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Archive for October, 2005

10, 000th Visitor — Who Are You?

30th October 2005

Congratulations! This morning (30 October 2005) at precisely 10:38:33 am (Edmonton time) I had my 10,000th visitor to my blog. As I previously mentioned, this person (perhaps one of my students?) has won a free biblical studies or Hebrew language book. I will provide some options and this lucky person will choose which one he or she wants.

As it turns out, the lucky winner is from Edmonton, is using a Windows computer, and is web browsing with Firefox. If this is you, please send me an email. In order to verify that it was you visiting my blog, I will ask you what service provider you are using and perhaps some other identifying features of your visit.

To be honest, I am somewhat relieved that lucky number 10,000 is from Edmonton since I won’t have to worry about shipping! Visitor 9,999 was from Birmingham, UK, while 10,001 was from Vancouver, British Columbia. Other recent visitors have been from Denmark, Germany, Hungary, and the United States.

Since the first of September when I had my 5000th visitor, I have had an average of 166 visits to my blog per day. That is up considerably from just under 100 visits per day for my first 5000 visitors (or at least my first 5000 from the day I added the site meter, July 7th).

I would like to thank everyone for visiting. And I am honoured that some people actually find what I blog interesting and/or informative — or perhaps something else!? I have enjoyed blogging for a variety of reasons. First and foremost I see this as an extension of my teaching. It also allows me to think out loud, so to speak. Blogging allows me to put to writing different ideas that I have based on reading and research in and around my courses. I have also enjoyed becoming part of the biblioblogging community. I just think that it is kind of neat to be able to interact with others around the globe.

Again, thanks for visiting! Come again and come often!

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Resources for the Study of Histor(iograph)y and the Hebrew Bible, No. 1

29th October 2005

This post is the first of an on-going series of posts on resources for the study of ancient histor(iograph)y. Some of the posts will focus on one particular book, while others will survey a general topic relating to the study of ancient history writing. While most will focus on biblical histor(iograph)y, some will be broader.

In this initial post I am highlighting a collection that brings together a number of seminal essays on the topic of ancient Israelite histor(iograph)y.

  • V. Philips Long (ed.), Israel’s Past in Present Research: Essays on Ancient Israelite Historiography. (Sources for Biblical and Theological Study 7; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1999). Pp. Xx + 612. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com

This volume brings together a total of thirty-three essays dealing with different aspects of the study of ancient Israel’s past. All but the editor’s introduction and final reflection have been previously published (most within the last twenty-five years), although seven essays appear for the first time in English: five translated from German (Herrmann, Klement, Maier, Neef, and Soggin), and one each from French (Cazelles) and Spanish (Alonso Schökel).

The first section, “Israel’s Past in Present Research,” contains three essays that provide context for the contemporary debate: John H. Hayes, “The History of the Study of Israelite and Judaean History: From the Renaissance to the Present” (pp. 7-42); Mark Zvi Brettler, “The New Biblical Historiography” (pp. 43-50); and Rolf Rendtorff, “The Paradigm Is Changing: Hopes and Fears” (pp. 51-68). Part two, “The Historical Impulse among Israel’s Neighbors,” contains three essays that supply an ancient Near Eastern background: William W. Hallo, “Biblical History in Its Near Eastern Setting: The Contextual Approach” (pp. 77-97); H. Cazelles, “Biblical and Prebiblical Historiography” (pp. 98-128); and A. R. Millard, “Israelite and Aramean History in the Light of Inscriptions” (pp. 129-40).

The essays in the third section, “Israel’s History Writing: Its Multiplex Character,” are grouped according to whether their focus is on the antiquarian, aspectual, or artistic character of Israel’s historiography. Under the category antiquarian are five essays: John J. Collins, “The ‘Historical Character’ of the Old Testament in Recent Biblical Theology (pp. 150-69); John Van Seters, “Joshua’s Campaign of Canaan and Near Eastern Historiography” (pp. 170-80); R. N. Whybray, “What Do We Know about Ancient Israel?” (pp. 181-87); Philip R. Davies, “‘Ancient Israel’ and History: A Response to Norman Whybray” (pp. 188-91); and Gerhard Maier, “Truth and Reality in the Historical Understanding of the Old Testament” (pp. 192-206). There are two aspectual studies: J. Alberto Soggin, “History as Confession of Faith — History as Object of Scholarly Research: On One of the Basic Problems of the History of Israel” (pp. 207-19); and Claus Westermann, “The Old Testament’s Understanding of History in Relation to That of the Enlightenment” (pp. 220-31); and two artistic: V. Philips Long, “History and Fiction: What Is History?” (pp. 232-54); and L. Alonso Schökel, “Narrative Art in Joshua-Judges-Samuel-Kings” (pp. 255-78).

Part four, “Writing Israel’s History: The Methodological Challenge,” includes nine essays. The first five focus on method: Diana Edelman, “Doing History in Biblical Studies” (pp. 292-303); K. Lawson Younger, Jr., “The Underpinnings” (pp. 304-345); Siegfried Herrmann, “The Devaluation of the Old Testament as a Historical Source: Notes on a Problem in the History of Ideas” (pp. 346-55); J. Maxwell Miller, “Reading the Bible Historically: The Historian’s Approach” (pp. 356-72); and Ferdinand Deist, “Contingency, Continuity and Integrity in Historical Understanding: An Old Testament Perspective” (pp. 373-90). Then there are two that explore the impact of the social sciences on doing Israelite history: Niels Peter Lemche, “Is It Still Possible to Write a History of Ancient Israel?” (pp. 391-414); and Baruch Halpern, “Erasing History: The Minimalist Assault on Ancient Israel” (pp. 415-26). This section closes with two essays that explore the interplay between literary study and historical reconstruction: John Barton, “Historical Criticism and Literary Interpretation: Is There Any Common Ground?” (pp. 427-38); and Herbert H. Klement, “Modern Literary-Critical Methods and the Historicity of the Old Testament” (pp. 439-59).

The fifth section, “The Historical Impulse in the Hebrew Canon: A Sampling,” includes eight essays that illustrate how books from the Torah, the (latter and former) Prophets, and the Writings have been variously utilized by scholars in understanding Israel’s history. The first three essays contain different assessments of the value of the Torah for understanding the Patriarchs: Roland de Vaux, “The Hebrew Patriarchs and History” (pp. 470-79); Thomas L. Thompson, “Historical and Christian Faith” (pp. 480-484); and John Goldingay, “The Patriarchs in Scripture and History” (pp. 485-91). Essays on the former and latter Prophets include Richard S. Hess, “Early Israel in Canaan: A Survey of Recent Evidence and Interpretations” (pp. 492-518); J. G. McConville, “Faces of Exile in Old Testament Historiography” (pp. 519-34); Hans Walter Wolff, “The Understanding of History in the Old Testament Prophets” (pp. 535-51); and Heinz-Dieter Neef, “The Early Traditions of Israel in the Prophecy of Hosea — A Review” (pp. 552-56). There is but one sample from the Writings: Gary N. Knoppers, “History and Historiography: The Royal Reforms” (pp. 557-78).

The book closes with an essay by the editor of the volume, V. Philips Long, entitled “The Future of Israel’s Past: Personal Reflections” (pp. 580-92), in which he presents his vision for future historical study of ancient Israel. First, Long hopes that there will be an increased openness among scholars about their own core beliefs (recognizing that presuppositions and basic beliefs affect everyone’s research), and that scholars will distinguish between the truth claims of the biblical text and their own evaluation of the truth value of said claims. Then, in connection with method, Long suggests that the canons of the historical-critical method (criticism, analogy, and correlation) be redefined so as not to preclude serious inquiry by scholars of faith; the claims of the social sciences be limited to their proper role of providing background information on societies and cultures; and the consequences of modern literary criticism on doing historiography be explored.

Needless to say, many scholars will not agree with Long’s evaluation of past historical work or his vision for future research on Israel’s past. The articles included in this volume do represent a wide spectrum of scholarly perspectives and methods — from more conservative scholars to so-called “minimalists,” as well as the majority who sit somewhere in between. Nevertheless, as Long himself acknowledges (e.g., pp. xii-xiv), the contents, structure, and the sectional introductions reflect his own more conservative approach. Also, while this is not the place to quibble over the selection or exclusion of specific essays, two burgeoning areas of research that are underrepresented are ideological and narratival studies of Israel’s history writing, and work on 1 and 2 Chronicles.

On the whole, Long has brought together an excellent collection of essays that is eminently suitable as a reader for courses on biblical historiography, as well as for students and scholars desiring a guide through the maze of present approaches to Israel’s past.

The book closes with an index of authorities and Scripture index.

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SBL Forum: Teaching Biblical Hebrew

27th October 2005

The latest SBL Forum has an essay on teaching biblical Hebrew by Charles David Isbell that is quite thought-provoking: “The Hebrew Teacher: Guru, Drill Instructor, or Role Model?

Isbell argues that “there are three indispensable components for teaching and learning biblical Hebrew.” These are

  1. The first concerns the relationship between teacher and student. Here it is the attitude of the teacher that is important. We need to honour our students and seek their best interest at all times, even those who are difficult to reach. In this regard he also highlights that teaching introductory Hebrew should not be pushed off to inexperienced teachers, but should be taught by the best teacher on staff.
  2. The second key to teaching biblical Hebrew is motivation. Good teachers must find ways to motivate their students, to fan the flames of their interest. A great way NOT to do this is the following:

    I believe the best way to quench the fire of desire is by continuing to teach Hebrew the way most of us learned it. The routine is well known. Memorize these words. Learn these rules. Identify these forms. Translate these meaningless English sentences into “biblical Hebrew,” which you don’t understand yet and which modern scholarship assures us Moses himself did not write so clearly. Spend at least one full semester on these numbing exercises before you ever get to open the text of the Bible to an exciting narrative.

  3. The final point that Isbell makes pertains to method. Here he gives us his “Ten Commandments for Hebrew Students” as well as seven tips for teachers. I thought it was quite funny to read how Isbell remembered the Hebrew word for tent! In every Hebrew class I have taught, virtually all my students have used the same association: “O hell, the tent is ripped,” or the like.

I would highly recommend any Hebrew teachers read Isbell’s forum. While much of it may not be new, it is always good to think about such things!

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Hebrew Bible Related Reviews from RBL (25 October 2005)

25th October 2005

The latest Review of Biblical Literature has arrived and it contains a number of interesting reviews. First and foremost there is an excellent review of In Search of Pre-Exilic Israel by fellow bibliobloger, Joseph Cathey. This collection of essays edited by John Day contains a number of seminal works that seek to “offer a critique of various aspects of the ‘everything is late’ school of thought in Old Testament studies… not from any reactionary standpoint but from a thoroughly reasoned, critical point of view” (vii). Cathey’s review is thorough (15 pages), well-documented (18 footnotes), and — on the whole — fair. Lester Grabbe also has a good review of the same volume, which brings up some very good points and provides a counter-balance to Cathey’s more positive review.

David Gunn’s commentary on Judges is the first book of the Hebrew Bible treated in the Blackwell Bible Commentaries — and based on the review it looks like a valuable contribution. Wright is very positive in his review noting that Gunn “has not only provided a useful tool for students of the book of Judges but also established a new standard for biblical commentaries in general.” This commentary looks intriguing. Plans are in the works to bring David Gunn to Edmonton next year for a series of lectures; it’ll be great to meet Dr. Gunn in person.

Another book that looks quite interesting is Middleton’s volume on the Imago Dei. This work aims to “make Old Testament scholarship on the creation of humanity in man’s image accessible as a resource for theological reflection on human identity and ethics in a world increasingly characterized by brutality and dehumanization. As such this book is meant to facilitate an interdisciplinary conversation between theologians, ethicists, and biblical scholars on the imago Dei”” (10). While the review is pretty positive (especially in connection with Middleton’s presentation of the representational understanding of the image), ultimately MacDonald concludes, “I do not judge that it will achieve the rapprochement between biblical scholars and systematicians at which it so laudably aims. Nevertheless, this is a useful contribution to an ongoing discussion whose value will be judged by its ability to stimulate thoughtful conversation. My own reflections demonstrate the way that Middleton’s work laudably provokes fresh thinking on this hoary interpretive crux.”

Finally, another work worth mentioning is Matthias Henze’s Biblical Interpretation at Qumran. This is an excellent collection of essays with offerings by the likes of John J. Collins, James C. VanderKam, George Brooke, and Peter Flint. (Note that Nicklas’s review is in German).

  • John Day, ed., In Search of Pre-Exilic Israel: Proceedings of the Oxford Old Testament Seminar. Reviewed by Joseph Cathey and Lester Grabbe.
  • David M. Gunn, Judges (Blackwell Bible Commentaries). Reviewed by Jacob Wright
  • Reinhard G. Kratz, translated by John Bowden, The Composition of the Narrative Books of the Old Testament. Reviewed by William Johnstone
  • J. Richard Middleton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1. Reviewed by Nathan Macdonald
  • Ra’anan S. Boustan and Annette Yoshiko Reed, eds., Heavenly Realms and Earthly Realities in Late Antique Religions. Reviewed by Eric Noffke
  • Matthias Henze, ed., Biblical Interpretation at Qumran. Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas
  • Hindy Najman, Seconding Sinai: The Development of Mosaic Discourse in Second Temple Judaism. Reviewed by Thomas Romer
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Jerusalem Post and Conservative Christianity

25th October 2005

I don’t know if I can trust my sources, but according to Al-Jazeerah and Something Jewish (and the more reputable The Guardian, among others), the Israeli English language newspaper, The Jerusalem Post is to start publishing a special monthly Christian edition for readers in the USA. According to reports this edition will be put together jointly by the Jerusalem Post and the International Christian Embassy.

I won’t comment on whether or not this is a good move, or on Middle Eastern politics, or even on the type of theology underling many Conservative Christians’ perspective of modern Israel (One of my colleagues is an Arab Christian whose family lives in around Bethlehem — talk to him if you want an interesting perspective on the whole issue!).

It will be interesting to see what this edition looks like in terms of content, editorial perspective, and especially underlying theology.

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Encouraging Students: Inspiration from Ancient Sumer

24th October 2005

This is a busy time of the semester for students with midterms to study for and papers to write. As a concerned professor who cares deeply about my students, I am always looking for ways to encourage them.

One of the stories that I usually read to my students near the beginning of the term for their encouragement is an essay from ancient Sumer called “Schooldays” (excerpts below from S. N. Kramer, The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character. University of Chicago Press, 1971. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com, pp. 237-240). This essay gives us a glimpse into the day-to-day activities of students as recounted by an “old grad” with some of the nostalgic details that the modern alumnus recounts at his class reunion. Kramer dubs it “one of the most human documents excavated in the ancient Near East” (p. 237). Originally composed by an anonymous schoolteacher who lived about 2000 BCE, it reveals how much schools — and perhaps even students — have changed throughout the millenniums! Here is an excerpt from Kramer:

We find our ancient schoolboy, not unlike his modern counterpart, terribly afraid of coming late to school “lest his teacher cane him.” When he wakes up he hurries his mother to prepare his lunch. In school he misbehaves and is caned more than once by the teacher and his assistants. As for the teacher, his pay seems to have been as meagre then as it is now; at least, he is only too happy to make a “little extra” from the parents to eke out a living.

The essay begins with a direct question to an old alumnus which reads: “Old Grad, where did you go [when you were young]?” The latter answers: “I went to school.” The professor-author then asks: “What did you do in school?” This is the cue for the old grad to reminisce about his school activities thus:

I recited my tablet, ate my lunch, prepared my [new] tablet, wrote it, finished it; then my model tablets were brought to me; and in the afternoon my exercise tablets were brought to me. When school was dismissed, I went home, entered the house, and found my father sitting there. I explained [?] my exercise-tablets to my father, [?] recited my tablet to him, and he was delighted, [so much so] that I attended him [with joy].

The author now has the schoolboy turn to the house servants (it was evidently quite a well-to-do home) with these words: I am thirsty, give me water to drink; I am hungry, give me bread to eat; wash my feet, set up (my) bed, I want to go to sleep. Wake me early in the morning, I must not be late lest my teacher cane me. Presumably all this was done, for we next find our schoolboy saying:

When I arose early in the morning, I faced my mother and said to her: “Give me my lunch, I want to go to school.” My mother gave me two rolls, and I set out; my mother gave me two rolls, and I went to school. In school the fellow in charge of punctuality said: “Why are you late?” Afraid and with pounding heart, I entered before my teacher and made a respectful curtsy.

But curtsy or not, it was a bad day for our ancient pupil-at least as the old grad remembered it rather nostalgically-he had to take canings from various members of the school staff. Or, in the words which the author puts in the mouth of the alumnus:

My headmaster read my tablet, said: “There is something missing,” and he caned me. [Â…] The fellow in charge of neatness [?] said: “You loitered in the street and did not straighten up [?] your clothes [?],” and he caned me. [Â…] The fellow in charge of silence said: “Why did you talk without permission,” and he caned me. The fellow in charge of the assembly [?] said: “Why did you stand at ease [?] without permission,” and he caned me. The fellow in charge of good behavior said: “Why did you rise without permission,” and he caned me. The fellow in charge of the gate said: “Why did you go out from [the gate] without permission,” and he caned me. The fellow in charge of the whip said: “Why did you take without permission,” and he caned me. The fellow in charge of Sumerian said: “Why didn’t you speak Sumerian,” and he caned me. My teacher (ummia) said: “Your hand is unsatisfactory,” and he caned me.

And so I [began to] hate the scribal art, [began to] neglect the scribal art.

The essay continues with the despondent student asking his father to pay the teacher a bit extra. The father goes the extra mile and has the teacher over for a fancy supper and pays him a larger salary and even gives him a fancy ring!

As I tell my students — especially when they start to complain about the amount of work they have to do — “at least you don’t have to worry about being caned by your professors!”

And that encourages them to work even harder — really, it does! :-)

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Taylor University College in the News

24th October 2005

The Edmonton Journal published a very positive article on Christian university education in which Taylor University College receives a fair bit of attention. While I was interviewed, along with the Academic Vice President of Taylor (Dr. David Williams — no relation), I was not quoted (and I am not bitter, really!). One of our graduates, however, biblioblogger Ken Ristau, was also interviewed and quoted in the article.

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Westphal on Postmodernism

23rd October 2005

Later this week Taylor University College will be hosting Dr. Merold Westphal, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University, New York. On Thursday night (Thursday 27 October 2005 – 7:30 pm) Dr. Westphal will be presenting a free public lecture entitled, “Religious Uses of Secular Postmodernism: Toward a Postmodern Christian Faith.” This lecture will take a closer look at this perceived threat and uncover how many aspects of secular postmodernism are actually useful in proclaiming the Christian faith.

Dr. Westphal has written much on the relationship between postmodernism (broadly defined) and the Christian faith. While many Christians see postmodernism as a threat to the faith, Westphal (rightly) sees in postmodernism many ideas that are compatible with the Christian faith. Moreover, it isn’t as if philosophical modernity has been a friend to the faith, with its emphasis on the autonomy of the human knower and epistomological certitude. In contrast, postmodernism reminds us of the limits of human knowledge and human sinfulness. In some ways, postmodernism’s unintended commentary is on the doctrine of the fall.

Some of Westphal’s works include:

I will be posting an MP3 of the talk on Taylor’s Public Lecture website.

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Survey of Films on the Book of Genesis

22nd October 2005

Matt Page, the Resource Centre Manger at the Open Heaven Church in Loughborough, U.K., has put together an excellent little survey of films based on the biblical book of Genesis. It covers everything from the first silent film based on the book of Genesis (Joseph vendu par ses frères [Joseph Sold by his Brothers], directed by Vincent Lorant-Heilbronn in 1904) to more recent straight-to-video productions.

One film that I was unaware of — and based on Matt’s brief review is well worth a gander — is La Genèse, directed Cheick Oumar Sissoko (1999; Buy from Amazon.ca: VHS or DVD | Buy from Amazon.com: VHS or DVD). According to Matt, Sissoko’s film tells the story of Abraham’s family from an African perspective (it is even filmed in the Bambara language of Mali, spoken by only few million worldwide) and as a result it does a great job portraying the nomadic tribal context in which the biblical story of Jacob and Esau is set. Sounds facinating; I have already put a hold on it from our local library and I’ll post my review as soon as I have viewed it.

For an exhaustive listing of films based on the Hebrew Bible, see my The Old Testament on Film pages.

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King David in Review

22nd October 2005

The New York Times Book section has a review of Robert Pinsky’s book, The Life of David (Nextbook/Schocken, 2005; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com).

The book is the first in Schocken’s Jewish Encounters series which will feature popular books on different Jewish themes. Here is an excerpt from William Deresiewicz’s review:

The Life of David grows increasingly strong as it moves from David’s early years to the years of his reign. The evolution from disconnected legends like David’s battle with Goliath to the fuller record of a sitting king allows Pinsky to move from the waters of speculation to the solid ground of interpretation. Pinsky’s reading of David’s mystifyingly disastrous attempt to take a census as the embodiment of everything threatening about his revolutionary transformation of the Jewish people “from a masked, uncataloged, exclusionary, taboo-ridden culture of tribes to a visible, enumerated, inclusive civilization,” is a tour de force of historical imagining.

Most important, Pinsky achieves his stated goal of making David more accessible without making him cease to be alien, as any figure from so remote a culture must always remain. Some might argue that a work of this kind ought not be attempted in the first place, that to embroider the biblical text is false and presumptuous. But what Pinsky does here is squarely within the Midrashic tradition of narrative elaboration, even if his methods and sensibility are unmistakably modern. Whatever may be said of David and his lineage, it is this kind of creative engagement that makes the Bible itself live and endure.

It sounds like it would be a good read.

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