Sunday, June 28, 2009

Oldest Icon of St. Paul discovered

L’Osservatore Romano is reporting that last Friday the oldest known icon of St. Paul was recently discovered in the catacombs of St. Thecla, which is located on the Via Ostiensis. The image apparently dates to the fourth century. It was discovered during a restoration project.

Since L’Osservatore Romano is in Italian, here's the story from Reuters:

ROME (Reuters) - Vatican archaeologists using laser technology have discovered what they believe is the oldest image in existence of St Paul the Apostle, dating from the late 4th century, on the walls of catacomb beneath Rome.

Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano, revealing the find on Sunday, published a picture of a frescoed image of the face of a man with a pointed black beard on a red background, inside a bright yellow halo. The high forehead is furrowed.

Experts of the Ponitifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology made the discovery on June 19 in the Catacomb of Santa Tecla in Rome and describe it as the "oldest icon in history dedicated to the cult of the Apostle," according to the Vatican newspaper.

The discovery, which involved removing layers of clay and limestone using lasers, was announced a day before Rome observes a religious holiday for the Feasts of St Peter and St Paul.

Peter and Paul are revered by Christians as the greatest early missionaries. Converting on the road to Damascus following a blinding vision of Jesus, Paul took the Gospel to pagan Greeks and Romans and met his martyrdom in Rome in about 65 AD.

Early Christians in Rome buried their dead in catacombs dug into the soft rock under the city and decorated the underground walls with devotional images, often in the Pompeian style.

Here are some of the amazing pictures that have been released.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Do You "Pisseth" Correctly?

Okay, this post is a little, um, irreverent. But I just had to do this. . .

Over at the blog Theology Matters there's a post regarding a video of a pastor preaching that Jesus actually wore "pants" and not a "dress". His view is largely based on his assumption that the King James Version is the only truly inspired English Bible.

Now, I realize that this stuff is a little silly. But I just couldn't resist posting this video, which I first saw last year on Canterbury Tales. I hate to be uncharitable--I don't know the man and I'm sure he must really love the Lord--but I thought this sermon on "he who 'pisseth' against the wall" was the most hilarious thing I ever saw in my life. And I'm not exaggerating: this takes the cake. If anybody needs clarity on what a "fundamentalist" is, here's your answer.

Be forewarned. . . you may laugh so hard you hurt yourself:
Pisseth Against the Wall

Top 5 Influences Meme

Mike Koke has memed (is that the right term?) me on his excellent blog The Golden Rule. The meme was started by Kevin Brown, who says, "Name the five books (or scholars) that had the most immediate and lasting influence on how you read the Bible."

This is an impossibly difficult task for me, so I'll just name 5 "of the most influential" books or scholars who have had a lasting impact on the way I read the Bible and I'm listing them in no particular order. I'm going to limit my selections to authors who have lived in the past 30 years--otherwise, Thomas Aquinas and patristic sources would probably have to come first!

1. Scott Hahn. When I was a young teenager I was first exposed to a lecture given by Dr. Hahn--it literally changed my life. I was immediately hooked on Scripture. I must have been around 13 or so and I was hooked. I told my dad I wanted to major in Theology, get my Ph.D. and become a professor. I've been on that track ever since. So I mean it when I say that really no one has impacted me more than Dr. Hahn--he introduced me to Biblical Theology and was the first to light a fire in me to study my faith. And his work continues to profoundly shape my thought.

Of course, Dr. Hahn has numerous books. Many of them are written for popular or semi-popular audiences. Having said that, I realize that because he has so many best-selling popular books, many people are unfamiliar with his scholarship. Here I can single out one academic title of his that is a true must-read: Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God's Saving Promises (Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library; New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2009). This is Scott's doctoral dissertation which was completed at Marquette in 1995. It was only recently published by the Anchor Yale Reference Series. Previously it was available (in an earlier form) through UMI Dissertation services and has been cited in many monographs.

I can't stress enough how influential this single book has been on me.

Readers of his popular works of course will be struck by the strikingly different style of this work. If you are an academic and you do not have it yet, stop everything you're doing and order it today. Seriously. I mean it when I say that practically nothing has affected my outlook on Scripture more than this one single volume, which looks at the theme of covenant--a pretty important motif!--in the Old and New Testaments.

I plan to write a review post eventually, but suffice it to say Scott's analysis of covenant impacts the way you read just about the whole Bible. And you should see the reviews (David Noel Freedman, Scot McKnight, etc.)!

2. N.T. Wright. This is definitely NOT a sweeping endorsement of his work, though certainly I do like a lot of what he has to say. The man is so influential in scholarship at large--historical Jesus research, Pauline studies--it is almost impossible to remain unaffected by his work. Of all his works, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press; London: SPCK, 1996) is probably my favorite.

3. Jon D. Levenson. Levenson is a genius writer. Again, this is not a sweeping endorsement. But I must say, a lot of the ideas in his book Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985) have had a profound impact on the way I read the Bible.

4. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI). Of course, long before he became the Bishop of Rome, Joseph Ratzinger was a leading Catholic theologian, who especially emphasized the need for theologians to become rigorous exegetes of Scripture. A profoundly thoughtful writer (he is German, of course!), I firmly believe that he is deserving of a hearing from Catholics and non-Catholic scholars alike. As Ratzinger once put it, "Dogma is nothing other than an interpretation of Scripture." Numerous works could be mentioned here. In particular, I would highlight the following titles:

Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1988).
Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987).
Behold the Pierced One (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987).
The Nature and Mission of Theology: Essays to Orient Theology in Today's Debate (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995).
The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000).
Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today
(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996). The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1993).

5. Brant Pitre. Yes, Brant is my good friend and co-blooger. I realize this might seem like I am simply being impartial, but the honest truth of the matter is I read the dissertation he wrote at Notre Dame before I really knew him well at all. Of course, it is now published by Baker Academic. The title is Jesus, the Tribulation and the End of the Exile (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006). Of course, so much could be said about it. But above all else three things stood out to me about this work.

First, Brant's methodology is brilliant. Among other things he does his exegesis prior to his historical analysis. Anyone familiar with Jesus research knows that this is the exact opposite of what one finds in most works; typically the historicity is established first and only then are exegetical considerations are brought into the discussion. Brant makes the point that this is absurd--how can we establish the historicity of a saying or deed of Jesus if we do not properly understand it?! Obviously, we cannot.

Second, Brant demonstrates that for ancient Jews restoration hopes were typically linked to the idea of a period of eschatological tribulation. In fact, he shows that this period of eschatological affliction was also tied to the idea of atonement. The overview of such ideas in Jewish sources is spectacular. He goes on to demonstrate a pervasive presence of eschatological tribulation traditions in the Gospels. The treatment on the Apocalyptic Discourse is extremely important. In addition, he shows how some of the most obscure passages in the Gospels become clear once the Jewish notion of eschatological tribulation is properly understood from the Jewish sources (e.g., Daniel, DSS, etc.), e.g.,
"From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Matt 11:12-15).
Moreover, he traces the origins of atonement theology into these texts.

After reading this book, I've come to see the significant importance of the tribulation theme in the New Testament--it seems that I can't turn a couple of pages without finding such imagery! Again, much more could be said, but the work is a must-read--and I'm not just saying that as Brant's friend. I can truly say that even if Brant was not a good buddy of mine, this would probably still be my favorite work on the historical Jesus.

Five Other People
So now I'm supposed to "tag" some other people. I actually am really interested in learning which books were most impactful on them: Michael Bird, Chris Tilling, Jim West, Nick Norelli, and James McGrath.

I should say that I normally dislike getting memed so I feel a little guilty doing it to these guys. But the question was a fun one, so I hope they won't mind too much!

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Last Supper, Targums and the "Blood of the Covenant" (1 of 2)

All four of the accounts of Jesus' words over the cup at the Last Supper (Matt 26:27//Mark 14:24//Luke 22:19//1 Cor 11:25) have Jesus linking his "blood" to the language of the "covenant". As many scholars have noted (and as I have noted in a past post), the language evokes Exodus 24. Here I want to delve a little further into this material.

Exodus 24: The Covenant Ceremony at Mt. Sinai

In Exodus 24 we read about a climactic moment in the narrative of the Exodus--God establishes a covenant with the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai. It is helpful to review the account:

Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do.” 4 And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. 6 And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. 7 Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”

8 And Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people, and said, “Behold the
blood of the covenant
which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all
these words.” 9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the
elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel; and there was
under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for
clearness. 11 And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of
Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank (Exod 24:3-11).

An allusion to this story is probably found in all four Gospel accounts of the Last Supper. Jesus links his blood with the motif of covenant while celebrating a meal. All of this mirrors not only Moses’ words concerning the “blood of the covenant” but also the fact that the ceremony in Exodus 24 culminates in a meal (Exod 24:8–11). These similarities are simply too strong to be written off as mere coincidence.

In addition, the description of the sacrificial blood being "poured out" (ἐνέχεεν) in Exdous 24:8 mirrors the terminology used by Jesus in Synoptics’ report of Jesus' words at the Last Supper, in which he describes how his blood will also be "poured out" (ἐκχύννομαι) (Matt 26:28//Mark 14:24//Luke 22:20 [Luke's formulation is slightly different but the idea is essentially the same]). Admittedly, the Greek word Jesus uses is different. But given that its meaning is the same as ἐνέχεεν, that Jesus probably spoke the words in Aramaic and not in Greek, and the other parallels with Exodus 24 a connection is likely.

It might also be noted that as Exodus 24:4 highlights that God’s covenant is established with the twelve tribes, the twelve apostles are prominent at the Last Supper all three Synoptics (cf. Matt 26:20; Mark 14:17; Luke 22:14, 30).

Zechariah 9:11
Up front, I should mention that some scholars think that Jesus was instead alluding to Zechariah 9:11, which also speaks of "the blood of my covenant". I do not believe one has to pit one passage over another though. In fact, as commentators of Zechariah regularly point out, his use of this image is likely drawn from Exodus 24. Even if this passage is in the background then one cannot escape Exodus 24. Indeed, since Jesus seems to have often brought multiple passages together in allusion in other places, it seems likely he is doing something similar here as well.

Matthew, Mark and the Targums
In particular, the allusion to Exodus 24:8 is especially strong in Matthew and Mark, who report that Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant” (τὸ αἷμά μου τῆς διαθήκης ; Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24). The LXX (=Septuagint) of Exodus 24:8 reads: "Behold, the blood of the covenant" (δοὺ τὸ αἷμα τῆς διαθήκης).

Scholars such as Davies and Allison have pointed out that there is a particularly striking similarity between Jesus' words in Matthew and Mark and the account of Moses' words in the Targums, Aramaic paraphrases of the Old Testament which scholars date to a later period. Both Targum Onqelos and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan of Exodus 24:8 even more closely mirrors Jesus’ words, since they include the word "this": “Behold, this is the blood of the covenant” (Jesus' words: "This is my blood of the covenant").

If the similarity is merely the result of coincidence it is an amazing one. Indeed, many scholars suspect that Matthew and Mark preserve an early witness to the rendering found in the Targums. This seems quite sensible to me.

Atonement and the Blood of the Covenant?
There is another feature of the Targums' account which also deserves mention. Notably, in Tg. Ps.-J. and Tg. Onq. of Exod 24:8 the "blood of the covenant" is said to "atone" for sin. This also appears to correspond to Matthew's account, where Jesus' add that his blood will be poured out “for the forgiveness of sins”.

Of course, in the biblical version (MT [Hebrew Bible]/LXX) of Exodus 24 there is no mention of "atonement". So where did this idea come from?

I've got a theory. . . and I'll tell you about it in second (and concluding!) post in this series.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Goodacre's "Dating Game" 5: The Historicity of the Parable of the Vineyard

In the second installment of this series we looked at the way Jesus identifies himself as the “stone rejected by the builders”/ “cornerstone” from Psalm 118. There we argued that the stone was most likely associated with the temple and that, ergo, Jesus had identified himself in terms of the temple.

Here’s the question: is the saying historical? Because the saying is also so closely tied to the Parable of the Vineyard―which, as I explained earlier underscores the cultic aspect of the stone saying―we might also inquire into the authenticity of the parable itself.

To begin with we ought to observe that some scholars (e.g., Jeremias) have preferred the version of the parable in the Gospel of Thomas, seeing it as more original to that found in the Synoptic Gospels. The version in Thomas is simpler and therefore seen as being “more primitive”.

In particular, scholars have preferred the version found in Thomas because it seems to have fewer allegorical features. The assumption here is that the presence of allegory points away from the teaching of the historical Jesus and is evidence of the theology of the early church.

Without getting into a long discussion here, the view that Thomas’ version of the parable is more original than that of the Synoptics has been rightly rejected by a number of recent writers. Indeed, the Thomas’ account can be shown to be dependent on the Synoptics’ as well as Syriac translations of the Gospels.[1] Furthermore, as others have pointed out, Thomas had good reason to exclude the exegetical features found in the Synoptics―to argue anything from their omission here is problematic since such omissions fit well with Thomas’ agenda.[2] Finally, the view that Jesus did not use allegory in his parables has been widely rejected.[3]

But even if Jesus himself used allegory, scholars still insist that particular allegorical features point away from the historical Jesus and towards the theology of the early church.

1. That the “the son” is rejected and killed would seem to point to a post-Easter setting.

2. The implications of the parable are that Jesus is the son of the vineyard, i.e., the Son of God. This is also said to most likely reflect the theology of the early church.

3. In the parable the judgment on the tenants comes only after the “son” is killed. This highlights the unique importance of Jesus and thus also seems to point towards the early community’s view.

4. The destruction that comes as a result suggests a setting after the destruction of Jerusalem.

5. The son is depicted as the final climax, being sent only after other messengers have been killed. This is said to make little sense―why would a father send his son into such a situation? The language is only explicable if one sees Jesus as the climax of salvation history―as the one who comes after all the prophets, a view most see as more likely the product of the early church than Jesus himself.

6. The image of the vineyard being handed over to others is said to point to a period after the “parting of the ways”—i.e., to some belief that God has rejected Israel in favor of the Church.

Let us briefly deal with each of these arguments.

1. The implication of Jesus’ fate in the parable, i.e., that he will be killed, only necessarily points to a Christian origin if one believes that Jesus could not have anticipated meeting a violent ed. However, as a number of scholars rightly point out, there is good reason to think that Jesus did in fact expect to die. Numerous arguments could be cited. For example, since many of the prophets were killed, if Jesus saw himself as a prophetic figure―and we have established in the discussion of the temple incident’s historicity that he did―he would likely have anticipated to suffer as they did.

2. That Jesus is identified as the “son”, i.e., “of God,” does not require one to believe the parable is the product of the early church. The Davidide was frequently associated with such language and there is strong support for the idea that Jesus understood his role in Davidic terms.

3. The unique importance assigned to Jesus in the parable need not be seen as the product of early Christian theology. Jesus himself could have seen himself as an eschatological figure―that would make him unique.

4. We already argued in our post on the temple incident that Jesus likely predicted a coming judgment on the temple. That the parable includes mention of the destruction of the vineyard need not suggest a post-70 setting.

5. If Jesus saw himself as an eschatological figure, he in fact did see his role in “climactic” terms―eschatology relates to the “end”. That the son therefore is killed after the messengers are sent and that the final judgment of the tenants occurs finally after his death is completely consistent with such an eschatological view. Nothing here necessitates a Christian setting.

6. Those who take the parable to describe the rejection of Israel in favor of the church entirely miss the point of the parable. Craig Evans puts it best: such a view makes no sense of the story since it is the tenants and not the vineyard which is condemned. The identity of the vineyard remains constant―it is the tenants, likely the Jewish “leadership”―which changes hands. Evans (Mark, 223) writes: “All attempts to interpret the parable as a creation of the church suffer shipwreck on the rock of the parable’s basic story line: the focus is not on the identity of the vineyard, which is presupposed and remains constant; the focus is on the conflict between those who care for the vineyard and the owner of the vineyard whom the tenant farmers do not respect and will not obey.”

Suffice it to say, the arguments used to deny the authenticity of the parable are weak. In fact, a number of features actually weigh in favor of its historicity.

The Parable’s Dissimilarity to Christianity
As others have shown, the parable exhibits elements which are dissimilar from the early Church’s theology in significant ways.

1. Jesus was killed outside of Jerusalem. The Markan version has the son killed within the vineyard and then cast out, which does not mesh with the Gospel narrative of Jesus’ death who is killed outside the city. That in Matthew this element is changed attests to the problematic dimension of this element in the story. It is obvious that the Christians believed Jesus was actually killed outside walls of Jerusalem, something the author of Hebrews makes much out of (Heb 13:12-13).

2. The son is not raised from the dead. More telling is the fact that the story makes no mention of the resurrection, describing only the destruction of the tenants and the hurling of the corpse of the son over the fence. There is even no reference to a burial―an element that plays a crucial role in the Easter traditions. The fact that the story contains no hint of the son’s vindication, much less resurrection from the dead, would therefore seem to argue against it being of Christian origin and speak to its authenticity.[4]

Coherence of the Parable with the Jesus Tradition
The story can be shown to be coherent with what we know about Jesus.

1. Most obviously, the story is a parable―and that Jesus told parables is one of the most widely accepted pieces of the Jesus tradition.

2. In fact, this parable is quite similar to others attributed to him: e.g., the parable of the talents and parable of the pounds (cf. Matt 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27), in which an authority figure goes away and entrusts what he owes to others and when they are proven unfaithful they are punished. Though Matthew and Luke appear to tell different versions of the story, the majority of scholars agree that their accounts are based on an authentic teaching of Jesus.[5]

3. Numerous other elements of the parable cohere with other aspects of the Jesus tradition which have strong claims to authenticity: his role as an eschatological figure (=he comes after the prophets); that he anticipated his death, an image which fits in well with his prophetic identity; his message of coming judgment; his identity as the “son” may be seen as related to his Davidic identity, etc.

Other Elements in Parable Meet Historical Plausibility
The parable can also be shown to be historically plausible within first century Judaism.

1. Jesus’ tale about the vineyard finds striking parallels with similar stories told by the rabbis, which also communicated lessons allegorically.[6]

2. Its connection with cultic themes (i.e., the stone saying―see below) is also plausible. As we saw in our exegesis of this parable, the temple and the cult were also associated with Isaiah’s description of the vineyard in other Jewish texts (e.g., 4Q500 and Targum on Isaiah).[7] That Jesus therefore speaks in a manner similar to the ancient rabbis and employs this Isaianic passage while speaking in the temple and in association with other cultic images (see above) strongly suggests a Jewish setting.

3. Furthermore, scholars have also identified over a dozen Aramaisms in the parable, which, at least signals that it originated in a Palestinian environment.[8]

All of this underscores the parable’s historical plausibility and weighs against the view that it originated in the early Church.[9]

Our next post in this series will examine the historicity of the stone-saying. This saying is, as we shall see, crucial to the whole question we have been exploring.

[1] An excellent discussion can be found in the recently published comprehensive study on the parables of Jesus written by Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 280. Snodgrass highlights to specific elements which point to dependence on Luke: (1) “they will give to him” (δώσουσιν αὐτῷ; Luke 20:10); and (2) “perhaps” (ἴσως; Luke 20:13). In fact, ἴσως is a hapax legomenon in the New Testament. As Snodgrass writes: “its appearance in Thomas must arouse suspicion” (280). Amen! See also, idem., “The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen: Is the Gospel of Thomas Version the Original?,” NTS 21 (1974-75): 142-44.
[2] See, e.g., Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, 280-81.
[3] For a fuller discussion see Craig Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1990), 26-69.
[4] Moreover, Snodgrass makes the important point that “the parable is too indirect to be the confession of the early church” (Stories with Intent, 296).
[5] Can we really believe that the early Church attributed to Jesus the line: “You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed?” (cf. Matt 25:26; Luke 19:22). See Gundry, Matthew, 508: “Strikingly, the master accepts the severe portrait of his character and activity. His acceptance supports the authenticity of the parable. Early Christians would hardly have made up such a description of Jesus, even in a parable.” For further arguments in favor of authenticity ee also Bock, Luke, 2:1529, Nolland, Gospel of Luke, 2:911; Luz, Matthew, 248-50; Theodor Zahn, Das Evangelium des Lucas (KNT 3; Leipzig: A.Deichert, 1913), 628 n. 23; Alfred Plummer, St. Luke (ICC; Edinburgh: Clark, 1922), 437.
[6] See Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, 278-80 and Evans, Mark 8:27―16:20, 220-22 who cites Midr. Tanh. B. Qĕdôšîm §6 [on Lev 19:2] which begins: “To what may this be compared? To one man living in Galilee and owning a vineyard in Judea, and another man living in Judea owning a vineyard in Galilee.” See also Midr. Prov. 19:21 which alludes to Isaiah 5:7; Sipre Deut § 312 [on Deut 32:9]; S. Eli. Rab. §28.
[7] See the discussion in Evans, Mark 8:27―16:20, 226-28. It also appears plausible that the Targum contains a pre-70 interpretation of Isaiah’s vision. See Johannes C. De Moor, “The Targumic Background of Mark 12:1-12: The Parable of the Wicked Tenants,” JSJ 29 (1998):63-80.
[8] See Marius Young-Heon Lee, Jesus und die jüdische Autorität: Eine exegetische Untersuchung zu Mk 11, 27–12,12 (FB 56; Würzburg: Echter, 1986), 80; Martin Hengel, “Das Gleischnis von den Weingärtnern Mc 12:1-12 im Lichte der Zenonpapyri und der rabbinischen Gleichnisse,” ZNW 59 [1968]: 7-8 n. 31; Evans, Mark 8:27―16:20, 224. Some have made the case that the use of the LXX also suggests a Christian setting. However, see Evans, Mark 8:27―16:20, 224-228; Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, 287-88.
[9] It is also interesting to note that the Targum on Jeremiah 7, a passage cited by Jesus in his earlier temple action, describes the prophets as “servants” (cf. Tg. on Jer. 7:13), who are not heeded by the people. This bears a striking similarity to the language of the parable, which recounts how the wicked tenants rejected the servants sent by the vineyard owner.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Newsweek Editor: "Obama is Sort of God"

Here is the editor of Newsweek offering his version of impartial, objective analysis:

By the way, given the reference to Reagan I thought I'd also post this:

Friday, June 05, 2009

Where Have You Been All My Life?

Yesterday I got my copy of A Reader's Hebrew Bible (Zondervan, 2008) in the mail and all I can say: Wow! Where have you been all my life?! (More to the point: Where were you when I first learned Hebrew ten years ago? I could'a used you then.)
This thing is fantastic. Essentially, it is what it says it is: a Hebrew Bible specifically designed for reading the Hebrew text. In order to facilitate this--for those who don't happen to have every word in the Hebrew Bible memorized--it provides footnotes for all Hebrew words that occur less than 100 times, excluding proper nouns. The definitions given in the footnotes are all taken from major lexicons like Brown-Driver-Briggs (lovingly or not-so-lovingly known by all Hebrew students as 'BDB') or Koehler-Baumgartner's massive Hebrew and Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament.
I can't say how helpful this is. Anyone who's done any reading of the Hebrew Old Testament knows that the one thing that really kills the joy of the whole endeavor is having to put down the text you're trying to read, pick up (an often-very-heavy) lexicon like BDB, track down the root of the Hebrew word, hope you got it right, then go back to your Hebrew Bible (usually the visually chaotic BHS), try to find your place, try to find your word, and start up the whole process of reading again...

Those days are over with the Reader's edition. Don't get me wrong--for detailed exegesis and study--there's no replacement for lexical work. Moreover, if you don't know how to recognize masculine and feminine forms, as well as the different lemmas (stems) of your words, then it's not going to be some kind of magic potion. You've still got to know your grammar and syntax (as well as all the words that do occur 100 times or more).
 However, if you're just wanting to practice reading, this Bible helps cut out the wasted time (and effort) of switching from book to book while your vocabulary grows. 
If you're a budding student of the Hebrew Bible, or if your Hebrew is getting rusty, or if you just (like me) hate reading the BHS because there's so much crammed onto one page, then this is the book for you. 
Oh, and one last thing--it comes in a sweet leather binding with silver-leaf and a silver RIBBON!
How can you top that?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Benedict's Pentecost Homily

"If we do not want Pentecost to be reduced to a mere ritual or to a suggestive commemoration, but that it be a real event of salvation, through a humble and silent listening to God's Word we must predispose ourselves to God's gift in religious openness. So that Pentecost renew itself in our time, perhaps there is need -- without taking anything away from God's freedom [to do as he pleases] -- for the Church to be less "preoccupied" with activities and more dedicated to prayer."
--Pope Benedict XVI, Homily for the Solemnity of Pentecost, May 29, 2009