Yearly Archives: 2011

Marcus Jastrow, Father of Morris Jastrow, Jr.

Ok, this one is really confusing. I have been using two works by “Jastrow,”  thinking they were the same guy. But, lo and behold, they are a father-and-son duo. Marcus Jastrow was a Talmudic scholar who wrote a great dictionary of rabbinic sources, this is a must-have for students of Hebrew and Aramaic. Marcus’ son is Morris Jastrow, Jr. who wrote a commentary on Song of Songs, which I have been reading. The confusing part is why Morris gets the “Jr.” appellation when his father’s name is “Marcus.” There must be some naming conventions that I don’t know about.  Maybe he was named after his grandfather? Or maybe the family thought that “Marcus” sounded too antiquated, so they named the baby “Morris” yet still after his father? Or maybe they thought that “Morris” was etymologically related to “Marcus”?


Noah’s Ark (in real life!)

For all you Genesis enthusiasts out there, a Dutchman by the name of Johan Huibers is building a giant life-size replica of Noah’s ark (or “Ark van Noach” in Dutch). It’s well worth taking time to scope out the photos on his website. Pretty soon, it should be open for tourist business. So next time you’re in Europe, maybe you could swing by and walk around inside. If you get  a chance, send me some pictures!

And, if you’d like, you can see the Today Show video on the boat:

If you can’t make it all the way to the land of wooden shoes, maybe you can pay a visit to the Bluegrass state to visit the Ark Encounter theme park with a life-size Noah’s Ark.

I’m not sure why there’s a surge in Ark-interest, but hey, whatever floats your boat!


My Thoughts on Amazon Kindle 4

Amazon has been pushing its current version of the Kindle–Kindle 3–with lots of price drops and new categories like the “Kindle with Special Offers” which puts a bar of ads across the bottom of the Kindle screen while you’re reading. I’ve been interested in the Kindle for a long time because I love reading and I love ordering books from Amazon. But also, the Kindle uses a really special technology called e-ink. It’s not an LCD screen, but a “bi-polar” ink that changes color from white to black when it receives a tiny electric charge. This technology is amazing. It’s low-power and it’s not backlit, so it doesn’t hurt your eyes. It’s way more like reading a real ink-and-paper book than any other kind of screen. I’ve been impressed by it ever since Popular Science did an article about it more than 10 years ago.

There are a few drawbacks to the Kindle, however:
1. No touch screen. This means you can’t write on the screen like you can on paper,  so making notes in books is impossible. And to be honest, have you really read a book if you haven’t made a mark in it? See Mortimer Adler’s book, How to Read a Book, if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Ok, ok, the Kindle does allow you to make notes, but only typed notes, so how does that help us folks who underline, star and bracket things all the time.

2. No SD card slot. The original Kindle had an SD card slot–just like your camera, phone or other device. This meant that the size of storage was customizable at the user end of things. It also meant you take a huge file, throw it on an SD card using your computer at work or wherever and then read it on your Kindle. But now, no can do. To get something on your Kindle from your computer, you have to transfer it over USB. Boring! This is like 10-year-old technology or more. The reason the Kindle has this limitation is so that you are tempted to get everything you read on your Kindle through the Amazon store. Yuck. Ok, they do have a lot of free public domain books, but there are so many other kinds of things I’d like to read besides them.

3. No Color. The original e-ink technology is just black and white, with a little grayscale thrown in. Not so hot for our full color world. (I mean, when was the last time you saw a black-and-white TV?)

These are the reasons I have not bought a Kindle. But there are rumors out there about Kindle 4, no real information. However, I think we have reason to hope that Amazon Kindle 4 will have a color touchscreen. And that would overcome two of my three objections! But why do I say this? Is it just idle speculation. Nope. It’s based on evidence–very clear evidence in my mind.

The Eink company, which makes the screens for Kindle, is now advertising a new product–color e-ink displays that also act as a touchscreen. The new technology is called “Triton.” They have a PDF brochure which explains the new technology. In the brochure, they describe the new color display like this:

With the E Ink Triton color configuration, a thin transparent colored filter array (CFA) is added in front of the black and white display. Now the display can also reflect color. The CFA consists four sub-pixels – red, green, blue, and white – that are combined to create a full-colorpixel. The result? A low-power, direct-sunlight, readable color ePaper display that is mass manufactured in a practical way.

So the original white pixel hides behind four color subpixels that then combine to produce visible colord. I just want to know how they tell the screen which of the four subpixels to use. Here’s a little commercial from them on how it works:

Ok, but what about the touchscreen capabilities? Will I really be able to draw on the screen of a Kindle 4 with Triton technology?

Well, on the brochure, it says, “Touch-compatible E Ink technology enables pen or finger input which enhances
the user-experience.” Now I’m not entirely sure why it says “touch compatible” instead of just “touch,” but hey, who’s counting.

All this means that we’re likely to see an Amazon Kindle 4 with a color display and touch capability. But when? That’s another important question. I vote we’ll see it in 2012. A recent CNET interview the Vice President of Eink says they don’t plan to release any Triton-based e-reader in 2011. I’m still tempted to get a Kindle 3, but these new features to be released possibly next year, make me want to wait for the Kindle 4. I don’t think I’ll be disappointed if I do.


Egyptian Keys and the Pope

Egyptian Wooden Key

Photo from

A couple days ago I learned something new which shed light on at least two Bible passages for me.

What did I learn? That keys in Ancient Egypt were made out of wood and were very large–we’re talking two feet long or so. They were so big and heavy that they often had to be carried on the shoulder. Egyptian locks had pins just like modern locks, but the pins were a lot larger and made of wood. The key hole itself would have been very large–large enough to put a hand through. (See Paul Haupt, The Book of Canticles, 37).

So, where does this shed light on the Bible? First, Song of Songs 5:4 says “My lover put his hand through the opening; my heart trembled within me, and I grew faint when he spoke” (NAB). Now, this makes no sense if the keyhole is the size of modern ones, even skeleton key size. The keyhole has to be rather big to fit a hand through it. The poetic image makes no sense if the key hole is not big enough for fingers or a hand. Now did Israelites use Egyptian locks? Maybe not, but the technology was close at hand for over a thousand years in a bordering country so they could have easily used such locks.

The second place where this Egyptian key makes a difference is Isaiah 22. Here’s how the passage reads:

20 In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah,
21 and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand. And he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.
22 And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.

Woman holding egyptian key

Photo from Rice University

Now, many Catholic commentators have associated this description of Eliakim as at the al-bayit (over the house) with Peter in the New Testament. Eliakim is assigned to be over David’s house, not to be king himself, but to be more a prime minister. Peter’s assignment by Jesus is very similar. And if Jesus is the legitimate heir to David’s throne, as he claims to be, then this comparison of Eliakim to Peter makes all the more sense. In Matthew 16:19, Jesus tells Peter two things that reference this passage in Isaiah 22. Matthew 16:19 – “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed1 in heaven” (ESV). First, Peter will be given the “keys of the kingdom.” This sounds a lot like Eliakim getting the key to the House of David. Second, whatever Peter binds on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever he looses on earth will be loosed in heaven. This binding/loosing power sounds a lot like Eliakim’s power to open and shut, a power which cannot be overridden. That’s where the Pope comes in. Since he’s the successor of Peter, he gets the power of the keys. And it turns out these are big old keys! Makes me feel a bit more comfortable with the huge keys Peter normally carries in icons and statues.

St. Peter Huge Keys

Photo from Capernaum, Israel

Ok, so what about the Egyptian keys? Well, in Isaiah we hear that the key will be upon Eliakim’s shoulder. Why would anyone put a key on their shoulder? I mean, it would fall off, right? It’s too small, right? Turns out though, that ancient Egyptians, who had such huge wooden keys would carry them on their shoulders. Can you imagine if your house key, barn key, office key and car key were all 20 inches long?! It’s not exactly like you could slip those into your pocket on a little metal ring. You’d have to carry them on your shoulder!

I even found a drawing of a Cairo merchant carrying some of these keys on his shoulder. Check it out!
(Image from T. K. Cheyne, The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, 160)


Which is better: wine or love?

There’s a wonderful line in Song of Songs 1:4

We will praise your love more than wine!

Franz Delitzsch (whose commentary I’ve been reading) brilliantly comments, “The wine represents the gifts of the king, in contradistinction to his person” (F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes, trans. by M. Easton, [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1891], 23). Why is this so brilliant? Well, it reminds me of something that preachers often say, that we should “seek the Giver, not the gifts.” If we read the beautiful poetry of the Song allegorically (even just a little) and allow the king to represent God and the woman/women to represent His people, then the exclamation reminds us to seek God’s love, to seek a relationship with him, not just the gifts he provides to us. For indeed, his love is far better than any wine or other princely gift that he may offer to us.

Human relationships work the same way. If anyone ever tries to buy or bribe your friendship (or worse), at first you may be attracted because of the “stuff” you might get out of the relationship. But in the end, you’ll be more disgusted with the person attempting to buy your friendship than anything else. You may even be disgusted at yourself for being tempted by the notion of being bought. Our relationships with one another don’t work right if we try to “buy” each other. Love is about self-less giving, not about an exchange of goods. Persons are ends in themselves and deserve to be treated as such–and to treat themselves as such. So next time you’re tempted to try and bribe someone or to regard God’s gifts above his Person, remember Song of Songs 1:4, that His love is far better than wine.


Dissertation Writing

Dissertation writing is its own world of joy and hurt. It involves incredible effort, research, creativity and tenacity. In the process, I have found that sometimes thinking and reading about the process itself helps. Now reading about the process of dissertation writing may become an exercise in omphaloskepsis. One might end up spinning wheels and dithering. But for me, reading about the process makes the whole thing make more sense. So…what books have I found particularly helpful?

First, I picked up Professors as Writers by Robert Boice. Boice is a psychologist so he thinks about writing from the psychological perspective. But he doesn’t let you get bogged down in statistics and psychological surveys. No, he wants to get down to brass tacks and help you write. He hosts writing seminars regularly where he helps wayward academics get on the writing bandwagon. Three of his techniques are worth mentioning. Firstly, he encourages free-writing in short periods of 10-15 minutes to get the writing juices flowing. This seems to be a common theme among writing experts. Secondly, he advocates what he calls “generative writing” in which you maintain the same flow and speed of free-writing, but focus your writing on the topic your are wanting to actually write about at the end of the day. Thirdly, he proposes what he calls “contingency management” or what most people would call negative reinforcement. That is, if you don’t meet your writing goal for the day, he wants you to punish yourself in some way–by not taking a shower or by sending a check to organization you despise. This “contingency management” technique has led to the highest success rate among his clients, he claims. He gives a ton of other fruitful advice. I have found the book super helpful for establishing a daily writing habit. If you only get one book, this is the one to get. (I have to say that I have not experimented heavily with “contingency management”, but maybe…)

Second, I bought an older book called How to Complete and Survive a Doctoral Dissertation by David Sternberg. This book, also written by a psychologist, walks you through the various stages in the dissertation process and offers advice at every turn. The author has directed many dissertation students and they have found his advice helpful. The book is okay, but founders in being too discipline-specific. If I were a psychology student, I would find it more helpful. But I have learned a few things from it.

Third, I checked out Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day by Joan Bolker. She’s a psychologist (Are you noticing a pattern here?) and a writing guide at Harvard. This book is much less formal than the other two and it has a distinct casual flavor to it. What I like about Bolker’s approach is that it aims to make writing fun, almost a game. Writing is a creative process and is meant to be a wonderful, even pleasurable experience. Bolker brings that idea to life and offers tons of great maxims like “Write first!” that remind a writer what being a writer is all about. Her anecdotes are amusing and offer various approaches to the task of getting the writing done.

I suppose if I devoted as much attention to actual dissertation writing as I do to thinking about the process I may be further down the road. But then again, I may have mired myself in a mudhole back up the road. If you happen to be writing a dissertation, thesis or book, you may find these resources useful to you on your writing journey. Writing is often a lonely activity and it’s easy to bite off more than you can chew. So break it up into bite size pieces, write every day and keep the creative juices flowing!


Song of Songs Rabbah and Targum to the Song of Songs Online

Sometimes tracking down ancient Jewish sources on Scripture can be very challenging, especially for the uninitiate ( like me).  Understanding the difference between Targums, rabbah, Talmud, Mishnah, Midrash etc. can be quite complicated. So…in my research, I am hunting up the Song of Songs Rabbah, which is a midrashic commentary on the Song of Songs, compiled over a long time in Jewish oral tradition. The other source I am looking for is the Targum to the Song of Songs, an Aramaic “translation” of the text. I put “translation” in scare quotes, because the translator does plenty of interpreting rather than straight-up text translation.

The original language texts of these two sources are not easy to find on the internet. In fact, they may only exist in printed editions. Translations, however, are easier to find.

The Targum to the Song of Songs on Google Books
Gollancz, Hermann, translator. The Targum to the ‘Song of Songs’; The Book of the Apple; The Ten Jewish Martyrs; A Dialogue on Games of Chance. London: Luzac, 1908. Pp. 15-90.

There is an Aramaic text out there in the world of public domain, but I can’t find it in Google Books: Raphael Hai Melamed, “The Targum to Canticles According to Six Yemen Mss. Compared with the ‘Textus Receptus’ (Ed. de Lagarde),” Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, 10 (1919-20): 377-410, 11 (1920-21): 1-20, and 12 (1921-22): 57-117. It looks like this series of articles was compiled into a book in 1921: R. H. Melamed, The Targum to Canticles According to Six Yemen Mss. Compared with the ‘Textus Receptus’, (Philadelphia: Dropsie College, 1921) . You can get an electronic copy from the Internet Archive.

I also found an online translation by Jay Treat who uses the text provided by Melamed.

Song of Songs Rabbah is more elusive, unfortunately. Printed translations include, chronologically:
Maurice Simon, Midrash Rabbah: Esther and Song of Songs, 10 vols. (London: Soncino Press, 1939).
Jacob Neusner, Song of Songs Rabbah: An Analytical Translation, 2 vols. (University of South Florida Press, 1989-90).
Jacob Neusner, Israel’s Love Affair with God: Song of Songs, The Bible of Judaism Library (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity, 1993).

The only printed original language text of Song of Songs Rabbah I can track down:
Samson Dunsky,Midrash Rabbah: Shir Hashirim, (Montreal, 1973). (Includes Yiddish translation. The editor’s first name is misspelled as “Simson” or “Shimshon” in some electronic records.)
And it looks like you can get an electronic copy at Internet Archive. The digital copy is made available by the Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library.

If you can find more texts online or offline, make a comment on this post.


Was Theodore of Mopsuestia condemned for his views on the Song of Songs?

In my research on the Song of Songs, I have come across numerous authors—mainly commentators on the Song—who contend that Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350-428) was condemned by the Second Council of Constantinople for his views on the Song of Songs. Theodore was an important theologian and his writings were often cited by the Nestorians in support of their views.

Here are some examples of Bible scholars mentioning the case of Theodore:

“Theodore of Mopsuestia (ca. 350-428 CE) saw the Song as love poetry composed by Solomon to justify his marriage to the daughter of Pharaoh (1 Kgs 11:1) and concluded that it should not be in the canon. He was posthumously condemned for his views on the Song, among other more serious charges, by the Second Council of Constantinople (553). His commentary did not survive and is known only from attacks on it.”

–Cheryl Exum, Song of Songs (OTL; Louiville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2005), 73.

“Theodore of Mopsuestia, a follower of the Antiochene school of biblical interpretation (which preferred a natural, “plain sense” understanding of the Bible to an allegorical approach), rejected the allegorizing interpretation. He was posthumously condemned in the Fifth Council of Constantinople (553 C.E.),and his writings on the Song are lost.”

-Duane Garrett, Song of Songs (WBC 23B; Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 90.

“Theodore (A.D. 350-428) was one of the most interesting figures of early church history, frequently taking minority positions that got him in ecclesiastical trouble, but often winning the day in the long run. One such view was the interpretation of the Song of Songs that he took simply as a passionate love poem between Solomon and the Egyptian princess whom he married. While his interpretive intuitions were valid, his theological conclusions could be and were questioned. He said that such a love poem should not appear in the Holy Scripture. It is probably more for the latter view that he found himself criticized even by his student Theodoret, who judged his teacher’s literal interpretation as “not fitting the mouth of a crazy woman.” [Footnote: Davidson, “Theology of Sexuality,” p. 3] Later, he was condemned, in part for his views on the Song, by the Second Council of Constantinople (A.D. 553). [Footnote: Kallas, “Martin Luther,” p. 324.]”

-Tremper Longman III, Song of Songs (NICOT; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 38-39.

“Theodore, bishop of Mopsuestia, at the end of the fourth century wrote a commentary on the Song of Songs in which he rejected allegorical meaning and read it in its literal and plain sense, as an erotic song. Theodore theorized that Solomon’s subjects had criticized his marriage with an Egyptian princess and that the king responded to the protest by boldly singing of his love in this Song. Unfortunately, Theodore’s commentary did not survive and is known only from the attacks on it. His great learning, no doubt, discouraged debate during his lifetime. In little more than a century after Theodore’s death, at the Council of Constantinople in 550, his views were condemned as unfit for Christian ears.”

-Martin Pope, Song of Songs (AB 7C; New York, Doubleday, 1977)

Ok, so that’s a representative sample of major commentaries in reverse chronological order.

Notice a few things:

1. Garrett calls the council the “Fifth Council of Constantinople” while the others call it the “Second.” It is a forgivable mistake. The council of 553 was the fifth ecumenical council (the previous four being Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon), but only the second held at Constantinople. Hence, it is normally referred to as the Second Council of Constantinople.

2. Exum and Longman state the Theodore wanted to remove the Song of Songs from the canon. However, this point is not settled. Dimitri Zaharapoulos observes that “the conciliar fragment [from Second Constantinople] in its present Latin version does not inform us that our author [Theodore] rejected the Song of Songs from his canon. It was only his avowed adversary Leontius who made that claim” (Dimitri Zaharapoulos, Theodore of Mopsuestia on the Bible [New York: Paulist, 1989], 51). Zaharapoulos kindly points us to the reference in the writings of Leontius of Byzantium (Migne, PG 86, 1365D) and translates it thus, “In his [Theodore’s] impudent and immoderate recklessness, having understood the Song of Songs according to his prostituted language and judgment, he cut it off from the Holy Books” (Leontius quoted in Zaharapoulos, 33). So, there is no record of Theodore himself ejecting the Song from the canon. Nor is there a record in the Council’s extant documents for that position. Only his opponent, Leontius, accuses him of rejecting the Song from the canon. To me, it seems unlikely that Theodore would comment at length on a book he viewed as non-canonical. Based on Zaharapoulos’ work, it seems the best view is that Theodore held the Song as canonical, but that he took a different interpretation.

3. It is true that little of Theodore’s views on the Song are extant. All we have are a few fragments from a letter he wrote to a friend on the topic. The letter is cited in the Council documents. You can read it here: Migne, PG 66, 699-700.

4. It also turns out that the condemnation of Theodore and the Second Council of Constantinople are extremely complex historical events in their own right. Here’s a brief summary of events: The emperor Justinian wants to bring the Monophysites back into the Church. They reject the Nestorians, who often cite Theodore of Mopsuestia. So, Justinian condemns the writings of Theodore in an edict that comes to be known as the condemnation of the Three Chapters in 544. Pope Vigilius defends Theodore. In 553, Justinian calls a Council without the permission or participation of Pope Vigilius who was at odds with the emperor. The Council, held in May-June of 553, upheld the condemnation of the Three Chapters (Mansi, IX, 225). (Unfortunately, the Council documents are only incompletely preserved and in Latin translation.) Under the pressure of exile, Vigilius published a letter on December 8 which concurred with the condemnation of the Three Chapters, but did not mention the council. This papal pronouncement thus ratified the illegally-called council.

Pope Vigilius had published before the council a Constitutum which condemned certain positions held by Theodore. After the Council he published the Letter to Eutychius of Constantinople on Dec. 8, 553 (Mansi IX, 424) and another Constitutum on Feb 23, 554 (Mansi IX, 455).

So, yes, Theodore was condemned for his view on the Song of Songs, but not only for that, also for many other positions he took. That’s about it on Theodore of Mopsuestia and the Song of Songs. If you want to read more about it all, you can check out this short bibliography I’ve put together.

Greer, Rowan A. Theodore of Mopsuestia: Exegete and Theologian. Westminster: Faith, 1961. pp. 86-131.

Leontius of Byzantium, Contra Nestorianos, Lib. III, Migne, PG 86, 1365.

Mansi, J. D. Sacrorum conciliorum collectio. Vol. IX. Graz: Akademische Druk-U. Verlagsanstalt, 1960. pp. 225-227.

Migne, PG 66, 699-700. (Theodore’s letter on Song of Songs)

Pirot, Louis. L’oeuvre exégétique de Théodore de Mopsueste. 350-428 aprés J.-C. Scripta Pontificii Instituti Biblici; Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1913. pp. 131-137.

Smalley, Beryl. The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1952. pp. 14-20.

Vosté, J. M. “L’oeuvre exégétique de Theodore de Mopsueste au IIe concile de Constantinople.” Revue Biblique 38 (1929) 382-395.  (esp. 394-395)

Wiles, Maurice F. “Theodore of Mopsuestia as Representative of the Antiochene School.” Cambridge History of the Bible, vol. 1, 489-510. Cambridge: University Press, 1970.

Zaharopoulos, Dimitri Z. Theodore of Mopsuestia on the Bible: A Study of His Old Testament Exegesis. Theological inquiries. New York: Paulist Press, 1989.