The Beginning of the End…

Well, sort of. Today marks the beginning of my last seminar of coursework in route to a PhD (only exams and dissertation will remain–piece of cake, right?).

This semester we will be studying the general epistles and Revelation, so there is plenty of fodder for lively discussions! I am a tad disappointed that my research for the semester will not have much relevance for my dissertation. The last few seminars have allowed me to research and write on topics that would in some way aid my later research, a bonus for sure, but since I’m writing on Paul it would be a stretch to tie the two areas together. Despite this, however, I am excited about my topic for the next few months. Basically I’ll be examining literary monsters/creatures from Greek and Roman literature and their relevance (if any!) to John’s Apocalypse. I’ve got a good start on it, but I always have an open ear to suggestions for resources. If you know of solid works that would relevant for this topic, please feel free to send me the info.


Book Review: James in the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament

James (Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament)

B&H | Amazon | CBD

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

At first sight of this new series from B&H I wondered if this were simply going to be another commentary series. In part, it serves much of the same purpose as a commentary, though slightly different. While there are features present that you could certainly find in most commentaries, e.g., brief introductory discussions of date, authorship, structure, etc., there are a couple of primary differences that distinguish this series from a typical commentary.

First, these volumes are almost strictly exegetical in nature. As the series title suggests, each volume concerns the various elements that constitute exegesis of a text, though exegesis in reality involves a number of factors beyond what is presented in these volumes. The primary exegetical focus here is grammatical-syntactical and foregoes many of the elements found in traditional commentaries. Here, Vlachos discusses virtually every significant and/or difficult syntactical question, provides evidence for his interpretation, and surveys other sources to demonstrate how a particular clause, word, or other syntactical element is handled. There is little theological, historical, or other information provided, save for the instances in which historical usage helps explain a particular element.

Second, this volume (and each in the series presumably) also provides a short list of works one might consult for further study. While this is not uncommon in commentaries, these are slightly different because they are arranged thematically, rather than as simply a list of commentaries on the book of James. In addition, pastors and teachers will benefit somewhat from the inclusion of homiletical suggestions at the end of each section.

In sum, this is a very handy volume for those working through books of the NT. If you’re looking for a volume that discusses matters outside of grammar, you’ll need to look elsewhere; however, if syntax is your focus, this volume will be a handy addition to your library.

Read a sample here.

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Book Review: Roman Imperial Texts: A Sourcebook

Roman Imperial Texts: A Sourcebook by Mark Reasoner

Fortress | Amazon | CBD

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

In the field of biblical studies, recent years have seen a resurgence of titles concerning one element or another of the Greco-Roman world, many focusing on the Roman empire and reading the New Testament in light of the hulking shadow it cast over the world of Jesus, Paul, and many others. Works that examine particular facets of Roman culture in the first century are certainly helpful, but Reasoner’s volume proves its usefulness not because of extended examination of Roman culture (though there is an ample of amount of such), but by providing relevant texts that depict and describe the Roman emperors and the kingdom they built and expanded. To study and attempt to understand a culture, more often than not the best place to begin is with its literature. Thankfully, ancient Romans produced a treasure trove of material to be mined.

Reasoner’s work is comprised of three parts: 1) Emperors, 2) Community and its various components, and 3) the city of Rome. The discussion of the emperors focuses primarily on texts and numismatic evidence that speak of them in terms of divinity, beneficence, and their status as sons of the gods. This, naturally, is important for studying the NT concept of Jesus as the Son of God, though Reasoner does not push terribly hard to convince the reader that Son of God language in the NT is directly related to empirical sonship, though Reasoner does believe it important. For example, Reasoner suggests that the use of the term euangelia in the Priene inscription is the use alongside which one should read the canonical Gospels’ association of Jesus’ birth, life, and teachings (30). Part two concerns community in ancient Rome and how participation in various societal events and customs helped establish and define Roman identity. For early Christians, according to Reasoner, this provided a starting point of sorts for understanding their place in the body of Christ, particularly in light of Paul’s multiple references to such through his writings. The creation of an alternative society, i.e., the church, is illuminated when reading against the various texts here provided by Reasoner. Likewise with the collegium and domus, both of which are important for understanding many things Paul (and others) teach. In part three, Reasoner discusses a few aspects of Rome as a city, particularly as it concerned its far-reaching influence in the Mediterranean and beyond. War, commerce, and games were some of the means by which Rome wielded its influence. Early Christians, of course, lived in this immense shadow and Reasoner briefly discusses how these texts might illuminate references in the NT.

One of the strengths of this work is that there is a steady eye on various concepts prevalent in the NT (e.g., Son of God) while discussing the Roman texts. This does not mean that Reasoner deviates from the path by engaging in efforts to demonstrate that certain NT ideas and/or texts are anti-imperial or otherwise; rather, he simply notes these potential connections and provides brief commentary. The reader, then, is given ample food for thought and hopefully ignites a spark to investigate any such connections further, however tentative or substantial they might be. While Reasoner occasionally tips his hand, for the most part he writes with the objective of providing a springboard for further investigation.

Selectivity is an unavoidable constraint on works such as this and will perhaps deter some in favor of other more extensive (and expensive) volumes, but for most this volume will serve as a highly accessible and immensely helpful resource for better understanding the imperial context of the NT world.

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Best Commentaries on Revelation

My last seminar this spring will be focused on the catholic epistles and Revelation. Though I haven’t narrowed my research topic for this semester yet, I will likely pick up a few commentaries on Revelation and was wondering what recommendations you might have.

I already own volumes by Osborn (BECNT), Smalley (IVP), Blount (NTL), and Mounce (NICNT). Beale is an obvious choice and I will likely invest in it as well as Aune’s in WBC, but what others? Malina’s volume I’ve considered, though I’m not sold. I’ve pondered Koester’s as well, but I don’t know that I’m going to plunk down that much change for a single commentary.

Any thoughts would be welcome!

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Book Review: UBS5 Greek New Testament

The Greek New Testament, 5th Revised Edition w/dictionary

Hendrickson | CBD | Amazon

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

Like many other students of Koine Greek, I have a small stack of Greek New Testaments, which may inevitably lead others to ask why in the world I need another one! For most students, there are two primary options for studying the Greek texts that comprise the NT—the UBS edition and/or the Nestle-Aland edition. Each edition has its own merits and users will usually decide which volume they prefer, which probably boils down to the task for which they consult the GNT in the first place. The most obvious dividing line between these volumes is the critical apparatus, which is the strong point of the NA edition. For text-critical study and work in the GNT, the NA28 is the preferred edition.

A number of changes have been introduced to this edition of the UBS. First, the readings from papyri 117–127 are now cited, thus providing students with access to the most recent discoveries in the manuscript evidence. Second, readings from the Editio Critica Maior are included in the Catholic Epistles, 33 to be exact. These readings are also included in NA28 and their inclusion in the UBS5 evens the playing field a bit between these two primary GNT editions. Third, the discourse segmentation apparatus has been thoroughly revised in this edition and now includes a number of GNT editions and modern translations cited that offer an alternative translation that agrees with the segmentation of the UBS and are noted at the end of the variant’s listing. Translations cited are English, French, German, and Spanish. Fourth, the textual apparatus has been redone using the Coherence-based Genealogical Method, a method that could very well provide new and useful insights into the history of the text.

Aside from matters of textual criticism, the UBS and NA editions stand fairly evenly in the grand scheme of things. However, I have always preferred the UBS text to the NA, primarily because it was more readable. While the UBS certainly has a critical apparatus, it’s not nearly as robust as that of the NA and this is part of what makes it more pleasing for the reader. Beyond that, the font choice of the UBS editions, especially the fourth and now fifth editions, is more readable. Though the NA28 is better than the NA27 in this regard, the UBS continues to be less crowded and thus slightly less distracting.

In sum, one’s preference for the UBS over the NA (or vice-versa) will ultimately come down to the task at hand and one’s own preferences for reading/translating the Greek. If text-critical issues are not at the fore of your work, then go with the UBS5.

Read a sample of the UBS5 here.

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Book Review: Biblia Graeca

Biblia Graeca

Scholarly Bibles | Amazon | CBD

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

It is a privilege for us moderns to have access to the troves of literary treasure of the ancients. Access now comes by way of not only the printed page, but digital resources as well—a fine time to be a scholar for sure! One of the premier publishers of ancient texts is the German Bible Society, or Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, and this recent offering is indeed a fine work.

The long-awaited Biblia Graeca is comprised of Rahlf’s Septuagint and the Nestle-Aland 28th edition of the Greek New Testament. Any student of the Bible who has had any experience dealing with the LXX knows that Rahlf’s is not the go-to edition for serious text-critical work—for that one needs the Göttingen volumes, which for most are cost-prohibitive to own. One could, in a roundabout way, parallel Rahlf’s edition with the UBS5 text and the Göttingen with the NA28 in terms of its critical apparatus. Nevertheless, Biblia Graeca remains a handy volume.

The quality of its construction is also a plus. It’s a hardcover and has sewn binding, thus suiting it for regular and prolonged use. The pages are printed on paper that as far as I can tell is standard DBG’s original language texts. Expectedly, the paper is somewhat thin so there is a measure of ghosting, which is a tad more distracting in the NT portion due to the amount of marginal references and TC apparatus. On the matter of aesthetics, I have one primary complaint—I have always disliked the font used in Rahlf’s LXX. Presumably the choice was made due to space considerations, given that the text is just over 2,000 pages and that even a slightly larger font would make the work considerably longer. Though I don’t particularly like the font in the NA28 either, it’s more legible than that of the LXX and thus causes less eye strain for me. As an aside, one of the primary reasons I have preferred the UBS text over the years is because of the font.

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Biblia Graeca is strictly utilitarian—its design forgoes any hopes of leisurely reading or other use. Obviously combining two works of this sort makes for a hefty volume. Clocking in at over 3,000 pages, this volume is not exactly what I would call portable. While the overall dimensions are the same as the individual volumes (which means it looks great on the shelf next to others), its sheer mass makes it more suited to being a stationary reference rather than one you might toss in a messenger bag and carry to the library or office. As such, I keep this volume at work and have my separated volumes at home. Plus, if ever you’re in need, it also serves as a great paperweight or doorstop! I have both of these works as separate volumes and having them as individual volumes is great, especially for the portability factor; however, I do enjoy the privilege of having these two works bound together. It makes for ease of access to the texts—a pure convenience if nothing else. While this is a somewhat costly volume, its convenience factor will be worth it for some while for others it will prove too costly. It will nevertheless serve well those who invest in this splendid work.

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Read a sample here.

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