Articles for the Month of January 2011

Hermeneutics of suspicion and humble herneneutics

Gavin at Otagosh has a post Jeremiah was no bullfrog – and since I’ve been posting on Jeremiah a lot this month, working on an article helps ;) and since be mentioned one of my posts 1 …and since hopefully a little link love will get Google interested ;) I thought I’d respond 2 Here not there since his 2009 post “So Amazing a Blasphemy” that he references had comments closed. Both Gavin’s posts are thought provoking and will stimulate you to think through your response to this troubling book.

He and I both find reading Jeremiah unpleasant, the book leaves a bad taste in the mouth.  But then our responses diverge. Gavin is a suspicious reader. He understands Jeremiah as:

first and foremost a political agitator, and the God-talk, which serves as a framework for his agenda, serves those ends

I’m not a suspicious reader of theological writings (at least not of Scripture) I tend try to see the good in every passage. The brutality and confusion in Jeremiah seems to me to express the brutality and confusion of life, and therefore I’d read the book as an attempt explore this within a Yahwistic framework. Clearly composed 3 By which I mean, at least, edited into something like the shapes (LXX and MT) in which we have it. some time after the events it describes and presenting the character of the prophet as in some sense (pretty much the same sense as a good novel presents its protagonist) a model through whose life we can explore our own. That is, I see the book as a valuable work of theological art, not as a horrid piece of pro-imperial propaganda. In short, I tend to take the work at face value and ask what it seems to be wanting to achieve, rather than reading it through my suspicion that it must be up to no good ;)

But then OTOH, I’m a skeptic about history, while Gavin seems almost uncritical  about the historicity of what he reads,   seemingly seeing the book as written near the time of the events it describes and perhaps with Jeremiah having a hand in the writing, for he writes:

The book is written against a time of horrific political developments, and the prophet – a partisan for the Babylonian superpower (“my servant Nebuchadnezzar”) – attempts to make sense of it all through the time-honoured method of blaming the victim (the people of Judah) while stewing in his own self pity.

I find this interplay of suspicion and what I 4 Well, we all like to use “good” words about ourselves. think of as humble hermeneutics fascinating, and never more so than when it is married to a believing approach to history. This historical approach might well be right. My stance is not to claim that we know the book is distant from the prophet, rather I am happily agnostic about history, I believe that however hard we try we can know very little about how and when the book came to be. But why be credulous about history if you are then suspicious about purpose and character of the writing?

Notes   [ + ]

1. …and since hopefully a little link love will get Google interested ;)
2. Here not there since his 2009 post “So Amazing a Blasphemy” that he references had comments closed.
3. By which I mean, at least, edited into something like the shapes (LXX and MT) in which we have it.
4. Well, we all like to use “good” words about ourselves.

Isaiah and Jeremiah: Made for each other?

Reading a master’s thesis reminded me of Robert Alter’s bold suggestion:

Let me risk a large conjecture, … It may be that a sense of some adequate dialectical tension between these antitheses of divine plan and the sundry disorders of human performance in history served as an implicit criterion for deciding which narratives were to be regarded as canonical.

Alter, Robert. The art of Biblical narrative. Basic Books, 1983, 34.

To someone studying alternately roughly week about:

  • assertions of YHWH’s sovereignty in Isaiah
  • Jeremiah’s laments

Alter’s conjecture is highly suggestive, whatever else the book of Isaiah is “about” it is concerned to explore what it means to declare the sovereignty of God in three different imperial contexts, whatever else the book (or books if we count the LXX as a different work) of Jeremiah is about it is concerned with the tempestuous and troubled relationship of God and prophet. These two works epitomise Alter’s two tendencies rather well, and they follow each other in the canon :)

The fact that both works are among the longest and most complex in the Bible should not interfere with your enjoyment of such a bold oversimplification built upon such a conjectural foundation ;) But do rip it to shreds, or admit its fascination, or just ask for clarification… I need distraction from my writer’s block…

Did God seduce Jeremiah? Addendum

I should point out as an addendum to my previous post it sould be noted, that if it had been in a traditional scholarly article and not an ad hoc blog post I would have referenced scholars like:

Crenshaw, James A Whirlpool of Torment Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984,  39.

Fretheim, Terence E. Jeremiah. Smyth & Helwys Bible commentary. Macon, Ga: Smith & Helwys Pub, 2002, 290.

In particular:

Lundbom, Jack R. Jeremiah: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New York: Doubleday, 1999, 854f..

Give a richness of detail and scholarship that are valuable, though unsuited to the blog format (or at least to be honest to the time I can spare for what is intended to be a writers’ block breaking strategy – till my conscience got the better of me!)

Did Yahweh seduce Jeremiah?

In response to my podcast “The last Confession of Jeremiah: Jeremiah 20: Yahweh seduces his prophetDavid Haslam asked (on Facebook) about the choice of “seduce” here. He noted that most English translations have other words:

“persuaded/denounce” (ASV & WEB),
“deceived/report” (KJV),
“coerced/denounce” (NET)
“deceived/persecute” (DRC & NIV)

From that list you will see that פתה is not easy to translate, like most words, but more than many it carries a meaning that will in other languages be rendered in different ways according to the context. It does indeed suggest persuading, though often in the sense of deceiving, sometimes coercing. In the qal it has the sense of being simple, open minded, or deceived. Its first occurrence in the Bible (Gen 9:27) it just means “enlarge”.

The piel that we have in Jer 20:7 is used 17 times:

  • enlarge (Gen 9:27)
  • seduce virgin girl (Ex 22:15 v.16 in English)
  • coax, entice – of Delilah technique for getting information from her husband (Jud 14:15; 16:5) of tricking Ahab (1 Kgs 22:20,21,22 also 2 Chron 18:19,20,21) or of humans attempting to trick Yahweh as if he were a god (Ps 78:36)
  • deceive (2 Sam 3:25; Pr 24:28)
  • seduce (Hos 2:1) of Yhwh as husband persuading his wife (Israel) to return to him from her lovers
  • Pr 1:10 might be either coax/entice or deceive but Pr 16:29 suggests the use of force
  • Ez 14:9 is perhaps the closest usage at first sight, it involves someone deceiving  a prophet into inquiring of Yhwh on their behalf even though they are an idol worshipper, in which case Yhwh will do the same to the prophet, and even kill him.

So basically most of the usages involve persuading someone to do wrong, often by using sexual wiles. The question that remains concerns Jer 20:7. Does Yhwh here trick a gullible Jeremiah into doing wrong? or Does Yhwh here seduce Jeremiah? Clearly the sexual overtones here cannot be intended literally, but is this the picture being painted? I find it difficult to see Jeremiah in this case claiming that Yhwh has treated him like the prophet in Ezekiel, for Jeremiah is firm that he has spoken the truth. Rather, I suggest that he is claiming to be like an innocent girl (cf. his first confession 11:18ff.) whom Yhwh has persuaded to do as he wishes.

Because in Jer 20:7 that seems to me to be the choice we have: either Jeremiah accuses Yhwh of treating him like a prophet who takes payment from idolaters to give an oracle, or Jeremiah is claiming Yhwh charmed him into what he has done, like a girl seduced by a lover.

What do you think?

Qwiki: pretty much what it says on the box

Jim West won’t like this (“food for dilettantes” he’ll probably call it) but if (like me) you are a visual and/or kinesthetic learner and you want a really quick rough overview of some new topic Qwiki hits the spot. It offers a mashup of Wikipedia extracts read aloud by a computer, with images and other resources, to give a first glimpse of some unfamiliar subject.

It sounds daft, but the wonder is it works! The search feature seems brilliant, and the collages do usually give many significant points about a topic, and for me are much more rich and memorable for having the images. This is not a research tool, but it is a really good 21st C equivalent of the one volume encyclopedia for those times when you need to feed your inner dilettante ;)

The screenshot features Rudyard Kipling bedcause having just finished a PG Wodehouse (Their Mutual Child) I’m again reading Kipling for Librivox :)

Another in my series on the “Confessions of Jeremiah”

Confessions of the Lovelorn (image by dickuhne)

As some of you know (despite this week working on my “Assertions of YHWH’s sovereignty and imperial context in the book of Isaiah” paper – provisional but current title, watch this space ;) I am continuing my series of short biblical studies podcasts on The Confessions of Jeremiah adding two more to the series, which now comprises:

On this latest one, I wonder how YOU think Yahweh might have wished to respond to this complaint from our Jerry?

PS: Plus another in the series: Jeremiah’s fourth confession: Jer 18:18-23 the continuing drama of Jeremiah and his Yahweh

Jesus, values and technology

Present or absent? (Photo by e³°°°)

John Dyer at Don’t Eat The Fruit frequently has thought provoking meditations on the values implied by or developed by technology. His latest is a non-review of a project to offer “a social-media application built for church“. It’s a non-review because John has not seen the project, but it’s more than a review because it asks useful questions about the relationship between faith and technology, questions that too often get overlooked.

Among the interesting and challenging things John has to say in his post:The Table Project: Values Driven Technology? There are a few lines I’d like to question (as well as hopefully pointing you to the post to read for yourself because I am NOT pretending to have summarised it for you).

The task for Christians is to figure out where the values built into a technology’s usage conflict with the values system Christ gave us. For example, Jesus models things like being physically present, having  times of solitude and focus, and memorizing Scripture. We, however, through the use of online technology have come to value being virtually connected, being always online, and using our phones to search for verses we don’t want to memorize.

I think this confuses what Jesus DID with what Jesus’ values were. Take “being physically present” this is often produced by pastors and theologians as a trump card to beat down those who want to teach by distance or even do anything churchy online. But was physical presence one of Jesus’ values, or simply a by-product of the technologies available? The only alternative to physical presence for any sort of communication in the first century was hand written, hand copied, hand delivered letters (or other documents). Jesus did not choose physical presence, he had NO choice.

But as soon as the Christian movement was at all established, still within the first century Paul (and others, but none seem to have matched Paul’s prolific, enthusiastic and effective use of the technology) started writing letters. Others began telling the gospel in writing… Even Jesus, when faced with a crowd too large for just talking (without an amphitheatre – more technology to distance presence) used a boat and the hills of Galilee as a makeshift amphitheatre.

The issue is not PHYSICAL but PRESENCE. The problem with Facebook, Twitter and the rest is not that they are not physical for they manifestly are! It is that they attenuate presence. (I have a string of posts discussing “presence” do read one or two). Basically presence is not binary. Two people can be in the same room, but barely mutually present. People can be at the four corners of the earth, but highly present to and for each other. It is presence that matters, not physicality!

Memorising Scripture is also potentially a problematic value, as Socrates points out in Plato’s Phaedrus the technology of (hand)writing destroys memory. The issue again is not the technology but (perhaps) how we use it. If we use our phones etc. to recall a passage whose exact wording we have forgotten this is potentially a good thing, for we may see the “verse” in context. The ancient who relied on memory often had little idea of context, we can…

Maybe it was Baumgartner after all…

In my recent request for information “The Confessions of Jeremiah: who coined the usage? I cited T. K. (Thomas Kelly) Cheyne, Jeremiah, his life and times. James Nisbet & Co., 1888, 2 as the first usage of the phrase “the confessions of Jeremiah” that I could find, and asked if anyone had more sure information.

No one did, but Stephen kindly tracked down Cheyne and sure enough the quote is there. Mysteriously it is on the second page 2 (it is not mysterious that it is, I trust Google books implicitly, what is strange is that there are two page twos, one after the other – a misprint :) BUT in the quote Cheyne is calling the whole book “the confessions of Jeremiah” not just the texts we now know by that name. There seems still to be a reference that (given I only have access to Google snippet view) looks like current usage given that it is a whole section with this title:

BUTTENWIESER, Moses. The Prophets of Israel from the Eighth to the Fifth Century. Their Faith and Their Message. 1914, 80ff.

Can anybody, either confirm this usage, or propose a more solid information on the origin of this name for a collection of some of the laments in Jeremiah?

The Confessions of Jeremiah: who coined the usage?

Cheyne, T. K. (Thomas Kelly)

The more I look at the “Confessions of Jeremiah” the more puzzled I get (not by the contents, though Jeremiah is a puzzle of a book for sure) it is a commonplace of scholarship (and also to some extent of preaching) to identify a collection of passages from the book of Jeremiah as “the confessions of Jeremiah” (the exact list of passages varies a bit, but the lists are substantially the same).This usage was already common and unexplained by the start of the twentieth century. But is seems almost absent (at least from Google books, as far as they are available outside the USA) before that. The only sure example I can find is:

Cheyne, T. K. (Thomas Kelly). Jeremiah, his life and times. James Nisbet & Co., 1888, 2

This may suggest Cheyne coined the term, and perhaps even first identified the passages as a group (I am not sure because all I get is snippet view, and none of my other usual sources of e-texts seem to have the work :(

BUT if he was, why does no one else give him a hat tip?

Does anyone know what is going on here, or have better information about the origin of the name “confessions of Jeremiah”?

Machine translation

Nearly six years ago I wrote a post in which I tried out a free machine translation service:

Then I commented: Of course, machine translation is still a developing technology, somewhere about the level of voice recognition 10 years ago is my estimate. And tested  the  service with a paragraph from my Amos commentary, the first from a page about city gates:

In the Ancient Near East city gates were neither merely entrances, nor only used for military protection. As a potentially weak point in the defenses, the gates of Israelite walled cities typically had three chambers giving four sets of “doors” and defended spaces between. The gates of Hazor (left – plan above) and Gezer from the time of Solomon show this triple construction.

Which gave the practically readable French:

Dans la ville antique du proche Orient les portes n’étaient ni simplement des entrées, ni seulement utilisé pour la protection militaire. Comme point potentiellement faible dans les défenses, les portes d’Israelite ont muré des villes ont typiquement eu trois chambres donner quatre ensembles d'”portes” et d’espaces défendus entre. Les portes de Hazor (laissé – projetez ci-dessus) et de Gezer dès l’exposition de Solomon cette construction triple.

The service now uses Google as its translation engine, so today I plugged the same English into Google:

Dans l’ancien Proche-Orient portes de la ville ne sont ni seulement les entrées, ni seulement utilisé pour la protection militaire. Comme un point de faiblesse potentielle dans les défenses, les portes des villes d’Israël parois étaient généralement trois chambres donnant quatre séries de “portes” et défendu les espaces entre les deux. Les portes de Hatsor (à gauche – plan ci-dessus) et Gezer du temps de Salomon voir cette construction triple.

Notice the huge improvement! In 2005 the French in turn gave as the German the somewhat less than pelucid:

In der für den Militärschutz antiken des Nahen Ostens die Türen waren weder einfach von den Eingängen noch nur benutzt Stadt. Als potentiell schwacher Punkt in den Verteidigungen haben die Türen von Israelite Städte eingemauert gehabt typisch drei Kammern, vier Gesamtheit von “Türen” und von Räumen zu geben, die verteidigt wurden, zwischen. Die Türen von Hazor (gelassen – oben planen Sie) und von Gezer von der Ausstellung von Solomon an diese dreifache Konstruktion.

Now from the 2011 French we get:

Im alten Orient Stadttore sind nicht nur Ein-oder nur für militärische Schutz. Als Ausgangspunkt mögliche Schwäche in der Verteidigung wurden die Türen ummauerten Städte Israels in der Regel drei Zimmer mit vier Sätze von “Türen” und verteidigte die Zwischenräume. Die Tore von Hazor (links – über Plan) und Gezer in der Zeit Salomos sehen diese Konstruktion dreifacher Ausfertigung.

Then the final back translation was totally incomprehensible:

In for the military protection antiken of the Near East the doors were neither simple from the entrances nor only use city. When potentially weak point in the defenses the doors have typically three chambers immured of Israelite of cities had to give four whole of “doors” and from areas to which were defended, between. The doors of Hazor (calmly – above you plan) and of Gezer of the exhibition of Solomon to this three-way construction.

However, 2011’s back translation is rather readable, not perfect, but for many purposes “good enough to be helpful.

In the ancient Orient gates are not only on or only for military protection. As a starting point of potential weakness in the defense of the doors were walled cities of Israel, usually three rooms with four sets of “doors”and defended the spaces. The gates of Hazor (left – above budget) and Gezer in the time of Solomon to see this design triplicate.

Back then I concluded I’m sure that with a bit of selection I could have achieved funnier results, but this is enough to show why I still have problems making any real life use of such services! Now in 2011 I am beginning to use Google to help me make sense of dense writing in languages I only know a little. So far I think the results though NOT “close enough for government work” are helpful.

What’s your experience? Do you really (not just for back translation fun) make use of machine translation, and if so how does it work for you?