In Memoriam: James “Jim” Aitken

With a heavy heart I learned this morning of the passing of Jim Aitken, a fellow traveler in the field of Septuagint and, more broadly, biblical studies. Jim West posted initially about Jim’s death here, and subsequently posted the SOTS announcement here.

There will be, no doubt, many over the next week who post tributes to Jim as a first-rate scholar with an international reputation. He deserves every bit of honor and esteem that will pour forth in journal notices and social media.

Behind the scholarship and erudition, however, was a warm, witty, gracious man. I remember my first personal encounter with Jim–New Orleans (Nov 2009) during SBL. A relatively new Ph.D. into my second year of teaching at Houston Baptist (now Houston Christian University), I had presented a paper in the Septuagint & Cognate Studies section on the topic of Aramaic influence on Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible. My friend John Meade was also presenting in that session, and both of us were rather intimidated by the towering scholars of the field in the room. Afterwards, Jim came up to chat. Since I didn’t know him, I didn’t know what to expect (sometimes SBL meetings can resemble a gladiatorial bloodletting!). What I received was refreshing–warm encouragement, genuine interest in my thoughts, and time. Plenty of time. The room was filled with many important people, and Jim chose to spend time talking to me (and John), who were fairly unknown scholars trying to find our way in the world of the academy. I’ve always appreciated that first conversation with Jim.

Our paths continued to cross over the year at SBL meetings. When we finally starting graduating students from our MA in Biblical Languages program, one of our promising young graduates, Chris Fresch, decided he’d like to study Septuagint. I knew exactly who to send him to–Jim Aitken at Cambridge. I have known several now who have worked with Jim during their graduate work, and each has voiced admiration and appreciation for him.

My last interactions with Jim were happy ones. During the ETS/SBL meetings in Denver last year, Jim and I happened to grab a seat together over lunch at the Zondervan luncheon. We enjoyed a nice visit at that time. What’s more, to come full circle from John Meade’s and my initial meeting with Jim together in 2009, the two of us got to see Jim last Novermber at the Denver SBL meeting during a special dinner honoring Peter Gentry in anticipation of his Festschrift (coming out in 2023 with Peeters). Jim Aitken had graciously agreed to submit an essay for the volume, and so as editors of the volume, John Meade, Jonathan Kiel, and I were keen to have Jim there for that special dinner. Little did we all know that it would be our last meal together, so we thank our God for his kind providences. At the end of this post are some photos from that dinner celebration. One of the pictures is of Jim with Peter Gentry, and the larger photo has Jim to the right of Claude Cox, across the table from Emanuel and Lika Tov.

When I heard about Jim’s untimely death, I checked his Twitter profile just to see if there were any updates or news there on what had happened. The final post on his profile reads as follows (dated Mar 30, a week before he passed away):

I wrote 5 words yesterday, but they were all exceptionally good words. At least two (“the …of…”) will probably survive the final edits too.

As I wrap up this “good word” (eulogia/εὐλογία), I note that Jim’s life to the very end was concerned with writing exceptionally good words. May the life-long legacy of his good words continue to shape, challenge, and sharpen us, even in those areas where we might sharply disagree. That, too, would honor Jim’s life.

Chiasm in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

I have read this delightful little book every year at Christmas time for the last several years. Sometimes I come across things I’ve missed on previous readings. This year I noticed some things that have eluded me, and I hope to discuss a few of them during the holiday break. Today I’ll share an example of CHIASM in Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol. “What is a chiasm?” you ask. We find this little device in Hebrew studies (I teach biblical languages, FYI) and tend to associate it with poetic style, but really, chiasms can appear in poetry or prose. (They also occur outside the Hebrew Bible!) Chiasm involves structuring a series of elements in an order, followed by matching elements in an inverse order (the elements could be semantic units or grammatical units). For ex., in Hebrew poetry, a chiasm’s elements could be represented in contiguous lines as follows: a b c // c′ b′ a′ (if 3 matching elements are present), or a b // b′ a′ (if only 2 matching elements are present). Here are a few exx. from the Hebrew Bible (in English translation):

Isa 22:22

He-shall-open and no one will shut,   (a b)

he-shall-shut, and no one will open.  (b′ a′)

Jer 2:19

Will-punish-you your-wickedness,          (a b)

And-your-apostasies will-reprove-you.  (b′ a′)

(Note: in line 1, ‘your-wickedness’ is the subject, but it follows the verb-direct object in Hebrew [contrary to standard English word order]. The Hebrew word order has been preserved in translation to demonstrate the chiasm.)

What I discovered in A Christmas Carol is that Dickens employs a brilliant SIX-element chiasm toward the end of the book to characterize the ringing of the bells of the churches–particularly, to describe the way old Scrooge is NOW able to hear the church bells for the first time–as a new man–since awaking from his haunting experiences. The chiasm is preceded by the description of the ringing as “the lustiest peals he had ever heard” and is followed by the exclamation “Oh, glorious, glorious!” In other words, in the past on Christmas day “old Scrooge” had surely heard these bells ringing throughout London, but he had never heard them like he did on this first Christmas following the encounter with the 3 Spirits (as “new Scrooge”). Here is the chiasm in context:

“I don’t know what day of the month it is!” said Scrooge. “I don’t know how long I’ve been among the Spirits. I don’t know anything. I’m quite a baby. Never mind. I don’t care. I’d rather be a baby. Hallo! Whoop! Hallo here!” He was checked in his transports by the churches ringing out the lustiest peals he had ever heard. Clash, clang, hammer; ding, dong, bell. Bell, dong, ding; hammer, clang, clash! Oh, glorious, glorious!

It’s fascinating to see Dickens introducing the climax of the whole story with this literary device. I’ve read through the book numerous times but never paused to notice it. The six elements occur in one order (Clash, clang, hammer; ding, dong, bell.), followed by its inversion (Bell, dong, ding; hammer, clang, clash!), for a total of *twelve* items forming the chiasm! Notice also that the punctuation is the same in the middle of each set (a semi-colon), but the end of the chiasm is punctuated differently (with an exclamation point!).

In graduate school, if someone found a Hebrew chiasm in the Old Testament he got to wear the proverbial blue ribbon for the day. Maybe someone else has noticed this chiasm in A Christmas Carol and even commented on it somewhere, but there is something quite enjoyable about seeing on one’s own a literary feature *and* being able to enjoy it for what it is. I’m aware that not everyone likes Dickens’ prose, but I think his writing style is tremendous.

Just Released Episode 3 of “lessons in logos”!

I have just released Episode 3 in the “Lessons in Logos” series. This is the second half of a training session I did with some of our Houston Baptist University students on how to get started with Logos using a free version of the software called Logos 8 Basic. You can catch the first half of the training session at “Lessons in Logos Episode 2: Logos 8 Basic, Training Pt 1.” You should especially check out Pt 1 if you’d like directions on how to get the free version of Logos. Here’s the handout I reference in the video.

I would appreciate your sharing this with your friends through email and social media–anyone you think might be interested is using Logos Bible Software for their Bible study and academic work. Feel free to subscribe if you’re personally interested in Logos and/or other discussions on biblical languages and the text of Scripture.

To watch this on YouTube, click here.

Episode 2 of “lessons in logos” is now available!

This is just a quick announcement to let folks know that I’ve just released Episode 2 of my “Lessons in Logos” series; this is the first of two videos that constitute a training session I did at Houston Baptist University for one of our Greek classes. In particular, I gave them a quick orientation to Logos 8 Basic, a free version of Logos Bible Software that allows for some incredible searching with the Logos platform. If you have been interested in Logos but not quite ready to make a financial commitment, you can try out the software and see how you like it using Logos 8 Basic. Please watch the video to see how to download this free version.

Be sure to share this with your friends through email and social media–anyone you think might be interested is using Logos for their Bible study and academic work. I’ll be releasing the second part of the training in the Episode 3 video, probably within the week.

Fee free to subscribe if you’re personally interested in Logos, and if you know others who could benefit from the Lessons in Logos series, please share this post and the video with them, too.

For the handout that I mention in the video training, click here.

Last chance: rsvp this weekend for hbu social event wed, 11-18-20

What: All SCT Gathering

When: Wednesday, November 18, 4:30-7:00 PM

Where: Holcombe Mall- by the 10 Pillars (Dillon II if raining)

We would like to invite all School of Christian Thought faculty, graduate and undergraduate students (majors & minors) to an end of semester celebration and fellowship.  There will be food and cornhole games, t-shirt giveaways and awards. Come hang out one more time before the holiday break and we go virtual for the remainder of the semester.

Even if you cannot stay for the whole event, we’d love for you to stop by.

Social distancing will be observed, and Aramark will prep and serve the food to ensure proper safety measures.

Please RSPV at the Eventbrite link-

Launching the “lessons in logos” video series

This week is a big week for Logos Bible Software and me. Why? Well, yesterday Logos turned “9” by launching the newest version of the software–Logos 9. And today I turned “1” by launching my very first episode of “Lessons in Logos,” a video series devoted to helping others to appreciate and use the power of Logos Bible Software for their Bible study, message prep, and academic research.

Over the years I’ve heard many people say that they have Logos but don’t really know how to use it. I especially have Greek and Hebrew students who struggle to perform the original language-type of searching that Logos can execute. I also have other friends who don’t know the biblical languages yet desire to (and can) benefit from this software. I’ll be releasing videos for all sorts of people with varying levels of skill, and I’ll sort out those different types of videos into playlists that will allow users to watch the ones appropriate to their abilities.

If you’re interested in Logos or know others who could benefit from the Lessons in Logos series, please subscribe and share this post and the video with others.

To watch directly in YouTube click here.

In Memoriam: James A. Sanders

Earlier this month we learned of the passing of James A. Sanders, a giant in biblical studies with a giant-sized influence in the scholarly world of biblical (and extrabiblical) manuscripts. His legacy will long survive him: just the other day I was consulting one of my volumes of Critique Textuelle de l’Ancien Testament over a textual matter. He was one of the editors of that goodly set and a part of the committee devoted to analyzing textual variants in the Hebrew Bible whose report constituted that set. One of my colleagues here at Houston Baptist University, Craig Evans, notified the HBU faculty of Sanders’ passing, and with his permission I am posting that note here, as it forms a fitting eulogy to the man and his influence on Craig and others.


3 October 2020

Dear SCT Colleagues:

I pass on to you sad news. As some of you may have already heard, James A. Sanders, born 28 November 1927, passed away Thursday morning, 1 October 2020. Jim was nearing his 93rd birthday. I met Jim in Claremont, California, at the beginning of the fall semester in 1977. It was the beginning of my doctoral studies. Jim was 49 and I was 25. Jim was always a handsome, youthful fellow. In fact, he could have passed for Dick Clark’s brother! Jim had just moved from Union Seminary in New York to the Claremont School of Theology, to launch the newly built Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center (ABMC), which housed in its climate-controlled vault thousands of images of biblical manuscripts, including microfilm and microfiche images of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Jim served as ABMC President until 2004. While at Union Jim’s colleagues included the likes of J. Louis Martyn and Raymond E. Brown.

Although Jim was not my doctoral supervisor (Bill Brownlee was), he played an important mentoring role while I was at Claremont and throughout my career. He and I founded in 1989 and then co-chaired the SBL program unit Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity. This in turned led to the founding of the Studies in Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity (SSEJC) series published by Sheffield Academic Press, then later Continuum, and now Bloomsbury T&T Clark. To date, we have published 21 volumes in the SSEJC series and two more volumes are in the works. As you may know, Jim served as the President of the Society of Biblical Literature in 1979. Jim’s best known work is Torah and Canon (1972). Jim was also well known for his The Psalms Scroll of Qumrân Cave 11 (DJD 4; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), whose conclusions were confirmed many years later by Peter Flint’s work on all of Qumran’s Psalms scrolls.

Jim and I co-authored Luke and Scripture (Fortress Press, 1993) and co-edited several books, mostly in the SSEJC series. We presented together at several conferences, at SBL and elsewhere. I had the opportunity to edit, along with Shemaryahu Talmon (1920-2010), a Festschrift in honor of Jim, on the occasion of his 70th birthday. The 700-page book is called The Quest for Context and Meaning (BIS 28; Leiden: Brill, 1997). Contributors included Reginald Fuller and W. D. Davies. In recent years I helped Jim assemble his studies in two volumes: Scripture in Its Historical Contexts. Volume I: Text, Canon, and Qumran(FAT 118; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2018), and Scripture in Its Historical Contexts. Volume II: Exegesis, Hermeneutics, and Theology (FAT 126; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2019). Jim was awarded an honorary doctorate at Acadia University, where coincidentally I found myself on the faculty many years later. In fact, while at Acadia Divinity College I became friends with Jim Perkin, former President of Acadia University and himself a New Testament scholar, who had nominated Jim for the award.

Jim Sanders was a prince of a fellow. His wife Dora, whom Jim loved very much, died in June of 2016, at the age of 88. Dora danced, played the piano, the violin, and the organ. Dora participated in the American Dance Festival every summer from 1949 to 2004. She and Jim were quite the pair: Jim from Memphis, Tennessee, and Dora from New Jersey (and, spiritually, from New York). Jim and Dora had one child, a son, Robin David Sanders Sr., and two grandsons Robin David Sanders Jr, and Alexander Jonathan Sanders. It was Alex who in 2017 invited me and Ginny to fly out to California to attend Jim’s 90th birthday party. Although that visit was not possible, we did have opportunities to see Jim on other occasions in California and lunch with him. (Often when I flew to California in summers to teach at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, I had the chance to visit Jim.)

Jim was one of the best biblical scholars of our era. Of all my professors at Claremont (and they were all good), it was Jim Sanders who could bring together the exegetical and textual minutiae and the big picture. It was he who taught me what textual criticism really was and what biblical criticism was and wasn’t and how it could edify the Church. For Jim faith and scholarship were never at odds but were always complementary. Some of my former and current grad students have complimented me by making that observation. Well, now you know where I got it. Jim will be sorely missed but his legacy will be a lasting one.



Craig A. Evans, Ph.D., D.Habil.

John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins

Houston Theological Seminary

Houston Baptist University

7502 Fondren Road

Houston, TX 77074

281-649-3210 (office)

281-649-3451 (fax)!/pages/Craig-A-Evans/170270436355829

In Memoriam: Steve Hays (1959-2020)

Today an old friend of mine passed away. We knew each other from seminary days at Westminster Theological Seminary-CA where Greg Welty introduced us some time around 1995 or 1996. All three of us at one time or another served as teaching assistants to Prof. John Frame. Steve was incredibly well-read, trenchant in his critiques, and creative in his musings. Not by any means perfect, he did love his perfect savior, Jesus Christ, and attempted at every opportunity to work out the lordship of Christ in every area of life. Scripture and its authority always had the last word with Steve. That was refreshing.

The announcement of Steve’s passing was made this morning on the theology/philosophy/apologetics website that Steve started a few decades ago, Triablogue:

Steve Hays (1959-2020)

We just learned that Steve Hays has passed away in a hospice. He had cancer and heart disease. Both conditions were initially treatable, but he declined treatment. He was content to let go and die a natural death. What he lived by, he died by. He was preceded in death by both his parents.

Click here to read the rest of the announcement and the comments by those who benefited from Steve’s writing ministry. Rest in peace, Steve Hays.

It’s NEVER too late to learn Hebrew….

One of the blessings of working in a university setting is getting to meet fascinating people and learning about the interesting things they know. Today, I was sent a little treasure by Diana Severance, the director of HBU’s Dunham Bible Museum. Below is a screenshot of some Hebrew-related material from William Bradford. According to Diana,

Pilgrim William Bradford, governor and historian of Plymouth plantation, began learning Hebrew in his old age, and some of his practice sessions of Hebrew are in the front pages of a copy of his History of Plimoth Plantation. The English writing at the top says:

Though I am  growne  aged, yet I have had a long-
ing desire, to see with  my own eyes, something of
that  most ancient language,  and  holy  tongue,
in which  the Law, and  oracles  of  God  were
write; and in which God, and angels, spake to
the holy patriarks, of old time; and what
names were  given  to things,  from the
creation. And though I cañot attaine
to much herein, yet I am refreshed,
to have seen some glimpse  here-
of; (as  Moses  saw  the Land
of canan afarr of)  my aime
and desire is, to see how
the words, and  phrases
lye in  the holy  texte;
and to dicerne some-
what of the  same
for  my  owne

 Whether you’re young or old, we’d love to have you come and learn Hebrew at HBU with us! Enjoy the picture below!

William Bradford on Hebrew

Promoting the study of Biblical Hebrew, Biblical Aramaic, and Hellenistic Greek

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