Google Ngram Viewer as a Reception-Historical Tool

Discovered this tool – better late than never.  Ngram Viewer, showing how many times any word or phrase you specify shows up in the vast number of printed books that Google has digitized.  Let me offer you a sample of charts relevant to my doctoral research:

First, this to illustrate when discussion of Noah and the biblical Flood or ‘Deluge’ peaked in the English-speaking book world:

NGram Viewer Noah,Flood,Deluge 1600ff

My interpretation would be that John Woodword’s Essay Toward a Theory of the Earth in 1695 was the big impetus for discussion here, sustained by William Whiston’s 1696 New Theory of the Earth, both coming on the back of Thomas Burnet’s Sacred Theory of the Earth and related discussion by John Ray and others.  Moderate discussion remains consistently through about 1750, then dies off, never to reach its former intensity.

Next, discussion about Moses and a couple of minor, associated terms:

NGram Viewer Moses, etc. 1600ff

Certainly, Moses’ name came up in theories of the earth that involved a flood that was biblical in both scale and source.  But both in the deist controversy leading up to 1700 and in early deist writings, esp. Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, around 1650, Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch was the topic for debate.

Lastly, moving down to post-1800, again in the Anglophone sphere:

NGram Viewer Scriptural Geology, Geology of Scripture, Mosaic Geology 1800ff

Three terms, Mosaic geology (green), Geology of Scripture (red) and Scriptural Geology (blue) burst onto the English book scene from about 1820, thanks in part to one Granville Penn and then a number of imitators and collaborators who in time became known as the Scriptural Geologists.  Though it’s a little controversial, I think we can still roughly call these the young-earth creationists of the early nineteenth century.  It was chiefly US writers taking on this task by the 1950s, after it was pioneered by British writers, but this attempt to explain the geological column by means of the biblical flood and natural processes before and after it, all within the constraints of a quite recent creation, had largely given way to its competitors, especially the Gap Theory, by about 1860.  But then, it did make a comeback in the 20th century!

Stay tuned – my book on the history of interpretation of the creation week up to 1860 is due out within months.  Then will be the sequel!


David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 – Looking Backwards and Forwards

A couple of interesting things about this pretty gripping chapter…

  1. You’ve probably picked it up, but there’s an immediate hint that “in the spring when kings go off to war,” David’s choice to stay back home provided some idle hands, or eyes, for the devil to play with. This is notwithstanding the fact that 2 Sam. 21:15-17 probably explains why David stayed back: they had nearly lost him in battle once he wasn’t as young as he used to be!
  2. Bathsheba is named once only as the story gets underway, 2 Sam. 11:3. Then she becomes simply “the wife of Uriah the Hittite” for the remainder of the story, until finally, the child born of the liaison dies. This penalty paid, in a sense, there is some kind of expiation or cleansing, and Bathsheba gets her name back in the very next verse after that episode, 2 Sam. 12:24.
  3. Uriah was, we find out later, one of Israel’s war heroes. In the list of the 30 mighty men in 2 Sam. 23:24-39, Uriah is revealed as the very last name of the thirty – not because he was below #29, I suspect, but as a last-minute sucker-punch. David didn’t just have a Joe Average soldier killed. He made sure a war hero was hung out to dry.
  4. It was the archers that got him from the wall, 2 Sam. 11:20. The death scene of Boromir in the first LOTR movie about captures the feel. Uriah leads the charge on the wall as instructed, then looks around to find that he’s left alone.
  5. Uriah’s a Hittite. I.e. not a native Israelite! But that’s true of many others in this story, including a bucketload of Israel’s fighting men around this time.
  6. When David has Uriah killed “with the sword of the Ammonites” (2 Sam. 12:10), he learned that method from best. Saul, that is. Saul did his best to kill David with the sword of the Philistines (1 Sam. 18:17). A bit hypocritical of David to turn around and emulate Saul’s style, after having felt the sharp end of it.
  7. Important to the following story is the prophet Nathan’s pronouncement, “the sword will never depart from your house” (2 Sam. 12:10). This is our guide to interpreting all of the following troubles in David’s family, from Amnon’s decision to take the woman he jolly well feels like, in imitation of Dad (2 Sam. 13:1-19) and Absalom’s subsequent revenge killing of Amnon on down.
  8. I believe the critical turning point comes when Joab, always handy with a sharp instrument, kills the rebel Absalom in defence of David’s throne (2 Sam. 18:14). Now David learns the value of a life. Back when he was brought news of Uriah’s death, David had hypocritically trivialized it:

Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another (2 Sam. 11:25).

But when the sword devours his own son, his tune is different:

“The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you–O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Sam. 18:33)

The poignancy here is almost painful. I hate to think how a reader who had lost a child might feel. But I think that this is when David has been purged of his trivializing attitude to a life. He cares not a fig for Uriah when he stands in his way, but now he learns that every warrior is someone’s son. I think that at this point David is on the painful path to redemption. He will soon return to Jerusalem, his enemies for the time being defeated. But he will return changed, humbled, educated. He will never again, we think, be so flippant about a life.

A Short Comment on Jude 12 and Ezekiel 34

Our college principal spoke in our chapel this week focusing on the first half or so of the little letter of Jude, second last letter in the New Testament, and I noticed and Old Testament link.

I noticed in v. 12 that the false teachers are accused of ‘shepherding [only] themselves’. The word behind ‘shepherding’ (or ‘pastoring’), ‘poimainontes’, reminds me of the ‘shepherds’ or false leaders of Judah in Ezekiel 34 who fed themselves on lamb instead of looking after the flock. It turns out from a BibleWorks search that the very word turns up in the LXX in that chapter, e.g.:

“ἀποστρέψω αὐτοὺς τοῦ μὴ ποιμαίνειν τὰ πρόβατά μου (Eze 34:10 BGT)”
“I will remove them from being shepherds of my sheep.”

For an audience probably pretty steeped in their Scriptures, Jude’s words would probably have awakened such echoes from the prophets.

There’s a warning in there for the person in spiritual or political leadership! Let’s not begin taking advantage of the power that comes with that role!