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.

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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.

A Second Interlude: Back to Digital Bibles

The test case for online Bible tools that I floated in my last post was, which freely available tool caters well for the Septuagint (LXX, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) reader? I’m imagining the reader (easy, because it’s me) who can read the Greek reasonably well but has a knowledge of Greek birthed in the New Testament and will often not recognize LXX-only Greek terminology, or words familiar in classical Greek but missing from the New Testament. The pricey tools, Logos, Accordance and BibleWorks (best value, in my biased opinion), provide such helps in spades, but what’s there for the ordinary punter not yet ready to splash out to the extent of many hundreds of dollars in order to read the Bible on his/her tablet in the original languages?

I can reaffirm from further looking what I said in my last post. It looks as though you cannot get a free tool that offers definitions and parsing for all of the words in the LXX for just a click or hover. Tools like Step Bible and MySword offer ready access to roots available in the old Strongs dictionary for NT Greek words. But a fully tagged Septuagint in a cheap or free Android or Windows app or online, I can’t find.

But here are a couple of handy workarounds.

  • I remembered that Tyndale’s http://www.2letterlookup.com/ is really quite a quick and handy way to look up biblical roots in original languages, hooking in to all the old-but-good lexica such as Liddell, Scott and Jones. Works very well indeed for the triliteral roots of Hebrew. Greek, however, is not so simple, since so many Greek roots incorporate common prefixes like ‘epi’, ‘pros’ and such like and so open with the same pair of letters, leaving you to look through hopelessly long lists of words. This is helped by a graphical bar diagram that appears once you click a lexicon link under a word listing. It looks like this (below, for the lexicon known as ‘Middle Liddell’)…but for common prefixes, it’s still just too cumbersome.

lexicon-graphic-in-2letter-lookup

  • Better is a solution that was staring me in the face from my Android tablet the whole time. Open up the Bible app of your choice; I’d recommend one that has really attractive Greek typeface in the LXX. I found Blue Letter Bible and Academic Bible really good this way, and in the latter case, you’re getting the text of a recent, critical edition. Just double-click on the mystery word/form and your tablet offers you a Google search on the term. I was thinking that with the language barrier involved it would never yield meaningful results, but I was wrong. We live in Unicode World now, where you can move digitally from one language to another with ease. Every search on a Greek term brings up meaningful search results. Admittedly, some of them are modern Greek web pages that still use the term in question. But nearly every search I did brought up the form, fully parsed and defined, in the Perseus Greek word study tool, which is absolutely the best online tool since sliced virtual bread for this kind of thing, and an old favourite of mine. (It’s not working as smoothly on my Windows PC as I write this, but it’s the tablet where I was looking for a good solution in any case.) And it’s quick, quick enough not to lose momentum while reading.

I should mention that I’ve been corresponding with David Instone-Brewer, the head sherang at Step Bible, who tells me that a fully tagged Septuagint is well into preparation by the Tyndale crew (see the Tyndale Tech blog), so I encourage you to keep checking the Step Bible tool regularly. It keeps getting better, and will no doubt have this cracked before long.

Digital Document Detective, Interlude: Online Bibles and Their Limits

My new task for this and subsequent years is to read the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Old Testament that forms the basis of so much New Testament teaching and gospel proclamation. But I have wanted to get my technology right first. My question has been:

Can I find an online bible, or better, a downloadable app, that would provide parsing of difficult Greek terms in the Septuagint, with root definitions?

Out of the ‘big three’ Bible software universes, Logos, Accordance and BibleWorks, I made my choice a long time ago, more or less in ignorance, of going with BibleWorks. I don’t regret it, either, primarily in value-for-money terms, where I think BibleWorks really excels. Logos does many, many things well, but is chiefly for the building of a large, digital library of secondary sources. I feel a little intimidated by how much it seems to cost, and continues to cost, and feel as if it’s the Hotel California of Bible software. You can check out any time you like, but you’ll receive promotional emails practically forever. Accordance would tempt me more now, but I have always been a Windoze user and it was once a Mac thing, so the die was cast. Oh, and my devices now are Android, and I move in Google and Microsoft online spaces.

So what is out there that might let me, rather than booting up my PC proper to read the Septuagint of a morning, just boot up my tablet and browse the Septuagint, but get help with those rarer or forgotten Greek words I need definitions for, and occasionally, parsing?

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The Digital Document Detective Episode 2: Ancient and Medieval Backgrounds

You can find many important ancient, medieval, Renaissance/Reformation and Modern primary documents online. The scene is changing all the time, and sometimes documents you could find earlier disappear. But more often the trend is towards greater availability, and other parties such as European libraries and universities are catching up to Google in providing materials online. Top-notch critical editions and recent scholarly publications are the two categories of documents usually not available online except behind paywalls. Older materials, private translations, book previews, online journals…there is still much that is useful that can be found online for free. Here is merely a sample list, stemming from things I was looking for in my own research:

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The Digital Document Detective Episode 1: Online Sources for Patristic Study

One of the guilty pleasures of research for me is trying to beat the challenge of finding that hard-to-discover primary or secondary document (i.e. the original source, or the things written about that source). At first blush, it looks as though you have to travel to Stuttgart or the British Library to find that rare document, which from Melbourne, Australia, where I live, is not just around the corner. But when you scratch around in internet land and locate it in some obscure digital repository, there’s a definite nerdy satisfaction to be had.

I’ve found a few new places, or kinds of places, where those old writings can be found, or newer ones that at first seem locked away in universities. I am studying church fathers at the moment, so that determines which digital doorways I’m going to mention this time around. On the off chance that it helps your research, if you’re a student of ancient Christian thought and writing, here are some ideas. And they’re all free.

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Hacksaw Ridge Movie Preview

Thanks to an invitation through the Ethos Centre for Christianity and Society, based in Victoria, Australia, I spent last evening at a preview screening of Mel Gibson’s new film, Hacksaw Ridge. I thought while it was fresh, and since it hasn’t come out in Aussie cinemas yet, I don’t think, I’d offer a short evaluation.

The Story

We all hate spoilers, and this bit of fluff will give you time to look away…

Alright, in very brief, it’s the story of an unusual war hero, an American pacifist who went to fight on the Pacific front in WWII, voluntarily, but wouldn’t handle, let alone fire a weapon on principle. His name was Desmond Doss. And his principles were related both to earlier personal experiences and to Christian beliefs.

(I actually know some Americans, friends who have nearly the same level of distaste for guns of any kind. Just thought I’d put that on record. You can’t judge a book by its bookstore, I always say. From now.)

Okay, I won’t tell you how it all came out in the wash, but offer some pluses and minuses, while still trying not to spoil the plot.

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