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Archive for October, 2006

Approaching 100,000

31st October 2006

As I mentioned last week, in honour of reaching the 100,000 visitor mark on this blog, I am giving away a book to lucky (providential?) number 100,000. Since the magic (ordained?) number is fast approaching, I have changed the image on Site Meter so that people can’t tell how close they are. If my calculations are correct, the 100,000 visitor should visit this site on Friday. At that time I will post the time of their visit as well as other identifying marks and wait in anticipation for the visitor to contact me.

Stay tuned!


Posted in Blog News, Milestones & Visitor Recognition | Comments Off

Witches in the Hebrew Bible

31st October 2006

[This was originally posted October 31, 2005]

This last week I was copying an article in the Festschrift for John F.A. Sawyer (Words Remembered, Texts Renewed, JSOT 195, Sheffield 1995), and came across an interesting chapter on witches in the Hebrew Bible by Graham Harvey (pp. 113-134). This piqued my interest and I thought, considering that today is Halloween, I would blog a bit on the subject of witches in the Hebrew Bible.

You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!

Witches have come a long way in popular culture. Shakespeare’s characterization of witches in Macbeth as old wrinkly hags that dance naked around a pot of boiling potion is still found in the stereotypical Halloween costumes and in the portrayal of the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz.

But there is also a more attractive characterization of the witch in film and television. For instance, Elizabeth Montgomery’s Samantha in Bewitched did not fit the stereotype, nor did Nicole Kidman in the recent remake. And, of course, the stereotype was dashed to pieces with the Harry Potter books. Hermione Granger does not look like a witch, she looks just like a young girl.

Of course, this raises the question of where did this stereotypical image of the witch as an old Hag with warts and frogs come from? Well, first of all, it did NOT come from the Bible.

Witches and Witchcraft in the Hebrew Bible

One of the first things that you realize when broaching the subject of witches in the Hebrew Bible, is how little we actually know!

If you look for the word “witch” in the NRSV, you would look in vain. The word “witchcraft” is only found in Lev 19:26 to translate תעוננו. The NIV is similar in that the term “witch” is not found, but you do find the term “witchcraft” five times to translate words from the root כסף (Deut 18:10; 2 Kings 9:22; 2 Chron 33:6; Mic 5:12; Nah 3:4). The picture is again somewhat different if you look at the KJV, which adds Exod 22:17 (“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”; once again from כסף) and 1 Sam 15:23 (translating קס×? “divination”) to the examples from the NIV.

One of the key passages about witchcraft in the Hebrew Bible — or at least a passage that brings together a series of terms relating to magic is Deut 18:9-14.

9 When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you must not learn to imitate the abhorrent practices of those nations. 10 No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead. 12 For whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord; it is because of such abhorrent practices that the Lord your God is driving them out before you. 13 You must remain completely loyal to the Lord your God. 14 Although these nations that you are about to dispossess do give heed to soothsayers and diviners, as for you, the Lord your God does not permit you to do so (NRSV).

The terms employed include the following:

  • “One who practices divination” (קס×? קסמי×?). This term is used primarily for the practices of non-Israelites who tell the future or prophesy by various means. Some take this to be a more general term that describes the whole complex of magical and divinatory practices in ancient Israel.
  • “Soothsayer” (מעונן). Someone who can interpret signs or looks for omens.
  • “Augur” (מנחש×?). To seek and give omens, foretell. Could be some sort of divination related to snakes.
  • “Sorcerer” (מכש×?×£). This term is probably closest to the idea of magic and witchcraft.
  • “One who casts spells” (חבר חבר). This would be a charmer or the like.
  • “One who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead (ש×?ל ×?וב֙ וידעני ודרש×? ×?ל־המתי×?). These terms appear to be related to the practice of necromancy, i.e., divination by inquiring of the dead.

Most of these terms occur infrequently and are very difficult to unpack in a meaningful way. Even the concept of magic in the Hebrew Bible is had to define. ABD uses “the term ‘magic’ will be used here to refer to methods associated with the gaining of suprahuman knowledge and power or with influencing suprahuman powers.” The majority of places where these terms are used are clearly negative, though there are some more neutral occurrences. It appears that many of these terms are used to characterize illegitimate practices relating to telling (or perhaps changing) the future by those who do not worship Yahweh.

No matter how you understand some of these terms, what is clear is that these terms do not tell us anything about what these people looked like. So where does our image of witches come from?

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble

More recognizable images of witches from English literature like MacBeth are derived from classical Roman authors and mediaeval sources.

For instance, the Roman poet Lucan (39-65 AD) describes a “witch” that fits our modern stereotypes in book six of his Pharsalia (also known as “The Civil War”):

To her no home
Beneath a sheltering roof her direful head
Thus to lay down were crime: deserted tombs
Her dwelling-place, from which, darling of hell,
610 She dragged the dead. Nor life nor gods forbad
But that she knew the secret homes of Styx
And learned to hear the whispered voice of ghosts
At dread mysterious meetings. (35) Never sun
Shed his pure light upon that haggard cheek
Pale with the pallor of the shades, nor looked
Upon those locks unkempt that crowned her brow.
In starless nights of tempest crept the Hag
Out from her tomb to seize the levin bolt;
Treading the harvest with accursed foot
620 She burned the fruitful growth, and with her breath
Poisoned the air else pure. No prayer she breathed
Nor supplication to the gods for help

Horace has a number of similar descriptions of witches in his Epodes. He describes the “hideous looks of all these hags” one of which has “interwoven her hair and uncombed head with little vipers” and who make potions out of disgusting materials. It is descriptions like these that inspired Shakespeare, not the Bible.

Of course, the best portrayal of a witch in popular culture is found in Monty Python’s The Quest for the Holy Grail! (See it here)

UPDATE (2006): You will want to check out a post by Menachem Mendel on witches (he also notes the following brief article: Witches in the Bible and Talmud). Phil Harland also relates an ancient ghost story here.

Posted in Bible, Halloween, Holidays, Old Testament | 3 Comments »

Temple Treasures in Monastery?

30th October 2006

The San Francisco Chronicle has an article claiming that the treasures from the (second) Jewish Temple are sitting in a Greek Orthodox monastery near Bethlehem. Right…

The article, “Ancient Jewish treasures in monastery, book says Ancient Jewish treasures in monastery, book says Gold, silver vessels reportedly in West Bank caves” (how’s that for a concise and captivating title!), is reporting claims made by Sean Kingsley in his book, God’s Gold: The Quest for the Lost Temple Treasure of Jerusalem (2006).

Here’s an excerpt of the article:

British archaeologist Sean Kingsley said he has traced the journey of the legendary vessels from the first time they disappeared from public view more than 1,500 years ago to their current location in this walled monastery east of Bethlehem in the West Bank. He said the items include “the central icons of biblical Judaism” — a seven-branched gold candelabra, the bejeweled Table of the Divine Presence and a pair of silver trumpets.

But many people, including Israeli government officials, believe the treasures are hidden somewhere in Vatican vaults. In 1996, Israeli Religious Affairs Minister Shimon Shetreet officially asked the pope to return them.

But Kingsley contends they were taken from Rome when it was sacked by the Vandals in A.D. 455. He bases his theory on new archaeological sources and contemporary accounts by ancient historians.

In his new book, “God’s Gold: The Quest for the Lost Temple Treasure of Jerusalem,” just published in Britain this month and due in U.S. bookstores in the spring, Kingsley describes the odyssey of the priceless haul from Jerusalem to Rome and back again via Carthage and Constantinople, to its final resting-place at Mar Theodosius.

“I am the first person to prove that the temple treasure is no longer in Rome,” he said.

Right… (PaleoJudaica has commented on the temple treasures a number of times)

(HT archaeologica news)


Posted in Archaeology, News | 3 Comments »

Smithsonian Bible Exhibit in the News

29th October 2006

The Hamilton Spectator has an interesting article from Washington Post reporter Allan Cooperman on the Bible exhibit underway at the Smithsonian. The article, “A True Testament to Change: How Much was Altered in the Bible’s Evolution?“, highlights some of the manuscripts on display in the exhibition, “In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year 1000.”

This exhibition includes a whole host of fascinating finds, including fragments of a Dead Sea Scroll, Cheaster Beatty papyri, some leaves from Codex Sinaiticus, among other manuscripts. I am looking forward to viewing the exhibit in person when I am at SBL.

In regards to the news article, there are some choice quotes from Bart Ehrman about the implications of the transmission history of the Bible and certain views of the Scripture’s authority. Here’s an excerpt:

These are documents with the proven power to shake faith. That’s what happened to Bart Ehrman, author of the 2005 bestseller, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed The Bible And Why.

Ehrman was a born-again Christian from Kansas when he entered Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute at age 18. After three decades of comparing ancient manuscripts in their original languages to try to determine the earliest, most authentic text of the New Testament, he is now an agnostic.

“I thought God had inspired the words inerrantly. But when I examined the historical texts, I realized the words had not been preserved inerrantly, and it would have been no greater miracle to preserve them than to inspire them in the first place,” said Ehrman, now chairman of religious studies at the University of North Carolina.

I think that Ehrman raises an interesting question about the relationship of the transmission of the biblical text to some particular views of the inspiration of the original text. The article continues:

But if these fading papyrus leaves and purple parchments inscribed with silver ink can shake faith, that does not mean they must [italics added].

Brown, who pulled the exhibition together in association with Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, sits on the governing board of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. “That’s a pretty good tip-off,” she said, that she is a member in good standing of the Church of England.

“There’s nothing here that’s going to shape or challenge people’s beliefs, except on one point,” she said. “It will challenge the belief that the Bible originated in the form we have today, rather than being the result of the very complex process of a lot of people of faith using scriptures to help them live God-focused lives.”

“We didn’t start out with this,” she said, producing a red Gideon’s Bible from her Washington hotel room.

All in all it looks like a great exhibit.

UPDATE: Stephen Carlson has a list of all the manuscripts showing at the exhibit (well, almost all, he neglects to list some of the Hebrew manuscripts — but what can you expect from a NT scholar! :-) ).  His list makes me even more eager for the exhibit!


Posted in Bible, Manuscript, News | Comments Off

Two Hobbit Films Planned… Sweet!

27th October 2006

This is great news… at least if you are a Tolkien fan. It appears MGM is planning to produce two (not one) films based on The Hobbit, and that their first choice for director is none other than Peter Jackson. Read the story here.

While I don’t like some of the liberties that Jackson took with LOTR (especially the Ents!), I think he would be a natural choice for the project. While they could probably make due with one film, I won’t complain.

(HT The Busybody)


Posted in Faith & Film, Film, News | 4 Comments »

Food in the Bible and the Ancient Near East

27th October 2006

Ever feel like making our self a bowl of “red stuff” or wondering what the typical ancient Israelite or first century Jew ate for dinner? Haaretz.com has an article entitled “The land of milk … and molasses?” by Yahil Zaban that discusses food in Bible times.

The actual article draws from a book published a couple years ago: Miriam Feinberg Vamosh, Food at the Time of the Bible: From Adam’s Apple to the Last Supper (Abingdon, 2004; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com).

Here is an excerpt from the article:

“Food at the Time of the Bible” studies the various mentions of food in the Bible, the New Testament, the Mishnah and the Talmud, and offers readers a different perspective on the history of the Land of Israel. Author Miriam Feinberg Vamosh compares historical sources, looks at archaeological findings and tracks down communities that have preserved old culinary traditions that date back to antiquity. In so doing, she paints a tangible and human portrait of the past, dashing some of the myths we have grown up with, along the way.

….

That is probably why the author has provided an array of biblical-style recipes. Prepare “Jael’s Labane” and feel Sisera’s death on the tip of your tongue. Eat “Song of Songs Cake” (“before adding nuts, chop dates in a food processor”) and feel the refreshment in your belly. Anyone who wants to nibble the delicacies that graced King Solomon’s table is invited to whip up some “Solomon’s Chicken Kebabs” spiced with coriander, garlic and cumin. Most of the recipes are pseudo-biblical, of course, and you will need modern kitchen appliances to prepare them, but the spices and ingredients were all available in biblical Israel. Tomatoes and potatoes, which entered our lexicon after the discovery of America, are not on the menu.

The recipes in the book thus combine historical research and contemporary culinary know-how. Some of them are a little bizarre, like “Pharaoh’s Melokhia Soup” (taken from an inscription in an ancient Egyptian tomb), but most are characterized by the book’s sober approach to biblical cuisine. The author discusses the spiritual significance of food customs in the Bible, and delves deeply into the metaphoric use of cooking and eating terms. But the symbolism of food, in her view, is anchored in the reality of biblical life.

A case in point is Ezekiel 24, where the prophesied destruction of Jerusalem is described in culinary terms. The city is likened to a pot, and the sinning Israelites to chunks of meat. The grim prophecy alludes to the cooking customs of the time. God, in his anger, turns up the fire under the pot and orders Ezekiel to add some bones. The author overdoes it, perhaps, with her recipe for “Ezekiel’s Lamb Stew,” but with a little substitution – lamb, onions and carrots, instead of Israelites – readers can enjoy an old Jerusalem favorite.

This work appears to be a bit more popular than academic, though it look interesting.

I have long had an interest in ancient cuisine, which is probably due to the fact that I used to cook at a French restaurant and have always enjoyed cooking.

Food in the Ancient Near East

In this regard another book on this subject which includes a number of ancient recipes is Jean Bottéro, Texts culinaires Mésopotamiens / Mesopotamian Culinary Texts (Eisenbrauns, 1995; Buy from Eisenbrauns).

This volume provides reconstructions and translations of the Yale Culinary Tablets. Most of the book is in French, but there is one chapter in English that includes actual recipes. Recipes include “Gazelle broth,” “Goat’s kid broth,” “Green wheat in porridge” (they sure liked their broth!).

It should be noted that these Mesopotamian recipes do not reflect the typical meals of your average Joe or Jane Babylonian — they are “restricted to the kitchens of the mighty and, perhaps, to the kitchens of the gods” (Bottéro, 16). They are fascinating nonetheless.

I have been thinking for quite a while that I need to prepare one of these dishes and feed it to unsuspecting students. Hmmm… perhaps the “Spleen broth” would do the trick!


Posted in Ancient Near East, Bible | 1 Comment »

Latest in the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures

27th October 2006

Some new articles and book reviews have been uploaded to the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures. The following article has been added:

William K. Gilders, “Why Does Eleazar Sprinkle the Red Cow Blood? Making Sense of a Biblical Ritual,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, Volume 6: Article 9 (2006).

Numbers 19:1-10 is a prescriptive ritual text concerned with the preparation of the ashes of a burnt “red cow� to be used to counteract the impurity caused by exposure to a human corpse. Like many other biblical ritual texts, this one is relatively rich in details on ritual practice, but offers little that might be termed “interpretation� of the various ritual actions. In response to this conceptual gap, various attempts have been made to specify the “meaning(s)� of the actions and objects. Giving special attention to the blood manipulation component of the ritual complex (Num 19:4), this paper explores a variety of theoretical questions about the interpretation of ritual activity represented in biblical ritual texts. It highlights the significance of the textuality of our access to biblical ritual, the need to fill gaps while interpreting biblical ritual texts, and points to the value of considering the indexical qualities of ritual actions.

In addition, the following reviews have been added:

  • Tsumura, David Toshio, Creation and Destruction: A Reappraisal of the Chaoskampf Theory in the Old Testament (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2005). Review by Karljürgen G. Feuerherm.
  • Rabin, Eliott, Understanding the Hebrew Bible: A Reader’s Guide (Jersey City, NJ: KTAV Publishing House, 2006) Review by Shaul Bar.
  • Perry, T. A., The Honeymoon Is Over: Jonah’s Argument with God (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006). Review by Barbara Green.
  • Klein, Ralph W., 1 Chronicles: A Commentary (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006). Review by Steven L. McKenzie.
  • Brettler. Marc Zvi, How to Read the Bible (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2005). Review by Alex Jassen.
  • Ben Zvi, Ehud, Hosea (The Forms of the Old Testament Literature, 21A/I; Grand Rapids/Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005). Review by Yair Hoffman.

Noteworthy are the reviews of Klein’s Hermeneia commentary on 1 Chronicles by McKenzie (a commentary which I would highly recommend), as well as Hoffman’s very lively review of Ehud Ben Zvi’s commentary on Hosea. In addition, the review of Brettler’s recent book (which is really more of an introduction to the Hebrew Bible than the title suggests), has piqued my interest. It looks like it is worth a read.


Posted in JHS, Reviews & Notices | Comments Off

Approaching 100,000 — Time to Give Away A Free Book!

27th October 2006

OK, I know some bibliobloggers think contests, recognizing milestones, and other such stuff is cheesy. But I don’t care.

As this blog approaches its 100,000th visitor, I want to give away a book. So here’s the deal: if you are number 100,000 I will send you a free book (I’ll give you some options and you can choose).

I figure that number 100,000 should visit around the middle of next week.

Thanks for visiting and good luck!


Posted in Blog News, Milestones & Visitor Recognition | Comments Off

Bible Movies Galore

26th October 2006

I have been getting behind in my coverage of Bible films. I have watched quite a few recently, but just haven’t found the time to blog about them. Such is life.

There are a number of intriguing Bible films that have just been released or are coming out in the next little while — unfortunately, in most cases no Canadian release dates have been set, so I am not sure when I will have a chance to actually view them.

one_night_king.jpgIn the “just released” category falls Michael O. Sajbel’s One Night With the King (2006; IMDb; Official website). This movie about the biblical Esther has opened to favourable (not amazing) reviews. Make sure to check out the thorough review by Matt Page over at Bible Films Blog, as well as his scene analysis. While no Canadian release date has yet been set, it will be released on DVD on 23 January 2007. You can pre-order it from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.

Sticking to the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, I should note the DVD release of the made-for-TV film The Ten Commandments (Robert Dornhelm; 2006; IMDb; Official website). This two-part film was released in April 2006 on ABC to less than spectacular results (see this review). The movie is OK. I was glad to see that it departed from previous films covering the same topic by including a bunch of stuff after the Hebrews cross the red/reed sea — and it even finds space for Aaron as Moses’ sidekick! If I have time I will post a more thorough review in the future. It is available for purchase from Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.

On the New Testament side of things (you know, that other testament, the small one :-) ), there are two noteworthy films being released this fall.

I am thoroughly intrigued by The Color of the Cross (Jean-Claude La Marre; 2006; IMDb; Official website), which is being released in the United States today. This film is the first historical Jesus film to cast a black actor to play Jesus — which has provided some free publicity for the film (see the Associated Press report). I personally think it will be refreshing considering how many blond, blue-eyed Saviours have been filmed. There is an article on the film in the Chicago Tribune that is worthy of a read and includes interviews with the director as well as Canadian biblical studies scholar Adele Reinhartz (HT Mark Goodacre).

Finally, the birth of Jesus will be the subject of the film The Nativity Story (Catherine Hardwicke; 2006; IMDb; Official website), which is slated for a December 1st release. Matt Page has a convenient summary page for this film here.

For a complete listing of films based on the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible see my Old Testament on Film pages. An excellent place to visit for news and reviews of Bible films is Matt Page’s Bible Films Blog.


Posted in Bible & Film, Faith & Film, Film, Jesus Films, News, OT Film Epics | 1 Comment »

Dead Sea Scrolls Confirm Bible?

26th October 2006

According to Billy Graham, the Dead Sea Scrolls “repeatedly confirm the accuracy of the Bible.” In his Q&A column in the Kansas City Star and elsewhere, Graham gave the latter answer to an inquirer who told about a friend “who says that the Dead Sea Scrolls disprove Christianity.”

While I certainly agree that it is utter nonsense to argue that the scrolls somehow disprove Christianity, I found Graham’s comment on the reliability of the texts of the Hebrew Bible a bit misleading. Here’s an excerpt:

Many contain books of the Old Testament and have repeatedly confirmed the accuracy of the texts of our Bibles. Other scrolls show that many people were eagerly looking for the coming of the Messiah.

While the largest group of biblical manuscripts found at Qumran are proto-Masoretic (i.e., they are of the same tradition as the modern text of Hebrew Bible) and in this sense they underscore the antiquity of our biblical text, the Dead Sea Scrolls also give witness to a significant textual plurality. They also raise many issues about the nature of the biblical “canon” (to use the term anachronistically) before the time of Jesus. That being said, I don’t think this new understanding of the development of the biblical text has many implications to the authority of the biblical text, it does complicate things dramatically.

For more discussion of the text of the Hebrew Bible, see my series of posts on the Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, especially the one on the Dead Sea Scrolls. You may also want to check out my Dead Sea Scrolls Resource pages.

On another related note, there is an article in the Chicago Tribune about Norman Golb‘s theories separating the scrolls from the remains at Khirbet Qumran. The article doesn’t really provide any new evidence; it just refers to an article in the September 2006 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review that I had already blogged on here. See Jim Davila’s comments on this most recent article here.


Posted in Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls, Qumran | 8 Comments »