Saturday, November 3, 2012

Really, Wipf & Stock?

I'd never heard of Preston Kavanagh until today, but apparently, he's solved all the authorship and dating questions related to the composition of the Hebrew Bible. Wipf & Stock has been publishing his 'brilliant" discoveries since 2009 with The Exilic Code: Ciphers, Word Links, and Dating in Exilic and Post-Exilic Biblical Literature, followed by the The Shaphan Group: Fifteen Authors Who Shaped the Hebrew Bible in 2011, and now Huldah: The Prophet Who Wrote Hebrew Scripture (apparently forthcoming per a publicity email I received through the Agade mailing list).

I can't find out anything more about this guy with Google. His author blurb on Wipf & Stock doesn't give me much confidence in his biblical studies training.
Twenty-four years ago, Preston Kavanagh retired from an executive position in a large company in order to seek the identities of those who wrote the Hebrew Bible. The Shaphan Group discusses what he found, as do his two prior books—Secrets of the Jewish Exile (2005) and The Exilic Code (Pickwick Publications, 2009). He and his wife, Lois, live quietly in Maryland.
The email announcement has an updated version of this bio. Apparently he has Ivy League degrees, but it's telling that the level of degree and the subjects studied are left unmentioned.
Preston Kavanagh holds degrees from Princeton and Harvard. He retired twenty-five years ago from an executive position in a large company to seek the identities of those who wrote the Hebrew Bible. Huldah discusses what he has found, as do several prior books, including The Exilic Code (Pickwick Publications, 2009) and The Shaphan Group (Pickwick, 2011). He and his wife, Lois, live quietly in Maryland.
So, let me get this straight, Wipf & Stock, you published these books by a retired businessman who devoted the last 24 years to cracking the Bible's coded data about who wrote it and when? Apparently, whoever acquired this guy's work forgot one of the prime rules of identifying crackpots: they are often untrained individuals who are somehow able to solve major perennial problems of the discipline. Also, hasn't "decoding" the hidden messages in the Hebrew Bible been widely debunked? (And yet, it won't go away.) So either this guy has new revolutionary ideas that deserve our attention or this is a shameless attempt to sell books to an undiscerning, popular audience that loves this stuff even though it's been disproven over and over (a la Michael Drosnin's bestsellers). I've looked at enough of Kavanagh's books on preview at to suspect the latter, but maybe, just maybe somebody can offer a good explanation or more info about Kavanagh to justify his claim to expertise. For now, he look to me to be just another crackpot.

It's a shame because Wipf & Stock otherwise publishes many quality studies by well-known Bible scholars such as Andre LaCocque, Stanley Porter, Richard Horsley, Marvin Meyer, and H.G.M. Williamson. I better not see this guy's stuff on the book tables at SBL. Anybody else have a similar reaction to this publicity email that came over Agade this morning? Here's the full description of the book.

Huldah: The Prophet Who Wrote Hebrew Scripture reveals—for the first time ever—the extraordinary impact of Huldah the prophet on our Bible.
Huldah was both a leader of exilic Jews and a principal author of Hebrew Scripture. She penned the Shema—the ardent, prayerful praise that millions of worshipers repeat twice daily. Moreover, Jesus quoted as his own last words the ones that Huldah had written centuries before—“Into your hand I commit my spirit.” Huldah was an extraordinary writer—arguably she ranks among the best in Hebrew Scripture. As such, she added to God’s Word a feminine aspect that has inspired numberless believers—men and women alike. 
This book’s new techniques reveal that though subjected to extreme verbal abuse, Huldah surmounted her era’s high barriers to women. As elder, queen mother, and war leader during the sixth century BCE, she helped to shape Israel’s history. And what, then, can this book mean to scholars—both women and men? Feminists need a rallying point and a heroine, and Huldah makes a superb one. In years ahead, experts might well place Huldah alongside the very greatest women of antiquity; indeed, they may even conclude that she is among the most influential people in human history.
Reading it again, I want to deconstruct every exaggerated and impossible statement, but I don't think his work is worth any more time or attention. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Forthcoming: Huehnergard's Introduction to Ugaritic

Since my graduate class on Ugaritic, I've felt the need for an accessible introductory Ugaritic grammar. The only true introductory text to date that I know of is Schniedewind's, but it appeared too late for my introduction the the language. Previous publications were too massive (Tropper) or written in languages I understood only slightly better than Ugaritic itself (Bordreuil and Pardee; only in French at the time I took Ugaritic) or ridiculously expensive (Sivan) or dated (Segert, Gordon). For those reasons, I'm excited to learn that John Huehnergard has finally published his own introduction. I've used many of his articles and other publications in the past on everything from Ugaritic to Aramaic and always appreciated his lucid explanations of complex issues. Here's the product description from Hendrickson's website:
Highly respected linguist John Huehnergard brings his command of and vast knowledge in the field of comparative Semitic linguistics to this introductory grammar. Every aspect of the grammar is enriched by his broad understanding, while maintaining an unexcelled directness and order to the learning of the fundamental grammar of Ugaritic.
Designed for students already familiar with Biblical Hebrew, this grammar contains the information necessary to help them become proficient in Ugaritic, and includes exercises to assist in learning basic grammar before commencing work with the actual Ugaritic texts. It is set apart from other gram¬mar books by its immense understanding of comparative Semitic grammar, and the concise and accurate manner in which Huehnergard presents the information.
Special Features:
• A glossary of all Ugaritic words used in the grammar
• An appendix by Ugaritologist John Ellison on the scribal formation of the Ugaritic abecedaries
• A number of full-color photographs of Ugaritic tablets
• Keys to the exercises
• Bibliographic information and indexes
I will definitely be spending a few minutes checking this volume out at Hendrickson's booth next month at SBL. If you teach Ugaritic, you should, too.

HT: Jim West 

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Bible and Cultural Controversy

My greatest wish for all people who engage with the Bible at various levels for their religious, cultural, moral, ethical, theological, and spiritual identities is that they would approach the text with open-minded honesty. Unfortunately, serious and honest discussion of the Bible's complexities is often abandoned as people attempt to read the text on their terms and interpret it as unequivocally reflecting their own point of view. Scholars and students, clergy and laity--all are guilty at some point of reading their preferences back into the text. On certain hot button issues, people can't even have a civil discussion anymore because the various sides are entrenched and intractable, convinced that their view is the absolute "truth."

Recently, Hebrew Bible scholar Esther Hamori has written two insightful pieces engaging this problem directly. The first dealt with the highly controversial issue of marriage specifically, and the second highlights the diversity of voices within the Bible itself, an important reality often overlooked or minimized in conservative Christian circles. I highly recommend reading both of her articles with an open mind. Here's the closing thought from the second piece:
Religious diversity is an inherent part of the biblical tradition. The Bible has significant internal variation, and there are different thoughtful ways to deal with that, but ignoring it is not one of them. My own take on this is that the rich complexity of the spectrum of voices is the very thing that gives the Bible its remarkable texture and depth, and that if the Bible is used as a "model" for anything, perhaps it could be used as a model for honest engagement with such a variety of viewpoints. But that's just me, and I'd expect another voice to say something different.
Her final words illustrate her expectation of push-back, disagreement, and discord inspired by her view. I know many people who would likely object strenuously to her perspective, but I find her call for "honest engagement" to be welcome and refreshing. I agree wholeheartedly.

Regarding her first article on marriage, I have to say (at the risk of offending or surprising more conservative readers including friends and family) that I agree with Hamori that the Bible reflects a variety of culturally-bound acceptable standards for marriage. In fact, evangelical Old Testament scholar John Walton uses the analogy of marriage in The Lost World of Genesis One to illustrate how we might use the same word to describe marriage today and marriage in the ancient Near East, but the word points to two very different cultural concepts. The cultural context is essential to properly defining what is actually meant by the term. Studying the biblical text in its ancient Near Eastern context and attempting to see the text through the worldview of the ancient world is an indispensable part of interpretation.

That said, I don't personally find this multiplicity of voices about marriage to necessarily serve as biblical support for gay marriage. Hamori doesn't explicitly offer it as such, but the implication is there. Her conclusion to the marriage article states:
Marriage in the Bible is not restricted to one man and one woman. The biblical models for marriage include a range of relationships and combinations, and these evolve with the culture.
The point is that marriage norms change with the culture. I won't argue that, just point out this is a cultural, not a biblical, argument in favor of gay marriage.

I will point out, however, that conservative claims of support for the "biblical definition of marriage" as one-man and one-woman are simplistic and narrow in their interpretation. Yes, Genesis 2:24 supports the "one flesh" sexual union of a man and a woman but calling that "marriage" in the sense of 21st century United States legal status is overreaching. Yes, Paul offers support for marital monogamy (1 Cor 7:2; 1 Tim 3:2), but that was the norm in the Greco-Roman world and in first century Judaism. Paul's support simply mirrors marriage norms of his day. Marriage as a legal and socio-cultural institution is one of the most culturally-bound categories in the world. Rather than appeal to the "biblical definition of marriage," supporters of traditional marriage should simply acknowledge it as such--they support traditional marriage according to centuries-old mores of Western civilization.

One final thought for those engaged in a defense of traditional marriage as "biblical": what's the biblical or theological rationale for Christians to mobilize politically in an attempt to force Judeo-Christian morality on an unbelieving culture that doesn't want it? (J. R. Daniel Kirk had a good post a few months back on this issue if you're interested.)

The bottom line here is that we would all benefit from more open dialogue and less partisan bickering over whether the Bible supports our cause or not.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Get the Faithlife Study Bible for FREE!

For months in 2011 and early 2012, my blogging, PhD research, and pretty much everything else took a back seat to my work on the Faithlife Study Bible (FSB). Now I'm finally free to share our work with the world. Basically, we created a digital study Bible from the ground up--totally designed for digital and designed with tablet devices in mind. It works on your Android device, Kindle Fire, iPhone, iPad, Mac, or PC, as well as on Logos, Vyrso and the web.

Screenshot from Genesis 1 on an Android Tablet       
I was part of the team that wrote or edited the study notes and articles. We produced over 1.4 million words of notes and articles (my contribution was over 225,000 words) and provided in-depth content. One of my long-standing pet peeves with the study Bibles I own is that they always stopped short of answering my question. Invariably, I would have a question on a particular verse, but the notes would often skip that verse or offer a very superficial comment. One of the ways we dealt with that problem was by building the Faithlife Study Bible with three layers of notes. Since it's digital, additional content in the second layer of notes can be uncovered with a tap or mouse-click. Print study Bibles are limited by how much can fit on the page. If there's still more to say after that additional paragraph or two, we have links for further reading. Those links include FSB articles, Lexham Bible Dictionary articles (the Bible dictionary that comes free with our study Bible), and links to additional Logos resources on the topic. Our three layers of content offer detailed notes on a wide range of issues, but the other way we'll avoid the dead-end, skipped verse problem of traditional study Bibles is by continually adding to our study Bible. The Faithlife Study Bible is still growing. We're still adding notes and articles and responding to user feedback to make sure we've adequately addressed the important issues.
Another limitation of print study Bibles is that they're stuck with the translation they were based on. (That also used to be one of the ways you could justify the need for producing yet another study Bible.) The Faithlife Study Bible works with seven translations (I think that was coincidental but it is perfect). It comes free with the Lexham English Bible, a literal translation designed for maximum transparency to the underlying Greek and Hebrew. If you prefer a different translation, the FSB works with ESV, KJV, NKJV, NRSV, NASB95, and NIV2011, but you'd have to buy the one you want separately (unless you're already a Logos user...if you access Faithlife with your same account, it will sync with all the Bible and Logos resources you already own).

Faithlife Study Bible comes bundled with almost 400 photos, videos, and infographics AND the Lexham Bible Dictionary with 2,700 articles and 1.5 million words. (And guess what...the Bible dictionary isn't done yet either. We're still adding articles from top scholars in biblical studies.) 

The study Bible is also integrated with, a new social network designed for Christian fellowship centered around studying the Bible and growing in faith.

Connect to
The best part is that you can get all of this for free with a coupon code!

Here’s how to download and use it.

1. Go to

2. Enter your coupon code (Your code is DougMangum FREE)

3. Download the app

4. Log in with your account

5. Enjoy the Bible!

Where to Download the App:
iPhone/iPad Android—Google Play Kindle Fire Web Version Logos for Mac and PC

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Don't Think Just Believe

Credit: ASBO Jesus
Has faith replaced thinking today? And I'm not just talking about faith in religious circles. As I watch people continue to subdivide into ideologically-defined camps, I can't help but wonder how many of them have truly critically examined their beliefs. In my experience, most people leave the thinking to others. They decide that "so and so" is credible and trustworthy so they eagerly soak in everything he or she says. But how did they decide they could trust that person? They can't explain it and it usually boils down to agreement on presuppositions. But you can't learn anything NEW if you only listen to people with whom you already agree.

I don't understand blindly trusting someone else. (I understand faith in God is blind trust. This post isn't about that.) What you learned about investing from some guy on the bus is not fact until it's been independently verified. I don't trust. I research. I try to strip away the rhetorical baggage (or "spin") and figure out where someone's coming from. My hermeneutic of suspicion is always operating, not just in biblical studies.

But let's use my discipline of biblical studies as an example. How good of a Bible scholar would I be if I only read conservative evangelical Christian scholars? Or feminist scholars? Or Catholic scholars? What if I completely ignored Jewish scholarship simply because it wasn't "Christian"? The point isn't that I need to be well-read on every possible perspective. The point is that I need input from people who think differently than I do in order to grow in my thinking. I'm not challenged to think when I only listen to the people I agree with.

I admit that having to think for yourself can be difficult. It really is easier to let someone else do the thinking for you. The funny thing is that most people who aren't thinking for themselves actually think they are. The pinnacle of success for anyone looking to persuade you to vote for them, support their cause, etc. is for their ideas to take hold of you so strongly that you've convinced yourself you thought of them on your own.

So, how can you start thinking for yourself?

First, watch where you get your information from.  Are you into politics? Do you only watch CNN or do you also check Fox News? Fired up about gay marriage? Get info directly from both sides in the debate. Are you interested in the creation/evolution debate? Did you learn everything from Answers In Genesis or do you also glean information from pro-evolution Christians? Input from both sides is essential. No matter what the issue is, you can't trust someone who is opposed to a position to give you an accurate account of the opposition. It's only natural to frame the debate in a way that makes your preference look stronger than the opposition.

Second, once you've started watching where you get your information from, add the layer of evaluating every source. Figure out the writer's agenda. The late Bible scholar Robert Carroll analyzed the biblical text by asking himself, "Why is this guy lying to me?" (anecdotal hearsay uttered by Michael V. Fox in class once). Or ask yourself, "who benefits?" If I buy in to this person's agenda, who benefits from it? Political ads want to sway your vote. Religious rhetoric wants to sway your beliefs. Marketers want to sway your buying decisions. Trust no one. Think.

HT: James McGrath

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Inaugurating Mobile Blogging

Having discovered Blogger now has an iOS app, I may find time to post more regularly. My steep decline in posting roughly correlates with my switch to iPhone (which also roughly correlates to the death of my laptop). Apart from work, my online presence has been primarily mobile for over a year.

This short post is my initial test of the app. The only down side I can see so far is not being able to add links.

Regular blogging may commence soon.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Latest from Khirbet Qeiyafa

Something really really big that has finally and totally proven the historical reliability of the Bible has once more been found. But first, some perspective:
The idea that a single, spectacular finding can reverse the course of modern research and save the literal reading of the biblical text regarding the history of ancient Israel from critical scholarship is an old one. Khirbet Qeiyafa is the latest case in this genre of craving a cataclysmic defeat of critical modern scholarship by a miraculous archaeological discovery.[1]
Khirbet Qeiyafa has proven to be a very newsworthy archaeological dig. First, there was the pretty cool ostracon announced in 2008. Then there was the sensational, unofficial, buzz-generating interpretation of that ostracon announced by Prof Gershon Galil. Professional epigraphers and archaeologists are still debating the reading and significance of the inscription (see the May/Jun 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review). 

I admit that I haven't really been following the excavation since early 2010 (background from early 2010 here), but this morning Yosef Garfinkel, the lead archaeologist from Hebrew University excavating at Khirbet Qeiyafa, has announced the discovery of artifacts interpreted as proof of King David's ancient Israelite kingdom in the 10th century BCE. The announcement was highly anticipated but the news conference (as with many such announcements) has the ring of an attempt to head off the battle over interpretation of the finds before it's even begun. Once again, I find myself stuck between wanting to cheer on the maximalist interpretation and recognizing the valid questions raised by those of a more minimalist leaning.  

Image: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
In short, clay and stone boxes were discovered in connection with three large rooms interpreted as having cultic (religious) significance. The site is interpreted as Israelite based on the absence of pig bones and the absence of graven images. The boxes and related artifacts are being interpreted as scale model versions of the "Ark of God." 

However the artifacts are interpreted, it is a significant find which highlights the continuing importance of this site for reconstructing the history of the region in the 10th century BCE. In addition to reading the major press release version of the story, I recommend balancing your understanding with George Athas' observations on the discovery. I imagine the rest of the biblioblogosphere is exploding with the story even as we speak...let's take a's a post on the subject by Todd Bolen; Jim Davila; Brian LePort; Jim West; Duane Smith. Of course, I'm really waiting for a response from biblioblogger archaeologist-in-chief, Bob Cargill.

[1] Israel Finkelstein and Alexander Fantalkin, “Khirbet Qeiyafa: An Unsensational Archaeological and Historical Interpretation” Tel Aviv 39.1 (2012), 58. From G.M. Grena’s quote in a comment onAren Maier’s blog

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Biblia Hebraica Moves to Washington

Or "why I only posted 20 times in 2011."

2011 was a year of transitions for me and my family. First, I switched PhD programs at the beginning of the year. My thesis proposal was submitted to the University of the Free State, South Africa last March. After struggling to decide on a topic at UW-Madison, I jumped at the opportunity to combine research on ancient Bible versions with Translation Studies methodology with Jacobus Naudé and Cynthia Miller-Naudé. I hope to make significant progress on that research this year, since other transitions consumed the rest of 2011.

In June, I began working for Logos Bible Software as a contributing editor for Bible reference in their publications department. I began telecommuting from Wisconsin and started planning our cross-country move. We intended to move mid-summer, but the reality of packing up after 6.5 years in one place with a growing family slowly corrected that plan to a late summer move. We finally arrived in Bellingham, Washington in late September.

I spent six months this year writing over 200,000 words. That kept me a little too busy for recreational writing like blogging and even research writing like my thesis work. In the meantime, we were all adjusting to a new timezone, new climate, new city, new church, new friends, and the new slightly strange Pacific Northwest culture.

My goal for 2012 is to find balance. Keep up with family, friends, research, and hobbies like blogging. I even plan to add exercise to the mix (the quintessential cliche New Year's resolution).