Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Studies in Matthew: Interpretation Past and Present

Dale C. Allison, Jr. is the author of a magnificent commentary on Matthew's Gospel (discussed below in a recent post, my top ten commentaries on Matthew), as well as important monographs such as The New Moses: A Matthean Typology (Fortress 1993) and a host of related books on articles (on historical Jesus and Q). This book does no harm to the title, bestowed by Scot McKnight on the inside flap, "North America's most complete New Testament scholar." Nor does it damage his reputation as one of the two premier Matthew scholars in the world (along with Ulrich Luz). I will be reviewing this book, which was published by Baker Academic last year, over the next few days or weeks.

In the present post, a few introductory comments are in order. The book is beautiful, and reasonably priced. There is only a short preface, and the first chapters help the reader enter the argument of the book. Indeed, most chapters stand alone quite well (and at least four of the thirteen chapters have former lives as articles or chapters). The book is divided into two sections of almost equal length. Part I, The Exegetical Past, provides concrete evidence of the value of paying attention to the history of interpretation. The first five of the six chapters investigate the history of interpretation of five challenging texts in Matthew. These studies establish in part that there is nothing new under the sun: we find that most contemporary opinions are foreshadowed or spawned by ancient interests, and in the first chapter Allison argues that an ancient interpretation actually provides the key to understanding the Magi of Matthew 2. These five chapters lead to a concluding study called "Reading Matthew through the Church Fathers."

Part II, Literary and Historical Studies, contains seven studies which use of combination of newer methods to address problems in Matthew's Gospel. Despite the commitment in the second section to "literary" studies, the narrative trend in Matthean studies is perhaps less well-represented than some scholars would like, although this should not bias narrative critics from interacting with Allison's material. I'm not yet finished with this section, so will withhold additional comments for the time being.

The book only possesses an index of names and a Scripture index, no bibliography. Moreover, the index is slanted toward texts whose authors have names; thus Q, Qur'an, various rabbinic texts, and the Didache all get the shaft--particularly lamentable given the author's interest in "Interpretation Past."

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