Veronica’s Napkin

The Heavenly Circuit; Berenice’s Hair;
Tent-pole of Eden; the tent’s drapery;
Symbolical glory of the earth and air!
The Father and His angelic hierarchy
That made the multitude and glory there
Stood in the circuit of a needle’s eye.

Some found a different pole, and where it stood
A pattern on a napkin dipped in blood.

WIlliam Butler Yeats, 1933

Reading and Being Read

That is, reading Scripture, but also being read by Scripture.

Fr Stephen Freeman, an Orthodox priest who writes the Glory to God for All Things blog, beautifully expounds on the above. It fits well into the mystical reading of Scripture that several of us were recently writing about.

(By the way, “Glory to God for all things” was the last thing St John Chrysostom said before dying during his travelling into exile.)

Lost in the Stars

Before Lord God made the sea or the land
He held all the stars in the palm of his hand
And they ran through his fingers like grains of sand
And one little star fell alone

Then the Lord God hunted through the wide night air
For the little dark star in the wind down there
And he stated and promised he’d take special care
So it wouldn’t get lost no more

Now, a man don’t mind if the stars get dim
And the clouds blow over and darken him
So long as the Lord God’s watching over him
Keeping track how it all goes on

But I’ve been walking through the night and the day
Till my eyes get weary and my head turns gray
And sometimes it seems maybe God’s gone away
Forgetting his promise and the word he’d say

And we’re lost out here in the stars
Little stars big stars blowing through the night

And we’re lost out here in the stars
Little stars big stars blowing through the night

And we’re lost out here in the stars

Kurt Weill/Maxwell Anderson. An especially nice version of this song is sung by the inimitable Frank Sinatra.

The One Author

Once one acknowledges the divine author of all of Scripture and of each of its individual books, faith and theological thinking have to supplement more conventional historical, linguistic, and grammatical approaches toward understanding the words and meanings of the biblical text. Acknowledgement of God as the Bible’s primary author moves Catholic and other religiously motivated biblical scholars beyond the criteria and interpretive practices of their fellow biblical practitioners in academic guilds, meetings, and educational institutions, even in seminaries and schools of theology. Academic interpretation and exegesis tends to focus almost exclusively on individual human biblical authors and writings, or often even on stages within biblical writings.

That focus considers almost exclusively the diversity within the many books of Scripture and is unable to articulate what unity there might be among the numerous authors and writings in the Bible. Historical criticism routinely and a priori excludes consideration of God as biblical author. Doing so also prevents recognition of Scripture as God’s word and revelation. If Scripture is not regarded as the word and revelation of God, its primary author, ascertaining the Bible’s unity becomes almost impossible. Meaningful unity of Scripture can be recognized only if one believes that the Bible has one ultimate divine author revealing his word and message of salvation. Without reflection on the one divine author, it is hard to demonstrate any significant sense of biblical unity.

Fr William S. Kurz, SJ. Reading the Bible as God’s Own Story: A Catholic Approach for Bringing Scripture to Life. The Word Among Us Press, 2007. page 39.

Fr Kurz touches on a subject that I’ve covered in several posts on this blog, that of the failure of historical criticism and other modern exegetical frameworks alone to adequately comprehend the Bible. Without the recognition that God exists and has taken a hand in guiding history, including the writing of this Book of Books, one is neither going to gain nor appreciate the worldview that accomplished the prophetic authoring of its individual elements and the collection of these documents into the Bible, a collection that belies not just a recognition of mere compatibility, but indeed the recognition of a particular unity between these books which seem so disparate and even incompatible according to various modern misguided interpretive frameworks. This is not even remotely to be considerd a rejection of the realia of various fields like history, philology, textual criticism, archaeology, and other fields which contribute to our understanding of the Bible as the product of particular times and places. While not precisely objective in theory, such fields need not be in their conclusions subjective to the point of idiosyncrasy, as they often have been in the past. This is to emphasize the missing dimension, the recognition of the “God Who acts” as G. Ernest Wright put it so long ago. In this respect, I disagree with the order of influence discussed by Kurz, above, that “faith and theological thinking have to supplement more conventional historical, linguistic, and grammatical approaches.” It is rather the case that a solid theological and faithful understanding and reading should be supplemented by history, philology, textual criticism, archaeology, etc. Long before any of those fields existed, the faithful approach to Scripture, sharing its worldview, produced both saints and scholars in abundance. That’s more than enough reason to work toward initiating and implementing a new approach to the Bible which avoids the pitfalls present in both pre-critical and critical approaches to Scripture.

On McDonald’s The Biblical Canon

Back in January I wrote about Lee Martin McDonald’s book The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority (Hendrickson, 2007), detailing a number of errors that I’d noticed that finally put me off reading the book. As you can see there, Dr McDonald has left a very illuminating comment, in addition to sending me a private email covering the same points, showing that several of these errors were actually caused by the editor, rather than being allowed to slip past the editor, as I had so ungenerously assumed. As I explained in my apology to Dr McDonald, it simply had not entered my mind that a professional editor could be so inept. The lesson here is quite obviously caveat scriptor! I reproduce his comment in full here:

Dear Readers:

Thank you for these comments. I looked at the manuscript that I sent to Hendricksons to see what I actually had sent to them because the sentence about Sirach translating the Septuagint on p. 80 was just as surprising to me as to you. My original manuscript to them said: “These “writings” circulated in Palestine and were later translated from Hebrew into Greek— probably by the time of Sirach’s translation—not only for the Jews in Egypt, but also for the other Jews in the Diaspora.” The editor dropped out “the time” and it came out absolutely wrong. As you can see on pages 83-84, I only claim that the grandson of Sirach translated his grandfather’s work. I would not consciously claim that any one individual translated the LXX –no one says that. Thank you for catching this.

Also, the word “theraputae” (a plural form) should, of course, be “Therapeutae.” It is listed as Theraputai in some volumes, but here it is clearly wrong in my volume.

I was just as disappointed as you when I saw how the editor butchered the Neusner dictum on p. 170. changning “not” to “know” destroyed the whole point of the saying.

By the reference to three-dimensional stelae on pp. 39-40 I mean to focus on height, breadth, and depth. I am sorry for the confusion.

I do accept the other comments also as quite helpful. I was told by one of the readers that Hendrickson has issued a new printing in March and they were supposed to have caught several of these mistakes. I called them about several of them in January, but I do not know if they were caught. I have not yet seen the new printing, but several of the mistakes were, of course, embarrassing and I apologize that they appeared. The pressure to get the volume out after many editorial delays allowed for a quick read and not a good one. Ultimately the errors are my responsibility and I accept that. I assure you that I will be much more careful in my next volume.

Thank you again for your help. If you find any other errors, I will be most happy to receive them and I will ask that they be corrected in the next printing. I am on sabbatical leave at the moment, but I may be still be contacted this year at lee.mcdonald<at>

Thank you again.

Lee Martin McDonald

I intend to recommence reading the book, making a detailed list of everything that seems odd. If any other readers were so inclined, it would be good to forward those lists to Dr McDonald for the sake of corrections made in a future printing, or perhaps a second edition. The book itself, corrected, would be a great resource, I think, and an excellent summary of the status quaestionis about the Biblical canon. It would certainly make a fine textbook for any classes on the subject.

At this point I also want to recommend to those readers who may not know it, a volume co-edited by Lee Martin McDonald and James Sanders, The Canon Debate (Hendrickson, 2002). Each chapter is by a different scholar covering various subjects related to the development of both the Old Testament and New Testament canons. Several of the chapters in that book were starkly illuminating, and altered my thought on several issues regarding canon formation, particularly the Mason, Lewis, and Lightstone chapters. Keeping in mind that the work is multi-authored, with some overlap of coverage and even some minor instances of contradiction between chapters inevitable, the work as a whole flows well and coherently. I cannot recommend it more highly, and trust that I shall soon be able to recommend McDonald’s The Biblical Canon with equal enthusiasm!

Samgar in Jeremiah 39.3

John Hobbins, Charles Halton, Chris Heard and I have been discussing (offline) some other details regarding Jeremiah 39.3 in light of the Jursa discovery. John has the latest update out of the gang, here. These are just some preliminary notes on one aspect of that conversation that seem good to share. I’ll be sure to post any major adjustments to the below, as they occur.

I’ve been focusing on the word sāmgār ( MT סַמְגַּר ) which is generally agreed to represent the Babylonian word sinmagir, or, more properly, Sîn-magīr. The relationship suggests that the Hebrew should perhaps be repointed to סִמַּגִר, with the Akkadian /n/ elided into the doubled /m/ in Hebrew. The word is obviously a title of some sort belonging to the immediately preceding name Nergalsharezer, just as the other two Babylonian officials mentioned also bear titular epithets. (Their titles, I’m sure, will be taken up elsewhere.) The issue is that of the meaning of this title Sîn-magīr, not just here in Jeremiah 39.3, but even in Neo-Babylonian texts.

The epithet, when understood as such, has been taken as alternately either a place name (as is reflected in the NIV and NET translations of Jeremiah 39.3: Nergal-sharezer of Samgar) or simply as a title, “the Sîn-magīr official,” as is the preferred meaning in the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary. Throughout the last century and up to the present, there has been no decisive conclusion made regarding the meaning, and so some scholars treat it as a title, while others treat it as a geographic name. Neither of these, however, quite conveys the proper meaning, as this name (for indeed, it is a personal name) has a very long history in Babylonia.

It seems to have first appeared as the name of King Sîn-magīr of the First Dynasty of Isin, who ruled 1827-1817 BC. The name perhaps means “(the moon god) Sin is noble.” Thereafter, Sîn-magīr was a very popular name during the Old Babylonian period, as we see from it popping up in numerous legal and economic texts of the period. In the late Kassite Dynasty and in the Second Dynasty of Isin (circa 1200-1125 BC), we find that there was a province called Bīt-Sîn-magīr, “House of Sîn-magīr,” perhaps originally named for a Kassite tribal chief bearing the name Sîn-magīr. During this period the governor of that province was called šakin Bīt-Sîn-magīr, all of which was preceded by the logographic determinative LÚ, pronounced awīl or amēl in Babylonian, meaning “man” in general or more specifically “official” in contexts like this. Over the course of the next several centuries, something very interesting appears to have happened with the name of this territory and this governor’s title. By the time it is mentioned again in the late Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian periods, we see LÚ.DINGIR Sîn-magīr, that is, “Sîn-magīr man” or “Sîn-magīr official.” There is a mechanism to explain this.

Already in the Isin II period, the phrase šakin māti “governor of the land” was being reduced to simply šakin in the case of this governor and others. This may be because immediately following the māti would sometimes occur the KUR (read as māt, “land of”) logographic determinative right before the name of the region, and this duplication was considered dysphonic. Another interesting thing is that in the phrase Bīt-Sîn-magīr and in other such Bīt-PN phrases where the personal name is compound, the PN is not in the genitive, as it is in the case of non-compound examples: Bīt-Adini, Bīt-Zamāni, etc). This seems to be a rule, as it is consistent. In any case, the Bīt-, “House of…” drops from the phrase Bīt-Sîn-magīr during the course of the roughly five centuries between Isin II and the Neo-Babylonian period, for whatever reason, perhaps simply for hypocoristic reasons. The end result is that the remaining Sîn-magīr, which was always a personal name and was still understood as a personal name, does not appear to bear geographic determinatives, though perhaps future discoveries will show these to us. We also now find the title of the ruler of this province or territory now being simply LÚ.DINGIR Sîn-magīr, “the Sîn-magīr man” or “the Sîn-magīr official.”

Recognizing Sîn-magīr as a hypocorism, or familiar nickname, for Bīt-Sîn-magīr makes this title much more clear. In support of this particular understanding is a text often referred to as Nebuchadnezzar’s Hofkalender, a clay prism found in the Etemenanki, the temple of Marduk at Babylon. This text dates to Nebuchadnezzar’s seventh year, 598 BC, and give a list of his chief court officials, and also of the “chiefs of the land of Akkad,” first among whom is listed I.DINGIR Nergal-šar-uṣur LÚ.DINGIR Sîn-magīr, that is, Nergal-šar-uṣur the Sîn-magīr official, followed by a list of governors of all the other provinces of Akkad. The proper connotation of “the Sîn-magīr official,” therefore, judging from the above, appears to be “the governor of (Bīt-)Sîn-magīr.” This same individual appears in Jermiah 39.3 as “Nergalsharezer of Samgar,” and is often referred to in English as Neriglissar, the form of his name found in the epitomes of Berossus. He was married to the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, and was the instigator of a successful coup which ended the reign and life of Amel-Marduk, and brought Neriglissar to the throne.

In summary, then, Sîn-magīr is a personal name hypocoristically standing for the fuller geographic name Bīt-Sîn-magīr, which had included that personal name. By the Neo-Babylonian period, the traditional title of the governor of this territory had also shortened to simply awīl Sîn-magīr, “man of Sîn-magīr.” I would thereefore suggest that the clearest ranslation of this phrase into English would be “governor of Sîn-magīr.”

Thanks especially to Charles for prodding me to express all this better, and his patience.

Which Byzantine Ruler Are You?

From Mike Aquilina’s The Way of the Fathers blog, the Which Byzantie Ruler Are You? quiz.

Which am I? Why, Saint Justinian, of course! (He was in mind as I giggled my way through answering the questions!) Here’s Mike’s blurb on this undeniably great emperor:

In the sixth century, Justinian accomplished the brief recovery of the empire’s old territory in the east, in Africa, and in the west. His victories, however, were hard won over the course of decades, and they came at a great cost in human life, not to mention taxation. Paradoxically, Justinian’s military successes probably contributed to the empire’s subsequent decline. The conquered lands were hardly secure, and many were lost in the years after his death. During his reign there was a great flowering of Byzantine culture, whose monuments remain in Istanbul (e.g., Hagia Sophia) and Ravenna. His reconstitution of Roman law, the so-called Justinian Code, is still the basis of civil law in some modern states. Justinian is venerated as a saint in the Orthodox Church.

Next to Justinian’s law code, we have several important different works on this period from a man very close to the Emperor, the consiliarius of the great general Belisarius, Procopius of Caesarea, who wrote the extraordinary Wars in eight books (Loeb edition: Books 1-2, Books 3-4, Books 5-6.15, Books 6.16-7.35, Books 7.36-8) chronicling Justinian’s reign and Belisarius’ remarkably successful campaigns, and the Buildings (in a volume with a general index to all the Loeb Procopius volumes), describing Justinian’s magnificent building program which included the Great Church, the Hagia Sophia. He also wrote the unfortunate Anekdota, often called The Secret History (Loeb volume), an embittered attack on Justinian, Theodora, the Church, the State and apparently anything else that entered Procopius’ sight. Ostensibly a continuation or supplement to the Wars, the work is marred by the bitterness of its invective, and sometimes outright viciousness. This makes it, owing to the delight in gossipy trash so reflective of popular culture, the most well-known of his works. Of course.

Ethiopian Books of Maccabees

The Ethiopian Orthodox canon of the Bible (see here for a list of the OT books) includes several works unknown to other traditions, including three Books of Maccabees. They lack translations of each of the four books of Maccabees known to other traditions. An email correspondent, John Plummer, has found online translations of these Ethiopian Maccabees books in the Rastafarian dialect called Iyaric, done by someone named Ras Feqade Tebbaqiw:

1 Meqabyan

2 Meqabyan

3 Meqabyan

A list of all the translations into Iyaric that he has done directly from the Amharic Bible of 1948 EC (1955 AD), promulgated by the late Emperor Haile Selassie, is available here.

I might take a swing at bringing these into standard English, but don’t hold your breath. I don’t know Iyaric, and the glossary is not extensive enough to cover all the unusual words I’ve already seen. Perhaps reading them with some Bob Marley playing will help set the mood, and make the Iyaric more easily understood. Focus on Marley’s accent, and most of the rest will follow.

The very important thing to note is that this translation of these books is the first ever published in a modern language. Though the books have been summarized and described before, they have never been translated in full.

I do believe I’m equally as excited to read these as I am the last Harry Potter book, being released at midnight tonight. (I have a copy reserved at our local science fiction/fantasy/mystery bookstore, The Other Change of Hobbit. ALWAYS support your local booksellers!)

Thank you Ras Feqade Tebbaqiw!

Jerusalem, 1872

Jerusalem was the city which the Lord did choose to place his name there. He loved the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. But while the land has been defiled, and the people have been scattered abroad, these gates have long fallen, and Zion has often been filled with judgment. The tomb of David stands without the wall of the present city ; but the palaces of Jerusalem have disappeared from Mount Zion. Not a vestige of its bulwarks that long withstood Roman hosts remains ; and the city of David that stood on Zion, has wholly vanished, as if that site of Israelitish royalty, like Samaria the other, had never been reclaimed from the plough. Only a small portion of the mount is now enclosed within the walls of the modern Jerusalem ; and Mount Zion may now be seen, as each successive traveller can testify, as the prophet saw it in vision, ploughed as a field, (see frontispiece.) In other places throughout the land, grain is sown around closer and larger olives than those of Zion as it is among them, while many open spaces or fields are there given up entirely to the plough. “At the time I visited this sacred ground,” says Dr Richardson, “one part of it supported a crop of barley, another was undergoing the labour of the plough, and the soil turned up consisted of stone and lime mixed with earth, such as is usually met with in the foundations of ruined cities. It is nearly a mile in circumference. We have here another remarkable instance of the special fulfillment of prophecy ; therefore shall Zion for your sake be ploughed as a field” (Richardson’s Travels, p. 349 ; Mic. iii. 12). Zion testifies against her children. On his first visit to Zion, the writer of these pages, together with his friends, gathered some ears of barley from a field that had been ploughed and reaped : but, on the last, we saw the plough, as in any other field, actually cleaving the soil of Zion.

And the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest (Jer. xxvi. 18). Jerusalem lay in heaps, after it was besieged, taken and destroyed by the Chaldeans, and also by the Romans. To this day the mosque of Omar may be seen, as in the plate, as the crescent of Mohammed towers over it, where the nobler temple of Solomon stood in its glory. The mountain of the house, with its trees around it, may still be said to be “as the high places of a forest,” devoted as it is, as were they, to the cause of false religion, and not to the worship of the Holy One of Israel. But the words of truth immediately subjoined to these denunciations of the prophet, tell of other times than these in which many a cresent, as now, glitters over it, in token that Jerusalem is still trodden down of the Gentiles. But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills ; and people shall flow unto it. And many nations shall come and say, Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob (Mic. iv. 1,2 ; Isa. ii. 2,3).

Rev Alexander Keith. Evidence of the Truth of the Christian Religion Derived from the Literal Fulfilment of Prophecy: Particularly as Illustrated by the History of the Jews and by the Discoveries of Recent Travellers, 39th edition, 1872, pages 256


John Hobbins and Iyov, along with Suzanne McCarthy and a host of others to whom each links have brought up different ideas regarding the intersection of not so much faith and scholarship in opposition as faith and critical scholarship in conjunction. This is an issue of perennial interest to me, as one can see from any number of posts here, where I tend to focus more on the opposition than the conjunction, which I ironically display in various other posts. Go figure. As you can see from the few of my own posts that I’ve linked to just above, it’s difficult to describe the interaction well, particularly when one doesn’t actually really live a separation between them.

Like the firstfruits of orchard, field or flock of old, we should only offer up our best to God in our scholarship. But is this necessarily what the academy defines as “critical”? I think not, at least not entirely.

Note those most fundamental works of Christian literature, the books of the New Testament. What exegetical strategy is employed in them, by these earliest generations of Christians, including some of the apostles themselves? It is a typological-allegorical method of exegesis that is roundly and vividly scorned by modern critical scholarship. And yet, it was good enough for these foundation stones of Christianity! In the case of these earliest Christians, the Scriptures described real people and real events, and had more than an importance that was limited to their original audiences. They were part of a living tradition of interpretation, a kind of perpetual prophetic hermeneutic, in which their meaning was continually contemporized. In effect the Scriptures were kept alive. The fact that they were susceptible to this in a way that other literature was not considered to be was related to the idea that they were inspired by God. In my own Esatern Orthodox tradition, David and his harp in his creating psalms are used as an image of God inspiring through His prophets the writing of the Holy Scriptures. It is not a plenary inspiration as some would have it, but it is something more than negligible, a Divine Harpist playing upon a human harp, with each harp resounding differently than another. And that imagery itself, the helpfulness of it, the clarity of it, the charm of it, and the depth of it which invites contemplation, further meditation, and even deeper understanding, this imagery is similarly part of that world of typological-allegorical exegesis. It’s a kind of exegesis that is poetry discussed in poetry, the language of poets not plumbers.

There is something to the Scriptures, the way that even its words are arranged, that even one of the more critical of Church Fathers could perceive something unusual lay therein. People are fond of quoting Jerome in support of dynamic translation of the Scriptures, but it is something he opposed, for a very interesting reason. In discussing critique of his translation of one of Epiphanius’ works, he writes to his friend Pammachius: “For I myself not only admit but freely proclaim that in translating from the Greek I render sense for sense and not word for word, except in the case of the Holy Scriptures where even the order of the words is a mystery” (Letter 57.5). Interesting. Jerome, of course, uses “mystery” in its older sense, of something numinously revealed, though perhaps not entirely understood, rather than our modern sense of an unknown or unknowable thing. And this older sense of mystery is something that we need to accept, that it has a meaning that was intended, and isn’t just a mistake that requires emendation. Is this obscurantism? No. It is faithfulness to one’s tradition. We need also to be reminded that no matter how educated we are, however spiritually advanced we may think we are (Lord have mercy!), we do not know everything. I take as my model of gracious admittal of ignorance Dionysius of Alexandria, in speaking about the Apocalypse to John:

But I suppose that it is beyond my comprehension, and that there is a certain concealed and more wonderful meaning in every part. For if I do not understand, I suspect that a deeper sense lies beneath the words. I do not measure and judge them by my own reason, but by leaving the more to faith I regard them as too high for me to grasp. And I do not reject what I cannot comprehend, but rather wonder because I do not understand it.
quoted in Eusebius, Eccl Hist, 7.25

The interesting thing about what Dionysius says is that others extended that approach to the entirety of Scripture, Old and New Testaments. While they admitted a certain clear, superficial reading, they always thought that there was a deeper import to it, even in such mundane things as genealogies, the sacrificial laws, and other passages that tend to bore modern readers. And they made remarkable strides in building up their people through these helps. While it can’t be said that much of this interpretation was intended, we can’t say that all of it wasn’t. I have dealt with the strange ambiguity inherent in the expectation of the immanence of the Son of David, briefly before, and its direct connection to a Messianic tradition leading directly up to one Son of David, Jesus Christ. (That the Messianic Son of David tradition was alive and well into the first century is also known through the Dead Sea Scrolls, and in the second century in the disastrous Bar Kochba War, in which Simon Bar Kochba, “Son of the Star,” was a Son of David thought to be the Messiah.) This Son of David as Messiah being Jesus Christ theme is so prevalent in our Eastern Orthodox hymnography that it comes to be expressed like this, in the Kontakion of the Prophet Haggai, sung on the feast of that Prophet, December 16:

Illumined in mind with streams of light from Heaven’s heights, thou brightly didst shine in prophecy throughout the world; and in manifesting types of Christ’s dispensation, which was to come, thou became illustrious, O Prophet Aggaeus, wise in things divine.

Our Tradition in Eastern Orthodoxy is full to bursting with that ancient type-antitype allegorical exegesis. This method is rich and deep, and has thrived for centuries longer than any critical methods of study, creating an environment which produced not only amazing works of art, literature, hymnody, and philosophy, but especially the people who created them, whose lives were transformed by immersion into that environment, that worldview, to such an extent that they were, by God’s grace, rendered into Saints, continuing the cycle by continuing to pass on the Tradition. It is a Tradition that does not allow for the absence of God (how absurd!) and His plan for humanity simply because we as a body have been and are living proof of Him and His work. And so, in Patristic-guided Scriptural study, we take as a matter of fact that there was a progressive revelation through the prophets of the coming of an eschatological Messiah, the Son of David, Jesus Christ, the types or foreshadows only being recognized after He, the antitype or reality appeared. Inspiration with type, and history with antitype, combine to further illuminate the murkily understood future, now only “seen in a glass darkly” as the Apostle tells us. We learn from those who handed down this method of exegesis from the apostles to apply the same methods to the Scriptures, to continue to seek new ways to praise Him, and to perhaps gain a better understanding of the future, though this is not so driving a concern as understanding the personal application of Scripture to the sanctification of our lives.

Down to the brass tacks, now. I suppose I find the most useful elements of modern critical scholarship, those which I think the ancients would agree are most illuminating and helpful to Scriptural studies, are philological studies, with a close second in archaeology. With these two we can read (if not hear!) the thoughts and words of the distant past more clearly, and even see some of the world that anciently living eyes saw in those days: the kind of jug a slave girl balanced on her head, the toy of a child, the scepters of kings, the crowns of queens, the walls of hovels, homes, temples, palaces, and cities. Recently several of us have been discussing the discovery of a little clay receipt tablet from a temple in Babylon, that cleared up a jumble of names in the text of Jeremiah 39.3. This clarification would have been impossible without the archaeology that found the tablet, and the philological studies that enabled us to read it and discover its importance for Scripture. The most widely referenced corrections of that verse through the last century were all quite spectacularly wrong, suggesting emendations and such, when the solution was as prosaic as changing word division. The discovery and reading of many other ancient Near Eastern documents, historical, mythological, philosophical, poetic, and so on, continue to contribute to our understanding of similarities and differences of these cultures with the cultures that produced the Bible over the course of more than a thousand years. These two fields are not so poisoned with theory as is the tendentiously named “higher criticism,” a subject for another time. In any case, the reality I mentioned above, that expressed in my Eastern Orthodox Tradition, is not adverse to the use of reality in attempting to better understand and explain reality. Thus philology and archaeology are realms of information that are exceedingly useful, as are various other fields, but these two are those I find myself to have gained the most from, particularly in their intersection. People don’t refer to “critical philology” or “critical archaeology,” but just rightly assume that, as in other cases, to mention a subject implies it in its well-practiced form. But these fields can be and have been misused, even in supposedly “critical” Biblical studies, either through incompetence or with deliberate intent (if those are really different categories in such a situation). In any case, it appears that the magic label “critical” has become relatively meaningless, particularly in Biblical Studies as a field. That too, is a subject to be elaborated at another opportunity.

Consider a widely read poet, whose own poems will reverberate with conscious and unconscious allusions to his readings. We also need to wear our scholarship lightly, so that it does not become an obstacle to the entirely prophetic words of Scripture, but rather it enhances and beautifies it effortlessly, naturally, and where appropriate. This is so particularly in our contemplative reading, so that we are still able to be taught, for it is too easy for the well-trained Scripture scholar to sit in judgment on the text before him, rather than allowing himself to be convicted by his reading. Both Iyov and Suzanne mentioned Lectio Divina, a practice of reading the Scriptures with a long tradition, attached primarily to the Benedictine Order. One of the elements of Lectio Divina is stillness, that hesychastic quiet of the mind in which the Word is able to speak to us without distraction of exactly those internal voices, scholarly and otherwise. It’s a good thing to cultivate, but it doesn’t come easy. The best things never do.