Blogging through The Lost World of Scripture: Part 1, Proposition 4

Part 1, Proposition 4 – The Bible contains no new revelation about the workings and understanding of the material world

Here Walton essentially argues that God did not give the Israelites advanced understanding of the natural world; rather, he communicated in language/terms that they understood (49). This is fleshed out in more detail, particularly in Walton’s full-length treatment of Genesis 1 and ancient cosmology; here. Here, Walton (rightly I think) argues “the Bible offers theological perspective about the material world” rather than “naturalistic insight” (50). Because the ancients did not understand the intricacies of how the natural world worked, their descriptions of any such thing recorded in the Bible reflect their state of understanding, thus there is no new scientific understanding in the Bible (51). He further argues that when evaluating claims made in the Bible, one must first determine what kinds of claims they are—theological, cosmological, scientific, historical, etc. (56). Because the Bible is not a science book that seeks to disseminate scientific knowledge, claims made that reflect science in some manner must be understood as “Old World science,” reflective of the culture they depict and not necessarily as corresponding to what is known in the modern world.

Walton provides several sad-but-true examples of how texts from Genesis have been interpreted through history in a way that would be binding in a later culture, e.g., men having one less rib than women, that snakes used to have legs, talk, and eat dust, and the curse of Ham resulting in black people (57–58). These are just a few examples and a brief perusal of the history of interpretation of the Pentateuch would likely yield many more examples (talking donkeys, perhaps?).

This proposition is largely a rehash of his work on Genesis 1 and ancient cosmology, as mentioned previously. If you’ve read either of his works on the subject, then you’ll find little here that wasn’t discussed before. However, this is an important element in the overall scheme Walton is working toward. Despite my own familiarity with this idea, it’s good to reread it, this time in a slightly different context and toward a different end. Where Walton is ultimately going, I think, is toward a methodology that enables interpreters to better understand the culture in which the accounts of the Bible occurred, thus enabling one to better interpret the Scripture. This particular method also permits interpreters to hold to an authoritative text while not having to slavishly adhere to implausible interpretations so as to avoid upsetting some doctrine of inerrancy. I also appreciate Walton’s approach to authorship, namely identifying a person as a book’s “author” is not important—what matters is the authority attributed to any given person with whom a particular book is associated.

Memorable quotes/insights

“God chose human communicators associated with a particular time, language and culture and communicated through them into that world. The Bible was written to them, not us” (52).

“Given what we have learned about literary production in the ancient world, authorship and the process that led to the final form of the canonical book are simply not as relevant as we have thought to our understanding of biblical authority” (62).

“We cannot be dependent on the “original autographs,” not only because we do not have them, but also because the very concept is anachronistic for most of the Old Testament7 and does not reflect how the books came into existence. Inerrancy and authority are connected initially to the authority figure or the authoritative traditions.” (67).

Αυτω η δοξα

Proposition 12, 3

Book Review: Learn to Read New Testament Greek

Learn to Read New Testament Greek, 3d edition by David Alan Black

B&H | Amazon | CBD

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

Of the making of Greek grammars there is no end! Thankfully, as with the seemingly endless production of commentaries, each grammar has the potential to offer unique insights and strategies for learning the language of the New Testament. David Black is an experienced teacher of Greek and the fact that his primer is now in its third edition is a testament to its usefulness for learning the Koine of the NT. Though this update is now five years old, its usefulness has hardly subsided.

One of the most debated elements concerning ancient dialects of Greek is pronunciation. Thanks to Erasmus of Rotterdam, most students learning Greek (at least in the West) adopt the pronunciation scheme he conceived and which was perpetuated by his academic descendants. I myself learned Greek this way and still default to it for the most part; however, I have modified that approach a bit (whether for ill or gain). Black confesses that the scheme adopted in his book (Erasmian) is a compromise between how the letters were probably pronounced and the way they are spelled (2). His approach is largely pragmatic—students will learn each letter with a distinct sound rather than shared sounds (e.g., ο and ω are pronounced with short and long “o” sounds respectively).

Every Greek grammar I’ve read through over the years takes a slightly different path on the way to introducing the various elements of Greek. Once the alphabet is covered, what comes next will depend on the strategy of the book’s author. Here, Black offers a “bird’s-eye” view of the Greek verbal system and introduces the present and future indicatives first, arguably the simplest of Greek forms to learn. Expectedly, he does not delve much into matters of morphology, except when it is necessary to explain changes in form that might be unexpected. Following this brief discussion of present and future active verbs, Black introduces nouns, beginning with the second then first declensions. Following that is adjectives which are then proceeded by remaining verb forms and other primary components necessary to build a foundation upon which more complex matters of syntax and exegesis may be learned. Black’s linguistic knowledge also shows throughout the book, though he keeps such references to a minimum and only includes them when it helps explain. Another helpful element included here is the last chapter in which Black offers helpful suggestions for reading the GNT. After all, the book’s approach is not learning to speak Greek, but to read and understand it and this short chapter is helpful toward that end.

One thing I like about this volume more than others is that it is rather concise. Black provides enough information for the reader to understand the very basics of learning to read Koine Greek and doesn’t belabor points, neither are his pages festooned with sidebars, charts, and other informational tidbits. Looking at Mounce’s third edition, it comes near to information overload. While all is intended to reinforce the section’s most important points, Mounce’s book is distracting at times; Black’s is not—it is simple and to the point. Presumably Black’s volume is intended for classroom use primarily as such brevity throughout is likely meant to complemented by the instruction of a prof/teacher to answer questions not explicitly answered in the book. This could also serve as the book’s primary weakness. If someone interested in learning Greek picked up this volume, I am confident that it would serve them well as a foray into the language, but without supplementary instruction and/or discussion, concision could work against them.

In sum, I think Black’s volume will continue to be a helpful and accessible guide to learning NT Greek. The essential elements of the language coupled with a straightforward presentation without gimmicks and unnecessary verbiage make this an excellent starting point for learning the language of the NT, to which its to which a third edition attests.

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Blogging through The Lost World of Scripture: Proposition 3

Part 1, Proposition 3 – Effective communication must accommodate to the culture and nature of the audience

Walton here tackles the prickly issue of accommodation, an area in which he has greatly helped me in my understanding of Scripture me over the years. Essentially Walton argues that God has accommodated the medium of human communication as the avenue of interaction between Himself and His creation. In so doing, God has chosen a means that would in some respects be temporally and culturally bound. This is an unavoidable tenet of communication since people are a part of a culture in which language, customs, and other elements change over time. Walton cites Kenton Sparks here, who says “in many cases God does not correct our mistaken human viewpoints but merely assumes them in order to communicate with us” (40). This is the nature of accommodation—the communicator must speak in terms that are relevant to the recipient if they desire the communication to be important and to evoke a response.

Because some elements of the beliefs held by the ancients were bound by their time and culture, readers/hearers of the Bible’s accounts must be conscious of them and interpret them in light of the culture they depict. One of the ways Walton suggests interpreters do this is through Speech-Act theory, which basically suggests that “communication is an action with particular intentions” (41). There are three levels at which speech works in this theory: locution, illocution, and perlocution. The gist is that elements of the text, e.g. genre, words, sentences, rhetorical structures, etc., or locutions, embody illocutions, and this is where the question of inerrancy should be addressed. Walton (not surprisingly) offers the example of cosmic geography to illustrate his point: “God may well accommodate the communicator’s view that the earth is the center of the cosmos. But if God’s intention is not to communicate truth about cosmic geography, that accommodation is simply part of the shape of the locution—it is incidental, not part of God’s illocution” (42).

In general I think that Speech-Act theory is helpful as one tool in the interpreter’s bag, though various approaches and methods should be employed to get to the meaning in the text (Walton doesn’t suggest Speech-Act theory as the only method). At the same time, there is a balancing act here. This allows interpreters to hold to a high view of Scripture without attributing historicity or scientific accuracy to accounts in the Bible; yet, if taken too far one could be left with a collection of stories that have been gutted of their value as truthful historical accounts (albeit often told with a theological slant). As with most things, the devil is in the details.

Whether or not one accepts Walton’s arguments thus far, he has done a service for the larger community of interpreters, though his refrain will echo more loudly in evangelical circles. If nothing else, Walton helps readers of Scripture to understand better how communication works between differing cultures, a matter that becomes highly complicated when you toss in the idea of divine inspiration of texts that purport to record such communication. Walton doesn’t seek to end the debate over inerrancy and authority, but seeks to shine much-needed light on the discussion of these important matters, and this he does well.

“We are not free to take the communicator’s locutions (whether considered divine or human) and use them to formulate our own fresh illocutions and associated meanings—authority is compromised at best or lost entirely when we do that” (42). 3

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Proposition 1, 2

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.

Αυτω η δοξα

Proposition 1

Blogging through The Lost World of Scripture: Proposition 1

The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority

By John H. Walton and Brent D. Sandy

I must say that when I received a copy of this title from the always-generous folks at IVP, I was excited. John Walton and Brent Sandy are two scholars whom I hold in high regard. Walton was helpful for me in sorting through interpretive issues in Genesis 1 related to cosmology through his treatments on the subject (here and here) and Brent Sandy’s work on apocalyptic language was likewise a helpful guide in dealing with enigmatic imagery in scriptural texts. Now Walton and Sandy turn their attention to a matter that has been the subject of renewed discussion and debate—the transmission of biblical texts and the question of inerrancy. From the outset, Walton and Sandy make it clear that they hold a very high view of Scripture—it is “God’s self-disclosure” and a “literary deposit of divine truth” (12). They also affirm the Scriptures to be inerrant (12). However, W and S are clear that any terminology used to discuss inerrancy is ultimately inadequate (13).

This book is arranged in four parts, each of which contains a series of propositions. Each proposition details an element of the process of the biblical text’s transmission and how one should approach the text in light of that. Part 1: The Old Testament World of Composition and Communication; Part 2: The New Testament World of Composition and Communication; Part 3: The Biblical World of Literary Genres; Part 4: Concluding Affirmations on the Origin and Authority of Scripture.

Part 1, Proposition 1 – Ancient Near Eastern societies were hearing dominant and had nothing comparable to authors and books as we know them.

Initially, the suggestion that ancient societies like those of the ANE had no books and authors sounds somewhat silly. In the days since Gutenberg’s printing press made mass publication even possible and especially in this age of technology, it’s almost unthinkable to imagine a time when books were a rare commodity for a select few who were privileged enough to possess copies of their own. However, books and other forms of printed media are a comparatively modern luxury.

The first proposition is largely introductory (naturally) and serves to orient the proceeding discussion in the fact that ancient cultures, particularly those in the ANE, were hearing-dominant and not text-dominant. Walton discusses a number of issues why this is so, most of which should be intuitive to anyone who stops to think about a world 2,000 years removed from our own. Walton argues that reading and writing were limited to a small number of people who practiced these for very particular reasons. For example, he argues that documents were produced for archives, libraries, for school texts, to be read aloud, and as symbolic expressions of power (23). However, we could easily take these purposes and transport them to the modern world, though of course our reasons of reading and writing surpass these. I think that writings as expressions of power is intriguing and I am hoping he discusses that more. I also wonder how much of the writings from the ANE comprise this category.

Another intriguing point, which is derivative of the discussion that preceded it, is the fact that the ancients didn’t consider books and authors the way we do. As Walton notes, concepts such as plagiarism, intellectual property, etc., were notions completely foreign to the ANE. Instead, there were only “authorities, documents, and scribes” (25).

So far, I’m intrigued as to how this will flesh out in following propositions. Due to space limitations, this introductory chapter is necessarily selective in terms of examples and references to primary sources, so the discussion feels a tad truncated. However, I imagine the whole book will be this way as it is not meant to be an exhaustive tome that analyzes the numerous data on the subject, but rather serves as a springboard into the discussion.

Memorable quotes:

“Literacy is not necessarily absent in hearing-dominant societies; it is simply nonessential” (18).

“[P]reserving an oral tradition in a document will not obscure the characteristics of orality” (24).

“Authority was not connected to a document but to the person of authority behind the document when that person was known, or to the tradition itself” (27).

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Free from SBL: C. L. Crouch, Israel & the Assyrians: Deuteronomy, the Succession Treaty of Esarhaddon, & the Nature of Subversion

Originally posted on Daniel O. McClellan:

Israel & The Assyrians

SBL Publications has a list of titles available for free download on this page. Because you’re interested in Deuteronomy and its composition and ideological function, you’ll be particularly excited to see the inimitable Carly Crouch’s Israel and the Assyrians: Deuteronomy, the Succession Treaty of Esarhaddon, & the Nature of Subversion. From the introduction:

A prominent feature of attempts to ground the deuteronomic text in a historical context over the last half century has been the observation of certain affinities between Deuteronomy and ancient Near Eastern vassal treaties and loyalty oaths. More specifically, it has been suggested that the book of Deuteronomy, in some more or less original form, constituted a subversive appropriation of Neo-Assyrian imperial ideology in favor of a Yahwistic theocentricity: a text deliberately designed to undermine the authority of the Assyrian king by planting YHWH in his stead. The prevalence of this assertion has its roots in the widespread recognition of similarities between elements of Deuteronomy, especially…

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