Signs of the Times

I was flipping through the eight edition of Turabian’s style guide and something caught my eye. I flipped back and I had seen it. There, listed in the index, was the section number for how to cite a text message. A text message! I couldn’t imagine what sort of paper wherein a text message would qualify as a reference, but Turabian has it listed under the section concerning interviews and personal communications, so I guess it’s not too unusual. So, should you ever need to cite a text message and do so to conform to Turban style, they’ve got it covered. Signs of the times in the technological age.

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Cover Art

Despite the recurring admonition to refrain from judging a book by its cover, I routinely do just that. When it comes to books, movies, TV shows, musical works, etc., the artwork is an important element for me. Obviously the contents are of greater importance than the artistic veneer; yet, I think sometimes the art is passed over all too quickly. Again, the treasure of a good book or musical work is in its innards–not exterior components– and I would never pass up a good book or album just because I don’t like the cover. If that were the case, then many a great title on my shelves would be elsewhere right now!

The cover art is in many ways the first impression you have of a work (not always, obviously)–it can say a lot or a little, can draw you in or turn you away.

Musically, there are simply too many examples I could point to, but this is one of my favorites in recent years: Strongarm’s Atonement.  strongarm atonementNot only was this one of my favorite albums musically when it came out, but the artwork has always struck me. It’s incredibly simple, but the message is clear, especially if you read the lyrics. And it’s not just the message the image communicates that has endeared it to me, but the particular style of art it is–it looks like a painting. Many of my favorite album covers are similar to this one.

For books, one of my favorite covers belongs to a volume edited by Richard Horsley, several sections of which I read last year: In the Shadow of Empire: Reclaiming the Bible as a History of Faithful Resistance

Here I not only love the helmet, but again the simplicity, the connection the art makes with the title.

I’ll also mention another recent book cover I love for pretty much the same reasons–it’s Mark Reasoner’s Roman Imperial Texts: A Sourcebook.

The cover of this book is superb–the black background provides excellent contrast for the for the statue and the font is perfectly suited both in style and color. This jacketing is also my favorite–that soft, almost velvety feel (perhaps someone could tell me what that technical name is for this kind of paper?).

So, these are just a few examples of covers that have caught my eye. What about you–what are some of your favorites?

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Book Review: When God Spoke Greek

When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible by Timothy Michael Law

Oxford University Press | Amazon | CBD

When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible by Timothy Michael Law

Many thanks to the kind folks at Oxford University Press for this review copy. I received this copy free of charge in exchange for an unbiased review.

Students in the field of biblical studies probably know Timothy Michael Law as a Septuagint scholar. If I remember right, he even quipped once that he wouldn’t rest until everyone had a copy of the LXX in their hands. In his latest effort, Law seeks to cast a larger spotlight on the LXX for those whose expertise lay outside of specialized LXX studies or even biblical studies in general.

Law’s work/s rests upon four primary points of importance. First, because the LXX sheds light “on the development of Jewish thought between the third century BCE and the first century CE,” “the New Testament cannot be read apart from its context in Hellenistic Judaism” (4) and study of the LXX is necessary for properly understanding the bible used by the earliest followers of Christ. Second, the NT authors and early Church most often used the LXX, thus allowing for tremendous potential for expansion because the scriptures were available in the language of the Mediterranean world (5). Third, the theology of the earliest Christians was shaped by the LXX and not by the Hebrew Bible (5). Fourth, the LXX sometimes preservers an alternative, older form of the text (6).

Chapter two, the official foray into matters set out in the introductory chapter, covers the Hellenization of the biblical world as a consequence of the conquests of Alexander the Great. It seems in biblical studies Alexander’s introduction of Greek culture to those he conquered is a given, assumed from the outset; however, I appreciate Law’s brief survey of this history-changing feat and its importance for setting the historical backdrop for the genesis and development of the LXX.

In chapter three, Law delves into what is basically a history of the Bible’s textual development. He discusses the textual base of the Hebrew Bible—the MT, LXX, Samaritan Pentateuch, Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.—and how the Hebrew Bible came to be. The convoluted history of the canonical Hebrew text found in our Protestant translations is succinctly covered and Law’s discussion, though comparatively brief, is nevertheless helpful in orienting the reader to the trajectories along which the text ultimately moved.

Chapter four covers the genesis of the LXX with much of the chapter devoted to the infamously legendary Letter of Aristeas. Law discusses the letter and some of the critical opinions of it, ultimately siding with those who are unable to determine with any certainty the usefulness of it. The Letter of Aristeas, then, serves to illustrate the difficulty of ascertaining the precise origins of the LXX. Outside of the probability of an Alexandrian provenance in the Hellenistic period, the rest remains a bit of a mystery. As an aside, I want to note one of the more memorable comments made: “If a translation is done accurately, the new audience can peer into the original; if it is done poorly, it could start wars” (33).

Chapter five focuses on the uniqueness of the LXX, namely in terms of how various texts in the LXX differ from their Hebrew counterparts. Law discusses examples from each of the three major sections of the Hebrew Bible and briefly shows how they differ and a very brief note of its significance.

Chapter six covers the apocryphal texts of the LXX and is ample in its usefulness as an introductory treatment of these fascinating books. Law provides a brief synopsis of the problem of canon and the apocryphal works followed by a discussion of each book’s contents.

Chapter seven concerns the various “streams” that flowed into collection of Jewish texts that would ultimately comprise the canon. Law also discusses some of the problems in seeking to understand the process of canonization of texts and traditions. Like other chapters and within the purpose of the book, this chapter will serve as an intro to the subject and Law does well here.

Chapter eight turns attention to the use of the LXX in the NT. Law tackles a handful of problems that arise here, one of which I’ll highlight with a quote: “For the New Testament authors, finding the ‘original text’—a modern, often apologetically motivated concern—was not a priority” (86). There is some carryover from the last chapter in terms of canonicity of particular books. Law goes on to discuss (briefly) various texts in the NT that demonstrate the NT’s dependence on Jewish literature and highlights some particular points of contention, excellent fodder for further reading and study. Akin to this section, chapter nine is essentially a continuation of discussing the LXX in the NT, only here Law devotes most of his attention to the Gospels and Paul.

The next chapter revisits (by way of reference) the previous discussions on the process of creating a canon and tackles in more detail the problems that have attended both the process itself and the subsequent discussion of it by later examiners of the scriptures and history.

The last three chapters move out of the first century into the patristic era and well beyond, discussing at some length the importance of the LXX to a number of significant interpreters, e.g., Josephus, Philo, Jerome, Augustine, Tertullian, Origen, Constantine, and others. Law discusses their use of the NT documents (which obviously employ LXX readings more than MT) and the struggles that these early interpreters faced when attempting to sort of some of the problems that arose.

In sum, Law’s book is extremely well written and should serve as a go-to introduction for the subject. One of the aspects of this book I appreciate most is that the chapters are relatively short thus making the work of reading less arduous. Most works on the LXX are dense and verbose, necessarily steeped in esoteric vocabulary and scholarly banter. Because Law’s work is aimed at a more generalized introduction, he keeps the verbiage at a manageable level without dumbing down the discussions. One way in which this is accomplished is the inclusion of Hebrew and Greek terms as phonetic English equivalents, e.g., asereth hadevarim for עשרת הדברים and deka logos for δεκα λογους. While I appreciate this effort, I find that rendering words phonetically or transliterating them does not help—either you know the language as it was written or you don’t. Again, I think this is part of Law’s effort to keep the text manageable for those who may not have facility in biblical languages and as such I don’t find it a terrible detraction from the work. I’ll also note that the notes are banished to the back of the book in the form of endnotes and I only found one typo—p. 85, “usedvarious” with no space.

Law provides enough information to prime the reader on principal elements for beginning to understand the LXX and its role in the formation of both the Bible and Christian theology (and Jewish theology for that matter). This book is also laced with humorous analogies and witticisms that make for an even more enjoyable journey through the jungles of LXX studies. For example, Law makes the following statement: “So on the one hand nothing in the Septuagint will grab headlines for proving Solomon was celibate, that Elijah lived on a tract of land that would become Colorado, or that Adam and Eve were duped by a clever monkey instead of a serpent” (44), and later “Timothy was not sat on his grandmother’s knees reading out of a Bible published by the Palestine Bible Society” (89). His chapter titles are also clever:  Gog and His Not-So-Merry Grasshoppers (ch. 5), Bird Droppings, Stoned Elephants, and Exploding Dragons (ch. 6), and The Man with the Burning Hand versus the Man with the Honeyed Sword (ch. 13).

Let me also say something concerning the aesthetic of this volume. I don’t what kind of paper was used for this book for the covers, but it’s my favorite kind. It’s not glossy, thus not subject to dulling and fingerprinting, nor is it ordinary matte. It’s got a soft feel—again, I don’t know the technical name—and I love it.

This is a fine volume and would recommend it to all seeking to learn more about the LXX.

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Blogging through The Lost World of Scripture: Proposition 2

Part 1, Proposition 2 – Expansions and revisions were possible as documents were copied generation after generation and eventually compiled into literary works

This section practically reads like a primer on textual criticism, at least a couple of its components. Essentially Walton considers the role of the scribe in the transmission of what would become the canonical text. Here he asks an important question, one whose answer still evades satisfactory explanation: “Which version of a tradition found its way into a document?” The discussion here revolves around, as mentioned above, the role of the scribe. Walton suggests that scribes had a measure of latitude when it came to copying texts, though this varied depending on historical factors in the culture and the scribe’s level of accomplishment. Many of the changes made in the text over the centuries were what Walton describes as updates—language and place names, explanatory glosses, added sections, updated formulations, and integrated revisions to address new audiences (33–34). These are indicative of the changes that occur in language and the community in which the oral tradition is circulating. Beyond this, there were more significant changes that were introduced to the text, a phenomenon Walton describes as “innertexuatlity”—actual changes within the tradition itself. This might include new laws, wisdom sayings, narratives, etc. Here I wish that Walton would have provided concrete examples of such additions.

Walton makes an important point in this section. He suggests that changes that were introduced by the scribes would not have been seen as “destructive, deceptive, or subversive” (34), but rather advantageous. This is so because they (the scribes and the community they served) did not see their work as tampering with authority. Since authority resided in the authority figure who inaugurated the tradition, updating the text to be relevant to an ever-changing culture was necessary and would preserve the core of the tradition, though it would be couched in different language than that of its original form.

Walton continues (with many before him) to dispel the notion that the canonical text is indicative of word-for-word preservation of what Abraham, Moses, or others actually said. The distance between the origin of the oral tradition and its transcription into a document is simply too great. For Walton, this does not diminish the authority or importance of the text we have, but serves as a reminder that the text is the product of a culture that was only much later oriented around a written text. As such, the original form of the tradition recorded would have been quite different, though this is not seen as a detriment to the current text.

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Proposition 1

New Eerdmans Catalog

For bibliophiles, new catalogs are always a treat! Eerdmans just released their new fall academic catalog–check it out here. There are many fine offerings, but two caught my attention:

Reframing Paul: An Epistolary Biography by Douglas Campbell

After creating somewhat of a furor with his offering on Paul and Romans (The Deliverance of God), Campbell will surely upset some apple carts with this volume. According to the blurb, “Though figuring out the authorship and order of Paul’s letters has been thought to be impossible, Campbell’s Framing Paul presents a cogent, innovative solution to this long- contested puzzle.” Color me skeptical, but this seems a bit ambitious; yet, Campbell is a provocative scholar and writer, so this should be an engaging read whatever the theses and arguments may be. 

A second volume of interest is Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Greek and English by Craig Evans and Daniel Zacharias. Eerdmans just released volume one of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures last year and now this beauty is slated for release in January. The primary difference here (presumably besides different texts that are included) is the availability of the Greek texts. This will be a boon for students who wish to have more access to the original texts (sketchy as some may be) behind these important works.

A number of other promising volumes are also included: Pandora’s Box Opened: An Examination and Defense of Historical-Critical Method and Its Master Practitioners by Roy Harrisville, The Text of the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Biblia Hebraica (3d ed) by Ernst Würthwein, The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus by Michael Bird, The Many Faces of Herod the Great by Adam Kolman Marshak, and the revised edition of Gordon Fee’s commentary on 1 Corinthians in the NICNT.

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