The Weekly Roundup – 2.15.19

“Slavery is part of the cultural fabric of the world that produced the Scriptures. Though some debate whether servitude or even debt-slavery should be used to describe the institution instead, the presumption of right to sexual access marks Hagar’s status as enslaved.” – Wil Gafney

  • Chris Hansen has another post in his series covering J. Warner Wallace’s Cold-Case Christianity. In this post, Hansen addresses the common pop-apologetic non sequitur that because the New Testament authors got some details correct (i.e. place names, historical figures) that therefore they are correct on the details of Jesus’ life and ministry and therefore Jesus was really raised from the dead. The sarcasm and snark in Hansen’s review had me chuckling a number of times. It is well worth your time for that alone!
  • Mark Goodacre, an accomplished New Testament scholar, has written a couple of posts over Bart Ehrman’s blog on the subject of “editorial fatigue.” Well, it is really from Goodacre’s book The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze which Goodacre allowed Ehrman to post on his blog. The first post describes what it is and offers an example from the Gospel of Matthew that shows that he was no doubt working from the Gospel of Mark. The second post offers examples from the Gospel of Luke which also shows the Lukan author was working from the Gospel of Mark.
  • Biblical scholar Wil Gafney wrote an entry on Hagar over at bibleodyssey.org. In it she discusses the meaning of Hagar’s name (i.e. “the alien”) and how Hagar’s story relates to the main focus of those texts wherein she appears. Hagar, as Gafney points out, is a sex slave who is used by Abraham to produce an heir and then despised by Sarah for it. She’s a means to an end and nothing more. But Gafney calls on us to think about Hagar more just as she did in her book Womanist Midrash (WJK, 2017).
  • Back in August an interview with Elaine Pagels – an amazing scholar whose expertise on Gnosticism is world renown – appeared on the Religion News Service website. In it she discusses the loss of her husband and son, her experience of sexual assault while a graduate student, and her most recent book Why Religion? A Personal Story (HarperCollins, 2018).
  • Last week I highlighted some of the recent episodes of the Mira Scriptura podcast. I was finally able to get through the rest of those episodes this week.
    • Episode 24 covers the story of Ahab and Obadiah. In the accompanying blog post, @MiraScriptura suggests that the opposing narrative had Obadiah – Ahab’s chief-of-staff so to speak –  at odds with Elijah the prophet. The opposing narrative had Obadiah as someone else’s chief-of-staff and so the conflict becomes one of us (Israel) vs. them. @MiraScriptura also goes into the famous contest between the prophets of Baal and Elijah.
    • Episode 25 covers the story of the leper NaamanThis episode is my favorite of this series. @MiraScriptura thinks that the opposing narrative held that Naaman wasn’t a leper and that the reference to his “flesh” was to his child. The biblical text makes the child into a “little maid” that belonged to Naaman.
    • Episode 26 covers the narrative concerning Elisha at DothanWho was spying for whom? Was Elisha working for the king of Syria or was he always faithful to Israel? The narratives differ.
    • Episode 27 covers the Ben-Hadad prophecyAgain at issue is for whom Elisha was working: Israel or Syria?
    • Episode 28 covers the death of Elisha. The biblical narrative is fascinating on its own terms (especially 2 Kings 13:20-21). The opposing narrative per @MiraScriptura has Elisha’s death be the end of him. Yet the biblical text has Elisha performing a miracle even though he’s dead.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Jonah and the…

The story of Jonah found in the book which bears his name is one of the best known in all the Hebrew Bible. Unwilling to warn the Assyrian capital of Nineveh of coming judgment, Jonah stows away onto a ship that is going the opposite direction of the city. When Yahweh hurls ” a great wind” upon the sea, those in the vessel begin to fear for their lives. They begin to throw cargo overboard with the hope that it would make the vessel less susceptible to sinking. The ship’s captain goes down into the hold and finds Jonah fast asleep. Flabbergasted at this, the captain orders Jonah to call out to his god so that they might all survive. What happens next is bizarre in its own right.

First, the sailors begin casting lots to figure out who created the mess they were in. The lot falls on Jonah who admits “he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD” (Jonah 1:10). “What shall we do to you?” they ask him (1:11). Jonah instructs them to treat him as they had their cargo and toss him overboard. If they do so, he tells them, the storm will cease and they will be well. But they don’t. They continue to row but the storm continues to grow. They plead with Yahweh, “Please, O LORD, we pray, do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you” (1:14). Jonah is tossed over the side of the ship. The storm dies down and then men offer a sacrifice to Yahweh. And then

the LORD provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights (1:17).

The Masoretic Text (1:17 ET = 2:1 MT) refers to the animal as dg gdwl. The Hebrew word dg is not a word that comes up a lot in the Hebrew Bible but without a doubt it refers to fish. The adjective gdwl lets us know that this isn’t an ordinary fish: it’s big.

The dg gdwl in the Septuagint

In the Septuagint’s rendering of the passage the dg gdwl is referred to as kētei megalō. We easily recognize megalō as meaning “great” or “large.” But kētei is more obscure and in some ways a surprise. In Genesis 9:2 where the MT tells us that the fear of humanity would be upon all animal life including “the fish of the sea,” the Hebrew word there is the same word used in Jonah 1:17 (2:1) – dg. But in the LXX the word isn’t kētous but ichthyas, a generic word for fish. Assuming the MT reflects accurately the Hebrew original of the text of Jonah, this means that the translator(s) of the LXX did not think that all dg were kētos and that some dg were ichthys. But what in the world is a kētos?

The first appearance of kētos in the LXX comes in Genesis 1:21 where we read in the MT that God created htnynm hgdlym, “the great sea monsters.” The LXX renders htnynm hgdlym as ta kētē ta megala, a construction very similar to what we find in Jonah 1:17 (2:1). The Hebrew word tnyn is used to describe serpents (Exodus 7:9, 7:10, 7:12) or mythical creatures like Leviathan (Isaiah 27:1). But not every instance of tnyn is rendered as kētos in the LXX. In fact, in some places like in Exodus 7 tnyn is rendered by another Greek word: drakōn. That word should be familiar to anyone who enjoys Game of Thrones. But we do see elsewhere in the LXX that the translators felt that mythical creatures from Ancient Near Eastern lore were kētos. For example, in Job 26:12 the MT’s reference to “Rahab” which is compared with “the fleeing serpent” in 26:13 is in the LXX to kētos (cf. Job 9:13). And in Daniel 3:791 we see reference to kētē kai panta ta kinoumena en tois hydasi, “sea monsters and all those that move in the waters” (my translation).

Thus it appears that the LXX uses kētos to refer to mythic sea creatures and it stands to reason that whoever translated the Hebrew text of Jonah into Greek viewed the dg gdwl not as a big fish but as a great sea monster.2

Jesus, Jonah, and the dg gdwl

Though the prophet Jonah features in both the Gospels of Matthew (12:38-42) and Luke (11:29-32), it is only in the Matthean that the story of Jonah and the dg gdwl is mentioned. The scribes and Pharisees request from Jesus a sēmeion, “a sign.” But Jesus responds with some rather harsh words: “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign [sēmeion], but no sign [sēmeion] will be given to it except the sign [sēmeion] of the prophet Jonah” (Matthew 12:39). What sēmeion is this? Jesus explains: “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). So the sēmeion of Jonah is about the death and resurrection of the Son of Man.

As you no doubt noticed, the Matthean Jesus tells the Pharisees that Jonah spent three days and nights “in the belly of the sea monster.” “Sea monster” in the NRSV translates the genitive of the same noun we found in Jonah 1:17 (2:1, LXX) – kētous. In the New Testament, it is the only time the term appears. And other translations do not render kētous as “sea monster” but as “great fish” (ESV) or “whale” (KJV), perhaps in a bid to avoid something as fanciful as monsters. Why the existence of sea monsters is less believable than a man surviving inside of one is beyond me. Given what we know about how people viewed large bodies of water in general, there was constant fear of great creatures lurking beneath the waves. Of course, if you intention is to make the story of Jonah historical then you run into the issue of what the creature was and in our modern scientific society we know sea “monsters” don’t exist.

So What Swallowed Jonah?!?

So if you’re reading the Hebrew text of Jonah then what swallowed Jonah was a pretty big fish (dg gdwl). If you are reading the LXX of Jonah then what swallowed him was a big sea monster (kētei megalō). And if you’re reading the words of Jesus through the lens of Matthew’s Gospel then what swallowed him was a sea monster (kētous).

And that cleared up nothing.

NOTES

1 In the LXX, the book of Daniel features additions not present in the MT, including a large expansion of chapter three. See R. Timothy McClay, “To the Reader of Daniel,” in Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright (editors), A New English Translation of the Septuagint and the Other Greek Translations Traditionally Included Under That Title (Oxford University Press, 2007), 991-994.

2 In other ancient Greek literature kētos is used to refer to sea monsters including Scylla, a six-headed beast mentioned in The Odyssey (12.97).

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Weekly Roundup – 2.8.19

“The assertion by the opposing narrative that Elijah’s wife was a prostitute and later, that Elijah ate her son, does seem a little over the top and may indicate that the opposing narrative itself was propaganda and was responding to an even earlier narrative. But that is a mirror-reading of a mirror-reading, and it’s difficult to say with any certainty.” – @MiraScriptura


Featured image: Wikimedia Commons. 

The Weekly Roundup – 2.1.19

“I propose the final edition of Genesis is the result of a similar process by an editor of the Holiness school of pre-exilic Israel, who combined and organized these various materials into a continuous and meaningful whole.” – Bill T. Arnold


  • Over on her blog @thclosetatheist has posted her review of Lee Strobel’s book The Case for a Creator. It is a rather scathing indictment of Strobel’s tendency to parade as a skeptic despite going all-in for theism. She refers to Strobel’s creating “the illusion of skepticism” and how often his toughest objections to those he interviews are nothing more than things like “Amazing, tell me more,” etc. She also points out that Strobel doesn’t interview top scholars or scientists in their respective fields but those who have some degree of popularity in the world of evangelicalism. This is Strobel’s habit and one seen clearly even in his latest book The Case for Miracles. (I mean, he interviews J. Warner Wallace, for crying out loud!)
  • @StudyofChrist, whose ability to produce excellent content on YouTube sickens me, discusses some more ways in which many have sought to reconcile the Matthean and Lukan genealogies of Jesus, including the notion that Joseph was adopted by Heli, the possibility of Leviarite marriage being a factor, and the problems with Julius Africanus’ take. Finally, @StudyofChrist concludes that the best approach is to “embrace the differences” between the two genealogies and recognize that there are theological motives in play. I second that motion!
  • Rachel Martin at NPR recently conducted an interview with Robert Alter on his magnum opus, his translation of the entire Tanakh. I’ve read Alter’s The Five Books of Moses and it was insightful, readable, and beautiful. I’ve also read significant portions of his translation of Job and loved what I read there as well. So as soon as I move I plan on getting his translation of the Hebrew Bible.
  • Phil Long, whose work I highlighted last week on Acts, has a short post on “The Times of Refreshing” found in Acts 3:20. He notes that the phrase is a “Second Temple Period way of describing the eschatological kingdom” and brings up a variety of texts – biblical and extrabiblical – that point to the age of the eschatological reign of God in the world.
  • Over a decade ago biblical scholar Bill Arnold wrote about his view of the composition of the book of Genesis in his 2009 commentary on it. A shortened summary of his take entitled “Reflections on the Composition of Genesis” demonstrates that Arnold is in general agreement with the findings of the Documentary Hypothesis that the text of Genesis is made up of three sources: J (Yahwist), E (Elohist), and P (Priestly). He compares the creation of Genesis to the creation of the Synoptic Gospels wherein both written and oral sources were brought together to form a coherent whole.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Weekly Roundup – 1.25.19

  • Over on his blog Charles Payet has a post entitled It’s the End of the World as We Knew It. Overall, it is a rather pessimistic piece and one with which I cannot help but sympathize. The very real threat of climate change, for example, almost guarantees that the world my children will inherit will be far more difficult than the one I have. Payet notes this and writes, “Now, I have no desire to ever have grandchildren, because humanity is destroying the planet, and Christians and Muslims are leading the way with their denial of science and reality.” He is right because while there are many Christians and Muslims who aren’t science deniers, the overwhelming majority of deniers come from the religious Right. Their views on science are colored by their theological assumptions. This will invariably result in a world that is far more dangerous than the one we see today. (On a side note, if you don’t follow Payet on Twitter you should. He is an accomplished dentist and from what I’ve seen appears to be something of a polymath despite having ADD. Plus, he’s just a really nice guy. There aren’t enough of those around anymore.)
  • Chris Hansen continues his series examining pop-apologist J Warner Wallace’s book Cold-Case Christianity. Wallace claims that the Gospel “accounts puzzled together just the way one would expect from independent eyewitnesses” when he first read them “forensically” (343, 344, electronic edition). But as Hansen points out, the Synoptics all show literary dependence and so they cannot be independent eyewitnesses: “So, apparently there was a level of harmonization going on, just what Wallace doesn’t want.” In other words, Wallace’s argument breaks down based upon Wallace’s own criteria. And this guy was a homicide detective?!?!
  • Last August astrophysicist Hugh Ross and retired chemist Peter Atkins engaged in a dialogue on the Unbelievable podcast with host Justin Brierly. The topic for discussion was the origin of the laws of nature which Ross attributes to a divine mind. Atkins, an atheist, does not see that as an adequate explanation and considers it to be “intellectual laziness.” Ross tries to make the Bible a prognosticator of future scientific discoveries and Atkins rightly calls him out on it. Atkins makes some appeal to a multiverse and Ross rightly calls him out on that. As a debate it was a wash but I did find some of what was discussed fascinating.
  • @ElishaBenAbuya has a new blog where he is moving over posts from his old one. He recently published a post on Zechariah 12:10, a text that apologists think is a prediction of the crucifixion of Jesus. That view is not without precedent as the Johannine author quotes it in John 19:37. A lot could be said about that reference as well as how the translator of Zechariah 12:10 in the Septuagint interpreted the passage. I may write a blog post on it in the future.
  • Phil Long, who blogs over at Reading Acts, wrote a series of posts last week on the book of Acts as history, story, and theology. Though Long’s conclusions about Luke’s historical writing are a bit too conservative for my taste, he raises some interesting questions and makes some helpful analogies.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

A Conversation with @MiraScriptura

Today over on the Mira Scriptura podcast is a conversation I had with @MiraScriptura covering a wide range of topics including my journey from Christianity to atheism, views on the Documentary and Supplementary Hypotheses, love for the Gospel of Mark, thoughts on Bernard Lamborelle’s The Covenant, and much more. I also got the chance to play inquisitor to @MiraScriptura’s work with mirror reading. If you don’t follow @MiraScriptura on Twitter or have not subscribed to his podcast, I recommend you do so. His series on the Northern book of Judges was my favorite, particularly the episode on Samson.

Musings on Mark: The Markan Jesus on Divorce

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her….”
– Jesus


In Mark 10:1-12 we read of an encounter between “some Pharisees” and Jesus over the question of divorce. They ask him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (10:2, NRSV) to which Jesus replies, “What did Moses command you?” (10:3) They then tell Jesus that Moses said it was permissible to divorce one’s wife if you produce a “certificate of dismissal” (10:4). What did that entail?

Moses and Divorce

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 gives us the answer.

Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house and goes off to become another man’s wife. Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies); her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the LORD, and you shall not bring guilt on the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a possession.

So if a man found something “objectionable” about his wife, he could then write a certificate of divorce and send her away. But what constitutes objectionable? Simply put, we don’t know.

The “objectionable thing” is vague, and perhaps deliberately so. This law is less interested in the technicalities of the bill of divorce than it is in the correct disposition of the former wife’s sexuality.1

Whatever it was, by the time of Jesus there were some groups who contended a wife who couldn’t cook was one who could be divorced while others claimed that divorce was only permissible on the grounds of sexual immorality.2 

Having been put away by her husband, the woman is free to marry again (24:2). However, if her new husband “dislikes her” then he too can write a bill of divorce and put her away (24:3). But is this woman free to return to her first husband? No, because “she has been defiled” and such an act “would be abhorrent to the LORD” and would “bring guilt on the land” (24:4).

Back to “The Beginning”

Jesus acknowledges the Pharisees’ words about Moses but it isn’t a concession. He tells them that it was “[b]ecause of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you” (10:5). Well what does that mean? A heart that is “hard” refers to a disposition of stubbornness. But how does that fit with regards to Moses and the giving of this law? It seems that Jesus understands Deuteronomy 24:1-4 “as a temporary concession by God to the spiritual weakness of the people.”3 In other words, divorce was permitted but it “was never envisaged in the divine purpose.”4 Instead, God’s design was life-long partnership:

But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate (10:6-9).

Jesus is echoing the words of both the Priestly account of humanity’s creation (Genesis 1:27) and the Yahwist’s account (Genesis 2:24). His appeal to these texts serves his point that “what God has joined together, let no one separate” (10:9). How? Because it was God who made them two separate beings (Genesis 1:27) but then, through the act of marriage and physical consummation, they “become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). And since marriage was God’s idea “from the beginning of creation,” only he can separate the two that have become one.

Divorce and Remarriage

But if this wasn’t obvious from his exchange with the Pharisees, Jesus is even more blunt in private with the disciples (10:10).

Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery (24:11-12).

If you divorce your spouse and marry someone else you have violated the commandment of God (Exodus 20:14). Why? Because the now-divorced couple are still one flesh. Therefore, a remarriage means a union that violates that one flesh. This is in stark contrast with the Deuteronomic law which stated marriage was permissible after divorce.

So if we ask the Markan Jesus, “Is divorce permissible?” his answer would be a resounding “No!” Why? Because marriage is a union of one flesh that no one can separate. Not Moses. Not a certificate of divorce. No one. Only God.


NOTES

1 Douglas A. Knight and Amy-Jill Levine, The Meaning of the Bible: What the Jewish Scriptures and Christian Old Testament Can Teach Us (HarperOne, 2011), 315.

2 Gordon J. Wenham, “Divorce,” in Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, editors, The Oxford Companion to the Bible (OUP, 1993), 170.

3 John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina (The Liturgical Press, 2002), 294.

4 R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark, NIGTC (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 391.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.