Tuesday, March 02, 2010
  Amos 7,1-8,3: cohesion and generic dissonance.
I'm delighted! My article in ZAW did appear in 2009, it's just the post to NZ and the de Gruyter's website were both slow ;)

So if you are interested in Amos, or in the ways in which Hebrew Bible texts stick together do please read:

Bulkeley, Tim. “Amos 7,1-8,3: cohesion and generic dissonance.” Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 121 (2009): 515-528.

It is currently available for a fee on the de Gruyter's website (apparently my wisdom is not priceless, but 14 pages is worth US$40 or about 3 words for every cent you pay), or perhaps a library near you has a copy, or if you promise to cite me in your own work I'll send you a copy, so enjoy ;)

Here are the abstracts (in English, French and German):

This article investigates features of the language of Am 7,1–8,3 which promote the cohesion of the text, and how these interact with rhetorical features of the text to promote a coherent message. In this passage, repetition of lexical stock is a particularly strong cohesive feature. It promotes reading the vision accounts, both the three which precede and the one that follows, with the biographical narrative in 7,10–17. Thus despite marked differences of genre and point of view, first person in the vision accounts and third person in the narrative, the sections of this passage as we have it work together. Together they promote the claim that Amos was a true prophet, and that his message of disaster for the kingdom of Israel was indeed a word from the LORD.

Cet article étudie les éléments linguistiques d'Amos 7,1–8,3 qui produisent un sens de cohésion textuelle. Il note la façon dont ces éléments fonctionnent ensemble avec des techniques rhétoriques, de façon à suggérer un message cohérent. Dans cette section du livre d'Amos, la répétition lexicale constitue une importante structure de cohésion. Cet effet encourage une lecture des récits de vision prophétiques, les trois racontés avant la narration biographique en Amos 7,10–17 aussi bien que celui qui la suit. On constate ainsi des différences notables entre les sections de cette péricope, telle que nous l'avons reçue. Ces différences comprennent le genre et le point de vue (les récits de vision sont racontés à la première personne, mais la narration biographique à la troisième). En dépit de ce décalage formel, les sections fonctionnent bien ensemble. Elles suggèrent qu'Amos était un vrai prophète, et que son message de catastrophe pour le royaume d'Israël était en fait une parole du Seigneur.

Der Beitrag untersucht die Sprachelemente in Am 7,1–8,3, die für den Zusammenhalt des Textes verantwortlich sind, und beleuchtet ihr Zusammenwirken mit den rhetorischen Mitteln für die Herstellung von Kohärenz. Dabei wird der Verwendung gleicher Begriffe etwa für die Verknüpfung der Visionsschilderungen mit der biographischen Erzählung in Am 7,10–17 große Bedeutung zugemessen. Trotz der immer wieder angeführten Unterschiede in Gattung, Intention und »Ich«- bzw. »Er«-Bericht gehen sie auf eine Hand zurück. Zusammen formulieren sie den Anspruch, dass Amos ein wahrer Prophet ist und dass seine Unheilsbotschaft für das Königreich Israel Wort Gottes ist.

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Friday, February 26, 2010
  Funding the volunteer web
Photo by Jemal made available freely under a CC licence :)
The web has become a funny place. Despite its ethos of volunteerism and culture of free, increasingly volunteer effort and time are not enough for worthwhile projects. Meanwhile borrowed money, cosmetic surgery, pornography, and other essentials of modern life can finance themselves, and even enable others to make a modest income from blogging.

The latest illustration of this strange situation is Librivox. LV is a huge volunteer effort that In a mere four-and-a-half years, has made thousands of free audiobooks for anyone to enjoy. The site gets 400,000 visitors every month.One recording I did has already passed 10,000 downloads. Yet LV is appealing to its volunteers to donate money as well to pay for the system that enables all this. LV is deeply committed to the dream of free culture, so all its recordings are placed in the public domain. This ethos sits uneasily with advertising, otherwise a combination of Amazon links and/or Google Adwords would ensure an annual income of far more than the $20,000 that they are seeking (in the hopes it will cover the next few years of opperation).

There is a strange logic here, even a tiny payment from a few of the users who download and enjoy the books would cover the cost. Yet LV asks the producers of the content (well at least one group of them, the authors and original publishers are mostly dead, so they are not contacted by the appeal). So it is the readers, prooflisteners and project coordinators who must pay.

Perhaps in the gift economy and the culture of free this is the way it should be, with people covering the cost of publishing their work. But how does this fit with academic publishing? Academics (with a few, over the 20th Century a dwindling few, amateur scholars as exceptions to the rule) are mercenaries, we undertake our scholarship for pay. Yet even in this realm of "workers worthyof their hire" (we hope) publication has usually been free!

No, books and journals have not been free, but authors have most often given them away, it is usually only the commercial publisher of the work who makes any significant money (and then often barely enough to meet their costs) royalties on the average book (or even well above average like your latest one) are barely cover the coffee consumed in its writing.

There's the real paradox of digital publishing, a sector (somehow in this over-managed world we are always part of a "sector") that traditionally gave away its (or at least this) product is wary of the new culture of free and hides its work behind the firewalls of commercial publishers. Apart from hidebound inertia and fear of the new what explains this strange reality?

[See also this old post by Mark Goodacre.]

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010
  Amos, justice and gender
Julia O'Brien has a fine post Reading Amos in Modern Tekoa, it should suggest other neat possibilities for teaching! Though as Julia shows Tekoa today offers richer possibilities than many other sites.

But as they say "the devil is in the details", and in this case I wonder about a couple of related details. Julia "point[s] out how Amos falls short of all-inclusive justice" citing Judith Sanderson in the Women’s Bible Commentary:
  • "the description of Samaria’s women in 4:1-3 unfairly scapegoats women for the nation’s ills" does it? Or does this passage merely suggest that the women who enjoy the "good life" procured by oppression (cf 4:1 they at least enjoyed the drinkies) are condemned along with thoose who procured them these treats?
  • Amos "failed specifically to champion the women among the poor" surely 2:7b does specifically champion a class of (poor) women (servant girls) from male abuse, and states that such abuse profanes the holy reputation of God.
I don't believe that Amos is entirely free of the taint of common social attitudes of his time (though as a male I am less likely to spot examples), doubtless the book reflects the unconscious prejudices of its writers and editors, but please limit mention of this to cases where the failure to transcend time and place are clear and unequivocal.

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Monday, February 08, 2010
  The Invention of Hebrew: Chapter One
The first chapter has the grand title "Modernity's Ghosts: The Bible as Political Communication". In a little over 20 pages it sets the scene for the study on a broad canvass of the several centuries of "bibilical criticism". It also makes the case for the revolutionary significance of the rest of the book. I confess I found it less interesting and inspiring than the Introduction or than the opening and closing sections of the other chapters suggest they will be. John Hobbins found the engagement with Hobbes "engaging" is a strong reminder to my readers that the cool response to this chapter here probably tells more about the reader than the work being reviewed. Perhaps my lack of enthusiasm can be understood by remembering that here with this reader Sanders is preaching to the choir, or perhaps my less than mastery of the history of enlightenment philosophy is to blame...

Whatever, I have done my duty, and later today can begin to relish chapter two, whose much more exciting title is "What Was the Alphabet For?

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Sunday, January 17, 2010
  Might I ambiguate, please?
Christmas #23 - One hundred sigma by kevindooley
Miriam Bier wrote in her Facebook status "question: if you can disambiguate, can you not also ambiguate?"

In view of my recent posts I have to claim an emphatic: Can I [you choose the punctuation]

Since the halcyon days when I was a bright young thing the world has gained an almost infinitely greater degree of capacity to communicate. I grew up in a world of broadcast (TV and Radio - basically one way transmission of information, one way is not communication), print (also basically one way - one way is a dead end ;) and occasional handwriting (letters and such) and even more occasional telephone chats (once or twice a week to my fiancée) as the extent of common long distance communication. So a face-to-face world enriched by a little long distance communication and a lot of one to many lecturing. Now, a generation later, I sit in a refugee camp and email colleagues around the world, MSN my children in other continents, and Facebook and blog to all who are interested. Almost instant, almost ubiquitous and almost free communication. My 1975 self would see this as utopian.

BUT this increased capacity to communicate also increases our access to information, which increases our (own estimates of our) knowledge. Greater perceived certainty is a dangerous thing. It leads to simplistic black and white thinking. This combined with our increased capacity to communicate, leading to fads (on a global scale like the latest TV sensation or publishing blockbuster, or locally like the way biblical studies bloggers have rashes of posts about the Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon), produces an uncertain, unstable world.

That's dangerous as well as exciting. An uncertain world in which humans are more "certain" scares me. Certainty is the enemy of truth, truth comes from living with ambiguity, ambiguation is the servant of truth.

See also: John's History versus Myth: A True False Dichotomy and my Internet fast: The degradation of predictability - and knowledge.

So, my friends: Ambiguate all you can! Disrupt certainty :)

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Thursday, December 31, 2009
  The importance of terracing
I've taught students about the importance of terracing to cultivation, and so the possible population density of the hill country of Palestine. I think I saw a reverse illustrative example today. Above us on the hill (here at the Akha Hill House in northern Thailand) there are cultivated bushes. In the photo you can see what I saw, the bushes higher on the slope are consistently smaller and those lower down larger. I assume it is greater availability of water and nutrients lower on the slope as they (and also topsoil) are washed down in the rainy season.

If anybody with greater knowledge of horticulture or geology can comment to confirm or deny this I'd be pleased. Otherwise I'll probably use this photo next time I'm talking about terracing...

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Sunday, November 22, 2009
  David Clines' SBL Presidential Address
It's almost the first time I've attended an SBL presidential address. I know I'm (getting) old, it's the first time I've known and respected an SBL president as more than a name on some papers and books (usually ones I have not read).

DJA Clines is an iconoclast, I vividly remember the time I met him, SBL International in Jerusalem in '86. He was sharing a room with Robert Carroll, one of my few friends from Glasgow, and a guru I admired, but never tried to follow. I had the room next door. (The rich occupied the flash SBL hotels in town, the creative, the European and waifs like me occupied student accommodation at the Hebrew University.)

It was at that SBL International (or at the IOSOTS that accompanied it) that David met Heather, but I remember it more for one phrase. I think it was Clines' but it could have been Carroll's. I've Googled it, but could find no attribution (if you try that NOW, Google leads to me, but I know I did not invent the phrase - I just wish I had). That phrase, picked up from whichever intellectual nomad from the neighbouring room actually coined it, has guided, or at least served as Leitmotiv for two decades of (my) biblical study.

But back, from senescent ramblings about times past, to David's presidential address, David is an iconoclast, and his address topples many cherished icons of the academic world: the dichotomy of teaching and research, and the primacy of the latter, the modes of teaching, the hierachy of teacher and student... David is an entertaining speaker, and most of us chuckled and a few even dared to laugh... David is a prophet, and his address may even (like Muillenberg's in 1968, an SBL even I am too old to have attended) provide a stimulus for years to come... But is was not NEW. And there's the tragedy, Biblical Scholars are still not listening to other disciplines, we "borrow", occasionally, an unfamiliar notion torn from its context (preferably non-Anglophone) in Psychology (especially the esoteric and academically dubious fringes of Psychology) or Literary Studies for these can provide the dillettant biblical scholar with a neat paper for many sections in the SBL program guide, but we systematically turn our backs on the professionals. Professionals in teaching above all ;)

And that may be the truly iconoclastic element in DJA Clines' SBL presidential addesss in 2009. If he stimulates a few younger scholars to toy with the ideas of teaching theorists and researchers as he once stimulated me to toy with ideas of the unnecessary "hypothesis of the idiot redactor" then thank God for SBL Presidents!

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009
  Jesus as fulfilment of Scripture: Slavery and Spanking
Photo by lucyfrench123
This second of my recast podcasts continues thinking about Jesus as "fulfilment" of the Scriptures, by examininging at one topic that's been agreed universally by the Church universal for decades, and another that, in NZ where a bill whose detractors claimed would criminalise parents spanking children, was in the daily headlines when I recorded the 'cast.

You can download it here.

I'm working with this material again for a possible short series in Daystar an NZ Evangelical monthly, which will be republishing my piece on families in the Bible in their December issue.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009
  How does Jesus "fulfill" Scripture
One of the difficult issues for many of my students is the notion of Jesus fulfilling Scripture. The only way they can think of "fulfilment" in this context seems to be predictions and their fulfilment. This means that they have to understand much of the Old Testament as making a series of predictions that would have been total gobbledegook to their first hearers or readers (even assuming that the Holy Spirit had explained enough to the "prophet" so that they could make head or tail of them). This Nostradamus view of prophecy is widespread among Christians. Yet I think it is nonsense.

So, here is the first of two audio posts discussing what it might mean for Jesus to "fulfil" Scripture:

What DOES "fulfil" mean?

PS this post is the first of several over the next few weeks while I will be either or both extremely busy or travelling in which I will repost here things that were first put on my 5 Minute Bible podcast if you first saw them there I apologise for cross-posting after all this time.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009
  Memento Mori, Secular Biblical Studies and why I do not wish to be a "Scholar"
For some reason that I cannot explain (but which was NOT the skill of other drivers ;) I was thinking on my drive to work this morning about the question: What would I change about my life if I KNEW there was no God and that death was the final curtain.
  • Would I still have wanted to be a faithful husband and father? Yes!
  • Would I still love teaching? Yes!
  • Would I still be glad we spent a decade teaching in Africa? Yes!!
  • Would I still want to have been a Bible teacher for almost all my working life? No...
Then I remembered all the discussion on the biblical studies list, and the badge wars among the biblio-blogeratti, about the question of "secular biblical scholarship". Or if Philip Davies is right, and that term were to be recognised as redundant 'biblical "scholarship"' as opposed to the careful, debated and discussable study of the Sacred Texts of Jews and Christians which - I guess by analogy - we have to call 'Beliving Biblical Study' (at least if Philip is roight and the term Believing Scholarship is an oxymoron).

Frankly, if I did not believe (I do not use "know" for probabilities I assess as less than 85%, actually I am reluctant to say "know" at much higher probabilities than that, I am not even sure I would say 'I know that night will fall this evening' for I can envisage possibilities with greater than zero probability that it might not, but for this conversation let's set the bar low ;) that God exists, and that the Bible in some sense reveals God to us, then why bother spending the hours I do studying (even if not scholarshiping - since Philip and the others would claim that scholarship is not what I do) and teaching the Bible?

OK, the Bible is an interesting ancient text, its narrative style and poetry are striking and often beautiful... but to spend my life digging at it and encouraging others to do the same? Surely without belief that is הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים and great weariness of the flesh.

What a shame!

If I believe Philip and the other Secular Biblical Scholars that this title is redundant, and Believing Biblical Scholarship is an oxymoron, then I'd rather be no scholar, but continue to study (am I allowed that word or is that too an oxymoron?) Scripture, because it is Scripture. I just hope my fellow students (who are, at least some of them are, like me, no-scholars but believers of a sort, and so bereft of the Olympian certitude of the much-proclaimed "scholars") will continue to criticise and debate and discuss and test what I write as they always have and not descend into the moronic dictats that the "scholars" claim is the inevitable result of studying anything one actually ascribes value to!
Image above from Wikipedia

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Thursday, October 15, 2009
  Biblical studies podcasts
Chris Heard has begun a podcast series that specialises in Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) topics at first I was unable to check it out as he only published it to iTunes now it is also available for non-proprietary download. Sounds good, I am looking forward to episode two of "God and Someone Else" looking forward since Chris smartly ends with a cliff hanger ;)

Chris thus joins the existing biblical studies podcast series (the order is chronological, since style, audience and frequency offer interesting variety):
Do try them, you'll like (at the very least some of) them!

Incidentally (but appropriately) our PodBible daily podcasts of the Bible itself from various amateur readers precedes all of these biblical studies 'casts :)

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Friday, October 09, 2009
  Innovative High-ranking Biblical Studies department to close?
Jim West posted a message to the Biblical Studies List which claimed that the University of Sheffield was planning to close its innovative and respected Biblical Studies Department (at least for undergraduate programmes). [He has also posted on his blog.] A Google search led me to a page from the Sheffield students association which suggests that total closure is threatened.

Since this department is both well-respected and ranks highly on most formal and informal assessments, and since I enjoyed a most stimulating sabbatical there ;) I have written the email below to the Vice-Chancellor:
Prof. Keith Burnett
The University of Sheffield

Dear Sir,

I have been shocked to read reports that the University is considering closing the Biblical Studies department. As you know this department regularly scores highly in various comparative assessments, and has a excellent reputation worldwide as one of the major research and teaching institutions in the discipline. A generation ago there was suspicion of the  unusual step of creating  a biblical studies department outside theology, however developments in society and especially in the discipline since then have vindicated this decision.

As well as knowing of the department through its staff's publications I spent a highly stimulating sabbatical in Sheffield a few years ago, and have the highest respect for the work I saw. Teaching an undergraduate course as well as participating in the departmental seminars, which were the liveliest and most intellectually stimulating I have attended.

It would be a loss to the discipline globally if this department were closed. Many staff in institutions such as the one in which I teach received their PhDs from Sheffield (in our case most of us studied in NZ, but the head of our Mandarin-speaking programme is a Sheffield graduate).

I find the decision particularly shocking as there seems to have been little consultation either within the University or beyond.

Yours sincerely,

Tim Bulkeley
If you are a biblical scholar, or amateur of the field, you might consider a similar letter, the address is


Saturday, October 03, 2009
  New Multimedia Study Bible
Mark linked to the promo video (below) for Glo a new multimedia study Bible. If the video is an accurate representation, rather than just slick marketing, then the interface looks cool, and may even be easy to use, and with many maps, loads of "virtual tours" and hours of video as well as huge numbers of photos and dictionary articles this could be a brilliant tool. Priced at US$80 with a prepub price of US$60 it sounds also like exceptionally good value. iLumina an earlier product from the same company also had an excellent interface (for the period ;) however it suffered from poor and superficial information and resources - as I remember it, I only had a few hours to play with a friend's copy. It sounds as if this new product may have fixed that. I wonder who the first biblioblogger will be to get a review copy? I'd love to see some reviews before the cutoff date for the prepub price ;)

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009
  Biblical Studies, carnival or theme park?
This month's fun was collected at The Goldern Rule, as usual there is too much to read, and too little time to read it, but you are sure to find at least something that will justify the time spent ;)

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009
  Facticity or important issues?
Jim West in response to my previous post accuses me of "grossly inappropriate" behaviour:
First, ‘minimalists’ aren’t extremists. Second, they don’t view the bible as ‘information’. ‘Information’ carries with it the notion of facticity.
Ah, tales of misunderstanding and exaggeration! Mea culpa. My statement, that Jim objects to, was an exaggeration, and was unfair to many on both "ends" of the imaginary and unreal (but nevertheless useful) spectrum. The extremists do not wish to discuss facts, I accept that ;)

However, from where I sit, the débat des sourds between fundies and minimalists often seems to descend into mere wrangling over questions of factuality. Some members of the debating teams involved are oblivious to this descent because they wish to embrace the ideologies expressed in biblical texts unquestioningly, and seem to believe that affirming the facticity of the text supports this view. Members and supporters of the other side, may regret this “slippage” because their “real” intention is to unmask the hidden agendas and ideologies of these same texts. But energy is expended on debate about history and ideology. Personally, I regret this frittering.

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  Hard Times for Bible Readers
Julia M. O'Brien has another thoughful and provoking post, on Reading Novels, Reading the Bible. In it she notices a phenomenon that has long interested me. Extremists about the Bible, both fundamentalists and minimalists (with apologies to Jim W who does not fit this label in this context), make the same mistake, both reduce the Bible to information.1 In doing so they are thoroughly modern.

Modernity worships factuality. It reduces life to facts. Mystery and wonder are relegated to "entertainment". Moderns know "the price of everything and the value of nothing" (as Oscar Wilde2 said).

No wonder, then if the Bible is important it must be full of facts, or if it must be dethroned then it must be full of errors! This is the student's approach to the Bible, examine, test and discuss it's facticity. How different the reader! Julia quotes James Joyce3:
[in reading novels,]  we walk through ourselves meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love.  But always meeting ourselves. 
Readers of the Bible "walk through themselves" and in doing so not only meet themselves, but also meet God. What we need is more readers and less students of the Bible. For all students meet is information. But there's the paradox, our profession produces Bible students smilies/sad.gif

Dare we, dare I, adapt the way we teach so that we may be less good at developing biblical scholars, but better at producing Bible readers?

This post is an expansion of a comment I left on Julia's blog.

1. In "Le texte biblique et le contexte africain" Revue Zaïroise Théologie Protestante II, 1988, 11-17, I argued that "conservative and "liberal" approaches to the Bible "la trahissent au nom de l'histoire" [betray the Bible in the name of history].
2. Wilde, Oscar, and Joseph Bristow. The picture of Dorian Gray. Oxford University Press, 2006, 42.  (Bristow notes that Wilde adapted this pithy saying in Lady Windemere's Fan two years later, so he was perhaps as fond of it as later generations have been ;)
3. James Joyce, Ulysses. The Modern Library Edition.  New York:  Random House, 1934, p. 210

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009
  Biblical studies podcasting
I've just had an interesting "chat" with Mark G about Biblical Studies podcasting. Some of the conversation (we used MSN, if we had only used Skype I could have recorded it, but ironically we used plain text ;) was technical stuff that would only be of interest to others doing podcasts, but there were two nuggets that deserve wider thought:
KQED Radio - Michael Krasny's studio by David Sifry
  • a joint biblical studies podcast, maybe of two sorts:
    • a virtual common-room, where a few of us chat about some topic
    • a more prepared edited 'cast where different people speak briefly and then perhaps respond to what another has said (getting the interactivity but allowing a more considered approach)
  • maybe using a Facebook page to encourage wider interaction with our podcasts - we each said that while we appreciated the way voice adds a richness, nuances like tone distinguish sarcasm from more gentle wry humour, we missed the interaction with an audience that other media like live talks or blogs provide
I'm convinced that both ideas are worth following up. But, at the start of a new semester, am also too busy to remember ;) so this post is (a) a "reminder to self" and (b) a call for comments - what do you think of the ideas and (c) a call for expressions of interest, would you be interested in participating in such a recorded conversation?

On the technical details:
  • we thought of using Talkshoe so participants could phone in and would not need recording gear themselves
  • we also thought of getting someone to act as host and ask questions / guide the conversation
So, what is needed:
  1. a topic: needs to encourage different points of view, probably to work well needs to allow different personalities to 'come through" (audio rather than text medium) needs to be potentially interesting to a wider audience
  2. a host: needs to be willing to refrain from expressing their own opinion!
  3. some speakers
  4. an editor: to take the recording and cut the fluff (remove the worst ums and errs, or where the participants make asides like "is this too loud?") - I'd be happy to do that.
This post has mainly been about the joint podcast idea, but I do not want to forget the Facebook idea either... this would be a page where podcasts by bibliobloggers or others who open serious biblical studies to a wider audience would be listed and so get mentioned on the profiles of the page's members and perhaps encourage a bit more interaction...

Dramatis Personae:

Mark (as well as being the biblical studies Blogfather) has started an excellent NT focused podcast series NT Pod and for a couple of years I've been doing an occasional 5 Minute Bible podcast (basically Hebrew Bible focused but occasionally trespassing - nearly 40 'casts so far).

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009
  The world's most peaceful country!
Jim posted a link to an article (so it must be true, because Jim W is even more truthy than Wikipedia) about A study of the world’s most peaceful countries wel, actually Jim headlined it The World’s Most Dangerous Countries: Israel is in 4th Placewhat an opportunity lost :(

The real truth is that "Out of 144 countries, New Zealand is rated as the world's most peaceful land. It is followed by Denmark and Norway." at least according to the Radio Netherlands Worldwide report. So people, you can not only study with the lowest fees and lowest cost of living in the developed world, enjoy skiing, golfing, surfing and other hobbies at prices ordinary mortals can afford. Not only study at universities that regularly get rated in the top 50 or 100 worldwide, but also live while you study in the world's most peaceful country, while enjoying scenery that inspired the movie version of Lord of the Rings. Whatever are you waiting for?

Just to get you started here is a random picture from our holiday snapshots:

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Monday, May 18, 2009
  Monogamy, polygamy and the verbal inspiration of Scripture
John Hobbins nearly always provides a good read. I have lost count of the number of his posts I have pointed out to students. He is often at his most thought provoking when one diagrees with him, or when he is pushing a rhetorical point to its limits ;)

So, I found his post Theological vs. “Plain-Sense” Exegesis of Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5 with respect to the Marriage Covenant stimulating, especially since we only partly agree about some of the key issues. In the course of his argument John wrote:
This [monogamous] take on Genesis 2 is possible if and only if it is read against the grain of its proximate context - the book of Genesis, in which polygamy is taken for granted - and with the grain of its macro-context – inclusive of the New Testament, in which the ideal of monogamy is upheld by Jesus and Paul. This kind of exegesis is convincing if and only if one has a high view of scripture according to which, in classical terms, it is verbally inspired. On this view, each and every word of scripture is there for a reason that goes beyond what its human author could possibly have imagined.
A fun argument, with stirring rhetoric, but is John right? Must I swallow the camel of verbal inspiration, imagining e.g. God putting on funny voices to "do" Jeremiah and Isaiah differently, if I want to read Gen 2 in the light of the rest of, and the trajectory of, Scripture as a whole. I do hope not, because a God with "mouth" squinched to make Mark sound different from John, though possessing a fine sense of humour can hardly be taken more seriously than one who assiduously plants fossil animals in order to confuse 19-20th century natural philosophers!

Surely the simple fact that Genesis 2 is found, read and used as part of a canon - a collection of literature that I perceive as related and (at least somewhat) coherent is sufficient to enable me to read Gen 2 in a way that is like the way Jesus does in the Gospels?

Fun rhetoric, but I submit no score!

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Friday, February 27, 2009
  What should a Bible Translation look like?
Page from La Traduction Oecumenique de la Bible
First was David's mild-mannered complaint about the "Section Headings" that translators, or their publishers, add on to the Bible text, sometimes misinterpreting the meaning; then my response and Henry Neufeld's post basically agreed, but perhaps expressed more stronhgly revulsion for section headings as possibly misleading additions to the text of Scripture (some of the comments to David's post were in the same tone). For a more thorough and balanced account of this iniquitously arrogant practice see David's second post Dissection Headings and especially the comments there.

Then Wayne asked about translation gaps meaning places where a straightforward (rather than lengthily explanatory) translation leaves a naive reader lost to much of the meaning. He gives as example Romans 11:16:

Here is how the passage reads in the TEV (Good News Translation) which our children grew up on:

If the first piece of bread is given to God, then the whole loaf is his also; and if the roots of a tree are offered to God, the branches are his also.

The TEV is one of the most idiomatic translations ever produced in English. Its English is natural. Yet someone without background knowledge of Jewish religious customs would not understand Rom. 11:16 in the TEV or any other translation, for that matter. And we really can’t make an encyclopedia out of our translations, filling in all such large translation gaps.

In the comments there I suggested that this was where a good (simple) set of cross references that points to possible allusions to other passages of the canon, or references to practices etc. was an essential part of a good Bible translation.

So... all this got me wondering, what should be included in a good simple Bible translation for beginners, and what is unwarranted tinkering with the sacred words of Scripture?

Here is my first attempt to think through the question:

Organising the Text
Section headings were added so as to break up the text, make the Bible seem more like other books, and make it easier for users to find things - though as David points out headings in the header at the top of the page would achieve this.

Paragraphing (rather than the older practice of printing each verse as a separate paragraph) was also begun to make the Bible "look like" other books none of which (except poetry which is broken into lines) are printed as a series of consecutive "verses".

What makes paragraphs acceptable and headings anathema?

Firstly, almost all "normal" books in our culture have the prose printed in paragraphs, but section headings are optional. Second, although bad paragraphing misleads a reader, it misleads them much less than a badly placed or worded section heading. (That's why I am glad to see the layout of many modern Bibles indicate when the old [but not "biblical"] chapter breaks fall in the "wrong" place.) So, paragraphs do more good and less harm. Indeed they are part of the translation process for printed books in our culture are not merely worded in English, they have paragraphs for prose and lines for poetry. Thus in translating ancient Hebrew or Greek into modern English this adaptation of form is legitimate.

Chapters and verses are a similar case. They too are added to the Bible and NOT part of the text. Yet, they are very convenient, how else - if we wanted to check the cotext - would we know which precise part of Romans Wayne meant (above) unless we knew the whole book nearly by heart? But, since they are additions added to the text, make the indications small and as unobtrusive as is convenient.

Notes are potentially very useful and informative. Textual and translational issues can be signalled by the translators, so that a reader can understand that a choice has been made, and perhaps even the sorts of reasoning that prompted the choice.

Cross References can suggest passages with similar wording, or that treat a similar topic or theme, or which might serve as background to the passage to which they are appended. These are extremely useful, and even (see above) can be considered part of the translation process, if the readership is deemed to include users who are new to the biblical world. Such references can become dangerous, especially when they are combined with words that suggest their meaning (rather than simply the Bible references). So, that is a practice to be avoided ;)

Explanatory information is added by the publisher (since this sort of note is often not composed by the translation team - though perhaps they should be, see my comment on Wayne's post) may add notes explaining customs, historical details or other information that helps a reader understand the what text might have been intended to mean. This sort of note is potentially more "dangerous" as they might be used (and often are in "Study Bibles") to push a particular line of interpretation, but they are very useful especially for beginning readers.

What would you add? Where do you think I have gone wrong? The aim is a translation that:
  • is faithful to the biblical text
  • is useful to a contemporary English-speaking (or other modern language) reader
  • avoids unnecessary additions and interpretations of the text.
Note that you might like to consider (as I have done above) a beginner in reading the Bible as well as a biblically literate reader.

It is probably no accident that the Bible I describe above is very like the French La Traduction Oecumenique de la Bible except that my copy has the iniquitous headings added :( but its cross reference apparatus is brilliant, and every Bible publisher should try to licence it and copy it as soon as possible ;)

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  Theological Interpretation
Anthony with HT to Philip Davies posted a nice clip from nijay gupta enjoy:

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009
  Defending God
Humans have a strange need to defend God. Somehow deep-wired into us is a desire to protect God from God's own actions. (At least the central poetic section of) the book of Job argues forcefully that this desire is wrong, humans cannot make God just because we lack the necessary inforation to understand. Indeed the very desire is impious! (As the formulaton above "make God just" makes clear by its phrasing - this desire is blasphemy, setting self over God.)

Claude is running a series about one of the ways many Evangelicals are tempted to commit this impiety, saving the Bible from itself. The reasoning seems to go:
  • the Bible is God's word
  • therefore it can contain no error
  • my Bible seems to say that Joshua wrote the book that follows Deuteronomy or that Amos wrote the book that has his name on it
  • but scholarship shows that these people are very unlikely to have written these books
  • therefore scholars are wrong and not proper Bible-believing Evangelicals 
The result is a whole industry that seeks to protect the Bible (and the God to whom it belongs) from itself. Great Bible readers of the past were more careful in their reading of the Bible, and less inclined to believe that they knew better than God! On the date of Joshua (one regular candidate for such "defense") Calvin wrote:
As to the Author of this Book, it is better to suspend our judgment than to make random assertions.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009
  Biblical Narrative: A One Paragraph Summary
I'm teaching "Biblical Narrative" this semester, David Hymes has just published three posts of full and well documented introduction to biblical narratology:
I have no desire to compete, and no intention of offering a corrective, but we are asking writers of Bible Dictionary articles (By the way have YOU offered an article for this free online dictionary project?) to provide a one paragraph summary of their entry. So I wondered, how would my paragraph read?

This is a false task because I have not written a dictionary article, but prepared a course, but still... What are the most important things to say about Biblical Narrative if one only had a few sentences?

Biblical Narrative in one paragraph:
Prose Narrative is the most widespread genre in the Bible, with examples in both Hebrew Bible - comprising most of Gen-Kings, plus other "historical" books and several shorter more focused stories like Ruth, Jonah and Esther as well as episodes elsewhere - and New Testament mainly in the Gospels and Acts. Events are recounted very much as if "seen by an observer", with minimal interpretation or interpretative clues offered by the writers, there is also minimal description, so these accounts are "fraught with background"1 meaning hearers/readers have to interpret meaning for themselves (as we do in real life). Working within such a framework, hinting much while saying little, encourages hearers to engage with these narratives rather than just enjoy them.

That's my first draft, what would you write?

1. This is Auerbach's phrase (Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. 50th ed. Princeton University Press, 2003, 18.) RETURN

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Thursday, February 05, 2009
  Hebrew and Greek fonts
If you are using (or used to use) "legacy fonts" to put Hebrew and/or Greek into documents your help is needed. You will know if you are using such fonts instead of Unicode when you give the document to someone else, it may look strange (or even like comic book swearing ;) to them.

Thomas is preparing a tool to covert such documents to Unicode, now standard and much more transportable! But he needs help, a large collection of documents with old Hebrew and/or Greek text that he can test the conversion tool with to make sure no characters or accents etc. are not converted properly.

If you might have such documents email me, or leave a message in the comments and I will put you and Thomas in touch...

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009
  Conversations with Scripture: 2 Isaiah: Introduction
Stephen begins his "Introduction" with human experiences that challenge comfortable easy images of God: "God exists and God cares, 2 Isaiah claims, but God's uncanny ways sometimes defy our human categories of rationality and morality" (xvi) is a good introduction to the claim that this work (Isaiah 40-55) focuses on reverence - see my post introducing the book.

To a reader whose faith was challenged in teenage years by a father's nervous breakdown, to centre the presentation on Is 45:15: "Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior" draws me in. For this is not a book for pentecostals and charismatics, convinced weekly by signs and wonders of God's power and glory; it is for "Anglicans" (and others) to whom the "uncanny, fiery side of God" does not appear easily. (xv)

On the next page Stephen quotes twice from Aelred of Rievaulx, a Cistertian writer I have not come across since the days of research for my thesis! A clear indication that this book has an erudite writer who writes for intelligent, explorative and imformed readers. It is deeper than the average "popular" book on biblical studies, and so should fill a gaping hole in the market for such readers. If they find it, the main barrier to publishing such works is that in the 20th century book market few of them could discover such books, so few sold... perhaps in the 21st century we will see a rennaisance in such works, as digital communications puts readers and writers in contact - maybe through reviews on blogs like this, since I assume that my readers are "intelligent, explorative and imformed" ;)

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Friday, January 09, 2009
  Conversations with Scripture: 2 Isaiah
Stephen Cook sent me a copy of his new book:

Stephen L. Cook, Conversations with Scripture : 2 Isaiah (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Pub., 2008).

It arrived yesterday, all nicely wrapped in Christmas paper. Thank you!

The arrangement is that I'll review the book here, since this is a blog and not a journal, I'll not compose one terse magisterial review but will post from time to time as I examine and reflect on the book...

So, First Impressions:

The book is a manageable-sized paper back, 150 pages of largish print, so suggests an easy read rather than a tome to plough. It belongs to a series Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars Study Series, and the blurb claims it offers a "uniquely Anglican Bible Study". That already grabs my attention, because I have been increasingly, recently, asking myself what might be distinctive about "Baptist" biblical hermeneutics (by which I mean not what real particular Baptists actually do, which is often just like what similar real Lutherans or Presbyterians actually do) but as an "ideal", so it may be interesting if I can capture from Stephen's study of 2 Isaiah something that is distinctly "Anglican".

Opening the work, the first thing I notice is a number of small sidebar explanations. Sometimes two per page are needed, sometimes several pages pass with none. They are usually only one sentence in length. This is a useful way to explain terms, introduce people... that mimics one property of hypertext - I'm a great fan of sidebars!

The chapter titles too, on the contents page, have me hooked:
  • Second Isaiah and the Theology of Reverence
  • The Inscrutability of God in 2 Isaiah
  • Reverence and the Collapse of Pride and Ignorance
  • Servanthood and the Exuberance of the Holy
  • Atonement and Exuberance
  • The Majesty of Servanthood
Each of these draws me in, I'd happily begin with any of them. (Actually I'll probably be a "good boy" and start at the beginning - most untypically - but who could resist a theological work with "exuberance" in the title?)

There are endnotes (works aimed at a broader readership eschew footnotes) but only a dozen or so per chapter (so looking them up will not be a great hardship).

Stephen's writing is clear and uses mainly short sentences, and I quickly (while dipping here and there) found examples that provoke:
  • "The poem presents a scandalous God. This God is out to disorient people, defy their logic, and make their knees shake". (29) Don't you want to know which poem? Or do you, without looking at Stephen's book, know already?
  • "We simply cannot revere that which is enslaved to our interests, a puppet-god that we manipulate through our prayers and our behavior." (20, sidebar) Nice terse phrasing presents an old truth in a fresh way.
That's enough for today, now I must start writing that article... and tidying the study :(

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008
  Gospel and the Land of Promise
My colleague at Laidlaw Carey Graduate School (as our postgraduate consortium) is currently known) Phil Church is organising a one day colloquium on "Gospel and the Land of Promise" it is scheduled for 9th July 2009, and the call for papers is still open if you have a 20 minute presentation on this topic.

Phil writes:
The word for “land” is the fourth most common word in the Hebrew Bible, appearing several thousand times. On the other hand there are less than one hundred occurrences of the Greek word for “land” in the New Testament, and very few of these refer to the Land of Israel. The competing claims of the State of Israel and the Palestinian people to the “Land” depends in part on the biblical understanding of the notion of the Land of Promise, and calls for a biblical and theological response.
The keynote speaker is Dr Peter W.L. Walker (Tutor in New Testament & Biblical Theology) @ Wycliffe Hall, Oxford who "has written and lectured extensively on the questions of the Temple, the City of Jerusalem and the Land in the NT. He will give the keynote address and sum up at the end of the Day."

I suspect this is too far for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere to travel, though I am sure we could arrange hosting if you did ;)

PS: If any of you, especially any of you in the South Pacific region would like to post about this on your blogs you would not only make Phil happy (and so me happy) but you might help convince LCGS that it was time to uprgade their web presence now that we have entered the century of the Fruit Bat * ;)


Monday, December 08, 2008
  East of West, and a Kitten not a Kerr
David's been taking lessons from Jim, his mega post The toppled ivory tower of Biblical studies and the rabble’s tower of babble that has risen in its place is full of Westian exaggeration and vituperation. "Rave on in the ruins of your ivory tower!" is about as gentle as it gets ;)
Dog and kitten by chadmiller
In the post he skewers the pretensions of the scholarly and calls for an engagement with the real world of Wikipedia and Study Bibles. The trouble is that the post nicely and neatly expands a false dichotomy. One must in Kerr's vision be either an ivory tower academic, or a Wikipedian Mega-pastor. West is little better, only the minimalist are blessed with all truth (however small that "all" may be) and anyone who lacks a fluent understanding of six ancient languages ought not dare discuss the Bible.

I am a kitten, not a Kerr. Without scholarship, where the careful and systematic study is lacking, all sorts of weird and wild ideas flourish (just look at the average American "Evangelical" website - or see the summaries offered by John Hobbins in The Poisoning of the Evangelical Mind: Antidotes or follow his links to the series of fundagelical posts by Michael Pahl). It may look as if we kittens are merely tangling balls of wool, but the tangling and untangling helps those who pay attention to avoid a worse tangling of the very ideas by which they live!
East - West by mollyali
I am east of West. For all his warmth, and erudition, Uncle Jim does exhibit a strangely un-Baptist elitism. If Zwingli stands with the proud, educated, rich and powerful, then I'll read my Bible in Babel with Thomas Muntzer and with that young cobbler the institution at which I teach is named after. As the Reformers pretty much all affirmed the Bible is "perspicuous" you do not need even a diploma, let alone a PhD toy understand what you need to know!

So - to David, I'll sound like Jim (scholarship is the governor which holds back our faith from the worst extremes of which it is capable) and to Jim, I'll sound like David (any biblical study which does not begin and end in the community of believers is vanity).

[Actually, I suspect that both my distant friends will agree with everything I've said above, except the bits that are rude about the other ;) But I do think it is really important, if dangerous and uncomfortable to stand firmly in the middle of this road!]
Photo by dlemieux

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008
  On unconscious prejudice in assigning relative probability to biblical characters.
There has been, of course, the usual ballywho around the announcement that a bulla (seal impression) with the inscription "Belonging to Gedalyahu son of [P]ashhur" since a person of this name (provided as almost everyone does we accept the reading P for the patronymic) is mentioned in Jeremiah we are treated to the usual "this demonstrates the historical reliability of biblical narratives" and "this proves nothing" snarls. There have also been a couple of more interesting posts. Among them Claude Mariottini summarised his dictionary article on the five biblical Gedaliahs, and Chris and Duane added epigraphic Gedaliahs for a fuller picture (both conclude that the seal that made this bulla is indeed likely to have belonged to the person mentioned in Jeremiah.

What I found abnormally interesting though were some details from Duane's listing of the biblical Gedaliahs, I'll cite the relevant section (bold highlighting added):
  1. 2 Kings: 25:22-26: Gedalyahu son of Ahikam, exilic governor of Judah under Nebuchadnezzar. He didn't last long.
  2. I Chronicles 25:3: Gedalyahu, a prophetic musician said to be from the time of David
  3. Ezra 10:18: Gedalyahu, a postexilic priest married to a foreign
    woman. He had to send her away and provide a guilt offering. Can't have
    any of that marriage to a foreign woman stuff, at least not at that
  4. Jeremiah 38:1-6: Gedalyahu son of Pashhur, an official of King
    Zedekiah, who along with other officials, thought someone should kill
    Jeremiah because he was demoralizing the troops. Can't have any of that
    demoralizing of troops stuff going on. Oh, no, I forgot Jeremiah was a
    good guy, a prophet of God. A eunuch Cushite finally rescued Jeremiah
    but not before Jeremiah did some quality time in a royal cistern.
  5. Zephaniah 1:1: Gedalyahu son of Amariah, grandson of King Hezekiah
    and grandfather of Zephaniah, or so it says Zephaniah. Being in a royal
    line is always a good thing.
There is evidently an informal, and unacknowledged hierarchy of probability at work here. The Gedaliah from David's time is merely "said to be" - so biblical texts telling earlier events are less likely to be accurate. The semi-royal is also dubious - claims to distinction render a character less plausible. (Actually on this Gedaliah I am not sure whether Duane is dubious of his existence or merely that he was Zephaniah's grandad, but somehow his royal connection renders him a doubtful character ;)

But the other Gedaliahs all squeak in, some of them I suspect simply because they had already provided a nice opportunity for humor.

Similar (usually partly unconscious) prejudice operates in most assessments of the likelihood of the existence of biblical characters in more serious writings. With maximalists more likely to doubt "minor characters" and minimalists more likely to doubt religiously significant ones perhaps ;-)


Monday, July 28, 2008
  Genesis Wordles (part 1)
Belatedly, since the applet crashes my computer :( I have begun playing with the Wordle toy. Since I am teaching Genesis this semester I began by looking at the ones for the whole book, that others had posted.

I am getting some interesting comments from students, so tomorrow I plan to show the class these.

Genesis 1-11:

Genesis 12-50

What do you think? Do these begin to capture some of the distinctives of the two sections of the book? Or do they rather reinforce the common themes of the whole work?

It would also be interesting to look at the different strands (at least P and J) so does anyone know how I can get hold of electronic copies of P Genesis and J Genesis in English translation?

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008
  SBL International: The Bible in the Pacific
One really interesting session I attended yesterday was "The Bible in the Pacific", appropriate in a city which is home to more Polynesians than the other South Pacific Islands put together (I believe, if this is urban myth someone correct me!). I'll mention the two papers in the reverse of the order they were presented, since they represented two generations of Pacific Biblical scholarship.

Sione Havea is a well-established Tongan biblical scholar, now at Charles Sturt University. His paper "Displacing Bible, Drifting Homes, Restless Tellings" was a lively repeat of the usual post-colonial warnings about the ways in which the (Western) missionary enterprise of the 19th and 20th centuries left the Bible as a problematic book. It was engagingly delivered, and even the jibes at "Western Men" did not seem to hurt the Western males in the audience ;-)

The words were enlivened by "
works by artists from Oceania who expose the partnership of the Christian mission with Western colonization"). I somehow missed the argument of the second part, where he spoke about "how and why the Western bible [failed to] function as 'home' for the natives (for whom 'stories give home'). The third part, spoke of "the power of telling" this was a passionate plea, but sadly the example based on the "witch of Endor" (which was promised in the abstract) did not feature in the paper as presented.

Nasili Vaka'uta, a doctoral candidate at the University of Auckland (declaration of interest: I have co-supervised his thesis for the last few years) belongs to the next generation of Pacific scholarship. Nasili spoke on "Myth of (Im)Purity and Peoples of the (Is)Lands: A Tongan Reading of Ezra 9-10" To me Nasili's great achievement is to have prodcued a reading of his text which uses Tomgan vocabulary and culture as the categories that shape the reading. His "Tongan reading" is not merely a Western reading in Tongan clothes therefore, but more genuinely Tongan. I remember encouraging my Congolese students in the 80s to begin, trying to achieve this task, of discovering the thought patterns and processes that would lead to African readings that were African in their intellectual framework as well as their appearance! Back then we made little progress, but I think Nasili's paper represents a strong beginning to such a process for Tongan Tu'a readers. Here is his abstract:

Ezra 9-10 is narrated with a gaze. It gazes at the “peoples of the lands” not merely to identify, but also to belittle and discriminate against. In this paper, I offer a Tongan reading of Ezra 9-10 with attention to objects of deriding gazes, and the myth/ideology behind the gaze vis-à-vis the colonial construction of the Oceanic island 'natives.' This reading is situated in the social location of Tongan commoners (tu'a), and theorized with the Tongan notion of fonua (land, place, sea, and people). Methodologically, it weaves together insights from various methods and categories from Tongan culture. This interpretive framework provides the lenses for enga[g/z]ing (gaze back at) the text.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008
  Aggression ≠ ad gredere
Theologians and preachers suffer many of the normal human weaknesses, finding what we want to see is a common example. When as a standard preacherly déformation professionnelle one adds a touching faith in the Humpty Dumpty school of linguistics.
There's glory for you!'

`I don't know what you mean by "glory,"' Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don't -- till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'

`But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument,"' Alice objected.

`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master - - that's all.'

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. `They've a temper, some of them -- particularly verbs, they're the proudest -- adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs -- however, I can manage the whole of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!'

See Lewis Carrol, Through the Looking Glass, "Humpty Dumpty" here

There's what I think is a fine example of Humpty Dumpty theology quoted on Mary's blog - I can't comment there as to stop the dreaded spammers she has comments set so that only people with a login to her blog can comment :(
It comes from a wonderful small book called The Practice of Communicative Theology, by Matthias Scharer and Bernd Jochen Hilberath. On page 38 of that book they write:

The word “aggression,” from the Latin ad gradere
(”moving toward”) has a positive as well as a negative meaning. It includes no only the life-destroying forces of exclusion but also that force which can find expression in a living, loving relationship. All-encompassing peace and harmony among all creatures without doing away with their differences are ideals corresponding to the transformation of life that God promises for God’s future…

Whatever the Latin ad gradere meant - and although no Latin scholar I suspect that (or perhaps even more relevant what the range of meaning of agressus was the English "aggression" simply does not mean what these authors want to make it mean - no dictionary I have consulted permits it, and even the recent usage in phrases like "an aggressive advertising campaign" permit it either. Aggression means attack, whatever the Humpty Dumpty theologians wish. The etymological fallacy is still a fallacy, even as we near the half-centenary beyond the publication of Barr, James. The Semantics of Biblical Language. London: OUP, 1961.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008
  Put your feet up and relax!
Duane's original post A Euphemism for Pudenda seeks to make a case for a euphemistic use of "feet" in Biblical Hebrew. He begins by noting that:
The Hebrew word for foot is רגל (regel). Like "hand," most of the time regel means exactly what you think it should mean, the things at the lower end of your legs that you put in shoes and stand on. For the record, at least in Rabbinic Hebrew, regel sometimes also means "leg."
And begins his case with Ezekiel 16:25. Now, evidently this verse is concerned with sex, so obviously "feet" here do not mean what is at the bottom of ones legs, but rather what is between them ;-0

Or does it... If instead of assuming a euphemistic use of רגל why not just assume that רגל means "leg" here, as it does in 1 Sam 17:6 and as Rashi, and various later translators and commentators have thought it does here?

Having failed to convince me that his first example requires a euphemistic reading Duane passes on to Judges 3:24. I discussed this at some length in my first post, now I would just add that (as Rashi again noted) "Targum Jonathan renders עָבִיד צוֹרְכֵיה (doing his needs), i. e., moving his bowels" this does not require an equation of feet with anything other than "feet", but does seem to me to suggest possibly anachronistic forms of clothing. Actually, the more I look at this passage the more puzzled I become. Everyone seems agreed that the mention of "covering his feet" is a reference either to urination or to defecation. Yet the location in which Eglon is "covering his feet" is the (same?) "upper room" in which in v.20 he received Ehud - was the Moabite king in the habit of inviting guests into his toilet?

Duane's example from 2 Kings 18:27 is thoroughly convincing. Here the Hebrew text of the Bible reads that the besieged Judeans will be doomed:

לֶאֱכֹ֣ל אֶת חֲרֵיהֶם וְלִשְׁתּ֛וֹת אֶת־שֵׁינֵיהֶם

"to eat their own dung and drink their own urine"

The Masoretic scribes found this a little too explicit, so for both terms they suggested alternative "readings":
לֶאֱכֹ֣ל אֶת צוֹאָתָ֗ם וְלִשְׁתּ֛וֹת אֶת־מֵֽימֵי רַגְלֵיהֶ֖ם
giving the more decorous:
"to eat their own dirt, and drink the water of their feet"

The trouble with this for my purposes is that all it demonstrates is that by the time of the Masoretes "feet" had possibly come to have a euphemistic meaning of the sort proposed. There is according to Duane no clear cut example in Ugaritic (which anyway uses a word that is not a cognate of רגל. And: "I was unable to find and did not look too diligently for examples in Akkadian or Egyptian."

It still seems to me that the case for a common euphemism רגל = sexual organs is simply unproven. Biblical scholars should stop appealing to this supposed euphemistic use until there is better evidence to support it for biblical Hebrew. (That it existed later I do not dispute. The example above is (almost) enough to convince me ;-)

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  Euphemisms again
I was sure Duane had posted on "feet" and "fingers" in Hebrew and Ugaritic, I've now had time to look, and behold, my memory was unusually accurate! Actually it was hands and feet, not fingers and feet. In this post I'll briefly link to his "hand" post: An Ancient Euphemism for Penis Johnson. In that post after rehearsing examples from Isaiah 57:8; the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Manuel of Discipline (1 QS VII, 13) and the Ugaritic texts (UT 52:33, 34, 35) he concluded:
Let me be clear on what I am claiming; it is very modest indeed. The strongest thing I want to say is that the "hand" has been used as a euphemism or, perhaps better, metaphor for penis or phallus from time to time in human history. While I think that it was a widespread usage in the Northwest Semitic world, I have not proven that.
I think this is a careful and accurate conclusion, each of the examples is a strong one, where almost any reader will suspect that the word is being used euphemistically. But they are too few to demonstrate a regular usage.

The follow-up post A Euphemism for Pudenda deals with the evidence for "feet" as a euphemism. I will return to that post when I next have time for blogging.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008
  Still wondering about "feet"
Following my post Wash your hairy feet! Sean-the-Baptist updated his post 'And with two they covered their feet' to respond (briefly within the limits of time available) to my critique of the commonplace notion that "feet" in the Hebrew Bible can often serve as a euphemism for "male organ".
On Deut. 11.10: the point is exactly that the Promised Land will be naturally fertile and thus will not require irrigation by other means (of course the language is symbolic, irrigation is as necessary there as in Egypt in reality). Tim asks 'in Egypt is most irrigation done by peeing?' - well no, but neither is there literal milk and honey flowing in Israel-Palestine, and perhaps good deal more irrigation took place by this means than by carrying water on your foot (images of hopping with a bucket attached anyone?)
But why interpret the language as "symbolic" whatever that means here, I had assumed that even read as a euphemism the use was intended literally.

Irrigating with the feet would then refer to the habit of opening and closing irrigation ditches using the feet. While I cannot really see how the euphemistic reading works, in the promised land water falls from the sky, while in Egypt humans had to pee to water the ground - presumably entailing frequent trips to the irrigation ditch to drink...

On Ruth we basically agree - except whether Boaz' "feet" are literal or euphemistic (I still wonder at the plural euphemism here?).

On Is 6:2 Sean brings up the topic of ANE iconography, as Jim Getz said in a comment on a post: Another "Feet" Euphemism in the Hebrew Bible? on this topic on Shibboleth I think I was convinced by Keel's identification of the Seraphim here with Egyptian uraus snakes, my copy of Keel is at college, so i can't check, but I do not remember these snakes as having prominent phalluses which might need covering to preserve Hebrew modesty! On Is 7:20 I am quite willing to agree thsat ritual humiliation is in view, and that a euphemistic reading is possible. But when the "head to foot" shaving seems to cover that pretty comprehensively I do not see the need to invent a new "euphemistic" reading. (And that is really my point, I believe that those who repeat conventional wisdom and claim a common euphemism in Biblical Hebrew "feet" = "phallus" need to provide some evidence to support this view. And where simply reading "feet" as "those two things we walk on that stop our legs fraying at the ends" works fine then they have NOT provided such evidence EVEN IF "phallus" works just as well.
Uraeus. Col. Tutkhamón from
On 2 Sam 11:8, again we agree in our interpretation of the passage, and IF the feet-euphemism were already (on the basis of evidence) established it would make a good reading here. However, it is not it is merely "traditional" in biblical scholarship. AND reading feet literally works fine.

Result, I am still unconvinced that this particular item of "popular wisdom" has a leg to stand upon! Sometimes in the Bible, when you read "feet" they do simply mean "feet", now on the basis of Ugaritic evidence one might I think (someone could ask Duane about the abnormally interesting uses of "finger" in those texts, and perhaps also look at Hebrew Bible texts like 1 Kings 12:10).

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Friday, June 06, 2008
  Wash your hairy feet!
Sean the Baptist has a post 'And with two they covered their feet' in which he repeats the conventional wisdom that "feet" is (sometimes) a euphemism in the Hebrew Bible. Basically the idea is:
That is that the word for feet רַגְלָיו sometimes refers to what we might politely call 'other parts of the (male) anatomy'.
I have never really been convinced by the claim. Sean cites the following passages as the best evidence for this supposed usage (the order is mine, as are the comments in straight type):

Exodus 4.25 But Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched Moses’ feet with it, and said, “Truly you are a bridegroom of blood to me!”
Now why on earth would one suppose that "feet" here is a euphemism - after all no euphemism was used for "foreskin" עָרְלַת seems explicit enough.

Deuteronomy 11.10 For the land that you are about to enter to occupy is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sow your seed and irrigate by foot like a vegetable garden.
In Egypt is most irrigation done by peeing? No wonder they brewed so much beer! Or maybe the small earth dams on irrigation ditches are quite easily broken by foot?

Ruth 3.7: When Boaz had eaten and drunk, and he was in a contented mood, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came stealthily and uncovered his feet, and lay down.
If this one is a euphemism, does it not remove all the tension from the chapter where the most significant "gap" the hearer must fill is: "Did they or didn't they?" there is plenty of other innuendo in the chapter to build up the tension, without this (possible, maybe) one.

Isaiah 6.2: Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.
Really? Now why should face and feet not simply mean face and feet? Please explain!

Isaiah 7.20: On that day the Lord will shave with a razor hired beyond the River—with the king of Assyria—the head and the hair of the feet, and it will take off the beard as well.
Hairy feet or hairy [euphemism]? Which is more plausible? Though I suppose if the euphemism is for the whole genital area, this one might make sense.

Judges 3.24: After he had gone, the servants came. When they saw that the doors of the roof chamber were locked, they thought, “He must be relieving himself (literally 'covering his feet') in the cool chamber.” cf. 1 Sam. 24.3
At first sight, this one is good! In this sample I am almost convinced, there is a good case to answer, though why "covering his feet" should be a euphemism for peeing, and not merely another example of the rather gross schoolboy humour of the passage I am unclear.

2 Samuel 11.8 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king.
Could be a euphemism, but then it could be that the sentence is euphemistic even if the "feet" are literal. "Wash your feet" = "make yourself at home"...

So, in the end, what evidence is there for this conventionally supposed common euphemism? Two cases where you might argue with some strength that reading euphemistically is the "best" reading, a couple more where it might just be possible but overall I'd say: No case to answer. In the Bible feet are just that. And Eglon as well as excessively fat, and greedy, also was known to his servants as having a poor aim. As the sign in our downstairs loo read for a while (we had teenage boys in the house) "We aim to please. You aim too, please!"

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