Book Review: (Brill’s) Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Language and Linguistics

eagllTitle: Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Language and Linguistics

Editor: Georgios K. Giannakis

Bibliographic info: 1846 pp. (in three volumes)

Publisher: Brill, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon or at Brill.

With thanks to Brill for the review copy!

Starting in 2006 Brill started publishing comprehensive language encyclopedias. First was the Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics (5 volumes; 2006-2009), then the Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics (4 volumes; 2013), and now Brill has released the next in this series, the three-volume Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Language and Linguistics (EAGLL). Each of these encyclopedias is also available in an electronic version accessible on-line, and it is the electronic version of the EAGLL that I have had access to for this review. The EAGLL is available online here. The online interface is very well put together and easy to use, including extensive cross-referencing and advanced search capabilities.

NB: when I mention “Ancient Greek” I am referring to the period of the language spanning from Proto-Greek to Late Antiquity (i.e. Hellenistic/Koine Greek). The EAGLL occasionally makes forays into Medieval/Byzantine Greek and even Modern Greek, though when this does happen the focus still seems to be on how it is relevant to Ancient Greek.

Greek is a language with one of the longest recorded histories and because of this Greek has also been one of the most studied languages, with a mountain of specialized works devoted to studying the most obscure aspects of its history, grammar, structure, and so forth. The EAGLL is a massive undertaking which brings the study of Ancient Greek into line with the field of linguistics. This is helpful to those of us who learned Greek during our time pursuing academic studies in subjects like classics, biblical studies, or theology. I say this because learning Greek in such programs tends to convey very little actual linguistic analysis because, of course, the subject matter of linguistics, (e.g. phonology, morphology, syntax, lexis, semantics, pragmatics, sociolinguistics, historical linguistics), is very different from learning a specific language.

With a combined total of nearly 2,000 pages, including over 500 entries, the EAGLL is a comprehensive reference work on the ancient Greek language and its linguistics description. The arrangement of the entries in the EAGLL is a straightforward alphabetical order organized by short titles. Each entry tackles the subject-matter in-depth, has extensive cross-referencing (via hyperlinks) to the other entries, and each entry finishes with a specialized bibliography. From the entries I have read so far, they vary in length from about 200 to over 5,000 words (I would estimate about 100 of the entries exceed 5,000 words). There were a couple entries I found–“History of Teaching of Ancient Greek in Germany” and “Archaisms in Modern Dialects”–that ran over 9,000 words.

The use of the Greek alphabet in the EAGLL is (somewhat surprisingly) kept to a minimum with the contributors employing transliterations instead (except when it seems indispensable to use the Greek language, e.g., when discussing phonetics or Greek writing). Translations are also provided for the transliterations, making each entry more of a breeze to read through.

Both tradition grammatical and philological approaches are utilized, as well as modern linguistic theories and schools such as generativist, minimalist, functionalist, neogrammarians, and so forth. Concepts covered in this encyclopedia range from sociolinguistic issues, historical issues, epigraphy, papyrology, dialects, structure, style, lexicography, phonetics, syntax, morphology, semantics, and much, much more. There are also numerous entries on the relationship between Greek and other languages and language groups.

Some concepts are discussed in several entries, but each time it is from a different perspective. For example, when it comes to the idea of tense there are the following entries: “Tense (khrónos), Ancient Theories of”, “Tense and Aspect from Hellenistic to Early Byzantine Greek”, “Tense/Aspect”, “Verbal System (Tense, Aspect, Mood)”, “Present Tense”, and “Aspect (and Tense)”. Another example is dialects, for which there are the following entries: “Aeolic Dialects”, “Ancient Greek Sociolinguistics and Dialectology”, “Archaisms in Modern Dialects”, “Dialectal Convergence”, “Dialectology (diálektos), Ancient Theories of”, “Dialects, Classification of”, “Dictionaries of Dialects: From Antiquity to the Byzantine Period”, “Magna Graecia, Dialects”, and “Sicily, Dialects in”.

Entries I saw that are specifically on biblical-related matters are: “Bilingualism, Diglossia and Literacy in First-Century Jewish Palestine”, “‘Christian’ Greek”, “Christian Greek Vocabulary”, “Jewish Greek”, “New Testament”, and “Septuagint”.

The entries in this encyclopedia are at a technical level that is appropriate for graduate and postgraduate level research and would be a great resource for those who teach Greek classes at the intermediate and advanced levels. The EAGLL is a high-quality and authoritative reference work for both students and researchers involved in the study of Ancient Greek, and while the high cost is very prohibitive for individual ownership, it is a must for any academic institution that has a serious undergraduate or graduate level program in ancient Greek or related disciplines like (Indo-European) linguistics, biblical studies, and so forth. Institutional access is a must!

Book Review: Executing God

executinggodTitle: Executing God

Author: Sharon Baker

Bibliographic info: 217 pp.

Publisher: Westminster John Knox, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon.

This book attempts to answer the question: “Did Jesus have God murdered?” The author considers this an important question because she “[does not] agree that the horrific death of an innocent man somehow “bought” God off so God would forgive sin. The whole deal smacks of blasphemy.”

The book consists of nine chapters. Chapter One is the introduction which discusses the purpose of the book, the role that religion plays in violence, violence in the history of Christianity, and other issues. Chapter Two discusses the use of biblical and cultural metaphors in forming understandings of God and atonement. Chapter Three tackles the four atonement theories, laying out the pros and cons for each of them: Christus Victor (Christ as the Victor), Satisfaction, Moral Example (or Moral Influence), and Penal Substitution. From my own experience, some proponents of the penal view tend to equate it with the Gospel itself, so I’m sure what the author has to say about it will raise some eyebrows.

Chapter Four argues that these theories have left us with a “dysfunctional image of God that promotes violence and abuse.” Chapter Five then looks at the idea of justice in culture and how this differs from divine justice. Chapter Six then looks at whether God requires a payment in advance (through the death of an innocent man) in order to be able to truly forgive sin. Chapter Seven discusses how the life, death, and resurrection were indeed a sacrifice, as well as the role that the blood of Christ plays in our salvation. Chapter Eight carries on from this by looking at what was really achieved in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And in Chapter Nine the author constructs her own understanding of salvation in Christ that cuts against the notion of the violence of Christ’s death being part of God’s plan.

Before I go any further I should note that the author is defining violence as “that which does harm through the misuse of power, hostile forms of aggression, brutality, and the use of force whether or not the victim offers resistance.”

In the author’s discussion of the four models of atonement, I was a bit perplexed by the following:

Although each of these [atonement] theories differs significantly from the others, they all have one thing in common. They hinge upon violence, and divine violence to boot. Jesus is murdered. Moreover, the murder of this innocent man is orchestrated by none other than God.

And again:

One of the most important weaknesses and one that the moral theory has in common with the other models we discuss in this book is that Jesus still must die a tortured death in order to demonstrate God’s love and provide an example of our behavior. … So although it’s not retributive or penal, this theory still makes God complicit with violence. God still needs the death of an innocent man in order to give us an example to follow and a motivation to love.

I can see how the Satisfaction Theory and the Penal Substitution Theory “hinge upon violence”, but not so much with the Christus Victor and Moral Example theories (at least as far as I understand these theories). For example, I learned that in the Moral Example model, it was simply Jesus’ life of perfect obedience that led to his crucifixion, i.e., the political and religious powers of the world cannot stomach a righteous person and will necessarily try to kill such a person. But this does not mean that Christ was killed due to the necessity of a violent death and that such a violent death was orchestrated by God. Rather, the example provided by Jesus in his life–climaxing in the cross–changes our way of thinking (achieved by the Spirit), moving us to live differently.

I found the discussion about the blood of Christ to be constructive, at least more so than a common way of thinking about it which basically transmutes the blood of Christ into some magical substance in and of itself (just look at the myths about the power of the Holy Grail and the Spear of Destiny). The author sees blood as a “symbol for life.” So, for instance, this is how the author views Heb. 9:22,

…we might amplify and paraphrase Hebrews 9:22 and say, without the giving of your life as a living sacrifice, as symbolized in the Old Testament by the shedding of life blood, you will not understand being washed clean…

So what is the author’s view on the atonement that she puts forward? The following quotes should helpfully summarize:

So instead of saying that God inflicted the pain of the cross on Jesus as a penalty for our sin, we can say that the horrific nature of the cross exposed and condemned the gravity of our sin.

[Jesus] allowed himself to be killed by the world’s wrath – by the children of wrath. In doing so, he exposed the heinous nature of our sinfulness and forced us to come face to face with the gravity of our own sin.

Jesus loved the people and taught them how to love God and each other…. But the rulers and leaders of Earth feared his influence and didn’t like [his teachings]… [Jesus] let them execute him like a common criminal. He took upon himself their sinful actions toward him and suffered because of their sin. He let them crush him and destroy him. … It happened that through the death of Jesus, other people saw the injustice of what happened and decided to live differently, to make up their minds to change their evil and violence ways and to live the way Jesus taught them.

From where I’m sitting, the author’s view sounds quite similar to characteristics I have learned from the Moral Influence model (and even the Christus Victor model) of atonement.

While I didn’t agree with all of the author’s conclusions (such as the emphasis laid on the role that violent atonement theories have played in the history of violence in Christianity), I think that this book nevertheless provides a helpful look at the age-old question of how exactly it is that the death of Christ is efficacious on our behalf. If you’re unaware of the different ways in which Christians have understood Christ’s death, then pick up this book and give it a whirl. It is a very accessible read for the person in the pew, so you by no means have to be an academic to understand the content.

Some More Review Books

Over the past week I’ve received eBook review copies of the following books:

I also received a print edition of Jesus and the Politics of Roman Palestine by Richard Horsley.

Quick Book Review: The Figure of Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15

pauladamchristTitle: The Figure of Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15: The New Creation and Its Ethical and Social Reconfigurations

Author: Felipe de Jesus Legarreta-Castillo

Bibliographic info: 160 pp.

Publisher: Fortress Press, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon.

This volume is the published version of the author’s doctoral dissertation completed at Loyola University, Chicago, under the supervision of Thomas Tobin, S.J.

Anyone familiar with the Apostle Paul’s epistles will no doubt know about how he makes some comparisons between Adam and Christ in Romans and 1 Corinthians (specifically Rom. 5:12-21 and 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45-59). The author examines patterns of exegesis of Genesis 1–3 in Second Temple Judaism, revealing along the way how Jewish interpreters teased out ethical implications from the story of Adam (a figure who appears numerous times in Jewish literature between 200 BCE and 100 CE). Thus, he reveals how Paul’s usage of Adam in Romans and 1 Corinthians has antecedents in the broader Jewish exegetical traditions. Specifically, he shows how Paul employs Adam in order to draw out social and ethical consequences, “[setting] the future resurrection of the believers in tension with their ethical commitment to the present.” Elsewhere the author says: “With the Adam typology Paul challenges the believer to participate in the present in the resurrection of Christ through a new lifestyle, that of Christ. Although to rise with Christ is a future event, it can be anticipated in the present through ethical behavior.”

Between the introductory and concluding chapters, the subject matter is divided into three chapters. The first chapter provides a survey on the status quaestionis on Adam Typology in Pauline scholarship. The second chapter explores how the figure of Adam was interpreted in Second Temple Jewish sources, first by focusing on the literary function of Adam in the larger context of each passage and then by seeing what, if any, ethical and social implications the author may have been attempting to convey by utilizing the figure of Adam. Texts discussed in this chapter include Sirach, Wisdom, Philo’s De Opificio Mundi, Jubilees, Josephus’ Antiquities, Pseudo-Philo’s Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum, the Sibylline Oracles, the Life of Adam and Eve, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch. The third chapter then tackles the figure of Adam in 1 Corinthians 15:21–22; 45-29, and Romans 5:12–21, specifically paying attention to the literary context in which Paul introduces the contrasts between Adam and Christ.

All in all, this slim volume is a nice read and shows how Paul’s uses the figures of Adam and Christ to bring together his theological and ethical concerns, with his interpretation of the figure of Adam being a good example of a creative biblical interpretation that aspires to transform humans after the last Adam, Jesus Christ.

Quick Book Review: Stories from Ancient Canaan, Second Edition

storiesancientcanaansecondeditionTitle: Stories from Ancient Canaan, Second Edition

Authors: Michael D. Coogan and Mark S. Smith

Bibliographic info: 194 pp.

Publisher: Westminster John Knox, 2012.

Buy the book at Amazon.

This short book is an updated edition of what was originally published over three decades ago on 1978. It provides an accessible presentation of the key Canaanite literature (written in Ugaritic) that were recovered at Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) on the Syrian coast, during excavations starting in 1928. The discovery of the clay tablets containing these Ugaritic stories provide us with good insights into the Ancient Near East and illumination of the Hebrew Bible.

This updated edition is needed due to the advances in understanding of ancient Ugaritic literature that have developed over the past few decades, and the translations of the Ugaritic texts used in this updated edition will no doubt be the best (at least in terms of accuracy) that one can find (in English at least). Two additional texts are discussed in this updated edition: The Lovely Gods and El’s Drinking Party. The other stories discussed are Aqhat, the Rephaim, Kirta, and the Baal cycle.

The eBook version I received for review is, unfortunately, quite subpar. The formatting is very poor. An even more annoying problem is that none of the illustrations are in the eBook! Bad formatting is a recurring problem with the Wesminster John Knox eBooks I have received, but it may have something to do with the fact that I get mine through the Edelweiss program, so I am not sure if the Kindle editions from Amazon have the same problems or not.

This small volume is accessible to the nonacademic and I would definitely recommend it for anyone interested in the history of the Canaanite religion or for background information on the Hebrew Bible. Though I must add the caveat that this recommendation would only be for the print edition and not the electronic edition.

Book Review: Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

americachristiannationfeaTitle: Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

Author: John Fea

Bibliographic info: 332 pp.

Publisher: Westminster John Knox, 2011.

Buy the book at Amazon.

Was America founded as a Christian nation? Ask anyone who identifies with the Religious Right and they will probably respond strongly in the affirmative and accuse anyone who says “no” of historical revisionism. But ask someone on the other side of the political spectrum and you may very well get a resounding “no”, along with the claim that all the founding fathers were deists and that America was founded solely on Enlightenment principles. (I personally think the term “Christian nation” is borderline oxymoronic).

The book is divided into three parts. In the first part Fea begins by discussing the question of whether America was founded as a Christian nation and why this question is so important to many people. He provides us with a historical survey on the United States being a “Christian nation”, which is divided up into four periods: 1789-1865, 1865-1925, 1925-1980, and ending with the contemporary defenders of Christian America.

In the second part Fea examines the Revolution and whether it can be understood as an attempt to create a Christian nation. Here he provides us with a history lesson covering the times of the original British Colonies through to important events such as the Stamp Act, the first Continental Congress, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the US Constitution. One interesting observation I gleaned from here is that the First Amendment of the US Constitution is perhaps best understood as prohibiting the federal government from imposing a national religion/denomination upon the country, with the idea being that this power should be left to the individual states who could do so if desired (and some states did do this in various ways). Here is a quote from Fea on the Declaration of Independence:

This kind of historical revisionism continues today among those who uphold the belief that the Declaration of Independence was a Christian document. While the Declaration clearly affirms, for example, that human rights come from “the Creator,” the original intent of the founders was not to write a theological document, a system of government, a treatise on American values, or even declare that human rights came from God. The “original intent” of the Declaration of Independence was something much more practical. It was written to announce the birth of the United States to the rest of the world.

In the third and final part of the book, Fea discusses the religious beliefs of some of the founding figures of this nation: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Witherspoon, John Jay, and Samuel Adams. Due to the lack of evidence that can be utilized to reveal the religious beliefs of these figures, Fea is reduced to speculation at times (e.g. speculating as to why Washington didn’t go to Communion). Fea considers only Witherspoon, Jay, and Samuel Adams to be able to be rightly labeled as “orthodox” Christian (i.e. believing in key historical-orthodox tenets of Christianity such as the Trinity and the resurrection of Christ). John Adams is simply a Unitarian. Jefferson liked Jesus’ moral teachings but separated them from anything supernatural (though Fea points out that neither could Jefferson be considered an “orthodox” Deist). Franklin was an “ambitious moralist.” And Washington was a latitudinarian Anglican who seemed to only really care for the social utility that religion provides. On Washington Fea says, “the available evidence points to a man who did not seem particularly interested in the divinity of Jesus Christ or his salvific death for humankind. He tried to live by the Golden Rule and did a pretty good job of it, despite some rather blatant shortcomings. … we must show due prudence in celebrating him as a Christian. His religious life was just too ambiguous.”

My overall take from reading this book: while there is definitely a vocal stream of people in early American history (and throughout) who saw the hand of Divine Providence at play, even going say far to say that God was forming a “new Israel”, when one looks at the more important internal evidence such as the founding figures and founding documents, there doesn’t seem to much substantive support for the notion of America being founded as a Christian nation. Another thing I learned from this book is that those who did support America being a Christian nation provided some terrible biblical and theological rationale!

All in all, I quite enjoyed this book and think the author (himself an evangelical) provides a useful and informative historical presentation on the question of whether American was founded as a Christian nation. He does not give us a secular revisionist history of America, but neither does he give us an evangelical modification of it. In fact, Fea does not provide a simple “yes” or “no” answer to the question and he pretty much leaves the answer of the question up to the reader. Though, with the way he presents the information, it seems hard to leave this book without the impression that while the founders and the general populace of early America was indeed influenced by the Christian faith (Protestantism), it is not as critical to the actual founding of this nation as the modern Religious Right would have us believe. Fea’s own opinion, however, seems to be of an affirmative nature, though not without equivocation:

I have suggested that those who believe that the United States is a Christian nation have a good chunk of American history on their side. … [Yet] it would be difficult to suggest, based upon the formal responses to British taxation between 1765 and 1774, that the leaders of the American Revolution were driven by overtly Christian values. … But when it comes to the individual states, today’s defenders of Christian America have a compelling case. Nearly all of the state constitutions recognized God and Christianity, and many required officeholders to affirm Christian theology.

I will finish this review with the final words of the book:

If there was one universal idea that all the founders believed about the relationship between religion and the new nation, it was that religion was necessary in order to sustain an ordered and virtuous republic.

In a sound-bite culture where public figures appeal to the past to score political points or advance a particular cultural agenda, it is my hope that his book might help Americans to think deeply about the role that Christianity played in the American founding. We owe it to ourselves to be informed citizens who can speak intelligently and thoughtfully about our nation’s past.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 110 other followers