Blogging Sabatical Over . . .

I have been pondering the value of my blogging.  When I began writing I wanted to create a community for myself.  I lived too far away (2.5hrs) from my seminary’s campus to build many relationships with my fellow classmates (although I have great friends from the seminary).  I drove up there for classes, but I didn’t spend much additional time on campus.  Therefore, my fellow bibliobloggers provided much of the banter and debate that I missed not living on campus.

Today, I am no longer a full-time student.  Many of the bloggers that I dialoged with are no longer writing, and their blogs are now dormant or worse deleted.  All of this made me wonder if I should continue this blog.  However, I realize that I miss the interactive nature of expressing ideas using this medium.  So, my blogging sabbatical is over.

On a related note, if anyone knows of any other bibliobloggers that are still active, then please drop their urls in the comment section of this post.  I would love to update my side column with living blogs.



So you want to begin reading handwritten ancient manuscripts?

This post is meant to be a practical application of the previous post.  In order to illustrate the differences between a modern critical edition and a facsimile edition of an old manuscript, I will provide an image of a passage from the Leningrad Codex (henceforth LC) along with the same passage in the BHS (copied from my Logos Bible Software).  The comparison text is Genesis 1:1-3.  In order to make the comparison easier for a new reader, I have re-created the LC column divide for the BHS text.

Genesis 1:1-3 (Leningrad Codex)

1 בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים

אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃

2     וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֨הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ

וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם וְר֣וּחַ

אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י

הַמָּֽיִם׃  3     וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֖ים יְהִ֣י

א֑וֹר וַֽיְהִי־אֽוֹר׃

In my experience, I found it most helpful to start reading manuscripts of texts that a student would know fairly well.  I chose Genesis 1:1-3, because of its likely familiarity.

Start your comparison letter by letter.  Then begin comparing the passages word by word.  Eventually, the writing style of the scribe will become more familiar to the student, and the student will be able to read with greater speed and more confidence.

Take note of the following:

  • The lack of uniformity in the length of the yods.  This is to be expected with any hand written sample.  However, one can easily imagine how a slight error could occur during the copying process, especially if it was done by tired eyes.  A long yod may be look like a vav.
  • The presence or absence of space between words (the 2nd line in the LC is a great example of no space).  One can appreciate the difficulty that is associated with copying words that are so close together.  Occasionally scribes made errors.  They divided words incorrectly. They forgot to add a letter because the word next to it begins with the same letter. There are many other errors that can be attributed to coping a crowded text.
  • The circle above the end of some words.  This circle signifies that the word has ended (at least in the mind of one scribe).  Unfortunately this circle isn’t at the end of every word, and occasionally the placement of this circle may be disputed.

Reading these manuscripts will only strengthen the reading and text critical skills of your students.

Happy reading!

The Importance of Reading Handwritten Manuscripts

Often when students learn to read ancient (i.e. biblical) Hebrew texts, they do so through a very cold and sterile medium.  We learn to read the language from clean modern type-faced critical editions of biblical texts, such as those found in the BHS/BHQ/BHK.[1] This method is fine for 1st year students of the language, but I think that this practice is unacceptable for 2nd and 3rd year Hebrew students.

When students are encouraged to read only from modern print editions, they will inevitably have a difficult time reading ancient and medieval handwritten manuscripts.  The first time I read from the Leningrad Codex I didn’t recognize some of the letters, I experienced vav/yod confusion, and I didn’t always know when one word ended and the other began.  This was my experience, and I would guess that it is the experience of most other Hebrew students when they first encounter these types of manuscripts.

The value of reading ancient and medieval manuscripts should not be minimized.  Below are five valuable skills/lessons that can be gained by this practice:

  • A student will be able to ensure that a modern publisher has transcribed the material correctly.  (See an example that I uncovered in this older post).
  • A student will appreciate more fully the work of ancient scribes.
  • A student will understand how errors in transcription arose, such as dittographies (errors resulting from the repetition of a word or letters), haplographies (errors resulting from accidental omission of a word or letters), homoeoteleutons (errors from omitting elements of a text because of similar endings on words), etc.
  • A student will begin to see and recognize the evolution of the Aramaic script used throughout the history of written Hebrew.
  • A student will be able to sight read more easily a text displayed in a museum.

In the past, cost and access were the two biggest obstacles associated with assigning readings of actual or facsimile editions of Hebrew manuscripts. Thankfully, the previously mentioned impediments are no longer an issue.  High resolution images can be found easily on the internet at no cost to a student/teacher.

Free Resources:

While the cost of purchasing a handsomely bound facsimile edition of the Leningrad Codex ($200+ US) is a bit steep for the average student, a lower resolution pdf can be found on the internet for free (go here)!  As I reported a year ago, the Aleppo Codex has been made available for viewing on the internet, as well (go here).

Thanks to technology, there is no reason that an intermediate student of the language can’t get their hands dirty by reading hand written texts from the past.  While the sterile modern critical editions have their value, there is nothing like reading parchment that contains every beautiful imperfection from the scribe’s own hand.  The more a student reads the better she will get.

Tolle Lege!

(Take, Read!)

[1] This is not an attack on the type-face of the BHS.  I love my BHS!  I have a small copy that is always on my desk, along with the BHQ edition of Proverbs.

Around the Blogosphere and Beyond . . .

I am just saying :)

I haven’t written much lately, because I have been actively job hunting.  Applying and looking for positions that utilize my academic training has been time consuming.  (Sidenote: If you are interested in hiring a well organized and creative team player with advanced degrees in Religion and Hebrew Bible studies, then I would love to chat with you.  Also, my future employer should know that I make killer lattes.)

I wanted to highlight a new blog, an old blog with a new address, and a new image bank that bloggers can utilize.

New Blog

Bobby McChesney , a friend of mine from GCTS, is now blogging.  After a year of twisting his arm, he finally acquiesced and joined the biblioblog universe.  Bobby has a few posts up now, which I believe are culled from an exegetical paper he wrote last semester.  He has some good thoughts!  Please visit his site, say hello, and congratulate him on getting into Brandeis.

Old Blog, New Address

Everyone’s favorite Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University, James McGrath, has changed Exploring Our Matrix’s address.  Glad to see another blogger leaving Blogger.  The new address is:   James always has interesting things to say, and he is one of the more prolific bloggers out there.  So, go check out his new address, and make the appropriate changes to your feeders and rolls.

A New Image Bank that Can Be Used By Bloggers

Yale has opened up their vast trove of images in order to make them available to the public.  At the moment, there are 250,000 free open access images available.  More images will continue to be made available in the future.  The many photos of ancient near eastern artifacts will likely draw the most interest from the biblioblogger community.  However, there are some wonderful images based on biblical stories.  A sketch by Alphonse Legros entitled Job is an example of one of the many images generously made available by Yale. 

The Prose of Robert Gordis

I began reading Koheleth – The Man and His World: A Study of Ecclesiastes before I fell asleep last night.  I have read Robert Gordis’ work before, but I forgot about the beauty of his prose.  He writes well – very well.  For those unfamiliar with Gordis’ writing, I thought I would share a couple of paragraphs.  In the quote below, the author discusses the timelessness of Ecclesiastes.

“There will be times when it will not suit the temper of the age, but it will never be outmoded as long as the systole and diastole of human life survives, and men fluctuate between progress and reaction, growth and decline, hope and disillusion.

The Book of Ecclesiastes will always remain a supreme expression of a basic ever-recurring phase in the life of man.  Since its composition, most of the significant history of the Western world has occurred.  Classical civilization flowered and surrendered to decay; the Middle Ages laid their heavy hand on human life; the modern era of progress was ushered in – and is now battling desperately for its survival.  Yet, the enigmatic figure of the sage of Jerusalem still endures, the symbol of the ache of disillusion and of the peace that comes after.  Whoever has dreamt great dreams in his youth and seen the vision flee, or has loved and lost, or has beaten barehanded at the fortress of injustice and come back bleeding and broken, has passed Koheleth’s door, and tarried awhile beneath the shadow of his roof.” (Pg. 3)

I can’t wait to finish this book!

Book Review: Wisdom Texts from Qumran by Daniel J. Harrington S.J.

Daniel J. Harrington S.J.  Wisdom Texts from Qumran. New York, NY.: Routledge, 1996. [1]

A few years ago, I had to pleasure to take a Wisdom Literature survey course with Dan Harrington at Boston College.  The portion of the course dealing with the sapiential literature from Qumran was a personal highlight for me.  I remember asking Dan if I could purchase a copy of Wisdom Texts from Qumran at the BC bookstore, but he suggested that I shouldn’t waste my money on his book.  He argued that other scholars have pushed the field much further since he penned it, and that it wasn’t worth purchasing.   Instead, Dan recommended that I get my hands on Discerning Wisdom: The Sapiential Literature of the Dead Sea Scrolls by Matthew J. Goff.  (In his opinion, this is/was the best book on the market dealing with the wisdom genre from the DSS.  Last year, I was able to purchase a copy of this book, and I hope to provide a review of it when things settle down.)

Despite Dan’s impressive credentials and prolific editorial and authorial output, he is one of the most unassuming humble scholars that I have ever met.  Therefore, take his commentary about his own book with a grain of salt.  Wisdom Texts from Qumran is still a valuable book!

The Author:

Dan is a clear writer and is up front about his presuppositions.  He, like his professor before him (Frank Moore Cross, Jr.), believes that these scrolls come from a library installation associated with the building remains found at Qumran.[2] He also believes that these scrolls were maintained by the Essenes, but not necessarily authored by them.  Dan is a minimalist in his interpretations.  He is often hesitant to assign a sectarian origin to these texts, which is something that I appreciate.  Even if you are unconvinced by the library theory or the scrolls association with the Essene community, Dan’s cautious interpretations has allowed this book to stand the test of time.  The author’s reconstructions or translations are occasionally challenged.  However, in the fifteen years since its publications, his conclusions (by in large) have not been overturned.

As previously suggested, Professor Harrington is a giant in biblical studies with more than a passing interest in Dead Sea Scroll scholarship.  Along with his mentor, John Strugnell, he was responsible for editing Qumran Cave 4. XXIV: Sapiential Texts Part 2.  4QInstruction: 4Q415ff. With a re-edition of 1Q26 (DJD 34; Oxford: Claredon, 1999).  Wisdom Texts from Qumran was written while Harrington was putting his DJD volume together, which made him uniquely qualified to create a synthetic treatment of this literature for a popular audience.

Intended Audience:

The book is not overly technical, and was intended to serve as an introduction to undergraduate and uninitiated graduate students.  However, I imagine that well read high school students would not have a problem with its contents.  Also, this book can be read in a single sitting, which would allow an instructor to supplement this book with more recent and technical treatments throughout a semester.

Purpose and Content:

Wisdom Texts from Qumran was not intended to be the definitive statement on this corpus.  It was intended to serve as an introduction or a survey to the sapiential texts of the DSS.  The book does not cover every wisdom text, but only the most significant ones.  Despite its diminutive size (only 117 pages long), Wisdom Texts from Qumran does cover quite a bit of ground.  The selected texts give the reader a good taste for the type of literature found at this site.

Chapter Breakdown:

This book is made up of ten short chapters and a nice appendix.  The first two chapters function as an introduction devoted to Qumran and its literature and to the form and content of Canonical and Deuterocanonical wisdom literature. Chapter three includes a discussion about biblical and targumic wisdom manuscripts found at Qumran (this chapter likely will peak the interest of future text critics).  Chapters four through eight provide a survey of unique-to-Qumran wisdom texts (these include, but are not limited to, the Psalm Scroll from Cave 11, Wisdom and Folly [4Q184-185], Sapiential Work A., and miscellaneous fragmentary sectarian texts with a sapiential flare). Chapter nine is a synthesis of the previous chapters, in which Harrington tries to illustrate the thematic continuity between the DSS wisdom texts and earlier Jewish wisdom texts.  Chapter ten illustrates the parallels between wisdom strands in the DSS and those found in the New Testament.  Lastly, Harrington includes an appendix that discusses the Hebrew manuscript of Ben Sira that was found in Massada.

Chapter Layout:

Harrington has organized each chapter well.  The chapters typically consist of an introduction, an English translation of a wisdom text, and a brief summary or commentary of the text.

The best feature of the chapter’s layout is Harrington’s translations.  I have seen many students use introductory or survey books without every cracking the spine of the material that it introduces.  I appreciate a text that forces its readers to actually read chunks of a primary source by including it in the book itself.  This feature was especially important at the time of its initial publication, because these texts were not made widely available to students.

Final Thoughts:

My only critique has to do with the book’s age, which is not exactly fair to the book or the author.  The bibliography has become a little long in the tooth, and could stand to be updated.  I would also love to see a revised and updated version of this book, which takes into account the advancements of DSS sapiential scholarship.  As mentioned previously, I feel that this book still has great value, and its value lies in the fact that there still is no book like it on the market (at least to the best of my knowledge).  Harrington has succeeded in creating a readable and informative book that still meets the needs of his intended audience, students.

Disclaimer:  This review was not solicited by Routledge.  I purchased this book, and the choice to review it was my own.

[1] This is my second attempt at writing this book review.  My computer locked up and decided to save an empty file instead of the three page review that I had previously written.

[2] During an after class conversation, Dan suggested that I read this book.  He argued that, despite the books age, Cross’ conclusions were solid and worthwhile.  Frank Moore Cross Jr., The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Biblical Studies (Revised Edition.; The Haskell Lectures 1956-1957; Garden City, NY.: Doubleday, 1961).

Free Resource: Biblical Aramaic Paradigms and Grammar

A few of weeks ago, a couple of my friends on twitter were looking for Biblical Aramaic Paradigms and/or a Grammar.  I created several pages worth of paradigms while taking this ancient language with Doug Stuart at Gordon-Conwell.  After emailing these PDF’s to my colleagues, I decided to make them available to students or teachers through this blog.  I hope they are as helpful to you as they were for me.


p.s. I invite you, the readers of this blog, to use these sheets; however, I ask that you do not house them on another webpage.  Instead of re-posting this resource, please provide a hyperlink back to this page.

Paper Accepted for The New England Regional SBL Meeting

Today I received an email informing me that my paper proposal for the New England Regional Meeting for the Society of Biblical Literature was accepted. I have to trim down a few sections of this paper in order to make my presentation fit the allotted 15mins., but I don’t anticipate this being too difficult of a task. This will be my first time presenting at an academic conference, so I am pretty excited. Hope to see some of you there!

Below is the abstract of my paper:

She’s One Well of a Woman: Exploration and Lexical Reassessment of the Aquatic Management Tropes in Proverbs 5:15

It is the contention of the author that the standard Hebrew lexicographic works, such as BDB, HALOT, NIDOTTE and TDOT, do not go far enough in identifying the well’s and the cistern’s tropical value in Proverbs 5:15. Many of these reference works do not define the metaphorical usage found in Proverbs 5. The few works that do list this type of tropical usage simply identify them as an erotic metaphor for the wife. The Hebrew words באר and בור , in the context of marital fidelity, appear to have an anatomical orientation.

The thesis of this paper is that the tropical value that is likely operative in these parallel aquatic structures specifically refers to the vagina/womb of the son’s wife. In order for the reader to gauge the probability of this conclusion, this paper explores the physical and functional similarities between the tropes and their referent, similar figurative and ideological conceptions in the greater ancient Near East, and the larger narrative context of the pericope.

This lexical reassessment provides an alternative value to those found in the typical Hebrew lexicons. This paper contends that a more likely referential point for the well and cistern, in the context of Proverbs 5, is the womb/vagina of the son’s wife.

Product Review: Logos' Qumran Biblical Dead Sea Scrolls Database

The Qumran Biblical Dead Sea Scrolls Database (henceforth referred to as BDSS) finally arrived on Friday (March 11).  After much delay and a few setbacks, I am now in possession of this important resource.  As many of my readers will know, the Dead Sea Scrolls represent some of the oldest known textual witnesses to the Hebrew Bible – over 1000 years older than both the Leningrad and Aleppo codices.

In discussing these manuscripts, Frank Moore Cross Jr. once wrote, “Even when the majority of these documents from the wilderness of the Dead Sea are published the main labors of research will not be done.  Scholars will be occupied for decades in the tedious studies required to assimilate adequately the knowledge available in these new sources, and to relate this new learning to biblical and ancillary disciplines.”[1] We are still in “the main labors of research” stage as this material has now been published in its totality.[2] Software packages, like the one being discussed, will only aid in creating the necessary “tedious studies,” so that our understanding of the biblical text and its transmission will be better understood.

BDSS includes the following: [3]

  • Morphological tagging and English glosses for each word.
  • Fresh transcriptions of every biblical Dead Sea Scroll, including Greek fragments. The Logos transcriptions are substantially the same as those found in the DJD volumes, but are the result of a fresh, expert analysis that takes into account scholarly work done on the scrolls since the DJD volumes were published.
  • Parallel visualization schemes with other manuscripts.

I have only had a few days to play around with this package, but from what I can tell it works fairly well with other products in my Logos database.   My favorite feature so far is sympathetic highlighting.  This means that when a user highlights a text in their BHS, a corresponding or sympathetic highlighting simultaneously occurs in the DSS text (See Fig 1 for an example of sympathetic highlighting).  When a word/clause in the MT does not correspond to the DSS text, then that word/clause remains unmarked.[4] This makes doing text critical work a bit easier.

Fig.1. DSS & BHS Sympathetic Highlighting in Action

The text comparison tool is also helpful when there are several known fragments of a single passage.  This tool allows the user to place each fragment side by side.  See fig.2.

DSS Text Comparison Fig2.

Also it is fairly easy to search all of your lexicons for a single lemma when you right click a word.  This is a handy tool, especially if you have access to HALOT, TDOT, BDB and the Concise Glossary for the Qumran Sectarian Manuscripts.  Sadly, not every word has been tagged, but more on this issue below.

Room for improvement:

As mentioned previously, I have only had this software for a weekend so I have only had the opportunity to examine one block of text, a section of Isaiah 5.  In exploring Isaiah 5, I noticed some incomplete gloss and morphological data in a couple of passages, which is slightly disconcerting given that I only examined one passage.  I hope this isn’t a more wide spread issue, but I will update this post if I notice more problems.

  • One such example is in Isaiah 5:4.  1QIsaiaha has the word וישה, while the MT instead uses the word וַיַּעַשׂ .  The BDSS does not provide any gloss or morphological information for this variant.
  • Another example is found in Isaiah 5:8.  1QIsaiaha has the word מגיצי, while the MT uses the word מַגִּיעֵי.  The BDSS does not provide any gloss or morphological information for this variant either.

This missing data isn’t the end of the world by any stretch of the imagination, especially if you know Hebrew or know how to look up Hebrew roots in a lexicon.  However, the point of this software is to make locating words in lexicons quicker.  Without this information, you have to manually enter possible roots into the lemma search field.  This missing information, I expect, will be remedied once more users report them in the future.

Also, I am disappointed that neither the BDSS, nor the Qumran Sectarian Manuscripts are currently available on my  iPad and iPhone.  I am hoping that this will soon be rectified, especially given that Logos is the publisher of both of these resources.

Future Wishes:

While I feel this is a good piece of software, Logos’ can really crank up its value by providing high resolution (searchable) images of the scrolls themselves.  I remember reading last October that (searchable) high resolution pictures of the scrolls will be made available through Google.  Perhaps, Logos will be able to get the rights to integrate these images into their packages in the future.  Combining photos of the text along with the transcribed text will push the field of DSS studies further, because it will democratizes the information.  I am excited about the possibilities, even if I have to use Google to view these images.

Final Thoughts:

All in all, I am mostly happy with this purchase, especially because I saved a $100 by getting it on pre-publication.  The value of having access to this ancient textual witness is important for my research.  Also, now I don’t have to head over to the closest research library to hunt down a volume of DJD.[5] In my opinion, every student of the Hebrew Bible should have this material at their disposal.  Most of the shortcomings outlined in this review will likely be addressed sometime in the future by Logos.  I will update this post when I hear more about their progress.  In using Logos products for over 15 years, I can say that they are a good company and they typically work hard to ensure customer satisfaction.

[1] Frank Moore Cross Jr., The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Biblical Studies (Revised Edition.; The Haskell Lectures 1956-1957; Garden City, NY.: Doubleday, 1961), 5.

[2] The scholarly community owes a great deal of thanks to Emanuel Tov’s efforts in this project.  This project has taken a quantum leap in terms of production since he has taken over as general editor.

[3] The three bullet points are taken from the logos website:

[4] Logos allows for orthographic (spelling) variations when using sympathetic highlighting.  This is very important, because the tradition of spelling widely used in the DSS often varies from the spellings found in the MT.

[5] DJD is an acronym for the official publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls which is released in several volumes through Oxford University Press.  The acronym stands for Discovery in the Judean Desert (of Jordan).

Newest Biblioblog Carnival is Up . . .

Matthew Crowe has created a wonderful blog round up over at his site, A Fistful of Farthings.  If you are interested in the comings and goings of the biblioblogosphere from February, then you need to check it out.

Matthew, thanks for taking the time to create a wonderful carnival!