The Best Bible on the Market

The marvelous JPS 2011 Oxford Leather Jewish Study Bible—which I highly recommend, is for sale today, Cyber Monday, through Christianbook.com for $27.99—regular price $79.99—that is 65% off! Here is the link:

http://www.christianbook.com/jewish-featuring-tanakh-bonded-leather-black/9781598568608/pd/568608

JPS Study Bible

Back in 2014 I purchased this Bible—and have used it extensively ever since. At that time I wrote this blog post: “My Bible Buying Days Are Over: The Best Bible on the Market.”  I repost it here:

From the lovely, elegant, and scholarly 1985 JPS translation, to the unparalleled Oxford maps, the extensive scholarly, well-balanced notes (including academic as well as rabbinic perspectives), the essays, tables, and charts in the back, with additional maps and charts splashed on the pages throughout, printed on high quality “Bible” paper and with attractive single column layout. This Bible is it!

I could not count the many editions of the Bible I have owned since age 17 when my parents gave me a fine Oxford Leather-bound copy of the King James Version with those wonderful maps. I still have that Bible. Since then I have bought many many more–too many to count. I am not just talking about buying Bibles in order to have all the major translations–that I have done as well. I am thinking here of personal study Bibles–that I purchased because I wanted to finally settle on a single edition and make it my own–for personal study and meditation. I have seldom stayed with one more than a year or two, until another would catch my fancy, or I would change my mind about how to mark the one I was using and begin over again. The joke in our household if any package arrives with my name on it is, “Dad has probably bought another Bible”–and this time he “swears” that this is the one. I will actually admit to “sneaking” new Bibles into the house knowing no one would notice the difference since I have had so many over the years.

Up until about 1986 the Bibles I bought were usually Christian ones–with the New Testament and often as not the Apocrypha. One of my favorites is the older Oxford RSV with Apocrypha–leather bound of course. I used that one for years and I have several hardcover editions of the same that I have worn out in 30 years of teaching. Since around 1986 I have owned just about every “Jewish Bible” on the market–from the old JPS (1917), various editions of the Koren Jerusalem Bible in several editions, the new JPS (1985), the Stone Tanakh, to numerous editions of the Torah and other portions of the Hebrew Bible whether by Kaplan, Fox, Alter, or Friedman.

What I wanted to report here is that I have finally, at long last, found the ultimate English edition of the Hebrew Bible–the leather-bound Jewish Study Bible (JPS Tanakh) published by Oxford University Press. I am taking a stand here–this will be my last personal Bible–that is how pleased I am with it. From the lovely, elegant, and scholarly 1985 JPS translation, to the unparalleled Oxford maps, the extensive scholarly, well-balanced notes (including academic as well as rabbinic perspectives), the essays, tables, and charts in the back, with additional maps and charts splashed on the pages throughout, printed on high quality “Bible” paper and with attractive single column layout. There is simply nothing like it–and it comes in a leather edition that is published, ironically, by Christian Book Distributors–not Oxford or JPS directly. Apparently there is enough interest in the Hebrew Bible and a Jewish translation among DBD customers who are of course overwhelmingly Christian. The retail price is $79.99 but it is on sale in a lovely boxed edition for around $30.00. I also want to give credit to my friend and colleague Ross Nichols who first put me on to both this Bible and the CBD edition at this amazing price.

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 5.44.26 PMI know my family, friends, and others who know me will scoff–but I am taking an official stand here–my Bible buying days are over. I can’t imagine a personal study Bible that could ever meet or surpass this one. If you want a Christian Bible there are many choices, both translation and study editions–but for the O.T. (i.e., The Original Testament)–this is it–and it is hard to believe the price. I have to admit–when I ordered a copy I was skeptical that it would turn out to be some kind of “cheap” knock-off edition but it is fully up to Oxford quality. You can “look” inside the hardcover edition on Amazon if you want to browse a bit before buying but I am certain you will not be disappointed if you are looking for an academic study Bible that will stand the test of time.

Did Joseph Build the Great Pyramid at Gizeh?

Dr. Ben Carson has made lots of controversial headlines this week with his assertion, that turns out to be quite common in certain Adventist/Fundamentalist Christian circles, that the biblical Joseph in fact built the Great Pyramid of Cheops–the one that appears on the back of our U.S. dollar bill as the “Great Seal” of our nation.

greatseal

Although this assertion comes as a shock to the press and is repudiated by all Egyptologists, it has some broader background that is worth exploring–see Ana Marie Cox’s very intelligent post in the Daily Beast here. I remember hearing this theory here and there in Christian evangelical circles growing up in the 1960s as a teenager.  The assertion that Joseph was the engineering genius (with God’s help of course!) behind the mysterious construction of the oldest pyramids–and that they were used for grain storage, is still floating around after 50 years, see the purported evidence here. The late Dr. Herman Hoeh, self-educated “historian” and biblical scholar, wrote an article in the Plain Truth magazine in 1964 titled “Who Built the Great Pyramid?” that is available on-line here. He asserts that not only Joseph was involved, but the biblical figure of “Job” was in fact Cheops, the non-Egyptian king who ruled Egypt in the 18th century BCE. If you read through Dr. Hoeh’s article you can see how naive readers would be taken in by his presumed knowledge of history while all mainstream historians and archaeologists, lacking biblical faith, are thus deluded and can’t see the truth.

This is the “closed” scientific world that Dr. Carson and millions of fundamentalist Christians live in and within that bubble everything makes sense. I would so so far as to guess that Dr. Carson seems himself as a kind of “new Joseph,” who, “with God on his side,” has risen from rags to the highest office in the land in order to save a people from destruction. That is why he repeatedly says if God wills that he become the President then it will happen–not by power, nor by might, but by God’s Spirit.

Kheops-PyramidWhat the mainstream “progressive secularist” media, as Carson labels it, fails to realize is that such ideas are quite common among mainstream Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christian circles–connected to theories about how biblical archaeology confirms the Bible’s historical reliability. Dr. Carson’s assertion at the 1998 Andrews University graduation ceremony speaks for itself and is totally within the parameters of the commonly held views of history, archaeology, and biblical “literalism.” Listen to Dr. Carson’s address here–only snippets have been picked up by the press but the entire “sermon” sheds more light on Dr. Carson and his candidacy than anything I have seen about the current controversy.

Can Human Brain Consciousness be Replicated?

Robert Kuhn, an old friend, colleague, and producer of the amazing PBS program “Closer to Truth,” (see my own contributions here) has just published a most provocative piece at LiveScience titled: “The Singularity, Virtual Immortality and the Trouble with Consciousness.” Will science replicate the human brain and thus produce the phenomenon we all experience our conscious “inner-self,”–what Plato and Freud called the “Ego”?

According to techno-futurists, the exponential development of technology in general and artificial intelligence (“AI”) in particular — including the complete digital replication of human brains — will radically transform humanity via two revolutions. The first is the “singularity,” when artificial intelligence will redesign itself recursively and progressively, such that AI will become vastly more powerful than human intelligence (“superstrong AI”). The second revolution will be “virtual immortality,” when the fullness of our mental selves can be uploaded perfectly to nonbiological media (such as silicon chips), and our mental selves will live on beyond the demise of our fleshy, physical bodies.

AI singularity and virtual immortality would mark a startling, transhuman world that techno-futurists envision as inevitable and perhaps just over the horizon. They do not question whether their vision can be actualized; they only debate when will it occur, with estimates ranging from 10 to 100 years. [Artificial Intelligence: Friendly or Frightening?]

iBot

Kuhn, who has his Ph.D. in brain science has his doubts, but takes us through all the various views with clips and interviews from the best and the brightest in the field of the physiology and psychology of the human brain. A fascinating read.

I surely have no expertise in this field but I remain convinced that any such replication, however precise and infinitely complex, would remain as “dumb” as a more sophisticated version of Siri on my iPhone. More is more, but more is not consciousness. 

On the other hand I think the idea of a “non-physical” component or aspect of the brain is perhaps a category mistake. Why denigrate the so-called “physical” to the four forces of physics as they are currently conceived—electromagnetic, magnetism, and strong and weak nuclear—when there might be “other” aspects of reality, whether one wants to use the term physical or not, being manifest through the 3 lb human brain. Many have argued that brain size (100 billion neurons for us humans) relative to body-rate is what seems to distinguish us from other creatures on the planet–but such is not the case, see “The Four Biggest Myths About the Human Brain.”

I am not thinking so much here of the proverbial human “soul,” conceived as a non-physical “entity” somehow inserted by the Divine into our physical world. This view is in fact based on a mistranslation–and thus a misunderstanding–of Genesis 2:7: “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (KJV). The problem is twofold here. First, the term in Hebrew, “breath of life”  (נשמת חיים) is not some mysterious non-physical component–but simply a reference to air-breathing creatures–human or otherwise (see Genesis 7:15 where it is used for land animals in general). Second, the term translated “living soul” (נפש חיה) has absolutely nothing to do with any idea of an immortal soul–it simply means any air breathing creature (see Genesis 1:30).

On the mind/body problem, in terms of this article, I would favor some version of 2 & 3 with openness to 4. I do think we have to distinguish between “consciousness” more generically (“being aware of an outside world”) and a unique sense of “self,” or the Ego. I am pretty sure my dog lacks the latter. With it goes the ability, of course, to think in time, and about time, and thus to contemplate the future and to act by “choice,” with anticipation of outcomes—and thus ethics. This of course goes way beyond “instincts” or learning patterns (i.e. don’t touch a hot plate). Another factor of course is the body itself as mental states are also bodily and can hardly be separated therefrom—hearing music, seeing colors, sensing smells, sexual feelings, various kinds of emotions, including love, kinship, happiness, sadness, well being, et al. I wonder how any computer that “replicates” the structure of the brain would function without a “body,” since the two are one and the same system—impossible to separate out.

I loved the film Ex Machina as much as anyone but I nonetheless think we still have a lot to learn about the proverbial “mind body problem,” and philosophers from antiquity to the present have laid out most of the parameters of the arguments. Read much more on this and related topics at the “Closer to Truth” homepage–five minutes of browsing and you will be hooked!

Understanding Bible Fundamentalisms

An oldie but goodie from the ever-insightful R. Joseph Hoffmann.

Fundamentalism

I’ve been puzzling about this recently: whether there is anything that Christian and Muslim fundamentalists have in common. I’ll leave the Jews and the Sikhs and Hindus to one side for a minute. Just because I want to.

 

First of all, you have to have a book to be a fundamentalist. It’s no good trying to say you take your religion seriously if you don’t have a page to point at or a verse to recite.

 

Theoretically, various gurus can exert the same sort of control that a book can exert over the mind of a true believer. But usually gurus begin by pointing at books as well.

 

That’s what both Jim Jones of People’s Temple, Inc., and David Koresh of Branch Davidian fame did. They were just the messengers, albeit the ones you had to sleep with to get the keys to the kingdom.

Read the entire essay here.

17th Annual BAS Bible and Archaeology Fest–The Word Is Out!

The program and all registration details are now out for the upcoming 17th Annual Biblical Archeology Bible and Archaeology Fest are posted. The line-up is pretty impressive. I love being called one of the “old favorites,” along with colleagues Mark Goodacre and Jodi Magness! Seriously though, this looks to me like the most fascinating list of speakers and topics in a long time. I must confess, I will have trouble pulling myself away from the ASOR, AAR, and SBL programs that run concurrently with the BAS Bible & Archaeology Fest–as I can’t imagine missing some of these! Check it out, click on images below for hyperlinks and more details.

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Who Was Gedaliah and Why Remember His Murder after 2500 Years?

Ross Nichols has a fascinating article on Gedaliah–a biblical figure whose name would register with very few people today outside of observant Jewish circles. Today marks one of the four “minor” fast days of Judaism, called “the fast of Gedaliah,” commemorating the murder of Gedaliah in the days of Jeremiah following the Babylonian invasion of Judah and the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple in the 6th century BCE. These four fast days (sunrise to sunset) are all associated with the disasters before, during, and after the great Destruction, and they are alluded to in Zechariah 8:18-19. What is particularly fascinating about Gedaliah, which Ross explores in his article, is the connection between him and his family (especially his father and grandfather) with Jeremiah and his priestly family–reaching back to the days of King Josiah when the “book of the Torah” was discovered. Nice Sunday afternoon reading…here is the link to Ross’s article.

Destroying Jerusalem

Spanking Children: The Bible Tells Me So?

The indictment of NFL player Adrian Peterson by a Texas grand jury for reckless or negligent injury to a child has generated an extensive discussion in the media on the topic of disciplining children by “spanking,” or corporeal punishment, as commonly practiced in our society. Recent polls indicate that up to 70% of Americans, both Black and White, approve of some form of corporeal punishment of children–with Evangelical Christians coming in at over 85%. 19 States in the USA allow some form of “paddling” in public schools, see a listing here–with Texas leading the pack, having recorded a total of 49,000 incidents in a recent report–and a new kind of “red State” map here.

Max Ernst Virgin Spanking

Max Ernst, Virgin Spanking the Christ Child with three Witnesses 1926

The Peterson case is, of course, extreme–but not necessarily uncommon. He used a “switch,” a slim, leafless tree branch, to beat his 4-year-old son, raising welts on the youngster’s legs, buttocks and scrotum, but millions of Americans–by far the majority of the over-40 generations–can testify to being “spanked,” or in some cases “beaten,” with belts, switches, cords, and other objects that left their markings on legs and buttocks.

Spanking in one form or another is as American as apple pie–and the practice is deeply rooted in, and most often defended by, a reading of traditional translations of the English Bible. The oft-quoted quip “Spare the rod and spoil the child” never appears in the Bible but in the book of Proverbs one finds a string of passages that seem not only to condone spanking, but also direly warn parents that unless they use the “rod” on their children they will utterly fail in their upbringing. Here are the quotations in the traditional King James Version translation:

Prov 13:24: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him often.” Prov 19:18: “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.” Prov 22:15: “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” Prov 23:13-14: “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell (i.e. death).” Prov 29:15: “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.”

These six verses in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible, as well as a single passage in the New Testament, that speaks of God’s disciplining of us as a father disciplines his son (Hebrew 12:6-7), have become the flimsy foundation for justifying a world of harm and abuse to children over our 300 year cultural history–often with lifelong detrimental consequences, see for example here. Sincere parents, who love their children, but are stuck with a literal reading of badly translated verses taken out of context, are utterly convinced they are doing the right thing.

On the one hand we have testimonials from the majority of us who were “spanked” or disciplined with corporeal punishment growing up, with seemingly no psychological damage, and on the other hand Christian Evangelical preachers and teachers regularly assure parents that spanking will not harm a child, it is positively commanded by God! This Christian reinforcement of “spanking,” based on a misreading of these verses of the Bible, is undoubtedly what continues to convince parents of the younger generations, who might have more of a cultural aversion to such practices, that they are carrying out God’s will. Here are the cautious instructions on the popular the Focus on the Family web site:

When you spank, use a wooden spoon or some other appropri­ately sized paddle and flick your wrist. That’s all the force you need. It ought to hurt — an especially difficult goal for mothers to accept —  and it’s okay if it produces a few tears and sniffles. If it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t really discipline, and ultimately it isn’t very loving because it will not be effective in modifying the child’s behavior. Have the child lean over his bed and make sure you apply the discipline with a quick flick of the wrist to the fatty tissue of the buttocks, where a sting can occur without doing any damage to the body. You want to be calm, in control, and focused as you firmly spank your child, being very careful to respect his body.

spanking_1-620x320Presumably this “calm” and “loving” beating of a child is to be administered to the naked buttocks of a child–which surely raises some other issues in terms of shame, dignity, and personal respect. Accordingly parents are told that such a practice should not be carried into the pre-teen-aged years!

The fact is these very verses in Proverbs have not only been poorly translated but they have been irresponsibly read out of their historical context and misapplied. For example, the word translated “rod,” that might have inspired an Adrian Peterson, or perhaps my grandmother, to go outside and “cut a switch” off a tree in the backyard, is used by King David in an entirely different way in Psalm 23–The LORD is my Shepherd–where we have the line: “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me…” (v. 4). The Hebrew word translated “rod” (Shevet) clearly does not have to refer to physical beating but can be a metaphor for general discipline and “leading,” as with sheep and a shepherd. It is also the word that refers to a tribal leader–who carries a staff or sceptre of leadership–not to beat his fellow clan members, but to lead and direct them. It is used over 180 times in the Hebrew Bible–never with the connotation of beating. These and other verses, as well as the overall teaching about disciplining children in the Bible is ably discussed by Jerusalem-based Christian biblical scholar Samuel Martin, who has produced a wonderful book, Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me: Christians and the Spanking Controversy, available as a free PDF download here with no cost or obligation. Martin has been joined by a significant number of other informed Christian scholars and commentators who are questioning the both the traditional translation and interpretation of these overly quoted verses from the book of Proverbs, see for example, here. I recommend Martin’s work for those biblically oriented folk out there who have wondered about what the Bible really says regarding using corporeal punishment of any kind to discipline children–or for that matter anyone who wants to be more informed on this controversial topic.

Rosh Hashanah: The Day of the Blast

Ever since I first began studying Judaism seriously as a young man, I have felt that there is something not quite right about Rosh Hashanah. In particular, there seems to be a complete disconnect between the holiday described in the Torah and the holiday as understood by most Jews. I had been taught that Rosh Hashanah was the Jewish New Year, the anniversary of the creation of the world, and a day of judgment. But the Torah itself mentions none of those three reasons for celebrating the holiday—and does not even call it Rosh Hashanah. Still more perplexing, in contrast to the other seasonal holidays on the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah seems to commemorate no important moment in the national history of the Jewish people. Rabbi Nathan Laufer

Today on the Jewish calendar is the holiday called Rosh Hashanah–literally “the head of the year.” Jews wish one another “a sweet, peaceful, and prosperous” New Year and even the non-Jewish world has caught onto the day as the “Jewish New Year.”

ShofarWeb.jpg

In contrast Christians (and thus our “secular culture”) begin the New Year in the dead of winter–as the long dark winter days finally grow longer (marked by December 21st and the Winter Solstice). Ancient Hebrews, as reflected in Exodus 12:1-2, reflecting the ancient Babylonian practice, began the year in the Spring (March/April), which was the “turning of the year,” with the arrival of new life in the Spring (marked by March 20th and the Vernal Equinox). Of course these seasons only make sense in the Northern Hemisphere.

So what is the meaning of Rosh Hashanah? Rabbi Nathan Laufer has a very perceptive piece on the subject titled “Remembrance of Trumpets Past,” in Mosaic on-line magazine, exploring its potential meaning in our oldest texts of the Torah, where this day is called both the “day of the blast,” most likely referring to the sound of the Shofar or ram’s horn, as well as a “a day of remembrance”–but the question is–remembering what? You can read his complete in-depth treatment here. I highly recommend it. It is the most intelligent piece I think I have ever come across on Rosh Hashanah.