Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Reader's Hebrew Bible: A Review by its Typesetter

It is unusual for the typesetter of a volume to review it. It is perhaps even more unusual for a volume’s typesetter to also be one of its principal editors. Both are true in my case. Although I obviously have a vested interest in A Reader’s Hebrew Bible, as the review below will demonstrate, I believe I am uniquely positioned to review the volume in a way that time constraints would forbid to most users.

Binding, Gilding, Thickness, and Paper
On Dec. 20, 2007, I excitedly opened the overnighted package containing the advanced author’s copy of A Reader’s Hebrew Bible (RHB). I was quite pleased with the Italian Duo-tone cover. The look and feel were pleasing, even elegant. The silver edging of the pages gives it a Biblesque look.

I had been unsure about how thick the volume would be, especially since I would eventually like to see it combined with A Reader’s Greek New Testament (RGNT). I was pleased that the volume was only 1 5/8 inches thick. When I placed my RGNT on top of it, the combined thickness wasn’t any greater than the NASB Inductive Study Bible that I regularly carry, so the potential for a combined edition still exists.

When I opened the volume, the first thing I noticed was the paper on which it was printed. It appeared to be the same as the RGNT. The whiteness allowed more bleed through than I would have preferred, but in good lighting the text is easily readable, and the bleed through quickly ceased to be distracting as I put the volume to use. (I’m in dialogue with Zondervan about the possibility of using the same paper type used in Biblia Sacra: Utriusque Testamenti or BHS. However, the first lot of books has already been printed, so any changes will come in subsequent printings.)

Suspended Letters, Inverted Nun’s, and other Masoretic Esoteria
After looking at the craftsmanship of the volume, I had a short list of items that I wanted to check on: suspended letters, inverted nun’s, the large letters in the Shema‘, and the small print in Joshua 21:36-37—the Leningrad Codex does not contain these two verses that most other Masoretic manuscripts contain. I had included them because they are included in Westminster’s electronic version of L, and they are included in BHS.

All the suspended letters came through nicely (Jdg. 18:30; Job 38:13, 15; Ps. 80:14), but I was distressed to see the masoretic accent telisha parvum in the two texts where inverted nun’s occur (Num. 10:35-36, and Psalm 107:21-26, 40 [RHB pages 1220-21]).

I checked the PageMaker files, and the inverted nun’s were present. I checked the PDFs I sent to Zondervan, and sure enough the inverted nun’s were missing! Further checking revealed that PDF generator I used will not embed any character of any font located in the position I had assigned to that character! Item one for my errata list.

The large letters in Deut. 6:4 came through nicely, as did the other large and small letters (Lev. 11:42; Num. 27:5; Prov. 16:28; Isa. 44:14; Jer. 39:13). When I checked the small print of Joshua 21:36-37, it occurred to me that I had not included an explanation of the brackets used there in the introduction. The brackets indicate that these two verses do not appear in the Leningrad Codex. Item two for the errata list.

An Unfortunate Set of Spelling Errors in Genesis
Earlier this month, as I was reading Genesis 1:20, the unusual spelling of nephesh caught my attention. I looked up the verse in BibleWorks, and confirmed that the word was indeed mispelled in RHB. Upon investigating, I found that an error in the typesetting code (i.e., the VBA program I wrote to handle the layout and typesetting) had, unbeknowns to me, corrupted the spelling of 322 words in Genesis, before it was caught and corrected. Fortunately, this error affects only Genesis. Most unfortunately, it affects Genesis!

The precise nature of the error is as follows: four instances of segol + a sub-linear accent were replaced with tsere + a different sub-linear accent. Specifically, the segol + accent combinations shown in the upper row of the chart below were replaced by the tsere + accent combinations below them.

The first column’s error will be the most noticeable since all first year Hebrew students learn that the silluq is the accent that normally occurs on the last word in a Hebrew verse. The segol + silluq combination was replaced with a tsere + tebir combination in 84 instances, thus there will be 84 instances of a tebir at the end of a verse that should be a silluq. The errors represented by last three columns occur respectively 111 times, 108 times, and 19 times. A complete list of this these spelling mistakes in Genesis is available here. Items 3–324 for the errata list.

HALOT as a Gloss Source
I have reservations about the accuracy of HALOT’s glosses. Having glossed over 48,000 of the 60,650 instances of Hebrew/Aramaic words found in RHB, I found myself surprised on more than a few occasions by the infelicity of the glosses supplied in HALOT. At times, some of these were the result of a poor or mistaken translation from the German HALAT into English. Other times, it appeared that whoever had written the particular entry I was working with had not given adequate consideration to the context when they listed a given verse under a particular sense.

Nonetheless, HALOT is considered the foremost Hebrew lexicon in English, and therefore, deserves to be represented, if for no other reason than to bring its glosses into closer scrutiny by Hebrew scholars. For this reason alone, I would encourage those Hebrew scholars whose knowledge of Hebrew vocabulary allows them to read unhindered in any part of the Hebrew Bible to make use of the volume nonetheless. HALOT deserves more scrutiny than it has received to the present.

Screening of Proper Nouns in Gray
There a number of places where prefixed prepositions were improperly screened in gray (Gen 2:8; 13:5; 1Kgs 21:23; 2Kgs 2:15; Jer. 32:8; Est 9:15; 2Ch 1:13; 14:12). In all of these cases, it should be contextually clear to the reader that the initial character is not part of the name but is a preposition. More items for the errata list.

Typesetting of Vowels & Accents
Proficiency in reading and exegeting Hebrew has little bearing on a comprehensive understanding of the appropriate placement of Hebrew vowel-points and accents. I discovered the complexity of the issue and the inadequacy of a single TrueType font to handle all the potential combinations about half-way through the project.

Despite all the progress made in unicode fonts, I was not comfortable typesetting Hebrew with unicode in MS Word 2003, the word processing program I used to layout the project, and PageMaker 7.0 does not handle unicode fonts at all. (I know about InDesign, but decided to stick with what I knew.) More importantly, I specifically wanted the font face to make shifting back and forth from BHS relatively easy. As a consequence, I developed eight additional TrueType font sets, based on the BibleWorks Hebrew font, to accommodate the varieties of vowel-point + accent positioning. It was also necessary to write code to find these combinations in the text and properly position the vowel-points and accents.

The most noticeable placement error I have found in RHB is the placement of hireq + yetib. It is wrongly placed to the right side of the letter under which it occurs, rather than centered underneath it. See, for example, the preposition ‘im in 1 Kgs 1:7, 9 or the preposition ki in Eccl. 4:15. Once this is fixed in the typesetting code, it will no longer be an issue.

Another accent placement issue involves the occurrence of a meteg or silluq on a patach furtive. My code did not account for this combination and, therefore, the accent was not appropriately shifted to the right along with the patach furtive. See, for example, Psalm 132:15.

Those who are highly attuned to the masoretic accentuation system will note with frequency an accent anomaly caused by a coding mistake. All instances of a tsere + munah appear as tsere + mereka. See, for example, metey in Isa. 5:13, which should have a munah rather than a mereka.

A niggling issue that has bothered me enough to note it is that the size of the holem is inconsistent. With the holem vav, the size is fine, but the holem by itself strikes me as too small. I will enlarge it for better readability.

Line Breaks in Poetry
For the most part, I have been satisfied with the poetic line breaks of RHB. I have encountered a few places so far where a more felicitous line break is possible. For example, in Isaiah 2:2, the first line would break better at the zaqef qaton, rather than its current break. I welcome user feedback to identify such places.

WLC-BHS Differences
The Westminister Leningrad Codex (WLC) morphology notes around 500 instances where the WLC differs from the 1983 edition of BHS. When compared the 1997 edition of BHS, there was a much greater uniformity between the two texts. My comparison identified only 27 instances were WLC disagrees with BHS. However, when making this comparison I did not factor in instances in which BHS suggests a Qere reading that is not offered in the Leningrad Codex. See, for example, haksheyr in Eccl. 10:10 where neither WLC or L offer a Qere reading, but BHS does. The Westminster morphology (4.8) identifies 58 instances concerning which they say, “We have abandoned or added a ketiv/qere relative to BHS. In doing this we agree with L against BHS.” These instances have not yet been completely verified.

Even though I had 4 years of Hebrew in grad school and teach Hebrew on the undergraduate level, I still find my knowledge of Hebrew vocabulary sufficiently limited to make reading through Proverbs or Isaiah vocabulary-vexing.

The foremost reason motivating my desire to create RHB was that I wanted to be able to read Hebrew Wisdom Literature devotionally without constantly having to resort to a lexicon, and I didn’t want to have to be bound to my computer so that I could mouse over unknown vocabulary for a gloss. This purpose is more than adequately accomplished in RHB.

Having ranged through a healthy sampling of the Hebrew Bible in the month since I have received my copy, I recognize it is not a perfect volume. It will, however, enable its users to accomplish the objectives for which it was produced: develop skill in reading Hebrew through regular exposure to large portions of the Hebrew Bible.

I recommend that professors of Hebrew who have their classes read through portions of Genesis as well as users whose Hebrew skills are not sufficient to identify immediately the instances in Genesis where a tsere wrongly occurs instead of a segol print off a copy of the errata sheet soon to be provided and carry it with them. For those for whom this does not constitute a challenge, I believe you will find the volume a valuable means to achieving and maintaining a reading fluency in Hebrew.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Wisdom in Ecclesiastes

The noun "wisdom" (chokmah), adjective "wise" (chakam), and verb "to be wise" (ch-k-m) occur a total of 58 times in Ecclesiastes.

My best understanding of Ecclesiastes' core message is Permanent meaning and satisfaction are not found in any of life's components, but only in life's Creator. ~Jim Berg

Solomon (Qoheleth) drives this wisdom-nail firmly into place (cf. Ecc. 12:11) by consistently juxtaposing the positive and negative sides of any topic he addresses. His treatment of wisdom is no exception.

What follows is my best attempt to summarize Ecclesiastes' explicit teaching on wisdom.

Wisdom comes from God, and He gives it to those who please Him (2:26). Wisdom is attainable to those who set their hearts to know it (1:13, 16-17), but one cannot know all the wisdom there is to know (7:23; 8:16-17). There is more profit in wisdom than in folly just as light is better than darkness (2:12-13), for wisdom enables the wise to see where he is going, whereas the fool can't see his path (2:14). However, wisdom does not enable one to see the future (9:1), and it takes only a little folly to outweigh the benefits of wisdom and honor (10:1).

It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man than to listen to the song of fools (7:5). It is better to be young, poor, and wise than old, rich, and foolish (4:13), but the wisdom of the poor is despised (9:16). Wisdom with an inheritance is good and profitable for those who see the sun (7:11). In fact, wisdom is better than money; though both offer protection, wisdom can save your life (7:12). However, wisdom can't save one from death, for all die (2:16). Further, wisdom is useless in the grave, so make vigorous use of it you can while you're alive (9:10). And beware for wisdom improperly displayed (being "over wise") can destroy you (7:16).

Wisdom gives more strength to a wise man than ten rulers give to a city (7:19). Wisdom is better than strength (9:16), for it can help to win a war with a small force, but the poor wise man is soon forgotten once a crisis passes (9:15) and his wisdom is despised (9:16b) . Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good (9:18).

A wise heart knows the right time and procedure (8:5). Wisdom has the advantage of giving success (10:10), but the appetite is never satisfied, so in this regard there is no advantage to the wise over the fool (6:8). Wisdom gives success, but the race is not always won by the swift, bread is not always to the wise nor is wealth always to the discerning, but time and chance (under the sun perspective) happen to all (9:11). Wisdom makes a man's face shine (8:1), but in much wisdom there is much grief (1:18), and the reality of oppression is maddening to the wise (7:7). Wisdom may enable one to do accomplish great things, but it cannot guarantee that the one who inherits its profit will use it wisely and not squander it (2:19-21), nor can it ensure that its possessor will not be forgotten, for there is no lasting remembrance of the wise (2:14).

The wise value the house of mourning over the house of pleasure (7:4), for it reminds them of their mortality and the certainty of judgment (11:9). Wisdom doesn't value the past over the present (7:10), but whatever it finds to do, it does it with all its might (9:10).

The words of the wise heart in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools (9:17). The words of wise men are gracious (10:12), even though they are goads (12:11).

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A Newly Discovered Well of Delight (Ephesians 3:18-19a)

On a Thursday in October, I finished teaching through Ephesians for the sixth time in six years. Having one student in Prison Epistles this year permitted me to employ Socrates’ teaching method extensively. It bears good fruit.

This year I dug deeper into Ephesians 3:17-18 and discovered a well of truth that has been delighting my soul. I hope it will yours as well. First the context.

Eph. 3:14’s “For this cause” is the closing parenthesis of the parenthetical statement Paul began in 3:2. The opening parenthesis is the “For this cause” in 3:1. The “cause” that motivated Paul to bow in prayer is found in 2:21-22. God is building us into a temple in which He will dwell by His Spirit.

Scenic Exegetical Detour: In Eph. 2:22 the word translated habitation (KJV) or dwelling (NASB) occurs 18x throughout the OT, but it is most frequently used (10x) in statements about Heaven as the habitation or dwelling place of God. Perhaps Paul had Solomon’s use of this term (1 Kings 8:39, 43, 49; cf. Psa. 33:14 [LXX 32:14]) in the back of His mind? Though Solomon had built a magnificent temple for worshiping Yahweh, he knew Heaven was Yahweh’s dwelling place. But Paul seems to be saying that God intends to have a change of residence some day: we will be His habitation!

Because God is in this building program, Paul prays that He would strengthen the Ephesians inwardly by His Spirit so that (purpose infinitive) Christ may dwell in their hearts (16-17a). Wait a minute, Paul. You said yourself that “he that does not have the Spirit of Christ is none of His” (Rom. 8:9). Why are you praying for Christ to dwell in their hearts when He already does?

I think Paul would say, “Notice that I used katoikeo, not oikeo or enoikeo.” The verb katoikeo can denote taking up permanent residence (cf. Mat. 2:23; 4:13). Louw-Nida offer, “to live or dwell in a place in an established or settled manner.” I don’t think the permanence of Christ’s dwelling is at issue here, for Christ does not enter and dwell in a new believer’s life only temporarily. He enters intent to stay eternally.

Rather, the focus of “dwell” in Eph. 3:17 seems to be on what dwelling in an established or settled manner implies: making oneself completely at home in the residence. Here then is the crux of the matter. In order for us to be the permanent dwelling place of God, we must first by strengthened by the Spirit so that Christ may make himself fully at home in our lives – by faith.

By faith! Whose faith? Surely, ours not Christ’s. And why faith? What additional faith/trust is requisite for Christ to make himself fully at home in our lives? Faith that gladly, willingly allows Him access to every room, attic and cellar, closet and shed of my life. Faith that believes any renovations of heart and life He wants are good and in my best interest. Faith that believes His plans are better than mine, His paths are perfect. Indeed, it is a profoundly strong faith that is needed, thus Paul’s prayer for inner strengthening by the Spirit.

And here is that joy-well I mentioned: v. 18-19a. “that you may be able to comprehend with all the saints length and breadth and height and depth and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge ….”

To be honest, v. 18 never meant much to me before this semester. Most of the commentators I’ve read after like to soar eloquent on the height, depth, length, and breadth of Christ’s love. His condescension; the universal scope of his love; the cross as the measure of the length of his love. Don’t get me wrong. Those are all marvelous truths, but they didn’t resonate with me in this context.

Then it occurred to me that “to know” in Greek can indicate experiential knowledge and not just cognitive knowledge. That’s when the light turned on for me. Paul is talking about experiencing the unlimited love of Christ in all of its dimensions! That’s why he opened v. 18 with a “that” (KJV) or “so that” (NASB)—this verse indicates the purpose for Christ’s dwelling in our hearts.

Christ wants to make himself fully at home in our hearts so that He can fill all the “rooms” of our lives with His limitless love. Even though his love surpasses knowledge (cognitively), it can be known experientially! Ah, here is a joy-generating thought: If I, by faith, grant Christ unhindered access to every dimension of my life, He, whose love always has my best interest and his greatest glory at heart, will allow me to experience His unfathomable love in all of its limitlessness!

Herein lies the beauty of Christ in us, “the hope of glory.” It glory now and greater glory yet to come! Who wouldn’t want to experience the limitless love of Christ?

O Father, would you not by your Spirit strengthen me mightily that your Son may make himself fully at home in my heart so that I might come to know experientially the vastness of his love. Amen.