Category Archives: Old Testament

New Commentaries on Baruch

Several years ago in 2007, I put together a bibliography of commentaries on Baruch on this blog. A handful of new work has appeared since then that it is worth listing here. Unfortunately, there is still a dearth of publication on the deuterocanonical book of Baruch, but it is worth cobbling together what has been done. Hopefully, more will be written! The book of Baruch as normally presented in a Catholic Bible includes the Epistle of Jeremiah as the sixth chapter.

New Commentaries on Baruch

Adams, Sean A. Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah: A Commentary Based on the Texts in Codex Vaticanus. Septuagint Commentary. Brill, 2014. (Although I haven’t seen it yet, this looks like the most promising, most comprehensive recent work. It claims to be the first English language commentary.)

Hill, Robert Charles, trans. Theodoret of Cyrus: Commentaries on the Prophets. Vol. I. Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2007. (This includes commentaries on Jeremiah, Baruch and Lamentations.)

Viviano, Pauline. Jeremiah, Baruch. New Collegeville Bible Commentary, vol. 14. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2013. (This book includes about 20 pages on Baruch: a 2-page introduction and then the text of Baruch with commentary.)

Wacker, Marie-Theres. Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah. Wisdom Commentary. Michael Glazier, 2016.

 

 

 

Elisha, boys and the she-bears

In my most recent video, I take a look at one the strangest passages in Scripture. I mean, how often do you come across prophet-inspired, boy-eating bears? Lots of people are disturbed by the violence of this event. But I’ve found out a few interesting things that will really tweak your view of this passage. I hope this video helps explain what’s going on!

What are the Dark Passages of Scripture?

So…I have a new book coming out entitled “Light on the Dark Passages of Scripture.” It will be released on September 20 from Our Sunday Visitor press. In the time leading up to the book release, I’ve put together a YouTube channel called “Bible Broccoli” and I’ll be posting several videos related to the book. This video above is my very first YouTube video and I address the first question you might ask about the book, “What are the Dark Passages of Scripture?” I hope you enjoy this video and I hope you check out my new book!

What is the Meaning of “Deep calls to Deep”?

Psalm 42:7 inspires the imagination, but do we actually get the translation right? Do we really understand what this verse means?

I’ll quote the King James here:

Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts:
all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.

Ok, so for an updated-sounding translation, here’s the ESV:

Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.

Often, people use this verse to describe the nature of prayer–a “calling out” from deep within oneself to deep within God. You can get a sense for it from the songs which quote this verse like “Deep Calls to Deep” by Mary-Kathryn or Matt Redman’s song by the same name. You can get a sense for the Christian preaching inspired by this line from Benny Hinn talking about intimacy with God. There are many other sermons, homilies, songs and inspiring Christian reflections on this phrase. But, do we really get it right? I think not.

The typical interpretation in these Christian reflections tries to associate the phrase to a personal communication between God and the soul. However, I think our Psalmist is actually trying to poetically describe water. Yep, water. Notice the rest of the verse about waterfalls and waves. The phrase “tehom el-tehom qore“. The ever-helpful Blue Letter Bible gives us a dictionary entry on the significant word here, tehom “deep”:

Tehom

 

Notice the relevant line: “‘wave calleth unto wave,’ i. e. wave follows wave without intermission.” The word tehom normally is referring to a big body of water like the sea. Here though, the psalmist is talking about moving water, wave after wave, or in the case of a waterfall, crash after crash of the water from above. “Deep calls to deep” describes as best as a poet can the awesome power, repeated crashing and visual impact of wave after wave, not the cry of the heart.

Now of course, this verse does come in the context of a poem about intimacy with God, which describes thirst for God, the joy of his presence and the terror of his loss. It deals with the depths of despair and conflict and the agony of tearful longing for God. But the personal dimension is at the end of this verse rather than the beginning. It says: “your breakers and your waves have gone over me.” The Psalmist feels overwhelmed by the darkness and despair he is experiencing, hitting him with wave after wave. He is mourning and oppressed (v. 9). He seeks hope, but finds taunting. His prayer is to be released from the overwhelming waters of darkness into intimate union with God. So, yes, this Psalm is about intimacy with God, but somehow we have a hard time getting the details right.

The Wisdom of Solomon Short List

Often the Deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament receive short shrift because they are not part of the canon accepted by many Christians. However, I don’t think any book gets less press than the Wisdom of Solomon. Readings from it appear eight times in the Sunday lectionary, but I’ll bet you can’t find a commentary on it online or at your local library. Here’s the short list of available book-length resources in English. Add more in the comments…if you can find any!

  • Reider, Joseph. The Book of Wisdom: An English Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New York: Harper, 1957. 233 pp.
  • Geyer, John. The Wisdom of Solomon: Introduction and Commentary. Torch Bible Commentary. London, SCM Press, 1963. 128 pp.
  • Clarke, Ernest G. The Wisdom of Solomon. Cambridge Bible Commentary on the NEB.Cambridge University Press, 1973. 136 pp.
  • Winston, David. The Wisdom of Solomon. Anchor Yale Bible Commentary. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press,  1979. 360 pp.
  • Grabbe, Lester. Wisdom of Solomon. T&T Clark Study Guides. Bloomsbury, 2004. 105 pp.
  • Clifford, Richard. Wisdom. New Collegeville Bible Commentary, vol. 20. Liturgical Press, 2013. 88 pp.

 

There’s a wider-ranging bibliography put together by Daniel Harrington here. But yes, that’s it! Just a handful of short commentaries, and nothing very recent.

Edit 8/8/16:

Here are few more items to add to our list, though not all fit the criteria of being book-length or in English:

  • Deane, William J. The Book of Wisdom. Oxford: Clarendon, 1881. (Full view online access)
  • Goodrick A.T.S. The Book of Wisdom. Oxford Church Bible Commentary. 1914. (Full view online access)
  • Kolarick, Michael. “Book of Wisdom” in Volume 5: Proverbs to Sirach. New Interpreters Bible. Abingdon, 1997.
  • Larcher, Chrysostome. Le Livre de la Sagesse. 3 vols. Paris: Gabalda, 1983.
  • Reese, James M. The Book of Wisdom, Song of Songs. Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1983.
  • Reese, James M. Hellenistic Influence on the Book of Wisdom and Its Consequences. Analecta Biblica. Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1970.

From Sea to (Shining) Sea

BlackBallDuring this Fourth of July Week, I thought a little reflection on an Old Testament conundrum that connects with some American patriotic poetics would be appropriate, so here goes: A mysterious phrase crops up three times in the Old Testament that has proved to be, well, a bit unsolvable. The phrase is “from sea to sea” and shows up in these passages. (I should note however, that the early Canadians tried to co-opt this phrase themselves in their coat of arms, which includes the Latin a mari usque ad mare. 🙂 )

May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth! (Ps 72:8 ESV)

They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it. (Amos 8:12 ESV)

I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zech 9:10 ESV)

The trouble with this little phrase is that it seems to denote a geographical reality, but scholars have pounded their heads against the wall to figure out exactly what geographical reality we’re talking about.

Exegetical Nitpicking

It wouldn’t be right to pass over the passages and on to the dictionaries to solve the problem, so first we have to engage in a little nitpicky investigation. Notice that in the Psalm 72 and Zech 9 passages, the phrase is appended by another stock phrase “from the River to the ends of the earth.” In each of those two cases we’re talking about a messianic king reigning from Jerusalem and establishing dominion. One would expect such passages to recall the ideal borders of the Holy Land (Deut 1:5; Josh 1:3-4) and say something like “He’ll have dominion from Dan to Beersheba!” But instead, we get these other features. The only easy one to identify is “the River”, which is the Euphrates–I don’t think any scholar dissents from this view. The “ends of the earth” which could just mean “everywhere really far away” has sometimes been identified with the Atlantic exit from the Mediterranean, Gibraltar. In the Amos passage, we have something different. We’re not talking about ideal reigns or borders, but starving people roaming for food and “from sea to sea” is a convenient way of saying “helter skelter” or “higgledy-piggledy.”

The Options

Ok, so what are the options for explaining “from sea to sea”?

1. The most common sense option, from my view, is to consider one of the seas to be the Mediterranean and one to be the Indian Ocean or one of its offshoots (Persian Gulf, Red Sea). We don’t have a complete understanding of how the ancient thought about their geography, but those two HUGE bodies of water seem to be the logical choices for me.

2. One could say: Mediterranean sea to Gulf of Aqaba

3. Or: Mediterranean sea to Dead Sea.

4. BUT, the problem is those seas are actual things. “The ends of the earth” may not be. You can’t go on vacation there. Othmar Keel offers an interesting perspective in his important book Symbolism of the Bible here:

Keel uses an artifact called The Babylonian Map of the Woooooooorld (cue big voice radio guy) to show how the ancients understood their geographic position. In a GPS-free world, things can get confusing! There’s a disk of land, surrounded by a circle of water–all land being like a big island. While there’s some truth to this–continents are really just enormous islands–it makes our “sea to sea” thing a bit different. The idea here might be more to say “everywhere in the whole wide world!” which would comport with the “ends of the earth” idea our phrase is combined with in Ps 72 and Zech 9. Another scholar has examined this point and defended this view further: Magne Saebø,  “Vom Grossreich zum Weltreich: Erwägnungen zu Pss 72:8, 89:26; Zech 9:10b,” Vetus Testamentum 28(1978): 83-91. Saebø digs deeper and tries to explain how an ancient formula for describing a territory using east-west, north-south terms (like we might say “coast to coast and border to border”) has now expanded to account for the entire world in a way that doesn’t exactly make sense.

To me, the last option, while not easy to arrive at is probably the best one. Perhaps more archaeological digs and research will give us more examples or clues to explain the “from sea to sea” phrase more closely. When we hear of the messianic king reigning from sea to sea, we should be thinking something like “everywhere!!” 

That’s your Independence Day edition of the Catholic Bible Student. Enjoy it from sea to sea!

Did the Wave Offering Make the Sign of the Cross?

Wave offerings are prescribed in the Old Testament several times–mainly in Leviticus and Numbers. Normally, the OT sacrificial system leads people to tears of boredom, but something caught my eye in reading about this in Allen P. Ross’s book, Holiness to the Lord. He describes the wave offering ritual thusly:

The wave offering (tenupa) was placed in the offerer’s hands, and then the priest placed his hands beneath those of the offerer, moving them upward and downward, forward and backward, thereby symbolizing the consecration of the gift of God in the sight of all. (p. 192)

Sounds interesting, but what is even more amazing is what he suggests in a footnote:

[R.K.] Harrison ([Leviticus: Introduction and Commentary, IVP 1980] 83) observes the description and interpretation of this ritual and notes that the motion was in the shape of a cross. If this is right, then it is a symbolic foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Christ.

Interestingly, there is no description of the ritual in the biblical text and some commentators, like Jacob Milgrom, have rejected the wave offering as a “fiction.” Harrison’s description is rooted in later Jewish rabbinic sources. So this may remain a mystery, but if the description of the ritual is accurate, it reminds me of a Catholic priest making the sign of the cross over the gifts on the altar before the sacrifice of the Mass is made. Perhaps this act is foreshadowed by the ancient Israelite wave offering.

Sheep Judging

I’ve been to the Estes Park Wool Market festival and to the National Western Stock Show, so I have seen some sheep judging (and sheering and bleating). Usually the judges are looking for well-bred animals that conform to the specifications for their category of sheep. Symmetry, good wool, proper bone structure are all rewarded with blue ribbons.

But what about sheep judging in the Bible? Normally, our minds would go straight to Jesus in Matt 25, saying that he will judge between sheep and goat:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the s

Photo by Peter Dutton

Photo by Peter Dutton

heep on his right, but the goats on the left. (Matt 25:31-33 ESV)

Here, the “Son of Man” is not looking for good breeding, but for righteousness and for service to the poor. It’s interesting to put our eternal judgment in metaphorical perspective…it’s like sheep judging. Ok, but what about the OLD Testament?

Interesting you should ask. The OT actually provides a rich sheep-judging background in Ezekiel 34:

17 “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? 19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?  20 “Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, 22 I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. (Ezek 34:17-22 ESV)

So the image of eternal judgment as sheep judging in Matthew 25 is not new, but it does modify the picture Ezekiel paints. For Ezekiel, the Lord judges between “sheep and sheep” – meaning that they are all the same species, but he’s making judgments on an individual basis. In Matt 25, the judging is between “sheep and goats”–a distinction rooted in Ezek 34:17. For Matt 25, the sheep are the “good guys” and the goats are the “bad guys.” The goats end up “on his left” and get condemned (Matt 25:41), while the sheep are “on his right” (Matt 25:33). Matthew’s gospel develops Ezekiel’s metaphor–now a person’s actions reveal his/her true identity as a sheep or a goat.