Satan: Accuser or Executioner?

I had the privilege today of interviewing Dr. Ryan Stokes of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He told me about his research on satan (both a noun and a verb in biblical Hebrew). Stokes has concluded that the Satan in the Hebrew Bible is not an accuser but actually is Yahweh’s executioner. The article on this topic is in the June 2014 issue of Journal of Biblical Literature. My interview with him is here on MAP.



In the Mail: @DeGruyter_TRS “The Rewritten Scrolls from Qumran: Texts, Translation, and Commentary (Beihefte Zur Zeitschrift Fur Die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft) “

Among the unknown Jewish writings that emerged from the caves of Qumran are five scrolls rewriting the Book of Joshua. The present volume offers a detailed analysis of these texts and explores their relationship with each other and other Second Temple Jewish writings concerned with the figure of Joshua. The first full-blown study of this group of scrolls, this book is of interest to students and scholars working in the fields of the Dead Sea scrolls and ancient Jewish biblical interpretation.

Part of my dissertation is looking at rewriting… so this will come in handy, I believe.

Revelation 10 and the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (4Q400-7)

English: Qumran refectory (locus 77) Français ...

English: Qumran refectory (locus 77) Français : Qumran réfectoire (locus 77) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Again, sorry for the brevity, just wanted to put this out there. By now, you know I am working on my 3rd book, one that is taking a different look at Revelation. As I write the book, it slowly changes. I don’t think it will morph anymore, mind you, but what started off as X has now become Y. Or something like that. Anyway,

Read Revelation 10.1-11. Note especially Revelation 10.4-5 and seven thunders speaking unknown things. We find this in the Qumran collection called the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (4Q400-7). There are nine fragments. One reads,

the third of the chief princes. He will exalt the God of the exalted [an]gels seven times, with seven words of wonderful exaltations.1


seven mysteries of knowledge in the wonderful mystery of the seven regions of the hol[y of holies … The tongue of the first will be strengthened seven times with the tongue of the second to him. The tongue of the second to him will be strengthened]

seven times with (that) of the third to [him. The tong]ue of the thi[rd will] be strengthened seve[n times with (that) of the fourth to him. The tongue of the fourth will be strengthened seven times with the tongue of the fifth to him. The tongue of the fifth will be strengthened seven times with the tongue of]2

There is more in the fragments, but this should give you a taste. What are this fragments thought to represent? Why… an ancient liturgy.


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  1. Florentino Garcı́a Martı́nez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, “The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (translations)” (Leiden: Brill, 1997–1998), 815.
  2. Florentino Garcı́a Martı́nez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, “The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (translations)” (Leiden: Brill, 1997–1998), 821.

Some affinity between Revelation 9 and 4Q300 (also 1QMysteries)

English: Stained Glass depiction of Revelation...

English: Stained Glass depiction of Revelation 3:20 “Jesus at the Door.” Window attributed to the Quaker City Glass Company of Philadelphia, 1912. Installed in St. Matthew’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, I don’t want to really get into this at the moment, but if you look at Revelation 9, you will see something very similar to the DSS fragment below. See this brief paper by Torleif Elgvin, especially the part where he mentions Flusser’s arguments on 1Q27 and how it influenced the Rosh Hashanah liturgy.

My goal is not to suggest John used 1Q27, but to show the use of ‘smoke’ in both, as (as it appears to me) something similar… like an ancient liturgy.

Frag. 1 col. I (= 4Q299 1; 4Q300 3)

1 […] all […]
2 […] mysteries of sin
3 [… all] their wisd[om]. And they do not know the mystery of existence, nor understand ancient matters. And they do not
4 know what is going to happen to them; and they will not save their souls from the mystery of existence.
5 And this will be for you the sign /that this is going to happen./ When those born of sin are locked up, evil will disappear before justice as [da]rkness disappears before
6 light. As smoke vanishes, and n[o] longer exists, so will evil vanish for ever. And justice will be revealed like the sun which regulates
7 the world. And all those who curb the wonderful mysteries will no longer exist. And knowledge will pervade the world, and there will ne[ver] be folly there.
8 This word will undoubtedly happen, the prediction is truthful. And by this he will show you that it is irrevocable: Do not all
9 nations loathe sin? And yet, it is about by the hands of all of them. Does not praise of truth come from the mouth of all nations?
10 And yet, is there perhaps one lip or one tongue which persists with it? What people would wish to be oppressed by another more powerful than itself? Who
11 would wish to be sinfully looted of its wealth? And yet, which is the people not to oppress its neighbour? Where is the people which has not
12 looted [another] of its wea[lth? …] … and the exits […]1

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  1. Florentino Garcı́a Martı́nez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, “The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (translations)” (Leiden: Brill, 1997–1998), 67–69.

More with the non-Gnostic Thomas and Watson @eerdmansbooks

The more I read, the less I believe anyone in the near future will have enough newness to add to the discussion. Watson is slowly taking all ground in the discussion of Gospel writing.

Anyway, while continuing to read Watson’s chapter on Thomas, I was pleasantly surprised to see him speak to the “gnosticism” of Thomas. Beginning on 221 with a discussion of what gnostic really means in regards to early belief systems and later literary developments, Watson cautiously demonstrates the uniqueness of Thomas among other Gnostic literature, arriving at the conclusion whereby we doubt Thomas‘ usually stated (by some) reason of its place at Nag Hammadi. This is very interesting because while Thomas does include secret sayings and a few liberating tendencies, we should no longer really ascribe to the book the belief system of later gnostics if we actually compare it to other gnostic literature. I mean, rightly so, the Fourth Gospel is sometimes alluded to as a gnostic type of literature. Further, we know from reading Clement of Alexandria the word and connotation of ‘gnostic’ was often a positive appellate for early Christians.

This can go further, of course, but we won’t.

Anyway, I found Watson’s allowance for a non-Q sayings collection (SC) as typified by Thomas 271) very interesting. By creating so an allowance, scholars can allow for Papias’ Logia and the unattributed sayings scattered in early Christian writings as still a non-Q document. I believe, if I have read him correctly, his thesis still allows room for Mark Goodacre‘s proposal for a Thomasine redaction of the Synoptics. He does, after all, allow for the independence of the SC and the narrative of the Gospels (272).

To show how a SC may provide a link between orality and textuality, Watson delves into Mark 4. Here, I am not so sure about his hypothesis, with Watson almost insisting on a shared source between Mark and Thomas. This is where Watson seems to diverge from Goodacre’s excellent thesis.

Further, Watson attempts to demonstrate Thomas as a SC, but not the SC that gave rise to Mark and Matthew. (Luke is still dependent upon Mark and Matthew.) He allows for Thomas to be only a descendent of an SC. Here, I find it interesting Watson has not referred to John Horman‘s book on a common Greek source shared by the authors of Mark and Thomas. 

As I said in my own recent work, I do not believe Mark created everything without an oral tradition. Again, there are some markers of a previous oral tradition for Mark, but I do not think a sayings collection is needed any more than a complete oral tradition.

I am hesitant to admit this, but a SC would help to answer some of the unknowns in the search for Mark’s literary sources, especially, as Watson points out, in the parables. Even without a narrative, several of the statements in Mark 9.14–29 (specially v19, 23, and the exorcism formula in v25) could be part of the SC collection. Watson is right to recommend that any such SC remain hypothetical rather than scholars spend time producing a critical edition, as they have done with Q.


Canon, Thomas, Francis Watson (@eerdmansbooks)

I’m posting this under my new category of doctoral work. I will use this as a way to track different things that come to my attention I will need as I explore my thesis. 

And several thrilling chapters where I was able to watching Francis Watson demolish the need for Q, the author now turns to the place of Thomas in the Synoptic discussion. I have recently found this very interesting as I started to lay out my prospectus for my Ph.D. work. I will focus on the Fourth Gospel’s use of Deuteronomy. Because this hypersensitivity to the issue of Thomas among the Gospels, Watson’s statement on 218 caught my eye,

The enduring influence of the canonical decision is also evident in connection with the Gospel of Thomas…, which, some decades after its discovery, has still not been successfully integrated into any overarching account of gospel origins.

I need to keep this truth in mind as I explore my own thesis for the next few years.

Where do you think Thomas fits into the canonical discussion?

@eerdmansbooks’s interview with @goodacre

As you recall, I placed Mark Goodacre’s book as my top book for 2012. It is just that important to the search for literary sources and writing styles of early Christians. Anyway, Eerdword has a video interview with the professor up at their blog:

Mark Goodacre is associate professor in New Testament at Duke University and author of Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas’s Familiarity with the Synoptics, in which he argues that, rather than being an early, independent source, the enigmatic Gospel of Thomas actually draws on the Synoptic Gospels as source material.

via Video Interview with Mark Goodacre « EerdWord.

Insert Pun about the Virgin Birth – My take

First, it begins here with comments by Dr. Francesca Stavrakopoulou, an expert in the Hebrew bible. T. Michael Law, the expert in the Greek Old Testament, known in the heavenly tongue as Septuagint, weighs in about the mistranslation part. Mark Goodacre finds his mic. John Barton, a colleague of Jim’s via SOTS, weighs in as well.

Dr. Stravrakopoulou suggests that Matthew reads Isaiah 7.14 as a mistranslation resulting in the understanding a virgin birth. The Law is laid down on whether or not the LXX Isaiah is a mistranslation or not. The LXX is not a mistranslation (in part, as there is no real whole translation theory until after the time of Jesus) but a re-authoring. That’s my pet theory, I guess. Anyway, Goodacre does a great job (warning, British accent that lulls you in) of discussing the use of Scripture in telling the story.

However, Barton is the focal point for me.

that no one would have translated parthenos as virgin unless there had ALREADY been a virgin-birth tradition.

There is a very important virginal/extra-natural birth tradition pre-dating Matthew’s retelling the story of Jesus. Noah, at Qumran and in Enoch (an obviously important book to early /an/Christians, is presented as havingmiraculous birth. I am also going to go into my other pet theory, that the genealogy has something to do with Stoicism, etc… although this is not well-defined and thus, I’ll leave this for later.

A few other areas to look:

  • Virgil in the fourth Eclogue, recognized by the Patristics as problematic so re-interpreted. 
  • Augustus was said to have had his birth announced by portent among other supernatural occurrences

There iss a fertile ground in Matthew’s world not for a mistranslation, but for the use of portents, births out of the natural order to explain surprise births, and to highlight the divine qualities of a person. This is not, in anyway, required to be connected to a Greco-Roman schema of demigods and the such. Matthew, no doubt, intended his audience to understand that Mary was impregnated according to God’s will, the first factor in the greatness of Jesus and used his bible, the LXX (because, as T. Michael Law would have it, God Spoke Greek), to do so. He was not the first Jew to promote the divine-ordained, and free of the sins of this world, birth of a prophet to other Jews, but followed a rather Jewish pattern as seen in the Genesis Apocryphon and Enoch, books and thoughts closer to the authors of the Gospels and much more palatable to their audience than Greco-Roman myths.

This gets into the post-/structural debate of placing emphasis. Either we place it on Matthew or the audience, although I like the middle ground myself. We can reasonably identify certain qualities of Matthew and we can reasonably identify the audience in a certain social situation, but not the initial reception beyond that of acceptance. My supposition is that Matthew very well intended that the audience would understand the story as meaning that Mary was impregnated by an angel/holy Spirit but accepting a presented literary structure is not the only goal of the author — I would contend that Matthew would rather have wanted his audience to receive what he meant by the inclusion of this story. An example I used in discussing this with a friend via phone was Virgil reading his poem about the ascendency of Rome and Augustus to the Emperor Augustus who knew very well many of the events enshrined did not occur as written and more than likely, if reception history is the judge, understood the intended allegory.

Anyway, here is my 2.5 shekels.

Interview with Prof. Lawrence Schiffman (@LHSchiffman) on “Outside the Bible”

Prof. Lawrence Schiffman talks with Rabbi Barry Schwartz, JPS Director, about his role as Editor of Outside the Bible, a groundbreaking JPS anthology of second temple literature to be released in 2013.

You can find Dr. Schiffman’s site (and blog) here. The publishers have a blog as well, which can be found – and watched for news – here.

Outside the Bible is the most comprehensive collection of texts comprising ancient Israel’s excluded scriptures and earliest biblical commentary, accompanied by modern commentary that places them in context and explains their significance for Jews and Christians alike.

Funds are needed to complete this groundbreaking project, destined to become a classic. This remarkable three-volume anthology is projected for late fall 2013 publication. For more information, please download the Outside the Bible Brochure[PDF 2.45MB]

I cannot wait for such an anthology, which promises to fulfill a much needed voided in the area.

11QMelchizedek (11Q13)

Col. 1[ab]out [which] Moses [said:] “Indeed, i[t is a jubilee. It will be] holy [for you."] Lev 25:12Col 2

1 [        ] sk m [    ]

2 [       ] And as for what he said, “In [this] year of the jubilee [each of you will return to his property" Lev 25:13 concerning it is said "Now this is]

3 [the ma]nner [of the release:] Let every creditor remit what he has lent [his neighbor. He shall nor press his neighbor or his brother for repayment, for] Go[d's] release [has been proclaimed" Deut 15:2]

4 [Its interpretation for the e]nd of days concerns the captives about whom [he said "To proclaim freedom to the captives" Isa 61:1] Its interpretation is that he]

5 will assign them to the sons of heaven and the lot of Melchizedek, f[or he will cast] their lot amid the por[tions of Melchize]dek,

6 who will make them return and will proclaim freedom to them, to free them from the [debt] of all their iniquities. And thus will this thing happen

7 in the first week of the jubilee that occurs after the ninth jubilee. Now the d[ay of atone]ment i[s the en]d of the tenth [ju]bilee,

8 when atonement (will be made) for all the sons of [light? and] for the m[e]n of the lot Mel[chi]zedek [] pt…wm about who[m] ht[      ] l [      ] them.

9 Indeed, it is the time of the year of grace of Melchiz[edek]. And he will by his strength raise up the holy ones of God to execute judgment as it has been written

10 concerning him in the songs of David, as it says, “Elohim [st]ands in the assemby [of el,] in the midst of elohim he judges.” Ps 82:1And concerning it he sa[id,] “Above it,

11 to the heights, return. el will judge the nations.” Ps 7:8-9 And as for what he sa[id, "How long will you] judge unjustly and show impartiality to the wicked. selah.” Ps 82:2

12 Its interpretation concerns Belial and the spirits of his lot wh[ ] their turning away from the commandments of el to [act wickedly?]

13 And Melchizedek will exact the vengeances of the judgments of el [         ] of Belial and the hand of all [      ]w

14 And his helpers will be all the elim [of...      ] H[e] ‘[            ] all the sons of el and hp[      ]h

15…this…This is the day [of peace? about w]hich [God] spoke [through the mouth of Isa[iah the prophet who said “[How] beautiful

16 on (the) mountains are the feet of the messen[ger who pro]claims peace, the messen[ger of good who proclaims salvati[on, saying to Zion, ‘Your God [reigns.'"] (Isa 52:7)

17 Its interpretation: The mount[ai]ns are [the words?] of the prophet[s], those w[ho    ] proph[esied] to all [      ]

18 And the messenger i[s the one an]ointed of the spir[it about] whom Dan[iel] said: ["Until an anointed, a prince, (there will be) seven weeks." Dan 9:5 And the messenger]

19 of good who proclai[ms salvation,] he is the one about whom it is w[ritte]n, when [it says...]

20 “to comfo[rt those who mourn...] Isa 61:2-3 to [in]struct them in all the ages of the wo[rld]

21 in truth l [               ] h [         ]

22 [       ] h will turn away from Belial and t[       ]

23 [             ] by the judgments of el, as it has been written about him, ["Saying to Zi]on, ‘Your God reigns'” (Isa 52:7). Z[i]on i[s]

24 [         ] those who uphold the covenant, those who turn aside from walking in the ways of the people. But “Your el[o]him”

25 [is Melchizedek, who will save? them from] the hand of Belial. And as for that which he has said, “You will blow the [signal-ho]rn in the [seventh] m[onth] Lev 25:9

Also, take a gander here.

Thom Stark buries Richard Carrier – 11QMelchizedek (11Q13)

This second part of my response to Richard Carrier will deal essentially with the interpretation of three texts: Daniel 9:24-27, Isaiah 52:7-53:12, and 11QMelchizedek. I will spend the bulk of my time responding point by point to Carrier’s claims, before concluding with a fresh interpretation of 11QMelch, based on new research. I’ve changed my mind back and forth on various questions regarding 11QMelch, but never have I found Carrier’s claims to accord with the data we have. He constantly misreads the texts; he makes contradictory claims about the nature of pesher, as he thinks it suits his purposes, and ultimately fails on virtually every point. The one point he has made that forced me to look closer at the scroll is that it follows the same timeline as Daniel in terms of a ten jubilee cycle. I was of course, with all scholars, already aware of this, but his insistence on the central significance of this point drove me to closer examination of the scroll. Not surprisingly, as it turns out and as I will show, Carrier’s understanding of the timeline of events between Daniel 9 and 11QMelch is incorrect, but I owe to his insistence on this question the clarity I now have about what 11QMelch is saying about the last days.

As always, Thom is well supported by scholarship – actual scholarship, like even from his own field. Give it a good read.