Tag Archives: hebrew bible

Some Helpful Guidelines for Evangelical Scholarship


For Evangelicals who traverse the waters of biblical Scholarship, the tension between the critical study of the Bible and reverence for it as the inspired Word of God hangs in a delicate balance. While it is popular to simply write off Evangelicals as enemies of progress who unnecessarily resist the tides of contemporary scholarly opinion, others recognize the presence of presuppositions on both sides of the divide.

As those who have been saved by grace, Evangelicals cannot reduce the Bible to just another literary product of the ancient world. Rather, Evangelicals must seriously think through the various issues that intersect in our doctrine of Scripture. Questions of historical matters and textual problems must be addressed; context and canon must be understood; and, the place of reason and faith must be weighed. For the Church of Jesus Christ to be built, truth must be the catalyst for our endeavor.

Though these issues can be complex, the Baker Academic Blog has  posted a list of Ten Guidelines for Evangelical Scholarship from NT scholar Donald Hagner. This list synthesizes the central points of the matter, allowing for both an appreciation for the humanity of Scripture, notwithstanding its divine origin. As those with a high view of Scripture, Evangelicals must learn think critically, all the while proclaiming the good news of our resurrected king.

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So You Want to Improve your Hebrew?

I remember as a second semester Hebrew student wishing that I could have my professor present while I worked through Hebrew texts at home. Unfortunately, my professors rarely made house calls, even when the syntax of a adversative clause lay on the line. Along with many others, my translation technique consisted of simply looking up words in BDB and mashing them together into a wooden translation, leaving aside the complicated question of syntax and structure. If only I had someone to take me through a text line by line.

Amos handbook

Although there are many resources that can help improve your reading of Hebrew, one that I have recently benefited from is the Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible Series. I have been working through the volume on Amos authored by a professor of mine, Duane Garrett. In the book, Garrett walks through every stanza, strophe, and line of Amos, describing the syntax and function of each grammatical construction, with a little commentary. This book does not address the text-critical problems of Amos, except where necessary for intelligibility, but focuses on the present form of the text.

By working through this book, students who have had a couple semesters of Hebrew can learn to read grammatically on a discourse level with a Hebrew Bible professor at their beck and call. I have not had a chance to reference any of the other volumes in the series, but have heard mostly positive reports from others.

One word of caution with the Amos volume: occasionally, words are missing or misspelled in the text. As you working through the book, I recommend having your Hebrew Bible open, for the simple purpose of verifying the text. With that caveat, I cannot recommend this work more highly.

You can read a review of the book here.

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A Review of James Nogalski’s Commentary on the Book of the Twelve


Beth Stovell of St. Thomas University has written a review of the first volume of James D. Nogalski’s recent commentary on the Book of the Twelve (Hosea-Jonah). While it is certainly not plausible to provide a full critique of such a massive work (488+ pages), Stovell makes some helpful introductory comments. You can read the review here.

At the last annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, I attended a panel discussion reviewing Nogalski’s commentary. While some of the panelists raised sound critiques regarding both content and methodology, others proved to be not so helpful. Indeed, one panelist spent the lion’s share of his review chanting for more Wellhausen and less application in Nogalski’s approach. Text-critical issues aside, such a response obviously misses the target audience of the publishers. And though I diverge from Nogalski on  many significant issues, his approach provides many rich insights, especially on the front of intertextual links between the books of the Twelve.

For those unfamiliar, Nogalski has set himself apart for his research on the Twelve. Although many, including myself, reject some of his conclusions, I cannot say that I have not benefited greatly from some of his insights. And though the question of the unity of the twelve is one of perpetual debate, Nogalski remains at the forefront of the conversation. Those interested in the Book of the Twelve will find this work provocative, for good or ill.

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The Calm before the Storm

The site has been quiet for several weeks. Lately, the whole of my writing efforts have been exhausted on a paper for a doctoral seminar on Prophetic Literature entitled “A Remnant Will Return: An Analysis of the Rhetorical Function of the Remnant in Isaiah and Zephaniah.” Though I will make further comments in upcoming posts, I wanted to catalog some initial observations derived from my research.

The general thesis of my paper is that in utilizing the remnant motif, focusing particularly on Isaiah 1-12 and Zephaniah in its entirety, the prophets portray the remnant community with both positive and negative connotations to invoke their hearers to return to a posture of covenant faithfulness.

At this point, two introductory problems emerge: the commission to Isaiah to deaden the sensitivities of his hearers (Isa 6:9-10) and the dating of Zephaniah’s prophetic ministry in relation to Josiah’s reforms. Here, brief comments must suffice.

The first problem arises from the tension of Isaiah’s commission to harden the hearts of Israel by his prophetic message and my contention of his intention to persuade his audience by use of the remnant motif. While Yahweh certainly declares the purpose/result of Isaiah’s ministry, one may wonder if Isaiah’s proclamation was  indeed hopeless, for his audience, after all, was destined to reject his message. Yet the book of Isaiah itself stands against such a claim. For, before the words of the prophet were penned, they were preached. Even if his audience was to be hardened, leaving his words for future generations (Isa 8:16), the pathos of his oracles can hardly be missed. As such, Isaiah sought to call his contemporaries to repentance, employing an illustrative rhetorical strategy.

To the second problem, ie. the context of Zephaniah’s ministry, I am inclined to locate his proclamation in the early period of Josiah’s reforms. The superscription of the book identifies the context of Zephaniah’s office as the reign of Josiah, which spanned 640-609 B.C. From an internal perspective, features of the text may give an indication of an early date of Zephaniah’s oracles. One such indication is the condemnation of idolatry, more specifically syncretism, as alluding to a period when such practices were, at least partially, still in effect. The purge by Josiah would make such a context favorable for Zephaniah’s forceful proclamation to bring the work to completion. Hence, Zephaniah, in my view, played a significant role during the course of the reforms, though they proved to be short lived.

Doubtlessly, many take divergent views to both the above points, but the point remains: the prophets employed imagery and rhetorical devices to evoke a response from their audience. Among others, the remnant motif functions as such a device. I will explore both the positive and negative contexts of the remnant in upcoming posts. In the meantime, I would welcome any of your initial thoughts.

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And A Carnival it is…


I wake up on the first of every month with a sense of anticipation. It’s kind of like Christmas, but, without all the baggage. For, it’s time for the biblical studies carnival: a monthly synopsis of blog posts on subjects related to biblical studies.

This month, Jim West has put together our carnival. And, as anyone familiar with Jim’s blog will know, it is not the least bit dull. In addition to his colorful commentary, Jim links to many good posts on Hebrew Bible, New Testament, DSS, ect. The carnival itself is dedicated to Mack Brady, son of Jewish Literature Professor of Penn State Christian Brady, who recently passed away at the young age of eight years old.

Some highlights of the carnival include a couple posts by my friend Brian Davidson on discourse analysis and the book of Jonah, Rusty Osborne’s post on John Walton’s guiding principals for ANE comparative study, and a link to the newly released Marginalia Review of Books site. And just in case that was not enough, we have the privilege of seeing Jim in a Snuggie.

I am looking forward to next month’s carnival, put on by Drewe at Delving into the Scriptures. Phil Long is always looking for new folks to host carnivals, so for more information see here.

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Have You Missed the Point of the Book of Jonah?


As has been noted by many,  the book of Jonah stands out among the other writings in the Book of the Twelve. The narrative flow of the book, as well as the historical questions, if any, addressed, have staged interpretive difficulties in the study of the Twelve as a whole. Yet, commentators have traditionally shared broad thematic consensus on the overarching message of the book, highlighting the character of Yahweh as gracious and compassionate.

But one finds a challenge to the traditional interpretation of Jonah in the latest volume of the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament (“Meaning More than They Say: The Conflict between YHWH and Jonah.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament [December 2012 37], 237-257). Rob Barrett, professor of theology at Georg-August University of Göttingen, argues that the focus of the book does not lie in the narrative aspect of the composition, but rather in  the speeches present in the book. Through an analysis of the speeches, Barrett exposes, what he terms, a conflict between Yahweh and the prophet. In each instance, as Barrett states, the direct speeches recorded betray a deeper meaning than intended by the speaker, resulting in the central focus of the book resting not on the Gentile sailors or the people of Nineveh, but on the relationship between Yahweh and Jonah.

While many have looked to chapter four as explanation for Jonah’s flight in disobedience from Yahweh, Barrett claims that this is an inadequate conclusion. The function of the concluding chapter is not to elucidate Jonah’s motivation for fleeing from the call to Nineveh, but rather to evince Yahweh’s commitment to his mercy on Jonah, as representative of Israel. Rather than Jonah’s conflict with Nineveh taking a central role, the conflict “only provides the stage upon which the drama between YHWH and Jonah plays out” (246). Instead of being about Yahweh’s compassion on the nations, the book of Jonah is said to be about Yahweh’s compassion on Israel.

While there is much that could be said about this article, it must suffice to make only cursory comments. Barrett is indeed to be commended for a fresh approach to the study of the book of Jonah. The speeches in the book have largely been subordinated the other aspects, in many cases to their own neglect. Yet, the focus on the direct discourse present yields some fruitful exegetical considerations, particularly in grasping the literary structure of the book.

Another feature of the article that is worthy of note is Barrett’s presentation of Jonah as a representative of Israel. On a popular level, it has been common to identity wayward individuals, running from “the will of God,” with Jonah, without properly understanding his role in the plot of the book. But as part of the Hebrew Bible, the book of Jonah contained a message that was originally given to the people of Israel, and as such, functioned to instruct, rebuke, and shape God’s people first under the old covenant. Viewing Jonah as representative of Israel opens new vistas of understanding for interpreters.

Yet with these features noted, there is one primary objection I have with Barrett’s thesis. In concluding that the locus of authorial intent is in Yahweh’s conflict with Jonah, Barrett downplays, if not almost entirely, the role of Gentiles in the composition. Regarding this Barrett states:

“When the conflicts with the Ninevites (and sailors) are granted priority, the interpretation of the book leads inexorably toward the radical idea that YHWH enters into meaningful relationship with non-Israelite peoples, which results in an overwhelmingly weighty theological burden for such a difficult and brief book” (241).

Yet the trajectory of the Hebrew Bible is directed towards this very burden (Gen 12:3; Isa 2:2-4; Zech 14:16). When read in the larger canonical context, Gentile inclusion does not appear an unexpected feature, especially in the commentary of the latter prophets. And this need not, as Barrett asserts, lead to some form of replacement theology (the church instead of national Israel), but can be seen in the historical-redemptive plan of God to create one man in Christ (Eph 2:11-22).

Barrett’s article certainly provides some deep reflection on the text of Jonah, and for that I am thankful. But the primary thrust of his conclusion may indicate that you may have be reading Jonah just fine all along.


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Another Helpful Itunes U Biblical Studies Course

The other day I stumbled across another course on Itunes U from Concordia Seminary, which focuses on the text of the Hebrew Bible. I have been listening to Dr. Timothy Saleska teach an exegesis on the Hebrew text of Zephaniah and Habakkuk (part of 2 Samuel is posted as well). From what I have heard so far, this course is shaping up to be one of my favorites on Itunes U.

Find the course here.

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Lots of Free Old Testament Lectures

Rusty Osborne, co-founder of the OT blog Law, Prophets & Writings, has compiled a list of free Old Testament courses on Itunes U. If you are unfamiliar with Itunes U, it is a resource  by Apple, providing access to higher education classes free of charge. The number of academic institutions represented is staggering, as is the range of material available. These resources can be downloaded from Itunes U via the Iphone/Ipod app, or simply downloaded through itunes on a computer.

These Old Testament lectures originate from different university/seminary contexts, but afford one an in depth look into the various parts of the Hebrew Bible. Of particular interest here are the courses on Book of the Twelve by scholars such as Richard Pratt, John Goldingay, and David L. Talley. I have listened to most of Dr. Pratt’s lectures previously, finding them to be rather helpful.

Thanks to Rusty for compiling this list.

HT: Charles Halton

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The Literary Structure of Zechariah 14:1-11

Structuring communication is unavoidable, whether in oral or written form. Just as every story has a beginning, middle, and an end, so it is with the texts of the Hebrew Bible. J.T. Walsh once made the claim that “the ‘meaning’ of a work of literature is communicated as much by the structure of the work as by surface ‘content.’”

Discerning the literary structure of Zechariah has kept scholars busy for some time, leaving a manifold witness of proposals in their wake. Here I will offer my thoughts on the structure of one individual passage: Zechariah 14:1-11.

While some prefer to isolate literary sections based on thematic connections, the fourfold use of one that day (“on that day”) appears to be a more solid foundation. The formula, occurring in vv 4, 6, 8, 9, functions to point forward to the events that will occur on the Day of Yahweh introduced in verse one. Yet, the formula does not strictly occur at the beginning of each new section, but rather, functions to bookend particular sections. A hard break need not be drawn based on the formula’s inclusion, as may be seen in vv 4 and 8, but one may be content to see the literary device as reiterating the temporal nature of the Day of Yahweh. The resulting literary structure can be outlined as follows:

I. The Warfare of Yahweh (1-5)

  • Yahweh’s warfare against Jerusalem (1-2)
    • Declaration of the Day of Yahweh in Judgment (1)
    • The Gathering of nations against Jerusalem (2a)
    • The Devastation of the City (2b)
    • The Exile of half the population (2c)
    • The Preservation of a remnant (2d)
  • Yahweh’s warfare on behalf of Jerusalem (3-5)
    • Yahweh’s warfare against the oppressive nations (3)
    • The arrival of Yahweh leading a new exodus (4-5)

II. The Reign of Yahweh (6-11)

  • Recreation of the Cosmic Order (6-7)
  • Restoration of Eden (8)
  • Reestablishment of Theocracy (9)
  • Exaltation and inhabitation of Jerusalem (10-11)

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