The fanfare over the release of T. M. Law’s When God Spoke Greek was fierce. Michael Law posted a few interviews over at his site. There were numerous blog reviews. See the Near Emmaus blog for the blog tour summary. Now that the fanfare is dying down, I want to contribute a few comments on the book. This will not be a book review. Many summaries of the book have been written and I commend those to you. Rather, I want to focus on what kind of book this is and then attempt to offer some critical interaction with it. I should say from the beginning that I required this book for my Septuagint course over the summer. The few students that took the class (may their tribe increase!) bought the book and reviewed it as an assignment. I will continue to require this book in future offerings of the course because I think it is an interesting and readable book and provides the students with an alternative perspective, something every professor and class needs.
The first question is what kind of book is it? Law has called it a “narrative history” of the Septuagint on many occasions. Although one is not able to find this exact categorization in the book, I agree with it, but that’s not actually the question I am raising at present. In the interactions I have had with students and peers, the question over whether the book is a work of popular scholarship or popular scholarship has arisen. I suppose Law has answered this question in a clean up blog post by denying “scholarly monograph” status to his own work. And yet the work was published by Oxford University Press and it was endorsed by very established scholars in the field, some who said “the book is meant for the scholar and learned reader alike.” It is for these reasons, not to mention the book’s own internal scholarly arguments, which perhaps causes Law to deny that his book is simply “popular drivel” in the same blog post (sidebar: comments like this one always create more heat than light and should be avoided at all costs). I have read the book with its end notes and certain parts of the book many times, and Law interacts with most of the up-to-date scholarship on the questions he poses. He did not trace arguments to their roots and, as I will point out later, he did not represent other viewpoints in some chapters. This fact may mean the book is more popular than scholarly, but I do not want readers to take this comment as dismissive. On the contrary, the book demands critical interaction. I will also discuss Law’s use of primary sources since in my view one’s interaction with the primary evidence is the mark of good scholarship. Therefore, I am treating the work as a narrative history of the Septuagint written for a serious reader or scholar. As such this book and its claims must be put under close scrutiny in order to evaluate its significance to the fields of historical and textual research.