Category Archives: Hebrew Bible

Review: Divine Presence Amid Violence (Walter Brueggemann)

Divine PresenceFollowing on the heels of my review of EisenbraunsWar in the Bible and Terrorism in the 20th Century (Part One, Two, Three), I read Walter Brueggemann’s Divine Presence Amid Violence: Contextualizing the Book of Joshua (Published by Cascade Books, a division of Wipf and Stock Publishers). Can you detect the theme of some of the books I am reading? Violence, especially when it touches on areas of religion, is a very hot topic when we consider current events in the news. It is a dilemma to condemn a present-day issue of violence when a similar type of violence seems to be condoned in some parts of the Hebrew Bible.

In this book, Brueggemann takes a brief (the text of the book is only 65 pages) look at an “exceedingly difficult text” (p. 11) in the Hebrew Bible: Joshua 11.

In the introduction, Brueggemann discusses how the conviction that Scripture is revelatory (by communities of Jews and Christians) is necessarily appropriated differently because of differences of contexts and cultural settings. He believes that the current state of hermeneutics convinces many (including himself) that there is “no single, sure meaning for any text.” Thus, the “revelatory power of the text is discerned and given precisely through the action of interpretation which is always concrete, never universal, always contextualized, never ‘above the fray,’ always filtered through vested interest, never in disinterested purity” (p. ix). If this is true of the interpretation process, then, according to Brueggemann, it should also be true of the process that forms, shapes and presents the text. Brueggemann suggests that because of this, revelation is never “simply a final disclosure, but is an ongoing act of disclosing that will never let the disclosure be closed.”
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Review: A Basic Introduction to Biblical Hebrew (by Jo Ann Hackett)

Intro to BH

I am very grateful to Allan Emery at Hendrickson Publishers for the opportunity to review Jo Ann Hackett’s soon-to-be released textbook, A Basic Introduction to Biblical Hebrew (with CD). He sent me PDF copies of the galleys so that I could write this review. I am also indebted to Prof. Hackett for her gracious answers to my emails that will add clarity to my review.

I am delighted that Hendrickson granted permission for me to post PDFs of both the Table of Contents and the author’s very helpful introduction, “How To Use This Book.” While I will quote some of this material below, I recommend reading both files because they give both the structure of the book and an explanation for how the book is intended to be used and the thought behind some of the novel pedagogy. The Table of Contents is very detailed and provides an excellent overview of the course plan.

PDF Files to view/download

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War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century (Part 3)

War in the Bible

Many thanks (again) to the folks at Eisenbrauns for sending me a review copy of War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century edited by Richard S. Hess and Elmer A. Martens (Bulletin for Biblical Research Supplement 2). You can read the first part and second part of my review of this book here and here. In this third (and final) post, the chapters we will look at cover diverse ground. One defends Christian pacifism, another looks at the distinction between Just Wars and Crusades. The three final essays take up the issues as they relate specifically to terrorism.
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War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century (Part 2)

War in the Bible Many thanks (again) to the folks at Eisenbrauns for sending me a review copy of War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century edited by Richard S. Hess and Elmer A. Martens (Bulletin for Biblical Research Supplement 2). You can read the first part of my review of this book here. Although I had thought I would prefer to post on each essay/chapter separately, I have decided that some of the chapters are better considered together. I would also like to remind you that this is a collection of essays, not one person’s book. There is not one sole opinion being defended. The unifying thread is the desire to seriously consider how to approach war and terrorism in light of the Bible. The two chapters we will look at in this post deal most directly with violence in the text of scripture.
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Coming soon…

to this blog.

We’ve had our schedule a bit interrupted by Mark’s cancer treatments, but I’ve been steadily making my way through a stack of books to review for you. Here’s what you can look forward to in the coming days:

  1. Completion of my review of War in the Bible and Terrorism in the 21st Century (Part One is here)
  2. Another book attempting to deal with violence in the Bible: Walter Brueggemann’s Divine Presence amid Violence: Contextualizing the Book of Joshua
  3. Jo Ann Hackett’s soon-to-be-published (by Hendrickson) A Basic Introduction to Biblical Hebrew
  4. A few OT survey books, one takes a comparative approach, the other a socio-literary approach
  5. Something for the Ugaritic fans 🙂

And as a special treat, I’m working on a post that explains the basics of the physics and bio-chemistry going on in Mark’s radiation and chemo treatments. Stay tuned to find out the low-down on oncology radiation and why not all chemo is equal (and what Mark’s chemo is attempting to do). We’ve just finished Day 11 of 28 of the radiation/chemo regime. Just taking things one day at a time.

There are a few other books in the queue, but the above list will hopefully be enough to entice you to keep checking back.

Stephen Chapman on Canon

Word and World

A little bit before SBL 2009 in New Orleans, Stephen Chapman sent me a copy of his recent article in the journal Word & World (Volume 29, Number 4, Fall 2009, 334-347). The theme of this issue is Canon. If you can get your hands on it, I’d recommend reading it. Here is the abstract for Chapman’s article, “What Are We Reading? Canonicity and the Old Testament.”

Contrary to the standard step-by-step model of the formation of the Old Testament canon, the process was more fluid, on [sic] ongoing recognition of the authority of certain books, based on their use. Hints at early canonical moves are evident already in the Old Testament texts themselves. All of this is important to Christian readers because, without the Old Testament, the church cannot properly know who Jesus is.

Chapman provides a helpful outline of the history, rationale, and details of what he calls the standard model of Old Testament canon formation and contrasts this with an alternative model (which asks if canon is “more about authority than closure”). Chapman credits the work of James Sanders and Brevard Childs as influential in the development of this alternative. A pull-quote in this second section of the article asks, “Must a canon by definition be literarily unchanging, officially approved, and nationally applicable?”

I realize I am not summarizing the entire article here, my purpose is to point out the article (and the volume) as worthy of your time if you are interested in Canon issues.

The editorial, by Frederick J. Gaiser, is available in full-text (PDF) online here.

War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century (Part 1)

War in the Bible Many thanks to the folks at Eisenbrauns for sending me a review copy of War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century edited by Richard S. Hess and Elmer A. Martens (Bulletin for Biblical Research Supplement 2).

This book (published in 2008) is a collection of 8 essays which came out of a 2004 conference at Denver Seminary. The event solicited papers from a variety of positions, each contributing to a search for biblical and ethical approaches to the questions of war and the Bible. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall at that conference. Perhaps this set of essays is the next best thing.

Before I begin discussing the content of the book, it is worth noting that the hard-cover book of 155 pages is part of Eisenbrauns participation in the Green Press Initiative (for more information, visit I usually pay attention to the type of paper that a publisher chooses, but I’m not accustomed to seeing such specific details listing the effects of choosing a particular paper. For this printing, the choice was 50% post consumer recycled paper (processed chlorine free). On the very last page of the book you learn that as a result, they saved 4 trees; 1,884 gallons of wastewater; 758 kilowatt hours of electricity; 208 pounds of solid waste; and 408 pounds of greenhouse gases.

The table of contents provides the structure which I will employ in reviewing this collection. I plan to post on each of the essays, which will allow a bit more space for quotes and summary.

Table of Contents for War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century

1. Christianity and Violence
Miroslav Volf

2 War in the Hebrew Bible: An Overview
Richard S. Hess

3. Toward Shalom: Absorbing the Violence
Elmer A. Martens

4. Impulses toward Peace in a Country at War: The Book of Isaiah between Realism and Hope
M. Daniel Carroll R.

5. Distinguishing Just War from Crusade: Is Regime Change a Just Cause for Just War?
Daniel R. Heimbach

6. Noncombatant Immunity and the War on Terrorism
Tony Pfaff

7 Terrorism: What is it and How Do We Deal with It?
Ian G. C. Durie

8. Just Peacemaking Reduces Terrorism between Palestine and Israel
Glen H. Stassen

In Chapter One, Miroslav Volf sets out to contest the claim that religion, and in particular, the Christian faith, fosters violence. He does not dismiss the violence done in the name of Christianity, nor does he ignore elements of Christian faith which, taken in isolation and out of safe-guarding context, can (and have been) used to legitimize violence. Nevertheless, his task here, he says, is not to answer these questions, but rather to demonstrate that the Christian faith should be regarded as a contributor to peaceful society.

I particularly appreciate his use of the concepts “thick” and “thin” as applied to the practice of Christian faith (be sure to read footnote 7, starting on page 3). While not a novel idea (e.g. Clifford Geertz and Gilbert Ryle), his application to religious practice is very helpful. “I am concerned to show how the “thinning” of religious practice opens religious convictions to be misused to legitimize violence because it strips away precisely what in “thick” religious faith guards against misuse of this sort” (fn 7, p 4).

After laying this foundation, Volf addresses four arguments:

  1. The Argument That Religion by Its Nature is Violent
  2. The Argument That Monotheism Entails Violence
  3. The Argument That Creation is an Act of Violence
  4. The Argument That the Intervention of a New Creation Generates Violence

I think he does a convincing job countering these positions, but I wonder if some readers may be less satisfied with how he handles the issue of violence in Creation and New Creation (even if they may agree with his conclusion).

Volf concludes with a section exploring how misuse of the Christian faith to legitimize violence happens and what can be done to prevent it. A sobering observation is that “Misconceptions of the Christian faith reflect the widespread misbehavior of Christians.” Of course this is not the whole story. He also lays some blame on the mass media and the “inflation of the negative.”

Woven throughout his arguments and observations in this essay are glimpses of his vision of how a “thick” practice of the Christian faith will “help generate and sustain a culture of peace.”

This first chapter sets the table for the courses of the meal that are served up by the following chapters. Next course: “War in the Hebrew Bible: An Overview” (Richard S. Hess).

New book to add to my list

Reframing Biblical StudiesJust received the weekly BookNews email from Eisenbrauns (the last one for 2009). I’ve got quite a reading list going right now, but this new release has really caught my eye and will be something I will want to read in the not-too-distant future: Reframing Biblical Studies: When Language and Text Meet Culture, Cognition, and Context by Ellen J. Van Wolde.

This is the publisher blurb:

Until recently, biblical studies and studies of the written and material culture of the ancient Near East have been fragmented, governed by experts who are confined within their individual disciplines’ methodological frameworks and patterns of thinking. The consequence has been that, at present, concepts and the terminology for examining the interaction of textual and historical complexes are lacking.

However, we can learn from the cognitives sciences. Until the end of the 1980s, neurophysiologists, psychologists, pediatricians, and linguists worked in complete isolation from one another on various aspects of the human brain. Then, beginning in the 1990s, one group began to focus on processes in the brain, thereby requiring that cell biologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, linguists, and other relevant scientists collaborate with each other. Their investigation revealed that the brain integrates all kinds of information; if this were not the case, we would not be able to catch even a glimpse of the brain’s processing activity.

By analogy, van Wolde’s proposal for biblical scholarship is to extend its examination of single elements by studying the integrative structures that emerge out of the interconnectivity of the parts. This analysis is based on detailed studies of specific relationships among data of diverse origins, using language as the essential device that links and permits expression. This method can be called a cognitive relational approach.

Van Wolde bases her work on cognitive concepts developed by Ronald Langacker. With these concepts, biblical scholars will be able to study emergent cognitive structures that issue from biblical words and texts in interaction with historical complexes. Van Wolde presents a method of analysis that biblical scholars can follow to investigate interactions among words and texts in the Hebrew Bible, material and nonmaterial culture, and comparative textual and historical contexts. In a significant portion of the book, she then exemplifies this method of analysis by applying it to controversial concepts and passages in the Hebrew Bible (the crescent moon; the in-law family; the city gate; differentiation and separation; Genesis 1, 34; Leviticus 18, 20; Numbers 5, 35; Deuteronomy 21; and Ezekiel 18, 22, 33).

No Distractions

In doing some searches in Accordance, I happened to notice that there are no distractions in the Hebrew bible.

No Hebrew word is translated by ESV, NIV, NRSV, NET (or many others) as “distract,” “distracted,” or “distractions.” The KJV does translate ‏אָפוּנָה found in Psalm 88:15 as “distracted,” but this word is found only here in the HB and does not have consensus for translation. In the NT there is only one verse that is translated with the word “distracted” (Luke 10:40).

I, on the other hand, am quite distracted lately.

Adon Olam

The tapestry created by weaving music and poetry together can be stunning. Let me give you an example. You can listen to Fortuna’s mesmerizing rendition of Adon Olam, a beautiful hymn in the Jewish Liturgy, here. This song is on the album Cantigas. If you do a Google search, you can find other sites to listen to the song for free before you decide if you want to purchase/download the music.

Here (reproduced from Wikipedia) are the lyrics in Hebrew, Transliteration, and English.

Adon Olam lyrics

Fortuna’s interpretation of the hymn is not a new release (actually, it was released in 1994) but I first heard of the song today via Twitter (@gideony).