Friday, April 29, 2016

Toward the absence of being

Taking this approach further still we might perhaps consider evil, when portrayed in terms of watery chaos or sea beasts, as a tendency in creation to move away from being and form towards nothingness. Here I am picking up on Augustine’s teaching that evil is not a thing, a substance, but a lack in a thing, a privation. Evil is when good things fall away from their nature.— The Biblical Cosmos, pages 202–3

Thursday, April 28, 2016

God's ongoing creation

At a metaphysical level, the dragon motif also speaks truth. The biblical models of creation picture it as something that left to itself would collapse back into chaos. The world does not sustain itself or order itself. It is God who “in the beginning” ordered reality according to his Logos, thereby creating cosmos, and it is God who holds the chaos at bay from moment to moment by that same Logos. But the tendency towards dis-order is inherent in the world.

We might possibly wish to raise the discussion a notch and transpose this image into the philosophical categories of being. In that mode the sea represents non-being, literally no-thing. Read this way, the world in itself tends towards non-being, but God, through his Logos, is investing it with the powers of existence. God’s ongoing ordering of the sea then speaks of the world’s moment-by-moment dependence on God.— The Biblical Cosmos, page 202 (emphasis original)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

When people pray

It may be concluded that there are three situations in which a human being utters a prayer:
1. A case of actual distress in which a man, on account of the difficult circumstances he is in, addresses himself to a god in an emotional way.
2. A wish arising from the existing situation. The circumstances, however, are not so extreme as to occasion great emotion in the prayer uttered.
3. A general wish, which does not usually originate from the existing situation. In this case, the human being does not ask for a single definite action, but for a repetition of actions, or for a lasting state.—The Greek Imperative, page 99

Center or periphery?

It is also worth reminding ourselves that neither biblical nor Ptolemaic cosmologies understood the earth to be the most important part of the cosmos—the heavens took that role. (In fact, contrary to the modern myth, in the Ptolemaic cosmology that dominated the Christian Middle Ages, the earth was the least significant part of the cosmos, being located at the center, furthest from God’s heaven.)— The Biblical Cosmos, page 198

<idle musing>
It all a matter of perspective, isn't it? We think the center is the most important, but they didn't. The most important place was where God was/is. That's still true, but we don't acknowledge it...
</idle musing>

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Kiss it good-bye

The relative decrease in the number of present imperatives in the Koine in comparison with Ancient Greek may be explained by two factors. In the first place, the present imperative of transformative (especially instantaneous) verbs is used only and exclusively when the speaker is excited. Apparently in those days a present imperative was more readily used when the action could be expressed by verbs that themselves denote duration or perspective. A present imperative is used only when the situation from which the order results is clear or has been made clear to the hearer. The subjective point of view from which the ancient Greek made his choice between the present and aorist imperative seems no longer to be known to the Koine. People are no longer able to voice the finest nuances of thoughts and feelings. Instead, they adhere to objective reality, and consequently express themselves more exactly, at least in this respect.—The Greek Imperative, pages 86–87

Throw it all out!

No modern Christian can say with any intellectual integrity that the biblical view is literally correct. It is not. But does that mean that we simply cast it aside as a disposable husk? No. I propose that this biblical view was not merely a phenomenological perspective on how things appear from our location on the surface of the earth; it was also a means of divine communication. The notion that the earth matters to God is an important part of Christian theology. Ancient cosmology understood that centrality in a physical sense, but geocentrism can still metaphorically point to the importance of earth in God’s purposes.— The Biblical Cosmos, page 197

Monday, April 25, 2016

Present imperative in Koine

Apart from the present imperatives with a general sense and the present imperatives derived from non-transformative verbs, the present imperative in the Koine seems to be used only when both the speaker and the hearer have fully been informed of the situation on account of which the speaker decides that the action ordered has to be performed.—The Greek Imperative, page 85

<idle musing>
Hmmm...this one is testable. What do you think? Is it true in the NT? Could this be why Paul starts out with the theological justification of his imperatives? And sometimes starts out with aorist ones, as well?

Makes sense. But what of 3rd person imperatives? Is that a more polite version of a 2nd person imperative? That's what I think, anyway...
</idle musing>

Stars as connectors to the divine realm

Here is something important to notice about the stars in the biblical texts that we have been considering. The stars, closely linked with the divine council and with angels, were very clearly located in the sky but not in God’s heaven (they were this side of the sky-dome). Yet the divine council and the angels inhabited God’s throne room in God’s heaven (the other side of the sky-dome). So the stars functioned as a link—a visible manifestation of invisible powers; a pointer beyond themselves to the transcendent power structures of the created order.

The linking function of stars meant that a complete disjunction of heaven and earth was impossible because the stars, existing in different modes on both sides of the firmament, blurred the dividing line. The stars reminded people of the duality of heaven and earth—that there is more to creation than can be seen with the eye—but countered any tendency towards dualism: the thought that God’s heaven is some self-contained world disconnected from the visible creation. The “space” and “light” of heaven are connected to the space and light of the visible cosmos, and the light of the sun, moon, and stars represent that connection.— The Biblical Cosmos, pages 192–93

Sunday, April 24, 2016

BHQ Megilloth for $20!

Wow! BHQ Megillot for $20.00 at CBD! I was checking on the availability of BHQ Genesis when I saw this:

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Provision still flows

"Exodus 16* shows that through the obedience of Moses and Aaron to YHWH, and in particular in pointing away from themselves to YHWH as responsible for the exodus and as providing the gift of food, the people are brought to the true knowledge of YHWH (“I am YHWH”) as the one who brought them out of Egypt and provides them with nourishment. This is the YHWH who dwells in their midst by means of the tabernacle/tent of meeting (Exod 29:46). However, the reverse of this, Moses’s (and Aaron’s) disobedience to YHWH’s instructions and usurping YHWH’s role instead of witnessing to YHWH and his provision for the people in the eyes of the people, means that they are deposed as leaders. Their disobedient and corrupt leadership does not disadvantage the people in terms of YHWH’s provision for them—they are still provided with the water. However, such leadership that does not bring the people to knowledge of YHWH means those leaders are stripped of their leadership by YHWH and replaced."—Suzanne Boorer, forthcoming from SBL Press

Friday, April 22, 2016

Imperatives of motion

In Ancient Greek...many examples of present imperatives derived from verbs expressing motion are to be found. In the Koine literature, however, they are much more conspicuous, because so few present imperatives of other verbs occur. One even gets the impression that the Koine favours the use of the present imperative to express an order involving motion.—The Greek Imperative, page 82


Sin corrupts this human icon of God, making humanity a broken vessel. The story of redemption is, in one important sense, simply the story of the restoration of the divine image in humanity, enabling us to function as bearers of divine glory. Our eschatological destiny is thus, in the language of classical Christian theology, deification (theōsis). This is not about us “becoming God” (which is an incoherent notion, if taken in a strictly literal sense) but it is about a union with God of such intimacy and profundity as to enable us to function as the divine image we were made to be.— The Biblical Cosmos, page 177

Thursday, April 21, 2016

When do I use which?

In Ancient Greek the choice between present and aorist imperative was altogether subjective. The speaker could use a present imperative not only when from an objective point of view the situation called for a certain action, but also when only in the speaker’s opinion the situation necessitated an action.—The Greek Imperative, page 71

<idle musing>
Mind you, he means Classical when he says Ancient. Things change in Hellenistic/Koine; stay tuned...
</idle musing>

A second naivete

Unlike the biblical authors and their original audiences, we cannot take some of their beliefs literally any longer. That option is not open to scientifically literate people. But “beyond the desert of criticism” there is a second naïveté in which the text can again disclose divine truth and God can speak afresh. This is not a return to a pre-scientific view of the world but is rather a post-critical retrieval—a willingness to let God speak anew precisely through the strangeness of the ancient text. We cannot simply strip away the out-of-date views and throw them away like the peel of an orange in order to get to the ripe juice of revelation contained within. I believe that God wants to speak to the modern world through the insights of ancient cosmography.— The Biblical Cosmos, page 167 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
What do you think? I've heard about second-naivete before and it's an attractive idea. I guess my hesitation is because I believe too much of the supernatural realm (which we as Westerners throw away) is real.

Am I mixing apples and oranges here? Is this a different issue from second-naivete? Help!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Further qualifications

The dramatic content of present and aorist imperatives cannot be expressed in general terms. The dramatic content of a form depends entirely on the speaker’s state of mind, in the way he views the existing situation, and varies with the context. The only constant consists in the fact that the present stem expresses a connection and that the aorist stem does not.—The Greek Imperative, page 66

Temple writ large

So the temple is the cosmos writ small. When the priests and the high priest move around the temple performing their sacred duties, they are symbolically moving around the biblical cosmos. This may help explain why the temple was so central to ancient Israel and why its desecration and its destruction by pagan nations were understood as such catastrophic events. The destruction of the temple—first at the hands of Babylon and later at those of Rome—was in a very real sense, the end of the world.

The final vision in the book of Revelation now makes a little more sense. Not only was the temple the biblical cosmos writ small, the biblical cosmos was the temple writ large. In other words, in the world of the Bible the cosmos is God’s house. As Philo put it, “The whole universe must be regarded as the highest and, in truth, the holy temple of God” (Spec. 1.66). As such the biblical cosmos is a sacred place indeed.— The Biblical Cosmos, page 150 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
The world comes full circle in Revelation. What God intended in the garden gets fulfilled.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Netherworld or night sky?

In Mesopotamian cosmology, the night sky is identical to the netherworld, stemming from an understanding that the celestial sphere steadily rotated from east to west, bringing the heavenly bodies up and down the horizon (Woods 2009: 209). Accordingly, the heaven of daytime turned into a netherworld after the sunset, which was also a form of the cosmological ocean, Apsû, where the stars were thought to originate. During the night, the cosmic order and divine wisdom submerged to occultation into the greater netherworld, not only understood in its grim, infernal aspects, but “in its more complex capacity that encompasses certain pure or ‘blessed’ lands located around the ‘edges of the earth’ as well” (Ataç 2010: 161).—The Overturned Boat, page 40

Here and now

The speaker who uses the present imperative sees a connection between the existing situation (as he sees it!) and the action ordered. This means that, on account of the situation, he wants somebody to start performing an action at once. But we should always remember that this “at once” is not, or need not be identical with the “now” of objective reality, but is determined only by the subjective “here and now” the speaker has in mind. In this “here and now” the existing situation and the action ordered coincide. So it might be said that from this point of view (the “here and now”) the speaker views the action ordered in its perspective as part of living reality.—The Greek Imperative, page 65

Don't sell yourself short

A metal or stone image (ṣelem) of a god cannot see or hear or act and so cannot represent the living Jehovah. The only authorized image (selem) of God in Scripture is humanity; thinking, hearing, seeing, speaking, acting humanity, filled with the Spirit of God. In Genesis 1, human beings are created to be the equivalent in creation of the cult statue in a temple! That is an astonishing claim.— The Biblical Cosmos, page 143

<idle musing>
I recently taught a two-day class on the ANE backgrounds to the OT. This is one of the things I mentioned to them, but I don't think they fully understood the import of it (not that I fully understand the import of it either!). This is radical stuff, mind-boggling in its ramifications.
</idle musing>

Monday, April 18, 2016

Yet more Greek imperative fun

There are some cases in which the present imperative is used in a way which is not very easy for us to understand. We have seen that aspect is something subjective and that the speaker often does not see a situation as it actually is, but as he thinks it is, or will be later. We have also seen that, when the “here and now” is postponed, it has to be indicated in the context, as it would otherwise lead to misunderstandings. Sometimes, however, this indication is not very clear.—The Greek Imperative, page 61

<idle musing>
Well, let's just throw up our hands in despair then! But at least he's honest; not every situation fits his categories.
</idle musing>

He's bigger...

The paradox fundamental to biblical thinking is that God is present in the temple while transcending the temple. And the same paradox is found on the cosmic scale. God dwells in heaven, but heaven cannot contain God, for in the end heaven is an aspect of creation but God is the creator.— The Biblical Cosmos, page 136

Sunday, April 17, 2016

I dare you to prove him wrong!

"No study has ever shown that a diet with a significant amount of animal product-based foods can reverse atherosclerosis—and no study ever will show that. Too much evidence demonstrates the opposite.

"Not even a case series of a small number of individuals on a Paleo, or animal protein-based, diet has ever shown a reversal of advanced heart disease. Even though hundreds of books are written, lots of big words are thrown around, and lots of claims are made to the contrary, it is all just hot air. These meat-based diets are the problem not the solution."—Joel Fuhrman, The End of Heart Disease, 188

Saturday, April 16, 2016

About that submission thing...

Jim West just posted a hilarious picture of Jael pegging Sisera (pun intentional). That got me thinking about the current teaching whereby women are to submit to their husbands in all things.

The scripture is clear that there was an alliance between Heber the Kenite and Jabin (Judg 4:17). That being so, by killing Sisera, Jael was being rebellious against her husband! She should be up for discipline, not praise!

Something isn't right there...and I sincerely doubt that it is the scripture!

Friday, April 15, 2016

El Shaddai versus YHWH

W. Randall Garr (“The Grammar and Interpretation of Exodus 6:3,” JBL 111 (1992): 385–408, esp. 397, 406–8) argues that the name El Shaddai represents a limited or partial aspect of God, known in his promises only, and that YHWH is a more complete representation of the same God, who is known fully in the fulfillment of the promises. Accordingly he interprets Exod 6:3 as follows (401): “I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (in limited form) as El Shaddai (who makes covenantal promises). But I was not the object of (full) covenantal knowledge to them as conveyed by my name YHWH who keeps covenantal promises.”—Suzanne Boorer, forthcoming from SBL Press

More on that pesky Greek present imperative

It goes without saying that an expression which indicates that the speaker assumes a close connection between the situation as he sees it, and the action he orders, sometimes has a very emotional ring. Therefore the present imperative is used especially by persons who are short-tempered, or have an overbearing character, because such people want an action to start as soon as, in their view, the situation requires it. These present imperatives are often derived from instantaneous verbs.—The Greek Imperative, page 54

<idle musing>
Unless they aren't...which is the problem I'm having with this book. He is seeking an overarching theory, but there are so many subpoints that don't fit, so he creates little categories for them. In the end, we have a list of things the imperative can mean. Is that an overarching theory?!

Don't misunderstand, the book is very helpful and has good stuff. But, how do you decide which category that particular imperative fits? And is that really what we want to do? That's going back to the decoding form of language learning...
</idle musing>

Is he there?

Heaven is not eternal in the sense that God is. It is, if you will, the dimension of creation that serves as an interface between God and the rest of creation. As such, even though biblical writers will regularly speak of God dwelling in and ruling from heaven they are also aware that God is “bigger” than heaven. In fancy language, God transcends not only the earth but heaven itself. As Solomon so beautifully put it in his prayer at the dedication of the spectacular temple he had built: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth [in this temple]? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kgs 8:27).

The paradox of God’s dwelling in the temple in Jerusalem captures in a scaled-down way this same tension. The Bible holds together the idea that God dwells in the Jerusalem temple with a resistance to the idea that God’s presence can be contained there. God’s presence is everywhere, even outside the Promised Land, even to the ends of the earth, and even in sheol! More than that, God’s presence is in heaven, while the temple is on earth. So while God’s presence is in the temple, it is not there in quite the same way that it is in heaven.

Some texts speak obliquely of the temple as “the place that Jehovah your God will choose to make his name dwell” (Deut 26:2). This way of speaking beautifully captures the balance. It speaks of God’s real presence in the temple (for in ancient thinking the name of a person is profoundly connected to the person; it was no mere label) while at the same time pushing against a simplistic understanding of that presence. There is a subtle distance inserted between God and the temple in the very words that speak of his dwelling in it—he causes his name to dwell there. Israel’s theologians are seeking to speak of the reality of God’s presence but also of the way in which God’s presence is unlike any other presence. Words fail when God is the topic under discussion.— The Biblical Cosmos, page 135 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
I've been gone for the last week (in case you didn't notice!); we were visiting kids and grandkids. I also had the privilege to teach for two days on the ancient Near Eastern backgrounds to the Old Testament. This excerpt from Robin's book nicely encapsulates much of what I was trying to teach.
</idle musing>

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Use the present imperative—Now!

…a Greek uses a present imperative only when he wants to stress that in his eyes the situation requires immediate action.—The Greek Imperative, page 50

<idle musing>
Remember, this is for Classical, not Koine!
</idle musing>

Rule number one

First and foremost, Jehovah is never identified with any astral entity nor with their totality. Rather, the sun, moon, and stars are entities created by Jehovah.— The Biblical Cosmos, page 110

<idle musing>
Indeed! That is the most essential element of biblical theology!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

It's the speaker!

Whether the speaker chooses the present stem or the aorist stem does not depend on a general rule, but only on the state of mind of the speaker. He visualized the situation and the action ordered in some way or other, and he makes his choice accordingly. Consequently, the dramatic content of an imperative can be determined only from the special context.—The Greek Imperative, page 43

<idle musing> Remember, we're talking about Classical Greek here, not Koine/Hellenistic. He'll get to those in a bit. He gives numerous examples to defend the position; I'm moderately convinced—tentatively. How's that for equivocating? : )
</idle musing>

What about those stars?

Now there is indeed a very interesting shift in emphasis in biblical literature, when it is compared with other ancient Near Eastern literature, away from a focus on their deity of astral bodies. We shall consider that in a moment. But this shift in emphasis is not a result, I suggest, of biblical authors rejecting the idea of the sun, moon, and stars as divine. What they unanimously and emphatically rejected was any idea that humans should serve and worship these astral gods. I suggest that it is this radical and decisive move that explains the theological shift in the biblical literature. The sun, moon, and stars may be gods, but they are created by Jehovah, are under his control, are appointed by him to serve humanity (giving light and overseeing the rhythms of time), and their glory serves to point to his greater glory. These are the things that interest the writers of the texts that became Scripture. Biblical writers have no interest in identifying specific stars with specific deities (except when condemning Israelites for worshipping stars as gods). The identification of stars with gods is, in biblical religion, generic rather than specific. Perhaps the worry was that an over-interest in the stars would lead to their being worshipped. And to worship the stars, in effect, upsets the order of creation and effectively makes them idols and even demons.— The Biblical Cosmos, page 109

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Negative commands and choice of tense

When choosing the present stem [in a negative command], the speaker apparently wants the hearer to understand that he does not agree with the nature and the content of the action that latter is performing, for by this choice he makes it clear that he sees a connection between the action and the prohibition. Secondly, in many cases he gives the hearer to understand that he is to start “not-performing” this action immediately, i.e., that he has to stop performing it at once. By means of the aorist stem, he tells the hearer only that he does not permit a certain event to take place, that the latter is not allowed to perform a certain action. It does not make any difference whether at that moment the action is going on or not, as the speaker does not pay any attention to that.—The Greek Imperative, page 42

<idle musing>
About that post title: Yes, yes, I know. It isn't tense, it's aspect. But every now and then I drop back into traditional labels. What can I say? It got your attention, didn't it? : )

OK, we've got that taken care of, so what about the contents of the post itself? Bakker is in the process of making the case that the choice of stem in Classical Greek depends strictly on the perspective of the speaker. He will go on to argue that this has changed as Greek evolved, to the point that in Modern Greek, the present imperative has virtually disappeared. The present tense is used only when both sides agree on the reality of the situation. (Snide remark: then it certainly would never be used in the U.S. today! We can't agree on anything—not even on whether we agree or disagree!)

The question becomes, how far along that continuum in Koine? Ah, that's the rub—especially with translational Greek such as that found in the LXX. That, of course, is the substance of many articles and dissertations : )
</idle musing>

Re-creation and the exodus

The story of the exodus from Egypt can be read as a story of the God-guided journey of Israel from the periphery to the center. Israel was in Egypt, the land of slavery and chaos and death. God delivered them by leading them through the boundary-marking sea (yam suph, literally, “sea of the edge”). There God defeated the chaos dragon and led Israel into an in-between place, the wilderness. Here was great danger—hunger, thirst, and hostile peoples—but God provided and protected. He led the people to the land where they would dwell with him and find rest. This is not simply mundane geography or history as we know it—this is meaning-full geography and history, rich in sacred symbolism.— The Biblical Cosmos, page 69

Monday, April 04, 2016

What about that imperative?

OK, tighten your grammatical belts. For the next week or two we'll be excerpting from W. F. Bakker, The Greek Imperative: An investigation into the aspectual differences between the present and aorist imperatives in Greek prayer from Homer up to the present day. As you probably guessed by the long title, it's a dissertation : )

I'm not so sure but what he isn't finding what he wants to find, but some of his ideas are fascinating. He makes a distinction between Ancient Greek, by which he means Classical, Koine, and Modern Greek—yes, he follows the imperative all the way to 1950s Greece. We'll start with the Classical instances. Here's the first:

Generally said, by means of the present stem the speaker wants to make it clear to the hearer that, in view of the nature and content of the action he is performing, he wishes him to stop it, and that “right now.” When using the aorist stem, however, he only says that the action should be discontinued.—The Greek Imperative, page 40

Away with you!

In the geography of the ancient Near East, deserts were seen as liminal in-between places representing the zone between civilization and order, on the one hand, and chaos and disorder, on the other; between life, on the one hand, and death, on the other. To be cast out of a community into the desert was to be sent away from the ordered human world and thereby to lose one’s social status. In the symbolic thinking of ancient Israel the barren desert, associated with death, was further away on the holiness spectrum from the temple, associated with the living God. It is not that going into the wilderness made one unclean, but simply that the wilderness was symbolically further from the life end of the spectrum and as such represented uncleanness.— The Biblical Cosmos, page 56

<idle musing>
Which is why the Akkadian exorcist spells and Hittite scapegoat ritual, to say nothing of the Day of Atonement in Israel, sent the evil spirit into the wilderness. It was their natural home.
</idle musing>

Friday, April 01, 2016

Yamm, take two

Interestingly the dominion that God gave humanity in Genesis 1 extends to “the fish of the sea,” but no mention is made of the sea itself. That remains beyond human rule. is may explain why the sea never responds to humans in the Bible—it does not obey human orders [see note] and it never addresses humans—nor do humans ever call it to. God is the creator of the sea and thus its line-manager, so it is to God alone that it responds.

[Note] Moses’ activity with the staff at the “Red Sea” might suggest otherwise. However, note that Moses simply “stretched out his hand over the sea [follow a direct divine command to do so], and Jehovah drove the sea back . . .” (Exod 14:21).— The Biblical Cosmos, page 47