On October 19th, my wife and I went on a date to go see the Dead Sea Scrolls on their last weekend in Boston at the Boston Science Museum. I am pretty romantic, don’t you think? Well, the science museum is the site of our first date so there is something romantic about it for us.
Anyhow, it was a wonderful day. The exhibit was PACKED, and not that well organized. However, it was great to see so many items from antiquity. Sadly, I was unable to snap pictures of the scrolls themselves, but the altars, pillar figurines, and jugglets were fair game. So, without further ado, here are the pictures I took. The highlight of these images were royal seals and pottery fragments with writing on them. Enjoy!
I hope you enjoy these images.
Logos 5 is alive!
I honestly did not expect a new version of Logos to come out anytime soon, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that a new version was set to launch on Nov. 1. Recently I was contacted by a representative of the company to do an advanced product review. After using various forms of this software over the last 18 years, I was happy to oblige with this request.
A brief disclaimer:
Version 5 overwrites version 4; therefore, I can not do a side by side comparison because I only run Logos on one computer, my laptop.
Visually not much has changed between version 4 and version 5, although to my eyes it appears that the font and the drop-down menus are a bit cleaner. While V.4 and V.5 is near visually indistinguishable, what is now under the hood is much more powerful. Version 4 ate up a lot of system memory; however, version 5 is less greedy. In the last version of Logos, I was on the lower end of system requirements. When performing simple tasks Logos would often hang and take a few seconds to carry out that activity. Version 5 is more efficient and the same tasks run much smoother on my system.
System requirements usually get raised with newer software incarnations. However, I find that my long in the tooth laptop actually runs Logos 5 better than it did Logos 4. This feat alone makes upgrading to the newest version worth it. I can only imagine how well this would work if I had a faster computer with more RAM.
New Resources and Features:
When Logos made a leap forward from V3 to V.4 several new resources were added to their base packages. These resources were great. My favorite new resources during that update were mostly visual and those based on languages (examples include multiple LXX texts some with morphologies, Crowley’s Aramaic Papyri, etc.). Well, Logos V.5 also comes with a host of new resources.
I am less thrilled with the new resources that are packaged with this update, but I might be in the minority. These new resources likely will excite those that are into systematic theology or dated (but historically important) exegetical works, but overall the new resources are of little value to me. Also, preachers likely will enjoy the new sermon helps; however, this feature does not meet my personal needs.
The one exception to the above paragraph is the various Lexham language products that Logos has been developing over the last couple of years. I am thrilled that there is a BHS with a new morphology (Lexham Hebrew Bible). While it doesn’t come with the Silver edition of Logos (it is available on Gold and higher), I plan on splurging on the new Bible Sense Lexicon module. This resource is AMAZING in that it explores semantic domains in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, which is a rarity among lexicons. I am convinced that this is the direction that lexicons must take, and I am pleased that Logos is dedicated to creating resources with this approach. I know some of the individuals that worked on this particular resource, and they have been trained by one of the best Hebrew linguists working in the field today.
Searching relationships between words is a bit more streamlined and enhanced. A new feature in V.5’s search capabilities is the clause search. This will allow exegetes the opportunity see how words function together in context. This is a wonderful feature!
I also appreciate that when the user attempts to conduct any search query, examples of how to format their inquiry strings is provided. This will help a more casual user get the most out of their software.
I really enjoy the user experience of Logos 5. This version update is not a quantum leap from version 4; however, it represents a welcomed incremental improvement from the previous version. This product is a winner with increased speeds, new data sets, and a slightly cleaner interface. I highly recommend users of version 4 to take the plunge and download version 5.
(Obligatory Disclaimer: This software was given to me by Logos Bible Software free of charge. I am in no way affiliated with Logos, and I am not obligated to give this product a favorable review. I have been asked to provide an honest review based on my own experience with the product.)
My eye was correct. It turns out that Logos has employed a new font (Source Sans Pro) in this version. An interesting article on this font can be found here
I love it when good scholarly resources become available to the general public for free. When the sources are digital and open access, then I am a happy man. So in the spirit of that sentiment, I thought I would share a few resources with you folks.
Duke University has made their dissertations available to download in a convenient PDF format. The scope of this literature is wide! So there is something for everyone.
Baylor also has made their dissertations available to download. Apparently this is old news, since I ran across a post about this over onJohn Andersons’ blog (written back in 2009); however, it is new news to me.
A new open access theological journal has recently dropped. This new resource is called the Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament. If you make your rounds in the biblio-blogging community, then you will notice a few familiar names like John Hobbins and Michael Heiser. (H.T. Mitchell Powell)
The final set of open source resources were put together by Charles Halton. On his excellent blog, Awilum, Charles created a tongue and cheek M.A. program cobbled together from free open courses on iTunes U and various university web pages (examples include classes from Yale, Harvard, and NYU).
Happy reading and listening!
This week I began to translate and write a small commentary on Ps. 9 for an upcoming class that I will be teaching. Psalm 9 is an interesting psalm that focuses on the rule of YHVH as it relates to justice. The psalmist rejoices and celebrates the execution of YHVH’s wondrous deeds that he enumerates throughout the text.
The rule of YHVH is symbolized by the throne of YHVH (cf. 1 Kgs 16:11). This may be similar to how Americans refer to the office of the president or the desk of the president. The desk or office symbolizes the actions carried out by the occupant of that space. However, I feel that some English translations obscure the literary quality of the language found throughout Psalm 9 by how they render the verb ישׁב, especially at it relates to the throne of YHVH.
The word ישׁב (yashav) can be translated as inhabit, settle, marry, crouch, meet, restore, reigns, or sit. In my view, this Hebrew word should be translated as sit throughout this psalm. Using sit throughout the Psalm reinforces a concept that is first introduced in verse 4, which is the notion of YHVH working justice from his throne. When this rendering is carried throughout the passage it will continue to recall the posture of YHVH in relation to his place of rule.
ישׁב is used three times within this psalm (verses 4, 7, and 11), but is handled inconsistently in many versions. Below I have included the Hebrew text, some not so stellar readings, and finally my rendering, which I feel is more preferable to the other English versions listed.
Ps. 9:4 (Qal perfect 2ms)
BHS: כִּֽי־עָ֭שִׂיתָ מִשְׁפָּטִ֣י וְדִינִ֑י יָשַׁ֥בְתָּ לְ֝כִסֵּ֗א שׁוֹפֵ֥ט צֶֽדֶק׃
NLT: For you have judged in my favor; from the throne you have judged with fairness.
NET: For you defended my just cause; from your throne you pronounce a just decision.
My Translation: For you worked justice (for) me and my legal claim. You sat on a throne [as] one who judges [with] righteousness.
Ps. 9:7 (Qal imperfect 3ms)
BHS: וַֽ֭יהוָה לְעוֹלָ֣ם יֵשֵׁ֑ב כּוֹנֵ֖ן לַמִּשְׁפָּ֣ט כִּסְאֹֽו׃
NASB95 – But the LORD abides forever; He has established His throne forever.
NIV84 – The LORD reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment.
TNIV – The LORD reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment.
NKJV – But the LORD shall endure forever; He has prepared His throne for judgment.
My Translation: But YHVH forever sits. He established justice from his throne.
Ps. 9:11 (Qal participle 2ms)
BHS: זַמְּר֗וּ לַ֭יהוָה יֹשֵׁ֣ב צִיּ֑וֹן הַגִּ֥ידוּ בָ֝עַמִּ֗ים עֲלִֽילוֹתָֽיו׃
NASB95 – Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion; Declare among His people his deeds.
NLT – Sing praises to the LORD who reigns in Jerusalem. Tell the world about his unforgettable deeds.
NKJV – Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion! Declare his deeds among the peoples.
NRSV – Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion. Declare his deeds among the peoples.
My Translation – Sing to YHVH, [who is] sitting [in] Zion. Declare among the nations his deeds.
Reigns is the most appropriate reading offered by the well-known versions listed above. Reigns certainly gets the idea of YHVH’s rule across, which appears to be intended by the author. Yet, I find it unsatisfactory.
The majority of folks who read the Bible in translation do so because they don’t have a choice. Those without access to the original languages would have no clue that the repetition of this verb ישׁב exists in the text by reading most English versions. By using words like dwell, abide, endure, or even reigns, the translator betrays the audience and symbolism of the text that is centered on the concept of YHVH ruling in the posture of a king on his throne. I don’t think that our western culture is too far removed from the symbolic currency of a royal throne that we need to obscure the seated or enthronement language with our translations.
Most of the semantic ranges were taken from the Dictionary of Biblical Languages – Hebrew
This post is a continuation of two earlier blog entries (here and here). Its purpose is to help facilitate the reading of handwritten Hebrew manuscripts for intermediate students of the language. Psalm 113 serves as the subject of this comparison.
For this blog entry, I compare the Codex Leningrad text of the BHS with a beautifully illustrated vellum manuscript (Ms. Opp. 776, fol. 45 verso, Germany, 1471.). This text currently resides in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Originally this manuscript came from the collection of David Ben Abraham Oppenheimer (1664-1736). Oppenheimer was the Chief Rabbi of Prague, and a well regarded bibliophile. He is said to have collected 780 manuscripts and 4220 printed books in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Aramaic (For more information about Oppenheimer and his collection at Oxford visit this page).
Note about the organization of this comparison:
To make this comparison easier for the beginning student, I have manipulated the BHS text to follow the line reading of Ms. Opp. 776. Also, when Ms. Opp. 776 deviates from the reading of the Codex Leningrad of the BHS, I demarcate this difference by typing the variations in a red font.
1 הַ֥לְלוּ יָ֨הּ׀ (Sentence found in the banner above animals)
הַ֭לְלוּ עַבְדֵ֣י יְהוָ֑ה הַֽ֝לְלוּ אֶת־שֵׁ֥ם יְהוָֽה׃ 2 יְהִ֤י שֵׁ֣ם יְהוָ֣ה מְבֹרָ֑ךְ מע
מֵֽ֝עַתָּ֗ה וְעַד־עוֹלָֽם׃ 3 מִמִּזְרַח־שֶׁ֥מֶשׁ ועַד־מְבוֹאֹ֑ו מְ֝הֻלָּ֗ל
שֵׁ֣ם יְהוָֽה׃ 4 מבורך רָ֖ם עַל־כָּל־גּוֹיִ֥ם׀ יְהוָ֑ה עַ֖ל הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם כְּבוֹדֹֽו׃
5 מִ֭י כַּיהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֵ֑ינוּ הַֽמַּגְבִּיהִ֥י לָשָֽׁבֶת׃ 6 הַֽמַּשְׁפִּילִ֥י לִרְא֑וֹת
בַּשָּׁמַ֥יִם וּבָאָֽרֶץ׃ 7 מְקִֽימִ֣י מֵעָפָ֣ר דָּ֑ל מֵֽ֝אַשְׁפֹּ֗ת יָרִ֥ים
אֶבְיֽוֹן׃ 8 לְהוֹשִׁיבִ֥י עִם־נְדִיבִ֑ים עִ֝֗ם נְדִיבֵ֥י עַמֹּֽו׃
9 מֽוֹשִׁיבִ֨י׀ עֲקֶ֬רֶת הַבַּ֗יִת
אֵֽם־הַבָּנִ֥ים שְׂמֵחָ֗ה הַֽלְלוּ־יָֽהּ׃
How to begin:
When learning to read a new script (or a text from an unfamiliar hand), the student should begin by comparing the familiar with the unfamiliar. The student should start her comparison letter by letter. Then she should begin comparing the passages word by word. Eventually, the writing style of the scribe will become more familiar to the student, and she will be able to read with greater speed and more confidence.
Take note of some of the following script and textual issues from this comparison:
- Ms. Opp 776 does not use the tetragammatron (the word often rendered as Yahweh/YHVH). Ms. Opp 776 employs the use of three points that form a pyramid instead of using the word יהוה (YHVH). I am unfamiliar with this particular written reflex, but it is undoubtedly theologically motivated. Once I finish researching this topic, I will write a post detailing my findings.
- The aleph in Ms. Opp. 776 does not look like a “typical” squared Aramaic aleph used in modern editions. I had a difficult time finding an aleph that resembled the aleph in this manuscript. However, in studying a series of script drawings created by Frank Moore Cross Jr., I believe I found a match. Apparently the scribe responsible for our manuscript writes his alephs like those written in a semicursive script at Qumran, 6Qp8 (c.50-51). See figure 1 for a script comparison.
- The first line of Ms. Opp. 776 ends with מע. The presence of these two additional letters appears to be a mistake. My best guess is that they arose from a scribal copying error. Notice that the first word in line 2 also begins with the same two letters.
- In verse 3 of the BHS, the preposition עד does not have a prefixed vav as it does in Ms. Opp. 776. The reading found in our manuscript is supported by Codex Alexandria (5th Century CE) and Codex Veronensis (6th Century CE).
- The 3rd word (מבורך) of Ms. Opp. 776 line 3 is not in the BHS. מבורך is a pual masculine singular passive participle, which means be praised. The verb does occur in verse 2. Interestingly, this word is also preceded by שם יהוה. This may be an example of a scribal error that arose from a scribe duplicating a part of an earlier line due to its similarities.
- The verb “to bless” is spelled differently in the BHS than it is in Ms. Opp. 776. Our manuscript uses the full or plene spelling, which is helpful given that it is an unpointed text. The Leningrad Codex spells the word to bless without the “reading letter.” (Ms. Opp 776 – מבורך vs. LC – מְבֹרָךְ)
In 1QIsaa, col. XXXIII, the tetragammatron is replaced with four horizontally lined dots. For a photograph of this scroll see: Emmanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible
(2nd ed. Minneapolis, MN.: Fortress Press, 1992), 383, Plate 4.
 Frank Moore Cross, Jr., “The Development of the Jewish Scripts,” in The Bible and The Ancient Near East: Essays in Honor of William Foxwell Albright (ed. G. Ernest Wright; NY: Doubleday, 1961), 133-202.
 Frank Moore Cross, Jr., “The Development of the Jewish Scripts,” 149.
Dr. Brent A. Strawn is an Associate Professor of Old Testament at Emory University in the Chandler School of Theology. He is widely published, and also happens to be one of the co-editors of the Common English Bible. Dr. Strawn has been kind enough to address some of my questions about the Common English Bible as they relate to the translation of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible.
For the English speaking world there are a plethora of translations of the Bible available, why the need for another translation? What does the CEB bring to the table that other translations do not?
Several things come to mind. First and foremost is the natural change that happens to all languages over time. Our parlance is far from Shakespeare’s of course (and thus from the KJV, which is contemporaneous), but it is also far from the language used in the RSV of the mid-20th century. Every so often, then, we need new translations to reflect changes in our language. This leads to a second, not unrelated reason (and an answer to your second question), the concern of the CEB with “common English” (the title says it all!). By this title we mean only that the language used is normal, everyday English (at least of the North American variety; the translators and reading groups were all from North America, not, say, the UK or other parts of the English-speaking world) and common also in the sense that it is highly accessible. Indeed, attention to reading level, and a reading level that meets the needs of the vast majority of English speakers, whatever their age (or even their first language), is a distinctive contribution of the CEB. Put simply, many readers—even adult, native English speakers—do not feel comfortable with the reading level of many other translations because the language used in those translations is too high or formal or “non-common.” The CEB helps correct that problem. Finally, let me add that the CEB brings to the table the largest and most diverse (in terms of denominational/theological tradition, ethnicity, and gender) team of translators and reading consultants ever assembled.
What is the translation philosophy of the CEB (i.e. formal equivalent, dynamic equivalent, or free translation)?
Translation philosophy and practice is a moving target. One person’s formal equivalent is another’s dynamic equivalent and perhaps yet another’s borderline paraphrase! Internally we often used the phrase “functional equivalent” which is not in your list above, but would correspond most closely, in your categories, to that of dynamic equivalence. I think it is safe to say, however, that at times, and when appropriate, translators “leaned” (but no more than that!) toward the freer end of the functional/dynamic equivalent spectrum. The result is something that is more dynamic than, say, KJV/RSV/NRSV/ESV, but far more constrained (by the original) than freer translations like the NLT or paraphrases like the Message. This is a difficult balancing act, but I think the CEB got it right more often than not.
The CEB is billed as a fresh translation, and not an updating of a previous version. I would imagine that means that your translators are not tethered to a particular reading, and that they are free to explore different translation options. Are there any CEB renderings in the Old Testament that readers of other modern English versions might be surprised by?
Your surmise is correct. Unlike, say the NRSV (or even the KJV!), there was no preexisting translation that the CEB was beholden to, that we were updating, revising, etc. That said, translators were free to consult any and all preexisting translations, if they so desired. I did that frequently, not only in my translation work but also in my editorial work for the CEB. Such use was more sporadic and random, I suspect, than systematic so there is no one (or two or three) “relay translations” (in the technical sense). Instead, the CEB has truly fresh translations from the original texts with the full benefit of the latest in biblical scholarship as that is manifested in other translations or in scholarly commentaries. To speak directly to your question, though, yes, there are a host of fresh renderings in the OT that I’m sure readers will be surprised by, but hopefully in the best and most-pleasing way! There are too many to list here, but 1 Kings 19:12 jumps immediately to mind. In the NRSV what Elijah hears is the “sound of sheer silence”; in the NIV, it is a “gentle whisper”; in the KJV/NKJV, it’s a “still small voice.” The CEB translates as follows: “After the earthquake, there was a fire. But the LORD wasn’t in the fire. After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet.”
That’s quite different than most other translations and the surprise comes not only in the word-choices but also in the punctuation. The result is something very fresh and evocative, not to mention accurate.
Do you see any unique challenges specifically related to translating the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible into a modern readable style?
Translation is difficult work period. I don’t know if one language is more difficult than another per se, though each presents its own set of problems. The lack of correspondence between the English verbal system, which is temporally based on “tenses,” vs. the Hebrew verbal system, which is not based on tense, is well known and probably the largest difficulty facing translators of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible into English.
Were you directly involved with translating any Old Testament books? If so which book(s) did you work on?
I was on the translation team for Deuteronomy. I was also academic editor for 11 books of the Old Testament (Leviticus, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, Daniel).
How large was the team of scholars working specifically on the Old Testament?
Large! I don’t have the figures in front of me, but the translation team total was about 120. The majority of that belongs to the Old Testament and Old Testament Apocrypha.
Metaphors from another language, culture, and time are notoriously difficult to translate into a new context. I know metaphor and metaphoric theory is an academic interest of yours. Would you mind explaining to my readers how you personally translate Hebrew metaphors, and (if it differs) how the CEB translates Hebrew metaphors?
I don’t have a quick response to this question but, in the main, I wouldn’t treat metaphors any differently, translation-wise, than any other bit of text. That is, in all cases a translator is concerned with adequate understanding of the source language and adequate expression (under the guiding translation theory) of the same in the target language. I will say that in the case of the CEB we paid particular attention to imagistic language. We didn’t want to flatten such language, even though we wanted to translate it.
The last question is not about the CEB, but do you have any future publications that we can expect to see in the future?
I am working on a number of other projects right now, including a number of editorial projects. One of the latter that should appear later this year is an edited collection devoted to the Bible and the study of happiness. That should be fun!
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Strawn for interacting with my questions about his work, and helping us better understand what the CEB is all about. Thank you, Dr. Strawn for your time and input.
You can win a free copy of the CEB to explore on your own, by leaving a comment under this post. For an additional entry into this drawing, make a hyperlink to this post on your personal blog. The winning entry will be drawn the following Monday.
I decided that I would participate in the Common English Bible Blog Tour. This tour is to run from February 22 to May 27. Throughout this period, I plan to compare and discuss renderings found in the CEB with other popular translations. I will then discuss how the translators handled that passage. All of my entries will relate to texts from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. At the end of this process, I hope to provide a solid assessment of this translation.
An Intro to the CEB
I must admit my ignorance of this translation prior to joining the blog tour. Yet, I jumped at the chance to weigh in on its value. I am a bit of a language geek, and translation choice/philosophy is interesting to me.
According to the CEB website one of the chief aims of this versions was to “make the Bible accessible to a broad range of people; it’s written at a comfortable level for over half of all English readers. As the translators did their work, reading specialists working with seventy-seven reading groups from more than a dozen denominations review the texts to ensure a smooth and natural reading experience.”
My first impression is that the English of this text is fairly accessible. It actually reminds me of the HCSB in some places, but I’m curious to see if this impression holds true with a more systematic evaluation. However, this translation appears to be more inclusive of other theological traditions.
Would you like a copy of the CEB?
Each week during the CEB Blog Tour, I will give away a free softcover edition of the CEB to one of my readers. For entry into this weekly drawing, you will need to post a new comment each week into the latest blog entry that contains the blue CEB Blog Tour logo. If you are a blogger, then you can receive an additional entry to win this translation by hyperlinking the current CEB highlighted posts into your blog.
Best of Luck!
John Barton, ed. The Biblical World. 2 vols. New York, NY.: Routledge, 2002. (1064 pages)
The Biblical World (henceforth BW) is a two volume reference work that is filled with diverse articles related to the Bible and its academic study. This work is divided into eight categories (The Bible, Genres, Documents, History, Institutions, Biblical Figures, Religious Ideas, The Bible Today). Not all categories receive equal amounts of ink, but that is to be expected in a work like this.
Reviewing a work like BW is an interesting task. Inevitably there will be articles that don’t line up with a reviewer’s specializations, but that is a testament to the diversity of topics covered in a collection. There are discussions of genre, art, epigraphy, interpretation and more within this reference work. In my view, there is not a weak article to be found in this set. However, it would be too exhaustive of a task to review each article found within these volumes individually. In the future, I hope to highlight a couple of the more unique contributions.
This review examines three different aspects of BW in order to determine its value. The first aspect relates to the articles’ quality. Ultimately a reference work is of little value unless the entries are well written and carefully researched. The second aspect explores the uniqueness of a book’s content. There are many reference works in the market, and each text is jockeying for a greater piece of market share and shelf space. The third aspect takes a look at the text’s layout. Form and function are interconnected, and it is an important element to consider.
I am extremely pleased by the articles in BW. The participating scholars in this project are well qualified to write their assigned articles. Most of the contributors are internationally respected and thoroughly accomplished. The following list is a short sampling of the topics and expertise on display in this two volume reference set.
- Death and Afterlife by John J. Collins
- Wisdom by Katharine Dell
- Texts and Versions: the Old Testament by Carmel McCarthy
- The Dead Sea Scrolls by George J. Brooke
- The Cairo Genizah by Stefan C. Reif
- The Age of the Exile by Joseph Blenkinsopp
- Israel under Persia and Greece by Lester L. Grabbe
- Hebrew and Aramaic Languages by John Huehnergard and Jo Ann Hackett
- Purity by Gordon Wenham
If you are remotely familiar with the secondary literature of biblical studies you will surely recognize the names in that sampled list. Each contributor wrote much larger treatments directly or indirectly on the topics covered.
Examples of past scholarly engagement:
Katharine Dell has spent the better part of her career mining Israel’s sapiential literature as evidenced by her books: Get Wisdom, Get Insight: An Introduction to Israel’s the Wisdom Literature.; Seeking a Life that Matters: Wisdom for Today from the Book of Proverbs.; The Book of Job As Skeptical Literature.; The Book of Proverbs in Social and Theological Context. As expected, Dell’s entry on Wisdom is fantastic!
Gordon Wenham covered the topic of purity when he authored his commentary on Leviticus in the NICOT series, and again in his work on Old Testament ethics, Story as Torah. Wenham’s essay is wonderful and an extension of what he has already authored.
Dell and Wenham are just two examples, but they illustrate the competence of those selected to contribute in this two volume set.
While attempting to determine a reference work’s uniqueness, I compared BW with other reference books of a relatively similar size and similar target audience on the market. Specifically I looked at the Oxford History of the Biblical World (edited by Michael Coogan), the Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation also edited by Barton, and The Dictionary of Biblical Criticism and Interpretation (edited by Stanley E. Porter). The previously mentioned books contained similar types of articles that are also in BW. However, BW had more variety to offer the reader.
The Oxford History of the Biblical World and Routledge’s BW both have several articles dedicated to various time periods in ancient Israel’s history. However, BW explores more than time periods related to biblical contexts. BW also has great discussions on language, writing, and inscriptions. Both BW and the Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation discuss genre and interpretation, but BW also discusses key biblical figures such as Jesus, David, and Moses or various religious concepts/ ideological concerns.
Also, a dictionary should sprinkle in articles that are not typically found in other dictionaries if it is to find a niche in the ever growing bible reference market. I especially found the Religious Ideas sections in this work to be quite unique among its peers.
It was nice to find articles focusing on Salvation in Jewish Thought (by Dan Cohn-Sherbok) and Salvation in Christian Thought (by Andrew Chester). Most dictionaries don’t have two articles dealing with the same concept from different theological perspectives. I also appreciate the articles on Jewish Bible Translation (by Leonard J. Greenspoon) and Christian Bible Translation (by Henry Wansbrough). Many works do not have articles that make a reader contemplate the role of translation history as it is related theological bias. The juxtaposition of these two articles is informative for a reader.
While not every entry is totally unique, BW does have a few unusual entries, as mentioned above. However, there is some overlap in article types between BW and other similar reference works. Yet, one would be hard pressed to find all of the articles in BW assembled under one set without spending quite a bit more (and using more shelf space).
The choice of annotation style is the only real problem I have with this book. I know of several dictionaries/encyclopedias that use endnotes. Endnotes are not preferable to footnotes. Most of the articles in BW are relatively lengthy, and flipping to the end of the entry just to look up a note is annoying. I abhor endnotes! However, this is not a deal breaker.
I would have liked to see is a bibliography for further research. However, I suppose a reader can surmise the most important texts by reading who the author interacts with the most in the endnotes; however, I do feel that this was an important oversight.
This is a handsome book. The text is in a singular block, and it is interspersed with several charts, black & white photos, and drawings. I found that the images selected for each article worked well with the content of the text, and were tastefully inserted.
I am very pleased with this set. John Barton and Routledge should be commended for creating a usable text that explores as many topics as they have covered in a relatively small amount of space. I am pleased with the dearth of information covered in a relatively small work. I enthusiastically recommend this reference set to any college student or seminarian looking to gain a better understanding of the biblical world and the academic pursuit of biblical studies.
(Obligatory Disclaimer: This review copy was given to me by Routledge free of charge. I am in no way affiliated with Routledge, and I am not obligated to give this book a favorable review.)
The Christian/Jewish Canon is broken into three sections: The Hebrew Bible, The Apocrypha, and The New Testament.
 This section deals with various manuscripts and textual traditions.
Stanley Porter, ed. Dictionary of Biblical Criticism and Interpretation. New York, NY. Routledge, 2009. (406 pages)
I’d like to thank Routledge for sending me a handful of books to review. Over the next few weeks, I plan to post those reviews.
Of all of the books that Routledge was kind enough to send me to review, I looked forward to examining this title the most. Sadly, this text did not live up to my own expectations, which may or may not be fair to the authors or its editors. However, I have put my own disappointment aside in order to judge this book on its own terms. It is important to review the book the authors actually wrote, not the one we wished they wrote.
The Dictionary of Biblical Criticism and Interpretation (henceforth, DBCI) contains articles by several leading scholars in their fields. This dictionary discusses biblical scholars/theologians (and their work), various methodologies, types of criticisms, and literary genres. The book is ambitious in its selection of topics, which may have been to its own detriment (this will be discussed in further detail below).
Stanley Porter articulates the purpose and aim of this book in the introduction with the following statement,
“The articles contained herein are not meant to be definitive in any absolute or encompassing sense, but to provide means of access. This volume was designed also to overcome the kind of contemporary critical introspection that result in failure to contextualize the contemporary within the broader sweep of history . . . This volume is designed to provide a historical methodological introductions to such areas. The inclusions of a number of individual interpreters – several of whom are still alive and writing – is designed to bring such critical method to life in terms of the work of individuals who have made significant and what appear to be lasting contributions to the discipline.” (Pages 2-3, emphasis mine)
In my view, several important topics do not seem to garner enough authorial attention. The articles could have been longer while still meeting the editorial expectation of “easy access.” I personally found the length of articles to be disappointing, and not nearly helpful enough. The entries for Thomas Aquinas, James Barr, Ray Brown, Karl Barth, John Calvin, and Origen are each roughly a page long. Walter Brueggemann’s, Hans-Georg Gadamer’s, and Jerome’s entries are roughly a half a page long (including bibliography). Most Wikipedia entries are longer than the articles found in this book. Also, other reference works cover many of the topics in this dictionary with greater depth than DBCI (while still serving as an easy access point into the topic for the average reader).
Another disappointment comes at the end of most article entries. Each article ends with a small bibliographical section that one can consult for further reading. However, the lean bibliographies hurt the book’s value as an enduring reference work. While an article can be purposely terse, reference works should contain more robust bibliographies, especially if the articles are meant to be an entry point into a topic. In my view, the reader should be pointed to the most important and comprehensive treatments of a topic.
An example of a tragically incomplete bibliographic entry is found in the article on the Dead Sea Scrolls. In this article there is no reference to the definitive multi-volume treatment of the DSS, Discoveries in the Judean Desert! Such an oversight is shocking. Other examples exist, but this is the most egregious example of bibliographic opportunities lost.
Despite the above mentioned criticisms of this volume, I believe that this book has value. The articles are well written. The contributors are well qualified to discuss their subjects. Yet, DBCI’s greatest value may be in filling the need for scholarly literature written for a popular audience, not the academy.
Audiences that would most benefit from this text:
This text book could be used as a supplementary reference work for a high school religion class or an undergraduate class about to be baptized into the waters of critical biblical scholarship. An interested lay person might also benefit from the treatments in this dictionary. If I were to use this book in a classroom setting, I would feel the need to heavily supplement the text with more bibliographic information.
The above mentioned audience should treat this book as launching pad for more in-depth research – a sort of papered Wikipedia that has been more carefully vetted for accuracy. I would not recommend this text for a graduate student, because there are other reference works that will meet the needs of that audience better than DBCI. However, for the others mentioned above, I believe this small volume could fill a very particular and limited niche. In the end, I am not overly impressed with DBCI, and I think other dictionaries may be a better value.
Tomorrow On Monday, I will post my review on another Routledge title, The Biblical World edited by John Barton. Spoiler Alert: I really liked that text!
(Obligatory Disclaimer: This review copy was given to me by Routledge free of charge. I am in no way affiliated with Routledge, and I am not obligated to give this book a favorable review.)
While some might interpret a comparison between a vetted scholarly publication and Wikipedia
as a pejorative statement, that is not my intent. Stanley Porter’s first mentioned aim of creating an approachable entry point into a topic is similar to how many students and some scholars use Wikipedia
often functions as an orienting source that points readers to other resources. In my view, the vetting process of this book is more thorough and trustworthy than the standards found on Wikipedia
 There are some exceptions to this observation. Many of the biblical genre articles, such as the ones authored by Richard Hess and Kent Sparks, have beefier bibliographies than some of the other categories of articles in this volume.
 I know George Brooke, the author of this article, is quite familiar with DJD. In fact, in the soon to be reviewed Biblical World, Brooke adds DJD to his bibliography on the Dead Sea Scrolls. I can’t explain the reason for its omission in this article, other than it was just an oversight.