The new IVP Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets is now available and if you’re interested at all in the biblical prophets you will want to own this volume. One of the most interesting aspects of this dictionary series to me is that the contributors were encouraged to not only introduce and summarize scholarship on the topics they addressed but also to add their own original thoughts to the discussion. I tried to do this in my treatment of “Law” (pages 493-501).
It is rather curious, from a canonical perspective, that the prophets hardly ever refer to the Sinai tradition while they often invoke exodus motifs. It is even more curious when one contemplates the fact that Sinai would perfectly mesh with one of the main rhetorical goals of the prophets which was to expose the disobedience of the people and call them to repentance. What better way to do this than to tell them: “You have broken the Decalogue which we received at Mt. Sinai here, here, here, and here,” but they never do this (some have argued that there are a couple instances in which the prophets may cite or allude to the decalogues but as I explain in the essay these are better explained as tropes and not as clear links to the decalogues themselves). One might be tempted to dismiss this fact as not very important, yet, as Jon Levenson comments, “the experience of Sinai, whatever its historical basis, was perceived as so overwhelming, so charged with meaning, that Israel could not imagine that any truth or commandment from God could have been absent from Sinai” (Sinai and Zion, 18-19). However, if Sinai was this significant then why did the prophets hardly ever refer to it?
Certainly there are redactional issues for this which I discuss in the essay yet what I tried to do, and what I do not think many people have yet done, is to try to make theological sense out of this. I’ll let you read the whole thing to see how I get there but here is a snippet from the conclusion:
From a theological perspective, the prophets skip over Sinai and tap into an Ur-tradition of law in order to admonish the nation to repent and hopefully avoid the coming de-creation (the exile) or to look back to the recent experience of de-creation (again, the exile) in order to avoid another iteration of this cycle.
A piece by Nathan Schneider, “Why the World Needs Religious Studies,” is making the rounds in various forums like Facebook and Twitter. And with good reason. Schneider highlights some some helpful benefits to studying world religions and points out how foundational religion is to much of the goings on in the world even though religion is often pushed to the background within public discourse in North American and Western Europe. However, as helpful as the reflection is I think there is an unhelpful temptation that it may help to reinforce.
In an age of decreasing public funding allocated toward higher education as well as a student loan debt problem most institutions are finding themselves in budgetary squeezes. Naturally, departments and their professors find themselves, either explicitly nor not, needing to justify their continued existence not only to administrators and elected officials but also to parents of prospective students. The natural tendency, which Schneider’s piece appropriates, is to explain how the liberal arts (which is invariably one of the prominent soft targets) or religious studies (whether it is a subdivision of liberal arts/humanities or is its own school or department) can have a practical benefit in landing and succeeding in a career. There is nothing wrong, per se, with this response. I think all of the benefits that Schneider mentions are exactly on point. Yet, if this is where we stop, or even, if this is where we start when we attempt to justify religious studies/humanities/liberal arts then I think we may subtly undermine two other–and more important–facets of these disciplines.
Mark Roche outlines three reasons why someone would choose to study liberal arts in his book length treatment of the question, Why Choose the Liberal Arts (Roche’s words in bold, my thoughts added after):
- The intrinsic value of learning for its own sake, including exploration of the profound questions that give meaning to life. This, I think, is where we should start. When someone asks, “What value does religious studies/humanities/liberal arts have?” I think our first and default answer should be that this kind of study is inherently valuable–the questions and topics that it explores are those that humans naturally gravitate to. Those of us who engage in these fields have a prophetic duty to remind our institutions and our culture that a flourishing and satisfying life does not arise out of mere service to economics and utility.
- The formative influence of the liberal arts (and/or religious studies) on character and on the development of a sense of higher purpose and vocation. Roche puts this last but I think it should be second so I’ve taken the liberty to switch up his list. After all of the various economic implosions that the world has been through is there anyone left who thinks that all colleges need to do is to churn out really efficient and highly tuned financial and economic technicians? In other words, should we bracket out things like ethics, philosophy, religious studies, literature, etc. from finance or engineering degrees so that we can save more room in the curriculum for additional classes in derivatives trading or maybe even just shorten a finance degree to three years? Of course, no one can force an ethical vision upon someone–not even the threat of law and disgorgment was enough to prevent a Bernie Madoff, yet, I think it would be wise for schools to present finance as something more than facilitating transactions or making deals. How does finance fit into the service of humanity, how can one navigate its ethical challenges, what are the religious dimensions to finance? And even in this last question I think we need to approach it with more depth than merely, say, understanding sharia law so that we can make a killing off Islamic banking.
- The cultivation of intellectual virtues necessary for success beyond the academy. Of course we want students to be able to find satisfying and gainful employment once they graduate and schools should try to give them the tools they need to do this. But, this is still, in my mind, a third tier goal. Otherwise, if we prize employment skills over and above and to the detriment of the previous two goals we essentially transform the “university” into a technical school. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a technical school–I think we need to make them more prominent parts of our society and raise the social perception of them–yet, if we see colleges and universities as stepping stones that merely give our kids the skills and resume fodder to get them a job then we have changed the very nature of what colleges and universities have been for greater than half a millennium. Traditionally, they were places that prepared people for a vocation but also institutions in which students contemplated the world and their place within it and responsibilities to it.
Again, I don’t think that we should justify the existence of religious studies and liberal arts by merely reciting of list of how they are useful. Rather, I think we should–each and every time–reiterate their intrinsic value and connection with the core of what it means to be human, then move to character and identity formation, and then to utility.
What do you think?
The price of college just keeps going up and up, right? Not exactly.
The sticker price has gone way up no surprise. But, because the value of grants and scholarships has also grown, average net price has grown much more slowly. In fact, in the past five years, average net price at private colleges has actually fallen.
via The Price Of College Tuition, In 1 Graphic : Planet Money : NPR.
The University of Helsinki has made Saana Svärd’s dissertation titled Power and Women in the Neo-Assyrian Palaces available for free download. It is quite fascinating and uses cutting edge gender theory in order to provide a new interpretive framework for understanding and interpreting Neo-Assyrian texts. Here is the abstract:
In this dissertation, I analyze theories of power in order to study the Neo-Assyrian (934-610 BC) women of the palaces. This study subscribes to that sociological understanding of power which stipulates that power exists in all relationships between people. This is why the main research question of this dissertation is not whether women had power or not, but instead, the question is: What kind of power did women have in Neo-Assyrian palaces?
Neo-Assyrian women have not been much discussed in earlier research. In addition to presenting the textual evidence relating to them, this dissertation hopes to offer new theoretical perspectives for Assyriology and the study of ancient Near East. The aim of this study is not to present a mere catalogue of powerful women, listing occupations and texts. Instead, the aim is to go further than that and show that by using theories of power, one can get new viewpoints additional to those procured by the traditional philological methodology.
The structure of the dissertation is dictated by the research questions. After the introduction in Chapter 1, the second chapter evaluates sociological discussions regarding the concept of power from the viewpoint of women s studies and Assyriology. However, to discuss women’s power in the Neo-Assyrian palaces, it is necessary to consider what power meant for the Assyrians themselves. Although not an easy question to tackle, Chapter 3 discusses this problem from a semantic and lexicographical perspective. I discuss those words which imply power in the texts relating to the women of the palace. At the end of Chapter 3, these lexicographical results are compared with the sociological concepts of power presented in Chapter 2.
The theoretical framework built on these two chapters understands power as a hierarchical phenomenon. What positions did women have in the palace hierarchy? What did they do in the palaces, and what kind of authority did they possess? This is the topic of Chapter 4, where the textual evidence relating to the palace women is presented.
Power in general and women s power especially has been understood mostly in a hierarchical way in earlier research concerning Mesopotamian women. Hierarchical power structures were important in Mesopotamia, but other theoretical approaches can help one gain new perspectives into the ancient material. One of these approaches consists of concentrating on heterarchical, negotiable and lateral power relations in which the women were engaged. In Chapter 5, the concept of heterarchical power is introduced and the text material is approached from a heterarchical perspective. Heterarchical power relations include hierarchical power relations, but also incorporate other kinds of power relations, such as reciprocal power, resistance and persuasion. Although earlier research has certainly been aware of women s influence in the palaces, this dissertation makes explicit the power concepts employed in previous research and expands them further using the concept of heterarchy. By utilizing the concept of power as a theoretical tool, my approach opened up new avenues for interpreting the texts.
Joseph Justiss commented on a previous post in which I discussed Chris Hays’s essay on identifying allusions within the Old Testament and recommended an article by Jeffery Leonard: Identifying Inner-Biblical Allusions: Psalm 78 as a Test Case. It’s quite an interesting and helpful study which he divides into two parts: evaluating evidence for textual links and determining direction of influence. Here are the points that he considers under the two parts.
Evaluating Evidence for Textual Links
- Shared language is the single most importantfactor in establishing a textual connection.
- Shared language is more important than nonshared language.
- Shared language that is rare or distinctive suggests a stronger connection than does language that is widely used.
- Shared phrases suggest a stronger connection than do individual shared terms.
- The accumulation of shared language suggests a stronger connection than does a single shared term or phrase.
- Shared language in similar contexts suggests a stronger connection than does shared language alone.
- Shared language need not be accompanied by shared ideology to establish a connection.
- Shared language need not be accompanied by shared form to establish a connection.
Determining Direction of Influence
- Does one text claim to draw upon another?
- Are there elements in the texts that help to fix their dates?
- Is one text capable of producing the other?
- Does one text assume the other?
- Does one text show a general pattern of dependence on other text?
- Are there rhetorical patterns in the texts that suggest that one text has used the other in an exegetically significant way?
“The only obligation I recognize is to say what I believe to be true [...] and to say it with kindness. I believe that is how a Christian conversation should proceed.”