david penchansky — understanding wisdom literature

Eerdmans have recently published a new volume by David Penchansky entitled Understanding Wisdom Literature. This is a book which examines the biblical and post-biblical wisdom literature and raises questions and issues which are sometimes uncomfortable but are nonetheless (or perhaps I should say “are thus”) important. Below is my review of Penchansky’s book.

connecting genesis 3 and 4 through the most obscure verse

Otto Procksch described Genesis 4:7 as the most obscure verse in Genesis, and he may well be right. One of the more curious things to note about this verse is that it is clearly intended to remind the reader of Genesis 3:16, the punishment of the woman. This is clear because the syntax and terminology in the two verses is virtually identical, and yet in both instances rather unusual.

Compare the verses, first Gen 3:16b:

ואל אישך תשוקתך והוא ימשל בך

then Gen 4:7b:

ואליך תשוקתו ואתה תמשל בו

The existence of the parallel is indisputable, but what is the significance? Read on for my thoughts…
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using apple’s pages app for hebrew

Apple’s Pages word processing/document editing/layout program is appealing in many ways: it is easy to use, powerful, and produces very nice looking documents. One big problem for those of us who want to include Hebrew or other right-to-left language text within our documents, however, is that Pages on Mac OS X simply cannot handle it. Sure, you can type some Hebrew into Pages, but try editing it and you’ll soon discover that it is well-nigh impossible.

Well, that’s almost true. As it turns out, the iOS version of Pages (for iPods, iPhones, and iPads) can handle Hebrew editing reasonably well (see the image which shows the cursor sitting in the midst of some Hebrew, something you simply cannot do on Mac OS X).

This is good news, because while there are a number of solutions to writing mixed language documents on Mac OS X (such as Mellel or Nisus Writer Pro), the options are quite limited on iOS.

Perhaps the only glimmer of hope for Pages on Mac OS X is that it has been quite a long time since an update was released and, given the improvements made in TextEdit on Mac OS X and Pages on iOS in handling RTL languages, maybe any new version of Pages would improve support (although, AFAIK, there’s no indication that a new version of Pages for Mac OS X is to be released any time soon).

why all is not fleeting in qohelet/ecclesiastes

Translators and scholars have long debated the best translation for the term הבל (hebel, traditionally “vanity”) in Qohelet (Ecclesiastes). The term refers to vapour, something intangible, but is almost always used metaphorically in the Hebrew Bible.

Now rather than discuss all possible meanings, in this post I’d like to examine one particular proposal: that הבל means ‘fleeting’.1 I’ve come across this a couple of times recently, first at The Briefing, and second from Gary Millar who’s recently taken up the post of Principal at Queensland Theological College and who spoke at Katoomba Men’s Convention.

For why “fleeting” isn’t an adequate translation of הבל, read on…
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is agape (ἀγάπη) love specially divine?

This last weekend I heard a talk in which it was claimed that the word ἀγάπη (agapē) was little used prior to the New Testament in Greek and was infused with new and special meaning by the writers of the NT, a meaning that reflects a divine, selfless, love. This is not a new claim, and any search for the term “agape” across the internet will uncover many making exactly this claim. Indeed, if you venture to view the Wikipedia entry on the term agape you will find some similar claims.

From what I can tell, however, the special divine meaning for the term ἀγάπη (agapē) is spurious.
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mac os x 10.7.3 improves hebrew support

Apple has just released Mac OS X 10.7.3 which normally wouldn’t warrant a mention here except that it includes improved Hebrew support. Apple’s update notes include the following:

Add Catalan, Croatian, Greek, Hebrew, Romanian, Slovak, Thai, and Ukrainian language support.

Of course it would be nice if they told us exactly what this means for Apple’s apps and Hebrew, but any improvement in Hebrew support is greatly appreciated!

god and suffering part 2 — individual sin

For previous parts of this series, see:

The supposition that individual sin lies behind suffering pervades a great deal of both biblical (e.g. Ezek 18) and extra-biblical thought. More often than not, however, the biblical material reflects upon the inadequacy of individual sin as a viable explanation for one’s sufferings. The prime example is Job: his friends assume that his suffering is related to some transgresssion and encourage him to confess and seek forgiveness from God, but the prologue is at pains to point(!) out that, whatever the real reason is, individual sin is certainly not the reason for his suffering.
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deut 32:8–9 and the ancient israelite pantheon?

During a recent online debate the question of the meaning of Deut 32:8–9 was raised as evidence of the Bible’s affirmation of polytheism and the subordinate status of the God of Israel, Yhwh. The essence of the claim is that the version of this passage preserved in the DSS identifies El Elyon as head of a pantheon who assigns nations to various subordinate deities, and Israel is assigned to Yhwh in this process.

The argument rests upon the alternate reading found in a fragment from cave 4 at Qumran (4Q37 or 4QDeutj).1 This fragment only preserves a few words from these verses.

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god and suffering — introduction

Small scream

Image via Wikipedia

Some time ago I heard a sermon entitled “How could a good God allow suffering?” There’s not much that can be covered in the brief time allocated to a sermon, but while (or perhaps “instead of”) listening I set about thinking of reasons offered in the Bible for suffering. This introductory post is simply to list those I could think of before (hopefully) examining each one in more detail. So here are reasons which came to mind:

  1. Human sin in general (e.g. Gen 3; Rom 1; 8:22);
  2. Individual sin (numerous places, particularly in the OT);
  3. Character building (Rom 5);
  4. Discipline (Heb 12);
  5. Preventative (Job 33);
  6. Glorification of God (e.g. John 9:2–3);
  7. “Completing” Christ’s afflictions (Col 1:24);
  8. Persecution (2Tim 3:12);
  9. Escaping evil (Isa 57:1–2)1;
  10. Mystery (Job).

If you can think of other reasons offered for suffering by the Bible, I’m happy to expand on this list.

A couple of brief introductory comments are warranted. First, the items on the list are not all mutually exclusive. Second, aside from (1) and perhaps (3) and (6), it is not really possible to be sure these apply to any specific situation without direct divine revelation (and, conversely, it is not always possible to be sure these do not apply).


  1. This isn’t really an explanation for suffering, at least for those “taken away,” but those left behind would suffer loss.