Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Whose Son is the Messiah?

So, I've decided to start this thing off with a series of posts about passages in the Old Testament that are quoted a lot in the New Testament. This will be one of those.
There are some passages in the Bible we never talk about. Okay, that actually goes for most of the Bible, but some of them seem to be really, like, important. Jesus didn't say a whole ton about his own identity, at least in the synoptic gospels (read: first three gospels). Mostly, when people actually know who/what he is, he tells them to stuff it. In fact, I'm not sure Jesus ever gives a completely strait answer about who he really is. Sure, he gives a lot of nods and winks, but nothing too solid in the synoptics (whereas in John, he has quite a lot to say on the subject). The whole messianic thing is kind of a secret up until just before they kill him -- not a coincidence, of course.
So, one of the places where Jesus addresses the question "Who is the Messiah?" is Mark 12:35-37 (and parallels, Matt. 22:41-45, Luke 20:41-44). At this point, his close disciples (and the readers) already know that Jesus has privately affirmed that he is the Messiah, though the other listeners, while they have their suspicions don't know for certain yet.
So Jesus is like:
How say the scribes that Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Ghost,
The Lord [Yhwh] said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool. (Ps. 110:1)
David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son?
So how about that? Some scholars think this means Jesus didn't think the Messiah would be descended from David. Not sure that would really make any sense, since it's pretty hard to read the Old Testament any other way. Still, Jesus is definitely undermining the importance of the messianic linage with this statement. Jesus has something much bigger in mind than simply being the heir of David, and we're going to try and figure out what that was. His quotation of Psalm 110 is the key here.
Interesting thing, Psalm 110 wasn't quoted much in Jewish writings much before or after Jesus, with the one exception being the very Jewish New Testament we've inherited. This is one of the most-quoted OT passages in the whole NT. A partial listing would include Matthew 26:64, Acts 2:34-35, I Corinthians 15:25, Ephesians 1:20,22 Colossians 3:1, Hebrews 1:3,13 2:8 5:17 7:17,21 8:1 10:12,13 12:2, 1 Peter 3:22. You'd think it was important or something. Weird we never hear any sermons on it [insert rant about sermons here]. (disclaimer: not picking on my pastor here. I've never heard a sermon about it anywhere in 29 years of church attendance across three continents).
Next post, we dive into Psalm 110.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Sound of Silence

Dear followers and other readers:

I've been away from the blog for quite some time. This is no good. I'm working on finding some ways to make this blog and some of my other works profitable ventures. In light of this goal, there is going to be a lot more content coming very soon. I would be very, very open to comments and questions about what people would like to hear about on the blog. As you may or may not know, my speciality is in Biblical Hebrew, though I've studies Old Testament a bit, as well as the "Historical Jesus"

But I'm game to write about anything Bible related. Recently, I've been doing a Bible study on the Gospel of Luke, and probably have a fair amount to share about anything in the Bible related to gardens, feilds, forests, and the like.

Please leave a comment with any suggestions!

Friday, November 5, 2010

This thing I wrote for another site
Ok, so when I was studying in Belgium, this guy named Stephen did year abroad at my school we went to a really, really crazy party together with the Icelandic prime minister. Craziest night of my life. So Stephen went his way, I went mine a bit later. The Icelandic prime minister went home and shorty thereafter the Icelandic economy fell apart. I don't know, but I like to think that I contributed in my own little way.

Anyway, I came to Jerusalem to study the Hebrew Bible, and he went . . . ok, I have no idea what he's up to, really, but I do know that one thing is that he and his buddies have put together this 'Interfaith' website; something dedicated to finding common ground between various faiths and world-views or something like that. I'm not really sure. I'm not actually sure if I'm totally as excited as they are with what they are trying to do on a philosophical level, but I don't see the harm in it either. The site is, so you can decide for yourself what you think about what they are doing... though for goodness sake, don't go follow my link and then go and criticize. Stephen is my friend, whatever other kind heretic he may be 8^)

Anyway, Stephen asked me to write something for the site, so I sorta remixed some of the thoughts I voiced here in the last post, took the whole think from a different angle; that is, as a response to postmodernist, rather than a response to fundamentalism, or more accurately, theological totalitarianism.

I think it comes across in the article that I'm quite sympathetic to problems postmodern literary criticism discusses with regard to meaning... maybe more than I should be. Anyway, the whole thing was fun to write. It's a lot more arty-farty than the kind of thing I write on here, generally speaking, so the style is more playful. I think it's pretty good, if I do say so myself, though there are some typos, and I can't edit my article, so they are preserved for posterity. Shoot.

Go comment on it over there!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ordo Scientiae: Bible and Theology

I love the Bible. I love everything about it. I enjoy it as literature; I value it as a historical source; I read it devotionally; I take it personally; I believe it is God's word to humankind and chief source of authority in the Church today. I also study the Bible academically, trying to use inductive reasoning to find out as much as I can about the Bible. Like anyone, I am a flawed interpretor. I come to the text with theological and philosophical presuppositions. Furthermore, I am personally involved and bound to whatever meaning I find in the text. However, this weakness is also a becomes a strength, after a fashion. Because I am so personally bound to the text, I think it is important to actually know what it means. Hence: hard work.

I realize that academic study of the Bible is not the be-all end-all in the Christian faith, and there are many things that we discuss in great depth in the discipline to which the devout Christian may, at the end of the day, legitimately respond, "who cares?" I probably see fewer of these cases than some, but they exist. For example, I'm quite linguistically geared. I can, in a passage when the meaning is obvious, obsess for quite a while about why a word is spelled a particular way and not another. I have my reasons that I think these things are important, but they really don't make a difference for any practical point of theology or practice in the Church directly.* Reasons though I may have, it would taste a lie to say I didn't love obscure little points I have the privilege to work out (or at least work on).

However, since the reformation, there has been a place in the church for serious academic study of the Bible. This actually was born out of the Jewish approaches to the Old Testament that were started in the Middle ages, during the Arab enlightenment, and moved westward. The middle eastern Jewish and Muslim scholars started using rational, historical, and linguistically based approaches to the Qurʾan and the Hebrew Bible (for the record, Muslims do not use these kinds of methods any more, though Berkley might change some of that soon, God willing). These were not actually innovations of the Arab world, but rather they were methods used by the Greek scholars at the library of Alexandria for interpreting ancient text which had been more or less lost, and were revived by the Arabs (including Jewish Arabs).

Jews have always said that these kinds of readings, historical readings, are not normative for Judaism, but have rather used them as a basis for inter-faith dialog and polemic, since the historical meaning of the text is theoretically something that can be discovered through investigation. It was used heavily in arguments against Christians and Kara'ites during the middle ages. Though it has never been the basis for Halaka (norms of Jewish behavior, which are far more important than theology in Judaism), it has been used a fair amount in defense of it.

At some point Christians decided this was a pretty clever idea, and some Christians went so far as to suggest that he historical meaning of scripture was the one true meaning. That's a major part of what caused the reformation. I'm not sure whether it's the 'one true meaning,' but really, it's the only way to have a discussion about scripture that places everyone on equal footing. It gives at least a semi-stable way to evaluate meaning. In this manner, it provides a way forward for a discussions between Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Christians, and even to some extent believers and atheists/agnostics.

Of course, atheists and agnostics don't consider themselves bound by the meaning of scripture, but I've had discussions that warm a lot of them up to the Bible quite simply by discussing its content through the lens of reason, admitting the areas where the Bible leaves questions that reason cannot answer, and also showing how the study of the Bible is not just a bunch of nonsense people saying what they want to say about it, but there is are actually some people who are willing to deal with hard data in a way that gives their interpretations a kind of universal accountability.  There is no data that can prove that Jesus is the Son of God and is coming to judge the living and the dead. That is a revelation from the Spirit, and cannot be otherwise.  However, it does give people a glimpse of a form of faith that is able to work with reason and isn't totally arbitrary. It makes sense that, if the Bible is true, we should be able to investigate it. (Obviously all of this is coming from a 'realist' perspective on knowledge. If Nietzsche and Derrida are right, and they could be, then reason doesn't make a difference, but that isn't really a very practical approach, so we keep doing what we can. Even Derrida keeps doing what he can.)

That brings us to the interplay between the Bible and Theology. From my protestant perspective, the Bible is the ultimate source of theology, or at least the ultimate standard. I believe Catholics and Orthodox would also agree with this, though they see tradition as the reliable stream of interpretation. I like tradition a lot, but I see it as more of a servant to biblical interpretation, rather than the master of it. Catholics do things a little differently, as far as I know. I'm a protestant, so all I can explain is why I do what I do. If a Catholic would like to chime in about their approach to scripture, I'd be happy to hear it.

Now, if the Bible is the final standard by which theology is measured, what does theology have to say about the way we read the Bible?

My answer, perhaps somewhat controversially, is 'very little indeed.' I do not say 'nothing,' because we do need a few theological presuppositions to begin reading and interpreting (a metaphysical discussion, and I'm not qualified to lead it). However, if in the course of interpreting scripture, we find something that challenges those theological presuppositions, I think we've got to yield to scripture. Otherwise, we run the risk of getting into a feedback loop where we perpetually hear our own voice in scripture, rather than the voice of God. This goes for any presuppositions, but theological are those that make themselves most felt in the circles where I run. Essentially, if we begin to feel comfortable with the Bible, I doubt we are reading it correctly anymore.

Theology does have an important place in the church (though I think it sometimes overstated), and I'm all in favor of a pragmatic theology to get the job done (the job of the Church, that is), but I think that's really something we ought to check at the door when we come to scripture, if it is really to be authoritative.

Now, having limited the role theology is allowed to play in interpretation, it would be perfectly valid to ask why human forms of reason should have any greater place in interpretation. I agree (in part) with a lot of the recent critiques that reason is simply a human construct, and does not necessarily have any point of reference in reality. So why should we trust it? To that, I give a theological answer (and this is why I say that theology does have a very small part in interpretation): God has made the attempt to speak to humans in human language. If that is the case, there must be some expectation that humans will try to figure out what he's talking about the best they are able, and, in fact, that they must have adequate faculties to do so, even if they are sometimes imperfectly employed.

This presupposition, I think all will agree, is borne out page after page in scripture. If scripture is to be the basis for faith (which I'm not about to try and argue), this, at least, we can count on. The existence of God's verbal communication, in a way, validates the whole enterprise of reason; perhaps not with regard to nature, but at least with regard to the humanities (and maybe nature as well, but we'll have to wait and see about that).

In this way, the very existence of the Bible is an invitation to human reason. Naturally, this does not rule out the joint participation of the Holy Spirit in interpretation. It also does not mean that reason stands above the text. Rather, the reason is simply the proper tool by which to investigate it. The text itself may challenge our presuppositions about reason, and it certainly defines its limits in various places, but it permits its use, along with the Spirit, as the starting place for our inquiry.

That's why I do what I do.
*They may, however, shed light on the development in the Biblical languages, eventually lead us to understand certain linguistic phenomena better, which may in turn bring us to a new understanding of a difficult or theologically weighty passage. I'm not going to lie, most of what I do at school has no immediate relevance to anyone... but it's a part of the process.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

What's going on here?!

This isn't exactly Biblical studies in this post (nor will it be in the next one). So far, this blog has attempted to stay well within accepted conservative theological perspectives on the Bible because I know that's the perspective from which most of my readers are coming, and there's no need to rock the boat about that if you don't have to. Anyway, I'm relatively conservative when it comes to the New Testament anyway, which is what I've written about, for the most part. Some of the posts on the LXX encroached on shady theological territory, what with the messy textual history of certain books in the OT and all that.

In Old Testament studies, I'm less conservative (relatively, though I try to apply the same methodology to each), and I want to write about them. I've been hesitant because I really am a theological conservative at heart, and I don't want to alienate that group. That's my group. This is part of the reason the posts have pretty much dried up for half a year, though schedule and other factors have also played a role. However, I'm not going to hide anymore just because I have some quasi-liberal ideas about the Old Testament; that is, particularly about the authorship of the Pentateuch and various other issues that will come into play in the next series of posts. I've had enough of that nonsense. If some readers are alienated by that, so be it. "Here I stand, I can do no other."

However, I want to bring the open minded conservatives with me as far as I am able, so I'm going to go slowly and explain why I do what I do, and that starts with a philosophical/theological underpinning for what I'm doing. In these disciplines, I am an amateur, so the more experienced reader will have to bear with me (and by all means correct me) were I err. This is more of a prologue, so more in the next post.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Since we've been talking about the LXX...

Daniel O. McClellan has written a great post on his blog dealing with some of the issues involved in its translation and transmission. Here's a quote:
In Septuagint studies a common caution against appealing to wildly speculative translator exegesis to account for divergences between MT and LXX is the recognition that the translators were working with a text they recognized as authoritative and unique, and so would have been reluctant to deviate much from the Vorlage. This been confirmed to some degree in a few LXX books where research (particularly of the Finnish school) confirms a high degree of fidelity to the Vorlage combined with dynamic equivalency. In these books, many seeming divergences actually fall within the semantic scope of the Hebrew, if they’re not mistakes or derived from a distinctVorlage.[1] I think caution is in order, though, and I’ll explain why.
Check it out! Reverencing the Text of the Bible

The link was incorrect. fix'd.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Septuagint Pt. 2

This was originally going to be a reply in responses of the previous thread, but it was too long, so it becomes a post.

It is foremost a response to some of Josh's and Hebrew Scholar's objections, but I would like to start out by saying that Helgi's NT professor is a nut. He's part of the Jesus Seminar for goodness sake.
Now that that's off my chest, Lets talk a little more about the Masoretes. It was not their intention, I'll agree, to change anything in the text. They took the best available consonantal texts as the basis for their work. However, they give thousands of alternate vocalizations that would require different consonants. Many of these, it's true, are simple waw – yod shifts, but there are plenty of other differences as well. In other words, their received oral tradition was not the same as the base text. Futhermore, we have clear cases within the development of the Masoretic tradition where the marginal reading (the spoken text) is moved into the main text, and the original consonants disappear. We also have cases of normal scrible errors, mostly with resh and dalet and things like that. Even though the Masoretes display a fidelity that is almost super-human within the scribal world, they were not perfect. Indeed, no two even of the Masoretic manuscripts are identical. There is only one that is in complete agreement with it's own Mazorah (scribal notes), Codex Aleppo, and that text was the work of Aaron ben Asher's lifetime. He spent years correcting and re-correcting it to get it to the state of perfection it is. Granted, the differences are generally negligible, but they do exist. No scribe is perfect.
I agree, of course, that the Hebrew transmission of the text has been much more faithful that the Greek transmission. That is obvious. It doesn't change the fact that there are times when we can tell, due to the nature of the variant, that the translators had a different Hebrew text or tradition of vocalization before them. When there is such evidence, it is not to be taken lightly because it is certainly not an error created by a clumsy or faithless greek scribe who didn't even know Hebrew. The LXX, on many occasions, represents an alternate form of the Hebrew text going back to 250 B.C. (or whenever various books were added). This does not automatically mean that it is the “original Hebrew,” any more than variants found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Samaritan Pentateuch, or the variants with the the Masoretic tradition itself. It means that, when you find these kinds of differences, you place the reconstructed Hebrew text from LXX next to the MT (and the DSS, if your lucky) and try to work out what happened.
As far as Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, I don't think they are perfect witnesses to the original translations of the LXX. I believe I said they were “fair representations.” The Masoretes were probably the best scribes in history. However, they were not the only erudite school of scribes ever to have arisen. The Alexandrian scribal school was the most renowned of its time, and there were many good Jewish scribes there as well. In fact, Philo of Alexandria believe the LXX translation itself was inspired down to the letter, just as he believed of the Hebrew text. The scribes of Alexandria took the transmission of the LXX very seriously. They did not, of course, approach the level of erudition displayed by the Masoretes, but they were the best of their time. Furthermore, the LXX, contrary to the New Testament, was born in Alexandria. It's transmission in that city was carefully controlled from the time of its creation. I do not mean to suggest that there are no problems with the text. There are. I'm just saying that they its pretty good.
Speaking of the Dead Sea Scrolls, those are definite versions of the Hebrew text that are more ancient than any other, and they often disagree with the MT (and many times agree with the LXX). And don't try to bring arguments about sectarian bias. Most of the Biblical manuscripts at Qumran pre-date the sect itself, and there are very few signs of any sort of sectarian interpolation in those manuscripts. Indeed the very most ancient Biblical texts, those two micro inscriptions found in burial caves at Ketef Hinnom, dated to the seventh century B.C., differ VASTLY from the traditional Hebrew text. They are so early, however, that I question whether the people who made them and used them even thought about any kind of “Bible.” They may just as likely been using something that was repeated with various forms by the priests at the Jerusalem Temple, and were not trying to use a biblical text per-se. That isn't to say that there wasn't some kind of sacred scripture at the time, just that I'm not sure the maker of the scrolls would be any more concerned with it than with the daily rites at the temple.
Aside from those two inscriptions, however, I do think the MT represents the most ancient base texts, older than those at Qumran or reconstructed from the LXX. The Hebrew spelling of the MT is characteristic of the Persian period, as where the spelling at Qumran is from the Hellenistic period. This means that the tradition adopted by the Masoretes reflects an earlier form of consonantal text.
Yes, now is the time to do the double take. The spelling conventions of the MT date to the Persian period. In the first temple period, they only used mater lexiones (consonants that represent vowels... it's complicated...) at the end of words. Assuming there were written Hebrew traditions prior to the first temple period (and assuming that they would have used an alphabetic rather than sylabic scripts), it is doubtful that they would have used any mater lexiones at all (no other alphabetic writing systems of that period do so). In any case, it is nearly inconceivable that whatever traditions we have preserved reflect the spelling of anything prior to the exile. Indeed, the farther back one goes, the less precise it seems scribes cared to be. This is somewhat troubling when it comes to a text with the antiquity of the Hebrew Bible, especially when our earliest manuscripts are many hundreds of years after the original.
Of course, for Josh, I imagine the Torah is of particular concern. We may be very thankful that in all of the various versions, the Torah is the most well established textually. The variants there are not so many or so difficult. The variants in spelling between the DSS and the MT are still everywhere, but the assumed reading is hardly different (indeed, the additional Mater Lexiones in the DSS often confirm a masoretic vocalization that would not be apparent from the consonants of the MT alone). The Torah appears to have been transmitted by all involved with the utmost care as far back as our manuscripts allow us to see (except for some very obvious interpolations by the Samaritans, but even they have been very careful overall). There are still problems, but they are not too bad.