Biblical Scholarship—Critical, Skeptical or Respectful?
Emeritus professor of Hebrew and Ancient Semitic Languages Alan Millard critiques Ronald S. Hendel’s Biblical
Views column “Critical Biblical Scholarship—What’s the Use?” (July/August 2012).
More Ancient Synagogues in Turkey
During the first century the ancient city of Ephesus in Asia Minor had a large Jewish population. Despite major excavations, no synagogues have been uncovered at this major site. But incised on one of the steps of the famous Library of Celsus is clear evidence of a Jewish presence, probably removed from its original site and put to secondary use. The engraving shows a menorah and representations of two artifacts of the ancient Temple service: a shovel and a lulav (palm branch). It’s there for all to see, protected by a clear Plexiglas cover.
Mark R. Fairchild responds:
The menorah is the most distinctive image that identifies a Jewish presence in ancient Anatolia (today’s Turkey). These are most commonly etched upon the lintels of synagogues or on sarcophagi or displayed on mosaic floors. In addition to the one on the steps of the Celsus Library in Ephesus, others are found, for example, at Nicaea, where the menorah is in secondary use, framing a fountain under a church. This was likely a part of a synagogue at Nicaea. At the well-known synagogue in Sardis, a menorah can be seen in situ in the courtyard.* This is hard to see, except after a rain when the inscription is accentuated. Workers at Priene discovered three menorahs at the synagogue (two still in situ).** Another menorah was found with the discovery of the synagogue at Andriake, although this has been removed and is now in the museum at Antalya. Other menorahs can be seen at the bouleuterion at Aphrodisias*** and in the necropolis of Hierapolis.
All of these are in western Anatolia. Much less has been discovered in central and eastern Anatolia. Yet literary and epigraphic evidence indicates a strong Jewish presence throughout ancient Anatolia. Aside from the menorahs and two synagogues found at Çatiören and Korykos, there is little to be seen in the east. In my recent trip to Cilicia I photographed six menorahs on sarcophagi at Korykos and another two that are possible menorahs (they are too weather-beaten be sure). I also saw what appears to be a second menorah at Çatiören. Graffiti in an underground granery at Kabacam shows ships and perhaps another menorah. Central and eastern Turkey have not been well explored, and I’m sure there is a lot more to be found.
Is Gezer of Gaza Referred to in the Sheshonq Inscription?
On the second paragraph on page 50 of the July/August 2012 of BAR(“Did Pharaoh Sheshonq Attack Jerusalem?”), it is mentioned that a site name “begins with G … It is probably Gaza.” The interpretation that it is Gaza is not possible. The city called in English “Gaza” is an incorrect transliteration of the Hebrew Biblical city by the name of Azza (חזע), mentioned in Genesis 10:19, Deuteronomy 2:23, Joshua 10:41, Judges 16:21, 1 Samuel 6:17, 1 Kings 5:4, 2 Kings 8:18, Jeremiah 25:20, 47:1,5, Amos 1:6-7, Zephaniah 2:4 and other Biblical books (JPS).
On the other hand the name Gezer (ר ז ג) appears in the Bible in Joshua 10:33 and 12:12 as having a king, and in it says that Pharaoh conquered Gezer, burned it and the people and then gave it as a dowry for his daughter who married King Solomon.
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Yigal Levin responds:
The Hebrew letter ayin originally represented two sounds: the guttural sound that is used today (by speakers of Hebrew who pronounce their ayins correctly, and not as if they were alephs), and a deeper sound, which is somewhere between an R and a G. In English this second sound is usually represented as “gh.” We know this because some Semitic writing systems differentiated between the two. In the ancient world, Ugaritic had different letters for each, and Arabic still does to this today—ayin and ghayin. In the 22-letter alphabet used by Canaanite, Hebrew, Aramaic and other languages, the two sounds were represented by the letter that we call ayin, but the second sound was eventually forgotten. The name of the city of Gaza begins with the second kind, and in Arabic it is still called “Ghaza” to this day. The reason that it is called “Gaza” in English (and in other languages) is because when the Bible was translated into Greek (the Septuagint), the “gh” was still being pronounced. This is also why “Sedom and Amorah” are “Sodom and Gomorrah” in English.
So when I wrote that the “G” visible in the name-ring could have referred to Gaza, I really meant Ghaza. Gezer might be represented in the next name-ring. However the Pharaoh who conquered Gezer and gave it to Solomon could not have been Shishak, since he only invaded the land of Israel five years after Solomon’s death.
Calvin and Inerrancy
In his Biblical Views column (“Critical Biblical Scholarship—What’s the Use?” July/August 2012), Ronald S. Hendel states that “Calvin did not think that the Bible is inerrant.”
In an article on this very topic, Dr. Roger Nicole quotes Calvin’s commentary on 2 Timothy 3:16:
“This is the principle that distinguishes our religion from all others, that we know that God has spoken to us and are fully convinced that the prophets did not speak of themselves, but as organs of the Holy Spirit uttered only that which they had been commissioned from heaven to declare. All those who wish to profit from the Scriptures must first accept this as a settled principle, that the Law and the prophets are not teachings handled on at the pleasure of men or produced by men’s minds as their source, but are dictated by the Holy Spirit. If anyone object and ask how this can be known, my reply is that it is by the revelation of the same Spirit both to learners and teachers that God is made known as its Author. Moses and the prophets did not utter rashly and at random what we have received from them, but, speaking by God’s impulse, they boldly and fearlessly testified the truth that it was the mouth of the Lord that spoke through them. The same Spirit who made Moses and the prophets so sure of their vocation now also bears witnesses to our hearts that He has made use of them as ministers by whom to teach us … This is the meaning of the first clause, that we owe to the Scripture the same reverence as we owe to God, since it has its only source in Him and has nothing of human origin mixed with it.”1
I agree with most of Dr. Hendel’s article. Even those of us who believe in Biblical inerrancy understand the need to guarantee as much as possible the integrity and accuracy of the texts, since we don’t have the autographs.
Thomas S. Fortner
1 “John Calvin and Inerrancy,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 25, no. 4 (1982), pp. 425-442).
Ronald S. Hendel responds:
Mr. Fortner is correct that Calvin emphasized the principle that in the Bible “God has spoken to us.” But Calvin also emphasized that God accommodated his message to the limited intellect of humans and their often incorrect ideas about the world. This is how Calvin can also speak of Scripture as conforming to “the capacity of the vulgar” and including “rudiments suitable to children” (comments on Genesis 2:8 and 3:1). The basic idea is that God knows how things really are, but when he spoke to Israelite authors (Moses, prophets, etc.), he “simplified” some aspects of his message in order to accommodate them to the worldview of antiquity. In some peripheral aspects of his speech, God traded truth for comprehensibility (a trait of any good teacher). For Calvin, therefore, the Bible is inspired but not inerrant. The relationship between these two categories is important to understand Biblical theology of the Reformers.
We All Live with Uncertainty—Even Hendel
I was a bit surprised by Dr. Hendel’s disparagement of Alan Plantinga. After having read Dr. Plantinga’s Warrented Christian Belief several times, a book of over 500 pages and the last of a trilogy of philosophical treatments, Dr. Hendel’s offense and response seem small and narrow. I’m not trying to take sides or protect Plantinga, but I found his work complex, deep, insightful and coming from a philosophical perspective, which means he uses the critical methodology of philosophy. Plantinga does call attention to the limitations and conflicted conclusions of historical Biblical criticism. Whether one agrees or not with Plantinga, there are practicing Biblical critics who share his critical view that the paucity of historical data calls for extreme caution in drawing hardcore scientific conclusions. We all live with the uncertainties of life despite having the light of scientific epistemology and methodology. This milieu is bound to cause clashes. It would be exciting to hear Drs. Hendel and Plantinga in a friendly conversation about the issues raised in the article rather than in the once-removed offering we have.
Ronald S. Hendel responds:
I agree that Plantinga is a distinguished philosopher. What surprised me in reading his book was that he holds Biblical scholarship to a different standard than philosophical scholarship. He follows the normal procedures of critical scholarship in philosophy—evaluating evidence, arguments, probabilities, and making logically warranted proposals—but when he turns to Biblical scholarship he leaves critical epistemology behind and uses a particular evangelical revision of Calvin’s theology as his standard. This changes the rules in the middle of the game. (And, as I pointed out in my column, it misrepresents Calvin.) This is why I registered my dismay at Plantinga’s dismissal of modern Biblical scholarship. There are many deep and complicated issues involved here, as you rightly observe. My point is that a simple rejection of historical Biblical scholarship (including its procedures and epistemology) simply doesn’t work.
Critical Biblical Scholarship—A Response
In “Critical Biblical Scholarship—What’s the Use?” in the July/ August 2012 issue of BAR, Ronald Hendel wrote, “There’s no good reason to be hostile toward good scholarship.” In a web-exclusive response, Biblical scholar Alan Millard asks, “What is good scholarship?” Millard examines the merits and flaws of critical, skeptical and respectful scholarship to suggest that all must leave room for alternate opinions.