Softening the Hard Edge of Jeremiah’s Message

Reading through Jeremiah again, I noticed a couple of new factors that just mitigate a little the harshness of the prophet that strikes us at first glance.

Jer. 20:7-18 concludes the series of Jeremiah’s complaints to God that began at the end of chapter 11. However, 20:7-18 seems composite itself. Verses 7-10 are true complaint, featuring the nickname given Jeremiah by his opponents, ‘Magor-Missabib’, or Terror on Every Side, equivalent I think to calling him Chicken Little. (If you want to hear a powerful song, check out Phil Keaggy’s rendition of this idea at the end of True Believer.)

What follows is a song of deliverance in vv. 11-13 in classic psalmic fashion, where the persecuted person celebrates his rescue by God. But then vv. 14-18 unexpectedly return to dark lament, in the form of the evidently stereotypical curse on the day of one’s birth. I say stereotypical because it is the form of lament that opens the body of the book of Job.

Here’s where our first mitigating feature comes in. Like Job’s voice in Job 3, Jeremiah curses roundly the poor guy who brought the news about Jeremiah’s birth to his father:

Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad, saying, “A child is born to you – a son!” May that man be like the towns the LORD overthrew without pity. May he hear wailing in the morning, a battle cry at noon.

Talk about shooting the messenger! But here’s the point. This is rhetorical. What purpose would it serve for God to tackle that poor guy years later for a job well-intentioned and kindly performed? That’s not the purpose. Jeremiah (more likely than his editor alone here, I think) is letting off steam.

We should keep in mind when we read the bitter tones of the ‘oracles against the nations’ (e.g. Jeremiah 46-51) the role that rhetoric can play. They can make it sound as though God hates non-Israelites from the very bottom of his heart. Then how do we account for the sudden magnanimity of the gospel in the New Testament? We ought to keep in mind the natural extremity of rhetoric.

My time’s up. Second part next time.

Digital Septuagint, One Last Time

Better success lately finding help for reading the Septuagint (as per usual, for free) online. Let me put it in terms of good, better and best. And this is still in terms of how it works when logged on with my Android tablet. The first two work on the basis of double-tapping the mystery Greek term in the Septuagint and doing the suggested Google web search on it.

  1. Good is a new one, a book that comes up reasonably often in the search results provided by Google Books: an Analytical Lexicon of the Septuagint by one Bernard Adwin Taylor. I hadn’t heard of it before, I don’t know why, but it’s handy that a Google search can find your desired form in it pretty regularly.
  2. Better is the solution I mentioned last post: most such searches bring a result on the front page from the Perseus Greek study tool at www.perseus.tufts.edu.  (Tufts offers a lot of good digital tools, like the versatile VUE – Visual Understanding Environment.) This sort of result comes fully parsed and, when you click ‘word frequency statistics’, will tell you where it turns up in classical Greek writings and how often. You could do worse.
  3. Best is a website that I just hadn’t found before: www.greekdoc.com/lxx, seemingly created by one John Barach. There is it, the whole thing, every word linked to its corresponding entry in an analytical dictionary. Tap the form you don’t recognise, see its analysis, and you’re back to reading the text in about two seconds. Which to my mind is the critical thing when we’re going for fluency in reading the Bible in the original languages. That, finally, is the morning reading solution for me. When I’m doing serious study, BibleWorks it is.

Okay, I think I have Septuagint posts out of my system. (Could be wrong…) Back to digital repositories for primary document study really soon.

Quick Links in the Book of Micah

I often write my posts pretty off-the-cuff, and this one will have to be an absolute first impulse, because I have 22% battery power left on my laptop, and no cord here at home. But chances to post come rarely so…

Here are some interesting leads for you to follow up in the book of Micah among the minor prophets, should you be so inclined:

  1. Micah’s hometown, Moresheth, mentioned in the title (1:1), appears again in the list of towns on the invasion route of Assyria as ‘Moresheth Gath’. Apparently it is represented by a large present-day ruin mound or ‘tell’ overlooking the Shephelah or western foothills of central Israel, or in ancient times, the borderlands of Philistia.
  2. The call to ‘hear’, using the very common Hebrew term ‘shema‘ in the plural, Micah 1:2, is very like similar calls to attention, or as it were, courtroom summons, at key locations in other prophets, e.g. Micah 6:1, to the mountains; Hosea 4:1, to the Israelites, at the beginning of the body of Hosea, and Isaiah 1:2, to the heavens and the earth as witnesses of Israel’s wrongs.
  3. To go another verse, the frightening appearance of the LORD in 1:3 is very like the theophanic description in Habakkuk 3, not to mention Psalm 97. When the LORD goes out, the mountains shake and melt like wax, says Micah 1:4, and so does Ps. 97:5 and Nahum 1:5-6. Scholars these days talk about ‘cultural memory’ as a conduit for ancient traditions, and I can’t help but wonder about distant memories of some great volcanic eruption lying behind these descriptions of God’s fearful presence, notwithstanding scholarly pointing to similar mythological traditions in the Ugaritic literature.
  4. Micah 4:1-3 is famously nearly identical to Isa. 2:1-4, and scholars debate endlessly whose the passage was first, if either prophet’s. It actually finds a very natural ‘bed’ in Micah, because the judgment of the temple ‘mount’ (Heb. har) in 3:12 is immediately reversed in the supreme blessing of the same mount in 4:1.
  5. Speaking of the devastation of Jerusalem’s ‘mountain’ in 3:12, which would have to be Micah’s most pioneering prophecy, as he was the first to forecast devastation for Jerusalem, along with exile to Babylon (4:10, acknowledging what most scholars would conclude here, but I still suspect it’s Micah’s own), there is a shared word here too. Jerusalem is so destroyed in Micah’s prediction here that it returns to scrub (ya’ar). Yet in 7:14, ya’ar becomes a positive image, as the LORD shepherds his people in the mountain scrublands such as Bashan and Gilead.
  6. Micah has a Jeremiah-style complaint in ch. 7 beginning in v. 1, which also uses the Hebrew term for ‘summer fruits’ that appears in Amos 8:1.
  7. Micah 7:17 speaks of foreign leaders coming bowing and scraping to Israel, licking the dust like serpents. As well as a suggestive help for understanding the curse on the snake in Genesis 3, it is very close to Isaiah 65:25, saying “Dust will be the serpent’s food.”

More generally, and my battery’s about to go, I find the relief from the burden of finding a great enough sacrifice to really remedy sin in Micah 6:8 a very prescient passage from a gospel point of view, though no real means of atonement is flagged there. But in 7:18 we do have a God who forgives, rather than staying angry forever, leading to an uplifting and hopeful conclusion that is taken up at the end of Mary’s long in Luke 1:55 or so, as Luke makes the connection between the hopeful texts of the OT prophets and the advent of Christ. God would prove true not just to Jacob but to all the “sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.”

Ten Books on the Boil: The Other Five

Well, the truth is you can’t really keep ten books properly on the boil. And a word from experience: this isn’t the kind of snappy title that attract readers to a blog post. Learning as we go. But, in the interests of finishing something that you start, here are some comments on the following five books whose reviews were flagged in a post probably two months ago:

  • Isaiah 1-39 with an Introduction to Prophetic Literature (1996), by Marvin Sweeney
  • Interpreting Isaiah: issues and approaches (2009), edited by David Firth and H. G. M. Williamson
  • The Book Called Isaiah: Deutero-Isaiah’s Role in Composition and Redaction (1994), also by H. G. M. Williamson
  • Prolegomena to the History of Israel, originally 1878, by Julius Wellhausen (that ought to get a reaction), and
  • Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction – and Get It Published (2002) by Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato.

Continue reading

No, those ancient Hebrew ‘sticky notes’ do not necessarily prove the Bible was written early

Another sensible post by George Athas in Sydney – as Christians we sometimes weaken our own position by too quickly latching on to fresh apologetic ammunition. Real historical data comes in very small increments, and a true picture of the past, including the biblical past, comes by building a large collection of little pieces of data into a clearer picture. George is right that the majority of OT books are both anonymous and unclear in their time and manner of origin. We just get an isolated clue here and there, and then stages of transmission such as those reflected in the translation of the Septuagint (LXX or Greek OT) and the Dead Sea Scrolls, that portray an Old Testament whose development into the form we have today was nearly complete by the time of Jesus.

With Meagre Powers

Christianity Today has published an article that comments on a recent study by the Epigraphic Hebrew Project examining the handwriting on some ancient Hebrew documents through digital technology. The headline reads:

Ancient Sticky Notes Shift Secular Scholars Closer to Evangelicals on Bible’s Age.

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The study itself demonstrates that the cache of sixteen documents from the remote desert outpost of Arad on the edge of the Kingdom of Judah in c. 600 BC had six distinct authors. The claim of the Christianity Today article is that this seemingly high rate of literacy in Judah’s monarchic period is forcing secular scholars to acknowledge that the biblical documents were probably written early (that is, before the exilic era). This is certainly the direction in which Walter Kaiser Jr., who is cited in the article, takes the evidence.

Unfortunately, the study that this article is commenting on doesn’t actually shift secular scholars closer to Evangelicals on the Bible’s Age…

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Ten Books on the Boil? The First Five

Are you one of those people who have 6 or 8 books on the go at once? A couple at the office, three or four on the bedside table, another one on top of the fridge? It isn’t the most efficient system, is it? Short attention span? Too many interests? When you know how you operate, you don’t keep fighting it, do you. So it’s going to be 6 or 8 books on the go for life.

In the absence of a more coherent & thoughtful piece, here are my ten or so books with a comment on what each is about and how good it is. There is, naturally, an Old Testament theme, and more specifically, most have to do with either Old Testament history and historiography (history-writing) or with Isaiah, my new teaching subject for this semester. Continue reading

A Great Post on the Nature of Prophecy

George Athas at his blog ‘With Meagre Powers’ has drawn my attention to an apt post by theologian Tim Bulkeley on the nature of prophecy. I agree with his point there, though it might challenge your ideas about what prophecy is!

http://bigbible.org/sansblogue/ot/prophets/amos/prophets-and-prediction/

I’m not emphasizing the point about conservatives. I am one to some extent, and know that we can all bring our preconceptions to our interpretation of the Bible. But Jeremiah certainly challenges us, especially in 18:7-10 and the lesson about the clay pot, to remember that God announced the future through his OT prophets in order to change that future, with the result, hopefully, that the dark future originally ‘predicted’ does not need to happen!