Review of NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible

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NIV bibleNIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible – Red Letter Edition. Edited by John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016. Hb. US $49.99. ISBN: 9780310431589.

At the end of 2016, Zondervan released a brand new NIV study Bible. I am happy to be reviewing that for you here. The reader would not be slated for thinking that there is, at this point, no need for another study Bible on the market. After all, how many choices do we need? I am counted among those who think that we passed the point of having too many study Bibles nearly a decade ago. But in this case, there is something genuinely distinctive about the editors’ approach. I will begin by describing that approach. I will then turn to the actual content of the study notes before speaking of the quality of this Bible and offering a final evaluation.

Approach:

Most study Bibles focus on doctrine or application. Editors learned a long time ago that if they focus on application, they would be able to both be more specific with their target audience and publish more books. Thus, we have study Bibles that focus on doctrine from any and all denominational standpoints as well as application focused study Bibles for men, women, children, students, teens, etc., etc., etc.

So how can there possibly be a need for another study Bible? The editors of the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, however, have adopted a new and exciting focus – the cultural backgrounds of the Bible. This approach, as the editors point out, flips the standard approach to producing a study Bible on its head. Readers of the Bible intuitively understand their own cultural contexts, and they will almost intuitively know how to apply the principles of the Bible to their own contexts. The challenge, however, is to understand the context of the Bible, as John Walton points out, “the Bible was written for us, it wasn’t written to us” (pg. iii). The approach adopted for this study Bible aims to help bridge the cultural gap between then and now.

And yet, the effort to understand the Bible in its context is increasingly under threat. The adoption of reader response hermeneutics has contributed to the overall de-emphasis on the authority and sufficiency of God’s word. The approach adopted in this study Bible, therefore, is a welcome contribution to the important task of understanding the Bible in its original context. How was it read and understood by its original audience? This is an important question that needs to be asked.

One other issue regarding this approach needs to be addressed. That issues is the historical perspective of the comments themselves. This relates to the fact that in most historically focussed commentaries, the author places the texts within the context in which they presume the texts were written. For example, many scholars argue that the book of Deuteronomy was written during the reign of King Josiah and was intended to argue for devotion to Yahweh alone at the Temple of Jerusalem alone. Therefore, they interpret Deuteronomy within this context. Many evangelicals, on the other hand, would interpret Deuteronomy within the context of Moses’ last speech to Israel before the nation entered the Promised Land. Both of these approaches, though very different, are focused on the author’s intention — they simply disagree fundamentally about who and when that author was. In order to avoid these disputes, the editors of the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adopt a text centered focus. They simply deal, on a descriptive level, with the text as it stands. We will now turn to the content of the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible.

Content:

The notes in this Bible are copious and thorough. There are thousands of relevant notes that cover a full range of topics. There are also chronological charts when relevant. There is a list of key theological terms for the New Testament and even a list of key Hebrew terms that are difficult to translate into English. Throughout the Bible there are extended excursuses including, for example, ones on “Ancient Law Codes and Leviticus,” “Balaam,” “Combat by Champions,” “Psalm Titles,” and “The Crucifixion.” There is also an extended section on the intertestamental period. These notes are not simply relevant and interesting, but they are engaging. They draw the reader in and are situated within the text in a way that makes there importance apparent to the reader.

The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible is also full of maps both at the end, as expected, but also throughout the Bible. All of the maps are easy to read and in full color. Another great feature of the maps is that there is an index of geographical names with a map number and coordinates for finding that cite on the map. This index is both helpful and easy to use.

This Bible also has dozens of charts that cover topics such as “Old Testament Festivals and Other Sacred Days,” “David’s Family Tree,” “Timeline of Paul’s Life,” and even the “Qualifications of Elders/Overseers and Deacons.” These charts are all in full color as well, and they are easy to read. They seem to appear and assist the reader’s understanding just as the reader is losing clarity.

Finally the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible is full of incredible images. In most cases, these images are of relevant archaeological findings. These include both archaeological dig sites as well as contemporary literature. In most cases, these images are included in an explanatory excursus. For example, 1 Sam 16:16, 18 speaks of David playing the lyre. At this point, there is an excurses explaining what the lyre is as well as a photograph of a jug on which is drawn a man playing a stringed instrument. All of these photos are relevant and work not only to point to the ancient nature of the biblical text, but also to increase my own interest in the Bible itself.

Quality:

The overall print quality of this hardback Bible is poor. The paper is thin and bends easily. It also suffers from a great deal of bleed through (called ghosting) from the other side of the page. Zondervan used a couple of techniques to try to minimize the ghosting such as using colored paper and matching each line of text with the one on the reverse side of the page. These efforts helped some, but in many cases (such as when there is a color picture on the reverse) the ghosting is quite distracting.

Another consequence of thin paper is that you can almost never take your own notes. On this paper, which feels like a thin magazine or the ads in your Sunday newspaper, writing with a ball point pen would leave indentions, and writing with a fountain or gel pen would bleed through profusely. In fact, even my high quality pigment ink pen blead through the thicker paper of the signature page. But ink bleeding through may not be an issue for most readers, as the margins are so small that there is no room to make notes.

The text block is of adequate quality. The Bible lies flat no matter what page to which you turn, a very important feature for Bibles.

Final Evaluation:

In my final evaluation I am happy to own this Bible, will be happy to read this Bible for years to come, and I am happy to recommend this Bible. Although I was in my past, I am no longer a fan of the NIV translation, especially in its 2011 edition. However, it is a readable version of the Bible, and as I once heard from a wise pastor, “The best translation of the Bible is the one you will read.” I intend to give this Bible to my son and I know that he will love the photos within and will also learn a great deal that will help him to understand the biblical text with more clarity.

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Sermon: Lamentations 3

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Zoie Lafis, Threnouses [2005]

Zoie Lafis, Threnouses [2005]

Lamentations 3: Hope because of the LORD:

(A Sermon given on September 10, 2017 at Langley Park Baptist Church, England)

 Why study Lamentations?

Many of you will have read, and perhaps even studied, the book of Lamentations several times. BUT, you would be the exception that proved the rule. The truth is that the majority of Christians these days seem to be exceedingly illiterate when it comes to the Bible, especially the Old Testament, not to mention a book like Lamentations.

But why is Lamentations so challenging? I think it will be helpful to consider some factors.

Difficulties:

  • The Old Testament is challenging
    • It is so long ago
    • It is often neglected by preachers, especially in churches with a liturgy.
  • The Old Testament is often more challenging to preach.
  • Lamentations is never quoted in the NT, which makes Lamentations appear to have nothing to offer Christians when it comes to understanding the work of Christ, church life, or the doctrines of Scripture.
  • Hebrew Poetry
  • Very timely…singular event, singular audience Jerusalem’s destruction 
  • It’s so sad!
    • Why would we want to read such a sad book?

Well, yes it is. It is a very sad book. It has made me cry on more than one occasion. But there is strange comfort in know that others have suffered too. If I am able to show that there is applicable theology for the church today then Lamentations can be a source of great comfort to those in trying times.

Is there anything for the church to learn from Lamentations?

Yes, I believe so, and I believe that understanding the historical setting of Lamentations will bring this out.

Fortunately we know a great deal about the setting of this book from the Bible itself.

Historical Setting

  • We know that it is about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.
  • Timeline of events:
  • 605 The Babylonians invade Judah (2 Kings 24:1–2) king: Jehoiakim
  • 605 First wave of deportation of Jews to Babylon (2 Kings 24:1–2; Chron 36:6; Dan 1:1–2) including Daniel
  • 597 Babylonians capture Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:10) king: Jehoiachin
  • 597 Second wave of deportation to Babylon from Judah. (2 Kings 24:12–16) including Ezekiel
  • 588 Famine in the land (2 Kings 25:3)
  • 587 The Babylonians destroy Jerusalem and the Temple (2 Kings 25) king: Zedekiah and the Third wave of Jews deported to Babylon (2 Kings 25:18–20)

Now let’s talk about authorship

Most English speaking believers will almost instinctively ascribe the authorship of Lamentations to Jeremiah. I think that this is probably right, but when we look at the ancient manuscripts, we discover that this ascription to Jeremiah as the author was not added to the actual copies of Lamentations until about 300 years after it was written.

What’s the point?

My point is that if we focus on Lamentations as a book by Jeremiah, we will be tempted to read chapter three as about Jeremiah, and only about Jeremiah. However, if we recognize that the book is anonymous, then we realize that any Israelite living through the destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent exile can pick up this song of lament and sing it. Every man, woman, and child, could pick up this lament and express their anguish to God.

And that’s exactly what they would have done.

We know this because of the genre and poetic artistry evident in this book.

The book of lamentations is what is known as a city lament.

This simply means that Lamentations mourns the loss of Israel’s major city, Jerusalem.

In fact, during this period, there were hundreds of city laments being written. World powers were rising and falling, as you know. First the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, then the Persians, then the Greeks, and then the Romans. As these nations were rising and falling, cities like Jerusalem were captured and destroyed.

  • 1–4 are in the form of an acrostic.
    • Why? It functions as a memory aid.
    • These chapters all go through the Hebrew alphabet.
    • 1,2,4 containing 22 verses with the first letter of each verse beginning with the next Hebrew letter
      • 3 has 66 verses with 3 for each letter of the alphabet. They were intended to memorize it and teach their children the poems while they are in exile.
      • Why? To teach the exile generation a theology. Lamentations will teach them how to view the exile and the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple.
  • 5 is usually understood as a community prayer.

So what did Lamentations teach Israel and what does it teach us?

Well, aspects of this answer are found throughout the entire book, but the centre of the book is here in Lamentations 3.

You see, the structure of the book means that the centre of all of its message and theology is here in chapter three.

This is because Lamentations, as a brilliant piece of poetry was written as in what is called a chiastic structure. This simply means that the whole book is symmetrical.

  • The outer chapters (1 and 5) deal broadly with the nation of Israel and her destruction
  • The middle chapters (2 and 4) take the reader into the streets of Jerusalem so that he can see what the destruction looks like. The reader is given a picture of how bad things are.
  • The central chapter zooms in even closer and focusses in on the individual person who is having to go through this disaster. It begins with “I am the man”

Content

  • Chapter 1
    • Major theme is the abandonment of Jerusalem
    • The city is personified as a woman being punished for her many transgressions (1:5)
    • She has no one to comfort her (1:9, 17, 21)
    • This motif is intensified when the woman is no longer being spoken of, but becomes the speaker (1:9).
  • Chapter 2
    • Whereas ch. 1 focused broadly on the event, that it occurred and that it was indeed terrible, ch. 2 seems to focus in on the specific actions of God (ex. 2:1–9).
    • God is involved in this event.
    • Really focuses in on how bad the situation got and the city is really pleading with God for answers (ex. 2:20)
  • Chapter 3
    • Clearly spoken from the perspective of a person; the prophet? Everyman?
    • Communal prayer for return to Yahweh (vs. 40–47) o Prayer of supplication for God to respond (vs. 48–66). Prayer for God to punish his instruments of judgment (Jer 51:6 on Babylon; Isa 13:1, 4, 11 on Babylon, Ezekiel, etc.)
  • Chapter 4
    • Viewpoint of someone in the midst of the events. Things are really bad.
    • 22, the punishment has been completed. Waiting for restoration…
  • Chapter 5
    • Prayer for restoration, but still waiting for restoration…
    • Notice the open ending. Not going to happen until the Millennium.
    • Books written later tell us that God is present. But we know that they are still waiting for this restoration.

Chapter 3 is an even more zoomed in look at the events that have just taken place. Whereas Ch. 1 was an overview, Ch. 2 was zoomed in at the particular aspects of the destruction of Jerusalem, Ch. 3 is zoomed in to the personal level.

Ch. 3 seems to be addressing the question: How can the individual respond to these events?

This might be why this chapter is written largely in the first person.

It is helpful for me to think of Lamentations as a recipe for a right response to God’s punishment. That recipe has two ingredients: humility and faith. 

Vs. 1–18: First ingredient: humility

Vs. 1–3

“I am the man”

Note how personal Jeremiah is. Consider also that any Israelite who learns and recites this poem would also be expressing this pain in a personal manner.

This chapter begins by saying that this individual has seen the affliction that was brought about by the rod of his wrath.

BUT, the author continues by stating that the individual is being driven by that rod. Same language, but opposite feeling of Ps. 23. Instead of being led gently, he is being driven. He is being led through darkness.

Vs. 4–9

The language here is siege language. The poet wants each Israelite to realize that they are being individually, and not just collectively, punished by God.

Each person, in a way, is responsible for this.

Just as Moses promised that this would happen in Deuteronomy 28, it has now happened. Israel’s unfaithfulness to the Lord has been met with punishment. It is a punishment on the nation as a whole, but there is a personal nature to this punishment.

Isn’t it true that when we go through trials and suffering, the human response is to ask, “Why is this happening to me? Where is God in all this? Doesn’t He care that I am suffering?”

Well, to these questions, Lamentations 3 teaches Israel that these terrible things are happening because of sin and rebellion, that God is not absent in their trials, but that he is very present. In fact he is the one that is acting through Babylon to punish his people.

Notice how often the Lord is the subject of the verbs in vv. 1–18.

Give examples…

  • He has driven me (vs. 2)
  • He has turned His hand (vs. 3)
  • He has caused my flesh and my skin to waste away, (vs. 4)
  • He has broken my bones. (vs. 4)
  • He has besieged and encompassed me (vs. 5)
  • He has walled me (vs.7)
  • He has made my [a]chain heavy (vs. 7)
  • He shuts out my prayer (vs. 8)
  • Etc., etc., etc.

The point is: When we go through suffering we often ask, “Where is God?” Lamentations answer to this question is, “God is right here.”

We ask, “Doesn’t God see what I’m going through”

Lamentations answers, “Yes, He sees what is happening, because He is causing it.”

Vs. 10–11

Here God is seen as a crouching lion and bear who has mauled Israel.

I will encounter them like a bear robbed of her cubs,

And I will tear open their chests;

There I will also devour them like a lioness,

As a wild beast would tear them.

(Hos. 13:8)

 

This is not a pretty picture and it shows just how desperate the situation is.

It also takes us into the very depths of despair, where feels as though he cannot even turn to God for help. God is the one who is causing this grief. God is the one that is tearing you apart limb from limb.

Vs. 12–13

Pictures YHWH as an archer and the individual Israelite as the specific target of God’s arrow. The shocking element is that it is the individual man who is the precise target of God.

Vs. 16–18:

To top it all off, the man feels as though God is forcing his face into the ground. God is making him lie in the dust and eat gravel.

The picture is of God shoving the individual’s face into the ground.  Thus forcing a spirit of humility.

But there is a turn here at vs. 19 and that is because the second ingredient is introduced: faith.

Vs. 19–24: The second Ingredient: faith

Vs. 19–21: notice the transition in focus

Begins “remember my afflictions…”

Continues, “I remember them…”

But he remembers something else…God’s loving kindnesses!! AND THEREFORE THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE

I.e. despite his feeling of being cut off and having no hope, he knows that the Lord is faithful.

What he knows is not really matching up with what he feels.

What he knows reframes how he feels. His faith in the character of God can totally reshape his understanding of what is happening.

You’ll notice in the text that this does not suddenly mean that everything is ok à The book of Lamentations has no happy ending!!

Our hearts long for a happy ending in this situation, but Lamentations offers no such happy outlook.

You’ll also notice that this does not mean that everything that he has said up to this point about God targeting him is not in reality the truth.

He still knows that life is a challenge. He remembers his affliction. The affliction has not gone away.

All too often we Christians can approach a suffering Christian and say, “well God works all things for the good of those who love him.” How many funerals have we been to that all to quickly jump to talk of “celebration” or of a “home going” without giving full recognition of the pain of loss, or of the heartrending reality that we live in a broken world and that death is wrong and an enemy of God.

NO, the individual here cannot ignore his pain and suffering. Nor should we! We should not ignore our pains and write them off. We should not ignore the pain of those around us.

béla-uitz-siratás-(lament)

Béla Uitz, Siratás (Lament), [1916]

Romans 8:28 can so often be used as a way to condemn those who are suffering and indicate to them that they shouldn’t be sad, because that would somehow demonstrate a lack of faith in God.

NO, we who trusts in the Lord should weep with those who weep knowing that sin has entered the world and has introduced pain and suffering into this world . . . and that is a problem!!

At the same time, however, those who trust in the Lord know that we can have a mature and full understanding of what is actually happening. You will notice that vs. 21 indicates that there is always hope! But from where does this hope come? The source of this hope is faith in God’s character, and as we will see in vv. 25–29, faith in the nature of God’s loving chastisement.

After all, vs. 24, If God is your portion than you need nothing else. If you have God and nothing else, you have everything that you need.

And we see that in vv. 25–29. In other words, with the two ingredients of humility and faith, the individual is able to see more clearly what is happening how to respond to what is happening.

Vs. 25–39: The result of these two ingredients is a complete and mature understanding of the nature of God’s Punishment Vs. 25–27:

In light of the previous recollection that God is the believer’s portion, there is no reason to worry or fear. The believer needs only wait and be steadfast.

All three of these verses begin with “Good.” The focus is on the good

Vs. 28–30

These verses explain what it means to bear the yoke in his youth.

Vs. 28 – it means to not complain

Vs. 29-30 – it means to humble yourself and stop resisting the Lord’s work in your life

Vs. 31–36

Vs. 31–33

These verses are cluing us in on reasons for bearing the yoke.

They are explaining the nature of God’s punishment!

  • His punishment does not last forever
  • Grief is followed by compassion
  • It hurts the heart of God to inflict punishment
  • YHWH’s discipline is not characterized by the things that can so often characterize the punishment of mankind. But God is not vindictive or unjust.

AFTER ALL, God is sovereign (vv. 37-38)

This why in vv. 39 the poet is able to fully submit and accept the punishment of God.

The same word of “strong man” occurs here in vs. 39. It seems then that we have been witnesses to a journey toward humility and understanding. In vs. 1 the “strong man” views God as a cruel shepherd driving his sheep, but here God is perceived to be a just, sovereign, and even loving God who is judging sin.

This all leads to the fully baked, response to God in light of the poet’s pain, his humility, and his faith. The fully baked response is an honest, mature, and theologically informed prayer.

Vs. 40–66:

Vs. 40–41

This is a call for national confession and a return to YHWH.

They sinned. He did not pardon.

Imagine how this would shape and influence the national understanding of Jerusalem’s destruction and the horrors of war and exile!!

Jeremiah has provided the nation with a brilliant song that anyone in Israel can learn and sing. At the same time their understanding of these events would be shaped. They would be offering up a national prayer of confession and faith.

A FEW LESSONS FOR US:

The brokenness of this world is displayed:

  • This world is not as it should be!
  • Every time someone dies, or when we suffer loss or hardship we need to remember that something is wrong with this world.

God’s faithfulness displayed:

  • Through His unfailing, loyal love
  • Through His righteous, loving punishment
  • Through His ever-present ear to hear the cries of His people

A right response displayed:

  • We also learn from this text how to rightly experience the discipline of God.

There will be pain when we sin and disrupt our fellowship with God, but . . .

  • God’s faithfulness is genuine and not a pipe dream.
  • God’s loving kindnesses never cease, therefore we can trust that God will

HOW DO WE BRING THIS BACK TO CHRIST?

As Christians, however, what difference does Jesus make to all of this?

Why should Christians read Lamentations? After all, what is depicted here is God’s wrath against Israel for her sin, and our punishment for sin was placed upon Jesus at Calvary!!

While it is true that Christ was crucified for our sins and we will never have to experience this type of punishment for sin, it becomes a starling picture of the pain that Christ went through on our behalf on the cross.

There is also the starling fact that as we read Lamentations we begin to recognize, not only the pain of this life, but also the utter condemnability of our sin.

We must rejoice and praise God for his work on our behalf. Christ bore the wrath that we deserve.

We also realize that Christ perfectly demonstrated trust in the Father as he was the object of God’s wrath upon the cross.

We thus realize that Christ perfectly responded to the pain and suffering of the cross and gives us the power to do so as well.

If Christ could receive on himself the wrath for our sin and walk by faith and perfectly demonstrate the response to suffering that is described here in Lamentations 3 then as his disciples, we can walk in his likeness with the Holy Spirit in us.

Book Review: Remembering the Reformation

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remembering the reformationThomas Albert Howard, Remembering the Reformation: An Inquiry into the Meanings of Protestantism. Oxford: Oxford, 2016. Hb. xiv + 194. US $40.

With the quincentenary of Luther’s posting of the 95 theses against the sale of indulgences on the church doors of Wittenberg, there is much to ponder as Protestants. Much has changed since October 31, 1517, and not merely in the context of world Christianity. But there is another important truth to consider: we are not the first Christians to celebrate an anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Far from it, there is a long legacy of celebrating and remembering the inherited legacy from that very important period in Christian history, and world history for that matter.

It this legacy of remembering the Reformation that Howard addresses. The book itself is rather small in its dimensions and short in its breadth. The prose is simple (though not simplistic) and engaging. It contains a mere four body chapters along with an introduction and conclusion. The book also contains many self-evidently helpful images of realia from past celebrations of the Reformation. These objects include commemorative coins, postage stamps, posters, paintings, and sculptures. These images become essential aids in Howard’s account of remembering the past.

Essentially, Howard is interested in the remembered past rather than the past itself. He is not writing a history of Protestantism or an history of the transmission of Protestant ideas in the wake of the Reformation. Rather, Howard’s focus is on the acts of remembrance such as celebrations, dedications of statues, church gatherings, conferences, political rallies, university lectures, etc. These acts of remembrance were diverse and differed in important ways from country to country and from century to century.

The chapters themselves focus on 1617 and 1717 together; 1817; 1883 (the 400th anniversary of Luther’s birth); and finally the twentieth century. Throughout this treatment, many diverse understandings of Luther immerge especially when comparing the remembrance of Luther in Germany and the US. However, there are also several common threads throughout Howard’s treatment. One of these threads is growing sense that Luther changed the world and paved the way for many of the greatest developments in Europe and beyond including the Enlightenment. Howard catalogues a remarkable number of individuals who viewed Luther as the catalyst for all that followed him. A sense that Luther’s feeing the church from the papacy led to an all-encompassing spirit of freedom in the protestant world. This spirit of freedom in turn came to include the call for political freedom, freedom from oppression, and for some even freedom from religion.

In the conclusion, Howard offers many helpful thoughts for this current year’s remembrances of Luther. To be sure, however, the insights of Howard’s book are too wide ranging to be distilled into one short review. Suffice it to say, however, that each generation must struggle with the temptation to cast Luther in its own image. Simultaneously, each generation must be aware that its own cultural context shapes, for good or ill, its own reception of Luther. This is no less true now than in any previous generation. In the end, this is a fascinating volume that helps the reader understand, not only the history of Reformation commemoration, but also the legacy of the reformation in a secondary way.

Book Review: Uses and Abuses of Moses

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uses and abuses of mosesTheodore Ziolkowski, Uses and Abuses of Moses: Literary Representations since the Enlightenment (Notre Dame: Notre Dame, 2016). xii + 352. Hb. US $60.00.

Theodore Ziolkowski (hereafter, Z) is emeritus professor of German and comparative literature at Princeton University. Over forty years ago he wrote Fictional Transfigurations of Jesus (Princeton: Princeton, 1972), in which he compares ideological depictions of Jesus in twenty twentieth-century novels. In the present work, Z turns to the major Old Testament figure, Moses.

Z notes that Moses is the most comprehensively depicted character in the Old Testament, and the literary uses of him are not always straightforward. As Z points out, the lion’s share of the post-enlightenment literary depictions of Moses are historical novels in which the ideologies of the author are imposed into the narrative. This is in contrast to Z’s findings regarding literary depictions of Christ that are post-figurations; they are modern novels depicting similar themes to those in the gospels.

This literary use of Moses makes him particularly susceptible to misuse. For example, a Mormon reading of Moses can turn Moses and Aaron into Joseph Smith and Hyrum, and a feminist Moses interpreted from the perspective of Nofret, a so-called proto-feminist of the 2nd c. B.C. These simple illustrations serve to demonstrate the way that Moses has been co-opted in the past three centuries by authors who have found in Moses a character and in the Pentateuch a narrative that is useful for their ideologically laden works.

One of the major challenges of such a project, of course, is determining the texts to use. Another major challenge is determining how best to organize the treatment of these texts. Z confronts these challenges brilliantly. He discusses nearly a hundred unique works in various languages in an attempt to be representative. As for the second challenge, Z organizes the book through a brilliant mixture of chronologically and thematically focused chapters. So, for example, between chapters on the 1940’s and the 1950’s, Z has included a chapter on denominational readings of Moses (eg., Methodist and Mormon).

The content of the book is very interesting and on several occasions this reader was delighted by the eye-opening experience of Z pointing out Mosaic themes in books which I have read and noticed no such themes on my own. This, indeed is testament to Z’s skill as a reader and justifiable role as author of such a work.

Uses and Abuses of Moses is a fascinating read. It is particularly interesting to see side-by-side so many ideologically motivated readings. The book will be of particular interest to literarians interested in theology as well as theologians interested in literature.

Germany ERASMUS Trip Summer 2017

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Bonn

From 1 June to 31 August, 2017 I travelled with my wife and son to Bonn, Germany to conduct PhD research with senior Old Testament scholar Udo Rüterswörden at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn. The trip was made financially possible in part because of several generous bodies including St. John’s College. This trip was incredibly valuable for me especially because it came at a critical point in my research: the end of my first year in the PhD. At the beginning of the summer I had only general interests and vague concepts regarding the theme and structure of my research project. Having the pleasure of collaborating with a scholar who approaches the study of the Old Testament in a drastically different manner than my own supervisor at Durham forced me to more narrowly define my research goals. In this respect, the trip to Bonn was a success. In addition to this, however, there were several added benefits to this research trip. First, having the opportunity to discuss my theme and project with a scholar whose research interests and context, are different than my own has enabled me to understand the potential challenges that my research will face from the sphere of global research. Taking these challenges into account has enabled me to see ways to improve my research and make it truly world-class. Secondly, conducting my research in the German context has understandably deepened my German language skills, which are essential to Old Testament studies. Thirdly, I was able to attend an international conference for biblical studies that took place in Berlin in August. This enabled me to meet with scholars from around the world and discuss my research with them. I am very thankful for the generosity of John’s and the opportunity to conduct such a meaningful trip.

 

 

Sermon: Preached 27 August, 2018

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This past Sunday I had the pleasure of preaching on Romans 4:13-17 at International Baptist Church Cologne. My family and I have been living in Germany this summer while I have been on a research trip to Bonn, Germany. The aim has been to work with Deuteronomy scholar Udo Rüterswörden. More on this trip later, but for now, let me share my sermon notes below. If you want to listen to the sermon, go to the link above.

PRAY

INTRO:

This week I had the opportunity to consider some of the greatest, most extravagant gifts in recent history. Here are three of the top contenders.

1) As the story goes Count Gregory Orlov gave this 190 karat diamond to Catherine the Great of Russia. They had been romantically involved for many years, and Gregory even led the way in the dethronement of Catherine’s husband in a coup d’état that put Catherine in power. Their relationship carried on for many years and produced an illegitimate child, but Catherine eventually forsook Count Orlov for another man. Count Orlov apparently tried to rekindle the romance by offering her the diamond. The gesture did not work, but Catherine kept the diamond of course. Catherine named the diamond after the Count, and had her jeweller design a sceptre incorporating the diamond.

 

2) In 1907, Tsar Nicholas II gave his wife Alexandra Feodorovna this Faberge egg to commemorate the birth of their son Alexei Nikolaevich, three years earlier. It is made of gold, pink and green enamel, and encrusted with diamonds. The gift was an unexpected surprise, since for two years no Imperial Easter eggs had been produced due to the Russo-Japanese War. To add to the surprise, the egg also contained a diamond necklace and a miniature ivory portrait of Alexei framed in diamonds.

 

3) Or how about the story that I heard this week of 3 graduating seniors at Azusa Pacific University, a Christian University in Southern California. It happened at a special gathering of alumni, new faculty, board members and the president of the University. John Wallace, the university president, had invited 3 graduating students to attend a well. These particular students had decided to spend the following two years serving overseas in India, among the untouchables. These students assumed that they were invited to simply be commissioned and encouraged. But something unexpected happened. Dr. Wallace turned to the three students and said, “I have news for you. There’s somebody you don’t know, but they’ve appreciated what you’re planning to do over the next 2 year and have given a gift to the university in your name and on your behalf.” Then he turned to the first student and said, “On behalf of the donor, you are forgiven your $105,000 dollar debt to this institution.” He turned to the second student and said, “And you are forgiven your debt of $70,000 dollars” and to the third student he said, “You are forgiven your debt of $130,000 dollars to this University.”

Perhaps you know more of these stories. And there are more.

How do you respond when given an extravagant gift that was unexpected?

What are your thoughts, emotions, actions? Consider now a past gift, and try to remember your response.

I’ve had several weeks to consider this. As I’ve meditated on our text for today, I have had the opportunity to consider my own heart and my own inclinations and my own patterns of behaviour when receiving a gift that is unexpected. Indeed, I think that I have discerned two distinct ways that our sinful flesh responds to the grace of others.

How would you respond to one of these gifts? Or we could talk about intangible blessings. For example, the opportunities for education and work that may not have been available back home, but that many of you have come to enjoy here in Germany. Or perhaps there are some here that have had near death experiences and feel blessed to even be alive.

In my own life I am constantly reminded of the blessings that my late Grandfather gave me. He was an amazingly generous man and made my education financially possible. I also often wonder why God determined that I would not be born in the majority world, but in the USA. Why was I not born impoverished, like most of the world? Why am I the child of parents that have remained married and who love God?

These are great blessings, and I believe that it is important to consider the Lord’s great blessings in our lives, but the point that I am getting at here is that most times that we receive generously, our sinful flesh has one of two responses.

Either:

1) We believe that we somehow deserve it because of something that we have done previously.

This sinful impulse crops up whenever we think, “Oh, this is because I …” “My wife is being so sweet to me because I …” Or whenever we rationalize our gift with the words, “Well, it’s the least he could do considering…”

2) We believe that we somehow have to become deserving of it by paying it off or returning the favor.

How many of us can recall receiving a gift and our first thought is, “What is this for?” or “You don’t have to do that!” These statements often reflect an evaluation of ourselves based on behavior. If I could expand it and rephrase it, it might sound like this, “You don’t have to give that to me, because I haven’t done anything yet to deserve it.” The implication then is that now something must be done to pay off a debt.

What I want us to consider today is that our sinful impulses when we receive the grace of others are driven by a selfish focus on actions. Do we, or do we not deserve this thing?

Why is this our impulse?

Because we want to believe that we deserve what we receive. We desperately want to believe that we have done something to earn it.

But in our text today this lie is confronted by the truth that this thinking has no place in the Gospel. A focus on ourselves and whether we deserve God’s grace has absolutely no place in the Gospel of Christ.

PROPOSITION:

The LIE: Our flesh tells us that we can either earn God’s grace or that we can pay it off so that we don’t have to be in debt to God for his grace.

The TRUTH: We can never earn God’s grace, and those who receive it can never pay off the debt.

LET’S NOW READ OUR TEXT beginning with verse 9.

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. 13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. 16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

VS. 13 If vv. 9–12 could be paraphrased to say that Abraham was declared righteous before he was circumcised, then verses 13-17 could be paraphrased to be saying that Abraham was declared righteous before the law was given.

His point in vv. 9–12 (as well as most of chapter 3) is that one’s nationality is not the basis of salvation. But why is Paul belaboring this theme? He seems to go on and on and on about righteousness through faith and not works.

It is important to note that here Paul is advancing his argument. Vv. 13 begins with the word “for,” which Paul will also use in verses 14, 15, and 16. This word both in Greek and in English serves in a logical context to both explain what has come before and to advance one’s argument.

So what is he explaining or advancing in our text today?

Paul is explaining more about the nature of the promise given to Abraham in Gen 17:4–8, which Paul quotes in vs. 17.

4  “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, And you will be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 “No longer shall your name be called Abram, But your name shall be Abraham; For I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 “I have made you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. 7 “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. 8 “I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

  • Paul is explaining the nature of this covenant
    • That it extends beyond nationality (vv. 9–12)
    • That it is based on Grace and not law ( 13–17)
      • What we see in our passage is that because this promise is based on grace, it does not depend on obedience.
      • It is on this basis, according to Paul, that the promise is eternal.

But we might ask why Paul seems to be repeating himself so much. Why does it seem like he keeps repeating the same argument?

Well, keep in mind what I’ve said so far about our sinful inclination when we are on the receiving end of grace. We tend to believe that we are or should be deserving of that grace.

These inclinations are not less present in the people at the church in Rome. Nor were they less present in the Judaism. In fact, consider some important background:

Jewish tradition at the time Paul wrote this letter taught that Abraham obeyed the law before it was given and that it was on the basis of this obedience and passing the test of offering Isaac as an offering on Mount Moriah (Gen 22) that God gave the promises of a land, a seed, and a blessing.

The Jews greatly revered Abraham

  • A Jewish writing from right before Christ (Sirach 44:19-21) states, “Abraham was the great father of a multitude of nations, and no one has been found like him in glory. 20 He kept the law of the Most High, and entered into a covenant with him; he certified the covenant in his flesh, and when he was tested he proved faithful. 21 Therefore the Lord assured him with an oath that the nations would be blessed through his offspring; that he would make him as numerous as the dust of the earth, and exalt his offspring like the stars, and give them an inheritance from sea to sea and from the Euphrates to the ends of the earth.”

Did you catch that? The Jews believed that Abraham was blessed by God because he 1) obeyed the law before it was given 2) was circumcised, and 3) passed the test at Mount Moriah.

In response to this Paul has said and emphatic “NO!

VV. 14–15 In fact, in vs. 14-15, Paul states that if being an heir of the promise to Abraham, (after all, God said in Gen 17:7 that the covenant was with Abraham and his descendants) depended on obeying the law then “faith is null and the promise is void.”

In other words, if we had to obey the law in order to receive the promise, then the promise would be void. Why? Because, he says, “the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.”

In other words, even if Abraham was somehow able to keep the law before it was given, this would be able to provide no assurance of the promise, because that very law would condemn him!

To the Jews of Paul’s day who thought that the assurance of God’s promises to Abraham were based on his obedience to the law before it was given, would have no hope of inheriting that promise because the law would condemn them as well.

In fact, anyone who is attempting to become a worthy recipient of God’s grace, can never do so because the bases of their hope proves that they are unworthy. This is because wherever there is law, there is condemnation, and those who are condemned as law breakers, cannot be worthy to inherit the promise.

Let’s consider an example. If I tell my son Caleb that I will take him to the playground as soon as he is perfect, then he has no chance no matter how much hope he puts in obeying all of the rules. However, if I tell him that I will take him to the playground because I love him, well then, that is a different matter. It doesn’t matter what he does or doesn’t do, it only matters if he accepts my offer.

VV. 16-17 “That is why” Paul says in vs. 16, “it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring”

Now we have arrived at the heart of our passage! This is the climax of our text for today!

Paul is saying that there is are reasons that the promises to Abraham are not based on either Abraham’s works or his descendants’ works. The reasons are “so that” or “in order that” (as your Bible might say) it would depend on grace and be guaranteed no matter whether we deserve it or not.

You see, even if Abraham earned the promises that God gave him, as the Jews believed, even if he earned his salvation, we are still doomed if receiving the promise depends on our worthiness. For as Paul has already proven, we are wicked law breakers!

So what is this promise? What is the promise that is guaranteed? Well, Paul hinted at this back in vs. 13, but says more here in vs. 16b and 17a. This is a parenthetical phrase added by Paul to describe the word “offspring,” which may be translated “seed” or “descendants.”

These “descendants” of Abraham are further described by Paul when he says that they are those who are of the law and those who are of Abraham’s faith. If you have the ESV, then you will see that there is a bit of interpretation going on.

The ESV says, “not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham.” The challenge with this translation, even though it touches on some important elements of the Greek text, is that it seems to say that those who obey the law and those who only have faith are the children of Abraham. The Greek here has no verbs. It is really only describing “those who are of the law” and “those who are of Abraham’s faith”

What the text is really getting at is the union that can be enjoyed between Jews (those who come from the context of having circumcision and the oracles of God, i.e., the law (Rom. 3:2)) and Gentiles who have no hope other than to come by faith. Both of these groups can together come together on the same ground, as recipients of God’s grace.

So, again, what is the promise? The promise, as it says in vs. 17 is that Abraham will become the father of many nations. This means that the promise is also to us and to all humanity that we can become descendants of Abraham, to be part of the people of God, no matter our ethnic or religious background. And this promise is guaranteed, because it does not depend on us, but on God’s grace.

That means that we can’t earn it, and it means that we can’t pay off that debt.

Vs. 17 then ends with a description of how Abraham received this promise. It says of Abraham that he believed in God, “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” Now this really belongs to the passage for next week. What he is introducing, however, is the fact that Abraham believed God when he said that Abraham would become the father of many nations. He believed God, despite the fact that Sarah’s womb was barren and Abraham was “as good as dead.”

Abraham received the promise because of faith. We become a part of that promise and recipients of that promise by faith as well.

So how do we receive that grace? I want to end today by showing how Jesus shows us how to receive from others without selfishness or pride or attempting to prove that he deserves it.

HOW DOES JESUS SHOW US A BETTER WAY?

Matthew 26:6–13

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

Notice two things:

1) The disciples’ response: “Why this waste?” they say. As if somehow performing such a gracious and generous act for Jesus would be a waste! As if Jesus didn’t deserve this and more! The irony is that these are his closest friends and should know that Jesus is worth this adoration.

But notice also Jesus’s response to his disciples.

2) He defends the woman, not himself! Instead of saying, “I’m worth it!” he says, “She has done a beautiful thing.” He receives with grace and humility the humble and genuine act of this woman. He receives with grace and humility this woman’s extravagant gift. Remember, this is the creator of the universe, the King of kings, and Lord of lords, and yet he lovingly receives this gift of love and reverence. He doesn’t say, “well, it’s the least that she can do considering what I’ve already done for her.” Instead he says, “She has done a beautiful thing.”

The implication for us from this example is that we should focus on God’s grace for what it is and who He is. For as soon as we begin to focus on our worthiness or unworthiness, we take the focus away from the giver and selfishly place the emphasis on ourselves.

HERE AND NOW

My question to you today is this, “How are you responding to God’s gracious offer of salvation?”

Are you falling into one of the two sinful inclinations that we’ve discussed?

1) Are you trying to do things now so that you can receive God’s grace when you deserve it?

or

2) Are you trying to do things now so that you can prove that you are a worthy recipient of it?

The danger is that as soon as we begin to think about ourselves in relation to receiving God’s grace, we begin to lose sight of God’s great grace. We take our eyes off of Him and begin to focus on ourselves and what we have done, or should be doing. Our flesh wants us to feel either as though we have earned his grace or as though we are no longer in debt to him for his grace.

The LIE: Our flesh tells us that we can either earn God’s grace or that we can pay it off so that we don’t have to be in debt to God for his grace.

The TRUTH, however, is that we can never earn God’s grace, and those who receive it can never pay off the debt.

SO WHY DO WE DO GOOD WORKS? Because the God of all grace dwells within us and works through us!!

Review of Naïve Readings

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naive readingsFor various reasons, some texts are more challenging to read than others. This reality is sometimes the result of the readers’s distance from the author in time, space, or culture. At other times, this reality is the result of an author’s writing style. In any case, Lerner, in his book Naïve Readings, begins with this simple fact and attempts “experiments in reading complex texts” (p. 1).

Lerner is the Benjamin Franklin Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago, and this book represents a collection of many essays that he has previously published. The book itself is comprised of 10 chapters (chapters 1, 5, 9, and 10 being the original essays). Chapter 1 opens the book very effectively and provides this collection of essays with a coherent theme. In the remainder of the book, Lerner conducts close readings of texts from Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Francis Bacon, Edward Gibbons, Alexis de Tocqueville, Judah Halevi, and Moses Maimonides.

Most notably, Lerner opens chapter 1 by identifying a common error in reading challenging texts, namely hastiness. Lerner rightly recognizes that readers often “yield to impulse,” “rush to dig deep, dissect, and deconstruct what we take to be the core of the text” (p. 1). However, as Lerner points out, this is a mistaken technique because it fails to take serious the challenges of reading as well as the way that our presuppositions about how an author chooses to communicate his ideas might cloud our judgment and understanding. To this problem in reading Lerner offers two solutions.

The first of Lerner’s solutions to this reading problem is to slow down and read with caution and patience. Of course, the reader may say that this is too simplistic. However, as Lerner points out and demonstrates in the remainder of his book, many mistakes in comprehension can be avoided if the reader would only be more careful.

The second of Lerner’s solutions to this reading problem is, in biblical studies terms, to read with a hermeneutic of faith rather than a hermeneutic of suspicion. In the case of challenging texts, Lerner encourages his readers to assume the linguistic proficiency of an author. In other words, Lerner believes that the best approach to reading a challenging text is to assume that the author has not made a mistake in his communication, but that the reader simply has not fully comprehended the author.

Lerner’s book is an interesting exercise in reading comprehension, because he demonstrates with non-religious texts what I believe is the proper approach for biblical interpretation. This approach is one that is governed by the virtues of faith, hope, and love. Lerner demonstrates love for the author by his attentiveness to the text that the author has written. He demonstrates faith that the author has the necessary skills in communication in order to convey his message. And he demonstrates hope in his conviction that through hard work, comprehension can ultimately be obtained.

Lerner’s is a fascinating book and I believe that it can be used as a tool to assist the Christian reader to become a better reader both of secular books and of the Bible. This, however, is not to say that the Bible should be read like any other book or that every other book should be read like the Bible. The Christian conviction is that the Bible is unlike every other book in that in it God reveals himself, and through it God speaks. However, the Bible was written by men who used human modes of communication. These modes of communication, moreover, require careful reading. Lerner’s book will particularly appeal to those readers who are interested in classic texts and will certainly help these readers become better readers of all human communication, including the bible.

Ralph Lerner. Naïve Readings: Reveilles Political and Philosophic. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. 240 pp. Hb. $45.

Review of Basics of Classical Syriac

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syriacSteven C. Hallam. Basics of Classical Syriac: Complete Grammar, Workbook, and Lexicon. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016. Pb. 318 pp. US $49.99.

The fact of the matter is that there is a noticeable lack of choice when it comes to Syriac grammars. For most, the immediate choice is Coakley’s Robinson’s Paradigms and Exercises (6th ed. Oxford: Oxford, 2013). However, since Robinson’s first edition appeared in 1915, much has changed in our understanding of language acquisition and instruction. For this simple reason, a new option for Syriac instructors is welcome news.

Like Zondervan’s other Basics of grammars, Hallam adopts an integrated approach that seeks to get students reading the text as soon as possible. Hallam also assumes that his readers will be primarily interested reading the biblical text, so all of the exercises come from the Syriac Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Moreover, it is important to note that Hallam is clear that the grammar “is intended to be a friendly and accessible generalization of the language” (p. 10). As such, this is not intended to be a reference grammar. Moreover, the lexicon is sufficient only for the exercises within the grammar itself. In the end, one should not presume that this grammar is “complete” (as the subtitle states) in the sense that it is a full and complete grammar or a full and complete lexicon. Instead, this text is complete in the sense that it contains a grammar, exercises, and a limited lexicon.

The content itself is divided into two parts with a year-long course in mind. Part one consists of nouns and verbs, while part two covers derivative stems and weak verbs. The content is as follows:

 

Part I

  1. Alphabet
  2. Vowels
  3. Nouns and Adjectives
  4. Nominal Prefixes
  5. Pronouns
  6. Pronominal Suffixes

 

  1. Introduction to Syriac Verbs
  2. Peal (G) Perfect and ܗܘܳܐ (hwā)
  3. Peal Participle
  4. Peal Imperfect
  5. Peal Imperative and Infinitive

 

Part II

  1. Ethpeel (Gp)
  2. Pael (D)
  3. Ethpaal (Dp)
  4. Aphel (A)
  5. Ettaphal (Ap)

 

  1. I-ālep
  2. III-Weak
  3. I-yūd
  4. I-nūn
  5. Germinate
  6. Hollow
  7. II-ālep


 Immediately there are aspects of this grammar that excite me. First, even though it is the same over-sized dimensions as Zondervan’s other grammars, it works in the case of this grammar, because it is also a workbook. There is room for marginal notes as well as for the students’ translations in the exercise portions of the book.

Secondly, I am encouraged by the portion sizes for each chapter. Hallam covers the nominal system in six chapters rather than the four chapters in Coakley. Likewise, Hallam includes a nine-page introduction to the verb system, followed by four sequential chapters on the Peal stem. This structure will allow several weeks of fruitful interaction with the verbal system before other stems are introduced. This structure builds on the successes of other Zondervan grammars, which cover nouns before introducing verbs. Additionally, the pace of study will ensure that students are digesting small doses and growing in their comprehension at a manageable rate.

Thirdly, I appreciate the fact that Hallam has chosen to use the Estrangela script. Due to its prominence in biblical studies, it is important for students to be introduced to this script right away. Although this script is not initially as easy to read as the Serta script, it is the script of Brill’s critical Peshitta and most of the other resources with which the students will use.

Finally, Hallam has several very useful appendices including one on numbers and dates; several charts of verbs with pronominal suffixes; a short lexicon; and, very helpfully, a list of similar Syriac and Hebrew roots. The latter will be a great help the vocabulary acquisition for students who already know biblical Hebrew.

The appropriate audience is for anyone at the undergraduate or graduate level who is interested in Syriac. With some guidance, this text may even suit certain PhD students embarking on self-taught Syriac studies.

By way of a final assessment, there is much to praise about this grammar. The quantity of material in each chapter seems entirely fitting, it progresses at an appropriate rate, and it is complete enough to lead students to a point of reading and interpreting the biblical text efficiently. In short, it accomplishes what it sets out to do, namely introduce the reader to Syriac grammar and get the student reading the text. Being in want for options, Syriac teachers can rejoice at the opportunity to choose from a growing selection of grammars.

A REVIEW OF AS IRON SHARPENS IRON

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as-ironFor as long as I can remember, I have attended a church that believed in the importance of discipleship. I have often been a part of a discipleship group or a mentoring relationship, but I have seldom been a mentor for someone. It is in this area that I learned the most from As Iron Sharpens Iron: Building Character In a Mentoring Relationship. Howard and William Hendricks did a great job of encouraging me to get involved in a young man’s life as well as finding a mentor in my new community. I was challenged to find a Timothy and a Paul here in Laramie, I was interested by the power of prayer when looking for a mentor or protégé, and I was happy to see the practical tips offered by the authors.

I have lived most of my life with various Paul’s and Barnabas’s, but I have only had a few Timothy’s. This book challenged me to seek out a young man to mentor, or at least be willing to meet with if God leads us together. While reading the book, I spent a lot of time thinking about mentors that I have had and how much they have blessed me, and I realized that I was being selfish if I failed to bless a younger man in the same way. I was challenged when Hendricks ask the reader to consider what was preventing him from entering into a mentoring relationship. I could think of no good reason why I was not actively pursuing a protégé.

At this point in the mentoring cycle, Hendricks urges men to pray. Prayer does a lot for the mentor as well as the protégé. It is through prayer that both men will be prepared to enter into the mentoring relationship, and it is through prayer and patience that the Lord will lead a young man into an older man’s influence. These points were very convicting to me, because I had only gotten to a point of desiring a protégé; I had not made the effort to pray for one. Hendricks was very encouraging in this. He uses examples from his own life as well as from other sources to describe what it is like when two people meet for the first time and begin a mentoring relationship. It was a beautiful thing to see the way the younger man looked up to the older man, the way that I have always looked up to my mentors. I have certainly had mentors that I have not connected with, but I have had mentors that have worked out very well. The difference between the two types of mentors has seemed to be a matter of God’s involvement in placing us together. This is why I have started to understand the importance of prayer in beginning a mentoring relationship. It is God who will bring us together, and it is God who will grow the relationship.

On a practical note, I really appreciated the advice that Hendricks offers. He spends much time offering tips to mentors and to young men looking for mentors. Two tips struck me in particular. The first was for young men to not use the term mentor until the older man uses it. This seemed very odd to me at first, but in Part II I began to understand that most men are very fearful about being a mentor. I can be very straightforward in regard to my hopes, desires, or expectations, so this was a great piece of advice for me. And secondly, I appreciated Hendricks’ tips on parting ways. Prior to this book, I believed that mentoring relationships are supposed to last forever, but that was a huge fallacy; when they are goal oriented in the way that mentoring relationships should be, relationships have a beginning and an end. This is healthy, but they must end well. I appreciated this part of the chapter, because I was introduced to a healthy understanding of what a mentoring relationship is as well as how they should end. I have had many mentoring relationships, and about half of them ended poorly. This was due to my misunderstanding that it would never end, as well as the mentor’s failure to say goodbye in a healthy manner.

I appreciated this book tremendously. I began to understand that God has a desire for us all to be mentors, and that I am able to have a positive impact on someone. Since I’ve been hurt in the past, I benefited from learning what a healthy mentoring relationship should be like.

Howard Hendricks and William Hendricks, As Iron Sharpens Iron: Building Character in a Mentoring Relationship (Chicago: Moody, 1997).

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resizeimagehandlerBenyamim Tsedaka and Sharon Sullivan, eds. The Israelite Samaritan Versions of the Torah: First English Translation Compared with the Masoretic Version. Trans. by Benyamim Tsedaka. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013. xxxvi + 558 pp. Hb. $100.

Very little is known about the history and nature of the Samaritan version of the Pentateuch (SP). However, what is increasingly becoming clear is the importance of this textual tradition to the study and textual criticism of the Pentateuch. Previously, there has been much speculation about the value of the SP, however, this former assumption is slowly giving way in biblical studies. Indeed, this review, despite coming nearly four years after the publication of Tsedaka’s volume, is intentionally timed in conjunction with the greatly needed and much anticipated inaugural volume (Leviticus) of the critical edition of the SP, which is to be published by DeGruyter in August 2017. The more this textual tradition is studied, the more it is being valued. The need for further study is all too evident.

Interestingly, not until 2013 was an English translation available for a wide audience to enjoy and appreciate the importance of this text. But thanks to the pioneering work of Benyamim Tsedaka scholars in various fields and interested individuals around the globe can both study and enjoy the SP.

However, this volume is important for more than the translation alone, for it contains a forward by Emanuel Tov, a short essay by James Charlesworth, and an additional introductory essay by Tsedaka. Tov discusses the nature of the SP generally by comparing it to the Masoretic Text, with which the SP often disagrees, and with the LXX and Qumran texts, with which the SP often agrees. Tov concludes that the SP is indeed valuable as it generally witnesses to a very ancient text tradition. Charlesworth, in his brief essay, address the basic question, What is the Samaritan Pentateuch. He contrasts older and more recent scholarly attitudes surrounding the SP.

In his own introduction, Tsedaka first offers an introductory overview of previous scholarship on the SP. To readers who are new to the SP this survey will prove invaluable. Students and scholars will find the footnotes in this introduction to be a great resource as well. Tsedaka next surveys scholarship on the Samaritan people with an eye for how this informs our understanding of this text they produced. Third, Tsedaka catalogues previous editions of the SP. Finally, he orients the reader to the many features of the present volume. These features, the reader should understand, add a great deal to this volume and make this much more than a simple translation of the SP.

One of the many features of this text that makes this text such a valuable resource is that is it appears in two columns per page. One column contains Tsedaka’s English translation of the SP while the other contains the JPS (1917) English translation of the Masoretic Text (MT). Tsedaka’s translation is based on the following four manuscripts: two from Mount Gerizim Synagogue (copied in 1199 and 1210 C.E.), the third from the National Library, Jerusalem (copied in 1215 C.E.), and the fourth, no. 751, at the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (copied in 1225 C.E.).

Helpfully, the editors have incorporated verse and chapter numbers (according to the JPS version) to aid comparison between the versions. Another helpful feature is the inclusion of the MT and SP’s section titles (MT Parashah; SP Aalaak). The interesting aspect of this feature is that these sections are often quite different from each other. The inclusion of these section titles, therefore, allows readers to observe how the scribes if the different traditions understood the boundaries of various passages.

The text also features marginal notations from the Samaritan sages. These notes contain comments on the main beliefs of the Samaritans as well as observations of differences between the SP and MT. This, of course is an immensely helpful feature as it gives English readers an insight into the sages understanding of their text’s differences with another tradition. Additionally, within the body of text itself, the editors provide imminently helpful notation of where the two texts diverge. Bold font is used to highlight where word choice differs and ellipses are used to signify where one text has fewer words than the other. In all there are over 6,000 variants. And although most of these are inconsequential, only the briefest of perusals will identify interesting, and often significant variant readings.

Additionally, Tsedaka includes two highly important appendices. In the first, he catalogues six pages of instances where the SP agrees with the Septuagint (LXX) against the MT. In the second appendix he catalogues seven pages of instances where the SP agrees with the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), and through the use of bold font where these two disagree with the MT; he also notes where the LXX agrees with both the DSS and SP. These two appendices are a treasure for modern readers, because it collects in one place all of the most significant and interesting variants in one place.

In the final assessment, this text is invaluable. Indeed, any Old Testament library is incomplete without it. This is true, not only because the SP is appearing more and more in recent scholarship, but because of the value of this text in its own right. It deserves to be read, and it deserves to be incorporated into serious study of the Pentateuch.