Friday, July 31, 2009

How to Read a Paper at SBL

Via John Hobbins at Ancient Hebrew Poetry, here are a few common errors from SBL presenters:

(1) The speed-reading of densely argued material, because “time is short.” Solution: Cut your paper in half. Make sure the content is a KISS (Keep It Short and Sweet). Read as little as possible. Work from notes, maintain eye contact, and adjust your delivery speed based on audience response.

(2) No handouts provided. So people forget your name, what text you are talking about, your thesis. Solution: provide handouts that highlight your thesis, provide text, and include information you take for granted in the presentation itself. Essential background information that is old to you is bound to be new to someone else.

(3) A monotone delivery in which you stumble over the written word and never look up. It reinforces the communication process if hearing, reading, laughing, storytelling, a dramatic gesture or two, converge to make a point. At ISBL-Rome, James Kugel, formerly of Harvard, was an excellent role model in this sense. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Pontifical Biblical Institute, he told a number of excellent jokes on Jesuits and on Orthodox Jews to illustrate his points, but also, just to put everyone in a lucid state of mind. Like the story of a Jesuit who is looking for a particular church in Paris. He asks a passerby, “How can I find St. So-and-so?” The answer, “You’ll never find it, Father. It’s right in front of you.” After pointing out a commonality between Jesuits and Orthodox Jews, their love of Jesuitical/Talmudic reasoning, he got everyone’s attention when he said that in terms of reading the Bible with intellectual honesty, Orthodox Judaism is stuck where Catholicism was 100 years ago.

(4) Not making your point clearly. You have to be creative about getting your point across. The acoustics in many rooms is terrible. It is often helpful to gather everyone together in a virtual huddle. One excellent presider of a session I presented in, Tova Forti, did just that. We were all far more attentive than we would otherwise have been thanks to her forethought.

(5) Wall-flower presiders. Presiders need to be proactive. A very short but interesting presentation of a presenter can be helpful. If a presentation bombs, it’s still possible to briefly reboot the discussion on the basis of the subject matter. It’s also a huge plus to have time at the end for a panel discussion in which the same question can be put to more than one presenter. If presenters are taking the scholarship of someone in the audience as their point of departure, by all means ask the audience member to join in the discussion. In a Wisdom session, Michael Fox was in the audience and presenters were engaging his scholarship in almost every paper. Forti rightly invited him to comment. What fun to see your paper cut down to size immediately!

I feel vindicated for making sure I always have good handouts for my presentations. I agree that having a vague and unclear thesis is about the most annoying thing a presenter can do. I've also whittled a few pages off my presentation already just to make sure I can give the central points the time they deserve. Thanks, John, for the great advice!

New Mount Zion Inscription

Via Jim Davila, a stone vessel bearing ten lines of text has been discovered in Jerusalem that seems to come from priestly circles. The orthography is quite unique, and so translation is expected to take up to six months. A couple lines are easily visible above. Anyone here want to see if they can do better?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

SBL Program Book is Now Up

I was happy to log on this morning and see this November's SBL program book up on the SBL website. The most important for me is session 22-149, where I'll be presenting on Anti-anthropomorphisms and the Vorlage of LXX Exodus:

It has long been recognized that the Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible often tend away from literal renderings of anthropomorphic passages. LXX Exod 24:10, interjecting "the place where God stood" in an effort to avoid intimating that God has a visible form, is a clear example of this theological emendation. The use of the resumptive adverb ekei in the Greek, however, betrays a uniquely Hebrew syntactical construction, and seems to reveal a Hebrew parent text that already contained the de-anthropomorphic element. This paper will investigate the LXX translations of anthropomorphic passages from Exodus and evaluate the possibility that the Hebrew Vorlage to LXX Exodus already contained a number of the de-anthropomorphic elements traditionally attributed to the exegesis of the translators.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Michael Heiser's "So What Exactly is an elohim?"

I came across an interesting article by Michael Heiser (here) that discusses the taxonomy of the word "elohim." Rather than incorporate a wider Near Eastern context, Heiser focuses primarily on the biblical contextualization, even including New Testament ideologies. Although I disagree with the presumption of a univocal biblical text and the neglect shown other Northwest Semitic manifestations of the word (see Joel S. Burnett's dissertation for a comprehensive discussion. I discuss it here), I found much worth contemplating in his paper, and I think it's excellent that Heiser has devoted so much time to the Divine Council. I hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Assyro-Babylonian Context for qoneh as "Begetter"

As I dig deeper into the participle qoneh in Gen 14:19, 22, I am more and more convinced that Bruce Vawter is partially correct in rejecting the translation "creator." I think the most accurate translation is "Begetter" (which Vawter does not support). Looking through Akkadian texts for parallel vernacular and ideas, I have run across quite a bit of information that supports my reading.

Vawter correctly states in his paper, "Yahweh, Lord of the Heavens and the Earth" (CBQ 48 [1986]: 465)that the Akkadian literature from Syria-Palestine does not contain a single use of qanû in a context that suggests creation (the same is true of Mesopotamian Akkadian literature). On the other hand, while the titles “Lord of Heaven and Earth” and “Lord of the Gods” are not uncommon in Akkadian, qanû appears in none of them. In fact, it appears in no divine epithets. This seems to have escaped Vawter’s consideration. The titles that do occur, however, indicate a procreative reading of qny fills a significant gap in the parallels to Assyro-Babylonian divine epithets that is left empty if that reading is rejected. As in early Syria-Palestine, theogony plays a central role in Mesopotamian literature. Several titles address the creation of heaven and earth as well as of other gods. In some epithets, and even some prose, the procreative aspect of this creation is explicit. Anu is described in one text as inseminating the heavens, which then gives birth to the earth. Marduk is called bān šamê u erṣeti, “Creator of Heaven and Earth” in CT 9, 6.1. Ea is pātiqu šamê u erṣetim, “Creator of Heaven and Earth” in KAR 252 and RS 3.39. Enlil is described as ālid ilāni rabûti, “Begetter of the Great Gods,” in KAR 25.3.32. In a parallel epithet, Ninlil is called bānīt ilāni rabûti, “Creatress of the Great Gods.” Elsewhere the participle bānû, “Creator,” appears directly parallel to the participle mu-al-lid, “Begetter.” In light of these parallels, it is clear that creation and procreation were often conceived of as synonyms. It also establishes the priority of a procreative reading of the Ugaritic qnyt ’lm, contra Vawter’s proposal that it be translated “Mistress of the Gods.” In the Syro-Palestinian or Assyro-Babylonian epithets there is no equivalent, of which I am aware, to Vawter’s reading, which is why he must appeal to the Egyptian title nbt pt to provide a parallel. If one accepts the procreative nuance of the Syro-Palestinian use of qny, the Assyrian literature provides numerous analogies. These theogonic epithets, combined with the prose mentioned above, support the head of the Near Eastern pantheon as begetter of deities named “Earth” and “Heaven.”

An additional relevant phrase is abi wa-li-di-ka, “the father who begot you,” which appears repeatedly in Akkadian literature. The parallel use of abu and the participle ālidu throws light on the phrase אביך קנך in Deut 32:6. Scholars have long recognized the procreative nuance to the verse, but rarely is that sense conveyed in the translation. “Your father who begot you” would be most appropriate. Vawter’s argument against this reading is untenable. He rejects the contextual influence of עשך and יכננך on the procreative reading of קנך, arguing rather that תגמלו provides a more immediate context in Israel’s failure to appropriately “repay” Yahweh. He argues we must understand what it is Yahweh did for Israel that merited repayment. He posits that vv. 8–9 provide the clearest answer in Yahweh’s inheritance of Israel. Nowhere does Vawter engage the word אביך, immediately parallel to קנך. He must mitigate the clear and immediate context with one that is broad and eisegetic.

This is some interesting summer research. Further updates to follow.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Can qoneh Mean "Creator"?

The participle qoneh has generally been understood to reference the acquisition or possession of a thing, whether through creation, purchase, or inheritance. The participle is found most importantly (for our purposes) in Gen 14:19, 22:

קנה שמים וארץ

It has traditionally been translated, "Creator of heaven and earth," but some have raised objections to that reading. In Lowell K. Handy's treatment of the Syro-Palestinian pantheon (Among the Host of Heaven) we read, "the meaning of the root . . . has been determined to be ‘acquire/own’ and not ‘create'" (76). Handy cites Peter Katz's 1954 Journal of Jewish Studies article and Bruce Vawter's 1986 Catholic Biblical Quarterly article. We may add a 1980 article by Vawter appearing in the Journal of Biblical Literature which argues the verb qnh in Prov 8:22 should not be understood as "created." To support this he argues the verb should never be taken to mean "create" in Ugaritic or in the Hebrew Bible.

His argument clearly stems from a need to find an uncreated premortal Christ in Proverbs' Wisdom, but of interest to us is his footnote number 20, in which he attempts to support the statement that the translation "create" in the Ugaritic corpus' use of qnh is "never certain," and in some cases, "definitely ruled out." He does this simply by citing translations that use another word:

wy'ny.]aliyn[.b'l.]/ m.kqnyn. '[ ] / kdrd.dyknn. This is translated by Gordon in Ugarit and Minoan Crete (New York: Norton, 1966) 89: "And Aliyan Baal declares: / 'Why, like - upon / Like - which he causes to be"'; the same translation is in his earlier Ugaritic Literature (Scripta PBI 89; Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1949) 50. In the second edition of Canaanite Myths and Legends (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1978) 133, J. C. L. Gibson does not translate the text (10 iii 5-7, according to the Herdner sigla), but in his glossary he offers "creator" as the meaning of the qny there (the full word he transliterates kqnym).

Vawter does not address any of these arguments directly, but in this instance he is particularly to be faulted for neglecting to address that qnyn appears in parallel with yknn, which overlaps most parsimoniously with qnh in the sense of creation. My translation of KTU

Indeed, our creator is eternal
Indeed, ageless is he who made us.

For a similar reading, see Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic, 15. Compare also to KTU 3.5.35-36; 4.1.5-6; 4.4.47-48; where yknnh is parallel to 'abh ("his father").

In this instance, Vawter has overstated his argument and has neglected to even engage a very serious obstacle to his thesis, preferring rather to assert that Gordon translated it with another word, and so "create" cannot be "certain," which, in this case, is clearly incorrect. The argument that qoneh in Biblical Hebrew cannot mean "creator" because it does not mean "create" in Ugaritic is thus undermined.