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!