Fat chance!

This has got to be some kind of joke.

One of the guys more responsible than not for the uninformed public’s impression of the Bible—namely that it is a completely invented late artifact of little historical value for the periods it ostensibly covers—now notices one of the side effects of this is a complete and utter lack of interest in being told this, and so the field is shrinking. What sane person would study or fund such a self-cannibalizing field of study? Meanwhile, Bible programs in religious institutions are thriving, or, I should say, religiously-motivated Bible programs in such institutions are thriving. Those programs in religious institutions which ape the perceived “critical scholarship” of the moment are likewise shrinking, judging from anecdotal evidence. People are simply not interested in that approach.

Now that the results of such an approach become more obvious, the suggestion is made of cooperation with religiously motivated study. The two are antagonistic and will remain so. No call for cooperation will be heeded. The “critical” approach is rightly seen as poisonous to faith. It has no place at all in faith-based education, for the latter generally prides itself in going some other direction. If anything, those involved in such religiously-motivated study will rejoice at the utterly final and inelucatable death, hopefully forever without resurrection, of “critical” Biblical Studies.

May the ouroboros of so-called critical Biblical Studies succeed in swallowing itself, so that it disappears in a final, faint, puff of irrelevance, all unnoticed, all unmourned.

The Faithful will not need to claim their Bible back, for they have never let it go.

Concordances are fun!

Everyone who’s ever been serious about Bible study is familiar with concordances. In the days before computer programs that would do searching and concordancing for you, there were massive printed volumes which would show you the occurrence of every word, most with short excerpts of context. Two of the most famous of these, Cruden’s Complete Concordance and Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, were done completely without the aid of computers, in mind-boggling (and in the case of Mr Cruden, perhaps mind-scrambling!) displays of laborious manual indexing. These days, a few clicks of some buttons will produce all the same results, and even more. As in the case of BibleWorks, Accordance, and other software, one can get complete grammatical breakdowns of the original texts, position parallel texts side by side, and do any number of weird and wonderful searches.

But there is a certain austere beauty to these massive old volumes, and there is still use for them. Indeed, there are still concordances printed which exceed the possibilities of most of these generic Bible programs, like the magnificent (and now graspingly rare and gaspingly expensive) five-volumed Novae Concordantiae Bibliorum Sacrorum iuxta Vulgatam Versionem critice editam (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 1977) produced by Bonfatius Fischer from the second edition of the handbook text of the Biblia Sacra Vulgata of which he was editor. This one includes variant information from the apparatus, which no other computer program does that I know of. I am the lucky owner of a photocopy of these five volumes.

Some more prosaic concordances that I have I am still fond of. One is my old Abingdon Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, which is actually thumb-indexed. This is an edition with James Strong’s full Concordance, copyright 1890, plus a Key-Word Comparison after the Appendix giving common words, in which various selected phrases are presented in parallel from the KJV, RSV, NEB, JB, NAS, and NIV versions, copyright 1980 by Abingdon. I don’t think I ever used that Key-Word Comparison thing, but of course, the Concordance itself gained much use, and its Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary, and Greek Dictionary of the New Testament. As I had just turned 18 when I got this book, it was a fine tool in helping me get more familiar with the Bible, for all its limitations. The scorn that some heap upon it is unfortunate. It was a fine tool for its time, and is a fine tool for introductory study. Certainly, one can move on from there. But one oughtn’t castigate the kindergartener for not having his calculus down pat when he hasn’t learned addition yet. Education proceeds from simple to complex. Regardless, the work that Mr Strong put into this Concordance is absolutely astonishing, considering that it was entirely manual labor, with no computers of any sort available to him. It is not surprising that even with the help of over one hundred colleagues for the work it took him thirty-five years to compile it!

Another very nice concordance in my collection is The Eerdmans Analytical Concordance to the Revisde Standard Version of the Bible, compiled by Richard E. Whitaker, with James E. Goehring and “Research Personnel of the Institute for Antiquitty and Christianity, Claremont Graduate School” (Eerdmans, 1988). This concordance is one of the first to take full advantage of computer technology. This one is fascinating. The “Analytical” in the title is altogether apparent in the entries in this concordance, which are quite often phrases rather than single words, indicating a whole lotta human input in this work, computer-assisted though it may be. So, we have entries for “above all”, “fixed allowance”, “very expensive” and so on. One of the great things about this concordance is that it also includes, in the heading of each entry, the word in the original language from which it is taken. When a single English entry is based on more than one such original language word, all are listed. Since this concordance also includes the RSV expanded Apocrypha/Deuterocanonicals, which includes 4 Ezra, preserved only in Latin, there are even Latin entries. What a kick! So, there are four indices in the back, listing the Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin words with the English words into which they were translated. This makes them extended glossaries of a sort, if one trusts the RSV translators to have done their jobs at all well, as I think most would agree they generally have. WIthin the entries themselves, the particular Heb/Aram/Gk/Lat word which is translated is numbered only within that entry, and indicated to the right. (I was trying to type an example but the right-to-left stuff on the same line as left-to-right stuff was not behaving properly, and it gave me a headache!) Proper names and Numbers appear in their own sections, for whatever reason.

I also have two very interesting NRSV concordances, both of which index the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical books. An interesting feature of both is the indexing of the notes, too. The first is the NRSV Exhaustive Concordance: Complete and Unabridged, “Editorial Consulting and Introduction by Dr. Bruce M. Metzger” (Thomas Nelson, 1991). This one doesn’t mess around with any of that original language stuff. I suppose, one of the reasons is that the mangling of the OT text to impose gender-neutrality made it nearly impossible to render any equations with the Hebrew and Aramaic. (Thus there is The Analytical Concordance to the New Revised Standard Version of the New Testament by Kohlenberger and Whitaker [Eerdmans, 2000], but no OT edition.) Anyhow, in addition to the concordance itself, this NRSV Exhaustive Concordance edition includes Metzger’s Introduction (the reason I bought it), and the following Supplements: Topical Index; The Laws of the Bible; Prayers of the Bible; Harmony of the Gospels; Teachings and Illustrations of Christ; The Parables of Jesus Christ; The Miracles of Jesus Christ; The Jewish Calendar; Jewish Feasts; Monies and Weights; Measures. Frankly, I’d only just realized those were in there, as I’ve never even glanced at them. Metzger’s introduction is a fascinating short history of concordances to the Bible. I’ll summarize it another time. He may also have written something more on the history of concordances elsewhere, actually. I recall a fuller history, illustrated, somewhere. I’ll have to look around for that.

The second of these NRSV concordances is The NRSV Concordance Unabridged by John R. Kohlenberger III (Zondervan, 1991). I think I bought this one first, actually. As in the above, there’s no original language stuff. In addition to an informative introduction, which actually gives some idea of the work that goes into producing a concordance, and the concordance itself, there is a very interesting “Topical Index to the NRSV” compiled by Verlyn D. Verbrugge. I think the binding on this one is better, and the cover, a library binding, is certainly nicer (and a great shade of purple!).

But out of all these, my favorite concordance so far is the smallest. I wonder if anyone is familar with the small, slender, black pocket books that Oxford used to do? This one is one of those, from the early 1920s as I recall (there’s nothing noted in the book itself; the date was from the order). Whatever its date, it’s certainly from a bygone era of bookmanship. It’s small, about 4 x 6 inches, and the hardcover is a fine-grained Morocco leather, black, of course. Around the inner edges of the binding is some beautiful gilt tooling. The endpapers are flat black, and the pages are also gilt. There’s even a thin blue silk register (bound-in bookmark). The 238 pages of this concordance are in small, but clearly legible type. And while “Cruden’s Concordance” is stamped and gilt on the front cover, and the title page says “Cruden’s Concordance to the Holy Bible,” and the top of the first page reads “Cruden’s Complete Concordance to the Holy Scriptures,” this is no full edition of Cruden’s Concordance (of which the complete tenth edition of 1830, including a life of Cruden, is available in full from Google Books here), but an abridgement of it. Yet, now I must partake of a Herodotean digression on the purported author of my beautiful little pocket concordance!

Alexander Cruden had a difficult life, partly due to his strong convictions and forceful personality, and for sometimes being, quite apparently, nuts. Unlike James Strong (that layabout), Alexander Cruden compiled his concordance completely by himself, the first edition being completed in the course of only six or seven years. Having begun in 1730 or 1731, Cruden published the first edition in 1737 at his own expense. As he was the Printer to the Queen, he properly dedicated the first edition to Her Majesty, and presented a copy to her, Queen Caroline, consort of King George II, with all reasonable expectation of a beneficence. Unfortunately, Queen Caroline died suddenly days later, and Cruden was bankrupted. After a period in which Cruden at times he possessed “a mind in which reason tottered, if she were not entirely dethroned,” steady, fulltime work as a printer’s corrector and his continual work for new editions of his concordance was beneficial to his mental balance:

Mr. Cruden seldom allotted more than four or five hours to res; and before six in the morning might be found turning over the leaves of his Bible, and adding to, amending, and improving his Concordance which most scrupulous attention. At this he laboured till the evening, when he repaired to the printing-office. These habits were well calculated to counteract the mental disease under which he had so long laboured; and the reader will learn with benevolent satisfaction, that his mind was restored to a degree of calm regularity to which he had been long a stranger. From 1758, to the close of his life, he was mercifully preserved, in a very considerable degree, from those distressing visitations which had painfully characterised the earlier periods of his history.
(from the anonymous “Memoir of Mr. Alexander Cruden,” found in various older editions of the Concordance)

Cruden also wrote several other books, including the “Account of the History and Excellency of the Holy Scriptures prefixed to a Compendium of the Holy Bible“, the History of Richard Potter, a poor man wrongly accused whom Cruden saved from hanging, A Scripture Dictionary, and the extensive index included in Bishop Thomas Newton’s The Poetical Works of John Milton.

But his great work was his Concordance, to the revision and improvement of which he devoted all his leisure in the later periods of his life; a second edition was published in 1761, dedicated to his late Majesty George the Third, who had newly succeeded to the throne; and who during his reign, the longest in the annals of the British Empire [to that time; Chalmers lived 1759-1834], fully maintained the truly honourable character ascribed to him in that dedication, of “having manifested a high regard for religion, and an earnest concern for promoting it among his subjects.” This edition was well received, and a Third was required, which appeared in 1769, with the Author’s last corrections. These two editions reimbursed Mr. Cruden for the losses he sustained by the first. For his second edition he received five hundred pounds; and when the third was published, the Booksellers made him a further present of three hundred pounds, besides twenty copies of the work on fine paper. These sums, with the product of some other literary labours, placed im in easy and comfortable circumstances during the last years of his life; and enabled him to indulge the benevolence of his heart, in relieving the necessities of others.

So much for my Herodotean digression on the real Cruden’s Concordance, which included contexts (quotation of parts of verses) for each of the various entries. My little one does not include contexts. It includes the heading, sometimes a definition (often charming in their oddity, as that for Aaron: “signifies lofty or mountain of strength or a teacher”), and then a list of verses. It’s very efficient, and perfectly compact. The entire thing is only 238 pages, with each page separated into three columns, and, as I said, in a perfect font for its small point size that is perfectly legible throughout. Such a little concordance and a compact Bible are a perfect pair.

And now we come to the real reason for this post. As some readers know, one of the projects I’m working on for publication is a concordance to the two-volume Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, edited by James Charlesworth, part of the Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library. So, I’ve been experimenting with software, and running tests and such. Another thing I’ve been doing solely for my own edification is getting the text of the NETS, the New English Translation of the Septuagint (Oxford, 2007) imported into BibleWorks, which is not an easy thing, for various reasons, mostly involving weird and annoying versification issues. Anyhow, since I had some of the NETS text lying around perfectly formatted, and I wanted to try out some concordancer software that I’m getting used to, I produced a first-run concordance of the NETS Genesis, in a format similar to my little black Oxford Pseudo-Crudens. Eventually, I’ll do the whole NETS, but then, I might actually get it published and have to be charging something, as well as take this one down. For now, though, there just the concordance of NETS Genesis.

Here it is. Enjoy.

Because I’m now working on the full NETS Concordance for publication, I’ve removed all but the first two pages from the Genesis concordance file above. I was uncomfortable leaving the full file there.

Two birds, one stone

I’ll dispense with two memes in this single post.

First, Nick Norelli tagged me for Five Influential Primary Sources, “sources that have most affected your scholarship, thoughts about antiquity, and/or understanding of the NT/OT.”

I list these in no particular order.

1.) The Law Code of Hammurapi: In my first year of Akkadian, we translated all the laws, but only part of the prologue, as I recall. The whole thing together gave me a great handle on the language of law. Of course, at that time I was in my second year of Biblical Hebrew, too, so the overlap when we touched on Pentateuchal legal material was enlightening. And in this I want to emphasize that it’s not the superficial parallels of similar subject matter that is so interesting. There’s very little, if any, of that kind of equation between the two corpora. But the ways the laws are constructed are similar, whether simple bipartite laws of mere protasis and apodosis, or those extended, case-like provisos, they follow particular patterns of language and syntax within each corpus that are quite similar to one another. There is also a similar method between the two of linking laws in groups by vocabulary chains, though this is not extensively used, if memory serves, coming rather in little groups. The differences between the two are equally striking. It seems fair to say, in light of the prologue and epilogue of CH that it is not a “law code” at all, but an idealized picture of the reign of Hammurapi, intended as a memorial perhaps to Shamash, god of justice. I’ve heard this said about the various other Mesopotamian “law codes” as well, that they are not law codes per se, but something else. Since th “laws” don’t appear in legal documentation, it seems a pretty safe bet that they weren’t laws per se. Anyhow, it’s interesting stuff. We either learn from CH of an ancient conception of the ideal society, or of the workaday world being “legislated” against in the “laws.” Fascinating.

2.) The Mishnah: Early on in my post-Biblical Hebrew training, we were introduced to excerpts from the Mishnah. For whatever reason, the logic of the Mishnah’s organization and the argumentation preserved in its terse style immediately made sense to me. It was also immediately clear that this was not “a bunch of made up Jewish stuff” as I’ve heard some Christian ignoramuses call it. In fact, the reliance of the Mishnah on the Bible is obvious throughout, in reliance on the Bible for proof for a particular point in argumentation, to a general influence on subject matter, and the deeper similarity in what I would call now foundational patterns. These are the underlying patterns of logic and ethics that are induced from the Biblical narrative, patterns which are used to generate new applications. In reading the Mishnah, it became clear to me that in the New Testament, most strongly in Matthew, there were halakhic discussions in the New Testament, with Jesus arguing with Pharisees, et alia, just as the Rabbis argued amongst themselves in the Mishnah. The argumentation, so-called, in Luke and Mark, on the other hand, would have gotten Him laughed out of town or ignored, and would certainly not have led to Him being popular enough to be considered a threat. (John, on the other hand, displays striking similarities in Jesus’ discourses to the Essene writings found at Qumran, particularly the ubiquitous language of light and darkness.)

3.) The Epic of Gilgamesh: Back around the time of my introduction to the Code of Hammurapi, I also was delighted to be presented with the Epic of Gilgamesh in all its confusing, incomplete, riotous glory. The presentation of the various fragments in Pritchard’s big ANET was a real delight, as was the cleaned-up presentation in Stephanie Dalley’s Myths from Mesopotamia (Oxford, 1989; there’s now a 2009 edition with more stuff in it). EG affected my approach to the Bible on several levels. Firstly, it was obvious that there were here a number of versions of one story that dated to numerous centuries (indeed, nearly two millennia!), and that these could be used to investigate the development of such writings through the ages, with a specific view toward comparison and contrast with the classic Graf-Wellhausen Documentary Hypothesis (JEDP and all that rot). Jeffrey Tigay has presented the development of the EG very well in his The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic, but he’s more amenable in his conclusions to the classic Graf-Wellhausen Documentary Hypothesis than I think the evidence warrants. So, while I applaud his work without hesitation, I disagree with his conclusions that EG actually supports the Documentary Hypothesis to any meaningful degree at all. In no instance are the particular mechanisms or framework of the DH itself actually supported by the EG’s evolution. Something happened, but the DH is definitely not it. Tigay allows room for as much in his Empirical Models for Biblical Criticism (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985). First, from the Introduction (pp 19-20):

The greatest amount of space [in Empirical Models for Biblical Criticism] is devoted to analogues that have a bearing on the documentary hypothesis (Chapters 2-5 and Appendix). This is because of the seminal role played by this subject in modern biblical studies and because Pentateuchal criticism has been the focus of most controversy. It will be clear from my own chapters that I find the documentary hypothesis persuasive, but the reader is urged not to read this volume as essentially a defense of that hypothesis. The processes illustrated here do not exhaust the possibilities for explaining the development of biblical literature; they only scratch the surface. Even where a chapter lends support to a particular theory about a biblical composition, some other comparative model might lend equal plausibility to a competing theory or even suggest a new theory. Indeed, Alexander Rofé suggests in Chapter 4 that the supplementary hypothesis, rather than the documentary hypothesis, best explains the development of Joshua 20, and in Chapter 6 Yair Zakovitch offers a theory of assimilation to replace the documentary analysis of Genesis 34. But in addition to lending plausibility to particular theories, new or old, the volume is designed to give the reader experience with concrete models of literary development and to illustrate the kind of research that must go into interpreting the evidence that is available about these models. It is hoped that readers will be encouraged to seek more such models, especially for genres of biblical literature not covered in this volume. Experience with such models offers the biblical scholar what wide exposure to literature gives any student of that subject: a feeling for what happens in literature, and the sophistication to formulate literary theories and evaluate those of others in an informed and critical way.

More briefly, he reiterates the same possibilities in the Summary and Conclusions (p. 240):

Certainly the possibility exists that in other cases, too, analogues may suggest explanations better than those currently preferred by critics. The aim of the present volume is not to foreclose any options but to encourage those who study the evolution of biblical literature to approach this necessarily hypothetical task with the perspective and experience offered by empirical case histories.

In view of Tigay’s own statements above, those who point to either of these books of his as demonstrative proof of the objective, conclusive, and exclusionary verification of the DH have quite obviously not read them. But back to me! Secondly, the Epic of Gilgamesh is a cracking good story, and I loved reading it just for that.

4.) A particular midrash that I can’t find now. There was a particular excerpt from one of the earlier Rabbinic Midrashim that we read in the first weeks of my first semester of post-Biblical Hebrew. It included one of those great “There was a king…” parables in it. (There are far too many of those for me to recognize which it was.) Again, in reading this parable, it was a case of Jesus’ parables (the king parables are found only in Matthew) coming into full 3-D Technicolor life as part of first century Judean culture and (proto-)Rabbinic intellectual life rather than being the washed-out, incomprehensible, weird, but supposedly wise quotes that most people treated them as, as if He made up the whole genre. With this and the Mishnah and the few of the Dead Sea Scrolls we read (I remember 4QPHab and 4QFlorilegium, but there were also a few others; this was just before the DSS were generally released, so not many were available at all; actually my teacher then went down to Claremont to get copies of the microfilms for Berkeley), I was hooked. The Jewish background of the New Testament was plain to anyone familiar at all with the Hebrew writings, which the vast majority of NT people certainly were and are not. That’s a serious drawback. Since then, I ignore anyone who places more focus on works of Gentile literature as sources for the Gospels, etc, because they’re obviously idiots.

5.) Plutarch, On the Obsolescence of Oracles. This brought the world of the explosive growth of the early Church alive for me. This was a strange world, but a very religious one, and one in some ways quieter and more thoughtful than our own, as the discussions in this work show, particularly the really fun story about the death of the god Pan (you may read it here, an early entry on this here blog). Plutarch lived about 80 years, from around 45-125 AD, and was writing in the very early second century, and so gives an excellent picture of the intellectual currents of the time, when Christianity was spreading like wildfire even among the upper classes.

Rick Bannon tagged me for The Five Biblical Studies Books I’m Stupider for Having Read. That’s kind of a tough one, since I usually get rid of such books, both physically and mentally, so it’s hard to remember them all. A few do come to mind. Again, I list them in no particular order. I will rein in my habitual rhetorical exuberance, keeping the comments very short, both because it would be so easy to go on at length in regards to the shortcomings (or noncomings) of the following, and so as not to leave the reader metaphorically spittle-flecked.

1.) Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels. The combination of incoherent “writing” and Hippyscopalian religion should be banned. And no, it’s not because she’s a girl. (The same evaluation covers her The Origin of Satan, and Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. I honestly gave her a shot.)

2.) Burton Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament?: The Making of the Christian Myth. This was a tour de force of tendentious hyper-Bauristic Jesus Seminaristic line-toeing. Ultimately boring: it was perfectly nineties.

3.) Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Israel. Everyone’s favorite book by Uncle Jew-hater! Yay!

4.) The Archaeological Study Bible. Comment dites-vous “trainwreck”? Nice printing, though.

5.) Anchor Bible 38: Revelation by J. Massyngberde Ford. Seriously. Was that a joke?

Reading and Life

From Michael Wyschogrod, The Body of Faith: God in the People Israel (Jason Aronson/Rown & Littlefield, 1996), xiv:

No living culture can survive on the basis of history alone. History is essential because we need to know what our forebears thought. But after we discover what they thought, we need to decide what we think. And we need to determine what we think about some issues our forebears never thought about. WIth the passage of time, issues that at one time seemed very important recede in importance and other issues take their place. Such new issues cannot be ignored simply because they were not raised in the past. In the study of dead cultures (ancient Egypt, Babylonia, Rome, etc.) this problem does not arise. They belong to the historians because these cultures belong to the past and have nothing but a history. But it is different with a living culture such as Judaism which not only has a past but a present and a future. If such a culture ignores its present and future, and concentrates exclusively on the past, it declares itself dead. Once it does this, it will soon be dead. This must be avoided at all cost.

I want to expand Wyschogrod’s point here and apply it to specifically historical-critical approach to the Bible. The above paragraph brings to mind several things. Firstly, what is the result of finding the primary and only valid meaning of a text in the distant past, through whatever means? Does it not render all other readings “invalid” or “inaccurate”? Does this not also immediately render the text itself dead, and no longer to speak with a living voice to any community? Secondly, doesn’t such an approach itself also come to be deadened by this methodology? Finding no living voice in opposition to its theoretical constructions of meaning, it is unimpeded in its approach to the text, and finds only deadness reflected back upon it, because it will find nothing else. There is no living interaction. The results of the experiment are predetermined by the experiment. In this case, the approach, partaking as it does of a number of presuppositions, is limited in its conclusions. As it is, necessarily for the method, dismissive of the immanent and of all claims of living attachment to the texts, it has separated itself from all possible life to be found the text. It brings only death, seeking only death, for that it all that it can comprehend. Is it not dead itself? In its self-enforced separation from life, yes, it is. This is only one of the reasons that it will never be a valuable method for the use of a community of faith with a regard for the Bible as a living document.

From Jean-Jacques Glassner, Mesopotamian Chronicles (Writings from the Ancient World 19 [SBL, 2004]), 21:

The interest the Mesopotamians felt in their own past undeniably arose from a historical way of thinking. One is struck by the remarkable effort they devoted to the copying of official texts, to the study of royal correspondence from the past, and to the compilation of chronological lists and collections of omens. We can appreciate the attempts to explain the application of the principle of causation to human events. Some historians, indeed, were not satisfied with merely narrating the facts but tried to establish connections, looking for causes and consequences. Some saw in the fall of the empire of Akkade the consequence of a foreign intervention, the invasion of the Gutians or of the Umman-manda, two names that evoked rebellious mountain tribes or remote savage hordes, or of an indeterminate but always foreign adversary. Other commentators, on the contrary, sought a different explanation for the collapse of Akkade and believed that they had detected the beginning of its fall in palace revolutions and popular uprisings culminating in the outbreak of civil war, in which ever-bolder successors sought to make themselves heirs of the kings Narām-Sîn or Śar-kali-śarri.

However, we should not be misled by these premises. The Mesopotamians had no profession of historian as we understand it today, nor its methods of perspective. As they saw it, the problem was not critical assessment of sources, nor was the question, fundamentally, knowing how and in what causal sequences event considered unique had occurred. The primary task was to choose, according to a definite focus of interest, among the carefully collected data from the past, certain facts that, from that point of view, had acquired universal relevance and significance.

Even as it located the historical genre in the domain of literature, historical method consisted of separating the past from the present and making the past an object of study for the edification of that same present. The past having become a source of examples and precedents, history found a special purpose: it became an educational tool for elites and governments. Consequently, the lesson of history concealed a further one, of an ethical or political kind.

Elsewhere, Glassner describes a specifically religious component of all this literature as well, particularly the tie between earthly actions and those in the divine realm, in whichever direction of influence. The above quotation, coming at the end of a general description of the kinds of writings included in the book, describes Mesopotamian writing from the Old Babylonian period onward. That is, the “historical way of thinking” is something present long, long before Herodotus. And his statement that “the lesson of history concealed a further one, of an ethical or political kind” brings to mind an old definition of history from my junior college days: “History is the humanistic, interpretive study of past human society, the purpose of which is to gain insight into the present with the fervent hope of perhaps influencing a more favorable future” (Donald Gawronski, History: Meaning and Method, Third edition [Scott, Foresman and Company, 1967], p. 8). Glassner, Gawronski, the Mesopotamian scribes, Mr. Dewes (my history instructor back then) and I all agree upon the humanistic aspect of history. It is not just a bare account of what happened, but an account that is invested with meaning, particularly meaning for others to learn from. In such an understanding of history, there is no question of petty squabbling over objectivity’s impossibility, for such is irrelevant. It is necessary rather to illumine events in a multi-subjective light, bringing to the fore the aspects that would have been important in the past, are important in the present, and that can lead to a better future. And this is common to the historical writings in the Bible. They are couched in such a way as to be of value from multiple subjective viewpoints. [As I will cover in more detail in the future, the viewpoint that is most strongly represented and which indicates a majority authorship position for the Old Testament is that of the Prophets. The “Primary History”, “Hexateuch”, “Octateuch”, “Deuteronomistic History”—call it what you will—was clearly written by Prophets, as only their concerns, those of the only true and steadfast worshippers of God, are consistently presented, and only they are presented in a positive light. All the great characters are presented as Prophets, the priests are generally presented poorly (even Aaron was an idolatrous syncretist!), and the evaluation of the kings was of course varied, which one would not expect from a royalist scribe. The characteristics of the Deuteronomist are those of a Prophet: concern for the fulfillment of prophecy, the centrality of the cult, blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience, etc. But this is all for another time.] In addition, there are the living viewpoints found amongst those of the contnuously living traditions that have found value in the writings of the Bible. Following the Gawronski definition above, it is precisely within these living traditions, those who find life in the texts (in contrast to those who seek and find only death), that we find the Bible “influencing a more favorable future.” The precisely realized ideal of a modern historian is unnecessary for writings arising “from a historical way of thinking” to have this effect. What is necessary is the human factor, thus the “humanistic” in Gawronski’s definition, which one learns in reading the rest of the book is intended to connote precisely a focus on personal edification and improvement. By not denying the living value of the text to either the ancient or modern reader, and all in between, we recognize as valuable multiple subjectivities, multiple viewpoints or snapshots of reactions to the texts. This is necessarily a part of being within a living tradition finding value in a particular set of texts. And we can see in these extended histories of interactions with texts various similarities. The Mesopotamian scribes selected various subsets of various corpora to be transmitted as exemplary or valuable, for example, the letters from the Sumerian royal archives dealing with Amorites. Similarly, we find such selectivity in practice in the formation of the Biblical canon, with the loss of the Book of Yashar, the Book of the Wars of the Lord, and the many accounts mentioned in Luke 1.1, among others. Works which were transmitted were obviously considered of particular value. And within this very act of transmission is a hope for extending the effectiveness and value of the texts into the future, in addition to assuring the derivation of benefit in the present. The text becomes an object of value not just intrinsically for the amount of work put into its copying, but for the effect it is intended to have. This “influencing a more favorable future” can thus itself be understood on several levels, for it is not only the ethical and political realms that Glassner mentions that benefit from history’s lesson, but the spiritual as well, in those traditions which value such. Thus a reading of the Bible for many is not simply a guide to solely ethical norms or to political solutions, but is a book charged with a spiritual power, one which effects the readers. The lessons of the past become alive in such a reading, even more vividly so when the reader places himself within the text, as is often the case in such spiritual reading. For example, in such a reading, the Psalmist becomes the reader, and vice versa, with the Psalmist’s words expressing the fears, joys, and exaltation of the reader. Again, the benefit is there only in finding living value in the text, in being open to the possibility for it to have an effect on life here and now and in the future, in not requiring it to be locked into the past as a dead vessel of dry leaves.


Perspective 1:

During my second campaign, bent on conquest, I marched rapidly against Babylon. I advanced swiftly, like a violent storm, and enveloped the city like a fog. I laid siege to it and took possession of it by means of mines and ladders. I delivered over to pillage its powerful […]. Great and small, I spared no one. I filled the squares of the city with their corpses. I led away to my country, still alive, Mušēzib-Marduk, the king of Babylon, with his entire family and his nobility. I distributed to my troops, who took possession of them, the riches of that city, the silver, the gold, the precious stones, the furniture and the property. My troops took away and smashed the gods who dwelt there, carrying off their wealth and their riches. After 418 years I took out of Babylon and returned to their sanctuaries Adad and Šala, the gods of Ekallāte, whom Marduk-nādin-aḫḫē, king of Babylon, had seized and carried off to Babylon in the time of Tukultī-Ninurta, king of Assyria. I destroyed, laid waste and burned the city and its houses, from the foundations to the tops of the walls. I tore from the ground and threw into the waters of the Araḫtu the interior and the exterior fortifications, the temples of the gods, the ziggurat of bricks and earth, as much as it contained. I dug canals in the middle of that city, flooded its terrain and caused even its foundations to disappear. I carried this out so that my destruction surpassed that left by the Flood. To make it impossible, in any future time, for the location of that city or the temples of its gods to be identifiable, I dissolved it in the waters and wiped it out, leaving the place like flooded ground.

Sennacherib of Assyria, on his destruction of Babylon after a fifteen month siege, having taking the city 1 Kislev 689. Adapted from Jean-Jacques Glassner, Mesopotamian Chronicles. Writings from the Ancient World 19. (SBL, 2004), p 23.

Perspective 2:

I will rise up against them, says the Lord of hosts, and will cut off from Babylon name and remnant, offspring and posterity, says the Lord. And I will make it a possession of the hedgehog, and pools of water, and I will sweep it with the broom of destruction, says the Lord of hosts.

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon; and all the images of her gods lie shattered on the ground.”

Come down and sit in the dust, virgin daughter Babylon!
Sit on the ground without a throne, daughter Chaldea!
For you shall no more be called tender and delicate.
Take the millstones and grind meal, remove your veil,
strip off your robe, uncover your legs, pass through the rivers.
Your nakedness shall be uncovered, and your shame shall be seen.
I will take vengeance, and I will spare no one.

Isaiah 14.22-23; 21.9; 47.1-3

Something that doesn’t get enough attention in discussion of the destruction of Babylon as depicted in the Hebrew Prophets, especially Isaiah, is the very real destrcution wrought by Sennacherib in 689 and after. The city was completely depopulated and destroyed as well as the Assyrians could manage, which, considering that nearly everything was built of unfired mudbrick and the Assyrians were quite well-motivated, was probably pretty effective.

A further aspect of this situation is that of exile. I do not mean those from the ersatz kingdom of Judah who were taken captive by the Chaldeans to Babylon in the sixth century, but those who were exiled by the Assyrians from the territories and former territories of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah in the eighth and early seventh centuries.

The troubles of the last third of the eighth century between the small kindoms of the southern Levant are complicated, and we find these reflected in the Major and Minor Prophets. First, Damascus had a tempestuous relationship with Israel and even, to a lesser degree, Judah. Judah was more involved with Edom and Philistia. It may be that the Transjordanian territories were somehow allied with Damascus, if not annexed. This explains the close relationship between Pekah of Gilead/Samaria and Rezin of Damascus. Their agression against Judah led directly to the annexation of the dependencies of Damascus and Samaria’s territories along the coast at Dor, and all of Gilead and upper and lower Galilee by Tiglath-Pileser in 733, with exiles of numerous inhabitants. Samaria was left essentially a city-state, with a few villages. Damascus, completely isolated, with its fields and orchards destroyed, was taken by Tiglath-Pileser in 732, and Rezin was killed. Pekah in Samaria was generously assisted off the throne and into his tomb, being replaced by Hoshea, who was pro-Assyrian, at least for a year or so. In the meantime, Judah under Ahaz had lost territories to Philistia, headed by Gaza at this time. Likewise, Rezin had aided the Edomites in taking the port of Elath, cutting off Judah’s lucrative trade with Arabia by sea and by caravan. Judah apparently also lost some or all of the Negeb at this point to Edom, though not permanently (yet). Hoshea’s intrigues brought the wrath of Assyria down on Samaria, with its siege begun under Shalmaneser V, and then the city taken under Sargon II. The rump kingdom was annexed, and Samaria’s remaining population exiled. At this point, Judah recovered extraordinarily under Hezekiah, regaining the lands lost to Edom and Philistia, and even coming to dominate Philistia. Unfortunately, Hezekiah’s intrigues with the Chaldean Merodach-Baladan led to a revolt at the death of Sargon II. Judah then faced the full onslaught of the Assyrian army, itself becoming a rump state, and all Hezekiah’s gains lost. The Israelite and Judahite exiles were sent into various places, including Babylon, which at that time was under Assyrian rule. Sargon II himself was also King of Babylon: Isaiah 13.1-14.27 describes Sargon and his death in battle; his body was never recovered. We see in Isaiah various reflections of the traumatic effect that the exile of so many kinfolk had on the remaining, beleaguered Judahites after about 700, when most Judahites, if Sennacherib’s numbers can be trusted, were either dead or exiled. And would not a Prophet of God care about the exiled Israelites, too? It is tendentious to posit that every reference to Israel in Isaiah is merely a reference to Judah, to require every mention of Babylon to refer only to the later Judahite exile of the sixth century, to suggest that only Judahites deserve comfort, to require every mention of Chaldeans to be of the sixth century, and to posit that Israelites were of no concern to Judahite Prophets. All of these things are flatly untrue. It is understandable that some might think such things, for the inscriptions and tablets describing this earlier time of exiles and its complicated context were unknown to foundational mid- to late-nineteenth century theorizers on the Biblical texts, and we are often at the mercy such outdated views of history due to the inertia of scholarship. Such is abundantly clear.

With all the above, we can find the Prophet Isaiah’s oracles and Sennacherib’s text, in the context of what history is known, to be situated in a real world of complexity and drama. Israelites and Judahites ended up in Babylon, an Assyrian-ruled city, and were harshly treated by the Assyrians and Chaldeans. Southern, formerly Elamite cities that had been annexed by Assyria and settled with Israelites were taken back by Elam and the Assyrian settlers, including those Israelites, driven out. In Babylon itself, there was a revolution by the Chaldeans aided by the Elamites, and Sennacherib’s own son Ashur-nadin-shumi, whom he’d set as king over Babylonia, was overthrown and killed. Sennacherib’s fury against Babylon is more understandable in knowing this. Those Israelites there, in light of a coming storm, should certainly have fled. Likewise, the Elamites, after this initial assistance to the Chaldeans, betrayed their former loyalties to Babylon in not offering further assistance, undoubtedly hoping to avoid Assyrian vengeance. The surviving Chaldeans of Babylon get a ggod taste of exile and mistreatment themselves. And for a time, the whole world was stunned: Babylon was gone! Yet here the seed of revolution is planted, too, and watered by the hatred of Babylonians for the Assyrians, to grow and bear such evil fruit in the future.

Some helpful reading on the subject may be found in the following:
The Cambridge Ancient History Volume III Part 2: The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires and Other States of the Near East, from the Eighth to the Sixth Centuries B.C.
The Carta Bible Atlas
The Sacred Bridge


Several years ago I compiled an index (really more of a concordance) which lined up the texts common to William Hallo and K. Lawson Younger’s Context of Scripture, and James Pritchard’s classic Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. I had intended to do some more work on it, but this simply slipped my mind until the other day when Charles Halton commented on how useful he found this index (as well as my Anchor Bible Dictionary Index, which I’m working on upgrading as well to include a comprehensive bibliography of all the titles listed in the individual articles).

So, last night and this evening I spent, as St Jerome might say, a small lamp’s oil on the project, correcting some items in the index itself, and adding two lists of the texts which are found only in the COS volumes, or only in the ANET volume.

I’ve also redone the pdf file of the index. It is completely searchable, and is better formatted for printing than the web page itself is.

One interesting thing is the number of texts that are peculiar to each work. In ANET there are 221 titles that are not found in COS. In COS there are 525 titles that are not found in ANET. Some of those titles include multiple texts in either work. For instance, COS includes only Tablet XI of Gilgamesh, while ANET includes all the various texts known at time of publication. There are numerous historical writings found in ANET which are not found in COS. So, while the number of titles peculiar to COS is larger, it’s not precisely explicative of the quality of texts peculiar to either work. Both have their strengths. But I am still much more impressed by the wealth of material selected for ANET, even if the translations are older.

If anyone finds errors or has suggestions for improvements, please let me know. I hope the index continues to be found useful.

What Might Have Been

The following comes from my notes on the chapter “The History of Religions School and the Jews” in Anders Gerdmar, Roots of Theological Anti-Semitism (Brill, 2009)

Johannes Weiss (1863-1914) was, like Wilhelm Bousset (1865-1920), a student of Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889). Both were considered members of the History of Religions School (Religionsgeschichtliche Schule), an academic movement emphasizing the place of religion in history—an approach which occasionally produced some rather awkward results. Be that as it may, at its peak, around the turn of the century, it was an approach that garnered some of the finest minds in German scholarship: Duhm, Kautsch, Wrede, Bousset and Weiss, among others.

While Bousset was something of a devoted follower of Wellhausen and the de Wettian/Ritschlian tradition which separated Judaism from all influence on nascent Christianity, Weiss was something of a maverick, a loner at this period, finding continuity between the Jewish environment of Christ’s day and earliest Christianity, despite his own leanings (which were liberal, both confessionally and politically). In this, he followed the data presented in the New Testament itself and related sources for the period, rather than being led by an idealistic-systematic theological dialectic which would separate the two, in marked contrast to all his contemporaries. He presented this approach first in his Die Predigt Jesus vom Reiches Gottes, “The Preaching of Jesus on the Kingdom of God, in 1900. He read the sources on their own terms, criticizing both Bousset’s and Wellhausen’s approaches for lacking historical objectivity.

In Weiss’ posthumously published (and partly finished by a colleague) book Das Urchristentums, soon translated into English as The History of Primitive Christianity, we find the musings of a remarkable mind, well ahead of its own age. Weiss situates Jesus in continuity with a Palestinian-Jewish background. He determines the four Gospels to be of Palestinian origin. He states that Jesus is Jewish, and his words relate to contemporary Jewish discussions. He also shows that the ethical demands of Jesus are not elements of some new moralism of universal non-national humanity, but result from a development of the religion of the Jewish prophets. Jerusalem was the center of the new faith, and the church organized itself as the synagogue had. He presents Paul as a Jew with a strong Palestinian-Pharisaic-Jewish background, with training in rabbinical interpretation, who is in part suffering by his people’s rejection of Jesus. He often directly confronts (and demolishes) the suppositions of Bousset, Wellhausen, and Baur. And while Weiss does hold some of the commonplaces of the age (the Hellenistic/Alexandrian hypothesis, that an element of Gentile freedom comes into the Jerusalem church via Stephen, a representative of the Jewish-Hellenistic enlightenment; the Judaism of Jesus’s day being lesser than the religion of the Prophets), they are still adumbrated, and not expressed in the triumphalistic and often ugly manner of Weiss’ colleagues and predecessors.

Gerdmar summarizes Weiss’ work nicely (pp 183-184):

Weiss’s characterisation of Judaism is rather different [thatn Bousset’s, Semler’s, and de Wette’s], painting a picture that is basically independent from the prevalent ‘Late Judaism’ hypothesis. Where Bousset perpetuates such positions, Weiss questions them. He upgrades the Palestinian-Jewish background of Jesus, making it his genuine background. Instead of seeing this as a disadvantage and trying to distance Jesus from it, for example, he understands Jesus’ ethics as being a development from those of the old prophets, rooted in his Jewish nation. Weiss does not describe Jewish faith in negative terms but presents Paul on the basis of his Palestinian-Jewish background; using rabbinical hermeneutics, he was “according to formation and education a real Jew in every respect”. This was seventy years before the so-called ‘new perspective on Paul’ was conceived. Weiss holds that Paul does not believe in an outright rejection of Israel—although he sees an anti-Judaism in John—and his usage of the ‘Late Judaism’ concept lacks the traditional negative notions of Bousset. Nowhere does Weiss employ stereotypes of Jews and Judaism, either in his description of New Testament Judaism or with reference to modern Jews.

Weiss’ premature death in 1914 cut short a brilliant career, quite tragically for the field, as it turns out to be. Perhaps it is that his ideas were too different from those that had become consensus for them to have persisted without his direct and cogent recapitulation. As it is, Bousset’s Die Religion des Judentums im neutestamentlichen Zeitalter (“The Jewish Religion in the Age of the New Testament”), in its first edition of 1906, and a 1926 edition expanded by Hugo Gressman, unfortunately became the standard reference work on the subject in German universities until the middle of the century. This perpetuated the old ‘degenerate Judaism’ dialectic established by de Wette as the “historical-critical method,” systematized by Wellhausen, and given a newly darker, uglier edge by Ritschl, Bousset, and Gressman.

One has to wonder, though. What would the field look like now had Weiss lived longer and propogated his methodology and conclusions more widely? As Gerdmar noted, on the subject of Paul’s Jewish identity Weiss was seventy years ahead of his time. The discussions we’re having right now relating to the “New Perspective on Paul” might instead have been fifty years in our past. What subjects might we have progressed to with an earlier recognition that Jesus was not a gnomic Gentile philosopher, but a Jewish rabbi? How might further, undone work of Weiss have had a bearing on Wellhausen’s Documentary Hypothesis? For surely it was also under the scrutiny of Weiss’ keen intellect. And though at this point we might see it as a gnat against a hurricane, might Weiss’ approach, if it had become the consensus, have at least mitigated if not derailed the dread horror of Germany’s fully-developed antisemitism and its inevitable result?

Let the case of Weiss be a lesson. Scholarship is always developing. Yet that development is not necessarily for the better.