fan quite overtly for a long time, but this book has lived up to expectation – eloquent, insightful, engaging, stimulating. It serves extremely well as an “appetizer” whetting our appetite for the “big book” he has promised!

Best Book Written by a Jamaican-Canadian Living in the USA

Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Baker). OK, the category is facetious, but I do want to praise this book and my friend Richard. I have heard bits and pieces of this book in his lectures and in conversation. It will become a classic and you should buy it.

Revised Edition of Fee’s 1 Corinthians Commentary (Gupta)

FeeIn seminary I took an exegesis course on 1 Corinthians with Dr. Sean McDonough. We read Thiselton, but I benefited much from engaging with Gordon Fee’s magisterial NICNT volume for my exegesis paper. It demonstrated Fee’s expertise in textual criticism, his comprehensive exegesis approach, and how the text shapes Christian life and guides Christian ministry. This fall saw the release of the revised edition of Fee’s NICNT volume – over 25 years after the original (1987). Here’s the million-dollar question, what’s new? Three areas of note:

-Translation – Fee switched to the 2011 version of the NIV for the revision. This might not sound like a big deal, but in the new edition’s preface he mentions how disappointed he was with the previous translation of 1 Corinthians in the NIV. Fee explains that the 1987 NIV translation was “more poorly done in this letter than anywhere else in the entire canon” (p. xvi) – Yikes!

-Chapter and verse – Fee has tried to eliminate language of “chapter and verse” because he passionately believes this mentality hinders our understanding of whole texts.

-Updates – Fee has tried to engage with scholarship since 1987, but acknowledges that being exhaustive is impossible. He notes, “the bibliography has in the past twenty-five years multiplied over 300 percent in relationship to all such materials in the preceding two centuries!” (xvii). I did some poking around here and there to see how much additional material I could find. Working from the index, I noted that Fee includes lots of extra interaction in footnotes with folks like Richard Hays, Ray Collins, Thiselton, Garland, etc. There also is the inclusion of a couple of addenda where Fee gives a quick weigh-in on an issue that has arose or changed directions in recent years. He adds very little on these topics, but his desire is mostly to add in additional bibliographic items of note.

One additional note: Fee advocates for a view of the underlying problems related to the Corinthian community as a form of overrealized eschatology. I know that, in the years following his commentary, there has been some pushback (I am thinking of Hays at least here, but others too). I did not see evidence that Fee defended his position beyond the original discussion.

Given that the first edition has been influential and still stands as one of the finest and most thorough expositions of the text, it deserves to be reprinted. While the second edition is not a comprehensive revision, clearly Fee has tried to engage with some of the most important commentaries in the last quarter of a century. If you do not own Fee’s work on 1 Corinthians, this is a good opportunity to get it now.

It should go without saying, but Fee is one of the finest New Testament interpreters in all of history. I am sad never to have had him as a seminary professor, but his writings have had a strong impact on my approach to the New Testament and exegesis. May his influence continue for many generations.

At SBL this year, there was a session in appreciation of Gordon Fee where Fee himself gave a few words of address at the end. For your viewing pleasure, see below.

Do We Need the New Testament? Goldingay Asks (Gupta)

GoldingayNext summer (June 2015) you can expect a new book from John Goldingay called Do We Need the New Testament?: Letting the Old Testament Speak for Itself (IVP). In his provocative title, Goldingay is playing off this notion that many Christians assume that we really don’t need the Old Testament, but Goldingay has long heralded the seniority (so to speak) of the OT, so he flips the question. He is not really questioning whether we need to New Testament. His aim is to help believers understand the importance of the Old Testament. Goldingay wonders:

What happens when we begin to look at the OT, which is the First Testament, not as a deficient old work in need of a christological makeover, but as a rich and splendid revelation of God’s faithfulness to Israel and the world?

This is classic Goldingay, so we can expect it to be stimulating and insightful. And, at about 200 pages, it won’t cramp your reading list.

Religion in the Roman Empire – A New Mohr Siebeck Journal (Gupta)

At SBL I noticed that Mohr Siebeck was launching a new journal called Religion in the Roman World (3 issues per year). The editorial board looks well qualified. The price of the journal seems quite reasonable too, so kudos to Mohr Siebeck for thinking of professors and libraries with meagre book budgets!

Below is the journal’s opening statement:

Religion in the Roman Empire (RRE) is bold in the sense that it intends to further and document new and integrative perspectives on religion in the Ancient World combining multidisciplinary methodologies. Starting from the notion of “lived religion” it will offer a space to take up recent, but still incipient, research to modify and cross the disciplinary boundaries of History of Religion, Archaeology, Anthropology, Classics, Ancient History, Jewish History, Rabbinics, New Testament, Early Christianity, Patristics, Coptic Studies, Gnostic and Manichean Studies, Late Antiquity and Oriental Languages. We hope to stimulate the development of new approaches that can encompass the local and global trajectories of the multidimensional pluralistic religions of antiquity.

Each volume will consist of three issues a year, each of approximately 130 pages in length. It will include an editorial, five to seven main articles, and book reviews. All articles and contributions that exceed 8 pages in length will be double-blind peer-reviewed. All articles and contributions will be in English.

The first issues will deal with “Lived Religion: Appropriations of Religion and Meanings in Situations,” “Understanding Objects in Religious Contexts” and with “Practices and Groups,” bringing together studies on textual and archaeological material from all areas of the Mediterranean.

As an English-speaker, I am relieved that “All articles…will be in English,” but this choice does surprise me a bit coming from Mohr Siebeck (and noticeably diverges from the German/English focus of Early Christianity). In any case, I still look forward to how this journal progresses. I believe biblical scholars need to be more in tune with what is going on in classics/history scholarship, and this kind of journal helps to bridge these worlds (as evident from the editorial board).

Book Notice: Kelly R. Iverson, From Text to Performance (Skinner)

Iverson.BookRecently I was thrilled to receive a copy of my friend, Kelly Iverson‘s new edited volume, From Text to Performance: Narrative and Performance Criticisms in Dialogue and Debate (Biblical Performance Criticism; Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2014). This is an area in which Kelly has been working seriously for some time now. When we were in the process of editing one of our previous volumes, Mark as Story: Retrospect and Prospect, one of the conversations that guided our choices of contributors was the growing recognition among many that the next organic step after narrative criticism is performance criticism. Consequently, there’s a fairly distinct emphasis on performance in that book–something numerous reviewers have noted. (BTW, if you’re not acquainted with performance criticism, you can find a great deal of information here.) I have also recently given some attention to the burgeoning discipline of performance criticism at the end of my survey of Markan research on character.

Here’s a description from the back of the book:

For the last two centuries biblical interpretation has been guided by perspectives that have largely ignored the oral context in which the gospels took shape. Only recently have scholars begun to explore how ancient media inform the interpretive process and an understanding of the Bible. This collection of essays, by authors who recognize that the Jesus tradition was a story heard and performed, seeks to reevaluate the constituent elements of narrative, including characters, structure, narrator, time, and intertextuality. In dialogue with traditional literary approaches, these essays demonstrate that an appreciation of performance yields fresh insights distinguishable in many respects from results of literary or narrative readings of the gospels.

Contributors include David Rhoads, Joanna Dewey, Philip Ruge-Jones, Holly Hearon, Thomas Boomershine, Margaret Lee, Kathy Maxwell, and Richard Swanson.