Tag Archives: michael heiser

Elisha, She-Bears, and the Cursing of Children?

This is up there near the top of “Weird Stories of the Bible,” when the prophet Elisha curses a group of young boys, who taunt him. But does this image really correspond to the message that the Scriptural writer is intending to convey?

I was totally dumbstruck, a moment I will never forget. I was doing youth ministry, when a high school student asked me about the weird incident of Elisha and the She-Bears, found in 2 Kings 2:23-25. What is that all about?

I had never seen the passage before, and it left me speechless:

23 He [Elisha] went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!”24 And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. 25 From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.

What is going on in this passage? I will be honest: Having never read that before, I had no clue how to respond. Over seven years in Bible-teaching churches had never prepared me for that question (Why do most churches skip over these difficult passages????).

Skeptics use these verses to mock the morality of the Bible. It is hard not to blame them, from a quick, surface reading of the text. It sounds like God is sanctioning, even inflicting, violent child abuse.

But this high school student who quizzed me about this passage was not at all trying to ridicule the Bible. It was a honest question. This teenager was sincerely confused… and I was stumped.

I could have simply said, “Well, that is in the Old Testament. No need to worry.” But I knew better.

So, what is the Bible really talking about here? Could there be more going on, than what a plain-text, isolated reading of the text indicates?

A theologian who writes frequently for First Things magazine, Peter Leithart, highlights the work of Keith Bodner, that gives a more nuanced, and greatly more compelling answer as to how to interpret this difficult text in the Bible. In short, the story of Elisha and She-Bears is really an event with satirical theological-political commentary, criticizing the apostatizing of Israel’s leadership, by their sanctioning of idolatry at Bethel. A careful reading of other biblical texts gives us the clues needed to fully unpack this story (see 1 Kings 12:1-15, 2 Kings 1:8, 1 Kings 14:21, 1 Kings 13:24, 2 Kings 8:12, for additional context).

In this interpretation, the “small boys” in this passage, really are not children at all. Instead, they are a band of idolatrous priests that threaten Elisha, and the true worship of God the prophet represents. The author uses the language of “small boys,” not to historically chronicle their age, but rather to criticize the immaturity of these rebellious priests.

The critique of Elisha’s “baldness?” Well, this is not really about a loss of hair, but rather the loss of losing his mentor Elijah, as a spiritual covering.

This explanation may not completely remove for you the scandal that this passage raises. Understood, but the shock value maybe the point. Passages in the Bible that sound just plain weird, might be clues that more is going on than what can be picked up by a surface reading. As I wrote about in my review of Andy Stanley’s book, Irresistible, perhaps the problem with the Old Testament, is not with the Old Testament itself, but in how we interpret it.

Additional Resources:

Gospel Coalition blogger, Derek Rishmawy has an older post highlighting Peter Leithart’s own commentary on this passage, from Leithart’s 1 & 2 Kings commentary. For some other, informed takes on the same story, I would recommend either the following segment of Dr. Michael Heiser’s Naked Bible Podcast (Heiser is an Old Testament scholar, for Logos Bible Software, who wrote many of the notes for the FaithLife Study Bible, and author of the groundbreaking book, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible), or a sermon by Dr. Peter Williams (Williams is a textual critical scholar at the University of Cambridge, and Tyndale House, in England, and a translator for the English Standard Version of the Bible), or the detailed analysis from the “uber-intellectual” Alastair Roberts, MereFidelity podcaster and blogger. Dr. Heiser’s treatment is just audio, with no video. But one of Dr. Heiser’s key themes is that if it is weird, it is probably important. This passage surely qualifies. The Dr. Williams’ video is from a talk he gave at, what I think is, Park Street Church in Boston (Williams takes a more traditional view of the “young boys”, summarized in a series of Tweets). Alastair Roberts’ video is from his YouTube Question & Answer channel. All three scholars offer great resources on other topics, I might add!:

 

 

 


September 23 End Times Nonsense

The constellation Virgo. Foreboding a fulfillment of the Book of Revelation? I think not.

The nonsense about the supposed “End Times” event happening September 23, 2017, just keeps getting worse.

Some “bible prophecy expert” had predicted the end of the world tomorrow (Sept 23), but now is backing off (sort of) from his claim, according to the Washington Post. If you have missed the whole media splash about this, read this previous Veracity post, published last month, the day of the solar eclipse, for details. 

Basically, a somewhat uncommon astronomical event, tied to a rather creative interpretation of Revelation 12, is “supposed” to be prophetically fulfilled in the skies tomorrow. The first couple of verses describe what star gazers “might” see tomorrow night, in the constellation Virgo:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth….

Frankly, this type of “bible prophecy” handling is an embarrassment. As Logos Software Bible scholar, Michael S. Heiser, whom I greatly respect, says in his very helpful, bible study blog, this is “living testimony to biblical illiteracy” in the church today.

We could chock this up as being meaningless media hype. But sadly, many Christians fall for this type of stuff, and the reputation of the Gospel suffers.

Admittedly, the Book of Revelation is difficult to interpret. But the main reason why it is so difficult to understand is because most Christians are not aware of the original literary context, of which it was written in, during the 1st century of the Christian era. Ian Paul is a British evangelical bible scholar, with another helpful bible study blog, that explains why Revelation gets so mangled up by 21st century readers. You may never think about “little red riding hood” the same way again:

“Revelation is absolutely saturated with allusions to the OT, and our lack of knowledge often means we miss these. The woman in labour is an image of the people of God awaiting deliverance from exile in Is 66 and Micah 4 and 6. The dragon (Revelation 12:3-4) is a composite of the four beasts that emerge from the sea in the visions of Daniel 7, where they signify four human empires, and it is overlaid with a range of imagery denoting the primeval opponent of God and his people (the serpent in Gen 3, the Satan from Job) as well as intertestamental ideas. The male child ‘who is to rule the nations with a rod of iron’ (Revelation 12:5) is indeed Jesus as the fulfilment of the messianic Ps(alm) 2. If we struggle a little with these allusions to the characters, we will struggle even more with the strange plot into which they have been inserted. But John and his readers will have struggled no more than we would if we heard someone describing a girl wearing a red hooded cloak taking apples to her granny in the woods, or a girl coming across three bowls of porridge in a cottage. (If you don’t know what these are, then again it makes the point: we easily spot allusions to story we know in our own culture, but the moment we look at another, unfamiliar culture we can become very disoriented.).”

The rest of Ian Paul’s blog entry can be found at his Psephizo website. It just goes to show you that context matters when you study the Bible.


Canaanite DNA and Biblically-Illiterate Journalism

An ancient Canaanite skeleton gives us clues to the DNA history behind a people group in the Middle East. (Credit: Dr. Claude Doumet-Serhal)

A recent study indicates that much of the DNA record of modern day Lebanese can be traced back to the Canaanite people described in the Bible. Sadly however, a number of mainstream journalists got the story wrong.

Archaeological studies over the years have raised a number of interesting questions about how the Biblical record is tied to history. But when the genome of 4,000-year-old Canaanite skeletons were sequenced, the discovery supports a significant aspect of the Bible’s historical claims.

However, you would never grasp that idea from a New York Times article reporting the discovery. Deuteronomy 20:16-17 does show that the Israelites were to completely wipe out the Canaanite peoples, when they take hold of the Promised Land.

“You shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded” (v.17)

Yet the Times article goes on to miss the target, “But a genetic analysis published on Thursday has found that the ancient population survived that divine call for their extinction, and their descendants live in modern Lebanon.” The implication is that the Bible got it wrong.

Other media outlets did pretty much the same thing, with scathing headlines, such as “Study disproves the Bible’s suggestion that the ancient Canaanites were wiped out” (The Telegraph), and “New DNA study casts doubt on Bible claim” (Mother Nature Network)

However, if these journalists had kept on reading the Bible, they might have realized a problem. While Israel achieved notable victories at Jericho and Ai, the destruction of the Canaanites was far from complete.  Judges 1:27-28 specifically tells us that the Canaanites were not all wiped out by Joshua’s conquest of the land:

“…the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land…” (v.27)

Many of the Israelites tried to splice belief in the God of the Bible with beliefs in the Canaanite gods. More than a few Israelites intermarried with the Canaanites, adopting a syncretic form of religion. All of this behavior brought God’s judgment on the Israelite people, when God condemned their idolatrous actions. To miss this part of the story is to fail to understand the narrative within the Bible itself.

So, far from disproving the Bible, the survival of the Canaanites down to the present day actually confirms what the Bible claims. If we would but only read the text.

Thankfully, some of the news organizations have realized their error and made the appropriate corrections. The Telegraph made a note in their article, acknowledging the correction, and changed the headline more appropriately, as did Mother Nature Network. Science magazine did the same with their news story.

The irony behind the whole thing is that skeptics will often reject the Bible, on moral grounds, because of the supposed claim that the Israelites committed mass genocide against a large Canaanite population. But then they ding the Bible again, on historical grounds, when they discover that the supposed, full-blown, genocidal annihilation of the Canaanites never took place. Does anyone see something wrong with this picture?

There is a twist to all of this, too. True, Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land, no matter how you envision the scale, and there is evidence to show that the traditional view is greatly oversized , did result in a lot of violent death. But were the Canaanites, properly speaking, the target of God’s wrath? Dr. Michael S. Heiser, an expert in Semitic languages, writes that the Anakim giants were actually the target for elimination, and not the Canaanites. His book, The Unseen Realm, is on my “to-be-read” list, but he gives an overview of his contrarian argument here. I am not sure what to make of Heiser’s argument yet, but he knows his Bible. The point is: there is more to the Bible than what most people realize.

Biblical illiteracy is at an all-time high, despite the ease of access to reading and studying the Bible, in a digital age. So, it does not help when mainstream journalism propagates errors, largely out of Bible-reading ignorance. As the proliferation of news sources abounds in the digital age, perhaps part of the problem is due to cuts among copy editor staff, at major newspapers, as Old Testament professor, Claude Mariottini, reports in another “fake news” story about archaeology in the land of the Bible (… a “BOO” for Fox News).

The best way people can correct such mistakes is pretty simple, and it does not take a Bible scholar to figure this out:

READ AND STUDY THE BIBLE.

HT:  Breaking Israel News.


Idols and Images: Ten Commandments, Yes, But How Do You List Them?

Moses and Aaron, with the Ten Commandments: Aron de Chaves (1674)

I received a little pushback offline on a previous post about dream catchers. I kind of expected that.

Christians have long struggled with the relationship between idols and visual images. Much of the controversy stems back to how Christians read the Ten Commandments, or more to the point, how various Christians read the Ten Commandments differently. An often ignored consequence of the 16th century Protestant Reformation illustrates the difficulty.

The Ten Commandments are derived from two passages from the Bible, Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:4-21, texts that are very close to one another in content. But careful study demonstrates that not every Christian identifies all of the commandments in the exact same manner. However, contrary to some misguided assertions, there are no mainstream Christian traditions that have “changed” the Ten Commandments. Rather, the problem is in how different traditions have grouped the various commandments together.

An obvious question to start off with would be, so why “Ten” commandments? Well, we have three passages in the Bible that directly tell us of “ten words” given to Moses at Sinai (Exodus 34:28, Deuteronomy 4:13, and Deuteronomy 10:4).

However, the Bible was not divided up into a verse numbering scheme until the Protestant Reformation, in the 16th century. Therefore, in the early church, there was no intuitively clear way to group the Ten Commandments together. Even the Jews have had their own unique pattern of grouping the “commandments,” and it has not matched 100% with any Christian version. Continue reading


Daniel’s Seventy Weeks #4

Sir Robert Anderson (1841-1918) is remembered by many Bible students today for his contribution to the interpretation of the book of Daniel. However, in the 19th century he was also known as a high ranking official at Scotland Yard, the second Assistant Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police.

Sir Robert Anderson (1841-1918) is remembered by many Bible students today for his contribution to the interpretation of the book of Daniel. However, in the 19th century he was also known as a high ranking official at Scotland Yard, the second Assistant Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police.

Daniel’s “Seventy Weeks” prophecy, as found in Daniel 9:24-27 is often regarded as the key text for understanding the prophecy perspective held by advocates of dispensationalism, as made popular by books and movies associated with Tim Lahaye’s Left Behind. Yet as we noted in a previous post in this series, this passage from Daniel plays actually a limited and somewhat obscure role in the New Testament, especially when compared to passages such as Psalm 110, which is quoted or alluded to some thirty times in the New Testament, as we sought to exposit earlier a few years ago on Veracity.

As I have been digging into the interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27, for nearly two years, inspired by the “astronomical” work of my friend, Ken Petzinger, I have been learning that the controversies surrounding these four verses of the Bible are fascinatingly complex. In this post, I want to lay aside some of the Bible interpretation issues aside, and focus instead on some questions of history:

So, where did the “dispensationalist” approach to Daniel 9:24-27 come from? Why is it that the prophecy of the “Seventy Weeks” has become so important in the minds of so many Christians, over the past hundred or so years?
Continue reading


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