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John the Baptiser Appeared | Mark 1:4–8

Ultimately, this is the point of John in the wilderness, and like the prophet Hosea he is calling the people back out into the wilderness to re-encounter their God: ‘I will now allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her’ (Hosea 2:14). The language of Hosea here, and so the metaphor here in Mark, is positively erotic. Rather than punishment for infidelity, the imagery is about winning back — alluring an unfaithful people to the place of encounter and speaking words of tenderness to them.

Stealing Saul’s Victory at Michmash | 1 Samuel 14:23–35

Yet, a closer inspection of the text reveals that Saul has done nothing wrong. In fact — and while the authors and redactors of 1 Samuel have gone to considerable lengths to ignore and downplay it, King Saul has done everything right. He was a good king. He secured victory and delivered the people, and he did this in the context of a holy war — which demanded that the army fast (Judges 20:26–28).

You are the Messiah | John 11:17–27

Close analysis of the text shows that the scribe — or perhaps an editor — has changed what had been a single sister of Lazarus, Mary, into two sisters, Mary and Martha; even going so far as to change the number in the verbs from singular to plural. What makes this the more interesting is that ‘Martha’ appears to have been created by the replacement of a single letter. As can be seen from this section of 𝔓66, the iota (ί) in Μαρία — the Greek for Mary — has been scratched out and replaced with a theta (θ), giving us Μαρθα — or ‘Martha.’

The Remnant of Israel | Amos 3:10-12

The book of the prophet Amos addresses a crisis, but it is not entirely clear which crisis it addresses. Towards the end of the eighth century BCE, during the reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel, the crisis took the form of the Neo-Assyrian Empire’s westward expansion into the Levant. This is the historical context in which the prophecy of Amos is set, but there are a number of problems assuming this Assyrian crisis to be the crisis addressed by the book. Amos presupposes, for example, the destruction of Samaria and the exile of Israel, and the oracle against Judah (Amos 2:4–5) — if indeed it is a later insertion — undermines this assumption. The presupposition of the fall of Samaria and the possible Judah insertion point to a later crisis — the Babylonian crisis of the late sixth century.

Writing the Torah | Exodus 17:14

Some scholars have argued that scribes would have used papyrus and hides, materials which would not typically survive long enough to make it to the archaeological record. This argument does have some merit, given that we do have evidence of their use in the region from as early as the late Old Kingdom period in Egypt (c. 2300 BCE). Yet, Professor Israel Finkelstein from Tel Aviv University in Israel makes the salient point that it is unlikely a literate society with a scribal culture capable of producing material comparable to what we find in the Hebrew Bible would not also leave evidence of writing on seals, ostraca, and inscriptions. That we find nothing of this nature in Israel or Judah before the eighth century would strongly indicate that these were pre-literate societies before this time.

The Words of Amos | Amos 1:1

Amos, we are told, was ‘among the shepherds of Tekoa.’ Tekoa is a village 14 kilometres almost due south of Jerusalem in the Judean highlands, and the area would have been associated with oviculture in the eighth century BCE. It is entirely plausible then that Amos is intended to be read as a simple shepherd called by Yahweh to a prophetic mission in the northern kingdom. The content of his prophecy, however, is simply too sophisticated for this to be reasonable. Unless it can be established that Tekoa was a centre for sheep-rearing and dealing — which it may have been, then Amos as a נֹקֵדּ (‘shepherd’ or ‘sheep trader’) in a community of shepherds or sheep traders is as likely to signify some type of prophetic guild. The ‘shepherds of Tekoa’ reads very much like the designation of an organised society or guild in and around the village of Tekoa, and we know that such guilds did exist.

Yahweh Roars from Zion | Amos 1:2

What we have in Amos 1:2 is not a simple statement of divine authority; that these judgements come from Yahweh, but an ideological statement of Judah and Jerusalem that they come from the correct Yahweh — the Yahweh of Jerusalem. We can thus imagine that it was somewhere in this clash of Yahwistic symbols that the germ was planted of the aniconic Yahweh of later Judaism. Where both Samaria and Jerusalem — and many other Yahwistic temples in Israel and Judah — had visual representations of their god, this conflict between the bull-Yahweh of Samaria and the lion-Yahweh of Judah ultimately assisted in the process which ended with the complete prohibition of graven images of Yahweh or any other god (Deuteronomy 5:8–9).

David’s Temple in Jerusalem | 2 Samuel 12:20

What is actually then presented to the reader of 2 Samuel 12 is a seventh or sixth century BCE retrojection; from a time after the 722 destruction of Samaria (and the northern kingdom of Israel) by the Assyrians, when Jerusalem was the only remaining Hebrew kingdom and at a time when the sacrificial cult of Yahwism was centralised (or was in the process of being centralised) in the city. We are then left with the problem of why later editors — of which there were many — overlooked or elected to leave this temple in 2 Samuel 12. It is unlikely to have been an oversight. A temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem when there wasn’t meant to be one is simply too much of an oversight, so we must accept that there was a temple in the city of Jerusalem in the tenth century. Yet, this need not have been, as Römer asserts, a temple of Yahweh.