Thursday, December 29, 2016

Thirteen, the magic number?

Although the text does not state explicitly that the transformation from statue to divine being was a gradual process, the fact that the priest performed 13 mouth-washings and mouth-openings suggests that this was the case. If one mouth-washing and mouth-opening would have been sufficient, then why perform 12 additional mouth-washings and mouth-openings? Furthermore, note the exclamation in Incantation Tablet 4 in which the image is addressed directly, “He (Ea) has brought your divinity to completion!” (i-lu-ut-ka ú- ak-lil in ibid., 162–63, 184 line 18ab), suggesting that all 13 mouth washings and openings were necessary.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 56 n.79

<idle musing>
Give the poor image a break! After all, it's a long way from being a tree in the forest to becoming a god!

OK, that sounds like something Isaiah or Habakkuk might say : )
</idle musing>

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

It's alive!

The rituals outlining these procedures and the accompanying incantations are known collectively by the Babylonian titles mīs pî (“washing of the mouth”) and pīt pî (“opening of the mouth”). The mīs pî, as noted earlier, was primarily a ritual intended to purify the recipient in preparation for cultic activity. As Walker and Dick conclude, “the ‘washing of the mouth’ was essentially a purification rite which prepared the object/person for contact with the divine. It washed away impurities.” The mīs pî was performed not only on divine statues but also on the king and his royal insignia, royal statues, priests, individual humans, and various animals and sacred objects. By contrast, the mouth-opening rite (pīt pî) was apparently reserved for inanimate objects, including figurines and larger divine images, a leather bag, cult symbols, and royal jewels. It was thought to consecrate, activate, and/or enliven the object in preparation for cultic use. When applied to a divine statue, the Opening of the Mouth was thought to animate the statue’s sensory organs and limbs, enabling it to consume offerings, smell incense, and move freely. Once the mouth washing and opening were complete, the statue was considered a fully functioning, living manifestation of the divine.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 44

<idle musing>
Remember, the ancients were fully aware that it wasn't the deity—it was just a manifestation of the deity. But at the same time, it was the deity. Confusing? Maybe. But because in a very real sense it was the deity, Isaiah and the other prophets could have a good time making fun of the whole process.

At the risk of incurring the wrath of the few people who actually read this blog, I could say we can compare it to the treatment that is given to the U.S. flag. It isn't the country, but it represents in a very real way the U.S. That's why people get so upset when people burn it out of protest. They are symbolically burning the country. Or, why the flag is never supposed to touch the ground, or you stand and salute the flag, or say the Pledge of Allegiance, or any one of a number of other "silly" rules about handling the flag.

Side question? Is the flag an idol?

You figure it out, but I would suggest it is...just as nationalism is an idol. Yes, especially "American exceptionalism."
</idle musing>

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

But you got it all wrong!

It is clear in Genesis 3 that in eating the forbidden fruit and becoming like ʿelōhîm the man and the woman had transgressed a very significant boundary between the human and divine spheres. In the Mesopotamian pît pî and the Egyptian wpt-r, however, the opening of the eyes, which signified the image’s (re-)birth and the transformation of the image into a living manifestation of an ʿel (Akkadian ilu), was precisely the goal. Although there is a notable difference between the opening of the eyes in Gen 2:5–3:24, which signified the acquisition of illicit wisdom, and the opening of the eyes in the mīs pî pīt pî and wpt-r, which indicated the image’s vitality, it does seem that the Eden author is playing with the idea of the “opening of the eyes” as a means to life. In his story, however, the outcome is reversed. The man and the woman, who were created and animated prior to the opening of their eyes, now faced banishment, exile, decay, and eventual death.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 42

<idle musing>
They already were alive and animated—before they ate the fruit! They had no need of it, unlike the images of the gods, who were inanimate until the opening of their eyes when the spirit of the deity entered them, thus animating them. By trying to add to what God had already done, they reversed the process. Sound familiar? We're still doing the same thing...
</idle musing>

Monday, December 26, 2016

The collapse

A dialogue between the serpent and the woman ensues (Gen 3:1b–5), and the subtle and deceptive serpent convinces the woman to taste the forbidden fruit. The following climactic moment of disobedience is conveyed with shocking brevity. What took 20 verses to describe (Gen 2:5–24) is now dismantled in less than a single verse (Gen 3:6b) by the actions recorded in four, short converted yiqtol verbs: wattiqaḥ (she took), wattōʾkal (she ate), wattittēn (she gave), and wayyōʾkal (he ate).—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 39
<idle musing>
I never thought of it that way before. . .pretty depressing how quickly we can destroy what God has built.

Speaking of which, if you aren't a believer in climate change, then explain to me the weather here. We had a thunderstorm last night! And it's raining right now. Well, it just turned to freezing rain as I'm writing this. And two weeks ago it was -18ºF. This is crazy!

Cue the reading from Psalms today:
God is our refuge and strength,
a help always near in times of great trouble.
That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart,
when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea,
when its waters roar and rage,
when the mountains shake because of its surging waves. Selah (Ps 46:1–3CEB)

That's reassuring, this last week of 2016, a year that has seen more than its share of international disasters—many/most of them man-made. May the new year bring shalom in it's fullest (Hebrew) sense. Of course, I realize that can only be God who brings it; it's a metaphorical saying, the new year can't bring anything by itself.
</idle musing>

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas

The Word became flesh
and made his home among us.
We have seen his glory,
glory like that of a father’s only son,
full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 CEB)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Thought for a Christmas Eve day

I read yesterday that Russia announced it would reenter the nuclear arms race, and the president-elect of the U.S. responded in kind. By coincidence(??), my reading in the Psalms today contained this Psalm, which I've modified slightly to make it more 21st century. . .
16 Kings [President-elects] aren’t saved by the strength of their [country's] armies;
    warriors [President-elects] aren’t rescued by how much power [wealth] they have.
17 A [nuclear] war[head] horse is a bad bet for victory;
    it can’t save despite its great strength [destructive power].
18 But look here: the Lord’s [YHWH] eyes watch all who honor him,
    all who wait for his faithful love [ḥesed],
19     to deliver their lives from death
    and keep them alive during a famine.

20 We put our hope in the Lord [YHWH].
    He is our help and our shield.
21 Our heart rejoices in God
    because we trust his holy name [and his holy name is YHWH, of which Jesus is the incarnation!].
22 Lord [YHWH], let your faithful love [ḥesed] surround us
    because we wait for you. (Ps 33:16–22 CEB)

If you can find access to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. Laird Harris et al. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), read the article on ḥesed (I think they transliterate it chesed). It's included in the base package of both Accordance and BibleWorks (I couldn't find it in Logos, but it might be there). It's a healthy corrective to the older view that ḥesed just means "covenant loyalty" and nothing more. It means a whole lot more! It's the love that drives God to pursue his wayward people—even before they are his people! It's the love that drives God to become human in the incarnation. Or, as Michael Card put it so well, "he would rather die than live without us." That's what ḥesed is all about. "Loving kindness," "mercy," those are good starts, but it's much bigger than all those words.

So, all that to say, Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2016

In the image of, but not identical

Genesis 2 does not define humans as a “living statue of the deity” in the same way that a divine statue became the god once its mouth was washed and opened. Rather, humanity was, in some way, created in the image of God but was distinct from God himself.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 17

<idle musing>
An important distinction! And especially apropos this time of the year, with the incarnation.
</idle musing>

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The North Shore

It sure is rough living up here...I'm listening to Handel's Messiah, working via VPN, and this is the view out my window right now.

Life's tough, isn't it? : ) Merry Christmas!

Echoes in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament

Although there are no obvious references to the Washing of the Mouth or the Opening of the Mouth in the Hebrew Bible, several prophetic texts reflect an awareness that the manipulation of an individual’s sensory organs was thought to activate the individual in some way. Hurowitz, building on the work of Weinfeld and others, has argued that the purification of Isaiah’s lips in Isaiah 6 is best understood against the background of Mesopotamian ceremonies for the purification of the mouth, including the mīs pî. According to H.-P. Müller, the cleansing of the mouths of the prophets Jeremiah (1:9) and Ezekiel (2:8–3:3) should also be understood in this light. Finally, J. Kutsko has suggested that the re-creation of corporate Israel in Ezekiel 36–37 “develops an argument that parodies the Mesopotamian pattern of re-creation of cult images prior to their repatriation.” Specifically, he claims that the animation of Israel by the rûaḥ of God in Ezek 37:9–10 recalls the animation of divine statues in the Mesopotamian mouth-washing and mouth-opening ceremonies. “Ezekiel is intentionally contrasting creating humans with imagery involving divine statues,” he states, and further, “Ezekiel 37 is consciously drawing this analogy with idols and thereby sharply signaling the distinction in the creation of the people of Israel.” Kutsko observes further that the re-creation of corporate Israel in Ezekiel 36–37 also reflects and develops the story of human creation in Genesis 2.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 15

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Flip it on its head!

In the Opening of the Mouth ritual, the statue’s sensory organs are animated, enabling it to see, hear, smell, speak, breath, and move about as a living being. The opening of the eyes is even named specifically in the Babylon version, and the fact that the image is placed facing the sunrise in the Nineveh version suggests a similar emphasis on the animation of the eyes. By claiming [in Isa 44:18] that the “idol” makers’ eyes have been shut and they are therefore blind, and that their minds are dumb and they are, consequently, without understanding, the prophet applies the activation of the sensory organs of the divine image to the craftsmen themselves, only in reverse. The idol-makers, as Pss 115:8 and 135:18 predict, have become like their idols— having eyes but unable to see.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, pages 9–10 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>

I love the irony of Isaiah's portrayal. To me it seems obvious that he knew of the mis pî ritual and was lampooning it—the original Babylon Bee : )
</idle musing>

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Psalm for today

Psalm 10Common English Bible (CEB)

Psalm 10[a]

10 Why do you stand so far away, Lord,
    hiding yourself in troubling times?
Meanwhile, the wicked are proudly
    in hot pursuit of those who suffer.
Let them get caught
    in the very same schemes they’ve thought up!
The wicked brag about their body’s[b] cravings;
    the greedy reject the Lord, cursing.
At the peak of their wrath,
    the wicked don’t seek God:
    There’s no God—
    that’s what they are always thinking.
Their ways are always twisted.
        Your rules are too lofty for them.
    They snort at all their foes.
    They think to themselves,
        We’ll never stumble.
        We’ll never encounter any resistance.
Their mouths are filled
        with curses, dishonesty, violence.
    Under their tongues lie
        troublemaking and wrongdoing.
They wait in a place perfect for ambush;[c]
    from their hiding places
    they kill innocent people;
    their eyes spot those who are helpless.
They lie in ambush
    in secret places,
    like a lion in its lair.
They lie in ambush
    so they can seize those who suffer!
They seize the poor, all right,
    dragging them off in their nets.
10 Their helpless victims are crushed;
    they collapse, falling prey to the strength of the wicked.
11 The wicked think to themselves:
    God has forgotten.
    God has hidden his face.
    God never sees anything!
12 Get up, Lord!
    Get your fist ready, God!
    Don’t forget the ones who suffer!
13 Why do the wicked reject God?
    Why do they think to themselves
        that you won’t find out?
14 But you do see!
    You do see troublemaking and grief,
    and you do something about it!
The helpless leave it all to you.
    You are the orphan’s helper.
15 Break the arms of those
    who are wicked and evil.
Seek out their wickedness
    until there’s no more to find.
16 The Lord rules forever and always!
    The nations will vanish from his land.
17 Lord, you listen to the desires of those who suffer.
    You steady their hearts;
you listen closely to them,
18     to establish justice
        for the orphan and the oppressed,
    so that people of the land
        will never again be terrified.


  1. Psalm 10:1 Pss 9 and 10 contain part of an acrostic poem and might originally be one poem in Heb.
  2. Psalm 10:3 Or soul’s
  3. Psalm 10:8 Heb uncertain

Tselem and demut

The fact that this tôlədôt notice [Gen 5:1–3, of the birth of Seth] echoes the language of Gen 1:26–27 suggests that the description of Seth functions, at least in part, as an interpretive key to understanding the creation of male and female bəṣelem ʾelōhîm. That is, the author of Gen 1:1–2:3 may have chosen ṣelem and dəmût not only because these terms have royal and cultic overtones but because they also convey a filial relationship. [footnote: If this is correct, it would not be surprising that the relationship between the two ṣəlāmîm, male (zākār) and female (nəqēbāh), would also be defined in familial terms. In Gen 2:23, the woman is described as the man’s “bone (ʿeṣem) and flesh (bāśār).” That is, having been created from Adam’s very body, Eve is his biological kin. Thus, both Genesis 1 and 2 would define the two primary human relationships, namely, the divine-human relationship and the relationship of husband and wife, in kinship terms. In Genesis 1, humans are introduced as members of God’s royal family, and this presentation implies that humans and God are, on some level, “kin.”]—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 3

<idle musing>
Think about the ramifications of that for a bit. If, as she implies, humans are in some way kin to God, then God being our kinsman redeemer (גואל gw'l) takes on a whole new meaning, doesn't it. And murder is no longer just killing someone. It is, in some sense, an attack on God's family—whether the person is a Christian or not!

Lots to think about here...and this is only on page 3!
</idle musing>

Monday, December 19, 2016

New book started

Gen 2:5–3:24 seems to describe the creation of the first man in terms reminiscent of the creation of a divine image in the mīs pî pīt pî and the wpt-r rituals. There are parallels among them in content, overall progression, and, to some extent, purpose, suggesting that, despite the absence of the terms ṣelem and dəmût, Gen 2:5–3:24 implicitly presents the idea that the first man was, on some level, an “image of God.”—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 2

<idle musing>
Now that's an intriguing way to start the book, isn't it? For those of you who don't know, the mīs pî pīt pî and wpt-r rituals were ANE and Egyptian (in that order) rituals that gave life to the images (idols) and made them active/living representations of the respective gods. Mind you, that's oversimplification, as the Egyptian one was also used to reanimate the mummy as well. But all of that will (hopefully) become more clear as we move through the book.

By the way, it's on sale right now at Eisenbrauns until the end of the month at 30% off:


The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden
The Creation of Humankind in Genesis 2:5-3:24 in Light of the mis pi pit pi and wpt-r Rituals of Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt
Siphrut: Literature and Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures 15
by Catherine McDowell
Eisenbrauns, 2015
Pp. ix + 246, English
Cloth, 6 x 9 inches
ISBN: 9781575063485
List Price: $47.50
Your Price: $33.25

Friday, December 16, 2016

Let's spin a yarn or two

All explanations work with data from the biblical tradition itself or with cultural-historical analogies from the ancient Near East and, more recently, from Greece. Unfortunately, they disregard the idiosyncrasies of the biblical tradition that do not fit the historical and institutional context. The crucial question, therefore, is: In what circles and institutions did the transition from the prophecy common in the ancient Near East and known from Israel and Judah to biblical prophecy take place? To answer this question, one probably has to spin the same amount of historical fantasy that we find in the common hypotheses of the writing prophet and his “pupils,” or the curriculum of the scribal school, or the diverse interest groups of Israelite society—about which we know virtually nothing.—The Prophets of Israel, page 151

<idle musing>
Refreshingly honest, isn't it?

That's the final excerpt from this book. As I've said many times, he is more skeptical than I about the percentage of original content in the prophetic books. But he is clearly correct that some form of editorial work was going on. The chapter on the Qumran tradition of annotation was excellent, and provides a useful analogy to what might have been going on. That chapter alone was worth the price of the book. (That's metaphorical; because I work for Eisenbrauns, I didn't have to purchase it!)

Next up, The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden. Here's all the scoop on it:

The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden
The Creation of Humankind in Genesis 2:5-3:24 in Light of the mis pi pit pi and wpt-r Rituals of Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt
Siphrut: Literature and Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures 15
by Catherine McDowell
Eisenbrauns, 2015
Pp. ix + 246, English
Cloth, 6 x 9 inches
ISBN: 9781575063485
List Price: $47.50
Your Price: $33.25
</idle musing>

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A conundrum

So, who were the tradents of the biblical prophetic tradition, and what was their historical setting? As far as we can see from the sources in the ancient Near East, the recording of prophetic oracles usually took place in close proximity to the royal court or the temple—that is, offcial institutions—and was carried out by professional scribes. We can assume that the same was true for Israel and Judah. Nevertheless, this may not have been the case for the prophetic books of the Bible, which are mostly opposed to these institutions.—The Prophets of Israel, pages 150–51

<idle musing>
"Houston, we have a problem." Interesting, isn't it? Where do we go from here, then? Good question, which is why we have a billion theories—two or three for each scholar who's worked on it for the last 500 years of so : )

Seriously, we know it has to be trained and educated scribes. Typically, those exist in the temple or royal court; those are the only institutions that can afford to support the infrastructure necessary to provide the education necessary to learn to read and write. But the prophetic books are highly critical of these very structures...a conundrum!

The traditional answer has been that the prophetic books were recognized as inspired by YHWH and therefore preserved—even though they were highly critical of the very institutions preserving them. But, that begs the question, doesn't it?

So in the end, we don't really know...that's not very satisfying intellectually, is it? Maybe faith is the missing factor, then.

Just an
</idle musing>

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A significant nuance

The unconditional prophecies of judgment are the starting point of the tradition in the prophetic books and are presupposed by the later prophecies of salvation as well as by the prophetic narratives. True, the notion that a deity desires doom and brings it about has parallels in the world of the ancient Near East. Here, too, the disaster suffered by a community can be understood as the result of the wrath of the gods. Interestingly enough, in the ancient Near Eastern texts, such an explanation only happens after the occurrence of the disaster. Its purpose is either to placate the gods and ask them to remove the misery or to anticipate better times and the overcoming of disaster. The biblical books differ here. Doom and salvation always appear in the announcement of the prophet and are yet to come.—The Prophets of Israel, page 149

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


It is evident, however, that the biblical books follow their own path as far as content and form is concerned. Unlike the ancient Near Eastern parallels, the prophetic books of the Bible develop into a literary genre of their own that was handed down over the centuries and constantly re-worked at a literary level. As to their content, they differ from both their ancient Near Eastern parallels and their own historical Israelite-Judean roots.—The Prophets of Israel, page 148

<idle musing>
As I've said before, he's a good bit more skeptical than I am about the amount of material in the prophetic books that goes back to the original prophet. But aside from that, his observation is correct.
</idle musing>

Monday, December 12, 2016

Confusion of terminology

What biblical scholarship calls “pre-classical” corresponds on a phenomenological level to the “classical” prophecy of the ancient Near East, while the “classical” prophecy of the Hebrew Bible seems to be the exception to the rule in the ancient Near East. Clearly, we have to reckon with a complex development.—The Prophets of Israel, page 146

Friday, December 09, 2016

Whence the prophetic books?

Prophets and prophetesses of the ancient Near East enjoyed confidential communion with the gods and transmitted their messages. These messages were handed down orally or were written down either individually (in letters, inscriptions, or on other materials) or in small collections (Neo-Assyrian prophetic tablets) such that we know them only by archaeological chance. As far as we can see, neither the prophets of the ancient Near East nor their Judean counter-parts known from the Lachish letters wrote books.

Against this background, the prophetic books of the Bible and even more the collection of prophetic books pose a conundrum. Scholarship has not yet been successful in determining and explaining the genre of the prophetic book. The prophetic book unites oracles addressing specific situations, prophecy masquerading as the words of the prophet but written down at a later stage and composed with the prophetic book in view, as well as narratives about the prophets. The prophetic book, then, presents itself as an entity of lasting significance and validity. However, when all is said and done, we still do not know what we have in front of us when we look at the prophetic books. We do not know what the purpose of the books was, who read them, and how they were used. Above all, we do not know who is responsible for their composition: the prophet himself, his “pupils,” or some other anonymous tradents or scribes.—The Prophets of Israel, page 145

<idle musing>
In the finest tradition of German scholarship, he's a good bit more skeptical about the percentage of the original prophet in the books attributed to them. But nonetheless, his point is well taken. What is it that we have in the prophetic books?

It's unique, and one thing scholar's hate is being unable to explain something : )

I'm satisfied with saying it is God's message to a specific time and place with ramifications for all people in all places at all times. But it sure is fun speculating about all that other stuff, isn't it?
</idle musing>

Thursday, December 08, 2016

The lone prophet

If we are to understand the recent trend in the history of scholarship to concentrate on the prophetic literature, we must first keep in sight the point from which it departed. This point of departure is the fixation on the person of the prophet in both the ecclesial and the scholarly understanding of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. This approach was dominant into the twenty-first century and in some cases continues even today. This fixation has a long prehistory and finds its beginnings in the biblical tradition itself. Poetic self-reflection, prophetic miracles or sign-acts, and narratives about the prophets draw attention to the person of the prophet as mediator of God’s word. Here, the prophet is usually portrayed as a lone voice in the wilderness, disowned by the world, despairing of God and his mission. At the same time, the headings of the prophetic books ensure a historicization that places individual prophets at certain phases in the history of Israel and Judah.—The Prophets of Israel, page 112

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Prophetic Literature or Prophet?

It is not unusual to find the expression “paradigm shift” in recent overviews of research on the Hebrew Bible. This is also the case in an overview of research on the prophets of the Hebrew Bible by Martti Nissinen (2009), who primarily describes the English-speaking discussion in considerable detail. Uwe Becker (2004), who also considers German-speaking research, is slightly more careful and speaks of the “rediscovery of the prophetic books.” More or less the same is meant in each case: the prophet as an individual has been left behind and attention is given instead to the prophetic literature in the Hebrew Bible. This trend within research can be observed beginning in the 1970s and has resulted in the rediscovery of old observations and the formation of new questions.—The Prophets of Israel, page 110

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

An ancient magisterium?

The interpretation of the biblical text appears in any case to be directed or stimulated by exegetical problems arising from the received biblical text itself. These problems are solved by reference to contemporary history, which is the situation of the Qumran community, in accordance with the hermeneutical rule of the “Teacher of Righteousness” that determines to which time and to whom the predictions of the biblical prophets relate.—The Prophets of Israel, page 104

<idle musing>
Of course, we all have our own "magisterium." We just don't often acknowledge it, do we? We always are interpreting things from our own context. Usually we don't even realize it, it's that subconscious. I just finished a book entitled Thinking, Fast and Slow (watch for excerpts soon) that discusses the role of the subconscious in our day-to-day functioning.

The fully rational human is an illusion. To realize we can never step fully outside ourselves is what Postmodernism is supposed to have taught us—despite what other side effects it might have had : ) The problem is we didn't learn it. I guess that's one more reason we need the "hound of heaven," the Holy Spirit, to break through our subconscious walls and show us who we are and what we can be in Christ. Now there's a phrase that is loaded with meaning, "in Christ."
</idle musing>

Friday, December 02, 2016

Still asking the same questions 2000 years later

We find the pesharim taken up with the same questions that concern modern scholarship. Who is the second-person singular feminine, the second-person singular masculine, the third-person singular masculine, or the third-person plural masculine in Nahum 1? Or, where is the “bloody city” in Nah 3:1, given that it is also spoken about in Isa 1 and Hab 2:12 and there identified with Jerusalem or an Israelite city? Or, where is the ruined Nineveh, when we are told in the Book of Jonah that Nineveh converted to the true God and escaped destruction? Or, where is the “No-Amon” that Nineveh took sides with and is associated with idol worship in Jer 46 and Ezek 30? These and other questions result from a close reading of the biblical text, especially if we consider the text not only in relation to the book (as we normally do) but interpret it verse-by-verse, cross-referencing it with biblical writings and other texts (as is common in Jewish exegesis).—The Prophets of Israel, pages 102-3

Thursday, December 01, 2016

The more things change...

Those who live in the biblical history and locate their own time in it will regard the books of the biblical prophets as scripture that directly concerns them and their own time. As we have already seen, this is how the hermeneutical rules of the “Teacher of Righteousness” understood things in the pesher on the Book of Habakkuk. Thus, it would be strange if the interpretations in the pesharim had no substantial relationship to their biblical original whatsoever, apart from catchwords and other technical interpretive links. This question emerges especially in our example from the pesher on Nahum, where the external enemies of the seventh century B.C.E., Nineveh and No-Amon, are understood in relation to the Israelite powers, Ephraim and Manasseh, that correspond to the community’s contemporary enemies within Israel and Judah in the first century B.C.E.—The Prophets of Israel, page 101

<idle musing>
Of course, we could apply the same logic to some (most?) interpretations of scripture in the 21st century, couldn't we? And that's why a Christocentric hermeneutic is so important! If the Bible is all about Jesus (and as a Christian, I believe it is), then we should make Jesus the center of our hermeneutic.

Of course, how that plays out in our hermeneutics is the rub, isn't it? Which Jesus do we use as the model? The incarnate, cruciform one in the Gospels, Acts, and most of the Epistles? Or the triumphant, conquering king of Revelation? Of course, I would argue that the conquering king is really the lamb, slain from the foundation of the world. But, others take the triumphant messiah as their starting point and reinterpret all the servant/cruciform stuff through the militaristic lens. And so, in some ways, we are back to square one, aren't we?

This is really about one's presuppositions, not about scripture at all. But it influences—actually, it controls—our interpretation of scripture. If I start with the presupposition that the U.S. is God's chosen vessel (and a holy one, too), then I will interpret scripture much differently than if I start with the presupposition that, yes, God uses the U.S. in the world, but it is not God's chosen nation—unless you want to say that it is chosen in the same way that God chose Assyria—and then judged her when she overstepped her bounds (see Habakkuk).

Just another
</idle musing>

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The law of unintended consequences

Just ran across this from Bee Culture Magazine: Neonicotinoid Pesticides Foster Spider Mite Outbreaks
Ada Szczepaniec, an agricultural entomologist at Texas A&M University, investigated the outbreak. Her study found that it was not just the elms, but also crops such as corn and soybeans that had been sprayed by the pesticide also showed spider mite outbreaks. When investigating soybeans, she found that exposure to the neonicotinoid pesticides altered their genes involved with the cell wall and defense against pests, and changed them in such a way that the plant became more vulnerable to infestation. Other researchers noticed correlation as well, and recorded spider mite outbreaks on corn and other crops.

As well as spider mite outbreaks, the pesticide has had other quantitative effects as well, like an outbreak of slugs, due to the pesticide killing off their predators.

I hate slugs! The last thing we need is more of those in the garden! Of course, I also am against the use of pesticides in general. We're basically killing ourselves...

Hermeneutics in the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Qumran community wrestled with the biblical tradition. Repeatedly they sought to reconstruct and interpret both their history and their present situation in light of biblical, and especially prophetic, citations. In doing so, they also hoped to gain a perspective on the future, the “end of days.”—The Prophets of Israel, page 96

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Print versus e-book

Apparently somebody suggested that libraries are vanity building projects. And a librarian took the time to respond. The whole thing is worth a read (even though it is longish), but this paragraph jumped out at me:
It will simply not be enough for our colleges to crank out graduates described by one of my colleagues as “drones with smartphones.” We need our librarians to work alongside faculty in helping our students climb the ladder of digital literacy to information fluency, and from there, to equip them with the cognitive grounding in critical thinking so important for taking those deep dives into knowing and understanding. Unless further advances produce e-reading devices that can more fully engage the human brain’s perceptual and cognitive subsystems, solid research evidence compels the conclusion that we must provide our students with a substantial exposure to printed texts. (emphasis original)

Textual transmission and authority

The biblical manuscripts from the Dead Sea afford us a unique view into textual transmission during the Greco-Roman period. The habits and customs of the ancient scribes testify to their absolute fidelity to the text. Nevertheless, there was no single standard text, and alterations such as the one we have described were quite possible. Indeed, the manuscripts from the Dead Sea give the impression of considerable diversity. Thus, for example, the great Isaiah scroll (1QIsaa) represents its own text type in comparison to the version preserved in the Masoretic Text. Fragments have been preserved of the Book of Jeremiah, some of which follow the Masoretic version (4QJera, c, e), while some attest to the short, divergent text of the Greek translation of the Septuagint (4QJerb, d). At the same time, there are also harmonizing and standardizing revisions, to which the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Twelve Prophets from Wadi Murabaʾat (Mur 88) and Nahal Hever (8Hevl) testify.

How to explain this diversity is a much-discussed problem. Some postulate an original text, or one as close as we can get to it, from which the diversity developed. Others, however, argue for textual traditions that originated independently of each other. Given the high percentage of agreement among the texts, the first possibility seems to be more likely. At any rate, it is clear that the diversity did not alter the authority of the text and the esteem in which it was held. There was anything but a slavish word-for-word fidelity. Even if readings differed, for the scribes and readers of the biblical books, the same text always contained the word of God for all time, and consequently for them and their time.—The Prophets of Israel, page 94

<idle musing>
I'm reminded of a snippet from a forthcoming book from Augsburg/Fortress, Isaiah Old and New: Exegesis, Intertextuality, and Hermeneutics:

…however uncomfortable it may make some modern interpreters of the Bible, in the NT era there was assumed to be a fluidity to these scriptural texts such that even the paraphrastic Greek versions of the MT could still be assumed to be the Word of God, and one was free to go with the version which more nearly made one’s point, in this case a christological point. The canon of the OT was relatively fixed and closed in the NT era for most books, such as Isaiah, but the text itself was not absolutely fixed at that juncture.
For some this is indeed a problem, isn't it? But my faith is built on Christ and his faithfulness, not on the Bible. Yes, the Bible reveals Christ, but I know enough about textual transmission to question inerrancy and it's straightjacket approach to the text. As the hymn says:
My hope is built on nothing less than Zondervan and Moody Press..
No, that's wrong; let's try again:
My hope is built on nothing less than Scofield's Notes and Moody Press...
Still wrong! How about this:
My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness
And the scripture bears witness to that, so I guess you would have to classify my hermeneutic as Christocentric.

Here's what Ron Hendel says in his recent collection of essays, Steps to a New Edition of the Hebrew Bible (from chapter 11, I don't have the page number handy):

As Roland Bainton observes, for Luther “inspiration did not insure inerrancy in all details. Luther recognized mistakes and inconsistencies in Scripture and treated them with lofty indifference because they did not touch the heart of the Gospel.” [Roland H. Bainton, “The Bible in the Reformation,” in The Cambridge History of the Bible. Volume 3: The West from the Reformation to the Present Day, ed. Stanley L. Greenslade (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963), 12] Where minor errors occur, as when Matthew 27:9 mistakenly cites Jeremiah instead of Zechariah, Luther responds: “Such points do not bother me particularly.” [ibid., 13] Similarly, in his commentaries Calvin is not bothered by errors in the text where they are unrelated to matters of faith and salvation. [See Brian A. Gerrish, “The Word of God and the Words of Scripture: Luther and Calvin on Biblical Authority,” in The Old Protestantism and the New: Essays on the Reformation Heritage (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 62–63] He acknowledges minor errors without anxiety, as in the contradictions among the Gospels: “It is well known that the Evangelists were not very concerned with observing the time sequences.” [John Calvin, Commentaires sur le Nouveau Testament. Tome premier: Sur la concordance ou harmonie composée de trois évangélistes (Paris, Meyrueis, 1854), 319 (at Luke 8:19): “on sçait bien que les Evangélistes ne se sont pas guères arrestez à observer l’ordre des temps.” Cited in William J. Bouwsma, John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 121–22]
So I stand in the finest tradition, lest you be tempted to paint me as a heretic : )

Just an
</idle musing>

Monday, November 28, 2016

Thought for the day

“The calm words of the wise are better heeded than the racket caused by a ruler among fools.
Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one incompetent person destroys much good.”
Ecclesiastes 9:17-18 CEB

Ancient commentaries

Decoding the “mystery” required a special form of interpretation. Precisely this is the idea behind the word pesher “interpretation,” the technical term for commentary on the prophets. This term has a long prehistory. On the one hand, it belongs to the realm of the professional interpreter of dreams and mysteries (cf. Dan 2–5); on the other hand, it means the knowledge that the ancient Near Eastern scribe has about omens and divination. Scribal learning and (prophetic) inspiration do not exclude one another; rather, they originally belong together.—The Prophets of Israel, page 92

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The role of a prophet (again)

I'm just getting ready to start another book, Standing in the Breach, and I started by reading the conclusion : ) It confirmed my desire to read the book! Here's a tidbit:
The main responsibility of the prophets is commonly understood to be that of proclaiming the word of God (cf. Deut 5:23–27, 18:15–18). Acting as YHWH’s mouthpiece, however, is only one side of the prophet’s role. The prophetic ministry is by its very nature twofold. It includes making known God’s will to the people as well as advocating for the guilty party before the divine judge. (p. 512, emphasis added)
<idle musing>
That part of the prophetic role is frequently forgotten or ignored. It sounds neat to reveal God's will to people, to speak out in power, and all that stuff. But the real heart of a prophet is found when they are on their knees before God. When they have the courage to disobey God's command not to intercede. Witness Moses after the golden calf incident: God tells him not to intercede, but he does anyway and saves the nation. Witness Jeremiah: God tells him four times not to intercede; he does it anyway, even though in the end Jerusalem falls.

How many "prophets" on the scene today are willing to do the hard work? How often are they willing to say to God, "Have mercy! Don't judge, but spare them!" The tenor of far too many of them is more like Jonah than like Moses and Jeremiah.

OK, I'll stop now, but watch for excerpts from this book soon. First we finish going through The Prophets of Israel, then we'll go through The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, which is coming up soon. Another great book in the Siphrut series. If I didn't work for Eisenbrauns, I'd start a standing order for Siphrut, Linguistic Studies in Ancient West Semitic, JTI Supplements, and probably Languages of the Ancient Near East. Good thing I work for them : )
</idle musing>

Friday, November 25, 2016

Foretelling and Qumran

In his work about the Jewish war of the first century C.E., the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus writes the following on the Essenes:
There are some among them who profess to foretell the future, being versed from their early years in holy books, various forms of purification and apothegms of prophets; and seldom, if ever, do they err in their predictions.
This description is usually taken as a confirmation of the identification of the Essenes with the Qumran community. The testimony is, however, not quite so clear. Josephus has in mind an active ability to prophesy about contemporary events, and in his main work, the Jewish Antiquities, he adduces various examples of Essene predictions that were fulfilled. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls never speak in this manner. Quite the opposite: the Qumran community appears to have stuck to what is found in Neh 6 and Zech 13, regarding their contemporaries as “false” prophets. It is no coincidence that a list of the names of “false” prophets was found at Qumran. This enumeration of well-known prophets from the biblical tradition was possibly augmented with a contemporary prophet. Unfortunately, the text is too damaged to be able to say anything certain.—The Prophets of Israel, page 91

Waiting for lightning

There was a song way back in the day by Stephen Curtis Chapman (remember him?) entitled "Waiting for Lightning." The refrain goes in part:
Waiting for lightning
A sign that it's time for a change
You're listening for thunder
While He quietly whispers your name
Advent is somewhat like that and Brian Zahnd catches that nicely. Here's a good snippet, but read the whole thing (just ignore the misrepresentation of the Magi):
We have been seduced by an idolatry that deceives us into thinking that God is mostly found in the big and loud, when in fact, God is almost never found in the big and loud. The ways of God are predominantly small and quiet. The ways of God are about as loud as seed falling on the ground or bread rising in an oven. The ways of God are almost never found in the shouts of the crowd; the ways of God are more often found in trickling tears and whispered prayers. We want God to do a big thing, while God is planning to do a small thing. We are impressed by the big and loud. God is not. We are in a hurry. God is not. We want God to act fast, but Godspeed is almost always slow.

So we are waiting for God to act, but I would suggest that we are not so much waiting for God to act as we are waiting to become contemplative enough to discern what God is doing. God is always acting, because God is always loving his creation. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are always inviting us into their house of love. But when we are consumed by anger, harried by anxiety, and driven by impatience, we are blind and deaf to what God is actually doing in the present moment.

<idle musing>
Ain't it the truth! And busyness is a form of idolatry. We need to learn to rest in God. Mind you, this is a hyperactive, always doing something—or more likely multiple things!—person speaking here. But we need to learn to relax and listen. God is at work; God is alive and active in the world, and in my life and yours. Learn to hear him and respond in love.

Just an
</idle musing>

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Qumran and the prophetic

[At Qumran] works were composed that employed cosmological speculation about the divine plan for the world or described the eschatological battle of good and evil spirits in heaven as well as on earth. The community began to determine its own place within biblical, sacred history and to extend their reflection on this history as it reached the expected “end of days.” Apart from the biblical history in the Torah and Former Prophets, the Latter Prophets played a decisive role: here, the prophetic books including the Book of Daniel and the Psalms of David, which were also regarded as prophecy, come into play. The many copies of biblical prophetic books, citations from the prophets, prophetic apocrypha, as well as the interpretations of entire prophetic books in the pesharim attest to this.—The Prophets of Israel, page 90

Monday, November 21, 2016

Christian feminism

I can get behind this definition of feminism; here's a brief snippet, but read the whole thing:
A Christian feminist knows that God designed men with all of the humanity, compassion, integrity, strength, and tenderness that he designed women with. Christian feminists reject the low bar society sets for men. Feminists believe men have the full capacity to make choices that oppose patriarchy—choices that are not centered in a hunger for control or in abusing women to maintain that control. Just as Jesus did, we call men to more. A feminist doesn’t lower the bar—a feminist raises it. We don’t excuse toxic, life-destroying behavior from men. We don’t say “boys will be boys,” as if that’s all men can amount to.
<idle musing>
Amen and amen!
</idle musing>

Let the apocalypse begin!

We have to take into account the circumstances under which it [apocalypticism] originated. Then and now, they emanated from a deep uncertainty about the signs of the times that is counteracted by exact calculation of the days until the end. Much more interesting than the calculations themselves are their causes and the self-critical view of one’s own past, which—at least in ancient Judaism—arose out of the calculation of history. Both saved Jewish apocalypticism from overestimating human possibilities and from establishing a theocratic state. Like all the “pious” (Hasidim) of this period, apocalyptic thinkers were fundamentalists. Fundamentalism, however, does not necessarily need to have a violent streak.—The Prophets of Israel, pages 86–87

<idle musing>
So, does that mean we should see a rise in apocalyptic thought in the U.S.? Oh, wait, we already have! : (
</idle musing>

Social media needs to adopt this motto!

Wise are those who restrain their talking; people with understanding are coolheaded. Fools who keep quiet are deemed wise; those who shut their lips are smart. Prov 17:27–28 (CEB)

Friday, November 18, 2016

It's in the timing

There is an intrinsic link between the course of the heavenly bodies, the divine order of the cosmos, and the order on earth. This is especially true for the cult, where heaven and earth meet. Considering this, it is understandable why Antiochus IV’s attack on the cult (cf. Dan 7:25) was seen as reaching for the stars (cf. Dan 8:10–11) and why there was such a debate about questions concerning the calendar in 1 Enoch and in the many writings from Qumran.—The Prophets of Israel, page 86

Thursday, November 17, 2016

What about Daniel?

It is more or less a matter of taste whether or not one wants to use the term “apocalyptic” for Aramaic Daniel. In any case, Dan 7 and the corresponding supplements to Dan 2 constitute a move toward eschatology. Eschatology is a prerequisite for Jewish apocalypticism but is not identical with it. It is, however, typical of apocalyptic thought that it uses various material and traditions to contemplate Israel’s fate within the context of universal history.—The Prophets of Israel, pages 82–83

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

We're still waiting

The notion of the disappearance of prophecy coincides with the end of literary production in the prophetic books during the Hellenistic period. The tradition itself draws the line in the Persian period. The latest dates refer to the building of the temple under Darius and the two prophets Haggai and Zechariah (cf. Ezra 5:1; 6:14). After them, only Malachi as well as Ezra and Nehemiah are seen as replete with the prophetic or Mosaic spirit. Everyone else is a “false prophet.” This demarcation, however, does not reflect a feeling of inferiority with respect to the older tradition but instead a certain consciousness of living at the end of time. After the change from the Persian period to the Hellenistic period, the authors of the prophetic books expected the end of the world. The closure of prophecy and the compilation of the tradition in the prophetic corpus helped to provide self-clarification and orientation for the pious as they faced the eschatological age.—The Prophets of Israel, page 79

<idle musing>
We're still waiting for the eschaton, but Messiah has come!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Covenant and prophecy

The prophetic tradition had its origin in the crisis and breakdown of the usual cultic relationship between YHWH and his worshipers. In the entire tradition of the Hebrew Bible, this rupture triggered reflection on this relationship and on the question of how it would be possible to restore it. One fruit of this reflection was the idea of the “covenant” YHWH makes with Israel by grace alone: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” How the covenant is spelled out in detail differs.—The Prophets of Israel, page 77

And they're off!

I'm leaving for the Annual Meeting of ASOR. Hopefully, this will be an uneventful trip, unlike last year, where it took me 18 hours! I could have driven faster.

I'm driving to Duluth, catching a flight to Minneapolis/St. Paul, and then a flight to San Antonio. ASOR starts tomorrow evening and then AAR/SBL will begin on Saturday. I fly home on Tuesday, but will stay overnight in Duluth. I'm not a fan of driving Highway 61 after midnight—there are way too many deer. I'm a bit gun shy after hitting one two years ago. So, another night on the road.

See some of you in San Antonio!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Prophecy as revelation

The truly critical historians, however, take into account the fact that our contemporary ideas of historical truth were not those held by ancient writers or readers. Above all, they know that the truth of revelation cannot be verified or falsified on a historical basis, whatever its standards. They will reserve their judgment and confine themselves to the claims of the prophetic literature. The literature’s claim that it is the revelation of God’s word is understood and explained in its historical context where, as we have seen, the problems of historicity had not been raised.—The Prophets of Israel, pages 34–35

<idle musing>
</idle musing>

Thought/Psalm of the day

A word for today from Bible Gateway

Psalm 120

A pilgrimage song.[a]

120 I cried out to the Lord when I was in trouble
    (and he answered me):
Lord, deliver me[b] from lying lips
    and a dishonest tongue!”
What more will be given to you,
    what more will be done to you,
    you dishonest tongue?
Just this:[c] a warrior’s sharpened arrows,
    coupled with burning coals from a wood[d] fire!
Oh, I’m doomed
    because I have been an immigrant in Meshech,
    because I’ve made my home among Kedar’s tents.
I’ve lived far too long
    with people who hate peace.
I’m for peace,
    but when I speak, they are for war.


  1. Psalm 120:1 Or song of ascents or song of going up (that is, to Jerusalem); cf Ps 122:4. The heading is found in every psalm from Ps 120 to Ps 134.
  2. Psalm 120:2 Or my soul; also in 120:6
  3. Psalm 120:4 Heb lacks this.
  4. Psalm 120:4 Or the gorse or broom tree