Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
I don't think it has the "Christianity is a rip-off" effect when we admit that Christianity is rooted in Jewish traditions. The New Testament account combines a number of different, distinct, separate, Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) motifs and applies them to the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Many of these are not overtly messianic but are often read as messianic by Christian interpreters viewing the text through the lens of the New Testament. The motifs of the Suffering Servant from Isa 53, the expected prophet like Moses of Deut 18, the priest like Melchizedek of Ps 110, and the Davidic messiah converged in NT interpretations of Jesus.
The issue of messianic expectation in the Hebrew Bible is complicated. The Hebrew word "messiah" is not consistently used in passages often considered to be messianic. One passage appears to speak of a dying messiah, Dan 9:26. However, the interpretation of the larger passage is difficult and I have a hard time leaping from 1 verse to stating that a dying messiah was expected in Second Temple Judaism. I'm still working through the evidence and the secondary literature on this subject, however.
Before the New Testament, I would argue that they are separate categories, not necessarily all linked to the Davidic messiah idea. In the Rule of the Congregation from Qumran, we have both a priestly and a kingly messiah. I think scholars aren't careful enough in keeping these categories separate. For example, the suffering servant motif is likely employed by Teacher of Righteousness in the Dead Sea Scrolls and applied to himself. I don't think this necessarily means he was attempting to tap into the current of messianic expectation connected to the Davidic or priestly messiahs. Therefore, works like Knohl's The Messiah Before Jesus: The Suffering Servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls are starting off on the wrong foot if they don't show that the expectation of a messiah and the separate motif of the Suffering Servant should be connected.
If a dying, rising, suffering messiah was expected, why does the NT present Jesus's death as a completely unexpected event that "freaked out" the disciples? The reason is that the NT interpretation is an innovation that combines numerous disparate motifs into an interpretive framework that fits the ministry of one and only one person as the messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.
Friday, July 18, 2008
Mark 5:41 Taking her by the hand he said to her, "Talitha cumi," which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise."
The word for "little girl" talitha sounds very close to the Aramaic word for "gazelle" tabitha which was Dorcas's real name (dorcas being a Greek word for a kind of deer).
Acts 9:40 But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, "Tabitha, arise." And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up.
Unfortunately, the Greek verb for "arise" in the Acts verse is not the same verb as used at the end of Mark 5:41 when Mark translates the Aramaic phrase. However, I wonder if Luke had used an Aramaic phrase there in Acts 9 if he would have used the same word as in Mark 5. This logically raises another question - would Peter have been speaking to Dorcas in Greek or Aramaic? I think Aramaic is likely and the words were simply rendered into Greek for the report in Luke.
Or the similarity between the two passages might be coincidental. Or Mark may have intentionally used the Aramaic phrase to invoke a parallel with the Acts story. Whichever direction the echo may go, I think it's an interesting connection.
I should also mention that Biblia Hebraica was noticed this week as well by Jay Crisostomo at mu-pa'd-da. And finally, thanks to all who have added the blog to their blogrolls.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
The media craze over the tablet sounded very familiar as I began reading John J. Collins's The Scepter and the Star this week.
On p. VI, he describes a similar situation from the early '90s:
"A headline in the English newspaper, the Independent, on September 1, 1992, p. 5, announced that a 'Scroll fragment challenges basic tenet of Christianity.' The reference was to the 'Son of God' text, which turns out to be rather less momentous than the headline would lead one to expect. The more sensational claims about these fragments, such as the discovery of a dying messiah in a pre-Christian Jewish text, or the claim that the 'Son of God' text undermines Christianity, turned out to be short-lived."
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
It would be more interesting to me if more of the books from my biblical studies top "To-Read" list were available in Kindle format. So far, I've only found David Carr's Writing on the Tablet of the Heart. There are others, but many are from that gray area of religion writing in between serious scholarly work and popular conspiracy theories. If I read Bart Ehrman, for example, I could get 5 of his books for Kindle. Unfortunately, my reading list is full of non-Kindled books like van der Mieroop's History of the Ancient Near East and John Collins's The Apocalyptic Imagination.
So, I'll save my money first. After all, the Kindle costs $360 and I'm sure they'll come out with a second-generation model before too long. Maybe by then more of the books I have to read will be available. This doesn't change my mind about Logos digital libraries, however. I could carry the Kindle everywhere. Logos would be stuck on my computer.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Studying Hebrew at the University of Wisconsin - Madison is not for everyone. Here are my thoughts on what we do best, what we dabble in, and what we don't do at all.
What We Do Best
1. Hebrew, Hebrew, and more Hebrew. You'll know the ins and outs of the language better than you ever thought possible or even necessary. This is our biggest strength -- rigorous attention to the fundamentals of language. By the end of PhD coursework, you'll be able to read Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Ugaritic, Phoenician, Moabite, Ammonite, and Philistine Canaanite. (Granted very little is written in the last 3 but it makes for a more impressive list.)
2. Text & Versions. We use our language skills to read and interpret ancient texts from the Hebrew Bible to the Dead Sea Scrolls to rabbinic midrash to Syriac homilies and much more. We also spend a lot of time in the ancient versions of the Bible -- using the Septuagint, Peshitta, and Targums for text criticism.
3. Northwest Semitics. I mentioned above the other NW Semitic languages we learn. This part makes the program about more than just Hebrew Bible and Hebrew language. Through studying NW Semitics, we get access to the wider world of the Ancient Near East. We read texts from Ugarit to Elephantine that help us understand the world of the Bible.
4. Ancient Judaism. Much of what we study provides a window into Judaism as it developed in the Second Temple period going into the Rabbinic period. It's a fascinating time period to study as new genres of Jewish literature were developing such as apocalyptic.
What We Dabble In
1. Biblical Archaeology. This used to be a bigger part of the program and may be again someday. For now, we're mainly armchair archaeologists. We understand the basic principles of archaeology, but to be honest, we don't care what you dug up unless it has writing on it.
2. Ideological Criticism. No, not criticizing ideologies. I'm thinking of methods of biblical criticism that intentionally take a specific perspective on the text like feminist criticism or libertarian criticism or canonical criticism or deconstructionism. We learn about these methods, who uses them, and why, but we don't apply them ourselves. We're more traditional that way. Most of us prefer the methods outlined in Part One of To Each Its Own Meaning - historical-critical method, source criticism, form criticism, tradition history, and redaction criticism. That doesn't mean we might not pick up ideas and perspectives from the "newer" criticisms. Some of us like rhetorical criticism and intertextuality, for example.
3. Ancient Near Eastern History. We have to read pretty extensively in the subject for our exams, but our coursework only includes ANE history if it's relevant for the setting of a specific biblical book like First Isaiah and the Assyrian Empire or Ezekiel and Babylon.
What We Don't Do At All
1. Akkadian or Arabic. Yes, it's the Department of Hebrew & Semitic Studies, but it's really just Northwest Semitic Studies. Plus we learn so many languages already, who has time for more?
2. Theology. We do exegesis on the biblical text but we're never doing theology. We're interested in the history of interpretation of the text and in the beliefs that the writers or redactors may have had, but we're never trying to fit our exegesis into a theological system of any kind -- Jewish or Christian. This is an issue for faith-based scholars because their exegesis might be limited by what conclusions fit their theology. I think it's valuable to try to be objective, not preference any particular interpretation, and see how beliefs can subtly influence interpretations.
3. Compete. We've heard of other programs where competition is fierce and every student's first goal is to get rid of the closest classmate. At Wisconsin, we realize that grad school here is tough enough without the fear that your friends are going to undermine your progress at the next available opportunity. We prefer to encourage each other, study together when appropriate, and share information when relevant. We think it creates a healthy environment for learning.
4. Funding. It's not that we don't have funding. It's just that we don't have full funding for all like a lot of the larger programs do. There are teaching and project assistantships available but there are often more students than positions. For your first year, the chance of funding is virtually nil unless you're lucky enough to get a University fellowship. This is important for tuition purposes. If you're a non-resident of Wisconsin, tuition is around $21,000 per year. A resident pays around $8500. If Wisconsin is the place for you, think about moving here before you apply or at least talk to the Graduate Program Director about it or visit us first.
There you have it. This is pretty much everything I would say to a prospective student visiting our department. Now I can save myself the energy and just direct them to my blog.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
To track the discussion and the various media versions of the story, the Paleojudaica blog has a list of links and headlines. I especially found the comments here to be helpful also.
Of course, the possibility that the tablet is a forgery is being raised, too. I guess I don't understand the forger's mind if it is a forgery -- wouldn't you want your most controversial statements to be clear?
Monday, July 7, 2008
The controversy stems largely from Israel Knohl's interpretation of the text. Knohl believes it describes a messiah-figure who dies and is resurrected three days later. Does anyone else think it's awfully convenient that his reconstructed reading supports his earlier controversial theory about the suffering servant image and messianism? Can we even trust Knohl to be truly objective with the evidence? I am constantly amazed at how very detailed, complicated theories can be built on very little evidence. For example, I have no doubt that the inscription involves messianic and angelic characters. The idea of resurrection, however, comes from the reconstruction of one word that must be spelled unusually to make that word fit the space. I'm skeptical. However, I'm hoping that the photograph in BAR is readable or that a high quality photo is made available soon so that the rest of us can get a closer look at this inscription.
I don't see an issue with admitting that the NT draws on numerous ideas current in first century Judaism about the Davidic messiah, the suffering servant, and the redemption of Israel. I don't believe that all the pieces were pulled together and applied to a single figure before Jesus. Even if Knohl's reading is correct, it doesn't seem to undermine Christian teachings just to admit that they built on traditions, motifs, and images already found in Judaism.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
A. The Spirit of the LORD is upon me
B. because the LORD/he has anointed me
C. to bring good news to the poor
D. he has sent me
E. to bind up / heal the brokenhearted (missing from earliest NT mss, found in Byzantine-type)
F. to proclaim freedom to the captives
G. and recovery of sight to the blind (missing from MT)
H. and liberty to the prisoners/oppressed. (missing from LXX)
As noted above there are three text-critical issues here:
1. Line G: "Recovery of sight to the blind" could reflect a Hebrew variant derived from Isa 42:7. There is a thematic connection between 42:7 and 61:1 including some shared vocabulary.
2. The Greek versions are almost identical except for the oldest NT mss missing line E. Therefore, the NT isn't reflecting a completely different Greek translation.
3. LXX is missing line H which is found in NT.
I lined up the four versions in the original Greek and Hebrew and compared them closely. Here are my conclusions on how to best explain the variants.
1. Line G in the Greek versions probably comes from a real Hebrew variant inserted because of the influence of the similar subject matter of Isa. 42:7.
2. Line H likely reflects an early Greek marginal gloss correcting toward MT.
3. The LXX is the primary source of the NT quote.
4. The absence of line E from the oldest NT mss must reflect some type of scribal error. There is no reason to think it was deliberately omitted because it would have fit the context fine.
5. The uniformity of the various Greek versions suggests that the NT is not a homiletical quote or paraphrase.
6. The Byzantine text type restores line E which is expected following the general pattern of later mss to harmonize variants and "fix" the text.
So in this case, the later mss of the NT probably reflect the original text for line E but the Hebrew preserves the original when it comes to line G which was likely an insertion.
I’ve been on vacation, so to speak, for the last six weeks or so, recovering from my last full semester of graduate coursework. I hope to post on a weekly basis now, probably on Sundays or Mondays.
For this post, I’ve been thinking about intertextuality and interpretation again. While I’m skeptical about using intertextuality to determine how ancient readers were interpreting and connecting their texts, I find it satisfying as a reader to make connections between various texts, even if I can’t prove that the ancient writer intended those connections or that the ancient reader would have made the same connections. Intertextuality is really about the reader making those connections, not about the scholar identifying allusions that may (or may not) have been intended by the ancient writer targeting another ancient reader.
I especially enjoy reading the New Testament because new connections with the Hebrew Bible almost always occur to me. Some of these connections legitimately belong in the background of the New Testament. Directly or indirectly, they make up the conceptual worldview of a Jew from the first century CE. Some of them would certainly have informed the thinking of the early Christians. I can only suggest a connection, however. I can’t really prove that the NT writer was thinking of the connection or that an early NT reader would have made the connection. Intentional textual dependence and deliberate use seem to me to be impossible to prove without direct quotation or citation when we are dealing with a culture as religiously literate and text-focused as ancient Judaism or early Christianity.
I was recently reading in the Book of Acts where a new connection presented itself. There’s no specific textual marker connecting the passages, but there is a thematic connection. Acts 11 depicts the Apostle Peter commanded to spread the Christian message of salvation to the Gentiles (non-Jews). He reports back to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem in vv. 15-18.
Acts 11:15-18 (ESV)
As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?" 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life."
The Jewish Christians listen to Peter and acknowledge that God wants the Gentiles to believe and be saved as well as the Jews. When I read this, I wondered why they seemed surprised that God was widening the scope of salvation. It reminded me of Isaiah 42 where the Servant figure will “bring forth justice to the nations” (v. 1) and is given as a “covenant for the people, a light for the nations” (v. 6). In fact, several other places in Isaiah depict this concern for the nations, sometimes with the image of the nations worshiping Israel’s God (i.e., Isa. 2, 9, and 11). With the word for “nations,” we do have a minor verbal connection between the passages. The Hebrew goyim is translated in the Septuagint with a form of ethnos which is the same Greek word used for “Gentiles” in Acts. 11:18. It’s not the kind of marker that jumps off the page as a true allusion, though, because it is such a common word and the correspondence between the Greek and Hebrew for this word is typical.
It seemed to me that the early Christians should have been familiar with the imagery of Isa. 42:1-7 because the imagery seems to be clearly in the background of Isa. 61:1, especially when we look at the Septuagint Greek of Isa. 61:1 and the quoted text from Luke 4:18. In Luke, Jesus quotes Isaiah 61:1 and applies it to himself.
Luke 4:17-21 (ESV)
17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." 20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Isaiah 42:6-7 (ESV)
6 "I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
Isaiah 61:1 (ESV)
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
Isaiah 61:1 (translated from the Septuagint)
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me; he has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to heal the broken in heart, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind;
It should be apparent that Isa. 42 & 61 are dealing with similar subject matter. We also have the same textual difficulties that I’ve mentioned before when looking at Hebrew Bible quotes in the New Testament. The quoted version doesn’t exactly match the Septuagint or the Masoretic Text. The Septuagint and the New Testament both contain a phrase about the blind, missing from the MT but possibly a variant arising from the influence of Isa. 42:7. The Septuagint and the MT both have a phrase about the broken-hearted, missing from the NT quote. Finally, Luke’s quote ends with the freeing of prisoners, following the MT but with a phrase not in the Septuagint version.
It might appear that I’m going off track but remember where we’ve been. Acts 11:18 reminded me of Isaiah 42:1-7 which reminded me of Isaiah 61:1 which reminded me of Luke 4:18 that quotes it. So pondering the potential religious thought behind Acts 11:18 has led me to a number of inter-related passages. The Jewish Christians in Acts should have been familiar with Isaiah 42 because the Servant imagery is central to their interpretation of Jesus’ role and ministry. As proof that it should have been familiar, I offer Isaiah 61:1 which is explicitly quoted in the NT where Jesus explicitly takes on the anointed Servant role described by Isaiah. A closer look at the quote in Luke 4:18 has led me to a completely separate issue of textual criticism. The text critical issue is irrelevant for the question of intertextuality. For me it seems clear that the Servant imagery is appropriated by the NT in numerous places and that Acts 11 should be read with a consideration of the influence of passages like Isa. 42:1-7.
I can’t prove that any of this would have occurred to an ancient reader or that the writer of Acts was aware of these inter-connections, but it is satisfying as a reader to make those connections and point them out because it enriches the reading experience and allows for teaching opportunities to enrich the experience of others as they read the biblical text. Even if the first century audience didn’t make these exact connections, it seems likely that they made connections of this sort frequently. Therefore, learning to read intertextually helps you read the Bible a little more like the early Jewish Christians did.