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Archive for September, 2005

The Move is On…

29th September 2005

My blog has been quiet lately, due in part to the beginning of semester crunch but more recently due to the fact that we take possession of our new house tomorrow.

Suffice it to say that our current house is in a bit of disarray with boxes and piles everywhere! Everyone is pretty excited about the new home. I’m happy that I will actually have some pretty neat space for my home office and library and my kids are estactic that they will have their own rooms. All of us are happy that we will have a bit more space and a bigger backyard (complete with fire pit!). Here is a picture of our new house:

There will be a brief interruption in internet service, so I’m not sure how much blogging I will be doing the next few days. I have a couple posts in draft form that I may finish tonight, but I can’t promise anything!

OK, time to get back to packing…

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Move over Atkins… the “Jesus Diet” is Here!

29th September 2005

I came across a reference to the “Jesus Diet” while reading the comments from Ed Cook’s blog entry on “Fat Yanks” and I couldn’t believe it!

The “Jesus diet” consists of (1) no pork; (2) a lot of fish and kosher foods generally; (3) “four legged meat” only occasionally; (4) lots and lots of bread (no low carb diets for Jesus!); (5) fruits, vegetables, grains, etc.; (6) good physical condition; and (7) [ample amounts of] beer and diluted wine.

I personally could lose some weight, so I was thinking I should cash in on the trend and start my own “biblical” diet craze. I was thinking about the “John the Baptist Diet” where you can eat all the locusts and honey you can handle. Or what about the “Ezekiel Dung Cooking Diet”? I imagine that if you had to cook all your meals over human dung, you would eat less! How about the “Holy Land Milk and Honey Diet”?

As you can see, my biblical diet craze still requires some more thought. I’ll have to ponder it over some beer and wings…

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GodBlog Conference at Biola

29th September 2005

The first-ever “GodBlog” conference will be held at Biola University on October 13, 2005.

The conference will feature some blogosphere heavyweights including syndicated talk show host Hugh Hewitt, author of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation that’s Changing Your World, whose personal blog draws more than 40,000 viewers per day. According to promotional material, GodBlogCon is designed to mobilize the Christian blogging community and to provide opportunities for Christian bloggers to think strategically about their role within the religious and political blogospheres.

Sounds interesting, though I would personally rather get together with other bibliobloggers during SBL if I had the choice. Unfortuantly, I will not be at SBL this year :-(

Source: Newswise

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Hebrew Bible Related Reviews from RBL (26 September 2005)

26th September 2005

The latest Review of Biblical Literature is now out and has some interesting reviews relating to the Hebrew Bible and Dead Sea Scrolls. Especially noteworthy considering the recent interest in historiography among bibliobloggers is a favourable review of Kofoed’s Text and History: Historiography and the Study of the Biblical Text. The review itself is fair and highlights some of the weaknesses of Kofoed’s work. That being said, that Kofoed’s work “represents a substantial effort toward ending the impasse that has gripped the debate over the use of biblical texts in the study of the history of ancient Israel” is a bit ambitious. As evidenced in the recent discussion on the Biblical Studies discussion list, the impasse is still alive and well. Also worthy of mention are the reviews of Vermes’s recent work, which is a collection of his essays on the New Testament and Qumran.

  • Carol M. Kaminski,From Noah to Israel: Realization of the Primaeval Blessing After the Flood. Reviewed by Martin Leuenberger
  • Jens Bruun Kofoed,Text and History: Historiography and the Study of the Biblical Text. Reviewed by D. Matthew Stith
  • Jack R. Lundbom,Jeremiah 37-52. Reviewed by John Engle
  • Thomas Römer, Jean-Daniel Macchi, and Christophe Nihan, eds., Introduction a l’Ancien Testament. Reviewed by Andre Lemaire
  • Louis Stulman, Jeremiah. Reviewed by Carolyn Sharp
  • Nancy Calvert-Koyzis, Paul, Monotheism and the People of God: The Significance of Abraham Traditions for Early Judaism and Christianity. Reviewed by Chris Smith
  • David T. Runia and Gregory E. Sterling, eds., The Studia Philonica Annual: Studies in Hellensitic Judaism: Volume XVI 2004. Reviewed by Michele Murray
  • James M. Scott, On Earth as in Heaven: The Restoration of Sacred Time and Sacred Space in the Book of Jubilees. Reviewed by Meir Bar-Ilan
  • Geza Vermes, Scrolls, Scriptures and Early Christianity. Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas and Thomas Kraus.
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Histor(iograph)y and the Hebrew Bible – The Nature and Function of Histor(iograph)y

24th September 2005

This is the second in a series on “Histor(iograph)y and the Hebrew Bible” that I will be doing (at least until I get distracted by a shiny object). My first post, in which I traced some developments in the theoretical understandings of historiography, may be found here.

Jim West and History

In this post I was to expand a bit on the nature and function of historiography, but before I do that I want to respond to some comments from Jim West’s response to my first entry. Jim concludes his entry with the following:

There is, in other words, a significant difference between the work of the historian and the work of the theologian. The attempt to make the tradents of the Hebrew Bible into modern sounding historians is a mishearing of the highest order.

First, if my first post gave the impression that I was making the tradents of the Hebrew Bible into “modern sounding historians” that was not my intent. I would in fact agree with Jim that the biblical historians should not be equated with “modern” historians. That being said, I would insist that the writers of select books of the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Samuel, Kings, and even Chronicles) were bona fide ancient historians. They wrote their histories according to ancient historiographic conventions. So I wasn’t trying to make them into “modern” historians, but I was trying to affirm that they were “ancient” historians. And my conclusion is one shared by a wide range of scholars of the Hebrew Bible.

Second, I was surprised by Jim’s identification with the “history as factual representation” model of historiography. Recent historiographic and hermeneutical theory has (in my mind at least) deconstructed the notion of the “objective” historian who only “presents the facts.” The ideology of the modern historian is evident at every turn: in the presuppositions brought to the task, in the questions asked, in the evaluation of sources, in the emplotment and identification of cause and effect, in the rhetoric employed when writing, etc. In a later post Jim characterizes the work of Joe Cathay and Ken Ristau as “pre-modern historiography.” While I know that does not accurately describe Ken’s work and I am doubtful that it represents Joe (though I am not as sure since I do not know Joe as well), Jim comes across sounding very “modern” (i.e., 19th century “modern”). I would characterize my own approach as (for lack of a better term) “postmodern.”

The Nature and Function of Histor(iograph)y

In terms of understanding “historiography as interpretation” I personally find Meir Sternberg’s The Poetics of Biblical Narrative: Ideological Literature and the Drama of Reading (Bloomington: University of Indiana press, 1987) extremely helpful. Sternberg argues that biblical narrative should be seen as a literary “complex,” for the reason that it has a multifaceted nature: “functionally speaking, it is regulated by a set of three principles: ideological, aesthetic, and historiographic” (41).

These sum of these three “principles,” therefore, defines the sum nature of biblical narratives:

  • Ideological. The ideology (or theology) of the historian guides the selection and evaluation of the material and provides the overall perspective. For this reason I would maintain that there is no such thing as unbiased, scientific history writing. All historians have an ideology, whether it is formed by their politics or theology. (I should note that I tend to favour Geertz’s definition of ideology as “a schematic image of social order.”)
  • Aesthetic. All history writing is culturally encoded by an appropriate rhetoric and literary devices and strategies taken from their culture (e.g., literary forms, traits, and strategies such as characterization, emplotment, organization, and use of dialogue).
  • Historiographic or antiquarian. This is the historian’s concern to represent the past. This is exemplified in the biblical text by frequent aetiologies, genealogies, and “metahistorical references” (directives to remember the past, so as to pass on knowledge for future generations), among other things.

Sternberg, in attempting to describe the relationship between these three separate “principles”, argues that they fit together in a symbiotic relationship: historiography “mediates between ideology and aesthetics,” while ideology and aesthetics “meet to shape history, and with it the narrative as a whole.” His conclusion is that “the three principles merge into a single poetics, where their interests and formations so coalesce that they can hardly be told apart in the finished message.” In other words, Sternberg clearly sees the combination of these three elements as constituting a greater whole than the separate parts — thus providing a model for understanding literature (e.g., biblical narrative) as historiography, while also acknowledging its artistic and ideological qualities.

So, what is histor(iograph)y? I would argue that historiography is a narrative that combines these three principles — ideological, aesthetic, and antiquarian — in order to present a coherent representation of the past according to accepted conventions.

These three principles — ideological, aesthetic, and antiquarian factors — must be considered when reading any history writing. These three principles can be discerned in all historiography, whether premodern, modern, or post-modern. In premodern times the first two elements were given prominence, in modern times the third element was often priviledged, while today I would hope that historians would recognize all three elements. It is a false antithesis to suggest that because a text is ideological, theological, literary, or artistic, that it therefore does not qualify as historiographic. (In fact, I wish that modern historians took the asthetic nature of history writing more seriously since then we would not have such boring books to read! :-)

Note carefully what I am not saying: I am not saying that all historians are created equal, or that all works of historiography are equally useful. There are bad historians and bad historiographies. The work of the contemporary historian of the ancient world is to sift through the works of the ancient historians and, while taking into consideration their ideology and asthetics, come to some conclusions in regard to their historiographic value. More on this later.

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“History,” “Historiography,” and “Historical” – Some Parameters to the Debate

23rd September 2005

I’ve been wanting to weigh-in with some of my own thoughts in the debate on historiography and historical method that Joe Cathay, Jim West, Ken Ristau, and Christopher Heard have been having of late, but haven’t had the time. Now it’s Friday night, my wife and kids are in bed, and while there are other things I should be doing, I thought that I would contribute to the discussion.

From reading the posts, I think that it would be good to back up the debate a bit and set some parameters and definitions. As I see it, there are some interrelated — yet significantly different — questions being bantered about:

  1. Is the Bible (better: some books of the Bible) historiographic, i.e., would some books of the Bible be classified as historiography in the ancient Near East?
  2. What does ancient historiography look like? How does it function?
  3. How would modern scholars employ ancient historiographic texts if writing a modern historiography of an ancient nation like Israel.

I will discuss all (or at least some!) of these questions in future posts. What I would like to do in this post is explore the simple question, “What is Histor(iograph)y?”

What is Histor(iograph)y?

In order to answer the first question, “what is history?” (or better framed as “what is historiography?”), we have to do a bit of history!

Generally speaking, contemporary thoughts on historiography are shaped by the change of views regarding the subject that occurred at the end of the Enlightenment. By the 19th century, the professionalization of historical studies led to a break with the rhetorical tradition, which saw the role of historical writing was to instruct the present by looking at the past. In contrast to this, a new view of historiography emerged which stressed the reliance upon — and “objective” investigation of — principle sources only. The goal of this new historical method was “merely to show how it actually happened” (G. Iggers, “The Professionalization of Historical Studies and the Guiding Assumptions of Modern Historical Thought,” A Companion to Western Historical Thought [Blackwell, 2002] 226).

This view, by definition, negated the validity of any theological, ideological or literary aspect in historical presentation. For example, Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886), the founder of “scientific” history, defined historiography as factual representation: a “strict presentation of facts, no matter how conditional and unattractive they might be, is undoubtedly the supreme law” of the “new” historiography. Under this definition, the goal of history writing is the “objective and scientific” presentation of what happened in the past and why it happened.

It was this definition of historiography (which I will call the factual representation model) that led other 19th century biblical scholars to question whether anything in the Bible could truly be considered “history.” For example, Wilhelm Vatke (1806-82) claimed:

The Hebrews did not at all raise themselves to the standpoint of proper historical contemplation, and there is no book of the Old Testament, however much it may contain material that is otherwise objectively historical, that deserves the name of true historiography.

Indeed, under the factual representation model of historiography, it would be hard to argue any different since the historical writings contained in the Bible are by no means “objective” or “scientific.”

Histor(iograph)y as Interpretation

I would contend that the definition of historiography as factual representation is inadequate not only for ancient history writings such as we find in the Bible, but also for modern history writings.

While all historiography is a recording of facts — factual representation — it is much more than that. A historian never just presents the facts; they always interpret the evidence according to their ideology, and then when they reproduce it they encode it according to the norms and customs of their times. Hayden White notes

Those historical propositions which are offered as mere descriptions of events, personalities, structures, and processes in the past are always interpretations of those events, personalities, and so forth? (“Rhetoric and History,” Theories of History [University of California, 1978] 7)

White argues that the 19th and 20th century historians who claimed objectivity and wrote “scientifically” were just as ideologically driven as any other historian. The difference is that under the history as factual representation model, historians employed a different rhetoric, a mode of discourse which was dispassionate and seemingly “scientific.” According to White, such historians exemplify “the mastery of the rhetoric of anti-rhetoric” (10).

White dismisses the presupposition that historical and artistic cannot coexist in literature. The presence of literary or ideological traits does not, in and of itself, preclude the identification of such a work as “historiography.” In fact, he would argue that all historiography must contain an “irreducible ideological component,” since by definition, the creation of a work of history — a coherent presentation of the past — must be culturally encoded. All historiography is culturally encoded, that is, it uses the cultural (religious or secular) images, symbols, and literary forms of the period or group. The fact that all historiography is culturally encoded does not disqualify it as historiography.

The perceived problem that many scholars from the 18th century to the present have with the historiography in the Bible is primarily with its ideology and cultural encoding. John Goldingay hits the nail on the head with this assessment:

I think part of the problem is that we are not really reconciled to the fact that the Israelite historians, like their ancient colleagues elsewhere, practice their art in a way so different from that of our post-enlightenment age; although of course the nature of the differences is well understood, at least at a scholarly level, we are so wedded to our modern way of writing history that the ancient way cannot appear to us as perhaps an alternative way and not just a primitive and inferior one (“That You May Know,” 81).

The Bible is a foreign and ancient book. When approaching the historiographic books in the Hebrew Bible we have to take into consideration how ancient historiography “works” as well as the different ancient literary conventions and codes it employs. It is to this task that I will return in my next post.

Posted in Historiography, History of Ancient Israel | 1 Comment »

Dogs, Urine, and Bible Translations (On the Importance of Translating Connotative Meaning)

22nd September 2005

Translation Theory 101

All translators agree that the task of translation is to communicate the meaning of the original source language in the target/receptor language (at least I haven’t met one who wanted to obscure the original meaning!). The debate revolves around what linguistic form should be used in translation. Two of the most popular alternatives — which represent two ends of a spectrum — are “formal” and “dynamic” translations. Here is a chart that identifies were many modern translations would fit on the spectrum (it is obviously not exhaustive and represents my ad hoc evaluation).

With formal (“word for word”) translations the syntax and word class of the original language tend to take precedence over that of the target language. Thus, nouns beget nouns, verbs beget verbs, etc. In contrast, dynamic (“sense for sense”) translations restructure the form of the original into the natural syntax and lexicon of the receptor language in a way that preserves the semantic meaning rather than the form of the source. Compare these examples (my dentist especially likes the first one):

  • “I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me,” says the LORD (Amos 4:6 NRSV, JPS, NASB, KJV).
  • “Igave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD (Amos 4:6 NIV, NLT).
  • And he came to the sheepcotes by the way, where was a cave; and Saul went in to cover his feet: and David and his men remained in the sides of the cave (1Sam 24:3 [Heb. v 4] KJV, NJB).
  • He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. (1Sam 24:3 NIV, NRSV, NLT, NASB).

(See here for a discussion of the Hebrew idiom of “covering one’s feet”)

In ancient times, formal translation was dominant (e.g., the majority of the translators of the LXX), while in modern times dynamic translation tends to be favoured. The tension between the two methods is seen in any modern translation — whether of the Bible or not. I was reading a new translation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and the translator highlighted the same tension between formal and dynamic translation. On the one hand the primary purpose was to make Tolstoy readable (dynamic), but she also wanted preserveseve some of Tolstoy’s abrupt style (formal). When it comes right down to it, it is quite rare for a translation to be entirely consistent. Formal translations will unpack some idioms and expressions in the source language using dynamic equivalence while leaving others, and some dynamic translations will employ their theory inconsistently, especially when it comes to a traditional passage.

Denotative and Connotative Meaning

Another significant — and difficult — aspect of translating from one language to another is rendering the connotative meaning of the original. “Connotative” refers to the emotive sense of a word (denotative meaning refers to the referential sense of a word). Connotative meaning recognizes that words have a history and have definite connotations in different cultural contexts. The trick is trying to represent these accurately in translation. A well-know example where most translations fail to convey the connotative meaning of the original is Jesus’ response to his mother at the wedding in Cana:

  • “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” (John 2:4 NRSV, NASB, KJV)
  • “O woman, what have you to do with me?”(John 2:4 RSV)
  • “You must not tell me what to do, woman” (John 2:4 GNB)

In all of these cases it would seem to most English readers that Jesus is giving his Mom some attitude when he addresses her as “woman” (γυνή). In contrast, γυνή appears to be a term of endearment and affection in the first century (cf. Josephus, Ant. 17.74). I would think it would be better for translations to not even translate the word like the NLT, or at the very least add a modifier to help communicate the connotations of the term. This is what the NIV did in its translation: “Dear woman, why do you involve me?”

Dogs, Urine, and Connotative Meaning

OK, now we’re at the passage that I wanted to talk about all along. One Hebrew phrase that I think pretty much all modern translations fail miserably to convey its connotative force is found in 1 Samuel 25:22 and five other times in the Hebrew Bible. Compare the following translations:

  • “So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall” (KJV).
  • “May God do so to the enemies of David, and more also, if by morning I leave as much as one male of any who belong to him” (NASB, NIV, NRSV, NLT, BBE, NAB, NKJV, TEV, etc).

Virtually all modern English translations that I have checked render the Hebrew phrase משתין בקיר (lit. “urinate against the wall”) with “male.” Two exceptions are the ASV which has “man-child” and the NJB which renders the phrase with the rather obscure “manjack” (“manjack” appears to be an emphatic way of saying “all of them”). The phrase occurs with similar contexts of cursing and killing in 1Sam 25:34; 1Kings 14:10, 16:11, 21:21; and 2Kings 9:8.

Many scholars think the term is a vulgar way to refer to male humans who may urinate in public whenever nature calls or young children who would be even less bashful (as the ASV evidently understood it). I think a better understanding is to see it as a derogatory comparison to male dogs who are more than eager to urinate against a wall (or anything else that is close). This appears to be one of the early understandings of the phrase (see the Talmud, Midrash on Samuel, Rashi, etc.) and a fairly popular modern one. Whether or not it is referring to males or comparing them to male dogs, it is clearly a contemptuous, vulgar, and pejorative way to refer to men. Translating it simply as “males” fails to convey the negative connotations of the original Hebrew.

The question remains, why would most modern translations not render this phrase in a way that brings out its connotative sense? I would suggest that this is a case of modern translations — both formal and dynamic — wimping out. You can’t have “urinate” in the Bible, much less “piss”! It’s the same concern for a false sense of propriety that softens the translation of ש×?גל×? in the Hebrew Bible or σκÏ?βαλα in the New Testament, among others. This is just one example of where modern translations soften the biblical text. I think that tendency blurs the distance between the horizon of the text and the horizon of the reader which is a necessary precaution against mis-reading an ancient text. While this is more of a problem for dynamic translations, as can be seen from this example, it also is a problem for more formal translations.

Posted in Humour, Translation Theory | 4 Comments »

Dead Sea Scrolls Debunk Da Vinci Code Once and For All!

20th September 2005

I must of missed this discovery due to how busy I was starting a new semester and everything. It appears that another new Dead Sea Scroll was recently discovered and it puts an end to the spurious claims of The Da Vince Code. I think it’s great that Brown’s book has now been debunked once and for all!

Here is an except of the article:

Translators in Jerusalem have just finished work on another of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This one, known as the Gospel of Peter, covers the time period after the crucifixion and proves many of the allegations of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code to be false.

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Kittel’s Biblical Hebrew: Text and Workbook, Second Edition Vocabulary Database Now Online

20th September 2005

KittelI have updated my database based on the Hebrew vocabulary of Bonnie Pedrotti Kittel, Victoria Hoffer, and Rebecca Abts Wright, Biblical Hebrew: Text and Workbook, Second Edition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005; Buy from | Buy from

While the actual vocabulary has not changed much with the second edition, there are significant changes in how the vocabulary is presented and arranged. The entries for each word are expanded to include various examples of inflected forms (e.g., nouns in construct or with suffixes; verbs in various stems and forms, etc.). In order to facilitate memorization, the words (when appropriate) are now grouped according to their (supposed) etymological root. Thus, for example, עָלָה “go up,” עֹלָה “burnt offering,” עַל “on, upon,” and מַעַל “above” are grouped together. While this is a good move, it also creates a numbering nightmare since cognate terms are all given the same number (in the above example, the words receive the numbers 8, 8a, 8b, and 8c). While it is an improvement on the first edition, the new vocabulary has a number of errors and questionable inclusions, as well as some cases where the supposed roots are debatable.

The database includes all of the vocabulary from the second edition of Kittel, as well as a selection of frequent proper names and places. There are two databases available. The only difference between them is how the words are grouped.

  • Vocabulary Organized by Lessons. This database has the words grouped according to when they are assigned in the lessons in Kittel. The disadvantage of this arrangement is that students will be responsible for anywhere from twenty-four to five words depending on the lesson. It also extends the memorizing of vocabulary throughout the entire textbook. (Lesson 53 is the extra section with proper names and places.)
  • Vocabulary Organized by 20s. Rather than grouping words according to the lessons from Kittel, this database uses the chapter tags to organize the words into groups of twenty words. This allows students to build vocabulary at a constant rate throughout the year and also (depending on how you assign the vocabulary) allows you to finish it earlier in the year allowing more time for review.

The database works with Teknia Flashworks, a cross-platform vocabulary drilling program in which each word in the chosen database is tagged for type (noun, verb, etc.), chapter, and frequency in the biblical text. You may sort the words, for example, by chapter or randomly mix them for review. The software was developed by Teknia Software and William D. Mounce, the author of Basics of Biblical Greek and many other Biblical Greek resources.

The database is available in Windows, Mac OS X and Classic (OS 8.2 through 9.2). For more information and to download the database and program, see my “Resources for Kittel’s Biblical Hebrew: Text and Workbook” Page. (For those interested, I have also updated my “Introductory Hebrew Grammars” page)

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Hebrew Bible Related Reviews from RBL (20 September 2005)

20th September 2005

The latest Review of Biblical Literature is now available. It includes a decent review of Ingrid Hjelm’s Jerusalem’s Rise to Sovereignty: Zion and Gerizim in Competition by biblioblogger Jim West. That Jim enjoyed the work is apparent from his first sentence, though I have to balk at one of his concluding lines: “Those who would date the Hebrew Bible to the Hasmonean era now have a significant weapon in hand with which to wage the ongoing battle over biblical historiography.” I personally find it quite difficult to conceive of the Hebrew Bible undergoing major revision during the Hasmonean era (134-63 BCE) — let alone being written during that period. This is especially considering that most of it was already translated into Greek by that time! (See my “Towards the Date for the Old Greek Psalter,” in R. Hiebert, C. Cox, and P. Gentry (eds.), The Old Greek Psalter: Studies in Honour of Albert Pietersma [JSOTSup 332; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001] 248-276).

Also noteworthy in this issue are two reviews of Walter Brueggemann’s Worship in Ancient Israel: An Essential Guide and two reviews of George J. Brooke’s excellent work, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament.

The reviews are as follows:

  • Walter Brueggemann, Worship in Ancient Israel: An Essential Guide. Reviewed by Thomas Kraus and Baruch A. Levine
  • Sarah J. Dille, Mixing Metaphors: God as Mother and Father in Deutro-Isaiah. Reviewed by Marjo Korpel
  • Ingrid Hjelm, Jerusalem’s Rise to Sovereignty: Zion and Gerizim in Competition. Reviewed by James West
  • Jeremy Corley and Vincent Skemp, eds., Intertextual Studies in Ben Sira and Tobit. Reviewed by Thierry Legrand
  • George J. Brooke, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament. Reviewed by Joerg Frey and Thomas Kraus
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