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Summer Carnival

I am hosting this month’s Biblical Studies Carnival and need your help. If you are unfamiliar with the Biblical Studies Carnival, it serves as a monthly compendium of biblical studies blog posts, covering subjects ranging from language to literature, history to theology, as well as culture. If you come across any good posts this month (deadline is June 30th), you can send them to me (aking443@gmail.com) and I may just include them. Don’t be shy now.

Phil Long at Reading Acts is always looking for bloggers to host future carnivals. Let him know if you would be interested in hosting. It’s a great opportunity to get your blog out there, as well as synthesize the world of biblical studies blogs for your readers.

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A Note on the Unity of the Twelve

To what degree the Book of the Twelve should be read as a unity is a question I have wrestled with for some time. On the one hand, I hear compelling arguments made by Paul House, James Nogalski, and Barry Jones, while on the hand, lingering questions disallow my full reception of this view. While re-reading a chapter in Forming Prophetic Literature: Essays on Isaiah and the Twelve in Honor of John D.W. Watts by Ehud ben Zvi, I found myself in the struggle for understanding once again.

One strand of evidence that is usual championed for the supposed unity of the Twelve is Sirach 49:10 which reads, “And may he cause the bones of the twelve prophets to flourish from their place, for they comforted Jacob and rescued them by assured hope” (translation mine). As I have thought about this text, the weight that has been hoisted upon as evidence for unity has diminished in my own mind in recent months. For, the mention of the twelve prophets together hardly necessitates a unified reading of their books as is so often intimated. Equally valid could be the understanding of the prophet’s ministries during a critical point in Israel’s history. Furthermore, the task that the prophets are commended for is that of comforting Israel. This effort need not demand their unity.

This, among other sources, that are typically used as evidence for unity have recently fallen somewhat on rocky soil in my own research. Though I remain open to compositional and canonical considerations, I can now see the danger of assuming the unity of the Twelve at the outset of one’s reading. I think ben Zvi says it well:

If a researcher adopts a strategy of interpretation based on a reading of the ‘Book of the Twelve’ as a coherent, unified, literary text, then it is likely that she or he will find or emphasize meanings and properties in the text that are different from those brought to the forefront by those who study each book as a separate unit.[1]

Certainly this is a discussion that will continue for some time, and I hope to hear both side of the conversation. While writing this post I discovered another monograph that seeks to foster such a conversation (see here).

[1] Ehud ben Zvi, “Twelve Prophetic Books or ‘The Twelve’: A Few Preliminary Consideration” in Forming Prophetic Literature: Essays on Isaiah and the Twelve in Honor of John D.W. Watts (ed. James W. Watts and Paul R. House; JSOTSup 235; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1996), 127-8.

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A Double Dose of Biblical Studies Carnival Fun

This month’s biblical studies carnival is now post at that jeff carter was here. It has quite the range of subject matter including an intriguing lecture on 1 Enoch, as well as a chart to help you keep your Mesopotamian deities straight. Overall, it looks like a great carnival.

But if that were not enough. Jim West has taken it upon himself to put together his own party of carnival links. He apparently opted for a carnage theme this month (?). Regardless, he has some good links posted as well.

Next month’s the biblical studies carnival will be hosted by yours truly. If you gather any good links over the next 30 days make sure to pass them along.

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New Issue of the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha

JPS

The June issue of the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha has been released. If you are a subscriber you can view the content online. See here for the table of contents.

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A Review of Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Overview

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Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Overview. Edited by John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012, xxi + 533 pp., $35.00 paper.

The complexity of Judaism between the conclusion of the events recorded in the Hebrew Bible and the trajectory set after the Bar Kokhba Revolt continues to foster much discussion between various fields of scholarship. For Hebrew Bible/Old Testament scholars, Early Judaism provides insights into questions of the formation of the Hebrew Bible, early interpretive perspectives, and the existential self-perception of Jews both in Palestine and the Diaspora. For New Testament scholars, Early Judaism sets the stage for life and ministry Jesus, reflecting his messianic identity and mission, as well as the emergence of the Christian movement.

The sheer amount of evidence, both literary and otherwise, is enough to occupy one for a lifetime. Students can easily find themselves lost in trying to sort through the available material. Yet, this recent volume published by Eerdmans, derived from the Dictionary of Early Judaism, makes an introduction to this complex world accessible to readers. The primary audience of this book is students with a working knowledge of Old and New Testament, as well as the historian.

Consisting on fifteen essays composed by twenty-one scholars, the volume takes a topical arrangement. In the first chapter, John J. Collins provides an introduction to Judaism in contemporary scholarship. A major issue in the study of early Judaism is what constitutes appropriate labels and terminology. Though no characteristic terminology for the Intertestamental period itself is without difficulty, Collins states “‘Early Judaism’ seems the least problematic label available” (2).

A further contributing issue is the question of what actually constitutes literary evidence of Judaism in this period. Collins overviews the place of rabbinic writings, the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, in the study of early Judaism. He rightly concludes that “the identification of a given text as Jewish depends on the profile of Judaism one is willing to accept” (12). In the course of his survey, Collins rejects the claim, set forward by Jacob Neusner for instance, that it is illegitimate to speak of Judaism in the singular. This view advocates for an understanding of Judaism as a plurality of separate, but equally valid, traditions. But, as Collins notes, an insistence on radical diversity in early Judaism “distorts the data just as much as an essentialist approach that would exclude ostensibly Jewish material that does not conform to a norm” (8). The chapter concludes with a call for further research in the field of early Judaism.

The second chapter, authored by Chris Seeman, Adam Kolman Marshak, traces a detailed chronology of the Jewish people from Alexander to Hadrian. The organization of the material, for the most part, takes its cues from the leadership under which the Jewish people were subject. The chapter hinges on the two major Jewish revolts (Maccabean and Bar Kokhba). In addition to the political leadership, the authors describe the religious climate during this period. The rise of priestly power marked a significant feature in the relationship between political leaders and the Jewish people. The centralization of the synagogue, as well as life in Diaspora, is also addressed.

In the following two chapters, Judaism in both the land of Israel (James C. VanderKam) and the Diaspora (Erich S. Gruen) are taken up. In Israel, facets such as the temple, festivals and institutions, religious groups, and Jewish literature characterized Judaism. Though different emphases of Judaism may be found, VanderKam identifies two commonalities at the core of Jewish religion: monotheism and covenant.

Life in the Diaspora was noticeably different than that in Israel. Yet, as Gruen states, such a life is not foreign to the Jewish people, but rather, “the notion of removal from the homeland is lodged deeply in the mythology of the nation” (95). This chapter covers a variety of topics from extent of the Diaspora to the relation of the Diaspora communities to the homeland. The author argues against the popular notion of a continuing exilic perspective in the mind of Diaspora Jews. Jerusalem, says Gruen, “possessed an irresistible claim on the emotions of Diaspora Jews, forming a critical part of their identity. But home was elsewhere” (115).

In the fifth chapter, Eugene Ulrich examines the literary evidence during this period with a goal of presenting his understanding of the development of what eventuated in the canon of the Hebrew Bible. He identifies two distinct periods in the history of the biblical text: 1) A period of developmental growth and pluriformity; and 2) A period of uniform text tradition since 2nd century C.E. (122). The competing theories of the origin of the text (Urtext, ect.) are briefly described, yet dismissed. Ulrich concludes his chapter by seeking to clarify terminology regarding canon, which he reserves for the final product in the 3rd/4th centuries.

The sixth chapter consists of James L. Kugel’s  exploration of Early Jewish biblical interpretation. Despite the circumstances of exile, “Israel’s ancient writings offered an island of refuge” (154) and eventually took on a prescriptive quality. Kugel outlines several instances of interpretation both by later biblical authors, as well as later Jewish interpreters. Regarding the latter, he lists four assumptions that later interpreters commonly shared in viewing the biblical texts as cryptic, relevant for later audiences, harmonious, and divinely inspired.

The next three chapters (7-9) introduce the reader to the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (Loren T. Struckenbruck), the Dead Sea Scrolls (Eibert Tigchelaar), and Early Jewish literature written in Greek (Katell Berthelot). Each of these chapters provides background information about the provenance, dating, and value of each respective body of literature for the study of early Judaism.

Two chapters (10-11) give attention to two major sources for Judaism of the time: 1) Philo (Gregory E. Sterling, David T. Runia, Maren R. Niehoff, and Annewies van den Hoek); and 2) Josephus (Steve Mason, James S. McLaren, and John M. G. Barclay). Both chapters chart the life and works of these two men, relating the significance of their massive literary legacies to the subject of early Judaism.

The twelfth chapter (Jürgen K. Zangenberg) examines the archeological data for Judaism during the Second Temple Period. The author adopts a broad definition of “Jewish,” noting the difficulty of identifying a particular artifact (ie. a piece of pottery, letter, ect.) as intrinsically Jewish. More specifically, Zangenberg asks not just whether an object can be identified as Jewish, but “what type of Judaism it might reflect” (322, italics original). He organizes the chapter chronologically and geographically, surveying the available evidence from the period.

The three final chapters of the book (13-15) discuss Early Judaism in relation to three relevant issues: 1) the Jews among the Greeks and Romans (Miriam Pucci Ben Zeev); 2) the relationship of Early Judaism to early Christianity (Daniel C. Harlow); and 3) the relationship of early Judaism to latter Rabbinic Judaism (Lawrence H. Schiffman). These three chapter, asking very different questions, evidence the range of questions involved in the discussion.

A significant strength of the book is the inclusion of supplemental material such as a timeline of the Second Temple Period, 13 maps of various regions, and 71 photographs/figures of locations and artifacts (manuscripts, pottery, ect.). At various points in the book,  authors reference these pictures as visual support for their presentation.

In addition, the volume includes substantial bibliographies at the conclusion of each chapter, providing further resources for the interest reader. These sources provides an invaluable compilation of both primary and secondary literature for further study.

With all the strengths of the book, there exists weaknesses in various chapters. In some instances an author may overstate the evidence, or present their conclusions as the settled consensus of scholarship, without acknowledging other voices in discussion. One example is the chapter authored by Eugene Ulrich on text, ancient versions, and canon. The assumption of the fluidity of the texts of the Hebrew Bible until a very late date, though common, is by no means the only explanation for the evidence. Others, such as Emanuel Tov, have put forward alternative explanations for what appears to be the “standardization” of the text in later centuries. Such alternatives are simply not included in the chapter. Though it is impossible to address every issue in the discussion, such a fundamental point as the dating of the canon should have received wider attention.

Yet for all of its content this book should be found on the shelf of anyone serious about the study of the Hebrew Bible, Judaism, or the New Testament. Indeed, the title “Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Overview” is well earned.

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A Carnival of the Biblical Studies Persuasion

Jacob Cerone over at ἐνθύμησις has hosted the latest Biblical Studies Carnival. He has listed several good links, as well as book reviews. I recommend checking it out. For more information on hosting a future carnival contact Phil Long.

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Hosea: A Commentary based on Hosea in Codex Vaticanus

Just saw this posted by Brill:

Hosea cover

 

Rather than studying the LXX of Hosea mainly as a text-critical resource for the Hebrew or as a help for interpreting the Hebrew, this commentary, as part of the Septuagint Commentary Series, primarily examines the Greek text of Hosea as an artifact in its own right to seek to determine how it would have been understood by early Greek readers who were unfamiliar with the Hebrew. This commentary is based on the uncorrected text of Vaticanus, and it contains a copy of that text with notes discussing readings that differ from modern editions of the LXX along with a literal translation ofthat text. This commentary also has an introduction to the Minor Prophets in the Septuagint. It is relevant for anyone studying the LXX or the book of Hosea.

You can find it here. Also, see the forthcoming volume on Amos.

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The Literary Function of the Remnant Motif in Isaiah’s Royal Narratives

As mentioned in previous posts, my recent work has been on the remnant motif in the book of Isaiah. As I understand the motif, it functions on a literary level in two distinct ways: 1) As an indication of blessing for Judah (cf. 4:3; 10:20-21; 11:11, 16; 28:5; 46:3-4); and 2) As an indication of the severity of judgment for the nations (14:22, 30; 15:9; 16:14; 17:3; 24:6) and Judah (1:9; 6:13; 10:22). One particular relationship that I found especially intriguing was the use of the motif in the two so-called Royal Narrative units (7:1-25; 36:1-37:38). Here, the literary function of the remnant betrays the prophetic perspective of the monarchy, contrasting the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah as negative and positive examples of kingship.

The parallels between the two sections themselves can hardly be missed. Both narratives, set in the context of the threat of invasion by foreign armies, occur geographically in the same place – “the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field” (7:3; 36:2). This location is referenced only in these two narratives and in the parallel account of chapter 36 in 2 Kings 18, indicating more than mere coincidence. Furthermore, the progression of events establishes an obvious parallel as the report of the mounting threat provokes great anxiety in both kings, followed by signs of reassurance, and the command of Yahweh mediated through the prophet Isaiah not to fear. That the two literary units were intended to parallel one another is clear, yet, the dissimilarities form an equally significant relationship.

While both narratives follow the same order of events, moving from crisis to promise, promise to sign, sign to response, the characters in each narrative are presented antithetically. In chapter 7, Yahweh sends the prophet Isaiah in response to the military threat to speak words of comfort to King Ahaz near the Washer’s field, yet in the contrasting narrative (36-37), the king of Assyria sends his emissary, the Rabshakeh, to speak words of threat at the Washer’s field. Furthermore, whereas Ahaz exhibited his unbelief in rejecting the request for a sign (7:12), the Hezekiah narrative makes no such statement. Together, the narratives present two models of leadership in Judah: one that rejects the covenant promises of Yahweh and one that exhibits trust in the God of Israel. It is in the context of this contrast that the literary function of the remnant motif emerges.

Isaiah 7:3, 21

The remnant motif makes a two-fold appearance in chapter seven, both following the report of the coalition of Syria and the Northern kingdom of Israel—an event that causes both the king and the nation of Judah to tremble like trees in the wind (v. 2). In response, the prophet Isaiah is instructed to assure the king that Yahweh will indeed deliver the people by diffusing the league by the use of a superior military power. Almost in passing, Isaiah is commanded to take along his son שְׁאָר יָשׁוּב (“a remnant will return”) (v. 3). This constitutes the first reference to Isaiah’s family in the book, who, as becomes clear later, prove to be significant in the prophet’s own ministry as signs for Israel (8:18).

It is immediately apparent by the identification of his name that Isaiah’s son holds significance to his overall use of the remnant motif. Yet, though all agree that the name שְׁאָר יָשׁוּב is significant, its specific meaning has posed some difficulty for interpreters. Does the mention of a remnant reinforce the message of comfort to the king that a remnant will indeed return despite the threat to national security? Does the name imply the weight of a coming judgment, namely that only a remnant will return after a devastating defeat? Or, does the name pertain not to Israel itself but to the enemy armies that their forces will be greatly diminished if they continue their advance? It must be admitted that the immediate context of the passage provides no explicit answer to these questions. To complicate matters further, two parallel expressions are found in 10:20-23, displaying, in my view, both a positive and negative literary use of the remnant motif.

Yet, when set in the wider literary context, as well as in contrast to the Hezekiah narrative, the function of the name becomes clear. It must be remembered that at this point in chapter seven, Isaiah’s son was a young boy, and this, at least on a literary level, may indicate that his name did not originate in response to the Syro-Ephramite threat. Furthermore, the prediction of a remnant during the time of peace prior to this event would have no functional positive connotation, unless destruction was already expected. Thus on a literary plain, the mention of the remnant at the beginning of the narrative may anticipate Ahaz’s rejection of Yahweh’s assurance, casting a negative light over the entire chapter. Thus, the enigmatic meaning of Isaiah’s son’s name is resolved by the wider context of chapter seven.

The second mention of the remnant in Isaiah 7, occurring in the context of the sign of Immanuel (vv. 10-25), furthers this interpretation of the chapter. Verses 18-25, comprised of four בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא (“on that Day”) statements, describe Yahweh’s purpose to summon Assyria to overtake the land, thus fulfilling the judgment portended by Isaiah’s son at the beginning of the chapter. While the first two statements are generally recognized as oracles of judgment, the latter two have proved problematic for scholars, with some arguing for a continuation of judgment and others for a shift to a positive note of prosperity.

The crux of the debate falls on the interpretation of verses 21-22 as the question becomes, is the mention of curds and honey an allusion to the glorious land promised to the exodus generation (Exod 3:8; 13:5; Num 13:27)? Or, does it betray an expectation of a deserted land that reflects the national poverty of Judah? In the larger context of judgment, the latter seems to be the preferred option. When all four oracles are taken together, the picture delineates a land that is so desolated from war that the livestock have endless plains to graze with no urban populations to hinder them. What was once thriving farmland is now only fit for grazing. Though the imagery of curds and honey can itself function, as with the remnant motif, both in positive and negative contexts, here it presents itself negatively. All four בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא statements thus come together to magnify the coming judgment, furthering the message proclaimed in verses 1-9. Isaiah prophesies a desolate land to demonstrate the folly of distrusting Yahweh.

An objection may be raised at this point against a negative interpretation of the chapter that Isaiah’s mission is to prophesy the failure of the Syro-Ephramite league, thus offering protection and security for Ahaz. According to this reading, the remnant would accompany the message of hope as the prophet strengthens and encourages the king. Yet, in addition to the points above, the mention of the remnant in this specific context could hardly afford substantial comfort. For, the means of disbanding the Syro-Ephramite league is the Assyrian army foretold in the second unit (v. 17ff), who, though providing relief from the imminent threat, would bring unimaginable destruction upon the land, beyond any assault that the coalition could deal. It is akin, to borrow a metaphor, to escaping a lion only to encounter a bear. The contextual data thus lends weight to the remnant used in a negative context as an indication of judgment. The faithless response of Ahaz further supports this negative interpretation, standing as the antithesis of the positive portrayal of Hezekiah.

Isaiah 37:4, 31-32

Nearly thirty years after the collapse of the Syro-Ephramite coalition, Judah faced the threat of annihilation yet again, but now at the hands of their former deliverer, Assyria. In 701 B.C.E., Sennacherib marched against Jerusalem, an event recorded by the prophet Isaiah (Isa 36-37).

Sennacherib, through the mediation of his official, the Rabshakeh, calls for the surrender of the city in the hearing of the people (36:2-20). Composed of both threat and promise, the Rabshakeh launches a compelling ploy of psychological warfare to make surrender appear the preferable option. Reminding the city of Assyria’s military success, coupled with the lack of viable alliance options for the city’s defense, the Rabshakeh warns against trusting Hezekiah, whose removal of cultic sites could hardly gain the favor of the nation deity. What the Rabshakeh offers, in essence, is a new Solomonic reign of safety and prosperity under the lordship of the king of Assyria (cf. 1 Kgs 4:25). On a natural level, capitulation to Sennacherib was indeed logical, yet Hezekiah’s devotion to Yahweh precluded such a response.

The first occurrence of the remnant motif in this passage is found in Hezekiah’s appeal to Isaiah the prophet to intercede on the city’s behalf (37:2-4). In the final clause of his request, Hezekiah says, “lift up your prayer for the remnant [הַשְּׁאֵרִית] that is left” (37:4f-g). The function of the remnant motif here, though clearly referencing the current population in Jerusalem, is not immediately discernible, either serving as a positive expectation of hope (ie. “Yahweh has left a remnant to this point, he will certainly deliver us now”) or a desperate cry of despair (ie. “The destruction Assyria has dealt is so severe that only a remnant is left”).

A clarifying text does indeed occur in the prophet’s extended response to Hezekiah’s second appeal (37:21-35). Yahweh, exposing the folly of Sennacherib’s boasting, reasserts his sovereignty over even the king’s military conquests. For, before Sennacherib had planned his offensive strategy, Yahweh had already determined the path of his victory (v. 26). And as the one who establishes success in battle, Yahweh states his purpose to turn away the threat against Jerusalem, leading Sennacherib away with a hook in his nose and a bit in his mouth (29). Following his address to the king of Assyria, Yahweh provides a sign to Hezekiah in verse 30, though it lacks the miraculous luster one may expect. For the following two years, the city would live off the produce of the land, followed by a year of agricultural normality. Though this sign may appear ordinary, it is upon this guarantee that Yahweh pledges a “surviving remnant of the house of Judah [פְּלֵיטַת בֵּית־יְהוּדָה הַנִּשְׁאָרָה] shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward” (v. 31).

Here in the context of Yahweh’s promise to prosper the city, the pairing of פְּלֵיטַת and שׁאר forms a more developed picture of the remnant motif as an indication of blessing. It is interesting to note that in verse 31 it is the remnant itself that is bearing fruit, and not simply eating the fruit that had previously grown (v. 30f). Thus what Hezekiah is told is that Yahweh, who will sustain the inhabitants of Jerusalem with the produce of the land, will further plant the remnant as a tree that bears fruit in season. The combination of roots established in the earth and the bountiful production of vine classify the remnant as secure and healthy. Unlike the vineyard that yielded wild grapes in chapter five, the remnant shall once again be fruitful.

As seen in these narrative texts, Isaiah employs the remnant motif as a literary indicator of the monarchial climate in Judah. When used of a faithless king such as Ahaz, the motif can indicate the severity of judgment that will be brought upon the people. Yet, standing in juxtaposition, the remnant can also display Yahweh’s purpose to preserve and prosper his people led by faithful Hezekiah.

 

 

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Perspectives on the Formation of the Book of the Twelve

Formation

Those familiar with the study of the Twelve have seen the central role of reconstructing the formation of the corpus in critical scholarship. The question of how these books came together has received a fair amount of attention in both monographs and scholarly journals, but further dialogue, of course, has always welcomed.

My attention was recently drawn to a forthcoming book entitled Perspectives on the Formation of the Book of the Twelve, eds. Rainer Albertz, James D. Nogalski, and Jakob Wöhrle. This book includes contributions from various scholars, utilizing various methodologies, to further explore the development of the Book of the Twelve in its final form. A good review of the book has written by Matthew V. Moss (read it here).

As Moss notes, the book assumes the reader’s familiarity with the current discussion of the formation of the Twelve. For those seeking an introduction to the subject, I recommend Reading and Hearing the Book of the Twelve, eds. James D. Nogalski and Marvin A. Sweeney. Though this work was published nearly thirteen years ago, much of the material discussed continues to serve as the foundation for the contemporary discussion.

(HT: Brian Renshaw)

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Biblia Graeca – Septuagint + NA28

LXXANDNA28

I believed on faith, but now I have seen with my own eyes. The much anticipated Biblia Graeca, including both the Septuagint and the newly published NA28 in a single volume, is scheduled for release this Fall.  At present, there is a 20% discount. You can view it here.

(HT: Jim West)

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