Sunday, December 16, 2007

Fourth Annual Ralphies

Ah, the Ralphies. This year, for me, has been a year of retrenchment, retreat, and hunkering down to work, and I don't feel that I've been in a lot of touch with the outside world of movies, books, etc. On the other hand, that's never stopped me before, has it? So, on with the highly idiosyncratic awards. I expect all of you to follow suit. Yes, you too. Don't try to hide behind that sign. I see you.

BEST MOVIE: Actually, there are still of lot of movies I'd like to see that I haven't. They'll have to wait until they show up on the Netflix queue. Of the movies we actually got out to see, the best and most thoughtful was probably The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen). However, the one I liked the best was The Simpsons Movie. So Homer gets the Ralphie this year. Woo-hoo!

BEST RECORD: A couple of my favorite bands had new records this year — the Fiery Furnaces with Widow City and The National with Boxer. Good stuff, but my socks remained on my feet, if you know what I mean. Like other baby boomers, I really enjoyed Raising Sand with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. And, I spent a lot of time catching up with records from the past, and the best record I listened to this year (and one of the best ever) is Shoot Out the Lights by Richard and Linda Thompson (1982). But the Ralphie has to go to a record from 2007 and this year it goes to Icky Thump by the White Stripes. Loud, messy, and good.

BEST BOOK (FICTION): Again, it was a year of reading old favorites and not reading a lot of new stuff. Besides the old favorites, I did read a few novels by Charles Portis, Jay MacInerny, and Doug Coupland. But the only 2007 fiction book I read is a worthy winner of a Ralphie: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The whole series is a great achievement, and will no doubt prove to be an enduring classic.

BEST BOOK (NON-FICTION): I don't think I actually read a non-fiction book published this year. However, the Ralphie for Best Non-Fiction that I did read goes to Baruch Halpern's David's Secret Demons (2000). It elevated the whole question of minimalism vs. maximalism to a new plateau of sophistication and made both sides look shallow by its very erudition. (This achievement is not lessened by the fact that Halpern is plainly and perversely wrong in many of his exegetical judgments.)

BEST TV SHOW: My usual favorites are all on the list: The Office, Lost and the Fox Sunday night animated lineup. The Office wound up its 3rd season in a blaze of glory, and then stumbled in its 4th season, at least what we've seen so far. When Pam and Jim got together, the air just seemed to go out of the series. The only shows that consistently made me laugh out loud were Family Guy and 30 Rock. But I'm giving the Ralphie to Lost for a great story, compelling acting, and for featuring the hero of demented 50-something guys everywhere, Terry O'Quinn as Locke.

That's it for this year, folks. If I didn't link to something, just Google it, will ya, or look it up on Wikipedia. Do I have to do everything? Sheesh.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Satan, Romney, and 2008

An election is coming up — so they tell me — in 2008. And that can mean only one thing: Total boredom for the next 12 months. Yes, politics makes me weep for its very dullness, and an election year is the worst of all, because it’s so difficult to avoid.

Most annoying are the people who say, “Tut-tut! Don’t you think it’s important to make an informed choice? Don’t you feel it is your bounden duty as a citizen to pay close attention to all the candidates and then cast an intelligent vote? Huh? Don’t you?” My answer to that is: Yeah, I guess. But I don’t think it’s necessary for me to spend a huge amount of time figuring out where I should cast my vote, which will count for 1/190 millionth of the total voice of the electorate. As usual, I will spend a couple of hours the day before the election reading up on the platforms, and then decide in the voting booth.

Fortunately, however, the current campaign seems to be diversified away from the usual boring policy discussions and is getting into something that is actually interesting, namely, theology. Mike Huckabee, in connection with Mitt* Romney’s Mormonism, asked the question, “Don’t Mormons believe Jesus and Satan were brothers?”

Now I don’t care whether Huckabee had a political agenda in asking that question or not. Probably he did. What I do care about is this: Do Mormons actually believe Jesus and Satan were brothers? And the answer seems to be yes:

On first hearing, the doctrine that Lucifer and our Lord, Jesus Christ, are brothers may seem surprising to some—especially to those unacquainted with latter-day revelations. But both the scriptures and the prophets affirm that Jesus Christ and Lucifer are indeed offspring of our Heavenly Father and, therefore, spirit brothers. Jesus Christ was with the Father from the beginning. Lucifer, too, was an angel “who was in authority in the presence of God,” a “son of the morning.” (See Isa. 14:12; D&C 76:25–27.) Both Jesus and Lucifer were strong leaders with great knowledge and influence. But as the Firstborn of the Father, Jesus was Lucifer’s older brother. (See Col. 1:15; D&C 93:21.)

The actual import of this is not, as the Mormons point out, that Jesus and Satan are friends. They aren’t. But they are “spirit brothers,” which, I assume, means that both of them or neither of them are “one with the Father” in the credal sense. In short, Mormons are not Trinitarians in the traditional Christian way; and therefore, arguably, are not Christians.

I mean this in the formal sense. I take it for granted that “being a Christian” can be understood in a formal sense, wherein dogmatic definitions long held in common by all churches (such as those of Nicea and Chalcedon) define what “Christian” means. “Christian” can also be taken in a material sense, in that someone who is formally a heretic or even an “unbeliever” can have (or be on the way to having) saving faith in Christ, although unable to articulate it properly or (in the case of the unbeliever) unaware of it. The opposite is also true, that someone who is formally a Christian, in the sense of assenting outwardly to the formal dogmas of the faith, may materially not be one, in the sense of being unregenerate and having no actual, saving faith in Christ.

It follows then, that Mitt Romney may or may not be a Christian (material sense), but is certainly not a Christian (formal sense). Does this make any difference politically? Or should it? I assume that our overall judgment of someone’s fitness for office in this country should concentrate on whether their policies conduce to the common good, and not whether they belong to a particular group (even if it is our group). Our theology will influence our views of what policies are best for the commonwealth, but we regrettably can’t assume that the candidates will draw the same conclusions from their theology (or lack thereof). We can only look at the policies themselves. Therefore our decision must ultimately rest on the boring grounds of public policy and not on the interesting grounds of theology.

It’s gonna be a long year.


*What kind of name is “Mitt”? Shouldn’t it be “Mitch”?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Home again (2)

After the SBL conference in San Diego, I flew up to the Bay Area to visit my daughter Liz and her husband Brian. It was a delight to see them both, since I hadn't since shortly after the wedding. We paid a visit to the Stanford campus (where Liz is a grad student in Classics), the Googleplex (where Brian works), City Lights bookstore, the cable cars, Union Square, and the Haight. On Thanksgiving Day, we enjoyed a genuine feast courtesy of one of Liz's fellow students (thank you, Micah!) and then had dessert with the multitalented Patrick Hunt and his gifted family, where I got another free book (thank you, Patrick!).

After a packed and eventful week, I flew home, catching a cold on the plane. Only now am I beginning to emerge into full sentience again.

And now for some awards:

Best Meal: This is a tough one. I'll have to say the tofu stir-fry at Wild Note, but the huevos rancheros at Croce's was (were?) also really good. Not to mention Brian's pancakes. Well, and Micah's feast, of course. Dang it, it was good eatin' all the time, even the hot dog at O'Hare.

Best discussion: Again a lot of competition. But I'll give the nod to the "Man in the Moon" convo on Micah's porch between me, Liz, and Brian. I also bent a lot of ears (and bored many, I'm sure) with my recent thoughts on popery.

Worst Transportation: The SBL shuttle buses were fine when they stopped, but on more than one occasion they roared past me at the hotel, although I was standing by an official SBL shuttle bus sign. This forced me to walk from the Sheraton Suites to the Convention Center (not bad — about 1.5 miles), in shoes not made for long walks. My feet still have the blisters.

Scariest Moment: When the taxi driver taking us to see Suzanne Vega in Solana Beach pulled out his map book and began to study it, while driving. At night. In traffic. On the I-5, at 75 mph. I lived through it, somehow.

Proudest Moment: When I almost had Liz convinced that Palo Alto was Spanish for "old friend." (She'll deny it.)

Most Humbling Moment: Finishing 3rd in a 4-handed game of Scrabble.

A good week. Better than Philadelphia, that's for sure. See you next year in Boston.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig (Part I)

My, what a busy week. Friday I arrived in San Diego for the SBL meeting, and attended (briefly) the Accordance seminar that night, much the worse for wear from jet lag. Saturday morning I had coffee with JT; we discussed sola Scriptura and bird watching in Korea, and he kindly gave me a copy of his latest book. Later I had lunch with the estimable Targuman, and dinner with my co-authors Marty and James. After that we went to see Teddy Thompson and Suzanne Vega at the Belly-Up Tavern, where a good time was what all of us had.

Sunday was devoted to the business at hand, namely conversations with prospective employers and prospective publishers. These were very positive; and as soon as I have something concrete to report, I'll report it. In the evening I went to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the San Diego Natural History Museum. I would give this exhibit a B-plus overall. The set-up was nicely done, the scrolls were displayed to good advantage, and the information was solid — although the recurrent interpretation of Locus 30 of Qumran as the "scriptorium" was not presented with the necessary reservations, and no doubt would mightily vex the soul of Norman Golb. Nevertheless, I would give the exhibit I saw a few years ago in Chicago a better grade, simply because of a better walk-through arrangement and more actual physical space (much of the space, in San Diego, was wasted on photography that was minimally relevant to understanding the scrolls, but which seemed to encourage tourism to the Holy Land).

Monday was more of a day of rest; the Fuller breakfast, lunch with the Targuman at the Tin Fish, followed by the Aramaic Studies session, where a couple of hapless presenters were tossed and gored (deservedly, I fear) by a senior scholar. But in general the session was excellent. Tuesday I had breakfast with MMT, made a last visit to the book exhibit, and then escaped to the Bay Area. I'll pick up the story at that point in my next post.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Lawrence and Lewis




Last week I watched, over the course of several nights, Lawrence of Arabia (1962). They just don't make movies like that anymore. I don't think they even make theaters big enough to show movies like that anymore.

And it reminded me of something I read a while back, that T. E. Lawrence met C. S. Lewis at Oxford in the early '20's. Neither of them had any idea of who the other one was (and indeed Lewis was far from achieving any fame at this time). Here's the entry from Lewis's diary for August 11, 1922:

I lunched with Beckett in All Souls. He advised me to try for a fellowship there. We fed in the buttery with a man called Lawrence (formerly of Jesus) and an older one whose name I did not catch. Both were most interesting and agreeable. We drank beer bottled in the 19th century: it is clear red, tastes and smells like toffee, and is very strong.


At this time, Lawrence must have been in the process of writing Seven Pillars of Wisdom, published in 1926. In 1924 (March 14), Lewis heard more about Lawrence:

During tea Beckett talked of his mysterious colleague Lawrence. He started the Hejaz business and got a job in the Foreign Office, which he held for a time, refusing to take any salary, but soon dropped it. He then took his Fellowship, but again refused the money and hung about All Souls, never dining in Hall, and haunting the Common Room of evening in ordinary clothes, talking very well when he did talk, but far more often silent. Now he has gone back to the army as an infantry private soldier under an assumed name. He is believed to have no private means to speak of: no man is intimate with him.


Beckett was Eric Beckett, later legal adviser to the Foreign Office, who helped shape British policy in the Middle East. File this under "Conversations You Wish You'd Heard."

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Walter Hooper, ed., All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C. S. Lewis, 1922-1927. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1991.

Monday, November 05, 2007

O Reader, If Thou Needest a Laugh

Readers who need a good laugh are encouraged to read Alan Jacobs' review of Kahlil Gibran's Collected Works.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Busybusybusy

Sorry I haven't been blogging much. I know you all (all three of you) have been anxiously waiting for more new wisdom.

But I've been busy, maybe more so than I have ever been. I have a book manuscript due on Dec. 31, which I realized last night that I can't finish on time. Hopefully the good folk at Brill will be understanding.

I also have two contributions to books to finish; one for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha project, and another for a Festschrift for a man whom I would like to honor by finishing on time.

All of this is on top of many hours of tagging and glossing several projects for Accordance. Happily these are almost done, and the Fragment-Targum and Cairo Geniza Targum Texts should be available with the latest release next month, as well as the Elephantine Papyri module released earlier this year.

Ah yes, November. I will be attending the SBL in San Diego this year. It's always fun to make the scene at these things, but it's also a chunk of time subtracted from the working schedule. I hope things will happen there that will make it all worthwhile.

So I have good reasons for silence. Watch this space, though, blogging will return in full force one of these days.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Halpern and the Beerothites

I've been reading, with great enjoyment, Baruch Halpern's David's Secret Demons. There is much of value in the book, as well as much with which I would vigorously disagree. Nevertheless, it is certainly a tour de force. (Interesting how calling something a tour de force can be either a compliment or a criticism.)

One point of disagreement I would spotlight here is Halpern's statement that the Gibeonites were responsible for the murder of Ishbaal, Saul's son and heir:
Two non-Israelites, from the Gibeonite town Beeroth, assassinated Ishbaal and rushed his head to Hebron — presenting it to David on a plate. ... It is no coincidence that Ishbaal's assassins were Gibeonites, from the town of Beeroth. Saul, the text states, had expelled the population of that town. Although David avenged the killing — of his enemy and rival — it was not much later that he allowed the Gibeonites the joy of avenging themselves on the House of Saul (2 Sam. 21). (Halpern, pp. 308, 310, see also pp. 31, 81)
The text Halpern refers to is 2 Sam 4:2-3:
Saul’s son had two captains of raiding bands; the name of the one was Baanah, and the name of the other Rechab. They were sons of Rimmon a Benjaminite from Beeroth—for Beeroth is considered to belong to Benjamin. (Now the people of Beeroth had fled to Gittaim and are there as resident aliens to this day). [NRSV]
These verses are not quoted by Halpern, et pour cause, for they say, rather plainly, that Ishbaal's killers were not Gibeonites, but Benjaminites, i.e., Israelites, from the same tribe as Ishbaal himself. True (says the writer), they were from Beeroth, a town of Gibeon, but at this time, Beeroth belonged to Benjamin, the natives having fled to Gittaim. (The text also does not say that Saul expelled the natives, although it is a reasonable guess.)

This is not an insignificant detail, because Halpern builds up an elaborate theory that David himself was a Gibeonite, or a Gibeonite sympathizer, and in fact colluded with these men to have Ishbaal killed. If the killers were not native to Beeroth, however, a major prop of this theory falls to the ground. Halpern has to deal somewhere with the clear statement of this text — but he never does.

Judging from the book as a whole, I think Halpern would probably claim that the assassins were in fact Gibeonites, and that the assertion that they were Benjaminites was a falsehood concocted by David's apologists to counter the idea that David was complicit in the slaying. But he never says this outright, and winds up giving a false impression of the story.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Baruch Halpern, David's Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2001.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Heimgehen

Blogger Scott Becker has died of cancer. His blog Aufhebung ("Cancellation") has been a moving, and sometimes harrowing, account of his last months. I didn't know Scott, but I know some who did, and by all accounts he was a most remarkable man and Christian.

In his first few posts — less than 10 months ago — he said:

[M]y life thus far has been extraordinarily rich, a fact that has been impressed upon me especially in the last couple of weeks, as people from all different moments of my past have surfaced to express their love and support. Yes, I am aware of a certain Job-like quality to my life: three bouts with cancer, heart failure, a number of related physical difficulties and a couple of major career setbacks. But there is something truly wonderful about this life that I of all people have been given. At almost every point along the way, I’ve been allowed to connect with others in such a way that my current circle of good friends includes people I knew in college in the early 80s, kids from my first youth group twenty years ago and hundreds of people who became a part of my life during my years in Carnation, Seattle, and now Pasadena, dozens of whom I would feel quite confident turning to in a moment of crisis. I think, too, that I inherited from both of my parents an ability to find tremendous pleasure in relatively insignificant things: a well-made omelet or bowl of oatmeal, catching a tiny bit of air beneath my skis, a 10-mile bike ride, or a clever turn of a phrase. My siblings are a lot of fun to be with, and I’m insanely happy in my marriage. This has been very good, and if my threescore and ten comes up a score short, I can’t really say that I’ve been cheated.

He also stated his intent to continue

certain practices and disciplines by which I have sought to abide, if not always successfully, since my teen years: the daily habit of Scripture reading and meditation; the habit of choosing, when the choice is given to me, to express gratitude, to make space in myself for someone who is different from me, to forbear rather than to find fault; the mental discipline of referring life experiences and questions back to the central narrative of God’s self-revelation in Christ.

Keep his family and friends in your prayers.

Monday, September 10, 2007

I (heart) Popery

The return of Francis Beckwith, president of the Evangelical Theological Society, to Catholicism, happened quite a while back, but still is being talked about. I'm not a member of ETS, so I'm not familiar with their bylaws, but I can't think of any prima facie reason why a Catholic should not be a member (or President). Nevertheless, I've read some pretty nasty reactions to the whole thing from Protestants.

I think Protestants should start thinking that the Reformation (and the Counter-Reformation) might be over, and accept that Catholicism is part — the larger part! — of the household of faith. The attitude of Thomas Browne, so rare in the 17th century, could still be adopted with profit:

We have reformed from them, not against them; for (omitting those Improperations and Terms of Scurrility betwixt us, which only difference our Affections, and not our Cause,) there is between us one common Name and Appellation, one Faith and necessary body of Principles common to us both; and therefore I am not scrupulous to converse and live with them, to enter their Churches in defect of ours, and either pray with them, or for them. (Religio Medici)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Voldemort at Qumran?

In one of the manuscripts of the Vision of Amram (4Q544), the title character has a vision of two angels; one of the angels is good, the other evil. According to Emile Puech in Discoveries in the Judean Desert 31, the bad one is described as having a "visage molting like a serpent" (Aramaic ‏חזוה חשׁל [כפ]תן‎). Which sounds a lot like Lord Voldemort — or at least some other follower of Salazar Slytherin.

But I have some problems with Puech's reading. For one thing, the root חשׁל doesn't mean "to molt," but "to crush" (unless you posit a connection with ‏שׁלח‎ II "to strip, flay"). For another, at this point in the scroll the text is ragged and only bits of the letters of this phrase are readable; I can't share Puech's certainty about his reading of this verb. Lastly, and somewhat subjectively, it just doesn't sound right; it's not something they would say.

J. T. Milik, the first editor of this scroll, read the phrase as ‏דחיל[ כפ]תן‎, "dreadful as a serpent." That sounds better, but is still not totally satisfying. Klaus Beyer's version, ‏דחיל[ כמו]תן‎, "dreadful as a plague" is no better, and is actually worse: what meaning can we attach to the idea that someone's face is as frightful as a plague? It might fit into a modern poem, but just doesn't sound right for the 1st century B.C.E.

My own suggestion is that the phrase should be restored as ‏דחיל [ואימ]תן‎, "dreadful and terrifying." It fits the readable traces as well as the other suggestions, and similar descriptions are known from other texts: Dan. 7:7, where the fourth beast is said to be "dreadful and terrifying" (‏דחילה ואימתני‎) and Targ. Hab. 1:7, where the Kittim are "terrifying and dreadful" (‏אימתנין ודחילין‎).

Not as much fun as having Lord Voldemort in the Scrolls, I admit. But still pretty terrifying.

Monday, August 13, 2007

New Targum Location

Kudos and major props are due to Chris Brady, who is refurbishing and renewing the website of the Newsletter for Targumic and Cognate Studies. (This, not incidentally, gives the Psalms Targum translation by yours truly a new address.)

Thanks, Chris!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Nebo-Sarsekim (Jer. 39:3)

In Jeremiah 39:3, several Babylonian officials are named: "Nergal-sharezer, Samgar-nebo, Sarsechim the Rab-saris, Nergal-sharezer the Rab-mag" (NRSV). Translations of these difficult names differ, and the NIV has "Nergal-Sharezer of Samgar, Nebo-Sarsekim a chief officer, Nergal-Sharezer a high official."

A recent discovery of a cuneiform tablet in the British Museum confirms that the second official was "Nebo-Sarsekim" (Akkadian Nabu-sharussu-ukin, "Nabu has established his king"). The discovery of a named biblical figure in an ancient Babylonian tablet is pretty interesting news, although it doesn't confirm the inerrancy of the whole bible, as some would have it. On the other hand, it is more evidence (if any were needed) that the historical parts of Jeremiah are reliable.

Jim West is among the debunkers of the discovery, stating, "No one has ever argued that there was no Babylonian of that name." Not so; many, if not most, recent expositors have argued that the "Sarsekim" of the Masoretic Text is a textual corruption, and that the text must be emended to make sense.

For instance, in the standard Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, we are given two ways of approaching "Sarsechim": as a textual error for "Nebushazban" (Jer. 39:13), or as a corruption of "sar sukiyyim", glossed as "supervisor of the African slaves." The first option is followed by BHS; the second has little to recommend it. Both can now be safely discarded.

Thanks to archaeology, the first two names can be reconstructed with certainty. In 1930, another tablet had given us the identification of the first name as Nergal-shar-usur prince of Sin-magir or Simmagir. The new discovery gives us Nabu-sharusu-ukin rab sha-reshi. My guess would be that Nebushazban should be substituted for the second "Nergal-sharezer" in 39:3, giving us three officials:


Nergal-shar-usur simmagir
Nabu-sharussu-ukin rab-shareshi
Nabu-shezibanni rab-mugi


Nergal-sharezer (prince of) Simmagir
Nebo-sarsekim chief eunuch
Nebushazban the rab mugi [this term for a high official is still not clear]

It is interesting that only the NIV, of modern translations, correctly understood that there were three officials in 39:3. In the Jerusalem Bible, for instance, "Sarsekim" has been emended out of existence.

There is still a problem in reconciling 39:3 with 39:13, where Nebushazban is the chief eunuch and Nergal-sharezer is the Rab-mag. I presume that this verse is the one that needs emendation. In view of the new discovery, it would seem that v. 13 is more corrupt than v. 3, and should be emended to agree with it — exactly the opposite of what was thought to be the case only a few weeks ago. Ain't biblical archaeology fun?

BIBLIOGRAPHY: See E. Dalglish, "Samgar-Nebo," Anchor Bible Dictionary 5:947-948.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Of Sayers, James, and Bells

Given that there is such a thing as "comfort food," why shouldn't there also be "comfort books"? Comfort books, as I imagine them, are personal, much-read favorites, to be resorted to when other reading (or life in general) seems flat, stale, and unprofitable.

My own canon of "comfort books" includes the mysteries of Dorothy Sayers, and recently I have been re-reading The Nine Tailors (1934), which many people feel is the best of them. I think Gaudy Night is my favorite, but The Nine Tailors surpasses it in literary quality.

On this particular re-read, I noticed what I think is a connection to another one of my "comfort" favorites, the ghost stories of M. R. James, in particular "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas," from Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904). In that story, a scholar solves a coded message, embedded in ancient stained-glass windows, left behind by the 16th century Abbot Thomas concerning the location of a lost treasure on monastery grounds. The scholar locates the treasure and discovers that it has an unpleasant guardian, left behind by the unpleasant Abbot.

In The Nine Tailors, there is also an old church containing the tomb of an Abbot Thomas: "[Wimsey] brooded for a time over the tomb of Abbot Thomas, with its robed and mitred effigy. A stern old boy, he thought, this fourteenth-century cleric, with his strong, harsh face, a ruler rather than a shepherd of his people." The oldest bell in the church, one of the nine bells alluded to in the title of the book, is "Batty Thomas," named after the Abbot who had it cast. Of this bell the sexton says, "She's queer-tempered. They do say as how old Batty [the Abbot] down below, what had her put up here, was a queer sort of man and his bell's took after him."

So you have two Abbots named Thomas, neither of them very nice, who left, on church grounds, items that have something of the nature of their owner. Now if you add that both stories concern a buried treasure that is found by reading coded messages that have a very similar solution, the conclusion is inescapable that James's story influenced Sayers' story.

Which doesn't bother me. I like this kind of intertextuality, especially when one "comfort book" influences another. If you haven't read either, read them both.

Speaking of bells, which The Nine Tailors does a lot, I can't resist passing along an old poem I ran across, from 1781, posted in an English church bell tower to keep people from sneaking in and ringing the bells for fun:

Who turns a Bell by light or dark
Two pence shall pay to Parish Clerk
Who turns a Bell on Sabbath Day
Double the sum at least shall pay
Ring not till four nor after nine
Who keeps worse hours shall twelvepence fine
With Hat, with Cap, or with Spurs on
Must four pence pay or else begone.
If any one caught pissing here
Shall four pence pay & then be clear
And who those are that will not pay
Presented shall the next Court Day.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Avudim

During the run-up to the season finale of Lost (which was terrific, by the way), I was watching (while working) some past episodes available on the internet which were apparently downloaded from Israeli TV, because they had Hebrew subtitles.

"Lost" in Hebrew, by the way, is Avudim, which is correct in Modern Hebrew, but made me wonder why one couldn't use the present participle Ovdim as in Biblical Hebrew. Ordinarily you wouldn't use a passive participle with an intransitive verb (would you?). Comments welcome.

I learned some vocabulary. When Hurley calls someone "dude," the subtitle said ‏בנאדם‎, written exactly that way. I knew that Aramaic barnash was used colloquially to mean "guy," but I wasn't aware that benadam could mean "dude" (or perhaps "chap" or "fellow").

Also, when Hurley says, "I screwed up," the translation is ‏פשׁלתי‎, pishalti. I wasn't aware that this root occurred in the Piel, and doesn't occur in the big Even-Shoshan dictionary or in the Bantam-Megiddo. There is a Hiphil that means to roll up sleeves or pant legs. My guess is that somehow the root ‏פשׁל‎ is related to ‏פתל‎, to twist or pervert. But how did this meaning develop? On the street or did someone in the Language Academy decide that Israelis needed a way to say "to screw up"? (Don't we all?)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

August 1966

The nightmarish Virginia Tech shootings have reminded me of my own very remote memory of the Charles Whitman shootings from the University of Texas tower on Aug. 1, 1966. We were living in Austin at the time, and once it became clear what was happening on the campus, the local TV station started showing live pictures of the Tower. Not much to see; every couple of minutes, a puff of smoke appeared as Whitman squeezed off another round. That's it.

I remember going out in the front yard and looking at the Tower, a couple of miles away. Back then, there were only two buildings on the Austin skyline, the Capitol building and the Tower. There the tower was, looking like it always did, and the puffs of smoke were not visible at that distance. It was hard to believe that carnage was taking place. It was a miserably hot still day, like almost all August days in Austin. It felt like a furnace outside.

Later on I biked south (toward the Tower) to go hang out at my friend Arthur Aleman's house. We were still well out of range, and we eventually got bored watching the TV feed of the motionless Tower with the occasional smoke and pop of gunfire from the invisible sniper. Arthur's dad said he was going to go down there and "see what was happening." I thought that was an incredibly stupid thing to do, but I couldn't say that to Arthur's dad. By the time Mr. Aleman arrived for his sightseeing, it was all over, so he came back.

I went home. Later on the whole thing was on the national news, and I remember thinking how strange it was that Austin, the Tower, Guadalupe Street ("The Drag") and all the other places I knew so well were talked about by Huntley & Brinkley.

Years later, when I was a student at UT in the early '70's, I went up to the Tower deck (it was still open to the public then) and looked down, imagining what Whitman saw. The people looked as small as ants; maybe he even thought of them as ants, but through a rifle scope they would look like individual persons. Over in the corner where Whitman died, there was still an unrepaired gouge in the wall from a shotgun blast fired by one of the cops who killed him.

I think the observation deck is closed these days; I can't say I'm sorry. Someone I knew, slightly, jumped to his death from there in 1974, and then they shut it down. It's an amazing edifice, but for me it is always somewhat redolent of violent death.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Old Poem

While cleaning out some papers, I came across a poem I wrote in college (that's back in the seventies, kids) for some class or other. Maybe the assignment was to "cram as many classical references as possible into one overwrought sonnet." In any case, that's what I did, and it's still better than anything I could write now, 35 years later.


Day after day I spend on a journey
With You; but too often the one who fell
Calls, calls, luring me, Siren-like, to Hell.
Sometimes I feel that I dangle helplessly
(Beyond your grace, your love, your bliss)
Over the pit of Satan, his outer dark.
Too often his attacks leave their mark
And, despairing, I feel the heat of his abyss.
But then you come; his Phlegethons
Cannot compare with the flow of blood
That swept and washed away my million sins.
Then, like magic, I can feel my bonds
Give and break; and, borne on that flood,
I continue my journey, higher up and farther in.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Thoughts about Arni (Luke 3:33)

As a side-effect of the Talpiot tomb discussion, I've been reading Richard Bauckham's Jude and the Relatives of Jesus, an interesting read and a work of high merit. One of the most stimulating chapters is the one on the Lukan genealogy of Jesus. The genealogy has a couple of odd names that drew my attention. In this post I'll discuss one of them, the name Arni in Luke 3:33 ("Amminadab, son of Admin, son of Arni").

"Arni" is an odd name in Hebrew. Although there are names with a general similarity — Aran (Gen 36:28) and Oren (1 Chr. 2:25) — the name in Luke 3:33 corresponds in the parallel Greek/Hebrew genealogies to "Ram" or "Aram" (Ruth 4:19, 1 Chr. 2:10; cp. Matt. 1:4). In several major witnesses to the text of Luke (including D and A and Peshitta), "Aram" appears instead of "Arni," and in others it occurs in addition to "Arni." "Aram" was apparently added later as a correction or crept in as a marginal or interlinear gloss. (I assume that "Admin" also originated as a correction of "Arni.")

It therefore seems that "Arni" was a copyist error for "Aram" and recognized to be such already in ancient times. However, "Arni" could only be an error for "Aram" in Hebrew script: ‏ארם‎ could be mistakenly read as ‏ארני‎, but ΑΡΑΜ could not as easily be read as ΑΡΝΙ.

There are examples of similar errors in the Bible at Amos 7:7, where the Hebrew text ‏אדני‎ should probably, on the evidence of the LXX, be read ‏אדם‎. The reverse error occurred in 1 Sam. 17:32, where Hebrew ‏אדם‎ should probably be read ‏אדני‎ (cf. LXX).

This suggests that the original of Luke's genealogy, at least for these names, must have been in Hebrew script, since it reflects a copyist error only possible in Hebrew. The question is, was the copyist error present in the Hebrew biblical genealogies that were used as a source for these names, or was it present in a separate Hebrew genealogy preserved, say, in the family of Jesus? If it was the latter, then the Lukan genealogy may be older and more reliable than it is usually considered to be. In a future post I'll try to adduce some evidence to show that that is actually the case.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

"Mary the Master"

The biblioblogosphere has been jumping on the Jesus Tomb documentary with both feet; I haven't seen such a bonanza of crackpot-theory refutation since The DaVinci Code. So there's not much left for me to do. Enjoy Jodi Magness's take on the subject, or Mark Goodacre's, or Ben Witherington's, or Richard Bauckham's at Paleojudaica. Shooting fish in a barrel is fun.

I'll limit myself to a few observations on one point. The sole Greek text among the ossuaries reads Μαριαμηνου Μαρα. (The particle η, said to be present between the two words, is not.) The "Jesus Tomb" scholars would like to understand this as "Mariamene (= Mary Magdalene) the Master." They are taking the word Μαρα to be a transliteration of the Aramaic word meaning "lord, master." However,

1. It is hard to understand why the Aramaic word would be used instead of a Greek one in the Greek ossuary.

2. It's not clear exactly what form of the Aramaic word they are referring to. Μαρα could = מרה ‎, that is, the emphatic state of the masculine form of ‏‎maré. However, this form is only attested centuries later; the usual emphatic masculine form at this period would be ‏מריא‎. It's also not clear why a female would have a title in the masculine gender.

3. The word Μαρα could also = מרה, ‏מראה‎, the feminine absolute form of the word. However, the absolute form would have to mean "a lady" or "a mistress," not "the Master" or "Master." The emphatic form of the feminine would be ‏מרתא‎ = Μάρθα, "the Mistress," "the Lady" (also the proper name Martha).

Therefore the Jesus Tomb scholars seem to be wrong again. "Mara" is pretty obviously either a nickname for Mariamene, or refers to another woman whose bones were also interred in the ossuary.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Tobit Fragment Published

I've just seen the following article:

Hallermayer, Michaela and Torleif Elgvin, "Schøyen ms. 5234: Ein neues Tobit-fragment Vom Toten Meer," Revue de Qumran 22/3 (2006) 451-461.

This is the first official publication of the fragment that I blogged about here. (That post is referenced, by the way, on p. 452 n.3.)

Congratulations to Hallermayer & Elgvin for a fine treatment of the fragment.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The "Jesus Tomb" Ossuary

I'm not happy with my initial response, so I've removed it. If I come up with something else, I'll post it in this space.

UPDATE (3/3): Here it is.

Friday, February 09, 2007

A Spurious Addition to Targum Pseudo-Jonathan?

I notice that it is common to quote the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to Genesis 4:1 as Mahlon Smith does at his website, where we find this translation:

And Adam knew that his wife Eve had conceived
from Sammael the angel (of death)
and she became pregnant and bore Cain.
And he was like those on high and not like those below.
And she said: "I have got a man from the angel of the LORD."

My problem with this translation is that the words in italics above are not found in any text of Pseudo-Jonathan. The only surviving manuscript of Pseudo-Jonathan (PsJ), in the British Museum, reads, according to the publication of it by Clarke, "And Adam knew that Eve his wife was pregnant from Sammael, angel of the Lord." The standard printed text (editio princeps) as published in the rabbinic bible reads: "And Adam knew Eve his wife, that she had desired the angel; and she conceived and bore Cain, and she said, I have acquired a man, the angel of the Lord."

Obviously the version with the addition is closer to the editio princeps than to the London MS, but neither text (and they are the only witnesses to the text of PsJ) has the addition. Nevertheless, the belief that the words really are in PsJ is widespread. James Kugel quotes the latter part of PsJ's version as "He resembled the upper ones [angels] and not the lower ones, and she [therefore] said, I have acquired a man, indeed, an angel of the Lord" (The Bible as it Was, p. 86). Birger Pearson, in an essay in The Rediscovery of Gnosticism (1981) quotes the same version (p. 479). And Phillip Davies, in the Blackwell Reader in Judaism (2001), does the same (p. 40). These are all reputable scholars.

As far as I can tell, there is no evidence that any version of PsJ (or any other targum) contains these words. However, another text that has some affinities to PsJ, the Hebrew Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer, in relating the story of Cain's conception, says "she saw his likeness that it was not of the earthly beings, but of the heavenly beings." Is that where these words come from? Or is there a version of the text of PsJ that I'm not aware of?

I'm frankly stumped as to the source of this spurious text of the targum. Do any of my readers have any insight?

UPDATE (3/2): Many thanks to those who have left comments below. Andy, can you point me towards a source for that quote?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Incredulous Laugh of the Day

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts-Schori is quoted in USA Today today, with reference to breakaway congregations trying to hold on to their property:

The church’s laws are broad but they are there, and beyond these lines you cannot go. Crossing boundaries has consequences.

My measured response to this is: You have got to be kidding me. You're willing to jettison the creeds, Scripture, and a 2,000-year-old tradition of Christian ethics, but you start getting strict with regard to property ownership? Lady, do you have any sense of irony at all?

God help The Episcopal Church. I mean that quite literally.

(For casual readers; I'm a member of said church, so I'm allowed to say stuff like that.)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

"She obliterated me as an apologist": Lewis and the Anscombe Legend

Last week when I was laid up with a stomach virus, I had the opportunity to read a large part of C. S. Lewis's Collected Letters, Vol. 3, which has just been published. Letters do not contain all that is relevant for understanding a man's life, but they are datable, first-person documents and therefore are primary in a way that biographies (or even autobiographies) are not.

This particular volume sheds a bit of light on what has come to be called "the Anscombe legend." On Feb. 2, 1948, Lewis and the philosopher G. E. M. (Elizabeth) Anscombe engaged in a disputation at the Oxford Socratic Club, of which Lewis was president. The subject was Lewis's argument that naturalism (the view that the natural world is all that exists) is self-refuting, since "no thought is valid if it can be fully explained as the result of irrational causes" (Lewis, Miracles, ch. 3). Anscombe argued that he failed to distinguish two senses of the word "because," which can be used to denote not only a cause-effect relation, but also a ground-consequent relation. An argument could be valid, because (Ground-Consequent) its propositions entail each other, even if the propositions are generated (Cause-Effect) by irrational factors. Lewis eventually agreed that his argument was inadequate at this point and needed revision.

Those facts are not in dispute, but the consequences of them in Lewis's life have been debated. It was reported by some of Lewis's friends that he was greatly shaken by his defeat, as he saw it, and eventually turned away from formal apologetics altogether, devoting himself instead to other kinds of writing, such as the Chronicles of Narnia. This view was first put forth, I believe, by Humphrey Carpenter in his book The Inklings.
Certainly after it was all over Lewis himself was in very low spirits.... [Derek] Brewer write in his diary: "None of us was at first very cheerful. Lewis was obviously deeply disturbed by his encounter last Monday with Miss Anscombe ..." ... Brewer added that Lewis's imagery when talking about the debate "was all of the fog of war, the retreat of infantry thrown back under heavy attack."
Lewis had learnt his lesson... (Carpenter, Pt. 4, ch. 1)
However, a reaction has set in against this view of Lewis's response. The "Anscombe legend," as Victor Reppert calls it, is, according to some, purely mythical. Lewis was not in fact devastated by the Anscombe argument, although he agreed that his argument needed revision. (This is the view taken by Anscombe herself.) The fact that he wrote no further book-length works of apologetics can be explained by other factors besides a putative loss of nerve in the wake of a shattering defeat. This view is most notably championed by Victor Reppert and John Beversluis.

However, the evidence of the new letters, such as it is, is more supportive of the first view. Most important is the letter to Stella Aldwinckle, secretary of the Socratic Club, of June 12, 1950. Lewis was proposing speakers for the new term, and he suggested that "Miss Anscombe" speak on "Why I believe in God." His comment was this:
The lady is quite right to refute what she thinks bad theistic arguments, but does this not almost oblige her as a Christian to find good ones in their place: having obliterated me as an Apologist ought she not to succeed me? (Letters 3:35; emphasis mine.)
One may question whether there is more irony than bitterness in this comment; nevertheless, it shows that Lewis was felt, either by himself or others, to have sustained a crippling blow.

The same feeling is evident in a letter to Robert C. Walton of the BBC on July 10, 1951:
... like the old fangless snake in The Jungle Book, I've largely lost my dialectical power. (Letters 3:129)
Another key piece is the letter of Sept. 28, 1955, to Carl F. H. Henry, who asked him to write some apologetic articles for Christianity Today:
I wish your project heartily well but can't write you articles. My thought and talent (such as they are) now flow in different, though I think not less Christian, channels, and I do not think I am at all likely to write more directly theological pieces. . . . If I am now good for anything it is for catching the reader unawares — thro' fiction and symbol. I have done what I could in the way of frontal attacks, but I now feel quite sure those days are over. (Letters 3:651; emphasis Lewis.)
All of this suggests that Lewis really felt a change in himself in the wake of the Anscombe disputation. Nevertheless, he did from time to time return, in a small way, to apologetics, most notably in revising Chapter 3 of Miracles in line with Anscombe's critique for a 1960 reprint, as well as a variety of smaller pieces.

Of course, it should also be noted that Lewis's feelings and Lewis's arguments must be assessed separately. The fact is that his argument about naturalism was not obliterated by Anscombe, and in fact has enjoyed a revival, most notably in Alvin Plantinga's Warrant and Proper Function. Many of Lewis's enemies (for instance A. N. Wilson) attempt to employ Lewis's own retreat from apologetics as an ad hominem attack on the totality of his work, without engaging the particularities of the argument, or of Lewis's revision of it in the 1960 Miracles.

Personally, I prefer to see the hand of Providence in Lewis's turn from formal apologetics. If he hadn't turned to "fiction and symbol," would we have the Chronicles of Narnia, Till We Have Faces, The Four Loves; or the great critical works, such as The Discarded Image or Studies in Words? Omnia cooperantur in bonum.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: The "argument from reason": Victor Reppert, C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason; Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function, 1993; Richard Taylor, Metaphysics, ch. 10 (1974). See Reppert's blog for other references, both pre- and post-Lewis.

UPDATE: For Jim Davila and others who have inquired: Anscombe's paper can be found in her collection Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Mind (1981; vol. 2 of her Collected Papers), which also contains her own memories of the disputation; Lewis's initial response and the minutes of the Socratic Club meeting are reprinted in the collection God in the Dock, pp 144-146 (UK title: Undeceptions).

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Papa Ooh Mouw Mouw

Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary, has a blog. Dr. Mouw entered the Fuller scene after I graduated, but I've followed his Presidency with admiration. His books are worth reading; his academic field is philosophy, but he writes well for a general audience. I particularly recommend Uncommon Decency.

The blog looks like it will be interesting, if he can keep it up. Welcome to the 'sphere, Doc!

Monday, January 08, 2007

How conservative am I?

How conservative am I? More conservative than Colin Powell, but not as conservative as George Bush père, according to this test. (HT: Althouse.)

My score: 22. Actually, just about right in the middle, which is what I've always claimed.