The End of Another Semester

This is my obligatory end of semester post. I realize every student blogger out there is posting something similar, and it pains me to be part of the herd (flock?) of lemmings in this case, but I like reflecting on a semester after it has concluded.

In this case, the semester isn’t quite over yet. I have two finals next week (Aramaic and Greek) and a take-home final (Theology of the Pentatuech) that I need to sit down and actually complete at some point. Either way, classes are over and that’s good enough for me.

Greek II – I have completed my first year of Greek–for the second time. I can’t express how happy I am that I decided to not attempt to test out of Greek I and II. Retaking the first year of Greek was certainly what I needed. I feel like I actually have a good chance of retaining the information this time. I’m looking forward to Intermediate Greek this summer. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve enjoyed the experience and as a result I’ll have a much easier time reviewing and keeping up with my Greek.

Aramaic – The first half of the semester was not my idea of fun. It actually wasn’t my idea of learning a language either (learning paradigms != learning a language). However, the second half of the semester, in which we simply translated Biblical Aramaic and even got into a different pointing system and some unpointed Imperial Aramaic was much, much better. In fact, I really enjoyed the second portion of the course, and I learned a ton. It is somewhat odd; I’m the least anxious for this final. I think this is primarily because the final involves parsing and translation. I know I can do this. There are no paradigms to reproduce, which means all I need to do is show that I know the language as well as any first year Aramaic student could be expected to know it.

Spiritual Formation for Ministry – I took this class as a Semlink, and I’m glad I did. I still have several months to finish it, but I’m hoping to complete it by June (earlier, if I can manage it). This is a course that could be extremely helpful and useful, but has proven to be neither. The lectures have been mediocre, and the readings are the same. I’m glad I took it as a Semlink.

Theology of the Pentateuch – This was the most disappointing course this semester. Actually, it is currently running neck and neck with my Systematic Theology courses from undergrad as the most unhelpful course I have ever taken. I don’t want to have this post descend into negativity at the end, so I will content myself with saying that it would have made a decent Biblical theology course. As a Theology of the Pentateuch course it was unfruitful at best. The problems generally revolve around using categories from systematic theology (instead of simply working through the text) and in having as our corpus the entirety of the Christian Bible (yes, including the NT) instead of restricting our searching to the Pentateuch (or even the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament).

So, two classes where I learned a ton, one that was mediocre, and one that was a complete disappointment. I suppose it could have been worse. All in all though, this semester has not been the worst I’ve ever had, and Greek and Aramaic thoroughly redeem it. So, onward to next Wednesday and my Greek and Aramaic finals.

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The end of another semester

This semester is quickly coming to a close. It’s always amazing to me, as I sit at the end of a semester, that another three(ish) months have rushed by. I will be honest, this semester was much easier than last semester. I still have a Semlink course to finish up, but that is pretty much some reading, finishing the lecture mp3s, and then writing two short papers. For my actual resident courses I’m finished aside from finals and a few articles that I still need to read for Theology of the Pentateuch. Some of my reflections from this semester follow:

Greek II – I’m amazed at how fun Greek has been this year. Greek I was excellent, and Greek II was equally so. I’m feeling very confident in my knowledge of the language. I realize I’m only at a very basic level, but I think I have the basics down well. I’m actually really looking forward to taking Intermediate Greek in a summer module.

Theology of the Pentateuch – This class has been beyond disappointing. The reading has been next to worthless. The class sessions themselves have been more about systematic theology and proof texting (and not even limiting the proof-texts to the Pentateuch!) then about anything else. I don’t want to descend into complaining. I’ll simply say that the class is not what I had hoped for or expected. I’m still trying to figure out how what I’ve received fits with the course name or description.

Aramaic – Many will remember that this class had me panicking at the beginning of the semester. Not so anymore. I have very much enjoyed the second half of the semester. The primary reason for this is that I haven’t had to worry about memorizing paradigms during the second half of the semester. Dr. Stuart has required that we translate all every word of Aramaic in the Bible, and now we’re working on a targum of Genesis 1 (with Babylonian pointings!) and an unpointed text from Elephantine. I’m actually enjoying the course immensely now. Not as much as Hebrew, or even as much as Greek, but quite a bit nonetheless.

As for the future, I’m still working out what next semester is going to look like, but I do know that I’m taking Intermediate Greek this summer, as I mentioned above. I’ll actually have another post with a few questions related to that sometime this weekend.

Midterms

Mandy and I are finally through midterms, as she has already mentioned.

Overall, I’m not too displeased. I didn’t do as well as I would have liked on my Theology of the Pentateuch midterm. It is only 20% of the final grade though. The final is 70%, so I should still be able to manage an A or A- in the course. The final will consist of three essay questions and I tend to do better with essay questions than with multiple choice, which is the sole type of question that was on the midterm.

I, like Mandy, feel much more confident about the midterm in Aramaic than I thought I would. Eric‘s advice paid off, and I know I nailed the vocab and paradigms. I also know I did decent on translation and parsing, though I made a few mistakes (stupid Afel imperative). I’m anxious to get back the midterm and see exactly how well I did. Again, the final is worth a larger chunk of the pie, so if I didn’t do as well as I hope I can study hard and pull things up a bit with the final, which will lack any paradigms and consist of translation from Ezra, Daniel, and the Targum and Papyri we’ll be translating later in the semester.

So, midterms are finished, and I’m happy for that. I have my second Greek exam next Wednesday, so this weekend will be devoted to studying for that, in addition to making a serious dent in my semlink course work.

Sargon, Moses, and Genre

Adam has a nice little comparison of the Sargonic and Mosaic birth narratives up over at his blog. This, at least partially, stems from a discussion he and I had after one of our Theology of the Pentateuch class sessions. You can read my thoughts on the class, specifically dealing with Mosaic Authorship of the Torah here, and general other issues here.

Adam provides a nice, concise summary of the relevant material, so I won’t reproduce it here. What I would like to address is the conclusions that he draws. First, I think he is right to dismiss the first option that he proposes (Moses and Sargon are similar because infants, from time to time, were placed in such baskets in the ANE). This option is a bit too trite, and to be completely honest, it lacks actual support in any way, shape or form.

His second conclusion, and sub-conclusions (which I will here re-title to A and B, hence 2.a and 2.b) are far more possible. However, I still don’t think that they satisfy completely. To begin, Adam is absolutely correct to identify the direction of influence as Sargon -> Moses. Even though the Sargonic narrative is from the 7th century BCE, I see no reason to assume that the Moses birth narrative would have been known well enough at that time in Mesopotamia to have warranted copying. Of course, this could get us into the question of Pentateuchal authorship and a host of other issues, which are peripheral but still related to the issue at hand. I’d like to keep a little more focus than that, so I will allow those topics to pass for the time being.

I think where Adam errors (sorry man!) is in having only two sub-points. By doing so he reduces the possibilities to an either/or dichotomy which, I believe, is possibly over-simplifying the issue. If 2.a were correct, it does not automatically prove the Bible untrustworthy. That is to say, if the Moses birth narrative was copied from the Sargonic narrative (leaving aside for the time being any discussion of a possible, and hypothetical, ur-story behind both accounts) it does not prove the Bible untrustworthy. All it proves is that God allowed/was pleased with/tolerated the use of a literary type in his inspired book. Even if the events surrounding Moses’ birth, as relayed by Exodus, are not what we in the 21st century would term accurate it does not diminish the trustworthiness of Scripture. I think, of course, that Adam is correct to point out that the use of such a literary type does not preclude the “accuracy” of the Moses birth narrative in and of itself.

Having said this, I would favor 2.b over 2.a, but with the understanding that I don’t believe either option bears either on Scripture’s inspiration, or on the accuracy, or lack thereof, of the Mosaic birth narrative. In fact, I think that it is obvious that the Hebrew Bible is here using a type of literary device to inform the readers that Moses is the soon-to-be hero of the story. I believe the story is inspired, not the event, so whether or not Moses was ever in a pitch sealed basket is, in my mind, superfluous to the truth of the narrative. Nevertheless, Adam is right to argue that Genre is central to an understanding of the Hebrew Bible. I look forward to his thoughts on his conclusions and their compatibility with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, though I am sorry to say that I think the Chicago Statement is a bit too fundamentalist for my tastes.

Thoughts on Godwin’s Law

Many of you are familiar with Godwin’s Law. Technically this law is only applied to online discussions of varying types. However, I would like to add the following amendment or reformulation of the law:

As a discussion of German critical scholarship grows longer, the probability of Reductio ad Hitlerum approaches one.

I suppose, in the interest of fairness, something about “at conservative seminaries” should be thrown in there. Let me explain the story…

However, before I do let me make a brief excursus. In all probability you, my beloved readers, will have to endure posts such as this on a roughly weekly basis, coinciding with my Theology of the Pentateuch class. If these posts irritate you, I apologize. They are a way for me to maintain my sanity. I’m sure I’ll have other, far more interesting, things to say from time to time. But on Thursday’s or Friday’s, be prepared–you have been warned.

So, I’m sitting in Theology of the Pentateuch with Mandy and Adam. We are finishing our discussion on the Documentary Hypothesis and various higher critical approaches to the Torah. We’ve just finished talking about Julius Wellhausen when Dr. Neihaus makes the argument that the idea of critical scholarship was so ingrained in German society in the 1930s that it allowed Hitler’s rise to power. Leaving aside the logical fallacy and false causation that precedes to such an assumption, what place does it have in a Biblical Studies class? You are, at that point, merely appealing to emotion to convince your audience of your view. I wanted to jump up from my seat, and shout “Godwin’s law! You lose!” But I was able to restrain myself.

Near the end of class we were discussing Gunkel and his thoughts on Genesis as legend. Earlier in the class I had already labeled myself a liberal by asking why God couldn’t have inspired the use of fictitious accounts. We were discussing something de Wette had written and I made a comment that was something to the effect of, “I think de Wette makes the same mistake we do in the modern evangelical church. We assume that if something is myth, if it is not 100% historically accurate, that it means it is not from God.” After half the class stared at me aghast, Dr. Neihaus responded that such a position was “untenable” and would eventually “fall apart.” But, back to the end of the class. We were discussing Gunkel. Adam decided that it wasn’t enough for me to be the class “liberal” (what does that would even mean?) alone. He asked about the parallels between Moses’ and Sargon’s birth narratives. I don’t remember the exact question, but I think he was getting at something like, “Since there are a number of parallels, couldn’t this be a fictional literary form that is used to introduce the hero?” Unfortunately he also mentioned Qohelet and fictional Akkadian autobiography, and Tremper Longman, which distracted from the question itself. Mandy, taking her lead from Adam, brought up Sargon and Moses a few minutes later. This time Dr. Neihaus answered the question by saying that the Moses narrative wasn’t written as if it were legend. It was written as if it were historical fact. Mistakenly thinking that we were getting somewhere I quickly raised my hand and asked, “What would it look like if we were supposed to take it as fiction? How did historical documentation and myth or legend differ back then?” Dr. Neihaus initially said that it would be poetic if it were fiction, but then amended his answer to say that there would actually just be figurative language if it were poetry, but it would still be historically accurate. Adam made one final, noble attempt to get answers by posing the question this way, “What are the triggers that would clue us into an ANE document being myth or legend?” (not an exact quote). Dr. Neihaus eventually answered by saying that one would only really know if it was meant to be taken as fiction after years of immersing oneself in ANE literature, as he had done. The class was dismissed shortly thereafter, sans any talk of the triggers that would indicate that something was not meant to be taken as 100% historically accurate in the ANE.

So, in a way yesterday wasn’t too bad. Largely because I think that I asked some decent questions. I didn’t get the answers I was hoping for, and sometimes I didn’t really get an answer at all, but it’s helping me to establish why I don’t agree with the conservative position on some things. It’s also forcing me to think through what I do believe and how to articulate it. So, there is profit here, even if not of the kind that I would like. I’m far more interested in open dialog. I think in the long run it is far more profitable to have open discussion that is accompanied by gentleness and humility. Nevertheless, since I’m taking the course I’ll take what profit I can find.

Mosaic Authorship and Conservative Pentateuch classes

Where to begin? Yesterday was my first Theology of the Pentateuch class session. It’s a requirement for graduating from the M.Div. program here at GCTS (well, either that or OT Intro, but I thought Theology of the Pentateuch would be more helpful for me). I was hoping for a class that could introduce me to some of the critical issues surrounding the Pentateuch and also look at what theology the Pentateuch really espouses, and perhaps the differences between that theology and Christian dogmatic theology. Of course, I should have known better.

Dr. Neihaus is teaching the class. I haven’t had him yet, so it’s good that I get to take a class with one of the few OT profs here that I haven’t had yet. The class started out well enough, with us discussing three different form critical approaches to Genesis 1. I’m not sure if any of the approaches we looked at completely fit, but it was interesting. Then, somewhere along the line we ended up in Genesis 3, with Satan “possessing” the serpent. Which is something I’ve heard of before. But with the mention of possession we somehow ended up in the New Testament and for the next twenty minutes heard about demon possession and what not. Now, I’m not trying to be insensitive here. I know that many people feel that demon possession is a very real and present issue. I don’t take that road, but neither do I reject entirely the possibility of such things. Either way, it is my opinion that such discussion has no place in a Theology of the Pentateuch class, unless perhaps we’re talking about ANE ideas about demonic possession, or Azazel, or something. After this we meandered a bit, but eventually ended up on the topic of Critical approaches to the Pentateuch. I was enthused–for all of five seconds.

It became quickly apparent that Dr. Neihaus subscribes to the idea of Mosaic authorship of the Torah. This in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. I know many people who feel that Moses wrote the Torah (or at least huge chunks of it) and they are capable of researching things, and doing real scholarship. They’re also okay if you don’t think Moses wrote the Torah. Dr. Neihaus, however, very nearly equated belief in Moses writing the Torah with belief in Jesus as the Son of God. Such things are ridiculous. I actually asked him, during class, why we were assuming that Moses had to have written the Torah, since I didn’t remember anywhere within the Torah where it was claimed that Moses wrote it (of course, I’m of the opinion that even if it did claim such a thing that doesn’t require one to subscribe to Mosaic authorship of the entire thing). He agreed that there wasn’t much within the Pentateuch itself, so again we jaunted over to the New Testament and began talking about how Jesus says “Moses gave you the law,” which must clearly mean that he wrote the entire Torah. Himself. In the 2nd Millennium BCE. Except the part after he died. Because that would be crazy.

After a quick Bible search I see no reason that one who wanted to take a very conservative view of Scripture would be forced to conclude that Moses authored the Torah. In the Gospels Jesus often refers to the Torah by saying “Moses commanded such and such.” But this does not mean that Moses had to have written the entire thing. It would be much like saying “The founding fathers wrote in the constitution…” when we are actually talking about the Bill of Rights, or another later addition to the constitution. It is not inaccurate to use the former designation, now does it in any way whatsoever twist the truth. In addition, there are a few times were Jesus refers to the Torah as the Law of Moses, which I take to be a colloquial designation for the books, not an authoritative statement regarding their authorship. I’m honestly mystified as to why Mosaic authorship of the Torah is such a massive issue in conservative circles. I think one could even fuller affirm the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and not hold to complete Mosaic authorship of the Torah. I’m of the opinion that the authorship of the Pentateuch is somewhat superfluous. To be sure, Seitz im leben can be helpful to interpretation. But ultimately the Torah tells us a story, and that story is true regardless of who wrote it.

Now, in fairness, I will be introduced to critical methods of examining the Pentateuch. It will just be from the perspective that those methods are invalid and wrong – perhaps borderline “unChristian.” I doubt we’ll do much looking at the Theology of the Pentateuch as compared to Christian dogmatics or to the rest of the Hebrew Bible. I thought quite hard about dropping the class. Mandy is of the opinion that as much as I need to read people who disagree with me on the “left” I also need to hear people who disagree with me on the “right” and decide for myself. She’s normally correct about such things. At least she and Adam are taking the course with me. All hope is not lost.