Saturday, April 14, 2007

There's No Place Like Home

I'm now up an running on my new server with the look and feel, warts and all, of my old blog and all my previous posts restored. Pleases drop by and have a look.

I hope you will find that a few things have improved. As you can see, many internal links do not work. For example, comments should process much faster. Because of this, I plan to make the comments link a little more prominent. But comments my not work on some older posts. On the other hand, some links and images may not work correctly. I'll work on these as I find them. I still need to "import" the few posts I did here. I plan to keep this site up for at least a little while.

I hope to return to my once or twice a day posts at the old place on the new server. In addition, to making the comments link more prominent, I have some other improvements in mind. Because I can now rebuild the over 1000 posts in a few seconds rather than the several hours it took with my old server, it will be much easier to make changes.

This has been more of an adventure than I thought it would be. I have learned a lot about system security and other things that kept the bad guys out but also kept me from doing what I knew needed to be done. Once I got all those things more or less figured out and rewrote a couple of Perl scripts to use explicit variable references, the last few steps were quite easy.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Jim Qetz Thinks About Ugarit Too

Jim Qetz, according to his short online bio, is,

. . . a doctoral candidate finishing a dissertation on the Bible and ancient Near East in the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies department at Brandeis University. His work focuses on Ugaritic and biblical ritual texts but also includes the rest of both the biblical and larger ancient Near Eastern corpora of texts.

Jim's been blogging for over a month at Ketuvim: the Writings of James R. Getz Jr. But this is the first I've heard of him. He even has "Ugarit" as a category. I'll need to spend some time at Jim's site.

I found his blog via a comment he made on Chris Heard's Haggion site where Chris was reviewing the papers on the Hebrew Bible presented at WESCON this year.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Server Update

I have made great progress over the last couple of days. I've worked my way through a host of self inflected problems and a significant number of security related issues. I've made more progress in the last two days than in the three previous weeks.

Every required software module is now installed and more importantly working! The next set of tasks is to restore my old posts in a real publishing environment rather than the fake one that anyone who has tried to visit my only site may have encountered. Some of those old posts may look OK but they cannot be changed, commented upon or added to. And of course, there's no home page. I'm working to fix all that on a development site on my new server that I can see even if you can't. There will be times over the next couple of days that my old site, such as it is, will be down for any where from a few minutes to an hour or two. I'll try to keep things as alive as I can. Also, blogging may be even slower than it has been over the last couple of weeks. Of course, if the world ends, I will have something to say about it.

My new goal (and I think it is doable) is to have the new server with the old site's look and feel (and content) ready to go live over the weekend. There are still tons of details but they are only details or at least I think they are. It's amazing how many different little things I used on the old site. For example, a Perl script drove the random Mark Twain quotes from a list of quotes in a text file and my random post feature used a special plug-in. And then there's the matter of the blog roll. Well, you get the idea. But having a stable, working, publishing platform is a great start. I just wish I had had it two or three weeks ago.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Convocation of Job Session IV

This is the fourth in my series on the Convocation on Job. You can find a link list to the various posts in the series with my report on the first session. This session featured a paper by George Pixley. Pixley, now Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico, spent his academic career in Latin America and most of his scholarly publications, including a commentary on Job are in Spanish. Tom Trotter presided over this session.

Pixley's paper was titled "A Credible Reading." His paper presented a reading of the book that he claimed is one of "several possible but differing and contradictory readings." In the single reference to Loren Fisher's proposals, he told us that his reading "does not exclude the possibility that a book contains the combination of two different book . . . but if a coherent reading of the whole can be made that will certainly be preferable to supposing a division in the book." I bite my tongue for now.

Pixley seeks a reading that is relevant to the pastoral task. He sees the book as a drama. There are two levels. On the "higher" level, the players are God and the accuser (the Satan). On the "lower" level, the players are Job, his wife, friends and "an upstart intruder (Elihu)." The lower lever players cannot see the higher level action.

One of the more interesting sections of his paper likens Job's fate to the "disappeared" of Latin America during military dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.

I will quote Pixley's conclusion at length,

Job is convinced: "I have uttered what I did not understand” (42:3). Henceforth, he will cease and desist. Somewhat overdramatically he says, “Therefore I will reject (what?) and repent (of what?)" My suggestion is that Job is now convinced that, although he was always right about his innocence, it makes no sense to pursue the issue. He repents of his insistence on a trial and rejects his public pressures on God. God’s private confessions have convinced him that in the final account God is on the side of the right and the good and that it is necessary to accept the ambiguities of creation and the rule of the creator.

Job is satisfied but God is not. There is still the issue of Job’s friends with which to deal. So God speaks to Eliphaz, "My wrath is kindled against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of what is right, as my servant Job has" (42:7). Now this is a public confession on God’s part, at least to these three men. Job was right when he accused God of pursuing him without cause, and the three friends were wrong in suspecting great sins on his part, thus falsely accusing him and betraying their friendship. So Job does get some satisfaction for his demands, after all, after he desisted in maintaining his insistence.

And, finally, "the Lord restored the fortunes of Job" (42:10-l7). We set aside the LXX conclusion and stay with the MT. Here God straightens out what can be straightened. This is a preparation for liberation theology. It seems to me that God must by his actions be inviting Job and his friends to join him in the task to "enderezar los entuertos," in don Quijote’s words. To put right what is twisted. Some twisted things cannot be straightened out. Job’s sons and daughters are dead, and dead they shall remain. But it is possible to restore Job’s health and to raise up other sons and daughters. And then, one would hope, God, Job and the three friends will seek other "entuertos" to "enderezar."

If Loren thought Wilcox' reading was "an excellent account of Job I," he surely thought something similar of Pixley's. In the context of the focus of the conference, Pixley's comments were interesting but to a large extent irrelevant. His only direct challenge to Loren's position was his claim that "a coherent reading of the whole" is "preferable" to reading the book as a composite. I suppose that this is true enough for anyone who seeks to suppress the Rebel Job in the way that Loren understands him. After all, if Loren is correct, that is exactly what those who combined Job I and II sought to do. I'll have more to say about this issue later. However, I will point out now that if Loren is correct, then the nature of the "dialogue" between the composite parts is central to understanding the book as a whole and cannot be brushed aside so easily.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary Coming To a Computer Near You

Charles Halton at Awilum has news of the Chicago Oriental Institute's continued efforts to provide open access publications. I know I've talked about some of this before but due to continuing server issues I can't provide links just now. However, two volumes I didn't know were online are the "taw" and the "tet" volumes of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary. Wow!

There's lots of other good stuff on their online publications page that you might want to check out. I need to check out ABZU more often.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Convocation of Job Session III

This is the third in my series on the Convocation on Job. You can find a link list to the various posts in the series with my report on the first session. I've been having a difficult conversation with my Ba. My original plan was to report on each of the five sessions as objectively as possible without introducing interpretive elements that were not otherwise made clear in the session. For this reason, I did not note the extent to which Sanders, in session II, sought to emasculate Loren Fisher's Rebel Job. As I began work on session III with John Wilcox, it became clear that I would need to enter into the discussion in a way that I had hoped to avoid at this point. You'll see why as this unfolds.

Session III was presided over by your faithful reporter and featured a paper by John Wilcox. Wilcox was quite ill on the day of the conference so his wife, Nancy Hough, read his paper. Her reading was extremely good and it was hard to believe that she had had so little time to prepare. Having spared his voice, Wilcox was able to participate in the discussion that followed.

Wilcox began by noting a few points that he saw as agreement with Loren Fisher's view of Job. The Wisdom Hymn and the Elihu speeches do not "add anything to the book." While I'm not sure this is Loren's position, I am sure he would agree that they do not add anything to his Job II. He agreed with Loren that Job's "friends are mistaken; Job wins the debate, and orthodoxy is defeated. God does not always reward the righteous, protect the weak, or punish the wicked.[emphasis added]" Wilcox took this point of supposed agreement to speculate that this is what Loren means when he says there is not justice, that the god of the friends is dead, that god does not exist, that there are two gods, one dead. Then he said, ". . . these seem to me troubling ways to express the point, and ways I cannot justify from the Joban text." He further agreed that orthodoxy is "cruel." And it is here that I must step in. By my understanding, Wilcox is correct that Loren sees "orthodoxy" as defeated in Job II and that god does not "reward the righteous, protect the weak, or punish the wicked." But, Wilcox' formulation raises two problems. First is Wilcox' use for the word "always." "Not always" implies that god does sometimes do these things. But by Loren's reading, Job II, the Rebel Job, argues, I think successfully, that god is not involved in such things at all. It is for this reason that the defeat of orthodoxy is beyond the idea that god does not always act as he should. When Loren says there is no justice, that the god of the friends is dead, that god does not exist, that there are two gods, one dead, he means it exactly for Job II. So by limiting the definition of "orthodoxy," Wilcox suggested much greater agreement than really exists.

With this in mind, one can now begin to understand the remainder of Wilcox' remarks. He indicated that the book as a whole better supports his view of Loren's conclusions as well as Loren's Job II does. He offered a couple of examples. Wilcox told us that the theophony supports Loren's views. In fact, he thinks the theophony makes no sense without the dialogue with the friends. He admitted that this may missed Loren's point. He also indicated that the epilogue helps Loren's point. He noted that one of the reactions that one might have to a plight like Job's is to provide comfort. And according to Wilcox, that's exactly what the friends and family in the epilogue do. Wilcox thinks that one should interpret the epilogue "in a way that fits what comes before it." But if Loren is correct, only in the final form, or near final form, of the book does the dialogue with the friends "come before it."

Wilcox expressed deep concern about what he sees as the extreme bitterness of Job (I and and II or just II?) and told us, "Fisher, like MacLeish before him, fails to appreciate the difficulty of the transformation required of Job at the end." He expressed concern that Loren does not provide help to his Job II. He claimed that such help is indeed provided by the theophany.

Wilcox asked why god "blasts" Job in the theophany when, if one reads only Job I, Job has not said much to upset him. He noted and dismissed Loren's response, "even the orthodox Job goes too far in his demands on his God. This is especially true in chapters 29-31." Here I must intervene again. As will be seen in my last post in this series, I think Wilcox may have a point. But it is not a point about Job II. It is rather a point about Job I and the compositional history of the book as a whole.

Wilcox finished with what he described as lesser issues. These included Loren's placement of Job 27 and 29-31 (call for a trial) in Job I. I'll only take up the first of these. As Wilcox noted, there has been a scholarly debate about Job 27:8-23. Is it a third speech of Zophar or is it a speech of Job as the plain reading of the text would lead us to believe. Loren thinks it is properly attributed to an orthodox Job (Job I). Wilcox, and he is not alone, thinks it is a third speech of Zophar. His conclusion, like many others in Wilcox' paper, rests in considerable part on his interest in reading the Book of Job as a whole rather than seeing it as composite, its parts in conflict each with the other. It is interesting that Wilcox made the following point, ". . . what Job says in the prologue is not quite what the friends say in the dialogues, or what Job/Zophar says in the troublesome part of Chapter 27." Without judging the merits of this claim, if it is indeed the case, than it seems supportive of the idea that Job 3:1-26:14 should be read as a unit separate from most of the prologue and Job 27 if not the total remainder of the book.

While the discussion was lively, I think Loren himself made the most important point, "You have given us an excellent account of Job I."

Friday, April 06, 2007

A Blog Against Theocracy (and Aristocracy)

I am told that this is the time to blog against theocracy. So here goes.

Perhaps it's a problem of definition. I'm not altogether sure there has ever been a theocracy that based is governance solely on the tenants of a religious tradition. But there certainly have been and are governments that rely on religions traditions to justify their continued authority and as a major source for laws and regulations. And every one I've heard of has been repressive. These days, Islamic theocrats provide ample illustration of my point. But even in recent history, Christian theocrats have killed at wholesale and justified it in the name of their god. Islam and Christianity are not the only religious that have given birth to theocrats. They are currently the most obvious examples.

But for the United States, I see the problem of potential theocracy somewhat differently than some do. Our current problem is not the very real potential for theocracy but our very present aristocracy. Like many before it, this aristocracy uses religion in a cynical effort to sustain its power and justify its secular position. This is not to say that there are no "people of faith" in leadership positions in our government. There surely are. But the driving force is not religious belief. The driving force is the need to maintain and increase the influence of a rather small elite group at the expense of everyone else. That elite group is our home grown wealth-based aristocracy. As a matter of political necessity, these aristocrats have brought into their fold a group of conservative intellectuals and people of faith who share some of their aristocratic ideas.

So what has this to do with theocracy? People who hold theocratic aspirations have increased their power in the United States by using the aristocracy just as the aristocracy has used them. It is a relationship of mutual utility. I see signs that that relationship is falling apart but many dangers persist.

Several things need to become common currency before the risks of both aristocracy and theocracy are nullified.

First, large numbers of people must come to see every truth as a probability rather than an absolute certainty. This is not to imply that there are no facts of the matter with regard to this topic or that. It is only to say that nothing can be known with the certainty that is often associated with religious belief or as is often demanded by the aristocracy.

Second, without evidence that is subject to public scrutiny no group can claim special knowledge. Theocrats and aristocrats have always claimed some kind of special knowledge.

Third, everyone should be far more interested in the why and what of any belief than the belief itself. All beliefs should welcome for rigorous study. The claims of theocrats and aristocrats seldom do.

At the end of the day, we must all become indifferent to the unsupported beliefs of others. As I've said, this is not an issue of tolerance; it is an issue of indifference. This quote from Mark Twain that I have often used before makes my point,

So much blood has been shed by the Church because of an omission from the Gospel: "Ye shall be indifferent as to what your neighbor's religion is." Not merely tolerant of it, but indifferent to it. Divinity is claimed for many religions; but no religion is great enough or divine enough to add that new law to its code. [apud Paine, Mark Twain: a Biography]
I would paraphrase and say, "No aristocracy is great enough or powerful enough to say, 'Ye shall be indifferent to your neighbor's power or wealth'." Sure, the aristocrat is indifferent to weakness or poverty but he needs for the weak and the impoverished to be very concerned that he maintains his status and to believe that it is in best interest of the weak and impoverished that he does.

I want to thank Blue Gal for suggesting that we blog against theocracy and giving me an excuse for this little rant. I hope she doesn't mind that I expanded her idea to include aristocracy.