Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Laws of Organic Development

If there is an objection one may legitimately raise with the notion of "organic development of the liturgy," it is that upon close scrutiny the term is relatively confused. It sounds convenient. It encapsulates into wording the sentiments behind various contemporary opinions related to the Western liturgy. It does not necessarily denote much of anything substantive.

The crux of the problem appears when we separate out the words "organic development." The legitimacy ascribed to the concept of "organic development of the liturgy" in certain liturgical circles stems largely from the fact that "organic development" seems to have a quasi-scientific/quasi-sociological ring to it, thus lending an air of intellectual credibility to particular liturgical (and ecclesiological) positions in the Western Church, particularly within the Roman Patriarchate.

Yet, it is worth asking of purveyors of "organic development" really know what they mean to say. The closest parallel to "organic development" is "organic growth," both in terms of bio-chemical and business expansion.

Roughly, in the bio-chemical sense, organic development or growth refers to the maturation, mutation, and completion of the life-cycle of organic matter, though it may refer particularly to plants or animals. It presumes that as a result of the long evolutionary process, and at this particular stage of relative evolutionary stability, the various life forms that comprise the global ecosystem certain laws or processes of maturation, mutation, and consummation have been set as a result of an organism's bio-chemistry. There are certain patterns of maturation, mutation, and consummation that are encoded into our DNA/cell structure and the results of these patterns are to be expected. Forgive me for the crudeness of this description, but I think it conveys the concept.

In terms of business sense, organic development or growth would refer to expansion (in terms of size, transactions, and revenue) due to increased productivity, customer growth, and product. It runs contrary to growth by acquisition or merging, which oftentimes take a company away from its core purpose and ideals.

When one wants to qualify the phrase "organic development" with "of the liturgy," one should have a sense of what the phrase actually means. Its two primary meanings having been considered, it is difficult to see "organic development of the liturgy" as a muddled notion, more suited to codify a certain romanticism surrounding the Western Liturgy than actually describe a real historical process.

"Organic development of the liturgy" presumes that there are certain unstated laws governing liturgical change. There is almost a sense of liturgy as this other reality, this ethereal organism with its own internally coded structure that predictably yields expected patterns. Liturgical change always falls within the inner coherence of the liturgy, always producing certain patterns of change. Anything in violation of these patterns is a violation of the laws of growth.

Historically, it is almost impossible to find any recorded example demonstrating this theory has a factual basis in either observed behavior or written documentation. Was Pope Sergius' importation of the Sanctus from the Greek family of liturgies a move that was coherent with the internal logic of the Roman liturgy of the 8th century (as we can piece it together)? Did Alcuin follow the expected patterns of growth of the Roman liturgy when he supplemented the sparse Hadrianum with a generous stock of texts drawn from the storehouse of the Gallican liturgy, creating the basis of the "Traditional" liturgy as we know it? Or was this an example of merger and acquisition? What about revisions of rubrics or the abolition of ancient Mass sets and offices on the basis of recently created papal dogma? Does this follow with the predictable patterns of growth of the liturgy? If so, can we please have an example demonstrating that such prerogative is inherent in the Latin liturgical family?

"Organic development of the liturgy" would be better suited for liturgical studies if it jettisoned its inherent new-speak and settled on the meaning of "organic development." Then perhaps serious discussions can begin over two points raised by business and bio-chemistry 1) accounting for challenges to and opportunities for growth, and 2) entropy followed by decay.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Nestle-Aland 28th Edition

For those interested in more information on NA28, you'll be happy to find a webpage devoted to the text:


As mentioned in my previous post, this is the standard bearer of critical editions of the New Testament.

Biblia Graeca - Read the Ancient Canon of Scripture as the Early Church Did - (Review)

Biblia Graeca (Rahlfs-Hanhart Septuagint and NA28 Greek NT in One Volume)

The Septuagint rides a wave of steadily increasing renewed interest and renewed prestige. On both a popular and scholarly level, there is renewed appreciation for the Greek Bible as the Bible of the Early Church, both the LXX and the Greek New Testament. So much about early Christianity cannot be understood without an adequate grasp of these documents. The New Testament alludes to the Septuagint, and the great Patristic authors (including the Latins who knew their languages) cannot be adequately appreciated until one understands how the Greek Bible shaped their perception of the Christian kergyma and conception of the praxis of the Christian life.

There has been a detectable need to publish a volume that brought the texts of the Greek Bible together: LXX and New Testament. True, we have had editions of both, however, we haven't had the two brought together into a complete textual world. Biblia Graeca fills this noticeable void and affords us the opportunity read the ancient canon of Scripture as the Early Church did.

The text itself is drawn from Hanhart's light revision of Rahlfs' venerable text of the Septuaginta and the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece.

Hanhart's revision of the Septuagint is assuredly modest. Rahlfs' now widespread text remains in the greater part unchanged, the most noticeable revision being in the area of accent marks and corrections to errors in the previous edition. The Ralfs-Hanhart is not the text-critical reference point of Septuagint studies - nor was it meant to be. One will have to consult the multi-volume (and considerably expensive) Göttingen editions for a major research tool. Hanhart has kept with Rahlfs' originally intention of providing a volume to students and pastors (and I would presume anyone so interested) that is both affordable and usable. This said, you will find the Rahlfs-Hanhart edition utilized for most class lectures and readings. Additionally, you will find it is the popular reference point for the Greek text among clergy, educators and anyone with the requisite background in Greek. The Ralfs-Hanhart text attempts to establish the earliest form of the Septuagint, as any critical text should.  Limitations being noted, it remains a work of textual scholarship and it is the most accessible scholarly edition of the LXX.

The 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland New Testament will be the most appealing point for many prospective readers. The Nestle-Aland is the standard bearer for critical editions of the Greek New Testament. This edition hosts approximately 30 changes to the catholic epistles best upon the best manuscript evidence, the integration of the most recently discovered papyri, and a more disciplined critical apparatus.

The actual construction of the book represents a return to form of the scholarly editions of Hendrickson/Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft. The "scholarly Bibles" have always been notable for nearly incomparable internal construction featuring sewn binding, archival paper, well designed ribbons, clean typeface, etc. However, some recent publications have suffered due to the cover material. The cover material seems to have been addressed for this volume; it is firmer and the binding appears stronger at the hinges. For a book that will likely be consulted on a regular basis, this is an absolute essential. Regarding the size, the volume has an appropriate heft to it, but it is by no means unwieldy or difficult to travel with.


There are very few editions that I would say are essential. Biblia Graeca is one of those rare volumes that merit inclusion in the library of anyone with serious interest in Early Christianity or Biblical Studies. If you have learned Biblical Greek or are going to learn it, Biblia Graeca is an indispensable volume, especially if you want to immerse yourself in the linguistic context of the Early Church. The great advantage of the volume is its ability to provide the reader with a ready reference to the text behind the New Testament. It is one thing to know what text a given part of the New Testament refers to. It is another to be able to immediately read the text alluded to in the New Testament. What one has in one hands is, all things considered, the cultural linguistic world of the Early Church. 

Most sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me this complementary review copy. The review copy was provided to me free of charge with no expectation other than an honest and fair review.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Concerning the Translation of the Seventy (Septuaginta)

Some years ago I was reading through a commentary on 1 Samuel, the author of which made a strenuous defense for not utilizing the Septuagint when reconstructing the likely text. Among all of the manuscripts we have for the books of the Hebrew Bible, 1 Samuel is perhaps the worst, the manuscript tradition being essentially in shambles due to the corrupt text. It is not without reason that we frequently lean on the text of 1 Samuel as preserved in the Spetuagint. The author, however, presented a valid point of caution when reconstructing the original text based on the LXX. The Septuagint, for all its strengths, is still a translation of a Hebrew text. Although Qumran has bolstered some of its previously "odd" readings that were once dismissed as a mistranslation, the LXX still has its fair share of occasional paraphrases of the underlying Hebrew text.

This said, Qumran has bolstered the case for textual tradition of some of the variants in the LXX (compared to the Masoretic text) and there are still examples when the LXX is the only coherent witness to the text. The LXX is no longer a degenerate child of the Masoretic text. Rather, it is very probably the last surviving witness to a textual tradition of the Hebrew Bible that is otherwise lost.

The Septuagint is coming into its own as a critical benchmark in establishing the original text of the canon, as a literary and cultural witness to the development of Judaism and Christianity, and as a textual tradition that has a life of its own. In the process, we are just beginning to deal with the implications of treating the Septuagint as something other than an eclectic alternative to the mainline textual tradition.

Religiously, the LXX remains the reference point for the Orthodox Churches. Arabic, Ge'ez and Copitc versions all refer back to the text of the LXX. Among the diaspora churches in the West, there is a renewed push to produce vernacular Bibles that take the LXX as their basis.

Further to the point of published Bibles leaning on the LXX, it should hardly need noting that the many of the major editions all incorporate the Septuagint into their translation, especially to clarify the Hebrew text when it seems the Masoretic reading is corrupt. We can observe this in the New Jerusalem Bible, the ESV, and the NRSV. Even the Vatican's Nova Vulgata at times breaks from the Latin tradition in favor of the LXX.

The Septuagint's pedigree, it's history as a Jewish and Christian text, is still in the early stages of appreciation in the West. Western Christianity is in the midst of wrapping its head around the notion of the Septuagint as the first Bible of Christianity and the formative role if played in the composition of the New Testament and other early Christian writings. This appreciation is notable as it is coming out of many Protestant quarters. How will this be diffused in confessing bodies? We see some evidence of it in recent English translations. Will it lead to adopting the LXX canon in its entirety? Time will tell. More provocative, however, is the question of whether or not Judaism will come to embrace the Septuagint for what it is: a Jewish book. If so, what impact should the expanded canon of the LXX have on contemporary Judaism?

Linguistically, the Septuagint offers us tantalizing clues into how Judaism conceived of itself in a context that was both Greek and pre-Christian. One of the most alluring areas is the LXX's treatment of the names of God found in the Hebrew Bible. For the purposes of this post, I will focus on one of them, namely the LXX's treatment of Sabaoth (or Tzevaot). Perhaps the only divine name that is transliterated in the LXX. Typically a compound (Yahweh Sabaoth) in the Hebrew text, I am unaware of any cultural linguistic study that has reached a conclusion as to why Sabaoth was retained. We can speculate that by the time the text of the LXX is in circulation, Sabaoth had a connotation or function that either could not be adequately captured by Greek terms, thus cultivating a sense of urgency to transliterate the word. Conversely, we can also speculate that it was simply convention or laziness. In either case, this is a question that can be resolved only by study of the Septuagint as a monument of cultural linguistic expression, one which perhaps retains hints of Judaism that subsided with the twilight of the Second Temple period and for which we've scant understanding.

Monday, March 23, 2015

This sounds exciting!

The translator in me is positively giddy at reading this review of the NET Bible.

There will always be some discord over the best way to translate books of the Canon. The religious impulse will always seek a translation of Scripture that, in one way or another, aspires ot the heights of the religious imagination. It will seek a translation that fully demarcates language and literature that is profane and is itself a singular repository of the sacred. Such a Bible would be designed to raise one to lofty heights of prayer and communion.

Yet, the success of the historical critical method has render such an aim and scope obsolete. The increasing burden on the shoulders of translators is to create an edition that reveals the world behind the text and the intentions of the original author.

In some cases, there is increasing relization that perhaps the next step is to reveal the text behind the text by means of judicious translation notes. Mitch Dahood's commentary on the Psalms comes to mind. These volumes were controversial from the moment they rolled off of the presses and remain so. Dahood was Jesuit priest and a linguistic genius who reconstructed the text of the Psalms in his three volume commentary on the basis of Akkadian and other adjacent linguistic parallels to Hebrew. His results may have been excessive, but no one familiar enough with the ancient languages and sources seriously question if other ancient literature lay behind the Judeo-Christian Bible.

One would be hard pressed to find a scholar who shuns the notion that the combat myth of Marduk and Tiamat is not burried within the creation of account of Genesis 1. One of the challenges for Christianity in the third millenium is to determine how such data ought to be leveraged when producing a translation of Scripture or commenting upon the text. I for one think editions like the NET Bible get it right. The first aim of a translation of scripture ought to be to make it scholarly. All other concerns need to be addressed after the primary crterion is met.

The Ancient Path (book review)

There is a general crisis in Christianity in the Western world, one centered in large part on the area of praxis. What does it mean to practice the Christian life in its entirety? Is there such a thing as Christian praxis for those of us not in a monastic community? John Michael Talbot's The Ancient Path takes up this very issue. It is an attempt worthy of consideration because it is so sorely needed. However, the book is at times frustrating as conflicting styles seem to prevent the author's goals from coming together.

Talbot's thesis is fairly straight forward. The Patristic era ("the Fathers") established everything one needs to walk the way of the Christian life. This runs the span from individual behavior (example) to one's interaction within the larger ecclesiastical structure (chapter on the bishop). All of this is much needed, as we are in a period in which the mode of the Christian life and the need for an institutional church have come to be regarded as quaint artifacts of a previous era at best, totally irrelevant at worst.

Having these laudable aims in mind, the book becomes mired in a conflict of writing approaches. Simply put, Talbot's renowned pastoral writing style and the more "doctrinal" or 'theological" selections never really gel. Most every chapter begins with Talbot's pastoral insight via the example of his own life on the life path (practical and spiritual, active and contemplative) he finds rooted in the earliest centuries of Christianity. This is followed by another subsection in the chapter that attempts to explore the theme laid out in the pastoral section with a more theological or historical approach. The chapters then tend to close with Talbot's pastoral and personal insights. This leads a disruption in the content flow and an unsteady narrative quality. Breaks in the personal narrative in chapter 3 to discuss the Patristic conception of the person of Jesus Christ, and in chapter 4 to discuss the concept of salvation as presented in the Didache come off as somewhat belabored excursions, primarily for catechetical repetition. In these instances, Talbot's ability to pull the reader in through his personal illustration of the themes which demonstrate the praxis of the Christian life is nullified.

The Ancient Path shines when Talbot is allowed to be Talbot, when it is purely the approach he is so well known for and when he provides the personal narrative of his life correlating to the ancient path. As such, there are chapters that positively work and accomplish what the author seems to have set out to do.Chapters 5 ("Community"), and 8 ("Nothing Without the Bishop") are probably the sterling examples of this, chapter 8 providing a keen insight into how the bishop could guide his flock through the example of Bishop Andrew McDonald and his involvement with assisting in the development of Talbot's Little Portion Hermitage and in the eventual marriage to his wife Viola (herself a former Cistercian nun). Even here however, we are given a glimpse into something that could have been so much more were the format of the book abandoned in favor of something that clearly plays to Talbot's strengths. Talbot mentions earlier on that the relationship with Bishop McDonald began with skepticism on the bishop's part and eventually developed into trust and guidance. The book could have been better served with a full chapter that detailed the building up of that relationship.

Talbot, whatever one things of the era of Roman Catholicism he represents, is almost iconic in the field of contemporary spiritual writers. The theme of this seems natural for him. Ultimately though, it never really finds its bearings enough to get off the ground. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The problem with the old canard

A very good post that examines the fundamental problem with the theory of the "organic development of the liturgy" as expounded among many "new liturgical movement types."

Piety and an excessive concern for "Catholic identity" has obscured the historical fact of the liturgy being regulated and relatively formed by the bishop of the diocese (or abbot of the monastery) in the West. Consolidating regulatory authority to a centralized congregation that functioned as the administrative arm of the bishop of Rome runs contrary to the Western tradition. This is a crucial point, if only because acknowledging the historical fact seriously questions one of the most prized tenants of "organic development," that treats of the liturgy as though it were a nebulous, ethereal thing with its own laws, logic, and action. In truth, some bishop or some abbot made calculated decisions when regulating the liturgy in their diocese or monastery.

To ignore that the liturgy was regulated by the local church ignores how much imposition of Roman authority diverged from the Tradition. To ignore the historical (and very human) factors in the development the Western liturgies risks a very dualistic liturgiology. While such a liturgiology fulfills romantic notions of the liturgy, it fails to carry full historical weight of the Tradition in its argumentation. The very real justification for certain historical forms that have been lost in recent decades is therefore reduced to pious delusion.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Abaddon Laid Bare

It is my custom to read the Book of Job during Lent. This began approximately seven years ago. Thus far, I’ve been fairly consistent with observing it.

 Job is one of the exemplary books of Hebrew canon. The profound dilemma it poses in relation to the human condition and the existence of God has gripped and vexed its audiences for the better part of its history.

 The book’s great literary theme is the source of its fame and infamy, especially in Christian interpretation where the protagonist struggle could, at best, be interpreted as a type of Christ or an exemplar of Christian endurance in the face of suffering. Gregory the Great’s Moralia in Iob has come down to us as the most archetypical example of the later.

 The literary themes continue to engage audience in our contemporary context. Our post-existentialist context cannot help but find Job’s predicament as redolent of the towering hopelessness that marks man’s place in the universe.

 In the field of historical criticism and textual criticism, Job’s appeal is seemingly more esoteric. True, questions abound about the correct form of the text. More interesting, perhaps, is the mythological current running throughout the text. Perhaps this should be stated with more nuance. For the person interested in the historical development of religion or comparative mythology, the book of Job, regardless of when the text was forged in a manner we would identify as recognizable, is an exquisite repository of pre-monotheistic Israelite religion.

 Whether by accident owing to the antiquity of the basic narrative in the ancient near east, or due to a conscious attempt on the author’s part to evoke the aura of antiquity, Job retains a roll call of ancient gods that likely swirled amid the early Israelite religious matrix before the definition of one God above all others. As even the book of Exodus alludes, before Yahweh was, there was El Shaddai (cf., Exodus 3:13-15, 6:2-3). This name/ Deity is prominently invoked in Job and recalls a time when Hebrew theology had not entirely solidified around Yahweh and his temple.

 My purposes do not concern El Shaddai; the above is meant to provide an example which ought to demonstrate the treasure trove of ancient mythology running through the book. Anyone who makes the effort to read Job on its own terms, without the weight of dogmatics bearing down, and is willing to do a little bit of work will, I think, invariably notice how multilayered it is. This is in no small part to strands of old mythologies and pantheons keeping a constant pulse through the text.

 For now, I would bring your attention to Job 26:6,

עָרֹ֣ום שְׁאֹ֣ול נֶגְדֹּ֑ו וְאֵ֥ין כְּ֝ס֗וּת לָֽאֲבַדֹּֽון׃

γυμνς δης νπιον ατο, κα οκ στιν περιβλαιον τ πωλείᾳ. (LXX)

“Before his eyes, Sheol is bare, Perdition itself is uncovered.”(New Jerusalem Bible)

 “Sheol is naked before God, and Abaddon has no covering.” (NRSV)

 The appearance of Abaddon should interest us; ideally, anyone reading the text would recall Revelation 9:11. The author of Revelation provides us with the two language variants of the angel of the abyss: Hebrew Abaddon and Greek Apollyon. Critical scholarship is almost universal in proposing that Abaddon was originally a Semitic deity of death or the underworld, the memory of which survived into the Hebrew Scriptures.

The Septuagint and the Vulgate appear to translate Abaddon at face value, i.e., destruction, ruin. Of these two versions, the Septuagint is more important, as it is in circulation at the time other Jewish works featuring Abaddon are circulated and/or composed, most notably in certain texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls that plainly conceive of Abaddon as a being and not a place. Thus, we can postulate some form of religious or ideological continuity between the Judaism represented in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the early Christianity represented by the author of the Apocalypse.

But what of the appearance of Abaddon in the text of Job? What of the surviving memory of an ancient deity of death or the underworld? It remains just that, a memory of an older theology that persists through time in virtue of the sacred page. It is the quest of scholars to decipher his identity, purpose, and original relationship to the principle Deity, Yahweh. Invariably, it comes down to rather opaque clues. The data is there to be scavenged from the long process of religious standardization. What the data means is lost among the disputes born from intensive scholarly investigation.

The NET Bible

It was sometime during the either the Summer of 1999 or 2000. I had moved to the Pacific Northwest, migrating from Seattle to a small town a good ride northwest of the city. At the time, I was living the life one would suppose a single young man would live, on his own three thousand or so miles from home.
Every day and night was an adventure, the specifics of which are best left unstated. There, tucked in the Cascades, I encountered some of the most interesting and utterly unique people of my life. There was, in retrospect, a necessary degree of culture shock, but it was an amazing time.
Working odd and inconsistent hours led to unexpected stretches of free time. Working mainly to pay the rent, getting by mainly on Raman noodles and the cheap processed food stuffs at the local convenience store, I wasn't in the position to stretch my budget. Life was lived "on the cheap," and the local library was the hub for conversation, free coffee, books, and, of course, internet.
This was back in the days of dial-up connection and what the head IT librarian referred to as "web crash" every weekday between 2pm and 4pm PST when, as he theorized, "all of the people on the East Cost get home to check their email," causing massive slow down and frequent booting off of AOL. I guess I can still believe it; the web hadn't become omnipresent in our lives just then and w weren't checking email constantly.
Between trying to kick start a writing, painting and performing arts career, and maybe becoming an amateur guru (because that's really what you did in obscure little towns in the Pacific Northwest), I would spend long stretches at the library devouring any material I could find related to Biblical Studies and the history of Christianity. Having left my hefty study edition of the New Jerusalem Bible back east at home, I tried to track down books on some of the topics I remember reading about in the NJB's study notes. To that end, I was in the right spot. There was an unusually high percentage of independent churches and religion reading people in the area. The books were readily found in the stacks. 
Apart from a Latin New Testament I picked up at a used bookstore back east, I didn't really have a bible, and my interest wasn't so much in the New Testament. But, whatever, you make it work. It was during this time, in the middle of one long stretch at the public library, I came across the NET Bible (New English Translation). As I recall, I was trying to find some notes on the composition of  handful of biblical texts on the web when I stumbled across the host site.
At the time, the NET Bible was an open source project. It was designed to provide a free access study bible to the web during those burgeoning days of web ministry among Protestant churches. The NET Bible itself consisted, as I recall, of draft translations with copious translators notes; I thought then that it was akin to a New Jerusalem Bible by Protestant scholars. I came back to that e-text time and time again. Again, everything was in draft form. There were notices on the website about a future printed edition, but that was some untold number of years in the future, or so it seemed at the time.
I had wondered whatever became of the project, having not been on the website since I returned east. It seems the NET Bible has come of age.
The project has reached its first goal - the New English Translation is in print. Whether or not it continues to be revised in light of the most recent textual evidence and scholarly standards remains to be seen. If I recall correctly, there was an intention of revising the text every decade or so - no small feet when you consider the average publication windows between new editions.
By exploring the books of the bible on the website, you can have full access to this version. You can also access the study notes and translation notes by clicking the footnotes dispersed throughout the text. By so doing, one can see the delicate balance at play between translation (as a science and an art) and scholarship (primarily between textual and form criticism.
Needless to say, I'd recommend spending more time with this version.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Septuaginta Deutsch (Review)

Septuaginta Deutsch: Das grieschische Alte Testament in Deutscher Ubersetzung  -     Edited By: Martin Karrer, Wolfgang Kraus
    By: Martin Karrer & Wolfgang Kraus (Eds.)

Interest in the Septuagint has seen a bit of a resurgence. Not just among scholars, but even among the religion/bible buying public. True, the segment of the public actively interested in matters of biblical studies, religious history, or theology is not a large segment of the population. It is, however, vocal and active. Thus, it is not uncommon to find more mention of the Septuagint in literature ranging from popular Biblical Studies to books dedicated to spirituality or mysticism (Christian or otherwise). 

 It is becoming better know that there is another "strand" of the Bible out there. In academic circles, after decades of being considered an occasionally poor translation of the Hebrew, the Septuagint has claimed a position of merit. The discoveries at Qumran have bolstered some of the textual curiosities of the LXX and there is renewed interest in the "Greek Bible" as the Bible of the Early Church. 

 Given the above, there has been a slow but steady growth of popular publications of the Septuagint into modern languages. Unfortunately, these efforts have seamed more like stop-gap measures than projects designed to fill a void in the marketplace. Without naming any names, the English editions have uniformly read like a warmed over NRSV. From a cost effective standpoint, this makes sense. The NRSV has most of the books of the Septuagint. Why reinvent the wheel? Remove the inclusive language, maybe make a few editorial massages, throw in a translation of the Psalms of Solomon, and you're set. 

 Unfortunately, this has left us with English translations that often fail to capture much of nuances of the LXX. There is a respectable French translation available, however, it is a multi-volume affair and, to the best of my knowledge, does not have a US distributor. 

 For those of us with some (reading) fluency in German, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft has provided the first book to genuinely address the need for a translation of the Septuagint into a modern language. The Septuaginta Deutsch is, as the title implies, a complete original translation of the Septuagint into German. This is not a cut and paste job, this is the real deal. A team of credible scholars (Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox) applied their craft and created a German translation that, from every comparison I have made with Greek, captures text of the LXX and renders it in readable and (where necessary) extremely precise German. 

 The format of the publication is extremely well done. It is larger than the Septuaginta, the type face is clear, and, most importantly, the cover material is substantially improved over that of the LXX. Anyone who has used the LXX or Vulgate published by the same company knows that the books tend to where away at the hinges with repeated use. The binding of the Septuaginta Deutsch has proven, thus far, to be much more durable.   For the majority of the volume, the text is printed in double columns. I would ping this as the only downside to the book - though this is more a matter of personal preference, nothing major. For the Psalms and the Psalms of Solomon, a single column format was used - this is especially appreciated if one reads those texts frequently. 

 It goes without saying that a general introduction is included, as well as introductions to each book. The introductions are informative, however, there is also what looks to be a marvelous two volume commentary on the text and translation. 

~ Some personal testimony ~ 

 One cannot be an expert in everything. Eventually, one must specialize. When it came to the LXX, I found that I poured most of my efforts into the Psalms of Solomon - I know the Greek text on sight. Truth be told, if someone ever pushed me to choose one text to devote my time to one ancient text for critical research, the Psalms of Solomon would be it. Yet this doesn't change the fact that at the end of the day, one might want to disengage from the Greek text just a bit. This is what I appreciate most about the Septuaginta Deutsch. It is the availability of a modern translation of text I have absolutely fallen in love with over the years. 

You can order yours here, at Christianbook.com. A healthy alternative to Amazon. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Cure for Marcionism?

This is one of those books that could be very good (and much needed) depending upon how the author takes the title theme. You can learn more about it here.

We live in a very curious time in popular Christianity. Some sixty years after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the dissemination of Late Second Temple Judaism studies into most printed editions of the Bible, and a scant two decades removed from the interest in the Jewishness of Jesus, there is a robust current of crypto-Marcionism running through contemporary Christianity.

Across denominations and churches, we seem to be in a wave of repeated denigration of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, returning a mindset that the Old Testament is little more than the proof text of Christ.

As someone trained in Biblical Studies first, this development is disconcerting and genuinely baffling. Even in the most "inter-religious" of circles, there is still a subtle demarcation from the Christian God and the Jewish God, oftentimes falling into the clichés of mercy, forgiveness and love, as thought the Old Testament had none of the three. To wit, I would remind everyone of the parable of the ten virgins; it is a very clear depiction of Jesus' concept of God, a concept he expected those following him would (eventually) see for its veracity.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Long Shadow of the Vernacular

Numerous articles have appeared touching upon the commemoration of the introduction of the vernacular into the Roman liturgy. Specifically, fifty years has passed since the Patriarch of Rome celebrated the Roman Mass with portions of Italian.

The usage of the vernacular has cast a long shadow in the Roman Church. It is debatable if it succeeded in deepening the mystery of the Christian kerygma. In some language blocks, the Roman Church is vexed over translation wars, the most recent being the adoption of an English translation that is in places so stilted that it reads more as the product of a first year Latin student than a proper translation. Tragically, the corpus of Latin hymns and chant has become an obscurity and the distinctive spirituality that defines the Latin tradition has been forgotten, lost in either flat translations or substituted for vernacular ditties.

This being said, it was recipe of Rome's own creation. Not so much for introducing the vernacular, but for having resisted the use of the vernacular for five centuries, perhaps eight centuries after Latin was still genuinely useful as the formal language of worship.

The Orthodox Churches had long established the rationale for using the vernacular. The vernacular situates the Church among the people it encounters. This does not do away with the need for the ancient languages and the occasional liturgical use of said languages, however, it does keep the use of such languages in a well defined context.

Truth be told, when time has given us some appreciable perspective on the progress of the liturgical movement throughout the 20th century, it will likely be noted that everyone sort of knew the vernacular was coming to the Roman liturgy. The indications were there that it was expected, if not for the influence of Orthodoxy on the 20th century liturgical movement, than due to the sense of the mounting sociological pressures waiting to be felt.

The vernacular is a done deal. One shouldn't go so far as to say it is a given. There are certainly those parties would push for a total re-imposition of Latin, more often than not by persons with little knowledge of the language. But by and large, it is the norm.

It remains for the Roman Church to sort out its use of the vernacular in its liturgy. Whatever its faults and however poorly it has been appreciated by even those who seemingly have the charge to preserve it, the Latin tradition has its own dignity and is worth being transmitted through the centuries. Now it must do so in the language of the peoples in which it finds itself. Failure is not an option, although I suspect the grade average has been hovering around a D for the past forty or so years.

Between Rome and Byzantium

I managed to make it to the evening Akathist hymn at the cathedral last night, my first for this Lent.

There will be no analysis of the text herein. At some juncture I will undoubtedly turn a critical eye towards the liturgical books of the Orthodox Church, although there is scarcely any desire to engage in the methodical analysis and deconstruction of the liturgical texts of the "Eastern" Church.

This is partially due to Orthodoxy's presentation of its liturgy. Liturgy is not so much for comprehension, but for experience. In both the Greek and Antiochian dioceses in North America, so far as I've experienced, this is the insisted approach.

When one pivots to the Orthodox Church from Western Christianity, especially if one is in those areas that have more or less appropriated a number of converts over the last fifty or so years, or whose original ethnic group has been established in the US for at least three generations, one will encounter fairly well educated clergy who adamant on this point. One will not be necessarily handed a book on the Orthodox liturgy. One may or may not be referred to a book about Orthodoxy. However, it will be adamantly insisted that if one really wants to "get" Orthodoxy, one ought to avail oneself to every available liturgy.

There is a sort of unnameable qualitative difference as pertains to the perception of liturgy between the "Greek" Church and the "Latin" Church. Over the past ten years, I have struggled to define it, at least to have a referent for myself.

A colleague of mine once proposed the difference was that the Western liturgy has become largely cerebral. To some extent there is probably a bit of truth to this. Legislation and doctrine govern liturgical form and content in the West. Indeed, there is not only no pretense for otherwise, there has been a blatant insistence on the primacy of legislation and doctrine as the fons vitae of the Western Church since at least the counter Reformation. Greek Christianity, by comparison, subverts everything to the liturgy. The liturgy is the "source" of legislation and doctrine. Yet, the liturgy is not a cerebral event in Orthodox Christianity. There is a visceral quality to the Orthodox liturgy; there is an unabashed appeal to every sense perception, an unembarrassed application of tactile sensation and targeted use of supplicating and adoring bodily movement (in forms which resoundingly rub post-modern Western culture the wrong way). It is tempting to theorize if over intellectualization in the Western liturgy produced the excessive sentimentalism that marked Roman piety and which has gradually sublimated itself into the celebration of the Roman liturgy in the contemporary period. If a liturgy does not have matrix visceral stimuli and responses, people will insert their own emotions and sentimentalism in the liturgy in order to fill the gap. Again, it is interesting to theorize.

If there is a bridge between the Greek and Latin understanding of liturgy, then it may well be found in the monastic communities of the West. Much as it may be true that one can't really "get" Orthodoxy unless one regularly experiences the liturgy, one cannot survive and thrive in a monastic community without the integration of the liturgy into one's daily life. This is not to say every monastic community in the West, certainly in the United States, exemplifies this quality. There are still monastic communities that haven't quite gotten themselves out of the pervasive deconstructionist impulse of the 60s. More recently, communities founded during both the Traditionalist reaction to the modernization of Western Church and the "Catholic Identity" phase of the last decade oftentimes center their lives on rigid legalism and witch hunts for any slight deviations from their notions of Catholicism. Yet, where one finds a balanced monastery in the West, one finds noticeable continuity between Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

The downside is that most of us are not monks, nor should we be. Monasticism does not often lend itself to the lay life, and an unmeasured adoption of monastic praxis can be a source of psychological ruin for a layman who has no broader context to instill the appropriate understanding of the praxis, or sensibly disqualify it as being unsuitable for the lay life. This is a problem in both Catholicism and Orthodoxy; laity are seeking a deeper praxis and definition of Christianity, something that is total, without pivoting to evangelical, Pentecostal or independent Christian groups. Most laymen do not know how to moderate monasticism in their lives. Truthfully, most monks are equally unawares as to the measure most appropriate for the normative Christian life.

Ultimately, in the juxtaposition of contemporary Roman and Orthodox approaches to liturgy, one sees the divide between a conception of liturgy which sees liturgy as the formative source that defines all aspects of Christianity, both individual and corporate, and a conception of liturgy that sees the action and assembly of worship as an event that reflects the continual self-evaluation of belief on the part of the corporate whole. It can be asked when this distinction emerges, however, it seems naïve to identify the books promulgated after Vatican II as the nefarious actor.