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.”

An Embryonic Example of Teaching Hebrew Vocabulary Visually in Semantic Fields

This is a work in progress, lacking order and featuring only one or two hundred of the most common terms from OT biblical Hebrew, but you can see the principle I’m pursuing: representing vocabulary words that students need to learn in natural association and with visual clues. I’ve tried out more than one principle of association, and would like to cluster the circles together in related bubble masses in time, though the prezi will at some point begin to grind to a stop with its graphical content. So there is builder’s rubble and scaffolding lying around here.

Heb Vocab Fams Scrshot Smaller

The impetus for this visual aid I owe to David Gormley-O’Brien, whom I heard speak at the SCD Teaching & Learning Conference in Sydney last September, where he called for the teaching of biblical languages in semantic domains, while I was there presenting a paper on, yes, visual communication in the theological classroom. So this is my attempt to put David’s call into practice, such as it is so far.

From a method point of view, I have had to create the frame in prezi, take a screenshot of that and paste it into an Inkscape (i.e. vector graphics) document, type in Hebrew terms in SBL Hebrew font and manipulate them as needed, then select assemblages of Hebrew terms and export them as png files which I could then open from within prezi and drop into place, where they were tailored to fit as needed.

The link: https://prezi.com/cbqtqi7bqwgs/hebrew-vocabulary-by-semantic-fields/

Feedback is most welcome.

A New Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Study Tool Online

From time to time I add a new pin to my Pinterest board on tools for studying biblical Hebrew: https://www.pinterest.com/abrown5929/biblical-hebrew-teaching-and-learning/

But occasionally there comes along a new tool that’s worth noting more fully. Care of a student of Matthew Anstey (and of mine, at intervals), I’ve found out about one called Shebanq, which appears to permit searching of anything you’d like to find out about the Hebrew Bible/OT. I’m sure it can do a great range of different things, and you may want to explore the possibilities. Let me mention just one.

Some time back, I explored manual representation of distribution of important OT terms by means of a heat map. If you don’t know what a heat map is, it is a kind of chart commonly used in data visualization circles. Here is an effort done up in Prezi to show where Levites are mentioned in the OT, and where they aren’t: https://prezi.com/uhjbcpw1xiyn/references-to-levites-in-joshua-kings-chronicles/

Levite Refs in Hist'l Books Sshot

However, much better than a template that has to be filled in manually is a tool that creates a heat map (such as the circular one above) automatically. That is one thing that Shebanq does. As an experiment, I searched for the prefixed relative pronoun that usually appears as ‘שֶׁ’, typically in late biblical Hebrew contexts. In concert with a whole range of other terminological data, including the use of Aramaic and, more tellingly, Persian terms, it gives away parts of the OT canon as clearly postexilic, notably Book V of the Psalms, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. You’ll see what I mean in this screenshot from the program:

Shebanq rel pron example

You’ll find this at http://shebanq.ancient-data.org/hebrew/text, and the relevant term is tagged with the number 2640. To get there, select ‘Words’ in the header menu, select the Hebrew letter ‘שׁ’, then find ‘שַׁ’, the first option under that letter. Then, in the LH dialogue box, select ‘chart’, and (as we say here) ‘Bob’s your uncle’! A heat chart making the distribution of the term clear at a glance!

I find this kind of tool an instant buzz, and a doorway both into diachronic studies of term frequencies (over time) in biblical Hebrew, and into ‘synchronic’ studies of key biblical themes accessed through tracing ‘giveaway’ words for those themes.

Did I mention that it’s free?

A Whole Biblical Hebrew Beginner’s Subject Online for Free

If you want to learn biblical Hebrew and want a university/seminary level first-year course, but don’t need the formal credit, check out this video series from Master’s Seminary:

Pinterest pin on my Hebrew studies board: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/532198880942167746/

Main page: http://www.theologicalresources.org/the-masters-seminary/17-hebrew-grammar-i/

First video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qvh8yziVsCE

Can Loanwords in the Hebrew Bible be the result of scribal updating?

My comment: debates can be difficult to close based on individual terms, but statistical patterns can be pretty telling, especially when examining suites of terms. E.g. when an individual Aramaic term becomes current amongst Hebrew speakers may be hard to establish, but the sudden ‘Cambrian explosion’ of Aramaic terms in exilic to postexilic texts is unmistakable. Persian terms are a real bellwether in my book, being very unlikely to enter Hebrew vocabulary prior to 550. The logical process in my mind is to demonstrate the high prevalence of a set of loanwords in texts that are uncontroversially postexilic, like Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah, and then to ask whether they appear in the more debated cases. Sometimes they do (especially in, say, Song of Songs) and sometimes they don’t (e.g. rarely in supposedly post-exilic contributions to the Pentateuch). Repeating the process often builds up a pretty comprehensive picture of books and parts of books that appear to have arisen after the exile.

With Meagre Powers

A loanword is a word that originates in one language, but makes it into another language for common use.

The Hebrew Bible is replete with loanwords. These are interesting cases, because it makes us ask how and when these loanwords made it into Hebrew. They are often used as evidence for particular (usually late) dating of biblical texts.

I was recently asked whether it was possible for loanwords to have crept into biblical texts through editing. That is, could a later scribe, in the process of copying a text, have updated the language and replaced a Hebrew word in the early text with a loanword from another language? And if this is possible, what does this tell us about our methods of dating biblical texts?

Well, the scenario of later scribes inserting later loanwords into earlier texts is possible, but there is absolutely no way of verifying it without manuscript evidence of such a replacement occurring…

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Days of Creation Book Launch Presentation – MST Graduation 1 Dec 2014

Time is short in graduation ceremonies. Here is what I would say about The Days of Creation, if time permitted. What can we say about Genesis chapter 1?

Slide1

Genesis 1 existed in relative obscurity when the Christian church was born, though it was far from being unknown, as passages like these remind us:

For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6 Holman Christian Standard Bible)

As centuries passed, Genesis 1 became the focus of increasing interest, including becoming the subject of a burst of preaching and commentary by figures such as Basil the Great and Augustine around 400 AD/CE. Soon it provided the dominant paradigm for Christian explanation of the origin and nature of the physical world (and a lot of other things!).

Slide2

This remained true throughout the Middle Ages and through the Reformation era. But eventually a combination of philosophical currents old and new and a weakening of traditional authority structures began to undermine this intellectual dominance. It began to break down in the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, and in the nineteenth, studies of nature that once would have been carried out with reference to Genesis became independent from it.

The causes for this sombre trend are manifold, and are explored somewhat in the book. In part they have to do with a burgeoning sense of the age of the earth from the late 1600s onward – the increasingly widespread belief that the earth, like humanity, had a history whose relics could be studied, and that in fact the earth’s story significantly pre-dated the human story. One term for this is the ‘discovery of time’, and attitudes to the days of the creation week, in simplified form, can be plotted to show a trend from a time when six literal days was felt to be too long of a time for God to create (Augustine and Origen) to a time when schemes for creation days that were figuratively extended to stand for years or even ages began to be proposed.

Slide3

Learning of this trend often prompts Christians to wonder, “How then should I regard Genesis 1 when I read it now?” In my experience, the meaning of Genesis 1:1-2:3 (as well as that of Genesis 2:4-25) has been clarified by the perspective of ‘discourse analysis’, which simply means paying attention to the literary shape of the narrative and the language signals that communicate to us how the story is moving forward. Reading Genesis 1 with this awareness shows that when creation begins, three things are lacking that prevent a world as the Old Testament would perceive it from existing.

Slide4

What is missing in Gen. 1:2, which is needed to make a world, is 1) form or distinction, clear zones in which various life forms could exist; 2) fullness, i.e. living populations, inhabitants, including humans; 3) light. Light is fittingly the first thing provided, after which increasing distinctions provide places to live, and then beings are created to live in those spaces. If you’re familiar with the scientific concept of entropy or the ‘heat death’ of the universe, where temperature (energy) and other distinctions are gradually ironed out until there is nothing in any meaningful sense, creation in Genesis 1 is exactly the opposite! Creation reaches its highest distinction with the arrival of humans, the image-bearers, on Day 6.

Such an understanding works very well for following the story of human creation in Gen. 2:4-25 also.

I would like to say, then, that Genesis 1 is not only a God-inspired biblical text, but is extraordinarily versatile, given that it stems from an ancient culture in what from our perspective is an ancient world. What other creation story thousands of years old survives as unscathed as the creation week of Genesis 1? What other example presents God’s authorship of all categories of the known world while importing so little of an obsolete cosmology, while avoiding mythology, which is so prone to obsolescence? What is simpler and more practical than to categorize life by its medium, air, water and earth?

Slide5

Where we do sometimes get into trouble sometimes, I believe, is when we read Genesis as if it was written in our time, or if that’s implying too much ignorance, as if it was written just for us, just for our time in history. We sometimes ask it to make perfect sense in the twenty-first century, to sound utterly modern. This is actually selfish; it is in effect to ask that it make little or no sense to the people of God in eras other than our own, or even people in non-Western cultures in our own time. It is an ancient text, and it shows this in various ways, not least in the way it speaks about the ‘expanse’ (raqia) and the waters above it. But in its God-givenness it transcends its ancient birth in a unique way, retaining its ability to proclaim God’s authorship of and sovereignty over physical and human creation to people of every era.

The fact that we forget how ancient it is may be a sign of just how well it succeeds at this purpose.

 

A Translation of Genesis 1-2 Considered

Over at his blog With Meagre Powers, some months ago, George Athas offered his own custom translation of Genesis 1-2. I thought I would offer it here with my own responses to some of the more interesting aspects of his translation. I like how he has done it, and agree nine out of ten times. If you are interested in the translation or exegesis of these pivotal Bible chapters, you may find the text and comments stimulating.

Please forgive the poor transliterations of the Hebrew; I haven’t worked out fancy characters in WordPress yet.

I trust my comments show up!

Thanks to George for his fresh rendering of these fantastic and profound chapters.