Just a short post today to alert you to a new commentary on the book of Ruth: Daniel I. Block’s volume in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament. Ruth is just the third published volume in the series, formerly called Hearing the Message of Scripture. Block is the General Editor of the series.
This month’s free book of the month from Logos Bible Software is the brilliant Nahum Sarna’s JPS Torah Commentary. It’s worth much more than $0.00, but you can get it for that price here. I reviewed the commentary here.
Logos is also offering the JPS Jonah Commentary (I covered it here) for $1.99–an excellent deal.
Though it’s been long in coming, the Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ) is meant to supercede the current scholarly edition of the Hebrew Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS).
What is the BHQ? Start here and you’ll get a good grasp of it. I updated my readers in 2014 with what was then some new information. To my great surprise, in a .pdf from Hendrickson Publishers today, I saw a cover image for the Genesis volume!
Look on the far right:
So new is it that Amazon and Hendrickson both don’t have it listed by ISBN or any other means. Hopefully it really will show up soon!
UPDATE: I have received word that the expected release date is Spring 2016.
This reader is for anyone very eager to read the story of Daniel in the lions’ den and many other fascinating stories in their original language, Aramaic.
A brief outline of Biblical Aramaic grammar is followed by a verse-by-verse grammatical commentary on the Aramaic chapters in the books of Daniel and Ezra. Both the outline grammar and the grammatical commentary presuppose basic knowledge of the grammar and vocabulary of Biblical Hebrew. Constant references are made in the commentary to relevant sections of the outline grammar. The commentary is written in a user-friendly, not overtly technical language. Some grammatical exercises with keys and paradigms conclude the Reader. Also suitable for self-study.
At just under 100 pages, it looks great. Find it on Amazon here.
I’ve made no secret of my love of Jewish Publication Society’s works. The JPS Torah Commentaries have greatly enhanced my reading of the first five books of the Bible. I have particularly appreciated the seamless blend of critical scholarship and devotional posture that series offers.
In 2013 JPS published a massive, three-volume set, Outside the Bible:Ancient Jewish Writings Related to Scripture. The print edition has 3,302 pages. Accordance is the only Bible software program to have made the electronic edition available; it releases today.
Outside the Bible (hereafter referred to as OTB) covers an impressive array of Jewish extrabiblical texts from the 6th century B.C. to the 2nd century A.D. The texts in OTB are ones that were “for various reasons, taken off the official Jewish bookshelf.”
The editors of Outside the Bible are Louis H. Feldman, James L. Kugel, and Lawrence H. Schiffman. The skilled lineup of contributors includes: Harold W. Attridge, David E. Aune, John J. Collins, David A. deSilva, Michael V. Fox, Emanuel Tov, Benjamin G. Wright III, and many others.
Broadly speaking, the editors and contributors treat writings from the following groupings:
The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha
Dead Sea Scrolls
OTB begins with some of the best, most succinct introductory material you can find on each corpus. Emanuel Tov, for example, gets right to the heart (using few words) of the potentially vexing concept of LXX translation technique:
When trying to analyze the Hebrew and Aramaic words, the translators could not resort to tools such as dictionaries or other sources of lexical information; they had to rely on their living knowledge of these languages and on exegetic traditions relating to words and contexts. … By the same token, the identification of difficult words was often guided by the context. Such a procedure frequently was little more than guesswork, especially in the case of rare and unique Hebrew words.
Practically speaking the reader finds explanatory comments like this one (from 1 Samuel 2) throughout OTB:
*there is none holy besides you Cf. the MT: “There is no rock like our God.” As elsewhere in the LXX, the translator avoids the description of God as a “rock,” possibly because he did not like the comparison of God to a stone, and instead stresses his holiness as in the first part of the verse.
When it comes to the texts themselves, here is how OTB is organized:
Each text in Outside the Bible is preceded by a brief introduction that gives a summary of its contents, a history of its composition and transmission, its significance for Jewish (and sometimes Christian) history and biblical interpretation, and a guide to reading that highlights specific issues for understanding the text. A short list of additional readings points the interested reader to more detailed or focused treatments of the text.
You can see the Table of Contents here, via Accordance Mobile:
Included in OTB is an entire commentary on 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees, among other texts. Here is David A. deSilva, offering the reader of OTB guidance for working through 4 Maccabees:
The author gives two important cues concerning how to read his work. First, he asks us to read it as an essay that offers both argumentation and exemplary evidence for the proposition that the religiously trained mind can gain the upper hand over all the contrary forces within us and outside us that drag us away from doing what we know to be best before God. Second, he invites us to join him in admiring the outstanding achievements of nine Jewish martyrs, whose courageous and praiseworthy example rivals that of the heroes of any other culture or tradition and can encourage us to hold fast to virtue in our lesser contests.
I could multiply examples of how OTB strikes an excellent balance of brevity and substance. One could open the pages of OTB, having never heard of the Damascus Document–or any of more than 150 other texts–and walk away with a solid understanding of that writing’s legal and theological teachings.
OTB has a nice focus not only on the extrabiblical texts as such; it also addresses their import for biblical interpretation. Further, the editors and contributors are careful to point out how these non-canonical texts function as windows into the culture and beliefs of Judaism in the Second Temple period.
And the interplay OTB highlights between Judaism and Christianity is fascinating:
Philo’s writings had practically no influence on Judaism as it developed after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and the disastrous Jewish revolt in Egypt in 115–117 CE. … On the other hand his writings were warmly embraced by early Christian thinkers, who saw in him a kindred spirit. They were attracted to his use of the Greek Bible and the allegorical method, as well as to doctrines such as the transcendence of God, the creation of the cosmos, the Logos, and providence.
Anyone wanting to further chase down what OTB has to say about Christianity can perform a search to instantaneously pull up all the instances of “Christian,” “Christianity,” or even, “Christ.” (The search to use is simply Christ* in the English Content search field in Accordance.)
…which leads to why Outside the Bible is a resource especially suited for the Accordance format.
One obvious reason a person would want to consider the Accordance module (and not just the print edition) is the portability factor. JPS books tend to be bound beautifully and constructed well, so there’s nothing to complain about in their aesthetics. But you can’t really take 3,300 pages of awesomeness to the library, coffee shop, or office with you, at least not easily. Keeping OTB on a laptop, iPad, and/or iPhone is appealing.
Another benefit to OTB on Accordance is the extensive system of tagging and hyperlinking the developers have used. For one, you can adjust the search field to search OTB in all of the following ways:
For another, where there is commentary on the texts, the Accordance module allows you to view it simply by hovering over a hyperlink. Causing my mouse to rest on an asterisk shown in the text of the Prayer of Manasseh calls up the corresponding commentary in the Instant Details at the bottom of the screen:
Hyperlinked content is, of course, just a tap away on the iPad:
You can search just certain sections of OTB for a given word. You can highlight, take notes, and even share text via the share sheets in iOS–maybe you want to send some selected wording to Evernote or Drafts as part of your research. Just a few taps get me from 11QMelch (Melchizedek) into Drafts, a primary hub for my iOS research:
Using the share sheet, one could email information to oneself or others, or even share on social media. (And what says “rewritten Bible” better than Facebook and Twitter, amirite?)
Treat yourself to a perusal of the Table of Contents and some material on Jubilees (which interacts with Genesis) by following this link to a PDF excerpt. And, by all means, do go check out this majestic resource in Accordance here. Students, professors, and pastors… Jews, Christians, and agnostics–all who can access Outside the Bible are indebted to its editors and contributors for a thorough and engaging resource.
Thanks to Accordance for the review copy of Outside the Bible in Accordance 11. See my other Accordance posts (there are many) gathered here.
The Leningrad Codex is the basis for the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS), the critical edition of the Hebrew Bible. Leningrad is the earliest complete Masoretic manuscript still available to us, dating from the 11th century. BHS is what’s called a diplomatic edition–it uses Leningrad as the best available text with a critical apparatus at bottom.
Images of Codex Leningradensis, as it is also known, are available freely online. (See here, for example.) But users of Bible software still have hoped for something more integrated and easier to use than a .pdf.
BibleWorks 10 offers Leningrad images, fully integrated with the rest of the software’s texts. There are even verse markers so you know where you are in the manuscript. You can toggle verse markers off if you want to read through with no help.
Here’s what it looks like:
You can see in the image above that I can view the Leningrad Codex (with verse markers) in tandem with BibleWorks’s Search Window (far left), Browse Window (second from left and showing multiple versions of my choosing), and Analysis Window (second from right, here featuring lexical data that automatically appears as I hover over words in the Browse window).
It’s possible to zoom in and out of the image at far right to get a closer look at the manuscript detail if you desire. Or you can open it in its own window, like so:
Now you can navigate the Leningrad Codex using the sidebar at left.
One other really cool feature–by hovering over the verse reference in the codex, you bring up a pop-up window showing you multiple versions:
Very impressive. Note, too, the nifty blue and yellow color scheme in the image above.
My only critique of this new, flagship feature (which is executed really well) is that there’s not a keyboard shortcut to zoom in and out of the codex images. You have to right-click, then navigate through the contextual menu for the zoom percentage you want, then select it. Somewhat making up for this, however, is the ability to simply click-hold and drag your way through the images.
Check out a short video of the codex in BW10 here:
BibleWorks 9 took a huge leap forward in offerings of Greek manuscripts:
Now BibleWorks 10 starts to bring the program’s Hebrew offerings to parity with the Greek. There is still much more by way of Greek MSS in BW10 (might we hope for the Aleppo Codex in BW11?). But BibleWorks is the first software to offer the images of Leningrad to its users. A big step forward to readers and students of Hebrew.
I received a free upgrade to BibleWorks 10 for the purposes of offering an unbiased review. See my other BibleWorks posts here. You can order the full program here or upgrade here. It’s on Amazon, too.
I think I am actually on pace to finish my Bible-in-a-Year reading plan in two years–but, as I’ve said before, as much as I value getting a good overview of all of Scripture in a short time, it’s so deep and rich (and sometimes surprising and/or befuddling) that I keep wanting to go slow. This is not, of course, a bad thing. The reading plan can wait.
The JPS Torah Commentary has been my go-to companion for reading through the first five books of the Bible. I’m three volumes in, and each one has been excellent. See what I say about the Genesis volume here, and the Exodus volume here and here. Now I’ve found myself similarly aided by Baruch A. Levine’s JPS Torah Commentary: Leviticus as I’ve made my way through that dense book of the Bible.
Levine’s commentary is more difficult to sit down and read through than Nahum Sarna’s Genesis or Exodus volumes, but this is less because of Levine and more because Leviticus does not have the same narrative flow of Genesis and Exodus. Its descriptions of laws and rituals are difficult for the uninitiated (um… and for the initiated) to wade through. It’s dense.
But Levine matches the density of the text with detail of his own, drawing also on rabbinical traditions to help the reader understand the world of the text. Levine addresses historical background and theology, as well as exegetical detail at the word level. But even his detailed exegesis highlights the larger literary context, so you can see the interrelations of Scripture as you read this commentary.
Allow me to share a specific example.
Here is the Hebrew text (nicely included in this commentary) of the admittedly harsh-sounding Leviticus 26:21:
Here’s the verse in the Jewish Publication Society’s New JPS translation–also included in this edition:
And if you remain hostile toward Me and refuse to obey Me, I will go on smiting you sevenfold for your sins.
Levine’s comment for the verse focuses on the phrase, “And if you remain hostile toward Me.” Note how he balances lexical analysis with both extrabiblical and biblical references (the Hebrew in the commentary is transliterated throughout):
Here, again, is a transition, where the conditions for God’s forgiveness are stated.
Hebrew keri, “hostility,” and the idiom halakh ʿim. . . be-keri, “to walk with. . . in hostility,” are unique to this chapter. Targum Onkelos translates be-kashyu, “with hardness, obstinacy,” deriving keri from the root k-r-r, “to be cold.” Compare the noun form karah, “cold wave,” in Nahum 3:17, and mekerah, “cool chamber,” in Judges 3:24. The reverse of “walking in hostility” is “agreeing to obey” (ʾavah li-shmoʿa) suggesting that keri is synonymous with meri, “rebelliousness.” Note the contrast in Isaiah 1:19–20: “If, then, you agree and give heed, / You will eat the good things of the earth; / But if you refuse and disobey (u-meritem), / You will be devoured by the sword.” The notion of meri as “rebelliousness” is a major theme in the prophecies of Ezekiel, but the term keri occurs nowhere else in the Bible; hence its meaning remains uncertain.
There is one other portion I need to quote at length, since it comes in Levine’s opening explanation of the sacrificial system in Leviticus 1. Maybe I’m obtuse or just not familiar enough with Leviticus, but I had somehow missed until now that one could not sacrifice to expiate for intentional sins:
It should be emphasized here, as the workings of the sacrificial system are introduced to the reader, that the laws of the Torah did not permit Israelites to expiate intentional or premeditated offenses by means of sacrifice. There was no vicarious, ritual remedy—substitution of one’s property or wealth—for such violations, whether they were perpetrated against other individuals or against God Himself. In those cases, the law dealt directly with the offender, imposing real punishments and acting to prevent recurrences. The entire expiatory system ordained in the Torah must be understood in this light. Ritual expiation was restricted to situations where a reasonable doubt existed as to the willfulness of the offense. Even then, restitution was always required where loss or injury to another person had occurred. The mistaken notion that ritual worship could atone for criminality or intentional religious desecration was persistently attacked by the prophets of Israel, who considered it a major threat to the entire covenantal relationship between Israel and God.
Is this why David in Psalm 51 says,” For you have no delight in sacrifice;if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased”?
Levine comes back to this theme as Leviticus introduces the various offering types. He also explains the difference between sin and impurity, in a way that is really helpful for more fully engaging Leviticus.
The Introduction is some 30 pages, addressing both “The Leviticus Text” (which summarizes the book, highlights its structure, discusses its formation, and compares early versions) and “The Context” (Levine spells out how this commentary supports “the realism of Leviticus”). The 11 Excursuses (spanning some 40 pages) are utterly fascinating, covering topics like dietary laws, the scapegoat ritual, the festivals, and more.
All that is already more than enough to help the reader or teacher in her/his quest to better enter the world of Leviticus. But then the icing on the cake is the section called, “Leviticus in the Ongoing Jewish Tradition.” Here Levine hopes that “the reader of the Commentary may catch a glimpse of continuity and change and focus attention on the lasting relevance of Leviticus.”
And here’s some icing to go on that other icing: the binding is sewn and the book is beautifully bound. I’m quite sure I’ll be returning to this commentary again, but first–I’ve got more of the Torah to read through.
Many thanks to the folks at University of Nebraska Press/Jewish Publication Society for sending me a copy of the commentary for review. The book’s JPS product page is here; you can order it through Nebraska Press here. Find it on Amazon here.
Prefer an electronic edition? Accordance has the JPS Torah Commentary here.
When I preached through Jonah last Advent, I knew the JPS Commentary on Jonah would be helpful. What I wasn’t expecting was how often I would eagerly turn to Kevin J. Youngblood’s new Jonah volume in the recently begun Hearing the Message of Scripture commentary series. It might be the best commentary (in this reviewer’s humble opinion) written on Jonah.
Format of the Commentary
Each passage of Jonah includes the following sections:
Main Idea of the Passage–a short, couple-sentence overview, where Youngblood helps you get oriented to the text.
Literary Context–The author shows how the passage under consideration ties in with the rest of the book.
Translation and Outline–the author’s original translation and visual layout of the biblical text.
Structure and Literary Form–this looks at literary features and the rhetorical aims of Jonah. This section is especially strong.
Explanation of the Text–the primary section of each passage, comprising the verse-by-verse commentary proper.
Canonical and Practical Significance–though Youngblood is plenty practical throughout, this section is especially helpful for preachers, teachers, or any Bible reader wanting to know how to apply the message of the text.
For example, here is Youngblood on the main idea of Jonah 4:1-4:
He then situates the passage in its larger context:
From there he relates Jonah 4:1-4 to the patterns of the rest of the book (“Every encounter with Gentiles brings Jonah to a crisis point”), surmises why Jonah wants to die (“Jonah cannot see how YHWH could simultaneously maintain his covenant faithfulness to Israel and grant clemency to Nineveh”), explains the text in detail, and then relates it to Moses and the other prophets and their interactions with “the nations.”
Youngblood’s Insights Make the Text Come Even More Alive
Youngblood makes the literary features of the text come alive. Regarding Jonah’s short stint in the belly of a fish, Youngblood writes:
The fish, however, functions as a means of deliverance and transportation from the murky depths back to the orderly realm of dry land. In this respect, the fish is the antithesis of the ship, which carried Jonah from the orderly realm of dry land out to the chaotic deadly sea.
Correspondingly, Jonah’s disposition and activity in the fish is the antithesis of his disposition and activity on the ship. Whereas Jonah pays out of his own pocket for passage on the ship, the journey in the fish back to land and life is free, courtesy of YHWH.
He continues to unpack the “important contrast” between ship and fish to help the readers with “the peak episode of the book’s first main section.”
This sort of analysis and clear explanation is emblematic of what the reader will find in every section of the book.
Final Evaluation: Easily a Top 3 Jonah Commentary
And what’s not to love about the first paragraph of the Introduction mentioning a Bruce Springsteen song? Here it is, by the way:
To write a nearly 200-page commentary with a 20-page introduction on a 4-chapter book of the Bible is no small feat; and none of what’s here is fluff. Youngblood notes in his introduction: “An understanding of three overlapping contexts–canonical, historical, and literary–is critical to the book’s interpretation.” He helps the reader attain ample understanding of those contexts and more.
Youngblood says only that this volume “strives to advance the discussion regarding Jonah’s message.” I think it does far more. This is easily a top 3 Jonah commentary–maybe even the best one I’ve used.
The reason I’m so far behind on my Bible in a Year reading plan is that I’ve been reading Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus via the JPS Torah Commentary volumes. No, I’m not reading the Hebrew alongside the English–it’s just that the introductions, essays, and verse-by-verse notes are so gripping and elucidating, that I am moving more slowly through the Torah than my plan dictates. (I’m still on track for Bible in Two Years–maybe.)
With the exception of a few chapters, my recent reading of Exodus was all from Nahum Sarna’s volume, which, like other JPS Torah volumes, has all of the following:
the full Hebrew text of Exodus, with vowel points and cantillation marks,
an English translation (the Jewish Publication Society’s New JPS translation)
commentary that addresses the text and its background at the section-by-section, phrase-by-phrase, and word-by-word level
an introduction and excursuses
sewn binding and beautiful construction
Sarna begins with just a 5-page (!) introduction. Leviticus in the same series, by contrast, has a 30-page introduction. Sarna discusses the book’s title, the division of Torah readings, the book’s setting and events, and it’s “contents and character.” Broadly speaking, Sarna divides Exodus like this:
Exodus 1:1-15:21–oppression and liberation
Exodus 15:22-18:27–toward Sinai
Exodus 19-40–at Sinai
He notes that Exodus’s “influence is due to the special orientation and perspective of Exodus. It is a document of faith, not a dispassionate, secular report of the freeing of an oppressed people.” (Again–I love this guy’s writing style.)
Sarna blends what I experienced as a faith-filled and a critical approach to understanding Scripture. He understands God in the book as “the sole actor, the only initiator of events.” In addition to verse-by-verse and phrase-by-phrase commentary (sometimes down to the word level), Sarna sets up each chapter with a short introduction, which is always good and always useful.
The glossary, which takes up almost as many pages as the introduction, gives a really helpful orientation to readers like me, who keep needing reminders on the distinctions between Talmud and Targum, Mishnah and Mekhilta, Rambam and Ramban.
Sarna’s Exodus commentary does not initially seem to be as thorough as his Genesis volume. (Here there are six as opposed to 30 excursuses at the back of the commentary.) On the other hand that short introduction allows the reader to get into the text right away with Sarna, who makes up for the initial brevity of his work along the way. In the end I found that the comments really did seem to be just the right amount of detail for the kind of reading I was doing of the text–Sarna had addressed nearly all my questions by the time I made it through Exodus 40.
And Sarna’s comments are delivered beautifully. On Israel’s response of faith to the LORD’s “wondrous power” in Exodus 14:31, Sarna writes:
“Faith” in the Hebrew Bible is not belief in a doctrine or subscription to a creed. Rather, it refers to trust and loyalty that finds expression in obedience and commitment.
The commentary on the following chapter of Exodus 15–the one with the “Song at the Sea”–is one of the most moving, incisive, and compelling commentary sections I’ve ever read… and why I’m so far behind on that reading plan!
By way of critique, I only offer two things: (1) a few places could have benefited from more exegetical or grammatical-historical detail and (2) having Sarna’s detailed outline of Exodus all in one place–beyond what’s in the Table of Contents and section headings throughout the book–would have enhanced the introduction. His passage divisions are clear enough throughout the book, but I found myself wanting a summary sketch of Exodus all in one place for quick reference.
When I preach or teach on Exodus (or when I just want to remember what I sensed God speaking to me when reading through Exodus this spring), I will reach first for this exceptional volume.
If you want to look more in-depth with me at the body of the commentary, I interacted a bit with Sarna’s take on the 10 plagues here.
Many thanks to the folks at University of Nebraska Press/Jewish Publication Society for sending me the copy of the Exodus commentary for review. The book’s JPS product page is here; you can order it through Nebraska Press here. Find it on Amazon here.
Prefer an electronic edition? Accordance has the JPS Torah Commentary here.
Much as I am grateful to be able to see the text of the Bible in multiple languages at one time on a computer, sometimes you just want to curl up with a good, printed edition of a 6-language polyglot.
Fredrick J. Long and T. Michael W. Halcomb have begun such a series, with the recent publishing of Matthew and Mark in Hebrew, Latin, Greek, English, German, and French. It’s obvious that an English-speaking Bible reader would want access to biblical texts in Greek and Hebrew and Latin. German and French, as major research languages for biblical and theological studies, complete the languages of this almost-500-page polyglot.
It’s a pretty sweet work, and an awesome way to practice multiple languages at once. Here’s what it looks like:
The layout of the polyglot is clean and easy to follow. It would not be all that difficult to read through all of Matthew and/or Mark in a single language, if one so desired. The fonts are quite legible, although the Hebrew font for Mark differs from the Hebrew font for Matthew. (Also, the vowels are not properly centered under the Hebrew consonants in Mark. This doesn’t make reading it impossible, but I found it distracting.)
There is no critical apparatus, but this is no problem–Long and Halcomb intend simply to provide multiple texts for reading. (Text-critical notes on six languages would make this volume unwieldy, indeed!) The versions used are largely ones in the public domain. The Greek text, for example, is the Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine edition. I have a Greek reader’s Bible I used to use with this same edition. At first I worried that I wasn’t using the academic version of the NA28, but after using that reader’s Bible for a few weeks, I realized it really didn’t matter, if the goal was just to get better at reading Greek. So, too, here: not having the NA28 text included is no loss.
The English translation in Matthew is an authors’ revision of the 1901 American Standard Version (ASV). In Mark the authors use their own translation. They aim to be “fairly literal” in translating the Greek, I’ve never really agreed with such translations’ taking the Greek’s historical present, for example, and keeping it in the present tense in English.
For example, Mark 10:35 begins, “And they come near to him…,” which follows a Greek present participle, but then the two verses later in English has “they said to them” (my emphasis). Though this translates a Greek aorist in the expected way, I would have smoothed out the tenses for the purposes of readability in English translation–even while seeking to be close to the Greek text. Even somewhat literal translations of Greek ought to put its historical present into English past tense, in my opinion. But this perhaps just amounts to a difference in translation philosophy. And a benefit of the authors’ translating Mark this way is you can easily tell, if your Greek parsing is rusty, which Greek verbs are present and which are aorist, since Greek historical present is rendered as present in English.
Those concerns aside, this modern-day “Hexapla” is hard to beat as a way of learning (and keeping active) multiple languages at once. A resource like this would be essential for someone preparing for a Ph.D. program in biblical studies or theology. Pastors, such as yours truly, who want to keep their Greek and Hebrew alive can do so with just this single book.
GlossaHouse offers a wide selection of creative resources for language learning and retention. Check out their site here to see the Hexapla and more.
Thanks to the good folks at GlossaHouse for the review copy! Find it here on Amazon.