Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Questions on the Ossuary and the Canon

Danny Zacharias at deinde.org has posed some questions for me in recent posts.

(1) First, concerning the James ossuary, Danny notes that Oded Golan claims to have an old photo of himself with the ossuary containing the full inscription:

What if a picture from the late 1970's shows the ossuary with the full inscription? It seems to me that if this is true (and only time will tell) then it is pretty damaging evidence against the contention that Golan (and others) conspired in the late 90's or early in 2000 to make this forgery and 'coincidentally' bring it out at the perfect time in Toronto right around the time when interest in James the Just had been heightening.
I agree. I am skeptical, however, that Golan really has such a photograph; and the photograph itself must be shown to be authentic and to date from the time that Golan claims (and even then the inscription could be fake). The indictment includes a charge that Golan has attempted to suborn witnesses, falsify affidavits, etc. — and Joe Zias mentioned on the ANE list that Golan has now been jailed until the trial to keep him from further attempts to suborn perjury. If all this is true, then Golan is not above faking a photograph. But yes: by all means, let us see what the trial brings out. Should be interesting.

(2) Concerning the question of canon that I addressed a few posts ago, Danny asks:

Yes, the church canon wasn't really decided until the 4th century (I do not agree with the 2nd century date of the muratorian fragment, which is only an NT list anyway) but it is still a lot closer to the early church than the reformation was, so why did the reformers get to make this decision? Again, I know this is an odd and weak argument, but I don't think that I am alone in this type of reasoning.
Well, as I noted in my original post (and this was the point of it) the Catholic church canon was not officially decided until the 16th century. (Indeed, the very earliest Christian OT canon list I know of, that contained in Eusebius, omits the Apocrypha.) The pronouncements of previous councils were not meant to be dogmatic decrees binding on the Church Universal. Before the 16th century, the canon was debatable, and was sometimes debated. The Reformers in opting for the Hebrew canon took one side of this debate.

Did the Reformers get it right? Seriously, I don't know. I don't believe the Almighty has addressed the question of canonicity in any explicit manner; in the final analysis, the canon has consisted of those books that the faithful find to contain the Word of God. The Reformers chose for their OT canon only those books which had gained unanimous approval in all the communions of the church: semper, ubique, et ab omnibus. If that's not a basis for unity, what is?

By the way, I don't know what the RC church now does with the unstable text of some of the apocryphal books. The book of Tobit has two main recensions in Greek, a long one and a short one, besides some fragments of older versions in Hebrew and Greek from Qumran. Which text is canonical? The same goes for Ecclesiasticus (Ben Sira). The Greek text that was canonized is now known to be different (in some cases, very much so) from the original Hebrew text, parts of which are now known from the Cairo Geniza and from Masada. Which text is canonical? At least the Protestant churches don't have this problem.

Finally, Danny says "If the apocrypha filled the 'silent years' as a witness to God's voice and love and provisions, why can they still not do so today for us protestants? And wouldn't it go a long way towards unity in the church, catholics and protestants together?" But can't God speak to, love, and provide for His people without supplying additional books for the canon? If not, then you must believe that God has been silent and unloving since the close of the NT canon — or are there also books from each of the Christian centuries you would be willing to add to the Bible?

As for the question of unity, my denomination (Episcopal) includes the Apocrypha in its weekly lectionary readings. As far as I know, this has not aided appreciably in the quest for Christian unity (but I speak under correction). I think that the question of canon is far from the most central issue of debate between Catholics and Protestants.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Small and Large Letters in Esther

Steven Weiss of the Canonist blog solicits my input on the question of large and small letters in Esther 9:7-9. In many Masoretic manuscripts, the letter tav in the name Parshandatha (Est. 9:7), the letter shin in the name Parmashta (Est. 9:9), and the letter zayin in the name Vaizatha (Est. 9:9) are written smaller than the surrounding letters; and the letter vav in Vaizatha is written larger.

A fanciful interpretation has been put out claiming that the letters "foretell" the 1946 Nuremberg executions, and this idea is adequately refuted here. But Steve asks, Whence the differing size of the letters?

Short answer: Nobody knows.

Long answer: There are several occurrences in the Masoretic text of unusually large or small letters. Large letters are often found in certain words in Deut. 6:4, for instance, or in Gen. 30:42 or Deut. 29:27. The large vav in Lev. 11:42 marks the middle letter of the Torah, but most of the rest of the large letters are a mystery. It seems possible that in the original Masoretic exemplar, assuming there was one, a letter might have been superimposed over another one written in error, and this made it larger. The largeness was taken up into the tradition and preserved without change or explanation.

Small letters, such as the small aleph in the first word of Leviticus, are less common. A good guess is that they originated in supralinear corrections. This makes good sense for Lev. 1:1; the last letter of the first word and the first letter of the second word are both aleph: ויקרא אל. It would be easy for a scribe to skip one: ויקר אל, and then write it above the line in smaller script. Such supralinear corrections are common in the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient texts. Again, the punctilious tradition may have taken up even the corrections that appeared in the archetypical scroll.

The names in Esther — jawbreaking Persian and Elamite names — must have been hard to copy correctly. They may well have given rise to corrective efforts that were then faithfully preserved as small and large letters.

The manuscript tradition, by the way, is not the same in every instance. The Leningrad Codex, for example, does not have the small and large letters in Esther, although it preserves them, e.g., in Deut. 6:4. The Leningrad codex is the basic text used in scholarly editions today.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: I. Yeivin, tr. E. J. Revell, Introduction to the Tiberian Masorah. Scholars Press, 1980, pp. 47-48.

Schultze Gets the Blues

On Saturday, Amy and I saw a movie that may win a Ralphy when the time comes: Schultze Gets the Blues, which has been accurately described as a "German feel-good comedy." Sounds odd to me, too. But it was really funny in an understated way. Herr Schultze (his first name is never mentioned), forced to retire early from his job as a salt-miner in Germany, finds retired life in Saxony a dull proposition. He even loses his zest for playing polkas on the accordion, until one night he hears some zydeco music on the radio. It intrigues him, shakes him up, and leads him on a quest in which he eventually winds up (don't ask how, just see it) in a "borrowed" boat wandering through the bayous of Louisiana. This movie is slow paced compared to the average Hollywood blockbuster; but it's worth finding its subtle rhythm and settling into it. "Schultze" is a crack-up.

Two final comments: (1) The actual title of the German movie is the English sentence "Schultze gets the blues." This is a very inapt title, since Schultze does not get emotionally blue, just bored; and the music he discovers really has little to do with the blues as such. A more accurate title would have been "Schultze Breaks Out of his Rut When He Discovers Zydeco." But for German audiences the English term "the blues" may be more evocative of American roots music than any another term (and in fact the word "zydeco," if memory serves, is never uttered in the film).

(2) Speaking as an American who loves Europe, I was happy to see in this German movie that the US is portrayed as a friendly and diverse place. There are scenes set in the Germanic community of New Braunfels, Texas, and the Cajun French-speaking areas of Louisiana; and most of the ordinary American folks Schultze runs into are not much different than the ordinary folks of Saxony. So, unless there's a heavy dose of irony here that I'm not getting, this is a pretty positive European depiction of the USA, or at least of the South. Yes, it may be true that here in the US we enjoy executing our criminals and invading other countries, but, got-dang it, we've also got the funkiest tunes and the friendliest folks on the whole planet! So y'all come on over any time, now, y'here?

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter

Full memory flooded back, and Sam cried aloud: "It wasn't a dream! Then where are we?"

And a voice spoke softly behind him: "In the land of Ithilien, and in the keeping of the King; and he awaits you." With that Gandalf stood before him, robed in white, his beard now gleaming like pure snow in the twinkling of the leafy sunlight. "Well, Master Samwise, how do you feel?" he said.

But Sam lay back, and stared with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last he gasped: "Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What's happened to the world?"

—J. R. R. Tolkien, Return of the King

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Some Lines from John Donne

John Donne indulged in a riot of paradoxes on March 25, 1608, a day that, like yesterday, was both the Feast of the Annunciation and Good Friday ("Christ hither and away"). The "she" of the poem is "my soul," and Donne plays back and forth on the double vision caused by the rare concurrence of feast and fast:

TAMELY, frail body, abstain to-day ; to-day
My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away.
She sees Him man, so like God made in this,
That of them both a circle emblem is,
Whose first and last concur ; this doubtful day
Of feast or fast, Christ came, and went away ;
She sees Him nothing, twice at once, who's all ;
She sees a cedar plant itself, and fall ;
Her Maker put to making, and the head
Of life at once not yet alive, yet dead ;
She sees at once the Virgin Mother stay
Reclused at home, public at Golgotha ;
Sad and rejoiced she's seen at once, and seen
At almost fifty, and at scarce fifteen . . .

Read the whole thing here.

Thanks to Charlie Brumbaugh for the heads-up.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Good Friday

And even as he spoke the earth rocked beneath their feet. Then rising swiftly up, far above the Towers of the Black Gate, high above the mountains, a vast soaring darkness sprang into the sky, flickering with fire. The earth groaned and quaked. The Towers of the Teeth swayed, tottered, and fell down; the mighty rampart crumbled; the Black Gate was hurled in ruin; and from far away, now dim, now growing, now mounting to the clouds, there came a drumming rumble, a roar, a long echoing roll of ruinous noise.

"The realm of Sauron is ended!" said Gandalf. "The Ring-bearer has fulfilled his Quest."

—J. R. R. Tolkien, Return of the King

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Potpourri: Mnemonics; Happy Blog-day; Berachot

My post yesterday about the Apocrypha reminded me of a mnemonic I conveyed once to a class I was teaching. I told them that the way to remember the apocryphal books was to think of the scholar "T. J. McWeb, D.E." His name forms an acrostic: T = Tobit, J = Judith, Mc = 1 & 2 Maccabees, W = Wisdom of Solomon, E = Ecclesiasticus, B = Baruch, D = additions to Daniel, E = additions to Esther. Works like a charm. I used to use a lot of acrostic mnemonics back in the days when I actually had to take and pass tests, but those links are all dead now. What about the rest of you? What are your favorite mnemonics?

... Happy birthday to Paleojudaica! I always think of Jim Davila's blog, along with Mark Goodacre's NT Gateway Weblog (see the blogroll at the right for their links), as the flagships of Biblioblogdom. Long may they wave!

... If you've been looking for a hilarious send-up of the first few lines of the Bavli, Tractate Berakhot, this post at Yudeline should fill the bill.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Thoughts on the Canon

I hate to take issue with the worthy Paragraph Farmer, but a recent post contains an inaccuracy I have to point out:
Those whom we Catholics pray for as our "separated brethren" face a dilemma, given that we and they agree on most of the canon, and it's this: given that the bishops of the early church in council discerned the definitive list of biblical books for the Old and New Testaments, how does it make sense to take their word on most of the canon and then quibble about seven books on the OT list?

The protestant position would seem to imply that God was on a coffee break when that part of the canon was approved.

Actually, the early church in council did not officially pronounce on the canon as an article of faith. The first promulgation of the Roman Catholic canon as a dogma came at the Council of Trent in 1542, as the Catholic Encyclopedia states:
The Tridentine decrees ... was the first infallible and effectually promulgated pronouncement on the Canon, addressed to the Church Universal.
In fact, until the Counter-Reformation there was always a strong "minority report" within the church on the extent of the Old Testament canon, holding that only those books contained in the Hebrew Bible should be taken as canonical. This position was taken, among others, by Origen, Athanasius, Hilary of Poitiers, and Jerome. Regrettably, this freedom of conscience was removed when the Council of Trent decided to make the "majority report" de fide.

As a scholar, I'm sometimes sorry that Protestants aren't more familiar with the Apocryphal or Deuterocanonical books. These books could be fruitfully employed for teaching about the "inter-testamental" period that provides such rich background for the New Testament, and which lay Protestants (yes, and lay Catholics, despite their canon) seem to know very little about.

On the other hand, I don't regret the loss of the Apocrypha as Scripture. It would be tiresome to be forced to take seriously the bourgeois ramblings of Ecclesiasticus as the Word of God, and it would be painful, if occasionally amusing, to watch inerrantists try to rescue the historicity of the book of Judith. On the whole, I think the Reformation got this decision right.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Rock of Ages: a Holy Week Catena

An article appearing today at the Bible & Interpretation website argues that Har Karkom in the Sinai Peninsula is the biblical Mount Sinai. I don't know whether I agree or disagree, but the following caught my eye:

On the top of one of the two hills of Har Karkom there is a small rock cleft. A cleft on the summit of a mountain is not common in the Sinai peninsula. In Exodus 33, 21-22, Mount Sinai is described as having such a characteristic.

The reference is to these verses: "And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen."

Now despite what the article says, I imagine that there are any number of heights with clefts in them in the Sinai Peninsula. But the "cleft" always makes me think of Augustus Toplady's hymn, "Rock of Ages" (1775):

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee!
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

I have always assumed that "Rock of Ages" contains an implicit comparison between the cleft of Mount Sinai and the wounded side of Christ — a conceit fully as strange (but religiously natural) as any contained in ancient midrash. The comparison gains weight from the circumstances of the hymn's origin: Toplady was overtaken by a storm, took shelter in a rock opening, and improved the time by writing "Rock of Ages."

Nevertheless, I find that there is another Exodus passage probably in the background of "Rock of Ages," and that is the rock of Horeb in Exodus 17:6: "Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel."

This rock was taken, on apostolic authority (see I Corinthians 10:4), to be a symbol of Christ, and as such appears in hymns contemporary to Toplady's (see this site for a discussion):

Is He a Rock? How firm He proves!
The Rock of Ages never moves:
Yet the sweet streams, that from Him flow,
Attend us all the desert through.
(Isaac Watts, 1706)

In Moses' rod a type they saw
Of his severe and fiery law;
The smitten rock prefigur'd Him
From whose pierc'd side all blessings stream.
(John Newton, 1772)

Nevertheless, Toplady seems to be the only one to combine the themes of the cleft rock at Sinai, the smitten rock of Horeb, and the wounded side of Christ. And his hymn is the only one of those mentioned that is still sung today.

I wonder, too, about the origin of this translation of Numbers 20:11 in the Pseudo-Jonathan Targum. The scene is similar to that in Exodus. The targumist was trying to figure out why Moses struck the rock two times.
And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his rod two times. The first time it oozed out blood. The second time much water came out, and the congregation of Israel drank, and their livestock.
I am not sure (although I imagine someone has studied this) about the relation of John 19:34 ("But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water") to this midrash. Perhaps there is none. But the poetic interconnections throughout the ages, hymnic and midrashic, between the Sinai cleft, the rock of Horeb, the wounded side of Christ, provide some food for thought during Holy Week.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Bob Dylan and Esau's Kiss (Gen. 33:4)

I've been reading A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of "Blood on the Tracks" by Andy Gill and Kevin Odegard. This book tells you everything you could ever want to know about the making of that classic record, all the way down to the brand name of the mike used on the kick drum in the Minnesota sessions (Shure M57).

What truly intrigued me, however, was the appearance on page 102 of the puncta extraordinaria of Genesis 33:4. According the authors, Dylan and his brother David Zimmerman have sometimes had their difficulties, but worked together on arranging the Minnesota sessions for the album. This leads the authors on a long and not very illuminating ramble through the dynamics of brotherly love as interpreted by Rabbi Sim Glaser of Temple Israel in Minneapolis. Rabbi Glaser finishes his midrash on the Dylan brothers this way:
There's something that only happens in one place in the Torah ... All it says in the English is "Esau [sic; should be Jacob] went ahead, bowed low seven times until he was near his brother. Esau ran to his brother; he kissed him" — but if you look at the Hebrew, it is the only place in the whole Torah, va-yishkayu where you have dots on every single syllable on the top of a word like this, which signify emphasis, because you're supposed to say the word violently. He was angry at his younger brother, but he needed him at that moment, and he loved him — in Hebrew it says all this; it says everything about that moment.

Well, far be it from me to find fault with a sermon. One is not necessarily on one's scholarly honor in a sermon, and midrashists throughout the ages have exercised themselves on the supralinear dots on the word "he kissed him," which look like this:
points
The fact is, however, that in ancient times such puncta were used primarily for one reason: to indicate that the words should be deleted. They occur in the Qumran biblical texts with exactly that purpose. And my guess is that the ancient examplar that was the ancestor of all the Masoretic manuscripts had these points on that word to indicate that it should be deleted.

One could further ask, however, why the ancient scribe thought the word should be deleted. Is it for what we would call "text-critical" reasons, because, after a comparison with other scrolls, he found that they didn't have this word? Or was it for exegetico-theological reasons: because he didn't think that the Bible would portray Esau as truly reconciled to his brother? Some of the early midrashim like Genesis Rabbah, followed by the Pseudo-Jonathan Targum, suggest that the verb used should have been נשׁך, to bite, not נשׁק, to kiss: Esau bit Jacob. The hostility to Esau was such that he could not be portrayed as friendly.

All the ancient versions I have checked retain "he kissed him"; but I notice that several modern versions omit "he kissed him" without a comment, among them the Jerusalem Bible and Robert Alter's recent translation.

If I had time, I would riff on the relationship of Esau's kiss to that of Judas, this being Holy Week and all, but that will have to wait. But in the end I doubt whether Esau's kiss is truly relevant to the biography of Bob Dylan.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Lexicography As It Should Be

I don't know what it says about me, but the job described in this New York Times article on lexicographers sounds like the coolest job in the world to me.

To find new words, Ms. McKean said she subscribed to 60 magazines, including The Oldie, a British publication for the elderly; The New Scientist; and Entertainment Weekly. She also watches television shows like "The OC," which she said was known for being linguistically playful. She also relies on her staff, freelancers, a group of four or five people she calls the "friends of the dictionary" and even small talk at cocktail parties.

Let's see ... spend a lot of time reading, watching TV, talking to your friends, and going to cocktail parties. Sounds good to me. Why, oh why, did I go in for lexicography of ancient languages? No magazines written in Paleo-Hebrew; no "linguistically playful" Aramaic TV (at least in the USA); no Syriac small-talk at cocktail parties. Is it too late to change?

Palm Sunday

What will move you? Will pity? Here is distress never the like. Will duty? Here is a person never the like. Will fear? Here is wrath never the like. Will remorse? Here are sins never the like. Will kindness? Here is love never the like. Will bounty? Here are benefits never the like. Will all these? Here they be all, all in the highest degree.

—Lancelot Andrewes, Sermon on Good Friday, 1604

Friday, March 18, 2005

While You're Waiting . . .

While you're waiting for regular blogging to resume, here's some older posts from the archive for the newer visitors, just to give you an idea of what goes on around here sometimes:

Top Ten Reasons to Suspect Your Priceless Antiquities Collection Has Been Forged

The Baker's Baskets (Gen. 40:14)

Why Does Rachel Want the Mandrakes?

Dating the Dead Sea Scrolls

Did Tolkien Know Hebrew?

Mondegreens

What is an Evangelical?

How to Read A Scholarly Paper

Blogging to Return Soon

While trying to meet a deadline for book revisions, I've had to put blogging (and many other innocent pursuits) on the back burner. I hope that soon "Ralph" will return in full glory. Don't give up.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Drori and the Scrolls

A number of sites have noted the death of Gen. Amir Drori, noted for serving as head of the Israeli forces during the Lebanon incursion of 1982 and former head of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

I am surprised that none of the stories I have read about Drori have noted his importance for the story of Dead Sea Scrolls. It was during his tenure as head of the IAA that John Strugnell was deposed as head of the scrolls publication team (at Drori's order) and Emanuel Tov was installed. This marked a key watershed in the history of the publication of the Qumran material. It was also during Drori's tenure that the scroll "cabal" was broken by Ben Wacholder and Marty Abegg and that Tov ordered that all the scroll photographs be opened to examination by scholars. I think that's worth a line in the official obituaries.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Saying Yes in Biblical Hebrew

Geoffrey Pullum at Language Log is annoyed, as well he might be. Someone on NPR was drawing unwarranted conclusions from the fact that Irish Gaelic has no word for "sex" (untrue) and also no word for "yes" (true, but with an explanation):

The story about Irish lacking particles meaning "yes" and "no" is true, by the way. But it has nothing to do with the Irish mind or spirit or way of looking at the world or the notion of neither agreeing nor disagreeing. In Irish you repeat the verb of someone's clause to agree with it (as if someone said "Got milk?" and the way you gave an affirmative response was to say "Got"), and you repeat their verb with the negation particle in front to deny it ("Not got"). But the same is true of Chinese. Anyone want to suggest that the Chinese have exactly the same cultural propensities and outlook on life as the Irish?

So Irish and Chinese don't have a word for "yes," but simply affirm part of the question for an affirmative response and negate it for a negative. I find that interesting, because the same is true of Biblical Hebrew. Modern Hebrew has a word for "Yes" (ken), but Biblical Hebrew doesn't.

Here are some examples. In Exodus 2:7-8, Miriam asks Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?" And Pharaoh's daughter says, "Go"; meaning "yes," as it is translated by the JPS and NRSV.

In Genesis 29:5-6, we have the following dialogue of Jacob with the men of Haran:

JACOB: Do you know Laban son of Nahor?
HARANITES: We know.
JACOB: Is he well? (ha-shalom lo?)
HARANITES: Well. (shalom)

In both cases, the JPS translates the Haranites' response as "Yes."

One last instance. In 2 Sam. 12:19, David, whose child is ill, sees his servants whispering together, and he asks:

DAVID: Is the child dead?
SERVANTS: Dead.

Some languages have a word for "yes" and some don't. I'm sure that somewhere, someone writing on "Hebrew thought" has tried to infer something about the "Hebrew mind" from this, but Pullum is right: there are no implications in this linguistic feature for understanding culture and life, and that includes ancient Hebrew.

Just for fun, here are some more examples (not an exhaustive list: Josh. 24:22, Judg 13:11, 2 Sam. 2:1, 2 Sam. 2:20, 1 Ki. 2:13, Jonah 4:9, Hag. 2:13.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Fifth Sunday in Lent

A certain monk was sitting by the monastery, and whilst he was occupied in great labours, it happened that strangers came to the monastery, and they forced him to eat with them contrary to his usual custom, and afterwards the brethren said to him, "Father, wast thou not just now afflicted?" And he said unto them, "My affliction is to break my will."

Paradise of the Fathers

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Sinaiticus and the Media

The project of digitalizing the Codex Sinaiticus has received some notice on several sites, including the SBL Technology Research page. But the Dallas Morning News has produced a truly garbled story on the initiative. For instance:

Ray Bruce, a film director who is producing a documentary on the project, cited the Book of Mark as an example of how much the modern Bible has been altered from the codex. In the codex, he said, the Book of Mark ends at Chapter 16, Verse 8, with the discovery that Christ's tomb was empty.

But more modern versions contain an additional 12 verses with testimony from Mary Magdalene and 11 apostles referring to the resurrection of Jesus.

"It shows how much this is a dynamic process of editing and adaptation," he said, but also raises questions about the influence man has had on texts regarded by Christians as divinely inspired.

It is completely misleading to say that the Longer Ending of Mark is a feature of "modern Bibles." It is contained in a fair number of uncial manuscripts (including Alexandrinus) and is witnessed to by Irenaeus and the Diatessaron. Although it is certainly a secondary addition to Mark, it is certainly not "modern."

Then we have this:
Researchers and plunderers have particularly coveted the codex because the texts were written so soon after the life of Jesus, and they are the largest and longest-surviving Biblical manuscript in existence, including both the Old and New Testament. In addition, the codex contains two Christian texts written around A.D. 65, the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas.
Sinaiticus is very old, but it is not by any stretch the oldest Biblical manuscript in existence. There are earlier manuscripts for both Old and New Testament. Not only that, the Shepherd of Hermas was written probably around 140 A.D., and the Epistle of Barnabas possibly four or five decades earlier. They were not written "around A.D. 65"!

Unfortunately, this example of confusion in the media about Biblical studies is all too typical.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Gödel Gone Wild

The New Yorker of Feb. 28 has an article (online) "Time Bandits," by Jim Holt, about the friendship between Einstein and Kurt Gödel. The latter was, shall we say, a little on the odd side.
Gödel, who has often been called the greatest logician since Aristotle, was a strange and ultimately tragic man. Whereas Einstein was gregarious and full of laughter, Gödel was solemn, solitary, and pessimistic. Einstein, a passionate amateur violinist, loved Beethoven and Mozart. Gödel’s taste ran in another direction: his favorite movie was Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” and when his wife put a pink flamingo in their front yard he pronounced it furchtbar herzig—“awfully charming.”
Nevertheless, Einstein treasured his friendship:
Although other members of the institute found the gloomy logician baffling and unapproachable, Einstein told people that he went to his office “just to have the privilege of walking home with Kurt Gödel.”
Grad students, take heart:
Einstein’s conclusions were the product of pure thought, proceeding from the most austere assumptions about nature. In the century since he derived them, they have been precisely confirmed by experiment after experiment. Yet his June, 1905, paper on relativity was rejected when he submitted it as a dissertation.
Many others shared Einstein's veneration of Gödel:
Although Gödel was still little known in the world at large, he had a godlike status among the cognoscenti. “I once found the philosopher Richard Rorty standing in a bit of a daze in Davidson’s food market,” Goldstein writes. “He told me in hushed tones that he’d just seen Gödel in the frozen food aisle.”
Happy birthday, Albert:
Gödel wanted a proof [that time did not exist] that had the rigor and certainty of mathematics. And he saw just what he wanted lurking within relativity theory. He presented his argument to Einstein for his seventieth birthday, in 1949, along with an etching. (Gödel’s wife had knitted Einstein a sweater, but she decided not to send it.)
Professor emeriti, take heart:
Einstein’s circle of friends had shrunk to Gödel and a few others. One of them was Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, to whom he confided, in March, 1955, that “the exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.” He died a month later, at the age of seventy-six. When Gödel and another colleague went to his office at the institute to deal with his papers, they found the blackboard covered with dead-end equations.
After Einstein died, Gödel's eccentricities ballooned until he was — how shall I put this? — a major loon. The following sounds like a Woody Allen script:
Gödel became ever more withdrawn. He preferred to conduct all conversations by telephone, even if his interlocutor was a few feet distant. When he especially wanted to avoid someone, he would schedule a rendezvous at a precise time and place, and then make sure he was somewhere far away.
He died on January 14, 1978, having "succumbed to self-starvation."

Read the whole thing, it's fascinating, and also contains brief descriptions both of Einstein's theory of relativity and of Gödel's incompleteness theorem. Not bad for a magazine article.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Bill Arnold on Hebrew Grammars

(Apologies if this post appears more than once; Blogger is not working well today.)

The following is an e-mail from Bill Arnold, Director of Hebrew Studies at Asbury Seminary:

Here are a few observations related to your recent post on Hebrew grammars. I serve as Director of Hebrew Studies for a seminary that services approximately 200 beginning students per year. I supervise 2 instructors, as well as a curriculum of intermediate and advanced courses. Each Spring, I meet with instructors to consider how to improve the program, and whether we should switch grammars. Over the years, I've taught from a number of these beginning grammars, including most of the ones mentioned in your recent string of discussion. All of this leads me to two observations.

(1) Every teacher of Biblical Hebrew I know has his or her own particular (and sometimes idiosyncratic) way of explaining BH grammar. Most of us in the profession have obsessive and quirky personalities (sorry if this comes as a surprise), and we all have a variety of tricks we've learned to use in the classroom to make our instruction more effective. Most of these tricks simply don't carry over into print format, so what is usually most effective is an extremely simple and basic grammar, which can be adapted and modified easily by each instructor for classroom use. Also, this means most of us will never be completely satisfied with anyone else's grammar. It's as though every Hebrew scholar I know has a felt-need to write their own grammar. Unfortunately, most publishers are catering to this felt-need, so at present we have a nearly impossible proliferation of grammars. Some of them hardly distinguishable from every other one.

(2) Reading through your discussion has reminded me again that, for most of us, it was the second grammar we encountered that we consider the best. In other words, most of us go through a process of learning the basics of the language, and then subsequently reading another grammar, one that states grammatical phenomena in a different and fresh way, or at least, different and fresh to us as intermediate students. The second grammar takes us to the next level of understanding. Invariably, it seems, we develop an attachment to that second grammar, which we then assume is superior to all others. So, e.g., in my case, Lambdin was my first Hebrew grammar, which we used in college. Then in seminary, I was introduced to Weingreen's old classic, which I immediately embraced as superior in every respect except for outdated features here & there. Later, I taught from both, as well as Kelley, Seow, Ross, and many others. In the process, I have returned to Lambdin time and time again, to discover that it is neither superior nor inferior to Weingreen and the others, but simply different in its arrangement and explanations. So, I have concluded that at the end of the day, there is hardly a hair's breadth of difference between any of these grammars. I think any of the ones I have mentioned in this paragraph are perfectly adequate and useful in nearly any teaching environment (with the possible exception of Weingreen, which is simply too dated now).

We need to declare a moratorium on the production of beginning BH grammars! Please! Just because each of us teaches Hebrew in a unique fashion doesn't mean we all need our own published grammar. At the present rate, we will soon have as many grammars as teachers.

Bill

Many thanks to Bill for providing this perspective.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

What Almost Happened at the Cracks of Doom

I've been reading, when I have time, the volume Sauron Defeated, volume 9 in Christopher Tolkien's edition of his father's rough drafts and papers relating to the composition of Lord of the Rings. Since March 25 is fast approaching — the day on which the Ring of Power was destroyed at the Cracks of Doom (as well as the Feast of the Annunciation and, this year, Good Friday [and Purim]) — it is interesting to read about Tolkien's initial conceptions of the event.

By now, most of Tolkien's rejected first-draft ideas are well-known (e.g. Frodo was originally called Bingo, Strider was Trotter), but he seems to have had many thoughts about what happened at Mount Doom. His first conception is not unlike the final publication:
At that moment Gollum ... comes up and treacherously tries to take Ring. They wrestle and Gollum takes Ring and falls into the Crack.
But a later outline has this:
At that moment Gollum comes up and wrestles with him and takes Ring. Frodo falls flat. Here perhaps Sam comes up, beats off a vulture and hurls himself and Gollum into the gulf?
If that happened, LOTR would be a very different story; and Tolkien must soon have realized that Sam could not be lost in this way. Another outline follows:
... Gollum arrives, panting, and grabs Frodo and the Ring. They fight fiercely on the very brink of the chasm. Gollum breaks Frodo's finger and gets Ring. Frodo falls in a swoon. Sam crawls in while Gollum is dancing with glee and suddenly pushes Gollum into the crack.
This is immediately followed by this note:
Perhaps better would be to make Gollum repent in a way. He is utterly wretched, and commits suicide. Gollum has it, he cried. No one else shall have it. I will destroy you all. He leaps into crack.
This is rejected, and Tolkien returns to a previous conception:
Sam who has now arrived rushes in suddenly and pushes Gollum over the brink. Gollum and Ring go into the Fire together.
But eventually the scene becomes the one we all know, in which Gollum, dancing with glee, stumbles on the edge of the precipice and falls in "accidentally". Obviously the scene works best that way, but why? I think it's because Tolkien's ultimate scheme was to show the outworkings of Providence at this very central scene. No one's free will is operative at this point; both Frodo and Gollum have been overwhelmed by the Ring's power, and are unable to cast away the ring. But when Frodo (and Sam) were in a position to choose, they chose mercy — because the vital choice of this story is not only the choice to cast away the ring, but the choice not to kill Gollum. It's because Frodo refused to judge Gollum (whom he had a kind of fellow-feeling for) that he is the hero of the story, not just because he was the Ringbearer (a quest at which, technically, he failed). If Sam kills Gollum at Mt. Doom, this whole underlying conception of the story comes to nought. (Also Sam acts heroically in a way that Frodo didn't, and this throws the whole story out of alignment.)

But Gollum also cannot jump — that would imply that he still had some kind of free will, but his mind and freedom are almost completely gone at this point; he has finally chosen his "dark side." All must now happen (as it seems) by accident, but really, as Tolkien was later to say, by the workings of Providence. Tolkien's really profound point, I think, is that the heroic choices of life are made, so to speak, when no one is looking; when the crisis comes, your fate may depend not so much on what you choose to do then (you may not be in a position to choose), but on all the choices you have made previously.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Christopher Tolkien, ed. Sauron Defeated: The History of Middle-Earth, Volume IX. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Biblical Hebrew Textbooks for Beginners?

Dave@GracePages comments in the last post:

Tell me, what would you recommend to someone like me as an introduction to biblical Hebrew?

I'm an academic type with a degree in Biblical-Theological Studies, familiar with Greek, but almost totally ignorant of Hebrew. You know, I can remember that Yom means 'day' and that's about it -- I've pretty much focused on the New Testament. I aspire to return to scholarship in the future, however. I wouldn't be able to identify a single Hebrew character.

Unfortunately, it's been 18 years since I taught introductory Hebrew (and seven years since I formally taught anything at all; not by choice). I just don't know what's out there. I found this website, but the emphasis there is for the intermediate student, not the beginner. A number of beginner's texts are mentioned at this commercial site.

Many scholars I know like to use Lambdin (see the website just mentioned). I've consulted it on occasion, but never used it as a textbook. I don't know anything about Kittel or Kelley. I've written a review of C. L. Seow's grammar, but I don't know how it goes over in the classroom.

I learned Biblical Hebrew from the late W. S Lasor's Handbook of Biblical Hebrew, which I believe is out of print. It's a pity, because it is a largely inductive approach, and I've been sold on the inductive method ever since. I don't know if there are any other grammars out there that are as consistently inductive. I've also used in the classroom Moshe Greenberg's Introduction to Hebrew, but it is a little thin (literally and figuratively).

What do the rest of you think? Blog about it, and I'll link to your discussion; or write to me and I'll include your views in an update.

UPDATE (3/8): Eric Sowell@The Coding Humanist writes:
I learned a little Hebrew at DTS using Seow's A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew. Even though it is packed full of useful information, it is difficult to learn from. I do not recommend it. And, it is very deductive in its approach, so it isn't what you are looking for.

Just after I took first year Hebrew they switched to Pratico and Van Pelt's grammar. That one seems better, but I have not had a chance to spend much time in it as of yet.
Ken Penner e-mails:
It sounds like Dave@GracePages, knowing Greek, could use a textbook that errs on the side of being thorough rather than simplistic. If so, I'd suggest Lambdin. Even advanced scholars appeal to Lambdin in a way that is not heard of for other textbooks. Seow would be my second choice (what was your opinion of it when you reviewed it?). I like some things about the organization in Weingreen, but I haven't used it enough to recommend it confidently. I'd recommend staying away from LaSor, though I see great value in the inductive method. It's just not appropriate for self-teaching. I've seen some particularly bad intro. grammars, that I won't mention unless asked. For someone who doesn't know an ancient language already, I'd suggest Futato. I haven't taught from it, but it looks promising.
Justin Winger e-mails:
When I taught at Fuller many of us used Simon, Resnikoff, & Motzkin, The First Hebrew Primer (EKS Publishing - www.ekspublishing.com). As with all grammars, there is a compromise, and the compromise here is that the book makes Hebrew very fun and easy to learn but it isn't grammar-intensive and doesn't include some of the finer points of grammar. The focus is instead on getting the student to read Hebrew and enjoy it. There is also a bit of a jump from the "book Hebrew" to Biblical Hebrew, but not a large one if one chooses his/her initial post-grammar texts carefully (the book itself works through Ruth). I found it to be perfect for a Seminary setting in which there were many people who were required to take Hebrew but didn't have any desire to learn it (and many others who were simply scared of it), especially if a few weeks were reserved at the end of the course for just reading the Hebrew Bible, and if the book was supplemented with handouts of the finer points of grammar as needed. As somebody who works with Semitic languages, you might enjoy checking it out. At the end of each chapter they have exercises, a section of Ruth, and a "Tall Tale," which is usually one of the fairy tales translated into Biblical Hebrew. Reading "The Three Little Pigs" in Biblical Hebrew (and a somewhat humorous rendition at that) definitely makes reading chunks of Hebrew fun for the student (even if some teachers might gripe about book exercises in language teaching).
Many thanks for all who took the time to write. Note also Chris Brady's and Carl's comments in the comment section below. Dave, hope this helps.

UPDATE II: Danny Zacharias also has some suggestions and observations.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Moffatt and Hebrew Wordplay

The text of Genesis 5:29 in the KJV reads as follows:
And he called his name Noah, saying, This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the LORD hath cursed.
Most of the modern translations say essentially the same thing. The NRSV has:
He named him Noah, saying, “Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands.”
Without a marginal note or the like (such as in the NET Bible), the ordinary reader of the English Bible would never be able to tell that the name Noah (נח) and the words translated "comfort" or "relief" (נחם) sound alike (sort of) and that the author is making a play on words.

As far as I know, Moffatt, about whom I blogged last week, is the only one who attempts to duplicate in English the play on words:
... a son, whom he called Noah, saying, "Now we shall 'know a' relief from our labour and from our toil on the ground that the Eternal cursed."
Well, that's a pretty bad pun, but give Moffatt an A for effort. He does a bit better with Seth in Genesis 4:25:
... [she] called him Seth, saying, "God has set up another child for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed."
Here the name Seth (שׁת) is the same, consonantally, as the verb translated "set up" (שׁת). (NRSV has: "she bore a son and named him Seth, for she said, 'God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, because Cain killed him.'")

Generally, though, Moffatt is not able to find a suitable pun and simple inserts a gloss into the text, as with Cain in Genesis 4:1:
... [she] bore Cain (Got), saying, "I have got a man from the Eternal."
Here the name (קין) really does not sound much like the verb translated "I have got" (קניתי), and so Moffatt's translation, if anything, implies a greater similarity than is present in the original text (and besides, "Cain" does not mean "got"!). A better translation that also preserves some kind of assonance is found in the Jewish Publication Society's "she conceived and bore Cain, saying, 'I have gained a male child with the help of the LORD.'"

If Moffatt falls short more often than he succeeds, at least he makes the effort. I will end this post with one of his better ones. Isaiah 7:9 has one of the best puns, and one of the hardest to translate, in the Bible: im lo ta'aminu, ki lo te'amenu, translated by the KJV as "If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established." Moffatt has the following:
"If your faith does not hold, you will never hold out."
And that's not bad; it's at least as good as the NRSV, which also tries to duplicate this pun, with "If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all." (The NIV is very similar; I don't know which was first.)

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Fourth Sunday in Lent

He started putting Brendan through his monkish paces.

"Who is the Prince of Light then?" Erc asked.

"Him as is son to the King of the Stars, your honor," said Brendan.

"Which is the mightiest work of the Spirit of God?" Erc said.

"The begetting of the Prince of Light on the Queen of Glory," said Brendan.

Erc said, "Where might you find a house with fifty and hundred windows and all of them looking out onto Heaven?"

"King David's book of psalms," Brendan said. His face was feverish pale. His lips was parted over his teeth.

Erc said, "There are three devils forever leading us into sin, boy. Would you be knowing their names?"

"The tongue in our mouths is such a devil," Brendan said. "The eye in our heads another. The thoughts of our black hearts the third."

—Frederick Buechner, Brendan

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Weekend Reading: New York, New Yorker

Check out the New York Public Library's digital collection. Once they get their server problems fixed, it should be awesome, and I mean that quite literally. From the New York Times:
So far, about 275,000 items are online, and you can browse by subject, by collection, by name or by keyword. The images first appear in thumbnail pictures, a dozen to a page. Some include verso views. You can collect 'em, enlarge 'em, download 'em, print 'em and hang 'em on your wall at home. All are free, unless, of course, you plan to make money on them yourself. (Permission is required.)

The NYT also has a feature today on religious bloggers.

Adam Gopnik's piece "Voltaire's Garden" is online, but if it wasn't, it would still be worth the price of the New Yorker this week all by itself. I found this sentence fascinating:
Although no single volume in English does justice to all the Voltaires, the second, scientific Voltaire, at least, inspired one of the most blissfully entertaining books in the language, Nancy Mitford’s 1954 “Voltaire in Love,” an account of his great affair with Mme. Châtelet and of their joint introduction to the pleasures of sex and calculus.
OK, I'm going to have to read that book, if only to find out when they engaged in calculus: pre- or post-? (Or, God help us, mid-.)

And no one but Gopnik can write sentences like this:
Voltaire was in favor of a benign, supervisory God in the way that British leftists used to be in favor of the Queen, or in the way that Yankee free agents are in favor of Joe Torre; it’s nice to think that someone genial is overseeing things.
Read the whole thing. Have a nice weekend.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Rollston and Parker on the Forgery Scandal

Jim West (thanks, Jim) points to this excellent article by Chris Rollston and Heather Parker on the Bible & Interpretation website: "Responses to the Epigraphic Forgery Crisis: Casting Down the Gauntlet to the Field and to Museums." It is highly recommended.

I found the paragraph below of interest:

Rollston recently requested permission to collate (for a two-hour period "before or after exhibit hours") a non-provenanced object (the "Marzeah Papyrus") which is currently a part of the "Ink and Blood Exhibit." It is being touted as "five hundred years older than the Dead Sea Scrolls." Rollston is suspicious about the authenticity of the inscription. However, the owner of this papyrus, along with the director of the exhibit (knowing Rollston's views), have denied access and have provided the following rationale: "it would inconvenience and disrupt the show."

Readers of Ralph may remember my previous post advising wariness of the Marzeah Papyrus. Note: the link given there to the hi-res photo of the papyrus is dead. This is where to find it now.

Random Notes

UPDATE (3/4): Links to past posts added.

A few random updates to topics of past posts:

The etymology of Abu Ghraib is discussed at some length here, without a firm conclusion.

An interview with the producer of "Joan of Arcadia" is here. Thanks to Barbara for the heads-up.

For those who can't get enough evangelical bookchat, check out "A Harvest of Evangelical Theology" from First Things. Carl Braaten says "There is no firm agreement on what is meant by 'evangelical' today." No kidding.

Britney's inscription is apparently a quasi-magical concatenation of letters, according to this chart. (Thanks, Ken.) Is it just me, or does the "Kabbalah" Centre seem like just another crass method of hoovering money out of your wallet?

I'll try to add back links to the various stories as I have time; if old posts start showing up in your aggregators, it's just me doing "Ralph"'s housework.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Borrowed Dust

If you like "an eclectic stew of theology, poetry, politics, humor, and more" (I do), then I recommend you check out Charlie Brumbaugh's new blog, "Borrowed Dust" (great title). Charlie is a cool guy —a poet, a picker, and a priest. Give it a look.

Tel Dan and Garbini (iv)

This post is the fourth in a series criticizing Giovanni Garbini's essay on the Tel Dan inscription. Garbini says:

One comes across a total of four verbal forms of the so-called waw consecutive with the imperfect (wy$kb, wyhk, w'qtl, w'$m) in this brief textual remnant. While this narrative verbal form is usual in the biblical Hebrew, the Moabite of the Mesha Stone and in the prophetic text of Deir Alla, it is found neither in Phoenician nor in Aramaic. The only exception to this is the Aramaic inscription of Zakur, where one finds three examples of the imperfect with waw consecutive, a fact probably due to the probable Canaanite origin of the character (as shown by the vocalization of his name, documented in an Assyrian text). That which needs to be underlined is that the forms in question are not used systematically in the text of the Zakur inscription, but are only found in one passage of a strictly religious "flavour", in which the sovereign records his prayer to Baal Shamim and the divinity's response. The indiscriminant use of the waw consecutive in the Tel Dan inscription is thus a completely anomalous datum in the context of Aramaic epigraphy.

Garbini's observations on the use of the "waw consecutive" call for several comments; the primary problem is his restriction on the use of the available evidence. He states roundly that except for biblical Hebrew, Moabite, and the Deir Alla dialect, the waw consecutive is not found in Phoenician or in Aramaic, except for the Zakur inscription. In other words, except in the texts most likely, on the basis of geography and historical contact, to furnish authentic parallels to the Tel Dan inscription, the waw consecutive is not found!

I have the following observations:

(1) The fact that the waw consecutive is not found in Phoenician is not relevant, since the Tel Dan inscription is not written in Phoenician.

(2) On the basis of dialect geography, Israelite Hebrew (Garbini's term "biblical Hebrew" suggests that the form is not found in epigraphic Hebrew, but it is), Moabite, and Deir Alla form a Sprachbund in which the waw consecutive (better: narrative preterite) is still in use. Tel Dan's location would place it within the area of this isogloss. As the epigraphic attestation of what we might call Southern Old Aramaic mounts up, its partial similarities to Hebrew become more evident. The presence of the waw consecutive is what would be expected on the basis of dialect geography.

(3) Garbini states that the waw consecutive is not used systematically in the Zakur stele, but simply in one passage of strictly religious flavor. In Tel Dan, on the other hand, the waw consecutive is used indiscriminately, and this is completely "anomalous." It is unique; I think the word "anomalous" prejudges the issue. I am not sure that the 13 fragmentary lines of Tel Dan give us enough context to understand its verbal system; I'm not even sure that the 47 lines (somewhat less fragmentary) of Zakur give us enough to understand its verbal system. This is certainly all the more true for Garbini, who was writing when only the first fragment of the Tel Dan stele had been found. We just don't have enough information to say that Tel Dan is anomalous. (In fact, based on our current state of knowledge, it could be said that it is the Zakur stele's strange mixture of forms that is anomalous.)

(4) Garbini, as can be seen, tends to overstate the reliability of our dialectal knowledge, and he assumes airtight boundaries between dialects. This flies in the face of our current understanding of the West Semitic languages of the Iron Age as forming a dialect continuum.

(5) It should be noted that Qumran Aramaic still has a few examples of the waw consecutive. Therefore it is not quite true that its use in the Tel Dan stele is "completely" anomalous.

(6) As Takamitsu Muraoka has observed, consideration of the "waw consecutive" in Tel Dan is connected with the use of the preterite form without waw (occurs twice). This gives a remarkably archaic look to the verbal system, reminding us, as Garbini rightly says, of Ugaritic. I can't comment on what Garbini says about the preterite form (which he objects to) because the crucial paragraph (which follows the one quoted above) is truncated in the translation, and I can't tell exactly what his point is. Is the use of the preterite surprising? Yes. But there are examples of the preterite without waw still surviving in the Hebrew Bible (in its oldest strata) and it is not unexpected that there should be some epigraphic attestation of this usage in a newly-discovered Northwest Semitic text from the 9th century BCE.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: The verbs of the Tel Dan stele have been widely discussed. See, inter alia, Muraoka, T. (1995). "The Tel Dan inscription and Aramaic/Hebrew Tenses," Abr-Nahrain, 33, pp. 113-115; Muraoka, T. (1995). "Linguistic notes on the Aramaic inscription from Tel Dan," Israel Exploration Journal, 45, pp. 19-21; Muraoka, T. (1998). "Again on the Tel Dan inscription and the Northwest Semitic verb tenses," Zeitschrift für Althebraistik, 11. See also: Victor Sasson, (1997). "Some Observations on the Use and the Original Purpose of the Waw Consecutive in Old Aramaic and Biblical Hebrew," VT 47, 111–127.

Baby Got Book

I like big Bibles and I can not lie
You Christian brothers can't deny
That when a girl walks in with a KJV
And a book mark in Proverbs
You get stoked
Got her name engraved
So you know that girl is saved
It looks like one of those large ones
With plenty o' space in the margins
Oh baby, I wanna read witcha
Cause your Bible's got pictures
My minister tried to console me
But that Book you got makes ("M-m-me so holy")
Ooh, momma-mia
You say you want koinonia
Well, bless me, bless me
And teach me about John Wesley

That's from "Baby Got Book," a take-off of Sir Mix-A-Lot's crass "Baby Got Back." Mark Liberman at Language Log thinks "Book" is "sacrilegious," while "Back" is "merely profane." Me? I think "Book" is hilarious. You have to really know the milieu.

Give me a Christian, I'm insistin'
And I'll greet her with some holy kissin'
Some pervert tried to chase
But he didn't make it past first base
She's quick to resist temptation
And she loves a new translation
So ladies who were lost and found
If you want the triple-six thrown down
Dial 1-800-READS-A-LOT
And teach me about those Psalms
Baby got Book

Chorus
(NIV with a ribbon bookmark)
Baby got Book
(Thompson Chain with big red letters)

(Bible college knowledge but she still got Book)

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Newsweek's Big Scoop: The Pope is Catholic

Newsweek this week has an exclusive — the Pope has no living will! Are you surprised? Me neither. The real story is how relentlessly Newsweek uses this story to slam the pontiff for being a pontiff. First, we are informed that "his will to live — and to impose his will on the Roman Catholic faithful — remains as stubborn as ever." (Apparently this is due to his invocation of Petrine authority in a recent appearance. Big news!) Then we have this accusation: "this same pontiff who continues to assert his will in the daily life of the church has given his doctors no instructions about how to sustain his life." And finally — JUST IN CASE YOU MISSED THE POINT — the author repeats that, "having spent a generation imposing his will on the church, the ailing John Paul has yet to make known a living will to guide his doctors."

Is the Pope Catholic? Last I heard, the RC church was pretty pro-life, and I don't think the Pope is going to tell anyone to pull the plug on himself, as much as Newsweek would apparently like that to happen. And, hey, come on — isn't "imposing his will" just the same behavior that observers less animated by anti-Catholic bile would call leading, guiding, instructing?

Probably what Newsweek would really like to see is the Pope turn a shotgun on himself as Hunter Thompson did. David Gates in the same issue gives Thompson a wholly undeserved encomium as a great writer, invoking Shakespeare, Swift, Twain, Beckett and William Burroughs as comparanda (no, I'm not making that up). Here's how he ends his column:

[Thompson said]: "Our Armies will never again be No. 1, and our children will drink filthy water for the rest of our lives ... Big Darkness, soon come." If that's what he thought — he's not alone — and he hurt too much to fight any longer, he's well out of it now.
OK, who's the brave guy here? Thompson, who, having spent a lifetime fleeing reality, just couldn't stay ahead of it any more — or the Pope, who is fighting the Big Darkness with everything he's got? Which worldview is the most world- and life-affirming? Which figure wimped out?

(No, I'm not Catholic, as you know if you've been paying attention. I'm Episcopalian.)

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Re-reading the Moffatt Translation

I have a ton of Bible translations, because I'm interested in the Bible and I'm also interested in translation. One of the most interesting is James Moffatt's version. The copy I have (it was my mother's) is dated 1954, but the first printing is listed as 1922. Apparently it is still in print, although I rarely see it cited any more. Some sample pages are available at Amazon.

Moffatt interests me because his book is a one-man scholarly translation, something that is pretty rare these days. I think Robert Alter's new translation of the Pentateuch is the only recent example.

But Moffatt is particularly fascinating because he makes very few concessions to canonical form or to anyone's prior idea of what a "bible" should be like. His Genesis begins with Genesis 2:4a, moved to the beginning of the text from its canonical position, presumably on the supposition that it originally belonged there. He also often distinguishes the pentateuchal sources typographically: P occurs in ordinary type, J in italics, and E within single square brackets ([ ]).

"The only other mark which requires a word of explanation," he says, with wonderful confidence, "is the double square brackets ([[ ]]). This denotes, throughout the entire Old Testament, passages which are either editorial additions or later interpolations." The reader will soon run into Genesis 4:20, 21, which are so enclosed, although these are usually now assigned to J. I think scholars are more modest today, and few if any translators are confident enough to mark definitely within the text itself some verses rather than others as interpolations. In fact, most translators would not see the marking of interpolations as their job; that's the work of the literary critic. (But why? Doesn't that assume that the final form of the text is the only one eligible for translation? Who says?)

Moffatt also does not hesitate to discuss textual decisions in his New Testament footnotes (he was primarily a NT scholar) with full citations in Greek. For instance, at Matt. 27:16, he translates "a notorious prisoner called Jesus Bar-Abbas," and footnotes "Jesus" thusly: "Adding here and in the following verse Ἰησοῦν with the Sinaitic (and Palestinian) Syriac version, some good miniscules, and manuscripts known to Origen." In the UBS Greek text, Ἰησοῦν is bracketed, but Metzer in his Textual Commentary notes that, like Moffatt, "a majority of the Committee was of the opinion that the original text of Matthew had the double name in both verses." Moffatt may have been the first to restore "Jesus" in the translation itself (NRSV has it, RSV does not). But it is the detail of the textual note, in a translation intended for public use, that amazes me.

Moffatt is particularly interesting in his translation of Hebrew naming puns. I'll talk about those in a later post.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: James Moffatt, The Bible: A New Translation (Harper & Row, 1954).

Jewish Rockers

An interesting article about Jewish rockers here, to be included in the revision of the Encyclopedia Judaica. The editor considers Bob Dylan, natch, as the no. 1 Jewish rocker.

Surprisingly unmentioned in the article: the late Mike Bloomfield, one of the top guitarists of all time, whose sweet chromatic blues licks are still influential (and who played on "Like a Rolling Stone"). Presumably he will be mentioned in the EJ article itself.

And an honorable mention must be made of Dr. Alan Cooper of the Jewish Theological Seminary, who is probably the only member of the Society of Biblical Literature who also performed at Woodstock (as a founding member of Sha Na Na). Yes, that's him singing "At the Hop" in the movie Woodstock.

UPDATE (3/2): I've been informed that Alan Cooper has been quite ill lately with severe kidney problems, and that he has been forced to cut back on his academic activities. I hadn't realized this, and my prayers (yours too, I hope) will be with Alan and Tamar and their family.