Angels & Fiery Guides

Matthew’s star — the one that led the magi and “stood over the place where the child was” — has a long history of being interpreted as an angel. The language in Matthew of a star stopping in some way over the location of the holy family raises questions. How could a star so high in the sky indicate the exact location of a few people? This morning I was reminded of a parallel story while reading Exodus 14.

Exodus 13:21 says that during the day God led Israel through the wilderness by a massive cloud and at night by a fiery pillar. 14:19, however, refers to the guiding presence as the angel of God. Early interpreters of Matthew’s star weren’t just making things up. Exodus refers to a divine guide in one place as a blazing fire (similar to a star) and in another place an angel. There is precedent in scripture for understanding fiery guides as angels.

Dale Allison explains the history of interpretation in “The Magi’s Angel,” which you can check out via this Google Books search. Start with page 17 and you should be able to see the whole article.

Reading with a Print Text & Digital Lexicon

Over the summer I did a series of posts about different ways of reading Greek and Hebrew. I said that my the summer time tools of the trade are a print text and a print lexicon. During the school year, however, I am rarely able to read in my home office. To continue reading with a print text and lexicon would mean that everyday I have to carry multiple heavy books around campus. My favorite way to read hasn’t changed, but during the school year I’m really happy to settle for a print text and digital lexicon.

Print text

NA28, Rahlfs’ Septuagint, a Loeb Crito, and Steadman’s Lysias 1 & Crito are in my bag on most days, but because Rahlf’s Septuagint is so thick, sometimes it gets left behind. I prefer a print text because I think holding a book and flipping pages is more enjoyable, unless the book is old and gross. I realize that sometimes an old book is great, but I am not a fan of mold and other people’s finger grime — for example, crusty library copies of Migne or seminary library copies of a GNT.

Digital lexicon

For New Testament, Septuagint, and classical Greek there are a couple really great, affordable iOS options: Logeion & Protagoras. Logeion is free and includes LSJ, Middle Liddell, big Lewis and Short, little Lewis, and several other Greek and Latin lexicons. Protagoras is only a couple dollars, and for Greek it includes LSJ, Middle Liddell, Slater, and Autenrieth. For Latin it has both the full Lewis and Short and the smaller version by Lewis.

Logeion is amazing because of the way it interacts with Attikos, and because the user interface allows for quick entry and easy movement back and forth between the last few words you’ve looked up. Logeion hasn’t yet been updated for the iPhone X, however.

Protagoras, on the other hand, looks great on the iPhone X, and the developer has formatted the text in a way that makes a big difference for longer entries. Every portion of each entry that was originally in italic type appears in Protagoras as bold-italic. This means that as you scan a long entry your eyes can easily jump from gloss to gloss. For quick reading, this is such a timesaver. The bold glosses and iPhone X support means that I’ve been using Protagoras as my digital lexicon more often than not. One additional feature of Protagoras: it has a bookmark feature. As you are looking up words, you can bookmark them, and after your reading session, or maybe at the end of the week, you can go back to review.

For any lexicon not found in Protagoras or Logeion, I turn to Accordance. It is much more expensive, but it is worth every penny. With Accordance you are looking at a price tag much closer to what you would expect to pay for a print text, and this is completely understandable for works that are still in copyright and/or works that they have labored in house to tag in various ways. BDAG and HALOT, for example, are lexicons that I would do whatever necessary to have digitally and in print.

One final note about the digital options: I appreciate the ability in Protagoras and Accordance to type the Greek word you are looking up in beta code. This just saves the step of having to change your keyboard.

Experience

When reading this way, I usually access a digital lexicon on an iPhone, sometimes on an iPad. The bigger screens on the iPhone X or one of the plus models turns thousands of pages with tiny print into a much more readable, handheld reading companion.

This …

becomes this:

I know that the thought of your phone lying directly on top of the book you are trying to read sounds repulsive to some. Random notifications are a real threat, but they’re something that can be muzzled. Waiting for the ideal reading conditions just means you will not read as much text, and the number one thing most people need coming out of their first year of Greek is time in the text reading quickly. For more in that line of thought, see this post on reader’s texts.

Conclusion

Whether you are fresh out of your elementary courses or you’ve been doing this for decades, reading with a print text and digital lexicon is comfortable on the go. Sometimes even at home you just want to sit on the couch and relax with a text and lexicon that makes a small footprint but still gives you all the info you need. This way of reading fits those situations well, too. The print text allows an immersive reading experience and provides all the memory benefits of the sensory experiences that go along with holding a physical book, and the digital lexicon gives you portable, quick access to the vocab you need to keep moving.

This is the primary way I’m reading these days. Read however you like.

Just read.

Off-Campus Oxford Handbooks Online Ready

Thanks to John Merritt, off-campus access to Oxford Handbooks Online is ready to roll.

Head over to the databases page, and you will see it in the New Databases section on the right side of the screen and in its permanent home in the O-section. Click the link, log in with your normal SBTS login information, and you are good to go.

At the top of the Oxford Handbook Online page you will see a Browse by Subject section. You have access to the religion, philosophy, and history handbooks.

Go ahead and save a bookmark to this address, and next time you can go straight to the login page: http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com.ezproxy.sbts.edu.

SBTS Library Oxford Handbooks Online

Good news for SBTS students: I was just informed that SBTS students now have access to the religion, history, and philosophy Oxford Handbooks online. If you are on campus, you can navigate directly to oxfordhandbooks.com, and explore to your heart's content. Off campus access is on the way. When it is ready, off-campus students will access the site via the SBTS library databases page. (Update: off-campus access is ready to roll.)

These should be the most used resources the library owns. No matter what paper you are writing, you should find help in the Oxford Handbooks. There are 66 handbooks listed in the religion category, 73 in philosophy, and 40 in history. Each handbook contains in-depth surveys and fantastic bibliographies.

Tolle lege.

What is the Benefit of Greek & Hebrew?

Some say reading in Greek and Hebrew versus reading in English is like the difference between watching a show in color versus black and white. Others might say something like 2D versus 3D. I don’t think these are the best way to describe the experience. Reading in Greek and Hebrew slows me down and helps me rummage around in the text and reflect. For me, that’s the core idea. It gives me something to do.

I’m asking and answering this question as someone who initially learned the languages to read and teach Scripture. I’m going to write more about other benefits and things that flow from this rummaging and slow down, but in this post I just want to lay the foundation. How many times have you sat down to prepare to teach or preach and you read your passage and think, “Ok, now what?” If you are reading in the original languages you have so many different resources and tools to explore, and I’m thinking primarily about lexicons and concordances. If you don’t regularly read and work with the original languages, all you can do is skim the surface of an entry in BDAG or HALOT. Exploring contemporary literature, figures of speech, the metaphors used in your passage, looking at a words full range of meaning and determining which meaning is relevant for your passage — these are things you can actually engage in yourself if you can read the language.

But in my opinion, those things are not the primary benefit of the original language slow down. The real benefit comes in your day-to-day reading. It’s about stripping away the familiarity of your natural language and lingering over the original words. Especially for the first few years of reading, you have to decipher every word and phrase, and the fog never really lifts. Sure, after a few years, you may be able to read one or two or four chapters in an hour, but it’s still not English. You’re moving slower, and when I do this, I find that I make connections with other portions of scripture that I wouldn’t make otherwise. With certain phrases come flashes of other stories or scenes, and my imagination takes off. This sort of reading isn’t about exegesis. It’s about rummaging. It’s about trying to step through the wardrobe into the real world of God’s presence.

On Reading Groups

There is only one type of reading group I have stuck with and enjoyed, and that’s a digital reading group of two. I once made the mistake of trying to lead a Facebook reading group. Won’t do that again. It just takes too much time to maintain all the join requests and administrative notifications, and if you have a large group, keeping up with the comments drains your time to read, which is the whole point.

For over a year now, my Greek reading group has had only one other member, Abram KJ. He and I just finished a GNT read through and are starting on the Pentateuch. We do not live in the same area so our workflow is completely digital. We don’t meet, but as I mentioned in the last post, we’ve used Todoist to manage a shared reading plan, and it has worked wonderfully. For the GNT we commented on tasks in Todoist to facilitate reading discussion, but for our Pentateuch journey we are trying out Twist (initial thoughts here). We will use use Todoist for the reading plan and Twist to manage our comments. Any sort of live discussion usually takes place on iMessage.

Reading time is in one sense a luxury, but in another sense it’s as essential as food. I work at the library as a research aid for students, and someone asked me the other day how to find time for Greek and Hebrew reading while managing seminar papers and the rest of life. I think you have to prioritize reading on the same level as eating. You simply cannot wait until life isn’t busy to read. Isn’t reading the whole point of the education? You take all these language classes for the purpose of reading the literature written in the languages. Everyone finds time to eat, and everyone can find time to read. Groups help, however, because reading big books can be a lonely journey. It’s always nice to know someone is walking with you.

I think the key for any reading group is to keep everything as simple as possible, even when it comes to expectations. Our “plan” is simply a list of chapters (Abram Gen 1, Brian Gen 1, Abram Gen 2, Brian Gen 2, etc.) Each chapter is a task in a Todoist project called Greek Reading. Ideally, we will both read one chapter a day, but that rarely happens. No worries. Just read when you can, and keep going. If someone falls a little behind, send an encouraging text. If someone falls far behind, the other person can read something else for a week or two and let the other catch up. We are both committed to regular reading, but over the past year each of us fell behind more than once and we always caught up with each other eventually. Schedules vary, and each person has certain seasons that are more busy than others. That’s why the digital notes are so helpful. If I fall behind, I can check out Abram’s comments on each chapter as I catch up.

To sum up, here are my suggestions for digital reading groups:

  • Keep the group as small as you can.
  • Keep the plan as simple as you can.
  • Be flexible and know that you won’t always stay together.
  • Just keep reading.

Genesis 12 & the Exodus

In a sense, Genesis 12 foreshadows the Exodus. After Abram got Sarai to agree to lie about her relationship with him, they entered Egypt. As expected, she is taken into Pharaoh’s palace, and as expected:

12:16 – It went well for Abram. He gained flocks and cattle, male and female servants, donkeys, and camels.

God strikes Pharaoh and his people, and then at the end of the chapter:

12:20 – Pharaoh commanded his men concerning Abram, and they sent him out with his wife and all his possessions.

Through human compromise and sin and because of the broken world — famine, in this case — the people of God go down to Egypt, and through trickery, they plunder the Egyptians.

Hebrew text

Ways of Reading

Here’s a collection of posts I’ve written on different ways of reading original language texts. I find myself frequently moving from one way of reading to another. Sometimes I read one way for a week or a month or a year, but it’s bound to change. That’s a theme that runs throughout the posts. There isn’t one right way to read. Read however you want. Just read.

Reading with Text & Lexicon

Reading with a print text and a print lexicon is as basic as it gets. This is the way I read today, but like all the other ways of reading, it has its benefits and haunting feelings of guilt.

Setup

There is freedom here. No notebooks on the table, no pens to refill with ink, no laptop or tablet needed. Just a text and lexicon. When reading this way, I prefer to use a concise lexicon. So on the table I would have BHS and The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, NA28 and Danker’sConcise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, or Rahlfs and Muraoka or LEH. Sure, Muraoka claims to be a “fully-fledged lexicon,” but it better fits my expectations of a concise or intermediate lexicon. For Biblical Aramaic, Vogt and Fitzmyer is great. When a more comprehensive lexicon is needed, I will generally open an electronic version of HALOT, BDAG, or LSJ. If I’m home, BrillDAG is always handy.

Experience

This is a reading workflow that minimizes distraction because only rarely will the concise lexicons be unable to answer whatever vocab related questions that arise. I’m able to forget about everything else and be more immersed in the text.

In addition to the lack digital distractions, there is also the fact that I don’t have to worry about taking notes. When you take notes on everything you look up, the reading experience can turn into more of a note taking experience. When you close the books, it doesn’t feel like you have just stepped out of the wardrobe, but out of the classroom, where the teachers are dead lexicographers.

Of course, reading this way also forces me to think through the morphology of forms and not rely on digital helps to parse words, but I do this no matter how I read. I have never made digital resources crutches. I don’t personally know anyone who has. I think many who recommend a completely analog way of reading do so for fear of “digital crutches.” While this is no doubt a legitimate concern in a seminary classroom filled with students juggling family and church and work and academic schedules, anyone reading this far into this post should probably shirk such feelings of guilt. You are sufficiently dedicated to reading texts in their original languages that any sort of guilty feeling concerning digital crutches is misplaced guilt.

Reading with print text and lexicon encourages me to linger a little longer over the lexicon entry. I want to remember the word’s semantic range next time I come across it, and I am not taking notes I can look back on. In a related line of thought, I’m also not dependent upon the gloss provided by a reader’s text. I can get the full semantic range every time I look up a word — or at least the full semantic range a word has in a given body of literature. If I’m working with a good concise lexicon, at a glance I will also see all the forms of the word or at least its principal parts.

Finally, this way of reading will work with any language or body of literature. You don’t have to wait on someone to make a reader’s this or that. As long as you have a text and lexicon, you are good to go.

Wrapping Up

This way of reading is a little slower than reading with a reader’s text and faster than reading with paper and pen, but is it a happy medium? Well, it is hard to shake the feeling that I should be taking notes on everything I look up, but I think it is. Using a print text and lexicon is a solid way of reading, and the benefits far out weigh the negatives. I think I was first encouraged to read this way by Charles Halton in a Hebrew exegesis class, but I haven’t spent as much time with this MO as others. I’m going to continue reading this way over the summer, but you read however you want.

Just read.