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.

The Weekly Roundup – 12.14.18

“I think we have to allow that John’s Gospel differs from the Synoptic Gospels in this fundamental respect: it is not an attempt to remember the historical Jesus; it is an attempt to restate the significance of the historical Jesus from a later theological vantage point, shaped in particular by a bitter controversy with the Jews.”
– Andrew Perriman.


  • While cooking dinner the other night I was able to get caught up on @StudyofChrist’s series on the Lukan genealogy. In three videos he covered the issue of Arni and Admin (Luke 3:33), the problem of patriarchal names (i.e. Simeon, Judah, Joseph; 3:29-30), and the identification of Neri and Rhesa (3:27). I love the fact that @StudyofChrist is more than willing to buck the scholarly trend if he finds their arguments lacking. This tells me he is thinking through what he’s talking about rather than just parroting what he’s read. Follow him on Twitter and subscribe to his channel!
  • Over at The Daily Beast, biblical scholar Candida Moss has written a short piece asking the question, “Did Christian Historians Exaggerate Persecution by the Romans?” In it she examines the claim by Eusebius that Christians were sent to mine in Phaeno, a city in the southern Levant, and that while there many were killed for their faith. Recent archaeological evidence done by anthropologist Megan Perry suggests that this probably wasn’t the case. In all likelihood, this is yet another example of Christians exaggerating the ways in which Rome persecuted the faithful.
  • I don’t post to it at all and I really should because the Biblical Studies Carnival is a fantastic monthly resource that offers links to a variety of material from many different biblical scholars covering topics related to the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and more. The November 2018 Carnival was put together by Bob MacDonald, a software engineer with a passion for biblical studies, particularly the Hebrew scriptures. There are some really great links in MacDonald’s Carnival but two stood out to me: Andrew Perriman’s “Why did the Jews accuse Jesus of making himself equal to God?” and a new translation of the books of 1-2 Samuel by William Whitt (which you can download as a PDF).
  • In searching for free resources related to biblical studies for my iPad I came across some that are pretty darn useful. One of them is an app called “Greek Kit” that can create a list of all the Greek words – nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. – that appear in a section of the Greek New Testament and give you a complete run down of each with their meaning. And if you’d rather not have all the words, you can select by type (i.e. 1st declension nouns or contract verbs or particles) and by frequency (ranging from all words to those that appear only two times). Some features of the app are locked and are only available by purchase but this basic feature is helpful because you can take the list of words and then select “Review” and it will go through each word in a slideshow. Beginning students of New Testament Greek can benefit from this tool as would seasoned veterans.
  • (Print-Only): The December 2018 issue of American History featured a fantastic article on George Washington entitled “Don’t Print the Legend” by Peter Henriques of George Mason University. We are all familiar with the myths that have developed around Washington: the chopping down of the cherry tree, the prayer at Valley Forge, and so on. But these are myths about Washington that have no basis in solid evidence.For example, the story of a young Washington chopping down the cherry tree and fessing up to his inquiring father was first told by Parson Mason Locke Weems in his sixth edition of The Life of Washington. Evangelical historian Peter Lillback, in a bid to rescue the story from the claims of skeptical historians, wrote in his biography of Washington entitled Sacred Fire that a German-made vase which appeared at some point during the American Revolution showed Washington as a young boy holding a hatchet next to a tree with the initials “GW” nearby. However, Henriques followed up and found the vase and it doesn’t say “GW” but “CW.” And the individual painted on the vase is a man, not a boy, and the tree isn’t even a cherry tree! Henriques writes, “In short, this container has absolutely nothing to do with George Washington.”As a side note, I met Lillback in 2010 or 2011 when he was at a Presbytery meeting in Mississippi for the Presbyterian domination wherein I served as a youth pastor. His book on Washington was on sale at the meeting but I never had any desire to pick it up. By that time I had long been disabused of my David Barton informed beliefs about the Founding Fathers. If memory serves, he gave a brief talk at the meeting but I wasn’t all that impressed.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Weekly Roundup – 11.2.18

Check these out, comrades!

  • Twitter user @bibhistctxt continues his series over at his blog on ancient Israelite origins in “Israelite Origins: Late Date Exodus.” The “late date” for the Exodus is sometime during the 13th century BCE, before 1207 and after 1270 or so. I briefly addressed some of the issues involved last year in a post that can be read here. But @bibhistctxt is the master of gathering the evidence and stating his case clearly and concisely. So read him before you read what I read on the topic. I would recommend following him on Twitter and subscribing to his blog.
  • For anyone who blogs about the biblical texts and has trouble with transliteration, Logos Bible Software has a free website to help! Over at http://transliterate.com  you can insert the biblical text in Hebrew or Greek (say from https://www.academic-bible.com/en/home/) and the site will automatically transliterate it for you, including in the format used by the Society for Biblical Literature! I’m really excited about this…which means everyone else knew about it before I did. Because that is usually how it goes.
  • Over at thetorah.com Rabbi Zev Farber (PhD, Emory University) has written a brief but excellent overview of what ancient people like the Israelites believed about light and the luminaries (i.e. the sun, moon, and stars). As anyone familiar with the text of Genesis 1 knows, “Light” is created on the first day and God separates day and night. But on the fourth day God creates the luminaries. What is going on there? Farber explains showing that it all fits in with the pre-scentific worldview of Ancient Near Eastern peoples.
  • Reinhard Müller, a biblical scholar and professor at the University of Münster, wrote a section in the 2017 volume The Origins of Yahwism entitled “The Origins of YHWH in the Earliest Psalms.” In it Müller surveys a variety of psalms and points out the various “forms and motifs in these poems that have parallels in Ancient Near Eastern hymns, prayers, and other genres of religious literature” (p. 207). I was familiar with some of these parallels but others I simply had not considered. This is a work I highly recommend.
  • The Non-Alchemist has some questions for inerrantists. I would highly recommend those who hold to the doctrine of inerrancy seriously consider these questions.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Weekly Roundup – 10.26.18

Enjoy!

  • Over on his blog, Bart Ehrman has a short post on the Lukan story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Ehrman thinks that while the historical Jesus certain railed against the rich, calling them to repent before the impending reign of God upon the world, he doubts the parable of the rich man and Lazarus was one told by Jesus (see Luke 16:31). It is an interesting piece and gave me a lot to think about.
  • Twitter user and blogger @Elishabenabuya recently posted on “God’s Arm” in the book of Isaiah. He notes that the use of this imagery in the three different sections of Isaiah (i.e. Isaiah, Deutero-Isaiah, and Trito-Isaiah) have three different meanings or applications. It isn’t a long post but should be enough to wet your appetite.
  • Author and blogger EJ Pond recently posted a few rankings of the New Testament books according to difficulty to read in Greek. Each of the lists rank Johannine literature as among the easiest and Mark falls somewhere near the top as well. When I took Greek in college the epistles of John were used in 100 (beginner) level classes and Mark in the 200 (intermediate) level classes. And as I translate Mark day-to-day I find it to be pretty easy Greek, though it does have its moments.
  • I recently finished reading Michael Coogan’s 2014 textbook on the Hebrew Bible and began Norman Gottwald’s abridged The Hebrew Bible: A Brief Socio-Literary Introduction (Fortress Press). Fortress Press’ website has a number of charts, summaries, guides, and maps to accompany the textbook but which may also be useful even for those not reading Gottwald’s work.
  • Jan Joosten of Oxford University wrote a chapter in the 2008 book Die Setpuaginta – Texte, Kontexte, Lebenswelten on theophany in the Septuagint entitled “To See God: Conflicting Exegetical Tendencies in the Septuagint.” Joosten notes that in some places the LXX tends to obscure theophanies that are clear in the Masoretic Text while in others it makes theophanies far more pronounced. He proposes a variety of factors to explain these seemingly divergent phenomena, including influences from Egyptian religion. It is a great read.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Musings on Mark: ‘Ekballo’

Sixteen times in the Gospel of Mark we read the Greek word ekballo, a verb that is a compound of the preposition ek and the verb ballo. Before we look at ekballo we should address some grammar related issues. First, what is a preposition?

Prepositions are function words which assist substantives in expressing their case relationship.1

For example, in the sentence “The girl ran into the house,” the preposition “into” let’s us know that “the house” is in the accusative case, that is to say that it is the direct object of the verb “ran.”

In Greek, prepositions are sometimes added to substantives or to verbs to emphasize a type of action or even to create a new meaning. The Greek verb histémi means “to stand.” But if we add the Greek preposition ana we create anistémi – “to stand up” or “to stand again.” It is the substantive form of anistémi – anastasis – that the New Testament uses to mean “resurrection” (see 1 Corinthians 15:12).

Ek-Ballo

The Greek verb ballo is used throughout the New Testament and its most basic meaning is “to throw” or “to cast.” In the Parable of the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29), Jesus tells the disciples that the reign of God “is as if someone would scatter [balé] seed on the ground” (4:26). The preposition ek simply means “out.” So combining the two you get “to throw out” or “to cast out.” By adding ek to ballo there is some measure of forcefulness implied.

In Mark’s Gospel, the very first time we come across ekballo is in 1:12 where we read, “Then immediately the Spirit casts him out into the wilderness” (my translation). There is perhaps some irony in the way Mark has described the action of the Spirit. Of the sixteen times Mark uses ekballo, ten of them are used to describe the casting out of demons (1:34, 1:39, 3:15, 3:22, 3:23, 6:13, 7:26, 9:18, 9:28, 9:38). Demons are, of course, unclean spirits. So Jesus frequently casts out spirits but in 1:12 it is the Holy Spirit that is casting out Jesus!

A Stern Warning

Because it is so often used to describe the casting out of demons, the Markan use of ekballo is certainly meant to convey a sense of forcefulness. Sometimes this is obvious from the immediate context.

In 1:40-45 we read the story of a leper who comes to Jesus and begs him to cleanse him of his disease. Jesus is “moved with pity” (splanchnistheis) touches the leper and heals him. And then we read this:

After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them” (1:43-44, NRSV).

You can probably guess where ekballo appears – “he sent him away.” This may sound like a very gentle ushering of the former leper away but it is anything but that. For starters, Mark uses the word euthus, commonly translated as “immediately” and here in 1:43 as “at once,” expressing a sense of urgency. The man must go now. He also tells the man to “say nothing to anyone [mēdeni mēden]” and to go to the priest to make an offering as “Moses commanded” (see Leviticus 14:2-32). These words are described as Jesus “sternly warning” the man, using the Greek participle embrimēsamenos which means”to snort with anger” or “to be indignant.” The sense of 1:43 is that Jesus wants the man to leave quickly and is almost shoving him away. Both the Matthean (8:1-4) and Lukan (5:12-16) tone this episode down.

Forceful Tones

Other passages convey the same forceful tone. In 5:40 we read of Jesus’ reaction to people laughing at his statement that Jairus’ daughter, who recently died, was not dead but asleep – “And they laughed at him. Then he put them [ekbalōn] all outside.” In 9:47 Jesus tells the disciples that if one of their eyes should cause them to stumble that they should “tear it out [ekbale]” lest they enter into hell with two good eyes. In 11:15 we read that Jesus “began to drive out [ekballein] those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple.” In 12:8 Jesus tells the parable of some evil tenants who took a vineyard owner’s son, killed him, and then “threw him [exebalon] out of the vineyard.” Every instance of ekballo carries with it a sense that strong force is being used, that this isn’t a gentle nudge.

NOTES

James A. Brooks and Carlton L. Winbery, Syntax of New Testament Greek (University Press of America, 1979), 2.

The Koine-Greek Blog: Metaphorical Uses of σκύβαλον

The final post from the Koine Greek blog on the Greek word σκύβαλον is up and this one covers the metaphorical uses of the word. One such usage can be found in the book of Sirach.

When a sieve is shaken, the refuse appears;
so do a person’s faults when he speaks.
(Sirach 27:4, NRSV)

You might look at that translation and think that the word “refuse” is the translation of σκύβαλον but it isn’t. Rather, it is “faults” that renders the Greek word! On this Aubrey writes,

This proverb from Ben Sira presents a comparison that evokes the same agricultural context discussed previously (Σκύβαλον in agricultural contexts). In the sifting of the grain, the chaff flies away and the grain falls through. Only what’s large enough to not fit through the sieve remains: the refuse, dirt and droppings of the threshing oxen. The ellipsis in the second half forces readers to workout the comparison alone. The result is that Ben Sira does not have a particularly high opinion of man’s deliberative/rational prowess.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that this is meant to be taken in a vulgar way like our word “shit” is today.

There are a number of other examples Aubrey offers so I suggest you read the rest of the post here and lament that this series is over!

The Koine-Greek Blog: σκύβαλον in Urban Contexts

Earlier this week I posted a link to the Koine-Greek blog’s post on σκύβαλον in agricultural contexts. Today’s link is to their post covering σκύβαλον in urban contexts. The offer a few examples of the term’s use in those contexts, including those involving how to get rid of waste from city street’s. Citing Strabo, the author notes that the

situation seems to be that the people of the city consider rain storms as the best time to empty their chamber pots into the streets. That would normally be an effective strategy, but without drainage gutters, the σκύβαλα simply builds up on the paving stones. That is indeed not a small engineering failure.

You can imagine how disgusting that would be. It reminds me of the manure crisis London experienced in the late nineteenth century. One word: Gross.

The author also discusses a passage from Josephus’ War of the Jews wherein the Jewish historian writes that people were so desparate for food they resorted to eating animal refuse. Again, gross.

You can read the rest of the post here.