Books that probe more deeply the writings of the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament—especially the letters of Paul—and writings outside of both the Hebrew and Christian canon are plentiful this publishing season. The flood of biblical studies books includes new perspectives on Paul, as well as approaches to biblical criticism, religious violence, the Psalms, and the nature and character of the canon. Michael Mauldin, senior v-p and executive editor at HarperOne, says, “What constantly surprises me is how much that is old and established in the field of biblical studies can still seem fresh and new to the general market. People are drawn to scholars who can take material that is very familiar and make us see it with new eyes.”
While books on the historical Jesus dominated the general market a decade ago and are still drawing interest, a spotlight now is trained on the Apostle Paul. Most religion publishers have at least one book devoted to this provocative, enigmatic, loved, and often hated writer some call the founder of Christianity. Orbiting in a galaxy all its own this fall is N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God, the monumental two-book fourth volume in his series Christian Origins and the Question of God; the new book was more than 10 years in the making. Wright, former bishop of Durham and professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St. Andrews University, explores the entire context of Paul’s thought and activity—Jewish, Greek, Roman, cultural, philosophical, religious, and imperial—tracing the contours of Paul’s theology as it developed out of his engagement with these worldviews. Since this 1,700-page study of Paul’s theology could not contain all of Wright’s research on Paul, Fortress is also publishing a collection of Wright’s essays, Pauline Perspectives (Nov.), that chronicle the evolution of his thinking about Paul over the past 35 years, as well as Paul and His Interpreters (Feb. 2014), a companion to the two-book set of Paul and the Faithfulness of God, in which Wright provides an in-depth survey and probes the major contributions to Pauline studies over the past 50 years. As Fortress publisher Will Bergkamp observes, “Whatever the trends [in biblical studies publishing] are right now, I think we can safely say that one of the trends next year will be engagement with this significant book,” Paul and the Faithfulness of God.
According to InterVarsity Press associate publisher, editorial, Andrew T. Le Peau, Wright’s book “is going to dominate. All else will be as small moons orbiting this gas giant.” In another galaxy far away from Wright, though, a number of what Le Peau calls “smaller moons” light the skies of Pauline scholarship, including IVP’s Paul and Judaism Revisited: A Study of Divine and Human Agency in Salvation (Sept.), in which Preston M. Sprinkle, biblical studies professor at Cedarville University, attempts to bridge the gap between old and new perspectives on Paul. Sprinkle finds buried in the Old Testament’s Deuteronomic and prophetic perspectives a key to turn the rusted lock on Paul’s critique of Judaism. In a new introduction to Paul and his letters, All Things to All Cultures: Paul Among Jews, Greeks, and Romans (Eerdmans, Nov.), editors Mark Harding, Australian College of Theology, and Alanna Nobbs, Macquarie University, gather 13 contributions that set Paul in his first-century context and illuminate his interactions with Jews, Greeks, and Romans, exploring the ways these encounters influenced him. In Accompanied by a Believing Wife: Ministry and Celibacy in the Earliest Christian Communities (Liturgical, Oct.), acclaimed New Testament scholar Raymond Collins probes Paul’s urgings to remain unmarried and the ways in which the earliest Christian communities interpreted and developed Paul’s teachings on celibacy.
In October, Fortress releases the seventh edition of its popular introduction to the New Testament, Anatomy of the New Testament by Robert A. Spivey, D. Moody Smith, and C. Clifton Black. The newly revised edition draws on recent literary and historical scholarship to discuss key interpretive issues in New Testament studies. IVP’s mammoth, award-winning Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Oct.), edited by Joel B. Green, Jeannine K. Brown, and Nicholas Perrin, returns in its second edition. According to IVP’s LePeau, this is “no mere revision but almost entirely written afresh.”
Following up on his bestselling Misquoting Jesus (250,000 copies sold), Bart Ehrman, in How Jesus Became God (HarperOne, Mar.), explores the multiple Christianities that emerged early in the Christian movement and helped shape it. In John, Jesus, and the Renewal of Israel (Eerdmans, Nov.), Richard Horsley and Tom Thatcher approach the Gospel of John as story, examining the ways the oral communication of Jesus as prophet prompted renewal of community and resistance to imperial powers in the early Christian movement. Reading the Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude as Scripture by David Nienhuis and Robert Wall (Eerdmans, Nov.) offers fresh readings of the so-called Catholic epistles, arguing that the letters are intentionally designed and theologically coherent. Westminster John Knox executive editor Robert A. Ratcliff says, “The ferment and experimentation that have so characterized biblical studies in recent years show no sign of slowing down.” In New Meanings for Ancient Texts: Recent Approaches to Biblical Criticism and Their Applications (WJK, Aug.), the follow-up to their To Each Its Own Meaning (WJK, 1993), Steven L. McKenzie and John Kaltner, editors, explore recent developments in, and approaches to, biblical criticism since 1999.
The New Testament contains such different kinds of writing and reflects such a diverse cultural and religious background that reading its various texts can be challenging. Warren Carter and Amy-Jill Levine introduce three aspects of New Testament study in The New Testament: Methods and Meanings (Abingdon, Nov.).
The First Testament
In the Hebrew Bible, prophets regularly warned Israel that if it continued its arrogant and selfish ways, God would punish the nation. In Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks (Eerdmans, Jan.), bestselling Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann “finds striking correlations between the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E. and the catastrophic crisis of 9/11,” says Eerdmans senior editor Allen Myers. “The book charges that the characteristic U.S. ideology of exceptionalism—chosenness, entitlement, privilege—must be countered by prophetic realism and truth-telling.”
In Hebrew Bible studies, the Psalms are making a comeback. “We’ve responded to a renewed interest in the Psalms with books from major scholars,” says WJK’s Ratcliff. Patrick D. Miller’s The Lord of the Psalms (WJK, Nov.) attends to the Psalter as a window into the character of God, both for ancient Israel and contemporary persons. Bernd Janowski’s Arguing with God: A Theological Anthropology of the Psalms (WJK, Oct.) demonstrates what the Psalms can reveal about ancient Israel’s understanding of what it means to be human. And doing for David what many scholars have done for Jesus, in The Historical David: The Real Life of an Invented Hero (HarperOne, Oct.) Joel Baden exposes an ambitious, ruthless, flesh-and-blood man who achieved power by any means necessary. Finally, drawing on his many years of leading archeological digs in Israel, Lamontte Luker offers An Illustrated Guide to the Holy Land for Tour Groups, Students, and Pilgrims (Abingdon, Nov.)
Between the Testaments
Over the past 20 years or so, Elaine Pagels, Bart Ehrman, and others have drawn wide attention to the less familiar books outside of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, once unknown to a general audience, that played significant roles in late Judaism and developing Christianity. Thirty years ago, renowned Princeton professor James Charlesworth released the first volume of his now classic, epic two-volume collection of noncanonical writings that illustrate the ongoing development of late Judaism and often influenced early Christianity. In the first volume of The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments (Doubleday, 1983), Charlesworth provided new translations of important Jewish and Hellenistic primary texts such as 1 Enoch, Sibylline Oracles, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and Apocalypse of Daniel. In the second volume, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Expansions of the Old Testament and Legends, Wisdom and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms, and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenic Works (Doubleday, 1985), Charlesworth included fresh translations of such influential wisdom writings as the Odes of Solomon, the Letter of Aristeas, Jubilees, and legends such as the Life of Adam and Eve. Now Eerdmans’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Texts, edited by Richard Bauckham, James Davila, and Alexander Panayotov (Nov.), is the first of two volumes supplementing James Charlesworth’s classic work with virtually all surviving texts prior to the rise of Islam, responding, according to senior editor Myers, to “burgeoning interest these days in noncanonical Scriptures.” In Secret Scriptures Revealed (Eerdmans, Dec.) Tony Burke, co-editor with Brent Landau of the forthcoming two-volume New Testament Apocrypha (Eerdmans, Mar. 2014), offers a new introduction to the Christian Apocrypha.
The decisions of early communities to include some writings in canonical collections and exclude others continue to generate conversations in biblical studies. John Walton and Brent Sandy take up issues of the transmission and composition of Scriptures and examine the ways we think about the reliability of Scripture in Lost World of Scripture (IVP, Dec.).
The flood of biblical studies books continues to surge, and at the center of these cascading waters is the return of Paul to the center of conversations in many biblical studies circles.
Looking Outside the Bible
The monumental work of James Charlesworth in the 1980s in publishing noncanonical scripture provided new translations and access for scholars to writings that the ancient rabbis and early Christian priests chose to exclude from the Bible as we know it today. Yet the commentary in these volumes often emphasized the value of the texts--many written in Jewish communities and dealing with Jewish matters--for the Christian community and its self-understanding.
Now a mammoth three-volume set, Outside the Bible: Ancient Jewish Writings Related to Scripture (Jewish Publication Society/Univ. of Nebraska Press, Dec.), edited by Louis H. Feldman, James L. Kugel, and Lawrence H. Schiffman, brings together for the first time in a single collection all of the “outside books” of Judaism, gathering portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint, the biblical apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, and the writings of Josephus and Philo of Alexandria.
According to Ellen Frankel, editor emerita at JPS, “The idea for this book probably emerged in 1994 when I was working with Larry Schiffman on his book, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, and he mentioned that it would be great to have an edition of the extracanonical books of Judaism for a Jewish audience.” Frankel renewed the conversation in 2001, and the two eventually enlisted Feldman and Kugel, as well as 75 contributors from around the world, to put together what grew into three volumes of translations of 154 primary texts—though the editors did use existing translations of texts where available and accurate—along with introductions and detailed commentaries.
“Most Jews don’t have access to these texts and don’t understand the significance of these texts, especially as the writings provide a larger picture of Second Temple Judaism,” Frankel says. Although one of the hardest tasks the editors faced was choosing what original texts to include, they eventually selected only those that were Jewish in origin and focused on questions related to Judaism. “In addition, the editors specified that the commentary on each text had to focus on the Jewish significance of that text,” she adds.
“The most radical feature of the set is the table of contents,” Frankel observes. The texts are organized according to the order of the Hebrew Bible so that readers can see the ways that each text interacts with or comments on material in the Hebrew Bible. “The narrative that emerges in Outside the Bible is thus the story of Tanakh,” she says.
Outside the Bible richly illuminates the ancient Jewish practice of wrestling with its sacred scriptures and illustrates the dynamic process by which rabbis formed the canon of Jewish scripture.
Carrigan is the author of The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers.