If Handel’s Messiah is playing near you, go. H- and I went tonight and it is amazing. Every word is from Scripture. The most striking and awe-inspiring songs included For Unto Us a Child is Born, and All We Like Sheep (whose last part was unexpectedly dramatic), and, also unexpectedly, the new-to-me song Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs.
Most of you know I am a member of a black church. I mention this because the first song that the chorus sang made me tear up and I thought about how I would react to the Hallelujah Chorus and whether I would stand by myself or not. For those who do not know, it is a tradition to stand for that one, and so we did. It was sublime beyond compare. Praise Yahweh. Praise the LORD. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
“Sure it is. Of course it is. That was a loaded question. Speaking is certainly distinct from writing,” the professor announced. “I mean, unless you believe the writer of Genesis meant that the LORD wrote, ‘Let there be light.’ Anyone believe that?” he asked with a pause long enough to cause the students discomfort. “I didn’t think so,” he resumed. “Instead, I say–well, I repeat–what others before me have said, that we throw the word text into our vocabulary anytime we’re not talking about the spoken Word of God. Fair? After all, the Word of God is…what? ‘Sharper than any two-edged sword.’ Right? But the text? The text is surely observable, measurable, debatable, and able to be analyzed with great criticism and scrutiny, no?”
At this, the same lone-hand as always lifted into the air and did not wait to be called upon. “So you’re saying that everything we’re going to do from now on, despite what it might seem, is not criticizing our faith in Christ, nor even the spoken Word of God, but only the written text?”
“Close. I am saying that we have gathered in this classroom because we’re interested and able to study what you just called the written text, but I’m suggesting that you join us in calling the text. Again, this endeavor does not require belief in Christ. That said, the point, which I believe is now abundantly clear, is that the text is different from the Word. Here is Tov’s definition of our task: ‘Textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible analyzes the biblical text and describes its history on general lines.’ Tov clarifies, ‘As a rule, textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible aims neither at the compositions written by the biblical authors, nor at previous oral stages, if such existed, but only at that stage (those stages) of the composition(s) that is (are) attested in the textual evidence (3).’
“Let me say this. It is probably best if you begin to seek at least two distinctions within every initial thought you have or term you use as we go about our task. For example, the data (singular) with which we’re working actually is two things. The texts plus the conjecture about the texts. As text critics, we’re going to do our best to stick with the texts and postpone debate about conjecture. But even this “sticking with the texts” has two steps. We need to first, collect the texts, then we evaluate them. As scholars answer the question of what the early text (singular) looked like, they are involved in one of two established text conventions and it is helpful to self-identify (both to clarify to yourself and to your audience which you are using). First, we have the Masoretic Text or MT, and second, textual traditions other than the MT. Unfruitful complication occurs if this last distinction is not held.
“Furthermore, here, our concern is focused on the Septuagint, not the Hebrew Bible. The two are forever interrelated, though, and it harms no one to spend some time on either text, even as we acknowledge that those texts are certainly not synonymous. For one thing, the Septuagint is irrevocably at a level once removed. Any difficulties encountered in text-criticism of the Hebrew Bible are unavoidably multiplied when we move our eye to the texts of the LXX. Firstly, we must acknowledge the Septuagint consists of many texts or translation units—never as a full translation of the thirty-nine book canon. (We do a disservice to the enterprise if this step is skipped). Secondly, we must acknowledge whether we are inclined to believe the differences in the LXX texts stem from the writer(s) using different Hebrew Vorlages or just applying a different guiding translation principle to the same Vorlage.
“A final note is necessary as we welcome text-criticism of the Septuagint into our lives. We are going to discuss, at length, the nature of translating these sacred texts and do so often with the boundaries free and literal. While doing so, we must not forget that we are dealing with personal—not official—translations. There was great subjectivity in the endeavor—there had to be. At best, forgetting this fact is a time-consuming distraction; at worst, an avoidable and harmful error. So let’s not make it. Instead, let’s join Tov in humbly seeking consistencies within the texts.”
This is my summary of pp. 1-39 of Tov, Emanuel, 2015, The Text-Critical Use of the Septuagint in Biblical Research. 3rd edition. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns. ISBN 978-1575063287.
I am currently enrolled in the most fascinating class of my seminary experience. It is a class on the Septuagint. The Septuagint, often abbreviated LXX, is the name for the first translation(s) of the so-called Old Testament. I have written some summaries of the required readings in a way that I hope prove enjoyable and informative. Here’s the first.
“Anyone?” he asked the abnormally silent classroom. After a moment the professor continued, his voice feigning disbelief, “Not one of you has an answer to this question? You’re usually all so talkative.”
Finally one student spoke up. “Maybe you could ask the question again. The silence has caused me to forget how you worded the question—which seems like it may be your point here.”
“Fair enough,” the professor conceded. He then raised up high over his head, for the second time, the black, hard-bound book which had the words “Holy Bible” inscribed in gold lettering on the front cover and asked, “Am I holding the English translation of the Holy Bible?”
The same outspoken student, after a quick look around the room resulting in renewed confidence to speak for the group, cautiously answered, “I think I could say that you’re holding one English translation of the Holy Bible and not break my integrity.”
“Ah, and why do you say, one and not the?”
Several students were heard chuckling at the ridiculously easy nature of the question.
“Well, professor, as you well know, we probably have at least four English translations amongst ourselves in just this classroom, not including digital versions stored on–or accessible by–our phones and laptops.”
“Exactly the point!” At this the just-animated professor paused. “Okay then. With that, we’re now ready to talk about the so-called Septuagint.
“The first question we need to answer is, ‘When? When are we talking about? When did this occur?’
“As with all antiquity, a range is more honest than an exact date, or if an exact date is mentioned, keep in mind that a range is implied. That said, the request and its fulfillment to translate some of what we call the Old Testament into Koine Greek (the Lingua Franca of its day–thanks to Alexander the Great) was around 250 BC. It should surprise no one that the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) was treated first, and only over time does it appear that the rest of the OT (and more) was completed. Moreover, no different than the reason behind our many contemporary English translations, soon after the first so-called Septuagint there was disagreement and desire to do it better or perhaps more accurately. The big (versus only) three recensions/translators (the new ‘r’ word will be defined in a moment) that the historical record attests to are Aquila (ca. 140 AD), Theodotion (ca. 190 AD), and Symmachus (ca. 200 AD).
“Naturally, simply acknowledging these things often causes us to forget we’re in the forest. There is no denying that we find ourselves past the trees, through the roses’ scent, beyond the grass, and into the weeds. The weeds, of course, being the things that will not go away. Either we pull one up and another appears or we kill one only to discover it comes right back. Regarding Septuagint studies, this means that people are both still discovering how all the extant and attested to Septuagints were viewed in history as well as arguing over just how to categorize the many, many seeming distinctives involved in the criticism of ancient texts.
“Yet, decisions must be made and I’ve made them. You’re free to disagree with mine—after the semester. For now, here are some words that I’m going to use. Recensions must include revisions, but revisions do not necessarily produce recensions.
“In other words, there are times when we notice that some writer revised the Septuagint, without entirely revising it.
“But to say it that way is confusing. So in order to prevent the confusion I just introduced, we call the entire revision thing a recension.
“Speaking of recensions, we’ve already mentioned three notable recensions. But there are three more names that you’ll continuously come across. Those being, Hesychian, Hexapala (which is the six-column and no-longer-extant work of a man named Origen), and Lucianic. No doubt, more will be said about these as we go.
“Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is one more word that this introduction must include: Vorlage (pronounced “4-log-eyh”). Vorlage is the name for the so-called parent-text to the LXX that history has not preserved, but which scholars believe the above personalities (and more) used to create the first LXX.
“Murky, indeed, are the waters when trying to reproduce the Vorlage.”
This is my summary of pp. 1-62 from Jobes, Karen H., and Moisés Silva’s 2015, Invitation to the Septuagint. 2nd edition. Grand Rapids: Baker. ISBN 978-080103649-1.
The following is something I have not shared with very many people. But it has been on my mind of late and I just want to put it down on paper, so to speak.
Lately, as I spend more and more time with African-Americans, I have come to see that everyone hates them. With Denver having a booming African population, it has become clear that even, and sometimes especially, Africans hate them. Naturally, this triggers my desire to defend them. But why?
Why do I love African-Americans so much? They aren’t my culture. We have very different lifestyles. There are some similarities in worldview, but once we leave the Gospel and Word of God, there is often a terrific break. My daughter loves the church and her friends there, but as she gets older, it’s going to be more and more difficult for her to live in both the white and black worlds. Yet I persist. Why? Why? Why? Why?
I’ll tell you.
So there I was. Balad, Iraq, ca. 2008 AD. It was my third of three deployments. My squadron–the aircrew at least–was exclusively male. The lone life support troop was often female. Can you imagine it? She’s half-way around the world, all by herself. Not all by herself, of course. She’s surrounded by men in their most primal environment. At this point in my story, you can probably guess that she was African-American. And she was Christian. I noticed this right away. The LORD was her rock.
One evening, she was with us at our dinner table. She ate quietly. The conversation was loose and the jokes were filthy. One of the more senior officers couldn’t seem to avoid vulgarities. Some might say he was in rare form with this woman present. It was like he was a fly and dick jokes were the light. He’d tell a story, and then the next would be worse. I kept looking towards her and I could tell she was not happy. I just wanted him to give it a rest. He didn’t.
When we returned from dinner, this woman went back to where she worked. There, for at least ninety nights, with no days off, she diligently cleaned and prepared all of our helmets, survival radios, vests, and most importantly the night vision goggles. She was the definition of mission-essential. She did this all by herself–save for when one of us would grace her with some attempted pleasantry.
Something inside me would not let the dinner scene go unaddressed. So I got off the couch and took a moment to walk over to where she worked and struck up a conversation. I said, fully expecting an explosion of gratitude, “If I was more of a man, I would have put a stop to the conversation you just had to listen to at dinner.”
I remember her stony eyes more vividly than her words, but I do remember that with great resolve, she said, “Would you have?” Then she repeated it, “Would you have?”
What about you, reader? Do you possess enough penetration to see my mistake?
She didn’t want some empathetic friend. She didn’t want some “we’re all in this together” moment. She wanted righteousness. And the fact that I admitted that I knew it was wrong, made me more guilty, more unrighteous, than my boss.
This young woman had something most of us don’t recognize and are unable to do anything more than talk about if we do see. It’s something only got by experience. It’s something that’s forgettable–but that would be a tragedy.
The more you hate on her, the more you kill it. And for what?
I don’t know. Maybe that might help you understand why I love African-Americans and think you should too.
Harsh wind enraged remnant embers
“Cain, my love!” his mother cries
She bids him, “Here!”, she scrambles near.
A Sestina is form of poetry–a restrictive form of poetry. It has six stanzas of six lines, then a three line stanza. The last words of each stanza are the tricky part. After the first stanza, the last words have been chosen. The full pattern is as follows:
- ECA or ACE (called envol or tornada–it must also contain the other end-words, BDF, in the course of the three lines so that all six appear in the final three lines.)
Of all creatures, man is set apart by his ability to respond at length. Other creatures appear to be able to make inquiry and even reply through a series of grunts and gestures, but man alone has been endowed with the responsive power so-called reason.
Lowering his chin almost imperceptibly, Adam slowly closed his eyes. With an increase of force likely to be noticed solely by his closest family, he exhaled the entirety of the deep breath he had been holding as he watched his sons. He leaned his head forward until his chin rested on hand, which was on the top of his staff, as he reopened his eyes.
“What?” Eve asked.
He didn’t look at her. Though his eyes were open, he did not see anything but the garden.
“What?” Eve repeated.
Worried by Adam’s silence, Eve did not notice the look on Cain’s face. Adam did not have to.
“Abel!” he called at last. “Here,” he motioned for his son to come close.
As Abel listened to his father’s words, he looked towards Cain only to see that Cain was staring at him. Some new feeling arose in Abel, one whose name did not yet exist but which he wished would never have surfaced.
The next month was not pleasant for the family. Adam would not let his sons out of his sight. Eve worried.
“What are you saying, Cain?” Abel asked when the two brothers were in the fields, some distance from Adam.
“I’m saying He-” Cain motioned towards the entire sky, “-He spoke to me after that day.”
“And what did He say?” Abel replied.
“He told me If you do well, will not your face be lifted up?”
Relieved, Abel said, “That sounds true.”
“But then He said,” Cain continued, “And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you.”
Alarmed and looking for Adam, Abel said, “Why wouldn’t you do well, brother?”
Adam awoke from his daydream and did not immediately see his sons. Scanning the horizon with growing panic, he soon calmed down. The two men were seen facing each other, apparently talking about something. Then Abel took a step backwards, as if to place some distance between Cain and himself. Adam grabbed his staff and began to run, cursing himself that he did not stay closer.
“STOP!” Cain commanded Adam, Abel lying lifeless on the ground. “Do not come any closer, father.”
Adam stopped and closed his eyes and saw the garden. Cain bumped Adam’s shoulder as he left him there with Abel’s body. Then Adam buried Abel.
That night, Cain had nightmares of the voice saying, “You must master it. You must master it. You must master it.”
He awoke to the sound of thunder, soaked in sweat.
Then Yahweh said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?”
I don’t post as much as I used to. My studies have kind of skerred me away from writing anything which carries an implicit, “If you only read what I write about Scripture THEN you’ll understand it.” For I cannot see how most theological writing is any different than every poor soul who does willfully add their own writings to Scripture. However, I still love reading and writing (am into some Robert Louis Stevenson at the moment), so I’ve decided to go a different route. To challenge myself literarily and spiritually, I am going to re-write some Old Testament stories that have caught my attention.
To be clear, what follows are totally for enjoyment. There is no added value or significant meaning. It just helps me to remember Scripture if I can discern between something that is not Scripture and the real deal. To begin, because a friend of mine has me re-examining the story of Cain and Abel found in Genesis, I am going to see if I can re-write it five times–each in a distinct genre. As “fabulism” or “post-modernism” or what I think is just as aptly labeled “anything goes” is essentially the latest genre to emerge–certainly not present in Moses’ mind–I will start there. Enjoy.
she was not quite awake as he pawed her legs apart dawn had not yet broke they were alone somewhere in the middle of another barren land where the few nearby leaves rustled she soon caved to his passion it frightened her she bit his lip and was rewarded she bit harder he responded harder he slowly twisted her long hair around his hand and suddenly jerked her head back roughly she dug her fingernails into his back seeking blood in return he leaned his face towards hers again he held his foul breath in and by this she could tell he was close she bit his lip almost clean off as he finished tasting his blood he recoiled and instinctively smacked her hard seeing only the shadow of him through her own dark arms she screamed with sheer terror he had only witnessed such fear once before and that time he didn’t stop on this morning something was different on this morning he stayed his fist then his hands favored her soft chest to the hard ground and he squeezed violently one last time before he pressed himself to his feet food he thought catching his breath he walked towards his fruitless garden in the morning darkness
i do remember said abel i remember yahweh looked well upon my offering and did not look well upon yours then cain said i heard the voice of yahweh he spoke to me then abel said what did he say then cain said yahweh said to me if you do well then your face will be lifted up but if you do not do well sin is crouching at your door it wants to devour you you must rule over it then abel said to cain what are you going to do
the distant thunder slowly rolled closer as if weary from the journey as cain tore into the flesh of his brother abel and the blood of abel began to mix with his sweat on his skin and the thunder grew in speed and strength only yahweh saw everything but had you been there had the skies not become as night you might have seen that it was precisely when the first blood of abel landed on the earth that the deafening thunder clap stopped the intoxicated fury for one moment cain cowered in fear but abel was already asleep then cain completed his murderous act with renewed heart and vowed to never be interrupted again
cain wrapped his cloak around him as he sat alone on the side of the rocky mountain cain gazed far beyond where the heavens touched the earth the wind squinted the eyes of cain and then yahweh said to cain where is abel your brother cain was still as the mountain he sat upon then cain said i do not know am i my brothers keeper
then cain said to his wife who was with child there is no more food here
I wish I was kidding. Actually, I wish I didn’t notice things like the following anymore. They drive me crazy. In any case, when I was back in KC a few weekends ago, I noticed that an entire section of the Kansas City Star was devoted to the upcoming 2017 solar eclipse. Apparently it’s a unique one. And apparently somewhere in nearby Missouri the duration and totality of the eclipse is going to be singular, so folks are already planning on how to best view it.
I am at a loss for how to explain to all the ultra-educated science nerds who take behavioral cues from the sun that their (and my) primitive ancestors used to do this. The thing is primitive people used to do it while also worshiping wood and stone–which nearly all today see as backwards in every sense of the word. Yet, it is forever in the history books that early man used to worship wood and stone.
Not all of them of course–the patriarchs of my faith didn’t. Moses–who actually spoke with the LORD–talked about this nonsense all those years ago when he warned his people, The LORD will bring you and your king, whom you set over you, to a nation which neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone.
There’s more. These self-same contemporary leaders of knowledge insist that because of their calculations (new AND improved wood and stone) they can be certain that Jesus Christ did not resurrect from the dead and that my prayers are meaningless and unheard etc., and yet they have no trouble joining the masses of humanity–past, present, and certainly future–who have denied the Living God His due Glory even as they wonder at His creation.
But I’m not finished. Here’s the kicker. In one such article about the upcoming August 21st eclipse, the writer commented that even the animal kingdom is affected by the event. You read that right. Many members of the human race are already making travel plans (two months out!) to see the eclipse and it’s news that the animals change their behavior? Is anyone else’s head spinning? It’s probably a good idea to hold onto to your child’s hand a little tighter at this point. You never know when the sun god will require a child in exchange for rain. Sheesh!
By all means, enjoy the eclipse. Just let it be an arrow in your brain that points to the LORD; let the temporary darkness bring to light a response like David’s, whom the LORD sought because he was a man after His own heart.
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him?
And the son of man that You care for him?
…O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!
I don’t know about your town, but in mine the main grocery store has become a very large employer of special needs folks. The spoiled rich kids call these people “specials” for short and because they have enough wealth to not have to understand things like life on planet Earth. Given that I was the spoiled rich kid too, I was embarrassingly uncomfortable when I saw this hiring trend. But over the last year or so, I have come full circle with such force that I am often dizzy. I didn’t do it by choice. It took the Word of God. But I think I now see what Jesus meant when He said, So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit…Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.
Despite what the world often tells us, the goal is not homogeneity–the goal is the glorifying God our Father through building the Kingdom of Heaven as proclaimed by the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.
Here’s another thing. As an adult, I still produce the thought, “I just am uncomfortable because I don’t know how to act around them.” H- has never evidenced that she has of yet had that thought. Don’t misread me. It’s not that she has “acted” perfectly around all people, it’s that she just acts. H- is a child. Jesus also said, truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
My point: Our problem is we do not readily discern between child-like, dogmatic, immovable, and unshakable faith in Jesus Christ and NOT child-like, dogmatic faith in the things that we build on this foundation. But the distinction is real. And now is a good time to start making it. Jesus also said, therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock
Now for some fun. I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw this display just now at the store. Transformers will always have a special place in me because my helicopter was the first transformer in the first movie. But that place just got smaller and more remote. Could they get it more wrong? When I need a recommendation for which razor-maker is doing the best these days at ensuring I don’t accidentally bleed-out next time I shave, it will only and ever be accepted from man-flesh. Sorry, Prime.
He listened as H- dryly read, “And what was my life like? The heat burned me in the daytime. And it was so cold at night that I froze. I couldn’t-”
“Hold up, H-,” he interrupted at last. “Remember how we are focusing on reading with gusto? This is a good place to put some gusto into how you read the story.”
Partly frustrated by his broken record, partly curious, H- watched her father. His eyes widened and as he drew in a breath, his head bent back as well. Then he snapped it forward, his open hand slapping his chest.
“And what was my life like?”
H- smiled, beginning to understand.
“The heat,” he continued, feigning to wipe sweat from his brow, “burned me in the daytime.”
H- couldn’t remove her eyes.
“And it was so cold,” he began, shivering.
They both laughed.
“Or maybe it’d be better like this,” he offered. He then looked at frost-bitten fingertips which he rubbed together furiously and blew hot breath upon.
Laughing, she joined him.
“No, you should have done-” she began; then she huddled over, shivered and said, “Brrr, I’m sooo c-c-cold. Let me pour some hot chocolate.”
His laughter almost scared her.
“I don’t think they had hot chocolate back then, H-. Remember Jacob and Laban lived a long, long time ago,” he corrected, chuckling. “But you’re getting the gusto right. Good job. Now let’s keep reading.”
H-, now seven, turned back to the sacred words and promptly struggled to locate where she left off.
“We’re looking for ‘chocolate’,” he proposed, unable to resist.
H- laughed with her voice, but her eyes seemed to say something else.