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Coins from the Joseph Era found In Egypt!?

25th September 2009

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

Here is an excerpt from the Jerusalem Post:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Endings and Beginnings

28th April 2009

Last Saturday (April 25, 2009), we celebrated the 68th and final graduation of Taylor University College, Edmonton, Alberta. I also had the privilege of being the Master of Ceremonies at the graduation banquet in the evening. Understandably, the day was bittersweet. It was great to rejoice with those students who completed their programs of study, but it was sad to think that there would be no more graduations for Taylor University College.

I have taught at Taylor University College for twelve years and was deeply involved in the design of the Religion & Theology degree programs. I am also an alumnus of the institution and even met and married my wife of over twenty years during my undergraduate degree (it was called North American Baptist College back then).  I have invested a significant part of my personal and professional life at Taylor and will cherish the memories of the excellent colleagues and students I have had over the years.

But life moves on. As of June 30, 2009, Taylor University College will close its doors. After this week, it will for all intents and purposes be closed. Offices are closing, faculty are moving out. As for myself, I am pleased to announce that as of July 1, 2009, I will be Assistant Professor of Theology (Biblical Studies) at The King’s University College here in Edmonton. King’s is a Christian university that offers fully accredited bachelor degrees in the arts and sciences, including a three-year BA in Theology.

King’s worked out a special arrangement with Alberta Advanced Education and Taylor to “hold” Taylor’s four-year Religion & Theology degree for four years. This will allow Taylor’s Religion & Theology students to finish their degrees at King’s. As part of this deal, King’s needed to add a faculty member from Taylor, and I was their choice because of my areas of expertise and program development background. Part of the plan is for King’s to develop their own four-year degree in Theology during the time I am at King’s and that if everything works according to plan, after the four years I will continue at King’s in a tenure track position.

After this week I will be pretty much finished my duties at Taylor. For the month of May I am planning to work primarily at home on my thesis and my paper on LXX Psalm 151 that I am presenting at the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies in Ottawa at the end of May.  I have arranged to move in to my office at King’s after the conference (probably June 1).

Suffice it to say that I am relieved and thankful that I don’t have to find a job outside of Edmonton or outside of academia and am very excited about this new lease on my academic life at King’s.

Posted in Announcements, News, Personal | 7 Comments »

U2 Conference Postponed (Yipee!)

20th February 2009

Back in November I announced an academic conference focused on the music and message of the Irish rock band, U2.  As it turns out, the conference, “U2: The Hype and the Feedback,” which was supposed to be held in NYC on 13-15 May 2009, has been postponed.The primary reason for the postponement is economic; the university hosting the conference pulled the plug due to projected participant numbers.  You can read the full explanation here.

From my perspective this is good news; I couldn’t justify attending the conference considering the questions surrounding my employment situation. But if they re-schedule the conference in a less-expensive location, then I may be able to attend, and perhaps even finagle my way back onto the “U2, Faith, and Justice” panel discussion I was invited to take part in. I only hope that people didn’t already purchase flights for the conference… that could get costly.

Posted in Conferences, News, Popular Culture, U2 | Comments Off

An Update on My Life

20th February 2009

I would like to thank all of the people who have expressed concern over the closure of the university college where I teach. There has been no miracle bailout by  Bill Gates, so Taylor University College is still slated to close its doors June 30, 2009, after which I will be out of work.  The mood at Taylor is a bit odd. On the one hand the semester is moving along as usual with students eager to learn (or at least some students!). On the other hand, students are also preoccupied with decisions about where to finish their studies, and faculty and staff morale is rather low – especially as everyone is scrambling to secure employment for July 1.  Some faculty have already found positions, others have a number of good prospects, while a number are considering employment outside academia (whether by choice or circumstance).

My situation has changed somewhat. There is a possibility that I may have a theology teaching position here in Edmonton at another university college. I’m trying not to get too excited about the possibility, since there are a number of things that need to come together for the position to work out.  I am still working on my resume and keeping an eye out for other forms of employment, but I am hopeful that I may have the privilege to continue teaching biblical and theological studies in Edmonton.

I do want to thank everyone for the support. I have been amazed at home many shows of support I have received in this situation from so many quarters. I would ask for those who pray to keep praying, especially for faculty and staff who are still looking for new employment.

Posted in News, Personal, Teaching | 4 Comments »

The End of An Era / The End of A Teaching Position

23rd December 2008

Last Wednesday I (and my colleagues) received received my six-month notice of the non-renewal of my teaching contract at Taylor University College, Edmonton, Alberta (TUC), due to “financial stringency.” Despite receiving a “pink slip” (and, no, it wasn’t even on pink paper… rather disappointing!), there was still some hope that government funding for an affiliation agreement the University of Alberta would allow Taylor University College to continue in an albeit modified form. Last Thursday (December 18) we learned that the provincial government was not willing to fund the affiliation with TUC and we were informed by our president that the University College will close its doors for good after this next semester. Thus, when my contract expires on June 30, 2009, I will be out of a job.

More significant than my own personal situation, is what this means for students, faculty, and staff, and Christian higher education in northern Alberta. Come July 2009 (and even before for some staff) there will be a lot of people looking for employment. In this regard faculty have the biggest challenge since faculty recruitment cycles have pretty much already passed for the next academic year and almost all of them would entail a move from Edmonton as well.

As far as my own situation, I am not sure what I will do. While I love academic teaching and feel “called” to it, there are very limited Hebrew Bible/Old Tesament teaching opportunities in Edmonton and I am very reluctant to move my family — especially considering the age of my children (my thirteen year old daughter’s only response to the news was to fold her arms and say very very firmly “I’m not moving!”). So, come July, I may be leaving academia and getting a “real” job. Time will tell.

So, this Christmas season, if you are a praying sort, please pray for the students, staff, and faculty of Taylor University College.

(The official announcement may be found at the TUC website:

Posted in News, Teaching | 13 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 »

Dead Sea Scrolls to be Available Online

26th August 2008

The New York Times and other news providers are carrying a story today about the decision to make a comprehensive set of new digital images of the Dead Sea Scrolls available online.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

Equipped with high-powered cameras with resolution and clarity many times greater than those of conventional models, and with lights that emit neither heat nor ultraviolet rays, the scientists and technicians are uncovering previously illegible sections and letters of the scrolls, discoveries that could have significant scholarly impact.

….The scrolls’ contemporary history has been something of a tortured one because they are among the most important sources of information on Jewish and early Christian life. After their initial discovery they were tightly held by a small circle of scholars. In the last 20 years access has improved significantly, and in 2001 they were published in their entirety. But debate over them seems only to grow.

Scholars continually ask the Israel Antiquities Authority, the custodian of the scrolls, for access to them, and museums around the world seek to display them. Next month, the Jewish Museum of New York will begin an exhibition of six of the scrolls.

The keepers of the scrolls, people like Pnina Shor, head of the conservation department of the antiquities authority, are delighted by the intense interest but say that each time a scroll is exposed to light, humidity and heat, it deteriorates. She says even without such exposure there is deterioration because of the ink used on some of the scrolls as well as the residue from the Scotch tape used by the 1950s scholars in piecing together fragments.

The entire collection was photographed only once before — in the 1950s using infrared — and those photographs are stored in a climate-controlled room because they show things already lost from some of the scrolls. The old infrared pictures will also be scanned in the new digital effort.

“The project began as a conservation necessity,” MS. Shor explained. “We wanted to monitor the deterioration of the scrolls and realized we needed to take precise photographs to watch the process. That’s when we decided to do a comprehensive set of photos, both in color and infrared, to monitor selectively what is happening. We realized then that we could make the entire set of pictures available online to everyone, meaning that anyone will be able to see the scrolls in the kind of detail that no one has until now.”

The process will probably take one to two years — more before it is available online — and is being led by Greg Bearman, who retired from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Data collection is directed by Simon Tanner of Kings College London.

Jonathan Ben-Dov, a professor of biblical studies at the University of Haifa, is taking part in the digitalization project. Watching the technicians gingerly move a fragment into place for a photograph, he said that it had long been very difficult for senior scholars to get access.

Once this project is completed, he said with wonder, “every undergraduate will be able to have a detailed look at them from numerous angles.”

This is great news. I am glad they are also digitizing the existing photographs.  Having the scrolls available online is great news, though I would hope they would also make them available in a new edition of Brill’s Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Reference Library or the like. This would allow for higher resolution images to be available; images which would be more useful for study and examination using the features of software like Photoshop.

Posted in Dead Sea Scrolls, News | 1 Comment »

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 »

More Support for Dr. Peter Enns

4th April 2008

My Old Testament colleague at Taylor Seminary, Dr. Jerry Shepherd, wrote the following post for the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association email list. It is reproduced here with his permission.

I want to comment just a bit on the Peter Enns situation. There was a thread on the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association email list a few months ago with regard to the Enns situation where I made a couple of contributions, but here are some more thoughts in light of Enns’s suspension. Keep in mind that I am writing this as both a Westminster Theolgical Seminary (WTS) alum and one who was very much involved in the OT department when I was there. I was Al Groves’s TA for a number of years, taught a few courses myself, and was involved with the Westminster Hebrew Computer Project. I took numerous courses both at the Masters and PhD levels from Al Groves, Ray Dillard, Tremper Longman, and Bruce Waltke. Doug Green, Peter Enns, and Mike Kelly were my classmates.

While there are some things in Enns’s Inspiration & Incarnation that I might disagree with, and some things I might have worded differently, I believe the book is entirely within both Evangelical orthodoxy more broadly, and Reformed orthodoxy more narrowly. WTS is a confessional school, and I understand the need to continue to uphold the school’s commitment to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). But there is also needed the continuing commitment to the idea of “Reformed, yet reforming.” To make the WCF the major evaluative tool by which exegetical statements are to judged orthodox or not, especially when the WCF itself needs to be exegeted through a particular set of lenses to arrive at this judgment, is, in my opinion, very much misguided.

There is nothing in Enns’s book that is not in a trajectory with the teaching I received from the OT department at Westminster in the 80s and early 90s, and I mean the entire department: Dillard, Longman, Waltke, and Groves. For the Board to make this kind of decision with regard to Enns is also at the same time, in my opinion, a judgment on the entirety of the current OT dept., as well as a retroactive judgment on nearly three decades of OT instruction at WTS, especially since two of the endorsers on the back cover of the book are Longman and Waltke. Additionally, the decision appears to be one that is being made by persons who are simply unaware of the complexities involved in the faithful critical discipline of OT studies in the context of the ancient Near East.

As far as the faculty who are opposed to Enns, I am grieved because, apparently, at least a couple of the professors in that camp are ones for whom I have great admiration, respect, and gratitude for what they taught me (there are others with whom I am not personally acquainted).

One last comment. For my OT intro class last Fall, I had my students read I&I and write a reaction paper to it. With only a couple of exceptions (in a class of about 25), the students found the book to be very helpful. To my knowledge, none of these students have lost their faith. To the contrary, a couple of the students who work with university and college students on secular campuses have found the book to be a valuable resource for them in their work with these students.

I hope and pray that more informed thinking will prevail.



Dr. Jerry E. Shepherd
Associate Professor of Old Testament
Acting Academic Vice President
Taylor Seminary, Edmonton, Canada

Posted in Doctrine of Scripture, News | 8 Comments »

In Support of Dr. Peter Enns

1st April 2008


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 or

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 or]. 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 »