Reviews of

Lifting the Veil

In Benjamin Winter, De Gruyter, Michael COVER, New Testament, Paul on April 4, 2016 at 2:00 pm

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2016.04.05 | Michael Cover. Lifting the Veil: 2 Corinthians 3:7-18 in Light of Jewish Homiletic and Commentary Traditions. BNZW 210. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2015.

Review by Benjamin Winter, St Louis University.

In the preface to this dense yet rewarding monograph, Cover submits that his “project might be summarized as a voyage from Paul’s epistolary interpretation of scripture to Philo’s exegesis in the Allegorical Commentary and back again” (vii). Indeed, Cover takes readers on a journey through both the form and content of Greco-Roman, Jewish, and early Christian commentaries—considering a full spectrum of “allegorical, dialectical, rhetorical, and prophetic reading strategies” for those commentaries (6). The subjects of Cover’s monograph can be categorized as follows: (1) ancient Jewish scriptural hermeneutics in general; (2) the influence of Hellenism on Jewish exegetical and homiletical traditions; and (3) Paul’s mediation of (1) and (2) in his epistles. By focusing on the introduction and control of background scriptural texts, Cover succeeds in his goal of analyzing Paul’s “pattern of exegesis” in 2 Corinthians 3:7–18.

The study begins with an introductory chapter that lays out the “enigma” of Paul’s scriptural interpretation (3–28). After problematizing “midrash” and “allegory” as descriptors for Paul’s style, Cover instead opts for a more encompassing and malleable term: “exegesis.” He then reviews current theories on the form and method of Paul’s exegesis—with extensive footnotes on the state of the question—and concludes that much remains unknown, particularly with regard to 2 Corinthians 3:7–18. This passage stands out from the surrounding material; it may be a literary insertion that draws from a “pre-composed exegesis of Exodus 34” (10), or it may be authentically Pauline. Exploring both possibilities throughout the monograph, Cover highlights the connection between Corinthian Correspondence and Alexandrian Judaism, and argues for “a link between 2 Corinthians 3:7–18 and the Hellenistic commentary tradition, broadly construed” (16). Such an approach signals Cover’s optimism about the capacity of comparative studies to shed light on the nature of Pauline exegesis. For instance, Cover claims that “the variegated corpus of Second Temple Jewish exegesis remains the single most important resource for constructing a historically grounded account of Pauline hermeneutics” (22). Thus, Cover aims to discover a pattern of (sequential) exegesis that will allow readers to navigate Paul’s multifaceted hermeneutics—while at the same time doing justice to Paul’s complex rereading and rewriting of sacred texts.

Chapter two provides a painstakingly-detailed backdrop for this task (29–95). It compares the exegetical pattern in 2 Corinthians 3:7–18 to that of three other pericopes in Paul’s authentic letters: Galatians 4:21–5:1 (31–48), Romans 4:3–25 (48–62), and 1 Corinthians 10:1–13 (63–78). Cover shows how Paul exercises varying degrees of exegetical control in each diverse segment. Sometimes the control is explicit (denoted in text by Paul himself), and other times it is implicit (comprised of resonances or echoes of other biblical and extrabiblical exempla). Thematically, the first two passages revolve around Abrahamic texts and traditions, while the latter text illustrates the importance of the Moses cycle for the Corinthian community—a subject further explored in chapter six. Of special note is Cover’s treatment of Gal 4:21–31, which contains Paul’s “first and only allegorical formula” (35–45). Here readers are guided through various Old Testament textual bases for Paul’s paraphrases and are informed when ties can also be drawn to Philo (see, e.g., 43). Throughout this chapter, Cover devotes considerable attention to the possible beginning and end points for each pericope. In making judgments he considers both formal structure (utilizing charts and tables) and rhetorical flow (analyzing tropes deployed and taking into account possible audiences).

Moving to 2 Corinthians 3, however, Cover finds a unique pattern of exegesis. This passage does not contain any citation formulae: its exegetical method is “almost entirely implicit” (79). The pericope also has a distinct exegetical relationship to Exodus 34:29–35, which in turn is “one of the longest continuous biblical lemmata treated by Paul in his letters” (84). In this first extended look at the monograph’s thematic passage, Cover establishes its unity with Exodus 34:29–35. Paul, according to Cover, “alternates between paraphrastic allusion and direct textual engagement” in the 2 Corinthians 3:7–18 segment, with the end result of working through all seven verses from Exodus 34 (89). Cover carefully sets up and solves detailed textual puzzles, and his footnotes reveal an in-depth dialogue with the recent biblical scholarship relevant to each passage. He also remains reticent to assert the unprovable, namely, that Paul had any direct or schematic knowledge of every parallel drawn. In sum, chapter two functions as an “heuristic exercise” (47), preparing for the broader work of chapters three and four.


Cover begins chapter three with a brief sketch of the history of commentary writing in Hellenistic and Jewish contexts—highlighting evidence from sources that range from Herodotus to Qumran to Origen. More than any other author in this chapter, Philo serves as “a witness to Paul’s spiritual and intellectual matrix” (106). Philo’s three commentary series on the Pentateuch illuminates many aspects of Paul’s exegesis, including the employment of figural readings and the overarching influence of Middle Platonism. Employing the same methods used in chapter two for Paul, Cover establishes patterns of exegesis for Philo in chapter three. Rather than attempt a comprehensive approach, Cover compares and contrasts three examples of Philonic commentary on mid-length pericopes. Four to ten verses in length, these commentary segments center on either the Abraham or the Moses cycle (114–24). The core of Cover’s argument, however, comes on pages 126–28, where he identifies in Philo the same exegetical pattern found also in Paul (79–95). The chapter proceeds with treatments of other Hellenistic literature and exegetical patterns in the Dead Sea Scrolls. While informative, these excurses—which provide “point and counterpoint to the pattern of 2 Corinthians 3:7–18” (149)—leave the reader waiting for an eventual return to Paul.

Taking its cue from Francesca Schironi, chapter four sees Cover consider homilies, gospels, treatises, and letters, all of which help situate 2 Corinthians 3:7–18 within a broader context. Out of these texts, Cover focuses specifically on the genres of synagogue homily and early Christian homily (from Hebrews and Acts to Luke and John, see 164–95). He also examines the Damascus Document and Seneca’s Epistulae morales ad Lucilium, in order to make contemporary comparisons to Philo and Paul (212–23). Notably, Moses is the subject of many of these examples, all of which show that Paul’s method in 2 Corinthians 3:7–18 is not singular. For Cover, formal exegesis in the ancient world is adaptable to the various concerns of authors and audiences. Moving to chapter five (229–57), Cover ties together interpretive strands from previous chapters by arguing for the unity of 2 Corinthians 2:14–4:6, which he sees as a rhetorical unit centered on the concept of “covenant renewal.” He bases this judgment on Paul’s allusion to Jeremiah’s renewed covenant (2 Cor 3:6), and the fact that Jeremiah 31 was paired with Exodus 34 in some Jewish lectionary cycles (251). The connection between these passages, Cover maintains, is neither haphazard nor random. Rather, Paul’s seeming digression functions as a thematic “amplification,” an original reading of a lemmatic text that allows Paul to challenge “a rival set of Christian ministers steeped in the philosophical and apologetic traditions of Hellenistic Judaism” (254).

Finally, chapter six revisits the Moses-tabernacle theological tradition. Cover shows how Paul creatively mediates Jewish tradition to suit Paul’s own theological priorities, and how Paul often reflects the theology and traditions of his opponents. This chapter is the most accessible to those outside of, or adjacent to, the world of professional biblical studies—as Cover here advances from a study of form to a study of content. In an impressive section, Cover revisits his discussion of renewed covenant theology to argue that “Paul remains closely bound to the text and vocabulary of Scripture, as well as to traditional, inherited patterns of exegesis, as he casts his new vision of Moses” (265). That vision is one, for the audience 2 Corinthians, of a leader like Moses and a people like Israel. By employing Philonic exegetical strategies, Paul enacts a “messianic transformation of the Hellenistic image theology” (277). Imitating traditional patterns, Paul guides the Corinthian community toward the future through his masterful employment of hermeneutical controls and rhetorical flow.

In conclusion, Cover’s monograph broadens knowledge of ancient commentary traditions in general, and brings these important secondary works into the center of scholarly conversation about the embattled legacy of Paul’s scriptural hermeneutics. As Cover convincingly illustrates, Paul’s hermeneutical horizons grew and changed with both the man and his mission field. Cover has certainly done his homework, utilizing up-to-date terminology like “catchword bonding” (83) and “digressive poetics” (230). Hence, this work should be read only by advanced scholars who are familiar with the state of the question in Pauline hermeneutics. Cover’s book is the condensed result of years of careful and thorough research, and his treatment of Paul’s exegesis in 2 Corinthians 3:7–18 will define the conversation for years to come.

Benjamin Winter                                                                                     
St. Louis University
bwinter4 [at]


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