Community Pricing: Adolf Deissmann’s Light from the Ancient East

Since Bob has brought up the subject of Community Pricing, I figure it’s time to write about one of my favorite references that is (and has been) on the community pricing page: Deissmann’s Light from the Ancient East.

I can remember when I first started working through definitions in BAGD (the second English edition of Bauer’s lexicon, now superceded by BDAG). This was in the early to mid 1990’s. I’d just finished college, with a year of Greek under my belt, determined not to let it lapse. I’d asked my professor which books I needed, and he simply said “Get BAGD.” I went to the bookstore, and they ordered it — and told me it would be $70.00! I swallowed that pill, had them order it, and haven’t regretted it.

Because I’d spent that money, I used BAGD whenever I needed to look up a word — which was (and still is) frequently. And I soon noticed an oft-repeated abbreviation: LAE.

It only took me a few times to look that up in the abbreviation table (this was before the electronic edition was released by Logos) to associate it with Light from the Ancient East by Adolf Deissmann. It was cited frequently. I didn’t have a print copy, so I never bothered to look it up.

But I was the one missing out. Two or three years ago, I finally broke down and located a used print copy of LAE and dug in. I read it from cover to cover and soon saw that LAE contained excellent background information from papyri, inscriptions and ostraca. These materials are transcribed, translated and discussed. Photos or drawings exist for most materials, so you can actually see the item being discussed.

The discussions are the valuable part, from my perspective. Deissmann brings much to the table that can help one in examining infrequent New Testament words.

Allow me to present one example:

Awhile back, I was looking into 1Ti 2.6, specifically, the word that the ESV translates “ransom”:

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1Ti 2.5-6, ESV)

The Greek word is ??????????. It is only used here in the New Testament, though the word ?????? occurs a few times in the New Testament as well, most notably Mk 10.45 (and parallels).

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mk 10.45, ESV)

The BDAG article for ?????????? is minimal, so I headed to BDAG on ??????. In that article is a passing remark of “Dssm’s reference” to a cited inscription.
So, I picked up my print copy of LAE and headed to the index. I found the discussion on ?????? (which goes on for pages). Deissmann discusses manumission, or some ways in which slaves could purchase their freedom. In the midst of these pages is this gem:

What was this custom [manumission]? Among the various ways in which the manumission of a slave could take place by ancient law we find the solemn rite of fictitious purchase of the slave by some divinity. The owner comes with the slave to the temple, sells him there to the god, and receives the purchase money from the temple treasury, the slave having previously paid it in there out of his savings. The slave is now the property of the god; not, however, a slave of the temple, but a protégé of the god. Against all the world, especially his former master, he is a completely free man; at the utmost a few pious obligations to his old master are imposed upon him. (LAE, p. 322)

Towards the end of the section, Deissmann mentions:

… when anybody heard the Greek word ??????, “ransom,” in the first century, it was natural for him to think of the purchase-money for manumitting slaves. (LAE, p. 327)

Discussions like this, that simply aren’t found in lexicons, are immensely valuable for the exegete. And one benefit of the print edition of LAE are the indexes. There are several indexes, and they’re well done. A subject index, Greek word index, author index, citation index — I know there are more, I just can’t recall them presently (my print copy is at home, I’m writing this at the office). The Logos version (if we’re able to proceed, of course) will have the term indexes implemented as topic lookups. This means that one could do a topic search (a keylink) from a lexicon headword into LAE to see if the word is further discussed there.

I, for one, can’t wait. But I have to wait. There needs to be enough interest before we can pursue it. So consider signing up for the community pricing plan to both get it at the lowest price, and help push it into production.