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Archive for May, 2007

Goat Skin DNA, Dead Sea Scrolls, and Tehillim

15th May 2007

Goats and Scrolls
While it is not odd to see the Dead Sea Scrolls in the news — especially with the scroll exhibit touring the United States — there is an interesting article by Judy Siegel-Itzkovic in the Jerusalem Post today about how DNA evidece from the goat skins used to make the parchment for the Scrolls helped piece together some of the Scroll fragments. The article, “How goat skin DNA solved a mystery of the Dead Sea scrolls,” doesn’t really say anything new, but is interesting nonetheless. Here are some relevant excerpts:

Scientists at the Hebrew University’s Koret School for Veterinary Science near Rishon Lezion are helping to piece together some of the 10,000 fragments of Dead Sea Scrolls found decades ago in Qumran by examining the DNA profiles of the goats whose skin was used to make the parchment and reducing the number of possible matches.

Dr. Galia Kahila Bar-Gal said during a journalists’ tour at the nearby Hebrew University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where students learn and treat animals, that she and colleagues were looking at genetic forms from each fragment to know which came from specific animals. Once they know that two pieces came from the skin of the same animal, it is easier to piece them together, she said.

Scrolls and Tehillim
The Dead Sea Scrolls also made the headlines in the Jewish Tribune, according to the blogger with the coolest moniker, Mississippi Fred MacDowell. He recounts how he was sent a clipping of a letter to the editor of the London-based Agudist newspaper that claimed “Secular and non-Jewish scholars have to admit that the Tenach scrolls are word-for-word identical with our texts and not with those of Samaritans (Kusim) and early translators (Septuagint – Greek, Targumim in various Aramaic dialects, et al). But the spelling is often different, in many vavs, yuds and alephs.” MacDowell responds to this claim with an interesting discusision of the view of the Dead Sea Scrolls in many orthodox Jewish communities and his response to such claims. In particular he talks about the various textual tradtions found among the scrolls, let alone the high number of unaligned texts. You can read his discussion on his blog, On the Main Line, in his post “A threat to Tehillim? Dead Sea Scrolls in the Jewish Tribune.”

The only beef I would have with MacDowell’s post is found in this paragraph:

In fact three or four kinds of Hebrew texts were found at Qumran (depending on how you divide it). The first are Bible texts that are much like the masoretic text (and comprise about 60% of the material), the second seems to be a type of Hebrew text that the Septuagint was translated from (only about 5%), the third is like the Samaritan Pentateuch, lacking only the ideological changes that are present in the Samaritan version (also about 5%). A fourth type are texts that can’t be placed into any of these categories (about 105), and finally there are non-Biblical Hebrew texts which are unique to Qumran, comprising about 20% of the total. In other words, exactly the opposite of what the writer claimed.

Some of the numbers didn’t quite ring true, and I believe may be based on Tov’s older estimates (there are also some issues with breaking down the scrolls in this manner, but I won’t get into that for now). The most recent figures I have seen break down the biblical scrolls found at Qumran as follows:

  • Proto-Masoretic (forerunners of the text that forms the basis of our versions of the OT) (47%)
  • Texts like the “Samaritan Pentateuchâ€? (2.5%)
  • Texts like the Septuagint (3.3%)
  • Unique Texts (47%)

Either way, MacDowell’s point remains valid. Despite the variety found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, MacDowell is correct to point out the following:

And the Dead Sea Scrolls proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the massoretic text is not late, it is at least as old as the Samaritan and the Hebrew Septuagint. Conversely, it also proves that 2000 years ago “the Bible” was not exclusively massoretic.

That’s the good news, if indeed this is good news. But its important to understand that these massoretic Dead Sea texts are actually massoretic-like, not identical with our own text. This means that many words as spelled differently in ways that don’t matter, as the letter writer notes, but also that many words are not the same at all.

It’s a good read; make sure to peruse it for yourself.


Posted in Biblical Canon, Dead Sea Scrolls, Old Testament | Comments Off

The Final Word on Psalm 2:12

15th May 2007

The debate surrounding the translation and interpretation of Psalm 2:12 continues. For some context, you can see my previous post here, while John Hobbins has some further (good) reflections on why it is inappropriate to capitalize “Son” in this verse (assuming you understand the phrase as “kiss the son”), even if you understand further christological significance in the passage.

Turning our attention back to the actual text critical problem with this passage, Chris Heard has posted on the difficulty of translating  נשקו־בר (“kiss the sonâ€? or the like) in Psalm 2:12. He notes a recent article in German by Liudger Sabottka on this passage in question in Biblica 87 (2006), entitled, “Ps 2,12: ‘Küsst den Sohn!’?â€? [“Ps 2:12: ‘Kiss the son!’?â€?]. Sabottka suggests taking the verb נשק as an example of נשק II, “arm or equip” with a privative meaning, e.g., “disarm.” He further takes בר as “pure, sincere,” and offers the translation, “Rüstet ehrlich ab!â€? or as Chris translates it,  “Really/truly/honestly disarm [yourselves]!â€?

While this interpretation is possible (are not all things possible?!), I’m not convinced it is the best. While the privative use of the Piel stem is acknowledged by all Hebrew grammarians, it is not very common. According to GKC it is limited to denominative verbs (i.e., verbs that derive from nouns) and occurs only a handful of times (see 52 h).  Jenni similarly notes this usage in his Das Hebraische Pi‘el (p. 273), though he eschews the specialized privative function and understands it as a general factitive-resultative use (and Waltke and O’Connor follow Jenni in this regard, see 24.4f). While this understanding נשק in Ps 2:12 is certainly possible, I am not sure that such a rare usage is warranted. Furthermore, in all of the examples of the privative function noted, none of them are ever modified by an adverb, let alone an adjective. To say the least, I remain unconvinced by Sabottka’s proposal.

While many proposed interpretations of the phrase נשקו־בר focus on understanding בר bar, perhaps a better way forward is through an examination of the verb נשק nashaq. The verb itself occurs 35x in the Hebrew Bible (this includes supposed homonyms), including the passage under scrutiny.

Here is a breakdown of how the verb is used:

  • The verb most often occurs with an expressed personal object. Most frequently (21x) the object is marked by the preposition lamed: “A kissed ל-Bâ€? (Qal: Gen 27:26,27; 29:11; 48:10; 50:1; Exod 4:27; 18:7; 2Sam 14:33; 2Sam 15:5; 2Sam 19:40; 20:9; 1Kgs 19:18; 19:20; Job 31:27; Prov 7:13; Ruth 1:9, 14; Piel: Gen 29:13; 31:28; 32:1; 45:15).
  • Four times a pronominal suffix marks the personal object: “A kissed him/her/me/youâ€? (all Qal: Gen 33:4; 1Sam 10:1; Song 1:2; 8:1).
  • There are two instances where the verb takes an impersonal object; in both of these cases the object is not marked by the preposition lamed, but simply precedes the verb (Qal: Hos 13:2, “people kissing calvesâ€?; Prov 24:26, “he kisses the lipsâ€?).
  • The object of reciprocal kisses are not marked with a preposition lamed; in these two cases the object may either follow (Qal 1Sam 20:41) or precede the verb (Ps 85:11 [Eng v. 10]; many conjecture this form should be pointed as a Niphal).

The remaining five instances are more problematic:

  • Three times it appears in military contexts connected with קשת qeshet, “bowâ€?: Ps 78:9 “equipped with bowsâ€?; 1Chron 12:2 “equipped with bowâ€?; 2Chron 17:17 “armed/equipped with bow.â€? In these instances most lexicons hypothesize a different root, e.g., נשק II “handle, be equipped withâ€? (BDB), “to join one to another,â€? i.e., to “take one’s place in rankâ€? (HALOT). This homonym is understood to be a denominative from the noun nesheq, “equipment, weaponsâ€? and is perhaps related to the Arabic nasaqa, “to line up, to place in order.â€?
  • The remaining two instances are connected to נשק II by HALOT: Gen 41:40 (Qal) “Order themselvesâ€?? and Ezek 3:13 (Hifil) “the sound of the wings touching one another.â€? I personally would relate the occurrence in Ezek 3:13 to נשק I “kissâ€? and understand it as an idiom, lit., “and the sound of the wings of the living creatures kissing each to its sisterâ€? i.e., “brushing against one another.â€? This example is parallel to the construction found in 1Sam 20:41 “each his neighbourâ€?; we also use the English verb “kissâ€? in the same manner.

Based on this examination of the verb usage, some parameters on how best to understand this passage may be set:

  • When the verb clearly means “kissâ€?, it never takes the preposition ב bet to mark the object of the kiss. This seems to rule out the common emendation “kiss his feetâ€? with the bet. (BHS also notes the emendation with a lamed, though that emendation requires more exegetical gymnastics to explain where the lamed came from).
  • There are no instances where נשק nashaq is modified by an adverb, and it never occurs without an expressed object. This makes the proposed interpretations, “kiss sincerelyâ€? or “pay homage in good faithâ€? or the NET “Give sincere homageâ€? unlikely.

Thus, the understanding “kiss bar,� with בר bar being the object of the verbal action is the most plausible interpretation based on the clear cases of the usage of נשק nashaq in the Hebrew Bible. This still leaves at least two options: the more popular “kiss [the] son� and the more obscure “kiss [the] ground/land.�

I am still unconvinced that the first alternative is the best option. While you do find some contexts where you have an Aramaic word thrown in among Hebrew (the parade example cited is Prov 31:2-3); it is difficult to see it in this context when the Hebrew word for son (בן ben) is used a few verses earlier. Furthermore, while Aramaic would perhaps be an appropriate address to foreign powers, no other parts of the address are Aramaic. In addition – and this is the clincher in my opinion — when נשק nashaq takes a personal object (like “sonâ€?) it is always marked by the preposition lamed, and in Ps 2:12 it is not.

In working through the data, I have become more convinced that the second interpretation, “kiss the field/ground,â€? is the most plausible. First, it doesn’t resort to head spinning emendations (not that I have anything against emendations). Second, it doesn’t appeal to an odd usage of an Aramaic word in an otherwise entirely Hebrew passage. Third, it fits with the regular usage of the verb, since elsewhere when נשק nashaq is used with an impersonal object, it does not mark the object with a preposition lamed. Fourth — and this is something that Staffan Olofsson notes in his article — there are ANE parallels to this exact phrase as an act of reverence for a king or a god in the Akkadian expression nasaqu gaggara “kiss the ground/fieldâ€? (see his “The Crux Interpretum in Ps 2:12,â€? in SJOT; I would like to thank my friend Staffan for sending me a copy of this article since I don’t have easy access to SJOT). Finally, this interpretation fits the context of the passage.

The one weakness of this interpretation is that the meaning of בר bar as “field� is not very popular and only occurs in a few other places in the Old Testament (Job 39:4 and the Aramaic parts of Daniel, 2:38, 4:9, 12, 18, 20 (2x), 22, 29). That being said, it is a viable usage and makes good sense in this passage.

This, then, is my final word on Psalm 2:12 (at least for now!).

Posted in Hermeneutics, Old Testament, Psalms, Text Criticism | 7 Comments »

Some Septuagint Updates

15th May 2007

I have made some updates to my Resources Relating to the LXX pages on my main website. The updates included mentioning two new resources, both of which I previously announced some time ago.

First, there is the new revised version of Rahlfs’s “pocket” edition of the LXX:

rahlfs-hanhart.jpgSeptuaginta (Alfred Rahlfs, ed.; Editio altera/Revised and corrected edition by Robert Hanhart; German Bible Society, 2006). Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com

This is the popular edition of the Septuagint — and the only affordable version with the complete Greek text. Note that this is not a critical text (e.g., there is only a brief critical apparatus). Rahlfs based his text primarily on codex Vaticanus (B), but when necessary (and in his own opinion based on established text-critical principles) he adopts readings found in codex Alexandrinus (A) and codex Sinaiticus (S) so as to represent as closely as possible the “Old Greek” version of the text (i.e., the “original” text). This new “Rahlfs-Hanhartâ€? edition is a minor, yet significant, revision of Rahlfs’ LXX by Robert Hanhart. This revision is a stop gap measure, since a new critical edition of the LXX Psalms is many years off and there were many small errors in the original edition that needed to be corrected. In addition to correcting small errors, Hanhart also made some modifications to the critical apparatus, including redescribing the way appeals to textual traditions were quantified as well as the inclusion of a number of other uncials and recensions where the first edition only mentioned B, S, or A.

Note that Michael Bird has also recently briefly noted this new edition.

Second, Oxford University Press has just published a useful resource for those interested in the Hebrew and Greek traditions of the book of Psalms:

comparative_psalter.jpgA Comparative Psalter: Hebrew (Masoretic Text) – Revised Standard Version Bible – The New English Translation of the Septuagint – Greek (Septuagint) (John Kohlenberger, ed.; Oxford University Press, 2007). Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com

This useful volume brings together the Masoretic Text (BHS without apparatus) and RSV of the book of Psalms in parallel columns on one page, with the New English Translation of the Septuagint (by Al Pietersma) and Greek Septuagint (the first edition of Rahlfs’s Septuaginta) on the facing page. This resource makes it very easy to see how the LXX translator rendered his text, though the differences between the English translations may suggest differences where none exist since Pietersma made his English translation with an eye on the NRSV and not the RSV. One of primary benefits of this volume is that it is far less expensive than Pietersma’s out-of-print stand alone translation of the LXX Psalms (A New English Translation of the Septuagint: Psalms [Albert Pietersma, translator; Oxford University Press, 2000; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com]).

John Hobbins has an excellent review of this resource on his Ancient Hebrew Poetry blog.

For more resources related to the Septuagint, see my Annotated Guide to the LXX.


Posted in Codex Updates, LXX Psalms, NETS, Septuagint | Comments Off

Rowan Atkinson Sunday Gospel Lesson

13th May 2007

Just in case you missed church this morning, here is a gospel lesson by Rowan Atkinson, a.k.a. Mr. Bean (If you offend easily, probably shouldn’t watch the video).

All complaints may be registered at The Withering Fig or NT Gateway — no surprise it originated with fellow Canadian and U of T grad and friend Zeba Crook.



Posted in Humour, New Testament | Comments Off

Thinking Blogger Award

12th May 2007

thinkingblogger.jpgI would like to thank my Mom and Dad, my wife and kids, my pet bunnies…

The always thinking Chris Heard over at Higgaion has awarded me a “Thinking Blogger Award” — even despite the fact that I occasionally resort to posting some “Best of Codex” articles from my archives during my busy seasons (he thinks that practice is, ahem, cheesy; I think it is rather clever!).

This “award” is actually more of a meme and once awarded you are supposed to nominate five others. Here are five quite different blogs that I think deserve the honour (in no particular order):

  • Phil Harland, Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean. While Phil’s blog has had its fits and spurts (whose hasn’t?), I have always appreciated his posts on assorted thing relating to “social and religious life among Greeks, Romans, Jews, Christians and others in the Roman empire.”
  • Tim Bulkeley, Sansblogue. This New Zealander’s often contrarian posts about biblical studies and open scholarship, pedagogy and podcasts, among other things, are always worth reading. I only wish he would post more on the All Blacks!
  • John F. Hobbins, Ancient Hebrew Poetry. Hebrew Bible enthusiasts will always find some hardcore biblical studies happening John’s site, whether it is stichometric analyses of biblical psalms, Hebrew grammar and lexicography, or questions of canon.
  • Mark Goodacre, NT Gateway Weblog. Despite the fact Mark deals mainly with that other testament, he still has many thoughtful things to say! He posts widely on NT, biblical studies, film, and everything Q. :)
  • Loron Rossen III, The Busybody. Loren is always busy sharing his eclectic tastes in biblical studies, film, literature (especially Tolkien), and sundry items from popular culture. Always thoughtful and sometimes controversial.

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

Improving Your Academic Writing

12th May 2007

Angela Roskop Erisman of Imaginary Grace blogspot (a fairly new one which I was not aware of, but now have added it to my blogroll) has a great post on “Writing in Biblical Studies.” Here is her lead-in to an annotated bibliography:

… ultimately, writing is about communicating ideas we think are important to other people so they might change the way they think or how they live their lives. In other words, writing matters. That is, assuming we want our work to make an impact on people. Good grammar is important. So is clarity. But so are things like grace, elegance, beauty, wit, humor, suspense. Yes, even in academic writing. These elements, which we may associate more with fictional genres, are what engage our readers’ interest and make our ideas pack a lasting punch. Here I review a few works on writing that I find immensely helpful and that have changed the way I think about the task. They’ve helped me get better at making reading and learning an easier, more enjoyable experience. But, more importantly, they have and continue to help me learn to communicate ideas more effectively both to those within and outside of the discipline of biblical studies.

The post as a whole is well worth a careful read. Of the books she notes, I have read a few, though some of them have piqued my interest.  Any reader of this blog knows I can improve my writing style!

(HT Hypotyposeis)


Posted in Academic Writing, Teaching & Learning | 1 Comment »

King Herod Video

12th May 2007

This video clip from Fox News is a pretty good summary of the discovery of Herod’s tomb (and it allows me to try out my multimedia plugin).


Posted in Archaeology, King Herod | Comments Off

Leviticus Scroll Image Comparison Before and After Removal

11th May 2007

The missing image referred to in my previous post was linked to in the Hebrew version of the same article.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of the scroll before (right) and after (left) the part was cut out:

leviticusscrollcut.jpg

It appears a fairly large portion of the fragment was removed: 1 cm wide at the top and about 2 cm long. Note that no letters were removed. If this image is authentic, then the amount removed was larger than the “two small parts, one-half centimeter each” that Amir Ganor, director of the unit for the prevention of theft in the Antiquities Authority, reported.


Posted in Dead Sea Scrolls, Hanan Eshel, Leviticus, Leviticus Scroll, Scholars | Comments Off

Leviticus Scroll Fragments in the News Again

11th May 2007

The Leviticus scroll discovered (or should I say recovered) by Israeli Archaeologist Hanan Eshel is back in the news. According to an article in Ha’aretz, Eshel is claiming that the Israeli Antiquities Authority is performing unnecessarily obtrusive tests on the fragments in order to determine their authenticity.

Here is the news item, “Archaeologist: Antiquities Authority destroying Leviticus scroll,” by Yair Sheleg:

Professor Hanan Eshel, the archaeologist who two years ago uncovered scroll fragments of the Book of Leviticus, says the Israel Antiquities Authority, which now has the finds, has cut out large chunks of the scroll on the pretext that its dating needed to be examined.

This was not a necessary procedure, says Eshel, since “experts say it was possible to test the dating without an intrusive examination and in the worst case scenario by cutting a tiny, peripheral portion of the scroll.”

Relying on internal sources in the Antiquities Authority, Eshel says “there had even been plans to cut letters from the scroll but the employees that were asked to do so refused.”

Eshel ties the behavior of the Authority to a dispute that emerged between him and officials there and “their desire to prove that the scroll is a forgery.”

Amir Ganor, director of the unit for the prevention of theft in the Antiquities Authority, said in response that “in order to carry out the examination we could not avoid making certain cuts in the scroll itself. This is acceptable in every examination of this sort. We cut only two small parts, one-half centimeter each, from the end of the scroll. At no stage was there any thought of cutting letters, only to scrape off some ink in order to examine it. The minute it became clear to us that we could not have unequivocal results from such an examination, we did not do it.”

However, the photographs published here [where? there was no link or no pictures!] suggest the scroll cuts are significantly more extensive than what Ganor acknowledges and encompass nearly all the part of the scroll that has no writing on it.

Ganor said examinations of the scroll have undermined Eshel’s claim that the finding is authentic.

“I can not give any details because the topic is part of an ongoing investigation of this matter, but the examinations show that different portions of the scroll were written in different periods, which is a blow to the claim that the scroll is homogeneous.”

Eshel, on the other hand, is eager to offer more information on the subject. He says: “The information that I have is that the examination that was carried out at the Weizmann Institute did indeed show that the two portions that were sent for examination belong to different periods – one about 2,000 years ago, and the other about 1,200 years ago. On the other hand, another examination carried out at Oxford [University] attributed both to a period 2,000 years ago.”

Eshel says the Weizmann test results were flawed because of “the use of cleaning and preservation materials. I am not an expert on such exams, but the experts told me that such treatment may certainly result in a flawed examination. In any case, the writing on both segments clearly belongs to the Second Temple period and definitely does not conform to the Mameluk period, which is what the Weizmann Institute examination points to. Moreover, during the search in the cave where we found the scroll, we uncovered other archaeological finds for the period of the Bar-Kokhba revolt, proving the dating.”

I had covered the discovery of the Leviticus scrolls quite extensively a couple years back, so I have an interest in this story. You can see all of my previous posts here, including a step-by-step reconstructions of the fragments. Here is a picture of the fragments shortly after they were recovered:

I would think that if tests could be done on the manuscript without destroying large parts of it, then the IAA would do so.

I wish the news article contained the image that showed how much of the manuscript was cut.

(HT Dr. Claude Mariottini)


Posted in Dead Sea Scrolls, Hanan Eshel, Leviticus, Leviticus Scroll | 1 Comment »

Providence, Luck, and God’s Sovereignty (or lack thereof)

11th May 2007

I commend to my readers Chris Heard’s thoughful post, “As luck would have it, God was with us.”


Posted in Providence, Suffering, Theodicy, Theology | Comments Off