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Archive for May, 2007

A Tale of Two Tombs

11th May 2007

AKM Adams had an interesting random thought about the recent discovery of King Herod’s tomb. He links to the press release by the Hebrew University and then makes the following comment:

What, you say you didn’t hear about this archaeological find on CNN, with Hollywood sponsors and best-selling authors claiming that it changes everything about human existence? Right. That’s the point. An academically reputable, serious excavation with warranted claims relative to historically-plausible finds doesn’t need hype; and hype doesn’t make a dodgy find with tenuous claims on historical probability into a world-changing watershed moment.

What probably disturbed me most about the Jesus/Talpiot tomb discovery wasn’t the actual discovery and the hypotheses surrounding it, but how the whole thing was treated like a blockbuster movie release. There was the media hype, slick documentary (which was admittedly well done), related sensational book — all it needed was a merchandising tie-in with McDonald’s (perhaps a Jesus tomb toy where you can still see Jesus’s shrouded body?). I know that James Tabor has been trying valiantly over at The Jesus Dynasty blog to raise the level of discussion about the Jesus/Talpiot tomb, but I wish the whole affair could have been handled more professionally (or perhaps at least more academically).

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think that biblical scholars/archaeologists/etc. need to popularize our findings. It’s the commodification of archaeological finds and biblical scholarship that I find distasteful. On the other hand, we all probably don’t mind when publishers make a fuss over our books!

The post was brought to you by the good people over at…

Posted in Archaeology, Jesus Tomb, King Herod, Talpiot tomb, The Tomb Documentary | Comments Off

Spider-Man 3: The End of a Franchise

10th May 2007

I just returned from watching Spider-Man 3 (Sam Raimi, 2007; IMDb). It wasn’t just so-so; it was awful. I couldn’t believe it. The first two Spider-Man movies were great. This one was cheesy. I’m not sure what was the worst scene. Probably either the scene where Peter Parker (with his black suit Spider-Man undies on) is playing the stud walking the streets of NY or where Spider-Man swings in to fight the Sandman and Venom with the huge American flag in the background (apologies to any American readers, but it was over the top).

Perhaps I am being too hard on it. Perhaps my expectations were too high post Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2006; IMDb). I sure hope Sam Raimi doesn’t end up directing The Hobbit (IMDb).

Batman Begins; Spider-Man Ends. Spider-Man has now become the old Batman, and the new Batman has become the old Spider-Man. Hebel, all is hebel.

Posted in Film, Popular Culture | 7 Comments »

May 2007 SBL Forum: Getting Wired without Vowel Pointing and More Tombs

9th May 2007

The May 2007 Society of Biblical Literature Forum has been uploaded. As always there are many interesting articles, including an article by blogger Danny Zacharias about some of the on-line tools Google offers the instructor (and one non-Google tool as well). Of particular interest to me is the article by William Griffin about teaching biblical Hebrew without vowel pointing, or at least severely reducing the typical emphasis placed on the nikkudot. My knee-jerk reaction to the title of the article was “no way… that would make it so much harder for students,” but as I read the article Griffin makes a strong case for how it reduces the amount of memorization for students (but it does increase the number of interpretive possibilities for various forms). I totally agree with his historical arguments, and that is why I wean students off the pointing in intermediate Hebrew classes. All in all his article is definitely worth a careful perusal for all teachers and students of Classical Hebrew.

Another worthy initiative that the SBL is venturing into is developing a collection of syllabi related to biblical studies. This sounds much like the resources that the Wabash Center offer, but restricted to biblical studies. Finally, there is a brief note on the discovery of King Herod’s tomb.

Here is the full table of contents of the May 2007 (vol. 5, no. 5) edition:

In the Public Sphere

In the Profession

In the Classroom

In Popular Culture

Society News


Letter to the Editor


Posted in Academic Associations, SBL, SBL Forum | 2 Comments »

King Herod’s Tomb: Some Pictures

9th May 2007

Courtesy of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, here are some pictures related to the discovery of the tomb of Herod the Great.


Above: A general view of the slope of Herodium in which Herod’s tomb was found.



Above: The podium of Herod’s tomb.


Above: An illustrated side view of Herod’s sarcophagus, incorporating stone elements of the sarcophagus which were discovered at the site.

Posted in Archaeology, Discoveries, King Herod | Comments Off

Psalm 2:11-12 – A Text Critical Crux Interpretum

9th May 2007

Jim Getz over at Ketuvim has an interesting post on choosing a Bible translation for classroom use. In the end Jim chooses the NRSV, for a variety of reasons which you can read for yourself (For the record, I use the NRSV in the classroom as well, for some of the same reasons). What got my attention about Jim’s post was his discussion of Psalm 2:11-12. To my chagrin, after I had pretty much finished this post I noticed that Chris Heard has also responded to Getz’s post, though luckily (for me at least) Chris did not have all of his resources available to him, so this post actually answers some of the issues that his raised. (UPDATE: Jim has posted a follow-up post on this topic at Ketuvim).

Enough is enough… let’s look at the text in question. Here is a formal translation of the Hebrew of Psalm 2:11-12:

עבדו ×?ת־יהוה ביר×?×”
וגילו ברעדה
נש×?קו־בר פן־י×?× ×£
ות×?בדו דרך
כי־יבער כמעט ×?פו

Serve Yahweh with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss [the] son/field/purity(!), lest he be angry
and you perish [on the] way
for his anger burns quickly.

The two major difficulties in this passage revolve around the understanding of the phrase “Rejoice with trembling� (וגילו ברעדה) and “kiss the son� (נשקו־בר). The former is said to be difficult to understand (how does one “rejoice with trembling�?), while the latter includes meaning of the word בר (br), which will be the focus of this post. Most translations follow the pointing of the MT and understand בר as the Aramaic word for son (e.g., KJV, NIV, TNIV, NLT, ASV, etc.). The problem with this understanding of the passage revolves around the question of why would the psalmist employ the Aramaic word for son in this verse rather than the Hebrew word for son (בן) – especially when the Hebrew term is found just a few verses earlier in v. 7?

If we turn to the Versions, like the Greek Septuagint (LXX) or the Aramaic Targums, we don’t get much additional help. The LXX reads as follows:

δουλεÏ?σατε Ï„á¿· κυÏ?ίῳ á¼?ν φόβῳ
καὶ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε αá½?Ï„á¿· á¼?ν Ï„Ï?όμῳ.
δÏ?άξασθε παιδείας, μήποτε á½€Ï?γισθῇ κÏ?Ï?ιος
καὶ ἀπολεῖσθε �ξ �δοῦ δικαίας.
ὅταν �κκαυθῇ �ν τάχει � θυμὸς α�τοῦ

Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice in him with trembling,
Seize instruction, lest the Lord be angry,
and you will perish from the righteous way,
when his wrath is quickly kindled.

The translator evidently didn’t know exactly what to make of the Hebrew (נשקו בר), if indeed that was his Hebrew Vorlage (which we’ll assume). He evidently knew the meaning of the two words, since he translated נשק by καταφιλέω “kissâ€? in Ps 85:11 (LXX 84:11) and rendered the Hebrew בר, “cleannessâ€? (noun) and “pureâ€? (adjective) elsewhere with καθαÏ?ιότης “purityâ€? (Ps 18:21,25 [LXX 17:21, 25]) and καθαÏ?ός “pureâ€? (Ps 24:4 [LXX 23:4]). That being said, he didn’t translate it as “to kiss purityâ€? or the like. In his commentary on LXX Psalm 2, Al Pietersma argues that the translator provided more of an interpretation of the passage, taking “to kiss purityâ€? as “a metaphor for adopting improved behaviour,â€? thus the rendering, “seize instruction.â€?

What is significant is that the LXX did not understand בר as the Aramaic word for “son� (nor did Aquila or Symmachus). The Aramaic Targum seems to take a similar approach as the LXX.

What the Versions teach us is that there are other ways to understand the Hebrew consonants בר than just the Aramaic word for son – but we’ll return to other suggestions in a bit.

BHS (and many scholars) suggest emending the verse to read as follows:

עבדו ×?ת־יהוה ביר×?×”
ברעדה נשקו ברגליו
ות×?בדו דרך פן־י×?× ×£
כי־יבער כמעט ×?פו

Serve Yahweh with fear,
With trembling, kiss his feet.
lest he be angry and you perish [on the] way,
for his anger burns quickly.

It is this emendation, first suggested by Alfred Bertholet in the early 1900s, which is behind the translation found in the NRSV (among others), and not any sense that בר can mean “feetâ€? in Hebrew (in this regard Getz’s post is inaccurate and Chris Heard is correct insofar as בר doesn’t mean “feetâ€? ). This is a pretty substantial emendation, proposing that the first two letters of ברגליו became separated from the last half and ended up with two words between them, among other things. While this emendation results in two nicely balanced lines of poetry, the gymnastics it requires make me wonder how plausible it really is.

The NEB’s “tremble, and kiss [i.e., pay homage to] the king� follows a less radical conjecture by reworking the Hebrew to read: נשקו לגבור ברעדה. Again, while this may be possible, how plausible it may be is another question. (There are quite a number of other suggested emendations; but these will have to do for this post)

This leads many people (and most English translations) to opt for the admittedly problematic translation, “kiss the son.�

Those opting for this rendering muster a number of arguments in its favour. First, while it is odd to have the Aramaic term for son when the Hebrew term is used just a few verses earlier, this can be explained in terms of who is being addressed. In v. 7 the king is speaking and reporting what Yahweh had declared to him, i.e., “You are my son.� In v. 12, however, the statement is being directed to the foreign kings. Thus it is fitting that they be addressed in the official language of their day, Aramaic. This is similar to the usage of the Aramaic בר in Prov 31:2, when the word is put into the mouth of King Lemuel’s mother. Second, while the above emendation makes good sense (almost too much sense), it is next to impossible to understand how a scribe could have made the mistake. Third, all things being equal (which they rarely if ever are!), the MT is the more difficult reading.

I wonder if a better approach would be to dispense of the problematic understanding of בר as the Aramaic “son,� and try to understand it – like the early Versions – as one of the other Hebrew words with the same spelling. Possibilities include taking בר as “field� (see Job 39:4 etc.), which would produce a fitting act of submission, “kiss the field,� i.e., bow prostrate to the ground in homage to Yahweh. It could also be taken as “purity� or “pure� (in line with the early versions), and be rendered like the NJPS “pay homage in good faith� or the NET “Give sincere homage.�

There are other possibilities for this verse, but when it comes right down to it, this verse is truly a crux interpretum – and as such, it is not the best passage to base your selection of a translation on! That being said, it does reveal some tendencies in the different translations. The NRSV is more likely on the whole to adopt critical interpretations of problematic verses, while the NIV/TNIV/NJPS will tend to stick to the MT as much as possible. Finally, translations that capitalize “Son� (NIV, NASB, ESV, etc.) are clearly expressing a theological agenda, which arguably has no place in a translation.

If this post has piqued your interest in textual criticism, see my series of posts on Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible.

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

Herod: What You May Not Have Known

8th May 2007

Todd Bolen has an interesting post about King Herod: King Herod: Ten Things You Didn’t Know. Give it a gander.

Posted in Archaeology, Discoveries, King Herod, News | Comments Off

More on Herod’s Tomb

8th May 2007

The Hebrew University in Jerusalem held a press conference this morning on the discovery of Herod’s tomb. Here is an excerpt from the press release:


Jerusalem, May 8, 2007 — The long search for Herod the Great’s tomb has ended with the exposure of the remains of his grave, sarcophagus and mausoleum on Mount Herodium’s northeastern slope, Prof. Ehud Netzer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Institute of Archaeology announced today.


The approach to the burial site – which has been described by the archaeologists involved as one of the most striking finds in Israel in recent years – was via a monumental flight of stairs (6.5 meters wide) leading to the hillside that were especially constructed for the funeral procession.

The excavations on the slope of the mountain, at whose top is the famed structure comprised of a palace, a fortress and a monument, commenced in August 2006. The expedition, on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was conducted by Prof. Netzer, together with Yaakov Kalman and Roi Porath and with the participation of local Bedouins.

The location and unique nature of the findings, as well as the historical record, leave no doubt that this was Herod’s burial site, said Prof. Netzer.

The mausoleum itself was almost totally dismantled in ancient times. In its place remained only part of its well built podium, or base, built of large white ashlars (dressed stone) in a manner and size not previously revealed at Herodium.

Among the many high quality architectural elements, mostly well decorated, which were spread among the ruins, is a group of decorated urns (made in the form of special jars that were used to store body ashes). Similar ones are to be found on the top of burial monuments in the Nabatean world. The urns had a triangular cover and were decorated on the sides.

Spread among the ruins are pieces of a large, unique sarcophagus (close to 2.5 meters long), made of a Jerusalemite reddish limestone, which was decorated by rosettes. The sarcophagus had a triangular cover, which was decorated on its sides. This is assumed with certainty to be the sarcophagus of Herod. Only very few similar sarcophagi are known in the country and can be found only in elaborate tombs such as the famous one at the King’s Tomb on Selah a-Din Street in East Jerusalem. Although no inscriptions have been found yet at Herodium, neither on the sarcophagus nor in the building remains, these still might be found during the continuation of the dig.

Worthy of note is the fact that the sarcophagus was broken into hundreds of pieces, no doubt deliberately. This activity, including the destruction of the monument, apparently took place in the years 66-72 C.E. during the first Jewish revolt against the Romans, while Jewish rebels took hold of the site, according to Josephus and the archaeological evidence. The rebels were known for their hatred of Herod and all that he stood for, as a “puppet ruler� for the Romans.


The Tomb Estate included two monumental buildings and a large ritual bath (mikveh) as well as the large route (350 meters long and 30 meters wide) which was prepared for the funeral. When no sign of the burial place itself was found within the Tomb Estate, the expedition started to search for it on the slope of the hill, although there seems to be no doubt that the initial intention of the king was to be buried in the estate and that only in a later stage of his life – apparently when he grew old – did he change his mind and asked to be buried within the artificial cone which gave the hill of Herodium its current volcano-shape.

The full press release may be read here or downloaded as a Microsoft word document here.

Posted in Archaeology, Discoveries, King Herod | Comments Off

Tomb Discovered of Herod the Great

7th May 2007


Based on a press release from the Hebrew University in Israel, the tomb of King Herod was discovered at the Herodium, one of Herod’s palace-fortresses bordering the Judean desert. King Herod — as known as “Herod the Great” — ruled Jewish Palestine for Rome from 37 to 4 BCE and is probably best know for his many building projects.

The announcement was leaked by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Here’s an excerpt from the Haaretz article:

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem announced Monday night that it has uncovered the grave and tomb of King Herod, who ruled Judea for the Roman empire from circa 37 BCE.

According to a press release from the Hebrew University, the news of the archaeological find at Herodium was to be announced Tuesday morning at a special news conference, and was to be kept secret until then, but the discovery by Haaretz of the story had led to the premature announcement.

The tomb was discovered by Hebrew University Professor Ehud Netzer, who is considered one of the leading experts on King Herod. Netzer has conducted archeological digs at Herodium since 1972 in an attempt to locate the grave and tomb.


The majority of researchers had believed that Herod was in fact buried at Herodium, based on the writings of the ancient Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, but multiple excavations at the site failed to locate the grave.

Netzer’s successful dig focused on a different part of the site than previous excavations, between the upper part of Herodium and the site’s two palaces.


This discovery was a long time in the coming. Josephus, in his Jewish Antiquites (book 17, chapter 8, paragraph 3), noted Herod’s burial at the Herodium, though archaeologists have been unable to locate the tomb until now. Here is the account from Josephus:

After this was over, they prepared for his funeral, it being Archelaus’s care that the procession to his father’s sepulcher should be very sumptuous. Accordingly, he brought out all his ornaments to adorn the pomp of the funeral. The body was carried upon a golden bier, embroidered with very precious stones of great variety, and it was covered over with purple, as well as the body itself; he had a diadem upon his head, and above it a crown of gold: he also had a scepter in his right hand. About the bier were his sons and his numerous relations; next to these was the soldiery, distinguished according to their several countries and denominations; and they were put into the following order: First of all went his guards, then the band of Thracians, and after them the Germans; and next the band of Galatians, every one in their habiliments of war; and behind these marched the whole army in the same manner as they used to go out to war, and as they used to be put in array by their muster-masters and centurions; these were followed by five hundred of his domestics carrying spices. So they went eight furlongs to Herodium; for there by his own command he was to be buried. And thus did Herod end his life.

Herod is noted in the New Testament in Matthew chapter two as the king responsible for the slaughter of the innocent children when Jesus was a child.

There is supposed to be a press conference Tuesday in which more details will be released.

(HT Bob Derrenbacker)

Posted in Archaeology, Discoveries, News, Press Release | 2 Comments »

HBRW WTHT VWLS GN (Hebrew Without Vowels Again)

7th May 2007

In line with this previous post about how to get across to students that Biblical Hebrew was originally written without vowel indicators, I found this great example over at Davar Akher:

Th lphbt s hrd t mstr;
Rdng bck t frnt’s dsstr.
Nlss h’s rd th clssfds,
whr trth, bbrvtd, hds,
th wld-b rdr f th Bbl,
prsntd wth th txt, s lbl
t trn nd rn wth shrks nd hwls-
th hbrw Scrptrs hv n vwls!

- Jessica Shaver

I will have to use this poem next year.

Posted in Hebrew, Teaching & Learning | 4 Comments »

Jesus Pets – You’ve Got to be Kidding!

6th May 2007

Worried about who will take fido for a walk after you are raptured? Want to make sure your kitty cat is cared for after it’s “left behind”? All premillenialist pet-lovers should check out this site:


Who is going to care for your pets after you are raptured into heaven?

Many Christians believe that animals do not go to heaven. So when Jesus comes back and you return with him to heaven, will there be somebody to take care of your dog or cat?

If you have a non-Christian family member, they might take care of your pet, but if not, have you made any plans? Imagine being taken to streets of gold while your dog starves to death walking around in his own feces trapped in your small house or apartment, subject to fire and earthquakes or even being eaten by heathens searching for any remaining morsel of food. Do you want that to happen?

With the imminent collapse of the global economy and rampant godlessness, even the community shelters will not have the resources to care for your poor, hungry animals. So you need to make preparations.

That’s what JesusPets is for. We are assembling a community of heathen pet-lovers to care for pets that are “left-behind.� We are coordinating with feed mills and kennels in preparation for your post-apocalyptic pet care needs.

Check it out for yourself:

I’m sure glad as an amillenialist I don’t have to worry about what my two pet bunnies will have to face after the rapture!

(HT Faith & Theology)

Posted in Humour, Theology | 3 Comments »