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Archive for the ‘Pentateuch’ Category

Noah’s Ark Animation

Posted by NT Wrong on December 27, 2008

Kal the Animator is a funny man.

“Shit! This is going to take me 120 years!!” – Noah

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Posted in Humour, Pentateuch | Comments Off on Noah’s Ark Animation

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 »

Evidence of The Flood – The Land of Israel bears witness to a Great Flood

Posted by NT Wrong on December 7, 2008

Dr Rochelle Altman recently emailed me some very interesting photographs from Wadi Tavya, which is at the intersection of the Southern Judean Hills and the Negev Highlands. These photographs provide geological evidence of a widespread flood in the region, from approximately 6,500+ years ago.

The main geological evidence consists of terraces which have been cut into the banks of the Wadi. The head of the Tavya is 690 meters above sea level. Rochelle explains the significance of such terraces:

“Water erosion on the sides of mountains appears in two forms: vertical striations and circular cuts. Vertical striations are caused by rain. Circular cuts are caused by circulating water. As the water evaporates, these circular cuts leave a stepped series of what are called [“terraces”.] The Great Salt Lake in Utah is surrounded by these [terraces, there referred to as “benches”], which have been cut by the circulating water.

The exceedingly dry climate at both the Great Salt Lake and the Dead Sea preserves this ancient evidence of high flood waters.”
– Rochelle Altman

Also, the banks of the Wadi are so steep that they have not been affected by human settlement. In this photograph (“Figure 1”) the terraces are clearly visible:

Terraces on the north side of Wadi

Figure 1: Terraces on the north side of Wadi

“Figure 1 is part of the North side of the Wadi. In this photo we can see five different levels of arced benches cut into the side of the wadi wall by circulating water. In what bears a resemblance to raised eyebrows above the first level of benches, we can see where waves, probably caused by a violent storm, surged from side to side of the wadi. This “eyebrow” area above the series of benches and below the houses has never been “improved” by mankind. For one thing, the mountain side is far too steep. To climb over this portion of the hillside would require climbing equipment.”
– Rochelle Altman

There is also a debris layer above the terraces at Wadi Tavya, dated to ca. 6,500 years ago, which provides further evidence of this ancient shore-line. Rochelle Altman suspects that the head of the Wadi Tavya may have been a hanging lake before ca. 6,500 years ago, which became flooded and then ‘burst its banks’ before carving out a path down the Wadi. The terraces cease some 3-4 kms further down the Wadi, indicating what would be the end of the one-time hanging lake of ca. 6,500 years ago.

The flooding was a devastating event that Rochelle Altman believes “would have been carried down the centuries by the ‘memory men’ of each peoples.” The impact of the destruction resulted in stories such as the Sumerian flood story, Mesopotamian Gilgamesh, the biblical story of Noah’s Ark, and the Greek Deucalion – written between 5,000 and 2,000 years ago. And these are just the ones which have survived.

That the terraces were caused by flood waters is shown by the fact that the terraces are at the same levels on both sides of the Wadi. See Figure 2:

2-matching-terraces-both-sides-of-wadi

Figure 2: Terraces on both sides of Wadi

The terraces plausibly provide some of the present-day remains of one of the material factors involved in the production of the memory of flood stories, in the ancient Near East and Judea. An ancient age of flooding, some 6,500 to 10,000 years ago made such an impact on people that they told stories about it for thousands of years. And we still have the remains of recorded stories dating from 2,000 to 5,000 years ago. Thus, the ‘memory’ of the biblical flood story evolved from a combination of natural phenomenon (flooding during the first pluvial age) and oral/literary narrativity (the stories of the “memory men”).

Posted in Archaeology, Historiography, Pentateuch | Comments Off on Evidence of The Flood – The Land of Israel bears witness to a Great Flood

Torah-readings in Cartoon Form – from G-dCast

Posted by NT Wrong on December 4, 2008

G-dcast.com is a website that is planning “to tell the story of the whole Torah, over the course of a year” by releasing 54 Cartoon-parshas or Cartoon Torah portions.

Here’s Parshat Varyetze, for 6th of Kislev, 5769 (Genesis 28.10–32.3):

g-dcast

“Check out a different narrator for 4 minutes each week – some tell stories, some sing country songs.
(And then there’s the hip hoppers, too.)”

Posted in Pentateuch | Comments Off on Torah-readings in Cartoon Form – from G-dCast

When Bible Scholars Dream of Utopia

Posted by NT Wrong on December 2, 2008

“According to Deuteronomy the Israelites are commanded to exterminate all of the Canaanites and not to leave a soul of them living (Deut 7:1-2; 20:16-17). Such a policy, obliging the extermination of the whole population of the land whether fighting or passive, is utopian and is indeed unheard of in the historical accounts of Israel… the command of Herem of all the Canaanites in Deuteronomy is a utopian program that reflects the ongoing bitter struggle with the Canaanite religion and culture from the time of Elijah until the time of Josiah.”
– Moshe Weinfeld, Deuteronomy 1-11: 52-53

Hmmmmm… surely Moshe Weinfeld must have meant that the idea of killing entire populations in Palestine was utopian to the authors of Deuteronomy. Or could that be his idea of utopia, too? It’s a little bit unclear to me.

But this isn’t just a matter of the absence of qualification (‘to the authors of Deuteronomy this idea of pregnant-mother-slashing, baby-head-smashing, mass carnage must have been a dream come true!’). When Weinfeld does comment on the ‘utopian’ genocide, he seems instead to justify it. This ‘utopian’ genocide is justifiable as some real-life (for Weinfeld) “ongoing bitter struggle” with abominable, non-Yahweh-worshipping Canaanites (53). It’s a good thing, just as the Bible tells me so. Nay, not just ‘good’ — it’s a wet-dream!!

I know there’s a complex interrelationship between utopia and dystopia, and they’re hard to distinguish at the best of times. But I might have thought that a description of the genocide of Palestinian peoples, made in the late twentieth century, might have deserved some further comment in addition to the unqualified “that’s utopia!” Bloody genocide is certainly not what I think of when I get all dreamy and romantic.

But my dreams might be different from most biblical scholars.

Posted in Biblical interpretation, Justice, Pentateuch, Violence, War | 5 Comments »

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

Posted by NT Wrong on November 28, 2008

6_days

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 »

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?

Trogodytes and Horites – Troglodytes Alike

Posted by NT Wrong on November 11, 2008

James Davila posted recently on a book review by Binoy Barman in the Lebanon Daily Star which reports on Cleopatra’s cunning linguistic skills:

“Cleopatra was accomplished and had an attractive personality. She had command over several languages, including Egyptian, Hebrew, Aramaic, Parthian, Median, Syriac, [Ethiopian] and Trogodite (many of them are extinct now), besides Latin and Greek.”

Trogodyte is the language of the people on the sea coast of Egypt, north of ancient Ethiopia, including the main sea-port at Berenice. Here’s a map from ‘Trogodytica: The Red Sea Littoral in Ptolemaic Times’, G. W. Murray and E. H. Warmington The Geographical Journal, Vol. 133, No. 1 (Mar., 1967), pp. 24-33, 29. The Nile is on the left-hand side, and the Red Sea on the right:

trogodyticum

These Trogodytes seem to have close contacts with the Nabataeans, whose territory stretches up to the land represented by biblical Edom and Moab from the bottom of the coast of the Gulf of Aqaba. The Trogodytes lived on both sides of the Red Sea, in both the Eastern Desert of Egypt and the Arabian desert. According to the article above, Codex Vaticanus of the Septuagint translates ‘Sukkiim” in 2 Chron 12.3 as “Trogodyte”, grouping them with Shishak’s invading force, Libyans, and Ethiopians.

I’m wondering whether it’s a coincidence or not, but a number of ancient Greek and Romans confused “Trogodyte’ with the more familiar word “Troglodyte” (meaning ‘cave-dweller’). The Nabataeans were often identified as cave-dwellers, too. The coincidence that I have in mind is the legendary race of ‘Horites’ mentioned in various places in the Bible, located in Edom or Seir, which was later taken over by the Nabataean Arabs. They are identified with the legendary Rephaim in Deuteronomy. ‘Horite’ (whether it originally derived from Egyptian Kharu, or not) may be a play on Heb. chor (“cave”). If ancient Greco-Roman writers confuse a geographical term from the Red Sea coast with the term for ‘cave-dwellers’, based on a common association of the inhabitants with cave-dwelling, could this phenomenon be related to the Hebrew description of people as ‘cave-dwellers’ in roughly the same geographic region?

Posted in Historical Books, Pentateuch | 1 Comment »

Shanks: ‘Deuteronomy Vindicated as Authentic Words of Moses!’

Posted by NT Wrong on November 5, 2008

REUTERS, TEL AVIV – Proceedings in the ‘Second Biggest Forgery Trial of the Century’ ground to a halt yesterday. Judge Moshe Yadin refused to hear the case against ‘Ezra the Scribe’, who was alleged to to have forged the Book of Deuteronomy.

“After the best part of two-and-a-half thousand years, I don’t see how evidence can be produced that will create a prima facie case against Ezra,” stated Judge Yadin in a Tel Aviv Court.

“And besides, the defendant is dead,” added the Judge.

“This decision completely vindicates the authenticity of the Book of Deuteronomy,” exclaimed a jubilant Kesev Shanks.

“If a Criminal Court is not the appropriate forum in which to determine delicate archaeological, philological, redactional, and paleographic questions, then what is?” questioned Shanks.

The Israel Antiquities Authority is presently considering whether it will reprosecute the forgery case, but with a new group of defendants – the mysterious ‘D’ and ‘Dtr’, and their alleged accomplice-after-the-fact, ‘P’.

Shanks is currently planning a ‘Tour of The Land of Moab Across the Jordan According to the Authentic Book of Deuteronomy’. Ticket prices begin at $18,500, and will include some of the superstars of the paleographic world as guides.

In related news, the case of U.S. vs. Unnamed Parties Who Removed A Stone From an Unknown Jerusalem Tomb has been thrown out of a New York Court before it was allowed to reach trial – again, for lack of evidence. “Surely this Court decision vindicates the historical resurrection of Jesus,” exclaimed jubilant apologist Gerald R. Habermas.

Posted in Gospels, Historiography, Humour, Jesus & Christ, Pentateuch | 9 Comments »

Cunny Punning in Hosea 2

Posted by NT Wrong on November 2, 2008

Over the last couple of weeks I have had an opportunity to read quite a few biblioblogs which were new to me. One such biblioblog is the translation-orientated blog, He Is Sufficient by ElShaddai Edwards. Not too long ago, ElShaddai posted on Hebrew punning in a post entitled Cunning punning in Genesis 3. His post discussed the pun between ‘arum (“cunning”; “wise”) and ‘arummim (“naked”) in Genesis 2-3. This was followed up by a post by Mike Sangrey from Better Bibles, entitled Should Translations Run with Puns? Along with further posts by ElShaddai concerning a pun in Susanna and a pun in John 15.2-3, J. K. Gayle of Aristotle’s Feminist Subject followed up with four posts on puns.

The discussion reminded me of a possible pun in Hosea 2, and its translation by Alice Keefe. The passage is Hosea 2.11-12 [English: 2.9-10]:

לכן אשוב ולקחתי

    דגני בעתו
    ותירושי במועדו

והצלתי

    צמרי ופשׁתי
    לכסות את־ערותה׃

ועתה אגלה

    את־נבלתה
    לעיני מאהביה

ואישׁ לא־יצילנה מידי׃

“Therefore I will return and take back

    my grain in its day
    and my wine in its season;

and I will snatch away

    my wool and my flax
    (which were) to cover her pudenda;

and today I will uncover

    her xxxx
    in the eyes of her lovers.

No man shall snatch her from my hand.”

The word ערותה (“her pudenda”) is formed from the same root as the word for “naked” in Genesis 2-3, which was discussed by ElShaddai. The term frequently connotes shame, as it does in both Genesis 2-3 and Hosea 2. So, I have translated it using the slightly archaic term “pudenda”, which in both meaning and etymology also connotes shame. In Hosea 2.11-12, the loss of covering for the woman’s pudenda is paralleled by the “uncovering” of נבלתה. This hapax which I represented by “her xxxx” in the initial translation above is often translated “her shame”, based on the root נבל (“fool”) — as in, eg, the Commentaries by Andersen and Freedman, McComiskey and Macintosh.

But in Woman’s Body and the Social Body in Hosea (2001), Alice Keefe suggests the following translation:

“Now I will uncover her shameful cunt before the eyes of her lovers, and no one will rescue her.” (p. 127, cf. p. 215; cf. Wolff, p. 37).

Keefe relies on an Akkadian cognate, baštu/baltu, meaning “genitalia” for translation of נבלתה. Yet whether נבלתה means “her cunt” or “her shame”, the reference is the same: she is being exposed naked for the abjective gaze of other men. For Keefe, this offensive situation, in which Yahweh offers the woman up to be raped, justifies her own “deliberately offensive translation of the term”. And it may well be the case that the principle of ‘the end justifies the means’ is the only foundation for such a translation — for the נבל root is attested elsewhere in cases of abusive sexual conduct in the rape of Dinah (Gen 34.7), the Levite’s concubine (Judg 19.23, 24; 20.6, 10), and the rape of Tamar (2 Sam 13.12).

However, it’s still an odd form of the נבל root in Hos 2.12 — just like the odd form of “naked” in Gen 2.25. If the odd form of Gen 2.25 is drawing attention to the pun which follows in Gen 3.1, might this also be the same for Hos 2.12?

If this is indeed the case — while the word נבלתה might not be based on the בלת root (“cunt”), and should not be translated as “cunt” — by forming a word from the root נבל in such an odd way it might still be alluding to the term for ‘”cunt”.

There’s a good example in Shakespeare. While he doesn’t explicitly use the offensive term “cunt”, the Bard slips it in a few times, in the form of a pun. Here’s an example from Hamlet which makes a very similar pun to what I think might be happening in Hosea:

    HAMLET
    Lady, shall I lie in your lap? (Lying down at OPHELIA’s feet)

    OPHELIA
    No, my lord.

    HAMLET
    I mean, my head upon your lap?

    OPHELIA
    Ay, my lord.

    HAMLET
    Do you think I meant country matters?

    OPHELIA
    I think nothing, my lord.

    HAMLET
    That’s a fair thought to lie between maids’ legs.

Hamlet’s reply, “Do you think I meant country matters?” is an indirect way in which to express the carnal connotations of lying between Ophelia’s legs. It makes much more sense understood also as a rather naughty pun on what lies between Ophelia’s legs: “Do you think I meant country matters?” And Hamlet (positioned here at Ophelia’s legs) subsequently continues his naughty puerile banter, making the existence of a pun fairly certain.

Likewise, I suggest that, in Hos 2.11-12, while the root נבל (“fool”) provides the literal meaning of the word, the root בלת (“cunt”) provides Hosea’s pun. This is, after all, a bawdy piece of performance art from Hosea, playing on popular patriarchal conceptions in order to raise a warning about Yahweh’s own patriarchal jealousy.

What’s left is how to translate this passage, in order to retain the original cunt-pun. I suggest this:

I will snatch away my wool and my flax which were to cover her pudenda, and today I will expose her pussyfooting in the eyes of her lovers.

Posted in Pentateuch, Prophets, Pun | 8 Comments »