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Archive for the 'Old Testament' Category

What Does Harmonizing Genesis 1 and 2 Really Accomplish?

18th February 2009

I am teaching an undergraduate course on the book of Genesis this semester and have been reflecting on how to best read the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2. Many of my students have been brought up to read them literalistically as depictions of what actually happened some 6,000 years ago. While I don’t want to get into the question of how these accounts are best understood today in this post, what I do want to question is the tendency to read these accounts in such a way that harmonizes (or at least tries to) the apparent differences between the two accounts, rather than respecting the integrity of each as different yet complementary accounts of creation.

There are many differences in vocabulary, style, and theology that distinguish the two accounts. What I want to focus on is more basic: the order of the creation of the animals in relation to the human(s), as well as the order of the creation (or “building”) of the woman in relation to the human.

In Genesis 1 the living creatures in the sea and the birds of the air are created on day five, while the “living creatures” (נפש חיה) of the land are created on the sixth day. Only after the creation of the myriad of animals is humanity created in Genesis 1:26-27. In the first creation account the creation of humanity is the pinnacle of all of the creative acts of God:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”  So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Gen 1:26-27).

While much ink has been spilled on the interpretation of these two verses, I only want to point out that according to verse 27, humanity was created “male and female” at this time. The clear and straightforward way of reading this is that Elohim created humans (plural) on day six, after the various types of animals. (This, by the way, accords well with many of the ancient Near Eastern accounts where the gods create a plurality of humans at a time, not just one or a pair; see my posts on ANE Creation accounts).

When we come to Genesis 2 we see a drastically different picture. In Genesis 2:7, “ha’adam” is formed from the dust of the earth by Yahweh Elohim first. Then Yahweh Elohim plants a garden and then puts the human in the garden. Then after a brief description of the garden (2:10-14), the action picks up again with Yahweh Elohim forming the land animals and birds (referred to as נפש חיה “living creatures” in 2:19) and brought them to the human to be named. It’s only after a suitable companion wasn’t found among the animals that Yahweh Elohim “builds” (בנה) the woman out of the side of the human.

One way some ideologically motivated translations attempt to reconcile the differences between the accounts is to translate some of the vayyiqtol verbs in chapter two as pluperfect (i.e., as describing an action  completed before another past action). Look for example at how the NIV translates this passage:

The LORD God formed [vayyiqtol] the man from the dust of the ground and breathed [vayyiqtol] into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became [vayyiqtol] a living being.

Now the LORD God had planted [vayyiqtol] a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put [vayyiqtol] the man he had formed. And the LORD God made [vayyiqtol] all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters.…

The LORD God took [vayyiqtol] the man and put him [vayyiqtol] in the Garden of Eden to work it  and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded [vayyiqtol] the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

The LORD God said [vayyiqtol], “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Now the LORD God had formed [vayyiqtol] out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought [vayyiqtol] them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave [vayyiqtol] names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall [vayyiqtol] into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping [vayyiqtol], he took [vayyiqtol] one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made [vayyiqtol] a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought [vayyiqtol] her to the man.

The problem with this translation involves the two pluperfects (which I bolded and italicized) found in the NIV translation.  In both of those cases the translators of the NIV ignored the normal use of the vayyiqtol verb form (which is to narrate a sequence of events) and render them as pluperfects (“had planted” and “had formed”). I assume their motivation was to harmonize the account with Genesis 1 where the plants and animals were created before the humans. But from a syntactical point of view to translate the verb forms as pluperfects is very problematic. Virtually all grammars agree that it is very rare for the vayyiqtol verb form to have pluperfect value (see Jouon-Muraoka 118d, BHRG 21.2; but WO’C 33.2.3 and others do note a pluperfect sense is possible in certain circumstances, although it is rare), and there is nothing in this passage that supports a pluperfect sense. If anything, the sense of the passage requires a normal sequential meaning of the verb forms since the animals were formed (2:19) in direct response to Yahweh Elohim’s declaration that “it is not good for the human to be alone” (2:18).

Of course, perhaps the more basic question is that how can Elohim create humans male and female by divine fiat (as in Gen 1:27) and also form the human from the dust of the ground and then build a woman from the side of a human (as in Genesis 2), and say these two accounts are referring to the same events? What, if anything, is recorded as happening in 1:27, 2:7, 2:18, 2:22?

I recognize that hamonizing these accounts has a long history. I also recognize and agree with the need to read these accounts in tandem as part of the canonical book of Genesis, no matter what their independent histories may have been. That being said, I don’t think we should blur the distinctions between the accounts and engage in hermeneutical gymnastics in order to harmonize their details. Instead, we should revel in their theological depth and the different ways they teach the unique place and significance of humanity — male and female — in God’s creation.


Posted in Bible, Biblical Teaching, Creation, Genesis, Old Testament | 4 Comments »

Jehovah, Adonai, LORD, Yahweh: What’s In a Name?

12th September 2008

The Vatican made the news recently with the barring of the pronunciation of the name “Yahweh” — the proper name used for Israel’s God in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament — in Catholic worship. It appears that the use of the name Yahweh has been creeping into the Catholic churches liturgy of late, as it has been in the Protestant tradition as well. Here are some excerpts from the Catholic News Service report:

Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship, announced the new Vatican “directives on the use of ‘the name of God’ in the sacred liturgy” in an Aug. 8 letter to his fellow bishops.
….
His letter to bishops came with a two-page letter from the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, dated June 29 and addressed to episcopal conferences around the world.

“By directive of the Holy Father, in accord with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, this congregation … deems it convenient to communicate to the bishops’ conferences … as regards the translation and the pronunciation, in a liturgical setting, of the divine name signified in the sacred Tetragrammaton,” said the letter signed by Cardinal Francis Arinze and Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, congregation prefect and secretary, respectively.

The Tetragrammaton is YHWH, the four consonants of the ancient Hebrew name for God.

“As an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God, it was held to be unpronounceable and hence was replaced during the reading of sacred Scripture by means of the use of an alternate name: ‘Adonai,’ which means ‘Lord,’” the Vatican letter said. Similarly, Greek translations of the Bible used the word “Kyrios” and Latin scholars translated it to “Dominus”; both also mean Lord.

“Avoiding pronouncing the Tetragrammaton of the name of God on the part of the church has therefore its own grounds,” the letter said. “Apart from a motive of a purely philological order, there is also that of remaining faithful to the church’s tradition, from the beginning, that the sacred Tetragrammaton was never pronounced in the Christian context nor translated into any of the languages into which the Bible was translated.”

This story was also picked up today by Christianity Today. The CT article surveyed a variety of opinions by evangelical leaders, some who agree with the Vatican ban and others who disagreed. Carol Bechtel, professor of Old Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan is quoted as saying:

It’s always left me baffled and perplexed and embarrassed that we sprinkle our hymns with that name. Whether or not there are Jewish brothers and sisters in earshot, the most obvious reason to avoid using the proper and more personal name of God in the Old Testament is simply respect for God.

I’m not  sure if I entirely agree. I do agree that we should not use the name if it is going to offend someone. When I teach Hebrew at the University of Alberta we discuss this issue in one of the first classes. I explain a bit about the name and how it has been preserved in the various textual traditions and versions, the early practice of avoiding the pronouncing the name, and current practices. Then we decide as a class what we want to do. Typically there are some Jews in the class who are uncomfortable pronouncing the name and we decide to read either “Adonai” or “haShem” (“the Name”) when we encounter the Tetragram (i.e., the four-letter name for God, YHWH or יהוה).  At Taylor, however, where my students are all Christians, no one typically has any strong opinions either way.

Part of me wants to assert that if God didn’t want us to use the name, he wouldn’t have given it to the ancient Israelites. And I’m not sure if it is a matter of respecting God. I don’t like the practice of substituting a title (e.g., LORD) for a proper name, since it makes God rather impersonal.

On the other hand, the tradition of avoiding the pronunciation of the name is ancient. The Greek translators of the Septuagint — with some exceptions such as P. Fouad 266 (Rahlfs 848) — used the Greek word for “Lord,” kyrios (κυριος) to represent the divine name. While there are some scholars who maintain the original Septuagint (LXX) wrote out the Tetragram in Aramaic or paleoHebrew letters akin to the the Minor Prophets scroll (8 HevXIIgr), these manuscripts represent more of an archaizing tendency than anything original (see Al Pietersma’s 1984 article “Kyrios or Tetragram: A Renewed Quest for the Original LXX”). Thus as early as the third century BCE, a surrogate was used for the Tetragram.

Setting the divine name apart was also reflected in the practice of some Dead Sea Scrolls writing the Tetragram with paleoHebrew letters. And the early Christians continued the tradition started in the LXX of substituting kyrios (κυριος) for Yahweh. Thus, this practice is found in early Christian tradition as well as most of the versions and translations throughout Christian history — which the exception of the KJV employing “Jehovah” in a handful of passages. Speaking of Jehovah… and yes, this is one of my pet peeves… I think it should be stricken from all hymn books and choruses! While we may not know exactly how the Tetragram was pronounced in antiquity (in this regard “Yahweh” is the best scholarly guess), we know for sure that it was NOT pronounced as “Jehovah”!

Jewish tradition is also pretty clear: pronouncing the divine name was avoided in order to ensure it is never misused (putting a hedge around the Torah) and also for respect. Manuscripts in the Masoretic tradition  point the Tetragram with the vowels of title like Adonai as a perpetual ketiv-qere (interestingly, the Leningrad Codex is not consistent with what vowels are found with YHWH).

So when it comes right down to it, there is a long tradition of avoiding the pronunciation of the Tetragram, so perhaps we should follow suit.

What do you think? And what do you think is an appropriate surrogate?


Posted in Biblical Teaching, Hebrew, History of Interpretation, News, Old Testament | 8 Comments »

Is Yahweh a Hermaphrodite?

16th August 2008

Of course Yahweh isn’t! But that was the title of an article in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune, however. The article, “Is God a Hermaphrodite?“, makes reference to an article published in the CCAR Journal that argues the four-letter name for God in the Hebrew Bible (יהוה or YHWH, most often vocalized by scholars as Yahweh) is best understood mystically to refer to the Hebrew pronouns for “he” and “she.”

Here is an excerpt from the Tribune article:

Rabbi Mark Sameth, the New York rabbi who wrote the article, said yes indeed. Based on 13 years of study, he has concluded that God is a hermaphrodite.

“If we read the text as a mystic might, paying extremely close attention, assuming that the text conceals more than it reveals, we may find hints regarding God’s androgynous nature, so to speak, peeking out through the surface level of the Torah,” he wrote in the CCAR Journal.

“If Moses’ name spelled backward becomes the name HaShem [God's name,] might not God’s name spelled backward similarly reflect something essential about humankind? Indeed it does.”

Sameth argues that when the four letters are arranged in their proper order, they spell out the sounds of the Hebrew words for “he” and “she” or “hu” and “he.” Therefore, the ancient Israelites’ notion of God was not masculine, but dual-gendered, or hermaphroditic.

Sameth doesn’t advocate suddenly saying the name—backward or forward. But he does encourage Jews to open their minds and think more inclusively about God.

Yeah, OK. I guess if you want to read words backwards or change the order of the letters themselves almost anything is possible! That being said, I do see some validity to gematria in the Hebrew Bible, but this isn’t one of those cases.

What do you think? Has anyone read the actual article?


Posted in Bible, Hebrew, News, Old Testament | 7 Comments »

Peter Enns – His Departure from WTS

23rd July 2008

It saddens, yet doesn’t surprise me, that Prof. Peter Enns will be leaving Westminster Theological Cemetary Seminary as of August 1, 2008. You can check out Enns’s own site for the announcement as well as the WTS webpage. The statement is short and to the point. Basically, while WTS affirms Enns’s “teaching and writing fall within the purview of Evangelical thought,” it is apparently not consistent with WTS’s notion of a “confessional Reformed Seminary.”

I had posted previously on my support for Dr. Enns as well as the support of my colleague, Dr. Jerry Shepherd (WTS grad and friend of Dr. Enns). I have found Enns’s work to be refreshing and engaging (particularly his recent work, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament [Baker Academic, 2005; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com]) and wish him all the best as he moves on. I know he will have no problem finding an excellent faculty position where he can pursue his teaching and research.


Posted in Bible, Criticism, Doctrine of Scripture, Old Testament | 1 Comment »

Codex Sinaiticus Digitization Project Going Live

23rd July 2008

The first online phase of the Codex Sinaiticus digitization project headed by the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the University of Birmingham, in cooperation with the British Library and the three other holding libraries, will be going live Thursday 24 July 2008 at www.codexsinaiticus.org.

Most news services have been covering this story:

This is an exciting project — I hope other similar projects will be inspired by this one so that more primary texts will be available online. From the available preview, the site should be spectacular.

For more information on Codex Sinaiticus, please see the profile I wrote as part of my Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible series.


Posted in Manuscript, Old Testament, Septuagint, Sinaiticus, Text Criticism | 2 Comments »

Yahweh – A Moral Monster? Not According to Copan

21st July 2008

As I mentioned in my previous post, Yahweh – A Moral Monster?, I wanted to interact with Paul Copan’s article written in response to the views of the so-called “new atheists.” In this post I will review Copan’s article, “Is Yahweh a Moral Monster? The New Atheists and Old Testament Ethics” (available from the Evangelical Philosophical Society website here), which rehearses many of the classic evangelical responses to the problem of the Canaanite genocide. While I will provide some of my own evaluation, I will leave the bulk of my own perspective for my next post.

I should note that Copan is concerned with responding to broader charges against the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible by the new atheists and aims to “discern the powerful moral vision of the OT” against their criticisms.  My interaction with Copan will restrict itself to those points that intersect with the genocide question.

ANE Cultural Context
Copan’s first point is that “We must allow the OT ethical discussion to begin within an ANE setting, not a post-Enlightenment one.” This is certainly correct. Our world is not the world of the Bible. The ANE was a harsh world and the OT reflects this. He further argues that while the OT world is harsh and different than our world, you also find that “God is incrementally ‘humanizing’ ANE structures within Israel to diminish cruelty and elevate the status of, say, slaves and women-even if such customs are not fully eliminated.” While I would agree to a certain extent (for instance, there are a number of studies that compare the Deuteronomic Code [DC] with other biblical and ANE law codes and finds that the DC is more “enlightened” – for lack of a better term), I would also be wary of trying to paint the ANE worse so that the Hebrew Bible looks far better in comparison. That being said, understanding the harsh world of the ANE will at least help us understand the biblical portrayal of Yahweh more sympathetically perhaps. In my mind, it is also useful to recognize that ancient Israel would naturally embed their view of God in their cultural context (uh, how could they not?), and this image of God would naturally not fit our modern sensibilities (of course, this raises the question of revelation, though you could just flip the point and say that God revealed godself in ways that would be understandable to ancient Israelites).

Development & Diversity in the OT/HB
Second, Copan maintains that there are “differing ethical demands for differing historical contexts in OT Israel’s history.” Thus, even within the OT/HB there is development. The divine command to wipe out the people in the land (Canaanites et al) was a one time command at a very specific period of Israel’s history (although herem warfare did crop up again with the Amalekites and King Saul, although this was related to the conquest of Canaan; see 1Sam 15). “Genocide” was not Israel’s modus operandi. The Deuteronomic laws themselves make a distinction between “holy war” in general and war against the lands “God is giving them as an inheritance” in particular (compare Deut 20:10-15 and vv. 16-20).

Formulaic and Stylized Nature of the Biblical Witness
A third major argument Copan raises concerns the nature of the biblical witness. Let me quote him in full:

Let me add a few more thoughts about warfare here. First, Israel would not have been justified to attack the Canaanites without Yahweh’s explicit command. Yahweh issued his command in light of a morally-sufficient reason-the incorrigible wickedness of Canaanite culture. Second, the language of Deuteronomy 7:2-5 assumes that, despite Yahweh’s command to bring punishment to the Canaanites, they would not be obliterated-hence the warnings not to make political alliances or intermarry with them. We see from this passage too that wiping out Canaanite religion was far more significant than wiping out the Canaanites themselves. Third, the “obliteration language” in Joshua (for example, “he left no survivor” and “utterly destroyed all who breathed” [10:40]) is clearly hyperbolic. Consider how, despite such language, the text of Joshua itself assumes Canaanites still inhabit the land: “For if you ever go back and cling to the rest of these nations, these which remain among you, and intermarry with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know with certainty that the Lord your God will not continue to drive these nations out from before you” (23:12-13). Joshua 9-12 utilizes the typical ANE’s literary conventions of warfare.

Copan highlights a number of points here. First, he notes that, biblically speaking, the Canaanites “had it coming” due to  “the incorrigible wickedness of Canaanite culture.” While this reflects a biblical perspective (see especially Deuteronomy 9-10 where it says, among other things, “It is not because of your [Israel’s] righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you are going in to occupy their land; but because of the wickedness of these nations Yahweh your God is dispossessing them before you” [Deut 9:5]), it makes me a bit uncomfortable since history has made it clear that it is easy for one group to demonize another.

Second, Copan notes that the language of herem is formulaic and naturally filled with hyperbole, and the biblical text also seems to imply in a number of places the failure of the Canaanite operation. Of course, as I already mentioned, that Israel failed historically in their ethnic cleansing (or even if it is propagandistic fiction), doesn’t change the fact that the Bible portrays Yahweh commanding it.  While I concur with Copan that the texts employ certain formulaic language in regards to Yahweh war, the narrative examples provided in the biblical text (e.g., Jericho in Judges 6, Saul and the Amalekites in 1Sam 15), suggest that when the biblical text talks about killing all “men, women, and children” it is not an exaggeration.

God’s Prerogative
Copan then makes what he considers is the crux of his argument concerning the Canaanite genocide. Again, I quote in full:

if God exists, does he have any prerogatives over human life? The new atheists seem to think that if God existed, he should have a status no higher than any human being. Thus, he has no right to take life as he determines. Yet we should press home the monumental difference between God and ordinary human beings. If God is the author of life, he is not obligated to give us seventy or eight years of life.
….
That being the case, he can take the lives of the Canaanites indirectly through Israel’s armies (or directly, as he did when Sodom was destroyed in Genesis 19) according to his good purposes and morally sufficient reasons. What then of “innocent women and children”? Keep in mind that when God destroyed Sodom, he was willing to spare the city if there were even ten innocent persons. Not even ten could be found. Given the moral depravity of the Canaanites, the women were far from innocent.

In connection with the killing of children and babies, Copan argues that “death would be a mercy, as they would be ushered into the presence of God and spared the corrupting influences of a morally decadent culture.”  This argumentation makes me uncomfortable for a variety of reasons, least of which it  presupposes a NT understanding of the afterlife (the OT is not clear what happens after death). That being said,  I am not sure how we can get around the notion of Yahweh’s/God’s rightful prerogative over human life. If Yahweh is God — if God is God — then does not he have the perrogative to judge his creation? This point by Copan brings the discussion out of the OT/HB and into the Christian Bible as a whole, since the NT also portrays God as the ultimate judge over his creation.

This, then, is Copan’s response. In my next post I will provide some of my own thoughts on the subject.


Posted in Biblical Teaching, Deuteronomy, Exodus, Joshua, Theodicy, Yahweh War | 7 Comments »

Precious Moments Akedah

15th July 2008

I came across this image as I was going through some old email; a student made it a number of years back. It certainly gives quite a different spin on the Akedah — the binding/near sacrifice of Isaac — as found in Genesis 22!

The Precious Moments Akedah


Posted in Akedah, Bible, Genesis | 5 Comments »

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 Amazon.ca or Amazon.com).

Resources

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).


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

In Support of Dr. Peter Enns

1st April 2008

penns.jpgenns_inspiration.jpg

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.


Posted in Bible, Criticism, Doctrine of Scripture, News, Old Testament | 6 Comments »

Fools in the Book of Proverbs

1st April 2008

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!


Posted in April Fool's Day, Proverbs, Wisdom | 3 Comments »