Monday, October 7, 2013

When God Spoke Greek (Oxford University Press)

Kids today are learning foreign languages at an earlier age and with better grasp than my generation or my parents' generation ever did. Frankly, I must admit that I am jealous of them at times. I also feel at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to this skill set. Anytime I try to learn a language, and I have tried several times, I get burnt out and quit before making much progress. Recently, I have been trying to teach myself Greek using this website, in order to be able to read the Bible in Greek. I fell in love with the Septuagint years ago and it is my go to source for the Old Testament. Needless to say, when I heard that Oxford University Press was releasing a book on it entitled When God Spoke Greek, I knew I had to read it.

When God Spoke Greek is a scholarly work dealing with the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) and the making of the Bible as a whole. How scholarly is it? Let's just say the book is 216 pages long, but 40 of those pages are notes, further readings, and the index. After a brief introduction, which includes terminology and the aim of the book, Dr. Law takes us on a brief but thorough history of the Septuagint. The book begins with how Greek became the language of choice and ends (as much as something with an open-ending can) with Jerome and Augustine.

As someone who grew up Southern Baptist, I was taught that Scripture never changed and the words on the pages of my Bible were the same words on the original scrolls. This way of looking at things and takes a great deal of faith to believe that there wasn't one translation or transcription error in all the centuries that past. It wasn't until years later after my conversion to Catholicism that I learned that this is a very naive perspective. Dr. Law elaborates on this very matter by explaining the use of textual plurality by early translators and transcribers By pulling from several different manuscripts, these men sought to show what the Scriptures were saying and convey it to us.

There are so many fascinating sections in this book that I had a hard time deciding on what to highlight as my favorite section of the book. Eventually, I decided that I greatly appreciated the numerous comparisons between the Masoretic and Septuagint texts. The differences in the two texts range from a few words being different to whole books being rearranged. There are even some chapters that are different in length depending on which source you use. Where this would have once scandalized me, I feel more mature in my understanding and appreciation of the Bible. It was also enlightening to learn that the New Testament authors primarily read and used the Septuagint. Dr. Law includes examples of this in his book as well.

Overall, this was a very edifying book that increased my love for the Septuagint, which I didn't think was possible. It wasn't a quick read, like I originally expected. However, like most good things, it was worth the effort of a careful and slow reading. I hope Dr. Law continues to write books about the Septuagint and that each one will delve deeper and deeper into this beautiful text. If you're looking for an thoughtful and well put-together introduction to the Septuagint, you will want to read this book!

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