Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Prophetic Literature or Prophet?

It is not unusual to find the expression “paradigm shift” in recent overviews of research on the Hebrew Bible. This is also the case in an overview of research on the prophets of the Hebrew Bible by Martti Nissinen (2009), who primarily describes the English-speaking discussion in considerable detail. Uwe Becker (2004), who also considers German-speaking research, is slightly more careful and speaks of the “rediscovery of the prophetic books.” More or less the same is meant in each case: the prophet as an individual has been left behind and attention is given instead to the prophetic literature in the Hebrew Bible. This trend within research can be observed beginning in the 1970s and has resulted in the rediscovery of old observations and the formation of new questions.—The Prophets of Israel, page 110

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

An ancient magisterium?

The interpretation of the biblical text appears in any case to be directed or stimulated by exegetical problems arising from the received biblical text itself. These problems are solved by reference to contemporary history, which is the situation of the Qumran community, in accordance with the hermeneutical rule of the “Teacher of Righteousness” that determines to which time and to whom the predictions of the biblical prophets relate.—The Prophets of Israel, page 104

<idle musing>
Of course, we all have our own "magisterium." We just don't often acknowledge it, do we? We always are interpreting things from our own context. Usually we don't even realize it, it's that subconscious. I just finished a book entitled Thinking, Fast and Slow (watch for excerpts soon) that discusses the role of the subconscious in our day-to-day functioning.

The fully rational human is an illusion. To realize we can never step fully outside ourselves is what Postmodernism is supposed to have taught us—despite what other side effects it might have had : ) The problem is we didn't learn it. I guess that's one more reason we need the "hound of heaven," the Holy Spirit, to break through our subconscious walls and show us who we are and what we can be in Christ. Now there's a phrase that is loaded with meaning, "in Christ."
</idle musing>

Friday, December 02, 2016

Still asking the same questions 2000 years later

We find the pesharim taken up with the same questions that concern modern scholarship. Who is the second-person singular feminine, the second-person singular masculine, the third-person singular masculine, or the third-person plural masculine in Nahum 1? Or, where is the “bloody city” in Nah 3:1, given that it is also spoken about in Isa 1 and Hab 2:12 and there identified with Jerusalem or an Israelite city? Or, where is the ruined Nineveh, when we are told in the Book of Jonah that Nineveh converted to the true God and escaped destruction? Or, where is the “No-Amon” that Nineveh took sides with and is associated with idol worship in Jer 46 and Ezek 30? These and other questions result from a close reading of the biblical text, especially if we consider the text not only in relation to the book (as we normally do) but interpret it verse-by-verse, cross-referencing it with biblical writings and other texts (as is common in Jewish exegesis).—The Prophets of Israel, pages 102-3

Thursday, December 01, 2016

The more things change...

Those who live in the biblical history and locate their own time in it will regard the books of the biblical prophets as scripture that directly concerns them and their own time. As we have already seen, this is how the hermeneutical rules of the “Teacher of Righteousness” understood things in the pesher on the Book of Habakkuk. Thus, it would be strange if the interpretations in the pesharim had no substantial relationship to their biblical original whatsoever, apart from catchwords and other technical interpretive links. This question emerges especially in our example from the pesher on Nahum, where the external enemies of the seventh century B.C.E., Nineveh and No-Amon, are understood in relation to the Israelite powers, Ephraim and Manasseh, that correspond to the community’s contemporary enemies within Israel and Judah in the first century B.C.E.—The Prophets of Israel, page 101

<idle musing>
Of course, we could apply the same logic to some (most?) interpretations of scripture in the 21st century, couldn't we? And that's why a Christocentric hermeneutic is so important! If the Bible is all about Jesus (and as a Christian, I believe it is), then we should make Jesus the center of our hermeneutic.

Of course, how that plays out in our hermeneutics is the rub, isn't it? Which Jesus do we use as the model? The incarnate, cruciform one in the Gospels, Acts, and most of the Epistles? Or the triumphant, conquering king of Revelation? Of course, I would argue that the conquering king is really the lamb, slain from the foundation of the world. But, others take the triumphant messiah as their starting point and reinterpret all the servant/cruciform stuff through the militaristic lens. And so, in some ways, we are back to square one, aren't we?

This is really about one's presuppositions, not about scripture at all. But it influences—actually, it controls—our interpretation of scripture. If I start with the presupposition that the U.S. is God's chosen vessel (and a holy one, too), then I will interpret scripture much differently than if I start with the presupposition that, yes, God uses the U.S. in the world, but it is not God's chosen nation—unless you want to say that it is chosen in the same way that God chose Assyria—and then judged her when she overstepped her bounds (see Habakkuk).

Just another
</idle musing>

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The law of unintended consequences

Just ran across this from Bee Culture Magazine: Neonicotinoid Pesticides Foster Spider Mite Outbreaks
Ada Szczepaniec, an agricultural entomologist at Texas A&M University, investigated the outbreak. Her study found that it was not just the elms, but also crops such as corn and soybeans that had been sprayed by the pesticide also showed spider mite outbreaks. When investigating soybeans, she found that exposure to the neonicotinoid pesticides altered their genes involved with the cell wall and defense against pests, and changed them in such a way that the plant became more vulnerable to infestation. Other researchers noticed correlation as well, and recorded spider mite outbreaks on corn and other crops.

As well as spider mite outbreaks, the pesticide has had other quantitative effects as well, like an outbreak of slugs, due to the pesticide killing off their predators.

I hate slugs! The last thing we need is more of those in the garden! Of course, I also am against the use of pesticides in general. We're basically killing ourselves...

Hermeneutics in the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Qumran community wrestled with the biblical tradition. Repeatedly they sought to reconstruct and interpret both their history and their present situation in light of biblical, and especially prophetic, citations. In doing so, they also hoped to gain a perspective on the future, the “end of days.”—The Prophets of Israel, page 96

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Print versus e-book

Apparently somebody suggested that libraries are vanity building projects. And a librarian took the time to respond. The whole thing is worth a read (even though it is longish), but this paragraph jumped out at me:
It will simply not be enough for our colleges to crank out graduates described by one of my colleagues as “drones with smartphones.” We need our librarians to work alongside faculty in helping our students climb the ladder of digital literacy to information fluency, and from there, to equip them with the cognitive grounding in critical thinking so important for taking those deep dives into knowing and understanding. Unless further advances produce e-reading devices that can more fully engage the human brain’s perceptual and cognitive subsystems, solid research evidence compels the conclusion that we must provide our students with a substantial exposure to printed texts. (emphasis original)

Textual transmission and authority

The biblical manuscripts from the Dead Sea afford us a unique view into textual transmission during the Greco-Roman period. The habits and customs of the ancient scribes testify to their absolute fidelity to the text. Nevertheless, there was no single standard text, and alterations such as the one we have described were quite possible. Indeed, the manuscripts from the Dead Sea give the impression of considerable diversity. Thus, for example, the great Isaiah scroll (1QIsaa) represents its own text type in comparison to the version preserved in the Masoretic Text. Fragments have been preserved of the Book of Jeremiah, some of which follow the Masoretic version (4QJera, c, e), while some attest to the short, divergent text of the Greek translation of the Septuagint (4QJerb, d). At the same time, there are also harmonizing and standardizing revisions, to which the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Twelve Prophets from Wadi Murabaʾat (Mur 88) and Nahal Hever (8Hevl) testify.

How to explain this diversity is a much-discussed problem. Some postulate an original text, or one as close as we can get to it, from which the diversity developed. Others, however, argue for textual traditions that originated independently of each other. Given the high percentage of agreement among the texts, the first possibility seems to be more likely. At any rate, it is clear that the diversity did not alter the authority of the text and the esteem in which it was held. There was anything but a slavish word-for-word fidelity. Even if readings differed, for the scribes and readers of the biblical books, the same text always contained the word of God for all time, and consequently for them and their time.—The Prophets of Israel, page 94

<idle musing>
I'm reminded of a snippet from a forthcoming book from Augsburg/Fortress, Isaiah Old and New: Exegesis, Intertextuality, and Hermeneutics:

…however uncomfortable it may make some modern interpreters of the Bible, in the NT era there was assumed to be a fluidity to these scriptural texts such that even the paraphrastic Greek versions of the MT could still be assumed to be the Word of God, and one was free to go with the version which more nearly made one’s point, in this case a christological point. The canon of the OT was relatively fixed and closed in the NT era for most books, such as Isaiah, but the text itself was not absolutely fixed at that juncture.
For some this is indeed a problem, isn't it? But my faith is built on Christ and his faithfulness, not on the Bible. Yes, the Bible reveals Christ, but I know enough about textual transmission to question inerrancy and it's straightjacket approach to the text. As the hymn says:
My hope is built on nothing less than Zondervan and Moody Press..
No, that's wrong; let's try again:
My hope is built on nothing less than Scofield's Notes and Moody Press...
Still wrong! How about this:
My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness
And the scripture bears witness to that, so I guess you would have to classify my hermeneutic as Christocentric.

Here's what Ron Hendel says in his recent collection of essays, Steps to a New Edition of the Hebrew Bible (from chapter 11, I don't have the page number handy):

As Roland Bainton observes, for Luther “inspiration did not insure inerrancy in all details. Luther recognized mistakes and inconsistencies in Scripture and treated them with lofty indifference because they did not touch the heart of the Gospel.” [Roland H. Bainton, “The Bible in the Reformation,” in The Cambridge History of the Bible. Volume 3: The West from the Reformation to the Present Day, ed. Stanley L. Greenslade (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963), 12] Where minor errors occur, as when Matthew 27:9 mistakenly cites Jeremiah instead of Zechariah, Luther responds: “Such points do not bother me particularly.” [ibid., 13] Similarly, in his commentaries Calvin is not bothered by errors in the text where they are unrelated to matters of faith and salvation. [See Brian A. Gerrish, “The Word of God and the Words of Scripture: Luther and Calvin on Biblical Authority,” in The Old Protestantism and the New: Essays on the Reformation Heritage (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 62–63] He acknowledges minor errors without anxiety, as in the contradictions among the Gospels: “It is well known that the Evangelists were not very concerned with observing the time sequences.” [John Calvin, Commentaires sur le Nouveau Testament. Tome premier: Sur la concordance ou harmonie composée de trois évangélistes (Paris, Meyrueis, 1854), 319 (at Luke 8:19): “on sçait bien que les Evangélistes ne se sont pas guères arrestez à observer l’ordre des temps.” Cited in William J. Bouwsma, John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 121–22]
So I stand in the finest tradition, lest you be tempted to paint me as a heretic : )

Just an
</idle musing>

Monday, November 28, 2016

Thought for the day

“The calm words of the wise are better heeded than the racket caused by a ruler among fools.
Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one incompetent person destroys much good.”
Ecclesiastes 9:17-18 CEB

Ancient commentaries

Decoding the “mystery” required a special form of interpretation. Precisely this is the idea behind the word pesher “interpretation,” the technical term for commentary on the prophets. This term has a long prehistory. On the one hand, it belongs to the realm of the professional interpreter of dreams and mysteries (cf. Dan 2–5); on the other hand, it means the knowledge that the ancient Near Eastern scribe has about omens and divination. Scribal learning and (prophetic) inspiration do not exclude one another; rather, they originally belong together.—The Prophets of Israel, page 92