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.