Wednesday, November 04, 2009
  Beginning right
Somehow I missed the link to the JTS Torah Commentary site when Bob first posted the instruction to Enjoy this commentary actually despite the linguistic form it is more of an expectation "you will [I am sure] enjoy this commentary" than an instruction ;) Either way the commentary he points to on the beginning of the beginning of the first pericope of the Bible Parashah B'reishit was well worth enjoying :)

Written with (almost but not quite?) an excess of humour the post takes up Rashi's remarks that the first word of Scripture 'says nothing other than "explain me"!'

I used Rashi's approach in the sermon I preached on Gen 1:1.1-3 (the first three words of Gen 1:1) for the latest CareyMedia video series on "Gospel" (the new series is not available yet, but you can watch one of the previous series on So I loved Rabbi Harris' commentary. In particular I was grateful for his opening paragraph to discover a passage and interpretation I had not noticed before:
There is a verse that I love to invoke whenever I teach about "the poetics of biblical narrative," and it doesn't come from this week's portion (but who's keeping score, anyway?). Instead, it is found in the first extended legal section, Parashat Mishpatim (Exod. 21–24). Loosely translated, this is the text: "In all charges of misunderstanding . . . whereof one party alleges, 'This is it!'—the case of both parties shall come before God" (Exod. 22:8); the Hebrew phrase underlying the words "this is it!" is: כי הוא זה (ki hu zeh). The verse seems to be addressing a case in which no one side has a total claim on the truth; in such a case, then, one is bidden to consider both possibilities.
Do read the rest!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008
  Gen 6:1ff. yet again
Several bloggers have spotted and amended (maybe an amended version of the amendment will return one day) Scott Bailey's Genesis 6:1-6 (SBV) in the light of the interest this passage is eliciting, and to return the discussion to the biblical text, do please listen to this MP3 reading of the passage. I think this reading has been very well planned and executed to capture the meaning (or at least what seems to many the most likely meaning) of this notoriously difficult passage.
What do you make of it?

[The MP3 was produced by a husband and wife team, and together with a very good essay explaining and justifying the performance it was submitted for the last assignment in the Genesis class I taught recently. I shared some of the thinking behind this assessment on Theologians without borders.]

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Monday, August 04, 2008
  Interesting questions
The image of Domitian's coin, mentioned
below, comes from Wikimedia.
One of the real benefits of teaching is the questions students ask. Recently one exposed my shameful forgetfulness of what I once knew about the history of science :(

The question ran something like this:
The emperor Domitian had a coin made to celebrate his son's divinisation showing the boy sitting on a globe - presumably representing the earth, with 7 stars around him.

The Romans like other ancients believed the Earth to be flat.

Why was a globe used?
Of course, the image is typical of a tradition of picturing gods seated on globes, see for example the coin representing Victory seated on a globe (from the page on coins from the time of Nero from the Classics Dept. at Monmouth College).

The Romans regularly used "orbis", a circle, ring, or disk, in the phrase orbis terrae, terrarum "the circle of the world" to mean the whole earth.

For of course, as I had forgotten, and the student did not know, the story which claims that before Columbus people "all" believed that the Earth was flat is simply a myth.

A Greek, Eratosthenes (c 276 to 195 BCE) estimated the Earth's circumference by getting measurements taken of the Sun's position in the sky at two different places Syene (now Aswan, Egypt) and Alexandria which is directly north of Syene. From the difference (and assuming that the Sun is so far away that light is parallel in the two places) he got a value close to the current measurements. (There is a good well documented presentation of this and the whole history of the "flat earthers" on Donald Simanek's site.)

Most early Christians, in the Roman empire, largely following Aristotle, accepted that the earth was round. Though at least Tertullian and others argued that the Bible spoke of it having four "corners" etc. so it must be flat.

So it is no surprise that Roman coins pictured the globe as round, that was the majority view among educated people at the time! And indeed continued to be, though perhaps not for much longer if the "Creation Scientists" have their way and require us all to use Scripture in ways that were never intended to teach us "science".

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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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Wednesday, July 09, 2008
  Genesis: SBL International
My vote for the "best paper" I heard yesterday does not go to the session I presented in, though (naturally) I thought "we" had some good stuff, but to one from the Genesis section. The presenter was a Francophone Belgian (a Walloon) from Louvain-la-Neuve and Arizona State.

Françoise Mirguet's topic was "The divine monologues in Genesis: An interrupted sequence". She presented the monologues, noted that the cease at 18:17-18, and explored their function in the telling of Genesis, arguing that the reason they cease is that the last monologue represents the moment when God elects a dialogue partner in Abraham.

I am not quite convinced by the case she argued, but convinced enough that I look forward to reading the published version to see if I am then convinced - at least I think there is a "case to answer"...

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008
  Genesis 1: בָּרָא (again)
I noted below John's (Hobbins) post about John's (Walton) claim that בָּרָא does not mean "create" as in "make from nothing" but rather "create" as in "give a new function to" - and this description is a gross oversimplification of much more nuanced claims. Well, even more credit is due to both Johns, and to John 1's commenters also (since I suspect that their kind and quality persuaded John 2), there is now a follow up: The Goal and Purpose of Genesis 1: John Walton Responds, in which John 2 explains his thought further, and provides some tantalising hints about his forthcoming Eisenbrauns monograph on the subject. Even on a quick read I am much more nearly convinced than I have been by the Genesis NIVAC alone.

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Sunday, May 04, 2008
  Note to Tyler: re Biblical Studies Carnival
Tyler there are two posts this morning in my reader that I think you should consider mentioning in the next Carnival.

The first is Duane's abnormally interesting, and credulous(?), Isaiah 38:9-20: An Abnormal View in which he provides a strong sketch of arguments that might be made to claim that Hezekiah actually wrote part of the Bible in his own hand. (At the moment I hope he does expand the post to a paper, it would be fun to hear the discussion! And perhaps I will as I continue to follow the blogs over the next few days/weeks :)

The second I am also noting for my Genesis class reading list (for next semester) where John (Hobbins) asks: Does Genesis 1 describe the creation of things or the assignment of functions to things? A Response to John Walton frankly he takes John (Walton)'s special pleading more seriously than I would, but he provides a really good clear discussion that I want my students to follow.

Two fine examples of why (biblio/biblia)blogging is both fun, and useful!

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Thursday, June 07, 2007
  Babbling on...
In a (typically thought-provoking) post "Babel as theme in bioethics" Stephen replied (in passing) to my request below (Getting ideas for Biblical Studies Podcasts) for requests. So now, at last, I've posted (the first part of) my response... isn't that a lot of brackets! It's called "Babbling about Babel"

By the way (I just got pinged for using BTW in an email, so for the rest of the day I'm typing it in full ;-) here are a couple of the pictures I refer to (in passing) in that 'cast:

The Leaning Tower of Babel
by Joanna Hastings Jan 18-21 2001 [link now dead]
(Advertisement for a play)

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Saturday, April 28, 2007
  Genesis 1:27 prose or poetry? And other issues.
Genesis 1 is highly polished and condensed language. Although full of repetitions each has its place and purpose. What's more the words carry huge theological weight (as the preface to the Bible) as von Rad put it: "These sentences cannot easily be overinterpreted theologically."

Today I'll focus on 1:27, the heart of the account of the creation of humanity (1:26ff.) Although there has been debate it seems to me clear that the chapter is prose not poetry.1 However, the arguments are much less clear for 1:27.

I won't repeat (except particularly good phrases ;-) John's fine presentation, just summarise it:
  • 1:27 is formed of three lines each of 2+2 word units
  • these elements are not co-ordinated, mere juxtaposed
  • "each part repeats and at the same time builds on the preceding part" (I am less careful than John, so I'll call it parallelism!)
This gives the verse a very strongly poetic "feel". But:
  • the sign of the accusative is repeated three times in one verse!2
  • the vayyiqtol form of verb is rare in poetry
  • the rest of the chapter is highly repetitive too
  • John sees (if I understood right) the four beat lines as atypical of poetry - here I disagree with him, I think four beat (I'd prefer to say word unit) lines are commoner in more recent poetry, perhaps especially of the 2+2 sort we have here.
So, is it prose or poetry?


By which I mean that a hard and fast distinction between prose and poetry is no more appropriate in Hebrew than in English. And this verse stands somewhere near the centre of the blurry boundary zone between them. (As does much prophetic speech.) I'll acknowledge that I have oversimplified in the past, simply calling this verse "poetry". [I am about to start yet a second sentence with a conjunction, grammarians beware ;-) - why is English so pernickety about unnecessary detail?] But, I would have erred equally (if oppositely) if I had called it "prose". It is both and neither.

Which means, I think, that we are to take its "parallelism" quite seriously:

וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים | אֶת־הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ
בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים | בָּרָא אֹתוֹ
זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה | בָּרָא אֹתָם

and he created | God || the human | in his image
in the image | of God || he created | him
male | and female || he created | them

The repetition of different forms meaning "he created" (or perhaps - see John's post - "formed") the common subject ("God", repeated by the verbs "he created") as well as the rhythm give a strongly parallelistic feel already.

So, in what does the image of God consist in humanity? Evidently not appearance or any other such surface and changeable quality - for it is in humanity as "male-and-female", as the puzzling change from singular to plural ("him" to "them") signals. It can only be in this very unity in diversity. Sexuality is both the "image of God", and as Jerome reminds Christian theologians: "Sexual categories do not apply to the Godhead." [* to another post ]

1. On this and other scholarly and technical matters do see John's article/posts "Is Gen 1:27 Poetry?" and the more recent "Genesis 1:26-28 - Exegetical Odds and Ends", Wayne's post "translating the poetry of Gen. 1:27" and the fine discussion it elicited in the comments and David Clines (1968) classic "The Image of God in Man". [RETURN]

2. See my posts: The new magical imperial toolkit: percentages, prose and poetry and The new magical imperial toolkit: part 2 [RETURN]

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007
  Creation video
Stephen Cook posted on Sunday a fine student video of Genesis 1. If you don't read Biblische Ausbildung then do take a look, the execution is superb it is "The Creation Account" on YouTube.
If it was an assignment - I get students to "perform" biblical texts as an integrative assignment in several classes - I would have liked to see more emphasis on the structures of the text, esp the seven day one, and on the end in Sabbath not merely rest but also worship. But that's the scholar once again examining the teeth of donated equines, and this equine has magnificent colours!

PS, to any future students reading this, I don't expect this quality of execution for the assignment, though I dream of getting it and astoundingly often do!

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Thursday, April 12, 2007
  El Shaddai as the breasted god
In preparation for the colloquium on "God and Gender"1 I have been corresponding with another participant (she's a psychologist and spiritual director - not a biblical scholar) and in the course of the conversation the claim that the name אֵל שַׁדַּי ('el shadday often rendered "God Almighty") might mean "the breasted god", because of the association of שַׁדַּי shadday with שָׁדַיִם shadayim "breasts".

The proposal rests on two false assumptions:
  • that שַׁדַּי shadday is somehow etymologically or morphologically related to שָׁדַיִם shadayim (it is not notice the doubled ד d)
  • that such a morphological connection of itself implies a connection of meaning, Barr laid into that one long long ago ;-)
However, there is at least one interesting passage where the verbal echo functions powerfully. In Gen 49:22ff. where dying Jacob blesses Joseph using a string of divine names and epithets:
... by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob,
by the name of the Shepherd,

the Rock of Israel,
25 by the God of your father, who will help you,
by the Almighty (shadday) who will bless you
with blessings of heaven above,

blessings of the deep that lies beneath,

blessings of the breasts and of the womb.
26 The blessings of your father
are stronger than the blessings of the eternal mountains,

the bounties of the everlasting hills;

may they be on the head of Joseph,

on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.
Here the echoes of שַׁדַּי shadday "Almighty" with שָׁדַיִם shadayim "breasts" resonates strongly, and perhaps is echoed more weakly (in sense if not by sound) with the "eternal mountains" and "everlasting hills" of the next verse. The effect is perhaps to mitigate the exclusively male patriarchal feel of the blessing - especially since שָׁדַיִם shadayim is paired with that most female of words רָחַם racham "womb".

So, not a "breasted god", but a God who consistently and persistently fulfils the ideas of this blessing in the gift of childbirth and motherhood. (For YHWH is persistently described as the giver of birth, even as the midwife of human life, and even or most poignantly when fertility of the womb is withheld.)

1. Organised by the new Centre for the Theology of Gender and hosted by Tyndale-Carey Graduate School in July. [RETURN]

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