Sunday, July 11, 2010

Discovery in Jerusalem: Oldest Writing Ever Found There Unearthed

From the Jerusalem Post:
Hebrew University excavations recently unearthed a clay fragment dating back to the 14th century BCE, said to be the oldest written document ever found in Jerusalem.

The tiny fragment is only 2 cm. by 2.8 cm. in surface area and 1 cm. thick and appears to have once been part of a larger tablet. Researchers say the ancient fragment testifies to Jerusalem’s importance as a major city late in the Bronze Age, long before it was conquered by King David.

The minuscule fragment contains Akkadian words written in ancient cuneiform symbols. Researchers say that while the symbols appear to be insignificant, containing simply the words “you,” “you were,” “them,” “to do,” and “later,” the high quality of the writing indicates that it was written by a highly skilled scribe. Such a revelation would mean that the piece was likely written for tablets that were part of a royal household.

[. . .]

The most ancient piece of writing found in Jerusalem before the Ophel fragment was a tablet unearthed in the Shiloah water in the City of David, dating back to the eighth century BCE – nearly 600 years “younger” than the Ophel find.

Hebrew University Prof. Wayne Horowitz, a scholar of Assyriology, deciphered the script with the assistance of his former graduate student Dr. Takayoshi Oshima. Horowitz said that while the script was too broken to get context out of it, the quality of the writing gave some indication of the creator’s pedigree.

“What we can see is that the piece was written in very good script and the tablet was constructed very well. This indicates that the person responsible for creating the tablet was a first-class scribe.

In those days, you would expect to find a first-class scribe only in a large, important place,” he said.

According to Horowitz, the high quality of the tablet piece indicates that it was most likely part of a message sent from a then-king of Jerusalem to the pharaoh in Egypt.

Horowitz said that the fragment, which is made of Jerusalem clay, indicated that Jerusalem was one of the central cities of the area at the time.

“This shows Jerusalem was not a provincial backwater, [but] one of the main cities of the area,” he said.

Mazar called the fragment “one of the most important finds we’ve ever had” and said she hoped it would lead to further big discoveries.

[ . . . ]

(H/T Jim West).

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Be Part of a TV Studio Audience! The Book of Revelation--Pilot

On Monday, July 19th, we will be shooting the pilot for a new TV series we are developing at JP Catholic. The series is on the Book of Revelation. In it I go through the book--chapter by chapter, verse by verse--and offer explanation.

We need people for the studio audience. If you're in Southern California and you're interested please register here. It should be a lot of fun.

Oh yeah. . . and please spread the word! Thanks!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Repetitions in the Bible: Literary Seams or Literary Artistry?

In 1753, Jean Astruc (pictured right) published a work entitled, Conjectures sur les memoires originaux don’t il paraît que Moyse s’est servi pour composer le Livre de la Genèse. Avec Remarques qui appuient ou qui éclaircissent ces Conjectures. The book was first published anonymously. The book would influence scholarship in a major way for generations to come.

Astruc noted that there were repetitions in the Flood narrative in Genesis. He chalked up the duplications to the notion that behind the final form of the Genesis narrative lay two different accounts of the Flood; instead of synthesizing the two accounts, the final editor placed both versions of the Deluge essentially side-by-side.

Following Astruc’s analysis, scholars since have seen repetitions and duplicates in the Biblical text as evidence of literary “seams” in the text.

But is such a conclusion warranted?

Perhaps repetition is not the product at all of the joining together of sources but rather best explained as careful literary artistry. Indeed, as more recent literary and narrative analysis has shown, it seems clear that repetition was the result of literary design.

Consider Genesis 6:8-9. Scholars have detected a careful structure to the passage in which repetition functions in a key structural way. The passage reads:

Gen 6:8-9: 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. 9 These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God.

The passage seems to follow a careful literary design, which reveals ways in which duplication of material plays an essential role to structure. The careful design highlights Noah's righteousness.

A Noah

B found favor

C in the eyes of the LORD

D These are the generations of Noah

E Noah was a righteous man, blameless

D´ in his generation(s)

C´ with God

B´ walked

A´ Noah

Likewise, consider Genesis 7:21-23, part of the Flood Narrative:

Gen 7:21-23: 21 And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, birds, cattle, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm upon the earth, and every man; 22 everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. 23 He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth.

The text here seems to flows according to a carefully designed structure in which repetition is carefully employed.

A And all flesh died that moved upon the earth

B birds, cattle, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm upon the earth

C and every man

D everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life

E died;

F He

E´ blotted out

D´ every

C´ man

B´ and animals and creeping things and birds of the air

A they were blotted out from the earth

This kind of repetitious structure seems apparent not simply at the micro-level but also on a larger scale. In particular, Wenham has highlighted the apparent concentric design of the entire Flood Narrative in Genesis 6-8.

A Noah (6:10)

B Shem, Ham, Japheth (10b)

C Ark to be built (14-16)

D Flood announced (17)

E Covenant with Noah (18-20)

F Food in the ark (21)

G Command to enter the ark (7:1-3)

H 7 days waiting for flood (4-5)

I 7 days waiting for flood (7-10)

J Entry to ark (11-15)

K Yahweh shuts Noah in (16)

L 40 days flood (17a)

M Waters increase (17b-18)

N Mountains covered (19-20)

O 150 days waters prevail (21-24)


O´ 150 days waters abate (3)

N´ Mountain tops visible (19-20)

M´ Waters abate (5)

L´ 40 days (end of) (6a)

K´ Noah opens window of ark (6b)

J´ Raven and dove leave ark (7-9)

I´ 7 days waiting for waters for subside (10-11)

H´ 7 days waiting for waters to subside (12-13)

G´ Command to leave the ark (15-17 [22])

F´ Food outside ark (9:1-4)

E´ Covenant with all flesh (8-10)

D´ No flood in future (11-17)

C´ Ark (18a)

B´ Shem, Ham, and Japheth (18b)

A´ Noah (19)[1]

The structure clearly highlights the idea of God remembering his covenant.

What’s the take away from all this? It would seem that the early source-critics were mistaken. Duplication is the result of something more than sloppy editing.

Evidence of multiple sources disjointedly combined? Really? Perhaps instead the carefully planned repetition highlights a highly sophisticated literary unity than has been overlooked.


[1] Gordon J. Wenham, “The Coherence of the Flood Narrative,” Vetus Testamentum 28 (1977):336-48.

Friday, July 02, 2010

I'll Be Speaking. . .

I'll be speaking at a number of events this month. If you're around, please consider coming out! Here's my schedule. Note that my fellow contributors, Brant Pitre and John Bergsma, will also be speaking at a number of the following events.

July 11: Catholic Family Conference, Ontario, CA (with Fr. Joseph Fessio, Tim Staples and Jesse Romero) (more information here).

July 16-18: Fullness of Truth Conference, Corpus Christi, TX (with Scott Hahn, Brant Pitre, and John Bergsma) (more information here)

July 23-25: Word of God Conference, New Orleans, LA (with Brant Pitre and John Bergsma) (more information)

July 28-30: Institute of Applied Biblical Studies, Steubenville, OH (with Archbishop Jose Gomez, Scott Hahn, Brant Pitre, John Bergsma, Tim Gray, Curtis Mitch, Jeff Morrow, Fr. Pablo Gadenz, Edward Sri, Kimberly Hahn, Jeff Cavins and David Currie) (more information here)