The second stanza of Bialik’s “On the Slaughter” cannot be fully
understood without knowing the details of the Kishinev pogrom to which it reacts. The
horror of the pogrom included a Jewish man and his dog, both beheaded, lying in
a street to rot. The perpetrator: a Gentile, who probably thought he was doing
a Christian good deed.
The title of the poem is activated in this stanza. The slaughter is
understood through ritual categories. This takes us deep into the world view of
the Hebrew Bible, a world view we might wish to understand before recoiling in
In this post, I describe how a subtext of the traditional Jewish
wedding rite may be actualized in terms of the larger Jewish or Christian
tradition. If you don’t know Hebrew, don’t worry. Translation is provided.
The prophet Isaiah was rather
tart about the human tendency to fulfill religious requirements in the absence
of inner conviction and in the studied disregard of the one who commanded the
requirements in the first place:
Bialik’s “On the Slaughter” is informed by the categories of biblical lament. To the extent that we do not understand biblical lament, we will not understand his prayer. It also works the other way. To the extent that we understand his prayer, we will understand biblical lament, including psalm 137.
Nahman Hayyim Bialik (1873-1934) was born into a large, impoverished, and pious family. His father died in 1880. Without the means to raise him herself, his mother parted with him and entrusted him to the care of his well-to-do paternal grandfather. Nahman was 7 years old. He remembered the first six years of his life as the happiest he knew.
The title for this post is taken from a song written by the man in black, Johnny Cash. It’s a powerful song. The blood of scripture courses through its veins. For all the lyrics to “When the Man Comes Around,” go here. The music, which is fabulous, is a click or two away in more than one place.
This post is the first in a two-part introduction to a forthcoming post on Psalm 137. My goal is to prepare the reader to hear the psalm in a new way. My other goal, as always, is to teach the Hebrew of the Bible. Poetry is an excellent means to that end.
Psalm 137 is incomprehensible to the extent that we are not cognizant of the trauma out of which it was born. The disaster and the effect it had on its victims is expressed in words of great bitterness in Lamentations. For a taste thereof, go here.
Another, more bracing path into the viscera of Psalm 137 is by way of the poetry of Hayyim Nahman Bialik. As a young man, Bialik wrote two poems in reaction to the pogrom of 1903 that took the lives of 47 Jews in Kishinev, Moldovia, and displaced over two thousand Jewish families.
“Literary Criticism: Aesthetics as Apologetics.” Chapter Five of Hector Avalos, The End of Biblical Studies (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2007) 219-247.
Avalos covers a lot of ground in this chapter. The texts he touches on include Isaiah 40, the Hebrew and Greek versions of the book of Jeremiah, Jonah, Psalm 68:21, Psalms 9-10; Psalm 35, and Psalm 137. The scholars whose work he passes in review include Robert Alter, Sakae Kubo and Walter Specht, Robert Lowth, David Noel Freedman and Frank Moore Cross, James Kugel, Jack Sasson, Stanley Gevirtz, Carroll Stuhlmueller, Hermann Gunkel, James Ackerman, Alan Cooper, Susan Niditch, Mitchell Dahood, and Phyllis Trible.
These words are well-known to observant Jews because
they form the basis of the Tashlikh ceremony of the afternoon of the
first day of Rosh HaShanah in which this text is symbolically re-enacted. It is
of course an excellent practice to inflect a text not only on a verbal level,
but on a physical level. Kinetic learning is a trait of all full-bodied
religion (pun intended).
Sephardic Jews recite Micah 7:18-20 together with
Hosea 14:2-10 on Shabbat Shuvah (the Sabbath before Yom Kippur). All Jews recite it, together with the entire book of Jonah, as a
Haftarah on Yom Kippur Afternoon.
The Masoretic text reads ‘their sins,’ not ‘our sins’ in 7:19. ‘Their sins’
seems to fit the context poorly, and might be accounted for in terms of scribal
error (נו corrupted to מ). The Old Greek translates as if
its source text read ‘our sins.’ The reading was independently reproposed in
gaonic times. I have
adopted the proposal here.
Ancient Hebrew Grammar informed comment by Robert Holmstedt, Associate Professor, Ancient Hebrew and Northwest Semitic Languages, Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto, and John Cook, Associate Professor of Old Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary (Wilmore KY)
Antiquitopia one of the best blogs out there, by Jared Calaway, assistant professor in the Department of Religion at Illinois Wesleyan University.
Awilum Insightful commentary on the Bible and the Ancient Near East, by Charles Halton
AWOL - The Ancient World Online notice and comment on open access material relating to the ancient world, by Charles Jones of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University
Balshanut top-notch Biblical Hebrew and Semitics blog by Peter Bekins, Ph. D. student, Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati OH, faculty member, Wright State University (archive)
Believing is Knowing Comments on things like prophecy, predestination, and reward and punishment from an orthodox Jewish perspective, by David Guttmann
Ben Byerly's Blog thoughts on the Bible, Africa, Kenya, aid, and social justice, by Ben Byerly, a PhD candidate at Africa International University (AIU), in Nairobi, Kenya working on “The Hopes of Israel and the Ends of Acts” (Luke’s narrative defense of Paul to Diaspora Judeans in Acts 16-20)
Berit Olam by a thoughtful Matt Morgan, Berkeley CA resident, grad student in Old Testament at Regent University, Vancouver BC (archive)
Better Bibles Blog Discussion of translation problems and review of English Bible translations by Wayne Leman, Iver Larsen, Mike Sangrey, and others
Bibbia Blog A Bible blog in Italian and English by former students of the PIB and PUG
BiblePlaces Blog a spotlight on the historical geography of the Holy Land, by Todd Bolen, formerly, Assistant Professor at the Israel Bible Extension campus of The Master's College, Santa Clarita CA
Biblicalia The riches of orthodoxy brought online by Kevin Edgecomb, a seminarian at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology (Brookline MA)
Biblische Ausbildung by Stephen L. Cook, professor of Old Testament / Hebrew Bible at Virginia Theological Seminary
C. Orthodoxy Christian, Contemporary, Conscientious… or Just Confused, by Ken Brown, a very thoughtful blog (archive). Ken is currently a Dr. Theol. student at Georg-August-Universität in Göttingen, part of The Sofja-Kovalevskaja Research Group studying early Jewish Monotheism. His dissertation will focus on the presentation of God in Job.
Catholic Bibles a thoughtful blog about Bible translations by Timothy, who has a degree in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome (Angelicum) and teaches theology in a Catholic high school in Michigan
Chrisendom irreverent blog with a focus on the New Testament, by Chris Tilling, New Testament Tutor for St Mellitus College and St Paul's Theological Centre, London
Claude Mariottini a perspective on the Old Testament and current events by a professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Chicagoland, Illinois
Codex: Biblical Studies Blogspot by Tyler Williams, a scholar of the Hebrew Bible and cognate literature, now Assistant Professor of Theology at The King's University College in Edmonton, Alberta (archive)
Colours of Scripture reflections on theology, philosophy, and literature, by Benjamin Smith, afflicted with scriptural synaesthesia, and located in London, England
Complegalitarian A team blog that discusses right ways and wrong ways Scripture might help in the social construction of gender (old archive only; more recent archive, unfortunately, no longer publicly available)
Connected Christianity a place to explore what it might be like if Christians finally got the head, heart, and hands of their faith re-connected (archive)
Conversational Theology Smart and delightful comment by Ros Clarke, a Ph.D. student at the University of the Highlands and Islands, at the (virtual) Highland Theological College (archive)
Daily Hebrew For students of biblical Hebrew and the ancient Near East, by Chip Hardy, a doctoral student at the University of Chicago
Daniel O. McClellan a fine blog by the same, who is pursuing a master of arts degree in biblical studies at Trinity Western University just outside of Vancouver, BC.
Davar Akher Looking for alternative explanations: comments on things Jewish and beyond, by Simon Holloway, a PhD student in Classical Hebrew and Biblical Studies at The University of Sydney, Australia
Evedyahu excellent comment by Cristian Rata, Lecturer in Old Testament of Torch Trinity Graduate School of Theology, Seoul, Korea
Exegetica Digita discussion of Logos high-end syntax and discourse tools – running searches, providing the downloads (search files) and talking about what can be done and why it might matter for exegesis, by Mike Heiser
Ferrell's Travel Blog comments of biblical studies, archaeology, history, and photography by a tour guide of Bible lands and professor emeritus of the Biblical Studies department at Florida College, Temple Terrace (FL)
Fors Clavigera James K. A. Smith, professor of philosophy at Calvin College, thinks out loud.
Friar's Fires an insightful blog by a pastor with a background in journalism, one of three he pens
Gentle Wisdom A fearless take on issues roiling Christendom today, by Peter Kirk, a Bible translator
Giluy Milta B‘alma by Ezra Chwat and Avraham David of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, Jewish National and Hebrew University Library, Jerusalem
He is Sufficient insightful comment on Bible translations, eschatology, and more, by Elshaddai Edwards
Higgaion by Chris Heard, Professor of Religion, Pepperdine University
Larry Hurtado's blog emeritus professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology, University of Edinburgh
Law, Prophets, and Writings thoughtful blogging by William R. (Rusty) Osborne, Assistant Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies as College of the Ozarks and managing editor for Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament
Lingamish delightful fare by David Ker, Bible translator, who also lingalilngas.
Menachem Mendel A feisty blog on rabbinic literature and other Judaica by Michael Pitkowsky, Rabbinics Curriculum Coordinator at the Academy for Jewish Religion and adjunct instructor at Jewish Theological Seminary (New York)
mu-pàd-da scholarly blog by C. Jay Crisostomo, grad student in ANE studies at ?
Narrative and Ontology Astoundingly thoughtful comment from Phil Sumpter, a Ph.D. student in Bible, resident in Bonn, Germany
New Epistles by Kevin Sam, M. Div. student at the Lutheran Theological Seminary, Saskatoon SK
NT Weblog Mark Goodacre's blog, professor of New Testament, Duke University
Observatório Bíblico wide-ranging blog by Airton José da Silva, Professor de Bíblia Hebraica/Antigo Testamento na Faculdade de Teologia do CEARP de Ribeirão Preto, Brasile (in Portuguese)
Observatório Bíblico Blog sobre estudos acadêmicos da Bíblia, para Airton José da Silva, Professor de Bíblia Hebraica / Antigo Testamento na Faculdade de Teologia do CEARP de Ribeirão Preto, SP.
old testament passion Great stuff from Anthony Loke, a Methodist pastor and Old Testament lecturer in the Seminari Theoloji, Malaysia
Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Blog A weblog created for a course on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, by James Davila (archive)
On the Main Line Mississippi Fred MacDowell's musings on Hebraica and Judaica. With a name like that you can't go wrong.
p.ost an evangelical theology for the age to come seeking to retell the biblical story in the difficult transition from the centre to the margins following the collapse of Western Christendom, by Andrew Perriman, independent New Testament scholar, currently located in Dubai
PaleoJudaica by James Davila, professor of Early Jewish Studies at the University of St. Andrews, St Andrews, Scotland. Judaism and the Bible in the news; tidbits about ancient Judaism and its context
Serving the Word incisive comment on the Hebrew Bible and related ancient matters, with special attention to problems of philology and linguistic anthropology, by Seth L. Sanders, Assistant Professor in the Religion Department of Trinity College, Hartford, CT
ta biblia blog dedicated to the New Testament and the history of Christian origins, by Giovanni Bazzana
Targuman by Christian Brady, targum specialist extraordinaire, and dean of Schreyer Honors College, Penn State University
Targuman on biblical and rabbinic literature, Christian theology, gadgetry, photography, and the odd comic, by Christian Brady, associate professor of ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature and dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State
The Biblia Hebraica Blog a blog about Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the history of the Ancient Near East and the classical world, Syro-Palestinian archaeology, early Judaism, early Christianity, New Testament interpretation, English Bible translations, biblical theology, religion and culture, philosophy, science fiction, and anything else relevant to the study of the Bible, by Douglas Magnum, PhD candidate, University of the Free State, South Africa
The Reformed Reader by Andrew Compton, Ph.D. student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (focus on Hebrew and Semitic Languages) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
The Sacred Page a blog written by three Catholic Ph.D.s who are professors of Scripture and Theology: Michael Barber, Brant Pitre and John Bergsma
The Talmud Blog a group blog on Talmud News, Reviews, Culture, Currents, and Criticism
Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his
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