Book Review: The Language Environment of First Century Judaea

languagejudaeaTitle: The Language Environment of First Century Judaea: Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels – Volume Two

Editors: Randall Buth and R. Steven Notley

Series: Jewish and Christian Perspectives 26

Bibliographic info: vi + 421 pp. + 34 pp. of indices

Publisher: Brill, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Brill for the review copy.

It is a common notion in New Testament scholarship–one that is practically accepted as an axiomatic truth–that in first century Palestine there were two languages in common use, Aramaic and Greek, with the Hebrew language being limited to the learned religious teachers. This volume challenges this common assumption, drawing upon the increasing linguistic data, such as from those working in the field of Mishnaic Hebrew, that points towards the conclusion that Hebrew was also in common use in the first century.

This volume consists of eleven studies total, with the first five looking at sociolinguistic issues from a trilingual framework. The first is from Guido Baltes and focuses on why the two-language paradigm of Greek and Aramaic was able to garner a consensus during the nineteenth century, despite the dearth of data available up until the twentieth century. Baltes also contributes the second study, this time on the epigraphic evidence of the New Testament era. He concludes that only a trilingual model can properly account for the evidence and states that “the assumption of the death of spoken Hebrew after the Babylonian exile can no longer be upheld in view of the epigraphic evidence” (62).

Next up, Randall Buth and Chad Pierce examine the common claim of Greek lexica, such as BDAG, that ‘Eβραϊστί can be used to mean Aramaic. They do this by examining the LXX, Jewish pseudepigrapha, Josephus, Philo, and the New Testament. The conclusion they reach is that such a definition is not defensible in light of the data:

The theory that ‘Eβραϊστί means “Aramaic” is weak and ultimately untenable because the only potential examples are three poorly understood toponyms in one Greek author (the Gospel of John). . . . A question can be posed to the title of the article: What do ‘Eβραϊστί and Συριστί mean in the first century? Answer: ‘Eβραϊστί means “Hebrew,” Συριστί means “Aramaic,” and no, ‘Eβραϊστί does not ever appear to mean “Aramaic” in attested texts during the Second Temple and Greco-Roman periods. (108-09)

Marc Turnage then provides a study which, by exploring the archaeological, sociological, and historical data, contends that the common opinion of Galilee being a region that had recently been converted and Judaized is, in fact, erroneous. The next study is from Serge Ruzer who focuses upon how early Syriac authors seemingly disagreed with the idea that Jesus was an Aramaic and non-Hebrew speaker.

The next three studies focus more on literary issues in a trilingual framework. Daniel Machiela then explores translation in the late Second Temple period, showing that Hebrew-to-Aramaic translations are largely a post-New Testament occurrence and that, in certain cases at least, they occurred outside of Israel.

Randall Buth then provides another study, with this one looking at how to distinguish Hebrew from Aramaic in Semitized Greek texts. One of the conclusions I found to be particularly interesting is how his findings undercut the likelihood that the Gospel of Mark had an Aramaic source:

Finally, if there is a Semitic source layered somewhere behind Mark’s less-than-natural Greek, that source tests as Hebrew rather than Aramaic. This means that [Maurice] Casey’s Aramaic reconstructions of Markan narrative are not natural Aramaic of the period, but, ironically, look like a translation from Hebrew. (307)

The last study in this section is from R. Steven Notley. Here he examines non-Septuagintal Hebraisms in the Gospel of Luke. It is commonly thought that Luke collected a lot of his phraseology from the Septuagint, but according to Notley there are “numerous non-Septuagintal Hebraisms” that are present in Luke that could not have come from the Septuagint. Furthermore, if these Hebraisms don’t show up in the other Synoptic Gospels then it lends credence to the idea that Luke had an independent Hebraic-Greek source (“the evidence suggests that Luke had access to non-canonical sources that were marked by a highly Hebraized Greek” [346]). Notley suggests that the reason these non-Septuagintal Hebraisms are overlooked is because New Testament scholarship “still functions under the outdate nineteenth-century assumption of an Aramaic-only language environment for first-century Judea.”

The final three studies investigate the linguistic milieu by examining specific Gospel texts through a trilingual framework. The first is from R. Steven Notley and Jeffrey Garcia. Here they attempt a philological approach to Jesus’ utilization of the Hebrew Bible in order to connect his teachings directly to the Hebrew Bible. The authors examine the interpretive techniques of five Synoptic pericopae and how they reveal what the language situation looked like in the first century. The pericopae that are examined are: (1) Luke 4:18-19; (2) Matt 11:10; Luke 7:27; (3) Luke 10:25-37; (4) Matt. 21:12-13; Mark 11:11-17; Luke 19:45-46; and (5) Matt. 26:59-65; Mark 14:55-63; Luke 22:66-71.

The next study is David Bivin’s study on Jesus’ πετρος-πετρα wordplay in Matt. 16:18. The apostle’s name was Simon Peter, with Simon being the name he received at birth and Peter being his nickname. Bivin says that πετρος entered the Hebrew language as a proper noun (it is attested as a name in Hebrew), and is a translation of Peter’s native Hebrew nickname פטרוס. Additionally, πετρα also entered the Hebrew language as פטרא (and is found in Rabbinic literature). Thus, “it is possible” that the Hebrew words for πετρος and πετρα were available in Jesus’ day. So while most commentators and exegetes on this text assume that it is an Aramaic wordplay, Bivin concludes that it is actually a Hebrew wordplay (the wordplay is on פטרא and פטרוס). Additionally, Bivin says: “One can capture the flavor of Jesus’ statement with the translation, ‘You are the Rock, and on this bedrock, I will build my community’” (392), however it is “very difficult” to know if the πετρα in Matt. 16:18 refers to Peter himself or Peter’s declaration.

The final study is again from Randall Buth and it tackles Jesus’ cry from the cross in Matt. 27:46 and Mark 15:34. This was a fascinating piece of scholarship that helps explain why Matthew and Mark vary in their portrayal of Jesus’ death-cry.

All in all, this was an interesting collection of studies. Having accurate knowledge of the language milieu of the first century is crucial for a more precise understanding of the world of early Roman Galilee, the New Testament, and nascent Christianity. The articles in this volume show the insights that a trilingual framework can have for the study of Second Temple Judaism and Christian origins. They also demonstrate a variety of other things such as how current Mishnaic Hebrew scholarship can contribute to New Testament studies. But the most important facet of this collection of studies is how they underline the value that language studies have for Gospel scholarship.


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.


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