Last month’s decision by the US president to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel brought out the full range of responses, as usual. Such responses always dismay me as to how poorly both sides understand what the Bible says about Israel, land, and the Church today. Here are some notes for a discussion I led on the subject, specifically for Christians; the notes have been somewhat edited since the original version. (more…)
As a historian, I am struck by how much of the Old Testament consists of historical narrative, over a third of the total (and it’s a big volume!). On the other hand, I am also surprised at the lack of historical method (as distinct from the methods of textual scholarship or archaeology) applied to these biblical narratives. It seems that most Old Testament scholars have concluded that there is nothing historical in the text to which historical methods might be applied. Yet I wonder whether the experts have not too quickly pre-judged the matter (always a dangerous conclusion for a non-expert such as myself to come to). Indeed, I find myself in the rather unenviable position of distrusting the experts, and this post is an attempt to explain one portion of why I think that is, and to suggest an alternate approach to the issue. (more…)
Sometimes, you’re reading the Bible and skimming along in a familiar story, and then STOP. SOMETHING has caught your attention, which you’ve never noticed before. This was one of those moments.
The story of the exodus is familiar enough to me and to most: Moses is sent by God (after some initial reluctance) to Egypt to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to Canaan. The elders really like the idea – being slaves of the Egyptians kinda sucks, even after they repealed the infanticide law – but the Pharaoh takes a dim view of the enterprise. In response, the Pharaoh makes it so that being slaves of the Egyptians really sucks, and the Israelites take a short-sighted view of the case and complain about Moses stirring up trouble. But God stirs up a whole lot more trouble for the Pharaoh, a lot of people die, and eventually the Israelites leave Egypt not only with the Pharaoh’s permission but with his, uh, you might say, encouragement. But then he changes his mind and drowns in the Red Sea chasing after the Israelites to re-enslave them. Moses, throughout, was the unflappable spokesman for God. Or was he? (more…)
Biblical scholars like something to argue about, because they are academics, and academics make their living by making arguments. (I know; I am one.) And since what is at stake in biblical scholars’ arguments is almost always the question whether the Bible can be trusted, for skeptics who wish not to believe as much as for believers who wish to do so, biblical scholars’ arguments often degenerate into battle lines. Often, I feel, a little more careful attention to the text may shed some useful light on the subject.
One debate which has intrigued me in the past is the question of the (non-)relation between the Hebrew word “Hebrew” (ʿibri) and the word “Habiru” and its variants in Akkadian and Egyptian. It seems that some conservatives have argued that Habiru = Hebrews = Israelites, and thus the Ancient Near Eastern texts which mention the Habiru corroborate the biblical accounts of the Israelites. Against this, some skeptics have argued that the term Habiru is used in contexts where the biblical Hebrews cannot possibly be intended, and sometimes carry non-Semitic names, which these scholars take to indicate that the Habiru were a mixture of Semitic and non-Semitic.
Now, I am not an expert in the Ancient Near East, nor do I read Sumerian, Akkadian, Egyptian hieroglyphics, or any of the other languages, so I can only approach this question from the Hebrew side. But it seems to me that what the Bible says about Hebrews is not what most people have presumed, and may open the door to a different solution to the relationship between the Hebrews and the Habiru. (more…)