“A History of Biblical Israel” by Ernst Axel Knauf and Philippe Guillaume

Ernst Axel Knauf and Philippe Guillaume. A History of Biblical Israel: The fate of the tribe and kingdoms from Merenptah to Bar Kochba. Bristol, CT: Equinox Publishing, 2016, pp. 266.

Grappling with and reconstructing a history of ancient Israel and Judah is a particularly difficult task. The data is challenging to work through due to things like the scarcity of relevant inscriptions and the redaction of biblical traditions and literature. Knauf and Guillaume, though, attempt such a reconstruction. They do so by framing the history within a timespan: Merenptah to Bar Kochba. Thus, they reconstruct a history between c. 1208 BCE and 136 CE. Guillaume and Knauf break up the timeframe by dividing it into three segments: pre-history of biblical Israel, formation of biblical Israel in the Persian period, and fragmentation of biblical Israel (Hellenistic and Roman periods).

Furthermore, Knauf and Guillaume continue by defining terminology for significant words: Israel (covers realities from various time periods), history, and history of Israel. On the point of history, they offer a helpful introduction to how the discipline of history can function. To explain one aspect of it, they choose for focus on conjonctures, “a French word meaning circumstances used mainly in economics” (4). So, in their reconstruction of ancient Israel, one major focus is the wave of circumstances especially in relation to the resources and wealth of the region. Additionally, regarding history of Israel, Guillaume and Knauf are careful to note the issue of bias with primary texts, whether the Hebrew Bible or Babylonian Chronicles. Consequently, they choose to position themselves between minimalists and maximalists. This positioning, though, does not offer a method for delineating between what may be a more accurate representation of the past and what may be narrative flourishes written by the texts editors.

Guillaume and Knauf then define four more notions: time (especially chronology); space (i.e. topography, altitude, geography, etc.); peasants, urbanites, and nomads (dependent on the conjoncture, time, and space); toponyms; and epochs/conjonctures. Regarding the fifth notion, the periods tended to be constructed by the elite class and do “not reflect socio-political phenomena, which are characterized by continuity rather than by clear-cut period” (22). As a solution, they suggest organizing history into century categories, each reflecting about a 100 year period. For Israel, 796 BCE – 734 BCE is a “short” eight century, while 734 BCE – 609 BC is a “long” seventh century. This way to categorize periods, though, is somewhat convoluted. It lacks explanation and does not offer further evidence for why such categorization is valuable. Additionally, they choose to place Israel’s history within the “macron-history of the Mediterranean systems through  braudel’s economic conjonctures” (23). In other words, they utilize trade and economy within the Mediterranean world in order to draw on the conjonctures of each period. This is one of the strongest points of the method, namely utilizing economic patterns throughout the Mediterranean as a broader economic framework for the history of Israel.

In Chapter One, Knauf and Guillaume argues that ancient Israel emerged in a context of shasu and ‘apiru who began to display more formal clan organization. With the climate change in the LB Age, a power vacuum enabled various tribal units to form, such as the Philistines. Furthermore, they suggest that the cultural memory of Exodus may be derived from a tendency of Canaanite groups to be captured on Egyptian “slave-hunting” expedition or to migrates to Egypt in times of famine. Chapter Two works through the rise of proto-Israelite tribes. After offering a theoretical approach that “rural and urban populations adapted to economic and politic changes by alternating between one mode and the other” (43), namely between more nomads and urban. They support this theory by considering the small tribes in Palestine in context of the Pax Aegytptiaca, in which economic development of the region was encouraged through trade networks with Egypt. They further attempt to figure out from where various tribes may have emerged; however, this portion lacks substantive arguments and is highly conjectural. Finally, they offer some thoughts on the religious background of Israel.

Chapter Three situates the successful rise of Saul and state formation in the copper production and trade routes of Midean, Edom, and various other iron or copper centers. Although highly conjectural and only based on possible correlation between biblical texts and the ‘Arabah copper mines, they claim that Saul’s son, Eshbaal, was the one who expanded the wealth and power of the tribe of Benjamin. This entire argument, though, is based on a particular reading Samuel. It lacks any real argument of substance. David, father of the tribal state of Judah, may have attempted to destabilize Saul’s rule. Uprisings by Absolom illustrate the fragility of David’s rule, though. For the remainder of the chapter, Knauf and Guillaume work through the biblical representation of Solomon, Jereboam I, the revival of Egyptian influence, and religion and literature of the period. Again, though, the use of the Hebrew Bible is problematic. Many references to it seems to function more as a way to support a pre-constructed thesis. This goes back to an earlier point that the book lacks any sort of method, or actual examples, or working critical through texts in the Hebrew Bible.

Chapter Four considers the consolidation of Levantine kingdoms as a consequence of shifting economic and power structures. Judah, Knauf and Guillaume suggest, was drawn into  the “revival of Mediterranean trade” through peace with Israel and marriage to the daughter of an Aramean (possibly) king, namely Omri. Omri vied for power via a military coup. Now in power, Assyrians considered Omri to be the founder of the kingdom of Israel. Within this dynasty, the Omrides may have placed the Canaanites into forced labour (Judges 1:27-28). Throughout Chapter Four, they outline the victories of losses of various leaders up to Jereboam II. Notably, Hazael is given a special place in the chapter for how he shook off the Assyrian hold. Finally, they review religion in the 9th century BCE, religious expansion by Jereboam II, and religion in the 8th century BCE. Like previous chapters, there are many interesting tidbits; however, for the most part, the writing in convoluted, difficult to follow, and does not thoroughly engage with the primary source material. If one is to be between a minimalist and maximalist, one must also explain how to decide what reflects the past and what does not.

Chapter Five highlights the climax as Judah and it ideology in Deuteronomistic literature by considering the integration of Judah and Israel into the Neo-Assyrian empire. Contextually, Phoenician  trade between Tyre and Sidon decreased, while Philistine trade increase. Consequently, Judah strengthened, while Israel declined. They further detail the how the Neo-Assyrian military functioned and how the military incorporated Israel and Judah into the empire. Finally, they outline important religious developments and literature in the late 8th and early 7th century. While the history reconstructed is helpful, there are many claims which are not substantiated. For example, Knauf and Guillaume use Ps. 82 as evidence that Yahweh was replacing Ashur as the highest deity; however, Ps. 82 references El, not Ashur. In other words, they use a support text without explaining why it supports their point. Likewise, they suggest that Manasseh’s shedding of innocent blood may “reflect the suppression of an opposition group that held the kind of anti-Assyrian ideas that inspired the… politics of the last kings of Judah” (120). While this may be the case, they offer no convincing  explanation for how or why this may be the case, save for the Chroniclers revision of Manasseh. In short, they often reference the Hebrew Bible; however, there tends too be little to no critical discussion of the texts.

Chapter Six discuses Judah during the Neo-Babylonian Empire. He focuses on the three deportations of the elite from Judah to Babylon. From these deportations, he suggests that they produced four rivaling Judean groups: an ultra-conservative group focused on the absence of Yahweh (Ezekiel in Babylon), a group focused on the legitimacy of the Davidic dynasty (Books of Samuel-Kings), the prophet-poetic tradition (Second-Isaiah), and the Jeremiah group which remained in Yehud (Jeremiah). The traditions from each of these groups “reflect the controversy over the correct policy under Babylonian rule regarding the concrete political demands of the Judean elite towards their Babylonian overlords” (141). This division is a valuable division of traditions. Thus, it is helpful for making sense of how the Judean population dealt with the new rule of the Neo-Babylonians. Chapter Six is, I think, one of the stronger chapters in the work. It offers the most thorough discussion of texts and draws from a variety of textual records.

Chapter Seven focuses on how the shift to the Persian Empire impacted Judean identity. The religious conflict which occurred during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar II and Nabonidus, they argue, contributed to the movement towards monotheism. This was further reinforced by Cyrus’ capture of Babylon. Whether worshippers of Marduk, Sin, Ahuramazda, or Yahweh, they construct a history in which a supreme deity is becoming the norm. Between 582-525 BCE, Judean population decreased, they argue, because commerce shifted away from the Philistine controlled coast. Thus, many people migrated in order to find more favorable economies. Although a diverse group ideologically, Knauf and Guillaume suggest that Cyrus’ capture of Babylon may have reinforced the idea that Marduk and Ahuramazda “were other names for YHWH” (155). While one may claim that those were names for deities below YHWH, it seems far-fetched to claim that they were other names for Yahweh. Following, working through the period in which Jerusalem exiles returned to Yehud, they suggest that the re-establishment of Jerusalem may have been a strategic move. This move would enable the Persians to defend the Palestinian land bridge. This movement enabled Darius I to organizes the Persian Empire. This government, religious, and social organization is briefly explored in relation to the broader historical conjoncutres and Yehud. One difficult with Chapter Seven was clarity. The majority of it is convoluted. And it is oftentimes difficult to follow a single train of thought or logic.

Chapter Eight works through how conditions in the Persian Empire and Yehud may have given rise to an identity based on biblical Israel. Drawing primarily from Ezra-Nehemiah, Knauf and Guillaume reconstruct the conflict between Nehemiah and other groups. They are careful to note that the importance of these conflicts should not be exaggerated. Based on the social unrest represented in Nehemiah, they suggest that the Persian Empire may have desired returnees to Yehud in order to strengthen the economy. By strengthening the economy, the region would be enabled to supply Persian troops moving towards Egypt. This would only occur through increased manpower, which would come from the elite returnees. South of Yehud, the colony at Elephantine exemplifies the similarities and differences as Judean immigrants. In an awkward shift, they discuss the economic and political situations of Arabia and Idumea. Returning to Yehud, they offer a brief overview of the conflict between Samaria and Yehud, a conflict which reinforced an identity as biblical Israel. Regarding Ezra, they claim that the Torah, a collection of traditional material, was (1) serving to legitimate every Jew across the empire and (2) endorsed by the Persian administration as a sort of “Imperial Religious Police Department.” While point two is valuable, I doubt that the Torah necessarily legitimated every Jew. After all, to what extent can we view Ezra as an accurate representation of the past? Following, Knauf and Guillaume briefly illustrates how Torah’s demand for sacrifice served to strengthen Judean identity, both in terms of ritual practice and language. It seems, though, like they assume that all Torah traditions are rooted in the Persian period, which is not necessarily true. Their discussion of the role of Torah in forming Judean identity is, I think, almost too convenient and also convoluted. Finally, the discuss the other literary developments, the legacy of Bethel, and the newfound rule of Alexander. This chapter, like others, is often time convoluted. It is not always clear what Knauf and Guillaume are trying to do or where they are trying to take the reader.

Part III conclude works from the Ptolemaic administration in Alexandria, Egypt until the end of the Bar Kochba revolt. Chapter 9 briefly describes how Greek rulers only permitted Jerusalemite elite to act as tax collectors. Then, it briefly describes the various Hellenistic biblical texts. Chapter 10 outlines how Antiochus III of the Seleucid Empire permitted more autonomy to Yehud and how books like Tobit and the Books of Sirach exemplify Hellenistic influence upon Judeans. Based upon this autonomy granted to Yehud, they construct a history of the Maccabean revolt as a type of Jewish civil war. After the Seleucid empire collapsed, John Hyrcanus, Aristobulus I, and Salome Alexandra led the new nation of Judah. Throughout Chapter 10, though, Knauf and Guillaume offer a few places where a book “may” have been composed (i.e. Maccabees in the court of John Hyrcanus, Esther during the reign of Queen Salome, etc.). These possibilities, though, are not substantiated. Less conjectural thoughts and more substantial arguments would strengthen this chapter. Finally, Chapter 11 outlines the social, political, and economic conditions which led to the eventual rebellions and formation of Rabbinic Judaism.

As a text attempting to reconstruct a history, I had one major issue: it never attempts to offer a critical readings of the multitude of texts from which it draws. Particularly with regard to biblical texts, Knauf and Guillaume rarely took the time to work through the text which purportedly supported, or contributed to, their construction of history. Time and time again, they reference biblical texts without any discussion of the particular text. For example, they suggest that Marduk makes a veilded appearance in Gen 1:1-8 via the appearance of Tehom (Tiamat) (p. 148). Whether or not tehom references Tiamat, though, is not conclusive or agreed upon within scholarship. In other words, they utilize the text without approaching it critically.

Additionally, the book was somewhat convoluted. While the flow of some arguments was sometimes clear, it was sometimes difficult to follow the logic of the text. For example, Section 8.3 (p. 177-78) discusses the role of the Elephantine colony. In particular, the difference between biblical social standards and those of Elephantine is being addressed. Section 8.4 (p. 178), though, suddenly shifts to the impact of the Egyptian rebellion upon Persian rule in Arabia. The lack of continuity between 8.3 and 8.4 is obvious, as the ideas fail to connect in any logical way. This problem occurs consistently throughout the work. As a result, it is very difficult to understand what they are trying express.

On a more positive note, I did appreciate how they approach their reconstruction with particular regard to the conjonctures. Were the book primarily concerned with that, I may have enjoyed it more. Unfortunately, its aims and scope may have been too broad for its own good.

In conclusion, I do not recommend this book for research purposes. As an introduction, I tentatively recommend it. As a basic outline of ancient Israelite history and development of religious thought, there are some little tidbits which are valuable. For the most part, though, it is intertwined with unsupported claims and uncritically examined ideas. Thus, an inexperienced reader may fail to recognize the differences between substantiated claims and conjectures with no support.

UPDATE (6/26/2017): I forgot to mention one important detail. Throughout the book, Knauf and Guillaume make reference to various images, iconography. They fail, though, to engage with the iconography as things which need to be interpreted. Just as the Hebrew Bible requires a interpretation, so do the image from the ancient world. Thus, discussion of iconography would have strengthened their arguments.

“Being a Man: Negotiating Ancient Constructs of Masculinity” edited by Ilona Zsolnay

As the title state, this volume explores constructs of masculinity from a variety of regions and time periods in the ancient world. In light of the notion of evolving ideal masculine paradigms, an attempt is made to negotiate the “various ancient attitudes towards, and guidelines for, being a man” (5). It covers a wide range of materials, including, though not limited to, Sumerian literature, Indian literature, and 19th century Gothic imagination. Proceeding, I will offer a succinct summary of each chapter. Then, I will offer my criticism of the particular chapter.

In Chapter One, Ilona Zsolnay and Joan Goodnick Westenholz investigate Sumerian texts in order to survey the basic categories of males (assigned roles). A through analysis illustrates how “Sumerian constructions of masculinity are rooted in class distinctions and societally understood age parameters” (30). They also shed important light on the lexemes nita, Lu{2}, and sag. Thus, this article offers a valuable framework for future studies engaging in the topic of masculinity, or gender more broadly, in the ancient world. In the coming years, I look forward to seeing how people engage with this article and more thoroughly develop the categorization of men and masculinity in Sumer.

Julian Assante identifies overtones of sexuality in Assyrian iconography. She argues that “By looking at pictures that glorified the Assyrian male body and degrated the non-Assyrian body, that ranked and genderdered masculinities and that around and sublimated homosexual desire, all men of whatever rank participated in the maintainance of hierarchical tensiona nd the paradigm of penetrator and penetrated on which the imperial state was built” (74). Notably, it is clear that sexuality was important to Assyrians. Likewise, the question of penetrator vs. penetrated is important to consider. However, Assante’s conclusions quite speculative and not well substantiated. For example, she says at one point that “although we know virtually nothing concrete about the sexual tastes and habits of Assyrian kings… it might be said with some certainty that a king could “take” a eunuch if he wanted to without compromising his reputation for superlative manhood” (68). She bases this on the fact that eunuchs often worked with the harem of women. Yet, this is nothing more than speculation, and should be presented as such. Likewise, she seems to disregard time itself: “Given the eunuch’s dualistic attributes of warriro bedmate from Islamic period, it is left to the imagination what sexual roles eunuchs actually played in Assyrian campaigns” (73). The amount of time between the Islamic period and Assyrian campaigns is far too much to even “imagine.” And the call to compare eunuch’s during an Assyrian campaign with those during the Islamic period is simply sloppy. In short, the ideas in this contribution have potential; however, it is requires more thorough and reasonable arguments.

Mary R. Bachvarova explores Hittite constructions of masculinity for kings in the Late Bronze Age. Her analysis of various documents point to three major characteristics for a good, Hittite man: “”sexual restraint; curbing greed… and mutual care and loyalty across generations” (102).  Overall, her arguments are well-laid out and offer valuable insight into Hittite constructions of masculinity. One place, though, deserves mentions. While discussing Kumarbi’s response to looking at cliffs, and consequently sleeping with them, She notes that the rock is usually treated as female. Iconography, though, depicts the rock as male. The claim, though, should be expanded upon as regards the relationship between iconography and text. For, iconography and text are entirely different mediums. They must be treated as such, even when using one or the other to explain another. Nonetheless, the contribution is a wonderful example of how ancient societies constructed masculinity.

J.S. Cooper examines moments where masculinity is called into question, with particular focus on the deity Ishtar. In particular, he engages with the idealized masculinity, as opposed to “valorized modes of male behaviour” (112). Through his analysis, Cooper locates a rubric of mature vs. immature. With this rubric drawn from the texts, he concludes that ideal masculinity is to be a competent warrior. For this reason, Ishtar was not problematic for ancient Near Eastern religion(s) and culture. Like other contributions, Cooper’s article will be helpful for moving forward in attempting to understand masculinity in Near Eastern society.

Simon Brodbeck, a well known scholar of Indian literature, maps masculinities within the Ramayana and Mahabharata. First, he discusses how the Ramayana and Mahabharata are sometimes explicitly concerned with constructions of masculinity. Through both texts, the audience/reader is invited into the narrative as it navigates masculinities. Second, Brodbeck discusses the masculine construction of the Ksatriya. This model, though, is often times subverted by other problems and characters. Finally, he suggests that the texts sometimes merge the Brahmin and ksatriya masculinities into a new category of masculinity. Regarding this contribution, the most I can say is that it was interesting. As I study nothing related to Brodbeck’s field, I can’t offer any comments.

Ann Guinan and Peter Morris use Queer Theory interpretative strategies to “connect the dots… between the seemingly isolated but charged Mesopotamian texts” (151). Most notably, they attempt to offer insight into the structure of MAL 19-20. They do so in order to uncover the logic progression from one to the next. They further compare Omen 13 with Gilgamesh. Eventually, they conclude “an inexorable, almost geometric logic governs Mesopotamian imaginings of sex between male social equals” (168). While this may be argued, the texts from which they draw from are too few to make such a broad claim. The idea is great; however, it need substantial development in terms of evidence and tying together the various texts.

Through narrative of 2 Samuel 10:1-5 and the notion of hegemonic masculinities, Hilary Lipka outlines some relative, subordinate, and marginalized masculinities within biblical texts. This piece is important because it offers a model for other biblical scholars who focus on issues and questions of masculinities in the Hebrew Bible.

Marc Brettler first examines the words pairs ‘ish and ‘ishshah, zakar and neqebah. For Brettler, the former is gender and the latter is sex. In other words, biblical Israel saw, to a certain extent, a distinction between sex and gender, though it did not see many options between the two. While this is an interesting thought, I would appreciate further discussion of the passages throughout the Hebrew Bible. For the context in various places may impact how we understand the functions of ish/ishshah and zakar/neqebah. In light of this, Brettler argues that David Cline’s previous study of gender in the Psalms does not provide sufficient evidence to claim that Psalms is a male book. Further, Clines does not distinguish between sex and gender. So, Brettler complicates and nuances our understanding of Psalms and gender by exploring a variety of Psalms individual. He concludes that Psalms may be composed by one gender and used by another, and gendered language may have been accentuated or deemphasized as individual psalms were reworked. His consideration of gender leads to the suggestion that earlier Psalms are more focused on the “male” or “man”, while later Psalms bring in women from the periphery.

By far, this is one of the best contributions to the volume.

Martti Nissinen explores varying constructs of masculinity through the concept of relative masculinities. He argues that different finds of masculinity are appreciated in different ways in a variety of texts. Viewing masculinity as relational and constructed from ideal masculinities, he considers the spectrum from four perspectives: sexuality, body, empire, and religion. In terms of sexuality, namely physical sexual activity or lack thereof, Nissinen offers three examples in which masculinities are relative to the particular literary and historical context: prohibition of male-to-male penetration in a cult context (Leviticus 20:10-26), male-to male intimacy in a kingship ideology (David and Jonathan), and Jeremiah in a prophetic context. In terms of body, namely the physical appearance of a man, Nissinen selects eunuchs as a case study. He offers four varieties of eunuchs “as queering figures who challenge stable gender identities and transgress fixed gender categories” (228). Each example illustrates how eunuchs challenge gender identity in different ways. Third, Nissinen compares the Mesopotamian sha reshi to saris in the HB. He does so in order to show that eunuchs may have maintained authority and power within an empire context. Finally, Nissinen considers the possible relative masculinity of the qedeshim. Acknowledging that the qedeshim are represented in Deuteronomistic texts as male practitioners with of homoeroticism, he offers this as a possible example of a relative masculinity with the margins of ancient Judaen cultural memory. In short, Nissinen’s analysis is valuable in that it recognizes the diversity of how the Hebrew Bible represents marginalized and relative masculinities. Such considerations are essential, as we often times get stuck in viewing the HB as a single book rather than a compilation of various ancient texts and traditions.

Steven W. Holloway traces the reception of Gen. 6:1-4. He does so by examining its reception through four poets and artistic representation. He explores how the aforementioned attempt to engage with the performance of masculinity. While I found the contribution intriguing, it was far too much out of my zone of research to be able to offer any comments.

In summary, this volume is a mix bag. A few of the contributions are priceless. These may very well impact approaches to Near Eastern literature and Hebrew Bible (Brettler, Nissinen, Westenholz, etc.). Some contributions, though, contained good ideas without enough substance or support (Morris, Assante). The volume is a great addition for a library; however, I would not recommend it in ones person library. The material has such a disciplinary and historical range that it will only be helpful to a certain extent. For instance, while Brodbeck’s contribution on the Mahabharata was interesting, it is worlds away from Sumerology, Assyriology, and Biblical Studies. Likewise, I found Holloways contribution intriguing, but reception of biblical texts into the modern period is a very different ballgame than the rest of the contributions.

In short, I appreciated a few of the contributions; however, there was far too much range of material within the volume. It would be more helpful if the range of material were a little bit more focused.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.

 

Psalm 1: Translation and Notes

This is part of an ongoing series of posts in which I am offering translations and notes of particular Psalms. I am doing this to prepare for my Psalms final. I did not divide this verse by standard versification (the way the verses are divided in the Hebrew Bible). Instead, I used an outline so that I could illustrate the structure of the Psalm more clearly.

  1. Blessed is the man [1] who
    1. Does not walk in the council of the wicked
    2. And on the path of the sinners he does not stand
    3. And in the dwelling of the scoffers he does not dwell [2]
    4. But rather [3]
    5. In the law of Yahweh he delights
    6. And on his law he meditates continually. [4]
      1. So, he is like a tree transplanted onto channels of water which
        1. its fruit it gives in season
        2. And its leaves do not wither [5]
          1. And all that he does will prosper [6]
          2. Not so the wicked [7]
          3. But rather [8]
        3. Like chaff which is blown in the wind [9]
      2. For that reason [10]
    7.  They will not be vindicated, the wicked, in judgement
    8. And {they will not stand}, the sinners, in the council of the righteous. [11]

a. For Yahweh takes care of the path of the righteous and the paths of the wicked perish. [12]

[1] This phrase is potentially problematic. The word for here is אַ֥שְֽׁרֵי. It is a Masculine Plural Noun in the construct form. This means that it is directly connected to the following word. As a rule of thumb, we can insert the word “of” between the construct noun and the following noun. So, “blessings of the man” would be a more literal translation. Throughout the Psalms, and other texts, this word אַ֥שְֽׁרֵי seems to function as a sort of claim. So, “blessed is the man” = “the blessings of the man.”

[2] 1.1-3 serve to define what the blessed man does not do. The word “who” (BH אֲשֶׁ֤ר) begins this by marking the beginning of a series of subordinate clauses. This means that 1.1-3 are not complete sentences; rather, they serve to define the parameters of the phrase “blessed is the man.” Notably, each thing used to define what a blessed man does not do is very similar. In 1.1, we see the following structure: a negative particle (namely, not) + verb + location in construct with a preposition + masculine plural noun (to represent people groups). 1.2 and 1.3 use the same elements; however, they re-order the sentence structure: location in construct with a preposition +masculine plural noun + a negative particle + verb. Because 1.1-3 are so similar in structure and all use the same preposition (a bet), they are best understood as one unit. This unit serves to define what the blessed man does not do.

[3] The short phrase כִּ֤י אִ֥ם serves to transition into the next set of parameters for the blessed man. As with most particles, prepositions, or conjunctions, it may mean a wide variety of things. I am taking it as a way of marking the transition into something else. This new thing being introduced is meant to be distinct from 1.1-3. So, I translate “but rather.”

[4] 1.5-6 describes what a blessed man does. Like 1.1-3, it uses the same preposition bet. By doing so, it links itself to 1.1-3. With the conjunction, though, we know that it is a contrast to what 1.1-3 describes. Furthermore, 1.5-6 continue the same sentence structure found in 1.1-3; however, there is now no negative particle. Thus, whereas 1.1-3 were what the blessed man does not do, 1.5-6 is what the blessed me does do.

Because 1.1-3 and 1.5-6 are so closely linked in terms of sentence structure and the preposition which they use, they should be read as a unit. Recall, though, that I argued in note [2] that 1.1-3 are a unit. In light of 1.5-6, 1.1-3 are still a unit, albeit a sub-unit. 1.5-6 is, likewise, a sub-unit. These two sub-units operates in conjunction (together) to present a full picture of what a blessed man does.

Notably, though, this consistent structure is broken by two slightly different elements. First, we see in 1.6 a different verb form. 1.1-5 use QATAL (Perfect) verb forms. 1.6 shifts to a YIQTOL (Imperfect) form. Second, vs. 6 has the additional words “day and night” (יוֹמָ֥ם וָלָֽיְלָה). I translated these as “continually” because it seems to be what the text is trying to express. The addition of “continually” breaks the sentence (syntactical) pattern which I noted in [2]. For these reason, namely the breaking of a pattern from 1.1-1.6, the minor shifts and changes in 1.6 may serve to say to the reader, “Hey! Things are about to change. I’ve some new ideas to talk about, so I’ll prepare you with a minor shift in pattern of the text.”

[5] 1.6.1 is the shift which I mentioned in [4]. Rather than continuing with more parameters about how a man is to blessed, 1.6.1 uses a metaphor. It compares 1 and 1.1-6 to being planted by channels of water. 1.6.1.1-2, then, serve to specify the parameters of a tree planted by water. It (1) gives fruit in season and (2) does not whither. This is imagery is important because it is what allow life to thrive. One can have water. Without food, though, one is unable to survive. This imagery, then, metaphorically describes the blessed man as one who enables others do survive. A tree transplanted by water will be (1) thrive as an individual tree and (2) sustain the life of other animals and people.

The extent to which one blessed man may impact the environment positively is not too surprising. In an early post, I spoke about how miscarriage of justice could make the foundations of the earth totter. There was a correlation between ethical behavior and creation. Thus, we see in Psalm 1 a similar idea at play. The blessed man is not merely an ethical man who avoids the wicked and studies the law of God as an entity autonomous from everything else. Rather, his being blessed is correlated to creation. He doesn’t necessarily cause creation to prosper; however, the Psalmist does correlate the provisions of nature and wildlife to the ethical behavior of man.

1200px-danriver1

The Dan River in Israel

[6] 1.6.1.2.1 is not entirely clear. The verb for “to do” is not clearly referring to a particular thing. Likewise, the verb for “to be caused to prosper” has no clear subject. Up till this point, though, the only present character is the blessed man and the wicked ones. Because the two verbs in 1.6.1.2.1 are a 3MS forms, it is best to understand the subject as being the blessed man from 1.

Another interesting feature of this metaphor is the use of verbs. Recall in note [4] that 1.6 was the first occurrence of a YIQTOL verb form. In the metaphor, the only verbal form used is a YIQTOL form (except for one WǝQATAL which functions like a YIQTOL). The implication is that this metaphor is durative. Consequently, the blessed man is thought to be this way unceasingly. At no point in the imagination of this Psalm does the blessed man cease being like a tree.

Furthermore, the use of YIQTOL forms in this metaphor emphasizes it as a particular unit. The end of the first unit, 1.1-6, offers a transition into this new unit of the tree metaphor.

[7] 1.6.1.2.2 shifts directions, yet again. Whereas previously the Psalm focused on the metaphor of the righteous man, it draws a contrast with the wicked ones.

[8] Until this point, “but rather” has only occurred once as a way of describing what the blessed do. By re-using “but rather” in context of the wicked ones, the reader now expects to see a contrast between what the blessed to and what the righteous do, or are like.

[9] The contrast derived from the phrase כִּ֥י אִם strongly contrasts the imagery of a healthy, fruit-giving tree. The notion of being “chaff” blown in the wind implies absolute lack of value. When gathering grain, the chaff is, quite literally, blowing away in the wind. They do this because it serve no value. It does not contribute to the sustaining people. Additionally, the tree is said to “give.” In 1.6.1.1, the verb establishes the tree as the agent of giving. In 1.6.1.3, the chaff has no agency in the action. Thus, the role of chaff is less significant in the sentence. Whereas the tree is an acting agent, the chaff is only acted upon.

[10] “For that reason” serves as another transition to describing the nature of the wicked. Notably, there are two conjunctions which introduce the wicked: לֹא־כֵ֥ן (lo’ ken) and עַל־כֵּ֤ן (‘al ken). These two conjunctions are strikingly similar in terms of how they sound (lo vs. al). Because of this similarities, the Psalmist may be attempting to tie these two phrases together into a larger unit.

[11] 1.7-8 reflect 1.1-6. Whereas 1.1-6 demonstrates what a blessed man did and did not do, 1.7-8 reflects what a wicked man will not do, namely stand in judgement. The notion of “standing in judgement” may have to do with what I wrote about regarding Psalm 82. If one is standing in judgement, their honor has been, to a certain extent, restored. If the wicked will not stand in judgment, their honor will not be restored. Consequently, 1.8 acknowledges that they will not stand among the righteous. For the righteous will have their honor restored.

This imagery of “the righteous, a MP N, reflects well 1.1-6. In 1.1-6, the wicked ones, a MP N, are juxtaposed to the blessed man. Now, the wicked ones are juxtaposed to the righteous ones.

Furthermore, the reason I placed “will not stand” in {} is because it not actually in the text at this point. This is what Greenstein refers to as “deep structure.” Grammatically, it should be translated “and the sinners in the council of the righteous.” As cognitively aware readers, though, our minds fill in the place where we expect a verb. Because 1.7 contains the verb, the mind fills in the blank.

Finally, the description of the wicked, including the metaphor has more brevity than the blessed man. This is important because it further demonstrates that the focus of the Psalm is the blessed man. Even though a stark contrast is being drawn between the wicked and the righteous, the focus is ultimately the righteous.

[12] a serves as the summation of Psalm 1. Before explaining a, though, note the structure of Psalm 1. Here is a small, easy version:

  1. Ways of the blessed are described.
    1. Ways of the blessed are described metaphorically.
      1. Conclude the ways of the blessed.
      2. Shift to the ways of the wicked.
    2. Ways of the wicked are described metaphorically.
  2. Ways of the wicked are described.

Each number 1 reflects the same type of description in 2. The only different is that one describes the blessed, while the other describes the wicked. This structure is what is called a chiasmus. The chiasm allows us to see a stark contrast between the wicked and blessed not just in terms of the specific words used, but in the places where they are employed. The summary is a. picks up on this by summarizing the entire Psalm in terms of the the way of the righteous as opposed to the way of the wicked. One major addition occurs here, though.

This is the only place in the Psalm where Yahweh becomes the agent of the verb. Although Yahweh appears as a figures to describe the “Law of Yahweh”, he was not the subject for a verb. As the subject a verb, Yahweh is said to “care for” (lit. “know”). I take this verb “to know” as a way of expressing how the divine watches over the blessed.

In contrast, the path of the wicked may be taken in two ways. First, the “path” could be a collective notions of “paths.” This is possible because the wicked don’t all act wicked in the same way. Thus, “path” could be understood as a plural. Furthermore, although “path” is typically understood as a masculine noun, it shows up a feminine noun. In light of these two observations, it is possibly that the subject of “to perish” is the paths themselves. So, we would translate, “and the paths of the wicked perish” (taking תֹּאבֵֽד in a stative sense). Alternatively, Yahweh could be the subject. In this case, the verb “to perish” should be taking as a 2MS, with Yahweh acting as the subject: “the paths of the wicked you, Yahweh, cause to perish.”

The alternative is less likely for two reasons. First of all, I am hesitant to give a Q form a causative meaning unless absolutely necessary. The other option, with “path” as the subject, demonstrates that using the verb as a causitive Qal is not necessary. Second, Yahweh as the subject is odd in the structure of a. Like any good syntax, the first part of a. reads as a verb followed by the subject. Thus, the subject, namely Yahweh, “knows.” The syntax clearly correlates the two. There is no reason, though, to correlate Yahweh with “perish.” Structurally and grammatically, it makes more sense for the subject of “to perish” to be “paths” (lit. path).

Also, feel free to click on this link. It may help me win a free book: https://homebrewedchristianity.com/giveaways/bibliotheca-bible-giveaway/?lucky=21539

 

Psalm 82: Translation and Comments

This short series of posts is part of my preparation for my Psalms final. Here, I offer a translation and other comments about Psalm 82.

  1. Yahweh[1] was positioned within the assembly of El [2]; in the midst of the gods, he will judge.[3]

2. “How long will ya’ll judge injustice [4]
And raise the faces of criminals?!?”[5] [6]

3. “Judge the poor and the orphan; the poor and hungry cause to be righteous
4. “Save the poor and the needy; from the hand of the wicked, pull [the poor and                      the needy].”[7]

5. “They have not known and they did not discern;
in darkness they walk continuously;
they will be made to totter, the whole foundations of the earth.”[8] [9]

6. “Indeed, I have spoken [10], “You are gods and sons of the most high you all       are!”;
7. however, like humanity, you will be mortal; like one of the kings, you will                          fall!”[11]

8. “Rise, Yahweh, and judge the land, for you will take as possession all the
nations.”[12]

[1] In the Hebrew text, we read the word elohim, which can reference either to God (=Yahweh), gods, other deities, ghosts, etc. The reason we translate “Yahweh” rather than “God” is because this Psalm is part of the Elohistic Psalter (Psalms 42-83. The Elohistic Psalter is a series of Psalms which used the name “Yahweh” very sparingly, at least in comparison to other Psalms. For example, Psalm 53 is part of the Elohistic Psalter. This Psalm is strikingly similar to Psalm 14. They differ, though, in that Psalm 53 uses the term elohim instead of Yahweh. While it seems pretty clear that many of these Psalms replace the name “Yahweh” with the title “God”, there is no conclusive reasoning to explain why the editors did this.

[2] In West Semitic myth, the highest deity was El. Naturally, as a divine king, he had an assembly of deities. The name/title El, though, may be problematic. It could refer to multiple things. First, it could refer to “the council of El” in the sense of “the divine council. Second, it could refer to “the council of El” in the sense of “the council of El, the highest deity in the pantheon.” Third, it could refer to “the council of El” in the sense of “the council of Yahweh, who is referenced as El.” I choose the first option because El, as the highest deity, would be normal in the ancient context of this Psalm. There is no reason to oppose the notion of El being the highest deity because it is a common idea in West Semitic religion and culture. In Ugaritic literature, Ba’al is arguably the primary deity; however, El, his father, is still above him in terms of authority and power. Thus, the idea that El was thought to be above Yahweh at some point in history in continuous with other West Semitic conceptions of the divine pantheon.

[3] Another important issue in this Psalm is that of the speaker and addressee. Verse 1, I think, is pretty straight forward. Because the speaker is (1) not defined and (2) there are no allusions to who may be the speaker, it is best to assume that the speaker is the narrator. As the Psalm goes forward, though, later verses may change how we think about who the speaker is. Like, the addressee is not clear either. It is not obvious who vs. 1 is directed towards. I suspect that verse 1 serves to illustrate the context of the rest of the Psalm.

I suspect this for a few reasons. First of all, nobody takes any actions within the verse. The first verb is a passive verb, meaning that Yahweh was stationed/standing. The agent of this action is not Yahweh; rather, somebody else made him to be standing or stationed among the council. Likewise, the second verb, meaning to judge, is in the YIQTOL form. In other words, it is an incomplete action. In terms of the tense, it means that the action that will occurs in the future. It has not occurred yet, though. Therefore, it sets a scene for a moment in time.

[4] The phrase “how long” (עד מתי) occurs 26 times. The majority of these occurrences occur in questions with a negative answer. Because of this, the use of the phrase may be intended to suggest to the reader that the outcome of the question is not good.

[5] The statement “raise the faces of criminals” means “to show favor to.” In Number 6:25, for example, the same words are used: “lift your face.” As a popular paradigmatic blessing, the Aaronic benediction is asking that the deity, Yahweh, show favor to the people. Likewise, in Ugaritic literature, “Ba’al tells deities to “Lift up, O gods, your heads from upon your knees…” as a way of implying boldness and independence… and reestablishment of honor” (Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament). Therefore, in this Psalm, the “council of El” seems to be accused of showing favor to the wicked. 

[6] Who is speaker of verse 2? Because Yahweh is positioned, standing, in the midst of the council of El, it seems reasonable that Yahweh is portrayed as the speaker. As for the addressee, vs. 2 uses two YIQTOL in the second-person masculine plural form. This means that the actions which he references have not been completed. They are ongoing. Also, the words are directed towards of group of characters, namely those in the divine council. Therefore, it is reasonable to view vs. 2 as Yahweh questioning the miscarriage of justice.

The verbs seem to be used in a sense of ongoing action in the moment. So, the deities are giving justice a bad-name currently, in an ongoing sense.

[7] Vss. 3-4 suddenly switch in presentation. Whereas vs. 2 was about what the deities currently do, vss. 3-4 use imperative forms. This means that in vss. 3-4, the deities are commanded to act in these particular ways. As imperative forms (commands), though, one must do something in the future in order to follow the command. So, is Yahweh now saying what they must do in the future? This is one possibility. First, he questions what they are doing now. Then, he commands what they must do in the future.

Another possibility is that he is quoting El’s words. In this situation, Yahweh first says, “What in the world are you deities doing!?!” Then, he following it by citing the original command to the council of Yahweh: “Serve justice to the weak and poor.” In the end, it is difficult to find conclusive evidence. For, there is nothing like, “Remember when El said.” Thus, the speaker is ambiguous, while the addressees, the deities, seem fairly obvious. For my translation, the best option seems to be Yahweh citing an older command of El.

[8] Before commenting on what vs. 5 means and the speaker/addressee, I will begin by commenting on verb structure of vs. 5. First, the first two verbs refer to a completed action. The actions of “not knowing” and “not discerning” seem to be situated in the past. Second, the next verb refers to an ongoing actions which describes their current state: they are in a state of continually walking in darkness, a metaphor for ignorance or lack of understanding. Third, the final verb, “to totter” may be understood as something which will be in the future: in the future, the foundations of the earth will totter.

The verbs in vs. 5, then, seem to cover a wide range of time by noting (1) actions in the past, (2) actions in this moment, and (3) actions which will take place.

As for the speaker, it seems reasonable to see Yahweh as the speaker. Recall, for example, that Yahweh asked “how long” in vs. 2. Now, in vs. 5, Yahweh may be describing that actions of what the deities actions do. The addressee, though, is harder to nail down. Unlike vss. 2-4, which were directed toward the deities through the use of second-person forms, vs. 5 references the deities in the 3rd person. Because the only other other character references (possibly) until vs. 5 is El, I suspect that the addressee of vs. 5 of El. In other words, Yahweh is now offering El a narrative of what how he saw his fellow deities behave.

[9] What does it mean for the “foundations of the earth” to totter? This has to do with the cosmogony of ancient Judeans. By “cosmogony”, I mean how they conceived of the mechanics and origins of the world and universe. In the ancient world, good behavior and justice was correlated to the state of created “stuff” (behavior did not cause good nature; it was simply correlated). So, by noting the tottering foundations of earth, the Psalmist (author) and speaker (Yahweh) express the miscarriage of justice on a cosmic scale.

[10] Vs. 6 returns to the issue of speaker: who says, “I have said”? If we assume from the beginning of the Psalm that El is not present (we only have Yahweh and the divine council), then Yahweh is the speaker. If we continue with the notion that El is the supreme deity in this Psalm, then the speaker must be El. For it only makes sense that they most prestigious deity would have the authority to deem deities “gods and sons of the most high”, namely El. As I mentioned previously, El was considered the father of Ba’al in Ugaritic myth. Thus, El seems to be the speaker here.

[11] Vs. 7 stand in contrast to vs. 6: “even though ya’ll are divine beings, I’m going to change that status.” How does this demotion take place, though? First, the root from “be mortal” is, in its simplest form, “to die.” So, El may be saying “like humanity, you will die.” While there is nothing wrong with this, I prefer “like humanity, you will be mortal.” I prefer this translation because humanity does more than just die. Humanity lives. In the future they die. Because the Psalmist says that they will be like humanity, it is reasonable to assume that they are going to be demoted in the sense that they are now mortal. Before, they didn’t have to worry about death because they were immortal. Now, being made like humanity, they must worry about death. Even though they have to worry about death, the underlying implication is that they are made to be mortal.

The second portion demotes the deities to be like kings who fall. One possibility for the metaphor is that it could be utilizing the notion of kingship throughout the ancient world. As any historian or reader would know based on a quick read of a history of the ancient Near East, there were always kings rising to power and falling to power. So, by noting that the deities will “fall”, the implication may be that they will no longer be in power. Unlike before, when they ruled over territories as divine beings, it is now made clear that they will lose their authority and right to rule.

This is accomplished through falling from heaven, demotion, and loss of social status (Is. 14).

[12] In vs. 8, Yahweh is clearly not the speaker because Yahweh is referenced. Because the other deities have been condemned, El seems to be the speaker. He addresses Yahweh. The idea of “possessing” the nations is important. In West Semitic religion and culture, individual deities ruled over particular regions. With the demotion of deities in Psalm 82, though, Yahweh is the sole remainder of the “council of El.” So, Yahweh is now the only one left to rule over the nations. Consequently, Yahweh will “possess” the earth in the sense of inherit. He will inherit the responsibility of kingship among all the nations.

 

Context, Silence, and Academics

From about 8:30 AM to at least 6:00 PM, I spend my days in Swift Hall at the University of Chicago. More often than not, there is noise. Regardless of where I go, there is noise. It is never ending, constant noise. My mind filters out the noise and keeps working. When people leave the halls and classrooms, though, there is silence. The context which held the noise is now void of sound. The only sound is me walking through the halls.

Today, as I walked through silent halls, I heard the walls speak (metaphorically, of course). What I mean is that I focused on the small things. I noticed the cracks in the walls. I noticed the little holes in door frame. I observed each and every dent and scratch on the floor. In essence, I paid attention to my context. The only reason I could do so what because of the silence which covered Swift Hall.

Now, besides giving me spiritual clarity on the reality of life and importance of our world, this experience gave me clarity on why I study Hebrew Bible and Near Eastern literature. The Hebrew Bible, like anything else in this world which can be seen, cries to be seen, heard, and understood. It, just like the Mahabharata, a Trader Joe’s sign, and and a tree on the sidewalk, wants to be seen. As people, it is up to us to stop and listen. It is up to us to see what makes the content and shapes the world. How does each individual crack, hole in the wall, smear of dirt, and door handle shape how we see the world?

Everything cries out in a harmonious voice. And, like any good choir, you can’t easily tell how the voices and sounds are working together. In regard the Hebrew Bible and other ancient literature, this is what I want to find. I want to pay attention to how the letters work together to communicate something to people. What are they trying to say and why are they trying to say?

Anyway, this has been a non-conventional post. I hope you, as I do, pay attention to the world around you. At bottom, I think that academics should pursue this. We don’t do “academic study” of texts. We should yearn to listen to every way in which the text or object speaks to us. We should yearn to hear how it works in harmony with other texts or objects to shape the reality that we see.

Psalm 100: Comments and Translation (Part II)

I’ve already posted about Psalm 100 two times (here and here). Here, then, I will just reflect on a feature of Psalm 100. Though I won’t show the cards in my hand, I will say that it is relevant to some work I am doing with another Psalm. These observations will be more technical than usual.

In Psalm 100, we see a large cluster of imperative forms. Of these imperative forms, a prepositional lamed marks the indirect object in vss. 1, 2 and 4. Notably, these imperatives which only have indirect objects do not have direct objects. This is because the verbs are intransitive.

I need to look at every occurrence of the following structure: Impv. + Lamed with indirect object + Subject

Psalm 133: Translation and Comments

(1) A Song of Pilgrimage for David:

Behold! What good and what pleasant dwelling of brothers, even altogether!

(2) As scented oil upon the head, which is descending upon the beard, the bearded chin of Aaron, which is descending until the mouth of his [priestly] garments.

(3) [And] as the dew of Mt. Hermon, which is descending upon the mountains of Zion.

Indeed, there Yahweh ordained the blessing; [there Yahweh ordained] life until forever.

Psalm 133 can easily be overlooked, as can most Psalms. There are, however, a few interesting features about Psalm 133 which may help to bring it to life.

First of all, Psalm 133 is a very physical Psalm. Through the Psalm, the word “descending” is repeated. Oil is “descending” upon the beard of Aaron and upon his garments. Likewise, the dew of Mt. Hermon is “descending” upon the mountains of Zion. The notion of “descending” oil and “descending” dew are important because they are important religious terms.

In rituals throughout the ancient world, oil is an important substance. Exodus 29:7, for example, commands that oil be poured upon the head of the high priest. This is part of the consecration of Aaron as the high priest. This oil has a life-giving effect. Consequently, he is enabled to serve as the figure who stands between the people and the deity. Thus, the imagery in Ps. 133 uses temple imagery in order to draw the reader into the world of the Psalm.

As readers in the 21st century, it is easy to miss something like this. After all, we don’t often sacrifice animals and pour oil on other people’s heads.

After conjuring up images of temple worship in vs. 2, vs. 3 continues it. Like vs. 2, it uses the word for “descending.” This is important because it signals to the reader that vss. 2 and 3 are connected to each other. Thus, vs. 3 may continue the temple imagery. And, in fact, it does just that.

In ancient Syria-Palestine, mountains where the abodes of deities. It is similar to Greece, where deities like Zeus resided on the mountains. In ancient Israel, Hermon and Zion were both mountains where some people perceived Yahweh to reside. In other words, the deity lived in a house on the mountains. The house is what most people refer to as the “temple.”

From the house of the deity, or temple, “dew” descended, or “light rain.” Again, this is extremely important to understanding what the Psalm is trying to say. Unlike places like Washington, where mist and rain are regular occurrences, rain was not common in Syria-Palestine. So, when a mountain provided light rain, it was also providing life-sustaining water for people.  And in wider Syria-Palestinian ancient literature, the “Dew of Hermon” is a mythological metaphor for “Dew of the Gods.” Consequently, people understood the light rain from the mountains to have been given by the deity.

For this reason, vs. 3b says that “Yahweh ordained the blessing from there,” namely the mountain. What is the blessing? Life. In other words, dew which descends from the mountain provides life for the people. In a very real way, Yahweh is thought to give rain which allowed the people to find food, drink water, and live life.

Other Observations: 

There are a few interesting features of this Psalm. First of all, there is only one proper verb, namely “ordained.” While “descending” looks like a verb, it is really a participle, meaning it has no tense or mood. In other words, “descending” is not placed on the time spectrum; rather, it describes the status of a thing. In this way, than, “descending” is more of an adjective than a verb. “Ordained,” though, describes an action. Thus, it is the only proper verb.

What is interesting about this is that, in Ps. 133, the only character to do some sort of action is Yahweh: Yahweh ordained the blessing and life itself. By only using a verb with Yahweh as the person doing the action (subject), it suggests that this Psalm is ultimately focused on the life-giving sustenance of Yahweh. In the world constructed by the Psalmist, Yahweh is the only figure who truly matters. The fact that brother dwell within a temple in vs. 1 is important; yet, even here we only see participles describing the state of the brothers. Ultimately, the focus is upon the centrality of Yahweh and how he provides life for his people. He does so through his temple and priesthood.

 

Bibliography:

International Critical Commentary (2 vols; Charles A. Briggs, 1906 [2000])

Hermeneia (2/3 vols; Frank-Lothar Hossfeld – Erich Zenger, 2005, 2011)

Continental Commentary (2 vols; Hans-Joachim Kraus, 1993–2000)

NOTE: I am writing these as part of my preparation for my Psalm III final. They are not meant to be definitive in any way, shape, or form.