The Evangelical world is a buzz because of Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek piece The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin. It has already garnered responses from Dan Wallace, Albert Mohler, James White [in two parts here and here], and Michael Kruger [in two parts here and here]. However, most of these responses have been by people who have expertise in New Testament, NT textual criticism, and the formation of the NT canon [which is appropriate given that so much time is spent on those things in the article]. However, the author addresses topics that touch on Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew too, and hence, I am going to deal with some of these issues on this blog.
One of the first thing that strikes you about Eichenwald’s article is the bias. For example, the opening lines read:
They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.
They are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch. They are joined by religious rationalizers—fundamentalists who, unable to find Scripture supporting their biases and beliefs, twist phrases and modify translations to prove they are honoring the Bible’s words.
The bias here is obvious. Try to paint your opponent as terribly as you can, and then proceed to “refute” them. This led Albert Mohler to ask in his review of Eichenwald, “What is really going on here? Did some fundamentalist preacher run over young Kurt Eichenwald’s pet hamster when the reporter was just a boy?.” However, when you poison the well like this, how can you expect your article to promote fair discussion? This is very similar to those in the gay agenda who always promote Fred Phelps’ group, and hold him up as what evangelical Christians are like in regards to homosexuality, not mentioning that this man is the hyper-fringe, and we as evangelicals speak out against him. However, we can do the same with the left. There are communists who exist in the United States, and we could very easily paint all leftists as full fledged communists who want to take away all private property, and establish a totalitarian communist regime. While I think that is where the logic of this kind of liberalism leads, it does not mean that every liberal believes this, and it is totally unfair to say so. The net effect of this kind of bias and poisoning of the well is that it will tend to shut down critical thinking. Hence, the reader will take what Eichenwald has to say without checking it out. That is why I am addressing the issues of linguistics and Biblical Hebrew found in the article, because there is another side to this, and people deserve to know what the other side is. So, let us take the relevant portions of Eichenwald’s article, and provide an evangelical response based in the scriptures themselves, with the help of other fields such as linguistics and neuroscience.
No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you. At best, we’ve all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.
Now, this is just patently untrue. We have Hebrew manuscripts, and Biblical Hebrew is a known language that can be studied by anyone. We are not reliant upon a “translation of translations.” Also, while it is true that we have hand copies of hand copies of the Hebrew text, we also have the same thing for every other document in antiquity. And yet, no one doubts that we have what Enuma Elish said or what the Book of the Dead said. Also, not all Hebrew manuscripts read alike, meaning that there are probably different streams of transmission. This was confirmed with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some of the manuscripts were of the proto-Masoretic type, some of the Proto-Samaritan type, and some were manuscripts that were in the same line as the manuscripts used to translate the Septuagint. How did this happen if there was just one copy, which was then copied, and then the second copy was copied, etc.? It sounds more like you have multiple copies of the same thing which then branch out like a tree, rather than the simplistic linear approach discussed here.
While this is not specifically about Hebrew, the arguments could be recycled, and used against us, and hence, it is vital to give a response:
Then comes the problem of accurate translation. Many words in New Testament Greek don’t have clear English equivalents. Sentence structure, idioms, stylistic differences—all of these are challenges when converting versions of the New Testament books into English. And this can’t be solved with a Berlitz course: Koiné is ancient Greek and not spoken anymore. This is why English translations differ, with many having been revised to reflect the views and guesses of the modern translators.
I actually interacted with Eichenwald on this topic on Twitter. I asked him how, if this were true, a person could learn Koine Greek. His reply was that it takes many years and a lot of time pouring over texts. Then I asked him why, after doing this, the scholar could not describe, in English, what he had learned. You see, the problem here is that we learn foreign languages all of the time. I am interested in very odd foreign languages such as Akkadian, Sumerian, Egyptian Hieroglyphic, and have studied eight foreign languages [including both Greek and Hebrew]. However, in each language I have studied, I have found that there is an appropriate way to explain what is going on in English. Eichenwald told me that I should read some of these scholarly writings on a single word, because they were pages long. Indeed, I have read those kinds of articles many times, but one must take into account a major fallacy in Eichenwald’s understanding of lexical semantics. For example:
For subsequent English Bibles, those slightly off translations in King James were then often converted into phrases that most closely fitted the preconceptions of even more translators. In other words, religious convictions determined translation choices. For example, προσκυνέω, a Greek word used about 60 times in the New Testament, equates to something along the lines of “to prostrate oneself” as well as “to praise God.” That was translated into Latin as “adoro,’’ which in the King James Bible became “worship.” But those two words don’t mean precisely the same thing. When the King James Bible was written, “worship” could be used to describe both exhibiting reverence for God and prostrating oneself. While not perfect, it’s a decent translation.
As a result, throughout the King James Bible, people “worship” many things. A slave worships his owner, the assembled of Satan worship an angel, and Roman soldiers mocking Jesus worship him. In each of these instances, the word does not mean “praise God’s glory” or anything like that; instead, it means to bow or prostrate oneself. But English Bibles adopted later—the New International Bible, the New American Standard Bible, the Living Bible and so on—dropped the word worship when it referenced anyone other than God or Jesus. And so each time προσκυνέω appeared in the Greek manuscript regarding Jesus, in these newer Bibles he is worshipped, but when applied to someone else, the exact same word is translated as “bow” or something similar. By translating the same word different ways, these modern Bibles are adding a bit of linguistic support to the idea that the people who knew Jesus understood him to be God.
The main problem with this argument is that the same word can be a part of two semantic fields. While these two fields or “language games,” as Wittgenstein called them, can be analogically related, you cannot equate the meaning of the same term in two semantic fields without doing damage to language. Let us take the word “beat.” This can be part of the broader semantic field of sports or of domestic law. It’s usage in the latter refers to some type of illegal violence which caused one of the parties involved to be arrested. It’s usage in the former simply refers to scoring more points, runs, goals, etc. than the other team so to win the game.
This phenomenon has also been observed in the study of lexical retrieval in the brain, as Hanna Damasio’s now infamous paper A Neural Basis for Lexical Retrieval has aptly demonstrated. Damasio asked patients who had legions in the temporal lobe of the left hemisphere to name certain people, animals, and tools. What is interesting is that she allowed for the possibility of conceptual processing, and, if the word was “deer” for example, and all the person could come up with is, “Um, the male has antlers, it is usually brown, and is often hunted for its meat,” an error would be recorded. This allowed Damasio to specifically study lexical retrieval, and to disassociate it from conception. What she found is that there was a direct correlation between the area of the lesion, and whether the person was able to do the task. For example, if the damage occurred in the left temporal pole, they had problems in recovering the names of persons. If the damage was done to the left inferotemporal lobe, then the person had difficulty in naming animals. Finally, if damage was done to the left temporo-occipitoparietal junction, it correlated to difficulty in naming tools. The reason this is important is because the experimenters did not count understanding of conceptions as understanding the specific lexeme, but were able to show a disassociation between the two. What this meant was that these areas in the left temporal lobe are not related to conceptions; they are related to lexical retrieval. Therefore, while the brain is concerned with words, the retrieval of these words depends upon the activation of areas arranged in certain larger categories of people, animals and tools. The significance of this is that, when the author is choosing his words, he must activate different areas of the brain depending on the category of the word he is using. Indeed, it would seem that showing a person a picture of a reed that you would find in a swamp and a reed made for a clarinet would seem to, then, be two distinct tasks that activate the brain in two different ways.
Hence, because of these facts, one must be very careful in trying to posit that we have the same meaning simply because you have two uses of the same word. We must consider which semantic field we are talking about before we can consider the meaning of the word itself. Dr White and Dr Kruger did a good job of taking this apart with regards to the worship of Christ, showing that Christ is viewed as unique, and that there is a προσκυνεω which is only supposed to be given to God, and that Jesus is given this kind of worship in distinction to simply respect to a ruler. I would only add that it would be equally ludicrous to assume that something sinister is going on in sports just because the same word “beat” is used in both domestic abuse and sports, and that we as Americans are trying to hide something from the rest of the world. However, given this information, one can also see why you can produce works on one word that are pages long, because one word can cover a variety of semantic fields. However, not every aspect of this word’s lexical semantics will be used by an author at a given time. The example I gave Eichenwald is one that my professor of Hermeneutics, Dr Grant Osborne, uses, and that is the English word “grill.” An article on the meaning of this word would have to include discussions of the thing used for cooking hamburgers, the thing that looks like a fence, and what you do to someone when you want information out of them. However, when we speak about someone cooking hamburgers, is the information about grilling someone for information going to be at all relevant? Hardly. Which semantic field we are talking about is going to heavily determine which aspects of this entire multi-page article are going to be relevant. Hence, Eichenwald has overstated the problem.
The issue I would like to move on to here is that of creation and Genesis:
The next time someone tells you the biblical story of Creation is true, ask that person, “Which one?”
Few of the Christian faithful seem to know the Bible contains multiple creation stories. The first appears on Page 1, Genesis 1, so that is the version most people tend to embrace. However, it isn’t hard to find the second version: It’s Genesis 2, which usually starts on the same page. Genesis 1 begins with the words “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”; Genesis 2 starts with “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.”
Careful readers have long known that the two stories contradict each other. Genesis 1 begins with expanses of water that God separates, creating the earth between them. Genesis 2 describes a world without enough water, which is then introduced. Vegetation exists before the sun and the stars in Genesis 1; it’s the other way around in Genesis 2. In Genesis 1, man is created after plants and animals; in Genesis 2, plants and animals come after man. In Genesis 1, Adam and Eve are created together; in Genesis 2, Eve is created out of Adam’s rib.
The central issue here has to do with the meaning of the Hebrew term שיח, and, especially, it’s relationship to the phrase “there was no man to work the ground” as well as Genesis 3:18. Kenneth Matthews holds to the interpretation that the Lord had not rained upon the ground would then relate to the flood story. In essence, given this interpretation, these passages are describing a pre-fall world, not a pre-creation world [Matthews, 194-195]. Thus, שיח would not include all vegetation, but only thorns and thistles which came after the fall, and the idea that the Lord had not rained on the earth would not mean that there was no rain, but that he hadn’t *flooded* the earth. However, it is also possible to define שיח in terms of the phrase “there was no man to work the ground,” and therefore only referring to domestic plants. The point then would be, if there is no rain and no man to work the ground in order to bring the water to the plants, then you won’t have any domestic plants. This would also make sense of saying that “all the leafage of the field had not sprouted,” since this would be referring man’s habitat before God created him, and not to the whole world as a whole [remember, the Hebrew term ארץ can mean either “world” or “land,” the latter of which is preferable here, especially since it is in parallel with “field”]. The reason for this is that the second creation story provides a much more specific account of the creation of man, and is not a story about the creation of the whole world as in Genesis 1. Hence, we must interpret the story as centering around man, and the fact that his habitat before he arrived was a barren waste, because God was preparing to create it specifically for him. Either way, this means that Genesis 2 is not describing a world without enough water, but only a particular area *of* that world: an area God is preparing to create for man. This would also not affect the order of the creation story at all, since we are talking about a particular habitat in which God is going to place man, not whether there was any vegetation at all beforehand.
The issue is much more complicated in regards to the creation of man an animals. The issue has to do with whether a particular verbal form called the wayyiqtol can have a pluperfect meaning. There is a fierce and heated discussion about that right now within scholarship. While there are some who do not believe that this verbal form can be a pluperfect, I believe that it can. The issue has to do with the various contexts in which a wayyiqtol can be used. C John Collins has an excellent article dealing with the how and when of a pluperfect wayyiqtol. If the wayyiqtol is taken as a pluperfect, then the translation of verse 19 would be something along the lines of “The Lord God had formed all the animals of the ground]. Again, this has been a heated debate in scholarship for quite some time, and it is sad that it was not mentioned in this Newsweek article. I think the public deserves to at least know about the issue, even if they don’t end up agreeing.
Also, Genesis 1 doesn’t say that all mankind was created together. It speaks of God creating mankind, but as to how many steps he used, the text doesn’t say. That is why Genesis 2 is giving a *complementary* account to Genesis 1, and you have to look at how these two stories *relate* to one another, instead of forcing them to be contradictory by not reading carefully.
This is nothing unusual for the Old Testament. In fact, even though many evangelical Christians insist that Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament (including Deuteronomy, which talks about Moses having died and been buried), biblical scholars have concluded that two Jewish sects wrote many of the books. Each prepared its version of Old Testament, and the two were joined together without any attempt to reconcile the many contradictions.
These duplications are known as “doublets.” “In most cases,” says Richard Elliott Friedman, a biblical scholar at the University of Georgia, “one of the versions of the doublet story would refer to the deity by the divine name Yahweh, and the other version of the story would refer to the deity simply as God.” Once the different narratives appearing in the Bible were divided by the word they used to reference God, other terms and characteristics turned up repeatedly in one or the other group. “This tended to support the hypothesis that someone had taken two different old source documents, cut them up and woven them together” in the first five books of the Old Testament, Friedman says.
First, I don’t know *any* evangelical Christian who thinks Moses wrote the story of his own death. That is a strawman of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. We don’t even deny that Moses was relying upon previously written sources in the book of Genesis as the book of Genesis very clearly says he was [Genesis 5:1]. When we talk about Mosaic authorship, we are referring to the fact that Moses is the author and compiler of these documents, and the one who put these books in their final form, to which was added an account of his death in honor of him.
Secondly, it is simply ludicrous to speak of the JEDP hypothesis and Richard Elliot Freedman’s views as things “scholars” have “concluded.” In fact, it is simply dishonest. The JEDP theory right now is in a major fight with the literary critics who seek to understand the Pentateuch as a literary whole. Literary techniques show consistent connections throughout the entirety of the book of Genesis, and that actually argues against this notion that Freedman and the Welhausians are putting forward. One of the major problems for the JEDP hypothesis has been the advent of discourse analysis, and the problem of how things such as change in topic will affect differences in vocabulary. Let us take the example that Freedman and Eichenwald give of the changes in the names of God in these two creation stories. As we said, the second creation story seems to be talking about the creation of man more specifically, while the first creation story seems to be talking about the creation of the world as a whole. The name Yahweh is the covenant name for God, and the simple word “God” seems to be more generic. It is any surprise, then, that Yahweh is used in Genesis 2, and the simple “God” is used in Genesis 1? Furthermore, think back to our discussion of language games and semantic fields. The problem is that, while there can be some overlap in the use of language from one field to another as we have seen, the discourse will be affected by a change in language games. Should we not expect the language game of the priesthood to use different vocabulary than the language game of, say, a narrative about how God supernaturally delivered his people? Furthermore, since Moses’ brother was a priest, and he was the leader of the people of Israel, don’t you think he would have used both language games in his writing, since he was exposed to them all of the time? If you look at the vocabulary I use in discussing neuroscience, linguistics, and Hebrew, you will be able to find that three different people wrote my blog. However, it is untrue. Discourse can be affected through changes in topic, audience, the world, purpose, medium, and previous discourse, as well as changes in author. These things are just some of the major issues with the JEDP hypothesis right now within scholarship. In fact, I had to laugh when I read this because Dr Richard Averbeck, who is my professor of Pentateuch, was the chair of the Biblical Law section of the Society for Biblical Literature, and he rejects the JEDP theory and Friedman’s views. So, to say it is the conclusion of “scholars” is simply not true. The JEDP theory right now is in a major fight, and the jury is far from even close to being out as to whether it is going to survive.
The doublets make reading the Old Testament the literary equivalent of a hall of mirrors. Take the Genesis story of Noah and the flood. In Genesis 6, God tells Noah to build an ark and load it with animals, and “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” Then, in Genesis 7, God again tells Noah to load the ark with animals, and “Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.” Under the first set of instructions, Noah was to bring two of every kind of creature onto the ark. But the directions changed the second time, with Noah told to bring seven of every kind of clean animal and two of every kind of unclean animal.
It gets stranger. In Genesis 7:7-12, Noah and his family board the ark, and the flood begins. Then, in the very next verse, Genesis 7:13, Noah and his family board the ark again, and the flood begins a second time. The water flooded the earth for 40 days (Genesis 7:17), or 150 days (Genesis 7:24). But Noah and his family stayed on the ark for a year (Genesis 8:13).
What is ironic is that one of the things that has turned the tide against the JEDP theory is the idea that repetition actually *has* literary value. Now, some of the things I just think are exegetical mistakes on Eichenwald’s part. For example, I think that Eichenwald is thinking that the command to bring two of each animal onto the ark is a command to bring *only* two of each kind on the ark. However, what if the text meant that they were to bring *at least* two of each kind on the ark? Why would that be significant? Simply because the context is procreation:
Genesis 6:19-20 “And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. 20 “Of the birds after their kind, and of the animals after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive.
What does that bold phrase go back to? It goes back to the statement that God made male and female, and this is related to the ability to procreate. Hence, the point is not that God is telling them the catalog of animals he needs to bring into the ark, but the fact that he will need to bring at *least* two of each of them in order to keep them alive through the process of procreation. 7:2 is simply giving more information as to precisely how *many* pairs to bring into the ark, probably due to the need to bring extra clean animals for the purpose of sacrifice.
However, exegetical issues aside, the text doesn’t say that Noah and his family boarded the ark twice, and the flood waters came down twice. Robert Alter, who was really the father of the literary criticism movement [although he himself still followed some of the theories of redaction], has an entire chapter in his book The Art of Biblical Narrative, in which he talks about the literary value of repetition. For example, one of the things that is interesting is that it is likely that the flood story was passed down in oral tradition, and if you look at oral traditions throughout the world, they tend to have…repetition. Michael Wood has done a lot of good work on the nature of oral tradition, and he discusses it well in this video about Homer’s Iliad, which was also, for a time, passed down in oral tradition:
Wood examines two different traditions here, namely Irish story telling and the singing of the Koroglu epic, both of which have the same kind of repetition we find here. The common nature of repetition in oral tradition should tell you that something more here is going on than two different documents. Especially in oral tradition, one of the things repetition does is to build suspense. Keep in mind, we are at the point where Noah and his family enter the ark, and the flood waters come down. Do you not think that is a huge dramatic moment in this story? Should we be surprised to see repetition at this point in order to build suspense? Of course not.
Also, in terms of the duration of the flood, Eichenwald is simply not reading carefully himself. Here is Genesis 7:17:
Genesis 7:17 Then the flood came upon the earth for forty days, and the water increased and lifted up the ark, so that it rose above the earth.
Notice how Genesis 7:17 doesn’t tell us how long the water *flooded* the earth, but how long the flood *came upon* the earth. All Genesis 7:17 is talking about is how long the rains came down. Also, all Genesis 7:24 is dealing with is how long the flood *covered* the earth. Finally, the year is simply how long Noah and his family were in the ark altogether.
Even well-known stories have contradictory versions. As every child knows, David killed Goliath; it’s right there in 1 Samuel 17:50. But don’t tell those children to read 2 Samuel 21:19 unless you want them to get really confused. There, it says in many versions of the Bible that Elhanan killed Goliath. Other Bibles, though, fixed that to make it coincide with the words in 1 Chronicles, were Elhanan killed the brother of Goliath.
Of course, what Eichenwald is not telling you is that the books of Samuel are the worst preserved of all the books in the Hebrew Bible. While they haven’t been preserved beyond recognition, it does mean that other things such as the LXX and parallels in the books of Chronicles are going to be needed in the Textual Criticism of this section of scripture. However, it is more interesting that there is a reason why this error was made. Specifically, it is the confusion of a bet and an aleph, which look very similar in paleo-Hebrew, and a chet and a taw, which look very similar in the square script [ת and ח]. With that in mind, let us take a look at the Hebrew of 2 Samuel 21:19 and 1 Chronicles 20:5:
2 Samuel 21:19:
וַתְּהִי־ע֧וֹד הַמִּלְחָמָ֛ה בְּג֖וֹב עִם־פְּלִשְׁתִּ֑ים וַיַּ֡ךְ אֶלְחָנָן֩ בֶּן־יַעְרֵי֙ אֹרְגִ֜ים בֵּ֣ית הַלַּחְמִ֗י אֵ֚ת גָּלְיָ֣ת הַגִּתִּ֔י וְעֵ֣ץ חֲנִית֔וֹ כִּמְנ֖וֹר אֹרְגִֽים׃
1 Chronicles 20:5:
וַתְּהִי־ע֥וֹד מִלְחָמָ֖ה אֶת־פְּלִשְׁתִּ֑ים וַיַּ֞ךְ אֶלְחָנָ֣ן בֶּן־יעור יָעִ֗יר אֶת־לַחְמִי֙ אֲחִי֙ גָּלְיָ֣ת הַגִּתִּ֔י וְעֵ֣ץ חֲנִית֔וֹ כִּמְנ֖וֹר אֹרְגִֽים׃
Notice the difference between these two phrases is only a bet and an aleph:
2 Samuel 21:19: Bethlehem
1 Chronicles 20:5: Lachami
And the only difference between these two phrases is a taw and a chet:
2 Samuel 21:19: Goliath
1 Chronicles 20:5: The brother of Goliath
Hence, because of a simply copy error of the scribe, you have the difference between “Elchanan the son of Jaari Oregim of Bethlehem struck Goliath the Gittite” and “Elchanan, the son of Jarri attacked Lahmi, the brother of Goliath.” It is not because the Bible is contradicting itself, but because a scribe made a simple copy error that is rather easy to understand if you look at the scripts.
In fact, the Bible has three creation models, and some experts maintain there are four. In addition to the two in Genesis, there is one referenced in the Books of Isaiah, Psalms and Job. In this version, the world is created in the aftermath of a great battle between God and what theologians say is a dragon in the waters called Rahab. And Rahab is not the only mythical creature that either coexisted with God or was created by him. God plays with a sea monster named Leviathan. Unicorns appear in the King James Bible (although that wasn’t the correct translation of the mythical creature’s Hebrew name). There are fiery serpents and flying serpents and cockatrices—a two-legged dragon with a rooster’s head (that word was later changed to “viper” in some English-language Bibles). And in Exodus, magicians who work for the Pharaoh of Egypt are able to change staffs into snakes and water into blood. In Genesis, the “Sons of God” marry the “daughters of man” and have children; the “sons of God” are angels, as is made clear in the Books of Job and Psalms.
Evangelicals cite Genesis to challenge the science taught in classrooms, but don’t like to talk about those Old Testament books with monsters and magic.
The problem is that Rahab and Leviathan are creatures we know from the Baal epic, and, in the case of Isaiah, the language is almost directly from the Baal epic. And yet, no one dates the Hebrew Bible back to the time of the Baal epic. So, what is going on here? Very simple. The Hebrew Bible is borrowing language from these pagan religions as imagery. For example, Leviathan is another name for Yamm, the God of the sea in the Baal epic. Baal and Yamm fight, and Baal breaks Yamm. However, the point of borrowing from this language, is not to say that there really is a god Yamm, but to show the superiority of Yahweh to Baal. It is to show that Yahweh was really the one who broke the sea, not Baal. In other words, the language of these epics are taken up and used as imagery to show that God is superior to the gods of the nations-a major theme of Psalm 74 where you find Leviathan mentioned in the context of creation. For example:
Psalm 74:10-14 How long, O God, will the adversary revile, And the enemy spurn Your name forever? 11 Why do You withdraw Your hand, even Your right hand? From within Your bosom, destroy them! 12 Yet God is my king from of old, Who works deeds of deliverance in the midst of the earth. 13 You divided the sea by Your strength; You broke the heads of the sea monsters in the waters. 14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan; You gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
Notice how the adversary is reviling, and spurning the name of Yahweh. The point then is to demonstrate the superiority of Yahweh even in the midst of the pagan nations who believed in the Baal epic reviling him.
The other passage he Eichenwald is speaking of here is this:
Isaiah 14:29-31 “Do not rejoice, O Philistia, all of you, Because the rod that struck you is broken; For from the serpent’s root a viper will come out, And its fruit will be a flying serpent. 30 “Those who are most helpless will eat, And the needy will lie down in security; I will destroy your root with famine, And it will kill off your survivors. 31 “Wail, O gate; cry, O city; Melt away, O Philistia, all of you; For smoke comes from the north, And there is no straggler in his ranks.
He points out that cockatrice was removed, and replaced with “viper” [which is what צפע means], and that you have flying serpents and firey serpents. Anyone notice that we are dealing with imagery here? Philistia is under judgment, even though those who struck them are broken. Isaiah is predicting that they will be destroyed, and that destruction will be like that of serpents who burn and can fly. It is the same thing with Isaiah 30:6.
Now, as far as the last two, the issue of the magicians turning staffs into snakes and water into blood, and angels marrying human beings [a questionable interpretation BTW; it is much better to see those two groups as the line of the Godly and the line of the immoral, or, to put it better, the line of Cain and the line of Seth], this seems to me to be nothing more than begging the question. Liberalism is predicated upon antisupernaturalism. However, that is a philosophy which Eichenwald must defend. He offers no defense here, but only mockery of anyone who disagrees. Well, considering problems such as that of induction, the forms and particulars, and other problems at demonstrate the philosophical reductionism inherent in naturalistic materialism, and reduce the naturalist down to being able to say he doesn’t know anything, I have no reason to accept it. I mean, given the fact that this position reduces down to saying, “I can’t know anything, but I know you’re wrong!” why should I accept it? Ultimately, the reason why Eichenwald doesn’t believe scripture is because he holds to a form of antisupernaturalism. That is not Christianity. His view of the Bible comes through that entire philosophy, and that is the foundation of even how he views these Bible difficulties. He can’t look for a consistent explanation from the text itself, because his commitment to naturalism prevents him.
What I find sad about so much science today is what many people have called “scientism.” It confuses the study of the natural world with the idea that the natural world is all there is. Scientism is philosophically naive at best, and grossly contradictory at worst. *That* is what I want to challenge, and yes, part of that is demonstrating that the idea of the world as a closed cause and effect system not only destroys our knowledge of reality, but also destroys science as well. In my book, scientism is far more of a fairy tale than flying fiery serpents and monsters. I would believe that before I would believe the nihilism inherent in leftist views of reality.
Nothing here is really new in Eichenwald’s article. It is a compilation of the rationalistic and antisupernaturalistic theology that has its roots back in the days of Spinoza. What is new is that it is being parroted as the truth that scholars have came to about the Bible, when scholarship is far more mixed than that. What you have here is hard left scholarship that is extremely biased. Even though Dr Averbeck has served on the chair of the Biblical law section of SBL, Eichenwald didn’t contact Dr Averbeck about this article. Dr Hoffmeier, who has written entire books on the historicity of the Exodus for Oxford University Press, who disagrees with Freedman, was also not contacted. Also, the textual critical issues with who killed Goliath is something any critical commentary could have given him. What you have here is a commitment to one side of the story to the point where it even determines what you see on a page. True journalism should not be this one-sided. It should be willing to present *both* sides. I am sorry to say, Newsweek failed in that regard.
 Someone might argue that the Greek word Eichenwald is talking about is a verb and not a noun, so this information is irrelevant. I am well aware of the possible distinction in lexical retrieval between nouns and verbs. However, our understanding of this distinction is in its infancy. Indeed, it is possible that the same areas are involved in the lexical retrieval of both nouns and verbs, but that the areas are so close together, that they are virtually unable to be seen with the imaging techniques we have [see Crepaldi et al. A Place for Nouns and a Place for Verbs? A Critical Review of Neurocognitive Data on Grammatical Class Effects. The point is simply here that, given that we now know that lexical retrieval is modular with respect to various classes a noun belongs to, we should take great care to take things such as semantic field into consideration when we do lexical semantics. Furthermore, if such a system exists for nouns, it is likely that such a system exists for verbs too, or, at very least, we should allow for it.