Friday, March 28, 2008

Orthodox Study Bible: My Turn, I

I've never subscribed to the fiction that one shouldn't judge a book by its cover. The cover, after all, contains such useful information as the book's title and author. Sometimes it also provides a summary of its contents and endorsements from people in the know. I have acquired the OSB (The Orthodox Study Bible, not the Order of St Benedict), and intend to judge the book by its cover.

The following text is featured on the front cover:
  • Become more conversant about the ancient roots of Christianity
  • Expand your Bible knowledge with commentary from Christian teachers of the first millennium
Now, of course, the first question that arises in the mind of the reader is: Who edited this? Do we really want to become "more conversant about" the ancient roots of Christianity? This doesn't bode well for what will follow. The next question is: Why such emphasis on antiquity? Is Orthodoxy simply a relic of the past whose only purpose is to be relevant to the present? And why include commentary exclusively from the first millennium ? Is it because "Orthodoxy" is synonymous with "antiquity"? Or is it perhaps a new cut-off date for the myth of the "Patristic era"?

Perhaps the back cover will help. Here's what we read:
The FIRST EVER Orthodox Study Bible presents the Bible of the early church and the church of the early Bible.
What, precisely, is "the early Bible"? Is the Septuagint (nowhere mentioned on the front and back covers) also an ancient relic of the past? And haven't we seen an Orthodox Study Bible before, say, in about 1993? The text continues:
Believers of the Orthodox Christian faith now have a clear and compelling study resource enabling them to delve into the riches of Holy Scripture. Prepared by a pan-orthodox team of scholars and pastors, The Orthodox Study Bible brings to one volume the words of Scripture and the understanding of those words from the earliest days of the Christian era. More importantly, this Bible is a treasury of Christian commentary for all Christians of the twenty-first century.
So believers of the Orthodox Christian faith previously lacked resources for the study of the Scriptures? And what's up with "pan-orthodox"? It's bad enough that the words "Orthodox Church" do not appear in all this, but it adds insult to injury not even to capitalize the very name we hold so dear. Moreover, if this is indeed a Bible prepared by Orthodox for Orthodox, why and how is it more important for all Christians than for the Orthodox themselves? Who is the intended audience of this volume? The text continues:
With this Bible...
  • Become a more informed Christian
  • Strengthen your personal commitment to Christ through Bible reading and prayer
  • Hear the voice of Christians from the first ten centuries after Christ
  • Unite your intellect and heart of faith, for a richer Christian experience
Putting aside the lousy syntax throughout, where did "Orthodox" go in all this? Why are we being asked to strengthen our "personal commitment to Christ through Bible reading and prayer"? Wouldn't it be more appropriate for an Orthodox Bible – as if there were any other kind, incidentally – to strengthen our mind in the catholic consciousness of the Church through liturgical worship and the reading of the Holy Scriptures in and through the Church? Perhaps the most telling point on the back cover is hidden in the bar-code box: "NKJV/STUDY/GENERAL." Is this a new translation, or is it not?

Below the text are a few sample pages, with two rather poorly executed icons printed poorly amongst a couple of not especially attractive pages of texts.

On to the front flap. The first paragraph begins as follows:
Prior to the Reformation of the 16th century, the great voices of the historic Church were such luminaries as Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons, Hippolytus, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Nicholas of Myra, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, John Cassian, John of Damascus, and Maximus the Confessor.
Prior to the Reformation? Did the Reformation somehow overtake the great voices of the historic Church at that point? Again, if this is a Bible prepared by Orthodox for Orthodox, why not show sufficient respect for the Fathers mentioned by allowing them the title of "saint"? It's also curious that they should include Nicholas of Myra – known in the Church as St Nicholas the Wonderworker – given that we have none of his writings. The rest of the inner flap is essentially an extended advertisement, telling us that the OSB is the "first-of-its-kind study Bible" using "sources that shine with heavenly insight" and will provide Christians of all varieties with "an invaluable roadmap for their spiritual journey."
On to the back flap:
The last decade of the twentieth century saw an historic event. In 1993 The Orthodox Study Bible: New Testament and Psalms was released, the first English Bible with study material reflecting how the early Christians interpreted and applied the Bible to their lives. Christians from both the eastern and western traditions found a source of Bible study that provided light for their spiritual journeys. English-speaking Orthodox Christians – whether converts or from Greek, Russian, Arab, Serbian, Bulgarian, Coptic or any other Eastern Orthodox parentage – found the biblical roots of their faith in words fresh and powerful. Christians from non-Orthodox traditions glimpsed a faith experience that rang true and enriched their own Christian experience.
Well, at least they're modest in their claims! There's a very good reason why the first OSB was unique: "study Bibles" are a purely Protestant invention, unknown to "ancient Christianity." I also wonder how the people of Coptic parentage like being mixed in with the "Eastern Orthodox." Last I knew, they were busy – in a striking parallel with proponents of race politics – inventing new and better names for themselves: Non-Chalcedonians, Pre-Chalcedonians, Miaphysites, etc., adopting any name that came to mind, with the exception of "Monophysite" and "Eastern Orthodox."

The text continues:
The necessity of answering popular demand pressed upon the editors of the New Testament edition the task of preparing an edition of the Orthodox Study Bible with both the Old and the New Testaments. So they undertook the task of preparing a biblical text suitable for the purpose. The decision was made that the notes and commentary which address the biblical text would emphasize the major themes of the Christian faith.
Thus, the notes give primary attention to:
  1. The Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit
  2. The Incarnation: The Divine Son of God becoming Man
  3. The Centrality of the Church, the "dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (Eph 2:22)
  4. The Virtues: God's call to His people to live righteous and holy lives in Christ
Judging by some of the reactions to the first version (see, for instance, here and here), I wouldn't have expected a popular uprising demanding a sequel. The four points to which the notes give primary attention are a bit odd, at least in order. How can attention be given to the Holy Trinity before that of Christ? And why should only the Incarnation be considered, and not Christology – the starting point for any theological reflection. The text continues:
To attain these goals, specific attention was given to the biblical interpretation of the fathers of the ancient and undivided Church, and to the consensus of the Seven Ecumenical or Church-wide Councils of Christendom, held from the fourth to eighth centuries. Other helps were added to provide the Bible reader every opportunity to employ the Bible not only in study, but also in contemplative Bible reading and prayer.
It's interesting that they would employ the old falsehood of the "ancient and undivided Church." Speaking from an ecclesiological perspective, the Church has always been one and undivided, and not just in antiquity. Moreover, from an historical perspective, there never was an undivided Church, in that there were breaks and schisms and heresies from the very time of the Apostles. In other words, the Church has always been One, but that doesn't mean that any number of large groups of Christians did not fall away from it, creating what today we would call their own denominations. While we're grateful that the editors would provide everything deemed necessary for the study and contemplation of the Bible, one wonders why they would have taken little to no interest in preparing a Bible that could used, at least to some extent, liturgically. The text continues:
The prayer of the editors and contributors of The Orthodox Study Bible is that it presents an understandable Bible text and commentary to (1) English-speaking Orthodox Christians the world over and to (2) non-Orthodox readers interested in learning more about the faith of the historic Orthodox Church.
These are fine and noble aims. But are they in fact compatible? Who, really, is the intended audience: Orthodox Christians or non-Orthodox Christians? From the language and tone of the cover, I suspect that it is the latter.

And, last but not least, the endorsement by Bradley Nassif:
"At last! A study Bible that integrates the Old Testament with the worshipping life of the Church! Among the servarel approaches to the biblical text which Orthodoxy has manifested and permitted over the centuries – literal, symbolic or a mix of both – this one follows the more symbolic tradition. It's the only resources I know of that relates the Old Testament to the theology, liturgy, lectionary and fathers of Christian antiquity. Christians of all backgrounds – Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants – will see Christ as the key that unites the whole of Christian tradition through an integrated understanding of its parts."
I find this simply astonishing. Are we really to believe that in two thousand years of theological reflection and scholarship, the Orthodox Church has not found a means to relate the Old Testament to other parts of Orthodox practice? Has he never been to Church? Has he never noted the number of Psalms read throughout every service? Has he never paid attention to the church hymns, canons, and prayers, all of which are deeply rooted in Scripture? Has he ever studied a single ode of St Andrew of Crete's canon? Moreover, I'm a bit uneasy about his distinction between "literal" and "symbolic." Yes, the Fathers employed a "literal" approach, but it must immediately be stated that their "literal" approach and our "literal" approach are two entirely different matters. I suspect that he follows the latter approach, since he choses to pair it up with the "symbolic," rather than the allegorical. But this is a relatively fine point, and you can read my thoughts on the distinction here.

My judgment of the book based on its cover: What we have here is a Bible produced to attract Protestants to the Orthodox Church by providing them with a large ream of proof texts bound between two hard (really, cardboard) covers. Perhaps it really will serve that purpose, which would undoubtedly be a good thing. But what about the rest of us, whose use of Scripture doesn't hinge on strengthening our personal commitment to Christ through Bible reading and prayer, who are not embarrassed to speak the language of the Church, and who prefer to replace personal devotion with the communal experience of the worshiping Church, whose love for Orthodoxy has little to do with its antiquity, and who are not ashamed of venerating the memory of its saints – indeed, praying to them – not only from the first millennium, but from the Apostles to our own days?

More to come in the days that follow. Comments are, of course, welcome.


Trevor said...

Thanks for the remarks so far. In general, I'm inclined to agree with your assessment of the real purpose (as a tool for exposing Protestant Evangelicals to something about Orthodoxy). One small response--from what I've heard, there really has been quite a bit of demand (in America at least) for this full version. I'm not saying anything about whether that makes it a particularly good resource; only pointing out that that particular remark was probably an accurate representation.

Zac said...

Excellent review... we need more of this kind of thing since too often anything slapped with the label "Orthodox" is somehow seen to be above criticism. I've seen too many protestant converts buying this over-priced volume because now they finally get the "real" Bible understood from the Church fathers. If you review and the others like it are even partly true, they will be disappointed.

My question is, why aren't people as psyched about real, voluminous patristic commentaries which are being translated, as with St. Theophylact of Bulgaria's commentaries on the Gospels? Or even with the fine three-volume translation *actually based on the Septuagint OT and the official canonical NT text of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Eastern Orthodox Bible (EOB)?

Felix Culpa said...

Trevor: It's true that the first OSB was in fact quite popular in certain narrow circles in the Church. The same people who enjoyed the first version probably really did ask for a sequel. But, again, I think we're really talking about one small corner of the Church -- namely, former Protestant Evangelicals. I never saw much enthusiasm for the first volume, nor demand for a second volume, anywhere but among them. The publication of the first version may have been an historic occasion for many of them, but was barely a blip (or even a bad memory) for many of the rest of us. But your point is taken.

Zac: I agree fully with your first point. I'm forever annoyed when people begin by expressing their own opinions with the words "The Orthodox Church teaches...," or who slap the words "mystical" or "ancient" or "spiritual" all over their books, as if that alone makes the book what it says they are. My feeling is that many Orthodox people simply don't want to have to think for themselves (that is, to explore the mind of the Church in humility and prayer, seeking answers to questions about which the Fathers said little), but rather prefer a sort of cut-and-paste mentality. Oh, this book, "Orthodoxy and Kidney Transplants" will tell me exactly what to think! Hurrah! Well, now I'm just getting a bit cynical, so I'll reign myself in.

As for your second point, the reason people aren't psyched about the books you mention is that they're almost entirely foreign to what many former Evangelicals are used to. What they want is precisely an Orthodox Study Bible, and that's what they've made themselves. That explains in part why I was so astonished by so many of the claims on the cover, as if this were the first ever resources for Orthodox Christians to understand the Scripture. Reading Patristic texts take a lot of getting used to. They seem utterly foreign to most people today. Indeed, studying them is a real ascetic effort, since one finds oneself challenged again and again. It's not easy, but it is precisely the sort of ascetic podvig (exercise) that transforms our minds into the fullness of Christ.

In any case, my reviews will continue. I've glanced into the book itself, and seen the abyss....

Maximus Daniel said...

Good review Fr.
My first and lasting impression after having tried using this version is that I get really REALLY annoyed by the footnotes.

What version in English DO you suggest?

I use NRSV usually (wish I could invest in a nice RSV).

Anonymous said...

From your perspective as an Orthodox Christian (like many) who don't NEED an Orthodox Study Bible, your comments are spot on. But in America this is a Protestant world. Orthodox need to dialogue with Protestants and not just wall them off - our liturgical language and general approach to the faith is completely different from them. In the facts-based rational world of the Protestants, many unstudied Orthodox simply lack the information - or tools if you will - to properly engage them. This Study Bible is important for that reason alone. And yes, for so many who only speak English and lack access to spiritual fathers with real spiritual experience - the OSB fills a gap. It is also an important resource to show Protestants a great beginning.

We Orthodox have not yet developed an effective dialog with Protestants, and we have to realize this. As the end times approach, we need to be the church that brings them in. And we need the dialog.

BJA said...

I'm forever annoyed when people begin by expressing their own opinions with the words "The Orthodox Church teaches...,"

Oh, thank you for saying this! Apparently I'm not the only one who's thought this before. I've heard some of the weirdest, most obscure things attached to those words during my time in the Church.

What these people really mean is, this is what I've heard/read/gathered from some individual, introductory literature, or internet site ... as if these were invested with some magisterial authority.

This may be minimalist, but I am very reticent to say that the Orthodox Church as a whole definitively teaches much more than what's contained in the Creed and the doctrinal decisions of the great Councils.

Trevor said...

Perhaps a bit of a riff on Anonymous's point. Some kind of resource is needed for Orthodox converts with extensive Protestant background. My own situation might be a bit exaggerated (Bible college and seminary), but many of us have spent decades reading the Bible in a particular tradition. I suppose decades more of attending Orthodox services might do the trick, but there is widespread desire for something more that will help the process along.

Please note: I am *not* saying that the OSB is the answer. But it appears to fill something of a void, which can make it seem like the answer. Personally, I've been reading patristic commentaries whenever I can get my hands on them. But it seems like most of the works currently available in English are on the NT, and even that has its gaps. For the OT, actual commentaries are harder to come by.

One way I've tried to deal with this is to tell myself there's more than enough to learn in the NT. But I still feel like a lot is missing. The Protestant tradition I come from has a strong focus on the OT, and for years it was my particular specialty. I have a lot of unlearning to do.

So, all this is to say--there are distinctive needs among Western converts. Ideally, we would all learn Greek and Russian, so we could plunge into the ocean of Orthodox thinking. But realistically, most will not. Along with critiquing what has come out of this milieu, hopefully we can also address the real needs of those who truly want to learn.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

I look forward to further installments! I'll be posting some more of my own, too, Fr.

Anonymous and Trevor, we all would agree that there is a need for a didactic tool that would help converts from Protestantism unlearn their former ways of reading the Bible. But this OSB is not that tool, nor should such a thing look like this OSB. And while the first edition may have been excused for its lack of an acceptable quality of presentation of Orthodoxy, there is no excuse for the numerous problem items of the first edition all being present in this second edition, and compounded with further ones.

Another thing that disturbs me is the connotation that Orthodoxy is some kind of philosophy, an intellectual viewpoint or worldview which can be inculcated in a few bullet points. Orthodoxy is life in the Holy Church, our Mother. This intellectualist approach the OSB takes is misleading and, in fact, dangerous.

Anonymous said...

If this book helps guide Protestant inquirers discovery Orthodoxy, than I thank God for that and tip my hat to those who spent their time and energy in creating this book.

Felix Culpa said...

Thank you all for a vigorous discussion!

The OSB is intended, in the words of its compilers, to present the Bible to:

"(1) English-speaking Orthodox Christians the world over and to (2) non-Orthodox readers interested in learning more about the faith of the historic Orthodox Church."

The first anonymous commenter agrees that the OSB is only truly appropriate for the second audience -- and on this point I'm in full agreement. Therefore we can cross out its use for audience (1).

But is the OSB in fact appropriate for audience (2)? Here we likely part ways. Yes, we should seek a language in which we can communicate the riches of the Orthodox Faith to our non-Orthodox neighbors -- but this language must communicate it accurately and faithfully.

Therefore, I don't understand your suggestion that the OSB is not good enough for the Orthodox, but somehow good enough for the non-Orthodox. Does the OSB faithfully and accurately represent Orthodox Christianity, or does it not? If it does, then it should be appropriate reading for both the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox. If it doesn't, then it's not appropriate for anyone.

If our approach to the use of Scripture is foreign to the average Protestant, which should we do: explain our use of Scripture as clearly and as faithfully as we are able, thereby making it less foreign, or attempt to evade that foreignness by translating into an Evangelical Protestant vernacular that substantially alters its meaning?

Now, I should point out that I'm not opposed to the idea of an Orthodox study bible per se, even one that's packaged to appeal to Protestants. My essential problem with the OSB -- and something I'll be getting into with my further posts -- is that it simply doesn't accurately and faithfully represent the Orthodox Church. This may be strong language, but in many ways the OSB is simply fraudulent.

An example of dialog done rightly is a book I'll be posting about it the near future: James Payton's "Light From the Christian East: An Introduction to the Orthodox Tradition," which I'm reading at the moment. Dr Payton, himself a Protestant, has managed to accomplish something that Conciliar Press never has: he has produced a book that explains Orthodoxy is a clear, accurate, objective, and intelligent way that is immediately accessible to the average informed western Christian (either Protestant or Catholic) reader. His is the sort of dialogist we need, and it's a great irony that it should take a Protestant to argue the side of the Orthodox!

Maximus: The English Bible I turn to most often is the RSV; I happen to use and enjoy the Oxford edition. I *hate* the NRSV, and would suggest that you part ways with it as soon as you're done reading this comment! Thanks to Kevin's recommendation, I've made the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS) my go-to OT. I'll be addressing the question of what to read in place of the OSB in the near future.

BJA: Thanks for your kind comment. One of the things that frustrated me to no end while teaching in an Orthodox seminary was that the students very often wanted "the" Orthodox answer to some modern concern. In many cases, there simply isn't one single authoritative teaching, and the world daily sends new scientific and bioethical challenges are way. Our job is to study the very Creeds and Councils you mention (though I'd also add to this the Scriptures, of course, as well as the body of Patristic and liturgical works) in order that we can have a clear Rule of Faith by which we can measure the novelties of the day.

Trevor: there are abundant patristic commentaries on the Old Testament. Just have a look, for instance, at the Ancient Christian Commentary series, or listen to the Divine Services - particularly the irmos of each ode of the canon, the prokeimena, as well as the constant OT imagery woven in and out of all the services.

Here's a point I'll be getting into soon: one doesn't study the Bible in order to understand theology; one studies theology in order to understand the Bible. In this way the OSB is putting the cart in front of the horse. Therefore, it's no so much that we need more "biblical" Orthodox literature, it's that we need to see that all Orthodox doctrine is essentially an extended commentary on Scripture.

Kevin: I agree with every word. I wonder, though, if the "intellectualist" at which you point may simply be a particularly huckster like way of trying to sell a Faith (and, along the way, a lot of Bibles).

Trevor said...

I'm glad to see you endorse the ACCS. Someone recommended when I started exploring Orthodoxy that I seek out full commentaries, rather than the kind of compiled comments you get in ACCS, but maybe that was just for an initial strategy. (I think the point was to get a better sense of how each commentator handles Scripture.) Of course, I have gained a great deal from attending and reading the services. I'm also interested in the series by Johanna Manley, though I haven't had much chance to read it so far.

Felix Culpa said...

Trevor: I'd largely agree with the advice you were given: better to read one commentary by one Father rather than a selection of commentaries from a variety of Fathers, precisely so that one can get a sense of the methodology employed by a given Father. But that doesn't make the ACCS any less valuable. In fact, the editors address this and similar questions straight-on in the first volume they produced (the first volume on St Matthew, if I recall correctly). I tend to use the ACCS largely for dipping into, rather than for continued reading. It's especially helpful as a starting point for preparing a sermon or lecture.

As I've suggested before, all theology is commentary on Scripture and, therefore, no matter what one reads -- homilies on Scripture, ascetic treatises, doctrinal works, canons, liturgical texts, etc -- one's actually being exposed to the Church's continuing engagement with Scripture, even if it's not labeled "biblical," "ancient," or "mystical."

Conversely, I've found that much popular Protestant literature, despite claiming to be "biblical," really has little to no engagement with the Scriptures. Far too often, at least with what contemporary pop Protestant works I've looked at, what one finds is simply self-help material with a lot of Scriptural proof-texts draped over the top of it in the effort to make the whole shaky foundation look "biblical."

Simka said...

Dear Father,

I suppose you are, for the most part, correct in your criticism of the OSB. My overall impression of this publication is the same that I get from the format of "Ancient Faith Radio", i.e. authentic Orthodox culture wrapped in a totally Protestanized/Americanized package of fluff and nonsense.
What we have to find, I think, is a happy medium between turning our Orthodox Tradition into a synthetic, artificial mishmash in order to "keep up with the Joneses" in the Western churches, and totally obscuring our Tradition in order to preserve (or even mummify)it.
I am thinking about the last time I went to a service at a "traditional" Russian Orthodox parish where the chanted scriptures and hymns were so obscured in a cloudly glossolalia of Slavonic syllables being mumbled at top speed in a very low voice by deacons and readers who didn't seem to care whether a single word of it was understood by the faithful. Now, please understand, while my Slavonic comprehension is not perfect, I can pick out a few words here and there to meditate upon. But at this service (as at most services at this large urban parish) I COULD NOT UNDERSTAND A SINGLE WORD !
Such an experience almost forces even the most well-inclined believer to not only pray one's own private prayers while standing in the sanctuary (an action discouraged by the Church, since we have gathere to pray together), but to run home after the experience and seek out a resource, even a truncated "McResource" like the new OSB, to find the scriptural food that we, as Orthodox, should have received at the liturgy.

Anonymous said...

Felix Culpa wrote :"Therefore, I don't understand your suggestion that the OSB is not good enough for the Orthodox, but somehow good enough for the non-Orthodox. Does the OSB faithfully and accurately represent Orthodox Christianity, or does it not? If it does, then it should be appropriate reading for both the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox. If it doesn't, then it's not appropriate for anyone."

Communicating the Orthodox faith to the inquirer means guiding them into the Truth of Orthodoxy. Ideally, this should be done in a personal, face-to-face encounter with a spiritual father or priest or devout Orthodox Christian. Each inquirer comes with their own 'baggage' and misunderstandings, as well legitimate concerns and questions.

When this is not possible (which is most of the times the case for the non-Orthodox), it should be spoken to in their 'language' in order to guide them into the direction of Truth. Milk first, then meat.

If the OSB's purpose is to create an atmosphere of communication between the Orthodox and the Protestant world, than it is a welcomed endeavor, IMHO.

Will I use it in my study and biblical readings? No. Should a newly awakened Protestant? Yes.

And if it stirs the spirit within them to enter the Church, than I say "One more soul saved!"

Felix Culpa said...

Simka: I'm very sympathetic to your concerns.It's true, as you point out, that very often one founds oneself in the dilemma of choosing between an Orthodoxy that is Americanized and an Orthodoxy that is literally incomprehensible to the average America. I'm not sure that a happy medium between the two would be the ideal solution, but that's an argument for another time.

Where I disagree with you, however, is your conclusion that one is almost forced to use something like the OSB, almost even against one's own best taste. Now, if the OSB were not only the only Bible in English, but also the only resource about Orthodoxy in English -- then I'd have to agree. One would have to work with what one has. But there are so many things out there that are just so, so much better. Why not use those? If you have access to the internet, you've got access to the Patristic Master List at If you've got a parish library, there's sure to be good books there. If there's a decent library around, you can find vastly more. All this without even paying any money. So why settle for the pricey OSB? Why should one feel "forced" to use it?

I rather like your word "McResource." Sure, something like that is easy to get, but there's much better nourishment elsewhere.

Felix Culpa said...

Anonymous writes: "If the OSB's purpose is to create an atmosphere of communication between the Orthodox and the Protestant world, than it is a welcomed endeavor, IMHO."

If that were indeed the purpose of the OSB, I'd likely welcome it as well. Unfortunately, however, that simply isn't its stated purpose.

I'll be adding at least one post on the OSB tomorrow, getting into the content itself. That, I hope, will help us decide whether the OSB really is milk rather than meat, as you suggest, or a stone instead of bread, which is how I'm beginning to view it.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

I think that's part of it, Fr. We know that the general state of American Protestant Christianity (apparently the OSB is ethnocentrically targeted!) is one of anti-intellectualism, coupled with a quite base form of materialism. The transformative message of true Christianity is almost completely absent not only there, but in this OSB as well. Orthodoxy as a life is such a rich wondrous thing (a life in God!) that we would be hard-pressed to represent it well in any written format. So the editors can be forgiven for not having achieved it. But it really doesn't seem like they tried very hard, either! A number of notes that I've flipped through and read, notes on mere historical points and physical things, are likewise wrong. Not just questionable, but wrong. The entire enterprise is nothing I can recommend in good conscience to anyone Orthodox or otherwise.

Felix Culpa said...

You write:

And if it stirs the spirit within them to enter the Church, than I say "One more soul saved!"

While I have no doubts that your sentiments are genuine and sincere, I find that sort of expression rather discomforting.

Felix Culpa said...

Kevin: I've only begun looking at some of the notes myself, and find that they've made a complete hash of things, particularly in terms of Trinitarian theology. I really think that teachers at Orthodox seminaries should slap a class-action lawsuit on the editors of the OSB for just having made their life so much more difficult.

Tomorrow I'll begin to touch on many of the points I've made in these comments in much more detail.

I really am trying to be charitable, to give the editors the benefit of the doubt! But it's not easy. One thing that has been interesting, is that no one who has commented so far has had anything really positive to say about the OSB itself. Are there Orthodox people who get this book, look through it, and then say: This is exactly what I've been waiting for!

In any case, argue amongst yourselves, my friends! I'm off to bed, and will post more thoughts once the dreary business of liturgical prayer has finally run its course tomorrow! S prazdnikom!

Iyov said...

There's a very good reason why the first OSB was unique: "study Bibles" are a purely Protestant invention, unknown to "ancient Christianity."

Ahem. Study Bibles are a Jewish invention.

(PS: I did greatly enjoy your "judging a book by the cover" review -- very witty -- and look forward to your later remarks.)

Felix Culpa said...

iyov: Well, by that standard, why not include the Hexapla under the same general rubric?

Iyov said...

F.C. [I must express admiration for your clever choice of moniker]:

Continuing in my only half-serious argumentative vein, let me respond to your suggestion that Origen's Hexapla was the first study Bible:

(a) To nitpick, I would call the Hexapla a parallel Bible.

(b) It is a bit strange for me to consider "study Bibles" that predate Gutenberg; there is something about "study Bible" that screams "mass distribution" to me.

(c) Although Origen himself was certainly Christian, his source works were Jewish: the Hebrew text, transliterated Hebrew in Greek characters, the Septuagint, Aquila, and Theodotion. One might question the Ebionite Symmachus. Poor Ebionites: neither Jewish nor Christian!


On a more serious note, I certainly agree with you that the rapid spread of mediocre study Bibles (which seem to promise deep study while only providing gratuitous notes) has certainly been popularized by Protestants. I saw part II of your review, and see you have found the majority of notes in the OSB to be in this "Protestant" style.

Please keep the installments coming -- they are great fun to read.

Kevin A. said...

All this being said...I would be curious to know how many inquirers and catechumens are in YOUR parish[es] - those of you who are, oh, so critical!) are standing in line waiting to be received through baptism and chrism on Lazarus Saturday? In our parish we have 25 (2008); last year (2007): 22; previous year (2006); 18. These people LOVE the new OSB and are being enriched by it and yes by the notes too!

My point: these criticisms and dry, brittle, academic discussions really (in my view) miss the point: bringing people to Christ through His Church. Does the OSB have its flaws? I am sure. Will the OSB - despite its flaws, which academic eggheads will debate - help achieve God's purpose? YES!

We need to get beyond elitism in the Orthodox Church and with humility be thankful for the work being done in His Vineyard, not bitch about it on blogs!

How many people do you actually think are going to read a three-volume translation of the Septuagint O.T.?????

Esteban Vázquez said...

Kevin A., I'm afraid that numbers are utterly not to the point. I remember my shock when a respected Archpriest of a North American "jurisdiction" (whatever that word means) told me that, statistically speaking, the average shelf-life of a convert in one of their parishes was 4 or 5 years, but that at least they always got new ones in the door to replace the ones who leave. (As an aside, I myself know of a case where, after a speedy catechism, an entire family was Baptized after Saturday evening Vespers, and told then (!) by the priest that they needed to come the next day with an empty stomach for Holy Communion. "You mean we can't even have our morning coffee?" "No." And they never came back.) Anyway, so much for long lines, etc.

The point of the criticisms of the OSB, which clearly eludes you, is that regardless of the opinion of people who are quite immature in their experience of the Tradition of the Church (such as catechumens and neophytes) and therefore lack the most basic elements to offer a sound judgment on the matter, the OSB fails to embody and convey the mind of the Church in very significant ways. The problem with this, which those of us who are catechists (or language teachers!) have seen at work many times, is that once something is learned the wrong way, it becomes terribly difficult to unlearn. So the problem isn't that the notes and articles of the OSB are not written at an intolerably PhD level, because no one expects them to be; but rather that their ethos and content fail at basic tests of uniformity with the mind of the Church, and with the Fathers' and the Liturgy's approach to the Scriptures. This, in turn, results in new Orthodox Christians who, depending on these materials, develop an approach to the Scriptures at variance with that found in the Fathers and the Services. Surely, by any account, this is a problem. Once again: the problem is not the concept of the OSB as such, but that its contents are at best misleading, and therefore deeply troubling.

The idea that the OSB will bring "people to Christ through His Church" strikes me as particularly odd. Why, I wonder how St. Nino, Sts Cyril and Methodius, St Herman, and a host of others throughout the ages ever managed without the OSB. Good thing that thanks to late-20th century and early-21st century North Americans was have, at long last, an effective missionary tool! Of course, this may mean that the OSB is an effective missionary tool because it gives North American Protestants the kind of thing they want and expect; after all, people must be met where they're at. However, I've never belonged to the Willow Creek Association, and frankly I don't see any reason to adopt their intuitions and methods now. I'd rather stick with the Church's intuition and methods, unsavory though they are to many (what with its catechumenate, its "disciplina arcani," which excludes the unbaptized from the Mysteries, and its ensuing distinction between the public preaching of the Church [kerygma], which is for all the world to hear, and the household teaching of the Church [dogma], which is reserved to those enlightened by Baptism). I'm sure, however, that they're not any less palatable than the Lord's own approach to "reaching seekers," as modeled in the story of the Rich Young Ruler (cfr. St Mark 10:17-22) and the few short exchanges found in St Luke 9:57-62.

(As an aside, it is certainly a convenience of the highest order to have the entirety of Scripture in a single volume, but asking who would read a three-volume Bible, which comment I suppose refers to the very promising EOB, also seems a little odd. Reading the Scriptures, as the many Patristic quotes on the subject posted on this blog reveal, is an ascetic endeavor--as opposed to a quiet time devotion, or any other such nonsense--and hardly caters to our sense of comfort. As such, then, one would think that the three-volume printing of the EOB, or the two-volume printing of the ONT, would be the least of an Orthodox reader's worries in that ascetic struggle! I mean, it would also be very convenient to have all the Church Services books in a single volume, like the Anglicans do in their Book of Common Prayer, but that is clearly a ridiculous thought.)