Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Samuel or The Psalm?

While reading 2 Samuel, it came to me that what I was reading sounded strangely familiar. As I went digging, lo and behold, a psalm came to light virtually identical to the section I was reading. Here is a brief excerpt from the duplicate passages:
And David spoke unto the LORD the words of this song in the day that the LORD delivered him out of the hand of all his enemies, and out of the hand of Saul; and he said: The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; The God who is my rock, in Him I take refuge; my shield, and my horn of salvation, my high tower, and my refuge; my saviour, Thou savest me from violence.
--2 Samuel 22:1-3, JPS

For the Leader. A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD, who spoke unto the LORD the words of this song in the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul; And he said: I love thee, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my rock, in Him I take refuge; my shield, and my horn of salvation, my high tower.
--Psalm 18:1-3, JPS
While the two seem virtually identical, there are discrepancies that become more apparent in the Hebrew. Unlike Yeshua, who was an itinerant prophet and said the same thing many different times in slightly different ways, if David actually spoke this, he would not have spoken both versions. One has obviously borrowed from the other. So I leave you for 2006 with my own quandary: which came first, 2 Samuel 22 or Psalm 18?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Getty Icon Experience

Although an exhibition tour was available (Tuesdays through Sunday's at 3 p.m.), I chose to avoid the mass of sheep and go solo. This usually provided me an unspoilt view of each and every artifact.

The exhibit began with an introduction to St. Catherine's Monastery at Sinai. Then, suddenly, I was staring a 1500-year-old, hot wax icon of Saint Peter in the face. From there, I wandered back and forth, learning about the Greek word behind “icon” and the 8th Century persecution called the Iconoclasm.

Hopefully, you enjoy gold... The icons used a background of gold not only to illuminate and give the subjects or scenes an aura of holiness, but to create a kind of negative space that seemed to separate the images from their canvas and bring them into the worshiper's reality. Many employed an illusion of light in the gold backdrop so that golden halos and golden shafts of light (usually impregnating Mariam) stood out as you moved around in front of the icon. Some icons featured portraits of saints and angels. Others featured scenes in sequence to create a visual narrative of biblical events. There were even quite a few whose purpose was calendrical. They came in single panes, diptych, triptych, some were encapsulated in elaborate forms like a cathedral, others were painted on the doors leading from the “holy place” to the “most holy place” in the Orthodox sanctuary. There were several icons so stunning, I was suspended in front of them and could easily understand how they drew people into worship as a kind of mediator, linking the viewer with the divine.

There was a brief documentary on St. Catherine's Monastery and its icons, which I had already seen. Interested parties—until recently—had the opportunity to request a free DVD which presented the documentary and a video on the exhibition accompanied by Greek Orthodox chant.

When it ended, I couldn't leave without purchasing a few Orthodox chant CDs and two postcards with some of my favorite icons on them. Although it was difficult, I gave the books a pass. They were quite pricey.

Although I rushed myself through the last part, the entire exhibit took about an hour and a half. Speedier observers could get through in an hour or less. Don't forget to swing by the Illuminated Gospel Manuscripts.

Overall, it was a great experience and I highly recommend it to both iconoclasts and iconophiles.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A New Gospel Harmony

There is a new Gospel Harmony that might just make Tatian and Ammonius of Alexandria wake up and take notice. It's called ONE or The Unified Gospel of Jesus. See the web site here. This harmonization aims to eliminate or transcend the distinctives between various texts and present the entire story of Yeshua in a single, cohesive, user-friendly novella. It even comes in two varieties depending on your theological preference: a "Divine Version" and the "Universal Version". The major difference seems to be that the Universal Version eliminates for skeptics all those pesky miracles and possible connections to divinity that get in the way of Yeshua's real life story: removes certain divine miracles that necessarily require a Christian faith. Where it does so, the removal is well-documented for scholars. For example, the UNIVERSAL version does not reference Jesus being born of a virgin or rising from the dead.
--ONE, sample page 77
I'm almost as excited about ONE as I was about the laughable, tendentious, arrogant "Scholar's Version" by the Jesus Seminar. What...the butchered, watered down gospels in something like the Living Bible or the Message aren't accessible enough? Anyone who wants to compare gospel texts can easily find bibles, software, or web pages that lay it all out conveniently for cross-referencing. And if anyone wanted a Harmony, Tatian's Diatessaron is not out of reach. Such are so readily available that there is even a site which displays the Greek of similar or identical Gospel events and sayings from the Synoptics in parallel--the Four-Color Synopsis--so that every different or identical word can be seen against its counter-parts.

The major problems I have with the Harmony are three-fold:

1. By eliminating the distinctives of each gospel, it affectively destroys the ability that gospel had to communicate its message the way it intended.
2. The harmony must necessarily recommunicate the data in a new way--not from the perspectives of those gospels themselves, but from the perspective of its harmonizer.
3. It is apparent that the perspective of the harmonizer is not one of concern for textual or historical integrity, but for the satisfaction of variant individual belief, thus affectively recreating Jesus in one's (and ONE'S) own image.

If the gospels are different cakes, ONE treats them as if they were nothing but the sum of their ingredients, remixes them, and comes up with a new cake that it calls the Gospel of Jesus, adding or taking away from the recipe to please the tastes of its consumers.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Goody-bye Holly

For almost two years, that girl struggled against the grip of death. And every week, I'd get another reminder of the bleeding, the nausea, the fatigue, the sleepless nights and the never-ending pain... Oh, but then she would actually eat a bite of solid food! Or, look, she went outside and saw a friend! There were ups and downs. Days where the sun looked bright and where it looked like it might never shine again. I never prayed for her all that time until last weekend. I guess I was fed up with it all. I got into Yahweh's face and told him to stand up and be faithful--enact his kingdom either by restoring his creation or taking her if he was done. And the very same day, Yahweh took her.

See you at resurrection, Holly.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Baruch's Seal

Some time ago, I wrote about the undeniable archaeological evidence of a character straight out of the book of Jeremiah--Gemariah, son of Shaphan (here). While the details surrounding this seal are not as tidy and clean compared to the other, the evidence and circumstances suggest, in my opinion, that the seal is authentic. Or is it too incredible to believe? Then again, if it's true that the very scroll written by this scribe is faithfully preserved to our day, printed in hundreds of languages, and sitting on most of the bookshelves (and in quite a few hotel rooms) in the north American continent--so say nothing of anywhere else--perhaps the discovery of one of his seals isn't that big a deal!

I wonder who gets more hits online...Homer or Baruch?

"Belonging to Berakhyahu (Baruch), son of Neriyahu (Neriah), the scribe"

The royal title affixed to the end suggests that Baruch was not simply the hired hand of a prophet, but a person in high places--perhaps with blood-ties to the aristocracy--employed at some point directly by the throne of Judah.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

OT Inconsistancy 2

When it comes to apparent biblical inconsistencies or contradictions, I try to be cautious and presume innocence before guilt. It is easy to mistake something as an error when one does not understand it. It is even easier to do so when dealing with a text which has come down to us with variants or was written in a foreign language, culture, and world-view. That having been said, I think I've found my second unequivocal Old Testament inconsistency (the first being detailed in my post “OT Hebrew Problems").

The conservative Rabbi Umberto Cassuto, who boldly upheld the sacredness and God-breathed nature of the Old Testament, who was a renowned scholar as well as the head of a Rabbinic seminary, and who fought boldly against Modernistic and Reductionistic interpretations of scripture which denied or destroyed its truth, said this is “the most serious discrepancy in the entire book of explicit inconsistency that cannot possibly be reconciled; all the efforts of the harmonizers to do so have failed.” (The Documentary Hypothesis, p.80)

From texts on Isaac's history:
And when Esau was forty years old he took to wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite
--Gen 26:34, ASV

and Esau went unto Ishmael, and took, besides the wives that he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth, to be his wife.
--Gen 28:9, ASV
From text on Esau's history:
Esau took his wives of the daughters of Canaan: Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Oholibamah the daughter of Anah, the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite, and Basemath Ishmael’s daughter, sister of Nebaioth.
--Gen 36:2-3, ASV
In the first account, Esau's wives are:
  • Judith, daughter of Beeri, of the Hittites
  • Basemath, daughter of Elon of the Hittites
  • Mahalath, sister of Nebaioth, of his kin
In the second account, Esau's wives are:
  • Adah, daughter of Elon, of the Hittites
  • Oholibamah, daughter of Zibeon, of the Hivites
  • Basemath, sister of Nebaioth, of his kin
The only remaining sections from the Dead Sea Scrolls that correspond to these verses appear in 4QGen-Exod. I checked it for a variant and found none. I checked the Old Greek for a variant and found none. I checked Targum Onkelos for a variant and found none.

Without further information or evidence, we are left with a direct and glarying discrepancy. The different accounts do not give us any reason to believe that the three wives mentioned are not the only ones and every reason to believe that they are. And yet not only do some of them have different names in the different histories, they also sometimes have different fathers who sometimes come from different ethnic groups. Unlike Genesis' genealogical lists which skip generations between fathers, chapter 36 is concerned with detailing the lineages of each of Esau's sons. To think that chapter 36 would thus simply leave out the sons or daughters of Judith or the sons and daughters of Basemath (of Elon) is akin to saying that Noah could've had other sons besides Shem, Ham, and Japheth. This doesn't just destroy the cohesion of known history (based on nothing), it actually turns the text into a shape worse than it was to begin with.

Although it couldn't solve the problems, I would be interested in learning about possible linguistic characteristics in the names... Could Judith be a Canaanite name?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Cassuto and Hypotheses of the OT

I've been reading Umberto Cassuto's The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch, an assault on the Modern interpretative hypothesis of the Old Testament that took the scholastic world by storm. Below is my review as posted in LibraryThing.
Wow... "Classic" doesn't do this book justice. With seven swipes of his historical-literary sword, Cassuto beheads the Documentary Hypothesis. As we stare in disgust on the bloody corpse which once was the greatest knight of the realm, we suddenly find ourselves experiencing that historical shift in biblical studies which began here. Short, powerful, and easy to read--Cassuto's lecture series is a tour de force for the layman and scholar alike.
Here is where the proud--and many said invincible--knight falls and where a new hero arises. Literary Criticism. The methodology which seeks to understand the parts of the Old Testament in light of the whole (with help, of course, from ancient near eastern narrative) instead of a set of unique and confused texts pasted together into a disparate mosaic.

It is interesting, however, that as Cassuto lambastes the Documentary Hypothesis, he is beset by the very same Modernist epistemology that handicapped Wellhausen. Wellhausen and his ilk thought that they could examine the Old Testament objectively or without bias. Wellhausen wrote, "our vital concern is research without presuppositions." It has now been unquestionably shown that this was not the case, but that, to use Cassuto's own words, "the investigators' conceptions are not based on purely objective facts...they were appreciably motivated by the subjective characteristics of the researchers themselves." And yet--quite astonishingly--Cassuto is either unable to recognize this characteristic in himself or thinks that he can somehow bypass the prison of his own limited perspective. He writes, just two sentences after the quote above, "We must approach this task with complete objectivity marred by no bias..." Then, continuing, "it behooves us to conduct our investigation without prejudgement..." I commented at this point in the margin of the book, "Famous last words? This is the same thing Wellhausen said."

An alternative to both Cassuto's holistic narrative and Wellhausen's mosaic methodologies is something called the Supplement Hypothesis. This is only briefly mentioned (and dismissed) by Cassuto, but nevertheless piques my interest. I hope to look into this in the near future.