The Weekly Roundup – 12.21.18

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to my readers. I’ll see you in 2019!

  • On December 31st I will have completed reading the Old Testament, New Testament, and Apocrypha in the NRSV. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve read through the Bible cover-to-cover but I can now say I’ve read through the entire NRSV! In 2019 I plan to read through the Torah and with it the study notes in the HarperCollins Study Bible. To that end, I created a plan which you can download and use if you want to read through the first five books of the Hebrew Bible too. It ends up being about half a chapter per day, a very manageable amount. Or if you want to read through the whole Bible in a year, here’s the plan I used in 2018.
  • Over at his blog The Dishonesty of Apologetics, Twitter user and blogger @Elishabenabuya has written a post on the so-called messianic prophecy found in Micah 5:2. What he shows in his blog is that the words of Micah weren’t referring to Bethlehem but to one whose lineage could be traced to Bethlehem. So then the Gospel of Matthew’s use of it as a prooftext for the messianic birthplace of Jesus is nothing more than a misreading of the text, at least as far as the MT goes. The LXX of Micah 5:2 is similar to what we find in Matthew 2:6 but even then it has its differences.
  • I am in my Greek New Testament regularly but I’m always on the lookout for reading aids and good resources to keep my knowledge of Koine Greek alive and well. One resource I found recently is the Daily Dose of Greek app which goes through a verse of the New Testament in just a couple of minutes. The app features the work of Rob Plummer, a professor New Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has gone through many verses but most crucial to me is his series on Mark’s Gospel which I plan on going through in 2019.
  • Six years ago Matthew Ferguson, a PhD student in Classics at UC Irvine, posted a piece onto his blog that briefly explains why the oft-cited claim that the New Testament has a mountain of manuscripts supporting its authenticity is not all that impressive. As he shows, it has to do with context, a word that creates a sense of horror in a pop-apologist.
  • Scott Noegel, professor of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle, wrote a short piece for the website Bible Odyssey on Pharaoh. When we read biblical texts we frequently see that the Egyptian king is often unnamed (i.e. in Genesis and Exodus). Since these texts were written long after the events they describe, the biblical authors may not have known the Pharaoh’s name and therefore could not supply it. And as Noegel points out, it is also apparent that in Genesis and Exodus the authors were less interested in precise historical detail than they were in “casting [Pharaoh] as a literary type,” particularly in his godlike role in Egyptian politics and religion. He thus functions as “the antithesis to Israelite religion and the quintessential enemy of Israel.” Noegel’s is a short but excellent summary of Pharoah.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Michael D. Coogan: Embellishment in the Exodus Story

Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Literary and Historical Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, third edition (OUP, 2014), 108.

Given the importance of the Exodus, it is not surprising that the tendency to embellish what had originally occurred is evident among the accounts we have of this central event. For example, how many people escaped from Egypt? Exodus 12.37-38 tells us that the number of the Israelites was “about six hundred thousand men on foot, beside children. A mixed crowd also went up with them, and livestock, in great numbers, both flocks and herds.” Allowing conservatively, one wife for each man and two children for each couple, that adds up to a group of well over two million people, along with their sheep and goats (“flocks”) and cattle (“herds”). This number is impossibly high, being greater than reasonable estimates of the entire population of ancient Egypt. Furthermore, that many people and animals would have left discernible traces in the landscape of the Sinai peninsula, but no evidence has been found of a substantial population living in that arid region at any time.

Biblical Historical Context: A Good Reason to Pay Attention to the Geneaologies in Chronicles

As someone who recently got done reading 1-2 Chronicles, I can attest to the fact that some parts of it are unbelievably boring. This is especially true of the genealogies. I can appreciate why they are there but I loathe reading them and more often than not I just zone out when I do. But Twitter user @bibhistctxt wrote a post last year on his blog demonstrating why reading the Chronicler’s genealogy can reveal quite a bit. He writes, 

The first few chapters of Chronicles are a real slog to read through. Name after name; genealogy after genealogy; tongue-twister after tongue-twister. If we force ourselves to read the chapters our eyes quickly glaze over and we tune out. But if we do that, we’ll miss out. No, seriously. In this instance we’ll see the Chronicler subtly remove both Israel’s sojourn in Egypt and the Exodus from their history.

He shows that based on the genealogy that the tribe of Ephraim did not participate in the Exodus but instead was already in the land of Canaan! But why would the Chronicler deliberately contradict the Torah and its narrative? @bibhistctxt writes,

Why does the Chronicler ignore the Exodus? Because he wanted to ground the Jews in their ancestral homeland. Reminding them of the fact that they weren’t natives of it but in fact were at one time foreigners did not suit his purpose. So, the Exodus is skipped right over.

I don’t want to steal any more of his thunder because the post is very good. Read the rest of it here!

Featured image: By Philip De Vere – https://www.flickr.com/groups/the_phillip_medhurst_collection_of_bible_prints/pool/phillip_medhurst_bible_pictures, Philip De Vere is owner and curator of the prints in the User:Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible illustrations. Medhurst’s purchase and collation of prints illustrating the Bible (“The Phillip Medhurst Collection”), now housed at Belgrave Hall Leicester, was made possible by (and was within the terms of) the Kevin Victor Freestone Bequest. See https://www.flickr.com/groups/the_phillip_medhurst_collection_of_bible_prints and https://www.flickr.com/groups/phillip_medhurst_bible, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44602793

Richard Elliot Friedman: “Let’s Do the Math”

Richard Elliot Friedman, The Exodus: How It Happened and Why It Matters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2017), 64-65.

So let’s do the math:

Eight out of eight Israelites with Egyptian names are Levites.

Two out of two accounts of the revelation of God’s name make it to the Levite Moses and are told in Levite sources.

The massive treatment of the Tabernacle, which parallels the Egyptian tent of Ramses II, appears in the Levite Priests’ sources.

The ark, which is entrusted to the Levites, parallels the Egyptian barks.

Seven out of seven items of Egyptian lore that come up in the biblical story occur in Levite sources.

Eleven out of eleven references to circumcision in legal context, literal or metaphorical, occur in Levitical sources in the Torah and the prophets. And the two references to it in stories involve the Levite Moses or Levi himself.

Three out of three sources that tell the story of the plagues and exodus are Levite sources.

All texts treating slavery during and after the Egyptian stay are Levite sources.

Fifty-two out of fifty-two references to aliens occur in Levite sources.

Fifty-two references to the sanctuary (miqdash) in the Bible, which is where the people in the Song of the Sea go, identify it as the Temple or Tabernacle, the shrines which only the Levites were allowed access.

The non-Levite source(s) lack all of this.

Using the Bible to Date the Exodus

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
Hosea 11:1, NRSV


The pivotal event in the history of ancient Israel is an event that has come to be called “the Exodus.” The word exodus is a compound Greek word from the preposition ek meaning “out of” and hodos meaning “way” or “road.” The biblical book of Exodus derives its title in English Bibles from the Greek Old Testament, the LXX. In Hebrew, the book of Exodus is known as Sefer ve’eleh shemot – “the book of ‘These are the names'” (Exodus 1:1). Within the book of Exodus we find the story of how the Israelites, enslaved by the powerful Egyptian Pharaoh, are rescued by Yahweh through his servant Moses. The Exodus is the event whereby the Israelites left Egypt to head to the land promised to their forefathers.

If you are an inerrantist or believe that the Bible portrays the history of Israel accurately, you believe that the events detailed in the book of Exodus happened just as they are described. The actual evidence for the Exodus event is virtually non-existent, leaving apologists scrambling to come up with something to vindicate its authenticity. A prime example of this is the chapter on “The Historicity of the Exodus” which appears in the recently revised Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell and his son Sean. [1] In it the father-son duo cover a range of topics from the relationship of Moses to the Egyptian court as well as “loanwords” that the Hebrew text lifts from the Egyptian language. They also tackle the dating of the Exodus event, a very difficult thing to do.

The reason it is so difficult is because the Bible itself gives us a few different dates. Over at the website Biblical Historical Context there is a fascinating overview of the dating of the Exodus by way of the Bible. The author explains that the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament give us not one but four different dates for the Exodus event.

  • Using 1 Kings 6:1 in the Masoretic Text (MT) you arrive at a date of 1446 BCE.
  • Using 1 Kings 6:1 in the LXX you arrive at a date of 1406 BCE.
  • Using Acts 13:17-21 you arrive at a date of 1536 BCE.
  • Using the general narrative of the Torah and the Deuteronomic History you arrive at a date of 1596 BCE.

This is problematic for innerantists as it reveals that not even the biblical authors could pin down exactly when the Exodus event transpired. But if you are not hung up on inerrancy or you are willing to accept that the biblical authors weren’t necessarily “doing history,” this isn’t a problem. Carol Redmount notes,

Biblical dates and numbers are…indifferent to concerns of strict historical accuracy. As with other details, the biblical reckonings are subservient to theological images and themes. The improbabilities of the data can be rationalized in different ways: but once rationalized, they lose their claim to ancient authority, historical or otherwise. [2] 

In truth, the Exodus story is less about how it happened than it is what it means. Even if it cannot be rooted in a historical event, that doesn’t mean the story cannot have some value. Even Christians seen in the events of the Exodus a picture of Jesus. Matthew’s Gospel goes out of its way to portray Jesus as the new, more obedient Israel (Matthew 2:15, 4:1-11, etc).

The Exodus event as described by the Bible didn’t happen. And the fact that the biblical authors are unable to figure out when it purportedly happened is pretty telling.

ENDNOTES

[1] Josh McDowell & Sean McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict: Life Changing Truth for a Skeptical World (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017), 459-479.

[2] Carol A. Redmount, “Bitter Lives: Israel in and out of Egypt,” in Michael D. Coogan, editor, The Oxford History of the Biblical World (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1998), 70.