Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The role of a prophet

Evidence includes Gen 20:7, in which Abraham is called a prophet just prior to being asked to intercede and Jer 27:18, in which Jeremiah spells out the expectation that true prophets will intercede. Cf. Ezek 13:5, 22:30-31, in which YHWH judges or laments the absence of an intercessor, presumably a prophet. … According to Jonathan Stökl, intercession was not considered a prophetic role elsewhere in the ANE (Prophecy in the Ancient Near East [CHANE 56; Leiden: Brill, 2012], 215-16). As Stökl notes, however, ANE prophets speaking in the name of a deity sometimes claimed that the deity had interceded within the context of the divine council.—Forestalling Doom pages 152–53 n. 17

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

It sure is different!

For the most part the speeches take the form of prose prayer, even in the exceptional case linked to ritual—the story of David and the census (1 Chr 21:17; cf. 2 Sam 24:17). Instead, intercessors appeal to pathos, logos, and occasionally ethos to persuade YHWH that his plans would subvert his own interests, be inconsistent with his nature or his promise to the patriarchs, or cost him the people whom he loves. The emphasis on divine injustice in many of these speeches stands in sharp contrast to Texts 1-4. The final chapter demonstrates how the biblical presentation of apotropaic intercession reflects a very different understanding of divine-human relations than we see in Texts 1-4.—Forestalling Doom page 147

<idle musing>
That sure is different from the other ANE stuff, isn't it? YHWH isn't a god to be controlled by ritual or magic.

And what was true then is just as true now. You can't "claim the promise" and demand that God has to fulfill your (usually selfish) wish—see James 4:3, "You ask and don’t have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings." (CEB)
</idle musing>

Friday, August 26, 2016

But it doesn't always work

Muršili’s plague prayers attest to Hittite beliefs that the gods need not respond positively to every ritual. These prayers recount the king’s fruitless efforts to appease the gods who had brought years of plague to his country, including his multiple acts of compensation and other deeds in accord with oracular instructions. The tone is one of protest but reveals no skepticism. Rather, the king’s prayers indicate his continued efforts to end the plague by appealing to the gods.—Forestalling Doom page 144

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Close enough for horseshoes...and rituals

Many persuasive analogies are intended to transfer an attribute from one entity to another using the supernatural means of similarity. Here, the same entity—the dog—inhabits both the source and target domains. The ordinary canine ability to ward off strangers is transformed within the blended space of the ritual (see Section 1.6.2) into the supernatural ability to ward off the sinister sign. This transformation is an extension of a natural ability. By presenting the dog’s new role as an extension of its ordinary behavior as watchdog, the speaker makes the role seem easy and natural.—Forestalling Doom page 133

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

It's where it came from that counts

The supernatural rites rather than a special supernatural quality of the human agents (ritual practitioners) give the namburbis’ causative speech its most significant supernatural empowerment. The rites were understood to have supernatural power because they were given by the gods. To be effective, the oral rites had to be uttered by the correct, institutionally empowered individual in the correct setting, but they did not require that this individual be a supernatural agent. Although, as Sørensen writes, ritual leaders can have their own links to the sacred domain empowering them with supernatural agency, the primary reason the āšipu could utter supernaturally effective language was that the gods were understood to have provided it.—Forestalling Doom page 91–92

<idle musing>
And again, I am reminded of the practice among some of "quoting scripture" as a magic remedy...we're still basically pagan at heart, aren't we?
</idle musing>

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Speaking of ANE backgrounds...

The previous post spoke of the ancient Near Eastern backgrounds to the prosperity gospel—tongue firmly in cheek, of course. But, there is a serious resource that just became available today: The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. The notes in the Old Testament are based on the Zondervan monster 5-volume Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary on the Old Testament and the New Testament is from the IVP equivalent.

I was given a copy of the Bible to review, but don't have time to write up a full-blown one right now. I will say this, though: It is a well-done condensation of the bigger versions.

<Rabbit trail>
Generally, I'm not a fan of study Bibles for the simple reason that people equate the inspiration of the scriptural text with the notes.

Don't believe me? Actual experience...I was in a Bible study one time and they were debating what the text meant. One person (a pastor!) asked someone, "What does your Bible say?" and the person read the notes, not the text. The pastor responding by reading the notes in his study Bible! Ouch! No disclaimer that these were simply notes. The assumption was that they had authority because they were on the same page as the sacred text.
</Rabbit trail>

OK, with that note aside, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this Bible to anyone as a reference. (I don't recommend it as your reading Bible—but as you probably guessed, I wouldn't recommend any study Bible as your reading Bible.) In fact, I've already added it to the bibliography of the seminar I teach for YWAM on the ANE backgrounds to the OT. So, two thumbs up to Zondervan for a good resource (and thanks to Emily Varner for the promo copy)!

Name it and claim it, Akkadian style

This process did not depend on the āšipu’s possessing a pre-existing or essential connection to the divine realm, but rather the āšipu’s authorized participation in the blended space of the ritual.

One piece of evidence that a supernatural connection empowering causative speech lies with the speech itself is the attention given to precise performance. Instructions are quite specific: certain oral rites are to be repeated three or seven times and accompanied by particular acts or gestures. As Sørensen argues, this emphasis on precision indicates that at least a degree of supernatural power (or as he puts it, “magical agency”) inheres in the speech itself. The speech is being used as a “sort of material object” required for ritual efficacy, rather than (merely) as communication. Stereotypy and special prosodic features such as alliteration provide further evidence for the use of speech as a tool.—Forestalling Doom page 89

<idle musing>
Do it just right and things will happen just right. Sounds oddly reminiscent of some people's view of scripture and prayer...

I think it is safe to say it is a sub-Christian view of God.
</idle musing>

Monday, August 22, 2016

Flattery will get you...

Not only the fact of praise, but the content of the praise is significant. Any selection of specific attributes over others uses the technique of choice. In order to put the deity into a beneficent mood, the chosen epithets presumably praise attributes that Šamaš was believed to value. In addition, attributes were selected to guide the god toward the desired action. Citing such qualities plays on the deity’s presumed desire to continue garnering praise by manifesting the lauded qualities all the more (the reason that praise is so widely used in behavior modification today) .—Forestalling Doom page 66

<idle musing>
In other words, flattery will get you everywhere!
</idle musing>

Friday, August 19, 2016

It's real

[Stefan] Maul (Zukunftsbewãltigung : Eine Untersuchung altorientalischen Denkens anhand der babylonisch-assyrischen Lõserituale [Namrubi])argues that the animals, plants, or circumstances in the omens do more than signify disaster; they also play an active role in triggering it. In his view, the signifying entity infects its target with impurity—understood as a semi-physical substance—from the moment the sign is perceived. Here this entity is called a “harbinger,” a term that connotes an agent.—Forestalling Doom page 55

<idle musing>
In other words, they thought you could get the spiritual to attach to the physical and thereby control it. And this is the world that the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible inhabits. Think about that...
</idle musing>

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

So what's a guy supposed to do?

One particular Akkadian term for intercession, abbūti ṣabātu (“to act in a fatherly way”), illustrates the Mesopotamian view that a primary responsibility of the male head of household was to intercede on his children’s behalf. This expectation of intercession extended to metaphorical fathers and children in the larger “households” making up human and divine society. For example, personal deities (the family’s or individual’s divine “father” and/or “mother”) were expected to intercede on behalf of their charges before the high gods. Images on cylinder seals suggest two primary functions of the intercessor: providing the beneficiary with access to the deity and speaking on the individual’s behalf.—Forestalling Doom page 52

<idle musing>
Maybe the people who are into male headship should take a cue from this! That's about the only place I can see male headship making sense: intercessory prayer! Otherwise it seems to be a head trip and all about power...(boy, that was a rabbit trail...)
</idle musing>

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Give me more!

While we seek to master the plethora of manuscripts, we also savor their very unmanageability. The textual critic’s heart yearns for even more abundance and leaps at the discovery of new manuscripts. It doesn’t matter whether they were moldering in caves or a synagogue genizah or miscataloged in an air-conditioned library. We crave new texts, even as they drive us to distraction. The superabundance of texts is our joy and our burden.—Ron Hendel in teps to a New Edition of the Hebrew Bible, forthcoming from SBL Press

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A subtle difference

The Mesopotamian and Anatolian texts show the intercessors’ use of ritual and sometimes magic with the gods’ explicit aid to protect individuals from divinely decreed doom and remove impurity. In contrast, the biblical texts show intercessors protecting their people with rhetorical skill, standing up to YHWH with courage and his secret assistance. In each case, the gods provide humanity with means to fend off divinely ordained destruction—not guaranteed, but frequently effective.—Forestalling Doom page 50

<idle musing>
A subtle, but significant difference, isn't it? Bear that in mind the next time you try to use the Bible as a magic book!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Get the wording right

When action-based agency is rooted in speech, words operate more or less as things rather than (or in addition to) being carriers of meaning—in other words, they are ascribed conventional effects in context which may be separate from their actual semantics. A classic example is the vox magica, a meaningless jumble of syllables. Similar connections between words and the sacred realm are manifested in foreign words, often incomprehensible to some or all ritual participants, or in the requirement to repeat a phrase a specific number of times. One general indicator that a link to the divine realm occurs in the speech is the requirement that the speech be rendered correctly and completely. Evidence that a failed ritual was attributed to an improperly spoken oral rite is thus a clue that at least some of the ritual’s magical agency was based in the speech (the action). Here again, the words’ meaning is of secondary importance for the success of the rite; what matters is that the words are said correctly.—Forestalling Doom page 25

<idle musing>
That's the way some people treat prayer...and the way some people treat the Bible, too. But that's not Christianity, it's magic.
</idle musing>

It ain't inerrant!

A perfect text-critical procedure is not at hand. Like all historical inquiry, we see the past indirectly through our (always fallible) evaluation of its present traces.—Ronald Hendel in Steps to a New Edition of the Hebrew Bible, forthcoming from SBL Press

Monday, August 08, 2016

Blended spaces

Sørensen argues that in magical rituals, participants (including ritual performers) view themselves as interacting with elements and rules originating in both the sacred and profane domains—a matter of conceptual blending. The model Sørensen uses for this understanding is based in Mark Turner and Gilles Fauconnier’s theory of conceptual blending which in turn derives from Fauconnier’s theory of mental spaces. Conceptual blending refers to a cognitive process people use to combine elements from two or more “worlds” or domains. Sørensen explains ritual as occupying a blended space constructed of two input mental spaces: one comprising elements from the sacred domain and the other comprising elements from the ordinary or profane domain. Ritual participants bring concepts and image-schemata from each domain into the blended space of the ritual. Because aspects of both input spaces are present in participants’ conceptions in the ritual context, participants understand themselves, or the ritual itself, as having potential access to powers (which Sørensen terms “magical agency”) beyond those operative in the ordinary world. Participants understand how the ordinary world operates, based on early experiences of physical forces, living beings, and communication among human beings: thus they have a solid sense of causality in the input space from the ordinary domain. What those using magic lack is a correspondingly strong grasp of how causality works in the sacred domain. The precise mechanisms linking ritual actions to ritual effects remain mysterious.—Forestalling Doom page 23

Thursday, August 04, 2016

But how does it work?

We're starting a new book today: Forestalling Doom

Forestalling Doom
"Apotropaic Intercession" in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East
Alter Orient und Altes Testament - AOAT 417
by Marian W. Broida
Ugarit-Verlag, 2014
xx + 282 pp., English
ISBN: 9783868351101
Your Price: $114.00

Here's the first excerpt:

The efficacy attributed to magic relies on mystery. Believers in the efficacy of magic accept the existence of some kind of causality, one that originates in a connection to the sacred domain. A key aspect of this divine causality is that it follows mysterious rules that differ from those of the ordinary world. Although Sørensen notes that, “in principle the sacred space can be unfolded, revealing its secrets,” the mechanisms of action within this “divine physics” are not simply a matter of the ordinary intuitive science through which people manipulate the ordinary material and social world. Theologians or even children may learn rules or explanations prevalent in their cultures about supernatural agents or magical actions, but this kind of information is learned differently, at later ages, than the intuitive science grasped during infancy. In general, it is the conflict with that foundational intuitive science that leads observers to call something “magic.”—Forestalling Doom page 22

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Will I live longer if I only smoke 3 packs a day?

The HMOs talked about so-called preventive medicine, but is such a superficial way that the message had virtually no impact. Their dietary recommendations, by and large, boil down to “eat more veggies, drink fewer sodas, and choose leaner cuts of meat.” That’s like telling smokers to cut back from four packs a day to three—definitely a step in the right direction, but woefully inadequate. And because it was so superficial and inadequate, the “eat slightly better” message was universally ignored.— Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, page 251

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Help a brother out!

OK, this one has been sitting in my inbox for almost 2 months now! I need to let people know about a chance to help out a fellow blogger. Rick Brannan has written a good bit about the Apostolic Fathers over the years and did a long, in-depth study of the differences between ἀλλά and ἄλλα, among other things. Well, now he's written a commentary on the two Timothy epistles, concentrating on the Greek and discourse linguistics. Good stuff.

That's cool in and of itself, but here's the neat part: They are adopting again and to help fund the adoption all you need to do is buy his books. Win-win. You get some good books, they get to adopt.

Here's where you can find out the details:

Simple, isn't it?

ad fontes!

We talk endlessly about shifting payment responsibilities among different groups—private sectore or public sector, employer or employee—as if these programs are going to help control our country’s back-breaking health costs: about two and a half trillion dollars in 2009? Limiting these discussions and programs to matters of financing is too narrow. These political machinations, which are often fanned with much publicity and media coverage (or should I say hot air?), may please politicians and special interest groups from time to time, but they do little to address the main question of why we are so sick and why we are so unable to fix our sickness.— Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, page 251

Monday, August 01, 2016

Follow the money...

Can you imagine the health gains in the U.S. population if the half-trillion dollars in annal Big Pharma revenue were allocated to educating the public about WFPB [whole foods, plant-based] nutrition, and to making sure that fresh, organic, sustainably grown produce were available and affordable for all Americans? We can hardly imagine such an initiative; it seems utterly impossible within the current system. By why? Why, if the all-out promotion of WFPB would be such a positive thing, is it unthinkable that our society would coalesce around a nutritional Manhattan Project? Because we know that health research and programs reflect the priorities of for-profit industries, not science in the public interest. Such an initiative would pay dividends in heath, not dollars (although in the long run, the results would pay off in dollars saved on health care, too!).— Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, page 226