Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ancient Authors

Art has posted some thoughts on how authorship was understood in the ancient world (reflecting on Karel van der Toorn's Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible). Here's his final thought.
The point of writing this is to ask a question: if our understanding of authorship and our concept of author is a modern understanding that is pushed back onto the Hebrew Bible, then why do people make such a fuss about the Mosaic authorship of Torah or of Isaianic authorship of Isaiah or of Solomonic authorship of Proverbs, etc.? After looking at the data within the Hebrew Bible itself as well as the data within the historical milieu of the Hebrew Bible, to continue arguing issues of authorship seems to be not so much arguing for a “high view of Scripture” as much as it is arguing for a “high view of modern categories.” [emphasis added]
I've been wondering the same thing for a long time, Art. For some reason, their very ability to believe Scripture is divine seems to hang on it. I wrestled with the issue a while back in my posts on apologetics and Bible scholarship because those are the very issues that come up for debate. Somehow it's essential for inerrancy and inspiration. But I agree with Art's assessment that it's an argument from modern categories more than anything else. (See McGrath's review of Beale's book on the inerrancy debate for much the same assessment of his argument.)

Back in the Biblioblog Top 50

I have regained a place in the Biblioblog Top 50 at #21 for June. You may recall my inexplicable fall from the list in May when apparently I dropped to #101, not even in the top 100. My return is no doubt due to the substantial increase in posts for June, many of which people actually seem to be reading (24 posts vs. only 9 in May).

Monday, June 29, 2009

Genesis One and Creation

James Spinti keeps posting great quotes from John Walton's latest book The Lost World of Genesis One. I wish I didn't have so much to read already right now because I would really like to get this book. From the quotes James has offered so far, I think that Walton's perspective on Genesis 1 looks like a valuable contribution to the subject.
Viewing Genesis 1 as an account of functional origins of the cosmos as temple does not in any way suggest or imply that God was uninvolved in material origins—it only contends that Genesis 1 is not that story. To the author and audience of Genesis, material origins were simply not a priority. To that audience, however, it would likewise have been unthinkable that God was somehow uninvolved in the material origins of creation."—The Lost World of Genesis One, page 96 (italics original)
James has more quotes from Walton on the temple, dust, the focus of creation, translation, and what constitutes creation. Can I borrow the book when you're done, James? I guess it is pretty cheap though . . . only $10.88 at Amazon ($3.50 cheaper than Eisenbrauns, James!).

(Also see the recent discussion at New Leaven on the purpose of creation.)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

More Pastors Need PhDs

In light of my last post on how a certain uneducated pastor butchers the Bible every time he goes to preach, Brian's post today about the need for more people with PhDs in biblical studies or theology to serve churches instead of staying in academia seems all the more relevant. It makes sense that any religious community will be better served by well-educated leaders whether priests, pastors, or rabbis.

Friday, June 26, 2009

We Don’t Need No Education

. . . to rightly divide the Word of Truth. At least, some people don't think education is important when it comes to reading and interpreting the Bible.

I was briefly distracted from my studies the other night when I saw this link that Ken Brown noted on Twitter (posted earlier by Brandon Wason). The link directs to an article titled "Why Bible College is Unscriptural and Wrong" by the infamous Pastor Steven L. Anderson (of "pisseth against the wall" Youtube fame), fundamentalist, King James only, uneducated . . . and proud of it.

I was baffled by his attempt to write-off "college" because the Bible doesn't mention "college" except once in the KJV and it's associated with . . . <gasp> a female preacher! More precisely, it relates to the prophetess Huldah in 2 Kings 22:14 (and parallel in 2 Chron 34:22) who lived "in Jerusalem in the college." Of course, if Anderson knew anything about Hebrew or used any other translation than the KJV, he would have known the word the KJV translates “college” is ha-mishneh “the Second Quarter” of Jerusalem; it has nothing to do with higher education. I’m really not sure where the translation “college” came from, unless it was just an anachronistic assumption that the prophets and prophetesses lived together in the same area (used religiously in the “college of cardinals” sense). I have to admit that I stopped reading at this point. I’d seen more than enough to recognize the work of a crank.

Then to my surprise, the crazy exegesis of Mr. Anderson popped up again yesterday in my RSS feeds. Darrell Pursiful and Dr. Claude Mariottini (also here) fearlessly take up the cause of pointing out how ridiculous Anderson's interpretation of Deut 22:5 really is (the part where the Bible says cross-dressing is wrong).

His completely ignorant, anachronistic way of reading Scripture can only be explained by the fact that he believes formal biblical training in college or seminary is somehow wrong and unscriptural.

Yes, we’re all incredulous at his assertions. Yes, he’s serious. He might be crazy, or at least slightly out of touch with reality. He definitely needs to take 1 Tim 2:2 about respecting the government more seriously.

I think he should be in the running for the next Worst Preacher Ever competition. There are many more examples of how bad he can be on his Youtube channel with over 400 videos uploaded. Education? He doesn’t need it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

30,000 - June 25, 2009

Sometime in the wee hours this morning, the page loads counter at the bottom of the screen rolled over the 30,000 mark. That's 30,000 page loads since I started keeping track last August 1 and 15,000 more since I passed the 15,000 mark about six months ago. Thanks to all for visiting!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Satlow: Between Faith & Reason

I've finished the first podcast of the "From Israelite to Jew" series by Michael Satlow entitled "Between Faith and Reason." (Background here). It is an articulate explanation of the assumptions underlying the academic approach to the study of religion and a thoughtful assessment of the struggle to relate faith and reason. The issues Satlow raises in this podcast relate directly to the quote that I posted recently from Stephen Prothero about the difference between studying religion and doing religion. All who were interested and involved in the discussion related to that post will find it well worth their while to listen to Satlow.  I'm sure Brooke would agree with me.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Recommendations: NT Pod and a New Talmud Blog

Updated with exciting new info!
I finally got around to putting Mark Goodacre's new NT Pod podcasts onto my mp3 player, so I could listen during my commute. Desiring as I am to be at least minimally informed of critical issues surrounding New Testament interpretation (in keeping with my overall generalist approach to biblical studies), I found his first three podcasts engaging and informative. They're rather short - around 5-7 minutes long - but they're just long enough to introduce an issue and get one thinking about reading the NT more closely. I highly recommend them for scholars and lay people alike who want an accessible, non-technical educational experience in NT studies
The online home of NT pod is http://podacre.blogspot.com/ and it is also available through iTunes or iTunesU (via Duke University).
You can find Mark's blog online at http://ntweblog.blogspot.com/ if the podcasts whet your appetite for learning even more about New Testament studies.
Now if only there were podcasts giving a similar intro into the wide world of rabbinic literature . . . but until that happens, at least there's a new blog about the Talmud. Being a generalist means you need to know a little bit about all this stuff because occasionally they intersect (see Jesus in the Talmud for example - could've been better but still interesting).
So, go - educate yourself. Read a page of Talmud every day and subscribe to the NT Pod!
UPDATE: I was just informed by my source on all things early Judaism that Michael Satlow has a series of podcasts on the History of Judaism. Looks like there are 12 so far, so I'll have to make more room on my mp3 player. Now if only there were podcasts covering everything I need to know for prelims . . . (though technically history of Judaism is part of that "everything").

Sunday, June 21, 2009

God as Father

In honor of Father's Day, I've gathered a few examples of the way the Hebrew Bible depicts God metaphorically as a father to Israel. The metaphor places the covenant relationship between YHWH and Israel in terms of the parent-child relationship.

This is often seen in the imagery surrounding the Exodus or in retrospective reflections on the Exodus.
Exodus 4:22-23 (ESV)
Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I say to you, "Let my son go that he may serve me." If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.‘”
When Israel breaks the covenant, Deuteronomy uses the parent-child relationship to affirm that God will punish, and Proverbs instructs them to expect that discipline.
Deut. 8:5 (ESV)
Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you.

Proverbs 3:11-12 (ESV)
My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline or be weary of his reproof, 12 for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
The prophets often decry the sinfulness of Israel in terms of children disobeying their father.
Isaiah 1:2 (ESV)
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: "Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me.

Amos 3:1-2 (ESV)
Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt: 2 "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.

Malachi 1:6 (ESV)
"A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, 'How have we despised your name?'
After the exile, some repent and hope for future salvation, trusting in God's father-like compassion and promises of redemption.
Psalm 103:13 (ESV)
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

Isaiah 54:7-8 (ESV)
For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. 8 In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,"says the Lord, your Redeemer.

Isaiah 63:16 (ESV)
For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.

Isaiah 64:8 (ESV)
But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

Jer 31:9 (ESV)
With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble, for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.
God's redemption of Israel is assured by family ties - the love of a father for his son, just as the punishment of Israel was assured by the infidelity of Israel. The interplay of these metaphors for God's relationship with Israel is fascinating. On the one hand, the idolatry of Israel is depicted as marital infidelity (e.g., Hosea), punishable under the law. On the other hand, the promise of salvation seems rooted in the bonds of love and compassion placed in terms of the parent-child relationship. Perhaps the parent-child metaphor allowed for more reconciliation than that of the unfaithful wife, though I expect that's something of an over-generalization.

To close, an example from Hosea, a reflection back to God's redemption of Israel in the Exodus.
Hosea 11:1 (ESV)
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Religion and Biblical Exegesis

The quote I posted from Ziony Zevit last week has sparked a bit of discussion again on the issue of how belief (religious or otherwise) can color how we interpret the Bible. While the influence of our own presuppositions likely hinders us from being truly objective, we can come close by keeping an open mind about all of the interpretive options. I thought Ken Brown expressed it well today when he said:
For this reason it remains vital for all interpreters to foster a critical approach both to scripture and their own traditions, seeking (though perhaps never finding) the objectivity to honestly assess the interpretive options. Not only believers (of various stripes) but unbelievers as well must be careful to guard against letting their own presuppitions silence the text. On this score, the believer is aided by a natural tendency to read the Bible charitably, while the non-believer is aided by a natural tendency to recognize the fundamental otherness of the text. Much of the vitality of biblical studies comes from the dialogue–sometimes friendly, sometimes less so!–between these two approaches.
The debate also reminded me of a good quote from Stephen Prothero on the difference between studying religion and doing theology.
I am by training a professor of religious studies. That means, among other things, that just about every time I step onto a plane or attend a party I have to explain to someone that, no, I am not a minister, no, I do not teach theology, and, no, I do not work in a divinity school. Theology and religious studies, I often say, are two very different things--as different as art and art history. While theologians do religion, religious studies scholars study religion. Rather than ruminating on God, practitioners of religious studies explore how other human beings (theologians included) ruminate on sacred things. Scholars of religion can be religious, of course, but being religious is not our job. Our job is to try to understand what religious people say, believe, know, feel, and experience. And we try to do this work as fairly and objectively as possible.
(Prothero 2007, 10; emphasis original)
The theologian is doing religion. The religious studies scholar is studying religion. That distinction has impacted my thinking quite a bit because I view biblical studies (in its SBL secular academic sense) as a branch of religious studies (as we were challenged to do by JZ Smith at the presidential address in Boston).

The issue is similar to the distinction between apologetics and critical Bible scholarship that I wrote about in April.

Reference: Prothero, Stephen. 2007. Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know-and Doesn't. HarperCollins.

HT: Phil Sumpter and Ken Brown for their thoughtful responses.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Five Books of Meme

I've been tagged in Ken Brown's 5 book meme thanks to Art Boulet and James McGrath.

The rules:
1. Name the five books (or scholars) that had the most immediate and
lasting influence on how you read the Bible. Note that these need not
be your five favorite books, or even the five with which you most
strongly agree. Instead, I want to know what five books have
permenantly changed the way you think.
2. Tag five others.
Since I've been tagged twice, I guess I have to list 10 books, right? Actually, I'm going to list it by the scholars whose work has influenced my thinking the most. The one thing all of these works has in common is that they've made me more attuned to the issues in the biblical text that cry out for interpretation.

The books:

1. John Barton. Reading the Old Testament: Method in Biblical Study and The Nature of Biblical Criticism.

2. Michael Fishbane. Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel and The Exegetical Imagination.

3. Bernard Levinson. Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation and Legal Revision and Religious Renewal in Ancient Israel.

4. James Kugel. In Potiphar's House, The Bible As It Was, and How To Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now.

5. Benjamin Sommer. A Prophet Reads Scripture: Allusion in Isaiah 40-66.

Honorable mention should be made of two works that have influenced my interest in the broader discipline of religious studies. First, Stephen Prothero's book Religious Literacy has helped me understand the importance of religious studies for making sense of modern world culture. Second, writing a critique of the book Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World by Patricia Crone and Michael Cook greatly sharpened my critical thinking skills and helped me evaluate methodological approaches to the use of sources for reconstructing the history of a religion.

The tags: John Anderson, Phil Sumpter, Scott Bailey, Chris Brady, and Alan Lenzi.

Rofe on the Composition of Deuteronomy

On the basis of what evidence did W.M.L. de Wette conclude that Deuteronomy was composed in the seventh century? One answer is that de Wette wasn't basing his conclusion on evidence and rational thought; rather he was driven by Romantic notions of authorship and anti-Jewish tendencies to arrive at his invalid conclusions. (See posts and comments here and here for background.) That would be the wrong answer according to Israeli scholar Alexander Rofe.
[T]he law of the unification of the cult, which appears over and over again in D between 11.31 and 31.13, became a tool for dating D and, by extension, for dating all pentateuchal literature. The dating, following the lines proposed by De Wette (1805), is based on the following historical syllogism: (1) of all the books of the Pentateuch, only D commands the unification of the cult; (2) the unification of the cult was carried out only twice, the first time not on the basis of a written law, in the days of Hezekiah, King of Judah (727-698), and the second time on the basis of a book of Torah that was discovered in the temple, in the eighteenth year of Josiah, King of Judah, that is, 622; (3) it follows that the book that was discovered was the D document (or part of that document), and that it was written in the seventh century, between the cult-unification activities of Hezekiah and those of Josiah. Henceforth pentateuchal literature can be dated based on its relationship to D. Documents that are unaware of the unification of the cult must predate the seventh century, and documents that assume the unification of the cult must post-date it, from the time of the exile or the return[.] (p. 4)
Reference: Alexander Rofe, Deuteronomy: Issues and Interpretation, London: T&T Clark Ltd., 2002.

Inigo Montoya Addresses Fundamentalists . . .

. . . and cranks, crackpots, and dilettantes of all kinds who think they're biblical scholars because they can read and write.

HT: James McGrath

De Wette and Deuteronomy

Kevin has posted what I can only describe as a rant against W.M.L. de Wette and his theory on the composition of Deuteronomy. Basically, Kevin is hung up about the fact that de Wette posits a religious decline from Moses (good, pure Yahwism) to pre-exilic polytheism ("degraded Hebraismus" as Kevin labeled it) to the post-exilic emergence of Judaism in its Deuteronomic sense. Deuteronomy is seen as an attempt to reform the "degraded Hebraismus." The issue is that de Wette was being anti-Semitic by positing a degraded Israelite religion. The larger issue is 18th-19th century Romanticism (also reflected in Wellhausen's work) which asserted the decline from pure, natural religion to static, organized religion. I don't think the Romantics limited themselves to describing Israelite religion, so can we really attribute their reasoning to anti-Semitism? Here's a quote from Kevin's post that sums up his view:
de Wette was the first to suggest that Deuteronomy was the “Book of the Law” that was discovered in the Temple in the time of King Josiah of Judah, as depicted in 2 Kings 22. de Wette ties this “discovery”, which he actually posits as a composition of the text at this time, with the imposition of a degraded Hebraismus on the people: the beginnings of Judaism. Thus, it is not any elaborate philological argument, nor any source critical discovery, nor any kind of argument based upon any logic at all that drives de Wette’s determination of the date of Deuteronomy as late. It is his liberal German Protestantant Romantic nationalist dialectic regarding how degraded Judaism was which determines it. This is in no way objective or acceptable argumentation.
Kevin goes on to completely reject de Wette's conclusions on the basis of his philosophical bias. However, he didn't offer anything in return; no alternative to explaining Deuteronomy and Israelite religion. Kevin asserts that de Wette's conclusions were based on no evidence (aside from perhaps reading the Hebrew Bible which seems to support de Wette's reasoning). The problem is that later archaeology has turned up evidence that supports de Wette, at least in part. De Wette's date for Deuteronomy is generally accepted as the consensus. The connection to Josiah's reform seems likely. The idea of a decline from Mosaic Yahwism to polytheism is generally no longer accepted, though. The early pure religion of Moses is viewed as an idealization of a past that never was. Archaeology supports the assertion that the ancient Israelites were polytheists of a sort, precisely as described in the Deuteronomistic History. Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History together describe the history of Israel precisely along that trajectory of pure Mosaic Yahwism, continual rebellion and idolatry by the people, prophets constantly decrying that idolatry, exile brought as punishment for that rebellion, the return and a re-commitment to the Torah led by Ezra and repentance for rebellion.

So if de Wette was anti-Semitic, should we also conclude that the Deuteronomist and the Deuteronomistic School were anti-Semites? I'm not ready to discard all German biblical scholarship from the 18th-19th centuries on such weak evidence of their anti-Semitism. Kevin, I understand that you're reading a lot on theological anti-Semitism this summer. Just a word of caution, it is popular in ideologically driven scholarship to demonize the opposition by reading between the lines and pulling out philosophical subtexts right and left, imputing motivation and intent. The intentional fallacy should remind us how little access we really have to what they were thinking at the time.

Friday, June 12, 2009

New Biblioblog: The Old Perspective

Thanks to his comment on the latest installment of my Bizarre Bible Stories series, I became aware that Josh Philpot - a recent Southern Seminary grad and soon to be OT PhD student - is blogging at "The Old Perspective." His archives only go back to April, so there's not too much to catch up on.  I've been reading his Reflections on Seminary series since he just finished his M.Div this spring. I'm always interested to know what OT studies from a seminary perspective looks like, so I hope he's able to continue posting this fall when he starts the PhD work at Southern.

Little known fact about me - if I'd gone to seminary, Southern was on my short list of potential schools. They have a number of good scholars there, especially Peter Gentry in OT and Tom Schreiner in NT.

Welcome to the biblioblogosphere, Josh!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Quote: Origins of Peoples in the ANE

We spend so much time puzzling over the problem of Israelite origins that we often forget that the precise origin of most of the peoples from the ancient Near East is equally shrouded in darkness. Marc Van De Mieroop uses a helpful metaphor to remind us of that fact:
[T]he Near East is this one area of light in a world of prehistoric darkness. People suddenly appear in its spotlight. It may be impossible to establish whether such people came from far away or nearby - or if they had always been in the region where they first appear in the documentation.
(p. 10)
It's not like the Israelites are the only ones that just appear in the historical record with a few scattered references here and there before their presence is established and better documented a few hundred years later. The same is true of the origins of the Arameans, the Sea Peoples, the Hittites, the Hurrians (including the Mitanni), and the Sumerians, just to name a few.

Reference: Van De Mieroop, Marc. 2007. A History of the Ancient Near East, ca. 3000-323 BC. 2nd Ed. Blackwell.

Bizarre Bible Stories 3: Exod 4:24-26

In Exodus 3-4, Yahweh commissions Moses to return to the Hebrews in Egypt and appeal to Pharaoh for their release. Moses reluctantly accepts the mission, gets permission from his father-in-law to leave his household with his wife and sons, and sets out to return to Egypt.

On the way, Yahweh shows up completely out of the blue. No speech is reported, but somehow Zipporah, Moses' wife, knows Yahweh's there to kill Moses. The entire incident is recorded in a brief 3 verses.
Exod 4:24-26 (my translation)
24 It so happened that along the way Yahweh encountered him at a lodging place and sought to kill him. 25 So Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin and touched it to Moses' "feet" [likely a euphemism] and said, "For you are a bridegroom of blood to me!" 26 So he withdrew from him. At that time, she said, "A bridegroom of blood," because of the circumcision.
Stories like this make me seriously question the single-mindedness of composition that theories like Finkelstein's attribute to the Hebrew Bible. If it's all a deliberately crafted narrative, why include this story? The story flows well (probably better) without it. I'm at a loss to explain what particular purpose it might serve. There are no difficult linguistic or textual problems as far as I can tell.

The NET Bible has this explanation:
The next section (vv. 24–26) records a rather strange story. God had said that if Pharaoh would not comply he would kill his son – but now God was ready to kill Moses, the representative of Israel, God's own son. Apparently, one would reconstruct that on the journey Moses fell seriously ill, but his wife, learning the cause of the illness, saved his life by circumcising her son and casting the foreskin at Moses' feet (indicating that it was symbolically Moses' foreskin). The point is that this son of Abraham had not complied with the sign of the Abrahamic covenant. No one, according to Exod 12:40–51, would take part in the Passover-exodus who had not complied. So how could the one who was going to lead God's people not comply? The bold anthropomorphisms and the location at the border invite comparisons with Gen 32, the Angel wrestling with Jacob. In both cases there is a brush with death that could not be forgotten. See also, W. Dumbrell, "Exodus 4:24–25: A Textual Re-examination," HTR 65 (1972): 285-90; T. C. Butler, "An Anti-Moses Tradition," JSOT 12 (1979): 9-15; and L. Kaplan, "And the LORD Sought to Kill Him," HAR 5 (1981): 65-74.
If I ever decide to delve further into this bizarre story, I'll check out those references at the end, but their answer (while plausible) seems to be reading in quite a bit. First, do we know Moses wasn't circumcised? He was with his biological parents for the first few months of life and then his mother was his wet nurse according to the birth narrative (Exod 2). Second, how would circumcising his son fulfill Moses' own obligation to fulfill the Abrahamic covenant? Third, if he was uncircumcised and needed to fix that, why hadn't Yahweh brought it up during their encounter on Horeb (Exod 3)?

The NLT Study Bible suggests the problem was that Moses' son was uncircumcised:
This incident is shrouded in mystery. That Zipporah responded immediately and circumcised her son suggests that she and Moses had discussed the possibility of doing so previously and had decided it was not necessary. Why would having an uncircumcised son lead to God’s intent to kill the rescuer he had carefully prepared and called? Perhaps if Moses had arrived in Egypt claiming to represent the God of the Israelites’ ancestors and yet had not done the one thing God had commanded of his followers to this point (Gen 17:10), then the people would have been less inclined to follow God in a radically exclusive way.
At least we can all agree it is a "rather strange story" that is "shrouded in mystery."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Reflections on The Bible Unearthed

I just finished reading The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman. This isn't a full review, just a few reflections on the book overall.

Provocative thesis. Engaging narrative that carries the reader along, convincingly arguing that provocative thesis must be correct. Strangely absent, evidence. Broad generalizations interspersed with standard textbook facts about the archaeology of Palestine propel the narrative to its controversial conclusion.

The book is at the same time thought-provoking and frustrating. The former because some of their interpretations make a lot of sense. The latter because of the lack of interaction with other interpretations and the general lack of hard data for the most controversial parts of their thesis.

As far as the thesis goes, it appears they want to locate most of the production of the Hebrew Scriptures - at least, the main historical narrative of Genesis-2 Kings - in the time of Josiah and connect the history and geography of the Exodus and Conquest to an idealistic retrojection of Josiah's hopes for an expanded territory and a purer Yahwistic cult back into the hoary past. The glory days of David and Solomon are no more real and just as legendary as King Arthur and Camelot.

The composition of the Hebrew Bible can then be understood in a quasi-messianic trajectory - some passages reflecting the hopes and dreams for the nation pinned on a special Davidic king (Josiah) and later passages responding to the theological crisis of failure (Josiah's death at the hands of Neco in 605). [This messianic pattern is well-established in millenarian movements. See Wise 1999 for background.]

I find elements of this thesis compelling. I think Josiah and the late 7th century was a pivotal time for the composition of the Hebrew Bible. In fact, it makes sense that a lot of literary activity was going on from 722-586 BCE as Judah saw the cultural destruction of Israel and absorbed many of her refugees. However, I think Finkelstein and Silberman have overplayed the evidence with their thesis. Unfortunately, it's hard to tell for sure unless one has a thorough command of the evidence apart from reading their book. The main weakness of the book is that they prefer to assert their conclusions rather than demonstrate their evidence. You have to take their word for it because they're not going to give you any help in retracing their steps with the evidence.

Further, I know that many of their conclusions based on archaeology are hotly contested, especially concerning the dating of possible 10th century structures and the identity of the early Israelites. But they don't acknowledge any doubt or alternative opinions in their narrative. Since they don't use footnotes or endnotes, they couldn't engage the scholarly literature there either. The only semblance that they are even aware of the scholarship on the subject is a detailed bibliography at the very end listed according to chapter. Ironically, the present alternative interpretations for some subjects in the back in a series of appendices, but their rebuttal of the evidence sometimes seems to undermine the argument they were trying to make in the rest of the book - about Josiah's program of expansion, for example.

In the main, I think it's well worth reading if only because it raises important questions about who wrote the Bible, when did they write it, and why? At every turn, the authors challenge the simplistic traditional answers to these questions. I'll end here with a quote from the last page (p. 318) about the issue of the Bible's historicity.
Yet the Bible's integrity and, in fact, its historicity, do not depend on dutiful historical "proof" of any of its particular events or personalities, such as the parting of the Red Sea, the trumpet blasts that toppled the walls of Jericho, or David's slaying of Goliath with a single shot of his sling. The power of the biblical saga stems from its being a compelling and coherent narrative expression of the timeless themes of a people's liberation, continuing resistance to oppression, and quest for social equality. It eloquently expresses the deeply rooted sense of shared origins, experiences, and destiny that every human community needs in order to survive.

Finkelstein, Israel and Neil Asher Silberman. 2001. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. New York: Free Press.

Wise, M. O. 1999. The First Messiah: Investigating the Savior before Christ. HarperCollins.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Religious Harmony, Tolerance, and Scripture

The current issue of Time (Jun 15, 2009) has an article titled "Decoding God's Changing Moods." The main premise is that sacred Scripture for the world's 3 monotheistic faiths vacillate between tolerance and violence in relation to other religions.
The ancient Scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam reveal a pattern--and if we read it correctly, there may be hope for reconciliation and religious harmony. (p. 42 - print version)
The "code" to understand this vacillation is very simple. Peaceful environment + economic prosperity = tolerance.  Insecure environment + socio-economic struggle = violence. The primary biblical example propping up this proposition is the pre-exilic tension with surrounding nations (especially during Josiah's reign) combined with the exclusivistic monotheism of Second Isaiah during the exile versus the post-exilic inclusivism of Ruth, Jonah, & P.  The point is that world peace and religious harmony are in everyone's best interest - a win-win scenario instead of the inevitable lose-lose that we get from constant strife.

While I agree on principle that peace is desirable, I found it interesting that the writer uses Isaiah 2:4 as an example of how this world peace and harmony was "foretold."
         Isaiah 2:4 (ESV) 
        He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
        and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,and their spears into pruning hooks;
        nation shall not lift up sword against nation,neither shall they learn war anymore.
If a pre-exilic book (First Isaiah) has this sentiment, then does it really fall into line according to his "code"? I'd hardly call the time of First Isaiah one of peace and prosperity as Judah watched Assyria destroy Israel and devastate the Judean countryside. Also, what to do with the fact that many such statements about world peace reflect an eschatological extension of unrealized hopes for the present?

However, the main weakness of his conclusion is that he overlooks the fact that the Hebrew Bible's statements about tolerance or acceptance of other nations don't imply acceptance of other religions. Isaiah 2, for example, seems to indicate that all nations will come to recognize YHWH as the only true God and come to worship and learn from him in Jerusalem. Isaiah 19 is even more explicit in its depiction of Egypt and Assyria converting to worship YHWH.
Isaiah 19:21-25 (ESV) 
    And the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will now the LORD in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the LORD and perform them. [22] And the LORD will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the LORD, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them.
    [23] In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.
    [24] In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, [25] whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance."
I'm not sure the Hebrew Bible ever reflects positive tolerance of other religions. The other examples - Ruth, Jonah, and P - also reflect the need for conversion to worship YHWH. Jonah is sent to Nineveh to preach repentance. Ruth accepts Naomi's religion when she vows to stay with her (Ruth 1:15-16). P's "everlasting covenant" is still between YHWH and all creatures of the earth (Gen 9:16). Now we can argue that the monotheistic faiths are all worshiping the same God, so these examples apply, but I really doubt that's what the biblical writers had in mind. I don't think the Bible says much at all about international relations and religious tolerance.

Mr. Wright (the author of the article) wants to emphasize that religious tolerance is a biblical option, too. Don't just focus on the "kill the infidels" passages like Deut. 20:17. But if the peace-loving passages imply "converting the infidels", then we really don't have biblical support for the idea of tolerance and harmony among many religions. The parts of the Bible that do reflect religious pluralism condemn it as idolatrous and wrong, the story having been recorded from the YHWH-only perspective.

While I'm all for peace, non-violence, and living together in mutual respect, love, and harmony, it's hard to make an ancient text support modern sensibilities of diversity, pluralism, and tolerance that were completely foreign to the writers.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Transformation of Judah

I'm currently reading The Bible Unearthed by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman. While I don't agree with all of their conclusions, the idea that many of the biblical writers are working from a 7th century perspective is compelling. I agree not in the sense that the whole Bible was written from scratch in the 7th century but that earlier materials were woven together and sometimes updated from that historical point of view with the intent of addressing contemporaneous events. The following quote is from p. 249 in the chapter on "The Transformation of Judah."
It is easy to see why the biblical authors were so upset by idolatry. It was a symbol of chaotic social diversity; the leaders of the clans in the outlying areas conducted their own systems of economics, politics, and social relations--without administration or control by the court in Jerusalem. That countryside independence, however time-honored by the people of Judah, came to be condemned as a "reversion" to the barbarity of the pre-Israelite period. Thus, ironically, what was most genuinely Judahite was labeled as Canaanite heresy. In the arena of religious debate and polemic, what was old was suddenly seen as foreign and what was new was suddenly seen as true. And in what can only be called an extraordinary outpouring of retrospective theology, the new, centralized kingdom of Judah and the Jerusalem-centered worship of YHWH was read back into Israelite history as the way things should always have been.
I've highlighted the part that jumped out at me. It seems to be an ancient example of what Zevit was talking about [quoted here] - looking back into the past through a glass darkly, seeing their reflection and confusing it with what lay beyond the glass. Only in this case, it seems to have been an intentional retrojection of the present day back into the past. Innovation by planting it firmly in the past before what is being replaced.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Cranks & Crackpots: A Test Case

Scott Bailey has engaged in a debate (on Jim West's blog) that aptly illustrates the futility of arguing with individuals who are devoted to a fringe theory in spite of its general lack of acceptance by the academic community. These individuals are often called cranks or crackpots, and there's even a Wikipedia entry devoted to the phenomenon.
"Crank" is a pejorative term for a person who holds a belief that a vast majority of their contemporaries consider false. A "cranky" belief is so wildly at variance with commonly accepted truth as to be ludicrous, and arguing with cranks is useless, because they will invariably dismiss all evidence or arguments which contradict their unconventional beliefs.

Common synonyms for "crank" include kook and crackpot. Crank differs from fanatic in that the subject of the fanatic's obsession is either not necessarily widely regarded as wrong or not necessarily a "fringe" belief. Similarly, the word quack is reserved for someone who promotes a medical remedy or practice that is widely considered to be ineffective. Crank may also refer to an ill-tempered individual or one who is in a bad mood, but that usage is not the subject of this article. (emphasis added)
I want to draw Scott's attention to the highlighted phrase above - "arguing with cranks is useless." His interaction quickly descended into veiled insults and blatant condescension on both sides. I used to engage crackpots in debates (attempting to prove to the KJV only people that they were insane, for example). It was pointless and I got no where. Now I avoid direct engagement if possible. It serves no purpose. I now follow the "don't dignify it with a response" rule. And no, this is not a response. It is a reaction to the debate, not a direct response. (That's why I'm not highlighting what was being debated.)

Quote of the Day: Ziony Zevit

I find Zevit's analogy here illustrative for much of what hinders our progress in biblical studies.
[We] are too comfortable with viewing biblical religion through prisms of living religious traditions that have interpreted these texts for us; traditions that we accept or reject, or to which we feign indifference, or to which we are indifferent. Having been informed by these traditions, however, we are influenced by them and somehow look back through them, as through a glass darkly, to seek ancient Israel. (Sometimes, without realizing, we confuse our reflection with what lies beyond the glass.) This is a handicap to be overcome.

[Emphasis added.]

Zevit, Ziony. 2003. The religions of ancient Israel: a synthesis of parallactic approaches
Continuum, p. xiii.

The Jim West Carnival

Since Jim was snubbed by the most recent Biblical Studies Carnival (even though he's the #1 Biblioblog by some estimations), I thought I'd rectify that with my own Carnival devoted entirely to highlighting the delightfully eclectic mix of content that comes from the blog of Dr Jim West.

Jim's posts seem to fall predictably into a few general categories, and I've used those to organize the carnival.

1.  Things Jim Doesn't Like - oddly for a blogger, they often have to do with technological change - Wikipedia and Twitter, for example.
Osteenism and Warren-ianity (i.e., the Megachurch movement)
Harvard: A Step Behind the Obvious (re:, Twitter)
Twits: 1000 Words +26 (Twitter, again)
Twitter Truth [I wonder if he's read this week's Time yet. Twitter traffic has grown 1300% over a year ago -- How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live]
Maybe There is Something Good About Wiki After All
2.  Total Depravity - news showing how capable of evil humanity really is.
Craigslist: Is it Really Good for Anything At All? (while not tagged Total Depravity - the story qualifies. Read it.)
Total Depravity: The Meth Making Mom and Dad
The Most Horrific Case of Total Depravity
3.  Tracking Crazy Stuff People are Saying about the Bible or Christianity.
Marvin Vining on 'Jesus as the Wicked Priest' (admittedly Jim might take him seriously, but I needed something for this category.)
Archaeological Mis-Speaking
Juicy Dilettantism
4.  Teasing Fellow Bloggers - especially Chris Tilling and James Crossley.
Where in the World are Crossley and Tilling Now?
Where in the World is James Crossley Now?
Where in the World is Chris Tilling Now?
5.  The Pointing Device - drawing attention to substantive research, books, journals, articles or even blog posts on Biblical topics.
Aramaic Resurgence
Thomas Thompson: The Long Awaited Festschrift (admittedly may not qualify as "substantive research" in everyone's eyes but I haven't read it.)
Tregelles Greek New Testament Online
Cargill, Qumran, And Bible & Interpretation
6.  Talking About The News
Chomsky Chews Obama's Cairo Speech
San Diego Comes to Its Senses
Israel's About to Outlaw Free Speech
7.  Too Many Random Observations
You Reap What You Sow
And Speaking of a Failure to Observe
And an 'Observation' I Don't . . .
PETA: Making Anything It Can of Anything It Can
And this is mostly stuff from just the last week or so with a few going back nearly a month just to give a good representation of the category. According to Google Reader, he averages 52.7 posts per week, so that's a lot of ground to cover. Jim has a few other favorite topics like gun control, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Biblical Archaeology Review. The only downside is that he never tells us what he really thinks. He's just too tactful and restrained.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Targum Lamentations Resources

Chris Brady has made several of his publications on Targum Lamentations (including his dissertation) available as PDFs on his blog. Analyzing ancient Bible versions is another of my many interests, and studying the Targums is additionally attractive to me because it also covers my interests in early biblical interpretation, early Judaism, religion in Late Antiquity, and translation studies.

Decisions, decisions. How am I ever going to come up with a dissertation proposal with interests ranging from the Ba'al epic in Ugaritic (pre-1200 BCE) to the Pesiqta Rabbati (midrashic text likely post-650 CE)? I guess I am limited by what my potential advisors will allow, but I fear they will let me start out too broad and I'll spend too much time just trying to sift the secondary literature.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Am I a Specialist after all?

Does a research focus on Hebrew Bible in general actually make me a specialist? James Crossley has rightly pointed out the difficulty in defining what exactly makes one a specialist or a generalist in biblical studies (reacting to Michael Bird's SBL Forum article with Craig Keener which I mentioned here).

It's true that Bird and Keener didn't precisely define the terms, but they seemed to refer to a specialist as one who focused on a narrow field (such as Pentateuch or Paul) versus the generalist who could deal with the whole corpus of Hebrew Bible or New Testament and possibly also the background literature. In a sense, it's a false dichotomy when placed in those terms because it's very rare for anyone to be able to keep such a narrow focus. Teaching responsibilities would most likely require a specialist in Pentateuch to teach the whole Hebrew Bible at least in survey.  Plus it seems irresponsible to consider yourself a specialist in a narrow branch of Hebrew Bible without understanding how your niche fits in the broader context of the Hebrew Bible. Similarly, it's irresponsible for Hebrew Bible scholars to overlook the broader context of their corpus - ANE history and literature.

Crossley pointed out that in the grand scheme of things just being well-versed in New Testament or Hebrew Bible was not really being a generalist, but Bird and Keener had realized that saying, "Hebrew Bible and especially New Testament each constitute a relatively small body of writings compared to many other areas of discourse."

So, I think the definition implicit in the forum article's use of "generalist" and "specialist" was that a "generalist" knows the Bible in its context - context implies at least general knowledge of Old and New Testaments, Second Temple literature including Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and Dead Sea Scrolls, rabbinic literature, ANE history and literature, and Greco-Roman history and philosophy. Of course, there is always the risk of trading breadth for depth on many of these subjects, but I think having a broad general knowledge across much of it is necessary to have that deeper command of your niche area.

Maybe one's perspective on this issue is different from New Testament studies. Imagine picking up a book and just starting to read 2/3 of the way in. You're missing all the background, everything that built up to that point. Granted the "Bible" as Old and New Testaments is a later development in religious traditions, but the concept is valid. How can you understand any narrow specialized field of study without at least having a general command of the background material? I've often thought that what I've read in NT studies would benefit from a better understanding of certain concepts from Hebrew Bible and early Judaism, rather than the Greco-Roman focus that NT studies often take.

Am I missing something? The changes in our field, especially the recognition of biblical studies as a sub-discipline (in a sense) of religious studies, suggest having broad general knowledge will be a career essential. Perhaps I'm just odd for having interests and education that spanned the breadth of biblical studies and its background. Or perhaps it's just that my main exemplar of a model Hebrew Bible scholar is a specialist in Wisdom Literature who seems equally well-versed in everything from Pentateuch to Prophets to Proverbs to Syriac to Septuagint to Dead Sea Scrolls to rabbinic literature to Shakespeare to cognitive psychology. Oh, and ancient Egyptian wisdom literature, too.

Read everything . . . soon.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Biblical Studies Carnival XLII

For those of you who can't read Roman numerals, that's Biblical Studies Carnival 42 which is now up at Ketuvim. And this blog was actually noted twice. Apparently, May was a slow month all around. Check it out if you're looking for more to read. The amazing thing is that he's managed to completely avoid mentioning the so-called #1 biblioblog.