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Christmas Comes Early – From Margaret Barker

Posted by NT Wrong on October 23, 2008

Available from today, October 23, 2008, is Margaret Barker‘s latest book, Christmas: The Original Story. Margaret Barker is former President of the Society for Old Testament Study and author of a number of books on Enochic Judaism and the Jewish Temple.

“I’ll be interested to see how the public reacts to it, because, the Christmas story is something that’s got a lot of emotional capital tied up in it. I think if I were to write a radical book about Obadiah, no one would worry as much. But when you’re doing a Christmas story people [say], ‘oh hands off, that’s ours, don’t touch it’. But I hope I have set it in its real historical and cultural sense, so that people can glimpse maybe what the authors were really writing…”
— Margaret Barker

Margaret Barker discusses her new book in a taped conversation over lunch with William Hamblin. You can even watch Margaret Barker eating!

It is entirely coincidental that the date of release coincides with the date the world was created, as cleverly determined by Bishop Ussher.

Posted in Books, Dead Sea Scrolls, Early Christian literature, Early Jewish literature, Jesus & Christ | 2 Comments »

Review of Biblical Literature – September 6, 2008

Posted by NT Wrong on September 5, 2008

Let’s have a look at what’s come up in the Review of Biblical Literature over the last month or so that could be of interest…

Boer, Roland, editor, Bakhtin and Genre Theory in Biblical Studies (2007)

This very good collection of essays includes contributions from John Anderson, Roland Boer, Martin J. Buss, Judy Fentress-Williams, Christopher Fuller, Barbara Green, Bula Maddison, Carleen Mandolfo, Christine Mitchell, Carol A. Newsom, David M. Valeta, and Michael Vines. There’s interesting applications of Bakhtinian genre-theory to illustrate the usefulness of Bakhtin’s reformulation. Gunkel commented on the volume, in an exclusive interview with the N. T. Wrong Blog: ‘Vell, ve vould have gone about it in a more disciplined vay, but nevertheless, this book is sehr gut!”

Grabbe, Lester L., Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It? (2007)

Brian Schmidt reviews Lester Grabbe’s latest, a “prolegomena” to a history of Israel. (Is anything further possible, nowadays?) The Deveresque subtitle of Grabbe’s book is a good description of the content, and Grabbe examines a good number of the available methods: social science, archaeology, longue durée, ethnicity, ideology, new fundamentalist approaches, maximalists and minimalists, and the name-calling and shenanigans in what is the most heated topic in Hebrew Bible studies. Grabbe offers methodological principles for history writing. Reviewer Brian Schmidt makes some wise comments about the — at best ambiguous, probably simply wrong — commonplace that ‘archaeology cannot disprove the bible’. Schmidt’s comments on ‘Canaanite’ and ‘literacy’ are also valuable.

Metso, Sarianna, The Serekh Texts (2007)

From the author of The Textual Development of the Qumran Community Rule (1997), an examination of the various scrolls of Serekh ha-yachad, with discussion of their relation to CD also. The volume forms part of the ‘Companion to the Qumran Scrolls’ series.

Tischler, Nancy M., Thematic Guide to Biblical Literature (2007)

This looks like a handy guide to the use of biblical themes in Western literature. The reception of biblical themes is arranged topically: (1) Creation, (2) Earthly paradise, (3) Nature, (4) Animals and humans, (5) Temptation and Sin, (6) God’s Love, Human Response, (7) Friends and Family, (8) Love and Marriage, (9) The Hero, (10) Women as Heroes, (11) The journey of life, (12) Slavery and Freedom, (13) War, (14) Good people, (15) Justice, (16) Government and Politics, (17) Predestination and Free Will, (18) Truth, (19) Death and Afterlife, (20) Last Days. According to the reviewer, the book examines how different people have struggled with these broad questions. In confining itself to ‘Western’ literature, early Jewish and Rabbinic literature is not covered.

Rake, Mareike, “Juda wird aufsteigen!”: Untersuchungen zum ersten Kapitel des Richterbuches (2006)

Klaas Spronk provides a very good review of this book. Rake provides a historical-critical analysis of Judges 1-2, in a book based on her dissertation. She provides a “thorough survey” of theories of development, before offering her own radical reconstruction of the text, which allows her to reverse the majority opinion of influence — she concludes that Joshua is dependent on Judges 1-2, although the direction of influence is complex and uncertain.

Pruin, Dagmar, Geschichten und Geschichte: Isebel als literarische und historische Gestalt

This book analyses the different Jezebel traditions in the Bible and its reception, and also attempts to retrace the development behind the stories.

Younger Jr., K Lawson, editor, Ugarit at Seventy-Five (2007)

The papers derive from the Midwest Regional meetings of the American Oriental Society at Trinity International University (Deerfield, Illinois), in February 2005 — which was held to commemorate the 75th anniversay of the discovery of Ugarit (Ras Shamra). The first five essays deal with the Ugaritic texts. Mark Smith looks at various aspects of Ugaritic religion. Dennis Pardee looks at RIH 98/02 (discovered in 1998), a song to Attartu with parallels to Exod 15 and Judg 5. Nic Wyatt discusses the divinity of kings. Wayne Pitard discusses the monsters Anat fought in the Baal Myth. Pierre Bourdreuil looks at new texts from the House of Urtenu, including some new data on the rapi’uma/rephaim. The last three papers deal with archaeological or historical issues, including a survey of the evidence for the origins of the Arameans by K. Lawson Younger.

Posted in Archaeology, Biblical interpretation, Books, Criticism, Dead Sea Scrolls, Historical Books, Historiography, Reception, Ugaritic | Comments Off on Review of Biblical Literature – September 6, 2008

The New Deuteronomy Dead Sea scroll fragment

Posted by NT Wrong on July 21, 2008

James H. Charlesworth recently provisionally published Dead Sea scroll fragments from Deuteronomy and Nehemiah, understood originally to have come from Cave 4 at Qumran. The Deuteronomy fragment contains the remains of only three verses (Deut 27.4-6). Yet if genuine, it provides a textual witness that supports the Samaritan Pentateuch reading of Deut 27.4.

The Masoretic text reads as follows:

“And when you cross over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, about which I am commanding you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster.”
– Deut 27.4 (MT)

The Deuteronomy fragment reads as follows:

“[And when you have cross]ed the Jo[r]dan, you shall set u[p these stones, about which I charge you] today, on Mount Gerizim , and plaster [them with plaster.]”
Deut 27.4 (Cave 4 fragment)

The fact that the reading is consistent with the Samaritan Pentateuch doesn’t mean that it comes from such a family of texts. It may be that the reading is the original reading, and the later Masoretic Text changed the mountain from “Gerizim” to “Ebal” as an anti-Samaritan polemic. The fragment is too short to decide between the alternatives, and there are remains of ancient cultic sites on both mountains. But, as Paolo Sacchi recognised years ago, there are good textual grounds for viewing the MT tradition as a deliberate corruption of the original reading “Gerizim”.

“It is practically certain that the Samaritan version is the original one, because in Deut 11.29 and 27.12 Mt Ebal, which, I repeat, is in front of Mt Gerizim, is referred to as a place of curse. It is not likely that the first altar in the promised land was to be raised in such a place. Furthermore, it is obvious that the Samaritans’ choice of a site for founding their temple was to fall on any place near Shechem that enjoyed the blessing of some traditionally respected person. On the contrary, for Jerusalem this place, once it had become the site of a rival temple, could only become a site of execration. It would seem therefore that in all probability Deut 27.4 should read “Gerizim” and not “Ebal”.”
The History of the Second Temple Period, 2005: 156.

Charlesworth believes that the fragment is genuine, but does not reveal his reasons for so believing. An unknown number of scroll fragments did end up in the hands of private collectors, however – and this may indeed be one of them.

Posted in Dead Sea Scrolls, Pentateuch | Comments Off on The New Deuteronomy Dead Sea scroll fragment

Eisenmania IV – Search for The Historical Abraham

Posted by NT Wrong on June 20, 2008

Robert Eisenman is rightly sceptical about the historicity of the Abraham stories. But in his second lecture on the Dead Sea scrolls, he introduces a new criterion for distinguishing an historical kernel about Abraham from the legends – detail and distinctiveness of people and placenames:

“I don’t know how historical Abraham is. There is one story about Abraham in the Bible, in case you’re interested, which I think is historical – and the really only kernel that they have to work off of. I don’t know if I can find it for you [ … ] Chapter 14, the campaign of the four kings … That is clearly totally different from the rest of Genesis.”
Robert Eisenman ( 4:00–5:00 )

Ah yes – the survival of toponyms and personal names in stories. Unfortunately for Eisenman, toponymns and personal names tend to survive very well in legends, while the details of the story remain mythical. Catalogue of Ships, anyone? Anyway, Eisenman tells us about the amazing historical details in Genesis 14:

” ‘It was in the time of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goiim, Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar).’ None of these names are ever spoken of before or after. And the precision of this is very high.”
Robert Eisenman ( 5:10–5:34)

Hmmmm … It’s been well known for well over a century that Genesis 14 is in fact from a quite unrelated source from what surrounds it. So Eisenman is quite right on that count. But what does he mean exactly by the historical “precision” of this account. How can he tell when something has “very high” precision? What exactly is Eisenman referring to that is historically “precise”?

” ‘they defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzites in Ham, the Emim in …’
Robert Eisenman ( 5:40–5:45)

Ah yes – Rephaim, Zuzites, Emim … according to the Bible, these are groups of … Giants! Now that’s historical precision!!

“All of this is in, like, three or four or five lines! … This is old even when the narrator puts it down. This is old! This is very old!! Even the narrator doesn’t understand it … If you saw this you could see – even I, a dumbo, who had little training when I first started here in these things could see – this is not like any other text in all of Genesis and the rest of the Bible. Why? Presumably it’s from a stele … I think this is actually the kernel of the Abraham story because at the end of this he says … ‘Abram the Hebrew’ … This is real. I mean real from whatever period it was. So there was a person called Abraham the Hebrew. I’m sure of that. Just from this here. And he was called the Hebrew. I’m very sure of that, too, just from looking at this in a literary-critical manner … ‘Abraham came back after the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings at his side’ and so on and so forth. I mean, these names come out of … space, as it were. There’s no description of who they are, what they are, what their background is, where they came from, so on and so forth. That’s where you get real history, and it’s not poetry because it’s crappy poetry. It doesn’t even read well. It’s a newspaper clipping, from that time, or a commemorative clipping shortly after.”
– Robert Eisenman ( 5:45–8:00, 0:00–1:17 )

Let’s think just for a couple of seconds about that ‘commemorative stele’. Rather than commemorate victory over historical peoples, it names … Giants. Now that’s the strangest commemorative stele I know of. If there was a commemorative stele behind the tradition, it’s been well buried in legend. Genesis 14 is not the best choice for establishing history in Genesis (it’s much like the rest of the material, in that respect).

Posted in Academia, Dead Sea Scrolls | 2 Comments »

Eisenmania III – On why ‘The Son of Man’ must be foreign

Posted by NT Wrong on June 20, 2008

This has to be my favourite episode of Eisenmania, yet. The quotations below are from Robert Eisenman’s first and second lectures on the Dead Sea scrolls. Although Robert Eisenman’s explanation is far from clear, it appears Eisenman is trying to make the following argument:

    1. Daniel 7 only refers to a (generic) son of man, meaning ‘man’;
    2. Jesus refers to himself as “The Son of Man”, with the definite article, somewhere in ‘The Gospels’;
    3. Only a foreigner could make such a mistake (in interpreting Daniel);
    (therefore) 4. The narrator of ‘The Gospels’ was a foreigner who put these words into the mouth of Daniel, because he misunderstood Daniel’s reference to ‘son of man’.

“‘You will see The Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.’ … Well, to my mind, that shows that the Gospels are, first of all, are written by people who don’t know Hebrew, or Aramaic, and are of overseas origin. And actually, just from that line – I know I’m pushing a lot in that – but they know very little about what is going on in Palestine at all. Most of what they’re talking about is, like, poorly digested hearsay and so on … People are putting their own ideas into Jesus’ mouth.”
– Robert Eisenman ( 4:25–5:43 )

Points (1) and (2) are quite true. But point (3) is nonsense. The phrase “The Son of Man”, referring to a specific heavenly being, was in fact used by Jews. In fact, “The Son of Man” was used by Jews in their own native Aramaic tongue in 1 Enoch 46.

(That Aramaic was the original language of composition for the Parables (or ‘Similitudes’) of Enoch is “obvious” (J. Charlesworth, in Boccaccini, Enoch and the Messiah Son of Man, 2007: 452), so is not in question.)

In 1 Enoch 46, the figure of “The Son of Man” is clearly an individual, another power in heaven alongside God, who will be “the One” to carry out the eschatological judgment. Some Jewish reinterpreters of Daniel had developed the ‘one like a son of man’ tradition, so that at the turn of the millennium some Jews were interpreting it, in their native tongue, as “The Son of Man”. So Eisenman’s argument that only a foreigner could have referred to “The Son of Man” (with the definite article) is seriously flawed, contrary to evidence he should know about, and quite untenable.

Here is Eisenman’s own ‘explanation’ (the explanation is a little hard to follow, because throughout his explanation, Eisenman is searching for Mark’s famous ‘Little Apocalypse’ in Ch 13, but Eisenman has forgotten where it is, or even which book it is in for that matter):

“… Adam being the ‘Son of Man’ coming on the clouds of heaven. I tried to tell you that I thought that that formula probably showed a foreign authorship. I just read something in the Gospels today when I was looking for something for these footnotes that I’m doing. And it said that, “The Son of Man …” Where was it. It was in, um, I don’t know if I can find it quickly. I probably can’t. Let’s see quickly if I can find it […] Let’s see if I can find it. Now … after Jesus is saying that you can eat anything you want … um: “These are the things which defile a man. But eating with unwashed hands does not defile a man” … and, ah … and now I can’t find the Son of Man … Ah well, it was in here some place. I was just seeing it. So um … He was referring to himself … Maybe it’s Mark 7 … um … Let’s see […] We have quotes here with Jesus referring to himself as ‘The Son of Man’. What I’m trying to say is, there is no The Son of Man. So I don’t know if Jesus would have said that himself … What did the President of Columbia say, “You either don’t know what you’re talking about, or you’re uneducated” or something like that? [I don’t know] if he would have been that unsophisticated. Only those people who were putting those speeches down in his name – whether they’re accurate or not, beng no tape-recorders at the time … So, I just came across one of those things. I can’t … I better find it. Hold on a minute, just give me a second, I can’t leave that hanging out there. Let’s just give me a minute here … ahhhhhh, let’s see … um …………….. it doesn’t look like I’m going to find it … ah, this page here I think … um … nah! no way … ha … well, I can’t find where he actually says it, not the narrator – where Jesus actually calls himself The Son of Man … I can’t find it. But anyway the reason I brought up the whole Daniel material is because it comes from Daniel (“One like a son of man coming on the clouds of heaven”) and ‘man’ is ‘Adam’ in Hebrew. So that’s why I got off on a tangent, to show how important the concept of Adam is …”
– Robert Eisenman ( 1:10–4:18 )

Of course, there is no word ‘Adam’ in Dan 7, which is in Aramaic (instead: bar enosh). (Although Eisenman does explain this in his first Dead Sea scrolls lecture.)

Posted in Academia, Dead Sea Scrolls | 5 Comments »

Eisenmania II – When Dissimilation Resembles Dissemblance

Posted by NT Wrong on June 19, 2008

I was drawn back into the 1,013 videos of Robert Eisenman lectures now available on YouTube. Right at the start of Eisenman’s second Dead Sea scrolls lecture, he talks about a “great word” he wants his class to learn.

Unfortunately, he gets the word wrong. He says “Dissimilation” when he means “Dissembling”. After explaining this great word to his students for a while, he begins to realise he really means “Dissembling”. But instead of confessing that “Dissimilation” was the wrong word altogether, he says, ‘Here’s a synonym of Dissimilation: Dissembling!’

One of the ironies is, of course, here is Eisenman identifying two quite distinct words that sound similar and saying they must mean the same thing. Isn’t that just a microcosm of his whole work?

“[Writes ‘dissimilation’ on whiteboard] You probably don’t even know what ‘dissimilation’ is, some of you. Dissimilation, dissembling, means that you don’t really believe what you’re saying [sic]. You’re saying something what you think will help you, or will please the ears of the person you’re saying it to, or you know it wasn’t true to begin with, or in fact you know its false. You’re “dissimilating” it. You’re “dissembling”. That’s what that means. It’s a great word. And, um, it’s got a synonym [writes ‘dessembling’ [sic] on whiteboard], I don’t know if I’m spelling it right. Probably not. This is probably an i [changes second letter from ‘e’ to i]. I don’t know which it is, ‘e’ or ‘i’. I can’t spell either. Look it up in spellcheck. I mean later on.”
– Robert Eisenman

dis·sem·ble – “to give a false or misleading appearance to; conceal the truth or real nature of: to dissemble one’s incompetence in business”

dis·sim·i·la·tion – “Phonetics. the process by which a speech sound becomes different from or less like a neighboring sound”

Posted in Academia, Dead Sea Scrolls | 4 Comments »

Robert Eisenman – Feminist Criticism, Hebrew, Dead Sea Scrolls

Posted by NT Wrong on June 18, 2008

Professor Robert Eisenman’s students at California State University, Long Beach have uploaded ONE THOUSAND AND THIRTEEN videos of his lectures onto YouTube.

In his first lecture from his Dead Sea scrolls course, Robert Eisenman makes some interesting feminist criticism. I say “criticism” in the widest possible sense … wide enough to include the critical capabilities of an afternoon West Virginian talk-radio audience, say.

Anyway, in the words of Eisenman, from a lecture he delivered on the Dead Sea scrolls:

“The name Adam means also [sic] what in Hebrew? … Man. So Adam and man are the same thing … So we call the first man Adam, but he’s also the name for all man- or ‘human-‘ kind. I don’t want to get sexist about this, or chauvinist, or whatever. The ancients, you know, did emphasise maleness – let’s face it. You can attack them or think whatever you want, but I’m not sure it’s much better today when everything’s being feminized, either. I mean, I don’t know if the world’s a better place. I mean, I can’t judge. I have to wait another 500 years to tell. Today everything is like, well, I think it’s kind of like totally ‘womanized’, now – in the sense that women are dominant, in culture and things like that. You write a book and you’re a woman – you get published much quicker than a man. You apply for a teaching job some place, in this university, or in the religious department, it’s much, much quicker. I tell my sons, ‘Don’t even bother going into academia’, unless you’ve got some really[?] thing going through your neural network, don’t even bother. And so on and so forth.”
– Robert Eisenman

And when Eisenman comments on the Aramaic portions of the Bible, it gives an insight into his knowledge of the Bible’s languages – on which he bases his detailed, nay convoluted, nay crazy, theories about the linkage of different Jewish personal names, place names, and words:

“What people don’t realise is Daniel isn’t even written in Hebrew. It’s written in Aramaic [sic]. People say, ‘This is the “Hebrew Bible”.’ That’s a misnomer too, they want to change the word from ‘Old Testament’ to that – that’s the present scholarly sort of preference. Well Daniel’s an Aramaic book [sic], so how is that the ‘Hebrew Bible’? It’s a collection of books, some of them are Hebrew – most of them are Hebrew – but some are not. Well, at least one isn’t, I think there may be another in Aramaic as well [sic] – I’ll have to check it out.”
– Robert Eisenman

Those comments are from the first three or four minutes of his Dead Sea scrolls lecture. If you dare to go on to plumb the depths of his ignorance, have a look at the whole lecture below. I’m still amazed that any University employs him to lecture at all. Even in California.

Posted in Academia, Dead Sea Scrolls | 9 Comments »

New Reviews in The Review of Biblical Literature – June 12, 2008

Posted by NT Wrong on June 13, 2008

There’s some interesting reviews in the latest Review of Biblical Literature:

Andreas Wagner, editor, Primäre und sekundäre Religion als Kategorie der Religionsgeschichte des Alten Testaments

There are 20 articles in what the reviewer calls an “unusually well coordinated collection of essays”. The authors examine whether the categories of “Primary and secondary religion” developed by T. Sundermeier and J. Assmann can be usefully used to describe the change in Jewish religion occuring in the post-exilic period. Contributors and respondents include Sigrun Welke-Holtmann, Pierre Bordreuil, Bernhard Lang, Marttii Nissinen, Paolo Xella, Walter Berkert (on Greek religion) and Gerd Thiessen (on Christianity). There are replies by Sundermeier and Assmann themselves.

Jim W. Adams, The Performative Nature and Function of Isaiah 40-55 (2006)

Speech-Act theory applied to Deutero-Isaiah – a revision of the author’s doctoral thesis. According to the review, it provides a good introduction to Speech-Act theory, including JL Austin and JR Searle.

David T. Runia and Gregory E. Sterling, editors, The Studia Philonica Annual: Studies in Hellenistic Judaism: Volume XIX, 2007 (2007)

The latest Studia Philonica Annual takes a special look at the Dead Sea Scrolls (and Philo, naturally), with an intro by the ubiquitous J. J. Collins, and articles by both the usual suspects and the unusual suspects: García Martínez, Stuckenbruck, Hindy Najman, Katell Berthelot, and Joan E. Taylor.

Posted in Books, Criticism, Dead Sea Scrolls, Early Jewish literature, Historical Books, Historiography, Prophets | 2 Comments »

New Reviews in The Review of Biblical Literature – 7 May 2008

Posted by NT Wrong on May 8, 2008

There’s some interesting reviews in the latest Review of Biblical Literature:

April D. DeConick, The Original Gospel of Thomas in Translation: With a Commentary and New English Translation of the Complete Gospel (2006)

A “rich yet concise” commentary on the early Christian Gospel of Thomas. The book is a “sister volume” to Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas (2005).

Sarah Malena and David Miano, editors, Milk and Honey: Essays on Ancient Israel and the Bible in Appreciation of the Judaic Studies Program at the University of California, San Diego (2007)

Wolfgang Zwickel uses his review to lament der garstige breite Graben between European (especially German) scholarship and Anglo-American scholarship.

Todd Penner and Caroline Vander Stichele, editors, Moving Beyond New Testament Theology?: Essays in Conversation with Heikki Räisänen (2005)

Wolfgand Stegemann’s piece in this collection is worth a comment. From the review, Stegemann appears to comment on the ‘religious studies’ as opposed to the “theological” approach to the history of religion. Stegemann apparently notes that theological approaches are criticised as being less neutral and less objective than ‘religious studies’ approaches. Instead of addessing this particular bias, you will never guess what Stegemann does. You guessed it … the tu quoque argument: “Sure we’re biased, but so are you, too.” At the risk of alarming any remaining relativists out there – don’t you think that if you’re aware of your bias (e.g. theological), it might be an idea to attempt to eliminate it, rather than exult in it? Just a thought.

Michael Thomas Davis and Brent A. Strawn, editors, Qumran Studies: New Approaches, New Questions (2007)

Looks like a fairly interesting collection. The reviewer, Heinz-Josef Fabry laments der garstige breite Graben between European (especially German) scholarship and Anglo-American scholarship.

Posted in Books, Dead Sea Scrolls, Early Christian literature, Historiography | Comments Off on New Reviews in The Review of Biblical Literature – 7 May 2008