Tag Archives: Charles Halton

The Miqra’ Group

(HT Charles Halton) The Miqra Group is a new blogging group that aims to read the entire Hebrew Bible (in Hebrew and Aramaic) in two years. It comes out to 15 pages a week with BHS and 16 if you use the Reader’s Hebrew Bible. Their reading schedule is here. I think it sounds like a great idea.

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NIV 2011

Charles Halton over at Awilum notes today that the new NIV 2011 that everyone is talking about does not implement a single suggestion from an open letter he wrote almost a year ago. No doubt Charles’ letter was not the only input they received concerning some of their more problematic renderings. His first concern is in the area of erroneously tendentious translation choices, and he highlights the conjuring up of a pluperfect where there is none in Gen 2:19. I would point to a few more choices that have not been remedied in this new translation.

Jer 7:22 is rendered as follows in NIV: “For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices.” The addition of “just” here (not in the Hebrew) harmonizes what the text actually says with a more canonical perspective (see Exod 20:24, for instance). This harmonization occurs frequently with disparate ages and numbers between Kings and Chronicles, too. 2 Chr 22:2, for instance, harmonizes with 2 Kgs 8:26 regarding Ahaziah’s age. All the Hebrew manuscripts have Ahaziah at 42 years old at his accession (taking over from his father who just died at age 40), but the NIV reads 22 years, noting that some Septuagint manuscripts and Syriac read “22” (also compare 2 Kgs 24:8 // 2 Chr 36:9). Certainly the concern is not for the original form of the text here, but for a univocal form of the text in spite of the original form.

Elsewhere the translation is manipulative in the interest of orthodoxy. For instance, the NIV follows MT at Deut 32:43, rendering: “Rejoice, you nations, with his people.” It has the following variant in a footnote:

Dead Sea Scrolls (see also Septuagint) people, /and let all the angels worship him,/

This isn’t what the scrolls or the Septuagint say, though. Deut 32:43 is attested in 4QDeutq, which reads, “Let all the gods worship him.” It absolutely does not say angels. The Septuagint actually alters and doubles the cola, reading, “Delight, O heavens, with him, and let the sons of God worship him; delight, O nations, with his people, and let all the angels of God prevail for him.” The footnote insists the reading is from the scrolls, and that the Septuagint should be conferred for a similar reading, but the footnote takes a portion of the additional variant from the Septuagint and reads it into the scrolls variant and insist that govern both variants.

Can these issues be addressed by a committee which explicitly states that it is committed to the inerrancy of scripture?

PS – Brian LePort has a roundup of NIV 2011 posts here.


Charles Halton’s ANES Article

Last post of the day. I promise.

Charles Halton has been kind enough to make available a pre-pub version of his article “Allusions to the Stream of Tradition in Neo-Assyrian Oracles” (Ancient Near Eastern Studies 46 [2009]: 50–61). In it he applies literary-critical analysis to several Neo-Assyrian prophetic oracles which make allusion to a specific set of standard texts, namely Adapa and the South Wind, Atrahasis, and the Gilgamesh Epic. Dr. Halton ultimately seeks to raise appreciation for the literary abilities of the Neo-Assyrian prophets, but the article also bears on the literary criticism of the Bible. I hope no one minds if I comment briefly on this relationship.

As Halton states, “the prophets did not merely cut and paste sections of these works into their oracles.” David Carr makes a similar statement in Writing on the Tablet of the Heart (34): “The educational focus on copying and recital of texts did not necessarily mean that scribes reproduced traditions exactly as they found them.” Carr then goes on to mention the Gilgamesh Epic as one of the products of this scribal “revision, growth, and appropriation” (35):

Here scribes appear to have built the classic Akkadian epic through appropriation and transformation of Sumerian tales about Gilgamesh that were current in the earlier scribal tradition. It appears that such Old Babylonian scribes felt particularly free to create something new out of older traditions when they were making a switch from a Sumerian tradition to a new Akkadian presentation of the tradition.

By the Neo-Assyrian period, Gilgamesh was an established tradition, and most likely one of the standard educational texts for developing scribes (like those responsible for Halton’s oracular examples). According to Carr’s reconstruction of this pedagogy, the student reproduces these texts verbatim in an effort to develop proficiency with writing and the language, but also with memorization and internalization of the text. At a more advanced level this internal repository of literary tradition can be called upon to provide structure, nuance, and even literary authority to newer compositions.

Halton’s first example comes from Parpola’s prophecy 1.1. Ishtar comforts Essarhadon in this prophecy:

What wind (is there) which has risen against you, (and) whose wing I have not clipped?

This, according to Halton, is an allusion to Adapa and the South Wind:

Adapa broke the wing of the south wind.

The allusion serves to rhetorically associate Ishtar with the rage and power of Adapa, who broke the wing of the south wind in a vengeful fit of rage. The use of a verb less violent verb, according to Halton, subtly recognizes the continued presence of the enemy, but highlights Ishtar’s handicapping of their potency, rather than its total incapacitation.

In a similar way, biblical authors made allusion to popular Syro-Palestinian and Assyro-Babylonian literature. A developed scribal culture aware of cognate Semitic literature would have been responsible for the majority of the texts of today’s Hebrew Bible. For this reason we find intimations of links between the childhood of Moses and Sargon the Great; Joseph and the Egyptian Tale of the Two Brothers;  Psalm 29 and Baal’s “Seven Thunders and Lightnings”; Deuteronomy and Neo-Assyrian (or Hittite, if you’re nasty) vassal treaties; and even Isaiah 14 and the Greek Phaethon (see here). More rigorous evaluation of the intertextuality of cognate literature, such as the Neo-Assyrian oracles, may provide better contextualization for the further analysis of biblical allusion and intertextuality. In this way Halton’s article will no doubt contribute to that discussion.

As an example, I’d like to point to a mythic allusion in the Bible that has only fragmentary representation in extant Syro-Palestinian literature, but shows a manipulation calculated to convey very specific propaganda (similar to the Neo-Assyrian oracles of Halton’s article). In 1995 Simon B. Parker published one of the best evaluations of the mythical background of Psalm 82 that I’ve read (“The Beginning of the Reign of God – Psalm 82 as Myth and Liturgy,” Revue Biblique 102.4 [1995]: 532–59). Parker proposes two possible literary sources for the mythic imagery of Psalm 82’s divine council: Yassub’s indictment of Kirta (KTU 1.16.VI.39–54), and Absalom’s indictment of David (2 Sam 15). (I would also propose that Deut 32:8–9 provides another source for the backdrop of the chapter, if not the details.) He also discusses their rhetorical implications and argues for the chapter as myth which ends in liturgy, as the author (or reader) calls upon YHWH to rise and judge the earth. If you’re interested in Psalm 82 I highly recommend this article.

I’d like to discuss the intended message of Psalm 82 and its ideological shift from the earlier Deut 32:8–9. In Deuteronomy we find mention of the hegemony of the sons of El over the several nations of the earth (70 in number, most likely). The allusions seems to be related to the Ugaritic 70 sons of El, but the idea of stewardships over the nations is later (see Daniel Block, The Gods of the Nations for a useful, if tendentious, presentation of this ideology). If the text originally contained the phrase “Bull El,” as proposed by Joosten (here, and convincingly in my opinion), the allusion to the Ugaritic literature is more clear. The question of equating Elyon and YHWH is for another day, but we’re left with YHWH ruling Israel and other deities ruling the other nations, with no indication the author takes issue with this arrangement.

The story in Psalm 82 is different. Most likely we’ve moved into the exilic period when a more transcendent YHWH is being pushed in an effort to cope with the subjugation and deportation of Israel at the hands of a wicked nation. The author takes aim in this chapter at the ideology of Deut 32:8, accusing the gods of those nations of iniquity and negligence. YHWH is called upon take over their stewardships, thus appealing to a clearly prevalent type-scene (see here), and yet recasting it as Yahwistic propaganda, exalting Israel and her God over the nations which ruled temporaly over the Israelite peoples.

An interesting dynamic in this shift in ideology is the monotheistic rhetoric of Deut 32. Much like Deutero-Isaiah and Deuteronomy 4, Deut 32 calls the gods of the surrounding nations “no gods,” and “abominations,” and the nations “no nation.” Deut 32:8–9 seems an archaic motif for this rhetoric, and if Psalm 82 is later, it is even more out of place. To me this points to more drastic literary allusion, as the type-scene does not fit comfortably in the context. It seems the author may be alluding to these texts only to manipulate them and polemicize them, which is a dynamic that merits, in my opinion, further and serious investigation. I think Halton’s article makes a great contribution to our understanding of the Neo-Assyrian stream of tradition, but will also help us better understand the scribal context of numerous biblical texts. Thanks Dr. Halton!