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Archive for the 'Academic Associations' Category

Exiled Gods in the ANE and the Bible

22nd April 2008

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 or


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 or He has also published Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective (Augsburg Fortress, 2004; Buy from or

Posted in Academic Associations, Ancient Near East, Left Behind, Old Testament | 5 Comments »

Concept of Exile in Ancient Israel & its Contexts Workshop

27th March 2008

The University of Alberta and Ludwig-Maximilians Universität, Munich, are hosting a workshop on the Concept of “Exile” in Ancient Israel. The workshop will primarily focus on (but not exclusively) prophetic literature, including the social and historical setting against which it evolved and in a way that is informed by comparative ancient materials. The workshop is being held at the University of Alberta from April 7 through 11, 2008.

This workshop brings together scholars from the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich (LMU) and the University of Alberta, along with colleagues from other European and Canadian universities. This workshop is part of a newly founded cooperation between LMU and the UofA and is conceived as the first of two workshops. The second is planned for Munich (2009).

The list of participating scholars is impressive and includes the likes of Christoph Levin (LMU), Reinhard Müller (LMU), Hermann-Josef Stipp (LMU), Jan Christian Gertz (Heidelberg), Martti Nissinen (Helsinki), Hindy Najman (Toronto), James Linville (Lethbridge), as well as University of Alberta professors Francis Landy, Selina Stewart, Willi Braun, and Ehud Ben Zvi.

For more information, check out the workshop webpage here.

If you are in the Edmonton area, please consider yourself invited.

Posted in Academic Associations, Announcements, Conferences, History of Ancient Israel | 3 Comments »

June-July SBL Forum

26th June 2007

The summer edition of the Society of Biblical Literature Forum has been uploaded. It’s understandably a bit sparse, though there are some interesting articles nonetheless. I especially enjoyed Michael Homan’s piece humanizing archaeological destruction layers through his personal experience of hurricane Katrina. I’ve been a reader of Michael’s blog for a couple years and am familiar with all he experienced. He will be covering the dig at Tel Zeitah, so make sure to give his blog a look. I also found the article on Zimri interesting, though I’m not sure how it fits under “In the Profession.”

Here is the full table of contents of the June-July 2007 (vol. 5, no. 6) edition:

In the Public Sphere

In the Profession


Society News

Letters to the Editor



Posted in Academic Associations, SBL, SBL Forum | 1 Comment »

Canadian Society of Biblical Studies 2007

26th May 2007

CSBSLogo.gifI am heading off to the 2007 annual meeting of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies (CSBS) today. This year it is being held at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and runs for three days (May 27-29).

A glance at the programme reveals many interesting papers related to the Hebrew Bible, including papers in the Ancient Historiography Seminar (For those interested more in New Testament/Christian Origins or the history of interpretation there are many papers that would interest you, so check out the full programme).

If I have the time and an internet connection, I will post some reflections from the meetings like previous years. If an internet connection is not available, I will post some thoughts when I get back next Wednesday.

UPDATE: It doesn’t look like I will be able to do any reflections from here, so I will post some thoughts when I am back home.

Posted in Academic Associations, CSBS | 1 Comment »

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 »

SBL Forum April 2007: Archaeology, Ignorance, and Faith

12th April 2007

The April 2007 Society of Biblical Literature Forum has been uploaded. Once again there are many interesting articles, including an interesting piece on biblical archaeology and another on translating sentiment. I would like to especially note the article by Stephen Prothero on “Worshiping in Ignorance” (the title is a bit misleading as the article is about religious illiteracy in the United States). This article is actually from the Chronicle of Higher Education (the Forum piece is just a link).

Here is the full table of contents of the April 2007 (vol. 5, no. 4) edition:

In the Public Sphere

In the Profession

In the Classroom

On Location

In Translation


Posted in SBL Forum | Comments Off

Ancient Historiography Seminar – CSBS Program (28 May 2007)

10th April 2007

As a member of the Steering Committee of the Ancient Historiography Seminar / Groupe de Travail sur l’Historiographie Ancienne in the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies, I am pleased to report that the program for this year’s sessions is now available.

Here is a the schedule for this year’s seminar; as you can see, it’s a pretty impressive line-up.

Saskatoon 2007

Identity Formation and Ethnicity

Monday 28 May 2007 – 8:45 am – 12:00 (THORV 205A)

Chair / Président: Patricia Kirkpatrick (McGill University)

8:45-9:05 am – Israel and the Nomads of Ancient Palestine
Kent Sparks (Eastern University)

ksparks [at] eastern [dot] edu

Two views of Israel’s ethnogenesis now predominate among scholars. One holds that early Israel originated in the city-state society of Canaan, the other that its core identity was provided by nomadic and semi-nomadic pastoralists. In this paper I will explore the ancient Israelite portrait of the nomadic groups in Palestine, seeking to understand how Israel construed its historical and ethnic relationship with those peoples. The implications of this portrait for the debate about Israel’s ethnogenesis will then be considered.

9:05–9:15 – Questions

9:15-9:35 am – The Construction of Text and Ethnicity in Judges 5
Mark Smith (New York University)

mss11 [at] nyu [dot] edu

For the accounts of the reigns of David and Solomon scholars have suggested various layers in the books of Samuel and Kings, some regarded as near-contemporary pieces of historiography and have proposed various functions for the stories: propagandistic, apologetic, antimonarchic, etcetera. In this study I will look at some of these proposals in the light of comparative models and make some suggestions of my own.

9:35-9:45 – Questions
9:45-10:15 – Discussion
10:15 – 10:30 Break

10:30 – 10:50 – David the Mercenary
John Van Seters (Waterloo, ON)

john [dot] vanseters [at] sympatico [dot] ca

At the heart of Dtr’s conception of Israelite identity is the Davidic monarchy, with its divine election of the “house of David� and Jerusalem, wedded to the exodus/Horeb tradition of the covenant people. The crisis of the Babylonian destruction of monarchy and temple did not destroy this mode of identity but gave rise to a future messianic hope of a restored Davidic rule. Against this conception of David’s election and idealization is set another presentation of David’s rise to power as a mercenary leader employed by the Philistine king of Gath. As such, David used this role of mercenary to gain a power base in Judah and eventual control of the whole of Israel. David is also presented as maintaining his power as king entirely on the foundation of mercenaries, primarily foreigners. Since this portrayal is a complete anachronistic fiction, it must represent a deliberate ideological polemic against the Davidic monarchy and any form of identity that is based upon a messianic hope of monarchic restoration.

10:50 – 11:00 – Questions

11:00 – 11:20 – Identity and Empire, Reality and Hope in the Chronicler’s Perspective
Mark Boda (McMaster)

mjboda [at] mcmaster [dot] ca

It has often been noted that one of the purposes which energizes the Chronicler’s work is the reformulation of the identity of the Yehudite community in its new imperial context. Past proposals have focused, for example, on the importance of key past traditions (recapitulative historiography), incorporation of new traditions (priestly and levitical services), and delineation of the limits of the restoration community (all Israel). This paper will highlight evidence in the genealogical introduction and the narrative conclusion to the book of Chronicles that the Chronicler is revisioning identity for the community in Yehud. For the Chronicler, Judah became an imperial province with Josiah’s death as the state lost its independence and authority was transferred by Yahweh to imperial figures. Necho, Nebuchadnezzar, and Cyrus all act and/or speak as God’s representatives and it is this that provides ideological justification for Yehud’s identity as a province within an empire. However, this does not mean that these imperial figures will always speak or act for Yahweh or that provincial status is Yehud’s final destiny. The Chronicler’s presentation of Hezekiah highlights an emperor, Sennacherib, who meets his demise when challenging Yahweh and his Davidic king. In addition, the fate of the final four Davidic vassals as well as the shape of the conclusion to the Davidic genealogy in 1 Chronicles 3 suggest that the Chronicler’s vision of the community’s identity contains hope for kingdom’s reestablishment. The Chronicler’s presentation of genealogy and story constructs an identity that emphasizes present reality without extinguishing future hope.

11:20 – 11:30 – Questions
11:30 – 12:00 – Discussion

Identity Formation and Ethnicity (Session 2)

Monday 28 May 2007 – 1:30 pm – 5:00 pm (THORV 205A)

Chair / Président: Lissa Wray Beal (Providence Theological Seminary)

1:30 – 1:50 – Are There Any Bridges Out There? How Wide Was the Conceptual Gap Between the ‘Deuteronomistic Historical Collection’ and Chronicles?
Ehud Ben Zvi (University of Alberta)

ehud.ben.zvi [at] ualberta [dot] ca

There cannot be any doubt that Chronicles and the books included in the so-called ‘Deuteronomistic History’ (Dtr) construe the past differently. At least one of the main intentions of Chronicles was to reflect and shape a different and, in my opinion, complementary image of the past for literati who were aware of the ‘classical’ version in books such as Samuel and Kings. But how wide was the conceptual gap behind these two historiographies? Against the background of a traditional tendency in research to highlight the differences between the two corpora, this paper shows a substantial number of similarities in worldview and basic concepts between some voices within the so-called Dtr and Chronicles. It further suggests that Chronicles picks up and develops these existing voices and accordingly sets itself and actually stands in partial continuity—as well as partial discontinuity—with the so-called Dtr. The paper concludes with a discussion of the significance of these observations with respect to social settings of the final compositional form of the books in Dtr and Chronicles in the Persian period.

1:50 – 2:00 – Questions

2:00 – 2:20 – A Comparative Study of the Exilic Gap in Ancient Israelite, Messenian, and Zionist Collective Memory
Katherine Stott (University of Alberta)

katiestott [at] optushome [dot] com [dot] au

I propose to examine the commonly noted gap in biblical historiography that marks the exile. An attempt will be made to explain the absence of narrative pertaining to this period by comparing the biblical concept of exile to the treatment of exile within ancient Messenian and Zionist thought. While these communities, like the Israelites, remember a time spent living in a state of exile outside the homeland, and acknowledge this period as a distinct phase within their history, the experience of exile is similarly marginalized in their social memory. By comparing and contrasting the construction of exile in Israelite, Messenian, and Zionist memory, insight will be gained into the possible reasons for the “exilic gap� in the biblical literature. Various factors will be explored including the possibility that the gap is a case of “structural amnesia� reflecting cultural trauma brought about by the exile; however, it will be argued that the most likely reason has to do with matters of group identity.

2:20 – 2:30 – Questions

2:30 – 2:50 – Textual Identities in the Books of Chronicles: The Case of Jehoram’s History
Louis Jonker (Stellenbosch University)

lcj [at] sun [dot] ac [dot] za

In recent years an increasing number of publications have discussed the issue of identity formation in Persian period Yehud in general, and in the Book of Chronicles in particular. As Berquist (2006) has indicated in his distinction of five different modes of scholarship on this issue, scholars, however, proceed with different and diverging assumptions about “identity.� Further, the complexity of the matter is often neglected when scholars work with a too limited definition of “identity.� In this paper I will pursue two aims: Firstly, I will explore the potential of “textual identities� (which is used in social psychology) as a description of the identity formation processes witnessed in the Books of Chronicles. Secondly, I will analyze the Jehoram narrative in Chronicles (2 Chron 21:2 – 22:1a)—in synoptic comparison to the Vorlage in 2 Kings 8—in order to test the hypothesis that “textual identities� could help us achieve a more adequate understanding of the dynamics of identity formation in the Book of Chronicles.

2:50 – 3:00 – Questions
3:00 – 3:15 – Break

3:15 – 3:35 – Characters in Stone: The Behistun Inscription and Yehudite Identity
James Bowick (McMaster Divinity College)

In 522 BCE, Darius ascended the Persian throne and shortly thereafter, he recorded the story of how he became king and solidified his reign in the trilingual Behistun inscription, which he also had translated and distributed throughout the empire. While much work has been done in comparing the history it records with Greek sources to understand what transpired, little work has been done on the literary and narratival characteristics of the inscription, as it is widely held that it is devoid of such artistic properties. However, a close reading shows that the text is artfully crafted, using several distinctive techniques to develop its theme. This paper will review how the Old Persian text of the Behistun inscription uses literary features to create an ascension myth, known throughout the empire. Stock phrases such as “Ahuramazda bore me aid,â€? different episodes described using almost identical language, the geographical breadth of the rebellions and the short time in which they are all dealt with, have a cumulative effect on the reader and suggest a quasi-miraculous element to the ascension. While the literary features of the text are quite different from those of the Hebrew Bible, the themes of the ascension myth would have been familiar to the Yehudite community. This paper will compare the historiography of the Behistun inscription with the historiography of the Yehudite community, contrasting Darius’s self description with how he is viewed in Hebrew literature, and how the Yehudite relationship to Darius affected their identity as a community.

3:35 – 3:45 – Questions

3:45 – 4:05 – Community Identities in the Rescript of Artaxerxes: The Mandate(s) of Ezra in Jerusalem, Judah, and the Province Beyond the River
Gary Knoppers (The Pennsylvania State University)

gxk7 [at] psu [dot] edu

The edict of Artaxerxes, the “king of kings,� (Ezra 7:11-26) pertaining to “Ezra the scribe-priest� has been the subject of intensive study during recent decades. The focus of this paper will not be on the rescript as a whole, since two recent monographs (Pakkala, Grätz) have devoted considerable attention to the form, structure, and compositional history of this curious and complicated passage. My paper will address the emperor’s charge to Ezra in the broader context of “the Province Beyond the River� (7:25-26). Is this mandate, despite appearances to the contrary, merely an amplification of the earlier charge given to Ezra in “Judah and Jerusalem� (7:14)? Is the mandate given to Ezra in 7:25-26 a utopian recollection of the glories of the united monarchy or something more closely connected to late Persian and Hellenistic times? Moreover, what are the relationships among the communities mentioned in the letter: the people of Israel, Judah, Jerusalem, and the people in the Province Beyond the River?

4:05 – 4:15 – Questions
4:15 – 4:45 – Discussion

4:45 – 5:00 – Open Planning Session for Vancouver 2008

The Ancient Historiography Seminar / Groupe de Travail sur l’Historiographie Ancienne is a professional, academic working group of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies / Société canadienne des Études bibliques (CSBS/SCÉB). For more information, please see our website.

Posted in Ancient Historiography Seminar, CSBS, History of Ancient Israel | 1 Comment »

Talpiot in the SBL Forum

15th March 2007

There have been a couple late additions to the Jesus/Talpiot Tomb debate in this month’s SBL Forum (see my previous post here).

First, there is a lengthy response by James Tabor to the articles by Jodi Magness and Christopher Rollston. Tabor’s article, Two Burials of Jesus of Nazareth and The Talpiot Yeshua Tomb, primarily deals with Magness’s criticisms, though he also addresses Rollston’s questions surrounding the identification with the family of Jesus of Nazareth.

Tabor also helpfully offers some comments about the nature of the debate and some suggestions for future research:

The nature of the question, with its theological and emotional overtones, coupled with the way the issue was put before the public and the academy (i.e., through a documentary film and a trade book) has understandably galvanized the responses into “yes” or “no,” (mostly “no”), when reasonable alternatives might be “possible but uncertain,” to even “probable but not certain,” but in any case a call for further investigation. I will make some suggestions at the end of this piece regarding directions for future research.
Taken as a whole it seems to me that this tomb and its possible identification with Jesus and Nazareth and his family should not be dismissed. The evidence from the gospels I have surveyed, coupled with the cluster of significant names that fit our hypothetical expectations for a posited pre-70 Jesus family tomb, is strong, and should be further tested. Of course, if the ossuary inscribed “James son of Joseph,” is added to the cluster, and the evidence for that possibility is unresolved at this point, the correspondence would be all the more striking. What is needed is further work on the epigraphy, expanded patina tests, further DNA testing if that is possible, and since the tomb in 1980 had to be excavated so quickly, but now has been located, a fuller archaeological examination of the site itself.

Tabor also has a response to the letter to the editor by Jonathan Reed.

The other article added to the SBL Forum is by Stephen J. Pfann. In his article, “Mary Magdalene is Now Missing: A Corrected Reading of Rahmani Ossuary 701,” Pfann offers an alternative analysis of the “Mariamene the Master” inscription. He argues the inscription reads “Mariame and Mara” and suggests the ossuary contained the bones of at least two different women — neither of being Mary Magdalene.

James Tabor has a response to Pfann’s new reading of the inscription on his Jesus Dynasty blog. Tabor consulted noted epigrapher Leah Di Segni and she writes: “I well remember that, while here and there I had some suggestions about interpretation of a particular form (for instance, Mariamenon being an hypochoristic form of Mariam), I could not but confirm all his readings. I have not changed my mind now.â€? I encourage you to read his whole post, “Leah Di Segni on the Pfann “Correctionâ€? of Rahmani.”

Now that the initial buzz surrounding this “Jesus tomb hypothesis” seems to be dying down a bit, I hope that there will be some more fruitful academic debate surrounding the tomb and ossuaries — and I think that these Forum articles are a good start.

Posted in Historical Jesus, Jesus Tomb, SBL Forum, Talpiot tomb, The Tomb Documentary | 1 Comment »

SBL Forum March 2007: Biblical Studies Carnival

9th March 2007

The March 2007 Society of Biblical Literature Forum has been uploaded. Once again there are many interesting articles, including one by yours truly on the Biblical Studies Carnival. In addition, there is some coverage of the Jesus/Talpiot Tomb debate, among other things.

Here is the full table of contents of the March 2007 (vol. 5, no. 3) edition:

In the Public Sphere

In the Profession

In the Classroom

In Popular Culture

Society News


Letters to the Editor


Posted in Academic Associations, Biblical Studies Carnival, SBL, SBL Forum | 1 Comment »

SBL Forum February 2007: Manuscripts, Monsters, and ETANA

30th January 2007

The February 2007 SBL Forum is online and includes a number of interesting articles and news items. Any academics considering moving for work will want to read blogger Michael Bird‘s piece on the “biblical studies disaspora.” Those interested in my current series on ANE creation stories will want to read Mobley’s discussion of Chaos monsters where he begins by discussing Enuma elish, as well as the news update on ETANA.

Here is the full table of contents of the February 2007 (vol. 5, no. 2) edition:

In the Public Sphere

In the Profession

In Popular Culture


Letters to the Editor


Posted in SBL, SBL Forum | 1 Comment »