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Archive for the 'Old Testament' Category

Adam’s Premature Ejection

11th February 2011

One of the challenges we face with interpreting some biblical stories is the problem of familiarity. We don’t really read the text carefully because we already know what it means. This is the case for many of us when we come to the stories of the man and the woman in Genesis 2-3.  It’s interesting to try to read it again for the first time.

The account of the forming of the man and the building of the woman and their subsequent eating of the fruit and expulsion from the garden in Genesis 2-3 brings many additional challenges to the interpreter. One such crux interpretum in the significance of the tree of “the knowledge of good and evil” עץ הדעת טוב ורע (Gen 2:9). This particular tree is only found here in the entire Bible. While it is difficult to understand, it is clearly a key phrase in the narrative, occurring four times (Gen 2:9, 17; 3:5, 22).

Most take “good and evil” as a merism, a figure of speech where the whole is expressed by contrasting parts. Thus, “good and evil” means a whole range of knowledge, not two isolated things. Some, such as Karl Barth, take the phrase to refer to omniscience:

To know good and evil, to be able to distinguish and therefore judge between what ought to be and ought not to be, between Yea and No, between salvation and perdition, between life and death, is to be like God, to be oneself the Creator and Lord of the creature. (Barth CD III/1 258)

It is much more likely that it doesn’t refer to all knowledge in general, i.e., omniscience (especially considering that after eating of the tree, the first couple doesn’t appear to be omniscient!), but knowledge related to “good and evil.”

Significantly, the expression “good and evil” (טוב ורע) is used elsewhere in the Bible of the human ability to be discriminating, something that is lacking in children (Deut 1:39; Isa 7:15-16), the elderly (2Sam 19:35), and the inexperienced (1Kings 3:9). This discerning and discriminating wisdom is a faculty normally experienced in the “prime of life”; it is a mark of maturity in a person.

The fact that the knowledge of good and evil is actually something good to have when one is an adult, may suggest that the man and the woman are presented in the garden as innocent preadolescent children. Think about it: they are naked and not ashamed (2:25), which is a child-like trait (this is not a recent idea, some early church fathers also suggested this). So the prohibition related to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:15-16) may be more an issue of timing and obedience, rather than there being something inherently wrong with eating of it. “When the time was right, the first couple would be able to eat from it” (Walton, 205). In eating the fruit they prematurely mature, they gain autonomy and sexual awareness. “God has prohibited the tree because autonomy and sexuality should come only at the end of an appropriate process” (Walton, Genesis, 216).

The narrative also seems to suggest that the first couple’s stay in the garden was meant to be temporary. The state of the earth at the beginning of the account was desolate and “there was no human (אדם) to work/serve/cultivate (עבד) the ground (אדמה).” This may suggest that the goal of the human was outside of Eden.

The fact that God, rather than the human creature, planted the garden suggests that the garden was not intended to be the dwelling place of humans. After all, the garden of Eden is the garden of God. Humans were created to till the ground and in this manner bring life to the sterile desert. This is their destiny, and the earth outside the garden will be their dwelling. But just as children must remain in the house of their parents until they reach maturity so also the human creature is placed temporarily in the garden of God (Ronald Simkins, Creator & Creation, p. 180).

So perhaps we don’t know these opening chapters as Genesis as well as we think we might. The man and the woman getting kicked out of the garden was perhaps more an issue of “premature ejection” rather than than something entirely unforeseen.


Posted in Bible, Creation, Genesis | 2 Comments »

How Not to Preach from Genesis 1

18th December 2010

Robert Cargil has an excellent discussion and critique of Mark Driscoll’s exegesis of Genesis 1, especially Driscoll’s appeal to Targum Neofiti to show some Jews before the time of Christ held Trinitarian views.

Here is Robert’s intro:

Apparently, as a part of an indoctrination informative series of mini-sermons on ‘What Christians Should Believe,’ pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle attempted to expound on Targum Neofiti. In particular, he attempted to use Neofiti as part of an apologetic defense for evidence of the Christian concept of the Trinity in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

And his conclusion:

Unfortunately, in the end, Driscoll’s so-called mis-“reading” of Targum Neofiti is a mere fabrication – a complete misreading of the text, which he uses as evidence for something that isn’t there (evidence of the Trinity in the OT). It’s almost as egregious of a fabricated defense of the Trinity as the Johannine Comma, in which a medieval publisher (Erasmus) intentionally inserted text (under pressure from others) in 1 John 5:7-8 in an attempt to provide some explicit Biblical evidence for the Trinity (because there was/is none).

And that is how not to use the targums. How do you mislead your congregation into believing something that you believe, but that the Bible doesn’t mention? You just make something up.

As I said before, “I shake my head.”

Do watch the video and read Robert’s blog post deconstructing it.

Now I don’t think that Driscoll just “made it up”; he was misinformed and got into stuff he knew nothing about. Pastors should stick to what they know. They shouldn’t try to use Hebrew or Greek if they don’t know it (or don’t remember it). They shouldn’t appeal to ancient Jewish translations or text if they can’t read them.  Or, perhaps, they should have paid attention in Seminary and actually learned some of this stuff in the first place.  Or at least they should have learned some basic hermeneutics and learned how to think critically and theologically about the biblical text.

Methinks I will have to use this in my Genesis class next semester. Thank you Dr. Cargil!


Posted in Aramaic Targums, Bible, Genesis, Hebrew, Hermeneutics, Old Testament | 4 Comments »

A Form-Critical Classification of the Psalms according to Hermann Gunkel

23rd May 2010

In honour of Gunkel’s birthday…

hermann_gunkel.jpg

“Genre research in Psalms is nonnegotiable, not something one can execute or ignore according to preference.  Rather it is the foundational work with which there can be no certainty in the remainder.
It is the firm ground from which everything else must ascend.”
- Hermann Gunkel

Perhaps no scholar has influenced the modern study of the book of Psalms as much as Hermann Gunkel. His pioneering form-critical work on the psalms sought to provide a new and meaningful context in which to interpret individual psalms — not by looking at their historical background or their literary context within the Psalter (which he didn’t see as significant), but by bringing together psalms of the same genre (Gattung) from throughout the Psalter. Even though Psalms scholarship has refined and critiqued his approach and have moved on to different approaches, Gunkel’s form-critical legacy remains firmly entrenched in modern scholarship and is the default starting point for most studies of the Psalter.

The Genres of the Psalms

According to Gunkel, for psalms to be considered as part of the same genre (Gattung) three conditions had to be met:

  1. the psalms had to have a similar setting in life (Sitz im Leben), basis in worship, a common cultic setting, or at least originally derive from one;
  2. they had to be characterized by common thoughts, feelings, and moods; and
  3. they required a shared diction, style, and structure — a language related to form (Formensprache). This feature provides the signals of the particular genre.

Working with these criteria, Gunkel isolated a number of different genres or types of psalms. In his earlier work he highlighted four primary types of psalms (hymns, community laments, individual thanksgiving psalms, and individual laments), with various subcategories, as well as several mixed forms. In his later work, completed by Joachim Begrich, he identified six major types (hymns, enthronement psalms, communal complaints, royal psalms, individual complaints, and individual thanksgiving psalms) and a number of smaller genres and mixed types. I have tended to follow the later classification, with modifications as noted. Also note that some psalms are found in more than one category. This is especially the case with sub-genres since Gunkel wasn’t consistent in how he dealt with them.

For this summary I have relied primarily on these two works:

  • Hermann Gunkel (completed by Joachim Begrich), Introduction to Psalms: The Genres of the Religious Lyric of Israel (Mercer University Press, 1998; translation of Einleitung in die Psalmen: die Gattungen der religiösen Lyrik Israels [Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1985, 1933]; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com).
  • Hermann Gunkel, The Psalms: A Form-Critical Introduction (Fortress Press, 1967; translation of his article in Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart [2nd ed; J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1930]; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com)

I have also included this summary as a PDF document below (it is a handout I put together for my Psalms class). Feel free to download it and use it as long as you keep the ascription in the first footnote. (While I have double checked the references, please let me know if you find any errors or omissions.)

I. Hymns

A. Hymns in General

Psalms 8; 19; 29; 33; 65; 67; 68; 96; 98; 100; 103; 104; 105; 111; 113; 114; 117; 135; 136; 139; 145-150.

Form

  1. Introduction: A call to praise, sing, and rejoice to Yahweh in some form.
  2. Body: The reasons why Yahweh should be praised (often introduced by כי, , “for”).
    1. His qualities and attributes.
    2. His regular or repeated actions, including his works in creation and conservation of cosmos and his works in history, especially for Israel.
  3. Conclusion: renewed summons to praise.

Sitz im Leben
Hymns were sung as part of worship on diverse occasions, including sacred festivals as well at other times, perhaps by a choir or an individual singer.

B. Songs of Zion

Psalms 46; 48; 76; 84; 87; 122.

These psalms tend to lack a proper introduction. They praise Yahweh by praising Jerusalem, addressing the holy place, and calling down blessings upon it. They were sung at particular occasions that celebrated Jerusalem’s majesty and future eschatological significance.

C. Psalms of Yahweh’s Enthronement

Psalms 47; 93; 96:10-13; 97; 99.

Form

  1. Often begin with the words יהוה מלך, “Yahweh has become king.”
  2. Contain many calls to rejoice.
  3. Have brief references to Yahweh’s deeds, depicted as just now taking place.
  4. Give descriptions of what his reign will mean to Israel and the world.
  5. Present the idea that a new world kingdom is coming.

Sitz im Leben
These psalms were used as part of Israel’s worship, likely including an enthronement festival in which Yahweh is glorified as king. These psalms were given a prophetic, eschatological, reinterpretation in their final stages.

II. Lament/Complaint Psalms

A. Communal Complaint Psalms

Psalms 44; (58); (60); 74; 79; 80; 83; (106); (125).

Form

  1. Calling upon Yahweh by name (usually in the vocative)
  2. Lamenting complaints over the misfortune; almost always political in nature.
  3. Supplications and petitions to Yahweh to transform the misfortunes.
  4. Thoughts aimed to excite confidence in the suppliant or to move Yahweh to action, such as his honour or the sake of his name.
  5. Often end with a certainty of hearing.

Sitz im Leben
The setting of these psalms are days of national fasting and/or complaint festivals brought on by various national calamities, such as war, exile, pestilence, drought, famine, and plagues.

B. Individual Complaint Psalms

1) Individual Laments in General

Psalms 3; 5; 6; 7; 13; 17; 22; 25; 26; 27:7-14; 28; 31; 35; 38; 39; 42-43; 54-57; 59; 61; 63; 64; 69; 70; 71; 86; 88; 102; 109; 120; 130; 140; 141; 142; 143.

Form
Laments will typically include the following element, though not necessarily in the same order:

  1. Summons to Yahweh.
  2. Complaint/Lament proper, often preceded by a description of the prayer.
  3. Considerations inducing Yahweh to intervene, whether by challenging Yahweh’s honour, exciting his anger by citing the enemies’ words, or by the nature of the complaint itself.
  4. Petition/Entreaty. This is the most significant part of the complaint psalm. May be of a general nature or may be quite specific (confessional petitions, petitions of innocence, etc.).
  5. Conviction of being heard (present only in some Psalms) and/or a vow.

Sitz im Leben
The setting in life is difficult to determine due to the formulaic character of the language in laments. Originally derives from the worship service and then later were used as spiritual songs of the individual. These psalms were occasioned by apparently life-threatening situations rather than everyday life; such situations may include illness, misfortune, persecution from enemies — though one needs to be careful about taking the images too literally.

2) Psalms Protesting Innocence
Psalms 5; 7; 17; 26. These psalms have an accentuated assurance of innocence, and even in some cases a qualified self-curse.

3) Psalms of Confession
Psalms 51; 130 (Psalms expressing national penitence include Psalms 78; 81; 106; cf. also Ezra 9:9-15; Neh 9:9-38; Dan 9:4-19). These psalms are characterized by a painful awareness of having sinned against Yahweh and deserving punishment. In this light they ask forgiveness and appeal for God’s grace.

4) Psalms of Cursing and Vengeance
Psalm 109, among others. These psalms strive for retaliation against enemies.

5) Psalms of Trust
Psalms 4; 11; 16; 23; 27:1-6; 62; 131 (Psalm 125 is a national song of trust). These psalms reformulate the lament psalms and shift their focus to an expression of trust and confidence, so much so that often the complaint, petition, and certainty of hearing are displaced. They often speak of Yahweh in the third person.

III. Royal Psalms

Psalms 2; 18; 20; 21; 45; 72; 101; 110; 132; 144:1-11; cf. 89:47-52.

Form
Formally Royal psalms are of different types, though in all cases they are “concerned entirely with kings.” Some of their distinguishing elements include:

  1. Praises of the king.
  2. Affirmations of Yahweh’s favour to the king.
  3. Prayers for the king (or his own prayer) and royal oracles.
  4. Portrayals of the king’s righteousness and piety.

Sitz im Leben
These psalms were performed at some sort of court festivity, where they were performed in the presence of the king and his dignitaries. Specific occasions may be enthronement/accession festivals and anniversaries, victory over an enemy, healing from an illness, among others.

IV. Thanksgiving Psalms

A. Thanksgivings of the Individual

Psalms 18; 30; 32; 34; 40:2-12; 41; 66:1-7; 92; (100); (107); 116; 118; 138.

Form

  1. An expanded Introduction, declaring the intention to thank God.
  2. Narration of the trouble, usually to the guests of the celebration. The psalmist usually recounts:
    1. his trouble (thus they are akin to Laments)
    2. his calling upon God
    3. his deliverance
  3. Acknowledgment/proclamation of Yahweh’s deliverance; usually directed towards others.
  4. In many cases, the psalm ends with an Announcement of the thank-offering.

Sitz im Leben
Since the word usually translated “thanksgiving” is the same word used for “thank offering” (תודה; todah; e.g., Ps 50:14, 23; Jonah 2:9), it is clear that these psalms were intended to be used in a cultic setting. It is thought that the individual, in the presence of the worshiping congregation (e.g., 22:22; 26:12), would testify personally to God’s saving deeds, accompanied with a ritual act and meal. Eventually, these psalms freed themselves from the actual sacrifice.

B. Thanksgivings of the Community

Psalms 66:8-12; 67; 124; 129.

These psalms are parallel in form to the individual thanksgiving psalms. The life setting for these psalms was likely a cultic celebration at the temple in remembrance of God’s help and intervention.

V. Wisdom Psalms

Psalms 1; 37; 49; 73; 91; 112; 127; 128; 133.

While there are wisdom elements found in psalms of a variety of genres, there are psalms which exhibit a concentration of wisdom themes to be considered a distinct type. As such, these psalms do not exhibit a single formal pattern, but share a number of characteristics, including:

  1. Psalmist speaks of his words as wisdom, instruction, etc.
  2. He describes the “fear of Yahweh.”
  3. He addresses his hearers as “sons.”
  4. He warns, teaches, and uses figures, question and answer techniques, beatitudes, descriptions of Yahweh’s ways.

VI. Smaller Genres and Mixed Types

A. Pilgrimage Psalms
Only one complete example remains, Psalm 122. These psalms were used at the beginning of a pilgrimage as well as once the pilgrim had reached his or her destination.

B. Psalms Using Ancient Stories (Legends) of Israel
Psalms 78; 105; 106. These psalms are subsumed under other literary types (e.g., Ps 105 is a hymn), but may be grouped together because they share a number of common characteristics:

  1. The Narration of Yahweh’s deeds and/or the sins of Israel (of Heilsgeschichte)
  2. The Exhortation (as in Deuteronomy)

C. Psalm Liturgies
Psalms 15; 20; 24; 14/53; 66; 81; 82; 85; 95; 107; 115; 118; 121; 126; 132; 134. These psalms are characterized by their antiphonal structure, particularly suited for corporate worship.

D. Miscellaneous
Psalms 36; 50; 52; 75; 82; 108.

E. Mixed Psalms
Psalms 9-10; 12; 77; 90; 94; 119; 123; 137.

Conclusions

As I mentioned above, Gunkel’s classification is just a starting point. Much has changed since Gunkel did his seminal studies of the Psalms, though few studies have the Psalms have had as lasting of influence. Perhaps in future posts I will highlight some of the changes and trends since Gunkel.

Here is the handout in PDF form:

Please feel free to use it as you see fit — just remember to keep the ascription in the first footnote (And please let me know if you find any errors or omissions).

Also available in Portuguese:


Posted in Bible, Criticism, Form criticism, Hermann Gunkel, Psalms | 3 Comments »

2010 Ancient Historiography Seminar: Chronicles and Early Second Temple Historiography

6th May 2010

As chair of the CSBS Ancient Historiography Seminar / Groupe de Travail sur l’Historiographie Ancienne, I am pleased to present the schedule for this year’s meeting.

The theme for the 2010 Ancient Historiography Seminar is “The Book of Chronicles and Early Second Temple Historiography.” We have an impressive collection of presenters this year, including Mark Boda, Louis Jonker, Isaac Kalimi, Gary Knoppers, John Wright, Ehud Ben Zvi, among others.

The schedule is as follows:

The Book of Chronicles and Early Second Temple Historiography (Session 1)
Sunday 30 May 2010 – 8:45-12:00 (CL 215)
Chair / Président: Patricia Kirkpatrick (McGill University)

  • 8:45-9:15 – “Chronicles and Early Second Temple Historiography: State of the Question” by Tyler F. Williams (The King’s University College, Edmonton)
  • 9:15-9:45 – “To be, or not to be (King Saul), that is the question: Conjuring up the old problem of the Saul Narrative in Chronicles” by Peter Sabo (University of Alberta)
  • 9:45-10:15 – “Peering through the Cloud of Incense: Davidic Dynasty and Community in the Chronicler’s Perspective” by Mark J. Boda (McMaster Divinity College)

10:15-10:30 Break

  • 10:30-11:00 – “Of Jebus, Jerusalem and Benjamin: The Chronicler’s Sondergut in 1 Chronicles 21 against the background of the late Persian Era in Yehud” by Louis Jonker (Stellenbosch University)
  • 11:00-11:30 – “The Rise and Fall of King Solomon: Deuteronomistic versus Chronistic History” by Isaac Kalimi (East Carolina University)
  • 11:30-12:00 – “Divine Retribution in Herodotus and the Chronicler” by John Wright (Point Loma Nazarene University)

12:00-13:30 Lunch Break

The Book of Chronicles and Early Second Temple Historiography (Session 2)

Sunday 30 May 2010 – 13:30-17:45 (CL 215)
Chair / Président: Tyler F. Williams (The King’s University College)

  • 13:30-14:00 – “‘Yhwh will raise up for you a prophet like me’: Prophecy and Prophetic Succession in Chronicles” by Gary N. Knoppers (The Pennsylvania State University)
  • 14:00-14:30 – “Capital Punishment: The Configuration of Ahaziah’s Last Hours in 2 Chronicles 22” by Keith Bodner (Atlantic Baptist University)
  • 14:30-15:00 – “To Besiege or Not to Besiege: The Chronicler’s Presentation of the Invasion of Sennacherib” by Paul Evans (McMaster Divinity School)

15:00-15:15 Break

  • 15:15-15:45 – “Implicit and Explicit Rhetoric in 2 Chronicles 35-36” by Mark Leuchter (Temple University Department of Religion)
  • 15:45-16:15 – “Exile in Chronicles” by Ehud Ben Zvi (University of Alberta)
  • 16:15-16:45 – “Historiography in Lament: A Case Study of Isaiah 63:7-64:11[12]” by Sonya Kostamo (University of Alberta)
  • 16:45-17:15 – “Hearing Darius in Ezra: A Bakhtinian Analysis of the Voice of Darius in Ezra 6” by James Bowick (McMaster Divinity College)
  • 17:15-17:45 – “Reflections on the Book of Chronicles and Early Second Temple Historiography” by Christine Mitchell (St. Andrew’s College)

The full schedule, including abstracts and download links for the papers, for this year’s session may be found at the seminar website.  The Ancient Historiography Seminar meets as part of the annual meeting of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies, held at Concordia University, Montréal, PQ, May 29-31, 2010.


Posted in Ancient Historiography Seminar, Chronicles, CSBS | Comments Off

Disturbing Divine Behaviour

6th November 2009

As a follow up to my last post, I wanted to put a plug in for a recently published book that also explores the difficult issue of the violent portrayal of God in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament — a book which I am using as one of the texts for one of the courses I am teaching next semester:

Disturbing_Divine_BehaviorDisturbing Divine Behavior:
Troubling Old Testament Images of God

by Eric A. Seibert
Fortress Press, 2009
Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com

In this work Seibert examines the disturbing narrative portrayals of God in the Hebrew Bible and explores some ways in which we may (as Christians) read these narratives in a responsible and faithful manner today. I am not necessarily convinced by Seibert’s solution to the problem, but he does a great job focusing the issue and helping us understand the function of biblical narrative and its relation to history. I only wish that he would have expanded his coverage to at least include the negative images of God found in the prophetic literature. Moreover, I really wish he expanded his work to cover the entire Christian Bible (Old and New Testaments), so the issue isn’t even framed as an “Angry God of the Old Testament versus the Loving God of the New Testament” debate.

Another book that deals with the same problem by focusing on the book of Joshua and the conquest/Canaanite genocide is Walter Brueggemann‘s recently published, Divine Presence Amid Violence: Contextualizing the Book of Joshua (Cascade, 2009; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com).


Posted in Biblical Teaching, Joshua, Old Testament, Theodicy | 7 Comments »

My Ways Are Not Your Ways: The Violent Portrayal of God in the Hebrew Bible

6th November 2009

There was a fascinating conference sponsored by the University of Notre Dame Center for Philosophy of Religion at the beginning of September. The title of the conference was, “My Ways Are Not Your Ways: The Character of the God of the Hebrew Bible.”

The conference examined the troubling portrayals of God in the Hebrew Bible — something which I am very interested in since that will be the focus of one of my courses I am teaching next semester. Here is the write up for the conference:

Adherents of the Abrahamic religious traditions contend that human beings are made in the image of God and that modeling the character of God in one’s life represents the pinnacle of human flourishing and moral perfection. Defenders of this tradition commonly point to passages in the canonical texts of the Jewish and Christian faiths that portray God as loving, merciful, patient, etc. in support of such a position. Since the seventeenth century, however, numerous critics of these Abrahamic traditions have argued that God, especially in the Hebrew Bible, is often portrayed as anything but a moral role model. On the one hand, historical narratives in these texts describe God apparently committing, ordering, or commending genocide, slavery, and rape among other moral atrocities. On the other hand, a number of commands purportedly issued by God seem to commend bigotry, misogyny, and homophobia. In recent days, similar criticisms of the Abrahamic traditions have been raised by philosophers (Daniel Dennett), scientists (Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris), social commentators (Christopher Hitchens), and others.

Are these apparent commendations and commands of the Hebrew Bible consistent with the claim that the Abrahamic God is perfectly good and loving? Those defending this tradition have two avenues of response open to them. The first response would be to argue that the aforementioned troubling narratives or commands should simply be rejected. Those taking this approach would have to explain how they think such passages could be rejected without placing in peril the Abrahamic religions, which have traditionally claimed that the Hebrew Bible is, represents, or contains the inspired word of God. The second response would offer explanations aiming to show that the apparently untoward consequences can be avoided without rejecting the narratives or commands. Those taking this approach must explain either why the untoward consequences do not follow, or why they are not, in the end untoward.

However, while defenders of this tradition have both routes available to them, few of these defenders seem to have taken the challenge to heart. Despite these recent, forthright criticisms, only a handful of theologians or philosophers in these traditions have sought to respond to the criticisms.

The present conference aims to remedy this deficiency, taking as its focus the charge that the Abrahamic tradition should be rejected because of its foundation in the Hebrew Bible, which portrays God as immoral and vicious. The presenters and commentators include philosophers—both theistic and nontheistic—as well as Biblical scholars.

The conference had an impressive list of speakers, including Christopher Seitz, Nicholas Wolterstorff, James L. Crenshaw, among others. And if you were not able to attend the conference (as I), we can still enjoy the papers and interaction via the web!

Here is the program with links to the videos:

Thursday, September 10, 2009:

Friday, September 11, 2009:

Saturday, September 12, 2009:

I encourage you to check out the papers!


Posted in Biblical Teaching, Conferences, Old Testament, Theodicy, Theology | 3 Comments »

More Thoughts on Saul and His Regnal Formula

19th October 2009

Claude Mariottini caught me in an inadvertent historical “error” (or is it an error? it is accurate according to the MT) when he noticed my reference to King Saul’s “two year” reign in my post, “Saul: The King Who Should Have Never Been.”  I hadn’t meant to make a point out of how long his reign actually was historically; while some scholars would agree with the MT and maintain that Saul’s reign was only two years, most would suggest there is a textual error in the MT.  My concern in the post, however, was not how long the historical Saul may or may not have reigned, but rather, I was making a point about the anti-Saul polemic in Samuel and especially in Chronicles.

That being said, I find Saul’s problematic regnal formula in 1Samuel 13:1 intriguing. A quick look at the Hebrew text of this verse will quickly highlight the problems with this verse:

בֶּן־שָׁנָה שָׁאוּל בְּמָלְכוֹ וּשְׁתֵּי שָׁנִים מָלַךְ עַל־יִשְׂרָאֵל

Literally translated the text would read: “Saul was son of __ years when he began to reign, and he reigned two years over Israel.” There are two issues with this verse.

  1. The most obvious problem with this verse is that there is no number associated with Saul’s age when he took the throne. The Hebrew convention to say someone is twenty-five years, for example, is to say literally, “he was son of twenty and five years.” This is more than likely a textual problem.
  2. The second issue is both grammatical and historical in nature. Historically, most scholars consider two years to be too short for Saul’s reign if you need to fit all the events narrated in 1Samuel. Grammatically, the syntax of the regnal formula is usually an cardinal in absolute state followed by the absolute noun “years”; in this verse you have a cardinal in construct form followed by an absolute noun (e.g., in 2Samuel 2:10 Ishbaal’s two-year reign is found with the expected form: וּשְׁתַּיִם שָׁנִים מָלָךְ). This departure from the standard formula may suggest a textual issue where some numbers dropped out.

When we look to other textual witnesses, there is little help. Codex Vaticanus omits the verse, while some of the Lucianic Greek manuscripts put Saul’s age at thirty, but they reproduce the two year duration of his reign. The Aramaic Targums translate the verse creatively as “Saul was like a one year old with no sins when he became king; then he reigned two years over Israel.”  Josephus puts Saul reign as twenty years long in Ant. 10.143, but as forty years in Ant. 6.378 (The latter agrees with Acts 13:21).  And modern scholars have suggested a bunch of different numbers (For a good discussion trying to figure out how long Saul’s reign actually was, I encourage you to check out Claude’s post, Rereading 1 Samuel 13:1; Chris Heard over at Higgaion also has a related post dealing with the length of Saul’s reign on the Accordance timeline).

All of the apparent textual issues aside, I still wonder if the MT text may be purposeful — it would certainly fit in with the anti-Saul polemic found in the Deuteronomistic History, Chronicles, and other parts of the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Esther). I recall a course I was in at the University of Toronto with Dr. Stanley D. Walters on 1 and 2 Samuel and I believe he suggested that the reading of the MT was intentional. This is also the perspective of Hertzberg in his commentary on Samuel in the OTL series. He suggests in regards to the awkward syntax of the MT’s two year reign that

the number is given because it was the later view that Saul was actually ‘king’ for only quite a short time (cf. also on 15.1). In fact, the number 40, which is geven both in Josephus and in Acts 13.21 as the length of Saul’s reign, may originally have stood here; as has been said, it would have been replaced by the figure two on dogmatic-historical grounds” (I & II Samuel: A Commentary, p. 103; emphasis mine).

Thus, while historically Saul’s reign was perhaps over a decade or two, in reality, from a theological perspective, his reign was only two years since Yahweh removed the crown from him and “turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse” (1Chron 10:14). And the MT reflects precisely this theological reading.


Posted in 1Chronicles, 1Samuel, King Saul, Kings of Israel, Old Testament, The Kings of Chronicles | Comments Off

The Success and Failure of Kings

30th September 2009

kingsThe DVD of the first — and last — season of NBC’s biblical drama, Kings, was released yesterday (Michael Green, 2009; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). The thirteen episode series is a modernized and very creative retelling of the biblical story of the reign of King Saul and the rise to power of King David found in the books of Samuel in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

The series opens with a young man being called into his rustic farmhouse to watch on TV the dedication ceremonies of a new capital city. This young man is David Shepherd. The scene then shifts to what appears to be the royal palace in Shiloh, the new capital of the Kingdom of Gilboa. The city has all the trappings of a modern city, yet is ruled by a benevolent monarch, King Silas Benjamin (played wonderfully by Ian McShane). King Silas addresses his people and forthrightly expounds on God’s blessing upon Gilboa, its new capital Shiloh, and upon his kingship.

The series narrates the rise of a naive David, initially through his heroic blowing up of a “Goliath” tank,  and the demise of Silas, and slowly becomes a tyrant who has lost the favour of God.

There is much more I could say about this TV series, such as the clever way it harmonizes the problematic introduction of David to Saul in the Bible (did David first come to Saul’s attention as the boy who defeated Goliath or the young musician whose playing soothed Saul’s tormented spirit — see 1Samuel 16 and 17) in episode 8, or how it portrays the subtle intrigue within the royal court (which is present in between the verses of the biblical text, although most devout readers miss it).

All in all I found the series quite engaging. Its look is lavish, the dialogue is clever and intriguing. It doesn’t follow the story of David and Saul slavishly, but is a very creative adaptation that is both faithful to the contours of the biblical text, yet doesn’t fear to push the envelop in controversial ways (such as the closeted homosexuality of King Silas’s son and heir apparent, Jack Benjamin).

The first season ends with King Silas surviving a failed coup and David fleeing for his life into Gath. Unfortunately, because Kings got cancelled, we will never see how the series presents the eventual rise of David Shepherd to the throne.

I encourage you to check out David Plotz’s lament on the Death of Kings over at Slate and then go buy the first season from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.


Posted in 1Samuel, King David, Popular Culture | Comments Off

Coins or Scarabs?

25th September 2009

As noted in a comment in my last post, Daniel O. McClellan over at his his blog Maklelan, has some possible pictures of the so-called “coins” that were discovered. If he is correct in his opinion and if his pictures are accurate, then these are certainly not coins, but scarabs.

Perhaps if further pictures are produced, there might be something to this story. As it stands right now, it looks very unlikely, especially considering the tendentiousness of the source (illustrated by the apologetic aim to show that the Quran’s references to coins at the time of Joseph are historically accurate).


Posted in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Near East, Discoveries, Genesis | 2 Comments »

Coins from the Joseph Era found In Egypt!?

25th September 2009

News reports are buzing this morning about a cache of coins discovered among some unsorted artifacts in the recesses of the Museum of Egypt. Not only are coins not thought to have been used in ancient Egypt, more surprisingly, the report claims that coins with the  name and image of the biblical Joseph have been found among the coins. If this turns out to be a bona fide discovery, this will be the first extra-biblical evidence for any of the biblical patriarchs.

Here is an excerpt from the Jerusalem Post:

Archeologists have discovered ancient Egyptian coins bearing the name and image of the biblical Joseph, Cairo’s Al Ahram newspaper recently reported. Excerpts provided by MEMRI show that the coins were discovered among a multitude of unsorted artifacts stored at the Museum of Egypt.

According to the report, the significance of the find is that archeologists have found scientific evidence countering the claim held by some historians that coins were not used for trade in ancient Egypt, and that this was done through barter instead.

The period in which Joseph was regarded to have lived in Egypt matches the minting of the coins in the cache, researchers said.

“A thorough examination revealed that the coins bore the year in which they were minted and their value, or effigies of the pharaohs [who ruled] at the time of their minting. Some of the coins are from the time when Joseph lived in Egypt, and bear his name and portrait,” said the report.

The discovery of the cache prompted research team head Dr. Sa’id Muhammad Thabet to seek Koranic verses that speak of coins used in ancient Egypt.

“Studies by Dr. Thabet’s team have revealed that what most archeologists took for a kind of charm, and others took for an ornament or adornment, is actually a coin. Several [facts led them to this conclusion]: first, [the fact that] many such coins have been found at various [archeological sites], and also [the fact that] they are round or oval in shape, and have two faces: one with an inscription, called the inscribed face, and one with an image, called the engraved face – just like the coins we use today,” the report added.

Some more details from the original article that appeared in the September 22, 2009, edition of Al-Ahram (Egypt), are provided on the MEMRI website. Here is a translation of the section pertaining to the supposed Joseph coins:

“The researcher identified coins from many different periods, including coins that bore special markings identifying them as being from the era of Joseph. Among these, there was one coin that had an inscription on it, and an image of a cow symbolizing Pharaoh’s dream about the seven fat cows and seven lean cows, and the seven green stalks of grain and seven dry stalks of grain. It was found that the inscriptions of this early period were usually simple, since writing was still in its early stages, and consequently there was difficulty in deciphering the writing on these coins. But the research team [managed to] translate [the writing on the coin] by comparing it to the earliest known hieroglyphic texts…

“Joseph’s name appears twice on this coin, written in hieroglyphs: once the original name, Joseph, and once his Egyptian name, Saba Sabani, which was given to him by Pharaoh when he became treasurer. There is also an image of Joseph, who was part of the Egyptian administration at the time.

“Dr. Sa’id Thabet called on Egypt’s Antiquities Council and on the Minister of Culture to intensify efforts in the fields of Ancient Egyptian history and archeology, and to [promote] the research of these coins that bear the name of Egyptian pharaohs and gods. This, he said, would enable the correction of prevalent misconceptions regarding the history of Ancient Egypt.”

Here is an image from the MEMRI which I assume is of some of the coins:

Joseph_Coins

I would like to affirm the findings and announce that there is now iron clad evidence for the biblical Joseph, but alas, the skeptical side of me says wait and see what comes of this. Wait and see…


Posted in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Near East, Archaeology, Discoveries, Genesis, Joseph, News | 7 Comments »