Alter Intermission IV - The Return
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Judges (same thread as Joshua, starts on post #69): http://www.librarything.com/topic/137927#3452932
Ruth (same thread as Joshua, starts on post #142): http://www.librarything.com/topic/137927#3478722
1 & 2 Samuel: http://www.librarything.com/topic/139684
1 & 2 Kings: http://www.librarything.com/topic/142552
1 & 2 Chronicles: http://www.librarything.com/topic/146697
The main thing I get from wikipedia is that whatever the sources of Ezra, the final text was probably heavily reworked after the Persians were gone, giving the writers freedom to pretty much say what they want. What is only touched on and maybe under-emphasized in the wikipedia is that this book may be a key link to all the final writing of the Hebrew bible. It's possible that the Bible was largely stitched together under Persian rule, it's possible that the main writers of Ezra & Nehemiah were also the main editors of the final Hebrew bible, and maybe they were the one who decided on everything we have read up to now.
As a final note, I will continue to post in Chronicles first, and try to complete my notes there before posting much here in this thread.
But then it turned out I couldn't write about that properly without learning about a whole lot of less intrinsically amusing things, like the difference between "real essences" and "nominal essences" and whether all "complex ideas" are "mixed modes" and old-timey epistemology like that, because we (Europeans) didn't really start talking about language of and for its own sake until we'd had a couple thousand years of talking about it for what light it sheds on the shape of the brain or the universe or syllogistic logic or whatnot.
So it's been a weird journey. I'm looking at previous drafts of introductions and prospectuses and whatnot now, and I can find "The Origins of Speech and the Genius of a Language: Linguistic Relativity in the Eighteenth Century," "Whorfianism's Enlightenment Inheritance," "Condillac’s “Sympathy” and Herder’s Volksgeist as an Enlightenment bequest to Whorfian linguistic relativism" (so ugly, that one), "Sympathetic Génies and Friendly Geister: The Originary Debate and the Whorf Hypothesis," and many similar variations.
All of them were massive, paralysis-inducing projects, totally inappropriate for a simple master's thesis, and I knew that, but it wasn't till I banished Whorf from my main line of argument that I managed to get a handle on things. My current title is:
"Creativity, Empathy, and Linguistic Relativity: The Development of Natural Languages According to Leibniz, Condillac, and Herder"
and basically I'm arguing that each of these very dissimilar thinkers actually has virtually an identical understanding of how languages develop and change (via creativity and empathy, of course) and develop their own characters, and that people who ignore that important common ground are both missing the reasons that it emerges (which are important, among other reasons, for the influence they exert on the emerging discipline of empirical linguistics) and also failing to get an accurate picture of the intellectual life of the eighteenth century. And then I go on to talk about how people build intellectual lineages in ways that can be really spurious and look at why linguistic relativity has been such a locus for anger and dishonest mischaracterizations, using Whorf as a comparison case to L, C, and H above.
Does that make any sense? I keep writing and writing and my focus keeps changing and changing and if I were a more organized person I definitely could have gotten a dissertation out of this. But humanities PhDs are for the independently wealthy anyway.
Martini, your thesis sounds fascinating though I probably couldn't read it, unless it uses only very simple words. :-P
Flo - hope to catch up to you soon. Very curious about your thoughts on Purity and Danger.
Fun stuff about the natural vigour of Greek and the primeval eloquence of the Iroquois and the intrinsically rational French sentence and the organic beauty of Sanskrit and the way Hebrew sounds reflect the intrinsic nature of God's Creation and the magic powers you can get from studying Egyptian and the bestial noises of the Khoisan people and the inert and despotic nature of Chinese.
I have always wondered if anybody has done an analysis of how languages are 'sacralized' - languages like Arabic, Hebrew, Sanskrit, and probably others by their respective culture/religion. I think it would be great to learn all the 'sacred' languages, but Arabic is just not meant to be in this lifetime.
Another argument against using English was that it would increase the impact of social inequalities, which is already very high in French education (basically, to get the diplomas you need to be in the elite, you need to be already a part of the elite from birth), because it would exclude students who can't afford to have private tutors or travel abroad to learn English. That makes a lot more sense to me.
As for sacralized language, let me precede this by saying I'm no kind of expert and there's undoubtedly a whole specialist literature in this area that I can't tell you about. But some suggestions: Giorgio Agamben's The Sacrament of Language: An Archaeology of the Oath looks at the roots of the meaning of swearing (whether to promise or to profane). According to Justin Clemens, "For Agamben, 'God' is a name that humans give to the hope that names can reliably name at all, de jure if not de facto. But God is then the name for the name of everything that cannot not be taken in vain." There was a major tradition in the seventeenth century of philosophical language-making--trying to name things in a way that would be transcendently clear and exress their "true nature." Some saw this as a return to the language of Adam; Leibniz saw it as trying to make human language like the language of angels (in either case, removing the veil of fallen perception and meaning-making).
MM Bakhtin's The Dialogic Imagination talks about "monologic" and "dialogic" language, and how language achieves "awesomeness" (divine or supernatural numinousness) and "authority" (inaccessibility, insusceptibility to change or challenge; this would be a characteristic of Scripture). He doesn't spend too long talking about sacred language per se, but the relevance is clear, and I wrote a paper applying it to the hadith of Muhammad, which are from the Prophet but not God, and therefore open to interpretation and legal use in a way that the "divine verbatim" of the Qur'an is not.
For something more empirical, Webb Keane has a paper called "Religious Language" in the Annual Review of Anthropology (1997) where he applies similar ideas to speech data from Baptist ritual. Like I said, this is just a weird smattering, and I don't know much about this stuff. But I found all of those enjoyable:)
But yeah, vernacular education for all seems like pretty fundamental for a decent society.
And yes, JDHomrighausen is Jonathan, once littlebrattyteen (sp?)
Martin, your links are fascinating if a bit over my head. I don't have the mental fluidity (insanity?) to wrap my head around what is going on in much of contemporary literary and cultural studies. I have on my shelf a book on Linguistics, Language, and Religion by famed British linguist David Crystal. Crystal pointed out in another book of his I read that religion often needs to talk about language. For example, some twentieth century theologians invent new lexicons to speak of God on the premise that much of our current terminology is outdated. Translation studies are also becoming a thing in biblical studies, as scholars move from historical criticism to the trajectory of the Bible throughout time, space, and language.
(See these: http://www.nidainstitute.org/publications )
For example, I have a copy of the Tibetan Bible on my shelf, a translation done by Moravian missionaries and their converts sporadically throughout the twentieth century. John Bray has written some fascinating papers examining these. If you write in more classical or dharma-text Tibetan, you end up with a translation that works in many different regions of Tibet but that common folk can't understand. If you make a translation that is in common speech, it will inevitably be in one region's common speech but sound bizarre in another region. There's also the issue of appropriating Buddhist terminology, which may the best word for some theological idea you're trying to communicate but may also carry unwanted associations. (Not to mention the postcolonial worries about hijacking another's religious vocabulary.) In Japan the early Jesuit missionaries had to invent a new word for "Holy Spirit" - I'm in awe of the skill and subtlety they must have had in the language. (I'm convinced that Jesuit missionaries founded anthropology.)
Sorry for the tangent....
Interestingly, several of the esoteric scholars I'm writing about in the early part of my thesis put a lot of stock in trying to identify symbolic meanings in alphabetic letters, "reducing" or returning them to a kind of logograph-like state, but not one that's apparent to the naked eye: the hanzi 木 looks like a tree, but someone like Jacob Fludd would argue that since Hebrew א (aleph) logically represents the Creation, and the manifestation of God in the created world, ב (beth), the next letter, must bear some intrinsic connection with the Messiah and the fulfillment of God's plan. It becomes a kind of Kabbalah, where words bear their surface and also their hermetic meanings, only without all the math. Which adds a whole complicated layer to Biblical hermeneutics, of course.
Dan, Glob(b)ish is basically Orwell's Newspeak for the business world. It's repulsive.
The Japanese for the Holy Spirit is 聖霊 seirei, which is interesting because (in my understanding! take all this with a large grain of salt) both characters kind of signify "sacred" AND "spirit"--I'm very far from being able to say with confidence how far the traditional Shinto concepts of, like, sacral immanence in the physical world, and holy places being the places where spirits gather, have to do with that, but it's kind of neat. The first character, according to Wiktionary, is also the title given to Catholic saints in Japanese, and appears in words like "monk" and "sage" (a kind of sacred knowing, then, maybe?). The second one is connected to the spirit world, and to the soul.
Sorry for extending the tangent! You're probably wise to avoid literary criticism, Jonathan. David Crystal will talk good sense if you're interested in dabbling in linguistics:)
It interests me about the Tibetan Bible--over time, have various translations for various dialect regions start to be produced? That seems like the best solution in a perfect world with infinite resources, but you're also slicing the pie really small.
I asked my Buddhism professor about this - he speaks fluent Tibetan, has been to Tibet and Nepal numerous times, and says that every Tibetan Christian he has met (not many) reads the Bible in English. So the Bible in Tibetan might be more of a literary oddity than a real evangelization tool at this point.
Kabbalah is probably fascinating, but I don't study it. Supposedly one is supposed to be a certain age (I've heard 35), married, well-versed in the Torah... to me it seems very disrespectful for me (as a Christian) to just flippantly dive into something that is considered special knowledge in another community. That's just me though. So I don't know anything about that logograph stuff other than that in all my Hebrew studies I have never encountered anyone who advocates it. Surely there are fringe theorists with websites but that has about as much credibility as "Holy Spirit Greek."
Are you fictionalizing yourself ?
“‘I declare to you that the Lord will build a house for you: 11 When your days are over and you go to be with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor. 14 I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.’” (NIV)
Superficially this refers to Solomon, of course, but I had the idea that the language also foreshadowed Jesus. Indeed, to some Christians, this seems to be the case--examples are a-plenty online.
How's everybody doing?
"The narrative is told in the first person and apparently has been only lightly edited from a memoir composed by Nehemiah himself."
As far as I can remember, this is the first time that we get to read something written by a participant to the event described. If not Nehemiah, then at least a high-ranking official who was personally involved in the events.
Of course, that doesn't necessarily make the story more truthful or accurate I guess.
It leaves me wondering what to read next. My plan was to go to Ester. Perhaps we should read Tobit and Judith first (Neither are in the Jewish or Protestant bibles. Tobit is found in the Dead Sea scrolls. Judith is not and Wikipedia makes the silly comment that it may the first historical novel.) Anyway, we can read those two books next, or at the end, or not at all. Thoughts?
About what to read next, well my Geneva Bible has Esther next, but if Judith is the same one that I see in every museum holding the bloody head of Holophernes (who was a very ugly fellow apparently), I'm game. Or even if it's not the same Judith. Whatever you decide.
Nehemiah talks a few times about two different Ezras, a priest and a scribe; I haven't read Chronicles or Ezra so I don't know what that might mean. We had a Unitarian minister a few years back who thought that second Temple Judaism mostly came from Ezra, but here in Nehemiah we see another claimant to political leadership which was religious leadership. We get some of the rigid dismissal of the folk who didn't get shipped off to Babylon but stayed home and married Canaanites. I think that there is cause to wonder what the people might have wanted and how much they might have suffered from what was imposed on them.
I also wonder how many Judaisms there have been. Surely here is the start of one, or is it the start of two -- a Judaism for neighbors of the Temple and a spontaneous Judaism for the people at some remove. Some few hundred years later there will be Rabbinic Judaism, a whole nother matter.
Forgive my intrusion, but I picked up my Bible and read Nehemiah last night instead of Einstein's Mistakes.
Getting back into it now by rereading Ezra. One thing I like is seeing all the Persian kings in action. I'm a big fan of Herodotus, and granted they don't take on the same roundness as characters here, but it's fun to read about Darius responding to the letters of the Jews' neigbours and think about the pontoon bridge oveer the Bosphorus, or whatever. The juxtaposition makes Ezra seem a little more like prosaic history and the Histories a little more like myth, which I like.
I need some kind of context. Why are we reading this? What is it's significance? What is significant about the 1st-person narrative? Sorry, disoriented. Any help is welcome.
ETA - Judith and Tobit comments should go in the new thread. We will probably then create a thread for Ester by itself.
EATA - I have re-read part and taken some notes but I'm focusing on a book club read on Sunday, then Nehemiah, then Tobit, then Judith.
Above all the immanent Devil was an essential complement to the notion of an immanent God. The early Hebrews had no need to personify the principle of evil; they could attribute it to the influence of other rival deities. It was only the triumph of monotheism which made it necessary to explain why there should be evil in the world if God was good. The Devil thus helped to sustain the notion of an all-perfect divinity.
from Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas
The introduction to Ezra and Nehemiah asks the question: are they one work from one author or no? It seems that Jewish tradition has always said yes but early Christian thinkers (Origen and Jerome) say no. What can we tell from the texts?
First person narrative is very uncommon in the Tanakh. Why is it used here?
I thought this text was really interesting in terms of historical details: class warfare (ch 5), a female prophet (6:14), the problem of priests without genealogical records (7:63-64), and the many ways in which a culture that has fallen into disarray tries to revive itself.
However, having said the, I can't get over the feeling that there is something less important about Ezra and Nehemiah. They feel minor compared to what we have read earlier.
Some brief notes on this essay:
- Ezra & Nehemiah were traditionally combined with most of Chronicles into one book. These are considered the late writings, along with Daniel and Ester.
- The books are made up of three sections
1. Book of Zerubbabel - Ezra 1-6. This covers the first returnees, over years 538-515 bce
2. Ezra's memoirs - Ezra 7-10 & Nehemiah 8 & 9. Ezra is a priest who leads a second wave of returnees in 458 bce (There is an alternative and later date for Ezra, which Kugel argues for. The later date is synchronous with Nehemia)
3. Nehemiah's memoirs - Nehemiah 1-7 & 10-13. Nehemiah was a ruler from 445 to 420 bce. He travels to Persia in 433-432 bce.
- Talmon describes these books as unique in their straight forward narration without epic or mythic elements
- These books are autobiographic.
I didn't see this in Ezra, but he sneaks in an "I" in chapter 7 (7:27-28). Nehemiah is clearer written as if autobiographical. (from my notes, Nehemiah has am "I" in books 1-7, 12 & 13)
- the presentation confuses the true chronology
There is close to a 60 year gap between Zerubbabel & Ezra, but no sign of this is found in the narrative.
- Writing is probably 3rd century bce, which is as close to the timing of the events as biblical writing gets
- On Ezra's date
Ezra is listed as arriving in Artaxerxes 7th year. But which Artaxerxes? Nehemiah is clearer and listed as arriving in Artaxerxes I's 20th year.
Artaxerxes I 465-424 bce
Artaxerxes II 405-358 bce
Artaxerxes III 359-338 bce
So, Nehemiah is dates to 445 bce. Ezra could be 458, predating Nehemiah 13 years, or 412, postdating Nehemiah's reign by 8 years.
Notes from How to Read the Bible by James L. Kugel
- Kugel believes Nehemiah arrived first, and Ezra second and that both were sent by the Persian rulers.
- Kugel calls this the age of interpretation, mainly from Nehemiah 8:8 and 9:6-23 (both "Ezra" parts)
N 8:8 So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.