Aug 5, 2016

A Noah Coin

Recently, while reading through Richard Abdy and Amelia Dowler’s Coins and the Bible I came upon an interesting reference to a 2nd–3rd century AD coin from Apamea in Phrygia that references the Noah story.[1] “These rare coins were issued under Septimius Severus, Macrinus, Gordian III, Philip and Trebonianus Gallus.”[2] According to Abdy and Dowler,

The coin reverse shows Noah and his wife twice. On the left they have arrived on Mt. Ararat but even more interestingly on the right they are in transit, adrift in the ark; shown somewhat surprisingly to the modern viewer as a simple box or rather a chest or lid (and conveniently labeled with Noah's name in Greek: NΩЄ. Above the dove with the olive branch sets the scene from Genesis 8:10–11.[3]

This reference is interesting for at least four reasons. First, this does not appear to be a Jewish or Christian coin but one that comes from pagan Apamea. Second, the dating to 2nd–3rd century AD places it before the Edict of Milan (AD 313) and the move to a Christian Roman empire. Therefore, an explicit biblical reference would be unusual. Third, it is one of the earliest, if not the earliest, explicit reference to an Old Testament personage or event on a coin. Fourth, as noted by Abdy and Dowler, the depiction of the ark as a box is interesting lexically. As Markowitz notes, “the Hebrew word for ark, tebah, was translated as kibotos, which means ‘chest’ or ‘shipping crate.’”[4] Markowitz is correct regarding the general meaning but kibotos also carries the specialized sense of “sea-faring vessel, boat, ark” or according to Moffatt, like a “barge.”[5] In any case, either the coin is a highly stylized depiction of the ark, a misunderstanding of the narrative, or both. 

By the way, if you are interested in having such a coin, you might need deep pockets. Markowitz notes that one sold for $24,000 in 2002.[6] Another one with four holes drilled in it sold for $16,500 in 2010.[7]

[1] Richard Abdy and Amelia Dowler, Coins and the Bible (London: Spink & Son, 2013), 73, 75.

[2] Mike Markowitz, “Ships on Ancient Coins,” Coin Week (April 20, 2015).

[3] Abdy and Dowler, Coins and the Bible, 75.

[4] Markowitz, “Ships on Ancient Coins.”

[5] κιβωτός, BDAG. It is interesting that although the Hebrew tebah is used of the “basket” that baby Moses is placed in (Exod 2:3, 5), in the LXX kibotos is not used but rather the term thibis.

[6] Markowitz, “Ships on Ancient Coins.”

[7] Special thanks to Russell Atherton for providing this information as well as Markowitz’s article.

Aug 4, 2016

The Aaronic Blessing and New Testament Epistles

Recently while reading through the Aaronic blessing in Numbers 6:24–26, I noticed the references to grace and peace.
24 May Yahweh bless you and protect you;
25 may Yahweh make His face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
26 may Yahweh look with favor on you
and give you peace. (HCSB, my bold)
More specifically, I noted the order of the references to grace and peace. This is exactly the order, grace first and then peace, that one finds in the greetings of the majority of New Testament epistles (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Phil 1:2; Col 1:2; 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:2; 1 Tim 1:2 [plus mercy]; 2 Tim 1:2 [plus mercy]; Titus 1:4; Philm 1:4; 1 Pet 1:2; 2 Pet 1:2; 2 John 3 [plus mercy]). Indeed, the only clear exception to this pattern is Jude with his “mercy, peace, and love.”

I am not sure if the correspondence in order is significant. I have usually taught that the greetings in the New Testament epistles are adapted from Greco-Roman epistolary conventions with “peace” added as a Jewish element. I did a cursory search and found that Ernest Best in an article from 1960 takes a fairly cautious approach to this possible link.

The “benedictions” of Paul at the beginning and ending of his letters (for example, II Cor. 1:2; 13:14) approach most nearly the priestly blessings of the Old Testament (cf. Num. 6:23-26). These benedictions of Paul may however derive from the Greek epistolary style rather than from conscious imitation of priestly activity. There is no evidence in general in the New Testament of Christians using such blessings, but in the nature of the case it is highly improbable that there should be such evidence; we do not possess the letters of ordinary Christians nor do we know much of their day to day behavior in such matters. We can therefore draw no conclusion in regard to the “blessings” of Paul, whether they arise out of his membership in the general priesthood or pertain to his office as apostle and to a special priesthood. The conception of “blessing” adds, then, nothing to our doctrine of a general priesthood. (“Spiritual Sacrifice, General Priesthood in the New Testament,” Interpretation 14 [1960]: 291).
A little more recently, Gordon Wiles has argued that, “The attempt to link the Pauline greeting directly back to the Aaronic priestly blessing (Num. 6: 26) has not been generally accepted,” (Paul's Intercessory Prayers: The Significance of the Intercessory Prayer Passages in the Letters of St. Paul, SNTSMS 24 [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974], 113, n. 3.

In sum, if Paul and other New Testament authors are adapting a standard Greco-Roman epistolary greeting then it might not be too surprising that their adaptation would be informed by the priestly benediction in Numbers. But caution seems to be in order in applying this to any priest-like functions that Christians might have today.

Free Logos Book for August: Ecclesiastes in the Believers Church Bible Commentary Series

Just in case you missed it, the free Logos Book of the Month for August is Ecclesiastes by Douglas Miller in the Believers Church Bible Commentary series. You can also purchase the Ephesians commentary in the same series for $1.99 or enter to win the entire twenty-six-volume series. For all these offers you can go to the Logos' Free Book of Month page here.

Aug 3, 2016

5 Key Characteristics of Old Testament Prophets

Christopher Wright's new book, How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth, identifies five key characteristics of Old Testament prophets. 
  1. Prophets Had Mouths: They Spoke for God
  2. Prophets Had Ears: They Heard God’s Word
  3. Prophets Had Heads: They Had Minds of Their Own
  4. Prophets Had Hearts: They Felt What God Felt
  5. Prophets Had Hands: Sometimes They Turned Their Words into Actions
Christopher J. H. Wright, How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016).186-194.

Aug 2, 2016

Common Attitudes and Approaches of Ancient Jewish Interpreters

I was interested to  read the following list from James Kugel regarding common attitudes and approaches of Jewish
interpreters of the biblical text. Kugel derives these four assumptions from reading Second Temple literature.
  1. The Bible is a fundamentally cryptic document.
  2. The Bible is a great book of lessons.
  3. The Bible is perfectly consistent and free of error or internal contradictions.
  4. Every word of Scripture comes from God.
James L. Kugel, “The Beginnings of Biblical Interpretation,” in A Companion to Biblical Interpretation in Early Judaism, ed. Matthias Henze (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 14.

Aug 1, 2016

The Bible Project's Esther Video

The Bible Project continues to churn out excellent video summaries. Here is the one on Esther. 

Jul 31, 2016

Latest Issue of Review of Biblical Literature

The latest issue of Review of Biblical Literature is out. Reviews can be accessed by clicking the links below but unfortunately you must be a SBL member.

Sharon Betsworth
Children in Early Christian Narratives
Reviewed by A. James Murphy
Reviewed by Robert H. von Thaden Jr.

Joanna Dewey
The Oral Ethos of the Early Church: Speaking, Writing, and the Gospel of Mark
Reviewed by Werner H. Kelber

Eric Douglass
Reading the Bible Ethically: Recovering the Voice in the Text
Reviewed by Walter Brueggemann

John Harvey
The Bible as Visual Culture: When Text Becomes Image
Reviewed by Davina C. Lopez

Bo Isaksson and Maria Persson, eds.
Clause Combining in Semitic: The Circumstantial Clause and Beyond
Reviewed by Frank H. Polak

Robin M. Jensen and J. Patout Burns Jr.
Christianity in Roman Africa: The Development of Its Practices and Beliefs
Reviewed by Allen Kerkeslager

William Johnstone
Exodus 1–19
Reviewed by George G. Nicol

Paul-Gerhard Klumbies and David S. du Toit, eds.
Paulus—Werk und Wirkung: Festschrift für Andreas Lindemann zum 70. Geburtstag
Reviewed by M. Eugene Boring

Thierry Legrand and Jan Joosten, eds.
The Targums in the Light of Traditions of the Second Temple Period
Reviewed by Simon Lasair

Joshua G. Mathews
Melchizedek’s Alternative Priestly Order: A Compositional Analysis of Genesis 14:18–20 and Its Echoes throughout the Tanak
Reviewed by Bill T. Arnold

Andrew Mein, Else K. Holt, Hyun Chul Paul Kim, eds.
Concerning the Nations: Essays on the Oracles against the Nations in Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel
Reviewed by J. Michael Thigpen

Mark D. Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm, eds.
Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle
Reviewed by A. Chadwick Thornhill

Volker Rabens
The Holy Spirit and Ethics in Paul: Transformation and Empowering for Religious-Ethical Life
Reviewed by Kenneth D. Litwak

Konrad Schmid
Is There Theology in the Hebrew Bible?
Translator(s): Peter Altmann
Reviewed by John J. Collins

Moshe Shamah
Recalling the Covenant: A Contemporary Commentary on the Five Books of the Torah
Reviewed by Ralph K. Hawkins

Danny Syon
Small Change in Hellenistic-Roman Galilee: The Evidence from Numismatic Site Finds as a Tool for Historical Reconstruction
Reviewed by Mark A. Chancey

Michael J. Thate, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, and Constantine R. Campbell, eds.
‘In Christ’: Explorations in Paul’s Theology of Union and Participation
Reviewed by Robert R. Foster

Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer
Zechariah and His Visions: An Exegetical Study of Zechariah’s Vision Report
Reviewed by Albert M. Wolters

Peter J. Tomson and Joshua Schwartz, eds.
Jews and Christians in the First and Second Centuries: How to Write Their History
Reviewed by Philip R. Davies

L. L. Welborn
Paul’s Summons to Messianic Life: Political Theology and the Coming Awakening
Reviewed by Robert L. Brawley
Reviewed by Alexandra Brown

Brittany E. Wilson
Unmanly Men: Refigurations of Masculinity in Luke-Acts
Reviewed by Colleen Conway