The Internet of Ancient Texts

We live in a happy age when Bible-related text resources that I as an Aussie would once have had to cross the seas to see are available in my web browser any time. Here are a few of my recent favourites, with a focus on resources for textual criticism:

Origen’s Hexapla

This great six-column comparative text-critical resource from the smartest, if not the most orthodox, thinker in the ancient church, Origen, was largely lost in subsequent centuries (many of his works were deliberately purged), but there is a portal that talks about a new forthcoming edition of the surviving fragments and offers links to previous editions of the great work: http://www.hexapla.org/

The Aleppo Codex

This manuscript’s bigger and younger brother, the Leningrad Codex, can be accessed in many Bible software packages and websites, and forms the basis of the diplomatic Hebrew text of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (in the process of being updated as Biblia Hebraica Quinta). But it isn’t so easy to get to the Aleppo Codex, also more than 1,000 years old and covering the majority of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Univerity Bible offers an Aleppo Codex-based text, but only the Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel volumes were ever published to my knowledge. But now you can see it all visually at http://www.aleppocodex.org/, including those occasional places where your BHS apparatus identifies divergences between the major Masoretic manuscripts.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

I still love and regularly use the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library, where you can go and look directly at the Qumran textual evidence for a particular Old Testament textual question. Sometimes it all hangs on a letter, or even reconstructed line spacing without any extant letters! But so real, so…textual! E.g. Isaiah 1:15 from the Great Isaiah Scroll below:Snapshot of Isa 1.15 from Gt Isaiah Scroll.png

You can personally check the evidence with your own eyes, if you know Hebrew in the Aramaic square script and once you get used to the particular style of the scribe.

The Old Testament in the Syriac Peshitta

This is not as easy to find on its website, being a bit buried in the site structure, but you can look at the Peshitta for any OT book and click on any word to get its analysis. I recommend you print off a chart of the Syriac alphabet in order to decipher the letters. The language actually works rather like biblical Hebrew, and if you’ve boned up on biblical Aramaic at all, you’re better prepared again, though you’ll need to come to terms with an unfamiliar script. A ready reference chart on your office wall helps.

Snapshot of Peshitta Isa 1.1-8 RHS from CAL D'base.png

This is part of the opening chapter of Isaiah, in a snapshot I saved for a class, though what my particular point was, I can’t remember now. Don’t be put off by how it looks. With a knowledge of Hebrew, a reference chart and the clickable analysis function, you can navigate your way to the particular word that relates to the textual issue you’re studying.

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.

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?

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!

A Recent Commentary on Job Reviewed

This is my review of the recent Job commentary by Melbourne local Lindsay Wilson (Ridley College) in the Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary series. It is ready for an upcoming issue of Australian Biblical Review. In enjoyed reading (most of) Lindsay’s commentary (we are acquainted through Bible college circles here in Melbourne) on what is one of the great and profound books on the Old Testament, and felt that he had a skillful and theologically robust grasp of the book. Very common-sense as well! I encourage you to pick it up. By the way, it’s great value for money.

https://www.academia.edu/15593591/Book_Review_LINDSAY_WILSON._Job._The_Two_Horizons_Old_Testament_Commentary_Grand_Rapids_Eerdmans_2015_

Wilson - Job - Two Horizons

By the way, I have almost finished reading Job in Hebrew after months of nearly daily efforts, and I’m happy to say it’s some of the most difficult biblical Hebrew I have ever dealt with. It does share a lot of vocabulary with Psalms, though, if you want to read two books that will reinforce each other well.

An Attempt at a Master Diagram of Interesting Features of the Psalms

I’m not entirely happy with this yet, and in fact it isn’t complete, but it’s at a stage of “proof of concept”. It’s a master diagram of Psalms in Prezi arranged like one of those broken-up-world globe map projections:

https://prezi.com/gr8muwf70jel/psalms-master-diagram/
Psalms Master Prezi Screenshot

For those interested in technical production details, I produced the world template in one Inkscape document and the coloured content in another. Inkscape is a free, open-source vector graphics program. But Prezi doesn’t recognise the normal vector graphics (SVG) format, so I had to open the finished product in Adobe Illustrator (very new for me, and maybe not permanent, though a better-known vector graphics program, probably the best-known of all). Then I exported it in Adobe Flash format (SWF), which Prezi recognizes, and opened the file from within a new prezi, adding nothing else bar the title. The convoluted process is thanks to Inkscape’s usefulness as a graphics editor, whereas Prezi is very limited that way, and the fact that vector graphics do not lose resolution no matter how far you zoom into them, and are ideally suited to a zooming interface like Prezi.

But, if the result doesn’t help anyone comprehend (in this case) Psalms, all the playing around is in vain. So critical feedback is welcome!

Three Things I’ve Learned from Leviticus

Our pastor told us last Sunday that he was reading Leviticus and Numbers. And with all the stuff about sacrifices and so forth, he asked himself, “What can I take away from this?” Unsurprising point to reach, and our pastor’s conclusion was not a bad one: “God wants our very best!”

I too have been reading Leviticus, as part of my goal to read the Old Testament right through in the Hebrew. It has been a life-occupying surprise to find out how long that takes! I started when I first took Hebrew in 1998, and in 2015 I have a substantial portion to go. Hope I don’t die before I get the Septuagint read.

I haven’t minded reading about the sacrifices. I feel as if I’m slowly gaining a feel for the meaning of ceremonial purity and orthopraxy. But on reaching chapters 17-19, I feel as if I’ve gained a much clearer appreciation of three things:

Leviticus 17: I’ve appreciated how starkly the power of the sacrificial system was tied into the value attached to the blood of the animal. “The life of all flesh is its blood (Lev 17:14 NET Bible)” is the clear principle, and here in Leviticus, not only is blood not to be eaten, but for domestic animals at least, there is to be no such thing as ‘secular slaughter’. While a game animal or bird caught in the wild may be eaten so long as all of its blood is spilled out on the ground, the same is not true for a herd animal:

Blood guilt will be accounted to any man from the house of Israel who slaughters an ox or a lamb or a goat inside the camp or outside the camp, (4) but has not brought it to the entrance of the Meeting Tent to present it as an offering to the LORD before the tabernacle of the LORD. He has shed blood, so that man will be cut off from the midst of his people (Lev 17:3-4).

So blood is a holy thing, and as far as possible to be avoided in any ordinary animal slaughter. You may notice that by the time Deuteronomy’s sacrificial laws come along (significantly later, we are led to think), there is such as thing as ‘secular slaughter’:

If the place he chooses to locate his name is too far for you, you may slaughter any of your herd and flock he has given you just as I have stipulated; you may eat them in your villages just as you wish. (22) Like you eat the gazelle or ibex, so you may eat these; the ritually impure and pure alike may eat them. (23) However, by no means eat the blood, for the blood is life itself– you must not eat the life with the meat! (Deut 12:21-23).

It is this sanctity of blood that makes sense, within a Jewish and more general ancient world context, of the death of Christ as our New Testament authors explain it, while that death, in turn, paradoxically explains why no sacrificial system is needed any longer! The perfect sacrifice has come; there is no longer any sacrifice for sins (Heb 10:26)!

Leviticus 18, especially its initial verses, struck me as particularly programmatic for the book:

Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘I am the LORD your God! (3) You must not do as they do in the land of Egypt where you have been living, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan into which I am about to bring you; you must not walk in their statutes. (4) You must observe my regulations and you must be sure to walk in my statutes. I am the LORD your God. (5) So you must keep my statutes and my regulations; anyone who does so will live by keeping them. I am the LORD. (Lev 18:2-5 NET)

Interestingly, the remainder of the chapter is devoted to sexual ethics, particularly surrounding acceptable degrees of consanguinity. The implication seems to be that sexual ethics were lacking in the two cultures against which Israel could distinguish herself culturally and religiously, Egypt and Canaan. I had never made the connection between sexual ethics and the programmatic Pentateuchal statements about obeying Yahweh’s standards. Maybe it is important for how we understand books like Leviticus and Deuteronomy!

Leviticus 19 early on offers us an even more central statement for the meaning of the book: “You must be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (Lev 19:2 NET). It is interesting what a mingled statement of principles follows in that chapter, combining Ten Commandments-style statements with statutes about ceremonial purity, sexual ethics, and Deuteronomy-like principles protecting the rights of the socially vulnerable. We are inclined to see these as very separate categories of life. It is interesting that being the people of the LORD involves holiness of diet, holiness of ethics, holiness of ceremony, holiness of sexual practice, Sabbath-keeping, avoidance of seances, indeed a wide range of interpenetrating spheres of life!

All that with vocabulary I don’t remember seeing elsewhere in the OT. There is interest in every corner of the Bible, read on its own terms.

Samaritan Korban Pesach Wikimedia Commons

Oh, on that vocabulary note, and so that you finally get a pic, here’s a picture of the ‘Korban Pesach’, the Passover ceremony still conducted annually by the Samaritans on old Mt. Gerizim, where this has been done for at least 3,000 years. ‘Korban’ [קָרְבָּן], ‘sacrificial offering’, is a word very distinctive of Leviticus & Numbers, which feature 78 out of its 82 OT occurrences, beginning in Lev 1:2.