Friday, December 25, 2009

Where was Jesus Born and When?

In my last post I briefly mentioned the problems with determining when Jesus was born (hint: it wasn't 0 A.D.). In honor of Christmas day, here are some additional resources if you're interested in exploring the issue of where and when Jesus was born. Being an OT guy, I hadn't even realized there was any question about where Jesus was born until this year. Apparently, the choices are Nazareth or Bethlehem and the scholarly consensus of NT studies leans toward Nazareth.

1. NT Pod 19: Was Jesus Born in Bethlehem?

2. NT Pod 20: When Was Jesus Born?

3. BAR Article: Jesus' Nativity-Where Was Jesus Born? (And When?)

4. Contradictory Christmases by James McGrath about the different stories in Matthew and Luke. Quite a discussion developed in the comments thread.

5. Pisteuomen: Jesus' Birth In Context - a 12-part series that looks interesting but I haven't finished reading yet.

For my second Ph.D., maybe I should do New Testament studies. I've realized lately how ill informed I am when it comes to critical issues in New Testament scholarship. My excuse is that I'm a Hebrew Bible/Ancient Judaism specialist anyway.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Year Zero and Other Observations

'Tis the season when Christmas music has taken over the airwaves at home, at the mall, and in the car. While struggling to manage a semblance of holiday cheer, I have three somewhat random observations (i.e., pet peeves) inspired by things I've heard said in various Christmas songs.

1. THERE IS NO YEAR ZERO. The Gregorian calendar goes from 1 B.C. (or B.C.E.) to 1 A.D. (or C.E.). Even if there was a year zero, it's not the year of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. The change of era was off by a few years. If we accept the Gospel of Matthew account, Herod the Great was alive and well when Jesus was born, and Jesus's family lived in Egypt for some months or perhaps even years until Herod died. Herod died in 4 B.C. Jesus's birth must have been before 4 B.C. at the latest. Update: This online article from Biblical Archaeology Review discusses the date and location of Jesus's birth.

2. "In excelsis Deo" from the hymn "Angels we have heard on high" is NOT to be pronounced "in ex-Celsius Deo." Latin only has a hard /c/ like English /k/. Proper choir pronunciation (which doesn't follow pure Latin) is "in egg-shell-sis Deo." But whatever you do, "Celsius" should not leave your lips.

3. Christendom. It's pronounced "Chris-en-dom", not Christian-dom, as in "the belfries of all Christendom" from "I saw 3 ships."

Well, I feel better just getting those observations off my chest. I am now  free to celebrate Christmas as my usual cheerful and festive self.

Oh, one more thing. I drove by a billboard yesterday that had a picture of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus. Joseph was wearing a leather vest and he looked an awful lot like Inigo Montoya from the Princess Bride.

My random Christmas observations are ended.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The current issue of the Smithsonian magazine (Jan 2010) has a long article about the Dead Sea Scrolls and the archaeology of Qumran. Despite the title, most of the article is devoted to surveying the many different interpretations of the archaeological data of Qumran itself. It is a remarkable article for the simple fact that it is  about Qumran and yet well-balanced, giving equal time to multiple minority views about the site. Personally, I share the skepticism of Yuval Peleg concerning the site as a settlement of a religious community:
But hearing the dramatic recitation, Peleg, 40, rolls his eyes. “There is no connection to the Essenes at this site,” he tells me as a hawk circles above in the warming air. He says the scrolls had nothing to do with the settlement. Evidence for a religious community here, he says, is unconvincing. He believes, rather, that Jews fleeing the Roman rampage hurriedly stuffed the documents into the Qumran caves for safekeeping. After digging at the site for ten years, he also believes that Qumran was originally a fort designed to protect a growing Jewish population from threats to the east.
I agree with Peleg, so I'm not quite sure what Jodi Magness is getting at when she's quoted as saying:
But Peleg’s view has won few adherents. “It’s more interpretation than data,” says Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who shares de Vaux’s view that the site was a religious community. She says that some archaeologists—by refusing to acknowledge evidence that residents of Qumran hid the scrolls—are inclined to leap to conclusions since their research relies solely on the ambiguous, physical remains at the site.
"More interpretation than data"?! The data are all meaningless without interpretation. By evidence that residents of Qumran hid the scrolls, I assume she means the similar pottery found in the caves and at the site. Is there more than that? All that proves is that local pottery was used to hide scrolls. It says nothing about who was doing the hiding.

I recommend the article for anyone interested in an overview of current research related to Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

HT: Robert Cargill

Monday, December 21, 2009

Quote of the Day: Lazy American Students

From an op-ed piece in the Boston Globe:
We’ve got a knowledge gap, spurred by a work-ethic gap.
Kara Miller, professor at Babson College.

I think that describes large segments of American society, not just the students. We have a big sense of entitlement coupled with a disdain for personal responsibility.

If you're at all concerned with the decline in performance of American students compared to international students and how that might affect the global marketplace of ideas, then I highly recommend you read the whole essay.

HT: Rich B via Facebook

House of Jesus Himself Discovered in Nazareth . . . sort of . . . well, not really

Just in time for Christmas (coincidence?), the Israel Antiquities Authority has announced the discovery a house in ancient Nazareth dating to the first century CE, the time of Jesus. Here is an excerpt from the IAA press release.
According to Yardenna Alexandre, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The discovery is of the utmost importance since it reveals for the very first time a house from the Jewish village of Nazareth and thereby sheds light on the way of life at the time of Jesus. The building that we found is small and modest and it is most likely typical of the dwellings in Nazareth in that period. From the few written sources that there are, we know that in the first century CE Nazareth was a small Jewish village, located inside a valley. Until now a number of tombs from the time of Jesus were found in Nazareth; however, no settlement remains have been discovered that are attributed to this period”.

The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs has this photo:

It is nice to see that, so far, none of the news stories are connecting this story to a specific person or family (as my headline does in an intentionally facetious way). Now if they'd found a tunnel in the city of David, I'm sure they would have quickly speculated a connection to David's conquest of the city.  Oh, wait . . .

HT: Wild Wild West, Todd Bolen

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Gifts for the Bible Scholar in Your Life

Some people are just hard to shop for, especially Bible scholars who often show little interest in any hobbies or activities not related to their research. If you know such a hard-to-shop-for person (like myself), here are some gift ideas.

1. A mug inscribed with the Gezer Calendar inscription from Eisenbrauns.


2. Books are always a good choice, but it has to be the right book. Most of what's in stock at the local Barnes & Noble or Christian book store doesn't cut it. Here are some suggestions (from the list of books I want but don't have.)
  • Craig Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels from Eerdmans.

  • John Collins, Beyond the Qumran Community from Eerdmans.

  • John Sailhamer, The Meaning of the Pentateuch from IVP.

  • James Beilby, ed., The Historical Jesus: Five Views from IVP.

Karel van der Toorn, Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible (available from Amazon).

3. A tie with a picture of biblical Jerusalem (Amazon)

jerusalem tie_

4. A Levenger Shirt Pocket Briefcase (a personal favorite - I have 2).

levenger pocket

5. The Levenger Editor's Desk, a truly great tool for reading and organizing reference books. I received one as a gift several years ago.

editors desk

6. Book Darts. A must for serious readers.

7. The ever-popular tweed blazer - the hallmark of a true scholar.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bringing the Dead Sea Scrolls to Life in MN

My first Hebrew professor and undergraduate mentor, Michael Wise, is profiled in the current issue of Northwestern College's Pilot.PilotFW09Cover_6384
You might expect to find the preeminent scholar on the Dead Sea Scrolls cloistered in the sunless basement of a museum, surrounded by ancient artifacts and sheaves of dusty papers. 
But on a warm afternoon in early September, Michael Wise, Ph.D., internationally celebrated for his knowledge in ancient languages, history and the scrolls, is in his well-lit office at Northwestern College.
The scholar-in-residence and professor of Hebrew Bible & ancient languages jumps up amiably to meet with a student seeking advisory help. Wise, the highly regarded author of The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation, has published innumerable scholarly papers, presented professional papers and lectures and has been featured in Time, The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. But he is relaxed and at home in his third-floor office in Nazareth Hall. 
A self-professed “language guy,” Wise reads Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, Syriac, Middle Egyptian, Coptic, Arabic and Akkadian (an extinct language spoken in ancient Mesopotamia). For him, learning the intricacies of ancient languages is as addictive as "eating peanuts." His
achievements put him into an elite group of academics, both secular and religious.
"There aren’t too many of us," he admitted. 'We talk about languages with a certain glee." [read the rest here]
The most exciting news I learned from this issue is that there will be an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls in St. Paul this spring.
The Science Museum of Minnesota plans to exhibit three sets of five of the actual scrolls discovered in caves along the shore of the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1956. This collection of important writings includes biblical manuscripts, commentary and rules for community life and details of religious rituals. Fragments of the earliest known texts of the Old Testament, dating back 2,000 years, will be displayed. The exhibit opens March 12, 2010.
I expect that the MN exhibit with Wise's involvement will reflect the broad spectrum of scholarship on the DSS more than the exhibit I saw in San Diego, for example.

For those of us in central WI, the exhibit opening Jan. 22, 2010 at the Milwaukee Public Museum is a little closer to home. For my part, I'll be trying to get to both so I can criticize them online anonymously  . . . (sorry, inside joke. well, not really a joke, a tragically sad and bizarre story).

Friday, December 18, 2009

Review: NLT Mosaic Bible

_DSC0553 I originally considered categorizing this review of NLT Mosaic according to the "Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" cliche, but I couldn't think of anything Bad or Ugly to say. So, I'm going with something a bit weaker: what I like and what I like less.

What I Like:

1. The Concept. The Mosaic Bible leads off with 53 short meditations/devotional readings, one for each week of the year. The sequence follows the church year from Advent to Pentecost. Each reading is interspersed with brief quotations and artwork that sp_DSC0620an the entirety of Christendom, both globally and chronologically. It's a mosaic piecing together little bits and pieces of traditional and contemporary Christianity. This is a great way for Christians in the United States to be introduced to the great breadth of the Church around the world. Too often our view of church is limited only to the hundred people or so we may see on any given Sunday in our own small corner of the planet.

_DSC0590 2. The Artwork. The color pictures capture well the essence of each week's topic. Biblical scenes are depicted frequently in art from Africa or Asia, and I'm reminded that it was more than just Flemish painters in the Renaissance who read their world back into their biblical scenes. The art is also an effective reminder of media translation. Think about it. We've transferred the biblical text from the original languages into native tongues around the world, carrying a foreign ancient text into a new culture. Is it any different to translate the world of the Bible into visual images that are meaningful in that same culture?_DSC0551

3. The Book. The book itself is an attractive hardcover. It appears to be sturdy and durable, but I'm too gentle with my Bibles to ever have one fall apart anyway. The binding is glued and the paper is noticeably different between the meditations and the Bible itself.

What I Like Less:

Since this is really a devotional Bible, I don't have anything to critique content-wise. The meditations that I've read are meaningful and thought-provoking. My only criticism is that by picking and choosing bits and pieces from various lectionaries they've created a set of readings that doesn't actually align with any denomination's regular reading cycle. I'm not even sure this is necessary or important since the goal was to share segments from the breadth of Christianity.

The Bottom Line:

_DSC0589 The Mosaic Bible is still effective in raising awareness that a church calendar exists and that some denominations structure their year around these seasons. The audience for this Bible appears to be evangelicals anyway who are often blissfully unaware of what is going on in most mainline denominations. (I know I'm always surprised when the fish sandwich returns to prominence at McDonalds every year, strangely corresponding to Ash Wednesday. This Bible may not help you with that culture shock per se.)

If you're looking for a new Bible to read through in 2010, I recommend the NLT Mosaic. The translation is fresh and clear and the weekly devotions will expose you to a whole wide world of Christian thought and art that you never knew existed.

The Fine Print:
In accord with FTC guidelines regarding endorsements, it is my duty to disclose that I received a complimentary copy of the Holy Bible Mosaic from Sean Harrison at Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for this review. The FTC apparently considers this a paid endorsement and treats the review copy as compensation. Their guidelines require that any such material connection between the reviewer and the publisher be disclosed. However, unlike paid endorsements, there is no agreement, express or implied, between me and the publisher requiring a positive, glowing endorsement.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

New Book: Original Sinners

Since I'm kind of collecting books on Genesis lately (Walton's Lost World of Genesis One, Smith's Priestly Vision of Genesis 1 to name a couple), I was pleased to receive a review copy of this new book from Free Press--Original Sinners: A New Interpretation of Genesis by John R. Coats. The overall thrust of the book is attempting to show readers how reading Genesis is valuable for the depth and breadth of human experience that it reflects. It's geared toward a popular audience and will likely connect with the average person interested in the book of Genesis much more than the typical scholarly work on Genesis because the author is directly concerned with making the book relevant for contemporary life. As I read more of the book, I'll post further reflections, but for now, I want to share this quote from p. 11:
The text that is actually there in Genesis, and what readers assume is there, are often quite different. Indeed, among its other functions, Genesis challenges assumptions, a role made necessary by thousands of years of attempts at interpreting its contents, itself a role to which any interpreter, being human, will bring a point of view. Moreover, people tend to defend their assumptions regarding Genesis -- or, for that matter, any part of the Bible -- with the tenacity of a lioness guarding her cubs. While proponents of this or that assumption, however outrageous, might truly believe theirs to be the product of divine inspiration, some, for their own reasons, likely made it up. Or someone else did, and they believed it. (emphasis original)

Best Creation Story Joke: Sumerians and Genesis 1

Today's headline from the Onion ties in perfectly to the research I've been doing on Genesis 1. Yes, it's a bit sacrilegious, but all good satire is at some level. This brilliant piece highlights how absurd it can be to read Genesis 1 literally side by side with what we've learned from ancient history and anthropology.

"Sumerians Look On In Confusion As Christian God Creates World"
Members of the earth's earliest known civilization, the Sumerians, looked on in shock and confusion some 6,000 years ago as God, the Lord Almighty, created Heaven and Earth.

 According to recently excavated clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform script, thousands of Sumerians—the first humans to establish systems of writing, agriculture, and government—were working on their sophisticated irrigation systems when the Father of All Creation reached down from the ether and blew the divine spirit of life into their thriving civilization.

 "I do not understand," reads an ancient line of pictographs depicting the sun, the moon, water, and a Sumerian who appears to be scratching his head. "A booming voice is saying, 'Let there be light,' but there is already light. It is saying, 'Let the earth bring forth grass,' but I am already standing on grass."

 "Everything is here already," the pictograph continues. "We do not need more stars."

 Historians believe that, immediately following the biblical event, Sumerian witnesses returned to the city of Eridu, a bustling metropolis built 1,500 years before God called for the appearance of dry land, to discuss the new development. According to records, Sumerian farmers, priests, and civic administrators were not only befuddled, but also took issue with the face of God moving across the water, saying that He scared away those who were traveling to Mesopotamia to participate in their vast and intricate trade system.

 Moreover, the Sumerians were taken aback by the creation of the same animals and herb-yielding seeds that they had been domesticating and cultivating for hundreds of generations.

 "The Sumerian people must have found God's making of heaven and earth in the middle of their well-established society to be more of an annoyance than anything else," said Paul Helund, ancient history professor at Cornell University. "If what the pictographs indicate are true, His loud voice interrupted their ancient prayer rituals for an entire week."

 According to the cuneiform tablets, Sumerians found God's most puzzling act to be the creation from dust of the first two human beings.

 "These two people made in his image do not know how to communicate, lack skills in both mathematics and farming, and have the intellectual capacity of an infant," one Sumerian philosopher wrote. "They must be the creation of a complete idiot."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Genesis Rabbah I.IV: Which Came First?

Genesis Rabbah I.IV begins with a list of 6 things that might have been created or at least existed as a glimmer in the Father's eye long before everything else was created. (See below for previous posts in this series.)

After running through the list of six things (with a seventh likely inserted later), the discussion turns to which of the six was the very first. Of course, they only get through three before getting sidetracked by a new topic - why did the world deserve to be created (or on account of whose merit was the world created).

Here is text and translation of another paragraph in I.IV:

אבל איני יודע אי זה קודם אם התורה לכסא כבוד אם כסא כבוד לתורה, אמר ר׳ אבא בר כהנא התורה קדמה לכסא הכבוד שנ׳ י״י קנני ראשית דרכו קדם מפעליו מאז קדם לאותו שכתוב בו נכון כסאך מאז וגו׳. ר׳ הונא ר׳ ירמיה בשם ר׳ שמואל בר׳ יצחק מחשבתן שלישראל קדמה לכל.
However, I do not know what was first, whether the Torah was before the throne of glory or whether the throne of glory was before the Torah. R. Abba bar Kahana said, “The Torah was before the throne of glory, as it is written, ‘The Lord made me, the beginning of his way, before his works of old’ (Prov. 8:22) – before that of which it is written, ‘Your throne is established from of old, etc.’ (Ps. 93:2).” R. Huna, R. Jeremiah in the name of R. Samuel b. R. Isaac: “The intention (to create) Israel was before everything else.”
The last sentence is not really the end of the section but rather the beginning of the new direction the discourse takes. Basically, God foresaw that Israel would accept the Torah; therefore, he went ahead and created the world based on the merit of that decision. Of course, not everyone agrees so the discussion continues with arguments in favor of other candidates whose merit also would have been sufficient to account for God's decision to create.

One of the most fascinating things about rabbinic literature is how much ink is spilled over one line from the biblical text. The text is still interpreting just Genesis 1:1a--"In the beginning God created." They won't even get to Genesis 1:1b until I.XIII.

I don't know what all the fuss is about. It's clear which one came first. Obviously it was the throne because God needed a place to sit as he looked into the Torah and thought about creating Israel.

The Ongoing Series on Genesis Rabbah:

1. Creation in Rabbinic Literature
2. Genesis Rabbah I.I: The Pre-existent Torah
3. Genesis Rabbah I.IV: First Things First
4. Genesis Rabbah I.IV: Identifying Insertions in Rabbinic Texts

New Evidence from Ps 23 for the Divine Council

If you never learn the biblical languages, then your exegesis could always be derailed by a multitude of English homonyms, not to mention real semantic issues like range of meaning. My sense of humor tends toward puns and dry wit, sometimes hilarity ensues, sometimes it elicits groans. Anyway, a random thought occurred to me today in conversation about a shepherd's staff for a nativity costume. I think we can use Psa. 23:4b as proof that God has a divine entourage. Here's my gratuitous translation proving it.
Your club and your staff, they console me.
There you have it, proof of the divine council. God has a staff. Their job is to console. (If you don't get it, remember what I said about homonyms and read it again.)

If you want a much better example of how a literal over-reading of Scripture creates humor, Scott's old post here is one of my all-time favorites.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Song for Hanukkah!

This is the only Hanukkah tradition I have. So much fun-ukkah . . .

Happy Hanukkah!

Hanukkah begins at sundown tonight, the 25th of Kislev in the Jewish calendar. Maybe I should get a menorah. No real reason that I can’t celebrate the Festival of Lights and the re-dedication of the Temple by Judas Maccabaeus in 164 BCE just because I’m not Jewish. Karyn does. See her posts on Hanukkah or Chanukah or however you want to spell it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Best of . . . err . . . Favorites of 2009

I think Jim was over-reacting just a bit in his rant against "Best of" lists this morning. I thought it was inherent to the genre that these lists were based on the compiler's "very limited, values laden, short sighted point of view". I rarely find myself in full agreement with any publication's "Top 10" or "Best of" articles. I had intended to compile a "Best of Biblia Hebraica 2009" list, but I hesitate now because of Jim's indictment:

‘Best of’ lists belong in the trash heap.  They tell us nothing at all about what’s really useful.  They only tell us what one person has found useful.  Hence, if you’re the sort that simply must assemble such a list, be honest and simply say ‘The Best of… to Me’.

So instead of offering my own values-laden, limited judgment on what posts at Biblia Hebraica were "best" in 2009, I am simply asking for you, dear reader, to offer your opinion in the comments here on what posts may have been your favorites of these past 12 months. At the end of the year, I will post the list - "Readers' Favorites from 2009."

P.S. Here's my "Best of 2008 posts according to me" compilation in two parts.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Scholars and Non-Scholarship

I had a post all but finished last night to contribute to yesterday's topic of the day - the conservative/liberal divide over who's a scholar or not - when suddenly and without warning the power went out thanks to the heavy snow and broken tree branches getting the better of the power transformer out back. Unfortunately, I'd neglected to save the draft with Windows Live Writer, so it was all gone.

Rather than attempt to reproduce my now-lost-but-undeniably-brilliant post, I'd like to simply say that I agree completely with Ken's assessment of the reactionary counter-scholarship often produced as conservative responses to advances in biblical studies. Ironically, the two most recent "response" books that jump to mind are responses by evangelicals against the work of other evangelicals. (An irony Doug Chaplin also pointed out and for that observation I've upgraded him to my "Favorites" folder.) Unfortunately, I would categorize the responses as non-scholarship (following Doug Chaplin there as well) compared to the careful scholarship of the works they were reacting against. I found Piper's response to N.T. Wright disappointing (much to my chagrin since I admire Piper's devotional and pastoral work), and I was left under-whelmed by what I've heard of Beale's response to Enns.

True scholarship is open to going where the evidence leads, not coming up with explanations for why the evidence doesn't really lead to where it appears to be going.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Messianic Hope Renewed

I've started reading through the weekly meditations found in the NLT Holy Bible Mosaic. (Thanks to Sean Harrison at Tyndale House Publishers for passing along a review copy. A complete review will be forthcoming.) One of the page-long quotations struck me for how well it describes the pattern common to many millenarian movements: hope is placed on messianic figure > reality fails expectations > crisis of faith > renewal of hope OR failure of movement. It is interesting to note how short-lived most millenarian movements are. The inevitable crisis usually results in failure of the movement. (I've had a fascination with studying messianic movements ever since I was a teenager in 1993 watching the David Koresh debacle unfold in Waco.)

This quote is from Augustus Neander (Germany; 1789-1850):

The death of Christ annihilated at a stroke the Messianic expectations of the Apostles. Their dejection was complete. But if, of all that they had hoped, nothing was ever realized, this dejection could not have passed away. . . .

   We cannot explain (not bare conceivable possibilities, but) the actual state of the case, viz., the dejection of the Apostles at first, and what they were and did afterward. There must be some intermediate historical fact to explain the transition; something must have occurred to revive, with new power, the almost effaced impression; to bring back the flow of their faith which had so far ebbed away.

   The reappearance, then, of Christ among his disciples is a connecting link in the chain of events which cannot possibly be spared. It acted thus: Their sunken faith in his promises received a new impulse when these promises were repeated by Him, risen from the dead; his reappearance formed the point of contact for a new spiritual communion with him, never to be dissolved, nay, thenceforward to be developed ever more and more.

   According to their own unvarying asseverations, it was the foundation of their immovable faith in his person, and in himself as Messiah and Son of God; as well as of their steadfast hope, in his communion, of a blissful, everlasting life, triumphing over death. Without it they never could have had that inspiring assurance of faith with which they everywhere testified of what they had received and joyfully submitted to tortures and to death.

"Hoping for Hope: Advent, Week 2," p. 22. Holy Bible: Mosaic. Carol Stream, Il: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2009.

A Great “New” Syriac Lexicon, edited by Michael Sokoloff

Gorgias and Eisenbrauns have teamed up to publish an updated version of Brockelmann's Syriac Lexicon (edited and updated by Michael Sokoloff). I haven't had a chance to use it at length, but it looks wonderful, and as I've handled it I'm sure that it's worth the money that I've spent on it. The text entries are in estrangelo, sometimes pointed (in contrast to Payne-Smith which presents the entries in serto, but has the guide words at the top of the page in estrangelo).

Many thanks to Dr. Sokoloff, Gorgias, and Eisenbrauns for your work. Syriac reference tools aren't high-traffic items, so blessings on you!

Friday, December 4, 2009

In the Mail: The Right Chorale

"The Right Chorale": Studies in Biblical Law and Interpretation
2008. XXIII, 432 pages. plus 34 figures. FAT 54
ISBN 978-3-16-149382-9
cloth € 99.00

Thanks to the kind folks at Mohr Siebeck who sent along a copy of Bernard Levinson's recent book, "The Right Chorale": Studies in Biblical Law and Interpretation. It looks excellent, and I simply must come up with an excuse to read it sooner, rather than later. I will, of course, review it in depth here in the coming months. For now, here's the publisher's description:
This book presents twelve selected investigations of textual composition, interpretation, revision, and transmission. With these studies, Bernard Levinson draws upon the literary forebears of biblical law in cuneiform literature and its reinterpretation in the Second Temple period to provide the horizon of ancient Israelite legal exegesis. The volume makes a sustained argument about the nature of textuality in ancient Israel: Israelite scribes were sophisticated readers, authors, and thinkers who were conscious of their place in literary and intellectual history, even as they sought to renew and transform their cultural patrimony in significant ways. Originally published over a decade and a half, the significantly revised and updated studies gathered here explore the connections between law and narrative, show the close connections between Deuteronomy and the Neo-Assyrian loyalty oath tradition, address the literary relationship of Deuteronomy and the Covenant Code, reflect upon important questions of methodology, and explore the contributions of the Bible to later western intellectual history. The volume offers essential reading for an understanding of the Pentateuch and biblical law.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Top "Must-Read" Biblioblogs

The Biblioblog Top 50 site has a "Complete List of Biblioblogs" with 361 entries. I appreciate the work that goes into maintaining such a list, not to mention the monthly ranking (recently cut back to a biannual ranking). Who has the time to check the Alexa ranking on 361 sites? That's a bit unwieldy for anyone to keep track of (for free), but how many of those blogs are really worth following anyway? There's a nice mix of scholars, students, thoughtful amateurs, and outright cranks and dilettantes calling themselves bibliobloggers.

I subscribe to 103 blogs with Google Reader. Thankfully, it seems like 80% or so post very infrequently. I still have 50-100 posts to wade through each day, though. Of course, usually 50 of them are from Jim West alone. I click "Mark All As Read" a lot after skimming the titles.

I have a separate folder grouping the select few biblioblogs that I follow more closely. So here are my top 10 "must-read" biblioblogs based on who's categorized in my "Favorites" folder. These are in alphabetical order, not ranked.

1. Ancient Hebrew Poetry (John Hobbins)

2. Anumma (Brooke Lester)

3. Euangelion (Michael Bird)

4. Exploring Our Matrix (James McGrath)

5. Hesed we 'emet (John Anderson)

6. Higgaion (Chris Heard)

7. NT Blog (Mark Goodacre)

8. Paleojudaica (Jim Davila)

9. Targuman (Chris Brady)

10. Scotteriology (Scott Bailey)

Now lest anyone protest that the #1 biblioblogger didn't make my Top 10, Jim has his own category. He's simply not on the same plane as any of the other 102 blogs I subscribe to. Plus there are another 92 blogs out there which I occasionally read if the title catches my interest. I met many bibliobloggers at SBL and added their feeds recently, too, so maybe my reading habits will change in the coming months. Is it just me or has biblioblogging really taken off in the last year or so?

If you only have time for 11 biblioblogs, follow this one and my 10 favorites. If you have time for 12, follow Jim, too. If you have time for 13, Clayboy is good. If you have time for 14, I like Pat McCullough. If you have time for 15, maybe you'll like Daniel McClellan. If you have time for 16 . . .

Point and Counterpoint

In the midst of the swamp of interpretational communities that we all navigate through, we can often lose sight of the service that people who take clearly defined positions provide all of us. It's fun to attack caricatures or parodies of well-defined positions, but well-defined positions allow us the luxury of providing a counterpoint to a well-made point.

As I've been teaching this last quarter, I found that many of the ideas that I want to communicate to people in the classroom often come out best as counterpoints. For instance, if I want to point out how every hermeneutic ultimately leaves some data unaddressed, it really helps to have students who have already adopted a well-defined hermeneutic. That is to say, it's really hard to make a counterpoint without a point.

On a good day, it all works. But on a bad day, my teaching style can vacillate between boring and raving. That's a problem, and it really doesn't work very well in the long run to simply look for caricatures to attack. So, much of my work is building a well-made points so that I can hopefully get to the place where I can offer a counterpoint. It's laborious, but it seems to be the way that works best for me.

Which brings me back to those well-defined positions, whether theological or scholarly, that I often use as touchstones in my thought in teaching. People or positions that I often perceived as enemies are starting to seem like friends because of the service that they provide for me.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Questioning Consensus

Biblical scholarship now operates with a few defining consensuses. Questioning the consensus can be okay. Overturning the consensus is nearly impossible. Sometimes the consensus position is solid and does not need to be overturned. There are several high-profile consensus positions, however, that are less than solid, yet questioning them is highly controversial. The consensus also differs depending on which side of the liberal/conservative spectrum one is on.

But those weak consensus positions should be questioned and overturned. Why do we love consensus so much? Consensus leads to a speculation being considered a fact which can be safely assumed as the starting point for further speculation. Think of how silly it sounds when you read books from the 1960s on the Deuteronomistic History that assume Noth's amphictyony. This was accepted as historical fact despite the lack of evidence for it. Eventually, it was abandoned.

Here's my list of the top 3 consensus positions that should be tossed out (or at least debated with an open mind to the evidence).

Top 3 Weak Consensus Positions (both secular and theological):

1. Q existed and was a source for Matthew and Luke. (Very questionable but Goodacre's fighting an uphill battle.)

2. Essenes are responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls, and they lived at Qumran. (Admittedly, Golb's association with the alternative colors any chances of questioning this at present. However, all attempts to prove an archaeological or textual connection between Kh. Qumran and the DSS have been less than compelling. It's all speculation.)

3. The 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is the final word on the inerrancy debate. Scripture is always fully in agreement with itself. (Defending a doctrine of Scripture against Scripture itself. If the Bible says this is the Book of Isaiah, then, by Jove, that means Isaiah wrote it.)

I'm sure there are more, but these are the three that immediately came to mind. Any debate on the relative weakness (or strength if you see it that way) of these positions? Any others that I should add to the list?

Go Where the Evidence Leads

Thanks to James McGrath, I became aware of this recent post by Dan Wallace and the ensuing discussion (363 comments and rising). I found myself agreeing with most of what was frustrating Wallace except for the odd statement up front that "most biblical scholars are not Christians." I (and I imagine many others) are wondering how he's defining "Christian." The thrust of the post seemed to lean toward "Christian=conservative evangelical" in which case a better statement would have been - "most biblical scholars are not evangelicals." The definition of "Christian" was clarified by Wallace in comment #32:
Again, I would say that a Christian is, by definition, conservative. And that means that he or she believes in the atoning work of Christ, the God-man, and in his bodily resurrection. Jan thought that I was defining things awfully narrowly, but this is the historic position of all three branches of Christendom. In light of that definition, I would say that SBL is overall not conservative, not Christian.
I'm still not sure that his definition moves much past the equation of Christian with "conservative evangelical." Despite that minor problem with semantics, I think the issue Wallace raises is important. I have to admit that even coming from a conservative evangelical Christian background, I have had the impulse to brush off or ignore students or scholars who I perceived to be from more conservative institutions. I've hesitated to discuss issues with them, fearing that it might devolve too quickly into an apologetics debate focused on defending the nearest untenable doctrine that critical scholarship has questioned. Unfortunately, Dallas Seminary seems to have become the poster child for uncritical conservative Christian institutions, possibly undeservedly so. Of course, there are more fundamentalist institutions out there, but they tend to not even make a blip on the academic radar. Dallas does.

For some reason, fostering true intellectual debate and encouraging critical thinking is threatening to the status quo on both sides of the conservative/liberal divide. (Liberal and conservative are slippery terms, I know, but it's what Wallace was using. Both are a matter of perspective. I'm too liberal for some and too conservative for others.)

Apparently, consensus (no matter how wrong it might be) feels safer than allowing students or scholars to "go where the evidence leads" (Wallace's mantra as he says toward the end of the post).
A genuine liberal used to be someone who was open to all the evidence and examined all the plausible viewpoints. Now, “liberal” has become a hollow term, invested only with the relic of yesteryear’s justifiably proud designation. Today, all too often, “liberal” means no more than left-wing fundamentalist, for the prejudices that guide a liberal’s viewpoints are not to be tampered with, not to be challenged.
If we’re to judge liberal vs. conservative by one’s method, then the new liberal is the evangelical and neo-evangelical who is willing to engage the evidence, examine all sides, and wrestle with the primary data through the various prisms of secondary literature. He’s open. I tell my students every year, “I will respect you far more if you pursue truth and change your views than if you protect your presuppositions and don’t.” And they know my mantra, “Go where the evidence leads.”
It's unclear to me, however, how "going where the evidence leads" would work at a conservative evangelical college or seminary. The evidence often leads to a discussion no one wants to have because it challenges the consensus - theological or otherwise. Also, most Christian institutions have some kind of doctrinal statement. What if the evidence leads away from some of the positions on the school's statement of faith? That doesn't go over well. In college, a friend over-dramatically nailed his "theses" arguing why many of our lifestyle rules were unbiblical to the chapel door. Unfortunately, his 50-page well-documented piece was quickly dismissed as "specious" by the administration. The doctrinal statement often takes a very narrow position on non-essentials (like eschatology). What if the evidence led me away from pre-tribulational premillenialism? Well, I'd just have to keep quiet about that or risk rocking the boat.

So, I agree with Wallace that evangelical scholars are capable of quality scholarship, and I share his desire that all of us in academia should feel free to "go where the evidence leads." Those of us who try, too often find ourselves in the middle - getting shot at from both sides.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Identifying Insertions in Rabbinic Texts

I'm continuing to work through Genesis Rabbah I.IV. As I translated the next few lines, picking up where I left off in the previous post, it struck me that this short section seemed out of place in the flow of thought. The section started with a discussion of the six things that came before the creation of the world, and it will continue with a discussion of which came first out of those six things. In between, we have this:
ר׳ אהבה בר׳ זעירא אמר אף התשובה הה״ד בטרם הרים וגו׳ (שם צ ב) מאותה השעה תשב אנוש עד דכא ותאמר שובו (שם שם ג,
R. Ahbah bar Zeira said, “Also repentance. This is as it is written, ‘Before the mountains [were brought forth or you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God’] (Psa. 90:2). From that hour: ‘You return man to dust and say, Return, [O children of man’] (Psa. 90:3).
This section appears to be a later insertion. I don't know how rabbinic scholars would determine this, but here's my reasoning. First, we started out with a list of six things. The list is complete: 1) the Torah, 2) the throne of glory, 3) the patriarchs, 4) Israel, 5) the Temple, and 6) the name of the Messiah. So, "repentance" is added here as the seventh item in the list. Second, the style shifted when an interloper entered the discussion - R. Ahbah bar Zeira. This interjection breaks the logical connection between what came before and what will come after. The use of Scriptural support is not as neat and succinct as the earlier items. It is as if a later reader was following the discussion and couldn't help but interject with yet another text that somehow seemed to him to be relevant. R. Ahbah reminds me a bit of Elihu in Job 33-37. Fortunately for us, Ahbah is not nearly the windbag and blowhard that Elihu is. He throws in his couple of lines and goes away, for the moment. I wonder if it just really bothered them to have a list of only six things when we all know that lists of seven are so much better.

Monday, November 30, 2009

From Law to Prophecy

My friend Michael Lyons recently had his dissertation published with Continuum/T&T Clark. Someday I hope to be able to read it and perhaps even review it here.  That will happen when either A) Continuum sends me a review copy, B) Michael sends me a copy for Christmas like I asked, or C) I head over to the library to track down a copy. In the meantime, here's the publisher's description:

This work examines text-referencing practices and ideas about sacred texts in antiquity.  This book shows how Ezekiel, an ancient Israelite author, borrowed from and transformed an earlier text containing religious instruction.

Ezekiel used this earlier text (Lev 17-26, the "Holiness Code") in order to explain the sixth-century destruction of his city and the exile of its inhabitants, and to create hope for the exilic community of which he was a part.  It was precisely because he regarded this text as authoritative and paradigmatic for his own day that he borrowed its words and phrases and transformed them for inclusion in his own work.  The techniques behind these transformations include syntactic modification, inversion of word order, creation of word pairs, split-up and recombination of locutions, creation of word clusters, conflation, wordplay, and reversals.

By transforming the Holiness Code's legal instructions and covenant rhetoric into accusations and descriptions of imminent or recent punishment, Ezekiel could explain the tragedy by creating a causal connection between the people's behavior and the disaster they experienced.  By selectively and paradigmatically using the Holiness Code's covenant blessings, Ezekiel envisioned a future characterized by physical and spiritual restoration.  Ezekiel transformed law into prophecy in his attempt to meet the needs of his community.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

SBL: Legal Revision and Religious Renewal

Nearly a week ago now, I had the opportunity to attend an SBL session devoted to the discussion of Bernard Levinson's book Legal Revision and Religious Renewal in Ancient Israel (reviewed on this blog here).

The panelists included David Wright, Christophe Nihan, and Beth Berkowitz with a response by Levinson himself. Wright and Nihan offered more traditional, straightforward reviews of the book with an overview of the content and some discussion of its strengths and weaknesses. Their reviews were generally positive - so much so that their minor criticisms and disagreements were not particularly memorable. Most disagreement seemed to stem from fundamental differences in perspective regarding the relationship between ancient Near Eastern texts, their authors, and their audiences.

The presentation by Beth Berkowitz was more creative and less traditional as a review. She demonstrated, convincingly in my opinion, how the later rabbinic exegetes further transformed the biblical text with similar goals of religious renewal, but she raised an important issue regarding whether the mode of textual transformation itself would not have also been transformed over time. I enjoyed her presentation the most as it gave me a chance to practice my rabbinic Hebrew (a Mischsprache par excellence, if there ever was one), and it reminded me of something that had jumped out at me on first reading Levinson's book. I find it completely plausible that the mode of textual transformation would have remained very similar over time. The same processes that worked to transform the Hebrew Bible in the Second Temple period and late antiquity in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament, and rabbinic literature were also at work among the tradents who transmitted the biblical text and shaped its canonical form. Even today, interpretation of sacred Scripture is a vital part of religious life; it is the essential work of making an ancient, out-of-date text relevant for contemporary life. The mode has not substantially changed, but the decisions on what is and is not Scripture have been made - differently by different groups all over the world.

Overall, the reaction to Levinson's book was positive and responses were generous in recognizing the important contribution he has made. The discussion time at the end, however, seemed dominated by some who seemed to have a fundamental misunderstanding of the central tenet of this book. This point could have been made more explicity--earlier texts were preserved because they had a measure of canonical authority. Later texts had to be subtly subversive to recast the reader's understanding of the earlier texts because they couldn't just make the earlier texts go away. I think Levinson's book demonstrates perfectly how that process was at work in the Hebrew Bible. Anyone involved in a living religious community will be able to see that the process is still at work today.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Invention of Hebrew

At SBL a few days ago, I was introduced to a very intriguing new book examining why anyone ever decided to write in Hebrew anyway. I look forward to hopefully getting a review copy, Seth!

From the press release by the University of Illinois Press (via Agade):

The Invention of Hebrew
Author: Seth L. Sanders
$50.00. Cloth
University of Illinois Press
Pub Date: 2009
Pages: 280 pages
Dimensions: 6 x 9 in.
Illustrations: 14 black & white
photographs, 2 tables

How choosing a language created a people

The Invention of Hebrew is the first book to approach the Bible in light of recent epigraphic discoveries on the extreme antiquity of the alphabet and its use as a deliberate and meaningful choice. Hebrew was more than just a way of transmitting information; it was a vehicle of political symbolism and self-representation.

Seth L. Sanders connects the Bible's distinctive linguistic form--writing down a local spoken language--to a cultural desire to speak directly to people, summoning them to join a new community that the text itself helped call into being. Addressing the people of Israel through a vernacular literature, Hebrew texts reimagined their audience as a public. By comparing Biblical documents with related ancient texts in Hebrew, Ugaritic, and Babylonian, this book shows Hebrew's distinctiveness as a self-conscious political language. Illuminating the enduring stakes of Biblical writing, Sanders demonstrates how Hebrew assumed and promoted a source of power previously unknown in written literature: "the people" as the protagonist of religion and politics.

"An absolutely innovative way of reading the use of ancient Hebrew for generating political identity and for understanding the Hebrew Bible itself. It is refreshing to see such profound insight and analyses come out of material that has otherwise not
received substantial recognition of its cultural and political importance."--Mark S. Smith, author of God in Translation: Deities in Cross-Cultural Discourse in the Biblical World

"Sanders takes familiar, long-studied material and makes new knowledge. He treats biblical Hebrew as a political phenomenon, exploring how language and especially its written form were employed in the creation of an imagined community--a
nation--in the course of ancient Israel's history."--Eva von Dassow, author
of State and Society in the Late Bronze Age: Alalah under the Mittani Empire

Seth L. Sanders is an assistant professor of religion at Trinity College and the editor of the Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Subjected to Futility in Hope

After meeting many grad students and young professors at SBL this year, I've been musing a bit about the long-term job prospects for many of us. It's a depressing subject. I was reminded of a couple of posts from Chris Brady on the subject of grad students and maybe not getting a PhD. More depressing.

In honor of the universal experience of grad students in the humanities everywhere, I've paraphrased Romans 8:19-21 (building on an off-the-cuff quip using the biblical anthological style I made at 5:30 am on the way to the airport on Tuesday - yes, it was a bit early for that, Wen!).
For the students wait with eager longing for the conferring of degrees. For the students were subjected to futility, willingly, and through the professors who subjected them, in hope that the students themselves would be set free from their bondage to coursework and obtain the freedom of the glory of the tenure-track.
P.S. If you're interested in Aramaic, early biblical interpretation, issues in Higher Education, and religious studies related comics and you don't follow Chris's blog Targuman, well, shame on you - subscribe right now.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Highlights from SBL

This was a great weekend. I tested some of my own SBL advice and got to witness how uncannily accurate my "hierarchy" could be.

I focused on meeting people, not listening to papers, but I still attended my fair share of sessions.

On Saturday, I heard Yosef Garfinkel describe their work excavating Khirbet Qeiyafa. It was a fascinating talk because their results demonstrate that this was a fortified city on the border between Philistia and Judah from the mid-11th century to the mid-10th century BCE. While I don't recall it being pointed out explicitly, this conclusion creates serious problems for Israel Finkelstein's assertions that there were no fortified cities in Judah before the 9th century BCE. They found evidence at Kh. Qeiyafa of urban planning of a particularly Judean-style found also at 4 other sites in Judah including Beersheba, Tell en Nasbeh, and Tell Beit Mirsim. He also spoke briefly about the inscription they'd discovered last year and the identification of the site as biblical Sha'arayim.

I think I only sat through one session in it's entirety. I appear to share Mark Goodacre's propensity for nodding off during the sessions. I'm good for one paper, sometimes two in a row. I usually ducked out after the 2nd or 3rd paper or slipped into a session only for the one paper that I really wanted to hear. In fact, I spent most of my time on Sunday slipping in and out of sessions on text criticism, children in the biblical world, diachrony in Biblical Hebrew, and metaphor and metonymy in biblical poetry.

The best part, though, was the people. I had the privilege of having dinner with Chris Brady and his friend Rick Wright on Saturday. On Sunday, I managed to hear Caryn Reeder's paper and browse the book tables with her for a bit (I like to look at books with non-Hebrew Bible people. They draw my attention to things I wouldn't pick up on my own). I had lunch with Alan Lenzi - which was a great time, albeit brief as we were both heading to sessions in a mere half hour's time. I bumped into Chris Heard once or twice as well over the weekend. The list goes on and on. I saw several former professors and many bible bloggers (such as Jim West, Mark Goodacre, Chris Tilling, Bob Cargill, Ken Brown, Michael Halcomb, Karyn Traphagen and John Anderson), especially since I was at blogger-organized dinners on Sunday and Monday nights. I had the pleasure of chatting with George Athas at the Sunday dinner (no, he doesn't blog - we're not an exclusive group). The highlight of the conference, socially, however was the Monday dinner organized by John Hobbins. The food was excellent, the company was fantastic, and the praise for my professor's book (Michael V. Fox, Proverbs 10-31) was just short of gushing. I also had the chance to meet Tzemah Yoreh, get better acquainted with Seth Sanders, meet Seth's wonderful girlfriend Eudora Struble (an archaeologist with the U of Chicago Zincirli project), and chat with Bernard Levinson. I also met Simon Holloway, Tyler Williams, and spent more time with Chris Brady.

I also made it to my fair share of receptions and met many many more old acquaintances who introduced me to new acquaintances. An exhaustive list would be too tedious to read, so don't feel slighted if I didn't "name drop" that I bumped into you at SBL.

Back to my "hierarchy," most people are very polite and gracious when you meet them. Some, however, are too keenly aware of the fact that their place on the pecking order is just a bit higher than yours. Those people don't have time for you if there is no direct benefit to their attempts at moving higher up the food chain. Sadly, even some senior scholars can exhibit this lack of courtesy sometimes. My tongue-in-cheek ranking is a serious caste system to some.

Finally, the one session that I sat through in its entirely without nodding off at all was the Monday afternoon review session of Bernard Levinson's book, Legal Revision and Religious Renewal in Ancient Israel. But to that session, I intend to devote an entire post . . . later.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

No, not the "Holidays" . . . it's SBL time!

I finally arrived at 12:45 am. The plus side of being delayed in Dallas for an hour was that I got to meet Caryn Reeder and Adam Winn, both do NT related stuff, so that's exciting since I'm not really familiar with critical issues relevant to NT biblical studies.

Caryn's presentation is on Sunday (9-11:30am MR Studio 9) on Suffer the Children: Children and War in Deuteronomy, Lamentations, and Josephus's Jewish War. Sounds interesting to me anyway.

Adam is the first presenter at the Mark Group on Sunday (4-6:30pm SH - Oak Alley). His presentation is called Power or Suffering? Reconsidering Mark's Christological Presentation.

I spent the morning roaming the exhibit hall and meeting people - new acquaintances, old acquaintances, people who've forgot they met me last year, etc. Good times. Chris Brady walked by without saying hello, though. I'll find him later. (To be fair, I was a bit out of his line of sight.) I got to shake Jim West's hand though, so that was a treat. Wow . . . the number one biblioblogger for months and months and months and months . . . I'm never washing this hand . . . oh wait, too late.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Grad Student Guide to Having Fun at SBL

Offering advice and survival tips about SBL has been a popular topic lately, so I thought I’d add my 2 cents worth. As a grad student who’s been attending for several years now, I think I have a good perspective on why going to SBL is important and how you can make the most of your trip. So here’s my advice. Some are serious, some are in jest. It’s up to the reader to discern how best to apply them.

1. Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be walking around most of the day for 3-4 days straight. It’s important.

2. Try to meet as many people as possible. This is very very easy to do. Either find an experienced guide to show you around and introduce you to all their friends, or strike up conversations with anyone whose name you recognize.

3. Strike up conversations with senior scholars. Act like you know them. See if they play along. So many fawning grad students introduce themselves every year that for all they know, they have met you before.

4. Dress professionally. As a grad student, attending SBL is a multi-year networking effort. Crafting an image is important. The last thing you want an interviewer to randomly remember about you is how poorly dressed you were at SBL several years earlier.

5. Schedule your time, but remember your priorities. People before papers. Use sessions chiefly as a means for meeting people. The important papers will get published later.

6. Remember your place. There is a hierarchy of importance among all the people mingling at SBL. Remember your place on the totem pole or on the food chain or whatever metaphor strikes you.

Sample hierarchy (least to greatest): Security guard at exhibit hall > first year seminary student > support staff at publishers’ booths > seminary students > 1st year university grad students > MA students > PhD students > ABDs > newly minted PhDs w/o tenure track employment > editorial staff at publishers’ booths > junior professors on tenure track > full professors > senior scholars > academic celebrities. (List was revised to separate ABDs from newly minted PhDs. In the interest of full disclosure, I exist in the blank white space in between "PhD student" and "ABD.")

7. Be nice to the staff at the book tables. This is a variation of the “be polite to the receptionist when going to a job interview” rule. You don’t want to have word of your bad behavior spread. Remember, you’re wearing a nametag.

8. Depending where you are in the food chain, the book exhibit staff may not treat you with the same deference you show them. If they won’t sell you the “last” copy (as happened to Pat), feign surprise and exclaim, “Oh no! My advisor sent me in here to buy it for him. You may have heard of him/her - (insert name of senior scholar / academic celebrity here). You’re sure there’s nothing you can do?”

9. Name drop all the time. They don’t know you from Adam, but they will recognize the names of important people that you may or may not have actually met. Your status will increase by association.

10. Pretend that you understand the papers and surrounding discussions on arcane topics. Smile and nod. Remain silent but appear thoughtful. If you must speak, repeat what you’ve heard them saying but do it subtly and in your own words.

11. Interject in every discussion that turns philosophical, theological, or methodological with “yeah, but how will that help me in my ministry?” Repeat in variant forms ad infinitum.

12. Invite yourself to any and all receptions. It helps to know the name of at least one major scholar at each school. At cash bars, ask them to put your selection on the tab of (name senior scholar from institution).

13. Buy books in small quantities over the course of the whole conference. What fun is it in buying everything the first day? Plus it’s a lot easier to carry one or two extra books at a time. Have the publisher’s ship them whenever possible. Are you really going to read 12 books on the plane ride home?

So, there it is. The grad student’s guide to having fun at SBL. I hope you enjoyed it. Remember that some of these suggestions are tongue-in-cheek. Use at your own risk. If you can’t tell which are serious and which are not, don’t risk it. Ignore the whole thing.

P.S. Don’t be afraid to say hi if you see me wandering the halls at the conference. After all, meeting people is what I’m all about at SBL.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Genesis Rabbah I.IV: First Things First

Sometimes I think I picked the wrong corpus of texts to study. Don't get me wrong - I like Hebrew Bible a lot - but reading later interpretations of the Hebrew Bible can be a lot more fun. Studying how the New Testament, or the sectarian Dead Sea Scrolls, or rabbinic literature interpret the Hebrew Bible is exciting. Their Scripture-drenched worldview and ability to creatively weave texts together is fascinating.

Continuing on with Genesis Rabbah, we find Genesis 1:1 and Proverbs 8:22 intersecting again in section I.IV, but here the connection between Torah and wisdom is already established and assumed right away.

ו׳ דברים קדמו לבריית עולם. יש מהם שנבראו ויש מהם שעלו במחשבה להבראות. התורה וכסא הכבוד נבראו. התורה דכת׳ י״י קנני ראשית (משלי ח כב). כסא כבוד דכת׳ נכון כסאך מאז וג׳ (תהלים צג ב). האבות עלו במחשבה להבראות דכת׳ כבכורה בתאנה בראשיתה ראיתי אבותיכם (הושע ט י). ישראל עלו במחשבה דכת׳ זכור עדתך קנית קדם (תהלים עד ב). בית המקדש עלה במחשבה דכת׳ כסא כבוד מרום מראשון מקום מקדשנו (ירמיה יז יב). שם המשיח עלה במחשבה דכת׳ לפני שמש ינון שמו (תהלים עב יז

Six things existed before the creation of the world. Some were created and some of them were planned for creation.

The Torah and the throne of glory were created.

1. The Torah, as it is written, “The LORD made me, the beginning” (Prov. 8:22).

2. The throne of glory, as it is written, “Your throne is established from of old, etc.” (Psa. 93:2).

3. The fathers were considered in the plan to be created, as it is written, “Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season (lit. “her beginning”) I saw your fathers” (Hos. 9:10).

4. Israel was considered in the plan, as it is written, “Remember your congregation which you acquired beforehand” (Psa. 74:2).

5. The Temple was considered in the plan, as it is written, “Throne of glory on high from the beginning, place of our sanctuary” (Jer. 17:12).

6. The name of the Messiah was planned, as it is written, “Let his name be established before the sun” (Psa. 72:17).

The textual connections that link all of these verses to creation, or, more accurately, to the time before creation, are striking for their creativity. Hosea 9:10, for example, uses the catch-word "beginning", but in context, it clearly refers to the beginning of the fig tree's ability to bear fruit, not the ultimate beginning of all things. The intention to create Israel is very important, and here, it appears to link through sharing the verb קנה "to acquire, create" with Prov. 8:22. Jeremiah 17:12 should be the best support for the existence of the "throne of glory" as it is in the only example I could find of that exact phrase in the Hebrew Bible, but the rabbis use it to support the existence of the Temple. This language likely reflects the belief that the earthly temple was merely a copy or reflection of God's heavenly abode. But using Jer. 17:12 makes it seem like the throne of glory = Temple. So do we really only have 5 things?

As this section continues, the rabbis begin to argue over which one of these things existing before everything else existed before all the others.

To be continued

Syriac Inscription from Urfa (Ancient Edessa)

I'm a little late with this announcement, but it's still worth noting for you Syriac fans that a new inscription has been discovered at the site of ancient Edessa in southeastern Turkey.

The picture looks fairly readable, but I haven't looked at it closely enough to make out any words.

Roger Pearse's announcement has more details.

(Turkish news report with picture and the Google translate version of the Turkish report)

HT: Paleojudaica and The Aramaic Blog

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Gabriel's Vision" Watch, er, Don't Watch!

It's been a while since I posted on the inscription known as Gabriel's Vision or the Apocalypse of Gabriel. That's because there really isn't anything new to say that hasn't already been said over and over and over about this inscription and Israel Knohl's tendentious reading of it.

However, that hasn't stopped National Geographic from making a documentary about the inscription, resurrecting the misleading claim that earlier Jewish references to a dying and rising messiah would somehow be damaging to Christianity.

Why does every story have to be told nowadays with an over-sensationalized, entertainment-oriented spin irrespective of facts? National Geographic, CNN, Fox News - what ever happened to the superficial attempt to appear factual and objective?

So, don't bother watching the show when it airs. For a more detailed explanation about why their take on the inscription is wrong, visit April DeConick's blog or note this post by Mike Heiser.

HT: Jim West

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Another Must-Have Book: Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew

I admit that I'm not really a fan of the full 8 volume Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, but this new abridgement looks genuinely useful. The full DCH is less useful because 1) their theoretical foundation in modern linguistics was not so modern, 2) their entries are overloaded with useless syntactic data, especially now that we have computers to search for that sort of thing, and 3) it's taking FOREVER for them to complete it (largely due to #2 and the choice to include DSS and Sirach, I'm guessing). Of course, I haven't looked at the latest volume. Maybe they've changed some things. I found the book reviews from when vol. 1 came out to be very entertaining (Muraoka's and Andersen's were the best, as I recall).

Despite all of that, the need was there for a Hebrew dictionary that included the Dead Sea Scrolls and other extra-biblical ancient Hebrew texts. The DCH project fills that need, and this Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew is exactly the sort of handbook that I'm more likely to use than an 8 volume dictionary. It's easier on the budget, too, since the full version sells for $200-300 per volume. Dove lists the paperback of CDCH at $39.99 at the moment. They expect the book to be released 11/10/09, just in time for SBL and the other related academic conferences in New Orleans this month. Here's the new book announcement that I received last week from Dove.
This is an abridgment of the 8-volume Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (of which Volumes 7 and 8 will soon be published). Like it (and unlike all previous Hebrew dictionaries) all the literature of classical Hebrew is covered, including not only the Hebrew Bible but also the Dead Sea Scrolls, Ben Sira and the ancient Hebrew inscriptions.

The CDCH thus contains not only the c. 8400 Hebrew words found in the standard dictionaries, but also a further 3340+ words (540 from the Dead Sea Scrolls, 680 from other ancient Hebrew literature, and 2120+ proposed words for the Hebrew Bible not previously recognized by dictionaries). All the words in the full Dictionary of Classical Hebrew are to be found in the CDCH.

The CDCH has been designed to be as user-friendly as possible. The Hebrew words are arranged strictly in alphabetical order, so it is not necessary to know the root of a word to look it up in the Dictionary. All the Hebrew words and phrases quoted are accompanied by an English translation. At the end of each entry on verbs is a list of the nouns derived from that verb; and at the end of each entry on nouns a reference to the verb from which it is derived (when known). For every word the numbers of its occurrences in the four main kinds of classical Hebrew (the Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Ben Sira, and the ancient inscriptions) are noted. All the proper names in classical Hebrew texts are included, with their correct spellings in English.

Previous dictionaries have generally been revisions and adaptations of earlier dictionaries; DCH and CDCH result from a completely fresh re-examination of the texts and an independent analysis of the meanings of Hebrew words. Rich in examples and citations, this edition will be of immense value to students at all levels, as well as to working scholars who will not always be in a position to refer to the complete DCH.