Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Christmas Story - Luke 2:8-20

Here's a video from Christmas a few years ago when my middle daughter was almost 3. Enjoy her energetic recitation of Luke 2:8-20.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sherlock Holmes and Working with No Data

I came across this great quote from Sherlock Holmes (via Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, "A Scandal in Bohemia") that aptly describes the dangers of speculating, theorizing, and developing conclusions before we have enough data to base them on. Holmes has received an unusual letter and shared it with Dr. Watson. Here is their exchange:
"This is indeed a mystery," I remarked. "What do you imagine that it means?"
"I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts...."

Ever read a scholarly argument passionately demonstrating how the data are not, in fact, in conflict with the theory, despite appearances?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Full-Size Replica of Noah's Ark Planned!!

Exciting news from Cincinnati! If you haven't yet had the chance to visit the Creation Museum, you will soon have no excuse because you simply will not be able to resist the lure of seeing a replica of Noah's Ark at full biblical proportions!!

From CNN:
The Creation Museum will announce details Wednesday afternoon of its planned expansion.
Answers In Genesis, which built and operates the religious-themed attraction, plans to build a full-scale wooden replica of Noah's Ark based on biblical descriptions.
The $24.5 million project will be constructed by the same team that built the Creation Museum.
The religious ministry is soliciting online donations to help construct the project, which they expect to draw an estimated 1.6 million visitors per year.
Ken Ham, president and CEO of Answers In Genesis, cites poll data showing that an estimated 63 percent of Americans would visit a full-scale replica of Noah's Ark if one were built in the U.S.
As soon as it's built, I'm planning my trip to Cincinnati! Of course, I'm not quite sure what the Ark has to do with a "Creation Museum" but I guess it is a story from Genesis. Maybe next they can build a replica of the Tower of Babel.

DISCLAIMER: Lest you think I'm serious, this post will help you detect the appropriate filter through which to understand my comments.

HT: Agade

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Q&A with Seth Sanders, Part 2

As I sit here in WI reading the many blog, Facebook, and Twitter updates from the 2010 Great Bible Scholar Gathering in Atlanta (also known as the SBL Annual Meeting), I keenly feel my absence with the WI temp around 30 degrees on a bright sunny day and the high in Atlanta predicted around 70. As promised, here is the second part of my interview with Seth Sanders, author of The Invention of Hebrew (part 1 here).

4. How does your work compare to other recent work on writing and scribal practice in the ancient world? 
There's been a series of great books asking what larger-scale scribal institutions in Israel and Judah would have looked like: An important one people may not have heard of is Nadav Na'aman's Hebrew book The Past that Creates the Present, the most in-depth look at how history-writing began in Hebrew. Bill Schniedewind's How the Bible Became a Book, crucially, looks at history-writing from the point of view of material culture, avoiding the circularity of taking scribes' own accounts as the truth. Van der Toorn's Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible and David Carr's Writing on the Tablet of the Heart use our richest sources of data: Mesopotamia and Egypt, where they could afford to pay thousands of people to spend their lives copying texts. 
I part ways with them in not trying to reconstruct a big scribal culture. Because when you base your reconstruction on the existing late Iron Age evidence you get a different picture than when you go from either Mesopotamia or the Bible. There may have been really different approaches to writing in the alphabet and the Levant. One clue: at Ugarit, where we have tons of texts, we don't have a single verbatim duplicate text. Now, what does that have to do with the fact that in biblical narrative, nobody ever quotes anyone verbatim? 
BTW I'm glad you didn't use the word “literacy” in that question. [For why, see more from Seth here.] 
5. How have recent discoveries in Iron Age archaeology and epigraphy such as the Qeiyafa ostracon affected your view of the development of Hebrew? 
Surprisingly, they seem to be confirming it. Those hundreds of new excavated uninscribed seals and bullae from the 10th and 9th centuries suggest ever more strongly that nobody was using Hebrew seals as logos or legal devices til the Iron Iib. Qeiyafa is also a wonderful example of what I was imagining because it shows such a crisp break between the Iron Iib and what came before: the script is left to right or top-down and resembles 12th or even 13th century forms. So paleographically it has no direct connection with Iron Age Hebrew. The content is even more ambiguous, since good scholars read it as either a letter or a name list. And the dating is the most remarkable thing: if it's late, as the excavators argue based on limited radiocarbon data, then you've got a big fortress in the 10th century with a writing tradition pretty far from Hebrew as we know it. Which would suggest a big change during the 9th century, maybe an invention? But Lily Singer-Avitz's interpretation of the pottery conforms with the paleography and suggests it's earlier, more what we'd expect from the Iron I. I wasn't expecting evidence like that to pop up right when I finished the book!
If you're in Atlanta, don't forget to catch the book review panel tomorrow morning at 9:00 am!!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Q&A with Seth Sanders on The Invention of Hebrew, Part 1

I've spent quite a bit of time over the past year with Seth Sander's insightful book, The Invention of Hebrew. (See earlier post here). A few days from now, there will be an SBL panel discussion devoted to the book.


Hebrew Bible, History, and Archaeology
9:00 to 11:30 
Room: Piedmont - Hyatt RegencyTheme: Book Review: Seth L. Sanders, The Invention of Hebrew (University of Illinois Press, 2009)
Matthew Suriano, University of California-Los Angeles, Welcome (5 min)
John Hobbins, United Methodist Church, Presiding (10 min)
Avraham Faust, Bar Ilan University, Panelist (20 min)
Bruce Zuckerman, University of Southern California, Panelist (20 min)
Simeon Chavel, University of Chicago, Panelist (20 min)
Steven Grosby, Clemson University, Panelist (20 min)
Seth Sanders, Trinity College - Hartford, Respondent (30 min)
Discussion (25 min)

I wish I could make it to the book review panel, but unfortunately, I won't be at SBL this year. The issues raised by Seth's book are supremely important for the future of biblical studies (IMO) and deserve a broader audience, so I spent some time interviewing Seth about the book over email. The first part is below and the rest will be posted in the next day or so second part has been posted here.

1. The central question of your book – why did the Israelites start writing in Hebrew at all – seems so fundamental to the study of biblical literature, yet studies on the origin and composition of biblical texts rarely consider it. Why?
They don't realize it's a question you can even ask. I didn't realize it was a question I could ask. But once you realize that for 2,000 years most Semitic speakers just wrote Babylonian and never showed any interest in writing their own language it starts to look like there's something weird about Hebrew and Ugaritic. Why did these people start to produce literature in a Semitic language? And why did Hebrew survive?
It started to feel like there was a huge elephant in the room nobody was talking about. But I didn't realize there was an elephant until I ran across an article by Sheldon Pollock, “Cosmopolitan and Vernacular in History.” Pollock makes a very basic point: in most times and places people didn't read or write the language they spoke. The norm is for there to be a universal, supposedly timeless, written language, what he calls a cosmopolitan language, one implicitly intended for everyone no matter who or where they were. Latin is an example.
So why does Israel's language and literature outlast its polity? What Pollock points out is that local literatures are actually invented, usually in reaction to these cosmopolitan literatures. A light bulb goes on and people say, “Hey, why don't we write about our place, our culture?” And what's so remarkable is it seems to have happened in Western Europe around the 10th century CE when people moved from Latin and invented written German, French, and Spanish and in South Asia, when people moved from Sanskrit to Tamil and Javanese. I realized that maybe Hebrew was part of a similar movement but almost 2,000 years earlier. It means that the Bible may have a different historical significance than we've assumed.
2. What ramifications could your conclusions have for the ongoing debate over the origin of biblical literature?
It gives us a secure place on which to stand; it certainly doesn't conclude the debate about when and why the Bible was written, but it may provide the most solid jumping-off point for discussing it. Whatever else you may want to believe, we know that people in Israel and Judah are writing substantial prose texts between the 8th and 6th centuries B.C.E. We can't be sure before that, but there's no reasonable way to dispute that by 800 people are writing in a skillful, standardized form of Hebrew: they're writing prayers and letters and putting their names on seals. But just as importantly, it is not the case that “'twas ever thus;” earlier, it wasn't. We know that something changed for this to happen: they were not putting their names on seals in the 9th or 10th centuries, and the two texts we have from 10th-century Israel are really very different in their level of standardization from the texts from Kuntillet Ajrud. The alphabetical order of the Tel Zayit stone is closer to that of the earlier Izbet Sartah ostracon than it is to the Kuntillet Ajrud abecedaries. Maybe they're doing sporadic or experimental writing in Hebrew in the 9th century, but it hasn't become a standard—you don't need it on a seal to identify yourself or make a document legal. 
What bothers people about the debate on the origins of biblical literature is how extreme the positions can get without any external anchor. One person may say biblical literature started in Solomon's court because it's plausible that you have a serious kingdom with serious intellectual activity in the 10th century. Another person may say biblical literature really started in the Persian period because they see a post-exilic perspective in parts of Deuteronomy. But those two positions are based mainly on exegetical choices--how you choose to read the Bible. Without clear external evidence, both positions run the risk of being just things you choose because they make you feel better about yourself. Unless we can share a common starting point in evidence it's not much more than a shouting match.
 3. Scholarship is a collaborative ongoing effort. Can you name several scholars or schools of thought that were most influential as you developed your thoughts for the book?
The Sanskritist Sheldon Pollock really gave me the idea because he asked such a simple, powerful question, “What makes a literature even possible?” I never saw anyone else dare to ask that. He has a massive, rich book on these issues now, The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture and Power in Premodern India. The Classicist Gregory Nagy, who along with Frank Moore Cross was the reader of my undergrad thesis, was the first person I saw who let social theory really play together with ancient texts: he didn't impose theory on Homer to show he was more sophisticated than Homer, but to bring out dimensions of Homer's distinctiveness and, if I can say this, blood—the disturbing, rooted vitality of an ancient document that our careful, pristine treatment can bleed dry. 
The first person to show me how to read language as culture was a linguistic anthropologist named Robin Shoaps. She guided me to a few of the best articles and scholars, where I got ideas for how to rigorously pursue this stuff: the idea that how you speak is as important as what you say, not just a bunch of grammar to decipher in order to get to the “real meaning.” She just did an amazing piece on a very obscene, but theoretically significant, Pseudepigraphon in modern-day Guatemala called “The Testament of Judas.” 
And I would never have been able to even approach any of these texts without my academic grandfather and father, Frank Cross and Kyle McCarter. Both of them have an unusual combination of technical rigor, sensitivity to the material's subtle nuances, and openness to ideas. That Hopkins training gave me some amazing colleagues in my generation like Christopher Rollston, who continued Cross and McCarter's tradition of epigraphic work, but took a huge step forward by using it to make systematic arguments about how scribes were trained in IAIIb Israel and Judah, and Ryan Byrne, who did what I think was the most incisive article on the social life of Levantine writing between the LBA and IA. Even beyond the academic training Cross and McCarter gave, they made it feel like true discovery was always possible, just around the corner, if you kept your eyes open and kept at it.
Seth L. Sanders is Assistant Professor of Religion at Trinity College, Hartford, CT.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

New Leaven on the New NIV

Making my way through the hundreds of unread posts in my feed reader, I found a couple of good posts about the new NIV over at New Leaven.

T.C. has drawn my attention to the fact that NIV2011 played it safe with the gender issue (which was my main criticism of TNIV - I still think it went too far). He also points out a site by Robert Slowley that has posted some stats comparing the NIV 1984, TNIV, and NIV 2011. T.C. has also compared several texts from Romans where new NIV has more theological clarity than old NIV. Check out his posts for more details!

The NEW and "Improved" NIV is . . .

driven (IMO) more by a desire to sell more Bibles and maintain the market share of NIV in light of competition from HCSB, ESV, and NLTse than by any real need for another English version. It is clear that the translators are less interested in revealing the linguistic and literary complexity of the biblical world than with maintaining an ignorant public's faith in the accuracy of the putative original language and text. My opinion is based on the quote from Douglas Moo shared here by Joseph Kelly and reproduced in part below.
When the books of the Bible were first written, they captured exactly what God wanted to say, in the languages and idioms used by the ordinary people of the time. Those first readers of God’s word could understand the meaning of what God was communicating in the form that God chose to say it—the Hebrew and Greek that were the languages of that time.
This is perhaps the greatest oversimplification of the issues of writing, literacy, and vernacular speech vs. scribal language that I have ever seen/heard/read from an educated Bible scholar. Disappointing but not unexpected considering the audience.

Responses to the translation (now available online) have proliferated around the biblioblogosphere this week. A helpful roundup of some of the posts is at Near Emmaus. I have not yet had time to look closely at the translation to see how it compares to earlier NIV or if it fixes what I disliked about TNIV. John Hobbins offers an analysis of their translation of Ecclesiastes 11:1-2. Rick Mansfield has offered his initial thoughts on the translation.

I'm sure there are more, but if this is an issue you're interested in, there's plenty to read already.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Forthcoming from Oxford University Press - The Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls edited by Timothy Lim and John Collins. With a Dec 2010 publishing date, it should come out just in time for a late Christmas present for myself. I've been looking forward to this volume since first hearing about it from one of the contributors a couple of years ago. I'm impressed by the wide variety of perspectives represented by the 30 contributors. Most of the chapters address issues of Dead Sea Scrolls research that have long interested me such as the origins of the movement, the fascination with a solar calendar, and shared exegetical trajectories pointing toward rabbinic and early Christian literature.

The purpose behind the volume is described as follows.
It seeks to probe the main disputed issues in the study of the Scrolls. Lively debate continues over the archaeology and history of the site, the nature and identity of the sect, and its relation to the broader world of Second Temple Judaism and to later Jewish and Christian tradition. It is the Handbook's intention here to reflect on diverse opinions and viewpoints, highlight the points of disagreement, and point to promising directions for future research.
The Full Table of Contents can be found on OUP's website.

Now, where to find $150.00 for one book?

HT: Agade

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dilettante Access to the Dead Sea Scrolls

In a move that has DSS dilettantes everywhere bursting with excitement, the Israel Antiquities Authority has announced a partnership with Google to bring their archive of DSS fragments online in high resolution images.

The contents and origin of the DSS have been the source of decades of speculation for conspiracy theorists (and scholars) who just really really really wanted to know what the Scrolls said. Despite the fact that virtually everything has finally been officially published, a few dedicated crackpots continue to comb through the contents for clues to support their crazy theories linking Christianity to the DSS sect.

Now those crazy crackpots can go ahead and learn ancient Hebrew and decipher the scrolls for themselves once the collection is put online for everyone to see. It is indeed a great day for dilettante Qumran specialists.

But seriously, this is part of a larger effort by the IAA to preserve the scrolls which are becoming increasingly difficult to read due to decades of handling, light exposure, and poor preservation techniques. Transparency of the contents and free access are side benefits of the greater goal - making such high quality images that the image can take the place of the original for scholarly access. Well done, IAA. Keep up the good work!
"This is the ultimate image of the scroll you can get get," explained IAA project manager Pnina Shor, as she showed reporters an example of the imaging. "It presents an authentic copy of the scroll, that once online, there is no need to expose the scrolls anymore."
"We have succeeded in recruiting the best minds and technological means to preserve this unrivalled cultural heritage treasure, which belongs to all of us, so that the public, with a click of the mouse, will be able to access history in its fullest glamour," [IAA General Director Shuka] Dorfman said. (Via CNN)
HT: Agade mailing list w/ link to ABC News.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Contest! Find the Most Boring Book Title Ever!

Yes, academic tomes are prone to dry and boring titles, and, true, those titles are well-suited for the dense and rigorous academic arguments aimed at their target audience of libraries and 3 other scholars worldwide. But why does it have to be that way? I appreciate the value of study in the humanities but will anyone else if our standard product has titles like The Exchange of Goods and Services in Pre-Sargonic Lagash? Sounds like a real page-turner, doesn't it? I bet they'll just fly off the shelves once Eisenbrauns gets them in stock.

So, the rules of my contest are simple. Find a book (it has to be a real book) with a title that is even more dry and boring than the example above.  Leave a comment with the title and publisher or a link where I can verify it's a real book. The winner will be determined by a panel of judges (yet to be named) and will receive a copy of whatever book in my library has the worst, most boring title . . . unless I can think of something more exciting . . . or if I can find a sponsor . . . a $50.00 gift certificate from Eisenbrauns!! (Thanks to Eisenbrauns for sponsoring!)

My widely read friends in the biblioblogosphere must be bursting with ideas at this point, but just in case, I'll tag Scott, Jim, Nick, TC, Joel, Mark, James, Mark, Doug, Chris, John, Chris, John, Jim, and Brooke and encourage them to participate (or at least pass on the news of this exciting boring title contest).

Now, to track down a better prize . . .

Update to Contest Rules:
1. Enter as many titles as you like.
2. Entries not biblical studies or ancient history related will be tolerated.
3. Entries must be received by 10:00 AM CDT on Saturday, 10/16 to receive consideration.
4. Comments are moderated on this blog. If your entry does not appear immediately, do not repost.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Daniel in Ezekiel 14: Part 2

Back in August I presented the options for identifying the “Daniel” named in Ezekiel 14. Was it the biblical Daniel or another Canaanite legendary literary figure known as Danel or Dan’ilu? My money at the time was on the literary reference to the Canaanite Dan’ilu because of the different spelling in Ezekiel and the Canaanite setting in Ezek 28. The issue, however, was more complicated than that and the evidence doesn’t allow for an easy answer.

I’ve spent more time researching the arguments and evidence for and against the possibility that Ezekiel’s Daniel is Dan’ilu. While not without its own problems, I recommend Dan Wallace’s article that summarizes and critiques an article against the identification with Dan’ilu (Dressler) and an article for the connection to Dan’ilu (Day). To examine this issue, I read Dressler, Day, Wallace, and the relevant section from Daniel Block’s commentary. I also have commentaries by Zimmerli, Greenberg, and Allen on Ezekiel. For the most part, those commentaries only give a bare sketch of the evidence for why Dan’ilu is likely the referent and move on. Dressler gives his arguments for why Ezekiel is not referring to Dan’ilu, and Day explains why he thinks the opposite. No one argues in favor of an identification with biblical Daniel. They refute the arguments for Dan’ilu and assume the case is, therefore, intact for the only other option – biblical Daniel. At the end of the last post, I placed the burden of proof on those who would have us accept that Ezekiel had biblical Daniel in mind.
What they fail to realize is that all of their arguments calling the connection to Dan’ilu into question do not automatically provide support for a connection to biblical Daniel. Even if the identification of Dan’ilu is incorrect, the connection to Daniel the prophet is not thereby proven.
After further review of the evidence, I will concede that some of the objections to an identification of Dan’ilu with Ezekiel’s Daniel are valid. First, even Day, who argues in favor of Dan’ilu, concedes that spelling does not decide the issue. That was one of my two strands of evidence in part 1. Curiously, they do not directly address my second piece of evidence – the Canaanite context of Ezekiel 28. Dressler has some largely irrelevant nonsense about Dan’ilu not being a king per se, but he sidesteps the argument about Tyre and Ezek 28:3 (1979, 157).

The strongest argument against an identification of Dan’ilu as Ezekiel’s Daniel is that an appeal to a non-Israelite, non-Yahweh worshipper seems odd on Ezekiel’s lips in light of his emphasis on Israel’s great sin as idolatry. Would Ezekiel have promoted the righteousness of an idol worshipper when he goes out of his way to stress Israel’s unfaithfulness to Yahweh is the root cause of their exile? Block notes that even though Noah and Job were non-Israelite, they still worshipped Yahweh and Ezekiel’s audience would have been expected to know that (1997, 448). Day’s attempt to salvage this point by asserting Dan’ilu is an El worshipper, not a Baal worshipper, and the OT equates El with Yahweh is a stretch because he still has to admit that “Baal and other deities also figure in the Aqhat text” (1980, 177-8).

The strongest argument against equating Ezekiel’s Daniel with biblical Daniel is the chronological one. Assuming the historicity of the character and the events of the biblical book of Daniel (for sake of argument), the earliest stories of Daniel’s exile and experiences in Nebuchadnezzar’s court date to approximately 605 BCE. The typical terminus ad quem for the composition of Ezekiel’s oracles is around 570 BCE. Is it conceivable that Daniel’s reputation grew that quickly to be a relevant reference for Ezekiel’s audience? Rather than address the point, Block exclaims that it would be “inconceivable that Ezekiel’s audience would not have been familiar with him” (1997, 449). Dressler simply asserts that thirty-six years would have been “enough time to establish the fame of the Daniel of the Babylonian gôlāh” (1979, 158).

Neither option – Canaanite Dan’ilu or biblical Daniel – fits well: choosing one or the other leaves questions unanswered. Why would Ezekiel appeal to a polytheistic worshipper of Canaanite deities as an ideal righteous figure? Would a reference to a contemporary Jewish sage in Nebuchadnezzar’s court have made sense to Ezekiel’s audience? The problem is determining which side bears the burden of proof. Dressler argues throughout as if the burden rests with those who would reject biblical Daniel as the referent stating, “So far, no compelling arguments have been found which necessitate the rejection of the Biblical Daniel” (1979, 158). He frames his argument around four reasons that “have been advanced for denying that the Daniel of Ezekiel xiv and xxviii is to be identified with the Biblical Daniel” (155).

Wallace also places the burden on those who argue in favor of Dan’ilu. After refuting their arguments, he concludes that “Ezekiel’s Daniel is Daniel’s Daniel and that on this strand of evidence at least the sixth century date of Daniel still remains intact.” Wallace’s interest in the issue comes from supporting the date of the Book of Daniel. Apart from the biblical book of Daniel (setting aside the references in Ezekiel), the Jewish sage Daniel does not appear in Jewish literature until the mid 2nd century BCE. Some use that as circumstantial evidence that the book of Daniel is a product of the 2nd century BCE. Wallace believes he is supporting a 6th century BCE date for the book of Daniel by finding reference in Ezekiel to biblical Daniel.

So who bears the burden of proof? Can we assume an identification with biblical Daniel unless another viable candidate is found? There is no positive evidence that biblical Daniel is in view here. The Jewish sage Daniel would fit Ezekiel’s ideal of righteousness, but the chronological argument is difficult to dismiss. What we know of Dan’ilu from the Aqhat text makes him an odd choice for a paragon of virtue in the biblical sense, but the reference in Ezekiel 28 makes more sense with a Canaanite character and the other two in the list (Noah and Job) from Ezekiel 14 are ancient “heroes.” (Some have argued Ezek 28 is a reference to Dan’ilu while Ezekiel 14 is biblical Daniel.)

Either Daniel in Ezekiel is an otherwise unknown figure, or we know too little of Dan’ilu to understand the connection, or biblical Daniel’s reputation for righteousness was widely known in his day. I have to say I’m better informed about the issue than I was back in August, but I don’t have the answer.

Allen, Leslie C. Ezekiel 1-19. Word Biblical Commentary 28, 1994; Block, Daniel. The Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 1-24. Eerdmans, 1997; Day, John. “The Daniel of Ugarit and Ezekiel and the Hero of the Book of Daniel.” Vetus Testamentum 30:2 (1980), 174-184; Dressler, Harold H. P. “The Identification of the Ugaritic Dnil with the Daniel of Ezekiel” Vetus Testamentum 29:2 (1979), 152-16; Greenberg, Moshe. Ezekiel 1-20. Anchor Yale Bible 22, 1983; Wallace, Daniel B. “Who is Ezekiel’s Daniel” (accessed 10-10-10); Zimmerli, Walther. Ezekiel 1. Fortess Press, 1979.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Have You Subscribed to Bible Study Magazine?

The Nov/Dec issue of Bible Study Magazine is now available! Subscribe by Nov. 30 to get it. You won't regret it. I've received two issues so far, and I have to say it's the best new magazine I've seen in a long time. It's well designed, insightful about the Bible, and fun to read. And I'm not just saying that because I have articles published in the next 3 issues (starting with Nov/Dec). Here are two excerpts from my articles published in the current issue.
Hebrew Word Study
God is God, Right?
The names of God are a special case.
English translations represent God’s names in different ways—and they’re not always consistent. Sometimes the same English word is used for different Hebrew names. For example, “Lord God” can point to either Yahweh Elohim or Adonay Yahweh. Most English translations subtly represent the difference by putting the divine name Yahweh in small capitals—LORD God or Lord GOD. Using the reverse interlinear, we can find the underlying Hebrew and trace God’s name like any other.
When we do so in Genesis, we learn that God is known by His interactions with people—the God who sees (Gen 16:13), Yahweh who provides (Gen 22:14). God is often identified in Genesis by His association with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (e.g., Gen 24:12). With each generation, He renewed His covenant and identified Himself as the same God of Israel’s ancestors. This association is how the nation of Israel related to God.
Cutting Edge
The Story You’re about to Read is True:
Anyone who thinks reading the Bible is boring has never read the story of Joseph (Gen 37–50). Filled with action, suspense, irony and intrigue, this narrative is biblical storytelling at its best. Some would say that such literary artistry smacks of fiction.1 Others consider it fictional since there is no archaeological evidence that Joseph ever existed, let alone ruled Egypt at Pharaoh’s right hand. So how does ancient history and archaeology help us understand the story of Joseph? And does the evidence point to fiction or the basis of a true story?
 Some like to use history and archaeology to prove or disprove the accuracy of the Bible. My studies in ancient history started out along those lines—seeking proof of the existence of Joseph to defend the accuracy of the Bible. Along the way, I learned that my quest for direct confirmation of the stories of Genesis was in vain, but history and archaeology consistently illuminated a plausible historical core at the center of the story. While we may never find “Joseph was here” scratched on the wall in an ancient Egyptian back alley, the Joseph story is packed with historical details that can be verified.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Now in Paperback! Best Book on Inner-Biblical Exegesis Ever!

About a year and a half ago, I reviewed Bernard Levinson's book Legal Revision and Religious Renewal in Ancient Israel. I'm pleased to announce that this thought-provoking volume is now available in an affordable paperback edition. My hope is that it will reach a wider audience in biblical studies, especially graduate students interested in the formation of the Hebrew Bible and inner-biblical exegesis. Here are some of the published reactions highlighted by the publisher.
"This would be an excellent addition to any theological library and it is to be hoped that the publisher will soon release a paperback version so more students can enjoy the fruits of Levinson’s labours. —Theological Book Review 21 (2009)
“With this study Levinson demonstrates again how he masterfully integrates his own exegetical brilliance into larger theoretical frameworks beyond the constraints of biblical studies.” —Journal of Ancient Judaism
“The book deserves a wide readership. It would serve well as a text for advanced undergraduate or graduate courses that deal with inner-biblical exegesis. One can also hope that scholars in other fields will read it and take to heart Levinson’s argument for the reintegration of biblical studies into the core of academic work in the humanities. The book’s research is thorough, its argument forceful, its writing elegant, and it is blessedly short. If books can be placed into tribes, may this one’s increase.”—Review of Biblical Literature
“Perhaps I am biased, but it seems to me to be beyond any reasonable doubt that, behind the final form of the canonical, biblical text lies evidence of a lively, imaginative, and creative use of interpretation, reinterpretation, and reapplication of earlier texts. It is a complex, living, creative achievement which, for just this reason, invites constant, continuing invention, as Levinson maintains. I certainly find this book itself a delightful, informative, and stimulating one to read.” —Journal of Theological Studies

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Athas has Meagre Powers

George Athas has entered the biblioblogosphere with his new blog "With Meagre Powers." His introductory post is up and he plans to blog on "biblical studies, theology, Hebrew, and the Ancient Near East."

For those who are asking "who's George Athas", he's teaches Hebrew and Old Testament at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia. I knew him first through his book on the Tel Dan inscription. I also had the pleasure of meeting him last fall in New Orleans during SBL.

Welcome to the biblioblogosphere, George!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Check Out! from Logos is the best online Bible study site I’ve used. Yesterday’s post at the Logos blog highlighted some of the great features.
Introducing the beta release: a super-simple Bible for the web that’s backed up by the incredible technology (and massive library!) of Logos Bible Software. What makes so cool?
Read the rest of the post to find out . . .

Of course, the best part for a Logos user like me is the online access to my Logos library. I have no idea what the basic resources available on the site are since when I’m logged in to my Logos account it shows the hundreds of Bibles and books in my digital library. That’s cool.

Here’s more information from the site’s “About” section: is your place for Bible study online. Part of a family of services from Logos Bible Software, it offers free access to a collection of Bibles and Bible reference works, with an easy user interface and powerful search engine.
More Content
Everyone gets free access to a number of Bibles and a few other resources. Log into (with your account, or by making a free account here) for access to dozens of free Bible study resources. uses exactly the same e-books and account management as Logos Bible Software, whether you download software or not. That means that already offers thousands of high quality resources for Bible study. You can purchase content for use with Logos Bible Software for Windows or Macintosh, or simply unlock it online at, and you’ll have access to it online at*
Anywhere Access
Logos Bible Software works on the Macintosh, for Windows, on the iPhone, iPad, and even supports mobile web browsers at Your single user account works with all of these platforms, as well as here at Purchase an e-book in one place and you can use it everywhere!* Future releases will even synchronize your notes across all the platforms.
Powerful Platform is designed to make it easy to use a Bible side-by-side with helps and reference books. But underneath it is built on the same powerful platform as Logos Bible Software 4, the world’s leading Bible software. Logos has been developing Bible software for nearly two decades. Today it is a team of more than 170 people offering more than 10,000 titles for Bible study; is our way of delivering all that experience and content to users who prefer a web interface. 
*Not all resources are licensed for online use.
Even if you aren’t a Logos user, I recommend checking it out. It looks like without logging in you can access 41 Bible versions and 2 Bible study helps. Registering for a free account promises 37 more resources. Using it might inspire you to start using Logos! It’s a great program for Bible study resources.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Daniel in Ezekiel 14: Part 1

Last week, we tackled the topic of whether a biblical writer’s reference to a biblical character from another book was historical or literary. Ezekiel 14 happens to be a classic case for such references in the Hebrew Bible, and my focus last time was mostly on the character of Job.

This time I want to open the discussion about the reference to “Daniel” in the same verses, Ezek 14:14 & 20.
Ezekiel 14:14 (ESV)
even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord God.
Ezekiel 14:20 (ESV)
even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, declares the Lord God, they would deliver neither son nor daughter. They would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness.
Is this a reference to the biblical Daniel known from the book bearing his name? It seems unlikely to me for two reasons. First, the name is spelled differently – Daniel in Hebrew is דָּנִיֵּאל. In Ezek 14, the name is spelled דָּנִאֵל. Now in the unlikely event that you don’t read Hebrew, the difference is that one consonant in the middle – yodh. Since the Masoretes were kind enough to point the name in Ezekiel with the same vowels, we read “Daniel” in the Hebrew text which makes its way into English translations as well. But, the vowels were added to the consonantal text hundreds of years later, so even the vowels are a level of interpretation. The consonants of “Daniel” are DNY’L. The consonants in Ezek 14 are DN’L. (The quote mark indicates the consonant aleph-a guttural often silent in pronunciation.) We can argue about the significance of orthography and provide counter-examples of names with variant spellings, and if there were no other candidate for who Ezekiel might be referencing, they might be compelling.

The second reason requires a little bit of background, but it has to do with the later reference to Daniel in Ezek 28:3 – same name, same spelling – important context – an oracle against the prince of Tyre.
Ezekiel 28:2–3 (ESV)
2 “Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord God: “Because your heart is proud, and you have said, ‘I am a god, I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas,’ yet you are but a man, and no god, though you make your heart like the heart of a god— 3 you are indeed wiser than Daniel; no secret is hidden from you;
Why is this context important? Well, what relevance would referencing the biblical Daniel have for the prince of Tyre?

“You are indeed wiser than Daniel.”

“Who’s Daniel?”

“You know, the Jewish sage in Nebuchadnezzar’s court in Babylon.”

“No, didn’t know that. Are you sure you don’t mean Danel from the Tale of Aqhat?”

There’s the bottom line. There is an extra-biblical literary character with the West Semitic name DN’L. He is a key character in the Tale of Aqhat, known from Ugaritic literature. A reference to this character makes sense in Ezekiel 14 in a list of 3 non-Israelite figures.

The issue, of course, is whether this Canaanite literary figure fits the description of Ezekiel for a wise, righteous leader. It is easy to assume that what we know about Dan’ilu (aka Danel or Dnil) from the Tale of Aqhat is the full extent of his legend. From there we can dismiss him as not being specifically “wise” or depicted as particularly righteous (as Dressler 1979, for example) and thus not the referent of Ezekiel.

Consider, however, this excerpt from the Tale of Aqhat that depicts Dan’ilu in the typical role of a wise judge (like Job adjudicating at the city gate; cp. Job 29:7-16).
Dānīʾilu the man of Rapaʾu, the valiant Harnamite man, Arose and sat at the entrance to the (city–)gate, among the leaders (sitting) at the threshing floor. He judged the widow’s case, made decisions regarding the orphan. (Context of Scripture, The ‘Aqhatu Legend, 1.103, 5.3.)
I am still researching this question, but at this point, these two lines of evidence are, in my mind, compelling that Daniel in Ezekiel is the Phoenician character, not the biblical sage.

1. The different spelling of the name in Ezekiel is significant.
2. The Phoenician context of Ezekiel 28 suggests a Canaanite, not Babylonian Jewish, literary reference.

Many scholars have written on this issue with the intent of proving the biblical Daniel is in view here in Ezekiel. What they fail to realize is that all of their arguments calling the connection to Dan’ilu into question do not automatically provide support for a connection to biblical Daniel. Even if the identification of Dan’ilu is incorrect, the connection to Daniel the prophet is not thereby proven. (That reminds me – the Logical Fallacies series is ripe for continuation. The above chain of reasoning bears elements of the burden of proof and false dilemma fallacies. I like to call it the “if-you’re-wrong-then-I’m-right” fallacy. It needs a catchier name though.)

In part 2, I will look further into arguments that Daniel in Ezekiel 14 is a reference to the biblical Daniel. I’m waiting to see Daniel Block’s argument in his commentary which I’m told is persuasive, so I’m keeping an open mind.

Dressler, Harold H. P. “The Identification of the Ugaritic Dnil with the Daniel of Ezekiel” Vetus Testamentum 29:2 (1979), 152-161; Hallo, W. W. and K. L. Younger. Context of Scripture vol. 1. Leiden: Brill, 1997; Matthews, Victor H. and Don C. Benjamin. “The Tale of Aqhat” in Old Testament Parallels, 70-79. Paulist Press, 2006; Margalit, Baruch. “Interpreting the Story of Aqht: A Reply to H. H. P. Dressler, VT 29 (1979), pp. 152-61” Vetus Testamentum 30:3 (1980), 361-365.

More on the Historical Bible Characters Question

Not from me, but from Bill Heroman (whom I had the pleasure to meet in New Orleans last fall). He didn't join the earlier conversation here but his conclusions are in part close to what I've been saying on the subject.

First of all, it is NOT evidence for Adam's historicity to point out that both Jesus and Paul spoke about Adam as if he were real. This is unfortunate, from one way of thinking. However, the pattern of Jesus and Paul IS an example of how we might speak and write about Adam. Thus, we might do as well as Jesus and Paul did if we continue speaking AS IF Adam were, in fact, a historical figure. (Was he? That's an important but unanswerable question. I'm saying, of necessity, we might do well to let these remain separate issues.)
Read his post - Genesis AS IF History.

If you're following the conversation here about biblical references and historical characters, I'm still working on the follow up post about Daniel in Ezekiel 14. Anybody have access to Block's commentary and want to send me the pages where he deals with the question?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Terminology Pet-Peeve: Israelites and Jews

The Jews, as a people, come into existence after the return from exile in Babylon in c. 539 BCE. Before that, they are Judahites and Israelites. It's an easy distinction to miss, but there IS a difference. I've heard the ancient Israelites referred to as Jews a few times lately from pulpits (I listen to podcast sermons, not just my local pulpit, so no indirect finger pointing). The "Jews" did not leave Egypt with Moses, conquer Canaan, and establish the kingdom of Israel. (I realize Jewish tradition, esp. the Passover haggadah, links ALL Jews to the experience of Exodus. That's a theological issue, not a historical one.)

After the kingdom splits in two (under Rehoboam, Solomon's inept son), the two kingdoms are Israel and Judah. The inhabitants of the northern kingdom were Israelites, not Jews. The inhabitants of the southern kingdom were Judahites. Both peoples are ancestors of the Jews. After the northern kingdom was taken into exile in 722 BCE, the southern kingdom received a large population bump, so Judah under Hezekiah and the following kings until the exile probably included tribes of Israel and Judah together.

If you're reading Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, or the New Testament, the people are Jews. If you're reading the books of Samuel, Kings, or most of the prophets, they're not Jews. Better to refer to them as Israelites when unified or in reference to the northern kingdom (Elijah was a northern prophet, for example). Referring to the people of the southern kingdom as "Jews" would be marginally acceptable. For a good discussion of the transition from Israelite to Jew, listen to Michael Satlow's podcast series "From Israelite to Jew" found on his blog or through iTunes.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Quest for the Historical Adam?

Not long after my previous post on taking biblical characters as historical or literal, James McGrath posted a link (via Facebook) to a BioLogos article by Tremper Longman on the question of whether or not there was a historical Adam. I plan to read Longman's thoughts and watch the video later today. But in the meantime, John Byron on his new to me blog The Biblical World interacted with the question. I agree with him that "The Bible was not written as a science and history book."

So, it's a hot topic - did all the people mentioned in the Bible really exist?

Honorable Mentions: Historical or Literary?

Back in 2008, I wrote a post dealing with the issue of whether the New Testament references to Old Testament characters can be taken as evidence for their historicity. My conclusion was that, in general, the NT writers were referring to the characters known from Jewish literature and not trying to claim historicity. I don’t believe they were concerned with those types of questions. It may have been assumed, but it didn’t matter for their theological point whether Jonah or Job really lived. What mattered was the story and the example it provided.

Before I go any further, I need to clarify that I am not questioning the real historical existence of all biblical characters. I am also not reducing the Bible to the level of pure fiction. T.C. recently questioned that ambiguity in my previous post, so I want to be clear. I believe archaeology provides strong circumstantial evidence for the existence of certain biblical people, like David, for example. The best explanation of the Tel Dan inscription is that it refers to a real Davidic dynasty. Certain biblical characters like Abraham, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, David, and Solomon are central to the story of salvation history. I’m not questioning their existence, even though I can’t prove it definitively.

The issue is whether an “honorable mention” by another biblical writer is a reference to a historical person or a literary figure. The default position seems to be to take the reference historically. Earlier I dealt with NT references to OT characters, but what about OT references to other characters?

A few days ago Jeff posted “Was Job a Real Person?” His answer:  “Of course he was!” with appeal to Ezek 14:14 for confirmation.
I realize that Ezekiel is filled with dream-like imagery, but this message from the Lord (and the rest of the section) certainly confirms to me that they were real individuals. Not that I needed any more convincing.
I’m not criticizing Jeff’s conclusion. It is a valid answer to the question, but I don’t think it’s the only reasonable answer. A commenter on his post also drew in James 5:11 to support Job’s existence and commented how he believed Jonah historical as well for similar reasons. But why jump to conclusions? Why assume the biblical writer meant to allude to a historical personage? As a 21st century reader, do you follow the reference because it’s historical or because you know the literary text that it alludes to? That’s easy . . . you know the text. You know the story.

Let’s look closer at the references in Ezekiel 14:14 (repeated in v. 20).
even if these three men, Noah, Daniel[1], and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord GOD.
Commentators often take this as a reference to 3 non-Israelite “saints.”[2] The non-Israelite identity is important for the larger theme of general or universal retribution in Ezekiel 14.  The connection of righteousness or virtue with these three is also key. Gen 6:9 reads “These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.” Job 1:1 says “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” Noah and Job are clearly held up as ideal paragons of virtue. (More to come on "Daniel.") Their righteousness is known not from history but from literature. Does the point of v. 14 require their stories to have actually happened or does it simply require one knows the story - much like a parable teaches a point?

The details given about Job’s status, wealth and family don’t prove the story is not a parable or folk tale. We don’t know where the land of Uz is. Job is identified by his character, not his patronymic (that is, no “son of SO & SO” to give a family identification). The circumstances of his suffering and restoration have all the ring of the classic West Semitic epics like Aqhat or Kirta. The fact that the reference to “Daniel” is almost certainly to a character from a non-biblical West Semitic epic further strengthens the conclusion that Job and Noah are evoked here for their literary significance, not their historical existence. (Was there a historical Noah and a worldwide flood? Still thinking that through, but I knew you’d ask.)

Acknowledging that some OT characters, like Jonah[3]  and Job, might simply be literary figures with no historical existence in no way undermines the accuracy or inerrancy of the biblical text. The issue is with the reader, not the text. The reader is demanding something of the text it never intended to give. Searching for a historical Job is, in my mind, about as likely to turn up solid results as a quest for the historical Prodigal Son (Luke 15).

Comments and discussion are welcome. My thoughts on this issue are continually in process.

[1] Daniel in this text presents a special problem that I’ll address in another post.
[2] See Leslie C. Allen, Ezekiel 1-19, WBC, and Moshe Greenberg, Ezekiel 1-20, AYB.
[3] Jonah, of course, was known from the historical books - 2 Kgs 14:25. But his literary fame comes from the book of Jonah and his fish story - a story, IMO, borrowing the character of an otherwise little known prophet.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Michael Wise Interview - Minnesota DSS Exhibit

Michael Wise
Michael Wise, master of ancient languages and my first Hebrew and Latin teacher, was interviewed by The Catholic Spirit about the Minnesota Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit (reviewed here). If you haven't yet had a chance to see the exhibit, I highly recommend it, and this interview is a good introduction on what you can expect to get out of it. Here are a few quotes:

What would you recommend that visitors take more time viewing?

There’s a portion of the exhibit given over to explaining how scribal processes work. I think it’s important for people to spend more time looking at that.
We just don’t understand how differently book culture worked in the ancient world compared to how it works today.    . . . We don’t understand how texts got made and how they got passed on. It’s well explained in the exhibit. . . .


What do you think the scrolls prove about Christianity?
My own view of Christianity is that it can’t be proven or disproved by archaeology. Every artifact we uncover . . . always requires interpretation. It’s at the sifting level that people of faith or people who want to argue against faith can always find some kind of grist for their mill. . . . The texts can’t prove Chris tia nity. Can they prove that the things we’re told about Christianity and Judaism in the Bible really were being said 2,000 years ago? Yes, they can prove that. . . .
Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we couldn’t prove, in a scientific sense of having tangible evidence, that the Bible was any older than about 1,000 or 1,200 AD. . . . Today, we can say these texts show us that the Bible is as old as the time of Jesus and more . . . there is evidence, scientifically.

Photo via The Catholic Spirit

HT: Jim Davila

Friday, August 6, 2010

Self-Taught, No Lessons - Thank You Very Much

I regularly flip through the catalogs I receive from Christian Book Distributors, but I typically haven't paid much attention to the best-selling Bible Studies of this or that preacher or pop Christian icon. Recently, I've realized that since those studies are targeted at and consumed by a large number of Christians, I should become more familiar with their approach, their contents, and their writers. This is part of a larger effort I'm making to see what popular trends are influencing the evangelical church. So, tonight I perused the most recent issue of Christianity Today and found their cover story on Beth Moore particularly troubling. Here is an excerpt that most keenly reflects what's bothering me.
Moore is truly a Bible teacher. Her teaching is rooted in her strong affinity for Scripture. She does not show much interest in theology or tradition, distrusting the way the academy has, at times, handled the Bible. "Godless philosophies have not been my temptation," Moore comments. "In my life experience, the most dangerously influential opinions have been those held by intellectuals and scholars who profess Christianity but deny the veracity and present power of Scripture." Although Moore believes that seminaries are necessary despite the "stunning arrogance" and "theological snobbery" that reside in them, she argues, "Psalm 131 reminds us that [the Scriptures] are not primarily for seminaries, dissertations, and theological treatments. They are primarily for everyday living on the third rock from the sun."
Moore is primarily self-taught. She uses commentaries and concordances when writing her studies, but she relies primarily on her own intuition when interpreting and applying Scripture.
After years of careful study of biblical exegesis and the history of biblical interpretation, I found her remarks offensive and ignorant. Only a "Bible teacher" with no formal training in biblical languages, exegesis, theology, or church history could speak with such disdain for an academic, intellectual approach to the Bible. I sensed the writer (herself a Ph.D. candidate) was also at least uncomfortable with Moore's rhetoric against theological snobbery when she wrote:
Because of this, Moore is not able to draw, as much as she might, on the solid biblical and theological scholarship that emanates from trustworthy seminaries and universities, teaching that actually guards us against heresy and reminds us of the hard lessons of history.
Unfortunately, many of the most popular Christian leaders today are primarily self-taught in the arena of biblical interpretation: Beth Moore, Joel Osteen, Brian McLaren, and Joyce Meyer to name but a few (honorary degrees don't count). Not surprisingly, I'm more a fan of pastors with theological training like John Piper or Mark Driscoll.

Halee Gray Scott, "First Came the Bible," Christianity Today (August 2010), 27. Quotations are from the print edition. The article was not available online.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hobbins, Finkelstein, and Khirbet Qeiyafa

After a blogging vacation of 11 days (an eternity for Ancient Hebrew Poetry but due to his move, no doubt), John Hobbins has returned to the blogosphere with a vengeance, posting six positively powerful pieces in a paltry period of perhaps 24 hours.

For my part, I perceived the primary project of John’s four posts posing Khirbet Qeiyafa as a possible problem for Finkelstein and his preposterous posturing on the probability of a puny Israelite polity in the 10th century BCE to be a precise paragon of perspicacity. 

1. Finkelstein on Khirbet Qeiyafa
2. Public building activity in the early monarchic period of a polity named Israel
3. Khirbet Qeiyafa: The Kiss of Death to the David-and-Solomon Naysayers
4. Khirbet Qeiyafa and Finkelstein’s Low Chronology

Here are a few quotes from part 3 that illustrate what’s at stake in this debate and why Khirbet Qeiyafa has proven to be such a key find.
Khirbet Qeiyafa poses a challenge to Israel Finkelstein’s hypothesis that the basic outline of the biblical narrative found in 1 Sam – 1 Kgs 11 is a figment of the imagination of much later writers who manipulated inherited tradition in order to place legendary figures of a distant past in a sequence and a set of historical contexts of their own devising (Finkelstein 2006).

Regardless, how can KQ be reconciled with Finkelstein’s oft-defended revisionist synthesis? Once again, in Finkelstein’s mind, the kingdom of David, the bare historicity of which he does not deny, was a polity with (1) a limited administrative capacity at most, encompassing a territorial domain spanning a few neighboring villages; and (2) a weak capability of force projection, offensive and defensive, relative to neighboring external polities.
If so, one would never have expected to find what Garfinkel and company have found at Khirbet Qeiyafa. KQ, a site by all accounts in the Judean Shephelah, was a massively fortified late Iron I/early Iron IIA settlement with public structures at its heart and on its perimeter.
Finally, the concluding paragraph from part 4. I agree that these finds should put all minimalists to shame, but I’m sure John realizes that Davies, Thompson, Van Seters, and Lemche have proven themselves remarkably resourceful in promoting their puerile premises without regard for proof or the proper presentation of logically sound arguments.
If KQ poses a challenge to Finkelstein’s chief theses, it buries those of the minimalists. Israel in Transition Volume 2, edited by Lester Grabbe with contributions by Philip Davies, Niels Peter Lemche, and John Van Seters, is due to hit the bookstores in September. One cannot help looking forward to its contents with singular anticipation. In my view, the Davies-Lemche-Van Seters-Thompson approach is equivalent to whistling in the dark. They can hope against hope that nothing turns up that discredits their conclusions. I can’t help thinking: it already has.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

All About Me

Ever since Blogger enabled static pages, I've intended to post a more complete "About" page. I've just posted the inaugural version of that page, so let me know what you think. If Tod starts posting more than twice a year, I'll let him have an "About" page, too.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

In the Mail: Elijah and the Rabbis

Today I received a review copy from Columbia University Press of Elijah and the Rabbis: Story and Theology by Kristen H. Lindbeck.

From the publisher:

Through an innovative synthesis of narrative critique, oral-formulaic study, folkloric research, and literary analysis, Kristen H. Lindbeck reads all the Elijah narratives in the Babylonian Talmud and details the rise of a distinct, quasi-angelic figure who takes pleasure in ordinary interaction.

During the Talmudic period of 50-500 C.E., Elijah developed into a recognizable character quite different from the Elijah of the Bible. The Elijah of the Talmud dispenses wisdom, advice, and, like the Elijah of Jewish folklore, helps people directly, even with material gifts. Lindbeck highlights particular features of the Elijah stories, allowing them to be grouped into generic categories and considered alongside Rabbinic literary motifs and non-Jewish traditions of late antiquity. She compares Elijah in the Babylonian Talmud to a range of characters—angels, rabbis, wonder-workers, the angel of death, Christian saints, and even the Greek god Hermes. She concludes with a survey of Elijah's diverse roles from medieval times to today, throwing into brilliant relief the complex relationship between ancient Elijah traditions and later folktales and liturgy that show Elijah bringing benefits and blessings, appearing at circumcisions and Passover, and visiting households after the Sabbath.

I find the development of biblical figures in later religious traditions to be a fascinating subject. I look forward to reading it and offering more of a review here in the future.

Shift: Back to Square One

Isn’t it wonderful when, after doing some preliminary research and writing an introductory paper on a potential thesis topic, you discover you missed an important source that reveals massive additional bibliography on the subject and strongly suggests there’s nothing more to be said?

I am interested in the topic of creation in the Hebrew Bible and had begun exploring it especially through the aspect of Deutero-Isaiah’s use of the motif. I’ve presented a paper on the topic at a regional SBL and discussed the topic with potential dissertation committee members. Only one advisor cautioned me that there might be little new ground to explore on this motif, or at least, it would be a huge challenge to find because of the massive bibliography on the book of Isaiah and creation separately. I have finally realized how self-guided PhD research really is and how much it is on me alone to track down what’s been done and find my own avenue for original research.

Here is the opening to the chapter by Richard J. Clifford I read last night but should’ve read months ago:
Given the many verbs of creating in Second Isaiah . . . , it is remarkable that explicit scholarly discussion on the topic began only in the 1930s. Recent years have made up for previous neglect; there now exist over a dozen articles, three books, and numerous treatments within commentaries and monographs on creation in Second Isaiah. The first part reviews critically some of the scholarly contributions, for several questionable assumptions have crept into the consensus, viz., that the “problematic” is the relation between originally distinct concepts of redemption and creation; that the concept of creation is subordinated to redemption; and that a distinction between creation of the whole and of the individual is operative in Second Isaian hymns and individual laments.[1]
Now it is somewhat gratifying to discover one’s independently reached thoughts on a subject have been anticipated by a scholar of Clifford’s caliber, but that is little consolation when one is attempting to craft a thesis proposal.

So, I’m shifting gears to a different area of research, back to square one with my proposal. Well, not totally square one, I’m shifting to one of my other interests, probably Biblical Hebrew and Translation Studies.

[1] Richard J. Clifford, “Creation in Isaiah 40-55”, Creation Accounts in the Ancient Near East and in the Bible (CBQ Monograph Series 26), 163-176.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Understatement of the Day

The understatement of the day comes from National Geographic News in an article about their upcoming documentary on the Dead Sea Scrolls. It sums up almost all research ever on the DSS.
"I have a feeling it's going to be very disputed," said Lawrence Schiffman, a professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University (NYU).
The article places this quote in response to Bob Cargill's comments:
"Jews wrote the Scrolls, but it may not have been just one specific group. It could have been groups of different Jews," said Robert Cargill, an archaeologist who appears in the documentary Writing the Dead Sea Scrolls, which airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel.
I agree with Bob and I think the new consensus is moving more in this direction in regard to the origins of the scrolls. Of course, almost everything's been disputed in Qumran research. I wish I got cable so I could watch the documentary. Oh well . . .

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Scapegoat Ritual in Leviticus 16

Azazel from Collin de Plancy's Dictionnaire Infernal(Paris,1825).
Leviticus 16 presents the ritual requirements for the Day of Atonement. One of the most enigmatic rituals involves the scapegoat sent off into the wilderness for “Azazel” described in Lev 16:6-10:
6 “Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. 7 Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 8 And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for Azazel. 9 And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the LORD and use it as a sin offering, 10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the LORD to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.
There has been much speculation about who or what “Azazel” was: the main interpretations have been a local deity, a wilderness goat-demon, or a desert mountain. Later Jewish literature, notably the Book of Enoch, understood Azazel as a demon, one of the fallen angels and brings him into its complex mythology of supernatural angels and demons.

Rabbinic interpretation understood Azazel to be a cliff off which the goat was driven to its death.
The Rabbis, interpreting "Azazel" as "Azaz" (rugged), and "el" (strong), refer it to the rugged and rough mountain cliff from which the goat was cast down (Yoma 67b; Sifra, Ahare, ii. 2; Targ. Yer. Lev. xiv. 10, and most medieval commentators). Most modern scholars, after having for some time indorsed the old view, have accepted the opinion mysteriously hinted at by Ibn Ezra and expressly stated by Nahmanides to Lev. xvi. 8, that Azazel belongs to the class of "se'irim," goat-like demons, jinn haunting the desert, to which the Israelites were wont to offer sacrifice (Lev. xvii. 7 [A. V. "devils"] (from the Jewish Encyclopedia).
Of course, all of that may be for naught if this Hittite parallel is correct and the term is connected with a type of offering.
“In the Leviticus 16 ritual a crux has always been the term laʿazāʾzēl rendered in the Septuagint and Vulgate by “as a scapegoat” (followed by the English AV), but replaced in more recent English translations by “for Azazel,” sometimes thought to denote a wilderness demon. Appealing to scapegoat rites in the Hurrian language from the Hittite archives, Janowski and Wilhelm would derive the biblical term from a Hurrian offering term, azazḫiya. This is particularly appealing to me. There were two goats used in the Leviticus 16 ritual. One is designated for Yahweh as a “sin offering” (Heb. ḥaṭṭāʾṭ, LXX peri hamartias) (16:9), and the other is “for Azazel,” but is presented alive before Yahweh to make atonement, and is sent away into the wilderness “to/for Azazel.” The contrast is twofold: (1) Yahweh versus Azazel, and (2) sin offering versus Azazel. If one adopts the first, Azazel seems to be a divine being or demon, who must be appeased. But if one adopts the second as primary, the word ʿazāʾzēl represents the goal of the action. In the system of Hurrian offering terms to which Wilhelm’s azazḫiya belongs, the terms represent either a benefit that is sought by the offering (e.g., keldiya “for wellbeing,” cf. Heb. šelāmîm), or the central element offered (e.g., zurgiya “blood”). If Janowski and Wilhelm’s theory is correct, the Hebrew term would not denote a demon as recipient of the goat, but some benefit desired (e.g., removal of the sins and impurities) or the primary method of the offering (e.g. the banishment of the goat).”[1]
Similar rituals are widely attested in the ancient Near East with examples from Ebla and elsewhere. I'm sure much more could be said about the practice and its ancient parallels. Leviticus 16 and the term Azazel provide a fascinating example of how misunderstandings and speculation sometimes spin off into elaborate traditions that fall far from the likely original meaning of the biblical text.

Harry A. Hoffner, Jr., “Hittite-Israelite Cultural Parallels” in Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (2003). Context of Scripture, vol. 3 (xxxii). Leiden; Boston: Brill.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Professor Pardee's Promotion

Professor Dennis Pardee at the University of Chicago has been appointed to a named chair in Hebrew Studies.

Dennis Pardee has been appointed the Henry Crown Professor of Hebrew Studies.
Currently Professor in Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, Pardee studies northwest Semitic languages and is a leading scholar of Ugarit, the language spoken by the residents of the ancient Syrian city. He is the author of two–volume scholarly translation of Ugaritic rituals, many of which had been difficult for scholars to access before the publication of Pardee’s translation.
In 2008, Pardee translated the inscription on an ancient stone slab uncovered by an Oriental Institute team in southeast Turkey. The slab provided the first written evidence in the belief that the soul was separate from the body.
Pardee teaches intermediate and advanced Biblical Hebrew, and is a 2010 recipient of the University’s Graduate Teaching Award. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1995. In 2007 he delivered the British Academy’s prestigious Schweich Lectures on Biblical Archaeology.
He received his Ph.D. from UChicago in 1974 and has been teaching at UChicago since 1972.
Congratulations to Prof. Pardee!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Most Misused Scriptures

Those of us well-versed in the art of biblical exegesis – historical-critical style – have all been struck from time to time by a groan-inducing, double-take inspiring, eye-roll instigating misuse of Scripture, too often from the pulpit, unfortunately.

Here’s my top 3 most misused Scriptures.

1. To support how “biblical” American democracy is.
Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
2. To quietly contemplate God’s being God.
Psalm 46:10a Be still, and know that I am God.
3. To support the use of the mind and reason in Christian circles.
Isaiah 1:18a Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD
So, what’s the problem? Context. The larger context of these verses do not support the traditional popular interpretations. Galatians 5:1 is talking about spiritual freedom or freedom from bondage to sin, not national freedom or democratic freedoms. Psalm 46:10 is probably my favorite of these. The larger context is about God’s power and v. 10 is meant as a call to fearful awe in the face of that power, not quiet contemplation on God. Here’s Psa 46:6-10 for context. “Be still” is probably better translated with the idiomatic “Shut up.”
6      The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 
7      The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.   Selah 
8      Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. 
9      He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. 
10      “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
For Isaiah 1:18, I’ve heard it applied to support the use of reason in defending the faith, so I really wasn’t surprised to find an apologetics ministry using the phrase as its name or a book on logical thinking titled Come Let Us Reason. The problem is that I’m not convinced the Hebrew root יָכַח really carries the connotation of logic or reason in the usual Western post-Enlightenment sense. The typical Hebrew use is closer to “rebuke” or “correct” or “argue.” It might be close with the sense of “argue”. The verb is fairly rare in the Niphal stem (passive), but I’m pretty sure understanding it as “reason” in a modern philosophical sense is anachronistic.

There are many many other texts taken completely out of context and badly misused by preachers. This is just a small sample of three that consistently have bothered me over the years. For more bad exegesis, there’s plenty to peruse in Scott’s Youtube channel with crazy preachers like Steven Anderson, John Crowder, Paula White, Jack Van Impe, and more.