Friday, February 28, 2014

Don't Be a "The Message" Hater: It Saves Lives

Fox News reports that "Ohio police say bus drive survives shootings, biblical booklet in shirt pocket credited..."

Apparently a small mass-distribution copy of Eugene Peterson's The Message paraphrase of the Bible held in the shirt pocket of this bus driver shielded him from two bullet shots. 

The story says, 

Rickey Wagoner, 49, told police he fought back and the men ran away after he stabbed one with a pen.
In a 911 call, Wagoner said he felt two shots to his chest, but he didn't think the bullets got through the booklet in his shirt pocket. Dayton police said two small-caliber bullets hit the booklet called "The Message," which has Bible verses in contemporary language.
"It just feels like I've been hit with a sledgehammer," Wagoner said. "I've got a book in my pocket and I don't think they made it through this book."

So, the moral of the story is: The next time you want to hate on Peterson's paraphrase, think, "this may just be better than kevlar."  

Many thanks to my friend, Josh Dufford, for turning me on to this study.

The Septuagint Commentary Series: Joshua

A few months ago, Brill sent me a copy of Professor Graeme Auld's commentary on the LXX text of Joshua for a review I am doing in JETS on another commentary in this series.  The reason for having this volume for my review is that it sets the tone for those volumes that follow in the series, and it is Auld, people!  He defines the series by his contribution in this Joshua volume.  

I should mention that Graeme Auld is the Doktorvater of my historical books professor in my masters studies.  So I am excited to at least glean from this volume a fraction of the knowledge that Professor Brian Aucker was able to gain from his time with Auld.  Auld, of course, has published many commentaries on Joshua, and this one will certainly be unique to those previously appearing from his desk.

I thought in a few words I would note what makes this commentary a great contribution to the field of biblical studies. This is not a review, really...

First, like the rest of the series, Auld is not concerned with an eclectic text like one would find in a Göttingen LXX, or earlier in Rahlf's.  Rather, Auld is concerned with the Vaticanus (B) text as an artifact that one can more plausibly explore its date and place of reception.  For Auld, an eclectic text will always be considered hypothetical in the end.  

Second, Auld is concerned to show how weird the Greek in Joshua is.  I noticed earlier in Jennifer Dines' note on this commentary that she says, "[Auld] does this by a rather brutally literal translation of his 'virtuosic' and 'flexible' translator (cf. p. xix), which shows where the Greek departs from normal usage."  Again, this aspect of his commentary probably has a lot to do with demonstrating the uniqueness of B as one witness of the LXX-Joshua text.

Third, and this point is true of the rest of the volumes I have seen from this series, there is a text portion of the commentary and there is a commentary portion.  Since most of us cannot afford a copy of B from the Vatican (the latest copy I saw for sale was for $11k USD! - later i found some a bit cheaper), much like the Loeb series, Auld gives his textual opinion of the original B with the Greek of Joshua on the left page and his literal English translation on the right.  This is so helpful.  For the organization of the text, Auld follows the 103 divisions indicated by the first-hand of B.  Finally, in the commentary section we get classic Auld, learned, aware of the issues, and crisp logic. Also, it should be noted, in the intro, Auld gives background on B that is referred to in later volumes in this series (Cf. Glenny, Hosea).  

My recommendation for this volume is the same as it has been for every other volume I have seen in this series:  If you can get your hands on one, do it!  The price will prohibit most from making this move, but libraries, financially stable churches, and independently wealthy people should do it!  I kid a bit, but I find that we are in a stage of biblical studies history where it is becoming more broadly understood that the LXX (sorry to say "the LXX," it's just easier) is important to more than just scholars of specific foci.  I personally believe that pastors that preach and teach should be consulting the LXX, and this commentary series pared with NETS will make this more possible.  Maybe a cheaper, paperback, or kindle version will be supported by Brill... Not sure.  But it is a great series!

Biblio-blog Carnival Time!: The February '14 Edition

Welcome to the Carnival!  I am a bit random in my blog reading, so you will probably see how that works itself out below.

Yes, it happened.  Bill Nye and Ken Ham debated science and faith. And, yes, for the next three months whenever I close my eyes I will think of this, uhhhhh, event.... However, I would be irresponsible in my duties this month, even though you may not like it nor want to hear about it any more, to not acknowledge that it happened.   Over on BLT - Bible * Literature * Translation some fuller attention is given to this debate, here (I will withhold my opinions, since I am simply reporting what I am seeing "trending").

In slight relation to the above noted post (but not really at all), Linguae Antiquitatum explores Jerome's influence on the word "firmament" in Genesis 1:6, and how it could be a classical "turn of phrase."  My Latin is about is good as my Mandarin, so you may have to tell Jonathan is he is onto something...   

Next, not to be entirely self-serving, but I am sure there is a sinful aspect of me mentioning this, on this blog Chris Fresch (PhD. candidate, Cambridge), Ed Glenny (LXX and NT scholar, and professor), and myself are dialoguing about T. Michael Law's book When God Spoke Greek. The dialogue begins here. It's a good dialogue, even if I am involved.  Check it out!

I was waiting for someone to do it, and Ben C. Blackwell did.  N.T. Wright has now reached Chuck Norris notoriety.  

The consummate persona non grata (though some love his vocational choices! "Come here a second; let me get that!  A little brown on there..."), or enduring foil, for evangelicals, Bart Ehrman, comments on the recent controversy of snake handling in the wake of the reported deaths by this practice in KY.   My favorite line: "I’ve always thought that someone in the ambulance on the way to the hospital ought to tell one of those snake handlers, 'You know, that verse wasn’t originally in the Bible.'"
A series of posts on the Great Commission begins here on Dan Wallace's blog.   Here is what Wallace is exploring:
There’s a myth foisted on the Christian public about the meaning of the Great Commission (Matt 28.19-20). It goes something like this: “In the Greek, the word translated ‘Go’ is really a participle and it literally means, ‘as you are going.’ But the words ‘make disciples’ are an imperative in Greek. That’s the only imperative in these two verses. Therefore, the Great Commission is not a command to go; rather, it is a command to make disciples as you are going, or make disciples along the way.”
This could be very important to the church immediately, specifically in the pulpit!

Finally, David Capes announces a session at SBL 2014 exploring "How Jesus became God."  It looks like a great panel sure to give great insight and bring about interesting discussion. 

Phil Long just emailed me this morning and said he still needs a Carnival volunteer for MARCH (next month!).  Email him directly at if you are interested! 

Thanks, folks.  Have a great continuing-Winter!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Was Calvin a Luther-ite?: Luther and the Three Uses of the Law

This morning I am reading Luther's Postal for New Year's Day from Galatians 3:23-29.  He begins the postal, "This is a truly Pauline Epistle, written about faith against works..."  Of course, I am thinking, "classic Luther."  And then I was expecting to read a lot about the law-gospel dichotomy.  However, I was surprised by what I read a few pages later, and I am interested in what others think on this.

I was theologically "raised-up" believing that Luther did not have a "third-use" of the law, unlike us Reformed folk.  

R.C. Sproul helpfully and succinctly defines them thus:

The first purpose of the law is to be a mirror. On the one hand, the law of God reflects and mirrors the perfect righteousness of God. The law tells us much about who God is. Perhaps more important, the law illumines human sinfulness. Augustine wrote, “The law orders, that we, after attempting to do what is ordered, and so feeling our weakness under the law, may learn to implore the help of grace.”2 The law highlights our weakness so that we might seek the strength found in Christ. Here the law acts as a severe schoolmaster who drives us to Christ.

A second purpose for the law is the restraint of evil. The law, in and of itself, cannot change human hearts. It can, however, serve to protect the righteous from the unjust. Calvin says this purpose is “by means of its fearful denunciations and the consequent dread of punishment, to curb those who, unless forced, have no regard for rectitude and justice.”3 The law allows for a limited measure of justice on this earth, until the last judgment is realized.

The third purpose of the law is to reveal what is pleasing to God. As born-again children of God, the law enlightens us as to what is pleasing to our Father, whom we seek to serve. The Christian delights in the law as God Himself delights in it. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). This is the highest function of the law, to serve as an instrument for the people of God to give Him honor and glory.  

This is close to my understanding.  And it is also supposedly different from what Luther thought.  But this is what Luther says in his New Year's Postal that has me wondering if we understand Luther correctly:

"Second, [we see] that this is a threefold use of the Law -- or that people take a threefold attitude toward it.  The first are those who risk everything and lead shameful lives against it; for them, it is as if there were no Law [See Sproul's first use.  The shameful life is only known to be shameful in light of God's righteousness.  Cf. Rom 7:7].  The second are those who refrain from such a dissolute life and are preserved in an honorable life; they are under discipline outwardly, but inwardly they are hostile to their guardian [the law], and all their thing happen out of fear of death and hell.  Thus they keep the Law only outwardly, and the Law keeps them outwardly, but inwardly they do not keep it and are not kept by it [See Sproul's second use.  The law is a fence.].  The third are those who keep it outwardly and inwardly; they are the tablets of Moses, written outwardly and inwardly by the finger of God Himself [Exod. 31:18]."

This third "attitude" towards the law, as Luther says, sounds quite Reformed, or less anachronistically, proto-Reformed (?).  However, would it be more correct to say in light of this that Calvin was a Luther-ite (and in light of Luther's treatise on The Bondage of the Will, also)?  I do not say Lutheran, because Lutherans are not Luther-ites - they are Melanchthonians.  It is a question of mine. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Imitation of Christ in the Gospel of Luke

Just two weeks ago now, a new book was released by P&R called The Imitation of Christ in the Gospel of Luke.  The author of this book is Jimmy Agan, NT and homiletics professor at Covenant Seminary, and a mentor of mine.  I was able to work for Jimmy as a TA from the end of my first year of seminary, and off and on as projects came up through the rest of my time at Covenant.  One of the projects during this time was to index all of his primary source citation in his dissertation and then cross referencing them.  It paid the bills for a while (but also earned me a surprise mention in the book!).  It was a blessing to work for him and watch how he did things.


This new book is a version of Jimmy's Aberdeen dissertation, advised by I.H. Marshall.  I have yet to delve into it, but know that it will be classic Jimmy Agan work; insightful, relevant, learned, and clearly expressed.  Jimmy has a passion for the gospel, a depth of knowledge, and an ability to communicate these things
that is hard to match, and this book will, I have now doubt, show this.

Pick up a copy!  It will in all likelihood be a good read for the lay person to the interested Lukan scholar.  

Thursday, February 20, 2014

When God Spoke Greek - Extra: "The Septuagint Sessions"

MosisMose Dialogue on When God Spoke Greek links: Intro to Dialogue - Ch. 1 - Ch. 2 - Ch. 3

Of relevance for what this MosisMose has been doing lately in its dialogue about T. Michael Law's book When God Spoke Greek is this: "The Septuagint Sessions."  Law has started a new podcast about the LXX.

I personally have not listened to it yet, so it could suck really bad.  But telling from his book, and from my occasional read of his blog, it probably doesn't.  

I am interested to see how this project goes.  I saw Law pitch the possibility on Facebook the other day, and very soon after the first installment of the podcast appeared.  I am curious how much material he can gather for a regular podcast.  But, all that to say, I love the idea, and am always a fan of promoting the LXX.  So, best of luck to this endeavor!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

An Email on Background Study of the Bible

I just sent an email to a Sunday school class I am teaching on the necesity of background work on the Bible before even dreaming of applying the message of Scripture to our lives.  I thought it may be worth sharing.

In this Gospel of Mark class I am teaching at a local church, I am trying to emphasize the need to understand Scripture fully as one can before applying it to one's life.  An important part of this understanding is its historical background.  In the class I have attempted to illustrate this need by  having two class-members read the appropriate section for the week out of Craig Keener's NT Background Commentary.  I then have these "experts," as I call them, report the next week during class time on a couple points that they found especially helpful for their understanding of the text.  It provides me a moment to stop monologue-ing, and for the class to interact on a critical level together as a community interpreting Scripture.  I, and they, have found it fruitful, but even still I am always pushing back on the error or the "read-then-apply" error of personal bible study and "quiet-time". 

Here is the relevant part of the email:

Second, on another subject (this is a long comment but PLEASE read it.  It is important!).  This morning I was reading Martin Luther's Postal on Luke 8, which is the same seed-sowing passage that we read together on Sunday.  It provided a good illustration for our rigorous study. 

Luther, in his comment, says, the first "ground" is where "all heretics, sects, and fanatics belong... who understand the Gospel in a fleshly way and explain it however they want according to their own mind.  They all hear the gospel but produce no fruit."  On a number of occasions I have said that our initial desire is to apply the text of Scripture directly to our lives without exploring the background of Jesus' time, hoping that "the Spirit will illumine our understanding." I have said this is lazy bible study, and we are not fulfilling our task of reading Scripture in community by reading and immediately applying - many steps exist in between!  This is why we have been doing our "expert" time.  Luther in this same Postal provides a great example on how the "read-then-apply" error works out.  He says, "It is to be noted that Mark [4:8] and Matthew [13:8] say the seed produced some thirty, some sixty, and some a hundredfold.  According to the explanations of all [previous commentators], this is to be understood of the three types of chastity -- that of virginity, married people, and widows.   The hundredfold fruit is ascribed to virginity; thirtyfold, the least of all, to the married state; and sixtyfold to widows.  But that is such a coarse, worthless babbling that it is a sin and a shame that it has remained so long in Christendom and has been taught by so many teachers, and no one has noticed it."  BUT WE HAVE NOTICED IT AS A CLASS!  What did Leslie say after doing some rigorous background work?  All three are examples of excellent produce of a fruitful ground (believer).  Right?!  If the background was not explored, and rigorous study was not pursued, what might you have said they were examples of?  Good, better, best?  I may have...  I think it is good encouragement to keep pressing on in hard study so we can lead well, and follow well.

I find that the study I think is thrilling is by many deemed as worthless, or at least boring.  Via these "expert" times I hope that little by little folks can see that historical background is very important to a better understanding of Scripture.  I am thankful for Keener's work!  On that note: there is EVERY type of study bible in the world! Seriously.  We should have a "historical background SB"!  I would promote that.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Dialogue on When God Spoke Greek: Chapter 3

MosisMose Dialogue on When God Spoke Greek links: Intro to Dialogue - Ch. 1 - Ch. 2 - Ch. 3 

Chapter Three Review—Ed Glenny
In chapter three Michael Law presents one of the most important ideas in his book, When God Spoke Greek. This important idea is summarized in the quotation from Eugene Ulrich that opens the chapter: “We should probably not think of a ‘Bible’ in the first century BCE or the first century CE at Qumran, or elsewhere.” In the first paragraph of the chapter Law clarifies what Ulrich means; he asserts that before the second century CE “there was no way of knowing which scriptural books would be included within the collection and which would be left out; nor was there any way of knowing how the final version of the individual books would appear.” This is the main thesis of the chapter, and there are two issues here. The first involves the books included in the canon of the Hebrew Bible, and the second involves the form, or textual makeup, of those books. (If you are not sure what we mean by some of the terms we are using, look back at pages 7-8.) I will briefly address the first issue, since Law does not enlarge on it, and I will spend more time responding to the second one, which is the main thrust of the chapter.
            The main problem I have with Law’s statement about the canon is that, in my opinion, it is too far-reaching. The Prologue to Sirach from the second century BCE refers to a three-fold division of the Hebrew Bible, and several passages indicate that at least by about that time there was a belief that prophecy had ceased (Zech 13:2-6; 1 Macc 4:46; 9:27, 54; 14:41), thus limiting the books considered for the collection. Further evidence of a collection from the first century CE (Josephus, Against Apion, 8; Luke 24) raises more problems in my mind with Law’s statement about the date of knowledge of which books were to be included in the collection. And the evidence of biblical texts at Qumran with authoritative citations coming virtually only from those texts that were included makes me wonder further if he is not going too far in his statement and in this chapter. It seems to me that by the second century BCE there must have been a core of books that were generally considered to be part of the collection that came to be called the Bible.
            The second issue, and main emphasis of the chapter, has to do with the diverse forms of the text of the Hebrew Bible before the second century CE and the implications of that fact. I do not dispute the claim that there were different forms of the Hebrew Bible in this period, and Law gives much evidence for it. His chapter is a helpful overview of the evidence for such diversity. However, I wonder if Law may have pushed the envelope a bit too far again when he says things like, “The earlier period was characterized by plurality, not uniformity” (22), and perhaps also his statement that prior to the second century CE there “would have been no way to predict which Hebrew version of any given book would eventually become the standard” (32). Is there any evidence of textual uniformity or of a text that was understood to be a standard text before the second century CE? I think there is. First, I would like to repeat a point I made in my response to Aaron’s review of chapter one. Law focuses almost exclusively on differing or alternative Hebrew texts as the explanation for the differences found in the textual tradition of the Hebrew Bible. In his postscript he does acknowledge more fully that the translator could sometimes be responsible for the differences between the MT tradition and the LXX, and he also mentions that possibility in this chapter but he does not develop it. I am prejudiced on this point, because I work mostly in LXX Minor Prophets (LXX Twelve), and I have found that almost all of the differences between the MT tradition and the LXX in the Minor Prophets can be attributed to the work of the translator. One could also cite the works of Dorival on Psalms; Gentry on Job; and many others, who have argued the same for different books. It is true, the differences in the Twelve between the MT tradition and the LXX are not as major as in Jeremiah and some other books, but there are some big discrepancies between the MT tradition and the LXX in the Twelve and in the vast majority of cases they can be explained as the work of the translator. I think more emphasis on this in chapter three would give a fairer picture of the situation.
             In presenting some evidence for textual uniformity or a text that might be considered as a standard before the second century CE I point readers to the article by Peter Gentry (“The Text of the Old Testament” JETS 52/1 [March 2009]: 19-45). In this article Gentry presents several arguments against the near consensus view (presented by Law) that the text and canon of the Hebrew Bible were fluid until the end of the first century CE. In doing that Gentry argues for the dominance of the proto-MT text both before and after the fall of Jerusalem. I will mention a few of his arguments, and interested readers can look at his work in more detail and decide for themselves. One of Gentry’s main arguments is the often-overlooked importance of the translator as the cause of differences between the MT tradition and LXX, which I mentioned above. He also argues, following Pulikottil, that many so-called variants in the texts at Qumran actually demonstrate resignification in relation to the mainstream text and presuppose it. He cites Chiesa’s study, arguing that we cannot just count variants between texts or groups of texts, as Tov and others tend to do with Qumran manuscripts; instead we must analyze more carefully the supposed variants for their worth in determining textual relationships. In this regard Chiesa notes two principles that are often forgotten: (1) Only significant errors can be used to determine genetic relationships; and (2) many so-called unique readings that are used to classify manuscripts are not unique and are not reliable for establishing the position of a witness within the text history of that biblical book. Thus, Tov’s category of Non-Aligned Texts needs reexamination (Gentry, 36-37); Law refers to these Non-Aligned Texts as texts that “resist classification altogether” (24; see n. 12). Gentry also argues that the evidence from Qumran needs to be put within the larger picture of all the scrolls from the Judean desert, and all of those scrolls that are not from Qumran are similar to the MT tradition. Gentry claims, “In the larger picture there is a central stream dominated by the proto-Masoretic texts” (37).
            I have gone on long enough, and I have only touched on Law’s chapter and summarized a few key points in Gentry’s article. However, I trust the reader will understand my point: I am trying to temper some of Law’s statements and argue that there is evidence that suggests that before the second century CE, perhaps as early as the second century BCE, it would be possible to have had a good idea of which scriptural books would be included within the collection and which would be left out; and there is evidence also that, in spite of the diversity of texts, before the end of the first century CE it would have been possible to have had a pretty good idea how the final version of the individual books would appear in that collection.

Response – Chris Fresch

I appreciate Ed's comments above.  He is right to temper some of Law's statements while also offering alternative views for which Law does not provide much space.  However, I do find Law's arguments a bit more compelling than Ed does.

On the issue of canon and the three-fold division of the Hebrew Bible from the Prologue to Sirach, Law rightly points out later on in his book (p. 71) that "the Law and the Prophets and the other ancestral books" from the Prologue is not very helpful in delimiting the Hebrew canon at this period.  As Law states, "The 'other ancestral books' could refer to anything, including the books that never became canonical."  It makes sense that there were categories in place for Law and Prophets, as such books are easily categorized and grouped together.  I do not think that anything further about the scriptural status of any particular book or whether there was a conception of canon at this stage can reasonably be posited.  (As Law will also get into later [p. 122]), the fact that we have canonical lists written down, even centuries after Christ, as well as some of them differing with regard to certain books is further evidence that delimiting the OT canon was no simple or clearly agreed upon matter.)

However, Ed's point still stands that Law may be reaching a bit too far in his statement.  "No way of knowing" comes off a bit strong.  Permit me this experiment (that I can in no way prove): If you were to sit a 1st Century CE Jew or Christian down and ask, "If you had to create a canon of Scripture, which books would be included?"  What would he or she say?  I'd be willing to bet that the majority would at least include the Torah and Isaiah if not also Psalms.  I know it is a silly hypothetical, but the point I am attempting to make is that they were readers/hearers of Scripture, that they had a conceptual category for what was "Scripture," that this category was probably a graded one (in that something like Torah or Isaiah would be considered the more Scripture-y Scripture), and that in making a canon, hearers/readers from the same socio-historical-cultural-religious context would certainly include those more prototypical examples of Scripture.  I do agree with Law that the entire canon could not have been known before it was finally delimited (both because some books were not as prototypically "Scripture" like the Torah or Isaiah and because, as he will get into later, there was a wide range of Scripture in use, not all of which ended up being included in the canon), but the way he makes his claim is a bit overstated.

On the second point of Ed's review, I think he again helpfully tempers Law's claims.  Law does not spend much time on the issue of changes that occur because of the translation process.  However, the issue of divergent literary traditions underlying certain biblical books like Jeremiah or Samuel cannot be explained by the changes that occur in the translation process.  Law helpfully points the reader to the plurality of texts that existed before the MT became the most prominent and other textual traditions were edged out.  Not only do we have witnesses to other traditions for many books, but as Law states, some of these traditions are more ancient than what we have in the MT!  This is often ignored in Christian scholarship because it makes our reading of the Old Testament messy.  However, if we want to be honest, good, and faithful readers of Scripture, we must follow the evidence and wrestle with it.

I appreciate that Law exhorts the reader to not view the evidence through the lens of someone coming to it after the authoritative tradition had been established (p. 32).  While we cannot stop this from being the case ontologically, he is right to remind us that we naturally view the data from this perspective and as a result, the data will necessarily be skewed.  I find the challenge to try to remove that lens to be a very helpful and important one.

There is not space to discuss what all I appreciated about this chapter, but I certainly recommend anyone interested in the issues briefly discussed in this review to engage with it.  While Ed and I come away from the data with slightly different conclusions, I appreciate his review and think he helpfully tempers Law and presents counterarguments with which one must also wrestle.

Response: Aaron White 
Full diclosure: this was one chapter I was especially excited to dip into, for many reasons, but the primary one being that I was able to hear Ed's response on it.  I was not disappointed, That was good stuff, and demonstrates his word-class knowledge on the subject that many have seen in his wonderful dissertation on the LXX-Amos.  Great interaction so far, I hope I can add my own nugget!

Ok.  Enough brown-nosing! I would like to touch on two things that might be more implications of the issues Ed and Chris are discussing above.  The first is on the issue of multiple forms, and the second is on the pastoral angle of this chapter.

First,  Law says that some books like Exodus, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, etc., have multiple literary versions in extant, while other books do not. He says, however, that the lack of multiple versions for some does not mean that those books have never had multiple versions.  But it is what he says next that bears more explanation. He says that "the preservation of evidence for only some of them is a matter of accident..."  On two fronts, I found "accident" to be a bit problematic.  In both cases I do not believe that such preservation of texts is by accident.  The first reason I would propose is that according to a classic canonical approach, the people of God looked to Scripture for worship and a normative expression of God's will in their times (this is a much more human-centered method, e.g. "prophetic oracles which were directed to one generation were fashioned into Sacred Scripture by a canonical process to be used by another generation." Childs “Canonical shape," Interp. 32, no. 1 [1978]: 46).  This fact has many implications for the multiple forms of texts, and the lack-there-of in other cases.  Multiple versions of texts may have been preserved purposely for their distinct directives to a new generation of God's people, whereas other texts were left as they are, or if multiple, discarded for lack of use in the worship of the people of God.  The second is a stance of the more confessional and evangelical church.  Concerning the matter of canon and the plurality of texts, the matter is never one of an "accident" because it is God who establishes his word for his people (this in many ways is contrary to Child's approach in its orientation).  This may be a hard saying for many in academia.  And many may think we have "progressed beyond those primitive ideas."  A view of canon like this one runs into problems even in the 21st century since among major Christian groups there exists a plurality of canons!  However, the problem does not render the point true that God establishes canon, and his people recognize what this canon is.  We do not ever arbitrarily trash certain books (as the monks nearly did to the entire text of Sinaiticus!), and/or accidentally preserve others (like those in Cairo did with old mss.).  The development of canon and preservation of texts is of primary concern of the LORD since it is his word.  
The second issue running through my head while reading this chapter is who is this book for?  In other words, as Ed and Chris say above, Law strongly states some very controversial things without caveat.  For me, who spends half my time in the local church, I am concerned for the reader.  If this book is solely for people like myself, Chris, Ed, then statements these and chapters like this one can be discussed and hashed-out.  However, this book looks to be more "popular" level, and seems to be aimed more at a popular level in its verbiage, etc., as well. What this chapter reminds me of are the unqualified statements I heard in my undergraduate years that either intentionally undercut the young faith of many students or unintentionally did so for lack of explanation.  I think there is room in this chapter, or in the introduction, to name some of the issues as tough to navigate, but noting that raising of such issues is to be faithful to engage the problems of faith - not to undercut faith.  Issues covered in this chapter and interacted with great skill above by Ed and Chris are vital to discuss, however, the intended audience must be taken into consideration since these issues have important implications for the faith of God's people. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Dialogue on When God Spoke Greek: Chapter 2

MosisMose Dialogue on When God Spoke Greek links: Intro to Dialogue - Ch. 1 - Ch. 2 - Ch. 3 

This is the second installment of our three-way dialogue on Law's When God Spoke Greek.  Chris Fresch is the reviewer, and will be responded to by Professor W. Edward Glenny and Aaron White.
Let's get a couple things out of the way first:
     • Michael Law is a friend of mine.  Not super close best buds, but a friend.  I also work for him as the Review Coordinator for The Marginalia Review of Books.  However, regardless of this, I would like to be clear that I intend to honestly engage with When God Spoke Greek throughout the coming weeks.
     • Law uses endnotes in the book  This is horrible.

Law begins this chapter with the turn of 6th century BCE, when the Babylonian Exile began.  This marked a stark shift for the people of Judah, as they now lived under the rule of a foreign king and their upper class was forcibly taken away.  Fast-forward to 539 BCE when Cyrus II, king of Persia, conquered Babylon.  This turnover signaled the beginning of the Post-Exilic or Second Temple period (the latter title refers to the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem).  Cyrus II, wise king that he was, allowed any Judeans to leave Babylonia, if they so desired, and decreed that the Temple be rebuilt (this decree, the returning, and the Temple rebuilding are discussed in the Biblical books Ezra, Haggai, and Zechariah 1–8).  Around 515 BCE, the Temple was completed.
We then jump to the well-known date of 330 BCE, when Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire and the world became Greek.  Law explains that owing to the lax immigration policy under Ptolemy Soter (one of Alexander's successors), "tens of thousands of Jews found a new home in Egypt, mostly having come as soldiers, slaves, and economic migrants" (16).  Egypt was wealthy, stable, and welcoming, thus providing a place for many Jews to create settlements.  In the cities, particularly, Law states that the Jews were living in districts together, had fully adopted koine Greek, and that evidence of prayer houses proves the continuing of religious tradition (16).  
It was during this time, in the 3rd century BCE, that the Torah was translated into Greek in Alexandria.  The rest of the Hebrew Bible as we know it, as well as some other important Hebrew books, followed suit in the centuries that followed, in both Egypt and Palestine.

I especially appreciated this chapter.  In it, Law provides a helpful, succinct, and detailed historical and cultural context for Jews living in a Hellenistic world.  This is pivotal for understanding the Septuagint and the communities that produced it and benefitted from it.  He rightly places this chapter early on in the book, to set both the scene and the socio-cultural-historical context for many of the chapters that follow.

There are a few points that I would like to bring specific attention to and on which I would like to offer some comments:

1. Law mentions that it was the upper class of Judeans who were exiled to Babylon (pp. 9, 11-12).  This is an important point that is often ignored.  There were still Judeans in Judah!  However, Law may be overstating the class distinctions a little, as the Biblical material (2 Kings 24:14; 25:11-12) suggests that Law's "upper class" really means every single person who is not poorer than the poorest (in 24:14 the poorest are left in Judah; in 25:11-12, many of them end up being deported as well).  Those who are left behind are given vineyards and fields (2 Kings 25:12); they make lives for themselves.

2. This brings us to Law's explanation of the relationship between those who returned from exile and those who remained in the land.  He states that the exiles who returned to Judah saw themselves as more divinely favored than "the many who had remained in the land" and that "the unexiled were less than eager to move out of the way for the homecoming" (p. 11).  On p. 12, Law notes the hard-line taken by the returnees (citing Ezra 4:3) and the conflict that continued between them and those in the land.
Law is seemingly referring to the Judeans who were not exiled when he uses the phrase "the many who had remained in the land" (p. 11).  This is a difficult issue that I will not try to resolve, but we should be aware of it.  What Judeans were still in the land?  According to Jer. 52:30, 4600 people were taken into exile.  That would seem to be an incredibly small percentage of the Judean population.  However, we also know that many left Mizpah (the capital of what was left of Judah) after the murder of Gedaliah (2 Kings 25:26) and went to Egypt.  Were there many/any Judeans still in Jerusalem when the exiled returned?  The reasonable assumption would be that there were, but we are not given much to work with.  However, regardless of this issue, the situation in Ezra 4 is not cast as an Exiles vs. Non-exiled OR a Divinely favored vs. Non-divinely favored confrontation.  Rather, it is the people of YHWH vs. Non-Judean idolators.  In Ezra 4:2, the people offering to help build the temple state that they were brought to the land by King Esarhaddon of Assyria (Assyria was repopulating Israel with peoples from a number of different nations, see 2 Kings 17:24-41).  So, firstly, they are not from any of the tribes of Israel.  Secondly, as 2 Kings 17:24-41 informs us, these people worshiped YHWH but they also worshiped and served their idols.  In light of this, the response from the leaders of Israel in 4:3 is immediately understandable.  To cast this in a "more divinely favored than the many who had remained in the land" is, to me, a forced way of reading the text.

3. On page 12, Law claims that it was during the Second Temple period when the Torah was compiled.  I will not get into authorship and dating of books here, as that is not my primary contention nor is it integral to the argument of the book.  However, what I did find frustrating here is the complete lack of acknowledgement of other views (aside from "the books tradition claims to have been written by Moses" (p. 12)).  Law provides no indication of opposing views even though this is nowhere close to being a settled issue, not even in an endnote.  Rather, he presents a completed Torah at the seam between the fifth and fourth centuries BCE as fact (here is the money quote from p. 12: "The end of the fifth or beginning of the fourth century BCE is the earliest date at which anything closely resembling the Torah may have appeared." (Emphasis mine).  The fact of the matter is that there are competent scholars who place the completion of the Torah much earlier.  My issue here is not so much with Law's view on the issue but rather with the way he presents it.  This deserved at least an endnote acknowledging the debate on this issue.  The lack of any such acknowledgement is potentially misleading for the uninformed reader.

4. Law makes the very important point that Greek culture had already infiltrated the world before Alexander's conquest (pp. 14, 15).  Too often, we picture Alexander's conquest in 330 BCE as suddenly introducing the world to all things Greek, but as Law rightly notes, "Greek culture had made inroads in the East long before Alexander took up his shield and spear" and "There was already a dispersion of Greek culture much earlier, and quite significantly in the fifth century after the victory at Thermopylae."

This is an excellent chapter.  Law provides, in a very clear way, an excellent description of how the world became Greek (before and after Alexander), what that meant for the people at the time, and how they responded to it.  He ably paints the scene and provides the context, thus providing not only a solid second chapter through which we are to view the following chapters but also a fantastic starting place for anyone interested in Jews and the Hellenistic World.

Response: Aaron White

I think that Chris' final thought on the chapter is well put.  He said, "Law provides, in a very clear way, an excellent description of how the world became Greek (before and after Alexander), what that meant for the people at the time, and how they responded to it."  As I read this chapter, I agreed with Chris' positive response to what Law offers the reader.  In the four points that Chris highlights above, we find a different historical orientation to the genesis of the LXX than is found in the standard LXX intros.  This chapter may be one that I point students and colleagues to in order to breath the air that those who wrote and read Greek were breathing.
I think that Chris' #1 and #2 are topics that should gain broader hearings.  These are two aspects of the exile that I did not get exposed to fully, even under some of the best OT scholars in seminary.
Chris' tempered response to Law's chapter has little for me to add or comment on.   Sure there are caveats that may have been made, as Chris says, but in a book with the audience this book has in mind, such things will happen.  Chris seems to understand this.    Good review, Chris.  But go easy on the endnotes!  And, I wont tell anyone you used two spaces to begin a new sentence ;)

Response: Ed Glenny
I enjoyed this chapter, and I appreciate Chris’s summary and review of it. The chapter, which gives the historical background of the LXX, has three main divisions. In the first section Law gives his view of the development of the Pentateuch, the compilation of which he places around 500 BCE. He writes that at this time Jewish priests compiled the Pentateuch, gathering together “strands of documentary materials and ancient stories that had been transmitted in oral and written form for many years and stitched together into a continuous though not entirely uniform narrative” (12). Law connects the compilation of the Pentateuch with the Persian practice of giving their subjects authority to organize themselves according to their own laws and rule themselves (13). Thus, in the first division of the chapter Law connects an historical overview of the Babylonian captivity and the Persian period with his explanation of the origin of the Pentateuch. There is a lot of helpful material here. But I came away with the same feelings Chris develops in his third response (see his # 3.), and this was my main concern after reading this chapter. It is unfortunate in a book like this, attempting to be a somewhat popular treatment of the LXX, that other views of the development of the Pentateuch were not also presented or at least acknowledged in endnotes. The compilation of the Pentateuch in the Persian period is far from a consensus view, although the reader could easily get that impression from Law’s discussion.
The second division of the chapter is a summary of the Hellenization that followed the conquests of Alexander, and this leads nicely into the short third section, the need for a Greek translation of the Pentateuch. Thanks, Chris, for your summary of a helpful chapter, which is even more helpful and precise because of your comments and critique.