A Spiritual Father introduced me to this title. I had a gift card and thought, 'What the heck'? I do not regret the purchase. However, I am fortunate -I think- to approach the book as a professor of Scholasticism (Byzantine and Latin) and teacher of patristics and ancient Liturgy. Hence, this review is meant to aid the discerning Christian with discombobulating series of facts that challenge the believer.
"Believer" means: (1.) Fundamentalist Christian (2.) Orthodox Christian (3.) Roman Catholic. I assume -for the review- that the "orthodox" or "conservative" members of these three "groups" seek an "inspired text" and search out "infallible Scriptures." I hope to provide possible strategies to read this book without doing violence to the facts (and even trying to accommodate the consensus or near-consensus hypotheses among professional biblicists).
CHAPTERS 1-2: Fortunately, most people will easily engage the succinct and well written introduction, which gives a perspective or jumping-off-point to plunge into the heavy and complex world of biblical theology.
CHAPTER 3: Rumblings of Discontent:
The first challenge comes when Timothy Michael Law (hereafter, TML) obliquely presents us with an underlying problem for all three groups of "believers." IF the Hebrew is the "inspired" text, then most Christians (Greek and Latin speaking) and their celebrated teachers (e.g. Athanasius and Augustine) used Greek(-based) texts called the Septuagint (aka LXX) during the earliest centuries. Given Fundamentalist, Orthodox, and Catholic suspicions of Jews (historically and theologically), combined with a NT, Pauline, and Apostolic-Fathers prejudice against the Jews, can their writings be supposed to be incorrupt? How can Fundamentalists and Catholic scholars privilege Hebrew Masoretic texts (aka M Text), if in other ways Jews were universally considered without the Holy Spirit? If post-6th century Jews, rarely appreciated among Christians, are editors and continuators of admittedly late-medieval Hebrew texts (until the dead sea scrolls), then why would a Christian presume this to be the inspired text? Christian historical prejudices aside, the author gives a fascinating example, where the Old Latin (vetus) of the LXX and Samaritan Pentateuch agree on Mt. Gerezim (Dt. 27:4) as the sight God commanded for an altar. Someone, like Masoretes, likely edited out Gezirim from the text for the same reasons that Jesus was questioned on the issue by the Samaritan woman in the New Testament (aka NT) (Jn. 4;21).
PROBLEM 1: Should we be disturbed that God's word can be lost or hidden within a plethora of manuscripts? ANSWER: No, 2 Kings 22:8 already affirmed Israel's ability to lose God's word and to rediscover it generations later in the Temple. Orthodox Christians are likely those most happy to live in this atmosphere of agnosticism, since they have not been historically obsessed with modern psychological needs for a definitive "inspired" text." "Tradition" typically guards (even if in sundry ways) the inspired content.
PROBLEM 2: If it is impossible to argue with certitude "the infallible/inspired text" what's the use? This -especially for Orthodox- simply refers them back to living Tradition. As Moses 23:3 has Jesus acknowledging the synodal decisions of the "chair of Moses," and as Paul, Jude, etc. cited oral tradition and living apocryphal authorities in their own day, the Orthodox accept the living authority of the Greek liturgical pericopes. It canonizes the preferred readings of the LXX (in addition to the NT authors' preferences). This point is mute for Catholics, who adopted the Vulgate by the time of Trent, and then officially post-Trent. Until 1943 Catholics only knew the Vulgate (often based upon a mixture of Greek-Hebrew-Latin traditions) to be without "error," which was clarified to be totally doctrinal in nature on Pius XII. Catholics have no "inspired" text either, only a text that will presumably never lead to heresy (in Latin).
CHAPTER 4: LXX...Where...Why...Who?
The author affirms that little new can be said. Despite the popularity and utility of the "Letter of Aristeas" to explain the genesis of the LXX, it is difficult to attribute patristic reliance on LXX merely to this letter. In fact, the entire Hellenistic Jewish tradition handed on its Scriptures to Greek Christians who canonized it in their exegesis and Liturgy. Though there was an originally inspired M Text, no one can scientifically claim to possess that. Provisionally and contingently, the most ancient and authoritative (for historical Christians) text is its translation into Greek. PROBLEM: How do I know if the M Text or the LXX is more likely to be "infallible" or "inspired." ANSWER: Only an authoritative judge can make this decision. The Christian community that cites Scripture of the OT in the Ecumenical Councils cites the LXX. If antiquity, patristics, and Liturgy are excluded, then there is no one locus/person that can claim for itself a privileged "infallible view" from the perspective of modern scientific biblical theology, codicology, etc. Hence, Fundamentalism will need to place its faith in 2nd century separated Jews for the canon and later Jews for the text of the OT.
CHAPTER 5: Corrupt LXX Translations?
PROBLEM 1: Are mistranslations in the LXX reason not to prioritize it? ANSWER 1: By the same scientific standards (=consistency) the M Text contains universally acknowledged insoluble corruptions. If Jews and Christians traditionally engage these problematic texts to argue for "divine mystery," Orthodox Christians have yet another ace up their sleeve...the liturgical readings and instances of NT writers' preferences and patristic consensus (should it exist) betray the ancient Christian communities' preference on the question. PROBLEM 2: This does not resolve everything: (a.) for no critical edition of the Greek lectionaries exists (b.) and not every liturgical selection is consistent in all the manuscripts! ANSWER 2: This merely requires the authority of the living Tradition (= hierarchs). In this, both the Catholic and Orthodox communions have an adequate authority to speak on behalf of their tradition of worship (Pope and Synod, respectively).
CHAPTERS 6-7: Apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, etc.
Inter-testamental literature and the NT writers' citations from Enoch, Tobit, Maccabees, etc. bring about an insoluble historical problem. Given the lack of a single "Bible" bound as a volume until the 4th century, what other archaeological, historical, etc. proof exists for an infallible canon? PROBLEM 1: How do we know what is God's real word? ANSWER: There is no problem with accepting apocrypha as "inspired" vs. "public revelation." The former is acknowledged in NT citation of Enoch (for example). However, what is suitable for all Christians at all times is only a select canonical collection. Ultimately an authority must decide this. Catholics have the advantage here (strangely omitted in this book - a weakness). The Council of Rome, at the time of Pope Damasus I, reflects the mainline Catholic (and often Orthodox) list of Scriptures. The influence East-West of this Council was not acknowledged in the book (esp. strange when dealing with St. Jerome, who has a relation to this Synod). Were both Orthodox and Catholics comfortable with the liturgical and local synodical heritage to privilege certain books until Trent (1540s-1560s)? Without a liturgical and canonical authority, this problem will prove insoluble.
CHAPTER 8-9: The LXX and NT
The clincher in the author's arguments for the LXX as Scripture compares the LXX to the NT and finds substantial agreement and direct dependence. The author's weakness is his failure to give the reader helpful strategies to decide between the NT citations that differ from the LXX in minor points. If the NT writer avoids the M Text and uses an alternative LXX translation (or even LXX corrected with the M Text or another Hebrew reading) then by what means do I decide between them? One must begin to formulate principles. The author could have punted on this question (a perfectly fine thing to do among historians). However, he suggests that "all readings might be inspired." For the "believer," that text 1 says A = A and text 2 says A = B = -A argues the opposite. To argue that Semites were culturally contradictory, or that Greek speaking Jews or Christians were comfortable with absurdity is not a comforting thought for those who believe that Christianity must have an apologetic value for rational beings. Hence, a series of principles (e.g.,): (1.) the NT reading is the inspired text (2.) the presumption of inspiration of texts not cited in the NT, should go to uniform Greek lectionary witnesses (3.) patristic consensus (4.) the current LXX best reading (though provisional not critical), constitutes a series of provisional principles to draw out the "inspired" or "infallible" text. If this book is supposed to be a "popularization" of scholarly research for "the believer" the author would have greatly aided the Christian with this kind of prioritization of principles, which already exists in the field (e.g., textual criticism). Otherwise, many walk away dazed and confused with a pit in the stomach.
CHAPTER 11: The LXX and Bible. The author continues prior line of thought. I think that his quick and (almost) dismissive mention of the Syriac biblical tradition might be his Achilles heel. Fundamentalists, by noting the Semitic Syriac witness to the M Text, its authority among Orthodox Christians and Saints might counterbalance the argument. They might be able to require nuance if they can show that there was some consensus about the inspiration of the M text in the Peshitta and early Syriac and Aramaic Christians. Though TML's chapters on the LXX in the NT will likely crush such a rebuttal underneath their weight, it does represent a possible strategy through the work of Sebastian Brock and associated studies.
CHAPTERS 12-13: The Patristic Church: Though I agree that Jerome can now be said to be wrong on his version of what would become the M Text vs. the LXX, I would have appreciated Jerome being more contextualized. What could Jerome and Augustine really have known about textual transmission, stemmata of MSS, etc.? One must ultimately accept the Greek patristic consensus in order to condemn Jerome. However, the author didn't exactly inform us as to how much authority ancient Greek-speaking Christians officially had (in number or declarations) on the matter of the LXX vs. Syriac and Latin Christians. He also didn't give us any principles for deterring who is an authority during the various ages of Christianity for determining "good text" from "bad text." His overall treatment of Jerome smacks a bit of imputing the role of the villain (who undoubtedly deserved punishment for unrelated but somehow relevant indiscretions?). One gets a little sense of a return to a universal topos of finding fault in the moral life of Jerome to be an ally of the author so that the reader dismiss Jerome as a historical player on the question.
CONCLUSIONS: This book risks confusing the searcher of the "infallible" and "inspired" text without strategies to distinguish hypothetical, theoretical, probable and certain items of fact from theory. The author does well to concede the provisional, probable, or suppositional nature of most of the historically interpretative and contingent items. Still, the lay reader would have benefitted from a gradation of certainty. Hypothesis vs. Theory; Fact vs. Suppositions and alerting us better to provisional conclusions. Instead, one must know the archeological, historical, or codicological backgrounds in order to evaluate the strength of some of TML's claims. I think he did a good job...trying to straddle "certainty" and "agnosticism" on many of these matters. Unfortunately, the committed believer might fear that TML is an undisciplined "heretic." In fact, he speaks according to "economy," i.e., what we can discern in human weakness and the factual plain of our non-inspired interpretations. TML tries to weave a narrative that avoids extremes. It seems to me that new archaeology, codicology, etc. can be easily incorporated into future editions of this book. What might help us avoid faith-fears when reading this?
(1.) Principle 1: if Magisterium (Catholic)-Living Tradition (Orthodox) is the means of securing truth, then the diversity of ancient scriptural traditions argues for a GREATER NEED for a determining authority (living synods and liturgy) and further undermines sola scriptura.
(2.) Principle 2: diversity and contradiction among various MSS means that we cannot know the "inspired" text. A critical edition is not interchangeable with "the inspired text." The living Church gradually decrees on this or that passage of Scripture and assures us that a particular item is really authoritative or authentic.
(3.) Principle 3: Translation mistakes and lost Scriptures are not a problem since the Church has the ultimate judgment among the diversity and variety for the believer. If the living Tradition in the Church exists now, then truth is decided by the living Church not through a series of scholarly guesses, even though these are well meaning and perhaps more probable than the Church's preference (from the scientific point of view). The "lectio difficilior" in this sense does not contradict science but merely makes a truth claim that science shirks from making itself because of the contingent nature of historical discoveries; for by the discovery of 1 new manuscript the entire theoretical field might change.