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Pope Francis be cooking candy

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Monty Python’s “Brian Song” versus Dory Previn’s “Did Jesus have a baby sister?”

Is there more than a passing resemblance between the theme song to Monty Python’s Life of Brian, “Brian” (1979) and Dory Previn’s “Did Jesus have a baby sister?”

The songs are also quite different in most respects. Yet some parts of the music are very close. And both were very controversial compositions at the time. Coincidence?

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A Beginner’s Guide to Biblical Scholarship – by Jennifer Bird

permission-grantedJennifer Bird has written a very readable book which introduces the academic study of the Bible. It is called Permission Granted: Take the Bible into Your Own Hands (Westminster John Knox, 2015).

The book is aimed at people who might never have encountered biblical scholarship, but who are curious to learn something about it. And the style of writing very much has this audience in mind. Its range of topics is drawn from throughout the Christian Bible, such as the Creation stories, the various things which the Bible has to say about sex, the spectre of violence within the Bible, the virgin birth, the historical Jesus, and Paul. The topics are introduced and presented in a way that is non-confrontational, yet which does not shy away from the critical issues which scholars raise about them.

Bird’s aim is to get confessional readers of the Bible to read it with different questions in mind. This might even, she suggests, enhance their reading.

One of the examples she discusses is the narrative of David and Goliath, in 1 Samuel 17. Bird notes that there are two other narratives in the Bible which suggest, contrary to 1 Samuel 17, that somebody other than David was responsible for killing Goliath. David was later given credit for killing Goliath, explains Bird, in an attempt to bolster his reputation. Understanding what the story in 1 Samuel 17 is trying to accomplish should, she contends, deepen our appreciation of the Bible.

bird-goliath

Should the fact that Goliath appears to be killed by other people, in other versions of the story, rock one’s faith? No, says Bird:

On the contrary, it can enrich one’s faith to read passages in the Bible in a way that respects the purposes for which they were written.

Check it out: Permission Granted website.

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Filed under 1 Chronicles 20, 1 Samuel 17, 2 Samuel 21 and 23, Books on Giants, Goliath

The Original Description of Jeremiah’s “Confessions”?

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Jeremiah (not Tim Bulkeley)

Tim Bulkeley wrote a post today asking when the passages in Jeremiah 11:18–12.6, 15:10–21, 17:14–18, 18:18–23, and 20:7–18 were first referred to as “confessions”. When were these passages, and not a wider section of the book of Jeremiah or the book as a whole, first referred to as the “confessions” of Jeremiah?

I think  the description of these passages  as “confessions” is Wellhausen’s gift to us. In Israelitische und Jüdische Geschichte, he refers to various passages which, in his Romantic assessment, disclose Jeremiah’s heartfelt and profound personal religiosity (a much disputed interpretation today).

Sein Buch enthält nicht bloß seine Reden und Weissagungen, sondern mitunter auch Konfessionen über seine Leiden und Anfechtungen
(“His [Jeremiah’s] book contains not only his speeches and prophecies, but sometimes confessions about his sufferings and temptations”).

– Wellhausen, Israelitische und Jüdische Geschichte, p. 149
(I refer here to the 1904 edition, which I accessed at this site: https://archive.org/details/israelitischeun02wellgoog).

I assume that Wellhausen must have had at least Jeremiah 11:18–12.6, 15:10–21, 17:14–18, 18:18–23, and 20:7–18 in mind. And in his recent monograph, Die Konfessionen Jeremias: eine redaktionsgeschichtliche Studie, Hannes Bezzel believes this is where the terminology began (p. 1):

In ihnen, denen er den Namen, Konfessionen verlieh, unter dem sie seitdem firmieren, sei Jeremia zur höchsten Form persönlicher Religiosität durchgebrochen und habe “das tiefste Wesen der Frommigkeit“.
(“In them [the passages in Jer 11-20], which he [Wellhausen] gave the name “confessions” and under which they have operated ever since, Jeremiah had broken through to ‘the highest form of personal religiosity and the profoundest essence of piety'”; the quote within the quote is also from p. 149 of Wellhausen).

But does anybody have an alternative opinion about who started to call these select passages the “confessions” of Jeremiah?

And how does Wellhausen’s one-off mention of “confessions” in his Israelitische und Jüdische Geschichte become established as the main term for the analysis of Jeremiah 11:18–12.6, 15:10–21, 17:14–18, 18:18–23, and 20:7–18 in particular?

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Malcolm Gladwell’s TED Talk on David and Goliath

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Malcolm Gladwell delivered a TED Talk in 2013 on the subject of the biblical narrative of David versus Goliath (1 Samuel 17): “The unheard story of David and Goliath”. This is also the subject of a chapter in his 2013 book, Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants.

After providing a vivid description of the David and Goliath story, Malcolm Gladwell states:

“Everything I thought I knew about that story turned out to be wrong.”

What in particular does Gladwell claim to discover about the David and Goliath story?

1. David wasn’t the underdog. Given the accuracy and power of the slingshot, David’s weaponry was far superior to the heavily armed and armoured Goliath. As Gladwell says, Goliath – weighed down by his armour – was a “sitting duck”.

2. Goliath had a disability. Gladwell takes note of (a) Goliath’s need for an attendant to guide him out to the battleground; (b) Goliath’s slowness; (c) Goliath’s comment that David came to him with sticks, plural (when David only held the one ‘stick’, his slingshot); and (d) his gigantic stature. Gladwell argues that all are these factors are explained if Goliath had acromegaly, a type of giantism that is caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland, and which sometimes impairs vision.

Now Gladwell is plausibly right about the first point. A skilled wielder of the slingshot would, contrary to appearances, have had the advantage over an armoured man carrying sword and javelin.

But acromegaly? Gladwell does mention that this has been a ‘speculation’ by various writers. But how much of a speculation? In fact, the factors he lists do not provide a very good case at all. It was quite normal for a heroic warrior to have an attendant – as shield-bearer. Further, the story’s description of Goliath’s slowness is part of an extended contrast in the narrative between David and Goliath, involving David’s lack of armour, youth, and faith versus the giant’s heavy armour, experience, and impiety. The story makes a similar contrast when it describes David’s “sticks” in contradistinction to Goliath’s more conventional metal weapons.

Lastly, the diagnosis of acromegaly is little more than wild guessing.

1. At 6 3/4-feet tall, Goliath was only about 1 1/2 feet taller than your average Philistine man of the time. While Goliath would certainly have been one of the tallest Philistines, it is not at all clear that his stature would have involved any medical abnormality;

2. The details of the story are historically dubious. For example, in 2 Samuel 21, it is “Elhanan” who kills Goliath of Gath, not David. The story may not originally have even been about David. So when modern analysts attempt to draw inferences from the story as though it were realistic history, they do so on very shaky grounds;

3. The story in 1 Samuel 17 emphasizes theological reasons for David’s victory (David has faith in his god Yahweh, while Goliath mocks this god). To treat such a story as good data for a modern medical diagnosis is, therefore, very misguided.

So while the narrative in 1 Samuel 17 might suggest that David was a cunning chap when he brought a slingshot into a one-on-one fight, there are no good grounds to conclude that the narrative presents Goliath as anything but a mighty foe.

See also: Diagnosing Goliath: Gigantism, Acromegaly, Pituitary Tumours, etc

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Filed under 1 Samuel 17, 2 Samuel 21 and 23, Goliath

Frauke Uhlenbruch: Nephilim as Cyborgs

cyborg

In her recent publication, The Nowhere Bible: Utopia, Dystopia, Science Fiction (DeGruyter, March 2015), Frauke Uhlenbruch treats the Nephilim of Numbers 13:32-33 as cyborgs.

Employing Donna Haraway’s definition of “cyborg”, Uhlenbruch interprets each of the the Nephilim as “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” (“A Cyborg Manifesto”, p. 149). For Uhlenbruch, the Nephilim are boundary-crossers, defying monist categorization. Unlike the twelve spies, whose ancestors are given as the twelve sons of Jacob/Israel, the Nephilim do not derive from the utopian unity which originates in the Garden of Eden and which may be traced through to the Patriarchs. In Genesis 6:4, the Nephilim are instead described as hybrid descendants of human women and the sons of the gods.

nowhere-bible“They are partial gods, partial humans, there has been intimacy with human women, and through this breach of boundaries, they are definite symbols of perversity” (p. 178).

But in the biblical story, partial identities and “contradictory standpoints” are not to be permitted. “In the ideal world-to-be that Numbers 13 proposes, the boundary-crosser will be eliminated… Their presence is clearly not desired in the biblical Promised Land, at least not by the Israelites” (p. 179).

And indeed, in the book of Joshua, the Anakim – said to be the descendants of the Nephilim in Num 13:33 – are finally driven out by Caleb (Josh 14-15). Or was that Joshua (Josh 11:21-22)?

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Filed under Ancient Jewish texts, Biblical Giants, Genesis 6.1-4, Nephilim, Numbers 13-14, sons of God

Religious Literacy at Sheffield

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The Vice Chancellor of the University of Sheffield Sir Keith Burnett is to take part in a SIIBS panel discussion with Bishop of Sheffield Steven Croft.

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