Little Help: The Old Testament in the New Testament

Do you have any favorite resources concerning allusion to the Hebrew Bible in the New Testament? It could be books, essays, or articles.

I’m thinking of things like Richard Hays’ Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (Yale, 1989) or J. Ross Wagner’s Heralds of the Good News: Isaiah and Paul ‘in Concert’ in the Letter to the Romans (Brill, 2002), or Thomas R. Hatina’s In Search of a Context: The Function of Scripture in Mark’s Narrative (Sheffield, 2002).

Do you have any favorites about the OT in the NT? And if so, what makes them good?

What I’m Reading: Eastern Religions Edition

I am trying to learn something of the history and development of eastern religions in Korea, and am somewhat hampered by my lack of preparation in the “eastern religions” part. And in the “Korea” part.

Into the fifth of six chapters in Joseph A. Adler’s Chinese Religious Traditions (Prentice Hall: 2002), I can recommend this work to other newcomers to eastern religions. The focus is on:

  • Confucianism
  • Daoism
  • Buddhism
  • “popular religion”

After introducing each of these, the presentation is diachronic, exploring the development of each religious strand in China’s stages of history. The work brings certain running characteristics of each of the “big four” into regular comparison and contrast, creating narrative pathways that help me, anyway, to meaningfully navigate the subject matter’s complexities. This ’graph, concluding a major section on Neo-Confucianism in early modern China, is an example (brackets represent material I add for clarity):

Neo-Confucian self-cultivation bears interesting resemblances to the realization of Buddhahood in Mahayana [Buddhism] and Perfection…in Daoism…. While Confucians objected to the Mahayana [Buddhist] theory of no-self of emptiness, the original Confucian claims that individuals are inherently social beings is logically very similar to the premise of the [Mahayana Buddhist] theory of no-self, namely the radical interdependence of all things. And like the aspiring Daoist zhenren (perfected person), Neo-Confucians understood self-cultivation to involve the transformation of the whole person, including the psycho-physical nature.

This sort of synthesis is typical, and I find it a great help as a novice to the material.

Personally fascinating to me is the inclusion of “popular religion,” which is essentially a synchretic set of practices whose origins precede even Confucius and whose development continues today.

Also in my hands are Daniel L. Overmyer, Religions of China (Harper and Row, 1986), and James Huntley Grayson, Korea: A Religious History (rev. ed.; RoutledgeCurzon, 2002).

I know that this subject matter is not “up the alley” of my usual readers, but if you can recommend further reading, especially on the development of eastern religions in Korea, I would be grateful.

[What I’m Reading: Eastern Religions Edition was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/05/24. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Kids Discover: Mesopotamia

My son subscribes to Kids Discover periodical. The current issue is titled, “Mesopotamia,” and is simply excellent.[FOOTNOTE]

Each two-page spread of “Mesopotamia” is on a single topic, e.g. “Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and More”; “Day to Day”; “Gods and Demons”; “Those Accomplished Mesopotamians”; “The Legendary Gilgamesh and the Origins of Writing”; “How We Know What We Know.”

If that list of topics does not have you slavering for a copy, well…what am I saying? Of course it does.

Each spread comprises a short summary followed by 12–20 photographs and drawings, captioned appropriately for elementary-school-aged kids. I recognize many of my favorite images among these, and also a great many surprises. Speaking of surprises, I am almost embarrassed to say how much I am learning from this juvenile resource (Assyrians crafted a ground-glass lens?).

If you are still on the fence concerning whether to chase down a copy…

I want to say just one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening?

“Expisticy.” [Dang: “extispicy”; we used to joke about “extra spicy”; thanks, Chris.]

Back issues of Kids Discover can be ordered for $3.99 through their home page. “Mesopotamia” is Volume 20, Issue 5, May 2010. You can just enter “Mesopotamia” as a Quick Search term on their Store page.

BACK TO POST (Kids Discover is a periodical “curriculum supplement,” and contains no advertising. See their home page or Facebook page for information on Kids Discover. I do not work for Kids Discover and they do not pay me to say nice things about them.)

[Kids Discover: Mesopotamia was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/05/06. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Public Evidence and Sectarian Claims in SBL

What does it look like for a person of Jewish or Christian religious faith to—as a matter of method—bracket her sectarian claims about the Bible in her investigation into the content and context of biblical texts? And why is it necessary that she be willing to learn to do so?

As some of you will know, a conversation has been underway about book reviews in biblical studies that appear, as a matter of academic method, to privilege sectarian claims (sometimes along with the reviewed book itself). Alan Lenzi has raised up occasional samples, and one in particular has generated some conversation. Calvin at the Floppy Hat wrote a thoughtful post that garnered some comments.

The readers at Art Boulet’s finitum non capax infiniti, especially, have produced a comment thread especially worthy of attention. It’s not a record-breaker in terms of length or number of participants, but it is clearly drawn and notably free of distracting polemics.

The basic question underlying the discussion—what does it mean for anyone, religious or not, to engage in “academic biblical studies” over against sectarian apologetics—may be of special value to students in higher education who are being asked to make this distinction, or to religious laypeople who wonder how seminary “book learning” differs from confessional “Bible study.” By all means, take a look.

[Public Evidence and Sectarian Claims in SBL was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/03/27. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Context of Scripture: And When I Say, “Context”…

…I mean, context.

(Reading COS in a year, following Charles’ schedule. Join in any time!)

The archival document for the day is a short Ugaritic letter from “The King to Ḥayyaʾil Regarding an Allotment of Logs” (3.45Q). I know! Hold your excitement! Dennis Pardee offers a record-breaking ratio of commentary to text: the latter measuring about 6 square inches, the former a hefty 52 square inches (in reduced font, no less). In the letter, the king scolds his recipient for asking where to get the logs for a certain temple, and informs him where the logs will come from. In the commentary, Pardee finds opportunity to make illustrative inquiry into

  • indicators of genre, both in the language of the text and in such non-textual indicators as horizontal strokes dividing elements of the inscription;
  • the institutions and practices associated with timber production, sale, and distribution in and around Ugarit;
  • how to “follow the money” involved with dispersal of royal funds to or through civil employees and private vendors and distributors, possibly involving alliterative wordplay;
  • and more! Seriously, lots to learn here for the patient.

The other text for the day is the “Prophecies of Neferti” (1:45). Students in Bible will appreciate this one as an example of “prophecy ex eventu,” that is the literary fiction of prophecy formulated “after the fact” (as in the apocalypses of Daniel 7–12, for example, or in 1 Kings 13:1-3). Here, the wise scribe Neferti is said to live during the reign of Snefru (4st Dynasty), predicting a future disastrous period that will eventually be corrected by a restorative, redeeming king “Imeny” (Amenemhet I, 12th Dynasty). The work itself of course derives from the reign of that same Amenemhet I, justifying his usurpation and reforms.

Students of the ancient Egyptian language will know that this 12th Dynasty defines the “Middle Kingdom” period of Egypt, considered a literary high point, the style of which is considered normative in later periods. Reading “The Prophecies of Neferti” alongside of “The Instructions of Amenemhet I” (1.36; a work likely written after his death to defuse his assassination and legitimate his heir’s succession) and “The Tale of Sinuhe” (1.38; a politically charged fantasy story also reflecting Amenemhet I’s death and succession), while attending to the notes, begins to provide a textured depiction of this watershed moment in Egypt’s past.[FOOTNOTE]

Here in “The Prophecies of Neferti,” where it depicts the disastrous period preceding Amenemet’s usurpation of the crown, we learn a lot about what scares the daylights out of right-thinking ancient Egyptians:

  • Asiatics in Egypt
  • failure to observe ritual, including mourning rites
  • violence, and indifference to violence
  • burdensome taxes
  • breaking down of social hierarchies
  • Asiatics in Egypt.

This is why I have to be careful not to fall behind on our reading schedule, and when I do fall behind, to simply pick up where we are instead of trying to read too much at once. The texts are just so, so good on a second reading after I have had time to marinate in the contexts for a spell.

Happy reading!

BACK TO POST The interested reader might start with Ronald J. Leprohon, “Egypt, History of (Dyn. 11–17)” Anchor Bible Dictionary 2:345-348 (Doubleday, 1992).

[Context of Scripture: And When I Say, “Context”… was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/03/25. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Mysteries of the Global Flood Revealed!

In a culture where writing on the Bible will always be too secular for some people and too prone to apologetics for others, published works in biblical history might seek to more carefully emulate Caesar’s wife, avoiding even the appearance of (fideistic) impropriety.

Yesterday, I called attention to an infelicitous phrase in King and Stager’s Life in Biblical Israel (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2001). Writing about a Pre-Pottery Neolithic olive processing site on the sea floor off modern ʿAtlit (that’s south of Haifa, or south of Mount Carmel), King and Stager had written that the site was

…inundated in the mid-sixth millennium, probably by a world-wide flood.

The paragraph referenced Ehud Galili, “Prehistoric Site on the Sea Floor,” New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, 1:120-122. There, I find this ’graph (emphasis mine):

About twenty thousand years ago, the last Ice Age reached its peak. Soon afterward, the melting ice caused a rise in sea level that resulted in a significant reduction of coastal plains throughout the world. By the beginning of the Holocene, however, in about 8000 BCE, the Mediterranean was about 30 m lower than its present self.

In other words:

  1. About 20,000 years ago, the most recent glaciation event (not an “ice age,” which are longer, such that we may well still be between glaciation events in a single Ice Age) peaked, with sea levels rising between then and now (on average, that is, with relatively short term accelerations and decelerations set aside).
  2. By 10,000 years ago (around 8,000 BCE), waters had risen nearly, but not yet, to a then-coastal site settled by folks who press olives.
  3. By about 7500 years ago (ca. 5500 BCE), waters had risen enough that the increasingly-sodden coastal site was abandoned, though not necessarily precipitously (King and Stager will note that no olives are left unprocessed at the site). Today, it is under water.

In King and Stager, this 15,000+ year rising of sea levels, with coastal sites gradually shifting landward, is collapsed into a “world-wide flood” that “inundates” the site “in the mid-sixth millennium.”

This choice of words obviously, and unfortunately, evokes the biblical story of an instantaneous and cataclysmic global flood (Gen 6–8). This evocation is equally damaging for biblical studies, whether the audience is those who read Gen 1–11 as history, or those who suspect with dismay that all biblical historians will do so.

This confusion, about whether the biblical narrative is being uncritically accepted, is compounded by a habit that King and Stager share with other biblical historians, whereby biblical narrative episodes are presented in language that presupposes their historicity. For just one example, (page 109),

The terebinth…gave its name to the Valley of Elah, where David slew Goliath (1 Sam. 17:19).

Not, “where David is said to have slain Goliath,” but “where David slew Goliath.” It is as if a writer on ancient Greece were to say, “Troy archaeological level VIIa is topped with a destruction layer, including burn marks to the walls outside of which Achilles slew Hector.”

This writerly habit could be explored further in another post. Here, I simply offer it as the kind of thing that makes it hard to know what to do with a cursory reference to “a world wide flood” in an academic, peer-reviewed work on the history of ancient Israel.

What would you say, reader? Do I make too big a deal over nothing? Or, in the context of larger conversations about isolating the fideistic from the evidentiary in biblical studies, does every molehill deserve scrutiny?

[Mysteries of the Global Flood Revealed! was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/03/10. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

A Pious Scribal Addition?

This sentence, in King and Stager’s Life in Biblical Israel* (page 96), made me do a double-take (brackets represent my own clarifying additions):

Evidence for a wild olive processing site from the [Pre-Pottery Neolithic period] has been found on the sea floor at Maritime ʿAtlit south of Haifa, inundated in the mid-sixth millennium [B.C.], probably by a world-wide flood, after the olives had been processed.

“…probably by a world-wide flood…”?

The sentence concludes with a footnote (Ehud Galili, “Prehistoric Site on the Sea Floor,” New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, 1:120-122), but is not a block quote. We have this resource in our library, so I will check it out, but by their formatting, King and Stager seem to be at least taking ownership of the claim, if not outright producing it.

Did somebody go and demonstrate a mid-sixth-millennium global inundation without telling me? Or is there some other reading of the text that eludes me?

(Perhaps this is a case for the Lenzi Files.)

[Later: See also the follow-up post on this topic.]

(*) Why would Westminster/John Knox choose not to have persistent links to their own books on their web site, instead of out-linking to Cokesbury? Even if sales are through Cokesbury, why not at least keep information about the book in the publisher’s site? Talk about rushing customers out the door.

[A Pious Scribal Addition? was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/03/09. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Who’s Reading Context of Scripture?

If you visited the last Biblical Studies Carnival, then you’ll know that Joseph is reading Hallo and Younger’s The Context of Scripture (3 vols; Brill, 1997) in a year, and so am I. Charles Halton had come up with the reading schedule at New Year’s, but one could join in any time.

Is anyone else reading CoS in a year, and posting about it occasionally? If so, please let me know. I don’t want to miss out on any posts.

[Who’s Reading Context of Scripture? was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/03/04. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Biblical Studies Carnival LI

I dub this month’s Biblical Studies Carnival to be the “Blogroll Amnesty Edition,” because it embodies in part God’s preferential option (on February 3rd, anyway) for the smaller blogs. I had asked that contributors give special consideration to the smaller blogs in this carnival, and several did. So, to the small fry linked herein: happy hit counts to us!

In accordance with venerable tradition (i.e., Duane did it), I am offering this Carnival in two parts. The first part is “Your Carnival,” and includes posts nominated to the carnival. The second part is “My Carnival,” and includes posts that I rounded up on my own. Again, “My Carnival,” in the spirit of February’s “Blogroll Amnesty Day,” will comprise mostly (but not only) posts from blogs that are sub-Top 50.

Your Carnival:

Old Testament and Suchlike:

The bloggers (in the persons of Darrell Pursiful and Tsalampouni Ekaterini) called our attention to Richard Hess on personal names in Gen 1–11.

Suzanne at Suzanne’s Bookshelf looks at Gen 3:16 (“and thy desire shall be to thy husband,” KJV), specifically the meaning of the woman’s desire.

Busybody Loren Rosson looks at Israelite/Judaean land ethics in the context of Philip Esler’s review (PDF) of Ellen Davis’ Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Claude Mariottini takes a closer look at the Song of Solomon, including Song 1:5 (“I am black and/but beautiful”).

David Stark at NTinterpretation is engaged with Martin Abegg on the meaning of “works of the Torah” for the Qumran community.

The New Testament and Suchlike:

Cynthia R. Nielsen at Per Caritatem has written a well thought piece on Eschatological Developments Within the Pauline Corpus.

Stephen Carlson at Hypotyposeis looks at the translation of σαρξ in Galatians 3:3.

On NT pod, Mark Goodacre lays out some of his case against the hypothetical Q source.

The Pistis Christou debate is alive and well at James Gregory’s All Things Ephesians, as he reviews a portion of Bird and Sprinkle’s The Faith of Jesus Christ: Exegetical, Biblical, and Theological Studies (Milton Keynes, U.K., and Peabody, Mass.: Paternoster and Hendrickson, 2009).

As a part of his series on Foucault at Political Jesus, Rod of Alexandria defends deconstruction and looks at the concept of Pauline “authorship.” See, too, the response by J.K. Gayle at Aristotle’s Feminist Subject.

(I have taken the “mythicism” conversation out of the NT section and given it its own area: see further below.)

Teaching and Writing:

Karyn at Boulders2Bits writes a thorough pre-publication review, with excerpts, of Jo Ann Hackett’s A Basic Introduction to Biblical Hebrew (with CD) (Hendrickson, 2010). How much would you pay for Karyn’s review? Don’t answer! There’s more! She has also reviewed Bordreuil and Pardee’s A Manual of Ugaritic (Eisenbrauns, 2009).

Alan Lenzi at Feeling Finite asks, “When Should Editors Step In and Say ‘Not on My Watch,’” concerning William Barrick’s review of Hill, Andrew E., and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament. What ideas about the history of ancient Israel or the composition history of biblical texts is an academic journal obliged to entertain? What ideas is it obliged to dismiss as unsupportable?

(Late breaker: the question is raised anew in Alan’s space in response to another RBL review, this time Bruce Waltke’s review of Michael Fox’s Proverbs 10–31: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary [Yale University Press, 2009]. What is the role of confessional assertions about the Bible in peer-reviewed review articles representing the Society of Biblical Literature?)

ZOMG! Mythicism! And Stuff!

The Big Conversation of the month, though, had to have been that started and maintained by James McGrath on the subject of “mythicism,” or the claim that the person Jesus Christ never existed in history. In a month-long dialogue spawning thousands of comments and dozens of responsive posts elsewhere, James found himself in a polygonal conversation with (caution: overlapping categories ahead) mythicists, creationists, atheists, and his fellow bibliobloggers.

I’ll offer links to James’ posts, then to some of the responses that I found. There is just no way for me to be comprehensive about this, but I figure that 1) if you were in the conversation, you will have caught what I’ve missed, and 2) if you are new to the conversation, this is more than enough to get you immersed.

Here is James, with the titles often paraphrased. If you would rather see all these on one page (albeit in reverse order), just search for “mythicism” on James’ blog. Here we go: mythicist misunderstanding (Feb 6), the discussion spreads (Feb 8), microexistence v. macroexistence (Feb 9), accusations and assumptions (Feb 9), more creationist parallels (Feb 10), creationism and ID (Feb 11), death of mythical messiah (Feb 11), Tacitus on mythicism (Feb 12), publishing on historical Jesus (Feb 14), YECs are like mythicists (Feb 14), yet more mythicist/creationist parallels (Feb 16), unreasonable faith and Jesus’s existence (Feb 17), not all atheists are mythicists (Feb 18), is there evidence for mythicism (Feb 19), mythicism and John the Baptist (Feb 20), mythunderstanding the criteria of authenticity (Feb 21), mythicism and historicism as theories (Feb 22), mythicism and paradigm shifts (Feb 23), at long last I understand mythicism (Feb 24), mything links (Feb 27).

Mid-month, Mike Koke at the Golden Rule took time to gather the links to date and offered a response with reference to 1 Thess 2:14-15, and also with reference to an earlier “historicity of Jesus” post of his own.

Neil Godfrey at Vridar was a steady interlocutor, arguing for the validity of questioning the historicity of Jesus (Feb 4), against misunderstandings on the part of historicists (Feb 9), and against circular arguments on Jesus’s historicity (Feb 11). (The dates should help you cross reference to James’ posts listed above.)

John Hobbins at Ancient Hebrew Poetry offered some considered judgments on the analogy from King Arthur (Feb 9) and on whether Albert Schweitzer can be called a mythicist (Feb 13).

Undoubtedly I have only scratched the surface on this topic. I assure you that I have left no-one out intentionally. I invite readers (and writers) to supplement my links to the “mythicism” conversation in the comments to this carnival.


My Carnival:

Technology:

Tim Bulkeley at SansBlogue wants to know what biblical scholars could do with an online information visualization tool.

Language, Linguistics, and Translation:

Peter Bekins of בלשנות literally had the audience drooling over linguistics at the Midwest SBL.

Crescat Graffiti blesses us with three great words that sound great together: Hieroglyphic…sex…graffiti.

In the “No, no, you can’t do that!” department, Doug “Clayboy” Chaplin alerts us to Preachers! Using! Greek! Claptrap detectors out, everyone.

(Oh, and speaking of claptrap, Jason at Εις Δοξαν reminds us that we can never, never get tired of the comedic preaching stylings of Steven Anderson.)

Tim at SansBlogue is reading Seth Sanders’ The Invention of Hebrew (University of Illinois Press, 2009). Join him for first impressions, the introduction, the first and last ’graphs, chapter one, and chapter two.

On the perennially favored topic of apologetic translation, David Ker at Better Bibles engages a post by Daniel Kirk at Storied Theology on theological manipulation in a translation of Gal 5:6.

Timothy at Catholic Bibles wants to hear you state your case for your favorite Bible translation (h/t to Qohelet at the Bible Critic).

Inscriptions and ancient texts:

Steve Wiggins of Sects and Violence in the Ancient World sees only “escapees from Flatland” (awesome literary ref there, Steve) in a bit of iconography claimed to represent Yahweh and his Asherah.

With a work in the hands of the printers, Alan Lenzi of Feeling Finite is now “off and running” on Reading Akkadian Prayers.

Speaking of reading Akkadian poetry: Beware of abnormal side effects! Duane is having Crazy Thoughts About Blindness and Reading Clay Tablets.

At כל־האדם, Joseph has continued to read The Context of Scripture. Here at Anumma, I have tried to do my part. We’re reading CoS in a year at the January 1st invitation of Charles Halton at Awilum.

Old Testament:

Paavo at מה יתרון has been working through Perdue on empire in Proverbs and in Job.

In response to Julia O’Brian’s piece in The Bible and Interpretation, “Biblical Scholarship and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” Phil Sumpter at Narrative and Ontology has been reflecting on Biblical Scholarship and the State of Israel, and on ethnic Israel and Esther.

Qohelet’s church accidentally made a comedic case against (or for?) lectio continua. Or, at least against randomized selections from Deuteronomy.

Genesis and Stuff:

Thomas Verenna is one of several who observed Darwin Day on their Bible-related blogs.

Steve Wiggins finds that the scientific fact of evolution is, in the United States at least, still Out of Reach.

At כל־האדם, Joseph Kelly reacts to Strimple’s Historical Adam essay, calling it on the fallacious “argument from abbhorent consequences.” (It is fortuitous, then, that a related lecture came to Joseph from Princeton Theological Seminary.)

At Biblia Hebraica, Doug Mangum follows up on Joseph’s post, with  a related word on the similarly fallacious “argument from the NT.”

Nijay Gupta offers recommendations for reading on Genesis and theology.

New Testament:

Wright on Paul, now made easy! See N.T. Wright for Everyone: The Apostle Paul, by Nijay Gupta.

Qohelet (The Bible Critic) endorsed the “analogy from Arthur” that was offered by Eric Reitan beginning with a comment to the historical Jesus discussion. (Above, as a respondent in the “mythicism” section, John Hobbins also weighs in on Arthur).

Also relating to the Historical Jesus, Phil Harland (Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean) continued his podcast series on Studying the Historical Jesus with parts two and three.

At NT/History Blog, Bill Heroman is thinking on “Synagogue” in James 2:3.

Little help now! Patrick McCullough at kata ta biblia is looking for assistance on NT manuscript preservation as reception history, and also needs a good title for an SBL session (not a paper, a session).

Conclusion:

Well, I’m about wiped out. Don’t delay to begin nominating posts to the next Biblical Studies Carnival (instructions for nominating at that link). I will edit this preliminary information upon confirmation, but unofficial rumor has it that the redoubtable Jim West will take next month’s Carnival into his own strong hand and outstretched arm. [That’s a ’firm.]

Thanks for the opportunity to steer the ship this month, and I hope that everyone who enjoyed the Carnival will consider hosting when they may.

[Biblical Studies Carnival LI was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/03/01. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

This Week in COS: It Wasn’t My Fault!

You’ll recall that Charles Halton has invited folks to read the Context of Scripture in a year. Joseph at כל־האדם is also reading along.

For pure joy of reading, I’ve got to go back to last Sunday’s text: “The Case Against Ura-Tarh̬unta and His Father Ukkura” (3.33). The context is the reign of the Hittite king H̬attušili III (mid-late 13th century BCE), and the text involves declarations of innocence, made under oath. The defendants are accused of embezzling items entrusted to them by the queen for distribution, gifting, or trade.

The two principal excuses seem to be, “But I only stole the old ones,” and “It died: not my fault!”

In the “But I only stole the old ones” department, the following is typical:

And whenever they bring here new bits and snaffles, I have been accepting the new ones for the service of the crown, but of the old ones I have been taking for myself as many as I liked. (§5).

Translation: Yes, I pilfered an Epson printer, but they had already been replaced by the new all-in-one scanning jobs! I’m not sure, but the oath the defendants are made to take in §25 seem to reflect a ruling on this saying, more or less, Don’t do it again.

My favorite excuse, though, is the “It died: not my fault” defense. Some examples:

I also took for myself two mules, which died while in my possession.…

I had hitched up three mules belonging to the palace, and they died.…

I took for myself three cows…and drove them to my house, where they died.…

Of the asses which I had charge of, I took for myself nothing. Five asses died, and I replaced them from my house. (Ensuing lines: well, I haven’t yet, but I will.)…

The mules that they mention died.

Anyone ever see Miller’s Crossing? Remember when Tom keeps betting on horses that lose or get injured?

Lazarre’s Man: Hey, horses got knees?
Tom: I don’t know… fetlocks
Lazarre’s Man: Well if I was a horse, I’d be down on my fetlocks praying you don’t bet on me.

If I was a Hittite mule, horse, or cow, I’d be down on my fetlocks praying that Ura-Tarh̬unta and his father Ukkura are not given charge of me.

[This Week in COS: It Wasn’t My Fault! was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/02/12. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]