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Archive for September, 2005

Prayer of Jabez in China!

7th September 2005

The latest edition of the ever-serious online Christian news source Larknews has a “news” story on how Bruce Wilkerson’s little book, The Prayer of Jabez, has devastated China’s house church movement. You can read it for yourself and snicker here.

If you want to listen to a more sober and somewhat academic response to Wilkerson’s Prayer of Jabez (as well as The Bible Code), you can listen to the MP3 of the public lecture I gave at Taylor University College entitled, “Jabez and the Hidden Codes of the Bible: The Use of the Old Testament in Popular Culture” October 24, 2002. The lecture is available on the Public Lecture Archive page.

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Michael Homan on Hurricane Katrina

5th September 2005

I am relieved to report that biblioblogger Michael Homan is safe and sound. His personal report on his experiences riding out hurricane Katrina and its aftermath is a must read. In another blog entry he also appeals for financial donations to some less-known but worthy charities.

As I mentioned in a previous blog entry (“Theological Reflection on Hurricane Katrina“), Canadians can donate to the World Vision Hurricane Katrina response by calling 1 (800) 268-5528 or donating online here, or to the Canadian Red Cross by going here.

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Hebrew Bible Related Reviews from RBL (5 September 2005)

5th September 2005

The latest Review of Biblical Literature has come out; here are the reviews related to the study of the Hebrew Bible:

  • Jean-Jacques Glassner, Mesopotamian Chronicles (Edited by Benjamin R. Foster). Review by R. J. van der Spek

  • Innocent Himbaza, Le Décalogue et l’histoire du texte: Etudes des formes textuelles du Décalogue et leurs implications dans l’histoire du texte de l’Ancien Testament. Review by Paul Sanders
  • Martin Kessler, ed., Reading the Book of Jeremiah: A Search for Coherence. Review by David Glatt-Gilad
  • John M. Miller, Proverbs (Believers Church Bible Commentary). Review by Gregory Glazov
  • Tamara Prosic, The Development and Symbolism of Passover until 70 CE. Review by William Gilders
  • Christoph Auffarth and Loren T. Stuckenbruck, eds., The Fall of the Angels. Review by John Collins
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Leviticus Scroll Story Picked Up by

2nd September 2005

In a previous post, I mentioned that my story on the Leviticus Scroll fragments may be picked up by Well it has; the story is here.

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Da Vinci Code Confirmed by Archaeology?!

2nd September 2005

The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz has a story that reports on a discovery of a mystrious pendant among the refuse from the Temple Mount that for a fertile imagination could lead to a best-selling novel… oh, wait, Dan Brown already wrote one like that called the Da Vinci Code.

At any rate, here are some excerpts from the article:

Mysterious Temple Mount artifact evokes ‘Da Vinci Code’

By Amiram Barkat
When Israeli archaeologist Gabriel Barkai and his assistant Tzachi Zweig began the painstaking task of sifting through mounds of Temple Mount rubble, they hoped to find artifacts dating from the period of the First or Second Temple.

They never dreamed of finding a mysterious artifact that looks like something straight out of the world of controversial theories propounded by “The Da Vinci Code.”

Barkai, an expert on biblical archaeology at Bar-Ilan University, and Zweig, a master’s student there, have spent 10 months examining rubble from the Solomon’s Stables area of the Temple Mount. This dirt dates from the Crusades, when Muslim rulers apparently blocked up the spaces along the periphery of Solomon’s Stables.

Barkai and Zweig discovered in the rubble a cross-shaped bronze pendant measuring a square centimeter. The pendant, which was originally gold-plated, bears mysterious symbols: on one side are a hammer, pincers and nails; the flip side has what looks like a sun, as well as an altar. But the main symbol, which immediately grabs the attention, is the Holy Grail lying on a crown of thorns.

According to Barkai, some of the people who saw the pendant suggested that this was an artifact that related to “The Da Vinci Code,” but Barkai was dismissive. “I heard several interesting explanations along those lines,” he said, “but in my opinion there is here nothing more than a coincidence that ignites the imagination.”

Zweig decided to examine the pendant thoroughly. He supposed that it dated from the 19th century, since Christians had been barred from visiting the Temple Mount from the end of the Crusades until 1840. Based on the symbols, and particularly the work tools, he assumed the pendant was related to the Freemasons, a semi-secret fraternity that was founded in 18th-century England and established branches, or lodges, in nearly all Western countries.

Zweig could not locate an expert on Masonic symbols in Israel, so he contacted Prof. Andrew Prescott, director of the new Centre for Research into Freemasonry at the University of Sheffield. Prescott studied the photographs of the pendant and replied to Zweig at the beginning of this week that the symbols do, indeed, appear to be connected to the Freemasons, but are not the symbols of Britain’s Masonic Lodge.

Prescott noted, however, that members of the fraternity had visited the Temple Mount area during the 19th century. The mysterious pendant might have belonged to famed archaeologist Charles Warren, who made a documented visit to the Temple Mount in 1867, he said.

If the pendant is Masonic, then there is an indirect connection between it and “The Da Vinci Code” – Brown claims in his book that the Freemasons are the successors of the Knights Templar.

Barkai said that beyond the story itself, the pendant attested to the variety and multitude of artifacts buried over the years on the Temple Mount. “Dirt from the Temple Mount is not ordinary dirt, but rather dirt that portrays the history of this land.”

Barkai and Zweig are studying truckloads of Crusader dirt mixed with modern construction waste that were removed clandestinely in November 1999 and dumped in the Kidron riverbed, east of the Old City. There is controversy among archaeologists regarding the value of studying this rubble, because the admixture makes it hard to date, and it is unclear where the dirt used to plug the holes at Solomon’s Stables originated.

Once again, truth is strangler than fiction. The original Hebrew article may be found here. Thanks to Joseph I. Lauer for the heads up via the ANE list.

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A Reflection on Introductory Hebrew Textbooks

1st September 2005

I just received my copy of Nava Bergman’s The Cambridge Biblical Hebrew Workbook: Introductory Level (Cambridge University Press, 2005; Buy from or There are many features of this book that are quite appealing, such as its application of modern language acquisition techniques to make learning biblical Hebrew “an active and inspiring process.” While the Workbook is intended to be used together with an introductory Biblical Hebrew textbook, after examining it, I am not sure how that would work.

The Workbook is actually only one component of an introductory Hebrew “study-kit” written in Swedish that includes this workbook, a textbook, and an audio-CD package with word lists, exercises, texts and biblical songs. It’s too bad that the other components were also not made available in English. The primary problem I see with trying to use this resource with another grammar is that the terminology, explanations, and exercises would almost certainly differ on many points with any other introductory grammar, which would only cause more confusion for your students. (If you have used this work or are planning on using it, I would love some feedback as to how it worked in your class)

On this note, Frederick Greenspahn has an article called, “Why Hebrew Textbooks Are Different From Those For Other Languages” on the latest SBL Forum that is worth a read. Greenspahn rightly, IMHO, takes many of the introductory Hebrew textbooks to task for being far too complicated and out of sync with similar textbooks for learning other foreign languages. He also notes that while there has been a proliferation of introductory grammars in the last decade, “The fact of the matter is that they are all fundamentally alike.” He surmises that “the real reason for this proliferation has less to do with the emergence of new philosophies than with the pressures of the marketplace, whether on faculty who need to publish or on publishers who hope that textbooks will be a lucrative product.”

In his criticism of the technical nature of so many introductory Hebrew grammars, Greenspahn ponders why this is the case. He contends,

The obvious beneficiary of presenting Hebrew and the Bible as too hard for beginners is the guild of “experts,” whose authority is enhanced by emphasizing the difficulty of the material they have mastered. In other words, it is to our advantage to present the language in as difficult a way as possible. The harder it appears, the smarter we must be and the more essential we become for anyone who wants to know what it says. We reinforce that message every time we use a technical term or mention an exotic language, demonstrating our access to information that introductory students cannot hope to match.

I am not so sure I buy his explanation. Most introductory Hebrew teachers want to instill a love of the language in their students, rather than awe them with their amazing knowledge of the Canaanite shift (and no, it isn’t a dance). That being said, I have heard enough horror stories about introductory Hebrew classes to know that there is some truth to his criticism.

Reading Greenspahn’s article confirmed my choice of using Bonnie Kittel’s Biblical Hebrew: Text and Workbook for introductory Hebrew classes. While it is not an ideal textbook, it serves beginning students well by not inudating them with technical explanations and endless paradigms. It’s goal is to enable students to read the biblical text, plain and simple. I wish I could say the second “fully revised” edition of Kittel by Victoria Hoffer appears to be vast improvement of the first edition. While it makes some improvements in its appearance and explanations, the lessons and exercises are essentially the same (I will provide a full evaluation after having used it in my class). That being said, I think it is still one of the best introductory grammars available (even though it doesn’t meet all of Greenspahn’s standards).

For more information about available introductory Hebrew grammars, see my survey here. For resources for using Kittel’s grammar, go here.

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Theological Reflection on Hurricane Katrina

1st September 2005

Perhaps it is inevitable that people will try to understand why a disaster like hurricane Katrina happened. The “why” question seems to be part of human nature. Whenever tragedy strikes (whether personal or global) people want to know why. Is it something I did or failed to do? Was there some grand purpose behind the events?

This sort of interpretation happened in connection with 9/11 (I recall hearing a sermon that understood the events as God’s punishment on the U.S. for its economic and foreign policies), the Tsunami (Some saw it as God’s judgment on the pagan religions of the area), and is already beginning to happen in connection with Katrina — and not just by conservative religious groups. The BBC ran a story entitled, “New Orleans: Nature’s revenge?” and others have blamed it on global warming.

Of course, the most troubling interpretations do tend to come from the extreme end of the spectrum. There are reports of an email circulating from an anti-abortion group that implies that the hurricane is God’s judgment on Louisiana and New Orleans for their tolerance of abortion clinics. The Repent America website suggests that the destruction is God’s judgment on a wicked city that tolerated and promoted evil such as “Southern Decadence”, an annual homosexual celebration, and yearly Mardi Gras parties (via Abnormal Interests). Joining these fundamentalist Christian interpretations are some conservative Jewish perspectives (here and here) that see a connection to Israeli disengagement in Gaza and Katrina. One even goes so far to call Katrina the “fist of God” that is meting out “His judgment on the nation most responsible for endangering the land and people of Israel” [though its support of disengagement] (via Kesher Talk). It would be easy to expand this list with extremist Islamic groups and many others.

The connection between “natural” disasters and God’s judgment is found in many parts of the Bible. In fact, in the ancient world virtually all disasters — whether “natural” disasters like flood, famine, and pestilence, as well as human disasters like military defeat — were interpreted as signs of divine favour or disfavour. In the Hebrew Bible God punished the faithlessness of ancient Israel with foreign oppressors throughout the book of Judges, he brought famine on the land of ancient Israel when they followed Baal in 1Kings 17 — and it would be easy to multiply examples.

This correlation between human deed and divine consequence is part of the fabric of the way ancients viewed the world — it is often called “retribution theology.” The writer of the book of Proverbs expressed it this way: “No harm befalls the righteous, But the wicked are filled with trouble” (Prov 12:21) or “Adversity pursues sinners, But the righteous will be rewarded with prosperity” (Prov 13:21). This view also undergirds the Israelite view of history, being found in varying degrees in both the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua through 2 Kings) and Chronicles. So, for example, the Deuteronomistic Historian understood the destruction of the northern kingdom and the Babylonian exile as God’s response to ancient Israel’s unfaithfulness. This theology maintains that Yahweh has set up this connection between deed and consequence, or act and result, and Yahweh watches over this reality.

But this is not the only voice from the Hebrew Bible on this topic. There is another tradition that questions and, in fact, dismantles once and for all, a simplistic interpretation of the connection between deed and consequence. This skeptical tradition is found in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes.

The book of Job questions human ability to discern the connection between deed and consequence. Job is presented as the “poster boy” for retribution theology. From his description early on in the book, he is presented as twice as good as Noah and as one truly blessed by God. Then everything is taken away from him through a series of paradigmatic events (note that both “natural” disaster and human disaster befalls our poster boy), even though he did absolutely nothing wrong. When his so-called friends come, after seven days of silence, they begin to question Job’s integrity since, according to their worldview, if you suffer, you must have done something wrong. The book of Job is important not so much because it answers the age-old question of suffering (it really doesn’t — except to qualify traditional retribution theology that not all suffering is due to sin). It is important because it reminds humanity of our epistemological limitations — we don’t know all the ins and outs of God’s world. That is the entire point of God’s biology lesson for Job in chapters 38-42: If Job can’t begin to understand the natural world around him, then how does he expect to understand the divine?

The book of Ecclesiastes takes the argument further and demonstrates that when you look at life, it becomes patently clear that a simplistic connection between deed and consequence is not borne out by human experience: “There is futility which is done on the earth, that is, there are righteous men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked. On the other hand, there are evil men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I say that this too is hebel (Eccl 8:14). This reality is one of the major reasons why the author of Ecclesiastes proclaims that all is hebel, absurd, not the way it is supposed to be. But the author of Ecclesiastes (or his editor) maintains that one day every human deed will be taken into account (12:14). But in the here and now — “life under the sun” — it is not possible to draw simple connections.

When it comes right down to it, the God of the Bible is neither accessible to nor always understandable by humanity when it comes to divine actions and the connection between deed and consequence. Furthermore, the God of the Bible is not obligated to guarantee harmony in human existence. In this fallen world bad things will happen to good people, and vice versa. Perhaps even more astounding is the continual grace that God extends to all people despite our depravity.

What this means in connection to hurricane Katrina and the mounting devastation in its wake, is that we should refrain from trying to explain it. We can affirm that God is active in the world. We can affirm that the world in which we live is radically fallen, that it is not the way it is supposed to be. Beyond these two affirmation, I believe we have to be very careful in our interpretations of “natural” disasters and tragedies. And we should resist easy interpretations and glib pronouncements of God’s judgment. We are not prophets nor apostles.

A Christian response to this horrendous disaster is to pray for those affected and do whatever is in our means to help the relief effort. In this regard, I would encourage all who feel so called to donate to a reputable relief organization. Canadians can donate to the World Vision Hurricane Katrina response by calling 1 (800) 268-5528 or donating online here, or to the Canadian Red Cross by going here.

(Ben Witherington also has a thought-provoking post on the hurricane here, even though he may be surprised to know that the small silent voice in 1 Kings 19:11-13 may in fact be better understood as a thundrous voice)

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Codex Blogspot: Now Serving 5000!

1st September 2005

I hit the five thousand mark today with my site meter. Since July 7th (the day I added the site meter) there have been almost 100 visitors per day to my blog.

If you are a new visitor, welcome! If you are a repeat visitor, I’m honoured! Thank you for taking your time to browse my blog and my site. Thank you for your feedback and I hope that you continue to find my blog useful, fun, and informative.

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Happy Birthday Alberta!

1st September 2005

As another Albertan, I would like to echo Michael Pahl’s birthday wish to Alberta.

One hundred years ago today the province of Alberta was formed. IMHO, Alberta is one of the best places to live in Canada, if not the world. We enjoy a quality of life second to none. Alberta has no provincial taxes, a lot of open space, and (if you believe Environment Canada) the most comfortable weather in Canada. And we’re also the richest province in Canada.

Happy 100th Alberta!

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