This article looks at the impact of ancient Near Eastern studies on biblical scholarship. Before 1800, no accurate first-hand knowledge of Egypt's ancient remains was available to compare with biblical mentions of that land and its ancient civilization. During the nineteenth century, detailed pioneering exploration of Egypt and Nubia led to extensive recording and major publications of the visible monuments and inscriptions, while decipherment of ancient Egypt's hieroglyphic and other scripts, along with their language, finally opened the way towards recovering three millennia of history, literature, and social organization, including religious belief and practice.
W. G. Lambert
This article discusses the impact of ancient Near Eastern studies on biblical scholarship, focusing on written remains of all kinds. Ancient Mesopotamia has yielded tens of thousands of clay tablets with cuneiform inscriptions, apart from monumental stone inscriptions and inscriptions on other media. Palestine and Syria, by contrast, have yielded comparatively little inscriptional material, partly because much was written on papyrus and leather, which has not survived, partly because they were less rich than their Mesopotamian neighbours and so produced less written material.
In the Old Testament, apocalyptic literature (or simply ‘apocalyptic’, as the genre is often called) might not seem to occupy a prominent place. Only the book of Daniel falls into this category. Despite its poor representation in the Bible, apocalyptic literature is not a fringe activity; nor are its contents peripheral to an understanding of Judaism (or Christianity, for that matter). This article focuses on the book of Daniel, the main Old Testament exemplar, and the book of 1 Enoch, which contains the earliest and in many respects most important Palestinian Jewish apocalypses.
The Book of Esther tells the tale of a prime minister, Haman, who, through various political machinations, attempts to annihilate the Jews of the ancient Persian empire. Esther, queen of the empire and secretly a Jew, averts the disaster and, together with her uncle, Mordecai, is celebrated as the saviour of the Jews. The end of the book institutes Purim as a festival to celebrate ‘rest from their enemies’ and the turning of ‘sorrow to gladness’ and ‘mourning into a good day’. As early as 1935, parallels were being drawn between this story and the politics of the Nazi party, which are discussed in this article.
Scott M. Langston
The questions scholars are raising in regard to the biblical text are changing. With increasing frequency biblical scholars are asking, ‘What does the Bible do’?, in recognition that the Bible's impact on individuals, societies, and cultures (and vice-versa) is an important part of understanding the Bible holistically. Unquestionably, understanding a text's inception and formation remains at the heart of biblical studies, but the move to study its wider impact promises to engage a larger number of fields and practitioners and broaden the horizons of biblical scholars. As part of this holistic focus Exodus has proven especially fertile, particularly as a paradigm for critiquing, challenging, and/or overthrowing systems and groups deemed to be oppressive. Interacting with a variety of outside factors, the biblical text has proven flexible enough to accommodate a multitude of distinctions, visions, and solutions.
This article begins with a discussion of the Exodus in the Latin American Bible movement (Movimento Bíblico Latino-Americano) related to the Theology of Liberation. It then looks at the symbol of the Exodus in popular culture, as it is expressed outside of the norms of theological language. The hypothesis is that there is a tension between both traditions. The popular tradition seems never to have addressed the whole of the Exodus narrative, instead making choices that have transformed this key liberation symbol into something very different. Popular culture stresses different topics from those which are important for a theological reading. The article aims to point out the key options which both kinds of approach to the Exodus offer, and to show how they contradict each other. It may also be possible to highlight their different hermeneutics. So the interest here is centred on the interpretative processes, and the choices, classifications, and new discourses that arise from these.
The first article of the Book of Ezekiel inaugurates one of the most profound events in Hebrew Scriptures. Extending well beyond the first article and reappearing later in the prophecy, this event represents Ezekiel's encounter with God in the form of an overwhelming vision. By means of this vision, the prophet is called upon to proclaim the divine message to his people in exile during the period of the Babylonian Captivity. This article discusses how the vision of Ezekiel is integrated into the life of the Nation of Islam by focusing on the teachings and experiences of its two most important exponents: the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, known to the Nation as the Messenger of Allah, and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, the controversial student of the Messenger. Through them, the vision of Ezekiel assumes its own bearing as a vehicle that has ties at once with ‘popular culture’ and at the same time with the most profound of religious experiences. Designated the Mother Wheel, the Mother Plane, or the Mother Ship, as well as simply the Wheel — this vehicle is not only a marvel of technology but an emblem of the ultimate triumph of the black man over his white oppressor.
This article considers the roles of women in which the New Testament bears witness. In Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, the claim that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married raised the ire of churches. The more interesting question is: why does it matter to so many people that they were or might have been? To attend exclusively to the question of Jesus' marriage is to evade the general charge laid by the novel's characters at the Church's door: that the Church has consistently marginalized and belittled women. Was Jesus (ever) married? There is no unambiguous evidence, either way, to enable us to decide, and not much ambiguous evidence either; the debate can be refined and subtle and, forever unresolved, can leave disputants as confident as ever of the view they have always maintained or presumed. Far more unsettling is the impassioned argument over the Church's treatment of women; and it may become clear in retrospect that Christian responses to the novel have shone the spotlight so brightly and narrowly on Jesus' supposed marriage that the charge of systemic misogyny has been (conveniently) forgotten in the surrounding darkness.
Richard A. Burridge
The basic question of what the gospels actually are from a literary point of view should have been one of the first things biblical scholars sorted out and agreed about. However, the history of the last century or more of critical study is one in which the pendulum has swung back and forth – from a biographical approach to the gospels to considering them to be unique, and then back to biography again. In order to answer the question of the genre of the gospels properly, it is necessary to understand two key areas: the critical theory of genre and the kinds of literature contemporary with the gospels within the Graeco-Roman and Jewish worlds around the first century. This article first looks at genre theory and then sketches a brief historical overview of scholarly approaches to the gospels. This leads to the recently developing consensus that the gospels are a form of ancient biography and some current issues of debate and future directions of research.
This article describes folklore as a unique form of cultural creativity and expression and discusses Jewish folklore through the ages and the scholarship of Jewish folklore. Folklore is a form of creativity and expression that exists in all the cultures we know. It is characterized by its qualities of collectivity and tradition, by its oral mode of expression, and usually by anonymity. Folklore is created and transmitted among individuals and groups through all the audio-visual interpersonal channels of communication. The discussion offers remarks on the field of folkloristics, to facilitate the application of accepted general terminology to the survey of Jewish folklore. The collective aspect of folklore is expressed both in the immediate interaction established between performer and audience, and in the concept of authority and ownership of the work, that is considered as belonging to the group and not an individual.