N.T. Wright on learning Greek, and a review of A Reader’s Hebrew and Greek Bible by Zondervan

I met N.T. Wright briefly in January at a worship symposium and asked him how to improve my Greek. He said, “Read the text, read the text, read the text.”

He told me to really get the feel of the language. Don’t think of Greek just as a code for English; get into the Greek itself. I asked him about reading with a diglot, but he encouraged me to check the English translation only after reading an entire Greek paragraph, and then, only as necessary.

The same holds true with Hebrew. Read the text, read the text, read the text. Reading it out loud is even better, and better still is trying to speak it to others.

Zondervan has published what is to my knowledge the only “reader’s” edition of the Hebrew Bible. It’s a masterpiece. The font is clear, sized perfectly, and easy to read (see at right, and click to enlarge). It uses the Leningrad Codex. It has no textual apparatus (which could be a distraction in a “reader’s edition”), but instead footnotes rarely occurring vocabulary. Not counting proper nouns, editors Philip Brown and Bryan Smith footnote all words that occur less than 100 times in the Hebrew Bible. Here they give “glosses,” which give the reader the basic meaning of the word. Aramaic words that occur less than 25 times are listed in the footnotes in the page on which they occur.

For readers who blank on a word that occurs, say, 150 times in the Hebrew Bible, a glossary at the back will allow them to look up even additional words.

Brown used HALOT and BDB to write the glosses. The bottom of the page looks like this (click for larger):

Note in #s 2, 7, and 8 that there is also listed what the verb stem is for a given use. What makes this feature especially easy to use is the bolding of the words before their glosses.

The only thing to critique in the Hebrew reader’s edition is that proper nouns, which are to appear in grey font since they’re not footnoted, occasionally go missed. Brown has posted an errata list here, many of which have been fixed in recent printings.

For a preview of the Hebrew reader’s edition, see here (PDF) and here (PDF).

Zondervan’s Greek reader’s New Testament has not met with such universal acclaim. It’s a good resource to have on hand, to be sure, but in my view it’s not as well executed as the Hebrew reader’s Bible.

Rather than being based on the scholarly editions of the NA27 or UBS4, the text is “the eclectic text that underpins the Today’s New International Version.” The scholars who produced the TNIV, in other words, made different textual decisions in some instances than did the editors of the “Standard Text” of the NA27/UBS4. Where this is the case, a limited textual apparatus notes it. While this could be problematic for textual criticism, the text is not vastly different from the standard one, and is certainly fine for reading.

As with the Hebrew reader’s edition, the Greek reader’s Bible footnotes and explains words that occur less than 30 times in the Greek New Testament. One unfortunate decision is that, unlike the Hebrew, the Greek footnotes do not have the glossed word in bold. This makes navigating the footnotes more cumbersome:

Font is perhaps a personal preference. While Philip Brown did a magnificent job of typesetting the Hebrew, the Greek font leaves something to be desired. It’s not the easiest Greek font I’ve read. It’s not unreadable as fonts go, but it’s thin. I got used to it after a while, so it’s not unmanageable, but the font in the UBS Greek Reader’s New Testament is easier to read. The latter also puts the footnoted glosses into two columns, which makes referencing them quicker.

Not long ago Zondervan combined the Hebrew and the Greek into one mammoth, leather-bound Reader’s Hebrew and Greek Bible. The volume is large (but how could it not be?) and impressive. It’s constructed well. The binding is sewn (rejoice!), so it will last for a while.

This combination carries with it the great advantage that its user has both the Hebrew and the Greek Bibles under one cover. Now I just have to carry one geeky Bible to church rather than two! Huge benefit.

Another nice thing about this edition is that with Hebrew going from right to left and Greek from left to right, the Greek New Testament starts at the “front” and the Hebrew Bible starts at the “back,” just as both would be in their separate volumes.

The introduction to each half explains well how the text is laid out, the footnoting of the vocabulary, and so on. All the glory of Brown’s Hebrew edition is there, and the less-than-ideal Greek font is there in the Greek portion. One thing to add in appreciation of the Greek part, however, is that Old Testament quotations appear in bold, with their references listed at the bottom of the page. The eight pages of color maps between the two sections are a nice bonus, too.

The construction of the two Bibles combined is executed quite well. I’m happy to only have to take one original language Bible with me to church now.

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy of A Reader’s Hebrew and Greek Bible. They provided me with one in the hopes of my reviewing it on my blog, but with no expectation as to the content of the review. Find Zondervan’s product page here.

Leslie C. Allen’s Liturgy of Grief for under $5 (ebook)

Leslie C. Allen’s Liturgy of Grief is under $5 this month in ebook form. It’s here on Amazon ($4.99) and here on CBD ($3.99). It’s a good deal for a great “pastoral commentary” on Lamentations.

I reviewed the book this summer, as well as interviewed the author.

New issue of Journal of Biblical Literature is up

Issue 131.3 of The Journal of Biblical Literature is out. You have to be a Society of Biblical Literature member to access the full contents, but you can see what’s in the new fall 2012 issue here.

From SBL, here is what’s inside the issue.

Judah Comes to Shiloh: Genesis 49:10ba, One More Time
Serge Frolov, 417–422

The Four Moses Death Accounts
Philip Y. Yoo, 423–441

Not Just Any King: Abimelech, the Northern Monarchy, and the Final Form of Judges
Brian P. Irwin, 443–454

The Heart of Yhwh’s Chosen One in 1 Samuel
Benjamin J. M. Johnson, 455–466

Secrets and Lies: Secrecy Notices (Esther 2:10, 20) and Diasporic Identity in the Book of Esther
Martien A. Halvorson-Taylor, 467–485

Psalms Dwelling Together in Unity: The Placement of Psalms 133 and 134 in Two Different Psalms Collections
Ryan M. Armstrong, 487–506

Archer Imagery in Zechariah 9:11–17 in Light of Achaemenid Iconography
Ryan P. Bonfiglio, 507–527

Eyewitnesses as Guarantors of the Accuracy of the Gospel Traditions in the Light of Psychological Research
Robert K. McIver, 529–546

Voluntary Debt Remission and the Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1–13)
John K. Goodrich 547–566

Paul’s Areopagus Speech of Acts 17:16–34 as Both Critique and Propaganda
Joshua W. Jipp, 567–588

“Be Ye Approved Money Changers!” Reexamining the Social Contexts of the Saying and Its Interpretation
Curtis Hutt, 589–609

Of texts, translations, and readers

From A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint (Lust/Eynikel/Hauspie):

When preparing a lexicon of the LXX, one is faced with several basic questions related to the fact that most of the books of the LXX are translations. This lexicon is supposed to give the meaning, i.e. the English translation equivalents, of the words used in the LXX. However, which meaning should be given, the one intended by the translator or the one understood by the readers for whom it was intended? Is reference to be made to the underlying Hebrew or Aramaic, or is the search for meaning to be confined to the Greek? These questions are interrelated and connected with the special character of “Septuagint Greek.”

This made me think of something I just read in Roy E. Ciampa’s chapter, “Approaching Paul’s Use of Scripture in Light of Translation Studies,” in Paul and Scripture: Extending the Conversation, edited by Christopher D. Stanley.

The point is that translations need to be analyzed not only in terms of their relationship with the source text but also in terms of (a) how the target text’s place within its adoptive literary system (as well as the social, religious, and other systems of which it is a part) relates to the source text’s place within its adoptive literary and other systems, and (b) how the place of the author of the source text within his culture and context relates to his place within the target text’s culture and context, and so forth.

Readers and how they understand texts are an issue, too.

Ciampa says in another place:

Paul’s interpretative method is closer to the idea of an indirect translation—one that that only partially resembles the original text and its meaning, retaining only those parts that are relevant to those to whom his interpretation is being transmitted. He may be aspiring not to complete interpretive resemblance with the original but only to partial resemblance, making alterations in order to adapt the text and its message in ways that optimize its relevance for his congregations.

The questions raised by each of the three above quotations are all reasons I am interested in studying the Septuagint, and now the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament. I’m learning that it’s so much more than just, what text did the NT writers have at hand, but also: how did NT writers use a text (whether Greek or Hebrew) to fit the needs of their writing and their audience? It’s a lot to unpack, and some of it is near impossible to know. But exploring questions like these strikes me as time well spent, even if I’ve unearthed more questions than answers for the time being.

One of my reviews to be published in Bible Study Magazine

I have written a book review that is slated to be published in an upcoming issue of Bible Study Magazine.

You can see what Bible Study Magazine looks like by flipping through this past issue.

The book I review is Lamentations and the Song of Songs, by Harvey Cox and Stephanie Paulsell. It’s the newest edition of Westminster John Knox Press’s Belief theological commentary series. (More about the book is here.)

Both authors suggest reading their respective biblical books in a “participatory mood.” Cox and Paulsell each highlight the timelessness of Lamentations and Song of Songs, surveying well their history of interpretation to help readers today apply them and enter in to the texts. A good commentary to have at hand, especially when preaching through either Lamentations or Song of Songs–something that probably doesn’t happen as often as it should.

Reasons to pay attention to the Septuagint, and a few easy ways to do it

One of my most-visted posts at Words on the Word has been “Why you need the Septuagint.” I give 10 reasons.

Karen H. Jobes and Moisés Silva give some reasons in their Invitation to the Septuagint. Here Septuagint blogger Brian Davidson summarizes the reasons they give for Septuagint study.

I have a list of resources for Septuagint study here. I’ve particularly enjoyed studying the Septuagint recently with the use of Bible software programs. Here and here I blog about BibleWorks (PC) and the Septuagint. Here I write about Accordance (Mac) and the Septuagint.

Stay tuned for an additional installment in my Logos 4 review, which will explore how one can profitably use Logos for Septuagint study.

And if you want to just start reading the Septuagint, you can do it for free here!

The Gospel According to Isaiah 53, reviewed

Isaiah 53 is one of the clearest prophecies of Jesus the Messiah in the Hebrew Scriptures. This chapter has changed the lives of thousands of people–both Jews and Gentiles–who have read the text and believed in the One who fulfilled these prophecies in glorious detail.

Thus begins Mitch Glaser’s Introduction in The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology (affiliate link). In three parts the book expounds how the prophecies of Isaiah 53 relate to and are ultimately fulfilled in the person of Jesus. (The full passage the book treats is Isaiah 52:13-Isaiah 53.)

The first section, a sort of exegetical prelude, discusses “Christian interpretations” and “Jewish interpretations” of Isaiah 53. The second section is a biblical theology of Isaiah 53 (with particular attention to its use throughout Scripture). The third and concluding section speaks to “Isaiah 53 and Practical Theology,” with an emphasis on how to preach the passage, both from the pulpit and in conversation.

The book is “designed to enable pastors and lay leaders to deepen their understanding of Isaiah 53 and to better equip the saints for ministry among the Jewish people.”

The first thing I noticed about the book is that it’s just as much an apologetic for Jesus-as-suffering-servant as it is an academic study of Isaiah 53. It’s not that it lacks academic substance, though. This is a meaty book, and pleasingly so.

Regarding the book’s explicitly evangelistic intent–there may be some who are uncomfortable with the description of Chosen People Ministries’ “Isaiah 53 Campaign” (including 75,000 postcards to Jewish homes and 40,000 voice blasts=robo-calls?). I’ll admit that I question the potential efficacy of pre-recorded phone messages for reaching anyone with the Gospel (though God can use anything!). But see blogger Joel Watts for his helpful (refreshing!) take on the blending of the academic and evangelistic enterprises, especially in the context of this book.

You can find a full list of contributors in the table of contents here (pdf). A few names to highlight are Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Darrell L. Bock (one of the co-editors), Craig A. Evans, and Donald R. Sunukjian. I particularly appreciated the book’s treatment of the New Testament use of Isaiah 53. The chapter by Michael J. Wilkins lists the quotations of Isaiah 53 in the NT and additional allusions to it in the Gospels. (He makes a key point, that Jesus himself understood “his mission and death in the light of Isaiah 53.”) Darrell Bock goes in depth with a comparison of the Greek and Hebrew texts of Isaiah 53:7-8, highlighting its use in Acts 8 where Philip explains the passage to the Ethiopian eunuch.

Something to critique in this book is that there were a few generalizations of Jews that I found to be unfair, particularly in the chapter “Using Isaiah 53 in Jewish Evangelism.” Mitch Glaser writes:

I think I can safely say that, in the United States, most Jewish people would recognize Isaiah as the first name of a professional athlete sooner than they would recognize the prophet of biblical literature.

Granted, he is operating from the assumption that “most Jewish people are not Lubavitch, Hasidic, or Orthodox,” but still…. What was more surprising to me: “Most Jewish people do not understand or believe in biblical prophecy” and, “Most Jewish people do not believe in sin.” Glaser does (only later) qualify these with, “We must note that all of the above does not apply to those who hold to traditional Jewish theological positions,” but he would have been better off saying something like “many secular or ethnic but non-religious Jews…” or at least supporting his statements with statistics from surveys rather than anecdotal evidence. Glaser himself is a converted Jew who has a compelling conversion story, but I still found those characterizations to be frustrating. I wonder how helpful such statements could be in advancing an evangelistic cause in conversation with another Jew.

This next thing to highlight may seem a small point to some, but as someone seeking to keep my Hebrew and Greek going, I appreciated the actual Hebrew and Greek fonts throughout the book (i.e., not just transliteration), which are clear and easy to read. I did think, however, about an intended audience of “pastors and lay leaders” who may have desired transliteration, too. (All Hebrew and Greek is translated into English.)

Darrell Bock’s conclusion summarizes all the essays of the book, with key quotations. Having this there was a big help in piecing everything together again. The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 will not be far from my reach in coming months and years. I expect I will often reference this compendium of biblical scholarship on a vital text. My hesitations about the characterizations of Jews above notwithstanding, there is a good deal here that can be useful for Christian-Jewish conversations about the Suffering Servant.

I received a free copy of The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 with the only expectations of providing an (unbiased and honest) review on this blog. Its publisher’s product page is here. It’s on Amazon here (affiliate link).

Septuagint Sunday: What IS the Septuagint? Why “LXX”?

click on image to go to source

Of all the Septuagint bloggers in the world, Brian Davidson is perhaps my favorite. He is now also a fellow BibleWorks user, as he begins his review of it here.

For this week’s Septuagint Sunday, I send you to Brian’s brief but informative posts on Septuagint terminology:

  • Here he explains the use of the word “Septuagint” and its ambiguities
  • Here he writes about what the number 70 (“LXX”) has to do with it

Thanks for your blog, Brian!

Review of Biblical Hebrew: A Compact Guide

At long last, a compact reference guide to Biblical Hebrew!  Not long ago Zondervan released Biblical Greek: A Compact Guide, a helpful and portable distillation of Mounce’s oft-used grammar. Many such little books already exist for easily reviewing Koine Greek: Dale Russell Bowne’s Paradigms and Principal Parts for the Greek New Testament, Paul Fullmer and Robert H. Smith’s Greek at a Glance, and even the back of Kubo’s Reader’s Lexicon has a good summary of Greek grammar with paradigm charts.

There seem to be more resources available to students of Biblical Greek than to students of Biblical Hebrew.  For example, while there is just one (excellent!) “Reader’s” Hebrew Bible (uncommon vocabulary is glossed at the bottom of the page), I am aware of at least three Reader’s Bibles that exist for the Greek New Testament.  So Miles Van Pelt’s Compact Guide, based on his and Gary Pratico’s Basics of Biblical Hebrew, is a welcome addition as far as this eager Hebrew student is concerned.

The book is not terribly dissimilar from Pratico/Van Pelt’s Charts of Biblical Hebrew, but unlike that work, A Compact Guide is more than just a collection of charts and paradigms.  Each section includes a distillation of what is in the larger grammar textbook, followed by paradigms and charts for quick reference. Seeing Van Pelt’s world-famous color-coded verbal diagnostics is a highlight.

Oddly enough, at times there seems to be more precision and detail in this little book than in the larger grammar.  Or perhaps it’s just more nuance or smoother grouping of material that has come about with the passage of time since the publishing of the grammar’s second edition. For example, there is a section in the Compact Guide on “particles” that is a unique and clearer grouping than what is in the larger grammar. And whereas the grammar lists three kinds of Hebrew prepositions (independent, Maqqef, and inseparable), the Compact Guide adds a fourth: compound prepositions, where “two different prepositions, or a preposition and a noun” (28) combine to make a new preposition. (This fourth category appeared in the larger textbook later in its chapter as “Advanced Information”; having everything grouped together in the Compact Guide was easier.)

The primary focus of the guide is morphology (how words are formed, including paradigm charts) and syntax (how words are used in sentences, i.e., grammar).  Unlike Basics of Biblical Hebrew there is not much in the Compact Guide by way of vocabulary, save for a Hebrew-English mini-lexicon at the back of the book.  Unfortunately, there was no explanatory note as to what constituted inclusion on the lexicon.  (In Mounce’s Greek Compact Guide, the lexicon notes that it includes words that occur in the New Testament 10 times or more.)

From what I can tell, though, the Hebrew Compact Guide reproduces exactly the Hebrew-English lexicon in its larger textbook counterpart. In this case, the lexicon covers Hebrew words that occur 50 times or more in the biblical text. The Basics of Biblical Hebrew lexicon notes that it also adds “less frequently occurring words that appear in the grammar and workbook.”

In addition to a thorough listing of paradigms (the 11-page section on pronominal suffixes is particularly helpful), the book is filled with examples from the Hebrew Bible (with English translation).  The Hebrew font used, while not quite as easy to read as that of the grammar, is readable enough. (And that may just be a matter of personal preference anyway.)

The section on verbs is a particular strength of this work–in addition to examining all the forms and stems (both strong and weak), there are extensive listings of paradigms for easy review.

All in all, I give a hearty two thumbs up to this work–and express my gratitude that it is now on the scene for those who want to keep their Biblical Hebrew fresh!  For a beginner in Biblical Hebrew I would recommend the full-length grammar textbook, but for those with even a semester or two of Hebrew (and beyond), this small reference guide will be a valuable and inexpensive addition to their library. As Van Pelt notes in his preface, even “veterans” of Hebrew will be able to utlize the guide to “keep fit” in their language use.

Icing on the cake: the pocket-sized paperback comes encased in a sturdy, translucent plastic cover.

You can preview the book here.

Note: I received a review copy from Zondervan for the purposes of this review. I had initially reviewed a digital galley version of this book through Net Galley. The above reproduces my galley review, checked now against the hard copy for accuracy.