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Archive for September, 2007

Reminder to Nominate Posts for the Next Biblical Studies Carnival

27th September 2007

Tim Bulkeley is busy preparing the upcoming Biblical Studies Carnival, among other things. It should show up at his Sansblogue next week sometime. If you have read some interesting blog posts that relate to academic biblical studies, please nominate them today! It can be one of your own posts or you can nominate a post written by someone else — don’t forget that the post needs to fit into the general category of academic biblical studies and cognate areas and needs to have been written sometime in September 2007.

You can submit/nominate posts via the submission form at or you may email them to biblical_studies_carnival AT hotmail DOT com.

For more information, consult the Biblical Studies Carnival Homepage.

Posted in Biblical Studies Carnival | Comments Off

Alter on the Psalms

26th September 2007

alter-psalms.jpgSlate has an interesting article by Robert Alter, entitled “Psalm Springs: How I translated the Bible’s most poetic book,” in which discusses his just-released translation of the Psalter:

The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary
by Robert Alter
W. W. Norton, 2007
Buy from or

The article is quite interesting — especially when Alter talks about his translation technique, which could be characterized as very formal (for a discussion of types of translation techniques, see here and here). That is, Alter not only wants his English translation to convey the meaning of the original Hebrew text, he also wants it to convey its structure and form. Thus, if the Hebrew line is composed of three words, then he would try to reproduce that compactness in his translation.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

… The sundry English translations, from Renaissance to contemporary, have in certain ways obscured key strengths of the Psalms. My dissatisfaction with them led me to attempt my own translation.

Two aspects of the Hebrew poems have especially suffered in translation: their powerfully compact rhythms—which, after all, constitute much of the music of the poetry—and the terrific, physical concreteness of the language. The conciseness of biblical poetry derives from the structure of the ancient language: Pronouns are usually omitted because you can tell the pronoun subject from the way the verb is conjugated; possessive pronouns are simply suffixes attached to the nouns; and the verb to be is entirely dispensed with in the present tense. Sometimes, there is simply no way of reproducing this compression in English. In the Hebrew, “The Lord is my shepherd” is just two words, two accents (Yahweh ro’ i). But I, like the translators convened by King James, could see no other way of getting this into workable English.

In many lines, however, a little resourcefulness can produce rhythms resembling the Hebrew’s. The King James version of Psalm 30:9 reads: “What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit?” (The 1611 translators used italics for words merely implied in the Hebrew.) From a rhythmic standpoint, this sounds more like prose than poetry. My version reads: “What profit in my blood,/ in my going down deathward?” This rhythm is virtually identical to the Hebrew, the second half of the line just one syllable more than the original. The alliteration of “down deathward” has no equivalent in the Hebrew, but it helps the rhythmic momentum and compensates for other places (including the first half of this line) where alliterations in the original could not be reproduced.

Let me offer one more example of an effort to emulate the music of the Hebrew. The opening line of Psalm 104, a paean to the grand panorama of creation, was translated in the King James version as “thou art clothed with honour and majesty.” This has a certain poised dignity, though there are too many words and syllables: The Hebrew original has three words, six syllables. And honour doesn’t capture the true significance of the Hebrew hod, which means either grandeur or glory. My version reads: “Glory and grandeur You don.” Here the strong alliteration mirrors a similar effect in the Hebrew (hod/hadar), and the syntactic inversion also follows the Hebrew, reproducing its emphasis on these two terms. Finally, I chose don as part of a general strategy to use single-syllabic words of Anglo-Saxon derivation, and to avoid the potential awkwardness and abstraction of Latinate terms (such as majesty or, elsewhere, transgression).

I have some issues with Alter’s translation technique — though perhaps not so much with his technique, but with his sense of superiority concerning it. I tend to view translation techniques as a tool which produces a variety of types of translations, each useful for different purposes. I have required Alter’s translation of Genesis for my course on the book of Genesis for the very purpose of getting students to read the text in a translation different than what they are used to — and I may use this new translation when I next have to teach the book of Psalms.

One feature of his translation which I find fascinating is the way in which he translates the Hebrew word nefesh (נפש), a word that is difficult to translate, but which has traditionally been rendered as “soul.” Here is what Alter says about his way of dealing with this word:

Although it may at first disconcert some pious readers, I have rigorously excluded the word soul from my version of Psalms. In the original biblical language, there is no split between body and soul and no notion of a soul surviving the body. Rather, nefesh means life-breath (one hears the breathing in the sound of the Hebrew word)—the God-given vital force that passes in through the nostrils and down into the lungs, animating the body. By extension, it means life. “My nefesh” is also an intensive way of saying “I” (which I sometimes translate as “my whole being” or “my being”). Because the throat is a passageway for the breath, this same word can also mean, by metonymy, throat or neck.

I think this is a wonderful idea considering the amount of confusion there is about the biblical teaching on the nature of the humanity. While there are a few passages in the Hebrew Bible that may give a glimpse of some sort of life after death, in the Hebrew Bible humanity is presented as a radical unity.

At any rate, I encourage you to take a look at the article in full and check out his translation for yourself, as well as his other translations of the Hebrew Bible:

  • The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary (Norton, 2004; Buy from or
  • Genesis: Translation and Commentary (Norton, 1997; Buy from or
  • The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel (Norton, 2000; Buy from or

(HT Tim Willson)

Posted in Bible, Old Testament, Psalms, Translation Theory | Comments Off

The Death of Blogs?

26th September 2007

The Christianity Today blog uploaded a post yesterday entitled “The Death of Blogs” where Ted Olson muses on the demise of blogging in general and “God-blogging” in particular. He points to some recent research showing evidence of widespread “blog burnout.”

Here’s an excerpt:

Tech researcher Gartner Inc. reported earlier this year that 200 million people have given up blogging, more than twice as many as are active.

“A lot of people have been in and out of this thing,” Gartner analyst Daryl Plummer told reporters. “Everyone thinks they have something to say, until they’re put on stage and asked to say it.” Given the average lifespan of a blogger and the current growth rate of blogs, Gartner says blogging has probably peaked.

Which isn’t to say that blogging is dead. Quite the opposite. Blog aggregator Technorati estimates that 3 million new blogs are launched every month. The site’s tongue-in-cheek slogan: “Zillions of photos, videos, blogs, and more. Some of them have to be good.”

As someone who has struggled with blogging the last couple months (and no, I don’t plan on giving up on blogging), I can relate to those who throw in the towel. I think that Olson hits the nail on the proverbial head when he notes, “What tired bloggers are increasingly discovering, however, is that it’s not necessarily the quality of their blog posts that matter. It’s matching their quality with frequency.”  Once my blog took off (and I thank all of my readers past and present), I felt this pressure to blog regularly so as not to disappoint my readers — and it was this perception of needing to blog that made it a chore rather than an enjoyable creative outlet and part of my teaching ministry.

I encourage you to read Olson’s whole post.

Posted in Biblioblogs, Blogging, Blogs | 3 Comments »

God’s Word in Human Words with Dr. Kenton Sparks

25th September 2007

fccimage.jpgTomorrow evening I will be picking up Dr. Kenton Sparks at the airport. He is the speaker for Taylor University College’s “Faith & Culture Conference” which runs Thursday and Friday of this week. The title of this year’s conference is “God’s Word in Human Words: The Prospects and Perils of Believing Criticism.”

Here is a rundown of the different sessions:

  • Session 1: “To Err is Human: A Biblical View of Epistemology” (Thursday 27 September; 11:30 am)
    Evangelical Christians often believe that error is a bad thing, but the biblical view of things is otherwise. Scripture teaches that human error is an inevitable and natural part of normal, healthy living. This observation has profound implications for our epistemology and theology.
  • Session 2: God’s Word in Human Words: The Problem and Promise of Modern Biblical Criticism? (Thursday 27 September; 1:15 pm)
    Modern biblical scholars have highlighted features in Scripture that seem incommensurate with the Bible’s divine origins. However, when we understand these features as an affirmation of our humanity and as an expression of theological orthodoxy, we shall find they are wholly suited to a high view of Scripture’s inspiration and authority.
  • Session 3: God’s Astronomy: Accommodation, Inspiration, and the Bible? (Thursday 27 September; 7:30 pm)
    Does the Bible get the science right? And if not, what does this mean for Scripture’s authority and inspiration? The Church has long had the theological resources to deal with the apparent difficulty created by conflicts between the Bible and science. Evangelicals have largely forgotten these resources, which we shall try to recover.
  • Session 4: The Path of Wisdom: The Church and Biblical Criticism? (Friday 28 September; 11:10 am )
    The biblical critics are right about many things, but this does not mean that we can carelessly bring their insights into church pulpits and Sunday School classrooms. “True facts,” when misunderstood, become false and potentially destructive facts. How can the Church wisely assimilate the insights of biblical criticism without being destroyed by them?

I am looking forward to these sessions as his talks will be dealing with a number of crucial topics for those of us who consider ourselves “evangelical” biblical scholars. It seems to me that evangelical biblical scholars get a raw deal from both sides of the spectrum. On the one side, scholars such as N.P. Lemche argue (somewhat recklessly) that the label “evangelical biblical scholar” is an oxymoron. You can’t be both an evangelical and a scholar at the same time — at least not a real scholar. Then, on the other side, the more conservative elements of evangelicalism question the evangelicalism of those biblical scholars who don’t hold to the traditional party line on questions such as the authorship of the Pentateuch, the unity of Isaiah, historicity of Jonah, among other questions. While I believe the situation is much better now than in the past (due in large part to the fact that evangelical scholarship has improved immensely in the last 40 years or so), Mark Noll’s comment that “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind” remains valid in many quarters of evangelicalism.

sparks_kent_07.jpgWhat Kent will be drawing our attention to the human side of Scripture. And he is well-equipped to do such a task. He holds the PhD from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where he specialized in the study of the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East (his adviser was John Van Seters). His publications include numerous articles on the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, as well as four books:

  • God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship (Baker Academic, forthcoming March 2008; pre-order from or
  • Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible: A Guide to the Background Literature (Hendrickson, 2005; buy from or
  • Ethnicity and Identity in Ancient Israel: Prolegomena to the Study of Ethnic Sentiments and their Expression in the Hebrew Bible (Eisenbrauns, 1998; buy from or
  • The Pentateuch: An Annotated Bibliography (IBR Bibliographies, no. 1; Baker Academic, 2002; buy from or

sparks_ancient_texts.jpgKent’s Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible is one of the best and most recent guides to all of the background literature to the Old Testament. It includes an introduction to comparative study of ANE texts and ANE archives and libraries, as well as a discussion of all of the relevant texts organized by genre. Original publication data and other useful bibliography is included for each ancient text — I highly recommend it. At present, Kent is preparing a book-length treatment of Israelite origins for Oxford University Press.

In addition to his academic credentials, Sparks is also an ordained Baptist Pastor, who served in that pastoral role for seven years before moving to Eastern University in St. Davids, PA, where he is presently a Professor of Biblical Studies. Sparks is also a recipient of the Lindback Foundation Award for Excellence in Teaching.

If you are in the Edmonton area, you are welcome to attend the sessions — especially the Thursday evening public lecture. Recordings of the talks will be made available on-line, so stay tuned.

Posted in Bible, Conferences, Criticism, Faith & Scholarship | 5 Comments »

Back from the Depths

12th September 2007

OK, I know I keep saying I will get back to regular blogging. This time I (hopefully) mean it!

I have been swamped with the beginning of the semester things like writing syllabi, updating course webpages, and — perhaps the most time consuming — converting my PowerPoint lecture slides to Keynote (which, btw, I quite like). Of course, it is never as simple as just converting my slides; I must edit and update them as well, which takes even more time!

I am teaching a fairly heavy load this fall, including OT Literature, Introduction to Hermeneutics and Method, Religion and Popular Culture, and Reading the Historical Books (Chronicles). I quite enjoy teaching all of these courses, but they will certainly keep me busy. The payoff for such a busy fall semester is a very light winter semester (only 1.5 courses — yippee!).

(I have also been having some minor health issues, which are more annoying than anything else.)

So, hopefully this fall you can expect posts relating to my courses as well as sundry other topics relating to the Bible, Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint, and — of course — the World Cup of Rugby.


Posted in Blog News, Personal | 5 Comments »

Biblical Studies Carnival XXI is online at Abnormal Interests

2nd September 2007

Duane Smith has uploaded Biblical Studies Carnival XXI over at his abnormally interesting blog, Abnormal Interests. Duane’s blog is always interesting (in an abnormal way) and he has done a great job highlighting academic biblical studies in the blogosphere for the month of August 2007. Well done, Duane!

The next Biblical Studies Carnival will be going down under with Tim Bulkeley as host over at his Sansblogue in the first week of October 2007.  Make sure to regularly nominate posts you read around the blogosphere this month.

For more information, consult the Biblical Studies Carnival Homepage

Posted in Biblical Studies Carnival | Comments Off