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Barber on Sirach’s status within Judaism

Michael Barber has an interesting post up, which also links to another interesting post on the status of the Book of Sirach within Ancient Judaism.  Possibly this is inspired by the fact that the first readings in our lectionary are currently being taken from the Book of Sirach.

The post that Michael links to is written by Dr. Jeff Morrow of Seton Hall University.  It’s not really an apologetic post for the inclusion of deuterocanonicals as a part of the canon.  It simply serves to muddy the waters a bit.  Here’s a snippet:

What complicates matters further is that different groups within Second Temple Judaism apparently considered different books canonical. Although the biblical books used by the Pharisees is likely identical to Josephus’, which looks like the Old Testament of most Protestants, and, it should be noted, the Hebrew Bible (Tanak) of the majority of contemporary Judaism, this is not for certain. Sadducees, on the other hand, had a much smaller list of biblical books (only including the Penateuch, according to New Testament evidence). It is difficult to determine what canon was in  use among the Jews at Qumran—where Esther has not been discovered but Tobit and Sirach from the deuterocanon have been found (in Aramaic and Hebrew no less)—but it appears they likely considered some of their own community’s texts as canonical. The question of canon at such an early stage, however, is complicated by the fact that we are not even sure what a canon would mean at that point within Judaism. Would they have understood those texts as divinely revealed, as inspired? And what would inspiration mean for them? Would there have been a canon-within-a-canon? These questions remain unresolved.

Anyway, I’d recommend you check it out.

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Interesting text critical issues in Wisdom Literature?

In my Wisdom Literature class, we are talking about the transmission of the text of the Wisdom books.  We’ll work through some examples of text critical issues in class.  I have some examples already in mind, but I wanted to ask here: are there any interesting text critical issues that you have come across in the Wisdom Literature?

Perhaps your examples would be more interesting than mine.  And, if you suggest the same ones as me without me giving them to you, then I’ll know I picked some good examples.

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It really takes Isaac a long time to die …

In Genesis 27.31, Esau seems to think his father will die soon so he can kill Jacob.  Then, Jacob is gone for a long time (20 years – Genesis 31.38) before Isaac dies (35.28-29).  I’ve never really noticed that before.  Has anyone seen any explanations for this (of course, I’m sure some of you may say sources … but anything else)?  I’m interested, but I thought it might be quicker and easier to ask you all than to reads books ;-) .

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Theological Interpretation of the Old Testament – Review

This review is of the Kindle edition of Theological Interpretation of the Old Testament edited by Vanhoozer (print edition here).

In terms of the layout of the text, everything in the Kindle version is pretty user friendly.  The Table of Contents is all linked up nicely, which makes the text easier to navigate in many ways than a paper-based version.  However, there are still no page numbers.  I’ve not looked into whether or not there will ever be any attempt to remedy this is Kindle versions, but this is a bit of a problem if you ever need to cite the text in a paper.  If you know how to use Google Books, you can often times get around this by searching for a quote in Google Books.  Even if the particular page is not included within the preview, you can still get the page number you need for a citation.

In terms of the contributors, they seem to represent some of the most widely known evangelical scholars, such as Wenham and Longman, but also some I’ve never read before.  There’s even a biblioblogger among the contributors.  Chris Brady wrote the chapter on Lamentations.  With this in mind, I don’t feel that the evangelical commitments of the authors would make the text problematic for readers of different backgrounds.  Obviously, you are probably not going to enjoy it so much if you are secularist, but even for someone with more moderate views than are accepted in some evangelical circles, I think it would not be overly troublesome.

The contents cover all of the books in the Protestant Old Testament.  As a Catholic, this for me is somewhat par for the course.  Even for the Protestant who does not accept the deuterocanonical books as part of the canon, an understanding of their theology can be helpful for one’s understanding of the New Testament, etc.  Yet aside from that, the text does seem to give fair treatment to each book in the Protestant Old Testament, even the more obscure books, such as Obadiah.

In terms of positives, some of the chapters are excellent.  I would specifically mention Raymond Van Leeuwen’s chapter on Proverbs.   There is a tendency, that I admittedly fall into sometimes, to oversimplify the theology of the Book of Proverbs by boiling it down to the doctrine of retribution. Yet Van Leeuwen pushes the reader to look beyond that, though the doctrine of retribution does play a role in the Book of Proverbs.   Wenham’s chapter on Genesis is very good as well, among others.

In spite of this, I must say that the book did feel a little uneven in places.  For example, after reading Van Leeuwen’s chapter on Proverbs, I felt a little disappointed by the chapters on Job and Ecclesiastes.  It is not that they were terribly bad.  They were just okay.

Another issue that cropped up in certain spots was a failure by some of the authors to actually engage in doing theology.  Rather, they spent more time focusing on giving a history of the theological interpretation of a particular book.  This is not to say that a history of theological interpretation of a particular book is not helpful, but they sometimes failed to move past that.

Overall, I think the book achieves its aims.  And, so I would recommend it.  Some of the problems noted above may have more to do with me as a reader than with the book itself.  It is, in fact, intended to be an introductory text, not necessarily for the more advanced reader.  Perhaps some of the disappointment I felt in reading particular chapters may not have been felt by an introductory level student encountering some of the information for the first time.

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My opening presentation for old testament as literature

Here’s a link to my opening presentation for the Old Testament as Literature course I’m teaching this semester.  It was entitled “The Old Testament All Around you.”  It was supposed to be a fun presentation, just to get across the point that studying the Old Testament in an academic setting at the very least makes us better critics or consumers of modern culture.  It’s made using a presentation program called Prezi, which has both an online and desktop option.  If you want to try it out, creating your presentations online is FREE for anyone who is a teacher.  You just have to provide them with an email address that looks like it’s from an educational institution and click a link in a confirmation email.

The frames were just jumping off points for me to talk about these particular topics.

Btw, I’d recommend scrolling over the word “More” and clicking full screen view.  You move through the presentation by pressing the right arrow on your keyboard and back by using the left arrow (or by clicking the arrows they have on screen if you are not in full screen view).  You zoom in on items (i.e. the videos, pictures, etc.) by clicking them with your mouse.

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Cornerstone Biblical Commentary Volume 6 (Review)

I recently received the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary 9 (=CBC), Volume 6 on Job, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs in the mail from Adam Sabados (you can follow him and Tyndale house on Twitter).   I will give a brief mention of the authors and talk a bit more about the contents mixed in with a few of my own personal impressions.

The Job section was written by August Konkel and the Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs sections by Tremper Longman III.  For information on Konkel see HERE and for Longman see HERE.  Both authors are well credentialed and qualified to be writing on their respective books, though I should state up front that I found the volume a bit uneven as I thought the sections written by Longman were a bit stronger than the one written by Konkel.  No offense intended though, the Job section was still good.

In terms of the contents, I might offer a comparison.  The CBC reminds me of the Expositor’s Bible Commentary with regard to the extent (i.e. length) of comments, but with a different focus that is reflected in the layout.  The comments are focused on communicating the theological message of sections of the Biblical books rather than on smaller details, though there is some focus on detail in the “notes” sections.  Thus, the commentary does not move through verse by verse in the same way that some others do.  This may appeal to some readers and not to others.

The commentary is decidedly evangelical in outlook.  I think an example of this is found in Konkel’s insistence on making sure that he is not ruling out that Job may have been a real person: “The phrase translated ‘There once was a man’ does not imply that Job is a literary creation, as the English expression ‘Once upon a time’ does” (p. 29).  I didn’t get the feel from the introduction that this was a major issue for Konkel as he talks about the timelessness of the story.  And, I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would care about matters like that, but I guess it might be an issue for some potential readers.

With that said, I still found the commentary useful as a non-evangelical.  The authors are familiar with critical scholarship and bring it into the discussion when needed.  There are adequate parenthetical notes and good bibliographies for each book.

Particularly helpful are the introductory sections to each of the Biblical books.  In a day when generalists are very difficult to find, good introductions to Biblical books written by people who are experts on those particular books are always helpful.  The introductions in the CBC certainly fall into this category.

As an overall appraisal, I would recommend the volume to pastors and lay people.  I’m not sure that it would make the cut for students, but perhaps that is too much to expect of one volume.  It would be valuable for those who developing sermons or study lessons in a church setting.

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The irony of the explanation for Noah’s name

I never really thought about it before this morning (though I’m sure someone else has), but there is a lot of irony in the reasoning given for Noah’s name in Genesis 5:29.  The verse reads:

he named him Noah, saying, “Out of the ground the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands.”

In this verse, Noah’s name seems to be related to the word translated often as “relief” or “comfort.”  Of course, Noah’s parents might get a bit of relief or comfort since Noah can take up some of their work, but everybody else in the story excepting Noah’s immediate family DIES BY DROWNING!

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It’s only when you become blind, that you can see …

Yesterday I blogged my review of of How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading between the Lines by Thomas Foster.  There’s a chapter in the book entitled “He’s Blind for a Reason, You Know.”

And, today I was listening to Amy Jill Levine’s lecture on Judges in her Old Testament course for the Teaching Company.  And, there it was … the literary motif at work in the story of Samson.  It’s only when Samson’s eyes are gouged out that he “sees” and actually prays and is faithful to God.  Check out the last part, though you’d have to read through the whole Samson story to see how “blind” he’s been in his life (from Judges 16 in the NRSV):

18 When Delilah realized that he had told her his whole secret, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, “This time come up, for he has told his whole secret to me.” Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her, and brought the money in their hands. 19 She let him fall asleep on her lap; and she called a man, and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. He began to weaken,​​ and his strength left him. 20 Then she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” When he awoke from his sleep, he thought, “I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him. 21 So the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes. They brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles; and he ground at the mill in the prison. 22 But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.

23 Now the lords of the Philistines gathered to offer a great sacrifice to their god Dagon, and to rejoice; for they said, “Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hand.” 24 When the people saw him, they praised their god; for they said, “Our god has given our enemy into our hand, the ravager of our country, who has killed many of us.” 25 And when their hearts were merry, they said, “Call Samson, and let him entertain us.” So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them. They made him stand between the pillars; 26 and Samson said to the attendant who held him by the hand, “Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, so that I may lean against them.” 27 Now the house was full of men and women; all the lords of the Philistines were there, and on the roof there were about three thousand men and women, who looked on while Samson performed.

28 Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “Lord God, remember me and strengthen me only this once, O God, so that with this one act of revenge I may pay back the Philistines for my two eyes.”​​ 29 And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other. 30 Then Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” He strained with all his might; and the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So those he killed at his death were more than those he had killed during his life. 31 Then his brothers and all his family came down and took him and brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of his father Manoah. He had judged Israel twenty years.

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Hard to see humor in the Bible sometimes

This morning I was listening to a lecture by Amy Jill Levine in her Old Testament course for the Teaching Company.  She was talking about some of the more humorous passages in the Book of Judges.  There is the whole deal about Eglon being fat and Jael figuratively emasculating Sisera.

I’m aware that there is humor in the Bible, but I feel like I often times miss it when I’m doing ordinary reading or listening to a reading in church.  I think a main part of the reason for this is the perceived seriousness of the context in which the readings often take place for me.

I guess I’m never sitting in mass listening to the lectionary readings thinking: Oh man, that was absolutely hilarious!  And, if I did, I’m sure that I would get a solemn scowl from some of the people sitting around me like: “Jesus doesn’t love you very much when you laugh at the Bible young man.”

I’m pretty sure they teach the lectors to have a reverent demeanor when they are reading.  And, I guess that works often times.  But, that’s not really to conducive to getting jokes across.

The other part of it I suppose is that being so distant from the culture of Ancient Israel the jokes are almost like inside jokes.  Even when I do get the joke, it is almost like that uncomfortable feeling when you’re in a group of people and you laugh after everyone else does.  And, then everyone looks at you like, “What are you laughing at?  You couldn’t even possibly get that joke lame-o.”

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Dating systems in the ANE

Here’s a helpful categorization I found in reading Ancient Near East: Historical sources in translation by Chavalas, et al this morning (what follows is a quotation):

In the ancient Near East three different methods were used (at different times and in different places) to distinguish years:

1. Years were named after an important event (year names)

2. The years of a king’s reign were numbered consecutively (regnal years)

3. Each year was named after a high official called a limmu (eponym)

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