Friday, March 26, 2010

Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament (reviewed by Jeffrey Needle)


Title: Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament
Author: Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Eric D. Huntsman and Thomas A. Wayment
Publisher:  Deseret Blook
Genre:  Biblical Studies
Year Published: 2006
Number of Pages:  327
Binding:  Large Hardcover
ISBN10:  1-59038-442-3
ISBN13:  978-1-59038-422-8
Price:  $39.95

Reviewed by Jeffrey Needle for the Association for Mormon Letters

The world of Mormon biblical studies seems to be in something of a
state of transition these days.  And it can't come too soon, for my

For decades, New Testament study was dominated by Talmage's "Jesus the
Christ," to be supplemented by Bruce R. McConkie's Messiah series.
Together, they seemed to have sucked all the air out of the halls of
Mormon academia.  Yes, there was the occasional venture outside the
Talmage/McConkie continuum, but there were few really significant
breakthroughs in New Testament scholarship.

Our reviewers Lisa Olsen and Blair Hodges previosulysubmitted very
positive reviews of the companion volume, "Jehovah and the World of
the Old Testament."  These can be read on our site.  There was some
thought that it didn't go as far as some would have liked in fleshing
out the impact of critical studies on our understanding of the Old
Testament, but there was general agreement that it went beyond what
had generally been produced by Church presses.

As with the Old Testament volume, this very fine book tiptoes into the
territory of ideas not often discussed in LDS circles.  In previous
reviews, I have speculated that the Church may not have confidence in
the membership's ability to absorb new ideas that we in the literary
community celebrate.  It appears that this may be changing.  If so, I,
for one, will be very happy.  Enough of the plain vanilla,
reductionist studies.  Bring on the good stuff!

There is some good stuff here.  For example, they discuss Matthew's
genealogy of the Savior in his first chapter, wherein he selects which
forebears he mentions in order to arrive at 14 generations in each
period, and why Matthew chose to do this.  The authors flesh out
opinions on  the authorship of Hebrews, giving reasons for assigning
authorship to Paul as well as reasons for assigning authorship to
other writers.  Their discussion on the Sermon on the Mount, however,
lacks mention of the critical discussions surrounding its composition
and Matthew's possible role in collecting sayings and accumulating
them in one place for teaching purposes.

All of this simply illustrates that there are some innovative and
interesting diversions from accepted orthodoxy, as understood by most
members of the Church), while other areas that merit discussion are
left unexplored.,

But let's be very clear.  The authors themselves explain that this
book was not intended to be a comprehensive biblical commentary.  It
was not their purpose to dust off the tomes of biblical scholarship
and produce a graduate-level text.  I may be reading between the lines
here – there is no direct statement to support what I'm about to
write.  But, reading between the lines, one can almost sniff at the
happiness the authors are experiencing as they anticipate the
excitement that many readers will experience as they discover new
depth in the text, new life in the times of Jesus the Christ.  They're
not out to produce doctors of theology; they don't want to overwhelm
the reader with prose.  They do, however, want to breathe new life
into the Latter-day Saint's Scripture study.

If, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, then there is a
veritable flood of verbiage in this book.  So many illustrations, so
little time.  Some are eye candy, but most are informative and
educational.  There's nothing quite like seeing pictures of the Holy
Land, photos of coins and ruins, images of temples and artifacts, to
bring the New Testament alive to the reader.

There is so much in this book, including an interesting treatment of
the apostle Paul's views of salvation (he had several!), a discussion
about whether charges of anti-semitism leveled against the Apostle are
justified, and so much more!

Add to this a very good treatment of the first-century church, and you
get an idea of what this book is all about.

This isn't Sunday School stuff.  But neither is it the kind of thing
you'd find in the classroom of Princeton's Theological Seminary.
Somewhere in between, there can be found those wonderful kinds of
works you can find in any serious Christian book store.  Fully
accessible, compulsively readable, "Jesus Christ and the World of the
New Testament" brings the reader fully into that world.

Gosh, I can almost smell the lamb cooking on the hot stones.  The dust
is making my eyes tear; the press of the crowd is making me vaguely
uncomfortable.  But, amid all this, there appears something we all
have wanted – some clarity, some idea that we can internalize and make
our own.  The Scriptures are great, but they can be a little like a
Twinkie without the filling.  I want the whole sweet experience.

You really should take a look at this volume.  It may change the way
you've understood the Scriptures.  Maybe it's time for some fresh air
in the world of LDS biblical studies.

Jeffrey Needle
Association for Mormon Letters

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