Book Review: HCSB Study Bible

HCSB Study Bible

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Many thanks to the kind folks at Broadman & Holman for this review copy!

This volume is like many others of its kind—big and bulky. As such I would expect most who use this bible (and study bibles in general) leave it in a particular place where they can read and take notes—it’s just a bit too bulky to lug around from place to place. This is not necessarily a bad thing as its necessarily large, but is a factor that users will have to weigh (pun intended!) when considering a study bible.

This copy is the hardcover with dust jacket, which I prefer in a study bible. Because I use study bibles in a very utilitarian manner and not just for reading, I prefer one that is heavier so that it stays open while I flip pages. If I want to read notes on verses in Genesis 12 or Revelation 17, I want to flip there and have the bible stay opened. Obviously that’s not problem with this volume—it weighs in at just over four pounds!

As I expected from this study bible, it is loaded with information designed to take the reader beyond the final translation before them. One of these features that I always find helpful is word studies, which number 290 in this particular volume. There is an inherent danger in word studies of this nature, primarily because they must be condensed and thus are essentially incomplete. Words, no matter to what language, culture, and time they belong, can drastically change meaning and therefore evade simplistic definitions. I’ll not quibble over subtle nuances that are present in the word studies in this volume because I find them to be helpful. Even if the information is incomplete or disagreeable to the reader, they are helpful because they help the reader have a better handle on the text at hand.

There are also a number of other requisite aids in this edition that assist the reader in digging just below the translation’s surface. There are numerous cross references, which like word studies can be helpful is used properly, but the danger is that sometimes readers assume that a cross-referenced text is actually related to another. Another interesting feature is the alternate/literal translation bar. It is a yellow-background insert between the translation and the study notes that provides additional translation information. The “literal” means just that—the translators provide a word’s literal meaning (though this can be misleading), but does not conform to good English style. The “alternate” option provides cases in which the translators considered rendering certain terms or phrases one way, but ultimately chose the option reflected in the text. This is helpful in helping readers gain a glimpse into the complex work of translating biblical texts.

Other features include numerous charts, maps (which I always find helpful), excellent illustrations, actual photographs (though somewhat muddled due to the paper are still crisp enough), timelines, and well-written introductions to each biblical book. These introductions are an asset to this volume. Though by necessity they are only cursory in their treatment, they are still helpful in orienting the reader to the various matters that lay behind the text, e.g., authorship, date, message, purpose, structure, and contribution to the Bible. It is in these introductions that you will also find the timelines mentioned earlier. The back matter consists of the HCSB bullet notes found throughout the text (essentially a glossary of key terms, e.g., atonement, Baal, Mount of Olives, Passover, etc.), a table of weights and measures, topical concordance, Bible reading plans (three-year and one-year plans), and a 52-week Scripture memory plan. In sum, the HCSB Study Bible will certainly provide the reader with ample tools to study the Scriptures in more depth and will hopefully serve as a boon for further research beyond the limitations of the information provided.

One of the things that I noticed while using this Bible was that some of the headings throughout were blurry. Looking at them closely, there appears to be a drop shadow behind them. The font is a burnt orange color and in these this shadow is yellow, which leads to a blurring effect. I suspect this is a printing issue because it’s found throughout and if you look at the sample PDF, there is no shadowing. However, despite this one particular flaw, it remains an aesthetically pleasing volume and I would heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a good study bible.

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Book Review: A Survey of the Old Testament, 3rd Edition

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 10.26.00 AMA Survey of the Old Testament by Andrew Hill and John H. Walton

Zondervan | Amazon | CBD

Thanks to the kind folks at Zondervan for this review copy!

This book is now five years old, and though I’ve not had it quite that long, this review has been in the works for a while.

From the outset, Walton and Hill (hereafter W/H unless otherwise indicated) make it clear that their work reflects their convictions—they are evangelicals. For those for whom “evangelical” essentially amounts to insular theological positions and a reticence in gleaning from the fruits of higher criticism, let it be said that Walton and Hill do not quite fit that mold. They do believe that the OT is “God’s self-revelation” (21) and it is an authoritative work (26), yet those familiar with Walton’s work (I can’t speak for Hill) know that he does not toe the typical conservative line when it comes to interpreting the text. In Appendix A, W/H claim that “Evangelical is a term in vogue to describe those who acknowledge the authority of the Bible” and that it is a bit more precise, perhaps, than the label “conservative” (753). W/H also rightly notes that both “liberals” and “conservatives” employ the same critical methodologies, the primary difference between them ultimately coming down to presuppositions and how they interpret the evidence. So, as evangelicals, W/H will certainly interpret texts differently than would those who do not make “supernaturalistic claims,” yet to dismiss their work on these grounds would be most unfortunate.

As far as the content of the book, W/H cover a tremendous amount of ground, which is virtually impossible to avoid if one is going to survey the vast landscape that is the OT. Concerning their readership, those on both sides of the aisle (read conservative and liberal) will find parts with which they can wholeheartedly agree and strongly disagree. For those in the evangelical camp, a number of things will likely dishearten them. For one, W/H do not hold to Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch (79, 104, 165). Walton notes that there is good evidence for Moses as the editor/compiler, but it is lacking for Moses as author. Concerning the book of Deuteronomy, Walton suggests “Moses can be affirmed as the dominant, principal, and determinative voice in the book, and he is credited with at least some of the writing” (165). Authorship is a prickly issue anyway as those in the ancient world did not write books in the same way that moderns think about it, so W/H are simply following the evidence where it leads them. In sum, W/H have no issue with ascribing Mosaic authorship to sections of the Pentateuch, but not to the final form. Additionally, Walton’s take on the primeval history certainly differs from the opinion of many of his evangelical brethren. Walton has fleshed this out in much more detail in more recent works, so his treatment here is necessarily brief, though it remains informative. On the other hand, the evangelical audience will likely appreciate W/H’s take on other accounts, such as the Exodus.

Perhaps the most notable update in this volume is the amount of visuals included—they are found on nearly every other page! In addition to the numerous charts and excurses an abundance of photographs have been included. While some of them are rather run of the mill, the majority are quite stunning! As someone who benefits greatly from visual representation of data, photography is always welcome. Naturally such embellishments are not always suitable, but for a volume such as this they are and enhance the reading experience by providing visualization of the content matter. Another minor detail that I found helpful is indication of which author wrote which section, though a couple were unidentified.

My criticisms of the book are mostly due to editorial restrictions. For example, the opening section on geography is quite helpful, considering that the physical landscape is important throughout the Hebrew Scriptures; yet, there is a rather brief discussion of the land as a significant element of Jewish theology. Similarly, other sections of the book suffer a bit from comparatively shorter discussions than books/sections that are themselves shorter. For example, the sections on the major prophets are hardly longer than the sections dealing with each of the 12 individually. Again, I understand that there are restrictions on space—this book clocks in just shy of 800 pages—and authors have to be selective. I do wish that some of the sections were a bit longer and that others were a bit briefer.

There really is no comparison between the second and this newer third edition—it’s practically a complete overhaul. This updated volume is reminiscent of other visually-appealing books in Zondervan’s catalog. Expanded content and stunning visuals set this volume apart not only from its predecessors, but also from many other OT introductions available. While Walton and Hill may not win over everyone (primarily outside of more conservative circles), this work is certainly worthy of consideration and could easily be one of the more sought after OT introductions, especially for students just beginning the journey of study beyond an English translation.

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Book Review: Biblia Graeca

Biblia Graeca

Scholarly Bibles | Amazon | CBD

Many thanks to the kind folks at Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft for this review copy!

It is a privilege for us moderns to have access to the troves of literary treasure of the ancients. Access now comes by way of not only the printed page, but digital resources as well—a fine time to be a scholar for sure! One of the premier publishers of ancient texts is the German Bible Society, or Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, and this recent offering is indeed a fine work.

The long-awaited Biblia Graeca is comprised of Rahlf’s Septuagint and the Nestle-Aland 28th edition of the Greek New Testament. Any student of the Bible who has had any experience dealing with the LXX knows that Rahlf’s is not the go-to edition for serious text-critical work—for that one needs the Göttingen volumes, which for most are cost-prohibitive to own. One could, in a roundabout way, parallel Rahlf’s edition with the UBS5 text and the Göttingen with the NA28 in terms of its critical apparatus. Nevertheless, Biblia Graeca remains a handy volume.

The quality of its construction is also a plus. It’s a hardcover and has sewn binding, thus suiting it for regular and prolonged use. The pages are printed on paper that as far as I can tell is standard DBG’s original language texts. Expectedly, the paper is somewhat thin so there is a measure of ghosting, which is a tad more distracting in the NT portion due to the amount of marginal references and TC apparatus. On the matter of aesthetics, I have one primary complaint—I have always disliked the font used in Rahlf’s LXX. Presumably the choice was made due to space considerations, given that the text is just over 2,000 pages and that even a slightly larger font would make the work considerably longer. Though I don’t particularly like the font in the NA28 either, it’s more legible than that of the LXX and thus causes less eye strain for me. As an aside, one of the primary reasons I have preferred the UBS text over the years is because of the font.

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Biblia Graeca is strictly utilitarian—its design forgoes any hopes of leisurely reading or other use. Obviously combining two works of this sort makes for a hefty volume. Clocking in at over 3,000 pages, this volume is not exactly what I would call portable. While the overall dimensions are the same as the individual volumes (which means it looks great on the shelf next to others), its sheer mass makes it more suited to being a stationary reference rather than one you might toss in a messenger bag and carry to the library or office. As such, I keep this volume at work and have my separated volumes at home. Plus, if ever you’re in need, it also serves as a great paperweight or doorstop! I have both of these works as separate volumes and having them as individual volumes is great, especially for the portability factor; however, I do enjoy the privilege of having these two works bound together. It makes for ease of access to the texts—a pure convenience if nothing else. While this is a somewhat costly volume, its convenience factor will be worth it for some while for others it will prove too costly. It will nevertheless serve well those who invest in this splendid work.

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Read a sample here.

Blogging through The Lost World of Scripture: Part 2, Proposition 5

Moving into part two, the discussion now turns the means of communication in the New Testament era. Brent Sandy takes the wheel and begins with proposition five—much of the literature of the Greco-Roman world retained elements of a hearing-dominant culture.

I appreciate the assertive tone that Sandy takes from the outset, e.g., “Divine truth is inextricably interwoven within human culture, which means the categories of thinking, the expressions, the imagery, the motifs are drawn from the cultures in which God’s truth became incarnate. It couldn’t be any other way: it was necessary for God to speak in ways humans could understand, and he specifically chose the Greco-Roman-Jewish world of the first century for revealing the New Testament. Paul called it the fullness of times” (78; emphasis mine).

Sandy also notes a potential misunderstanding at the outset—given the immense literary production of the ancient Greeks and Romans, shouldn’t we see them as text-dominant cultures? Yes, but not initially. Sandy argues that textuality in the sense of written literature did not emerge in the Greek world until around 700 bce. Prior to this, Sandy argues, there is little evidence of written documents in Greece (79). Then, seemingly out of nowhere, some of the most prolific and influential works of the Greek world exploded onto the scene in written form—Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Hesiod’s Works and Days and Theogony. Sandy explains that it’s only relatively recent scholarship that has begun to shed light on how such important literary works came from a non-textual culture so suddenly, noting their origins as oral literature.

The question of orality in Greco-Roman literature is perhaps a little more dodgy because of the prevalence a text-oriented literature produced; however, Sandy provides a suitable overview of the role of orality in the culture such that one may understand how it continued to be prominent, though eventually giving way to text dominance.

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Propositions 123, 4

Interesting Similarity

I was reading Seneca the other day and happened upon this interesting similarity. He writes “the sun rises also upon the wicked” and “rains” are provided for both good and bad (Ben. 4.26.1, 4.28.1). These words likely sound familiar to you because they are practically the same as Jesus’ statement concerning the rain falling on the righteous and the unrighteous in Matt 5:45.

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On Phobias

I don’t have many phobias (thankfully!), but one of the few is captured here by Stephen Asma in his book On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears:

Ever since I was a small boy I’ve had a phobia about deep murky water, or more accurately, a fear of what might be living in such waters. A seemingly harmless swim in a weedy lake sends my imagination into overdrive and I can almost see the behemoths and leviathans rising up to gnaw off my extremities.

Precisely why I cringe at the thought of getting into water in which I cannot see beneath me!

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