Why Was Adam Created?

The answer may surprise you. I’ve written an article for my students in this fall’s Genesis Creation class I’m teaching this fall. Check it out.

Now, go and study

Short URL: http://tinyurl.com/y8688445
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Still Small Voice?

In 1 Kings 19:12, the story of the mighty Yahweh speaking to His prophet Elijah in a “still small voice” in the aftermath of a great storm has stirred the imaginations of squishy clergy of all traditions. Much has been made of the contrast between the gentle God quelling Elijah’s fears on Mr.Horeb, with the imposing God revealing himself to Israel on the same mountain. But to some, what is literary contrast is inconsistency and, where not explained, triggers skepticism. And nowhere, in neither the verse nor its context is this inconsistent view of God explained. Why does the divine author portray God as speaking in a “still small voice” contra everywhere else in the Bible?  Unexplained, the story has become an empty vessel into which countless clergy, Bible study teachers, and readers have poured their own meaning into the story.

Let’s take a closer look at this verse, 1 Kings 19:12, and see what’s really going on. The RSV translates the verse as follows:

and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice

First some context. In this verse, the prophet Elijah is hiding in a cave hoping to escape Queen Jezebel who is out to kill him. Upon hearing the voice in the cave, Elijah runs to the entrance of the cave where God asks, “What are you here for, Elijah?” Elijah answers that he is hiding because his “zealousness for the LORD” has angered Queen Jezebel and much of Israel who now seek his death.

But is this how God intended this text to be understood? Does He really want to leave us with the impression that He sometimes presents Himself quietly, modestly, with subtlety. Here is the Hebrew from which “a still small voice” is translated,

  ק֖וֹל דְּמָמָ֥ה דַקָּֽה (qol d’mamah daqqah)

A closer look at the translation of this verse is problematic, to say the least. Consider:

  1. While the Hebrew word ‘qol’ can mean ‘voice’ or ‘sound’, it can also mean ‘thunder’ or ‘thunderous voice’ depending on context. When qol is used elsewhere in the Bible, notably in the context of a storm theophany (God appearing during a storm) qol is always translated as “thunderous voice” or “roaring sound”. (e.g., Exodus 19:16). How reasonable is it that this text, a direct parallel to the storm theophany of Exodus, be translated as “small or quiet”?
  2. What about the other words? The Hebrew word mamah, translated as ‘quiet’, ‘whisper’, or ‘still’ actually stems from the Hebrew word damim meaning ‘roared’. Likewise daqqah is often interpreted figuratively to mean small. But, the literal meaning of daqqah is to crush – which, of course, is a way of making big things small.

With these facts in mind, a better translation should surely suggest images of thunder, roaring, and crushing – anything but still, small, or quiet!  So, instead of “a still small voice“, I would argue that the divine author more likely meant for us to understand that upon hearing a roaring, thunderous voice Elijah covered his head in fear and ran out of the cave (1 Kings 19:13).  Here, now, is the new translation:

“and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a roaring, thunderous voice.”

But, if this is all there is, so what? What theological difference does this make?

In this story, Elijah is (was) competing with the worshippers of Baal.  Where Baal speaks thunder, i.e., his voice is the thunder, God speaks thunderous words. The divine author is drawing a very clear, sharp contrast between Baal (thunder) and God (the maker of thunder). Where Baal was (is) the storm, God is the maker of the storm. Storms and fire and earthquake are gods to the worshippers of Baal, but these ‘gods’ are depicted in the Bible, and here in 1 Kings, as preceding our God. Moreover, our God speaks words and we listen, learn, and obey. Baal is simply thunder from which we flee or take cover. What a difference between worshipping the storm and the Maker of the storm – between worshipping the creature and the Creator!

NOTE: Genesis 3:8 is similarly misunderstood in much the same way. Take some time and read my tanslation and commentary here.

Now, go and study

Short URL: http://tinyurl.com/y8etmnor
Posted in Biblical exegesis, Biblical Hebrew, Genesis 2, Translation | Leave a comment

How to Practice Biblical Hebrew

In your study of biblical Hebrew, you might want to consider adopting some of the practices described in the linked article below. This article resonated with me because as I became more confident of my ability to read the Hebrew text,  I drifted away from ‘deliberate’ practice, i.e., the discipline of reading slowly, carefully, and deeply in order to discern the important nuances that are so characteristic of biblical Hebrew.

This was not always the case. After my first year of formal classroom study, my practice was to read and translate no more that 2 or 3 verses using a lexicon 1)I now use an online BDB and selected other online resources such as this one based on the Theological Word Book of the Old Testament, TWOT and an online lexicon that is based on the TWOT but keyed to the New American Standard Bible. Like the author of the article in the link below, as my skill improved, my practice grew more undisciplined. I would often find myself ‘chasing’ words – looking up one word then getting interested in another, and then redirecting my attention to that one.

I developed the ability to read biblical Hebrew quite comfortably but I thought the quality of my translations were rather superficial (as judged by other readers more knowledgable than me at the time). Upon reflection, this should not be surprising because biblical Hebrew is composed of words many of which have an unusually broad semantic range. The lexicon is your friend. No matter how well you read the text, understanding its meaning requires more than word recognition. My study habits now go something like this:

  1. Select a verse or two I haven’t translated before and read it slowly.
  2. Copy the verse in Hebrew (I use the Unicorn editor).
  3. Look up the meaning of, and parse, each and every word in your chosen verse: each and every word, no exceptions!
  4. Search your Hebrew Bible for other occurrences of each word in your chosen verse and carefully read those verses. You can use this online resource, here).
  5. Document any findings or interpretations that seem interesting or novel to you. Write these in your study log.

This takes a long time. For example, at the moment I’m studying Genesis 15:4 and it’s taken me about 4 hours over the course of two days so far. I’m down the rabbit hole with the word, יִירָשְׁךָ (yi·rosh·khah – meaning ‘possess’ or ‘inherit’).

Anyway, try to develop your own study habits. It’s not how much you study (time, # of flash cards, etc.,), it’s how deep you study. If you learn everything there is to know about one word each day you’ll become a master in due time.

Now, go and study

Practice Greek Like a Master Violinist

Short URL: http://tinyurl.com/y8u5rruk

References   [ + ]

Posted in Bible Study, Biblical exegesis, Biblical Hebrew, Word study | Leave a comment

The Biblical Basis for Marriage

Over at my other blog (Thus Said the LORD), I’ve posted my latest article titled The Biblical Basis For Marriage. Quite apart from the theology, the appendix has the details behind the translation of Genesis 1:26-27. Just download (or read on-line) the PDF article linked (see above).

Of interest to students of biblical Hebrew is that verse Genesis 1:27 illustrates a not uncommon error in translating verses – correctly matching the gender and number of an indefinite pronoun (e.g., ‘it’) with a grammatically compatible antecedent. For those interested in this challenge you also might want to study the commentary of Genesis 3:17-19, especially the phrase “by toil shall you eat“. The translation is quite complex to the point of being impossible (or, at least beyond my skill). Maybe one of you can offer some insight that I’ve missed. And, if you are still interested in the antecedent problem, check my commentary for Genesis 4:7. Most (all?) commercial Bibles I’ve looked at mismatch the antecedent. What do you think?

In addition to the challenge of finding a grammatically correct antecedent, the translation of 3:17-19 presents first occurrence of what is called an “energic nun”. Among its many [arguable] complexities is the understanding that the use of an engergic nun signals the reader that a verb in its command form is to be translated as a declarative statement. Good stuff.

Short URL: http://tinyurl.com/y9oj3a7r
Posted in Bible Culture, Biblical exegesis, Biblical Hebrew, Genesis 1, Grammar, Translation | Leave a comment