A Response to Reviews of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Although I typically write about Hebrew Bible and ancient Near Eastern stuff on this blog, I want to take a moment to reflect on Star Wars: The Last Jedi. To be completely honest, I loved the film. While I have many reasons rolling through my mind, I don’t have the time to write and explain each one. Instead, this blog post will focus on one broad pattern which I enjoyed about Star Wars: The Last Jedi (henceforth TLJ).

Before talking about the film itself, though, I need to layout my methodology for understanding the film. In simpler terms, I want to discuss how I approached the film. In approaching the movie, I sought a balance between two extremes. On the one hand, rather than approach it with any expectations in terms of thematic elements, characters, etc., I attempted to approach Star Wars as neutral as possible. In other words, I was fully prepared for things not to be done the way I expected. Having seen the movie twice, this was easier to do the 2nd time around. On the other hand, I knew that the film would draw from themes, lines, cinematography, and other elements from the previous films, particularly Episodes IV, V, and VI.

The best way to summarize my approach, then, is that I interpreted/watched/understood TLJ in terms of what is called ‘intertexuality.’ Simply put, me approaching TLJ intertextually meant that I understood TLJ as being shaped and defined by the previous Star Wars films. In Biblical Studies, this is often called “Innerbiblical exegesis.” So, here, I will call it “Inner-StarWars Exegesis.” With this method, for example, I paid close attention to things such as Luke’s time on the island with Rey. For, it obviously draws from the imagery and themes of Yoda’s time on Dagobah with Luke. Importantly, though TLJ did not simply copy themes and idea from other movies; rather, it re-interpreted the themes. So, although Luke’s time as the island was framed in context of Yoda’s time on Dagobah, the characters and stories played out in very different ways, albeit similar at moments.

By watching TLJ through inner-Star-Wars exegesis, I noticed how many things depended on the framing of IV, V, and VI. Even so, they did something very different with the same frame, motifs, and themes.  One placed of inner-Star-Wars exegesis was the plot line of Finn and Rose. In the following, I list a few common criticisms of their plot line:

  • They didn’t actually contribute to the story
    • I will respond to this in what follows.
  • Their chemistry was strange.
  • Their plot line was simply boring.
    • This point is quite subjective.
  • “The “evil people who hurt animals and make money off war” plot line is as cliche as it gets.”
    • I see why this may be understood as “cliche.” The reality, though, is that it is not cliche within the Star Wars films. It is only this film in which this sort of thing really begins to be fleshed out. It sort of presents a “third-side” to everything. So often in Star Wars films, we are presented the bad guys and and the good guys, the dark side and the light side, the X-Wing and the TIE Fighter, etc. What this film is trying to do as a whole is shift that traditional, Star Wars understanding. This will be more fleshed out in the example below.

Now, I agree with most that their chemistry was strange. The love ‘thing,’ or what ever it was, between Finn and Rose was not entirely necessary. In light of inner-Star-Wars exegesis, though, I argue that the role of their plot line within the broader narrative was not to simply save the day; rather, the role of their plot line was to make a poignant comment on the idea of what it means to be a hero. In order to demonstrate this, I will focus on one particular narrative sequence, namely when the slicer gets Finn and Rose onto the First Order ship.

For anybody who knows the Star Wars films, they know that Luke and his party ‘sneak’ onto the Death Star with codes. Similarly, Finn, Rose, and the slicer ‘sneak’ onto the First Order ship. And whereas Luke and his party are successful to a certain extent, in regard to taking down the shields, Finn and Rose are successful by no means.

It is this lack of success which I want to focus on. Throughout TLJ, clear reference is made to previous Star Wars films in terms of how the material is framed. So, Yoda + Dagobah // Luke + Island; Hoth + Walkers // Crait + Walkers; Rey + Snoke // Luke + Sidious; etc. Among the many things framed to be parallel, though, TLJ worked with it in such a way that they were often (1) successful in a different manner or (2) not successful at all. And this 2nd point, not being successful at all, seems to be a consistent texture throughout the film. It is a texture best exemplified by Rose and Finn, who go on a dangerous journey and never really “win” or help the Resistance. In re-interpreting previous frames and themes in Star Wars, though, TLJ provides an entirely distinct texture from the previous films. Whereas the previous films had clear distinctions between bad/good, jedi/sith, Empire/Rebellion, etc., TLJ plays with this structuralist divisions. In the case of Finn and Rose, it draws from a traditional framework of Hero/Win and Evil/Lose. Within TLJ, though, such a sharp contrast between black and white no longer works. It reveals that there is also grey, and many other shades. One can be a ‘hero,’ and go on adventure; yet, there is never a promise of success. In fact, you probably won’t succeed.

This is the texture which I see in TLJ. It takes the expectations an illustrates how people aren’t perfect. People don’t always succeed in their missions. Some people make really stupid decisions, such as Poe. In other words, through recognizing the use of inner-Star-Wars exegesis, TLJ seems to comment on the previous films, wherein a clear distinction between good and evil, black and white, was much more apparent. TLJ seems to say, “No. That is not always the case.” In doing so, it avoid common expectations held up for the Star Wars film tradition and other film traditions. This is what gives TLJ such a unique texture. This is also what sets TLJ apart from other Star Wars films, letting it stand on its own feet, with a unique film texture.

Finally, though this is more conjectural, I suspect that the problematizing of the structuralist story telling of I-VI is actually trying to do something within the broader Star Wars galaxy. I think it is trying to get away from the centralization of good/evil, Sith/Jedi, etc., in order to focus more on the grey area between the two. In other words, it will allow the franchise to move beyond black and white and into the infinite grey that is real life.


Review of “Biblica Hebraica Stuttgartensia: A Reader’s Edition”

The increasing popularity and usage of Bible software is both beneficial and problematic. On the one hand, it enables students and scholars to search biblical material quickly. Subsequently, they can more quickly observe complex and nuanced aspects of Biblical Hebrew (henceforth BH) grammar. On the other hand, it seemingly stunts ones ability to cold read a biblical text, parse verb forms only by recognition, and experience searching through pages and entries within BDB or HALOT. Subsequently, BH has substantially less opportunity to become “normalized” within ones mind. So, a grey space exists between reading straight from the BHS with a BDB and reading straight from Bible software. The reader’s edition of BHS (henceforth BHSRE) arguably fills the grey space.

BHSRE is, essentially, what it sounds like: a BHS for readers still working to attain a full understanding of BH grammar, vocabulary, and syntax. Instead of the standard textual notes found in the BHS, BHSRE contains lexical notes. So, for every word which occurs less than 70 times, a lexical notes is present. Each lexical note offers the parsing and relevant data, depending on whether the word is a PN, GN, Noun/Adjective, or Verb. Relevant parsing data is expressed via a numbering system.

For those who were taught grammar with the binyamin  Qal, Niphal, Hiphil, etc., understanding lexical notes may initially be difficult. BHSRE uses the standard base stem titles for comparative grammar, such as G, N, and D. Notably, though, the sigla for Hiphil remains H, instead of Š. While this choice is understandable in terms of students, it may have been a better choice to mark the causative with an Š or C.

The binyamin aside, the parsing numbers may be a bit much to memorize; however, this is a good. For, students are able to reference the lexical notes, and subsequently parsing for particular words, without becoming overly dependent on the lexical notes. In other words, it finds middle ground between no parsing support (BHS) and full parsing support (Bible Software).

Another feature of BHSRE is paradigm charts. Quick access to the charts enable students to review verbal forms for which they may have had difficult recognizing. For example, a student may be reading through Psalm 119:43. In it, the student does not recognize the word taṣṣēl. After looking at the lexical notes, the student realizes it is a Hiphil 2MS Jussive. If the student wishes so, he/she can easily turn to the paradigm and review the form in context of other verbal patterns. Such a capabilities are important because they enable an intermediate level student to read a text without worrying about figuring out why a form is what it is.

The last major feature of BHSRE is a concise glossary. Although it is not adequate for thoroughly working through a text, the glossary enables intermediate students to quickly figure out the basic translation value of a word. Consequently, students able to spend more time engaging with the text and less time digging through BDB or HALOT.

In conclusion, I highly recommend BHSRE, particularly for students in intermediate Hebrew. For, even with the lexical notes, one needs a relatively strong grasp of BH. While students should also experience BHS, they should also utilize BHSRE in order to increase their proficiency in BH without becoming overly dependent upon Bible Software. I would go as far as to suggest that students would be better off abandoning Bible Software programs until they’ve become extremely comfortable reading BHSRE. At that point, a student is proficient enough in reading BH in order to use Bible software as a tool, rather than a security blanket.

*I’d like to express my gratitude to the publisher for providing a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Weekly Digest (12/8/17)

Horwitz, L. K., et al, “A Brief Contribution to the Iron Age Philistine Pig Debate” (2017; LINK)

A study on Pig consumption at Philistine, Judean, and other archaeological sites.

“A Babylonian Jewish Aramaic Incantation Bowl with a List of Deities and Toponyms” by Gideon Bohak and Dan Leven (2012; LINK)

Fascinating study of a Jewish-Aramaic incantation bowl.

Figurines in Achaemenid Period Yehud by Izaak J. de Hulster (LINK)

“Iranian-Judaean Interaction in the Persian Period” by Jason Silverman (LINK)

“Astral Science in Uruk during the First Millennium BCE: Libraries, Communities and Transfer of Knowledge” by Mathieu Ossendrijver (LINK)

Weekly Digest (12/1/2017)

How Is the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (DCH) Different from All Other Hebrew Dictionaries? AND How Will the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew Revised (DCHR) Be Different from DCH” by David Clines (LINK)

“The Babylonian Revolts Against Xerxes and the ‘End of Archives’,” Archiv für Orientforschung 50 (2003/2004), 150-173, by Caroline Waerzeggers (LINK)

“The Godfather of “Occidentality”: Auguste Comte and the Idea of “the West”” by Georgios Varouxakis (LINK)

“Aspects of Aramaic and Babylonian Linguistic Interaction in First Millennium BC Iraq” by Paul-Alain Beaulieu (LINK)

Weekly Digest (11/24/17)

Masoretic Texts and Ancient Texts Close to MT  (LINK)

Reading and Writing in the Dark at Khirbet el-Qom: The Literacies of Ancient Subterranean Judah by Alice Mandell and Jeremy Smoak (LINK)

The Cult of the Bronze Serpents in Ancient Canaan and Israel by Maciej Munnich (LINK)

“On ‘Exegetical Function’ in Rewritten Scripture: Inner-Biblical Exegesis and the Abram/Ravens Narrative in Jubilees” by David Teeter (LINK)

Weekly Digest (10/17/17)

The Emancipation of Biblical Philology in the Dutch Republic, 1590-1670The Assyrian Empire and Judah: Royal Assyrian Archives and Other Historical Documents by Peter Zilberg (LINK)

“This study reviews the historical evidence for Assyrian control and administration in the area of Judah.”



Egypt’s Role in the Origins of Science by David A. Warburton (LINK)

“The author argues that the evidence of observation in Egyptian third millennium BCE medicine and astronomy should allow ancient Egypt an important place in the history of science.”


“Scarlet and Harlots: Seeing Red in the Hebrew Bible” by Scott Noegel (LINK)

“… a semiotic study of seven terms for the color red in the Hebrew Bible.”


Zauber und Magie im antiken Palästina und seiner Umwelt (forthcoming book; LINK)


New Publishing Company (LINK)


The Emancipation of Biblical Philology in the Dutch Republic, 1590-1670 by  Dirk van Miert (forthcoming book; LINK)

The Emancipation of Biblical Philology in the Dutch Republic, 1590-1670 argues that the application of tools, developed in the study of ancient Greek and Latin authors, to the Bible was aimed at stabilizing the biblical text but had the unintentional effect that the text grew more and more unstable. Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) capitalized on this tradition in his notorious Theological-political Treatise (1670). However, the foundations on which his radical biblical scholarship is built were laid by Reformed philologists who started from the hermeneutical assumption that philology was the servant of reformed dogma.

Weekly Digest (November 10th)

“Yahwistic Names in Light of Late Babylonian Onomastics” by Paul-Alain Beaulieu (LINK)

“This documentation from Uruk seems quite relevant to the study of Judean exiles. It shows that a cult deprived of state sponsorship in its original homeland could survive in Babylonia, which was, even for Assyrians, an alien environment.”

“Akkadian Commentaries from Ancient Mesopotamia and Their Relation to Early Hebrew Exegesis” (2012) by Uri Gabbay

“The commentaries as texts, both in the ancient Near East and in the sectarian and rabbinic sources from Palestine, are reflections of common ways of interpretation. The contact between the two cultures was not necessarily achieved on the level of the specific texts known to us by the chance of a find, but rather in other ways which are hidden behind the textual nature of the commentaries” (p. 312).

Before Nature: Cuneiform Knowledge and the History of Science by Francesca Rochberg

“”The aim of this book is to raise and explore questions about observing and interpreting, theorizing and calculating what we think of as natural phenomena in a world in which there was no articulated sense of nature in our terms, no reference or word for it” (p. 1).


Abstract: “While histories of ideas in premodern perspectives habitually understood history as divisions of fixed periods, modernists tend to narrate these histories in terms of flowing streams curving through timelines, intersections, and junctions. Crucial moments, accordingly, are turns and returns, shifts and orientations. I am not sure what it takes to diagnose and proclaim an intellectual turn or how to affirm or refute such a phenomenon, but I take the audacious risk and argue that the last couple of decades have seen a “legal turn” in the study of religions—a renewed focus on legal aspects of religion that includes legal concepts, theories, and practices.”

“Debunking Ancient Jewish Science” by M. J. Geller 

A review article of Ancient Jewish Sciences and the History of Knowledge in Second Temple Literature (edited by Seth Sanders and Jonathan ben-Dov).

‘Wissen’ im Akkadischen, Semitischen, Afroasiatischen” by Manfred Krebernik

Abstract: “K. discusses the semantic field of ‘knowledge’ in various ancient and modern languages. He starts with an overview of verbs expressing ‘knowing’ in Indo-European languages. Then he turns to the Akkadian e/idûm, its cognates and related lexemes. Thirdly, he considers the usage of other Semitic languages (Ugaritic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Ancient South Arabic/Sabean, New South Arabic, Ethiosemitic). Finally, he widens the perspective to encompass other Afro-Asiatic languages. In all languages surveyed, K. notes a development from ‘seeing’ to ‘knowing’ and a wide variety of metaphors for ‘knowledge,’ e.g., discern, find, feel, smell, follow, pursue, get acquainted with.”

A Late Iron Age I/Early Iron Age II Old Canaanite Inscription from Tell eṣ-Ṣâfī/ Gath, Israel : Palaeography, Dating, and Historical-Cultural Significance by Aren Maeir, Stefan Wimmer, Alexander Zukerman, and Aaron Demsky (LINK)

Contains notable comments on the development of Philistine culture within a Levantine context (pp. 24-25).