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.
The Society of Biblical Literature is circulating an email announcing new “course packs” offered through University Readers. Basically, the packs collect a series of representative readings from publications within a specific field and allows the student to read them at a discounted rate (an article in an edited volume appears to average about $4). It appears to be aimed at instructors trying to put together curricula. Check it out.
The Society of Biblical Literature has just launched a new Texts and Resources page for members that provides access to PDFs and online versions of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS), the UBS Greek New Testament (UBS4), the Rahlf’s edition of the Septuagint, and the Biblia Sacra luxta Vulgatam. Here is the page’s description:
The decades-long commitment of the German Bible Society has produced the staples that have nourished generations of biblical scholars and translators. The booklet Textual Research on the Bible highlights this work. Through a partnership with the German Bible Society, the reading texts (upper texts, without critical apparatus) of four editions are available to SBL members in several formats for download and personal use.
The PDFs of the full documents are quite large, but you can download one book at a time, or use the online version to copy and paste text into other applications. Here’s a screenshot of the page for the BHS:
I just submitted two proposals for the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. Here they are:
מלאך יהוה: The Textual Origins of God’s Divine Agent
Two theories are current regarding the earliest appearances of the mâlaḵ YHWH, in which his identity is not clearly distinguished from that of God. The more prominent theory is that the messenger is an aspect of God, a hypostasis, or some other extension of his identity. Alternatively, some scholars view the word mâlaḵ as a textual interpolation meant to obscure theologically problematic passages. There are later appearances of the mâlaḵ YHWH that are demonstrably original to their literary context, however, and even if the interpolation theory is correct, these appearances reflect the theological accommodation of the messenger as in some way identifiable with the God of Israel.
The present study will examine text-critical considerations that demonstrate the priority of the interpolation theory. It will then go on to examine the later biblical conceptualization of the relationship of the messenger to YHWH, emphasizing the concept of divine agency over and against that of divine identity. Textual, linguistic, and literary evidence will contribute to the conclusion that the messenger of YHWH was a secondary divine agent authorized to represent God and speak on his behalf in virtue of the indwelling of his name. The implications of this notion of communicable divine agency extend into Greco-Roman period Judaism and early Christianity.
YHWH and El: The Conceptual Blending of Their Divine Profiles
The point of departure for this paper is the theory that the patriarchal and exodus traditions represent originally independent traditions of Israel’s ethnogenesis. The most explicit—and perhaps original—attempt to link the two traditions and their concepts of God (Exod 6:3) acknowledges distinct divine names associated with the two traditions, namely YHWH and El Shaddai. Quite different theological profiles emerge from the disentangling of the traditions most closely connected with those names, but by the time of the composition of Exod 6:3, those profiles were fusing. Within the resulting composite view of Israel’s God, certain concepts associated with the earlier profiles were emphasized while others were marginalized. New concepts also developed out of the process and the socio-religious exigencies of the authors and editors. The complex and tensile conceptualization of YHWH found in the Hebrew Bible’s final form represents several centuries of conceptual blending and innovation against the backdrop of Israel’s scriptural heritage.
Scholars of early Israelite religion have dedicated a great deal of attention to the socio-religious impetuses for and results of the conflation of YHWH and El, but there is little that examines the cognitive processes that may have attended and influenced that conflation. This study seeks to fill that need. It will first isolate and schematize each tradition’s conceptualizations of its central deity, paying close attention to the centrality of the imagery to that deity’s representation. It will then evaluate the conceptual blending of the two schemas, highlighting the analogous and complementary concepts that facilitated that blending, as well as the conditions that contributed to the development of new divine conceptualizations. The fundamental goal is insight into why God was represented in the texts the way he was.