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Archive for November, 2008

Kuttamuwa Inscription – Image, Transcription, Translation

Posted by NT Wrong on November 30, 2008

The University of Chicago’s high-resolution photo of the recently discovered Kattamuwa Inscription from Zincirli is here.

Dennis Pardee’s transcription of the Kattamuwa Inscription is here, via Jim Getz.

John Hobbins’ English translation of the Kattamuwa Inscription is in two parts: here (lines 1-5) and here (lines 6-13) — and each post reproduces Pardee’s transliteration.

Posted in Archaeology, Neo-Hittite | Comments Off on Kuttamuwa Inscription – Image, Transcription, Translation

Pascal’s Derivative Market

Posted by NT Wrong on November 29, 2008

Most of you would have heard of Pascal’s Wager, a flawed ‘pragmatic’ argument for belief in God and his son Jesus. I have developed an improved model of the Wager, which rids it of its morally questionable basis (the ‘laying a bet as a basis for faith’ problem) and which also deals with the problem that there are many mutually exclusive gods who you’ll need to ‘bet’ on (eg a bet on Allah would be no good if Yahweh is the One; conversely, a bet on Jesus would be no good if Ahura-Mazda offers eternal reward).

I call it, ‘Pascal’s Derivative Market’TM. Rather than making a bet on one god, who might turn out to be a foul demon and thereby cause you eternal wrath, why not hedge your bets? Of course, I say ‘hedge your bets’ in a metaphorical way. As everybody knows, the Free Market is not a bet in which some people win and some people lose, but the mechanism by which the Invisible Hand allocates resources fairly to all, so that everyone’s a winner. The Free Market in fact transcends morality and ethical considerations.

I will soon be setting up a Pascal’s Derivative MarketTM for Spiritual InvestorsTM. For payment of a small joining fee*, Spiritual InvestorsTM can buy a put option and sell a call option for each deity offering eternal rewards. In effect, you are selling short the whole pantheon of eternal-reward-offering deities. The beauty of the deal is that the terms of the options include the right, on death, to abandon all faiths which turn out not to be offering eternal salvation, retaining sole shareholding in the One True FaithTM, whatever that turns out to be. The superiority of Pascal’s Derivative MarketTM to Pascal’s Wager should be obvious.

The N. T. Wrong Blog will be publishing a Prospectus for Pascal’s Derivative MarketTM in the near future. Invest wisely — your eternal salvation is at stake.

* US$100,000

n.b. For those of you interested in investment in Pascal’s Derivative MarketTM, but unable to afford the joining fee, you will be pleased to know that we are also beginning a finance company, Sub-Prime Mover MortgagesTM, to assist with securing your eternal salvation. Here at Pascal’s Derivative MarketTM, we believe that salvation should be available for everyone!

Posted in Humour | 2 Comments »

The Absurdity of Genesis 1 – Just-So Stories – Literal Meaning; Non-Literal Apologetic Interpretation

Posted by NT Wrong on November 28, 2008


A Cartoon from Answers in Genesis, an organization whose members believe, like me, that Genesis 1 refers to a literal 6-day creation. Unlike me, however, they think the biblical authors described the universe in much the same way as modern science (as opposed to their literal belief in a 3-tiered 'universe').

Chris Heard at Higgaion has got wound up
about Steven Pinker’s ridicule of the account of creation in Genesis 1. Steven Pinker, seeing things from a solely scientific point of view, criticises Genesis 1 for saying the world was created in six days and light was created before the sun. For Pinker, Genesis 1 contains “absurdities” in light of modern scientific knowledge. But for Chris Heard, these very absurdities show that Genesis 1 was not intended to be read as literal fact but as “non-literal” or “metaphorical” accounts.

It’s a common enough debate. And both sides are wrong.

Pinker and modern scientific critics are wrong when they do not take account of the fact that Genesis 1 is not only making mundane “how” statements, but also answering cosmological and divine “how” and “why” statements. That is, when scientists write off the whole text on scientific grounds, they can sometimes falsely reduce the biblical text to something that only deals with mundane “how” questions. This is obviously not the case with Genesis 1. Yet this is a comparatively minor mistake compared to the apologetic interpreters.

The metaphorical apologists will also be wrong if they simply choose to interpret Genesis 1 as “non-literal” or “metaphorical” — whenever a literal reading would demonstrate a biblical passage to be incorrect in light of modern science. If science shows that the “days” of Genesis 1 cannot literally be correct, the apologists will be wrong if they choose a non-literal interpretation merely as an apologetic ploy to save the text. There must be better grounds for interpreting either metaphorically or literally. But in the case of Genesis 1, the difficulty with a literal interpretation so often forces apologetic interpreters into choosing the metaphorical alternative, rather than considering the meaning of the text. The apologetic intepretation is motivated by the perceived need to “save” the biblical text.

Now, Chris Heard claims he has good grounds for a non-literal interpretation. His reasoning is that the absurdities we moderns see in Genesis 1 are so obviously absurd, that even ancient Judean authors and their audiences would have known they were absurd. Thus, we must conclude that Genesis 1 was always intended metaphorically:

“I seriously doubt that any ancient Judean of any period could fail to notice that, “absurdly,” the Genesis 1 story operates on a cycle of evening and morning for three days in the absence of sun and moon, which allow humans to measure days. In fact, the narrator even calls attention to this “absurdity” by specifying that sun and moon function as timekeepers … The ancient believers who created, edited, preserved, and transmitted knew very well that you can’t measure days without reference to the sun. They knew very well that Genesis 1 presented a schematic account of creation rather than an historical (much less scientific) one.”
– Chris Heard, ‘Absurdities as Genre Markers’

(I note in passing that a similar apologetic argument from “absurdity” is offered by certain New Testament scholars, who argue, for example, that Matthew’s account of zombie saints rising from the dead and wandering around Jerusalem is just so “absurd” that it must be true.)

The thing is, while these things are certainly absurd for me, for Chris Heard, and for quite a few other modern, academically minded folk, there was no such “absurdity” 2000+ years ago. The apologetic explanation is nothing more than a “just-so story” about perceived absurdity, lacking any serious attempt to study the ancient reception of Genesis 1. And when we do look at its ancient reception, we see that — far from being viewed as “absurd” and “metaphorical” — it was usually viewed as an oddity that had a miraculous but quite literal explanation. Sure, it wasn’t “history” or “science” in a modern, empirical understanding of those fields. But the apologetic alternatives which are offered (‘metaphor’ or ‘modern scientific textbook’) provide nothing more than a simplistic false dichotomy. In reality, the authors of Genesis 1 were just as interested in “how” questions as modern scientists, although they were also quite interested in questions about the “how” and “why” of cosmological and divine matters compared with their modern counterparts.

James Barr — who was much more knowledgeable than Steven Pinker concerning the Old Testament, and much less apologetic than the metaphor-apologists — comments:

“About the actual processes of the origin of the world as we know them, [the author of Genesis 1] knew, of course, nothing, and set against our knowledge of these processes his account is certainly ‘wrong’. Since, on the other hand, the processes and sequences which are known to us through modern science were certainly totally unknown to him, this ‘wrongness’ is quite irrelevant in our understanding the story.”
– James Barr, Fundamentalism. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977: 41

Quite contrary to Chris Heard’s arguments, the ancient reception of Genesis 1 demonstrates that they usually took the first chapter of the Bible quite literally in its statement concerning the time of the creation of light — out of ignorance of any necessary causal connection between the sun and light on earth. Light, in the understanding of the ancient authors of Genesis 1, could just as easily be literally created before the sun as after it:

– A common interpretation of Genesis 1 was that God created “light” on Day 1 without revealing it yet. It was only revealed on Day 4. So Jubilees 2.2 explains that on Day 1 God prepared the light “in the knowledge of his heart”. The light was literally created in the divine realm, but was not literally set in place in the firmament. Likewise, 11QPsa (11Q Hymn to the Creator) explains that God literally divided light from darkness on Day 1, but that this was prepared “in the knowledge of his heart”.

– Utilising Psalm 104.2, others explained that the “light” of Day 1 literally came from God’s own glory or shekinah, literally distinguished from the light which came literally from the sun and moon on Day 4. So Genesis Rabba 3.4.

– b. Ḥagigah 12a makes the claim that the “light” of Day 1 was a miraculous light which would have allowed people to see from one end of the earth to another. After Adam’s fall, that light has been kept for the messianic age.

The preference for a “non-literal”, “metaphoric” interpretation of Genesis 1 is nothing more than a modernist attempt — in the light of modern science — to save the meaning of Genesis 1. This is still the case when the apologetic interpretation is misleadingly contrasted with the interpretation of Genesis 1 as “a scientific textbook”, as though that were the only alternative.

Posted in Fundamentalism, Historiography, Metaphor, Pentateuch | 10 Comments »

Evangelicals against and for (against) ‘Postmodernism’

Posted by NT Wrong on November 28, 2008

There seem to be at least two ways in which evangelical Christians have misappropriated the term “postmodernism”. One of these ways is described by Robert C. Greer in Mapping Postmodernism, and can also be seen in the blurb to G.K. Beale’s book and in William Dever’s rant against minimalists. This approach is a retrenchment back into what was falsely assumed to be a doctrinally secure positivism. Here’s Greer (p. 14):

“A number of books have been published in the 1990s and early 2000s excoriating postmodernism and admonishing the Christian community to stand firm against the postmodern tide saturating the West. In the pulpits, on the radio and on television, this same message has been presented. With Bible in hand the Christian believer argues for absolute truth, often with the words ‘Thus sayeth the Lord” serving as a centrepiece to his or her arguments. Hence, where polemical works had previously targeted secular Christianity as one of Christianity’s chief foes, the new foe is postmodernism. Only by understanding and embracing that which constitutes absolute truth, leaders within the Christian community explained, could the battle be waged successfully.”

Here’s an example, in the introduction to The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World (2007) by John Piper, Voddie Baucham, D. A. Carson, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, and David Wells:

“Many would have us believe that life is hopelessly fragmented and truth an elusive dream. The authors of this book beg to differ and enthusiastically point us to the cohesive centrality and absolute supremacy of Jesus Christ.”

The other approach is that followed by those sympathetic with ’emergent/emerging’ movements, and involves taking those bits of ‘postmodern’ thinkers which attack secular modernism, and thereby providing a defence of the same absolute truth of Christianity, without being quite so explicit as to the grounds (if any can be spelled out) for such absolute truth. It’s the ‘Christianity is absolutely true, because all truth is relative, and so my claim for absolute truth is equally valid’ argument. It’s never said like that, of course, because that would expose the odd inconsistency of the position — using a relativistic epistemology to support absolute truth, and then naming that absolute truth as specifically traditional orthodox Christianity. And the problem is deeper than that. There’s a careful selectivity from thinkers who are grouped as ‘postmodernists’, taking only those parts of what they say that can be useful, while refusing the full (anti-authoritarian, indeterminate, anti-metanarrative) implications of what they are saying.

Neither approach has much interest in what the so-called ‘postmodern’ thinkers say. One simply opposes it, the other mines it for material. Both are defensive positions, and where there’s defense, there’s usually tendentious use rather than reading. But in that dichotomy, which is really a sliding scale, I guess I’m revealing I think modernism has a few good and worthwhile features, yet.

Posted in Books, Fundamentalism | 3 Comments »

Defining Reception History – Philip Davies and St. Paul

Posted by NT Wrong on November 27, 2008

Here’s two recent publications which help us to define that seemingly all-encompassing category, ‘Reception History’.

The first is Philip Davies’ thoughts on the recent SBL Meeting in Boston, care of Jim West.

The second is a television commercial featuring Noah (who, amongst other things, stored the books of Enoch on board his ark so that they could make the transition from antediluvial composition to postdiluvial reception — not that the books of Enoch are at all relevant for watching the tv commercial). Spotted on Ad Cummulus:

Posted in Humour, Reception | 1 Comment »

Peter Enns: ‘Leading Postmodernist’

Posted by NT Wrong on November 27, 2008

kjv1611In the ‘What Planet are Conservative Evangelicals On?’ Category, G.K. Beale has released a book which seeks to reinstate old-fashioned ultra-inerrancy as “a fundamental part of [evangelicalism’s] vibrant future”.

But wait, it gets nuttier…

The book’s blurb, which reflects the substance of Beale’s complaint against Peter Enns in his earlier book review, describes Enns as a “leading postmodernist”!!!

“In The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism, Beale vigorously yet even-handedly meets the challenges presented by leading postmodernist Peter Enns.”

For those who don’t get the joke, Enns is very conservative himself — but hasn’t got quite as big an inerrancy-carrot stuck up his ‘authorized version’ as those ultra-conservative fundie fringers who inhabit the atavistic hovels of darkness called the Westminster Theological Seminary and Wheaton College.

But what gets me is the “postmodern” label. Hasn’t this just become an empty label fundamentalists apply when they realize they have no idea what’s going on? Does anyone believe that Peter Enns is the new Derrida? If Peter Enns were to opine that “there is nothing outside the text”, he would only be affirming sola scriptura, not irresolvable textual indeterminacy.

What’s more, “postmodernism” occurred in the 1980s. It’s over. Well over. Times and ideas have changed. There’s only one source printing books which rant about “postmodernism” these days: conservative evangelical publishers.

Update: Art Boulet at Finitum Non Capax Infiniti provides a review that dares to go beyond the book’s blurb and finds even more nuttiness

Posted in Books, Fundamentalism | 13 Comments »

Trogodytes and Horites Again – Monstrous Troglodytes?

Posted by NT Wrong on November 25, 2008

The term Trogodytes was used by Roman writers to describe a people in the Eastern Desert, between the Nile and Red Sea, east of Aswan. Some writers, at least in the copies we have of their works, refer to them (incorrectly) as Troglodytes (‘cave-dwellers’).

As I noted before, the name of the ‘Horites’, who are either the Edomites (Gen 36.20ff) or — in an alternative biblical story — their predecessors (Deut 2.12), also seems to be derived from a play on Heb. chor (“cave”), referring to cave-dwellers. The Trog(l)odytes lived on both side of the Red Sea. Strabo even lumps together the Trogodytes of the Horn with Arabs rather than Ethiopians. Likewise, the land of the Horites/Edomites was described as stretching as far as the Red Sea (1 Kings 9.26). So, we have the strange coincidence of cave-dwelling associations with the names of those dwelling in this region, in both Roman and Hebrew texts.

Dana Reynolds claims:

“They often made their homes among rocks and ravines or grottos as do some of the present day Afar tribes. It has been surmised that their name came to be a punning homophone for a cave-dweller or one who dwells under ground or in grottos because the word came to be spelled with an l as Troglodyte.”
Journal of African Civilizations 11 (1991), 126.

Is this the same pun which we see in Hebrew, in ‘Horite”? I tentatively surmise that it could have been derived from the Egyptian description for the general region, Kharu, and adapted in Hebrew to make a pun on “cave” because of their (perceived or real) cave-dwelling.

These Trogodytes, were also referred to as Blemmyes, Be(d)ja, and Megaboroi — and Be(d)ja (Bedayat / Bedawi) provides the origin of the term “Bedouin” (Reynolds, 125). The ancient sources describe them as living mainly in the Eastern Desert of Egypt and in Ethiopia. A set of tables prepared for an article by Hans Barnard (“”Il n’ya pas de Blemmyes”) collates all of the ancient references to these peoples (or this people, referred to under various names).

round-faced_bedja_womanHere’s a modern Bedja, care of Reynolds (p. 127), which amused me, because — despite the description in the caption — she has nothing like a “long narrow face and jaw”:

Like the Horites, who were identified as monstrous Rephaim and cave-dwellers, the Trogodytes and Blemmyes were described as monsters. Strabo describes the Trogodytes as having no voices, and the Blemmyes as having no heads but mouths and eyes in their chests. These were, after all, mythic descriptions of those who lived near the abyss at the end of the world (from which ‘Abyssinia’ is derived), beyond the mythic Yam Suph (neither ‘Red Sea’ nor ‘Reed Sea’, but mythic ouroboros).

Posted in Historical Books, Pentateuch | Comments Off on Trogodytes and Horites Again – Monstrous Troglodytes?

The Kuttamuwa Inscription

Posted by NT Wrong on November 24, 2008

At SBL yesterday, Dennis Pardee delivered a paper on the 8th-century stone slab found recently during the new dig at Zincirli.

Jim Getz provides a copy of Pardee’s initial transcription of the mortuary slab — although note the difficulty in distinguishing dalet (/d/) and resh (/r/) in the words on the slab, particularly because there’s only a small amount of local vocabulary known. Here’s a Zincirli dalet and resh from one of Frank Cross’s tables, to illustrate the difficulty in distinguishing the two letters, even at the best of times:

dalet_zincirli resh_zincirli

The phrase bsyr/d.ʿlmy was being translated as “eternal chamber”. But on the basis of KAI 214, also from Zincirli, perhaps ‘lmy is spatial rather than temporal. In KAI 214, ‘lm means “tomb, grave” (“I erected this statue for Hadad in my tomb”; l. 1): so, “chamber of my grave”? Another comparison is Deir ‘alla ii 7: mškby ˁmlyk (“your eternal bedding”? or “the bed of your grave”?). I’m just wondering out loud.

The death/sleep extended metaphor is relevant for interpreting Og’s “bed”/”sarcophagus” (Deut 3.11).

Posted in Archaeology, Death, Neo-Hittite | Comments Off on The Kuttamuwa Inscription

Israel: ‘Profundity’ of Ideas as Justification for Colonialism; Bodily Desire as Justification for Dispossession

Posted by NT Wrong on November 24, 2008

“For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country… the four great powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism… is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import tha[n] the desires and prejudices of 700 000 Arabs who now inhabit the land.”
– Arthur James Balfour, memorandum sent to Lord Curzon in 1919

Posted in Colonialism, Modern Israel, Racism, Violence | 2 Comments »

Asad: Thinking about Religion, Belief, and Politics

Posted by NT Wrong on November 23, 2008

In October 2008, Talal Asad delivered one of the 2008 Foerster Lectures on the Immortality of the Soul at the University of California Berkeley. The lecture series commenced in 1928, and has included lectures by Oliver Sacks, Thomas S. Kuhn, Aldous Huxley, and Paul Tillich, and, latterly, Bart Ehrman.

“Thinking about Religion, Belief, and Politics”

“Professor Asad will discuss the attempts by anthropologists and others to define religion, the shifting place of “belief” in that endeavor, and some of its implications for politics. He’ll stress the need to extend the study of the senses (rather than beliefs) in the formation of religious and secular attitudes.”

Posted in Religion & Society | 2 Comments »