If you do not have the complete Hermeneia series in Logos, this is the package with which to start. Logos sells newer Hermeneia volumes in three different upgrade bundles. I posted about the newest release here, but in this post I want to highlight the 2007-09 bundle, which includes the following:
- Mark, by Adela Yarbro Collins (2007)
- Matthew 1-7, by Ulrich Luz (2007)
- Acts, by Richard Pervo (2008)
In the introduction to her Mark commentary, Adela Yarbro Collins offers a wonderful, succinct description of "gospel" (εὐαγγέλιον) as it is used in the NT. According to both Paul and Mark, "the good news is that the divine plan, which had been foretold, is about to be put into effect" (16). But note this important distinction:
Mark departs from Paul, however, in expanding the referent of the term “gospel” to include more than the death and resurrection of Jesus. To the extent that Mark is a passion narrative with an extended introduction, his use of the term “gospel” may be seen to be similar to Paul’s. But once we recognize the profound difference between the primarily discursive language of Paul’s letters and the narrative character of Mark, we begin to appreciate the magnitude of Mark’s innovation. Mark has taken a term coined as a summary of oral preaching and used it to describe (the content of) an extended narrative. (17)
How should we understand the genre of Mark in light of other contemporary literature, and why is this relevant to the average reader?
When we read Mark, we rely, even if unconsciously, on some understanding of what kind of text it is and thus what its purpose is. The basic options with regard to the kind of text Mark is include “gospel,” “history,” and “life” or “biography.” The decision about the genre of Mark is not merely a matter of finding the right pigeonhole for the work or of academic debate in an ivory tower. Assumptions about the literary form of Mark affect the way this work is allowed to function in the lives of readers, in the life of the church, and in society. (17)
Collins surveys several options but argues that it is best understood as an "eschatological historical monograph" (18). She notes,
Whether one defines Mark as a historical biography or a historical monograph depends on one’s perception of where the emphasis in Mark lies: on the activity and fate of Jesus or on God’s plan for the fulfillment of history in which he played a decisive role. (33)
The entire introduction is masterfully written by an expert of experts. You can read more about Adela Yarbro Collins in this recent interview on The Marginalia Review of Books.
Mark 1:13, for example
One of my favorite passages in the Gospels is Mark's description of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness (Mark 1:12-13). It is Mark's unique use of θήριον ("wild beasts") that I find so interesting. I included this passage in the reading list for my 9th grade NT Greek class, and when we discussed it, two questions were on the table: Why would Mark choose to mention that Jesus was with the wild beasts? What sort of image does this bring to mind? I have thought about this story for years and looked through several commentaries on the subject, and I've fond Collins discussion the most insightful.
Collins notes that in Isaiah 13 a connection is made between wild animals (θηρία) and demons. Similar language pops up in a trinket from the Roman period used in the performance of an exorcism. In rabbinic literature the psalm itself is spoken of as a charm to ward off evil spirits. Collins also notes that evidence from Qumran suggests Psalm 91 was used in the performance of exorcisms during the Second Temple period. The most relevant portion of Psalm 91 is verses 11-13 (NRSV):
11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
Six fragmentary columns of a scroll containing psalms were discovered in Cave 11 near Qumran. Several apocryphal psalms clearly intended for use in exorcism are followed by a recension of the canonical Psalm 91. Column 2 mentions Solomon and may have contained a list of types of demons, such as “spirits of the angels of destruction,” “spirits of the bastards” (i.e., the spirits of the Giants, the dead offspring of the Watchers), “demons,” “Lilith,” “howlers,” and “yelpers.” The language of exorcism found here and in other parts of the scroll is reinforced by the mention of Solomon, who was renowned for his exorcistic expertise around the turn of the era. The inclusion of Psalm 91 in this collection (col. 5:3–14) suggests that this psalm was already used for exorcistic purposes in the Herodian period or even earlier. (152)
Perhaps Mark's inclusion of "wild beasts" is intended to add an additional layer of horror to the reader's understand of Jesus' trial in the wilderness. Collins concludes,
The text does not reveal exactly how and why Jesus was tested. His ability to withstand Satan and the wild beasts attests to his trust in God and to the favor bestowed by God on him. But the contest also implies that, although John has prepared the way for Jesus and made straight his paths (v. 3*), and even though God has designated him as the messiah (v. 11*), Jesus will encounter opposition in his mission. (153)
Adela Yarbro Collins on Mark goes in the must-read category for me. At this point, the only other commentary on Mark I would put in this category is R.T. France in the NIGTC series.
Ulrich Luz's commentary on Matthew 1-7 is marked by careful grammatical historical exegesis, like the rest of the Hermeneia series, but he goes far beyond the "original context" in a way that is unique. He gives consistent attention to the ways in which the text has been received through the centuries (Wirkungsgeschichte). I was first introduced to Luz work on Matthew by Jonathan Pennington, who mentioned Luz's Studies in Matthew on a class syllabus. On more than one occasion I have heard Dr. Pennington say something like, "I don't always agree with Luz—in fact, I often do not—but every time I turn to his commentary I come away with new insights and fresh thoughts."
Richard Pervo's 800 page Acts commentary works from a unique perspective summarized well in the author's preface:
Commentators cannot answer every question about their subjects, but those writing a Hermeneia commentary must seek to address most of them. Commentaries on ancient books must deal with the question of the best recoverable text. Biblical commentaries require attention to theology. Analyses of a narrative have to attend to the story and how it is presented. These matters I have attempted to address. This commentary is the first in recent times to be based on the hypotheses that Acts was written c. 110–120 ce and that the author made use of Pauline epistles and the writings of Josephus. In addition, it constantly examines Acts as a “popular” book that seeks to engage its readers’ interest while purveying its various messages. (xv)
In a previous post I highlighted how the Logos version of Hermeneia allows you to do three things very easily: link together biblical text and commentary so that they scroll together, add an English translation to scroll along with your commentary and original language text, and automatically lookup all footnotes and hyperlinks using Logos' "Power Lookup" tool.
I want to highlight two more features here:
- In the Logos version of Hermeneia, every scripture reference has two hyperlinks, one linking to the text in the original language, the other linking to an English translation.
- Logos' customizable guides allow you to quickly access the massive Hermeneia series along with all the other commentaries in your library.
In the picture above, the first arrow points out a hyperlinked verse reference with an asterisk. If you hover over the reference itself you will see the passage in the original language; hovering over the asterisk will show you the passage in the NRSV.
The second arrow points to Collins' Mark commentary in a guide I have created and titled "Reference." I created this guide to show me only grammars and commentaries. By typing "Mark 1:13" in the guide command line I have produced a hyperlinked list of all the Mark commentaries in my library. Clicking on a commentary title takes me directly to Mark 1:13 in that commentary.
You can produce a list of the commentaries in your library by using one of the default guides: click on the "Guides" tab, click "Passage Guide," type "Mark 1:13" in the command line, and hit "Enter" on your keyboard.
All three volumes are top-notch, the price is right, and the Logos format is far better than print. If you were to buy all three commentaries in print on Amazon, you would have to spend over $200. The Logos price is twenty-five percent cheaper than the discounted Amazon price, and if you qualify for an academic discount, you can do even better.
Logos provided me with a copy of these resources for review.