Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Change to Symposium Schedule

Unfortunately, Bryan Kerr has had to withdraw from the Egypt session of the symposium, but we have added Kerry Muhlestein and Alyssa Lewis, who will be presenting a paper on the role of violent rituals in the Egyptian temple. Please see the updated schedule below.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The SANE Symposium on Temples and Ritual in Antiquity

BYU's student organization for ancient studies, the Students of the Ancient Near East, has organized a symposium on temples and ritual in antiquity that will take place on Friday, November 7, 2008, in the BYU Wilkinson Student Center. The symposium will feature presentations from professors and students. Admission is free and no registration is required. Please refer to the above schedule for more details, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask.

P.S. - The symposium has also been mentioned at Temple Study , Mormon Metaphysics, and Heavenly Ascents.

P.P.S. - Most people aren't familiar with all the presenters, so I've taken the liberty of putting together very brief biographies. If there is no information next to your name it means I don't know anything about you, so get in touch with me and let me know what you'd like said about you:

Donald W. Parry is professor of Hebrew Bible at BYU and is currently editing the Great Isaiah Scroll for publciation. He received his PhD from the University of Utah.

Dan Belnap is assistant professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU. He earned his MA and PhD in Northwest Semitics from the University of Chicago.

David Larsen is a masters student in theology at Marquette University. He operates the Heavenly Ascents blog.

Bill Hamblin is a professor of history at BYU. He specializes in the Near East and warfare. He recently published Solomon's Temple in Myth and History with David Seely.

James Carroll received a bachelors degree from BYU in Computer Science, with a minor in ancient Near Eastern history. He is currently working on a PhD at BYU, where his research focuses on Computer Assisted Ancient Linguistics.

David Seely is professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in Ancient and Biblical Studies.

Justin Robinson

Matthew Brown holds a B.A. degree in history from Brigham Young University. He is the author of eight books (with two more forthcoming) that focus on ancient scriptural texts and the history and beliefs of the LDS Church. Matthew has had several articles published in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, FARMS Review, and The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research.

Andrew Miller is working on a masters degree in Spanish Pedagogy. He operates the Strong Reasons blog.

Aaron Snyder is a senior in Political Science at BYU.

Daniel Becerra is a senior in ancient Near Eastern Studies with a Greek/New Testament emphasis. He recently returned from an archaeological dig at Tel es-Safi (Philistine Gath) in Israel.

Rachel Grover is working on a masters degree in art history at BYU. She recently returned from a research trip to Jordan.

Chris Dawe is a senior in classical civilization at BYU.

Bryan Benson is the Social Science program coordinator at Western Governor's University in Salt Lake City. He received his Ph.D from Boston College.

Dustin Simmons is a senior in classics at BYU. He is the president of BYU's chapter of Eta Sigma Phi, the national student association for Classics.

Keith Fairbank is a senior in classics at BYU.

Kerry Muhlestein is associate professor of ancient scripture at BYU. He received his PhD from UCLA in Egyptology.

Alyssa Lewis is a Junior in the Ancient Near Eastern Studies major at BYU.

Doug Marsh is a senior in classics.

Elliott Wise is working on a masters degree in art history at BYU.

John Gee is the William "Bill" Gay Assistant Research Professor of Egyptology at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. He earned his Ph.D in Egyptology from Yale University.

Jacob Moody is a senior in ancient Near Eastern studies. He recently returned from his second season at the Tel es-Safi/Gath dig in Israel.

Mark Wright is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at UC Riverside. His research focuses on Mesoamerican archaeology.

Scott Preston Sukhan Nibley is a senior in English at BYU. He is minoring in ancient Near Eastern studies.

Joseph Petramalo is a senior in ancient Near Eastern studies at BYU.

I hope that helps. If anyone has any questions or concerns please feel free to let me know.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Just so y'all are aware. . .

My blog's reading level:

blog readability test

All I need now is for someone to actually read it.

How to Teach Biblical Hebrew

I found an interesting article via the wonderful blog Awilum about teaching Biblical Hebrew. I will be teaching BYU's intensive Biblical Hebrew course next summer and enjoyed the links a great deal. Hopefully someone out there also finds them interesting.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

King of the Universe

I'm doing some research on 2 Maccabees and have come across an interesting little problem that may help my research a great deal. My thesis, in a nutshell, is that 2 Maccabees 7 is an interpolation from the late first or early second century CE. As part of my research, I've come in contact with a lot of different perspectives on 2 Macc. One of the most interesting, I think, comes from Christian Habicht way back in 1976.[1] He argues for a Hebrew original for 2 Macc 7. I’m intrigued by the possibility, and the phrase “king of the universe,” found in 2 Macc 7:9 (ὁ δὲ τοῦ κόσμου βασιλεὺς) seems to me to support the conclusion.

As Goldstein points out in his Anchor Bible volume on 2 Maccabees,[2] the term is absent from Jewish literature in Greek until after the first century CE. The phrase corresponds with the Hebrew melech ha‘olam, but ‘olam meant “eternity” until the beginning of the Common Era, when it came to signify the world or universe. The earliest such use is found in late Aramaic Qumran texts. ”King of Eternity” is how melech ha‘olam was translated into Greek prior to the first century CE (see Tobit 13:7, 11 – βασιλέα τῶν αἰώνων – King of Eternity).

If 2 Maccabees 7 was composed in the second century BCE, as is accepted, we would expect to find the phrase “King of Eternity,” as the phrase “King of the Universe” is not attested in Judaism during this time period. Goldstein assumes “King of the Universe” developed first in Greek Jewish literature and was later borrowed into Hebrew, but much more likely is that the Greek “King of the Universe” was a translation of the Hebrew phrase melech ha‘olam as it was understood in the Common Era. This would mean (1) 2 Maccabees 7 was translated into Greek from Hebrew, and (2) the translation took place well into the Common Era.

[1] Christian Habicht, 2. Makkabäerbuch (JSHRZ 1.3; Gütersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1976), 171–77, 233.

[2] Jonathan Goldstein, II Maccabees (Anchor Bible 41A; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983), 305.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Great Collection of Links

I was just perusing the Students of the Ancient Near East website to see if any updates had been made since I was last there, and I am pleased to say that two very exciting things have been added. First, and more importantly, our resources page has been updated to include all the ancient Near Eastern studies related links from last semester's contest (which I did win). Simply click on the "Links" tab to find hundreds of invaluable resources, including, at the very bottom, the entire SBL Handbook of Style.

From the SANE homepage you can also find last spring's issue of Studia Antiqua, BYU's student journal for the study of the ancient world. There are several great articles in that issue. We're working on next semester's issue right now, which includes a wonderful introduction to the Shabaka Stone. Don't miss it.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Deuteronomy 32:8

Deuteronomy 32 is poetry from verse 1 to 43. Much like Exodus 23:17, verse 8 is of little theological significance until we peel off a layer or two of redaction and theological emendation. Comparing the various ancient attestations of the verse reveal some interesting clues to the nature of the original text. The verse as it appears in the Masoretic text (I'll transliterate from now on, since I can't get a decent Hebrew font working):

bəhanhēl elyōn gōîm bəhaprîdō bənê ādām yasēb gəbulot ‘amîm ləmispar bənê yisrāēl

When the Most High gave inheritance to the nations, when he divided the sons of Adam / He set the boundary of the people according to the numbering of the sons of Israel.

The Septuagint preserves a different reading:

ὅτε διεμέριζεν ὁ ῞Υψιστος ἔθνη, ὡς διέσπειρεν υἱοὺς ᾿Αδάμ, ἔστησεν ὅρια ἐθνῶν κατὰ ἀριθμὸν ἀγγέλων Θεοῦ

When the Most High was distributing the nations, as he scattered the sons of Adam / He set the boundaries of the nations according to the numbering of the angels of God.

We have another alternate reading in j4QDeutj, which replaces yisrāēl with ’lwhm (plene spelling of elohim), giving us:

When the Most High gave inheritance to the nations, when he divided the sons of Adam / He set the boundary of the people according to the numbering of the sons of God.

The Dead Sea Scroll account is most likely an older reading than the MT, with the LXX reading between the two. The received text edited by the Masoretes may have read
bəhanhēl elyōn gōîm bəhaprîdō bənê ādām yasēb gəbulot ‘amîm ləmispar bənê ēl (sons of God), which may have been cause for concern. Rather than preserve a reading that seemed to refer to the offspring of El (Canaanite reference or otherwise), the Masoretes (or their predecessors), may have prefixed the letters ysr to El, giving us the word for Israel. While we can't know for sure, Hebrew Bible scholars are confident in the reading preserved in the DSS; so much so, in fact, that the new Oxford Hebrew Bible inserts the older reading into their critical edition (sample w/ Deut 32:8 here). The new Biblia Hebraica Quinta makes the argument in the footnote, but it is prominent. John Hobbins addresses the manuscript evidence much more thoroughly here. An interesting little side note, to say the least.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Online Greek and Hebrew Parsing Quizzes

Whether you do Greek or Hebrew (or both), these quizzes are helpful. They're pretty basic, but still a good way to keep your skills sharp. Try 'em out.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Teach Yourself Biblical Aramaic

Eric Reymond, Lecturer of Northwest Semitic Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan, has a website designed to introduce Biblical Aramaic to students with little exposure to Hebrew and other Semitic languages. It looks like a very useful tool.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Exodus 23:17

Although most people don't realize it, this scripture is a theologically revealing scripture. It is also the first of a series of scriptures, stretching all the way to Psalms 42, alluding to the same theological principle. First, the passage in Hebrew and then English:
שָׁלֹשׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה יֵרָאֶה כָּל־זְכוּרְךָ אֶל־פְּנֵי הָאָדֹן יְהוָה
Exodus 23:17 (KJV):
Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord God.
The Masoretic text vowels the word יֵרָאֶה, translated "appear," as a Niphal. This means the verb should be read passively. The verb r'h means "to see," which renders the reading provided by the Masoretes "appear." This formula (appear three times a year before the Lord) appears, or is alluded to, in Exod 34:20; 34:23–24; Deut 16:16; 31:11; 1 Sam 1:22 (possibly); Isa 1:12; and Ps 42:3.

Some of these attestations, however, call into question the reading provided by the Masoretes. In Exod 34:24, Deut 31:11, and Isa 1:12, the verb appears in the infinitive construct, but the Niphal reading is complicated by a missing h. The infinitive construct normally takes the ləhiqqātēl form, but here the h seems to have elided. This happens more frequently with the Hiphil. There are five other examples of an elided h in the Niphal infinitive in the Hebrew Bible, although a Qal reading is not precluded in any of them.
[1] The infinitive of r'h, however, only ever appears without the h in verses alluding to our formula, and in the MT there are no examples of our formula with an unambiguously Niphal r'h.[2] The elided form without the vocalization would be identical to the Qal infinitive construct, and many conclude that the reading was originally Qal.

If the Niphal reading should be read as Qal it would render the verse, "Three times in the year all thy males shall see the face of the Lord
God." The conclusion has been promulgated by many that the reading was originally Qal, but was altered to minimize anthropomorphizing tendencies.While we can conjecture about the legitimacy of the Niphal infinitive with the elided h, several manuscripts do give us evidence that supports an originally Qal reading.

The Mekhiltas of R. Simeon b. Yohai and R. Ishmael, in interpreting Exodus 23:17, exempt the blind. Later Talmudsic readings seem to recognize the ambiguity of the verse, but don't commit to either reading. For Isa 1:12 and Ps 42:3, several manuscripts (de Rossi MSS 575, 337, 368, 670, 864, 879, primo 43, 380, 683) attest to a Qal punctuation. The Syriac has Qal for Isa 1:12.

Exod 33:20 would seem to agree with a Niphal reading of Exod 23:17, but several scriptures exist which clearly assert that God's face can and has been seen. The verses in question were most likely read Qal prior to Niphal, meaning God's face was most likely sought in the early Israelite temple.

[1] See Gary Rendsburg, “Laqtil Infinitives: Yiphil or Hiphil?” Orientalia 51.2 (1982): 231–38. The verses are Exod 10:3; Job 33:30; Ezek 26:15; Prov 24:17; and Lam 2:11.

[2] 1 Samuel 1:22 contains a clearly Nipahl r’h, but it’s not clear if the phrase is an allusion to the formula in question. Carmel McCarthy concludes it is, but posits a 1st person plural jussive reading. See Carmel McCarthy, The Tiqqune Sopherim (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1981), 199–200. The Samaritan Pentateuch has the full ləhiqqātēl form in Exod 34:24 in most manuscripts, but several exist without the h.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Genesis 43:7

This scripture has little theological relevance, but it contains a number of important Hebrew principles of which every student should be aware. I'll be teaching intensive Biblical Hebrew next summer and have found that if I explain these principles to others I retain them much better and understand them more clearly. I'll discuss each word individually and give my translation at the bottom. Here's the text in Hebrew (I apologize for the font. The holem will be spaced as if it's its own letter):

וַיֹּאמְרוּ שָׁאוֹל שָׁאַל-הָאִישׁ לָנוּ וּלְמוֹלַדְתֵּנוּ לֵאמֹר הַעוֹד אֲבִיכֶם חַי הֲיֵשׁ לָכֶם אָח וַנַּגֶּד-לוֹ עַל-פִּי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה הֲיָדוֹעַ נֵדַע--כִּי יֹאמַר הוֹרִידוּ אֶת-אֲחִיכֶם

Qal, prefix, 3rd comm. plural, waw-conversive, אמר, "to say." With the Qal prefix we expect to see an i preformative vowel. An aleph will normally quiesce in the first position, but due to the frequency of its use the vocalization has developed analogous to the 1st singular, prefix of the same verb. The double aleph will combine to give us ā, but the Canaanite shift comes into play and the holem replaces the primitive vocalization.

שָׁאוֹל שָׁאַל-הָאִישׁ לָנוּ
The first form of שׁאל here is a prepositive infinitive absolute. The second is a Qal, affix, 3rd masc. singular. This combination is fairly common in Biblical Hebrew and often gives a nuance of affirmation or "asseveration" to the following verb (often translated "surely"). Here, though, the sense seems to be that of insistence, or a pressing question or demand. An appropriate translation would be, "The man asked us directly concerning us."

The man also asks concerning Jacob's kindred. מוֹלַדְתֵּנוּ is a substantive from the verb yld ("to give birth"). A holem male appears in place of the y, which will be explained below.

"Saying. . . "

הַעוֹד אֲבִיכֶם חַי הֲיֵשׁ לָכֶם אָח

In both sentences the h is interrogative.

וַנַּגֶּד-לוֹ עַל-פִּי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה
The daggesh in the g of וַנַּגֶּד indicates the original first n has assimilated (the n in the first position often assimilates when there is no vowel separating it from the next root letter). The verb is a Qal, affix, 1st comm. plural, waw-conversive.

הֲיָדוֹעַ נֵדַע
Another infinitive absolute followed by a finite verb. The h is interrogative. The sere with the n indicates the y of yd‘ has dropped out completely. The verb is Qal, affix, 1 comm. plural.
כִּי יֹאמַר הוֹרִידוּ אֶת-אֲחִיכֶם
We find with יֹאמַר another example of a preformative holem in a prefix verb. הוֹרִידוּ is an interesting verb. It's a masc. plural Hiphil imperative, which makes it causitive ("cause to come down"). The first y has been replaced with a holem male. This form is actually more archaic than the root from other derived forms of yrd. The verb was originally wrd, and this reading preserves the oldest known form.

And they said, the man asked us directly concerning ourselves and our kindred, saying, "Does your father yet live? Do you have a brother?" And we told him all about these things. Could we really have known that he would say, "Bring your brother down"?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

John 1:1

I figured I'd start out by reviewing a translation issue that often seems to cause confusion. The text of John 1:1 reads thus:
Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν λόγος, καὶ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν λόγος
It has traditionally been translated:
In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.
Obviously this translation provides a powerful foundation for a Trinitarian reading of the Gospels. Some translations, however, have advocated a far different reading. Most famous (or infamous) among these is the New World Translation, which reads thus:
In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god .
The controversy revolves around the translation of θεὸς ἦν λόγος in 1:1c and the definiteness of θεὸς. Is Jesus the God, or is he divine. The clause is a simple predicate nominative, with the predicate preceding the verb. The verb (ἦν) is a 3rd singular, imperfect, active, indicative.

Normally in a predicate nominative a definite predicate is anarthrous (lacking the article), but there are a few instance where the article is required. Smyth's Greek Grammar lists three such instances (§ 1152):
Even in the predicate the article is used with a noun referring to a definite object that is well known, previously mentioned or hinted at, or identical with the subject.
Smyth deals with Classical Greek, though, and while John employs a sophisticated Greek, it is Koine, and thus somewhat distinct from Classical Greek. Blass, Debrunner, and Funk, however, describe a similar situation in their book A Greek Grammar of the New Testament (
§ 273):
The article is inserted if the predicate noun is presented as something well known or as that which along merits the designation (the only thing to be considered).
Both grammars seem to indicate the article is necessary should
θεὸς be definite. Notwithstanding the grammatical requirements, the style of the New Testament can sometimes be anomalous. E. C. Colwell published an article in the Journal of Biblical Literature in 1933 that argued the word order of predicate nominatives in the New Testament also influenced the use of the article. The relevant portion of the article argues that the New Testament authors more often than not omitted the articles from definite predicate nouns when the predicate preceded the verb.

"Colwell's Rule" has become popular in discussing John 1:1, but scholars warn that Colwell's investigation was exclusively concerned with word order, and does not address all aspects of definiteness with predicate nominatives. There are also numerous exceptions to this rule. In John 1:21, for instance, John employs the article in a definite predicate noun that precedes the verb.

Murray Harris tempered Colwell's ambition in an article entitled "The Definite Article in the Greek New Testament" (301–13 in Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus). He writes that an anarthrous noun in the predicate may be definite or indefinite, but should be presumed indefinite unless the context demands otherwise. According to Harris, the construction may also be interpreted qualitatively, irrespective of the definiteness of the noun.

In the end neither conclusion answers all our concerns, but John 1:1c can surely be translated with an indefinite
θεὸς with no impediments. Many accept it as the stronger perspective, although mainstream Christian scholars have been reticent to allow the reading the circulation it deserves. Any attempt to promulgate the theory is often bemoaned as tacit approval of the New World Translation, whether that translation influenced the research or not (and it usually does not). For many, however, the baby is more easily thrown out if it is shackled to the bathwater of the NWT.

For additional reading see Rodney J. Decker, "Colwell's Rule," and William Arnold III, "Colwell's Rule and John 1:1."