Monday, May 25, 2009

I've Moved -- to Wordpress!


I have moved to wordpress (or as others put it, from darkness to light, from being dead to being alive, from the NT to the OT--ok, maybe that last one is a little biased). The new address is as follows:

Please, do enjoy the much more pleasing aesthetics, and comment! Also, please update your blogrolls, feeds, links, etc. appropriately!


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Review: Humphreys, The Character of God in the Book of Genesis: A Narrative Appraisal

W. Lee Humphreys. The Character of God in the Book of Genesis: A Narrative Appraisal. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001.
ISBN: 0-664-22360-5. Paper. Pp. 294. $29.95.

W. Lee Humphreys is currently emeritus professor in the department of religious studies at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. He is the author of several other books, among them Crisis and Story: Introduction to the Old Testament, Joseph and His Family: A Literary Study, and The Tragic Vision and the Hebrew Tradition.

In The Character of God in the Book of Genesis, Humphreys employs new understandings of literary theory to the Genesis text with the goal of illuminating how God functions as a character in the text. The volume is divided into nine chapters, focusing upon God in relationship with other characters in the Genesis narrative (for example, God in the Story of Abraham and Sarah, or Isaac and Rebekah, or Jacob and Leah and Rachel). Foundational for Humphreys is the contention that God is "the most compelling character in the book" (2, italics original). God not only is an open and active character at certain points in the text, but he is also "a character made of words" (3) . . . the words of other characters. At bottom, God is an equally dynamic figure in Genesis, changing and developing as the narrative progresses, and it is the task of the reader (Humphreys assumes a "first time reader" approach and, it appears, by extension a reader-response approach) to construct the character of God as the reader encounters God and what other characters say about God.

In the first chapter, "Reading God as a Character in Genesis," Humphreys carefully outlines his methodological presuppositions. He adapts Robert Alter's scale of textual indicators for characterization, distilling it from six points into three pairs: 1) external descriptions and what other characters say; 2) actions and speech; 3) inner thoughts and the narrator's evaluation. At the beginning end of this short spectrum Humphreys cautions against an all-too-easy acceptance of other character's words as a trustworthy means of characterization, while the latter end provides the reader with firmer footing. Regarding point #1, Humphreys holds that God is defined more by what he says and does than by the simple fact that he appears. Here, one may come to realize ultimately that statements about God on the lips of others in the text reveals more about their own characters than about God. On point #2, Humphreys helpfully points out that in some cases (i.e., the flood in Gen 6f.) God's words and actions coincide with one another. Conversely, there are moments where God's words and actions are in dissonance with one another, such as the recurring texts promising an heir to Abraham amidst the great amount of narrative time in which Abraham is without an heir. And on point #3, Humphreys notes that readers are not often privy to the deity's inner thoughts. Emerging out of this understanding of characterization is the sense that the task lies with the readers in constructing God's character.

There is indeed a dearth of scholarly treatment on God as character in Genesis. Humphreys avers the reason for this as being the possible tensions that may arise between God in Genesis and the construct of God the reader brings to the text. This possible dissonance, he suggests, has led to an a priori assumption that God is a coherent and consistent character, and indeed, must be so. These notices do not, however, derive patently from the biblical text. One's task is then to see what the text says about God and not to impose one's own views on the text. For Humphreys, what results from such an engagement is a recogntion that God is a character "in process of becoming" (20).

I cannot hope in this brief review to cover all the insights and nuances of Humphreys treatment of God in Genesis. I here wish to offer a brief sampling of Humphreys' method by summarizing his reading of God in the story of Isaac and Rebekah as well as in the story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel.

According to Humphreys, God does not figure much at all--and only at the behest of the human characters--in the story of Isaac and Rebekah. Whereas Abraham was sought out by God, Isaac seeks out God, requesting that YHWH remedy Rebekah's barrenness. Similarly, once she has conceived, Rebekah's problematic pregnancy impels her to seek out and question God. The deity's response in 25:23 is both enigmatic and communicates a future of strife and difficulty for the brothers. After this oracle is uttered, Humphreys sees God as utterly uninvolved in the ensuing narratives. In 25:29-34, the infamous birthright episode, God is not present, and he is likewise inconspicuous in the deception in chapter 27. God is only brought into the scene in chapter 27 in three instances, each of which results in another character speaking about God either in deceit or as the one deceived (vv. 7, 20, 28). It stands out as striking, also, that God does nothing to warn Isaac of the impending deception, says Humphreys. God's role in chapters 25-27 is one who has announced (either his preference, or what was to happen, it remains unclear), and now withdraws and leaves its fulfillment to the human characters. Humphreys' characterization of God here is nearly, if not, deistic. The final sentence of this chapter is quite telling, presenting God as almost disinterested in this generation: "For his part, God seems ready to move on to the next generation, so he can engage Jacob and get about what he has designed for this family" (168).

In the story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel, God is portrayed as much more engaged. At Bethel in chapter 28 God appears for the first time to Jacob, and what must be emphasized here, argues Humphreys, is that God's acceptance of this deceiver is unconditional whereas Jacob's acceptance of God is conditional. God then disappears from the narrative scene again and does not return until the birth of Jacob's twelve children. Humphreys reads YHWH's focus on Leah the unloved wife, giving her four children at the outset, in contrast to Rachel the loved wife, as not only an "implied judgment on Jacob's own preferences among his wives" (176) but also as a unique circumstance in which the elder is favored by the deity over the younger. After the birth of Jacob's children, God again recedes.

Humphreys next turns to the various ways in which the other characters construct and define God. One should remain mindful that, based upon Humphreys' conclusions about characterization in the opening chapter (see above), such constructions are less trustworthy. First, Jacob introduces God in chapter 31 as the impetus and cause for the success of Jacob's numinous activity with Laban's flocks in chapter 30. Despite all that Jacob narrates about God here, Humphreys reminds that the narrator has said nothing of God during the description of the selective breeding in chapter 30. Humphreys sees Jacob's story as just that, a 'story,' "designed to compel [Leah and Rachel] to take sides, specifically to take his side" (182). Never does Humphreys go so far as to say Jacob cannot be trusted, but such an implication seems quite clear to me. Jacob is "eras[ing] his own deceit from his version of events as he recounts them" (184). Second, Leah and Rachel accept Jacob's construction of God, and God himself only appears in the story briefly in 31:24, where he cautions Laban to say and do nothing to Jacob. Third, Laban must himself also accept that God is clearly on the side of Jacob. Yet from Humphreys' perspective, God-as-character here is little more than a rhetorical construct, and his actions and words are placed in the mouths of "other characters who have their own agendas and intentions" (186).

In the final chapter, "Perspectives on the Character of God in the Book of Genesis," Humphreys sketches out the dynamic nature of God's character across the entire book of Genesis. On the question of what "type" of character God is, Humphreys argues for an overall movement from narratorial insights about God's words and deeds to a heavy emphasis on how other characters construct God. God also seems to change as the narrative progresses. This movement mirrors the distillation of Alter's scale of characterization outlined above. Humphreys' analysis also says something of the 'structure' of the book: Gen 1 and 37-50 cohere in their portrayal of God as agent, while Gen 2-36 shows God to be a "complex, multi-faceted, and changing figure" (241). This division persists also in the question of what "kind" of character God is; Humphreys treats seven subcategories here: 1) God is more maximally stylized as an ideal type in Gen 1 and 37-50 and more particularized in 2-36; 2) God is more coherent in 1 and 37-50, which stands in tension often with the incoherence in 2-36; 3) God's character is whole and not fragmentary throughout Genesis; 4) God is more symbolic in Gen 1 [i.e., creator] and 37-50 [agent for justice, life, and reconciliation] and more specific and literal in 2-36; 5) God is far more simple in Gen 1 and 37-50, and quite complex as a character in 2-36; 6) God in 1 and 37-50 is relatively transparent, whereas in 2-36 the reader's experience of God is more opaque; 7) God is more static in Gen 1 and 37-50 and strikingly more dynamic in 2-36. Seminal for Humphreys' discussion is that in each of these subcategories one can discern a movement from one end of the spectrum to another, from Gen 1 to 2-36, and back to 37-50. At bottom, Humphreys sees God as dramatically present and sovereign in creation, but then as the story advances he is increasingly constructed and reconstructed to fit the needs and desires of the various characters in Genesis.

As a student of the book of Genesis, I am especially grateful for Humphreys' volume. It fills a gap in studies on Genesis, which he rightly points out seem to focus often on the human characters, to the detriment of the (central?) divine character. He clearly lays out his methodology at the outset and adheres to it. His interpretations are strong and grounded in the text rather than any preconceived notions about God's character. And while I disagree with much of his reading of the Jacob cycle, he has helped me to refine my own position on God in the book of Genesis.

My main difficulty with Humphreys--and it is a significant one--is his contention that characterization on the lips of other characters in the text is less trustworthy and thus does not carry the same weight as if the narrator were to say it, for instance. I would argue, conversely, that the narrator (ancient Israel, in this case), is by means a disinterested party. In fact, one could argue--as I do in my current article--that one needs to regard ancient Israel as THE narrator of her Scriptures, and how she portrays various characters is important overall. Thus, for example, Humphreys' treatment of Gen 30-31 I outline above is highly problematic. Simply because the narrator has said nothing in chapter 30 of God's involvement in Jacob's activity does not necessitate the view that God was not involved. In fact, Robert Alter has convincingly argued that there are clear instances when later narratives force one to rethink prior ones (see his The Art of Biblical Narrative and my article, "Jacob, Laban, and a Divine Trickster: The Covenantal Framework of God's Deception in the Theology of the Jacob Cycle," PRSt 36). In fact, Humphreys himself makes this very same point, yet he fails to apply it here. I am also mindful of Fokkelman's claim--with which I agree--that simply because Jacob, a trickster figure, speaks deceptively in one context does not mean he speaks deceptively always. Jacob, indeed all biblical characters, must be evaluated anew in each narrative situation.

I would also quibble with Humphreys that God is "absent" in Gen 25-27. Rather, as I argue in my upcoming SBL New Orleans paper, and will argue in part in my dissertation, the oracle in 25:23 governs the entire Jacob cycle, and even where God is not explicitly present, the moments of theophany reveal that he has been clearly at work throughout. More on this, though, as the dissertation progresses, and at SBL.

Despite these difficulties, Humphreys' study is a thorough, fair, and judicous one. His voice is a welcome addition to the unfortunately thin discussion of God as character in Genesis.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Comprehensive Ph.D. Exams: PASSED!!!

I just received word an hour ago that I passed all my comprehensive Ph.D. exams! Now begins the dissertation. I have already written and begun circulating my dissertation proposal. It is my plan to have at least the first chapter written by summer's end, if not more!

Whew! Comps---conquered!

See the several posts just below covering the three-days worth of questions I was privileged enough to answer!

All the best!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Visiting King Tut at the Dallas Museum of Art

Yesterday I travelled with several of my Baylor colleagues to the Dallas Museum of Art's King Tut exhibit. I was quite excited, given that I have never seen any truly ancient artifacts save for some Bronze and Iron Age pottery, and the little bit of what Duke had displayed of Eric Meyers' many discoveries.

The exhibit was quite powerful for me. At the outset they bring about 30 people into a small room where they show a 90 second video introducing Tut. As the lights slowly come up, a curtain raises and in the distance one sees a grand statue of Tut lit from behind. It was a powerful image.

The exhibit began with over 150 artifacts of other seminal figures in Egypt leading up to Tut; among them, Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV, who was perhaps Tut's father; Tut's grandfather; Nefertiti, etc.). I particularly enjoyed seeing the various hieroglyphics and the care and near consistency with which they were written. One could certainly tell this was a quite artful process; very neat, clean, and beautiful. I must also say, briefly, that I found a Bes figurine on display, and I found Bes to be quite cute. Whatever that means.

What struck me most of all, however, was the fortuitous preservation of these pieces over 3200 years, many of them wood. I am sure there has been some retouching/preserving, but the utter beauty of these pieces was remarkable. If one got close enough you could almost see the brush strokes on the painted pieces. I found myself just imagining those who discovered the tomb . . . finding objects which had been sitting in the exact same place for nearly 3200 years. And now these items were only a few inches away from me. Incredible. The story of their discover--perhaps well known--also stood out to me. Apparently a worker delivered a large drum of water to the excavation site, and upon setting it down and turning it into the ground to give it stability, he rammed up against stone. Digging revealed a staircase that led down to Tut's tomb. That, to me, was amazing.

I suggest anyone who can attend the exhibit do so; it is in its final weeks. Do not miss this opportunity.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Comprehensive Ph.D. Exams: The Third (and FINAL!) Day

Today, I finished my last of three days of comprehensive Ph.D. exams. See my two posts immediately below for information (and the questions I got) on the first two sessions.

Today was New Testament for me. I had 11 potential questions I could have received. Here is what I ended up getting.

Question 1 (choose one)
Choose one representative NT interpreter from the "pre-modern," "modern," and "post-modern" approaches. Situate each interpreter in his/her social, historical, and institutional context, describing his/her approach to biblical interpretation. Compare the methods and goals of interpretation of each interpreter, noting strengths and weaknesses of each approach. Do this using the same biblical material for each interpreter. Develop and defend your own hermeneutical position.


In modern Protestantism, fundamentalist, liberal, neo-orthodox, and narrative theologians have had distinctive approaches to the use of the NT in constructive Christian ethics. Take either the issue of "women" or that of "homosexuality" and show how each of the four groups might argue from biblical data to a constructive Christian ethical stance

Question 2 (choose one)
Study of the Fourth Gospel and the Three Johannine epistles has focused of late on teh development of the Johannine community with scholars like J. Louis Martyn and Raymond E. Brown on the one side and scholars like Georg Strecker and Udo Schnelle on the other. Describe the two sides' positions and indicate the ramifications of adhering to one or the other position (e.g., history of religions focus and purpose of the writings)


What is the key to Paul's theology? Evaluate the answers of F.C. Baur, A. Schweitzer, James S. Stewart, R. Bultmann, E.P. Sanders, Ben Witherington III, and James D.G. Dunn. Does the renewed study of ancient epistolary literature and of ancient rhetoric have any impact on how Paul's theology is understood today? What does?

Question 3 (choose one)
Explain the significance of the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and in A.D. 135 for the various forms of Middle Judaism. (In your answer be sure to include at least the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes, Apocalypticists, and the Christian Messianists).


Assuming that at least one of the general epistles involves pseudonymous authorship, set such a practice in its cultural context in Mediterranean antiquity and indicate and evaluate the historical and theological issues involved in such a practice.

I answered the first question listed in each set. In total I wrote about 21 pages today, so that brings my grand total for the entire set of exams to about 67-70 pages in 3 days (15 hours). Not too shabby! I should hopefully be hearing back results within a week!

I can say now, in hindsight, that this was to be sure a quite stressful process, but at the same time, a very rewarding one. Not only do I have a very fine overview of the field, but I have also filled in many of the gaps I felt I had before. All that said, however, I have no desire to do these again!!!

All the best!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Comprehensive Ph.D. Exams: Day Two

Day Two is under my belt, and yet again, I feel good. Quite good. Another five hour session, from 8am to 1pm.
Today I received four OT questions. They were (roughly) as follows.

Discuss the last 25-30 years in Pentateuchal scholarship, citing specific portions of the Pentateuch where relevant. Mention the treatments of Rendtorff, Blum, Carr, Van Seters, among others.

Compare form-critical and holistic/canonical approaches to the Psalter. Demonstrate these approaches with "wisdom" in the Psalms.

Old Testament Theology
Choose three OT theologians from the 20th century and describe their approach to constructing an OT theology. Demonstrate each approach with texts from the OT.

Latter Prophets
Discuss your view of how the book of Isaiah depicts the Temple and sacrifice. Pay attention to scholarship and cite from the biblical text. Choose either a synchronic or diachronic approach.

I wrote about 9 pages on Pentateuch, and 7 pages on the other three questions . . . so 30 pages total in five hours. Wow.

This weekend my task is memorizing 10 NT questions for my final day of tests on Monday.
All the best!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Comprehensive Ph.D. Exams: Day One

Day one is under my belt. I feel good. Quite good.

They went from 8am until 1 pm. Here was what the test looked like today.

Hebrew translation:
Gen 3:1-6
Psalm 29
Josh 3:1-6
Amos 7:1-6 (parse all verbs)
Sight read: Gen 6:5

Question 1: Discuss the emergence of Israel in Iron I, paying particular attention to recent scholarship and evidence.

Question 2: How does the Deuteronomistic History develop the theme of kingship, using both secondary scholarship and specific references to the biblical text?

I wrote about 8.5 pages on question 1, and about 7.5 pages on question 2.

On Thursday I have four questions, dealing with the following areas: Pentateuch, Writings, OT theology, Latter Prophets. I will have to write fast!

Thank you for your prayers and well-wishes . . . I am hopeful on Thursday I will still feel this good!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Comprehensive Exams . . . Beginning in 2 Days

On Monday, April 27, I will begin my first of three days of comprehensive exams. This is the final hurdle to jump over prior to the dissertation. I have spent all semester preparing. I have as wide a view of the field as I will ever have.

Here is the breakdown for each of the three days (each day is a 5 hour session):

Monday, April 27
Hebrew translation
Former Prophets

Thursday, April 30
Latter Prophets
Old Testament Theology

Monday, May 4
Three NT questions

At present, I feel quite good about things; I feel well-prepared. But it will be a ton of work. I can't imagine the amount of pages I am going to write in such a short period; 25 or more on the second day, in 5 hours. I barely write a page an hour when I'm writing a paper or article. But I know the material, and well, and I hope that translates on each day.

If time permits, I will post my reflections throughout the process. I appreciate your prayers (non-imprecatory, of course!). Wish me luck!
All the best!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Yom ha-Shoah

Today, April 21, 2009 (Nissan 5769), at sundown marks the end of Yom ha-Shoah, the Jewish holiday that memorializes the Holocaust. It is a topic I have studied very much. I have no words. My words are and will always be inadequate when faced with the reality of this event. But I have always felt a certain power and vitality in the words of the survivors, as well as in the accounts preserved of those who did not survive. It is their words I wish to share here, as we all reflect, and say . . . never again.

"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which turned my life into on elong night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never."
---Elie Wiesel, Night, 32

"I witnessed other hangings. I never saw a single one of the victims weep. For a long time those dried-up bodies had forgotten the bitter taste of tears. Except once [ . . . ] One day when we came back from work, we saw three gallows rearing up in the assembly place, three black crows. Roll call. SS all round us, machine guns trained: the traditional ceremony. Three victims in chains--and one of them, the little servant, the sad-eyed angel. The SS seemed more preoccupied, more disturbed than usual. To hang a young boy in front of thousands of spectators was no light matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was lividly pale, almost calm, biting his lips. The gallows threw its shadow over him. [ . . . ] The three necks were placed at the same moment within the nooses. 'Long live liberty!' cried the two adults. But the child was silent. 'Where is God? Where is He?' someone behind me asked. At a sign from the head of the camp, the three chairs tipped over. Total silence throughout the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting. 'Bare your heads!' yelled the head of the camp. His voice was raucous. We were weeping. 'Cover your heads!' Then the march past began. The two adults were no longer alive. their tongues hung swollen, blue-tinged. But the third rope was still moving, being so light, the child was still alive. . . . For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still read, his eyes were not yet glazed. Behind me, I heard the same man asking: 'Where is God now?' and I heard a voice within me answer him: 'Where is He? Here He is--He is hanging here on this gallows . . . ' That night the soup tasted of corpses."
---Elie Wiesel, Night, 60-62

"Their life is short, but their number is endless; they, the muselmanner, the drowned, form the backbone of the camp, an anonymous mass, continually renewed and always identical, of non-men who march and labour in silence, the divine spark dead within them, already too empty to really suffer. One hesitates to call them living: one hesitates to call their death death, in the face of which they have no fear, as they are too tired to understand. They crowdy my memory with their faceless presences, and if I could enclose all the evil of our time in one image, I would choose this image which is familiar to me: an emaciated man, with head dropped and shoulders curved, on whose face and in whose eyes not a trace of a thought is to be seen. If the drowned have no story, and single and broad is the path to perdition, the paths to salvation are many, difficult and improbable."
---Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz, 90

"I'm not alive. People believe memories grow vague, are erased by time, since nothing endures against the passage of time. That's the difference; time does not pass over me, over us. It doesn't erase anything, doesn't undo it. I'm not a live. I died in Auschwitz but no one knows it."
---Charlotte Delbo, Auschwitz and After, 267

And while he was never a prisoner in the camps, the words of Rabbi Irving Greenberg are as true today as when he first uttered them. It is an important caution of which we must all be aware:

"No statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of burning children."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Upcoming Book Reviews!

With preparation for comps (12 days away for the first session!) taking up much of my time, I have had little opportunity to read for reviews as assiduously as I had hoped. Never fear, though! Once comps are done, I plan to post a series of book reviews as time permits. Here is a little teaser of what I will be reviewing . . . (click the picture for more info on the title).

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tentative SBL 2009 Program Available

Thanks to my good friend Douglas Mangum over at Biblia Hebraica for making me aware that the preliminary 2009 SBL program for New Orleans is available. Here it is. No times or dates are yet available, but you can peruse the offerings, make a list of what you are interested in hearing, and then lament the many overlappings that will no doubt be the case when dates and times are made available! And please be aware, this schedule is tentative; I know this because one of my colleagues at Baylor is listed as presenting the same paper in two different sections.

You can search for my name and read the (incomplete!) abstract for my paper (or just scroll down a few posts to read the full version).

Happy perusing! Here are a few early stand-outs for me . . .
Bible Translation (this first paper looks fascinating!!!)
Theme: General papers Bible Translation
Sarah Lind, Presiding
John Anderson, Baylor University A Trickster Oracle in Gen 25:23: Reading Jacob and Esau between Beten and Bethel (25 min)
Dorothea Erbele-Kuester, Theological University Kampen How should we translate unjust and androcentric biblical texts in gender-sensitive and just language? (25 min)
Yoo-Ki Kim, Seoul Women's University The translation of hyt.b in Jonah 4:4 (25 min)
Flemming A.J. Nielsen, University of Greenland Translation strategies in the Greenlandic Bible (25 min)
Lynell Zogbo, United Bible Societies Walk the walk! Talk the talk! (25 min)
Cosmin-Constantin Murariu, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven “Right” and “Freedom” in Light of Paul’s Rhetoric in 1 Corinthians 9 (25 min)

Book of Psalms
Theme: The Psalms and Creation
Nancy L. Declaisse-Walford, Presiding
Rolf Jacobson, Luther Seminary Theological Implications of Creation's Praise of the Lord (30 min)
David Rensberger, Interdenominational Theological Center Surveying Creation’s Praise: Psalm 148 and Its Descendants (30 min)
Esther M. Menn, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago Violent Waters: Reading the Psalms after Katrina (30 min)
Arthur Walker-Jones, University of Winnipeg The LORD, Who Makes Skies and Earth: The Importance of Creation in the Psalter (30 min)

Book of Psalms
Theme: Open Session
W. Bellinger, Baylor University, Presiding
Susan Gillingham, University of Oxford Psalm 2 through the Centuries: A Case Study of Jewish and Christian Reception History of the Psalms (30 min)
Will Kynes, University of Cambridge Doxology in Disputation: The Use of Psalms 8 and 107 in the Book of Job (30 min)
Arthur Boulet, Westminster Theological Seminary The Prayer of Manasseh: A Window Into the Shape and Shaping of the Hebrew Psalter (30 min)
Roy Garton, Baylor University The Death of a Psalmist: A Structural Analysis and Literary Reading of Psalm 88 (30 min)
Joel M. LeMon, Emory University The Ethics of the Psalms and the Problem of Violence (30 min)

Book of Psalms
Theme: The Psalms and Creation
Karl Jacobson, Augsburg College, Presiding
J. Richard Middleton, Roberts Wesleyan College The Role of Human Beings in the Cosmic Temple: The Intersection of Worldviews in Psalms 8 and 104 (30 min)
Stephen J. Lennox, Indiana Wesleyan University “In Wisdom You Made Them All”: Creation Theology in Psalm 104 against the Background of the Ancient Near East (30 min)
Carol J. Dempsey, University of Portland Creation Imagery in the Psalms: Its Beauty and Its Invitation (30 min)
Victoria Hoffer, Yale University Let the Heavens Rejoice! Imageries of Creation and Creator in the Service of Psalms (30 min)
John S. Vassar, Louisiana State University in Shreveport Yahweh as Artisan: A Metaphor of Creation in the Hebrew Psalter (30 min)

Theme: Themes in Matthew
Daniel Gurtner, Bethel Theological Seminary, Presiding
Matthew Thiessen, Duke University Abolishers of the Law and the Early Jesus Movement (20 min)Discussion (10 min)
Jens Herzer, University of Leipzig The Riddle of the Holy Ones in Matthew 27:51-53: A New Proposal for a crux interpretum (20 min)Discussion (10 min)
Yonghan Chung, Graduate Theological Union The Temple in Matthew's Eschatology (20 min)Discussion (10 min)
Abel Bibliowicz, *The Anti-Jewish Strand in Matthew (20 min)Discussion (10 min)
George Thomas Givens, Duke University From the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel to All the Nations: A Challenge to Supersessionist Readings of Matthew (20 min)Discussion (10 min)

Theme: Narrative and Law
Reinhard Achenbach, University of Münster (Germany) Presiding
Pamela Barmash, Washington University Law and Narrative in Genesis (25 min)
Diana Lipton, King's College London Legal Analogy in Deuteronomy and Fratricide in the Field (25 min)
Bruce Wells, St. Joseph's University The Story of the hated Wife in Genesis and in Deuteronomy (25 min)
Klaus-Peter Adam, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago Inadvertence in abstract legal terminology in asylum laws and in narratives (25 min)
Calum Carmichael, cornell university Jacob’s “red, red dish” and the Ritual of the Red Heifer (25 min)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Countdown to Comps Continues!

Wow, that's a nice, alliterative title!

I am now 15 days away from my first day of comps. Thus far I have committed two questions to memory: Israelite Origins and Ethnicity, and the Tenth Century Debate. Pentateuch history of scholarship is up next, to be followed by Psalms, OT theology, and Former and Latter Prophets. NT I hope to get to next week!

Let's hope I can keep this material all in my mind. I trust it will go well, but I'd be lying if I said I was looking forward to a week's worth of exams!

I have yet to have any dreams (that I remember) relating to the tests . . . although I did have one several months ago where I took the exams for some reason in a nice convenience store, and I was able to come out, get coffee, snacks, etc. at my leisure. It was nice and relaxed. Let's hope that dream becomes a reality (at least the nice and relaxed part).

Keep on a'praying for me!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Professor Anderson . . . has a nice sound to it

I am pleased to announce I have been asked to teach a section of introduction to Christian Scriptures to roughly 60 or so Baylor freshmen in the Fall semester. So now, not only will my summer be taken up by a great many tasks--helping Dr. Bellinger edit and finish his two Psalms books that are forthcoming; writing a dissertation proposal, prospectus, and opening chapter; submitting my Matthew 8:5-13 paper for publication; and job hunting--I can now also add writing lectures and designing my own unique course to the list! Within the next week I plan to make my textbook decision(s); I think I have a fair idea already of what I will do. I am very much looking forward to it!

Monday, April 6, 2009

'Fifteen' Scholars Who Have Influenced Me the Most . . .

I have seen such lists on several other blogs, and I believe they reveal a great deal about who a particular scholar is. I am certain some of these names may be little known, and others perhaps all too well known. These, though, are 15 scholars that have influenced me the most (in no particular order).

Walter Brueggemann
No big surprise here, right? Regular readers of my blog will be well aware of my appreciation for the honesty with which Brueggemann interprets even the most difficult of biblical texts, as well as the relevancy he seeks in his interpretations for contemporary communities of faith. His Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy is a masterful, magisterial work from which I have learned more than I can adequately recount, and his Genesis commentary in the "Interpretation" series is, from my perspective, an exceptional volume for this series. Walter Brueggemann, without a doubt (and yes, I know this is bordering on haggiography!), is without a doubt one of the most formative scholars for the work I do, both in the questions he asks and in the conception of God he sees in the Hebrew Bible.

Brevard Childs
I have often found Childs' work to be quite compelling, even in his earlier, form-critical days. His canonical methodology has greatly influencd my work, and I would argue has set the stage for much current biblical scholarship since his seminal Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture in 1979. He is also one of a very few scholars who I feel has successfully bridged the Testaments, being able to write successfully and prolifically in both the OT and NT. I was saddened to here of his recent passing, but I trust that his methodological programme, at the very least, will continue unabated for some years to come.

Terence Fretheim
Fretheim's theological work on the God of the Hebrew Bible was foundational very early on in my studies. While in undergrad, I read his The Suffering of God, which revolutionized my understanding of the deity in relation to creation. The material Fretheim adduces in the service of highlighting the intimacy with which God has chosen to involve Himself in creation is not only compelling but also beautifully moving. And while this 'open theism' may be unpalatable to some contemporary theologians, I contend it is not only necessary to a proper comprehension of God but also vital--as Fretheim notices--to addressing questions of theodicy. Reading Fretheim is always a transformative exercise for me. My encounter with his The Suffering of God exploded an 'original' paradigm of God I had long held, and replaced it with something far more honest, and far more valuable.

Gerhard von Rad
While the certainty with which von Rad wrote, as well as several of his conclusions (i.e., that the kleine credo are ancient recitals of faith that have been expanded into the larger narrative traditions of the Hebrew Bible) is arguably no longer able to be maintained, I have been greatly influenced by the reading of his two volume OT theology. I find him to be a necessary dialogue partner in any theological work I do. Among my greatest take-aways from von Rad is what may seem to be an innocuous enough point, namely that the ancestral promise in Gen 12:1-3 is the conclusion to the primeval history (Gen 1-11) rather than the beginning of the ancestral narratives (Gen 12-50). Surely his 'unassumed' center for his theology--heilsgeschichte--dictates in large part this conclusion, but I do think he is on to something in reading the Hebrew Bible as a narrative of salvation history.

Elie Wiesel
Renowned Holocaust survivor, Nobel peace prize recipient, and prolific author Elie Wiesel has transformed for me the very language in which one can (and should?) talk about God. Auschwitz is a crisis of faith, surely, for Christianity just as much as it is for Judaism; it has become my 'crisis,' in a way. The poetically haunting beauty of Wiesel's words has affirmed for me the importance and fidelity of questions--a liturgy of questions--for faith. Wiesel has said that after the Holocaust he still prays to God . . . but only with questions. This perseverence of 'faith' has always struck me to be beautifully honest. The words of his memoir, Night, have never left me. And while Wiesel is not a formal biblical scholar, his midrashic treatment of the biblical text (see for example his Messengers of God has cracked many a biblical text wide open for me.

Gerald Wilson
Wilson's work on the shape and shaping of the Hebrew Psalter has undoubtedly revolutionized contemporary Psalms scholarship; quests for the overarching "metanarrative" of the canonical Psalter are now very much in vogue, and these discussions are very much on my scholarly radar. His The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter is one of the most satisfying, engaging, and compelling volumes I have read in a while. And his later work was equally as rewarding (see his essays in the McCann edited Shape and Shaping of the Psalter, 1993). I deeply lament his untimely passing, but I am thankful for the wealth of work he has left us.

Robert Alter
Again, regular readers of my blog will likely be well aware of my deep appreciation for Alter's methodological insights and application in The Art of Biblical Narrative. His recognition of the literary-aesthetic qualities of Biblical Hebrew has--to be intentionally repetitive--set the stage for modern biblical interpretation (along with other seminal works such as Sternberg's Poetics), and I am thankful for his emphasis on not only what the text means but how it means. Anyone who reads my work knows I have gleaned very much from Alter, and his modeling of close-reading of the biblical text is a foundational hermeneutical principle that I take very seriously.

James Crenshaw
One of my teachers at Duke, I am most appreciate of Crenshaw's work on the character of God as a sometimes-oppressive entity (see his A Whirlpool of Torment and his Defending God). The import of his work on wisdom literature also goes without saying. I must also mention that he was always a delight to interact with, and was one of the kindest men I have spoken with in academia. Some of the stories he told in class--off-topic--were among the funniest things I have heard in a long while.

E.P. Sanders
I was not fortunate enough to take a course with Sanders while I was at Duke; he retired at the end of my first year there. I was able, however, to schedule an appointment with him to discuss his work and get him to sign my books. My attraction to Sanders is twofold. First, I have always found his understanding of the historical Jesus to have much to commend itself. And second, covenantal nomism and his volume Paul and Palestinian Judaism has helped me to have a greater understanding of Paul within his all-important Jewish context.

Richard Hays
Dr. Hays was another one of my teachers at Duke. Among those aspects of Hays' scholarship that have influenced me most are his work on intertextuality and the use of the OT in the NT. I recently had the opportunity to catch up briefly with him again at SBL in Boston and offer my congratulations for his recent festschrift (The Word Leaps the Gap, Eerdmans, 2008), which I have yet to read but hope to soon. The work required of me in Dr. Hays' class--which I got an A in, thank you very much!! (wink)--set a standard I had to work quite assiduously to meet, and I feel helped prepare me very much for Ph.D. work. Dr. Hays is also among the most gentle, helpful, and giving men I have had the opportunity to know in academia; we had many one-on-one meetings in his office, discussing issues ranging from Paul to the historical Jesus to graduate work.

Anathea Portier-Young
Dr. Portier-Young is a recent Duke Ph.D. grad and current professor in OT at Duke Divinity School. It is because of her constant pressing that my Hebrew is at the level it currently is (that's a positive statement). As I have mentioned elsewhere, it was also in her course on Genesis that I first developed an interest in the texts of deception in the Jacob cycle and first articulated my ideas on the topic in writing. At bottom, I attribute much of where I am currently to Dr. Portier-Young.

Murray Haar
Dr. Haar is chair of the religion department at my undergrad, Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD. He was born to Jewish parents who were also Holocaust survivors; he later converted to Christianity and was ordained as a Lutheran pastor. After living that existence for thirty years, he returned to the Jewish faith. From him I have learned the importance of questions, boundaries, interfaith dialogue, as well as my interest in Judaism. It is because of him that I became a religion major and entered this field in the first place (I was originally a psychology major). I am privileged to call him not only my teacher but also a dear, dear friend.

Richard Swanson
Dr. Swanson also teaches at Augustana College, where I did my undergrad, in NT. Some of you may recognize his name as one of the originators of what has come to be known as 'performance criticism' (see his Provoking the Gospel introductory volume, as well as the series on each of the gospels). In sum, 'performance criticism' involves the embodying of biblical texts as an interpretive tool. Having taken part in several such performances in the past, I can attest to the tremendous insights that may arise from such a methodology. I am most appreciative to Dr. Swanson for this method as it has transformed the biblical text from a flat, two-dimensional entity into a three-dimensional embodiment of characters. As such, seemingly innocuous matters such as attire, intonation, facial expression, etc. assume deep hermeneutical implications. I am also thankful to Dr. Swanson as he married my wife and I!

W.H. Bellinger, Jr.
Dr. Bellinger is currently chair of the religion department at Baylor, where I am working towards my Ph.D. in biblical studies (OT). He has influenced me in a number of ways, not least of which is introducing me to Old Testament theology, which based upon several of my entries above (Brueggemann, von Rad, Childs) has become a main area of focus in my studies. I have found him to be an invaluable dialogue partner, and his questions are always helpful in honing and sharpening my work. I am also currently working with him on two of his book projects: a Psalms commentary to be published by Smyth & Helwys, and the second revised edition of his Psalms: Reading and Studying the Book of Praises published with Hendrickson, which has afforded me many insights into the publishing side of academia. I am very much looking forward to writing my dissertation with him, beginning in the fall.

J.P. Fokkelman, Mark Brett, and Chris Heard (three-way tie)
See my post below on "Five Books on Genesis I could not do without . . . " for an explanation.

I look forward to your thoughts on the list. I am sure as I think about it further, more names will come to me.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Bart Ehrman on the Colbert Report (2006)

Some of you may be aware of this interview already. I came across it again today, and still got a good chuckle out of it. Still, though, it gets a bit awkward. I don't know if Ehrman thought Colbert was legit or what. He certainly seemed to be caught off guard! Enjoy!

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Bart Ehrman
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest

Friday, April 3, 2009

Emailing with Brueggemann

I have recently had the good fortune of having a brief yet encouraging email correspondence with Walter Brueggemann. At the most recent SBL in Boston I spoke with him at the Hendrickson reception, where I expressed my thanks and appreciation to him for his work; he was also quite affirming of my dissertation topic.

Our email conversation echoed the encouragement of our SBL discussion. I am also quite excited that he has expressed enough interest in my work to ask that I send him a copy of my forthcoming article, which I have done. I look forward (hopefully) to his thoughts and comments.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Review: Sparks, Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible

Kenton L. Sparks, Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible: A Guide to the Background Literature. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2005. Pp. xxxvii + 514. Cloth. ISBN: 9781565634077. $39.95.

Kenton Sparks, associate professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, PA, has written an important and seminal volume for any student of the Hebrew Bible. It stands alongside the well-known Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ANET) and the more recent multi-volume The Context of Scripture (COS) as a formidable reference work for the cognate literature of the Hebrew Bible. The initial success and reception of Sparks' volume is evidenced by the fact that it has already undergone its second printing, a mere one year after its release. In the preface Sparks also notes that the work has come to be known as ATSHB, which will no doubt become one of the frequently recognized scholarly abbreviations along with ANET and COS mentioned above.

Prior to the introduction, Sparks provides two useful reference helps for the reader. First is a historical chart, beginning in the Early Bronze Age and spanning the Hellenistic era, which outlines the various periodizations in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria-Palestine, and Anatolia (for instance, the Egyptian New Kingdom or Hittite Middle Kingdom). The second helpful reference is a series of maps of Egypt, Aram/Syria and Phoenecia, Anatolia, and Mesopotamia. By including these, Sparks has made his volume accessible for both the established scholar and the novice in ancient Near Eastern studies.

In the introduction, Sparks sets forward in a thorough yet communicable way what will form the theoretical, operative grounding for his study: an analysis of genre study. Under this rubric he discusses content and theme, language, context (Sitz im Leben), function, form and structure, the material attributes of texts, the mode of composition and reception, and genre and tradition. He concludes this introductory section with a recognition of the eclecticism of his method, seeking to bring together the insights of form criticism, literary theory, nominalism, among others (21). This "heuristic posture" he deems most preferable to the task at hand.

Chapter 1 continues the introductory material by discussing the various Near Eastern archives and libraries in Syria-Palestine, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Persia. He also offers insightful treatments here on the topics of language and writing within the aNE, as well as issues pertaining to scribes, scholars, literacy, and canonicity. Taken in tandem, all of these introductory remarks help to orient the uninitiated reader into the shear and utter breadth and depth of information contained within the pages of this volume. Detailed bibliographies conclude both the introduction and first chapter.

With a basis for reading established, Sparks moves forward into an analysis of the various literary genres prevalent within the ancient Near East. Sparks devotes a chapter to each genre, and within these chapters the material is organized geographically (Mesopotamian, Egyptian, etc.). The genres covered are: wisdom literature; hymns, prayers, and laments; love poetry; rituals and incantations; intermediary texts; apocalyptic and related texts; tales and novellas; epics and legends; myth; genealogies, king lists, and related texts; historiography and royal inscriptions; law codes; treaty and covenant; epigraphic sources from Syria-Palestine and its environs.

Obviously, no review can hope to do justice to the vastness of Sparks' study. I wish here only to point out a few of the many significant contributions made by this volume. First, and perhaps primary, are the several-page-long bibliographies that conclude each chapter. To be sure, these bibliographies are not exhaustive, and as scholarship continues to hone its understandings of this literature--and as new literature is discovered!--the bibliographies will grow. John McLaughlin's RBL review for this volume lists some of the subsequent work that could make its way into updated versions of Sparks' volume. The bibliographies contain works in English, but also many in French and German, making them necessary starting points for study of the various genres. One should also be mindful of the smaller yet still significant bibliography given at the end of each respective textual treatment. Sparks has surely done his research to compile such a massive bibliography for the various genres more broadly and isolated texts more specifically. Second, each chapter (save for the final one) ends with "Concluding Observations." To my eye, the most insightful of these is found in the chapter on "Historiography and Royal Inscriptions," in which Sparks treats historiography and mimesis, anachronism, antiquarianism, fiction, Tendenz, redaction, as well as a section on history writing in ancient Greece and Israel, along with a brief outline of historicity in the Hebrew Bible. These concluding reflections help bring germane issues that emerge within the respective genres together into a cogent, articulate, and brief synthesis. Thirdly, rounding out the volume is a series of indexes--of modern authors, of Hebrew Bible and Early Jewish Literature, of Ancient Near Eastern sources, to English translations in ANET, to English translations in COS, and to museum numbers/textual realia/standard text publications. The cross-references with ANET and COS are perhaps most satisfying for the reader who--wisely--wishes to consult all three works.

In the end, ATSHB is a groundbreaking work that will certainly become a necessary reference tool for any student of the Hebrew Bible and its cognate literature. The preface hints at a forthcoming, second volume that will focus specifically on the Hebrew Bible in its comparative literary context. Those who have and will find ATSHB helpful should look forward with great eagerness to this second volume.

The Table of Contents, a sample chapter, and the Introduction are all available in .pdf form on Hendrickson's website.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Countdown to Comps!


The countdown is on! In a mere 26 days I will be experiencing my first of three days of comprehensive exams (here at Baylor we call them prelims, short for preliminary exams one must take prior to beginning the dissertation).

Each of the three days will consist of five hours of churning out more writing in a short period of time than I will probably ever be able to do again. The schedule looks like this:

Day one:
Hebrew translation
History/archaeology question
Former prophets question

Day two:
Pentateuch question
OT theology question
Latter prophets question
Writings question

Day three:
Three NT questions out of eleven possibilities.

I am finished, save for a few loose ends, with the OT material. I have about 5 NT questions left to prepare; I plan to have NT done by the early part of next week. At present I am wrapping up a question on pseudonymous authorship in the NT, and will be moving on to NT theology and a question on Paul's "center" (like that exists!!!!) next.
Your thoughtful, honest (though not imprecatory!) prayers are welcome and appreciated!
All the best!


Monday, March 30, 2009

Five MORE books on Genesis I could not do without . . .

My post immediately below on "Five books on Genesis I could not do without" has caused me to reflect further on other Genesis volumes that I have found particularly insightful or helpful. As I have glanced at my bookshelves since making that post, I have been plagued by a guilty conscience. "Is ____ really that much more valuable to me than ____?" Perhaps I should rename the original post "Five books on Genesis I ABSOLUTELY, WITHOUT A DOUBT, CERTAINLY could not do without"? (but I fear that would only introduce greater guilt!) So, perhaps in a sympathetic vein, I submit to you another list of five books on Genesis--some of them perhaps little known--that I could not do without . . .

1. Michael James Williams, Deception in Genesis: An Investigation into the Morality of a Unique Biblical Phenomenon. Studies in Biblical Literature 32; New York: Peter Lang, 2001.
Williams' volume is perhaps not that well-known, but given that it deals explicitly (one of only a handfull of titles I can think of off the top of my head) with deception in Genesis, I have found it to be a worthy dialogue partner. Williams offers a catalog of deceptions in Genesis (a list to which I would add several other episodes), and traces out the way in which they were interpreted in later Jewish tradition. Ancient Near Eastern and folklore parallels round out the volume. As a conclusion, Williams avers that deceptions in Genesis are positively evaluated when they succeed in restoring shalom and are negatively evaluated when they disrupt shalom. While I ultimately disagree with Williams on many matters--for instance, I would argue that the narratives often provide either no evaluation (i.e., Jacob's fleeing from Laban in Gen 31 or his promise in 33:17-18 to join Esau in Seir, only to instead go to Sukkot) or an ambiguous/mixed evaluation (i.e., compare Gen 27; 29:26; 48:13-20)--his careful analysis of specific texts of deception, their history of interpretation, as well as their aNE precurors makes his volume a seminal one for any study of biblical deception.
2. Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative. New York: Basic Books, 1981.
I am unquestionably indebted to Alter not merely for his methodological programme put forward in this classic volume, but also for the many illustrations from the Jacob cycle he employs. Alter has, in my mind, wholly revolutionzed the study of the Hebrew Bible, and while this work comes some six years after Fokkelman's Narrative Art in Genesis (see post below), Alter has arguably set the agenda for subsequent literary readings of biblical texts (I would venture Alter to me a much 'tamer' version of Fokkelman). He has successfully demonstrated the highly literary quality of the Hebrew narratives--his work on Hebrew poetry, I feel, is less adequate, although still insightful--and his views cogently wed modern literary understandings with a careful, close, and sympathetic reading of the biblical text.
3. Susan Niditch, A Prelude to Biblical Folklore: Underdogs and Tricksters. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1987.
Niditch's study interprets the biblical text--specifically the three wife-sister stories in Gen 12, 20, 26; Jacob and Joseph; and Esther--against the background of broad, cross-cultural sensibilities regarding the underdog and trickster. Viewing these narratives as a product of oral tradition, Niditch notes how they inform an Israelite worldview and identity. Seminal to her conception of the trickster is that this irascible figure serves the purpose of cementing group identity, which I take to be a helpful starting place for deciphering the function of these narratives within a postexilic (Persian) context. I further appreciate her work as a modern attempt to continue Gunkel's work with folklore, which sees many parallels with the texts of deception in Genesis. Niditch and I are also one of only a few who interpret the extortion of the firstborn scene (Gen 25:27-34) as an episode of deception.
4. Diana Lipton, Revisions of the Night: Politics and Promise in the Patriarchal Dreams of Genesis. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 288. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1999.
Lipton's volume is perhaps little known, which is unfortunate given that its content is replete with great insight and depth. She treats five dream texts in Genesis--Abimelech's dream (Gen 20); Jacob's Bethel dream (Gen 28); Jacob's dream about the spotted and speckled sheep (Gen 31); Laban's dream (Gen 31); and the covenant of the pieces (Gen 15)--in the attempt to demonstrate how these dreams seek to revise the reader's understanding of events. I have yet to finish the entire volume, but her analysis of Jacob's dream in 30:10-13 coheres very well with what I argue to be the relationship between the seemingly incompatible chapters 29 and 30 (see my forthcoming article in PRSt). Given also my view of these dream texts as ultimately 'theophanic' texts and thus of decisive importance for interpretation of the Jacob cycle as a whole--more particularly YHWH's role within the cycle--I am appreciative for Lipton's sustained treatment of these narratives in a single volume.
5. W. Lee Humphreys, The Character of God in the Book of Genesis: A Narrative Appraisal. Louisiville: Westminster John Knox, 2001.
I would contend that next to Brueggemann's commentary on Genesis in the Interpretation series (see below), very few books on Genesis focus on issues of theology or of the divine. Humphreys goes one step further, reading God as a literary character in the book of Genesis. The opening chapters offer a helpful orientation into matters of literary characterization, and Humphreys' ensuing, synchronic treatment of the Genesis text highlights God's characterization from two sources: the narrator's own statements about God and what other characters have to say about God. Against this backdrop, the diversity and ever-changing role(s) of God are discussed: designer, destroyer, patron, parent, etc. And, as has perhaps become the norm in all of these volumes discussed here, while I do not agree with Humphreys' characterization of God in relation to the texts of deception, his careful attention to the non-static roles God plays throughout the text make this work an important one with which all students of Genesis should be acquainted. I will be posting a more thorough review of Humphreys in the next few weeks.

A few other important works deserve mention here:

David M. Carr, Reading the Fractures of Genesis: Historical and Literary Approaches. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996.

Joel S. Kaminsky, Yet I Loved Jacob: Reclaiming the Biblical Concept of Election. Nashville: Abingdom Press, 2007.

Mignon R. Jacobs, Gender, Power, and Persuasion: The Genesis Narratives and Contemporary Portraits. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007.
I look forward to your comments!
All the best!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Five books on Genesis I could not do without . . .

Those who have read my profile are aware that my primary area of interest is the book of Genesis, more specifically, the texts of deception in the Jacob cycle. My first entry into this topic in any sustained way was a paper I wrote while getting my master's at Duke. I have since written a piece focusing on the Jacob/Laban narratives specifically that is being published in the Spring 2009 issue of Perspectives in Religious Studies (and which I will post here on the blog in the very, very near future), as well as a paper looking at the divine oracle in Gen 25:23 as it relates to and informs the deceptions in Gen 25:27-34 and 27:1-45 (see the abstract a few posts down; I will be presenting a version of this piece at SBL in New Orleans).

That said, I have done much reading on Genesis and Jacob, and I have found myself reflecting on the bibliography I have compiled, noting what works I have interacted with most or found to be exceptionally good and helpful dialogue partners (which of course does not necessitate agreement!). I here provide five books on Genesis I could not do without. I recognize this list is terribly, terribly exclusive--and to be sure there are many great and seminal volumes worth mentioning (for instance, Gunkel's classic commentary on Genesis from 1901, or Westermann's three-volume work in the 'Continental Commentary' series, or even Robert Alter's The Art of Biblical Narrative)--yet given my methodological leanings and the specific questions I am asking, these are the five books (in no particular order) on Genesis that I could not do without.

1. Walter Brueggemann, Genesis (Interpretation; Atlanta: John Knox, 1982).

In my view, anything by Brueggemann is going to be a worthy read. But all prejudices aside, this volume is by far one of the most honest assessments of the theological complexity within Genesis. Foundational for Brueggemann's treatment is that the Genesis narratives--the Jacob cycle included (contra Westermann)--are highly theological. In fact, one may say that for Brueggemann, Genesis says much more about God than it does about humanity. But what I am most appreciative for in this volume is the absolute candor of Brueggemann's understanding of God's character. For Brueggemann--and for myself--God is a "scandalous" challenge in the book of Genesis (and elsewhere in Scripture, I would venture). That the portrait of God is not 'white-washed' but rather allowed to stand in all its theological complexity makes this volume a wonderfully honest attempt to interpret the 'difficulties' of Genesis.

2. J.P. Fokkelman, Narrative Art in Genesis: Specimens of Stylistic and Structural Analysis (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 1991).

Fokkelman's volume is devoted entirely to the Jacob cycle save for one chapter on the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9). As the title suggests, Fokkelman emphasizes the artistic aspects of the Genesis text, focusing upon not only what the language communicates and means but how it communicates and means. I am grateful for his close, literary reading of the text, with an eye towards shifts in person, tense, as well as his intra-textual insights. As of yet, I have not come across a more satisfying, cogent articulation of the literary artistry of Genesis. Fokkelman, in my opinion, successfully demonstrates that literary form and meaning are indissoluably linked. To my eye, there is not another volume like this one.

3. Mark G. Brett, Genesis: Procreation and the Politics of Identity (Old Testament Readings; London: Routledge, 2000).
Brett successfully combines a literary reading of the biblical text with aspects of social theory in the attempt to demonstrate that the Genesis narratives covertly undermine Yehudian ethnocentrism. I am especially thankful for his treatment of Jacob in relationship to God (for instance, noting that Jacob is the only character to put specific demands on the deity [Gen 31]). I am also thankful for his situating of the final form of Genesis in a specific historical context, which allows for his literary interpretations to manifest themselves (albeit in a 'coded' way) in the social reality and experience of post-exilic Judah. While I ultimately think much more is going on in the Genesis narratives than a challenge to ethnocentrism, Brett's close reading of the text has been an invaluable tool in refining my own understandings and interpretations.

4. R. Christopher Heard, Dynamics of Diselection: Ambiguity in Genesis 12-36 and Ethnic Boundaries in Post-Exilic Judah (SBL Semeia Studies 39; Atlanta: SBL, 2001).
I first read Heard's book 4-5 years ago for a class at Duke, interestingly alongside Brett (above). It is fascinating to me that they both interpret by and large the same evidence in the same historical context (Persian era Yehud) and arrive at polar opposite conclusions. As I mention above, Brett sees the Genesis narratives as challenging Yehudian ethnocentrism whereas Heard sees the text (Gen 12-36 specifically) as affirming ethnocentrism "because [YHWH] said so." Heard's literary analyses of the ambiguous characterizations of Lot, Ishmael, and--most relevant for my interests, Esau--challenge any 'easy' or simplistic conception of any of these biblical figures. His insights have surely pressed me to articulate my sense of Esau's character (and I still see him as intentionally portrayed as a bumbling, ignorant, over-dramatic buffoon who is ever-prone to being tricked . . . even in the reconcilation scene in Gen 33) with a greater level of specificity and recognition of the alternatives. Heard's volume is one of the first I go to when I plan to write on Jacob or the ancestral narratives.

5. Laurence A. Turner, Announcements of Plot in Genesis (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2008) [original publication by Sheffield Academic, 1990].

When I first read Turner I was upset I had not come up with the argument myself! Put most simply, Turner avers that the 'announcements' in Genesis--for instance, 12:1-3 for Abraham, 25:23; 27:27-29, 39-40 for Jacob, and 37:5-11 for Joseph--are not reliable indicators for how the plot will ultimately unfold. Only one announcement, Joseph's initial dream, seems to be the object of perfect fulfillment. Other announcements are either partially fulfilled . . . or not fulfilled at all. I have found Turner to be a strong dialogue partner; of the five books listed here, he is the one I find myself struggling with the most. His reading of the overarching plot of the Jacob cycle is compelling for a number of reasons--but I have also come to believe it is wrong for a number of reasons (some of which I detail in my SBL paper). Yet, I must confess, Turner's careful reading of the entirety of the Jacob cycle has pressed me perhaps more than any other to hone and articulate in a careful and cogent manner my own interpretation of the whole of the Jacob cycle.

I look forward to reading your comments, thoughts, and/or questions on these volumes (or on others not listed here). It was difficult to narrow down to these five . . . but having written this post, I now stand more convinced than ever-----these are the five books on Genesis I could not do without.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

An interesting discussion on dating the final form of the Psalter

In a post below (Methodological particularity . . . or pluralism?), a fascinating discussion has emerged about dating the final form of the Psalter. Please check it out. I am curious to get a sense from others regarding how to address this complex issue. I have offered my response . . . I invite others to weigh-in.

Friday, March 20, 2009

SBL 2009 - New Orleans, here I come . . .

I am happy to announce that my paper, "A Trickster Oracle in Gen 25:23: Reading Jacob and Esau between Beten and Bethel," has been accepted for presentation at the 2009 annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in New Orleans. The piece will likely be the basis for a large part of one chapter in my dissertation, and also contains the seeds of at least one or two other chapters.

Here is the abstract for the paper:

In this study I set out to read Gen 25:23, YHWH's oracle to Rebekah, as a trickster oracle. I argue that one should not read it under the a priori assumption that it coheres with other narratives of inverted primogeniture elsewhere in Genesis. Rather, in light of Robert Alter's understanding of the biblical type-scene, what is seminal in understanding the oracle is how it differs from the convention of annunciation of birth elsewhere in Genesis.
Against this backdrop, the oracle is seen to be ambiguous in matters of diction/meaning, syntax, and context, which thus further impels the narrative's human characters--Rebekah and Jacob--to bring about their own interpretation of the divine will, which they succeed in doing by means of several deceptions. Against this backdrop, I contend that the final line in 25:23 is best translated "the greater will serve the lesser" rather than "the elder will serve the younger," which ultimately has implications for the entirety of the Jacob cycle, including the texts of deception.
With this pint in mind, I interpret two scenes of deception--Jacob's extorting the birthright from Esau (Gen 25:27-34) and the deception of Isaac (Gen 27:1-45)--in light of hte oracle. Givent he oracle's function, in all its vagueness, as an introduction to the entire Jacob cycle, God is both involved and complict in the deceptions in various ways. Corroborating this point is the Bethel theophany (Gen 28:10-22), in which Jacob receives the ancestral promise solely at YHWH's behest. And it is the perpetuation of this very promise, at times by deceptive measures, that is the principle concern of YHWH in Genesis.
In the end, the oracle does not appear ever to have been concerned with Jacob becoming the greater. Instead, he is the greater from the womb, a status substantiated through his cunning and shrewd characterization as opposed to the dimwitted and overly-dramatic Esau. A potential reason for why God has chosen such an individual, then, presents itself: God the Trickster selects Jacob because it is he, not Esau, who is a trickster from the very start.

Last year in Boston I presented two papers on the same day -- within about 3 hours of one another, actually (for those curious, they were "The Ancestral Covenant in Psalms 105 and 106: Their Function as the Conclusion to Book IV of the Psalter" in the Book of Psalms section, and "Jesus and the Patriarchs: The Imminent Fulfillment of the Ancestral Promise in Matt 8:5-13 in the Matthew section). Both went quite well; indeed, I plan to submit the Matthew paper for publication in May . . . suggestions? I look forward to a little lighter schedule this year.

Perhaps I will be fortunate enough to run into some fellow bibliobloggers. Keep me in the loop!

All the best!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

SBL Southwest Meeting Roundup

The Southwest area regional meeting of the SBL (or, Southwest Comission on Religious Studies [SWCRS]) held its annual meeting March 7-8 in Irving, Texas. It was a good, energizing meeting, and Baylor was well-represented. A .pdf of the program can be found here. Here is a brief rundown.

My paper, "A Trickster Oracle in Gen 25:23: Reading Jacob and Esau between Beten and Bethel," was first on the docket at the meeting on Saturday morning. I was pleased with the turnout: about 20-25 people. Despite my battling a cold, which my son was kind enough to share with me (I knew teaching him to share would have some negatives to go along with it!) I think the paper went quite well. No one running for the doors shouting "heresy," and no one tearing-apart my reading afterwards---both of which I consider victories! The comments during the Q&A session and afterwards were helpful. I was pleased to see the paper had engendered some thought and conversation. Victor Matthews from Missouri State University was also quite affirming; his article on Jacob the trickster in Perspectives in Religious Studies from 1985 has been a great help, and my forthcoming article on divine deception in the Jacob/Laban narratives interacts with it at several points (I do not, however, agree with Matthews' understanding of the Jacob cycle of stories, which I address in my article). I look forward, though, to further dialogue with him on the topic. I also had the opportunity to speak with another presenter in my section (Nate Lollar from Abilene Christian, whose paper on conversational dialogue in the Pentateuch was quite good) later in the book exhibit, and he expressed his sincere appreciation for my interpretation, for which I am grateful. But one of the greatest feelings--and this took me back to my time at Duke, so this may only make sense to some of you--was when during the reading of my paper at various points several people in the audience would say "mmmm" or "mmm hmm." For those that don't know, at Duke that meant you had said something poignant or insightful. For fear of asking and being proven wrong, I'll just assume it has that same meaning here in central Texas!

It was then off to the 'complimentary' plated lunch, and some bantering with fellow Baylorites before their upcoming papers. The next section I attended focused on the Book of Psalms, which both opened and closed with a paper by one of my colleagues at Baylor; a 'Baylor inclusio,' if I may. Roy Garton's paper on the death of the psalmist in Ps 88 continues to interest me, especially his positing of a specific, hypothetical Sitz im Leben for this psalm within the worship context of ancient Israel. I too find Psalm 88 to be a terribly dark, troubling text, and to be fair, Garton's emphasis was on the psalm itself, yet I still struggle with this psalm's meaning within the overall metanarrative of the Psalter. Gerald Wilson's seminal The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter poses a possibility for me, which I asked Roy about, namely that Ps 88 has a double superscription: of the sons of Korah, which connects it back to Ps 87, and with the ethnicity "Erzahite," connecting it forward to Ps 89. Understood in this way, the compilers of the final canonical Psalter--for which there is indeed a final organizing principle, I affirm--likely saw the same difficulties we do with the psalm, and in making these editorial connections attempted to 'soften' its impact. Ps 89 too, though, is a dark text, albeit with some light at least. And I cannot help but think of Wilson's work on the metanarrative of the Psalter's five books, and the extension of it by Nancy deClaisse-Walford's Introduction to the Psalms, both which see Book III as lamenting the Divided Monarchy and failure of Israelite kingship. It seems to me both darkness and hope would be endemic to such literature; and hope is certainly what one gets in Book IV, with its movement towards and emphasis on the ancestral covenant (Gen 12:1-3), which I presented a paper on at SBL in Boston this past November.

W. Dennis Tucker, Jr. from Baylor's Truett Seminary presented what I take to be the beginning of an inquiry into anti-imperial rhetoric in the first psalms of Book V (Pss 107-110). His reading is carrying forward Erich Zenger's reading of such tendencies elsewhere in the Psalter. I was struck by several aspects of Tucker's paper, especially the implications these tendencies have in informing with greater precision the date of formation for the canonical Psalter (prior to the first century CE, with the Qumran material).

I then went to hear a paper by another one of my Baylor colleagues on wisdom intensification in the Dead Sea Scrolls. From there I decided to hit up the book exhibit, which was quite empty at the time. In the end, I only bought one book, and it is one I had already read: The Quest for the Historical Israel, ed. Brian Schmidt (with essays by Israel Finkelstein and Amihai Mazar). I do, however, have a good-sized list for national in New Orleans!

That evening my wife, son, and I went out to eat, and then fell asleep about 9pm (my wife blames the overly-comfortable Marriott hotel bed, I attribute this to the fact that my 18 month old son was asleep about five feet away from us, and waking him up would not have been to our benefit!). Sunday morning I only heard one paper on the Psalms pesher from Qumran, which brought back fond memories of my work in the Nahum and Habakkuk pesharim a little over a year ago. I decided to take one final trip around the book exhibit, giving me the opportunity to talk one-on-one with some of the publishers there. The representatives from Fortress and Hendrickson were wonderful to speak with, and each was quite affirming and interested in the argument of my dissertation. I had a nice talk with Hendrickson also about one of two book projects with which I am helping my teacher, Dr. Bellinger.

All in all it was a very fine meeting, and getting my paper done right away on Saturday morning really helped me focus the rest of the day. Last year I did two papers within about two hours of one another, which was a nice mental exercise, especially given that one was in OT and the other in NT (yep, I'm bi-testamental). I look forward to next year's regional meeting, at which time I plan to be well into my dissertation and on the job hunt! Hoo-rah!

All the best!