Thursday, February 05, 2009

Reflections on Hebrew Texts

Reflections on last semester's modules continues with Hebrew Texts, taught by Hector Morrison, currently the Acting Principal at HTC, who also sits in worship with a BHS in front of him - respect! The module covers three texts: first, there's the beginning of the Book of the Covenant, as found in Exodus 20-22; second the prophet Hosea, chapters 1-4, and third, the wisdom of Qohelet in Ecclesiastes 1-4. This way, you get to deal in different Hebrew styles and genres. The highlights of the module are somewhat dulled (!) by the problems of reading and translating the Hebrew, which I find a bit more of a struggle than the Greek.

At this point can I highly recommend to any theology student intending to pursue Greek and/or Hebrew throughout their degree (and why wouldn't you?!) the Original Languages software from Olive Tree. I run it on my Loox PDA and what a help it is - parsing and lexical data at the touch of a stylus! I bought the Original Languages Package when the pound was still a meaningful currency and bought lots of dollars, but even in these days of the weakling pound , I would say it would be a worthwhile investment. Of course, its no help in the exams, but it assists in the learning.

Some brief highlights:
  • The material from the Book of the Covenant is fascinating, not least the question of the relationship of the Book to the Decalogue. Also, comparisons to the parallels to other ANE Law Codes, such as those of Hammurabi, emphasise the contextualisation of God's revelation to his people Israel, but also the counter-culture that the Laws of Yahweh represented. Especially striking is the sanctity of life and the egalite of the Mosaic Law, as well as the important of family respect, in contrast to other ANE codes. I found Peter Enns' commentary on Exodus (NIVAC), whilst not technical, helpful and readable. As a technical commentary I used Childs' volume (OTL).
  • Interpretation of the book of Ecclesiastes is difficult. I used Longman's recent NICOT volume, in which he propounds the view that the teaching of Qohelet is somewhat heterodox, and is presented by another orthodox author who composes a frame around the work. Longman's commentary is certainly valuable, but I wonder whether his view does justice to the complexities of life as a believer, the absurdity that we do find in existence in a fallen world, as well as the pedagogical role of contradiction in wisdom texts. In any case, reading Qohelet gave me my first experience of enjoying the metrical rhythms of wisdom texts.
  • Hosea contains the most difficult textual problems in the whole of the Old Testament. Some of these huge problems are found in Chapter 4 and this is where the passage for the assessed exegesis paper was found. In this chapter, the sins of the people are laid bare, sins which are pictured in Gomer's own promiscuity. Reading around the ANE background to this passage in the fertility cults of Baalism is not particularly edifying, but does shed light on Yahweh's indictment of his people through the ministry of Hosea. Some scholars propose a narrowly spiritual reading of the promiscuity of God's people, but I think it more likely that the promiscuity of Gomer is not officially cultic, but associated with the activities of the hoi polloi at cultic sites - promiscuity had become a practice of the worshippers. Therefore Yahweh's judgements are against the literal, as well as the spiritual (the two being connected) fornications of the people. Also, I must mention Hosea 2:18, which foretells the Edenic peace which is the telos of the New Covenant (and which is also within its scope) - a definite highlight.