Monday, April 19, 2021

Etti Ankri (אתי אנקרי) sings the Psalms

Etti Ankri.jpg
CC BY-SA 3.0Link

My latest favourite Israeli singer is Etti Ankri. She received a lot of airtime at the tail-end of this semester's Introductory Hebrew II course both while I prepared for classes, and in class as ambient noise during group work and in the moments before class began each day. (Even if my students don't catch the words it counts as exposure to Hebrew.) 

Wikipedia will tell you that Etti Ankri is an Israeli actress and pop singer who underwent a sort of religious conversion to observant Judaism beginning in the early 2000's, and her music followed suit. Unlike the other Israeli musicians I highlighted in an earlier post, you won't find much more about Ankri in English online, though this 2009 interview in Haaretz is well worth your time (if you can get past the pay-wall) for its reflections on Jewish spirituality, song-writing, and just plain wisdom.

It goes without saying that Ankri is a fine musician. But although I enjoy her music a lot, I am especially attracted to the high incidence of biblical language and ideas in her lyrics. Frequently, in fact, her songs come straight out of the Psalms. 

Here are the examples I've noticed so far, beginning with her 2004 album, מיליונים ("Millions"):

Psalm 59  

The song ואני אשיר ("And I will sing") puts the Hebrew text of Psalm 59:17 to music:

Psalm 67

The final song on the album offers a rendition of Psalm 67 (including the superscription):

The album version is here.

Psalm 23

Ankri's 2009 album, בשירי רבי יהודה הלוי, puts to music some of the religious poems of the great medieval poet, Judah Halevi, but the album ends with a version of Psalm 23 that opens with a prayer influenced by Psalm 22:2 ('My God, My God, do not forsake me in darkness'):
The album version is here.

I noticed lines from the Psalms in three of the songs in Ankri's 2012 album, הניגוּן שלך ('Your Melody'):

Psalm 119

In פלגי מים, the chorus is drawn from Psalm 119:136, with a few minor changes--the most significant of which is a shift from third to first person. Instead of "Rivers of water run down my eyes, because they keep not thy law" (to quote the KJV) (פַּלְגֵי־מַיִם יָרְדוּ עֵינָי עַל לֹא־שָׁמְרוּ תוֹרָתֶךָ), Ankri sings "Rivers of water run down my eyes, because kept not thy law" (פלגי מים רבים ירדו עיני על שלא שמרתי תורתך):

Psalm 131

The chorus of מחוץ לזמן echoes a line from Psalm 131:1, "my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high (לֹא־גָבַהּ לִבִּי וְלֹא־רָמוּ עֵינַי). In her rendition, Ankri sings "So that my heart will not be lifted up, my eyes not raised too high, you protect me from myself": 

 שלא יגבה ליבי
 ולא ירמו עיני
 אתה שומר אותי מפני 

 The tune is nice too:

Psalm 118:1

As usual, the final song on the album is from the Psalms, this time from Psalm 118:1:

Saturday, March 6, 2021

A Few of My Favourite Things: Hebrew Music

I have been listening to Israeli music for two decades now, starting with the first four-disc Avodah Ivrit collection--picked up in 2001 from a vendor in Tel Aviv's old bus terminal--and moving on to Ahinoam Nini, Shlomo Artzi, David Broza, Ofra Haza, and the fabulous Idan Raichel Project

Although I seldom sit down to try to make out the meaning of an entire song, bits and pieces of familiar words and phrases have helped me retain more Modern Hebrew than I otherwise would have.

I often play Israeli music in class, normally as unintelligible ambient noise during small group discussions--though in Hebrew language classes it contributes more directly to an immersive environment and I actually hope my students will be distracted by what they hear. But my aims are not simply utilitarian: I enjoy listening to Israeli music, and I hope my students do too.  

Here are a few favourite artists and songs, arranged more-or-less in chronological order:

Ofra Haza, the "Israeli Madonna," recorded מישהו הולך תמיד איתי ("Someone always walks with me") in 1985: 

( has a transliteration and English translation.)

David Broza also made it big in the 1980's, but my favourite David Broza recording is his 1998 cover of אצלך כמו תמיד on Avodah Ivrit:

Shlomo Artzi has been performing since the 1970's too. Like David Broza, he is still at it. This duet is from Artzi's 2000 album, אהבתיהם:

Ahinoam Nini performs internationally as Noa, often in collaboration with Gil Dor. Here is a live recording of בואי כלה, a Leah Goldberg poem that Noa and Dor put to music and recorded in 1993 on their first studio album: 

Last but not least, Idan Raichel and the Idan Raichel Project have received the most airtime since I first discovered Idan Raichel's music ten or twelve years ago. Check out last year's socially-distanced Independence Day concert to see why: 

My latest favourite Israeli singer is Etti Ankri, but her biblically-inflected music deserves a post of its own.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

On Jesus' address to God as Father and Ancient Judaism

It is a commonplace in New Testament scholarship that Jesus' characteristic address to God as Father was distinctive if not unique in the first century.

According to Scot McKnight, "'Father' occurs only occasionally in the evidence that survives from Second Temple Judaism." Jesus, by contrast, "taught his disciples to pray, as a matter of routine address, 'Our Father'" (McKnight 1999: 54-55; emphasis added).

Richard Bauckham maintains that Jesus' "almost exclusive use of 'Father' to address God was certainly very unusual" and proposes that Jesus' innovation was to adopt "the word 'Father' as his own chosen substitute for the Divine Name." (Bauckham 2020: 53)

Wesley Hill's brief popular exposition of the Sermon on the Mount contrasts Jesus' frequent use of "Father" for God with Old Testament and, by implication, with "[o]ther Jewish texts that ... use 'father' for God":

"T]here remains throughout the Old Testament a certain reserve about the father metaphor for God. ... It is almost as if these rare instances of the God of Israel being called (or calling Himself) 'father' are placeholders, awaiting some unforeseen future revelation that will cause them to take on a new resonance." (Hill 2019: 11 and 106 note 11).

Dale Allison's 1999 attempt at an accessible commentary on the Sermon on the Mount is now rather dated by the get-the-latest-new-book standards of New Testament scholarship, but seems to me to adopt a better approach:

"No prayer in the Hebrew Bible opens with this address, although the idea that God is the father of faithful Israel, his children, is certainly well attested. ... The Mishnah, however, does use the phrase, 'Our Father in heaven' ... and extrabiblical Jewish prayers do have invocations with 'Father.' .... In the light of all the parallels, especially the Qumran texts, it is unwise to insist (as so many have when writing on the Lord's prayer) that Jesus use of 'Abba' was unique. ... At the same time, it remains true that early Christian sources speak of God as Father much more frequently than contemporary Jewish sources; and since Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15; and Gal. 4:6 transliterate the Aramaic 'abba' into Greek, there is a good chance that the address was thought special because characteristic of Jesus." (Allison 1999: 117)

To be sure, McKnight, Bauckham and Hill are careful enough scholars to avoid referring to Jesus' usage as "unique," but they continue to emphasize discontinuity between Jesus and his Jewish context. Allison explores the same evidence in more detail, and stresses continuity.

I suspect the difference between Allison, on the one hand, and McKnight, Bauckham and Hill, on the other, comes down to scholarly posture:

(1) Allison is more cautious when it comes to filling in historical gaps: As evidence for ancient Jewish references to God as father, Allison quotes from a story in the Bablylonian Talmud about Hanan, the grandson of Honi the Circle Drawer:

"When the world was in need of rain, the rabbis used to send school-children to him who seized the train of his cloak and said to him, Abba, Abba, give us rain! He said to God: Lord of the universe, render a service to those who cannot distinguish between the Abba who gives rain and the Abba who does not." (b.Taanit 23b in Allison 1999:117)

In this case, Allison's caution is warranted. We know far less about Honi the Circle Drawer and his grandson than we do about Jesus. When we crunch the numbers and compare Jesus' usage with that of other ancient Jews, we need to keep the fragmentary nature of our surviving evidence in mind.

(2) Allison actively resists the deeply-ingrained Christian impulse to set Jesus over against his Jewish environment--and for good reason after centuries of Christian denigration of Jews and Judaism. To paraphrase Amy-Jill Levine, we don't need a bad Judaism to have a good Jesus. The authority of Jesus' teaching does not rest on its being unique in all respects. As Allison observes, "A Jew wanting to have nothing to do with Jesus could still pray the Our Father" (1999: 134).


Allison, Dale C. The Sermon on the Mount: Inspiring the Moral Imagination. New York: Crossroad, 1999.

Bauckham, Richard. Who Is God?: Key Moments of Biblical Revelation. Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020.

Hill, Wesley. The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying to Our Father. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019.

Levine, Amy-Jill. “Bearing False Witness: Common Errors Made about Early Judaism.” Pages 759–63 in The Jewish Annotated New Testament. Edited by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Levine, Amy-Jill. The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006.

McKnight, Scot. A New Vision for Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.

Friday, January 8, 2021

The Joy-Drenched Essence of All Things

Milton Steinberg's powerful novel about the rabbinic heretic, Elisha ben Abuyah, contains this remarkable description of the biblical--and rabbinic--worldview:
"Inevitably, contrasts suggested themselves between this [Greek] literature and that Scripture to which so many years of Elisha's life had been dedicated. It was a sternly earnest book, that of the Jews, and yet animated for all its dour austerity by a confident serenity which the Greeks seemed never to experience. For, given its presuppositions, all things were good by virtue of the God who pervaded them. There was for men no burning urgency in the quest for the fugitive experience. Love and laughter were but transient manifestations of the joy-drenched essence of all things." - Milton Steinberg, As a Driven Leaf (Behrman House, 1939), 354.
I first finished reading As a Driven Leaf ten years ago today, and blogged about it here, here, and here. (I see that I was struck by this passage the first time through as well.) 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

A 2020 Reading Retrospective

Zotero tells me I finished reading 28 books in 2020, down five from 2019, which goes to show that pandemics do not automatically increase scholarly productivity. (On the contrary ... But I digress.)

A few statistics: Of the 28 books, I count 13 novels, 6 popular-level non-fiction books, and 8 or 9 popular and more scholarly books that are more-or-less in my field; six I've read before, eight I read aloud, only one was an audiobook. Remarkably, four of the books were first published in 2020.

Bed-time Reading, in sequence:

Lewis, C. S. The Screwtape Letters with Screwtape Proposes and Toast. New York: Collier Books, 1982. (First read in high school or college)

Williams, Charles. The Place of the Lion. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1933. 

A 1985 Christmas gift from my mother who, for some strange reason, thought her twelve-year-old son might enjoy a novel about Abelard and a Platonic apocalypse. As the blurb puts it, "Reading Charles Williams is an unforgettable experience." A decade later I discovered the copy I had left behind in Africa in a Mombasa guest house, and returned with it to Canada. Thirty-five years later, I read it to my own twelve-year-old daughter.

Speare, Elizabeth George. The Bronze Bow. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961. 

One of a few books I read as a teenager that helped spark an interest in the land of Israel and ancient Judaism. This one, set around the Sea of Galilee, I read several times as a child, and enjoyed re-reading partly because it has some literary merit, partly because of what it says about popular Christian views of first-century Judaism ca. 1961.

Hunter, J. H. The Mystery of Mar Saba. Toronto: Evangelical Publishers, 1940. 

Another book set in Israel that I first encountered in high school. More funny to read now than the author intended [see this review], this evangelistic 'thriller' can claim no literary merit. Its chief value is as a literary artifact for anyone interested in the beliefs of Presbyterian dispensationalists during World War II, the admixture of Christianity and nationalism in the early twentieth century, ex eventu prophecy, or life in British Mandate Palestine. Much of the book reads like a 1930's-era travelogue of Galilee and Jerusalem--no doubt based on Hunter's first-hand experience.

Family Reading (aloud)

Bauckham, Richard. Who Is God?: Key Moments of Biblical Revelation. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020. 

By turns theologically rich and eccentric; sadly not suited for reading aloud to a lay audience.

Jacobs, Alan. How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds. New York: Currency, 2017.

Jacobs, Alan. The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography. Lives of Great Religious Books. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013. 

A moratorium was declared on Alan Jacobs after the second book. If I want to read Breaking Bread with the Dead, I'm on my own.

Warren, Tish Harrison. Liturgy Of The Ordinary. Downers Grove: IVP, 2016.

Too far removed from the 17th century

The Rest

Bryan, Christopher. Listening to the Bible: The Art of Faithful Biblical Interpretation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Collins, John J. The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2013. 

Purchased for the appendix on "Personalities in the Discovery and Subsequent Controversies," but the whole thing is worth reading.

Crowe, Brandon D. The Hope of Israel: The Resurrection of Christ in the Acts of the Apostles. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020.

Garner, Alan. Elidor. London: Collins, 1965.

Glinert, Lewis. The Story of Hebrew. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017. (Fascinating)

Hays, Richard B. First Corinthians. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox, 1997. (A course textbook; re-read for the 2nd or 3rd time.)

Jipp, Joshua W. Reading Acts. Cascade Companions. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018. 

A textbook for a second-semester Acts course--stimulating and up-to-date

Laird, Martin. Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation. Oxford University Press, 2006.

Lambdin, Thomas O., and John Huehnergard. Introduction to the Aramaic of Targum Onqelos, 2020.

Martínez Sotodosos, César, and Mercedes Ovejas Arango. Mythologica. Guadix, Granada: Cultura Clásica, 2016.

McCall Smith, Alexander. Portuguese Irregular Verbs. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2004. (Reread)

Murray, Douglas. The Madness of Crowds: Gender Race and Identity. London: Bloomsbury, 2020. (Audiobook)

Potok, Chaim. The Promise. Alfred A. Knopf. New York, 1969. (Excellent)

Tartt, Donna. The Secret History. New York: Vintage, 2004. 

Someone commented that this novel got them interested in classics. I had no idea how long it was when I bought the e-book. I would have preferred more Greek and less murder.

Turner, Megan Whalen. The Thief. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1996.

———. The Queen of Attolia. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2000.

———. The King of Attolia. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2006.

———. A Conspiracy of Kings. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2010.

———. Thick as Thieves. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2017.

———. Return of the Thief. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2020.

Best of: Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series was my 2020 comfort reading. Intelligent young-adult novels set in a world that seems vaguely Byzantine, with real gods.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

On Learning Biblical Hebrew as a Living Language

After a week to catch our breath, term two of Briercrest College's modified fall semester begins tomorrow. For me and my students this means a full semester of Introductory Hebrew compressed into 6.5 weeks. Because I want to reserve class time for Hebrew learning, I made a short video to explain in advance why we are going to study a “dead” language like Hebrew as one would a living language:

I am reproducing the first part of what I say in the video, for those like me, who prefer reading to watching:

This course takes a “Living Language” approach to learning Biblical Hebrew. Among other things, this means the course will be conducted, as far as possible, in Biblical Hebrew. You are going to spend a lot of time in this class listening to Biblical Hebrew. You will be learning to speak Biblical Hebrew as well as to read and write Biblical Hebrew.

This is different from how Biblical Hebrew has traditionally been taught in North America. In a traditional language classroom you would spend most of your time in class listening to your teacher talk about Hebrew in English. Homework would consist of painfully trying to memorize English glosses for Hebrew words, and translating Hebrew sentences into English.

Now, the goal of any Introductory Biblical Hebrew course is to help students learn to read and understand an ancient text. The traditional approach takes for granted that the easiest, quickest way to learn to read Hebrew is to focus on grammar and translation. There are no native Biblical Hebrew speakers. You don't need to know how to buy food in the market or how to hire a taxi in Biblical Hebrew. Why bother making the extra effort to speak Hebrew? Why emphasize hearing when all you really need to do is read letters on a page? 

But if your goal is to internalize the language so that you can read with understanding, and if you want long-term retention—not just passing a test, but being able to continue to read 10 years down the road—the traditional approach turns out to be neither efficient nor particularly effective.

For one thing, I can say from experience that memorizing lists of vocabulary words is very time consuming ... and doesn't work very well. More importantly, the preoccupation with translation—as if Hebrew must be turned into English to be understood—actually gets in the way of internalizing the language.

For more detail, as well as a few comments about what motivates me to teach Hebrew, you will need to watch the video itself. It's only five minutes long. 

I have never taught Biblical Hebrew using a fully communicative approach before, and the pressure to prepare for daily classes will be intense. But I am grateful to be able to ply my trade in a context where face-to-face teaching is still an option, even if it means I need to learn how to say ‘put on your masks’* in Biblical Hebrew.

*I've settled on עֲטוּ עַל־פְּנֵיכֶם, which uses Leviticus 13:45 as a model. My thanks to Aaron Eby for the suggestion.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Purity and Impurity in Second Temple Judaism

Few Christians today linger over the ritual purity laws in the Pentateuch. This lack of familiarity with the Torah, and with how the Torah was understood in ancient Judaism, is often combined with a profound failure of historical imagination. The predictable result: major misreadings of the New Testament.

In this 28-minute video, prepared for students in my introduction to early Judaism course, I explain how Jewish systems of purity really worked 😏: 

There are still plenty of mistakes in delivery, production and, no doubt, in content, but this one turned out better than most of the videos I've produced so far. (It also takes the prize for most time-consuming to prepare.) I justify its length by telling my students to watch it at 2x speed.

I should note that I make no claim to originality here. The model I present is essentially that of Jonathan Klawans with a side of E.P. Sanders.  

Comments, corrections and recommendations for further reading are welcome.

A Working Bibliography

Hayes, Christine E. Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities: Intermarriage and Conversion from the Bible to the Talmud. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Kazen, Thomas. Jesus and Purity Halakhah: Was Jesus Indifferent to Impurity? 2d ed. CB 38. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2010.
Klawans, Jonathan. Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
________. “Notions of Gentile Impurity in Ancient Judaism.” AJS Review 20.2 (1995): 285–312.
Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew Volume 4: Law and Love. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.
Poirier, John C. “Purity beyond the Temple in the Second Temple Era.” Journal of Biblical Literature 122 (2003): 247-265.
Rogan, Wil. “Purity in Early Judaism: Current Issues and Questions:” Currents in Biblical Research 16.3 (2018): 309-339.
Sanders, E. P. Judaism: Practice and Belief: 63 BCE - 66 CE. London: SCM Press, 1998.
Thiessen, Matthew. Jesus and the Forces of Death. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020.
Wassen, Cecilia. “The Jewishness of Jesus and Ritual Purity.” Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis 27 (2016): 11–36.

In addition to Klawans and Sanders, I found the chapter on Purity in John Meier's 4th volume as well as the recent essays by Wil Rogan and Cecilia Wassen especially helpful. It will be obvious that I am not finally persuaded by Thomas Kazen or John Poirier.