I was delighted to contribute an essay to the hot-off-the-press Festschrift honoring my doktorvater, Samuel Greengus. Many thanks to the scholars who were kind enough to endorse my essay, “The Administration of Copper Tools at Umma in the Ur III Period”:

“The finest piece of bathroom reading ever produced.”
—Seth Sanders

“This upturns everything I know.”
—Timothy Michael Law

“The most exhaustive treatment of the most obscure trivia.”
—Angela Roskop Erisman

“Charles who?”
—Roger Scruton

“[Insert title here] is a compelling book sure to delight its readers.”
—N.T. Wright

“I now know more about how the powers that be repressed vulnerable people through the technicalities of the transfer of copper in a specific town during a tiny window of time four thousand years ago.”
—Cornell West

“I embrace this essay.”
—Miroslav Volf

“Let’s do a podcast about this.”
—Mark Goodacre

“I don’t know where to begin…”
—Jacob L. Wright

“I’m busy grading.”
—Thomas Bolin

—Jeff Cooley

In all seriousness, it was an honor to be a part of this project to give back a tiny fraction of the kindness that Sam has shown me.

Windows to the Ancient World of the Hebrew Bible

Windows to the Ancient World of the Hebrew Bible
Essays in Honor of Samuel Greengus
EIS – Eisenbrauns
Edited by Bill T. Arnold, Nancy Erickson, and John H. Walton
Eisenbrauns, 2014
Pp. xvi + 286, English
Cloth, 6 x 9 inches
ISBN: 9781575063027
List Price: $59.50
Your Price: $53.55

Here is a prepublication version of my article in the current issue of the Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament, “An Indecent Proposal: The Theological Core of the Book of Ruth.” I am no longer teaching at SBTS so this was changed in the printed version. Thanks go to Athalya Brenner who was kind enough to read a draft and had some really great reflections that I was not able to integrate into the article due to the publication schedule, however, I will post her thoughts here on the blog soon.

In the article I try to unpack the theological implications of the threshing floor encounter and argue that that is the central event of the book and, therefore, theological reflections should center upon it instead of trying to mute its sexual overtones (which are admittedly, and likely purposefully, ambiguous). If you read it let me know what you think.

The new IVP Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets is now available and if you’re interested at all in the biblical prophets you will want to own this volume. One of the most interesting aspects of this dictionary series to me is that the contributors were encouraged to not only introduce and summarize scholarship on the topics they addressed but also to add their own original thoughts to the discussion. I tried to do this in my treatment of “Law” (pages 493-501).

It is rather curious, from a canonical perspective, that the prophets hardly ever refer to the Sinai tradition while they often invoke exodus motifs. It is even more curious when one contemplates the fact that Sinai would perfectly mesh with one of the main rhetorical goals of the prophets which was to expose the disobedience of the people and call them to repentance. What better way to do this than to tell them: “You have broken the Decalogue which we received at Mt. Sinai here, here, here, and here,” but they never do this (some have argued that there are a couple instances in which the prophets may cite or allude to the decalogues but as I explain in the essay these are better explained as tropes and not as clear links to the decalogues themselves). One might be tempted to dismiss this fact as not very important, yet, as Jon Levenson comments, “the experience of Sinai, whatever its historical basis, was perceived as so overwhelming, so charged with meaning, that Israel could not imagine that any truth or commandment from God could have been absent from Sinai” (Sinai and Zion, 18-19). However, if  Sinai was this significant then why did the prophets hardly ever refer to it?

Certainly there are redactional issues for this which I discuss in the essay yet what I tried to do, and what I do not think many people have yet done, is to try to make theological sense out of this. I’ll let you read the whole thing to see how I get there but here is a snippet from the conclusion:

From a theological perspective, the prophets skip over Sinai and tap into an Ur-tradition of law in order to admonish the nation to repent and hopefully avoid the coming de-creation (the exile) or to look back to the recent experience of de-creation (again, the exile) in order to avoid another iteration of this cycle.

It seems that univocal descriptions of God’s character and action were not sufficient for the biblical writers. Instead, they represent God as a complex being who responds in different ways even to similar circumstances. This requires a mature reflection from those who wish to follow him. Instead of perceiving God through the lens of static theological formulations or philosophically consistent principles, we should learn from prophets like Zechariah who picture God as a relational being who brings a level of complexity to the life of discipleship. A danger of reading the bible theologically instead of exegetically is that it can easily take us down a path in which we derive a sense of peace from a theological scheme or philosophical abstraction instead of the person of God himself.1

At the same time that Zechariah urges his audience to turn to God so that God might dwell in their midst he also relays the message that God will again return to Jerusalem which will ensure that his house is built once more. A synthetic picture of the two oracles in Zech 1 reveals that God is present even in his absence and is working for the sake of his people even when he tells them that they must repent in order to receive his benevolence.

–A snippet from the draft of my forthcoming commentary on Zechariah. Whatcha think?

  1. Mark A. Seifrid, “Story-Lines of Scripture and Footsteps in the Sea,” SBJT 12.4 (Winter 2008): 88ff [back]

I’m taking a short break from my vacation to mention that the book, Akkadian Prayers and Hymns: A Reader, is now available for download–for free–at the ANE Monographs section of the SBL website. Alan Lenzi did an incredible job putting this project together and I am very happy to be a part of it. I contributed two prayers to this book–”An Ershahunga to Any God” and “Girra 2″–we provide cuneiform, transcription, normalization, translation, grammatical and literary notes, introduction, and biblical comparative suggestions for each text. If you are interested in Akkadian or studying some hymns and prayers that are cognate to biblical ones then I think you will find this book helpful.

I’d like to say a quick thank you to Alan for inviting me to join the project and vastly improving my contributions through his thorough critiques, Jay Crisostomo for looking my prayers over and correcting some of my errors, and the other contributors for producing such fine work.

A few things have occurred lately that caused me to update my CV that I post on this site:

  1. I formally received my PhD last month.
  2. I was very honored to be asked to contribute an essay for the forthcoming Festschrift honoring my Doktorvater, Samuel Greengus.
  3. I have been selected as a fellow for the Advanced Seminar in the Humanities 2011-2012: Literature and Culture in the Ancient Mediterranean: Greece, Rome, and the Near East at Venice International University.
  4. I was “promoted” from Instructor of Old Testament Interpretation to Adjunct Professor of Old Testament Interpretation–a promotion in name only in order for the school to abide by accreditation standards since I now have a PhD, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.
  5. I am teaching an Akkadian class this Summer for the first time.

So, if you are curious to see the CV in its entire splendor (particularly if you are the decision-maker in charge of filling a position for an endowed professorship), just click here.

Here is the second video in the series that I am producing to coincide with the publication of the forthcoming monograph, Reading Akkadian Prayers in the SBL ANE Monographs series. I edited two prayers for this volume; the “Prayer to Any God” is one of them (for a translation of this prayer and the introductory video click here). This video briefly–it is under 2 minutes–explores the role of rituals within religions and the “Prayer to Any God” in particular.  Enjoy and let me know what you think.

Prayer to Any God Rituals from Charles Halton on Vimeo.

In anticipation of the publication of the prayers that I contributed to the forthcoming Reading Akkadian Prayers volume coming out in the SBL Ancient Near East Monographs series I am going to release a series of short videos, each under a minute and a half, that introduce or discuss certain aspects of these prayers.

The first prayer is quite well known both within Assyriology and Old Testament studies, “A Prayer to Any God.”  The prayer was included in ANET under the title, “Prayer to Every God,” but this was a misnomer since the prayer is not directed at every god, but rather, to the particular deity that the petitioner offended.

Here is the video–let me know what you think of it.

Prayer to Any God Intro from Charles Halton on Vimeo.

Here is a pre-publication draft of my translation of the prayer:

1. May the anger of the lord’s heart relent.
2. May the god who I do not know relent.
3. May the goddess who I do not know relent.
4. May whichever god relent.
5. May whichever goddess relent.
6. May the heart of my god relent.
7. May the heart of my goddess relent.
8. May (both) god and goddess relent.
9. May the god who is angry with me relent.
10. May the goddess who is angry with me relent.
Lines 11–16 are poorly preserved.
17. The food that I would find I did not eat by myself.
18. The water that I would find I did not drink by myself.
19. I broke my god’s taboo in ignorance.
20. I crossed my goddess’s bounds in ignorance.
21. O lord, my wrongs are many, great are my sins.
22. O my god, my wrongs are many, great are my sins.
23. O my goddess, my wrongs are many, great are my sins.
24. O whichever god, my wrongs are many, great are my sins.
25. O whichever goddess, my wrongs are many, great are my sins.
26. The wrong which I did, I do not know.
27. The sin which I committed, I do not know.
28. The taboo which I broke, I do not know.
29. The bounds I crossed, I do not know.
30. A lord glowered at me in the rage of his heart.
31. A god has made me confront the anger of his heart.
32. A goddess has become angry with me and has made me sick.
33. Whichever god has caused me to burn.
34. Whichever goddess has set down affliction (upon me).
35. I would constantly seek (for help) but no one would help me.
36. I cried but they (i.e., no one) did not approach me.
37. I would give a lament but no one would hear me.
38. I am distressed; I am alone; I cannot see.
39. I search constantly for my merciful god (and) I utter a petition.
40. I kiss the feet of my goddess, I keep crawling before you.
41. To whichever god, return to me, I implore you (lit., I speak a petition)!
42. To whichever goddess, return to me, I implore you!
43. O lord, return to me, I implore you!
44. O goddess, look at me, I implore you!
45. Whichever god, return to me, I implore you!
46. Whichever goddess, return to me, I implore you!
47. How long, my god,until your…heart…
48. How long, my goddess, until your . . . mood will rest?
49. How long, whichever god, until your . . . anger subsides?
50. How long, whichever goddess, until your estranged heart relents?
51. Humanity is deaf and does not know anything.
52. Humanity—by whatever name—what do they know?
53. Whether (a person) does wrong or good they are ignorant.
54. Lord, do not turn away your servant.
55. They are (lit. he is) lying in swamp water—help them (lit. him)!
56. The sin that I committed turn into good.
57. The wrong (that) I did let the wind carry away.
58. My many sins strip away like a garment.