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.

Αυτω η δοξα

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

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.

Αυτω η δοξα

Blogging through The Lost World of Scripture

This blog (obviously!) has been rather sparse in terms of new content over the last year or more. Life is busy with family, work, and school, and any down time is usually gobbled up by some other necessary chore (ask our DVR!). However, I’ve given some thought to doing something I’ve not done before–blogging through a book. This strikes me as both a fun outlet for not only reading and discussing books but also a tremendously likely failure–time simply hasn’t permitted me much in the way of leisurely reading and blogging.

Thanks to the always-generous folks at IVP, I received a copy of John Walton and Brent Sandy’s recent venture–The Lost World of Scripture. The matter of biblical authority and its derivation from Scripture has a long history and its enjoyed a fair bit of attention in recent years. So, as I mentioned, this would be good fodder for discussion methinks, so we’ll see how long I can keep it up.

Αυτω η δοξα

Thinking Out Loud

I know it’s somewhat of a dead horse, but I am curious as to your thoughts on this.

Do you find the view that first-century Judaism was inherently legalistic to be

  1. accurate?
  2. somewhat accurate, but in need of some qualifications?
  3. way off–a caricature at best?

I know this is quite simplified, but I’m just thinking out loud. What do you think?

Book Review: The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown

The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament by Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles

B&H | Amazon | CBD

Thanks to the kind folks at B&H Academic for this review copy! I received this free copy in exchange for an unbiased review.

Content wise, this survey text is like many of its predecessors and contemporaries in that it follows a rather standard organizational scheme. The introduction (part one) is focused on the nature and scope of Scripture and the historical background of the New Testament era, part two on Jesus and the Gospels (with each book discussed individually), part three on the book of Acts and on the Pauline corpus, part four on the epistles (general and Johannine) and Revelation, and part five a concluding discussion of the unity and diversity of the New Testament. The back matter consists of a glossary and indexes for names, subjects, and scripture references.

Where this introduction distinguishes itself (though certainly not from all) is in the inclusion of various informative sidebars, akin to the signs you may encounter at a historical landmark that provide details to aid in your inquiry, which are scattered throughout the book. To give you an idea, I’ll describe some of these features in the chapter on the Gospel of Matthew. The first of these informative extras is a two-page excursus on the question of whether or not Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrew (182–83). Later, there are tables with info on the five Matthean discourses (194), Jesus’ twelve disciples (200–01), parables in the synoptics (204–05), and fulfillment of OT prophecy (215). There are also maps, brief devotional-type pieces entitled “Something to Think About”, and a review section at the end. Because Matthew is a long book, there are more of these elements for it, but they show up in practically every chapter.

As you might expect, each chapter that concerns an individual book begins with two elements that are designed with the student in mind: the “core knowledge” and “key facts” of each book. The “core knowledge” is comprised of three levels of knowledge that a professor/instructor may use as a guide in determining what their students may be expected to know after reading and reflecting on a given chapter. These three levels are basic, intermediate, and advanced, each one obviously increasing in the level of knowledge the writers assume the student might achieve. The “key facts” are typical fodder for introductions: author, date, provenance, destination, purpose, theme, and key verses.

One minor negative I want to mention concerns the “Suggestions for Further Reading” sections at the end of each chapter. Given the conservative bent of the authors, it is no surprise that the volumes recommended largely toe the conservative theological line. Again, this is no major surprise; however, I always appreciate reading recommendations that lay somewhat outside my own theological comforts. This hardly constitutes a major flaw in the book, but something worth noting. Errata were decidedly few; in fact, I only recall seeing one instance in the table of contents. The indexes for the people, subjects, and scripture references are said to be “forthcoming”; yet, they are included in the book—presumably an editorial oversight.

In sum, there is much to commend in this volume and it will find (or has found at this point) an audience among more conservative students and readers, though there will likely be some appeal outside of those circles. As a textbook, it’s very useful—the various info-laden extras will certainly be of help for those readers who actually utilize them. This volume basically is a complete package as far as textbooks go—it’s well written and a very enjoyable read.

I have a number of NT intros on my shelves and my hard drive (Metzger, Drane, Guthrie, Carson and Moo, Ehrman, Hagner) and they have all served me well. Will this volume replace any of those? No, not by a long shot; however, I am glad to have it on my shelf and have used it with great benefit. I gladly recommend it to anyone looking for a suitable primer for studying the NT.

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