Book Review: The Romans and Their World

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The Romans and Their World: A Short Introduction

by Brian Campbell

Yale University Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

So much can be and has been said about one of history’s most formidable entities. Thankfully, Brian Campbell has distilled some of the critical times and personas that comprise historical Rome into a relatively brief (248 pages) introductory text that not only provides a chronological accounting of the beginnings of Rome, nor merely a discussion of the powers that built, sustained, and ultimately destroyed her, but provides a glimpse into the lives of its people. This was perhaps my favorite element of the book. I enjoy reading purely historical texts for the sake of learning about people, places, and events of the past, but it’s the stories and accounts of the people that make it most interesting—after all, what is history without people? Campbell provides ample references to the primary sources, though some sections are more amply noted than others. There are also a number of diagrams (mostly related to military issues; some are geographical) interspersed and a handful of photographs that illustrate some aspect of Roman life and culture (these are black and white).

This has served as an immensely helpful text, not only for getting a bird’s-eye view of the Romans, but also as a quick reference guide. Many times I would reach for this volume while reading something else that made a reference to some aspect of ancient Rome so that I could read a little more about it. Campbell’s book is great for such use—it’s not a cumbersome encyclopedia, but neither is it a miniscule handbook. It finds a middle ground between these two and is a perfect reference for those who need a slightly more detailed account or description than provided in a few general sentences. Also, as a student of the NT and its contexts, I found this book to be quite informative about the various exploits of Rome that had immediate impact upon the world of the NT.

In sum, Campbell’s volume will be a great introductory text for readers who want a foray into the illustrious history of Rome—deep enough to inform yet succinct enough to be accessible.

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Book Review: A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament

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A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament

by Philip Wesley Comfort

Kregel | Amazon | CBD

I’ll readily admit that textual criticism of the NT is an area of study I prefer not to travel (during my comps I dreaded it more than the rest!). I say this not because I think the practice is unimportant, but because I don’t particularly enjoy the actual work itself. I’ll also be the first to champion, however, the importance of textual criticism. After all, before we can interpret the text, we must know what comprises the text, and it is the brave textual critics who saunter down this troublesome path for this most noble cause. So, as with many other disciplines that are entangled in the study of the NT, I appreciate the fruits of others’ laborious efforts to produce works in areas in which I am inadequately skilled to navigate, Comfort’s work here a prime example.

I would think any student of the NT who has progressed beyond an introductory course on matters related to the NT have used with great benefit Bruce Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Comfort’s work could possibly be of equal value to those seeking to wrangle and tame the multitude of textual variants that decorate the many manuscripts behind our NT. I do not wish, however, to suggest that Comfort’s work is the same as Metzger’s—not at all—but that Comfort has provided for students and scholars a work that focuses on a smaller segment of the manuscript population, i.e., the papyri, which as Comfort states “are among the most important manuscripts because they get us closer to the autographs” (20).

This volume breaks down into essentially three sections: (1) Introduction to the manuscripts, text, and nomina sacra, (2) an annotated list of all the “most important” manuscripts of the NT, and (3) commentary on the text, which is divided along traditional lines (e.g., Gospels, Acts, Pauline letters, etc.). The first section orients the reader to the various papyrus collections, e.g., Oxyrhynchus, Bodmer, et al, and to the general process of evaluating manuscripts to determine what weight they might lend to particular readings. Comfort thankfully condenses this information into a few pages and devotes the majority of this opening section to the discussion of the nomina sacra (the abbreviation of a divine name or title—hereafter referred to as n. s.) This was one question that leapt out at me upon perusing the front matter—why the discussion of the n. s.? Comfort believes that the ubiquity of the n. s. merits attention and dedicates a significant number of pages discussing its various forms, potential provenances, and ultimately the significance (31–42, 419–43) This discussion is, from what I can recall, largely absent from most intro texts to TC, so Comfort’s inclusion of it in this volume will likely prove helpful for some. Section two, the manuscript list, is also quite helpful for those wishing to get an idea of a particular manuscript’s origin, age, textual affinities, etc. Comfort lists the earliest manuscripts—the papyri—which date to pre-300.

The real meat of this volume, not surprisingly, is section two—the commentary proper. Here Comfort discusses what he thinks is the original wording for particular verses, i.e., those for which there are variants in the papyri. In general, Comfort is fairly conservative in his handling of variants (if the designator “conservative” is even helpful), but does opt for readings occasionally that deviate from the majority. This section (and book) is most useful (obviously) when read in concert with work one may be doing on a particular variant rather than categorizing Comfort’s approach as more or less conservative—I only do so to be loosely descriptive. For some of the more prickly TC problems in the NT, Comfort provides decent discussion, such as the question of the ending of Mark’s Gospel (197–206) and the ending of Romans (312–16). For other issues, such as John’s Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53–8:11; pgs. 258–59), the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7–8; pg. 396–97), Eph 1:1 (340), and the number of the beast in Rev 13:18 (410–11) all receive decent discussion. For a volume that seeks to address as many variants as it does, the length of comment for these issues is commendable.

In sum, Comfort has produced an immensely useful and handy guide to aid readers of the NT. While Comfort’s volume certainly will not supplant Metzger’s (not that such is even the aim), but will serve as a welcome companion to a work that is itself perhaps the go-to guide for variant commentary.

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Book Review: What the New Testament Authors Really Cared About, 2d Edition

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What the New Testament Authors Really Cared About, 2d Edition

Edited by Kenneth Berding and Matt Williams

Kregel | Amazon | CBD

Many thanks to the good folks at Kregel for this review copy!

Berding and Williams have taken a standard type of work (NT surveys) and have brought a slightly different approach to reading the books of the NT. A collaborative work of NT scholars (from a largely conservative approach), this project seeks to hone in on what the writers of the NT books were most concerned with. While the book’s contributors do address traditional introductory matters, e.g., authorship, date, provenance, etc., the bulk of their writing is devoted to an issue that sometimes receives comparatively less attention—the issue of the biblical book’s purpose. The end result is more discussion of prominent themes in each book. It is also important to note that the approach of the contributors is geared toward undergraduates, who presumably have had less exposure to the introductory matters of the NT.

In terms of features designed to assist those who are relatively new to the enterprise of NT interpretation, there are several. In addition to the items mentioned above (color photos, marginal captions, et al), each chapter concludes with a word bank of terms considered to be significant to that chapter and, presumably, chosen to prompt further study of the book’s key themes. Additionally, each chapter features a very brief bibliography to serve as starting points for additional readings on each section. These bibliographies consist of 2–3 titles, which is suitable for starting points for broader and more in-depth exploration.

I’d also like to comment on the design of this book. While Kregel’s volumes are always well done, the ones I’ve read have always been designed with a more utilitarian slant—they’re made to be read, not so much to be appreciated visually. However, this volume has been designed with much more attention to the aesthetics. Not only are the pages semi-glossed, but they also include numerous hi-resolution, full color photos, along with the various sidebars and info boxes. These elements make for a visually appealing work. This volume reminds me of many of Zondervan’s works—a compliment to be sure—with its visually intense layouts and eye-catching designs. One may also make comparisons to Elwell and Yarbrough’s Encountering the New Testament, now in its third edition.

Overall, this is a well-designed and helpful introduction to the NT. However, I think it’s important to note that this volume is written from a very conservative approach. I don’t necessarily mean that to be a criticism or a fault, but a point of note for those considering purchasing this volume. When it comes to conservative intros to the NT, they are legion, so this volume is certainly not breaking any new ground or vying for any top spots in that category. However, when compared to other standard intros from a conservative viewpoint, e.g., Carson/Moo, Köstenberger/Kellum/Quarles, this volume stands out as more overtly conservative and less inclined towards discussions with critical scholarships at which the various authors may be at odds. However, I must reiterate that the authors’ audience should be kept in mind—conservative Christian undergrads with minimal exposure to the world of higher criticism. As such, this volume will serve as a decent start on the path to seeing the primary themes in each canonical book. Also, as mentioned earlier, the limitations posed by the authors’ audience necessarily preclude lengthier discussions of matters considered to be of critical importance by scholarship. Controversial issues, e.g., Mark’s “messianic secret,” the ending of Mark’s Gospel, the New Perspective on Paul, various interpretive approaches to the book of Revelation, do not occupy a great deal of space.

As with any book, there are also a few negative points. First is the use of transliterated Greek. I continue to puzzle over why publishers employ transliteration. If you don’t know the language, it is of no real value. Just being able to haphazardly pronounce a particular word serves no purpose in the work of exegesis and thus is unnecessary. Second, a number of the captions in the margins are somewhat hokey. For example, in the opening chapter (which discusses the historical backgrounds of the NT) one caption (p. 26) reads “Those from Qumran spent a lot of time copying and reading the Word of God. They would ask us how much time we spend in the Word.” Now, let me say that this may not be wrong on its face, but comes across as overly simplified and presumptuous. Perhaps the scribes there would ask moderns that question, but I have my doubts it would be toward the top of the list. Another example is found in the chapter on Acts, which reads “Luke would be delighted to remind us that God uses people to fulfill his plan” (p. 109). Again, it’s not wrong per se, but seems simplistic and overtly obvious. Third, on p. 27, the writer claims that apocrypha means “unveiling.” Frankly, I find this surprising. The term apocrypha derives from the word αποκρυπτω, which means “to hide/conceal.” The term αποκαλυπτω means “to unveil”, so I’m not sure how this made it through editing.

In sum, I think this volume is helpful for its intended audience, but for those who are more familiar with the NT and its contexts, numerous other volumes are available for more in-depth study.

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Book Review: A Reader’s Greek New Testament (3d ed)

Review--RGNT-(3d-ed)A Reader’s Greek New Testament, 3d Edition

Richard J. Goodrich and Albert L. Lukaszewski

Zondervan | CBD | Amazon

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

A Reader’s Greek New Testament

I picked up my first reader’s Greek New Testament some years ago now. It was Zondervan’s iteration, A Reader’s Greek New Testament (hereafter RGNT), the second edition, and I used it with great benefit. When the UBS reader’s edition was released (hereafter UBS-RE), I did not buy one since I already had the RGNT. However, when the UBS-RE including UBS5 was released, I got a copy and have been using it ever since. In fact, since I’ve received the UBS-RE second edition, I haven’t used the RGNT edition much at all. As I noted in that review, one of the reason’s I prefer the UBS-RE over the RGNT is aesthetic—the UBS-RE simply looks nicer and is easier on my eyes as I read. A primary factor contributing to this is the layout of the UBS-RE. Below the Greek text, the running dictionary is in a two-column format, whereas the RGNT is a single paragraph and is less conducive to following the words easily.

However, Zondervan has recently released the third edition of its Reader’s Greek New Testament and I will say, having used it for a little while now, it is a noticeable improvement over the previous edition. On the one hand, there are no drastic changes. The same eclectic Greek text still underlies this edition, the same lexicon and the same maps are included in the back, and the same disappointing layout for the definitions below the Greek text, etc. The most obvious difference in this third edition is the aesthetic change, namely a different font was used. While this may seem a small matter, it makes a noticeable difference in the appearance of the text and the difference is much better. I’m not sure what font was used in the second edition, but it was too narrow and the paper used for bibles already thin, this font made it more difficult to read, thus in a sense undermining the volume’s ultimate purpose. The font choice in this edition is much better!

We all know that a book’s contents are its most important element, but aesthetics matter, particularly for a volume that is designed to foster reading of the Greek text.  Thankfully, this edition of the RGNT has improved in this regard.  I might also add that the RGNT is significantly slimmer than the UBS-RE, a factor that will sway some towards this volume over the UBS-RE. The authors simply wanted to provide a resource that will foster the reading of the Greek text and to that end they have succeeded.

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New Testament Introductions

As part of preparing for my exams (upcoming next month), I’ve been reading through various NT introductory texts (to the point I’ve grown weary of it!). I don’t know that I’ve read any of them cover to cover, but I’ve read a fair amount of them and have come to like some more than others. Of these many I’ve pored over, such as The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (Ehrman, sixth edition), Introducing the New Testament (Drane), New Testament Introduction (Guthrie), The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Content (Metzger), The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles), The New Testament: A Historical and Theological Introduction (Hagner), Into the World of the New Testament: Greco-Roman and Jewish Texts and Contexts by Daniel Lynwood Smith, and Encounter with the New Testament: An Interdisciplinary Approach (Pregeant), I have to give the nod to The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament. While some may balk at this choice for its more conservative bent, it really is a superb volume. Even if you disagree with some of the authors’ interpretations or particular stance on an issue, they have provided fairly substantial arguments for their take on some of the more contentious matters, e.g., Pauline authorship of the Pastorals, apostolic authorship of Matthew, and have made a great effort to treat each book in light of its various contexts. If you haven’t picked up a copy and are looking for a solid NT intro, grab this one (or the abridged version The Lion and the Lamb: New Testament Essentials from the Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown). Read my glowing review of it here.

I’ve also begun reading Kregel’s latest NT intro edited by Berding and Williams–What the New Testament Authors Really Cared About–and it’s looking promising so far. It’s not the same type of intro as those mentioned above, but looks to be quite useful for its intended audience.

What are some of your go-to intros?

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A Most Useful Volume

I received this volume several years ago, but I wanted to tout its usefulness for those who may not have picked up a copy. The book is James Ware’s Synopsis of the Pauline Letters in Greek and English, published by Baker in 2010. For those who may not know, Ware has taken the Pauline texts and grouped them thematically, except for those sections are stylistically similar, e.g., greetings, conclusions, etc. Every turn of the page follows the same format–Greek on one side and English on the other–and allows ease of access to the texts one is reading. Arranging the texts in the way Ware has enables one to read multiple passages/verses on a particular idea or theme in Paul without having to locate them in a Greek or English text.

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I’ve consulted this volume periodically over the years, but have found it to be most useful lately in preparing for exams because, as I mentioned, it allows me to read multiple texts that address similar topics without having to thumb through the GNT.

So, for what it’s worth, I’d recommend you get a copy of this fine volume if you haven’t–it’s a most useful work!

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