Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Is this the gospel?

I won't be posting much in the next 10 days as I'm off to England for my brother's wedding. As a final thought before I go, I thought I'd post something the learnèd Orthodox blogger Kevin Edgecomb said in response to my post An Eastern Orthodox approach to Scripture. It has to do with the the Orthodox Church's view on the nature of Salvation, an understanding I'm finding increasingly more attractive (not sure about the message on the icon, though!). Why I find it attractive, I'm not sure. It may have something to do with the word "ontology." But in lieu of thinking too much about such weighty matters, I will simply leave his thoughts here for the world to critique and invest my energy into figuring out more relevant issues, such as the textual Vorlage of Ps 24:6.

Salvation is not an intellectual act ... . Salvation is an existential change effected by God Himself in our lives. God became human in order to save the human condition through divinizing it. Inasmuch as we are members of His Body, we are also saved in that same divinization, theosis. The Body of Christ is the Church, the Orthodox Church with its dogmatic theology and understanding of all manner of things. It is a package deal. God in His mercy may work in other ways and places with various people, but the ideal and the only proper way that we know of in the Church, the default option, is found in the Church, where salvation is certain. Outside it, God may or may not be working with someone. Inside it, God certainly does. And part of that work is expressed in the intellectual and spiritual training accomplished by the dogmatic statements in our liturgies, hymnology, and in the Church Fathers.

For some other interesting thoughts on the issue of theosis, I accidently came accross this intersting blog post: theosis as evangelism.

Oh, and of course, I decided to google "inhabitatio dei theosis" in order to see what one of my favourite bloggers has to say about this issue and came up with the following hits (replete with learnèd comment, as usual):

Theosis Defined

Justification as Theosis

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Is בקש פנים liturgical?

The phrase מְבַקְשֵׁי פָנֶיךָ יַעֲקב ("who seek your face, O Jacob") in Psalm 24:6 has been text critical headache for generations, as I posted about here. One argument in favour of the Septuagint's alternative rendering (ζητούντων τὸ πρόσωπον τοῦ θεοῦ Ιακωβ, "those who seek the face of the God of Jacob") is that בקש פנים belongs to liturgical idiom. Tromp says:

like the verb drš of verse 6a bkš properly signifies the appearing before a god's statue (Kittel, 1929:95). Indeed the lexicon shows that bqš pnym in the Old Testament is exclusively used for a visit to the king (twice) and to God, in order to obtain good advice or help (five times); for this see especially Psalms 27,8 and 105,4 (Gesenius-Buhl, 112B).
I'm probably missing something here, but since when is visiting a king a liturgical act? And if it isn't, then doesn't that simply undermine the argument that, on the basis of the terminology alone, one ought to expect מְבַקְשֵׁי פָנֶיךָ to supplement by אֱלהִים ?

Another question: is the use of the phrase in Psalms 27:8 (אֶת־פָּנֶיךָ יהוה אֲבַקֵּשׁ) and 105:4 (בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָיו תָּמִיד) necessarily liturgical? Why can't it refer to seeking God in prayer apart from the temple (as the lament Psalms of sickness do)?

Monday, 25 May 2009

An anniversary note to my wife

OK, not my wife. A friend of mine celebrated his anniversary a few days ago and wrote the following note to his wife which I found quite touching. He said I could post it under anonymity, so here it is:

Dearest [Sweetheart],

Four years - as you say, "That's a long time." It probably feels longer than it is, because we've been through so much throughout this time: Changes in friends, home, culture, language and work; emotional crises, unprocessed traumas, and broken dreams; contradictory personalities, mutual disappointment and work, work, work ... . What else lies ahead of us?

I like this geographical metaphor. I imagine Moses standing on that mountain in Moab peering into the Promised Land - that land of our dreams which Abraham compared to the Garden of Eden. He never did enter it, though his grave was never found and some say his body's with God ... still waiting for that day. He had a long history of struggle behind him, suffering for the sins of others, suffering for his own sins, yet always hanging onto the One he knew was his only source of hope. "If you do not go with us, then do not send us at all." And he didn't just hang on stubbornly to his Rock for his own sake, for his own salvation. He did it for his bedraggled people. God offered to start all over again with just him, but he begged God to forgive them, and in the end he was as faithful to God's covenant partners as God himself would be.

I love you [Sweetheart] and I'm going to hang on to God so that he will hang on to the both of us. We're a bedraggled pair, cut and bruised by our circumstances and by ourselves, but just like Israel God has got something in store for us. And just like Israel, his plan isn't just for us, it's for all of creation. I'm like Moses, standing on that mountain yearning to enter, yearning to have my Sabbath rest. But I don't want to go in without you, or without my friends, or without the faces of those lost sheep I see every day. So let's hang on together - hang on to each other, hang on to God and keep our hopes up that this journey has its sense and will have its reward and that God will continue to provide us with manna along the way, until the day we can sit at the wedding feast of the Lamb, together, and with all of creation.

I love you,


Friday, 22 May 2009

Psalm 24 in early Christian exegesis (in commemoration of Ascension Day)

Yesterday was Ascension Day, and as promised in my post on Resurrection Day, I will here give an outline of the reception of a Psalm that has, traditionally, had a special place in this festival. My source is E. Kähler's excellent Studien zum Te Deum und zur Geschichte des 24 Psalmes in der Alten Kirche (Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 1958).

The oldest undeniable reference to Psalm 24 (Kähler wonders whether it lies behind 1 Corinthians 2:8) is in the Apocalypse of Peter, in which Peter, during the Transfiguration and the appearance Moses and Elijah (Matt 17), asks Jesus where the other righteous are. As answer, he receives a vision of Paradise filled with believers. In this vision, the righteous—who are identified with the righteous of Ps 24:6— are kept in a kind of “pre-Heaven” as prisoners. A dramatic scene then enfolds, in which Jesus and the two prophets ascend first into this “First Heaven” and then take the righteous further upwards into the true Heaven, the Second Heaven, in order to consumate their salvation. This ascension creates “great fear and horror,” implying that some kind of celestial resistance needs to be overcome. This occurs with the calling out of Ps 24:7: “Open wide the Gates, you princes.”

Here is the relevant text, with allusion to Ps 24 underlined:

And behold, suddenly a voice came from Heaven and said: “This is my dear son, with whom I am pleased, and my commandments …” And an extremely large and sparkling white cloud came over our head and took up our Lord and Moses and Elijah. And I quaked and was horrified. And we looked upwards and Heaven opened up and we saw people in the flesh, and they came and greeted our Lord and Moses and Elijah and ascended into the Second Heaven. Then the word of scripture was fulfilled: “This generation seeks him and seeks the face of the God of Jacob.” And great fear and horror occurred in Heaven. The angels grouped together so that the word of Scripture would be fulfilled: “Open wide the Gates, you princes.” Following this, the Heaven which had been opened was closed again.”[*]
This understanding of the Psalm remained incredibly fruitful throughout the history of the early church, within all the major theological centres (Palestine, Alexandria, Carthage, South Gaul, Rome, Asia Minor). For the sake of space, I will simply list the main variations and emphases as found amongst the major theologians of these schools in this period:

  • For Justin, in his dialogue with the Jew Trypho, our Psalm functioned as a prophecy of Jesus' ascension. He read it in connection with the other major Christian proof texts: Isaiah 53 and Daniel 7:13. The Isaiah passage seems to have furnished him with the answer to the question as to why Jesus experienced resistance before the gates of heaven. He arose in the from of the suffering servant, as so was not recognised by the keepers of the gate.

  • For Irenaeus, Jesus is not recognised because he was “in the flesh.” He also interprets the dialogue between gate keeper and those requesting access as being between angels of the lower realms and angels of the upper realms.

  • Tertullian is the first to categorise the Lord demanding entrance as homo (“man”).

  • Hippolytus is the first to categorise the Lord as soter (saviour), a term with ecclesiological and political overtones.

  • Interestingly, the Gnostics also had a similar interpretation, which in itself is not un-Christian. They identified the identity of the Lord with Psalm 22:6: “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people”

  • Origin applies the standard Christian eschatological interpretation to his allegorical interpretation of Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem, understood as his entrance into the “true” Jerusalem. The city is astounded at his entrance and asks, “Who is this?” Again, the confusion is due to Jesus' incarnation.

  • In the time of Athanasius, this standard interpretation had become so established that he could simply assume it when interpreting other texts, e.g. the motif of incarnation and exultation in Phil. 2:5-11. For Athanasius and those like him, the Psalm had become “a means of making events which would have otherwise been impossible to know about both conceivable and tellable.”

  • Later Church Fathers added their own interpretations. Augustine interpreted the mythological language ethically, while Ambrosius talked of the Lord's entrance into the human soul. Nevertheless, the basic schema remained the same.

  • As far as I can see, one Church Father who took an innovative but later popular route is Gregory of Nyssa, for whom the Psalm was a supplement to the written gospels themselves, reporting events not contained therein. In a sermon on the Psalm, Gregory understands the two-fold questioning (vv. 7 and 10) as representing two different events, and two different locations. The first concerns Christ's descent to earth, where he went on to conquer the gates of Hell (hence his identification as “mighty warrior”). The second refers to the gates of heaven, where he returns, having completed his mission. In order to access to the first, he became incarnate. On his return journey, however, he remained incarnate, thus the inability of the angels to recognise him on his return.

  • This “Harrowing of Hell” motif finds its most significant development in the Gospel of Nicodemus (as I posted on here, thanks to Vox Stefani). According to this account, two righteous Jews who had been resurrected from the dead shortly after Jesus' own resurrection give eyewitness reports on how their resurrection actually took place. In short, Jesus entered Hell and there was a call to open the gates. Satan responded by locking them in fear. The enslaved saints inside cried out again for the doors to be opened. Satan's partner, inferus, asks “Who is the king of glory?” King David, in his function as prophet, answers with Ps. 24:8 and repeats the demand to open the door. Inferus binds Satan and, so it seems, lets Jesus in. Jesus enters, establishes his “war trophy” (Siegeszeichen), which is the cross, and then takes all the saints to Heaven.

[*] My translation, based on the German translation by E. Hennecke, Neutestamentliche Apokryphen (1924). Cited in Kähler, Te Deum, 54.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Text criticism of Ps 24:6: arguments pro and contra MT

מְבַקְשֵׁי פָנֶיךָ יַעֲקב in Ps 24:6 has proven problematic for the majority of modern interpreters. Their proposed solutions, however, are as diverse as the readings found in the ancient versions. In this post I simply summarize arguments for and against MT, collated from Tromp's 1982 article, "Jacob in Psalm 24: Apposition, Aphaeresis or Apostrophe?" (in Von Kanaan bis Keraala, 271-282). I have issues with some points, but I'll bring them up in the comments if necessary.

Arguments against the MT are as follows:
  1. The ancient versions (which are diverse). LXX, which is followed by the Vulgate, adds τοῦ θεοῦ to make ζητούντων τὸ πρόσωπον τοῦ θεοῦ Ιακωβ (“those who seek the face of the God of Jacob”). The Peshitta, on the other hand, keeps MT's suffix and translates the rest as a vocative: “your face, O God of Jacob.” The Targum has a third person pronoun and gives an interpretative expansion: “who seek the brightness of his face, Jacob.”

  2. The switch from third to second person is unnatural. This move privileges either LXX or the Targum, but not the Peshitta.

  3. MT destroys the synonymous parallelism, as found in LXX and Targum.

  4. בקש פנים belongs to liturgical idiom. Tromp writes: "the lexicon shows that bkš pānîm in the Old Testament is exclusively used for a visit to the king (twice) and to God, in order to obtain good advice or help (five times)." For this, see especially Psalms 27,8 and 105,4.” One would thus expect God to be the object of the seeking.

In response to these arguments, one can defend MT as follows:

  1. LXX is not followed by many ancient versions (Aquila, Symmachus, Quinta, Sexta, Jerome's Psalterium Gallicanum, and Vetus Latina1). In addition to this, the differences between the translations differing from MT give the impression that they are conjectures. Bäthgen suggests that they are nevertheless correct conjectures.

  2. The switch is certainly jarring, though not impossible. According to Tromp, it is not uncommon in emotional style. In this case, it may be the result of the combination of enallage and an apostrophe, occurring at some stage in the text's early history (the option preferred by Tromp).

  3. MT has the lectio difficilior, in which the translators have attempted “to simplify the text by employing [a] contextually more fitting lexical, grammatical, and stylistic form" (Barthélemy).

  4. Tromp adduces Akkadian parallels to argue that the idiom does not have to be liturgical and adds that “the position of 'Jacob' in this verse is a peculiar one indeed.” He does not, however, explain why.

Does anyone have any views on this?

The English translations are as varied as the ancient versions:

ESV and NRSV follow LXX by eliminating the suffix and adding "God of": "who seek the face of the God of Jacob"

NASB follows MT and sees Jacob as the subject of the participles: "Who seek Your face—even Jacob."

This is essentially the same as the NET's paraphrase of the whole line: "Such purity characterizes the people who seek his favor, Jacob’s descendants, who pray to him."

My favourite is the good old KJV, which, like the NASB follows MT, but translates Jacob in the vocative (cf. Andersen-Forbes Phrase Marker Analysis): "that seek thy face, O Jacob."

Monday, 18 May 2009

An ancient theological exegesis of Psalm 24

On April 19 the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrated The Day of the Resurrection and, much to my surprise, has as one of its liturgical texts an extract from the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus. This Gospel provides us with a description of events in Jesus' career which are hidden from sight in the four canonical gospels: the moment between his crucifixion and resurrection, and the moment after the ascension, between his envelopment by the clouds and his enthronement at the right hand of the Father.

So how did the author of this Gospel find out what happened? He read the Old Testament, of course! In this case, Psalm 24 proved to be the main source of information. As Gregory of Nyssa put it, Psalm 24 is a supplement to the Gospels, providing us with additional information not contained in the canonical Four. The tradition that Psalm 24 (LXX Psalm 23) is about two events in Jesus' career (the Harrowing of Hell and the Ascension, corresponding to the two sets of questions and answers in the third strophe of the psalm) is relatively later, however. Originally the entire was read in relation to the Ascension. I will wait until Ascention Day itself (this coming Thursday) before posting more on the history of interpretation of this Psalm. For now, I share with you the Harrowing of Hell, replete with citation from Psalm 24 (underlined), kindly provided for us by Esteban of Vox Stefani:

And as the prince Satan and Hades spoke this together, suddenly there came a voice as of thunder and a spiritual cry: "Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and be ye lifted up, O everlasting gates, and the King of glory shall come in." When Hades heard that, he said unto the prince Satan: "Depart from me and go out of mine abode: if thou be a mighty man of war, fight thou against the King of glory. But what hast thou to do with him?" And Hades cast Satan forth out of his dwelling. Then said Hades unto his wicked ministers: "Shut ye the hard gates of brass and put on them the bars of iron and withstand stoutly, lest we that hold captivity be taken captive."

But when all the multitude of the saints heard it, they spake with a loud voice of rebuking unto Hades: "Open thy gates, that the King of glory may come in." And David cried out, saying: "Did I not, when I was alive upon earth, prophesy unto you: 'Let them give thanks unto the Lord, even his mercies and his wonders unto the children of men: for he hath broken the gates of brass and smitten the bars of iron in sunder; he hath taken them out of the way of their iniquity.'" And thereafter in like manner Isaiah said: "Did not I, when I was alive upon earth, prophesy unto you: 'The dead shall arise, and they that are in the tombs shall rise again, and they that are in the earth shall rejoice, for the dew which cometh of the Lord is their deliverance?' And again I said: 'O Death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?'"

When they heard all these things from Isaiah, all the saints said unto Hades: "Open thy gates: now shalt thou be overcome and weak and without strength." And there came a great voice as of thunder, saying: "Lift up your gates, O princes, and be ye lifted up, O gates of Hades, and the King of glory shall come in." And when Hades saw that they so cried out twice, he said, as though he knew it not: "Who is the King of glory?" And David answered Hades and said: "The words of this cry do I know, for by his spirit I prophesied the same; and now I say unto thee that which I said before: 'The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle, he is the King of glory.' And: 'The Lord looked down from heaven that he might hear the groanings of them that are in fetters and deliver the children of them that have been slain.' And now, O thou most foul and stinking Hades, open thy gates, that the King of glory may come in." And as David spake thus unto Hades, the Lord of majesty appeared in the form of a man and lightened the eternal darkness and broke the bonds that could not be loosed: and the succour of his everlasting might visited us that sat in the deep darkness of our transgressions and in the shadow of death of our sins.

--From the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus

I wrote some comments on this on Estebans post.

See also my post Ancient Christian reception of Psalm 24.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

An Eastern Orthodox approach to Scripture

The blog Ora et Labora, authored by an Eastern Orthodox priest, has two interesting posts on the Orthodox approach to Scripture and Tradition. They consist of a translation of a Russian article written by Saint Hilarion (Troitsky), Archbishop of Verey (+1929). It is clearly written and contains much that is worth reading, especially for Protestants such as myself. Here are the two instalments:

Holy Scripture, the Church, and Scholarship I
Holy Scripture, the Church, and Scholarship II

(I've been told that there are two more posts in the pipeline)

A dialogue seems to be brewing on the second post between myself and the well-informed Orthodox blogger Kevin Edgecomb. My main issue turns on Hilarion's accusation that Protestants have lost Holy Scripture in their attempt to read it outside of the church, because the subjectivity of their unregenerate minds (my phrase) has simply produced a cacophony of interpretations which have little to do with the message the Spirit himself originally wished to communicate. The remedy to this is to interpret the texts within the context of church tradition, in strict non-contradiction of its established doctrine (which, Kevin has informed me, is as inspired as Scripture itself).

I can largely go along with this (except that Scripture ought still function as a critical norm), as I have posted on numerous occasions (see, e.g., my post: The relationship between exegesis and dogma, though I do wonder whether traditional Protestant and Orthodox theology are so radically different ...). My issue is with the apparent certainty that Hilarion believes Ecclesial tradition guarantees the interpreter of Scripture. He says that one can recite the whole of Scripture off by heart and still be far from salvation. True. But doesn't this also apply to Church Tradition? Surely one can recite all the creeds and Church Fathers off by heart and still be far from salvation. That is because salvation depends on one grasping the substance to which these various forms of witness point and not on the form of the witness itself. Neither Scripture nor Tradition guarantees our salvation, but the living Christ alone, who, in the Spirit, reaches out to us through Scripture and Tradition (and other media too, I believe) and creates the necessary epistemological conditions for a life lived in the mystery of the Gospel. As Hilarion rightly says (with my addition in parenthesis ... if I may be excused for supplementing a saint!):

[Either a] book [or tradition] ... could not and cannot save mankind. Christ is not a teacher, but precisely the Savior.
In short:

1) the accusation of subjectivity cuts both ways;

2) it's not about the Bible nor about Tradition, it's about the living Jesus.
For two related threads, see my translation of an article on the regula fidei by Bengt Hägglund and my unfinished thread: Faithful and Critical Exegesis. The series of video lectures on this issue by leading Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson is also relevant to this, though I still haven't listened to them yet.

Should we amend יְכוֹנְנֶֽהָ in Ps 24:2?

That's what BHS suggests (but not BHK). It recommends emending yiqtol יְכוֹנְנֶֽהָ to qatal כּוֹנֲנָהּ, no doubt in order to synchronise the tense with qatal יְסָדָהּ in the previous colon.

Of all the commentators I'm aware of, only Craigie follows this suggestion, and for the same reasons.[1] It is not clear, however, why he feels such an emendation is necessary, given that in his own discussion of tenses in Hebrew poetry (pp. 110-113) he is aware of the diverse uses to which these conjugations are put. Referring to Dahood's “Grammar of the Hebrew Psalter,” he points out that the qtl-yqtl sequence can refer to both past time as well as the future.[2] The qatal//yiqtol sequence is in fact common in Hebrew poetry and is held by some scholars to be poetically (e.g. Berlin[3], Tatu[4]) and semantically (e.g. Niccacci[5]) significant.

In my opinion, MT should be retained.

See my discussion of this form in my two posts: Translating a qatal/yiqtol sequence in Ps 24:2 (drawing on Niccacci) and its sequal: Translating a yiqtol verb in Ps 24:2.

[1] Craigie, Psalms, 210. He translates into the past simple, “established,” and adds in the text critical note: “Reading כוננה (viz. perf for imperf.; cf. BHS); a perfect tense is implied, given the tense in the preceding parallel line.”
[2] Dahood, Psalms III, 361–456; cited in Craigie, Psalms, 111.
[3]Adele Berlin, “Grammatical Aspects of Biblical Parallelism,” in Hebrew Union College Annual 50 (1979), 17-43.
[4] Silviu Tatu, “The Rhetorical Interpretation of the yiqtol//qatal (qatal//yiqtol) Verbal Sequence in Classical Hebrew Poetry and its Research History,” in Transformation 23/1 (2006), 17-23.
[5] A. Niccacci, "The Biblical Hebrew Verbal System in Poetry" in Biblical Hebrew in Its Northwest Semitic Setting: Typological and Historical Perspectives (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2006).

Monday, 11 May 2009

Translation of ἁγιάσματος in the Psalms.

In Psalm 24:3 we have: מִי־יָקוּם בִּמְקוֹם קָדְשֹׁו, where קָדְשֹׁו is usually translated as an adjective: "who may stand in his holy place."

Rahlfs' Septuagint also translates קָדְשֹׁו as an adjective: ἐν τόπῳ ἁγίῳ αὐτοῦ.

However, there is another LXX textual tradition, preferred by Pietersema in his NET translation, that has a nominal form: ἐν τόπῳ ἁγιάσματος αὐτοῦ.

What is the significance of these two varients?

Is ἁγιάσματος αὐτοῦ a Hebraism, simply translating the Hebrew nominal-construct form while still intending the word to have adjectival force (and thus the same meaning as Rahlfs' ἐν τόπῳ ἁγίῳ αὐτοῦ: his holy place)?

Or does it intend to express something different to the textual tradition found in Rahlfs' Septuaginta, i.e. "holiness" itself, creating the translation: "the place of his holiness"?

Another possibility is that ἁγίασμα refers to the "holy sanctuary," even the temple itself, rather than God's own concrete holiness. In this case, LXX Ps 23:3 should be translated as "the place of his sanctuary."

If we leave aside the possibility of a Hebraism, our choice between "holiness" and "sanctuary" can have interpretative implications. In LXX Psalm 77:54, for example, we have εἰς ὅριον ἁγιάσματος αὐτοῦ (for Hebrew אֶל־גְּבוּל קָדְשֹׁו in MT Psalm 78:54). In the Hebrew context, it is uncertain whether the mountain in the same verse refers to Zion, Sinai, or something else. The Hebrew simply means "to his holy territory," i.e. translating קדש as an adjective. What is LXX doing with its nominal form ἁγιάσματος? Is it maintaining the ambiguity (i.e. somewhere where God's holiness was present) or is it trying to clarify the referent (to Zion, the territory where his sanctuary is)? If the latter option is to be preferred, we have an example of ancient interpretation.

The same would apply to Psalm 24:3. Is the LXX textual tradition with ἁγιάσματος trying to clarify the referent of מְקוֹם קָדְשֹׁו by using a noun rather than an adjective (i.e. "the place of his sanctuary" rather than "the place of his holiness")?

Another possibility is that rather than ἁγιάσματος being a matter of interpretation (here, clarification), it is just a matter of ancient grammar. Eliezer Berkovits in “The Concept of Holiness” [*] argues that קדש should always be translated as a noun. Perhaps one strand of ancient translation agreed with him. The difference still hasn't been resolved today: some translators MT go for an adjective: "in his holy place" (and thus agree with ἐν τόπῳ ἁγίῳ αὐτοῦ), whereas others (e.g. Seybold) go for a noun: "in his sanctuary" (=ἐν τόπῳ ἁγιάσματος αὐτοῦ).

Either way, it would seem that he debate is quite ancient!

This still leaves open the question of how to translate ἐν τόπῳ ἁγιάσματος αὐτοῦ. Does it mean "holiness" or "sanctuary." Both translations are possible (amongst others). Unfortunately, Pietersma's translation is not too helpful on this. He translates LXX Ps 77:54 as "the territory of his holy precinct," but LXX Ps 23:3 as the "place of his sanctity." What are his criteria?

So what do you think? How ought we translate ἁγιάσματος and what is the significance of its divergence from ἁγίῳ?

And am I an oddball for getting so bogged now in marginal

I should add that elsewhere, בִּמְקוֹם קָדְשֹׁו is translated as ἐν τόπῳ ἁγιάσματος αὐτοῦ (Ezra 9:8), where the reference is to the temple. Sirach 36:12 refers to Jersualem as ἐκλεκτὴ πόλις ἁγιάσματος, translated as "holy" by KJV and "sanctuary" by the REB. Again, confusion over the meaning of the term.
In order to strengthen my desire to read ἁγιάσματος as refering to the sanctuary, rather than just holiness per se, J.K. Gayle has kindly pointed out that in 2 Chronicles 36:17 the Hebrew בְּבֵית מִקְדָּשָׁם , which literally means "the house of their sanctuary," is also translated with ἁγιάσματος in the LXX: ἐν οἴκῳ ἁγιάσματος αὐτοῦ (though why it's αὐτοῦ and not αὐτῶν) I'm not sure.

[*] Essential Essays on Judaism. D. Hazony, ed. Jerusalem: Shalem Press, 2002: 247-214. [Originally in his, Man and God; Studies in Biblical Theology, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1969].

From Jewish conversos to mixed marriages: a question of split identity?

Miriam Shaviv of Haaretz reviews a fascinating study by Yirmiyahu Yovl in her article "Jewish by candlelight - from Spanish converso to modern mixed marriage." Here are the opening paragraphs:

Diego Arias was born a Jew in 15th-century Spain, but his parents converted him to Catholicism following a wave of anti-Jewish persecution. Later in life, as royal chief financier of Castile, and one of the most powerful figures in the land, he enjoyed chanting Jewish prayers; ate hamin, a stew in the style of a traditional Sabbath cholent, on Saturdays, and was once seen treating a Christian saint's effigy with disrespect. Yet he did not consider himself the least bit Jewish, and - just to complicate matters further - occasionally expressed skepticism about all religions.

So, was Arias a Jew, a Christian or an atheist? In "The Other Within," Yirmiyahu Yovel, founder and chairman of the Jerusalem Spinoza Institute, tries to make sense of the religious identity of such Marranos ? the Jews of Spain and Portugal who were coerced into converting to Christianity in the14th and 15th centuries - and their descendants.

Friday, 8 May 2009

What is the goal of text criticism in a "canonical approach"?

This is the question I was asked in an e-mail recently. Here is my "off-the-top-of-my-head" answer:

This is a huge question and I'm not sure I can sum it up in a few words, but I'll give it a shot.

For a start, Childs' canonical approach is sensitive to the theological witness of the people of God, the "community of faith" (and not, as many seem to think, the witness of a disembodied text). This theological witness is "progressive," extending from the first prophetic utterances to the way in which those utterances were preserved, shape, and passed on to new generations, a process taking place within a dialectic relationship between the people of God and God himself. As such, even editorial changes added after the stabilization of the text, i.e. the phase leading up to the establishment of the authoritative Masoretic text in 1 C.E., ought to be taken account of as part of the theological witness of the whole.

The problem is: "who are the people of God" (as I understand Childs, who I find hard to understand). For Childs, this was and is the Jewish people who are the "authoritative tradents of the tradition," and so he believes that although the text traditions of the various communities that existed (Qumran, LXX, etc.) are interesting and ought to be taken account of, when it comes to formulating doctrine or getting at the "substance" of Scripture, the "vehicle" for such a project ought to be the text form elected by the only Jewish community to have survived till the present. This is why he argues that the goal of text criticism, as far as theological exegesis is concerned, is to reconstruct the MT of the 1st century C.E. The diachronic dimension ought to be taken into account, but only as a means of elucidating the Rabbinic Masoretic Text.

This has been critiqued by people such as Neusner, who argues that if one wants to respect the Jewish way of doing things, one mustn't make the kind of distinction Childs makes between text and tradition. For Jews they are the same thing (or something like that ...). Childs responds that this is a later development (2nd century C.E.) and raises the challenge that in making this move Judaism has distanced itself from some of its earlier traditions, which held to a strong distinction between text and tradition, Scripture and Targum. In fact, I think he believes that the collapsing of text and tradition marks a major moment in the parting of the ways of the two faiths ...

As usual, I may be getting things wrong. So please do correct me.
Update: In the comments, Michael has asked some pretty penetrating questions, to which I have responded.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Can the Pope Bring Peace to the Middle East?

John L. Allen Jr., the senior correspondent of The National Catholic Reporter, reckons that

If he plays his cards right, Benedict could move things forward in four ways.
Read his article in the New York Times to find out how.

I wonder what people think of this bit:

Historically, Arab Christians have promoted a pluralistic vision of society, standing between resurgent Islamic fundamentalism and ultranationalist strains in Judaism. If they disappear, prospects for peace become dimmer. The pope must assure these believers that global Christianity will not abandon them.

Poetic yiqtol as a "deictic centre shift"?

In response to my question on the Biblical Hebrew List on how to translate the yiqtol in Ps 24:2, a certain Vadim Cherny has kindly e-mailed me the following thoughts:

Yiqtols are a bit hard to understand in the English linguistic mentality. As I argue elsewhere (, yiqtol represents a deictic center shift. A close approximation in English is, "and upon rivers he would establish it," using nominal future tense for past events as the author is immersed in the recited (past) events. The deictic center shift is extremely common in, for example, Old Russian.
Any thoughts?

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Second-line information in a poetic yiqtol clause?

Two Psalms experts have kindly weighed in on my attempt to use Niccacci's theory of the verbal system in Hebrew poetry to translate Ps 24:2: John Hobbins and Pete Bekins (read their helpful comments in the comments section). John and I are agreed that the shift from qatal to yiqtol represents a shift in temporal perspective - somehow (Pete begs to differ, on diachronic grounds). However, neither John nor Pete like my translation using the "-ing form" :

for he has founded it upon the seas,
establishing it upon the currents.
Though John can appreciate my attempt to get at the "dynamism" of the yiqtol behind the verb "establishing," he worries that it creates the impression that this colon is subservient to the former, creating the impression that it is portraying a shift "from main-line to secondary-line information."

But I don't get why this is wrong. According to Niccacci, secondary-line information (x-yiqtol/weqatal) can function in various ways to specify what is happening in the main line (qatal/wayyiqtol). How it specifies what happens is open to context, but if John is right that the second colon somehow intensifies the meaning of the first colon (as is typical in parallelism, cf. R. Alter), then does that make it in some sense parasitic on the first colon? Doesn't that mean that the second colon is somehow subservient to the former? I've tried to improve on my translation by adding the word "indeed," thus:

for he has founded it upon the seas,
indeed, establishing it upon currents.
The solution isn't perfect because the -ing form still sounds like a relative participle, qualifying the manner in which the first action happened. But I fined the present simple (establishes) just sounds unnatural and doesn't achieve what it's supposed to do! Niccacci offered a similar solution to mine for two similar cases: Ps 78:20 and 25:

הֵן הִכָּה־צוּר וַיָּזוּבוּ מַיִם

וּנְחָלִים יִשְׁטֹפוּ

(v. 20) Behold, he smote the rock and water gushed out,

indeed, streams were overflowing.

וַיַּכְעִיסוּהוּ בְּבָמוֹתָם

וּבִפְסִילֵיהֶם יַקְנִיאוּהוּ

(v. 58) And they provoked him to anger with their high places,

indeed, <they> were constantly moving him to jealousy with their idols.

Here we have the same event described twice, the second being "more intense." However we understand the exact temporal dimension of the verb (I chose the "-ing form" instead of the past continuous because "was establishing" means either that God was either establishing the earth again and again or that the action has been reduced to an unnaturally slow place, as if in "slow motion"), the second yiqtol colon is subservient to the first clause by making it come more alive -- somehow.

Or am I just missing the point of what "secondary-line information" is all about? I'd agree that what I'm describing is not "background" information, if that is synonymous with "secondary-line information" ... I'm new to all of this so please point out where I'm mistaken!

p.s. For some really awesome photos of rocks and sea, go here. I posted this one so large because it, well, rocked!

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Translating a yiqtol verb in Ps 24:2

John Hobbins of the informative blog Ancient Hebrew Poetry has kindly responded to my suggestion to translate the yiqtol verb יְכוֹנְנֶהָ (underlined) in Ps 24:2 as follows:

for he has founded it upon the seas,
establishing it upon the rivers.
I've chosen the "-ing form" (gerundive). For my justification of why, go here.

His own suggestion is as follows:

he founded it on the seas,
he establishes it on the rivers.
Rather than the -ing form, John opts for what is called the "historical present" Here's his explication:

Something that took placed in the past is *narrated* as if it was taking place in the present. We associate tense switching of this kind with an oral register. "I went over to my Mom's house. Then she says to me, " . . ." (see the comments thread for the full dialogue).

I'd like to suggest that, as far as their effect is concerned, the two translations are not that far off. They are an improvement on the "past-simple" translation found in all our English Bibles ("established") as well as in Gesenius' "past -continous" (§107.1a: "was being [continuously] established").

John opts for the "historical present," which is one use of the so-called "present simple." In his awesome book The English Verb, Michael Lewis tries to uncover the basic semantic distinction of this form of the verb form. Lewis prefers to call it "the first form" (as opposed to the "second form," the so-called "past-simple") because ultimately these two forms are not about time at all. Lewis summarises the basic semantic content of this form as follows, concluding with a reference to John's "historical present":

Paradoxically, not only is the present simple not about Present Time, but it is not about time at all. This is a characteristic which it shares with "the past simple." Each of these forms is "simple" in the sense that the speaker sees the events described as single, simple entities, unities, totalities. The "present simple" and "past simple" contrast with each other in that in the first the speaker sees the event as immediate, and with the "past simple" the event is seen as remote. These are not essentially temporal concepts. What matters, for all uses of the simple tense forms, is that the speaker, at the moment of speaking conceptualises the action described as total, complete. As so often ..., we find that a relatively unusual use of a form helps make this clear. In a sequence of correspondence in the newspaper, it would be natural to write:

C.B. Stewart (June 4th) misses the point of my earlier letter ...

... In the correspondence column, misses conceptualises C.B. Stewart's letter as a whole, and clearly wishes to reply to it. ... misses clearly refers to an event in Past Time. ... The essential characteristics of an event described by a "present simple" verb form are:

- the speaker sees the event as a single, total entity. Temporal references are irrelevant.
- the speaker sees the event as a matter of fact.
- the speaker sees the event as immediate, rather than remote (in which case the "past simple" is chosen)." (66; underlining mine)
Key here is that the "first form" (including the "historical present") expresses what, from the speaker's point of view, is "factual immediacy." It explains the rhetorical use of the historical present in making a story "come alive."

The implication for this translation is that the "establishing" is given a different flavour to the "founding." God's founding is presented as "factually remote," whereas God's establishing is presented as "factually immediate." It has the effect of making the second verb come more alive, somehow, by making it more cognitavely immediate.

The immediacy created by the "historical present" tense is, in my opinion, similar to the gerund that I am using.

The "gerund" (a problematic term) is basically the -ing form without "be." Like the so-called "present simple," the -ing form is also often mistakenly called the "present participle," even though it can be used to refer to the past ("she walked out the room smoking") and also "gnomically" ("Smoking is bad for you"). In my opinion, all uses of -ing in English (regardless of whether nominally, adverbially, adjectivally, or verbally) emphasise the dynamic quality of an action, understood as extended in time. In focussing on the dynamic quality of the action, especially when devoid of temporal markers such as the auxiliary "be", the action is made "dynamically immanent." Hence my (improved?) translation:

he founded it on the seas,
[indeed] establishing it on the rivers.
I add "indeed" in order to (1) eradicate any false sense of temporal succession between the cola and (2) because I get the feeling that the second colon "intensifies" the concepts found in the first (typical of parallelism; cf. R. Alter).

In sum: "establishes" or "establishing" (but not "established" or "was establishing") better gets at the dynamic of the verb form, though I still reckon that -ing is better. The historical present is usually used to tell stories, isn't it? Here there is no story, no narrative description of what happened. It is a vivid celebration of a single event in the past.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Translating a qatal/yiqtol sequence in Ps 24:2 (drawing on Niccacci)

Ps 24:2 reads as follows:

כִּי־הוּא עַל־יַמִּים יְסָדָהּ

וְעַל־נְהָרוֹת יְכוֹנְנֶהָ

We have here a typical example of a qatal // yiqtol sequence, often found in Hebrew poetry, much to the frustration of translators. That qatal refers to the past is clear, but how do we translate the yiqtol (underlined)?

A translation found in some of the older commentators (Briggs, Kittel, Bäthgen) translates it in the present tense:

for he has founded it upon the seas
and upon the rivers he establishes it.
(Bäthgen even saw cosmological significance in the distinction:"Das Perf. יסדה geht auf die Schöpfung, das Imperf. יכוננה auf die Erhaltung.”).

But this isn't the view of most modern scholars. Gesenius opted for an even more unlikely translation: he lists יכוננה as an example of the frequentive use of yiqtol in the past rather than the present (§107.1a; giving the odd translation: "was continually being established").

All English translations, including most modern commentators, translate it in the past ("established").

I'm trying to grasp this from the perspective of Alviero Niccacci's fascinating essay (Eisenbrauns, 2006) which, as far as I can see, is the first attempt to consistently translate the verbs in poetry along the same lines as in prose. It would appear that for Niccacci, yiqtol never refers to the present. The present tense is always referenced by either a verbless or a participle clause. This leaves us with yiqtol for either the future or the past. The future translation is well known (e.g. Ps 6:10: “The Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord will accept my prayer). When the qatal/yiqtol sequence refers to the past,

they signal a shift from main-line, punctual information (qatal) to secondary-line, repeated/habitual/explicatory/descriptive information” (yiqtol), p. 253.
So, in sum, on Niccacci's reading, יְכוֹנְנֶהָ

  1. cannot be present (because yiqtol never refers to the present);
  2. could theoretically be future, except that it is excluded due to the context (i.e. it doesn't make sense; are there formal indicators as well?)
  3. is probably past, and given the semantics in the Psalm probably either communicates either secondary-line descriptive or explicatory information. If explicatory, it wishes to clarify the process by which God founded the earth on the seas; if descriptive, it wishes to represent the event more “graphically,” even to “celebrate” it, giving the event “depth of field” (to uses Niccacci's terms). Here, the yiqtol would have a “relief function.”

The best translation for this that I can think of is the gerundive, which expresses the "dynamicity” of an action, i.e.:

for he has founded it upon the seas
establishing it upon the rivers.

My questions:

  1. Does Niccacci's theory hold water?
  2. Does the gerund do justice to the form?
  3. What's your favourite translation?

By the way: in a footnote, Niccacci notes that a first attempt was made in this direction in his article "Syntactic Analysis of Jonah," which, thankfully, is available online.

Bruce Waltke critiques Brevard Childs

Pure Milk has the quotes and the questions. I wrote a few short comments in the comments.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Free Audio and Video from Westminster Seminary Archives

Justin Taylor of Between the Two Worlds has pointed out that one can now access audio and video resources from Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia for free. You need to register first, but it looks as if it may be worth it. Justin lists the following names that may be of interest.

E.J. Young
Cornelius Van Til
John Murray
Edmund Clowney
Sinclair Ferguson
Richard Gaffin
Vern Poythress
Darryl Hart
Willia Edgar
David Powlison

Two names he hasn't mentioned are the renowned Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke, who has spoken 14 times there, and a Tim Keller, who is an incredibly gifted preacher (he preached what has been for me one of the best sermon series ever, also available for free download).

Friday, 1 May 2009

Bibliography for the verbal system in Biblical Hebrew poetry

I recently posted a request for tips on resources for this topic to two Internet discussion groups dedicated to Biblical studies: Jim West's Biblical Studies List and The Biblicalist. I've decided to collect their suggestions here, along with what I've discovered for myself. I'd appreciate any updates.

Adele Berlin, “Grammatical Aspects of Biblical Parallelism,” in Hebrew Union College Annual 50 (1979), 17-43.

Peter C. Craigie, "Excursus II: The Translation of Tenses in Hebrew Poetry," in vol. 19, Word Biblical Commentary (2nd ed.; Word Biblical Commentary Nashville, Tenn.: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2004), 110-113.

Fensham, FC. "The Use of the Suffix Conjugation and the Prefix Conjugation in a Few Old Hebrew Poems," in Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages 6 (1978), 9-18.

J. C. L. Gibson, “The Anatomy of Hebrew Narrative Poetry,” in Understanding Poets and Prophets: Essays in Honor of George Wishart Anderson, edited by A. G. Auld (JSOTSup 152, Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993), 146-47

M. Held, “The YQTL-QTL (QTL-YQTL) Sequence of Identical Verbs in Biblical Hebrew and Ugaritic,” in Studies and Essays in Honor of Abraham A. Neuman, edited by M. Ben-Horin et al. (Leiden: Brill, 1962) 285-86.

See P. D. Miller, “The Theological Significance of Biblical Poetry,” in Language, Theology, and the Bible: Essays in Honor of James Barr, edited by S. E. Balentine and J. Barton (Oxford: Claredon Press, 1994), 221-22.

_____. “Poetic Syntax and Interpretation of Malachi.” Liber Annuus 51 (2001): 55-107.

_____."The Biblical Hebrew Verbal System in Poetry" in Biblical Hebrew in Its Northwest Semitic Setting: Typological and Historical Perspectives (Eisenbrauns, 2006).

Diethelm Michel, Tempora und Satzstellung in den Psalmen, Bonn 1960, § 36 (p. 249).

Cristian Gheorghe Rata, The Verbal System in the Book of Job (Unpublished doctoral dissertation; University of Toronto, 2003).

Silviu Tatu. "The rhetorical interpretation of the yiqtol//qatal (qatal//yiqtol) verbal sequence in classical Hebrew poetry and its research history," in Transformation 23/1 (2006), 17-23.

_____. The Qatal//Yiqtol (Yiqtol//Qatal) Verbal Sequence in Semitic Couplets: A Case Study in Systemic Functional Grammar with Applications on the Hebrew Psalter and Ugaritic Poetry (Eisenbrauns, 2008).