Just a short “in the mail” post today to share five reviews you can expect to read here in the coming weeks and months:
First Raise a Flag: How South Sudan Won the Longest War but Lost the Peace (Oxford University Press)
This book just arrived in the mail yesterday. Some years ago I read a few books on the Rwandan genocide, and have had occasional interest in African history. Time to reactivate that interest and learn more about what’s been happening in Sudan. (LINK)
James Davison Hunter makes helpful contributions to the discussion of how Christians should orient themselves toward the world and its need for improvement. His idea of “faithful presence” is a good one, if not especially novel. The idea’s rootedness in the faithful presence of God in Christ offers a theologically sound and relatable paradigm. Because of God’s love for and presence with us, any Christian, whether walking in the so-called halls of power or not, can exercise faithful presence.
Hunter offers a robust view of faithful presence as “the exercise of leadership in all spheres and all levels of life and activity” (260). One thinks of the oft-quoted Abraham Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ… does not cry, ‘Mine!'”
Hunter sees the need for faithful presence to bring about both individual and institutional change, as it “generates relationships and institutions that are fundamentally covenantal in character, the ends of which are the fostering of meaning, purpose, truth” (263, my emphasis). Further, Hunter writes, “Culture is intrinsically dialectical” (34). His drawing on the Hegelian dialectic allows him to articulate a Christian relation to the world that avoids extremes: “Christians are called to relate to the world within a dialectic of affirmation and antithesis” (231).
The author spends more time than the reader might like in debunking other people’s ideas as to how to make the world a better place. This is a noble enough endeavor, but one wonders: On what authority does he offer his critiques? He begins, “I contend that the dominant ways of thinking about culture and cultural change are flawed, for they are based on both specious social science and problematic theology” (5). (That’s a big claim to have to defend.) He continues with broad, sweeping statements like, “Cultures change from the top down, rarely if ever from the bottom up,” (41) and, “Change of this nature [i.e., cultural change] can only come from the top down” (42).
Evidence, however, seems to be in short supply. One does not have to wade deep into the history of the African American civil rights movement, for example, to find figures who effected change from the bottom up. No doubt Martin Luther King, Jr. found support from “the top” in Lyndon B. Johnson, but King led a movement of the people, many of whom (King included) did not have positional power in the society they changed.
And to take a current example, there is the Black Lives Matter movement. While its long-term impact remains to be seen—and while the movement itself may not always speak with one voice—one would be hard-pressed to suggest that this “grassroots political mobilization” (42) has not “penetrate[d] the structure of our imagination, our frameworks of knowledge and discussion, the perception of everyday reality” (42). Already the Black Lives Matter movement can claim victory in that there is a greater societal awareness of race-motivated police brutality, as well as police departments taking increasingly deliberate measures (body cameras, and so on) to prevent it.
I do appreciate Hunter’s giving “priority to what is right in front of us–the community, the neighborhood, and the city, and the people of which these are constituted” (253). But in some ways his “faithful presence” still reads just a little as, “Just try harder… this way is sure to work!”
Of course he is right in saying, “Christians have failed to understand the nature of the world they want to change and failed even more to understand how it actually changes” (99). But the reader rightly wonders: what makes Hunter immune? In short, while Hunter’s larger framework has much to commend it, his work seems to lack attention to important details—and fails to convince that all other visions of world change that preceded him are faulty.
On the top of my bookshelf at home sits an old, falling-apart, heavily marked-up edition of The New Oxford Annotated Bible. So it has been with anticipation and appreciation that I’ve been able to use the The New Oxford Annotated Bible in its most current, 4th edition.
What the Annotated Bible Is
The Bible text in The New Oxford Annotated Bible is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). I’ve always appreciated this translation’s blend of readability and fidelity to the original languages.
Each biblical book receives a short introduction, covering topics like authorship, date of composition, literary structure, and interpretive helps for reading. (The “guide to reading” that precedes most books is especially helpful when doing a book study or reading through a whole book of the Bible.) The biblical text itself appears in a clear, uncluttered font, with the study notes appearing at the bottom of the page. The brief but illuminating notes address each passage of the text (as a passage), and then comment more specifically on individual verses, terms and words.
Here is Psalm 1 with study notes:
The title page bills this as “An Ecumenical Study Bible.” Its balance in this regard is, indeed, fair. The Editors’ Preface reads:
We recognize that no single interpretation or approach is sufficient for informed reading of these ancient texts, and have aimed at inclusivity of interpretive strategies.
The editors and contributors have succesfully met this aim. The introduction to Colossians, for example, does not make a heavy-handed assessment one way or the author as to Pauline authorship, but lays out the different views (with support) so the reader can decide. I appreciated this.
At the end of the Bible are some “General Essays,” covering topics at considerable length, such as:
The Canons of the Bible
Translation of the Bible into English
The Persian and Hellenistic Periods
The Geography of the Bible
and more. Also included are a glossary, concordance, 14 color maps, and other study helps.
“With the Apocrypha”
One thing that sets this study Bible apart from others is its inclusion of the Apocrypha. Not only is the text included, but its contributors are top in their field: John J. Collins (3 Maccabees), Lester Grabbe (Wisdom of Solomon), Amy-Jill Levine (Additions to Daniel, Tobit), and David A. deSilva (4 Maccabees), to name just a few. The introductory articles are clear and concise, yet contain the sort of information most users of this Bible will be looking for. For example, after a section on “Definitions” of terms like “Apocrypha” and “deuterocanonical,” the introduction to the Apocryphal section has “The Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Canons of the Old Testament.” The comparison chart in that part of the introduction is especially useful, so readers can see “which religious communities accept [the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books] as scripture.”
In Mattathias’s speech on his deathbed in 1 Maccabees, to explore just one passage, the explanatory note for 1 Maccabees 2:49-70 simply reads:
Jacob (Gen 49), Moses (Deut 33), and Samuel (1 Sam 12) utter similar speeches; compare also the praises of famous men in Sir 44-50.
The biblical characters that Mattathias extols (Abraham, Joseph, Phinehas, Joshua, and so on) have accompanying biblical references in the study notes so readers can explore their stories further. It’s, of course, not nearly as in-depth as a commentary would be, but neither does it intend to be. It covers the basics well, and addresses most initial questions readers would have of the text.
Construction and Aesthetics
The leather-bound edition (what I am considering for review) is a well-constructed Bible. Despite its weight–to be expected of a Study Bible–it is a pleasure to hold and read. And to smell. Its gilded edges and two ribbon markers give it a classic feel. Its sewn binding and leather cover mean that it lays flat anywhere you have it open, even at Genesis 1:
The pages are a bit thin, though this may be inevitable. (A delicate balance in Bible production is how thick the pages can be without weighing down an already bulky Bible). I was aware of bleed-through but not really distracted by it as I read. Note, too, the book name tabs in the image above, which help readers to quickly get to a desired spot.
Three Ways I’ve Used the Annotated Bible
There have been three primary ways in which I’ve made use of the Annotated Bible. One is for personal, devotional reading. In this context I have found the book introductions and notes to be just enough to answer my top-of-mind questions, but not so much that I was distracted from a focus on the text itself.
Second, this is the Bible I had in my hands while leading a small group Bible study last Lent on the Sermon on the Mount. Again, I found that most of our questions of the text were addressed in the notes by succinct, summary statements. And the NRSV was a good version for group reading.
Third, I’ve found the introductions and essays to be helpful in teaching and preaching preparation.
You can find the Bible here at Amazon and here at OUP’s site.
Many thanks to Oxford University Press for a copy of this beautiful Bible to review. They provided it with no expectation as to the nature of my review, except that I be honest.
[M]y mother still asks what I do for a living, and my father knows but still gets tripped up on the final syllable of Sep-tu-a-gint.
This is not an academic introduction, but what Law has elsewhere called a “narrative history” of the origins, understandings, and uses of the Septuagint. He has in mind as his audience “those who are interested in the history of the Bible and in its use in the early centuries of the Christian Church but who may never have considered the Septuagint’s role in that story.” Further, he writes, “[W]e who call ourselves specialists in this field have not communicated very well to those outside of our societies.”
Law’s prose promises to connect with his audience. It’s accessible, engaging, and generally easy to read.
Chapter 7 picks up just after Law has examined some of the “textual artifacts” in the Septuagint that “were otherwise lost once the Hebrew Bible was formed and all variety extinguished” (like Esdras, Sirach, Maccabees, etc.). The Septuagint text(s) had been “produced in a period of textual plurality,” the close of which period Law now addresses.
Chapter 7, “E Pluribus Unum”
Law looks at the kaige recensions (revisions) found in the Greek Minor Prophets Scroll among the Dead Sea Scrolls:
To put it simply, these revisers were part of a process lasting several centuries through which some Jewish scribes were working to modify the oldest Greek translations so that they would conform to the tradition behind the Hebrew Bible.
At long last, he continues,
The many textual streams that were flowing dynamically during the third and second centuries BCE, delivering a variety of biblical forms, were soon damned up [AKJ: I think “dammed” is intended here] in favor of a unified current that would propose to carry forward a single, authoritative text into the Common Era.
The collection of books deemed “scripture” came to be called the canon. And while Law acknowledges that popular support was needed to constitute the canon, ultimately ecclesial leadership exerted significant influence over which books were finally included. Law understands canonization, then, as (among other things) “a mechanism used by authorities to define the boundaries of their groups, to determine who is in and who is out, partly by declaring which writings are in and which are out.”
Chapter 8, “The Septuagint Behind the New Testament”
In chapter 1 (“Why This Book?”) Law had said that the New Testament quotes the Old “almost entirely from the Greek.” In chapter 8 (and especially chapter 9) he further unpacks that claim. When Bible readers look up an OT quotation they have seen in the NT, and the OT verse differs, this is due “in many cases” to the fact that English Old Testaments or Spanish ones translate the Hebrew Bible, whereas the New Testament writers use “almost exclusively the Greek Septuagint.” In other words, they are quoting using a different text base than our Old Testaments use.
Score a point for Law in terms of reaching out beyond the Academy. What churchgoer hasn’t asked this question? When a New Testament writer says, “It is written…” only to lead you to an Old Testament passage where it isn’t exactlywritten in that way, it can cause confusion. Law’s explanation of this dynamic is clear and concise. In chapter 9 (which exceeds the scope of this review) he will give specific examples–all without using Hebrew or Greek!
Law notes that if canonization was not complete by the time of the writing of the New Testament (not all agree with him here), then we should expect the New Testament writers to use a variety of text forms. Indeed, to speak of the or a Septuagint is a misnomer: “[W]hile we can say the new Testament writers overwhelmingly used the ‘Septuagint,’ we must admit that the Septuagint itself was not a singular entity.” (See Göttingen.)
“How did the New Testament writers encounter the scriptures?” Law asks. Only the wealthy elite owned anything written, so interaction with the Scriptures “would have been through hearing them read aloud.” And this was in a liturgical context. Highlighting Paul and his use of Scripture in Romans 15, Law shows how Paul was aware of the fuller context of the OT passages he cites, implying a knowledge on Paul’s part that goes beyond just what he heard in public services of worship.
Some Words on Law’s Words on the Word
Overall When God Spoke Greek is engaging and easy to read–yet still stimulating. Law is a master of his material, and that his knowledge and insight goes deeper even that what is contained on these pages is evident.
In chapter 8, Law points out that the Septuagint and its language had a marked influence on the theology of the New Testament writers. I’m glad to see this important point in a book for a more general audience. I can’t quite agree that as a result “the theological outlook of the Hebrew and the Greek versions of many of the books are on different trajectories and thus lead to different conclusions.” What constitutes “many”? Two-thirds? Half? And how “different”? The non-expert could take this to mean that the Septuagint and Hebrew Bible create different theological systems altogether, when taken as a whole.
Law extends his argument to include “not only apocryphal but also pseudepigraphal works” as exerting influence on NT writers. (He shows 1 Enoch’s impact on Jude and the Gospels’ “Son of Man” language.) And it’s true that an NT entirely dependent on a Hebrew text in the tradition of the Masoretic Text would not have had access to 1 Enoch. But in my view the author overstates the case when he says that the Greek vs. the Hebrew texts produce “different trajectories and thus lead to different conclusions” with regard to “theological outlook.” Or at least I would have liked him to specify more just what he meant here. After all, Law notes earlier in the book, part of the reasoning behind the creation of a Septuagint in the first place was that Jews who were living in a Hellenistic world had to ask: “how does an immigrant religious community that has been transplanted from another cultural universe retain its convictions and its distinctiveness?” This driving question–surely present to the minds of the translators–ought to temper the idea that there are different theological trajectories in “many of the books.”
LXX in the NT, “almost exclusively”?
Similarly, I was a little uncomfortable with Law’s claim that the writers of the NT use “almost exclusively” and “almost entirely” the Greek Septuagint. This is sexier rhetoric, but perhaps at the expense of precision–the latter of which doesn’t have to be sacrificed in a work intended for a more general populace.
Moisés Silva, in his “Old Testament in Paul” article in the IVP Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, has a list of 108 instances when Paul cites Hebrew Scriptures. He lists times when Paul’s Greek agrees with the LXX text and the Hebrew we now have, times when Paul’s Greek agrees with one but not the other, and times when Paul’s Greek agrees with neither. Of course, as Silva acknowledges, such a list is subjective and presupposes interpretive decisions. (And I don’t agree with all of Silva’s analysis in his lists.)
Would such a list would have served Law well (as an appendix)? Perhaps. The chapter following these two under consideration is full of examples. But as it is, there are some instances, both in Paul and in the Gospels, where the NT Greek either is closer to the Hebrew we have today (against the OT Greek we have) or diverges from both. In this latter category (“Paul ≠ LXX ≠ MT“), Silva lists 31 instances.
This is all actually very complicated. In chapter 9 (“The Septuagint in the New Testament”) Law will note how John 1:23 uses the Septuagint of Isaiah 40:3 rather than the Hebrew of Isaiah 40:3. He says, “In John 1:23, the evangelist quotes Isaiah 40:3 from a Greek version but makes a small adaptation for his own message” (my italics). So for any of those 31 instances Silva cites, Law might say something similar–that the LXX is followed, but with adaptations. It’s impossible to prove with certainty one approach over the other, but I do want to raise all this since I think saying the NT writers use the Septuagint “almost exclusively” is (a) not quantified as much as I’d have liked and (b) liable to produce a more cut-and-dried take on NT writers’ use of Scripture than actually exists.
R.T. France, in his Jesus and the Old Testament, and Archer and Chirichigno’s Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament have comparable lists. Some might discount the (at least partially) apologetic nature of Archer and Chirichigno (“We must therefore conclude that the New Testament use of the LXX implies nothing against verbal inspiration of Scriptural inerrancy”). But by their count there are 33 citations “in which the New Testament adheres more closely to the MT than the LXX does, indicating that the apostolic author may have consulted his Hebrew Bible directly in the preparation of his own account or letter.” (If he had a Hebrew Bible!) So, too, France says:
Summarizing the results so far, we may now say that of the sixty-four Old Testament quotations in the sayings of Jesus which may be regarded as certain or virtually so, twenty are to some degree independent of the LXX, and of these twenty, twelve are closer to the MT at this point. The addition of a further ten cases of likely or possible allusions to the MT against the LXX further strengthens the impression that it is wrong to speak of the Old Testament quotations in the sayings of Jesus as basically LXX form.
These statistics are just starting points, and highly open to debate. (One man’s “agrees with the MT against the LXX” is another woman’s “disagrees with both.” See also the top of the third page of Karen Jobes’s 2006 article with the same title as Law’s book.) But I would have loved to see Law engage the conversation on this level of detail. Indeed, if there was the textual fluidity (i.e., pluriform accepted texts) in the NT writers’ times that Law says there was (and I have a hard time arguing with him here)… what does it really mean to say that the NT writers use the LXX “almost exclusively”? Perhaps this work is not the place for him to engage further detail about the “dizzying variety of textual forms” present to scripture readers in the first century. But his presentation of the NT writers’ use of the LXX left me (even reading as a non-specialist) wanting more.
So I hope Law writes more on this subject. And I hope he keeps writing for a popular audience. No doubt some in the academy will critique that he did not write for a specifically academic audience. (He has elsewhere.) I hope his future popular writings (if there are any) don’t shy away from the greater level of nuance and elaboration I mention above.
Law used to have on his blog, “I shall not rest until there is a Septuagint in the hand of every woman, man, girl and boy.” Writing this book is a concrete step in that direction.
Thanks to Brian LePort at Near Emmaus for hosting the blog tour, and thanks to Oxford University Press for the review copy. Here are the other posts in the tour thus far.
There still (shocking!) aren’t that many books about the Septuagint, so I’m sure this will be a welcome addition. Law writes on his blog, “I shall not rest until there is a Septuagint in the hand of every woman, man, girl and boy.”
I think he’s kidding (but not sure about this), but TML loves his LXX. I’m looking forward to being part of the review. More to follow here.