Vol 3 of Baird’s History of NT Research – Easily a “Best Book” of 2013

bairdIn 2005, I happened to have picked up the first two volumes by William Baird of his History of New Testament Research. Truth be told, since that time, I have had little time to read either of those volumes, though I know them to be excellent based on reviews and recommendations.

This past summer, I was delighted to acquire the latest and last volume in the series subtitled From C.H. Dodd to Hans Deiter Betz. One might have wished for Baird to bring the discussion right up to present day, but now that I have had a good look at the 700+ page volume, this is a master achievement, and adding more may have sacrificed the quality or publication date of the book. I am quite happy with where he left the discussion.

Here’s an initial important disclaimer – while I assumed a book like this would be tedious reading, it repeatedly surprised me as Baird is a truly gifted writer and that is matched by his sensitivity for commenting on salient points and leaving extraneous information aside. Also, Baird weaves into the book, at every turn, personal insights into the lives of the scholars under consideration, which brings all these figures to life (though a handful of them are still living anyway, and I wish them all good health!).

The book is organized into three main parts

Part I: The Renaissance of New Testament Criticism: The Zenth of Enlightenment Criticism , The New Biblical Theology, the Bultmann School

Part II: The Revisiting of Critical Problems: New Discoveries/Archaeology/Textual Criticism, Historical Backgrounds: Judaism, Developments in Historical Criticism, Confessional Research: Roman Catholic Scholarship, The Development of Scholarly Societies.

Part III: Theological and Synthesizing Movements: Theological and Hermeneutical Developments; Critical, Exegetical and Theological Accomplishments in Europe and North America.

Baird acknowledges in the preface that it is regrettable that he could only focus (for the sake of sanity) on European and North American scholarship. He also notes that he could only discuss one female figure (Fiorenza). Still , despite these limitations, it is far better to have this work than no work at all.

Here are some of the scholars he discusses and profiles: Henry Cadbury, T.W. Manson, C.H. Dodd, Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, Ernst Kaesemann, Joachim Jeremias, W.D. Davies, E.P. Sanders, Martin Hengel, Helmut Koester, John Kloppenborg, Rudolph Schnackenburg, Raymond Brown, John Meier, Oscar Cullmann, Paul Minear, F.F. Bruce, C.K. Barrett, James D.G. Dunn, J. Louis Martyn, Leander Keck, V.P. Furnish, and, of course, Hans Dieter Betz.

This list is representational, not exhaustive. Baird includes many more than these. However, the only one I would have added is Morna Hooker – quite a strong influence in both Paul and Jesus studies, and also an outstanding commentator (Mark and Philippians). Still, no complaints given Baird’s remarkable achievement.

Here are a random smattering of insights and fun tidbits:

Dodd – Baird refers to Dodd’s height: “Like Zaccheus, Dodd was self-conscious about his small stature. W.D. Davies (in a recording made in 1986) told me that when, as a student, he would visit in Dodd’s study, the furniture would be so arranged that he would sit in a low chair and Dodd would sit above him on a higher one” (35). And, “Dodd was notorious for his absentmindedness, once appearing for a lecture wearing one of his own shoes and one of his daughter’s” (35).

20th century from beginning to end: “Little did the scholars at Oxford, Cambridge, and Harvard expect that virtually everything they accepted as established would come under attack in the rest of the century–the priority of Mark, the existence of Q, the historical Jesus, the Son of Man-Suffering Servant Messiah, the liberal Paul. Most of all, they did not anticipate a frontal attack that would aim to blow them out of the water: the militant message of the new biblical theology [Barth/Bultmann]” (53)

Barth on Biblical interpretation: “I had set out to please none but the very few, to swim against the current, to beat upon the doors which I thought were firmly bolted” (Preface to Romans, sixth ed.; Baird, p. 75); Barth again, “I entirely fail to see why parallels drawn from the ancient world…should be of more value for an understanding of the Epistle than the situation in which we ourselves actually are, and to which we can therefore bear witness” (Baird, 75).

Kaesemann – “He thrived on combat” (130)

DSS – Great discussion of the origin and history of DSS research (212ff)

After WWII – Excellent discussion of scholarly reassessment of Judaism after the Holocaust (see pp. 279ff)

Jeremias – “J. Louis Martyn…recalls his amazement at seeing Jeremias stride to the blackboard, open his Greek NT to Mark, and begin to transcribe the text into Aramaic” (Baird, 282)

New Perspective on Paul – Baird begins his NPP discussion with W.D. Davies, not Sanders or Stendahl (see 293)

Hengel on Sanders – According to Baird, Sanders believed that too many NT scholars were blinded by their theological agendas. However, Hengel draws attention to Sanders’ own plank in his eye when Sanders put into the appendix of Paul and Palestinian Judaism a set of page references to “truth, ultimate.” The references lead you to blank pages. Hengel exposes Sanders as just as ideological as anyone else, and calls this little appendix-stunt “ein schlechter Scherz” (“a bad joke”). (see Baird, 332)

Raymond Brown – Baird admires Brown’s first-rate scholarship, but notes: “Brown was not a great innovator; he was heir and conveyor of the critical tradition. In the history of NT research, few have done it better.” (423; I second that!)

Praise for Catholic NT scholarship – “Their critical and exegetical work is consistently directed to the theological meaning of the text. Their boundless energy, their dedication of time, and the magnitude of their productivity represent a model to be emulated” (p. 438)

Scholarly Societies and something funky about Funk – ch 8 is about the development of the Catholic Biblical Association, Society of Biblical Literature, and the SNTS. Lots of fascinating stuff here, but most peculiar of all: Robert Funk (leader of SBL in 1970’s) resigned and cut off ties with the SBL mysteriously. Other unusual happenings surrounded his scholarly life: “He had been dismissed as editor of Scholars Press under bizarre circumstances, including a charge of misusing of funds, and through a devious procedure whereby he was locked out of his own office” (Baird, 446).

F.F. Bruce – Bruce never owned a car (513)

Dunn’s passion for the big picture. The last item I will share is a quote from James D.G. Dunn:

One of my besetting sins as a scholar (but perhaps it’s a strength!) is the desire to see the large picture, to gain (so far as possible) comprehensive overview…It’s not that I am unwilling to engage in the fine detailed work necessary in the analysis of particular texts. Far from it. But all the time I want to step back and see how my findings cohere with the rest of our information…Like a painter of a large canvas, I need to step back time and again to check how the fine detail of particular parts blends into the whole (Baird, 549)

No doubt, Baird has the same passion, as showcased in this book. If I was reluctant previously to read these volumes at all (let alone for “pleasure”), I have repented. This is easily one of the most satisfying reads of 2013 in Biblical Studies. I have nestled it among the books on my history of scholarship shelf, next to the earlier volumes. But I am sure it won’t rest there for long. Whether I am planning on lecturing on Jesus, Paul, textual criticism, Dead Sea Scrolls, or the Synoptic Problem, I won’t hesitate to consult this priceless work.

Spurgeon’s Insightful Quote about Faith-Hope-Love

Pretty soon I will be putting most of my “research energy” into a book project on Paul’s faith (pistis) language. Surprisingly, there are few (are there any?) books in wide circulation singularly devoted to analyzing Paul’s faith language. I have done some of my ground-work for a dictionary article on “Faith” that I wrote for Logos Software’s Lexham Bible Dictionary (I think my essay is being “edited” right now, but will be available in the not-too-distant future). Well, I can be thankful to Logos for a second reason – they posted this brief quote from Charles Spurgeon on Facebook:

“Faith goes up the stairs that love has built and looks out the windows which hope has opened.” ―Charles H. Spurgeon

Wow! This is brilliant. Expect to find this quote in my writings (properly cited, of course) at some point. I am sure I will be sharing it with students often in semesters to come.


Make Shelf-Space for More “Old Testament Pseudepigrapha”!

Perhaps one of the most exciting book releases of 2013 is volume 1 of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures (ed. R. Bauckham, J.R. Davila, A. Panayotov). For those that already own or know about Charlesworth’s 2-volume Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, you might wonder: what is this? Here are ten things about this work you should know.

(1) More texts. This is not an “update” of the Charlesworth volumes. By and large, these are texts that do not appear in the Charlesworth editions. It is meant as “more” OTP.

(2) Later texts. The Charlesworth OTP focused on texts that give insight into the literature produced near or in the time of Second Temple Judaism. The Bauckham/Davila OTP expands that later to include texts right up to the rise of Islam (7th century CE). It is not that OTP literature suddenly stopped being produced after that. The editors, though, felt this to be a reasonable breaking point to keep the volumes of reasonable size.

(3) Some re-published texts in other versions/languages. To say this is “more” OTP is not to say there are no texts that already appeared in Charlesworth’s OTP. For example, the Bauckham/Davila OTP includes the Coptic version of Life of Adam and Eve. But they only included previously-published OTP texts where they had new insight from new information.

(4) Some early Jewish texts. Also, to say that many of these texts included are of later origin than most of the Charlesworth texts is not to say that none of the Bauckham/Davila texts date back to early Judaism. These includes, for example, Aramaic Levi, Hebrew fragments of Testament of Naphtali, and The Book of Giants.

(5) Possible early Jewish texts. There are some texts in this OTP that could date back to the Second Temple period, including Songs of David and Coptic Jeremiah Apocryphon.

(6) Later texts containing early Jewish traditions. This is very difficult to prove, but this worth considering as the editors suggest (cautiously).

(7) Relevance of post-first-century OTP texts. One might wonder, if many of these OTP texts in this collection originate after the first century, what good are they to researchers in the fields of New Testament and early Judaism? The editors suggest that readers think carefully about how these texts aid such researchers in the area of reception history. NT writers may not have used or interacted with these texts, but they still attest to the later interpretation of the same kinds of OT texts that were of interest in the first century.

(8) Beware of parallelomania and plundering. The editors urge readers of these OTP works to avoid sifting and plundering these texts for parallels and quick comparisons and contrasts to NT texts. Such has been done extensively with the Charlesworth volumes and many researchers have failed to read these OTP texts in their literary context and on their own terms.

(9) Two volumes, only one released. Eerdmans has released only one volume so far. The second one, it appears, has been planned in some detail, but its release is still forthcoming (and I did not see it in the Spring catalogue). The editors mention that they have no plans to go beyond a second volume.

(10) Charlesworth’s Extra 3. James Charlesworth, while not an editor for the new OTP volumes, wrote a nice foreword, and in that he discusses three documents that should be added to the older Charlesworth OTP, but did not appear in that collection: the Book of Giants, the Apocalypse of Elchasai, and the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius. As far as I could tell, only the Book of Giants will appear in Bauckham/Davila. (Can anyone correct me on this?)

When I was in seminary, many of us interested in biblical interpretation took an elective course called “Jewish world of the New Testament.” It was standard procedure to purchase the Charlesworth OTP as well as a good translation of the DSS. Over the years I did research with Charlesworth quite extensively. A few years back, I picked up the OTP on Bibleworks and Logos. I cannot tell you how helpful it has been, thematically, conceptually, historically, and lexically for NT studies. When I wrote my Colossians commentary, for example, I found the Testament of Job to be particularly insightful for making some sense of what the Colossian philosophy may have looked like.

Now, as you can imagine, the new collection in Bauckham/Davila will become an important resource for aiding New Testament study, though not as directly or clearly as the Charlesworth works (esp because of the later origins of many of the texts). Also, while many Charlesworth OTP texts appear in Greek (and make for easy lexical/semantic resources), the Bauckham/Davila texts represent a variety of languages (e.g., Coptic, Syriac, Hebrew). In any case, I think the next edition of the SBL Handbook of Style will have to include a new abbreviation category for this, but OTP is already taken! How should this new set be labelled? OTP2013?

Lastly, while I have noted Bauckham’s/Davila’s note of caution about merely stripping these texts for NT interpretive insights, I cannot help but wonder what light is shed on the world of Jesus and the apostles in the texts of earliest origin in these newly published fragments and books. I may do a bit of study and blog on some of these texts from OTP2013.

New “Teach the Text” Series and Luke by R.T. France

Baker Books has launched a new commentary series called “Teach the Text.” Nowadays, with the Franceproliferation of commentary series, one may wonder what “yet another” series can offer. But, actually, their angle is useful. The focus, as you can imagine, is on how preachers and teachers can “Teach the Text.” So, everything is streamlined with a view towards helping text-teachers do their work competently.

-Chapters are kept short (six pages) in order to make them manageable for preaching and teaching units. I really like this, and as I read through a sample commentary, it did not feel forced.

-In each mini-chapter you have the commentator start off by offering the “big idea” of the passage. This is a huge boon for preachers and will help them stay focused on the meaning of the text, not little rabbit trails or theology hobby horses.

-Then the first page or so of a mini-chapter offers background historical and literary information on the passage. Usually nothing earth-shattering here, but just enough to orient you to the who’s and what’s and when’s of the context.

-Next, the commentator offers key “interpretive insights” on the passage (not exhaustive verse-by-verse, but selective comments). This is the kind of thing you expect to find in a traditional commentary. Sometimes this felt a bit sparse, but, given the focus of the series, the commentator surely could not do much in this section without squeezing out important items in other sections.

-After that, you will find a “Theological Insights” section where key theological ideas in the passage are discussed. This is a kind of “thinking big picture” part.

-Then you have “Teaching the Text” suggestions. This is one of the best parts. You get expert advice from the author regarding how to approach communicating the meaning of the passage. The volume I looked at came across very conversational and informal, like the author was thinking out loud (you could even imagine with a tape recorder). I found that very appealing.

-Finally there is the “Illustrating the Text” section. This is a short, but priceless, portion that offers a variety of ideas for how to help modern readers  think about the implications and applications of the text through art, poetry, exercises, discussions, and liturgy.

-The text is peppered with beautiful pictures and photographs that stimulate the imagination.

Recently I perused R.T. France’s volume on Luke. France, former principal of Wycliffe Hall, distinguished himself as an expert in the study of both Mark (NIGTC) and Matthew (NICNT). In fact, I am currently having my students read his Matthew volume. His work on Luke, then, proves itself to be well-informed by a lifetime of study on the Synoptics.

One important thing about this series. It will be only as good as the scholars who bring their expertise to the table, not only in advanced exegesis (which undergirds their study), but also particularly in synthesizing the material and offering sagacious pedagogical advice. France’s volume is exemplary. If you buy this volume, it is as if you hired the author (France, sadly, passed away recently) to consult with you on preaching. Imagine meeting with the author weekly to talk through the passage and your sermon. This commentary feels and reads in just such a way. In the “illustrating the text” section, France is so well-read on art and culture that his advice is nearly worth getting the book all by itself.

One of my favorite parts of France’s work is his “big idea” sentences that begin each chapter – these are always succinct and spot-on. Whenever I have my own students do exegesis papers, I always require them to work up a “synthesis” statement in their conclusion where they condense the “big idea” of their passage in one sentence (I had this part of the assignment before the commentary series existed, I swear!). Well, I found France’s work so precise that I will pass around this commentary so my students can see excellent examples of what synthesis statements look like! This is now the third France commentary I own, and I am very grateful to have this in my library.

I also own the Romans volume by C. Marvin Pate. I haven’t cracked the spine yet, but I will say a few words about it when I do.