Jonathan Storment, guest-blogging at Jesus Creed, raises an important question about the Noah movie that is opening this weekend:
It turns out that Evangelicals have a bad habit of reviewing stuff that we haven’t seen or read. Some people are critiquing it because it doesn’t stay true to the 3 chapters that Noah is in the Bible, but I have a different concern.
I am not so concerned that they will get the story wrong, I am wondering what will happen if they get it right?
Part of me wonders if we really remember what the Noah story is. It is an incredibly dark and disturbing story of a God who takes evil seriously. What we see in Genesis 6–9 is the unrestrained justice of God.
In the beginning of Genesis, God creates the world by holding back the waters of chaos, but in chapter 6, it is as if God just stops holding it back. He undoes Creation.
He purges the world from sin, starts over with one family and asks them to give the world a better future. The only problem with the flood is that it didn’t work.
Two chapters later, Noah’s family starts the same cycles of sin. Noah passes out drunk and naked, and wakes up cursing his family.
It’s like the ark washed up on the Jersey Shore.
I wonder if Hollywood is prepared to deal honestly with a story like that. (I guess we’ll find out Friday.) But I also wonder if American Evangelicalism is prepared to deal with a story like that.
Due to Mercer’s exciting NCAA tournament run (in which our team showed themselves to be the epitome of class in both victory and defeat), last week’s discussion of Jeremiah was (1) somewhat truncated and (2) rather poorly attended. So I’ve decided to post my lecture notes (admittedly rough; I like to wing it) so everyone can get their bearings as we move forward into a discussion of the exile.
I. Jeremiah’s complicated literary history.
A. Some sections are repeated elsewhere (Jer 7:1-15 = Jer 26:1-9; Jer 39 = Jer 52)
B. There is great variation among ancient texts. The Septuagint (LXX) is 1/8 shorter than the Masoretic Text (MT) and has the later chapters in an entirely different order.
C. What can account for these variations?
- A reflection of the chaos of the time?
- A reflection of an open-ended understanding of the book? (i.e., editors felt free to revise, expand)
D. Three major times of material, traditionally divided into 3 different sources.
- Source A: Poetic oracles, perhaps from Jeremiah himself?
- Source B: Biographical narratives—written by Baruch?
- Source C: Deuteronomic editing and expansion.
II. The Contents of Jeremiah
A. Chapters 1–25 are the nucleus of the book, mainly consisting of poetic oracles. Is this the “first scroll” Jeremiah dictated to Baruch (36:4)? Jer 25:13 hints that this part may have originally stood alone.
1. The Call of Jeremiah. Jer 1:4-19 is an overture to the whole book. Jeremiah has a perception of having been called all his life.
- Looking backwards – a trail of Yahweh’s leading, a working together of things – haven’t come this way accidentally! Jeremiah senses this as a liability.
- Appointed a prophet “to the nations” – the only prophet so designated – doesn’t seem to be a missionary – perhaps so named because the fate of nations was tied up with Israel and Judah.
- Perhaps he was so named because he ministered during a time of great upheaval in international affairs? YHWH using Nebuchadnezzar, etc, bring message of what God is doing.
2. The Temple Sermon (ch. 7). Jeremiah rebukes Israel for their misdirected confidence that they are safe because they have the temple in which to worship. Their worship means nothing if they don’t get their act together—only after they change their ways will God meet them in the temple. (But don’t bet on this happening, see 7:16.)
3. The Potter’s House (ch. 18). God gives Jeremiah an object lesson about what Judah looks like from the divine perspective. They are as intransigent as a flawed lump of clay that resists what the potter is trying to do to it. Therefore, like the clay, they must be “worked over” so that the Potter can make of them a fitting vessel. (And this reworking is not going to be pleasant!)
4. The “Confessions” of Jeremiah. Five soliloquies that give insight into the prophet’s psyche: 11:18–12:6; 15:10-21; 17:14-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-18. Individual lament form.
- Deep unhappiness with his mission.
- Prayers for God to punish those who oppose him.
- Enduring commitment to the divine will.
5. Prophetic “gestures.” Like several other prophets, Jeremiah seems to have been a fan of “performance art.” He occasionally sought to make his point not through words alone but symbolic acts such as:
- Breaking the jug (19:11)
- Wearing a yoke (27:12)
- Buying a plot of land (32:15)
**What follows is an almost random assortment of oracles, laments, prose narrative, and speeches.
B. Chapters 26–29: Encounters between Jeremiah and the establishment, mainly other prophets. Chapter 29 is Jeremiah’s famous letter to the exiles, encouraging them to get on with life—they’re in it for the long haul, so they might as well get used to it.
C. Chapters 30–33: “The book of Consolation”—hope and comfort for the future. Many affinities with Deutero-Isaiah.
- 1. A new future for Israel. This is a pivotal passage—reversal of fortunes.
- 2. The “new covenant” (31:31-34)
D. Chapters 34–45: More prose narratives, mostly from the reign of Zedekiah and after the Fall of Jerusalem.
E. Chapters 46–51: Oracles against the Nations—some are quite formulaic, stereotyped.
- 1. The same language is used in Obadiah, Isa 15–16
- 2. Parts are repeated elsewhere: Edom (Jer 49:19-21) = Babylon (50:44-46)
F. Chapter 52 is an appendix taking from the Deuteronomic History (2 Kgs 24:18–25:30)—the Fall of Jerusalem and its aftermath.
III. The Message of Jeremiah is complex. Changing with the changing political landscape.
A. Encourage the reform of King Josiah.
- 1. The “temple sermon” (ch. 7), esp. 7:16, “Do not pray for this people.” Time has run out!
- 2. False assurances of a speedy return (ch. 27:16-17). Rather, serve the king of Babylon (cf. ch. 29—seek the peace of the city where you find yourselves)
C. Hope: YHWH will not entire abandon his people (esp. chs. 30–33).
Actually, what I discussed was textual criticism and how we are sometimes guilty of wrestling to understand the wrong biblical text! But it’s more fun to talk about David and Goliath, so that’s the way I did it.
For those who are interested, here is the PowerPoint presentation I used: “Opponents of Unusual Size.” Enjoy!
I was also informed (in jest, I’m almost certain) that a rumor had started that I was doing a Bible study on bestiality. I can only say that, if I were writing a book, that is exactly the sort of rumor I would hope someone would get started!
Over at JesusCreed, contributor RJS lays out the arguments for both common interpretations of the book of Jonah.
I’ve long thought the greatest stumbling block to interpreting Jonah as literal history is not the great fish but rather the repentance of the Ninevites—an event of which extrabiblical records know nothing and, on the contrary, eighth-century Assyrian history would seem to emphatically refute.
Have a look at what RJS has to say, however, and make up your own minds.
Adam K-J has supplied a second Septuagint Studies Soirée, a substantial survey of scintillating Septuagintal scholarship. Splendid!
There’s a new blog carnival in town! Abram K-J has put together the first-ever carnival dedicated exclusively to the Septuagint. Go over and have a look at his Words on the Word blog.
Peter Enns discusses this question a bit in order to link to a chart (PDF) put together by Trent C. Butler in his review of Konrad Schmid’s The Old Testament: A Literary History. As Enns points out, the details are definitely open to scholarly debate, but nobody really doubts that something like what Schmid proposes is what actually happened. Namely, the books of the Old Testament had a long prehistory before they came to be written down in the form we have them today.
Joel Hoffman is blogging today about unicorns and other mythological creatures in the Bible—or at least in the King James Version. As he usually does, Dr. Hoffman raises an intriguing question about how the original Hebrew words the KJV rendered as “dragon,” “unicorn,” and so forth should be handled. Did the original writers intend their readers to understand these as real-world creatures (e.g., as serpents, rhinoceroses, etc.) or did they mean to depict creatures of fantasy? He writes,
More generally, I think the real translation question with all of these creatures is whether they were intended to be mythic or — for want of a better word — real.
Even if they were intended to be real, “dragon” and “unicorn” may have been right once. It seems that people thought that both existed. (As late as the 17th century, scholars in Europe argued that griffins were real, and the only reason we didn’t see them was that, quite naturally, these magnificent creatures tended to stay away from people who would steal their gold). But now those translations wrongly take the real and turn them into fantasy.
On the other hand, if they were not meant to be real, then attempts to identify the exact species may be misguided, and maybe we should stick with “dragon” and “unicorn” and so forth.
Hoffman deals mainly with “unicorns” (re’em) and “dragons” (tannin), although he makes passing reference to a possible merperson in the character of Dagon, the god of the Philistines.
Along these same lines, I would suggest that there are a handful of possible reference to fairies in the Bible—at least if the rabbis of the medieval period were interpreting these passages rightly.
Two Hebrew words are of interest: shedim and se’irim, both translated daimonia (“demons”) in the Septuagint. Shedim only appear twice in the Hebrew Bible, both times in the plural (although the singular form would be shed). Psalm 106:37 says, “They sacrificed their own sons and daughters to demons!” (CEB). In a similar context, Deuteronomy 32:17 says,
They sacrificed to demons, not to God,
to deities of which
they had no knowledge—
new gods only recently on the scene,
ones about which your ancestors
had never heard.
Shedim are therefore obviously bad news in the Bible. Oddly enough, the term seems to be related to the Akkadian shedu, a benevolent or protective spirit, perhaps something we might think of as a guardian angel. Then again, people around the world have made offerings to various local protective spirits to secure their goodwill. The biblical writers were obviously interested in discouraging such a practice. Thus, in the Bible, they are depicted not as helpful minor spirits but as false gods to be avoided.
The next word is se’irim (singular se’ir), meaning “hairy beings” or “shaggy beings.” In the KJV, the word is translated “satyrs.” There are a few more references to se’irim than there are to shedim. According to Leviticus 17:7, “The Israelites must no longer sacrifice their communal sacrifices to the goat demons that they follow so faithlessly. This will be a permanent rule for them throughout their future generations.” The LXX renders se’irim as mataiois, “to empty or vain things.”
Se’irim dwell in the desolate wilderness and are apparently fond of dancing. According to Isaiah 13:21,
Wildcats will rest there;
houses will be filled with owls.
Ostriches will live there,
and goat demons (LXX, daimonia) will dance there.
And again in Isaiah 34:14:
Wildcats will meet hyenas,
the goat demon will call to his friends,
and there Lilith will lurk
and find her resting place.
I saw you wondering about Lilith in that verse. We’ll come back to her in a minute. It should be noted, that the Septuagint translation removes Lilith from the picture but possibly gives us a completely new mythological creature. My fairly wooden translation of the Greek is as follows:
Demons will meet onocentaurs
and they will shout one to the other,
There onocentaurs will rest
for they found a resting place for themselves.
If you’re not up to speed on medieval bestiaries, let me quickly explain that an onocentaur is part man, part ass. (And please refrain from any comments about half-ass blog posts. Thank you.)
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the se’irim are “are satyr-like demons, described as dancing in the wilderness…identical with the jinn of the Arabian woods and deserts.” Azazel, the goat-like wilderness demon (Lev 16:10ff) and Lilith (whom we already encountered in Isa 34:14) are said to be of the same class of beings. Further, it should be noted that some see in Lilith a prototype for later vampire legends. The Jewish Encyclopedia also raises the possibility that “the roes and hinds of the field” (gazelles and wild deer in the CEB) in Song of Songs 2:7 and 3:5 are “faunlike spirits similar to the se’irim, though of a harmless nature.”
How does all this apply to fairies? Thomas Keightley argued in The Fairy Mythology (1870) that the prototypes of European fairy legends were to be found not only in the nymphs and satyrs of Greco-Roman mythology but also in Near Eastern stories of jinns and peris (or jinn and parian, to use the correct Arabic and Persian plurals). He even argued that our English word “fairy” derives ultimately from Persian pari (or peri). This linguistic argument may or may not hold, but anyone who looks at Persian peri-stories will find many parallels to what was believed about fairies in rural Europe until fairly recent times.
If Keightley is correct, then the European conception of fairies owes a good deal to the Mediterranean and Near Eastern world(s) in which the Bible was written. It therefore would not be unusual to find references to the such creatures in biblical and other early Semitic materials.
After tracing the fairy mythology throughout northern Europe, Keightley makes quick reference to Jewish legends about similar creatures found in the rabbinic corpus. These beings are in fact called shedim and seirim (although Keightley transliterates them shedeem and shehireem). Another term, maziqin (or mazikeen in Keightley’s transliteration), is Aramaic and applies specifically to a malevolent spirit. According to rabbinic tradition, all these beings are in fact directly analogous to the jinn of Arabic folklore. Keightley writes,
It has long been an established article of belief among the Jews that there is a species of beings which they call Shedeem, Shehireem, or Mazikeen. These beings exactly correspond to the Arabian Jinn; and the Jews hold that it is by means of them that all acts of magic and enchantment are performed.
The Talmud says that the Shedeem were the offspring of Adam. After he had eaten of the Tree of life, Adam was excommunicated for one hundred and thirty years. “In all those years,” saith Rabbi Jeremiah Ben E’liezar, “during which Adam was under excommunication, he begat spirits, demons, and spectres of the night, as it is written, ‘Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begat children in his likeness and in his image,’ which teaches, that till that time he bad not begotten them in his own likeness.” In Berasbith Rabba, R. Simon says, “During all the one hundred and thirty years that Adam was separate from Eve, male spirits lay with her, and she bare by them, and female spirits lay with Adam, and bare by him.”
These Shedeem or Mazikeen are held to resemble the angels in three things. They can see and not be seen; they have wings and can fly; they know the future. In three respects they resemble mankind: they eat and drink; they marry and have children; they are subject to death. It may be added, they have the power of assuming any form they please; and so the agreement between them and the Jinn of the Arabs is complete.
As with dragons and unicorns, there are probably some who will pounce on “rational” or “scientific” explanations for fairies. Some do, in fact, attribute European fairy-lore to dim memories of diminutive tribes driven underground—and ultimately to extinction—by later invaders with the advantage of iron weapons (in both Europe and the Middle East, iron is a potent weapon against the Fair Folk).
In my experience, however, I think most interpreters would see shedim and se’irim as terms intended to describe supernatural or otherworldly beings and not merely misidentified pygmies or “wild men”—whether or not they judge such creatures to be “real.”