Books


I briefly introduced the new Lectio Sacra series that I’m a part of. Jim Prothro has provided an even more engaging summary of the intent and purposes of the series over at The Sacred Page, so check that out.

As part of the start of this new semester and new year, I thought I would notify the world of a new monograph series. John Kincaid, Jim Prothro, and I are co-editing the Lectio Sacra monograph series with Cascade books. Let me offer a bit of detail and encourage you to contact one of us if you have a book that would fit:

Lectio Sacra is to be a series of monographs where close readings of biblical texts engage theological questions with interpreters both ancient and modern. The goal is to recover for the church readings that reflect the way the early Jews, Christians, and early theologians read their scriptures as sacred texts and to utilize them for the ongoing tasks of exegesis and theology. Interpreters in antiquity, as today, came with varied presuppositions and approaches to exegesis, but they were united in their approach to Scripture as a sacred text, and they were unafraid to ask explicitly theological and transcendent questions of it. Lectio Sacra aims to follow them in this spirit of exegesis and to utilize their insights and approaches for contemporary dialogue.

Each volume will, in various ways, engage the range of interpretative history, paying particular attention to the exegetical, philosophical and theological judgments of interpreters within this tradition. Some volumes will be anchored in exegesis of the biblical text and, from that basis, engage issues of their ancient interpretation or their bearing on contemporary questions of theology, ethics, etc. Other volumes may be grounded in ancient reception of Scripture, unpacking its relevance for the ongoing task of exegesis and theology. A number of the volumes will incorporate both emphases, the exegesis and the text’s reception into a biblical-theological synthesis of a core theological question. All of the volumes will facilitate conversation about and with Scripture as a sacred text, listening closely to other readers who have done the same. The series will thus contribute to the continued conversation about the task of explicitly theological exegesis. By engaging relevant questions through text and reception, the series will also make ancient interpreters intelligible and relevant for today’s readers.

In sum, this series will not simply contribute to ongoing debates but offer an integration of exegesis and the theological task that will make a real contribution to the world of contemporary biblical and theological scholarship. In short, this series will attempt to model what it entails to be a “master of the sacred page” in the 21st century.

Managing Editors:
John Kincaid (University of Mary)
Ben Blackwell (Houston Theological Seminary)
Jim Prothro (Augustine Institute)

Editorial Board:
Jason Byassee (Vancouver School of Theology)
Michael Gorman (St. Mary’s Seminary and University)
Jennie Grillo (Notre Dame)
Matthew Levering (University of Saint Mary of the Lake)
Isaac Morales (Providence College)
Lucy Peppiatt (Westminster Theological Centre)


After receiving a recent review of our book Reading Mark in Context: Jesus and Second Temple Judaism, we wanted to make the table of contents more accessible. We are quite pleased with the significant line-up of excellent Gospels scholars.

Foreword: N. T. Wright

  1. Rule of the Community and Mark 1:1–13: Preparing the Way in the Wilderness (Rikk Watts)
  1. The Parables of Enoch and Mark 1:14–2:12: The Authoritative Son of Man (Kristian A. Bendoraitis)
  1. Josephus and Mark 2:13–3:6: Controversies with the Scribes and Pharisees (Mary Marshall)
  1. The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and Mark 3:7–35: Apocalyptic and the Kingdom (Elizabeth E. Shively)
  1. 4 Ezra and Mark 4:1–34: Parables on Seeds, Sowing, and Fruit (Klyne Snodgrass)
  1. The Testament of Solomon and Mark 5:1–20: Exorcism and Power over Evil Spirits (Michael F. Bird)
  1. Mishnah Zabim and Mark 5:21–6:6a: The Rules on Purity (David E. Garland)
  1. Josephus and Mark 6:6b–29: Herod Antipas’s Execution of John the Baptist (Morten Hørning Jensen)
  1. 4QConsolations and Mark 6:30–56: Images of a New Exodus (Holly Beers)
  1. The Letter of Aristeas and Mark 7:1–23: Developing Ideas of Defilement (Sarah Whittle)
  1. Jubilees and Mark 7:24–37: Crossing Ethnic Boundaries (Kelly R. Iverson)
  1. The Damascus Document and Mark 8:1–26: Blindness and Sight on “the Way” (Suzanne Watts Henderson)
  1. Sirach and Mark 8:27–9:13: Elijah and the Eschaton (Sigurd Grindheim)
  1. Tobit and Mark 9:14–29: Imperfect Faith (Jeanette Hagen Pifer)
  1. Rule of the Community and Mark 9:30–50: Discipleship Reordered (Jeffrey W. Aernie)
  1. Mishnah Giṭṭin and Mark 10:1–12: Marriage and Divorce (David Instone-Brewer)
  1. Eschatological Admonition and Mark 10:13–31: Riches, Poverty, and the Faithful (Mark D. Mathews)
  1. Rule of the Congregation and Mark 10:32–52: Glory and Greatness in Eschatological Israel (John K. Goodrich)
  1. 1 Maccabees and Mark 11:1–11: A Subversive Entry into Jerusalem (Timothy Gombis)
  1. Psalms of Solomon and Mark 11:12–25: The Great Priestly Showdown at the Temple (Nicholas Perrin)
  1. The Animal Apocalypse and Mark 11:27–12:12: The Rejection of the Prophets and the Destruction of the Temple (David L. Turner)
  1. Josephus and Mark 12:13–27: The Sadducees, Resurrection, and the Law (Jason Maston)
  1. Psalms of Solomon and Mark 12:28–44: The Messiah’s Surprising Identity and Role (Mark L. Strauss)
  1. The Parables of Enoch and Mark 13:1–37: Apocalyptic Eschatology and the Coming Son of Man (Jonathan T. Pennington)
  1. Mishnah Pesaḥim and Mark 14:1–25: The Passover Tradition (Amy Peeler)
  1. The Babylonian Talmud and Mark 14:26–52: Abba, Father! (Nijay K. Gupta)
  1. The Parables of Enoch and Mark 14:53–73: Blasphemy and Exaltation (Darrell L. Bock)
  1. Philo of Alexandria and Mark 15:1–15a: Pontius Pilate, a Spineless Governor? (Helen K. Bond)
  1. 11QTemplea and Mark 15:15b–47: Burying the Crucified (Craig A. Evans)
  1. 2 Maccabees and Mark 16:1–8: Resurrection as Hope for the Present (Ben C. Blackwell)

9780310534457

Simon J. Joseph (University of California, Los Angeles) has reviewed our Reading Mark in Context: Jesus and Second Temple Judaism in the Review of Biblical Literature.  He has some fair notes about the volume and ends his review thus:

Relocating the Gospel of Mark in its wider Jewish context, the essays in Reading Mark in Context introduce readers to the study of Mark within the literary, historical, and theological contexts that it both drew from and distinguished itself from. Although many of the essays reinscribe Mark’s promise/fulfillment paradigm (in which Jesus fulfills Jewish messianic prophecies), that is to be expected given the authorial Tendenz of the Markan narrative . The goal of this volume was not to distinguish between the Markan Jesus, a historical Jesus, and the Jesus of history but to illuminate the literary world of the Markan narrative. The editors and authors are to be commended for this collection of well-written and accessible essays, each of which illuminates the Markan context without unnecessarily complicating its discussion with questions of literary dependence. Readers will appreciate the introduction outlining the volume’s methodological approach and structure, along with its brief overview of Second Temple literature and a helpful glossary of key terms. I strongly recommend these essays for “beginning and intermediate students” of the gospels, not simply because they successfully contextualize the Markan texts in their wider literary contexts, but more so because they drive home the important message that a contextual reading of Mark requires attending to the creative complexity of its relationship with(in) Second Temple Judaism.

A friend texted me a screen shot of a review of my Christosis book in a recent journal, and I realized that I hadn’t seen others come through like with it’s first printing. So, a quick journal search turned up several reviews in the last few months of the Eerdmans version:

  • Gorman in Interpretation
  • Jervis in Catholic Biblical Quarterly
  • Smith in Chriswell Theological Review
  • Kennard in Affirmation & Critique (this is long)
  • Bucey in Westminster Theological Journal
  • Stephan in Theological Studies
  • in addition to several for the Mohr Siebeck version.

I confess that with the first printing (with Mohr Siebeck) when a review came in, I would have to let it sit for a day before I steeled myself. I think I have a little thicker skin now, but there’s not much new feedback that will come out with a revised edition. There are definitely areas to sharpen, and the reviews all helpfully point to those. I still agree with myself, but if I had to do it over again, I’d shoot to be at least 10% shorter. My favorite thing about the new edition is the much improved taxonomy of ancient views of (ontological) deification.

Among all the reviews, this had to be my favorite quote in Gorman’s review:

In a recent straw poll of scholars, a prominent publisher asked about the three most significant books on Paul published in the last five years. After widespread agreement on tomes by John Barclay (Paul and the Gift [Eerdmans, 2015]) and N. T. Wright (Paul and the Faithfulness of God [Fortress, 2013]), the field was divided on the third position. Among those mentioned more than once was Blackwell’s Christosis. “Let those who have ears . . . .”

This work, of course, pales in comparison to my two mentors, but it’s surely the best book on theosis and Paul, written in Durham, by comparing patristic views, in the last five years. I at least win the prize for publishing the first monograph length treatment of Paul and deification!

Why read Mark in dialogue with ancient Jewish sources? One reason: Jesus was a Jew. This point seems simplistic and every scholar and, in fact, lay person knows this. But knowing it and trying to make sense of it are two different things. Jesus lived and Mark wrote in a world different from our own, and the best way we have today to inhabit their world with them is to study them alongside other literature from that time period.

There are several benefits that come from studying Mark and Jesus alongside their contemporaries. First, scripture opens up to us. Figures like Herod, the Pharisees and Sadducees come alive. Jesus’ words about the kingdom of God or the strange figure of the “Son of Man” begin to make more sense. We can better understand the distinctiveness of Jesus, as well as see how he was a typical Jew in so many ways.

A second benefit is the converse of the first: scripture becomes mysterious. Many of us contain or constrain the mystery of scripture. We bypass the awkwardness, ignoring it or forcing it into paradigms we are more comfortable with. Yet, when we read Mark or study Jesus alongside their contemporaries, it flags for us that Scripture is not a 21st century text. We realize that Mark tells a strange story about a crucified messiah, a figure who belonged to his ancient context and yet exploded beyond it. Reading Mark alongside other Jewish literature helps us see that Mark—and Jesus—are redefining reality both in their ancient contexts and in ours. Jesus becomes a mystery again, a figure we can’t contain.

Why read Mark in dialogue with ancient Jewish sources? Because we discover the wonder of Jesus in new, refreshing and life changing ways.

Get Reading Mark in Context (Zondervan) at Amazon.

Just the other day a new student asked me (Ben) about studying the New Testament and early Christianity. They were wondering how you study early Christianity because we have relatively few sources for knowing what they thought and practiced. However, when I noted exponential growth in the variety of material we have from the second, third, and forth centuries, the problem is not too little material from these early Christians to process but too much material. Of course, it’s not really too much, but there is so much that putting all the data together can be quite complex.

Since that is the nature of later Christian material, they offered that it’s too bad that we don’t have that same diversity with Jewish material for understanding the New Testament. While again we don’t have “too much,” we have quite a bit of theological, liturgical, historical, philosophical, mystical, narrative, etc. texts from Jews that lived within a similar time frame as the New Testament. The problem isn’t so much the limited amount of material that we have, the problem for students interpreting the New Testament is that they are almost completely unaware of the existence of the material, much less its breadth and depth.

9780310534457I was so much on board when the idea was initially brought up for Reading Romans in Context and now Reading Mark in Context because after seminary I was partially aware that this world existed, but I didn’t know anything about specific texts or much about particular ideas. Our goal with these is to introduce students to this world by making this material accessible to graduate and undergraduate level students. We provide glimpses into that world to help people know it exists and to get a sense of some of its flavor. With just glimpses this means that each chapter is selective, just covering one central topic. Of course, the depth and variety of each biblical passage means there’s much more that could be explored, but we hope this will whet the appetite to study these issues further.

This summer my family and I were glued to our television for nearly a month, as we are every four years, during the FIFA World Cup. Even though the USA didn’t qualify, we were pulling for one particular team—England, where my wife and I lived during my doctoral studies. Sadly, the Three Lions were eliminated in the semi-final round, bringing an all-too-early end to our World Cup dreams. But it was an exciting tournament nonetheless and we were sorely disappointed when the final whistle blew.

Despite our World Cup thrills, most viewers probably appreciated the tournament far more than we did. While my family and I are avid fans of football, the truth is we normally follow the other kind—American football, which is, as they say, a completely different ballgame. In fact, our familiarity with the players, rules, strategies, and team histories of international soccer are embarrassingly limited. We know enough of the basics to follow along, even enough to get caught up in some of the drama, but there is no question we would have understood and appreciated more of what we were watching had we possessed a deeper well of knowledge about the sport, even about international politics and pop culture.

Believe it or not, reading the Gospel of Mark is not unlike watching the World Cup. Many readers can easily pick up their New Testament, read the Second Gospel, and walk away better informed about the life, ministry, and passion of Jesus Christ. They can even, as a result, grow in their love for our Lord and live more faithful lives as his disciples. But what Jesus said and did resonates at an altogether deeper level when one brings to the Bible greater awareness of the “game” Jesus was playing—that is, the game of Second Temple Judaism.

Mark’s Gospel was written for readers with at least some familiarity with intertestamental Jewish history, politics, culture, and religion. In fact, there are numerous pericopae that are in implicit dialogue with the Jewish theological traditions extant in the first century. Sometimes the evangelist himself tells us exactly what those traditions and beliefs consisted of. For example, when introducing the Sadducees for the first and only time in the narrative, Mark tells us they were a sect of Judaism that denied the resurrection of the dead (12:18). But at other times, Mark assumes his readers themselves possess the requisite knowledge to fill in the blanks about the who, what, and where of the narrative.

Reading Mark in Context

Our recently released collection of essays, Reading Mark in Context: Jesus and Second Temple Judaism (Zondervan Academic), seeks to show how familiarizing oneself with Second Temple Jewish literature can help fill those blanks. With a foreword by N. T. Wright and 30 essays by some of today’s most respected Markan scholars (Michael Bird, Darrell Bock, Helen Bond, Elizabeth Shively, Mark Strauss, Rikk Watts, and more), this book will help the reader study the text in new and enriching ways. The volume was designed to cover the entire Second Gospel, but not to be exhaustive. Much more could be said both about Judaism as well as about Jesus. But hopefully this book will whet one’s appetite for reading Mark’s Gospel in context and for digging deeply into the world of the New Testament. If this book interests you, I encourage you to check it out!

Many thanks to Logos are in order, as the October “free book of the month” is Joseph Fitzmyer’s Romans volume in the Anchor Yale Bible Commentary series. And, as if that were not generous enough, Logos has also made available for cheap Francis Andersen’s Habakkuk volume ($1.99) as well as J. Louis Martyn’s Galatians volume ($2.99), both from the same series. Just scroll down the give-away page to see those two additional offers.

In a previous post I (Jason) noted what I think is the most important claim made by Campbell in his book Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography. It is the role he assigns to Ephesians/Laodiceans as the summary of Paul’s theology. In this post I want to raise a potential methodological problem with Campbell’s project.

As the subtitle indicates this book uses exclusively Paul’s epistles to establish Paul’s biography. Campbell is following John Knox when he identifies Paul’s letters as “primary” evidence. This primacy is set over against the book of Acts, which is treated as “secondary” evidence.

I want to note two problems with this approach. First, while I appreciate the need to ensure that one understands what each letter itself is saying about Paul’s travels, it strikes me as problematic to exclude evidence when one is trying to reconstruct a person’s life from 2000 years ago. My impression is that this is not the way historians typically operate. Historians draw on all the available material to construct an account of what happened. When we have so little material to work with, it seems mistaken to disregard from the outset a potential source.

Second, and more problematic to me, is Campbell’s willingness to use other sources besides Paul’s letters to collaborate or explain potential historical connections, which Campbell does at key points in his account, while maintaining a complete disregard for Acts. It is unclear to me why he is willing to use this material but not Acts. Campbell’s argument is not exclusively using Paul’s letters for the reconstruction. For example, the Thessalonian correspondences do not clearly identify when they were written or why. Yet, Campbell confidently claims that they were written against the backdrop of the Gaian crisis in 40-42 CE. This may be the case, but the only way Campbell can make this claim is to draw on non-Pauline material to establish a potential historical referent. The Thessalonian correspondences do not explicitly identify this issue. But here is precisely the problem: as soon as one allows any source beyond the letters into play, one must be willing to allow all the evidence into play–including Acts.

Campbell indicates at several points that a follow up study of Acts is in the works (or at least a study of Paul that incorporates Acts). I wonder when Acts is evaluated will the evidence of Acts at points be allowed to modify the reconstruction Campbell offers in Framing Paul? Or, will the conclusions drawn here be given priority and allowed to overrun Luke’s account? Is the framing presented in this volume actually as tentative as Campbell indicates at times? Or, is the frame now a fixed structure and any material that does not build on this pattern going to be rejected outright? Is Framing Paul the blue prints that are still subject to adjustment, even moving a whole wall if necessary, or is it a steel structure and Acts can only add some decorative features?

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