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When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible
 
 

When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible [Kindle Edition]

Timothy Michael Law
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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It is a gripping tale, beautifully told, and should be of profound interest to any reader of the Jewish or Christian BibleTimothy Michael Law has written the first introduction to the LXX that can be read by people outside the guild. It is a remarkable book, full of fascinating detail that I cannot evoke in a short review, a book that tells a rich story that no reader of the Bible can afford to ignore. (Kevin Hart, Los Angeles Review of Books)

a splendid work... I haven't found any book so interesting and enjoyable in years (Sir Fergus Millar, Camden Professor of Ancient History (Emeritus), Oxford, and Fellow of the British Academy)

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How did the New Testament writers and the earliest Christians come to adopt the Jewish scriptures as their first Old Testament? And why are our modern Bibles related more to the Rabbinic Hebrew Bible than to the Greek Bible of the early Church?
The Septuagint, the name given to the translation of the Hebrew scriptures between the third century BC and the second century AD, played a central role in the Bible's history. Many of the Hebrew scriptures were still evolving when they were translated into Greek, and these Greek translations, along with several new Greek writings, became Holy Scripture in the early Church.
Yet, gradually the Septuagint lost its place at the heart of Western Christianity. At the end of the fourth century, one of antiquity's brightest minds rejected the Septuagint in favor of the Bible of the rabbis. After Jerome, the Septuagint never regained the position it once had. Timothy Michael Law recounts the story of the Septuagint's origins, its relationship to the Hebrew Bible, and the adoption and abandonment of the first Christian Old Testament.

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  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1851 KB
  • Print Length: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (19 Jun 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00E3PN7IK
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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More About the Author

See more at timothymichaellaw.com

Timothy Michael Law is founder, publisher, and Editor-in-Chief of The Marginalia Review of Books (http://themarginaliareview.com). He is currently an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow in the Seminar für Altes Testament in the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen (with Prof. Dr. Reinhard Kratz) and affiliated with the Septuaginta Unternehmen. He spent 2009-2012 as a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the Oriental Institute at the University of Oxford, and until 2014 remains Junior Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies.

His latest book is When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible, to be published by Oxford University Press in 2013. His next monograph investigates the construction of the biography of Solomon in the Hebrew Bible and early Jewish literature. He is also co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of the Septuagint (with Alison Salvesen, in progress), and the new OUP series 'The Apocrypha in the History of Interpretation' (with David Lincicum).

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5.0 out of 5 stars Good Christian book 30 Oct 2013
By Kefkat
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
As I am learning the Greek language this book is really useful for me. It gives both English and Greek language and is easy to use
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  27 reviews
42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Old Testament should be all Greek to you! 24 July 2013
By Orthodox Lutheran Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Except for a couple areas, I relished and enjoyed this book. When God Spoke Greek thrilled the historian in me the most. It delighted the theologian in me almost as much. I learned much reading this book.

Timothy Law's well-grounded research brings out the plurality that existed among many of the Old Testament texts, which existed before and even after the New Testament was written. That's indisputable. His claim that the Jewish canon of the Old Testament was not firmly in place until into the 2nd Century AD is also strong. However, I do disagree with his tenant that such textual plurality was freely accepted without much concern about what the autographs, the original text, may have said.

What Law's book shows ever so clearly is this: When Jesus quoted the Old Testament, He quoted from the Septuagint, not from what would become the Masoretic Text. (Today, most Old Testament translations are based on the Masoretic Text.) Even more, most of the New Testament also relied on the Septuagint. So, today, any astute reader would find a lack of harmony between the New Testament quotations of our Old Testament of today. But that would not be the case for the Septuagint, the de-facto Old Testament for Jesus and His Apostles.

I especially delighted in Law's explanation of the theological points the New Testament writers were making when they quoted something from the Septuagint not in the Masoretic Text. For that reason, chapter 8 is a chapter in which all students of the New Testament would delight.

Some may find Law's higher-critical views disturbing. But that should not keep one from reading the book. For what one will glean from how the New Testament uses the Old should outweigh any challenge one may have from Law's implication that one, inspired Scriptural text may have never existed. I hold to the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture, and I think the only Christians who would be unable to get past Law's worldview would be hard-core fundamentalists.

So, if you consider yourself a hard-core fundamentalist, don't read the book. It may disturb your faith and simply make you angry. If you are not, then read the book to take in the good (which is especially good!) and deal with the author's higher-critical views in your own way.

I now end the formal review and state a couple of opinions based on reading this book. Some questions modern-day Christians should ask are these: "Why did we ever buy into the idea of the Masoretic Text's superiority when Jesus and His Apostles preferred the Septuagint? Why would we accept a textual tradition that preserved and kept a text that differs from the Old Testament that the New Testament quoted?" That doesn't make sense.

If Jesus and His Apostles are the cornerstone and foundation of the Church, then the Septuagint should be our primary text. After all, it was their primary Old Testament text. When God Spoke Greek shows that ever so vividly. This would then make the Dead-Sea scrolls and Masoretic Text secondary sources, which would help our understanding of the Septuagint.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent, Open Invitation to the Septuagint 8 Aug 2013
By Chris Fresch - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a Septuagint scholar and linguist currently writing his PhD dissertation, I have been anticipating this book for quite some time. Though the field of Septuagint studies is growing and gaining more recognition, it is still sparsely populated relative to other areas of Old Testament studies and is not seriously considered enough in New Testament studies and Patristics. Thankfully, Law's book serves to bring the Septuagint to the forefront of the conversation, imploring its readers to recognize the importance of the Greek Old Testament to Biblical Studies and to the Church today.

Law, who obtained his PhD from Oxford and who is now a researcher in Göttingen, though still young in academic terms, has established himself as a respected and able scholar. Just a cursory glance at articles he has published reveals a breadth of knowledge and critical engagement that can only be gained from years of study and intimate familiarity with both primary and secondary sources. This depth of knowledge and ability is evident throughout When God Spoke Greek, as Law successfully balances educated discussion, rigorous argumentation, and an accessible and conversant tone.

The book is meant to be a narrative history of the Septuagint, starting, more or less, from Alexander the Great in the mid-4th century BCE and ending with Jerome and Augustine in the late-4th and early-5th century CE. However, to leave it at "narrative history" is not saying enough. Along the way, Law engages in not only historical discussions but also in discussions concerning textual history and criticism, the so-called Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, differences between the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text, the Septuagint's influence on the New Testament authors, and its use in the Early Church. Needless to say, if you want to know more about the history of the Septuagint as well as why it is still important to us today (for both the academy and the Church), Law's book is a fantastic place to start.

For the curious review reader, in the introduction ("Why This Book?"), Law proposes the following four reasons why someone may find When God Spoke Greek interesting:

"The Septuagint sheds light on Jewish thought between the third century BCE and the first century CE." (p. 4)
As Law notes, since the New Testament cannot be read apart from its Hellenistic Jewish context, this is important also for Christian history and theology.

"The Old Testament translation of almost every modern English version of the Bible is based on the Hebrew Bible, but the form of Scripture used by the New Testament authors and the early Church was most often the Septuagint." (p. 4)

"Not only did most of the earliest Christians use the Septuagint but also their theology was explicitly shaped by it and not by the Hebrew Bible." (p. 5)

"The Septuagint often preserves a witness to an alternative, sometimes older, form of the Hebrew text." (p. 6)
These four points are the centerpieces of Law's discussions throughout the book. Even if one disagrees with him at times, these are conversations that are well worth having, and Law's arguments must be a part of those conversations.

Some reviewers have criticized Law, dismissing his book by conveniently characterizing him as one who subscribes to "higher criticism," as though this somehow relieves one from engaging with Law's arguments themselves. Law does make some rather large claims throughout his book, and while some are stated unapologetically and without acknowledgement of dissenting views (e.g., on p. 59, he claims in passing that Ephesians is a pseudonymous work yet provides no endnote acknowledging that this is still a debated issue with respected scholars on both sides of the argument), these should not keep one from taking Law's scholarship seriously. The great majority of the time, Law provides arguments and supporting evidence for his views. This is not to say he is necessarily correct in every instance, but his claims are certainly not outlandish, unsupported, or the result of some personal bias to so-called "higher criticism." He makes his claims based on his understanding of the evidence and while he writes with a tone of confidence, this should not be misunderstood as arrogance or an unwillingness to be conversant with those who might oppose him. Law's book is not meant to completely deal with every view that opposes his own but rather to begin a conversation and invite more people, not just the academic elite, to be a part of it.

Throughout the book, Law discusses a plethora of important issues. These include, but are not limited to:

Textual plurality
There were many different text types of the Old Testament circulating in the ancient world. Very often, the Septuagint was based on a different, older text than that to which the Masoretic Text -- the basis for the OT in most modern English Bibles -- attests. This is clearly seen in instances in which the Septuagint contains a shorter or differently arranged text than the MT -- Jeremiah, Job, 1 Samuel, to name a few obvious examples -- and all the more so when we see agreements between the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Samaritan Pentateuch.

The issue of Canon and Scripture
How did we get the Bible we have today? What was considered Scripture? How and why was one text-type decided on against others? How were some books incorporated into the canon while others were not? Why do we see different canon lists? Why do Eastern Orthodox Churches include more books in their Old Testament than the Western Church? Why do they use the Septuagint the way that Western Churches use the Masoretic Text?
This is no simple issue and is still the subject of many discussions today.

The influence and use of the Septuagint in the New Testament
How would the NT authors' arguments have changed had they used the MT in places where they use the Septuagint? How does the language and theology of the Septuagint influence the New Testament authors?

The use of the Septuagint in the Early Church
Why does the Western Church place so much emphasis on the Masoretic Text when the Septuagint was, more or less, the Bible of the Early Church? How did the Early Church use the Septuagint? What series of events led to the abandonment of the Septuagint in favor of Masoretic Text and why?

Law provides a starting point for thinking through these difficult but important issues. While I cannot speak authoritatively to all of them, I can say, as a Septuagintalist, there are many places where the Septuagint provides a different, often older, reading than the MT; or, as a linguist, I can say that even where it is evident that the translator was reading a text very similar to the MT, the Septuagint offers a different understanding of the content. Sometimes these are small issues, often where a Septuagint translator is making something more explicit than the underlying Hebrew does, but they are issues nonetheless. There are also occasions in which the Septuagint translators offer a different theological conception of an event or a contextually updated reading of the Hebrew. As such, these conversations are crucial for Old Testament and New Testament studies and for the Church as it seeks to better understand its Scripture.

Having read the whole book and even gone back and re-read some sections, I highly recommend it to scholar and interested lay person alike. I found Law's arguments to be well-formed and his discussions very relevant. This is not to say that I never found myself at odds with Law. I am not as confident as he is with his (what I would consider) late dating of final forms of books and a stabilized Masoretic Text. Additionally, while I certainly agree that the NT authors were using a Greek text in most cases when quoting the Old Testament, this discussion, including the extent to which the NT authors' theology was or was not influenced by the Septuagint, requires much more time and research than could be allotted in Law's book. However, these minor issues and any others I may have had in no way diminish the importance of this book and of the conversations it engenders. It is a necessary read for any OT or NT scholar and an accessible invitation to those in the Church who do not consider themselves scholars but are interested in learning more about the Bible. In the coming years, the Septuagint will become more and more important in discussions concerning the Biblical text. When God Spoke Greek (and its fantastic "Further Reading" section!) is, without a doubt, the best place to start for those interested in being a part of those discussions.
14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent narrative history of the Septuagint 8 Aug 2013
By Brian C. Leport - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
T. Michael Law is an up-and-coming scholar whose expertise is the Greek Old Testament, popularly known as the Septuagint. Although there are many fine introductory textbooks on the subject there has been little done on the popular level to familiarize people with the Septuagint. Law aims to change this. He has not written a textbook, per se, but a narrative history, which takes the reader from the legends surrounding the translation of the Pentateuch into Greek all the way to the spat between Augustine and Jerome over whether or not the Church's Bible should be based on the Hebrew or Greek text. For students and scholars of the Septuagint much of the material will be familiar, though likely in an unfamiliar format, but for those of us who have merely dabbled in Septuagint studies, or for those who are completely unfamiliar with the history and value of the Greek Old Testament, this book will introduce readers to a whole new world of thought. For academics it will challenge the reader to rethink their approach to studying the Hebrew Bible, its composition, the role of Scripture in the formation of incipient Christianity, and much more. For the lay reader this book might surprise and shock you, especially if you are a confessing Christian, since it will force you to reevaluate your understanding of how we came to receive our modern Bibles.

If I were to summarize the message of this book in a few short words it would be this: the Septuagint is more important than you think. Law aims to educate his readers from a variety of different vantage points, though all Septuagint related: bibliology, canonology, early Judaism, early Christianity, later Judaism, later Christianity, contemporary understandings of the Bible. This book will show you how Alexander the Great reshaped the ancient world and how his military conquest reshaped Jewish identity. Law will argue that both the Hebrew and Greek texts of what came to be known as the Old Testament were far more fluid than many realize. He will show you how early Christians relied upon the Septuagint to spread their new religion through the Roman Empire while simultaneously rooting it in the more ancient Hebrew religion. The Septuagint's influence may be far more widespread than you realized.

Law has written a book for lay readers and scholars alike. This book should not be compared to standard textbooks on the subject for Law did not aim to write another textbook. Rather, this book should be read alongside standard textbooks. It supplements those books by providing a narrative that flows and helps students connect point A to point B to point C. It shows how the Septuagint cannot be ignored when studying everything from the formation of the Hebrew Bible to apostolic hermeneutics to Patristics. The Septuagint appears in discussions on all these subjects and Law does us the favor of showing how this is interconnected.

Who should read this book? Anyone. Anyone interested in early Judaism, early Christian, the thought of early theologians like Origen and Augustine, or even the demise of the Roman Empire and the eventual Great Schism of the Christian Church. The Septuagint is not merely the "Greek translation of the Old Testament." The Septuagint is a brick in the foundation of the world as we know it. If you don't believe me, please read Law's book. I think you'll come to agree.

I have written a longer review on my blog for those interested. Search for 'Near Emmaus'.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Catholic Apologist's Reflection 29 Dec 2013
By Devin Rose - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Several months ago I read Timothy Michael Law's book When God Spoke Greek. I wanted to review it immediately but realized I needed time to ruminate on his findings, which have intrigued me greatly.

His hypothesis is that the Septuagint--the Greek translations of the Old Testament--provides an ancient witness to an older textual stream of the Hebrew Scriptures.

To be honest I was astonished by several of his claims, which appear to me to be undisputed. First and foremost, Law claims that the Apostles and Christ used the Septuagint almost exclusively in their quotations from the Old Testament, and that the early Church likewise used the Septuagint exclusively until around AD 400 when St. Jerome changed the course of ecclesial history.

That is something of an earth-shattering revelation, and brings several threads together that I had often wondered about in my study of the Church's use of the Old Testament. It means that the Old Testament you hold in your hands is the Masoretic text, a particular text of the Hebrew Scriptures that was not the one used by the Apostles and Christ, much less the Church Fathers for the first four hundred years of Christianity.

Astute readers of the Bible will have discovered discrepancies that reveal this fact. Often Christ or the Apostles will quote or allude to an Old Testament passage. We look at the footnote in our Bibles to see what the reference was, then turn to that chapter and verse in the particular Old Testament book, only to find that it doesn't match. It may sound similar or be way off, but it definitely isn't the same thing. The simple reason is that the New Testament writer was using the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament books. And that translation has now been shown to be a witness to an older Hebrew textual variant, one that differs in some ways from the Masoretic text, which became the definitive variant used by the Jewish people only long after Christ's death and resurrection.

Law seeks to highlight these textual differences and spends a good deal of the book showing side-by-side passages where the Septuagint translation differs from the Masoretic, then shows how the Apostles and Christ were clearly referencing the Septuagint. At times the difference is stark; at other times it is substantial, at others relatively minor. Law's thesis is that the New Testament authors, like St. Paul, found the Septuagint's translation to be more favorable to their Gospel message: that Christ came for all people, both Jews and Gentiles.

One tension that Law has revealed for Catholics, Orthodox, and traditional Protestants, is that the Septuagint shows that the text within the books of the Old Testament was subject to rearrangement, modification, and divergence all the way up to the time of Christ. In other words, Law claims that each author of the Old Testament books did not just sit down one week and write the completed book, but instead the original authors' words were amended, removed, and otherwise changed in varying ways across multiple textual streams. I am not a scholar in this area and so cannot counter this claim, but it presents a potential problem, since I as a Catholic believe that God inspired every book of Scripture. Did God also inspire the Jewish scribes and scholars who made changes in various parts? And which textual stream is the inspired one? Perhaps they all are? Law shows one example where St. Augustine harmonized two streams where two different numbers were used in the same location (e.g. three sheep versus seven sheep).

The book provides ammunition for Catholic apologists arguing for the Catholic canon of Scripture. Recall that the Protestant Bible has seven fewer books than the Catholic one. One reason for that is the Protestant Reformers were trying to go ad fontes--back to the sources. Ironically, they thought by using the books that the Jews had ultimately canonized in the second century AD, they were going to the original set. But in fact the Septuagint shows that there were older Hebrew versions that predated the Masoretic text. Ad fontes should have meant using the Septuagint, but the Septuagint included all seven Catholic deuterocanonical books!

More ammunition: note that I claimed that the Jews did not close their canon until the second century AD. Law demonstrates this convincingly in his book, a fact that undermines ones of the strongest Protestant arguments for the shorter Old Testament canon. Many Protestant apologists claim that the Jews had closed their canon long before Christ's incarnation. (I demonstrated one problem with that theory here.) But Law shows that they had not closed it, not even close. Multiple textual streams still existed during the time of Christ, and the final variant, which became the Masoretic text, was not settled upon until the Church had already been established by Christ. And the fact is that the early Church used the Septuagint, seeing in it God's providence as a special translation made for the founding of the Church itself! So the Protestant appeal to a closed Old Testament canon that predated the Christian Church is fatally flawed.

Law's book needs to be read by Catholic scholars as well as by Protestant scholars. I would look forward to a detailed response by both groups. Unfortunately I think that many Protestant readers would have a knee-jerk reaction against certain claims Law makes when he tries to play up the differences in the variations of the text. It sometimes has a modernist textual critic air that faithful Catholics and traditional Protestants have rightly come to be wary of. That said, I found it easy to leave the somewhat hyperbolic speculation aside while pondering the indisputable facts that he lays out.

Law's book is fascinating and I hope that it will get a wide reading by all within the Church.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Introduction to the Greek Scriptures - Excellent 24 Oct 2013
By J.B. Forbes - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
If you have only had a taste of Septuagintal study, this book fills in the gaps nicely. Not confined to hearsay or ancient legend, the author does well in assessing the value of the Greek Scriptures without pronouncing a dogma for what is correct in the field of Biblical study. I hope this book will encourage readers to continue this study and open western Christians to re-assess their valuation of the texts which were the Apostle's bible.
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