Meetings 2011


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Winter Meeting 2011 (abstracts)

Prof. John Sawyer (Perugia): The divine hinneni ‘Here I am’ in the Book of Isaiah (Presidential Address)

Prof. Bernhard Lang (Paderborn): Voltaire, Goethe, and Joseph in Egypt: An Essay on the Bible in the Eighteenth Century

Dr Walter Houston (Manchester): The Scribe and his Class: Ben Sira on Rich and Poor

Dr Wilfred G. E. Watson (Newcastle): Always Read the Label: Pottery and Hebrew Philology

Prof. Johannes C. de Moor (Kampen): The Silent God in Modernity and Antiquity

Dr Máire Byrne (Dublin): What’s in a Name? Naming God and Interfaith Dialogue

Dr David Baker (Perth): The Fifth Commandment in Context

Dr Richard Briggs (Durham): Reading Daniel as Children’s Literature

At the Winter Meeting, a panel discussion was also held on the question Reception History: Essential Part of Biblical Studies or Optional Extra? with Prof. John Barton (Oxford), Dr Katie Edwards (Sheffield), Dr Andrew Mein (Cambridge), and Dr Deborah Rooke (Oxford).

Summer Meeting 2011 (abstracts)

Prof. Gareth Lloyd Jones (Bangor): Translating for King James: Rabbinic Influence on the AV of 1611

Dr Anselm C. Hagedorn (Göttingen): Place and Space in the Song of Songs

Dr Jonathan G. Campbell (Bristol): Rewritten Bible Re-examined

Prof Joseph Blenkinsopp (Notre Dame): Remembering Josiah

Prof Christopher Rowland (Oxford): Blake on Job

Dr Katherine Southwood (Twickenham): Ethnicity and the Mixed Marriage Crisis in Ezra 9–10

Prof. Francis Landy (Alberta): Prophetic Signs and Secrecy

Dr Gillian Greenberg (London): ‘Minuses’ in the Peshitta to Isaiah and Jeremiah

Prof. David Gunn (Fort Worth, Texas), ‘Science Illustrates Religion: Johann Jakob Scheuchzer’s Amazing “Copper-Plate” Bible of 1731–35’

Prof. Tessa Rajak (Reading), ‘(In)vestment in/of the Priesthood in the Second Temple and Beyond’;

Prof. Tamara Eskenazi (Los Angeles), ‘Cutting Corners and Gleaning Rewards: Re-reading Ruth’ (delivered to the Society by Prof. David Clines).

panel discussion was held on the topic of The Interaction between Jewish Studies and Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Scholarship, with Dr Sandra Jacobs (London), Prof. Sarah Pearce (Southampton), Dr Joanna Weinberg (Oxford) and Prof. Hugh Williamson (Oxford).

Abstracts

Winter Meeting 2011

Prof. John Sawyer (Perugia): The divine hinneni ‘Here I am’ in the Book of Isaiah (Presidential Address)

Isaiah’s ‘Here I am’ (6:8) in Jewish tradition has become a familiar symbol of commitment, loyalty and courage, both in the New Year Liturgy (hineni he‘ani mi-ma‘as) and on the internet (e.g. www.hineni.org; www.hineni.org.au). If it represents such a memorable moment in Isaiah’s life, then qal va-?omer, how much more are we to interpret the divine ‘Here am I’, which is unique to Isaiah and appears three times later in the book (52:6; 58:9; 65:1), as something quite extraordinary. In these three passages, although few commentators have made the connection, it seems that ‘the Lord our God, King of the Universe’ is saying to his people, even when we ignore him and turn our backs on him, hinneni ‘Look, I’m here. I am at your disposal if you need me. I will do anything for you’. The striking anthropomorphism is omitted by the Targum but explained by Rashi and others as ‘I am ready (to help)’, and perhaps Maimonides picked up something of the unusual force of the words in his ‘I offered myself …’
This third divine hinneni is even more striking than the other two, not only because the word is repeated twice, but because it is accompanied by, what one commentary calls, ‘an extraordinary gesture’ (Jewish Study Bible 2004): God stretches out his hands to his people, like a devout worshipper in the act of prayer (1 Kgs 8:22, 38), or, as the 18th century Jewish commentator David Altschuler puts it (Metzudat David), followed by Samuel David Luzzatto (‘Shadal’) in the 19th, like someone waving to a friend. A more recent Jewish commentator notes that in Isaiah 40-66 there is ‘a tendency to portray the Lord God as voluntarily accepting human roles out of his love for his people’ (B. Sommer). Christian commentators identify the speaker with Christ who comes into the world with the words ‘Here I am’ (Gk. pareimi; cf. parousia) (52:6), and then, in the end, his hands stretched out on the Cross (65:2) says ‘Here I am’ (Gk. idou eimi; cf. idou ho anthropos = Ecce homo). The connection was made by the German Jewish poet Hilde Domin in her poem Ecce Homo (1970), while Martin Buber described the divine ‘Here I am’ in Isaiah as nothing less than ‘a definition of salvation … not described as a state of bliss, but as the constancy of the dialogical relationship between humanity and God’.

Prof. Bernhard Lang (Paderborn): Voltaire, Goethe, and Joseph in Egypt: An Essay on the Bible in the Eighteenth Century

In eighteenth-century Europe, biblical stories were generally well known, and often loved, by members of all social classes. This article studies the role of one Old Testament story—that of Joseph, slave, interpreter of dreams, and first minister of Egypt—in the education and early life of both Goethe and Voltaire, and shows how the story continued to interest them in later life. In the year 1763, we find Wolfgang Goethe, then fourteen years old, writing his first novel (now lost) about Joseph, while Voltaire, at the age of sixty-nine, penned a literary and philosophical evaluation of the Joseph tale for his Dictionnaire Philosophique, to be published the following year. Voltaire also suggested a daring alternative interpretation of the Joseph story as a fictional echo of the career of a historical character—a Jewish tax farmer of the third century BCE. This example demonstrates how biblical stories could, and did, shape eighteenth-century cultural life because they figured in the education of children, in debates about the historical background of the Bible, and in literary criticism.

Dr Walter Houston (Manchester): The Scribe and his Class: Ben Sira on Rich and Poor

The paper makes an initial attempt to fill a gap in the author’s Contending for Justice, which dealt only with the Hebrew Bible, although there is extensive material in Ben Sira on the subject of social justice; the paper of course deals only with a selection from it. I attempt to place this material in its social context, discussing Ben Sira’s own social position and that of his envisaged audience, with especial attention to the book’s construction of its social world. In dialogue with recent work on the book, I argue that Ben Sira offers a radical critique of the inhumanity of the rich in Jerusalem society, and warns his students against similar injustice. I also argue that his treatment of the practice of credit has been misunderstood through failure to take into account the growth of the economy in the Hellenistic era. Ben Sira encourages the giving of alms and wishes judges to defend the poor against their oppressors, but like his predecessors has no prescription for the lasting elimination of oppression.

Dr Wilfred G. E. Watson (Newcastle): Always Read the Label: Pottery and Hebrew Philology

To some extent, the meanings of most known Hebrew names for pots, containers, vessels and the like can be established from the written contexts in which they occur. The type of vessel can also be determined from its shape, from the derivation of its name or from comparison with the name for a similar pot in a neighbouring culture. It would be preferable if the name of any of these had been written either on it or on an attached label. Unfortunately, very few examples of either category are known for classical Hebrew. In any case, ambiguities would remain because names can vary over time or within different dialects of the same language or even between cognate languages.

Prof. Johannes C. de Moor (Kampen): The Silent God in Modernity and Antiquity

The concept of the silence of God is a recurring theme in modern reflection. It is not only addressed in theology, religious studies and philosophy, but also in literary fiction, film and theatre. The critical nature of many of these public treatments unchained quite a number of apologetic reactions. Apparently the presumed silence of God is a hot topic. However, what has mostly gone unnoticed is how deeply the concept of a silent deity is rooted in the religious literature of the ancient Near East and early Greece. On the basis of a cursory discussion of this evidence—a full treatment will shortly be published in book form—a number of consequences will be passed in review.

Dr Máire Byrne (Dublin): What’s in a Name? Naming God and Interfaith Dialogue

This paper seeks to address the ‘usefulness’ of biblical studies and biblical theology outside of the academic sphere, primarily by assessing the role it plays in informing or aiding the conversation between world religions in a pluralist society. By using the method of comparative theology, a method predominantly used by Christian systematic theologians, this paper will assert that biblical theology needs to actively engage in interfaith dialogue and begin to adapt methodologies to the needs of society where increasingly sacred texts and those involved in their study need to dialogue. This paper adapts the methods of comparative theology to highlight how even at a simple level of learning and adopting languages of other faiths, biblical theology can be useful and helpful outside of the academic classroom. By using the working example of the names of the deity and the naming practices of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (in particular the name and image of the deity as Creator or Maker), this paper will demonstrate the practical, and simple process of broadening the world view of our particular theology, a process which involves broadening both the understanding of one’s own theology or biblical understanding and also the knowledge of another world religion.

Dr David Baker (Perth): The Fifth Commandment in Context

The fifth commandment has been considered by some rabbis to be the most important of all, and there is little doubt it has moulded Jewish traditions of family life over the centuries and continues to do so today. It has been seen as an exhortation to filial piety, comparable to the teaching of Confucius; and in the New Testament it is described as ‘the first commandment with a promise’ (Eph. 6:2). Some have treated it as a rule addressed to children, instructing them to respect and obey their parents. Others have questioned its relevance to those with absent or abusive parents. In order to obtain a better understanding of its meaning, this paper will examine the fifth commandment in context, specifically the cultural context of the ancient Near East and the canonical context in which Jews and Christians have read it throughout the centuries.

Dr Richard Briggs (Durham): Reading Daniel as Children’s Literature

This paper proposes a major thesis and a minor thesis. The major thesis is that reading the book of Daniel as a children’s text offers hermeneutical insight into aspects of the text’s dynamic and overall coherence. The minor thesis concerns the historical plausibility or otherwise of positing a context of reception in which how children respond to the text might have been a part of the text’s design. Depending on one’s overall interpretive goals, pursuing the major thesis as a reading strategy may stand or fall independently of such historical plausibility, and may be assessed instead by a measure of the interpretive light it sheds on one’s experience of the text. The link between the two theses is also complicated by the well-known difficulty of defining children’s literature in any case. The paper therefore proceeds in three steps: the question of what it means to read a text (and in particular a biblical text) as children’s literature; the project of reading the book of Daniel this way; and then some reflections on what is at stake in adopting such a reading strategy. It is suggested that there is considerable interpretive gain from such a reading strategy in the case of Daniel.

Summer Meeting 2011

Prof. Gareth Lloyd Jones (Bangor): Translating for King James: Rabbinic Influence on the AV of 1611

The aim of this paper was to demonstrate the extent to which mediaeval rabbinic scholarship influenced the translators of the AV. After some preliminary remarks about the patron and the purpose of the version, attention was given to the process. While King James found 25 competent English Hebraists without any difficulty, a search for such people a century earlier would have been fruitless. It was during the Elizabethan period that Hebrew studies took root in England. This discovery of Hebrew produced scholars who were well-versed in classical and rabbinic Hebrew. When dealing with difficult texts for which the ancient versions provided no acceptable solution, they were able to avail themselves of the comments of the rabbis. Evidence was provided from the Book of Daniel which contains at least 30 instances of the way in which the translation has been influenced by traditional Jewish interpretation. In 25 of these the rabbinic explanation is incorporated into the actual text; in another five it appears as an alternative reading in the margin. Examples of each category were given.

Dr Anselm C. Hagedorn (Göttingen): Place and Space in the Song of Songs

The paper investigates the use of space in the Song of Songs against the backdrop of recent spatial theories and comparative material. By using the imagery of the garden and the vineyard, Song of Songs creates spaces that are in between the enclosed world of city and house and the wide-open countryside. Since the protagonists of the Song of Songs move and operate in all of these three spaces binary opposites are only of a limited usefulness when explaining the structure of social and spatial relationships in the Song. The creation of alternative spaces beyond the public and private or town and countryside dichotomy enables the man and the woman of Song of Songs to contest and re-negotiate boundaries and cultural identity.
Though being reluctant to use Edward Soja’s concept of a Thirdspace for the analysis of spatiality in Song of Songs it cannot be denied that some aspects of such a Thirdspace occur in the creation of the above mention in-between spaces. In the garden and in the vineyard the abstract and the concrete, mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the real and the imagined come together. For the male lover both spaces suggest availability – an availability that is not necessarily granted within the closed confines of house and city (cf. Cant 5:2-4).
The descriptions of garden and vineyard can be understood as being both, actual places that exist in the imagination of the speaker (and reader) or more or less veiled references to the beloved woman. If that is the case the construction of space in the Song of Songs would affect both, the description of the beloved person as well as the place which the beloved occupies.

Dr Jonathan G. Campbell (Bristol): Rewritten Bible Re-examined

Geza Vermes originally coined the term ‘Rewritten Bible’ in 1961 for a small body of literature that interpretatively rewrites pre-existing biblical works. But there has been much discussion in the intervening decades over the exact nature and extent of the underlying phenomenon originally elucidated by Vermes. Recently, that debate has largely focused on four key intertwined issues: (i) whether ‘Rewritten Bible’ constitutes a genre or not; (ii) whether ‘Rewritten Scripture’ might be a better label in view of the likelihood that late Second Temple Jews had an open Scripture rather than a canonical Bible; (iii) precisely how much of a Vorlage has to be rewritten, and with what degree of intensity, for a work to count as ‘Rewritten Bible’; and (iv) how previously unknown so-called Parabiblical Texts or New Pseudepigrapha recovered from Qumran fit into the picture. This paper reviews such matters and, by bringing into the discussion several ancient compositions that are often overlooked, it seeks to determine whether the appellation ‘Rewritten Bible’ is best retained, amended, or abandoned.

Prof. Joseph Blenkinsopp (Notre Dame): Remembering Josiah

The paper presented an example of an exercise in social/collective memory, and the different sites of collective memory including the body, contrasted with archival history writing (Halbwachs, Assmann, Connerton et al.), beginning with the notice in 2 Chronicles 35 about the laments for the tragic (and for many inexplicable) death of Josiah by male and female rhapsodists which was still going on at the time of writing, about two and a half centuries later. The paper also included a different explanation of the lamenting for the ‘pierced one’ of Zech. 12:10-11.

Prof. Christopher Rowland (Oxford): Blake on Job

The paper explored the nature of Blake’s biblical criticism by focusing primarily on his Illustrations of the Book of Job, completed shortly before his death in 1827. In them he refined his method of juxtaposing text and image, and they are important because Blake engages directly with the Bible rather than through the medium of his own idiosyncratic mythology. Blake showed himself capable of dealing with exegetical questions presented by the text, for example, the role of Satan, which he then solved iconographically and by the use of the marginal biblical references.
Blake’s understanding of Job’s redemption focused on three key texts: Job 7:14; 42:5 and 42:10. For Blake the Book of Job is a story of personal upheaval, in which Job comes to a new theological understanding on the basis of visionary insight. The paper also considered the extent of Blake’s knowledge of Hebrew on the basis of his departure from the KJV and his occasional use of Hebrew in the Job series. Blake’s biblical exegesis is a mix of a critical approach to the Bible and the kind of imaginative engagement we find in medieval Christian exegesis of the Bible. While Blake’s interpretation tells us much about his own theological agenda (e.g. his concern to give priority to the spirit over the letter, to challenge theological transcendence by a theology of immanence), his interpretation shows us an anticipation of the modern the modern practice of Sachkritik and his interest in theological dualism.

Dr Katherine Southwood (Twickenham): Ethnicity and the Mixed Marriage Crisis in Ezra 9–10

The intermarriage crisis in Ezra is pivotal for our understanding of the postexilic community. As the evidence from anthropology suggests, the social consciousness of ethnic identity and resistance to the idea of intermarriage which emerges from the text point to a deeper set of problems and concerns, most significantly, relating to the complexities of return-migration. This paper highlighted how the sense of identity which Ezra 9–10 presents is best understood by placing it within the larger context of a return migration community who seek to establish exilic boundaries when previous familiar structures of existence have been rendered obsolete by decades of existence outside the land. The complex view of ethnicity presented through the text may, therefore, reflect the ongoing ideology of a returning separatist group. The textualization of this group’s tenets for Israelite identity, and for scriptural exegesis, facilitated its perpetuation by preserving a charged nexus of ideas around which the ethnic and religious identities of later communities could orbit. The multifaceted effects of return-migration may have given rise to an increased focus on ethnicity through ethnicity being realized in exile but only really being crystallized in the homeland.

Prof. Francis Landy (Alberta): Prophetic Signs and Secrecy

Isaiah’s sons, and Isaiah himself, are ‘signs and portents from YHWH of Hosts, who dwells on Mt. Zion’ (8:18). They are signs, because YHWH has ‘hidden his face from the house of Jacob’; as such they point to an age when it will be manifest, and exemplify the hope Isaiah expresses in the same verse. The children are signs of the future, when the Torah and testimony bound up in the prophet’s disciples will no longer be sealed, and prophetic language will no longer mislead. The hidden face of God suggests either his absence, since it reverses conventional imagery of divine illumination, or concealment behind signs, such as the prophet’s children or the Assyrian adversary, or divine wrath. It conforms to the rhetoric of secrecy, protraction, and displacement that we find throughout the book. The children themselves, with their mysterious and ambiguous names and their obstinate vitality, point forward to the enthronement of the Davidic child in 9:5-6 and the paradisal vision of 11:1-9, in which the non-violent ruler presides over a world at the centre of which is an infant, and where a young boy leads the peaceful animals. As in Wordsworth’s Immortality Ode, the child ‘is father of the man’, a reversal evident in the designation of the newborn child as an eternal father in 9:5.

Dr Gillian Greenberg (London): ‘Minuses’ in the Peshitta to Isaiah and Jeremiah

The analysis of minuses raises important questions relevant to the study of transmission of both Hebrew and Syriac biblical manuscripts at an early stage. For the purpose of this analysis, minuses are defined as words or phrases present in the Masoretic Text but absent from the Peshitta. They are divided into five main groups. (i) Real, where elements of the Masoretic Text (MT), supported by Septuagint (LXX) and/or Qumran data, are absent from the Peshitta (P). These are divisible into the deliberate and the accidental. Most of the minuses classified as deliberate occur at passages of difficult and complex Hebrew, and the translator may have judged that the omission made no important difference to the sense. (ii) Apparent, where LXX and/or Qumran data support P, so the Hebrew text in question may be a secondary addition. (iii) Those which seem ‘real’ but are not. Here elements of MT, supported by LXX and/or Qumran data, are absent from P, so at first sight these seem to belong in group (i), ‘real’ minuses. However, in this group the Hebrew text in question is of a particular kind: it emphasises or rewords other components of the verse. It may have been added during transmission, by deliberate secondary textual expansion or by the incorporation of doublets or glosses, but did not enter the Vorlage from which the translator of P worked. The prevalence of group (iii) minuses is greater in P-Jeremiah than in P-Isaiah. It is shown that this contributes to other evidence that P-Jeremiah was seen as particularly important to the emerging religious community in Edessa and was made from a Hebrew manuscript at a comparatively early stage of editing. (iv) Those involving doublets. (v) Those of mixed characteristics.

The following papers were also presented at the Summer Meeting: Prof. David Gunn (Fort Worth, Texas), ‘Science Illustrates Religion: Johann Jakob Scheuchzer’s Amazing “Copper-Plate” Bible of 1731–35’; Prof. Tessa Rajak (Reading), ‘(In)vestment in/of the Priesthood in the Second Temple and Beyond’; Prof. Tamara Eskenazi (Los Angeles), ‘Cutting Corners and Gleaning Rewards: Re-reading Ruth’ (delivered to the Society by Prof. David Clines).

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