Bible Translation and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In the next week or two, the newest volume of the Religious Educator will hit the stands. This journal is published by Brigham Young University’s Religious Studies Center, and it is intended for instructors of Seminary, Institute, Sunday School, and anyone else interested in religious education in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This particular volume has a contribution from me entitled, “‘As Far As It is Translated Correctly’: Bible Translation and the Church.” This review article interrogates the relationship the Church has long had with Bible translation and looks at Thomas Wayment’s recent translation of the New Testament (here). I’m hoping to start a conversation with this paper that will address the complications that our dogmatic commitment to the KJV imposes on our study and teaching of the Bible. Keep an eye out for it in the coming weeks.

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The Gods-Complaint

Very happy to see that my paper, “The Gods-Complaint: Psalm 82 as a Psalm of Complaint,” has now been published in the Journal of Biblical Literature. The abstract is below. I would love to hear what you think of the article.

“Psalm 82 has long resisted a consensus regarding its genre. While some scholars have noted that the psalm’s language overlaps with that of the complaint genre, several features of the psalm appear to complicate that reading. As a result, the framework of the divine council is frequently given interpretive priority, which has resulted in a variety of solutions to the psalm’s several interpretive difficulties and has also contributed to a general reluctance to consider the psalm within the literary context of the psalms of Asaph. I argue that the psalm’s interpretive difficulties are best resolved by understanding the psalm as a complaint, specifically a complaint put into the mouth of YHWH and addressed to the gods of the nations—a “gods-complaint.” This reading provides a new interpretive framework that may help resolve important questions related to the psalm’s compositional background, rhetorical function, and theological influence.”


Method Today: Redescribing Approaches to the Study of Religion

I’m excited to see that an Equinox volume to which I contributed a small essay is now available. The volume, Method Today: Redescribing Approaches to the Study of Religion, edited by Dr. Brad Stoddard, offers reflections by senior scholars on four different aspects of the study of religion, followed by responses from younger scholars. The table of contents is above. I responded to Dr. Naomi Goldenberg’s discussion of “description,” and I used cognitive linguistics to address concerns with attempts to define “religion,” as well as the notion that there’s something problematic about the category in light of its incommensurability with definition. You can get a 25% discount by using the code RELIGION at checkout. (Feel free to email me for more information on my essay.) 


New (and Improved) Biblical Archaeology Review

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Next week, the first issue of Biblical Archaeology Review published under the leadership of its new editor, Robert R. Cargill, hits the stands. I, for one, am excited to see what Bob brings to the magazine, especially in light of the fact that he’s already a professional scholar working in the field and on its cutting edge. I expect to see much more insightful, more diverse, and more scholarly analysis. He’s already announced that there will be no treatment of unprovenanced artifacts, apart from criticism or using them as object lessons about the many problems with their use and proliferation. I think these are important and welcome developments. Make sure to pick up a copy!


Cognitive Perspectives on Early Christology

A paper I presented last year at the University of Kent and the University of St Andrews has recently been published in Brill’s journal, Biblical Interpretation. It is entitled, “Cognitive Perspectives on Early Christology,” and here is the abstract:

Central to all christological models are concepts of agency, identity, and divinity, but few scholars have directly addressed these frameworks within their ancient West Asian contexts. Rather, the proclivity has been to retroject modern, Eurocentric, and binary frameworks onto the ancient texts, resulting in christological models that inevitably reflect modern orthodoxies and ontological categories. The future of christological research will depend on moving beyond this tendentiousness. In an effort to begin this process, this paper will apply findings from the cognitive sciences – which examine the way the human brain structures its perception of the world around it – to the reconstruction of ancient frameworks of agency, identity, and divinity. Applying these findings to early Jewish literature reveals the intuitive conceptualization of God’s agency, reified as the divine name, as a communicable vehicle of divine presence and authority. These observations support the conclusion that early Jewish conceptualizations of divine agency provided a conceptual template for the development of early christology.

If you have an opportunity to read the paper, I’d love to hear your thoughts.


SBL Paper Proposal Accepted

I am very pleased to have just been informed that my proposal for the Mind, Society, and Religion in the Biblical World unit of SBL’s 2017 annual meeting was accepted. My paper, which draws heavily from my dissertation, is entitled “Cognitive Perspectives on Divine Agency in the Hebrew Bible.” The abstract is below.

This paper will apply insights and methodologies from the cognitive science of religion to the study of the conceptualization of deity and divine agency in the Hebrew Bible, and particularly to the problem of the conflation of YHWH’s identity with that of the messenger of YHWH in a small number of early biblical narratives (e.g., Gen 16:7–13; Exod 3:2–6; Judg 6:11–23). The first part of the paper will argue that this conflation is a vestige of the early interpolation of the word mal’ak, “messenger,” in narratives where the deity’s interaction with humanity was considered theologically problematic. The second part of the paper focuses on the accommodation of that vestige within later biblical narratives and the cognitive mechanisms that facilitated it. More specifically, it will consider the influence of humanity’s cognitive predispositions to agency detection, teleology, and mind/body dualism on the development of mental as well as material representations of deity and divine agency in ancient Israel and Judah. Among other things, it will suggest the divine name, YHWH, functioned as a communicable vehicle for divine agency, the possession of which divinized the possessor and endowed them with the agency and authority of the God of Israel. The clearest expression of this ideology is found in Exod 23:20–21. The implications of this framework for the broader study of ancient Near Eastern instantiations of the material mediation of the divine will also be discussed.

I’ve presented related research on this topic before at SBL, but in the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible unit. Another proposal on the development of YHWH’s invisibility and incorporeality (see my previous blog post) was booted from the system because student members may only present one paper per meeting. While the accepted paper will help me refine some ideas central to my dissertation, I really would have enjoyed writing the other one, too.


SBL 2017 Paper Proposal

The calls for papers for most sections of SBL 2017 are up, and I recently submitted the first of two proposals. This paper will be related to my dissertation, but it’s also intended to help me flesh out some tangents I’d like to explore in other publications. I submitted the paper to the Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures section, which is focusing on theophany and the embodiment of God. My paper is titled “‘Now You See Me, Now You Don’t’: The Vanishing of YHWH,” and the abstract is below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

This paper will engage the problem of the development of YHWH’s invisibility on two fronts. First, it will examine passages from early biblical narratives wherein the identity of the God of Israel appears to have been conflated with that of the messenger of YHWH. It will argue that the word mal’ak was interpolated early in the history of those passages and was later accommodated to the biblical worldview through the conceptualization of YHWH’s name as a communicable vehicle for divine agency, with Exod 23:20–21 representing the clearest articulation of that conceptualization.

The second half of the paper will discuss the relationship of those interpolations to the development of YHWH’s invisibility. It will argue that the interpolation of the messenger was catalyzed by three interrelated factors: (1) the de facto aniconism of YHWH’s worship, (2) increasing concern for the dangers posed by looking upon YHWH’s glorious face, and (3) YHWH’s universalization. The first factor largely freed YHWH from semiotic anchoring in material media, rendering embodiment a much more open question. Factor 2 problematized the exceptions to the rule regarding seeing YHWH that were found in the interpolated passages. The third factor problematized YHWH’s physical interaction with humanity. These factors converged to incentivize authors and editors to obscure those interactions and restrict YHWH’s visibility to oblique visionary accounts of his form. The ongoing universalization of the God of Israel facilitated the further distancing of YHWH from human form and perception.