One of my pet peeves is when Bible translations seem to base their translations on tradition or theology rather than the biblical text. One glaring example of this is found in the prologue to the book of Job where virtually all English translations render “the satan” (השׂטן) as capital-s “Satan” (Job 1:6, 7 [2x], 8, 9, 12; 2:1, 2 [2x], 3, 4, 6, 7). Despite some major problems with this translation, you will find it in the KJV, RSV, NRSV, NIV, NASB, NJB, among others.
In the Hebrew text the term “satan” (שׂטן) has a definite article attached to it (i.e., it is “the satan”), and thus is not a personal name. The actual word means “adversary” and is used to refer to human adversaries as well as celestial ones. For example, in 1Kings 11:14 it is used to refer to a human opponent: “Then Yahweh raised up a satan against Solomon, Hadad the Edomite” (see also 1Sam 29:4, 2Sam 19:22; 1Kgs 5:4, 11:23, 25; Ps 109:6). Now, in the book of Job, “the satan” is clearly a celestial adversary. He is, after all, portrayed as one of the “sons of elohim” (בני האלהים) in Yahweh’s heavenly court (Job 1:6; the notion of a divine assembly is found throughout the HB: 1Kgs 22:19-22; Psa 82; Isa 6:1-8; 14:13; Gen 1:26). This does not, however, mean that this figure is the chief demon, aka the Devil, found in later Jewish and Christian theological traditions. You would search in vain in the Hebrew Bible to find a fully developed angelology or demonology.
In the book of Job, this figure fills the role of a prosecuting attorney. As such, a fitting translation would be “the Adversary” or the like. This, by the way, is what the NJPS translation has, and as such wins my coveted “Translation with Integrity Award”! (As an aside, the NJPS is a truly beautiful Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible that has the novelist Chaim Potok as its literary editor.)
The problem with rendering the Hebrew text with “Satan” is that the typical reader will read into the text all the theological and cultural meaning that it has come to signify in later times. But that is not what it means in the book of Job. Even more problematic is that such a translation will likely obfuscate the legal metaphor that holds the book together (in this regard see Habel’s superb commentary; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com).
So that is my pet peeve for today (or at least one of my many!).
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.
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!
This may be old news (aghast, it’s from the end of February!), but a friend let me know of an interesting “Hermeneutics Quiz” that Scot McKnight, of Jesus Creed fame, put together for Leadership Journal.net.
I scored an 81 on the quiz, which means I’m a “progressive” on “The Hermeneutics Scale.” This is how McKnight defined the progressive (which includes those who scored between 66 and 100; so I guess I am a moderate progressive):
The progressive is not always progressive. Those who score 66 or more can be seen as leaning toward the progressive side, but the difference between at 66 and 92 is dramatic. Still, the progressive tends to see the Bible as historically shaped and culturally conditioned, and yet most still consider it the Word of God for today. Following a progressive hermeneutic, for the Word to speak in our day, one must interpret what the Bible said in its day and discern its pattern for revelation in order to apply it to our world. The strength, as with the moderate but even more so, is the challenge to examine what the Bible said in its day, and this means the progressives tend to be historians. But the problems for the progressives are predictable: Will the Bible’s so-called “plain meaning” be given its due and authoritative force to challenge our world? Or will the Bible be swallowed by a quest to find modern analogies that sometimes minimize what the text clearly says?
I’m not sure how much I see myself in McKnight’s description, but I encourage you to take the quiz and see where you are at.
One of the dangers of learning a bit of biblical Hebrew (or Greek) is thinking that after a basic introduction (i.e., less than four semesters), you understand the nuances of the language. Many preachers take a little bit of Hebrew or Greek and then go on to expound profoundly about the meaning of this or that Hebrew/Greek word Sunday mornings when they preach. These errors are tame in comparison to what some people do to/with the Bible.
This video contains a hilarious (and horrendous) example of two “interpreters” appealing to the Hebrew meaning of a word to serve their heretical theology. The discussion of the Hebrew word for “word/thing” (×“×‘×¨) by Kenneth Copland and his guest is a classic example of what D.A. Carson calls the”illegitimate totality transfer” fallacy (i.e., the explicit or implicit transfer of all the meanings of a given word into any given passage — in this case into every passage where the word “word” occurs!). This is such a hilarious (and sad) example that I will have to use it in my biblical interpretation class this fall.
Take a gander at the video for yourself — but be warned: while it is funny, it also reveals a side of Christianity which I find offensive (and if you don’t find that type of Christianity offensive then the video will likely offend you!).
Inspired by Ben Meyer’s “Worst theological invention” and “worst liturgical invention” posts, I thought I would open nominations for the “Most Fruitful Examples of Biblical Interpretation.” By this I mean particular examples of interpretation/exegesis that illuminate a biblical passage in a significant way. More specifically, I am looking for examples of particular critical methodologies applied to specific texts, whether the texts are classic difficult texts or texts that are (too) familiar.
Perhaps some examples would help clarify what I am looking for.
Mary Douglas’s Anthropological Approach to Purity in Leviticus. In contrast to the traditional interpretations that either see the purity laws in Leviticus as arbitrary, connected with pagan worship, or examples of ancient medicine, Douglas’s anthropological approach understands them as having to do with wholeness and normality and are based on the Priestley worldview.
Honour and Shame for Reading the Bible. While this one is admittedly broad, the value of social-scientific understandings of honour and shame for the ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean world are difficult to underestimate.
The Comparative Method for understanding the Plagues. Sarna’s (and others) view how the plagues against the Egyptians may be understood as polemics against Egyptian religion.
These are just some simple examples, not necessarily the best nor the most compelling.
The debate surrounding the translation and interpretation of Psalm 2:12 continues. For some context, you can see my previous post here, while John Hobbins has some further (good) reflections on why it is inappropriate to capitalize “Son” in this verse (assuming you understand the phrase as “kiss the son”), even if you understand further christological significance in the passage.
The verb most often occurs with an expressed personal object. Most frequently (21x) the object is marked by the preposition lamed: â€œA kissed ×œ-Bâ€? (Qal: Gen 27:26,27; 29:11; 48:10; 50:1; Exod 4:27; 18:7; 2Sam 14:33; 2Sam 15:5; 2Sam 19:40; 20:9; 1Kgs 19:18; 19:20; Job 31:27; Prov 7:13; Ruth 1:9, 14; Piel: Gen 29:13; 31:28; 32:1; 45:15).
Four times a pronominal suffix marks the personal object: â€œA kissed him/her/me/youâ€? (all Qal: Gen 33:4; 1Sam 10:1; Song 1:2; 8:1).
There are two instances where the verb takes an impersonal object; in both of these cases the object is not marked by the preposition lamed, but simply precedes the verb (Qal: Hos 13:2, â€œpeople kissing calvesâ€?; Prov 24:26, â€œhe kisses the lipsâ€?).
The object of reciprocal kisses are not marked with a preposition lamed; in these two cases the object may either follow (Qal 1Sam 20:41) or precede the verb (Ps 85:11 [Eng v. 10]; many conjecture this form should be pointed as a Niphal).
The remaining five instances are more problematic:
Based on this examination of the verb usage, some parameters on how best to understand this passage may be set:
When the verb clearly means â€œkissâ€?, it never takes the preposition ×‘ bet to mark the object of the kiss. This seems to rule out the common emendation â€œkiss his feetâ€? with the bet. (BHS also notes the emendation with a lamed, though that emendation requires more exegetical gymnastics to explain where the lamed came from).
The one weakness of this interpretation is that the meaning of ×‘×¨ bar as â€œfieldâ€? is not very popular and only occurs in a few other places in the Old Testament (Job 39:4 and the Aramaic parts of Daniel, 2:38, 4:9, 12, 18, 20 (2x), 22, 29). That being said, it is a viable usage and makes good sense in this passage.
This, then, is my final word on Psalm 2:12 (at least for now!).
In the past when I taught the introductory hermeneutics course at Taylor, I used W. Randolph Tate‘s Biblical Interpretation: An Integrated Approach (Revised Edition; Hendrickson, 1997; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com).
I found that its engaging, easy to read style — as well as its review sections and study questions — made it an ideal textbook for undergraduate students. I especially appreciated Tate’s theoretical basis and how he organized the book into three major sections: world behind, within, and in front of the text (although I structure my class a bit differently, starting by getting students to recognize their own presuppositions). I am planning on using Tate again this upcoming fall when I take over teaching the introductory course in hermeneutics and method (unless, of course, someone alerts me to a more suitable textbook).
I was pleased to see that Tate has produced a companion handbook to his text:
Interpreting the Bible: A Handbook of Terms and Methods
Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com
One of the constant problems in entering any new academic discipline is learning the jargon and technical language that people within that discipline use — and biblical studies is no different. This work is a guide to the key terms and theories used in biblical interpretation. From a quick flip through I found the Handbook to be quite exhaustive, particularly in regards to the more theoretical side of biblical interpretation. Thus, if you ever wanted to know the difference between Langue and Parole, or what ideological overcoding entails, or transactive criticism is, then this book is for you.
That being said, its focus is more on terms relating to biblical interpretation, not biblical studies in general. Thus, while it covers much the same territory as Soulen‘s Handbook of Biblical Criticism (3rd ed.; Westminster John Knox Press, 2001; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com), it includes far more discussion of more recent interpretive terms and methods. On the other hand, there are some discussions which I would like to see expanded a bit (see “lament”) and others included (e.g., terminus ad quem and terminus a quo, palistrophe, etc.).
All in all, this work appears to be a very useful resource for students and scholars alike. Next time I am trying to figure out what the heck polypoton is, I know where to look!
This is Mr. Kugel’s 10th book on scriptural hermeneutics and perhaps his most fascinating; for here he takes on the appalling family of Jacob in all its mingled squalor and grandeur. As he puts it, “â€˜Dysfunctional’ is probably the first word an observer would use to describe such a family in modern times.” That seems an understatement. And yet, the five episodes he considers touch on virtually every aspect of the human predicament.
One interesting result of his approach is that we steadily see how differently earlier readers interpreted a text. Genesis 28 contains the famous dream-vision that Jacob had on the way to Haran: “He had a dream; a ladder was stuck into the ground and its top reached up to heaven, and the angels of God were going up and down on it. And the Lord was standing over him and He said, â€˜I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land upon which you are lying I am giving to you and your descendants.” This passage had never struck me as problematic. But it bothered ancient readers. What was the point of the ladder? Couldn’t God have spoken directly to Jacob? And why, after he heard the voice of the Lord, did Jacob grow frightened and say, “How fearsome is this place!” Wasn’t God’s message with its promise of covenant reassuring?
The ladder itself called forth highly creative speculation. For Philo it represented the “ups and downs” of human experience. Others were intrigued by the statement that the angels were “going up and down” on it. If they were going up, they must have begun from the ground. What were the angels doing on the ground in the first place? Some suggested that they had been on a previous mission; but if so, why had they stayed so long before ascending again? One puzzle bred others. The text was a mere seed, the commentaries that sprouted from it a vast bramble that somehow, over centuries, came to cohere.
Whether discussing Reuben’s sin with Bilhah or the priesthood of Levi or Judah and Tamar, Mr. Kugel moves easily from moral dilemmas to textual enigmas; his book thus serves as a guide to interpretation as well. He analyzes motifs and explains such hermeneutic devices as “notariqon,” a method for explaining ambiguous words by breaking them down into their hidden components (as if we would gloss the word “hearth” by saying that it was composed of “heart” and “earth”). As he notes, exegesis itself became a kind of Jacob’s ladder over the centuries, with rungs capable of spanning the lowest and the highest in one swoop. His own book has that laddered quality. Maybe the point isn’t to reach the top of the ladder but to keep that angelic procession going up and going down to the end of time.
Here is an outline of the chapters from the publisher’s website:
Chapter One: Jacob and the Bible’s Ancient Interpreters
Chapter Two: The Ladder of Jacob
Chapter Three: The Rape of Dinah, and Simeon and Levi’s Revenge
Chapter Four: Reuben’s Sin with Bilhah
Chapter Five: How Levi Came to Be a Priest
Chapter Six: Judah and the Trial of Tamar
Chapter Seven: A Prayer about Jacob and Israel from the Dead Sea Scrolls
The book looks quite facinating — so much so I may adopt it for my Genesis course next semester (any other suggestions are welcome!).
Interestingly, the front cover is almost identical to another great book on the Jacob narrative: Frederick Beuchner’s The Son of Laughter: A Novel (HarperSanFrancisco, 1994; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com).
A little girl was talking to her teacher about whales.
The teacher said it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human because even though it was a very large mammal its throat was very small.
The little girl stated that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. Irritated, the teacher reiterated that a whale could not swallow a human; it was physically impossible.
The little girl said, “When I get to heaven I will ask Jonah”.
The teacher asked, “What if Jonah went to hell?”
The little girl replied, “Then you ask him”.
Of course, we know that both teacher and student are wrong. Jonah was swallowed by a “big fish” (×“×’ ×’×“×•×œ), not a whale! While we are on the topic of whether a person can be swallowed by a fish/whale and live, I came across an article a number of years ago on the “urban legend” of a man being swallowed by a sperm whale. This story even made its way into a number of standard conservative biblical reference works. The article available online:
(While I am on the topic of Jonah, I thought I would note that I haven’t forgotten about my series on “Jonah’s ‘Big Fish’ Story.” I just ran out of time and energy before finishing the series. I will be returning to the series this upcoming year as I take my intro Hebrew class through the book of Jonah — so stay tuned!)
James Crossley over at Earliest Christian History has a thoughtful post on secularism and scholarship entitled, “Sheffield and the Secular.” His post is in response to Michael Bird‘s post, “Secularism and Biblical Studies.” Michael’s point of departure is a recent article by John Barton (“Biblical Theology: An Old Testament Perspective” in The Nature of New Testament Theology [eds. C. Rowland and C. Tuckett; Oxford: Blackwell, 2006] 27-29), where Barton notes the significant place theology has had historically in Old Testament studies and how that will likely continue to be the case. He notes, “But I still think that the most important aspect of the OT is the theological content of most of its texts, and that it is therefore natural for this to continue to be the focus of interest in the future as it has been in the past.” Michael then goes on to raise a few points about secularism in biblical studies, including that secular scholars will always be the minority since the object of study in biblical studies is, lo and behold, the Bible — one of the religious texts par excellence — and therefore religious people will be attracted to academic biblical studies.
James offers a response to Michael in his post and while he agrees with much that Michael writes, he notes that “we should not forget what the discipline [i.e., biblical studies] missed out on in comparison with other humanities (e.g. history) because of a lack of secular perspectives.” I would agree with James to a certain extent, though I’m not sure we’ve missed out too much — and considering the lag typically associated with biblical studies, perhaps it is yet to come!
Now here are some of my own quick observations:
Theology and Biblical Studies. It is not just secular scholars who eschew theology; there are many religious biblical scholars who favour the historical critical method and thus avoid theological issues (at least in their published scholarship). That being said, it is fair to say that scholars involved in “biblical theology” (whether OT or NT) will almost without exception be religious. This is especially the case for biblical theology in Old Testament studies since one of the major tasks historically for the discipline has been to explore the relationship between the testaments.
Skepiticism and Scholarship. James rasies this issue in connection with Ben Witherington’s post on doubt in scholarship (see my comments on Ben’s post here). James notes that one of the benefits of secular scholarship is that “the biblical texts are open to a much more critical reading, critical in the sense of deconstructing their ideologies etc. and being ready to entertain the possibility that the texts are just irrelevant, at least in a historical context ideological approaches to biblical interpretation.” I can agree with James to a certain extent here, though I am not sure that radically skeptical approaches that constantly read against the grain are ultimately very fruitful. I think some skepticism is healthy and necessary, though when it obscures understanding more than facilitates understanding, it should be discarded (or at least relagated to the “that’s interesting” pile). Thus, if you conceive that the goal of biblical studies is to better understand the biblical texts, then an empathetic hermeneutic may be more appropriate than one of suspicion. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that we should priveledge the Bible over against other texts, or that we should forget that they are ancient texts. I am saying that we should look at any text we are trying to understand with a good dose of emphathy.