Sundays with Silva: A Very Special Jubilee Edition

It is was barely one month ago today that we all rejoiced in the glorious proclamation of this Extraordinary Moisifical Jubilee Year, appointed to be observed on account of the 75th birthday of Our Infallible Hero, the great Moisés Silva. Jubilees are, of course, times of relief and renewal—and also times of extraordinary graces.

Now I am a modest and rather private fellow, and thus do not customarily speak of such graces as are occasionally visited upon me. Nevertheless, I feel it is incumbent upon me at this time to give public testimony, laconic though it be, to having received the highest attainable benefit of the jubilee we observe: for this past Friday, October 2—after 15 years of sedulous labors in the promotion of Moisifical Infallibility, and nearly a quarter of a century after my first entrée into the study of the Silvanic corpus—I was accounted worthy to be granted an audience with Our Infallible Hero himself in the storied City of Litchfield, Michigan. Of this unfettered Silvophany (whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows) I can only say that I heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I must, however, register my relief to have survived the obvious trap set up for me in downtown Litchfield, where the most dangerously convoluted intersection in the world quietly awaits the unsuspecting driver. I feel as though the civil authorities of Litchfield, in addition to fulfilling their long delinquent duty to include International Moisés Silva Day in their Community Calendar, could perhaps also make the corner of Chicago St and Jonesville Rd an all-way stop. But I digress.

While there is photographic evidence of the solemn event, I have decided to do one better for you, my gentle snowflakes: I am sharing here with each and all this actual footage of Friday’s Silvophany (!). This, I feel, will most accurately convey to you what transpired on that blessèd day (click to play):

International Moisés Silva Day 2020: Jubilee Edition

This is a great and wondrous day: rejoice, my gentle snowflakes! For Our Infallible Hero, the great Moisés Silva, was born on September 4, 1945, which makes this his 75th birthday.

Screen Shot 2020-09-04 at 5.05.25 PM

Needless to say, Bouncing into Graceland has largely fallen silent in recent years. An auspicious new beginning in late 2017 was quickly followed by a parish assignment, an interstate move, and the birth of a new child, all of which things have kept me quite happily occupied. Nevertheless, I have never given up the Chief Burden of this blog—namely, to spread the knowledge of the infallibility of Moisés Silva throughout the land—and have continued my sedulous labors to this end both one-on-one and through alternative forms of online presence. Yet reasonable as all of that may be, the Year of Our Lord 2020 demands that this silence come to an end: for this unusual year, which seems to contain centuries, brings together on this day two glorious remembrances. I speak, of course, of the 75th Moisifical Jubilee and the 10th anniversary of International Moisés Silva Day.

Surely the inauguration of a solemn jubilee in connection with the 75th birthday of the only human being in possession of personal and comprehensive infallibility in all matters of which he speaks requires neither extensive commentary nor justification. After all, Elizabeth Windsor of the House Formerly Known as Saxe-Coburg-Gotha saw fit to celebrate with untold splendor a mere 60 years of rule over a dwindling Empire in 2012, and the public just ate it up! How much more, then, shall we jubilate on account 75 years of an infallibility which neither dwindles nor diminishes.  

Similar considerations prompted me to conclude in 2010 that Our Infallible Hero’s dies natalis should be marked by great and splendid festivities, which resulted in the solemn and universal proclamation of September 4 as International Moisés Silva Day, to be celebrated thereon in perpetuity. Though the City of Litchfield, longtime place of residence of Our Infallible Hero, has thus far failed to take notice of this significant annual commemoration, I am pleased to take note today of its first full decade (!).

All of the foregoing has naturally got me thinking about what could be done in the next 10 years to advance the cause of Moisifical Infallibility, and I have decided that the obvious answer is the production of a magisterial monograph attending to the various aspects thereof, and to be entitled: MOISÉS AND THE THREE. Perceptive readers will quickly realize that the title is borrowed from “St Paul and the Three,” one of the “dissertations” or extended essays that accompany the commentary on St Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians by the great J. B. Lightfoot, late Anglican Bishop of Durham (the 130th anniversary of whose death was observed on 21 December 2019).

This is not, of course, mere accident. After all, in a recorded class lecture1 Our Infallible Hero informs us that, while students have accused him of bowing his head idolatrously when mentioning the name of Lightfoot, the latter “is probably the greatest New Testament scholar that God has given his church” (14:20). Indeed, Our Infallible Hero has also been recorded clearly speaking of “my idol Lightfoot,” and has even asserted in print that he reserves the term “perfect” for him alone.2 Thus we can readily see the deep and meaningful connection between the infallibility of Moisés Silva and the perfections of Joseph Barber Lightfoot. And of course, Lightfoot did not flourish on his own, but together with his two great Cambridge friends, Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort. Now, Our Infallible Hero has called himself “an unrepentant and unshaken Hortian” in print at least once, going on to note that Hort’s achievement was “in collaboration with Westcott, and less directly, Lightfoot.”3 On this account, then, it is only natural that we should take all three together with respect to Silva, even as Lightfoot takes Peter, James, and John together with respect to St Paul. As the same Silvanic class recording mentioned above rightly notes, these fellows “were part of a trio—not a musical band, but something much more exciting than that” (14:00).

Nor is this all: the Lightfoot-Silva, perfection-infallibility connection is drawn explicitly in the Silvanic corpus itself. In the introduction to a 1983 lecture, the main body of which was later published as “Betz and Bruce on Galatians” (WTJ 45 [1983] 371-85), Our Infallible Hero has this to say:

“In the year [1857], the Journal for Classical and Sacred Philology carried an article reviewing several recent works on the epistles of Paul. This rather lengthy review article—it was about 40 pages long—immediately established its author, who was then only 27 years old, as a force to be reckoned with in biblical scholarship. Within a decade this young scholar had published a commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians destined to become one of the most influential works of the century. And it is remarkable that even today, about [126] years later, this work is widely regarded not only as an indispensable tool for the understanding of the Epistle to the Galatians in particular, but also as perhaps the finest model we have for the proper exegesis of the Pauline writings generally. Now this young man’s name was, of course, Joseph Barber Lightfoot. And here I stand before you today in order to review two recent works on Galatians. This lecture is supposed to evolve into a review article and to be published in the Westminster Journal this fall—if the editor accepts it4—but the historical significance of the lecture, you see, is that I am hereby announcing my candidacy to become the Lightfoot of our generation.”

“The Lightfoot of our generation”! A new Lightfoot; a better and greater Lightfoot; in a word, the one to whose infallibility the perfections of Lightfoot point: hear ye him. This and many other points will be treated exhaustively in MOISÉS AND THE THREE, though I regret already that the massive length of this monograph (expected to be much longer than even Christoph Uehlinger’s Weltreich und “eine Rede”) will surely mean that a number of important Silvanic teachings cannot be included. Take for instance, this enormously significant bit derived from his recorded lectures: Our Infallible Hero’s calculations appear to indicate that any time you may add to your life by exercising only equals the amount of time you wasted exercising in the first place. This speaks to a fundamental principle of the universe: that, as a theologian friend of no small consequence told me just a few days ago, it’s all about “quality of life” rather than “quantity of life.” Be that as it may, I hope to write multiple scientific studies on these precious Moisifical obiter dicta during the decade after this one—which would be my fifth, so I will undoubtedly end up eating a salad and running a lap or two just to make it there.

Finally, and because every jubilee requires an anthem, I am enormously pleased to present to you some lyrics I have written, set to a peppy tune composed by Alfred Judson for a hymn by Haldor Lillenas. And to Our Infallible Hero, the teacher of us all, the great Moisés Silva on his 75th birthday: MANY YEARS, with gratitude!

Anthem for the 2020 Moisifical Jubilee

Once I was bound by spectres of Cremer
Theologizing Greek words in vain;
But I was freed from voodoo linguistics
When Silva broke my fetters in twain!

Glorious Silva! Wonderful Silva!

No further pseudo-linguistic tripe:
Semantic fields and lexical research,
Now and forever, delight of mine!

Taking account of modern linguistics:
Careful with Kittel, consider Barr!
Working to track semantic displacement,
Linguistic freedom, joy without par!

Freedom from Fee and Arnold’s objections,
From Caragounis and his complaints;
Freedom in Our Infallible Hero,
He who has rent our fetters in twain!



1 This material comes from the Westminster Theological Seminary course  NT 111, General Introduction to the New Testament, recorded in 26 parts and available at the Westminster Archive Media Service. The linked lecture is part 16 of 26.

2 Moisés Silva, “Response,” in David Alan Black (ed.), Rethinking New Testament Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 144.

3 Ibid., 142. (Regarding the preference now reflected in 17th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style [14.34], you can pry my ibid. from my cold, dead hands.)

4 Our Infallible Hero served as editor of the Westminster Theological Journal from 1982 to 1991. Similarly, it bears noting that J. B. Lightfoot edited the Journal of Classical and Sacred Philology for its entire run (1854-9). Let the reader understand.

International Septuagint Day 2019


I am pleased that the first post in this blog for the current year, and indeed the first post in exactly 16 months, should appear in celebration of the 13th annual International Septuagint Day—a commemoration vested with enormous significance in the Bouncing into Graceland festal cycle, second only to International Moisés Silva Day (September 4) and just ahead of International Translation Day (September 30, the real feast of St Jerome). It is much to be regretted, however, that in spite of its paramount importance, today’s festival was last mentioned here in 2009, fully a decade ago. With no small amount of remorse, then, yet equally resolved to amend such a grievous misstep, I turn to the solemnities at hand.

Of course you, my gentle snowflakes, will recall that (as I noted back in 2008) Emperor St Justinian’s Novella 146, which legislates the use of the “Greek […] text of the seventy interpreters” in Greek-speaking synagogues, was issued on February 8, A. D. 553. Thus, as the great Bob Kraft has said, the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies (IOSCS) chose this day for the annual commemoration as “reflecting the one date we know of from late antiquity on which LXX/OG/Aquila received special attention.” This is not, however, the whole story.

As you all know, it is the chief burden of Bouncing into Graceland to spread the knowledge of the infallibility of Moisés Silva throughout the land, and Our Infallible Hero is an able Septuagintalist and an IOSCS member of long standing. It should come as no surprise, then, that as a sedulous researcher attuned to all matters Silvanic, I should in time happen upon a genuine Moisifical connection to the establishment of our high festival. And so I should like to direct your attention to the minutes of the IOSCS General Business Meeting held in Washington, D.C., on November 20, 2006, which under item 7a (“Other business from the floor”), states:

“A motion to establish February 8 annually as International Septuagint Day to promote the discipline on our various campuses and communities was moved by Karen Jobes, seconded by James Aitkin [sic] and carried” (BIOSCS 40 [2007], 143).

Notice here who made the motion: the divine Karen Jobes, Gerald F. Hawthorne Professor Emerita of New Testament Greek and Exegesis at Wheaton College, who is herself a Septuagintalist of note and served at that time as IOSCS Secretary. But how, do you ask, did Professor Jobes become interested in LXX studies in the first place? She explains:

“The inspiration […] was born during my doctoral studies at Westminster Theological Seminary in a course entitled ‘The Greek Old Testament,’ taught by Moisés Silva. I had previously heard Professor Silva comment that this course was the hardest one offered at the seminary. Being a woman who enjoys a reasonable challenge and having become enamored with Biblical Greek, I registered for the course with enthusiasm.

Very quickly I began to appreciate both the technical and conceptual complexities of Septuagint studies. So many of my naive assumptions about texts, manuscripts, and the Scriptures I hold dear were quickly shattered. I began to see a more profound, mysterious, and wonderful picture that captured my scholarly imagination. I’ve been hooked on Septuagint studies ever since” (Karen H. Jobes and Moisés Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint, 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015], xiii).

This led eventually to her dissertation on The Alpha-Text of Esther: Its Character and Relationship to the Masoretic Text (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1996) under the direction of Our Infallible Hero, to her sustained attention to the LXX in her distinguished teaching and scholarship, and indeed to the above documented motion at the IOSCS General Business Meeting on November 20, 2006, which established our honored festival day. And so it all harks back to one scholar’s (undoubtedly often thankless) service to the discipline, which captivated the imagination of a student who became a brilliant scholar in her own right, and who has since led several of her own students down the same path. May their tribe increase!

In addition to her above mentioned works on the LXX, Professor Jobes has also produced the introduction and translation of Esther for the New English Translation of the Septuagint, the translation of Esther in the Codex Sinaiticus for the British Library, and in collaboration with several of her students, Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2016). She has also published a number of articles on Septuagintal topics, all of which are available for download on her website.

So, with that, a happy International Septuagint Day 2019 to one and all! For other posts in honor of this universal commemoration, see our friend Mike Aubrey’s post over at Koine Greek, which highlights the recently published 2-vol. Septuaginta: A Reader’s Edition (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2018) and runs through some linguistic data on ἰσχύ+INF in the LXX, and William Ross’ post over at Septuaginta &c., which features a wonderful interview with Septuagintalist Kristin De Troyer. Incidentally, William Ross has been picking up the slack for our high festival for the past several years, all the while completing his doctorate on the LXX at Cambridge and co-editing the mammoth reader volumes to which we have just referred. You know, no big deal. And last but certainly not least, Marieke Dhont has a fascinating guest post over at the Logos Academic blog on the digitization of LXX manuscripts at the Vatican Apostolic Library.

Sundays with Silva: On Translation and Long Apostolic Sentences

In the most recent installment of Mondays with Moisés, we read our Infallible Hero state, in what at first blush might seem like a throwaway comment, that since “the message communicates more clearly” in translations of modern literature which sound “as though they had originally been written in English” (with due allowance for the original context), “one can argue that they are more accurate than literal renderings would be.” Yet the careful reader will immediately note that his use of “one can argue” here practically demands some sort of qualification for this statement. One such qualification, it seems to me, relates to the use of so-called “insider language,” as I suggested in my recent rejoinder to the much-missed Lingamish. Another, as I argued many years ago in another such discussion, is the notion that a literarily sensitive translation “will not be complicated where the original is not, and by the same token, will not be simpler than the original.” Do such added qualifications find any support at all in the Silvanic canon, however? Fortunately for us, the material from the Youngblood Festschrift reworks, with somewhat different emphases, similar material from our Infallible Hero’s earlier publication, God, Language and Scripture. In addition to beautifully nuancing—and rounding out—an admittedly complex discussion, our text today affords us an excellent illustration of a fundamental principle of Moisifical Infallibility: to wit, that Moisés Silva is his own best interpreter.

silva“The task of producing a good translation is exceedingly arduous. Students of the biblical languages do not always have a good appreciation of what is involved. They have learned to produce ‘literal’ translations by consulting the lexicon and so the process seems rather straightforward. In fact, however, a successful translation requires (1) mastery of the source language—certainly a much more sophisticated knowledge than one can acquire over a period of four or five years; (2) superb interpretive skills and breadth of knowledge so as not to miss the nuances of the original; and (3) a very high aptitude for writing in the target language so as to express accurately both the cognitive and the affective elements of the message.

“Even when one has all that equipment, frustration lurks at every turn. If we capture with some precision the propositional content of a statement, we may give up the emotional nuances that form part of the total meaning. If we have a stroke of genius and come up with a turn of phrase that conveys powerfully the message of the original, we may realize that our rendering blurs somewhat its cognitive detail. Not surprisingly, some rabbis used to complain: ‘He who translates a verse literally is a liar, and he who paraphrases is a blasphemer!’ Italians are more concise: traduttore traditore, ‘translators are traitors.’ […]

“We must ever keep in mind that no one translation can possibly convey fully and unambiguously the meaning of the original. Different translators, and even different philosophies of translation, contribute to express various features of the original. […] Moreover, recent advances in linguistics place much emphasis on the context of speech. The admirable desire to produce translations that do not sound like translations and are thus clearer and more accessible to the modern reader must be accompanied by the reminder that the biblical stories took place in the Middle East rather than the Western world, in ancient times rather than in the twentieth century. To the extent that ‘readable’ translations indirectly encourage modern readers to forget such a setting, to that extent they also fail to capture part of the meaning of the text. Besides, one detects a definite tendency to make modern translations much simpler than the original Greek and Hebrew. If the Corinthians had some difficulty understanding Paul’s Greek, it is no disgrace when a modern English reader has to struggle through a long apostolic sentence.

“It is also misleading, however, to assume that a rendering that is formally equivalent to the original necessarily conveys the meaning more faithfully. If I translate the Spanish sentence Tengo frío en los pies literally, ‘I have cold in the feet,’ rather than idiomatically, ‘My feet are cold,’ English readers will probably understand the rendering, but they will gain absolutely nothing by its literalness—indeed, they could be misled to think that there is some special nuance they are missing! Literal translations are easier to produce, and the approach can degenerate into an excuse for not doing the hard exegetical and literary work of conveying faithfully the meaning of the ancient text to the modern reader.”

Moisés Silva, “God, Language and Scripture,” in Moisés Silva (ed.), Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation: Six Volumes in One (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 273, 275-6.

The Book of the People (of God): A Friendly Rejoinder

One of the pleasures of taking up the blog after so long a time is the chance to revisit, on the one hand, long-forgotten drafts (some nearly finished!) waiting to be published, and on the other, seemingly endless scraps of paper carefully tucked away in my desk drawer, in the hopes that one day I might have occasion to return to them. I had meant to publish a couple of short posts drawn from each of these categories last week, but the toils of life in this fallen world and the infirmities of the flesh prevented me from so doing (though, happily, not from posting altogether). Allow me, then, to resume the program this week, and so bring you a post (and perhaps two others in the near future) that harks back to the golden days of Biblioblogdom. This one happens to have been drafted on the whole in 2008, in response to our good friend Lingamish (a.k.a. David Ker), who has long departed the blogosphere for other (and doubtless more fruitful) fields of endeavor. He is nevertheless sorely missed, not least as a creative force and sparring partner. Here’s to you, Dave. Thanks for all the lingapotami.

linga-hippo-xs-purpleIt appears that our good friend Lingamish is presently distraught because his biblical translation of choice, the Contemporary English Version (CEV), has started to make use of the word “grace” in recent editions. (Previously, he notes, it used exclusively such expressions as “undeserved kindness” and “gift,” depending on the context.) He opines:

“I strongly believe that when a Bible translation uses archaic or insider vocabulary that they are in effect requiring readers to finish the translation for them. This is a half-baked strategy. In essence what the translator is doing is saying, ‘When you read the word grace you shouldn’t understand it as a synonym for elegance like it is used in modern parlance. Instead you should understand it as a deep theological word whose full significance is only accessible to you if you understand my theological framework.’”

This, I should mention, is strongly reminiscent of comments from Barclay Newman in a fascinating interview which we’ve already had occasion to note:

“[T]he word ‘grace,’ of course is absent [from the CEV]. It was brought into the text by John Wycliffe, 1384, when he transliterated the Latin term ‘gratia.’ The problem, of course, the word ‘grace’ today is that it means charm, poise, beauty, loveliness, and you cannot even create a contemporary English sentence using ‘grace’ in the sense that it’s used in the biblical terms, you’re saved by grace. And so we looked at the meaning of the Greek word rather than […] continuing with the […] traditional terminologies.”

Now I realize that this may come as a shock to some, but it bears noting that the Bible, like any other religious text (and more to the point, like any other sacred text), contains a great deal of specialized terminologywhat Lingamish calls “insider vocabulary,” or worse, “Biblish.” This is so because a sacred text both belongs to the community that regards it as sacred and finds its rightful context within it. In turn, the community receives these “insider words” and invests them with expansive meanings that reflect the understanding and experience of the community (i.e., its “theological framework”). Thus we are not dealing merely with shorthand or jargon that can be merrily parsed away by means of circumlocution, but precisely with weighty words whose full significance is indeed only accessible to those connected to the community. Thus, what is needed is not merely for a translation to resolve every conceivable problem in the text, but rather to bring readers into the life of the community. Or, to put it in perfectly traditional Christian “insider words,” what is needed is conversion and catechesis, initiation and mystagogy.

Note that the Christian Bible itself does not take the view that all of its parts are equally clear; II Peter 3:16 explicitly tells us that in St Paul’s epistles, for instance, there are “some things hard to understand.” Nor does Scripture suggest that all of its parts are equally accessible to the general reader apart from the community.1 The episode of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40 makes this counterpoint eloquently, particularly in the exchange between St Philip and the Eunuch (vv. 30-31a), which highlights the need for a guide in connection with the act of reading Scripture:

“So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said: ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?'”

Anything to the contrary assumes a view of Scripture which effectively separates it from the life and experience of the community of faith to which it belongs. And indeed, the sort of translation for which our dear friend Lingamish yearns is only possible in a universe where the Bible stands alone, severed from the Church’s reading and use of the Scriptures over two millennia. Not only do I adamantly refuse to be part of such a universe, but I note that it is merely an unattainable mythical creation—not an utopia, even, because there is nothing ideal or desirable about it. Indeed, not even the most fervent biblicist truly believes in such a thing, whatever their protestations. The story is often told of the distinguished Christian preacher convinced that, were Bibles to be dropped in a remote area without previous contact with Western civilization, the people there would necessarily organize Churches of Christ, non-instrumental: that is, that they would replicate exactly (O wonder!) his own community of faith.

Incidentally, during a recent visit [i.e., in 2008] to the Bible Society in Río Piedras, I picked up an inexpensive copy of the Traducción in Lenguaje Actual (TLA), the Spanish equivalent of the CEV. After a week or so of reading several representative portions of this translation, I have only this to say: so help me if I ever again have to read a banal and basically meaningless adjective like special applied to such a wondrous and weighty subject as God’s choosing of a people for his Name!


1 By the same token, neither does the Bible take the view that all of its parts are equally unclear, nor does it suggest that all its parts are equally inaccessible!

Digging for Hidden Treasures in Festschriften


A couple of weeks ago, Eric Smith of the Iliff School of Theology in Denver tweeted, in a bold act of confessio, his considered (but in some quarters quite unpopular) opinion that edited volumes and Festschriften “often contain better, more interesting work than juried articles [and] monographs.” I happen to concur with this eminently sensible judgment, and so replied to express my wholehearted agreement, noting in passing that the late great Bruce Manning Metzger compiled an index (1951, with a supplement in 1955) of articles on the New Testament and the early Church published in Festschriften (pictured above). And in fact, a quick perusal of the works in question reminded me that Professor Metzger himself was in full agreement: he says in the Preface that “the average article in Festschriften is of a higher caliber,” since “every scholar, and particularly a disciple, is quite naturally eager to do honor to his teacher or colleague by producing a contribution of lasting significance.”1

In his memoir Reminiscences of an Octogenarian, to which we have had occasion to refer earlier, Professor Metzger gives a brief account of this bibliographical project. He comments that while “assembling and publishing a Festschrift has been a pleasant way of acknowledging publically the contributions to scholarship made by the person to whom the volume was dedicated,”2 there is a long-acknowledged negative side to such a publication, which he describes with a story from the memoirs of another late great scholar, Frederick Fyvie Bruce:

“Back in my [i.e., Bruce’s] Cambridge days Peter Giles, Master of Emmanuel College, used to tell us that any scholar who wrote an article for a Festschrift might as well dig a hole in his back garden and bury it, for in a year or two it would be forgotten and there would be no convenient means of recording its existence.”3

From this, it is a short distance indeed to R. G. Collingwood’s well-known desideratum that he “may escape otherwise than by death the last humiliation of an aged scholar, when his juniors conspire to print a volume of essays and offer it to him as a sign that they now consider him senile”!4 No wonder that, in addition to being compared a hole in the back garden by Master Giles of Emmanuel, Festschriften have been described as “the graveyard of scholarship”5—both of which endeavors, incidentally, require a fair bit of digging.

Undaunted by these considerations, Professor Metzger relates that, in his “pursuit of fugitive Festschriften” and their hidden treasures, he dug instead “beyond the field of New Testament into such fields as ancient art and archaeology, Byzantine research, the classics, Egyptology, English literature, intertestamental literature, Judaica, the mystery cults, mythology, coins, Oriental languages and literatures, paleography, papyrology, patristics, philology in general, philosophy, and theology in general”6—a broad scope indeed! In the preface to the Supplement, he gives the number of indexed Festschriften as 640, and states that the number of indexed articles “comes to nearly 2350, written in a score of languages.”7 “Not a few of these,” he notes, “are dedicated to scholars whose chief interests were far removed from the New Testament and the Early Church,” so that “many of the Festschriften here recorded contain only a single article germane to the interests of the compiler.”8 He mentions almost in passing visits to European libraries and bookstores in pursuit of the over 1200 volumes actually reviewed for the index, remarking almost wistfully that “the task of ferreting out Festschriften is almost endless, and utmost diligence in ransacking all the ordinary sources is only supplemented by knowledge that comes only by chance.”9

Metzger’s index “attempted to include all pertinent material from the time that the custom of publishing Festschriften began … down to the close of 1950, the half century mark being an appropriate terminus ad quem.”10 He notes in the Supplement that an index of medieval studies published in Festschriften from 1865 to 1946 and prepared by Harry F. Williams appeared serendipitously on the same year as Metzger’s (available online here). As it happens, “the two volumes supplement each other admirably, for [Metzger’s] covers the first five centuries of the Christian era, and [Williams’] begins with the sixth century.”11 To this must be added the still more impressive achievement by Dorothy Rounds, Articles on Antiquity in Festschriften: An Index (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962), which covers the fields of the Ancient Near East, the Old Testament, Greece, Rome, Roman Law, and Byzantium from 1863 to 1954 (available online here).

Now, a question: who will be our Metzger today? Yes, we are fortunate to have resources like the Elenchus of Biblica (to 2011) and New Testament Abstracts (ongoing) at our disposal, yet neither of these quite provides us with what Metzger gave to us (or what Williams, Rounds, and yet others have given to other fields). Even if all Festschriften and edited volumes were always indexed with regard to their specific contents (and they are not), what of those essays in broader collections that might fall outside the scope of the technical publications in the field? Again, Metzger found that there are many of these, with not a few Festschriften featuring a single article relevant to our purposes. Who is searching for those and indexing them? Metzger gave us a thorough index to the end of 1950. It isn’t too far-fetched to conceive of a second index, this time from 1951 to the end of the year 2000 as a new terminus ad quem. Surely there is some budding theological bibliographer out there with an appetite for detective work whose name we can bless for generations.

Allow me in closing to illustrate the need for such an undertaking by making reference to the work of some distinguished scholar, picked entirely at random: say, Moisés Silva. Now I happen to know that Professor Silva has contributed to at least nine Festschriften: Bruce (1980), Hughes (1985), Greenlee (1992), Louw (1992), Gundry (1994, which he co-edited), Metzger (1995), O’Brien (2001), Pietersma (2001), and Youngblood (2003).12 Unless you happen to be actively engaged in the work of acquiring the Silvanic opera omnia, as one does, then you would be hard-pressed to learn that, e.g., the 1994 volume features an exceedingly important article on eschatological structures in Galatians, whereas the 1992 volume carries an illuminating discussion of the text of Galatians in early manuscripts, and the 2001 volume gives an solid account of Paul’s mission according to Galatians.13 It is precisely this sort of blind spot, which only impoverishes the breadth and quality of research, that a full and thematic index helps of us to resolve.


1 Bruce M. Metzger, Index of Articles on the New Testament and the Early Church Published in Festschriften, Journal of Biblical Literature Monograph Series 5 (Philadelphia, PA: Society of Biblical Literature, 1951), vii.

2 Bruce Manning Metzger, Reminiscences of an Octogenarian (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995), 152.

3 As quoted in Metzger, ibid. It bears noting that Professor Bruce was himself honored not by one, but two Festschriften, both of which I happily possess. The second of these, published (like Professor Bruce’s memoir) in 1980, happens to contain a little-known article by his only infallible doctoral advisee.

4 Cf. R. G. Collingwood, An Autobiography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1939), 113. Perhaps it should be noted that he did escape, but alas, not otherwise than by death. He did not escape, however, the indignity of having his invaluable unpublished work edited posthumously by a junior colleague.

5 Cf. a compilation of the more notorious epithets in the literature, all duly footnoted and serially dismissed, in Robert Pick, “Some thoughts on Festschriften and a projected subject index,” German Life and Letters 12, no. 3 (1959): 204-210.

6 Ibid., 153; cf. also Index, viii, from which this section is taken verbatim.

7 Bruce M. Metzger, Supplement to Index of Articles on the New Testament and the Early Church Published in Festschriften, Journal of Biblical Literature Monograph Series Supplement to 5 (Philadelphia, PA: Society of Biblical Literature, 1955), iii.

8 Ibid., iv.

9 Even the “second-hand book catalogue”! Cf. Metzger, Index, xi.

10 Metzger, Supplement, ibid. For an historical account of Festschriften, cf. the still unsurpassed article by Dorothy Rounds and Dow Sterling, “Festschriften,” Harvard Library Bulletin VIII, no. 3 (Autumn 1954): 283-298 (available online here).

11 Metzger, ibid.

12 To the best of my knowledge, that is! If the reader happens to be aware of some other Festschrift to which Professor Silva has contributed, and could forward the bibliographical information to me, this would be most sincerely appreciated.

13 This is also the only publication of which I am aware that gives a middle initial for Professor Silva: “D.” A middle name is not recorded even with the Library of Congress. Inquiring minds, &c.!

Mondays with Moisés: Learning Greek and Translating Greek

As we all know, there simply aren’t enough months, weeks, or days to praise the excellencies of our Infallible Hero. Because of this, and in spite of my desire to not overwhelm you, my gentle snowflakes, with feature posts, I have felt compelled on this week leading up to Bible Translation Day & International Translation Day to share with one and all the following selections from Moisés Silva’s contribution to the 2003 Festschrift for the late great biblical scholar and translator, Ronald F. Youngblood (d. 2014). While I trust that the combined selections below convey the main thrust of Silva’s argument in this spellbinding essay, please be advised that in the full version they frame multiple and fascinating examples that are worth your time and consideration. Please note the bibliographic information at the end of the post, and make a point of reading this essay—and this remarkable Festschrift—in its entirety.

silva“College and seminary courses in the biblical languages consist primarily of guiding the student in translating word-for-word. If the resulting rendering violates English syntax or makes no sense at all, changes may be introduced, but as a rule these translations are stilted (sometimes barely intelligible to a layperson) and rarely express the thought of the original in the most natural way that the rich resources of the English language make available. Most of us have thus been led to believe that if we manage to represent the Greek and Hebrew words in as close a one-to-one correspondence as possible, we have succeeded in the task of translation. But who would consider successful a Spanish-to-English translation that had such renderings as “I have cold in the feet” (instead of “My feet are cold”) or “He has ten years” (instead of “He is ten years old”)—even though these sentences conform to English syntax and their meaning can be figured out? […]

“All successful translations of literature (for example, contemporary German novels) sound natural, as though they had originally been written in English (while also preserving a feel for the original cultural setting). Therefore, they are more easily read and understood than if they reflected the foreign syntax and word usage. (Incidentally, since the message communicates more clearly, one can argue that they are more accurate than literal renderings would be.) […] Because most New Testament books (as well as Old Testament Hebrew narrative) are characterized by a fairly straightforward syntax, many of whose features can be paralleled in English syntax, we are lulled into thinking that literal renderings of the Greek text “work.” But just because a certain Greek syntactical pattern can be reproduced in English, that hardly means it should, as though such reproduction were the best or most faithful representation of the original. […]

“The first time I taught extrabiblical Hellenistic Greek, I had a small group of advanced college students who had shown strong competence in two years of New Testament Greek. One of them was an unusually gifted student who, nevertheless, felt quite frustrated and discouraged because of the difficulties she was experiencing. How was it possible that she could do so well understanding and translating the Greek of the New Testament and yet feel so lost working with Epictetus? Almost all students I’ve taught since then have had a comparable reaction, even though the language of Epictetus is in fact relatively simple. How does one explain this phenomenon?

“Part of the answer is that biblical students are dependent—to a much greater degree than they realize—on their familiarity with the contents of the New Testament. There is no shame in this. The main reason we understand Time magazine well is that we are very familiar with the historical context in which American English is spoken. The further removed we are from the context of a document (e.g., in time—say, Shakespeare—or in subject matter—legal documents), the greater our difficulties in making sense of it. A student’s basic familiarity with the biblical subject matter and form of expression, over against an unfamiliarity with the concerns and phraseology of Hellenistic philosophers, has much to do with the frustrations he or she will experience moving from one to the other.

“But that explanation does not get to the heart of the linguistic problem. As already suggested, an exclusive (or nearly exclusive) acquaintance with the simple narrative of the Gospels or with the unassuming discourse of the Pauline letters, combined with the instinctive tendency (confirmed and encouraged by the instructor) to represent the text by means of one-to-one English correspondences whenever possible, creates a conception of the workings of the Greek language that is derived from an alien structure. On the other hand, intensive training translating clauses and sentences that cannot be rendered word-for-word and thus require restructuring would give students an entrée into the genius (i.e., the authentic character) of the foreign tongue. It would also help them see much more clearly that such restructuring could be the preferable method of rendering even when it may not appear “necessary.” The point here is that a nonliteral translation, precisely because it may give expression to the genius of the target language (in this case English), can do greater justice to that of the source language (Greek).”

Moisés Silva, “Are Translators Traitors? Some Personal Reflections,” in Glen G. Scorgie et al. (eds.), The Challenge of Bible Translation: Communicating God’s Word to the World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 38, 39, 40, 42-43.

Of Pelikan, Pelicans, and the Love of Books

Today I received, at long last, a copy of a book which I had inexplicably neglected to acquire before now: Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Reformation of the Bible / The Bible of the Reformation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996). He describes the context and character of the volume as follows (Preface, ix):

“It was a touching personal tribute, but also a unique scholarly opportunity, when my friend and student Valerie Hotchkiss, librarian of the Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, invited me, in observance of my impending retirement in June 1996 after 50 years of teaching, to serve as guest curator for the exhibition ‘The Reformation of the Bible / The Bible of the Reformation,’ and to compose these four essays, which are intended to round out the Catalog of the exhibition but also to stand on their own as a small monograph about this large subject.”

The four essays in question address the following topics:

  1. Sacred Philology (3-21)
  2. Exegesis and Hermeneutics (23-39)
  3. Bibles for the People (41-62)
  4. The Bible and the Arts (63-78)

My perusal of the essays earlier this afternoon confirmed, of course, that they are nothing but exquisite specimens of Pelikan’s magnificently learned prose, and I eagerly look forward to reading them in detail. I noted the arrival of the book on Twitter by posting a picture of it with the attached hashtag, #piepelicanejesudomine. Beyond the obvious connection with Pelikan’s last name, there is an important reason for this: as it happens, Pelikan’s custom book plate features this well-known verse from St Thomas Aquinas’ hymn Adoro te devote under the image of a pelican piercing its breast to feed its young with its own blood—a mythical behavior widely attributed to pelicans in antiquity and the Middle Ages, and taken as a symbol of the Lord’s Passion and the Eucharist,  by which and in which he feeds us with his own Body and Blood. My friend Fr Daniel Greeson, currently a deacon and a student at St Vladimir’s Seminary of Yonkers in New York, took a picture of this book plate at the seminary library, which by his kind permission I share here for your edification:


Note, in addition to the pelican motif and the related verse, the two medallions: the one on the left featuring Luther’s seal, and the one of the right featuring the Slovak coat of arms, to honor the Slovak Lutheran heritage of the Pelikan family. (Readers will recall that, after a lifetime as a Lutheran, first in the LCMS and eventually in the ELCA, Jaroslav Pelikan was received into the communion of the Orthodox Church on 25 March 1998.) Finally, note that his name is given as “Jary,” the nickname by which his friends knew him.

One more note on Pelikan: thanks to the wonders of the Internet Archive, you may still read his fascinating autobiographical essay, “A Personal Memoir: Fragments of a Scholar’s Autobiography,” originally published in Valerie Hotchkiss and Patrick Henry (eds.), Orthodoxy and Western Culture: A Collection of Essays Honoring Jaroslav Pelikan on His Eightieth Birthday (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2006).

As these happy bibliophilic thoughts occupied my mind for most of the afternoon and evening, I was reminded that we are at the head of the week preceding the feast of another consummate bibliophile, our venerable father Jerome of Stridon, sacred philologist and translator par excellence, who reposed in the Lord on 30 September 420. In honor of his memory, that day has long been observed as Bible Translation Day by many Bible societies and translation agencies, and as International Translation Day since 1953 by the International Federation of Translators. To celebrate, I have a couple of posts on Bible translation lined up for this week that hark back to the old days of biblioblogdom. But also, since St Jerome was both a priest and a bibliophile, here is a timely reminder: 30 September 2017 will the 2nd Annual #BuyAPriestABookDay! Kindly remember that, as I have observed elsewhere, “Buy a Priest a Book Day” is superior to the so-called “Buy a Priest a Beer Day” in every way: not all priests like beer, but every priest should like books. And of course, there will be another post on Saturday for this most joyful celebration.

On Storms, Helpers, and God



As I began to write this in bits and pieces a week ago today, Hurricane Irma had begun to approach my native Puerto Rico. My family there braced for the worst; the sense of expectation and fear was very real. It was the strongest Atlantic hurricane in recorded history, the news said; the island had not seen anything quite like this come through since Hurricane San Felipe in 1928, the memory of whose nearly total devastation remains alive and well in our collective memory a few generations later. To be honest, that Irma could be on this scale, or perhaps even worse, was a bit difficult to grasp: the great hurricane of my lifetime (thus far, at any rate) was the fearsome and formidable Hurricane Hugo in 1989, which came to us shortly after my 11th birthday. The winds caused some structural damage to my grandparents’ house, where we were all hunkered down, and we were without water or electricity for weeks. For my part, I remember being disappointed that I could not use a small amplifier for my guitar that my grandfather had ordered from the Sears catalog and duly picked up at the Santa Rosa Mall store for my birthday. But all of us were well, our homes were basically intact, and after clean up we were able to resume our lives in short order. Hundreds of thousand of others couldn’t say the same. In fact, too many could no longer say anything at all.


If you’ve been keeping track of the storm, you know that Hurricane Irma veered to the north in the nick of time, and that Puerto Rico was thus spared from the very worst. Yes, the ancient and fragile power grid in the island collapsed, and many (including my family) are still without power, but water service remained mostly uninterrupted, and other damage has been comparatively minimal (except in the small island of Culebra, the easternmost point of the Puerto Rican archipelago). I have no doubt that, soon after clean up and the eventual restoration of electric service, life will go on as usual. Many have expressed their relief in religious (and nationalistic) terms: ¡Dios bendijo a Puerto Rico! God blessed Puerto Rico! And, as in the past, that grotesque depiction of a Giant Hand blocking the path of the storm just east of the island has been making the rounds. (I remember it most vividly on the front page of my hometown’s local newspaper several years ago.) But, of course, the Lesser Antilles were not thus spared; neither was Cuba, nor the Bahamas, nor indeed Florida. One shudders to think of the implications. Did the grotesque Giant Hand not protect them? Worse still, if they were not blessed, were they cursed? And whose Giant Hand is that, anyway—that of the God of the Bible, or the hand of Guabancex, who visits her fury in the winds of juracán?


“At that time, some people came and reported to [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And he responded to them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were more sinful than all the other Galileans because they suffered these things? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well. Or those eighteen that the tower in Siloam fell on and killed—do you think they were more sinful than all the other people who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well.’” (St Luke 13:1-5, CSB)


There is, to my mind, no clearer illustration of the maddening capriciousness of storms than the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Antigua and Barbuda. Two islands, a single nation, merely 30 miles apart. Antigua made it through with nary a scratch. Barbuda was literally flattened. But even that is not all: Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy erupted into social chaos after the storm. Multiple places across the Caribbean and Florida are flooded, destroyed, or both. And then, a week before that, Hurricane Harvey put the Houston metropolitan area under water.


The late Rev’d Mr Fred McFeely Rogers (after whom the first-year Biblical Studies Prize at his alma mater, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, is named) would tell children and their parents that, in scary times, he liked to remember what his mother said to him when he was little: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” And realizing that there were always so many helpers, he said, would bring him a great deal of comfort. In like manner also, in this time of storms, I have found great comfort in observing faith working by love. This has been nowhere more obvious to me than in our friend Mike Skinner and his congregation, Sweetwater Christian Church in Sugar Land, Texas. There I saw a pastor who no sooner than he was out of the water (literally!) set about the business of claiming his sheep. I saw a local congregation determined to account for each in every one given to them, without exception. And, with everyone claimed and accounted for, I saw this small but tireless Christian community turn out to the streets, immediately and nearly unprompted, in a rush to embrace and assist their neighbors. Blessed are you, Mike Skinner. Blessed are you, Sweetwater Christian Church. You are the helpers. May many others, as many as are able, help you in helping others.


Did God bless Puerto Rico? Did God curse Barbuda, and Jost Van Dyke, and Houston, and…? I cannot countenance those questions, and much less the hollow and tone-deaf platitudes often attached to them. But here is what I know: after the fury of the storm, if anyone survives at all, it isn’t so that they may boast. It must be—it must—so that, with their own hands, they may glorify God by their deeds in the care of others.


Some books that have helped me to think about this over the years: Henri Blocher, Evil and the Cross (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1994); David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005); Terence Fretheim, Creation Untamed: The Bible, God, and Natural Disasters (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010); and of course, Voltaire’s Candide, or Optimism.

Mondays with Moisés: International Moisés Silva Day 2017

This is a great and wondrous day. Rejoice, my gentle snowflakes! For our Infallible Hero, the great Moisés Silva, was born on September 4, 1945, and so we mark on this day his 72nd birthday—a number which is most appropriately Septuagintal.

silva (3)

As is well known, the Chief Burden of this blog during the past decade has been to spread the knowledge of the infallibility of Moisés Silva throughout the land. Therefore it occurred to me back in 2010 that his dies natalis should be one of the preeminent observances in this blog’s yearly calendar. As a result, I duly proclaimed September 4 as International Moisés Silva Day, to be celebrated thereon in perpetuity.

That solemn and universal proclamation in 2010 attracted some attention from a number of denizens of Litchfield, Michigan, nearly all of whom were, apparently, Our Infallible Hero’s fellow congregants. One teaches Sunday School with him. Another has, I assume, tea and biscuits with him. Yet another tells of his penchant for sampling the fair dining evidently to be had in the area. And still another is his grandniece! Every one of these individuals is blessed beyond measure, and I am delighted that I was able to open their eyes to this glorious truth. I regret to note, however, that the civil authorities in Litchfield have been slower in embracing International Moisés Silva Day, as witnesses the fact that nothing is said about it in the city’s Community Calendar. I realize, of course, that governments are often slow to embrace new holidays, yet one would certainly expect an exception in this case. But I digress.

I myself have never met our Infallible Hero, though a couple of years ago I found myself a mere 10 minutes down the road from Litchfield while visiting some friends in nearby Hillsdale, the closest geographic proximity to which I have yet attained (assuming he was home that day). However, I did once have a small Silvophany, 20 years ago this past spring.

At the time I was a college freshman and had only been introduced to the writings of our Infallible Hero a few months earlier. I did not yet know that he was infallible, but even then I could tell that he was one of the greats. Thanks to the wonders of the internet (also new to me that academic year), I quickly discovered that he had just moved from Westminster Theological Seminary to become the Mary French Rockefeller Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. I promptly sent for an academic catalog, hoping, perhaps, to study with him one day. While browsing the seminary webpage, however, I stumbled upon a precious and irresistible piece of information: his institutional email address.

Being young and not yet knowing that I shouldn’t waste the time of my betters, I dashed off to him a note in Spanish telling him about the things I was learning, and thanking him for the books of his that I was then reading. Within a few hours,  as I recall, I received a short reply from the eminent scholar, likewise in Spanish, saying that he appreciated my enthusiasm and expressing his best wishes for my studies. Sadly I cannot produce the text of the note, as it perished together with other important artifacts of my electronic past in one of those tragic server outages for which Hotmail became justly (in)famous, but 20 years later I remain grateful to him for taking the time to write a warm and encouraging reply to what was, I am quite sure, a piece of incoherent fan mail.

I regret that I never got the chance to study formally with Professor Silva, but I have sought to make him my teacher in other ways over the years: by reading his books and articles, by listening to his lectures and sermons, and above all, by striving to allow his exceptional scholarship to form my learning. To him I say, then, together with all those fortunate enough to have sat under his instruction in various places:

Ad multos annos, Magister!