Category Archives: Studying the Bible

Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate:
Being Honest to the Text, Its Author, and His Beliefs

Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate“DiMattei’s book is a refreshing call both for biblical literacy and for intellectual honesty in dealing with the Bible.”
—John J. Collins, Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism and Interpretation, Yale Divinity School

“In an important contribution to the discussion between mainstream biblical studies and creation ‘science,’ DiMattei does a wonderful job of explicating the first two chapters of Genesis. He shows convincingly that although creationists claim to read this story literally, they are not reading it carefully at all.”
—Marc Brettler, Bernice & Morton Lerner Professor of Judaic Studies, Duke University

“Steven DiMattei presents an important challenge to creationists by showing that they fundamentally misunderstand the very chapter of Genesis on which much of their anti-scientific views are based. Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate is an accessible and useful book for those who seek to understand why creationism is flawed on biblical grounds.”
—Hector Avalos, Professor of Religious Read more

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Did Moses Lie to Us? A Textual Journey (Part III)

A Different Edom?

Everyone knows that when the Israelites asked for food and water from the Edomites, the Israelites’ brothers from the line of Esau, and permission to pass through their country that they were denied those things and forced to pass around Edom. So I was startled yet again to learn that apparently Moses had forgotten these things too! Here is what Moses says about the whole affair:

    And we turned and traveled into the wilderness by way of the Red Sea as Yahweh spoke to me, and we skirted Mount Seir for many days.
Then Yahweh said to me: “You have skirted this mountain long enough. Turn north, and command the people saying, ‘You are to pass through the territory of your brothers, the children of Esau, who live in Seir. And they will be afraid of you, so be very watchful. Do not agitate them, for I … Read more

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Did Moses Lie to Us? A Textual Journey (Part II)

Scouting the Land

Moses then proceeds to renarrate how the Israelites scouted out the promised land early on in the wilderness period and how on account of their rebellious nature and lack of faith in Yahweh they were denied entry and forced to wander the wilderness for 40 years. Ok, I thought. Everyone knows this story. Surely Moses can’t slip one in on us here.

     And I said to you: “You have come to the Amorite hill country that Yahweh our God is giving us. See, Yahweh our God has put the land in front of you. Go up and take possession, as Yahweh your fathers’ God spoke to you. Fear not and be not dismayed!”

     And you came to me, all of you, and said: “Let us send men ahead to scout out the land for us and to bring us back word. . .”

    And the thing was Read more

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Did Moses Lie to Us? A Textual Journey (Part 1)

My journey through the text of the Bible and an understanding of that text as it was revealed to me by and through that very text starts with the book of Deuteronomy. This one book might even best illustrate what the Bible is as a whole and how its texts—its once individual scrolls and codices—relate to one another. But enough already. Since this is a textual journey, a journey through a text, then our starting point should be with the text itself.

Deuteronomy 1-11 presents Moses renarrating events from the wilderness period as a sort of summation to what came before this book’s narrative setting, where the Israelites are now assembled on the plains of Moab some 40 years after the wilderness period began. It is here that Moses addresses the people:

    Yahweh our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying: “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn

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Genesis 1:1-2 — not a Creation ex nihilo

Despite strong traditional and often authoritative interpretative claims that were formed centuries after this ancient text was written and devoid of knowledge about its historical and literary context, the opening of Genesis 1 does not depict a creatio ex nihilo, that is a creation out of nothing. The Hebrew text is clear on this point and recognized by all biblical scholars. Rather, what the text of Genesis 1:2 informs us is that when God began to create, earth—that is the material substance earth; the Hebrew ’eretz (earth) never means the planet Earth (see below)—already existed as a desolate, formless, inhabitable waste—a tohû wabohû in Hebrew—in the midst of a dark surging watery abyss (tehôm). This is the initial primordial state of creation that the creator deity inherits so to speak, and it is a prominent cultural feature in other ancient Near Eastern creation myths, from Egypt to … Read more

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Genesis 1:3-5 — Day is Light

Modern readers often express their perplexity at the fact that Genesis 1:3 presents the creation of light before the creation of the luminary that produces light, the sun, whose creation does not happen until day 4 (1:16). How can light be created or exist, it is often asked, before the sun was created?

The problem with this and similar questions is that they impose our knowledge about the cosmos, indeed an objective knowledge about the workings of our solar system, onto this ancient text whose culture did not possess this type of knowledge. We know that the sun is the source of light for our solar system. But the ancient cultures and peoples that produced this creation account did not possess this knowledge and apparently held different ideas about the nature of their world. This fact the text itself bears witness to.

In other words, Genesis’ portrait of the creation … Read more

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Matthew’s Jesus and the Criterion of Righteousness

For I say to you, that unless your righteousness excels beyond that of the scribes and Pharisees you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven!

Any student or critical reader of the Gospels immediately notices the stark differences in their portrait of Jesus and the teachings attributed to him. This is most pronounced in the Jesus of the synoptic gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke—and John’s Jesus. Additionally, each gospel account gives radically different theological views on what Jesus taught concerning salvation. And this is complicated further by taking into consideration Paul’s claims about Jesus and salvation. Here, I’d like to limit myself to a couple of observations about Matthew’s Jesus, who teaches that righteousness, above and beyond Torah righteousness, is the sole criterion for salvation.

The Gospel of Matthew is quite clear in this regard: salvation, its Jesus teaches, only comes through acting, being, and conducting oneself righteously, and moreover a … Read more

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Introduction to Forthcoming Contradictions in the Bible

Seldom do readers of the Bible actually think about the compositional nature of the text they hold in their hands. Many Jews and Christians are completely unaware that the Bible is composed of a vast collection of different texts, themselves composed from a variety of texts and traditions, all of which were written over a period of roughly one-thousand years, by varying authors, and under diverse historical circumstances and religious and political convictions. Many of the Bible’s books—or more precisely the texts and traditions that went into the composition of its books—went through lengthy periods of continual revision, often supplemented with other texts and traditions, and redrafted to suit an ever-changing audience’s political and religious needs. In today’s culture, most biblical enthusiasts merely invoke the name “the Bible” in a variety of contexts with little or no real knowledge of the nature of the biblical text itself. Those few who … Read more

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Style, Vocabulary, and Message

Anyone who has ever read through the Pentateuch immediately notices that the book of Deuteronomy’s tone, style, vocabulary, and theological message are completely unique and different from what precedes it. Hebraists have remarked that the Deuteronomic style is not found in any biblical literature prior to the 7th century BCE, and, apart from the Priestly literature of the post-exilic period, it is abundantly found in texts written after the 7th century BCE. In fact, one might confidently claim that the voice and message of the Hebrew Bible as a whole can be boiled down to that of the Deuteronomist.

The Deuteronomist’s style displays itself through a unique set of phrases, theological emphases, and rhetorical devices. Phrases that are unique to the Deuteronomic literature include: “Yahweh your god”; “the place where Yahweh sets his name”; “listen O Israel!”; “listen to the laws and the judgements”; “listen to the voice of Yahweh”; … Read more

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The Book of Deuteronomy: A Brief Introduction

The book of Deuteronomy, like many of the Bible’s books, was composed in stages and by different authors living in different historical eras. Despite this fact, Deuteronomy displays a remarkable unity in its style, theology, and message. This is largely because the various revisions and additions that the book of Deuteronomy underwent were done by a specific scribal school, which we shall label as the Deuteronomic school, and its authors the Deuteronomists. This scribal guild was active during a lengthy period of time, from the late monarchal period of the 7th century BCE, through the exilic period of the 6th century BCE, and into the Persian period of the 5th century BCE. Thus the making of the book of Deuteronomy was an accumulative process of editorial activity that transpired over three centuries.

The book of Deuteronomy was composed around a core or base text which now makes up the content … Read more

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