Sunday, May 31, 2009

Blog News

Sadly, I've fallen out of the Biblioblog Top 50 for May.  I was #25 in April. I'm not too surprised because my traffic levels dropped off quite a bit after the weather started to warm up.  At least, I'd like to attribute it to seasonal changes, but it probably has more to do with the fact that I posted little of substance in May, being otherwise occupied with the final weeks of teaching Biblical Poetry in Translation at UW-Madison and finishing off some independent research on Psalms. Hopefully, I posted something at least worthy of making the next Biblical Studies Carnival at Ketuvim. It's not like I post constantly yet with little that is original or substantive (like, say, the reigning #1 biblioblog). [I'm teasing, Jim . . . keep up the good work.]

The other announcement is that . . . (no, I'm not moving to Wordpress like John Anderson did - I don't particularly care for Wordpress) . . . the other announcement is that my Blogger profile now has an email address for people who want to contact me directly for whatever reason.  The address is doug DOT bibliahebraica AT gmail DOT com.

Also, I'm going to give this crazy Twitter fad a second chance. You can follow me @dougmangum if you care about that sort of thing.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Teaching Method

Ken Schenk has posted more today about the creation of a seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University. At first, I passed over the post unread, but now I'm glad I returned to give it a read. He has some very insightful observations about classroom pedagogy that those of us who intend to enter the teaching profession need to think about. Having had the experience this last semester of leading my own lecture course, I'm definitely thinking over how I could do things better next time. Most of the time I lectured, and I think Ken's right that it's one of the least effective methods. The best class I had was when I switched formats and we had a discussion integrating and evaluating different interpretations of Song of Songs.

Brooke (Anumma) also brought up the topic of teaching this week. I never knew there was a Teaching Carnival. Apparently, there's a whole branch of academia that is solely concerned with learning about how to teach more effectively . . . who knew? Isn't it ironic that a PhD is the main teaching credential for colleges and universities and you can get one without ever learning how to teach?

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Message of Malachi

Over at New Leaven, TC posted about an interesting translation issue with Malachi 4:6 (Hebrew 3:24). Is it the "hearts of fathers to their children" (NLT) or the "hearts of parents to their children" (TNIV)? Does it matter? Which one did Malachi have in mind? The translation problem centers around translating gender. Should it be inclusive or masculine? I commented there that I prefer "fathers":
because I don’t see “abot” being used generically in Hebrew to mean “father and mother” in the same way that “adelphoi” is often “brothers and sisters” in the NT. Of course, I haven’t looked for all the possible examples yet. It would be useful to see if the OT ever refers to “parents” as a unit. The only examples I could think of referred individually to “father and mother” and don’t use “abot” to refer to both.
I also suggested that Malachi's emphasis on the covenant might be a helpful context to consider if one is trying to determine what he had in mind. TC didn't (and maybe still doesn't) believe me that covenant language is part of the background of Malachi 4:6, so this post is my attempt to "establish covenant language at 4:6".

Malachi follows a typical prophetic structure of accusation-judgment-salvation. The accusation calls Israel to account for their failure to keep the covenant (chs. 1-2). The accusation seems to focus particularly on improper sacrifice and the failure of the priests to do their jobs correctly. (See Mal. 2:4-10 for a specific example.)

The judgement is pronounced in ch. 3, looking ahead to the day of the LORD (when God himself comes to set things right). The immediate context leading up to ch. 4 is concerned specifically with covenant - e.g., Mal. 3:12-18.

Then chapter 4 ends with the oracle of hope looking ahead to future salvation for the righteous and punishment for the wicked. 4:1 continues the judgment, and then 4:2-3 intertwine hope and judgement. It ends with 4:4-6 as the final statement looking forward to salvation for those who will finally turn back to the covenant.

So, the concept of covenant seems to be endemic to the entire book of Malachi. It's central to Malachi's message. Of course, we still have to figure out whether it's accurate to translate abot as "parents" though. I'm not so sure that it is.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I like being a generalist

Michael Bird and Craig Keener have an excellent article on the SBL forum about why we need "generalist" scholars in biblical studies. The topic resonated with me as I've been having a difficult time facing the prospect of specializing for the dissertation. My interests have always been broad and wide-ranging. I guess that's what happens when you're a history major studying everything that happened from the beginning of time up to the recent past.  Part of the attraction of studying Hebrew Bible was that it ties in with so many of my other interests.  Here's a list of my general interests in order of importance.  Because of the nature of my program, I'll have to specialize near the top of the list.
1.  Hebrew Bible: Pentateuch (esp. Genesis and Deuteronomy), Job, Isaiah, and Psalms.
2.  Early Biblical Interpretation: inner-biblical exegesis, Dead Sea Scrolls, rabbinic literature, New Testament, Targum, Peshitta, LXX
3.  Northwest Semitic epigraphy and paleography (Aramaic, Phoenician, Ugaritic)
4.  History of ancient Israel & the ancient Near East
5.  Israelite religions in the context of religions in the ANE
6.  Religious Studies (History of Religions, Sociology of Religions) - especially Judaism, Christianity, and Islam from origins through the Middle Ages.
7.  History of the Classical World: ancient Rome
8.  History of Biblical Interpretation: medieval Jewish and Christian interpretation, Reformation
9.  Bible Translation & Translation Studies
10.  Biblical Theology
And that's just the Bible-related list of interests. Now if only I could narrow things down enough to specialize for just a few years . . .

Other bloggers on this topic: Charles Halton; Nijay Gupta; Mark Goodacre; Pat McCullough

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The American Standard Version

I was asked today what I thought about the American Standard Version. The truth is that I haven't thought about it much at all apart from the fact that it was one of the few free English Bibles my wife could get for free on her iPhone with Olive Tree Bible Software. I assume that it was free primarily because it's in the public domain and otherwise out-of-print. However, it's an important version as the grandfather or great-grandfather of many current English versions (RSV, NRSV, ESV, NASB).

The American Standard Version (ASV) of 1901 was a thorough American revision of the English Revised Version (ERV) completed in 1885. The distinctive feature of the ERV was that it was the first English Bible to use a Greek text based on the codices that had come to the attention of scholars since 1611 - Alexandrinus in the 1600s and Vaticanus in the 1800s.

One of the publications from the ERV committee states:
The Greek text followed by these Revisers is of far higher authority than that known and followed by the King James' revisers. Their Greek text was based on manuscripts of the later parts of the Mediaeval Ages, but ours has been Perfected by the discovery of far more ancient manuscripts, and by an abundance of quotations from the early fathers of the Church, and use of ancient versions. (Source)
The version is literal in translation approach, very similar to the KJV. In fact, part of their object was to remain as similar to the KJV as possible - revealing the strong influence that translation had on religious life for the English-speaking world even 250 years later. The chairman of the American Revision Committee is reported to have said: "The revision will so nearly resemble the present version, that the mass of readers and hearers will scarcely perceive the difference[.]" (Source)

The same publication quoted above in reference to the ERV states their approach explicitly:

From the outset the object sought by the revisers has been "to adapt King James' version to the present state of the English language without changing the idiom and vocabulary,'' and further, to adapt it to "the present standard of Biblical scholarship." Since 1611 this latter has made great advances, especially during the last quarter century.

One of the Committee stated his understanding of the object sought in these words: "The new Bible is to read like the old, and the sacred associations connected with it are not to be disturbed; but within these limits all necessary and desirable corrections and improvements on which the best scholars are agreed will be introduced: a good version will be made better; a clear and accurate version clearer and more accurate; the oldest and purest text is to be followed; errors, obscurities and inconsistencies are to be removed; uniformity in rendering Hebrew and Greek words and proper names to be sought. In one word, the revision is to give, in idiomatic English, the nearest possible equivalent for the original Word of God as it came from the inspired organs of the Holy Spirit. It aims to be the best version possible in the nineteenth century, as King James' version was the best which could be made in the seventeenth century." (Source)

Of the handful of readings I reviewed in the ASV, it seemed substantially similar to the KJV - even keeping "thee", "thou" and "thy." The one idiosyncratic thing I noticed was the substitution of "Jehovah" for the divine name instead of "LORD." They note their particular decision to translate that way in the preface to the ASV:

The change first recommended in the Appendix - that which substitutes "Jehovah" for "LORD" and "GOD" - is one which will be unwelcome to many, because of the frequency and familiarity of the terms displaced. But the American Revisers, after a careful consideration were brought to the unanimous conviction that a Jewish superstition, which regarded the Divine Name as too sacred to be uttered, ought no longer to dominate in the English or any other version of the Old Testament, as
it fortunately does not in the numerous versions made by modern missionaries.

The change was not followed by the main subsequent English versions, and it is now known that "Jehovah" was never the proper pronunciation for the divine name anyway (being the vowels of one word written with the consonants of another).

The version is still important as the first American translation to incorporate the results of biblical scholarship, especially related to the New Testament text. All but a few English versions now use Greek texts based on those same earlier manuscripts. It's also important as the starting point for many of the more formal-equivalent translations used today. The RSV, NRSV, ESV, and NASB are all related to the ASV.

To get a taste for the ASV as a translation, here's Psalm 23.

Psalm 23:1-6

1 Jehovah is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: He guideth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Yea, thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou hast anointed my head with oil; My cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness shall follow me all the days of my life; And I shall dwell in the house of Jehovah for ever.

If you're interested in the history of English Bible translations, I've found Michael Marlowe's Bible Research website to be an excellent source of information. The translators' preface and many other relevant primary documents can be found there.

All in all, the ASV is a solid, literal translation of the Bible. The language is a bit archaic, even for the late 19th century, but I suppose that was necessary to retain the flavor of the KJV as much as possible.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Nothing New Under the Sun

"There is nothing new under the sun" says Qohelet (Ecc 1:9), the resident pessimist of the Hebrew Bible. At no time do his words ring more true than when one is searching for a dissertation topic.  I admire those graduate students I know who began their graduate work already knowing what they wanted to research, tailoring their papers as they went to serve their overall research goals. Unfortunately, I didn't have the foresight to plan like that and my paper topics are all over the map, so to speak.  Ironically, one of my current topic ideas is taking me back to the class work I did as a sophomore in college that started me on this path to graduate studies in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible.

So as I do the preliminary research for a dissertation proposal, I face two paths.  One appears to me to have more potential as "original" research, and the other is a much-studied theme and I'd have to work harder to find an original angle.  What is "original" research anyway? The bibliography on almost any aspect of biblical studies has multiplied exponentially in the last century.  While still expected to become experts on language work and primary sources, we're drowning in secondary sources, wading through to see if someone else had the same idea or treated the same topic. Then if we want to pursue that same topic, we have to interact with the most relevant pieces directly and explain why our work is unlike or better than theirs.

Does the fact that no one has done exactly what I have in mind indicate that it's too ambitious of a project for a dissertation? I'm interested in inner-biblical interpretation and exploring how different biblical books interact with and re-work different motifs. That requires exploring the motif in multiple texts, but I'm finding that dissertations have been written individually on the several texts that I want to explore.

The fact that so much has been written on almost any topic leads me to agree with Qohelet that there's nothing new under the sun and that "of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh" (Ecc. 12:12).

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Review: Robert Alter, The Book of Psalms

Robert Alter’s recent commentary on the Psalms provides a fresh translation and an accessible introduction to the Psalms for the non-specialist. He effectively summarizes his earlier work on biblical poetry and describes the difficulties of translating Psalms.

As a literary critic, Alter’s readings are nuanced and insightful; however when his insights hang on observations from the grammar of biblical Hebrew, some care is needed. His observations about the Hebrew language, particularly dealing with semantics, are overly simplistic and amount to little more than etymologizing – simplifying the meaning of a term down to the basic concrete element of the root. He justifies the use of concrete language by relegating abstract spiritual concepts to the dustbin as “not within the purview of these Hebrew poets” (xxxiv). The notion that “primitive” peoples cannot think abstractly because their language is rooted in concrete terms has largely been abandoned as a relic of 19th century Rationalism.

Alter’s translation provides a fresh alternative to mainstream English versions, and his attention to preserving Hebrew poetic rhythm and balance in English translation is commendable though awkward at times (e.g., Alter's Psa. 30:6 – “But a moment in His wrath, / life in his pleasure.” vs. NRSV Psa. 30:5 – “For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime.”)

His bibliography is slim, and his notes do not often refer to specific secondary literature, leaving unclear who exactly is being invoked when he explains a verse with an appeal to the “scholarly consensus” (as in the note for Psa. 24:7, p. 82). The bibliography is actually just suggestions “For Further Reading”, and while I was pleased to see S. E. Gillingham made Alter’s short list of recommended readings, I was disappointed to see that her name was misspelled as “Gillingham, C. E.” (p. 517). Even so, Alter’s Psalms commentary would be an excellent choice for an undergrad textbook for a course on Psalms.

For a more in-depth review from back in 2007, read Christopher Tayler.

The book is available from Amazon, along with almost anything else you could possibly think of buying.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

New Ancient Hebrew Scroll Fragment

The Israel Antiquities Authority has announced the recovery of a fragment from an ancient Hebrew scroll in the possession of Palestinian antiquities thieves. It's a rare find to come across a 2,000 year old scroll.

Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority

This one has a date - "Year 4 to the destruction of Israel." The official press release speculates the date could be either 74 CE after the destruction of the Temple or 139 CE after the Bar Kokhba revolt. The script and the condition of the papyrus look very similar to some of the Bar Kokhba letters, in my opinion, so I suspect the latter date is more likely.

Here's an excerpt from the IAA press release:
The document is written in ancient Hebrew script, which is characteristic of the Second Temple period and the first and second centuries CE. This style of the writing is primarily known from the Dead Sea scrolls and various inscriptions that occur on ossuaries and coffins. The document itself is written on papyrus. The papyrus is incomplete and was in all likelihood rolled up. It is apparent that pieces of it crumbled mainly along its bottom part. The holes along the left part of the document probably attest to the damage that was caused to it over time. The document measures 15 x 15 centimeters.

Fifteen lines of Hebrew text, written from right to left and one below the other, can be discerned in the document. In the upper line of the text one can clearly read the sentence “Year 4 to the destruction of Israel”. This is likely to be the year 74 CE – in the event the author of the document is referring to the year when the Second Temple was destroyed during the Great Revolt. Another possibility is the year 139 CE – in the event the author is referring to the time when the rural settlement in Judah was devastated at the end of the Bar Kokhba Revolt.

The name of a woman, “Miriam Barat Ya‘aqov”, is also legible in the document followed by a name that is likely to be that of the settlement where she resided: Misalev. This is probably the settlement Salabim. The name Miriam Bat Ya‘aqov is a common name in the Second Temple period. Also mentioned in the document are the names of other people and families, the names of a number of ancient settlements from the Second Temple period and legal wording which deals with the property of a widow and her relinquishment of it.
Since the find is unprovenanced, the authenticity of the scroll is officially yet to be determined. After viewing the photo, I strongly suspect it will turn out to be genuine. Finds like this of legal or business documents in Hebrew provide important data for exploring the issues of literacy and the use of Hebrew in Palestine in the 1st-2nd centuries CE. Gone are the days of simplistic models of how Hebrew all but died out, supplanted by Aramaic and Greek. Why use a nearly dead classical language to record a legal transaction? It's intended to be read and the terms understood.

News reports about the find: Haaretz, Arutz-7, the Jerusalem Post, and the AP.
Blog reports: BiblePlaces, Paleojudaica, Claude Mariottini, Abnormal Interests, ETC, Daily Hebrew