Narrow-Minded, Redundant Letters
I subscribe to Bible Review for a very specific reason: I want to read articles on the Bible that combine sound scholarship and imagination, written in a “popular” (that is, readable) format. More often than not, the articles in BR meet or surpass my expectations, and I look forward to receiving it.
One thing, however, puzzles me. Why do the editors of BR feel the need to publish, issue after issue, so many narrow-minded and mean-spirited letters from those who condemn and damn anyone who dares to think critically about the Bible?
These letters are not only hateful, they are redundant. Their basic message runs something like this: “The Bible is inerrant and infallible; therefore, unless you interpret it the way I do, you’re a heretic.” (Yes, it is illogical.) Many of the authors of these letters conclude by cancelling their subscriptions.
I’m not sure what service the publication of these letters does for the rest of us who enjoy BR. In my opinion it would be much more beneficial if, in place of these diatribes, you provided space for responsible and reasonable criticism, letters that continue and open up our ongoing conversation about the Bible.
I have just finished reading the August 1991 issue of Bible Review—an excellent issue.
I especially liked “How Desert Culture Helps Us Understand the Bible,” BR 07:04. Human language will always be enslaved to the culture that it is spoken in. (In 200 years, I wonder how “to catch a bus” or “to catch a cold” will be misunderstood.) Clinton Bailey’s article allowed all of us to see part of that culture. By viewing the actions of Jacob and his sons in their culture instead of ours, an understanding is achieved that would not otherwise be possible. (Today, we amputate a leg to save a life. In 2,000 years this may be viewed as barbaric.) To have an author that strengthens our understanding of the Bible, as opposed to tearing it apart, is refreshing.
The sidebar, “Curses in Verses,” exposes a facet of Arab culture that is unknown in America, where words mean very little. By combining this sidebar with Clinton Bailey’s article, we could conclude that the decisive action of Desert Storm was the best way to handle the battle after diplomatic attempts failed.
Harvey Minkoff’s article (“The Aleppo Codex—Ancient Bible from the Ashes,” BR 07:04) not only gave a good history of the events concerning the Aleppo Codex, but also caused you to feel the great loss of it, and the importance of its recovery.
In “Did Jephthah Kill His Daughter?” BR 07:04, Solomon Landers’ arguments are not farfetched and in fact are quite plausible. They certainly attempt to resolve an extremely troubling and inconsistent account in the Bible. However, I find myself hesitating on the basis of why Josephus, pseudo-Philo and the Talmud (all sources closer to the time than now) did not clarify these events as Solomon Landers tries to do. These sources state that the burnt offering did take place. lf there is another accepted way of translating olah other than “burnt sacrifice,” this would help. Also, if Jephthah’s words “whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me … shall be the Lord’s and shall be offered by me as a burnt offering” can be equally translated as “… shall be the Lord’s and/or shall be offered by me as a burnt offering,” this would greatly support Solomon Landers’ position. Can these translations be made? [See letter of Michael Penny, Readers Reply, BR 07:04]
Even “Heavens Torn Open,” BR 07:04, by David Ulansey is an essay of merit. The fine distinctions brought forth concerning Mark’s literary sources may seem trivial to some readers (I hope not); however, they are important in that they allow us to glimpse the mental paths that Mark traveled while writing his Gospel. To be able to understand not only what the human authors wrote but also how they thought about it is invaluable.
All in all, an excellent issue from which 007I expect some of the articles to be recipients of Fellner Awards in the future.
A Little Footloose
I have just received your August 1991 Issue. I thoroughly enjoyed your articles on desert culture (“How Desert Culture Helps Us Understand the Bible,” BR 07:04) by Clinton Bailey, and Jephthah, (“Did Jephthah Kill His Daughter?” BR 07:04) by Solomon Lenders. Both were entertaining and informative. Your Greek and Hebrew primers are a first rate. Now I’m beginning to understand what they were trying to teach me in seminary!
I have appreciated Bible Review from the beginning. While some of your contributors get a little footloose and fancy-free in their approach to scriptures, generally what I find is solid scholarship that approaches the scriptures and the people of the Bible with fresh, wide-open eyes and Ideas. I’ve learned a lot from your pages. A student, like an archaeologist, has to sift through a lot of rubble and rubbish to find gems of value, and BR makes the search a true delight.
St. Michael & All Angels
Lincoln Park, Michigan
After Praise, Some Criticism
In this era of rampant rape in our society, I find Clinton Bailey’s effort to justify the brutality of Dinah’s brothers quite deplorable (“How Desert Culture Helps Us Understand the Bible,” BR 07:04). It is also pathetic that he uses current “desert logic” as a principled defense for the atrocities committed on the Shechemites by Jacob’s sons since it was to avenge their honor, rather than concern for the violence suffered by their sister!
Apart from honor giving the Bedouin license to kill their weak adversaries, enforcement of patrilineal kinship permits Bedouin to murder their own women. “Mandatory murder of errant girls, to set an example,” Bailey tells us, is punishment for the moral laxity of females; but punishment for the same violation by males is “excessive fines and public confessions,” which Bailey regards as “extreme punitive measures.” Bedouin women are treated like weak adversaries by their men, who are not capable of equally censoring themselves. Bailey, who likens Jacob and his sons to these desert people, seems to have little regard for the quality of women’s lives.
We teach Torah to derive moral standards for current urban society. Bedouin culture may serve Bedouin lifestyle—I cannot judge them without consulting their women, which at any rate is not the issue here. But to use desert logic to exonerate immoral biblical characters without addressing the cruelty of rape only helps perpetuate violence against women in our own culture.
Santa Monica, California
It is common enough in biblical studies to find that different authors publish essentially the same ideas. The field is fortunately very large, and no one can keep up with all the literature. Many popular and amateur writers print material that duplicates the professional literature. They forego footnotes and claim no originality. Thus, the article by Clinton Bailey in your August 1991 issue (“How Desert Culture Helps Us Understand the Bible,” BR 07:04) in many ways goes over the same ground as Morris Seale’s 1974 book, The Desert Bible: Nomadic Tribal Culture and Old Testament Interpretation. Bailey’s article contains no footnotes and gives no appearance of staking a brand-new claim.
Solomon Landers’ article in the same issue (“Did Jephthah Kill His Daughter?” BR 07:04) is by contrast carefully annotated and exudes an air of apparent originality. This author has regrettably overlooked a full-length study of the same subject by my colleague, Professor David Marcus. His 1986 volume, Jephthah and His Vow, which has been reviewed in many journals in the field, analyzes, in a highly sophisticated manner, the question of whether Jephthah in the end offered up his daughter and concludes that the question is left open.
If Landers was unaware of Marcus’ book, it was the responsibility of BR’s editorial board to call it to his attention. Landers and interested BR readers have much yet to learn from Marcus’ investigation.
Professor of Bible
The Jewish Theological Seminary of America
New York, New York
Solomon Landers replies:
I am delighted that Professor Greenstein characterizes my article as “carefully annotated and exud[ing] an air of apparent originality.”
However no claim to “originality” is made in the article. As I pointed out, many writers, from the author of the biblical books of 1 Samuel and Hebrews through 12th-century rabbinical scholars, as well as modern-day scholars such as Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz and Rabbi Abraham Shoshanah, doubt that Jephthah did the foul deed of murdering his daughter.
I know of no obligation of a writer to be aware of everything ever written on a chosen topic, but having said this, I certainly would have liked to have known of the volume Jephthah and His Vow. I have not read it and I reached a different conclusion. My basic research tool was the Bible text itself. Where other authors were used or perused, they were duly cited in the article. Besides the Bible, the one most valuable volume in researching my article was Rabbi Abraham Shoshanah’s Derekh Binah (The Way of Understanding), published in Hebrew by the Ofeq Institute (Cleveland, Ohio, 1988).
I doubt, therefore, that reading Jephthah and His Vow, while useful as an additional insight, would have added much to the thrust or conclusion of my article.
Human Sacrifice Practiced in Early Israel
The Bible says that Jephthah sacrificed the life of his daughter as a burnt offering. People unhappy with this inescapable conclusion concoct convoluted rationalizations attempting to explain away the obvious. Rev. Landers suggests that Jephthah put away his daughter. (As in “get thee to a nunnery”? How very Christian!) The fact is that the early Israelites did offer human sacrifices (see Mark S. Smith’s The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel [Harper & Row, 1990]).
The early Yahweh apparently relished human sacrifice. He told Moses on Mt. Sinai if a man offers his house or his field to him and then wishes to withdraw the offer, the man can substitute a sum of money. But if a human being has been placed under the ban in pledge to Yahweh, this individual “cannot be redeemed, he must be put to death”(Leviticus 27:29).
Rev. Landers is also incorrect when he claims that Jephthah’s “vow could have been fulfilled by payment according to the specifications of votary pledges in Leviticus 27:2–7.”
The verses cited by Landers stipulate the amount of money a man must pay who “vows the value of a person to Yahweh and wishes to discharge the vow ….” If a man vows the value of a person, he must pay a certain sum of money. But if a man vows the life of a human being, that human being must be put to death.
Incidentally, the story of Jephthah and his daughter has its counterpart in Greek mythology. Idomeneus, king of Crete, promised to sacrifice the first living thing he saw if he returned safely to Crete from the Trojan War. This fate befell his son. He sacrificed his son Idamante after his safe return.
So far no one has suggested that Idamante really ended up in a monastery.
Silver Hill, Maryland
Jephthah Did What Was Right in His Own Eyes
Though I am a “far-right fundamentalist,” 044I enjoyed my first issue of Bible Review (BR 07:04).
Fault can be found with Mr. Landers’ reasoning and that of his cited authorities when they conclude a literal sacrifice is doubtful (Solomon Landers, “Did Jephthah Kill His Daughter?” BR 07:04). This event occurred in the era of the Judges when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
Authorities such as Josephus and the rabbis are cited as doubting a literal sacrifice. The opinions cited are dated a millennium after the event.
In a common enough error, Mr. Landers and his authorities measure a primitive event by concepts that developed later. In Jephthah’s milieu, reason dictates that he did indeed literally make a burnt offering of his daughter. He had made a thoughtless vow, but we must admire his faithful performance of that vow.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Landers’ Thesis Dates at Least to 1913
I have no arguments whatsoever with Solomon Landers’ well-researched and well-documented article (“Did Jephthah Kill His Daughter?” BR 07:04). However, the caption to the watercolor by James Tissot states that Mr. Landers “suggests a new interpretation of the story’s conclusion [italics added].” This I find is not the case.
I have no idea who was the first person to suggest the line taken in this article, but one of my reference books, The Companion Bible, was written by 1913. It has several notes on Judges 11:13 which are pertinent.
“Whatsoever. This is masculine. But the issuer from his house was feminine. Thus the rash vow was impossible of fulfillment and was repented of.”
“And = or. The Hebrew vav is a connective participle, and is rendered in many different ways. It is also used as a disjunctive, and is often rendered ‘or’ (or, with a negative, ‘nor’). See Gen. 41:44; Ex. 20:4, 21:15, 17, 18; Num. 16:14, 22:26….”
“Here Jephthah’s vow consisted of two parts: (1) He would either dedicate it to Jehovah (according to Lev. 27); or (2) if unsuitable for this, he would offer it as a burnt offering. He performed his vow, and dedicated his daughter to Jehovah by a perpetual virginity (vv 36, 39, 40); but he did not offer her as a burnt offering because it was forbidden by Jehovah and could not be accepted by Him (Lev. 19:21, 20:2–5).”
New Berlin, Wisconsin
Why Isn’t Jephthah’s Vow Condemned in the Bible?
I commend your fine journal for the refreshing, erudite article on Jephthah’s daughter (Solomon Landers, “Did Jephthah Kill His Daughter?” BR 07:04). Standard expositions of this saga have never satisfied me. For example, how could Jephthah vow a vow for human bloodshed of innocents (Judges 11:31) right after “the spirit of the Lord came upon him” (verse 29)? Some scholars speculate that he was a “country bumpkin” and half-pagan, too ignorant to know that human sacrifice was forbidden. How, then, explain Jephthah’s victory over Ammon because “the Lord delivered them into his hands” (verse 32)? Jephthah’s polished, reasoned answer to the Ammonite king (verses 14–27) demonstrates excellent knowledge of Israel’s history since the Exodus. How, then, the ignoramus theme?
True, human sacrifice was part of Israel’s history, but it was always an effect of apostasy and it was always condemned. For example, 2 Kings 16:2, 3:
“[King] Ahaz … did not that which was right in the sight of the Lord…and made his son to pass through the fire, according to the abominations of heathen.”
Or, Psalm 106:35–38;
“[The Israelites] were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works … Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils, and shed innocent blood … and the land was polluted with blood.”
Or, Isaiah 57:4, 5:
“Are ye not children of transgression seed of falsehood, enflaming yourselves with idols under every green tree, slaying the children in the valley;?”
I, too, feel it is significant that similar condemnation of Jephthah’s vow is missing in the Bible.
Capitol Heights, Maryland
Was Josephus a Christian
Flavius Josephus is generally referred to as a first-century Jewish historian. I would like to consider whether he may not have converted to Christianity.
He was born in the first year of the reign of Caius Caesar [Caligula], about 37 A.D., if his memoirs are correct. His description of Jewish life under the Romans is the best in existence and his writings are the prime source of information about the turbulent era surrounding the birth of Christianity and the important developments taking place within Judaism.
Among the first English translations of Josephus’ writings from the Greek, the best known, but now the least read, is that of a British professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, William Whiston, whose work was published, with some revision, in Boston by Walker in 1849–1850. Modern scholars tend to use the most recent translation, begun by H. St. J. Thackeray in 1926. Thackeray died and was succeeded by Marcus, Wikgren and Feldman, who completed the work in 1965.
Josephus is known widely as “a Jewish historian.” The prevailing consensus appears to be that Josephus was a self-serving, though very clever, pragmatist who used many brilliant stratagems to achieve success and ensure his own survival.
However, there is an alternative view. Study of the earlier Walker edition in two large, cumbersome, illustrated Victorian volumes reveals a series of interesting footnotes hitherto ignored. From these small-print, hard-to-read additions, it would appear that Professor Whiston fully believed Josephus to have been a late convert to Christianity. As these footnotes were not part of the text it is easy to understand why they were omitted from later editions; Josephus’ text itself is archaic and difficult enough without trying to cope with minuscule extras.
From the beginning of The Jewish War through Jewish Antiquities, to the last book of personal memoirs, The Life of Flavius Josephus, Whiston supplies copious explanations and emendations with minor additions by his reviser Reverend Samuel Burder, a chaplain to Queen Victoria’s family, according to the title page.
It is quite obvious from Whiston’s footnotes that there was no question in his mind that Josephus became a Christian after many years of doubt as an “Ebionite,” the word meaning “poor.” In Book I, chapter 13, of Antiquities, Whiston refers to Josephus as “not yet a Christian.” He comments that Josephus became an 045Ebionite who “despised and rejected Paul” above all other apostles. Later, In War, Book I, chapter 33, Whiston remarks “before he [Josephus] became a Catholic Christian.” All western Christians were Catholics after Christianity was accepted as the state religion of the Roman empire.
There is yet another connection between Josephus and Christianity that is worth further research. Josephus dedicated his written works to one Epaphroditus, speaking of him in glowing terms as a man who had undergone great changes of fortune and who had been involved in many great events. Scholars have puzzled over this man. So far they have overlooked an Epaphroditus mentioned in similarly glowing terms by St. Paul in his Letter to the Philippians. Moreover, a footnote (!) in the King James Version states that Epaphroditus actually wrote the epistle. The name appears shortened to Epaphras in other letters of St. Paul.
This evidence would serve to explain why Josephus was held in such high esteem by the Christian church, and his books preserved with such honor. A proper study of the man and his memoirs may reveal some very unexpected nuggets of greater worth than can yet be imagined.
East Holden, Maine
Louis Feldman, professor of classics at Yeshiva University and author of Josephus: a Supplementary Biography (Garland, 1986) and other books on Josephus, replies:
Whiston’s translation of Josephus is well known and has been reprinted, by my latest count, 217 times, an average of almost once a year since its original publication in 1737. The edition by walker in 1849–1850 is one of very many such reprintings.
Whiston’s notes expressing such views as that Josephus was an Ebionite Christian and a bishop of Jerusalem are well known. They have not been ignored, but are not taken seriously, I believe, by anyone, inasmuch as Josephus himself clearly indicates that he is a Pharisaic Jew (Life 12) and in many other respects (such as his exposition of the Torah, especially in Books 3 and 4 of the Antiquities and his attitude toward the Samaritans) shows that he is a good Pharisaic Jew.
If these notes by Whiston have generally been omitted in reprinting of Whiston’s translation, it is because they are so fantastic.
If, indeed, Josephus really did convert to Christianity, how can we explain the fact that Josephus never says so and that no Christian church father mentions this? It surely would have been a tremendously strong argument in the attempt of Christians to convert Jews.
Whiston’s notion that Josephus despised Paul has no basis in any passage in Josephus or, for that matter, in any comment of any church father. Whiston’s basis, I believe, for such a hypothesis is the fact that both Josephus and Paul (who were, to be sure, contemporaries) were involved in shipwrecks in roughly the same period; but shipwrecks were exceedingly common in that period.
As to Epaphroditus, to whom Josephus dedicated his works, the name is not uncommon. It is chronologically possible that this is the Epaphroditus who is mentioned by Paul; but this seems unlikely, inasmuch as the latter was a Christian from Philippi in northeastern Greece, whereas Josephus’ Epaphroditus was almost certainly living in Rome and is probably to be identified with the Epaphroditus who had a library of 30,000 books which, we may guess, Josephus consulted while he was composing his works in Rome (see Thackeray’s remarks in the Loeb version of Josephus, vol. 4, pp. x–xi).
No Spiritual Twinkies in BR
I was sorry to learn that Dr. Metzler’s concept of Christianity is so narrow (Readers Reply, BR 07:04). When a transformational experience and a personal relationship with God become the goal, and you live your life so that you will be able to experience God more fully, you are practicing a one-dimensional reward-and-punishment type of religion. If, on the other hand, you are overcome with awe and gratitude for the incomparable love poured out by God in his creation/covenant/caring, and you are drawn into worship that just naturally is reflected in the way you live in this world, spiritual maturity and a deeper relationship with God will follow.
Dr. Metzler suggests that BR is a showcase for intellectual presentations of false prophets. He is entitled to his opinion, of course. I, on the other hand, eagerly await each issue and read it cover to cover.
When you are in love, you want to know more and more about your loved one—his family, his culture, his work It is precisely because I have a dynamic personal relationship with God that I am 046eager to learn from those who know more than I do.
Please don’t change a thing. If I often have to read BR with my bible and my textbooks at my side, that’s as it should be—what great spiritual nourishment there is in having to work for what I learn. There are plenty of other magazines that will feed me spiritual Twinkies—they’re pleasant, but empty of the nutrients I’m seeking.
Episcopal Diocese of Western New York
I am in receipt of my first issue of Bible Review and read with interest the Readers Reply, BR 07:04. I was amazed at the lack of understanding some readers seem to have for your excellent publication.
I find BR to be of academic interest. BR provides the average churchgoer with an opportunity to attain biblical knowledge that would otherwise be unavailable. Such a magazine should be praised for the excellent, readable format, As readers we should look forward to expanding our scholarly knowledge of the Bible and its writings; this does not negate our obligation to satisfy our growing spiritual needs. However, everything we read does not need to be for spiritual edification, In fact, if this were the case then we would not be acknowledging our God-given gift of reason and thought.
In your article “Computers and the Bible,” BR 07:03, by John J. Hughes, you point out the difficulty facing IBM-PC users who want to be able to use Hebrew and Greek fonts while studying the Bible.
We would like to emphasize that this is no longer true: IBM users can now study the Bible in the original Hebrew text (not transliterated) and import parts of it into a bilingual and bidirectional (left to right or right to left) word processor.
Our software products—imported from Israel—allow them to do that. They are the PC Hebrew Bible and Nikudit, and they work on a standard IBM-PC or compatible without any hardware change. They support CGA, EGA, VGA or Hercules graphics.
We Stand Corrected
Due to what is doubtless a mechanical error the two vowels represented by the kamats are presented erroneously in “Hebrew for Bible Readers,” BR 07:04, by Keith N. Schoville. The table of vowels should be corrected as follows:
Under “Short Vowels”: kamats katan a small “T” below consonant
lK;kol (sounds like call) Under “Long Vowels”: kamats a small “T” below consonant gD;dag (like a in father).
Temple of Universal Judaism
New York, New York
Narrow-Minded, Redundant Letters