More on Fee/Stuart

A very productive comment from my friend Doug has convinced me to post a set of notes I started taking on Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart’s bestselling little book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Zondervan, 3rd ed: 2003). So, here are the notes, headed by the quotations from the book on which I’m commenting.

15 October 2010 @ home: Notes on Fee & Stuart _How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth_, 3rd ed (Zondervan, 2003) — noting objections for the use of this book by Orthodox Christians.

(I start these notes now after having read through the book into chapter 5 on the OT narratives. Through the course of my reading thus far, I have noted that my reactions have ranged from mildly pleased to slightly objecting (quibbling even) to outright rejection of various statements and even approaches. This body of notes intends to accurately chart these reactions to one of the better-contructed and most popular handbooks on Biblical exegesis (“Bible Study”) in the Protestant worldview. Perhaps, as is my hope, these notes will be useful to myself or to another in the construction of such a work for an Orthodox Christian audience. For this reason, I begin now to read the book again and note things here, with my copy of the book bearing exclamation points in the margin and page numbers for this journal. We’ll see how that goes!)

p. 14:

But we are also concerned about the (sometimes) hidden agenda that suggests that a seminary education or seminary professors are thereby a hindrance to understanding the Bible.

It must be admitted that inasmuch as such seminarians and sem. professors adhere to “historical criticism” they are right to be described as a hindrance to the understanding of the Bible that is valued by the Church and its faithful. If Christ is not the center, then such interpretation is a hindrance.

p. 14:

The great urgency that gave birth to this book is hermeneutics; we wrote especially to help believers wrestle with the questions of application. Many of the urgent problems in the church today are basically struggles with bridging the hermeneutical gap—with moving from the “then and there” of the original text to the “here and now” of our own life settings. But this also means bridging the gap between the scholar and layperson. The concern of the scholar is primarily with what the text meant; the concern of the layperson is usually with what it means. The believing scholar insists that we must have both. Reading the Bible with an eye only to its meaning for us can lead to a great deal of nonsense as well as to every imaginable kind of error—because it lacks controls. Fortunately, most believers are blessed with at least a measure of that most important of all hermeneutical skills—common sense.

Note the focus on “the text”, not on the Church! In a Protestant view, the reader takes the place of the Church, in that the reader is presumed to possess the inherent possibility to approach the text (i.e. Scripture!) alone and with only the meager introduction of some various methods or reading and study. No wonder Protestantism is such a chaos of beliefs! It is the job of the Church to, among other things, provide the framework for every Christian by which all of life, including the reading of the Bible, is comprehended. The Body of Christ, permeated by the Holy Spirit, has had and does have an approach to Scripture that is its own, seen in the Scriptures themselves—that reading which holds our Lor and Saviour Jesus Christ as the central character of all history and of all this present age. And as much as we are members of His Body, we feel nothing otherwise is relevant. All notion of the individual as qualified to interpret the Bible is incorrect and to be avoided and indeed to be warned against.

p. 15:

Our concern, therefore, must be with both dimensions. The believing scholar insists that the biblical texts first of all mean what they meant. That is, we believe that God’s Word for us today is first of all precisely what his Word was to them. Thus we have two tasks: First, our task is to find out what the text originally meant; this is called exegesis. Second, we must learn to hear that same meaning in the variety of new or different contexts of our own day; we call this second task hermeneutics. In its classical usage, the term “hermeneutics” covers both tasks, but in this book we consistently use it only in this narrower sense. To do both tasks well should be the goal of Bible study

—excellent paragraph.

p. 15 (and passim): “Word” is capitalized and used as a synonym for Scripture. For an Orthodox Christian, however, this is unacceptable—the Word, the Logos, of God is Jesus Christ Himself. HE is the ever-living Word, obviously, not a book. Our reverence for and delight in Scripture lies in its origin as inspired by God the Holy Spirit working in the Prophets and Apostles. We do not hold a view of Scripture that it is some kind of Christian Koran, an inviolate and perfect entity which is the copy of some eternal heavenly exemplar. For us, the Word IS God, and Scripture is a record of those who have in this world worshipped God, expected Him, worked with Him, and served Him in very particular and extraordinary ways, expressing and recording their thoughts and deeds through inspiration of God the Holy Spirit. They lived their lives filled with God’s Spirit—they were inspired to record what they recorded and how they recorded it.

p. 17:

Every so often we meet someone who says with great feeling, “You don’t have to interpret the Bible; just read it and do what it says.” Usually, such a remark reflects the layperson’s protest against the “professional” scholar, pastor, teacher, or Sunday school teacher, who by “interpreting” seems to be taking the Bible away from the common man or woman. It is their way of saying that the Bible is not an obscure book. “After all,” it is argued, “any person with half a brain can read it and understand it. The problem with too many preachers and teachers is that they dig around so much they tend to muddy the waters. What was clear to us when we read it isn’t so clear anymore.”

—the great Protestant objection and failure—every individual becomes Pope, rather than rejecting papacy altogether.

p. 18:

Interpretation that aims as, or thrives on, uniqueness can usually be attributed to pride (an attempt to “outclever” the rest of the world), a false understanding of spirituality (wherein the Bible is full of deeply buried truths waiting to be mined by the spiritually sensitive person with special insight), or vested interests (the need to support a theological bias, especially in dealing with texts that seem to go against that bias).

—like Fee’s own peculiar reading of στεναγμοῖς ἀλαλήτοις as glossolalia!

p. 18:

The aim of good interpretation is simple: to get at the “plain meaning of the text.” And the most important ingredient one brings to this task is enlightened common sense. The test of good interpretation is that it makes good sense of the text. Correct interpretation, there, brings relief to the mind as well as a prick or prod to the heart.

—excellent paragraph!

—Fee uses “the church” lowercase to describe whom? All Christians? All charismatics and those approved by him/them? For the Orthodox , there is only one Church, capitalized, which is the Body of Christ—the Eastern Orthodox Church. There are those outside her boundaries whom we regularly refer to (perhaps improperly) as “Christians” just as we refer to members of the Church as Christians. But properly speaking they are not two groups of people in an identical category with regard to Christ. Only in Orthodoxy is the fullness of truth held and guarded and preserved. Those outside the Church are adherents of various heresies. However, it is clear that God in His mercy and wisdom works where He will, without consulting or informing us! In view of this, I would opt for a usage of “Orthodox” or “Orthodox Christian” or even “Christian” for an Eastern Orthodox believer, but “other Christians” or “another Christian” or “non-Orthodox Christian(s)” for the others. Otherwise, lowercase “church” will, as is proper, be used to refer to a building of a local church, not to the Church Universal.

p. 18:

The first readon one needs to learn how to interpret is that, whether one likes it or not, every reader is at the same time an interpreter. That is, most of us assume as we read that we also understand what we read. We also tend to thing that our understanding is the same thing as the Holy Spirit’s or human author’s intent. However, we invariably bring to the text all that we are, with all of our experiences, culture, and prior understandings of words and ideas. Sometimes what we bring to the text, unintentionally to be sure, leads us astray, or else causes us to read all kinds of foreign ideas into the text.

Several points:
1.) Proper exegesis will only be possible for someone who is fully conversant with theology, properly Orthodox theology. Only such a person has the unshakable foundation on which to build a proper reading. And how rare that is! It is why we rely so heavily on those Church Fathers who have left us commentaries, and why we do not arrogate to ouselves the ability to avoid all heresy in the process of constructing a personal reading of Scripture. In fact, there is no such thing as “a personal reading of Scripture”—this does not exist in the Church. One who insists on a personal reading is an heretic, pure and simple. Such a one is also not truly approaching Scripture, but is approaching their idiosyncratic idea of Scripture. Scripture belongs to the Church, through which alone is a correct reading possible.

2.) Nearly all aids to Scripture—lexica, dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc—are, from an Orthodox perspective, tainted by the heresies of others. The vast majority of such works are produced by Protestants (either confessionally active ones or Protestants by intellectual heritage, as is “critical scholarship”). A large number are Romen Catholic. While the latter are in some ways sometimes closer to an Orthodox approach, the subtle difference are perhaps more dangerous for their subtlety. The all-pervasive papism of such works is an abomination and grave heresy, not adiaphora. There are undoubtedly a number of resources available from the Orthodox homelands (Greece, Russia, etc), but these are seldom translated into English. They are insufficiently available, what translations there are, or they are of insufficient quality. There number is dwarfed by the Protestant works, however, as they are also outdone in quality and availability. The sheer preponderance of these works lead many Orthodox (innocently ignorant) to believe any number of peculiar things—things which are not Orthodox—heresies. All this through availability! We need excellent tools of our own, motivated not by a “me too!” or a ghetto mentality, but rather as a natural result of our prayerful desire to save our souls and the souls of our fellow Orthodox, providing them a way to learn about Scripture from which every danger has been removed. The wretched “Orthodox Study Bible” does not count, as it was compiled by theological simpletons, with a hybrid translation of heretical origin, printed in a substandard manner on inferior materials. It will not do, and does not count toward the solution of providing excellent Orthodox Scriptural tools except perhaps as an excellent example of what to avoid doing.

—An idea: provide notes on various popular translations which would describe the problems that exist in the translation for Orthodox. E.g., not the mistranslaions in the NIV of all words relating to “tradition” (παραδιδ-). Various of us Orthodox could take a translation or two and then we’d collect our notes on them—the more involved, the better. This would be primarily for the NT, of course. The MT-based OT should be used only secondarily by Orthodox. Our OT is the LXX, for which NETS (not w/o its problems) is the only full translation of recent years widely available and of excellent quality. But, above all, we need our own approved tools!

p. 21:

The authors of this book labor under no illusions that by reading and following our guidelines everyone will finally agree on the “plain meaning,” our meaning! What we do hope to achieve is to heighten the reader’s sensitivity to specific problems inherent in each genre, to help the reader know why different options exist and how to make commonsense judgments, and especially to enable the reader to discern between good and not-so-good interpretations—and to know what makes them one or the other.

Separation of the contents of Scripture into a variety of genres, each w/ its own exegetical method for recommended results, is ingenious, but ultimately too atomizing. Most books are a mixture of genres, and it is as books that Orthodox readers will encounter Scripture, or isolated stories/pericopes, or psalms. Some core assumptions for Orthodox reading of Scripture:
1.) Christ is the centre of the OT as He is of the NT.
2.) Type-antitype or typological reading requires that we properly understand both the type and the antitype, with each illuminating our understanding of the other.
3.) The ways of reading exemplified by the Apostles in the NT and by the Church Fathers in their writings are not only suggestive for our own approach, but are normative. A properly Orthodox reading will not contradict their readings either in method or conclusion. If a reading does, then it’s a failure, an example of individual interpretation and likely heretical, even if unintentionally so.
4.) The 9 Rules of Orthodox Biblical Interpretation promulgated in 1786 by Metropolitan Platon of Moscow, Rector of the Moscow Ecclesiastic Academy:
1.) Open the literal meaning, and where it is dark because of translation or an ambiguity in the language, explain it in such a way that no passage is left which students cannot understand, apart from the very rare texts which are too complex to comprehend.
2.) Interpret spiritual and mysterious meanings, especially in the Old Testament, in those passages where such meanings are transparently concealed. In doing this, one has to be cautious so as not to do this with force. Thus, one ought not to seek out a secret meaning where there is none (or where one is forced, as is noticeable with many interpreters), but where links and the parallel passages follow directly from the words. Interpret spiritual and mysterious readings in agreement with the best interpreters.
3.) For a better understanding of dark passages, find and link the parallel passages, for this will make comprehension easier, since what is said in one place is often said ambiguously and briefly in another place, and despite the similarity between the two texts, the one differs in terms of a more detailed and clearer account.
4.) In interpreting Scripture, do not forget to conclude with the moral teachings flowing from the text. Formulate it with great regard.
5.) In interpreting the books of the Old Testament Prophets, indicate clearly when and in which circumstances their prophecies were fulfilled in the Old Testament and the New Testament.
6.) Where passages of Holy Scripture seem to contradict each other, explain these texts in agreement with published sources that contain general agreement.
7.) Wherever passages are found from which some false conclusions were drawn and which subsequently led to schisms or heresies, one is obliged to clearly indicate the right and true meaning of these passages, and to invalidate the opinions and arguments of heretics and schismatics.
8.) Where passages of Scripture are found to which human wisdom might make objections, such objections must not be hidden. Instead, allow them to be seen in a clear and satisfactory form.
9.) On the part of the teacher, it is critical to consult the Church Fathers, to read scrupulously the best Church teachers and interpretors, to know Church history well, and, above all, to beseech often and diligently the Father of Light to open the eyes toward understanding the wonders in His Law.
(adapted from Alexander Negrov, _Biblical Interptetation in the Russian Orthodox Church_ [Mohr Siebeck, 2008], pp. 61-62).

To be cont’d
———–

And that’s where I ran out of steam, realizing that the way I was commenting, I’d have 500 pages of notes by the time I got through the Fee & Stuart book!

Further autumnal abundance of reviewlets

Moving on now to a more vague category, pre/early Christian Jewish-related stuff.

Richard Hess, Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey (Baker Academic Books, 2007). This is a weird book, which is not to say that it isn’t good, but it’s certainly odd. I’d say that if the subtitle were switched around to “A Biblical and Archaeological Survey” it would be better descriptive. Hess spends too much time in this book doing footwork supportive of historical reliability for Hebrew Bible narrative. It’s very interesting, and convincing in the manner that it’s laid out, but it seems misplaced in a book on Israelite Religions. What I expected more of, and which I found to be lacking, was an exhaustive and detailed reading of all Biblical data related to religious practices among Israelites as described in the Bible, and in this sense, I would rather have set aside the normative/Prophetic religion (we know, or think we know, enough about that) and priveleged the non-normative religious practices that seem to be decried on every other page of the Prophets. There’s a wealth of material there. But in Hess, individual instances are not dealt with in any satisfying detail, probably so much of the book has been devoted to ephemera, though very interesting ephemera: the aforementioned pro-historical OT chapter, a survey of study of Israelite religion, two chapters on the religions of nearby nations, and then two chapters on early normative Israelite religion. Two thirds of the book is thus taken up with stuff that is basically already known and covered in better detail elsewhere. But the title of the book, Israelite Religions, with its provocative plural intimates that we are to expect some substantial coverage of a variety of religious practices in relatively distinct and coherent systems in existence in the United Monarchy and Two Kingdoms period of Israelite history. But the coverage of nearly all of that is scattered lines in one chapter, insufficient detail to make the presentation interesting, let alone informational. The presentation of the archaeological material here is cursory. The reader is better referred to Ziony Zevit’s The Religions of Ancient Israel (Continuum, 2001), not least for the better discussion and coverage of archaeological material, but for the better contextualization of that material in the Biblical text, which is both broader and deeper than is found in Hess. I see this Hess book as something of an introductory survey book, for which it would serve admirably, despite its distracted focus. Zevit would then be for the more advanced student or the one interested in detail.

Editors Huub van de Sandt and Jürgen K. Zangenberg, Matthew, James, and Didache: Three Related Documents in Their Jewish and Christian Settings (SBL, 2008). The proceedings of a previous 2003 symposium, limited to discussion of the Gospel of Matthew and the Didache, was edited by van de Sandt in 2005 as Matthew and the Didache: Two Documents from the Same Jewish-Christian Milieu? (Royal Van Gorcum/Fortress, 2005). The 2007 symposium added the Letter of James to the discussions. The results are a series of very interesting, highly exploratory papers, as is only befitting the beginning stages of such a field of investigation. As many have noticed before, there are distinct resemblances, or reminiscences, or allusions, in and amongst all three of these works, and they’re suggestive of a particular form of early Christianity (namely, perhaps the earliest) which was still more Jewish than not. How precisely to describe those clearly perceived but elusively described connections is what this group is working on. So, while this series of papers may not be conclusive, they are at any rate very interesting for the manner in which we may eavesdrop on the founding of a particular direction of investigation, and watch its methodology unfold. I would also recommend the van de Sandt and David Flusser volume, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity (Royal Van Gorcum/Fortress, 2002).

Anthony J. Tomasino, Judaism Before Jesus: The Events and Ideas that Shaped the New Testament World (InterVarsity Press, 2003). A couple of years ago a friend of mine at church asked me for a good introduction to the “intertestamental period.” So I bought myself a little stack of such books, and go through one now and again. (Two of that stack that I’ve discussed before are Cohen’s From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, and the Vermes, et al., reworking of Schürer’s The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ [scroll down to the next-to-last paragraph on that page]). I have yet to find one that I would recommend wholeheartedly, but this book by Tomasino comes close. He manages to squeeze in several hundred years of history, much of which is deliciously tempting to follow into other areas of research of course, a temptation which he rightly and admirably avoids in this introductory level book. There are a few of those (to me, annoying) text boxes where various subjects are dealt a cursory swipe in coverage, and a few graphics, but the book is pretty solidly text-filled. It’s a straightforward account, avoiding controversy, again, perfectly introductory. I would quibble with the “Ideas” in the subtitle. Most of the book is dealing merely with events, and any in-depth coverage of “ideas” is lacking. Events can shape things pretty well on their own, even without an anachronistic imposition of ideology behind their inspiration.

George Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah (Fortress, second ed.: 2005). The book includes a CD with a complete Logos version of the book, including a number of old photos of various sites taken decades ago by Nickelsburg. These kinds of survey books are generally better as reference than as reading material. That being said, Nickelsburg has made his survey readable by not going overboard on nitpicky details, and by keeping a lively and well-informed active voice. It helps that this is the most recent of these survey works for this body of work, and so incorporates the findings of the last several decades, various aspects of which Nickelsburg has had a personal hand in. The book on my shelf that this most effectively updates as a compendium of descriptions of works of the period is ed. Michael Stone, Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period: Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Qumran Sectarian Writings, Philo, Josephus (Van Gorcum/Fortress, 1984). Even the Anchor Bible Dictionary (Doubleday, 1992) is getting a bit long in the tooth, as good as it is. But it’s nice to have everything in one volume, and very nice to have it in an electronic version included gratis with the book. Every book should have such, whether Logos or simply epub format (which I prefer) or something else. One could be at, say, a bar, and simply have to know the current discussion of the date and provenance of the Parables of Enoch (I’ve had stranger conversations at my local watering hole). It’s a nice thing to be able to pull up Nickelsburg on the iPhone and find whatever. Or to just blow some battery juice reading Nickelsburg under a tree on a nice day. Let that be the start of a trend.

Now for the two books I’m in the midst of reading right now, for which I’ll give simply short, preliminary impressions.

Douglas Campbell, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Eerdmans, 2009). A truly literate friend whose opinion I respect said that he found Campbell “brilliant and fresh.” I entirely agree. I would also add, conscientious, concerned, thoughtful, intelligent, skilled, and comprehensive. It’s truly an astonishing amount of work that Campbell put into this book. It is well worth it. I’m about one third of the way through it, and have benefited greatly from his overviews of Justification theory. I tend to shy away from reading books like this, primarily because it seems books on Paul’s theology and work in particular seem to be less detached than those on the Gospels or other NT writings. Much scholarship on Paul therefore tends to hew more closely to one or another party line (=denominational theology) than is interesting or comfortable for me to explore. But one of the great examples of someone who managed to thrill me in not doing so was J. Louis Martyn in his Anchor Bible volume on Galatians, which was (pardon the pun) revelatory. And of course, Campbell rates Martyn well in this book, which is not surprising, as the focus on the apocalyptic (i.e., revelatory) Christ in the life of the believer is shared between the two. Already I sense that Campbell is going in a direction which will fit well not only with Martyn, but with Orthodox views on theosis, as well. So, we shall see. In any case, this is a very interesting and well-written book, one that I hope becomes influential in a degree relative to its heft.

Last but not least is Fr Nikolaos Loudovikos, Eucharistic Ontology: Maximus the Confessor’s Eschatological Ontology of Being as Dialogical Reciprocity (Holy Cross, 2010). Fr Loudovikos, a student of Metr John Zizioulas, presents corrections to the theological writing of the latter (particularly as exemplified in Being as Communion) via the theology of St Maximus the Confessor, one of the most brilliant and therefore difficult and therefore avoided of the Church Fathers. There is system to St Maximus, and Fr Nikolaos draws it forth. I’m only about halfway through this one, and he has yet to substantially interact with Zizioulas outside of the notes yet, but already it’s been a fascinating ride through the writings of St Maximus. Very interesting! At times it’s a bit demanding, as Fr Loudovikos is no slouch (as I am) in terms of modern NW European philosophy, some familiarity with which will be helpful (at least I have that!). His interaction with such is concise, however, so it requires close, careful reading. It will be the more rewarding for that.

Catching up: autumnal reviewlets

Well, I’ve been remiss in posting anything about the very interesting things I’ve been (re)reading over the last few months. I suppose one gets into that kind of rut a bit too easily, thinking, “I’d rather read than write about my reading, and who cares what I think, anyway!” But there is at least some slight sense of responsibility, to warn (or lure) readers away from some book or another, above all saving them time–time that might be wasted–or pointing them toward a more than worthwhile investment of time in the reading of some other book. That is, after all, the understood goal in writing a book review, right?

I tend to read in themes. That is, despite the impression given by my single indicated “Now Reading” indicator in the right column of this page, I tend to be switching between several books, following different thematically consistent directions in reading. Over the last few months, my interest has run into Messianism, Hermeneusis, and what might be called “Pre-Christian Judaism” in addition to a few outliers which I’ve been picking at rather distractedly for a while.

In the category of Messianism:

Sigmund Mowinckel, He That Cometh: The Messiah Concept in the Old Testament and Later Judaism, foreword by John J. Collins (Eerdmans, 2005)
This is one of the classics in messianism these days, but I think more in the manner of “influential in its day and a precursor to much better stuff that came along later, so you have to read it simply because it’s part of the history of scholarship, tedious though it be” rather than in the sense of “a work of truly timeless value, full of permanently valid insights.” I found this book characterized entirely by the time and place in which it was written: 1940s Scandinavia. Mowinckel straddles a strange fence betwen the History of Religions School, the Myth and Religions School, and the orthodoxy of his day (whether religious or scholarly). So much of what appears in these pages is dated, with so much better work having been accomplished over the last two decades alone, that I found this book in places unreadable, primitive, and entirely outmoded. As I noted above, it still possesses some value in a “history of scholarship” sense, but as a source of current and well-reasoned scholarship, it is essentially worthless. Mowinckel works with such a primitive conception of “Messiah”–one that admittedly was common to his age–that it’s no wonder this work has not aged well, and that so many of his positions and conclusions are invalid in light of later studies. I disagree strongly with Collins’ evaluation at the end of the foreword: “He That Cometh remains, however, the best comprehensive treatment available in English of the roots of messianic expectation in the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East” (p. xxviii). On the contrary, I found Mowinckel’s treatment of both to be alternately tendentious and superficial. I would say that Collins’ own The Scepter and the Star (second edition: Eerdmans, 2010) would be a much better choice, though Collins perhaps was modestly avoiding autokeraphonia by avoiding mention of the first edition (though he cites it in the foreword several times. In a footnote to that very sentence, Collins writes “Note, however, the excellent collection of essays edited by James H. Charlesworth, The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992); and [John] Day, King and Messiah in Israel and the Ancient Near East [Sheffield, 1998].” (p. xxviii n. 48). I would instead recommend a volume by Collins & Collins described below. One further note I would like to add concerns the subtitle of Mowinckel’s volume, a translation from the original Norwegian: “The Messiah Concept in the Old Testament and Later Judaism.” Is this “Later Judaism” to be taken as simply “later Judaism” or “Late(r) Judaism”? It is almost certainly the latter, a description that rankles, yet indicates the approach to the Rabbinic material that is taken by Mowinckel and others of his age: that this was a decadent literature, a product not of a thriving culture but of one feasting on the remains of a more glorious past. This is a perceptible undercurrent in the book, which only adds to its datedness, and does not inspire confidence in the judgment shown otherwise on the part of the author.

Kenneth Pomykala, The Davidic Dynasty Tradition in Early Judaism: Its History and Significance for Messianism (Scholars Press, 1995). This book is a “moderately revised” version of Pomykala’s doctoral dissertation (Claremont Graduate School, 1992). I expected better, actually, of a dissertation, particularly of one from Claremont. One issue of the study of the development of Israelite Messianism that cannot be ignored is the Septuagint. Admittedly, the evidence is complex, and difficult to control, but it is essential to an understanding of the development of the concept from the mid-third century BC and for the next three centuries, as it became the de facto public edition of the Old Testament for Jews throughout the Mediterranean. The various translators show varying degrees of concern for messianism, but overall, there is at the very least evidence of a going concern. What does Pomykala say on the subject of the Septuagint and messianism?

The translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek began as early as the third century BCE with the Torah, and before the first century BCE Greek translations of all books were probably completed. Moreover, at times LXX translations are characterized by “midrashic” alterations or expansions and, consequently, indicate how the translator and his community interpreted certain biblical texts. In theory, then, the LXX translation of texts related to the davidic [sic, passim] dynasty could illuminate how some Jews in the Second Temple period construed those passages.

In practice, however, this is not a very fruitful mode of inquiry. On the one hand, a survey of key texts related to the davidic dynasty tradition shows very little in the way of interpretive activity. [!!!] On the other, formidable obstacles confront the analysis of any such interpretive translations. For one, even to speak of “the Septuagint” suggests a misleading notion about the unity of Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible, since, as Kraft notes, “there is no homogeneity among the various translation units of the collection.” Accordingly, each book or section of a book must be evaluated separately. Next, recovering the Old Greek or one of the early recensions from the Second Temple Period–such as the καιγε or proto-Lucian recension–for a passage is often difficult; indeed scholars are divided about the existence and status of some of these layers. Even when the text of the Old Greek or one of the early recensions can be identified, it is difficult to know the date and provenance of the interpretation implied in the translation. Although the Greek translation of the Torah probably stems from Alexandria in the third century BCE, this same context cannot be assumed for other books. Moreover, to clarify the import of an individual variant, it would have to be set within the overal interpretive tendenz of a book or section, a subject about which little is often known. Finally, differences between the Old Greek and the Hebrew of the MT that are perceived as interpretive moves on the part of the translators could at times be the result of the translator using a Vorlage different from the MT. In sum, there are adequate reasons for pessimism about using the LXX for tracking the davidic dynasty tradition in early Judaism. (pp 128-129)

He then goes on to touch, out of all the LXX, solely on 2 Sam 7.11b, Jer 33.14-26, Ezek 34.23-24, and the rendering of צמח by ἀνατέλλω and related words. Thus his complete treatment of the Septuagint evidence appears on three and one-half pages in his book. Now, I simply cannot believe that. Three and a half pages! He gives Sirach about twenty-one and a half pages (which is a sop of sorts as Sirach is actually considered part of the Septuagint, of course). What I see above in the excerpt is someone who was very well aware of some work to be done (note that he seems to have had at least some grasp of the necessary direction of investigation) and yet simply didn’t do it. Now, I doubt that in this day and age, not yet even twenty years after this dissertation was written, Pomykala would say the same thing, nor would he be able to, fortunately, as Septuagint studies have proceeded apace in that time. And I would like to think that no committee today would let such an important source on messianism as the Septuagint slide past the glint of their chilly spectacles. And there is much there there, as Horbury, inter alia, makes clear, as will be described below.

Is it Pomykala’s galling dismissiveness of the Septuagint that makes me similarly dismissive of his book? Partly, yes. But it is more the fact that this is a book which is itself easily dismissed. What I took away from this reading was a general unconcern with doing too much in-depth work with the sources, but with describing what work was done with quite a lot of verbiage. His conclusion is that Davidic messianism was not found in the literature between the Hebrew Bible and the mid-first century BCE Psalms of Solomon. Of course, one finds what one looks for, as the restrictions placed by Pomykala on what he might consider evidence of Davidic Messianism therefore leads him to find little evidence. While on the one hand limiting himself to explicit mention of the Davidic connection with the messiah, and on the other hand ignoring inconvenient sources (the richness of the Septuagint being the chief of these), Pomykala was certain to come to some very particular conclusions on the matter, but these are irrelevant. I can no more trust them to be properly representative of the literature (whether read or unread) than the wrinkles in my palm, which by some contrivance I might designate them representative of the literature. So contrived and restricted a study is worthless. That may be harsh, but we will see some other more comprehensive treatments given below which not only come to conclusions diametrically opposed to Pomykala, but that cover a wealth of literature more than what he covered. I think here especially of Horbury but also of Collins & Collins. So, this Pomykala volume is another curiosity of the history of scholarship, but by no means compelling, and certainly not probative. Someone seeking a comprehensive treatment of the subject of the Davidic Messiah in early Judaism will need to look elsewhere (and there are some hearty recommendations below!).

William Horbury, Jewish Messianism and the Cult of Christ (SCM Press Ltd, 1998). This book is well-known. It stirred up something of a hornets’ nest at its release by re-opening (through machine-gunning evidence into the picture) the question of the consistent presence of Messianism in (for lack of a better term) the intertestamental period. Horbury (and others) were right, however: there is evidence for such a presence, however attentuated and however equivocal, thoughout. They were also right to decry a too-restrictive scholarly definition of messiah (à la Mowinckel) which was restricting the understanding of texts. In the intertestamental period it is much easier to explain the presence of messianism (changing though it may be) than its absence, in fact, looking through the various usages and interpretations of Scripture throughout these times, and inducing the motivations behind that usage. There was a consistent (though not universal) interest throughout on the Davidic Messiah. Horbury is a past master of the evidence. It’s really quite astonishing the variety of sources he’s addressed and the competence he displays in systematizing the results. It’s shocking, really. It’s a book that rewards study, but from which one is given an exhaustive picture of Jewish Messianism leading up to the early Christian period. This book, in combination with Collins & Collins below, takes top prize, for clarity of expression, quality of scholarship, and for fascinating subject matter. The more expansive nature of this volume by Horbury edges it slightly ahead of the more restricted treatment of Collins & Collins (on which, see below) though, in my estimation.

Another one by William Horbury, Messianism among Jews and Christians: Twelve Biblical and Historical Studies (T & T Clark, 2003), is a collection of reworked articles arranged into three categories. In “The Second Temple Period” we find “Messianism in the Old Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha”, “The Gifts of God in Ezekiel the Tragedian”, and “Herod’s Temple and ‘Herod’s Day'”. In the section “The New Testament” we have “The Messianic Associations of ‘the Son of Man'”, “The Twelve and the Phylarchs”, “Jerusalem in Pre-Pauline and Pauline Hope”, “The Aaronic Priesthood in the Epistle to the Hebrews”, and “Septuagintal and New Testament Conceptions of the Church”. In the final section, “Synagogue and Church in the Roman Empire”, are the chapters “Messianism among Jews and Christians in the Second Century”, “Suffering and Messianism in Yose ben Yose”, “Antichrist among Jews and Gentiles”, and “The Cult of Christ and the Cult of the Saints”. As I recall, the articles touching on messianism included herein don’t differ substantially from Horbury’s treatment in the 1998 monograph. This is, however, a very interesting excursus into a scholar’s subjects of interest, and an opportunity to enjoy his scholarship a bit more. In a relationship to the earlier monograph, I’d say this book sits in an ancillary position, not quite as an appendix, but as further background.

Adela Yarbro Collins and John J. Collins, King and Messiah as Son of God: Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical and Related Literature (Eerdmans, 2008). The title fairly well says it all. The Davidic King was considered the Son of God and thus somehow divine, though we have no evidence of a cult of the king. His expected scion, the Messiah, is likewise the Son of God, and likewise considered somehow divine. There are, however, numerous interesting complications! This book was good fun. It’s split between the two authors equitably, with the first four chapters (“The King as Son of God”, “The Kingship in Deuteronomistic and Prophetic Literature”, “Messiah and Son of God in the Hellenistic Period”, “Messiah and Son of Man”) by Mr Collins, and the last four chapters (“Jesus as Messiah and Son of God in the Letters of Paul”, “Jesus as Messiah and Son of God in the Synoptic Gospels”, “Jesus as Son of Man”, “Messiah, Son of God, and Son of Man in the Gospel and Revelation of John”) by Mrs Collins. This is a fine overview of the subject matter, and laid out in a clear and concise fashion by Collins & Collins. In conjunction with Horbury’s monograph, with this book one would have a relatively complete and thoroughly updated treatment on the Davidic Messiah. And while I’m sure there are those who would disagree with one or another Collins (I had some minor, forgettable, quibbles in reading), or Horbury (as some have, including Mr Collins), the overlap in their conclusions is striking, and provides a new direction in understanding how this man Jesus was considered the Son of God in several different ways, stressing the Davidic Messianic aspect, which is often laid to the side in NT and early Christian studies. Hopefully these works will help bring that back to the center.

Richard Bauckham, God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1998). I picked this up and finished it in two sittings just to refresh myself with it. I remember the ruckus this kicked up when it was released, mostly good. But I wanted to see where this fit in with my reading on Messianism and with the idea of the Davidic Messiah’s divine Sonship being key to the understanding of Jesus as Christ. Bauckham doesn’t really touch on the Davidic Messianic aspect, but his little book (which is still thoroughly enjoyable) is not worth less for that. This will make more sense if you, O reader, had just read all the above immediately before reading this little tome by Bauckham, but here goes. Bauckham treats essentially the same issue as that of Horbury and Collins & Collins, even though he lacks the Messiah as Son of God aspect to his argument. That is, the description of application of divinity, whether directly divine or angelically so or some other consideration (as Bauckham’s “identity” is), is an issue no matter the subject’s ultimate derivation. In fact much of the argumentation is familiar from the discussion in those other authors’ works on just this subject. However, the key to pulling all of this together is clearly the Davidic Messiah as Son of God, and this key is something that Bauckham lacks. With that addition, this brilliant little book could be stellar.

In the category of Hermeneusis

Jon Levenson, The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and Historical Criticism (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993). I read this on the heels of Michael Legaspi’s The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies (Oxford, 2010), my copy of which is now making the rounds of Bay Area Orthodox Christian clergy. I had earlier picked this book up on the recommendation of Levenson himself, when I wrote with some bibliographic questions while reading Anders Gerdmar’s Roots of Theological Anti-Semitism (Brill, 2009). Levenson draws important attention to a fact that’s often overlooked: Biblical Studies was a field invented by Protestants, for Protestants, and is thus thoroughly Protestant in its nature. He brings refreshing insight (I wish he’d write more on the subject) in addressing the issue as an observant Jew. There are not just “religious” differences involved here. The problem lies deeper than such a superficial label, and most seem prepared only to ignore it (and those who mention it) rather than address it. The book is comprised of six articles, all of which originated as lectures: “The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and Historical Criticism”, “Why Jews Are Not Interested in Biblical Theology”, “The Eighth Principle of Judaism and the Literary Simultaneity of Scripture”, “Theological Consensus of Historicist Evasion? Jews and Christians in Biblical Studies”, “Historical Criticism and the Fate of the Enlightenment Project”, “Exodus and Liberation.” These are fascinating reading, all of a piece, addressing a sharp critique to blindered devotees of a particular brand of scholarship.

Michael Gorman, Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology (Eerdmans, 2009). I re-read this in preparation for tackling Douglas Campbell The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Eerdmans, 2009). Why precisely did I think that would be useful? Primarily because both writers take issue with “Justification” as understood in a rather stereotypical form, one which Campbell demolishes, methodically, over the course of his book. Gorman presents a reading of Paul that is much more familiar to an Orthodox Christian reader, not least because of his explicit reference to Orthodox theological terminology (note the “kenosis” and “theosis” in the subtitle). Anything that gets people to be more familiar with the theology of Orthodoxy is welcome, as long as they do take the effort to explore the Orthodox sources. Relying on secondary or tertiary distillations may be what some people are more comfortable with, but anyone who is supposedly devoted to an ad fontes approach to theology needs to make the effort to delve into the riches of Orthodox theology.

Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Zondervan, 3rd ed: 2003). I don’t tend to read these kinds of books very often, these little handbooks on “how to read the Bible.” There are too many presuppositions involved in their writing that are not presuppositions compatible with my nature. In this case, I read the book twice. Once was a general reading in which I simply appreciated the book’s structure and easy, friendly tone, and noted that it is in fact a fairly helpful book in explaining to the typical Anglophonic Christian how to go about reading the Bible in a way that is fruitful. Then I read it a second time, in which I evaluated it for its use for an Orthodox Christian as a guide toward a fruitful reading of the Bible. My objections were so many, and so fundamental, that I had to cease taking such notes lest I write fully another book in objections alone! The largest objection was to the insistence that an individual reader (reading in translation!) is actually more or less qualified to pronounce upon the authentic meaning and value of Scripture alone. That’s a general perception amongst many Christians, but it doesn’t take too much thought to realize how wrong it is. Anyhow, the lack of reference to the Church Fathers in any Orthodox Biblical interpretation would be completely unthinkable, and as at some point or other, this little book advocates for precisely that lack of dogmatic oversight, it won’t work for Orthodox Christians.

Fr Theodore Stylianopoulos, The New Testament: An Orthodox Perspective. Volume One: Scripture, Tradition, Hermeneutics (Holy Cross, 1997). I re-read this to “cleanse the palate” after the How to… book. I would still like to see a Volume Two appear. This book is a very interesting introduction to Orthodox reading of Scripture in a modern context, interacting with a number of perspectives respectfully. Fr Stylianopoulos was almost single-handedly responsible for bringing this particular Orthodox hermeneutic (exegesis > interpretation > transformation) to the attention of scholarship at large through his own publications and lectures. This book functions as a good introduction to reading the Scriptures for an Orthodox Christian. I’d like to see more on the Old Testament, though. That’s been a kind of blind spot through most translation and other projects lately, where emphasis is placed on resources related to the New Testament writings. There is a wealth of fascinating Patristic writing on the Old Testament, however, and it needs to be brought together for the benefit of readers, Orthodox or not, of the Old Testament. Hopefully whoever takes up such a task will write with the wisdom and gentle authority of Fr Stylianopoulos!

Peter Leithhart, Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture (Baylor, 2009). This one was recommended to me from several different directions. Such a concatenation of recommendations is striking, so I took note and ordered the thing. I was quite happy to have done so! For one thing, this book on reading is extraordinarily well-written, which is a rare thing. It was a real pleasure to read. And, whereas the little How to… book bore somewhat of an antagonistic stance toward the Apostolic and Patristic readings of Scripture, this book embraces both, particularly the former, tracing how the Apostles as thinkers and authors wrote with a Scriptural mind, and how the Fathers used the same principles in their interpretations, so that there is a more organic continuation between the two than some might think. This continuity is available to readers still, too.

I think I’ll finish this up tomorrow. There are six more books to cover.

More summer reading reviewlets

Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950, Mark Mazower (Knopf, 2004). Aaron Taylor, who lived for a time in Thessaloniki, recommended this book to me. As the title implies, it’s a history of the city from 1430 until approximately 1950. What we have here is not just the tale of some kind of Oriental Everytown, though some aspects of this apply, but the tale of a city of remarkable communities of people who managed to coexist and thrive until outsiders in the twentieth century ruined everything. The Germans, as usual, had a hand in this, not least of which was their nearly complete extermination of the entire Jewish population, a Jewish population that had been the pride of the city and of the entire Jewish world. Likewise, in the name of “progress”, the striking old city of so many minarets and courtyarded, tiled houses, has given way to a city that is a gigantic grid of ugly apartment blocks. How all this comes to be is related in sufficient detail by Mazower. And while he shows perhaps a bit too much sympathy for the Turkish Muslim perspective, this doesn’t affect the historical account. It’s a very good read, very relaxing.

The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, Edward Luttwak (Harvard University Press, 2009). Luttwak is the author of the magisterial The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire: From the First Century A.D. to the Third (Johns Hopkins, 1979). This volume might even be seen as more of a second volume to that than a separate work, as it immediately follows upon the heels of the last, and picks up the history of strategy in the fourth century, going until the end of the Empire in the fifteenth. Luttwak is a brilliant and engaging writer. I’ve never read such a thoughtful and stimulating book on military history and strategy before. Luttwak clearly admires the “grand strategy” of the Byzantine Empire (which he rightly recognizes as the Roman Empire, continuing after the loss of the West to the various barbarians), and suggests that we might find their strategy useful even today. Considering its remarkable success, I would agree. One wonders: was the vivid Orthodoxy of the Byzantines part of the explanation for their so very different strategy? At least in part it must be. Their adaptability and intelligence were legendary, contrary to the slanders of powdered, atavistic barbarians like Gibbon. This book merits rereading soon, I think.

Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism, Paula Fredriksen (Doubleday, 2008). This is a remarkable book, one which has given me a new sympathy for St Augustine. Fredriksen provides a remarkable summary account of the evolution of Hellenistic and Graeco-Roman society as a setting for her detailed discussion on Augustine’s writings. She goes directly to the heart of the matter: the educational system of rhetoric, classical paidea, is crucial to an understanding of not just Augustine’s, but all writing of the time. Most people miss this, almost always pulling quotes out and presenting them as something or other that the author “believed” or “felt.” Baloney. Rhetoric was about winning. And if winning your audience over meant some over-the-top insults toward absent friends or foes, then so be it. Rhetoric was always a tool to a higher purpose, and Augustine clearly had higher purposes in mind than scoring cheap shots at his fellow citizens. As with other Church Fathers, his most vividly awful rhetoric regarding Jews is found in those orations which are attacking heretics, where these “Jews” are a standard trope standing in as an image of the heretics themselves (to quite drastically simplify!). In Augustine’s remarkable work Against Faustus, however, he develops a theology of the Jews that is actually quite positive: they exist as a separate entity from Christians because God wills it so, and those who would attempt for forcibly convert them work against the will of God. The Jews likewise are a help to Christians for their holy books, which are (essentially) those of the Christians also, and which therefore serve as a witness to pagans of the antiquity of the message. I really sped through this book, it was so enjoyable. Fredriksen put many years of work into this book, which shows in its smoothly flowing argumentation, and especially in the extraordinary presentation of helpful background material for those unfamiliar with the period. In future, I am going to recommend this book to those who need an introduction to the rhetoric of the Patristic period. It is excellent!

Thus endeth the lesson on the lessons of ye summer.

Reviews of this summer’s reading

Well, summer is slipping away with barely a peep on things that matter from this source. I apologize to you, my longsuffering readers. It’s certainly the case that once one breaks the habit of daily writing that it is difficult to get back to it. Nonetheless, I have many things to write on.

This post will thus attempt to make up for lost time in presenting short reviews of some of the offline reading that I’ve been doing over the last couple of months. Let us dispense with the chit-chat and get down to the brass tacks! I present these roughly in the order I read them.

The Word in the Desert: Scripture and the Quest for Holiness in Early Christian Monasticism. Douglas Burton-Christie. (Oxford University Press, 1993)
I’ve mentioned this book in two previous posts (here and here) to which I refer the reader. The gist of my impression: This is a good book to have as an introduction to reading the Apophthegmata Patrum, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, if one is curious about the level to which Scripture plays a part in the lives and sayings of these early desert monastic Saints. Some, of course (illiterate though such an idea is) find their ways “unbiblical.” Through the course of the book Burton-Christie demonstrates the complete internalization of the Scriptures by the monks, not just through memorization of entire swaths of Scripture, but through true internalization: the process of intellectual and Spiritual digestion, with such food building up the New Man. This book, in conjunction with Derwas Chitty’s classic The Desert a City (now published in paperback by St Vladimir’s Seminary Press) would be indispensible for those needing a quick introduction to the ethos and history of desert monasticism.

Biblical Interpretation in the Russian Orthodox Church: A Historical and Hermeneutical Perspective (Mohr Siebeck, 2008). I’ve also mentioned this book briefly before, here. This is a fascinating book. A peculiarity of Russian scholarship (not to mention historical events) has rendered an account of the development of post-Enlightenment Russian Orthodox Biblical Interpretation impossible to write for those outside of Russia. This difficulty lies in the fact that the vast majority of Russian theological (as well as other) scholarship was conducted in journals, copies of which simply do not exist outside of Russia. This has led to any number of half-baked and even wildly incorrect perspectives (which shall remain unnamed) on the subject when based solely on monographic data. Negrov (a former Orthodox Christian, now the headmaster of a Russian Evangelical school, The St Petersburg Christian University) did the work, and did it well. This is essentially a history of Biblical interpretation in Russian Orthodoxy from the Kievan period to the early Bolshevik period, with some incidental mention of later developments. There is a long excursus (chapter 5, of about 120 pages), presenting as a representative example of the height of development one of the more well-respected of Biblical interpreters in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Russia: Bishop Vasilii Bogdashevskii.

The Old Testament in Byzantium. Editors Paul Magdalino and Robert Nelson (Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2010). In conjunction with the well-known exhibit in the Freer Gallery of Art, “In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year 1000” (October 2006 to January 2007), the symposium “The Old Testament in Byzantium” was held in early December 2006 in the Meyer Auditorium of the Freer Gallery. Edited versions of the papers presented, with a substantial introduction by the editors, are included herein: Introduction by Paul Magdalino and Robert Nelson; Nicholas de Lange, “The Greek Bible Translations of the Byzantine Jews”; James Miller, “The Prophetologion: The Old Testament of Byzantine Christianity”; Georgi Parpulov, “Psalters and Personal Piety in Byzantium”; John Lowden, “Illustrated Octateuch Manuscripts: A Byzantine Phenomenon”; Elizabeth Jeffreys, “Old Testament ‘History’ and the Byzantine Chronicle”; Claudia Rapp, “Old Testament Models for Emperors in Early Byzantium”; Derek Krueger, “The Old Testament and Monasticism”; Robert Ousterhout, “New Temples and New Solomons: The Rhetoric of Byzantine Architecture”; Ivan Biliarsky, “Old Testament Models and the State in Early Medieval Bulgaria”; Jane Dammen McAuliffe, “Connecting Moses and Muhammad.” Obviously this is a very interesting lineup, and I enjoyed the various papers immensely. Still, I want someone (please God, don’t make it have to be me!) to write a full monograph on the subject of “The Old Testament in Byzantium”, focusing particularly on synchronic and diachronic accounts of hermeneutical trends and tropes through the ages of the Roman Empire and beyond, into contemporary Orthodoxy neo-Patristic interpretation. All of the data exist in the vast wealth of (largely untranslated!) Patristic writing and related theological, historical, and legal documentation. The papers in this volume point the way. I just hope that there’s some intrepid and qualified explorer who will take up the challenge. Let it be soon!

From Ikaria to the Stars: Classical Mythification, Ancient and Modern, Peter Green (University of Texas Press, 2004). I don’t think there’s any Classicist who is more of a delight to read than Peter Green. Urbane, witty, and both broadly and deeply intimate with the literature, primary and secondary, and yet maintaining a pragmatic approach to the sources that eschews egregiously de mode methods, Green is always an educational read. That is to say, one will always benefit from rereading Green, as well. This book presents a collection of his articles ranging over the last thirty years, with some of them substantially reworked so that they are essentially new publications: “‘These Fragments Have I Shored against My Ruins”: Apollonius Rhodius and the Social Revalidation of Myth for a New Age”; “The Flight Plan of Daedalus”; “Works and Days 1-285: Hesiod’s Invisible Audience”; “Athenian History and Historians in the Fifth Century B.C.”; “The Metamorphosis of the Barbarian: Athenian Panhellenism in a Changing World”; “Text and Context in the Matter of Xenophon’s Exile”; “Rebooking the Flute-Girls: A Fresh Look at the Chronological Evidence for the Fall of Athens and the Eight-Month Rule of the Thirty”; “A Variety of Greek Appetites”; “Alexander’s Alexandria”; “The Muses’ Birdcage, Then and Now”; “How Political Was the Stoa?”; “Ancient Ethics, Modern Therapy”; “Getting to Be a Star: The Politics of Catasterism”; “The Innocence of Procris: Ovid AA 3.687-746″; “Magic and the Principle of Apparent Causality in Pliny’s Natural History“; Appendix A: “Tanglewood Tales for the Yuppies”; Appendix B: “Homer for the Kiddies.” Various of these articles in their course become review articles of one book or another the point of which Green is systematically and convincingly demolishing, to one degree or another. In all of them, possibly why the adjective “urbane” comes to mind first as a description of the author, Green maintains a deeply cultured voice, one that is as familiar with the modern world as one could be, and who is as familiar with the ancient world as it is possible to be from this distance. Though I’ve heard from other classicists that Green is considered something of a maverick, I don’t see that the reputation is quite warranted. What he is is a classical classicist: that is, a classicist who is representative of old ways of doing the Classics, when the classicist actually needed to, you know, learn the languages and know the history beyond just well enough to fool the plebes. Green is also able to argue a point with a commonsensical pragmatism that is so foreign to much modern scholarship, besotted with its isms as the latter is. In that sense, I suppose he is a kind of maverick, a sort of rebel in not embracing the latest trends, just because one must embrace them to be considered “contemporary” or “modern”. This has always struck me as ridiculous in anyone doing studies of languages and texts from the ancient world, and it does the same in Green. So that’s surely another reason that I enjoy his writing so: it’s subversive. Tee hee.

Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age, Peter Green (University of California Press, 1990). Yes, it’s that Peter Green. This is his magisterial history of the Hellenistic Age. You simply must read it if you’re at all interested in understanding that period of time. One note: this is a huge volume, so I would recommend the hardcover edition. I can’t imagine how one would read the paperback anywhere except on a table, as it would flop all over the place.

I will continue with some further reviewlets tomorrow!

The Philokalia Englished

I present here some examples of the translation of texts in two different English translations of the Philokalia of Saints Makarios of Corinth and Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain. The text marked Faber & Faber is the translation of the Philokalia undertaken by G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (of which translators only the latter, now Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, is still amongst us), which has to this point published the first four volumes of the five Greek volumes. The text marked Cavarnos is the translation of Constantine Cavarnos, which appears in two volumes of selected translations from the volumes of the Philokalia, available here from the Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies.

The goal of this presentation is to indicate the general tenor of the two translations, giving a kind of taster of their qualities. Others may come to their own conclusions, but I prefer the Cavarnos translation. The main reason is that the Faber & Faber translation, while often elegantly phrased, is insufficiently attentive to an accurately consistent rendition of the theological vocabulary found in the Greek texts. A sensitivity to this vocabulary is paramount in the work of Cavarnos. Indeed, he has devoted an entire book to describing the importance of such a consistency of approach in translation: Orthodox Christian Terminology (IBMGS, 1994). This is particularly the case in the Anglophonic world, which is simply not an Orthodox culture, and its religious and philosophical vocabulary is therefore not transparently applicable in translation. In such a thing as such weighty theological texts, precision and accuracy should be of greater concern than I think is perhaps found in the Faber & Faber translations, initiated more than three decades ago. Perhaps they would be done differently now. In fact, several of Cavarnos’ drafts were solicited and reworked by the Faber & Faber editors, an interesting twist to the story of the publication of the Philokalia in English.

We proceed.

St Isaiah the Solitary, On Guarding the Intellect: Twenty-Seven Texts, 1
Faber & Faber
There is among the passions an anger of the intellect, and this anger is in accordance with nature. Without anger, a man cannot attain purity: he has to feel angry with all that is sown in him by the enemy. When Job felt this anger he reviled his enemies, calling them ‘dishonourable men of no repute, lacking everything good, whom I would not consider fit to live with the dogs that guard my flocks’ (cf. Job 30:1, 4. LXX). He who wishes to acquire the anger that is in accordance with nature must uproot all self-will, until he establishes within himself the state natural to the intellect.

Cavarnos
Anger of the mind (τοῦ νοὸς ὀργὴ) against the passions is according to nature (κατὰ φύσιν). Without such anger purity does not result in man — if the mind does not become angry at all that is sowed in it by the enemy. When Job found the enemy, he (Job) reproached them saying to them: “You who are dishonorable and of no repute, in want of every good thing, whom I did not consider worthy to be with my shepherd dogs!” Now he who wants to acquire anger according to nature cuts off all his volitions, until he establishes himself in the state of the mind that is according to nature.

Evagrios the Solitary, Extracts from the Texts on Watchfulness, 1-2
Faber & Faber
A monk should always act as if he was going to die tomorrow; yet he should treat his body as if it was going to live for many years. The first cuts off the inclination to listlessness, and makes the monk more diligent; the second keeps his body sound and his self-control well balanced.

He who has attained spiritual knowledge and has enjoyed the delight that comes from it will no longer succumb to the demon of self-esteem, even when he offers him all the delights of the world; for what could the demon promise him that is greater than spiritual contemplation? But so long as we have not tasted this knowledge, let us devote ourselves eagerly to the practice of the virtues, showing God that our aim in everthing is to attain knowledge of Him.

Cavarnos
A monk should always be alive as if he were to die tomorrow. Again, he should treat his body as if it were to live for many years. The former cuts off thoughts of despondency (ἀκηδία) and renders the monk more zealous, while the latter keeps the body sound and maintains self-restraint undiminished.

He who has attained knowledge and has enjoyed the pleasure that comes from it will no longer be persuaded by the demon of vainglory when he offers all the pleasures of the world. For what could he promise that is greater than that spiritual contemplation? However, so long as we have not tasted this knowledge let us devote ourselves eagerly to spiritual practices, thus showing our aim to God, that we are doing everything for the sake of knowledge (γνῶσις) of Him.

St Mark the Ascetic, Concerning Those Who Think That Men Are Justified By Works, 90
Faber & Faber
The intellect changes from one to another of three different noetic states: that according to nature, above nature, and contrary to nature. When it enters the state according to nature, it finds that it is itself the cause of evil thoughts, and confesses its sins to God, clearly understanding the causes of the passions. When it is in the state contrary to nature, it forgets God’s justice and fights with men, believing itself unjustly treated. But when it is raised to the state above nature, it finds the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace and the other fruits of which the Apostle speaks (cf. Gal. 5:22); and it knows that if it gives priority to bodily cares it cannot remain in this state. An intellect that departs from this state falls into sin and all the terrible consequences of sin — if not immediately, then in due time, as God’s justice shall decide.

Cavarnos
There are three mental places (νοητοὶ τόποι) where the mind enters through change: that which is according to nature, that which is above nature, and that which is contrary to nature. When it enters that which is according to nature, it finds itself the cause of evil thoughts, and confesses to God its sins, knowing the causes of the passions. When it enters the place that is “contrary to nature” it forgets the justice of God, and quarrels with men, that supposedly are unjust to him. When he comes to the place that is “above nature” it finds the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which the Apostle calls love, joy, peace, and so forth. And he knows that if he prefers bodily cares, he cannot abide there. And he who departs from that place, that is, from the place “above nature,” falls into sin and the accompanying dread events, and if not soon, at the time when known to God’s justice.

Comments:
I find (and I believe others will agree) that the Cavarnos translations to be theologically clearer than the superficially more well-translated Faber & Faber translations, interestingly enough. While the latter certainly read more easily, in smoother, more idiomatic English, the theological point tends to be obscured through the rather loose control of the theological vocabulary. The Cavarnos translation, on the other hand, while hewing more closely to Greek modes of expression, is theologically clearer while not as idiomatically smooth English. The import of the Philokalia lies primarily in its theological and not artistic or literary value. Seeing that, I find the Cavarnos translation, while incomplete, to be preferable to the Faber & Faber, particularly for readers new to the Philokalia. A more experienced reader will be able to follow the occasionally somewhat convoluted paraphrastic reworkings of the Faber & Faber translation, and will be able to understand their theological intent clearly. But this cannot be expected of a reader new to the Philokalia. I will therefore be recommending the Cavarnos translations first to new readers of the Philokalia, for precisely the value of their clarity in concise and uncomplicated expression of the theological terminology.

Some more book notes

I have received a copy of The Philokalia: A Second Volume of Selected Readings, the continuation of the translation of Constantine Cavarnos. As in the case of the previous volume, the translation style is lucid and yet solid. The texts included come from the first, second, and fifth volumes of the Greek Philokalia. The texts included here are:

St Mark the Ascetic: Epistle to Nicholas the Monk (the translation of the brief biography of this Saint, which was written by St Nikodemos, is included in the first volume of Dr Cavarnos’ translations)
St Neilos the Ascetic: Brief biography; One Hundred and Fifty-Three Sections Concerning Prayer; Ascetical Discourse
St Theodore of Edessa: Brief biography; One Hundred Exceedingly Edifying Texts; Theoretikon
Abba Philemon: Brief biography; An Exceedingly Profitable Discourse Concerning Abba Philemon
Philotheos of Sinai: Brief biography; Forty Texts on Inner Watchfulness
Elias Ekdikos: Brief biography; Gnomic Anthology; Texts of Spiritual Wisdom
St Symeon of Thessaloniki: On the Holy and Deifying Prayer; That All Christians Ought to Pray in the Name of Jesus Christ
Anonymous Saint: A Wonderful Discourse Concerning the Words of the Divine Prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy Upon Me”; An Interpretation of “Lord, Have Mercy”
St Symeon the New Theologian: A Discourse Concerning Faith and Teaching; A Discourse on the Three Modes of Prayer
St Gregory the Sinaite: On How Each Should Say the Jesus Prayer; From the Life of Maximos Kapsokalyves
St Gregory Palamas: From the Life of St Gregory Palamas: That All Christians in General Ought to Pray Unceasingly

The volume was edited by Hieromonk Patapios, Archbishop Chrysostomos (who also wrote the very useful and edifying introduction to this volume) and Father Asterios Gerostergios. It is published in paperback by The Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies (the Institute’s website now takes online orders: hooray!).

Another book arrived in the package with my copy of the above-mentioned book: An Explorer of Realms of Art, Life, and Thought: A Survey of the Works of Philosopher and Theologian Constantine Cavarnos, by John Rexine, also published by the Institute. This was a gift from Fr Asterios, to my great delight. In thirty-three short chapters, Rexine provides a combination appreciation and précis for thirty-three of Dr Cavarnos’ books published in Greek and/or English, these having been between 1949 and 1985. The frontispiece to each book illustrates the beginning of each chapter, and there are other illustrations peppered throughout the book. This paperback book is printed in the same manner as most of the books of the Institute, on the thick creamy paper with heavy boards. The books of the Institute are consistently as satisfying to the hand and eye as they are to the soul and mind.

The following book has yet to be widely released: Homilies on the Book of the Revelation: Volume One, by Archimandrite Athanasios Mitilinaios, translated by Constantine Zalalas, with a Foreword and Notes by the same. This is published by St Nicodemos Publications in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The page for this book is here. This volume covers the homilies of the Blessed Elder Athanasios given on the Book of the Apocalypse, from 1:1 to 3:22. Further volumes are obviously forthcoming. I recommend to the reader the introduction to the St Nicodemoos Publications website, also written by Constantine Zalalas. He and I and many others are in perfect agreement. There are numerous recordings of Elder Athanasios available in Greek, and translations of those into English, as well, though I’m not quite clear on where those are available. I’ve only heard about them. The publishers should have this book available through Amazon soon.

I was going to write more, but I’m having some inexplicable computer crashes. Sorry to post and run!

Happy reading!

Book Notes

I’ve been very busy, but even so, I apologize for not keeping up with posting here. Blogs have their (hopefully temporary) lulls from time to time.

My break was, however, remarkably productive. I have left a mere 143 pages of checking and indexing OTP citations. Woo. Hoo.

Yet I have been onlinely slack! Not only have I been a good boy in curtailing online excursions other than those required for citation-checking (Google Books and Archive.org have been remarkably helpful in this, as have, of course, the University of California at Berkeley’s Library and Interlibrary Loan Department), but I have been, most exotically, reading off-line, and unfortunately neglecting the keeping up of the annotation of books I’ve been going through in my “Currently Reading” spot chez biblicalia. So, this is a catching up post.

In roughly chronological order, I have read or am reading the following (readers may recall some of these titles from my List of Shame!:

Peter Der Manuelian, Studies in the Reign of Amenophis II. Hildesheimer Ägyptologische Beiträge 26 (Gerstenbeg Verlag, 1987). Although I am happy to be corrected, I believe this is the only monography dedicated to Amenhotep II, son of Thutmose III the Great. Good luck finding a copy. I would recommend that one be both persistent and patient in looking. Probably half the book was taken up with issues of chronology, on some points of which I was left wondering how well the author’s positions have held up in the more than twenty years since publication. I was hoping for much more coverage of the Canaanite campaigns, but was disappointed. Overall, I gained the impression that this volume is rather dated. The anticipation was better than the reading, in the end. I’ll revisit it after re-reading some books on chronology, particularly the Paul Aström edited High, Middle, or Low? volumes, especially Kenneth Kitchen’s contribution on Egyptian chronology therein. I’m sure that Donald Reford’s beautifully produced volume The Wars in Syria and Palestine of Thutmose III (Brill, 2003), will clear up many questions, too.

Herb Basser’s The Mind behind the Gospels: A Commentary to Mathew 1 – 14 (Academic Studies Press [scroll down for the book listing], 2009). This is an extraordinary book, but one that is hard to categorize (which is not necessarily a bad thing). I do know that I’d like to see and read more books like this one. As the title states, it is a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 1-14. For commentary on the remaining chapters of Matthew, Basser refers the reader to others of his publications, namely some articles and his very interesting looking Studies in Exegesis: Christian Critiques of Jewish Law and Rabbinic Responses 70-300 C.E. (Brill, 2000; available in paperback). Basser reads the Gospel as one who is giving free reign to calling up associations and resonances throughout Jewish literature, neither restricting himself by genre nor period. The results are striking, refreshing, and welcome. Eschewing the nitpicky issues of language and such that have been done to death over the last hundred years (what new is really being said with most commentaries?), Basser brings us back to reading Matthew as Jewish literature: as it was written, so should we read it. I look forward to reading this one again. I’m very happy that Herb Basser wrote to me and recommended it. I enjoyed it very much, and will certainly enjoy it further in the future.

Mafred Bietak, Avaris: The Capital of the Hyksos: Recent Excavations at Tell el-Dabʿa (The British Museum, 1995). I have a thing for Egypt’s Eighteenth Dynasty, one might have already figured out. This was the most fantastically accomplished, wealthiest, and most intriguing period of Egyptian history. Ramesses II wished he was a Thutmose III! Anyhow, immediately before the Eighteenth Dynasty, Egypt was divided. The Delta was ruled from Memphis and Avaris by a class of Canaanite/Syrian overlords, commonly referred to as “the Hyksos” kings, which comprised several of the dynasties of the Second Intermediate Period. Middle Egypt and the Thebaid was ruled from Thebes by the Seventeenth Dynasty, a native Egyptian dynasty. The south was under the control or at least strong influence of Kush. The founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty, Ahmose, managed to expel the Hyksos ruling class, and thus retook and reunited Upper and Lower Egypt under one native Pharaoh. The ruins of Avaris, the capital of the Hyksos and likewise the site of a major palace and fortress in the early to mid Eighteenth Dynasty (in the Nineteenth Period to experience another, final revival as Pi-Ramesses), have been under excavation by Manfred Bietak since the late 1970s (as memory serves). Much of the area is now devoted to agriculture, and some is built over, so the areas available for excavation may not be ideal, but much has been found. Minoan plaster decoration appears in fragmentary condition in the Eighteenth Dynasty palace at Avaris, and numerous other surprising goodies, showing far-flung trading connections that continued from the Hyksos period into the Eighteenth Dynasty. Very interesting.

Grant Frame’s Babylonia 689-627 B.C.: A Political History (Netherlands Institute for the Near East, 2007). Assyrian and Babylonian history intersect in this period as in no other. The book covers the period from the utter destruction of Babylon by the Assyrians to the collapse of the Assyrian Empire strongly due to their overextension in Babylonian wars. One thing that was surprising, even shocking, is how very little information there is on this period. Frame presents it all, if only in summary. But the charts counting numbers of tablets dated to various years and reigns are telling: this was a period of general uncertainty, and not a little fear on the part of both Babylonians and Assyrians both.

Bernard Levinson’s Legal Revision and Religious Renewal in Ancient Israel (Cambridge, 2008). This is a very short book (and far too expensive at list price, which is dismaying to Levinson), but it packs a wallop. Bernard Levinson wrote to me and recommended it during the period I was reading and writing on Anders Gerdmar’s Roots of Theological Anti-Semitism (Brill, 2009), particularly to recommend his extensively annotated bibliography in chapter six, I think the number was. I have a number of questions and comments that I need to send to him before I post too much on this book, but a quick synopsis is in order. Essentially, he traces diachronically the adaptation or amelioration of various Biblical laws or themes, in one case, the procedure of effecting a levirate marriage, in the other, the theme of transgenerational punishment. This process of adaptation or amelioration he has coined inner-biblical exegesis. As with Herb Basser’s book above, it is refreshing to see a new viewpoint, a perspective taken which is innovative yet not wacky, and one which immediately yields as many interesting answers as it does provoke thoughtful questions. The focus of much of Hebrew Bible studies on source criticism has impoverished the field, plainly. Such perspectives as Levinson’s, which deal with the canonical form of the text and then wrestle with why the text says what it says as it is are more to be expected in the future, as the past focus on atomization of the text seems to have run its course, and no longer generates much interest (nor is the strong philological training necessary to properly accomplish such things apparently available anymore).

Mordechai Cogan and Dan’el Kahn, eds., Treasures on Camel Humps: Historical and Literary Studies from the Ancient Near East Presented to Israel Eph‘al (Magnes Press, 2008). As usual with these kinds of things, and without pointing any fingers, this volume was a mixed bag. It’s obvious that (like my own!) Eph`al’s interests were all over the place, and so various friends and students contributed article-chapters touching on various of those subjects, but the quality was a bit uneven. I was expecting the majority of articles to be on the subject of ancient warfare, really, and so was disappointed by the variety. But the mix of articles is a good one. As a not entirely unrelated aside, while reading this, I found myself to have become irritated with the way that it seems no one is writing monographs anymore, but rather it seems everything is collections of articles. I’m really tired of it. I’m going to move away from devoting resources and taking up shelf space with volumes that are less than 25% of interest to me!

Robert Daly, ed. Apocalyptic Thought in Early Christianity (Baker, 2009). (I posted a list of the contributors and their articles here.) Now, although this is also a collection of articles, the papers of a symposium, actually, I found it to be an extremely tight collection, more focused and more even in quality than the previous title. My favorite of these articles is that by Hieromonk Alexander Golitzin, who displays erudition, wit, and joy througout the course of the article. I kid you not. And there was the absolutely fascinating article by Nancy Patterson Ševčenko on the iconography of the Second Coming and Last Judgment, which I had always tried to figure out, but which she makes quick sense of. I would have liked the illustrations in her chapter especially to have been larger, and a few pages in color would really have been nice, but that’s just quibbling. This is an excellent book for anyone interested in the subject. Really, I’m sure it’s going to be considered a necessary one, as necessary as Brian Daley’s The Hope of the Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology (Hendrickson, 2003) [sadly OP: publication details are available at Amazon] and Charles Hill’s Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Millennial Thought in Early Christianity (Eerdmans, 2001), both of which are quoted often in the pages of this volume.

Jacob Neusner, A History of the Jews in Babylonia, volume 1: The Parthian Period (Brill, 1965). This is only the first of five volumes of Neusner’s A History of the Jews in Babylonia, covering the scanty evidence of the Parthian Period. Do you know that if it weren’t for Greek and Roman records and the Rabbinic writings, we would have “next to nothing” instead of “very, very little” data on the Parthians? The other volumes will have more information, but this period is one in which there is little certain information to be obtained from the Rabbinic writings, and very little from anywhere else on Parthia, so there is not much to be said. Still, Neusner is, as always, erudite and diligent in presenting and commenting on what remains to us. This five volume series has not been replaced by a similar treatment by anyone else. A companion volume, Aphrahat and Judaism, provides translations and commentary on those of Aphrahat’s Demonstrations that deal with Judaism, giving evidence of fourth century Persian Christian trends in at least literary expression of the relationship between Jews and Christians in the Sassanid Empire.

Emil Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (volumes 1,2, and 3.1 [OP] and 3.2) (2nd ed., Geza Vermes, Fergus Millar, and Matthew Black, eds. T & T Clark, 1973). Neusner recommended this to me when I’d asked him for a recommendation of precisely such a detailed history, and then I bought it, though I’d known of it for ages. I’m right in the middle of volume two now. The first volume was especially fascinating, as it dealt, in extraordinary (if sometimes excruciating) detail with the history proper of the period from about 200 BC to 150 AD, including discussion of sources, extensive quotations in Greek and Latin, and a wealth of reference to publications of primary material (some of which is now dated; for instance, Menahem Stern’s Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism was not yet published, though it was mentioned as in preparation; also, numerous excavations throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and especial Israel have brought to light helpful data). The second volume discusses the social setting, the priesthood in Jerusalem, its organization, etc, so far as I’ve seen. I had to go to bed just as I reached the chapter on Gentile participation in the cult at Jerusalem. I know (from tantalizing references!) that there will be a discussion of literature in part one of the third volume. Part two, volume three, a separate book, is mostly the indexes. I’m very impressed by the depth of coverage and the judicious investigation of sources. The organization of the work preserves Schürer’s original organization, though much of the text has of course not only been translated but edited, whether adapted or replaced. There is a truly nineteenth century comprehensiveness about this book that makes me appreciate why it is still recommended. It is, despite being thirty years old in this edition, still very useful, particularly in the exhaustive treatment of primary sources, chief of which is, not surprisingly, Josephus. Back when I was looking for a set of these, I asked Continuum/T & T Clark about the availability of the volumes, and they told me they were moving this title to print-on-demand. The set I ended up getting was used, a copy inscribed by editor Fergus Millar for a well-known Classicist (whose name escapes me, Steven something), which is pretty neat.

Tim Vivian and Augustine Cassaday, Mark the Monk: Counsels on the Spiritual Life (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009). I’ve just started this one, and am only in the introduction. This is two volumes in one physical book, containing a translation of all the works attributed to St Mark the Ascetic (as I’ve usually seen him named), who has maintained a consistent popularity amongst ascetics throughout Eastern Christian history since his day. “Sell all and buy Mark” is an old monastic saw, but one that should not be ignored. Yet you won’t have to sell all to afford this volume. If the writings of St Mark the Ascetic were good enough to receive the approbation of St Isaac the Syrian and St Nicodemus the Hagiorite, then they’re good enough for you.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Yea, verily, Magister Duffy doth rock

There’s a new one out from Eamon Duffy: Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor (Yale, 2009). This be ye blurbe:

The reign of Mary Tudor has been remembered as an era of sterile repression, when a reactionary monarch launched a doomed attempt to reimpose Catholicism on an unwilling nation. Above all, the burning alive of more than 280 men and women for their religious beliefs seared the rule of “Bloody Mary” into the protestant imagination as an alien aberration in the onward and upward march of the English-speaking peoples.

In this controversial reassessment, the renowned reformation historian Eamon Duffy argues that Mary’s regime was neither inept nor backward looking. Led by the queen’s cousin, Cardinal Reginald Pole, Mary’s church dramatically reversed the religious revolution imposed under the child king Edward VI. Inspired by the values of the European Counter-Reformation, the cardinal and the queen reinstated the papacy and launched an effective propaganda campaign through pulpit and press.

Even the most notorious aspect of the regime, the burnings, proved devastatingly effective. Only the death of the childless queen and her cardinal on the same day in November 1558 brought the protestant Elizabeth to the throne, thereby changing the course of English history.

I also noticed that Eamon Duffy contributed to the catalogue of the ongoing British Library exhibition Henry VIII: Man and Monster. Oops. That should read “Man and Monarch.” Silly me. The exhibition catalogue is avaialble from the British Library Store.

I shall now exhibit (I hope) some self-control and prevent myself from purchasing those two delectable items until I have finished reading the three Eamon Duffy books that I already have: The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village (Yale, 2003), The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400–1580 (Yale, Second Edition 2005), and Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers, 1240-1570 (Yale, 2006). The latter is profusely illustrated with beautiful images of pre-Protestant English prayer books. Duffy’s work is a corrective to that triumphalistic Protestant propaganda which, ever since the Reformation, has depicted every populace as eager to get out from under the heel of Papistry and the rule of the Whore of Babylon, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Happy new homes for lovely new books

At long last, I am the happy owner of a copy of Menachem Stern’s Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism (Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1974). My years of patience paid off, and I have a beautiful, like new set of the volumes that were also not exorbitantly priced.

For those unfamiliar with this resource, Stern collected every mention of the Jews and Judaism in direct and indirect quotations from Classical authors, providing the original texts, translations, and introductions. He begins with Herodotus in the fifth century BC and ends with Simplicius in the first half of the sixth century AD. The slender third volume (the first two are quite hefty) includes a number of “problematic” quotations, as well as the appendices and indices. The volumes are hardback, of course, bound in dark green cloth, with bright gold stamping on the front cover and spine. The paper is thick and a comfortable, creamy off-white. They’re beautifully made books.

Here’s a random excerpt:

The pilot enters uncompelled when the seed-power advances into light with its fruit. Certainly I saw that those who play Prometheus in the theatre are compelled to make the soul enter the body of the just-formed man lying on the ground. However, perhaps the ancients did not want to establish by the myth that the entry of the soul is compulsory but only to show that the animation takes place after the conception and formation of the body. The theologian of the Hebrews also seems to signify this when he says that when the human body was formed, and had received all of its bodily workmanship, God breathed the spirit into it to act as a living soul.
Text 466: Porphyry, Ad Gaurum, 11.

This will be an extremely interesting read, and a permanently useful reference too, as well.

Another new goody is The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories, edited by Robert B. Strassler, new translation by Andrea L. Parvis, and Introduction by Rosalind Thomas (Pantheon Books, 2007). For whatever reason, I’d heard only of the Landmark Thucydides. As soon as I saw there was a Landmark Herodotus, I got it. This edition of Herodotus is richly annotated, with many very helpful maps, and a few illustrations. Herodotus is such a fun read, but it really is helpful to have the annotation to explain some of the more peculiar bits. I myself get bored of the Persian War stuff and want to get back to some juicy “digressions” most of the time. It’s kind of a big hardcover volume, though, roughly 9 x 12″, so it’s not as good as a vade mecum book like my older and smaller hardback of the Oxford edition translated by Robin Waterfield, sized about 5 x 9″, which was new when I got it in 1998 yet the pages are already browning, oddly enough. It’s also annotated, but uses endnotes, which I detest. The Landmark Herodotus uses footnotes, thankfully. It also includes section headings and suggested/known dates in the margins, which is very helpful. Best of all, the footnotes are quite sparse, most often giving reference to one of the included maps for whichever city, region, or event is mentioned. I say “best of all,” because the meat of the annotation is provided in Appendices A through U! So, while the Oxford provides notes incidentally, here the annotation has been systematized into appendices, and parcelled out to different scholars. There are, for example, Appendix A: The Athenian Government in Herodotus by Peter Krentz of Davidson College; Appendix G: The Continuity of Steppe Culture by Everett L. Wheeler of Duke University; and Appendix U: On Women and Marriage in Herodotus by Carolyn Dewald of Bard College. These take up only just over 110 pages. The Oxford had 140 pages of endnotes, but then that edition included nothing in the margins and no small footnotes, and the pages are much smaller, so the annotation coverage is roughly equivalent, I’d say. The thinner paper (not quite so thin as Bible paper, but nearly so) in the Landmark Herodotus keeps the book from being too massive, as well. It’s over 950 pages, but only a couple inches thick. As a reference, I’d say the Landmark Herodotus is excellent. Here’s a sampling of the two translations for 3.107:

Oxford/Waterfield:
Then again, Arabia is the most southerly inhabited land, and it is the only place in the world which produces frankincense, myrrh, cassia, cinnamon, and rock-rose resin. None of these are easy for the Arabians to get, except myrrh. They collect frankincense by burning storax resin, which Phoenicians export to Greece. Gathering frankincense requires the burning of storax because every single frankincense-producing tree is guarded by large numbers of tiny, dappled, winged snakes (these are the snakes which invade Egypt), and only the smoke of burning storax resin drives them away from the trees.

Landmark/Parvis:
And again, at the southern edge of the inhabited world lies Arabia, which is the only place on earth where frankincense grows; the other rare crops found there are myrrh, cassia, cinnamon, and ledanon. All these, except myrrh, are very difficult for the Arabians to gather. They collect frankincense by burning styrax, which the Phoenicians export to Hellas. It is only by burning this substance that they can gather the frankincense, since great numbers of winged serpents which are small and have variegated markings—the very same serpents that go out to invade Egypt—carefully guard each tree. Only the smoke from burning styrax will drive them away from these trees.

Πρὸς δ’ αὖ μεσαμβρίης ἐσχάτη Ἀραβίη τῶν οἰκεομένων χωρέων ἐστί· ἐν δὲ ταύτῃ λιβανωτός τέ ἐστι μούνῃ χωρέων πασέων φυόμενος καὶ σμύρνη καὶ κασίη καὶ κινάμωμον καὶ λήδανον. Ταῦτα πάντα πλὴν τῆς σμύρνης δυσπετέως κτῶνται οἱ Ἀράβιοι. Τὸν μέν γε λιβανωτὸν συλλέγουσι τὴν στύρακα θυμιῶντες, τὴν ἐς Ἕλληνας φοίνικες ἐξάγουσι, ταύτην θυμιῶντες [λαμβάνουσι]· τὰ γὰρ δένδρεα ταῦτα τὰ λιβανωτοφόρα ὄφιες ὑπόπτεροι, σμικροὶ τὰ μεγάθεα, ποικίλοι τὰ εἴδεα, φυλάσσουσι πλήθεϊ πολλοὶ περὶ δένδρον ἕκαστον, οὗτοι οἵ περ ἐπ’ Αἴγυπτον ἐπιστρατεύονται· οὐδενὶ δὲ ἄλλῳ ἀπελαύνονται ἀπὸ τῶν δενδρέων ἢ τῆς στύρακος τῷ καπνῷ.

Along with its size, I’d say the Waterfield is still the more readable, even if for simply forsaking scholarly fussiness (note the “rock-rose resin” in Waterfield and the “ledanon” in Parvis for the original’s λήδανον: both unknown, but one is at least in English). If you’re out under a tree somewhere, reading along in your little Oxford Herodotus, you don’t reall need to be inundated with things that you feel a need to look up later. Just enjoy the story. For that the Waterfield is good. But as a reference, or for reading at home, the Landmark is better. It’s good to see Herodotus getting a better reputation these days, as he does in the Oxford introductory material and to an even greater degree in the Landmark. It wasn’t too long ago, after all, that you’d hear him called “Father of Lies” as often as “Father of History.”

Anyhow, I recommend all of the above.