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.
Monday, November 30, 2009
From Law to Prophecy
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
From the press release by the University of Illinois Press (via Agade):
The Invention of Hebrew
Author: Seth L. Sanders
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
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!
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
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.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Must-Have Books: The Priestly Vision of Genesis 1
The Priestly Vision of Genesis 1
by Mark S. Smith
Format: Paperback 176 pages
Item No: 9780800663735
Publisher: Fortress Press
Release Date: Monday, October 26, 2009
Online Price: $25.00
For many readers, Genesis 1-2 is simply the biblical account of creation. But ancient Israel could speak of creation in different ways, and the cultures of the ancient near east provided an even richer repertoire of creation myths. Mark S. Smith explores the nuances of what would become the premiere creation account in the Hebrew Bible and the serene priestly theology that informed it. That vision of an ordered cosmos, Smith argues, is evidence of the emergence of a mystical theology among priests in post-exilic Israel, and the placement of Genesis 1-2 at the beginning of Israel's great epic is their sustained critique of the theology of divine conflict that saturated ancient near eastern creation myths. Smith's treatment of Genesis 1 provides rich historical and theological insights into the biblical presentation of creation and the Creator.
Monday, November 2, 2009
West Semitic Research in the News
Over the last three decades, the USC project has produced thousands of crisp images of inscriptions and other artifacts from biblical Israel and other Near Eastern locales, making the pictures available to the public in an online archive, InscriptiFact.com.
Among the items shown in the online collection is a Dead Sea Scroll dating to the 1st century that describes finding a buried treasure in modern-day Israel. (It's impossible to pinpoint the precise location because landmarks mentioned in the text no longer exist.)
The database also features an Aramaic inscription on a sheet of papyrus written by a group of Jews in Egypt five centuries before the birth of Jesus. In the text -- whose image is so sharp it reveals the grain of the papyrus -- Jews petition distant Persian rulers for permission to rebuild a temple.
"A picture is worth a thousand words," said Bruce Zuckerman, a USC religion professor who founded the research project in the early 1980s. "Sometimes big issues in history can turn on the interpretation of a single letter."
Zuckerman's foray into the world of photography and ancient texts grew out of his frustration over the poor quality of archaeological photos.
Museum photographers, he recalled, often missed important details because they lacked scholarly expertise.
Biblical researchers, meanwhile, typically did not have enough experience with photography to produce compelling images.
Zuckerman wanted to bridge the gap. He turned to his older brother, Ken, a self-taught photographer and former Caltech engineer.
Together, the Zuckermans began taking -- and distributing -- pictures of ancient inscriptions.