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.
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!