Category Archives: Book Reviews

Review: Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature, Richard A. Taylor

Taylor wrote Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature: An Exegetical Handbook for Kregel’s Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis series, which is designed for pastors, graduate students, and others interested in the proper steps of exegesis of biblical books. While the exegetical guidelines in this book are common to other similar books, such as Robert Chisholm’s From Exegesis to Exposition, Taylor adds the pedagogical value of focusing only on apocalyptic literature in the Old Testament, especially Daniel, Joel, Zechariah, Malachi, and Isaiah 24-27.

In the six chapters of this book, Taylor covers (1) the definition of apocalyptic literature, (2) major themes and features of the genre, (3) interpretive tools needed to properly make sense of the genre, (4) some guidelines for exegeting particular texts, (5) a step-by-step method for doing so, and (6) two examples of Old Testament apocalyptic exegesis from Daniel and Joel. He ends with an appendix looking at various theories of the origins of biblical apocalyptic literature.

I thought two features of this book were particularly useful. First, Taylor spends a lot of time explaining extrabiblical literature. He does so in chapter two, looking at extrabiblical Jewish literature from the Second Temple to flesh out the features of apocalyptic, and he does so in the appendix when he looks at possible ancient Near Eastern precedents for apocalyptic literature, from Canaanite to Hellenistic to Persian literature. Although Taylor does not dive into these origin theories very fully, he provides detailed citations for the interested reader to follow.

That leads me to the second excellent feature of this book: the extensive bibliographies. Throughout the book Taylor provides annotated bibliographies covering apocalyptic literature in general, commentaries on Daniel and the Book of the Twelve, and various Biblical Hebrew resources such as different grammar and lexica. (While Taylor provides useful information for the student of biblical languages, his book doesn’t assume only an audience that has such training.) Taylor’s book can help the reader build up her scholarly library.

Taylor does a good job of explaining how to preach this often-misinterpreted genre in historical context, and occasionally gives examples of exegesis more fit for AM radio than for scholars and preachers! I do wish he had engaged the history of interpretation more. In sum, this might be a useful textbook, though it is a bit dry for fun reading.

Kregel provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. To the best of my knowledge, this did not impact my review.

Review: Framing Paul, Douglas Campbell.

This year I have been cutting my teeth writing small book notices for different journals. It’s been a good way to learn about current scholarship, and it forces me to read closely enough to be able to say something.

Another book note in Theological Studies, this one out in September. Was astounded by the breadth of Campbell’s book—it took some time to get through!

Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography. By Douglas A. Campbell. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014. Pp. xxii + 468. $39.

51c9+GONhEL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Campbell attempts to construct an “epistolary frame” around Pauline-attributed letters, determining each letter’s authenticity and and dating each letter both relative to one another and in absolute terms. After a lengthy methodological introduction (chap. 1), he builds his “epistolary backbone” with Romans and 1–2 Corinthians (chap. 2). C. then integrates other letters into that developing frame in succeeding chapters, surveying Philippians and Galatians (chap. 3), 1–2 Thessalonians (chap. 4), Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians (chap. 5), and Titus and 1–2 Timothy (chap. 6). C. sets aside widely assumed theories and start his Pauline reconstruction from the ground up. He discerns a 10-letter canon, including Ephesians (304), Colossians (337), and 2 Thessalonians (220), with no composite letters, and an early-40s dating of 1–2 Thessalonians (220–29).

Perhaps the strongest feature of this book is the many methodological insights C. brings to bear on the problem, including patristic reception (102), Scheidel’s ORBIS project (258, 276), textual criticism (310–11), the dynamics of orality (105), and features of prison literature (316–17). C. also deftly questions common arguments in Pauline studies, e.g., C. rejects circular arguments for inauthenticity from theological deviance and stylometrics, focusing instead on historical anachronisms.

Given the danger of making theoretical mountains out of evidential molehills inherent in C.’s task, he is generally transparent in how much certainty any given hypothesis has. However, he does overstate his point at times; his technique of discerning secondary audiences in the letters was often unconvincing (55). At other times he brought up valuable points only to leave them unexamined, such as his comment on the implications of Lindbeck’s “cultural-linguistic coherence” for debates about Paul’s coherence vs. contingency (9–10). Additionally, though C. convincingly argues in his introduction that Acts should only be incorporated into the Pauline chronology after surveying the letters, he does not do this integration in this book.

C.’s breadth, methodological insight, and implications for other issues in Pauline studies make this a valuable book for scholars and the non-specialist willing to wade through the length and complexity of his arguments.


Review: Qur’ans: Books of Divine Encounter, Keith Small.

After being away from here for a few months, I took a look at this blog and realized it didn’t fit with what I’m doing now. I originally started this blog as a place to talk about ancient languages—still one of my interests—but other things started creeping in too. I reorganized the blog to reflect that, and to make it look more professional in general. Enjoy.

The banner above is from Word Made Flesh, the frontispiece to John in The Saint John’s Bible.

I don’t have time to write any blog posts until August because of a book deadline I’m trying to meet, but it doesn’t take much time to repost some of the things I’ve been writing for other venues. Below is a book note I wrote for Theological Studies, out in the June issue.

Qur’āns: Books of Divine Encounter. By Keith E. Small. Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2015. Pp. 170. $25.

quransSmall, a Manuscript Consultant to the Bodleian Library, Associate Research Fellow at the London School of Theology, and author of Textual Criticism and Qur’ān Manuscripts (2011), has produced a visually pleasing compendium of 53 Qur’ān manuscripts, most of them from the Bodleian Library. Each manuscript is shown in one photo and accompanied by a short description. In the first three chapters, S. explores the history of Qur’an manuscripts, and in the process delivers a gentle, non-technical introduction to issues in studying Qur’ān manuscripts, such as dating, orthography, script, colophons, palimpsests, materials.  He also introduces decorative elements, including carpet pages and gold leaf, and aspects of the manuscripts related to liturgy and recitation.

The second half of the book is organized thematically, and showcases European Renaissance encounters with the Qur’ān, global dissemination of the Qur’ān, and personal copies of the Qur’an. S. showcases Qur’ān manuscripts owned or produced by European scholars, including Robert of Ketton’s 12th-century Latin translation and Renaissance critical editions noting textual variants. His misleading overemphasis on the sympathy with which many of these scholars approached the Qur’ān creates a contrast with the next section. There, he provides the fascinating backstory to how some of the Bodleian’s Qur’ān manuscripts came to Oxford: “plunder in piracy and war” (89), or through former officers in British colonies (e.g., 126-127). This section’s vignettes provide a fascinating window into the past few centuries of Islamic history. The final section, on believers’ personal copies of the Qur’ān, includes talismans and even an undershirt with the Qur’ān written on it to ward off harm in battle.

S. excellently analyzes how details of decoration and calligraphy relate to Islamic theology and the believer’s personal encounter with revelation. I would have liked to see more examples of contemporary Qur’āns. While S. includes an appendix of recommended reading, it would be more useful for scholars if it had a bibliography for each manuscript. This book is aimed at the general reader, but is also of interest to scholars, and would also be a useful supplementary text for courses in art history, book history, or Islamic studies.

Review: Exploring the Book of Kells, by George Simms.

Since I began working with The Saint John’s Bible, I have become fascinated by the physicality of Bibles as books. Not just the art, but even the size, typography, and presence of critical notes in a text reflects and impacts the way we interpret the Bible. Art historians who study biblical manuscripts know this [links], but I rarely see it discussed in biblical studies circles. The physicality of the Bible is just one question that The Saint John’s Bible raises for biblical scholars.

So it was with some interest that I recently picked up George Otto Simms’ Exploring the Book of Kells. In 71 pages, Simms introduces this book, the most famous Anglo-Saxon illuminated biblical manuscript. The Book of Kells contains only the Gospels, and dates to c. 800 from the community of monks at Iona and later at Kells. Simms discusses the daily lives of the monks who created this Gospel book, with some charming illustrations of their daily monkish lives. He discusses some of the more famous illuminations and quirky marginalia in this manuscript, including the famous “XRI” page reproduced so often.

Though I learned a few things from this book, I’m not sure I would recommend it. It has very few color images, and no bibliography for further reading. Simms is not an art historian but a priest, so he misses out on some of the terminology a manuscript scholar would use. Still, this might be a good book for a younger audience.


Review: If Sons, Then Heirs, by Caroline Johnson Hodge.

9780195182163 (1)Hodge’s book, If Sons, Then Heirs: A Study of Kinship and Ethnicity in the Letters of Paul, argues that Paul’s letters do not merely theologically navigate the complexities of Gentile belonging in Christ, but actively create a new ethnic identity for those Gentile believers by employing metaphors of ethnicity and kinship to describe these believers as adopted sons of Abraham.

Her introduction spells out some of the particular methods and ideas her book draws on. After a brief introduction to recent scholarship on Paul, she identifies herself with the most “radical” (her phrase) thinkers in the New Perspective, particularly Lloyd Gaston, John Gager, and Stanley Stovers. These thinkers see Paul as writing mainly to Gentiles, and his works as creating a new myth of identity for those Gentiles who believe in Christ separate from a Mosaic covenant, rather than a Paul who is writing to Jewish Christians that the Torah is hereafter invalid. These thinkers see Paul as in greater continuity with Jewish tradition than the NPP thinkers Sanders and Dunn. Like them, Hodge seeks to move beyond a stale binary between ethnic, particular Judaism and non-ethnic, universal Christianity, arguing instead that Christianity is itself ethnic and particular. Lastly, Hodge spells out her theoretical position that ethnicity and kinship are socially constructed and malleable, even if those who employ those concepts hold them in an essentialist manner.

The first chapter of the book explains the “ideology of patrilineal descent,” a broadly shared Jewish and Greco-Roman worldview in which individuals, groups, families, and even nations construct their identity in terms of descent from a common father, a father who passes on certain traits to all his descendants. This ideology, Hodge argues, was used to construct identity, to gain power, and to define group boundaries. Paradoxically, this ideology holds ethnicity and kinship as both natural/fixed and malleable/constructed; even the same thinker can employ both conceptions of ethnicity at different times to suit his argument. Hodge reviews various discourses of kinship in the Greco-Roman world and the rituals used to maintain and legitimate them: adoption, genealogy of noble families, Kleisthenes’ re-mapping of Athens, Dionysus of Halicarnassus’ argument that Romans descend from Greeks, Josephus’ argument for the Jews’ antiquity, and the kinship of the philosophical schools of Greece and Rome. This last example proves that social domains not related to family could still use rhetoric and metaphor drawn from that domain of life—making it less outlandish that Paul would do so too.

The second chapter examines some of the binaries Paul uses to describe ethnic identity: Jew/Gentile, Jew/Greek, and circumcised/uncircumcised. Hodge delineates these in the context of two types of ethnic construction Paul engages in: opposition (constructing ethnic difference) and aggregative (constructing combining ethnic identities). For Paul, the ethnicity of Judaism is defined by ancestry, worship, and the Torah, while “gentile” (of which “Greek” is a subset) is defined by sinfulness and idolatry and by being not-Jewish (51). Mainly Hodge emphasizes that Paul does not see these identities as subsumed completely in Christ (as many readers of Gal 3:28 would have it) or as spiritualized/allegorized (as the TDNT has it).

Chapters 3­–6 examine specific kinship- and ethnicity-based metaphors Paul employs. In chapter 3, she examines the language of adoption in Gal 4:1–7 and Rom 8:14–17, and how Paul employs household hierarchies (e.g. the position of slaves) and the “spirit” to make Gentiles in relationship with God. Chapter 4 re-reads the phrase “from faith” (Rom 4:16) and “those from faith” (Gal 3:6–9) as language of descent: so Gentiles are of faith in being actually descended from Abraham by adoption, not simply by having faith. Chapter five examines the phrases “in Christ,” “in Abraham,” and “in Isaac” (highly debated phrases in Pauline studies) and argues that these refer to embryological assumptions embedded in the ideology of patrilineal descent, the idea that characteristics are passed from father to children through semen (e.g. Gen 15:3–6 and Gal 3:8). Chapter six continues chapter 4’s metaphor by addressing the way in which Christ becomes a brother to all those in faith (Rom 8:29)—again also the embryological assumption plays a role here. Note the way in which Paul uses both metaphors of adoption and of biological descent when rhetorically and mythologically grafting the Gentiles onto the tree of Abraham.

After examining these specific passages, Hodge returns to broader issues in chapter seven, in which she examines how Paul negotiated his multiple identities. Rather than seeing Paul as Jewish or Christian, Jew or Greek, she sees him as navigating multiple identities: a Jew first, but a Jew who subjugates that part of his identity to his “in-Christ” identity, and a teacher who adapts himself to his students by living as a Gentile. The idea employed here is that ethnicity is situational and hierarchically arranged, rather than fixed, and Paul engages in multiple discourses to suit his particular purposes and constructions. So Gal 3:28 is not seen as erasing individual identities, but subjugating them to Christ. Paul’s denial of circumcision for the Gentiles is not seen as a denial of circumcision per se; everyone will still follow circumcision, bit Gentiles need only practice the internal circumcision of the heart.

Chapter 8 ends the book with an examination of oppositional identities: how does Paul separate Jew and Greek? He clearly sees Jews as coming first, as he mentions in Romans 4 and 9–11. But he lays out a salvific plan in which the Greek is included as well. God prefers the Jews, but judges both groups impartially. Romans 9–11, then, is not merely a passage about Gentiles coming to the God of Israel, but a family tree metaphor describing inheritance by adoption. Paul is creating an ethnic genealogy for the Gentiles much as Greek and Roman authors create ethnic genealogies for noble families or entire peoples.

I really like how Hodge’s book brings together both Jewish and Greco-Roman discourses on ethnicity and teases out how Paul uses language of ethnicity. However, in this model of Paul, some of the metaphors he employs are inconsistent. For example, is Christ supposed to be a father or a brother in this metaphorical patrilineal family (103-106)? Other times she seems to mix up metaphors of biological descent and adoption. Maybe Paul himself is being inconsistent. I would grant him that, given that he is not a systematic theologian, but a missionary using rhetoric (not always a logically consistent tool) to persuade believers of his points. But some might find this alleged inconsistency a mark that Hodge’s theory needs work.

For me Hodge’s theory is intriguing because it implies that Paul’s letters can be used to support inculturated Christianity. So just as Paul has Jewish Christianity and Gentile Christianity, today we might have Nigerian Christianity, Chinese Christianity, etc. The idea is that one does not erase their culture, but always brings it to bear on the religion one has converted to. This is of course a historical fact in all religions, but not one theologians have always accepted.

Book Review: Has Anti-Semitism Roots in Christianity?, Jules Isaac.

41nI8BT9kCL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_In 1947, Jules Isaac delivered his “Eighteen Points,” bullet points for the removal of anti-Judaism* from Christian doctrine. A French schoolteacher who had lost his wife and children in the Holocaust, Isaac would spend the rest of his life tracing the Christian tradition of anti-Judaism throughout history, a project that culminated in his magnum opus Jesus and Israel and his meeting with Pope John XXIII that influenced the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate so heavily.  This short book, a transcript of a lecture Isaac gave, is a short introduction to his ideas. Isaac traces Christian anti-Judaism back to the second and third centuries at least, to the “deplorable divorce” between the two religions. He argues that while the pagan Romans were anti-Jewish, Christian anti-Judaism was even worse, more systematic, and rooted more directly in religious teachings. So developed the ideas that Jews were degenerate, sensual, rejecters of Christ and committers of deicide. Isaac calls on Christians to repudiate these teachings, which he says are not part of the essence of Christianity.

These days it is pretty commonplace to admit the fact of anti-Jewish bigotry through history. Now scholars see it not just in patristic writings, but even in the New Testament itself. But much of that conversation was sparking by the Holocaust and its immense psychological impact on both victim and aggressor. This book was a good entryway into the work of Isaac, a real visionary, who I imagine must have been despised by many for his efforts to trace the Holocaust not simply to 19th-century racial ideologies, but theologies dating back to the first centuries of Christianity.

*Throughout his work Isaac uses the phrase “anti-Semitic,” as that was the lingo of his day. However, the more accurate term is anti-Jewish, to emphasize the religion rather than the race, and the fact that there many Semitic groups who are not Jewish.

Book Review: Jesus in the Talmud, Peter Schafer.

Schafer’s book, Jesus in the Talmud, examines what can only be a scintillating subject: how does Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph, appear in the Talmud? Schafer emphasizes that in the vast ocean of Talmud, passages referring to Jesus (implicitly or explicitly) are only a few minor drops. But those drops are important to analyze to bring together the fractured histories of Judaism and Christianity. While Talmudic references to Jesus are far too late to be of use in understanding the historical Jesus, he argues that these passages are counternarratives to the Christian stories about Jesus and Christian polemics against Jews.

In each chapter Schafer takes a Talmudic passage and unpacks it. Chapter one, “Jesus’ Family,” paints Mary as a prostitute who conceived Jesus by a Roman soldier named Pandera/Panthera. Chapter two analyzed Talmudic passages depicting Jesus as a failed rabbinic disciple who “public spoils his food dish,” a euphemism for sexual licentiousness. Schafer argues that this relates to the Talmudic narrative of Jesus’ bastard birth and Gentile blood, but also to the Gnostic language of Jesus loving Mary Magdalene. In chapter three, we see Jesus as rabbinic disciple of Yehoshua b. Perahya, but an utterly failed disciple who “practiced magic and deceived and led Israel astray.” This chapter actually explains the origins of Christianity: Jesus was peeved because his teacher was impatient with him!

Chapter four, “The Torah Teacher,” introduces a rabbinic follower of Jesus, R. Eliezer. Rabbi Eliezer becomes a stand-in for critiques of Christianity. Eliezer is also accused of sexual impropriety, and elsewhere in the Talmud is depicted as a weak debater who must summon God to ratify his points (this is a famous rabbinic story). According to Daniel Boyarin, Eliezer is a liminal figure who represents the borderline between Judaism and Christianity.

Chapter five deals with spells of healing in the name of Jesus. While the Talmud depicts this magic as effective, it is also dangerous and prohibited because Jesus is, well, not kosher. Just because Jesus has divine power does not mean God approves. The power is an open conduit, and immoral and moral men alike can use it.

The next chapter is very interesting. Talmudic sources on Jesus’ execution actually accept Jewish blame for the charge, in keeping with a long Christian tradition of deeming Jews Christ-killers. But here the Talmudic sources accept responsibility and defend the penalty, arguing that Jesus was an idolater and a blasphemer who was sentenced fairly according to the law. Wow.

The next two chapters describe Jesus’ disciples as dead failures, and paint a vivid portrait of Jesus’ afterlife eternally trapped in a bath of boiling excrement in hell. Yuck.

Schafer’s final chapter examines some of the broader themes of Jesus in the Talmud. For example, many of the accusations against Jesus have to do with sexual immorality, implying that he was the son of a prostitute and was himself licentious. Another theme is magic, which is connected to the accusation that Jesus was an idolator and blasphemer – we see this accusation against Jesus in the gospels too (e.g. Mt. 26:63-65). Schafer also discusses differences between the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds in their depiction of Jesus. Most of these slurs only appear in the Babylonian Talmud; he argues that this is because Jews under the Sassanians were not under a Christian empire, so they could speak more freely. Schafer also argues that the rabbis of the Bavli must have been familiar with the New Testament because there are explicit references to NT texts in these counternarratives, particularly to John.

I really liked Schafer’s book. The book itself is only 129 pages, and his writing is very clear and to-the-point. I would highly recommend this book.

Book Review: Envisioning the Book of Judith, Andrea Scheaffer.

This past spring, my art history professor, Kathleen Maxwell, gave a presentation to the classics department on her research into Byzantine illuminated manuscripts. She mentioned something offhand that stuck with me: when studying these manuscripts, the art historians tend to only look at the art and the biblical scholars tend only to look at the text, mainly for text-critical purposes. The sad result of our disciplinary boundaries is that we often don’t understand these manuscripts, which were created as a unification of art and text.

sheafferI’ve since seen what she meant as I have been researching the Saint John’s Bible, trying to find biblical scholars engaging with art as visual exegesis of scripture. So I was pleased to find Judith Scheaffer’s book, Envisioning the Book of Judith: How Art Illuminates Minor Characters, which combines literary readings of minor characters in the book of Judith with analysis of Renaissance art depicting Judith. Each painting’s treatment of these minor characters serves as a springboard for the close literary readings she performs of these books. So in various chapters, she analyzes Achor, Judith’s maidservant, the Israelite crowd, Bagoas, and Holofernes. She digs deep to find how each of these characters moves the plot along and contributes to the central message of the text. I am impressed with how well she integrated the two modes of analysis, particularly since this book was based on a dissertation. (Let’s be honest: dissertation-books are often clunky and not much fun to read!)

Scheaffer left me with a series of questions to think about as I read up on Saint John’s Bible material. These are taken from page 9:

  • How does the art enable us to ‘see’ something we may have ignored in the textual narrative
  • How does the art illuminate or add to an aspect of the biblical character or text as a whole
  • How does the art alert the viewer to something important that is glossed over in the text?
  • Have artists ‘read’ the text in a different way from scholars or other readers and so present a different visual interpretation?
  • Lastly, how does our encounter with the visual representation of a character influence the way we read the narrative?

Sheaffer also pointed me toward other scholarship combining art history and biblical scholarship. I may be biased since she earned her Ph.D. at my school and now works as Director of Admissions here (we emailed back and forth when I was applying!), but I found this book useful for opening new avenues of investigation. I’m adding it to my methodological toolkit.

Book Review: Understanding the Alphabet of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

This 39-page guide to the paleography of the Dead Sea Scrolls could not have been written by a more qualified guide.  Not only is Yardeni a scholar of ancient Semitic philology and paleography, but she has a degree in graphic arts and calligraphy, so she brings an artist’s eye to her work that most scholars of ancient texts don’t have such formal training in.

yardeniIn this lavishly illustrated book, Yardeni divides Hebrew paleography during the Second Temple period into four categories:

  1. Pre-Jewish (late 3rd century – 167 BCE)
  2. Hasmonean (167-37 BCE)
  3. Herodian (37 BCE – 70 CE)
  4. Post-Herodian (70 CE – 135 CE)

She provides detailed examples of each period, although the last period is, she admits, not well-attested.  At the end of the book she provides a “cheat sheet” of the specific writing styles of each period.  However, through these four period she sees three major developments:

  1. Development of medial/final forms familiar today (e.g. of mem, nun, and tsadi)
  2. Leveling of letter height, more even lines
  3. Development of serifs/flourishes in gimel, zayin, tet, nun, ayin, tasdi, and shin/sin

Overall I really enjoyed the pictures in this book, which made it clear how the script changed over time.  I do think she could have made the book longer and described certain things more.  For example, she could have devoted specific chapters to each of the four time periods, rather than breezed through each one in a few paragraphs.  Often I felt the ratio of illustration to text was off, so that images of manuscripts were not explained adequately.

Still, this is a fun little volume, and I would recommend it for a good 45 minutes of reading and future reference.

Reading Challenge #14: The Tale of Sinuhe and Other Ancient Egyptian Poems

Although I live about two blocks from the largest museum of Egyptian antiquities on the West Coast, I know little to nothing about ancient Egypt. I picked up this anthology of Middle Kingdom literature to remedy that defect. Parkinson, a scholar in the Department of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum, translates and provides commentary on these 13 short works of literature, with genres ranging from moral tales, dialogues exploring various moral and spiritual crises, and teachings of wisdom that remind me of biblical proverbs. Unlike many edited anthologies, his commentary was just as vivid and interesting as the texts themselves.

sinuheParkinson explains that the literature in this book comes from a time of cultural unease:

The Middle Kingdom was preceded by a period of less centralized power, when the country was divided, and its literature remained very aware of the dangers of civil unrest and the chaos of the interregnum. (5)

That being true, the literature in this book also attempts to uphold the cultural beliefs and structures of an early Egypt, such as the divinity of the king and the moral order of the cosmos.

Its literature is, in modern terms … didactic. The poems are generally unromantic in all senses of the word, but they are not impersonal or abstract; they have an intimate mode of address and deal with personal themes, being concerned with the human heart. Man’s ethical life is their central concern, and not the cultivation of subjectivity, or personal emotions such as romantic life. (9)

But there is always an edge. For example, “The Teaching of King Amenemhat” is a Hamlet-like text, in which an assassinated king visits his son in a vision and advises him not to trust his advisors as he did. While this text firmly holds to the divinity of the Egyptian king, it also alludes to the anomie of regicide. Another text, “The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant,” is narrated by a peasant who was robbed and left destitute by an official until the king himself rights the situation. Yes, justice is served in the end; but in the meantime, life is unfair, and the powerful abuse their privileges. These texts are emblematic of many others in this anthology that walk a fine line between skepticism and chaos on the one hand, and upholding the divinely sanctioned social order on the other.

I would recommend this anthology to someone unexposed to Egyptian literature. Parkinson includes a chronology and detailed bibliography for anyone wishing to go further. (Too bad most of the works in the bibliography are in German and French!) For me the fun was in seeing parallels with biblical literature, even particular idioms that sound familiar from the Hebrew Bible. Parkinson continually laments that we know so little about each text and so many of them are only partially extant, but the fact we have anything this old at all amazes me.

Tomorrow I have my first class of graduate school: day one of “Dead Sea Scrolls and Scriptures.”  So I will set aside this reading challenge for the time being.  For everyone else beginning school, let us pray for wisdom and discernment to not only acquire knowledge but know how to use it.

Onward and upward!