herod really was great (well, at least a better king than the bible paints him)

A prutah of Herod the Great from year 3 of Herod's reign ("LG" = Year 3 = 37 BCE) with a helmet on the obverse and an inscription around a tripod reading HRWDOU BASILEWS (= of King Herod) on the reverse. The coin commemorates Herod's capture of Judea in 37 BCE.

A prutah of Herod the Great from year 3 of Herod's reign ("LG" = Year 3 = 37 BCE) with a helmet on the obverse and an inscription around a tripod reading HRWDOU BASILEWS (= of King Herod) on the reverse. The coin commemorates Herod's capture of Judea in 37 BCE. (Photo by Robert Cargill. Coin from collection of John F. Wilson.)

All of the students in my Religion 102: History and Religion of Early Christianity course are familiar with one of my standard final exam questions:

“Herod the Great is painted in the New Testament as a terrifying, paranoid king. However, evidence shows that he may not have been as bad for the Jews as we are told in the Bible. While he was indeed paranoid and self-aggrandizing, he also did much good for the Jews he governed.

Was Herod the Great a good or bad king? Support your answer with specific evidence. Explain, regardless of your answer, why the Jews hated him and why the New Testament depicts him in such negative light.”

Well, if you always wanted to know the correct answer to the essay question, Dr. Geza Vermes has now provided the bulk of it for you in an article in Standpoint.

This article is definitely worth the read, especially if you take my class (hint, hint).

HT: Jim Davila, Jim West, and James McGrath.

my 11-year old daughter is a better skier than i am snowboarder

very proud moment as my daughter, talitha, skis badger pass in yosemite national park over christmas 2010.

the truth about apple’s banning of manhattan declaration ‘traditional marriage’ app

Manhattan Project ad smearing Apple CEO Steve jobs for not approving an ap that promotes 'traditional marriage' only.

Manhattan Declaration ad smearing Apple CEO Steve jobs for not approving an app that promotes 'traditional marriage' only.

When I first saw this ad, I thought to myself, “This can’t be right.” So I did some investigation.

Chris Matyszczyk at CNET is reporting why the Manhattan Declaration app that promoted “traditional marriage” was banned:

The ad was made by the National Organization for Marriage. The organization is upset that an app called “The Manhattan Declaration” was first approved by Apple and then, as the ad so quaintly puts its, killed.

I have not enjoyed the distinction of perusing this app. However, Gawker reported that the only way you could “win” in this app’s game was to condemn gay marriage and abortion rights.

The Manhattan Declaration declares, in part: “marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non-believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society.” So, they created a game where the only way to “win” is to oppose same-sex marriage.

As a supporter of the right of same-sex couples to marry, I don’t like this app. That said, Apple should not have banned the app. It’s better to let people have their say, and then have the debate, and expose people for what they are. Does this help Apple, who appears to be cowering to pressure from pro-gay groups and is already under suspicion for their less-than-transparent procedure for approving apps in their app store? No.

Then again, while Apple is a business, and while good business practice dictates that a company should seek to make money from all sides/markets, it is good to see companies take a stand every once in a while and stick to what they believe. Jobs openly stated that he opposed and contributed money to defeating California’s 2008 Proposition 8, the measure that banned gay marriage, and which was later overturned by a California judge as unconstitutional. Ben and Jerry’s did the same thing: they rooted the core of their business model in their ethical beliefs, not simply in the pursuit of profit. And it is this kind of political/business stance that has made Apple a leader not only in product design and functionality, but a brand that people rally behind.

Here’s my proposed solution: Apple should reinstate the app, and then run a story on how many people download the app and use the app. They have that data anyways. In fact, someone should create an app that shows the names of people who download the Manhattan Declaration app. Prop 8 supporters are always so committed to their belief in discrimination against gay marriage, but, for some strange reason, never want anyone to know who they are. I’ll bet there could be an app for that. ;-)

colbert: jesus was a liberal democrat (satire, kinda)

Steven Colbert (and his writers) are genius. You must watch this video: Jesus was a Liberal Democrat.

 

Jesus was a Liberal Democrat

Jesus was a Liberal Democrat

do the right thing and get a ticket: deer rescuers in maryland

Neighbors were ticketed for rescuing a deer from icy water.

Neighbors were ticketed for rescuing a deer from icy water.

Just imagine for a moment that a police officer had happened by the Good Samaritan on the road to Jericho as he was helping the man who had been beaten and robbed (Cf. Luke 10:30ff). And imagine if, in the moment immediately after the Samaritan had helped the beaten man, that same police officer wrote the Samaritan a ticket for not wearing proper lifesaving gear.

This is precisely what happened in Maryland when neighbors bound together to rescue a deer trapped in icy water. After summoning boats and a rope and rescuing the deer, a police officer, who had been standing idly by watching, wrote them tickets for not wearing life preservers.

Seriously, I kid you not. Watch and read.

There comes a time when the letter of the law is disregarded for the preservation of life.

another reason to love the stanford band

in january of 2010, the jackwagons from westboro baptist church showed up at stanford university’s hillel house to protest. when the stanford band found out, they sprang into action. in a beautiful, non-violent counter-protest, the stanford band drowned out the idiots from westboro.

if you’ve never seen the stanford band, they are a scramble band, which means they rarely march in formation or dress identically. (think the very opposite of the usc trojan marching band.) they are usually on probation at stanford, but are famous for impromptu songs at bay-area parades and standing for causes in their own unique way.

anywho, kudos to the stanford scramble band for finding a way to bring something fun and beautiful to something as hateful as the westboro ‘church’.

how not to read targum neofiti

Again, I shake my head, but stay with me on this one: Mark Driscoll has successfully butchered Neofiti.

Apparently, as a part of an indoctrination informative series of mini-sermons on ‘What Christians Should Believe,’ pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle attempted to expound on Targum Neofiti. In particular, he attempted to use Neofiti as part of an apologetic defense for evidence of the Christian concept of the Trinity in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

Watch the video here first:

I’m not sure where to begin, but please allow me to make a few friendly correctives.

First, one would think that a basic seminary training would have taught Pastor Mark some elementary Hebrew. אלה’ם (“Elohim“) is plural in form, but can be plural or singular in meaning, depending upon whether it is used in reference to the central figure of the Hebrew Bible, YHWH (God). (See Mark Smith’s Early History of God for more info.) If (“Elohim“) does preserve an early plurality, it is from Canaan’s polytheistic past, and not due to any notion of a Trinity, which was a theological construct hypothesized in the first few centuries of Christianity to deal with the Arian-Nicene controversy. The inscription discovered at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, which offers an 8th century blessing reading “may you be blessed by YHWH of Samaria and his Asherah” (Cf. William Dever’s book, Did God Have a Wife?, or watch the NOVA special here), provides evidence that Israelites all the way down into the 8th Century (that is, long past David and Solomon) and well beyond still worshiped other gods besides YHWH. (Cf. the first 2 of the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20:3-6, and just about every prophet’s complaint about the ongoing problem of the polytheistic worship.)

Another elementary seminary lesson teaches that רוח אלה’ם (“ruah Elohim” or “spirit of God”) and the simple אלה’ם (“Elohim” or “God”) are interchangeable references to the same person depending on the author. A freshman level understanding of Wellhausen’s Documentary Hypothesis (and its descendants) reveals that some authors of the Bible favored a distant God who used messengers (like angels) or referred to God as the “spirit of God” when referring to him making personal appearances, while other authors viewed God in a more anthropomorphic sense, and referred to God simply as YHWH or “God.” Trinitarian apologists have looked to the OT for Trinitarian “evidence” for millennia, and pointing to Genesis 1 for evidence of the Trinity is easily refuted.

Another tactic used by Trinitarian apologists is claiming that the ‘us’ in Gen 1:26 (“let us create man in our image) can only be explained by the Trinity. This view is either ignorant or dismissive of the more widely accepted scholarly interpretation of this verse as employing the “royal we,” that is, God speaking to his royal court of angels, etc. (think book of Job). Of course, this too may also be a holdover from Israel’s polytheistic past (as persistently criticized by Hebrew prophets), where the story dates to a time of polytheism, and was so ingrained in the oral tradition and the minds of Israelites, that they preserved the polytheistic form of the verb and its derivative pronouns, and yet understood it as a singular. To claim that this passage can only refer to the Trinity is either simple ignorance or an unwillingness to consider any explanation other than what Driscoll has already decided. Making up one’s mind regarding what to believe and then scouring the text for evidence is called eisegesis, and is a common tactic among fundamentalists.

A side-by-side comparison of the Hebrew Bible, Targums Onkelos, Neofiti, and Pseudo-Jonathan, and the NIV (English).

A side-by-side comparison of the Hebrew Bible, Targums Onkelos (Aramaic and English), Neofiti, and Pseudo-Jonathan, and the NIV (English). translation of Genesis 1:1. The red arrow points to the word בחכמה "b'hakmah" (Aramaic: "in/with wisdom") in Neofiti's Aramaic translation of Gen 1:1.

Perhaps the most egregious of Driscoll’s exegetical errors comes when he attempts to invoke the Aramaic Targums to defend his argument that there is explicit evidence for the Trinity in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

First, Driscoll claims that Neofiti was written 200 years before Christ, and not 200 CE, which is the scholarly consensus. Neofiti was written long after Jesus had come and gone. This may be a simple mistake during note taking on Driscoll’s part, but it becomes a huge problem when Driscoll attempts to use this misinformation to turn Neofiti into a prophecy, rather than what it is: an attempt to reconcile two contradicting passages.

Second, and perhaps the most blatant of Driscoll’s errors is his complete misreading of Neofiti’s translation of Genesis 1:1. Anyone who has studied Aramaic targums knows that there is no such thing as translation without interpretation. Neofiti tends to interpret as it translates, which adds language to the original Hebrew text, but was considered permissible since those listening to a targum read aloud were most likely doing so because they couldn’t understand Hebrew. Thus, the targums would interpret and explain while they translated. The practice is not unlike writing a commentary on a passage that integrates the interpretation into the text itself.

With regard to Neofiti’s treatment of Genesis 1:1, the text was concerned with explaining away a problematic contradiction within the Hebrew Bible. (See the critique made by Dr. Christian Brady, Dean and Aramaic targum scholar at Penn State here, and Scott Bailey’s treatment of Driscoll’s errors here.) Dr. Brady points out that Driscoll completely misreads Neofiti’s translation of Gen. 1:1, and mistakes the Aramaic words ‏ מלקדמין בחכמה ברא {ד}ייי (“At the beginning, with wisdom, God created…”) with “at the beginning, by the firstborn, God created.” This is not even close! In fact, Dr. Brady and I are hard-pressed to find any possible way the Aramaic word בחכמה “b’hakmah” (meaning “in/with wisdom”, similar to the Hebrew חכמה “hokmah” – see the red arrow in the graphic above) can be misread to derive at “firstborn.” Driscoll simply misreads (if he read it at all) the Aramaic and invents something that fits his theological argument.

So what then is Targum Neofiti doing here by adding this word בחכמה “b’hakmah” (“in/with wisdom”)? Answer: it is attempting to harmonize the claim in Genesis 1:1 that says בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ (“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”) with Proverbs 8:22, where in a tribute to wisdom, the Bible claims that God created wisdom first, before the rest of creation (“The LORD created me [wisdom, cf. Prov. 8:12] at the beginning of His course, as the first of His works of old”). Targum Neofiti is attempting to reconcile the natural question of precisely what was actually created first: wisdom (Prov. 8), or the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1)? The answer offered by the authors of Neofiti was quite clever: God created the heavens and the earth in/with wisdom. The authors of Neofiti simply added the Aramaic word בחכמה (“in/with wisdom”), to their translation of the Hebrew text of Gen 1:1, which they felt solved their problem of which came first. God created the heavens and the earth “with wisdom.” Problem solved. The translators added to the Hebrew text, which was actually very common at the time. This practice of adding to the text and harmonizing passages while translating explains why there are so many textual variants of the Hebrew Bible, and is we love to study the targums: they teach about the diversity of thought at the time.

Unfortunately, in the end, Driscoll’s so-called mis-“reading” of Targum Neofiti is a mere fabrication – a complete misreading of the text, which he uses as evidence for something that isn’t there (evidence of the Trinity in the OT). It’s almost as egregious of a fabricated defense of the Trinity as the Johannine Comma, in which a medieval publisher (Erasmus) intentionally inserted text (under pressure from others) in 1 John 5:7-8 in an attempt to provide some explicit Biblical evidence for the Trinity (because there was/is none).

And that is how not to use the targums. How do you mislead your congregation into believing something that you believe, but that the Bible doesn’t mention? You just make something up.

As I said before, “I shake my head.”

It’s actually embarrassing that this video is still up there on the web. The entire sermon is built upon a fabrication of evidence. How long until he pulls it or offers an apology?

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