Biblical and Patristic Studies, especially dealing with the reception of the Hebrew Bible in Early Christianity
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
First Graduate Seminar Today
In a couple of weeks we'll have another graduate seminar and Brad McKinnon will present a paper on the Churches of Christ in Vietnam, part of his M.A. thesis in History at the University of North Alabama.
Explicit Quotations of Scripture in Matthew 1-2 (Part 1)
Let me note that hardly any thought presented here is original with me. I think I first encountered these ideas in a well-articulated way in Christopher J. H. Wright's book Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament (IVP, 1992; Amazon). I highly recommend this book as a good, reasonable, simple, and theologically thoughtful explanation of all kinds of issues related to the relationship between the Testaments and, indeed, what Jesus thought he was doing. (While you're at Amazon, you might as well pick up another book, as well. Rest assured, I will not make any money off of either of these books.)
I'll begin at the end of Matt. 2 and work my way backwards. The very last verse of Matt. 2 contains the last of four explicit scriptural quotations in the chapter.
and [Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus] came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: "He shall be called a Nazarene." (Matt. 2:23; NASB)The odd thing about this quotation is that it does not correspond to any statement made in the Hebrew Bible (or LXX, for that matter). I don't have time to delve into the reception history of this verse--no matter how much I'd like to; after all, that's what I do: I'm a history-of-interpretations guy--but I will say it has given interpreters fits for millenia. One ancient (and modern) interpretation relates it to Isa. 11:1 where we read a future descendant of Jesse (David's daddy, and thus we are reading a messianic passage) who will be a 'branch' (Hebrew: netzer). Well, maybe.
Jerome pointed out (he may not have been the first to do so) that the wording of the citation in Matthew references prophets, plural, in distinction to the other references in these chapters (cf. 1:22; 2:5, 15, 17, all speaking of 'prophet,' singular). Jerome thought that this might indicate that Matthew is not referring to any particular passage from a particular prophet, but that he is consolidating the message of the prophets as a whole, and part of that message is that the coming savior would be called a Nazarene. Apparently, Nazareth was not thought to be that great of a town; not the hometown you want if you're planning on being anything significant in life (cf. John 1:46). And so, the message here would be that the prophets in general indicated that the coming savior would be "from the wrong side of the tracks."
The truth is, we don't know exactly what Matthew is doing in 2:23, but we do know that he's not using scripture in a straightforward, prediction-fulfillment kind of way.
Going backwards in Matt. 2, we next come to vv. 17-18. This is in response to King Herod's slaughtering of the innocents, killing all the male babies in Bethlehem two-years-old and under.
Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more." (Matt. 2:17-18)This is a quotation from Jer. 31:15. Now, look at the context within Jeremiah. This verse comes in the middle of a block of chapters called "The Book of Consolation" (Jer. 30-33) promising restoration for Israel and Judah (cf. 30:3). Israel and Judah needed to be restored because they had both experienced exile (Israel by the Assyrians; Judah by the Babylonians), and so in these chapters Jeremiah speaks of their experience of exile and the future hope that they both have. This means that the weeping that Rachel is doing in Jer. 31:15 relates to these experiences, specifically, exile. When the Babylonians came into Judah and killed people and took others away from their homeland to live in Babylon, at that time Rachel was weeping for her children. Not only is there no messianic prediction here, but there is no prediction whatsoever in this particular verse. In the context there is a prediction of restoration, but the specific verse quoted by Matthew has nothing to do with the future, only with the past. Rachel is weeping because of the exile already experienced even in Jeremiah's day.
So, what is Matthew doing with this verse? Does he think there's a prediction in it? Does he think it's about the Messiah? Has he completely ignored the context? Interpreters often say as much, but Richard Hays has taught me (through his books, especially this one) to hesitate to attribute to the biblical authors the insensitivity to context that modern untrained readers often exhibit. That is, Hays has taught me to look for a more-nuanced interpretation of scripture in the New Testament, especially when the interpretation looks weird.
I think that Matthew surely must have understood that Jer. 31:15 was not a prediction of a future time, had nothing to do with the Messiah. Furthermore, I think he understood that his use of this verse in reference to events surrounding Jesus would in no way serve as proof for any Jew that Jesus was the Messiah. A Jew could simply respond, "No, that's not what Jeremiah's talking about, not even close." Jer. 31:15 was not intended to be a messianic prediction, and was not received as such. Jews at the time of Matthew did not look for the fulfillment of Jer. 31:15 as one of the signs that the Messiah was coming. I think Matthew knew all of this.
But, I also think that Matthew understood the context of Jer. 31:15 as about restoration, and he saw that restoration could come only after weeping. He understood that this was true in the history of his own people, who had experienced exile first, and then restoration under Zerubbabel and others (see the book of Ezra). But, the restoration had not been all they had hoped for, had not resulted in the reunification of Israel and Judah (as predicted in Jer. 30:3, etc.), had not returned them to an independent kingdom as in David's days. But, Matthew also knows that one has now been born who would accomplish these things, in a manner of speaking. And just as before with the exile first and then restoration, so also here, weeping precedes joy.
That is, similar to what we saw earlier in Matt. 2:23, Matthew uses Jer. 31:15 not as a straightforward prediction-fulfillment. He knows that Jer. 31:15 has its own context unrelated to the Messiah. But he wants to show his readers that events surrounding the birth of this Christ-child re-enact in some ways Israel's own story, that what has happened in the past is now being repeated, that the history of Israel is somehow being summed up in this child. (You are probably hearing echoes of N.T. Wright.)
Again, the length of this post is getting unwieldy, so I'll have to continue next time. But you can already see where I'm going. Rules of thumb: consider the context of the OT passage, and consider how the NT author uses that context to his advantage. Also, in Matt. 1-2, specifically, look at that word "fulfill". The places that it appears is rather odd. And, finally, is Matthew using a text of scripture closer to the Hebrew or to the Greek? These are some of the issues we will explore next time, when we look at Matt. 2:15, and then 2:5-6, and finally get to 1:22-23.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
The 'Virgin' of Isa. 7:14 and of Matt. 1:23
About the first two of her points, I have only praise for Levine. Whereas some scholars involved in Jewish-Christian dialogue seem to approach their task as if meaningful dialogue can happen only if "the other guy" first recognizes that his own religious traditions are stupid, bigoted, and condemnable (I'll refrain from citing anyone), Levine reads with sympathy and openness the scriptures of those with whom she fundamentally disagrees. When this is more common, true dialogue and understanding will be more common, as well.
But about her third point, I have some concerns--not from the standpoint that she's obfuscating Jewish-Christian dialogue, but just plain ole' exegetical concerns. Let me quote her. At the beginning of her third section, entitled "To fulfill what was said by the prophet...," she writes:
Some Jewish readers will reject Christian claims that the Scriptures of Israel (the Church’s “Old Testament”) predict the life of Jesus. Matthew 1:23 quotes Isaiah 7:14 as stating that “the virgin will conceive and bear a son,” but Jewish readers may respond: “Isaiah doesn’t mention a ‘virgin’ but a ‘young woman,’ and he’s not talking about something to take place centuries later, but about a current political issue.” The problem here is one of translation. Isaiah, writing in Hebrew around 700 B.C.E., uses a pregnant young woman as a visual illustration for King Ahaz. To paraphrase Isaiah’s comment: “Look at that pregnant young woman. By the time her baby is old enough for solid food, your international problems will dissipate.”
When Isaiah’s prophecies were translated into Greek (the Septuagint), probably in the second century B.C.E., the Hebrew for “young woman,” almah, was rendered as parthenos, which we know today from the Parthenon in Athens (or the replica in Nashville!), the temple of the goddess Athena. At the time, parthenos meant “young woman,” but it could mean virgin also. In the Greek translation of Genesis 34:3, the prince Shechem, after having sexual relations with Jacob’s daughter Dinah, uses the term parthenos to describe her.
When, 200 years later, the author of Matthew’s gospel read Isaiah 7:14 in Greek, he saw a prediction of a virginal conception. That is a legitimate reading. Jews, however, reading their Scriptures in Hebrew, see no virginal conception.
By applying Isaiah’s prophecy to his own time, Matthew is reading his Scripture in good first-century Jewish fashion.Levine goes on to note ancient Jewish interpretations outside the NT that we would also consider far-fetched, and so again a proper understanding of the contemporary Jewish world would help us to understand what the NT writers are doing. Yes, but...
I don't think her explanation of what Matthew is doing captures precisely his reading of Isaiah. Specifically, this sentence gives me pause: "When, 200 years later, the author of Matthew's gospel read Isaiah 7:14 in Greek, he saw a prediction of a virginal conception." Levine seems to be saying that Matthew--like any good first-century Jew--took this verse out of context, thus misinterpreting it (though Levine herself calls this reading "legitimate"), because he thought it was predicting a virginal conception when actually, unbeknownst to Matthew, it had a meaning for Isaiah's own day.
Several things about this understanding of Matthew 1:23 seem dubious to me. But let me first say, for the benefit of any Christian readers out there who haven't run across this idea before, that Levine's reading of Isa. 7:14 finds little disagreement from me. That is, she is surely correct that Isaiah was talking not about a "virgin" but about a "young woman" (thus agreeing with the Hebrew, and even the Greek, as Levine points out), and not one who would become pregnant in the future, but who was pregnant right at the time Isaiah was speaking. (Unfortunately, English translations, usually arising from conservative Christian groups, have translated Isa. 7:14 in keeping with their faulty understanding of Matt. 1:23 and thus have butchered the text, turning the woman into a virgin and inserting a future tense ["will conceive"] when none exists in the Hebrew text, which says that she "is pregnant".)
Indeed, I like very much Levine's paraphrase: "Look at that pregnant young woman. By the time her baby is old enough for solid food, your international problems will dissipate." I think that is exactly the point Isaiah was trying to get across to Ahaz, as will be clear by reading the entirety of Isaiah 7. There is just one problem with the wording here--it leaves out the crucial bit of information that the child would be called "Immanuel." I call this information "crucial" because this name for the child certainly stimulated Matthew's thinking and prompted him to connect this child of Isa. 7 to the the only child--in Matthew's mind--who could truly wear the name. It is the name "Immanuel" as much as the presence of the word "parthenos" that explains the appearance of Isa. 7:14 in Matt. 1.
Now, to Matt. 1:23, and unfortunately this post is already somewhat lengthy, so I'm going to need to return to this subject later for a fuller explanation. But let me just say briefly: if we didn't have any other passages in which Matthew quotes something in Jesus' life as a fulfillment of previous scripture, then we would probably have to read Matt. 1:23 in the way Levine does here. But we do have other quotations of scripture in Matthew, and they must be explained as well. In a later post I will look at the quotations of scripture in Matthew ch. 2 and explain why I think these help us to understand what Matthew is doing in ch. 1.
But let me go ahead and give you the conclusion. Instead of Levine's explanation, quoted above, for Matthew's use of Isaiah, I would rather put it this way: "When, 200 years later, the author of Matthew's gospel read Isaiah 7:14 in Greek, he saw an opportunity to clarify an aspect of Jesus' life as a fulfillment [or a 'filling-up' or a 'working-out' or a typological example] of something that happened previously in Israel's history."
Monday, February 27, 2012
The Magical Supper
Jacobs spends some time reflecting on the eucharistic rites of the Prayer Book, and it was here that I found one intriguing tidbit. On reaction to Cranmer's Prayer Book, and especially that it was in English rather than Latin, Jacobs writes:
The Cornish rebels [who spoke Cornish rather than English] said that the new rite was "but a Christmas game," and frankly thought that a Mass celebrated in English simply wouldn't work--would not achieve any reconciliation between a wrathful God and sinful men. Many native English speakers felt the same: they perceived the rite as something like a magical incantation, depending for its efficacy on the precise recitation of strange words. (Throughout much of the Middle Ages, when people were allowed to receive Communion only once a year, the[y] focused their attention in the Mass on the moment when the consecrated Host was elevated, accompanied by the words Hoc est corpus meum--"This is my body"--a phrase easily and naturally corrupted to Hocus Pocus.) (p. 11).
Ah, so that's where hocus pocus came from. Well, maybe. In such matters, one should always consult Wikipedia, and here it does not dissapoint. In the article "Hocus Pocus (magic)," the derivation of the words is explored. There is some suggestive additional evidence in favor of the etymological connection to the celebration of the Eucharist, but other suggestions are also discussed, with no apparent consensus opinion emerging. But, in fact, the Wikipedia article cites the OED as favoring an interpretation other than the one connected to the Lord's Supper.
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Mary, Martha, and the Good Samaritan
The point of the story of Mary and Martha is that Martha is so consumed with the minor details of life that she neglects the very important things that can more easily be put off. Specifically, she works hard to serve their guest Jesus while her sister Mary simply sits and listens to Jesus. Martha is understandably frustrated, but Jesus offers her this gentle rebuke:
Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:41-42; NASB)Now, Luke has positioned immediately before this brief report perhaps the most famous parable in the Gospels--that of the Good Samaritan. (Interestingly, this parable and the story about Mary and Martha appear only in the Third Gospel.) When the 'lawyer' asks Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?", Jesus responds with a parable highlighting that anyone, even a hated Samaritan, can prove to be a neighbor, and thus worthy of our love (Luke 10:27; cf. Lev. 19:18). Indeed, in the parable the Samaritan acted much more like a neighbor than the priest of Levite.
But, for a moment, I'd like to think about the priest and the Levite rather than the Samaritan; thus, the point I am making is not the main point that Jesus wanted to make. The text does not explore the motives behind the actions of the priest and Levite; it does not tell us why they passed by the half-dead man without helping him. However, if I may rely on personal experience/observation combined with the exegetical acumen of VeggieTales, I might say that a good guess as to why someone would ignore a man in need is because the would-be helper feels too busy with his own life.
In fact, in the VeggieTales version of the Good Samaritan, the 'priest' and the 'Levite' (actually, in this version, a mayor and a doctor, I think) pass by the man (or, cucumber) in need while singing, "I'm busy, busy, dreadfully busy, you've no idea what I've got to do; busy, busy, frightfully busy, much, much too busy for you."
Why do we often fail to help those who obviously have needs, even though we know that this is the type of thing we should do--I guess because we feel we haven't the time for such things, given the constant demands of life. We must get our child to piano practice right now, and thus we cannot stop to help the person whose car has stalled. We must do the minor details that feel so urgent, and thereby neglect the truly important things. Is this starting to sound like the story of Mary and Martha?
Reflecting in this way on the juxtaposition of the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the story of Mary and Martha might show that both stories are mutually illuminating, if not for Luke, then at least for his modern audience.
Friday, February 24, 2012
Graham on Chronicles
I'll mention a few things. Dr. Graham dates Chronicles to about 350 BCE. During that period, the Persian province of Yehud was about 800 sq. miles. This is remarkably close to the size of the county in which I live: Lauderdale County, Alabama is 718 sq. miles. But Lauderdale County has around 100,000 people, whereas Yehud had perhaps 15,000-30,000 people, and Jerusalem itself only 1250 inhabitants. The population for which the Chronicler wrote was exceedingly small.
Dr. Graham argued that the Chronicler's main purpose was theological--not that he wanted to change particular religious practices, or legitimate religious practices of his day, but that he wanted 'Israel' of his day to see itself as God's people, as part of the story of Israel, and that God has great purposes for them. He wanted his audience to understand that though desolation has happened, and they are apparently not in a land flowing with milk and honey, that they are still a people in covenant with the God of heaven and earth.
Of course, the Chronicler would not have expected many people to read his work, because not many people could read. This prompted me to ask a question after the second lecture--"How did the Chronicler expect to make an impact with his work? How did he expect to read it?" Dr. Graham proposed three possibilities: (a) the literate elite would read it and they would in turn teach others (Dr. Graham put it this way: the Chronicler wanted to influence the influencers); (b) he suggested the possibility of public readings of Chronicles, perhaps at the Temple in Jerusalem (but not at synagogues, yet; the mid-fourth century--Graham's date for Chronciles--is still a century or more before our earliest attestation for synagogues, I believe); and (c) perhaps literate Levites took the composition to various parts of Yehud and used it as a basis for teaching (cf. 2Chron. 17:7-9, where Jehoshaphat sends Levites out to teach in villages the book of the law of the Lord).
There were many other things Dr. Graham said that were very interesting. One of the best parts of the day, other than having breakfast with him this morning at Cracker Barrel, was listening to him speak during lunch about his own academic history, and having a little informal Q&A about his academic and library work. It was a lot of fun.
I'm already looking forward to next year when we have Thomas Long, and then Ralph Klein the year after that.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
The Canon List of Baba Bathra 14b
The Hebrew below, I typed in some time ago from the standard Vilna edition of the Talmud. There may be typos, and if you find any, I'd appreciate your telling me. The English is from the Soncino translation.
I include not only the canon list but the subsequent discussion concerning the authorship of the books. Notice that the Torah is not included in the canon list; it is rather assumed. Notice also that the specific question addressed by the baraita is not the contents of the various divisions, but their order. Presumably, there was no debate about the order of the books of the Torah.
The date of this discussion is not strictly known. The redaction of the Talmud itself is usually dated to the sixth century, but since this discussion is reported as a baraita--that is, it begins with the phrase "Our Rabbis taught", the standard phrase introducing a tannaitic tradition preserved only in amoraic sources--it possibly goes back to the second century CE. As with everything, scholars debate the dating of this baraita. One scholar (Roger Beckwith) has argued forcefully that it actually can be dated to the second century BCE (The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church), while others would not necessarily even trust that it is authentically tannaitic (thus, perhaps third century CE or later; see Lightstone in The Canon Debate).
In any case, here is the text.
The discussion then continues with further nuancing of the authorship of the various books.
The Order of the Hebrew Bible, Part 2
Second objection: Still into the Christian era, most biblical books were contained on individual scrolls, since for technical reasons a particular maximum scroll-length could not be exceeded. Only with the emergence of codices did the question become important regarding the proper sequences of the scriptures. Can a collection of individual scrolls actually possess an intended structure?Steinberg sensibly responds to this objection with several observations: (a) the latest scrolls could actually hold more material than the earliest codices, so the way of formulating this objection is not quite accurate; (b) in any case, one can as easily conceive of structure across multiple scrolls and one can today recognize structure across a multi-volume work; (c) lists of biblical books--with inherent order necessarily--precede the emergence of the codex.
So, I agree with Steinberg: existence of books on individual scrolls does not exclude the possibility of some macro-structure theoretically binding those scrolls together; but, of course, neither does it suggest as much.
Third objection: In light of the variety of orders, how can one maintain the view that one particular order is 'right'?Steinberg says that he does not say that one particular order is 'right', but he also says that not all orders are equal. They should be evaluated based on age, claim to authority, group membership, and diffusion rate.
This leads him to address the first question mentioned last time in a section titled: "The order according to Baba Bathra 14b as appropriate starting point." Steinberg gives the following rationale: (1) The order is authorized by the Rabbanan, the keepers of the oral tradition, and therefore it is an old 'official' Jewish arrangement (Steinberg points to his next ch. for detailed argument). (2) The arrangement corresponds to early historical references to a tripartite canon, such as the Sirach prologue. (3) The five Megillot are not yet collected together, as they are in the later Masoretic manuscripts. (4) The arrangement corresponds to inner-textual observations with regard to canonical 'closure phenomena', such as the concluding position of Chronicles. At the conclusion of this section, Steinberg emphasizes once again that this particular list was authorized by the Rabbanan, it is very old, and it corresponds to the internal evidence for arrangement.
How to respond to this? How in the world we know that the baraita in Baba Bathra precedes its encapsulation in the Talmud, I don't know. I suppose I'll have to wait for Steinberg's ch. 2 to see how he argues this. I know, however, that Beckwith's argument for this is deeply unsatisfying. As for Sirach's prologue, I am very suspicious of interpretations that see in it a closed third section of the canon corresponding to the list in Baba Bathra. I think John Barton (and others) has rendered this idea dubious. (I also want to note that David Carr's new book, The Formation of the Hebrew Bible [Oxford, 2011], takes a line very similar to Barton in ch. 5. Perhaps I'll be able to say some more about Carr's book in a later post.) The third argument, about the Megillot, simply shows that the list in Baba Bathra is older than the arrangement in the Leningrad Codex (eleventh century), not all that impressive. And the fourth argument is the main theme of my SECSOR paper; for now, I'll just say that I don't see how intertextual allusions, which are common throughout the Hebrew Bible, can indicate a certain canonical placement for a biblical book.
Steinberg concludes this part of his discussion with a section called: "Three Levels of Legitimation for a Structual-Canonical Interpretation of the Ketuvim according to Baba Bathra 14b." He says that because of the dearth of sources, historical reconstructions of the canon will always be debatable. But that does not nullify his project. Rather, an evaluation of the hermeneutical implications of the sequence according to Baba Bathra 14b is justified because: (a) this order, like every order, determines the reception of the text since it provides a type of context; (b) it was authorized by the Rabbanan, is very old, agrees with the canon structure attested by the Sirach prologue, and corresponds to the evidence of canonical shape internal to the Hebrew Bible; (c) it is one of the best candidates for the originally intended arrangement of the Hebrew Bible, assuming there was such an arrangement.
The first of these I will concede. The second and third I consider dubious, as I've said.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
The Order of the Hebrew Bible
In preparation for my SECSOR paper on Chronicles, I'm reading through Julius Steinberg's book Die Ketuvim: Ihr Aufbau und ihre Botschaft, BBB 152 (Hamburg: Philo, 2006) (reviewed by Tim Stone). The basic idea of the book is that there is an intentional order to the Ketuvim ('writings'), i.e., the third section of the Hebrew Bible, and that we should attend to this order in our exegesis. Of course, one problem is choosing the correct order, and Steinberg agrees with Roger Beckwith (The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church [Eerdmans, 1985]) that the correct order is presented in the beraita of Baba Bathra 14b (Babylonian Talmud).
I am inclined to disagree with this entire line of thought. Here I want to gather some thoughts in response to one of Steinberg's brief sections. [The book itself is not brief--491 pages!] The translations of the German are my own.
On pp. 84-89, Steinberg has a sections called, "The Necessary Prerequisite for the [Structural-Canonical] Approach: A Fixed Order of Books." He recognizes that sometimes the selection of an order of books has been rather arbitrary (such as choosing the order in BHS), and he knows that there are many different orders to choose from. So he presents this two-fold question:
1. Which of the transmitted orders [in the ancient canonical lists and manuscripts] should serve as the starting point for a structural-canonical approach?
2. In view of the variety of orders, is it useful at all to evaluate the hermeneutical implications of a particular order?
He takes the second question first, and responds to three possible objections to the idea of an order of books as hermeneutically significant:
First objection: The history of interpretation shows that the order of books practically never played a roll. Can someone then actually claim that the consideration of order is so important?This is an objection that I myself think valid. Steinberg responds in two ways.
(1) He relies on Meir Sternberg's work on Hebrew narrative (The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, Indiana University, 1987) to argue that subtle arrangements of the text can be significant, and can add to interpretation, even if they are missed by the majority of interpreters. Fair enough. [But I would still like to know who's order I'm interpreting, but more on that in another post.]
(2) Steinberg also argues that the order of books has, in fact, played a significant role in the history of interpretation. His evidence for this assertion: (a) the many different sequences of books known from ancient lists and manuscripts--sequences themselves that reveal certain principles of order (Steinberg points to his following chapter for more discussion)--suggest that whoever devised these sequences did feel that order was important; (b) some canon lists (Baba Bathra 14b, the second Rabbinic Bible, Adath Deborim) claim to give the correct order, meaning that the compilers of these lists deemed order important; (c) the position in the canon sometimes has been taken as hermeneutically significant, as for instance for Malachi at the end of the prophets, Genesis at the beginning of the Torah, Chronicles at the end of the Bible, and as evidenced by the influence of the historicizing sequence of the Greek Bible upon the reception of the OT.
This second answer to the first objection is not very compelling. Steinberg tries to make the variety of sequences for the Ketuvim work to his advantage, but I think unsuccessfully. True, the different orders to reveal different thoughts about how the Ketuvim should be arranged, which suggests that the 'arrangers' were concerned with sequence. But it also suggests that these 'arrangers' did not consider a single order to be intrinsic to the canon, or did not recognize one to be so. That is, if Baba Bathra 14b is taken as the original canonical order for the Ketuvim (Steinberg will argue this in ch. 2, pp. 106-95), so that other orders are deviations from it, the question still remains why others felt so free to deviate, sometimes severely, from the canonical order. Why did they not recognize this particular order as 'written into' the canon? They were not changing out the canonical books, but they apparently did not consider the preservation of this original sequence to be all that important; rather, they thought they could improve it.
The canonical lists mentioned by Steinberg are all rather late, and that is an issue I look forward to seeing him address later in his book. That is, even if there is some intentionality behind the order in Baba Bathra 14b, why should that concern me? After all, as Steinberg has said, there is intentionality behind a plethora of orders. Why does Steinberg think this one in Baba Bathra is worth my time? But, as I say, Steinberg will get to that, so I'll have to wait to see what he says. I assume he'll agree with Beckwith that the order of Baba Bathra actually derives from the second century BCE.
As for the third point (letter c), Steinberg is very brief, so it is difficult to know what he means. Who takes Malachi's position at the end of the prophets to be hermeneutically significant, and what do they mean by that? Does Steinberg mean ancient commentators? I would think of ancients as more important than moderns if one is addressing the history of interpretation in this way, but Steinberg does not say what commentaries he has in mind. The way he phrases it, I would assume modern commentaries. But do these commentators see the significance to be that Malachi is placed last of the Twelve, or last of the canonical prophets altogether, or last of the second division of the Hebrew Bible called Prophets, or last chronologically of the prophetic books we now have in the Bible? I can see modern commentators taking all these positions, or none of them, but in any case I don't think it's very significant for the way Malachi's position in the canon has been viewed throughout time. For that, I'd rather know about what Jerome's commentary on Malachi says about the sequence of prophetic books, or Theodore's commentary, or Cyril of Alexandria's, or Calvin's, or the midrashim. The brevity of Steinberg's treatment of this question does not allow him to delve into this at all.
The placement of Genesis in the canon, and Chronicles, and the influence of the Greek order on the Christian understanding of the OT, are all different and still not compelling as evidence for the point Steinberg wants to make. So, this objection--that the idea of a canonical order with bearing on interpretation is a modern construct--still remains valid in my mind.
But this post is somewhat long, so next time I'll see if I can deal with Steinberg's other points in this section.
The Word 'Disciple' in the Bible
Matthew: 72x, mostly speaking of the Twelve. Additionally, John the Baptist has disciples (11:2; 14:12), and the Pharisees do too (22:16), and Jesus speaks of a 'disciple' generally (10:24-25), and there do seem to be disciples of Jesus besides the Twelve (cf. 8:21). But it would be interesting to see if Matthew uses the word mathetes to describe followers of Jesus other than the Twelve after it is clear in Matthew's narrative that Jesus has specially commissioned the Twelve as his disciples (which apparently in Matthew happens in 10:2-4, where Matthew names the disciples). On a quick perusal, I did not find any instances.
Mark: 46x. Same issues as above. Interesting that the last appearance of mathetes is 16:7 (i.e., it does not appear in the longer ending of Mark). I'm not making an argument, just an observation. Of course, it doesn't appear in Mark's first chapter, either.
Luke: 37x. Weird that Luke, the longest Gospel, has fewer instances of mathetes than Mark, which Luke almost certainly knew (assuming Marcan priority, with the vast majority of scholars). Does this mean that Luke edited out the word mathetes from his Gospel? Does he have a word that he prefers to mathetes for naming the followers of Jesus? I'll try to think about those issues the next time I read through Luke. I'm not an NT scholar, so very probably if work has been done on this, it would have escaped my notice.
After typing the above, I looked through some of the verses in Luke, with some interesting initial results. Luke does use mathetes in reference to disciples of Jesus other than the Twelve--19:37: at the Triumphal Entry, "the whole crowd of the disciples" were rejoicing. Matthew (21:8-9) has only "crowd", and Mark (11:8) has "many" (πολλοί). Also, at 6:17, immediately after naming the Twelve, Luke tells us that a "large crowd of his disciples" were gathered to hear him.
Luke is also the Gospel that uses the word ἀπόστολος (apostolos) most frequently, though still not very often: Matthew uses it once (10:2), Mark once (6:30; but see the variant at 3:14), John once (13:16, but not in reference to the Twelve--just a general reference to 'one sent'), and Luke uses it six times (6:13; 9:10; 11:49; 17:5; 22:14; 24:10), at least five times in reference to the Twelve (maybe not 11:49). This of course does not count the many appearances of the word in Acts (28x), some of which do not refer to the Twelve (14:4, 14, in reference to Paul and Barnabas).
Back to mathetes:
John: 78x. I'm not interested right now in looking through these to see if they are always about the Twelve or are more general. A project for later.
Acts: 28x. I believe (from a quick perusal) that it is never used in reference to the Twelve in Acts. Instead, the Twelve are termed 'apostles', and mathetes is used in reference to general believers. See, for instance, ch. 6 (vv. 1, 2, 7), the first chapter where the term appears.
And that's it for the NT. Again, the word 'disciple' never appears in Paul's letters, or anyone else's letters. Christians are called 'saints' or 'believers' or 'brothers' (these terms are also used in Acts), but they are not called 'disciples' (or 'Christians', for the most part).
Monday, February 20, 2012
As for the new look, I'll tell you why I did that--I figured out how. I'm not very tech savvy (understatement!). I have a phone that is capable of (1) actually making a phone call and (2) sending a text. I have never sent a text, and I'm wondering if I can get a phone that wont do that. It's annoying to receive texts. Actually, I'd like to get rid of the phone altogether, but my wife wont let me. Anyway, so I'm not tech savvy; thus it took me a while (4 years or so) to figure out how to change the look of the blog and add features, such as a blogroll, that you now see down the right column. I hope the new look makes for a more pleasant experience with this blog.
Now for the content. If you peruse the archives, you'll notice that Feb. 2012 has seen an explosion of posting on this blog in comparison with what I've done over the past couple of years. In all of 2011, I had one post, in January. In 2010, there were three months in which I posted something, for a total of seven posts. In 2009, I had two posts, both in October. The high year for this blog all time in terms of number of posts was 2008, with 17 posts. In April 2008, I had six posts, the high month.
This post represents number nine for 2012, and number nine for February. So, this is already the new high month, and 2012 is well on its way to a new high year for this blog. The reason I've been posting more things is because Charles Halton has shown me the light. I knew that blogging could be valuable to one's scholarly profile, but Charles' post still opened my eyes.
Also, I've seen the value of this blog as an outlet for my ill-formed ideas, ones that I don't have the time or inclination to develop fully, but ones that I still want to note and remember. So, hopefully, this blog will continue to feature new content, especially of the weird ideas about biblical studies and patristics that pop into my head. But I also plan on posting more significant and thought-out articles arising from my research.
So, happy reading, and do let me know what you think.
Colossians 2:14 in Song
Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross (Col. 2:14, KJV)
erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. (Col. 2:14, NRSV)I grew up hearing that this meant that the Law of Moses, or maybe even the Old Testament (which usually amounted to the same thing, for those from whom I heard this), was nailed to the cross by Jesus, and that's how we know we don't have to follow the laws in the Pentateuch.
I understand that the exact referent of 'handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us' is still debated by NT scholars, some of whom do hold that this refers to the Law (not the OT). However, the interpretation of this passage in the sense that the handwriting of ordinances is some type of IOU makes so much sense to me, especially in context (v. 13--"having forgiven us all our transgressions"!), that I don't really see why there is debate. What Jesus nailed to the cross was our sin, the debt laid against us, our 'bill' before God, the 'handwriting of ordinances' condemning us because of our sin.
It seems to me that our song writers, anyway, may have so understood the passage. The verb 'to nail' appears in the Bible in the KJV and NRSV only in this passage, increasing the likelihood that the following two well-known hymns were written with this passage in mind. Granted, Spafford and Breck may have simply been reflecting on Jesus himself being nailed to the cross, and his bearing our sin, but the thought and the very wording agree so well with Col. 2:14 that they may also have relied on it.
My sin--oh the bliss of this glorious thought,Second stanza of "It Is Well With My Soul," written by Horatio Spafford (1873)
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, oh, my soul!
There was One Who was willing to die in my stead,First stanza and refrain of "Nailed to the Cross," written by Carrie E. Breck (1899)
That a soul so unworthy might live;
And the path to the cross He was willing to tread,
All the sins of my life to forgive.
They are nailed to the cross! They are nailed to the cross!
Oh, how much He was willing to bear!
With what anguish and loss Jesus went to the cross,
But He carried my sins with Him there.
Friday, February 17, 2012
I'll be presenting a paper at this first seminar. It's actually the same paper I noted here, which I will be presenting at SECSOR two days later.
The plan is to hold these seminars every two weeks on Wednesdays during lunch for the rest of the semester. Brad McKinnon will present some of his research on Churches of Christ in Vietnam at the second seminar, and then Jeremy Barrier will present some recent research on The Acts of Paul and Thecla (on which he has written a commentary), and then I'll present another paper (my NAPS paper) to close out the semester. Hopefully next year we will continue these seminars, and maybe we can get some of our graduate students involved, presenting their original research that forms part of their theses.
The format will be something like this: at 11:30 we'll eat, at about noon I'll present a paper for about 25 minutes, and then we'll have 30 minutes or so for discussion.
These seminars are open to everyone, including local ministers, but graduate students are especially encouraged (and, perhaps in the future, required) to attend. What could be better?--free lunch, dissemination of knowledge, discussion about the Bible and its reception.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Joseph and the Eunuch's Wife
It did remind me, though, of an idea I had sometime back about Joseph in Potiphar's house. Now, a couple of times, Potiphar is called in Hebrew a saris (Gen. 37:36; 39:1), a word used in the Pentateuch only here and a little later in Genesis, in reference to Pharaoh's 'chief cupbearer' and 'chief baker' (40:2, 7). The word is used 42x in the Hebrew Bible: 9x in the Former Prophets (i.e., historical books), 2x in Chronicles; 12x in Esther; 3x in Isaiah; 5x in Jeremiah; and 7x in the first chapter of Daniel.
The NRSV splits its translation of saris between 'officer' (or some such) and 'eunuch', which is the way it renders it in 2Kings 9:32; 20:18; 23:11; every time in Esther and Isaiah; Jer. 34:19; 38:7; 41:16. On the other hand, the LXX consistently translates saris with the Greek eunouchos, opting for a different translation only a handful of times. In fact, twice (Gen. 37:36; Isa. 39:7) the LXX uses a different Greek word, spadon, that also means 'eunuch'.
The point of this review of the philological data is to say that when Potiphar is called a saris, almost all English translation render this 'officer', but an equally viable translation would be 'eunuch', and this was certainly the view of the earliest interpretation on record, the LXX. I believe that the main reason that English versions stay away from 'eunuch' in this context is because Potiphar is married, and it is thought unlikely that a eunuch would have a wife.
Actually, I think that provides an interesting reading to the story. We all know that Mrs. Potiphar comes off as rather sex-crazed, and this could be explained by the fact that she is married to a eunuch. But why would a eunuch get married? Well, he's a high-ranking public official, who needs to give the appearance of a wonderful home life. At least it's not hard to think of modern analogies to this (perhaps anachronistically) hypothesized situation. I believe I have come across this interpretation somewhere, but I can't remember where.
But I have never seen the suggestion that Joseph may have been purchased by Potiphar specifically to fulfill this need of his wife's. And that's where Marchal's article could help with supplying data for the sexual use of slaves in antiquity (though I understand that Marchal is looking specifically at a Greco-Roman context, not an ANE one). It is worth thinking about, anyway, whether Potiphar may have wanted to purchase this good-looking slave (39:7) to satisfy his wife, or even to raise up offspring to himself. Well, does it at least sound like something JSOT might print?
But yesterday my friend Nathan Daily pointed out that if I'd actually read the text, I'd see that Joseph said to Mrs. Potiphar quite clearly that Potiphar has withheld her from him (Joseph) precisely because she is his (Potiphar's) wife (39:9).
Too bad. That seems like it kills my interpretation. I only see two options for retaining it. Perhaps Joseph was unaware of Potiphar's plans for him, and Potiphar counseled his own wife to seduce the handsome slave. Now, that really sounds like JSOT material. Or, maybe the final redactor of Genesis has attempted to cleanse the story of these impious elements through some crafty editorial work, but he failed to do his job well enough that we can't recover the original form of the story. And, of course, we do that by the oft-used scholarly technique of 'making-it-up'.
Now that sounds like I've got something for VT or ZAW. But I think I'll leave the matter alone. Dear readers, feel free to develop the idea yourselves, but perhaps you'll want to start with a conference paper.
What Could the Torah Not Justify You From?
γνωστὸν οὖν ἔστω ὑμῖν, ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί, ὅτι διὰ τούτου ὑμῖν ἄφεσις ἁμαρτιῶν καταγγέλλεται [καὶ] ἀπὸ πάντων ὧν οὐκ ἠδυνήθητε ἐν νόμῳ Μωϋσέως δικαιωθῆναι, ἐν τούτῳ πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων δικαιοῦται.I have neither the time nor the expertise (in NT studies or the debates about justification) to enter into a full treatment of this passage, but I did want to offer a thought. I have looked at a few commentaries (Fitzmyer, L.T. Johnson, Bock), none of which related this statement at all to the preceding emphasis on the resurrection.
But it seems to me that the context of the sermon, the context of Acts as a whole (which emphasizes the resurrection quite a lot--see 2:24-35; 4:2; 17:32; 23:6; 25:23, just to name some references off the top of my head), and the situation in which the sermon was delivered, in a synagogue among Jews who knew that Leviticus promised forgiveness of sins through sacrifices--all of this indicates that while Paul here certainly related this 'justification' to forgiveness of sins, perhaps more specifically he relates it to forgiveness of sins that liberates from the curse of sin = death.
To be brief and simplistic, in his letters Paul speaks of Adam's sin as ushering in death (Rom. 5:12-14; 1Cor. 15:21-22), so that death is the consequence of sin. Now, Paul in Acts could be saying to the Jews in Antioch: "The Torah promised forgiveness of sins through slaughtering a goat, but it never promised justification that you would not suffer the effects of sin, that is, death. No matter how many goats you slaughter, you will die. The Torah cannot set you free from death. But Jesus can. What the Torah could not justify you from (= the effects of sin = death), Jesus does justify you from. He has inaugurated the resurrection, he did not see corruption, and everyone who believes can join him in that."
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
NAPS 2012 Program
It's nice to see the program released a bit early--it helps with planning the trip to Chicago. The opposite happened in the case of the SECSOR program, which was just released a week or so ago even though the conference itself is the first weekend of March. Mostly I don't stay for entire conferences, so I like to know when I'm presenting a paper so I can book the hotel for that night.
I still don't see any information on the NAPS website about registration or housing--they say that information will be available in March. I remember last time (in 2010) the hotel rooms were $142/night, which I thought pretty good for late May in Chicago, but I have no recollection about how much the conference itself ran.
Anyway, back to the program, I'm sure you'll want to examine the whole thing yourself, so I'll just point out the two places where my name appears. On Friday morning at 9:00, I chair a session on Jerome (session 30). That's pretty cool--I'm quite pleased not only to chair a session but that they assigned me that particular session. The first paper in that session is by Thomas Hunt at Cardiff, whom I met this past August in Oxford at the International Patristics Conference, and with whom I shared a brief email exchange about Jerome. I look forward to seeing him again. The other papers--by Stuart Squires (DePaul), Christine McCann (Norwich), and Peter Anthony Mena (Drew)--also look very interesting.
Later that same day, at 4:20pm, I'll present my own paper in Session 47. The session itself is called "Scripture: Commentary and Translation," and it is chaired by Mischa Hooker, whose website I use constantly. Other than me, the session features some big names: D.H. Williams (Baylor) on "The First Gospel in Service of the Early Fathers," Thomas Scheck (Ave Maria University) on "A Brief Introduction to Jerome's Commentary on Isaiah" (I'm very interested!), and Paul Blowers (Emanuel Christian Seminary) on "Anastasius of Sinai's Hexaemeron: Negotiating an Exegetical Via Media."
My own paper is called "Why Did Jerome Translate Tobit and Judith?" This is a topic I've been thinking about for some time, though I still have yet to put everything together into a coherent paper. That's why I like presenting at conferences--they give you a deadline to write the paper! I'll have to have it done by May 25.
I'll have more to say about my paper as the conference draws closer--you know, after I've actually written it.
UPDATE: Just a couple hours after I posted this, the NAPS website issued an announcement about the meeting, pointing to the conference program available on the site. But the homepage still says the program will be available in April.
Monday, February 13, 2012
M. Patrick Graham: Charles Coil Lectures 2012
Dr. Graham (PhD, Emory, 1983; MLIS, UT Austin, 1990) is a specialist on Chronicles, on which he has written and edited several volumes. His lectures are entitled "Reading Chronicles for All Its Worth." They should prove to be informative and interesting to non-experts. The two lectures begin at 8:30am and 1:00pm, and each is allotted two hours.
The break between the lectures should also be a lot of fun. Dr. Graham has agreed to have a little informal Q&A during lunch about his academic history, how he ended up doing a PhD at Emory and then an MLIS, how he splits his day now between library work and biblical research, etc. All are invited to this. This session will be especially helpful to students, but I am also looking forward to it.
The audio (and maybe video) of Dr. Graham's lectures will probably be made available online, as in previous years. If so, I'll note it here.
I'm presenting the paper in the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament section of the SBL part of SECSOR, and the paper's title is: "The End of the Bible? The Position of Chronicles in the Canon." It's related to my on-going research on the saying of Jesus in Matt. 23:35 (// Luke 11:51) regarding the blood of Zechariah and its relation to the canonical shape of the Tanakh in the first century. Last year at SECSOR (in Louisville) I read a paper to the NT section on that topic.
(Once upon a time, I started a series on this topic, but, of course, I never finished it, or even continued it. The series consists of one post.)
Here's the abstract for my paper this year.
"The End of the Bible? The Position of Chronicles in the Canon"
Scholars have argued for the ‘originality’ of the position of Chronicles at the end of the canon based on both external and internal considerations. The internal considerations entail identification of various ‘closure phenomena’ that allegedly indicate that Chronicles either was written for the purpose of concluding the scriptural canon or was redacted for that purpose (cf. Georg Steins, Stephen Dempster, etc.). The external evidence (most comprehensively presented by Roger Beckwith) includes the Talmudic order of books (b. B. Bathra 14b), various Masoretic manuscripts, and a particular dominical statement preserved in the double tradition of the Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 23:35 // Lk. 11:51). This paper argues that none of this evidence can be considered compelling. The external evidence—especially Patristic lists of Old Testament books, including many that have an explicit concern for the Jewish number and order; and the best Masoretic manuscripts, including the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex—weighs decidedly against an ‘original’ location of Chronicles at the end. The internal indications for the concluding position of Chronicles too closely resemble many other types of biblical intertextuality perceptible in other books to warrant the conclusion that for Chronicles they require a place at the end of the Bible. The paper also explores the meaning of canonical ‘order’ in a pre-codex society, as well as the origins and reception of various canonical arrangements.
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Indexing a Book
First, I should say that my book is the published form of my dissertation completed at Hebrew Union College under Adam Kamesar and Richard S. Sarason. If everything goes as planned, it will appear in May within the series Vigiliae Christianae Supplements (Brill). See here for a preview.
I compiled two indices--an index of ancient sources and a general index (subjects and modern authors). I did these in reverse order.
For the general index, I used the instructions provided by David Instone-Brewer at Tyndale House. It was supposed to be an easier way to index (I suppose it was), as the computer did some of the work for you, but it was still a bit more complicated and time-consuming than I anticipated. I'm sure this is partly because I was inexperienced, and partly because I am far from being a computer whiz.
You first have to make a Word document of the PDF that the publisher sends you (the proofs), and then get all the page numbers in the Word doc to be right, and then use a program to make a concordance of the Word doc, and then delete all the irrelevant words (words you don't want indexed--this took a long time), and then clean up the resulting word list, and then have Word provide the page numbers.
But, after all that, I still had to go through the index and eliminate the page numbers that weren't right. This is because sometimes people have the same last night, and Word provides the page numbers for both guys, so you have to eliminate the page numbers that don't apply. Or, when I look up Scholar X in the index, and I don't want to find references to articles written by someone else that happen to appear in books edited by Scholar X, so I eliminated those page numbers, too. And then also, for the subjects, I didn't want to include references for pages that included the term but were irrelevant. For example, I mention Homer a few times in my book, and those pages are referenced under the key word 'Homer'. But I also cite a book or two with Homer in the title, and I cite that book in contexts having nothing to do with Homer (like citing Honigman's Septuagint and Homeric Scholarship while talking about the Letter of Aristeas). I didn't want to include those references under the key word 'Homer'. So I found that I still had to go through the index and check every single reference to make sure it was one I wanted to leave in there.
If I had known at the beginning what I know now, I would have skipped some steps. I suppose I still would have the concordance program produce a concordance for me, and then I'd go through and delete all the many (thousands, it seemed) words that shouldn't be included. But, since I would go through and check all the page numbers, anyway, there's really no reason to have Word automatically provide the page references, and therefore there's no reason to make a Word doc based on the page proofs in PDF supplied by the publisher, and then ensure that all the page numbers are right in my newly-created Word doc. Next time I think I'll just make my concordance from the Word doc I sent to the publisher originally (from which the proofs were made), and then supply the page numbers myself by searching the PDF proof pages. This sounds incredibly tedious, but I think it will actually save me some time.
There was also an unforeseen problem with using a Word doc made from the PDF proofs supplied by the publisher. In the transfer between formats, for some reason, many (but not all) of the 'f's' did not come over. So, in the newly-created Word doc, the name 'Rufinus' appeared as 'Ru inus', and 'Niehoff' became 'Nieho '. This obviously created problems for the concordance program, which produced no occurrences of Rufinus but instead had 'Ru' and 'inus'. Making the concordance from my original Word doc would avoid this problem.
For the index of ancient sources, I knew of no better way than to simply go through the document and find who I cited, and then run a search in the PDF for all the places that I cited that author or work. Instone-Brewer does provide instructions for an 'automatic' way of doing this index, but the directions were too complicated for me.