Friday, September 17, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
François Bovon, L'évangile selon saint Luc (19,28 - 24,53). Commentaires du Nouveau Testament IIId. Genève: Labor et Fides, 2009. Pp. 560. ISBN 9782830912616. €58.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Matthew S. Rindge, Gonzaga University

[The table of contents is listed at the end of the review.]

François Bovon's critical commentary on Luke 19:28-24:53 is the fourth and final volume in his extensive explication of Luke's Gospel. (Only the first volume is available in English translation). At approximately 1630 pages, this series constitutes the most thorough critical commentary available on Luke. Professor Bovon (at Harvard Divinity School since 1993) is one of the foremost experts on the third gospel.1 This volume is a welcome resource for New Testament scholars (professors and graduate students). For non specialists the book is a relatively accessible introduction to critical issues regarding Luke's gospel (Bovon translates all Greek and Hebrew terms).

Beginning with Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem, this volume covers his final days in the city, and his arrest, trial, death, and resurrection. As is typical for the commentary genre, Bovon proceeds by treating Luke 19:28-24:53 in twenty-six discrete units, or pericopae. Each unit includes six components: Bovon's translation of the Greek text into French; a thorough bibliography of relevant scholarly literature (books and articles) on the text under consideration; an "analysis" of the text (on twelve occasions he provides a synchronic and a diachronic analysis); an "explication" of the text; a treatment of the text's reception history/history of interpretation; and (in all but two cases) a conclusion. The book's three indices (each of which makes reference to all four volumes in the series) include themes; Greek words; and references to Luke-Acts. (There is no index to ancient sources outside of Luke-Acts).

Each of the twenty-six units begins with Bovon's translation of the Greek text of Luke. Footnotes provide either alternative translation options or a more wooden ("literal") rendering of Greek words or phrases. Such notes are especially helpful for readers who do not know Greek. I found the absence of textual variants odd, especially for a critical commentary. Since Luke's text is the basis of the commentary, readers should be made aware at the outset of the multiple questions concerning the text's integrity. On a few occasions, he alerts readers in the "analysis" or "explication" sections to some of the more significant text critical issues. These discussions, such as the disputed order of the cup and bread during the last supper (195-98), are detailed and informative. In addition to identifying the textual variants and their respective evidence, Bovon often draws attention to unfamiliar terrain, such as the intense debates generated in Armenia in the 8th - 12th centuries regarding the authenticity of Luke 22:43-44 (Jesus sweating drops of blood) (255).

Bibliographies for each unit are thorough, and for serious scholars are themselves worth the price of the book. Bovon includes articles and books written in French, English, German, Spanish, and Italian. In addition to these separate bibliographies, the beginning of the book includes three general bibliographies: ancient and modern commentaries on Luke; general works on Luke; and works that focus specifically on Jesus' passion. These bibliographies make Bovon's four commentaries the most thorough resource for works on Luke's gospel.

In his "synchronic analysis," Bovon is primarily interested in questions related to the literary nature of Luke's text. He identifies discrete literary units in each section, and particular literary devices employed by the third evangelist (e.g. chiastic structures in 22:39-46; 24:13-35).

The "diachronic analysis" consists primarily of redaction criticism in which Bovon compares Luke to Mark in order to detect editorial changes that the former makes to his Markan source. Bovon calls Luke a "rewriter" of Mark, one who enhances Mark's style, narration and ideas (28). In certain cases, (e.g. the parable of the vineyard murderers), Bovon thinks Luke is aware of a parallel version from his special source ("L") and Mark (61). Bovon's reliance on the two-source hypothesis (Luke uses Mark and "L" as sources, and does not know Matthew) places him in the mainstream of New Testament scholars, and is reflective of the kinds of stances he takes throughout the commentary. Eschewing novel or extreme views, his perspectives tend to occupy the "middle ground" of most arguments. Such is the case with his claim that Luke's version of Jesus' outburst in the Temple reflects a reluctance to depict Jesus as a zealot or revolutionary (44-45). Similarly, Bovon employs fairly standard historical critical methods (e.g. source, form, redaction); one will not find more recent (post-1970's) approaches such as post-colonial, feminist, or socio-rhetorical criticism.2

Detailed information is provided in the "explication" section regarding definitions of Greek words; historical and cultural background; Luke's audience (who, for example, seem "ignorant" of Palestinian geography); allusions to the Hebrew Bible or LXX; parallels (when they exist) between Luke's text and the Gospel of Thomas; and parallels between Luke and other Second Temple Jewish and early Christian texts (e.g. Josephus, Dead Sea Scrolls, Testament of Abraham, Joseph and Aseneth). In this way, Bovon utilizes certain aspects of Second Temple Jewish culture to explicate Luke's text. Since this culture was thoroughly Hellenized, I do wish he gave more attention to Greco-Roman culture, and the manifold ways Greco-Roman authors (e.g. Seneca) might illumine the third gospel.

Bovon consistently addresses tradition history, highlighting changes in Lukan material over time as it made its way to its written form in the gospel. He often, however, withholds judgment on whether a Lukan pericope originates with the historical Jesus or in the early church. Although he does not clarify specific criteria for determining whether a saying or deed stems from Jesus or the early church, he seems to think that sayings that are "original and unexpected" are more likely to be authentic to Jesus (103). Following Joachim Jeremias et al., he regards certain elements within parables (e.g. allegory) as reflective of conflicts in the early Church about its identity (73). The goal throughout his commentary is to illumine the Lukan Jesus, not the historical Jesus.

Convinced that theology is a legitimate field of inquiry within biblical exegesis, Bovon displays consistent interest in the theological, Christological, and ecclesiological points made in Luke. With the majority of Lukan scholars, he thinks the author of the third gospel also wrote Acts, and at times he uses material in Acts to provide insight into Luke (68). He occasionally situates Luke's perspective on a particular theological issue with other NT texts such as John's Gospel or various epistles (68).

What distinguishes Bovon's volume from most other critical commentaries is the considerable attention he devotes to reception history and history of interpretation. Although Auslegungsgeschichte and Wirkungsgeschichte are burgeoning fields in biblical studies, it is rare for them to play a central role in commentaries.3 In each unit, Bovon treats the history of interpretation chronologically, focusing on three distinct periods: early, medieval, and Reformation. Certain interpreters receive primary attention: Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Cyril of Alexandria, Augustine, Gregory the Great, Bede, Bonaventure, Erasmus, Luther, and Calvin.

Such interpreters are standard fare for any serious Auslegungsgeschichte. But Bovon also treats the Shepherd of Hermas, Cassiodorus, Bonaventure, Ephraim the Syrian, Bruno of Segni, the Glossa Ordinaria, and critics such as Celsus and Julian. Most impressive is his inclusion of lesser known figures such as Jacques de Saroug, Apollinaris of Laodicea, Theophylact, and Euthymius Zigabenus. Even Charlemagne, Henry IV, and King Edgar of England receive attention because of their use of Luke 22:38 in their polemic against bishops and popes (230). Although Bovon usually concludes his reception history with the Reformation, he at times ventures into the "modern" period, covering figures such as Hugo Grotius, Reimarus, David Friedrich Strauss, Adolf von Harnack, and Karl Barth.

Bovon's history of reception focuses upon how these interpreters read the specific Lukan text under consideration. He attends to the content of interpretation and (less often) specific reading practices interpreters employ (e.g. allegorical, literal, or figurative readings). By highlighting the diverse ways in which a single text has been read through the centuries, identifying patterns of interpretation that characterize certain eras, and showing how regularly texts are placed into the service of contemporary theological trends, Bovon demonstrates the value of Auslegungsgechichte as a heuristic interpretive tool. Thus, he can consider variants not only as possible reconstructions of original text, but also (and perhaps more important) as the very first voices of interpretation of Luke's text.

With few exceptions, the figures in Bovon's reception history are scholars or ecclesial theologians. Greater diversity (and therefore potentially more insight into Luke's text) could be achieved by including additional forms of biblical interpretation such as art (painting, sculpture, music, film). 4 Bovon's sole foray into art proves insightful. He prefers Rembrandt's sketches (dessins) and engravings (gravures) of the Emmaus road narrative (Luke 24:13-35) to the comments of Erasmus, Luther, and Calvin. Regarding the former, Bovon notes that he never felt so strongly the truth of "cette présence absence, de cette presence spirituelle qui échappe" (452). I would have appreciated more examples of artists who similarly illumine Luke's text in ways that differ from "official" interpreters.

With this volume, Bovon concludes the most thorough and informative commentary series on Luke's gospel. This series is an essential resource for Luke-Acts scholars, and can serve for the non specialist as a helpful introduction to some of the salient issues involved in a critical study of Luke's gospel.

Table of Contents:

Avant-Propos 5
Abréviations, Commentaires et Bibliographie Générale 7
Bibliographie Du Récit La Passion 20

Commentaire 25

La marche royal (19, 28-40) 25
Jérusalem ignore la visite et Jésus restaure le Temple (19, 41-48) 36
Questions sans réponse (20, 1-8) 48
La parabole des vignerons homicides (20, 9-19) 57
Le denier de César et le domaine de Dieu (20, 20-26) 75
En dispute avec les Sadducéens (20, 27-40) 87
Messie – Fils de David – Seigneur (20, 41-47) 111
Une veuve exemplaire ou exploitée ? (21, 1-4) 124
L'entretien sur l'histoire àvenir et les fins dernières (21, 5-38) 134
Le complot satanique (22, 1-6) 171
La préparation de la Pâque (22, 7-14) 179
La Cène entre la Pâque et le Royaume (22, 15-20) 189
L'ultime conversation (22, 21-38) 206
La dernière prière de Jésus (22, 39-46) 235
L'arrestation de Jésus (22, 47-53) 259
Le reniement de Pierre et la scène des outrages (22, 54-65) 272
La comparution de Jésus devant le Sanhédrin (22, 66-71) 289
Jésus devant Pilate (23, 1-5) 301
Jésus devant Hérode (23, 6-12) 315
La dernière comparution (23, 13-25) 330
Vers la croix et sur la croix (23, 26-43) 349
Mort et sépulture (23, 44-56a) 381
Tombeau vide et plénitude du message (23, 56b – 24, 12) 408
Les disciples d'Emmaüs (24, 13-35) 431
Présence du Ressuscité et dernier message (24, 36-49) 454
L'harmonie des adieux (24, 50-53) 477


1.   For a review of Bovon's work on Luke, see François Bovon, Luke the Theologian: Fifty-five Years of Research (1950 – 2005). Waco: Baylor University Press, 2006.
2.   For feminist readings of Luke, see the series of essays in Amy Jill-Levine, ed. A Feminist Companion to Luke. London: Continuum International, 2002.
3.   For exceptions, see the volumes in the Blackwell commentary series (their volume on Luke by Larry Kreitzer is forthcoming), and the following three commentaries by Ulrich Luz: Matthew 1-7: A Commentary. Translated by W. C. Linss. Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1989; Matthew 8-20. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000; Matthew 21-28. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005.
4.   See, for example, Heidi J. Hornik and Mikeal C. Parsons, Illuminating Luke: The Passion and Resurrection Narratives in Italian Renaissance and Baroque Painting. London: Continuum International, 2007. While discussing Jesus' Passover meal with the disciples, Bovon provides a caveat for his lack of references to art (202).

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