N.T.WRONG

Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

Archive for the ‘Judeo-Christian Texts’ Category

Reason No. 16: Straining after the Subjective Genitive Gnat – 100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive

Posted by NT Wrong on December 20, 2008

pistis_christouThe following post is an abridged version of one of the 100 reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive included in my forthcoming book:

100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive


Reason No. 16: Straining after the Subjective Genitive Gnat

Given the absence of any explicit reference to the “faithfulness” of Christ outside of the disputed phrases, we would expect Paul to refer to the faithfulness of Christ in some other way for the subjective genitive intepretation to have a sound foundation. But there aren’t any such examples. This forces the proponents of the subjective genitive interpretation to strain after a gnats, in their attempt to manufacture a “faith of Christ” meaning elsewhere. The very tendentiousness of the attempt is testimony to the superiority of the objective genitive interpretation.

For Hays, Jesus’ faithfulness is his obedience to God, pre-eminently in his death on the cross. Hays argues that Christ’s obedience has saving significance in Rom 5.19, that obedience and faith are linked in Rom 1.5, and therefore that faith has soteriological consequences (2002: 51). Although such explanations provide a theoretical corroboration for the subjective meaning of πίστις Χριστοῦ, Barry Matlock contends that proponents of the subjective genitive interpretation are using their ingenuity to find a sense for the phrase, rather than methodologically beginning from first principles in asking what the link is between πίστις and Jesus’ death that signals the selection of a particular sense of πίστις (“faithfulness”) and a particular relation to Χριστοῦ (“subjective”) (2000: 12).

It is probably correct that ὑπακοὴν πίστεως (Rom 1.5) is to be interpreted epexegetically as the “obedience which consists of faith” (Wright 2002: 420). But it is much more doubtful whether a description of obedient faith occurring among the Gentiles can be used to support the strong identification of obedience and faith required to interpret Christ’s obedience as “faithfulness”, without a more explicit unpacking or exposition of the idea elsewhere in relation to Christ. Although Christ’s obedience is a prominent theme in Paul’s epistles (e.g. Rom 5; Phil 2), the doubt surrounding Paul’s association of obedience with the idea of Christ’s “faithfulness” makes it quite unwarranted to conclude that there is a “prima facie expectation of subjective genitive” where the word πίστις appears in a genitival phrase with Χριστοῦ (contra Hooker 1989: 324). The same conclusion applies to the ‘Christ Hymn’ in Phil 2, where “obedience” is described, but is not equated with “fathfulness” to God here or elsewhere in Paul’s writings.

The issue is not resolved by referring to Paul’s explicit recognition of the faithfulness of God (Rom 3.3). As Hultgren notes, the issue concerns whether there is evidence for the faithfulness of Christ (to the Father), not the faithfulness of God (to humankind) (Hultgren 1980). In the first century AD, in Paul’s letters, these are not the same thing.

References:

  • Richard B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3.1—4.11. Rev. Ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.
  • Morna D. Hooker, “ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ.” New Testament Studies 35 (1989): 321-42.
  • Arland J. Hultgren, “The Pistis Christou Formulations in Paul.” Novum Testamentum 22.3 (1980): 248-63.
  • R. Barry Matlock, “Detheologizing the ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ Debate: Cautionary Remarks from a Lexical Semantic Perspective.” Novum Testamentum 42.1 (2000): 1-23.
  • N. T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections.” In The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol 10, Leander E. Keck, et al, eds. (Nashville: Abingdon, 2002), 420
  • Posted in Faith, Greek, Jesus & Christ, Paul, Soteriology | 1 Comment »

    Reason No. 19: The πίστις – πιστεύω Disparity Effect – 100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive

    Posted by NT Wrong on December 19, 2008

    pistis_christouThe following post is an abridged version of one of the 100 reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive included in my forthcoming book:

    100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive


    Reason No. 19: The πίστις – πιστεύω Disparity Effect

    If the subjective genitive interpretation were adopted for the phrase πίστις Χριστοῦ, it would result in the highly unusual disparity that the noun πίστις would be assigned to Christ, while all occurrences of the verb πιστεύω are attributed to human believers.

    Campbell argues that such an argument relies on fallacious etymology (1997: 713-719). But he’s wrong. Barry Matlock (2002: 13) rightly counters that:

      1. Paul uses the noun and verb interchangeably in his paraphrase in Rom 4.9 (“We say, ‘Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.'”) of his earlier quote of Gen 15.6 in Rom 4.3 (“Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”);
      2. E. A. Nida and J. P. Louw’s, Lexical Semantics of the Greek New Testament Based on Semantic Domains treats the noun πίστις (“trust”) and verb πιστεύω (“I trust”) as a single entry;
      3. The fallacy of etymology involves historical development not semantic classifications; and
      4. Paul’s choice of verb or noun is one of syntactic structure and stylistic features, and it’s overinterpreting his letters to treat the stylistic difference as having theological import.

    So the subjective genitive translation results in an implausible disparity between the meaning of the noun πίστις and the verb πιστεύω. Given these unlikely semantic consequences, the objective genitive is to be preferred.

    References:

  • Campbell, Douglas. “False Presuppositions in the ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ Debate: A Response to Brian Dodd.” Journal of Biblical Literature 116 (1997):713-19.
  • R. Barry Matlock, “Detheologizing the ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ Debate: Cautionary Remarks from a Lexical Semantic Perspective.” Novum Testamentum 42.1 (2000): 1-23.
  • Posted in Faith, Greek, Jesus & Christ, Paul, Soteriology | 4 Comments »

    Reason No. 15: Faith in Christ is attested in the undisputed phrases – 100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive

    Posted by NT Wrong on December 18, 2008

    pistis_christouThe following post is an abridged version of one of the 100 reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive included in my forthcoming book:

    100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive


    Reason No. 15: Faith in Christ is attested in the undisputed phrases

    Furthermore, there is unambiguous evidence for faith in Christ in Paul’s epistles (Schreiner 2001):

      Rom 10.9-14 (“if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…”);
      Gal 3.26 (“in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.”);
      Phil 1.29 (“…believing in Christ…”);
      Philem 1.5 (“…your faith toward the Lord Jesus”);
      c.f. Col 1.4 (“…your faith in Christ Jesus”);
      c.f. Col 2.5 (“…the firmness of your faith in Christ”)

    These explicit references to the faith of humans in Christ occur in and around the more difficult phrase, πίστις Χριστοῦ, and in similar descriptions of Paul’s concept of salvation. So there is a strong prima facie expectation that this more difficult phrase should be interpreted in light of the more secure meaning “faith in Christ”, and no persuasive basis on which to distinguish the meaning.

    By contrast, there is no unambiguous evidence for the faithfulness of Christ to God in Paul’s epistles. (This has not, however, stopped reinterpreters of Paul from straining after a few gnats; e.g. Rom 1.17).

    The evidence thus provides a strong basis for interpreting πίστις Χριστοῦ as an objective genitive.

    References:

  • Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001).
  • Posted in Faith, Greek, Jesus & Christ, Paul, Soteriology | 11 Comments »

    Reason No. 14: No Argument Based on a Disputed Phrase – 100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive

    Posted by NT Wrong on December 18, 2008

    pistis_christouThe following post is an abridged version of one of the 100 reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive included in my forthcoming book:

    100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive


    Reason No. 14: No Argument Based on a Disputed Phrase

    Of great significance for the proponent of the objective genitive interpretation is that, while the faith of believers is mentioned many times in Romans and Galatians, there is no unambiguous explicit reference to the faithfulness of Christ (Schreiner 2001). There is only a conspicuous silence.

    Here’s the references to the faith of human believers in Romans and Galatians:

      Rom 1.5;
      Rom 1.8;
      Rom 1.12;
      Rom 3.27-28;
      Rom 3.30-31;
      Rom 4.5;
      Rom 4.9;
      Rom 4.11-14;
      Rom 4.16;
      Rom 4.19-20;
      Rom 5.1-2;
      Rom 9.30;
      Rom 9.32;
      Rom 10.6;
      Rom 10.8;
      Rom 10.17;
      Rom 11.20;
      Rom 14.23;
      Rom 16.26;
      Gal 2.20;
      Gal 3.2;
      Gal 3.5;
      Gal 3.7-9;
      Gal 3.11-12;
      Gal 3.14;
      Gal 3.26;
      Gal 5.5-6.

    And here’s the references to the faithfulness of Christ in Romans and Galatians:
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    [None]

    James (“Jimmy”) Dunn’s contention is therefore that the subjective genitive interpretation is a “thesis built solely on a disputed phrase”. This slightly overstates the case against the subjective genitive, as the thesis is built on the lack of any explicit references to Christ’s πίστις. It is still open to the proponent of the subjective genitive to argue for some implicit reference. But Dunn is correct that the subjective genitive interpretation has been largely built on the basis of a disputed phrase – hardly a reassuring basis for any interpretation.

    But W.W.B.S.? This is what Barry says:

    “While the objective genitive is supported by the surrounding linguistic context … the subjective genitive rests crucially on the phrases themselves” (2002: 316-17).

    So this provides a strong basis on which to interpret πίστις Χριστοῦ as an objective genitive.

    References:

  • James D. G. Dunn, “Once More, ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ.” Society of Biblical Literature Seminar Papers, 1991: 730-44.
  • R. Barry Matlock, “‘Even the Demons Believe’: Paul and ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 49.3 (2002): 300-318.
  • Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001).
  • Posted in Faith, Greek, Jesus & Christ, Paul, Soteriology | 16 Comments »

    Reason No. 2: (Not) Arguing From The Stats – 100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive

    Posted by NT Wrong on December 17, 2008

    pistis_christouThe following post is an abridged version of one of the 100 reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive included in my forthcoming book:

    100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive


    Reason No. 2: (Not) Arguing From The Stats

    Proponents of the subjective genitive interpretation sometimes cite the work of Robinson (1970) and Howard (1974) in order to demonstrate that the predominant meaning of πίστις is “faithfulness” in the Greek Old Testament and Hellenistic Jewish literature.

    Relying on general statistics in a specific case gives you no more than a prima facie case. At worst, it rides roughshod over the meaning of the text in its specific context. While there is a presumption for “faithfulness” in the overall statistics, there is no such easy presumption in respect of the New Testament occurrences of πίστις, given that the New Testament usage demonstrates a marked increase in the use of the term to denote “faith/trust in”. Barry Matlock (2000:18) demonstrates the increased use of πίστις to mean “faith/trust in” by the time of the New Testament writings, based on the listing in E. A. Nida and J. P. Louw’s, Lexical Semantics of the Greek New Testament Based on Semantic Domains.

    While the meaning of πίστις as “faith/trust in” is absent from the Greek Old Testament (as it is in the Biblical Hebrew Vorlage, with אמונה), it is beginning to emerge in 4 Maccabees, Philo and Josephus (Matlock 2000: 18-19). And already in the Qumran interpretation of Habakkuk 2.4, a passage central to the discussion of πίστις Χριστοῦ in Romans and Galatians, אמונה denotes “trust in” or “loyalty to” the Teacher of Righteousness (1QpHab 8.2-3). This trend continues in the New Testament writings, where Jesus is the recipient of human trust and faith.

    References:

  • George Howard, “The Faith of Christ,” Expository Times 85 (1974): 213-214
  • R. Barry Matlock, Objective Genitive Man, “Detheologizing the ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ Debate: Cautionary Remarks from a Lexical Semantic Perspective.” Novum Testamentum 42.1 (2000): 1-23.
  • D. W. B. Robinson, “Faith of Jesus Christ: A New Testament Debate,” Reformed Theological Review 29 (1970): 71-81
  • Posted in Faith, Greek, Jesus & Christ, Paul, Soteriology | 2 Comments »

    Reason No. 1: Semantic Fallacies – 100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive

    Posted by NT Wrong on December 17, 2008

    pistis_christouThis is the first of 100 reasons why πίστις Χριστοῦ (and variations) should be interpreted primarily as an objective genitive in the letters of Paul. The post is an abridged version of one of the 100 reasons included in my forthcoming book:

    100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive

    Did I say ‘primarily’ interpreted as an objective genitive? Yes indeed. I say ‘primarily’, because the objective meaning (having human faith in Christ) is, on examination, the main gist of the phrase in Paul’s writings. So I guess I’m not entirely excluding a secondary meaning, all mixed up in Paul’s mysterious way of thinking, as evidenced in his letters, which involves Christ’s own faithfulness to God in carrying out his salvific mission on Earth.

    A few of my 100 reasons are rebuttals of arguments for alternative interpretations, which must also be provided to those who have wallowed in false understanding. In particular the (faddish) subjective genitive interpretation gets a pants-down spanking. Like in this first one…

    * * * * *


    Reason No. 1: Semantic Fallacies

    It is generally agreed that the meaning of πίστις ranges from faith/trust/confidence to faithfulness/trustworthiness, encompassing a fair few other meanings ‘inbetween’. Like all attempts at translation, there is no 1:1 correspondence between πίστις and any one English term. With this concept vaguely in mind, and only vaguely, Richard Hays argues that it is a “semantic fallacy” for his opponents to make a clear distinction between the two meanings of the term noted above, given that the Greek term connotes both meanings (2002: 295). It would mean that you couldn’t ever interpret Paul as referring to “faith in Christ”, because πίστις must also mean “faithfulness”, and it’s impossible to have “faithfulness in Christ” (well, at least that seems to be the rationale behind Hays’ objection).

    If Hays were correct, he would be right to conclude that his opponents’ argument is fundamentally flawed. And this is what he does in fact conclude:

    “Indeed, [James] Dunn’s whole argument depends on making a clear distinction between “faith” and “faithfulness” [emphasis added]:” (Hays 2002: 295).

    The argument sounds kind of convincing, in particular because Hays has labelled his argument against the objective genitive with the very scary term, “semantic fallacy”. But the argument only appears convincing up until the point at which you realise that it is Hays himself who is making the semantic fallacy.

    How? If a word takes a wide variety of meanings according to various contexts, it can still quite plausibly take one of those meanings in one particular context. Hays’ position is itself a fallacy of insisting on the diachronic range from ‘faith’ to ‘faithfulness’ in every case the word is employed. The fallacy consists of an illegitimate transfer of the totality of the diachronic range onto a particular occurrence, whether that involves denotation or, as in Hays’ contention, “connotation”. Or, in Barr’s terminology, it is a clear case of “illegitimate totality transfer”:

    “The error that arises when the meaning of a word (understood as the total series of relations in which it is used in the literature) is read into a particular case as its sense and implication there, may be called ‘illegitimate totality transfer’” (Barr 1961: 218)

    Barry Matlock makes a fairly similar criticism, in a couple of his landmark articles which tore apart the fragile foundations of the subjective genitive interpretation (2000: 6; 2002: 315). The term πίστις can simply mean either “faith” (e.g. Mk 11.22) or “faithfulness” (Rom 3.3), depending on the (so important) context. So it is, rather, a “semantic” fallacy to insist that it must mean both in any given context.

    References:

    • James Barr, Semantic Fallacy Detector Man, The Semantics of Biblical Language (Glasgow: OUP, 1961), 218).
    • Richard Hays, Subjective Genitive Man, The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3.1—4.11. Rev. Ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.
    • R. Barry Matlock, Objective Genitive Man, “Detheologizing the ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ Debate: Cautionary Remarks from a Lexical Semantic Perspective.” Novum Testamentum 42.1 (2000): 1-23.
    • R. Barry Matlock, “’Even the Demons Believe’: Paul and ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 49.3 (2002): 300-318, 315.

    Posted in Faith, Greek, Jesus & Christ, Paul, Soteriology | 6 Comments »

    100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive

    Posted by NT Wrong on December 15, 2008

    Over the next few weeks I will be posting excerts from my forthcoming book, 100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive. The book was originally submitted to the Very Short Introductions series as Pistis Christou: A Very Short Introduction. However, after its unconditional and, frankly, unkind rejection from OUP (“We believe the topic could only possibly be of interest to a half dozen or so people who obviously don’t get out enough”), I have been forced to seek an alternative publishing route (TBA).

    Why πίστις Χριστοῦ? The debate over the meaning(s) of the phrase might at first appear to be a rather esoteric, subtle, and arcane grammatical dispute, involving a mere eight occurrences of the phrase in Paul’s “genuine” epistles, to wit:

    • διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (“through faith[/fulness] in [/of] Jesus Christ”; Rom 3.22);
    • ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ (“by faith[/fulness] in [/of] Jesus”; Rom 3.26);
    • διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (“through faith[/fulness] in [/of] Jesus Christ”; Gal 2.16a);
    • ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ (“by faith[/fulness] in [/of] Jesus”; Gal 2.16b);
    • ἐν πίστει … τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ (“by faith[/fulness] in [/of] the Son of God”; Gal 2.20);
    • ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (“by faith[/fulness] in [/of] Jesus Christ”; Gal 3.22);
    • διὰ τῆς πίστεως Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ (“through faith[/fulness] in [/of] Christ Jesus”; Gal 3.26, only in manuscript P46);
    • διὰ πίστεως Χριστοῦ (“through faith[/fulness] in [/of] Christ”; Phil 3.9).
    • also: Eph 3.12; 4.13

    At the grammatical level, the essence of the problem is whether the phrase πίστις Χριστοῦ is:
    1. subjective, referring to a personal attribute or action of Christ (“the faith, or faithfulness, of Christ”) that achieves salvation, or
    2. objective, referring to the profession and orientation of “faith in Christ”, by which an individual can be identified as ‘saved’, or
    3. (but less popularly) some other genitive meaning, eg attributive.

    The subjective genitive would primarily refer to the faith of Christ (to Christ’s salvific work of faith(/fulness)), whereas the objective genitive would primarily refer to the faith of the one who is ‘saved’ (to their human faith in Christ).

    Yet it becomes clear that the dispute is bigger than mere points of grammar. Most of these phrases occur in passages which are central to Paul’s theology (Rom 3-4 and Gal 2-3). The topic is central to our interpretation of how Paul understood salvation. And Paul’s ideas are fairly much central to Christianity itself, so it fundamentally affects the Christian concept of salvation. It has been suggested, with little exaggeration, that the debate has the potential to “lay the groundwork for an entirely different paradigm in the theology of the New Testament” (Sigve Tonstad, “ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ: Reading Paul in a New Paradigm,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 40.1 (2002): 37-59).

    Posted in Faith, Greek, Jesus & Christ, Paul, Soteriology | 6 Comments »

    Adam & Eve – Uncovered

    Posted by NT Wrong on December 14, 2008

    Kal has released his latest animation, Adam & Eve – Uncovered.

    His animation asks that old question of Genesis chapters 2-3: if Adam and Eve only had knowledge of good and evil after they ate the fruit, then how could God hold them accountable for eating it before they acquired moral knowledge?

    Posted in Evil, Humour, Pentateuch | 3 Comments »

    Breaking Wind from Your Ass – Biblical Scholar Slips a Fart Joke into the Bible

    Posted by NT Wrong on December 12, 2008

    A Biblical Scholar's Fart Joke?

    The (alleged) fart of Achsah: A Biblical Scholar

    There’s a story in Joshua 15.15-19 (repeated almost verbatim in Judges 1.11-15), in which Caleb offers his daughter Achsah to any warrior who can defeat the city of Debir. The warrior Othniel accepts Caleb’s challenge and successfully conquers Debir. As Debir lies to the south of Hebron, towards the Negev, it’s a dry and dusty place. On arrival in Debir, the new bride Achsah is understandably pissed off at her father for offering her as a prize, particularly because she has ended up in some desert hellhole. So Achsah requests her new husband to ask Caleb to give her a pair of wells as well. And Caleb agrees, giving her the region’s famous ‘Upper’ and ‘Lower’ wells.

    When the bride comes to Caleb (Josh 15.18 // Judg 1.14) she does something which is described using a verb which only appears in this story and in Judg 4.21:

    וַתִּצְנַ֖ח מֵעַ֣ל הַחֲמֹ֑ור

    After she does this thing, Caleb asks (apparently in response), “What can I do for you?” (מַה־לָּֽךְ). The interpretive crux is: what has provoked Caleb’s response? There isn’t any obvious cognate for the verb root ṣ-n-ḥ, and as a result there have been a variety of (educated) guesses. The traditional English interpretation has been “alighted” or “dismounted” (from her donkey), although the LXX translates “shouted” (adding that Achsah also “murmered”, in Judges).

    However, G. R. Driver translated it as follows:

    “She broke wind … from her ass.”

    As far as I can tell, Driver first suggested this translation in an article in a book published in 1955 (Mélanges Bibliques rédigés en l’honneur de André Robert). However, he never tired of his farting translation, and the same explanation gets a second (and third) wind in articles from 1964 (ALUOS 4: 6-25) and 1967 (JQR 57: 49-165).

    Before you exclaim, “WTF?”, you should also know that this farting translation was then adopted by a major Bible translation: the New English Bible (NEB) (1970). As it so happened, the Convener of the Old Testament Committee which translated the NEB was one… Sir G. R. Driver. Arthur Gibson, in Biblical Semantic Logic, confirms that Driver admitted to him that the translation was made “at his own insistence” (30). Although Driver’s farting translation made it into print, it was widely ridiculed. And the translation “she broke wind” was eventually changed to “she dismounted” when the NEB was revised [in 1972, and was not included in the NEB’s successor,] the Revised English Bible (1989).

    Driver considered that his farting translaton was “sufficiently proved” from the Akk. cognate ṣanāḥu and the LXX. Although in fact, the LXX of Joshua and Judges has Achsah “shouting” in both accounts. Driver interpreted this ‘shouting’ as an anal noise, without any examples of such an anal usage for what is everywhere an oral noise, and even citing a completely different word for “fart” in Aristophanes. Arthur Gibson (following a proposal by G.E.M Anscombe) dubbed Driver’s interpretation an example of “the anal/oral fallacy” (Biblical Semantic Logic, 31). So the argument from the LXX seems to be quite creative. Furthermore, the Akkadian term ṣanāḥu is a specialist medical term for anal bleeding, and is not used in Akkadian to mean “break wind”. There is in fact another standard Akkadian term for farting; it is ṣarātu (Biblical Semantic Logic, 32).

    Yet Driver also offered one further reason for good measure — Achsah probably farted “as a sign of her disgust” at the dry waterless desert her father had given her husband. Why would Achsah have chosen such a foul sign of her discontent, rather than choosing some more civil means of attracting her new husband’s attention? This is where Driver seals the argument. She was Middle Eastern. Arabs are, not least in the imagination of Sir Godfrey Rolles Driver, a farting and belching lot. That’s how they communicate, don’t you know, what?

    “Such customs persist amongst the Arabs of Transjordan to the present day, as shown by the anonymous traveller’s account [The Times, 6 May 1957, p. 12] of belching as a means of signifying approval of an entertainment. As he was leaving the country, he went to a certain village to say farewell to the head man (muḫtâr) and was not surprised to find that a special banquet had been prepared in his honour; then ‘as, according to custom, I belched my satisfaction after the meal and complimented him in particular on the delicious cooking of the fish, he removed a fish-bone from between his teeth and his eyes twinkled. “Such a pity it tasted a little like donkey,” he said.’ The unchanging East is rapidly changing, but many old customs and habits linger on and can still be cited to illustrate many in the Old Testament, which are now quite unintelligible to Western readers.”
    – Sir G. R. Driver, explaining his farting translation

    So, what makes it really more likely that Achsah farted than, alternatively, emitted a loud oral complaint or perhaps clapped her hands together to attract her husband’s attention? What clinches Driver’s translation is the belching and farting Arabs of the Transjordan, as recorded in The Times newspaper by an anonymous belching English traveller of the exotic Orient. Now, I don’t deny that belching is a compliment to the chef in many parts of the world. But isn’t it interesting how this serves as an explanation of Achsah’s gesture from the top of her ass. Driver notes that the customs of the East are “rapidly changing” — but apparently not enough to make it inappropriate to make this most extraordinary generalisation… and not enough to stop referring to the East as “the unchanging East”!

    You know what I suspect? G. R. Driver was playing a joke. (There’s nothing quite as funny as a fart joke, after all.) This was all a deliberate and elaborate ploy to get the phrase “she broke wind… from her ass” into the Bible. It was something like a public school dare. But G. R. Driver’s joke has now been exposed.

    Fortunately, Sir Godfrey died in 1975, comfortable in the knowledge that he had slipped a fart joke into the Bible.

    Posted in Biblical interpretation, Colonialism, Historical Books | 9 Comments »

    Jewish and Greek Afterlife – No Great Difference

    Posted by NT Wrong on December 10, 2008

    Is immortality exclusively a Greek concept and bodily resurrection exclusively a Jewish concept? No. There’s not such a great separation between Jewish and Greek conceptions of the afterlife according to an article by Stephen J. Bedard in the latest issue of the Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism.

    “Traditionally Greek thought has been put in the category of the immortal soul and Jewish thought in the category of a bodily resurrection. However, this oversimplification disguises the true picture. In reality, both Greek and Jewish writings express both an immortal soul and some kind of transformation of the body or at least a second stage of afterlife.”
    – Stephen J. Bedard, ‘Hellenistic Influence on the Idea of Resurrection in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature.’ Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 5 (2008): 174-189, 188.

    Bedard discusses Greek ideas of a two-stage afterlife in the Platonic Myth of Er, or what N. T. Wright refers to as “life after life after death”. He then discusses the Egyptian myth of the bodily resurrection of Osiris, opposing those who would reject its description as bodily resurrection. Bedard then discusses Greek concept of apotheosis, relating them to angelic transformation in Daniel. Lastly, he provides a couple of examples where Greek concepts influenced Jewish literature.

    The article thus contains some good counterexamples to the oversimplification of the concept of Jewish/Christian “resurrection” that appears in many apologetic works of New Testament scholarship. So why has there been such a concerted effort to pretend that the early Christian conceptions of resurrection were unique? Bedard provided his own answer towards the end of his article:

    “Despite the best effort of scholars such as N. T. Wright, foreign influence on Jewish theological development cannot be denied… The only reason to deny Greek influence, as Wright attempts to do, is the mistaken notion that Jewish equals truth and Greek equals falsehood.”
    – Stephen J. Bedard, ‘Hellenistic Influence on the Idea of Resurrection in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature.’ Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 5 (2008): 174-189, 189.

    Spotted on Ekaterini’s informative blog.

    Posted in Death, Early Jewish literature, Greek texts, Resurrection | 4 Comments »