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Archive for November, 2005

What Noah Really Had to Put Up With…

6th November 2005

OK, this advertisement for St. Paul Property and Liability Insurance is absolutely hilarious.

Thanks to Talmida for the heads up!

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Oh, The Depths of Christian Advertising

4th November 2005

OK, time for a Friday night rant. I personally find a lot of Christian advertising and marketing to be somewhat vacuous and mildly offensive — OK “offensive” may be too strong, perhaps “irritating” is more accurate. I think much of it cheapens the gospel.

In particular, this ad has bugged me for a while (I was using it as a coaster for my big gulp).

What bugs me about this ad is the (neopagan) association of ecstatic feelings with prayer and (perhaps more disturbing) the use of sex appeal to sell books about prayer. I’m not saying that prayer is never emotional (of course it is). In my mind this just one-to-one association between prayer and ecstatic emotions feeds the superficial nature of a lot of Christian spirituality where people go from one prayer/worship “fix” to another like junkies. This doesn’t engender serious discipleship, IMHO.

Oh, yeah, BTW, I “photoshopped” the picture to remove the name of the bookseller (I also changed the books in the picture; I was surprised to find “Idiot’s Guide” and “Dummies” books on prayer!).

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Jim West on P. R. Davies on the Origins of “Biblical” Israel: Parts 2 & 3

3rd November 2005

Jim West has taken up the mantel from Christopher Heard and blogged on the second and third part of Philip R. Davies’s recent article “The Origin of Biblical Israel” in the in the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures vol. 5, article 17 (2005). My comments on the first section may be found here; what follows are some of my thoughts on the second and third sections of Davies’s essay and Jim’s comments.

Jerusalem vs. the World

In the second section of his essay, Davies puts forward the argument that prior to the neo-Babylonian period, Jerusalem was not the only religious centre of ancient Israel. Other sites included Mizpah, Bethel, and Gibeon. Here I think Davies is bang-on; of course the issue is whether or not Jerusalem should have been the only cult centre. From the perspective of the canonical prophets and the pro-Judah writers of the DtrH, Jerusalem should have been the only cult centre.

Jim’s comments on this section are intriguing. Extrapolating from Davies’s observation he comments:

So then, do we have in the DtrH the attempt to secure Jerusalem as the “navel of the world” against rival claimants Bethel and Samaria? And if so, is the picture of a “United Kingdom” under “David” even possible? Solomon? Is it not more likely that the picture of a united kingdom was retrojected into the past in order to glorify what never really existed?

In my mind, it is a pretty big leap that Jim wants us to take. It is undisputed that one of the concerns of the DtrH is to secure Jerusalem as the chosen cultic centre of Israel. That, however, doesn’t mean that Jerusalem never was. It would seem more likely, IMHO, that each of these cultic centres have a long and varied history.

Search for the Historical Saul

For example, I wonder whether the strong anti-Benjamin and anti-Saulide polemic that you find throughout the DtrH (e.g., Judges 19-21, 1Samuel, etc.) is an indication that there was a historical “Saul.” If anything, the legitimacy of David is predicated on asserting the illegitimacy of Saul. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not here arguing that the biblical account of Saul’s reign is entirely historical; all I’m saying is that the strong polemic supports the notion that there was a “Saul” who was king of something called “Israel” and his dynasty was cut short by a usurper called “David.” If there never was a Saul or any Saulide in power in Israel, then what would be the point of the polemic and why would the interest in Saul’s line persist all the way to the time of the Chronicler and the author of Esther? I guess it all could be a retrojection in order to establish the priority of Benjamin and its cultic centres; but if there was no Saul, then what makes the connection between Benjamin and Saul in the first place? The same argument could be made for David and Solomon. Again, I am not here arguing that all aspects of the court narratives about David and Solomon are historical. All I am arguing for is that there was a monarch named “David” who began a dynasty (see, for example, Chris Heard’s blog entry on finding the historical David here), and that there were others who felt David was a pretender to the throne and that a Saulide should be in power. This in my mind would be a plausible “concrete setting” that underlies a “specific rivalry” that Davies is looking for.

Remnants of Pro-Benjamin Elements

In the third section Davies addresses some of the implications of his first point. In particular, he argues that “the literati of Benjamin originated the skeleton of an account of the rise of the kingdom of Israel, beginning with a conquest of the territory by Benjamin, a sequence of ‘judges’ initiated by a Benjaminite, and how Benjamin finally provided the first king of Israel.” I can agree with Davies, even though only remnants of this Benjaminite skeleton remain visible. But I would probably differ from Davies on the aspects of the historicity of this skeleton.

In response to this third section, Jim rightly raises a fairly big omission by Davies: the role of Judges 19-21 in the discussion. While Brettler (“The Book of Judges: Literature as Politics” JBL 108 [1989] 395-418) and Amit (“Literature in the Service of Politics: Studies in Judges 19-21″ in Politics and Theoolitics in the Bible [Sheffield 1994] 28-40) have clearly (and convincingly) highlighted the propagandistic character of this passage (Pro-David/Judah, Anti-Saul/Benjamin), I think that there may be more to the passage — especially in terms of Saul’s genealogy. Either way, this passage must be given a concrete setting of when there was a strong rivalry between Saulides and Davidides, IMHO. It just seems more plausible to see an earlier origin to this rivalry, rather than see it as a later reality that then had to “make up” a history.

Finally, another problem I see with Jim’s notion that “the picture of a united kingdom was retrojected into the past in order to glorify what never really existed” is that the DtrH does not glorify the past. While the DtrH is on the whole pro-David and pro-Judah, it clearly is not unabashed political propaganda. The negative elements about David (e.g., 2 Sam 9-20, esp. 11-12) and Solomon (1 Kings 9-11) in my mind demonstrate that the DtrH is not the product of the royal court or a late propaganda piece. If you are looking for a history of Israel that is the product of the Persian period and presents a far stronger legitimization of the Davidic line, you need to look no further than Chronicles.

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Congratulations Talmida! 10,000th Visitor and Book Winner

3rd November 2005

And the winner is… Talmida from Edmonton, Alberta. As it turns out, my 10,000 visitor has been a regular reader of my blogspot. In her blog profile Talmida describes herself as “a liberal zen catholic studying Hebrew who suspects that the proof of God’s existence lies in quantum physics.” However, from chatting with her in the last week, she is no longer sure how liberal, how zen, or how catholic she is! And although she still thinks God is visible in quantum phyics, she is now positive that God can be found in Biblical Hebrew.

Talmida loves languages. She went to bilingual schools (French/English), picked up some Latin and a smattering of German in University and used to be able to write notes to her school friends in the runes from the title page of The Hobbit. What is quite amazing is that she taught herself biblical Hebrew! After a few months learning online, her husband bought her a Biblical Hebrew textbook, then she came across my Answer Key, which eventually lead her to my blog.

While she hopes to study Hebrew at university some day, it may be a while. Until then, she is teaching herself and blogs about it (and whatever else catches her interest) at The Lesser of Two Weevils.

BHSOnce again, I want to congratulate Talmida for being lucky number 10,000. And in order to encourage her study of Classical Hebrew, I am pleased to present to her a copy of Christo H. J. van der Merwe, Jackie A. Naudeé, and Jan H. Kroeze, A Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar (Biblical Languages Series; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000). Buy from | Buy from

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The Disciples as Current Students

2nd November 2005

A colleague sent this to me — I’m not sure about any other educators out there, but I could relate!

Jesus took his disciples up on the mountain and gathered them around him. And he taught them, saying “Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who are persecuted. Blessed are those who suffer. When these things happen, rejoice, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

And Simon Peter said, “Do we have to write this down?”
And Phillip said “Is this going to be on the test?”
And John said, “Would you repeat that, slower?”
And Andrew said, “John the Baptist’s disciples don’t have to learn this stuff.”
And Matthew said, “Huh?”
And Judas said, “What’s this got to do with real life?”

And then one of the religious leaders, an expert in law, said, “I don’t see any of this in your syllabus. Do you have a lesson plan? Where’s the student guide? Will there be a follow-up assignment?”

And Thomas, who had missed the sermon, came to Jesus privately and said, “Did we do anything important today?”

And Jesus wept.

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Investigation Surrounding the Purchase of Leviticus Scroll

1st November 2005

The scroll fragments of the book of Leviticus that came to light in July 2005 (see my coverage and analysis of the scroll fragments here), are in the news again, as noted by Jim West at Biblical Theology blog here and here.

On the biblical studies email list Yitzhak Sapir directed our attention to three news articles about a police investigation on the illegal sale of an ancient scroll. The news story in the Jerusalem Post is short and sweet:

Jerusalem police were investigating suspicions that an academic man and his aide were involved in the illegal sale of an ancient scroll worth around $1 million.

According to the allegations, the two purchased the scroll from Bedouins for $3,000.

They were accused of illegal dealing in antiquities, failure to report the find to the proper authorities, and illegal excavations.

Joseph I. Lauer followed up on Sapir’s post with a link to a fuller story in Ha’aretz in Hebrew that identifies Hanan Eshel as the academic involved in the investigation concerning the Leviticus scroll fragment.

UPDATE: Yitzhak Sapir on the ANE list has provided a brief English summary of another fuller article in Hebrew on ynet:

  • The three bedouins, were also interrogated and are under arrest by the IDF/Police. One admitted to selling the scroll to Eshel.
  • Eshel claimed in the interrogation that: he feared the IAA “will steal his credit,” and that the assessment and study of the scroll will take time. He claimed he was not aware of the law requiring him to notify the IAA of the artifact’s existence within two weeks. It’s this claim Noqed was replying to, although the claim itself is not reported in the Haaretz/Walla article.
  • Some other prominent people at Bar Ilan University were interrogated.
  • The man whom Eshel claimed provided the money was also interrogated.
  • Bar Ilan stands behind Eshel in a released statement that states that Eshel goals are prevention of antiquities theft and even destruction.

UPDATE 2: A longer English version of the article has been published on
Hebrew language versions of the shorter article are available on ynet and here.

Dead Sea Scrolls, Emergent, Hanan Eshel, Leviticus, Leviticus Scroll, News | Comments Off

Christopher Heard on P. R. Davies on the Origins of “Biblical” Israel: Part I, Post 1

1st November 2005

Christopher Heard over at Higgaion had the good — nay, excellent idea of initiating a “roundblog” discussion of P. R. Davies, “The Origin of Biblical Israel,” in the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, vol. 5, article 17 (2005).

I have read Davies’s article and Chris’s first post ( P.R. Davies on the origins of biblical Israel: Part I, Post 1). The main question that Chris raises concentrates on Davies’s contention that Mizpah functioned (for well over a century) as the capital of Judah/Israel after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Thus Chris asks, “Do the available data about Mizpah allow us to place upon it the freight Davies seems to want to place upon it?”

As far as I am aware, the only evidence for Mizpah becoming the capital under Gedaliah is based on 2 Kings 25:22-25 and (as Chris notes) Jeremiah 40:1-–41:16. In addition, according to Nehemiah 3 craftsmen from Mizpah helped do some architectural repairs on Jerusalem (vv. 7, 15, 19).

Even if the evidence from Jeremiah and 2 Kings can be trusted as reliable, Chris rightly notes that those passages say nothing about how long Mizpah continued as the capital after Gedaliah’s death. That being said, most scholars who have an opinion maintain that Mizpah continued as an administrative centre even after Gedaliah’s murder (see recently, Jeffrey R. Zorn, “Tell en-Nasbeh and the Problem of the Material Culture of the Sixth Century” in Oded Lipschits and Joseph Blenkinsopp, ed., Judah and the Judeans in the Neo-Babylonian Period [Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2003], pp. 413-47).

While I personally don’t see any reason to question the evidence from Jeremiah or Kings (and if Tell en-Nasbeh is to be identified with Mizpah, it fits the chronology), I would be interested in why Davies would privilege these passages, but not others such as the claim in 1 Kings 12 that Benjamin sided with Judah when the united kingdom broke up (which is “hardly to be taken as reliable,” p. 2). Of course, I know Davies’s response would be that there was no united kingdom — a position that Davies’s entire article is predicated upon — and one that I am not quite prepared to accept.

At any rate, Chris has raised some good questions about Davies’s article and I too am curious to see what others think — especially considering that I, much like Chris, am more interested in literary and ideological questions rather than historical reconstruction of the biblical text.

UPDATE: Ken Ristau has posted an excellent comment on this entry surrounding the significance of Nehemiah 3:7 for the debate surrounding Mizpah. Ken noted that “Nehemiah 3:7 may provide more information than just that men contributed to the building of the city. Depending on how you translate the difficult grammatical construction in that passage, it may report that Mispah was the seat of the governor of the Trans-Euphrates (not simply Yehud or Samaria).” This is a good observation. The lamed in Neh 3:7 may indeed be taken as specifying what Mizpah is meant: “Mizpah, i.e., the official seat of the governor of the province beyond the river.” This would suggest that Mizpah continued as the administrative centre for the Trans-Euphrates quite for a while. It is interesting that no English translations take the phrase in this way.

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