John’s Use of Gematria

One among many issues in the book of Revelation concerns the mark of the beast–666. While I have my own interpretation/understanding of what that means, it’s been the subject of intense debate over the years. A plethora of candidates have been offered–Muhammad, the Roman Catholic Church, the papacy, various individual popes, Emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen, Martin Luther, Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon III, Mussolini, Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan (each of his three names had six letters—666), Anwar Sadat, Muammar Gadhafi, Saddam Hussein, and I’m sure Obama has been added to this list by some.[1]

One common suggestion for figuring out who the beast is (many scholars point to Nero) is the use of gematria, the practice of assigning numerical value to letters in cultures thad had no distinct numerals (used by both Jewish and Greco-Roman writers). Much of the discussion about this circles around the transliteration of Nero’s name in Greek into Hebrew and, via gematria, you come out with a numerical value of 666.

I was recently involved in a discussion of this and it was suggested that one reason it was unlikely to be Nero is the fact that one would have to transliterate the name (and title) of Nero into Hebrew. My question is this–why would this evidence be considered to weigh against identifying Nero as the beast? It is well known and quite obvious that John assumes his audiences’ familiarity with the OT, so why should we not assume they would have been familiar enough with Hebrew to know what John meant? He has cloaked his rebuke of the empire in the imagery of the OT (and be extension the ANE; he also uses imagery familiar to the Greco-Roman world), so why would this be any exception?

Just a thought–what say ye?

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[1] Mitchell G. Reddish, Revelation, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001), 268.

For Your “End-Times” Preachers

One of my former profs Gerald Stevens writes

“Signs of the times” preaching is pure gimmickry. The goal is to persuade an uncritical audience, which, given America’s rampant scriptural ignorance, general gullibility, pervasive conspiracy mindset, and widespread fears of social and political disruption, is not that hard.

Gerald L. Stevens, Revelation: The Past and Future of John’s Apocalypse (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014), 160–61.

Ouch. Blood moons, anyone?

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Bible Review: The Greek New Testament–A Reader’s Edition

The Greek New Testament: A Reader’s Edition
Hendrickson | Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft | CBD

Many thanks to the kind folks at Hendrickson for this review copy!

As I noted in my review of the UBS5, I have always preferred the UBS over the Nestle-Aland, and it usually comes down to one aspect—aesthetics. The UBS text is simply more readable and looks better on the page. The font choice and the less detailed critical apparatus yield a less cluttered page, which leads to a better overall reading experience. However, despite my preference of one over the other, these volumes aren’t exactly ideal for just reading, though it certainly can be done and certainly less a chore than reading volumes in Loeb Classical Library. They’re a tad small and for those who are dependent on ocular assistance, it’s more of a effort to read beyond a passage or two.

Enter the heaven-sent concept of a reader’s edition! The idea behind such works is, of course, to facilitate regular reading of the GNT. The reader’s edition assists readers to this end by providing the text and a running dictionary below to aid the process of reading. Rather than stopping and having to consult a lexicon, most of the unfamiliar words are listed below. For this volume (as is probably standard), all words occurring fewer than thirty times are listed at the bottom of the page. Each entry consists simply of the lexical form of the word, its parsing (for verbs), and a gloss. Readers should know, if they don’t already, that the provided glosses are editorial choices and do not necessarily preclude other connotations. One example (of many that would likely be arguable to any given reader) of a gloss that is less helpful than could be is found in Acts 2:22. Jesus was ἀποδεδειγμένον, which is glossed as “commend” in the dictionary. While this is certainly a possible meaning and not necessarily wrong here, it is an editorial choice that perhaps would have been better rendered “display” or “set forth.” Again, “commend” isn’t wrong, but better choices (I think) are available.

Unfortunately, I do not own a copy of the first edition of the UBS Reader’s Edition against which to compare this current edition. However, I can unequivocally say that this is a splendid volume and will certainly become my go-to edition for reading the Greek text of NT. I have been using Zondervan’s Reader’s Greek New Testament for several years now and have enjoyed it, but it is safe to say it will spend considerably more time on the shelf now that I have the UBS reader. Why? There are two primary reasons. First, the GNT-RE’s running dictionary is formatted in two columns, unlike Zondervan’s edition, which runs left to right in an ordinary linear fashion. The UBS layout is much better for dropping down to find the word in question. Second, the GNT-RE’s paper is only slightly thicker, but enough that it more effectively prevents ghosting so as not to be distracting, noticeably more so than the Zondervan edition. One thing I do when reading bibles to mitigate some of the ghosting effect is to place a dark colored piece of paper behind the page I’m reading, which effectively eliminates the effect altogether. This is especially true with the GNT-RE.

There are a few more notable features to mention. For one, idiomatic word combinations are defined. For example, in Acts 1:12, the disciples are returning to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives and Luke tells us that the distance from the mountain to Jerusalem is σαββάτου ἔχον ὁδόν. The UBS-RE translates this idiom in the dictionary “a Sabbath day’s journey = about half a mile or 900 m”. These small measures help achieve the desired goal of facilitating a good reading experience. Though this is not a critical text, there is a small apparatus for the more significant variants for those who may be interested in a brief brainstorm concerning a particular word choice. That being said, there are many pages on which there are no variants listed, so the t-c element is decidedly minimal. Other minor features include OT references in the margins (always helpful!), an appendix that defines words used more than thirty times, and a few nicely colored maps. This volume is also noticeably larger than the UBS/NA texts. Those volumes are approximately 7.5 x 5.5, whereas the GNT-RE is approximately 9.7 x 6.4, which is closer to the average size of a regular book. All this is bound in black flexisoft, which is softer to the touch than the standard binding and also looks quite nice.

In sum, this is a splendid and well-designed volume. I’d be interested in knowing how this edition has changed from the first, other than including the updated UBS5 text, so perhaps I’ll find a used copy somewhere, if only to have a means of comparison. Whatever the other changes from the first edition to the second, this is a wonderful volume that every reader of the GNT should have.

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Thought for the Day

Donald Hagner writes

But no more than Genesis provides details about precisely how God created the world does Revelation provide details about how all things will come to an end.

– Donald A. Hagner, The New Testament: A Historical and Theological Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012), 746.

So, there you go.

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Bible Review: NIV Pitt Minion Reference Edition

Pitt Minion NIV Reference Edition published by Cambridge

Cambridge University Press | Amazon | CBD

I was pleased to receive this little gem of a Bible from the generous folks at Cambridge! Having just introduced the HCSB Ultrathin Reference Bible into my rotation, I have a measure of sorts with which to compare this bible.

First, I conduct the aroma test. This is the only goatskin bible I have and I’ve not ever handled one that I can recall, so I was not sure what to expect. I opened the box and held the bible close to take in the aroma of its binding. My first impression was it did not have the lovely leathery aroma of top grain cowhide, which was a bit disappointing. There is the smell of leather, but it’s definitely deeper, almost musky, and thus not quite as appealing as cowhide, at least not initially. Though I wouldn’t liken it to the comparison of goat cooking on an open flame to beef (the goat is somewhat off putting), it is an earthier scent. However, I can say after having used this bible for a few months, the aroma is much more subtle and more pleasing than at first.

Second, and the most important aspect, is the bible’s overall usability. This particular bible is smaller than most I have. It is more like a slimline and measures approximately 174 x 120 mm (6.8 x 4.7 in). The downside is obviously the readability; however, despite its smaller size it’s a very readable font face (6.75/7 pt Lexicon) and a very portable bible. Several months’ use has also loosened the leather so that it is more pliable than when straight out of the box. The text is laid out in two-column format, which with a font size of 7 could be a little small for some. Surprisingly, the font and format is quite readable. The two columns are intersected by a center column populated by cross references noted in the text. Other features include the words of Jesus in red, an NIV concordance, and fifteen bible maps, each of which are nicely colored and coded with an index of various features of the maps themselves.

The binding is quite nice, though as I noted, the leather is not as aromatic as others. Nevertheless, the leather having softened a bit is nice and looks really good. There is a very clear grain to the goatskin that seems commensurate with its provenance. It boasts art guild edges and two ribbon markers, seemingly standard fare for higher-end bibles such as these. All these elements contribute to overall pleasing aesthetic and a perfectly nice bible for regular reading and handling.

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*UPDATE – Having kept this bible in my reading rotation, the goatskin leather has become much softer and supple, thus increasing the overall flexibility. The increase in softness also lends to a nicer feel, naturally.

Music Monday

Today’s Music Monday offering comes from Seattle’s 7HORNS 7EYES. Their album Throes of Absolution was well received by critics and fans alike when it dropped in 2012.

7h7e - toaThe band’s name comes from Revelation 5 where the lamb who had been slain is depicted as having seven horns and seven eyes. Lyrically this album is steeped in Christian apocalyptic imagery and fits the tone of the music quite well. Speaking of the music, it is quite good, really good in fact. The stars here are the guitars, which are not only brooding and heavy, but laced with soaring leads that betray talented wielders of the instrument. While the drums and bass are performed ably, they clearly play a supporting role for the axemen, which doesn’t bother me in the least. There’s also vocalist J J “Shiv” Polacek (also the frontman for Ovid’s Withering and Monotheist), whose unearthly lows track perfectly alongside the dual 7-string riffs. Oh, there’s the added bonus of an instrumental track featuring guitar virtuoso Jeff Loomis!

7H7E are back in the studio working on a new album, one that I anxiously await!

My favorite tracks on this album are easy–the opener Divine Amnesty and the closer The Winnowing, which features lyrics like

Desolation fills the earth, these are the final days.
Prepare for the coming of the risen Lamb.
Die to yourself, renovate your heart.

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