This attractive volume is collection of essays related to the Gospel of Matthew, written by Wim Weren over the course of 20 years. Weren, Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at Tilburg University (Netherlands), is not particularly well-known in the anglophone world of Matthean studies, probably because apart from several essays in this volume and one book, Windows on Jesus: Methods in Gospel Exegesis (London: T&T Clark, 1999), his monographs have been in Dutch. This collection of his essays, all in English here, will help rectify this regrettable lacuna.
More than a mere reprinted collection, this volume coheres in a logical way, driven by a clear theoretical and methodological understanding and subsequent theses. The book contains fifteen essays and a brief introduction and conclusion, organized into three sections. Each section has a governing idea—intratextuality, intertextuality, and extratextuality, respectively—and the three sections relate to each other in a logical and organic way.
The first section, entitled, “Literary Design,” consists of four chapters that study various aspects of Matthew as a literary text within itself (“intratextuality”). These essays are held together by the thesis that Matthew is a complex and dynamic whole that invites multiple layers of reading that go beyond individual pericopae. In these essays Weren explores the macrostructure of Matthew, the theme of children, revelatory knowledge, and the body and life after death.
The second part, which is under the heading, “Intertextuality,” is the longest. It contains a clear introductory chapter to this complex issue, followed by seven essays that explore how a number of texts in Matthew relate to earlier texts and ideas in the Jewish scriptures. Driving these essays is the argument that our reading of Matthew will be enhanced through understanding the ways in which Matthew has both adopted and adapted, built upon and transformed, texts and ideas in his literary and socio-cultural context. Several Matthean texts are given added depth of understanding through Weren’s exgesis of Old Testament texts in relation to Matthew.
Part three, the shortest section of the book, contains three essays under the general category of “History and Social Setting.” These are “extratexual” studies, speculating about behind the text issues related to the origin and shape of certain ideas in Matthew. Chapters here discuss the stages of development in the Matthean community, the report about the disciples stealing Jesus’ body, and the Q-source of the parable of the wedding guests.
The short introduction and conclusion provide a helpful framing for the whole book, describing the organization of the chapters as well as the relationship of the three sections. Weren explains that Matthew can be studied from these three different perspectives and that these are best understood as successive steps that complement each other. Studying Matthew’s literary design and internal coherence is the starting point, to be followed by explorations of Matthew’s literary and social setting, with a final piece being the admittedly more speculative work of examining what was going on behind the scenes in the redactional work of the Evangelist.
I was first drawn to this volume by stumbling upon Weren’s essay, “The Macrostructure of Matthew’s Gospel: A New Proposal.” Having read extensively on this complex topic within Matthean studies, I immediately recognized Weren’s erudition, clarity, and original contribution to the topic. The rest of the wide-ranging essays in this book manifest the same characteristics.
Every one of the essays is written in a clear and organized fashion, evincing knowledge of the scholarly discussion but without getting bogged down or following too many rabbit trails. The writing style shows a pedagogical sensitivity, with clear theses and organizational statements, the hallmarks of someone who is likely a very good teacher. Throughout, the arguments are balanced and insightful at multiple points; I learned something new in every essay.
Most of the real estate in the volume is given to intertextuality, the biggest and most methodologically-debated topic in biblical studies in recent years. Weren provides a clear-headed, sensible, and balanced approach that is sensitive to the complexities of language and culture, but not a free-for-all play that is sometimes found. Indeed, his intertextual work is quite conservative within this field.
Even though twelve of the fifteen essays are previously published articles in English, the volume is a worthy production. In addition to the two new essays, this book provides easy access to Weren’s work, now revised and taking on a depth of meaning in its organization in the overall vision of the book. Especially helpful, Weren is engaged in the world of German scholarship on Matthew, culling insights from a body of literature that most English readers will not have read. The portion of the volume that I found least helpful (though not without insight) was the extratextual section, whose speculative nature is less engaging to me as reader. Weren himself apparently sees this kind of work as tertiary as well. Overall, this is a fine collection of essays worthy of consultation on all of the topics it addresses.