Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Post # 3 from the 2008 Boston SBL Meeting

After this morning's Ezekiel session, we went to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts to see the "Art and Empire: Treasures from Assyria" exhibit. To see the website, click here. To listen to part of the Epic of Gilgamesh, free at the site, click here.

One of the reliefs in the exhibit was the above image of a dying lion. Ashurbanipal's arrow is clearly visible, and the masterpiece depicts the animal with striking realism. It is typical of Assyrian art to show animals with more realism than humans.

Another relief in the exhibit showed soldiers crossing over a river using inflated animal skins as floats, similar to the image above. The audio tour contained some inserted perspectives of a genius-award winning cartoon-artist. What impressed him about this image was the treatment of moving water. It's not easy to figure out how to depict something like the rapid movement of a stream in this type of art, and the use of swirls here is an exciting way to accomplish the feat.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Post # 2 from the 2008 Boston SBL Meeting

The meetings have been rushing by, with little time for blogging. Now that my talk has been given this afternoon (Monday) in a session from 4:00-6:30pm, I can relax a little and post again. It was a very lively session, especially the last hour when Carleen Mandolfo, Colby College, responded to the papers, and when the audience had a chance to interact. My hat is off to the chair of the session, Mark Boda, McMaster University, for a masterly job in handling a very high-energy set of exchanges.

Yesterday (Sunday) was a day full of sessions for me. It started with a morning session from 9:00-11:30am on "Assessing Theological Interpetation." It was another very high-energy session, for at least two reasons. First, the panel included two scholars well known for theological interpretation (W. Moberly and M. Bockmuehl) facing off against Yale's John Collins, a well-known critic of theological interpretation. But second, both Moberly and Bockmuehl had some pointed critiques of their own of some current self-proclaimed theological-interpretation initiatives. For me, most memorable will be some of Moberly's pointed responses to Collins. Collins had objected to sustained efforts to make a theological appropriation of the Conquest in Judges. "It's just not time well spent," he asserted. Moberly has a doctoral student at Durham University who has just completed an entire thesis on this, so clearly there is a sharp difference of opinion. "Is the Conquest story really about the genocidal destruction of the Canaanites that we assume?" asked Moberly. Consider the movie, "The Titanic." Is it about a big ship hitting an iceberg and sinking? Or, is it about a love story set amid a shipwreck? In the book of Joshua, is not the conquest really just a backdrop for some key stories about Rahab and Achan? The case can certainly be made! And indeed, the former figure (Rahab) is a pagan prostitute who proves a model of loving-kindness. The latter is a key Israelite who proves to know nothing about the faith. Such a set of stories about such figures does anything but support Israelite ethnic superiority and conquest glory. Also, the exchange with the commander of God's army in Joshua 5:13-14 is key. Joshua's question, "Are you for us or for our adversaries?" receives a clear answer: "Neither!" Again, this is not a story about using God to justify a manifest destiny ideology.

There were two other great sessions I attended yesterday, which I'll do no more than flag: a nice session discussing Ellen Davis' new book: Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture, and a big session chaired by my friend John Ahn on exile / forced-migration, with great speakers such as Robert Wilson and Daniel Smith-Christopher.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Post # 1 from the Boston SBL Annual Meeting

The whole family has been in Boston since Thursday noon, and already there's been so much to take in. We're on one of the top floors of the Sheraton, with a beautiful view of the back bay. It's just a short walk indoors to the convention center, where many of the meeting rooms are, and where the huge book display is located, where my new 2 Isaiah book is on display at the Abingdon booth.

Yesterday (Friday), I was in buisness meetings all afternoon. The SBL executive director, Kent Richards, reported that this 2008 conference is shaping up very nicely. The AAR (American Academy of Religion) met elsewhere (in Chicago) for the first time this year, yet even without them there are about 5,300 folks in attendance here. (N.B.: there are 9,083 members total of the SBL.) What is more, even without the AAR, the number of sessions here in Boston numbers about 600. Compare that with a combined total (inclusive of all the AAR sessions) of 697 in 1999. Amazing!

Last evening, my most recent publisher Church/Morehouse treated about twelve of us to a fun dinner at Jacob Wirth restaurant and ale house (click here). Among the guests were Don Kraus from Oxford Press, Peter Hawkins (now back at Yale some of the time), and Barbara Brown Taylor and her husband Edmund.

This morning (Saturday) I attended a "big-questions" session on "Reading the Old Testament as Christian Scripture" (SBL 22-8). Stephen Fowl commented that the session topic might be as interesting as "discussing water as a liquid" :-), yet of course the whole problematic at stake here is much more contested and complicated than the joke might imply. I won't give you all my notes on the 2.5 hour session, but here are some sample comments on one of the issues: how is Christ the "res" or subject matter of the Old Testament? Fowl argued surely not in some hidden sense, which has to be excavated. Once we found what we were digging for, would we want to throw away the dug-up OT-context-text as "dirt"?!? Rather, the OT directs us to Christ in general and multifacted ways, argued Fowl. C. Seitz interjected at one point that we must allow the OT to speak "Christianly" in its own idiom. Peter Leithart, for his part, showed how figures such as Ruth and Boaz are already antitypes of many figures within the Old Testament on its own, so that when we see Jesus as the antitype of them within the larger, whole-Bible context, it is part of a large innerbiblical web with an amazing intricacy and logic, not some simple and arbitrary type-antitype connection. R. Reno interjected at one point that to say that the OT "refers" to Christ is a complex matter. He noted that if he "referred" a student to Aristotle, that student would have to go read Aristotle and then come back to the issue at hand to look at it anew, etc.

I can't resist mentioning one other part of the discussion. Kavin Rowe, a NT professor from Duke, presented an interesting discussion of how Jesus of Nazareth should be said to be present in the Old Testament. The incarnation happened once, in the first century, yet it is constitutive of God's identity in a way fully outside of a linear progression of time. The true God is a God whose nature it is to incarnate God's self within the creation. John 8:58 is a key text here for Rowe. Before Abraham was, Jesus is, not in some general or abstract sense, but precisely as the person we come to know as Jesus incarnate. Hippolytus was right to understand the son of God in Daniel's fiery furnace as an anticipation of the incarnation, the one destined to become incarnate. The OT presents us with the real presence of the promise of Jesus as God incarnate.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"Pony Up" For VTS!

Our 2008 VTS Phonathon is Underway! Please consider a financial gift to Virginia Theological Seminary. You will have my warmest thanks for your support of our crucial mission in this difficult financial period. ---Stephen C.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Reference to a Soul in a New Eighth-Century Inscription at Zincirli

The New York Times science section (J. Wilford) was reporting yesterday on a funerary inscription discovered last summer near the Syrian border in southwestern Turkey at ancient Sam'al (modern Zincirli). It dates to the eighth century BCE and was commissioned by one Kuttamuwa, a royal official. It makes reference to his soul (Aramaic "nabsh") as something quite separable from the body at death. I have argued in print that, contrary to much scholarly opinion, Israelites long had comparable understandings of a "separable nephesh."

Here is the relevant section as translated by Univ. of Chicago's Dennis Pardee: “I, Kuttamuwa, servant of [the king] Panamuwa, am the one who oversaw the production of this stele for myself while still living. I placed it in an eternal chamber [?] and established a feast at this chamber: a bull for [the god] Hadad, a ram for [the god] Shamash and a ram for my soul that is in this stele.”

I doubt that the expression "in this stele" refers to any sort of animistic "occupation" of the stele. Note in the image above how the bearded Kuttamuwa, with tasseled cap, appears free of the stele and enjoying roast duck and a cup of wine in the Beyond.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Renovation of Key Hall at the Seminary

Seminary photographer Alix Dorr sent around this photo of how nice Francis Scott Key Hall is turning out as its renovation proceeds:

Key Hall Renovation

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The VTS Grove, Autumn 2008

VTS Grove, November 2008

photo of the seminary oak grove, by Alix Dorr

Friday, November 14, 2008

2008 SBL Annual Meeting, Boston

I fly out for Boston this Thursday for the Society of Biblical Literature meetings. I have a bunch of business to attend to, and one major talk:
"The Fecundity of Zion and Spiritual Fulfillment" in section SBL24-106, Biblical Hebrew Poetry. The talks in the section will all revolve around Daughter Zion in the Hebrew Bible, and most, including mine, will interact with a new book by Carleen Mandolfo, entitled, Daughter Zion Talks Back to the Prophets. The session will be held on Monday, 11/24/2008, from 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM, in Room Fairfax B, in the Sheraton Boston Hotel (SH). It is entitled, "Daughter Zion: Her Portrait, Her Response"

To see a list of many of the talks being given by BiblioBloggers this year, click here.
For the on-line SBL program book, click here.
To read my abstract on-line, click here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Melchizedek (Genesis 14:17-24)

Abraham Receiving the Blessing of Melchizedek, oil on panel by Maerten van Heemskerck, 16th century

As our OT-1 course continued our overview of Genesis yesterday, a student pointed out how interesting is the figure of Melchizedek, king and priest of pre-Israelite Jerusalem ("Salem"). Indeed! Surely the encounter at Jerusalem recounted in Gen 14 lays bare before us a mysterious theme of universalism. God's work with Abraham ripples outward with a wide-ranging agenda. A great triangle of blessing begins here to connect Abraham's people and the world. Abraham has blessed a mass of non-Hebrews (Melchizedek's people) by ridding Canaan of predators (vv. 1-16). But God's blessing now (vv. 17-24) flows mysteriously back to Abraham through a non-Hebrew channel! The sacral power to bless that is associated with Jerusalem, i.e., Zion (the cosmic mountain), is not so tightly bound up with the chosen people as we might at first assume. The chosen people are instruments of a cosmic agenda that will tend to burst beyond their constructs and cultic standards (cf. how the paradigm of "Melchizedek" works in Psalm 110:4), although it is always their duty to claim, and to proclaim, the agenda as the work of Yahweh, and no other god. Melchizedek speaks of "God Most High" (vv. 19-20), but Abraham immediately specifies that his referent must be "Yahweh, God Most High" (v. 22).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Unlikely Chosen

The Unlikely Chosen
A Graphic Novel Translation of the Biblical Books of Jonah, Esther, and Amos
Click Me!
Word translation by Shirley Smith Graham
Graphic translation by Earnest Graham

Two former VTS seminarians, now episcopal priests in the Williamsburg, VA area, and personal friends, have produced a wonderful new presentation of the books of Jonah, Esther, and Amos. The verbal translation from the Hebrew is by Shirley Smith Graham, who was a wonderful student in my Hebrew classes when she was here. Her husband Earnest worked for many years as a graphic artist, and is now combining his art with his priestly ministry.
To see inside the book, click here.
To purchase the book through Amazon.com ($10), click here.
To visit Earnest Graham's blog with its many graphic translations of Scripture, click here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Why Does the Snake Go after the Woman (Genesis 3)?

In my OT-1 course, a student inquired during lecture about why it is Eve and not Adam whom the snake goes after? In conversation after class, I mentioned that often in Gen 1-11, Bible is putting a new "spin" on older poetic stories, putting broken fragments of mythology to new use. In this case, Bible may be manipulating older ancient Near Eastern associations of snakes/serpents with a divine woman. Scholars have long noted that the name Eve (חַוָּה) bears resemblance to an Aramaic word for "snake" (O.Arb. חוה; J.Arm. חִוְיָא). For discussion, see Saul Olyan, Asherah (1988), pp. 70-71 (now contested by O. Keel).

Egyptian Qudshu. Qedeshet plaque. Painted relief carving on white limestone. Dated ca. 1300-1200 BCE. Louvre.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Luther Bowl 2008

The Fighting Friars, 2008

Well, our VTS football team, the "Fighting Friars," played heroically at the Luther Bowl in Gettysburg this weekend. Here are some excerpts of some of their plays. The video is under 5 minutes in length, and actually a lot of fun to watch. Pay special attention at the end, to see the diving tackle which "de-pants" the opposition!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The New Khirbet Qeiyafa Inscription

Here's a link to the BBC report on the Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon: click here. It will be nice to get a better image than the photo above, so that we can actually see the inscription. Right now, it appears that the script comes from the time of David, and that it may be Israelite, the oldest Israelite inscription yet found. The latter point is argued by the lead archaeologist at the site, Yosef Garfinkel, but many scholars are in a wait-and-see mode. Amihai Mazar has called the inscription the "longest proto-Canaanite text ever found." The site is located about 12 miles south-west of Jerusalem.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Solomon's Mines

Location of Khirbat en-Nahas

The map above shows the location of Khirbat en-Nahas in southern Jordan where copper production took place in Edom at King Solomon's time under his rule. Thomas Levy of the Univ. of Calif. San Diego announced last week that carbon dating put copper production at the mine in the 10th century, in line with the time of Solomon's rule.

The photo above shows the excavation of the mine area, where the first main phase of activity began just after 950 BCE, and where after 40 to 50 years a large building was constructed and copper production continued until around 840 BCE. An Egyptian scarab and amulet found in the large building may constitute evidence of the intervention of pharaoh Sheshonq I at the mine.