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Hebrew Bible/Old Testament

Two KINDS of Originals. How Do We Know We Have Either?

I have recently been asked about how we know we have the originals of the books of the Bible.  By that, the questioner meant both how do we know the words we think the authors wrote were actually the words he wrote and how do we know the books we have are in the shape they were when they were written -- that is, is it possible chapters or passages have been added here or there or that several books were combined into one book even before scribes started copying what we have today? I've decided to deal with BOTH issue in a series of posts, and I've realized that many years ago I dealt with both issues very briefly TOGETHER in a single post, based on a question I received way back then when the world was younger.  So I'll begin my thread with that post: *******************************   How can we absolutely know whether we have the original words of the New Testament?  And weren’t books of the Old Testament edited progressively over time, [...]

What About People Who Come Back From the Dead in the Hebrew Bible?

In thinking about Sheol and death in the Hebrew Bible, it is worth reflecting on passages where the dead come back to life or are contacted by the living.  This does not happen much at all – a couple of instances of resuscitation and one of necromancy. Probably the most famous resuscitation – the bringing back to life of a dead person – involves the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 17:17-24.   Elijah has been helping an unnamed widow from the town of Zarephath, miraculously providing her and her son with food during a divinely-mandated drought/famine (which the prophet brought to teach the wicked King Ahab a lesson).   But the boy dies.  The widow is understandably distraught – the prophet was supposed to be helping her and now her son has died.  Some help. Elijah takes the boy, though, and raises him from the dead.  The woman responds appropriately, declaring him Elijah a man of God who speaks the word of God. In 2 Kings 4:32-37 a similar story is told about the prophet Elisha [...]

2024-04-08T16:07:16-04:00April 17th, 2024|Afterlife, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

More on Sheol: Was it an Actual Place?

The Jewish scriptures contain a variety of different views about what happens to a person at death.   Most commonly, a person who dies is simply said to have gone to “death” – a term used some thousand times in the Bible.   Better known, but far less frequent, a person’s ultimate destination is sometimes called “Sheol,” a term whose meaning and etymology are debated.  It occurs over sixty times in the Hebrew Bible, and there is unanimity among critical scholars that in no case does Sheol mean “hell,” in the sense people mean today.  There is no place of eternal punishment in any passage of the entire Old Testament.  In fact – as comes as a surprise to many people – nowhere in the entire Hebrew Bible is there any discussion at all of heaven and hell as places of rewards and punishments for those who have died. Probably most people who read the Bible think of Sheol as a Jewish kind of Hades, a shadowy place where everyone goes and all are treated [...]

2024-04-17T10:52:12-04:00April 16th, 2024|Afterlife, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

What Is Sheol in the Hebrew Bible?

I was recently asked what the Old Testament teaches about "hell" and whether that's what "Sheol" refers to.  If not (or if so), what it the view of the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible?   This is a topic I dealt with in my book Heaven and Hell (Simon & Schuster, 2020) and I posted on it some years ago on the blog.  This is what I said. ****************************** When trying to figure out where the Christian ideas of heaven and hell came from, an obvious place to start is with the Hebrew Bible.  Jesus himself held to the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures.   To be sure, there was not a completely fixed canon in his day, which all Jews everywhere agreed to.  But virtually all Jews we know of ascribed to the high authority (and Mosaic authorship) of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy); and most Jews  – including Jesus – also considered the prophets authoritative; Jesus also accepted the authority of the book of Psalms and a probably number of [...]

2024-04-17T10:45:56-04:00April 14th, 2024|Afterlife, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

How Do You Translate the Bible? My Work for the New Revised Standard Version Committee

About two or three times a month I get asked about translations of the Bible.  Usually the questions are about which one I prefer (answer: The New Revised Standard Version, i.e. the NRSV, and also an annotated edition, such as the Harper Collins Study Bible, which gives brief introductions to each of the biblical books and notes at the bottom of the page for difficulty passages, a kind of mini-commentary).  But sometimes a questioner wants to know about the process of biblical translation and what it entails. I've been interested in this question for, well, roughly 50 years, but my interest reached a peak in the early 1980s when, as a lowly graduate student, I got invited to be a secretarial assistant for the committee producing the NRSV.  Years ago on the blog I talked about that over a series of posts, both what the translation entailed, what problems it (and every other translation committee or individual scholar) had to confront, what I did for the committee over the years, etc. (For the first post [...]

Hark, the Herald Angels What Now? Guest Post by Esther J. Hamori

Yesterday's guest post by Hebrew Bible scholar Esther Hamori began to discuss her new book on the MONSTERS of the Bible and God's, well, uncomfortably relationship with them.  Today she continues by giving us a revised excerpt from the book itself:  God’s Monsters: Vengeful Spirits, Deadly Angels, Hybrid Creatures, and Divine Hitmen of the Bible..  Now this will make you think... Esther J. Hamori is Professor of Hebrew Bible at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. You can get her book at this link, and I recommend you do!  God's Monsters. ******************************   If you know one angel by name, it’s got to be Gabriel. As a Jewish kid with no personal connection to Christianity but seemingly a thousand school Christmas pageants behind me by the eighth grade, I knew Gabriel as well as I knew Superman. Or at least, I thought I did. As Luke tells it, God sends Gabriel to tell Mary that she’ll give birth to Jesus. After the baby is born, an unnamed angel appears to a group of shepherds. Luke describes [...]

2023-12-18T10:59:47-05:00December 19th, 2023|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Revelation of John|

Biblical Monsters and Their Violent God! Guest Post by Esther Hamori

Ever wonder about all those Monsters in the Bible, and what they might tell us about, well, God?   Earlier this year I read a book by Esther Hamori, God’s Monsters: Vengeful Spirits, Deadly Angels, Hybrid Creatures, and Divine Hitmen of the Bible. (Broadleaf Books, 2023).  It's been a long time since I've read a book on the Bible completely unlike anything I've read before.  I thought it was fantastic (so to say). And so I did three things right off the bat.  I agree to write a blurb for the book (see below); I met Esther (Professor of Hebrew Bible at Union Theological Seminary); and I asked her if she'd be willing to co-author the third edition of my textbook on the Bible.  (She agreed). Here is the blurb I wrote for her book. God’s Monsters is a hilarious treatment of a horrifying topic.  With deep intelligence, literary flair, and wicked wit, Esther Hamori pulls no punches in exposing the terrors of the Bible and the multitudinous divine creatures that inhabit it – including the [...]

2023-12-14T20:56:05-05:00December 17th, 2023|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Reminder: Interesting Lecture on Thursday Oct. 19: Creation Stories not in Genesis!

Hey Blog Folk, Quick reminder of an interesting lecture tomorrow evening (Thursday Oct. 18); it's free even though we're hoping for donations (not connected with the blog).  Here's the original annoucement in case you missed, misplaced, misconceived, or misconstrued it: ********************************* Are you interested in the Creation account in Genesis 1?  Did you know there are *other* creation accounts in the Hebrew Bible?  Different ones?  Want to hear about them?  And about how they relate to other creation accounts in the ancient world? On October 19, 8:00 pm, my colleague Joseph Lam, professor of Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East will be giving a remote public lecture:  "Beyond Genesis:  The Many Creation Stories of the Bible." Below you will find a short video that I did with Joseph to explain the event, and a link to sign up for it. This lecture is NOT related to the blog, but it IS a fundraiser for my department (I'm mentioning it here on the blog only because many of you are interested in the topic).  The [...]

2023-10-18T10:25:04-04:00October 18th, 2023|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

The Creation Stories in the Hebrew Bible (outside of Genesis!). A Lecture You May Be Interested In

Are you interested in the Creation account in Genesis 1?  Did you know there are *other* creation accounts in the Hebrew Bible?  Different ones?  Want to hear about them?  And about how they relate to other creation accounts in the ancient world? On October 19, 8:00 pm, my colleague Joseph Lam, professor of Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East will be giving a remote public lecture:  "Beyond Genesis:  The Many Creation Stories of the Bible." Below you will find a short video that I did with Joseph to explain the event, and a link to sign up for it. This lecture is NOT related to the blog, but it IS a fundraiser for my department (I'm mentioning it here on the blog only because many of you are interested in the topic).  The donations will go to the departmental efforts to fund graduate students for research trips for their dissertations and professional conferences to present the results of their research. Both are crucial features of a graduate education, unusually important for anyone who wants [...]

2023-10-03T11:55:52-04:00October 2nd, 2023|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

Was Abraham “Just Plain Nuts?” A Platinum Post by Douglas Wadeson MD

Here is an unusually challenging post that deals directly with one of the major religious/ethical problems of the entire Bible.  The focus is Abraham, a central figure for the three major monotheistic religions of the world that are together followed by over half the humans on the planet.  But is Abraham actually a commendable figure in the Scriptures.  Or, not to put too fine a point on it -- is he nuts? Read the post and let Doug know your views of the matter! ****************************** One of my favorite Far Side cartoons by Gary Larson shows a man lying on the couch as the psychiatrist writes on his notepad, “Just plain nuts!”  I suspect we have all encountered people that prompted such a thought to cross our minds.  I realize it is difficult to make a psychiatric diagnosis on someone without a direct interview and observation, but I have a serious concern about one of the pivotal figures in the religious world.  To make the situation more difficult there is no way to know how [...]

2023-06-16T06:14:52-04:00June 26th, 2023|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

Creation Stories of the Ancient World (Part 2): An Ancient Egyptian Account

Was the account of creation found in Genesis comparable to (or even borrowed from?) other ancient accounts in scattered throughout the world at the time? Last month my colleague Joseph Lam, an expert in the Hebrew Bible and the languages and literature of the Ancient Near East provided us with a guest post about some of the creation stories found outside Scripture in non-Israelite cultures -- stories in circulation before the ones written in Genesis ( Here now is a second and equally interesting post dealing with stories from ancient Memphis Egypt (not Tennessee!)! This is the topic of his lecture course for the Great Courses/Wondrium, "Creation Stories of the Ancient World" (links at bottom) **************************** In my last blog entry, I offered a brief description of the Babylonian Creation Epic, Enuma Elish, and reflected on how one might imagine its relationship to the seven-day creation story of Genesis 1. In this post, I turn to an enigmatic but fascinating text from ancient Egypt known as the Memphite Theology that has also been compared with Genesis [...]

2023-05-12T14:46:07-04:00May 11th, 2023|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

 Yahweh and Moses. Platinum Guest Post by Omar Abur-Robb

For those of you interested in Hebrew Bible, the (existence of the) historical Moses, the Hebrew language (you don't have to know it!), and... so on -- here's the post for you!  This is a Platinum offering for other Platinums only.  Omar will be happy to address your comments and questions! ******************** The name “Yahweh” might be a good indicator for the “Scientific Historical” existence of Moses [By scientific history I mean the historical data without the metaphysics]. Yahweh is a “sentence name” and this is really rare. We might find a full name (the first name and the surname) that represents a sentence, but it is very rare for the ‘first name’ to be a sentence. We need here to differentiate between compound names and sentence names: Ismael is as compound name that consists of two words: ‘Isma’ and ‘El’, which means The hearing of El. The Semitic people are famous with the compound-names, for example In Arabic we have Abdullah (Abd-Allah) which means ‘The Servant of Allah’, Nasrallah (Nasr-Allah) which means ‘The victory [...]

2023-04-03T20:08:14-04:00April 7th, 2023|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

You Have No Right To Question Why You Suffer. What???

We come now to the conclusion of the dialogues of Job.   His friends have stridently insisted that he is suffering because he has sinned.  He vehemently argues he has not.  As it turns out, he's right.  Then why is God making him suffer?  Here God himself appears to explain.  Or rather, to insist that he is not going to explain and that Job has no right to ask him to. Is this an answer to suffering?  Or, well, a satisfactory one?  We can't even ask? Decide for yourself.  Here's how I explain the climax of the book of Job in my book God's Problem (HarperOne, 2008). ****************************** Job has no time – or need – to reply to this restatement of his friends’ views.  Before he can respond, God himself appears, in power, to overwhelm Job with his presence and to cow him into submission in the dirt.  God does not appear with a still, small voice from heaven, or in human guise, or in a comforting dream.  He sends a violent and terrifying whirlwind, [...]

2023-03-14T13:37:26-04:00March 18th, 2023|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Creation Stories of the Ancient World (Part 1): On Enuma Elish and Genesis 1 Guest Post by Joseph Lam

My colleague Joseph Lam is an expert on the languages and texts of the Ancient Near East, including the Hebrew Bible.  In terms of languages, he not only teaches ancient Hebrew, but also (brace yourself), Ugaritic, Akkadian, Syriac, Semitic linguistics, and, well, so on.  He is particularly expert in the relationship of the texts and myths other Ancient Near Eastern religions with those of the Hebrew Bible. Joseph is also a superb teacher, and so he was invited to to a course for the Great Courses (Wondrium) called "Creation Stories of the Ancient World."  The course just came out, and so I have asked Joseph to do a couple of blog posts for us, to introduce all of you to the kinds of things he covers there.   Here are the links to his course and, then, his first post: Wondrium link: The Great Courses link: ****************************** Creation stories tell us who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. They not only describe the origins of the world in [...]

2023-03-16T15:48:46-04:00March 16th, 2023|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Does God Punish Those Who Do *Right*?

In my last post I began discussing the dialogues at the heart of the book of Job, where Job's friends declare that he is simply getting what he deserves because he is so sinful, and he defends himself by saying he has done nothing to deserve this.  It turns out he's right.  But why then is he suffering?  Here is how the dialogue continues, as the "friends" intensify their attacks on his morals and Job stands firm in declaring his righteousness. ****************************** Sometimes the friends bar no holds in accusing Job, wrongly, of great sin before God, as when Eliphaz later declares:   Is it for your piety that he reproves you, and enters into judgment with you? Is not your wickedness great? There is no end to your iniquities. For you have ... stripped the naked of their clothing. You have given no water to the weary to drink, and you have withheld bread from the hungry... You have sent widows away empty handed, and the arms of the orphans you have crushed. Therefore [...]

2023-03-17T10:52:12-04:00March 15th, 2023|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Job and His “Friends.” With Friends Like These…

I have been doing a series of posts on the views of suffering in the book of Job.  I quite intentionally use the plural “views” because, unlike what most people think or assume (those who have any opinion on the matter) the book of Job does not present a solitary view but several views that are at odds with each other.  One of those views is opposed by the author.  But two of them – that are at odds! – are embraced by the author.  Or, rather, we need to use the plural again: by the “authors.”   As I point out, there are at least two authors behind our book of Job, writing at different times, in different places, for different audiences, and setting forth different views.  Only later did some unknown third person combine the writings – one of them a narrative folk tale told in prose (chs. 1-2, 42) and the other a set of dialogues presented in poetry (chs. 3-42). If you haven’t read the previous posts, no worries.  This one and [...]

2023-03-07T13:22:23-05:00March 14th, 2023|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Is the God of Job Worthy of Worship?

Is there any way to consider the God portrayed in Job as a morally upright being who deserves complete devotion?  Read the account yourself.  I have summarized the "folktale" of Job (found in Job 1-2, 42) in my previous post.  This is a tale that portrays God, Job, and the reason for human suffering very differently from the (different) composition of Job 3-42, a set of dialogues between Job and his friends and eventually God that I will discuss in my next posts.  For now I'm interested in the reasons God crushes the righteous Job with suffering in the tale. The overarching view of suffering from the story is clear: sometimes suffering comes to the innocent in order to see whether their pious devotion to God is genuine and disinterested.  Are people faithful only when things are going well, or are they faithful no matter what the circumstances?  Obviously for this author, no matter how bad things get, God still deserves worship and praise. But serious questions can be raised about this perspective, questions raised [...]

2023-02-27T11:13:48-05:00March 11th, 2023|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

The Story of the Righteous Job and His Righteous God

In my previous post I explained how the book of Job comprises both a folk-tale written in prose about a righteous man named Job (chs. 1-2; 42) and a set of dialogues written in poetry between Job, his so-called friends, and eventually God (chs. 3-42).   These are two different compositions with two different authors living at two different times with two different understandings of why Job and people like him suffer. To unpack these understandings, I begin with the folktale as discussed in my book God's Problem (HarperOne, 2008). ****************************** The Folktale: The Suffering of Job as a Test of Faith The action of the prose folktale alternates between scenes on earth and in heaven.  It begins by indicating that Job lived in the land of Uz; usually this is located in Edom, to the southeast of Israel.  Job, in other words, is not an Israelite.  As a book of “wisdom,” this account is not concerned with specifically Israelite traditions: it is concerned with understanding the world in ways that should make sense to everyone living [...]

2023-02-26T12:34:23-05:00March 9th, 2023|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Suffering in the Two Books of Job. Two Books?

  After I finished my short thread of posts about the problem of suffering a couple of weeks ago, I realized that it might be helpful for me to discuss one or two of the books of the Bible that deal with the issue head-on -- in part because many people don't read these books much, even if they know about them, and in part because many people who *do* read them don't know how expert interpreters have explained them. For no book is this more true that that gem in the Hebrew Bible, the book of Job.  Or rather those two books, the two books of Job. To talk about Job and what it is really about will require several posts.  This is the first, an introduction to the single most important issue connected with the book that most people have never heard and that completely affects how the book is to be interpreted. This is how I discuss it in my book God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question [...]

2023-02-28T13:57:00-05:00March 8th, 2023|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Why Would Evolving Beliefs about Sin Lead to the Idea of an Afterlife? Guest Post by Daniel Kohanski

Last Week I published the first of three guest posts by blog member Daniel Kohanski, based on a book that he recently published that will be of interest to many blog readers.  Here now is the second post. ******************************             Apocryphile Press has just published my latest book, A God of Our Invention: How Religion Shaped the Western World ( The book first examines how the western world’s idea of God developed, from the Israelite worship of many gods, Yahweh included, through the first centuries of Christianity. It then looks at how that idea of God has impacted the way we deal with sex, war, and death, and how the belief that Jesus is coming back has interfered with our ability to handle crises. Here is an edited excerpt from the first part of the book, exploring how the Jews first came to believe in judgment after death. (I’ve relied on some of Bart’s books, and other scholars, for some of this material, but omitted the references for space reasons.) --------------------------------------------------------------- In the days of [...]

2023-02-27T20:08:14-05:00February 25th, 2023|Afterlife, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|
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