Wednesday, March 24, 2010

NT Survey Class at BIH

I will be teaching a short New Testament Survey Course for the Bible Institute of Hawaii (BIH) in April and May. The class will meet weekly on Thursdays from 7-9 at Kalihi Union Church. Details are available in the flyer above, and you can register (for only $40!) at the BIH website.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Lord's Prayer in Elvish

Middle-Earth fans are well aware that J.R.R. Tolkien, as an accomplished linguist (or philologist, as they were called then), created multiple languages for Middle-Earth. The two languages that he developed the most were two elven languages, Quenya and Sindarin. Tolkien translated the Lord's Prayer into Quenya himself, and a fan translated into Sindarin.

In Quenya:
Átarema i ëa han ëa, na aire esselya,
aranielya na tuluva, na care indómelya cemende tambe Erumande.
Ámen anta síra ilaurëa massamma,
ar ámen apsene úcaremmar sív' emme apsenet tien i úcarer emmen.
Álame tulya úsahitenna mal áme etelehta ucullo.

In Sindarin:
Ae Adar nín i vi Menel
no aer i eneth lín
tolo i arnad lín
caro den i innas lin
bo Ceven sui vi Menel.
Anno ammen sír i mbas ilaurui vín
ar díheno ammen i úgerth vin
sui mín i gohenam di ai gerir úgerth ammen.

The picture: The Lord's Prayer in Sindarin (the letters are in the Tengwar script, also created by Tolkien).

Friday, March 12, 2010

Handling Accurately or Teaching Straight?

In my Greek class last week, we had a discussion about the word ὀρθοτομέω (orthotomeo) in 2 Timothy 2:15. Here's a quick overview of how several translations render the end of that verse:

NIV: correctly handles the word
NASB: accurately handling the word
NLT: correctly explains the word
NET Bible marginal note: "correctly handling" or "imparting it without deviation"
NAB: imparting the word... without deviation
The Message: laying out the truth plain and simple

Translations vary because orthotomeo is a metaphorical word referring to cutting straight. Is the emphasis on accurate workmanship? (NIV, NASB, most others) or on straight cutting, meaning without deviating to irrelevant teaching? (NAB, The Message).

Here are two reasons why I am starting to favor the sense of "without deviation."
1) Orthotomeo is used in LXX Prov 3:6 and 11:5 to refer to cutting a straight path - a path that does not meander. The word is not used elsewhere in the NT or LXX.
2) The context of 2 Tim 2:15 includes both warning against incorrect teaching and against pointless teaching. However, one of Paul's key warnings in the entire passage is against pointless speculation: "warn them not to argue about words" "avoid worldly and empty chatter" "refuse foolish and ignorant speculations".

If that is how Paul is using the metaphor, then his point is that teaching in the church needs to stick to the big important ideas and not get distracted into speculation, pointless debate, or error.

The picture: a fresco of Paul from a tomb believed by some to hold his actual remains. It is the oldest painting of Paul, and the sarcophagus contains bone fragments from the first or second century.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dr. Seuss and Revelation

Last week, I taught a short seminar at HIM (which is Hawaii's biggest Christian conference) on how to read Revelation. To explain the nature of symbolism in Revelation, I used a few political cartoons (an idea that I got from David Scholer, one of my doctoral advisors at Fuller). And in honor of Dr. Seuss' birthday a few weeks ago, I used some of Seuss' political cartoons from the 30s and 40s. What is interesting, and what makes this relevant to the study of Revelation, is that Dr. Seuss' cartoons were immediately obvious to readers at the time, but are difficult to understand today unless we study history. If you are my age or older, you can immediately recognize the hammer and sickle in the chef's hands as a symbol of Communism or of the USSR - but if you are the age of many of my college students, you might not recognize the symbol. Most people today recognize the swastika on the pig's hat, but people from another time might not. You have to know something about history to recognize that the cartoon represents Stalinist Russia's defeat of Hitler's Germany. There's a few things I don't know - was this cartoon in response to a particular battle that Russia won? or in hopes of a victory? And what does the wreath on Joe's left arm symbolize?
Here's another one that made immediate sense to the original listeners. "Coughlin-ites" refers to followers of Charles Coughlin. Although he is obscure to us, Coughlin was the most popular radio speaker in the US during the 30s and early 40s (more than 40 million listeners, according to the infallible Wikipedia entry). Saying "Coughlin-ites" was something like saying "Ditto-heads" or "Limbaugh-ites" today. But Coughlin was sadly an anti-semitic Nazi sympathizer who blamed the escalating European conflict on England rather than Germany.

In this cartoon, labels help identify the topic. Pearl Harbor and Manila on a couple of bricks show that Dr. Seuss is talking about the Japanese attacks that brought the US into WWII. Dr. Seuss, like others from his time, clearly felt that Japan's unannounced and unprovoked attacks broke the rules of warfare - and now it was time to take up some of the same dirty tricks? There are only a few symbols here: the top hat as a symbol for the US and a swastika for Hitler. Is the main figure an eagle, America's symbol? or is it a chicken, symbolizing fear? Note another culturally-bound image: Hirohito is portrayed in a manner many would now regard as racist. But is Seuss racist? Reading his other cartoons makes me think not - he was in favor of civil rights for African Americans long before it was popular.

You can see the relevance for studying Revelation: we cannot understand the meaning of symbols, such as the beast, 666, Babylon, the two witnesses, or any others, unless we know how people perceived those symbols in the ancient world. We also could easily misread the impact of certain images. Just as we might (mis)read Seuss as racist, rather than opposed to the aggression of Japan, some scholars (mis)read Revelation as anti-semitic, rather than responding to first-century Jewish-Christian tension.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bible Genre Chart

One of the important aspects of interpreting the Bible (or any other type of literature) is paying attention to genre and adjusting reading strategies accordingly. You'll notice this emphasis in almost any book on hermeneutics. We pay attention to genre unconsciously when reading or even watching movies. We go into a sci-fi, romantic comedy, or action-adventure movie, and we have a set of expectations and an unconscious interpretational grid for that type of movie.

In the Bible, we also switch between various genres: poetry, wisdom, historical narrative, biography, epistles, apocalyptic literature, parables, and so on. I developed a handy-dandy chart to help guide readers through the various genres of the Bible. Unfortunately, the chart doesn't work well in blogger format, so you can access it here as a pdf (the pictures above are just snapshots). Feel free to make a copy if it helps you with your Bible reading.