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Archive for June, 2005

U2 and Africa

29th June 2005

I am a huge fan of the Irish rock band U2. I realize this confession may make me a pop-culture Philistine in some biblio-blogger’s eyes — at least compared to the regular postings on Mozart, Bach, etc. by Jim West, Joe Cathay, and Michael Pahl (among other blogging luminaries). Be that as it may, I can say without qualification that U2 is my favourite band (there are many in second place). From their very first album Boy (1980) to their latest release How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (2004), I like all of their music. I have even appreciated their transformations throughout the years, including their Achtung Baby/Pop/Zooropa phase (which, BTW, I thought was a brilliant exposé of the superficiality of popular culture). I regularly use music, lyrics, and videos from U2 songs in my lectures as well as my sermons. Songs such as “Wake Up Dead Man” (Pop 1997) and “Yahweh” (Atomic Bomb 2004) are great examples of modern laments, while “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” and “Walk On” (both from All that You Can’t Leave Behind 2000) are great expressions of (Christian) hope.

Perhaps more than anything else, however, I have appreciated U2′s prophetic voice and their ability to raise people’s social consciousness through their music. Songs such as “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” (War 1983; my favourite version is in the 1988 Rattle and Hum film), “Bullet the Blue Sky” (The Joshua Tree 1987), and “Love And Peace Or Else” (Atomic Bomb 2004) all convey a message that the world needs to hear. More than that, however, is the fact that the band also consistently backs up their words with actions. What compelled me to blog on U2 was the news story that U2 is going to be donating over six million euros to help fight poverty in Africa. Well done, boys! (Hopefully their generosity will be a model for all of us, including our over-paid “celebrities”)

UPDATE: In mentioning the musical tastes of other biblio-bloggers, I failed to note Ed Cook’s posts on Bob Dylan. (I also like Bob Dylan, though here I am showing my age since I know him more from his Travelling Willbury’s days!

Posted in Popular Culture, U2 | Comments Off

War, Qohelet, and Ken Ristau’s Position

27th June 2005

I had written this response to Ken Ristau’s post on “Guns and the Bible,” but his comments do not to appear to be working, so I thought I would post it as an independent blog entry.

First, in regards to Ken’s appeal to Qohelet, I would argue that the list of 14 antitheses in chapter three are not presented as things that are all good or proper. In fact, the list alternates between what is desirable (birth, healing, peace, etc.) and undesirable (death, killing, war, etc.). But the point of the entire list is to show the hebel ‏הֲבֵל or absurdity of human existence “under heaven.” All of these things happen outside of human control and because everything is determined, there is no profit in human toil. Verse 11 is the key to the interpretation of this passage. The first phrase emphasizes the fact that God determines the time for everything, ‏ אֶת־הַכֹּל עָשָׂ֖ה יָפֶה בְעִתּוֹ “He brings everything to pass precisely at his time” (Note that I took referent of the possessive pronoun on “time” as God). The rest of the verse highlights the absurdity of human existence: while there is a time for everything, only God knows the timing: God has “put ‏הָעֹלָם in their hearts, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” The times are set and there is nothing that we can do about it. This unpleasant conclusion is that God has played a trick on all of us. He has implanted in us an awareness that of our inability to know. Our only compensation is that we can enjoy the good time — though note that even here it is a gift controlled by God. I don’t think that this list can be used to justify any human actions, whether the decision to enter into a war or to go dancing.

Second, in regards to Ken’s use of “just, right, and good” to describe killing and war, perhaps here our difference is more of semantics, though I am not sure. I object to ever describing war as “just, right, and/or good.” Sadly, war is a much too frequent reality in this radically fallen world, but that doesn’t mean it is ever good. War is a manifestation of evil and no matter what noble reasons one may have for waging war, the evil of war will pervade all who participate. A prime example of this would be World War II. If any war could be deemed a “justifiable” war, I would think it would be the one. That being said, the war in the Asia-Pacific theatre ended up with the U.S. dropping atomic bombs on civilian targets — which I would find difficult to ever consider “just, right, and good.” Thus, while war is a reality and perhaps even necessary for a nation to engage in once all other options have been exhausted, it is never a “good” option. If this is “quibbling” forgive me; I believe it is an important distinction.

(As a postscript I want to note that Ken and I are good friends, and remain good friends even when we disagree politically. In fact, I have to admit that I quite enjoy a heated debate every once and a while)

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In Memory of Prof. Nahum M. Sarna (1923-2005)

24th June 2005

It was with some sadness that I read the news of Nahum Sarna’s death today (23 June 2005) on the Biblical Studies email list. Professor Sarna was former Chair in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and Dora Golding Professor of Biblical Studies at Brandeis University. He was the author of many excellent scholarly and more popular volumes on the Psalms, Genesis, and Exodus, as well as editor and contributor of the JSP Bible Commentary. In his lifetime he made an amazing contribution to biblical studies and his insightful analysis and commentary will be missed, though will live on in his publications and the many individuals who had the privilege of studying with him.

I personally really appreciated his work on the book of Psalms and Genesis.

Here is a brief bibliography of his more significant books:

  • Sarna, Nahum M. Studies in Biblical Interpretation. JPS Scholars of Distinction Series.
    Jewish Publication Society, 2000. [An excellent collection of nearly thirty essays by Prof. Sarna on Torah, the Psalms, Prophets and Writings, and Biblical History.]

  • Sarna, Nahum M. On the Book of Psalms: Exploring the Prayers of Ancient Israel.
    New Edition. Schocken, 1995. [A sensitive and rigorous exploration of the Psalter.]

  • Sarna, Nahum M. Exodus: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation.
    JPS Torah Commentary. Jewish Publication Society, 1991. [An awesome commentary on the book of Exodus]

  • Sarna, Nahum M. Genesis: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation.
    JPS Torah Commentary. Jewish Publication Society, 1989. [An awesome commentary on the book of Genesis]

  • Sarna, Nahum M. Understanding Genesis.
    New Edition. Schocken, 1970. [A great little volume on the book of Genesis.]

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Jesus in the Spring Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

22nd June 2005

The Spring 2005 issue of the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture has now been posted, and is available online here. Of potential interest to Jesus movie buffs is an article by Tammie Kennedy entitled "(Re)Presenting Mary Magdalene: A Feminist Reading of The Last Temptation of Christ." There is also a review of Richard Walsh’s book Reading the Gospels in the Dark: Portrayals of Jesus in Film (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2003) by Robert Cooke.

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Dines, Septuagint Reviewed in RBL

20th June 2005

Jim West over at Biblical Theology Blog noted some of the Hebrew Bible books in the latest Review of Biblical Literature, though he missed noting a significant book on the Septuagint:

Jennifer Dines, The Septuagint (T & T Clark, 2004).
Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
Reviewed by Frank Shaw

This volume by Dines is the most recent introduction published on the LXX. It is geared to more advanced students than Jobes and Silva’s Invitation to the Seputagint and has the added advantage of being able to interact with their work as well as Fernendez Marcos’s The Septuagint in Context: Introduction to the Greek Version of the Bible.

For more discussion of these and other works on the Septuagint, see my Resources Relating to the LXX page.

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Recent Volume on Psalms Scholarship

20th June 2005

This massive tome on Psalms scholarship has recently come into my possession:

Peter W. Flint and Patrick D. Miller, eds., with the assistance of A. Brunell and R. Roberts, The Book of Psalms: Composition and Reception (Vetus Testamentum Supplements 99; Formation and Interpretation of Old Testament Literature 4; Leiden/Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2005). Pp. xx + 680. Cloth, 179.00, US$241.00. ISBN: 90 04 13642 8. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com

While I will be writing a review of this work for the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, I thought I would preview it here first to whet your appetites (and give you time to save your money so you can afford to purchase it!).

This volume, edited by Peter Flint and Patrick Miller, is the most recent in the “Formation and Interpretation of Old Testament Literature” series produced by Brill. This series examines the prehistory, contents, themes, reception and interpretation of select books of the Hebrew Bible. Much in this volume does just that, though perhaps the most glaring omission that I noticed as soon as I perused the table of contents is the complete lack of any chapter on the Dead Sea Scrolls (there are, however, two chapters on the Psalms in the Syriac tradition!). I personally do not understand how a volume on the composition and reception of the Psalter can not have a chapter devoted to the significance of the so-called Qumran Psalms Scroll (11QPs-a). This lacuna is all the more obvious considering that one of the editors of the volume is Peter Flint!

This volume contains a number of excellent essays on various aspects of Psalms scholarship, many by seasoned Psalms scholars like Broyles, Brueggemann, Gerstenberger, Koch, McCann, Seybold, Wilson, and Zenger.

The volume is divided into five major sections. Here is a listing of the esays:

Part One: General Topics

Klaus Koch, “Königspsalmen und ihr ritueller. Hintergrund: Erwägungen zu Ps 89, 20–38 and Ps 20 und ihrer Vorstufen” (9-52); Rolf Rendtorff, “The Psalms of David: David in the Psalms” (53-64).

Part Two: Commentary on or Interpretation of Specific Psalms
Adele Berlin, “Psalms and the Literature of Exile: Psalms 137, 44, 69, and 78″ (65-86); David Noel Freedman and David Miano, “Non-Acrostic Alphabetic Psalms” (87-96); J. J. M. Roberts, “Mowinckel’s Enthronement Festival: A Review” (97-115); Beat Weber, “Zum sogennanten “Stimmungsumschwung” in Psalm 13″ (116-138); Nancy L. deClaissé-Walford, “An Intertextual Reading of Psalms 22, 23, and 24″ (139-152); Dennis Pardee, “On Psalm 29: Structure and Meaning” (153-183); John S. Kselman, “Double Entendre in Psalm 59″ (184-189); Richard J. Clifford, S.J., “Psalm 90: Wisdom Meditation or Communal Lament?” (190-205); Michael L. Barré, “The Shifting Focus of Psalm 101″ (206-223); Sung-Hun Lee, “Lament and the Joy of Salvation in the Lament Psalms” (224-247); Craig C. Broyles, “Psalms Concerning the Liturgies of Temple Entry” (248-287); James W. Watts, “Biblical Psalms Outside the Psalter” (288-309).

Part Three: The Psalter as Book, Including Smaller Collections
Harry P. Nasuti, “The Interpretive Significance of Sequence and Selection in the Book of Psalms” (311-339); J. Clinton McCann, Jr., “The Shape of Book I of the Psalter and the Shape of Human Happiness” (340-348); Michael Goulder, “The Social Setting of Book II of the Psalter” (349-367); Klaus D. Seybold, “Zur Geschichte des vierten Davidpsalters (Pss 138-145)” (368-390); Gerald H. Wilson, “King, Messiah, and the Reign of God: Revisiting the Royal Psalms and the Shape of the Psalter” (391-406); Erich Zenger, “Theophanien des Königsgottes JHWH: Transformationen von Psalm 29 in den Teilkompositionen Ps 28-30 und Ps 93-100″ (407-442).

Part Four: Textual History and Reception in Judaism and Christianity
Albert Pietersma, “Septuagintal Exegesis and the Superscriptions of the Greek Psalter” (443-475); Moshe Bernstein, “A Jewish Reading of Psalms: Some Observations on the Method of the Aramaic Targum” (476-504); Robert J. V. Hiebert, “The Place of the Syriac Versions in the Textual History of the Psalter” (505-536); Harry F. Van Rooy, “The Psalms in Early Syriac Tradition” (537-550); Craig A. Evans, “Praise and Prophecy in the Psalter and in the New Testament” (551-579).

Part Five: Theology of the Psalter
Walter Brueggemann, “The Psalms in Theological Use: On Incommensurability and Mutuality” (581-602); Erhard S. Gerstenberger, “Theologies in the Book of Psalms” (603-625).

The volume includes five helpful indices: Scripture, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, Other Ancient Writings, and Modern Authors.

Posted in Old Testament, Psalms | Comments Off

A Tribute to Professor Hans Peter Ristau

18th June 2005

This last Thursday I had the privilege of attending a retirement party for one of colleagues, Prof. Hans Peter Ristau. What was special about this event is that Prof. Ristau was not only my colleague, but also my former undergraduate professor and a big reason why I followed the career path I did.

Peter Ristau was Professor of Old Testament at North American Baptist College (now Taylor University College) for some 33 years. When I first enrolled at NABC some 20 years ago, I knew little about the Bible, and pretty much nothing about the Old Testament. During my time as a student at NABC I took as many courses from Prof. Ristau as I could. These courses expanded my knowledge of the Old Testament, encouraged me to examine the Hebrew Bible from a number of different perspectives, and — most significantly — instilled in me a deep love of the Old Testament and a desire to make its study my lifelong goal.

I have many fond memories of Prof. Ristau’s courses. His courses were challenging — especially for a generation raised on sound-bites and TV. His tests were fair, though comprehensive (I will forever remember Old Testament personalities such as Shamgar, Abishag, Ehud, Shear-Jashub, and many others). I particularly recall his overheads — they were literally filled with valuable data so there was hardly a space left blank with little or no margins. His courses were definitely not for the faint of heart and they developed quite the reputation. Significantly, in his courses I was introduced to some scholars who would be formative for my early understanding of the Bible such as Brevard S. Childs and John Goldingay.

Outside of the classroom Prof. Ristau was always accessible to students — at least if you came between the hours of 6 am and 3 pm (he was known for his early mornings!). And it seems whenever you came to his office he would be pouring over one of the many books scattered on his desk — but significantly he would put the book down and give you his undivided attention while you were there (see the picture from my 1985-86 yearbook above).

I also appreciated Prof. Ristau’s friendship after I graduated from NABC and moved on to further studies. Whenever I would come back to Edmonton to visit family I would make sure to drop by NABC and visit. It was with some surprise in 1997 when I was contacted by the College and invited to apply for the position of Old Testament professor. It was only then that I heard about Prof. Ristau’s failing health and his decision to go on long-term disability. I ended up getting the position and following in his footsteps as professor of Old Testament at NABC. So for the last eight years we were colleagues and even though Prof. Ristau was not able to teach during those years, we continued to stay in contact. His official retirement occurred this last academic year.

Now that he is retired, Prof. Ristau can actually come back and teach. I am looking forward to this upcoming academic year when he’ll teach an introductory course on the Prophets at Taylor.

I should be quick to add that I am only one of countless students whose lives have been influenced by Peter Ristau. I am also not the only student who Peter has inspired to do further studies in the Old Testament. Dr. Bill Anderson studied with Peter and went on to doctoral studies in Hebrew Bible at University of Glasgow. Dr. John Harvey similarly studied Old Testament at the University of Toronto. I should also mention his son, Ken Ristau, who was one of my students at Taylor and is currently in the midst of doctoral studies in Hebrew Bible at Pennsylvania State University under the supervision of Dr. Gary Knoppers.

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Bravo for Batman Begins

16th June 2005

I went to see Batman Begins last night and was suitably impressed, to say the least. The look of the film was stunning and reminded me a bit of Blade Runner. The special effects were awesome but not overwhelming. The cast — led by Christian Bale (of American Psycho infamy) as Bruce Wayne/Batman and including other fine actors such as Michael Caine (Alfred), Liam Neeson (Henri Ducard), Katie Holmes (Rachel Dawes), Gary Oldman (James Gordon), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), and Rutger Hauer (Richard Earle) — was magnificent. But the best part of the film was the actual script. I know it’s hard to believe that an action film would have a great script, but it does. I could say more, but suffice it to say that Batman Begins is everything that I hoped Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith would be. Perhaps Christopher Nolan (director and co-screenwriter) and David S. Goyer (co-screenwriter) should write a book on Character Development and Dialog for Dummies and give George Lucas a complementary autographed copy.

Speaking of Star Wars, Jeffrey Overstreet has a hilarious dialog between Darth Vader and Batman on his Looking Closer Webpage (“Hey there, Dark Lord!” “Greetings, Dark Knight! Nice cape.” “You too! Capes are cool, no matter what the Incredibles tell you.”), as well as a very insightful review. Peter Chattaway also has some insightful comments on his FilmChat blog, and Ken Ristau’s musings on anduril.ca are also worth a look.

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A Jewish Perspective on Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ

8th June 2005

Mark Goodacre notes on his NT Weblog a recent article on Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) that examines the response to the film from a Jewish perspective. The article, “The Passion by Mel Gibson: Enthusiastic Response in the Catholic World, Restrained Criticism by the Jews,” by Sergio I. Minerbi appears in the online journal Jewish Political Studies Review 17:1-2 (Spring 2005).

The article provides a much needed Jewish perspective on The Passion, highlighting the uncritical way that Christians (including evangelicals but especially the Catholic Church, according to Minerbi) embraced the film and the lack of significant opposition from Jews.

I tried to have a variety of perspectives represented in the public lecture I organized on the film last year (14 April 2004) entitled, “Mel’s Passion: An Analysis of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ from Evangelical, Catholic, and Jewish Perspectives.” Rabbi David Kunin of Beth Shalom Synagogue, Edmonton, presented a Jewish perspective and Rev. David Norman, O.F.M., Professor of Systematic Theology at Newman Theological College, Edmonton, presented a catholic perspective, while yours truly gave an “evangelical” assessment. The three lectures (in MP3 format) are available for free download from the Public Lectures section of my website.

Posted in Bible & Film, Film, Jesus Films | Comments Off

Snow in Sheol? (or Macs with Intel Inside!)

7th June 2005

First, I have to say, I love my new Macintosh. Mac OS X (Tiger) is an elegant operating system and my dual processors are quite impressive on the speed side of things. That being said, I was surprised to hear that Apple is switching to Intel (OK, breathe deeply now).

I watched Steve Jobs’ entertaining keynote address at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (you can see it here). He talked about a coming “third transition” for the Mac and announced that Apple will be moving to Intel processors (the first transition was from 68k to PowerPC Macs and the second from OS 9 to OS X).

Why would Steve do this? It seems that the primary reason is performance. Projections looking at power consumption (performance per watt) shows the PowerPC chip stalling at around 15 versus Intel projections reaching 70. Whether you like it or not, starting next year Apple will introduce the first Intel Macs and complete the transition by the end of 2007. It’s interesting to note that this isn’t a sudden change for Apple. It actually has been in the works for the last five years as MacOS X is cross-platform by design.

So while it may be snowing in sheol,* it appears the future of the Macintosh is pretty hot.

For some interesting views on this announcement, see the blog entries by Rubén Gómez, Ken Ristau, and Joe Weaks.

*Just in case you are wondering, the term sheol (‏‏שׁאל) is one of the Old Testament terms used for the abode of the dead. It’s not the same as the Christian idea of hell as both the righteous and wicked go down to sheol. Rather it’s a shadowy existence where everyone goes after death.

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