Category Archives: Hebrew Bible

Some ACT! ACT! [will certainly act] silly.

I may be regressing toward more less well-written posts.  Oh well, that’s that.

My primary topic of conversation with you tonight, dear reader, is the idiocy of many Christian scholars.  Ok, perhaps this is harsh.  I don’t even have a master’s degree yet.  But we have this one particular book in Pentateuch that is driving me up the wall.  It’s called, intuitively, The Handbook on the Pentateuch by Victor Hamilton, and I’m sure he’s smart and sweet and wonderful and funny, and maybe I even could learn a ton from him and he could defend himself against my amateur criticism… but sometimes he just drives me crazy.

(He amuses me, though.  And I think his book is a pleasant enough read as well as good for helping me create a mental map of large sections of the Torah. So if you’re reading this, Dr. Hamilton, I am sorry to be so mean, and I hope you will know that I have benefited from your book, as well…)

A few examples from today’s reading:

The Quick Dismissal
This move involves the mention of another scholar opinion followed by a polite statement to the effect of “But they’re just dumb and wrong.”

Ex: “Thus some scholars have argued here that Moses wore a mask with horns, or he was disfigured in some way through too much access to the divine glory (Propp 1987)–that is, his face blistered and looked like little horns.  That is hardly the case.” (p 226)

The reality is, none of them were there to see what happened, or even ask the biblical writers and redactors what they were trying to communicate, so they really don’t know.  But isn’t it fun to say?  The next time you disagree with someone about something you’re both merely theorizing about, please declare boldly that whatever they said is hardly the case!  It’s a lot of fun.

The Out-of-Context Christianese
Exactly what it sounds like.  Christianese is not an appropriate way to refer to events in the Hebrew Bible, friends.

Ex: About Israelites in Leviticus 17: “How is the believer to eat meat (a luxury item anyway?), and where is the believer to bring sacrifices?”  (p 285)

A tip for budding authors: if you’re writing a book targeted at American evangelicals, who often forget they’re not God’s “chosen people” anyway, don’t use their pet names for themselves in reference to Israelites.

The Magical Theological Disappearing Act!
This dramatic number involves the encounter of something difficult in the text, a mention of a frightening possibility, and a quick dismissal of said possibility due to evangelical theology.

Ex: In reference to God’s declaration that “You shall be holy for I am holy,” and the possibilitiy that this is a threat of some sort, “God’s way, however, is not to frighten or intimidate people into holiness, but to lure them into it by lifting up his own nature as the benchmark and model.” (p 283)

While it may be true that God’s not trying to scare them into holiness here, have you even read the rest of the OT?  God punishes people for sin–that’s pretty scary!  And not only that: he explicitly says of the law in Deuteronomy, “You have a choice between blessings and curses, life and death here, friends.”  This is not just a cute game of follow the leader into holiness, in my opinion; at points there are totally threats.

The Let’s-Interpret-the-OT-through-the-NT!
A classic!  One of my personal favorites.  This involves making unnecessary references to the New Testament when interpreting the Old.  It is one thing to do as Desmond Alexander does in his intro to the Pentateuch and include a section at the end of each chapter that talks about the relationship of the NT to that portion of the OT, largely discussing how the NT quotes or builds on that content.  It’s another thing entirely to mention the NT randomly as if everything were written at the same time by the same people.

Ex1: “First, God commands intolterance toward all pagan forms of worship (vv 11-16).  There is to be no yoking with unbelievers” (pg 225).

Ex2: “Of course, the phrase ‘you shall be holy as God is holy’ does not mean ‘you shall be as holy as God is holy.’  The idiom is known elsewhere in Scripture.  For example, Jesus says… Such comparisons abound in 1 John…” (pg 283)

First, don’t throw in a random sentence that makes clear reference to an NT verse.  It tells readers that it is wise to make a mental connection between the passages without necessarily reading them for themselves.  Whether or not it is a legitimate connection, it’s one they should make after reading and interpreting, not one you should make for them from the very beginning or without supporting your argument.

Secondly, while, again, it’s ok to talk about how the NT uses the OT, quoting the NT says nothing about what the Hebrew Bible was trying to say.  NT authors quote the prophets and Psalms like madness but that doesn’t mean the prophets thought they were writing Messianic prophecies.  Same goes for any other section of Scripture–just because someone else said something similarly another day doesn’t mean they were meaning the same thing.  Just because someone later thought they knew what someone before them meant when they said X doesn’t make the newbs right.

***AND NOW, THE MOMENT WE’VE ALL BE WAITING FOR!***

Hebrew Tidbit of the Day:
In Hebrew, there’s something called the absolute infinitive, which isn’t like a regular infinitive at all (a “to ____” verb) but rather means “will certainly ____” or “will surely ____,” as you may have seen reading the Hebrew Bible in English.  (It’s a pretty common construction.)  The interesting thing is, to use this form of the verb, you put the absolute infinitive (which isn’t conjugated for person, gender, or number) alongside the regular conjugated verb.  In a sense then, you’re saying the verb twice for emphasis.  The best example of this ever is in Genesis 2:16-17 when God is talking about not eating the fruit or else you’ll die.  Essentially he says, “So of the good fruit you will EAT! EAT! but the bad one if you eat you will DIE! DIE!”  I think that’s pretty sweet.

This construction in modern usage (as I recommend we all put into practice a little more often!):

If I do not go to bed now, I SLEEP! SLEEP! [will certainly sleep] through Pentateuch tomorrow!

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Inerrancy: Not what they taught you at Moody, eh?

“[Timothy P.] Weber cites Benjamin B. Warfield (1851-1921) and Archibald Alexander Hodge (1823-86) of Princeton as important conservative thinkers who argued for inerrancy.  They made an impressive case that ‘the Scriptures not only contain but ARE THE WORD OF GOD, and hence that all their elements and all their affirmations are absolutely errorless, and binding the faith and obedience of man.’  This claim was so impressive that Hodge’s provisos were often overlooked.  He noted that readers should ‘(1) disregard trivial discrepancies in numbers and dates, (2) allow for minor errors in translation and copying over the centuries, (3) distinguish between what the Bible writers personally believed and what they formally taught, and (4) use reasonable or common-sense standards of what constituted accuracy.'” –Robert Jewett, Mission and Menace: Four Centuries of American Religious Zeal

Nonetheless, I take issue with the word itself…

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Jews write goods stories

Monday I begin my class on the Torah, and the professor is keeping up her can’t-half-ass-my-class reputation by assigning reading (65 pages or so?) for the first day.  I’m not thrilled about the workload, but I not-so-secretly am delighting in diving into my books.

One of the three chapters I’m reading is about Chapters 1-11 of Genesis, and I’ve paused on page 117 (of Boadt’s Reading the Old Testament) to share with you a compelling comparison of Genesis 1 to the Babylonian creation myth (circa 1700 B.C.) Enuma Elish.

Enuma Elisa tells the story of Apsu (male) and Tiamat (female), the gods of fresh and salt water.  They have water-god sex (whatever that entails) and give birth to all the other gods, but subsequently decide to kill all of their children.  One of the new gods, Eu, finds out about the plot and kills Apsu, causing Tiamat to declare war against the other gods.  At that point, Marduk, a warrior god, is declared king of the gods as he kills his mother Tiamat, making the heavens and earth out of two halves of her body.  Finally, humanity is created at Marduk’s command by Eu (from another god they killed, no less), humans apparently thought to be “savage” and “charged with the service of the gods that they might be at ease!”  Then Marduk celebrates his kingship with a banquet.  Huzzah!  (Story summarized from pg 116.)

Now the contrast (pg 117):

While the Priestly authors [of Genesis 1] obviously knew the Babylonian story, or one similar, and used its outline, they did not accept its theology.  P makes no mention of a battle between Yahweh and the forces of chaos represented by the water: nor does it say human beings are made up of the flesh of a god; nor does it claim that we have no purpose but to be slaves of the gods; nor is Yahweh portrayed as one among many competing, bickering and openly jealous divinities.  Rather, in direct opposition [author’s emphasis] to all that the Babylonians held about the origins of the universe, and in particular about the claims of their city god Marduk to be lord over all other gods, P solemnly affirmed the basic insights of Israel’s faith:

(1) there is one God, without sexual gender, alone from the start,

(2) who created from his goodness and wise plan a world of order,

(3) in which matter is good and not the result of whim or magic,

(4) but God’s word decrees what it is to be and establishes limits;

(5) he gave humans a place of honor, made in his own image

(6) they were to have responsibility over what was created,

(7) and share divine gifts of pro-creating life, sharing his sabbath rest and knowing God personally, [sic–don’t know why this ends in a comma]

One might ask many questions about this text:
* Is the JDPE theory accurate about its origins or was it written by Moses or something else?
* Does it identify the correct creator god?
* What caused the Jewish God to be so different from others of the Near East?  Do any ancient religious groups stand in contrast to the surrounding groups in a similar way?

Etc.

However, with or without these answers one thing is clear:

I don’t know anyone that would want to worship Marduk.  But a lot of people that would want to worship YHWH.

The Jewish story, apart from questions of its truth, is simply a much more compelling story.  First of all, I would much rather be a human in the Priestly account.  I like a gender-neutral God, I like being created out of love, I like being given power, responsibility, and privilege.  Secondly, the Babylonians created a god that, at least given my personality and cultural bias, I find quite unappealing.  Interesting, but unappealing.  Creation was the result of chaos and violence, and Marduk looks like a selfish pig.  The Jews, on the other hand, created a hero.

You may or may not buy the story and think this YHWH thing is for real, but you have to admit Jewish storytellers have a knack for getting at the core of our hopes and dreams for ourselves and our world.

Does this sound fun to teach to kids in Sunday School?

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