Scot McKnight on writing a commentary

In his review of Joel Marcus’ new Anchor Bible commentary on Mark (Vol. 2), Scot McKnight has an interesting take on writing commentaries.

"Commentary" is a unique genre, unique both for users and writers. My own story of commentary writing is spotty. My first contract as a young professor, which arrived with a personal invitation from F.F. Bruce, led to seven years of misery for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that I wanted to reinvent the wheel on interpreting the Gospel of Matthew. Well beyond half of those years, I realized, when I was still working on chapter 1 and thinking that all I had written was rubbish, it would take two volumes to write the commentary. F.F. Bruce had passed on to his eternal reward and Gordon Fee had been appointed as the general editor of the series, and he gave me permission to write two volumes. After another year or so, now into chapter 2 of Matthew and convinced it was still rubbish, I ashamedly asked Gordon to excuse me from the contract, and I promised myself I’d never do that again. I’ve since finished a commentary on James (due in 2010), but I learned some valuable lessons early on.

I could generalize my experience into "don’t ask young professors to write substantive commentaries,"but some, like my friends Ben Witherington and Joel Green and Craig Blomberg, have managed to write commentaries effortlessly for more than two decades. My own conviction about commentary writing is that one can write out what one knows and get the thing done in a year or two or three, or one can work for a long, long time. Joel Marcus, whose second and concluding volume on Mark has just appeared in the ever-evolving Anchor Yale Bible series, belongs to that latter group. Marcus, a professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School, confesses that he worked on this commentary on Mark for approximately sixteen years, and it looks like it.

In Marcus you will find the ultimate dream attempted when it comes to commentaries: mastery of the text itself, the historical"background"and contributing influences, the scholarship that continues to grow and shift and accumulate options and alternatives—and Marcus is not afraid to enter into the theological and pastoral significance of his exegesis and his conclusions. This commentary…

Scot McKnight The Cross-Shaped Messiah: Volume 2 of a major commentary on Mark. (Books and Culture Sept. 11, 2009)

PS: I’ve never had any aspirations for writing a commentary; it has never seemed like it would be fun, so thanks to all you who’ve ground them out.

Latest from RBL

If you don’t subscribe to the Review of Biblical Literature – RBL blog you might want to check out some of the latest reviews.  (A live feed to all latest reviews is posted in bottom right (the “other” right – left) hand column of this blog.)

This book [Bird’s] presents a series of studies on contentious aspects of Paul’s doctrine of justification including the meaning of ‘righteousness’, the question of imputation, the role of resurrection in justification, an evaluation of the New Perspective, the soteriological and ecclesiological significance of justification, justification by faith with judgment according to works, and debates over the orthodoxy of N.T. Wright. The burden of the volume is to demonstrate that both Reformed and ‘new’ readings of Paul are indispensable to attaining a full understanding of Paul’s soteriology.

Books available to review from Bryn Mawr

If you hadn’t already seen this, a couple of you  may be interested in reviewing one of these book for the Bryn Mawr Classical Review (you can also subscribe to the reviews at this link):

*Kim, Seyoon. Christ and Caesar: the Gospel and the Roman Empire in the writings of Paul and Luke. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008. xvi, 228 p. $24.00 (pb). ISBN 9780802860088.

*Mason, Steve and Honora Chapman (ed., trans., comm.). Flavius Josephus: translation and commentary. Vol. 1b, Judean war 2. Leiden: Brill, 2008. xx, 522 p. $269.00. ISBN 9789004169340.

*Zacharia, Katerina (ed.). Hellenisms: culture, identity, and ethnicity from antiquity to modernity. Aldershot; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008. xvi, 473 p. $99.95. ISBN 9780754665250.

*Levinson, Bernard M. Legal Revision and Religious Renewal in Ancient Israel. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. xxvi, 206 p. $75.00. ISBN 9780521513449.

Qualified volunteers should indicate their interest by a message to, with their last name and requested author in the subject line. They should state their qualifications (both in the sense of degrees held and in the sense of experience in the field concerned) and explain any previous relationship with the author.

Many, many more

*Damrosch, David. How to read world literature. How to study literature. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008. viii, 139 p. $25.00(pb). ISBN 9781405168274.

*Fricker, Miranda and Samuel Guttenplan (edd., comm.). Reading ethics:

Continue reading

The State of teaching the Bible in seminaries

In case you missed Michael Bird’s review of Dale Martin’s Pedagogy of the Bible: An Analysis and Proposal (Amazon link)(Albans Books in the UK).

Martin interviews 14 schools – across the spectrum – and arrives at these six conclusions:

martin-pedagogy-of-the-bible1. Historical criticism of one type or another is the dominant foundational method taught to theological students (esp. in conservative schools!).

2. Most students are not being taught to think critically about textuality and interpretation in general.

3. Students are not being taught theological hermeneutics sufficiently, meaning that they are less likely to function as well-equipped guides for teaching responsible and creative theological interpretation of the Bible in their own religious communities.

4. Students entering seminary/colleges lack Bible knowledge and the ability to think theologically.

5. Students are not being helped enough to integrate the different disciplines learned in a typical ministerial education, i.e. too much compartmentalization.

6. The modern theological school is not doing enough to help train church leaders to interpret the Bible in creative, imaginative, and theologically sophisticated ways.

This certainly resonates with my experience of seminary (I’ve attended three, and am familiar with others.)

Here’s Bird’s endorsement:

Every academic dean, principal, provost, president, head of department, lecturer in biblical, or anyone interested in the role of the Bible in theological education should read this book by Dale B. Martin (Yale University).

A few objections against historical-criticism:

(1) historiography can neither confirm nor deny the reality of the incarnation; Christians do not need the confirmation of historiography in order to believe in or makes sense of the incarnation; . . .

(3) Historical-Criticism, esp. it’s post-19th century influence, is a relatively recent innovation and we should try read scripture in closer methological promixity to how it was read before the nineteenth century.

Bird likes the “remark of Margaret Mitchell (Chicago Div School) who said that she feared the ideal of the learned clergy is gradually being replaced by the idea of the therapeutic clergy . . . (p. 94).”

Martin’s proposals;

(a) teach historical criticism, but as one way among other ways of reading;

(b) Retain the expertise of different disciplinary scholarship and scholars, but integrate the disciplines together;

(c) Teach theology of Scripture before teaching different methods of interpreting Scripture [but see Bird’s reservations];

(d) Teach theology first by teaching theological thinking and interpretation;

(e) Early in the educational process, introduce theories of interpretation, literary theory, and philosophies of interpretation and textuality;

(f) Include and integrate aristic, literary, and musical interpretations of Scripture; and

(g) Introduce practical disciplines along the way, perhaps concentrating on them towards the end.

Thanks, Rev. Dr. Bird.

Bird includes a few specific ideas of his own, and some strong reservations about some of Martin’s proposals, including this insightful point:

. . . in the more conservative circles in which I move, certain theologians are given to constructing a doctrine of Scripture that contains many a priori assumptions about how they think God should have given us Scripture, and then you end up with a doctrine of Scripture that will not survive contact with the phenomenon of the text (i.e its origin, transmission, reception, and interpretation).

Good stuff; read it here.

The latest biblical studies book reviews (RBL 5 Dec. 2008)

The following new reviews have been added to the Review of Biblical Literature (RBL): (Click on the titles to go to the reviews)

 The weekly RBL email newsletter is a free service of SBL; to receive the RBL newsletter, click here.

 New Testament

  1. Hans-Josef Klauck, Ancient Letters and the New Testament: A Guide to Context and Exegesis. Reviewed by Matthew D. Montonini
  2. Ben Witherington III, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles. Reviewed by Timothy Gombis
  3. Peter M. Phillips. The Prologue to the Fourth Gospel: A Sequential Reading. Reviewed by John Painter
  4. J. Samuel Subramanian. The Synoptic Gospels and the Psalms as Prophecy. Reviewed by Thomas J. Kraus and reviewed by Edward J. Mills III
  5. Sigve K. Tonstad. Saving God’s Reputation: The Theological Function of Pistis Iesou in the Cosmic Narratives of Revelation. Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas

Hebrew Bible/Old Testament

  1. Robert P. Gordon, The God of Israel. Reviewed by Ben C. Ollenburger
  2. Mary E. Mills. Alterity, Pain, and Suffering in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Reviewed by Hallvard Hagelia .
  3. Christopher R. Seitz. Prophecy and Hermeneutics: Toward a New Introduction to the Prophets. Reviewed by Julia M. O’Brien
  4. Hagith Sivan. Between Woman, Man and God: A New Interpretation of the Ten Commandments. Reviewed by William Marderness
  5. Thomas Römer and Konrad Schmid, eds.Les Dernières Rédactions du Pentateuque, de L’Hexateuque et de L’Ennéateuque. Reviewed by John Engle
  6. Andreas Schüle. Der Prolog der hebräischen Bibel: Der literar- und theologiegeschichtliche Diskurs der Urgeschichte (Genesis 1-11). Reviewed by Karl Möller


  1. Lutz Edzard and Jan Retsö, eds. Current Issues in the Analysis of Semitic Grammar and Lexicon I: Oslo-Göteborg Cooperation 3rd-5th June 2004; II: Oslo-Göteborg Cooperation 4th-5th November 2005. Reviewed by Frederick E. Greenspahn
  2. Paul Foster, ed. The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers. Reviewed by Taras Khomych
  3. Christiana de Groot and Marion Ann Taylor, eds., Recovering Nineteenth-Century Women Interpreters of the Bible, Reviewed by Caryn A. Reeder
  4. Nikolaos Lazaridis, Wisdom in Loose Form: The Language of Egyptian and Greek Proverbs in Collections of the Hellenistic and Roman Periods. Reviewed by John S. Kloppenborg
  5. Ilana Pardes. Melville’s Bibles. Reviewed by Mark Elliott
  6. Ignacio Carbajosa and Luis Sánchez Navarro, eds. Entrar en lo antiguo: Acerca de la relación entre Antiguo y Nuevo Testamento. Reviewed by David Creech (This collection of five essays seeks to articulate what the editors understand to be a Catholic reading of scripture.)

The latest Biblical Studies Book Reviews (RBL) – The Psychology of Biblical Women – 20 Nov 2008

The following new reviews have been added to the Review of Biblical Literature (RBL): (Click on the titles to go to the reviews). The weekly RBL email newsletter is a free service of SBL; to receive the RBL newsletter, click here.


  1. Stephen K. Catto, Reconstructing the First-Century Synagogue: A Critical Analysis of Current Research. Reviewed by Birger Olsson and Reviewed by Jonathan Bernier
  2. Richard A. Horsley, Scribes, Visionaries, and the Politics of Second Temple Judea. Reviewed by Lester L. Grabbe
  3. David R. Nienhuis, Not by Paul Alone: The Formation of the Catholic Epistle Collection and the Christian Canon, Reviewed by Patrick J. Hartin
  4. Jan G. van der Watt, ed. Identity, Ethics, and Ethos in the New Testament. Reviewed by H. H. Drake Williams III
  5. Géza G. Xeravits and József Zsengellér, eds. [Nice names ;-)] The Book of Maccabees: History, Theology, Ideology (Papers of the Second International Conference on the Deuterocanonical Books, Pápa, Hungary, 9-11 June, 2005) Reviewed by Pierre Keith.


  1. Bob Becking, From David to Gedaliah: The Book of Kings as Story and History, Reviewed by Marvin A. Sweeney
  2. Rhonda Burnette-Bletsch, Studying the Old Testament: A Companion, Reviewed by Steed Vernyl Davidson
  3. Susan Brayford, Genesis, Reviewed by Jan Joosten
  4. Deborah L. Ellens, Women in the Sex Texts of Leviticus and Deuteronomy: A Comparative Conceptual Analysis. Reviewed by Naomi Steinberg
  5. Paul Joyce, Ezekiel: A Commentary. Reviewed by Corrine Carvalho and reviewed by Steven S. Tuell
  6. Adriane B. Leveen, Memory and Tradition in the Book of Numbers. Reviewed by James W. Watts
  7. Matthew B. Schwartz and Kalman J. Kaplan The Fruit of Her Hands: A Psychology of Biblical Woman. Reviewed by Corinne Blackmer

    Description: In much of Western literature and Greek mythology, women have an evident lack of purpose; a woman needs to either enter or leave a relationship in order to find herself and her own identity. Matthew Schwartz and Kalman Kaplan set out to prove that the converse is true in the text of the Hebrew Bible. Examining the stories of women in Scripture — Rebecca, Miriam, Gomer, Ruth and Naomi, Lot’s wife, Zipporah, and dozens more — Schwartz and Kaplan illustrate the biblical woman’s strong feminine sense of being crucial to God’s plan for the world and for history, courageously seeking the greatest good for herself and others whatever the circumstances.

    Schwartz-the-psychology-of-biblical-women. . . the Bible, unlike Greek myth, shows women as powerful and solid, as having a strong sense of their purpose, based on their participation in the covenant and the divine historical plan. Indeed, the deep fear of female sexuality evident in Greek mythology has no place in the Bible, where women’s procreative power receives the highest blessing as intrinsic to the covenant. The authors vigorously recommend the Bible as enabling women to balance attachment with independence and to model psychological strength, discernment, and intelligence. Women, who once had no choice but the Freudian world of retaliation and revenge, male domination, and female enmity, can instead choose to explore conflicts and experience growth and healing amongst the grand cast of biblical female characters, including Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Bithia, Shifra and Puah, Miriam, Zipporah, Rahab, Tamar, Deborah, Jael, Esther, Bathsheba, Abigail, Hannah, Hulda, Mizpah, Ruth and Naomi, and others. While some biblical women suffer terrible violence, they do not seek to matter greatly, which means that their suffering never becomes run-of-the-mill. While G-d is decisively patriarchal and, at moments, misogynistic, he actually destroys the world out of heartbreak at the abuse of women and has no qualms about going around men and deciding the future with women.

    In the opening chapters, “The Greek Model” and “The Biblical Model,” there is no room for joint understandings between these absolute opposites. The Greeks are pagans, idolaters, misogynists, and oppressors, while the Bible is monotheistic, faithful, respectful of women and family, and hospitable. Greek mythology and the psychological theories based on Greek mythology and Western literature harm and degrade women. Ancient Greek culture and mythology reflects an inimical, pessimistic, misogynistic cosmos that denies women purpose and worth, and fears their sexuality. . .

    Ancient Greek culture and mythology reflects an inimical, pessimistic, misogynistic cosmos that denies women purpose and worth, and fears their sexuality. Electra mirrors this cosmos, plotting to murder her mother Clytemnestra, an unbearable reminder of her own hated womanhood. Medea murders her children in wanton rage, and Zeus, for his part, seduces women who bear the punishment of his jealous wife, Hera. This Weltanschauung informs Western literature about tragic heroines who spurn convention and seek escape from their sense of emptiness in illicit sexual affairs and addictive habits. They end as suicides. The still-prevalent Freudian worldview has injurious assumptions about women that fuel abuse, paranoia, and violence. The strong sense of purpose and worth of biblical women made them capable of intimacy and independence, whereas contemporary women too often become submerged in pathological relationships and then assert their autonomy in destructive and alienating fashions.

    The authors place the reader on the self-enhancing ground of the Bible and eliminate the intimidation some women might feel toward biblical women as different and unfamiliar. Indeed, the authors show the covenant and mission as theirs, not based on a specific people, but rather through their attitudes, actions, and beliefs. The contrast between what women in different camps can expect from the creation is illustrated by comparing the Greek myth of Zeus and Pandora with that of Eve in the garden of Eden. Zeus wants to create trouble for mortals, so he makes Pandora his plaything, . . .

    Blackmer’s ANALYSIS: This book

Continue reading

Biblical Studies Book Reviews – RBL 14 Nov 2008 – The End of Biblical Studies?

The following new reviews have been added to the Review of Biblical Literature (RBL): (Click on the titles to go to the reviews)

Featuring: Hector Avalos, The End of Biblical Studies. Reviewed by Ulrich H. J. Körtner (Too bad for the general public – and me – it’s written in German, but I hear the review is great. It will give me good practice – a different day.)

RBL Book Description: In this radical critique of his own academic specialty, biblical scholar Hector Avalos calls for an end to biblical studies as we know them. He outlines two main arguments for this surprising conclusion. First, academic biblical scholarship has clearly succeeded in showing that the ancient civilization that produced the Bible held beliefs about the origin, nature, and purpose of the world and humanity that are fundamentally opposed to the views of modern society. The Bible is thus largely irrelevant to the needs and concerns of contemporary human beings. Second, Avalos criticizes his colleagues for applying a variety of flawed and specious techniques aimed at maintaining the illusion that the Bible is still relevant in today’s world. In effect, he accuses his profession of being more concerned about its self-preservation than about giving an honest account of its own findings to the general public and faith communities. . .



  1. Ward Blanton, Displacing Christian Origins: Philosophy, Secularity, and the New Testament. Reviewed by Clare K. Rothschild
  2. Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan. The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem. Reviewed by Craig L. Blomberg
  3. Daniel A. Smith. The Post-Mortem Vindication of Jesus in the Sayings Gospel Q. Reviewed by William Arnal


  1. Katherine J. Dell. Opening the Old Testament.  Reviewed by Bill T. Arnold AND by George Heider
  2. Brad E. Kelle and Megan Bishop Moore. Israel’s Prophets and Israel’s Past: Essays on the Relationship of Prophetic Texts and Israelite History in Honor of John H. Hayes. Reviewed by Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer


  1. Jens Kreinath, Jan Snoek, and Michael Stausberg, eds. Theorizing Rituals: Issues, Topics, Approaches, Concepts, Annotated Bibliography. Reviewed by Brian B. Schmidt
  2. Fred Strickert. Rachel Weeping: Jews, Christians, and Muslims at the Fortress Tomb. Reviewed by Samuel Thomas
  3. Emily Teeter and Douglas J. Brewer. Egypt and the Egyptians. Reviewed by Roxana Flammini
  4. Ben Zion Wacholder. The New Damascus Document: The Midrash on the Eschatological Torah of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Reconstruction, Translation and Commentary. Reviewed by Gregory L. Doudna
  5. Jürgen Zangenberg, Harold W. Attridge, and Dale B. Martin, eds. Religion, Ethnicity and Identity in Ancient Galilee: A Region in Transition. Reviewed by Christoph Stenschke

The weekly RBL email newsletter is a free service of SBL; to receive the RBL newsletter, click here.