Sansblogue

biblical studies : bible : digital : food

Browsing Posts published by tim

Later than most of the (vaguely) interested public1  I finally watched “Noah” on one of the flights the other day.

I won’t comment on the story, or its relationship with Scripture, other have done that well. Nor will I offer erudite comments on the legend of the watchers – I’m not competent. I want to focus on ideology. Again even within this category, I won’t comment on the radical “green” claim that humanity is a blight upon creation, others have. I’ll focus on the blatant misandry. Consistently in this film the men are against life, whether “goodies” or “baddies” those who kill or seek to kill are male. Indeed when humanity’s anti-file tendencies are in view we are named “Man”. By contrast the women consistently seek to preserve life.

I despise such blatant and crude stereotyping.

  1. Only vaguely because I have little interest in “biblical” films, which almost always spoil fine literature making it clumsy film, and on the whole I feel SciFi (the genre descriptor which seems best to fit this film) also works better as text than film. []

 

Seattle Municipal Archives from Seattle, WA – W.H. Shumard family, circa 1955

A few days ago the Vatican published a working paper “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization“. This paper results from international consultations stemming from Pope Francis’ convocation of an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to treat the topic: The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.

The discussion document reflects the current catholic (and Catholic) concerns over pastoral issues like increasing frequency of cohabitation, blended families, divorce and remarriage, gay marriage… The document has been welcomed not least because of its desire to base the discussion on Scripture and in a concern for mission. Despite the perception of Pope Francis (who in a sense commissioned the document) as a radical theologian my first impression of the document (after sharing in the two reasons for welcoming it mentioned above) is sadness that it is not “radical” – that is it fails to return to reexamine the biblical roots of Christian teaching about family.

Indeed the section on “God’s Plan for Marriage and the Family” sadly fails to ask what the Scriptures teach about “family” but rather presumes an answer to that question by beginning and basing everything on marriage. Whilst biblical teaching about marriage is undoubtedly (as the document understands) founded on Genesis 2, that is not true for biblical teaching about family. The assumption that marriage + children produced by that marriage = family is a modern Western assumption that was not shared by the authors of Scripture.

As I explained briefly in my paper for the NZ Christian Network (in 2006 ) “Families in the Bible” there is no word or expression in either biblical Hebrew or Greek for the nuclear family. Indeed the words and phrases which get translated “family” in both Testaments refer to something broader (in the present including a wider range of relatives, uncles, aunts, cousins etc. not just mother, father and their children) and deeper (including ancestors and perhaps descendants e.g. “David’s family”). The exercise of looking for the word “family” in English Bibles, and then examining the Hebrew and Greek expressions thus translated, makes it abundantly clear that the writers of Scripture had no conception of (or at least had no interest in talking about)  nuclear families. When Scripture talks about family it is always the extended family that is in view. Any talk of nuclear families is a modern overlay on the Bible.

Beyond that, once we examine the families that the Bible actually describes, we soon discover that they are not merely extended, they are messy. Blended families are not a new phenomenon, just look at the Patriarchs.

Going beyond this Scripture does not anywhere present an image of an ideal family as an exemplar to copy, indeed I suspect all the families in the Bible are presented as broken (composing as they do a broken sinful world). On the other hand, it does present a series of virtues which ought to be shown in family life. The centre and heart of this cluster of virtues is hesed that faithful loving loyalty that God shows to us and which is also modeled by Ruth, Boaz, Tamar and other biblical heroes of the family.

By thus starting from the “modern world”, understood to mean the Westernised world, and importing its ideas onto Scripture while silencing Scripture’s own teaching, this discussion document does a disservice to the catholic (in the sense of “everywhere”) Church. By this rejection of Scripture it risks merely reinforcing the individualistic “modern” Western tendencies that it somewhat timidly criticises.

Back in April I somehow missed Bryan Bibb’s interesting post Camouflage Equivalence1 it focuses on places where translators:

…seek to obscure rather than reveal the meaning of the original. He [Robinson] defines the term as “rearranging the semantic elements of the original… in a plausible way that disguises their dynamic meaning” (p. 6).

The idea, like the term used to describe it is really helpful. It neatly describes those places where translators soften the offense inherent in Scripture. The NIV regularly does this when a more “literal” translation leads to theological difficulties. One example is the rendering of ha’almah in Is 7:14 as “virgin”. Whether ‘almah can carry this meaning is at least debatable. As far as I can see the logic of Isaiah’s speech however demands a present focus and a translation like “young woman”. NIV has exercised camouflage equivalence.

I am less convinced by Bryan’s example. He claims that the ambiguous language (full of sexual double entendres) in Ruth 3 contains at least one such camouflage equivalence translation in almost all English Bibles. “Uncover his feet” in Ruth 3:4 is (Bryan thinks evidently, I’d say possibly) a euphemism. While most translations diminish the sexual tension in Ruth 3, where there are a string of words and phrases like this one that might carry sexual connotations, sometimes a foot is just a foot! The whole point (I think) of using that concatenation of ambiguous, possibly sexual, terms in Ruth 3 is surely to remain ambiguous. To uncover what the text deliberately leaves veiled but suggested is as “bad” as to cover what the text reveals…. So, “uncover his feet” (NIV, NAS, NRSV) gets it right neither camouflage, nor sex for the sake of shocking the horses, but a good serviceable translation.

On the other hand in Psalm 90:2 common translations are split, some opt for camouflage equivalence:

NET Psalm 90:2 Even before the mountains came into existence, or you brought the world into being, you were the eternal God.
NRS Psalm 90:2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

While others dare to reveal the clear implication of the Hebrew:

NAS Psalm 90:2 Before the mountains were born, Or Thou didst give birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.
NIV Psalm 90:2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

For both verbs yalad and hul speak of procreation and birthing, and though yalad might refer to the father’s role hul cannot, but clearly refers to birthing.

  1. I had also missed Douglas Robinson’s book, Translation and the Problem of Sway, from which he apparently got the fine phrase. []

Jacob L. Wright’s MOOC makes good use of short video interviews with both established scholars and (at least one so far) PhD candidates talking about their research. As a teaching tool such short videos are brilliant.

If we had a database of such video clips available to download and use in teaching it would be a superb resource. Here are three reasons:

  • Firstly since the person speaking is the one doing the research the presentation is not dispassionate but impassioned. Students are often mislead by the style imposed by our turgid academic conventions to believe that Bible scholars are dull and lifeless. Such video dispels that myth.
  • Secondly many of us put up photos and very cut down CVs when we are talking about a particularly influential scholar and their ideas. How much sharper a clip of them presenting a key idea from their work could be.
  • Third students need to be aware that the “results” of biblical scholarship come on a basis of contested evidence and argument. People talking about their own work are bound to present key evidence and arguments as they seek to convince the listener. Bringing scholarship in the most abstract sense alive.

Easy

Such a database would be easy to produce. Some scholars could record their own videos, others would be videoed by friends or by their departments. (The motivation for this “waste” of an hour or so would be the extra exposure of their ideas and the way such presentations could help shape perceptions of the field – once Her Prof Dr X had a video Dr Y (a passionate opponent of X’s reactionary ideas) would need a complementary (though perhaps not entirely complimentary) one ;)

The host would need a simple classification system to enable searching for topics as well as scholars names, but WordPress with a few plugins could handle all that was needed and even build in a few videos already to be found on YouTube as a bonus.

If SBL or the Wabash Centre would sponsor such a project it would be a cheap way to enliven Biblical Studies teaching and promote a research culture among students. I wonder if GERT would be an appropriate group to push the idea?

Please let me know what you think – and tell me what fish hooks I have overlooked!

Tamara Cohn Eskanazi and Aubrey Buster were two of the scholars Jacob Wright interviewed.

This week’s episodes of Jacob Wright’s “The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future” were particularly fun for me, for a start his topic (the way the Hebrew Bible subverts gender roles and notions of heroism) appeals, and then as he began, introducing Esther and the subversive topic, he made links to Jane Austen. For someone who wrote a piece entitled “Becoming Esther: Bending Gender Reading Esther” (even if it did become the rather less interesting “A Masculine Reading of the Book of Esther”)1 there are a host of interesting overlaps, ideas and possibilities.

The interview with Tamara Cohn Eskenazi was again a highlight. I am more and more convinced SBL should sponsor and host an archive of short videos of people talking about their research, either interviewed by a friend/colleague or simply chatting to a camera. It would be a great resource for teaching!

  1. When published in Global Perspectives on the Old Testament, edited by Mark Roncace and Joseph Weaver. Pearson Education, 2013. []

One of the highlights for me of this week’s episodes of Jacob Wright’s excellent The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future was the interview with doctoral student Aubrey Buster. Her paper, by comparing the treatment of contested belonging within communities in Athens and Jerusalem (at approximately the same time), offers an exciting empirical support for theories that the experience of the dislocation of the Judean elite (deportation and return) led to the greater textualisation of Judaism.

She spoke of comparing Athenian citizenship trials, which depended on personal testimony to support someone’s claim to be a member in good standing of the community (by ancestral descent) with the claims of Ezra-Nehemiah that such issues in (post-exilic) Judah were established primarily on the basis of documents. It is often claimed that the experience of dislocation of the Judean elite led to the writing, editing and/or authorising of many of the biblical texts. I have not previously seen contemporary evidence used to support the claim in this sort of way.

Such research is excellent in itself, but also within such a course presenting current research not only gives students the sense of an open discipline, but also shows how evidence and argument can be used to better understand the biblical texts.

It also helps to firm op our understanding of the social and technological history of writing in relation to Scripture – an ongoing interest of mine :)

In a previous post I mentioned the old Deadly Green Bar trick that MS Windows has been pulling on complacent PC users sine the terrible days of Vista. (Microsoft-in-the-head as repeat offender) There I mentioned the “fix”1 mentioned at Techspot. I pointed out that it was not a permanent solution.

Actually, at least for me, it is worse than that my opperating system has now decided that as well as the Deadly Green Bar it will also lock me out of my own folders! I can get to the system folders (I told it to “show” them) and others off the C: but I cannot get to those in …User/Tim/ Since that includes My Documents etc. this might be a problem!

Thankfully most of my current work is in Dropbox and not “My Documents”…

  1. Actually a partial patch. But when a firm as big as Microsoft has you in their sights any fix is a good fix. []

Last week I offered some first impressions of Jacob Wright’s excellent MOOC The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future.

The second week’s lecture material has been interesting for two strikingly different reasons. Jacob presents a mediating view between “Minimalists” and “Maximalists”, sensibly taking the best ideas and arguments from both “sides”. Though many conservative viewers will feel in this week’s that he is too ready to ditch the Bible’s account in favour of alternative ways to explain the archaeological data. And therein lies the rub, for although usually careful to present the evidence and arguments that underlie his presentation [my impression was that] here and there at key points the viewer is asked to accept a scholarly consensus or the views of a few named scholars without the evidence being presented. [ Inaccurate example deleted, see comments below.]

The interviews with three scholars about their work on Assyrian imperial intentions, the lemelek seals and the Judean Pillar Figures were excellent at presenting data and reasoning.

I understand that in such a brief course one cannot argue and present evidence for every point, but I suspect that the lectures would carry more people with them if there had been time to lay the foundations more solidly.

For me the formal issue raises questions about my own teaching.

I had an odd need, the journal Colloquium published an article of mine a few years back, which I had not uploaded to Academia.edu1 but the proof copy I have is a PDF with each page shown twice on a landscape page.2 So I needed to split the PDF in half lengthways. I came across A-PDF Page Cut a neat little tool that does just that.

They also have a number of other PDF utilities, so the site is worth bookmarking, for those you never know when you’ll need it, but you will one day, moments with PDF files.

  1. Tim Bulkeley, “Back to the Future: Virtual Theologising as Recapitulation”. Colloquium, 2005, 37,2, 115-130. []
  2. Instead of the codex format of one page on a portrait page. []
Since this session concerns the background to the emergence of “Israel” in Canaan the Mereneptah Stele is mentioned and shown several times, photo from Wikipedia

When Jacob Wright’s MOOC “The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future” was announced and promoted I posted about it on Facebook.

I’ve enrolled and have begun the first week (the course started on Monday, but my first criticism is that I did not get an email reminder until I visited the course site again today – one of the biggest problems with MOOCs in my experience is lack of feedback for the student1 ).

Jacob is a fine teacher he keeps his material lively, and has an engaging presence and voice. The video “lectures” are broken into convenient chunks (of varied size from a couple of minutes to nearly a quarter of an hour2 which for me works well (as someone who as a teen would have been diagnosed ADHD, if the designation existed in those far off days, I have a short attention span and lectures bore me). Each is closed by one or two simple multichoice questions. This is brilliant, it gives the student instant feedback, and if we get them right instant reward and the sense that we are learning something. (Or if we are ourselves Hebrew Bible teachers at least the sense that we listened closely enough ;)

The videos make very skillful use of animated still shots of artifacts and places with the occasional video clip thrown in to create the sense of a video production. The technical values are as one would expect from an official university production.

That’s the good news, and if you are thinking of enrolling, do! The list is not yet closed, and if I have not yet learned much that is (to me) new, I have gained some interesting perspectives and ideas on how to put the material together. This is a MOOC for beginners that specialists can learn from! A fine achievement.

The bad news is that the videos are not optimised for viewing on tablets or phones. On my Phablet the screen resolution is small enough that the video (if played in the browser) overlaps the screen. I have tried the two different formats, and turning my screen around etc. but so far have not found a comfortable way to use the mobile device. (On a PC, even a netbook, all is fine, I guess university testers unlike poor adjunct faculty and students use phones with hi-res screens!)

At this stage I’ll also add a comment that perhaps reflects my context. Jacob uses a lot of Latin expressions, more than my usual audience of Kiwis, Pacific and Asian people would be comfortable with. I am not sure why, as usually the Latin expression is less familiar to me than kit’s English equivalent (like “divide and rule”) perhaps US audiences need “long words” to demonstrate academic credentials? It’s odd because in most ways the presentation is very simple and accessible with the few technical terms explained…

  1. see below. []
  2. so far. []