Book Review

This week I am recommending an excellent source for budding Pauline scholars, The Writings of St. Paul edited by Wayne Meeks and John Fitzgerald.  This volume of the Norton Critical Edition series is the best work I’ve found for anyone seeking one book on Paul.  The book begins with an outline of the life of Paul which, in addition to outlining the important aspects of Paul’s life, examines how scholars interact with Acts and Paul’s letters in order to create such an outline.  The work also contains translations of the thirteen letters attributed to Paul and many Pseudo-Pauline works such as the correspondance of Paul and Seneca and 3 Corinthians.  Furthermore, this volume contains a massive amount of material concerning Paul from the early Church including both stories such as Paul and Thecla and passages from the Church Fathers.  Essentially if someone wrote about Paul in antiquity it is present in this work.  However, despite all of these invaluable primary sources, the most useful section of this work may be the last 300 pages which contain numerous articles from modern scholars examining a wide range of topics.  The editors have chosen articles form the heavyweights in the field with such names as Bauer, Von Harnack, Stendahl, Kaseman, Bultmann, Theissen, Mitchell, and countless others.


I was planning to attend the SBL session focusing on the book After the First Urban Christians, but alas I was unable to attend.  However, Abigail at Continuum was kind enough to send me a review copy of the book and I will provide a full review in the near future.  The list of scholars contributing to this volume is impressive and includes scholars such as Wayne Meeks, Dale Martin, David Horrell, Todd Still, and Bruce Longenecker.  Essentially, this work examines and re-evaluates topics explored in Wayne Meeks foundational book The First Urban Christians.

Thus far I have read the first essay by David Horrell, “Whither Social-Scientific Approaches to New Testament Interpretation? Reflections on Contested Methodologies and the Future.”  In this essay, Horrell essentially calls out certain scholars in the context group who claim that one is not employing social-scientific criticism unless one works closely with models derived from the social sciences.  Horrell would prefer a broader definition which includes scholars who interact with the social sciences but do not necessarily employ strict models.  I agree with Horrell here that the definition of social-scientific criticism proposed by Malina (as quoted by Horrell) is in fact too narrow.  But Horrell is also correct in stating that “… there is a diversity of method and approach among those who participate in the Context Group.” (10)

While Bruce Malina may insist on such a narrow definition and rigorous use of models, not all members of the Context Group would agree with Malina’s definition of social-scientific criticism.  Both my advisor who is a member of the Context Group and I who have attended many functions associated with the group would not be properly defined by such a narrow definition of social-scientific criticism.  Thus, while Horrell is certainly right to criticize Malina’s overly narrow definition of social-scientific criticism, I am a bit uncomfortable with him associating the Context Group as a whole with this definition.

I look forward to reading the rest of the fine essays in this volume.

Dictionary_PaulThe Dictionary of Paul and His Letters is an excellent resource for anyone interested in Paul of Tarsus.  I instruct my students to consult the Anchor Bible Dictionary and this work when working on their research papers.   This volume contains a myriad of articles covering every important topic.  Additionally, the articles are fairly meaty and written by well known scholars, each containing the relevant scholarly debates for each issue and closing with an extensive bibliography.  At over 1000 pages the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters should be on the shelves of every Pauline scholar.

Oh and if you have come here looking for the Biblical Studies Carnival it is on its way.  However, as I was coming down the dreaded 405 today I noticed there was a massive collision involving elephants, clowns, etc.  Thus, with all the cleanup necessary I imagine the carnival will not arrive until Monday night/ Tuesday morning.  On behalf of the proprietors I apologize for its delay.

galatians_debateThe last book I recommended was the Romans Debate.  Thus, I figured I should recommend the Galatians Debate this time around.  Like the Romans Debate, this work is loaded with articles by top notch Galatians scholars such as: Dunn, Jewett, Martyn, Barclay, Fredriksen, and Walter.  The Galatians Debate is divided into three sections: genre (rhetoric or epistle), autobiography, and the situation (and opponents) in Galatia.  For anyone interested in rhetorical approaches to Galatians and the debate concerning the value of applying rhetoric to Paul’s letters, this work is invaluable.  Additionally, the many articles concering the oppenents of Paul are excellent.  This is certainly a work that should be consulted for any research project focusing on Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Fee_philToday I am posting an update to my annotated ranking of the academic Philippian commentaries.  While I had already moved Gordon Fee’s work up to the #3 position, today I am adding a mini review for the work.  Here is one line from my review that summarizes my thoughts on Fee’s commentary, “I consider Gordon Fee’s work to be the top Philippians commentary for the non-specialist.  Fee’s specialty seems to be combining top notch scholarship with clear and interesting prose.”

If you have any quibbles with my review or ranking of Fee’s commentary please let me know as I am interested in what my readers think, especially since so many rank Fee’s commentary as the top Philippians commentary.

Klauck_LettersMy latest book recommendation is Ancient Letters and the New Testament by Hans-Josef Klauck.  Klauck’s work is the new standard for scholarly yet approachable works to ancient letter writing.  Klauck explores many important topics such as the postal system, epistolary theory, rhetoric, and classifying letters.  Additionally, Klauck includes an annotated list of all the ancient letters writers, divided between Latin and Greek.  Moreover, Klauck’s excellent bibliographies alone make this work a worthy purchase.  Yet another useful feature is the example(s) included at the close of each section.  Essentially Klauck’s work could be used as either a textbook or a reference work.  I highly recommend this work and consider it the new gold standard of its genre.

Prior Recommendations

E. Randolph Richards: Paul and First-Century Writing (review)

Margaret M. Mitchell: Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation  (review)

Richard Hays: Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (review)

Richards_lettersToday’s book recommendation is E. Randolph Richards’ Paul and First-Century Writing.  Richards’ wrok covers a wide variety of topics concerning Paul and letter writing.  He examines the following topics and more: secretaries, letter carriers, co-authors, tools of the trade, and Paul’s writing style.  The work is quite illuminating, however, Randolph is willing is prone to speculation when evidence is lacking.  Additionally, he has an agenda which does not become clear until mid way through the book, Paul wrote every letter attributed to him.  Despite the possible shortcomings Richards has provided an excellent work that I used in my course on Paul and ancient letter writing last year at, the exceedingly secular, UCLA (Hist 97K for those interested).  I highly recommend the work for anyone interested in Paul and ancient letter writing.

I am not going to create a post everytime I change the picture of the book recommendation, but I figure that I should for the first couple of new recommendations.  Today’s recommendation is Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation by Margaret M. Mitchell.  In this work Mitchell examines 1 Corinthians through the lens of deliberative rhetoric.  For anyone looking for a model of how one can implement the formal aspects of rhetorical criticism into their research, look no further.  If nothing else her five “mandates for rhetorical criticism” are quite useful.  I find her second rule to be the most useful: “Actual speeches and letters from antiquity must be consulted along with the rhetorical handbooks through the investigation.”




Paul the Letter Writer

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor







•  Short, allowing for use in any course related to Paul.

•  Interacts with many primary sources.

•  Adequate introduction to many topics concerning Paul and ancient letter writing.


•  Too short.  Many topics lack depth.

•  Although expected to some degree for this topic, there is extensive unsupported speculation.

•  Important topics are missing, such as the environment in which one wrote letters in antiquity and the possibility that Paul employed a revision process which included multiple drafts for many of his letters.

Full Review

Paul the Letter Writer, by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor.  Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 1995.  Pp. viii + 152. $24.95.

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor has provided a useful and concise look into how Paul wrote letters.  Murphy-O’Connor covers many important topics such as secretaries, co-authorship, epistolary theory, rhetoric, the organization of a letter, and how the collection of Paul’s letters came together.  Murphy-O’Connor covers a wide variety of topics and does so in a scant 130 pages.  This is both a positive and a negative.  As a positive this work can be used in most any Paul class as supplementary reading material.  However, if one is truly interested in this material Murphy-O’Connor has provided a starting point for one’s study rather than the final word on the matter.  For more material one can consult works by E. Randolph Richards, Hans Josef Klauck, Stanley Stowers, and many others.

Murphy-O’Connor divides the book into three chapters.  The first covers the process of writing a letter.  The author begins with an examination of ancient writing utensils and papyrus, even including ancient accounts of how each were created and used.  Next Murphy-O’Connor addresses the use of secretaries in the ancient world.  He notes that secretaries could function as recorders, editors, or even substitute authors.  However, while he concludes that Paul did in fact use a secretary, “which system he used is impossible to determine with any certitude.” (34)

Within the first chapter Murphy-O’Connor also examines the possibility that Paul wrote with co-authors.  This section is one of the largest in the book covering eighteen pages.  While most scholars simply dismiss the reference to individuals such as Timothy, Silvanus and Sosthenes as mere courtesy, Murphy-O’Connor pursues the possibility that these references are to Paul’s co-authors.  Murphy-O’Connor examines each of Paul’s letters individually and concludes that Paul did in fact use co-authors in a number of letters.  However, due to the lack of evidence his conclusions are often built upon wild speculation.  For instance, he constructs an entire relationship between Paul and Sosthenes for the writing of 1 Corinthians in which Paul is the “pragmatic” who became irritated with Sosthenes and his “complicated and overly subtle” (33) method of writing.  In fact, Murphy-O’Connor isolates two passages in which Sosthenes included his input but concludes that Paul chose to shut him out of the process later.

Finally, Murphy-O’Connor turns to the process of sending a letter.  After examining the options available to Paul he concludes that Paul sent his early letters with strangers.  However, as he made more contacts he was able to send his letters with Christians and often his assistants.  This section is an excellent example of the brevity of this work.  While the five pages Murphy-O’Connor devotes to this topic are plenty for a course on Paul, there are many other issues that could be addressed.  For instance, one should consult Margaret Mitchell’s work “New Testament Envoys in the Context of Greco-Roman Diplomatic and Epistolary Conventions: The Example of Timothy and Titus” for information regarding the roles that the letter carriers played in delivering letters.  Furthermore, Murphy-O’Connor could address the importance of having someone deliver the letter who could elaborate on the letter or even read the letter to the community.  This seems especially important for Murphy-O’Connor who conceives of Paul as one who was well trained in rhetoric.

Chapter two focuses on the different parts of a letter.  However, imbedded within this information is useful information concerning epistolary theory and rhetoric.  In fact, Murphy-O’Connor dedicates thirty pages to rhetoric, a massive amount in such a short work.  Within this section he introduces the different types of rhetoric, parts of a rhetorical speech, and scholars who interact with rhetoric.

The final chapter is an examination of how Paul’s letters were collected.  Murphy-O’Connor discusses the three major theories, the big bang, the snowball, and Paul’s notebooks.  In short the theories are as follows.  The big bang theory is that one collector decided at some point to collect all of Paul’s letters.  The snowball theory assumes that multiple smaller collections were made before they were put together into a bigger collection.  The most attractive, yet least plausible, theory is that Paul made copies of his letters and his notebooks were then given to his disciples who then possessed a collection of Paul’s letters.  Murphy-O’Connor recognizes that this is an especially difficult topic as there is not much evidence.  However, he proposes that there were actually three smaller collections of Paul’s letters.  His proposal is built upon the varying location of Hebrews in our extant manuscripts.  Additionally, he proposes different scenarios for the location of the assembly of these three collections.  Unfortunately, Murphy-O’Connor’s conclusion is as unsatisfying as those that have come before, however, it is an interesting possibility to add to the list.

Paul the Letter-Writer is both useful and limited.  It is frankly far too brief to be an essential work on the topic of Paul and ancient letter writing.  Murphy-O’Connor does not provide enough detail on the topics he covers and leaves out many other important issues such as Paul’s potential use of drafts.  However, because the work is so short it is useful in a classroom setting or as an introduction to Paul and letter writing.  For instance, I will use this work in any general course I teach on Paul or his letters.  However, for a course focusing on Paul the ancient letter writer, other books such as E. Randolph Richards’ Paul and First-Century Letter Writing would be more useful.  Thus, my final recommendation is that everyone needs to be aware of the issues raised by Murphy-O’Connor and that his contribution is a worthy introduction to the material but it is by no means the final or definitive work on the subject.

Thanks to the kind folks at Peeters I received an excellent new tool for anyone working on 2 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians a Bibliography.  While this book may be the type of work that my undergraduate students laugh about (a book which only contains other books), it is a certainly a useful tool.  I would actually like to have a book like this for each of Paul’s letters.  If anyone knows of such a work for any of Paul’s other letters please let me know.  Well now onto the review.

2 Corinthians A Bibliography, by Reimund Bieringer, Emmanuel Nathan, and Dominika Kurek-Chomycz.  Leuven: Peeters, 2008.  Pp. xx + 352. $113.

2 Corinthians A Bibliography aims to be a complete bibliography for academic publications on 2 Corinthians through 2007.  It includes a staggering 1,900 works spanning 352 pages.  While this is not an annotated bibliography, it is a useful work for anyone undertaking a research project which focuses on 2 Corinthians and should be on the shelves of every research library.

The bibliography is divided into four sections.  The first section includes a list of all the commentaries written on 2 Corinthians.  It is important to emphasize here the stated purpose of the work which is to include all of the “academic” works on 2 Corinthians.  There are a slew of devotional or pastoral commentaries that are not included in this volume.  It is not stated how the authors determined which commentaries were not academic enough to make this list, but it is certainly a useful distinction for anyone working on 2 Corinthians.  Specifically individuals not aware of the academic qualities of a commentary series would benefit from consulting this list.  Additionally, this is not merely a modern list of commentaries but includes commentaries spanning the history of Christianity by authors such as John Chrysostom, Thomas Aquinas, and Martin Luther.

The second section is the most useful aspect of this bibliography.  Each pericope of 2 Corinthians is given its own section and works are included which focus on the pericope in question.  This is especially useful because many works do not contain the pericope on which they focus in their title.  While it may be easy to search on-line databases to find works on 2 Corinthians, it is not always clear whether a work will be useful to one’s project.  Thus by identifying the focus of each work, this bibliography spares the researcher the trouble of tracking down books that may, or may not, contain relevant information

Chapter three also provides assistance by isolating different themes within 2 Corinthians and classifying works on 2 Corinthians according to these themes.   Over one hundred themes are included ranging from general topics such as holy spirit, God, and satan to specific topics such as the thorn in the flesh, the fool’s speech, and boasting.  Additionally, there are broader research themes including textual criticism and rhetorical criticism.  The usefulness of this work is demonstrated by examining any one of the themes.  For example, this bibliography has identified twenty nine works that focus on Paul’s thorn in the flesh.  While most of the examples would be easy to find in any thorough search, this work has already been done thus saving any researcher valuable time.  Additionally, there are works with less obvious titles included such as “Qumran and the Weakness of Paul” by M. L. Barré.

The final section is an alphabetical list of every “academic” work on 2 Corinthians sorted by author.  While it does not perform a specific function like the earlier chapters, it is important to include a section that lists all the works on 2 Corinthians. 

This is an important work for a number of reasons.  While one could protest that with the excellent on-line search engines available to New Testament scholars this book is unnecessary to a degree, this bibliography provides information not easily found in databases.  Chapters 2 and 3. which group articles by pericope and topic. are especially important as this information can be difficult to ascertain without examining the book in question.  In short, Bieringer, Nathan, and Kurek-Chomycz have done much of the initial legwork required for any serious study on 2 Corinthians.  Later editions of this bibliography would be even more useful if a CD-Rom was included.

Although this bibliography is certainly a useful tool there is one issue that will prohibit most from purchasing it, the list price of 79 Euros or 113 dollars.  At such a steep price this work will probably only be purchased by 2 Corinthians specialists and libraries.  However, most who research 2 Corinthians have access to a library so this problem can easily be overcome.  Request that your library purchase this volume as every serious research library should have this work on its shelves.

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