Philonica et Neotestamentica

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New books

While digging into the library of Luther Seminary, where I am staying for some weeks now, I discovered two new books dealing with the conditions – and especially the socalled ‘pogrom’ – in Alexandria in the late thirties CE.:

Andrew Harker,
Loyalty and Dissidence in Roman Egypt. The Case of the Acta Alexandrinorum
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008),

Sandra Gambetti,
The Alexandrian Riots of 38 C.E. and the Persecution of the Jews: A Historical Reconstruction,
Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism 135 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2009).

The first one deals primarily with the Acta Alexandrinorum, but has an introductory chapter that discusses Philo’s presentation of the tumultuous years of 38-41 CE.

The volume by Gambetti, tries to work out a deatiled and consistent picture of what can say happened in these years. She also has a very interesting excurse on the situation of the Jews in Alexandria (pp. 112-120).

Very interesting for me in my present work, is that they both support the view that the Jews in Alexandria did have a ‘politeuma’ institution of their own in Alexandria. This view have been contested in some recent works (esp. Barclay,Jews in the Mediteranean Diaspora, esp.pp. 43,note 73;64-65; Sarah Pearce, “Jerusalem as ‘Mother-City’ in the writings of Philo of Alexandria,” in Negotiating Diaspora: Jewish strategies in the Roman Empire, ed. John M.G. Barclay, (London: T. & T. Clark, 2004), 19–36). But now the older view has gained some strong support.


I just have to repost this video, which I first saw over at the blog of Robin Parry’s blog today:

I am sweating when I see things like that; are you?

Exit learning Hebrew?

Learning Hebrew is still obligatory in the theological studies, both in my country, Norway, as well as in several other countries and their theological institutions. But signs are visible in the horizon that might make one argue that time has come to consider a change. Here are some reflections on whether it is the time now to consider if the time of Hebrew language courses as obligatory in a theological pastoral education is over. By a pastoral education I mean the education/ curriculum necessary to be ordained as a pastor. Most often the various denominations have some fixed sets of requirements to be met to be ordained as a pastor, but not very specific requirements. The Church of Norway, as far as I know, has never made any specific requirements involving the specific curriculums, but leave it to the theological schools. Hence one should be free to decide if Hebrew is obligatory or not.
In other countries, the situation is similar. Very few churches set specific demands.

Should a pastor know Hebrew?
The criteria for being a pastor should be various and manyfaceted. Personal abilities as well as professional education and congregational experiences are most often focused. But does the ability to read some Hebrew belong to the professional education needed? Here are some arguments brought forth that might be considered
I would like very much if your stated your opinions in the comments field at the end of this post.

Arguments Pro et Contra
Pro arguments:
1. Hebrew has always been in the theological curriculums (at least in Norway). Together with Greek and Latin it has been considered one of the three “theological languages”. But Latin are now left out as obligatory in many institutions.
2. The Bible contains both the Old and New Testament (or the First and SecondTestaments, if you prefer that labelling). Pastors are supposed to be able to handle issues of translation and exegesis of both parts; hence Hebrew is necesarry as well as Greek.
3. One cannot readily understand the meaning of the New Testament authors without an understanding of the Hebraic mindset that hermeneutically underlies their message. Many problems in exegesis and doctrine arise because Christians without knowledge of the Jewish scriptures have imposed a Greek/Western mindset onto the pages of the Hebrew  Scriptures.
4. Leaving Hebrew out will make students and pastors liable to be too dependent on those who know Hebrew. They might tend to become “close-minded traditionalists” who clutch their inherited ideas, or “open-ended relativists” who don’t care much about doctrinal formulations.

Contra arguments:
1 Most students struggle with learning Hebrew, and very few pastors are able to uphold the knowledge of the Hebrew they once acquired. Biblia Hebraica is often one of the first books to be stored away when entering a pastorate. In the United States I have been told that less than 20 % of the pastors are able to keep up with the Biblical languages. They don’t have enough time and energy to keep up their knowledge of two biblical languages.
2 Pastors have very little need for the skills to read Hebrew. They preach very rarely from the Old Testament; and if they have too, there are lots of literature to help the lack of Hebrew.
3 The first Christians did not know Hebrew! While the first apostles and Palestinian Christians knew Hebrew this knowledge soon vanished. The New Testament is written in Greek, and they used the Greek Septuagint as their “Old Testament”: Hence Pastors today should focus on the Greek.
4Theological education and curriculums are in a pressed situation today. There is a great need to revise present curriculums in order to make students more able to ‘read’ the world of today (more than Hebrew): Hence theological curriculums should leave out Hebrew as obligatory, and make room for more social science knowledge and social world expertise.

How do you evaluate these arguments? What should a student have to learn to be allowed into a pastorate? What do you think about the role of Hebrew for a Pastor of today?

That strange language

We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Then shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

Let’s face it – English is a crazy language.
There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger;
neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
English muffins weren’t invented in England ..
We take English for granted, but if we explore its paradoxes,
we find that quicksand can work slowly,

boxing rings are square,

and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing,
grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham?
Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend.
If you have a bunch of odds and ends
and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
Sometimes I think all the folks who grew up speaking English
should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.

In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?
We ship by truck but send cargo by ship.
We have noses that run and feet that smell.
We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway.
And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same,
while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language
in which your house can burn up as it burns
down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out,
and in which an alarm goes off by going on.

Why not rather stick to Norwegian……!

(thanks to collegue Magnar for the text)

St. Paul/Luther Seminary

Have made it to Minneapolis/StPaul, and have ‘installed’ myself  in the house I am to reside in during my stay here; Norway House. The 3 Norwegian theological ‘schools’ have an excellent deal  with LS so pastors and theological scholars of The Church of Norway can stay here for free, that is paying nothing for the lodging, may  prepare the food for themselves, or buy non-expensive meals in the kafeteria of the seminary.

I have already bought my first books in the Augsburg/Fortress bookstore here. Found an interesting one about some Norwegian immigrants who settled down on the praire of North Dakota, and one about Paul, feminism and postcolonialism. The former is interesting for one like me who is trying to write about his own family saga, comprising people who also immigrated to the US for some time, but who later returned to Norway, the latter is about interpreting the New Testament, i.e., Paul, and thus per definition possibly interesting!

But the jetlag is heavy on me……

Minneapolis/St Paul

Leaving tomorrow (Monday  8th) for Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, for a three months long stay as a visiting scholar. Looking forward to a change of milieux, and possible also of climate (?). And for possibilities of concentrated studies in Philo of Alexandria. And to see some parts of the US in springtime. All my previous visits have been in Nov or Jan.