Why Study Religion?

kaaba_mirror_edit_jjIn a recent post by a friend on Facebook, a deceptively simple question was posed: “What is the difference between religion and belief?” Here are a few of the answers.

“Religion you follow a guide, belief you creating your own guide. With belief, you are your own mentor.”

“A belief is something you believe in and religion requires practice.”

“Religion is the myths everyone has agreed to believe. Beliefs are the myths you personally believe.”

“Religion is the organization of a specific series of beliefs.”


“Religion is manmade and controllable. Belief is a function of the human entity to agree, believe, and trust in something. Belief is not limited to world views or faith or religion. It is a condition of our relationships with the planet, each other, and above all ourselves. Religion is just a system of control put in place to manipulate people. Everything is just a sales pitch in religion.”

“Anyone can have a belief. Religion is structured belief with processes and culture.”

These are a selection from 20+ responses to the prompt. Among the many observations about how people attempted to answer the prompt, one reality is apparent: nobody defined religion or belief in the exact same way. Some answers were similar. Yet, some answers were distinct from others.

Why does this matter, though?

Religion is a part of life, as is belief. The way we define it and understand it impacts how we choose to understand our own culture and history, world history, and life itself. In other words, the way we define these categories (religion and belief) substantially impacts how we understand the world. If any of the people who responded to this questions were to attempt to engage with each other about modern Christianity, ancient Near Eastern rituals, or 21st century culture itself, they would be unable to communicate effectively. They would be unable to communicate effectively because they would not have a mutual understanding of how they are defining the term “religion” or “belief” in their conversation. Thus, it is of the utmost importance to work towards such a goal, even if it is impossible to achieve the goal.

For this reason, religion must be studied. How we understand religion must be studied. How other people understand religion must be studied. Without it, we are unable to communicate ideas effectively. Consequently, we are unable to work towards a common goals of some sort of peace in the world.

Notes on My Translation of Psalm 82

For my Hebrew-II course, we are wrapping up the quarter with some Psalms. Previously, I posted some thoughts and notes on Psalm 93. These are my thoughts, notes, questions, and reactions for Psalm 82. I should also clarify that I never look at English translations as I am working through these Psalms. Errors are inevitable.

A Psalm of/by Asaph.

  1. Yahweh [elohim in the text] he has been stationed [N, 3MS, Root: NTsB; dagesh in Ts is the assimilated N] in the assembly [ B preposition= in, with patah is including the DA; in construct] of El [Semitic deity]; in the midst of gods [elohim] he will judge.
  2. How long [ad, until + mtay -> interrogative adv.] will  you judge [2MP, Q, Root: ShPT, Imperfect] injustice [Noun, Masculine, object of verb] and before the wicked ones you will lift up/raise [show partiality to the  wicked; Root: NSA, 2MP, Q, Imperfect].
  3. Judge [MP imperative] (the) poor and orphan; cause to be righteous [H, Imperative, 2MP, DO are the afflicted and poor] the afflicted/poor [substantivized Adjective] and poor [substantivized Q Act. Participle].
  4. Deliver [Imperative, 2MP Piel; especially of Yahweh(BDB) with accusative person] (the) poor and needy; from the hand of the wicked ones, you will snatch away/deliver [H, Root: NTsL, 2MP imperfect; DO is in 4b, poor+needy; dagesh=assimilated N].
  5. They will not know [3CP, Imperfect, Qal, Root: YDAyin] and they will not understand [Qal, Root: BYodN, 3CP, Hollow Root]; in the darkness [fig.=lack of understanding] they will continuously walk [Hithpael, 3CP] the whole foundations [Noun, construct; governing noun] of the earth [governed Noun] they will quake/shake [N, Imperfect, to shake/quake, hollow root].
  6. [I was unsure about how to work through vs. 6].
  7. But indeed [adv. with strong assertive force] like man you will die [Root: MWT, 2MP, binyan?]; and like one of the rulers ou will fall [Root: NPL, Q, 2MP, Imperfect].
  8. Rise [2MS, Imperative, Root: KWM, with paragogic H] Elohim [AKA Adonai/Yahweh]; judge [Q, Imperative, 2MS; irregular form?] the land; from now you will take as possession [Q, Imperfect, Root: NHL, 2MS] all the nations [BDB=”landed property”].

Update and Translation

Due to a life circumstances and workload, I’ve been unable to post much recently. However, I do have two important things to put out.

First, I am confirmed to take Akkadian, Hebrew (Psalms reading course), and Old South Arabian next quarter. Needless to say, I am quite excited.

Second, I will offer a rough translation of Psalm 93. I am working on it for my Hebrew class on Friday. I have not looked at any English translations of this text.

Adonai (is) king [ruling]; he is dress (in) majesty [took the act. pt. definition as stative]; Adonai is clothed, he will equip might [as an essential attribute]; he will cause to the earth to be firmly established. It will not die.

Your throne has been established [1] from a time in the past, [2] from forever until now [1 and 2 demonstrate parallelism and define the throne establishment clause].

[1] the rivers of Yahweh lifted; [2] the rivers raised their voices; [3] the rivers of crashing [ocean waves] will lift. [Very unsure about vs. 3].

From the sound of great, majestic waters, the breakers of the sea [Again, I was unsure of the syntax]. Yahweh (is) majestic in the heights (height?) of heaven.

Your many testimonies they have been confirmed [N, 3CP, Perfect, root = AMN]. Your house, Adonai, is befitting forever.

Courses for Spring 2017

Assuming I can convince one of my professors to change the time for a class, I plan on taking three courses next quarter. First, I will continue into the 3rd sequence of Akkadian. I look forward to this because I’ll finally have a basic grasp of the Akkadian grammar. Plus, I’ll be more prepared to utilized Akkadian in any future papers. Second, I will continue into the third sequence of Biblical Hebrew; however, because we’ve finished Lamdbin’s grammar already, it will be a reading course for the book of Psalms. For the paper at the end of the quarter, I hope to write about Psalm 82. Finally, I will take another language course: Old South Arabian. Although it is often times used, it is becoming more and more recognized as an important thing to consider along with ancient Israelite history and literature. Names of people who use Old South Arabian inscriptions for this purpose include, though are not limited to, Seth Sanders and Laruen Monroe.

It will be a great quarter!

My Only “Political” Post of the Year

I encourage all people to listen to this song. If the song is too heavy or loud, I encourage you to consider the lyrics in the song. Also, checkout the footnotes the lyrics. I’ve attached the lyrics with their footnotes below the video for your convenience:

I saw you stumble out from the social slaughter house, oppression’s progeny, you lift your head and plead for mercy. Rocks began as building blocks until they turned to throwing stones; a monolith of dominance we set atop your plinth of bones.[01]

This privilege[02] is a prism, reflecting our indecision, the iniquities of inhibition, our indifference gave way to a prison.[03] Classes at war,[04] castes are born – criminals are sworn in.[05]

Place your hands to the pulse of this city,[06] keep your ear to the ground, hear her gasp, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”[07]

Are we so blind to believe that violence could give birth to peace?[08]

Lay down our weapons and raise our arms.[09] Make every breath a protest in a world where your neighbors cannot breathe. Every second in the shadows,[10] lives are stolen in the sun – slowly waking from our apathy to see the fascists have won. They already won – just ask the child in front of the smoking gun.[11]

Are we so blind to believe that violence could give birth to peace?

Place your hands to the pulse of this city, keep your ear to the ground, hear him gasp, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”[12]
We shout at fascist[13] hands fixed on asphyxiating those in need. Place your hands to the pulse of this city, keep your ear to the ground, hear her gasp, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”[14]

Are we so blind to believe that violence could give birth to peace?

I’ve seen the end, the tyrant on his knees.[15] Will we starve our need for retribution, or take his eye and all go blind?[16][17]

01 — Michel Foulcault, Discipline and Punish
02 — Allan G. Johnson, Privilege, Power, and Difference
03 — Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
04 — Noam Chomsky, Class Warfare
05 — Several past and near-future presidents of the United States of America
06 — Blackstar, Respiration ft. Common
07 — Eric Garner in Staten Island, NYC on July 17, 2014
08 — Matthew 26:52
09 — Isaiah 2:4
10 — Walter Brueggemann, Out of Babylon
11 — Countless children who have been victims of both gang and police shootings, who have been disproportionately ethnic minorities and in lower socioeconomic areas of USA.
12 — Hernan Jaramillo in Oakland, CA on July 8, 2013
13 — Donald J. Trump
14 — Kelly Thomas in Fullerton, CA on July 5, 2011
15 — Sic Semper Tyrannis
16 — “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” – commonly attributed to Mahatma Gandhi
17 — For more information on social inequality and systemic incarceration please visit: Equal Justice Initiative at http://www.eji.org. An excellent community resource for inner-city African American families: http://www.aapci.org

Before Ancient Israel

I have read quite a bit about the emergence of ancient Israel in the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron age. I have read quite a bit about the surrounding culture in the Levant and Near East. Today, though, I came across something which I have never thought about: the Levant in the 6th millennium (c. 5999 BCE – 5000 BCE). Because the article is relatively technical and unavailable for general readership, I will offer a succinct summary of the article.

Katharina Streit begins with a short history of scholarship for archaeology in the Levant. Although it has been noted before, she reminds us that the 6th millennium is not necessarily prehistory. At the same time, it doesn’t fit within ancient Israelite history. So, it is an oft ignored field of research. She then offers a short summary of Jacob Kaplan’s archaeology, which connected a particular style of pottery in the Levant  to a type of pottery found in Northern Mesopotamia.

Now, at a 2015 dig in Ein el-Jarba, two Halaf sherds were discovered. A Halaf sherd is a reference to a particular style of pottery in Northern Mesopotamia. In other words, these two sherds from roughly the 6th millennium BCE are evidence for active inter-cultural exchange between Northern Mesopotamia and the southern Levant. This means that there is reason to suggest that there was an “intense transregional exchange network that culminated in the sixth millennium.”

Although it isn’t necessarily directly relevant to the emergence of ancient Israel and the Levantine culture, I would love to see more about how historical circumstances back to the 6th millennium may have, or may not have, influenced the eventual development of ancient Israelite culture(s).

“The Near East before Borders: Recent Excavations at Ein el-Jarba (Israel) and the Cultural Interactions of the Sixth Millennium cal. B.C.E. ” by Katharina Streit, in Near Eastern Archaeology, Vol. 79, No. 4 (December 2016), published by ASOR, pp. 236-245.

Forthcoming Book Alert: Prophecy in the Ancient Near East and Hebrew Bible

Although it will not be published for quite a while, I am looking forward to a forthcoming publication from de Gruyter: Prophecy in the Ancient Near East and the Hebrew Bible by Martti Nissinen. For those who are not aware, Martti Nissinen is well known for his work with Near Eastern literature and prophecy. One of his books was, in fact, one of the first academic books which I ever read. So, he is very much the reason why I do what I do today.