“Being Jewish, Writing Greek” Conference in Cambridge

A conference was recently announced here in Cambridge that many interested in the Septuagint will want to look into. On 6-8 September 2017 the Being Jewish, Writing Greek conference will be held here at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Classics. This event has developed out of a seminar hosted here this academic year that was essentially driven by the desire to pay more scholarly attention to the full range of ancient Jewish Greek literature, which is frequently ignored.

The Septuagint … and Beyond

Obviously the Septuagint falls within the range of Greek writings produced by Jews. However, as a courpus of mostly translated texts, there is considerable debate about whether or not it should be considered Jewish “literature” proper (a question bound up with issues of language, cultural identity, and genre). That is part of the reason for this conference. But there is a good deal of Jewish writing that was composed in Greek, and which clearly qualifies as literature. The non-translated books of the Septuagint, such as 1-4 Maccabbees, 1 Esdras, Judith, or Tobit are certainly among such Jewish Greek literature. But there are also quite a few others that you might never have heard of, like:

  • Ezekiel’s Exagogê
  • Artapanus
  • Pseudo-Phocylides
  • Demetrius the Chronographer
  • Etc.

The goal of this conference is to shine a (cross-disciplinary) spotlight on these ancient sources – those translated and those composed in Greek – to consider their linguistic and literary qualities.  As the conference website says,

Much has been said about the historical as well as theological contexts and content of these works. However, relatively few studies have considered these Jewish writings in Greek as literary works.

Yes, You can Submit a Proposal!

bjwgPaper proposals can be submitted here. 

The goal is to look at these Jewish Greek sources as the products of two cultures and languages in confluence: Judaism and Hellenism, Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek. Moreover, the conference is meant to recalibrate the traditional, single-discipline approaches to these texts and instead situate both Classical and Jewish literature “in a broader Mediterranean context.”

Thus far speakers will include

Book Highlight: Christian Dogmatics

Or: “Don’t Forget Your Theology”

This post is a little bit outside of my usual strike zone for an Old
Testament and Septuagint Studies blog like this one. So I’ve titled it a “Book Highlight” since that seemed to make sense, although the spirit of this post is a review. But, having read and thoroughly appreciated Michael Allen and Scott Swain’s manifesto for scriptural interpretation, Reformed Catholicity, I knew that I had to read this volume too: Christian Dogmatics: Reformed Theology for the Church Catholic (Baker 2016). 

This volume is essentially a one-stop tour of theology from a broad and historically Reformed perspective. Almost every major loci of dogmatics is treated by an academic dream team of scholars from numerous institutions. They are all eminently qualified for the task. Each essay is about 25 pages long, and is equally introductory, thorough, and intellectually challenging. It would make an excellent text for the college or master’s level theology course.

Part of what I particularly like about this book is that, while its contributors set out to explicate their theological topic according to the historically Reformed approach, not all of them are formally affiliated with that tradition itself. To quote the introduction, “What binds the different essays together is their attempt to draw on the fecund resources of Holy Scripture within the context of the catholic church of the Reformed confessions … [and their contributors’ commitment] to the proposition that theological renewal comes through dependence upon the generative resources of the Triune God in and through the gospel and that such dependence is best expressed in our particular historical moment by way of retrieval” (p. 2).

The basic idea behind “theological retrieval” is that the contemporary theological task must be undertaken with the full history of tradition that has sustained the faith that has come before it. This will include, of course, the orthodox creeds and confessions, but also earlier theologians and exegetes from the Church Fathers up to and beyond the Reformers.


Just have a look at the range and caliber of contributors to get an idea of the quality of contributions:

Introduction  Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain
1. Knowledge of God  Michael Allen
2. Holy Scripture  Kevin J. Vanhoozer
3. Divine Attributes  Michael Allen
4. Divine Trinity  Scott R. Swain
5. Covenant of Redemption  Scott R. Swain
6. Creation out of Nothing  John Webster
7. Providence  John Webster
8. Anthropology  Kelly M. Kapic
9. Sin  Oliver D. Crisp
10. Incarnation  Daniel J. Treier
11. The Work of Christ Accomplished  Donald Macleod
12. The Work of Christ Applied  Richard Gaffin
13. The Law of God and Christian Ethics  Paul T. Nimmo
14. The Church  Michael Horton
15. Sacraments  Todd Billings
16. Kingdom of God  Michael Horton

Add to that the remarkable collection of figures who have endorsed the book. I am not going to go into detail describing the content of each chapter, in part because it’s obvious what each deals with. But also, to be honest, because I haven’t finished working through them all yet! It is a dense and richly rewarding read, I can attest, and I don’t plan to rush. Instead, I’ll give some macro-level thoughts on the vision of this volume and highlight its intersection with my normal wheelhouse: biblical studies.

Scripture and Theology

It is an eminently biblical principle that faith and knowledge of God is to be passed from one generation to another (Exod. 13:8-10; Ps. 44:1; Deut. 4:9; 2 Tim. 4:1-4). Each generation therefore receives and is trained in the gospel from those before it, and this process therefore rightly generates a tradition, biblically conceived (1 Cor. 15:3). Helpfully, Allen and Swain distinguish between the biblical concept of theological tradition – being intellectually and spiritually shaped by the Christian confession – and mere “custom” that may perpetuate error through history (p. 5). To that extent, the task of this volume is dogmatic, and not “systematic.” The latter implies doctrinal deduction from a logical principle, while the former entails reflection on the task of Christian confession to “equip the saints for a more faithful hearing of and testimony to the words of the prophets and apostles” (p. 6).

Simply insert “biblical” before “critic.”

There is a persistent notion in the biblical studies academy that our discipline is a non-theological discipline, especially Old Testament studies (where sometimes one gets the feeling that it is an anti-theological discipline for some). Even academics who are active in and practicing some faith tradition (yes, including evangelicals) sometimes prefer to tell themselves they have “turned off” their theological thinking while exegeting scripture. The logic here is that doing so is somehow a more “pure” reading of the text, one that does not “fill in” (or, even worse, eisegete) theological categories that are alien to the virgin text. To change the metaphor, this turns into a kind of interpretive bumper bowling, where a strike is an objective and historically accurate understanding of the ancient text, and where throwing a gutter-ball is “thinking too theologically” and thus “straying” from the goal. Because biblical studies deals with physical evidence like manuscripts or archaeological realia, and intersects with “secular” fields like theoretical linguistics, the logic seems to go, our discipline requires “objectivity” and “disinterest.”

Of course, biblical studies is different from theology. Dogmaticians like those who contributed to this volume have a closed corpus of texts to interact with: the biblical canon. Now, the whole idea behind this volume is to self-consciously allow the weight of Christian tradition – biblically defined – to inform the theological task, which entails a huge range of “secondary literature” for study and reflection. But, unlike in biblical studies, it is exceedingly rare that something “new” comes up in theology. In fact, when that happens, it’s usually a bad sign. In biblical studies, however, it is not all that uncommon for something new to literally be dug up: a manuscript, an inscription, an ancient ruined city, whatever. Very often, these discoveries have some significance to the various tasks of biblical studies – sometimes with enormous implications, as with the discovery of the Qumran Scrolls in the Judean desert. So, to some extent, it’s understandable that biblical scholars often seem their discipline as “scientific” in a way that theological studies is not. The two departments do very different things much of the time.

Next year’s SBL conference will be held here.

But not all the time. There is and must be overlap between the two. That is underlying idea of biblical theology, for one thing, and has been increasingly acknowledged in the so-called Theological Interpretation movement. But more than that, we cannot claim to approach any intellectual discipline severed from our faith commitments. That goes for textual and linguistics studies as much as it does for hermeneutics and theology. Consequently, biblical studies is rightly and most faithfully carried out within the confessional context. That is how we appropriately reconfigure the image of interpretive bumper bowling for a discipline that exists within a secular academy that tends to become a smokey, midnight techno-neon bowling alley.

As someone who shares the goals and convictions outlined so well by Allen and Swain in their Introduction, I am grateful for their efforts. And – perhaps I should do it more – I encourage my readers, who most likely are textual and linguistic gearheads like me, to take up and read theological volumes like this one and get your “bumpers” set in the right places. To the extent we do so, our work too will contribute vitally to a more faithful hearing of and testimony to the word of God to his people in Scripture.

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: