Difficult Texts in the Old Testament: AWorkshop Approach
Each year this group will examine a difficult passage in the Old Testament from multiple angles. The session will be divided into two parts with Part I addressing exegesis and intertextuality and Part II addressing biblical theology and ethics. Each part will begin with two brief (5-min) invited responses to get the conversation started, but the bulk of the time will consist of a more collaborative and audience-driven discussion.
Our three year plan is to address the following texts:
- 2021: Genesis 9:20–27
- 2022: Exodus 4:24–26
- 2023: Psalm 82
In 2021 we will examine Genesis 9:20–27 with the help of 4 invited respondents. To facilitate a rich and stimulating dialogue, we strongly encourage attendees to examine the passage ahead of time with some or all of the following questions in mind (a handout with the biblical text and questions will be provided):
- What does it mean that “Ham...saw the nakedness of his father” (וירא חם … את ערות אביו) in Gen 9:22 (see also vv. 23–24)? Does Lev 18 provide interpretive guidance on this verse?
- Who is the “youngest son” in v. 24?
- Why does Noah curse Canaan rather than Ham?
- How should we evaluate the characters in Gen 9:20–27?
- What kind of conclusion do these verses provide for the larger flood narrative (chs. 6–9)?
- Genesis 9:25–27 presents the second curse enacted against a human in the Bible, coming after the curse of Cain in Gen 4:11–12. In what ways is the curse of Canaan similar to the curse of Cain, and in what ways are they different? How might reading these two texts together inform our understanding of Gen 9:25–27?
- In Gen 5:29 Lamech declares that Noah “will comfort us from our work and from the painful toil of our hands due to the ground that YHWH has cursed” (ינחמנו ממעשׂנו ומעצבון ידינו מן־האדמה אשׁר אררה יהוה). How might we read Gen 9:20–27 in light of Lamech’s proclamation?
- How does Gen 9:20–27 fit into the larger narrative portrait of the Canaanites in the OT?
- With the first mention of servitude in the OT, how does this passage contribute to biblical-theological reflection on slavery?
- This passage was often interpreted in the antebellum United States as offering biblical justification for the enslavement of Africans (understood as Ham’s descendants) by European Americans (identified with Japheth’s descendants). How do we guard against these kinds of misuses of the biblical text?
- What kind of ethical reflection can we derive from this text that is more faithful to the witness of the whole biblical canon?