No Connection between Ahmose’s ‘Tempest Stela’ and the Exodus

A perennial question when we are reading Exodus is the possible connection with natural phenomena. The eruption of Thera (=
Santorini) in the eastern Mediterranean often comes up in this context, since it was a noteworthy natural disaster occurring in the mid-2nd millennium BC with the potential to affect Egypt and its inhabitants. This forms part of a larger question: do we allow natural explanations to impinge on our interpretation of the marvels described in Exodus at all? Should we on theological grounds prohibit such explanatory reference to natural phenomena? Do they diminish miracle? Are the stories of the plagues and Sinai all that historically grounded anyway? Does finding some local, on the ground connection for something like the ‘manna’ eaten by the Israelites help us to understand the passage, or hinder our appreciation for the power of God? Big questions.
For my part, I’m a little more open to considering such connections than I think George Athas is in his post, but recognise too the need for care and caution. There is a major study brewing in my mind about tectonic/volcanic phenomena as they affect the Old Testament story broadly, but it isn’t ready to come to birth just yet! For a very recent article on this as it affects Mt. Sinai, i.e. whether it was a volcano, or whether we should even ask this question, see: Dunn, Jacob E. “A God of Volcanoes: Did Yahwism Take Root in Volcanic Ashes?,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 38/4 (2014), 387-424.

With Meagre Powers

A few days ago, Simcha Jacobovici made the claim that ‘there’s a dramatic scholarly breakthrough linking archeology to the Biblical Exodus.’ Jacobovici is best known for his TV specials, such as the one in which he claimed to have found the family tomb of Jesus—a claim that the vast majority of specialists in the field evaluated and rejected. In this most recent claim about ‘proof’ for the Exodus, Jacobovici points to the following article:

In this article, Egyptologists Ritner and Moeller examine afresh an ancient Egyptian stela that has been known for some time: the ‘Tempest Stela’ of Ahmose I.

The ‘Tempest Stela’ of Ahmose I

Previously, this stela was interpreted in one of two ways—either as a description of a localised natural disaster during the reign of Pharaoh Ahmose I (16th…

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What language did Jesus speak?

A good explanation of something many Christians may have wondered about.

With Meagre Powers

Today witnessed a very minor verbal exchange between Pope Francis and Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, over the language Jesus spoke. Reuters reports the incident on the final day of the Pope’s visit to the Middle East:

During his comments about a strong connection between Judaism and Christianity and tolerance towards Christians in Israel, Netanyahu told the [sic!] Francis: “Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew.

“Aramaic,” the pontiff interjected.

“He spoke Aramaic, but he knew Hebrew,” Netanyahu shot back.

The difference of opinion reignites a historic debate about the language Jesus spoke two millennia ago.

“Jesus was a native Aramaic speaker,” Israeli linguistics professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann told Reuters. “But he would have also known Hebrew because there were extant religious writings in Hebrew.”

Zuckermann added that during Jesus’ time, Hebrew was spoken by the lower classes – “the kind of people he ministered to.”

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Romans 12 as Poetry, and a Draft Translation

Here’s a simple draft translation of this chapter of Romans, prepared for a small group study.  It gives limited allowance to text-critical issues and could be improved upon, but is meant to show that Paul was writing poetry when he wrote this chapter, or else his amanuensis (penman) was quite a literary scholar himself.  Paul may have decided to abandon his eloquence when he met the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 2:1-4), but he called upon every rhetorical skill he had available as he urged the Roman Christians to live a Christ-inspired life in Romans 12.  Just for example, spend some time finding all of the rhyme and assonance, not to mention matching line lengths at times, in the Greek column.

Romans 12 Greek and Translation Web Version

My take-away from this chapter?  Clearly the Roman Christians were already taking some heat for their Christian confession, and much of Paul’s urging is that they “let go of hate”, as yoda might say.  I’m reminded again, as so often, of the way of Jesus – the warning, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”  It is so tempting when facing hostility to take up the sword ourselves, to fight fire with fire.  But it is not the way of Christ, and never has been.

A Note on the Name of God from 1 Kings 11:33

I have a long term interest in the meaning and use of the names and titles of God in the Old Testament (OT).  One thing that has puzzled me is how the plural Elohim can be used (very often!) for Israel’s one God.  Scholars offer several explanations for this, such as that it is an instance of the ‘majestic plural’, an honorific use of the plural for a singular referent.  Explanations such as this have never fully clarified the issue for me.

That Elohim can be used both ways is clear from a word play found in the OT.  Compare these verses:

This occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They had worshiped other gods…
(2 Kings 17:7 NRSV)

2 Kings 17.7

So the king [Jeroboam I] took counsel, and made two calves of gold. He said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” (1 Kings 12:28 NRSV)

1 Kings 12.28

Exodus 32:4, 8 contain virtually identical statements to Jeroboam’s in the mouth of Aaron, brother of Moses.  In fact, the Ten Commandments open with nearly identical words: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery (Exod 20:2 NRSV).

The interesting thing is that the form of “your/their God” and “your gods” in these references is practically identical.  It is only the pronouns used in the context that determines whether the one God or many ‘gods’ are being referred to.  So there is in references like 1 Kings 12:28 and Exod 32 a word play going on, one that almost hints at how close syncretistic (blended) versions of true faith can look to the real thing.

But what has really interested me most recently, on reading 1 Kings 12, is the way elohim appears in 1 Kings 11:33:

This is because he has forsaken me, worshiped Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and has not walked in my ways… (1 Kings 11:33 NRSV)

1 Kings 11.33

The word ‘god’ here, used three times of non-Israelite (i.e. false) gods and goddess, is again elohim, that is, the plural form of the term.  I had never noticed this use before – the plural form describing not just Israel’s one God, but singular deities of other nations!  It only confirms how comfortably what looks like a plural word can be used of a singular being.

As for the use of Elohim v. Yahweh for Israel’s God, there’s more than a post in that, but more to come, I trust, on this fascinating topic.

Mini Book Review: To Save the Phenomena

Duhem, Pierre. To Save the Phenomena: an essay on the idea of physical theory from Plato to Galileo (trans. Edmund Doland and Chaninah Maschler; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969).

This is a classic work of philosophy of science, incorporating ideas first published by French physicist Pierre Duhem in 1908.  He was widely read in the history of science, and in the content translated here studies the long legacy of a concept first emerging with Greek philosophers such as Posidonius and Simplicius, and to some extent in Plato, certainly his later advocate Proclus, but opposed by Aristotle.  The idea is that the astronomer, and we could read here any physical scientist, is simply trying to offer hypotheses that explain what is observed about the natural world, in this case the movement of the planets in the heavens.  The opposite is to claim that the hypothesis one offers to explain and integrate such observations corresponds to ‘the way things are’ – which is to adhere to ‘realism’.  Greek philosophy was as a rule sympathetic to the goal of simply offering explanatory models that didn’t claim to be ‘real’ or explain true causes, because they mostly believed that the heavens, from the moon’s orbit and upwards, was fundamentally different to the terrestrial (earthly) sphere and so in principle could not be grasped by human thought.  It was the realm of God or the gods, and they alone knew how it truly worked.  Someone like Ptolemy, most importantly, was happy if he could offer a geometrical model that might explain the way the ‘planets’ (among which they counted the sun and the moon) moved.  They debated whether such models should depend mostly on elliptical orbits around the earth, or instead, circular orbits around which planets moved while themselves orbiting ‘epicycles’, a compound cyclical motion that seemed truer to the fundamentally circular nature that seemed appropriate to heavenly motion.  A few proposed that the earth itself might move, but that wasn’t the general mood.

800px-Solar_sys

Duhem shows (or claims), most interestingly, that around the time of Copernicus, many astronomers still acknowledged this principle that they were obliged simply to offer a mathematical model that explained planetary paths.  Some Aristotelians in the Averroist tradition, called Peripatetics, maintained a realist view instead.  Copernicus himself, claims Duhem, was a true realist, and believed that his new heliocentric theory (following the minority classical antecedents) actually represented the true realities of the cosmos.  This was a little unusual at the time, and even the anonymous author of the preface to Copernicus’ groundbreaking De revolutionibus (1543), in which his new model was published, heads in exactly the opposite direction, presenting Copernicus’ theory as a mere model, intended only to ‘save the appearances’.  Duhem cites another astronomer as revealing the writer’s identity as the well-known Osiander.  Copernicus’ proposal was rather popular among astronomers early on, and not too controversial in that most took it as simply a model, such as Osiander.  It even acted as the mathematical background for the Gregorian (i.e. papal-sponsored) reform of the calendar in the 1580s.  But realism was on the rise, and Duhem uses this to help explain why Giordano Bruno and especially Galileo got in trouble with the Catholic church.  By insisting that the Copernican model was not just a mathematical help for astronomy but represented cosmic realities truly, they forced it to impinge on the territory of natural philosophy, concerned with real causes.  In the day, this meant it confronted both Aristotelian metaphysics, which was fundamentally geocentric, and biblical statements that seemed to speak of the earth’s fixity.  And it was compatible with neither.

Galileo.arp.300pix

So Galileo probably could have co-existed with church authorities had he been a non-realist, offering simply to ‘save the phenomena’.  It was his stout realism that got him into trouble!  But Duhem points out that he and his colleagues, even Tycho Brahe in offering a compromise claim, effectively unified physics by seeking common explanations for the movements of heavenly and earthly things.  No longer would the heavens be seen as fundamentally incomprehensible.  It was game on for modern astronomy.

A Stable and a Shaken World: A Sermon Outline and Study of the Hebrew Word ‘mwt’

I spoke on this ‘shaking’ idea in the Psalms recently, focusing on occurrences of the Hebrew verb ‘מוט (e.g. Psa 46:3)’.  Some of the folk present have asked for access to the PowerPoint resource, so here ’tis.

Notes:

  1. The second slide acts as a master, with each of the nine boxes linked to more specific content centred around a relevant passage from the Psalms or Isaiah.  Every slide has a small icon to permit navigation back to this master slide.
  2. The screen concerning Psalm 104 and comparing it to verse 1 contains a link to a Word document which outlines the full text of Psalm 104.  I will include this separately, below.

Here is the Word file of Psalm 104: