Within the last year, three instructors at Emmanuel Christian Seminary have published books that deal with various topics, including a textual criticism of the New Testament, an examination on the portrayal of God in the Hebrew Bible, and a look at the roles ancient writings play when looking at the Old Testament.
The books written by Bob Hull, former dean and emeritus professor of New Testament at Emmanuel, Jason Bembry, professor of Old Testament, and Christopher Rollston, professor of Old Testament and Semitic studies, are some of the latest books to be published by professors at the school.
Hull’s book, “The Story of the New Testament Text: Movers, Materials, Motives, Methods, and Models,” is a history of New Testament textual criticism that traces the writings from inception to publication to copying, while documenting the changes that occurred as handwritten copies were made.
Hull began his research during a sabbatical in 2008 and the book was published in November.
Although Hull has spent much of his career working with New Testament texts, writing the book was a daunting task, as he set out to document the text’s history as a narrative, weaving together backgrounds of scholars throughout the years.
“I did that to try to identify some of the best models for how textual criticism was being done in 1750 as opposed to 1890 and do that sequentially and with enough human interest that it really did read like a story,” he said.
Creating the narrative throughline was the challenge, Hull said, in that he spent much of his time translating highly technical materials into terms that were engaging for seminary students and those interested in theology and church history.
“My task was basically to summarize the whole history of the discipline in ways that made it approachable to non-specialists,” he said. “I was hoping to hook some people who might want to become more expert in the work itself. You’re always trying to look for how you can bring the next generation of textual scholars along.”
With an interest in New Testament text dating back to his years as a student at Milligan College in the 1960s, Hull said the entire experience of writing and researching was very enjoyable.
“There is a certain value in writing a kind of narrative introduction to a subject that you spend your whole life working on. I found that to be a great advantage to wait till I was mature enough to kind of look back over the history of the whole field,” he said.
Bembry’s book, “Yahweh’s Coming of Age,” is a revised version of his Harvard University dissertation, which he began working on in 2002. The book was published in June after Bembry spent many years revising what he had previously written.
The book is an examination of the depiction of God as an old man in the Hebrew Bible, as seen through the lens of how old age is depicted and treated in the Old Testament. Bembry makes the case that God isn’t depicted as an old man until the book of Daniel, where he is referred to as the “Ancient of Days.” Before that, God was depicted as a youthful warrior, similar to the deities of surrounding cultures.
“I thought that was kind of a striking discovery, given that most people ... — certainly in our country and the western world — when they think of God, they think of an old man,” he said.
Part of his research deals with Ugarit, an ancient city that was destroyed about 1200 B.C., which shares similarities with ancient Israel.
“It’s an important piece of the puzzle, because it gives us a snapshot in time of what life was like at a city that’s roughly 80-90 miles north of the borders of Israel. The culture is rather similar. The language is close to Hebrew,” Bembry said.
The depiction of God as a youthful warrior mirrored the way the Ugaritic deity Baal was portrayed in ancient texts, Bembry said.
Another aspect of Bembry’s book deals with the transformation of God from a youthful warrior into the role of father within the culture of Israel.
“When you look at the oldest text in the Hebrew Bible, you don’t see God as being a portrayed as a father very much. That’s a pretty late development in the text. When that idea becomes more popular, they begin to think of him as part of the human life cycle. If he’s a father, then presumably he can theoretically be depicted as a man who has grown children,” he said.
“Writing and Literacy in the World of Ancient Israel: Epigraphic Evidence from the Iron Age,” written by Rollston, provides a broader picture of ancient Israel through the study of inscriptions from surrounding cultures, such as Moab, Ammon and Edom.
The book was published in October.
By looking at the epigraphic evidence that is available, Rollston said scholars can get a better understanding of the biblical text and the culture of Ancient Israel.
“Scholars have long known the best way to understand the Bible is to not just look at the Bible alone, but to also look at the languages and the literature of the people that lived in Mesopotamia Egypt and in Syria Palestine,” he said.
From a religious perspective, Rollston said it’s a necessity to look at ancient inscriptions from Israel and its surrounding areas in order to fully understand the Bible.
Rollston has spent much of his career studying ancient languages, and he is one of the leading scholars in the field of Northwest Semitic epigraphy and palaeography. He works in more than a dozen ancient and modern languages, including Phoenician, Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek, and has written a number of articles in various publications.
In many respects, the book is a culmination of Rollston’s many years of research and travels to Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Rollston said writing the book was fulfilling work.
“The writing of books and the writing of articles — these are fulfilling. I enjoy the things that I do and am very grateful that I’m able to do this as my vocation,” he said.
All three books are available at www.amazon.com.