Gary Burge’s Jesus and the Jewish Festivals, reviewed

Jesus and the Jewish Festivals

In college I thought my friend Chad was really cool (he was) for climbing on top of college buildings late at night and shouting the Shema at the top of his lungs… until he was corralled by Public Safety.

Sh’ma Yisrael: Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad!

I learned my first Hebrew in Gary Burge’s Christian Thought class my senior year in college. He had us reciting the Shema (Deut. 6:4-5) in no time. We’d stand and say it out loud at the beginning of class: Sh’ma Yisrael: Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad! (Hear, Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one!)

I was never quite as bold as Chad with my recitation of the Shema, but it’s stayed with me these past 11 years since taking Dr. Burge’s class.

Burge’s writing in Jesus and the Jewish Festivals is just as good as his teaching in the classroom. Burge, a Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College and Graduate School, focuses especially on the Gospel of John as he looks at Jesus and the Sabbath (ch. 2), the Passover (ch. 3), Tabernacles (ch. 4), Hannukah (ch. 5) and Jesus’ last Passover (ch. 6). Chapter 1 explores “the festivals of Judaism” more generally, while the final chapter (7) looks at what early Christians did with these Jewish festivals.

As Burge puts it, Judaism had three “great pilgrimage festivals”:

Burge_Pilgrimage Feasts

These three festivals

were based not only on the agricultural rhythms of the year, but also they served to tell the story of Israel’s salvation. Israel was rescued from Egypt (Passover, Pesach), Israel met God at Mount Sinai (Pentecost, Shavuot), and then Israel wandered in the wilderness (Tabernacles, Sukkoth). (122)

The chapters cover the original Jewish context of the festivals, Jesus’ relation to each, and then what faith looks like through the lens of that festival–both for Jews then and (especially) for Christians now.

As with other books in the Ancient Context, Ancient Faith series, Jesus and the Jewish Festivals is printed on glossy paper and full of high-quality, color illustrations. It’s like a guide book in that regard. I don’t know whether it was Burge or an editor or both, but the photographs and charts throughout the book are expertly placed and reinforce the text at just about every turn. For example, this image appears in conjunction with Burge’s description of the Passover:


As Burge recounts John 6 and the feeding of the 5,000, he notes that “Passover themes were swirling around almost every aspect of the story” (60). Further, Jesus “is the manna from God’s treasury for which Israel has been waiting. He had been sent by God as manna descended in the wilderness” (63). Then, there is always application to people of faith today: “Therefore celebrating Passover is not only knowing about what happened yesterday–though this is important–it is also about knowing the God who desires to feed us now” (65). I have always appreciated this way of approaching biblical studies with a doxological posture.

Another thing I appreciated about Jesus and the Jewish Festivals is the ease with which Burge uncovers layers of meaning in the Gospels, showing how Jesus related to the major themes of Jewish festivals. I found my own gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice, for example, greatly enhanced by the author’s description of Jesus’ last Passover. As Burge puts it: “If we understand these festivals and their symbolism, then suddenly we understand the more profound things about Jesus and his work” (31, italics original). The color illustrations make Burge’s explanations even more vivid.

My critiques of the book are few and minor. At times there is what seems to be just a wee bit of speculation on the part of the author as he explores symbolism in John. For example, he says, “But I am convinced that Jesus wanted to die during the Festival of Passover because of the profound meaning it would convey with regard to his sacrifice” (102). Burge doesn’t further elaborate, and this seems a difficult (though not impossible) claim to support.

Jesus and the Jewish Festivals would be aided by a Scripture and subject index at the back of the book. I also found myself wanting more explanation of the Jewish calendar. Page 26 has a nice figure that shows all the months of the calendar of Judaism (together with various festivals noted), but a little more about its construction would have even further undergirded Burge’s tour of the festivals.

I really enjoyed reading Jesus and the Jewish Festivals. Not only did I find my knowledge and understanding of the Jewish festivals refreshed and expanded; I also grew in my appreciation of Jesus and his work due to the connections Burge made. This seems to have been an intention of this book, and in this regard, it is quite successful. Anyone who wants to better grasp Jesus’ words and work in the Gospels, whether pastor or parishioner, scholar or student, would do well to work her or his way through Burge’s short volume.

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy. Jesus and the Jewish Festivals is on Amazon here. Its product page is at Zondervan’s site here.

Review of Basics of Biblical Hebrew: Video Lectures

Miles Van Pelt keeps turning out the hits. Through Zondervan he has published resources that fill a gap in original language learning in biblical studies. I’ve reviewed (with approval) his Biblical Hebrew: A Compact Guide, his Basics of Biblical Aramaic, and have been grateful in my Göttingen Septuagint primer to link to a short two-page abbreviations sheet he produced for that critical edition of the Septuagint.

This fall Zondervan released Basics of Biblical Hebrew: Video Lectures.

The DVDs work “chapter by chapter, section by section” through Pratico and Van Pelt’s Basics of Biblical Hebrew grammar textbook. The videos are “the basic content in lecture form for the grammar.” Here’s how Van Pelt recommends using the DVDs:

  1. Read the chapter of Basics for Biblical Hebrew “for simple content overview.”
  2. Watch the lectures.
  3. Go back to the printed chapter and memorize the relevant information (vocabulary, paradigms, charts, grammar).
  4. Complete the workbook exercises.
  5. Check your answers.

Each DVD chapter corresponds to a chapter in the textbook. The DVDs come with a pdf file that includes summary charts. Throughout the lectures Van Pelt refers to these charts and the screen moves to them as he is speaking.

There is nothing particularly novel or revolutionary in the videos that is not already covered to some degree in the textbook. But especially for a student who is making her or his way through the book alone, the video lectures serve to reinforce the material in a new medium. Even a student taking a course with a live lecturer could benefit from watching these alongside the class.

Van Pelt is a solid lecturer. If not overly exciting, he communicates concepts clearly. For just about anyone making their way through the grammar, it will be easy to follow these lectures.

He offers good study tips in the introduction, and continues to encourage learners throughout the 36 lectures. My favorite tip: “Begin reading your Hebrew Bible as soon as possible,” and, “Take that Bible with you everywhere.” I remember that often in my first year of Hebrew (I used the Van Pelt and Pratico text), I wanted to just be able to read the Hebrew Bible. There are examples throughout the grammar from the Bible, but learning charts and paradigms first can be tedious. This is perhaps a necessary tedium.

Or is it? Some people disagree that paradigm memorization outside the context of a text or conversation is ideal pedagogy for language learning. (Look at how babies acquire language, after all, the argument goes–by hearing, talking, etc., not by memorizing grammatical rules.) Even dead or ancient languages should be taught as “living languages,” proponents say. So some Hebrew textbooks encourage instead a text-based inductive approach.

Van Pelt at one point in the lectures says, “Languages are meant to be accessed and decoded in your mind,” though “decoding” is something a language learner ought to try to move away from as quickly as possible, as she or he seeks fluency. And an early strong verb paradigm has Van Pelt saying, “You must memorize this paradigm, like a ROBOT!”

Hebrew and other languages have been taught this way for a long time, and some language learners may not mind it. I, for example, find paradigm memorization tedious, but not overly difficult. If I have an end goal firmly in mind–reading the Hebrew Bible–I have motivation to repeatedly go over verb conjugations.

But I don’t think this approach will work for everyone, and the potential viewer of these videos should understand that Van Pelt takes a paradigm-memorizing approach to learning Hebrew, with not much inductive learning or interaction with the biblical text. (I think of my high school Spanish teacher, who would not answer classroom questions asked in English, but would simply say, “¡En Español, por favor!”)

Van Pelt and Pratico’s materials use verbal diagnostics. Paradigm charts show in red what the unique prefixes and suffixes and vowels are for each verbal stem, so that it is not just rote memorization of multiple verbs. The diagnostics are a time-saving feature in this sense. As here:


For those interested in verbal theory, Van Pelt uses perfect (“completed action”) and imperfect (“incomplete action”) nomenclature to describe verbs.

The lectures are well-produced and alternate between views of charts like the one above, real-time writing (like a dry-erase board), and Van Pelt speaking. The clarity of the lectures is a strong point, as they reinforce the material in the textbook well.

If a student is already assigned the Pratico and Van Pelt text, he or she should seriously consider using the lectures as an additional study aid, if one is needed. If a student or professor has a choice as to which text to use for learning Hebrew, though, it is worth considering (either in addition or instead) other “living language”/inductive approaches. Randall Buth’s Living Biblical Hebrew or John H. Dobson’s Learn Biblical Hebrew are two possible texts.

Chapter 1 of the lectures is here, if you want to get a flavor of the lectures (it’s just over an hour):

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy. You can find the Basics of Biblical Hebrew Video Lectures here at Amazon. The Zondervan product page is here.

Review of Zondervan’s Theologian Trading Cards

They’re a real thing, and they’re the best conversation starter I’ve brought into my office in a long time.

Creator Norman Jeune III came up with the idea of Theologian Trading Cards in seminary. It’s a good one. I remember, as a kid, memorizing and quoting statistics and quizzing friends with the back of baseball cards. I could tell you how many home runs and runs batted in Andrew Dawson of the Chicago Cubs had had for the last five years. It’s a good size for a learning tool.

The product description from Zondervan reads:

Patterned after the all-American baseball card, Theologian Trading Cards provide essential information about the major teachers, leaders, and trouble-makers throughout the history of the Church. At a glance you will have access to information regarding 288 important figures in church history, including when and where they lived, their contribution to the church, and enduring significance.

Jeune has organized the cards into 15 teams, each grouped by chronological or historical or theological commonality. The “Orthodoxy Dodgers” (great name) are the church’s heretics. Marcion (85-160), for example, “created his own canon [of Scripture], exlcuding the Old Testament and introducing numerous edits, compilations, and omissions to the New Testament.” The “St. James Padres” team consists of early church fathers: Ambrose, Augustine, Cyril, Justin, and so on.

The cards aren’t really “trading cards,” since there’s no trading to be done–you can only buy it as a complete set. But they’re just as fun as the baseball cards I collected as a kid… well, if you think theology is fun. (Which, of course, it is!) Jeune introduces a creative medium in a field that can be challenging for students. There are a lot of facts, figures, and beliefs to keep straight in a basic church history course.

Image from
Image from

The front of the card consists of a photo (except where none is available; see below), the name of the figure, and his or her team. The back of each card has dates and two sections: biographical and significance. Of course it would be impossible to cover everything (even all the significant things) in each figure’s life on just the back of a card. But Jeune does a good job of hitting the main points.

And the cards are fun. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything on my office coffee table picked up as much as these cards. Folks want to leaf through and see who’s there, what is written about them, etc. I’d imagine that they aid exam preparation, too. The handy size makes them easy to stuff in backpack, or put a small stack in a purse for on-the-go quizzing.

Of course a set like this is prone to criticism–which figures Jeune includes, which ones he doesn’t, how much detail he includes, what detail he leaves out. There is somewhat decent representation of more than just white males–users of this set will find cards for Amy Carmichael, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Teresa of Avila… though still one wants for more. There is James Cone, but no MLK? Julian of Norwich, but no Perpetua? This must be impossible to get right in a set like this, but those omissions are noticeable. I’m holding out for a “booster pack” to add to the set.

Another quibble I have is that while each of the 15 teams has a checklist, there is no comprehensive checklist for the set. Even if spread out over a few cards, it would be useful to be able to quickly see all the persons that Jeune includes in the set. (Perhaps he will upload a list online in the future? If so, I’ll post here.)

Facebook silhouetteA distraction in the set is the number of cards that have a blank silhouette with a question mark on it. For these the publisher was not able to procure an image. There is a good reason for this, and it’s worth reading Jeune’s explanation here. All the same, an original sketch, however basic, would have been preferred. (Remember those Facebook friends who joined but didn’t add a profile pic for months? It looks like that, only with the super-imposed question mark.)

The idea of Theologian Trading Cards is a great one, though. The cards aim to be “a fun way to learn church history and theology.” They are that, but I hope future editions or additional sets/booster packs will be more thorough in covering all the areas and players in church history and theology. Until then, this is still a set worth having. Jeune’s layout makes it easy to fill in the gaps in one’s knowledge of church history and theologians.

Thanks to Zondervan for the opportunity to review the cards gratis. Find the cards here at Amazon or at their Zondervan product page. See here for a few sample cards.

Free book giveaway: Devotions on the Greek New Testament

Devotions GNTYesterday I reviewed Zondervan’s new resource, Devotions on the Greek New Testament.

I have an extra copy to give away (not my review copy). I recommend this volume, for either you or the Greek language-lover in your life.

To enter the giveaway, simply comment on this blog post and say why it is you would want to win a copy. I will accept entries through next Monday afternoon, December 17, with 3pm EST being the cutoff.

Then if you link to this post on your Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc., come back here to tell me in the comments section that you did, and you’ll receive a second entry. I will announce the winner just before 5pm EST Monday.

If you want to check out the book before you decide to enter, my review of it is here.

Devotions on the Greek New Testament, reviewed

Devotions GNT

I used to think it was just a scare tactic when professors of biblical languages said, “Use your Greek! Don’t let your Hebrew get rusty, or it will be gone forever!”

They were, of course, right. For various reasons I had to have a bit of lag time between Hebrew I and Hebrew II, and quite a bit fell by the wayside then. I find myself highly motivated now to keep reading Greek and Hebrew, several years in to each language.

The key question is–when? How do I find time to do that? I’m a husband, father of three kids age five and under, work full-time, take classes, and try to have some semblance of a social life.

So I try to work smarter, not harder. I take my Hebrew and Greek Bible to church with me and follow along in it–and let me here publicly apologize to my wife for asking her to carry it in her purse for me. (Bible software in church still seems a bit tacky to me.) And I try to do my personal Bible reading/devotions in another language whenever possible. For example, I’m having a blast with Greek Isaiah in a Year.

For people like me who want to keep and improve their languages, I think that sort of integration is vital. Learning Greek and Hebrew can’t be just rote study time with piles of vocabulary cards and pages of sentence diagrams. Especially for those who want to improve them, languages need to become, I think, part of life, and part of one’s regular reading and worshiping patterns.

Enter Zondervan’s Devotions on the Greek New Testament. The book fills a gap for ongoing language study that not many other resources meet, at least not in this way. It contains “52 reflections to inspire and instruct,” offered by scholars like Scot McKnight, Lynn H. Cohick, Roy E. Ciampa, Linda Belleville, Constantine R. Campbell, and more.

Readers of this blog will not be shocked that I agree with the doxological focus this volume has:

The need to know why you are studying Greek, particularly in relation to the ultimate purpose of strengthening your walk with the Lord, never fades into the background.

Each devotion is a couple of pages long, beginning with a block of untranslated Greek text and followed by English commentary on the text. The 52 reflections could be spread out over the course of a year for one a week. (Those who want to do regular Greek devotions, however, might go through the book more quickly.)

There are 28 male authors and 3 female authors, which as out-of-balance as that may sound, is actually more diverse (sadly) than many resources like this. The variety of authors, perspectives, and approaches makes Devotions on the GNT rich. The reflections are listed in canonical order, with every NT book represented except for 2 and 3 John.

The book succeeds in its effort to “instruct.” Some devotions focus on single words or phrases from the Greek text (Ciampa has a great clarifying devotion on Joseph’s righteousness in Matthew 1:19, teasing out δίκαιος ὢν in the text). Dean Deppe unpacks participles and main verbs (or shall we say, parses participles and primary predicates?) in Mark 5:25-27 to unearth more of what Mark and Jesus are up to. J.R. Dodson offers a fantastic literary analysis and sentence flow (which is presented well on the page) to ask how well the reader is doing embracing the freedom the Gospel brings.

Devotions on the GNT does “inspire,” too, and I’m encouraged that this resource exists for students of the Greek Bible like myself. However, at times I found the application sections to be a bit shorter than I’d have hoped (sometimes just a sentence or two). The reader may be perfectly capable of making the application herself or himself, but more could have been offered here.

The only other similar resource of which I’m aware is More Light on the Path (Baker, 1999). That devotional has both Hebrew and Greek, with uncommon vocabulary and parsings footnoted. But Devotions on the GNT goes more in-depth with the passage it treats, making it suitable as a true “devotional.”

After reading a given reflection, I do generally feel instructed and inspired: I feel that I’ve worked at my Greek for the day and have something to take with me. And it takes less than five minutes to work carefully through a reflection.

You can find Devotions on the Greek New Testament at Amazon or at Zondervan. In both places you can look inside the book.

I hope Zondervan publishes a corresponding Hebrew volume, and it would be a dream to see a Septuagint Greek devotional, too! Devotions on the Greek New Testament constitutes yet another step forward for language-learning students.

And keep an eye on this here blog. Within the next couple days, I’ll have a giveaway contest with an additional copy I’ve received of this book. (Update: go here for the giveaway.)

(I am thankful to Zondervan for the free review copy of this book, which was sent to me with the understanding that I would then write an unbiased review.)

My 5-year-old son reviews The Friendly Beasts

The Friendly Beasts

This book tells the story of the friendly beasts. The friendly beasts are a cow, donkey, dove, and lamb. I don’t see another animal. But there’s baby Jesus! And there’s a camel in there. The camel brought him a gift. The donkey carried Jesus’ mama.

Jesus was a baby. (I knew that before I even had this book.) He was born in a manger.

I liked the CD [AKJ: that comes with the book–four tracks, including “The Friendly Beasts” by Rebecca St. James], because it was about Jesus. I liked the book because of the animals.

This book is good for 8-year-olds and 6-year-olds and 1-year-olds and 5-year-olds. This book would make people feel good.

Thanks to Zondervan/Zonderkidz for the review copy for my 5-year-old son to review with his honest impressions. Click on the image above to find out more about the book.

Zondervan giveaway of Theologian Trading Cards

That’s right, Theologian Trading Cards.

Click on the image to see the product page on Amazon.

Zondervan is giving away a set, for which you can enter today and tomorrow. Go here for details.

I’ve received a set to review, and expect to post that review in the not-so-distant future. They’ve already been a great conversation piece (and geeking out piece) in my office.

SBL/AAR Edition: All my Zondervan reviews

For those of you who are heading to Chicago for the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion, you’ll have a series of serious decisions to make in the coming days: what books to buy and bring home.

In an attempt to be helpful (and as a small effort at a sort of vicarious participation in an event I’d love to make some year), this week I’ll be putting up my reviews, compiled by publisher, so that as you work your way through the exhibit halls, you can get some more information about potential purchases.

Here’s what I’ve reviewed for Zondervan, with links to the reviews:

More posts like this to follow this week… to those of you at ETS or SBL/AAR… happy browsing!

Christian Apologetics winner

We have a winner in the giveaway contest at Words on the Word for Zondervan’s primary source compendium, Christian Apologetics: An Anthology of Primary Sources, edited by Khaldoun A. Sweis and Chad V. Meister.

I have weathered the storm, several flickers of the power on and off, and have selected the winner at random. (Actually, a random number generator is to thank/blame.)

And the winner is… Matthew Hamrick! Congratulations, Matthew, and enjoy the book. Thank you to everyone who participated and spread the word.

I reviewed the book here if you’d like to learn more.

Almost every Monday at Words on the Word (and other days, too) I review new books in the field of biblical studies, original languages, and theology. I also review Bible software. Check or bookmark this link to see all my reviews.