John Wesley on the Biblical Languages

John WesleyWith this post, I want to begin a series “X Christian from Church History on the Biblical Languages.” I often share these sorts of quotes with my seminary students, and I thought they might be helpful to others as well. These posts are intended to be short, mainly consisting of a quote, which can be rather long at times, with brief commentary from me to provide some context. Continue reading “John Wesley on the Biblical Languages”

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Virtue in Mossflower

MossflowerReading Mossflower by Brian Jacques (the prequel to Redwall) to my children in the evenings before bed has been sheer delight. In addition to the adventure themes that stir the imaginations of my kids, I’m continually struck by the virtue and wisdom of the characters woven into Jacques’s writing. Of course, he also weaves the vices of avarice and power seeking into the antagonists.

Without giving away too much of the plot, I want to comment on a particular point in the book that highlights such virtue and charity. The Woodlanders of Mossflower are a free, peaceful folk, who have found themselves displaced and oppressed by the aggressive tyranny of Kotir. Throughout the story, there have been many skirmishes between the two sides, and casualties on both sides have been sustained. Late in the story, some of the Woodlanders were able to access the palace of Kotir and found the remnant of a former lake underneath it. This discovery caused them to wonder whether there indeed was a lake where the current palace of their enemies stood. They searched and indeed found the place where the river that once flowed into the lake had been redirected. Immediately, they began to search for how to cause the river to flow where it once did in order to flood the palace of Kotir. This tactic would result in a weapon of mass destruction that would bring a decisive end to the war. Continue reading “Virtue in Mossflower”

A Fourth-Century Closure of the Old Testament Canon? (Part 2)

Hahneman-book coverIn the last post, we looked at Geoffrey Hahneman’s reasons for a fourth-century date for the closing of the Old Testament canon. In this post, I supply some response to his interpretation of the evidence.

(1) Hahneman began with the evidence of the New Testament (74–5). Though NT usage of religious literature will continue to be debated, Oskar Skarsaune, in a significant essay in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament: The History of Its Interpretation, vol. 1, concludes:

There has been much scholarly debate on the question of whether “circumstantial evidence” (i.e. the actual use of authoritative books) in the first century CE supports or contradicts the notion of a “closed” canon in that period. If quotation frequency is regarded as significant circumstantial evidence, the New Testament seems to indicate that its authors (with the one exception mentioned [1 Enoch in Jude]) quoted the Hebrew canon, and its books only, as Scripture (445).

According to formal quotation or citation, the NT only uses books from the Hebrew canon. Sundberg and Hahneman argue that NT authors reflect on books from a wider body of literature, but the question is whether that usage constitutes the same appeal to authority as direct quotation/citation. Skarsaune and most discern a difference. Continue reading “A Fourth-Century Closure of the Old Testament Canon? (Part 2)”

A Fourth-Century Closure of the Old Testament Canon? (Part 1)

Hahneman-book coverOne of the key elements of a modern definition of canon or a list is closure. The question of when was the canon or list of the Old Testament sacred scriptures closed has become the topic of much debate. Furthermore, some scholars have tied the closing of the New Testament canon to the question of the closing of the OT canon.

Geoffrey Mark Hahnman in The Muratorian Fragment and the Development of the Canon says:

The Muratorian Fragment as traditionally dated at the end of the second century contrasts greatly with the establishing of the Old Testament in the fourth century. The Fragment clearly represents a New Testament canon. To accept its traditional date would suggest that the Church was engaged in defining a New Testament canon more than 150 years before it began fixing an Old Testament canon. While this is not impossible, it is unlikely, and it must have been such a consideration that encouraged Sundberg to reconsider the date of the Fragment (83).

Hahneman is more concerned with the Muratorian Fragment and its significance for the NT canon than the OT canon. He relies heavily on the arguments of Albert Sundberg for the formation of the Christian Old Testament in this section. It is worth reviewing the lines of evidence he presents. Continue reading “A Fourth-Century Closure of the Old Testament Canon? (Part 1)”

Inner-Biblical Exegesis between Old Greek Isaiah 9:9 and Genesis 11:3–4?

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The Old Greek (OG) translators are often times (mis)understood to be mechanical in their approach to translating the Hebrew Text (HT), often pictured as giving a plain, or even rigid, word for word rendering of their Hebrew source. Of course this description is closer to the mark when describing Song of Songs or Ecclesiastes or even Numbers etc. But not all translators went about their task in this way. Some of them wove deliberate interpretation or exegesis into their translations (of course all translations are interpretations to a degree so that we should think about translations on a continuum from less to more interpretation). The Isaiah (image: Codex Marchalianus) translator is an example of a more interpretive translator, and I was struck by what appears to be a beautiful example of his technique in 9:9. Continue reading “Inner-Biblical Exegesis between Old Greek Isaiah 9:9 and Genesis 11:3–4?”

The Old Testament is Dying

I completed a key summer reading goal: The Old Testament is Dying: A Diagnosis and Recommended Treatment (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2017) by Brent A. Strawn of Emory University in Atlanta, GA. Strawn divides his book into three parts: (1) The Old Testament as a Dying Language (chs. 1-3), (2) Signs of Morbidity (chs. 4-6), and (3) Path to Recovery (chs. 7-9). Let me say from the outset: buy this book.

This book does not represent the average call to fix biblical illiteracy. Rather, Strawn OTDyingapproaches the problem from a medical vantage point and makes a diagnosis that the OT is dying or already dead (pp. 4-5). But in this case the patient is a language, the language of the OT and the Bible in general (pp. 6-13). Therefore, the language of Bible finds itself in need of a doctor treating a terminal patient rather than an English teacher helping one learn to read. Whatever one thinks of the analogy between the Bible and a language (and I think Strawn has done a good job noting the strengths and weaknesses of this analogy throughout the book such as on p. 16ff), he has struck the right tone with the imagery of language death. Some readers will not find the material on modern linguistics helpful or integral to the argument (such as the material in ch. 3 “On Language Growth and Change, Contact and Death”). But wading through this chapter and like comments throughout continues to stress how the OT has fallen into disrepair and is dying and also how to revive it. Continue reading “The Old Testament is Dying”

What is a Catena Manuscript and Why should we Care?

I have posted my answers to these questions over on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog. If you are interested in the Bible’s text history and its history of interpretation, you may want to read this post, which highlights one interesting aspect of it. I include images of a few different manuscripts and provide a modest description of them. Perhaps, you did not know there were two different material layouts of these MSS? I did not either, but I was blessed in the learning.

Tyr 25-2.6-9b

Credit: The image was sent to me by Zisis Melissakis, who prepared the digital images of the MS at the library in Tyrnavos.

John Muir and Discovery

For my birthday, my wife bought me John Muir’s Wilderness Essays. It has a number of gems in it, and I have found the first essay, “Discovery of Glacier Bay,” to be a fascinating description of the method and joy of discovery. Surely, there are analogies to be drawn between the way Muir explores and describes a newly found landscape and the way in which researchers in biblical studies and humanities push back the frontiers of knowledge.

Near the beginning of his exploration of the great glaciers, Muir needs a higher vantage point to obtain knowledge of the natural phenomena he is investigating:

I therefore set out on an excursion, and spent the day alone on the mountain slopes above the camp, and to the north of it, to see what I might learn….But at length the clouds lifted a little, and beneath their gray fringes I saw the berg-filled expanse of the bay, and the feet of the mountains that stand about it, and the imposing fronts of five of the huge glaciers, the nearest being immediately beneath me. This was my first general view of Glacier Bay, a solitude of ice and snow and new-born rocks, dim, dreary, mysterious (p. 9-10).

At this point, Muir grasps the whole landscape. He observes numerous features from a bird’s-eye view as it were. This, we might refer to as, “familiarity.” The rest of the essay is about his “analysis” of the parts that filled his initial vista. He describes the several glaciers he had seen from above and also found other ones as he explored the bay below.

One of his companions inquired why Muir would risk so much, and another calmly replied that he was only seeking knowledge. The first companion commented, “Muir must be a witch to seek knowledge in such a place as this, and in such miserable weather.” All researchers face various hardships, not all of them at the whims of the natural elements. But persistence under hardship often gives way to joyous discovery. In a section too lengthy to cite here, Muir describes the sunrise on a particular morning:

After had seen the unveiling of the majestic peaks and glaciers that evening, and their baptism in the down-pouring sunbeams, it was inconceivable that nature could have anything finer to show us. Nevertheless, compared with what was coming the next morning, all that was as nothing. As far as we could see, the lovely dawn gave no promise of anything uncommon….but in the midst of our studies we were startled by the sudden appearance of a red light burning with a strange, unearthly splendor on the topmost peak of the Fairweather Mountains. Instead of vanishing as suddenly as it had appeared, it spread and spread until the whole range down to the level of the glaciers was filled with the celestial fire….But here the mountains themselves were made divine, and declared his glory in terms still more impressive….We turned and sailed away, joining the outgoing bergs, while ‘Gloria in excelsis’ still seemed to be sounding over all the landscape, and our burning hearts were ready for any fate, feeling that whatever the future might have in store, the treasures we had gained would enrich our lives forever (pp. 17-19).

The whole account is worth reading. Muir’s persistence against the elements had given him a view of the subject which led to great joy and propelled him to continue the expedition no matter the cost.GlacierBay_NPS

Throughout his account of this discovery, Muir says he “was too happy to sleep” (p. 16) or he would only sleep a few hours and then regret he had slept at all (p. 23).

I love the National Parks and the results of Muir’s conservation efforts. I’m excited to read more of his Wilderness Essays to learn more about his experiences of exploration and discovery to see if there are more analogues to my own field of research, and furthermore to get lost in his beautiful prose.