Sunday, August 31, 2008

Blog Day 2008

David Ker got the Blog Day celebration started off, and Doug Chaplin was nice enough to include me in the celebration. So here are 5 blogs that I've been reading that might not be as well known as they deserve to be. At the very least, they're fairly new to me.

1. Old in the New. James Darlack posts on a variety of things, but I share his interest in "the use of the Old Testament in later Jewish and Christian literature." It looks like he's been blogging for a while, but he's new to me and I've found his blog interesting so far.

2. New Testament Student. Josh McManaway has some insightful things to say for an undergrad studying religion at East Carolina University.

3. Biblia Theologica. The blog of Dr. Ardel Caneday at Northwestern College in St. Paul. Dr. Caneday was one of my professors when I was doing my undergrad at Northwestern.

4. Random Bloggings. Calvin Park, an MDiv student at Gordon-Conwell, occasionally posts random things related to the Bible, especially the Hebrew Bible. He's promised to post more regularly now that summer's over.

5. Observatório Bíblico. Airton José da Silva blogs in Portuguese on interesting things related to the Hebrew Bible. I read in translation until I actually learn Portuguese.

BlogDay Technorati tag

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Zincirli Inscription at SBL Boston

Dennis Pardee's presentation of the new Samalian inscription from Zincirli has been added to the Paleography session at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston on November 23rd from 1:00 to 3:30 pm.

The full program of that session is below and can be found here.

I can't believe they're only devoting 20 minutes to it AND they're putting him last. go or not to go. That is the question.

Paleographical Studies in the Ancient Near East
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Meeting Room 304 - CC

Christopher Rollston, Emmanuel School of Religion, Presiding (10 min)

Jason Bembry, Emmanuel School of Religion
Multiple Vocalizations in the Cairo Genizah Fragment TS A 39.3 (20 min)

Kent Clarke, Trinity Western University
The Trinity Western University-Wikene Papyri "Rediscovery" (20 min)

Joe Zias, Science and Archaeology-Jerusalem
Ancient Graffiti within the Alleged Judean (Tzuba) Cave of John the
Baptist: John, or Lazarus, the Crusader Patron Saint of Leprosy? (20

Christopher A. Rollston, Emmanuel School of Religion
Horvat Uza Epigraphs: New Collations of the Entire Corpus (20 min)

Philip C. Schmitz, Eastern Michigan University
Interpreting the "Separate Inscriptions" from Karatepe-Aslantas (20 min)

Robert Deutsch, Tel Aviv University
The Hebrew Fiscal Bullae from the Time of Hezekiah King of Judah (20 min)

Dennis Pardee, University of Chicago and David Schloen, University of Chicago A New Alphabetic Inscription from Zincirli (20 min)

Bible Paragraphs Mentioning Gabriel

Someone recently landed on this blog searching for "bible paragraphs mentioning Gabriel." I don't have anything specifically highlighting those, so I thought I'd make a quick note on it.

Gabriel is only mentioned in Daniel's vision in Daniel 8-9 and in the announcement of Jesus's birth to Mary in Luke 1. In Daniel, he's the one explaining to Daniel what his vision means. In Luke, he's the messenger giving Mary the news that she will be the mother of the Christ.

The specific verses are Dan 8:16 and 9:21 and Luke 1:19 and 1:26. The Bible only mentions two angels by name, if I'm remembering correctly, Gabriel and Michael.

Jewish literature from the Second Temple Period (between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament mostly) have a lot more to say about angels, so there might be more specifically about Gabriel there. I don't have time to look at those sources right now.

I'm sure that the inquiry was probably inspired by someone looking for background related to the "Gabriel's Vision" inscription. If you're looking just for biblical passages, there's not much.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Birthday Greetings for Dr. Jim West

Since I have a blog category for Jim (as Doug Chaplin pointed out ... I think he was making fun of me though), I thought I should add my birthday wishes to all the other greetings Jim is receiving today. Happy Birthday!!

Esteban is celebrating his birthday today, too. We can't forget him. Happy Birthday, Esteban! It must be hard for you sharing a birthday like that.

Hope you both have a great day!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Lingamish Links

I eagerly scanned the list at the prestigious Lingamish links page looking for my name like a freshman hoping beyond hope to have made the cut to the Varsity squad.  My heart sank when I saw that, alas, I hadn't made the list.  I feared perhaps I was guilty of some of the cardinal sins of blogging, but I don't think they apply to my blog, except perhaps for lacking terseness (but Esteban got a free pass on that one).  Or maybe my sidebar is too busy.  This is a blogspot blog after all.

I finally concluded that David Ker must be sore at me for not mentioning Lingamish among my Top Bible Blogs (but I'd only recently added him to my blogroll and haven't read much of it yet).

I'm joking, of course, and I agree (for the most part) with David's assessment of blogging - though not as enthusiastically as Jim West.  I will endeavor to avoid all the pitfalls that David points out (hmm...but I'm blogging about blogging here).

My only consolation is that the majority of the blogs on my blogrolls also didn't make the cut.  For those of you who did, congratulations on such a prestigious honor.  As for me, I'm just happy that Esteban still has me under his "Biblioblogs of Awesomeness."

HT: Jim West

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What If Israel Knohl is Right?

This will be my last post related to "Gabriel's Vision" for a while.  After this, I'll have said all I think I need to say about the stone and its interpretation.  All the relevant posts can be found with the new "Gabriel's Vision" category link on the sidebar. 

Reading Knohl's response to Collins at Ancient Hebrew Poetry made me want to follow the lead of NT Wrong, close up shop, and head for the hills to await the Apocalypse.  After this, there's nothing more to say and no need to repeat myself.  I have other interesting things to blog about and if my views on the so-called "Messiah Stone" change, I'll let you know.

It occurred to me on Sunday that my persistent opposition to Knohl's interpretation of "Gabriel's Vision" and to the idea of a suffering messiah before Jesus of Nazareth could be misconstrued as stemming from an ideological agenda.  That is, I could be driven to prove him wrong because my beliefs would be threatened if he was right.  For the record, that is not the case.  I feel that I am a neutral observer, objectively weighing the evidence.  I have no vested interest in the suffering messiah idea being there or not, either in "Gabriel's Vision" or in Second Temple Judaism before Jesus.  Knohl simply has not provided solid evidence to support his conclusions.  It saddened me to see today that he attempted to dismiss the objections of John J. Collins by suggesting he was driven by a Christian bias - even though Collins himself said he didn't find the idea threatening to Christianity at all.

I agree with Collins that the idea is not threatening to Christianity, despite the sensationalist headlines.  If anything, Christian theologians should be lining up to help Knohl shore up his hypothesis.  Why is that, you may ask?  Putting my theologian hat on, I considered what the significance would really be if Israel Knohl was right (so far, his argumentation and evidence fall short of making his conclusions anything more than speculation, but I digress).

If Knohl is right, it would provide a strong validation for NT claims that the Messiah would suffer.  A suffering messiah would be a natural part of the message of the Hebrew Bible or to use Walter Kaiser's term - it is endemic.  Rather than being a NT innovation, the idea of a suffering messiah is an inherent concept.  Therefore, the existence of the motif before Jesus of Nazareth would be perfectly understandable.  It gives a context to the words of Jesus in Luke 24:26-27:

"Wasn't it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory? Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." (NLT)

So, rather than threaten Christianity, the awareness of a suffering messiah before Jesus would strengthen the NT's interpretation of the Hebrew Bible.  Anyone with a Christian bias, therefore, should be motivated to help Knohl prove his case, not oppose him.  Despite the words of Jesus in Luke 24:26, the suffering messiah idea is hard to find in the Hebrew Bible until the Suffering Servant motif (Isa 50, 53) is connected to the Davidic Messiah motif.  I still think the NT is innovating - the writers link Jesus to the OT and make connections with a wide set of images all finding fulfillment in one man Jesus.  Their interpretation pulls the pieces together and provides a remarkably coherent model for reading the OT. Perhaps I should switch sides and work on helping strengthen Knohl's argument . . .

A Response to Knohl's Response to DeConick's Questions About Gabriel's Vision

The plot thickened, so to speak, today with John Hobbins giving us a glimpse at John Collins's upcoming response to Knohl. Jim West also weighed in with the score - "Knohl and Yardeni against, well, everyone else." I'm not sure that it's fair exactly to claim Yardeni agrees with Israel Knohl's interpretation of the stone. She agreed with his reading of line 80. This distinction lies at the center of the issue I have with Knohl's response to DeConick, published on her blog on Sunday August 24th. DeConick raised two important issues concerning the "Messiah Stone" or "Gabriel's Vision" and Knohl's interpretation of it - 1) the authenticity of the stone and 2) his use of late post-Christian sources to support the suffering messiah idea.

Concerning authenticity, Knohl doesn't really tell us anything new except for the information that there are other inscriptions in ink on stone from the same time period. We already knew that Yuval Goren and Ada Yardeni concluded it was authentic. I'm willing to concede the point on the authenticity of the stone and accept that it's genuine and from the 1st century BCE based on what we know up to now and the opinions of the 2 scholars noted above.

In fact, I'm willing to grant Knohl both the authenticity of the stone and the plausibility of his reading of line 80 because of Yardeni's opinion. The reason for my concession is that even if it's real AND his reading is accurate, it still does not make his interpretation of the stone correct or even likely. As Collins points out, Knohl is using "Gabriel's Vision" to promote his earlier suffering messiah idea (see first link above). He's not letting the stone be read on its own terms.

The problem is that he appears to assume in his letter to DeConick that since the stone is probably authentic and Yardeni agrees with his reading, then his interpretation must be correct. There's a big difference between being a good reader of text and a good interpreter of text (If you need an example, I can track down a book review I read once by James Vanderkam that makes that observation). In this case, Knohl claims a link between the title Ephraim in the stone and the Messiah ben Joseph purely based on the assumptions that 1) the text is messianic and 2) the messiah figure is addressed in line 80. It's not clear that the title Ephraim is meant to be used messianically or that references to Ephraim as a suffering "son" of YHWH in Jer. 31 and Hosea 11 are meant to be messianic. Knohl himself points out that Ephraim is used at Qumran for the Pharisees (Journal of Religion, Apr 08, p 148). In the Hebrew Bible, Ephraim often refers to the northern kingdom. Basically, he hasn't proven Ephraim is a messianic title or that line 80 refers to a messiah figure at all.

"Gabriel's Vision" is clearly apocalyptic and has close ties to Daniel and Zechariah, but how can we tell if it is also messianic? What counts as an indicator of messianism? A concern for the last days? A mention of David? The word tsemach "branch"? I don't know that the work has been done to adequately define the categories and lay out what constitutes a messianic text.

Concerning the issue of late sources, Knohl doesn't give a satisfactory response. He simply appeals to his article in the Journal of Religion, implying that he must have given solid reasons for their use there. So, I read the Journal of Religion article from April 2008 (pp. 147-158). I was surprised to discover that his latest BAR piece is simply a condensed version of that article. He has only minor elaborations on the use of the late sources and nothing to strengthen his case against the objection that these texts are post-Christian.

I'm beginning to suspect that Knohl believes in his interpretation of "Gabriel's Vision" and his conclusions about the suffering messiah so strongly that he's unable to tell what really counts as firm evidence for his theories. The main argument of the article is nothing more than a long chain of speculative connections linked with assertion and conjecture. I have so many notes on the faulty logic of his article that I may just write an article-length critique and reappraisal of his evidence. His general method consists of making an assertion, then speculating that some other texts could be connected and if they were they would support his assertion, then he moves on like he'd actually proved something and uses his assertion as the premise for further development of his speculation.

I have much more to say on Knohl and the suffering messiah idea, but I'll save that for a future post. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing Collins's full article. It sounds like his assessment of the whole issue is similar to mine - either great minds think alike, or it really is as Jim says - Knohl against pretty much everyone else.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Top Foreign Language Bible Blogs?

For the record, my "Top Bible Blogs" are my top Bible blogs, my favorites. I never claimed to be rating or ranking all Bible blogs. However, a link to my post raised an interesting issue that I hadn't thought of when I was writing it. Airton José da Silva comments:

Os mais importantes biblioblogs?
Só se forem eliminadas as outras quase 7 mil línguas existentes no mundo e estabelecido o inglês como língua única...

That is (according to Google and my basic ability to decipher most Romance languages to at least get the gist),

The most important biblioblogs?
Only by removing the other almost 7 thousand languages in the world and established the English language as only ...

The point, of course, is that I only took account of English-language blogs, and that English speakers (especially Americans) tend to be pretty lazy when it comes to speaking foreign languages.

But, like it or not, English is the dominant language of the Internet and especially biblioblogs. I had to review three books this summer that dealt with the issues of the growth of English as the world's lingua franca, the problem of the decline of many of the world's minority languages, and the effects that the Internet will have on language use and language change. The books were all by David Crystal - English as a Global Language, Language Death, and Language and the Internet.

I know of only a few biblioblogs in other languages besides English, so there's no need to get rid of the other 6 or 7 thousand languages in the world. In fact, many languages are already endangered. Crystal points out in Language Death that “just 4% of the world’s languages are spoken by 96% of the population” (14). This, in turn, means that only 4% of the population of the world speaks 96% of the world’s languages (ibid.). He suggests that roughly two-thirds of the world’s languages are endangered.

Charles Halton recently discussed the issue of endangered languages in a post about a new documentary highlighting the problem. I tend to agree with Charles's sentiments both in the post and in the comments.

That said, the Portuguese post lightly poking fun at my English-dominated top blog list made me realize that for all the languages that I read reasonably well, I only speak English fluently. That is, I can only generate language in English (aside from a very little Spanish and German). I can read at least 8 languages - more depending on how we divide a closely related dialect from a language I already know like Phoenician or Moabite in relation to Hebrew. Half of those (and all the related dialects) are ancient Semitic languages. The others are Hellenistic Greek, classical Latin, Spanish, and German. I would like to learn to speak at least one other modern language fluently. My short list of ones I'd like to try includes Modern Hebrew, Arabic, Italian, and German, Dutch, and Portuguese. The problem up to now has been finding time to devote to it.

I tried to find as many foreign language biblioblogs as I could in order to list them here to show that I am aware of them. I can read them with difficulty with the help of online language tools. I'd like to someday be able to read them straight off without needing helps.

Portuguese: Observatório Bíblico

Portuguese: Estudos Bíblicos

Dutch: Aantekeningen bij de Bijbel

Italian: Antonio Lombatti

German: Credo ut intelligam

I also found a recent post at Hypotyposeis that lists a few more. The ones that I've listed look like they post fairly regularly and the mechanically translated stuff I read seemed pretty good.

If you're interested in the issues of endangered languages and the use of English as a global language, my discussion of Crystal's books is here.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Top Bible Blogs

With so many blogs out there related to the Bible, it would be nice if we had a "Review of Biblioblog Literature." I now have 70 blogs feeding into my Google Reader, and I've updated the blogrolls on this page, adding many that were in my Reader and organizing them roughly by content. A few defy categorization. Here are my ratings of a few Bible blogs, so you know where to start on the blogrolls.

By far the most prolific Biblioblogger would have to be Jim West. Google Reader lists his posting average at almost 50 posts per week. No one else comes close.

The most authoritative Biblioblogger, if you give Technorati authority ratings any weight, is Ben Witherington with 520. Jim West was a close second with 186 187 with John Hobbins from Ancient Hebrew Poetry right behind at 181. James McGrath rates 156. After that most of us drop down to double and single digits.

The most intellectual Bible blog is Ancient Hebrew Poetry. I confirmed this by running the "Blog Readability Test" on several representative biblioblogs. John's blog ranked a Genius reading level. Now this doesn't mean he's the most intelligent blogger. In my subjective opinion, I was debating between him and Charles Halton from Awilum (both very intelligent guys), but Charles's reading level was only Elementary School. I also checked Jim West (Junior High), Chrisendom (High School), and Bible and Ancient Near East (College).

The most humorous bibleblog is unquestionably Scotteriology. Scott Bailey perfectly balances insightful commentary on theological issues with a clear talent for humor writing. If you don't believe me, check out his post about ascending to the fourth heaven.

This is just a sample of my favorite blogs. They come to mind because they post fairly frequently. Feel free to sample others in my blogrolls after you've started with these. I haven't read everything everyone's written, but I've read enough to trust that they usually have solid content that's worth reading. I won't knowingly throw any "crackpots" on the blogroll. Even if I don't agree with all of them, their arguments are usually thoughtful and worth interacting with.

I'd love to follow up this post with a "Worst Bible Blogs" list and link to some of the crazies for you, but I really don't feel like drawing their attention. They tend to avoid using reason and take it personally when they're told that they're wrong.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Knohl's Suffering Messiah

Israel Knohl has an article in BAR about the "Messiah son of Joseph."  It is partly a defense of his interpretation of the "Vision of Gabriel" inscription and partly a defense of his idea that Second Temple Judaism had a suffering messiah concept and he was the "Messiah son of Joseph."

April DeConick has posted her questions about the Apocalypse of Gabriel and she raises an interesting point about most of Knohl's textual evidence:

I am a bit disturbed about Knohl's argument in the BAR piece, since the second temple passages that he quotes as evidence for a Jewish suffering messiah are from texts that have clearly been revised by later Christians.

After reading Knohl's article, I have to agree with her.  He notes that some scholars have linked his evidence to Christian circles, but he rather quickly dismisses them in an endnote.

More recently, see Magnus Zetterholm’s introduction to Magnus Zetterholm, ed., The Messiah in Early Judaism and Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), when he argues that the Jesus movement added a new element to the Jewish concept of messianism: a messiah of Israel who will suffer and die. This is now refuted by “Gabriel’s Revelation,” which had not yet been known when Zetterholm wrote.

I think this qualifies as "begging the question."  He dismisses Zetterholm by appealing to "Gabriel's Revelation," a text whose interpretation is so controversial and uncertain that it can't refute anything. From his comment, I think Zetterholm was exactly right, and yes, I have another book to add to my reading list on this subject.

Knohl appeals to work by Saul Liebermann on the issue but never engages the argument directly.  Knohl's evidence comes from the Babylonian Talmud, Joseph and Aseneth, Pesikta Rabbati, and the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs.  All of these texts had their final redaction after the first century CE.  It's not even clear whether the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs was a Jewish or a Christian composition originally.  The Talmud and the Pesikta Rabbati were redacted much later than the second century CE.

When I read through his examples, my first impression was that all of the texts were reactions to Jesus of Nazareth in some way.  I'm not sure if it matters whether the texts were tweaked by Christians directly or whether the texts reflect a rabbinic response to Christianity in some way.

The point is that there is still no proof that a Messiah son of Joseph or a Messiah of Ephraim was expected as a "messiah of suffering and death" as Knohl claims.  When he gets around to discussing "Gabriel's Revelation," he mixes his terminology in a way that implies the stone mentions a "Messiah son of Joseph" explicitly by using that title interchangeably with the title of "Ephraim."  When I read his translation from the sidebar, the only mention of Ephraim is in line 16.  There are 3 references to David (lines 8, 16, and 72), and the controversial line about a dying, rising messiah comes in line 80. 

Knohl's argument that a Messiah son of Joseph was known in the Second Temple Period and was expected as a suffering messiah still lacks a firm textual basis - a controversial unprovenanced inscription and a handful of late primary sources aren't very convincing.

April DeConick also made an important point about the use of post-Christian sources to explore a question like this:

How can we tell if the expectation of the suffering messiah in these late sources is pre- or post-Christian? One way to solve this dilemma is to notice HOW MUCH of the early Christian literature is devoted to apology for the fact that the Messiah Jesus suffered and died, and how this was a "stumbling block" to the conversion of Jews. Why would the Christians have so much explaining to do if there existed a common Jewish expectation of a suffering messiah prior to Jesus? This is a question that is absolutely necessary for us to face, and it suggests that IF the expectation already existed, it was not well-known or well-liked. Or the expectation grew as a result of Christians explaining the historical experience of their crucified Messiah Jesus.

The fact that the Gospels present the death of Jesus as a completely unexpected turn-of-events for the disciples who believed he was the messiah makes Knohl's search for a suffering messiah before Jesus very difficult because if the idea was known at all, it was a minority view.

[April DeConick has collected an index of links related to the Vision of Gabriel inscription here.  The links include the early publications of the text, Knohl's work on the text, and the mainstream media coverage of it.  Paleojudaica also has several posts related to the stone and a post at NT Gateway collects some of the early blog reactions to the inscription from July.  And my post from yesterday has links to all of my previous posts on the inscription and the issue of messianism.]

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hebraisms in the New Testament

John Hobbins has an interesting post today that brings up the issue of Hebraic influence on New Testament Greek. In other words, biblical Greek is not "real" Greek in the sense of Homer or Plato or Herodotus written in Greek by native speakers of Greek. Anyone who's tried to read the Septuagint and then turn to something in classical Greek should be able to detect this. The Septuagint is worse because it's a translation from Hebrew that follows the source text very closely a lot of the time in representing every word and keeping the same word order. The New Testament, on the other hand, was originally written in Greek, but Greek that was heavily influenced by the Jewish background of the writers. The quotes that John gives us from both the Geneva Bible and E.C. Hoskyns are especially good reminders of that reality.

It reminded me of the issue I brought up a little over a month ago about who was better suited to examine issues involving the Jewish background of ideas like messianic expectation before Jesus - New Testament or Hebrew Bible specialists. My conclusion is that it would really require both working together and both being committed to objectively looking at the evidence from the Second Temple Period. However, if I had to pick between them, it seems that a Hebrew Bible specialist might be better equipped to pick up on those Hebraisms in Greek, many of which are rooted in the Septuagint and Hellenistic Jewish thought. Of course, you'll say I'm biased - being a Hebrew Bible specialist and all. But it seems easier to me to start with an understanding of the Hebrew Bible as the basis for Ancient Judaism and move forward than to start with the New Testament and try to work backward to get the background. That's one of the main reasons why I'm pursuing Hebrew Bible. Everything starts there.

What is Kaiser trying to say?

I'm still thinking about Walter Kaiser's post at Koinonia and trying to understand what he means when he ends with:

If the "Dead Sea Scroll in Stone" exhibits any message similar to what the prophet Isaiah laid out in the Third Servant Song, we are in for some very interesting Jewish-Evangelical dialogues! Perhaps the Church can pick up where it broke off from the Synagogue in the second to fourth Christian centuries! This would be one giant step forward for all who take Scripture and history seriously.

What is he trying to say? He never really talks about the "Dead Sea Scroll in Stone", despite the title of the blog post, aside from using it to bring up the suffering messiah idea. It seems like he's implying that if it talks about a suffering messiah (like he believes Isa. 50 does), then Judaism needs to rethink its rejection of Jesus as the messiah. If that's what he's saying, it seems like a bold non sequitur to me. It might not be what he means. After re-reading this paragraph several times, it just keeps getting more unintelligible.

First, the suffering messiah idea in the "Vision of Gabriel" itself is a weak interpretation. Second, reading it into Isa. 50 just perpetuates the type of category-mixing that is all too common in Old Testament interpretation, especially in dealing with the issue of messianic expectation.

Isaiah 50 and the Messiah

Walter Kaiser has a recent post at Koinonia related to the "Vision of Gabriel" interpretation. He doesn't add much to the discussion of the stone itself, but he does offer some important food for thought related to the issue of a suffering messiah in the Hebrew Bible.

I've posted before on the "Vision of Gabriel" and the issue of messianism in the Hebrew Bible, here, here, here, and here. In the most recent post, I commented that the Suffering Servant and the Davidic Messiah are separate categories in the Hebrew Bible, and we should not be too quick to link them. The link is made when we read the Hebrew Bible through the connections that the New Testament makes to show Jesus as the fulfillment of all these categories. The assertion that the Jews were expecting a suffering messiah seems to rest on very little evidence and seems to be contradicted by the reactions to Jesus's death that are recorded in the Gospels.

The issue is not IF the idea of a suffering messiah existed. The issue is WHEN do we first see evidence of it and does that evidence pre-date Jesus and provide background for the New Testament.

I find no solid basis for even asserting that the motifs were connected in the Hebrew Bible. On the other hand, Kaiser has "argued that both Messiah's suffering and his resurrection are an endemic part of the earlier writings of the TENAK." I have added his book The Messiah in the Old Testament to my reading list for this subject. If the suffering and rising messiah idea really is "endemic" to the Tanak, then I must be missing something. (Actually, I think it's endemic only when you read the OT through the framework of the NT.) I assume he offers more evidence in the book, but his blog post centers on the interpretation of the Third Servant Song in Isa. 50:4-11.

First, we have a problem with just pulling the Servant Songs out of their larger context in Isaiah. There's really little justification for doing so, especially since the "servant" theme runs throughout Second Isaiah. I'm giving Kaiser the benefit of the doubt that he is just adopting the division out of convenience.

Second, I agree that Isaiah 50:4-11 reflects the motif of the Suffering Servant and likely refers to an individual servant, not collective Israel as the servant. However, the only evidence that Kaiser offers to connect the ideas of the Davidic messiah and the Servant from Isaiah 50 comes from the use of the divine name "Adonai Yahweh." Kaiser claims this is "a title mostly reserved for the Abrahamic Covenant in Gen 15 and the Davidic Covenant in 2 Sam 7." Hmm...the use of the title Adonai Yahweh automatically implies a connection to the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants. That seems like too strong of a claim to me.

"Adonai Yahweh" occurs 293 times in the Hebrew Bible (Bibleworks search). Two of those times refer to the deity speaking to Abraham in Genesis 15. Seven times the name is used during David's prayer in 2 Samuel 7. Yes, the name doesn't otherwise occur in Samuel, but it does occur several times in the Deuteronomistic History (DtrH). And there's a specific pattern to it's use in DtrH. It usually occurs in the context of prayer. The other examples are Deut. 3:24, Deut. 9:26, Josh. 7:7, Jdg 6:22, and Jdg 16:28. The only exceptions to this pattern in DtrH occur in 1 Kgs 2:26 and 8:53. It also occurs 3 times in the Psalms. That covers 17 occurrences.

The other 276 occurrences come in the Prophets with the vast majority being in Ezekiel (almost 220). So for Kaiser's connection to work, all these uses in the Prophets should be implying the Davidic and Abrahamic covenants by using this name. "Adonai Yahweh" is a common title in the Prophets - 23 times in Isaiah, 11 in Jeremiah, 20 in Amos, and a few left over in the Minor Prophets. It seems like a huge theological leap to claim that the prophets are intentionally alluding to the covenants by using this form of the name.

Furthermore, the connection to a Davidic messiah only comes from a link to the Davidic covenant through 2 Sam. 7. However, the frequency of use of the title in prayers in DtrH makes the usage in 2 Sam. 7 unremarkable.

Kaiser also discusses the suffering and attitude of the servant and connects those to the sufferings of Jesus of Nazareth. I agree that Jesus of Nazareth fits the template of a Suffering Servant, but that itself doesn't help us understand what messianic expectation was like BEFORE Jesus.

The Suffering Servant is a much richer motif that existed separate from messianism, doesn't imply messianism, and can be seen at work in the Hebrew Bible apart from just in the Servant Songs in Second Isaiah.

Isaiah 50:4-11 is itself a fascinating example. In a future post, I will look at the passage more closely and discuss some of the possible parallels for the Suffering Servant motif in other parts of the Hebrew Bible.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Quality Biblioblogging & Self-Publishing

I've come across a couple of posts this week on different blogs that illustrate the pluses and minuses of self-publishing in biblical studies or ancient languages.

First, James McGrath is contemplating self-publishing a book he's written. I'm sure his work is thought-provoking and well-researched, reflecting his training and experience in biblical studies. Self-publishing seems to be a way that he could get something in print and in the hands of select people quickly.

Second, Jay has tactfully commented on the self-published work of a certifiable self-taught crackpot whose books curiously enjoy prominent placement in Amazon searches and recommendations.

The second example makes me appreciate the process that editors and publishing houses have put in place that ensure a quality publication (usually), just like academic journals subject articles to peer-review. They screen out the crazies and crackpots (usually-I offer anything written by Graham Phillips as evidence that they don't always). Self-publishing is too easy. Anyone can do it if they want to pay for it and it doesn't matter if what they've written is quality or not.

On the other hand, blogging is a form of self-publishing - unregulated and lacking peer-review. We have no standards, no organization that gives us an official stamp of approval (unless you count I guess the comments feature can keep us honest, accountable, and in dialogue, but unless I know the commenter, I don't know if he has the training to critique my work or not (like Jay I'm not trying to sound elitist - but I've had a bit more training in this field than your average person who reads the Bible in English for fun or faith or whatever).

I wonder how much Jay's question about what to do about self-published crackpots in print ("how can we rid the popular culture of such stains on linguistics, sound methodology, the study of Hebrew Bible, and common sense?") should be extended to also include the blogosphere. I know you're out there - bloggers with conspiracy theories about Jesus who think the DaVinci Code was non-fiction and that the Bible Code really works.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Few More Thoughts on the TNIV

I'd like to add a few more thoughts  on the TNIV lest my previous post make it look like there's nothing good to be said about it. 

It appears from looking over Blomberg's article "Today's New International Version: The Untold Story of a Good Translation" at the TNIV website that I would agree with him that the TNIV made a lot of improvements when compared to the NIV.  He lists many of them on pp. 5-9.  (Unfortunately, they're all NT examples.  I suspect the OT wasn't completed yet when he wrote.  I know of one OT improvement - Isa. 50:3 changing NIV's "sky" to a more poetic "heavens" in TNIV.) 

He also surveys the controversial passages for the gender issue, and I would again agree that some of the controversy has been overblown and the actual changes are minimal.  However, I didn't see him address the issue of a de-gendered translation to avoid offending people like in Isa. 19:16.  I think translating to avoid offending people is a slippery slope that should generally be avoided.

The good points about the TNIV:  it generally improves the NIV's rendering and uses more natural-sounding idiomatic language.  However, to justify this second point, Blomberg says toward the end of his blog post that "the Bible was not written to be elegant, or in a high literary style by the standards of its day, but in the common language of the ordinary person." That might be a somewhat accurate way to describe the New Testament, but it is completely inappropriate for the Hebrew Bible.  It's also completely unnecessary to resort to that to validate translating the Bible in natural everyday language.

I still can't bring myself to actually recommend the TNIV for anyone, but I won't call you a heretic and excommunicate you if you use one.

No "Standard for Years to Come" Likely

I came across a post today at the NLT Blog by Keith Williams called "Bible Translation by Committee" interacting with Blomberg's post at Koinonia. I found his comments on the process of producing a translation to be very helpful, and I want to go on record affirming that I "appreciate the fact that we have multiple excellent, peer-reviewed Bible translations in English." In fact, I think that is the main reason that no single translation will emerge as "THE standard" in the same way that the KJV was for a long time or even in the way that the NIV has been for the last thirty years or so. We have too many versions to choose from now.

In the first half of the twentieth century, there were really only three versions to choose from: KJV, ASV, or RSV. From the late '60s through the '80s, the NASB ('67) replaced the ASV, the NIV ('78) was completed and became popular, and the NKJV ('82) appeared. So, when I was growing up as a pastor's kid, I knew of only three categories of bible versions that were commonly accepted among evangelicals - KJV (& NKJV), NASB, and NIV.

In the '90s, things started to change and more choices became available. The NRSV (1990) was completed but didn't displace the NIV in the hearts of most evangelicals. (It was suspect for being ecumenical and inclusive.) The first edition of the NLT was completed (1996) but didn't make much of an impact (overshadowed in the circles I moved in by the excitement over the NASB update in 1995). Other versions appeared but didn't make much of a splash either like the NCV ('87) and the CEV ('95). By the end of the '90s, the same three appear to have been the most common - KJV, NASB, and NIV.

The new millennium has witnessed a number of changes that have shifted the status quo. It's now become more accepted to use one of the more paraphrastic / dynamic-equivalent versions like the NLT, NCV, CEV, and The Message. Also, there have been some brand-new choices added to the mix like the ESV (yes, I know it's a revision of RSV '71) and the HCSB. The NLT got a second edition in 2004 and it's popularity has grown steadily since then. Finally, the TNIV was completed in 2005. There are also a couple of translation projects that are at the moment only online like the International Standard Version and the New English Translation (NET Bible).

Now when someone is thinking about buying a Bible, instead of thinking:

"Should I get a KJV? Nah, too old fashioned. NASB? Nah, that's not natural English. So what's left? Oh look an NIV!"

They will think something like: [Aside: Oh look, a natural spontaneous example of non-gendered speech - I've written "they" with an antecedent of "someone" to avoid the "he/she" issue. ]

"Should I get another NIV? Oh wait, look . . . what's this NLT Bible? I like this one. But wait, there's some other versions on this shelf close to the floor - ESV and HCSB? I've heard of those, too. I wonder why the bookstore has given so much shelf space to the KJV and NIV and so little to these? I heard they were pretty good, too. Which one should I choose??"

I'm sure Zondervan would love to capitalize on the widespread use of the NIV by getting everyone to replace it with the TNIV, but unfortunately, two things have happened to make that unlikely. First, the gender language controversy has probably put a black mark on the TNIV for many Christians regardless of whether the criticism was fair or warranted. Second, there are a lot of really good alternatives out there (and I sense the NLT is appealing to a lot of NIV users who might have been otherwise drawn to the TNIV).

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Comments on the TNIV and Gender Language

I recently read Craig Blomberg's post at Koinonia about Bible Translation and the TNIV.  I appreciated his comments on how difficult the work of translation really is and that it's much easier to criticize a translation than to make a better one.  However, I found some of his comments about the TNIV to be misleading.  I think it's important to notice that they're now calling their approach to gender language as "gender-accurate" and "gender-inclusive."  I guess the controversy over their gender-sensitive approach has led to that aspect being downplayed.  

In 1992, the NIV's Committee for Bible Translation issued a statement on Gender-Inclusive Language that stated in part:

"Authors of Biblical books, even while writing Scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit, unconsciously reflected in many ways, the particular cultures in which they wrote. Hence in the manner in which they articulate the Word of God, they sometimes offend modern sensibilities. At such times, translators can and may use non-offending renderings so as not to hinder the message of the Spirit"[source].

I agree (for the most part) with the attempt to be gender-accurate.  The masculine plural in both Hebrew and Greek is technically unmarked for gender (meaning it was the default case for a mixed group).  However, I think the TNIV translators messed up on occasion and translated inclusively when a male audience was in view (e.g., 1 Thes. 4:1-6 where I don't dispute that the instruction is useful for women to take to heart as well as men, but I think the writer had guys in mind here.  Show me another place in the NT where "brother" in Gk masc sing refers to sisters as well.  That and the phrase the TNIV renders "to control your own body" is literally "learn to acquire a wife").  The debate over this has been going on for a long time and many more examples could be added.  The TNIV website has a collection of essays on the debate if you want to look at it further.

But the quote above from the NIV committee goes beyond being "gender-accurate."  They aimed to be gender-sensitive and translate to avoid offending modern sensibilities.  My favorite example of where I feel this weakens the text is in Isaiah 19:16.  Compare the ESV and TNIV renderings of the verse.

ESV:  "In that day the Egyptians will be like women, and tremble with fear before the hand that the LORD of hosts shakes over them." 

TNIV:  "In that day the Egyptians will become weaklings. They will shudder with fear at the uplifted hand that the LORD Almighty raises against them."

I think it kind of waters down the insult that was intended against the Egyptians in this context.  As anyone who follows the trends with Bible translations knows, the TNIV set off a lot of controversy with their approach on a number of levels.  A number of denominations passed resolutions against it, and the rather large Southern Baptist denomination was so upset about it that they went and made their own translation so they wouldn't have to use the NIV.

I think the trend to market the TNIV as gender-accurate (and not gender-sensitive) is misleading since the gender-neutral principles behind its translation went beyond an attempt to be accurate and inclusive where appropriate.  Blomberg's promotion of it as okay because it's a better reflection of how we talk nowadays is a weak justification and could be seen as simply an attempt to soothe the conscience of a potential user who is reluctant to move to a controversial translation.

I was disappointed that Blomberg dismissed the ESV and the HCSB as "niche" translations.  I assume he was referring to those two when he said:

"So let’s pray that this flurry of niche translations (a distinctively Southern Baptist one or one with a distinctively old-fashioned literary elegance or whatever) will help those who need what they offer, but that the vast majority of us can soon recognize the TNIV for what it deserves to be—the truly standard English-language version for years to come."

In other words, we should all be using the TNIV.  Maybe we should start a TNIV-only movement.  (I'm sure one may already exist.)  I'm skeptical of any translation's ability to become the new standard for many years to come, as I've said before.  But, apparently everyone except all you Southern Baptists and ESV users (and KJV only people) should just run out and buy a TNIV.  One final thought - if you really want a moderately idiomatic version that's actually pretty good, run out and buy a NLT.  We need to maintain the balance of diversity among bible translations, and at any rate, the NLT deserves to be the new standard just as much as the TNIV or the ESV.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

More Blogs on Facebook

Either I missed them earlier or a few more biblioblogs have been added to Facebook recently.

Most notably -- Jim West and Chrisendom are now there.

I've also noted the following blogs on Facebook that I don't have on my blogroll here, but I have them either bookmarked or feeding into my Google Reader.

Idle Musings of a Bookseller
Ancient World Bloggers Group
ESV Blog
Bible Design & Binding
Evangelical Text Criticism
Singing in the Reign
Random Bloggings

This has made me realize that keeping up with the biblioblogosphere (especially when you factor in the theoblogosphere) is pretty much impossible and I should just stop trying. I have 40 blogs feeding into Google Reader. Thank goodness only a few of them post regularly. And 29 of the 40 are also on the blogroll here. Then I have another 30 blogs bookmarked that I check only occasionally. So much to read, so little time.

UPDATE 7:40 pm 8/7/08

And now also on Facebook (and added to my Google Reader, make that 42):
Voice of Stefan
Archaic Christianity

Biblia Hebraica on Facebook

Facebook now has a Blog Networks application. There aren't very many biblioblogs listed there yet, but this one is. Go ahead and add Biblia Hebraica to your favorite blogs. If I get more than 15 fans, Facebook will pull the RSS feed.

Other Biblioblogs on Facebook:
Pisteuomen (Michael Halcomb)
Exploring Our Matrix (James McGrath)
Ketuvim (Jim Getz)
Codex (Tyler Williams)
Ancient Hebrew Poetry (John Hobbins)
BiblePlaces (Todd Bolen)

Apparently, you can add blogs to the list even if you're not the author. Ancient Hebrew Poetry and BiblePlaces aren't claimed by their respective authors.

I thought about adding all the biblioblogs in my blogroll, but that would be too much work.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

New Book to add to the DSS Reading List

[Via DoveNews: Hebrew Bible List]

Eshel, Hanan David Louvish, Aryeh Amihay (trans)

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hasmonean State

(Wm. B. Eerdmans, Published 2008)

Paperback List: $28.00 Dove Price: $17.99 Save $10.01 (36%)

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hasmonean State is the first book dedicated solely to the question of how we can learn political history from the Qumran scrolls. Hanan Eshel unpacks and summarizes the historical information contained in the scrolls. He then goes on to demonstrate that Josephus’s description of the political history of the Hasmonean period is reliable.

This version of Eshel's 2004 Hebrew publication has been expertly translated for an English-speaking audience. It has also been updated to reflect more recent scholarship and includes a totally new bibliography of English resources.


And after reading the book, you can catch the panel discussion at SBL.


Panel Discussion of Hanan Eshel, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hasmonean State (Eerdmans 2008)
11/24/2008 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM
Room: Republic A - SH

Bennie Reynolds, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Presiding

James VanderKam, University of Notre Dame, Panelist

Jodi Magness, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Panelist

Kenneth Atkinson, University of Northern Iowa, Panelist

Michael Wise, Northwestern College, Panelist

Hanan Eshel, Bar Ilan University, Panelist

Strange New Hebrew Inscription Found on Sidewalk

It appears to be some sort of graffiti. Possibly archaizing but showing word order variation and a grammatical mistake that suggest it may be a forgery.

My four year old daughter Emma likes to practice her Hebrew letters now and then. We started reading the book of Ruth in Hebrew last week. She told me what she wanted to write. The phrase doesn't actually occur in Ruth, and now that I look at it, I probably should've used the direct object marker on "Naomi." She thought it was fun anyway. Next up - teaching paleo-Hebrew script.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Gold Coins from Second Temple Period Found

Archaeological discoveries are somewhat routine in the Middle East. Most of them pass by unheralded by the international media because there's no sensational spin to put on it. However, there are archaeologists working hard to improve our knowledge of the ancient Near East little by little without fanfare. Oded Lipschits has found a jar full of gold coins from the Second Temple Period at Ramat Rachel. Unfortunately, the pot must not have any writing on it. That's too bad. The owner should've put his name on it. We could have had another inscription and ancient person to argue about.

Archaeology Proves the Bible Again

[This is a re-post from earlier this morning. Technical difficulties.]

Just when you thought it couldn't get any more interesting, Ha'aretz goes and throws this out there: "Archaeologists unearth proof of plot to kill Prophet Jeremiah." Apparently, the discovery of a seal that probably bears a name known from the book of Jeremiah means that the events of Jeremiah 38 are now historically verified in their entirety.

We have a problem here between what the evidence can support and the burden that some would place on it. All the seal does is suggest that a person mentioned in Jeremiah was a real historical person. Despite lingering doubts about connecting the seal with the figure in Jeremiah, it seems highly unlikely that there would be another person with the same name holding a position of power warranting the need for a seal at about the same time. The existence of the Jehucal seal simply strengthens the connection. (Follow the links in earlier posts to comments by Charles Halton and G.M. Grena for background on this line of reasoning.)

The bulla provides another link supporting the assertion that the Bible can be reliably used as a witness to history similarly to any other ancient document. This does not mean that we should conduct archaeology in Israel with a Bible in one hand and a spade in the other - connecting the two with everything we dig up. However, there have been significant finds confirming that the Bible has a pretty good handle on the historical situation, at least in its broad strokes, once we reach the late eighth century. For example, the Siloam tunnel inscription reflects Hezekiah's preparations from his encounter with Sennacherib described in 2 Kings 18-20. The tunnel itself is mentioned in 2 Kings 20:20. Sennacherib's campaign against Judah is especially well-documented by non-biblical sources. His siege and capture of Lachish is recorded in all its gory detail on reliefs from the walls of his palace in Nineveh.

The Gedalyahu bulla does not have nearly the impact of these other finds precisely because it provides so little information. We can't jump from "he's likely a historical person" to "everything connected to him in the Bible is now proven."

[For a list of many of the occurrences of the name "Gedalyahu" in the Bible and epigraphic texts, see the recent post at Abnormal Interests. Thanks to Jim West and Jim Davila for posts that drew my attention to the Ha'aretz story. My apologies for linking to wikipedia for background support. I wouldn't do it if they didn't say what I already knew was true and could document from "real" sources that aren't close at hand right now.]

Update: I just discovered Michael Halcomb's blog with comments on the seal. I completely agree with his assessment of the significance of the find and the problems with the tendency to make too much of the archeology's ability to "prove" the Bible.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

More on Gedalyahu ben Pashur

I've noticed today that Duane at Abnormal Interests has also shared some thoughts on the Gedalyahu seal. I think he summarizes the significance of the find well when he says:

"Does this prove the Hebrew Bible in some way? No, not in the way that some might hope. It does seem to confirm that a person named Gedalyahu likely lived at about the time the Hebrew Bible indicates that he did and that he may have had something like the role the Hebrew Bible says he had."

Everyone interested in the seal should also take a look at the detailed discussion by Chris Heard at Higgaion. He includes G.M. Grena's drawings of the seal along with comments on Grena's paleographic analysis. In considering the identification of the character, Grena comments on the post and mentions the important detail that a similar seal (the Jehucal bulla) with the name of another official mentioned in Jer. 38:1 was found earlier by the same archaeologist at the same site.

The fact that two bullae bearing the names of Zedekiah's officials from Jer. 38:1 were found by the same archaeologist at the same dig site can be taken two ways. Either they reinforce each other's connection to the biblical verse (a real find independent of the biblical text that corroborates a detail from the text), or the biblical verse suggested the connection (a questionable find dependent on the biblical text for the association). I'm not personally questioning the authenticity of the find (though seals have been forged before). I'm just pointing out that statistically, it's either the real thing linking to biblical persons or it was faked to look like it. For one antiquities dealer's description of how he sifts out the authentic artifacts from the fake ones, see here.

Friday, August 1, 2008

New Discoveries

Wow, you take a day off, two important archaeological discoveries get announced, and there's nothing left for you to say.  I'm speaking, of course, about the news of a new alphabetic inscription discovered at Zincirli and the discovery of a seal bearing the name Gedalyahu ben Pashur (a biblical name from Jer. 38:1, but don't be too hasty on the connection).

Here's a roundup of representative posts I've found today on these two important finds.

Jim Davila at Paleojudaica has excerpts from a Jerusalem Post article about the Gedalyahu seal and presents the Agade announcement about Zincirli. 

Peter Bekins also mentioned the Zincirli find, but more importantly has a very informative summary explaining the relationship of Sam'alian to Aramaic and the Canaanite dialects.  I also found his discussion of Garr's Dialect Geography helpful in this regard.

Jim West has a couple of posts about the Gedalyahu seal.  The first has a picture and links to the Jerusalem Post article, and the other presents the views of UW-Madison alum Lawrence Mykytiuk, an expert on the methods of identifying biblical names in epigraphic finds.

Mykytiuk is understandably cautious in jumping to the conclusion that the name on the seal is definitely the same man mentioned in Jeremiah 38:1.  Charles Halton at Awilum feels the identification is a little more likely than Mykytiuk will allow.

Todd Bolen at the Bible Places Blog also has a good summary of the Gedalyahu find with some additional comments about the Jerusalem Post article and useful links to photos of the seal and the excavation site.

Between all the above sites and the links they contain, there's not much more for me to say except to advise that if you're going to SBL and want to hear Pardee's presentation of the Zincirli inscription, find out what room it's going to be in and camp out there all weekend.  Arriving early on the day of the talk won't be enough.  (I just checked and it's not on the SBL online program book yet).

Biblical Studies Carnival XXXII

John Hobbins at Ancient Hebrew Poetry has posted Biblical Studies Carnival XXXII in not one, not two, but three excellent installments.  July was a busy month for biblioblogs.  My favorite part was there at the very end of part three where he mentions this blog as "worthy of note."  But seriously, he drew my attention to a lot of blogs and online resources that I didn't know about before, so it's definitely worth checking out the whole thing.