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Long time no see/write/etc.

It’s been ages since I’ve written anything for this blog. Ages. I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve got the web real estate, so I might as well use it.

I’m currently pursuing a MS in Library Science at Drexel University (full-time) while I’m working full-time as a  reference librarian at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. So, I’ve been quite busy. I’ve not been doing much formally in the realm of biblical studies, but I’m pretty close to the field given my line of work.

So, a word about future posts… As the current tag line of the blog states, Old in the New is about “Musings, resources and research related to my interests in early Jewish and Christian literature, librarianship, Legos [sic], etc.”

I guess, the focus won’t shift too much, as that sums up most of my interests right now, but given my studies, I’m going to be focusing more on the librarianship aspect of things.

When to have “The Talk” with your kids…

No. Not that talk.

When do you talk to your kids about Star Wars?

This has me thinking along several lines. When do you introduce a kid to Lord of the Rings? Do you start them off with The Hobbit or the Silmarillion?

Related to this question is how do you introduce people to the story of redemption? Is there a way to let the story unfold without plot spoilers?

Here’s an example of this happening to the Mouk People of Papua New Guinea. In this reenactment, missionaries show how they told stories from the Old Testament in chronological order before getting to the story of Jesus, his death and his resurrection. The response of the Mouk is amazing. (See around the 6:55 mark to skip to the good stuff.)

NIV 2011 and James 3:1

So, I’ve not really followed very closely the whole controversy/hubbub about the NIV 2011. It has something to do with dissatisfaction with the TNIV*, but I won’t get into that.  In my humble opinion, they should just call this next revision “Tomorrow’s NIV”. . .  JK. Folks are calling it the NIV 2011, among other things. The text is now available online for all to see (;

Robert Slowley has put online a handy comparison of the original NIV, the TNIV and the NIV2011. John Dyer made a similar tool.

So, given the new release of the text, I decided checked out the differences in the Epistle of James (given that I’ve spent a little time studying that book in the past).

One thing I found particularly ‘interesting’ is the translation of adelphoi in James. The author of James uses this  word throughout the letter to address his audience. He particularly punctuates the epistle with reference to adelphoi mou (1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1, 10, 12; 5:12, 19). In the original NIV, this phrase, adelphoi mou is consistently translated “my brothers”.

That’s an OK translation. The problem is that while the Greek word, adelphos, in the singular generally refers to “a male from the same womb” or “brother”, in the plural it can also refer collectively to a group of both brothers and sisters (male and female). Adelphos can also refer more ‘metaphorically’ to a person “viewed as a brother in terms of a close affinity”, rather than by virtue of being ‘from the same womb’ (BDAG, s.v. ἀδελφός). Of course the precise meaning of adelphos in any given instance is determined by context. If, for instance, you know that a group of individuals being referred to are both male and female, you’d assume that adelphoi means either “brothers and sisters” (siblings) or perhaps “folks associated closely with each other.”

Given this understanding of adelphos, particularly adelphoi (the plural), the TNIV consistently translated adelphoi throughout the Epistle of James as “brothers and sisters.” This makes sense. It is highly unlikely that James would have addressed only males of “the twelve tribes of the dispersion” (1:1) who came from the same womb. He was most likely using the term more metaphorically to refer to those with whom he shared a close association (they were, after all, a part of the same twelve tribes), and just as likely he was referring to both men and women.

Once upon a time in English, one could simply say “brothers” and folks would pretty much understand that both men and women were being referred to. (Growing up, I memorized a lot of the KJV so I was familiar with this inclusive* ‘brothers’ language . . . Shakespeare was a lot easier for me than for the other kids in high school.)  Nowadays, given the way language has shifted over the years, folks might have a hard time with this. If you refer to “brothers” it would pretty much be assumed you were speaking to an all (or mostly) male crowd. So, James is addressing more than just the men in the congregations, why should we leave our ‘sisters’ out?

Well, the NIV2011 retained the TNIV’s translation of adelphoi as “brothers and sisters” in all places but in 3:1. Here is the Greek text and the English translations in the NIV family tree:

  • NA27 Μὴ πολλοὶ διδάσκαλοι γίνεσθε, ἀδελφοί μου, εἰδότες ὅτι μεῖζον κρίμα λημψόμεθα.
    Mē polloi didaskaloi ginesthe , adelphoi mou, eidotes hoti meizon krima lēmpsometha
  • NIV Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
  • TNIV Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
  • NIV2011 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
So, I’m a bit befuddled. Where did the translators of the NIV2011 get the phrase “my fellow believers”? It’s simply not in the text. James uses adelphoi mou the same as he does elsewhere in the epistle–to address his listeners as a whole. He uses adelphoi to do so, implying a close connection. I guess that “my fellow believers” gives the sense of this close affiliation, but there’s a difference in ‘feeling’ between “fellow believers” and “brothers and sisters.”
Throughout James, the NIV2011 uses “brothers and sisters” to translate adelphoi mou, (see the translation footnote a in 1:2) but in this context, the translation gives no clue that he’s using the same form of address. There is another thing to consider: James talks a lot about ‘faith’ and ‘belief’.* Given the NIV2011’s translation in 3:1, if I didn’t know any better, I’d assume that Jimmy was using one of those ‘faith’ or ‘belief’ words. He did after all just get done preaching about the importance of faith/belief backed up by works. I can imagine a well-meaning-and-observant Sunday School teacher having an “Ahah! moment” reading this translation. James just gets done talking to the folks about the nature of true belief, and then he lovingly refers to his addressees as “fellow believers.” Problem. He is not.

I can’t help but wonder about this. Was this simply the slip of the translator’s pen? An oversight in translation consistency? The nuance is slight enough; I think it very well could have been. If it is, it’s an unfortunate slip. James is here admonishing his readers, “Not many of you should become teachers.” If memory serves me correctly,* wasn’t gender and the whole ‘women in ministry’ thing at least tangentially related to the controversies over the TNIV? Why didn’t they use fellow believers elsewhere in the text? The only place where the translators used “fellow believers” to translate adelphoi mou refers to potential teachers. Elsewhere they used somewhat ‘gendered’ language. Were they avoiding explicit reference to brothers and sisters in a place where James may be addressing both brothers and sisters who could potentially be teachers? Was this an attempt to avoid the TNIV feather-ruffle?

My inclination is to believe that this would not be the case. I prefer to give the benefit of the doubt, or at least to believe that there was some other relevant stylistic reason to do this. Still, this made me wince just a little. If anything it provides one of those brave souls who would become a teacher a ‘teachable moment’ in translation theory.

So. That’s my first post in almost a year. I await the darts. 😉

Canadian SWAT bust Toronto man with a Lego BrickGun

Click the image to see details on the BrickGun site.

Jeremy Bell of Teehan+Lax (a design firm in Toronto) got quite a surprise last Tuesday when Toronto Police Emergency Task Force crashed into his office and handcuffed him based on a report that he had a handgun. Turns out that the handgun was a life-like Lego model of a semi-automatic pistol (with a removable clip) made by BrickGun. A ‘neighbor’ saw him assemble the gun in his office, reported it to the police, and the Toronto Police took him quite seriously!

I read the story on The Brothers Brick, where they have a short interview with Jeremy. Jeremy also blogs about the experience. The story pops up at the GlobalToronto and the Torontoist.

Deppe’s “The Sayings of Jesus in the Paraenesis of James”

Dean Deppe, professor at Calvin Theological Seminary wrote his PhD dissertation on “The Sayings of Jesus in the Epistle of James”. This dissertation has been cited by scholars as one of the most important works on the Epistle of James’ use of Jesus’ teachings. For instance, Richard Bauckham notes:

Deppe’s very thorough study (unfortunately not easily accessible and so not used by most scholars writing subsequently) probably takes this method of approach to the relationship between James and the Gospels as far as it can be taken (see pg. 117 in “James and Jesus” [pgs. 100-137 in The Brother of Jesus: James the Just and His Mission; eds. B. Chilton & J. Neusner; Louisville, KY: W/JKP, 2001]).

Thankfully Dr. Deppe has made an updated version of his dissertation EASILY accessible, as he has given  permission to post it to this site.* This updated version is titled “The Sayings of Jesus in the Paraenesis of James: A PDF Revision of the Doctoral Dissertation, ‘The Sayings of Jesus in the Epistle of James’ by Dean B. Deppe (1990).” Because this is an updated version, the pagination is different from the print version that was printed in Chelsea, Mich. in 1990. I’ve uploaded the file both to this blog and to the Internet Archive.

*Actually, he gave me permission to post this long ago, but I forgot to mention it! My apologies for the delay!

Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary OT – Review

I was fortunate enough to ‘win’ a little contest at the Koinonia blog that offered folks a free volume of the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary on the Old Testament (ZIBBCOT) in return for writing a review. I received vol. 2, covering Joshua (Richard S. Hess), Judges (Daniel I. Block), Ruth (Dale W. Manor), and Samuel (V. Philips Long). For the purposes of this review, I’ll concentrate on Block’s treatment of Judges – particularly the Samson narratives (which happens to be available online at Scribd for the month of November).

In writing this review, I claim no expertise in Judges, or Old Testament backgrounds or ancient Near Eastern culture. I am rather approaching this review as (1.) a librarian at an Evangelical seminary and (2.) an occasional teacher of adult Bible study classes.

As a librarian, I can’t help but notice the quality of printing and book construction. It is unfortunately rare these days to get a book with a sewn binding. Even the super-expensive publishers like Brill and Oxford have resorted to non-sewn (and hence weaker) bindings in many of their books (in an effort to cut production cost?). I must say that this trend is lamentable for libraries, where durability is at a premium. Book costs rise each year, and if other seminaries are in the same boat as GCTS, book acquisitions budgets are either flat or dropping. So, when we spend money on a book, we want it to last on our shelves (but I digress). I do hope that the ZIBBCOT becomes a dog-eared resource that withstands the test of time, and the sewn-binding is a good start. I also hope that Zondervan continues to use this method of binding when it comes to major reference works. Because of their heavy use, and unfortunately non-sewn binding, we’ve had to send other reference works (published in Grand Rapids and Downers Grove) to the bindery after only a few years of normal library use. I doubt that this will be the case for the ZIBBCOT.

Besides potential durability, the book is just downright handsome. I know. I know. Don’t judge a book by its cover. That’s well and fine, but these days a book needs to look good! The book and pages lay flat on the table while you’re reading (I wish all my books did this). The text is printed on high-quality, heavy, glossy paper. There are vibrant illustrations throughout – including full-color maps and images of various artifacts, dig sites, diagrams and charts. The text is clean and readable and the sidebars are consistently formatted. The book does unfortunately lack either a header or footer indicating exactly which biblical text is being treated on each page (this comes in handy when you want to make a quick consultation of the commentary). Still, pericopae and verses are clearly indicated throughout with bold-faced text.

I am often asked how to find OT background information by students taking introductory OT exegesis classes, and as an occasional adult-ed Bible teacher, I like to track down such info as well. As with just about any topic worth researching, there is (and there still remains) no one-stop-shop for such research (nor should there be only one). The ZIBBCOT will, however, certainly become a major destination along the way! I have often pointed students in the direction of the IVP Bible Backgrounds Commentary (IVPBBCOT), and I’ve used this resource quite a few times to prepare for lessons. The major downside of the IVPBBCOT was its lack of footnotes and/or references to other textual evidence/related research. This was infinitely frustrating… A student would come to me with their appetite whetted, saying something like “The IVPBBCOT points me to Hittite suzerain-vassal treaties as a parallel to such-and-such text, but I can’t find any reference to the particular work it’s talking about.” Boy, is that frustrating! The IVPBBCOT is a helpful resource, but in an effort possibly to conserve space, it lost a great deal of usability. Just enough information is given to provide an appetizer, but then the main meal never comes. (Side note: Some of this lack has been made up with the IVP OT Dictionaries. Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible is a new addition to this cadre of Bible encyclopedias and dictionaries. I’ve not yet had a chance to see it, but if Zondervan wants to send one my way to review, I’ll certainly give it a looksee! Hint hint. Wink wink. Nudge nudge.) Anyway, the ZIBBCOT excels here. Most of the particularly interesting points in the commentary have end-notes that point to either clarifications or other resources that shed more light on each issue. References to ANE texts are often quoted generously, and are given in standard reference formats – making it relatively easy for a student (or a reference librarian) to hunt down the appropriate text. It may have been helpful (even if it increased the page count) to provide reference to ANET, COS or other standard collections of ANE parallels to the biblical text. For some, footnotes would be preferable to end-notes, but I suppose that footnotes would clutter the pages already packed with vibrant illustrations.

I don’t think that the ZIBBCOT completely replaces any commentary including the IVPBBCOT. When doing research, both should be consulted in tandem, given that just a spot check reveals that one commentary may give information that the other is lacking. For instance here are the entries for Judges 13:5:

IVP Bible Background Commentary: ritual importance of hair. There is a Phoenician inscription from the ninth century reporting the dedication of shaven hair by an individual in fulfillment of a vow made to the goddess Astarte. It is of importance that in the biblical text there is no discussion of what should be done with the hair that is cut. It is neither dedicated as in the above inscription, nor is it deposited in the temple as in some cultures. The dedicated hair is uncut, not cut. Hair (along with blood) was one of the main representatives in ancient thinking of a person’s life essence. As such it was often an ingredient in sympathetic magic. This is evident, for instance, in the practice of sending along a lock of the presumed prophet’s hair when the prophecies were sent to the king of Mari. The hair would be used in divination to determine whether the prophet’s message would be accepted as valid.

Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary:
No razor may be used on his head (13:5). Presumably the razor was a sharpened bronze or copper instrument. Egyptians shaved with a stone blade at first, later with a copper blade, and during the Middle Kingdom with a bronze razor. (ZIBBCOT 2.187)

As seen from the two excerpts above, one commentary covers material that the other does not. Note that the ZIBBCOT does not mention much regarding the importance of the hair in ritual observance. Still, for the love of all that is holy, why can’t the IVPBBCOT provide a simple reference to where that Phoenician inscription is found or at least an article that mentions it! If the ZIBBCOT had mentioned it, it would have been given an end-note! 🙂

Now while the ZIBBCOT may not replace other commentaries, it excels at what it does, and besides references, gives content that others do not give. For instance, in discussing the infertility of Samson’s parents, the ZIBBCOT helpfully cites (and quotes) passages from ancient Near Eastern literature, including the Ugaritic Legend of Kirta, the Code of Hammurabi, along with Mesopotamian and Hittite magical texts. These texts help demonstrate that “the problem of childlessness and divine involvement in overcoming it plays an important role, not only in biblical narratives but also in extrabiblical texts” (ZIBBCOT 2.186). It then devotes an entire side-bar to “The Importance of a Son,” which briefly speaks of the importance of children in the ANE which includes a lengthy quote from “Dan’el’s plea to the gods in the Ugaritic Epic of Aqhat” that illustrates the importance of an heir (2.188). In this instance, the IVPBBCOT only gives a short paragraph on “barrenness” in its comment on 13:2. In addition to having information that the IVP commentary lacks, the ZIBBCOT provides a supplement to Block’s full commentary on Judges in the New American Commentary series, which lacks mention of the extrabiblical material in its comments on 13:2. (Block wrote both the ZIBBCOT and the NAC commentaries.)

In addition to the commentary itself, John H. Walton’s essay on methodology in the book’s frontmatter is worth reading. It steers the interpreter between the Fundamentalist hazard of ignoring ANE parallels for fear of Scripture reflecting or borrowing from it’s ancient Near Eastern neighbors and the ‘critical’ hazard of embracing ANE parallels as a sure sign of Scripture’s status as a non-original or non-inspired text.

Over all, I heartily recommend the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary on the Old Testament. It will serve as a helpful reference resource in libraries, and it will serve as an excellent tool in the hands of a careful pastor or teacher who wants to delve into the ancient Near Eastern culture in which the OT was written.