Book Reviews

Two Recent Book Reviews, and Some On the Way

I’ve been working on reviewing books pretty steadily over the last year or so. It’s a good discipline to keep you reading texts closely, keep up with topics of interest that are not immediately connected with my dissertation, and get my hands on some free premium volumes.

Two of my reviews were recently published in the Bulletin for Biblical Research, the journal of the Institute for Biblical Research (IBR). At the moment BBR is holding first place in my review contributions, mainly because they publish so many and there is plenty of opportunity to do it.

Here are the two that I reviewed in BBR 25.3 (2015).

The Hebrew Bible (BHS) Reader’s Edition

It’s an odd task to review a Reader’s Edition. In case you don’t know, a Reader’s Edition is simply a primary text – in this case Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia – reproduced with vocabulary helps included throughout. In this case, any word that occurs seventy times or fewer in the Hebrew Bible is given a note in the text that corresponds to a footnote, where the parsing (where appropriate) and a contextual gloss appears. This allows you to read your Hebrew as easily as you like, whenever you hit an unknown word it’s there for you to check and/or parse.

I really like this volume. It’s very well produced by Hendrickson, one of the highest quality publishers in the industry in my opinion when it comes to primary sources. The German Bible Society teamed up with Hendrickson to allow them to use the BHS 5th edition text (’97), so aside from the Masorah Parva and textual apparatus, you’re also getting a high quality scholarly source also. In terms of kethiv/qere variants, the editors of the Reader’s Edition have smoothed things out using their apparatus at the bottom of the page.

There are a few drawbacks. For the most part, this consists of the parsing system used throughout. It is based on LaSor’s system, and takes some getting used to. Ideally, you can parse everything yourself anyway so you won’t need it much!

You can read my review here.

Adams and Socio-Economics of Second Temple Judaism

A lot of my research includes reading about Judaism. That may sound surprising if you know I work in Septuagint studies. But believe it or not, the Septuagint was produced by Jews. Ta-da! Although I tend to read a great deal more about Jewish life in Ptolemaic Egypt, where most of the translation work likely occurred, I am also interested in other diaspora communities and, of course, Palestinian Judaism.

That’s why I picked up Adams’ volume Social and Economic Life in Second Temple Judea to review. I was astounded to read that there is no other volume specifically focused upon this subject-matter, something I am still somewhat inclined to doubt (although I have yet to find proof otherwise). Naturally many of the other tomes on Second Temple Judaism treat socioeconomics in passing or so some extent, but it is not the main focus.

A variety of topics are covered: family and the household, the lives of women and children, the marketplace, the state, and the ethics of wealth and poverty. There is the natural challenge of lack of sources in many parts of this study (especially women and children), so Adams makes up for it by contemporary anthropological studies. This can be problematic, as you can read in my review. More so, however, is his use of almost the entire Old Testament as “evidence” of life in the Second Temple period. If you’re not aware of higher critical assumptions, they more or less allow Adams to presume that most/all of the OT was written or finalized in the Second-Temple period, thus allowing him to use it as a primary source. I find this approach specious, but it’s a different kettle of fish for a different day.

You can read my review here.

Some Reviews in the Pipeline

I have a few reviews that will be coming out soon, and some I’m looking forward to producing. I have two reviews coming out in the Westminster Theological Journal that I will post here in time. I’m more interested in reading these three volumes, however:

A Review of Comfort’s “A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament”

While it may seem a little bit out of my usual strike zone on this blog, I was interested in having a look at the newest edition of Philip Comfort’s A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament (Kregel Academic, 2015), pp. 448, hardback. My work and research interests are grounded in all things Old Testament, however much of my daily grind involves a fair bit of heavy-duty textual-criticism in the Greek versions of the Bible. Doing research in the Septuagint version of Judges requires that I dive into the manuscript evidence for that Greek translation, and one of the side-effects of doing so is that I am interested in New Testament textual-criticism as well.

This handy volume is billed as “an up-to-date commentary on all the significant manuscripts and textual variants of the New Testament,” and it certainly lives up to its description. It’s cleverly shaped just like your NA27 (or if you’re cutting-edge and nit-picky, your NA28), and so it sits nicely next to your Greek New Testament and, of course, your Rahlfs-Hanhart Septuaginta.

The essential purpose of this book is to provide a passage-by-passage guide to textual reliability, the variants, and specific translation issues that arise in the New Testament. Additionally, Comfort has commented upon the qualities of the manuscripts that make up the textual evidence for the New Testament in order to help the scholar and exegete evaluate significant textual issues. When you come across a variant in the NT text, deciding between readings must be based upon a number of factors. As the famous NT scholars Westcott and Hort stated, knowledge of the documents where the variants are found must precede decisions about the textual variants themselves. These external factors that influence text-critical decisions include the tendencies of the scribe of a particular manuscript (including scribal reception), textual purity (i.e., number of variants compared to other witnesses and/or the supposed autograph), approximate date, region of discovery, and so on. In turn, the internal factors for text-criticism rely upon the so-called “Canons” of the discipline, such as proclivi scriptoni praestat ardua (“the more difficult reading is preferred”). These are briefly but helpfully explained by Comfort on pp. 29-31.

If you have ever undertaken serious NT textual criticism – or even had to write a graduate paper that wades through this area of scholarship – then you already know how useful a tool like this book will be for doing much of this spadework for you and getting huge amounts of data into concise and centralized format.

What’s in the Book

Comfort spends the first two chapters of the book dealing with various textual issues in the NT, and providing his annotated list of NT manuscripts. In chapters 3-9, he then walks through the NT books in chunks as follows:

  • Ch. 3 – Synoptic Gospels
  • Ch. 4 – Gospel of John
  • Ch. 5 – Acts
  • Ch. 6 – Pauline Epistles
  • Ch. 7 – Hebrews
  • Ch. 8 – General Epistles
  • Ch. 9 – Revelation

I was quite pleased and surprised to find that Comfort has also included some interesting and useful material on the Nomina Sacra, and their relevance to textual-criticism (see pp. 31-41, Appendix II). Best of all is that this material is directed towards NT text-criticism and also aspects of the Greek Old Testament where the divine names are also a prominent textual issue.

Reflections

Not specializing in New Testament textual criticism per se, I do not have much negative feedback. However, from that perspective I must say that I found myself wishing there was a Glossary of Terms in this volume. No doubt, Old Testament and New Testament textual criticism operate on similar principles in some ways, but in other ways these tasks are quite different. I think the average reader would likely benefit from a clarification of terms used throughout a book like this. Nevertheless, this book is a must-have for students of New Testament, and considering the fair price it is a worthwhile investment.

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Thanks to Kregel Publications for the complimentary review copy, which has not influenced my opinions.

Review of Porter’s “Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament”

I was glad to receive a review copy of Dr. Stanley Porter’s most recent (latest) new (fresh) book this year, Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament: Studies in Tools, Methods, and Practice. Stan is the president, dean, professor of New Testament, and chair in Christian Worldview at McMaster Divinity College, among inconceivably numerous other roles. To save some space detailing Porter’s credentials, why don’t you swing over to view his CV to peruse all fifty-seven pages of it.

Needless to say, when Stan Porter says something about Greek, it’s worth listening. Many will know (better than me) about Porter’s close involvement with the ongoing scholarly debates over verbal aspect in Greek, which – like it or not – makes him an important figure in contemporary biblical studies generally. Even in Old Testament studies, I am convinced, Greek remains quite central, considering the importance of the Septuagint to OT text-criticism and interpretation.

Book Outline

The book, which runs to over 440 pages, is structured as follows:

Introduction
Part 1: Texts and Tools for Analysis
1. Who Owns the Greek New Testament? Issues That Promote and Hinder Further Study
2. Analyzing the Computer Needs of New Testament Greek Exegetes
3. “On the Shoulders of Giants”–The Expansion and Application of the Louw-Nida Lexicon
4. The Blessings and Curses of Producing a Lexicon
Part 2: Approaching Analysis
5. Linguistics and Biblical Interpretation
6. A Multidisciplinary Approach to Exegesis
7. Sociolinguistics and New Testament Study
8. Discourse Analysis: Introduction and Core Concepts
9. The Ideational Metafunction and Register
10. Time and Aspect in New Testament Greek: A Response to K. L. McKay
11. Three Arguments regarding Aspect and Temporality: A Response to Buist Fanning, with an Excursus on Aspectually Vague Verbs
12. The Perfect Tense-Form and Stative Aspect: The Meaning of the Greek Perfect Tense-Form in the Greek Verbal System
Part 3: Doing Analysis
13. A Register Analysis of Mark 13: Toward a Context of Situation
14. The Grammar of Obedience: Matthew 28:19-20
15. Verbal Aspect and Synoptic Relations
16. Study of John’s Gospel: New Directions or the Same Old Paths?
17. Method and Means of Analysis of the Opponents in the Pauline Letters
18. 1 Timothy 2:8: Holy Hands or Holy Raising?
19. Greek Word Order: Still an Unexplored Area in New Testament Studies?
20. Proper Nouns in the New Testament
21. Hyponymy and the Trinity
Indexes

Thoughts in Review

There is a lot of valuable material in this volume. In large measure, the essays are distilled from Porter’s previous papers or presentations, but refined and updated. Each of the three parts has its advantages, but I found Part II most fascinating.

Part I is caught up with discussing what might be called “logistical items” in New Testament studies, such as the idea of intellectual property and ancient texts, computer tools, and the ins-and-outs of Greek lexicons. These are helpful essays insofar as they bring up interesting and relevant questions for the biblical studies community. But these chapters will prove most useful, I think, to those already a part of the “guild” rather than students. That said, those students who go on to enter professional biblical studies will do well to have these questions raised for future work.

Part II was, as I said, more interesting, and strikes me as the meat of the book. As the title rightly indicates, the most valuable aspect of Porter’s volume is his application of linguistics to the study of the NT. In Porter’s case, this is done consistently in the vein of Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL). The SFL approach in particular is what Porter has done so rigorously for so long, and is what he has found so “fruitful” for NT study (see his CV for proof). SFL has come under criticism by some because it is a basically quantitative approach that does not accommodate languages with highly variable word order, like Greek. For this reason, I was happy to see that Porter does not see SFL as the all-or-nothing for right exegesis, although he does presumably see SFL as the best model of modern linguistics for the tasks he is interested in completing. Chapter 6 however is concerned with, as Porter calls it, a “multidisciplinary” approach to exegesis that blends a variety of approaches to distill the many aspects of a text for contemporary understanding. In this part of the book, Porter basically works from broadest to narrowest, conceptually speaking, working from sociolinguistics through discourse, register, and verbal aspect. All these chapters are very clearly written and I personally found them very useful. The last topic – verbal aspect – as we might expect receives the favor of three full chapters promoting Porter’s taking on “nontemporality” in the Greek verb. Like it or not, Porter provides many compelling arguments for this particular view, which will need to be considered in future work on the topic.

Part III essentially puts some of the theoretical concepts from Part II into action. I was glad that Porter decided to do this, since in large measure there is a pretty hefty amount of undefined linguistics jargon strewn through Part II (especially guilty of this is Ch. 9), and the practical application in Part III clarifies much of Porter’s work. I found the first chapter (13) the most interesting in this section, likely because register is a significant aspect of my own research in the Greek version of the Old Testament. There is much of use in this part of the book, too, to students looking to continue their studies at more advanced levels, since Porter is consistently serving up ideas to pursue. The prime example here is ch. 19, which outlines the under-explored potential of word-order studies in Greek.

Wrapping Up

Needless to say, the great amount of particular goodies in this latest publication by Stanley Porter makes a review like this more prone to highlight generalities. Even so, I hope this brief review provides enough encouragement to get a copy of this book, or at least peruse through it at your institution’s library. If you are involved in biblical studies, there is something (or many things) relevant to you in Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament.

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Thanks to Baker for providing a review copy, which has not influenced my comments above.