Thursday, July 21, 2016

No, Jeremiah 10 isn’t a Christmas Tree

I’ve been asked before to comment on the popular claim made by the Hebrew roots movement that Jeremiah 10:1-5 is about a Christmas tree.

I’ve translated the passage here:
1. Heed the word that the Lord speaks to you, house of Israel
2. The Lord says this about the way of the nations: Don’t learn them, and do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the nations are dismayed at them.
3. For the religion of the people is a crock! Since one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of a craftsman חרש with chisel.
4. They (lit.) beautify it in silver and in gold, with nails and hammers they fasten it so it will not move.
5. They are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak. They have to be carried, because they cannot walk. Don’t be afraid of them, for they cannot harm, nor is it in them to help you.
Why this passage isn’t about a Christmas tree: 

First off, does it really make any sense to criticize a Christmas tree for not being able to speak, walk, harm you or bring good on you? Those are all criticisms which would make sense if what Jeremiah is describing here were an Ancient Near Eastern idol. In the Ancient Near East, idols were created by craftsmen and given certain rituals which would invite a deity to incarnate them so worshipers could barter with the god on earth. In short, the reason this passage can’t be referring to a Christmas tree is the word translated “craftsman” חרש in the third verse. We have 35 occurrences of this word in the Bible. Don’t take my word for it, read them all here. The word invokes a sense of skilled artistry, specifically things like jewelers, carpenters and blacksmiths. The real nail in the coffin is that this exact same word is used in other passages like Isaiah 40:19, 20 and Deut. 27:15 to also describe skilled idol makers. Compare:

Isaiah (ESV):
An idol! A craftsman חרש casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and casts for it silver chains. He who is too impoverished for an offering chooses wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skillful craftsman חרש to set up an idol that will not move.

Deuteronomy (ESV):
“Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the LORD, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman חרש, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.”

For the religion of the people is a crock! Since one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of a craftsman חרש with chisel.

A rant a rant I’ve ranted many times before:

Does it really make sense to argue that Christians should not make use of symbols with pagan origins or associations when Christians are either: a) totally unaware of a symbol’s history, or b) using the symbol with no pagan (or completely different) intentions? My problem with the Hebrew roots movement is that the standard of purity it uses to beat up Christian holidays and symbols cannot even be applied to the Bible. I’ll give you some examples:

John uses a snake as a symbol for Jesus (John 3:14); it is well known that many of the Biblical proverbs have Egyptian origins and influences (If you don’t believe this you simply haven’t ever picked up an academic commentary on Proverbs.); psalm 104 is very reminiscent of an earlier hymn to Aten; psalm 29 seems to be modeled after Baal texts (for example); both Jesus and YHWH are given the Baal’s deity title “cloud-rider” in both testaments. (Here’s an M.A. thesis on this); or consider that the book of Revelation is crawling with Greco-Roman astrology. (Ever read Revelation 12?)

What examples like these show is that symbols are not magically evil. John uses a snake to represent Jesus and it’s totally kosher in his mind. We talk about Jesus “riding on the clouds” and it’s not an issue that this was a title that originally belonged to Baal. The history of a symbol or its uses in pagan contexts doesn’t make it evil or unusable by Christians, it’s the intention behind the symbol that makes it good or bad. I say this as someone who thinks the whole Santa thing is kinda dumb. Yes, little Billy, if you do good works a supernatural being dressed in the papal vestige is going to break into our house, drink a libation of milk and cookies, reward you with material possessions then fly back to Asgard on his magical flying chariot.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Melania Trump and the Synoptic Problem: An Argument for Obaman Priority

Since James McGrath first noted the Melania Trump and Michelle Obama synoptic problem, scholarship has greatly emphasized the possibility of discovering a third source from which both Obama and Melania draw. However, a new 20 second google search to be published later this week on Yahoo Answers has marked such a hypothesis unlikely.

The Trump Campaign has emphasized the need to contextualize Melania in the political bunkum of 21st century speech writing, arguing, "There's no cribbing of Michelle Obama's speech. These were common words and values."Some have even come to doubt Melanian authorial attribution of the text, pointing out that it is unlikely a Slovenian could have written it, and most importantly, although Mrs. Trump and Obama contain the same logions, it is noted that they significantly disagree in theologizing their respective messianic figures. In our earlier source, Michelle, she takes an adoptionistic view of the prophet which has him becoming deity upon his inauguration, whereas, by the time we get to Melania, a pivotal apocalyptic figure enigmatically called by his followers, “the Donald” had come to be conceived as an eternal hypostasis of deity who would usher in a new kingdom which would free America from its perceived Chinese economic yoke and put an end to the invading Sons of Darkness currently identified with the geography of Mexico.

Hillary Clinton? She’s one of the Herodians.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

How to Learn the Ugaritic Alphabet Ludicrously Fast

Learning memory techniques before starting a language is bound to save you hundreds of hours and buckets of needless sweat. I'm going to illustrate this by showing how you can learn the Ugaritic alphabet. Cuneiform is such a homogeneous script that remembering it feels like doing differential equations while watching c-span, but the key here is to jettison all that nonsense your 3rd grade schoolmarm told you about "focusing" and start daydreaming like an idiot. Light speed is too slow. You want to go ludicrous speed. The following mnemonics can be printed and added to flashcards, but the best way to get them in useful resolution is to login to the free flashcard website Memrise where I've uploaded them to this course.
After an hour or so playing around with the app, you should be reading the basic words in the course. You'd be surprised how much of the vocabulary you'll remember from Hebrew.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Geronimo’s Dragon: Dinosaur Fossils behind the Apache Creation Myth

Forget Chuck Norris. His ancestors
killed 20 foot dragons with bows.
It doesn’t look like anyone has written anything on this online or in any of the published material. One of my favorite audiobooks is the biography of the American Apache Indian Geronimo. The entire thing can be downloaded free on LibriVox.

After the US government finally got the Chiricahua to concede, Geronimo agreed to meet with a translator to publish his life biography. The biography opens with the Apache origins myth. He then tells stories of growing up as a Native American, fighting bears, mountain lions, and his countless battles with Mexican troops and the US Army. I’m commanding you read it or download the audio because it’s one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read.

The Dragon Legend

Telling the Apache origins myth, Geronimo talks about an evil dragon that would eat all the children of the only woman on earth. For this reason, humanity could never flourish. The woman becomes so distraught that she hides one of her boys and has him raised in secret. When the boy became old enough to hunt he challenged the great dragon to a duel:
Then the dragon took his bow, which was made of a large pine tree. He took four arrows from his quiver; they were made of young pine tree saplings, and each arrow was twenty feet in length. He took deliberate aim, but just as the arrow left the bow the boy made a peculiar sound and leaped into the air. Immediately the arrow was shivered into a thousand splinters, and the boy was seen standing on the top of a bright rainbow over the spot where the dragon’s aim had been directed. Soon the rainbow was gone and the boy was standing on the ground again. Four times this was repeated, then the boy said, “Dragon, stand here; it is my time to shoot.” The dragon said, “All right; your little arrows cannot pierce my first coat of horn, and I have three other coats—shoot away.” The boy shot an arrow, striking the dragon just over the heart, and one coat of the great horny scales fell to the ground. The next shot another coat, and then another, and the dragon’s heart was exposed. Then the dragon trembled, but could not move…[The boy] sped the fourth arrow with true aim, and it pierced the dragon’s heart. With a tremendous roar the dragon rolled down the mountain side—down four precipices into a canyon below…[F]ar down in the canyon below, they could see fragments of the huge body of the dragon lying among the rocks, and the bones of this dragon may still be found there. This boy’s name was Apache.
There it is, more evidence that dragon and giant legends around the world are actually based in ancient people interpreting fossilized remains. This is a subject Adrienne Mayor (Stanford University) has written a really cool book on.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Creation Museum Misinterprets the Bible: 10 Examples

Read my original exchange with Answers in Genesis’ scientists here.

The creation museum misinterprets the Bible a lot.

I know you think it doesn't.

You are wrong.

Let me take you on a journey.

Since I'm a Southern Baptist evangelical bible college graduate who criticizes the creation museum, I'm used to having people look at me like I've thrown a bag of kittens in a mulcher. Evangelicals have to deal with certain data most of church history didn’t have access to. That’s not a Voldemort circumlocution for dreaded Lord Evolution or his side-kick Geology. (Irony is most of you didn't catch that reference because you were home school kids like me.) I’m talking about the discovery and translation of things like the Gilgamesh Epic, Enuma Elish, the Ba’al text, the Dead Sea Scrolls and Egyptian literature. You know, all that “context” stuff we evangelicals pretend to take seriously. If we really take the ancient cultural context of scripture as seriously as we love to expatiate about when gay people cry “SHELLFISH!” then hopefully I’ll be able to put a rock in your shoe about the Creation Museum. My motive for writing is simply that I take the Bible seriously, and don't believe Christians need to be protected from it.

1) Leviathan and Hebrew Grammar

Answers in Genesis (AinG) thinks plesiosaurs could possibly fire-breathe because Leviathan does in Job. According to this plug for their dragon exhibit I attended, “Certain beetles shoot out burning chemicals, so is a fire-breathing dragon really that far-fetched?” One detail the museum conveniently ignores, however, is that this fire breathing dinosaur also has multiple heads in Psalm 74.  I mentioned this to Ken Ham before. I was later informed by someone that Ham made a Facebook post about my article in which comments like these were made:
The only problem with this sort of “when I read that I think of” hermeneutic is the Hebrew grammar God inspired it in.  Here’s Psalm 74:
Hold tight, this paragraph is about Hebrew morphology, but I promise it won’t hurt. In the construct package ראשי לויתן the term ראש appears in the plural state in conjunction with the singular noun לויתן.  This type of sere-yod plural noun construction to a following singular noun is extremely common. If you’ve taken a semester of Hebrew, you hardly need to be told this. It's grammatically, point-blank: The singular leviathan in this verse has more than one head.  

Yes, a museum that spent over 27 million dollars on premises like Leviathan being a plesiosaur didn’t think to have a first semester Hebrew student flip through a concordance.

It only gets worse from here. Leviathan existed in older texts outside Israel. We know Job is referencing the pagan mythological sources because passages like 7.12 and 9.13 refer to Yamm, Tannin and the god Rahab.  It just so happens that Leviathan also appears at Ugarit, a Baal worshiping city which spoke the closest language to Biblical Hebrew we know. (Sometimes the most spiritually edifying thing you can do is go read Baal hymns.)  In these, Leviathan has the exact(!) same consonant-for-consonant titles that he has in the Bible.  Here’s one such text:
Did you catch the reference to the 7 heads?  Othmar Keel, the great German scholar of iconography, has even collected ancient images of the chaos dragon:[1]
When the Psalmist, Job and Isaiah use Leviathan they aren’t being literal. If this is literal, why is God beating up a poor dinosaur? (Please don't email me telling me pleseasaurs aren't technically dinosaurs. The 8 year old in me insists they are dinosaurs.) Isaiah tells us Leviathan was killed in conjunction with the creation of the world but that he will be killed (i.e. “punished”) again at the eschaton. That notion is contradictory if Isaiah has a member of the animal kingdom in mind.  Job tells us he's operating with this context in mind when he refers to other chaos gods like Behemoth and Rahab.  (Behemoth isn’t a dinosaur either, and Jason Colavito has shown the evidence for Mokèlé-mbèmbé  has been abused.) The Biblical authors were smarter than you think. They’re allowed to be literarily clever and use symbolism. Don't let your Darwinian trigger finger is prevent you from understanding scripture

But don’t worldwide dragon legends prove that dinosaurs and man coexisted?  
I don’t care in this article if they coexisted, but this is a bad argument for that position because we have proven many of these worldwide dragon myths are based in the reality that people have been finding dinosaur fossils since ancient Greece. In China, rural people still sell dinosaur fossils as dragon bones in traditional medicine.

2) Unicorns.  Yes, unicorns.

According to this AinG article and this video, the ראם translated unicorn in the King James Bible might be a prehistoric creature called an elasmotherium since the elasmotherium had only one horn. She says, “The linguistics of the text cannot conclusively prove how many horns the biblical unicorn had.” She also asserts, “There is ample support for the possibility that the creature in view here really did have just one horn." 

On his own blog, Ken Ham complained that a new elasmotherium fossil was being dated at 29,000 years old and points out that, "We’ve written articles and even a book chapter defending the biblical unicorn and pointing out that it could very well have been an Elasmotherium...--the same extinct creature that news outlets are calling a 'Siberian unicorn!'"

Despite the fact that the first author has a medical degree, and that Ham runs a multi-million dollar museum on the Hebrew scriptures, their ignorance of Hebrew grammar is so conspicuous it's visible from outer space. In Deut 33.17 our old friend the plural noun construct continues to be a longstanding banana peel for AinG. The singular ראם in that passage is bound to the plural word for horn, קרן. This creature has multiple horns. It’s therefore grammatically impossible for the prehistoric one-horned elasmo-howeveryousayit to be what this passage is talking about.

3) The Global Flood

I’m going to play my cards on the flood. But first, a commercial break!

What about all those world-wide flood legends?

I think a global flood would be really cool, and I used to lap up the flood legends apologetic back in my Josh McDowell golden days. There are plenty of real flood legends around the world.  The vast majority don’t exactly have spooky similarities to the Bible, but they do at least exist. I wanted to show you creationists can be gullible (read: lazy) with how they abuse these legends. It would be tubular if we evangelicals stopped giving warrant to the cultural stereotype that we’re a bunch of mouth breathing dupes. Maybe Noah’s flood did extend to North America (it didn’t), but let's stay clutch before making false anthropological assertions. Mormons aren’t clutch about anthropological assertions. Do you want to be unclutch like a Mormon? Shut up! Of course you don’t. Ad Fontes! (I know you Calvinist people are all about you some ad fontes.)

A Hawaiian Noah?

“Hawaiians have a flood story that the world became a wicked…place. Only one good man was left, and his name was Nu-u. He made a great canoe with a house on it and filled it with animals…only Nu-u and his family were saved.”
Not cool guys.  According to this article I found in the Journal of the Polynesian Society, at the time this legend was recorded, “many Hawaiian had become Christianized and familiar with Biblical history.”  It comes from Fornander’s collections published in the early 1900’s. We even have record of the older version of the legend before the Biblical additions were inserted. I dug up William Ellis’ Hawaii travel journal in 1823.  (You can read the whole thing online.) On page 333, Ellis interviews some Hawaiian who told him “their fathers…had never before heard of a ship, or of Noah” like the later Christianized Fornander version of the myth. Someone should have checked this before throwing it up on the new Ark Encounter website.

A Hindu Noah?

What about those myths that were written before Christ like that Hindu flood legend this AinG article refers to? The problem here is that these versions like the Manu fish story often side with Mesopotamian mythology against the Biblical story. For example, the seven antediluvian apkallu who deliver culture to humanity are similar to the seven rishis in the Hindu myth.  Amar Annus has proven in a groundbreaking article in the JSP that Genesis 6 was intentionally polemicizing against the apkallu tradition stream.[2] For this reason, scholars are convinced the Hindu myth developed from Mesopotamian trade, something that we know was going on during that period. No universal flood necessary.[3]

You can’t have global floods without globes.

Jason Lisle: "What species is this?"
Ham"Uh, velociraptor"
*camera pans in ominously*
Lisle: "You bred raptors!"
Take that food out of your mouth so you don’t choke. Cover little Billy’s ears. I’m going to tell you something many Christians can’t handle: The Hebrew authors were not scientifically special.

I know that’s going to take most of you a long time to come around on that, so take your time. They believed in the same general cosmology as everyone else in their Near Eastern context—a round, flat Earth over a literal subterranean underworld and an over-hanging solid sky which retained primordial waters above.  I can say that with certainty because I’m on the other side of Walton’s books and Wayne Horowitz’s doctoral thesis on this. Israel had no category for a spherical Earth. (More on that coming.) Go count the table of nations in Genesis 10. There are only 70 contiguous with Mesopotamia and the Near East. If we asked an ancient Israelite about the extent of the flood, he would likely tell us it was world-wide. The problem is his world didn’t include the existence of any of the countries outside of his ancient, flat cosmology. Please don’t quote Greek philosophers to me from that Lee Strobel book you read. I’ll be showing you Jewish texts that prove this. There’s no reason to assume the Bible teaches a universal flood when its geographical categories were limited to the Near East. For some odd reason, God choose to speak to Israel where they were instead of giving them knowledge that would scientifically hurdle them thousands of years ahead of their neighbors.

4) But what about Isaiah’s "circle of the Earth?"

After what I just said, some of you are about to whip out Isaiah 40:22 on me like it’s Perseus’ decapitated gorgon head. People like Jason Lisle have taught you Isaiah’s ‘circle of the Earth’ passage proves the Israelites knew the Earth was a sphere.  “It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers…” What Lisle doesn’t seem to realize is there are plenty of pagan ANE depictions older and contemporary with Isaiah which describe the Earth as a flat circle. I’ve blogged some of these texts here.  Principally, the Babylonian map of the world (and Isaiah was writing in Babylon a century before this map was made) is a stone drawing which depicts that flat disk of the Earth encircled by the primeval sea. Did Marduk appear to the Babylonian priesthood and inform them the Earth was a sphere too? Nein! According to Ulla Koch-Westenholz’s introduction on Babylonian astrology, the Babylonians never discovered the earth was a sphere, “even in the latest and most advanced stages of Babylonian mathematical astronomy.”[4]  (I guess their extra-terrestrial nannies forgot to explain that to them when they were teaching them how to make the Baghdad batteries like the History Channel claimed.) This sort of cosmology in the picture above is what Prov. 8.27 and Job 26.10 have in mind when they say God “has inscribed a circle on the face of the waters.”

5) Their entire museum is based on an obsolete translation of the first word of the Bible

If the creation museum was the Death Star, its translation of Genesis 1:1 would be its conveniently
Sign in the creation museum
vulnerable nuclear reactor. I mentioned this in my original critique of the museum.With the disembodied, wizened voice of Robert Alter guiding me in the cockpit, I will now attempt to fire a warhead at this reactor.

Grammatically, Genesis 1.1 doesn’t care about the age of the universe itself or the age of the materials from which the Earth was made. It’s a relative temporal clause. Short reason: Because grammar. Long reason: there isn't an articular kamatz marking an independent clause in any manuscript on earth.

Other Biblical texts seem to teach creation ex nihilo and the idea is philosophically necessary, but Genesis 1.1 itself is a dependent clause that has the materials of creation already on the table in parallel with other ANE creation accounts that Genesis has in its crosshairs. For this reason, AinG is wrong when they think they can estimate the age of the universe itself from the English. (If you doubt me on this, go read Mortenson’s bad attempt to salvage the dating from other texts.)

Modern Semitic grammarians have known for a long time that this passage favors pre-existent material. You can find it held in the work of scholars like Robert Alter at California University, Martin Baasten at the University of Leiden, Mark Smith from NYU, Ellan van Wolde from Radbound, Robert Holmstedt’s Wisconsin-Madison doctoral thesis or Michael Heiser’s lectures. (Heiser oversees the academic side of Logos Bible software and does a fantastic job of explaining all this here in a video in lay terms.)  As for most modern translations like the ESV, they don’t monkey around with highly traditional readings in ultra-famous passages. It’s too controversial—the demise of Bible sales (the Jewish Publication Society is a commendable exception in this case). Holmstedt has a published Brill article on this for those of you trained in Hebrew. As far as I can find, the syntactical arguments within Holmstedt's above article represent some of our best work here to date. His doctoral work contributed new (and in my opinion decisive) arguments to the debate. AiG has posted this response by Joshua Wilson, and I don't want to minimize Wilson as a scholar, but go read both articles and it will be obvious that Wilson's introductory defense doesn't interact with Holmstedt's contributions. Answers in Genesis has never seriously dealt with Holmstedt's arguments.

6) The waters above

Jews believed in a solid sky

Paul Seely, in the Westminster Theological Journal has demonstrated that prescientific cultures almost always conceive of the sky as a solid vault and that the Bible is no exception. Job 37.18 is one of the more explicit examples of this idea. Most translations read something to this effect:
“Can you, like Him, spread out the skies, hard as a cast metal mirror?”
Prov 8:24 talks about when God, “made firm the skies above.” Amos 9.6 says God “has founded his vault upon the Earth.”  Jacob had a vision of a stairway literally reaching to Heaven in Gen 28. Answers in Genesis seeks to make these ‘poetic.' Since their literal sense would pit them against modern science. What’s next! Is the resurrection only figurative because it disagrees with modern science?  (See what I did there?)

How thick is the solid sky?

NO ancient Jew agreed with Answers in Genesis' interpretation. The Greek Bible the NT authors used translated this sky vault στερέωμα, a noun related to the common word for “firm” “hard” or “solid.” Using the Biblical text as a basis, Jews speculated what the firmament was made of. The 3 Apoc. Bar. (3.7) which was written in the 1st -3rd century AD injects this inquiry into the Babel story:
…when they had built the tower to the height of four hundred and sixty-three cubits.  And they took a gimlet, and sought to pierce the heaven, saying, “Let us see (whether) the heaven is made of clay, or of brass, or of iron.
Pesab 49a shows how Jews tried to calculate its thickness and Midrash Rabbah collects half-a-dozen quaint traditions on this:
The thickness of the firmament equals that of the Earth: compare, “It is He that sits above the circle (חוג) of the earth;” And “He walks on the vault (חוג) of the heaven (Job 22:14);” the use of חוג in both verses teaches that they are alike. Rabbi Aha said in Rabbi Hanina’s name:” [It is but as thick as a metal plate.] Rabbi Joshua, son of Rabbi Nehemiah said: It is two fingers thickness. The son of Pazzi said: The upper waters exceed the lower ones by about thirty xestes [for it is written] “And let it divide the waters”…The Rabbis said: They [the upper and the lower waters] are half-and-half. (Gen. Rab. 4.5.2.)
1 Enoch 33.1-2 says, “I went to the ends of the Earth…I saw the ends of the Earth whereon the Heavens rest. And the gates of heaven were open, and I saw how the stars of heaven come out.”

Origen’s First Homily on Genesis calls the sky “without doubt firm and solid.”[5]  Josephus calls it “crystalline”  and “standing by itself” (Antiquities, 1.1.30) much like Eze. 1.22-26 and Ex 24.10's depiction of it as blue pavement, and Augustine (who, like Origen, is totally irrelevant to Biblical interpretation, but I quote because you theologians waaay overrate him as an interpreter) states it was an “impassable boundary.”[6] 

The waters above the sky in Genesis:

Texts like Ps. 104.2-3 and Jer 10.12-3. Describe the ocean above the sky vault. I won’t bore you with a long discussion of the etymology of the רקיע. It comes from a root referring to stamping or beating out (ex. a piece of metal). (Here’s every hit of the root in the Bible if you care.) I’d rather just go for the jugular in the debate and show how the Biblical רקיע fulfills the same cosmological function as the sky vault in other neighboring texts. Moses grew up in Egypt and we have no shortage of Egyptian texts teaching the sky is solid.[7]  They envisioned a "celestial ocean across which the sun sailed in a boat by day and the moon by night...Just as for the Hebrews, so for the Egyptians there was a firmament dividing the waters above from the waters below."[7b]  Also, Genesis was edited in Babylon and one of the better parallels is Enuma Elish:
[Marduk] devised a cunning plan.  He split [Tiamat] like a flat fish into two halves;
One half of her he established as a covering for heaven.
He fixed a bolt, he stationed a watchman.
And bade them not to let her waters come forth.
On this tablet, Marduk has just defeated the chaos dragon (sound familiar?) and splits her in half to fashion the earth and sky. With the top half, he forms the heaven and secures it, stationing a watchman in order to retain her waters above from escaping.[8]  In the waters beneath he stretches out the other half of her carcass “and makes it firm as the earth.” (Tablet V.62)  In Genesis the רקיע has the same function of retaining “the waters above:”
And God said, “Let there be a vault (רקיע) in the midst of the waters, and let it divide between the waters. And God made the vault, and divided between the waters which were under the vault and between the waters which were over the vault.
Why the Vapor Canopy Theory stinks:
DON'T ever google this video
In order to explain away the above passage scientifically, entire books filled with ridiculous graphs and mathematical equations have been written on the “pre-deluvian vapor canopy.” Even AinG warns people this is stupid.  For the uninitiated, the vapor canopy was basically an aqua-shell around the earth that was alleged to sort out all those sucky UV rays, allowing Methuselah to live neigh unto 1,000 and spry as a hound. It was depleted to create the great flood. (We needed it out of the way several thousand years later for the space program, anyways.) That’s the theory. Unfortunately, a widely ignored psalmist sent hundreds of pounds of creationist literature to the flames when he assumed the “waters above” were still loitering up there over the sky vault after the flood:
“Praise Him, heavens of the heavens and the waters which are above the heavens!” (Psalm 148)
But I thought this was a critique of Answers in Genesis

The Bible means the same thing its geographical neighbors did when it talked about the waters above.  In other words, that new technical paper you read on the AinG homepage last week which argues that the waters are at the edge of space-time as “a possible explanation for the cosmic microwave background radiation” (really?!) is an exegetical wet sandwich. And yes, I’ve read that Younker and Davidson article that paper cites. It tries to identify the “waters above” with clouds. This is impossible because v. 17 opens, בִּרְקִיעַ וַיִּתֵּן regarding the celestial bodies. Identifying clouds with the “waters above” would require Israelites being stupid enough to think clouds were more distant than the moon and stars.

7) They think Seraphim are pterodactyls

Creation museum gift shop
Ham actually thinks pterodactyls have a good shot at being in the Bible. According to AinG:
“There is also mention of a flying serpent in the Bible: the ‘fiery flying serpent’ (Isaiah 30:6). This could be a reference to one of the pterodactyls, which are popularly thought of as flying dinosaurs, such as the Pteranodon, Rhamphorhynchus, or Ornithocheirus.”
Isaiah 30:6 isn’t the only place where Isaiah refers to the “’fiery’ flying serpent.” Read the below “Seraph” entry in the Dictionary of Deities and Demons (written by the famous scholar T. N. D. Mettinger):
If you were reading closely you probably noticed that the Hebrew term used for “serpent” in these Isaiah passages is similar to the term Isaiah uses in the throne room scene of chapter 6 to describe a category of divine beings called seraphim.  If you’re catching my drift, and you think it’s weird I’m suggesting the “fiery, flying serpent” of Ham’s passage is actually a divine being, hold tight. I’ll let you in on a secret:

The seraph divine beings of the Bible are best understood as serpentine beings.
As a noun, the term means “serpent.” Numbers 21.8, which depicts Moses raising up the bronze serpent, is a more explicit example of seraph referring to a snake. If the suggestion that seraphim are winged serpentine beings still seems crazy to you, consider this other portion of Mettinger’s entry:
The fiery flying serpent Isaiah associates with Egypt is a symbolic divine being represented by voluminous iconographic examples from Egypt and is well attested on Israelite seals. (Here are some.) No dinosaurs needed. Those who wish for further reading on this will enjoy Karen Joines' article (Samford university) published here in the Journal of Biblical Literature.
Serpent in the creation museum
Why is Satan a snake?
The above is a big part of the reason why I don’t buy the traditional idea that the snake in Genesis is literal like the museum shows. Michael Heiser makes a strong case (PDF) (video presentation) that the author of Genesis is doing something far more supernatural and far more clever than being literal.

8) The days of Genesis

Genesis is poetic but that doesn’t matter
I disagree with my friend Brandon at his Pilgrim and the Shire blog when he claims the opening of Genesis isn’t poetry. It’s rhythmic, numerological and crawling with layers of word play and literary games.

This is no insurmountable problem for the Jews-saddling-dinosaurs team (I jest), since the fact that Genesis is poetic doesn’t mean the days weren’t taken literally and believed at face value.  Despite what our English Common Core may insist, poetry isn’t the postmodern Nassau where interpretive nihilists refuge after a hard day of pillaging to guzzle rum and bro-fist hook hands.

The primary reason the authors wrote poetically was to convey ideas with more emotive tangibility than narrative is appropriate for expressing. By way of illustration, when Chandler said that a guy ‘had a cleft chin you could hide a marble in’ he was being rather poetic. I personally find the poetry of this phrase more effective in conveying his meaning than if he had yanked out a caliper, inserted the depth probe into the man’s chin and diligently reported back to us the millimeters to the third decimal place. (Unfortunately, AinG favors the caliper approach and ends up finding pterosaurs in that chin-crack.)

The Dizzying Numerology of Genesis 1
As I said, the hands that produced Genesis were a lot smarter than Christians secretly think.  One example of this its numerology. One of the better articles you will ever read in this area is Jeff Morrow’s (Seton Hall University) “Creation as Temple-Building.”  Here's a summation of one of his footnotes:

Gen 1.1 contains 7 words; Gen 1.2 has 14 words (2x7); God occurs 35 times (5x7), earth 21 times (3x7), heavens/firmament 21 times (3x7), “and it was so” 7 times, and “God saw it was good” 7 times. The terms light and day are found 7 times in the first paragraph, and there are 7 references to light in the fourth paragraph.  In the 7th paragraph which deals with the 7th day, there occur three consecutive sentences which each contain 7 words and the phrase “7th day” in the center.  Moreover, the words in the 7th paragraph total thirty five (5x7). The list goes on. In fact, Genesis breaks its own patterns in order to contrive these numerological sets of 7.

If you’ve read any commentary in the universe on the tabernacle you know all of its elements were meant to represent creation. In fact, the tabernacle’s consecration process lasted 7 days. Long story short, when God told Israel he created the world in seven days he was communicating the idea that creation is his temple.  If you buy the parsing of inerrancy I will be defending at the end of this article, there’s no reason to overextend the text to circumscribe scientific teachings its authors didn’t care about. Geological history ain’t the point of the number 7 in Genesis. The point of the number 7 has to do with dealing with the theological ramifications of the Babylonian exile.

9) Genealogies

The lifespans of the patriarchs are clearly numerological contrivances with mathematical parallels in the Sumerian King list. Ken Ham tried to spank Jim Stump at Biologos for “arrogantly” claiming they have theologized significance.  I’m sorry Ham, but the fact that the vast majority of the 30 lifespans are divisible by 5 and the rest end in a 7 or a 2 (with one exception that can be derived by adding multiples of 5 and 7) is significant. These sorts of statistics don’t occur at random.  That’s not my theological opinion; it’s math. The probability that Gen 5 represents a natural genealogy has been calculated at roughly one in a billion.[9]  I thought good Christians weren’t supposed to play the lottery. Imagine being one of the patriarchs, looking at your genealogy and noticing that you can only die on a year ending in a 5, 7, or 2.  You're basically immortal until you hit one of those dates!

It's all just coincidence, right?

The fact that the genealogies appear next to the numerological cathedral of the first chapter is significant; the fact that Genesis’ mathematical affinities are shared by the Sumerian Kings list is significant; the fact that Enoch’s lifespan is 365, the days in the solar calendar, is significant; the fact that Enoch and Enmenduranna, both in the 7th position in the Biblical and Sumerian list, were both said to have been taken to heaven is significant; the fact that Enmenduranna was also associated with the sun is significant; the fact that Lamech, the 7th born in Gen 4, dies at 777 years is significant; the fact the total number of names in the genealogies correspond with numerology is significant.

In which I accuse Ken Ham of Liberalism
If you don’t care what scripture is clearly doing here because you’re imposing your scientific agenda on the text and you need them to be “exact” and “literal history,” you aren’t submitting to the context God choose to inspire his word in. You’re being liberal. And here I define liberal in its Southern-Baptist colloquial sense (as a synonym for "icky").

Stump is correct that we haven’t cracked the theological code in the genealogies, but we’ve made significant progress. If you want to know what’s going on here, Denis Lamoureux has made some fantastic intro videos here. Lamoureux acquired three PhDs with the original goal of becoming a creation scientist. For those more interested in published scholarly material, here’s Llloyd Bailey’s academic article "Biblical Math as Heilsgeschichte" published in the Journal for the Study of the OT. Heiser describes it as the best he’s read on the subject.

10) Misunderstanding inerrancy

Israelites went with their gut

The Bible has no clue what the human brain does. A unique term for brain never appears a single time in the text. They thought the heart and kidneys were the seat of emotions and intellect like all of their ANE neighbors. I’m not over-inflating the data on this.  Here’s a formal journal article which contextualizes it.

When David prays in Ps 26, “Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my kidneys...” He literally thinks his psyche resides in his kidneys. The same goes for Ps. 16.7; Ps. 139.23; Ps. 7.9; Jer 17.10; Prov 23.16 and Jer. 11.20. If a person says these passages are only poetic their theology has censored the Bible’s meaning. Gross.

Do kidneys disprove inerrancy?

If your atheist friend tries to debunk inerrancy with these texts laugh at him because he’s stupid. (That's a joke, act like Jesus to your atheist friend, he already gets laughed at enough for wearing a wallet chain.) Ps 26 doesn’t care about nephrology. Quit playing his game. You might as well be writing feminist interpretations of an Ikea assembly manual if you’re going to publish astrophysical papers on the Psalms. I'm not suggesting we cherry pick what we believe or throw inerrancy in the mulcher. I'm suggesting we not try to dowse teachings out of the texts that the text isn't teaching.

B. B. Warfield, at the whisper of his name Baptist theology professors swoon and tremble like French girls in a cologne commercial. While readers line me up on the edge of the bridge to shoot me with cliché non-sequiturs about inerrant slippery slopes, I might as well chain the old boy to my leg and take him down with me to keep each other’s ghost company. He also believed the inspired author may
“share the ordinary opinions of his day in certain matters lying outside the scope of his teachings, as, for example, with reference to the form of the earth, or its relation to the sun; and, it is not inconceivable that the form of his language when incidentally adverting to such matter, might occasionally play into the hands of such a presumption.”[10]
Thanks to my smok'n hot wife and to Justin Cox for helping me with this article.
[1] Othmar Keel, The Symbolism of the Biblical World: Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and the Book of Psalms, (Eisenbrauns: USA, 1997), 53-4.
[2] Amar Annus, “On the Origin of the Watchers: A Comparative Study of the Antediluvian Wisdom in Mesopotamian and Jewish Traditions,” in the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 19.4 (2010): 277–320.
[3] Ed Noort, “The Stories of the Great Flood: Notes on Gen 6:5-9:17 in its Context of the Ancient Near East” in Interpretations of the Flood (Brill: Leiden, 1998), 11-2.
[4] Ulla Koch-Westonholz, Mesopotamian Astrology: An Introduction to Babylonian and Assyrian Celestial Divination (Denmark: Museum Tusculanum, 1995), 20-21.
[5] Quoted by Seely, “The Firmament and the Water Above,” in The Westminster Theological Journal 53 (1991) 227-40.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[7b] J. M. Plumley, The Cosmology of Ancient Egypt," in Ancient Cosmologies, ed. Carmen Blacker, (Ruskin House: London, 1975), 21-6.
[8] See Wayne Horowitz’s commentary in Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography (Eisenbrauns: Winona Lake, 1998), 262. 
“Explicit statements that the heavens are made of water are found in Babylonian texts.  Examples include Ee IV 137-46, where Marduk builds the heavens out of the watery corpse of Tiamat and Inamgisuanki, where the Akkadian name for heaven, same, is explained as sa me ‘of water’ (Livingstone 32:6; see p. 224).  In Ee IV 139-40, Marduk stretches out a skin and assigns guards to keep the waters of heaven from draining downward onto lower regions of the universe.  These traditions may be compared with Genesis 1, where the primeval waters are divided in two, with the upper waters positioned above the firmament (רקיע), and Psalm 104:3 and 148:4, which speak of waters above the heavens.”
[9] Carol A. Hill, “Making Sense of the Numbers of Genesis” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 55 (Dec 2003): 244.
[10] Quoted by Seely. Originally found in B. B. Warfield, "The Real Problem of Inspiration," in The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia, Presbyterian & Reformed, 1948) 166-67.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

That 666 Video is Stupid: 666 doesn’t spell out Allah

Have you seen this video which has been shared over 80,000 times on Facebook?  It features the starbucks cup guy yelling at us like an unfair caricature of an evangelical pastor in an NCIS episode about an apocalyptic cult. (Can I even blame non-Christians for thinking we evangelicals are a bunch of mouth-breathing dupes? They’re largely right.)  I have formal training in several Semitic languages and Biblical Greek, and it’s obvious to me that Josh can’t read a word of Arabic or Greek.  He’s parroting Walid Shoebat’s old spiel without having a clue what he’s talking about.  (But it’s for Jesus, so I guess that’s ok.)

Why this theory stinks (scroll down beneath the explosion picture if you want the short version):

1) Josh’s symbols were made up and monkeyed with to make them appear similar:
In the video, Josh tells us the upper image says, “in the name of Allah” and that this "matches up--parallels perfectly" with the Greek for 666.
The first line of the Quran begins with the phrase “in the name of Allah.”  This is what it actually looks like in Arabic, as taken from's digital text of Al Fatiha:

Creepy how much it "matches up" and "parallels perfectly," huh? As you can see, the preposition (that long line on the right) has been fudged around with and retained parallel. (Or is it a whip tied to a levitating sword cutting an apple, I'm not sure.)  The name Allah Josh shows has been flipped sideways and then inverted to look like the Greek letter Xi.  When I showed the image to my missionary friend who is fluent in Arabic he responded that it was “completely moronic.”

the insect anti-Christ
Josh seems to think Arabic is logographic like ancient Chinese or ancient Egyptian—that the sword icon actually says something.  Nein!  Arabic is a consonantal alphabet like Hebrew.  In other words, those crossed swords were just thrown in randomly to make this look sexy. But Ben, that middle character looks SOOOO similar.  Really? Since Arabic is stylistic cursive, you could turn all sorts of words sideways and invert them to make them look like the Greek letter Xi. That's just how Arabic do.  I spent three minutes randomly typing words into google translate and here's the word for 'bug' to the right.  It probably looks closer to a Greek Xi in some of the other manuscripts I'm about to show you...ooooohhhh spooky.

2) Did anyone bother to read Revelation?

The second problem for Josh’s theory is the text of Revelation itself. Revelation is concerned with the actual number here, not the shapes of the letters.  The author tells us point-blank that the meaning of the symbol is to be "calculated" ψηφισάτω within gematria, not the shape of the handwriting.

The final nail in the coffin

3) Josh's manuscript is from the 15th century, and the original Greek script of Revelation looked different than the script Josh shows us:

Let’s flog this dead horse further. The Greek letters he shows are taken from Codex Vaticanus, a book composed in 350 AD.  Its venerable ancientness is meant to impress you, as if Shoebat was led by Gandalf into the Minis Tirith library by flickering candle light and decoded the symbols on the back of a dollar bill to open a secret room.  From the dust of forgotten centuries he exhumed this esoteric volume of early Christianity.  Peering over his glasses he sagely eyes the symbols which whisper of a forgotten prophecy which is about to plunge him and Nicholas Cage in a high-speed car chase.  Truth is Vaticanus didn’t originally contain Revelation.  This text Josh is showing us was tacked on by a scribe in the 15th century. It is written in miniscule.  A font that didn’t exist in the first century. It’s in a different paleographic style than the original autograph of Revelation could have contained or any other early manuscript does.  That squiggly letter Xi would have been more angular.

Here it in the same verse in Codex Sinaiticus (Sinaiticus writes out the number rather than abbreviating it).  Sinaiticus was composed around the same time as Vaticanus. Notice the Greek letter Xi doesn’t look much like what Josh needs it to.

The third letter sigma especially took a different form that looks identical to a ‘C’ (you can see it in the manuscript above); it looks nothing like what Josh needs it to. (If one of you suggest that maybe this is a crescent moon, I’m gunna bean you.)  Here is the same abbreviation in Papyrus 47:

Here is our oldest text of Revelation 13:18 (Papyrus 115).  It actually says the number of the beast is 616, but I don’t want to get into all that right now.  The point is that last letter sigma in this older manuscript also does not look like the idiomatic Vaticanus sigma but takes the form of a 'C.' (That straight line above the number is a marker of abbreviation in Greek, by the way.)

If you want a bird’s eye view, here’s a paleography chart to show Josh’s entire theory is dependent on a single idiomatic manuscript he pulled out of the 15th century for no reason:

I’m sorry my ranting about crusty things like manuscripts and first century paleography makes me sound like old man Wilson yelling at the kids to get off his lawn and probably isn’t as thrilling as Josh’s youtube video with a graphic of flaming 6’s. (‘Merca!)  Please love me.  I can make textual criticism cool.  I can be cool. Here’s a picture of an explosion if it will hold over your attention span for one more paragraph, America:

For the TLDR crowd:

The author of Revelation tells us point-blank that the number “calculates” the meaning, not one shape in the middle of the number. 2) The Arabic image Feuerstein found on the internet was totally made up, flipped and inverted arbitrarily with some random swords thrown in for the express purpose of looking good—it could qualify for a circus contortionist act. 3) It’s easy to make things in Arabic look like a sideways Greek letter Xi because it’s a cursive script. And 4) the Greek only looks sorta like this made-up Arabic image if you are raping a 15th century text written in a different style than the autograph of Revelation.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Why the Christian Head Covering Movement is Wrong

I’ve been coming more and more across videos like this.

They advocate restoring the New Testament cultural practice of head covering.  The fact that this whole discussion is even necessary is probably evidence that most theologians and pastors don’t really take their lip service to interpret the Bible in its context seriously or have even been trained by their seminary to know what that would look like.  I don’t care what Wayne Grudem’s Systematic says or what interpretation some sage pastor thinks God laid on his heart.  You actually need to consult linguistic databases and Second Temple Jewish literature to know what's going on here.

Frankly, we know why women were expected to cover their hair in the first century.  Hair was scientifically considered an erotic organ.  We have medical texts which explicitly explain the mechanics of this.  The language of these texts highly corresponds with Paul’s language.  The throwaway, “because of the angels” line fits like a glove with Second-Temple literature on this interpretation (the New Testament authors took hyper-supernatural traditions like Enoch a lot more seriously than we do), and it perfectly explains why Paul thought nature dictated women ought to have long hair and men short hair.  Troy Martin’s article in the Journal of Biblical Literature is a good place to get acquainted with the context I’m talking about. “Paul’s Argument from the veil in 1 Corinthians 11:13-15: A Testicle Instead of a Head Covering.” JBL 123/1, (2004), 75-84. (Thanks to Michael Heiser for making it available online.)

But why would God allow Paul to defend bad science?

Imagine you are an ancient Corinthian.  You and all your pagan neighbors in the Las Vegas of the ancient world think that female hair is literally an extension of genitalia (thanks Aristotle)—that there is a one-to-one correspondence with hair length and feminine fecundity in your culture’s science.   Because of this belief, your educated culture has wisely instituted head coverings for women as an expression of sexual modesty.

Imagine then, some guy Paul comes to your hyper-sexualized culture and some new God you’ve never heard of called the Holy Spirit gives him a divine science lesson.  Paul then runs around telling his church not to care about covering the genitalia on their head because it’s bad science.  Now you have a church exposing what all their neighbors think are genitalia in the name of the Holy Spirit.

I’m sorry if those “serious exegetical studies” people read by 18th century pastors and Ken Ham books haven't equipped them to incorporate scientific condescension in their understanding of inspiration, but God didn’t care to give David a divine physiology lecture in Psalm 16:7 when he praised God for instructing his kidneys (Your translation probably hides that so here's another journal article), and he doesn’t seem to care to do so here.  If your cool theology, Reformed or whatever, forces you to take these things as mere metaphor then your theology prevents you from interpreting the Bible correctly in its context.  Your theology disables you from understanding the Bible.

What’s the take away?

In the English world, giving someone a thumbs-up is a good thing.  In some Arabic countries it is a vulgar symbol—the equivalent of giving someone the middle finger.  It would be morally ok for me to go around flaunting the symbol in one culture and not ok in the other.  Our culture attaches nothing like sexual promiscuity to displaying hair because we don’t have the complex 1st century scientific apparatus that supplied that connotation in the ancient world.  This verse can be taken then as a warning against appearing or being sexually immodest.  All this applies to hair length on the interpretation I’ve offered too.  The form may not translate to our culture but the meaning does.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Eth-Cepher: A Wacky New “Translation”

A friend of mine who just got back from an archaeological dig in Israel and is studying Semitic languages at Rutgers sent me a link to this errr…“translation” as a joke. It's by a guy named Pidgeon.
From Pidgeon's website

The Hebrew word ETH means 'divine'?

The front page of Pidgeon’s website asserts that his is the only English translation in the universe that renders the Hebrew word את. We read:

“The Hebrew word את (eth in English) means divine, and the Hebrew word ספר (cepher in English) means book; hence, the את Eth-CEPHER is the ‘Divine Book.’”

Sorry boys and girls, the Hebrew word את doesn’t get translated because it’s the Hebrew accusative marker.  It’s the most common independent word in the Hebrew language. To translate it as ‘divine’ is goofy.  Want proof?  Here ya go:

Ezekiel 4:15:
"Then he said to me, ‘See, I assign to you את cow's dung instead of human dung, on which you may prepare your bread’

If eth means ‘divine’ then cow excrement is divine in Ezekiel 4:15. In Leviticus 11:7 the את is placed before swine, and in Leviticus 15:3 Pidgeon’s claim would render a plague on the skin being inspected for leprosy divine:

“and the priest shall examine the את diseased area on the skin of his body.”

Pictographic Silliness:

Skin diseases, swine and cow droppings! Most objects in the Bible that function in the accusative can thus be translated with the adjective ‘divine’ if Pidgeon is serious about this claim.  But on what basis does he assert it?  He horoscopes the idea outta the original pictographs on which paleo-Hebrew was derived.  This method (which is so popular on the internet) is so subjective that you can literally create any new meaning you want for a Hebrew word.  You might as well break out the tarot cards and ouija board if you are going to be using this chart to interpret the “real” meanings of words in your Bible. Sorry everyone, Semitic philology is a much less sexy process.

Let me be emphatic.  You CANNOT derive meanings from the pictographic origins of Biblical Hebrew anymore than you can with words in modern English.  The Hebrew language developed independent of the Phoenician alphabet system and merely adopted it to represent the sounds of their already existing language.  The Israelites attached no significance to the ancient derivatives of their alphabet anymore than we or the Greeks did. To misunderstand this is to demonstrate a profound ignorance of how Israelite chronology and language-in-general works.

In the words of Michael Brown, who has a PhD in Semitic languages from New York University: “…we have no business attaching pictographic meanings to ancient Hebrew [anymore] than we have attaching those same pictographic meanings to the Greek alphabet or to our English alphabet.” 

Revelation was written in Hebrew?

Totally off-topic, but apparently this stands in the Holy city. My
Southern theology professor comments, "I didn't know the
temple still stood in Jerusalem."
Pidgeon also translates eth as ‘divine’ as an elaboration of the claim that Revelation was originally written in Hebrew.  What evidence does he give that Revelation was composed in Hebrew?  Well, John does give the Hebrew names of some places in the book.

I don’t know of a single New Testament scholar on earth holding a university chair who defends the idea. (Revelation is highly dependent on the Greek Septuagint.)  By the same logic, we could say that Josephus must have originally written his Antiquities in Hebrew since he transliterates it on occasion. (He was commissioned by Greek speaking gentiles.)  This argument is a hopeless mess of a non-sequitur.

All that Sacred Name stuff:

At 4-4:45 in his video he tells us when Jesus said, “I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me” that he was referring to the inability of the Jews to pronounce a set of vowels and consonants.  Anyone who turns to John 5 will quickly see that Jesus was not referring in that passage to the morphological reconstruction of the Hebrew name for God.  He was referring, rather, to the fact that the Jews wanted to kill him because he was claiming the authority of God.

I don’t know how far Pigeon takes this name theology.  Some messianic types can go so far that they court a different gospel with it. (I.e. they literally teach that you have to be vocalizing a certain set of sounds to really be worshiping God.) But, I want to impress on the reader that it is almost totally unimportant.  I’ve spent years taking formal college courses in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic.  I’m not saying the languages aren’t important.

What I am saying is the New Testament authors didn’t even feel the need to ostentatiously transliterate the Hebrew names for God.  They simply use the word theos—the same word used to refer to the members of the Greek pantheon. When it came to Jesus, they didn’t obnoxiously spell out YAHUSHUA or anything of the sort.  They just threw down a common Hesus and called it a day.  When Jesus prayed he called God Elah in Aramaic. *gasp* sounds Islamic!

Moral of the story: don’t run around trying to be holier than the Bible, transliterating everything needlessly into Hebrew.  It can get annoying.  God cares about whether we are receiving the content the language conveys, not the arbitrary set of sounds we vocalize it in.  If you constantly interchange common Biblical names with Hebrew where English would function just as well, you aren't communicating. You're self-advertising how smart you think you are, and you're trying to be more Biblical than the Bible.

Issues of Canon:

Someone might complain if I don't mention the canon. There are serious problems, but I’m honestly not that initially concerned with people reading extra-Biblical literature.  I don’t think Enoch or Maccabees should be canonized, but I’m also annoyed that Protestants are scared of them.


Hopefully that’s enough to show anyone passing along that the Et Cepher isn’t real scholarship.  If you want a really good translation of a book like Genesis, I highly recommend Robert Alter. (He’s professor of Hebrew at Berkeley.)  It’s by far the best I have ever seen in the English language, and the clever nuances he is able to bring out of the text are a joy to read.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Isaiah's 'circle of the earth'- A bad creationist argument

Isaiah 40:22
"It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers..."

I think it would be really cool if the above verse was a supernatural scientific revelation that set Israel apart from the rest of the ancient word with respect to cosmology.  My whole life I've grown up hearing evangelicals repeat it as proof that the Bible is inspired, and a few years ago my PhD theology professor cited it to our class as a proof for the Bible's divine origin.

The physicist Jason Lisle at Answers in Genesis loves to propagate the idea

In reality, this is lazy folk apologetics and needs a spanking. There is nothing scientifically special about this passage, because we have plenty of pagan Ancient Near Eastern depictions which describe the earth as a circle.  I'm sorry if that kills people's apologetics joyride, but God doesn't need us making up stupid arguments from unchecked, sloppy assumptions to defend him.  If you're interested in that sort of thing, go join the Mormons.

Answers in Marduk:

The Babylonian map of the world depicts the earth as a round, flat disc encircled by the sea, from mythological sources far predating Isaiah.  I guess Marduk appeared to the Babylonian priesthood and informed them the earth is a circle too, Dr. Lisle?

I’ll plunder Paul H. Seely’s Westminster Theological Journalarticle (1997) for a few more examples: 
“Diodorus Siculus (II:31:7) tells us that the Babylonians told him the earth is ‘shaped like a boat and hollow.’ The boat is undoubtedly a coracle, used into modern times by natives on the Euphrates. The coracle is circular, rounded at the edges like the yolk of an egg, but, of course, hollow.”
Kramer and Lambert believe the Babylonians inherited this idea from Sumer

Egyptologist, John Wilson says the Egyptians believed the
“earth was conceived of as a flat platter with a corrugated rim. The inside bottom of the platter was the flat alluvial plain of Egypt, and the corrugated rim was the rim of mountains which were the foreign lands."
Othmar Keel, “noting that the ocean around the earth was long conceived of by the Egyptians as circular, concluded…:
'This fact suggests that in Egypt, visualization of the earth as a circular disc was from very ancient times at least an option.’ This conclusion is supported by evidence, as early as the fourteenth century BC, of circular representations of the figure of Osiris or Geb [the earth god].'”
In “the time of Rameses III (1195-1164 BC) in an inscription…reads ‘...they laid their hands upon the land as far as the Circle of the Earth.’”

In addition to these types of examples, in ancient Greece we have Homer and over half-a-dozen philosophers arguing the earth is a flat disc down until 400 BC.  “Herodotus (c. 400 BC) uniformly rendered the earth just as Homer had described it, as a disc.” He writes (4:36),
…all the map-makers—there are plenty of them--who show Ocean running like a river round a perfectly circular earth, with Asia and Europe of the same size. 


You can easily go all over the world finding these examples.  Because of the curvature of the horizon, it is very natural (if not most natural) for pre-scientific people groups to assume the earth is a disc.  If the Bible contains scientific revelations beyond the culture around it, this verse can't be used as an example.