Saturday, September 26, 2009

Random Thoughts on Genesis 3

Did the serpent really "deceive" Eve? She accuses him of such behavior in Gen 3:13, but in Gen 3:4-5, the serpent tells her that 1) she won't die when she eats the fruit and 2) she'll become wise like God, knowing good from evil. When Adam and Eve eat the fruit, they 1) don't die and 2) they become wise like God, knowing good from evil. God himself attests to the latter in Gen 3:22: "well, we better kick them out of the garden now since they've become like us, knowing both good and evil" (my paraphrase).

It doesn't seem like the serpent technically deceived her. He just didn't give full disclosure of the consequences: "You know, what God said about that tree isn't entirely true but you'd better keep the rule just because God said so. He gets really cranky if you break his rules."

And where does the equation of the serpent with Satan come from? Yes, Revelation calls Satan the ancient serpent (Rev 12:9, Rev 20:2), but is that it? I suppose we could make the "animals are not really able to talk so it must have been a supernatural being" argument. But if animals couldn't talk, then was Eve really so naive as to chat away with a serpent who struck up a conversation about the only rule God had given them? She should've run away screaming: "What the . . .? Serpents don't talk. AAAADaaaammmmm!"

Curious. I think maybe the animals could talk. Otherwise, Gen 3:1 using a comparative construction doesn't make much sense: "The serpent was more cunning than any animal of the field" (my translation). This suggests that the other animals must have possessed some degree of cunning. It doesn't say - "now the serpent was the only clever, articulate and sentient one out of all the dumb beasts that God had made."

And so, my random thoughts on Genesis 3 are ended. Any random comments from those of you who have been thinking through issues related to Genesis interpretation lately? Chris? James? Anybody? (Anonymous comments may or may not be posted, however, depending on my whim and the relevance of their content.)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Biblia Hebraica - SBL Affiliated

After some further consideration and a helpful comment from Mark Goodacre on my previous post, I've decided to embrace affiliation and proudly display the logo on my sidebar. Here's Mark's comment:

I doubt that the affiliation will be a negative one, Doug. The SBL has lots of affiliations and relationships with different groups and these relationships are regularly to the good. Much of the time it is simply a question of providing a forum for the discussion of important and / or interesting questions. The fact that the SBL has a session on the status of women in the profession is not giving women in the profession some kind of official recognition that they would not otherwise have. Rather, it is a useful forum for women to come together and discuss key issues and take action on women in the profession. Individual scholars will choose to attend those sessions, and take action, or not, as they choose. And no woman scholar is given a hard time for not attending. Or think of something like the Computer Assisted Research Group, or the sections on Pedagogy. These are venues where like minded people can "opt in" and participate should they choose to do so. No one is forcing them to be involved; no one is given a hard time for not being involved. This is the way I see blogging and the SBL -- it could be a really useful venue for coming together and discussing some issues of interest and relevance.

Dissent is Small-Minded Childish Whining and Sniveling

At least that seems to be where Jim West is taking the discussion of the SBL affiliation with bibliobloggers.

Doug and the rest of you lot who can’t seem to get a grip on reality (and he mentions them), take part in the SBL Blogging Program Unit, or don’t.  It really is just that simple.  If you choose to take part, great.  If not, nothing is accomplished by your childish and small minded ongoing campaign of whining and sniveling.

Grow up, in other words.  Or better yet, join Joel.

I much preferred the polite and potentially productive, dialogue-seeking tone of Mark Goodacre and Chris Brady. I am actually open-minded about the possibilities of the official affiliation due to their involvement.

Jim has also suggested in a comment to my previous post that perhaps I would not care to attend the bibliobloggers dinner in New Orleans (though I've made no such indication that I thought that was a joke-why the hate?). I still plan to attend if I'm allowed to, Jim. Otherwise, if dissenters are excluded, then I guess I'll be having dinner with Chris Heard instead.

Mysterious Jerusalem Cup Found

Gotta love popular media reports on archaeological discoveries. The archaeologists present their speculations without nuance as fact when they, in fact, know nothing for certain about what this cup was for or what's written on it. The commentary in brackets is mine.

Bible-Era Mystery Vessel Found -- Code Stumps Experts

It didn't look like much at first, just a broken, mud-caked stone mug.

But when archaeologists in Jerusalem cleaned the 2,000-year-old vessel, they discovered ten lines of mysterious script.

"These were common stone mugs that appear in all Jewish households" of the time, said lead excavator Shimon Gibson of the University of North Carolina.

"But this is the first time an inscription has been found on a stone vessel" of this type.

Deciphering the writing could provide a window into daily life or religious ritual in Jerusalem around the time of Jesus Christ. [Common stone mug. Why assume it had a religious function?]

Working on historic Mount Zion—site of King David's tomb and the Last Supper—the archaeologists found the cup near a ritual pool this summer. The dig site is in what had been an elite residential area near the palace of King Herod the Great, who ruled Israel shortly before the birth of Jesus.

From the objects that surrounded it, Gibson determined that the cup dated from some time between 37 B.C. and A.D. 70, when the Romans nearly destroyed Jerusalem after a Jewish revolt.


What sets the newfound cup apart is its inscription, which is still sharply etched but so far impossible to understand.

Similar to intentionally enigmatic writing in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the cup's script appears to be a secret code, written in a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic, the two written languages used in Jerusalem at the time. [Are there texts written in code in the DSS? I don't think the veiled historical allusions with code names in the pesharim count. Also, since when were Hebrew and Aramaic the only two written languages used in Jerusalem in the 1st century CE?]

"They wrote it intending it to be cryptic," Gibson said. [How does he know what they intended? Maybe it's a previously unknown script. Maybe they had messy hand-writing.]

In hopes the script can be deciphered, Gibson's team is sharing pictures of the cup with experts on the writing of the period. The researchers also plan to post detailed photos of the cup and its inscriptions online soon.

One thing the team is sure of, though, is that whoever inscribed the cup had something big in mind—and didn't want just anyone to know. [What if it doesn't say anything at all? What if the "writing" is just decorative symbols?]

"They could be instructions on how to use [the cup], could have incantations or curses. But it's not going to be something mundane like a shopping list." [The instructions wouldn't be very effective written in code. Incantations or curses are more likely, if it says anything at all. Maybe it's an incantation mug. Like incantation bowls, only on a mug.]

Via Agade

Friday, September 11, 2009

Reading Genesis 1 Roundup

Since I haven't had much time for blogging lately, I've been marking posts in Google Reader to return to later. I have currently marked many posts dealing with creation and reading Genesis, especially Genesis 1.

James McGrath has a lengthy review series underway on John Walton's book, The Lost World of Genesis One (which I have and plan to read but now may or may not review after James' thorough treatment). Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, and Part 9.

Meanwhile, Chris Brady has begun a series on reading Genesis 1 that I've enjoyed but haven't had time to write about in depth.

Where to begin in The Beginning?

Genesis 1 - Not a guide on how to create your own cosmos

Genesis 1 - Order out of chaos

Genesis 1- Reading indeductively

Genesis 1 - Creating a biblical context

John Hobbins has also interacted with Chris's series in a number of posts. So I have a lot of reading to catch up on, I've read most of Chris's series and have enjoyed getting his perspective. I like the title of his second post emphasizing that Genesis 1 is not a field manual on how to create the world. (For that you need the unfortunately now lost Jewish mystical text, the Sefer Yetzirah or Book of Creation.)

SBL and Biblioblogging

Apparently, there's now some sort of "official" affiliation between "bibliobloggers" and the Society of Biblical Literature. I have to admit that when I first saw this on Jim West's blog that I thought it was a joke, following up as it did so closely on the latest flare-up of the perennial "where are all the female bibliobloggers?" question. [On which question, I heartily agree simultaneously with all of you. Yes, more women should blog. Yes, the atmosphere might be hostile at times. Yes, no one is "in charge" of blogging. Yes, the group of so-called bibliobloggers is self-selecting, so no one is forced to not participate.]

At any rate, I thought it was a joke because "affiliation" implies there was an organized entity (i.e., bibliobloggers) to be affiliated with. Maybe we need an official society now with membership dues, member rolls, officers, and all the like.

So, I would like to be open-minded about the possibilities like Mark Goodacre and Chris Brady, but for now, I am more skeptical like John Hobbins, Chris Heard, and Alan Lenzi. In fact, Chris laid out the best analysis so far that I've seen explaining why, at the very least, this is a bizarre turn of events. Alan's right, too, saying that "there are some of you out there taking this blog thing WAY too seriously." Do you all realize what a tiny minority bibliobloggers themselves make up in the wider field of Bible and religious studies? Using my program as a microcosm, there are 19 grad students and 4 faculty members. I'm the only "biblioblogger." That's 4%. There are 4 female grad students and 1 female faculty member. So women make up 22% of my program, over 1 in 5. What would the odds need to be for that 1 in 20 who is a biblioblogger to also intersect with the 1 in 5 (or 4 in 20) who happen to be female?

Anyway, Alan's right. Chris Heard is right. Check out his post. Of course, I'm still a little open-minded to the possibilities so check out Chris Brady's and Mark Goodacre's posts, too.

Reanimating the Golem

This is for my former classmate Jordan who was fascinated by the Golem legends.

Contemporary Alchemy: Petr Nikl offers a ritual to reanimate the Golem

The Golem, Prague's most mysterious and enduring Jewish legend, is closely associated with Rabbi Loew, also known as the Maharal of Prague, who died 400 years ago and is currently the subject of an exhibition at Prague Castle. Meanwhile, local artist and performer Petr Nikl is offering a different take on the Golem at the Robert Guttmann Gallery in Josefov.


Nikl is drawing on a legend with many roots. In the Hebrew bible, there is a word similar to Golem - "Golmi" - used in the Talmud to describe something that is unfinished and requires completion. It can also refer to a primitive person. The Talmud contains a story about an artificial man created by a third-century scholar named Ravi, and it also describes other scholars studying the mystical Book of Creation to create a small calf in an effort to imitate an act of God.

There are also medieval records from the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe referring to the creation of Golems from earth and water, which were animated by the mystical efforts of scholars through a combination of Hebrew letters. For Sephardic Jews, this same effort of combining letters involved ecstatic meditation, leading to the creation of a spiritual Golem.

Elijah Ba'al Shem of Chelm, who was a practitioner of the Kabbalah, is said to have created a Golem that went out of control and injured him. According to this legend, Elijah, who died in 1583, then had to destroy his creation. A variation on this story ends with the Golem killing him.

Prague's Golem is a legend first found in Bohemia and Poland in the 17th century. It grew in popularity at the beginning of the 19th century through the German Romantics, then was used in Czech art by National Revival figures such as Mikuláš Aleš and Alois Jirásek.

The Prague Golem is a figure of revolt and destruction, an artificial man who ends up threatening his creator. In 1909, a book by Yudel Rosenberg, The Wonders of the Maharal, told how Rabbi Loew created the Golem on the banks of the Vltava River to protect the Jewish community, which was under attack due to the blood libel, a rumor that Jews were making Passover bread from flour, water and the blood of Christian children. This gave the Golem a new face, which was developed further in Gustav Meyrink's novel The Golem (1915), illustrated by Prague native Hugo Steiner-Prag. Meyrink brought the Golem into 20th-century literature as a "formless phantom, a figure appearing from time to time in the ghetto streets like the materialization of collective thoughts, feelings, dreams of its inhabitants."

The best part, of course, is the possible connection between the Golem stories and the creation of the character of Superman, but this story doesn't go there.

HT: Paleojudaica

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Random Verse for 9/9/09

I had the random thought that I could look up the 9th verse of the 9th chapter of the 9th book of the Hebrew Bible for a good random verse for today, but I found that Scott already beat me to it.
OK. Ninth book, ninth chapter, ninth verse. 1 Samuel 9:9, “Formerly in Israel, anyone who went to inquire of God would say, “Come, let us go to the seer”; for the one who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer.” Uhmm, God? If you’re trying to tell me something you’re going to have to make it a little more explicit.
Scott tried the NT first but found that Galatians didn't have a ninth chapter. Then he went chronologically and came up with Romans 9:9 and determined the world will end today, so this may be the last installment of the Random Verses series.

If we had a definitive answer on the precise chronological order in which the books of the Hebrew Bible were written, I could try to one up Scott with exactly the 9th verse of the 9th chapter of the 9th book of the Bible ever written. I hope it would say something about how the world is not ending today. Or maybe I just need to go seek out a seer.

Score: Randomness 9, Relevance 3.

Maybe I should sprinkle a little numerology into the random verse selection since this was so effective (provided there are any future installments, of course).

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

New NIV Revision Announced

Yay, another revision of an English Bible translation! Just what we need. [Note the sarcasm - we have more than an adequate supply of English Bibles in contemporary language reflecting the latest research in biblical studies and translation theory.] This time they're revising the greatest English version ever - the New International Version (NIV)! [Again, sarcasm. NIV is not in my top 3.]
On Tuesday, September 1, 2009 Biblica anounced the first update in a quarter century of the world’s most popular version of the Bible. The Committee on Bible Translation (CBT), the independent body of global biblical scholars solely responsible for the translation of the world’s most popular Bible, is slated to finish its revision late next year, with publication in 2011. [Press release here.]
Biblica is the new name for the International Bible Society, the organization responsible for the NIV. Note the wording of their announcement - "the first update in a quarter century." Apparently, they no longer consider the controversial TNIV to be an update of the NIV.

There is an article in Christianity Today discussing the announcement. The title is telling "Correcting the 'Mistakes' of TNIV and Inclusive NIV, Translators Will Revise NIV in 2011." The title is a little misleading, though, since the article quotes Doug Moo as saying they're not sure exactly how they're going to handle the gender-inclusive language issue. It seems clear that they realize they went too far before, but they're not sure how far to go now. Maybe they should compare notes with the NLT and NRSV for some pointers.
Doug Moo, chairman of the the Committee on Bible Translation (which is the body responsible for the translation) said the committee has not yet decided how much the 2011 edition will include the gender-inclusive language that roiled critics of the TNIV.

"We felt certainly at the time it was the right thing to do, that the language was moving in that direction," Moo said. "All that is back on the table. This has been a time of transition in the in the way the English language has handled gender, and it is in flux and in process as things are changing quickly."

It also appears that they will discontinue publishing both the 1984 NIV and the 2005 TNIV once the new revision is published in 2011. So if you're in the market for a new Bible, a lot of old NIV and TNIV copies might be going on clearance. Or maybe you'll just want to buy a different version.

HT: Brian LePort for the CT link.

Biblical Studies Carnival 45

The next installment of the Biblical Studies Carnival is up at The Golden Rule. Enjoy.