Polar Tension…

Last week was a very good week, especially for my CV.*  First, on Wednesday I heard back from the editors of a collection of essays to which I’ve contributed a paper with the news that they were accepting my 4th revision for publication.  Yay!  Second, on Friday I heard back from a peer-reviewed journal saying that after the review process they are accepting my submission to the journal for publication, with some relatively minor revisions.  Double yay!

As much as this is all very happy and exciting news, the acceptance of these two particular papers in the same week has caused me to reflect on a rather odd tension in my academic work.  The first paper, the one that’s being published in a book of essays, is an analysis of the historiography of the Animal Apocalypse of 1 Enoch (title: “(Re)Visionary History: Historiography and Religious Identity in the Animal Apocalypse“).**  It’s a pretty standard biblical studies paper.  It’s methodologically eclectic, but mostly focuses on literary, historical, and sociological concerns.  The second paper is being published in the Journal of Theological Interpretation and is about the hermeneutics of allegorical interpretation…it’s kind of an apologetic for interpreting according to the spiritual sense, though in a weirdish way.  It’s a really hard paper to describe in a couple of sentences (title: “Scripture as Semiotic: Theological Interpretation and the Multiple Senses of Scripture”).***

These two papers are almost polar opposite in approach and intent, and this is pretty representative of a lot of my academic writing thus far.  I do work that’s focused on literary and sociological (especially sociolinguistic) analyses of ancient literature (especially HB/OT, but also broader 2nd Temple era stuff), and I do work that tries to engage the Bible as Christian Scripture, including questions about canon and theological hermeneutics.  Here’s the thing…I’m not really all that sure how these things fit together.  I have a deep suspicion that they do.  I think about it mostly in terms of different levels of abstraction.  But, I also know that at least some (maybe lots? or even most?) of the biblical studies guild sees these as two opposed and incompatible kinds of work.  Some people argue that biblical studies is meant to be a secular endeavor focused on history, literature, and sociology (and related concerns), and other people argue that biblical studies is meant to be a theological activity performed for the community of faith.  These get presented as polar opposites.  Maybe they are polar opposites.

If they are polar opposites then I think I’m going to have to get used to the tension between these two poles, because I’m not really willing to stop doing either kind of writing.

*The CV thing is important because I’m in the process of applying to a couple of biblical studies positions, so getting to add two lines to the “Accepted for Publication” line is happy news.

**The book began as last year’s Canadian Society of Biblical Studies session on ancient Israelite historiography.  The final product will include the essays from the session, and several invited papers.  The title is Prophets and Prophecy in Ancient Israelite Historiography.  Should be out in the next year, and I think will be well worth a look.

**Ironically both the collection of essays and the journal are published by a single publishing house: Eisenbrauns.  Maybe I’m not the only one feeling the tension here.

T Minus Two Days…

The countdown until the end of the semester is on.  I can tell for two basic reasons.  The first is that hits on my Hebrew Stuff page have been spiking again, so I know the Intermediate Hebrew crew are working on their vocab and parsing skills.  The second is that it’s Monday night at 8:41 and I’m in my office at the college with no prospects of leaving soon.  The last paper of the semester is due Wednesday night, after which I am once again allowed to do the following:

1. Sleep

2. Sleep

3. Hang out with my wife (I always do this, but more so I mean)

4. Watch TV

5. Work on German

As any doctoral student knows, work doesn’t really stop over the Christmas break, but the character of it changes enough that I still find it relaxing.  My plan over the break is to read a lot of German, and to tweak my article on the Animal Apocalypse into a more publishable state.

I hope 2009 is winding down well for you, particularly my readers who are also doing schoolish kinds of things and are consequently feeling a little pinched right now.  But, as I’ve just said, I’m not done yet, so I’d better get back at it.

Enoch and Daniel…

I’ve been plugging away at a second draft of my recent CSBS paper “(Re)Visionary History: Historiography and Religious Identity in the Animal Apocalypse,” trying to get some extra research done so I can polish it up for publication in the volume of essays that are being published from the historiography seminar.  In the course of this process I got a good tip to check out one of Michael Knibb’s essays called “The Exile in the Literature of the Intertestamental Period” (pp.191-212 in Knibb’s Essays on the Book of Enoch and Other Early Jewish Texts and Traditions).  It’s a great essay, but Knibb makes a move that’s pretty common for Enoch scholars who analyze the AA that I’ve always thought was unnecessary and difficult to defend.  He says on  p. 194:

“The use of animals to represent human beings was probably directly influenced by the symbolism of Dan 7 and 8, although the fact that Jacob and his descendants are depicted specifically as sheep no doubt reflects the idea, widespread in the Old Testament, that Israel is the sheep of God’s pasture.”

Both of these statements are problematic, though the first much more so than the second.  I won’t give my full rebuttal here (I’ve got a full appendix on the subject in my MA thesis), but the parallels between the AA and Dan 7 and 8 are almost non-existent in my opinion.  I’d go so far as to say that they are little more than parallels in genre (though the author of the AA probably knew Dan 7-12).  The specific content as well as the rhetorical drive of the AA and Daniel are totally different, and the use of animal imagery is also completely different.  Note that animals never represent specific people in Dan 7, and in Dan 8 none of the specific people represented is a Jew.  Moreover the animals of Dan 7 are all composite monsters (i.e. creatures with bits from lots of different animals), and not at all reminiscent of the animals found the AA.  The same could be said for the animals of Dan 8 which, though they are not composite monsters, are decidedly fantastical as they roam over the whole world.  Again, not particularly reminiscent of the AA.

The second bit, that the use of sheep is connected to the common imagery of God’s people as sheep in the OT isn’t wrong so far as it goes.  Certainly the sheep/shepherd image permeates the OT and is particularly important in later prophetic works (Zech, Ezek).  But the assumption that this is the primary reason that the author of the AA selected sheep and rams as the image to represent the people of Israel ignores completely the fact that all of the antediluvian fathers and the eschatological people are not represented as sheep but as bulls.  This suggests to me that, though there may be a tangential connection to the sheep/shepherd metaphor in the AA, some other factor is driving the selection of animal imagery in the AA generally.

What is that other factor?  Simply put, the AA is all about clean/unclean divisions.  Who is clean (i.e. elect) and who is unclean (i.e. non-elect) is possibly the single most important idea in the AA and is used as the criteria for the selection of all of the animal imagery in the allegory.


Jin and I just got back from Ottawa where I was attending the annual meeting of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies. I had the opportunity to present my first paper at an academic conference. The paper is called “(Re)Visionary History: Historiography and Religious Identity in the Animal Apocalypse,” and is based on some ideas that I worked on in my MA thesis. I presented it in the Ancient Historiography session, and in it I discuss the use of pseudonymous authorship and clean/unclean divisions in the imagery of the Animal Apocalypse of 1 Enoch 85-90. I won’t publish the paper here as I’ll be submitting it for publication in the edited volume that the session puts out each year, but if anyone wants a copy feel free to drop me an email.

It was a great conference over-all. My presentation went very well, and the paper was well received. I had the chance to argue with Prof. John Van Seters, which was an honour. There were any number of other interesting and enjoyable papers during the conference. I think that my two favorites were Ehud Ben Zvi‘s paper on whether the label “Deuteronomistic” is anything more than a modern scholarly construct, and John Kessler‘s paper on the “Empty Land” motif in Persian period Yehud. It was also great to meet some well-known OT scholars, as well as many other grad students. I got to put faces to a lot of names, which is always nice. Everyone was tremendously welcoming and though I was quite tired by the end, it was an excellent experience and I look forward to going again.

As a side note, I was involved in an online discussion with AKMA and Mark Goodacre a few weeks ago over whether it is better to read from a manuscript or to use skeletal notes during academic presentations. Though I argued there for manuscripts, I decided to take Dr. Goodacre’s advice and try presenting from notes alone. I must say, I believe that he was very right. I was able to hit all of my major points, I didn’t get bogged down in the complicated technical language you find in lots of presentations, and my friends tell me that mine was one of the more relaxed and accessible presentations they saw. I think that I’ll try the “notes only” formula again in future and see if it keeps working for me.