Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

Archive for October, 2008

On Conservative and Liberal Biblioblogs

Posted by NT Wrong on October 30, 2008

Dang, but my assignment of all bibliobloggers into five categories along the conservative-liberal spectrum has caused some discussion. A few have mildly objected to their labelling (which goes to show that we bibliobloggers are a critical lot), while, for some others, the reaction has been more one of amusement. Hopefully the list, which has reached 110 [129] bibliobloggers [and counting…], will also be useful to many of you in locating blogs you are interested in. I read many of the discussions concerning the list, and was open to changing the classifications whenever anybody particularly objected or offered half a reason for doing so. I admit that some of my classifications were off the mark, so if you want me to make further changes, I probably won’t object.

I should clarify what I meant by the five categories. I’ll do so with respect to biblical inspiration, doctrine, and typical reading material.

    1. Very conservative: You probably hold to the doctrine of inerrancy, or some version close to it. You can name a number of heresies offhand. And you have DA Carson, FF Bruce, or an Apollos Commentary in your bookshelf.
    2. Fairly conservative: The Bible is ‘The Word of God’ in some sense. You have spent time wondering whether ’emergent’ or ’emerging’ better describes yourself. You have an NT Wright or James Dunn book in your bookshelf.
    3. Conservative liberal: You really like the Jesus Seminar, and believe that what Jesus was really on about was people loving each other rather than condemning people. You have books by Marcus Borg and John Spong on your bookshelf.
    4. Liberal: You esteem the Bible for the work it is. You spend a lot of time working out ways to read the Bible which can liberate it for different readers. You have a book on queer readings of the Bible on your bookshelf.
    5. Very Liberal: You approach biblical books like any other books, taking the good stuff with the bad shit. You often stop and wonder why you bother with a field riddled with so many apologists. You have Foucault, Said, and Philip Pullman on your bookshelf.

Yeah, yeah – labels are bad, inadequate, and obfuscatory, too. But you know that a part of you was reaching out to the Father and saying, yeah daddy, give me some comfort in all this chaos! And don’t give me that ‘I’m an individual’ BS. You are what you are mostly because of society’s pre-existing labels.

… incidentally, the reason I compiled what John Lyons labelled “an inspired burst of pedantic and nerdish endeavour” will be revealed on Nov 1. Keep watching this Bat Channel.

Posted in Biblioblogs, Religion & Society | 40 Comments »

Dispensationalists: Hyperbole and Metaphor are now legitimate Figures of Speech

Posted by NT Wrong on October 29, 2008

'Did you hear the joke about the Mid-Trib Pre-Millennialist, the Pre-Trib Post-Millennialist, and the Amillenialist?' Rob Lightner asks Chuck Ryrie.

'Did you hear the joke about the Mid-Trib Pre-Millennialist, the Pre-Trib Post-Millennialist, and the Amillenialist?' Rob Lightner asks Chuck Ryrie.

For those of you who were unable to attend, you will be relieved to know that the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics, which met last month in Clarks Summit, PA, declared each of hyperbole and metaphor as “a legitimate figure of speech”. The declaration was gratefully received internationally by anxiously awaiting linguists, who could breathe a collective sigh of relief that the dark shadow of possible illigitimacy, which for so long had hung over these language forms, has now been lifted.

“I’m so happy, I could leap over Noam Chomsky in a single bound,” exclaimed Semiotician Umberto Eco. “Well, not literally,” he added sheepishly.

Article 1
“We affirm that hyperbole is a legitimate figure of speech that uses exaggeration for the purpose of emphasis or impact.” …

Article 3
“We affirm that an extended metaphor is a legitimate figure of speech (used in multiple genres) when it can be determined contextually that the author intended it to be understood as such.”
Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics

The Council’s Statement also makes it clear that, just because they’re recognizing the existence of metaphor and hyperbole, this is no excuse to go all crazy and interpret everything in the Bible as though it has no real reference — like those licentious liberals do. I’m not quite sure who they mean by such liberals, and I guess they have some nineteenth-century ghosts in mind. For as everyone knows, liberals these days are even more scriptural than the conservatives.

… I’d comment further, but the statement reads as badly as a Tim LaHaye novel – and that’s no exaggeration.

Posted in Biblical interpretation, Fundamentalism, Metaphor | 8 Comments »

List of Bibliobloggers – Conservative or Liberal?

Posted by NT Wrong on October 29, 2008

Unidentified Biblioblogger types his response to a post, during a torrid Biblioblog Debate concerning the Existence of the Enclitic Mem in Hebrew.

Biblioblogger Esteban Vázquez types his response to a post, during a torrid Biblioblog Debate concerning the Existence of the Enclitic Mem in Hebrew.

A couple of evenings ago I compiled a list of currently active bibliobloggers. While there are a few such lists about, these are often not up-to-date (including dead or defunct biblioblogs), mix in primarily theological, devotional, and other blogs, list only like-minded bloggers, or have an Anglo-American bias.

So, I have compiled a list of 104 [129] biblioblogs [and counting…]. I’m sure there are a number of good ones I’ve yet missed, so let me know.

With taxonomic fervour, I have also classified the blogs in two ways:

    1. According to their specialisation: General, Translation and Linguistics, Theory and Reception, Early Judaism, Early Judaism and ANE, Early Judaism and Judaism, Early Christianity.
    2. According to their [biblical studies-related, not political] conservative or liberal bent: Very Conservative, Fairly Conservative, Conservative Liberal, Liberal, Very Liberal.

It provides a revealing snapshot of the biblioblogging world.

If you know a blog with substantial biblical studies content which I have missed out, and you wish to be included, please fill in the form below or email me at n_t_wrong [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk

The permanent Biblioblog List is available here.

Posted in Biblioblogs | 42 Comments »

Abraham’s Family – Historical Non-Israel

Posted by NT Wrong on October 28, 2008

In The Origins of Biblical Israel, Philip Davies makes the point that Genesis never restricts God’s land promise to Abraham’s immediate family. To the contrary, the Promised Land in Gen 15.18-20 (“from the river of Egypt to the great river”) extends beyond the borders of Israel and Judah, and includes all the territory occupied by all of Abraham’s kin:

    • Ammon and Moab
    • Edom
    • Ishmael
    • Perhaps even Abraham’s relatives in Paddan-Aram

“the full significance of this has escaped a surprisingly large number of commentators. Even if the later removal of some “Canaanite” or “Amorite” nations who are not of Abraham’s family is already predicted, peaceful co-existence for the time being is implied in the blessing of Melchizedek the king of Salem (ch. 14), the purchase of the cave near Hebron from Ephron the Hittite (ch. 23) and the intermarriage (ch. 34). Even the story of Abraham’s visit to Egypt in ch. 12 hardly suggests the distaste that Egypt evokes later in the First History; this Pharaoh is no villain (nor is the Pharaoh of the Joseph story). The same is true of Abimelech of Gerar in chs. 20 and 26. Israel is therefore not (or will not be) an isolated nation quite distinct from all other nations, but part of a larger family with which it shares land promised to the ancestor; and the ancestors behaviour displays no xenophobic traits.”
– Philip R. Davies, The Origins of Biblical Israel (Library of Hebrew Bible / Old Testament Studies, 485; New York and London: T & T Clark, 2007): 46.

Now, his observations here concern the book of Genesis, not later Hexateuchal passages, where these same boundaries are redefined as belonging exclusively to ‘Israel’ (e.g. Exod 23.31; Deut 1.7; Josh 1.4).

It’s a good observation. I wonder, just to take it in a slightly different direction from Davies, whether it reflects the historical situation of earlier centuries (earlier than the eighth century, say) in which this Levantine area was under the control of disparate tribes, controlling little more than cities — ‘Abraham’ (naming some typical ruler) controlling his little group with his own little army, and others controlling theirs. In such a scenario there would be no nationalistic religion, because there was nothing like a ‘nation’ (which is not just a modern system). Genesis would thereby provide some historical recollection of small, largely independent tribes, with some shared identity being reflected in the genealogical stories.

Mere speculation? How better then to explain the blessing of (at the later times of writing) Judah’s enemies and the divine guarantee of their rights to the land?

(The present-day political consequences are another interesting implication that Philip Davies appeared ‘to have in mind’, if I’m allowed to say such a thing about an author these days.)

Posted in Historiography, Pentateuch | Comments Off on Abraham’s Family – Historical Non-Israel

Gospel Music Greats – Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Posted by NT Wrong on October 27, 2008

Sister Rosetta Tharpe plays ‘Up Above My Head (I hear music in the air)’ on her Gibson Les Paul SG custom with the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church Choir on TV Gospel Time, sometime in the 1960s.

Posted in Music | Comments Off on Gospel Music Greats – Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Ancient History – Mostly Silly

Posted by NT Wrong on October 26, 2008

Ancient Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus, writing in the first century BC, sums up the work of the earliest Greek historians as “silly” nonsense. He explains that, whenever early historians tried to write histories of remote times, they were prone to simply making it all up.

According to Dionysius, the earliest historians had the goal of:

“bringing to the common knowledge of all whatever records or traditions were to be found among the natives of the individual nationalities or states, whether recorded in places sacred or profane, and to deliver these just as they received them without adding thereto or subtracting therefrom, rejecting not even the legends which had been believed for many generations nor dramatic tales which seem to men of the present time to have a large measure of silliness”
(On Thucydides)

While historians today don’t engage in such silliness, some biblical apologists are prone to naively taking the words of the historiographic biblical books at face value, paraphrasing them, with a complete lack of any historiographic discrimination. Silly biblical praphrases are still being written by apologists such as Provan, Kitchen, and Hoffmeier, more than 2000 years after Dionysius of Halicarnassus recognised such writings for the silliness they are.

How silly.

Posted in Greek texts, Historiography | 1 Comment »

Airport ‘Strip-Search Scanner’ Uncovers Jim West!

Posted by NT Wrong on October 26, 2008

REUTERS, AMSTERDAM – Renowned biblioblogger Jim West fell victim to the new ‘strip-search scanner’ technology at a Netherlands airport, yesterday. The controversial T-scan allows airport security staff to view underneath passengers’ clothing for hidden weapons or other illegal items.

When the airport scanner detected a magazine hidden up the back of Dr West’s shirt, it raised the interest of airport security, who suspected they had uncovered a smuggling operation. However, it transpired that Dr West had merely hidden the magazine to avoid embarassment in front of his travelling companions.

“I just didn’t want them to know that I was a regular subscriber,” explained Dr West.

T-Scan of Dr Jim West with hidden magazine.

Left: Photo of Dr Jim West. Right: T-Scan of Dr Jim West with hidden magazine.

Posted in Humour | 6 Comments »

Book of Job at the Movies – Adam’s Apples

Posted by NT Wrong on October 25, 2008

I recently watched Adam’s Apples (Danish: Adams Aebler) on DVD.

It annoyed and provoked me — and mainly because of its overly tidy and artificially well resolved ending. In fact, I found the tidy resolution even more annoying and provocative than if the ending had been unresolved. But I strongly suspect, without being entirely sure, that this was its intended effect.

The film begins with a neo-Nazi skinhead arriving at the rural church of Pastor Ivan, in order to complete his community service. Pastor Ivan also looks after Saudi Arabian service-station robber Kazim, obese alcoholic sexually deviant former tennis pro Bro, and Steen, a woman pregnant with a deformed child. Pastor Ivan’s methods are highly unconventional. The neo-Nazi skinhead, whose name is Adam, is asked what he would like to do during his stay. Sarcastically, he replies that he would like to bake an apple pie. Unexpectedly for him, this becomes his assigned task and central to the overall plot of the film.

It gradually unfolds that, despite his insanely cheerful and positive demeanor, and almost pathological tendency to only see the good in life, Ivan is afflicted with a great number of tragic and awful maladies and afflictions — including personal illness, the death or incapacity of his most loved ones, being a victim of sexual abuse in his childhood, and even plagues of Hitchcock-like if not biblical proportions. Ivan also receives brutal and violent physical and mental abuse at the hands of (and boots of) Adam, which compounds the problems he is apparently suppressing.

The film proceeds in a deadpan absurdist style which contrasts with Ivan’s apparent insanity and the other characters’ volitility and violence. Yet at the same time, the film poses some very dark and disturbing questions: is it the Devil who is afflicting Ivan or is it God himself? is faith merely wilful blindness and near-psychosis? can people really change? and, most pressingly, is suffering and pain an inevitability which is unable to be overcome in life?

These questions remain uncertain and unanswered for most of the length of the film, before receiving a fairly glib and tidy resolution at the end of the film. This was annoying to me at first reflection, and from a survey of the film’s various reviews, it has been viewed as a weakness of the film. That is, having painted a twisted and desperate picture of life’s vicissitudes, in the end the film glosses over these realistic complexities of life for an easy (and quite unrealistic) resolution.

But the film would be merely annoying and unsatisfying if it weren’t for its subtle intertextuality with the Book of Job. I say ‘subtle’ — but there is the fact that every time the bells are rung at the small county church, the walls shake, Adam’s framed picture of Adolf Hitler falls from the wall, and the bible which Ivan gave to Adam falls off the dresser onto the floor, opening each time at the Book of Job. And then there’s the plot of the film…

But what is perhaps subtle about the intertextual reference is the glib ending. With the Book of Job in mind, the unsatisfyingly resolved ending is not only untrue to life, but it mimics the Book of Job’s own glib and unsatisfying ending. As in Job, this doesn’t allow us to say ‘ah — everything’s alright in the end’. To the contrary, the very glibness causes us to continue to grapple with the questions which have never been properly addressed throughout the story. Like Hitchcock’s Birds, which it references, everything is resolved yet nothing is resolved. The unusual consequence of this intertextual reading — with Job, and with Hitchcock — is that it causes me to focus on the questions rather than on the answers. It is as though the answers are too easily delivered, and therefore must be distrusted.

I admit I first saw this as an unintended consequence. The disjuncture between the unresolvable suffering of life and its unrealistic resolution still caused me to question the unrealistic resolution, but I now wonder whether this effect is intended. In its easy yet unrealistic explanation of life, the film manages to create a deeper and more realistic sense of nihilism than if it had merely delivered an unresolved plot. And even if the director hadn’t intended such an interpretation, reading the film with the Book of Job as intertext makes it something darker than a straightforward narrative of redemption.

But the parallel to the plot ‘resolution’ in the Book of Job is too close to be coincidental. Watching Adam’s Apple as an intertext with the Book of Job makes me conclude that this ‘unintended consequence’ is quite intended. That is, the very unrealistic resolution of the film, with its own Joban theophany and reversal of fortunes, makes it likely that the film’s neat and tidy resolution is an ironic questioning of the unresolved suffering of ‘real’ life. The lack of realism at the end of Adam’s Apples, rather than the mystery and complexity of its middle, is the most potent means by which it conveys the mystery and complexity of evil.

Posted in Films, Writings | Comments Off on Book of Job at the Movies – Adam’s Apples

N.T. Wright & Bart Ehrman Debate More Theodicy

Posted by NT Wrong on October 24, 2008

An “Unofficial Recording” – yes, it’s a Wright-Ehrman bootleg (85.7mb)! Bart and Tom are becoming quite the odd couple. They did a similar dance together on an online written debate earlier this year. This one was in San Francisco, last weekend. Apparently there’s an official recording available soon, the URL for which I will post here.

I haven’t listened to it yet, but I just betchya those two go and crack the Problem of Evil this time. Had to happen sooner or later.

Via visitor to this site, Art on Finitum Non Capex Infiniti, who found it on Raffi Shahinian’s Parables of a Prodigal World.

Posted in Justice | Comments Off on N.T. Wright & Bart Ehrman Debate More Theodicy

Anson Rainey, ‘East of the Jordan’ is not ‘The Rest of the Ancient Near East’

Posted by NT Wrong on October 23, 2008

Anson Rainey’s article in the latest BAR (34:06, Nov/Dec 2008 ) is a confused and misleading piece of popular apologetics. The best to be said for it is that, in trying to prove a Transjordanian origin for ‘Israel’, it has managed to undermine its broader thesis (which argues that the biblical account of Israel’s origins are historically true).

Inside, Outside: Where Did the Early Israelites Come From?

Here’s an outline of Rainey’s argument, which demonstrates how he is hoist by his own petard:

1. Rainey provides evidence to suggest that there are links between the Transjordan settlements on one hand and settlements in the Cisjordan which he identifies as ‘Israelite’ on the other.

Rainey points to similarities in the pottery and domestic house construction between Transjordan sites such as Tall al-‘Umayri and the Cisjordan sites where the ‘Israelites’ are said to have settled. He also claims that Hebrew has more affinities with Transjordanian languages (such as Aramaic [sic] and Moabite) than with Phoenician (that is, coastal Canaanite).

2. Rainey says that the Bible claims that the ‘Israelites’ came from the Transjordan, that is, “from east of the Jordan”.

“The Bible is very clear. They were pastoral nomads who came from east of the Jordan.”
“The famous hieroglyphic text known as the Merneptah Stele, which dates to about 1205 B.C.E., refers to “Israel” at this time as a people (not a country or nation) probably located in Transjordan.”
“There is no reason to doubt the principal assumption of the Biblical tradition that the ancient Israelites migrated as pastoralists from east of the Jordan.”

3. But the Bible does not claim that the Israelites came from the Transjordan. To the contrary, the Bible claims that they came from the north, in Aram-Naharaim in Syria, and the distant north-east in Mesopotamian Ur. And again, to the contrary, the Bible claims that the Israelites just passed through the Transjordan in a quick conquest of that region (allowing Gad, Reuben, and half-Manasseh to settle after they dispossessed the locals).

These are completely different areas, separated by a vast distance:

4. For Anson Rainey, ‘the Transjordan’ has metamorphosised into the rest of the ancient Near East. In order to harmonize the Transjordanian archaeological and linguistic evidence with the Bible, he has had to speciously refer to the whole of the rest of the ancient Near East as ‘East of the Jordan’. But, the term ‘East of the Jordan’ is confined to the Transjordan in the Bible’s own story.

When Rainey refers to Abraham’s origin in Ur, he bends the decription of Ur to make it sound like he is talking about the Transjordan:

“Abram (later Abraham), the first Hebrew, was born in Ur, a city far east of the Jordan.”

Yeah, Ur is “far east of the Jordan”, in the same way that that you’d describe China as being “far east of the Jordan”.

And yet, Rainey has the gall to summarise the origins of Abraham in Aramean/Mesopotamian Ur, Paddan-Aram, and Aram-Naharaim as “east of the Jordan” (Note that Anson Rainey is co-editor of a biblical atlas, The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World):

“The Biblical narrative is very clear as to where the first Israelites came from: outside Canaan, east of the Jordan.”

When the Bible talked about the land “over the Jordan”, it meant just that – the land which was across the other side of the Jordan from where ‘Israel’ was in the Cisjordan. But Rainey has disingenuously blurred this area (the Transjordan) with much of the rest of the ancient Near East, purely in order to try to defend the historicity of the Bible.

While on one hand Rainey produces ‘linguistic evidence’ which links Hebrew to legitimate Transjordanian sites such as Ammon and Moab, he also attempts to slip in Arameans from the distant north and north-east:

“this provides a nearly airtight case that the speakers of ancient Hebrew came from the same area as the Moabites, the Ammonites and the Arameans.”

What “same area”? The land of the Arameans is a distinct area from that of the Transjordan!

5. In conclusion, if Rainey is right about the Transjordanian origins of Israel, the Bible itself must be wrong about the Aramean origins. Hoist by your own petard, Anson Rainey!

This is probably not what Anson Rainey had intended. But, that is the effect of his article. And because Anson Rainey is very familiar with the geography of the two distinct areas, his constant attempts to conflate the Transjordan with Mesopotamia can only be viewed as disingenuous.

Update – see these other criticisms:
– Douglas Mangum, at Biblia Hebraica, looks at a number of other problems in Rainey’s article;
– Duane Smith, at Abnormal Interests, made an initial comment about the historical complexity of the topic, and now provides counter-examples which suggest Rainey’s use of comparative linguistic data is selective.

Posted in Fundamentalism, Historical Books, Historiography, Pentateuch | 13 Comments »