be there dragons in isaiah 6?

Isaiah 6 is a magnificent account of Isaiah’s encounter with the true king. The scene features supernatural creatures, the שרפים (śĕrāphîm). Most translations going back as far as the Greek simply transliterate the Hebrew and so call the creatures “seraphim” (the Greek has σεραφιν). But I think there may be a viable alternative.

  • Seraph is the Hebrew word for serpent/snake. The word also means “burning” and it is supposed that the association comes about because the bite of a serpent produces a burning sensation.
  • These serpents have legs (they cover the legs with one set of wings) and hands (used to pick up the burning coal).
  • They have wings!
  • The Greek word drakōn means “dragon, serpent,” so a dragon is meant to be serpent like! The Greek word is used in Rev 12–13 and often translated as “dragon” in English versions.
  • These creatures are supernatural, so not something you’d expect to see every day.
  • They’re impressively sized and loud enough to cause the temple, built from heavy stone, to tremble.

So perhaps “dragon,” as popularly conceived, actually does fit quite well. Here, then, is a quick translation of the first verses of Isaiah 6:

In the year king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and exalted. The bottom of his robe filled the temple. Dragons with six wings were stationed above him – each had six wings: with two it covered its face, with two it covered its feet, and with two it flew.

They called to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is General Yahweh! The whole earth is filled with his glory!”

The stone frames of the doorways shook at the sound of their calls, and the temple filled with smoke.

Then I said, “Woe to me for I am destroyed, for I am a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the king, General Yahweh.”

Then one of the dragons flew to me and in its hand was a burning coal which it had taken from the altar with tongs. It touched my mouth and said, “Now this has touched your lips your guilt has been removed and your sin dealt with.”

Perhaps the only downside is that “dragon” is used in Revelation in reference to Satan. Yet perhaps like angels there can be good and evil dragons!

when ‘desire’ is wrong

Genesis 3 recounts the undoing of the intimate relationships established in the previous chapter between humans and God, between the man and the ground, between the woman and the man. In recent decades most of the discussion seems to have been over what God says to the woman, traditionally translated something like:

[Yhwh Elohim] said to the woman:

I will intensify your labor pains;
you will bear children in anguish.
Your desire will be for your husband,
yet he will rule over you. (HCSB)

Of most interest is the syntax of the second half of the verse and the meaning of the word translated “desire.” While most studies have sought to clarify the nature of this desire, I want to suggest that perhaps the word “desire” is not the best way to render the Hebrew at all. Read on for more.
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is god transgender?

The New York Times recently published an opinion piece by Rabbi Mark Sameth entitled “Is God Transgender?” You can read it here. In this he argues that “the Hebrew Bible, when read in its original language, offers a highly elastic view of gender.”

His argument is very thin on the ground (he has a book coming out on the Tetragrammaton which he seems to be promoting and which presumably will include more detailed argument), but I’d like to take a quick look at what he does say. Read on for more!
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lying by and for god in the bible

We all know that lying is wrong, and we all know that God does not lie. After all, 1Sam 15:29 reads:

… the Eternal One of Israel does not lie or change His mind, for He is not man who changes his mind. (HCSB)

But is it really true that God never lies? It turns out that the Bible itself records instances where God or Jesus do deceive people and where God’s people lie and are blessed for doing so! So what’s going on? Read on to find out.
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what’s wrong with inerrancy?

The doctrine of inerrancy is a point of contention among many Christians. For some it simply cannot be made to work with the Bible, but for others it is a foundational doctrine without which one’s faith is set adrift and certainty is lost. Rather than address the whole doctrine, in this post I want to consider the role of the autographs — the original documents rather than the many copies of them — plays in thinking about inerrancy. Famously one part of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy reads:

We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.1

There are, however, some significant problems which are not generally addressed.
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why adam before eve was not androgynous

The story of the creation of man and woman in Genesis 2 begins with God forming the first human who is designated האדם (hāʾādām, ‘the human’). The word is used as a generic term referring to human beings in many places in biblical Hebrew. Furthermore, there are a number of other words which mean ‘man’ as specifically distinct from ‘woman’. This has prompted quite a few people to argue that when first created this human was sexually undifferentiated or androgynous or a hermaphrodite. This creature was then divided into the first man and the first woman in Gen 2:21.

If this is a valid understanding of Genesis 2 it clearly undermines any claim that the man’s creation prior to the woman indicates that he has authority over her, because he is not created as a man until she is created as a woman.

It’s an interesting idea apparently rooted in a careful analysis of the hebrew text of Genesis 2, but it is ultimately untenable. Read on to find out why. Continue reading

what’s in a name: name giving in genesis 2

Last week I heard Thomas R. Schreiner speak at Moore Theological College on the topic of “What the Bible says about Women in Ministry.” While briefly making reference to Genesis 1–3 he made a particular point that the man’s act of naming the animals and the woman is an exercise of authority on his part, and hence demonstrates his position of authority over the animals and the woman.

Frankly I’m surprised that appeal is still made to naming in discussions about women’s roles in the church. Read on for my reasons. Continue reading

water on mars

NASA have recently announced the discovery of flowing water on the planet Mars. Of course this is not really anything new! In late 1945 my grandfather gave my father a science book entitled The Marvels and Mysteries of Science “written in popular style” by Clyde Fisher et al. (published in 1943) for my father’s 13th birthday. Clyde himself penned chapter 1, “The Wonders of the Heavens.” The chapter is a delight, including an artist’s impressions of the canals of Mars. So to celebrate the discovery of water on Mars I’ve reproduced a page which relates what was known of Mars way back in the early 1940s. Enjoy!

A page about Mars from the 1943 book The Marvels and Mysteries of Science

A page about Mars from the 1943 book The Marvels and Mysteries of Science

slavery in the old testament

The former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd caused something of a stir during an appearance on the ABC’s Q&A program when he likened holding on to the notion that marriage should only be between a man and a woman because that’s the Bible’s position with the notion that we should support slavery because the Bible does.

His words were a pale reflection of Jed Bartlett’s words in The West Wing which also sought to establish that much of the Bible is simply irrelevant and outdated. Mr Rudd also mixed up Aristotle (who did argue that slavery, for some, was a “natural condition”) and the Bible (which never makes such a claim).

I don’t want to focus specifically on Kevin Rudd’s comment, but instead I think it worthwhile examining some of the background to slavery in the Bible (and particularly in the OT) to perhaps put things in perspective. Continue reading

job’s wife

February 8th is International Septuagint Day.

In celebration, this year I thought I’d post one of the two major differences between the LXX and MT in the Book of Job, the details of Job’s wife. For those unfamiliar with her, this is all we hear of and from Job’s wife in the MT:

ותאמר לו אשתו עדך מחזיק בתמתך ברך אלהים ומת

Then his wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!”

Sounds pretty harsh, right? Well the LXX of Job tends to tone things down quite a bit throughout. When it comes to Job’s wife, however, we get quite a lot more information! The LXX has this:

Χρόνου δὲ πολλοῦ προβεβηκότος εἶπεν αὐτῷ ἡ γυνὴ αὐτοῦ
Μέχρι τίνος καρτερήσεις λέγων
ΔΙδοὺ ἀναμένω χρόνον ἔτι μικρὸν
προσδεχόμενος τὴν ἐλπίδα τῆς σωτηρίας μου;
iοὺ γὰρ ἠφάνισταί σου τὸ μνημόσυνον ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς,
υἱοὶ καὶ θυγατέρες, ἐμῆς κοιλίας ὠδῖνες καὶ πόνοι,
οὓς εἰς τὸ κενὸν ἐκοπίασα μετὰ μόχθων.
sύ τε αὐτὸς ἐν σαπρίᾳ σκωλήκων κάθησαι διανυκτερεύων αἴθριος·
kἀγὼ πλανῆτις καὶ λάτρις
τόπον ἐκ τόπου περιερχομένη καὶ οἰκίαν ἐξ οἰκίας
προσδεχομένη τὸν ἥλιον πότε δύσεται,
ἵνα ἀναπαύσωμαι τῶν μόχθων καὶ τῶν ὀδυνῶν, αἵ με νῦν συνέχουσιν.
ἀλλὰ εἰπόν τι ῥῆμα εἰς κύριον καὶ τελεύτα.

The NETS translation of this is:

Then after a long time had passed, his wife said to him, “How long will you persist and say, ‘Look, I will hang on a little longer, while I wait for the hope of my deliverance?’ For look, your legacy has vanished from the earth—sons and daughters, my womb’s birth pangs and labors, for whom I wearied myself with hardships in vain. And you? You sit in the refuse of worms as you spend the night in the open air. As for me, I am one that wanders about and a hired servant—from place to place and house to house, waiting for when the sun will set, so I can rest from the distresses and griefs that now beset me. Now say some word to the Lord and die!”

Nowhere near as harsh! The LXX gives Job’s wife a more human face, referring to her own loss and sufferings. Furthermore, it removes the lexical link to the words of the Satan by simply exhorting Job to say some word to God, rather than explicitly ask him to “bless” God.