Top Ten Surprises in the Septuagint

You may know that the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX by common agreement, with reference to the ancient legend of its drafting by seventy scholars) is the umbrella term for the Greek translation of the Old Testament. It was already complete in at least one version by the end of the third century BCE or so, thanks to the thorough Hellenization of the eastern Mediterranean world in the wake of Alexander’s conquests, and thus of the dispersed Jewish communities in those lands. The first edition generally goes by the name of the Old Greek, and revisions followed that go by the names of Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion and Lucian in the centuries either side of the time of Christ, as well as Origen’s rendition in his Hexapla and others.

You may also know that the Septuagint is the most important source for the textual criticism of the Old Testament, being the oldest complete witness to the state of the Hebrew text lines a couple of centuries before Christ. When there are significant differences between the LXX and the Hebrew Masoretic Text lying behind our modern English versions, the sixty-four million-dollar question is often whether the LXX reflects roughly the same Hebrew text but paraphrases or amends it freely, or instead whether there is a quite different Hebrew text tradition lying behind the LXX that has since gone the way of the dinosaur. Continue reading

Now Something for Easter

I couldn’t help but relate to this, passed on from the ACT (Australian College of Theology) head office in Sydney, a poem by Christina Rossetti (1830–94):

Good Friday
Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter, weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon –
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

Time for a Quickie: The Ox and Ass of Christmas

Just have to wake my somnolent blog from its slumber to mention this, a firstfruits offering from John F. A. Sawyer’s Isaiah through the Centuries (Wiley Blackwell, 2018). Have you ever noticed that the Gospel nativity stories mention no ox or ass/donkey in connection with the birth of Jesus? This is one of those Christmas traditions that’s so ingrained you can’t quite believe it isn’t actually there. So where does it come from?

Sawyer points out the presence of this benevolently beastly pair in Christmas carols, Renaissance art (Botticelli’s Mystic Nativity, c. 1500) and medieval traditions, right back to “the eighth-century apocryphal Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew” (ah yes, I know it well!), but Sawyer finally traces them back to a Christian interpretation of the opening verses of the ‘fifth Gospel’, a name for Isaiah whose contemporary currency (with me, at least) is thanks in some degree to Sawyer’s own book of twenty years ago, The Fifth Gospel (for the detail, see Isaiah through the Centuries, 11–13)This is Isaiah 1:3 (NIV):

The ox knows its master,
the donkey its owner’s manger,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.

‘Manger’ in this translation is apt; combine this verse with Jesus’ post-natal bedding arrangements, and you have stock animals outshining their human contemporaries in their recognition of their true master. As you might imagine, every possible anti- and pro-Semitic battle can be fought right over these words, but I thought I’d put this out there as a fascinating tidbit from reception history that demonstrates how we don’t simply formulate our sense of a text from our own direct reading alone, but read in community across space and time.

By the way, I still like it how many donkeys, like the one living at our old favourite holiday camping spot in Australia’s New England region, have a cross displayed across their shoulders, as if for pure symbolic value alone.

The Elephant in the Room of Old Testament Biblical Theology

Human beings can get used to nearly anything. People can learn to live under oppressive regimes, grow accustomed to wearing jeans that an earlier generation would have immediately thrown out, and adopt tap-and-go technology without a second thought. Familiarity breeds invisibility.

By such a means an Old Testament elephant has achieved a striking invisibility. My students in Old Testament Foundations, a first-year subject that covers Genesis–Kings, have the task of creating a thematic portfolio as their assessment piece, and may choose one of four themes, each with an associated student text in OT biblical theology:

  1. The story of Israel, utilizing the text by the same title by Pate, Duvall, Hays, et al.
  2. The presence of God, using T. Desmond Alexander’s From Eden to the New Jerusalem
  3. Covenant, using Sandra Richter’s Epic of Eden
  4. Kingdom, with Bartholomew & Goheen, The Drama of Scripture

I must confess to not having read each of these student texts from end to end; I have only browsed portions in connection with student work or class preparation. But wait, I’m working my way towards the elephant: that utter surprise lurking within the pages of our Old Testament that should leave our jaws hanging, but which through familiarity and a dull reading fog, we fail to notice.

800px-Paraceratherium_transouralicum

Not elephants, but the more interesting and even bigger Paraceratherium, member of the Pleistocene megafauna (
ABelov2014 (https://abelov2014.deviantart.com/) via Wikimedia Commons)

Continue reading

Winners are Grinners?

The Gospel of Jesus and Christian Celebration in 1 Corinthians 1

The Gospel of Jesus and Christian Celebration in 1 Corinthians 1

The glitter has settled on the 2018 Commonwealth Games, here in Australia’s own home of humility, the Gold Coast, and all we have now are fast-fading memories of close contests and come-from-behind victories in the pool, on the track and in the velodrome. Judged by the wisdom of the leather lounge, there seems no greater adrenaline rush than victory over one’s rivals in an athletic contest.

640px-Carrara_Stadium,_Gold_Coast,_Queensland_05

The vicarious thrill of such contests is so universal that Paul can appeal to a foot race to illustrate dedication to the task of Christian life and service in 1 Cor. 9:24-26. Yet the thrill of outperforming our fellow runners is not a motive Paul wants to encourage. What is, behind the fanfare, something of an ego trip is not compatible with the spiritual ideals Paul has long imbibed from Old Testament Scripture. Paradoxically, the Christian life is a race that leaves no room for boasting.

Continue reading

O God, Where Are You Now?

So runs the title of a David Crowder Band song from the 2005 album A Collision. The full title is appealingly quirky:

“O God, Where Are You Now? (In Pickerel Lake? Pigeon? Marquette? Mackinaw?)”

(Now that I check the liner notes, who should have written that but Sufjan Stevens! A pretty well-known guy in alternate/folk circles. Anyway…)

So sometimes God can feel very distant, stubbornly silent or rather inert. We feel as if we’d be glad for any kind of communication from God, even if it consisted mostly of rebuke. At least we would know where we stood. Continue reading

Taking Creation Personally

At intervals through 2017 I pursued the question, “Are we on safe ground theologically to declare that not only is humanity corporately the creation of God, but you and I individually are God’s creations?”

It has been surprising just how difficult the topic of individual creation is to find in theological texts. It’s as if it is a non-issue in theology. I found brief mention in Eichrodt’s Theology of the Old Testament, and fuller mention, as might be expected, in Wolff’s Anthropology of the Old Testament (ET 1974), in section XI. Creation and Birth. William Brown is on to the issue in an essay, “Creatio Corporis and the Rhetoric of Defense in Job 10 and Psalm 139,” in God Who Creates (2000), edited by Brown and McBride.

Those two biblical passages are the best evidence for personal creation, and by themselves are enough to reassure me that we can claim to be made by God personally. But I was reassured finally to discover a theological precedent I should have been aware of before this. Martin Luther, whose 1517 door notice is being celebrated in this 500th anniversary year (surely you’ve heard!), was a big proponent of belief in personal creation. Here’s the first item from Luther’s Small Catechism (http://catechism.cph.org/en/creed.html):

The First Article: Creation

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

This is most certainly true.

I’m here to tell you that I don’t think the creation of the individual person is a non-issue for real people, for Joe and Jane in the pew, and the person who has never seen a pew. I believe that believing in our personal creation by God makes all the difference in the world for how we see ourselves.

I’ve explained this pretty thoroughly in a recent PowerPoint presentation, embedded hereafter.

The notes to the PowerPoint don’t show, so here they are for your reference, with slide numbers:

Continue reading