Book Review: Hellenistic and Biblical Greek

Review---Hellenistic-and-Biblical-GreekHellenistic and Biblical Greek: A Graduated Reader

by B. H. McLean

Cambridge University Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

McLean adopts a “historical” Greek pronunciation scheme, which is quite similar to the modern way of pronunciation, but varies on several letters. This is hardly a criticism as it does not ultimately affect how one reads and retains the texts, but I thought it important to note.

This book includes a number of elements that are helpful for reading the texts therein. In the front matter, in addition to the groups of abbreviations, McLean includes a section on frequently occurring grammatical constructions, a nice touch considering the volume is designed for those who have had one of more years of Greek. Unless you read a lot of Greek on a regular basis, there are constructions that you just don’t see a lot and the inclusion of such an element will prove helpful for many. Each section also includes its own vocabulary list. McLean has in bold print those words he thinks necessary to memorize, a call which is obviously subjective, but could be helpful nonetheless. The vocabulary lists included in Part 1 (pp. 13–67, “basic level” texts) is built on the assumption that the reader has learned all the words in the Greek NT that occur fifty times or more—these words are not included in the glossary after each text. Each subsequent section then builds on the assumption that the reader has committed to memory the bold type vocab from the previous section. My assumption then is that these words are not repeated section to section, though I did not look into it. For those who may forget words as they work from section to section, there is a glossary in the back that includes all words that occur fifty times or more in the GNT as well as all vocabulary found in the texts. Additionally, McLean has included in the back additional helps, such as a summary of verbal paradigms, cardinal and ordinal numbers, alphabetic numerals, names of the months, Greek currency names and their monetary equivalents, and terms used to narrate the approval of decrees, all of which are immensely helpful, especially for those who don’t encounter these elements enough to immediately recognize them or simply have never memorized them.

This book reinforces an old dictum I heard when first learning Greek—mastery of vocabulary will make all the difference. As I worked through early sections of the book, I found that it wasn’t the syntax that was tricky, but simply vocabulary I either didn’t know or had forgotten along the way. Naturally, the biblical texts I knew better than non-biblical ones, but the vocabulary was definitely the sticking point for some sections. Overall, the graduation of difficulty will vary for each reader depending on their familiarity with the text at hand. As I mentioned, the biblical texts were a little easier for me because I was familiar with them and the particular author’s style, even though they were later in the book and thus were deemed more difficult than previous chapters. For example, in the intermediate-level section, Gal 1:1–2:20 is coupled along with a letter of introduction to Zenon, a family letter of an army recruit to his mother, and some other biblical and non-biblical texts. Again, familiarity can be a welcome help when dealing with syntax and vocabulary and these non-biblical texts were about the same level (inasmuch as I’m able to make such evaluations), but knowing the biblical passages enabled me to work much more quickly through them. At the same time, given that texts are grouped according to their grammatical and vocabulary similarities, being familiar with the biblical text did help work through the others.

There a couple of typos that stood out in the front matter, both involving font changes that escaped the typesetter’s eye. On p. xxx, the text reads “The days from 2 to 10 were counted as the ‘rising’ (iJstamevnou)”. Similarly, on p. xxxi, the text at the end of an example with a clause from Matt 5:20, after the last word Φαρισσαíων, reads “Farisaivwn (Matt 5:20)”.

Perhaps the most salient takeaway from this book is it enables the reader to experience the importance of reading outside of one particular corpus. For the majority of seminary students who take/took Greek, their exposure to the language is almost exclusively the Greek of the New Testament. Granted, the GNT exposes readers to a variety of literary styles and their inherent differences, but many students who take NT Greek do so with varying degrees of familiarity with the Bible. This can be an aid when translating, but it can also become a crutch. Thus, books like this fine work of McClean’s are essential, I think, to strengthening one’s grasp of the NT text in general, but also helps one gain a much better knowledge of how Greek of the period works. My only complaint about this book is not related to content, but a layout issue. There were a number of times when I would look at the sectional glossary for a term only to find that it was on the next page. I don’t know if this could have been avoided—perhaps there were spacing issues that prevented it—but I found this to be an annoyance. However, let me say that this minor issue in now way detracts from the overall quality and usefulness of the book. If I were teaching any class that required reading of Greek texts, this would be atop the list.

Take a look inside here or download a sample chapter here.

Book Review: The Romans and Their World

Review---The-Romans-and-Their-World
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: What the New Testament Authors Really Cared About, 2d Edition

Review--What-the-NT-Authors-Really-Cared-About

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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Bible Review: NRSV Anglicized Edition

NRSV Anglicized Edition

Cambridge | Amazon

When it comes to bibles, there are certain expectations that are set by a publisher when you receive and use one of their bibles that happens to be a splendidly produced volume. So what do I think of the NRSV in French Morocco leather? Not surprisingly, this is yet another superbly designed bible from the folks at Cambridge University Press. I’ve had this one for a while now (it arrived on my doorstep some months ago) and, like the previous editions I’ve reviewed from Cambridge, this bible is wonderfully fashioned.

Let’s begin with the binding. In comparison to other bibles I’ve reviewed (NIV Pitt Minion in black goatskin, HCSB in top grain cowhide, ESV in brown calfskin), the French Morocco is definitely the least supple. That’s not to say it’s rough and not enjoyable—quite the opposite—it’s rather nice. In contrast to the others mentioned, French Morocco is grainier and coarser, but that doesn’t mean that it’s unappealing. Though not as soft as other premium leathers, French Morocco is still a quality skin and will likely endure as long as or longer than softer leathers. The appearance is nice, too. Though time and use has dulled it quite a bit, the aroma of French Morocco is like the others—a hearty, aromatic leather that I can still detect.

Being a Cambridge bible, I anticipated a certain level of quality and, needless to say, these expectations were met. The overall craftsmanship of Cambridge bibles is first rate—there’s not corner cutting or shortcuts taken. This bible simply feels solid and that’s a plus for any bible that’s going to be used with any regularity. In terms of the bible’s features, it’s pretty much a bare bones package—front matter (table of contents, letter from the translators) and the biblical text, including Apocrypha—that’s it. There are no indexes, no maps—just the text. For some this may be disappointing, but not for me. Like many of you, I have more than enough bibles with plenty of additional material in them should I want to read text and have supplemental information at hand. So, when I get this bible out, it is typically only to read and/or check how this translation handled a particular question of syntax or the like. On that note, this bible’s size also adds to its functionality (it measures out at 8.5 x 5.5 in). Because it’s stripped of any superfluous extras, it’s a perfect size to carry along in your bag/backpack or to keep handy for reading or referencing (as I do). The text is printed on gilt-edged paper, which itself doesn’t allow text to bleed through as much as more inexpensive bibles, and the font is adequately sized (Lexicon 8.75) for reading without undue strain. There are footnotes throughout, though they take up minimal page space, and there are no cross references or other similar “helps”. Also, since this is the Anglicized version, British spellings are employed throughout.

In sum, all you really need to know is that this is a Cambridge bible, so you can rightly assume that it is of the highest quality. As with my others from Cambridge, I fully expect this one to last at least my lifetime and beyond!

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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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Bible Review: NIV Zondervan Study Bible

Review---NIV-Z-Study-BibleNIV Zondervan Study Bible

Zondervan | Amazon | CBD

I would like to thank the kind folks at Zondervan for this review copy!

One of the things that struck me about this bible is the name—the NIV Zondervan Study Bible hereafter NIVZSB. The insertion of the publisher into the actual title is a bit strange to me. My guess is they did this to distinguish it from Zondervan’s previous study bible, the NIV Study Bible. While I’ve never used an older NIV study bible, I feel certain this current volume will supersede those quite easily.

Like other study bibles, this iteration from Zondervan is hefty—a whopping 2,912 pages—and in those pages readers will find a wealth of information, all of which is obviously designed to help them understand the text and the world it reflects. The overall design of the NIVZSB is very appealing and draws the eye in. The abundance of full-color graphics is a very nice touch and the text itself is very readable. The sections of biblical text are a serif font, whereas the study notes below are a sans serif font, which makes for a needed contrast. The study notes are also set against a light green background, thus enhancing its readability.

A number of elements I appreciate in this bible. The first is found in the front matter; in fact, it’s the first of many illustrations. This one concerns OT chronology, which is a notoriously difficult matter to sort out. This chronological timeline spans five pages and includes the Israelite peoples, as well as southern and northern Mesopotamia, Egypt, Syria-Palestine, Anatolia, Crete, Persia, Greece, and Italy. Of course not all of these civilizations have bearing through all of Israel’s history, but at various times each one plays some role in the formation and development of the people of Israel. This more detailed outline begins with 2500 bce and the timeline for Israel begins with the patriarchs, roughly 2250 bce. What I like about this timeline, as I mentioned, is how they handle the primeval history of Genesis 1–11. What time frame do they assign to the creation accounts, the fall, flood, and Babel? They don’t—they indicate this with a “?”. I like this for a number of reasons: we can’t be sure when these events happened, it’s the position I happen to hold, and it doesn’t embroil itself in the ever-contentious debates between science and faith. Whatever your belief about the first humans and Genesis and the ancillary matters that naturally spawn from that discussion, I appreciate that this was left as an unknown.

Another appreciable element (found in any good study bible) is the introductory articles. The NIVZSB not only introduces each book, but each section, so the reader can be briefly oriented to the OT and NT as a whole, as well as each section’s subsections. For example, after reading the “Introduction to the Old Testament”, the reader then may reader intros to the Pentateuch, the historical books, wisdom and “lyrical” books, and prophets. The book intros discuss much of what you should expect—dates of composition, provenance, themes, etc.—and give the reader a bird’s-eye view of the book. At the conclusion of the OT portion, there is a nice article on the intertestamental period that informs the reader of the importance of what happened historically between the testaments. Venturing into the NT portion of the NIVZSB, there is a two-page chronological timeline beginning with Herod the Great and concluding with the close of the first century. The NT section is handled slightly differently in that rather than having separate articles that discuss the various types of writings in the NT, these are subsumed in the intro to the NT article itself, presumably because the editors felt that three types of literature could be more easily handled this way (gospels, letters, apocalypse). After the NT, the reader is treated to a number of customary elements—tables of weights and measures, index, concordance, and maps. However, in addition to these there are additional articles that cover various topics that figure centrally throughout the bible, e.g., creation, sin, covenant, exile, temple, holiness, justice, grace, etc.

This bible is chock full of helps for the reader—there is no shortage of information available in this volume! Besides the elements already mentioned, the NIVZSB has numerous cross references (in the Gospels this includes parallel accounts found in the other Gospel accounts), an abundance of illustrations (nearly every other page it seems is beset with some sort of graphic illustration, chart, or other visual aid), and copious notes beneath the text that provide definitions for important terms and/or phrases, relevant background information, and brief discussions of difficult passages, e.g., Rom 9–11, 1 Tim 2:8–15, Heb 6:4–6, James 2:18–26, and others.

One of the most unique features of this study bible is that it essentially follows a biblical-theological scheme and seeks to tell the whole story of Scripture, which obviously assumes a unified text with a common trajectory or end. This, of course, will also affect how certain texts are translated. D. A. Carson notes this in the Editor’s Preface: “Finally, this study Bible emphasizes biblical theology” and “we have tried to highlight the way various themes develop within the Bible across time” (xxiii). I find this a helpful approach and I think this feature will distinguish the NIVZSB from others.

If I may quibble, there is one (very) minor annoyance with this Bible—the inconsistent use of dashes. I know, I know—that’s rather petty, especially considering how magnificent this volume is otherwise. However, years of slavish adherence to Turabian and SBL styles of formatting have hardened me and I can’t help but notice these things. The issue is found primarily in the outlines for each book. When indicating a range of verses, some sections are demarked by an em dash instead of an en dash, so that ranges look like “1:2—18” instead of “1:2­–18”. Again, I acknowledge this is comparatively minor, but sometimes it’s the little things that annoy and this is no exception.

In sum, the NIVZSB is superbly designed and imminently helpful study bible—this could be the new standard for such works. If you’re looking for a study bible, look no further—the NIV Zondervan Study Bible has everything you need to better understand the Bible.

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Read a sample here or take a look online.

Book Review: Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical & Post-Biblical Antiquity

Review---Dictionary-of-Daily-Life

Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical & Post-Biblical Antiquity, Vol. 2: De–H

Hendrickson | Amazon | CBD

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

Along with an abundance of Bible translations available to the English-speaking world, we also have a wealth of resources and tools with which to study the Bible at our disposal. So, some may wonder why another dictionary that seeks to say something about the ancient world in which the Bible’s story unfolded? With such acclaimed series as The Anchor Bible Dictionary and IVP’s black dictionaries, do we really need another? In short, yes, for a couple of reasons. First, for all we know about the ancient world, there’s quite a bit more that we don’t know. What we don’t know about the ancient world, however, is steadily decreasing (albeit very slowly) and with new discoveries and advancements comes the need to supplement what we already “know”. Second, no matter how exhaustive a resource attempts to be, it is simply impossible to say all that can/needs to be said about a given issue, hence the need for other volumes and/or series to fill in the gaps. This is precisely the goal of Hendrickson’s marvelous series Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical & Post-Biblical Antiquity (hereafter DDL).

The primary way in which this series differs from others is its focus—on the daily life of those of antiquity. More technical series (ABD, IVP’s black dictionaries) offer insight into all aspects of the biblical world, particularly those issues that were more pervasive socially, e.g., imperial cult, agriculture, religious praxis, etc. The DDL, however, places the focus on aspects of life that were perhaps not central to the texts that reflected the culture. Ed Yamauchi, who both edited and contributed to this series, cites the issue of abortion as but one example of a practice that was pervasive in the ancient Mediterranean, yet is not addressed in the Bible (1). This particular volume covers such matters as dentistry and teeth, doors and keys, food consumption, heating and lighting, and horses, along with a number of other aspects of daily like that are perhaps more expected. As Yamauchi correctly points out, the authors of the Bible took for granted what was well known to themselves and their audience, thus they had no need to provide all the requisite background information to understand what they were reporting (1). As such, we must comb the sources of the ancient world in order to understand their world and thus better understand the context of the Bible. However, outside of academia, most readers of the bible have neither the resources nor the skills to mine the depths of ancient sources, so works like DDL demonstrate their ultimate value.

The articles are written by experts in their fields but are written in very accessible prose so that the reader might receive the maximum benefit. Each topic is discussed in various contexts—the scriptural first (Old and New Testaments) followed by the cultural (Near Eastern, Greco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian)—thus providing the reader with a wider range of backgrounds against which to understand that particular issue. To accommodate those who wish to read beyond the pages of DDL, each article concludes with a substantive up-to-date bibliography.

There is really nothing to dislike about this series, save for the use of transliterated terms from the languages of the sources cited and otherwise noted. This negligible element aside, the DDL is a solid work, one that will benefit both scholars and non-academics alike. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that no, it is improbable that anyone reading these volumes won’t find something they disagree with. However, this volume (and presumably the first one) are well researched and lucidly written, so even in disagreement readers will learn with great benefit. Will this series replace others? No, and it isn’t meant to—it’s a supplement to previous works that will greatly aid in the study of the world of the Bible.

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