Wednesday, December 31, 2014

In Memoriam HFM

take your hands
your mother’s hands
and fold them in your dress
all the time i’ve known you’ve had them out
flashed about
and helping where you can
oh you give & give you give & give you give & give you give & give & it’s
time to rest
and now you need to breathe it in
i want you to receive
and go to sleep
i will watch over you
nothing will go wrong
i won’t sit until you’re strong
i’ve got lots to give
i’ve got all you’ve given to me
all you’ve given to me
breathe it in
and mama go to sleep.
- Hey Rosetta! "Trish's Song" (click here for the song on youtube)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Greek (and Hebrew) Psalms in a Year

I made it through Isaiah in Greek (and Hebrew) this year, thanks to the "Greek Isaiah in a Year" reading group. When I joined, the group was in its second year, and so there weren't very many of us who stuck it through to the end, but the list was discipline enough to keep me on track, and the experience was one of the highlights of 2014.

Russell Beatty has now started a spin-off "Greek Psalms in a Year" Facebook group, with a schedule (looks like 5-10 verses / day) that begins on January 1, 2015. For more information, check out the Facebook group or Abram K-J's blog (here and here).

It's a great opportunity to maintain and develop a biblical language*, and to spend time each day in the Psalms. Anyone care to join me?

* Don't be put off by the group name: As far as I am concerned, there is no need to read in Greek if you prefer Hebrew, Syriac or Latin (or some combination). Select your preferred ancient language, and follow along.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Shaye Cohen on the value of pre-modern Christian exegesis

"Jewish and, to some extent, Christian scholarship has long recognized the continuing value of much of medieval Jewish exegesis for an understanding of the Hebrew Bible, and I do not understand why contemporary scholarship on the New Testament (excluding, of course, textual criticism) ignores practically all works that predate the nineteenth century." - Shaye Cohen, "Was Timothy Jewish?" in Shaye J. D. Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999), 367 n. 9.

For the record, Cohen's answer to the question, "Was Timothy Jewish?" is no. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Randall Buth on a Living Approach to the Biblical Languages

When I joined what is now the Biblical Greek Forum in the late 1990's, Randall Buth was a lonely voice in the wilderness, calling for an approach to teaching the biblical languages that draws on best practices in second language acquisition. The effect, in my case, was to sow the seeds of dissatisfaction with the traditional grammar-translation method of learning Hebrew and Greek. Now, almost 20 years later, there is a (small and diverse) movement of people committed to recovering and developing a living approach to teaching and learning the biblical languages.

In a recent interview with Seumas Macdonald, Randall talks about why he moved to a living approach. Here are a few excerpts:
Both Greek and Hebrew were first introduced to me as “grammar translation” languages....Things changed when I went to Israel and learned to speak Hebrew fluently. In the process, I noticed that my reading of biblical Hebrew changed. ...Basically, Hebrew changed from being very fast, instantaneous crossword puzzles to a real language, to reading a language for content from within the language. I was young, early 20’s, and naively assumed that the field would gradually move in this direction over the coming decades. I could not imagine a program ignoring the benefits involved, nor had I ever met anyone who had gone through this process up to a fluent level that regretted the time spent or did not see it as qualitatively improving one’s reading and access to the text.
Reading theory linguists attribute these outcomes to automaticity where the morphological nuts and bolts of the language are backgrounded and dropped below conscious focus, which allows more of one’s working memory to focus on interpretation and content. In a word, spoken fluency remarkably improves one’s reading skills.
During the 1980's Randall spent time in Africa working with Bible translators (my claim to fame: I went to boarding school with the Buth children):
In Africa I was responsible for recommending training programs for occasional translation projects. One of the discoveries was finding out that there were no Christian institutions or seminaries to send students where optimal language learning methods were being taken seriously. African translators were multilingual and good language learners but intuitively they were often puzzled and frustrated by what would take place in “biblical language” classes. My sensitivity to the need of a radical, paradigmatic change in biblical studies was reinforced by watching Bible translators from Africa go off for two or more years of training in biblical language(s) and returning with skills far below what is possible, for example, in programs like Goethe Institute for German and German literature. 
As with Seumas's other interviews, the whole interview (here or here) is well worth your time.

I have written about my reasons for working toward a living language approach in previous posts (here, here, and here).

Monday, December 1, 2014

Birger Gerhardsson on Routinization of the Religious Life

"Routinization of the religious and ethical life comes to expression not only in thoughtlessness and weakness but also as a defense against God's true and living demands. Indeed, behind a fanatic zeal for God there may lie obduracy and hatred. An intense ethical program may be pursued at the same time as the heart is hardened and rebellious." (61)

"The opposite of the 'love' which is the ideal attitude in life (Deut. 6:5) egoism: withholding one's 'heart' from God and other people, regarding life as one's own possession, grabbing for oneself instead of giving to others." (139)

"Behind the façade and the routines, the center of the personality may very well remain unengaged, free to pursue its own interests. The heart is still closed to God; he is not permitted to rouse a living love or to inspire living deeds." (139-140)

Quotations from: Birger Gerhardsson. The Ethos of the Bible. Translated by Stephen Westerholm. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981. 

(It's an oldie, but a goodie: an exposition of the ethos of Matthew, Paul and the Johannine literature, with a focus on the role of the Shema in shaping early Christian ethics. Well worth reading if you can find a copy--and apparently still available, thanks to a Wipf&Stock reprinting.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Reading Law as Prophecy: Torah Ethics in Acts

A public service announcement for sojourners in Southern Saskatchewan:

This year's Briercrest College and Seminary Colloquium series kicks off on Friday, November 28th, just before the start of Briercrest's Christmas Festival. (Why not come for an academic paper, and stay for the music? ...Or vice versa.) 

I am up first this year. My paper is entitled "Reading Law as Prophecy: Torah Ethics in Acts." Here is the abstract:
The author of Acts distinguishes between Jewish Christians, who remain oriented to the law, and Gentile Christians, who are not subject to the law. Luke draws on the law’s demands as well as its predictions to present Torah-observant Jewish Christians as faithful Israel, and to demonstrate that salvation extends to Gentiles apart from the law without violating the law. Although Acts does not directly articulate a Torah ethic for Gentiles, Luke probably assumed that Torah should guide Gentiles ethically in the same way that he applied the predictions and demands of biblical prophecy by analogy to audiences not directly addressed by the prophets.
Please join us on Friday, November 28, in room 144 @ 12:30 PM if you can make it out. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

E.P. Sanders on Learning Hebrew as a Living Language

Excerpts on learning languages (mostly Hebrew) from E.P. Sanders's intellectual autobiography:
"I learned many things from going to church, but not that reading the Bible required Hebrew and Greek, nor that understanding it required German and French" (13).

"I studied German in Göttingen from June until October 1962 and then went to Oxford to see what David Daube could arrange. This resulted in my working on rabbinic Hebrew for two terms. Dissatisfied with my progress, I decided to study modern Hebrew to learn how to read unvocalized texts, and went to Jerusalem. There Yigael Yadin twisted the arm of Mordechai Kamrat, who accepted me as a private pupil, and I began to acquire a serious amount of Hebrew" (14).

"In the fall of 1968, my beloved friend and teacher, Mordechai Kamrat, took me in as a student again. Kamrat was one of the two most remarkable people I have ever known....Kamrat knew all languages.... [Footnote: As far as I discovered, he knew Latin and Greek, as well as all of the Slavic, Germanic, Romance, and Semitic languages that are spoken today.] And he could teach anyone anything. Like many Israelis, he was chronically short of money. I paid him a weekly sum that seemed reasonable at the time; it was about the same as I later paid for my daughter's piano lessons. Dr. Kamrat had started studying the Talmud at the age of four in Poland. Befriended by a Catholic priest, he was given access to a library and began to acquire languages other than Yiddish, Aramaic, Hebrew, Polish, and Russian, and knowledge other than Talmudic. He ended up with a Ph.D. from the University of Krakow in pedagogical psychology, went to British-controlled Palestine (the only one in his family to escape the Holocaust), and figured out how to teach Hebrew to immigrants from anywhere. He taught me modern Hebrew and rabbinics in the same way: inductively, with drill." (18)

Source: Sanders, E. P. “Comparing Judaism and Christianity: An Academic Autobiography.” Pages 11–41 in Redefining First-Century Jewish and Christian Identities: Essays in Honor of Ed Parish Sanders. Edited by Fabian E. Udoh, Susannah Heschel, Mark A. Chancey, and Gregory Tatum. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Erwin Goodenough as a Precursor to "Common Judaism"

In the previous post I suggested that it was apparently Jacob Neusner not E.P. Sanders who first coined the term "common Judaism." Here I consider the influence of Erwin Goodenough on both Sanders and Neusner.

In the final volume of his massive Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period, Goodenough referred to a "common Jewish denominator" and "minimal Judaism":
"In discussing the Judaism of hellenistic Jews, therefore, we must assume that if they remained Jews they were loyal to some common Jewish denominator....
"This I may call minimal Judaism, if in that term I paraphrase my 'common denominator.' Jews are still Jews, as they have always been, insofar as they give their best to their fellow Jews, not as one would simply be loyal to one's relatives, but with the sense that the Jewish group is different from all other groups, and that its identity must at any cost be kept alive. For the Jewish People had their importance as bearers of the Covenant with Yahweh, as revealed in the Torah. The mass of Jews find the metaphysical and theistic confirmation of their group explicit in the ritual of synagogue and home, and in the Bible."
- Erwin R. Goodenough, “Chapter One: Literary Sources for Hellenistic Judaism” in Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period Volume Twelve: Summary and Conclusions (Bollingen Series; New York: Pantheon Books, 1965), 12.7-8
Sanders later wondered if this passage had sub-consciously influenced his references to "common Jewish piety", a "common Jewish theme" (239, 293), and "common to Judaism" in Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Fortress, 1977), 239, 293, 422:
"In rereading Erwin Goodenough's Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman the spring of 2004, I discovered that he had written that Jews were loyal to 'some common Jewish denominator'....These pages, which I had read in 1964 or 1965, contained no pencil marks indicating that I had regarded the terms or the proposal as important. I nevertheless wonder whether they lodged in my subconscious mind, to surface ten years later. I wish that I had rememebered these pages, since I would have been delighted to have Goodenough's support on both Philo and Judaism in general." - E.P. Sanders, “Common Judaism Explored” in Common Judaism: Explorations in Second-Temple Judaism (Wayne O. McCready and Adele Reinhartz, eds.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008), 228 n. 8. 
For his part, Neusner edited a volume of essays in Goodenough's memory and much later abbreviated Goodenough's massive project into a single volume. The preface to volume 12 in Goodenough's Jewish Symbols also contains this note: "A new obligations has arisen for the critical aid that a recent acquaintance, a brilliant young scholar, has given during the last two years, Jacob Neusner."

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Origins of "Common Judaism"

About 10 years ago, I tried to track down the origins of "Common Judaism," the expression that E.P. Sanders popularized in Judaism: Practice & Belief. Now, thanks to Google Books search, I believe I have found the answer.

When he first introduced the term, Sanders did not treat it as a new expression or even as a label:
Within Palestine, ‘normal’ or ‘common’ Judaism was what the priests and the people agreed on. . . . ‘Normal’ Judaism was, to a limited degree, also ‘normative’: it established a standard by which loyalty to Israel and to the God of Israel was measured. . . . Thus whatever we find to have been ‘normal’ was based on internal assent and was ‘normative’ only to the degree that it was backed up by common opinion – which has a good deal of coercive power, but which allows individuals who strongly dissent to break away.” - E.P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief: 63 BCE - 66 CE (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1992), 47
As he acknowledges on the following page, Sanders's definition of common Judaism is indebted to Morton Smith's earlier description of "normative Judaism": 
“Down to the fall of the Temple, the normative Judaism of Palestine is that compromise of which the three principal elements are the Pentateuch, the Temple and the ‘amme ha’arez, the ordinary Jews who were not members of any sect.” - Morton Smith, “Dead Sea sect in relation to ancient Judaism,” New Testament Studies 7 (1961): 356.
In that article, Smith refers to an earlier essay that he published in 1956, in which he states:
"If there was any such thing, then, as an 'orthodox Judaism,' it must have been that which is now almost unknown to us, the religion of the average 'people of the land.'" - Morton Smith, “Palestinian Judaism in the First Century” in Israel: Its Role in Civilization (Moshe Davis, ed.; New York: Israel Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary, 1956), 81.

Evidently the question about the core of "normative Judaism" was a live one, because William Farmer, in a book also published in 1956, says something along similar lines, but without the same emphasis on the common people:
“If there were such a thing as ‘normative Judaism’ in the first century A.D., we would have to define it in terms of this national resistance movement, which as we have seen placed so very great importance upon the Land, the Law, and the Temple. Certainly the popular theology of Jesus’ day had its roots in this nationalistic theology which reached back through the Maccabean period into the pre-exilic history of Israel” - W. R. Farmer, Maccabees, Zealots, and Josephus: An Inquiry into Jewish Nationalism in the Greco-Roman Period (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1956), 190. 

In his 2008 retrospective essay on "common Judaism," Sanders returns to Morton Smith's combination of "the Pentateuch, the Temple, and the ‘amme ha’arez":
"These words seemed totally convincing to me, for the good and simple reason that they corresponded to the evidence. And so I did what I could to reconstruct the Judaism of the common people, paying some attention, of course, to the famous parties but trying to focus on the Petnateuch, the temple, and the ordinary people. I could not use the words 'orthodox' or 'normative,' since both imply control, and I thought that there was relatively little control over what ordinary people did and thought (apart from their activities in the temple). The only term I could think of for Smith's Judaism was 'common Judaism.'" - E.P. Sanders, “Common Judaism Explored” in Common Judaism: Explorations in Second-Temple Judaism (Wayne O. McCready and Adele Reinhartz, eds.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008), 17.
Sanders was not the first to coin the term, however. If Google serves me right, the first occurrence of the term in an equivalent sense is by the early Jacob Neusner in 1974:
"Before the destruction, there was a common 'Judaism' in the Land of Israel, and it was by no means identical to what we now understand as rabbinic Judaism. The common religion of the country consisted of three main elements, first, the Hebrew Scriptures, second, the Temple, and third, the common and accepted practices of the ordinary folk--their calendar, their mode of living, their everyday practices and rites, based on these first two." - Jacob Neusner, "Introduction" in Understanding Rabbinic Judaism, from Talmudic to Modern Times (Jacob Neusner, ed.; KTAV, 1974), 12.
(The statement reappears in essentially the same form in another 1978 essay by Neusner; by 1984 the later Neusner had apparently rejected the idea. The idea of a "common Judaism" is mentioned by Neusner only to be dismissed in 1986.)

Two Observations:
  1. Neusner's formulation of "common Judaism" is clearly a close paraphrase of Morton Smith's 1961 statement about "normative Judaism," but with no acknowledgement anywhere of Smith as the source. (Smith was Neusner's teacher--if I am not mistaken, his Doktorvater.)
  2. Since Sanders wrote Judaism: Practice and Belief and introduced the concept of "common Judaism" in part to respond to the later Neusner's insistance that we should speak of "Judaisms" in the plural rather than "Judaism" in the singular, it is ironic that the term apparently originated with Neusner himself.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Free Access to Ioudaios Articles

Shameless self-promotion alert: SAGE is offering free access to its journals in Theology and Religion during the month of November, including Currents in Biblical Research. So if anyone has been itching to get their hands on my series of articles on Ioudaios (or anything else published in CBR, JSNT, JSOT, JSP, Int, SR, or ExpT, to name a few), now is your chance.

Click on this link to register for free access.

And here are links to my articles:

Miller, David M. “Ethnicity, Religion and the Meaning of Ioudaios in Ancient ‘Judaism.’” Currents in Biblical Research 12, no. 2 (2014): 216–65.

________. “Ethnicity Comes of Age: An Overview of Twentieth-Century Terms for Ioudaios.” Currents in Biblical Research 10, no. 2 (2012): 293–311.

________. “The Meaning of Ioudaios and Its Relationship to Other Group Labels in Ancient ‘Judaism.’” Currents in Biblical Research 9, no. 1 (2010): 98–126.

(You could also email me for a copy under the terms of "fair use.")

Friday, October 31, 2014

Luke's Conception of Prophets Considered in the Context of Second Temple Literature

Despite my supervisor's encouragement, I never submitted the Ph.D. thesis that I defended 10 years ago this month for publication as a monograph. While the topic of prophecy in early Christianity and early Judaism remains an ongoing research interest, and the dissertation has provided a starting point for several other journal articles,  essays, and conference presentations (click here for details), any book that eventually materializes will be very different from the dissertation I originally defended--not so much because I disagree with what I argued there, but because I have moved on in my thinking, and because a book should be more focused than the very broad scope of the original thesis. Since the thesis is freely available online, I thought I would link to it here for anyone with an interest in the topic: 
Miller, David M. “Luke’s Conception of Prophets Considered in the Context of Second Temple Literature.” Ph.D., Hamilton, ON: McMaster University, 2004.

Here is the abstract:
The fresh assessment of Luke's conception of prophets undertaken in this thesis is doubly warranted, both by recent scholarly debate about Second Temple Jewish beliefs concerning prophets and by ongoing discussion about Luke's terminology for prophets. The results of the thesis shed light not only on the role of prophets in Luke-Acts, but also on the author's familiarity with beliefs about prophets held by (other) Second Temple Jewish writers.

The results also challenge contemporary scholarship regarding Luke's Christology and his conception of salvation history. Luke does not distinguish prophets according to the period of salvation history to which they belong, nor does he suggest that prophecy had ceased. Instead, the prophets in Luke's infancy narrative join with the biblical prophets as they anticipate the time of fulfillment initiated by Jesus' birth. Luke was aware of expectations concerning the return of Elijah, but there is little evidence in Luke-Acts or in Second Temple literature for a belief in the "prophet like Moses" understood as an independent eschatological figure. Luke limits Jesus' prophetic role to his earthly life, subsuming it under the all-encompassing category of royal Messiah.

Luke attributes a fairly consistent but not unique range of characteristics to prophets. Though non-prophets sometimes "prophesy," the title "prophet" is reserved for individuals who served as prophets over an extended period of time. While the events of Pentecost led to an increase in prophetic activity among Jesus' followers, Luke does not portray all believers as prophets. That Luke does not identify members of the Twelve or the Seven as "prophets" points to a shift in focus: In Luke, Jesus is portrayed against the background of Scripture and first century Jewish life as one who functioned as a prophet and as the Messiah. In Acts, as exalted Messiah and Lord, Jesus becomes the primary background against which Luke's story of the church is told. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Charles Williams as a conversationalist

I would like to think this is what Paul meant when he said, "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt":
When I met Charles Williams I had read none of his books; our meetings were few and on business, yet I count them among my most unforgettable and precious experiences. I have met great and good men in whose presence one was conscious of one's own littleness; Charles Williams' effect on me and on others with whom I have spoken was quite different: in his company one felt twice as intelligent and infinitely nicer than, out of it, one knew oneself to be. It wasn't simply that he was a sympathetic listener--he talked a lot and he talked well--but, more than anyone else I have ever known, he gave himself completely to the company that he was in. So many conversations, even good ones, are really several monologues which only now and then and by accident relate to each other, for the talkers are more concerned with their own thoughts than with a living exchange of ideas, but any conversation with Charles Williams, no matter how trivial or impersonal the topic, was a genuine dialogue.

When, later, I began to read his books, I realized why this was so; the basic theme which runs through all of them is a doctrine of exchange and substitution, a way of life by which, it was clear, he himself lived.
W.H. Auden, "Introduction." Page v in Charles Williams, The Descent of the Dove: A History of the Holy Spirit in the Church (New York: Meridian, 1956).

Monday, October 20, 2014

Jordash Kiffiak on Teaching Greek as a Living Language

Autumn 2014
One of the highlights of this fall, in addition to the gorgeous weather, has been the chance to participate in a weekly Greek reading group led by Jordash Kiffiak. The group meets online for 2.5 hours to read and discuss passages from the Greek New Greek.

Jordash describes his experiences learning and teaching Greek in an interview published on Seamus MacDonald's excellent blog. A couple excerpts:
On learning Greek: "Following a second-year classical Greek course, I began memorizing chunks of text from the New Testament for academic and personal interests. This is when I first began to use ancient Greek ... in a way that approached or was living-language usage. Sometimes I would use phrases in the text I had memorised, manipulating them for new contexts. This procedure aided in both memorising text and internalising the language."
On learning outcomes for the reading group of which I am a part: After a 10-week course students can describe in their own words the situation and/or story relevant to the text we have read. For example, they would be able to tell about what happened upon Jesus' return to the Galilee (Luke 4) and what transpired in the synagogue in Nazareth. Or they would be able to describe why Paul is writing to the Philippians and what has taken place where Paul is. They will of course also be able to read the respective text, with comprehension, without recourse to aids. They will also be able to approach similar texts that they have not previously read and follow in large part what is being communicated without turning to dictionaries and the like. Students also will usually be able to describe aspects of their own life, employing concepts and language from the text being studied (again using Luke 4 as an example—where one was born, has grown up, whether one is well known and/or respected there etc.).

Needless to say, Jordash is an outstanding teacher. If you are at all curious about a living approach to teaching ancient languages, the whole interview is well worth your time.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Great teachers and reading

A recurring characteristic of the portraits of "great teachers" in the collection edited by Joseph Epstein is their depth and breadth of knowledge. Consider the following examples:
  • Edmond Wilson on Christian Gauss: "He was wonderful at comparative literature, for his reading had covered the whole of the West--ancient, medieval and modern--and his memory was truly Macaulayan (an adjective sometimes assigned too cheaply). He seemed to be able to summon almost everything he wanted in prose or verse, as if he were taking down the books from the shelf." (6)
  • Sidney Hook on Morris R. Cohen: "If he had read less he surely would have written more, but his reading gave him a stock of information, examples, and anecdotes that made it risky to generalize about anything in a discussion with him." (42)
  • Joseph Gerard Brennan on Harry Austryn Wolfson: "As a student in Wolfson's Aristotle seminar, I sometimes had to look him up in his Widener Library cell, stacked high with books, scrolls, and manuscripts in Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Arabic. In Wolfson's own apartment, every available space was packed with books, and sometimes he forgot whether he had stowed a needed volume in the oven or the refrigerator." (57)
  • Lewis S. Feuer on Arthur O. Lovejoy: "[T]here was a mark of the impossible about Lovejoy's historical method. He could preface some observation with the statement "after a lifetime of reading,' but the graduate student, having no such accumulation of memories and notes, felt as helpless as a destroyer ordered to maneuver against a battleship." (127). 
  • George P. Brockway on John William Miller: "In spite of his immersion in the history of philosophy, and although he was awesomely well read in all the humanities and the sciences as well, he was not a scholar in the ordinary sense ..." (159)
  • Jeremy Bernstein on Philipp Frank: "Philipp had almost total recall of everything he had ever learned--to say nothing of entire conversations, some of which had taken place fifty years earlier.... I later discovered that he had a fluent command of French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, and Czech. He also read Persian, Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, and could write in these languages as well." (220-221)
  • John Wain on C.S. Lewis: "During the years when he was growing up, Lewis accepted the study of the Greek and Latin authors as the essential business of his life, and the reading of English authors, of every epoch since the English language made its appearance, as his chief recreation. Nothing that happened to him in his life disturbed this view." (243)
Reading a lot is not the only characteristic of a great teacher, to be sure. You can be learned and a bore. But, in general, great teachers know their stuff.

These descriptions remind me of the comment about painting in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: "You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It's easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally. That's the way all the experts do it." (293)

Works cited:
Epstein, Joseph, ed. Masters: Portraits of Great Teachers. New York: Basic Books, 1981.
Pirsig, Robert M. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. New York: Bantam, 1974.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Joseph Epstein on Teaching

"Carried out conscientiously, conducted at a high level, conveyed with proper passion, teaching is an arduous task....[T]here is a sense in which teaching, like opera, is a performing art. Not only must the teacher get up his subject, but he must get it across. There is many a tried, but no true, method for doing this: Socratic teasing, sonorous lecturing, sympathetic discussion; passionate argument, witty exposition, dramatics and other sorts of derring-do; plain power of personal example, main force of intellect, and sometimes even bullying. But these are all matters of technique and vary from one teacher to the next. What all the great teachers appear to have in common is love of their subject, an obvious satisfaction in arousing this love in their students, and an ability to convince them that what they are being taught is deadly serious." - Joseph Epstein, "Introduction" in Joseph Epstein, ed., Masters: Portraits of Great Teachers (New York: Basic Books, 1981), xi-xii.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Zotero Notes

I recently found out two Zotero tips that will save me a lot of time:
  1. To correct capitalization when an entry is imported from, say, Worldcat or Amazon, right click on the title, select "Transform Text" and then "Title Case." HT: Mark Sample.
  2. To keep Zotero from automatically capitalizing German titles in footnotes and bibliographies as if they are English titles, enter "de" under "Language." (For French titles, enter "fr," etc.) HT: Zotero.
  3. Update: A bonus tip: To disable English spell-checking so that foreign-language words aren't highlighted, follow these steps.
To find out more about Zotero and why everyone should use it as their Bibliography manager, see Zotero's home page. My earlier blog posts on Zotero are here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

History 311: Medieval Europe

The Baptism of Clovis

History 311: Medieval Europe 

If you are looking to fill a history elective at Briercrest College this fall, may I recommend HIS311: Medieval Europe? Although I can't help but be a tiny bit biased, I have read the syllabus and talked a lot with the professor about things medieval over the past few months, and I think it will be a great course. You can view the syllabus online here.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Law and Faith in Luke-Acts: An Exercise in Stating the Obvious

Any time you study a particular topic you run the risk of skewing its significance. What is central to your thinking must be central to the author you are studying, right? In my study of Luke's understanding of the law of Moses, it has been helpful to step back far enough to notice that although law is important to the narrative argument of Acts, it pales in significance to faith. Consider the following evidence about Jewish Christ-believers and the law:

The early Jewish Jesus movement can be designated as "all those who believe" (Acts 2:44), the "multitude of those who believed" (4:32) or simply as "believers" (5:14). Jewish priests who respond become "obedient to the faith" (6:7), not the law.  Both Jews and Gentiles who join the community are commanded to believe (16:31; cf. 10:43; 19:4; 20:21). By contrast, no passage in Acts enjoins Torah observance on Jews.

Law and faith need not be opposed, as they are in Paul, but this should be clear enough: In Acts faith is a positive requirement for all Christ-believers, while references to the Torah-observance of Jewish Christians are primarily descriptive.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Reading Luke's Silences about Jewish-Christian law observance part 2

Some readers of Acts conclude from Luke's general silence about such things as Sabbath observance and the food laws that Jewish believers were no longer required to keep the laws that distinguished Jews from non-Jews. After all, Paul on trial in Jerusalem claims to believe the law and the prophets (24:14); he does not explicitly say that he observes every jot and tittle. For these readers, the Lukan Paul's silence about Sabbath observance is deafening. When Paul claims not to have violated the law (25:8), we understand him to add under his breath, " I interpret it."

Other readers conclude from hints early on in Acts (and in Luke's Gospel!) that Jewish "Christ-believers" are presented as Torah observant. For these readers, Luke's silence about explicit violations of the law confirms not only that Jewish-Christians do keep the law, but that they must. According to Acts, salvation is by faith, of course (Acts 15:11), but just as Gentile Christ-believers are required to keep the terms of the apostolic decree, so Jewish Christians are required to live under the terms of the Mosaic covenant.

When do we conclude a silence is significant? When do we assume Luke expected his readers to take for granted what he did not say?

Two (rather obvious) suggestions: (1) we can be more confident about the function of the law in the story Luke does tell. Silences are secondary. (2) Luke's comments and silences need to be controlled by our understanding of the narrative. A strong case for a particular reconstruction can be made if we can explain how it ties into another of Luke's themes or into the narrative argument of Acts--or both.

Even so, there remains a degree of guesswork, of gap-filling and ambiguity. And at times we must leave gaps unfilled, concluding that Luke simply does not speak to the question. For example:

  • References to the "apostolic decree" in Acts 16:4 and 21:25 indicate that Luke believed the prohibitions against blood and the meat of strangled animals apply to all Gentile Christians everywhere. What would Luke have said about a Gentile believer who continued to indulge in non-Kosher rare steak and the meat of strangled animals?
  • A variation on the same scenario: Imagine an apostate or non-observant Jew who becomes a follower of Jesus. Would Luke's church instruct him to keep the law as well as believe in Jesus?

Obviously, scenarios that Luke does not address can still be useful to think with. They have the potential to shed light on Luke's historical context and his reasons for writing.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Reading Luke's silences about Jewish-Christian law observance

Rover as "sober second thought"
In a previous post I suggested that our unexamined assumptions about the meaning of "salvation" make it more difficult for us to grasp what Luke says about the law. Here I want to consider another reason why the topic of the law in Luke-Acts is so complicated: Every attempt to comprehend what Luke says about the law must account for what he does not say as well as what he does say, and Luke's silences can be read in several different ways.

As I have tried to push for consistency, for an interpretation of Acts that makes sense of all the data, I have found myself offering readings of individual passages that, on sober second thought, seem unsustainable. After multiple attempts to walk away with a solution to the problem of Luke and the law, it dawned on me that  allowing two readings of Luke's silences to sit side-by-side without deciding finally between them is better than a tour de force that forces all the evidence to fit instead of admitting honestly where the difficulties are.

This does not mean that Luke is inconsistent, only that the sense he makes--or the sense that at this point I can make of him--lies somewhere else.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ulrich Wilckens on Doxological Theology and Repentant Exegesis

The following quotations are from Christoph Stenschke's excellent review of Ulrich Wilcken's 4 volume theology of the New Testament:

If the study of the theology of the New Testament as an academic-exegetical discipline takes seriously the reality of God as the viewpoint of New Testament texts, then the language of the theology of the New Testament needs to adopt doxological forms of language rather than speaking merely of early Christian statements about God or of doxological forms of prayer (3-4). 
Obviously, intensive experiences with the life of the church, with the ecumenical doctrinal dialogue between the Protestant and Catholic churches, and, last but not least, with the vibrant life of various Protestant communities and fellowships during the last decade have led to significant changes in perspective in my exegetical work.... The call of Jesus to 'repent' is also addressed to us as exegetes. With the present book I myself have answered to this call for repentance in a manner in which I could not yet have done so in the 1970s (9).
This post originally appeared on April 11, 2008. I deleted the original and reposted it here because it was attracting an inordinate amount of spam for some reason.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The law and salvation in Luke-Acts

In Luke's Gospel Jesus tells an expert in the law to do what the law says if he wants to inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25). But in Acts Peter declares, "through the grace of the Lord Jesus we believe to be saved" (Acts 15:11). Explaining the relationship between these two apparently conflicting statements about works and faith is only one of the puzzles that make grasping what Luke says about the law so challenging.
I have begun to wonder if part of the difficulty is our assumption that we know what salvation is. What if, for Luke, salvation is a new sectarian thing that qualifies law, not a result of the law itself? In other words, what if "salvation" in the Christian sense only became a live issue for the sectarian group made up of Jesus' followers?
If so, it would be anachronistic to suggest that salvation in the sense that Luke uses it would have been legitimately connected to Torah by Second Temple Jews. In Luke, as for Paul, then, there would be a move from solution to plight, and it wouldn't be the law's fault that it can't--and wasn't expected to--deal with the new problem(s) to which "salvation" is the answer.

In any case, reducing the Christian value of the law to a via media or to a concern for its sociological effects (e.g., to legitimate Christianity in Roman eyes by linking it to ancient Jewish tradition), seems to underplay its continued significance for Acts. It is as if "salvation" is such a big thing, that we can't appreciate any subsidiary and on-going role for the law.

(For earlier thoughts on salvation in Luke-Acts see this post, and follow the links back.)

Photo credits: Big Four Ice Caves, Washington (more links here and here). Don't worry, we didn't go inside.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A few of my favourite places

Mt. Hood
 I had hoped to leave for Oregon with my plate relatively clear of other responsibilities, but working out what Luke says about the law in Acts has taken longer than I expected.
Barnes Butte, near Prineville, OR

But we still have been able to spend time among a few of my favourite places to be...
Bandon, OR
The Oregon coast and the Cascades rank close behind the view of Mt. Longonot from the great Rift Valley or the hills near Voi.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Learn Biblical Hebrew in a live online classroom

If you want to learn Biblical Hebrew but don't live near a school that offers it, you now have the option of taking Introductory Hebrew for credit while attending weekly classes in the comfort of your home (or dorm room):
I am happy to report that Charles Grebe will be teaching Introductory Hebrew I and II at Briercrest College and Seminary this year, in a live on-line virtual classroom. Charles is an excellent and well-qualified Hebrew teacher: He taught Hebrew at Briercrest while serving as our director of Distance Learning in class and on-line, he is the creator of the outstanding website, and he runs a weekly on-line Hebrew reading group in the virtual classroom he created. Since Charles now lives in Quebec, both on-campus and distance students will meet for classes on-line this year, with each student accessing the course via computer (and Skype) independently during class time. (The plan is for on-campus students also to attend a weekly tutorial, which will provide face-to-face interaction with each other and a chance to interact in-person with a tutorial leader.)

If you are interested, check out the college or seminary syllabi, and email for more details. I highly recommend it!

Saturday, June 21, 2014


I am happy to announce that my sabbatical proposal was accepted after all, and I will be on sabbatical during the 2014-2015 school year. Readers who have trouble imagining what college professors do during the summer months will be equally stymied at the thought of a whole year off teaching, so it is important to clarify that in an academic context the original "restful" meaning of the term is secondary. One's sabbatical application is evaluated on the basis of its potential to result in scholarly output, not on the extent of one's fatigue and need for a break. Failure to produce something approximating the sabbatical proposal will reduce the chances of being awarded another one in future. That said, the chance to take a sabbatical is a huge privilege. I don't take it lightly.

I may say more about the details of my research project(s) presently. Basically, I am looking forward to being able to read and think about two of my major fields of interest: the writings of Luke and early Judaism.

My other (secret) goal is to take advantage of the extended break from teaching to work toward a more healthy rhythm of living--to reintroduce disciplines that I let fall by the way side, to focus on matters that are important but not urgent, that sort of thing. Judging from the last two months, this will not happen automatically. Even sabbatical has its pressures and deadlines, real or contrived. It doesn't look like I will suddenly feel less busy. But I hope to have more sustained experiences like the one I jotted down in April, near the end of marking season:
I can feel my heart and mind begin to relax. So good to wake up in the morning--or even in the middle of the night--with a fresh thought, a new idea, with something to say, with clarity. What a relief to realize that I may be able to write again, that with a day or two with the pressure off, the words come bubbling up. 
I also look forward to a change of location, and a real break from things academic on the Oregon coast in a few weeks. Blogging may pick up too. Who knows?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Modifying Zotero Citation (CSL) Styles

Technical post alert: Making minor changes to Zotero citation styles is quite simple once you have done it a few times if you are familiar with basic xml coding. My problem is that I typically only need to modify a style once every three years or so, and by the time I return to it I have forgotten how it is done. So, for my reference (primarily), here is how I did it this time:
  1. In Zotero standalone, go to Tools > Preferences > Advanced, and click on Open CSL Editor under the General tab.
  2. Select a reference from your Zotero library and the citation style you wish to modify. The formatted reference will display in the bottom half of the screen with the xml in the top.
  3. Make changes to the style sheet. (I found what I wanted to use by checking a few different styles and cutting and pasting from one to the other. To find the right bit of code, I copied the whole xml file to Word so that I could use Word's search features.)
  4. Follow the instructions in this step-by-step guide to change the id and name of the file so that you don't copy over a standard style. 
  5. Validate the xml file following the instructions here.
  6. Select the xml file, paste it into Notepad, and save it as a text file for reference.
  7. Save the style as a csl file by clicking "Save As" "All" and make the extension csl. 
  8. Install the csl file by following the instructions here.
Two helpful resources:

This time around I modified the Chicago Manual of Style 16th edition in two ways: (1) to remove final punctuation (non-standard, but my preference), drawing on Adam Smith's directions here (search for "layout suffix" and change layout suffix="."> to <layout suffix=""> under the notes section near the end of the file); and (2) to allow abbreviations in journal titles in the notes (see the general directions here; I ended up copying the relevant section of the SBL style). My modified style is available here.

Now back to the writing that Zotero is supposed to help me with.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Stephen J. Harris on the vapidity of "critical thinking"

"In most management contexts, product, rather than process, is the first measure of value. A risk in courting product over process in education is that one confuses education with vocational training. In humanities quantitatively, susceptible administrators unsurprisingly tend to value courses thought to forge demonstrable habits of mind. These habits are thus distinguished from course content and from discipline-specific methodology. Few will fail to recognize here what has become the least common denominator of pedagogy, critical thinking, the shibboleth of academic mission statements. It seems to mean the ability to reason and an awareness of one's own guiding principles and assumptions....As an academic high-water mark, 'critical thinking' severely underestimates students and demeans (by overgeneralizing) the benefits of an education in medieval history or literature. After all, the details of medieval history and literature are superfluous to this vague if ubiquitous goal. If you can learn critical thinking in a hotel management course, why study Old English?" - Stephen J. Harris, "Introduction," page 12 in Misconceptions About the Middle Ages (New York: Routledge, 2008).

Sunday, March 23, 2014

An echo of Homer in Luke 11:21-22 (?)

Ambrosian Illiad
I make a point of reading through the Gospels each time I teach Briercrest's required first year course on the Gospels. This time through, I was struck by a passage in the assigned reading that we never talk about in class:

"When a fully-armed strong man guards his own estate, his belongings are in peace. But as soon as someone stronger than he attacks and conquers him, he takes away the armour in which he had trusted and distributes his plunder." (Luke 11:21-22; contrast Mark 3:27; Matt 12:29)

According to Howard Marshall, the battle imagery in Luke's version "has as its background the OT idea of God armed as a hero for battle against his enemies (Is. 59:16–18) and the Qumranic concept of the messianic war" (Luke, 478).

That may be so, but the description also reminds me of Homer--no doubt because one of the effects of crawling through the gory details of the Iliad at the rate of a few pages every week is that one thinks differently about ancient practices of warfare. Consider this passage, one of many that describe the same basic procedure:
Both fighters at one great stroke
chopped at each other--Pisander hacked the horn
of the horsehair-crested helmet right at its ridge
lunging as Menelaus hacked Pisander between the eyes,
the bridge of the nose, and bone cracked, blood sprayed
and both eyes dropped at his feet to mix in the dust--
he curled and crashed. Digging a heel in his chest
Menelaus stripped his gear and vaunted out in glory,
"So home you'll run from our racing ships, by god,
all as corpses--see, you death-defying Trojans?"
...                                                    So he cried
and staunch Atrides stripped the gear form the corpse
and heaving the bloody bronze to eager comrades
swung to attack again, frontline assault.
(Robert Fagles translation of the Illiad, book 13.705-714, 738-741)
To my mind, this passage (and others like it) illumines the armour-stripping imagery in Luke 11, but no commentary that I consulted mentions the practice. To be sure, in Homer one only strips weapons from a foe one has killed in battle, and most commentators appear to assume that the opponent in Luke 11 is not dead, but perhaps one shouldn't press the metaphor.

I don't know whether the warfare familiar to Luke's readers (or Jesus' audience) bore any resemblance to battle in Greek antiquity. One might suppose that the better-equipped Roman army would not pause to strip the armour from defeated foes after each kill. Do we then have an echo of Homer in Luke's Gospel?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Towards a Theology of Rest: Using the Language of Sacrament and Ordinance as a Heuristic Device to Understand the Christian Practice of Rest

A public service announcement for sojourners in Southern Saskatchewan:

On Friday, March 7, Amanda Hackney will present a paper, as part of the Briercrest College and Seminary Colloquium series, entitled "Towards a Theology of Rest: Using the Language of Sacrament and Ordinance as a Heuristic Device to Understand the Christian Practice of Rest."

The colloquium will be held in room S113 @ 12:30 PM. We'd love to see you there if you can make it out.

Friday, February 28, 2014

"And forgive us our trespasses": The Lord's Prayer in English

If, like me, you have always wondered why the form of the Lord's Prayer commonly recited in church services does not correspond to any English Bible translation, you are most likely not an Anglican. Let me explain: Several years ago I decided to start a class on the Sermon on the Mount by reciting the Lord's prayer, but when I went looking for the traditional text in the King James' Version I was surprised to find it isn't (quite) there:

Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done, in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Where the KJV has "debtors," my students and I wanted to say "trespasses"--and the "trespasses" part comes from the 1662 edition of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (BCP):

Our Father, which art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
They Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in Earth, As it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them, that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil:
For thine is the Kingdom, the Power, And the Glory, For ever and ever. Amen.

The earlier 1559 and 1549 editions contain the same text in more archaic spelling--except that they do not include the last line (which is also missing from our oldest and most reliable Greek manuscripts):

BCP 1559
Our Father whiche arte in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kyngdom come.
Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.
Geve us this day our dayly breade.
And forgeve us our trespasses, as we forgeve them that trespasse against us.
And lead us not into temptacion.
But deliver us from evil. Amen.

BCP 1549
Oure father whiche arte in heaven, hallowed by thy name.
Thy kyngdom come.
Thy wyll be done in earth as it is in heaven.
Geve us this daye oure dayly bread.
And forgeve us oure trespasses, as we forgeve them that trespasse agaynst us.
And leade us not into temptacion.
But deliver us from evell. Amen.

Brian Cummings notes that "The full English wording here [in the 1549 edition] follows the text of Matt. 6 in the King's Primer of 1545....The BCP form of the prayer (repeated in all services) effectively standardized usage until the 1960s."* The King's Primer was apparently the work of Thomas Cranmer, but the "trespasses" bit is indebted to William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English, just a few years earlier. Here is the wording of Tyndale's translation (from 1526):

O oure father, which art in heven halowed be thy name.
Let thy kyngdom come.
Thy wyll be fulfilled, as well in erth, as hit ys in heven.
Geve vs this daye oure dayly breade.
And forgeve vs oure treaspases, even as we forgeve them whych treaspas vs.
Lede vs nott in to temptacion.
but delyvre vs from yvell, Amen.**

*Page 691 in Brian Cummings, ed. The Book of Common Prayer: The Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662. Oxford World Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Quotations from the 1562, 1559 and 1549 editions are from pp. 252, 104 and 7, respectively.
**Quoted on page 35 in F.F. Bruce, History of the Bible in English (3rd ed.; New York: Oxford, 1978).

P.S. If you are interested in reconstructions of the Lord's Prayer in Hebrew, I recommend this post.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Ethnicity, Religion and the Meaning of Ioudaios in Ancient "Judaism"

I am pleased to report that the third and final article in my series on the meaning of Ioudaios has now appeared in the February 2014 issue of Currents in Biblical Research. SAGE won't let me post the full article on-line, but here is the introduction for anyone interested in an overview of the issues the article addresses, and a summary of my argument:

       Most people familiar with the Judeo-Christian tradition would be surprised by recent claims that the Greco-Roman world had no category for religion, and that the label ‘Jew’ in Bible translations and popular-level books is a misnomer. Within scholarship on ancient Judaism, debate about whether the Greek word ’Iουδαῖος (Ioudaios), as well as its Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic cognates, should be translated as ‘Jew’ or ‘Judaean’ has created a new Shibboleth. Although the traditional translation ‘Jew’ remains dominant, ‘Judaean’ is now common enough that it can be employed without justification—thanks, in part, to the influential arguments of Malina and Rohrbaugh (1992: 32), Danker (2000: 478), Esler (2003), and Mason (2007), who maintain that the religious connotations of ‘Jew’ are anachronistic, and that Ioudaios is best understood solely as an ethnic label. The debate is volatile, urgent and unresolved. According to one scholar, translating Ioudaios as ‘Jew’ has caused ‘incalculable harm’ (Danker 2000: 478). Another argues that translating Ioudaios as ‘Judaean’ threatens a slippery slope towards anti-Semitism (Levine 2006: 160, 165). Scholars must choose a translation, yet no one wants to be accused of anti-Semitism, anachronism or sheer ignorance merely by their choice of terminology. Underlying the translation debate, however, is a more crucial conversation about the meaning of Ioudaios in the Greco-Roman world, about the identity of the people it designates, and about how we study the past.
     This article addresses what is perhaps the central question in current scholarship on the meaning of Ioudaios during the Second Temple period: Did the term sometimes denote an adherent of the religion of Judaism (a religious meaning) or was it merely the name of an ethnic group (an ethnic meaning)? Section one begins by mapping the scholarly terrain, noting when scholars have isolated a religious meaning of Ioudaios and why they have done so. I then review five notable contributions from the last fifteen years in more detail, beginning with Cohen’s (1999) influential argument that Ioudaios first acquired a religious meaning during the Second Temple period, and concluding with S. Schwartz’s (2011) recent claim that a ‘disembedded’ concept of religion was a unique development among Second Temple period Ioudaioi. Esler (2003; 2007; 2009; 2012) and Mason (2007) represent the main alternative, arguing in response to Cohen that the transition to a religious meaning of Ioudaios happened much later. Since the meaning of Ioudaios is only incidental to her project, Buell’s (2005) monograph on ‘ethnic reasoning’ in early Christian discourse may seem out of place in this context, but her argument for an interrelationship between ethnicity and religion, on the one hand, and for continuity between the kind of ethnic practices employed by early Christians and Ioudaioi, on the other, offers an instructive contrast to the other contributions. In addition to introducing recent scholarship on the subject, these five case studies prepare for the next section’s analysis of methodological issues. Section two compares how the case studies define ‘ethnicity’ and ‘religion’, examines ways to bridge the gap between modern and ancient categories, and advances definitions of ‘ethnicity’ and ‘religion’ designed to help address the question of whether it is legitimate to speak of religion as an ancient category of thought and a component of the meaning of Ioudaios. Section three evaluates the case studies in light of important primary evidence.
     I argue—in substantial agreement with S. Schwartz—that if Cohen errs in suggesting that a transition to a religious meaning of Ioudaios had already occurred, Esler and Mason err in suggesting that it had not begun. The result in both cases is a confusion of categories that distorts our understanding of what it would have meant to be a Ioudaios during the Second Temple period. As S. Schwartz maintains, something like what we call religion was emerging as an ancient category before there was language to describe it. The evidence indicates that ‘What is a Ioudaios?’ was a live question in the Second Temple period, and that ethnicity was not the only ancient answer. Yet, in his attempt to demonstrate that a concept of religion had already emerged, Schwartz minimizes the extent to which conversion is still depicted in our sources as ethnic transformation, and posits a tension between ethnicity and religion that may have more to do with our categories than ancient realities. Ultimately, I argue that our conventional static categories do not do justice to the meaning of Ioudaios or to the dynamic identity of the people it designates. The most that can be said is that by the end of the Second Temple period a religious meaning was in the process of emerging.
     An appendix returns to the translation of Ioudaios. Although conclusions about the meaning of Ioudaios in the Greco-Roman world play an important role in the term’s translation, I argue that they do not settle the issue. Modern translations must also consider the reception history of the term and the contemporary political and ethical implications of its use. In the end, there are compelling contemporary reasons for translating Ioudaios as ‘Jew’ instead of ‘Judaean’.

You can also view the abstract on the CBR website (here), or read about the series and its genesis on this blog (here).

Friday, January 24, 2014

Homo Practicus: An Alternative to Homo Economicus and Homo Sociologicus

A public service announcement for sojourners in Southern Saskatchewan:

This afternoon (January 24), my esteemed colleague, Glenn Runnalls, will present a paper as part of the Briercrest College and Seminary Colloquium series entitled "Homo Practicus: An Alternative to Homo Economicus and Homo Sociologicus."

I don't have an abstract for you, but I know the paper is related to Glenn's ph.d. dissertation and, I presume, has something to do with practice theory.

 The colloquium will be held in room S113 @ 12:30 PM. We'd love to see you there if you can make it out.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Which morphologically-tagged Hebrew Bible is most accurate?

Technical post alert: While looking around for a free on-line Hebrew Bible concordance to recommend to my Hebrew students, I noticed that different electronic concordances produce different results. Here, for example, is what you get if you search for the Hebrew verb אָהַב ("to love"):

Online sources that use Strong's KJV:
209 results in 195 verses (; Crosswire's Bible Tool)
208 results in 195 verses (Blue Letter Bible)

The Grove's Center's Westminster Hebrew Morphology
215 results in 200 verses (WTM 4.2, 4.14, 4.18 in Bibleworks* and Logos)
(*Bibleworks originally gave me 217 results in 200 verses because I had selected both Ketiv and Qere readings.)

Other Logos Tagged Texts
BHS/WIVU (Werkgroep Informatica): 210 results in 197 verses
Lexham Hebrew-English Interlinear: 210 results in 196 verses


  1. I assume that the Westminster Hebrew Morphology is the most accurate. 
  2. All the online sources I have tried that give frequency information are based on Strong's concordance, which is too bad for anyone looking for decent quality, free resources. (I'm disappointed that fares no better, as its Greek New Testament resources are outstanding.)
  3. There is currently no online resource that provides full parsing information for the Hebrew Bible. 
  4. Tyndale House's Step Bible may be out to change 2. and 3., but it is not there yet. (A search for אָהַב gave me 196 verses, but no occurrence list.) 
  5. We need to remember that our digital tools still have mistakes.
  6. Please let me know if there are other resources I should be looking at.
Update: Andy from Biblearc emailed (back in January!) to let me know that the discrepancy between Biblearc and other tagged databases of the Hebrew Bible can be explained:
I would challenge the conclusion you make in your blog post that the lemma data we use for the Hebrew searches is not "decent quality". I took a look at the example you give of אהב in your blog post for instance. The verses where the lemma data differs are found in the following verses:Gen 29:20; 1 King 10:9, 11:2; 2Chr 2:10; 2Chr 9:8; Hos 3:1, 9:15; Mic 6:8.

Taking a look at these, you will discover that the issue is whether to take the appearance of "אהבת + noun" as an infinitive construct of the verb "to love" (אהב) with object or as the noun "love" (אהבה) in construct form. In most all (if not all) of these cases an argument could be made for both of the options as there is no difference in how they are written. Perhaps there is another example besides אהב where the discrepancy is more significant, but if not I would encourage you to reconsider your judgment of the Hebrew lemma data that we use.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Here's to survival in 2014

With weather like this, it's no wonder that a posture of mere survival, just getting by--but surviving nonetheless--has such deep roots in the Saskatchewan psyche. Survival also feels like the watchword for my life as I head into another semester of teaching, trying to do my best in the classroom, while staying sane and not neglecting my family too much. But let me qualify that: Although I expect to be overwhelmed this semester, it's a privilege that "survival" in my case means doing so much of what I love. The prairie has its own desolate beauty.
In addition to "survival" I have landed on a more concrete and hopeful New Year's resolution: To read through Isaiah in Greek and Hebrew along with everyone else in the "Greek Isaiah in a Year" group. At 5 verses a day, I'm hopeful that the schedule and community will help me scale Mt. Isaiah in Hebrew (and Greek) at last. It's not too late to join, if you are interested!

For the record, here's what my semester schedule looks like:
Gospels I have taught a bunch of times, Greek Exegesis and Jewish Backgrounds are prep-heavy upper-level courses, Hebrew Exegesis II is brand new.