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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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.

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Book Review: New Testament Greek Intermediate

New Testament Greek Intermediate: From Morphology to Translation by Gerald L. Stevens

Lutterworth Press | Amazon | CBD

Many thanks to the kind folks at Lutterworth Press for this review copy! I received this book in exchanged for an unbiased review.

This book is somewhat special to me, so let me explain. My foray into Koine Greek actually started with greater fondness for Hebrew. When I began my MDiv back in 2001, my first language class was Hebrew. Naturally, since it came first, I initially enjoyed studying it more than Greek. When I took my first Greek class, my schedule was such that I usually had to leave class a little early, so I always felt like I was rushing. My professor, though, was a wonderful instructor who usually had some imaginative rubric or associative gimmick to help us remember elements of Greek grammar. That prof was Dr. Gerald Stevens, who is also the author of this book. Dr. Stevens has also written an introductory grammar (here), the pre-published version of which he had us use as our first-year grammar text. It was a behemoth—spiral bound and rather unwieldy, yet I lugged it to and from and wore sections of it out. I remember as part of his proofreading process, he would pay us a dollar for every error we found. I found several along the way, but never reported them (I had forgotten by class time). All that to say, Dr. Stevens was instrumental is helping me “come around” to an interest in Greek, which would ultimately burgeon into my love for it today.

Now, on to the review at hand. Stevens states at the outset that the genesis of this work was “the need to bridge the gap between an initial foray into New Testament Greek by the beginning student and the full-blown analysis of advanced courses that focus primarily or exclusively on syntax” (xxi). Stevens provides four primary purposes for this work: this text is meant as a “leveler” for students of varying backgrounds and differing degrees of exposure to Greek. There is obviously an assumption of previous exposure to/work with Greek language—it is an intermediate after all. Second, Stevens desires that this text will help review all of Greek grammar (limited of course to the Hellenistic period and texts of the NT). Third, Stevens wishes to broaden the horizons of first-year or minimally-exposed students of Greek to more authors of the NT works and provide more contextual support for understanding the selections provided throughout. Fourth and finally, Stevens sets out to expand the student’s vocabulary. So, was Stevens successful in accomplishing these desired ends?

In general, yes—Stevens is nothing if not thorough. This book, like most grammars, is laden with tables, charts, and various other inserts designed to provide visuals for the information discussed throughout. As indicated by the book’s subtitle, this work incorporates a lot of information concerning morphology. I find morphology rather interesting, but not all students will find this information all that enjoyable. Nevertheless, I think it’s helpful to know how words are formed and why certain forms behave the way they do, so I appreciate this element. Some might note that Stevens’ discussion of case function is comparatively brief and that his categories of function are incomplete. Having cut my teeth on Wallace’s advanced grammar, I could sympathize with this initially. However, Wallace could just as easily be criticized for over-categorization of case functions. I do think that more functions of the cases could have been discussed. On the genitive case, for example, Stevens only lists subjective, objective, and ablative functions. Presumably this stems from the belief that many of the ablatival functions (separation, origin, source, etc.) are subsumed under that functional category and thus would be unnecessarily redundant to list them separately. The disadvantage here, of course, is that if you list them separately there is a risk the student could easily be overwhelmed by the number of potential options; on the other hand, the advantage is the opportunity to nuance functions more precisely, though attempts at precision can quickly get out of hand.

Stevens essentially devotes mostly equal amounts of space to non-verbal elements and the verbs themselves, both together comprising the bulk of the book. Appendixes include a glossary, noun and verb paradigms, principal parts, a list of lexical middle verbs, exercise answer key, vocab lists, a list of English words derived from Greek, and a subject index. Like other grammars (particularly those beyond introductory level), this work is data intensive, meaning that there is quite a lot of information to process. If I were a student who was only minimally knowledgeable of Greek grammar, this volume would be rather intimidating (as would Wallace and others). On the other hand, it’s helpful that Stevens provides practice sections at the end of each chapter to help the student review the knowledge presented in that chapter and to practice using that information to work through relevant exercises.

One minor criticism I will levy is while I find the charts and tables helpful, some of the discussions are a bit more cumbersome to work through, but I suppose any scholar is hard pressed to present grammar and morphology in a way that isn’t dry to some degree.

Another very minor issue is that the overall aesthetic of the book is not terribly appealing. The pages are off-white, which is perfectly fine and rather standard, but it just doesn’t look so great. With so many pages being table- and chart-heavy, it makes for a somewhat dull presentation. Also, the cover is bland—it looks computer generated and is not appealing. Obviously a book’s worth is measured in its contents and the reaction/response provoked in the reader and these minor criticisms concerning the aesthetics are perhaps a result of my own preferences, but something I thought I’d mention.

In sum, I do like Stevens’ book–it’s helpful, thorough, and readable enough that students would gain more benefit than they wouldn’t. Grammar texts are not novels and thus can’t be read as such. I think if this book is used as a reference tool, then the benefits will be reaped in due course. If I were a professor, would I use this text in a class? Probably not, but that is less a criticism of the book and more a reflection of my own preferences.

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Paul’s Revelation

I was reading/translating through Galatians this morning and I happened upon this little grammatical ambiguity in 1:12.

οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐγὼ παρὰ ἀνθρώπου παρέλαβον αὐτὸ οὔτε ἐδιδάχθην, ἀλλὰ διʼ ἀποκαλύψεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.

The phrase in question is διʼ ἀποκαλύψεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. Does Paul mean that he received the gospel at his conversion on the road to Damascus (subjective genitive; by implication the time following that initial encounter) or is he referring to the gospel as it had been circulated throughout his neck of the woods (objective), so to speak? Could it be both? It’s been a long time since I’ve studied Galatians in any depth, so I don’t recall the discussions here. It’s only a minor point in the scheme of the letter, but I was curious how you all might interpret it. Thoughts?

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Book Review: Interpreting the General Letters

Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook by Herbert W. Bateman IV.

Kregel | Amazon | CBD

Thanks to the kind folks at Kregel for this review copy! I received this book free of charge in exchange for an unbiased review.

Everyone who opens the Scriptures to read will invariably read the text in light of their own experiences, biases, etc.—this is practically a given—and we all know the dangers of reading texts without the appropriate sensibilities. Thankfully, scholars throughout history have provided works that serve as guides to help navigate the complexities of texts and this is no more important than when dealing with ancient texts.

One might also ask, as many do with yet another volume on a particular subject is released, why do we need another book on this subject? As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, I always welcome new works on any given subject because no one person/team could exhaustively discuss all issues relevant to any given topic, much less resolve all of the issues intertwined. However, one of the dangers in this proliferation of topic-specific works is that many will essentially say the same thing, causing us to ask again if we really need another volume on this subject or that.

In the case of Bateman’s contribution to Kregel’s Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis series, there is much to be commended and is an insightful and helpful volume. As the title indicates, Bateman tackles the issues of interpreting the general letters—Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude (and oddly the Johannine letters, which are typically addressed along with John’s gospel and Revelation, but included here presumably because they are letters). You can expect the standard fare in this volume. Discussion in the first few chapters (1–3) follows fairly typical lines of genre, background, and theological issues that arise and Bateman provides the requisite guidelines on how to identify and assess them in the broader scheme of interpretation. Chapters 4–7 focus more on the spadework of exegesis—translation, grammar and syntax, and interpreting the various components that comprise the letters. Chapter 8 is a bibliography for further reading on the various issues addressed throughout the book.

Overall, this is a rather thorough book. Because it’s not a larger hardcover edition, one might think it to be a lightweight in its field—no so (the whole not judging a book by its cover thing, or even its size in general)! While not a highly technical volume, readers without some knowledge of Greek grammar and syntax may struggle with certain sections. This is not necessarily geared for beginners! When it comes to academic works (which this is, though not geared toward professionals or experts), I expect to see notes/references to works with which the author interacts and/or to which the author points the reader for more detailed discussion—you will find both here. Bateman interacts with a fairly broad range of interpreters, the works of whom you will find on nearly every page. While the whole book was generally good and helpful, there were two sections I found particularly so. The first was Bateman’s discussion of backgrounds specifically concerning the relationship between Jews in Greco-Roman culture and how this affects how one reads the letters in question. The second was the matter of pseudonymity, which is an important issue/problem for interpreting the general letters (see pages 51–56).

One of the risks inherent in approaching a category of works within the canon is that by assigning a label on the basis of common characteristics, some may assume that all guidelines set out for interpreting apply all the time. However, as any interpreter knows, this is not the case. While Bateman does offer any cautionary words on this matter, it should go without saying that titles such as this are meant to be guides, not authoritative works that provide absolute answers for the questions that arise. This volume will certainly serve as a welcome companion to one’s study of the Scriptures that may be called “general letters” and will be a reliable guide through the dizzying array of issues that the “letters” present, if only in a broad sense.

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Strange Text

Yesterday in church, I was following along in the text for the sermon. I carry my ESV compact bible to read in church. As I was reading, I noticed something strange in the inner margin.


It appears to be Chinese characters. I’ve never seen this before–anyone have any idea why these are here? Is this a common occurrence?

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