Balaam and the Ass – Rembrant (1626)
The Ancient Near Eastern mythological texts may appear to be obscure and irrelevant to us today. In reality, these texts continue to be influential since the structures of these polytheistic myths are embedded in later forms of Arabic monotheism which emerged a few centuries after Christianity & which gained dominance over vast stretches of territories in Asia and Africa.
Since these later forms of “monotheistic” religion developed from polytheism,* they are undergirded by the same polytheistic structure which portrays humans to be helplessly subject to the control of Fate. Note that Fate in ancient polytheistic religion is note fatalism because in the ancient polytheism, Fate can be manipulated through rituals of divination, incantations and sorcery. The rituals have intrinsic efficacy, but their efficacy is enhanced under the guidance and empowerment of the gods. However, such relief from Fate is temporary and limited since ultimately, even the gods are subject to Fate. Nevertheless, in principle, misfortune or ill-fated events can be discovered through divination so that proper rituals and incantations may be implemented to nullify them.
However, when Arabic polytheism later evolved into “monotheism”, that is, when all the gods were merged into one God, divination and sorcery were rendered ineffective since their rituals became deprived of assistance from the gods who have vanished. Furthermore, in contrast to the gods of polytheism, the God of the later forms of monotheism are not involved with the daily struggles of believers because he is supremely transcendent and inaccessible to mere mortals. The consequence is that without recourse to divination and sorcery, Fate can no longer be manipulated so that ill-fated events may be nullified. The ironic outcome of these later forms of monotheism is an equivalent of “Fate is control”. This leads to a sense of fatalism. Continue reading “Christian Monotheism vs Fatalistic Monotheism”
By Dr. Leong Tien Fock
In my previous piece, where I shared the highlights of my journey through ANE studies, I mentioned that “the differences between Mesopotamian religion and OT religion are structural.” This is a profound statement with far-reaching implications. I will now elaborate on what the word “structural” means in this context and then show why it is unnecessary and inappropriate for William Lane Craig to label Genesis 1–11 as “mytho-history.”
The statement can be rephrased as, “The differences between Mesopotamian religion and OT religion are integral to their respective different structures.” It helps to see what this statement means by replacing “structures” with “paradigms.” Whether we say “structures” or “paradigms,” it means that the overall difference between OT religion (monotheism) and Mesopotamian religion (polytheism) is not in degree but in kind altogether. But as we shall see, “structures” captures the difference better than “paradigms.” Continue reading “Structural Differences Between Genesis 1–11 and Mesopotamian Mythology”
My Journey Through ANE Studies
by Leong Tien Fock
I was asked to share why the more I was exposed to the literature of the “ancient Near East” (ANE), the more I became convinced of the verbal plenary inspiration of the Old Testament (OT). This is a concise presentation of the highlights in my journey through ANE studies.
I did an MA in OT studies at Wheaton College before moving on to UCLA to do an MA and then PhD in ANE studies. One of my professors at Wheaton College, who did his PhD in ANE studies at a secular university, once said: “Those of us evangelicals [who did ANE studies in a non-evangelical institution] often moved away from our evangelical position when we were there. But when we returned to teach in an evangelical institution, we gradually returned to our evangelical position.” So I was forewarned. This must have affected how I approached ANE studies in a secular university. Continue reading “Studying the Ancient Near Eastern Texts Confirms My Belief in the Uniqueness of the Bible”
Reply to Three Questions From a Reader Arising from the Paleo-Hebrew Article “How to Misread the Bible in the Name of Paleo-Hebrew 3 (Full Article)”
Answers by Dr. Leong Tien Fock*
Question 1. In terms of the historical progression of language development from Proto-Sinaitic to Paleo Hebrew to Aramaic square script, are you suggesting that when paleo Hebrew was used, the original pictographic meaning of the letters was lost to users? i.e. was the use of paleo Hebrew only phonetic, with no progressive overlap from the old (Proto-Sinaitic) to the new (Paleo script) in the understanding of users?
Answer: The original article “How to Misread the Bible in the Name of Paleo-Hebrew 3 (Full Article)” is quite comprehensive in showing that all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet EVEN in the Proto-Sinaitic script were originally ONLY phonetic. Thus when this script was changed to the Paleo-Hebrew script, there was no change from pictographic meaning + phonetic meaning to phonetic meaning only. It has always been phonetic ONLY. Hence the question of “progressive overlap” or the “original pictographic meaning” being lost does not arise. Continue reading “Three Questions Arising from Article on Paleo-Hebrew”
Introduction: One of the presuppositions held by many contemporary critical scholars of the Old Testament is that it is inappropriate to introduce the idea of revealed truths into their academic discipline. Instead, the Old Testament should be studied like any literary text set within the backdrop of Ancient Near Eastern Texts (ANET). Since the Old Testament inescapably shares the cultural and religious mindset of its milieu, it should be analyzed with reference to the dominant thought forms of the Ancient Near East in order to arrive at an accurate understanding of the text. It is natural that these scholars regard the (spiritual) insights found in the Old Testament to be the fruit of the religious genius of the Jewish people developed through their painful experience of history rather than to be truths of divine revelation.
However, Yehezkel Kaufmann (1889-1963), challenged the reigning paradigm of critical scholarship and argued that the ideas found in the ANET are not comparable to the distinctive ideas that flow from the monotheistic religion of ancient Israel. In this regard, a pertinent question to ask believers who have adopted the fashionable methods of critical scholarship today is whether faith for them is founded on the Old Testament, with the distinctive ideas of the Old Testament as its determining factors or whether faith is built on a sophisticated eclectic system which combines refine ideas of the Ancient Near East milieu. [c.f. Norman Snaith, p. 187] Continue reading “Monotheism in Ancient Israel”
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another (Job 19:25-27).
We secretly relish in schadenfreude when misfortune strikes a wicked man, but we can only be bewildered by the disproportionate suffering that afflicts a righteous and blameless man, like Job. To be sure, we are given a glimpse of divine mystery when the prologue of the book of Job explains that Job’s sufferings are due to a wager between God and Satan. Satan sneers at God and insinuates that his kingdom is based on expediency since Job’s loyalty to God is gained through the blessings of God. God allows Satan to hurt Job, confident that the outcome will conclusively prove Satan wrong. Continue reading “The Suffering of Job: From Tragedy to Triumph”
It seems that my blog post, “God Has Answered our Coronavirus Lament. Contra. N.T. Wright” has caused offence among some ardent admirers of N.T. Wright. It has been suggested in the social media that I was small-minded and most uncharitable in trying to discredit someone just because of theological disagreement. It was alleged that my response betrayed vanity and presumptuousness as I tried in vain to discredit a world class scholar who is unquestionably way far more accomplished than I am. One critic concluded that I have been so caught up with abstract theologizing that I have lost the ability to empathize and offer pertinent pastoral counsel to people who are struggling with their faith in times of crisis.
I re-read my response to NTW to see if indeed I have been guilty of the charges levelled at me. To be honest, I am still puzzled in trying to identify the grounds on which these defenders of NTW drew these awful conclusions about me when other readers responded positively to the same post. Continue reading “Trusting God in Times of (Covid) Crisis”
Classical Evangelicalism has always affirmed that the power of the gospel lies in the proclamation that Christ died for the ungodly and made atonement for their sins. “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins…But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 9:22; 10:12-14) The truth that underlies this proclamation is encapsulated in the phrase, “the penal substitutionary death of Christ.”
However, this glorious truth has been challenged by some modern theologians who deny that Christ’s death is a penal substitutionary sacrifice for sin. Similarly, the teaching of Christ’s atonement becomes distorted when some Charismatics claim that partaking the Lord’s Supper brings physical healing because of the blood of Christ shed on the cross.
You are invited to read the careful reading of Isaiah 53 (the locus classical of the doctrine of penal substitutionary death of Christ in the Old Testament) written by Dr. Leong Tien Fock. It will help you gain a better understanding and a grateful appreciation of the glory of Christ’s atonement. Continue reading “The Atonement in Isaiah 53”
Gezer Calendar (925 BC) Written by Dr. Leong Tien Fock* Link to the executive summary – How to Misread the Bible in the Name of Paleo-Hebrew 2 Link to Introduction which sets the context – How to Misread the Bible in the Name of Paleo-Hebrew 1 In 1994 Frank T. Seekins published a book … Continue reading “How to Misread the Bible in the Name of Paleo-Hebrew 3 (Full Article)”
Gezer Calendar (925 BC)
Written by Dr. Leong Tien Fock*
Link to the executive summary – How to Misread the Bible in the Name of Paleo-Hebrew 2
Link to Introduction which sets the context – How to Misread the Bible in the Name of Paleo-Hebrew 1
In 1994 Frank T. Seekins published a book entitled Hebrew Word Pictures: How Does the Hebrew Alphabet Reveal Prophetic Truths? It unleashed a phenomenon involving a method of reading the Hebrew Bible based on an assumption about the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Since the term “Paleo-Hebrew” is associated with it, we will call it the Paleo-Hebrew phenomenon, and it involves the Paleo-Hebrew method, which is based on the Paleo-Hebrew assumption. If the claims of the proponents of this phenomenon are correct, it changes significantly how we understand not only the Old Testament but also the New Testament.
According to Seekins, “When Hebrew was first written, each letter represented both a sound and a picture.” Let us consider the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet (in the Aramaic “square” script): א (Aleph) and ב (Bet),which eventually became “a” and “b” respectively in the Roman alphabet. There is no dispute that א and ב each represents a sound just as “a” and “b” each represents a sound. But neither א nor ב (nor any of the other letters of the Hebrew alphabet) seems to represent a picture. Seekins’ claim is that “When Hebrew was first written” the letters did represent pictures as well. Hebrew scholars generally agree that the Hebrew Bible (until the time of the Babylonian exile) was originally written using a script called Paleo-Hebrew, which is similar to the Phoenician script. The first two Paleo-Hebrew letters looked like this: . This script was changed to the Aramaic script that we have today during the Babylonian exile. But both these (as well as the other) letters in this script still do not seem to represent pictures:
Actually the claim that the Hebrew letters originally represented pictures in addition to sounds is based not on the Paleo-Hebrew script but a precursor of this script, known as the Proto-Sinaitic script: Continue reading “How to Misread the Bible in the Name of Paleo-Hebrew 3 (Full Article)”
Gezer Calendar (925 BC) Written by Dr. Leong Tien Fock* [This summary of major points contains spoilers] Link to the Full Article: How to Misread the Bible in the Name of Paleo-Hebrew 3 Link to Introduction which sets the context: How to Misread the Bible in the Name of Paleo-Hebrew 1 The Paleo-Hebrew phenomenon involves … Continue reading “How to Misread the Bible in the Name of Paleo-Hebrew 2 (Executive Summary)”
Gezer Calendar (925 BC)
Written by Dr. Leong Tien Fock*
[This summary of major points contains spoilers]
Link to the Full Article: How to Misread the Bible in the Name of Paleo-Hebrew 3
Link to Introduction which sets the context: How to Misread the Bible in the Name of Paleo-Hebrew 1
The Paleo-Hebrew phenomenon involves a method of reading Hebrew words based on the assumption that, unlike the letters of other alphabets, the letters of the Hebrew alphabet represent not only sound but also meaning. Hebrew words then have “deeper meanings” missed by even Hebrew scholars who do not use this method in reading the Hebrew Bible.
For instance, consider the word (Aleph-Bet, ’āb), which means “father” when read based on the sound of the word indicated by the letters (the ordinary way of reading it). But according to the Paleo-Hebrew method, this word has a deeper meaning when read based on the meaning each letter supposedly represents: Aleph (= “strength/leader”) + Bet (= “house”). In other words the “father” (ordinary meaning) is the “strength or leader of the house” (deeper meaning).
If the Paleo-Hebrew assumption is true, Biblical Hebrew is unlike any other language of the world, whether ancient or modern. This is in fact a claim made by a prominent practitioner of the Paleo-Hebrew method who has written a Study Bible based on this method. And if the method is valid, it will change significantly how we understand not only the Old Testament but also the New Testament.
A graphic demonstration of how the letters of an alphabet actually work to form written words to represent the respective spoken words shows starkly that if the assumption is true, Biblical Hebrew has somehow managed to overcome what is linguistically impossible with an alphabetic writing system—that the letters can somehow represent not only sound but also meaning.
So does the Paleo-Hebrew method actually work when tested against the available evidence? It seems to work in the selected Hebrew words presented by practitioners, which have impressed an increasing number of Bible believers. But we get a different impression when two different Hebrew words which share the same letters written in the same order are taken into consideration. Continue reading “How to Misread the Bible in the Name of Paleo-Hebrew 2 (Executive Summary)”