Biblical Studies Carnival I (March 2005)

[Joel Ng, Ebla Logs, April 6, 2005, original URL: http:/]

April 6, 2005

Biblical Studies Carnival vol. 1

Filed under: Biblical Studies Carnival — Joel Ng @ 2:18 am

Hello everyone, and welcome to the inaugural Biblical Studies Carnival, showcasing several of the wonderful blogs out there on the topic of Biblical Studies and related disciplines. I must say that I was truly humbled by the creativity, intelligence, and diversity demonstrated in the entries, and only hope I can do them justice. Hopefully, it is clear enough without losing the nuances of the originals (or worse, misreading), but it is obviously the point to go and peruse the actual entries themselves! I write this entry in the wake of Pope John Paul II’s death, and for all the criticism that any modern public figure will face, there is much to reflect on the impact of the changing orientations of the Catholic Church in the last century, particularly as it pertains to biblical scholarship. It is on this note that I’d like to begin, as this Carnival project cannot succeed except as an inter-faith enterprise.

The seminal Encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu in 1943 marked the recognition of a variety of means of exegesis, and John Paul II, remarking on its impact in an address to the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1993, said:

The methods, approaches and interpretations practiced today in exegesis have been examined and, despite occasionally serious reservations which must be stated, one acknowledges in almost every case, the presence of valid elements for an integral interpretation of the biblical text. For Catholic exegesis does not have its own exclusive method of interpretation, but starting with the historico-critical basis freed from its philosophical presuppositions or those contrary to the truth of our faith, it makes the most of all the current methods by seeking in each of them the “seeds of the Word.”

The coloured legacies of both Pius XII and John Paul II will be with us always, but biblical scholarship has much to thank for their enlightened approaches to interpretation, without which we would have had a vastly different contribution from Catholic scholarship.

Back to the Carnival, as the entries were submitted, a number of underlying themes began to emerge of themselves. While the number of submissions was not great (in retrospect I should be thankful), the quality was outstanding, both from scholars and laymen, and I learned something from each one. Perhaps the smaller number of entries will prove to be a good thing since I can delve into each more deeply.

Jim Davila, at PaleoJudaica kicks us off with a set of suggestions on what Jewish texts/writers may best inform study of the New Testament in Philo or the Pseudepigraphia?. This leads to a rather messier issue:

The big questions are which texts were composed by Christians but sound Jewish because they are on Old Testament subjects, which are genuinely Jewish compositions, and of the latter, which have been transmitted without substantial Christian alteration?

He sets out the methodology for an answer to this as

The most common approach among NT scholars – I dare say even today – has been to assume that any work that doesn’t have obvious Christian bits, or that doesn’t have obvious Christian bits that can be argued to be secondary additions, is a Jewish composition. But this doesn’t work for two reasons. First, as Robert Kraft has pointed out (see especially here [link deprecated] and here), the most reasonable approach is not to assume that a work is Jewish until proven otherwise, but to reverse the burden of proof. We should start with the earliest manuscripts of the work and their social context and then work backwards from there as the evidence requires. Sometimes this lead us to argue for a Jewish origin, and if so, well and good, but often there isn’t persuasive evidence and in those cases the default working hypothesis is that the document is a (sometimes late antique) Christian composition, since our manuscripts were produced and transmitted by Christians. The point is that we know that these documents had a Christian context and that Christians liked them and must have made some sort of sense of them. Earlier contexts are by no means excluded, they just have to be argued for with positive evidence, not assumed.

Beyond this, he mentions books that he has found to be distinctively Jewish, and mentioned his forthcoming book, which looks very promising from the snippets he has provided thus far (it’s certainly on my to-buy list as of that entry). Unlike books though, we are actually blessed with handy links to follow-up remarks and much-deserved praise for his contribution here, where further discussion and comments came from a number of other blogs.

As if to support Jim Davila’s contention that Josephus is

a first-century, Greek-speaking Jew (but he also knew Aramaic and, presumably, Hebrew) and he comes from Palestine and knew of John the Baptist and the Jesus movement and probably Jesus himself.

we have Richard Anderson over at Kratistos Theophilos with a lengthy but intriguing read of Josephus in Rewriting Sacred Scriptures. His hypothesis is that Josephus’ rewriting of Biblical materials is in fact a response to Luke-Acts, omitting as he does all references to the “Son of Man”, a prominent title ascribed to Jesus that developed its own Christian meaning within Gentilic circles. Anderson writes:

Furthermore Josephus has eliminated all references to a messiah including all references to a son of David. Josephus “had made a point of deleting and altering Biblical passages in order to nullify attribution of an eternal or messianic character’s to David’s line.”[xii] King Saul is more important in the writings of Josephus than either David or Moses. Saul, of course is the name by which the Jewish community knows Paul. Finally Josephus has targeted as his audience the Diaspora that was the same audience targeted by Paul with considerable success.

Josephus has also changed the depictions of the deaths of Enoch[xiii], Moses[xiv] and Elijah.[xv] This rewriting was a response by Josephus to the views of the early church about the death and resurrection of Jesus. This rewriting is directed particularly at Luke because only Luke includes unmistakable references to Enoch, Moses, Elijah, Lot, the Diaspora, covenant-rooted ingathering of the exiles, and a circumcised messiah out of the house of David.

This is an original angle to read Josephus from—in my experience much more ink and bandwidth has been spilt over the Testimonium Flavianum (Antiquities 18.3.3), but here instead is a fresh challenge to Josephus’ alleged ignorance of the historical Jesus (an argument much more prominent online than in publication, to be sure). Great credit is due to Anderson for not ending there, but continuing on by recalling Stark’s observation that Jewish Christianity continued at least until the 4th century, and there was a likely competition for souls among people of Jewish and Jewish-Christian beliefs. This thus provides further evidence that Josephus’ writing was involved in this polemic, perhaps similar to the polemics that engulfed Manetho within Josephus’ writings as Jews and non-Jews fought over Manetho. It’s clear that wars over the texts were commonplace, a contest over their writing, in order to demonstrate the authenticity of the movements.

One interesting point noted is that:

Initially, as noted at the beginning, Josephus, the historian, accused those responsible for the revolt, inter alia, of introducing “innovations in the ancestral customs.” Furthermore, Josephus says that he will set forth the “precise details of what is written in the Scriptures, neither adding nor omitting anything.” Since ancestral customs are recorded in sacred scriptures, one has to wonder why Josephus makes changes on practically every page.

I think this is actually a good question, since Josephus is also writing at around the same time as the Council of Jamnia, in which the Hebrew Canon was formalised. There is obviously much we don’t know, or would be forced to speculate about if pressed, with respect to the decision-making process and political context. However, the close timing of events suggest perhaps an inter-relation between Josephus’ revisionist activities and the process of canonisation, that would be interesting to explore.

As we continue exploring the Jewish (if Hellenised) nature of early Christian texts, Michael Turton at The Sword has been working furiously over the chiastic structure of Mark, unveiling at last his breakdown of Mark in Chiasms, Completed and Annotated (note: the actual chiasm is an enormous jpeg file that you should be prepared for, and can be found here). Kudos to Turton on breaking down the structure of Mark into a form more readily recognised in the Pentateuch (cf. Blenkinsopp’s super-chiastic structure that spans all five books) and Deuteronomistic History. He has even come up with some general rules on the formation of the Markan narrative materials, and while I’m not qualified to comment on the details, this area seems to have much promise:

This laying out of Mark has paid dividends in my understanding of the author’s original intention, and highlighted interpolations, redactions, and other text-critical issues. It has also shown the reason for many odd Markan habits, such as his doublets and duplications, and other puzzling features of Mark. In many cases these features signal the beginning of brackets.

As I believe it was Roland De Vaux who noted, much criticism helps us to explain the text without explaining away the text, and this effort certainly qualifies in that category. A particularly intriguing prospect is clarifying whether the middle brackets are double or single centres (Turton’s disagreement with John Dart). Even if the disagreement persists, this looks to be an extremely useful resource on the net. The rules that govern literary writing in ancient times are rarely declared (though Aristotle, Longinus, Horace, etc. all have pieces on literary criticism, for example, what they leave out is considerable, focusing as they do on rhetoric and emotional impact), so this area will lead you to those Eureka! moments. There is a great deal of clarification and discussion over at The Sword, so head on down for a real treat.

Still on the subject of ancient literary writing formats, but in a rather different context, is Joshua Waxman of Parsha Blog giving us a rundown on How to address a business letter [a word of warning here: my Hebrew is somewhere between non-existent and abysmal, so there’s a possibility that I misread some of this entry, and confess to being a little out of depth here—please correct me if I’m wrong]. He relates the address sent from Jacob to his brother Esau, and begins with a simple observation:

The message then starts with “Thus saith thy servant Jacob.” He then, in private conversation to his servants, is calling Esav his lord, which is strange.

Breaking down the texts, he notes three portions of the message:

a) וַיְצַו אֹתָם, לֵאמֹר = ‘And he commanded them, saying’ = ‘and gave them this message:’
b) כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן, לַאדֹנִי לְעֵשָׂו = ‘Thus shall ye say unto my lord Esau:’ = ‘To my lord Esau say as follows’
c) כֹּה אָמַר, עַבְדְּךָ יַעֲקֹב = ‘Thus saith thy servant Jacob’ = ‘Thus speaks your servant Jacob’

Comparing the formula from Genesis with that of Ezra and the letter from Yehuda Nesia to the Roman Emperor Antoninus, Waxman concludes (following Speiser and Meyers) that the etnachta (a cantillation mark that divides the text) should come some time after “say” לֵאמֹר (Genesis/Bereishit) and “unto” עֲלוֹהִי (Ezra) instead of directly after, even if that is where the speech begins. Thus (b) may originally be part of the speech, against the accents because of its subordinate nature, and clarifies the initial question, of why Jacob might possibly refer to Esau as his “lord” before his servants. It also suggests that the ancients were aware of and used this formulation in addresses. Nice work!

While Jewish study of the Hebrew Bible is invaluable, Joseph Cathey (Dr Cathey’s Blog), following Jon Levenson, has lamented The Absence of Jewish Theologies. What is problematic about such a program is the perception of Christian Old Testament Theology as anti-Semitic. Problems relating to supercessionism notwithstanding, “prophecies” may well be studied only in order to demonstrate Jesus’ fulfillment of them. If there is a lack of interest among Christians, Levenson points out, why would Jewish theologians rise to the challenge? Of course that cannot be the full explanation, putting Jews in a passive role, so Cathey adds:

Second, Levenson argues that Jewish scholarship often thinks in terms of action rather than beliefs. Consequently, this mindset often leads to elements such as the systematization of law, not theology. The heavy influence of Rabbinic theology suggests {in my opinion} a leaning toward a historical diacritical development rather than a classical {e.g. a centrist [you choose which center you want here]} systematic model. We who so valiantly search for a center of Old Testament theology are searching in vain. Levenson argues that the elusive search for a/the CENTER of Old Testament theology is a problem for Gentiles and not Jews.

To the first point, I might go even further, following Walter Brueggemann who notes, refering to trends in the Reformation and Higher Criticism:

The supersessionist inclination of Christian scholarship simply kept Jewish reality off the screen of perception, so that silence in the scholarly community, even concerning scholarly questions, amounted to collusion in the systematic violence against Jews (his emphasis).

Walter Brueggemann, 1997, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, p. 112

Brueggemann reminds us of John Paul II’s reconciliatory measures at Mainz in 1980, where he spoke of “the people of God of the old covenant never revoked by God.” This further recalls Martin Buber and perhaps it is time for Jewish scholars and theologians to reclaim that ground. I heartily endorse Cathey’s challenge, yet a reading of the text that is only Jewish (per Levenson) raises its own set of problems. Beyond this, it is hard to see how greater understanding of the issues set out by the likes of Levenson or Brueggemann can be made clear in the public eye: Among Evangelical Christians, for example, an enormously disproportionate amount of attention seems to be paid to the New Testament, concentrating as it does on salvific history (and leading to further problems in reading the Hebew Bible). This is not to condemn them only to wonder what can be done to rectify a situation caused by the disjoint between public and scholarly opinions.

In many ways, Peter Kirby over at Christian Origins has beat me to this point in his entry, Middle Ages, Higher Criticism. He begins with a nice summary of Jewish and Christian scholarship leading up to Julius Wellhausen, and reminds us that Higher Criticism has been with us for a long time. One good history of the field that doesn’t attempt to skim everything until it reaches Graf and Wellhausen, for others interested, is “The History of the Study of Israelite and Judaean History” by John Hayes in J.H. Hayes & J. M. Miller (eds.), 1977, Israelite and Judaean History, Philadelphia: Westminster. Continuing:

Despite all this, there is a large swath of the general public that either is not aware of scholarly opinion or who dismiss it off-handedly as being illegitimately skeptical. The same situation exists on a range of New Testament issues, from the authorship of the Pastorals to the presence of legendary material in the Gospels. (On the flip side, there actually are skeptical ideas that won’t die in the minds of some even if they’ve long been left by the way side in scholarship.)

For every Christian who believes Moses wrote the entire Torah, it seems we have a skeptic or New-Ager who believes Jesus was Mithras/Adonis/Osiris/etc. If I had a dollar for every time I saw these types of claims on the Internet, I’d be writing this blog carnival from Tahiti. There seems to be a large disjoint between public perceptions and scholarly opinions, and considering the forces in mass media that populist voices can marshall it appears that scholarly voices without such proselytising inclination are being drowned out. A very good question he raises is what role the Internet can play in all this. It is undoubtedly a great leveller, but it is also consequently hard to check the veracity of opinions posted on the Internet, absent consultations with experts. I am myself an amateur, but have found that the vast majority of scholarly materials I rely upon are not to be found on the net, but in print, and self-procured at great personal cost (without access to specialised libraries, one has to buy everything). I am reminded of friends in the developing world who have absolutely no access to this sort of material, yet this is where Christianity (often of specific groups like Charismatics, Evangelicals (if there is a distinction) and Jehovah’s Witnesses) is the fastest growing.

And yet there is hope, as J.J.’s entry from Zepfanman suggests in November Words – Canon Doubt. While Elaine Pagels may not be everyone’s favoured starting point into studying early Christian thought (though again demonstrative of the effect of popularisers), it is great to hear someone whose “core values are pretty fundamental” engaging the issues raised by the complexities of the early Church(es). My only regret is that J.J. really should have written more—it’s a fascinating perspective to hear from!

And naturally, I’ve saved my favourites for last: Biblical Archaeology! Ken Ristau of Anduril offers us A New Perspective on Nehemiah 11:25-36. The problematic list of towns in the passage do not offer a convincing demarcation of the Persian province of Yehud. Citing David Janzen, he agrees with the view that the list was representative of those participating at the Jerusalem temple. Going further, he suggests:

I’m inclined to think that implied in the list then is the presence of a Yahwistic temple in Mizpah (see Jer 41:4-5; 1 Macc 3:46; and see/cf. Jeffrey Zorn, “Tell en-Nasbeh and the Material Culture of the Sixth Century,” in Judah and the Judeans in the Neo-Babylonian Period [Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2003]: 442-445). Gibeon may also have been a cultic center (see Diana Edelman, “Gibeon and the Gibeonites Revisited,” in Judah and the Judeans in the Neo-Babylonian Period [Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2003]: 153-167).

The suggestion of multiple cultic centres in the Second Temple Period is certainly food for thought, and explains the omission of certain towns and villages in a different manner from having them outside the realms of Yehud. Short and sweet, but one to ponder.

And finally, though Seth Sanders of Serving the Word did not submit an entry, I found one I particularly liked and thought it worth highlighting (he’s been quiet lately—anyone heard from him? If he has a problem with this, please contact me and I’ll have it removed—I also confess that this was also all I had time for in my hunt for other notable blog entries). Biblical Archaeology from Scratch II: The Real Problem questions the possibility of uncovering “ethnicity” from material remains. He notes that

archaeology has not recovered the stark opposition between Israelites and others that the Biblical text proclaims. Excavations show that Syro-Palestinian material culture varied mainly by region and not ethnicity: Indeed, scholarship now views ethnic group membership as a result of deliberate choice and reflection by the members themselves, as well as others who recognize them.

I found the discussion by David Small, “Group Identification and Ethnicity in the Construction of the Early State of Israel: From the Outside Looking In”, in N.A. Silberman and D.B. Small (eds.), 1997, The Archaeology of Israel: Constructing the Past, Interpreting the Present, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press to be extremely insightful and helpful in this matter, though Ian Hodder’s perspective has helped to clarify the context of the debate as well, relating as it does to wider anthropological debates (particularly poststructuralist critiques in semiotics). And in this regard, the problem with the whole question of the origins of Israel, whatever our proto-Israelites may have been is cast in a different light. Perhaps it helps us to be more hesitant about what we can say about the history of Israel. His other entries in the series, I and III are also worth checking out.

So we have covered the entries and thus ends the first Biblical Studies Carnival. Starting from a standpoint of interpretation, texts, and historical contexts, this has been a fascinating journey for me through some of the biblical blogs out there. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have.

In Memoriam

Karol Josef Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, 1920-2005


I would very greatly appreciate feedback on this as to how often we can set this up, time permitting for people (the usual system at other blogs is fortnightly, but I’m quite happy to go for quality rather than quantity, since I don’t know of that many biblical studies blogs out there as of yet). I did not reject any entry that came in, so if your entry is missing, I’m very sorry but I must have missed it, and it was also probably my fault as I transferred to a new computer between announcing the opening for submissions and publications. There will be other occasions, though. I am also wondering if a volunteer would like to host the next one at their blog, and see what they come up with, but I found it immensely enjoyable and wouldn’t hesitate from doing it again. I probably covered each entry much more than I needed to, but they were just that good that they deserved it. Any errors in reading the entries are solely my own, and I appreciate correction if I misunderstood anyone. Special thanks are due to all our contributors who made it such a treat for me to cover.

Entries (in order of appearance):

Jim Davila (PaleoJudaica):

Richard Anderson (Kratistos Theophilos):

Michael Turton (The Sword):

Joshua Waxman (Parsha Blog):

Joseph Cathey (Dr Cathey’s Blog):

Peter Kirby (Christian Origins):

J.J. a.k.a. “Rock of Victory” (Zepfanman):

Ken Ristau (Anduril):

Seth Sanders (Serving the Word):

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