Five Biblical Studies Books that I’m Stupider for Reading

I’m finally picking this up after about two weeks. Rick tagged in this meme (and also Stephen Carlson tagged me in its apparently different, but obnoxiously similar counterpart) And with all the backlash that appeared, I’m going to preface my books with some of Rick’s words in his update to the original post
(cutting out the points that were only relevant to his own list):

  1. The meme is based on an offhand thought [Rick] had while responding to yet another “five book” meme (the “Five Influential Primary Sources” meme, see the second sentence). Too many serious memes were floating around, some levity was required.
  2. It was time for a sampling of not-so-great books. You know, equal time and all that.
  3. “Books that make me stupider” are equivalent to those books you read and end up with the only response of “huh?”. Alternately, it could be, “no, he/she can’t seriously be arguing that!”
  4. I fully expect that if I ever publish a book, there will be some proportion of readers who will claim that my book made them stupider.

If you’re still uncomfortable with the name of the meme, then you can change the title to something like, “Five Biblical Studies Books that Vexed me” following John Anderson (I can’t seem to get onto his blogroll…).

Okay. My FIVE Books:

1. Leland Ryken’s The Word of God in English: Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translation

I’ve already made a number of comments on this book a few days ago. Ryken truly doesn’t know anything about translation if he actually believes what he writes in this book. He starts with a flawed premise and runs with it. Its truly amazing.

2. William Countryman’s Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today

I’m specifically talking about the second edition of Countryman’s book, which came out in 2007. The main problem with the book is the way he applies cultural anthropology to the texts. Its not that he’s wrong. Its that he’s not right. You’ll consistently thinking to yourself, “Hmmm, that’s a good point.” And then two sentences later you’ll say, “Wait a second…that doesn’t flow from that point.” The main flaw seems to be that Countryman consistently writes things like “X exists in the Old/New Testament culture, therefore X existed to the exclusion of all else.” That’s often how the book seems to argue. Its incredibly myopic. Will Deming’s review of the book at RBL says it all.

3. Ivan Kwong’s The Word Order of the Gospel of Luke: Its Foregrounded Messages

I’ve written about Kwong before. I’m not sure what’s more amazing: his purely statistical approach to word order or his literature review. Both of them have serious problems. But don’t take my word for it. Ask Steve. There is some good stuff here too, but its like mining for diamonds. You need to dig deep and its dark down there.

4. Stanley Porter’s Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, With Reference to Tense & Mood

Some of you might be surprised that this is here. Don’t be. For one, its an obnoxiously difficult read. Its small print and esoteric vocabulary by themselves are enough to make it a challenge. But then when you add to the fact that Porter has completely misread at least 100 years worth of scholarship on the Greek verb in his literature survey, you hopefully begin to grasp that this book shouldn’t be viewed as groundbreaking as we’re told that it is. The problem isn’t that the dead grammarians were wrong on the verb. The problem is that around the 1930-40s we stopped understanding them. The main contribution of Porter isn’t a “brand new theory of aspect.” Rather it’s a reminder of what we shouldn’t have forgotten to begin with…with a novel view of tense thrown in.

5. Chrys Caragounis’s Development of Greek and the New Testament, The: Morphology, Syntax, Phonology, and Textual Transmission

Caragounis and I have a difficult relationship. There’s so much good in this book combined with so much, well, not-so-good. I agree with so much in here. I love all the excellent grammatical information and exegetical studies. I’m with him 95% of the way that Greek needs to be understood more diachronically than it has. He goes a bit too far on it at times, but its a reasonable claim. The key to its acceptability is to read it in light of the past century of scholarship where the NT was read and interpreted in light of Classical Greek, rather than a response to any claim about synchronic description.

BUT. Caragounis’ phonological/phonetic description is less than helpful for a variety of reasons. For one, he shows now awareness of the fact that vowel alterations could and did occur for more reasons than pronunciation. He also provides no information for where his various vowel alterations are from geographically (i.e. are these sound changes from a specific area at a specific time?). And then there’s the fact that his descriptions of how to actually pronounce the letters of the Greek alphabet are imprecise and unhelpful (see HERE and HERE). [UPDATE: See Dr. Caragounis’ own comments on pronunciation below. You can either scroll or, if you’re lazy, click HERE]