Almost all the people who write for BR live their lives as academics (should it be called The Bible as Reviewed by Professors?). They are products of the American educational establishment, all conditioned by the narrow, sometimes claustrophobic limitations of the university culture with its special styles, conventions, pressures and expectations. And as productive scholars pounding the same old historical-critical beat, they have learned to adjust to the needs of America’s prestigious publishers, such as their lust after “cutting-edge” scholarship, particularly if it can be touted as new and original or sure to upset conventional thinking.
None of this is ever mentioned, much less considered. It is simply assumed that your writers are uniquely free of context, breathing a purer air of personal disinterest, high impartiality and scholarly objectivity, virtues that they oddly but routinely deny to early churchmen, most of whom are described as religious enthusiasts, amateur theologians, irresponsible visionaries, myth-makers, power-seekers, anti-Semites, male chauvinists, mystery-cultists and nervous co-conspirators. Yes, those post-Easter folks had their confining contexts and their hidden agendas—but not our friends and colleagues who write for BR.
Now none of this would matter much, or could simply be discounted as the vanity typical of professors, were it not that the positive image of Jesus Christ that increasingly emerges from your pages is that he was (Lord save us all!), yes, a kind of first-century university professor (surprise!). He had his disciples (grad students who would parrot his words, gratefully advertise his merits and develop some of his ideas in unwarranted directions); he was a great champion of women, the poor and the marginalized; he was modest but incredibly wise, a fine teller of stories, perhaps in a nice way a bit of a cynic and occasionally enigmatic (as good teachers give entertaining lectures but also want to make their students think); he had a habit of tweaking the establishment and its hypocritical rules; he was popular with the masses but unpopular with religious fanatics (just read those angry letters to BR); he was unappreciated in his own time (as every professor toils bravely under a burden of unacknowledged merit); and he was all for freedom and equality and justice, but certainly not interested in eschatology, apocalyptics, miracles, vicarious sacrifice, divinization, resurrection, atonement and all those other “Hellenistic” (another BR cussword) anomalies later attributed to him, since most of his real preaching was a lot of warm and fuzzy stuff about love and hope and faith (like Professor Marcus Borg on “relations” and “traditions” and “the sacred”). The New Testament? Oh, a kind of Festschrift from his students and admirers, in which, understandably, they made some wildly exaggerated claims for their beloved and inspiring teacher.
So this is how you can avoid all those cancelled subscriptions. Simply tell your outraged readers to do exactly what your authors are always telling them to do: Consider the context!
Professor Emeritus, University of California
Santa Barbara, California
…And Our Mom Dresses Us Funny
Send my “reserved subscriptions” of Biblical Archaeology Review and BR to your atheistic bedfellows in the American Humanist Association. I am sure that they will find the publications of the Biblical Archaeology Society to be in line with their agenda. If you ever need to change the name of Bible Review, here are some suggestions: How about using “Blasphemy Review”? Or what about “Satanic Review”? I also came up with “Bible Blasphemy.”
Beyond the Looking Glass
Just a note to tell you how much I have enjoyed BR. I am a conservative pastor, but I do not expect BR to mirror my theology. I read my denominational journals for that. I expect BR to pique my interest, challenge my intellect and inform me about what is happening in the world of biblical scholarship.
I especially appreciated the article “Deconstructing the Book of Job” (April 1995; I’m a bit behind in my reading). Although I don’t agree with everything Professor Clines has to say, he definitely has some important insights that I had not heard before. Articles like this keep me reading.
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Afraid to Foretell the Future
Jeffrey B. Satinover’s article, “Divine Authorship? Computer Reveals Startling Word Patterns” BR 11:02, in which he reports the discovery of word patterns encoded within the Hebrew text of the Torah, is fascinating. Yet the stance of the researchers involved is oddly puerile. As Satinover states, there is no way of extracting the encoded material without knowing it already. This, along with the fact that the Torah itself prohibits the practice of foretelling the future, has severely crimped the researchers by making them reluctant to extend their search outside of known parameters.
For example, although Satinover reports the general awe at finding encoded within the text names of great men in Israel paired with their birth and death dates, the researchers—like Boy Scouts in fear of demerits—flinch when handed the names of two great men whose death dates are not known. A second date found embedded in the text within the defined area of proximity to either name, and then subsequently verified as being consistent with known facts about the man’s life, would enhance the believability factor that, as Satinover concludes, has dogged this research from the start.
Any Mention of Jesus?
No doubt you have received a flood of similar inquiries, but I felt moved to 008write: Did Doron Witztum et al. find the name Jesus with birth and death dates plus other related information in the Torah text? Perhaps, understandably, his name does not appear among the first 66 names of prominent men in the Encyclopedia of Great Men in Israel. To others like myself, however, he is regarded as the greatest. We are curious to know, therefore, what information concerning Jesus is encoded, if any.
Ho Ho Kus, New Jersey
April Fool Material
Come on, admit it. Jeffrey B. Satinover’s article and the statistical studies by Witztum et al. that it describes are all one big put-on.
According to this article, when the Hebrew text of Genesis is treated as a Word Search Puzzle, with strings of letters being read vertically, horizontally or diagonally, forward or backward or upside-down, strange and wonderful messages appear, including predictions of historical facts occurring after the Roman conquest. But this doesn’t work just anywhere; it only works with strings of letters found by these people, and they get to pick the direction in which the strings of letters are read each time. We are told that this is just too, too extraordinary to have been done by human hands.
How about pure chance? This technique being touted for the Hebrew text of Genesis is not much different from some of the so-called Shakespearean ciphers. According to the Shakespeare conspiracy theorists, playing the same word game with the pages of the First Folio, or with certain quarto editions of Shakespeare, yields the name of the “true author” (Francis Bacon, Walter Raleigh, et al.) or some other encoded message.
A lot of books over the decades touted various Shakespearean ciphers, some of them worked up with the help of calculating engines vaguely related to modern computers. In 1958, William and Elizabeth Friedman, two code-breakers who had worked for the OSS during the war, published The Shakespearean Ciphers Examined (Cambridge Univ. Press), a fascinating book in which they examined several of the different Shakespearean cipher systems and applied each to another part or edition of Shakespeare. Using a 20th-century edition of Shakespeare, one of the codes revealed that Theodore Roosevelt was the real author of Julius Caesar! Using another touted code system, the Friedmans decoded the message that Gertrude Stein was the true author of all the plays. The point is that almost any alleged decoding system, if applied to a lucky spot (and a modern computer can keep trying until it does get lucky), will yield almost any damn-fool message.
To believe Satinover’s argument about secret messages encoded in the Hebrew text of Genesis, we have to believe that this text was not seriously disturbed or rewritten since the dawn of biblical history—which flies in the face of longstanding J-E-D-P multiple-authorship theories. We also have to believe that the Genesis narratives about Abraham and the other patriarchs were just cooked up as camouflage for the encoded messages, which pretty much murders the significance of the overt text of the entire Bible.
Satinover’s article is cute, if one does not take it seriously, but you should have waited to print it until April 1st.
What It Would Take to Convince a Skeptic
As a skeptic, I found Jeffrey Satinover’s article on the patterns in Genesis intriguing. Mr. Satinover asks what proof a skeptic would require before admitting that there might be intelligent design behind the “coding,” so I’d like to share with him some of my thoughts.
In order for me to believe that something significant has been revealed, I would need to have the following points addressed:
(1) What is the nature of the computer program used to search the text? Does one simply feed the computer a pair of words to search for a “yes” or “no” answer and a description of where the words were found, or is there a more significant human element in the process?
(2) When searching for words, what was the widest spacing searched (for example, how many ignored characters between significant ones), and how many different column widths were used when searching for vertical and diagonal text? Also, how were diagonal words defined?
(3) How close together did a pair of words have to be in the text to be considered “in close proximity”?
(4) What random process did the researchers use to select their related word pairs? Where did the pool of pairs from which the words were selected come from? How many of the pairs had the researchers already found when they constructed the list of 300?
(5) When the 300 word pairs were found in the text, were they all found on the first attempt or were variants on vocabulary and spelling tried? For example, if “Sarah/Abraham” was not found, would this be considered a failure or would “Sarai/Abram” have been searched for? If “stone/water” was a failure, would “rock/water” have been tried?
(6) In the article, two examples of word pairs are illustrated. How were these examples chosen? Are they typical or were they chosen because they are exceptionally easy to represent visually?
(7) When non-Genesis texts were tested, was the process identical to that used for Genesis texts?
(8) What was the method used to calculate the astronomical odds against finding so many word combinations?
(9) What is the likelihood of finding non-related pairs of words in the text? Are random pairs of words chosen from the 300—“Zedekiah/Hanukkah,” for example—found in close proximity with unusual frequency?
(10) Were pairs of words tested that yield untruths such as “water/dry” or “Yahweh/liar”? What about Christian pairs such as “Mary/Joseph” or “Jesus/Christ”?
(11) When the names and birth/death dates of famous Jews were searched for, were searches also done for the same names and unrelated dates?
(12) Does the text encode my name and birthday (8/25/66)?
(13) Finally, although Mr. Satinover says that there is “no way of extracting the encoded information without knowing it already,” that doesn’t preclude searching for information about events which have not yet occurred. For instance, one could search for the date of the next U.S. presidential election and see if it is paired with the name Clinton, Dole, Powell, Perot, etc. If one or more matches are found, we could see if the future has been encoded.
I know that this is a large number of items, but an extraordinary claim requires an extraordinary amount of proof. Although answering each of these points might entail a significant amount of work, proving that something earthly shows signs of the hand of God is certainly worth whatever effort must be put into it.
Santa Monica, California
No, No, No, A Lie
I read “Divine Authorship?” with fascination. Assuming the article was inspired, I placed the first few sentences in a grid of twelve letters (a good biblical number) to see if I could read what God was really saying. Here is what I found:
The message is clear: NO, NO, NO, A LIE! Isn’t it wonderful what one can learn once one knows how to read the text?
Director, Mid-Columbia Center for Theological Studies
Patterns in the Mist
It is easier, by far, to believe that the obscenities, contradictions, historical errors and scientific incompetence found in the Bible are man-made than it is to believe that Satinover has found a clever method making God the author of the same. Therefore, the real question is, “Where did Satinover go wrong?”
If one looks hard enough, one can find key numbers in the dimensions of the Empire State Building or the Egyptian pyramids; one can find “prophecies” embedded in the writing of Nostradamus. I imagine that this new business of equidistant letters in the Torah is not much different. The real test of such ideas is to predict the future; 20–20 hindsight doesn’t count!
Statistics can be extremely subtle, and those fooled best are those who desperately want to see something in the mist. At best, we have an interesting puzzle, the very expression used by Robert Kass, the editor of Statistical Science.
Localelexia or Coincidence?
Your article “Divine Authorship?” was indeed “startling.” As a rather fundamentalist type person, I am one who would usually welcome apologetic material for the Scriptures. I’m not sure I know just how to take this article.
It reminds me of something that happens in my own life. I read a great deal, and on a wide variety of subjects. I also listen a great deal to tapes, radio, TV. Five to six times a week I will hear a word—even a strange jargon or scientific one—within 2–5 seconds of reading it. What are the chances of that? I’m not claiming any divine intervention or inspiration. It happens so often I’ve coined a term for it: localelexia (unexpected words in a locale).
It looks like your author has come across an even better example of localelexia. When I tell my friends about it, they have a simpler word: coincidence.
Mysticism Masquerading as Science
Like Dr. Satinover I am not a linguist, but unlike him, I am a practicing archaeologist, specializing in the study of Levantine archaeology. As such, I have acquired a basic working knowledge of the textual criticism of the Bible, Hebrew and Christian. In his article, Satinover implies, though he does not state, that the Masoretic text has been transmitted correctly, that is, without scribal errors, since its composition. This is not correct. Concerning this text, Professor Sir Godfrey Driver, one of the greatest Hebraists of our time, in the “Introduction to the Old Testament” of the New English Bible, says the following:
In the second century A.D., or even earlier, the Rabbis, the Jewish religious leaders, compiled a text from such manuscripts as had survived the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and on this basis was established the traditional or Massoretic text, so called from the Hebrew word massorah, ‘tradition.’ This text incorporated the mistakes of generations of copyists, and, in spite of the care bestowed on it, many errors of later copyists also found their way into it. The earliest surviving manuscripts of this text date from the ninth to eleventh centuries A.D.; and it is this text, as printed in R. Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica (3rd edition, 1937), which has been used for the present translation.
The edition of Biblia Hebraica mentioned has now been superseded by a fourth edition (1967/77), taking into account the textual discoveries made since 1937, not least of which are the Dead Sea Scrolls. Variants in the text would clearly change the analysis carried out by the authors of the work referred to by Satinover, who does not state how they dealt with this possibility, or which textus receptus they used. Indeed, from the comments quoted by Satinover (p. 29), these questions do not appear to have been dealt with at all by either the authors or the referees for Statistical Science, who appear only to have considered the purely mathematical problems and procedures, as if the nature of the sample could be taken as given, which is clearly not the case. We are not told whether the article was refereed by any textual scholars who might have commented on the assumptions involved.
This question of the text used produces a further problem with the analysis as presented by Satinover. While the sequences of letters along the line of text in either direction may be demonstrable, however they are to be explained, the vertical and diagonal sequences depend entirely on the layout of the text analyzed—specifically, the number of letters per line. Alter this layout by so much as single letter-width, and all such combinations vanish (to be replaced, presumably, by others). Hence, a single variant letter, let alone a variant word, destroys all such combinations. Since we know that the textus receptus, in all of the versions currently available, contains errors that we are as yet not able to correct satisfactorily, these combinations must be seen as a product of the textual variant used; and even the sequences of letters along the lines may only stand so long as they do not cross a textually questionable sequence of letters in the text.
But this is not all. Satinover tells us that “The researcher in effect set out the text of the Torah in what mathematcians call a two-dimensional array, which is simply all the letters in sequence (without spaces) with so many letters in each row, row after row.” We are also told that the rows into which the text was divided were of equal length (a necessity if one is looking for patterns running diagonally). It is important to note that the length of a row chosen is not inherent in the text, but is the free choice of the analysts; the choices available range from two very long rows to a large number of rows with two letters each. As is the case with a textual variant, any row length other than the one chosen by the analysts would not yield the combinations illustrated or any others found in the original analysis. In other words, the result of this analysis is a product of the method used and tells us nothing whatever about the material analyzed.
Given these factual weaknesses and logical flaws, it is possible to say of Satinover’s article, as Stephen Patterson says elsewhere in the same issue, “This is not an argument. It is an invitation to faith.” While it is clear that the study of the biblical text cannot, and should not, be reserved for those critical scholars who have devoted their lives to this work, it does seem a great pity that their work should be so completely ignored as it is in this article. Of course, mysticism of this sort does have its place, but 012it is important that it should not masquerade as science.
Dr. Jeffrey Satinover responds:
The robustness of the Torah codes findings derives from the rigor of the research. To be published in a journal such as Statistical Science, it had to run, without stumbling, an unusually long gantlet manned by some of the world’s most eminent statisticians. The results were thus triply unusual: in the extraordinariness of what was found; in the strict scrutiny the findings had to hold up under; and in the unusually small odds (less than 1 in 62,500) that they were due to chance. Other amazing claims about the Bible, Shakespeare, etc., have never even remotely approached this kind of rigor, and have therefore never come at all close to publication in a peer-reviewed hard-science venue. The editor of Statistical Science, himself a skeptic, has challenged readers to find a flaw; though many have tried, none has succeeded. All the “first crack” questions asked by BR readers—and many more sophisticated ones—have therefore already been asked by professional critics and exhaustively answered by the research. Complete and convincing responses to even these initial criticisms can get fairly technical. I can here clarify only up to a point some of the misunderstandings in the letters. But I will also send more complete private responses to each writer whose comments are not fully answered here.
A number of writers think it a weakness that an event must occur before it can be found in the text. This seems to me like watching an elephant fly backward through time only to complain, “But why isn’t it traveling into the future, too?” What the research doesn’t do in no way detracts from what it does. Nonetheless, there are ways to evade this constraint, as Mr. Cancilla suggests, though there are difficulties. Verifiable results depend upon a sufficiently large and uniform data set, which is not easy to assemble. Isolated examples can rarely generate statistically valid results: Looking for one’s own name, or for Jesus’, is therefore an uninterpretable enterprise, even if you find what you’re looking for.
If the research is eventually disproved, no one serious will bother using the text of Genesis as an oracle. But should the body of rigorous findings expand, some will even so be inclined to ignore the primary meaning of that same text—including its cautions. The Torah itself casts this most typical of human inclinations at the center of its most distressing dramas—e.g., the garden, the snake, “ye shall be as gods,” etc.—and it suggests that 013what follows is more consequential than the mere “demerits” of scouting, pace Linda Emery. Rupert Chapman quickly identifies a major conflict between the higher-critical (more generally modernist) worldview and the implications of the codes research. He reminds us that there is a huge mass of Bible-related data that is convincingly synthesized in line with the conventionally anti-supernatural assumptions of modern scholarship. Mr. Chapman’s chief objection—and one of Mr. Sussman’s—is to what the codes research appears to imply concerning the integrity of the Masoretic Genesis, that is, that what we have today is the 100-percent error-free replica of the original. But, as will be explained below, he has not found the flaw in the research he thinks he has (and that he seems to have felt he had better find quickly!). Neither is the integrity of the text so evident.
In a similar vein, Mr. Sussman recognizes that no text can be both densely encoded and at the same time tell a previously established story. Rather, no human being could. Sussman also correctly notes that researchers with a computer can just “keep trying until it does get lucky” so as to “yield any damn-fool message.” He thus pointedly raises the important question of unreported “hidden failures,” a well-known bugaboo in all scientific research. To exclude this possibility, the referees insisted that the researchers repeat their positive findings on a separate set of individuals selected according to the referees’ own criteria. The paper reports on the results for this second set alone.
Related to the question of unreported failures is the potential for hoaxes. Given the many frauds science has unfortunately fallen prey to, especially of late, I’d better play the straight man: I am not joking and I have no reason to suspect anyone else is. To rule this out, the referees were given the computer programs to do with as they pleased. Furthermore, the data—the text of Genesis, the names and dates of the individuals—have long been published in public-domain texts. They cannot be faked. Anyone may start from scratch and arrive at the same results, as has been done repeatedly. Nonetheless, perhaps one day I will be shown to have been a fool in this matter and, along with others, a boyish one at that (my translation of “puerile”)—but neither a liar nor practical joker. As for simple chance explaining it (in contrast to unrecognized error), well, we know exactly what the odds are—1 in 62,500; it’s what makes the case, not breaks it. And more is in the pipeline, with even more daunting odds.
Now on to some details. Some writers (Mr. Chapman) conclude that the shape of the snippet of text is subject to whim and determines which word-pairs can be found. Others (Mr. Sussman) assume the method is so generous that one can find anything at all. These would be serious weaknesses indeed were they as described. However:
(1) The identical search and analysis procedure is followed for Genesis and for all controls. As there is nothing in either procedure that favors any set of data, the results in Genesis should differ from the results in the controls by no more than small, chance variations. But the results in Genesis are dramatically different. The odds are vanishingly small that this exceptional difference has occurred merely by chance.
(2) The search method is precise and highly constrained. It does not depend upon a particular rectangle of text such as those in the illustrations. (These are only used to calculate minimal proximities.) One may more easily envision this by first considering a simple string of the entire text, some 78,000 letters long. The 046search-and-find part of the procedure is carried out on this entire text string, not on snippets of it. Roughly described, both words of a pair are located by finding where each appears at its own respective minimum equidistant letter sequence (ELS). In theory, these minimum sequences may be any number of letters (though no longer than c. 78,000 divided by one less than the number of letters in the word); in practice, they tend to be quite short relative to the total length of Genesis. But as we will see, the actual ELS does not bias the results. In a string, the proximity of two terms in a pair may be defined in any number of ways: For instance, from the beginning of the rightmost word (Hebrew reads right to left) to the end of the leftmost (this would give the largest distance); from the beginning of the leftmost word to the end of the rightmost (this would give the shortest distance); between the midpoints of each, etc. Even for this simplification, defining proximity in a uniform, meaningful way for many such pairs of words, mostly of different lengths and letter spacing, requires care. It would be meaningless, for example, to treat a four-letter word spread out over the entire text (ELS of about 26,000) as “close” to every other word.
(3) The specific method used in the research to calculate proximity is more sophisticated than counting letters on a string and is designed to avoid the problems inherent in linear measures. First, the portion of Genesis that includes all of both words and everything in between is cut out from the text after the words have been found. For words that are very far apart, or have large ELS’s, this is a huge piece of text. The resulting string is then wrapped into a rectangle (more precisely, a helix, forming a cylinder). The rectangle is reshaped until the two words are as close together—“compact”—as possible. Despite this manipulation, words that were far apart in the original string, or with widely spaced ELS’s, can never form as compact a configuration as words with short ELS’s that were close together. The most compact rectangle is used in every case. Remember, this method is applied to Genesis and all controls. The procedure therefore favors none.
(4) In addition to searching for pairs of historically connected names and dates, the researchers performed identical searches and measurements on sets of unrelated pairs, created by matching one person’s name with another’s date. (This aspect of the research addresses questions 9–11 of Mr. Cancilla.) There are 32! (that is, 1 X 2 X 3 X…31 X 32 = c. 2.6 X 10 exponent 35) possible mismatched sets. From these, 999,999 were selected at random, which, along with the set of actual name-date pairs, made a total of 1,000,000 sets of pairs. The researchers allowed for variant spellings of names and alternative death dates, and also generated four different proximity statistics for every one of these 1,000,000 sets, both when running the test on Genesis and when running it on control texts. They then ranked the 1,000,000 sets in ascending order of compactness (rank 1 = most compact). In all four measures, the rank of the actual historical data, and only in the actual Genesis text, stands out starkly as many thousands of times closer to 1 than the false sets of data either in Genesis or in any control text. The proximities of the false pairings, however, fell well within the range that would be expected by chance, whether located in Genesis or in the controls.
(5) The examples shown in the article are good illustrations. But they are also fairly typical. Indeed, they are of the most common class, showing words fairly close together: More than 1/9 of the true name-date pairs are in the top 1/25 of proximities. But not only is the average proximity of names to matched dates in Genesis far smaller than expected (or than is found in controls), the distribution of the different individual proximities that make up the average is also remarkable. When charted, they do not form a bell-shaped curve, for instance, with a peak that merely yields a lower than expected mean. Nor is it a random-appearing distribution that happens to have a low average. Rather, its highest point is at zero distance, indicating that the largest number of paired words appear right beside each other, and the distribution (the number of pairs at a given proximity) drops off smoothly and rapidly as the proximity (the distance between the words) increases to the maximum possible (about 78,000). By contrast, the distribution for the controls is a flat line (a “uniform distribution”)—as expected. All possible proximities between pairs are equally represented, and the average (composed of all these) is therefore about half the length of the text. This reflects the fact that in the controls the location of any word is independent of any other word—every such location being a matter of pure happenstance, as most people would presume should be true for Genesis as well, but isn’t. What might the distinctive shape of the distribution indicate? First, to return to one of Mr. Chapman and Mr. Sussman’s concerns, one possibility is that perhaps the text we have is in some small measure not precisely the original, though it must be close to it. Because of the aggregate nature of the phenomenon, introducing more and more small errors into the text will slowly degrade the robustness of the findings, but won’t entirely efface them—until a certain critical degree of error is exceeded. (Studies by outside experts have already begun to quantitate this.) Perhaps (some of) the greater than zero proximities are due to such errors having slowly crept into the text. However, this cannot account entirely for the peculiar spread of proximities, since if there were no other additional cause(s), the distribution would consist of one sharp spike at zero proximity, and a random, approximately equal scattering of other proximities, small and large, caused by the errors. Second, since more than one death date for the same person can’t be correct, we know that at least some of the spread must be due to inaccuracies in the historical data. But here, too, such errors alone (or in combination with textual errors) would leave a sharp spike at zero against a random scattering of other proximities. So, there must be an additional reason for the spread. (My own guess is that the phenomenon is intrinsically probabalistic—as is the ultimate reality it points to. Though counter to our intuitive understanding of, say, predestination, similarly strange ideas have unexpectedly been found at the foundation of the physical world as well.) Mr. Cancilla has well expressed the balance of both skepticism and seriousness that the unusually high quality of this research demands. Rigorous investigations of the present research are being published by independent outside experts; one such piece (by Harold Gans, a senior mathematician with the U.S. Department of Defense) not only confirms the original findings using different techniques, it also shows that the cities of birth and death of the rabbis in the Witztum et al. study are also encoded in Genesis. The odds that the results of this new study occurred by chance are less than 1 in 200,000. Witztum et al. have themselves submitted a new paper, on a completely unrelated data set, also tested in Genesis, with odds of 1 in 250,000,000. There are many (myself among them) who would like nothing more than for the results not only to continue to hold up, but to be extended further. Nonetheless, if the work is in error, it would be best for this to be demonstrated not just quickly but well. Casual dismissal can no more accomplish the latter than uncritical acceptance will accomplish the former. In a recent interview, David Kazhdan, professor and chairman of mathematics at Harvard, cautioned hasty skeptics of the Torah codes, “The phenomenon is real. What conclusion you reach from this is up to the individual.”
Abraham’s Eight Crises
Matriarchs as the Key to Genesis
Larry Helyer’s “Abraham’s Eight Crises,” BR 11:05, is well written and argued, tying up the often seemingly scattered themes of the Abraham stories in a neat bundle bound with the thread of Abraham’s lack of an heir.
I wish to suggest one addition to the argument. Abraham had no lack of heirs, just a lack of an heir by Sarah. He fathered Ishmael through Hagar; on the evidence of Jacob’s sons with his wives’ slave girls, sons by surrogates of the wife were just as legitimate as sons by the wife herself. Furthermore, Abraham had many more sons by his second wife, Keturah (Genesis 25).
What made a son by Sarah so crucial was that only a son born by the bearer of matrilineal legitimacy in the Hebrew clans could inherit the father’s legacy. Sarah was the daughter of Terah, as was Abraham, but by another mother, who was the bearer of legitimacy in Terah’s clan. When Sarah finally produced an heir for Abraham (Isaac), he was not allowed to marry outside the clan; he had to marry his second cousin, Rebecca, daughter of Bethuel, Abraham’s nephew, son of Abraham’s brother Nahor and their mutual niece, Milcah.
We see the pattern again when Isaac’s son, Jacob, journeys at his mother Rebecca’s insistence to the Hebrew homeland, Haran, to find a mate. He marries Leah and Rachel, his mother’s nieces by Laban her brother.
The rape of Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob and heiress to matrilineal legitimacy through Leah, destroyed the line of Sarah. The brothers fell into feuds and open rebellion, resulting in the rape of Bilhah, mother of Dan and Naphtali, by their half-brother Reuben, and of course the sale into slavery of Joseph. Judah separated himself from the rest, only to fall into an incestuous relationship with his daughter-in-law Tamar.
The matrilineality of the Hebrews in the Age of the Patriarchs is seldom mentioned, but it drives the whole cycle of the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the twelve sons of Israel.
Palos Verdes Estates, California
Mind Your Ps But Not Your Qs
In spite of the title of Stephen Patterson’s article,
I enjoy reading BR. I find it informative and readable, and as a bonus I get more laughs per issue (“The Phallacy of Genesis” [Bible Books, BR 11:05]: too choice for words!!) than from MAD magazine. Keep up the good work.
Beech Grove, Indiana
Q Needs a Warning Label
The response to Eta Linnemann’s essay by Stephen Patterson fails to come to grips with the heart of her critique. The question concerns the number of passages that Matthew and Luke have in common. If the correspondence is high, it suggests a written source; if the correspondence is moderate, it suggests an oral tradition source; if the correspondence is weak, we are left with a puzzle, as yet unsolved.
In no sense has Patterson directed his efforts to the crux of the matter: the degree of correspondence.
Professor New Testament, retired
San Diego, California
Appreciates the Debate
I am an Australian lecturer in New Testament at the University of Aberdeen at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and a regular reader of Bible Review. I never fail to be fascinated by it.
I particularly appreciated the diversity of views you are willing to publish and the open debate you encourage; witness, most recently, Stephen Patterson versus Eta Linnemann.
University of Aberdeen
Old Aberdeen, Scotland
BR’s Fine Quality Bleach
I find it quite interesting that you apparently use recycled fiber for your publication. One would be somewhat concerned about the amount of bleaching necessary to get the fertilizer as pristine white as you seem to prefer.
After careful prayer and thought, I find that my life is improved significantly without the inconsequential epistles of your staff and contributors.
I am sure that you are quite confident you can adequately explain your activities to our eternal Editor-in-Chief when the time comes; I, for one, refuse to be yoked to you any longer.
Cancel my subscription and lose my name and address from your advertising rolls. Your refuse is not welcome in my home.
Mira Loma, California
Reading His Own Biography
Reading one of Marcus Borg’s columns, where he describes the type of Christian he has grown into over the years, I thought that I was reading a biography of my own faith journey. It was so similar.
It is disappointing that despite the tremendous scientific strides that have been made, we lag so far behind in the religious introspection that seems to be a hallmark of Jesus’ understanding of God. I often wonder, if he were alive today, what revolutionary ideas he might promote that so many true believers would formulate as heresy. It is not comfortable to change one’s religious concepts, as my personal quest can attest to. There is always a tendency to resist, and to read only what we agree with. This is not religious growth but self-validation, whereas it is God that we should be seeking to validate.
We have just come through a situation in which the minister of our church was driven out by bigoted fanatics and the adult education class that I taught using modern theological insights was forced to close to promote peace and harmony. In spite of this, a large percentage of members have left our denomination.
A Philadephia Lawyer?
A puzzled friend found W.C. Fields lying on his deathbed, reading the Bible. “What are you doing?” he asked. “Looking for loopholes,” said Fields.
News From SBL
On September 1, 1995, Kent Harold Richards was appointed executive director of the Society of Biblical Literature. Richards previously served the society as treasurer (1976–1980), editor of the SBL Seminar Papers (1981–1985) and volunteer director (1981–1987); Richards also serves on BR’s Editorial Advisory Board. Chosen by a search committee from among 39 nominees, Richards brings a background in theology, teaching and administration from such institutions as Claremont Graduate School, the University of Dayton, Hebrew Union College and Heidelberg University. He is currently taking a sabbatical from the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, where he teaches Old Testament studies. His publications include “The Old Testament and Its Inheritors,” Iliff Review 40 (1983) and, as co-author, Interpreting Hebrew Poetry (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1992). SBL president Leander E. Keck said of Richards’s selection, “The Society is remarkably fortunate in making this appointment at just this time.”