Friday, July 15, 2011

Heading Home From Tel Gezer

The excavation season is over for us at Tel-Gezer. By the time this blog posts I will be on my way to the airport and making my way through the Israeli security gauntlet. I am looking forward to getting home after being away for five weeks. It is a long time and it makes me think about all those in the military who are stationed across the world. I don't envy them and they have my respect.

As I sit here on the other end of the season I can look back on our time here.

I am tired, tanner, thinner and more experienced than I was five weeks ago. The schedule is brutal. We are up at 4:00 am and on the Tel by 5:00 am. We stop to eat breakfast at 8:30 and then work until 12:30. Lunch is at 1:00 and we are free until 4:00. Then we wash pottery followed by a lecture and dinner at 6:30 pm. Most of us are in bed by 8:30 so we can start all over again in the morning. On the weekends we sleep-in and get on the bus by 8:00 so we can tour the country. There is little time for rest.

The season has been profitable. Yes we have found important items as we excavated, but it has been profitable to us as a group. My students have all performed wonderfully. They too are tired, but I know that they take back with them an experience that not everyone can or will have. I brought eight with me and they have helped uphold our reputation here at the dig as a hardworking group. All of them have worked hard and I am proud to have had them with me. I have come to know them in ways that I would not had we only met in a classroom once a week. They each gave up time with their families to get dirty and sweaty with me. I am grateful for them all.

As I am writing this we are packing the camp and getting ready for our final evening here. Steve Ortiz, the dig director, will give an end of season report and then we will have a BBQ on the lawn. It will be a time for us to unwind and say goodbye. Many of us will keep in contact via Facebook and others I will see at conferences. We all leave here richer because of the relationships that we have created.

I am anxious to get home. Back to my wife, to my home and my desk. I have some catching up to do.

But will I return in two years? Perhaps. At the moment I am too tired. But I am sure that as the months pass I will forget the sore muscles, the short nights and the hard work and will return if given the chance. As I said when I started the dig, all biblical scholars should participate in at least one dig. But if they can participate more than once, than they should.

See you all when I get home.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Biblical World Celebrates One Year

Today is the one year anniversary of this blog. I started the blog on a whim. My wife had suggested to me once that I might try blogging, but I was not sure if I was the blogging type. I read a number of blogs on a regular basis, but never thought that it was the kind of thing I would like to do.

One thing that helped me move in this direction was my experience with teaching online. Learning how to deliver material to students in new and non-traditional formats was an experience I also did not expect to enjoy. But I found it stimulating to find new ways to communicate information. The advantage of the blog has been that it provides me a way to post on a variety of topics that are either currently in the news or have been rattling around in my head for a time. So, in the end, my wife was right once again. Blogging is the kind of activity I enjoy.

One year later I have had 125,000 visits to this blog. So I thought I would take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all of my regular readers and to list some of the things that I have learned over the last year.

  1. Blogging requires commitment and work. It is not the kind of thing that one does haphazardly, unless you don't want any readers that is. You need to post regularly. At the same time, I have often resisted the urge to post just for the sake of posting. If I have a day that is too busy for me or I simply have nothing to say, than I resist the urge to post.

  2. It is a good exercise for writing. Since most of my posts are around 500 words, blogging allows me to exercise the "writing muscle." My schedule does not always allow me to work on whatever project I am working on. But blogging allows me the chance to write a little everyday and exercise that muscle. It helps make you a better writer.

  3. Blogging helps me to digest what I am reading and studying. At times I comment on things in the news, review a book or say something about a topic. Taking the time to write helps me to process the information.

  4. A blog can take on a life of its own. I have been surprised to see links to my posts in places across the internet.

  5. Some topics are hot and will bring more visitors. For instance, I posted a few times on the rapture and my thoughts on it. Almost 25,000 of my hits came from people reading those posts. If I was being paid for hits I now know how to become a very rich man.

  6. I am sometimes surprised at which posts attract the most attention. Sometimes I will work hard on a post and the interest will be minimal. But then I type off the top of my head about a topic I am passionate about and the hit count goes up. Go figure.

  7. Blogging provides me an opportunity for scholarly interaction. I miss the seminars from the days of studying for my PhD. When I post a blog I sometimes receive incisive comments from others and the chance to interact. I have also witnessed this happen between others. I once posted on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and witnessed a vibrant debate between two of my readers.

  8. I think the future of scholarly publication is changing and blogging is one way in which information can be spread to others. While I think the peer review process is important and necessary, it can also be slow and cumbersome. Journal articles can sometimes languish for a couple of years until they see ink and paper. By that time the information may be old and/or the author is no longer interested in the topic. Blogging helps an author to share his or her work, get feedback and let people know what they are working on.

  9. Blogging helps me to keep in contact with my former students. It provides them a place to go where they can keep up on new trends and thoughts. It is also a place where they can read analysis of that information by qualified people.

  10. Finally, it is just plain fun.

Many thanks to my readers! I look forward to another year with you.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Can't Pronounce that Bible Word? There's an App for that!

Ever been asked to read a passage in scripture in public only to discover that it is a genealogy of character or a list of geographic place names? Trying to pronounce those names privately can be bad enough, but doing it in front of a group of people will tie your tongue quicker than sea shells, sea shells sitting by the sea sea shore.

Well, there is an App for that. That's right, someone has taken the time to develop a program to help you avoid that moment of embarrassment. Here is what Charisma Magazine reports.

If you use an iPhone or an iPad, you can tap into the Bible Audio Pronunciations application, which offers up audio recordings of more than 1,000 challenging words found in scripture.

"We wanted to give people an easy tool to raise their level of understanding and enjoyment from reading the Bible," says Michael Vance, developer of the app. "It will speak out loud some of its most difficult words."

The app plays recordings of terms, names and places that many people find difficult to pronounce (like Shealtiel and Epaenetus). The recordings also offer the names of important church and historical leaders.

Here’s how it works: You can search or browse for words, and after you find the word you are looking for just tap it to start the recording. The developer plans to add new words on a regular basis, and also included links to Google and Wikipedia within the app. All for 99 cents.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Quote of the Day

Back in April I posted about the Myth of the Church's Golden Age. I commented there that there never was a perfect version of church, no golden age and that the church was a dysfunctional in the first century as in the 20 centuries that have followed.

Over at BibleX Charles has posted a good quote from Karl Donfried's The Dynamic Word: New Testament Insights for Contemporary Christians (Harper & Row, 1981). I think Donfried makes my point quite well.

"The notion that early Christianity is a perfect model that all successive followers of Jesus Christ should imitate is clearly undermined in 1 Corinthians, and elsewhere in the New Testament as well. The early church, as we shall repeatedly see, had the same frailties and difficulties as ever subsequent Christian generation. Since this is the case, the way in which such difficulties are resolved should be particularly illuminating for the contemporary church, where many of these same issues are reflected, not least of which is the problem of the disunity and fragmentation of Christianity."

A Sabbath's Day Journey: A Recent find sheds light on how far one could walk

Those who study the Bible are aware that the seventh day, the Sabbath, was to be a day of rest. No work was to be done, no fires lit and as little moving about as possible (Lev 23:3). But in practical terms some things had to happen. People still needed to eat and, at a minimum, leave their tents to relieve themselves. And in later times they also would go to synagogue.

In the New Testament we run across an interesting note in Acts 1:12 which states that, following the Ascension of Jesus, the disciples returned from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, which was about a Sabbath's day journey. Apparently there had been a development in the interpretation of the law that helped people to know just how far they could go on a Sabbath. But how did they know?

A very recent discovery provides us an ancient connection with a modern practice. Some modern, Jewish neighborhoods install shabbat poles around the area so that people will know how far they can walk. The Jerusalem Post is reporting that just this week shabbat marker from late antiquity was discovered in Galilee. It is a stone with the Hebrew word for Sabbath. Here is what the article has to say.

An ancient rock inscription of the word “Shabbat” was uncovered near Lake Kinneret this week – the first and only discovery of a stone Shabbat boundary in Hebrew. The etching in the Lower Galilee community of Timrat appears to date from the Roman or Byzantine period.

News of the inscription, discovered by chance Sunday by a visitor strolling the community grounds, quickly reached Mordechai Aviam, head of the Institute for Galilean Archeology at Kinneret College.

“This is the first time we’ve found a Shabbat boundary inscription in Hebrew,” he said. “The letters are so clear that there is no doubt that the word is ‘Shabbat.’”

Aviam said Jews living in the area in the Roman or Byzantine era (1st-7th centuries CE) likely used the stone to denote bounds within which Jews could travel on Shabbat. The Lower Galilee of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages had a Jewish majority – many of the Talmudic sages bore toponyms indicative of Galilee communities.

The engraving uncovered in Timrat is the first and onlyShabbat boundary marker yet discovered in Hebrew – a similar inscription was found in the vicinity of the ancient Western Galilee village of Usha, but its text was written in Greek.

This is a significant find especially since it is in Hebrew. It also helps to shed some light on Acts 1:12. Perhaps there were similar markers, now lost, on the Mount of Olives and that was how the author of Acts could make such a comment. It also portrays the disciples as good Jews, obeying the Sabbath laws even as they witnessed the ascension of Jesus.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Education Levels Factor into How Americans Interpret the Bible

A new Gallup poll indicates that 3 in 10 Americans interpret the Bible literary. Here is what Gallup had to say:

Three in 10 Americans interpret the Bible literally, saying it is the actual word of God. That is similar to what Gallup has measured over the last two decades, but down from the 1970s and 1980s. A 49% plurality of Americans say the Bible is the inspired word of God but that it should not be taken literally, consistently the most common view in Gallup's nearly 40-year history of this question. Another 17% consider the Bible an ancient book of stories recorded by man.

What I found interesting, however, is that almost half of those polled say that while it is the inspired word of God it should not be interpreted literally. Moreover, according to the poll, the higher the level of education attained by a person the more likely one is to see the Bible as inspired word of God rather than the actual word of God. I find this interesting because usually those who are highly educated are thought to have a lower view of scripture. But the poll suggests that higher education does not necessarily mean that one jettisons inspiration as they realize that not everything in the Bible should be read/interpreted literally.

The poll certainly assumes that those who responded had some type of appreciation of the Bible and held it in some esteem and considered it authoritative. But it also suggests that as people
begin to understand the complexity of the Bible that their understanding of inspiration becomes more nuanced. There is something about the Bible and the message(s) of the Bible that people are not willing to reject simply because there are incongruities with history, archaeology and even within the text itself.

I am not sure what questions were asked and how, but I think I can identify with the results. The more I learn the more I realize how complicated my relationship is with the Bible. I long ago rejected the literal interpretation of the Bible, but I also have not rejected the Bible. What I do sense, however, is mystery. That this very human book still has profound, indeed even divine, wisdom which I find important to my life. And the only way I can explain the complexity is by saying it is inspired. What that means exactly I am not completely sure. But somehow God works through it.