Thursday, February 17, 2011

Continuity Errors in the Hebrew Bible?

One of the features of narrative in the Hebrew Bible that as long caught my notice is the common use of place names prior to the aetiological story that explains the source and significance of the name. Logically this inconsistency can only mean that either a later editor went back through and updated names without regard for continuity OR a later writer was using names he was familiar with before getting to the story that explained where the name came from. Either way, the biblical writers were less concerned with what today might be called continuity errors. The most concise example of the phenomenon is Genesis 33:17.

Genesis 33:17 (ESV):

17 But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.  [Succoth = booths]

A more chronologically problematic example is the use of the name "Bethel" in reference to Abram's travels in Genesis 12:8 and 13:3. The name "Bethel" is given by Jacob, Abram's grandson, in Genesis 28:19!

Sometimes it's unclear whether the issue is continuity or chronological disorder. For example, Judges 13:25 described Samson growing up "in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol." Samson is the last great judge portrayed in the book of Judges: the long narrative of his exploits extends from Jdgs 13 to 16. The rest of the book contains a series of bizarre yet related tales in Jdgs 17-21. Those stories contain this relevant bit of information for the name "Mahaneh-dan" (literally "camp of Dan").

Judges 18:11–12 (ESV)

11 So 600 men of the tribe of Dan, armed with weapons of war, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol, 12 and went up and encamped at Kiriath-jearim in Judah. On this account that place is called Mahaneh-dan to this day; behold, it is west of Kiriath-jearim.

Do the events of Judges 17-21 chronologically precede the story of Samson? It makes sense to group the narratives of major judges together and leave off a story that fits this time period yet focuses on no particular judge or leader.

I don't have the answers and these little details are of no great doctrinal import, but I hope this at least provides a sampling of "Things that make Bible scholars go, Hmmm...."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Eisenbrauns Valentine's Poetry Contest

Eisenbrauns has once again held a contest for Valentine's Day love poetry written in an ancient Near Eastern Language. The results are entertaining as always.

Congratulations to fellow biblio-blogger James McGrath who has carried off first place with his Mandaean poem!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Real Fellowship and the Semantics of Koinonia

The next issue of Bible Study Magazine will ship soon and there is a very insightful, well-written article exploring the meaning of koinonia (often glossed "fellowship") in the New Testament. My opinion of the article is in no way biased toward the fact that I wrote it. (No, I'm not that arrogant. It's a joke.)

Here's an excerpt of what I wrote for the magazine (published with permission, of course). If you haven't already, I highly recommend subscribing if you are looking to learn more about the Bible from a Christian perspective in a clear, non-threatening way.

greek word study without greek


If you’ve been part of a church community, you may have noticed how some words acquire “churchy” meanings—like “fellowship.” When is the last time you got together with your colleagues after work for “fellowship”? Never. But in church, we have fellowship luncheons that are held in fellowship halls and we get together for fellowship in our fellowship groups. When we overuse a word, it can lose its meaning. Our overuse of “fellowship” makes an important point in 1 John fall flat.

“That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. … If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:3, 6–7).

We can determine the meaning of fellowship in this passage by examining it within a New Testament context. To do that, we have to find the Greek root word behind the English term. Using the esv English–Greek Reverse Interlinear, we find that the Greek word underlying “fellowship” is koinōnia (κοινωνία).

To read the rest of the article, check out March–April ’11 issue of Bible Study Magazine.
WHAT!!! I cut you off right before we get to the best part where I actually explain what koinonia means? Now you have to buy the magazine? Sorry about that, but thems the rules.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Comment Policy

Since I have received a number of comments lately that I've left aside unpublished, I've decided to publicize the basic criteria I use in deciding whether or not to publish a comment.

1. Unlike Jim West, I don't automatically dismiss ALL anonymous comments, but your chances of being published are severely diminished if you submit an anonymous comment. If you comment anonymously (because of Blogger or whatever), signing off with your real name means you will likely get published. I have occasionally let anonymous comments with a pseudonym slip through but that is at my discretion.
2. Short but complimentary comments that are clearly only posted as "mules" for your embedded links will not be published. For example, "Great post. I loved it. replica watches"
3. Comments that are largely irrelevant to the content of the post or the comment thread will not be published.
4. Comments that are promoting an uncritical perspective on issues or promoting a pet agenda will be deleted.
5. Closely related to #4, any comments from cranks and/or crackpots will be deleted. If you fall under that category, you won't self-identify there, so you can consider your comment deleted per #6.
6. I reserve the right to delete and/or not publish any and all comments without cause based on my arbitrary and subjective whims. Any objections or repeated reposting of comments will be ignored and deleted.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Biblical Studies Carnival - January 2011 Version

Obviously since I posted very little in January, I didn't make the carnival, but that's no reason why you shouldn't visit Jim West's amazing and fabulous round-up of the biblioblogosphere from last month.

January 2011 Biblical Studies Carnival

Interested in Talmud?

If so, you may also find this article from Jewish Ideas Daily fascinating. I think it's a great brief intro into what rabbinics scholars actually do - (same as the rest of us studying ancient texts: weave theories of origin, identity, and interpretation from close reading of texts). My interest is more in Tannaitic literature, specifically midrash, but that's just because the deep rabbit hole of Talmud scares me. Here are a few excerpts.
The traditional "back story" of the Talmud is put forth in the 10th-century "Epistle" of the great Babylonian scholar Sherira Gaon. It is an invaluable source for reconstructing the generations of sages and students, and the chains of transmission, that yielded the Mishnah and Gemara, which in turn, and together, make up the Talmud. Yet many questions are left unanswered by Sherira. When and how were the Mishnah and Gemara, both of which were Oral Torah, written down? What exactly was the role of the post-talmudic Savoraim, the "explainers" who, Sherira says, "rendered interpretations akin to judgments"?
Epstein and others (including Abraham Weiss and Hyman Klein) gained purchase on these questions by investigating the relationship among the three basic historical layers of which the Talmud is composed: sources associated with the sages known as Tannaim, dating from before and up to the composition of the Mishnah at the turn of the 3rd century; the many statements and discussions attributed by name to the Amoraim, sages coming after the Mishnah; and the anonymous editorial voice known as "the stam" (literally, "plain voice") in which the first two layers are embedded and which surrounds, organizes, and discusses them.
The finished Talmud weaves all of these fragmentary traditions and texts into coherent dialogues among sages living miles and centuries apart, regularly transposing and reformulating sources while adding a sophisticated apparatus of explanation. The result is a work that not only is intellectually compelling but regularly achieves powerful literary effects. To Epstein and the others, what became increasingly clear was that strong editorial hands had been at play in the process.
This portrait of rabbinic culture begets, in turn, a powerful challenge. Modern intellectual integrity having yielded a restless scenario of fragmentary ancient texts being worked and reworked into the sources we have today, can we somehow put the pieces back together into a coherent and compelling story? And will that story reflect not only the work of the rabbinic interpreters but also the original texts and traditions, by now lost to us, that they were trying, through their editing, to maintain? 
The answer is yes, but it will be a different story, in ways both stranger and more familiar: a story of internal ferment and spiritual survival in the face of profound uncertainty.