Sunday, October 19, 2008

Book Review of Joseph's Dilemma Part II

Marohl, Matthew J.
Joseph's Dilemma: "Honor Killing" in the Birth Narrative of Matthew
Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2009. Pp. 104
Paperback. $13.00 ISBN 1556358253.

Part I of my review can be viewed here.

In Chapter 3, Marohl explores ancient evidences of honor killing. The secrecy of the act makes both modern and ancient honor killings hard to document, but nevertheless, Marohl presses forward with some surprising results. Before the author explores the evidence, he makes three observations about "honor killings" in the ancient world: 1) The term "honor killing" will not be evidenced in the ancient world. That does not mean that "honor killing" did not occur, but simply put, the ancient Greek and Latin sources fail to use this terminology. 2) The practice of honor killings was a family matter, not a judicial one. 3) Honor killings were both public and private. Public in the sense that the offended family had to be seen defending their family honor by killing the offending female member (38).

Next, the author briefly discusses some modern biblical interpreters who "have identified the importance of female virginity and chastity in the first-century Mediterranean world" (39-41; e.g. Carolyn Osiek and Margaret Y. MacDonald, A Woman’s Place; et al. ). Finally, Marohl begins his canvassing of the ancient sources. This is one of the finest sections in the book as Marohl surveys the Apocrypha (Book of Susanna; e.g. 19-22;36-41; pp.42-43), the Pseudepigrapha (Jubilees; e.g. 20:4; 30:7-8; 43-44), the OT (Judges 19:22, 27-30; 44-46), the NT (John 8:1-11; 46-47), Greco-Roman Literature (e.g. Livy 1.58.1–5, 9–10, 10–12; 3.44.1; Suetonius, Augustus 65.1–3, 4; pp.47-51) and finally, ancient Jewish Literature (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 7.131.; Jewish War 1.486.; Philo On the Decalogue 121–31, 126;
On the Special Laws, 3.11, 31, 52–53, 58, 72–73; Hypothetica 7.1; On Joseph, 43–44; and the Mishnah: Sanhedrin 7.9; 9.1; pp.51-52). Marohl concludes the chapter by investigating how the OT prophets utilized the metaphors of adultery and honor killing to speak of Israel's waywardness (e.g. Hos 2:2-3; Ezekiel 16:35-43; pp.52-53), and how early Christian interpretations support the author's reading of Matt 1.19 (e.g. Protevangelium of James 13:1-14:8; Patrologiae Cursus Completus, 56:633; Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of St. Matthew 4.7; pp.53-60).

Chapter 4 describes Marohl's "macro-thesis," namely, the Matthean theme that "from expected death comes unexpected life." The author begins by rehearsing Herod's planned killing of Jesus (2:1-23), hot on the heels of the story of Jesus' birth. Marohl concludes:
Immediately after telling the story of the birth of Jesus, a story in which
Mary and her unborn child face expected death, the author of Matthew tells
another story of violence and murder. The story is dramatic and continues
to capture the imaginations of all who hear the account. It is easy to imagine
Herod’s men searching for and killing all male infants. The story makes
clear that this is a moment of expected death. However, just as an angel of
the Lord visited Joseph in the midst of his dilemma, again an angel of the
Lord visits Joseph in the midst of Herod’s violent plan. Just as Mary and her
unborn child were granted unexpected new life, Jesus is again spared and
new life prevails (66).
Marohl explores this theme further by Jesus' calming of the storm on the sea (8:23-27), explaining that the disciples believe they are about to die, but in this case, unlike the aforementioned two, Jesus is the one who offers unexpected life out of certain death. Next, the healing stories of Matthew 9 are explored with first the healing of the hemorrhaging woman and the man's recently deceased daughter (9:18-26). Marohl explains that his thesis can also be seen it what he terms instances of "social death" in Matthew's gospel (67). These include: Jesus' encounter and subsequent healing of a leprous man (8:1-4), along with Jesus' teaching in 10:34-39 that "when followers commit to him, rather than experiencing the expected (social/familial)
death, they will experience a surprising, unexpected new life in him
"(68). Also, Jesus' teaching via use of the parabolic method is also explored as the author points to the example of the "Parable of the Lost Sheep" (18:12-20), noting that "in this parable, there is great rejoicing when the expected loss, the expected death, of one sheep turns into the unexpected discovery, the unexpected new life, of the animal"(69). Marohl also sees this theme in Jesus' commissioning of the disciples in 10:5-15. They too, are expected to bring "unexpected new life to those expecting and experiencing death"(69). Finally, a discussion about Jesus' death and resurrection (Matt 26-28; 69-71) rounds the discussion out as the author astutely concludes:

The birth of Jesus and his death and resurrection make perfect “bookends”
for the theme of new life. It is expected that Jesus will be killed while
still in the womb. As Joseph agonizes over his dilemma, he is visited by an
angel of the Lord. From this situation of expected death comes unexpected
new life. The theme weaves throughout the ministry of Jesus. Both literally
and metaphorically, new life emerges from death in the deeds and words

of Jesus. Again at the end of the story, unexpected new life triumphs over
death, even death on a cross
Matthew J. Marohl is to be congratulated for contributing an insightful and provocative thesis. The author has shed considerable light on the horrofic, yet somewhat common practice of "honor killings" in the Mediterranean world. At the same time, Marohl has successful exposed this cultural phenomenon without coming off as a neocolonialist. North Atlantic NT scholars in general, and Matthean scholars specifically, will be forced to reckon with Marohl's work for the foreseeable future.
As much as I found myself in agreement with Marohl's overall thesis, one point still nags at me, one that I believe could have made this volume even stronger. Marohl adapts the reading of the NRSV at Matt 1:19 (Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.) It is this latter verb "dismiss" (ἀπολύω) that could have included an excurcus, since much of Marohl's thesis hinges on this word. As many a commentator notes, ἀπολύω probably means "divorce" in its Matthean context due to its subsequent use elswhere (5:31-32; 19:3-9). Moreover, Josephus (Jewish Antiquities 15.259; 16.265) seems to translate ἀπολύω in this way (although, it must be noted, he uses other words for "divorce"). Diodorus Siculus (12.18), and 1 Esdras 9.36 provide two other similar examples. It can be admitted that other glosses of ἀπολύω can include to set free, to let go, dismiss, release, and of course, divorce. Marohl, may have chosen to avoid this exegetical minefield due to possible space constraints, but nevertheless, this particular word study would prove vital for his thesis on Matt 1:19.
This is not take away from Marohl's outstanding achievement. In a very short space (roughly 90 pages or so), he has renewed discussion in a case once settled, namely, Joseph intended to divorce Mary quietly; or did he?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Book Review of Joseph's Dilemma Part I

Many thanks to James Stock from Wipf and Stock Publishers for an advanced copy!

Marohl, Matthew J.
Joseph's Dilemma: "Honor Killing" in the Birth Narrative of Matthew
Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2009. Pp. 104
Paperback. $13.00 ISBN 1556358253.

Matthew J. Marohl, Assistant Professor of Religion, Augustana College (PhD University of St. Andrews), has offered up a striking proposal concerning the Matthean birth narrative (1.18-25). It is with particular focus that Marohl zeroes in on what he deems "Joseph's Dilemma" (xii; i.e. 1.19) and hence, provides the title for this monograph. As stated above 1.19 provides the interpretive crux to Marohl's proposal and reads:
Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly (NRSV).
The questions for Marohl are twofold: 1) Does Joseph suspect Mary of adultery?; and 2) What are Joseph's options, if Mary is found guilty? (xii) As Marohl notes, the majority of interpreters agree that Joseph has one option, that of divorce, so Joseph's dilemma then becomes whether the divorce will be public or private. This for Marohl, does not do Joseph's dilemma justice. Instead the author argues that "In this book, I will argue that early Christ-followers understood Joseph’s dilemma to involve an assumption of adultery and the subsequent possibility of killing Mary. Worded differently, Joseph’s dilemma involves the possibility of an honor killing. If Joseph reveals that Mary is pregnant she might be killed. If Joseph conceals Mary’s pregnancy, he will be opposing the law of the Lord. What is a “righteous” man to do?" (xii). Marohl anticipates that some will reject this thesis outright, deeming it heretical. Undaunted, the author varnishes the next part of his thesis, namely, "that this reading actually introduces an important Matthean theme—from expected death comes unexpected new life"(italics original; xii-xiii).

Joseph's Dilemma is structured around four chapters. In the first chapter (1-20), Marohl discusses the reality of modern honor killings. This well-organized chapter begins by noting that honor killings is a "difficult" topic to discuss due to the inherit nature of the act, the danger and tendency to develop an attitude of cultural superiority (neocolonialism), and the kinds of evidences that are presented (namely, ethnographies, magazines, and newspapers) instead of scholarly resources (namely, government statistics, legal rulings, and scholarly journal articles; 1-2). Next, Marohl gives a helpful, succinct summary of the honor/shame culture of the ancient world (2-4), noting that two factors in honor/shame discussions shed light on "honor killings": 1) The challenge/riposte exchange for acquired honor, and 2) The emphasis Mediterranean families place upon collective or family honor. Following this section, Marohl defines what "honor killings" are: "Honor killing is the practice of killing girls and women who are thought to have endangered a family’s honor by allegedly engaging in sexual activity before (or outside of) marriage" (5). This definition merely scratches the surface however, as "Honor killings are also executed in instances of rape, child sexual abuse, and even perceived flirting. Moreover, mere allegations of improper behavior on the part of a girl or woman are often enough to defile a family’s honor and 'warrant' an honor killing" (5). Marohl spends some time discussing where these killings are reported (e.g. Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel [among Arab Israelis], Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Yemen, and the UK [among Middle Eastern refugees and immigrants]; 6) and the difficulty of estimating the amount of honor killings that take place due to the fact that honor killings are often considered a "private family affair" (6; The United Nations estimates 5,000 women are killed each year in the name of family honor; n26). Skipping ahead a bit, one of Marohl's most insightful observations in this chapter is that honor killings cannot be blamed on religion or ethnic background as Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jews, and Muslims all practice this heinous act. Rather honor killings are practiced due to "the centuries old patriarchal concern for power over women and their reproductive rights"(17).

Chapter 2 is entitled "Joseph's Dilemma" (21-37). Marohl begins by discussing the three most common interpretations regarding Joseph's reaction to Mary's pregnancy: 1) Joseph suspects Mary of adultery; 2) Joseph suspends all judgment; 3) Joseph is aware of Mary's conception via the Holy Spirit and his filled with awe and afraid to take Mary as his wife (23). There are obvious flaws regarding the second two proposals, specifically the third option as Joseph is not made aware of Mary's miraculous conception until vv. 20-21. For Marohl's thesis to be correct, the first proposal is the only viable option. Most scholars suggest that Joseph's only option was divorce and appeals to Deut 22.13-21 are anachronistic. Regarding the last point, scholars usually make the point (e.g. R.T. France) that this punishment is anachronistic without offering any documentation, although Luz and Gundry attempt to do so with the studies of Hermann Leberecht Strack and Paul Billerbeck (Strack and Billerbeck, Das Evangelium Nach Matthäus Erläutert aus Talmud und Midrasch. Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und
Midrasch. Munich: Oskar Beck, 1922; 1.50–53). Marohl notes:

Unfortunately, Strack and Billerbeck do not claim that stoning was no longer
practiced in the first century. In fact, the opposite claim is made. In their
commentary on Matt 1:19 in light of the Mishnah and Talmud, Strack and Billerbeck explain that it was not permitted to kill a minor if she committed adultery. However, they further note, that a girl who has committed adultery and is at least 12 years, 6 months, and 1 day old, may be killed by either stoning or strangulation. In other words, the evidence that Luz does provide in no way claims that stoning was no longer practiced in the first century (28).
Joseph’s dilemma is often portrayed by scholars as involving the choice between divorcing Mary and bringing her before a court of law to be tried and sentenced. While the proscribed stoning of Deut 22:23–24 is inferred by the latter option, it is usually not made explicit by interpreters, who instead insist that Joseph will divorce Mary. These interpretations often reinforce the idea that the honor of Mary is at stake (emphasis mine). Yet others (e.g. Warren Carter and Daniel Harrington) do not dismiss the possibility of stoning (Deut 22:23-27), but in the end come out in favor of Mary's honor being defended by Joseph's action of divorce. The remainder of the chapter looks at the work's on the "infancy narratives"(30-34) including those of Raymond Brown (Birth of the Messiah), Jean Daniélou (The Infancy Narratives), R. T. France, (“Scripture, Tradition, and History in the Infancy Narratives of Matthew"), and René Laurentin, (The Truth of Christmas ), while social scientific interpreters Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh (34-37; Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels) work is critiqued in that they helpfully sketch the honor/shame dynamics of Matt 1:19, while never considering the possibilty of "honor killing" as a real option, again coming out on the side of Mary's honor. This talk of Mary's honor being at stake misreads the dynamics of Meditteranean families as Marohl concludes the chapter with this note:

In the situation of adultery, it is the honor of the threatened family that is in jeopardy, not that of the offending girl. In cases both ancient and modern, it is the family honor that must be defended, even to the point of death (37).

Over the next couple of days, I hope to post on part II of this review. Chapter 3 will discuss the ancient evidence of honor killings, while chapter 4 will focus on the second part of Marohl's thesis, namely, how Joseph's option of performing an "honor killing" fits the Matthean motif of "from expected death comes unexpected life."

Stay tuned and feel free to share your thoughts.

Friday, October 17, 2008

ESV Study Bible: First Impressions

Many thanks go to Michele Bennett of Crossway Publishing for sending me a copy of the ESV Study Bible.

As I have mentioned in a previous post concerning the NLT Study Bible, I have made quite the habit of collecting study Bible's. Much like the NLT, and to perhaps an even greater degree, the ESV Study Bible has received much hype and fanfare.
I won't enumerate the various features, except for some observations I have made along the way --if one wants to see all that the ESV Study Bible has to offer, this is the place to click.
The first thing I do when I crack open any study Bible is check for the list of contributors. The ESV much like the NLT, has a very fine list indeed. Old Testament scholars include T. Desmond Alexander, Gordon J. Wenham, J. Gordon McConville, John Oswalt, David Baker, and Duane Garrett among others; while on the NT side scholars such as Andreas Kӧstenberger, Clint Arnold, Simon Gathercole, Frank Thielman, Tom Schreiner, and Scott Hafemann are among the many notables.
The second thing I noticed is the plethora of articles accompanying this study Bible. For the OT, eight articles are included, ranging from an article on OT theology, to how the Hebrew calendar compares with the Gregorian calendar. Six articles are dedicated to background issues for the NT, canvassing the Second Temple period, while five articles cover the NT itself, including an article on NT theology, and an article on the date of Jesus' crucifixion. Moreover, there are 160+pages of articles in the back including articles on Biblical doctrine, ethics, intepreting the Bible, original languages of the Bible, the LXX, and so on. I would say on this score as well as the full-color illustrations that the ESV Study Bible contains, place this ahead of the NLT Study Bible.
Before I toot the horn of the ESV Study Bible too loudly however, I do prefer the NLT as a translation a bit more. I am not advocating one translation philosophy over another per se, but am just stating a personal preference. I do think the NLT is a very underrated translation. The second feature I enjoy about the NLT Study Bible is the Hebrew/Greek word concordance located in the back. This again is not to disparage the ESV, because they do discuss Hebrew and Greek terms in the study notes, but this is merely a stylistic preference on my part. Both the NLT and ESV have included elecronic editions that the user can add their own notes to, so this is a big boost for those who really want to dive in to these respective study Bible's.
In sum, the ESV Study Bible as well as the NLT Study Bible should not present the prospective purchaser with an either/or. This is definitely a "both!" The contributors are to be commended for producing the best two study Bibles on the market. Depending on what mood I'm in, #1 and #2 will continually flip flop---Yes, they are both that good!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

David deSilva to give ATS Fall Lecture

Every fall at my alma mater, Ashland Theological Seminary, the Fall Lecture Series takes place. The New Testament department gets its turn every third year or so, and this year marks their turn.

What makes this year unique is that Ashland has asked one of its own, David deSilva, Trustees' Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Greek at ATS. David will be lecturing three sessions, with the overall title "The Heart of the New Testament Message: Towards a Biblical Theology." These sessions will take place Monday, Oct. 20th and Tuesday, Oct 21st, culminating with a luncheon.

Sadly, I will not be able to attend. David is a mentor and a friend, helping me at so many different levels during my time at Ashland. He is just as good of a man as he is a scholar, and that is saying quite a bit since I consider him one of the premier NT scholars going today, and the biggest reason I attended Ashland in the first place.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Quote of the Day

In many ways, what makes 1 Peter difficult to read as Christian Scripture is this initial attempt on the part of Peter to identify his audience. First Peter is addressed to folks who do not belong, who eke out their lives on the periphery of acceptable society, whose deepest loyalties and inclinations do not line up very well with what matters most in the world in which they live. This is not the sort of life that most people find attractive. In terms of our ability to genuinely understand 1 Peter, all of the linguistic skills we might develop, all of the material on historical background we might accumulate-none of this will make up for the basic reality that, as a whole, we resist the possibility that this letter is addressed to us, that we might be cast as "nobodies in the world." The problem is theological. What separates us from 1 Peter is not "the strange world of the Bible" as much as its unhandy, inconvenient claims on our lives...1 Peter invites a reading among those who are ready to embrace the identity and status of exiles in dispersion. (Joel B. Green, 1 Peter, The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary, [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007] 18.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Baker Academic has now posted a 47 page excerpt of Robert H. Stein's Mark commentary and a 59 page excerpt of Gene L. Green's Jude and 2 Peter commentary. BECNT continues to put out excellent commentaries and are probably my favorite series overall.