Friday, April 29, 2005

George Lucas and Doctor Doom

No doubt many are starting to get all geeked up over the new Star Wars movie. I know I am. But let us not follow those who like to make George Lucas into some kind of deep intellectual disciple of Joseph Campbell. Take the time to re-read this Salon article from 2002, which points out what Lucas's true influences were. George Lucas is not a thoughtful purveyor of modern mythopoeia; no. George Lucas is a fanboy. His world is indebted to the comics, especially the creations of Jack Kirby.

I remember the first time I saw Star Wars, in 1977, with friends at Mann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood. When Darth Vader first came on the screen, I blurted out, "Hey! It's Doctor Doom!" And so it was:


And this is to say nothing of the debt he owes to Darkseid:


For those who are not comics cognoscenti, Doctor Doom is the long-time nemesis of the Fantastic Four, while Darkseid is the villain of the later series "New Gods."

UPDATE (5/2): Thanks to all of you for your comments. And don't miss this post at Thought-Dreams. By the way, I note that in the Star-Wars Hebrew poster that Eliyahu displays, the movie is described as a maaravon — a "Western"!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Number of the Beast: 616?

Aside from the reference to the Book of "RevelationS," this paragraph in a National Geographic article on the Oxyrhynchus Papyri is quite interesting:

So far 65 volumes of transcripts and translations have been published by the London-based Egypt Exploration Society, which owns the collection.

The latest volume includes details of fragments showing third- and fourth-century versions of the Book of Revelations. Intriguingly, the number assigned to "the Beast" of Revelations isn't the usual 666, but 616.

My copy of Nestle-Aland (27th ed.) at Revelation 13:18 lists for the variant reading "616" only "C; Ir mss" (the 5th century uncial manuscript C and some manuscripts cited by Irenaeus). A 3rd or 4th century papyrus containing this reading would be extremely significant, although probably not enough to outweigh the many witnesses for "666."

As Bruce Metzger points out in his Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (1971), the numerical value of "666" is derived from the Hebrew/Aramaic values for the letters comprising the name נרון קסר, "Nero Caesar" (in Greek Νέρων Καῖσαρ) The variant "616" results from the alternate spelling נרו קסר.

For those of you unfamiliar with the numerical values of the Hebrew alphabet, the values in the above name are nun = 50, resh = 200, waw = 6, nun = 50, quph = 100, samekh = 60, resh = 200. Add 'em up!

The name "Nero Caesar" (נרון קסר) actually appears in a scroll from the Judean Desert, Murabbaat 18, dated to the "second year of Nero Caesar" (55/56 CE).

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Delbert Hillers, "Revelation 13:18 and a Scroll from Murabbaat," BASOR 170 (1963), p. 65.

UPDATE: The fragment (P.Oxy. LVI 4499) can be viewed here. Although it is pointed out that the numerology does not work with the Greek letters, the Hebrew values are not discussed.

UPDATE (5/4): I note that this post is getting, for me, a lot of hits. For laypeople, I want to emphasize these points: (1) the most likely reading of the number in Revelation 13:18 is still "666"; (2) the reading "616" has in fact been known for many years, and even the new papyrus has been known since the 1990's; (3) the variation between "666" and "616" does not materially affect the interpretation of the book of Revelation. In short, the reading "616" is mainly interesting to textual critics of the New Testament and is unlikely to make a change in anyone's Bible or beliefs.

UPDATE (5/5): See also these posts from Jim Davila, Mark Goodacre, and Stephen Carlson, each with valuable comments and links.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Misreading the Forgery Scandal

I don't think I write a particularly difficult brand of prose. And yet one of my writings seems to be very hard for people to understand. First Andre Lemaire, now this. Richard Anderson writes:

Edward M. Cook, blogging at Ralph the Sacred River, has published an article at SBL Forum: The Forgery Indictments and BAR: Learning From Hindsight,
Cook would like to think that the James ossuary scandal is somehow the fault of the magazine, Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) and its editor, Hershel Shanks. Ed Cook is not alone in his criticism. Under the view of these critics, responsible journalists would engage in a kind of self-imposed censorship. This to me is unrealistic. Furthermore it does not address the real problem.

Let's see: I am supposed to have written that the James ossuary scandal is "somehow the fault" of BAR. I have certainly criticized BAR in the past for contributing to the problem of the spread of unprovenanced artifacts, but I have never tried to say that the scandal is "somehow the fault" of BAR. The words I used, taken directly from the article, are these:

contributed to the problem
part of the responsibility
unwittingly contributed
might have contributed to
a kind of "accessory"

Anderson thinks the "real problem" lies elsewhere. It certainly is a complicated issue, with many variables. I was only writing about one of them. And I deplore seeing my views set up as a kind of straw man or foil, when a nuanced engagement with them would have been both possible and preferable.

Anderson says, "It is interesting to me that there is no urgent call for the IAA to examine all of the artifacts it has purchased over the last thirty years to determine which ones are fakes and of course, publish the results of their findings." Huh? On the contrary, there have been repeated calls both within and without the IAA to retest the whole range of unprovenanced items in museums both in Israel and in other countries.

Does IAA need to clean its own house? Maybe. There's a lot of cleaning up to do in the world of biblical archaeology. It's a big mess, with many causes. But to oversimplify matters as Anderson does is to darken counsel.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Will Books Disappear?

I've enjoyed reading this week Plato and the Internet, by Kieron O'Hara (co-writer of the computer game "Tomb Raider 4," according to the cover). It's given me a much better perspective than I had before on what exactly the Internet is, how it came to be, and how it affects the acquisition, production, and dissemination of "knowledge."

The world O'Hara describes, I now realize, really is my world. Although I don't play computer games (reflexes poor), download much music (still stuck at the "put a record in the record player" stage, although "record" = CD), own an iPod or a cellphone, and my iBook is fast becoming an antique — I am a "knowledge worker" in this world of information overload. Most of my income is derived from data entry for two knowledge management systems (Inscriptifact and Accordance), although I try to maintain a presence in the old knowledge economy (books and articles).

That's made me think about the role of the new cybernetic acquisition of knowledge in the "ecology" of other systems of text acquisition. I think that those who prophesy the end of the old regimes of printed books and actual libraries in real, not virtual, buildings, are on the wrong track. They are thinking of information only in terms of retrieval. You can't beat computers for retrieval, and if you are treating a text as a source of information, the computer will greatly magnify the power of any text to serve as information or evidence. That's not going to go away.

But a text is not just a database. A novel, for instance, is not going to be accessed as a novel except by reading it straight through, and the best way to do that (don't start with me about E-books) is in a bound book. This applies mutatis mutandis to any book linearly organized — i.e. to books of imaginative content, of sustained argument, of cumulative pictorial or narrative power. They are still going to be best accessed in the old-fashioned way, unless they are going to be used only as information (e.g. checking Fielding for the syntactical patterns of British English in the 18th century).

On the other hand I think that books of non-linear information (like dictionaries, encyclopedias, and indexes) are eventually going to disappear in print format. (Or do you want to flip through a dictionary to look up words?) Just the other day I was ribbing a grad student because he actually had the massive dead-tree version of the Anchor Bible Dictionary on his bookshelves taking up space, instead of at his fingertips in the laptop. Not in my lifetime, but eventually, these printed sets will disappear.

But the Bible will still be printed, and so will books about it. And biblioblogs will still discuss them both — I hope.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

My Review of Seow's Grammar

A few weeks ago there was a discussion of Hebrew grammars here; helpful, I hope, to some. Although my own experience with some of the grammars that were mentioned is limited, I have read and reviewed C. L. Seow's Grammar for Biblical Hebrew. The review appeared in Journal of the American Oriental Society 110 (1990): 337-338.

Now, as an experiment in making some of my printed material available, I've uploaded a PDF of this review, downloadable here (download starts immediately). [UPDATE: Link removed. See update below.] Let me know if this works out OK. The file is 2+ MB, which seems large to me, but I'm not sure what I ought to have done to reduce the file size. I scanned the pages, saved them as JPEG's, and then inserted them into a Word document, which I printed as a PDF. Is there a better way to do this for multi-page documents? Your input would be appreciated.

Note: the review is of the original edition of Seow's grammar. I believe there is a second, revised edition, which I have not seen.

UPDATE (4/25): Many thanks to Ken Ristau and Tyler Williams, who both sent me versions of the above PDF, optimized for the web. Download this one instead (483 kb), provided by Tyler. Also note Tyler's links in his comment below to his own resources for Hebrew grammar study. Thanks, fellas.

Friday, April 22, 2005

The Schoyen Aramaic Incantation Bowls

Jim Davila has a link to this UK news article dealing with Aramaic incantation bowls in the Schoyen collection that may have been illegally obtained.

The story says, "They were exported from Jordan, but their country of origin may have been Iraq, the site of ancient Mesopotamia." I would say that it is overwhelmingly probable that the bowls come from Iraq. Although Aramaic incantations are known from many locations in the Middle East, the use of incantation bowls in magical praxis is specific to Iraq.

Aramaic incantation bowls are of particular importance for the study of Eastern Aramaic and the dialect of the Babylonian Talmud, since they they are our largest corpus of epigraphic (as opposed to manuscript) Aramaic from the Talmudic and Geonic periods. Most of them date from the 5th-8th centuries CE.

My understanding was that Shaul Shaked was in charge of publishing the Schoyen bowls. It seems likely that this legal embroilment will hamper that.

In view of their origin in the antiquities market and their lack of provenance, should these bowls be considered fakes? I think probably not, for two reasons: (1) incantation bowls are in fact not uncommon at Iraqi sites, and are usually found close to the surface, and are therefore not valuable enough to be worth forging; (2) the dialect is so esoteric that a forger would have difficulty mastering it. Nevertheless, the necessary technical protocols should be carried out on the bowls as on any unprovenanced item.

If the bowls are to be repatriated, I would hope that they would go to the Iraq Museum, which has a large (and unpublished) collection of incantation bowls. As far as I know, this collection has been unaffected by the war or looting. The Schoyen bowls, by the way, were obtained before the 2003 Iraq war, so they are not a product of the recent lawlessness there.

One of the Schoyen bowls can be seen here.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Wild Truth

The last sentences of Chesterton's Orthodoxy:

"People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe.  There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame.  But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly Chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect."

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Pope Benedict and Ecumenism

By now most know that Cardinal Ratzinger of Germany has been selected as Pope, choosing the name Benedict XVI.

Protestant readers might be interested in this quotation from a 1994 interview with George Lindbeck, one of the Protestant "observers" in attendance at Vatican II.

I would think that Ratzinger's ecumenical views are ... weighted by his disappointments with what has happened on the non-Catholic side. He clearly wants to avoid a doctrinal permissiveness that implies that church doctrine is unimportant, or a kind of pluralism that makes all churches doctrinally equal. He insists that this is not the way to read the Council. And I wouldn't disagree with that.

My guess is that Ratzinger thinks the time is not ripe for a definitive ecumenical articulation as long as the Roman Catholics don't have their house in better order and as long as non-Roman Catholics are incapable of communally authoritative teaching or decisions. This is my own interpretation, to be sure, but I think his view is that as long as the churches on both sides are in such immense disarray, the time for clarity about "reunion" has not arrived.

If Pope Benedict is going to delay ecumenical moves "as long as non-Roman Catholics are incapable of communally authoritative teaching or decisions," he's going to wait a long time. It seems unlikely that this Pope will make any strides towards Christian reunion; but it would have been foolish to suppose that any other candidate would have done differently. Ecumenical advancement and understanding must continue at the lower levels, even if only at the interpersonal level, since any move towards union, however limited, of structures and worship at the macro level is now deferred indefinitely.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Wikipedia on Aramaic

Jim Davila discusses the Wikipedia article on "Aramaic Language" in this post (follow his link to Wikipedia).

It should be pointed out that the entire Wikipedia article represents the dialectal views of principally one scholar only: Klaus Beyer, as presented in his Die aramäische Texte vom Toten Meer (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1984). The sections on dialectology have been translated into English as The Aramaic Language (1986).

Beyer is a fine scholar, but his dialect divisions and periodizations are not universally or even generally accepted. If I have time, maybe I'll discuss this some more in future posts. But for now note that the Wikipedia article, to reflect more mainstream views, would have to be totally rewritten, not revised here and there. Use it with caution.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Tobit's Dog

I've been doing some research lately on Ahikar, a major extrabiblical character who shows up in the book of Tobit in a minor role. Doing this reminded me of another minor character in the book of Tobit: Tobit's dog.

Tobit's dog appears only twice (in 6:2 and 11:4) and plays no role in the story (actually he accompanies Tobias, Tobit's son). Like many dogs, he just shows up whenever something seems to be going on. This little detail has greatly exercised the commentators, and even now no one seems to know how the dog got into the story.

Tobit's dog also shows up more than you might think in literature. For instance, here he makes an appearance in Tobias Smollett's Roderick Random:
With this view he approached us, with many bows and grimaces, and, after having welcomed Miss Snapper to the place, asked her in the hearing of all present, if she could inform him of the name of Tobit's dog. Miss was so much incensed at his insolence, that I should certainly have kicked him where he stood without ceremony, had not the young lady prevented the effects of my indignation, by replying with the utmost vivacity, "His name was Nash, and an impudent dog he was."
Voltaire puts these words in the mouth of a fictitious scholar:
I will show them, with outstretched neck and twisted mouth, that you hold an erroneous opinion in relation to the cells in which the Septuagint was studied; that you have even spoken disrespectfully ten years ago of Tobit's dog, which you asserted to have been a spaniel, while I proved that it was a greyhound.

Jonathan Swift wrote:
THAT Expression in Apocrypha about Tobit, and his Dog following him, I have often heard ridiculed; yet Homer has the same Words of Telemachus more than once; and Virgil says something like it of Evander. And I take the Book of Tobit to be partly poetical.

The militantly Protestant, of course, don't like Tobit or his dog. A character in Walter Scott's Waverley:
‘But if your honour wad consider the case of Tobit — ’

‘Tobit!’ exclaimed Gilfflan, with great heat; ‘Tobit and his dog baith are altogether heathenish and apocryphal, and none but a prelatist or a papist would draw them into question. I doubt I hae been mista’en in you, friend.’

And J. N. Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren, has this to say:
Look at Tobit, and his dog; it is absurd! Bel and the dragon may be true, but it has nothing to do with inspiration.

But my favorite mention of the dog comes in Robert Browning's "Ring and the Book":
Each level have its language! Heaven speaks first
To the angel, then the angel tames the word
Down to the ear of Tobit: he, in turn,
Diminishes the message to his dog,
And finally that dog finds how the flea
(Which else, importunate, might check his speed)
Shall learn its hunger must have holiday ...

The dog is also a normal part of the iconography of Tobit. These links give the idea: A B C D E F.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Fiery Furnaces at the Southgate House

Someday, maybe soon, I'm going to be too old for this, but it hasn't happened yet. I mean going to a local club to see My Favorite Band. Yes, the Fiery Furnaces (finally!) made it to our area.

So I wended my way last night to the Southgate House across the river (a pleasingly lowkey venue) to catch the show. Radishia was there and we hung out and watched the show. I'd read the reviews and kinda knew what to expect: a long medley of their songs, with new arrangements, played really loud. And that's what happened. Imagine "Bohemian Rhapsody" played lickety-split, punk/garage-style (with synthesizers thrown in), for over an hour. Wow. Dang. It was good.

The last modern band I saw was the Flaming Lips a couple of years ago, and they present a decided contrast in performing styles. The Lips are determined to entertain you by any means possible, adding film, balloons, costumes, and stand-up comedy to the music. The Furnaces will not go to such lengths, they won't even meet you halfway. They won't court you. There are no balloons. They are uncompromising, unrelenting, and very musical.

Eleanor, the singer, is an alt-rock goddess in waiting, star quality in spades. She didn't play anything (I've seen pictures of her performing with guitar), but roamed the stage, mike in hand, bawling over the din. She looked a bit like Joey Ramone, skinnier than the pictures, hair in her eyes. Matt ran the band from keyboards and guitar (a Telecaster repaired with duct tape), and the drummer (Andy Knowles) was a revelation: a blond Keith Moon, mugging, knocking over cymbal stands, hurling the sticks high. Before the show he was hanging out behind the T-shirt counter.

The show brought out all the geekily hip and cognoscent folk in the area, made them drop their bohemian angst for a night and start in to hoopin' and hollerin'. It was cool. The band shone. Give them an A, and hope they come back soon.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Self-Sacrificial Euthanasia

Spring is here. The air is clear, the grass is suddenly too long, birds are singing. What better time to talk about death and dying?

I've never blogged about the Terri Schiavo affair, although I followed it with great interest. The areas involved -- the philosophy (and neurology) of mind, the morality of euthanasia -- are those in which I have almost everything to learn, and nothing to teach. This belated contribution is an effort to clarify my own thinking about a particular part of the issue.

I divide killing into five main types:

(1) A kills B for the sake of A. (murder; sometimes self-defense)
(2) A kills B for the sake of C. (some self-defense; war; capital punishment)
(3) A kills B for the sake of B. (euthanasia)
(4) A kills A for the sake of A. (suicide)
(5) A kills A for the sake of B. (sacrifice)

All of these main types admittedly give rise to a host of boundary cases, depending on how we parse the notions of "kill" and "for the sake of" in each individual case. Obviously the meaning of "for the sake of" in Type 1 will lead to a differentiation between Type 1a (murder), in which "for the sake of" means for gain, for revenge, out of hatred, and Type 1b, self-defense, in which "for the sake of" means "out of a legitimate motive of self-preservation." I take it that out of all these types, only Type 1a is expressly forbidden by the commandment "thou shalt not kill (murder)." (I should also say here that "kills" in the typology above is shorthand for any kind of death-causing, including passive kinds, such as letting someone expire, or refusing to rescue; or indirect kinds, such as directing another to kill, or withhold care; or in the case of Type 5, accepting death, or getting in harm's way, in the interest of another.)

Type 2 is also morally permissible or impermissible depending on the meaning given to "for the sake of" in individual cases. A war of aggression and a war of self-defense would have different moral standings. The varying positions taken on the war in Iraq, for instance, differ as one sees the motive being overall self-centered ("blood for oil") or overall altruistic ("freedom for Iraq"). And obviously a war will feature a mixture of all these types of killing, but by intention a "just" Type 2 will predominate.

Type 3 is the type most relevant to the Schiavo case. In the Schiavo case, the pro-death side hesitated between (a) parsing the feeding-tube withdrawal as a case of Type 3 killing (Terri would have wanted this; this was Michael Schiavo's position), or (b) Terri was already dead, having lost all higher brain function, in which case it is not a question of any kind of killing (the ghost having left, the machine may be turned off). The pro-life side in general hesitated between (a) taking the feeding-tube withdrawal as a case of Type 1a above (murder) or (b) admitting it to be a case of Type 3 killing (euthanasia), but (i) denying the overall moral permissibility of this type of killing or (ii) denying that Terri would have wished to be killed in this way (the position of Terri's parents).

There were thus three separate conflicts going on in this case. One is between those on both sides who admit that it was a Type 3 killing, but differ on whether Type 3 is permissible. A different conflict was the one about the definition of death, whether higher-brain death may be equated with death simpliciter. The key conflict legally, was the third, what Terri herself would have wished. As I understand it, the legal battle revolved only around the evidence in the third conflict, and was resolved in favor of Michael Schiavo.

(I should insert here that an excellent discussion on the question of higher-brain death has been carried on between the blogs Siris and Mixing Memory. Start here or here and trace the links back; it's worth the trouble. Rarely has the blogosphere reached such a high level.)

Since Terri Schiavo's death is now a fait accompli on any definition, I fortunately am free from the pressing obligation to come to any conclusion about that particular case. I am inclined to agree with those who find all Type 3 killings problematic; and I am inclined to agree with those who deny that higher-brain death should be equated with death simpliciter.

Nevertheless, my principal reaction to the Schiavo case was not intellectual, but emotional. Terri Schiavo literally gave me nightmares. I found her condition disturbing, not necessarily for her sake (although her fate was a grim one), but for the sake of those around her. I did find myself thinking about an advance directive, one that would fulfill every fondest wish of the pro-euthanasia lobby, but — not for my own sake. Should I ever have the misfortune to fall into a persistent vegetative state, I would wish to spare my loved ones years of pain, expense, false hopes, and the daily horror of seeing my empty, grinning face where once they saw a husband, a father, or a brother. I would hope that decisive action would put a quick end, not to my suffering, but theirs. I am sure that many other people must have had this reaction.

Now here is my question: What is the moral standing of such an advance directive? It does not fall easily under Type 3, because it is not for B's sake that A (the family by means of the doctor) kills B (allows B to die), but because B wishes to die for A's sake. This also disqualifies it from being Type 4. It seems to me to be closest to Type 5 (self-sacrifice). And of the five types I outlined above, Type 5, I believe, is never immoral, just as Type 1a is always immoral.

That's my thought as of right now; but I'm far from certain. I'd be interested in hearing what others think. Is self-sacrifical euthanasia (SSE) morally permissible? Or is it just another attempt to play God? Have I let my emotions run away with me?

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Media and "the Holy Father"

Pity poor Cincinnati. We are sadly lacking in unbiased print media. The daily newspaper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, is so rigidly conservative that their corporate logo should be a robot. On the other end of the spectrum, the alternative weekly Citybeat is so kneejerk leftist that their editorial meetings probably look like can-can rehearsals.

One of the latest absurdities from Citybeat comes from media watchdog Ben L. Kaufman (formerly with the Enquirer) who writes:

Why did reporters death-watching the pope call him "Holy Father"? That's an honorific among Catholics only. Reporters for secular media should eschew such religiously partisan and divisive language.

Oh, come on. Maybe they should have just called him "Mr. Wotyla." By the same token, no one should have referred to "Mahatma" Gandhi or "the Ayatollah" Khomeini. These are also religious honorifics. The media should have used their given names Mohandas Gandhi and ... um ... what was Khomeini's first name anyway?

UPDATE (4/11): Charles Jones e-mails (subject: Mr Mousavi): "Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, born Ruhollah Mousavi." Glad to get that straightened out.

Let's also make sure that no one refers to "the Dalai Lama." Or "Mullah" Mohammed Omar. Or "the Reverend" Billy Graham. Or "Saint" Francis. Or Jesus "Christ."

Friday, April 08, 2005

Did the Pope Contemplate Resignation?

It is being widely reported that Pope John Paul II, in his will, contemplated resignation. The New York Times story says this:

...the pope wrestled with thoughts about the end of his papacy, perhaps even entertaining a momentous possibility: his resignation.

In the last section, dated March 17, 2000, of a testament that was written in 15 bits and pieces over most of his 26-year papacy, John Paul took stock of his life.

"Providence has seen fit for me to live in the difficult century that is departing into the past," he wrote, "and now in the year in which I reach my 80's, one needs to ask oneself if it is not the time to repeat with the biblical Simeon, 'Nunc dimittis.' "

I just don't see any reference to resignation here. In the full context, John Paul II was obviously thinking about his death, not his resignation. Here is the full context:

As the Jubilee Year progressed, day by day the 20th century closes behind us and the 21st century opens. According to the plans of Divine Providence, I was allowed to live in the difficult century that is retreating into the past, and now, in the year in which my life reaches 80 years ("octogesima adveniens''), it is time to ask oneself if it is not the time to repeat with the biblical Simeone 'nunc dimittis' (Ed: Latin for ``Now Master you may let your servant go.'')

On May 13, 1981, the day of the attack on the Pope during the general audience in St. Peter's Square, Divine Providence saved me in a miraculous way from death. The One Who is the Only Lord of life and death Himself prolonged my life, in a certain way He gave it to me again. From that moment it belonged to Him even more. I hope He will help me to recognize up to what point I must continue this service to which I was called on Oct. 16, 1978. I ask him to call me back when He Himself wishes. ``In life and in death we belong to the Lord ... we are the Lord's.'' (cf. Romans 14,8). I also hope that, as long as I am called to fulfill the Petrine service in the Church, the Mercy of God will give me the necessary strength for this service.

John Paul says that he was allowed to reach the beginning of the 21st century, but recognizes that most of his work is behind him. He wonders, in view of that fact, whether the time of his departure is at hand. In the same way Simeon in the Gospel of Luke 2:29, after seeing the infant Christ, recognizes that his service of witness is over, and prays that God will now let him die ("depart") peacefully. JP then goes on to say that his life was spared in the assassination attempt in order that it may belong to God ("the Only Lord of life and death") even more fully. He wonders how long God will ask him to continue serving Him as Pope, but recognizes that God will "call him back" when He wishes, not when John Paul wishes. He hopes that he will be able to do his job as long as he is called to do it — in other words, as long as he lives.

In context, it seems clear to me that this document does not refer to resignation. The language plays on the themes of life and death, of Providence, service, submission to the Divine Will. And what else would a will talk about?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Potpourri: Rollston, Williams, Carnivals

The Knoxville News-Sentinel has an article about a lecture given by Chris Rollston at the University of Tennessee about forgery of antiquities (use to gain access). Among other interesting items, the article focuses on Rollston's skepticism about the Marzeah Papyrus:

"I think, based on the script, that this is a forgery as well," Rollston said. "There are various aberrations in the script, various anomalies."

The Johns Hopkins University-trained historian and philologist of the Ancient Near East spoke in the McClung Museum auditorium.

Rollston teaches at the Emmanuel School of Religion, a graduate seminary in Johnson City.

The exhibition's curator, Dr. William Noah, disagreed with Rollston on Wednesday, saying that other scholars had previously examined the papyrus and "said emphatically that it is (authentic)."

"Every publication on the piece says it is genuine," Noah said.

I've previously discussed the Marzeah Papyrus on this blog here and here.

Welcome: Tyler Williams of Taylor University College in Edmonton joins the blogosphere. Looks like a lot of interesting stuff to come on Qumran and other topics.

Carnivalia: The Biblical Studies Carnival is up at Ebla Logs, and the Christian Carnival at "Proverbs Daily." Check 'em out.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Understanding Genesis 2:5

One of the brothers at CADRE Comments is proposing a harmonization of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 by suggesting that the word eretz in Genesis 2:5 refers not to the cosmological "earth" but to the more limited patch of "land" that became the Garden of Eden. This has the effect, he believes, of reconciling the differing orders of creation in Genesis 1 (earth, plants, humans) and Genesis 2 (earth, humans, plants):

Thus, since the term "erets" can mean either the entire planet or a particular area, then the definition of the word in a particular verse must be based on its context.

...In fact, Genesis 2 begins with God planting a garden in a place called Eden, whose location is described in the text that follows.

...Thus, it is apparent from the context that when Genesis speaks in Genesis 2 of the fact that "no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground" in Genesis 2:5, it is referring to a localized area -- not the whole world. The localized area being referenced is the "land" where God was about to plant the Garden of Eden.

But this won't do. The word eretz does indeed indicate areas smaller than the cosmological earth, but almost without exception the reference is to large geographical or political areas. In fact the only example I can find of eretz applied to a small plot of land is in Gen. 23:15: "A piece of land (eretz) worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and thee?" (The other main usage of eretz is to indicate the physical soil itself.)

Therefore one would not ordinarily expect eretz to be used without qualification of a future garden site. Furthermore, as the writer notes, context is important in determining the range of reference; but he errs by saying that "Genesis 2 begins with God planting a garden." In fact, the section begins in Genesis 2:4b: "in the day that the Lord God made earth (eretz) and heaven." In such a collocation, only the cosmological earth could be in view. The sense of the eretz of 2:5 is thus established by the usage of eretz in 2:4, just as the sense of the same word in 1:2 is established by its meaning in 1:1.

The argument therefore fails. But what really troubles me is that such arguments still find a place in the apologetic enterprise. Apologetics is a worthy and important activity, but I regret that many of my co-religionists find it necessary to read and defend Genesis as straight, error-free, unedited reportage; and lurking in the background of this flat reading of the text is a "creationist"* (actually Young-Earth) account of cosmology. Fellas, that dog just won't hunt.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that a good design argument could be (and has been) deployed by apologists without reliance on a biblical exegesis that ignores the sciences of both geology and philology.

*The word "creationism" is now well established to refer to "Young Earth" theories, which strike me as a form of pseudo-science. Nevertheless, all Christians are necessarily "creationists" in some sense, if we take seriously the Nicene Creed ("creator of heaven and earth").

Monday, April 04, 2005

Tel Dan and Garbini (v)

This is the last (probably) post critiquing Giovanni Garbini's analysis of the language of the Tel Dan inscription. The others are found here, here, here, and here.

Garbini says:
Another linguistic oddity manifested by the Tel Dan fragment is its use of qdm as an adverb ("formerly" according to the translation of Naveh). It should be observed that an adverb qdm doesn't exist in Aramaic: such a function is fulfilled by the noun qdm in the plural, qdmn, qdmyn, or the singular but with the presence of a preposition. It isn't amiss to note that an adverb qdm is documented in biblical Hebrew, usually meaning "eastward", but with the meaning "long ago" in two psalms (74:2 and 119:152), both of which are post-exilic.
Garbini is referring to the phrase ויעל מלך ישׁראל קדם בארק אבי, "the king of Israel came formerly into the land of my father." The gravamen of his argument is that the use of adverbial qdm here is a linguistic novelty in Aramaic, but is attested in later Biblical Hebrew; this suggests the hand of a forger.

Garbini evidently forgot the use of adverbial qdm in the Tell Fakhariye inscription, line 15: אל זי קדם הותר, "he made it (the statue) better than it was formerly." This attestation deflates this whole line of argument.

But even if there were no other attestation, the argument is weak. Are we to assume that no ancient text can evince a linguistic novelty? Are we to assume that all connections of ancient Aramaic with Biblical Hebrew are inauthentic? That would undermine quite a few Old Aramaic texts. The fact is that Garbini, once again, is caught reaching for insubstantial reasons to disqualify a text just because it is inconvenient to his own presuppositions.

It is worth asking, however, what possible linguistic phenomena should raise our suspicions. First, I would look for phonological or orthographic anomalies; Old Aramaic orthography has certain differences from later Aramaic. For instance, if the Tel Dan inscription had used the form ארע "land" instead of ארק, that would raise very serious questions. (But in fact there are no such anomalies.) Next, I would look for morphological anachronisms. If the Tel Dan inscription had used the suffix hwn "their," instead of hm, I would be suspicious. Also, I would look at the syntax. If the noun phrase מלך ישׂראל, "king of Israel" were written מלכא די ישׂראל, this might point to a forger, as would, for instance, ביתה זי דוד or the like instead of בת דוד, "house of David." There are no anomalies of this kind.

In my opinion, Garbini has failed to prove his case. Linguistically, the Tel Dan inscription gets a clean bill of health. This alone is not enough to prove authenticity. I also gave (and give) the James ossuary a clean bill of linguistic health, and there is now plenty of evidence to suggest that it is a forgery. But since the Tel Dan inscription, unlike the ossuary, was discovered in situ (and no one has brought evidence to deny that fact or to suggest that a conspiracy existed among the excavators), this in itself is enough to warrant the full use of the Tel Dan inscription in historical reconstruction.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

For This Week's Christian Dead

Not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up in life. These are words by which the slanderers of the nature of the body, the impeachers of our flesh, are completely overthrown... We do not wish to cast aside the body, but corruption: not the flesh, but death. The body is one thing, corruption another; the body is one thing, death another... What is foreign to us is not the body but corruptibility.

—John Chrysostom, On the Resurrection of the Dead

Apocrypha, Apocrypha

I'm still reading Macaulay's History; I do expect to finish it this year. I ran into a passage this morning that seemed appropriate in view of the recent discussion of canon on this site.

In 1696 a peer was being tried for treason, and some were arguing that two witnesses were required for conviction. They quoted Deut. 19:15 ("at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall a matter be established"), the procedure of Caiaphas during the trial of Jesus and that of Jezebel in taking the vineyard of Naboth (I Kings 21:13). And then:
"If the testimony of one grave elder had been sufficient," it was asked, "what would have become of the virtuous Susannah?" This last allusion called forth a cry of "Apocrypha, Apocrypha," from the ranks of the Low Churchmen.
The allusion is to the story of Susannah and the elders in Daniel 13, a chapter appearing only in the Greek additions to Daniel, and not contained in the Hebrew canon.