Blind spots

Once upon a time, during a Sunday morning worship service, I almost laughed out loud when the man on the stage said, “Look around you and see all the people who aren’t here this morning.” I couldn’t see them, of course, because they weren’t there! We all have blind spots, things and—unfortunately—people we overlook. I know that I have them too … and by definition, I don’t know what they are.

The insidious power of blind spots reared its ugly head in a poll I answered today. The Christian Chronicle, “an international newspaper for Churches of Christ” (to quote its masthead), currently has a poll on its home page.

Notice anything missing? Can you see the people who aren’t there?

Nothing new over the waters

The more I learn about ancient and medieval biblical interpretation, the more I feel the power of Qoheleth’s observation that “there is nothing new under the sun”—or in this case, over the waters. If you’ve ever heard someone scoff at the translation “a wind from God” instead of “the spirit of God” for רוח אלחים in Genesis 1:2, you might appreciate the following quotation:

Which spirit “moved over the water”?

Some commentators believe it was the most Holy Spirit vivifying the nature of the waters and foreshadowing the grace of baptism. But I think it more likely that by “spirit” he is here referring to the air. After declaring that God made heaven and earth and mentioning the waters by reference to “the deep,” he logically goes on to mention as well the air, which extends from the water’s surface to heaven, for air naturally moves over bodies lying under it. Now, it was very apposite for him to say “moved over” and not “lying on”: “moved” implying the kinetic character of the air.

That was Theodoret of Cyrus (AD 393–460), from his Questions on the Octateuch, question 8 (Greek text edited by John F. Petruccione; English translation by Robert C. Hill; published in Theodoret of Cyrus: The Questions on the Octateuch, vol. 1, On Genesis and Exodus [Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 2007]). I don’t mean to use Theodoret as an authority in favor of the translation “a wind from God” or “a mighty wind,” but rather as evidence that variance in opinion about the translation of רוח אלהים is very longstanding indeed, not a product of modernity.

Finding myself in today’s America

According to Spokeo, there are 332 people named “Chris Heard” living in the United States today.

Thirty-seven of those Chris Heards live in California:

Fourteen of those California Chris Heards live in the greater Los Angeles area:

None of them are me, although one of them reportedly lives 7.0 miles from me by the quickest route. Why don’t I show up on the Spokeo’s maps of American Chris Heards? It’s simple: “Chris” is a shortened form of my middle name, “Christopher.” Yes, I have the goes-by-his-middle-name blues. Since Spokeo relies on public records, it thinks my name is “Robert C Heard.” But my father’s name is also Robert, and therefore he and my mother called me by my middle name.

If you search Spokeo for Robert Heards, you’ll find me (and eighteen others) in the greater Los Angeles area. But if you cruise over to Texas, you’ll find me—listed at my dad’s address. You won’t find my dad listed at his own address. Care to guess why?

Quotation of the day

Overheard from the classroom next door:

If you don’t know what those terms mean, you didn’t read far enough—which means past the first page.

Quotation of the day

Aristotle argued that an object needed constant attention from a source of motion in order to keep moving. … In the same fashion, Aristotle suggested, the planets revolved around the earth due to the constant force exerted on them by a “prime mover.” To the medieval monks of Paris [especially Jean Buridan, 1300–58, and Nicholas Oresme, 1323–82], this sounded like nonsense. Specifically, they questioned why God should have to continuously intervene to impart motion to one of the planets when a simple impetus of motion from the start of the cosmos should have been sufficient to last for the duration of the universe. What may seem today to sound like a theological quible actually cleared the cobwebs of Greek preconceptions out of the European mind, allowing a more abstract approach to the theory of motion, so that by the time of Leonardo da Vinci and Copernicus, the idea of inertial motion, imparted by and depending only an initial force, was virtually taken for granted by astronomers.

— John Farrell, The Day Without Yesterday: Lemaître, Einstein, and the Birth of Modern Cosmology (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2005), pp. 42–43

With one breath … you will know synchronicity

Earlier today, I was reading an article in which a philosopher discussed the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing. As I read his treatment of (potentially) relevant biblical texts, I felt disturbed, and tweeted the following:

Reading an article by a philosopher. The exegetical part feels like a speech by a college debater. Willy-nilly quotations with … (1/2)

… minimal context and little attention to whether the larger works from which the quotations are pulled are mutually compatible. (2/2)

Later, I read another article that was itself as response to essentially the same article, though published as a chapter in a co-authored book. The responding author wrote:

They make no bones about the fact that they are not engaging in an attempt to provide a balanced exegesis of the scriptures and documents that they discuss. Rather, their article and book are like a lawyer’s defense brief for the view that the scriptures teach creatio ex nihilo. A careful reading reveals that they are presenting their case as if they were debaters with no interest in giving a balanced assessment of the evidence.

Sometimes, it’s nice to know you’re not alone.

Crossroads is coming!

For the last couple of years, Michael Brown (Anachronism’s designer) and I have been working together on a new Bible-themed game called Crossroads. We like to describe Crossroads this way:

Crossroads™ is a game of epic adventure through the stories of the Bible. In Crossroads™, one to four players work collaboratively to chart their own course through the biblical story.The starter set presents four stories, each with its own particular challenges. Each player selects a vocation and a set of prayers to help the group meet the objectives unique to each adventure. Players then work together to build paths to reveal, face, and overcome the challenges of the game. Skill in navigating the maps and adept use of prayer to influence play will determine the group’s success. Which path will you choose?

Crossroads is a collaborative, expandable board game that features tile-laying, role-taking, and delivery of randomized and customized elements via cards and dice. Basically, when you play a game of Crossroads, you control a traveler who builds roads and then moves along them, facing challenges as you try to achieve your group’s overall goal. Your traveler has certain traits with values based on his or her vocation, and can offer prayers to alter gameplay. Crossroads scenarios are based on biblical stories; each story has a definite beginning and end, but the middle sections are randomized and a successful outcome isn’t guaranteed! The Crossroads Starter Set will include four biblical stories. Thereafter, periodic expansion sets and organized play opportunities will expand the library of Crossroads stories until, over the course of seven years, the list has grown to 80 stories available in the starter set and expansion packs plus 20 stories that you can experience in the organized play program.

If this interests you—and I certainly hope that it does—learn more on the Crossroads website and blog, like our Facebook page, and/or follow @CrossroadsGame on Twitter.

Hexaemeron or paradise narrative?

The book of Genesis “begins at the beginning,” as they say, yet it actually begins with two beginnings. Genesis 1:1–2:3 and Genesis 2:4–25 clearly stand as two structurally independent units separated by the “generations” (תולדות, toledoth) formula in Genesis 2:4. (Unlike many interpreters, I take the formula to function here as it does everywhere else in Genesis: as the beginning, not the end, of a unit.)

In some circles (expanding the farther back you go), Genesis 1:1–2:3 bears the name Hexaemeron, referring to the six days of creative activity narrated therein. The Hexaemeron views creation on a cosmic (we might say “planetary,” though this distinction would hold far less significance in an ancient Near Eastern context) scale. Genesis 2:4–25, on the other hand, focuses the camera close-up on individual human beings, who reside—at first—in a garden in Eden. Thanks to the ancient Greek translation(s) of Genesis, names given to this second (in canonical sequence) creation story usually contain the word “paradise” (with somewhat misleading connotations in English, since Greek παράδεισος, paradeisos, cognate with Hebrew פרדס, pardes, and surely deriving from an Old Persian ancestor, need not carry the connotations of bliss and perfection normally associated with the English word “paradise”).

In the Tanakh itself, the paradise narrative does not enjoy star billing. At most, one other text from the Tanakh—one of Ezekiel’s oracles against Tyre—clearly refers or alludes to the paradise narrative (and whether Ezekiel refers to the biblical paradise narrative or to another closely-related tradition remains up for debate). The Hexaemeron, however—while not going by that name within the Tanakh, of course—echoes repeatedly in the Tanakh, with passages from Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and Isaiah (to cite but four books, without prejudice toward other examples) using similar language to describe God’s creative activity. Apparently, the writers of other biblical books found more resonance in the Hexaemeron account (in whatever form it existed for them) than in the paradise account.

What about for you? Which of these two stories—the Hexaemeron and the paradise narrative—do you find more personally meaningful?

iTanakh updates for December 2010

In December 2010, iTanakh added new listings in the following categories:

Texts > Septuagint > Judith
Texts > Tanakh > Torah/Pentateuch > Exodus
Texts > Tanakh > Torah/Pentateuch > Leviticus
Texts > Tanakh > Latter Prophets > Isaiah
Topics > God

iTanakh updates for November 2010

In November 2010, iTanakh added new entries in the following categories:

Archaeology > Inscriptions
Archaeology > Sites
Context > History
Languages > Hebrew > Literary Devices
Languages > Hebrew > Terms
Methods > Historical-Critical Method
Methods > Historiography
Methods > Postmodern Interpretation
Texts > Septuagint
Texts > Septuagint > Sirach
Texts > Septuagint > Wisdom of Solomon
Texts > Septuagint > The Books of the Maccabees
Texts > Tanakh > Torah/Pentateuch > Genesis
Texts > Tanakh > Torah/Pentateuch > Exodus
Texts > Tanakh > Torah/Pentateuch > Leviticus
Texts > Tanakh > Torah/Pentateuch > Deuteronomy
Texts > Tanakh > Former Prophets > Judges
Texts > Tanakh > Former Prophets > Samuel
Texts > Tanakh > Former Prophets > Kings
Texts > Tanakh > Latter Prophets > Isaiah
Texts > Tanakh > Latter Prophets > Jeremiah
Texts > Tanakh > Latter Prophets > Jonah
Texts > Tanakh > Writings
Texts > Tanakh > Writings > Psalms
Topics > Animals
Topics > Purity
Topics > Royalty

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