The editor of the SBL Forum, Leonard Greenspoon, has asked for my input in how best to blog the coming annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature to be held in Boston, Massachusetts, in November 2008. I have a number of ideas, though I thought it would be good to propose some ideas and then open up discussion from other bibliobloggers. Here are my ideas:
First, the goal shouldn’t be to blog the entire meeting. That, obviously, would be a bit too much. I would think that all of the major presentations should be covered (e.g., the presidential address) as well as some of the more controversial papers. In addition, some editorial pieces may be worthwhile, especially since this will be the first SBL without the AAR.
Second, in addition to the type of posts noted in the first point, the SBL Meeting Blog should also serve as an ongoing “carnival-like” repository of links to SBL-related discussions going on in the blogosphere. Thus, someone could keep and eye out and put together a daily round-up of links. Even better, bloggers could be asked to email a trackback url to the editor of the SBL Meeting Blog when a relevant post is uploaded.
Third, perhaps a regular podcast from the SBL meeting could be arranged and distributed via the SBL Meeting Blog. This could include interviews with some SBL bigwigs, discussion of controversial papers, or just general impressions of the meeting.
If these are the sort of things the SBL Meeting Blog would cover, then the blog would need to be a team blog with different disciplines represented and perhaps an overal editor/organizer. Then we could assign certain bloggers to cover certain papers and topics, etc. Of course there would have to be some technical details worked out; first and foremost the question of where the blog would be located and what blogging platform would be used (WordPress is my vote). Leonard wants this as part of the SBL Forum, though I am not sure if their server has blogging software capability (I assume it probably does, though I am not sure if it is a unix based server or not).
At any rate, those are some of my ideas. I now open up the comments for a discussion on how best to blog the SBL annual meeting. What say you?
I want to put a plug in for a book that I ordered for our library when I was doing my “Creation in Ancient Mesopotamia” series last spring, but I have just had a chance to look at it now that classes are finished. The book is Wayne Horowitz, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography (Eisenbrauns, 1998; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com or Eisenbrauns).
This is an excellent discussion of the ancient texts that relate to how the Mesopotamians viewed the cosmos. It discusses a number of different Sumerian and Akkadian sources for Mesopotamian cosmic geography, including the Mappi Mundi, the Sargon Geography, Gilgamesh, Enuma Elish, among others. Then he surveys the different regions of the universe according to Mesopotamian thought.
All in all this is a great resource, though it ends somewhat abruptly. It would have been great to have a concluding chapter that synthesizes his findings and even to relate it to the Israelite conception of cosmic geography for us biblical scholars.
The “Concept of Exile in Ancient Israel and its Contexts” workshop was held two weeks ago at the University of Alberta. Due to teaching and administrative responsibilities, I wasn’t able to attend much of the workshop, though I was able to catch the papers on one day and have lunch and dinner with the participants. It was great to meet everyone and talk some shop with them and get to know them a bit personally.
Exile and Ideology
One of the papers that piqued my interest was Martti Nissinen‘s “The Exiled Gods of Bablyon in Neo-Assyrian Prophecy.” In his paper, Martti examined an incident in Assyrian and Babylonian history when the Assyrian king Sennacherib razed the city of Babylon and deported its gods in 689 BCE. The deportation and/or destruction of a defeated nation’s gods (i.e., the statues) was a standard practice for the Assyrians (and other ancient peoples) and was considered an unambiguous sign of humiliation and demonstration of the power of the victorious monarch and his gods. What is particularly interesting is how the event was understood by each nation. Obviously the victorious nation interpreted the events as vindication of the superiority of their king and gods. More interesting is how the defeated nation understood the calamity ideologically. More often than not, the defeated nation would interpret the defeat and deportation of their gods as a sign that their gods were angry with them — not that the other nation’s gods were stronger.
There are many examples of this sort of ideological interpretation from the ANE as well as the Bible — here I am thinking of the capture of the ark of the covenant by the Philistines (1Sam 4-5) or, of course, Assyria’s destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Babylonia’s destruction and subsequent exile of Southern Judah. In both cases the biblical authors interpreted the defeat as Yahweh’s anger toward his unfaithful people, not the superiority of Assyria’s or Babylonia’s deities.
Divine Alienation — Divine Reconciliation
Nissinen continued his analysis of the deportation of Babylon’s gods to when the Assyrian king Esarhaddon, Sennacherib’s son, returned the gods to Babylon and rebuilt its temples in response to prophecy. In particular, Nissinen appealed to the prophecy of one La-dagil-ili which was spoken in Esarhaddon’s first regnal year:
Take to heart these words of mine from Arbela:
The gods of Esaggil are languishing in an evil, chaotic wilderness.
Let two burnt offerings be sent before them at once;
Let your greeting of peace be pronounced to them (SAA 9 2.3 ii 22-27).
Esarhaddon evidently took these words seriously and, based on the historical sources we have, concerned himself with the rebuilding of Babylon and restoring its gods. Esarhaddon’s move was not just political, it was theological. Restoring the gods to Babylon, according to Nissinen, not only quelled the anger of the Babylonian gods, but more importantly reestablished order in the cosmos. This divine alienation—divine reconciliation pattern is also found throughout the ANE and even in the Bible (e.g., Cyrus’s edict to allow the return and restoration of the Jerusalem temple).
Ideology, History, and Prophecy
The ideas in Nissinen’s paper highlight an aspect of ANE historiography which we need to recognize in the Hebrew Bible. All ancient historiography (and perhaps all modern) is ideological. That is, it is written from the viewpoint of a faith in Yahweh who is active in the history of Israel. Yahweh’s supremacy is never doubted. If Israel is defeated, it is because of their unfaithfulness. If another nation defeats them, Yahweh is using that other nation to discipline his people. All of this is also true of Israelite prophecy.
This underscores the reality that all historiography (and prophecy) is interpretive. It highlights that the historical and prophetic writings of the Hebrew Bible are part and parcel of the ancient Near East and we shouldn’t be surprised that they reflect the literary practices and genres of the ancient world — perhaps much to the dismay of some evangelicals (this is one of the points Peter Enns makes in his Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Baker Academic, 2005; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com).
Martti Nissinen is Professor of Old Testament at the University of Helsinki, Finland. Many of the texts he referred to in his presentation are from his book, Prophets and Prophecy in the Ancient Near East (Writings from the Ancient World; Society of Biblical Literature, 2003; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). He has also published Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective (Augsburg Fortress, 2004; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com).
OK, instead of marking tests tonight I went to go see U2 3D (Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington, 2007; IMDb). I know I lamented that U2 3D wasn’t going to show in Edmonton — and it wasn’t. In part because of the backlash surrounding the fact U2 3D wasn’t going to show (and some local radio stations making some noise), a couple of the larger theater complexes in Edmonton added the necessary 3D projection equipment.
I thought the film was excellent. No narrative, interviews, or other distractions — just U2. It was almost like being there (though I think they could have cranked the volume a bit more at the theater).
Now I have to get back to marking… and guess what music I will be blasting as I do?
OK, that’s irritating. I am in the middle of marking and decided to write a quick post to update everyone on some posts I am working on connected with the exile workshop at the University of Alberta last week, the book of Job, and the state of evangelical biblical scholarship (e.g., the Enns controversy and Kenton Sparks’ new book). I go to publish the post and there is a database error of some sort and I loose it. Blah!
At any rate, my original post was far more polished than this one! Now, back to marking papers…
My Old Testament colleague at Taylor Seminary, Dr. Jerry Shepherd, wrote the following post for the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association email list. It is reproduced here with his permission.
I want to comment just a bit on the Peter Enns situation. There was a thread on the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association email list a few months ago with regard to the Enns situation where I made a couple of contributions, but here are some more thoughts in light of Enns’s suspension. Keep in mind that I am writing this as both a Westminster Theolgical Seminary (WTS) alum and one who was very much involved in the OT department when I was there. I was Al Groves’s TA for a number of years, taught a few courses myself, and was involved with the Westminster Hebrew Computer Project. I took numerous courses both at the Masters and PhD levels from Al Groves, Ray Dillard, Tremper Longman, and Bruce Waltke. Doug Green, Peter Enns, and Mike Kelly were my classmates.
While there are some things in Enns’s Inspiration & Incarnation that I might disagree with, and some things I might have worded differently, I believe the book is entirely within both Evangelical orthodoxy more broadly, and Reformed orthodoxy more narrowly. WTS is a confessional school, and I understand the need to continue to uphold the school’s commitment to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). But there is also needed the continuing commitment to the idea of “Reformed, yet reforming.” To make the WCF the major evaluative tool by which exegetical statements are to judged orthodox or not, especially when the WCF itself needs to be exegeted through a particular set of lenses to arrive at this judgment, is, in my opinion, very much misguided.
There is nothing in Enns’s book that is not in a trajectory with the teaching I received from the OT department at Westminster in the 80s and early 90s, and I mean the entire department: Dillard, Longman, Waltke, and Groves. For the Board to make this kind of decision with regard to Enns is also at the same time, in my opinion, a judgment on the entirety of the current OT dept., as well as a retroactive judgment on nearly three decades of OT instruction at WTS, especially since two of the endorsers on the back cover of the book are Longman and Waltke. Additionally, the decision appears to be one that is being made by persons who are simply unaware of the complexities involved in the faithful critical discipline of OT studies in the context of the ancient Near East.
As far as the faculty who are opposed to Enns, I am grieved because, apparently, at least a couple of the professors in that camp are ones for whom I have great admiration, respect, and gratitude for what they taught me (there are others with whom I am not personally acquainted).
One last comment. For my OT intro class last Fall, I had my students read I&I and write a reaction paper to it. With only a couple of exceptions (in a class of about 25), the students found the book to be very helpful. To my knowledge, none of these students have lost their faith. To the contrary, a couple of the students who work with university and college students on secular campuses have found the book to be a valuable resource for them in their work with these students.
I hope and pray that more informed thinking will prevail.
Dr. Jerry E. Shepherd
Associate Professor of Old Testament
Acting Academic Vice President
Taylor Seminary, Edmonton, Canada
This may be old news (aghast, it’s from the end of February!), but a friend let me know of an interesting “Hermeneutics Quiz” that Scot McKnight, of Jesus Creed fame, put together for Leadership Journal.net.
I scored an 81 on the quiz, which means I’m a “progressive” on “The Hermeneutics Scale.” This is how McKnight defined the progressive (which includes those who scored between 66 and 100; so I guess I am a moderate progressive):
The progressive is not always progressive. Those who score 66 or more can be seen as leaning toward the progressive side, but the difference between at 66 and 92 is dramatic. Still, the progressive tends to see the Bible as historically shaped and culturally conditioned, and yet most still consider it the Word of God for today. Following a progressive hermeneutic, for the Word to speak in our day, one must interpret what the Bible said in its day and discern its pattern for revelation in order to apply it to our world. The strength, as with the moderate but even more so, is the challenge to examine what the Bible said in its day, and this means the progressives tend to be historians. But the problems for the progressives are predictable: Will the Bible’s so-called “plain meaning” be given its due and authoritative force to challenge our world? Or will the Bible be swallowed by a quest to find modern analogies that sometimes minimize what the text clearly says?
I’m not sure how much I see myself in McKnight’s description, but I encourage you to take the quiz and see where you are at.
Chris Weimer has uploaded the real Biblical Studies Carnival XXVIII over at Thoughts on Antiquity (He had previously uploaded a special edition of the Carnival on the morning of April 1st). Chris does an excellent job surveying some of the best biblical studies posts from the month of March 2008. I’m glad that I actually had some posts to contribute this time!
Next up for the Biblical Studies Carnival is Jim West, over at his eponymous blog. He’ll be pulling together the May 2008 edition of the Biblical Studies Carnival (which will be number XXIX, or number 29 for those of you who have trouble with Roman numerals, not to name names, Jim), so do him a favour and remember to nominate posts this month.
As many of my readers may have already heard, Dr. Peter Enns, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), has been suspended by the Board of Trustees effective 23 May 2008, pending review “to consider whether Professor Enns should be terminated from his employment at the Seminary” (Between Two Worlds). The suspension is due to controversy surrounding his evocative, refreshing, and insightful recent book, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Baker Academic, 2005; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com).
I trust it is clear by my choice of adjectives that I quite liked Enns’s work and am saddened by the controversy it has evoked among conservative evangelicals. I am saddened because, while I don’t agree with everything in Inspiration and Incarnation (what academic ever could!), I felt Enns was on the right track. Evangelicals have had an uneasy relationship with critical scholarship and I felt that Enns was attempting to address some of the issues with both theological sensitivity and some academic rigor. In fact, I was in contact with Dr. Enns last year to have him speak at Taylor’s Faith & Culture Conference (as it turns out he was unavailable; instead we brought in Dr. Kenton Sparks, author of a similarly engaging work on evangelicals and biblical scholarship that is hot off the press, God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship [Baker Academic, 2008; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com]. This is another book I would highly recommend).
At any rate, this is not the place for a full review and engagement with Inspiration and Incarnation, but I would encourage you to purchase it and then read it carefully — especially if you feel the need to criticize it.
I will refrain from commenting on issues internal to Westminster Theological Seminary, its administration, faculty, students, and constituency, since I have no basis for comment. It is clear that Westminster has some hard times ahead with the disunity this controversy is raising and the institution needs our prayers. Perhaps even more than this, Dr. Enns needs our prayers. I can’t imagine what it would be like to go through this sort of investigation.
If you want to follow the controversy, I encourage you to keep tabs on Brandon Withrow‘s blog. In addition, Christianity Today also has a blog post and an article on the events. Peter Enns also has a website, though I imagine he will not be posting anything relating to this controversy in the near future.
The sad irony of this whole controversy is found in Dr. Enns’s words from the preface to Inspiration and Incarnation:
I am thankful for being part of such a solidly faithful group [the Westminster faculty] that does not shy away from some difficult yet basic questions and with whom I am able to have frank and open discussions. This does not happen at every institution, and I do not take that privilege for granted” (p. 9).
Sadly, it seems “frank and open discussions” don’t occur at Westminster after all.
Well, it’s April Fool’s Day (and appropriately my birthday) and I thought rather than trying to fool everyone with a clever post, I would do a post on the different types of fools in the Hebrew Bible, and more specifically in the book of Proverbs.
The first fool we meet in the book of Proverbs is presented as the antithesis of the person who is seeking wisdom:
The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge; fools/dullards (אוילים) despise wisdom and instruction (Prov. 1:7).
We meet the other three fools a bit later on the lips of Woman Wisdom (חכמות), when she cries out in the streets to the fools and admonishes them to heed her advice:
How long, O simple ones (פתים), will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers (לצון) delight in their scoffing
and fools (כסילים) hate knowledge? (Prov. 1:22)
These four types of fools have the wrong attitudes prerequisite for gaining wisdom. As fools, however, they are not all equal. There is still hope for the simple one, while the dullards, fools, and the scoffers are progressively more set in their ways.
The Simple (petayim; פתים).
The Hebrew word petayim (פתים) is found 17 times in the Bible, 13 of which in the book of Proverbs. The petayim are simple and naive; accordingly most English translations render petayim with “the simple” (KJV, NIV, NRSV, NJPS, etc.). They are untutored (1:4); lacking both sense (7:7; 8:5) and wisdom (9:6). They are self-satisfied (1:22); uncommitted (7:21); and believe everything (14:15). A bit dense too in that they do not avoid danger (22:3; 27:12), if they even knew where they were going (1:32). But they do have the potential to learn (8:5; 19:25; 21:11), and are the object of wooing by both Woman Wisdom (9:6) and Woman folly (9:4, 16). Their basic need is shrewdness, as they are weak-willed and easily seduced, but there remains some hope for them.
Fools/Dullards (kisîlîm; כסילים). Kisîlîm (כסילים) is the dominant word in the Hebrew Bible for fool. It occurs some 70 time in the Old Testament and a whopping 49 time in the book of Proverbs. While it is typically translated in English by “fool” (KJV, NRSV, NIV, etc.), the NJPS renders it consistently as “dullard” — which may not be a bad practice so as to differentiate them from the other type of fool, the ‘evîlîm. Dullards hate knowledge (1:22); are complacent (1:32); and reckless (14:16; 17:10; 29:11). They lack understanding and sense (8:5); are deluded (14:8); take pleasure in evil (10:23). They are easily seduced by folly (7:22); and their actions are foolish (13:16; 14:24), and they are an embarrassment to their parents (15:20; 17:21, 25; 19:13). And are characterized by imprudent and slanderous speech (10:18; 12:23; 13:16; 14:7; 15:2, 7, 14; 18:2, 6, 7; 19:1), and do not take rebuke seriously (17:10). They should not be trusted (26:6). The only saving grace for dullards is that they are potentially teachable (8:1-5; but 17:16, 23:9), though you need to have wisdom to know when it is appropriate to answer them (26:4-5). My favourite proverb associated with the kisîlîm (and perhaps my favourite out of the whole book of Proverbs) is Prov 26:11, “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a dullard repeats his folly.”
Fools (‘evîlîm; אוילים).
The word ‘evîlîm (אוילים), typically translated as “fool” in English translations, is found 26 times in the Hebrew Bible, 19 of which occur in the book of Proverbs. These fools despise wisdom and discipline (1:7); are thoughtless (7:22); are self-deceived (12:15); have a lack of sense (10:21); and are incorrigible (27:22). They don’t take advice (12:15; even of a parent – 15:5); and are characterized by chattering speech (10:8, 10, 14; 14:3; 14:9; 20:3; 29:9; cf. 17:28). They are easily angered (12:16) and quick to quarrel (20:3). My favourite image associated with this type of fool is found in Prov 27:22, “Even if you pound the fool in a mortar, grinding him like grain in with a pestle, you will not remove his folly from him.” Ouch!
Scoffers (letsîm; לצים).
The verb lyts (ליץ) “to scoff” occurs a total of 28 times in the Hebrew Bible; it is found in the book of Proverbs 18 times, frequently as a substantive participle translated as “scoffer” or “mocker.” These mockers delight in their mocking (1:22); are proud (3:34; 21:24); and vainly seek wisdom (14:6); and are incorrigible (9:7; 15:12). Not only do they not listen to correction (13:1; 15:12), they abuse those who try to rebuke them (9:7, 8); and mock things that are of value (14:9). They are an abomination to all (24:9). There is not much hope for them.
So this April Fool’s Day, have some fun, pull some practical jokes, but do not act a fool — at least not in the biblical sense of the word!