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Archive for May, 2007

Colbert on Modern University Education and An Inconvenient Truth

31st May 2007

Last week Stephen Colbert responded to the news report of a college student refusing to watch Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim, 2006) because he “didn’t believe in it.” All educators will want to watch Stephen’s response. It’s hilarious!

theword-heateddebate.jpg


Posted in Humour, Teaching & Learning | Comments Off

Once Again… What’s in a Name?

30th May 2007

No sooner than I go out of town to a conference than an interesting debate begins in the blogosphere. It appears that the question of the appropriate label for what Christians traditionally have referred to as the “Old Testament” is being debated.  This is not a new debate among bibliobloggers; back in January 2006 I started a similar debate. This time around Claude Mariottini got the ball rolling and Richie (at a blog called “Ecclesiastical Mutt”), Chris Heard, and Chris Weimer have all responded.

My position hasn’t changed since my previous post, so I thought I would reprint it here for you all.

Old Testament/First Testament/Hebrew Bible/Tanak: What’s in a Name? Quite a Bit Actually!

Labels don’t really matter that much, do they? A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet — or so they say. A little while ago there was a discussion on the biblical studies email list about different names for the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible/Tanak. This discussion highlighted the significance that each of the different monikers has as well as potential problems with pretty much all of the terms. When it comes right down to it, it does make a difference what label you do use since each of the names relate to a particular community of faith and audience. That being said, I don’t think there is anything wrong with employing the various labels at different times depending on your intended audience.

From the get go, it should be noted that all of the different terms are, in fact, external labels. The collection of books that make up the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible/Tanak do not have any self-referential label. The closest you get to a self-referential title are the references to parts of the canon by the terms such as “Torah,” the “Torah of Moses” (Ezra 3:2; 7:6; Neh 8:1), the “Torah of the LORD” (Ezra 7:10), or the “book/scroll of Moses” (2Chron 25:4; 35:12; Neh 13:1).

Once you get outside the books of the Hebrew Bible you find references to “the law of the Most High,” “the wisdom of all of the ancients,” and “prophecies” in Sirach 38:34-39:1. Similarly, in the Greek translation of Sirach (completed around 132 BCE), you find reference to the Law, Prophets, and the “other books” — the last phrase being a disputed reference to the third division of the Hebrew Bible. A similar (disputed) reference to the tripartite Hebrew canon are found in 4QMMT, while there are a few reference to a bipartite canon in other DSS such as the Community Rule (1QS) and the Damascus Document (CD).

Within the Christian New Testament the books of the OT are referred to variously as “the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12; 22:40; Luke 16:16; Acts 13:15; Rom 3:21) or “Moses and the Prophets” (Luke 16:29, 31; 24:44) or the like. One of the most common ways the NT refers to the books of the OT is by the generic term “scripture” (Gk. γÏ?αφὴ; usually in the plural, “scriptures”). So for instance, in 2 Timothy 3:16 the books of the OT are referred to as “Scripture” that is “God breathed” (Gk. θεόπνευστος).

The point of this survey is to illustrate that there was no uniform way that Jewish or later Christian communities referred to the collection of books that make up the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible prior to the second century CE.

The traditional Christian label is the Old Testament. This label for the books otherwise known as the Hebrew Bible or Tanak (note that in some traditions it also includes additional apocryphal/deuterocaonical books) is probably the most common label used overall. Its first known usage appears near the end of the second century CE. Melito of Sardis reportedly went to Palestine and “learned accurately the books of the Old Testament/Covenant” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 4.26.14). Irenaeus also employed the term, though it is only after him that you find undisputed uses the labels “Old Testament” and “New Testament” for the two collections of books in early Christian writings (e.g., Clement, Tertullian, Hippolytus, etc.).

Since this term arose within a Christian context, it isn’t surprising that it is tied to a Christian understanding of these books being only one part of the two part Christian Bible: The Old and New Testaments. Historically, however, there is some difference of opinion within Christian circles what books actually make up the “Old Testament.” The early history of the debate over certain books is quite complex. It ended up that the Protestant tradition limited the term to refer to the books of the Hebrew Bible, while other Christian traditions, e.g., Catholic and Orthodox, include the books commonly referred to as apocryphal or deuterocanonical.

One of the main objections for using this term in biblical scholarship is that it clearly presupposes a Christian understanding of the Bible, which not everyone in biblical studies (obviously) shares. But even within Christian circles, this label is considered misleading by some since it may be interpreted as unnecessarily devaluing one section of the Christian Bible by calling it “old” or by implying that the “new” testament supersedes the “old” testament (the different understandings of the relationships between the testaments is beyond the scope of this post). This dissatisfaction spawned the use of the terms First and Second Testament. These terms are an attempt to recognize the two parts of the Christian Bible without some of the negative baggage associated with “Old” and “New Testament.” I believe this term was coined by James Sanders and has been adopted by the Biblical Theology Bulliten and a growing number of Christian scholars. Even John Goldingay employs it throughout his recent book Old Testament Theology: Israel’s Gospel (IVP, 2003; he only uses the term after the first chapter).

The label Hebrew Bible originates within the Jewish community and is gaining ground in academic biblical studies. It is considered less ideologically loaded than OT, though it has its share of problems. Perhaps the most obvious problem is that it is imprecise, since some of the books are actually written in or contain Aramaic portions. It still conveys religious overtones by including the term “Bible,” while Christians may object because it obscures the connection between the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament. It also doesn’t take into consideration traditions that hold to the expanded Christian canon including the apocryphal books.

Another popular Jewish term for the Old Testament is the Tanak. This term is an acronym for the three major divisions of the Hebrew Bible: Torah, Nebe’im, and Ketubim — TaNaK (תורה נבי×?×™×? וכתובי×? in Hebrew). This is perhaps one of the most common terms used within the Jewish community. Since the label is tied to the contents and order of the Jewish Hebrew Bible, it has the same, if not more, limitations as the term Hebrew Bible. Of course, this traditional Jewish division and ordering of the books appears to be quite old and even reflected in some of the NT passages noted above (also see Matt 23:35).

Other terms have been suggested, but none have really gained widespread usage. Perhaps the traditional labels, albeit problematic, are the best we have. As long as they are used with charity and understanding, I don’t see much of a problem. I have never been offended by any of my Jewish friends referring to the Old Testament as the Hebrew Bible or the Tanak, nor do I think they have been offended when I or other Christians refer to the Old Testament. I probably use the awkward “Old Testament/Hebrew Bible” the most, and reserve “Old Testament” when engaging specifically Christian theological topics and concerns. And I’m still not sure what I think of “First and Second Testament.”

What label(s) do you use and why?


Posted in Best of Codex, Bible, Biblical Canon, Old Testament | 12 Comments »

Canadian Society of Biblical Studies 2007

26th May 2007

CSBSLogo.gifI am heading off to the 2007 annual meeting of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies (CSBS) today. This year it is being held at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and runs for three days (May 27-29).

A glance at the programme reveals many interesting papers related to the Hebrew Bible, including papers in the Ancient Historiography Seminar (For those interested more in New Testament/Christian Origins or the history of interpretation there are many papers that would interest you, so check out the full programme).

If I have the time and an internet connection, I will post some reflections from the meetings like previous years. If an internet connection is not available, I will post some thoughts when I get back next Wednesday.

UPDATE: It doesn’t look like I will be able to do any reflections from here, so I will post some thoughts when I am back home.


Posted in Academic Associations, CSBS | 1 Comment »

Dame Mary Douglas (1921-2007) and Purity in Leviticus

24th May 2007

Upon hearing the sad news of the death of Dame Mary Douglas last week, I was thinking of writing up a short post on her significant contribution to the study of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible — in particular her ground breaking understanding of the purity laws in the book of Leviticus. As it turns out John Hobbins has beaten me to it over at Ancient Hebrew Poetry.

You may read his thoughtful post here.


Posted in Bible, Leviticus, Old Testament | 2 Comments »

Top Ten Old Testament Scholars Since 1800

24th May 2007

Charles Halton has written an interesting list of the “Top Ten Old Testament Scholars Since 1800” over at Awilum.  The only surprises on the list (IMHO) are the inclusion of Thompson and Van Seters at number nine.  While I am not denying their significant input in biblical studies and would probably be in a top 50, they are not top 10 material. I would have to agree with some of the comments that as far as living scholars Emanuel Tov should perhaps be included.

The big question is what criteria were used to make the list. I would think that such a list should only include scholars whose influence spanned across sub fields within Old Testament studies and who influenced the field not only through their publications but also through their students. Thus, the inclusion of Wellhausen, Gunkel, Noth, von Rad, Albright, and Childs. On the other hand, I wouldn’t include Thompson or Van Seters, since they are one trick ponies (no offence intended). That is also why I wouldn’t include the likes of Jacob Milgrom, Sarah Japhet,  Phylis Trible, etc., but I would perhaps include S.R. Driver, C. Briggs, Sigmund Mowinckel, and Dominique Barthelemy high up in my list. Furthermore, Dever isn’t even an Old Testament/Hebrew Bible scholar, so he wouldn’t make my list at all (that, of course, depends on how narrowly you define “Old Testament scholars”).

Ah, “the making of many books lists there is no end, and much study wearies the flesh”


Posted in Bible, Criticism, Old Testament, Scholars | 2 Comments »

Seven Deadly Sins of Blogging

18th May 2007

See John Lyons’s humorous post over at Reception of the Bible. I would probably add to his list, “Blogging without Jim West’s Imprimatur.”


Posted in Biblioblogs, Humour | 2 Comments »

Banning Books and Blogs – Jim West’s Imprimatur

18th May 2007

Gee, you turn away from the computer for a second and a firestorm breaks out! Michael Bird started the “kerfuffle” (using Chris Heard‘s description of the controversy) when he listed as one of his “pet hates” when his students cite Matthew Henry’s biblical commentary in an academic paper.

It was the ever affable Jim West, however, who really got the controversy going when he made his own list of books and people not to cite in an academic paper. The last two on his list are “anything published by InterVarsity Press” and “William Dever.” While Jim claims the latter was meant tongue firmly planted in cheek (although knowing about Jim’s membership in the “Copenhagen Fan Club” makes me wonder how truly in jest the comment was!), the former has elicited a significant amount of controversy — and rightly so. You can see the able responses by Charles Halton, Chris Heard (parts 1, 2, and 3), Mike Aubrey, Daniel Clark, James Spinti (here and here) – to name only a few.  I won’t enter the fray except to say that I think InterVarsity Press is a fine publisher and am surprised that Jim associated it with fundamentalism. I especially think some of InterVarsity’s recent dictionaries are top notch reference works for all students of the Bible (if any InterVarsity Press representatives are reading this blog I’d be happy to point out how great and unfundamentalistic your books are in some reviews if you send me some samples!).

Jim has also made a list of who [sic] to cite; but alas I am not on his list, so you better stop reading now.

This whole brouhaha has got me thinking that what we need is an official imprimatur from Jim West for blogs which may be read with confidence. Then when coming to a blog all you have to do is look for the imprimatur and you know it is safe to read. Even though my blog hasn’t received such a stamp of approval from Jim West, I took it upon myself to design such a seal with the hope that Jim will approve my blog. Here is what I came up with:

jim-west-seal.jpg

(Some of you may recognize this as an adaption of the “biblioblogger seal of approval“; I recall Jim West thought the chap beside the seal looked kind of like him)


Posted in Biblioblogs, Humour | 5 Comments »

“The LXX says…” – Taking Septuagint Criticism Seriously

17th May 2007

Shawn Flynn over at Palimpsest has some interesting thoughts on Septuagint criticism and its use in biblical studies, particularly in the study of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

One of the primary issues that he raises at the beginning of his post is the distinction between “interpretive” translations and “faithful” translations. While I understand what he’s getting at (and the theoretical model underlying his perspective), I’m not sure that such a distinction is always easy to maintain. Nevertheless, the distinction does underscore the important first step of assessing the nature of the Greek text you are dealing with.

Shawn further highlights six steps/questions that should be considered while determining the nature of the LXX text:

  1. First, textual criticism of the LXX must be conducted.
  2. With a tentative LXX/OG text, consider the possible Vorlage of the LXX.
  3. When there is a likely equivalent between the Vorlage and the LXX, other questions must still be considered before equivalence (in terms of equivalent meaning) is assumed.
  4. When there is a divergence between the likely Vorlage and the LXX, what is the reason?
  5. Is there enough information to make a decision?
  6. Did the LXX translator just misunderstand their [sic] Vorlage?

These are all good questions and they represent sound method.

The question that his post raises for me is the high expectations often places on biblical scholars. I personally have read enough NT or OT scholarship to know that scholars often use the LXX uncritically. In fact, even when I was reading some articles for my posts on Psalm 2:12 I was surprised by the way the LXX was appealed to by scholars — some of whom should certainly know better.  The problem is that it is hard enough to keep up in your own field of studies, let alone someone elses field!  Should the NT scholar have to be a LXX scholar in order to use the LXX? These unrealistic expectations plague scholarship in general. Archaeologists look with contempt at biblical scholars who attempt to engage archaeological data; biblical scholars roll their eyes at theologians when they appeal to the Bible. I could list many more examples, but you get my point.

In my opinion, while any biblical scholar who appeals to the Septuagint in a scholarly context should use the best critical texts available and employ sound method, that does not mean she or he has to become a Septuagint scholar. Of course, the degree to which an argument depends on the LXX, the more expertise is required. Thus, a NT scholar who is investigating the quotations of the Old Testament in the New better have a good grip on Septuagintal scholarship! It is the responsibility of Septuagint scholars to disseminate the results of their research to others and produce tools for others to use without having to re-invent them, so to speak.

So while I agree in principle with Shawn’s post, I wonder if he is being too idealistic?  What do my readers think?


Posted in Criticism, Septuagint, Text Criticism | 6 Comments »

MR HBRW WTHT VWLS (More Hebrew without Vowels)

17th May 2007

John Davies, Principal of the Presbyterian Theological Centre in Sydney, Australia sent me this poetic response to Jessica Shaver’s poem:

TH MTRS LCTNS

T’s NT s bd s y mght thnk;
“vwl-lttrs� hlp y swm, NT snk!
Jst whn y mght chck n th twl,
y’r rscd by tht smy-vwl!
Fr ww nd yd nd fnl h
r grt t hlp y fnd yr wy.
Thgh smll, wht nxpcd bns!
Blssd mtrs lctns!

I wonder how many students of biblical Hebrew have exclaimed, “blessed matres lectionis!”? See here for the vowel-less post that started this thread.


Posted in Hebrew, Humour | Comments Off

Seven Deadly Sins in Writing

16th May 2007

On the topic of writing in biblical studies, Loren Rosson over at The Busybody has a thoughtful post on the “Seven Deadly Sins in Writing.” The deadly sins are taken from Constance Hale’s book, Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose (Broadway, 2001; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com). Based on the comments on Amazon, this book looks both entertaining and provocative.

Posted in Academic Writing | Comments Off