“Rediscovering the World of the Old Testament”- A Report

As noted a few weeks ago, I gave my first of three lectures last night, on the Rediscovery of the World of the Old Testament.Screen Shot 2013-06-20 at 8.42.44 PM


It was open to the public, and although several groups of an inter-religious nature were invited (apparently the local ward has had some contacts and activities with them before), I think most of the 30-odd in attendance were LDS. I prepared about 35 slides, with a projecteur, divided into three parts.

1) Why “Rediscovery”? In short,  the full “World of the Old Testament” was lost. We had nothing but the Bible. It was akin to having a deep textual tradition about Cuba (like Israel, a relatively small, powerless, and insignificant country) but knowing nothing about Spain, Russia, or the USA, the major influences on it, then discovering their own massive records. Israel was surrounded by much larger and influential nation-states and empires, like Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon.

2) What Have We Discovered? Here I picked 7 major rediscoveries of a textual or linguistic nature, e.g. The Behistun inscription, which cracked open Akkadian; the Lachish Letters; The Elephantine Papyri; The Rosetta Stone, and so on. We have hundreds of thousands of non-Biblical texts that we can read today. Most are only of interest to specialists, but all tell us something about the world of the Bible.

3) How Have these Discoveries Changed our Understanding? Here I gave several specific examples of things we now understand in the Bible thanks to these discoveries, divided into general areas: Linguistic, Literary, Historical, and Cultural/Religious/Weltanschauung. (BTW, I can’t write Weltanschauung without linking to Calvin and Hobbes. The first time I wrote it on the board in an Institute class, I also misspelled it, and a German-speaking RM corrected me. )

As you might guess, for the last category I highlighted some insights into Genesis 1 that we get when we read it against other ancient Near Eastern creation accounts (Link 1, link 2) instead of reading it against a modern, post-Enlightenment scientific/historical background.

Generally, it went well. I’d prepared some general notes, and memorized some new vocabulary (how do you say “siege” or “Aramaic” in French?) A few times when I went off script, I stumbled slightly or had to use odd circumlocutions, but I was quite comfortable by the end. With the Q&A, it lasted about an hour, after which we had some nice refreshments. There was definitely some enthusiasm among the audience; for most of them, this was completely new information. Some of them were having problems processing, but that was kind of the point. I wanted to overwhelm with just how much we now know (and have yet to learn) about that world, that there is much more than just the Bible.

Second lecture to come in two weeks (probably The World of the New Testament, Between Malachi and Matthew), when I’ll make another report.

(Added later: A version of this became a web presentation to kick off my Benjamin the Scribe blog, here.)



13 comments for ““Rediscovering the World of the Old Testament”- A Report

  1. Few will comprehend the omission.

    I’m glad to ear about the enthusiasm. That means they understood you ( I certainly wouldn’t dare lecture in French these days!), and of course anytime you stir interest in scholarship among the Saints, it’s a good day. Formidable! (or whatever has replaced my 30 years out of date slang).

  2. Very nice material. Once upon a time, there was something called Know Your Religion that circulated this sort of presentation and others like it to the Saints in America. Then came Correlation.

  3. True, Dave, but Know Your Religion also circulated lectures on the evils of D&D and the backwards-masked truth of Led Zeppelin.

    Ben, I’m looking forward to the next report.

  4. What other examples did you give, besides enlightening Genesis 1, how rediscovered linguistic knowledge informs our knowledge of the OT?
    Thanks for this.

  5. I used the Hebrew word heychal meaning both “palace” and “temple” which looks odd for a Semitic noun. Turns out it is a loanword from Akkadian ekallum,which also looks odd for a Semitic noun. (That doubled final -ll, for example. The -um is the nom. sing. case ending, equivalent to the -un in Classical Arabic.) Akkadian had taken it from Sumerian E.GAL, meaning the Big House. Who gets a big house? The LU.GAL, Big Man or governor, and the gods.

    But there are lots and lots and LOTS of other examples.

  6. Thanks, Ben. I’m fascinated and need a primer on this. What reading would you recommend?

  7. Hebrew borrowings, the ancient Near Eastern background of the Bible, or the history of rediscoveries?

  8. There does not seem to be an easily accessible volume on this. Some suggestions of various kinds-

    Ullendorff, E. “The Knowledge of Languages in the Old Testament.” BJRL 44 (1962) 455–65. (This is from a journal I’d not heard of.)

    Note in prominent linguistic volume from 1990 (Waltke/O’Connor, Biblical Hebrew Syntax), “There is no up-to-date study of loanwords in Biblical Hebrew. M. Ellenbogen, Foreign Words in the Old Testament (London: Luzac, 1962), is badly outdated [but apparently the best thing there is]. A model treatment of loans and their context is S. A. Kaufman, The Akkadian Influences on Aramaic.”

    Paul V. Mankowski, Akkadian Loanwords in Biblical Hebrew, Eisenbrauns, 2000.

    Several chapters in this book. http://www.amazon.com/Linguistic-Dating-Biblical-Texts-Introduction/dp/1845530829

    Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English. (Beware of deriving meaning from etymology!)

    Tawil, An Akkadian Lexical Companion for Biblical Hebrew: Etymological-Semantic and Idiomatic Equivalents with Supplement on Biblical Aramaic

    Some links and discussion here.

    This also http://balshanut.wordpress.com/2008/08/10/in-his-%D7%93%D7%9E%D7%95%D7%AA-and-%D7%A6%D7%9C%D7%9D-part-2/

    That’s the best I can do.

  9. You’re too thin my friend. Unless you’re running all that bread off.

    Notice any difference in how Parisian saints handle OT complexities? Looking forward to some Maccabean material ahead.

  10. Christian- That pic is actually from December. I suspect French have even less background than Americans on this kind of stuff.

    Jennie- Found another suggest. Several chapters discuss loanwords in Biblical Hebrew: Studies in Chronology and Typology.

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