Some time ago I was sent a review copy of the inaugural issue (November/December 2008) of Bible Study Magazine, a print magazine published by Logos Bible Software (ISSN 1945-0923). Here, finally, is my review.
First, let’s focus on the physical aspects. This is not a very thick magazine, consisting as it does of 49 pages excluding the cover. But the paper stock is of a higher quality than most print magazines, a matte stock which is as pleasing to the eye as it is to the hand. The cover is a bit thicker stock, but also matte. This lends a very nice, modern, higher quality aesthetic to the magazine. It also feels a bit heavier in the hand than it looks it should, which is not a bad thing. The printing is full-color throughout, stem to stern, with a good ink that doesn’t smear easily, thankfully. All this is for the low price (or at least two out of three of the prices are low) noted on the cover: US$ 4.95, CAN$ 5.95, and UK₤ 4.95. However, an annual subscription is a mere US$ 14.95, which is a steal, compared to the cover price.
Now to the content. The Letter from the editor and masthead information appear on page three, with the Statement of Faith being, surprising and refreshingly, the Apostles’ Creed, rather than some cobbled-together denominational foofaraw. By my count, only about 16 pages are ads out of 51 (including the back cover as a page, but excluding the front cover), which not bad at all for any magazine. Hopefully that ratio will remain throughout its run. One of the interesting things about the layout of this magazine, to which most of the ads seem also to have been conformed, is the presence of plenty of white space. This causes some more graphic/text-intense (read “traditional”) ads to look cluttered in comparison, and thus comparatively ugly, an unfortunate incident for the advertisers, who should most certainly design and provide some different ads in future, or at the very least permit the staff of the magazine the license to create ads for these sponsors in such a way that they blend better with the general aesthetic of the magazine. Some particular ads I find particularly jarring in this respect are, for example, those of pages 30, 37, and 48. An interesting feature throughout the magazine is the strong connection to the online world. URLs appear throughout, intended to lead readers to more information on various publications (often appearing in Logos Digital Library format), people, or subjects.
Here is my biggest gripe: there is no Table of Contents, but a page of Highlights, and one doesn’t even hit that until page 6. That needs to change. For a magazine such as this with a large number of features (one-time articles) and columns (regularly appearing columnists and/or subject-specific articles), even though it is rather slim, a “highlights” page is inadequate. A complete table of contents should also ideally be within the first four pages of the magazine. Any further and one feels as though one were hunting for it, only in this case eventually to find merely an unsatisfying selection of what lies within. Here’s everything: Letter from the Editor and masthead, 3; Highlights, 6; Headlines, 7; Puzzles and Comics [though it’s only one of each!], 8; the column, A Moment with God, “Finding Time for God” by Jeannine Seery, 9; a feature article by Christy Tennant, “Josh McDowell on Defending the Bible”, 11-16; a John D. Barry interview with Peter Flint, “The Great Isaiah Scroll and the Original Bible”, 19-22 [I wish this one were longer]; another feature, “Choosing a Bible Translation” by Daniel B. Wallace, 23-26; then the column, The Cutting Edge, with an article “God’s Word through Multiple Voices: The Case of Sennacherib’s Invasion of Judah, Part 1 of 3” by Craig C. Broyles, 27-30; another column, Not your Average Bible Study: “Facing Today with the Book of Hebrews” by John D. Barry, 31-34; the D.I.Y. Bible Study column: “Using Bible Dictionaries: The Athenians, the Areopagus, and an Anonymous God” by James D. Elgin, 35; the column Greek Word Study without Greek [huh?]: “Discovering the Power of Luke’s Gospel” by Andrew B. Perrin, 37-38; a column, Thoughts from the Church Fathers, “Cyril of Alexandria on Luke 8:43-48” by John D. Barry, 39; another column, I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible, “Who too Verse 4 Out of My Bible?” by Michael S. Heiser, 40; the column, On Teaching, “How Bible Study Changed My Life and Saved My Marriage,” by Christy Tennant, but actually about David Lawson, 41-42; another column, Bible Study Tips, “When I Open the Gospels: An Interview with Dr. Mark Goodacre (Part One of Three), 43-44; yet another column, If Only Somone Would Explain to Me, “What doe the Bible teach about Justification & Sanctification?” by Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, 45-46; another column, What They Don’t Tell You in Church, “What’s in Your Bible?” by Vincent Setterholm, 47-48; and lastly, Shelf Life, a page of four very short book reviews by four different authors, 49.
So, one thing that is somewhat bewildering is the number of columns in there. There are only three features, the McDowell, Flint, and Wallace pieces, and the latter two are not very long at all. My preference would be for two or three features of length equivalent to the McDowell piece, and a smaller number of columns of greater length as well, so that everything is of a more satisfying length. Most of the columns are so short that they seem rather cursory, even superficial. I know these people have more to share on the subject, so let’s have them do so. If keeping all the columns is desired, then spread them out over two issues. Give us, the readers, more depth. If people are going to read a magazine to learn more about the Bible and how to study it, they’re going to need a bit more coverage. Play to the strengths of the authors, let them open up and have more to say. This is much more compelling for the reader. In sum, I’d find a small magazine like this worth more were it to have fewer articles of greater length, with greater parity among features, for starters.
Now for a couple of nitpicking, persnickety things. The illustration of Hezekiah’s Jerusalem in the pages 27-28 spread is erroneous. That map of Jerusalem is the old Aharoni one from the Macmillan/Carta Bible Atlas. This is now entirely superseded by work by Ronny Reich which uncovered Hezekiah’s extensions of the walls to the east of the City of David, and the finds of the First Temple period walls by various excavations underlying the line of the Josephan First Wall. So, the illustration is quite nicely done indeed, but it’s inaccurate. Hezekiah’s Jerusalem was much bigger.
Vincent Setterholm’s “What’s in Your Bible?” is interesting, but I take issue with a few things here. First is his use of lowercase “bible” and “bibles,” e.g., “European bibles.” He might be thought to reserve uppercase Bible for use in proper noun phrases, e.g., “Geneva Bible.” And yet this is not consistently followed through, for we see all of these in the same article: “have produced bibles,” “different bibles,” “translation of the Bible,” “European bibles,” “Geneva Bible,” “printing a Bible,” “Foreign Bible Society,” “printing bibles,” “bibles used,” and “bibles without.” So, it really just appears to be sloppiness. The standard is to capitalize “Bible.” I have seen the lowercase “bible” used, however, in derogatory contexts, so this is not an empty typographical point. I’m sure Mr Setterholm doesn’t intend that usage.
Secondly, there is the issue of clarifying a few of his notes for the canon chart that he includes. I long ago did my own study on the subject, and created my own chart, similar to Mr Setterholm’s, and obviously using some of the same sources. So, I can say that there are some statements amongst the notes which aren’t quite correct. We can just go through, note by note, with my quoting only the questionable material (in italics) and giving my objections.
Note 1: Historically, the Sadducees also only accepted the Torah as canonical. This is incorrect. Though the Sadducees rejected what later became known as Oral Torah, there is no indication that they restricted their canon to strictly the five books of the Torah. The confusion arises from a misunderstanding: Written Torah, when paired with Oral Torah, refers to the entire Hebrew Bible, not merely the five Books of Moses.
Note 2: The Anglican and other protestant [sic] traditions make no distinction…. The Anglican is a mixed tradition, but its apocrypha are technically canonical. They ought rather to have their own line in the chart. Otherwise, the note is unnecessary, for all the apocrypha are de facto, when not de jure, non-canonical.
Note 3: Included in the Slavonic Orthodox traditions, but not in the Greek, since it was never part of the Greek translation of the Old Testament. First, there is no such thing as “Slavonic Orthodox,” Slavonic being a language, not a nationality. Even so, this book does not appear in Slavonic Bibles, but in Russian Bibles (as 3 Esdras), where it was clearly translated from the Latin. It did originally exist in Greek, and some few fragments survive, but it is mostly lost. Likewise, to posit “the Greek translation of the Old Testament” is obviously a reference to the erstwhile understanding of the Septuagint as an anciently well-defined collection with obvious limits to inclusion, but this is now passé.
Note 4: Actually, though the book known as 4 Ezra is preserved in Syriac, and it appears in some lectionaries, there is no evidence of the book’s universal acceptance as canonical. Without that, one can’t posit it as “canonical” for the Syriac tradition.
Note 8: Many Catholic bibles [sic] contain the 151st Psalm, but it is not part of the Catholic canon. Most editions of the Vulgate include the following in an appendix after the New Testament: Prayer of Manasses, 3 Ezra (=1 Esdras), 4 Ezra (=2 Esdras), Psalm 151, and the Epistle to the Laodiceans. This note and the chart should indicate these books are all in an appendix and considered valuable, but not canonical. (Their continued inclusion in editions of the Vulgate is traditional, dating to after the Council of Trent in which the Roman Catholic Biblical canon was officially set. Some bishops considered these books were accidentally left out of the canon, so they continued to require their inclusion.)
Note 9: The Syriac canon may have at various times included 150, 151 or 155 psalms. Unlikely on the 155. Psalm 151 is in the Peshitta, but though there are technically thus (as in Greek) 151 Psalms, the last is traditionally not counted (as the Greek title makes explicit εξωθεν του αριθμου, “outside the number”). The other extra four non-canonical Psalms of the Syriac tradition, some of which are found in Hebrew among the Dead Sea Scrolls (notably Psalms 154 and 155), are not known to have been widespread enough to be considered universally recognized and thus canonical. They are certainly not part of the current Syriac tradition, and are found in only very few ancient manuscripts.
Note 10: Often included as one of the Odes. Not “often” but “always.” That’s simply its location in Greek Bibles. Readers could be informed in this note what “the Odes” are, as well: a collection of mostly Biblical poetry used liturgically. Ode 1 is the Song of Moses in the Exodus (Exodus 15.1-19), Ode 2 is the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy (Deut 32.1-43), Ode 3 is the Prayer of Anna, Mother of Samuel (1 Reigns 2.1-10), Ode 4 is the Prayer of Ambakoum (=Habbakuk; 3.2-19), Ode 5 is the Prayer of Isaiah (26.9-20), Ode 6 is the Prayer of Jonah (2.3-10), Ode 7 is the Prayer of Azarias (Daniel 3.26-45, in the Greek), Ode 8 is the Hymn of the Three Youths (Greek Daniel 3.52-88), Ode 9 is the Prayer of Mary the Theotokos (the Magnificat, Lk 1.46-55) and the Prayer of Zacharias (Lk 1.68-79), Ode 10 is the Song of Isaiah (5.1-9), Ode 11 is the Prayer of Hezekiah (Isa 38.10-20), Ode 12 is the Prayer of Manasses, Ode 13 is the Prayer of Symeon (Lk 2.29-32), and Ode 14 is the Morning Hymn, known better as the Great Doxology. Odes 13 and 14 are recited daily in Orthodox monasteries throughout the world.
Note 12: “…Messale…Täagsas….” These should read Messalē and Tägsaṣ.
Notes 14-16: Säqoqawä Eremyas. Properly “Ēremyas.” The Säqoqawä Ēremyas (=Paralipomena Ieremiou, “Addenda to Jeremiah”) includes several books, which these notes don’t properly explain. First, the Ethiopian Lamentations is 11 chapters, including the 5 chapters known elsewhere. The Säqoqawä Ēremyas is organized thus: Lamentations (1-5), The Letter of Jeremiah, The Prophecy Against Pashhur (Ethiopic Lamentations 7.1-5), The Rest of the Words of Baruch, which comprises 4 Baruch (=Säqoqawä Ēremyas/Paralipomena Ieremiou proper) and Ethiopic Lamentations 7.6-11.63. Quite complicated.
Note 19: However, many Syrian churches, which follow the Peshitta, do not use these books in their liturgy or for establishing doctrine. This was the case historically in only East Syrian churches. The West Syrian churches have accepted all those books since the early sixth century.
Note 20: This [3 Corinthians] was considered canonical by the very early Syrian churches, and later by the Armenian Church, but now neither church considers this canonical. A distinction needs to be made between the theoretical canon(s) of Armenian Orthodox Church hierarchs and practical reality. Because of the fleeting nature of its acceptance, why mention 3 Corinthians at all? Mentioning such historical curiosities only confuses people.
Note 21: Only the first 4 Synods are attributed to the apostles, and thus considered canonical. This should say that only four sections of Sinodos are attributed to the apostles. Better yet, just describe it as a church order.
In the chart itself, Psalms of Solomon is listed as canonical in Greek Orthodox and perhaps canonical in Syriac tradition, but this is not the case in either. Also, although in the Peshitta, 1 Esdras, Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah do not exist, they were included in the Syro-Hexapla, as was Tobit, also missing from the Peshitta. Judith is present in the Peshitta. What is “Apocalypse of Baruch,” Second Baruch? I’d like evidence of that. The Odes (including the Prayer of Manasseh) are only Greek, not also Syriac. The Epistle of Baruch is part of Second Baruch, and that letter is only noted as canonical in a subset of Eastern Syrian tradition, again, an historical oddity. Likewise, the inclusion in the Syrian canon of JosWar 6, which is another peculiarity. The chart could be multiplied to several pages were every oddball temporary canonical inclusion of partial acceptance were to be listed. The chart should focus on current usage, and deal with that. Any solely historical differences really don’t belong there in such an introductory presentation with so little documentation to clarify. What it manages to do is reinforce in some people’s minds the idea that “Those other guys include some weird stuff in their Bibles.” It’s hardly accurate.
Overall, I think the list would’ve benefitted from some more robust annotation, and a little more caution in the methodology employed to specify “canonical,” particularly as canons varied over time and space. For instance, at the time the Syrians finally included 2-3 John, Jude and Revelation in their New Testament, the Greeks had still not decided that Revelation was canonical. And yet there is no question of including Revelation in Greek New Testaments. So, much of the historical canonical peculiarities are only that: historical.
In the end, Bible Study Magazine is a very well-produced little magazine. I hope my criticisms are taken only as constructive, as that’s the spirit in which they’re intended. I think with only a few changes, as noted above, it would become an even better magazine, particularly with better depth of coverage allowed to each of the authors, and fewer articles per issue than appeared in this first issue. I’m impressed with the quality. Most in-house attempts at magazine publishing do not turn out so well as this one. Logos has done a good job, and everyone involved has my congratulations.