The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible
The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time in English

translated with commentary by Martin Abegg Jr., Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich
HarperSanFrancisco, 646 pp., $35

The Dead Sea Scrolls include community regulations, poetry, commentaries, and 225 biblical manuscripts that contain at least parts of every book of the Jewish Bible and Protestant Old Testament. These Hebrew and Aramaic portions, found in manuscripts copied in the decades immediately before and after Jesus, are a full millennium older than the medieval Masoretic text (our primary source until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls a little over 50 years ago).

This book translates these biblical portions (highlighting the differences with the Masoretic text in italics), and includes a few psalms that never made the biblical canon. This is fascinating textual criticism and the nearest thing to having "the Bible Jesus read."

Conversion in the New Testament
Paul and the Twelve

by Richard V. Peace
Eerdmans, 397 pp., $25, paper

To understand what conversion is and does, Peace set out to examine the conversion of Paul, less by examining Paul's description of his conversion (as scholars usually do) and more by Luke's presentation of it. Peace concludes this is the Bible's normative understanding of "Christian conversion" (which consists of three movements: "insight, turning, and transformation").

He then uses this understanding to analyze the conversion of the twelve disciples as described in Mark's Gospel. The organizing principle in Mark, Peace argues, is not Christology, as most scholars argue, but the conversion of the twelve. Peace concludes that these conversions, though they "occur in different ways," share the "specific characteristic" of Pauline conversion.

He concludes by critiquing "encounter evangelism," which seeks instantaneous conversion, and encouraging "process evangelism," which understands conversion as a pilgrimage.

Asceticism and the New Testament
edited by Leif E. Vaage and Vincent L. Wimbush
Routledge, 444 pp., $27.99, paper

The authors' burden is to show that their title is not an oxymoron: more specifically, "to explore how the phenomenon of asceticism in Greco-Roman antiquity can serve as a theoretical framework or methodological wedge for redefining and redirecting scholarly interpretation of the New Testament and early Christianity."

Unfortunately, this collection of essays is as long-winded and sometimes as obtuse as its purpose statement. Still, it offers a fresh and truthful way of reading the New Testament.

The experience of Elaine Pagels is all too common in Protestant circles: "The way I was educated involves a deep bias against recognizing asceticism as a fundamental part of Christian tradition."

Yet even a cursory reading of the New Testament shows it is hardly uncomfortable with fasting, celibacy, prayer vigils, and other forms of rigorous self-denial.

We will not understand the New Testament, nor the vital place of asceticism in the life of faith, without a fairer reading of the canon.

Related Elsewhere

Earlier New and Noteworthy Books features include:

Christian Living (Feb. 23, 2000)

Church History (Dec. 20, 1999)

Theology (Nov. 29, 1999)

Christianity & Culture (Sept. 6, 1999)

Biography (July 12, 1999)