Five Upcoming Books Worth Reading

There are far too many books published that I’d like to read. Here are five in particular that I’m especially looking forward to, along with the publishers’ blurbs:

A novel, rigorous solution to the long-contested puzzle regarding the composition of Paul’s letters

All historical work on Paul presupposes a story concerning the composition of his letters — which ones he actually wrote, how many pieces they might originally have consisted of, when he wrote them, where from, and why. But the answers given to these questions are often derived in dubious ways.

In Framing Paul Douglas Campbell reappraises all these issues in rigorous fashion, appealing only to Paul’s own epistolary data in order to derive a basic “frame” for the letters on which all subsequent interpretation can be built. Though figuring out the authorship and order of Paul’s letters has been thought to be impossible, Campbell’s Framing Paul presents a cogent solution to the puzzle.

Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth continues to fascinate. From antiquity onwards countless people have found meaning for their lives through Jesus’ teaching. His life led to the establishment of a community that subsequently grew into what is today the world’s largest religion. At the center of the Christian faith stands the confession that this Jesus is both “true human being and true God.”

In Jesus of Nazareth, noted German New Testament scholar Jens Schröter directly addresses the connection between Jesus’ humanity and divinity—how the historical Jesus can also be the Christ of confession. Schröter begins by looking at the modern quest for the “historical Jesus” from its beginnings down to the present. In the process Schröter isolates key questions of historical method—how can we reconstruct the past? What is the relationship between these reconstructions and past reality itself? Schröter then examines the words and deeds of Jesus, including his death and resurrection, in their Galilean and Greco-Roman contexts. Schröter finally measures the impact that Jesus has had in literature, film, music, and the fine arts. Jesus of Nazareth thus narrates the remarkable story of how a Jew from Galilee became the savior of the world, how Jesus can be said to be both God and human, and how this Jesus continues to exert influence.

In Reading Backwards Richard B. Hays maps the shocking ways the four Gospel writers interpreted Israel’s Scripture to craft their literary witnesses to the Church’s one Christ. The Gospels’ scriptural imagination discovered inside the long tradition of a resilient Jewish monotheism a novel and revolutionary Christology.

Modernity’s incredulity toward the Christian faith partly rests upon the characterization of early Christian preaching as a tendentious misreading of the Hebrew Scriptures. Christianity, modernity claims, twisted the Bible they inherited to fit its message about a mythological divine Savior. The Gospels, for many modern critics, are thus more about Christian doctrine in the second and third century than they are about Jesus in the first.

Amid conflicting ideas about what the church should be and do in a post-Christian climate, the missing voice is that of Paul. The New Testament’s most prolific church planter, Paul faced diverse challenges as he worked to form congregations. Leading biblical scholar James Thompson examines Paul’s ministry of planting and nurturing churches in the pre-Christian world to offer guidance for the contemporary church. The church today, as then, must define itself and its mission among people who have been shaped by other experiences of community. Thompson shows that Paul offers an unprecedented vision of the community that is being conformed to the image of Christ. He also addresses contemporary (mis)understandings of words like missional, megachurch, and formation.

The controversial Bible scholar and author of The Evolution of Adam recounts his transformative spiritual journey in which he discovered a new, more honest way to love and appreciate God’s Word.

Trained as an evangelical Bible scholar, Peter Enns loved the Scriptures and shared his devotion, teaching at Westminster Theological Seminary. But the further he studied the Bible, the more he found himself confronted by questions that could neither be answered within the rigid framework of his religious instruction or accepted among the conservative evangelical community.

Rejecting the increasingly complicated intellectual games used by conservative Christians to “protect” the Bible, Enns was conflicted. Is this what God really requires? How could God’s plan for divine inspiration mean ignoring what is really written in the Bible? These questions eventually cost Enns his job—but they also opened a new spiritual path for him to follow.

The Bible Tells Me So chronicles Enns’s spiritual odyssey, how he came to see beyond restrictive doctrine and learned to embrace God’s Word as it is actually written. As he explores questions progressive evangelical readers of Scripture commonly face yet fear voicing, Enns reveals that they are the very questions that God wants us to consider—the essence of our spiritual study.

Which other books are you most anticipating this year?

Green Scholars Initiative: Papyrus Series (Brill Publishing)

Most people know that Brill Publishing announced in 2012 that they would be handling the publication of the manuscripts acquired and studied by the Green Scholars Initiative. At that time, it was expected that the first volume would appear in early 2013. However, this has yet to take place. Many also are aware that the alleged first-century manuscript of Mark and other NT manuscripts from the 2nd and 3rd centuries are part of this same collection that will eventually be published in Brill’s series.

In correspondence with one of Brill’s editors, I was informed that they are currently planning to publish the first volume of the “Papyrus Series” by the end of this year, “hopefully” by the annual SBL meeting in November. It was not indicated to me which manuscripts would be appearing in this first volume, though the initial Brill announcement from 2012 indicated that the (then) planned initial volume would feature a 3rd-century BCE papyrus of a previously undocumented work of Aristotle.

So it appears that those of us waiting for the publication of the Mark fragment (and others) will be waiting quite a bit longer. Nothing appears to be imminent, unless they decide to release details in anticipation of publication.

First-Century Mark Fragment: Possible News

In recent weeks much of the scholarly world has been focused on news surrounding the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” fragment. However, a few details might be emerging about the alleged first-century fragment of the Gospel of Mark, which was first mentioned by Daniel Wallace two years ago. Two posts from the weekend are worth reading for possible information on the Mark fragment and others.

1) Brice Jones has uncovered a video in which Josh McDowell, the (in)famous Christian apologist, alludes to the Mark fragment (among others) in his discussion of retrieving manuscripts from ancient mummy masks. As has long been suspected, the fragment appears to be part of the collection owned by the Green Scholars Initiative. Another interesting tidbit from the video is that in March 2013, McDowell was under the impression that the Mark fragment would be published in November 2013. This would seem to indicate that publication might be imminent (emphasis on “might be”).

2) Over at Evangelical Textual Criticism, Tommy Wasserman has posted images of several of the fragments – be sure to read the comments for further info.

EDIT: As I stated in 2) above, the comments at Evangelical Textual Criticism are an invaluable resource. One of the most newsworthy comes from noted text-critic, Mike Holmes, who worked on the 1 Corinthians fragment that initially was said to be from the 2nd century. After indicating his reluctance to speak on the matter, due to his agreement with the publisher, he offers this opinion:

“I don’t think that the initial estimate of the papyrus’s date (made prior to its delivery to the three of us) holds up; it strikes me (an amateur papyrologist at best, to be sure) as rather more likely to be 3rd c. CE than 2nd.”

Granted, Holmes is not speaking of the Mark fragment, but it makes one wonder whether something similar will happen with the Mark fragment.

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds in the coming months.

What Counts As Archaeological Evidence Confirming a Biblical Person’s Existence?

In a previous post I referred to Lawrence Mykytiuk’s recent BAR article, “Archaeology Confirms 50 Real People in the Bible” and asked about the criteria employed in such a task. In other words, what counts as archaeological evidence confirming a biblical person’s existence?

I was fortunate enough to have Prof. Mykytiuk reply to my question in the comments to that post. He referred to his published dissertation, Identifying Biblical Persons in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions of 1200-539 B.C.E. In addition, he cited two online resources summarizing the criteria he has employed in his work: 1) his article, “Sixteen Strong Identifications of Biblical Persons (Plus Nine Other IDs) in Authentic Northwest Semitic Inscriptions from before 539 B.C.E.,” which was published in an edited volume; and 2) K. A. Kitchen’s review of Mykytiuk’s published dissertation.

To summarize, Mykytiuk has identified 11 criteria to be used to establish a connection between a biblical character and a piece of archaeological evidence identifying the person. These can be summarized under three questions:

• Are the initial data reliable, in the sense that epigraphic data are authentic, not forged, and that biblical data are well based in the ancient manuscripts, as determined by sound text criticism?
• Do the settings (time and socio-political “place”) of the inscriptional person and of the biblical person permit a match? They should normally be within about fifty years of each other and members of the same socio-political group, for example, late-eighth-century Israelite.
• How strongly do identifying marks that help to specify an individual, such as name, patronym, and title, count for or against an ID? For a reliable ID, they need to be sufficient to insure that the inscription and the biblical text are not referring to two different persons.

Consult Kitchen’s review for further elaboration of the 11 criteria. Note also that Mykytiuk has used 50 years as the maximum allowable time between the biblical person’s alleged existence and the estimated date of the archaeological evidence.

New Testament People Confirmed by Archaeology: Reader Contributions

Archaeology is not my area of expertise, but I do find the subject fascinating. Last week the latest issue of Biblical Archaeology Review published Lawrence Mykytiuk’s article, “Archaeology Confirms 50 Real People in the Bible.” It summarizes the data for 50 figures from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) whose existence has been confirmed by archaeological discoveries, mainly in the form of inscriptions. Fortunately for those without a subscription to BAR, Bible History Daily has provided the information from the article.

As a scholar of early Christianity, I wonder what a similar list would look like for figures from the New Testament. Going off the top of my head, I came up with these (EDIT: I will add to this list based on new info):

  • Herod the Great
  • Various Caesars (Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius)
  • Pilate
  • Gallio
  • Lysanias
  • Sergius Paulus
  • Aretas
  • Erastus (? – disputed)
  • Simon and Alexander of Cyrene (? – strongly disputed)
  • Caiaphas (? – disputed)

Of course there is the (in)famous James ossuary, too, which I’m leaving off the list. I’m sure that I’m missing others. I’m thinking specifically of the various officials mentioned in Acts that might be candidates for archaeological evidence. So I’m turning to readers to help with this list.