My SBL Book Buys (Part 1): Classics and Backlist

Not unlike Chris Tilling, I got a HEAP of books at SBL, both old and new. For the first time (ever!) I have a “personal development” fund coming from my employer! Woo-hoo! So, I saved up for SBL and went a tad crazy. Anyway, as others are sharing their “buys” so I would like to. I am splitting it into a few posts. In this post, I will offer my “classics” and “backlist” (old books) acquisitions.

1. The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel (C. Koester, Eerdmans, 2008). I am interested in John’s Gospel (as you will soon be able to tell!) and I have always appreciated Koester’s careful analysis of John, and especially his appreciation of the richness and complexity of the Gospel. This short theology is accessible, but incisive. I have wanted this for my own library for a while. I have worn out the library copy!

2. John (D. Moody Smith, Abingdon Commentary, 1999). Though quite short and abbreviated, Moody is such an influential interpreter of 4G. I could not afford his Cambridge Theology of John, so this will have to do.

3. Documents for the Study of the Gospels (eds. Cartlidge and Dungan, Fortress, 1994 edition). This is a “backgrounds” volume I have wanted for a while. This will be, I hope, an especially useful tool for teaching my 4G course this summer.

4. The Christology of Jesus (Witherington, Fortress, 1990). This is one of Witherington’s more “academic” works that has won praise from Martin Hengel, Francis Moloney, Charles Cousar, and Larry Hurtado. W. pitches the book as “a broad-scale study on the self-understanding of Jesus, approach the matter from different angles and seeing what all the evidence that can be reasonably argued to go back to the Sitz im Leben Jesu will reveal to us” (p. x). He focuses chapters, respectively, on the relationships, deeds, and words of Jesus.

5. Fortress Introduction to the Gospels (Mark Allan Powell, Fortress, 1998). As a “Paul” guy, I have a lot of catching up to do if I want to really engage in Gospels studies. I hope that Powell will be a good guide. I cut my teeth on narrative criticism in seminary with Powell’s What is Narrative Criticism (1990). I assume this Fortress intro will be illuminating. It comes in at less than 150 pages.

6. The Gospels and Letters of John (R.A. Culpepper; Abingdon, 1998). I am particularly interested in Culpepper’s short introduction to “The Gospel [of John] as Literature” as well as the chapter on the theology of the Johannine writings – especially the Christology of John.

7. King and Messiah as Son of God: Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical and Related Literature (A.Y. and J.J. Collins; Eerdmans, 2008). As I explore Christology in the NT (and esp the Gospels) I am interested in the Collins’ perspective. Plus, at $16 this was too good to pass up.

The Quotable Kaesemann #3: Tradition and Fresh Perspectives

Having gone to a conservative conference recently for the first time, I was thinking about doctrine and Scripture a lot this past week. I am “evangelical” without hesitation or qualification, but sometimes I fear the wrath of a traditionalist scorned, so to speak. I was impressed, then, when I stumbled upon this quote from Kaesemann…

If our parents rightly described the church of Christ as semper reformanda, as always in need of renewal, we must see to it that the world and members of our community are not fed with dogmatic formulas become unintelligible or useless. In any event, the confessions of the fathers are our guideposts, not live wires to keep the cows in the pasture or block the curious from entering the holy place. Since earliest Christianity, stupidity, ecclesiastical tyranny, and party strife have misused the confessions, as if they could replace the living voice of the gospel, the voice of the God who speaks to us today. In that case, the past of the religious world is made the sphere for a faith that no longer journeys into God’s unknown future and there awaits the open heavens above. (p. 162).

NB: From On Being a Disciple of the Crucified Nazarene (Eerdmans).

The Quotable Kaesemann #2: On Faith and Discipleship

More vintage Kaesemann…

“believing” quite simply and irreversibly means to rely on this word [of Christ’s lordly ownership of those disciples of faith and surrender in Baptism] when it comes to blows, to throw everything else to the winds that is offered to us as salvation or threatened as damnation (p. 158).

…we must understand the first commandment [of the Decalogue] as the sum of Scripture. All other words, pages, and books in it form, as it were, a commentary on it, and in the NT this summary is repeated Christologically, unequivocally defined and made concrete: “I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods before me!” (p. 159)

NB: From On Being a Disciple of the Crucified Nazarene (Eerdmans)

Documents and Images for the Study of Paul (REVIEW)

When I got back from SBL, I was pleased to find this gem in my mailbox.

From Fortress Press, Documents and Images for the Study of Paul, edited by Mark Reasoner and Neil Elliott, is an excellent “backgrounds” and “sourcebook” for students of Paul. It was inspired by Cartlidge and Dungan’s Documents for the Study of the Gospels (a resource I just happen to have purchased at SBL!).

It is made up of 6 chapters that focus on various aspects of Pauline studies

1. Paul’s Self-Presentation – this covers the Pauline persona and identity, showing comparisons with Israelite prophets and Greco-Roman philosophers. It also deals with ancient views of “manual labor” and “weakness.”

2. Paul’s Gospels and Letters – here you will find all kinds of primary-source information on types of letters and key themes such as “The Word of the Cross” and “This Present Evil Age.”

3. The Gospel of Augustus – here you have an overview of Roman imperial ideology.

4. Paul’s People Israel – many important texts from Philo, Josephus, and some Rabbinic texts. There is lots of good stuff here that deals with the “New Perspective on Paul” – such as an explanation and excerpt from 4QMMT.

5. The Communities around Paul – looking at how Paul viewed his churches and how they should organize themselves, the quotes and sources that are focused on deal with purity/impurity and social order and organization.

6. Paul’s Legacy – The early reception history of Paul, especially NT apocryphal texts (extracts).

IMAGES – pictures are, as the title suggests, scattered throughout the book. Overall, they enhance the book as a teaching tool and bring some of the stories and texts to life through papyri fragments, coins, statues, frescoes, and other elements of material culture. Unfortunately, many of the pictures are dark and small (black & white only), making them less practical for the classroom.

END OF CHAPTER RESOURCES: At the end of each chapter, there are “Questions for Reflection,” which could be useful, but I don’t think will be utilized much. Better yet are the “Suggestions for Further Reading”. For example, in the chapter on Paul’s Israel, we find entries on 2nd Temple Judaism and Paul and the law by Feldman, Nickelsburg, Sanders, Schiffman, Stone, and Vermes; also Barclay, Boyarin, Gaston, Nanos, Tomson, and Westerholm. Bibliographies are quite up-to-date with an entries from 2009 and some from 2010. Annotations on bibliographies are rare, but not completely absent.



UNIQUENESS: 4.8/5 A great idea and a good implementation.

UTILITY: 4.5/5 Great for teaching prep and lots of useful examples of ancient-world attitudes and controversies.

ORGANIZATION: 3.5/5 Some of the topics covered in a chapter were peculiar to me and not as intuitive as I would have liked. There is a Scripture index in the back, which can be helpful. One wonders, in the end, how they decided which “parallels” or illuminating examples to leave in and leave out – the list could be endless…

OVERALL: 4.5/5 If you teach on Paul, this is a must-have! I have always advocated using Boring’s Hellenistic Commentary and the Dictionary of New Testament Background. These kinds of resources are extremely helpful for students.

Check it out!

The Quotable Kaesemann

Above all, sin is entrapment in a worldwide rebellion against God and consequently a worldwide brutality in our relations with our fellow humans. Biblically, sin is most profoundly taking one’s destiny into one’s own hands without awareness of one’s need. (p. 147)

On Being a Disciple of the Crucified Nazarene (Eerdmans)

What I Look For In a Textbook

Firstly, happy thanksgiving!

Ok, a perceptive commenter asked what I look for in a good textbook. Here are a few things:

(1) SIMPLE – scholars rarely really understand just how little students know. Keep it simple. If you give advanced information, do so in an appendix or in footnotes.

(2) CLEAR – going along with #1, make sure the textbook progresses in a clear way, from paragraph to paragraph and chapter to chapter. I am using a textbook next quarter which is not as clear as I would like, though it is as simple as I would like.

(3) Graphics – charts, maps, diagrams, and pictures really do make a textbook more appealling for me.

(4) End of chapter quick summary – to help with clarity and simplicity!

(5) For Biblical Studies, textbooks should engage with the “so what” question when it comes to what information to include. Too many texts offer random facts and background information without really dealing with WHAT THE TEXT (e.g. NT, or OT) is REALLY ABOUT. Perhaps this is a conscious ideological choice. So be it. I am looking for more. It can be general or exploratory, but it needs to be more than just “facts”.

(6) Good bibliographies at end of chapters – best if it is annotated.

(7) Avoiding ideological extremes (e.g., extreme either in naive orthodoxy [=apologetics] or pure skepticism [=hermeneutic of suspicion])

I am sure there are other things. For me, cover design is attractive, but I try not to judge… 🙂

New James Dunn Book Coming in Spring 2011

When I walked past the Eerdmans stall at SBL, there was a poster board for a new book from James D.G. Dunn called Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels. By doing a bit of internet research, I discovered that, while the book sells itself as a “primer” for New Testament studies, it appears to be a number of lectures that Dunn has given in the past that have been brought together into a collection. In any case, I am excited for more published work from this great scholar.

Here are some topics that will be covered:

  • Where, why, and how the Gospels were written and what we should expect from them
  • The reliability and historicity of the Gospels
  • The continuing significance of the Apostle Paul and his teaching
  • Points of continuity and discontinuity between the teaching of Jesus and of Paul — and how to bridge the two


Amazon has a street-release of March 31, Eerdmans webpage has April 29. So, maybe May or June…