The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testaments
If I could only own one full set of commentaries, the New International Commentary on the Old and New Testaments (abbreviated as NICOT/NICNT) would be my choice. In fact, when the folks at Logos/Faithlife offered me the opportunity to own and write a review on a commentary series, the NICOT/NICNT was my choice! Beginning with the initial publication of the NICNT in the late 1940s, the New International Commentary series has been a staple in the lives of pastors, rabbis, students, seminary libraries, and those who are serious about plumbing the depths of the Bible. Like a fine wine, it as continued to improve with age. Many of its volumes are listed as the first or second top commentary on bestcommentaries.com.
Begun by a team of international scholars, the New International Commentary is a series in the evangelical Protestant tradition. Joel Green, the current editor of the New Testament series, writes that the NICNT was written “. . . to provide earnest students of the New Testament with an exposition that is thorough and abreast of modern scholarship and at the same time loyal to the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God.”
Each commentary begins with an introduction to the selected book(s) and looks at matters of authorship, date, background, purpose, structure, and theology (see screenshot above). This is followed by the author’s own translation of the Hebrew or Greek text and then a verse-by-verse commentary. Each commentary focuses on exposition of the text with theological and devotional insight, while not ignoring important critical matters dealing with the text.
Likes Regarding the New International Commentary Series
One of the features of this long-running commentary series that I value is its commitment to stay abreast with the latest in scholarship. As the decades have passed, the New International Commentary series has grown along with contemporary methods of investigating the text of Scripture. As a result, older, outdated volumes, have been replaced, while volumes that retain their usefulness are in the process of being updated. For example, just this year (2018) Eerdmans (the publisher of the New International Commentary) has published a new commentary on Galatians by David A. deSilva. DeSilva’s commentary replaces the Galatians commentary by Ronald Y. K. Fung published in 1988, which, in turn, replaced the commentary on Galatians by Herman N. Ridderbos from 1953! These three commentaries on Galatians illustrate another feature I like. In older editions of the New International Commentary authors were much more brief in their treatment of the text. Whether that was by design (an editorial decision) or by author choice I do not know. While some may appreciate a brief commentary, and they do have an important contribution to make, I like the fact that the newer publications in the New International Commentary series allow the author freedom regarding page length. Looking again at the three editions of the Galatians commentary, Ridderbos’s original treatment of Galatians was 240 pages. Fung’s version was 375 pages. The latest contribution by deSilva is 622 pages. This example is characteristic of the entire commentary series. The new volumes coming out, whether replacements or brand new products are longer than the older volumes. Obviously this is only a plus if the author of a given commentary is providing good information, but this does not seem to be a problem in this series.
Dislikes Regarding the New International Commentary Series
The New International Commentary series currently consists of 48 volumes (26 OT and 22 NT). The New Testament series is nearly complete, only lacking commentaries on 2 Peter and Jude. The Old Testament series still lacks volumes on Exodus, 2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, 1&2 Chronicles, Esther, Lamentations, Daniel, and Amos. This is one of the drawbacks of this series. There is not yet a commentary on every book of the Bible. One would hope that the editors would encourage scholars assigned a certain book to meet a reasonable deadline so that the rest of these commentaries can be made available. One case in point is David Toshio Tsumura’s commentary on First Samuel which came out in 2007. Eleven years later, readers continue to wait for his commentary on Second Samuel.
The New International Commentary Series in Logos
I am a person who still enjoys grabbing an actual book and reading through it. I also have to admit that I enjoy the sight of bookshelves full of books. However, I am gradually being won over by the new technological revolution which is spearheaded in the realm of Bible software by Logos/Faithlife. As great as it would be to have the entire NICOT/NICNT series lining my bookshelves (and I do have a number of volumes), I am in love with the idea of being able to take this entire series with me on my laptop, IPad, or IPhone! Granted, a person usually only needs one commentary at a time, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that Logos puts a whole library of commentaries at your disposal.
Users of Logos are also well aware of the powerful search tools available in Logos. Every word in the New International Commentary series is tagged so that anything can be looked up in a matter of moments. If you’ve forgotten where that quote is that you liked, or a particular insight, it can be easily found by typing a word or phrase into Logos. This beats thumbing through a 1,000 page commentary trying to find that special quote or insight. Given the choice of having this commentary series on my shelves or on my computer is a no-brainer. I’d choose my computer every time.
If you have an older version of Logos and you’re wondering if you can buy this commentary series and still have it available when you update, the answer is “Yes.” You never lose any books that you purchase in Logos. They will always transfer when you update to a newer version. Of course, this series isn’t cheap, but if you’re looking for a commentary series that provides in-depth treatment of the Bible with great theological insights this one is definitely worth saving up for.
Purchase your copy of the NICOT/NICNT from Logos. You can also update your version of Logos to Logos 8 and get a 25% discount, along with 5 extra books of your choice by clicking on the link here.
Many thanks to FaithLife/Logos for a free review copy of the New International Commentary Series. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.
More evidence has been found confirming the historical existence of Pontius Pilate, the infamous Roman governor who ordered Jesus’ execution. A ring that has the Roman Prefect’s name inscribed on it has come to light. The ring, along with thousands of other artifacts, was actually uncovered in a dig 50 years ago led by Gideon Forster from the University of Jerusalem. The excavation took place at Herodium in 1968-1969, but no one knew the significance of the ring until recently. The (re)discovery of the ring is due to a thorough cleaning and technological advances in photography which revealed a Greek inscription with the name “PILATO” surrounding a wine vessel (see photo on right). The letters “PI” (ΠΙ–Greek) are on the right as one looks at the ring, while the letters “LATO” (ΛΑΤΟ–Greek) are on the left. There seems to be little doubt that the ring is in someway connected with Pontius Pilate. Professor Danny Schwartz in an article in haaretz states, that the name was rare in the Israel of that era. The fact that the ring was discovered at Herodium, one of King Herod’s ancient palace fortresses, also suggests it was connected with a government or administrative official of the time.
One of the intriguing features of the ring is the way in which the name is spelled. Robert Cargill, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, in a recent post points out that when a name was inscribed on an ancient coin or ring it was usually done in the nominative or genitive case. The name in the nominative (subject) case in Greek would read “PILATOS” (Pilate). In the Greek genitive (possessive) case, it would read “PILATOU” (belonging to Pilate). In other words, the form of Pilate’s name as “PILATO” is unusual. Cargill notes that one explanation of this form, offered by Cate Bonesho of UCLA, is that “PILATO” is a Greek transliteration of the Latin dative form (Latin of course being the language of Roman officials such as Pilate). The dative form denotes an indirect object. Therefore, this form of Pilate’s name would suggest something that is being sent to him. In other words, it would be used by someone working for Pilate (an administrative official) who would use the ring to stamp the goods (taxes) being sent to Pilate. Therefore, whether the ring was worn by Pilate or by an official who sent goods to Pilate–which seems more likely– it still acts as an authentication of the historical existence of Pilate
The ring, however, is only one of two physical evidences for the historical Pilate. In 1961 an inscription was discovered at Caesarea Maritima that contains the name Pilate. When Pilate commissioned this inscription in the first century it served to honor his benefactor and current emperor Tiberius. The stone was reused centuries later and became part of the nearby theatre in Caesarea. As a result, it suffered damage and the inscription is only partially readable. The final letters of Pontius (the “us”) and the name Pilate (PILATUS–the common Latin nominative form, see discussion above), along with the name Tiberius are clearly visible. For more information on Caesarea see my article here and for further information on this inscription see Pilate Stone.
This article has two purposes. First to introduce you to Logos, the best Bible study software in the world (that’s no exaggeration), and to help you evaluate whether Logos is for you. Secondly, I’ll be evaluating Logos 8, the latest version. If you are already familiar with Logos (and using it) you may want to skip to the second section of this post. If you are interested in getting the update at a discount, you can click on the link here. The discount is 25% for those who are upgrading and 10% for those who are purchasing Logos for the first time (After November 2018 the discount for those upgrading is 10%). It also includes a selection of 5 free books if you type in the coupon code Randy8 at checkout.
How Will Logos Help Me With Bible Study?
If you’re unfamiliar with Logos, then this section is for you. Because Logos is an in-depth Bible study program it comes with a financial investment. The first question to ask yourself is, “Will I utilize the program enough to justify the cost?” You might be asking, “How much are we talking about?” If you begin with the most basic package of Logos 8 called the Starter Package you’ll get the basic Logos 8 upgrade along with a library of 315 books. The cost (before any discount) is $295.00 (However using this link you will save 10% -25% plus receive 5 free books). If that seems steep to you, then Logos isn’t for you. To be perfectly honest, anyone getting into Logos probably wants a little better package than this. Most begin with either the Bronze or the Silver packages which will run $630.00 to $999.00 (click on the “Starter Package” link above to compare packages). As you can see, Logos requires an investment and so it’s important that you’re confidant that it will become a part of your Bible study routine.
Some may be wondering, “Do I have to be a preacher, teacher, or professional to use Logos Bible Software?” The answer is a qualified “No.” Logos software is for anyone who wants to study the Bible in greater depth, but it will involve a bit of a learning curve. While the developers at Faithlife (Logos’s company) have sought to simplify and streamline things in Logos 8 (see below), you will still need to spend some time learning how to use the software. Logos doesn’t just leave you to sink or swim, however, as there are a number of excellent tutorials available to help. I should also point out that it’s not necessary to learn the entire program in order to begin having some productive Bible study. In fact, I’m sure very few people are knowledgeable enough to use all of Logos’s capabilities. Two of the greatest benefits of using Logos is the time you will save and the resources that it will put at your fingertips. If the price and the learning curve hasn’t scared you off, then continue to read how studying the Bible with Logos 8 can benefit you.
Some of the New Features in Logos 8
My purpose here is to share a couple of features in Logos 8 that I am finding to be very helpful. But before I do that, I want to mention two improvements that are immediately obvious to anyone who has used Logos before. The first is speed. Logos 8 loads in seconds! I had the Gold package in Logos 7 and I used to be able to start it up and then go cook, eat breakfast and do the dishes before it was finished loading! OK, I am exaggerating, but everyone will testify that Logos used to take a long time to load (sometimes up to 2 minutes). I now have the Platinum package in Logos 8 (a larger package than Gold) and it loads in about 15 seconds. What a difference! I can actually get some Bible study done before the Lord’s return! (lol).
As the above screenshot demonstrates, there is a new look to the Logos 8 homepage. Everything is simplified. The homepage now consists of two parts. The first, at the very top of the screen, is the dashboard. This section contains ready-made cards (quick start layouts) that with one click can get you right into Bible study or morning devotions, or your prayer list, etc. When you buy Logos 8 your dashboard will already have some layouts in place, based on previous things you’ve done (if you have a previous version). However, you can delete any or all and you can make new cards (quick start layouts) to your liking. In the example above you can see the six index cards that I have created. By clicking on any one of them, I jump right into Bible study. Directly below the dashboard is the explore section which includes the latest videos, blogs, and other resources from Logos, as well as samples that come from books in your own library. The homepage is customizable into 3,4, or 5 columns. OK, so much for some of the obvious changes. Below I will take a look at 2 of the new features (there are many others!) I really like in Logos 8, as well as talk about a few things I don’t care for.
The Quick Start Layouts in Logos 8
One of my favorite things to do in Logos is original word study. If you’re new to Logos and don’t know the original languages, there’s no need to be intimidated here. Logos makes Bible Word Study easier. The screenshot below shows a sample of my quick start layout entitled “Hebrew Word Study.” All I did to create the quick start layout card was make a few simple clicks using the plus (+) button found on the dashboard. Now anytime I want to do a Hebrew Word Study, all I need to do is click on this card and my screen will open with a number of tools already in place.
So let me point out to you what we have on the screenshot above. I am studying 1 Samuel and I was interested in finding out what the Hebrew word is that the ESV translates as “double,” found in the expression “double portion” in 1 Samuel 1:5. Notice that the word study page opens with several tools available to me. In the upper right hand corner is my preferred English translation. In the lower right hand corner is my preferred Hebrew lexicon which will give a list of the passages where this word occurs and what it means. On the left side is a fantastic tool created by Logos which gives me the Hebrew word followed by a color wheel chart showing the various ways this word is translated in the ESV. If I scroll further down on the left side (not shown in the screenshot) I can find, among other things, how frequently this word occurs in the Bible and some of the various phrases it is used in. You might say, “But I don’t know Hebrew, so I don’t know how to find the word.” That’s the beauty of Logos. You don’t have to. If you notice in the upper right corner, the word “double” is highlighted in purple. All I did was click on this word and it automatically gave me the Hebrew word in the left column along with the color wheel and other items I’ve mentioned. At the same time it looked up the Hebrew word in my Hebrew lexicon. All this information was given to me as fast as it took me to click on the word “double.” This is what I meant above when I said Logos 8 will save you time and put a lot of resources at your fingertips. I won’t go into a lot of detail here about what I learned in my word study, however, I want to use this example as a way of demonstrating how Logos can teach you things you might not otherwise learn from a regular Bible study. The word translated “double” actually is the Hebrew word for “nose.” On many occasions, this Hebrew word refers to anger. The context here may suggest that the portion of meat that Elkanah gives to Hannah may be an attempt on his part to appease her. (If you’re interested in learning more, read my short article entitled, “Anger: The Bible Says The Nose Knows.”).
The New “Guides” and “Workflows” Section in Logos 8
There are a number of features about the Guides section in Logos 8 that I really like. First, there are more guides than ever. Where older versions of Logos came with three guides, Logos 8 gives you 8 prebuilt guides. However, Logos 8 also gives a new feature called Workflows. The workflows are prebuilt layouts that provide step by step instructions on studying a passage or topic. You can even create your own custom workflows. So there is no limit to the number of workflows you can have. Below is an example of the Basic Bible Study Workflow. I have requested it to provide a study plan for Acts 15 simply by opening the Basic Bible Study Workflow and typing in Acts 15. I also selected my preferred Bible and moved it to the right hand side of the page.
Notice on the left hand side that the workflow provides step-by-step instructions to help you in your study of the passage. Besides the 5 suggestions that are viewable in the screenshot, it also has the following categories: Review Commentary Discussions; Determine Your Passage’s Theological Principles; Apply the Passages Principles to Yourself; and Share the Insights From Your Bible Study. Each of these sections provide additional guidance and material simply by clicking the arrow on the left. For example, if you click on “Review Commentary Discussions,” the section will expand and look similar to the screenshot below.
Unfortunately, the screenshot does not show everything available in this section, but you can see that by clicking on the arrow to the left Logos will provide a list of commentaries available in your library. You can open a commentary to your passage (in this case Acts 15) simply by clicking on the commentary. It will appear in the right hand screen. After reading the commentary on Acts 15, Logos 8 provides you with a box where you can record any insights you’ve gained from your reading. This box is located directly below the commentaries section (You can see it at the bottom of the screenshot on the lefthand side).
What I Don’t Like About Logos 8
One of the things I don’t like about the Quick Start Layouts is it can be difficult to change a particular resource. If you’re not yet familiar with this new feature, what I’m about to describe may be a little confusing, but I’ll do my best not to lose you. The Quick Start Layouts draw resources from the preferred resources in your library. This is something you must set up (You can watch a video on how to do this). If you don’t, Logos will choose a resource for you. For example, if I have chosen the ESV as my preferred Bible, then Logos will always pull it up when I open a Quick Start Layout. Normally, that’s fine. But if I want to switch to the NKJV, I can’t simply change the Bible in the layout if I want it to change permanently. I have to go and change my preferences and make the NKJV my preferred Bible. In other words, let’s say I’ve been doing my Bible reading in the ESV and I open my Quick Start Bible Reading Layout. One day I decide I’d like to start reading the NKJV instead of the ESV. I can change the Bible in the layout, but the next time I go back to the layout it will have reverted to the ESV, unless I have gone in and changed my preferred Bible. My point is that if I change something in the layout, I’d like for it to stay that way rather than having to go somewhere else in Logos and make the change. It’s true I can save the layout and give it another name, but I’m not interested in saving tons of layouts. I just want to have a simple way of changing the one I’m using. This is especially frustrating when I’m using different layouts and want different commentaries or Bible dictionaries available in that particular layout. Logos always draws from my preferred commentary or dictionary. If I want a different commentary/dictonary I have to make it my new preferred one, but then it also changes the commentary/dictionary in another Quick Start Layout. Sorry if all of that is confusing. But if you’ve stuck with me this far, I’m sure there’s a special reward for you in heaven!
I’ll just note one more thing about Logos 8 that I don’t care for and then bring this post to a close. In older versions of Logos when you were downloading new books or updates, there was a “resources” button at the top of the page you could click on to see what had been downloaded. I’ve been unable to find that feature in Logos 8 and it bugs me. I happen to like knowing what updates are being downloaded or knowing that I’ve gotten all the resources I’ve paid for. So Logos, please add that button back!
Overall I’m very pleased and excited about the improvements in Logos 8 and I highly recommend it. Like anything new, it takes awhile to get your head around all the changes. Technology doesn’t come naturally to me. So if I can use Logos and benefit from it, I know that others can as well. Thank heaven for the video tutorials provided by Logos, they are a great resource for teaching many of the basics! If you have any questions about Logos 8 I will do my best to answer them so please feel free to ask them in the comments below. I’ll get back to you with an answer, or an “I don’t know!” After using the new Logos 8 for a few months I will provide another update about some of the features and what I like or don’t like. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in Logos 8 click on the link below.
Get Logos 8 using my link and special code (Randy8) and save 10% discount if you are a new user and a 25% discount if you are upgrading from an older version of Logos. Plus receive 5 books free!
Many thanks to FaithLife/Logos for a free review copy of Logos 8. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.
The New Age movement of the 90s saw a resurgence in the interest of angels. The popular TV show Touched by an Angel, was evidence of this upsurge of interest. I even knew a lady who held “angel seminars,” which was especially interesting in light of her lack of belief in the Bible and holding no theology degree or any special qualifications! A combination of mythology, misinformation, and misunderstanding of the Bible has led to many faulty notions about angels. In his latest book, Angels: What the Bible Really Says About God’s Heavenly Host,” Michael Heiser (resident scholar at FaithLife/Logos), sets the record straight. As Heiser states in his Introduction, “What you’ll read here isn’t guided by Christian tradition, stories, speculations, or well-meaning myths about angels. Instead our study is rooted in the biblical terminology for the members of God’s heavenly host, informed by the wider context of the ancient Near Eastern world and close attention to the biblical text” (p. xiii).
This book is a follow-up to Heiser’s ground-breaking book The Unseen Realm (or it’s less technical, more popular version entitled Supernatural). One can certainly benefit from Angels without having read one of the previous volumes, but this book will make you want to pick up one of the aforementioned volumes if you are not acquainted with them.
Content of Angels
Heiser’s introduction begins by asking the question “Why Bother?” Although some may find the subject of angels intriguing, isn’t it really a periphery topic in Scripture? Heiser provides four answers: 1) The simplest explanation is, “…if God moved the biblical writers to take care when talking about the unseen realm, then it matters” (p. xiv); 2) Like us, heavenly beings are created in God’s image and through a study of them we become more aware of what it means to be God’s imagers; 3) Since God’s plan is ultimately to unite all things in heaven and earth, a study of angels helps us to better understand and appreciate that plan; and 4) it helps us to anticipate the great plan that is in store for us as we reign eternally with Christ.
Chapter 1: “Old Testament Terminology for the Heavenly Host”–Heiser points out that not all heavenly beings are angels. This chapter also has a very helpful breakdown of OT terminology of divine beings into three categories: 1) Terms that describe nature; 2) terms that describe status; 3) terms that describe function. This three-fold breakdown is very illuminating and worth the price of the book alone.
Chapter 2: “The Heavenly Host in Service to God”–While the previous chapter discussed some of the functions of divine beings, this chapter delves into three other areas that include: 1) Participation in God’s heavenly council; 2) Obedience to God’s decisions; and 3) Praise of the Most High.
Chapter 3: “Important Angels”–includes discussions of the Angel of Yahweh (Heiser musters evidence to argue that this being should be identified with the Second Person of the Trinity), the commander of Yahweh’s army (see Josh. 5:13-15), the destroying angel of the passover, and the two angels named in Scripture, Gabriel and Michael, along with the heavenly being known as the Prince of the Host.
Chapter 4–“The Language of the Heavenly Host in Second Temple Judaism”–This chapter, and the next, as the title suggests moves beyond Old Testament descriptions of the divine world and looks at the Jewish writings of the intertestamental period to understand what Jews thought and taught about the heavenly realm. For those who want a breakdown of the usage of the terms used to describe heavenly beings, Heiser has presented some very helpful charts with references to Second Temple texts and the LXX (Septuagint). While Second Temple Judaism did at times conflate some of the OT language by using the term “angels,” to refer to various divine beings, Heiser provides an important study of the LXX to demonstrate that angels didn’t become the only term used. The reason this is important is because scholarly dogma asserts that the Jews of the Second Temple period moved from the earlier polytheism of the ancient Israelites to a strict monotheism. Thus a term such as “gods” found in the OT came to be translated as “angels” in the LXX (e.g., Ps. 8:5). Heiser disputes this by demonstrating that the change in terminology of the LXX is not as widespread as previously asserted. The point in all of this is to show that the diverse language of the OT regarding the heavenly realm never was evidence of a more primitive polytheism. The Jews of the Second Temple period continued to use this same language, demonstrating that they understood the language to communicate truths about the divine realm and not language that compromises a monotheistic outlook. Admittedly for some lay people, this discussion may be more than what they bargained for. However, in scholarly circles, this is a very important issue and Heiser’s research is invaluable in demonstrating that the OT does not teach a form of polytheism.
Chapter 5: “Second Temple Jewish Angelology”–This may be another chapter that the lay person either briefly skims or skips altogether. Yet, like the previous chapter, it is an important one and one that would have left this book incomplete had it not been included. In this chapter Heiser surveys what Second Temple Literature has in common with the OT and how it diverges from the OT. The reason the contents of this chapter are important is that it helps in painting the backdrop to what Jews in the New Testament thought and believed about angels and the divine world.
Chapter 6: “The Heavenly Host in the New Testament”–No doubt this chapter is what many Christians will want to rush to read. But, I would caution that, just as there was a biblical history before the NT documents were written with particular language about heavenly beings, so Heiser’s treatment follows that same route and it is important to get the background knowledge before plunging into this chapter on the NT. One of the important observations made by Heiser in this chapter is his statement that, “For New Testament authors, angelos [angel] is a catchall term for the supernatural agents who faithfully attend God. The varied vocabulary of the Old Testament and Second [Temple] Jewish literature is therefore largely conflated into angelos” (p. 120). This observation explains why many Christians are unfamiliar with Old Testament terminology (and therefore suspicious of books and teachers who seek to explain that terminology) and why we use the word angels to describe all creatures in the divine realm.
Chapter 7: “Special Topics in New Testament Angelology”–This chapter and the last one (Chapter 8) are catchall chapters and include interesting topics and questions that didn’t fit into the discussion of the previous chapters. The questions discussed in this chapter include, “Who are the ‘angels of the seven churches’ in Revelation 1-3?”, “Can ‘fallen angels’ be redeemed?”, “Are fallen angels included in reconciling ‘all things’?”, and several more.
Chapter 8: “Myths and Questions about Angels,”–This chapter includes questions about angels submitted to Heiser that he solicited from readers of his former books in preparation for this book. Again, I will not present an exhaustive list, but here are a few: “Angels have wings…and they’re women too?”, “Angels exist outside time and space”, and “Angels can read minds and manipulate the material world.”
Evaluation of Angels
Heiser continues to perform a great service to the Church and to all who are interested in what the Bible teaches about the heavenly realm and the beings that dwell there. This book may not be for the novice. Heiser refers to the Hebrew and Greek words and the footnotes at times take the discussion deeper, as well as refer to other scholarly literature on the subject. Along these lines, it is more akin to Heiser’s previous book The Unseen Realm, as opposed to Supernatural which was written in a more popular and less technical format. Perhaps in the future, Heiser will do a similar thing with his Angels book? This warning is not to discourage anyone from reading this book, however. It’s not a bad thing to challenge oneself to reading something that goes a little deeper than what is comfortable. Such reading stretches a person. I often find that Christians challenge themselves to read or study other very technical subjects but when it comes to the Bible they are content to read only what comes easy. For anyone who takes the time, this book is well worth the effort. Having said that, the people who will probably benefit the most from it are pastors, teachers, and students. Hopefully this book will gain a wide reading, dispelling popular myths about angels as well as providing a solid biblical foundation for understanding them.
When did Christians begin to worship Jesus as God? Some scholars believe that the ascription of divinity to Jesus only happened in the latter part of the first century or in the beginning of the second. Honoring the Son: Jesus in Earliest Christian Devotional Practice is the latest offering by Larry Hurtado, in which he argues that worshipping Jesus as God was an early Christian practice. Honoring the Son is, in fact, a brief synopsis (95 pages including indexes) of Hurtado’s work over the past few decades. This book, edited by Michael F. Bird, is part of the Lexham Press series known as “Snapshots.” Larry Hurtado is Emeritus Professor of New Testament Language, Literature and Theology at the University of Edinburgh and, beginning with his first book entitled One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism, has written extensively on this topic for over thirty years.
Hurtado insists that the expression of early Christian devotion is an area that has been greatly neglected by scholars in answering the question of when Jesus began to be worshipped as God. He states, that “. . . in Western cultures, scholars and the general public have come to regard doctrines and confessional statements as the key expressions of religion, almost to the exclusion of anything else, and typically to the neglect of early Christian worship practices” (p. 3). Following an introductory chapter (which discusses the plan of the book and the scholarly context of this topic), Hurtado examines “Worship in the Ancient World” (Chap. 2). I found his contention that, “In the ancient Roman world, worship was the key expression of ‘religion,’ not beliefs and confessional formulas” (p. 1) to be insightful. In other words, it is the practice of sacrifice and petitioning the gods for favor(s), as well as, expressing thanks through gifts, that most characterized Roman-era religion. Thus Hurtado insists that, “In a truly historical approach to early Christianity, worship practices must be a central matter, and not sidelined or relegated to a place of secondary importance” (pp. 25-26).
Chapter 3 entitled, “Ancient Jewish Monotheism,” asserts that the Jews adhered strictly to the worship of one God. While there might be the acknowledgement that other gods existed (see e.g., Paul’s discussion in 1 Cor. 10:19-20), or the power of certain angelic beings, or other enigmatic figures (like the portrait of Melchizedek in the Dead Sea Scrolls), cultic devotion and worship was only and always reserved for the one God of the Jews. This contention is important for a couple of reasons: 1) Bart Ehrman’s suggestion that Paul thought of Jesus as an angelic figure and “angels were worshipped in Jewish circles, and so Jesus was worshipped”(p. 17) is shown to be erroneous; and 2) that early Jewish believers would quickly make the transition to worshipping Jesus along with God is extraordinary and unprecedented in the first century Jewish world! This prompts the question of what could possibly cause these early Jewish believers (Paul among them), to so quickly worship Jesus, when the worship of anyone but God was considered anathema? Furthermore, while Ehrman, and more skeptical scholars, would attempt to equate the worship of Jesus as God with the Roman practice of emperor worship, Hurtado shows that this is untenable. First of all, Jews never succumbed to the practice of emperor worship. No doubt the Maccabean crisis had an importance influence on the exclusiveness of Jewish worship. One implication of this, then, is that “it was more unlikely that pagan notions of apotheosis or practices such as the emperor cult could have been influential in the origins of Jesus-devotion” (p. 41).
Chapter 4 is entitled “The Early Christian ‘Mutation.'” Hurtado explains, “By the term ‘mutation’ I mean a development that has both recognizable connections with the ‘parent’ religious tradition (in this case ancient Judaism) and also identifiably new features that distinguish the development from its parent tradition” (p. 42). The discussion centers on Paul’s letters, the earliest extant evidence of Christianity. In these letters, written been 50-60 A.D., Jesus is regularly referred to as “the Christ,” the unique “Son of God”, and “Lord.” Passages from the Old Testament originally referring to Yahweh are also applied to Jesus (e.g., Joel 2:32 is applied to Jesus in Romans 10:9-13); he is referred to as the One “through whom are all things” (1 Cor. 8:6), and is celebrated as being “in the form of God” and being exalted to God’s right hand (Phil. 2:6-11). Hurtado states, “. . . the programmatic place of Jesus in earliest Christian devotion amounts to a novel and historically significant ‘mutation'” (pp. 48-49). Furthermore, he argues that “. . . the evidence strongly points to the origin of the cultic veneration of Jesus as lying in thoroughly Jewish circles of the Jesus movement such as the Jerusalem church” (pp. 49-50). He also states that this is now the dominant view among scholars who have recently worked on this question.
Chapter 5 entitled, “Jesus in Earliest Christian Devotional Practice,” gets to the heart of Hurtado’s thesis that the exaltation of Jesus to the status of deity is clearly observable in Christian expressions of worship. In this chapter he looks at the language of prayer, invocation (calling on) and confession, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, hymns (including psalms and spiritual songs), and prophecy. An examination of each of these expressions of worship demonstrates an early recognition of Jesus’ divine status by believers.
Chapter 6 provides a summary and conclusion, reiterating previous points made in this short book. Among matters I have not yet mentioned, Hurtado believes that the early persecution by Jewish contemporaries (including Saul of Tarsus) can be explained by “. . . the reverence given to Jesus in circles of Jewish believers from the earliest years” (p. 67).
The book concludes with an appendix entitled, “Lord and God.” This appendix, previously published in The Christian Century in 2014, is a review of Bart Ehrman’s book How Jesus Became God, .
I have wanted to read some of Hurtado’s works for a number of years, but have allowed other (reading) pursuits to block my path. For people like me, Honoring the Son is a great introduction to Hurtado’s thoughts and research on this important topic. It will make you want to read more! I would highly recommend it for students, pastors, and teachers. While Hurtado does transliterate Greek words and use words like “dyadic,” he is always careful to explain their meaning. The conciseness of this book belies the importance of this topic and the value of Hurtado’s insights, yet at the same time it makes a complex subject accessible and easily digestible for the beginning inquirer. Lexham Press, and Michael Bird, are to be commended for producing the Snapshot Series which presents a reader with the big picture of important topics like this one.
Honoring the Son: Jesus in Earliest Christian Devotional Practice is currently on Pre-Pub (available June/July 2018) at Lexham Press and Amazon USA / UK
Many thanks to Lexham Press for this free review copy. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.
An exciting new discovery has recently been announced regarding the discovery of a small (2 inch/5 cm) sculpted head at Abel Beth Maacah. The discovery is exciting for at least two reasons. First, no human likeness like this has ever been discovered in Israel that dates to this time period. Eran Arie, the Israel museum’s curator of Iron Age and Persian archaeology states that it is one of a kind. “In the Iron Age, if there’s any figurative art, and there largely isn’t, it’s of very low quality. And this is of exquisite quality.” Second, the likeness appears to be that of a king. More on that below, but first, where is Abel Beth Maacah and what is its significance? (For a YouTube video that shows a fly-over of Abel Beth Maacah click here).
Location and Biblical Significance of Abel Beth Maacah
Abel Beth Maacah is located on the northern border of present-day Israel (bordering Lebanon), at the northern end of the Huleh Valley. This ancient tell, lies 4.5 miles (6.5 km) west of Tel Dan and a little over 1 mile (2 km) south of the modern town of Metulla. It is one of the largest tells (a little over 24 acres or 10 hectares), that remained unexcavated in Israel until a few years ago. Although this important archaeological site was initially identified in the 19th century as the probable site of ancient Abel Beth Maacah, an extensive survey of the mound was only conducted in 2012 with excavations beginning in 2013 under the auspices of Robert A. Mullins of Azusa Pacific University, Los Angeles and Naama Yahalom-Mack and Nava Panitz-Cohen of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The site consists of a large lower mound on the south, a smaller upper mound on the north, and a moderately high “saddle” that connects them. Evidence of settlement begins in Early Bronze II and continues through the Iron Age (I & II), and includes the Persian, Hellenistic, Medieval, and Ottoman periods. Continuing into the modern era, an Arab village existed on part of the site until 1948.
The Bible refers to Abel Beth Maacah in three places. The first occurrence is found in 2 Samuel 20:14-22. Following Absalom’s revolt against David, a man by the name of Sheba son of Bichri attempts to draw Israel away from David. His rebellion is not nearly as successful as Absalom’s (which ultimately ends in failure also) as he retreats to Abel Beth Maacah. Joab, David’s commander, in hot pursuit besieges the city. A wise woman intervenes and saves the city by having Sheba’s head cut off and thrown over the wall. One of the interesting asides of this story is the wise woman’s characterization of Abel Beth Maacah as “a city and a mother in Israel” (v. 19). Furthermore, she claims that Abel was known as a place for seeking wisdom and ending disputes (v. 18). The wise woman’s words testify to the ancient significance of Abel Beth Maacah, which the size of the tell also suggests. The next mention of Abel is found in 1 Kings 15:20. It is this reference that may be the most significant regarding the discovery of the sculptured head. The story in 1 Kings 15 tells of Asa king of Judah asking for the help of Ben Hadad I of Syria (Hebrew–Aram) against his rival from Israel, Baasha. War had broken out between Asa and Baasha and it appears that Baasha had the upper hand. As Baasha fortified the city of Ramah (the prophet Samuel’s hometown)–a city only a few miles from Jerusalem–Asa sent treasures from the Temple to enlist the aid of Ben-Hadad. According to 1 Kings 15:20, Ben Hadad came against Israel and among the cities he attacked was Abel Beth Maacah. The head sculpture fits roughly within this period of time. We shall return momentarily to discuss the significance of this. Finally, Abel is also mentioned in 2 Kings 15:29 among a list of cities conquered by the Assyrian king Tiglath-pilesar III. As a border city (bordering the kingdoms of Israel, Aram, and Phoenicia), Abel was always vulnerable to attack by foreign enemies.
Is This a Royal Face and Can We Identify Him?
The sculptured head discovered in last summer’s excavation is made of faience, a glass-like material that was popular in jewelry and small human and animal figurines in ancient Egypt and the Near East. According to Yahalom-Mack, “The color of the face is greenish because of this copper tint that we have in the silicate paste.” There are several reasons why the archaeologists at Abel Beth Maacah believe this is the face of a Semitic king. First, the hair-do is very decisive for suggesting this is an ancient Near-Eastern king (see my article on the significance of Absalom’s hair and Niditch’s quote regarding hair here). Second, this is the way ancient Egyptian art depicts its Near-Eastern neighbors. Yahalom-Mack states, “The guy kind of represents the generic way Semitic people are described.” Third, the striped golden diadem that surrounds the head seems to clinch the idea of royalty. But who is this bearded wonder? Can archaeologists identify him?
The royal head has been dated to the 9th century B.C. There are two reasons for the dating. First, carbon dating has placed it in the 9th century B.C., but cannot pinpoint it more exactly. Second, after digging through the floor of a massive Iron Age structure, the head was found in the layer underneath dated to the 9th century B.C. Because, the head cannot be dated more precisely than sometime in the 9th century, and because Abel Beth Maacah was a border city and changed hands several times in the 9th century, it is not possible at present to identify what royal figure the head may represent. There are a number of candidates. If it is an Israelite king, the archaeologists suggest either Ahab or Jehu as possibilities. Because Abel was conquered by the Arameans during this time Ben Hadad I and his son Hazael are also candidates. Finally, because Abel was also on the border of Phoenicia and because Ahab was married to the infamous Jezebel (who was from the city of Tyre in Phonecia), her father, Ithobaal I is also considered a possibility. What is interesting about each of these candidates is that they are all mentioned in the Bible (1-2 Kings). Those excavating at Abel Beth Maacah remain hopeful that this summer season (2018) may reveal further evidence regarding this enigmatic (but exciting) find. Perhaps another part of the statue, or some other evidence will one day unravel the mystery. If further news comes to light, be sure that I will be informing the readers of this blog!
For information on the story of Abel Beth Maacah in 2 Samuel, or the characters of Absalom and Joab check out my book: “Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel.” Available at Amazon USA / UK, Barnes & Noble, or WestBow Press.
I have frequently heard it said that a tour of the land of Israel is worth two years of Bible College. My experience of visiting the land of Israel on a number of occasions has confirmed to me the validity of this statement. Geography may not be everyone’s forte, but becoming familiar with the “lay of the land” is an eye-opening experience when it comes to studying the Bible. Learning about the hills and valleys, the ancient cities and climate of the various parts of Israel, adds a third dimension to Bible study that provides greater insight into the various events described in its pages. Lexham Press has done everyone a great service toward this end by producing a new Geographic Commentary series. The first offering in this series concentrates on the Gospels and the second, soon to be available, is dedicated to Acts through Revelation.
This commentary, edited by Barry Beitzel, OT scholar, geographer and cartographer, is a collection of articles by various scholars with years of experience in studying the geography of Israel. Many have participated in archaeological digs throughout Israel, led study tours, lived in Israel, and/or taught at the prestigious Jerusalem University College (formerly known as the American Institute of Holy Land Studies).
Arrangement and Content
Lexham’s Geographical Commentary on the Gospels consists of 48 chapters arranged in a topical and, roughly, chronological order of Jesus’ life. For example, the first three chapters discuss the birth narratives which are followed by a chapter on Nazareth and several chapters on the Wilderness (including discussions on John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism and wilderness temptation). As one might expect in a chronological treatment, the commentary ends with articles about Jesus’ Passion. These chapters center on Gethsemane, Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, burial and post-resurrection appearances. Some chapter titles suggest how theological truths are communicated by understanding the geography of Israel. For instance, Chapter 25 is entitled, “The Geography of Forgiveness.” Similarly, the headline of Chapter 30 reads, “The Geographical Significance of the Transfiguration.” Furthermore, in her article entitled, “Jesus’ Journey into Gentile Territories” (chap. 24), Emily J. Thomassen asserts, “In biblical narrative, authors often mention place names in order to communicate a message of theological importance.” Again she notes, “In the ancient world, authors strategically used, reused, and nuanced geographic references in order to impact the reader” (p. 248).
A nice feature at the beginning of each chapter is a listing of pertinent Scriptures and an overview of the key points that are discussed. An example is given below.
As the above screenshot illustrates, not all chapters deal only with Geographical details. This chapter points out a number of interesting facts. Among them are, how long it would take a woman to grind grain for a family (upwards of 3 hours!). The author, who happens to be a woman (Elaine A. Phillips), notes that this gives a new meaning to “give us our daily bread!” (p. 112). Phillips also points out that the word used for the “guest room” at the Passover (katalyma) is the same word used in the birth narrative of Jesus often translated as “inn” (113). She, along with several other authors in this volume (Wright, p. 4 and Foreman, p. 14), note that the word more properly means “guest room,” not “inn.” Phillips concludes the chapter with an insightful section entitled “Symbolism and Lessons.” You’ll have to get the book to find out more!
Strengths and Weaknesses
The strengths of Lexham’s Geographic Commentary on the Gospels are many. As noted above, each chapter is written by an expert in the field. The authors are not only familiar with the geography of the Holy Land, they are also up-to-date on the latest archaeological discoveries and theories. For example, Benjamin A. Foreman’s chapter entitled, “Locating Jesus’ Crucifixion and Burial,” may burst a few bubbles for those who have toured Israel and been shown the Garden Tomb and the Stone Pavement near the Fortress of Antonia, but his facts are correct. Foreman notes that most scholars are now convinced that Jesus’ Trial took place at Herod’s Palace (the remains of which are near the Jaffa Gate), rather than the Fortress of Antonia, and that the Stone Pavement often shown to visitors as the place where Jesus was tried has actually been dated to the second century A.D. during the time of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Furthermore, he notes that tradition (about 1900 years of it) and archaeology stand behind the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as being the correct site for Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. Not only is the tradition on the Garden Tomb very late (1842), archaeology reveals that the Tomb actually dates to the eighth to seventh centuries B.C., far too early to be a “newly carved” tomb as the Gospels relate. Sorry folks, if you want to retain some “warm fuzzies” about the Holy Land this book will destroy some of your illusions. However, if you’re looking for evidence and hard facts then you will find this commentary enlightening and helpful.
Before speaking of weaknesses, I must note some other interesting insights. Aubrey Taylor (chap. 5 “Ministry in the Wilderness”) has written an excellent chapter on the significance of the wilderness location for John’s ministry (both negative and positive connotations) and some interesting insights into baptism. Perhaps the most provocative chapter is Chapter 14 “Jesus at the Pool of Bethesda,” by Gordon Franz. Franz suggests that a pagan shrine stood on this spot in the first century and that the angel referred to is actually a “fallen angel” (demon). According to Franz, Jesus is proving himself to be the true healer! He also contends that the feast mentioned in John 5:1 is the feast of Purim which he believes is significant for the interpretation of the passage. Space only permits the mention of one more chapter. Emily J. Thomassen’s article entitled, “Shared Memories of Resurrection on the Hill of Moreh” (Chapter 16), provides wonderful insight into the way in which the Gospel of Luke casts Jesus in the images of the prophets Elijah and Elisha.
In spite of it’s many strengths, there are a few weaknesses to Lexham’s Geographical Commentary on the Gospels. While I won’t complain about overlapping treatment (e.g., there are 3 treatments of Jesus’ birth), the differing conclusions reached by experts can be confusing for the layperson. For example, Wright and Foreman have different explanations as to why Mary couldn’t give birth in the “guest room.” They also note that there are two potential origins for the Magi–Babylon and Arabia. Wright favors an Arabian location (pp. 7-8), while Foreman favors the Babylonian provenance (pp. 24-25). Perhaps the editor is simply trying to present both sides of the argument, but again, it can be confusing when the experts disagree. The same can be said for the location of Bethany beyond the Jordan where John baptized (see map above left). Taylor concludes a location near the Dead Sea is correct (44), while Foreman concludes the northern location in Batanea is the correct one (73). How is the reader to decide between the two? Other weaknesses include a few typos. Two of the more glaring ones are Wright’s locating Constantine 80 years after Justin Martyr (5), rather than 180-200 years later as Foreman correctly does in the next chapter (15), and a parenthetical comment on page 16 which reads, “First Century Israelite House diagram pg. 395” when the diagram is actually found on page 6 (and also p. 114). Finally, once in a while the reader would like more information. For example, Elaine A. Phillips suggests that the town of Bethany (think, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus) “…may have been somewhat of a colony for those who suffered from leprosy” (113). The only support she provides is that Jesus ate at the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany and that Bethany was out of view of the temple but still close to Jerusalem. This is slim evidence and the reader wonders if there is more that Phillips isn’t able to share (perhaps due to space considerations?).
The Hardback vs. the Digital Version
Simply put, the digital version of the Geographic Commentary available on Logos Bible Software is superior to the hardback copy. I have both and have frequently compared them. For one thing, a number of the typos mentioned above (and some not mentioned) disappear in the digital version. The flexibility of the digital version presents many other advantages also. First, there are many more maps, pictures and diagrams. Some of these are repetitions found in previous chapters. The advantage of the repetitions is that you don’t have to go to some other part of the book to find them. The digital version also provides a given photo or map at the exact spot where the discussion is happening. While the hardback version isn’t bad, there are times when a map or photo appears at an inconvenient spot. For example, Aubrey Taylor’s discussion of the two possible locations of Bethany Beyond the Jordan occurs on page 44, but the map doesn’t show up until page 46.
One of the really nice features of the digital version of the Geographic Commentary is the frequency of videos. If the author is talking about the Sea of Galilee, the digital version provides you with a video. Sometimes the videos are from the FaithLife Study Bible in which case they are short 30-40 second videos with no commentary. On other occasions, the videos connect to FaithLife TV on the FaithLife website. These videos frequently run 7-8 minutes with commentary provided. This is a real plus when compared to the hardback version! One warning, however. If you don’t have a subscription to FaithLife TV there are some videos you won’t be able to watch. The digital version also provides links to the Factbook, word studies, and, of course you can always hover over a Scripture reference to read it quickly rather than having to constantly turn pages in your Bible. As with all digital books in the Logos library, it also receives updates providing corrections for errors, or, in some cases, adding new information. Still, I realize that some prefer holding a book in their hand and to them I can heartily recommend the hardback version as well. If pressed to give a rating to the Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Gospels, I would give the hardback version 4 stars and the digital version 5 stars. Either way, it is a great addition to anyone’s library who is interested in a deeper study of the Bible.
In a previous post on “gaps” (see Mind the Gap: Guidelines for Gaps in Biblical Narratives), I wrote about the importance of recognizing gaps in biblical literature. Some gaps exist because the inspired author had no interest in filling in the information. At other times, however, gaps are an artistic way in which the author draws us more deeply into the story by providing tantalizing clues which we are expected to investigate and draw conclusions about. I believe that such is the case regarding the High Priest Abiathar’s defection to David’s son Adonijah just before Solomon is crowned king (1 Kings 1-2). Although Abiathar had always been loyal to David, when David was on his deathbed he chose to side with Joab and Adonijah against Solomon, the prophet Nathan, and Benaiah (one of David’s captains). The obvious question is “Why?” I believe some of the gaps in the story can be filled in to successfully answer this question. In my book Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel, I seek to do that. Below is an excerpt from my book which seeks to provide an answer to the mysterious actions of Abiathar. If you’d like to follow along in your Bible, some of the key verses for the following story are: 1 Kings 1:7, 19, 25, 42; 2:26–27, 35.
Excerpt From “Family Portraits”
In his old age Abiathar makes the fateful error of aligning himself with the wrong man for the throne. It appears from 1 Kings 1–2 that Solomon was the choice of (both) David and God for the throne (1:17, 29–30; 2:15, 45). A look at other characters [in 1&2 Samuel] teaches us that, not only does God honor those who honor him (1 Sam. 2:30), but those who go against his anointed experience the consequences. Abiathar is an example of this. His association with God’s anointed, David, brought him blessing, but his association with Adonijah and his rejection of Solomon, the Lord’s chosen, brought judgment down on his head (1 Kings 2:26–27).
To understand why Abiathar joins Adonijah’s attempt to gain the throne from Solomon involves a little reading between the lines (due to gaps!). The text does not explicitly state Abiathar’s motive, and yet, by examining the passages that speak about him, it is possible to suggest a motive. Other passages which speak of Abiathar show him to be a loyal follower of David, who carries the ark of God (2 Sam. 15:24–36; 19:11). However, these passages also reveal that Abiathar was not the only high priest in David’s service. Zadok is also mentioned as high priest along with Abiathar, and seems to have eclipsed him in importance. Not only does Zadok’s name always appear before Abiathar’s in these texts, but when David flees from Jerusalem, it is striking that David directly addresses Zadok but never speaks to Abiathar (2 Sam. 15:24–29). It seems that Abiathar went from being David’s only high priest (during his fugitive days–see 1 Sam. 23), to playing second fiddle to Zadok during the kingdom years. It is natural to suppose that, under such circumstances, Abiathar could easily succumb to envy.
Scripture provides meager information regarding this dual high priesthood. Zadok’s first appearance in the narrative follows the conquest of Jerusalem, where he is mentioned among David’s officials (2 Sam. 8:17). Textual evidence suggests that he joined David when the kingdom was unified following Ish-bosheth’s death (1 Chron. 12:23, 28). Zadok may have been appointed high priest to appease the northern tribes and strengthen the fragile unity between north and south. Thus, this unusual situation may have resulted in the anomaly of having two high priests during David’s reign. Whether David preferred Zadok for political, religious, or other reasons, we are not told. Since Zadok was a “newcomer” to David’s regime, having formerly shown loyalty to “the kingdom of Saul” (1 Chron. 12:23), it is possible that Abiathar resented his growing importance. Abiathar’s loyal ties to Judah and Zadok’s ties to the northern tribes provide a further plausible explanation for their different allegiances at the time of Solomon’s accession.
It seems likely that Abiathar was aware of David’s oath to make Solomon king in his place (1 Kings 1:17). Yet it is clear that Solomon’s inner circle of power consisted of Nathan, Benaiah and Zadok. For Abiathar this would have meant that he, and his son Jonathan, would continue to be subordinate to Zadok. Perhaps he even feared that Zadok would become sole high priest. As a result, it is easy to see how siding with Adonijah and the “old Judahite regime”—which would recognize him as sole high priest—would be extremely tempting. And it seems he succumbed to this temptation. With Joab and David’s eldest living son, Adonijah, it must have seemed like a foolproof plan.
From this small exercise of reading between the lines, we learn an important lesson about accepting the role that God has assigned us. Grasping for power and importance is a pitfall for many. It is particularly sad to see power and status pursued within the church, and yet, as fallible human beings, like Abiathar, we sometimes succumb to this temptation. Abiathar’s example teaches us the importance of contentment. It is far better to have less power and importance and be in the will and blessing of God, than to strive for what God has not ordained for us. Abiathar’s striving took him out of God’s will and brought God’s judgment down on him. Ironically, in his desire to be the only high priest, he lost his position totally. He and his family were relegated to obscurity as he was forced to retire to his hometown of Anathoth. Like the others involved in the attempted coup, Abiathar was deserving of death. It was only the restraint of Solomon and the mercy of God that kept him from that fate (1 Kings 2:26). God is merciful, and will even show mercy when we step outside his will, but in our selfishness we can lose his best for our lives and must experience the consequences of our choices, like Abiathar.
In the latest issue of BAR (Biblical Archaeology Review), archaeologist Eilat Mazar announces what may be a find of great significance. A bulla (clay seal) has been discovered that may be the seal impression of the prophet Isaiah. In an excavation conducted in the Ophel (the area southeast of the Temple Mount staircase, see photo below), Mazar discovered 34 bullae, among other objects. Included in these finds was the bulla of King Hezekiah which I have written about previously (click here). As most readers of the Bible are aware, the Prophet Isaiah was a close personal advisor to King Hezekiah (2 Kgs 18-20; 2 Chron. 32; Isaiah 36-39) and played a pivotal role in Jerusalem’s deliverance from the Assyrian king, Sennacherib.
As one can tell from the photo on the right, the bulla has been partially damaged. The upper end is mostly missing and the left side of the bulla is also damaged. Enough of it can be seen, however, to note that it consists of three tiers. The top tier reveals the remnants of a grazing doe. According to Mazar a grazing doe is “a motif of blessing and protection found in Judah.” This motif is known on another bulla from the same area. The second tier reads “leyesha‘yah[u],” which translated means, “belonging to Isaiah.” The letter represented as a “u” in the brackets is missing due to the damage on the left side. It represents the Hebrew letter vav (ו) and is a certain reconstruction. Therefore, there is no doubt that the name on this seal impression reads “Isaiah.” The bottom line is where the main problem of interpretation comes in. It reads“nvy” (Hebrew: נבי–pronounced nahvee). It is possible that the damaged portion of the seal (recall that Hebrew is read from right to left) also once contained the Hebrew letter aleph (Hebrew: א). If this is the case, then the Hebrew word would mean “prophet.” In which case, the bulla would read, “belonging to Isaiah the prophet.”
Isaiah the Prophet or Isaiah the son of Nvy?
The other possible interpretation is that the letters “nvy” are a personal name and would refer to Isaiah’s father. In that case the inscription would read “belonging to Isaiah the son of Nvy.” This would mean the Isaiah mentioned on the bulla wold be a different Isaiah, since we know that the father of the biblical prophet was named “Amoz” (Isa 1:1). The inscription does not have the words “son of,” but Mazar points out that other seals, due to space considerations, do not always include the word for “son.” One argument in favor of this word not being a proper name is that Mazar states there is plenty of room on the bulla to have written the Hebrew word for “son.” Therefore it can’t be argued that it was left off due to space considerations. However, for this word to mean “prophet,” not only should it have the Hebrew letter aleph at the end, but one would expect the Hebrew word for “the” (Hebrew: ה, just one letter pronounced like our “h”) before “prophet.” There is plenty of room on the bottom line to have included this Hebrew letter. Mazar points out, however, that the Hebrew letter meaning “the” could have appeared on the middle line which is damaged on the left side. Although one would normally expect the word “the” to be connected to the word prophet in Hebrew, Mazar points out that other bullae often divide words in strange ways. For example, the bulla of Hezekiah’s father, king Ahaz, divides Ahaz’s name by putting the “z” on the next line. It is also true, however, that the Hebrew letter for “the” is not always found on inscriptions.
The Prophet Isaiah and King Hezekiah Laying Side by Side
Another interesting feature of the Isaiah bulla is that it was found less than 10 feet from the bulla of Hezekiah! It is interesting that two men who are associated so closely in the Bible, would have bullae laying this close to each other. Their close association in life, makes this placement of the bullae logical. If this bulla is from the prophet Isaiah, then it is understandable that something with his signature would be in the same area as that of King Hezekiah. We would expect that those of Hezekiah’s court would have documents or items kept in a royal storage area. So while this doesn’t prove that the bulla definitely belongs to the prophet Isaiah, it is a piece of circumstantial evidence worth considering. Mazar writes, “Finding a seal impression of the prophet Isaiah next to that of King Hezekiah should not be unexpected. It would not be the first time that seal impressions of two Biblical personas, mentioned in the same verse in the Bible, were found in an archaeological context.” I’ll conclude with another quote from Mazar regarding the mystery of this bulla. She writes, “Could it therefore be possible that here, in an archaeological assemblage found within a royal context dated to the time of King Hezekiah, right next to the king’s seal impression, another seal impression was found that reads “Yesha‘yahu Navy’ ” and belonged to the prophet Isaiah? Is it alternatively possible for this seal NOT to belong to the prophet Isaiah, but instead to one of the king’s officials named Isaiah with the surname Nvy?” Perhaps further study of this artifact, or future discoveries will reveal the answer to Mazar’s questions. For now, it is a tantalizing discovery that might have come from the prophet Isaiah himself.
(The quotes and information for this article, along with the pictures of the Isaiah bulla are taken from Eilat Mazar’s article entitled, “Is This the Prophet Isaiah’s Signature?,” in the March/April, May/June 2018 issue of BAR [vol. 44:2]). If you have a subscription to BAR you can read Mazar’s article here. You can also sign up for “Bible History Daily” on the BAR website and read a companion article by Megan Sauter entitled, “Isaiah’s Signature Uncovered in Jerusalem.”
Because of the plethora of commentaries available today, each series seeks for legitimate reasons to be written. One can at times see the tortuous twists and turns an editor makes in the series Preface to substantiate their reason for yet another commentary series. No such twists and turns are necessary, however, for this new commentary series. Mark Through Old Testament Eyes is the first commentary in a series whose main focus is how each New Testament (NT) book reflects the Old Testament (OT) and how an understanding of that will deepen the reader’s appreciation for that particular NT book. While other commentaries will sometimes pause to point out an obvious OT quotation or allusion, due to other objectives, they cannot focus on the overall influence that the OT may have had on a given NT book. The “Through Old Testament Eyes” series seeks to fill this much-needed void.
Mark Through Old Testament Eyes not only seeks to illuminate Mark’s use of the OT, it is also a practical and applicational commentary. The commentary is interspersed with sections entitled: “Going Deeper,” in which author Andy Le Peau takes a more practical look at various topics and subjects found in the Gospel. Le Peau also includes helpful sections entitled: “What the Structure Means.” These sections highlight the literary features of Mark’s Gospel, helping readers to see the Big Picture. A third section is entitled: “Through Old Testament Eyes” and, as you guessed, focuses on how the Gospel of Mark engages the OT in it’s telling of the Jesus story. Each of these sections are set off from the regular commentary by gray boxes with the titles in bold print. A final feature of the commentary is a number of useful charts comparing and contrasting the story in Mark with itself or some aspect of the OT. A side purpose of Mark Through Old Testament Eyes is to introduce the reader to pertinent cultural background material. The commentary is well-suited for teachers and preachers but is written in a lay style that will benefit a Bible study leader or an average Christian who wants to go deeper into the message of Mark’s Gospel.
Jesus, the New Exodus, and Other Insights
Le Peau notes how Mark’s quotation of Isaiah and Malachi in Mark 1:2-3 echo the Exodus tradition and set the stage for the theme of the New Exodus led by Jesus, a theme enunciated throughout the gospel. Le Peau divides Mark’s Gospel into three sections centered around the theme of the Exodus and compares it with the OT theme of the Exodus in a helpful chart (18). The three divisions of Mark are: 1) The Liberator Arrives (Mk 1:1-8:27); 2) The Way to Jerusalem (Mk 8:22-10:52); and 3) Conquest in Jerusalem (Mk 11:1-16:8). Continuing the Exodus theme, Le Peau demonstrates that Jesus is presented as a new Moses by comparing Mark chapters 1-4 with similar scenes in Exodus-Deuteronomy, once again using a helpful chart (102).
Here is a sample of other helpful tidbits throughout the commentary:
Herodias’s request at a banquet (Mk 6:23) contrasts with Esther’s request (119).
The perplexing statement that Jesus was “about to pass by them,” when walking on the water (Mk 6:48) is clarified by OT expressions which show “passing by” to be an activity of God (see e.g.,Exod. 33:19, 22; 34:6-7; 1 Kgs. 19:11; Job 9:8, 11), (124-125).
Mark’s language throughout the gospel demonstrates that Jesus is God. Le Peau pauses to list all of the verses that demonstrate this (179-182).
The 5 questions regarding Jesus’s authority over the law at the beginning of the gospel (Mk 2:1-3:6) are balanced by the 5 questions regarding Jesus’s authority over the Temple toward the end of the gospel (Mk 11:27-12:37), (211-212).
Le Peau’s division of Mark 13 which confuses many because of it’s conflation of the Temple’s destruction with end-time events, is very helpful. He finds a parallel step-structure: (vv. 1-4 act as intro); A Destruction of Temple (5-23); B Coming of Son of Man (24-27); A’ Parable about the Temple (28-31); B’ Parable about the 2nd coming (32-37) (235-237)
Le Peau notes that Zech 9-14 plays a prominent role in the last chapters of Mark. The Lord comes to the Mount of Olives to save his people (Mk 11:1; Zech 14:4); a king rides triumphantly but humbly to Jerusalem on a donkey (Mk 11:1-10; Zech. 9:9); followed by a reference to a cup as the blood of the covenant (Mk 14:24; Zech. 9:11); and finally the striking of the shepherd to scatter the sheep (Mk 14:27; Zech. 13:7). (262)
Jesus’s warning in chapter 13 to “watch” is followed in 14:41 with Jesus’s own ability to watch at the time of trial, but the inability of the disciples to watch even for one hour. This theme is picked up again in 15:40-41 which pictures a group of women disciples who do “watch.”
There are times in which the author’s OT usage seems a bit stretched. For example, Le Peau contends that the mention of the Spirit at Jesus’s baptism (Mk 1:10) and subsequent act of driving him into the wilderness (1:12) recalls the mention of the Spirit hovering over the waters in Genesis 1:2. What am I missing here? He also draws some interesting parallels between Mark 6 and Ps. 23, but a few seemed forced (Table 6.1, 127). While Le Peau has a very interesting discussion on the significance of the number 3 (“What the Structure Means: The Power of Three, 272-273), his insistence throughout the commentary that 3 represents completeness (90-91, 187) is only his opinion. Finally, I am not in favor of endnotes, especially when my copy of the book is in PDF format!
Despite these minor issues, Mark Through Old Testament Eyes is a gem that should be in every pastor’s/Bible Teacher’s library. Le Peau not only demonstrates that the Gospel of Mark is indebted to the OT on every page, but how a deeper understanding of the OT will enhance a believer’s understanding of Mark. Le Peau has done a remarkable job chasing down OT references and allusions. Whether it’s OT info on “figs,” “widows,” or OT imagery (sun and moon blotted out, darkness, the sea, etc.) Le Peau demonstrates his knowledge and proficiency with the OT text which translates into a gold mine for the reader.
(Many thanks to Kregel Publications who provided a copy of Mark Through Old Testament Eyes in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.)