The Lost Treasure of Ugarit

It appears that the SYFY channel is making a movie about my life as an Ugaritic scholar. They even got my wife, Jenn, into the mix. I’m just annoyed they went with my name being “Jack Hunter”. Lame! I prefer Vladimir von Bonhoeffer if I must have a pseudonym. ๐Ÿ™‚
Now you can all see what kind of adventures I enjoy as a scholar of dead languages. Booyah! #PhDshaveallthefun

Wrestling with Unicorns

unicornYou read that right. Yesterday I wrestled with unicorns…all afternoon. And not just your run of the mill mythic Greek unicorns. No. I wrestled with the Biblical variety. In case you have no clue what I’m talking about, you might be surprised to find that “unicorns” are mentioned in the Bible (or at least in the King James Version of the Bible). [1]
Here are the passages where “unicorn/s” are referred to: Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9; Psalm 22:21; 29:6; 92:10; and Isaiah 34:7. This is quite a list. I know I was surprised by it.
Perhaps you are actually wondering why I would be concerned about “unicorns” (the Hebrew is ย ืจึฐืึตึ–ื or r’m) in the Bible and spend my afternoon studying them? Well, as it turns out, I have a friend who is a professor in Canada who emailed me an extended question on the topic, because someone had asked him about it. Here is part of his question (where he is citing the person who brought it to him):

โ€œPsalm 92:10 is very clearly saying that this animal has one horn, while Deut. 33:17 is clearly saying that this animal has two horns. Therefore, whatever theย rโ€™emย is, it must be an animal that could have either one or two horns.โ€
As such, this individual believes that the “wild ox” translation of most of our modern versions is actually misleading and inaccurate and we should be sticking with the LXXย  (KJV) rendering of rhinoceros/unicorn.

Unicorn on the Black ObeliskAnd here is my reply:

Technically Psalm 92.10 (or more specifically the MT 92.11) only refers to “the horn” of the r’m. This does not require it to have only one horn, but only notes “the horn” of this creature as if to specify a type rather than delineate the number of horns this creature has normally. For instance, I could refer to something being “like the tusk of the elephant” but this does not mean that elephants only normally have one tusk, but I would be referring to the general category, or exemplar of just one of the tusks of the elephant. I could be wrong and perhaps the plural form for “horns” in Deut.33.17 is intended to refer to multiple horns or to the significance of the horn of this creature, but it seems more likely in that case to actually be referring to multiple horns on the single r’m.
On the NIDOTTE [2], it doesn’t have ANY mention of this term as a synonym or anything. Too bad really. And the TWOT doesn’t have anything besides “wild ox”. ๐Ÿ™
The Black Obelisk [3] also contains images of monkeys (?) and elephants (on another side of it). These are the only two of the four sides depicted in ANEP. However, on yet another side there are what appear to be some sort of an ox and a buffalo and in their middle is a one-horned ox-like creature also being brought as tribute to Shalmaneser (this is a photo from the British Museum: So PERHAPS it is a reference to a one-horned creature, but there does not appear to be anything requiring such. Not sure what to think about it. If only there were actually a depiction with a cognate term used so that potentially one might know what is being referred to precisely.
The cognate occurs in Ugaritic r’m : rum โ€œbuffaloโ€ UT 49:VI:18, plural rumm (UT 51:I:44; 62:19; 2 Aqhat VI:21 [where his “sinews” are considered “splendid”). For more contemporary citation references: 4.i.44 (in the land of Ym’an there are 10 thousands of them); 5.i.17 (captivated by a pool of water much like the appetite of lions in the wasteland, or the desire of dolphins with the sea and hinds with springs of water), (the brutality of the battle between Mot and Baal is compared to the goring of this creature) in Gibson who provides the gloss “wild ox”. [4]
Interestingly enough EVERY occurrence in the Hebrew Bible is in a poetic statement. Not sure what that might mean, but it is interesting nevertheless.
My likeliest explanation for “unicorn” is it derives from the Vulgate [5] which translated the LXX which started with “one-horned”. Not sure where the LXX derives this from, other than potentially their own understanding of the Psalm passage about the singular “horn” of this creature. Granted (as is witnessed on the Obelisk) there is some sort of creature known to the ANE which had a single horn (or so it appears as such), but this does not necessitate the same creature for the Hebrew r’m.

So that is the gist of my wrestling with unicorns in the Bible. However, the story isn’t quite complete, because when I arrived home my oldest daughter (Abbi, 11) showed be a video that her sixth grade class had made which was based on the topic they had been discussing yesterday…which just happened to have been “unicorns”. ๐Ÿ™‚ Coincidence…you be the judge. ๐Ÿ™‚
[1] Wild ox or buffalo seems to be the preferred translation in many other versions.
[2] He had asked about the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (5 vols; Zondervan, 1997). I also looked at the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament ()2 vols.; Moody, 1980) which is why I mention it next.
[3] In one of the commentaries he had consulted there was mention made that the Black Obelisk had a picture of a one-horned creature along with other livestock, but sadly that particular side of the Obelisk is not pictured in James Pritchard’s The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures (2 vols.; Princeton, 1971). So I included a link to it as photographed in the British Museum.
[4] UT refers to Cyrus Gordon’s Ugaritic Textbook: Grammar, Texts in Transliteration, Cuneiform Selections, Glossary, Indices (Analecta Orientalia 38, Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1965). The Gibson text I refer to is Canaanite Myths and Legends (2nd Edition; New York: T&T Clark, 2004). While I did not mention it in my response, one also finds a cognate in the Aramaic and, yet earlier, Assyrian rimu.
[5] The Latin Vulgate translates with the English equivalents of “unicorn” and “rhinoceros”. This appears to be following the Greek Septuagintal translations (LXX).

Talking Smack: The Bible Way

SmackLuke Geraty just blogged about “talking smack” in video games, which brought to my mind some of the “Biblical” smack-talk that I have found humorous over the years. Here is a small sampling:

  • Philistine smack talk: “Come on,โ€ said the Philistine. โ€œIโ€™ll make roadkill of you for the buzzards. Iโ€™ll turn you into a tasty morsel for the field mice.” (1 Sam.17:44 TM)
  • Boy smack talk: โ€œWhatโ€™s up, old baldhead! Out of our way, skinhead!โ€ (2 Kings 2:23 TM)
  • Lamech smack talk: “If someone who kills Cain is punished seven times, then the one who kills me will be punished seventy-seven times!” (Gen. 4:24 NLT)
  • Jezebel smack talk: “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” (1 Kings 19:2 ESV)

I find this last one humorous because she acts like her gods can do anything…when THEY were just proven to be nothing on Mt. Carmel…and now she invokes them. What Bible smack talk have you found to be humorous?

Addicted to Ecstasy

Image“Spiritual dryness is the cure for spiritual ecstasy.” *

Are you addicted to the highs of your spiritual life? Do you run from church to church, conference to camp, looking for another hit? Do you find yourself longing for those surreal experiences again? Does your quest for spiritual ecstasy drive you to reject friends and close out the world around you, even your own family?
If so, then the cure for you is spiritual dryness. It is the mundane disciplines of the spiritual life: prayer and fasting, the study and meditation of Scripture, faith-filled day-in-day-out (mundane) obedience. This is the only way to properly detox and get back into life as a disciple of (and not just a junkie for) Jesus. The ecstasies of life in Christ were never intended as the day-to-day (who can endure a life of highs in ANYTHING). The day-to-day is where one learns the genuine life of following Christ (even as occasional moments of ecstasy occur). So join the greats of spiritual dryness in a life of discipline.
* Daryl Climenhaga (Associate Professor of Global Studies at Providence Theological Seminary) credits Ed Neufeld (Professor of Biblical Studies – Providence Theological Seminary) and the desert fathers for the thought.ย  Ed and Daryl always seems to offer the best quotes. ๐Ÿ™‚

Cambria: The Hebrew Poet


ื—ื‘ืงื ื™ ืื (Mom hugs me)
ืฉืงื ื™ย ืื (Mom kisses me)
ืฉืงื ื™ย ืื‘ (Dad kisses me)
ื—ื‘ืงื ื™ ืื‘ (Dad hugs me)
ื›ื™ ื‘ื™ ืื”ื‘ื•ย ืจื‘ย ืžืื“ (And they love me very much)
Note the chiastic structure of the first four lines where the verb in line one matches line four,* and line two matches line three. And the subjects of line one and two are coordinate, like the lines of lines three and four. And the final line climaxes (though lying outside the chiasm) the whole poem with a lively summation of the whole as an epexegetical crescendo.
Okay, so Cambria (my eight year old daughter who is very intelligent — I’m obviously not biased) never wrote this poem in Hebrew, but the English is all hers. I added the Hebrew, because, well, it just seemed like fun (sick, I know). I thought it was fascinating how she chose to write these lines of hers with this sort of structure (and all without training as a scholar of Hebrew poetry…fascinating isn’t it??? ๐Ÿ™‚ ). I may be spending a bit too muchย  time thinking about such things.
My wife’s rhetorical response to me about the poem was, “I wonder what her love language is?” I’ll give you one guess…
* A curiosity is the energic nun in the verbs of lines one and four. ๐Ÿ™‚