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(often in a very simplified form) recently published research articles. As
such, the views and arguments
expressed within this Digest do not necessarily represent those of this website or the
project in general.
you ever wondered, when reading the Book of Revelation, about the imagery
of some of its minor characters? For example, in Rev 16:13-14 we come
across a dragon that spits out frog-like spirits. An article by Stephan
Stephan commences his article acknowledging that the writer of the Book of Revelation uses a “highly developed animal imagery” that he draws from existing apocalyptic tradition. Stephan then places 16:13-14 within its literary context and notes that these verses act as something of a bridge between the Sixth Bowl Vision (16:12-16) which he sees as specific to the kings of the east and the more generalised preparations for “universal final battle” at Harmagedon (16:16) included within the Seventh Bowl Vision. Therefore, the frog-like spirits can be seen as a means by which the writer can further develop his story.
question is then raised, why did the author use quite such a peculiar
image as a frog? A survey of ‘frogs’ and their use as metaphor within
ancient Greek literature suggest that they often depicted as being
intrusive and at times highly loquacious, but nevertheless their speech
was usually unintelligible and senseless. Within contemporary literature,
the frog becomes an image of vaunted pride and stupidity.
notes that within Old Testament literature that frogs were the second of
the ten plagues recounted in Exodus 7:26-8:12. He further adds that the
picture of even the Pharaoh being tormented by frogs in his bedroom must
have also had the intention of entertaining and making fun of ‘mighty’
Stephan contends that the use of the frog imagery in Revelation is not so
much a reference to the Exodus plague (there are, after all, only 3
frog-spirits), but to function as a polemical parallel (in opposition) to
the three angels which precede from the Son of Man (Rev 14:6-13). While
the three angels call the world to worship God and pronounce judgement,
the three frog-spirits prepare for the final battle. Part of the
frog-spirits' strategy, as Stephan notes, involves inciting the kings into
a self-destructive war through deception. But it is the association
of frogs with silliness and ridiculousness that gives this image its
power. Christ is preceded by three
angels, whilst what comes out from the three beasts are the far from
impressive frog-spirits. Moreover what they have to say is, "ultimately
nothing better than silly, senseless, even grotesque croaking."
Consequently, the frog-spirits should be interpreted as a deliberate joke.
Stephan concludes that John's use of this particular image creates an “instance of comic
relief that strips the ‘villains’ of the apocalyptic narrative of
their terrifying power.”
reading Old Testament references to dogs, would we be right in assuming
that within Israelite society the dog was viewed as a vile and
contemptible animal? Geoffrey Miller notes that, for the last half
century, there has been a prevailing assumption that dogs were indeed seen
by the Israelites as contemptuous scavengers and were to be
shunned. He also observes that this assumption is reflected in many of our
Old Testament commentaries. However, his article in Journal
for the Study of the Old Testament. (32 (4). 2008. 487-500.)
reassesses attitudes to the dog in ancient Israelite society.
commences his article by examining the role of the dog among Israel’s near neighbours. He notes that pictorial depictions, as well as
references in letters, describe how dogs were often viewed as vital aids in
hunting and shepherding, as well as for protection (of property and possessions).
However, there is also evidence that Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Persian
cultures all kept dogs as pets. Images of dogs with children as well as
figurines (some of which may have been used as toys) and collars complete
with the pet's names attached serve to indicate a more affectionate
attachment between humans and canines. Perhaps the most telling practice for
demonstrating the place of the dog within the affections of the ancients
was their habit of pet burial. Rather than discarding the bodies of these
dead animals on refuse tips, as would be the normal custom, increasingly
elaborate tombstones, epitaphs and funerary monuments were erected to
commemorate their deceased pet. Geoffrey notes that this type of dog
burial was also practiced among the civilisations of the ancient Levant. One site at the Phoenician city of
Geoffrey then briefly surveys different cultural attitudes towards dogs
and observes that these can appear contradictory and puzzling. However, he
notes that to use ‘dog’ as an abusive term does not necessarily mean
that dogs were seen as contemptible per
Such disparity, he argues, can still be seen in some modern societies
today. Negative references to dogs in the Old Testament tend to refer
to their scavenging behaviours, particularly in relation to cleanliness
issues (licking of blood: Psalm 68:24). Although he concedes that positive
images of dog on Old Testament literature are sparse, he argues that
Job 30:1 indicates that Job at least possessed dogs as sheepdogs which
disproves assertions that dogs were prohibited from Israelite life as
unclean animals. Moreover, Tobit
(6:2 and 11:4) describes how a dog accompanied Tobit and the angel Raphael
on their journey to Media. Although its presence is never fully explained,
it is possible that it was either for protection or as a kind of
travelling companion (pet).
Geoffrey then briefly surveys different cultural attitudes towards dogs and observes that these can appear contradictory and puzzling. However, he notes that to use ‘dog’ as an abusive term does not necessarily mean that dogs were seen as contemptible per se. Such disparity, he argues, can still be seen in some modern societies today. Negative references to dogs in the Old Testament tend to refer to their scavenging behaviours, particularly in relation to cleanliness issues (licking of blood: Psalm 68:24). Although he concedes that positive images of dog on Old Testament literature are sparse, he argues that Job 30:1 indicates that Job at least possessed dogs as sheepdogs which disproves assertions that dogs were prohibited from Israelite life as unclean animals. Moreover, Tobit (6:2 and 11:4) describes how a dog accompanied Tobit and the angel Raphael on their journey to Media. Although its presence is never fully explained, it is possible that it was either for protection or as a kind of travelling companion (pet).
The article concludes with the suggestion that a distinction must be made between feral dogs (scavengers) and working dogs. In English Bibles, the Hebrew keleb is translated simply as ‘dog’. However, to attain a more differentiated reading, Geoffrey argues that, “[p]erhaps translators should not use ‘dog’ for every occurrence of the word but should instead use ‘wild dog’ when the passage refers to feral dogs patrolling the village. This would distinguish detestable scavengers from valuable helpers."
of the most notable features of the Gospel of Matthew is his frequent
use of the Hebrew Scriptures. Matthew’s apparent attempt to establish
the Christian story within the Jewish milieu has meant that he is often
referred to as the most Jewish of all Gospels. However, the selection of
texts and the way they are used has been open to question throughout the
centuries. J Lionel North (New Testament Studies. 54
(2). 2008. 254-274.) looks specifically at the earliest Christian
responses to some of the questions and problems posed by Matthew’s use.
In so doing, he provides an illuminating window on how the early Church
viewed its texts.
For his main analysis, Lionel uses as case studies: Matthew 2:6 where Matthew makes Micah say the exact opposite of the ‘original’ text; Matthew 23:35-36 an apparent conflation of two Zechariahs; Matthew 27:9-10 what appears to be a “pastiche” of Jeremiah, perhaps drawn from Zechariah; Matthew 21:5 the addition of an ass to the triumphal entry. Lionel shows that Matthew’s early readers were well aware of the difficulties posed in these verses. He also demonstrates how they employed a range of responses. Lionel contends that although the Fathers dismissed the possibility of authorial error, they accepted the idea that a text could be corrupted through copying errors and malicious pagan interference. Responses to these ‘errors’ included; textual emendation, harmonization, approaches which reflect historical and textual criticism. Some early manuscripts suggest unease with Matthew’s use of Micah, offering a rewording of Micah or simply omitting the “no wise” in 2:6. Furthermore, the use of allegory in early Christian interpretation meant that even problematic texts could be used to show important doctrinal points; as with Jerome’s reading of Matt 21:5 in which the “tethered ass” represents “observant Judaism” and the “unbridled foal” as the gentiles.
that the early Gospel readers were aware of the difficulties raised by
some of the evangelist's appropriation of the Jewish Scriptures and that
they adopted a variety of strategies to meet these difficulties. Whilst
generally, the early Church Fathers rejected claims of authorial error,
they did accept the possibility of (Jewish and pagan) interference and
clerical slips. Consequently, attempts to correct these 'errors', as well
as using employing interpretative techniques to create layered meanings
which could incorporate any textual problems.