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Introduction to the Bible Textbooks: Any Thoughts?

15th June 2009

One of the new courses I will be teaching regularly at The King’s University College is a one semester introduction to the Bible (i.e., the Christian Bible, Old and New Testaments).  At Taylor, I taught an introduction to the Hebrew Bible course every semester and was quite pleased with the textbook I used (Barry Bandstra, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (4th ed.; Wadsworth, 2008; Buy from Amazon.caBuy from Amazon.com), but now I have to find a new one.

I would love to be able to find a textbook for the course that I could use long term, since I don’t want to be adjusting the course for a new text every year and it also makes it easy for students to purchase used texts and save a bit of money. As I have been looking at different introductions, I haven’t found one that I am entirely pleased with.

My ideal textbook would have the following characteristics:

  • Student-friendly. By this I mean a number of things. First, the text should be written with undergraduate students in mind. Thus, the writing style should be clear and strike a good balance between being jargon laden and introducing some of the more important terms in biblical studies to students. It also should not be too long; I figure around 300-400 pages is all I can expect students to read for a one semester course — especially if I also want them to read significant portions of the biblical text.  Second, stuff like chapter outlines, key terms, glossary, useful and interesting pictures and illustrations, as well as good study questions at the end of each chapter are essential. Third, and this is one of my pet peeves, I would strongly prefer a text organized according to the Protestant canon. It never has made any sense to me why introductions to the Old Testament, especially those written from a Christian perspective, followed the order of the Masoretic Hebrew Bible. There is nothing special about the MT order, so why not use the order that virtually every English translation of the Bible follows? Finally, I would want a textbook that is relatively inexpensive and that doesn’t come out with a “new” edition every other year.
  • Faith-friendly. I teach at a Christian University and the majority of my students come from a church background, so I would like a textbook that is not offensive or dismissive of their faith, but presents the results of critical biblical scholarship in an evenhanded way. If a text pushes students too hard, or if they find it dismissive of their faith, then their tendency will be to reject it in toto rather than sift through the different perspectives and integrate what is valuable. My ultimate goal is to broaden and deepen their faith, not dismantle it.
  • Teacher-friendly. Perhaps this is obvious, but I want to like the text I choose! That doesn’t mean I need to agree with everything in it, but I do want it to complement my classroom work. This is all the more important in a one semester Bible introduction course where there will be a lot of material I will not have the time to cover in class and I will want the text to cover it for me.  In addition, a textbook that comes with a good test bank or some such teacher aids,would be advantageous.

As it turns out, my ideal textbook doesn’t exist. Or if it does, I have not found it yet! I have looked at a number of potential textbooks, and while I am leaning towards one in particular, I’m not entirely convinced.

There are quite a number of introductions that focus on presenting the theological message of the Bible (i.e., creation – fall – redemption). While the shorter of these books would be ideal to recommend to someone entirely unfamiliar with the biblical story, they typically do not engage critical biblical studies.

  • James O. Chatham. Creation to Revelation: A Brief Account of the Biblical Story (Eerdmans, 2006). Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com
  • Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen. The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story (Baker Academic, 2004). Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com

I quite like the Bartholomew and Goheen volume. It modifies N.T. Wright’s notion of the story of Scripture of a five-act play and presents the grand biblical narrative a coherent whole.  It does this, however, with little or no interaction with critical biblical scholarship. As such, I think it would be an excellent text to read alongside a more typical introduction (although it is 250 pages long), but I am not comfortable using it as the primary text.

The other introductions I have examined are ones that introduce the Bible from the perspective of critical biblical scholarship:

  • J. Bradley Chance & Milton P. Horne. Rereading the Bible: An Introduction to the Biblical Story (Prentice Hall, 2000).  Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com
  • Clyde E. Fant, Donald W. Musser, and Mitchell G. Reddish. An Introduction to the Bible (Abingdon, 2009).  Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com
  • Stephen L. Harris. Exploring the Bible (McGraw-Hill, 2010). Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com
  • Christian E. Hauer & William A. Young. An Introduction to the Bible: A Journey into Three Worlds (Prentice Hall, 2007).  Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com
  • Robert Kugler & Patrick Hartin. Introducing the Bible (Eerdmans, 2009). Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com

All of these volumes do a good job covering the basic message of the Bible as well as different critical perspectives. Chance and Horne is the least traditional of the bunch, focusing on teaching students to read the Bible critically rather than simply surveying the contents of the Bible and rehearsing the different scholarly opinions on critical questions. The other four texts follow a more traditional approach. I was quite looking forward to examining the Kugler and Hartin introduction, since the publisher’s description says it “surveys the content of all the biblical books, section by section, focusing on the Bible’s theological themes.” While it does this, it does it in over 550 pages, which I feel is a bit too long for a one-semester course. The text that I am leaning towards using is Hauer & Young’s. It is about the right size (about 375 pages) and I like how it employs the metaphor of the journey into three worlds (the historical, literary, and contemporary world). The only problem with it (all all introduction from educational publishers) is the price.

I do need to decide on a textbook sooner than later, so if you have any great suggestions, please let me know!


Posted in Bible, New Testament, Old Testament, Teaching | 16 Comments »

Jonah’s “Big Fish” Story 3: Jonah and the Sailors (1:1-16)

26th March 2009

[I will be republishing my series on the Hebrew text of Jonah for my current introductory Hebrew class since I had to go back and fix the Hebrew in the posts]

The first chapter of the book of Jonah begins with Jonah’s call to go to Nineveh. But instead of heading for Nineveh, he heads the opposite direction to Tarshish aboard a ship filled with pagan sailors. Jonah’s presence on the ship does not bode well for the sailors, who eventually figure out Jonah is the reason their ship is in danger. After much prayer, they toss Jonah into the sea, after which he is swallowed by a divinely appointed “big fish.” Thus begins Jonah’s “Big Fish” story.

Jonah and the Sailors (1:1-16)

Jonah1-LeningradCodex-sm.jpgHebrew Text

The Hebrew Text is taken from BHS. Click on the image to the right to view the passage in the actual Leningrad Codex (MS B19 A). To hear the chapter read in Hebrew, an MP3 file is available here.

‏וַיְהִי דְּבַר־יְהוָה אֶל־יוֹנָה בֶן־אֲמִתַּי לֵאמֹר׃ קוּם לֵךְ אֶל־נִינְוֵה הָעִיר הַגְּדוֹלָה וּקְרָא עָלֶיהָ כִּי־עָלְתָה רָעָתָם לְפָנָי׃ וַיָּקָם יוֹנָה לִבְרֹחַ תַּרְשִׁישָׁה מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה וַיֵּרֶד יָפוֹ וַיִּמְצָא אָנִיָּה בָּאָה תַרְשִׁישׁ וַיִּתֵּן שְׂכָרָהּ וַיֵּרֶד בָּהּ לָבוֹא עִמָּהֶם תַּרְשִׁישָׁה מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה׃ וַיהוָה הֵטִיל רוּחַ־גְּדוֹלָה אֶל־הַיָּם וַיְהִי סַעַר־גָּדוֹל בַּיָּם וְהָאֳנִיָּה חִשְּׁבָה לְהִשָּׁבֵר׃ וַיִּירְאוּ הַמַּלָּחִים וַיִּזְעֲקוּ אִישׁ אֶל־אֱלֹהָיו וַיָּטִלוּ אֶת־הַכֵּלִים אֲשֶׁר בָּאֳנִיָּה אֶל־הַיָּם לְהָקֵל מֵעֲלֵיהֶם וְיוֹנָה יָרַד אֶל־יַרְכְּתֵי הַסְּפִינָה וַיִּשְׁכַּב וַיֵּרָדַם׃ וַיִּקְרַב אֵלָיו רַב הַחֹבֵל וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ מַה־לְּךָ נִרְדָּם קוּם קְרָא אֶל־אֱלֹהֶיךָ אוּלַי יִתְעַשֵּׁת הָאֱלֹהִים לָנוּ וְלֹא נֹאבֵד׃ וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל־רֵעֵהוּ לְכוּ וְנַפִּילָה גוֹרָלוֹת וְנֵדְעָה בְּשֶׁלְּמִי הָרָעָה הַזֹּאת לָנוּ וַיַּפִּלוּ גּוֹרָלוֹת וַיִּפֹּל הַגּוֹרָל עַל־יוֹנָה׃ וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו הַגִּידָה־נָּא לָנוּ בַּאֲשֶׁר לְמִי־הָרָעָה הַזֹּאת לָנוּ מַה־מְּלַאכְתְּךָ וּמֵאַיִן תָּבוֹא מָה אַרְצֶךָ וְאֵי־מִזֶּה עַם אָתָּה׃ וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם עִבְרִי אָנֹכִי וְאֶת־יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם אֲנִי יָרֵא אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂה אֶת־הַיָּם וְאֶת־הַיַּבָּשָׁה׃ וַיִּירְאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים יִרְאָה גְדוֹלָה וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו מַה־זֹּאת עָשִׂיתָ כִּי־יָדְעוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים כִּי־מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה הוּא בֹרֵחַ כִּי הִגִּיד לָהֶם׃ וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו מַה־נַּעֲשֶׂה לָּךְ וְיִשְׁתֹּק הַיָּם מֵעָלֵינוּ כִּי הַיָּם הוֹלֵךְ וְסֹעֵר׃ וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם שָׂאוּנִי וַהֲטִילֻנִי אֶל־הַיָּם וְיִשְׁתֹּק הַיָּם מֵעֲלֵיכֶם כִּי יוֹדֵעַ אָנִי כִּי בְשֶׁלִּי הַסַּעַר הַגָּדוֹל הַזֶּה עֲלֵיכֶם׃ וַיַּחְתְּרוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים לְהָשִׁיב אֶל־הַיַּבָּשָׁה וְלֹא יָכֹלוּ כִּי הַיָּם הוֹלֵךְ וְסֹעֵר עֲלֵיהֶם׃ וַיִּקְרְאוּ אֶל־יְהוָה וַיֹּאמְרוּ אָנָּה יְהוָה אַל־נָא נֹאבְדָה בְּנֶפֶשׁ הָאִישׁ הַזֶּה וְאַל־תִּתֵּן עָלֵינוּ דָּם נָקִיא כִּי־אַתָּה יְהוָה כַּאֲשֶׁר חָפַצְתָּ עָשִׂיתָ׃ וַיִּשְׂאוּ אֶת־יוֹנָה וַיְטִלֻהוּ אֶל־הַיָּם וַיַּעֲמֹד הַיָּם מִזַּעְפּוֹ׃ וַיִּירְאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים יִרְאָה גְדוֹלָה אֶת־יְהוָה וַיִּזְבְּחוּ־זֶבַח לַיהוָה וַיִּדְּרוּ נְדָרִים׃ ‎

Translation

Please note that my translation is more formal in nature and purposefully highlights literary and poetic features of the text. The versification follows the Hebrew text.

1:1 The word of YHWH came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying: 2 Get up, go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim against it; for their wickedness has come before me. 3 Jonah, however, got up to flee to Tarshish away from the presence of YHWH. So he went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish, and he paid its hire, and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish, from the presence of YHWH. 4 But YHWH hurled a great wind to the sea, and there was a great storm upon the sea that the ship thought about breaking up!

5 And the sailors were afraid and cried out, each to his own god; and they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten [it] for them. But Jonah had gone down into the hold of the vessel and had lain down, and was in a deep sleep. 6 The captain went over to him and cried out, “Why are you sleeping so soundly? Get up, call upon your god! Perhaps the god will bear us in mind and we will not perish.” 7 The men said to one another, “Let us cast lots and find out on whose account this misfortune has come upon us.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 They said to him, “Please declare to us — you who have brought this evil upon us — what is your business? Where have you come from? What is your country, and from what people are you?” 9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew and I fear YHWH, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 The men were greatly terrified [feared a great fear], and they said to him, “How could you have done this?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of YHWH, for so he had told them. 11 And they said to him, “What must we do to you so that the sea calms down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more stormy. 12 He answered, “Heave me overboard, and then the sea will calm down for you; for I know that this great storm came upon you on my account.” 13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to return to the dry land, but they could not, for the sea was growing more and more stormy against them. 14 Then they called to YHWH: “Oh, please, YHWH, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood upon us! For You, O YHWH, have done just as you pleased.” 15 And they cast Jonah into the sea, and the sea stopped from its raging. 16 The men feared YHWH with a great fear, and they sacrificed a sacrifice to YHWH, and they vowed vows.

Translation & Text Critical Notes

For basic identification and parsing, please see the excerpts from Owens (PDF) or Beall and Banks (PDF). For bibliography noted in my post on “Resources for the Study of the Book of Jonah,” only short references will be provided here. See my “Mastering Biblical Hebrew” pages for more information on any Hebrew grammars and lexicons mentioned.

Verse 1

  • וַיְהִי- This Qal prefix vav conversive apocopated form is at home in Hebrew narrative and is the typical opening for “historical” books like Joshua, Judges, 1Samuel, and Ruth (see AC 3.5.1 c).
  • יוֹנָה בֶן־אֲמִתַּי - This “Jonah son of Amittai” is considered to be the nationalistic prophet of the same name mentioned in 2Kings 14:23-29.

Verse 2

  • קוּם לֵךְ- Of the two imperative verbs, קוּם functions as an auxiliary verb to the principal verb לֵךְ and may be translated something like “Arise, go…” or better, “Go at once…” (GKC 120g).
  • וּקְרָא עָלֶיהָ- The collocation of על with the verbקראtypically has negative connotations, hence my translation “proclaim against.” The parallel statement in Jonah 3:2 on the other hand has אל. While this change may only suggest the interchangeable nature of the prepositions (WO’C), the change to the more innocuous “proclaim to” in 3:2 may foreshadow the Ninevites’ positive response to Jonah’s message (see Ben Zvi).
  • הָעִיר הַגְּדוֹלָה- The definite articles are functioning as weak demonstratives, “that great city” (AC 2.6.6). Alternatively, both adjectives could be modifying the noun, “Nineveh the great city” (J-M 138b; 141c; BHRG 30.2.2vii).
  • כִּי־עָלְתָה רָעָתָם לְפָנָי- This phrase should be taken as causal (“because…”), providing the rationale for God sending the prophet to Nineveh (contra Sasson who understands it as asseverative). See AC 4.3.4a, i.

Verse 3

  • מִלִּפְנֵי- This compound preposition is best translated as “away from the presence of” or even just “away from” (HALOT).
  • תַרְשִׁישׁ- The identification of “Tarshish” is the subject of much spilled ink (see Sasson for a discussion). I tend to think of it as an ancient “Timbuktu.” Either way, the point is that Jonah headed in the exact opposite direction of Nineveh. Note that it occurs both with and without the directive ה in this passage
  • אָנִיָּה- The footnote in BHS (sic L, mlt MSS Edd אֳניה cf 4.5) suggests that the pointing of אָנִיָּה is incorrect; it should be אֳניהas many other Masoretic texts indicate as well as the pointing in vv. 4 and 5.
  • וַיִּתֵּן שְׂכָרָהּ- The antecedent of the 3fs possessive pronoun is clearly אָנִיָּה(“paid its [i.e., the ship's] fare”). A number of Jewish traditions (and modern authors) suggest this indicates Jonah rented the entire ship (and thus was wealthy), which again emphasizes the extent to which he was willing to avoid God’s call.
  • עִמָּהֶם- While the sailors are not mentioned until v. 5, the 3mp object suffix on עִמָּהֶם refers to the sailors included in the sense of the term אָנִיָּה (GKC 135p).

Verse 4

  • וַיהוָה- The fronted subject with the conjunction breaks the series of vav conversives and introduces a different subject and is best rendered as “but YHWH…” (AC 3.5.4; 5.1.2b.2).
  • חִשְּׁבָה לְהִשָּׁבֵר- Many translations render this combination of Piel affix 3fs and Nifal infinitive construct something like, “the ship was about to break up” (NASB) or the like. I prefer to take it as an example of personification or prosopopoeia where the ship is portrayed as thinking about breaking up. This understanding is supported by the fact thatחשׁבis always used elsewhere with an animate subject. See WO’C 23.2.1 for the sense of the Nifal here.

Verse 5

  • אִישׁ אֶל־אֱלֹהָיו- This is a distributive use ofאִישׁ, “each to his own god” (GKC 139b). It could also be translated “each to his own gods” since the sailors were evidently pagan.
  • לְהָקֵל- The Hifil infinitive construct needs an object, i.e., “to lighten [it].”
  • “But Jonah had gone down… and had lain down, and had fallen fast asleep.” The fronted subject once again interrupts the sequence of wayyiqtol verbs and marks a new subject which contrasts Jonah’s actions with those of the sailors.
  • וַיֵּרָדַם- The verbרדםmeans “deep sleep” and is from the same root as the noun used to describe Adam’s sleep when the woman was taken out of his side in Gen 2:21. The Septuagint translatesרדםwith the verb ῥέγχω “snore,” which adds some humour to the scene as Jonah’s snoring was apparently loud enough for the captain of the ship to hear him from above deck as he comes down to Jonah and asks him what is he doing snoring when a life threatening storm has been thrown to the sea by YHWH (see my post on snoring here)!

Verse 6

  • רַב הַחֹבֵל- Lit., “chief of the sailors,” i.e., captain.
  • מַה־לְּךָ נִרְדָּם- The Nifal participle may be functioning as a subordinate accusative of state, i.e., the object of the non verbal interrogative construction, lit. “what [is it] to you, sleeping?” = “why are you sleeping so soundly?” (see GKC 120b; J-M 127a, 161i). I am almost tempted to take the participle as a vocative and translate it something like, “What is the matter with you, sleepy head?!”
  • יִתְעַשֵּׁת - The Hitpael of עשׁתis a hapax that means something like “bear in mind” (HALOT).

Verse 7

  • Note the cohortative הs on וְנַפִּילָהand וְנֵדְעָה .
  • בְּשֶׁלְּמִי- The compound particle is made up of the preposition ב + relative שׁ + preposition ל + interrogative מי; together it means “on whose account” (HALOT), or “for whose cause” (GKC 150k). For the combination of the relative שׁ and preposition ל, see WO’C 19.4a n15.
  • Note the idiom of “casting lots” with the verb נפל.

Verse 8

  • There is a rather oblique text critical footnote in BHS (“nonn add Hab” = “several manuscripts have added”) marking off the phrase בַּאֲשֶׁר לְמִי־הָרָעָה הַזֹּאת לָנוּ, “on whose account has this evil come upon us” (as well as a similar phrase in v. 10; see below). The footnote suggests the editors of BHS considered this phrase to be an addition or later gloss. While they do not provide any reasons, it is likely based on two things: (1) the phrase is omitted in the LXX and a number of Masoretic manuscripts and (2) it appears to be a doublet or repetition of virtually the same phrase in v. 7. While this is certainly possible, the phrase is found in the huge majority of Masoretic texts as well as scrolls from Qumran. Furthermore, the absence of the phrase in some Hebrew and Greek manuscripts can easily be explained by homoeoteleuton (skipping over words between words with similar endings) triggered by the repetition of לָנוּ in the Hebrew or ἐν ἡμῖν in the Greek. That being said, the question of how to translate it remains. The most straightforward translation is to repeat the question, “on whose account has this evil come upon us?” even though they already know the answer and Jonah doesn’t answer it (see NASB, KJV, NIV). Another, perhaps better, option is to render it as a relative clause, “you who have brought this evil upon us” (see JPS and Sasson). This recognizes the subtle difference of the construction בַּאֲשֶׁר לְמִי־הָרָעָה הַזֹּאת לָנוּ with בְּשֶׁלְּמִי הָרָעָה הַזֹּאת לָנוּin the preceding verse.
  • The sailors pose four questions to Jonah: (1) what is your mission? (2) from where are you coming? (3) what is your (home)land? and (4) from what people are you? (the combination of the interrogative with מן does not produce any notable change in meaning; J-M 143g).

Verse 9

  • עִבְרִי אָנֹכִי- The order of predicate –> subject in the verbless clause indicates classification and refers to a general class (Hebrews) of which the subject is a member (WO’C 8.4.2). The term “Hebrew” is typically only used in the HB to imply a contrast with foreigners (GKC 2b).
  • The irony of Jonah’s confession is marvelous; while his confesses he fears “YHWH, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land,” he also appears to believe he can flee from this same YHWH by taking a sea voyage!

Verse 10

  • וַיִּירְאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים יִרְאָה גְדוֹלָה- This construction of a verb with a direct object derived from the same root is called an “internal accusative” or “cognate accusative.” It serves to strengthen the verbal idea and may be translated “the men were greatly terrified” or the like (AC 2.3.1c; GKC 117q).
  • מַה־זֹּאת- The linking of the interrogative pronoun to the feminine demonstrative is an exclamation of shock or horror rather than a query (Sasson).
  • כִּי הִגִּיד לָהֶם- This phrase is marked off as a gloss in BHS (see discussion on v. 8 above).

Verse 11

  • מַה־נַּעֲשֶׂה לָּךְ- The prefix form in this context likely has a modal nuance, i.e., “what must we do to you…” (J-M 113m).
  • וְיִשְׁתֹּק- The prefix + vav form indicates purpose, “so that” (J-M 169i; BHRG 21.5.1.iv).
  • הוֹלֵךְ וְסֹעֵר- The participles form a hendiadys to convey repetition and increasing intensity, with הלךfulfilling an auxiliary role (GKC 113u).

Verse 12

  • וְיִשְׁתֹּק- The prefix + vav form in Jonah’s reply has a consecutive sense, “then…” (J-M 169i).

Verse 13

  • וַיַּחְתְּרוּ- The verb חתר means “to dig”; it is used here to suggest hard rowing or “digging” into the water with their oars.

Verse 14

  • The first person plural cohortatives are found here with the particle of entreaty נָא, often translated as “please” or the like (J-M 114f; GKC 105, 108c).
  • כִּי־אַתָּה יְהוָה כַּאֲשֶׁר חָפַצְתָּ עָשִׂיתָ- This clause is a bit difficult to unpack. Sasson takes it and the preceding clause as separate motivations offered by the sailors to God: “Indeed, you are YHWH; and whatever you desire, you accomplish.” While this is possible, I think Sasson is giving too much weight to the zaqef qaton on YHWH. I have translated YHWH as a vocative and the relative clause as modifying אַתָּה“you.”

Verse 15

  • מִזַּעְפּוֹ- The Qal infinitive construct with the prepositionמן (and the 3ms suffix) serves as a verbal complement to עמד, “the sea stopped from its raging.”

Verse 16

  • וַיִּירְאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים יִרְאָה גְדוֹלָה אֶת־יְהוָה- The verb here has double accusatives: YHWH is the affected object (the object that existed apart and before the action of the verb, but is reached by the verb), while the “great fear” is the internal object (the object is an abstract noun of action typically of the same root as the verb, and thus a cognate accusative) (AC 2.3.1; J-M 125u n1).
  • Note again the irony that the pagan sailors are more devout than Jonah.

Comments

While I will leave most of the larger questions of interpretation to a later post, I do want to highlight a few things from chapter one.

First, it is difficult if not impossible to pick up on a significant key word for the book of Jonah: גָּדוֹל“great” or “big.” Everything in Jonah is “great”: Nineveh (v. 2), the wind (v. 4), the storm (v. 4, 12), the sailors’ fear (v. 10) and their repentance (v. 16). In later chapters we will encounter a “great” or “big” fish (2:1), among other things.

Second, the frequent use of גָּדוֹלas well as some of the other language in this (the ship thinking) and later chapters (the animals putting sackcloth on themselves in 3:8), “shifts the story to the fabulous” as Sasson suggests. I will come back to this observation in a later post.

Finally, when examining the characterization of Jonah, YHWH, and the pagan sailors in this chapter it is striking:

  • Jonah does exactly the opposite of what YHWH calls him to do: instead of getting up and going (קוּם לֵךְ), he got up to flee (וַיָּקָם יוֹנָה לִבְרֹחַ ), and then in contrast to getting up, he has a series of descents (ירד) in order to get away from YHWH’s call. And of course, as I already noted, the irony between Jonah’s flight and his confession is stunning.
  • The sailors come across much better than Jonah. Their actions are often parallel to those of YHWH: they, like YHWH, tell Jonah to “get up” and “call” (1:2, 6); they both “cast to the sea” (1:4, 5, 15). In addition, a contrast is set up between the sailors and Jonah: Jonah’s fear (1:9) vs. the sailors’ fear (1:10); and “perish” in the mouths of the sailors (1:7, 14) vs. from Jonah’s perspective (4:10).

Well, this post has ended up longer than I anticipated. I better end it here. We’ll pick up Jonah chapter three next.


Posted in Jonah, Jonah's "Big Fish" Story, Old Testament, Text Criticism | 2 Comments »

Cain and Abel: A Cameo from Year One

2nd March 2009

My previous post on Cain and Abel reminded me of a somewhat funny (OK, it is funny — just a little dark) trailer for a new Harold Ramis film, The Year One:

The film follws the adventures of two lazy hunter-gatherers (Jack Black and Michael Cera) as they travel the ancient world. It appears that they not only encounter Cain and Abel, but also Adam and Eve,  Abraham and Isaac, and Sodom and Gomorrah. Hmmm… I don’t think it is trying to be biblically accurate!  The film is scheduled to be released 19 June 2009 according to IMDB.

If you are interested in more films based on the Bible, check out my “The Old Testament on Film” pages.


Posted in Bible, Bible & Film, Film, Genesis, Humour, Old Testament | Comments Off

New and Forthcoming Commentaries on Genesis

27th February 2009

I have been perusing a couple new commentaries on the book of Genesis and decided to update my commentary listing.  I am aware of four recently published commentaries on Genesis:

  • Bill T. Arnold. Genesis (New Cambridge Bible Commentary; Cambridge University Press, 2009). This is a popular series based on the NRSV aimed at pastors and laypeople, but useful for scholars and teachers as well. Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com
  • C. John Collins. Genesis 1-4. A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (P&R Publishing, 2006). Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com
  • James McKeown, Genesis (The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary; Eerdmans, 2008). Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com
  • John H. Sailhamer. Genesis (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Revised Edition, vol. 1; Zondervan, 2008). Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com

These four recent commentaries all have different things to offer the careful reader. Arnold‘s volume is an excellent study of the book of Genesis that engages its ancient context (in the commentary proper and in “Closer Look” sections) as well as its modern significance (primarily through “Bridging the Horizons” sections).  This is the most academic of the four volumes, and also the most concise (he packs a lot of information in). McKeown‘s commentary is another excellent study of the book of Genesis which also tries to address both the “horizon” of the text and our modern “horizon” (that’s Gadamer speak for ancient and modern context). While Arnold embeds his discussion of theological relevance of a passage throughout the commentary, McKeown primarily offers his at the end of the commentary in an almost 200-page section on the theological message of Genesis and its theological significance for today.  The next two offerings are more conservative in nature, although while Sailhammer is fairly conservative, that has never hampered his creative and detailed engagement with the biblical text (see his Genesis Unbound: A Proactive New Look at the Creation Account Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). And he doesn’t disapoint with his treatment of Genesis. Perhaps the biggest weakness in Sailhammer’s commentary is due to the limitations of a multi-volume series. Collins‘s conservative commentary on the first four chapters of Genesis is good, though I found it somewhat predictable (to be honest I was a bit disappointed).

If I had to recommend only one of these recent releases, it would be a toss up between Arnold and McKeown, and I would probably end up recommending Arnold.

Here is a listing of other forthcoming commentaries on the book of Genesis:

  • David Baker. Apollos Old Testament Commentary (Apollos/InterVarsity Press). A semi-popular series based on the author’s own translation of the Hebrew text. This volume is several years down the road.
  • Erhard Blum. Historical Commentary on the Old Testament (Peeters). The title of this series is a bit misleading if you are expecting a history of interpretation. The series is more of a historical-critical commentary aimed at scholars and ministers.
  • Richard Clifford. Hermeneia (Fortress). This is one of the premier critical commentaries available in English (and it’s beautifully typeset). If Clifford’s volume on The Creation Accounts in the Ancient Near East and in the Bible (Catholic Biblical Association, 1994; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com) is any indication, this should be a very good critical commentary. It is a few years from publication.
  • Blackwell Bible Commentaries (Blackwell). This series looks more at the reception history of the book under study. As such it is of primary interest to scholars and teachers. This one was assigned to Danna Fewell and Gary Phillips, but they have since dropped out and I don’t think the commentary has been reassigned yet (at least there is no indication on the Blackwell site)
  • Duane Garrett. Kregel Expository Commentary on the Old Testament (Kregel; note the title of the series is still tentative). This is a conservative evangelical series geared for pastors and laypeople. Garrett is author of Rethinking Genesis, The Sources and Authorship of the First Book of the Pentateuch (Baker Book, 1991; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com), which I reviewed a number of years back. The commentary is at least two years from completion.
  • Ronald S. Hendel. Anchor Bible (2 volumes, Doubleday). The new volumes in this series are excellent critical commentaries. The first volume on Genesis 1-11 was projected to be available in 2008 but it is behind schedule.
  • Theodore Hiebert. Abingdon Old Testament Commentary (Abingdon). A popular series aimed at pastors and laypeople.
  • Kathleen M. O’Connor. Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Smyth & Helwys). This is a unique series aimed at pastors and laypeople that includes insightful sidebars, fine art visuals, and a CD-Rom containing all the text and images of the volume in a searchable format.
  • Russell R. Reno. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Brazos/Baker). A series designed to serve the church; appropriate for pastors, teachers, and laypeople. This volume was projected to be released in late 2008, but is behind schedule.

If anyone knows of other recently published Genesis commentaries or others in preparation, please let me know.


Posted in Bible, Commentary Survey, Genesis, Old Testament | 4 Comments »

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 »

Codex Sinaiticus Conference

7th February 2009

As many of my readers may or may not know, there will be a special Codex Sinaiticus Conference at the British Library, London, on 6-7 July 2009.

The Codex Sinaiticus Project, an international initiative to reunite the entire manuscript in digital form and make it accessible to a global audience for the first time (see www.codexsinaiticus.org), will host a conference devoted to this seminal fourth-century Bible.

To celebrate the Project’s achievements, on 6-7 July 2009, the British Library is hosting an academic conference on topics relating to Codex Sinaiticus. A number of leading experts have been approached to give presentations on the history, text, conservation, paleography and codicology, among other topics, of Codex Sinaiticus. Selected conference papers will be edited and published as a collection of articles.

The list of confirmed speakers is quite impressive:

  • Christfried Böttrich
  • Christopher Clarkson
  • Eldon J. Epp
  • Harry Y. Gamble
  • Dirk Jongkind
  • René Larsen
  • David Parker
  • Albert Pietersma
  • Emanuel Tov
  • David Trobisch
  • Klaus Wachtel

As you can see, my advisor, Al Pietersma, is among the speakers.

It looks as if it will be a great conference.

If you want to read more about Codex Sinaiticus, check out my profile of the manuscript which was part of my Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible series.


Posted in Announcements, Conferences, Septuagint, Sinaiticus, Text Criticism | 1 Comment »

History of the Daily Devotional Reading of the Bible

28th December 2008

I am curious if anyone in the blogosphere is familiar with when the notion of daily devotional reading of the Bible for average everyday Christians became popular? When did this become the cornerstone of individual piety and spirituality?

It was obviously after the Reformation and the appearance of Bible translations in the vernacular (quite a bit after, I would think), but more importantly it would have to do with socio-economic factors and literacy rates.

I am preaching on the devotional reading of Scripture in the near future and wanted to provide a historical perspective on Bible reading as a spiritual discipline. I want to emphasize that while personal reading of the Bible is important, reading in community is essential and is more in line with the history of the Church.

Any thoughts?


Posted in Bible, History of Interpretation | 12 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 »