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Archive for March, 2008

First Temple Archaeological Excavation Yeilds Seal, Among Other Things

13th March 2008

iaa-netanyahu-ben-yaosh-net.jpgYitzhak Sapir drew our attention to a new press release from the Israel Antiquities Authority on the Biblicalist email discussion group this morning. about some recent discoveries from an archaeological salvage excavation being carried out just west of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Here are some excerpts from the press release:


In the excavations, which the Israel Antiquties Authority has been conducting for the past two years under the direction of archaeologists Shlomit Wexler-Bdoulah and Alexander Onn, in cooperation with the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, remains of a magnificent colonnaded street from the Late Roman period (2nd century CE) were uncovered that appears on the mosaic Madaba map and is referred to by the name – the Eastern Cardo. The level of the Eastern Cardo is paved with large heavy limestone pavers that were set directly on top of the layer that dates to the end of the First Temple period. Thus the Roman road “seals” beneath it the finds from the First Temple period and has protected them from being plundered in later periods.

This is actually the first time in the history of the archaeological research of Jerusalem that building remains from the First Temple period were exposed so close to the Temple Mount – on the eastern slopes of the Upper City. The walls of the buildings are preserved to a height of more than 2 meters.

Another impressive artifact that was found in the salvage excavations is a personal Hebrew seal made of a semi-precious stone that was apparently inlaid in a ring. The scarab-like seal is elliptical and measures c. 1.1 cm x 1.4 cm. The surface of the seal is divided into three strips separated by a double line: in the upper strip is a chain decoration in which there are four pomegranates and in the two bottom strips is the name of the owner of the seal, engraved in ancient Hebrew script. It reads: לנתניהו בן יאש ([belonging] to Netanyahu ben Yaush).
The two names are known in the treasury of biblical names: the name נתניהו (Netanyahu) is mentioned a number of times in the Bible (in the Book of Jeremiah and in Chronicles) and the name יאש (Yaush) appears in the Lachish letters. The name Yaush, like the name יאשיהו (Yoshiyahu) is, in the opinion of Professor Shmuel Ahituv, derived from the root או”ש which means “he gave a present” (based on Arabic and Ugaritic). It is customary to assume that the owners of personal seals were people that held senior governmental positions.
It should nevertheless be emphasized that this combination of names – נתניהו בן יאוש (Netanyahu ben Yaush) – was unknown until now.

If you are interested in following the discussion surrounding this discovery, check out the ANE-2 discussion list.

Posted in Archaeology, Discoveries | Comments Off

The Fear of Yahweh and the Hermeneutics of Wisdom

12th March 2008

I’m teaching a course on wisdom literature this semester and I thought I would do a few posts relating to the wisdom literature of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. In this first post I want to look at what I think is a programmatic theological passage for how we should approach the wisdom tradition in Scripture: Proverbs 1:1-7. This passage not only provides the hermeneutical key to understanding the rest of the book of Proverbs, it also presents a comprehensive vision of the integrating function of biblical wisdom or hokmah (חכמה).

The first seven verses of the book of Proverbs present a comprehensive vision of wisdom that functions as a hermeneutical key to the rest of the book of Proverbs:

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

2For gaining knowledge of wisdom and discipline,
for understanding words of understanding,
3for acquiring disciplined insight:
righteousness, justice, and equity;
4for giving shrewdness to the simple,
to the young knowledge and discretion —
5Let the wise listen and gain in learning,
and the discerning purchase guidance,
6to understand a proverb and a saying,
the words of the wise and their riddles.

7The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge;
wisdom and discipline fools despise.

The accumulation of terms relating to wisdom and knowledge in these verses indicate the vast scope of the wisdom enterprise. While the nuance of many of these terms are debated, they clearly represent a broad range of intellectual qualities, concrete skills, and moral virtues. Looking at this preamble a bit closer, you realize that in its comprehensiveness it touches on a variety of virtues, and has a certain systemization and progression to it. William P. Brown, in his work Character in Crisis: A Fresh Approach to the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 1996; Buy from or, argues that this is a systematic arrangement that “exhibits a tightly wrought concentric structure” (p. 25). Brown’s structure is as follows:

A – Comprehensive, intellectual values: wisdom, instruction (2a)

B — Literary expression of wisdom: insightful sayings (2b)

C — Instrumental virtue: effective instruction (3a)

D —- Moral virtues: righteousness, justice, equity (3b)

C’ — Instrumental virtues: prudence, discretion, erudition, skill (4-5)

B’ — Literary expression of wisdom: proverb, figure, words, enigmas (6)

A’ – Comprehensive, intellectual values: fear of Yahweh, knowledge, wisdom, instruction (7)

“Wisdom”, according to this comprehensivesummary includes not just intellectual values, but also practical skills and instrumental virtues.  Most significantly, it also includes moral virtues like righteousness, justice, and equity — and if there is anything to Brown’s structure, the moral virtues are underscored by virtue of being in the middle of the concentric structure. Being wise is not just about “smarts”, but includes practical skills and moral character.

The climax of this passage is v. 7, where the “fear of Yahweh” is said to be the beginning of wisdom. The fear of Yahweh starts one on the path to wisdom, and the insights about life which follow help one on the path. It is interesting that it is commitment to Yahweh is understood as being inextricably linked to the search for human knowledge. It is this verse then that “joins into a unity intellectual, experiential activity and religious behaviour” (B.S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture).

This brings together all the previous virtues and values and connects them with one’s relationship with Yahweh. This is absolutely central and is an important correction to the modernist worldview that divorces religious conviction from “objective” truth. All of the great concepts that give order and conherence to reality as we know it are subsumed in the fear of Yahweh. These are not unrelated ideas but are the building blocks for a Christian worldview.

Furthermore, in Proverbs faith is not opposed to reason (see Raymond Van Leueuen, Proverbs, NIB, p. 34), but rather faith makes it a possiblity. This contradicts an assumption characteristic of a modernist worldview that sees knowledge and wisdom as separate from the “fear” or “knowledge” of God. This is expressed in the variety of dichotomies thrown about in our world: sacred/secular, public/private, facts/values, science/religion, reason/faith, objective/subjective, etc. In contrast, Proverbs — and the rest of Scripture — eschew these diachotomies and compartments and argue that all life is to be lived in the service of God, and according to God’s “ways” or norms.

What I find quite fascinating is how this understanding of the prologue to the book of Proverbs, with its emphasis on the personal and comprehensive nature of wisdom, is also reflected in recent epistemological and hermeneutical advances. Hans Georg Gadamer (my hermeneutical hero) has underscored the situatedness of our understanding and that rather than pretending to be unbiased in the name of some “scientific” method, we must be aware of our prejudices/presuppositions and recognize that they in part make understanding possible.

Posted in Bible, Old Testament, Proverbs, Wisdom | 3 Comments »

Bad Sermon: “Him that pisseth against the wall”

7th March 2008

Check out this sermon on the phrase “him that pisseth against the wall” from the KJV of 1 Kings 14:10. The phrase also occurs in 1Sam 25:22, 25:34; 1Kings 16:11, 21:21, and 2Kings 9:8. The rendering by the KJV, while perhaps vulgar to modern ears, is a word for word translation of the Hebrew.

While I — along with this preacher — lament modern translations that simply render the Hebrew idiom with the English term “male” I do so for very different reasons. In absolute contrast with the meaning of the passage, the ludicrous message the preacher takes from the phrase is that “real men” pee standing up (and I would add, should never lift the toilet seat!). If this preacher would have cracked the cover of even the most useless Bible Commentary, he would have discovered that the expression is contemptuously comparing males to dogs who “piss against the wall.” Thus,  I don’t think modern translations bring out the connotative meaning of the original Hebrew by the non-vulgar translation as “male.”  See my post Dogs, Urine, and Bible Translations (On the Importance of Translating Connotative Meaning).

Well, enough preamble, here is the sermon in all its glory:

(HT to Bob Derrenbacker)

Posted in 1Samuel, Bible, Hebrew, Old Testament, Translation Theory | 7 Comments »

The Biblicalist: A New Email List for Biblical Studies

4th March 2008

hannah.jpgThe moderators would like to announce the release of a new biblical studies email list, The Biblicalist

The Biblicalist is a biblical studies list of academic emphasis open to all who wish to approach the Bible in its wider context, past and present. All viewpoints and perspectives which draw on the work of scholars in biblical studies and cognate disciplines are welcome. Topics of discussion include the interpretation of particular texts of the Bible and related literature, the background of ancient Near Eastern and Classical cultures, theological and philosophical reflections on relevant issues, and the Bible in art and literature, including the reception of the Bible from ancient times to the present. Other topics in a similar vein are not only welcome, but encouraged.

The moderators (listed below) are all well-known biblicabloggers and participants on other email discussion lists:

We would like to invite all interested people to join our new list.

To join, all you need to do is go to the Biblicalist home page at Yahoo! Groups ( and, after reading and agreeing with the List Protocols (which may be found in the files section), click the “Join This Group” tab on the right side of the web page. If you do not already have a free Yahoo! ID you will have to get one before joining.

Posted in Bible, Biblicalist, Email Discussion Groups, Theology | 1 Comment »

Biblical Studies Carnival XXVII

3rd March 2008

Kevin Wilson has uploaded the March 2008 edition of the Biblical Studies Carnival XXVII over at Blue Cord — and it even comes with a nifty graphic! Kevin takes us for an entertaining and informative stroll down the midway as he highlights the best of biblical studies on the blogosphere for last month.

Next up for the Biblical Studies Carnival is Chris Weimer, who runs the blog Thoughts on Antiquity. He’ll be pulling together the April 2008 edition of the Biblical Studies Carnival, so do him a favour and remember to nominate posts this month.

For more information, please consult the Biblical Studies Carnival Homepage.

Posted in Biblical Studies Carnival | Comments Off