biblical studies : bible : digital : food

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One of the greatest pleasures of blogging is “meeting” people (and their minds) that one does not run across in everyday life. There are dozens of you who read this with whom I have had serious and valuable interaction over the last few years, but whom I (almost) never meet face to face. One of the more recent additions to that list is Gavin at Otagosh. We’ve been discussing hermeneutics recently. One of his recent posts has been niggling away at me over this busy period (the busyness is why I have not written before).

Stark choices (8) is part of a series drawn from Gavin’s reading of Thom Stark’s The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong, a book I haven’t yet read, but which seems (“listening” to Gavin read it) really thought provoking and often sensible. Reading chapter 9 Gavin poses the question:

So how do we deal with the “texts of terror” in the Bible, or even just the terminally embarrassing ones?

He then dismisses three possible approaches in turn. The first is allegory. Now when I was very young “everyone” was against allegory, such an approach to Scripture had no place in the modern world. Now, admittedly there are many dangers and problems with allegorical approaches. But can we dismiss them outright. Should we not ask of a terrible text why it was repeated, and why it was included (in the book and then in Scripture – for OT texts included by two different faith communities). If we ask that question we may (I think often should) come to the conclusion that the text in question was maintained precisely because it allows of an allegorical interpretation. If that is the case then how can we fail to read it allegorically?

[OTOH I am in thorough agreement with his quote from Stark: “such readings are profoundly disrespectful to the actual victims of genocide, and to their survivors and descendants… In effect it makes us the equivalent of Holocaust deniers.” At least I am if one changed “are” to “risk being” at the start of the quote – it is really important, it seems to me, that if one risks reading allegorically one commits to taking seriously the possibility that the text has a historical foundation and the consequences of that possibility.]

Thomas Muntzer (picture from Wikipedia)

He then dismisses Canonical Readings. Again there’s a good Stark quote: That such readings “seek to discover the macro-narrative that underlies the minutiae. The important thing is the forest, not the trees“. Apparently, though Gavin does not in this post explain how, in such readings “the diverse voices of scripture are lost, and the problematic texts are swept under the rug.”1 I really fail to see that this is the case, Childs bases his apporach precisely on spotting the different voices, and noticing how their editing together works in a process he calls “canonical shaping”. Or, thinking of another (much older) group of canonical readers (the Anabaptists) who stressed that we should notice the big picture and not get bogged down in minutiae. I’ve quoted Menno Simons before, but this captures the thought well:

The Word is plain and needs no interpretation: namely, thou shalt love the  Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and  thy neighbor as thyself. Mt. 22:37, 39. Again, you shall give bread to the  hungry and entertain the needy. Is. 58:7

But at the same time as Anabaptists were saying things like this Thomas Muntzer used the slogan “Bible, Babel, bubble”.  Or less elliptically once wrote:

I affirm and swear by the living God: he who has not heard the righteous, living word of God out of the mouth of God, [and can discern] what is Bible and what is Babel, is nothing but a dead thing. However, the word of God penetrates the heart, brain, skin, hair, bones, limbs, marrow, juice, force, and power.2

In such a way a canonical reading can both attend to the forest, recognise the trees, and even sometimes reject some tree (or perhaps merely someone’s understanding of that tree ;) in the name of the forest.

On the third approach he rejects, Subversive Readings, he again quotes Stark saying:

If Jesus’ language was a subversion of the official transcript, the reality is that his language has only been subject to counter-subversion by the ruling elites ever since.

As Gavin adds “Who could deny that?” but I don’t quite understand how the fact that Jesus’ (and more generally the Bible’s) subversive moves have been counter-subverted by the powers across the centuries should make such a reading unacceptable? (Maybe, when I have time, whenever that might be, I should read Stark myself ;)

  1. Again he is quoting Stark. []
  2. Münzer, Thomas, and Michael G. Baylor. Revelation and revolution: basic writings of Thomas Müntzer. Lehigh University Press, 1993, 57. []

Fig Ice-cream

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It won’t win any ice-cream beauty contests, the texture is rough cast, parents will look askance at any spills, but Fig Ice-cream is just delicious. Of our table of four yesterday Fig was the clear winner of the taste competition, one wife had chosen Passion Fruit but on hearing her husband’s raving about the fig stole his.

Fig Ice-cream is simple to make and tastes both addictive and sophisticated.

Fig Ice-cream Recipe:

Ingredients (for about 1 litre):

  • 6-10 dried figs (I’m sure fresh would be better, but on the rare occasions I get fresh figs I will scoff them all in other ways, and for ice-cream dried figs are pretty good) I suggest about 6-10 but do experiment.
  • 4 eggs (you won’t be cooking them, so free range are definitely best as well as kindest to the chooks ;)
  • 300ml cream
  • sugar to taste


I do everything except final mix and freezing in my food processor bowl so the order matters, but if you like to use several gadgets just be sure the one you use for the egg whites is clean and dry.

Chop the figs fairly small, remove the stalks. Separate the eggs, whip the whites till really stiff (I then put them in the ice-cream container), whip the cream when the peaks are stable put the cream also in the ice-cream container. Now zap together the figs and egg yolks, add sugar till it is nicely sweet. Add to the ice-cream container and using a spatula fold the three mixtures together.

Freeze (if you are a perfectionist control freak who does not want a figgier layer at the bottom, or is afraid that despite the eggs ice crystals will form you will take it out of the freezer after an hour and fork it to mix again – however, I caution you not to, there won’t be crystals, the figgier layer is so tasty, and thirdly this extra beating just removes air and makes it more hard and solid – yuck!)


My hi-tech expensive phone, I won't show the MP3 player as it is old battered and tacky, but also works ;)

Judging by a conversation with a colleague today, and by John’s comments on my previous post teachers often do not realise just how easy podcasting lectures is, or that they almost certainly already use all the equipment necessary. So here’s a recipe, with equipment list and step by step instructions:


  • Mobile phone or MP3 player which can record and connect to a PC. My two year old Nokia 3120 Classic – current price 100 Euros or about US$135 and my six year old cheapest available then MP3 player (some more modern even cheaper MP3 players lack tghe facility to record but the SanDisk Sansa Clip can, and Amazon sell them for <US$30)
  • Access to a computer with Internet – since you are reading this you already have that for sure.
  • The capacity to go to the Mobile Media Converter site and download and install the program. (If you think this is difficult ask your grandchildren!) You will also need Audacity if you want to be really clever and edit the podcast.(NB this is probably not necessary but will give you extra bragging rights in the staff room ;)
  • If your institution does not have a course system you will also need either iTunes or a blog – but I am assuming your institution already has Moodle, or something like that.

There, the equipment list was not too frightening, and the cost is less than $50 in the worst case. Now for the instructions.


  1. Practice finding the “record” feature on your phone or MP3 player (these can be fiddly so allow 30 mins). Check the battery well BEFORE the  class.
  2. Remember to take the phone (preferably in silent mode or with the SIM card removed, it is embarassing as well as spoiling the recording if the lecturer’s phone goes off ;)  or MP3 player with you.
  3. At the start of class (but ideally after the faffing around at the beginning) switch it to record. Place the phone or MP3 player on the lectern (for males in your shirt pocket may perhaps work better with some equipment or if you move around a lot).
  4. Switch the record function off at the end – you DO NOT want to record your harassed replies to the students who ask questions after the class has finished!
  5. Shift the new file to your computer.
  6. Open MMC, select output format (MP3 is good ;) and drag the audio to it. (With some MP3 players you miss out this stage.)
  7. Upload the new converted file it to the course site.
  8. Sit back and enjoy the student appreciation and be the envy of your luddite colleagues – you are now a Fully Fledged Digeratus (or Digerata).
  9. Get ambitious and remove the odd bits you don’t want to podcast and/or the first six “ums” and “errs” – this means using Audacity, but the editing task is easier than it sounds. Just find the wiggles that represent the bit to cut, highlight them (one by one) by dragging with your mouse, and press delete. Don’t worry about mistakes as Audacity has an undo feature. You are now an Advanced Digerata (or Digeratus).

Photo by pmarkham

John Hobbins is a fine scholar, and a great teacher (at least judging by what I see on his blog, which is basically our point of contact), but I just could not understand a passing comment in his recent post: Teaching “The Bible and Current Events” Online for he wrote:

I am not actually teaching the course online (though once I figure out how to podcast the lectures, I may do that).

Kiwis are used to making do, the national mythology sees Kiwis making aircraft before the Wrights from no.8 fencing wire, so, to podcast a lecture I just use my cheap mobile phone to record, placing it on the podium in front of me. I then convert the AMR file to MP3 using the free Mobile Media Converter, just drag the file and drop it, the program outputs it after conversion with a new name, it is as easy as that. The program works across platforms (at least Win and Linux – but I think Mac also). I then upload it to the class site, done.

[Sometimes I get hi-tech and edit out the faffing around, I use Audacity also free and also cross-platform for that.]

Using my phone instead of a fancy gadget means I have no need to do complicated technical stuff like noise reduction. It is simple, quick, easy and just works.

Photo by Wesley Fryer

The stats suggest readers of Sansblogue mainly don’t live in Auckland and are more likely to have children (or even grandchildren) of an age to start tertiary study than to be in this position themselves. However, in case you (or someone you know) IS starting tertiary study in Auckland this year do attend (or suggest they attend) the afternoon Scripture Union and TSCF are organising at the University of Auckland this Saturday. It’s geared to new students heading off to universities and other tertiary institutions “who want to think about their faith in this new context.” It also offers tips on study skills and surviving in the new environment. So a great chance to increase your chances of successful study.

When: 05 February 12:00 – 16:30

Location: OGGB5, Owen G. Glenn Building, University of Auckland (12 Grafton Road)

Details here: Transitions Brochure

HT: Greenflame

Another month…

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Well, another month is past, in the passing Sansblogue has completed seven years. So do I have the seven year itch that causes so many bloggers to “temporarily” cease blogging (either really temporarily or really for ever)? Not a bit of it, while I have readers, and (I hope) something worthwhile to say I’ll continue to blog.

Another month is past, and so naturally there are rankings. I’m happy that I again have two works in the top fifty, this blog and what I think is still the only biblical studies podcast to make the top fifty. How come podcasts are so much less “popular” than blogs? I’d have thought that Goodacre’s excellent NT Pod ought to have a regular top fifty slot… you are all missing something good!

On the subject of something good, the indefatigable Jim West has produced an excellent and entertaining (at difficult juggling act to manage both :) carnival, so if you have a few hours on your hands, or just want an idea of what was going on in January that you missed (because you were on your summer hols, or snowed in at home – depending on whether you live in the right or wrong hemisphere) do head on over to Jim’s The January 2011 Biblical Studies Carnival.

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 posts1 I thought I’d respond2Both 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 composed3 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 I4 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?

  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. []

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…

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!)

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?