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This past week I attended the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Atlanta, Georgia. This is the largest annual gathering of evangelical Christian Bible scholars in the world. Here is a summary of highlights from some of the presentations I attended.

Ben Montoya gave a presentation on the Southern Baptist scholar A. T. Robertson, who published in 1915 a massive reference grammar for New Testament Greek that is still in print and in use today. It is interesting that this famous Greek scholar lost a Greek competition when he was in college. Montoya was unable to find the name of the guy who beat Robertson in the contest, which I suppose shows that such contests are not the ultimate test of competence. Some other interesting points from Montoya’s presentation:

  • Robertson handwrote the manuscript for his grammar. When he was finished, the stack of paper measured from the floor to the height of his desk.
  • The Lutheran theologian Oscar Cullmann told of a meeting he had with Pope John XXIII (reigned 1958-1963), during which he noticed a copy of Robertson’s grammar next to the pope’s Greek New Testament. Cullman asked the pope why he was using an English language grammar. He replied, “It is the best one available.”
  • Montoya said one of the things that makes Robertson’s grammar different from more recent grammars is that Robertson viewed language as reality. Modern grammars view language as a portrayal of reality.
  • According to Montoya, Robertson’s greatest mistake was the anachronistic application of grammatical categories from Latin to Greek, since Robertson had learned Latin before learning Greek. An example Montoya gave was Robertson’s category of deponancy, where modern linguists would see a middle-only verb. This criticism is, of course, debatable.

My friend Rodger Young presented on discrepancies between Carbon-14 (14C) dates and dates derived by conventional archaeological methods from about 2200 BC to 1400 BC. He said that, at present, there is an unresolved conflict between these two systems of dating. One problem with the 14C dates is that the data used to calibrate them has been kept secret. (One does not simply feed a piece of wood into a machine and receive an objective date; the scientists must “calibrate” the machine by inputting dates for various concentrations of radiocarbon in a material.) Three major universities analyzed the 14C dates in question—one in the U. S., one in the U. K., and one in Germany. All three universities have refused to release the dendrochronological (tree ring) data that they used to calibrate the 14C dates. The University of Belfast released a limited amount of data after a three year lawsuit under the British Freedom of Information Act, but this data was insufficient to understand the radiocarbon calibration curves. Hence, archaeologists suspect there is some sort of problem with the German oak data used to calibrate the 14C dates, but so far lawsuits have been unsuccessful in obtaining this data. Young’s handout is posted on his website. I personally am deeply mistrustful of radioisotope dating in general, as well as of archaeological dates that are not rooted in a biblical foundation.

Todd Chipman of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary gave a presentation on the Greek perfect tense in Hebrews. There has been a revolution in the study of biblical Greek and biblical Hebrew in recent years, as the product of a battle between traditional grammatical analysis of language versus an analysis based on modern linguistic theories. Part of this battle involves the study of ancient Greek verb tenses, which traditionally were seen as primarily temporal in reference, but which linguistic approaches say have more to do with aspect than with time. Three different linguistic approaches to understanding New Testament Greek verb tenses have been propounded by leading scholars in recent decades. Stanley Porter’s work, which applies the theory of a leading linguist to the Greek of the New Testament, is the basis of the modern discussion. Porter argues that that Greek verb tenses do not have temporal reference, just stative (perfect), perfective (aorist), or imperfective (present). Buist Fanning’s work Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek is not based on linguistic studies, but it presents a theory of verbal aspect that is similar in some ways to Porter’s yet also differs in certain respects. A third linguist, Constantine Campbell, argues that the Greek verb tenses of the NT only have perfective and imperfective aspects, with spatial values of greater importance than temporal values. Ironically, he views the perfect and pluperfect tenses as imperfective in aspect. In his presentation, Chipman analyzed examples of the use of perfect tense verbs in the contexts in the book of Hebrews in which present tense verbs were nearby, and tested the passages according to these three linguistic models. He found that, in every test passage, the models of Porter and Fanning made better sense of the context in Hebrews than Campbell’s model. Yet Chipman seemed to think that aspect is not as important in discussions of Greek verb tenses as Porter and Fanning make it out to be.

Phil Silvia presented, in association with Steve Collins, on the event which destroyed Tall el-Hammam. Tall el-Hammam is the site of a very large ancient city just to the northeast of the Dead Sea, on the plain opposite the Jordan River from Jericho. Silvia, Collins, and some other scholars believe that Tall el-Hammam is the site of the biblical city of Sodom. The evidence in support of this conclusion is impressive—there are major cities in the area which can be identified with Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, along with many smaller suburbs. In addition, there is strong biblical evidence for locating Sodom in the geographical area of Tall el-Hammam. According to Collins and Silvia, Tall el-Hammam and the surrounding cities were not destroyed in the usual manner; they appear to have been virtually incinerated, with everything above the level of the ground gone without a trace. In addition, there are high levels of salt in the layer of soil from the time of the destruction, which explains why the cities were not reoccupied for a very long period of time (cf. Gen 19:26). Silvia’s presentation focused on a piece of pottery and a rock from the area with a type of surface melting that scientific experts say could only have been produced through exposure to a temperature of 12,000° C for a few milliseconds. The one aspect of Collins’ and Silvia’s theory that I cannot agree with is the date they propose for the destruction of Sodom—1700 BC. From a biblical point of view, Sodom must have been destroyed around 2067 BC; however, Collins claims that the archaeological evidence points to the major destruction of Tall el-Hammam occurring around 1700 BC. But because the methods used by archaeologists to date ancient sites are often very tenuous (e.g., pieces of pottery), and they often disagree with biblical dates, I am skeptical of the grounds for Collins’ date for the destruction of Tall el-Hammam. On the whole, I favor identifying biblical Sodom with Tall el-Hammam on the basis of biblical statements regarding the geographical location of Sodom (Gen 13:3, 10-12); one can expect this theory to be subjected to further scholarly review in the coming years.

On Wednesday night, filmmaker Timothy Mahoney showed Patterns of Evidence: Exodus. This is a very professionally-produced documentary which searches for archaeological evidence of Israel’s exodus from Egypt in response to challenges from archaeologists who deny that the exodus event ever happened. This film shows that there is in fact abundant archaeological evidence for the biblical account of the Israelites journeying to Egypt, becoming a great nation there, being enslaved, and leaving in a dramatic exodus. However, this evidence is not recognized by scholars who are committed to interpreting archaeological data within the conventional chronological framework, since the evidence is not from the right time period. Nevertheless, the methods used to date these early archaeological periods are very tenuous and generally conflict with the Bible’s chronology. Thus, Mahoney argues (correctly) that the archaeological chronology should be compressed, resulting in the evidence for the Israelites living in Egypt lining up with the biblical chronology. I suggested to Mahoney that some of the specific arguments he makes regarding the identity of the Semitic population in and around Avaris could be objectively tested by obtaining samples of the DNA in the bones of those buried there, and using these samples to determine whether the Jews are their modern relatives.

My former professor Todd Beall presented a paper on principles of marriage from the book of Genesis. While Beall argued for a traditional view of marriage, an increasing number of evangelical writers are supporting contemporary, non-traditional views. Surely one reason for this is the widespread denial of the historicity of Genesis 2, in which God created Adam and Eve and ordained the marriage relationship between a man and a woman. In general, the abandonment of the literal hermeneutic has opened the door for evangelical acceptance of the non-biblical views of marriage and sexuality that dominate popular culture.

Randall Buth, director of the Biblical Language Center, presented a review of a new Greek-Greek dictionary by Emiliano Caruso (Monolingual Dictionary of Ancient  Greek). Buth was enthusiastic about the dictionary as a good first step toward thinking about the meaning of Greek words within the context of the Greek world, rather than within the context of the English world. The dictionary does not include the complete vocabulary of the New Testament, but it does include many words that are used outside of the New Testament. Buth would like the next edition of this dictionary to be more complete, but he likes the idea of including words that are not in the New Testament, since there are words that were common in ancient Greek that do not appear in the New Testament for reasons of subject matter. Knowing extrabiblical vocabulary therefore enhances one’s understanding of the ancient Greek language. One problem with this dictionary is that it mostly defines words by synonyms and antonyms, some of which do not appear elsewhere in the dictionary. Entries need to be expanded, with descriptive definitions, more examples, and multiple meanings. Also, it would be ideal for a dictionary like this one to be compiled by a team of scholars, rather than by one individual. I noted that a Greek-Greek dictionary of ancient Greek was composed by Valerius Harpocration in the second century AD (Lexeis of the Ten Orators), and suggested that this work might still be useful for a project such as Caruso’s. After the presentation, I asked Buth if he knows of anyone who is fluent in both the ancient and modern forms of Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. He said he knows a lot of people who are fluent in the ancient and modern forms of one of the three, but he does not think there is anyone in the world who is fluent in the ancient and modern forms of all three. Knowing the ancient forms of these languages is something different than knowing the modern forms.

Richard Oster of the Harding School of Theology gave a presentation which noted some archaeological finds relevant to New Testament studies. At the end of his presentation, he commented on the state of New Testament programs in evangelical seminaries. He said that in the late 1800s and early 1900s, evangelical seminaries included classical studies in their New Testament programs, especially at the Ph.D. level. Today, many New Testament Ph.D. programs do not even offer Latin—the language of the Empire—let alone require it. Classical studies and language studies in general have fallen on hard times in New Testament programs, which now tend to emphasize Jewish studies and theology. This is in contrast to Old Testament studies programs, which are much more engaged with the languages and histories of the peoples in the world around the Old Testament. Oster believes there is a greater need for New Testament scholars to know what was happening in the world in which the events of the New Testament took place.

Wayne Grudem gave a presentation which reflected on the scholarly discussion over the thirty years since his publication of a seminal article on the meaning of the Greek word κεφαλή (head). This has become a controversial issue because some egalitarian feminists argue that κεφαλή means “source” in 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:23, in which the husband is said to be the “head” of the wife. Grudem said that no one has yet been able to present an example where κεφαλή means something other than “ruler” or “leader” when it is used of a person. He also discussed an article written in the standard reference work Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, published by InterVarsity Press (IVP) in 1993. The IVP editors selected a feminist named Catherine Kroeger to write the article on “Head” for this dictionary. In it, Kroeger literally invented multiple citations and quotations in order to argue that κεφαλή means “source,” not “ruler,” when affirming that the man is the head of the wife. Although Grudem has published multiple articles pointing out Kroeger’s dishonesty, the editors at IVP have never removed this article or corrected it! Grudem’s conclusion was that after all of the scholarly discussion of the passages related to male headship in the New Testament, it is as clear as ever that the Bible commands wives to be in submission to their husbands; there are no serious exegetical challenges to the traditional view.

Finally, I gave a presentation in which I summarized the arguments made in my Ph.D. dissertation and published book for identifying Daniel’s Darius the Mede with Xenophon’s Cyaxares II. The session was well attended, and included several scholars who had already read the book and given me feedback via email. I presented a bold theory which argues for the historical reliability of Xenophon’s account of the rise of Cyrus to power (which includes a Median king who corresponds to Darius the Mede) over the historical reliability of Herodotus’ account. Although modern scholarship favors Herodotus, the evidence supporting Xenophon is diverse and compelling. The questions and comments following the presentation were overwhelmingly favorable. Other scholars are beginning to argue for and reference the theory I have presented (which is not completely original with me), and it is my hope that these references in academic literature will eventually have an effect on the view of Darius the Mede in scholarship as a whole.

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