Daily Archives: 28 Apr 2015

Hebrew Bible / Old Testament: I/1 – From the Beginnings to the Middle Ages (Until 1300)

When the first volume of Magne Sæbø’s massive and encyclopedic Hebrew Bible / Old Testament began to appear many years ago now (1996 for the first volume, 2014 for the last) none of us could have imagined it would become, over time, one of the most widely used, reverentially consulted works in the field of Hebrew Bible studies.  For good reason: the authors which the editor assembled were then (and in many cases even decades later still are) leaders of the field.

Naturally, it is no exaggeration to say that the early volumes (of which this is simply the first) have stood the test of time and read as freshly and insightfully as they did in their early days.   It is also fair to say that the early volumes have been thoroughly reviewed and analyzed.  Unfortunately, many of the early reviews appeared before the heady days of the internet and as a consequence the two early portions (I/1 and I/2) cannot be found in the Review of Biblical Literature’s online archives.  It isn’t until Volume II that RBL offers an easily accessed online review.  Vol. II appeared in 2008 but the review wasn’t published until 2010.

The conclusion of the aforementioned review correctly asserts that

… this volume does not appear to function simply as a collection of essays nor as an encyclopedia of sorts where a researcher can “jump” in and out of the text, but is instead a tour de force best appreciated for the “thick descriptions” provided, but more importantly, better understood as a result by a sustained reading across the chapters. It is only through such a sustained reading that the overall thrust of the book can best be appreciated.

Indeed, that sentiment can certainly be applied to the presently-under-consideration-volume as well.  It should be read not as though it were a collection of encyclopedia entries or essays (though it is that) – but rather as an integrated, well organized, organic whole.  It is only through such a reading that the history of the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible can be fully appreciated.  And, it is only through such a reading that present day scholars will learn that their pet theories or ‘new insights’ are nothing more than a return to what has been done better before.

In other words, what this initial volume provides readers is a thorough treatment on the history of the interpretation of the Old Testament reaching back to the very beginning.  And while it would be very easy to quibble with the cost of the volume, and the series in which it appears, such quibbling is, at the end of the day, unjustified.  One doesn’t here have in hand simply a book, one has in hand a resource to which one will return over and over and over again.

The value of the volume isn’t restricted to its core contents but in addition the extraordinarily rich bibliographic entries are themselves a thousand trails down which interested scholars can wander in order to gain a map of the landscape of the history of the Old Testament’s interpretative history down to the last stump and stone and bush and brier-patch.  Accordingly, while the essays themselves are information superhighways the bibliographies and notes are every conceivable side-street, main road, and dirt path imaginable.

Making use of this painstakingly constructed map, readers and students are spared the horror, if they pay sufficient attention, of wandering down cul-de-sacs and dead end streets of interpretive history.  Rather, then, rehashing what has already been stated in copious reviews in print journals, allow me, for this early volume, to simply excerpt material so that potential users of the volume get a sense of its methods, aims, and achievements.

Over the course of a millenium and one-half, ancient Israel was heir to the great civilizations of the ancient Near East and the source of its own creative patrimony. The Hebrew Bible (HB) is thus a thick texture of traditions received and produced over many generations. In the process, a complex dynamic between tradition (traditum) and transmission (traditio) developed since every act of traditio selected, revised, and reconstituted the overall traditum. To be sure, the contrast between authoritative traditum and ongoing traditio is most clear at the close of ancient Israelite literature. It is here that one may observe (incipiently in Qumran texts and more elaborately in normative Jewish sources) a transition to two types: a body of Scripture and a corpus of Interpretations. Indeed the copying, citation, interpretation, and explanation of the sacred Scriptures gave ample opportunity for the reformulation of traditum in postbiblical traditio. But a long prehistory is preserved. That is, the canonical corpus contains a vast range of annotations, adaptations, and comments on earlier traditions. We call this ‘Inner-Biblical Exegesis’. With the close of the canon one could not add or subtract to these examples within Scripture itself (pp. 34-35).

So Michael Fishbane in Chapter One.  By the time readers make their way to the second segment of Chapter Eight, where they will read David Kraemer’s treatment of the art of interpretation in the Mishnah

Before discussing the Mishnah’s approaches to the reading and interpretation of Hebrew Scripture, it is first necessary to explain why one would want to isolate this document in the first place. Why not speak simply of tannaitic/ early rabbinic developments in scriptural hermeneutics? What justifies and/ or requires that the Mishnah be dealt with on its own terms? (p. 278)

one is well and truly instructed in numerous aspects of early interpretation.  In fact, one has received an entire year’s worth of higher education.  By the end of the volume, one has earned a Master’s degree if one has mastered the material herein.

The volume at hand, like the others in the now completed three volumes (in five parts), is thick, weighty, learned, instructive, cutting edge, and a masterpiece of historical research.  Small wonder that it has taken decades to complete.  Just as, then, the fruit of the editor and his associates was worth that wait, so too this earlier volume is worth a new generation of scholars’ attention.  If it isn’t on your shelves, it needs to be.  And if your library doesn’t have it where you do your research, it can scarcely boast of being well stocked.

More Fun From Melanchthon

Zum Dritten, so ist Schweisz ein wild ungehalten Volk, und so es gewaltig wird, wird es mehr Kunheit und Frevel erzeigen, wie warlich Zwingli von vielen Sachen frevelich und heidnisch geredt. Derhalben wir uns billig vor der Schweiszer Gemeinschaft besorgen.  –  P.M.

Because the more you know…

The Serpent in the Garden of Eden and its Background

John Day has a new essay in Bible and Interpretation that will be of interest to folk.

The serpent in the Garden of Eden is popularly equated with the Devil. However, modern scholars agree that this was a later identification and not the original meaning, but there is no consensus as to what the original background of the serpent was. This brief article critiques a number of the proposals that have been made and suggests a possible background for the serpent. More generally it also discusses other questions of interpretation that have arisen in connection with the serpent in Genesis 3, in particular the suggestion that the serpent should be viewed more positively than has been customary and questions associated with the so-called Protoevangelium in Genesis 3:15.

Enjoy.

Nepal Earthquake Update

Yes, I realize that you can search the news sites and find out what’s going on there.  But I am of the opinion that part of my task is to bring to your attention, good reader, concerns.  And this is a major one.

More than 5,000 people are confirmed dead from Saturday’s earthquake just outside Kathmandu, Nepal. Nearly 11,000 more were injured, according to Nepal’s National Emergency Operation Center.

And in addition

The BBC reports that 1.4 million of the 8 million people affected need food aid, citing the United Nations saying that there also are severe shortages of body bags and medical supplies.

If you want to help, here’s the organization that I trust to deliver the aid they promise: Baptist Global Response.

So, while what’s going on in Baltimore is disturbing, what’s happening in Nepal is a tragedy millions of times worse.  No one in Baltimore is starving and living on the edge of death.  Sometimes we Americans have too narrow a focus on what really counts as hardship.

nepal-earthquake__large

A Normal Person’s Take on The Commentary

[I] wanted to thank you for your commentary set I recently acquired. My daughter Chloe (age 11) and I are using the one on Mark as we read through and discuss the gospel every second evening. It helps shed light on the text without being academically burdensome for us to work through. .. [Y]our comments are pitched wonderfully for anyone wanting to begin serious engagement with the text. It also complements the more ‘scholarly’ works.

Blessings, David Booth

I’d like to thank David for his kind opinion.  He and his family are just the audience I am aiming for- interested layfolk who want to learn more about the meat of the Bible without having to wade through a lot of unnecessary roughage.

If you’d like a set, take a look at what is involved and what others think (and I’m adding David’s remarks to the list there).

Quote of the Day

Der Teufel wirft uns solche leibliche und äuszerliche Fährlichkeit vor, damit er Gottes Wort, das er nicht leiden kann, verhindern mocht. Derhalben sollen wir den Teufel nicht zu sehr fürchten, und das Gott befehlen und heimgeben. – Philipp Melanchthon

Judith in Munich on Wednesday

Die Abteilung für Neutestamentliche Theologie der Evangelischen Fakultät der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München lädt ein zum Gastvortrag Prof. Dr. Judith Lieu, FBA “Law and Gospel in Marcion” am Mittwoch, dem 29. April 2015 um 18 Uhr c.t. im Hörsaal V 002, EG der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Professor-Huber-Platz 2 80539 München.

If you’re in Munich, you should go tomorrow.

Internationaler Calvinusmus: Einheit in Verschiedenheit?

„Einheit in Vielfalt“ war nicht nur der thematische rote Faden, der die Referate aus fast allen theologischen Disziplinen prägte, Einheit in Vielfalt war erlebbar unter den Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftlern reformierter Traditionen aus fünf Kontinenten. Es ist kein Zufall, dass die Theologische Universität Debrecen zu einer Konferenz unter diesem Titel einlud: Seit dem 16 Jahrhundert pflegt Debrecen intensive Beziehungen zur reformierten Welt. Seit dem ungarischen Befreiungskampf gegen die Habsburger in den Jahren 1848-1849, als im Reformierten Kollegium Debrecen die Unabhängigkeit Ungarns von der Habsburger Monarchie proklamiert wurde, gilt einigen Magyaren die reformierte Kirche gar als „Ungarische Religion“, und Debrecen als „Calvinistisches Rom“. Wenn auch zum Ausdruck kam, dass mit diesen Begriffen durchaus politische Interessen und die „Erfindung von Tradition“ verbunden sind, so darf doch mit Recht Debrecen als eines der wichtigen Zentren des ost-mitteleuropäischen Calvinismus gelten.

Etc.

Johns Hopkins’ Witch Hunt

A new spirit of intolerance has arisen on the Johns Hopkins University campus, and conservative Christians are the targets. The JHU student government’s vote this week to ban any hypothetical future Chick-fil-A outlet from campus because of the company owner’s support for traditional marriage, coming on the heels of the JHU Spring Fair’s censorship of a pro-life fetal-model display as “disturbing” and “triggering,” sends a clear message that students who disagree with liberal orthodoxy are not welcome on the Hopkins campus.

The student government’s vote went beyond merely expressing support for same-sex marriage. The Chick-fil-A ban seeks to introduce unprecedented discrimination against companies owned by religious conservatives into the university’s contracting policies, even though only a few years ago, prominent liberals like Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama had held the same views on marriage.

In banning Chick-fil-A from campus for “homophobia,” the JHU student government is only a short step from similarly giving the boot to socially conservative Christian, Catholic, Muslim, Orthodox, and Jewish student groups from campus, as we have seen happen at Vanderbilt University, the 23 campuses of California State University, and others throughout the country.

Etc.  The laughable claims of the far left that they are opposed to inequality and unfairness is shown to be the hypocritical lie it has always been.  It isn’t intolerance it hates so much but faith.

These folk aren’t as enlightened as they delude themselves into thinking.  Indeed, they are more intolerant and unloving than any Conservative and, truth be told, more akin to the Westboro (not) Baptist (not) Church than they would like to admit.  But their admission notwithstanding, set their ideas side by side with the Westboro cult and in terms of aims and goals, they are indistinguishable.

As Calvin’s Death Approached…

On April 28, 1564, less than a month before his death,

… all the ministers under the jurisdiction of Geneva came to him, and he addressed them to the following effect:

“Stand fast, my brethren, after my decease, in the work on which you have entered, and let not your hearts fail you, for the Lord will preserve this church and republic against all its enemies. Far from you be all discords among yourselves: embrace one another in mutual charity. Think what you owe to this church, in which the Lord hath stationed you, and desert it not.…

When first I came to this city, the gospel indeed was preached, but every thing was in disorder—as if Christianity had consisted in nothing else than the overturning of images. Not a few wicked men were found in the church, from whom I suffered much shameful treatment: but the Lord our God so strengthened me, even me who am by nature far from bold, (I here speak what is the fact,) that I yielded to none of their attempts.

I afterwards returned hither from Strasburg, in obedience to a call which was against my inclination because I thought it tended not to usefulness: for I knew not what the Lord had appointed; and the situation was full of the most serious difficulties. But, proceeding in my work, I found at length that the Lord had really blessed my labours.

Do yon therefore also persist in your vocation: uphold the established order: and see that the people be at the same time retained in obedience to the doctrine delivered to them: for some are yet wicked and contumacious. Things, as you see, are now not ill settled: on which account you will be the more criminal before God if by your neglect they are suffered to go to decay.

—I avow that I have lived united with you, brethren, in the strictest bonds of true and sincere affection: and I take my leave of you with the same feelings. If you have at any time found me harsh or peevish under my affliction, I entreat your forgiveness.”

He then returned them his warmest thanks for having taken upon them the burden of his duties, while he was unable to discharge them; shook hands with them all; and “we took leave of him,” says Beza, “with sad hearts, and by no means with dry eyes.”*

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*Calvin and the Swiss reformation (pp. 394–395).