Gorman’s Apostle of the Crucified Lord, 2nd ed (Gupta)

**Book Notice**


Today is my first day back in the office after break, and I was greeted by Michael Gorman’s new edition of his Apostle of the Crucified Lord (Eerdmans, 2017; hereafter ACL). Sitting down with this book this morning transported me back to my days as a seminary student. The first edition came out in 2004, and I was about halfway through seminary. ACL was one of a handful of books that inspired me to enter into Pauline studies – others included Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said, Hays’ Conversion of the Imagination, Hooker’s work on Paul and interchange, and Beker’s Paul the Apostle.

When I took an introductory course on Paul, we used Bruce and also Polhill – both of these were informative and serviceable, but Gorman’s ACL was theologically dynamic and engaging. Over time I have returned to ACL again and again for lecture prep and counsel – for example, I just finished a short writing project on 2 Timothy and picked up ACL for guidance. I have not taught an intro to Paul in several years, but I have had students read selections from ACL, his early chapter on “Paul’s World” is outstanding. Of course, in my opinion, his chapters on Paul’s theology and spirituality are the heart of the book, and what makes it such a worthwhile textbook.

What about the new edition? Gorman has a high bar for excellence, and although the book follows the same format and flow as the first edition, he has clearly taken time to re-think and revise in light of scholarship over the last decade. Since 2004, Gorman has written numerous books, and you can see the new insights and thoughts he has incorporated into the new edition. Many of these are adjustments in titles and wording, but they demonstrate the integrated way he has tried to update the book.

Perhaps the thing that inspires and encourages me most about this new edition is that it is not written because Gorman demands that the world gives him attention – he updated it because he himself is a learner, a student of Paul, and simply wishes to share what he has continued to learn since the first edition  – he is all too quick to acknowledge many scholars, friends, and even students who have sharpened his thoughts here and there. It is a very encouraging model of ongoing inquiry in community.

If you don’t have the first edition, it is definitely time to get this 2017 one. If you already own the first edition, just know that Gorman has not really changed his mind on anything substantial. What you would miss out on would be updated academic conversations mostly, and Gorman’s tips on good bibliographical material (his annotated bibliographies are one of the best features of the book). Enjoy!

Paul in the Greco-Roman World 2nd ed (Gupta)


Sampley.jpgOne of my favorite Christmas presents this year was getting Paul Sampley’s (ed) 2nd edition, Paul in the Greco-Roman World (Bloomsbury, 2016), now expanded to two volumes. Originally 21 chapters, it is now 28 chapters, not only with several “brand new” essays but also with revisions to the original chapters. Before addressing the “new” chapters, I just want to say that when the first edition came out in 2003, I was in seminary and it quickly became one of my favorite works on Paul. I have used the book many times since then, for my research, but also for preparing lectures on Paul and the GR world. Some of my favorite essays from the first edition include Fitzgerald on “Paul and Friendship,” Krentz on “Paul, Games, and the Military,” Peter Lampe on “Paul, Patrons, and Clients,” and Harrill on “Paul and Slavery.”

New essays (some here new-author rewrites of older essays) include:

“Paul and Associations” (R. Ascough)

“Paul and Circumcision” (T. Martin)

“Paul and Family Life” (Margaret MacDonald)

“Better to Marry Than to Burn: St Paul and the Greek Novel” (Loveday Alexander)

“Paul and Games” (A.H. Cadwallader)

“Paul, Honor, and Shame” (David deSilva)

“Paul and Literacy” (J.C. Poirier)

“Paul and Memory” (Peter-Ben Smit)

“Paul and Performance” (Glenn S. Holland)

“Paul and Social Memory” (Rafael Rodriguez)

“Paul, Virtues, Vices, and Household Codes” (S.E. Porter)

Here are some quick notes:

Ascough is the leading expert on GR associations, so his essay is outstanding. Alexander’s work, while useful, is a reprint already published elsewhere – so it breaks the mold of the expected way the chapters are constructed fyi. The essay on “Paul and Games” (Cadwallader) is a complete revision of the first edition essay by Krentz. Krentz’s essay included both games and military – the new essay leaves out the latter. I think that is unfortunate. Poirier’s work is informative, but has a very limited recommended bibliography (only 8-9 works). Smit’s work, it should be noted, focuses on rhetorical appeals to a shared cultural memory.

Overall, I am very pleased with this new edition, the added chapters are handy (though not sure two separate chapters on memory was necessary). The chapters from the first edition have been updated, some more than others, though at least bibliographies have been revised. The editor took steps to include female authors in this edition, which is appreciated.

This is an expensive volume – $264 – so I hesitate to recommend it for the personal library, but I would highly encourage you to ask your librarian to order it.



Best Books of 2016 (Gupta)

Well folks, it is that time of the year! Best biblical studies books of 2016.


Overall Best Book: The Crosses of Pompeii (Bruce Longenecker)


What an incredibly interesting book! This is how you build an argument and topple a specious consensus. You can find an interview I conducted previously with Longenecker about this book HERE. Several years ago, when my family and I were visiting Rome, we chose to visit Ostia Antica instead of Pompeii. Now I am regretting our laziness!

Longenecker is not done talking about Pompeii. Head over to Fortress Press’ website and check out some of his other projects.


Best Gospels Book: Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels


This award deservedly goes to Richard Hays for his much anticipated Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. Hays is such a creative theologian, and is able to bring fresh insight to so many Gospel texts through his famous intertextual readings. We already received a foretaste in his Reading Backwards, but this “big brother” volume gets down and dirty in many passages from the Gospels.




Best Paul Book: Paul and the Gift (John Barclay)


I was not able to call it in 2015 because I did not read the book, but now it is time – Paul and the Gift. As many have already said, it is a game-changer, and will be a starting point for new discussions of Paul’s theology – Sanders on covenantal nomism and Barclay on gift and grace, these two must be reckoned with. I think there is more to be said (ahem, I am trying to make my own modest contribution in a coming monograph), but Barclay has set a high bar for methodology and attention to the details. He is also a dynamic theological thinker.


Honorable Mention: Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination (ed. Blackwell, Goodrich, and Maston). The buzzword “apocalyptic” is put under the microscope and analyzed by specialists.

Best Commentary: When in Romans (Beverly Gaventa)


Actually, this is not technically a commentary, but I want to give this award to Beverly Gaventa for her When in Romans. It is more of a collection of short essays on Romans, but it is well deserving of merit and acclaim. She writes compellingly and this is an appetizing foretaste of her Romans commentary.

Honorable Mention: The “Wisdom Commentary Series” from Liturgical launched this year – it is a full-fledged commentary series that draws from feminist interpretation. I have had a chance to read much of the 1-2 Thessalonians volume and it is a really helpful treatment, esp in a context where some scholars believe the church was “all male.” This commentary (rightly IMO) challenges that view.

Honorable Mention1-2 Thessalonians, Two Horizons (Andy Johnson). Between Weima, Fee, Malherbe, and the future ICC from Donfried, pretty much every nook and cranny of 1-2 Thess has been covered by scholarship. But Johnson does a great service of thinking theologically about these letters, on their own, but also within the canon and Christian thought. He draws out the Missio Dei in these letters, and also important ways that we can refresh holiness language in theology today.

Best Language Book: The Greek Verb Revisited (ed. S. Runge and C. Fresch)


Hot off the presses, I just got my copy (this week) of The Greek Verb Revisited. I happened to be in Cambridge (UK) just when this conference was taking place, and I got a sense for the buzz and excitement around this important discussion. I have been making my Greek students drool at the prospects of this volume for months, and I now know it really will impact biblical Greek studies. I plan on having my students interact with some of this.

Honorable Mention: Intermediate Greek Grammar (D. Mathewson, E. Emig). Since I received this book in early fall, I have been using it to supplement my lectures from Croy. Croy is weakest in the area of verbal aspect, and Mathewson/Emig simplify their up-to-date approach to syntax making it more attractive over alternatives.


Destroyer of the Gods by Larry Hurtado (Gupta)

Hurtado.jpgI took two books with me to read on my way to and from SBL – Larry Hurtado’s Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World was one of them (the other was Gaventa’s When in Romans). I am currently fascinated with early Christian social history, so I was eager to see what Hurtado had to say.

There have been several interviews and online discussions about this book already, so I won’t spend time here summarizing the book (You can see Hurtado give a lecture-version of this book HERE). Needless to say, Hurtado sets out to outline how the early Christians were unusual as a religious group in their time, and also to look at the kinds of things that Christians were accused of by others. Hurtado is clear that this is not a volume that intends to break much new ground in the study of early Christianity. Rather, it is more of a big-picture look at how Christianity was perceived by outsiders.

Overall, this work does a fine job of synthesizing the unique elements of early Christian composition (trans-ethnic), habit (rituals and text-orientation), and ethos. There is one blogger who faulted Hurtado for not discussing the cross as a feature of Christianity offensive to pagans. Hurtado responded to this criticism of his work, noting that “the sources don’t foreground that as the key point of contention.” I too had a similar concern about the lack of discussion of Jesus’ crucifixion as a point of shame and potential mockery, but I take Hurtado’s point that it simply is not a main topic raised by opponents of the early Christians. (Still, it is worth asking why critics of Christians did not raise this easy target – i.e., they honor an enemy of the state who was eventually stripped of his honor and dignity)

Furthermore, two things give me pause. Firstly, the shame of the cross is addressed enough in the New Testament (even if obliquely, Heb 12:2; Rom 1:16-17; 1 Cor 1:18; Gal 3:13) that it should factor in somewhere in a book on “distinctiveness.” That is, I find it fair to mirror-read the NT such that the early Christians themselves seemed to anticipate this criticism. Also, I might have included the “Alexamenos” graffiti as part of the critique of Christians, since it is so early (presumably) and a clear mockery.


A second concern I had with the book is that it was difficult for me to get a grasp on the intended audience. It was pitched “popular” enough to be non-technical, but certainly serves as a rather niche topic given the kinds of dialogue partners involved in this kind of discussion. This makes the book difficult to assess. One of my biggest concerns was that Hurtado often talked about criticisms of early Christians, but almost never gave block quotes of those texts. Most of us don’t have that material ready at hand, so we can’t look it up to get context and learn more. I would have greatly desired either the inclusion of more primarily material in block quotes, or an appendix that included extracts from those anti-Christian writings.

These criticisms notwithstanding, I have always admired Hurtado’s work (and assigned some of his Christology books as textbooks), and this is no exception. He has a clear and smooth writing style. He knows his history and has done his homework throughly. He is a measured and careful historian that also can be innovative and creative in analysis. This is definitely one of my favorite reads of 2016.

The AAR/SBL Academic Culture – A Challenge (Gupta)

academic-conference.jpgThis is about my 10th or 11th SBL. I remember those early years of being starstruck when I saw Luke Timothy Johnson in the flesh, or when I got a few minutes in line at a cafe to talk to D. Moody Smith. The first papers I presented – how much I prepared and rehearsed. There are so many wonderful things about SBL. It has always been a highlight of my year.

I am trying now, settling into a decade of SBL-ing, to find ways to strengthen the experience. So, here are my bits of advice for everyone, but especially those who have been around for a while, like myself.

#1: You’re not too cool for anyone, so don’t be a jerk. Don’t make SBL about showing off your status, or kissing up to someone. Remember what it was like to be blown off by someone (as they look for someone else more important to talk to). Don’t do it. If someone wants to meet with me or chat with me, I try to find time in my schedule. When someone comes to me and introduces themselves, I don’t wait to find out how important they are – I try to take a minute and get to know them.

#2: Remember the disenfranchised. I have lived in a majority white culture all my life, it’s all I know, and I am not upset about it, but that does not mean that I am always “comfortable.” In recent years I have been trying harder and harder to make sure I am noticing everyone around me. Be friendly and inviting.

#3: Come alongside an underdog. I was (am?) an underdog. I am not the smartest guy in the room – I work hard, but, confession time, I bombed the GRE (twice). Several people at SBL took a chance on me and believed in me, they sent opportunities my way that I didn’t deserve, but they believed I could rise to the occasion. I am trying to do that for others now. Come alongside an underdog at SBL.

#4: Encourage the women in your sphere. Not in a condescending way, but open your eyes to the sexist world of academia. Nobody wants to be sexist, but many of us are. It’s an old boy’s club. It’s changing, thank God it is changing. I work with many incredible women  – academics and editors. But we have a long way to go. Invite them into collaborative projects. Invite them to your social outings. Some women academics receive little or weak support even from their institutions. Let’s do things differently.

#5: Treat exhibitor staff, hotel staff, and SBL staff with utmost respect. Our tendency is to think everyone is there for ME. My books, my papers, my response, my interview. Yeah, I’m sure they go home at night and all they want to do is talk about how amazing you are. (cue eyeroll). Take a minute every once in a while and be friendly to staff people. Surprise, surprise, many of them work excruciatingly long hours and have to be away from family for many, many days to serve you. Kindness helps. (Is it obvious I used to be one of these exhibitors?)

#6: Don’t diss anyone behind their back. I am guilty of this. I have done this. I know better, and I want to raise the bar. When gossip comes up, change the subject.

#7: Be yourself. (Your best self.) Don’t put on a mask at SBL. If you are evangelical, don’t pretend you are not. If you don’t like to drink, don’t get pressured into it. If you feel led to pray for someone with you in public, just do it. Don’t let “SBL” stifle you – we are SBL. We are human. Go for it.


Rowan Williams – Being Disciples (Gupta)

Being Disciples.jpgRowan Williams has a clear knack for homiletical and devotional writing. I greatly enjoyed his previous work, Being Christian, which focused on the topics of baptism, the Bible, Eucharist, and prayer. I found many of his brief reflections utterly profound and spiritually inspiring. Williams has a way of drawing in wisdom from great theologians without it being too “academic.”

This new work, Being Disciples, has the same format, though here split into six chapters: being disciples (ch 1), faith, hope, and love (ch2), forgiveness (ch3), holiness (ch4), faith in society (ch. 5), life in the Spirit (ch6). I found this book less fluid than the previous one, and perhaps it is because this one appears to be comprised of a collection of sermons Williams gave on several occasions (see links to those sermons on p. 88). That gives this book a sort of “kitchen-sink” feel, where “disciple/discipleship” seems to include just about everything related to the Christian life.

Something to keep in mind – Williams is not doing exegesis, he is not doing word studies. He is giving a series of “life reflections” on these themes. Sometimes that does rub me the wrong way – I would have wanted Williams to draw from the text a bit more. But it is what it is and there are some very rewarding moments. For example, his work on forgiveness (ch 3) is excellent. Here are a handful of lines

We should…think of those extraordinary words in the prophecy of Hosea (11:8-9) about the mercy of God: ‘How Can I give you up, Ephraim?…for I am God and not a mortal.’ To forgive is to share in the helplessness of God, who cannot turn from God’s own nature: not to forgive would be for God a wound in the divine life itself…The disciple rooted in Christ shares that powerlessness, and the deeper the roots go the less possible it is not to forgive. (42)

Many more striking reflections from Williams in these short 80-some pages. It makes for very rich devotional reading.