Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading & Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism & Early Christianity

By Martin Jan Mulder, ed.
Peabody, Mass. : Hendrickson (2004). xxvi + 929 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
16.2 (Fall 2005) : 346-347

Mikra (a Hebrew term referring to “Scripture”) is a republication of Volume One in Section Two of Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum (Assen, The Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1988). The Compendia’s purpose is to present a comprehensive study of the world of ancient Judaism and early Christianity. The editor of Mikra, Martin Jan Mulder, died in 1994. The volume’s twenty chapters cover topics like paleography, scribes, the canon of the Hebrew Bible, transmission and translation, reading in the ancient synagogue, as well as the use and interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. Major textual contributions include Mulder’s discussion of the Masora (87-135), Emanuel Tov’s chapter on the Septuagint (161-88), Abraham Tal’s chapter on the Samaritan Targum of the Pentateuch (189-216), Philip S. Alexander’s treatment of Jewish Aramaic translations (217-53), Peter B. Dirksen’s presentation regarding the Syriac Peshitta (255-97), and Benjamin Kedar’s study of the Latin translations (299-338).

Analyses of the various systems of biblical interpretation and exegesis include Michael Fishbane on Qumran (339-77), Devorah Dimant on the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (379-419), Yehoshua Amir on Philo (421-53), Louis H. Feldman on Josephus (455-518), Pieter W . van der Horst on the minor Hellenistic Jewish authors (519-46), Rimon Kasher on the rabbinic literature (547-94), Ruairidh Bóid (M. N. Saraf) on the Samaritan tradition (595-633), Birger A. Pearson on Gnostic literature (635-52), E. Earle Ellis on both the early church and the NT church (653-90, 691-725), and William Horbury on the church fathers (727-87).

With the exception of Dimant’s chapter, each chapter concludes with a selected bibliography that is often classified and/or annotated. Overall these are quite helpful, although the quality and extent of the bibliographies is very uneven. However, the abundance of footnoted references helps to provide at least some of what is lacking in some of the individual bibliographies. All of the individual bibliographies are accumulated into one bibliography at the end of the volume (797- 852). An excellent “Index of Sources” rounds out the volume (853-929).

Scholars and academics will find the volume chock-full of information. Evangelical readers will need to apply a filter to much of the textual data, since, for the most part, the approach of the contributors betrays a bias against the historicity, authenticity, inspiration, and inerrancy of the Hebrew Bible. For example, Aaron Demsky places the origin of biblical Hebrew sometime following 1000 B.C. (6). Obviously, that removes Moses from the authorship of the Hebrew Pentateuch no matter which date of the exodus one might hold. The nearest to an evangelical approach is found in the two chapters by E. Earle Ellis. Due to the dense and detailed nature of the volume and the way it is written, pastors will not find it helpful as a resource through which to access the topics it discusses. For those outside academia, the introductory essays in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Zondervan, 1978- 1992) are far more accessible and helpful.

Seminary libraries should include this volume in their collections because of its breadth in presenting the history of the Hebrew Bible. The contributors are well-known and respected scholars. Where the historical information is allowed to stand, the content is valuable and references to resources provide an efficient springboard for further research.