sluggo-on-repetition1I received an email from a friend a few days ago.  She asked about the duplication and repetition in Scripture, specifically why there were two versions of the Ten Commandments.

I’ve expanded and edited it, but this is basically what I said.

Scripture is full of repetition.  There are four gospels, with a lot of overlap, particularly among the three synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke).  Chronicles overlaps with major sections of Samuel/Kings.  Isaiah 36-39 seems to be cut and pasted directly from 2 Kings 18-20.  David’s song of thanksgiving of 2 Samuel 22 is found almost verbatim in Psalm 18.  Speaking of psalms, 14 and 53 are literary doppelgangers.  This doesn’t even count the places in the New Testament where the Old Testament is being quoted.  There are two accounts of the Ten Commandments (or as I like to say, The Fourteen Commandments).  There are more examples, but I think I’ve made my point.

Why the repetition?  Some things bear repeating.  In the same way a text will repeat a word to emphasize it (and I highlight it to bring out the repetition), Scripture repeats stories to highlight and emphasize important themes.  Paul’s conversion is retold 3 times in Acts, but each time with slightly different things included.

Good films are worthy of being watched more than once, and with each repetition you discover new things, and your appreciation grows.

I find it curious when a story isn’t repeated, like why do only two of the gospels (Matthew and Luke) include the story of Jesus’ birth?  And yet in Christian culture, Christmas is the biggest holiday of the year.  Hmm…

Thinking about the Ten Commandments, for the command about the Sabbath (#5) the Exodus version refers to creation (Exo. 20:11), as taking a Sabbath is to remind us of how God rested on the seventh day.  But the Deuteronomy version of the Sabbath command (Deut. 5:15) recalls the deliverance from enslavement in Egypt, because God gave them rest and deliverance from oppression.  They are emphasizing different aspects of God’s story.  Immediately after they came out of Egypt they didn’t need to be reminded of the deliverance, but of the creation.  They just lived the deliverance.  However, forty years later in Deuteronomy as they were about to enter the Promised Land it was appropriate to recall the Exodus, to help the next generation remember.

Since we humans often forget what God has done in the past we need to be reminded, so there is a lot of retelling of the story.  Good stories bear repeating.  Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 retells the Old Testament story with a negative spin (your ancestors were hard-hearted), while the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 retells the OT story with a positive spin (your ancestors were people of great faith).

Why else does Scripture repeat things?

No other city of the world has been at the center of history for four millenia.

Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac there (Gen. 22).

Adoni-bezek lost his thumbs and big toes right before being buried there (Judg. 1:6-7).

David established it as his new capital after becoming king over both Judah and Israel (2 Sam. 5).

Solomon built the temple there (1 Kgs. 5-8) which lasted for four hundred years.

Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 587 BCE destroyed the city, including Solomon’s temple (2 Kgs. 25).

The saga of Jerusalem continues into the New Testament and beyond.  Simon Sebag Montefiore’s 650 page Jerusalem: The Biography (2011) retells the city’s fascinating story over the course of almost 4000 years.  Readers will learn about the corrupt and incestuous family of the Herods (three of which appear in the NT) and the tragic destruction of the city in 70 CE by Titus.  Montefiore recounts the nations and empires who ruled and fought over Jerusalem: the Byzantines, the Persians, the Umayyads, the Abbasids, the Fatimids, the Crusaders, the Ottomans.

I wish I had read this book before visiting Jerusalem in the spring of 2014, but reading it has helped me remember and process my trip in retrospect.

The style is academic (40 pages of endnotes, 20 pages of bibliography and a 20 page index, all in small font), but the writing is quite readable, filled with stories (Abd al-Malik’s construction of the Dome of the Rock completed in 691 CE) and entertaining details (Jerome, the Latin translator was not particularly pious).

Montefiore’s background is Jewish, but his take on the New Testament is sympathetic, even though he clearly doesn’t write as a Christian. I’d be curious to hear what Muslims think of the book.

I found it particularly interesting in areas that I don’t know much, but wish I did (the Maccabees, the Herodians, early Muslim history). I still haven’t finished the book, but I’m about to arrive at the Crusades (about 1000 CE), where I expect to be enlightened about many things.

I have one major problem–the names get quite confusing, even overwhelming at times, so I have found myself frequently flipping back a few pages (“Who is this guy?”  “When did they take over the city?”). But that may be inevitable for a tale of this magnitude.

I’ll point out a few minor, nit-picky problems (because that’s the sort of guy I am, ask my family).

1) David’s lament over Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam. 1) is not formatted poetically (p. 26), which makes it less understandable and harder to appreciate.  Always format poetry poetically, not like prose.

2) He calls the Jehoiakim the brother, instead of the son of Josiah (p. 46).  OK, this part of Judah’s history is really confusing and 99.9% of his readers are going to miss this one.  I wrote an article on Jehoiakim for the Baker Illustrated Bible Dictionary (see also “Other Books“).

3) He misspells Absalom as “Abolsom” (p. 204).  I mean, come on, that’s not even close.

Despite, the name confusion, and the minor flaws, I’d highly recommend it.  If you love Jerusalem, history, and good non-fiction, it’s a great read.

The book was not given to me, I bought it at Costco.




Noah on ground with kidsMy son Noah spent 9 days in Haiti last month with friends from our church, working at an orphanage. I posted the first half of his letter yesterday to donors (click here for post).  Here is the 2nd half of his letter.  

I wished we had gone back to the disabled orphanage, but we had other things planned.  We spent most of our days visiting another larger orphanage in the mountains. The team would drive up in the morning, spend the day, and then return to the compound for dinner. I became very close to many of the kids there. Evens would borrow my sunglasses and watch every morning, and make sure I got them back at the end of every day. Lele and Bebe were brothers, but I probably spent more time with Lele. Lele and Kenn loved to be carried and they loved to make me carry both of them at the same time and walk around staggering with their weight. Cynthia loved to play tag and get into tickle fights. Roberto and Robinson were tricksters. When I first met them, they kept saying they were the other person. I also enjoyed a game of “basketball” with Robinson by seeing who could throw a ball highest against a wall. Eveloude liked to be given high speed piggyback rides. I found out late in the week that she had been a restavec, or a slave girl, and escaped to the orphanage not long before our arrival. She was not yet a Christian and at twelve years old, she could not read. By the end of the week she said “Jesus loves you” in English.

One of my favorite ways to connect to the kids was to push them on the swings. I developed an elaborate routine. I would raise a child up, and ruthlessly blow on the back of their necks until they were giggling uncontrollably, and then release them pushing them as needed. Next I would stand in front of them in the path of the swing, and run out of the way right before their feet hit me. The kids loved it. Too much even, and I would need to maintain up to six swing at a time. Looking back on it, I realized my dad played with me in the same way. When I was very young he would push me down a hill in a stroller and screaming “out of control baby stroller,” or when I was a little older he would swing me upside-down and yelling “pendulum research.” I had been given an opportunity to be a father to the fatherless. I could only show love for a few of the seventy kids there, and I was only there for a week, but I like to think I showed some kids that they were loved, by us and by God.

Thank you again, – Noah

Noah w Eveloude

Noah and kids 1Our son Noah (17) spent 9 days in Haiti last month with a group from our church helping at an orphanage (Our older son, Nathan, went there 2 years ago.)  Some of these children became orphans after the 2010 earthquake (see my blog on Aftershock).  Here is the first half of the letter he sent to people who supported him.  I hope you are as moved as I was.

I wanted thank you so much for your prayer and support for my trip to Haiti. God protected us, and my team enjoyed safety and health. It was an amazing experience that changed my life and reached out to the lives of 68 orphaned children. Without you, this would not have been possible.  Thank you.

As soon as we arrived, I was hit by two things: heat and poverty. People crowded us at the airport asking to help us carry our bags, looking for whatever work they could find. After a ride in a Haitian style bus called a Tap-tap on roads with crazy driving, we arrived at the compound. We arrived before dinner and had time to unpack, unwind, and talk to the missionary who ran the orphanages, Greg Barshaw.

The next day we visited the disabled orphanage. The kids were very interested in my watch; they crowded around and wanted to push the buttons. They were content with the simple things, just standing there pushing a button, hearing a beep, and seeing a number change. I wish I could be as happy as these children over a little thing like that. After playing with the kids for a few minutes, Greg told us to gather around one orphan in a wheel chair. He looked barely responsive, and had a large cast around one leg. Greg said his name was Daniel, and he suffered from cerebral palsy. But as if being a poor orphaned child with a disability wasn’t enough, Daniel broke his femur when a therapist was trying to stretch it out. They operated on him without pain medicine and set the bone. I looked at Daniel and thought of the all the pain and loss, and wondered how it could be worth it. How could it be worth it to pull through all that pain to live in a wheel chair, unable to speak, unable to control your own body? Most of the group moved on to entertain other kids, but I stayed with Daniel and wrestled with this question.

One of our leaders, Andrew, began to hold his hand. After a little while, Daniel smiled. He was happy. In his horrible condition, he was happy, holding Andrew’s hand. In that moment, I knew why God put me in Haiti.



If you are into trash talking, you may want to check out my recently published article,

” ‘I Will Strike You down and Cut off Your Head’ (1 Samuel 17:42) Trash Talking, Derogatory Rhetoric, and Psychological Warfare in Ancient Israel.”

It just appeared in a collection of essays entitled,

Warfare, Ritual, and Symbol in Biblical and Modern Contexts, edited by Brad Kelle, Frank Ames and Jacob Wright, from SBL (June, 2014)

Who trash talks in the Bible?  David, Goliath, Elijah, Jezebel, Jehu, the Rabshakeh, and even Yahweh himself.  David is the one who promises to “cut off” the head of his opponent Goliath from the title.

So, is it OK, or even good to trash talk?  Do you trash talk?  Should we trash talk today?  

I also have a series of nine blogs about OT trash talking (click here).

I begin with Shakespeare’s Henry V, then move quickly to John Cleese’s French knight in The Holy Grail (how often do you encounter Monty Python in academic works?) before working through examples in literature of the ancient Near East and the Bible.

I really like some of the section titles,

1) Introduction
2) Insults, Boasts and Predictions
3) Trash-Talk Research
4) Bulls and Birds, Falcons and Foxes: Trash Talking in the ANE
5) Flailing Flesh and Smoldering Stumps: Trash Talking in the Hebrew Bible
6) Canine Consumption: Elijah, Jezebel, Jehu, and Others
7) Eating Dung and Drinking Urine: The Rabshaheh, Hezekiah, and YHWH
8) Lions, Bears, and Dogs: David and the Philistine
9) Biomorphic and Zoomorphic, Scatological and Theological

I first gave an earlier draft of this in Oxford in July 2008, but many of the scholars weren’t familiar with the term “trash talking”, instead they spoke of “sledging” which is apparently what taunt speech is often called in cricket.

Other contributors to the volume include the three editors, as well as,
Saul M. Olyan
Nathaniel B Levtow
Thomas Römer
Kelly J. Murphy
Deborah O’Daniel Cantrell
Rüdiger Schmitt
Mark S. Smith
Susan Niditch
Jason A. Riley
T. M. Lemos

Where else do we find trash talking in the Bible?

monkey-hand-over-mouthI couldn’t talk for three hours. My wife forbade me. And I always do what she says.

Habakkuk, Paul, YHWH and Jesus all think it’s good to be silent.  Do you?

Read my post reflecting on silence on Biblical’s blog: The Sound of Silence.

Most of the decisions we make in life we don’t need help with—which shirt to wear to work today (I wear Garanimals), whether to keep reading this blog (yes), which film to watch (we just saw X-Men; two thumbs up).

We need help with the big decisions.

Who to marry?  When to change jobs?  Which house to buy?  When to take over another company? (I may not ever face that choice)

As a Christian, I pray about these types of decisions, but I still need help.  And most of you, like me, have probably regretted some bad choices.

If you would like to increase the quality of your decisions, and reduce the number of bad ones, you should read this book.

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip and Dan Heath.  The only negative thing to say about the book is that the title is not particularly engaging or clever.  Fortunately for the Heath brothers, they already have a huge national audience due to the success of their first book together, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (which I’d also recommend for all teachers, pastors, marketers, and anyone trying to get a message out so that it “sticks”).   They are both academics, Chip is a Biz school prof at Stanford and Dan is a fellow at Duke’s Center for Social Entrepreneurship, but they can write to a popular audience (hence the huge book sales).

Decisive begins by describing the “Four Villains of Decision Making.”  See if you can figure out one of villains from this quote.

Who the hell wants to hear actors talk? – Harry Warner of Warner Bros. Studios, 1927

Decisive is filled with interesting stories about tough choices faced by real people: doctors, children, teachers, parents, professors, politicians, spouses, CEO’s, etc.  It’s an easy read.

(I didn’t not receive a copy of the book from Crown, but was given one by my mother-in-law.  I assume it wasn’t because she thought I made a bad choice for a spouse.  I know I didn’t.)

You’ll learn about some bad decisions. 

-After dominating the photography industry for decades, how did a bad process lead Eastman-Kodak to file for bankruptcy?
-How can one avoid the type of mistake that led Decca Records in 1962 to say “No” to signing a contract to one of the biggest bands in Rock history (“Four-piece groups with guitars, particularly, are finished”)?
-How did Henry Kissinger manipulate Richard Nixon into making a policy decision involving Europe?

You’ll learn about some good processes. 

-How does a Catholic priest helps parishioners figure what God wants?
-How did Intel decide to move from memory to processors?
-How did Shane decide whether to buy the $1000 Pioneer or the $700 Sony stereo?

I know what you’re thinking, should I get this book, or not?  I’ll remove one of your options, leaving you only one (which the Heath brothers don’t recommend), buy the book.  You won’t regret it.


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