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.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Free Book and A Book I've Been Waiting For

Yesterday and today were good days when it comes to books. Yesterday I received my very own copy of

Une Bibliotheque au Sud de ville
Une bibliothèque au sud de la ville
Ras Shamra Ougarit VII

This will keep me from having to go to UCLA a couple of extra times over the next year. It pays for itself in gas.

And today my free book from Eisenbrauns arrived. Thank you, Eisenbrauns! You may remember that they had a special deal for those who subscribe to their RSS feed. Well, the book is,

Secular and Christian Leadership in Corinth
Secular and Christian Leadership in Corinth
A Socio-Historical and Exegetical Study of 1 Corinthians 1-5

Its not something I would have bought. After all, I don't study Hellenistic Jewish sects on a regular basis. But I will likely give it a read. The title sounds interesting. While the book may not be about this at all, the title reminds me that religions develop and flourish in a complex cultural context, a significant part of which we call "secular."

This also reminds me of the upcoming blog against theocracy weekend that starts tomorrow.

Quick Server Update:

Tonight will be the second night in a row that I will go to bed with fewer computer problems than I woke up with. I'm still a long way from getting my old blog back working at full speed but I think things are moving in the right direction.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Huntington

Shirley and I decided to take the afternoon away from server problems, an immoral war, recess appointments of questionable illegality but unquestionable arrogance, political clowns and other things that have tended to drag us down and go to one of our favorite places for the afternoon: The Huntington Library.

The highlight of the afternoon was the Constable Landscape exhibit that will run thought April 29. This late eighteenth / early nineteenth century painter's finished work is amazing. But his full sized color "sketches" are often as amazing. You can get a feel for his work by going to the Huntington' website.

But no trip to the Huntington is complete without a stroll around the gardens. Visiting the whole gardens is a multi-day feat so we decided to visit the Japanese gardens and a few to the trails that connect them to the main galleries. We were just a little late for the full display of the camellias and azaleas but there was still color everywhere we looked. Here are a few pictures from the Huntington gardens.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Convocation on Job - Session II

A few days ago, I reported on the first session of the Convocation on Job. The second session, chaired by Marjorie Suchocki, Professor Emerita, Claremont School of Theology, began with a talk by James A. Sanders. Sanders is Professor Emeritus, Biblical Studies, School of Theology at Claremont and founder of the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center for Research and Preservation.

Sanders began his talk with these words,

I want to thank Prof Loren Fisher for his fine work on the Book of Job. It is done principally from the linguistic and philological perspectives of similar literature from the Ancient Neat East and is worthy of serious attention. I support his thesis--as far as it goes.

He agreed that the Book of Job "presents the reader with two distinctly different Jobs." One, he describes as "a patient Job," the other as "the impatient" Job. The first he loosely identifies with Loren's Job I and the second with Loren's Job II, the Rebel Job.

He noted that the two Jobs were combined into a single work "early." This is demonstrated by the Job Targum from Qumran Cave 11. But one person's early is another person's late. Sanders noted that the Book of Job was never attributed to an ancient author although it drew on an ancient tradition. He further notes that Job is not presented as an Israelite but rather as an Edomite. This gives the story an international, "universal," interest. I'll have more to say about this important point in a future post.

Sanders then proceed to argue that Job II, the Rebel Job, fits best within the context of the religious and cultural perspective of seventh century BCE. He argued this on two grounds. First, following a purely Hebrew Bible based history of the development of the Israelite religion and anthropology, my word not his, he sees the seventh century as providing the proper context for Job II. After a lengthy unfolding of his perspective on this historical context, he summarized,

But by the end of the seventh century BCE forms of individualism began to reach expression, not the full-blown individualism of the later Hellenistic period, but a sort of generational idea of responsibility, as in Ezekiel 18, elaborating on an assertion of Jeremiah’s (Jer 31:29), that had made it clear. Each generation would be responsible for its own sins and errors so that the present generation would no longer have to pay for the sins of its ancestors. As Hosea put it, the Valley of Achor had by now indeed been converted into a Door of Hope (Hos 2:14).

Second, citing the work (You Have Not Spoken What Is Right About Me: Intertextuality and the Book of Job) of his student Yohan Pyeon, who was part of the panel, he argued that critical use of "intertextuality" demonstrates that Job and his friends were aware of and sometimes paraphrased Deuteronomy and the prophets and

. . . the friends treated Scripture and tradition as static and unbending, not making the adjustment necessary to apply its principles to the new situation of the individual.

During the discuss Pyeon reinforced this point. So for Sanders, the Rebel Job wrote his poem as a reaction against a religious tradition that let God off the hook by focusing on individual responsibility. With regard to Job II, Sanders' position is somewhat weaker but more or less aligned with Loren's. The major exceptions are the date of composition and extent of Job II. The second exception is the more important.

Sanders thinks that Job 29-31 should be considered as part of the Rebel Job's work. It is not completely clear to me why Sanders wants to put these chapters with Job II except that he seemed to need them to make this point,

But after the dismantling [of Israel and Judah] was complete and if there was to be a remnant, any continuity with the past at all, the old needed to be adapted to the new situation of new beginnings, and the Joban dialogues provided an in-depth look at how irrelevant a static application of the past truly was, but how life-giving a dynamic resignification of tradition and re-application of it could be, and thus could render the Torah and the Prophets, this primitive canon of Judaism, adaptable to the new life in Early Judaism.

As was pointed out by one of the discussants, I'm not sure who, these chapters seem to "save god." During Loren's rebuttal comments he noted that there was both a thematic and a formal difference between Job 29-31 and his Job II. Thematically, "integrity" is an important theme in Job 1 and one sees this theme reflected in Job 31. Formally, Job 29, like Job 27, begins with a formal introduction, "Again Job took up his speech (mashal); he said:" No longer are we dealing with a dialogue but with a monologue.

Sanders finished his remarks with a general consideration of Canon and the extent to which it is not fixed but must be "resignified" by believing communities.

Somewhere in the discussion, someone, I think if was Marvin Sweeney but I might be wrong, suggested that the unsettling events during Hezekiah's reign may provide a context for Job II. To this suggestion, Loren replied and I paraphrase, "Well, maybe I should write a sequel to The Minority Report, placing it at that time." Such an answer would also work for Sanders' suggested context. Loren certainly thinks the context of a scribal school in David's court is best but, as I said in my previous post on this meeting, his most important contributions need not be seen in any particular historical situation. But, on the subject of date of composition, Loren pointed out that literary echoes could go either way. In his view, it is possible that passages from Jeremiah cited by Sanders as supporting the idea that the author of Job knew the book of Jeremiah may be taken in exactly the opposite way, Jeremiah knew Job.

For both my patient and my impatient readers, remember I will give my own take on all this at the end of this series.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A New Inscription from Ugarit

I learned that archaeologists have just found a new inscription near Ugarit that reads as follows:

bhlm abrhm yšn

The above text was engraved in the standard Ugaritic cuneiform alphabet on a stone near the remains of a posthole that excavators say was one of several post holes forming a pattern that is generally associated with a tent having been there.

Thus proving beyond any question that the Patriarchs were real and lived in the Late Bronze Age.

Oh by the way, for those who don't know, the text means, "Abraham slept here."

Happy April 1, 2007!