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:

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:

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

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.


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

LXX Translations Part II.1: BdA

La Bible d’Alexandrie – Post 1 of 2

9782204069014Quite a while back I began writing about modern Septuagint translation projects. As I explained there, my aim is to overview the methodologies of the four major modern language translations of the LXX, one of which I already discussed. These are:

1) NETS, 2) BdA, 3) LXX.D, and 4) LBG.

Today, we focus on number two, La Bible d’Alexandrie, which I will treat in two separate posts. I decided to cover BdA in a more extended format since BdA and NETS are best understood when set in contrast. With a brief intro to NETS in my former post, we are in a better position to understand it and BdA as well.

[As an aside, I’m pleased to announce that Cameron Boyd-Taylor, who was involved with the NETS project and is an advocate of the Interlinearity model, will be in the hotseat of one of my upcoming LXX Scholar Interviews.]

Textual Commentary

BdA is a French publication by Éditions du Cerf and is an ongoing project, although it has been in process for almost thirty years already. One of the reasons that it has taken so long – aside from maintaining a high standard of scholarly rigor and the dearth of qualified LXX specialists – is the inclusion of extended running commentary on the text throughout, both on the French translation and the Greek. Indeed, this is a primary difference from NETS, which only presents an English translation (although the IOSCS Septuagint Commentary Series will have a similar role in that respect, and NETS has a brief introduction to each biblical book).

Through the mechanism of the translation principles, discussed below, BdA aims in its commentary give three types of notes. Firstly, linguistic notes, dealing with text-criticism and their translation rationale. Secondly, exegetical notes, studying the divergences from the Hebrew and possible reasons for them. And thirdly, historical notes, discussing the later reception of the LXX text and its interpretation, particularly in the Apostolic Church and in early Jewish literature.

Furthermore, each volume includes a valuable introduction that discusses a given book’s composition, themes, and relationship to its source text.

Purpose and Translation Principles

Marguerite Harl states that the purpose of BdA is “to offer as exact a translation of the Greek text of the LXX as possible [in French],” which is driven by the conviction that the Septuagint has “importance and interest in its own right: it is a part of the Hellenistic Jewish literature” (Harl 2001, 181-82).

As such, BdA has four major guidelines/steps in producing its translation, the first two of which I will discuss below. I’ll treat the other two in a successive post.

1. Translation “according to the Greek”

This first principle is the most far-reaching, and is the primary foil to the NETS approach in two ways. Firstly, BdA aims for a translation that is “as literary as possible on the basis of syntactical and lexical usages of the Greek language current at the translators’ epoch” (ibid., 183). In other words, the (1) French translation of the (2) Greek translation of the (3) Hebrew text is done with reference to (2) the Greek language. This differs from NETS in that the NETS translation is done with attention primarily to (3) the Hebrew source text, at least in terms of syntax and semantics. Harl states baldly: “At this point we disregard the Hebrew source-text,” which is studied in the second stage of translation (ibid., emphasis mine).

Certainly not what the LXX translators looked like

Similarly, she states that “a text written in any language should be read and analysed only in the context of [its own] language” (ibid., 184). BdA sees the target language of a translation as a sort of window into the world of the translator and how he perceived his Hebrew source text when he translated it.

This approach contrasts distinctly with the Interlinear approach of NETS in a second important way. Whereas NETS perceives the LXX as a dependent text, intended to rely on the Hebrew source text for comprehensibility, BdA perceives the LXX as an independent text, meant from the start to be read as a free-standing text without the Hebrew as an aid to understanding. (Recall the distinction between text production and text reception, whereby the NETS group claims that the LXX only later came to be read as an independent text in the communities that received it.) From the BdA perspective, later revision and recension of “the” LXX was aimed to bring the Greek translation closer to the Hebrew source text, to make the Greek “sound” more like the Hebrew original. If that was in fact the case, they say, then it follows that the original translations were not necessarily concerned with (or perhaps successful in) representing the Hebrew in Greek, as NETS understands it.

Thus BdA assumes that the Greek of the Septuagint “makes sense” within its contemporary literary context despite its oddities, while on the other hand NETS begins with an assumption of “unintelligibility” of the Greek precisely because of its oddities (Boyd-Taylor 2011, 91). Both translation approaches identify the same characteristic of the LXX generally: it is not “typical” Greek (this depends on how one understands “typical” of course). But two of the modern translations – NETS and BdA – go very different directions as a result of that single observation. Favoring one approach over the other has to do with determining what deserves the weight of emphasis: the oddities or the conventionality of the Greek of the LXX within its linguistic context.

Connected with this alternative is the assumption of the relative competence or incompetence of the LXX translators – were their translational decisions driven by a lack of knowledge of Greek, or made deliberately (for whatever reason) from a position of language competence? BdA asumes that “they were competent and conscientious” translators who produced a text “if not easy to read, in any case, almost always of good ‘greekness'” (Harl 2001, 187).

Connection with Lexicography

This book was not available to the LXX translators

The question at hand is quite relevant to the issue of Septuagint lexicography. Should a word in the LXX be defined in terms of the meaning of the Hebrew word it represents, or in terms of its textual and linguistic context in Greek generally? Which meaning should be given preference if these options disagree, even if slightly? My research is concerned with determining the meaning of LXX words within the context of contemporary, non-literary Koine Greek. As such, I do not assume at the outset that a given Greek word is perfectly semantically aligned with the Hebrew word it translates. Instead, I take it that word meaning is determined by (1) that word’s usage in the language generally in extrabiblical Greek documents, by (2) its context in the LXX, and (3) by its use in other places within the LXX.

In other words, I tend to agree with BdA’s approach to the language of the LXX in general. Septuagint Greek is best understood with reference to Greek in general: first understand the Greek, then you can understand the Septuagint, and then you can investigate how it renders the Hebrew (and then you can approach the LXX as a text-critical witness … another topic for another day).

2. Establishing Divergencies

This is the second principle of BdA, which is really more of a second “step.” BdA does not assume that the Hebrew text from which the LXX was translated was identical with the Masoretic text in BHS. Rather, the LXX source text was a “proto-MT,” which “makes any comparison very difficult” (ibid. 190). The textual “plus” or “minus” in the Septuagint in comparison with the MT can be explained in any number of ways not necessarily related to translation technique and virtually impossible to substantiate. As Harl puts it (somewhat mind-bendingly), “A ‘plus’ of the LXX could be a word present in its Vorlage but omitted in the MT; a ‘minus’ in the LXX may be explained as an addition of the masorites” (ibid.).

Of course, it is precisely these differences between the LXX and the MT that have driven textual criticism for centuries, all the way back to Jerome himself. And the work is far from over. While “practically everywhere the Greek version attests the consonants of the MT,” the scriptio continua and unpointed text that was translated could have had several reading traditions, which may explain some of the differences (ibid.). Other times, however, as the Dead Sea Scrolls attest, there were legitimate points of difference in the Hebrew source text compared with what we have in BHS; points where the LXX and a Qumran scroll agree against the MT in a particular reading.

The payoff here for BdA is that they “do not speak a priori of the mistakes of the LXX but rather of exegetical options” (ibid., 191). In sum, the meaning of the MT is often obscure, and for that reason does not serve BdA as an arbiter of semantic divergences of the Greek text.

To be continued

This post being as long as it is, I’ll discuss the final two translation principles/steps of BdA in a second post.


Boyd-Taylor, Cameron. Reading Between the Lines. Biblical Tools and Studies 8; Leuven: Peeters, 2011.

Harl, Marguerite. “La Bible d’Alexandrie I. The Translation Principles.” Pages 181-97 in X Congress of the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies. Edited by B. A. Taylor. Society of Biblical Literature Septuagint and Cognate Series 51. Atlanta, Ga.: Society of Biblical Literature, 2001.