Research Digest

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For those who have read about Hikmat Kachouh’s research, featured in our Research Profile section, might be interested in his article published in Novum Testamentum 50 (1). 2008. 28-57., Hikmat argues that contrary to the perception that Arabic New Testament manuscripts have little to offer those interested in studying the early forms these texts took, they actually have much to contribute to our understanding of “the history of the transmission of the text, as well as to enhancing our knowledge of the biblical tradition.”

 

Hikmat supports his argument with an examination of a fascinating, but little known, eighth/ninth century manuscript Codex Sinaiticus Arabicus (CSA) found at St Catherine’s Monastery. CSA is one of the oldest surviving Arabic Gospel manuscripts and includes all four Gospels, a sermon (In natalem Christi diem) by St John Chrysostom, a canon of the Apostles and a sermon for monks. The codex is a palimpsest document where the parchment has already been used and its previous writing erased. In many places the original writing in Greek, Latin and Arabic can still be read. What makes the codex unique is that many of its folios are made up of small pieces of parchment – sometimes as many as four or five pieces - painstakingly sewn together which, at times, creates a patchwork effect. Hikmat notes that this must have been an endeavour which required hard work and perseverance.

 

The codex presents a number of variant readings, some of which suggest an agreement with very early versions. For example, the CSA at Luke 16:19 (the parable of the rich man and Lazarus) includes the name of the rich man (Nineveh) which can also be found in the third century papyrus manuscript P75. Following a textual analysis of two hundred and thirty readings from the Gospel of Luke, Hikmat demonstrates how at many places the text of CSA differs from the Majority Text and “agrees with some of the earliest Greek traditions as well as ancient versions.”      

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Recent archaeological finds in Philistia might help to answer a number of (probably unspoken) questions raised in the listener’s mind when hearing the account of Israel ’s war against the Philistines in 1 Samuel. Aren Maeir, from Bar-llan University Israel, suggests that discoveries from Iron Age Philistine cities might hold the key to the mysterious affliction experienced by Israel’s enemies in the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 32 (1). 2007. 23-40. Samuel’s account describes the Philistines, having captured the Ark of the Covenant, being struck by ‘opalim, (lit. ‘high’, ‘raised’ or ‘tower’) translated in the NRSV as ‘tumours’ and generally understood to mean ‘haemorrhoids’ (1 Sam 5:6). In an attempt to appease the wrath of Israel ’s God, the Philistines placed five gold representations of these ‘opalim, together with five gold mice, in the Ark (1 Sam 6:4-5). However, the questions that this raises are, why haemorrhoids and how does one represent a haemorrhoid in gold?

 

Taking the two central motifs in the ‘Ark Narrative’ - religion and sickness – Aren connects these with some intriguing archaeological finds. Aren observes that recent excavations have helped to bring to light hitherto unknown aspects to Philistine religious practice. Among the artefacts recovered are a number of bronze and ceramic phalli which, as Aren notes, although fairly common within Egyptian religious iconography, is relatively rare in ancient Semitic iconography. If Aren is correct in making this connection, one can begin to understand the different levels on which this account works. The affliction literally (as Aren suggests) ‘hit the Philistines below the belt.’ However it was not only humiliating and humorous (to the reader), it subverted elements within the Philistine cultic system of belief. Furthermore, the forced offering of these gold phalli (which are now unproblematic as representational items) also re-enforced the dominancy of YHWH over the Philistines’ gods; a cultic expression of Philistine culture would become a caricature of their humiliating defeat. 

If you would like to see a photograph of one of these Philistine artefacts, one can be seen by clicking onto Aren Maeir's blog - click here 

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Almost anyone who has attended Sunday School or regularly listens to sermons will be aware of Paul's instruction to put on the armour of God (Eph 6:13-17). One of the items to which Paul refers is the 'breastplate of righteousness' (v.14). However, it is unclear if Paul means that it is God's righteousness or our own righteousness which will act as a breastplate. 

Ephesians 6:10-17

Writing in the Tyndale Bulletin. 58 (2). 2007. 275-287., David Wenkel seeks to answer this question which has exercised theologians for centuries. David notes that as far back as 1643 Paul Bayne was discussing three possible interpretations of this phrase: (1) A righteousness imputed by faith, (2) A righteousness which was inherent in the believer and (3) A righteousness of "course, or conversation or worke"). 

However, David summarises the possible interpretations as:

  • An external righteousness which is imputed to the believer by God

  • An internal righteousness which consists of virtue 

David examines the use of the armour/weaponry metaphor in Paul's writing (Rom 6:13, 13:12; 2 Cor 6:4 and 7b, 10:4; 1 Thess 5:8). Here he notes that, although there is a certain flexibility in the use of specific armour, there is a general consistency in how it relates to the inherent (rather than imputed) virtues of the believer. David then explores the direct source of the 'breastplate metaphor'; Is 59:17. Here again, David suggests that the righteousness relates to the virtue of the wearer (YHWH).

David argues that in order to understand what Paul meant in this passage it is important to understand how the entire armour functions. The key to this, he claims, is found in Paul's exhortation to the believer to the "be strong in the Lord" (v.10). The Greek construction suggests that it can be read as a passive - in other words: "be strengthened in the power of the Lord." David concludes that, whilst the righteousness that acts as a protection is the internal virtue of the believer, Paul understands that such righteousness is made possible by the strength of the Lord.  

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It is very easy to let our own presuppositions and expectations cloud our reading of a text. Ellen White’s article in the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. 31 (4). 2007. 451-464., exposes this danger in our reading of the wife of King David, Michal. Ellen observes that although Queen Michal is often seen critically and negatively, the light in which she is actually presented is not wholly hostile. In fact, she notes that, within the rabbinic tradition, Michal is praised more than rebuked.

 

By examining key incidents which refer to Michel alongside commentator’s analyses, Ellen demonstrates that, often, the way Michal is depicted (which is generally negative) is not substantiated in the actual text. She argues that much of our interpretation of Michal stems from our unwillingness to attribute moral failings to David; failings which are overt, as well as alluded to, within the text itself (sexual impropriety). Instead, Ellen presents are far more rounded picture of both Michal and David, suggesting that Michal is not the “idol-worshipping shrew” that she is so often presented as, nor is David the “ideal man;” both are human who exhibit “human failings and inadequacies”. Consequently, this wholly negative reading of Michal is ironic particularly, as Ellen concludes, as she is described as loving David and as protecting him (his life and reputation) on at least two occasions.         

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Have you noticed a curious feature in the book of Revelation (5:5-6) where John is instructed by one of the elders to see a lion, but in fact sees a lamb?

Revelation 5:5-6

Moreover, it is the image of the lamb, rather than lion that is subsequently retained in reference to the Messiah/Christ. Brent Strawn argues that this switch in imagery (from lion to lamb) is well known but often “un(der)explained”. His article, in the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 17 (1). 2007. 37-74., surveys leonine imagery occurring in early Jewish and Christian literature outside of, and following, the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible and then sets out to explain possible reasons for this shift in imagery.

 

Brent notes that the lamb is a powerful and important image and plays a crucial role in its message; however, it does not explain why the image of lion (so quickly dropped in reference to the Christ figure) was introduced in the first place. Brent’s survey presents bipolarity to the leonine imagery being used to represent, righteous/evil, human/supernatural, the divine/demonic. It also has been used to portray the Jewish nation as well as individual tribes, but also Israel's enemies; demonic attacks as well as divine judgements. The sheer range of associative meanings can create ambiguity when attempting to convey precise meaning. Brent concludes that, although there are many instances of the lion being presented as a positive image (which is how it functions in Rev 5:5), its associated meanings were simply too ambivalent for it to be able to be used it in a consistent manner without the fear of misinterpretation. The author safeguards his message from this danger by switching to the lamb motif and image which did not possess the range of negative connotations.  

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Over the years familiar images can sometimes lose their potency with the result that their meaning can be obscured. The depiction in Daniel 4:33 of king Nebuchadnezzar is a case in point, often being presented in terms of the comic figure of Bottom in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. However, Christopher Hays' article in the Journal of Biblical Literature 126 (2) 305-325., provides a healthy corrective to this type of reading.    

Daniel 4:33

Countering the idea that Nebuchadnezzar is depicted in tragi-comic terms or suffering from some kind of madness, his article places this account within the literary context of the Ancient Near East. Although, in the past various attempts have tried to explain Nebuchadnezzar's affliction (including Lycanthropy), Christopher notes that recently all, but the most technical, commentaries tend to skip over this feature. Nevertheless, this passage suggests parallels with those found in Akkadian literature. Christopher argues that the animal images in Daniel 4 (bull, eagle and song-bird) were closely linked to, and were often used to, portray figures (gods, demons, spirits of the dead) of the Mesopotamian Underworld. Here, like Nebuchadnezzar, the victims would begin to take on the (animal-like) characteristics of their afflicters. Christopher concludes that rather than referring to a kind of madness, this imagery presents Nebuchadnezzar suffering from demonic assault at the hand of God.   

Christopher then asserts that the use of the first person indicates that the setting of Daniel reflects the genre of prayer, lament and thanksgiving - particularly as found in the Psalms. In this way, Daniel 'co-opts' this set of images and places them within a 'hymnic' genre. Christopher acknowledges that the portrait of Nebuchdnezzar may appear strange to the modern reader, however, the "movement from affliction to salvation to thanksgiving would have been familiar to a people shaped by praying the psalms." 

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