Be Your Own Bible Scholar

All you have to do is think like a Bible character.

BY: Interview by Laura Sheahen


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Can you give an example of a purposeful omission?

When Abraham takes Isaac to the mountain to sacrifice him. Abraham takes wood, a knife, and fire to light the wood. Isaac says, "Daddy, how come you've taken wood and fire, but there's no animal to sacrifice?" Note that Isaac says "the wood and the fire," and he omits the word 'knife.' The professor presenting this to me--this wasn't my idea--says Isaac is already scared and can't bring himself to say 'knife.'

That's very psychologically intense.

This author, you know he's good. You know he doesn't leave out anything

by mistake

. If the word 'knife' is left out on purpose, why is it left out? And when you realize why, the story becomes so much more poignant. When you know that Isaac knows why they're going up that hill and what's going to be sacrificed, and his father knows that he knows. His father also hears him leave out the word 'knife.' It's just so sad.

What are other stylistic devices that most people aren't aware of?

Again, repetition. A lot of translations--not the KJV, fortunately--try to get away from repetition, because in English you don't want to use "he said, he said" over and over. You want to say "he sputtered," "he shouted," to make it interesting.

But when the modern translations do that, it obscures what the Bible is doing. The Bible will say "he said, he said, he said" and then something like "he nodded." When you get that change after so many "he said"s, you sit up and pay attention. So that's one of the uses of repetition.

In the Witch of Endor story (

read Reis' exegesis

), the witch tells King Saul "if you will set your life in my hands, I will 'set' a morsel of food before you." Later, in the same cooking context, there's the word 'set' again. It appears about three times. Then, when she actually has the food all ready, she doesn't "set" it before them, she "offers" it to them.

You mention that the word "offers" is the same verb used with sacrifices.

Yes, you "offer" a sacrifice. It's also the same Hebrew word when women offer themselves. It has a sexual connotation, like prostitution. I'm not saying she did that. I'm just saying here we have "set, set, set," and then a very loaded word.

As an example of omission in that same story: there are three verbs used to describe the witch preparing the bread, and no words used to describe her preparing the meat, and I point out that the meat was probably raw.

Which was, of course, not allowed.

Certainly not kosher. You're not allowed to eat blood. I point out an earlier example of Abraham and Sarah--three strange men come to them, and the meat and bread are prepared using the same amount of verbs for each. To me, that absence just sings out. But to other Bible scholars--and I don't consider myself a


Bible scholar--it just seems to slip by. One very famous one, John Fokkelman, says "the witch busies herself with roasting the meat." And I think to myself, where did he get that "roasting"? Because it's just not there at all in the original Hebrew.

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