On this page, we will offer multiple recommendations of books that are useful for the reader assessing the reliability of the New Testament. Books are listed by author name.
Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women
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With all of the feminist-revisionist "scholarship" out there these days trying to get us to take The Da Vinci Code as non-fiction, this chunky book, though published some years ago, becomes all the more refreshing. Put together by one of the more sensible and sober scholars out there, Gospel Women is a collection of essays which are all of excellent quality, though of variable practical use.
The first two chapters offer a setup for reading Biblical texts from a women's perspective, via the lens of Ruth and other OT figures. The next several chapters are detailed studies of "Gospel women" Elizabeth, Mary, Anna, Joanna, Mary of Clopas, and Salome. It is the final chapter that produces an apologetics bonanza, as Bauckham looks into the resurrection accounts and the role of women in them.
Gospel Women is geared primarily for the serious student and is thus not a casual reader's purchase; many may consider getting the book at a library for only the last chapter. We heartily recommend it for those seeking depth on a "gynocentric" perspective that serves as an antidote to more radical feminist scholarship.
Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses
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Bauckham's done it again with another excellent book. This serves as a nice refresher from the countless works out there that adamantly deny that eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry had anything more than a distant and tangential connection to the Gospels.
Along with explaining ancient views on historiography and clearing the field of the faulty assumptions of form criticism, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses takes a number of fascinating avenues to the destination, not the least of which is a study of Gospel onomastics (names as found in the Gospels). Bauckham also highlights a feature used in the Gospels, the inclusio, that serves to highlight eyewitness sources, such as Peter, the women disciples (see this review of Bauckham's Gospel Women, another recommended book), and John. The cases he makes for both the reliability of Papias and the identification of the author of the Johannine literature with a disciple of Jesus named John the Elder are quite powerful.
Questioning the reliability of eyewitness testimony, even if the Gospels have it? Bauckham covers that ably as well, drawing on discipleship in the ancient world and psychological studies of memory. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses finishes up by highlighting the strength and value of eyewitness testimony before wrapping up a strong work with a proposal to tear down the dichotomy between the "historical Jesus" and the "Christ of faith" in favor of the "Jesus of testimony", a category appropriate for both realms.
One of us (JPH) did have reservations about a couple of Bauckham's views. For example, I think he gives away too easily the idea that Matthew is not equal to Levi. His take on John as being by an eyewitness, but not the son of Zebedee, may raise some hackles, but is just as good in my view as an attribution to Zebedee's son in terms of value of testimony.
That said, (back to J. B. here) every serious student of the Gospels should have this book. It's simply an invaluable resource. We can only hope that the effect it has on future scholarship is even more massive than the book itself.
-"J. B." and JPH
Craig Blomberg, Can We Stil Believe the Bible?
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Review by Nick Peters. Summary quote:
"Blomberg’s book was not what I expected, and that’s a good thing, because he dealt more with issues surrounding the Bible. I don’t think he wrote this for skeptics of the faith as much as he wrote it for Christians to get them to focus on what’s really the most important, and there have been too many debates lately that have lost that focus."
"The book moves in a gradual path from one point to the next connecting the chapters. There is a progression that the reader can easily pick up on that answers the major contemporary issues that are surrounding the Bible today. Also in this, Blomberg goes to great lengths to avoid extremes. There’s more of a happy medium in the topics that he raises that he encourages us to embrace."
Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels
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For the experienced student of apologetics, much of what Craig Blomberg presents in this book will be familiar. But the new student will be grateful for this material which presents and analyzes trends in Gospel research.
After an chapter introducing the state of the problems, Blomberg dives in with a look at the ancient principles of form and redaction criticism and at oral tradition. He also briefly looks at some newer theories, including the idea of the Gospels as midrash (an idea very much beloved by John Shelby Spong) and so-called structuralist and post-structualist theories that relate to the relationship of words and events - and have their grounding in a deterministic worldview.
The third chapter takes a look at the problem of miracles, including scientific, philosophical, and historical objections. Comparisons to pagan and Jewish miracle stories are made. Several pages are devoted to the Resurrection.
Chapters Four and Five are devoted to the matter of the Gospels themselves, and are the core of the presentation. Blomberg deals with the matter of theological and chronological differences in the Synoptics, offering several examples of resolved difficulties - the reader will wish to note the techniques used in particular, for they do have broader application. He then steers into the Gospel of John, noting both similarities and differences from the Synoptics.
Chapter Six goes outside the Gospels, and is perhaps the most disappointing chapter. A few key alleged contradictions and errors are examined, notably the census of Quirinius, although Blombergs treatment of it is not as complete as Glenn Millers. Nor is Blombergs treatment of secular references to Jesus as comprehensive as that offered in this series. However, the sections on the Jesus tradition in the church fathers writings and in the rest of the New Testament should remain helpful.
Finally, Chapter Seven closes out the work with some coverage of matters of historical method - and a refusal by Blomberg to place the Gospels in the genre of ancient bioi. This is perhaps Blombergs only major dissension from our point of view, and his disagreement is based upon the questionable assumption that bioi was generally a realm for free creation of material. (See here for more.)
Aside from these few disappoinments, however, Blombergs work is excellent - and the book is certainly an excellent value for the price. We heartily recommend this work, with the caveats offered, to all beginning students of apologetics and New testament history.
Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John's Gospel
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As expected when I first heard about it, this turns out to be another one of those "must have" books for the serious apologist. The reason is due to the book's uniqueness. Radical left-wing scholars (e.g. the Jesus Seminar) dismiss most of the material from John's Gospel as being pious fiction. On the other hand, many conservative scholars, while in some cases attributing a higher degree of historical credibility to John, often seem reluctant to use material from this Gospel in their historical studies.
It was perhaps time, especially in light of recent literary and archaeological discoveries (e.g. Qumran), for a comprehensive defense of the essential historicity of this document, and Craig Blomberg, a specialist in examining New Testament historicity, took on this most significant task.
Following a necessary introductory section, the actual analysis, appropriately enough, begins with a discussion of authorship. Given that John was a (beloved?) disciple of Jesus, it is probable that he would have had been in a relatively unique position to report accurate history about Jesus, and would have had interest in doing so. If Johannine authorship can be established, then this alone would be enough to allow us to be very optimistic about the Gospel's essential historicity. Blomberg examines the external and internal evidence and builds a very compelling case in favor of Johannine authorship (so compelling in fact that it is, IMO, surprising that traditional authorship is under so much dispute in the scholarly world), with the exception of perhaps 21:24-25 (which may have been added by a later editor).
The commentary section that follows forms the bulk of the book. Blomberg progresses through the Gospel examining every passage and event, responding to typical objections to historicity and providing positive indicators in favor of it as well. One very helpful aspect that pervades Blomberg's analysis is his constant referrals to the Synoptic tradition. At virtually every turn, Blomberg demonstrates that the concepts found in John can also be found in the more widely accepted Synoptic tradition.
Also of particular interest is the discussion in various places of how John seems to complement the Synoptics in regard to certain events. It appears that John often presupposes basic knowledge (by his readers) of some of the events narrated in the Synoptics, which, of course, would explain certain omissions and additions made by him. The literary issues are perhaps the most perplexing. Where exactly do Christ's words stop and John's theological reflections begin in various discourses?
Blomberg's discussions on this issue prove to be valuable. I found the discussion of the miracles of Christ detailed in John's Gospel, especially the turning of water into wine at Cana and the resurrection of Lazarus, to be very helpful. The commentary on the post-Easter events also prove to be of value.
Blomberg closes his book with a helpful summary and discussion of the implications of his conclusions. It is particularly interesting that, according to Blomberg, the liberal critics that attack John do not interact (or interact very little) with relevant evangelical scholarship on the issue. Only through a balanced study of the evidence, both for and against, the historicity of John's Gospel can one reach an intellectually honest conclusion. Blomberg makes a very strong case for the essential historicity of the book, not being afraid to address the relevant questions and objections. For those seeking a comprehensive defense of John's Gospel, this is the place to look.
Philip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscriptss
This volume by Philip Comfort isn't one of those you'll take to bed. It's a textbook for students, as well as a reference manual, and its coverage is so thorough that I'd like to highly recommend it, to the point that it'll go in my "Apologetics Arsenal" listing. The wealth of manuscript data for the New Testament is well known, but Comfort's focus is on the very earliest manuscripts -- the papyri that come from prior to the fourth century.
The heart of the book is the reference listings naming and describing in detail the attributes and conditions of the papyri: You can learn who discovered them, where the discovery was first published, what the contents are, and the date, with extra comments by Comfort on the reliability of the manuscript. Comfort adds a dimension to his assessments that no doubt goes on behind the scenes, but which I have never seen discussed in popular books: That of the scribes' personal habits which can tell us how conscientious they were in their copying, and therefore, how much stake can be put into their work.
The remainder of the book is quite helpful as well. It repeats some of what may be found in other books I've recommended in the past, but don't take that as a negative:
- Chapter One gives us background information on how ancient books were published, distributed, and copied. This sort of information is like a hidden treasure at times, and can often be used to answer obscure objections that start with the assumption that ancient people could have easily made multiple copies of the NT at any time, or suppose that ancient scribes were woefully incompetent sorts who couldn't get anything right because they lacked the necessary Xerox technology. There's also useful information on things like the typical "lifespan" of a codex, which Comfort uses to roughly factor out how many copies of the NT books we can expect to have existed in the first century.
- Chapter Two is the extended catalog of the significant manuscripts, taking up around 50 pages of this 400 page book. It's not narrative reading, but mostly entry listings with descriptions.
- Chapter Three discusses procedures used for dating manuscripts, such as paleography (essentially, handwriting analysis) and style. This chapter also offers an extensive catalog of information on various manuscripts in terms of the chapter subject, along with numerous illustrations, and takes up about 90 pages.
- Chapter 4 is a special chapter on the use of nomina sacra, that is, abbreviations used for words like "God" and "Jesus". It discussions the origins of and reasons for their use. Of some interest is the fact that words like "cross" or "Jerusalem" were also subject to be abbreviated the same way.
- Chapter 5 is essentially a lesson in the history of textual variations from the first century onward. This contains a valuable discussion of claims that there might have been all sorts of unknown changes to the NT text prior to the dates of the extant manuscripts, a view popularized by Bart Ehrman. There's also a valuable section on the psychological impact of scribal activity and how it affects copying procedures.
- Chapter 6 is on the theories and methods of NT textual criticism and becomes quite technical, delving into the process of dividing manuscripts into textual groups.
- Chapter 7 discusses the "harder" aspects of textual criticism, such as identifying types of scribal error (haplography, dittography, etc) and the reasons for various types of intentional scribal alterations. This is especially useful with reference to arguments (often derived from Ehrman) that scribes were interested in distorting the texts for theological purposes, to the extent that they changed Christian doctrine as well. The last 50 pages or so of text are "case studies" of problem passages.
Encountering the Manuscripts has tremendous value as a reference source for the serious student. Highly recommended.
David Chapman, Jewish and Christian Perceptions of Crucifixion
Many thanks to Mr. Holding for allowing me to write this guest piece. If it were not for the work of JPH I (a person who was raised in the church) would have never known there was such a thing as Christian scholarship.
David W. Chapman is associate professor of New Testament and archaeology at Covenant Theological Seminary (St. Louis, Missouri) and has provided an excellent new resource for the students of ancient Christianity, Judaism, and just ancient history altogether in the form of his book Ancient Jewish and Christian Perceptions of Crucifixion. Some may (initially) believe such a study need not be done, citing the vast amount of literature on the subject of crucifixion and arguing that in the agonistic societies of the ANE and Rome the perception of crucifixion was that it was shameful.
While such an assessment is technically correct, it begs for a more nuanced understanding of the topic. Surely Jews (out of whom came our NT) had more going on in between their ears when they perceived or heard of crucifixion than just “SHAME!”. Chapman seeks to understand these ancient categories of thought in order to better understand the world Christianity was fostered in.
In the first chapter, Chapman lays out the relevant lexical data for crucifixion terminology in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac writings from the periods in question. These include the works of Josephus, Philo, Tacitus etc. Here we find similar conclusions to those that have been recently argued for in a dissertation coming out of Sweden by one Gunnar Samuelsson. That is, the terminology used in all these languages for crucifixion on a T, t, X, or I beam is quite fluid, and, depending on the contexts, could encompass all forms of ante/post mortem bodily suspensions.
As a quick aside, in my own personal interactions recently with JW’s, I have already found they are using Samuelsson’s (and maybe even Chapman’s?) work to further their belief that Jesus must have been killed on an I beam, not a cross. Neither author is arguing for this (pg. 11 fn. 47). Rather, as Chapman's summary shows, what interests him is that in the mind of these ancient authors, it was not so much (from a lexical standpoint at least) that these men were suspended on a specific instrument, but that they were suspended period (pp. 30-33).
Chapter two begins to get into the meat of things by starting to lay out the Jewish texts that refer to crucifixion (or any other form of bodily suspension) and what they have to say about them. Chapman (in my view) successfully argues that the Nahum Pesher from the Qumran texts most likely refers to the crucifixion of the 800 under Alexander Jannaeus as described by Josephus (pp. 61-66). It is difficult because of the state on the text to be sure if the author felt outraged, or enthralled by this act. The evidence from the Second Temple period through the early Rabbinic period (including Philo, Josephus (with the Testimonium), the Assumption of Moses, the archaeological evidence of the crucified man from Giv’at ha-Mivtar) is combed meticulously for each reference and comes to some interesting conclusions. Of course Josephus provides that greatest amount of history-based crucifixions and finds the whole thing deeply offensive, railing against Alexander Jannaeus for his crucifixion of fellow Jews. Philo, though in agreement with the horror of the cross, uses it freely several times in his writings for moral examples. Showing that, in the first century, crucifixion was simply a normative legal proceeding taken for granted as the thought furniture and useful for dealing with thieves and war (pp. 94-96).
Chapter three was by far the most interesting chapter, for in it Chapman seeks out the OT data on suspended (whether ante or post mortem) individuals. Helpfully Chapman also provides a bevy of data as to how these instances were commented on by the most ancient extant Jewish commentators like Philo, Josephus and the Rabbi’s. He first notes that in all manner of ANE societies was the process of impalement of thieves or opponents of war on poles known. It is mentioned in Hammurabi’s Code and other such texts (pp. 99-101). Though not specifically noted by Chapman, I think it serves well to highlight that even in these most ancient of sources in which the OT finds it’s conceptual backdrop we already find the shameful categories of “defeated” (in the case of warfare) and “thief” (in the case of normal day-to-day societal behavior) associated with ANY form of suspension.
Next Chapman highlights the examples of the baker of Genesis 40-41 who was suspended by Pharaoh and the “leaders” of Numbers 25:4 (who were later taken as having been suspended). The greatest bulk of this chapter (pp. 117-149) is taken highlighting an important text Paul uses in Galatians 3, Deuteronomy 21:22-23.
21:22 If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, 21:23 his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.
Marshalling the various interpretive voices for Deuteronomy 21, Chapman notes that the most important point of contention is whether or not v. 23 means that the person hung on the tree is “cursed by God” or “a curser of God”. That is, whether the person actually receives a curse from Yahweh for being hung, or if they have committed a blasphemy of Yahweh, and are thus hung. Chapman lists the most ancient, extant interpretation (belonging to the LXX, Old Latin, the Temple Scroll from Qumran (11QTemple 1xiv. 6-13), and of course, the Apostle Paul’s) as being the one hung is under a curse from God. While Josephus and the common Rabbinic view has the person being a blasphemer of God, who is hung for his blasphemy. (Note: I think it is interesting that the primary interpretation before the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth was the “curse of God” interpretation, while the dominant idea after is that the one being hung is a blasphemer. Could this have anything to do with the suspension of the ultimate blasphemer (at least from the Jewish point of view) who equated Himself with God?)
Next Chapman lists the Joshua 8 recounting of the suspension of the King of Ai. Interesting in this discussion is Josephus’ take on the matter (pp. 151-153). While Josephus has no trouble using standard crucifixion terminology to refer to the suspension of the Genesis baker, Saul and his sons, or Haman in Esther, he DOES NOT ever use it to refer to Jews in the OT when they are clearly mentioned as having suspended a body. Thus, he completely omits Joshua’s suspension of the king of Ai, and uses much more tame language in David’s dealings with Ish-bosheth’s murderers. The ONLY times Josephus uses that terminology to refer to a Jew or Jews use of crucifixion are for Alexander Jannaeus and the “prominent men” mentioned in the Testimonium (though Chapman doesn’t employ the Testimonium here, due to the debates about it).
Chapter four is an interesting little chapter on the uses of cross-like symbols in magical texts, or explicit mention in the Rabbi’s of using crucifixion nails for healings (Mishnah (Sabb. Vi. 10)).
Chapter five examines Philo’s use of crucifixion imagery in his writings as well as the Rabbinic Case laws relating to crucifixion. Especially of note here are the teachings Chapman records from Semahot ii.11 [44b]. Here, it is said that the family of one crucified, if they are living within the limits of a small city in which their relative was crucified, must leave until the corpse of the victim decomposes enough that identification becomes impossible (pp. 199-200). Chapman (rightly it seems to me) suggests that the motive here is the avoidance of more shame upon the family. In a small city, it would be easy for the occupants to know who the victim was and why they were crucified. Thus the law demands the family leave. However, the law also states that if the city is “large, like Antioch” the family may stay. Likely signaling that there is little concern anyone will know this person, or their family.
But by far the most interesting part of chapter five is the discussion of Justin Martyr’s comments in Dial. x1.3 regarding the method of roasting the Paschal Lamb in his day. Chapman takes seriously Justin’s comments that the lamb was roasted in such a way as to resemble a figure on a cross.
In chapter six Chapman lists the themes he has uncovered as he sifts through the literary sources of ancient Judaism. These are the key themes Chapman sees ancient Jews as thinking of when they hear of or see victims of the cross. These also remain some of the conceptual categories Jews would have conjured when hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Among others he lists follows:
1) The Crucified Brigand- Arguing that this is the most plentiful category and quite possibly the one the ancient occupants of Israel may have most associated with crucifixion.
2) The Crucified Rebel- Noting bodily suspension was from ancient times (and remained well through the Roman period) a popular deterrent for putting down rebellions and civil wars.
3) The Crucified Martyr- These are the people who explicitly suffer that shame and pain of bodily suspension for their Jewish faith as in the Assumption of Moses and the Maccabean martyrs.
4) The Innocent Sufferer- People who have done nothing whatsoever to deserve their suspended fate.
Chapter seven lists and expands upon these issues, discussing the early Jewish Christian dialogues on the cross and its meaning/significance. The normal and well-known arguments put forward by Trypho and Celsus as to the shamefulness of the cross are also examined here.
So what can be said of the book as a whole? Chapman is a clear and concise scholar and has put together a marvelous work. His stated hope in both his preface and conclusion is to gather data that will inspire further investigation into the perspective of the ancient Jew who hears talk of the crucified messiah. What few minor issues I have are by far and away toppled by Chapman’s careful analysis. Eat you wannabe heart out Robert Price.
But as for those issues:
1) I am somewhat irked by Chapman’s refusal to explicitly commit to one side of the Testimonium debate (pp. 78-80). To his credit, he obviously takes the authentic core argument as being stronger than the complete interpolation argument, but I think it would be more useful for this study to say so. As loyal readers of Tekton know, (http://www.tektonics.org/jesusexist/josephus.html) we have more than sufficient reason, given the principles and limits of historical epistemology, to believe the core of the Testimonium is original to Josephus.
2) When discussing themes and categories of ancient Jewish thought on crucifixion, Chapman says that the “Shamefulness and Horror of the Cross are implied by many ancient accounts, although explicit shame terminology is rare” (pg. 217). As well as suggesting that though shame is most certainly a factor, his study “suggests other associations were more frequently verbalized” (pg. 218). He then lists the various mentions of crucifixion which occur as acts of martyrdom or patriotism, certainly not as shameful deaths.
But I do not think this does enough justice to the evidence. Surly, as even Chapman frequently suggests, the greatest association made with crucifixion across that ancient world was of brigands and dangerous thieves. In this agonistic context, I think any instance of “brigand” mention counts about as well as explicit mentioning of shame.
Moreover, as Chapman says with regard to Philo, he “simply assumes crucifixion to be a background part of society”. This can be taken further with another well-known subject familiar to loyal Tekton readers, that of the ancient high-context society (http://www.tektonics.org/doherty/doherty20lb.html).
Given the gruesome nature of the process and actual event of a suspension that most definitely was a crucifixion (the person being exposed, naked, outside, publicly, to die slowly) I don’t think the shame terminology need be explicitly mentioned at all.
No one is disputing that for Jews, Jewish martyrs would not be afforded the same level of shame given if they heard of, say, a member of the Germanic Batavian tribe crucified for adhering to their religious beliefs or national pride. The point is, depending of ones place and perspective in the world, the shame would be attributed by someone and I would be quite heavy. Certainly applying tenfold to Jesus of Nazareth, who was a blasphemer to the Jews and a nut to the Gentiles.
Other than these small criticisms, I think Chapman’s work should be kept right alongside Martin Hengel’s for the serious minded Christian historian.
Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History
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Colin Hemer does a masterful job, evaluating the value of the book of Acts as an historical source for primitive Christianity. Hemer meticulously demonstrates that the author of Acts expressed exhaustive familiarity with remote geographical regions as well as local names and titles. Coupled with the ‘we-passages’, the accuracy with which remote details are reported support the notion that the author of Acts was a traveling companion of Paul and navigated the Mediterranean to gather accurate information. Therefore, the author of Acts appears to employ an historical method that relied on personal travel and the interrogation of eyewitnesses. Hemer notes that this method is not unknown to the ancient world, as it resembles the method advocated by the ancient historian Polybius, who is widely regarded as accurate.
An astute comment on approach is made in the first chapter:
“If our aim is to look either for corroboration or for conflict of evidence, we shall probably find it too easy to find what we seek, at least to suit our own case…If however text and ostensible context interlock unobtrusively at a variety of levels and cast further light elsewhere, this complex of positive indications becomes increasingly suggestive (19).”
Skeptics and Christians alike are guilty of such over-simplistic approaches to evaluating the historical value of Acts (and other books of the Bible). Archaeological discoveries and disparities with the Pauline epistles have been used to build a case for the credibility or unreliability of Acts, respectively. The method employed by Hemer facilitates a broadly based, more-objective appraisal.
Chapter 3 on ancient perspectives on historiography was extremely informative. Contrary to popular dogma, rigorous concern for factual history is not limited to modern historians. Furthermore, the choice between ‘mere history’ and theology is a false dichotomy. Ancient historians selected and organized the facts of history, so that particular political and moral motifs could be conveyed. Therefore, the presence of a theological bias is no reason to reduce the book of Acts to theology only. Clearly, ancient historians were capable of reporting factual history while using that history to communicate an ethical or didactic theme.
The treatment of the Pauline epistles leaves something to be desired. Hemer does not sufficiently address the theological and biographical disparities between Acts and the Pauline epistles. However, the author does integrate the narrative of Acts and the Pauline epistles into a coherent chronology.
Hemer provides thorough treatment of important issues such as authorship and date of composition. There is a chapter on the authorship and sources of Acts, and another chapter on its date of composition. Hemer also devotes a whole chapter to the ancient usage of the terms “Galatia” and “Galatians”, which constitutes an important part of his integration of the Pauline and Acts chronologies.
In conclusion, Colin Hemer succeeds in firmly locating the book of Acts in its ostensible Hellenistic setting. The result of which is a prima facie case for the historicity of the first history of the church.
- Bob Lewis
Martin Hengel, The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ
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Martin Hengel demonstrates why he is one of Germany's (and the world's) most respected New Testament scholars in this volume, which examines the issues of the composition, authorship, and collection of the canonical Gospels. This purpose is achieved primarily through an exploration and analysis of the evidence contained in the writings of the early church, including (expectedly) that preserved for us from the likes of Papias, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, and Justin Martyr. This is complemented when necessary by correlations that can be drawn from the milieu of the Roman Empire in which the early church resided.
Hengel provides valuable discussions regarding the controversial topic of the chronological order in which the Gospels were recorded, based largely on the external evidence provided by the early church writings. After discussing the issues of the superscriptions attached to each Gospel, the significance and meaning of the title of "Gospel" itself, the manuscript evidence, the evidence of a very early collection and utilization of the fourfold tradition within the churches across a wide geographical spectrum, and the virtually universal agreement among the church fathers regarding authorial attribution to the various Gospels, Hengel demonstrates the high likelihood that the Gospels were in fact never anonymous as is often claimed. He also stresses that the evidence suggests that the Gospels were written to be distributed more widely than just the respective evangelists' so-called communities. The following is worth quoting:
Contrary to a widespread view, none of the four Gospels was written only for one particular community; far less do they simply reproduce the views of one individual community. They give primarily the views of their authors. We cannot even say with certainty whether they ever came into being only in one community, for the missionaries of the early church traveled a great deal and could be authoritative teachers at different places. So we should stop talking automatically about 'the community of Mark', 'of Luke', 'of Matthew', 'of John' as the one really responsible for the composition of a Gospel writing and its theology. The four Gospels have nothing to do with 'letters' which were occasioned by a community. These are relatively rare in the New Testament and its environment. Even more nonsensical is the term 'Q community', i.e. the community of the Logia source (we do not even really know in what forms this source [or these sources] existed). The authors of these works do not represent the view of a collective community, but of an individual yet authoritative teacher of one or more communities (or a school), and in their quite different forms proclaim the one truth which should be binding on all believers. This is true regardless of the fact that of course authors were in constant dialogue with a community, or more frequently several communities, and with their disciples or school. (pp. 106-107)
In this sense Hengel's conclusions are complementary to that of Richard Bauckham et al (see above>). Beyond this, Hengel's book also includes discussions of Gospel authorship, dating, the theology of the respective evangelists, the Petrine tradition underlying the composition of Mark's Gospel, and the use of the Gospel as kerygma and narrative. A helpful postscript ends the book where Hengel elaborates on his views of the Synoptic problem.
Hengel ultimately argues for the order and dating of the Greek Gospels as follows: Mark in 69/70; Luke/Acts b/w 75-85; Matthew b/w 90-95; John b/w 100-105. He affirms traditional authorship of Luke and Mark (with the latter being based on Peter's preaching), but states that Matthew was composed by a member of the Matthean school (IOW, while it was not anonymous, Hengel still affirms pseudonymity), and that John was actually written by John the presbyter. As far as sources are concerned, Hengel argues that Matthew uses both Mark and Luke, and that speculation about the Q source should be proceeded with caution since we can only know so little about it, much (or perhaps all) of which is conjectural. He postulates, for instance, that there could be more than one "Q-like" source used by Matthew and Luke, and that in places where Q is thought by some to be present it may actually be Matthew simply using Luke as a source.
This book contains very valuable insight on a wide array of important topics, though I personally would not agree with all of the conclusions drawn. Also, a minor note about the format, this book would have benefited greatly with the use of footnotes rather than endnotes. I was amazed to find 114 pages of endnotes for a book whose text is only 207 pages! Thus quite a bit of "flipping back and forth" is required to take in all of the book's content. On the other hand, this underscores the great erudition that characterizes the painstaking work and research of a top scholar!
Craig Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels
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This one sat on my "read" pile for over a year and I'm sorry I didn't get to it sooner. But it's just as well because it isn't one of those books you read through; it's more like a handbook or an encyclopedia. Keener goes over all the big issues we've discussed on Tekton over the years related to NT reliability, and some more we'll eventually get to later: Oral tradition, sources for Jesus, the genre of the Gospels, redaction criticism, etc. Call this one a NT studies potpourri.
Of interest was something personal Keener noted: He is married to a Congolese woman, and so thanks to her he has the added perspective of someone who knows the roots of Biblical culture by experience. I'd say that helps make him an even more worthy expert to consult.
This one's a bit expensive, but I'd say it's worth a dent in your book budget. Just keep in mind that notes and sources take up not quite half the pages. Maybe look at it in a library before you decide to buy, if it's too big a dent to make.
J. Ed Komoszewski, Daniel Wallace, and M. James Sawyer, Reinventing Jesus
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For years now I've been lamenting the sad state of published apologetics, as it seemed that there was far more interest in getting out literaryily-inferior eschatological novels than in offering defenses of the faith rooted in sound scholarship. I was glad when Lee Strobel's works finally jimmied that door some, and when Licona and Habermas cracked it further open with The Resurrection of Jesus; and now, this trio has blown the door off its hinges and sent it flying into the atmosphere.
I'll put it bluntly: Buy this book. Buy multiple copies and pass them out. Rent a forklift and buy a whole pallet of them. You may know all of the stuff that's in it already (for as will be noted below, a lot WILL be familiar to the typical reader of this site). If you're tired of the Christian publishing industry putting out the intellectual equivalent of Hostess Ding Dongs in defense of the faith, you NEED to make this book a success, because otherwise, they won't get the message and we'll get more Ding Dongs instead of more roast beef.
Yes: There are a lot of names of old Tekton opponents here: Ehrman, Price, Baigent, Freke and Gandy -- even Acharya S is mentioned. There's a lot of stuff you've seen here and on other sites like the ThinkTank before: Plenty of material on things like textual criticism, oral tradition, copycat christs (Attis, Mithra, Tammuz, Dionysus, Osiris -- these and more get some treatment), the Jesus Seminar, the canon, forged documents, the Council of Nicea. There's also a few things that are new. It sometimes goes into great detail on these things; at other times, not so.
But in the end, if you give it your support, the publishers will be convinced of the need to make more and then future authors won't have to worry about restraints on size.
It has copious footnotes and recommends for further reading. The writing style is lucid and enjoyable.
In a time when we have e.g., Ehrman on public radio, quality response works like these are needed badly, and they need to be supported. The secular world made Ehrman's book a best-seller. Do we dare do any less for Re-inventing Jesus?
J. P. Moreland and Michael Wilkins, Jesus Under Fire
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Robert McIver, Jesus, Memory, and the Synoptic Gospels
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Review by Nick Peters. Summary quote:
"McIver’s book on the usage of memory in reporting the events of the Gospels is certainly one worth reading. It is meticulously researched and incredibly thorough in its approach and it even has a nice little appendix at the end that describes life expectancy in the ancient world and if the eyewitnesses would have been around for interview or even rebuttal around the time the Gospels were written."
Graham Stanton, Gospel Truth
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Nothing is quite as welcome and refreshing as a scholar who takes his time, does not make unwarranted assertions, and is a good read in the process. Graham Stanton has done all of these things, and done them very well.
Unlike the book with the same name by Russell Shorto, this Gospel Truth author knows what he is talking about. Stanton addresses a variety of salient issues and manages (for the most part) to do an outstanding job of it, in spite of space limitations.
After an introduction, Stanton tackles the Magdalen and 7Q5 fragments. He offers a sane and balanced approach to an issue that has been overblown in the past. Stanton then surveys the issues of manuscript reliability, the matter of the time between when the Gospel events occurred and when the Gospels were written, the Q hypothesis, apocryphal gospels (including the Gospel of Thomas), secular references to Jesus, and the genre of the Gospels.
His last four chapters are devoted to his own observations. My only reservation about this book is that I would have liked to have seen Stanton address the role of oral tradition a little more in-depth.
The beginning student will enjoy the breezy prose of this jolly Englishman, and find the list of books in For Further Reading especially helpful. Advanced students will end up mostly visiting old friends, but there are probably a few surprises in store as well. This book is therefore awarded the highest possible rating for books that are not topic-specific, and aside from the reservation above, is unhesitatingly recommended.
Daniel Wallace, Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament
Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament (hereafter RCNT) is a grade A production in terms of scholarship, but a mixed bag in terms of practical utility for the everyday reader and the apologist. Edited by premier textual scholar and "Greek geek" Daniel Wallace, it contains six essays on textual criticism, three of which focus on specific verses or words. Bart Ehrman is a frequent though not universal target.
The first essay by Wallace himself is the most valuable for the apologist, and the most generalist essay, taking on the broad question of just how much corruption occurred in the NT. It's a direct reply to Ehrman, and readers may recognize much of the content as similar to that of Wallace's debates with Ehrman.
The second essay, by Philip Miller, charges Ehrman with a tendentious approach to textual criticism, in which he adopts as his method an automatic preference for the "least orthodox" reading as original. This essay is particularly revealing to the extent that it shows just how much Ehrman disagrees with the text-critical consensus, often disagreeing with readings regarded as "certain" or "almost certain" by those who assemble the text-critical apparatus (including his own mentor Bruce Metzger).
The third essay is a specific study of the text of John 1:1, and a heretical variant found in some late manuscripts. As such, it is certainly useful to those making a specific study of that passage, but perhaps of little interest to others (which is no slight on it or on its author, Matthew Morgan; merely a utilitarian observation).
The fourth essay by Adam Messer, though specifically about one text, Matthew 24:36, is of great use to the apologist given that it is perhaps Ehrman's most powerful example of "orthodox corruption". The passage reads: But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. The phrase "nor the Son" is absent from some manuscripts, and Ehrman hypothesizes that this was because orthodox scribes were embarrassed by Jesus' lack of omniscience.
Messer substantially weakens Ehrman's case by showing that 1) certain heretics would have had more reason to scrub the critical phrase in Matt. 24:36, and thus the corruption may have crept in via heretical manuscripts (which, despite what we may suppose, may indeed have been used as exemplary copies by orthodox scribes), and 2) many patristic writers had absolutely no problem with the critical phrase, so that the motive Ehrman ascribes to scribes is far less evident than he would want it to be. Messer's information is of such value that I believe it worthy of a summary article in the next E-Block.
The fifth essay by Tim Ricchuiti is on the Gospel of Thomas, and the last by Brian Wright in on passages that refer to Jesus as theos (God). Like the third essay, these will be of great value to those involved in special study of those topics.
RCNT is thus an excellent volume for both specialist and generalist, having something of value for both. Pick it up if your budget isn't too tight.
John Wenham, Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke
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This book has been out already for a little while (pub. 1992), but I thought it was still worth taking the time to write a review given what I found to be a top-notch scholarly presentation of the issues discussed. When I first started reading the book, I was expecting a volume that dealt primarily with the dating of the Synoptic Gospels (since this is what the name implies). While all of the masterful work that Wenham placed into this volume ultimately paved the way for such a discussion, this book was primarily concerned with the Synoptic problem (as the subtitle "A Fresh Assault on the Synoptic Problem" would suggest) and other relevant issues of Gospel composition (e.g. authorship, the possibility of written traditions preceding Gospel composition, the order of Gospel composition, issues regarding Q, etc.). Nevertheless, Wenham's analysis of this and other key concepts are integral to his thesis for the dating of Matthew, Mark, and Luke that he eventually proposes. What is striking about this book is how, in at least three cases, Wenham provides a very formidable stance against the consensus of NT scholarship: Which evangelist wrote first? Is it possible that Peter could have actually had that 25 year Episcopate in Rome? When should the Gospels be dated?
The first four chapters, "Building a Synoptic Theory", comprise nearly half the book and are devoted to Wenham's analysis of the Synoptic problem. He examines the relationship of each of the Synoptics to each other (devoting a chapter apiece on Luke's relationship to Mark, Luke's relationship to Matthew, and Matthew's relationship to Mark). In subsequent chapters, Wenham takes a look at ancient testimony to Matthew's Gospel followed by that of Mark's Gospel. A chapter discussing the date of Peter's going to Rome is then followed by one devoted to further considerable issues pertinent to Mark (e.g. Mark being the founder of the church of Alexandria, the controversial 7Q5 Qumran manuscript fragment, and the issue of eyewitness testimony in Mark). A chapter on the ancient witness to Luke's Gospel then precedes a chapter that examines how the Gospels were written. The penultimate chapter details the importance of oral vs. written Jesus tradition by the early church. Finally, in the concluding chapter, Wenham proposes a dating for the Synoptic Gospels based on his conclusions regarding the issues examined leading up to that point.
Wenham argues persuasively, based on the external evidence, that Matthew wrote first in Aramaic, followed by Mark and then Luke (this corroborates the conclusions drawn here on Tekton; see here). It is shown why the majority of the arguments favoring Markan priority are either flawed or equivocal, and that the internal evidence suggests that Matthean priority is at least as plausible. The author demonstrates in at least a couple of instances why Matthean priority would be more likely, though he concludes in the end that the internal evidence could reasonably lead in either direction. It is the external testimony of the church fathers which seems to tip the scales in favor of Aramaic Matthew being the first Gospel, rather than the internal evidence itself. A key assertion to Wenham's dating rests on the veracity of his claim that Peter first went to Rome soon after his escape from prison in about 42 A.D. He candidly admits that he is challenging the scholarly consensus when it comes to this issue, though he does note "Of the nine major works on Peter in English this century, seven have been quite disinclined to dismiss the old view" .
The author, building largely off the case argued near the beginning of the 20th century by G. Edmundson, peruses the evidence for this 25 year Episcopate of Peter in Rome. If the external evidence, based on archaeological findings and the writings of the early church, were all that we had to go on, I'd consider the impressive array of evidence presented by Wenham to render the matter settled in favor of the veracity of Peter's 25 year Episcopate.
It is the lack of clear internal evidence from the New Testament, however, that leads scholars to doubt the veracity of this event. Wenham does offer a few examples of possible places in the NT where the early establishment of "Peter's church" in Rome is implied. These are plausible suggestions, though still conjectural. Overall, Wenham's case still seems quite sound. In the end, with the implications of Peter's lengthier-than-normally-thought sojourn in Rome, early traditions indicating that Mark wrote "after Peter left Rome" open up the possibility of a date in the early to mid 40s (Wenham obviously doesn't argue that Peter literally stayed in Rome for the whole time, as episodes in the book of Acts make it clear that this was not the case, yet he does argue that this Episcopate fits without difficulty into the Acts narrative).
Wenham thus places Mark to around 45 A.D. with Aramaic Matthew written even earlier. The author adopts the arguments of Colin Hemer in order to date Acts to about 62 A.D., with the preceding Luke being dated around 55 A.D. Wenham's conclusions about Matthew and Mark reside on the extreme end of the scholarly dating of the Gospels, even compared with those that believe the Synoptics and Acts were all composed before 70 A.D., but it would be a mistake to merely assume that his presentation is not formidable. To the contrary, his conclusions seem to have been the result of allowing the evidence to simply fall where it best fits given the data.
For those interested in Gospel dating (as well as relevant side issues to this like order of composition and authorship), or the Synoptic problem, this book is quite simply a must-read.
N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God
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The age of the Third Quest for the Historical Jesus might also end up being called the age of Big Thick Books About Jesus. Add to that pile by Meier and Brown this first of five volumes by N. T. Wright --- and pray for the sake of your bookshelves that the volumes do not keep growing as they progress!
Then again, for the sake of your information, you may wish to pray the opposite. Wright is a writer of admirable erudition, long and careful on detail. This first volume lays the groundwork for the rest of the series, and like James Michener, this writer goes back to the amoebas before he gets the story going. He begins by suggesting a study method of "critical realism" for consideration of historical knowledge --- a well-studied backhand at the radical elements of the critical school who propose the wildest Jesus you ever imagined. And then we are in for a genuine treat. Wright explores in detail the diversity of first century Judaism, with focus on worldviews, eschatology, and messianic expectations. He closes with a similar and summary sketch of early Christianity.
I have seldom seen so much good information packed into a book, and I recommend it highly.