Unity and Composition of Deuteronomy as a Covenant Treaty

“You are standing today, all of you, before the LORD your God…so that you may enter into the sworn covenant of the LORD your God, which the LORD your God is making with you today, that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Deut. 29:10,13

A number of scholars have argued convincingly that there is a relationship in form between the Hebrew covenant and the ancient Near Eastern vassal treaty…

In its classical form, the Near Eastern vassal treaty has the following component parts:

1. Preamble (“These are the words . . .”).
2. Historical Prologue (“antecedent history,” i.e., events leading to and forming the basis of the treaty).
3. General Stipulations (statement of substance concerning the future relationship, which (1) is intimately related to the antecedent history, and (2) summarizes the purpose of the specific stipulations).
4. Specific Stipulations.
5. Divine Witnesses: various deities are called to witness the treaty.
6. Blessings and Curses: relating respectively to the maintenance or breach of the covenant. Continue reading “Unity and Composition of Deuteronomy as a Covenant Treaty”

Reading the Bible as a Covenantal Document

One of the prominent features of contemporary historical criticism is to dissect the bible into discrete units which are taken to represent the earlier historical sources and literary traditions which underlie the biblical text. Having identified these historical sources, critical scholars then analyze how they are pieced together into the various books of the bible. As an example, critical scholars argue that the Pentateuch is a compilation of four originally independent documents: the Jahwist (J), Elohist (E), Deuteronomist (D), and Priestly (P) sources. According to critical scholars, the Pentateuch did not originate with Moses (~1400 BC), but were finally complied by some unknown redactors during the Jewish Babylonian exile (~400 BC).

Presumably, this critical historical exercise would enable scholars to gain insights into the literary intentions or ideological biases of the final redactors of the presently preserved biblical text. This exercise may enable scholars to speculate on the history of the composition of the text. But one wonders whether the critical approach may lead scholars to miss the forest for the trees, that is, to be so focused on the discrete and artificially constructed fragments of the text that they overlook the meaning of the bible which becomes evident when one reads the books of the bible holistically.

An alternative approach to the historical-critical reading of the bible would be to take the bible on its own terms, that is, to read the bible holistically. Meredith Kline argues that such a holistic reading is necessary because the bible is in its literary-formal form a covenantal document, and that biblical canon must be read holistically as a treaty-canon. Continue reading “Reading the Bible as a Covenantal Document”

Integrating Faith and Knowledge

I. Introduction

James Orr, in The Christian View of God and the World, maintains that the Christian worldview is compelling because it provides a coherent and unified view of life. Christianity as an integrated worldview embraces all disciplines of knowledge and provides stability of thought and directions to Christians seeking to navigate through new intellectual challenges posed by advancement of knowledge in the modern world.

Christian integration of faith and knowledge is based on the following premises: Continue reading “Integrating Faith and Knowledge”

Between Babylon and Egypt: Mythology or Historical Traditions in the Book of Genesis. Part 3

The Literary Structure and Unity of the Book of Genesis

The problem with scholars who apply the historical-critical method (premised on methodological atheism rather than on believing, critical realism) on Genesis is that they refuse to acknowledge what is in plain sight, that is, the unity of Genesis. One of the clues to the unity of Genesis is found in the way in which the phrase “These are the generations of” (’elleh tôledôt) is used ten times at crucial transitions of the narratives in Genesis.

Nahum Sarna explains,

The ’elleh toledot formula is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Book of Genesis. In each of its other ten occurrences, it introduces what follows, invariably in close connection with the name of a person already mentioned in the narrative. Its use indicates that a new and significant development is at hand. Deriving from the verb y-l-d, “to give birth,” the noun form would mean “begettings” or “generations,” and in most instances it precedes genealogies that are sometimes interspersed with narrative material. In 25:19 and 37:2, where no family tree follows but only stories of subsequent events, the formula is used figuratively for “a record of events.” This is the meaning it bears in the present passage. In this sense, the entire verse may be understood as a unity referring to what follows. Further support for this interpretation lies in its parallel structure, not to mention its poetic chiasm, “heaven and earth,” “earth and heaven.” [Nahum Sarna, Genesis (Jewish Publication Society, 1989), pp. 16-17] Continue reading “Between Babylon and Egypt: Mythology or Historical Traditions in the Book of Genesis. Part 3”

Between Babylon and Egypt: Mythology or Historical Traditions in the Book of Genesis. Part 2

Part 2. The Egyptian Origins and the Levitical Transmission of the Historical Traditions of the Book of Genesis.

Introduction
Duane Garrett makes a startling pronouncement at the beginning of his book, Rethinking Genesis, “The time has long passed for scholars of every theological persuasion to recognize that the Graf-Wellhausen theory, as a starting point for continued research, is dead. The Documentary Hypothesis and the arguments that support it have been effectively demolished by scholars from many different theological perspectives and areas of expertise.” [Duane Garrett, Rethinking Genesis (Grace Focus Pub, 2000), p. 11]

Nevertheless, the Documentary Hypothesis [DH] remains a major operating framework in Pentateuchal studies among critical scholars, even though its methodology has been shown to be based on flawed linguistics (Umberto Cassuto). Its reconstruction of the literary sources has also been shown to rely on arbitrary literary criteria and circular arguments (Oswald T. Allis and Gleason Archer). Finally, Egyptologists like Kenneth Kitchen have exposed the weakness of its historical foundations as new archaeological evidence shows that the historical milieu of the Pentateuch is more likely to be that of the milieu of Palestine in early second millennium BC rather than that of the milieu of Babylonian exile in the 5 th century BC. The DH is like a splendid academic castle floating magically in air since its foundations have been demolished even though its proponents continue to abide in it simply because they cannot agree on what new structure should replace it. Continue reading “Between Babylon and Egypt: Mythology or Historical Traditions in the Book of Genesis. Part 2”

Between Babylon and Egypt: Mythology or Historical Traditions in the Book of Genesis. Part 1

The Documentary Hypothesis (DH) posits that the Pentateuch is a compilation of four originally independent sources which Old Testament critics designate as J (Jahwist), E (Elohist), P (Priestly) and D (Deuteronomic). Julius Wellhausen, one of the chief architects of the DH suggested the following dates for the documents: J c. 850 BC, E c.750 BC, D c. 622 BC and P c. 500 BC. He further surmised that the documents were merged together by Jewish scribes during the Babylonian exile, so that the final redaction of the current Pentateuch was completed in the time of Ezra during the fifth century BC. However, critics of the DH have identified intractable problems which undermine the theory. As such, not many Old Testament scholars today overtly promote the DH. However, in the absence of an alternative critical theory, the DH remains the operating framework for many Old Testament critics today.

Two wide-ranging implications arise from the DH. First, if the Pentateuch assumed its conclusive redaction during the Babylonian period, that is, six centuries after Moses, then it cannot be relied on as reliable historical source of the Patriarchal period. Second, based on the DH, critics argue that the composition of Genesis 1-11 was influenced by Babylonian myths. Conversely, the purported influence of Babylonian myths in Genesis is forwarded as evidence of the DH.

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Part 1 seeks to demonstrate that the theory of Babylonian mythological influence on Genesis 1-11 rests of precarious foundations and thereby questions one of the assumptions of the DH that the book of Genesis (and the Pentateuch) was essentially shaped in a Babylonian context.

Part 2 offers an alternative understanding of the trajectory of the historical traditions of the book of Genesis developed by Duane Garrett who argues that the historical setting of the sources of the book of Genesis is Egyptian. In particular, it was the Levites who recorded and preserved the historical traditions of Israel handed to them by Moses. Continue reading “Between Babylon and Egypt: Mythology or Historical Traditions in the Book of Genesis. Part 1”

In Defence of Prophetic Authorship and Unity of the Book of Isaiah. Part 2/2

I. Summary of Defence of the Isaianic authorship by Gleason Archer
[Gleason Archer, the legendary professor of Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Chicago (he modestly told me in 1984 that he only knew 28 languages although rumours were that he knew many more), wrote the following discussion as a supplement to his rebuttal of the critical arguments for source division of Isaiah 1-39 and Isaiah 40-66 based on “Alleged Differences in Theme and Subject Matter,” and “Alleged Differences in Language and Style.”]

Additional Proofs of the Genuineness of Isaiah 40–66

1. First of all it should be noted that Jesus ben Sirach (48:22–25) clearly assumes that Isaiah wrote chapters 40–66 of the book of Isaiah. E. J. Young notes, “The tradition of Isaianic authorship appears as early as Ecclesiasticus.

2. The New Testament writers clearly regard the author of Isaiah I and Isaiah II to be one and the same. Many of the New Testament quotations could be interpreted as referring to the book merely according to its traditional title, but there are other references which clearly imply the personality of the historic Isaiah himself. Continue reading “In Defence of Prophetic Authorship and Unity of the Book of Isaiah. Part 2/2”

In Defence of Prophetic Authorship and Unity of the Book of Isaiah Part 1/2

The Authorship of Isaiah: A Straight-Forward Biblical Defence
by Dr. Leong Tien Fock, (PhD in Semitic Languages and Literatures)

Assessment of current scholarship, both critical and conservative

According to An Introduction to the Old Testament, an “evangelical” book that is slightly “liberal,” by Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard (2006: 309-10):

In many respects, contemporary critical opinion about Isaiah has recovered from the excesses that characterized scholarship in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The consensus among critical scholars has moved in the direction of acknowledging much of what was dear to conservatives: that Isaiah is not the result of a haphazard accident and internally contradictory, but rather the book as a whole shows a unity of themes and motifs. The tenor of much of the debate has shifted from focus on dissecting the text to recover sources and settings to efforts to expound the coherence and unity of the text as it exists. Arguments from conservatives for unity of authorship based on common themes and vocabulary have now in large part been taken over and pressed into service as arguments for a redactional unity in the book [italics added].

To be sure, critical and conservative opinion remain divided on the issue of authorship. Although there is a growing consensus about the overall unity of Isaiah, for critical scholarship it is a unity forged through a history of redaction rather than a unity that derives from a single individual author. Continue reading “In Defence of Prophetic Authorship and Unity of the Book of Isaiah Part 1/2”

Christian Scholarship & Deliverance from Chronological Snobbery

One of the criticisms that ‘progressive’ Christians level at orthodox Christians is that they are anti-intellectual since they oppose the idea of applying insights drawn from critical theory and social sciences to interpret the Bible. This criticism is surely unfounded. For orthodox Christians, “All truth is God’s truth,” and the scholar of the Book should … Continue reading “Christian Scholarship & Deliverance from Chronological Snobbery”

One of the criticisms that ‘progressive’ Christians level at orthodox Christians is that they are anti-intellectual since they oppose the idea of applying insights drawn from critical theory and social sciences to interpret the Bible. This criticism is surely unfounded. For orthodox Christians, “All truth is God’s truth,” and the scholar of the Book should also be a scholar of many other books. As such, they would welcome any interdisciplinary exercise that seeks to enrich our understanding of Bible on its own terms. However,  orthodox Christians who engage in interdisciplinary studies should be clear about their presuppositions and priorities so as to avoid compromising their faith inadvertently.

First, the Bible as the infallible word of God should function as the background controlling belief in the integration of faith and contemporary knowledge like critical theory and social sciences. Continue reading “Christian Scholarship & Deliverance from Chronological Snobbery”

What Grass? What Cow? -The Biblical Scholar, Theologian and Philosopher

Three professors – a biblical scholar, a systematic theologian and a philosopher were in the same coach as the train was passing by a meadow. Biblical scholar: Look at the great variety of grass and plants! – Just penta-species to start with: Andropogon Gerardii, Bouteloua Gracilis,Erechtites hieracifolia, Vernonia Cinerea, Helictotrichon Pratense, etc. You must carefully … Continue reading “What Grass? What Cow? -The Biblical Scholar, Theologian and Philosopher”

Three professors – a biblical scholar, a systematic theologian and a philosopher were in the same coach as the train was passing by a meadow.

Biblical scholar: Look at the great variety of grass and plants! – Just penta-species to start with: Andropogon Gerardii, Bouteloua Gracilis,Erechtites hieracifolia, Vernonia Cinerea, Helictotrichon Pratense, etc. You must carefully identify the multiple grass sources. What milk you get is what grass the cow eats.

Systematic theologian: Hey! Are you sure this is milk? Is it kosher-halal?

Philosopher: I don’t know what cow, grass and milk you guys are talking about.

NKW: I don’t know what grass I smoked to come up with this lame stuff.