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Archive for November, 2006

Verhoeven’s “Christ, the Man”?

30th November 2006

Cinema Blend is reporting a rumour that Paul Verhoeven, director and Jesus-Seminar member, is planning on making a Jesus film. I have heard this rumour before, but it seems that this rumour may have some basis in reality:

The rumor comes from the frequently unreliable guys at WENN, so don’t believe it until someone else confirms it, but it is true that there has long been talk of Paul working on such a film. The working title once rumored for it was Christ, the Man, and apparently there’s now some movement on the whole thing again. The current incarnation is supposed tell Jesus’s story as if he’s not a god made man flesh but instead just a dude. Verhoeven plans to completely ignore all the superstitious mumbo jumbo surrounding him and focus on Big J as a guy navigating the complex political and social landscape of his time.

It seems that the boobs, guns, and gore director has an insatiable interest in the Christ figure. He’s a member of the Jesus Seminar, a group of scholars who use historical methods to determine who Jesus was. One problem though. He’s afraid it’ll get him lynched.

He reportedly tells Empire Magazine, “My scriptwriter told me not to do the movie in the United States because they (Christians) might shoot me. It’s not a joke at all. I took that very seriously. So I took his advice and decided to write a book about it first.”

I can’t find any corroboration for this rumour, but I don’t think Verhoeven really has to fear for his life.

Posted in Film, Jesus Films, News, Popular Culture | 1 Comment »

Hebrew or Israeli? Linguistics and Zionism

30th November 2006

Reuters has an article by Dan Williams (no relation) on maverick scholar Ghil’ad Zuckermann, entitled, “Hebrew or Israeli? Linguist stirs Zionist debate.” Zuckermann argues that modern Hebrew should be renamed “Israeli” and give up any claim to pure descent from the Hebrew of the Bible.

Here are some excerpts:

Israelis are brainwashed to believe they speak the same language as (the prophet) Isaiah, a purely Semitic language, but this is false,” Zuckermann told Reuters during a lecture tour to promote his soon-to-be-published polemic “Hebrew as Myth”.

“It’s time we acknowledge that Israeli is very different from the Hebrew of the past,” said Zuckermann, who points to the abiding influence of modern European dialects — especially Yiddish, Russian and Polish — imported by Israel’s founders.

Some critics throw Zuckermann in with revisionist academics who made their names questioning the justice of the 1948 war of Israel’s founding in what had been British Mandate Palestine.

Early Zionists were quick to assume Hebrew as part of an ancient birthright to land also claimed by Palestinian Arabs.

“His attitude toward modern Hebrew is less that of a professional linguist than of someone driven by the agenda of post- (if not anti-) Zionism,” wrote an Israeli contributor to the American newspaper Jewish Daily Forward.

Professor Moshe Bar-Asher, president of Israel’s Hebrew Language Academy, likened Zuckermann to Noam Chomsky, a renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguist who in recent decades became a freewheeling critic of U.S. foreign policy.

“I think Zuckermann is a very good scholar, but he risks wasting his efforts by mixing up linguistics with politics,” Bar-Asher said. “He stirs up a lot of antagonism.”

There is continuity and discontinuity between Modern and Classical/Biblical Hebrew, so while I think differentiating between the two as scholars do is necessary, I’m not sure that calling “Modern Hebrew” “Israeli” is the best solution. Perhaps, akin to “Canadian English” or “American English”, “Israeli Hebrew” is a potential option.

Do my Jewish/Israeli readers have any opinions?

Posted in Hebrew, News | 5 Comments »

Memorable TV Catchphrases

30th November 2006

The TV Land cable network has put together a list of the 100 greatest catchphrases in television. There will be a countdown special, “The 100 Greatest TV Quotes & Catch Phrases,” over five days starting December 11.

You can see the whole list here. Here are some of my favourites:

  • “I know nothing!” (Sgt. Schultz, “Hogan’s Heroes”)
  • “Jane, you ignorant sl*t” (Dan Aykroyd to Jane Curtin, “Saturday Night Live”)
  • “No soup for you!” (The Soup Nazi, “Seinfeld”)
  • “Resistance is futile” (Picard as Borg, “Star Trek: The Next Generation”)
  • “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids” (Trix cereal ad) (For some reason I actually said this to my kids the other day and they thought I was nuts)
  • “Space, the final frontier . . .” (Capt. Kirk, “Star Trek”)
  • “We are two wild and crazy guys!” (Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd as Czech playboys, “Saturday Night Live”)
  • “You look mahvelous!” (Billy Crystal as Fernando, “Saturday Night Live”)

One phrase that really ought to be on the list is, IMHO, “Eat my shorts” (Bart Simpson).

(HT Bits & Pieces)

Posted in Humour, Popular Culture | 1 Comment »

How Historically Accurate is the Bible?

30th November 2006

The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel offers a couple responses to the question, “How Historically Accurate is the Bible?” The first response is by an orthodox rabbi who believes “completely in the historical accuracy of the Hebrew Bible” on the basis of the uniqueness of its message:

The Bible internally proves its own accuracy. No people who were simply inventing their history would invent such things as apparent character flaws and mistakes in their heroes and founders. The sheer honesty of the Bible helps prove its accuracy. And the lack of precedent for and the sudden appearance out of nowhere of so many ideas in the Hebrew Bible that are fundamental to Western civilization also prove its historical accuracy.

Another answer is offered by a pastor of a Disciples of Christ church, who approaches the Bible “with prayer and scholarship” and affirms “the Bible is ‘true’ – and some of it even happened!” (italics added). Here’s an excerpt:

But reading the Bible as history misses its gift and grace, which lies not in its historical or scientific accuracy, but in the profoundly creative way it guides the search for meaning and hope. The search is so deeply rooted in the human spirit that the Bible stories predate an age of literacy. Traveling orally, the sacred words were passed from one generation to another attempting to make sense of the root of the human experience: love, suffering, joy, evil, hope.

Maximalism and minimalism in the popular press. So, what do you think?

Posted in Historiography, News | 1 Comment »

Global Warming Sounds Good Right Now…

27th November 2006

It’s stinking cold up here in northern Alberta (Michael Pahl concurs). We’re going through a bit of a cold snap with temperatures around -25 degrees Celsius (that’s around -13 F for you Americans). We’ve also had a tonne of snow. It’s a sad day when you get excited by a forecast for -10 C weather by Thursday. And it’s only November! At least it’s a “dry” cold! :-)

“Have you entered the storehouses of snow?” (Job 38:22)

Uh, yeah, I live in Edmonton!

Posted in Personal | 5 Comments »

Edmonton SBL Hebrew Scriptures Satellite Fall Seminar

23rd November 2006

As the coordinator of the Edmonton SBL Hebrew Scriptures Satellite, I would like to announce our fall seminar:

“The Prospects and Potentials of a Narratological Approach to the Pentateuch Targums�

Simon Adnams Lasair
University of Manchester

Response by Dr. Francis Landy
Professor, Department of History and Classics and Program of Religious Studies, University of Alberta

Thursday 30 November 2006 – 7:30 pm
Senate Chamber, Old Arts Building (Arts 326), University of Alberta.


This paper presents some of the initial findings of the author’s PhD thesis A Narratological Approach to the Pentateuch Targums, and shows what relevance this work has to the field of Targum Studies. The argument presented herein states that narratology can help to clarify many important differences between the targums and the Hebrew Bible, which in turn will allow scholars to address questions concerning how the targums might have functioned in various social and historical contexts. Several examples are given describing various narratological differences manifested between the targums and the Hebrew Bible. The discussion then turns to some methodological issues that are raised by this work and suggests how an engagement with these issues can help to further the work of targum scholars. Through this overview it is hoped that this paper will demonstrate how narratology can be used by scholars to further their understandings of targums and targumic literature.


Simon Adnams Lasair received his B.A. in Judaic and Christian Studies from Providence College, Otterburne, MB in 2001. In 2002 he was granted the degree of M.A. with distinction in Jewish Studies from the University of Manchester, Manchester, UK. The title of his M.A. dissertation was “A Methodological Enquiry into the Problem of the Provenance of Targum Onqelos.� Mr. Adnams is currently a third year PhD student at the University of Manchester, working on his dissertation, “A Narratological Approach to the Pentateuch Targums� supervised by Prof. Alexander Samely.

If you are in the Edmonton area, please feel free to join us.

Posted in Aramaic Targums, Emergent, SBL | Comments Off

Back from SBL

22nd November 2006

I got back from Washington late last night to cold blizzard-like conditions in Edmonton. I could barely see the car ahead of me on the short highway trip into town from the airport. I was exhausted. I dragged myself out of bed today since I had to teach three classes (OT Literature, Intro Hebrew, and a senior course on Psalms).

I will probably write a post or two about SBL, but not tonight. Suffice it to say for now that I very much enjoyed this year’s SBL. I enjoyed meeting old friends (and seeing the new James Bond film with a number of them), making new friends and acquaintances, putting faces to the names of other bloggers, buying books (way too many!), and listening to some interesting papers (and some not so interesting).

For those who weren’t at SBL and still happened upon this blog, I trust you enjoyed (or at least tolerated!) my “Best of Codex” posts.

Posted in Academic Associations, Blog News, Personal, SBL | Comments Off

The Septuagint Psalm Superscriptions (Part 2) Personal Names and Notions of Authorship (Best of Codex)

22nd November 2006

[Originally posted 3rd July 2005]

There are a total of 37 places where the LXX Psalter has either additions (13x) or expansions (24x) to the superscripts in comparison to the MT Psalter. While these may be classified in a number of ways, I will discuss them under four headings: personal names; genre designations, liturgical notices, and situational ascriptions. This blog entry will focus on personal names. (Note: Chapter and verse references are to the MT with the LXX indicated in parentheses).

Personal Names in the LXX Psalm Superscriptions

In the MT many of the psalms have references to personal names in the superscripts (typically with the preposition ל l). Seventy three psalms contain David; others have Asaph (12x; Pss 50; 73–83); the sons of Korah (11x; Pss 42; 44-49; 84-85; 87-88); Solomon (Pss 72; 127); Ethan (Ps 89), Heman (Ps 88), Moses (Ps 90), and possibly Jeduthun (Pss 39; 62; 77). With rare exceptions, the construction lamed + name is rendered with an articular dative. This includes all of the Asaph psalms and virtually all of the Korahite psalms (there are two contested cases where υπεÏ? + genitive is used: Ps 46(45) and 47(46)). In connection with the David psalms, Pietersma has argued that the six places that Rahlfs uses a genitive in his lemma text should be read as datives. Of the two psalms with Solomon in their titles, one is translated by a dative (Ps 127(126)), while the other is rendered by εις Σαλωμων “for Solomon” (Ps 72(71)).

David in the Septuagint Psalter
In the LXX there are a number of instances where personal names are added, including Jeremiah and Ezekiel in Ps 65(64); Haggai and Zechariah in Ps 146(145); 147:1-11(146); 147:12-20(147); and 148. Most of the changes in personal names, however, relate to David, the “sweet psalmist of Israel.” In 13 cases the LXX adds a reference to David (Pss 33(32); 43(42); 71(70); 91(90); 93(92); 94(93); 95(94); 96(95); 97(96); 98(97); 99(98); 104(103); 137(136). (I should also note that there are two instances where references to David are omitted in the Greek tradition: Pss 122(121) and 124(123)). In all but one instance (Ps 98(97)), the LXX adds this association to psalms that are untitled in the MT. The question that immediately comes to mind are whether these additions reflect a different Hebrew text or are the product of transmission history. Unfortunately, it is difficult to gain any critical purchase on this question since Ï„á¿· Δαυιδ is the default rendering of לדוד. In three cases it is more than likely that the additions reflect a different Hebrew text, as there is textual evidence to support the variant reading, whether among a few Masoretic texts (43(42)), or among the DSS (e.g., 11QPsq has לדוד in Ps 33(32); and 11QPsa and 4QPse also have לדויד in Ps 104(103).

The remaining ten instances are more difficult to access. Al Pietersma, in his study “David in the Greek Psalms” (VT 30 (1980) 213-226), suggests that the Davidic references in Pss 71(70); 91(90); 93(92); 95(94); 96(95); and 97(96); may be called into question because other elements of the LXX superscripts are clearly secondary. While this is essentially a “guilty by association” argument, it’s the best we can do considering the evidence. This leaves four superscripts that add an association with David: Pss 94(93); 98(97); 99(98); and 137(136). It is almost impossible to make any determination with Ps 94(93), as the superscript is uncontested. As a royal psalm, it may be understandable why Ps 98(97) would attract a Davidic superscript, though this does not help explain Ps 99(98) (contra Pietersma). The only superscript where some judgment may be made is Ps 137(136). There is quite a bit of variation among the textual witnesses, with many of them including an ascription to Jeremiah, and some conflating the two and associating the psalm with David and Jeremiah. The textual rivalry between David and Jeremiah could be an indication that the psalm was originally untitled, as it is in the MT tradition and Qumran.

Jeremiah & Ezekiel in the Septuagint Psalter
As noted above, some Greek texts of Ps 137(136) include a reference to Jeremiah in their superscripts. The association with Jeremiah in the Greek tradition is perhaps understandable considering the psalm’s exilic setting, though according to biblical tradition Jeremiah never goes to Babylon. There is a tradition, however, that places Jeremiah in Babylon. In fact, 4Baruch 7:33-36 Ps 137(136):3-4 is actually put into the mouth of Jeremiah. The text reads as follows:

For I [Jeremiah] say to you that the whole time we have been here, they have oppressed us, saying “Sing us a song from the songs of Zion, the song of your God.” And we say to them, “How can we sing to you, being in a foreign land?”

While there is a possibility that the superscript led to 4Baruch making the association, it seems more plausible the other way around because 4Baruch has Jeremiah in Babylon, where singing the psalm makes sense. In addition, in 4Baruch there is no indication that Jeremiah is quoting Scripture.

The reference to Jeremiah in Ps 137(136) is not the only one found in the LXX Psalter. The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel are mentioned together in Ps 65(64). The full superscript reads as follows:

εἰς τὸ τέλος ψαλμὸς Ï„á¿· Δαυιδ ᾠδή ΙεÏ?εμιου καὶ Ιεζεκιηλ á¼?κ τοῦ λόγου τῆς παÏ?οικίας ὅτε ἔμελλον á¼?κποÏ?εύεσθαι
To the end. A psalm for David. A song. Of Jeremiah and Ezekiel from the account of the sojourning community, when they were about to go out.

The superscript is somewhat contested, though Rahlfs considered it OG. What is interesting about this superscript, is that like the previous example, there is a double association: a connection with David and with Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Unlike the previous example, it is not clear what triggered the association with Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Within the psalm itself there are no explicit connections with these prophets or the return from exile in general. The reference to “Zion” and the addition of “Jerusalem” in v. 2 may suggest this is one of the “songs of Zion” mentioned in Ps 137. While these (and others I won’t bore you with) readings of the Greek translation may provide some clues as to why the association was made, it is more certain that the association is due to an inner-Greek development rather than a different Hebrew parent text. This is almost certain due to the fact that the superscript employs the atypical conjunction ὅτε, and that the grammatical construction of the modal μελλω (“about to”) plus a complementary infinitive is never found elsewhere in the LXX Psalter, and thus is not congruent with the translator’s technique.

Haggai & Zechariah in the Septuagint Psalter
The final two individuals that we meet unexpectedly in the superscript of the LXX Psalter are the post-exilic prophets Haggai and Zechariah. Ps 146(145); 147:1-11(146); 147:12-20(147); and 148 all include Αλληλουια, Αγγαιου καὶ ΖαχαÏ?ιου “Hallelujah. Of Haggai and Zechariah” (or “A Hallelujah of…”). If you look beyond Rahlfs’ text, then Haggai and Zechariah also show up in Ps 149 and 150, as well as 111(110), 112(111), and even 138(137) and 139(138). Of courses, not all attestations are as strong textually, though it is interesting to note how the tradition surrounding Haggai and Zechariah grew.

How the association of Haggai and Zechariah with these psalms arose is a perplexing question. F. W. Mozley (The Psalter of the Church, Cambridge University Press, 1905, p. 188), conjectures that Haggai and Zechariah were compilers of a small collection of psalms from which these psalms were taken. While that may be the case, a more plausible solution may be to look in these psalms for connections to the post-exilic community. Both Martin Rösel (“Die Psalmüberschriften Des Septuaginta-Psalters,” in Der Septuaginta-Psalter, Herder, 2001, pp. 125-148) and Al Pietersma (“Exegesis and Liturgy in the Superscriptions of the Greek Psalter,” in X Congress of the IOSCS, Oslo 1998, Society of Biblical Literature, 2001, pp. 99-138) appeal to Psalm 147(146) as the text that triggered the initial association. Verse 2 in the LXX has an explicit reference to the return from exile. The texts read as follows:

οἰκοδομῶν ΙεÏ?ουσαλημ á½? κÏ?Ï?ιος καὶ Ï„á½°Ï‚ διασποÏ?á½°Ï‚ τοῦ ΙσÏ?αηλ á¼?πισυνάξει
The Lord is the one who (re)builds Jerusalem; and he will gather the dispersed [diaspora] of Israel

The translation of the Nif’al participle from נדח “drive away” by διασποÏ?α is atypical. Elsewhere the translator renders נדח by εξωθεω“to expelâ€? (5:11) or απωθεομαι “expel, banish” (62[61]:5). Rather than these more general terms, in the passage under question he employs a technical term for the exilic dispersion, διασποÏ?α. Perhaps significant, is the fact that this term also shows up in some witnesses in connection with Zechariah in the superscript to Ps 139(138). This reference to the exilic dispersion in Ps 147 may have spawned the initial association with two prominent figures of the return, Haggai and Zechariah, which then expanded to include other psalms. The fact that the names are in the genitive may suggest these superscripts are products of transmission history, as it is unclear what the Hebrew text could have read to produce such a translation (If the Hebrew was lamed + name, then you would expect an article in the Greek, and there is no precedent for a construction “the hallelujah of Haggai and Zechariah”).

Personal Names and Authorship

One question that comes up in examining the LXX superscripts is how the translator understood the notion of authorship. Interestingly, it appears to be the case that the Greek translator (one of the earliest biblical interpreters) did not see the personal names in the superscripts as an indication of authorship, as a genitive construction would be expected. For example, Didymus the Blind (a 4th century Alexandrian theologian) makes the distinction in the Tura Psalms commentary in connection with Psalm 24:

(Ψαλμος τω δαυιδ): εις τον δαυιδ ο ψαλμος λεγεται αλλο γαÏ? εστιν “του δαυιδ” ειναι και αλλο “τω δαυιδ” λεγεται, οταν η αυτος αυτον πεποιηκως η ψαλλων. “αυτω” δε λεγεται, οταν εις αυτον φεÏ?ηται.
The psalm says “to David,” for others are “of David” and others “to David.” It says “of David,” when he made/wrote it or sang [it]. But it says “to him” when it was brought to him.

So while the Old Greek translation does not seem to indicate authorship, the growing trend in later witnesses is to spell out authorship explicitly by using the genitive. This suggests that the emphasis on individual authorship grew with time.

The evidence from the Greek Psalter fits nicely with a theory of Burton Mack’s I came across a number of years ago in an article entitled, “Under the Shadow of Moses: Authorship and Authority in Hellenistic Judaism” (SBL Seminar Papers 21 (1982) 299-318). In this article Mack argues that the interest in individual authorship only developed as Israel interacted with Hellenism. In the same way that the Greeks had their famous individuals, so too Judaism began to emphasize their own: Moses and the Pentateuch, Solomon and wisdom literature, and — as is clear from the Greek Psalms — David and the Psalter. The growing Davidic connection in the LXX Psalter is also paralleled in 11QPsa, where the prose piece notes that David composed over 4000 psalms “by the spirit of prophecy.”

Posted in Best of Codex, LXX Psalm Superscriptions, LXX Psalms, Psalms, Septuagint | Comments Off

Live from the SBL

20th November 2006

Just wanted to post a quick note about the “biblioblogger” podcast over at Targuman. A handful of bloggers got together yesterday here in Washington and had a round table discussion about a number of things related to our blogs. So, if you want to listen to a bunch of blog nerds discuss blogs, U2, and other such things, I encourage you to check it out. You can download the mp3 here.

Posted in Blog News, SBL | Comments Off

Beyond Minimalism & Maximalism: Some Modest Observations on the Historiography Debate (Best of Codex)

20th November 2006

[Originally posted 14th December 2005; Note that some of the original links are now unfortunately dead due to some blogs being defunct]

Why is it interesting debates spring up right when I am swamped with end of term grading and other publishing deadlines? Well, in an effort to avoid some marking, I figured I would offer some observations on the recent debate about historiography among some bloggers (dare I say, “bibliobloggers”?!).

The Debate Thus Far

First, some background. The recent debate was sparked in part by a post by Ken Ristau reflecting his frustration with the apparent inconsistency that some scholars bring to questions of ancient Israelite historiography, especially in regards to their disregard and/or scepticism of parts of the Hebrew Bible as a historiographic source (History in the Bible?). It is important to note that Ken wasn’t claiming that the Deuteronomistic History, for example, is equivalent to modern critical historiography. All he was arguing for is a recognition that the biblical texts — with all of their ideological limitations — can be used productively and critically in reconstructing the history of Israel. It should also be noted that, if I read Ken correctly (e.g., the reference to floating axe heads), his post is directed more, though not exclusively, against some comments made by Jim West at Biblical Theology), than the published views of scholars like Davies, Lemche, Thompson, and Whitelam.

Ken’s initial post was responded to by Jim West here. In addition, Keith Whitelam (on Jim West’s Biblical Theology blog here) understood some of Ken’s criticisms directed at his scholarship and chastised Ken for not interacting with specific views, among other things. James Crossley also made some balanced observations at Earliest Christian History blog. Ken clarified his views in his response to Keith Whitelam’s concerns here, then more fully here.

A parallel series of posts examining specific archaeological discoveries that may correlate with the portrayal of Israel in the Bible has been going on among some blogs. This series was initiated by Joe Cathey’s posts on the Merneptah Stele (initial post here) and Tel Dan Inscription (initial post here) in response to Jim West’s request for “proof” for the existence of Israel. These posts resulted in a flurry of blogging activity that I don’t have the energy to track in detail, but here are some high points.

In regards to the Merneptah stele, Jim responded to Joe’s initial post here (also see here), Kevin Edgecomb responded to Jim in kind here (see Jim’s response here), while Chris Heard produced a superb post here.

In regard to the Tel Dan inscription, Jim responded to Joe’s post here and Joe replied here, here, and once again here! And somewhere in the middle of the fray Jim replied here and here (also see Chris Heard’s reply to Jim here). Kevin Edgecomb has a number of excellent posts on the construction BÄ«t + PN in Assyrian/Aramean accounts (see here, here, and most recently here). I need oxygen… OK, I think this will be the last time I try to track a debate in the blogosphere!

I apologize if I have missed any contributions to this lively debate! In addition, you should make sure to read any comments associated with the blog posts in order to get the full picture!

Beyond “Minimalists” and “Maximalists”?

In my opinion, framing the whole discussion — and here I am not necessarily thinking only of the recent blog interchange — as a dichotomy between “minimalists” and “maximalists” is not helpful. There are not two camps, schools, or positions. If anything, the two terms represent a spectrum of possible views, with “minimalists” being at one end and “maximalists” at the other — and everyone else somewhere in the middle (I personally am a centrist — I, and only I, have a perfectly balanced perspective!). But even this portrayal of the debate is not sufficient as there are significant methodological differences between people all throughout the spectrum. For instance, “minimalist” has been used to describe scholars such as Davies, Lemche, Van Seters, Whitelam, among others. While these scholars have a number of presuppositional and methodological similarities surrounding the value of the biblical texts for modern historical reconstruction, they also have some very significant differences — especially in regards to method. This problem is exacerbated for the “maximalist” label since it seems that anyone who isn’t a “minimalist” is grouped together as a maximalist! And if you thought there were differences among the so-called minimalists, there are huge differences among so-called maximalists. In his recent article in SJOT, Lemche even starts using terms such as “maximalist critical scholars” to distinguish them from conservative/conservative evangelical/evangelical maximalist scholars. (I wonder how many “evangelical minimalist” scholars there are?)

The same observation applies equally to using labels such as “Copenhagen school,” “Sheffield school” (the use of the term “school” is more problematic as it presumes more agreement than actually exists), and “biblical revisionists.” On the other side of the debate, the label “evangelical” is used by some in an uncritical and almost derogatory way — at times equated with fundamentalist — to group scholars who have a high view of scripture, even though there is a wide spectrum of scholars who would consider themselves “evangelicals.”

I am not saying anything revolutionary here; most if not all scholars in the debate do not like the labels and have said as much in various publications — even though they continue to use them! So I think it is time for everyone to put the labels to rest and focus instead on interacting with the views of individual scholars (an especailly important step considering that many times our ad homnium or off-the-cuff comments are against views that no scholars actually hold!)

Avoiding Inflammatory Language

Even more than avoiding labels that are not heuristically useful, we need to avoid the caustic and inflammatory language that often accompanies this debate. I think we would all agree that it doesn’t help further the debate to use such language. This inflammatory language occurs in print discussions, email discussion groups, and blogs. I really wish we could all learn to play better among ourselves!

I know that some of the bantering is done tongue-in-cheek (especially in the blogosphere), though the tone of the debate does not contribute to furthering our understanding of how (or if) it is possible to write a history of Israel. We all have to do better (I include myself in the indictment). And I’m not just talking about labels that are thrown around, but statements that imply (or outright state) that so-and-so obviously hasn’t read this or that, tantamount to saying “If you weren’t such a moron, you would obviously see it my way!” That doesn’t mean we have to all agree with one another (though I believe greater miracles have happened!), but when we disagree we should do so with respect since there are learned scholars on all sides of the debate. Furthermore, when we are at the receiving end of a cheap shot or ad homnium argument, we should try our best to not respond in kind, but instead respond with appropriate restraint.

Focusing on Real Issues and Real Differences

Anyone familiar with the debate surrounding the history of Israel knows that there are a number of real issues dividing scholars. An important question that needs to be asked is at what level are the real differences? Most of the time the real differences are not on the surface, but are at lower levels. These lower levels may be methodological, or may be presuppositional and metaphysical. In any debate, it is essential to be able to identify at what level the disagreement exists. In a recent IBR article, V. Philips Long quotes E. L. Greenstein’s comments which I believe are quite appropriate:

in biblical studies we often argue as though we all shared the same beliefs and principles, as though the field were all built upon a single theoretical foundation. But it is not…. I can get somewhere when I challenge the deductions you make from your fundamental assumptions. But I can get nowhere if I think I am challenging your deductions when in fact I am differing from your assumptions, your presuppositions, your premises, your beliefs.

For example, let’s examine the recent blog debate about the Tel Dan stele. All parties — even Jim — appear willing to concede that the phrase in question is “house of David” (this is not the case in the larger debate where alternative readings are proposed; in which case there would be differences on the level of exegetical judgements). But then at the next step taken by Joe Cathey and Chris Heard, correlating the David of the inscription with the David mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, Jim West demurs. I believe this highlights some low-level differences among those engaged in the debate. Reading between the lines, I would suggest that Jim West has both methodological and metaphysical objections to reading the Hebrew Bible as a historical source, Chris Heard is arguing on the level of the historical critical method and bracketing any personal metaphysical commitments (Ken Ristau appears to be operating at this level as well), while Joe Cathey is probably similar to Jim West, though his methodological and metaphysical commitments likely differ considerably from Jim’s. The end result is that the discussion stalls and a stalemate is declared.

Meaningful and Productive Debate

The $60,000 question is how can we avoid such disagreements? Or stated positively, how can we engage meaningfully in a debate with whom we may have significant methodological and metaphysical differences? The first step would be to be up front about our lower-level commitments. We need to be clear about our method and our metaphysics. This sort of full disclosure will not, of course, produce peace and harmony among us (we know from pop culture that only Coca-Cola can do that!); but it will help us understand where we all are coming from. After this, we can then see if we can find a “middle discourse” to engage one another. We need to agree on the rules of the game before the game starts. Here I wonder if the most fruitful approach may be to work on the level of the historical-critical method and bracket any metaphysical commitments — at least initially. Then, for those of us who may share similar metaphysical commitments, we may take the conversation further.

Of course, perhaps I am being hopelessly naive to think that we can ever really “bracket” our metaphysical commitments, or that we can ever agree on method (there really isn’t any such thing as the historical-critical method!), or that we could even agree on what argument is more plausible than another.

What we can agree on, however, is to treat each other with respect, try to understand each other’s views, and stop with the labels, ad homnium arguments, and making grandiose claims of “proof” on insufficient evidence.

Well, I’ve babbled on enough. Back to marking!

Posted in Best of Codex, Historiography, History of Ancient Israel | Comments Off