While it is assumed among scholarship that the “double portion” which Elisha requests of Elijah refers to the portion of the eldest son (following Deuteronomistic law), it is proposed in this paper that this is theologically significant to demonstrate Elisha as the true son of Elijah as prophet of Yahweh in contrast to the other “sons of the prophets” in the Former Prophets. This motif is followed in the stories of Elisha as he fulfills the prophetic call earlier given to Elijah as Horeb, knows and does what the “sons of the prophets” cannot do themselves, and functions as a new Elijah in the paneling accounts and images. The role of Spirit endowment as verification of elder sonship is followed as a theological trajectory of the Former Prophets.
There was a helpful little video and blog post recently on Koinoniablog.net where Miles Van Pelt (author of Basics of Biblical Aramaic and co-author of Basics of Biblical Hebrew) offers several bits of advice to language learning. He reminds students they must be intentionally regular in working on the languages. He says, “The way I have found most effective in my own life is to get up early and do it before everyone else starts to want your time, your schedule, and your attention” (and the other bit can be read and watched HERE).
Great advice to students, professors and anyone else working on learning languages. I would add that, while he may be disciplined sufficiently to rise early every day to work on it many of us are not that disciplined. However, this can be compensated for by simply finding natural ways of integrating language learning into the ebbs and flow of your day-to-day schedule.
For instance, when looking up a passage why not also look up the original as well as the English. Try sight translation and see how you do. This is a very simple practice that can result in significant language gains.
Another idea is to bring along your Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek Bible to church, Sunday school or a Bible study. You can also have an English Bible open for reading along, but just try following along as much as possible with the Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek.
Just a couple of simple tips to increase time spent reading the original languages that does not require much effort or extra work (not least, waking up early to do it…yuck!). So what advice might you give?
I was a little surprised to find that the TNIV and NIV 2011 have reverted to the Masoretic text (partially) of Proverbs 26:23 against the 1984 NIV which followed the critical rephrasing of this verse in light of Ugaritic and Hittite evidence (though it includes “silver dross” in the footnote). The updated NIV texts created a mixed text that attempts to blend the emended text of the Hebrew as well as maintaining the traditional (misunderstanding) of the Masoretes (adding “like” and maintaining “silver dross”).
“Like a coating of silver dross on earthenware are fervent lips with an evil heart.” (NIV2011 – emphasis added)
“Like a coating of glaze over earthenware are fervent lips with an evil heart.” (NET – emphasis added)
The issue pertains to the Hebrew כֶּ֣סֶף סִ֭יגִים which is properly translated “silver dross”. Based upon the cognate Ugaritic word spsg “glaze” (and another cognate in Hittite zapzaga[y]a) a significant and clarifying emendation was made by numerous translations. The emendation involves several elements: the admission that vowel pointing and spaces between words were lacking in the original text of the Old Testament. Removing the vowel-pointing (as well as the matres lectionisyods) and spacing of the Masoretes was inaccurate and should be altered to read כסףסגם “like glaze”. The kaph has then been understood to be the comparative preposition “like”, the yods have been dropped as matres lectionis along with the vowel pointing and the mem regarded as an enclitic (ESV, NAB, NIV1984, NRSV, NLT and, of course, the NET have followed this emended reading).
While the LXX retains the Masoretic reading of “silver”, but it offers an expansion (apparently because the translator was equally confused by the sense of the Hebrew): ἀργύριον διδόμενον μετὰ δόλου ὥσπερ ὄστρακον ἡγητέον χείλη λεῖα καρδίαν καλύπτει λυπηράν, “Silver given deceitfully is considered as earthenware, a smooth tongue hides a troubled heart” (my translation).
Part of the reason for opting to prefer the emended text in light of the cognate terms of Ugaritic and Hittite is based upon the notion that “silver dross” would simply not be used for such a thing. Glaze would be applied to vessels (though obviously it should not be applied to earthenware unless it is being used to conceal). In both cases the point is simply that one is covering over something that will not endure (earthenware) with something that makes it look better than it truly is. The reality is concealed. It is a ridiculous covering of earthenware. It is, in fact, a waste and deceitful. Its apparent value is only that…appearance. It is a cheap object made to look like it is worth something far more.
K. L. Barker, “The Value of Ugaritic for Old Testament Studies,” BSac 133 (1976): 128-29.
I just realized I have never posted anything (other than my thesis) dealing with the range of meaning for the Hebrew יוֹם (yom) which is often translated as something like “day”. With all of the kerfuffles (that is a specific theological term 😉 ) over the word “day” in Genesis 1, I thought I’d do a brief post on my own work on this on what has been taught to my students (and will be tomorrow morning as well).
So here is the semantic range (the range of meanings based upon usage of the Hebrew term) as I have worked it out from my reading of the text of Genesis 1 (which is a distinct literary unit from verse 1 to either chapter 2, verse 3 or possibly verse 4):
Period of light (v.5)
Period of alternating darkness/light (vv.5, 8, 13)
Cultic festivals (v.14)
A twenty-four hour period (v.14, 18, 19, 23, 31)
The “day” of God’s resting (2.2-3)
The week of creation (2.4)
This first usage is what God “calls” the period of “light” which he had just created.
The second is (to be precise) an alteration between darkness and light. While this could be (and arguably is) the same as #4 there are many who see the lack of the sun, moon and stars (interestingly enough remaining unnamed by this text) on days 1-3 as indicative that these “days” are in fact not to be precisely equated with those following the creation of sun, moon and stars. This is argued on the basis of our own calculations of time as we experience it presently. I simply offer this variant because it is a possible (though I think unlikely) usage different from #4.
The third is best translated by the context provided in the New Jerusalem Bible of Gen.1.14: ‘God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of heaven to divide day from night, and let them indicate festivals, days and years’. Many of the translations miss the sense of the festivals as unique “days” in the unfolding revelation of God’s plan for creation. The (second) usage in this passage is not so much simply referring to the passage of days and years, but of the sacred days and years (ie, the Day of Atonement, Sabbath Years, etc.). It is a sacred (the scholarly term being “cultic”) day.
The fourth is typically where folks get rankled with one another and debate as if heaven and hell were in the balance. This is a usage of “day” that refers to twenty four hour periods of time passing (clarified by “evening and morning”) after the sun, moon and stars are in their courses. Now whether one should understand this literalistically (with fullest historical intent) or as a theological construct (without historical intent beyond God’s creating) is another issue. Both can regard it as a “twenty-four hour period”. One never moves beyond that sense. The other understands it as something like metaphor or construct.
The fifth might also simply fall into the category of the fourth, but is differentiated in the text by no ascription of “evening and morning” and technically no movement beyond the “day” of God’s resting (sabbathing). Some (even from the second Temple period in Judaism) regarded this as a reference to the ongoing “day” of God’s “rest”.
The sixth usage of yom is obscured in many translations by the use of “When” or “In the time of”. It is literalistically translated “In the day of…”. And this usage is pointing to the week of creation just laid out. It is not saying it took only one “day”, but points simply to the time of creation.
So what do you make of this semantic range? Is it possible we are missing the forest for the trees?
Suffice it to say that one spends several years learning basic skills in reading and interpreting the Hebrew Bible, but then after all the “rules” one learns (whether those passed down from Medieval Masoretes or ancient scholastics schooled in Greek and Latin works), suddenly one enters the strange world of Hebrew “Poetry”.
This strange new world does not follow the “rules” one has just spent years memorizing and practicing. Now an altogether new adventure commences wherein such “rules” simply fail to guide the linguistic adventurer along her path to understanding and appreciation.
So what sort of journey is this and how does one find their way while avoiding the many pitfalls of previous generations of students of the ancient text form? What follows will be a multi-part, multi-layered map (of sorts…or so it is hoped).
To begin with one must come to the realization that Biblical Hebrew knows nothing of “poetry”, but practices the poetic with great fluidity. What is the difference? To begin with, there is no word or words in the Hebrew text which might be translated “poetry”. There are words for song (משכיל or שיר), proverbial sayings and riddles (משל), but none for “poetry” specifically. In fact, “poetry” is a construct one uses to try to categorize what is happening at the level of literary genre. As a construct (and one technically foreign to Hebrew) it creates its own issues.
English poetry is marked by such features as meter, rhythm, and rhyme, but Hebrew is not marked as such. The typical explanations of what makes a certain Hebrew text “poetic” are notions of “meter” and “parallelism” (both of which will be discussed in future posts — other features which bear discussion are “terseness” and “imagery”). But such constructs are difficult to follow through with once one begins to actually examine the Hebrew texts available. There are clearly non-literary texts (narrative, for instance, like Exodus 2:1-7) which have notable meter and parallelisms. There are also texts belonging to corpora clearly intended to be poetic which offer little in the way of meter or clear parallelisms throughout (such as the well-known Psalm 23). Highly problematic for discerning what is “poetry” and what is “prose” is the writings of the prophets. Their works offer something of a bizarre admixture of all varieties of such categorizations without fitting either very well. There is a fluidity of such strictures that points toward a need to reject formal constraints on what constitutes “poetry” and “prose” in the Hebrew texts.
To close, James Kugel has fittingly imaged this polarity and its demise:
…the categories of prose and poetry imply too sharp, and total, a polarity: to use only these terms is to describe sections of the skyline as consisting either of ‘building’ or ‘no building.’
Of course, there is a case to be made for the use of the term ‘poetry’ in regard to some parts of the Bible. It has, as noted, an approximate validity, and is sanctioned by a centuries-old tradition. But it is not a perfect fit; and since ancient Israel seems to have gotten along without any corresponding term, it might be better for modern critics to enclose the phrase ‘biblical poetry,’ at least mentally, in quotation marks. (The Idea of Biblical Poetry: Parallelism and Its History [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1998] p.86)
So this is why I’ve labeled this series “On Hebrew Poetics”. It is to attempt to point toward poetic notions without the strictures of imposing ‘rules’ of ‘poetry’ on a text which resists all attempts to frame such constructs, yet at every turn offers poetic sensibilities.
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For those who have spent any time studying Biblical Hebrew (BH) it becomes readily apparent that while BH prose is fairly simple to translate (as far as translation of other languages go), BH poetry is another matter altogether. The often confusing short punctiliar lines (at least sometimes neatly laid out by the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia editors even if one disagrees at various points with their reconstructions and arrangements) offer the beginning student of BH many migraines on a good day.
As someone who works to translate BH poetry on a weekly basis I still find it fairly difficult. At times though, the jarring nature of the Hebrew verse strikes my sensibilities like no English translation ever has…and I stumble to find adequate ways to express what I’m reading. Maybe I’m still a neophyte of BH, but it still often remains enigmatic (just try translating the book of Job sometime). BH poetry simply does not follow any perceivable set of rules (despite the over-simplifying system of Robert Lowth or the complex attempts at discerning syllabic concatenization by Michael O’Connor). And yet, BH poetry maintains a certain terse spirit that reverberates with my own spirit. It beckons to me, drawing me into its wild web of words and (at times) farcical phrase finagling.
You still don’t believe BH can be hazardous to one’s health? There is a story told of the Arabist, Paul Kraus (c. 1944), who set out to demonstrate that “the entire Hebrew Bible, once properly accented, could be demonstrated to have been written in verse….When he discovered two-thirds of the way through his analysis that the texts no longer bore out his thesis, he took his own life.” (Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry, p.2) Now that’s an extreme reaction to Hebrew poetics! Yet it speaks to the issues of allowing the text (form and function) to say what it says, how it says it. To read against the text, is to fail to hear the text and to replace it with another (but that’s for another blog post). So what’s my point? My point is: Keep at it! Don’t quit just because it is difficult or does not seem to make sense. Part of the beauty of poetic verse is that it resonates at a deeper level than simply the intellectual. It cannot easily be parsed (nor should it). It was intended to impact the senses with joy, sadness, fear, anger, love, passion, despair. It was not intended for analysis (and yields its gems only partially to those who mine it’s depths with such intent). So keep at it!
And while you are at it, I’ve compiled the following brief list of books which may prove helpful in the study of BH poetry:
Brief Biblical Hebrew Poetry Bibliography
Alter, Robert. The Art of Biblical Poetry. Revised and Updated; New York: Basic Books, 2011.
Berlin, Adele, and David Noel Freedman. The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism. Revised and Expanded. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2008.
Chisholm, Robert B. From Exegesis to Exposition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998.
Fokkelman, J. P. Reading Biblical Poetry: An Introductory Guide. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.
Futato, Mark D., and David M. Howard. Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007.
Kugel, James L. The Idea of Biblical Poetry: Parallelism and Its History. London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981, 1998.
Longman, Tremper, III. How to Read the Psalms. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1988.
Longman, Tremper, III, and Peter Enns , eds. Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings. IVP Bible Dictionary series. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008.
Ryken, Leland. Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1992.
Schökel, Luis Alonso. A Manual of Hebrew Poetics. Subsidia Biblica 11; Rome: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 2000.
Watson, Wilfred G. Classical Hebrew Poetry: A Guide to Its Techniques. JSOTSup 26; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1985.
I thought today I would just post about a couple of things which interested me:
(1) Apparently Hendrickson Publishers has just released the fascicle of Biblia Hebraica Quinta: Judges. I still need to start ordering my copies of BHQ, but it seems each volume is taking longer to publish. It will certainly be a tremendous contribution to Hebrew Bible studies once it is completed.
(2) Renowned Greek scholar and linguist, Dr. Stanley E. Porter (President of McMaster Divinity School) has begun blogging about McMaster, Seminary education, Koine Greek and the New Testament. I’ve already added it to my blog-reader…how about you?
(3) My two alma-maters have each just announced new presidents: Trinity Bible College will be receiving Dr. Paul Alexander (currently Principal of Mattersey Hall in the U.K.) and I trust this will prove a positive academic direction for TBC. In other news, I discovered that Dr. David Johnson (Professor of NT, Executive Vice-President and Provost of PTS) has been accepted as the interim president of Providence Theological Seminary. Congrats to Dr. Johnson on the new opportunity!
This week I preached from Matthew 1:1-17 on the genealogy of Jesus. Talk about a fun text! Needless to say, one of the elements of this text that is troubling (at a certain level) is the emphasis by Matthew on “fourteen generations” from Abraham to David, then David to the exile in Babylon, then the exile to the Christ. When one counts the names in each list it becomes readily apparent that there are not fourteen in all three. The first is fine, but the other two are not.
There have been a number of proposals for resolving this and I’ll just mention them briefly followed by my own proposal. 1) At least one of the names should be counted in both lists. For instance, David or Jeconiah. 2) The three groups of fourteen are meant to refer to six groups of seven (which is considered a number of completion). 3) Fourteen should be understood as gematria (where the letters of the alphabet represent numbers) and David in the Hebrew (דָּוִד dawid – only the consonants have numeric value) is 4+6+4 which equals 14. Thus, David and Jesus connection to him as the Christ is the central point.
The first should be rejected because there is actually no clear indication of adding only one name twice. It fails to work out intelligibly in any counting. The second proposal fails because Matthew emphatically notes “fourteen” and not seven. This would also place Jesus within the groups and fails to actually count the names. The third (being the leading preference for interpreting this passage) falls short (in my opinion) because it requires a Hebrew gematria reading of a Greek text, which seems overly complex. The use of a name being equal to the number is also not noted (as elsewhere in Scripture – cf. Rev.13:18).
My own proposal is simply to consider the “fourteen” generations for each of the groups as referring to the fulness of time. This is then taken to point to Jesus as the Christ coming in the line of the promise to Abraham to bless all the nations, and to king David to have a son who would sit on the throne forever. Thus, making this text a wonderful fit for Advent season (on which also see the post by Dan Thompson concerning “hope”). To be certain, the number “fourteen” in this context is ambiguous at best. One can only guess that Matthew’s original audience understood what was meant. So what are your thoughts?
In my first semester at Bible college I had to take a course on Old Testament Survey. I was expecting it to be boring and obscure. Up till that point I mostly thought the Old Testament was in the Bible to just provide some interesting stories for Sunday School until we got to “the more important stuff” in the New Testament. However, my professor for this class demonstrated from the very beginning his deep passionate enthrallment with the Hebrew Bible (in case you didn’t realize the “Hebrew Bible” is another way of referring to the Old Testament :-). His hair would begin combed neatly and by the end of class it would be completely disheveled because of his excited lectures and discussions…and his hands and sleeves would be covered in chalk from all his writing. He made the Old Testament come alive for me.
The next semester was my first real introduction to the Hebrew language (which was nothing more than learning the alphabet, some discussion of tenses and sentence structure, and how to use basic research resources for it). One of the things that most strikes me as I remember the professor who taught this class was when he wept while reading the apocryphal “Prayer of Manasseh” (which is not a part of the Protestant canon of the Old Testament, but is in the Catholic canon and still belongs to the overall genre of Old Testament studies). His passion for original languages was contagious and I had never seen anyone weep while reading from the scriptures (sorry…I don’t actually think of the “Prayer” as Scripture in the same sense–note the little “s”–, but it certainly is a wonderful piece of literature based upon other recognized Scriptures).
Then somewhat later in college I took an Intro to Hebrew with a brilliant professor of the Hebrew Bible (who had rather “interesting” ways of teaching…to say the least). More than anything else I took away from that class an appreciation biblical Hebrew culture (and a little modern Jewish culture mixed in). Playing dreidel (here’s a very brief description) for Hanukkah as we discussed the history of the game and various other aspects of Hebrew culture. FWIW…I won LOTS of candy that night. 🙂
Now nearing the end of my graduate studies where I’m trying to focus on Hebrew Bible (and hopefully some day earn a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible)…I’ve had opportunity to study with some very gifted Hebrew scholars who have continued to impress their love for the Book (but more importantly their love for the God of the Book) upon me.
I am truly grateful for the amazing men and women who have shared their passion with me over the years. Most of them will never know the impact they have made in my life. It has enriched my love for the LORD beyond measure and I only pray that I continue to pass on that same passionate love through my preaching, teaching and living. I look forward to as many days as the LORD may give me to draw deeply from the depths of this wonderful life-changing Book.
Elizabeth Groves (a recently hired Lecturer of Old Testament and Professor at Westminster Theological Seminary) posted several practical presentations on why we should take the time to learn Biblcal languages. I enjoyed them (but then again I love learning languages…as painful as that can be).
Best of all is this music video about learning Koine Greek (“All Things Are Better In Koine” — for those who also consider themselves to be Greek-Geeks).