Here’s an excerpt:
The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 76,000 times in 2011. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 3 days for that many people to see it.
Here’s an excerpt:
The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 76,000 times in 2011. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 3 days for that many people to see it.
In reading literature on early Jewish and Christian monotheism (and especially the latter), I frequently run across attempts to reconcile ideas about other divinities with statements of God’s oneness by imposing a strict monotheistic rubric on the texts that then necessitates some kind of tricky ontological rationalization. The most explicit example I can think of is from Hurtado’s essay on first-century Jewish monotheism (published here and here; I will cite the latter). In it he argues for an inductive approach to evaluating monotheism (113):
The first methodological point to emphasize is the importance of proceeding inductively in forming and using analytical categories such as “monotheism.” On both sides of the issue (to varying degrees among individual studies) there has been a tendency to proceed deductively from a priori presumptions of what “monotheism” must mean, instead of building up a view inductively from the evidence of the thought and practice of ancient Jews (and earliest Christians). It is mistaken to assume that we can evaluate ancient Jewish texts and beliefs in terms of whether or how closely they meet our own preconceived idea of “pure” monotheism.
He goes on to state that we have to let self-identification determine who was monotheistic (114):
If we are to avoid a priori definitions and the imposition of our own theological judgments, we have no choice but to accept as monotheism the religion of those who profess to be monotheists, however much their religion varies and may seem “complicated” with other beings in addition to the one God.
The words “monotheism” and “monotheist,” however, did not exist during the Greco-Roman period. They first appear in philosophical treatises of the seventeenth century CE. We will never find an ancient Jewish or Christian text in which an author explicitly professes to be a “monotheist.” In order to identify “monotheism” in antiquity we have no choice but to retroject into the texts, to some degree, our own definitions of what a monotheist is. Hurtado does exactly this, but observe a qualification (114):
our policy should be to take people as monotheistic if that is what they profess to be, in spite of what we might be inclined to regard at first as anomalies in their beliefs and religious practices.
Basically, any ostensible claim to monotheism (based on “one God” language, presumably) will overrule any potential preclusion of it (such as might problematize a modern claim to monotheism). As an example, Hurtado highlights 1 Cor 8:4–6, which he asserts uses “monotheistic language” while at the same time “accommodating devotion to Christ in terms and actions characteristically deemed by them as otherwise reserved for God.”
I suggest that Hurtado is here allowing the ostensible presence of monotheism in 1 Cor 8:4–6, which he identifies based on vernacular today considered monotheistic, to govern his interpretation of the explicit acknowledgment of a divine being other than God. In other words, of the two apparently conflicting concepts, he is using monotheism as the constant or the reference point, and deciding how devotion to Christ should be understood in relation to it. But the statement “there is no other God but one” may not have meant to the author of Corinthians what it means to believers today. Ulrich Mauser made this very point twenty years ago:
It is my thesis that the Biblical insistence on the oneness of God is so different from the monotheistic consciousness of our time that the almost universal procedure of reading the Bible through the spectacles of a modern monotheist must result in a serious misreading of its message” (“One God Alone: A Pillar of Biblical Theology,” Princeton Seminary Bulletin 12.3 : 257, emphasis in original).
I suggest that Hurtado’s approach shackles the text and only lets it use “one God” language to mean what it means to us today. What would be the outcome if we were to turn the tables and seek a way to understand the language of 1 Cor 8:4–6 not in light of modern monotheism, but in light of devotion to a being other than God? Instead of asking how Christ can be worshipped and how there can be many that are “called gods” in light of the fact that the text is monotheistic, let us ask how the author can say there is only one God in light of the fact that Christ is worshipped and there are many that are “called gods.” This allows us to define their view of God’s oneness according to the text, rather than presuppose it and then try to fit their view of God’s plurality into that presupposition. After all, it’s monotheism we’re looking to define, isn’t it?
The new issue of Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses has an article in it by Zeba Crook (don’t assume that’s a female name, for your own good) entitled “On the Treatment of Miracles in New Testament Scholarship.” The abstract is as follows:
All introductory textbooks to the New Testament have something to say about the miracles and resurrection of Jesus, sometimes implicitly but more often explicitly. Not surprisingly, conservative textbooks take a conservative approach, rejecting outright the ‘naturalism’ that governs other human and natural sciences. Yet even liberal textbooks stop short of assuming a fully naturalistic paradigm. This paper analyses the assumptions that serve as the foundation of both conservative and liberal treatments of the miraculous, and joins others in calling for the academic study of Christian Origins to situate itself more fully within the academic study of religion.
It’s an interesting article, and I think one of the concluding paragraphs is particularly important:
To rely on the supernatural to explain events in history—or anti-naturalism—is an emic perspective because it assumes, against modern (etic) science, the perspective of the subject (ancient people and their texts). To seek a critical naturalist understanding of the origin of a belief (say, the resurrection) is an etic perspective. The study of theology requires an emic approach, the academic study of religion requires an etic approach. To confuse the two, or blur the boundaries between them, will only perpetuate the impasse that is apparent in introductory textbooks to the New Testament.
In most recent publications about Jesus’ identity with God, a lot of the arguments’ weight is placed on doxologies, proskynesis, sonship, the title “god,” and Jesus’ position on God’s throne. The idea is that these are honors or attributes that we expect to only find in God himself. Since Jesus is associated with them, the argument goes, and since, above all else, the framework of philosophical monotheism cannot be violated, Jesus must be God himself (a distinct “person” within the “being” of God). What I find interesting is that most publications simply ignore the fact that several Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and early Jewish authors envision the same or very similar honors and attributes being a part of humanity’s future existence.
John 17 has humanity being one with God’s glory just as Christ is one with his glory. Jesus gave his followers the very same glory God gave Jesus so they would be one with God and Jesus in the same way that they are one. Doxologies are also not infrequently found in reference to humans. Note Eph 3:20–21: “to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory.” God himself glorifies the justified in Rom 8:30, and in v. 17 Jesus’ followers are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, to be glorified along with him (cf. 2 Cor 3:18; 4:17; Col 3:4; 2 Tim 2:10; Heb 2:10; 1 Pet 5:1, 4, 10; Rom 5:2; 1 Thess 2:12). The attribution of glory to a figure does not indicate ontological identity with God.
Rev 3:9 has the Philadelphians receiving proskynesis. Many insist this is just a secular act, but Revelation uses the term more than any other text of the Bible, and it nowhere else in the book has a secular meaning. It is always formal worship. This text is also very similar to 4Q246, the “Son of God Text.” In there the eschatological people of God will rise up to end warfare. As a result, the nations of the earth will worship the people of God (Aramaic סגד; cf. Isa 44:15, 17, 19; 46:6; Dan 2:46; 3:5–28). The singular pronominal suffix throughout this section of 4Q246 does not refer to the Son of God (an antagonist in the text), but to the singular עם, “people.” The “Son of Man” from Daniel is also envisioned as receiving worship in the Old Greek, specifically with the Greek λατρευω, which is never used in the New Testament in reference to Christ. In the Old Testament, the angel of Yhwh is on more than one occasion the object of proskynesis (the Hebrew חוה, a fact that seems to allude New Testament scholars). Proskynesis before a divine or human figure doesn’t at all seem to indicate ontological identification with God.
The exact nature of Jesus’ sonship is an interesting question throughout the New Testament. Mark doesn’t have a birth narrative and doesn’t seem to view Jesus as being born as God’s son. Affinities with Greco-Roman views about the Son of God also abound in Mark. In the Roman world, divine sonship could be attributed to adults in terms of both adoption and begetting (at the same time). The same can be said of the king in the Old Testament. In Ps 2:7 the king is said to be God’s son and to have been “begotten” (ילד) by God on the day of his installation as king. In Ps 110:3 God states, “I begot you” (ילדתיך). The Hebrew has been obscured, and most modern translations are happy to leave it as is. The Septuagint translation preserves the likely original form, although it understands שחר to mean “morning star,” thus “before the Morning Star I begot you.” Many scholars have noted this indicates preexistence on the part of the messiah (cf. LXX Ps 71:17), although I don’t believe the Septuagint indicates any distinct existence that that begetting precedes. Ps 89 is particularly interesting. In v. 19 one is chosen out of God’s people. In v. 26 that chosen one declares to God, “You are my father.” In the next verse God declares, “I will make him my firstborn.” In the Old Testament, an adult human could be considered to be made to be divinely begotten. This is a mixing of metaphors, since adoption is also clearly in view. Augustus was adopted by Julius and subsequently considered begotten by Apollo. Adoption was important because it established inheritance, which was the focal point. Paul’s view of Christ’s sonship uses the same mixing of metaphors. He looked forward to an adoptive soteriology, through which we would become joint-heirs with Christ (Gal 4:1–7). Rom 8:29 says Christ is the “firstborn of many brothers.” In his book, Adoption as Sons of God, Jim Scott notes that, “the sons who share in the messianic inheritance and reign with the Son are adopted on the basis of the same Davidic promise as the Son, because they participate in the sonship of the Son.” Note John 1:12 says Jesus’ followers will have power to become the sons of God, begotten (εγεννηθησαν) by God (cf. John 3:3–8; 1 John 3:9–10). Note also that the gospel of John never describes Jesus as a “begotten” son. In addition to Scott’s book, I recommend Collins and Collins, King and Messiah as Son of God, and Peppard, The Son of God in the Roman World. Being the Son of God, begotten and/or adopted, preexistent or otherwise, does not indicate ontological identification with God.
There are numerous figures that are called “god” in the Hebrew Bible and in Second Temple Judaism. In addition to the scores and scores of faceless masses of divine beings that are called gods in the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other literature, David is called “god” in Ps 45:6–7; Isa 9:6 says Hezekiah will be known as “the Mighty God”; Moses is called “god” in Exod 4:16 and 7:1, and Philo explains that God “appointed him [Moses] as god” (Sacrifices 9), and that he was “no longer man, but god” (Good Person 43); in 11Q13 (11QMelch) Melchizedek is identified with the singular אלהים of Psalm 82; Jesus appeals to LXX Ps 81:6 to point out that human beings were called “gods” according to the scriptures. John identifies Jesus with the preexistent Word, but not with God himself. Being a god does not indicate ontological identification with God.
Rev 3:21 is frequently cited as an indication of the highest christology, but often neglected is the statement that those who overcome will sit down with Christ in his throne, as he is sitting with God in God’s throne. I only see one throne in view here. God’s throne has become Christ’s throne, and Christ’s throne will become the throne of those who overcome. In agreement with John 17, all will share the same glory and be one with Christ and God just as they are one. It’s a big throne. Sitting in it does not indicate ontological identification with God
This is a much more complicated issue than what I’ve described above, but I thought I would share some initial thoughts after seeing these attributes and honors repeatedly identified as indicating “deity” in the sense of “ontological identification with Israel’s deity.” I don’t believe they indicate that at all. I’m interested in your thoughts, as I hope to take up this issue more fully in the future.
On his Facebook page, which he continues to pretend he does not author, David Elkington has responded directly to the comments I posted the other day in response to his radio interview and subsequent clarification regarding my concern. Someone found my blog and thought my concerns merited sharing on the Facebook page, so they posted them. Here are David’s comments in full:
Dear Daniel, The question you have raised has already been responded to by David both on the show and posted on this site (before the Dr. Barker posting). It is the academic and linguistic assessment of the Jordan Codices team (including expert Jordanian epigraphers). This is very much a work in progress and more will be revealed in the coming months, but we would be very interested to know who has performed this ‘analysis’ particularly in view of the fact that very few people have had physical access to the Codices as well as all of the images of the large collection of artefacts. One of the world’s foremost professors was also challenged on this point and he was very firm on his view. As for a ‘mish mash’, this simply proves the point that the caller does not know what he is talking about, as our professor can read the codices like a newspaper and much has been translated already. As has already been mentioned, paleo-Hebrew came out of the Sinaitic languages, both proto and western. What question must be asked is why it was used in this form in the first century period – not that this is an attempt at ‘archaizing’ something that is supposedly gibberish to a non-expert eye? The answer to this question resides in the very form the Codices take and in this sense there are certain elements shared with the Dead Sea Scrolls. In this the use of language is specific and offers us a further clue – a reference is being made to the language that emerged from Sinai in the second millennium BC however, it is contemporary in form to the languages used in Jesus’ day: the question to be asked is why it is being used in this form? It is all very well to offer up a google search but the answers to these important questions will only be found in obscure academic journals, not on amateur blog sites, which might be good for initial research but not for the more specific and rarer elements needed for detailed answers to historical and linguistic enigmas. The caller claims not to know of Western Sinaitic, therefore we can recommend him to the Palestine Exploration Quarterly – an excellent journal on this very specific question. We will find him a good reference in due course, as his passion for the subject is to be encouraged. More evidence and analysis will be revealed shortly, though Dr Barker’s work offers a good insight into this. The caller makes some good points; however, he is going around the essential points of ‘why’ and ‘how’ instead of ‘where’ and ‘when’ – as he well knows first century Judea was a mish mash of different opinions, languages and Judaisms. And here it is interesting that he has taken a brief posting and confused it in such a way as to create an argument from out of nothing. In essence these are opinions and naturally he is welcome to them, but as stated on the radio show by David, the caller in this instance will be going against the grain of the world’s leading experts on this particular issue. Bon Courage!
I would first note that David continues with his condescending tone. He refuses to acknowledge that I’m well aware of what I’m talking about, but prefers to presume to speak down to me. This is obviously for the sake of appearance. He can’t have his readers believing that he’s been shaken, when anyone with even a modicum of training cannot possibly be fooled by the ruse. I find this to be the second surest sign that these leading experts don’t exist outside of David’s mind. The surest sign is the fact that nothing he says at all aligns with the relevant scholarship.
Now, David did not respond to my concerns from the show or the subsequent post. On the show he just insisted that I was wrong because the greatest scholars ever said it was the square script and it was paleo-Hebrew, and thus I need to return to the textbooks. When he commented on Facebook, he tried to make the argument that paleo-Hebrew had by the first century CE developed qualities that turned it into the square script, which is demonstrably false. David has not responded in a substantive manner to either of my concerns; he has simply dodged them and hidden behind the invented experts.
If David and his cohorts are not aware of the analyses that have been performed, then they can search my blog, as well as those of Thomas Verenna, Steve Caruso, and others. There are numerous analyses out there that show conclusively that the codices are modern forgeries. We do not need physical access to the codices to be able to read the texts that are visible in the photos. I’ve gathered a rather large collection of those photos, and many of them have visible text on them. Elkington has tried to hedge his bets by insisting some of the codices out there are fake, but of those that have text on them, not a one has a single authentic text. They are all utter gibberish, and between the orthography, the iconography, and the other designs on the codices, they can pretty much all be connected to each other. They were all produced by the same group, if not the same person. The most damning evidence is the fact that the small credit card-sized codex that Elkington showed off on his BBC interview (which he has claimed is genuine) is easily analyzed (see the photo below) and is absolute gibberish, just like the others. His explanation of the item as an identification card of sorts is completely fabricated. In fact, the text comprises the meaningless repetition of a series of letters carved into a stamp and then twice impressed into whatever mold was used to create the codex. Following is the codex and Steve Caruso’s helpful charting of the repetitions:
Several things can be noted about this text. First, the text is absolutely and utterly meaningless. It is a meaningless jumble of a limited number of letters, and the stamp that made this pattern is used on multiple other codices, as Steve Caruso was so kind to point out:
It should also be pointed out that the date palm iconography and the other patterns on several of these plates are absolutely identical to the iconography of the copper codices that were shown conclusively to be modern forgeries by Peter Thonemann (see here and here, and here for good measure). They all came from the same forger. Additionally, ever since Thonemann’s analysis has been widely regarded as perfectly accurate, Elkington has claimed he was suspicious of the copper codices to begin with (initially he accused Thonemann of being the wrong kind of expert). You wouldn’t know that from reading his email or his initial responses to Thonemann, though, and he continues to attempt to pawn off their brothers and sisters as genuine. Two conclusions are possible. First, these are all fake and Elkington knew it. Second, these are all fake and Elkington did not know it, but does now. Whichever conclusion you draw, Elkington very obviously knows he is dealing with fake codices, and his “experts” are very obviously not real. There is not an epigraphist or Hebraist alive that would insist these are genuine.
Next, the script is neither paleo-Hebrew nor the square script. Now, some of the letters do appear closely related to the script from the Bar Kokhba coins. For instance, the shin, mem, aleph, and lamed on the following coin appears similar to those of the codices:
There are problems with this, though. The text on the codices is still distinct enough that the scrips cannot be linked. The closest match is the shin, but that’s a simple enough shape to not provide much evidence. The mem is similar, but the superior strokes are much larger on the codices than on the coins. The biggest difference between the letters that do seem similar is found in the aleph and lamed, which are reversed on the codices, a bizarre idiosyncrasy of the codices script (see here). Additionally, the inferior strokes on both letters have exaggerated curvatures that are not characteristic of paleo-Hebrew. One of the main reasons the scripts cannot be identified, however, is the complete absence of several of the Bar Kokhba letters from the codices. The script of the codices is limited to about a dozen characters (far too few for a coherent text). The vav is common on these coins, but it appears nowhere on the codices. The he and the het are also common, but they only appear once on the codices, and that’s in a sequence of letters clearly ripped out of context from another text:
Those are the only real legitimate “Hasmonean paleo-Hebrew” letters in all of the codices, and they’re clearly ripped from another text. They do not at all fit into the context of the code on which they appear. To continue, a completely different style of vav is found on the codices, although in the one reading that Elkington offered from the codices, he identifies the vav as a kaph, which it’s very clearly not (see my discussion here).
These analyses are quite conclusive, and do not require physical access to the codices. If Elkington intends to insist the codices discussed above are really fake ones, then we haven’t seen any of the genuine ones, and he needs to give the public some kind of indication that he has anything at all that is actually genuine. To briefly conclude this section of my response: there is not a single codex that has been revealed publicly that shows indications of anything other than modern forgery. If Elkington has authentic codices, he’s never shown them anywhere.
Regarding Elkington’s claim that his professor has been very firm and is so erudite he can read these texts like a newspaper, one need only point out that he is leaning on the authority of anonymous figures he has repeatedly refused to identify for reasons that have nothing to do with standard academic decorum. That can hardly serve as a legitimate response, and it would be no different if I simply said that I am in touch with an authority who knows far more than any of Elkington’s authorities, and she has confirmed that there is not a single word of actual Hebrew anywhere on any of the codices. You don’t need a leading authority to acknowledge the absence of anything even remotely resembling an actual text, here. That is just a fallacious appeal to authority meant to convince a lay audience that those who are criticizing the codices just aren’t informed enough.
Next Elkington states, “As has already been mentioned, paleo-Hebrew came out of the Sinaitic languages, both proto and western.” This is false, though. There are not two scripts, much less languages, in the background here. Also, Elkington has never before mentioned proto-Sinaitic. He only claimed that “Western Sinaitic” was a “proto-language”:
The most egregious error here is his confusion of the proto-Sinaitic script with an actual language. I stated in a recent comment to an interested party that every time Elkington claims to pass on conclusions from his experts, they turn out to be completely riddled with amateurish logical and factual errors. This is one of them. We’re talking about scripts, not about languages. A commenter from Israel stated the same earlier today. No expert, and certainly not the world’s leading experts, would confuse the two. We’re dealing with scripts, which are comparatively basic. This is one of the more ridiculous aspects of his claim that paleo-Hebrew is only understood by four or five people. It’s simply a matter of memorizing less than 30 graphemes. Any idiot can learn the paleo-Hebrew script, and only a decent grasp of Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic is needed to work through a text putatively written in the first century CE in paleo-Hebrew. Next, Elkington obviously retreated to Google to try to figure out what to say, which is why he came back with the suddenly accurate notion of a proto-Sinaitic script (although he called it a language). He previously only referenced “Western Sinaitic,” which he called a “proto-language.” The story changes with every opportunity Elkington has to check up on his comments on the internet.
Next Elkington confuses Old Hebrew with paleo-Hebrew in his attempt to speak down to me about my assessment. He states, “a reference is being made to the language that emerged from Sinai in the second millennium BC however, it is contemporary in form to the languages used in Jesus’ day.” No, it’s not. The paleo-Hebrew of the turn of the era is vastly different from the Old Hebrew of the second millennium BCE. The former is an archaizing script. It is intended to look really old in a time period when a different script had become commonplace. It would be like me using “ʃ”today in place of “s,” only using a slightly different version of it.
Next, we find more condescension in his attempt to flippantly dismiss my claims:
the answers to these important questions will only be found in obscure academic journals, not on amateur blog sites, which might be good for initial research but not for the more specific and rarer elements needed for detailed answers to historical and linguistic enigmas. The caller claims not to know of Western Sinaitic, therefore we can recommend him to the Palestine Exploration Quarterly – an excellent journal on this very specific question.
Notice the warning to the lay audience: the answers are in obscure places to which you don’t have access, so you have to listen to me. Don’t listen to “amateur blog sites.” Note that the “amateur blog sites” that have commented critically are managed by a Harvard-trained scholar of Second Temple Judaism and Old Testament pseudepigrapha, a UCLA-trained archaeologist of Second Temple Judaism, an Oxford-trained professor of New Testament, a Durham-trained professor of New Testament, and many other professionals and students (including me).
Next, PEQ is hardly an obscure academic journal, but the journal in general does not deal unilaterally with “this very specific question” (“Western Sinaitic” as a language?). It deals with Syro-Palestinian archaeology in general. Such a broad reference is hardly helpful. It seems an evasive attempt to allay suspicion and nothing more. Additionally, I have direct access to the last ten years of the journal, and I find no occurrence of the phrase “Western Sinaitic” in any article. I also performed a search of the journal’s entire history on another database and found no occurrences of the phrase. Perhaps instead of speaking in broad generalities, Mr. Elkington can point me directly to an article wherein “Western Sinaitic” is discussed as a language. He says he will find me a reference “in due course,” but why the delay? Now, I would not be particularly surprised to see someone using the phrase “Western Sinaitic” 75 years ago (although I’ve been unable to locate such a usage), but it certainly never became a standard designation, which would only further corroborate, in my mind, that much of this information is being drawn from an uninformed perusal of the internet, and not from actual experts who are aware of the modern academic vernacular. Mr. Elkington is certainly welcome to prove me wrong.
Elkington concludes with some confusing statements about ideological pluriformity in first century Judaism, or something along those lines, and then insists I am confused and am going against the world’s leading experts. I don’t believe I am, but as I just said, Elkington is more than welcome to prove me wrong. He can name one or two of these experts. He can have them email me (my email address is on the About Me page). He can produce a discussion of the script that is not riddled with uninformed misunderstandings. He can do any of these things to prove me wrong. I think he will do none of them. He will only continue to try to drum up excitement prior to the publication of his book. This is offensive to me as an academic and a consumer, and because I know there are lots of people out there who feel very strongly about this and are having their emotions manipulated quite callously by Mr. Elkington, I will continue to point out the fraudulent nature of his claims. I suggest anyone else out there with the skills and resources does the same.
Somehow my blog completely erased my post. It’s 1:30 am and I’m not going to repeat it all. Long story short: Elkington was on Coast to Coast am for two hours tonight. I called in and was the last caller they took before the show ended. I challenged Elkington on his explanation of the Codices’ script (see here). He told me I would be disagreeing with the world’s leading experts and to go back to my textbooks. I got a little bit of a rebuttal out before they ran out of time. I’m sure the show will be up on the show’s archives and on YouTube within a few days.
ETA: As Joel has mentioned on his blog, David Elkington quickly updated his Facebook page with the following:
Following his Coast to Coast broadcast, David Elkington did not have the chance to finish addressing the final questioner due to time constraints. He would just like to clarify that the questioner was correct in one point: paleo-Hebrew was initially not a square script. In the 800 years before Christ, Hebrew was a language very much in development coming as it did from an obscure proto-language called Western Sinaitic. However, by the 1st century BC the Hasmonean form of paleo-Hebrew had indeed been made to fit in with the uniform requirements with the Hebrew of the day, thus it was reasonably square. David would like to send his best wishes to the questioner and his thanks for raising this important point.
In gathering some recent research related to my thesis and some book reviews I’m doing, I just came across a thesis that looks fascinating. It’s from UPenn and was defended this year. The author is Spencer L. Allen and the title is “The Splintered Divine: A Study of Ištar, Baal, and Yahweh Divine Names and Divine Multiplicity in the Ancient Near East.” Here is the abstract:
This dissertation examines ancient conceptions of Near Eastern deities whose names consistently included geographic epithets, which functioned like last names. In Neo-Assyrian (ca. 900-630 B.C.E.) texts, Ištar-of-Nineveh and Ištar-of-Arbela are often included as divine witnesses or enforcers of curses along with several other deities whose names lack any geographic epithets. Similarly, in second-millennium Ugaritic texts, Baal-of-Ugarit and Baal-of-Aleppo received separate offerings in cultic rituals along with several other deities whose names lack geographic epithets, and in first-millennium Aramaic, Phoenician, and Punic texts, Baal-of-Ṣapān, Baal-of-Šamêm, and several other Baal-named deities are contrasted with each other in the same way that they are contrasted with other deities. The exploration of these Ištar and Baal divine names as first names suggests that the scribes of the ancient Near East considered each Ištar and Baal who was explicitly associated with a unique geographic last name to be a unique deity. In fact, the geographic epithets that follow the divine names should be viewed as an essential part of these deities’ names. Neo-Assyrian scribes thought of Ištar-of-Nineveh as distinct from Ištar-of-Arbela just as they thought of her as distinct from any other deity whose name was not Ištar. Likewise Ugaritic, Aramaic, Phoenician, and Punic scribes thought of Baal-of-Ṣapān as distinct from Baal-of-Aleppo and any other Baal-named deity just as they thought of him as distinct from any other deity whose name was not Baal. These analyses are pertinent to biblical studies because inscriptions from the eastern Sinai (ca. 800 B.C.E.) invoke a Yahweh-of-Samaria and a Yahweh-of-Teman in blessings. Unlike, the Ištar and Baal divine names that are contrasted with each other in the same texts, however, these two Yahweh divine names do not appear together in the same texts and were not necessarily contrasted with each other. For this reason, it could not be determined whether or not Israelites who encountered the Yahweh-named deities recognized them as distinct and independent deities. They might have known the names Yahweh-of-Samaria and Yahweh-of-Teman, but there is nothing in the inscriptional or biblical evidence to suggest that they necessarily thought of these as different Yahwehs.
The question of the relationship of local manifestations of Yahweh to the Shema is definitely an important one to my thesis, but I’m also interested in the way ideas about the transference of divine agency played out in Mesopotamian and Syro-Palestinian thought. This thesis looks to address both issues at length.
One of the papers I attended at SBL was by Larry Perkins, a professor from the seminary associated with Trinity Western University, where I’m trying to finish up an MA in biblical studies. I took a course in Septuagint from Rob Hiebert through the seminary last year, and we had Dr. Perkins in the class at one point discussing his work with LXX Exodus, and specifically with the notion of anti-anthropomorphism in the translation. I told him about my master’s thesis on the topic and he asked for a copy of it. I figured at some point I would see some kind of publication on the topic that would in some way engage ideas I discussed in my thesis. His SBL paper directly engaged almost every significant point I made in my thesis, and argued directly against each one. Basically, I argue that the translator had no problem with the notion of seeing God, but the scribe responsible for his Vorlage did. The translator only took issue with the notion of God physically communing with humans. Perkins argues that the translator is responsible for all the anti-anthropomorphisms in the text. Here’s the abstract:
The Greek Translator of Exodus–Interpres and Expositor–His Treatment of Theophanies
Within Greek Exodus the accounts of numerous theophanies reflect a similar emphasis in the Hebrew narrative, but many scholars have noted the divergencies from the Masoretic text in the the Greek translation. Almost all agree that this feature represents the activity of the translator (whether his own distinctive theological reflections or those of some portion of the Alexandrian Jewish community is debated), rather than reflects his Vorlage, in distinction from the Masoretic text. However, a systematic review, an evaluation of these accounts (especially their possible inter-relationship), as well as other translational alterations, and a definition of the specific ways in which they may modify the Hebrew Vorlage remain a desideratum. The key texts include Exodus 3:1-14; 4:24-26; 19; 24:1-11; 33:7-23; 40:28-32, as well as various other interactions with Moses and especially the translation in 25:22(21); 29:42,43; 30:36. In this paper these texts are carefully reviewed with a view to discerning more specifically the variations in the Old Greek version that occur in these contexts and whether the reasons scholars propose to explain these variances have validity. Further, this investigation may enable us to draw some tentative conclusions about the translator’s creative ability to combine the roles of interpres (non-literary translator) and expositor (literary translator), to suit his purpose, and thus define his translational profile more adequately.
For comparison, here’s the abstract of my SBL paper from New Orleans, which was later revised for my thesis:
Anthropomorphisms and the Vorlage to 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 εκει 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 anti-anthropomorphic elements traditionally attributed to the exegesis of the translators.
I was most curious with the way that Perkins would approach LXX Exod 24:10 and the very un-Greek use of the resumptive adverb. Here’s the construction in the Greek:
Exod 24:10: ויראו את אלהי ישראל, “And they saw the God of Israel”
LXX Exod 24:10: καὶ εἶδον τὸν τόπον οὗ εἱστήκει ἐκεῖ ὁ θεὸς τοῦ Ισραηλ, “And they saw the place where stood there the God of Israel”
The bold portion is a thoroughly Hebraic construction that simply does not appear in compositional Greek. It only ever appears in literal translations from the Hebrew. In my thesis I highlight multiple scholars who directly address this very construction as evidence of translation directly from the Hebrew. It can be literally and easily retroverted to read in the Hebrew: המקום אשר עמד שם.
I was interested to see how Perkins dealt with this verse, but I have to admit I was a little disappointed in the argument. He basically states that since ἐκεῖ is so similar to the end of εἱστήκει, it is likely a dittograph arising from homoioteleuton. He says this is supported by the fact that later manuscripts don’t have the resumptive adverb and that v. 11 also has the notion of the “place” where God stood. I did not object to this particular argument in the question and answer session, but I found it rather weak.
First, you would need rather good evidence to insist on dittography where the resultant text is a perfectly accurate and common rendering of a common Hebrew construction. Next, numerous scholars have pointed out in the past that later scribes found the Hebraism too awkward, and removed the resumptive adverb, leaving a more comfortable syntax. Lastly, the fact that the next verse also mentions a “place” is no more indicative of translator exegesis as it is of a deviating Vorlage. The use of the resumptive adverb does not at all conflict with the notion that both verses represent literal translations of a divergent Vorlage. The scribe making the change would be just as capable of harmonizing the next verse with the change as would the translator. The last point is a wash, as is the second point. Neither position overpowers the other. On the first point, however, the conclusion that a deviating Vorlage underlies the Hebraism is far more likely a conclusion than the assumption of dittography (which itself does not account for the η > ε shift). I must disagree with Perkins’ handling of this verse, and I think it critically undermines the thesis of his paper.
Another small point I would make about his paper comes from the handout, which I have but won’t share because I don’t know if I have permission. Exod 33:20 states in the Hebrew, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live” (NRSV). The Septuagint renders, “you shall not be able to see my face, for a person shall never see my face and live” (Perkins’ NETS translation). I consider this small difference to be significant. The Septuagint translator is clarifying that it is specifically God’s face which humanity cannot see and live. I believe the translator added the clarification because three verses later you have the statement, “you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” Perkins understands the translator to entirely reject the notion that God is at all visible. In his NETS translation he rendered for LXX Exod 33:23, “you shall see my hind parts, but my face will not appear to you.” On his handout, however, he changes that to read, “you shall see the things behind me, but my face will not appear to you.” He explains in a footnote that it “more accurately reflects the meaning of the Greek text.”
The Greek is as follows: τὰ ὀπίσω μου. His reading could be supported by Josh 8:2, which renders a Hebrew phrase meaning “behind it”; but it is challenged by 2 Sam 2:23, which uses the word ὀπίσω twice to refer to the back of a spear which protrudes out of Asahel’s back. This may seem like another wash, but with Josh 8:2 the construction is slightly different. It reads, εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω. There is no possessive genitive (“back/backards of X”), which appears in each appearance of the word in LXX Exod 33:23 and 2 Sam 2:23. I think this throws the preponderance of evidence behind concluding the translator did in fact suggest Moses saw God’s back. This supports my conclusion that he added “my face” in v. 20 in order to clarify that only his face could not be seen without endangering the human involved. I cannot agree that Perkins’ revision of this verse is a better rendering of the Greek. It seems to me to just help his thesis.
(I just discovered this discussion via the 69er edition of the Biblical Studies Carnival, and I think it merits repetition.) If you’ve ever looked closely at the syntax trees in Accordance, you’ll notice that Gen 1:1—3 is analyzed in an interesting way. The first two verses and a portion of the third are marked as a single sentence, with the first verse functioning as an adjunct (specifically a temporal modifier) to the main verb, which is ויאמר at the beginning of v. 3. Verse 2 is a parenthetical statement. This would render the translation something along the lines of the following:
In the beginning of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth (and the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the divine spirit was hovering over the surface of the waters), God said, . . .