Podcast Date: April 19, 2018
Speakers in the audio file:
Jon: Hey, this is Jon from The Bible Project. Today on the podcast, we're going to finish
the conversation that we began last week. It's a live conversation that Tim and I had
in Milpitas, California at the end of last year on Design Patterns. If you haven't
listened to the last episode, I highly recommend you do that. We introduced the idea
of design patterns. Walk through one in particular in detail so that you can
understand what it is and how significant it is to understanding the Bible as
literature. This conversation, we complete that.
We have the video on Design Patterns up on our YouTube channel that you can
watch. It's Youtube.com/thebibleproject. Without further ado, here is the rest of our
conversation from Milpitas, California.
Jon: We're talking about biblical narrative and the sophistication that biblical authors
have in linking together ideas through repetition. At this point, to me, it kind of
seems like this is pretty simple. This doesn't seem unexpected to me.
Jon: When you've been telling me like, "Oh, man, this has been blowing my mind," I
didn't think you just were going to talk about how words repeat."
Tim: No. But you know me. We're both the same way. If we want to understand
something, we want to build it from the ground up.
Jon: So we're going deeper?
Tim: Totally. If you don't have this tool in your toolset, you won't track with anything else
that happens. You have to become a skilled observer of repeated words.
Jon: That's why you say it's Level 1?
Jon: What we'll do is we'll go to the next level, then we'll stop again for an extended Q&R
that can just be open to anything at the end of this. Sounds good?
Jon: Okay, cool. So do a couple more, however many we can do and then we'll do that.
Tim: All right. I mean, Robert Alter, he's great. It's a good summary transition quote. He
says, "One of the most imposing barriers that stand between modern readers and
the imaginative subtlety of biblical authors is the prominence of repetition. We're
accustomed to stories in which repetition is far less obvious." This is probably the
feature a biblical narrative that looks the most primitive to the modern eye.
"In order to appreciate the artfulness of this kind of repetition, the modern reader
has to cultivate a new, even opposite set of expectations than what they bring to
literary works." Modern stories usually attempt to mimic...This important, and I think
this is a good observation. "Modern stories mimic reality by giving us large amounts
of information that aren't crucial to the plot so that one is expected to detect the
repetition of key themes and words against all the other background noise.
Biblical narrative is precisely the opposite. Here we're confronted with extremely
spare narrative with a high degree of repetition and similarity. What we're expected
to notice is the small but revealing differences among the sea of similarities. This is
how new meanings emerge in patterns of expectation." I love this. It's such a concise
way of putting it.
You've said it in different ways before that we're used to stories that tell you all kinds
of stuff. The famous example is [inaudible 00:04:30] where it's like a whole chapter on
the gutters of Paris or something like that. In many classic works, it's like whole
chapter is on the main character's grandmother or something.
We know biblical narrative's not like that. What it means is that paying attention not
just to these repetitions but to how they differ and their variation, that's the skill that
these authors assume you're going to cultivate as you read this text. Oh, yes, I have
my own illustration with Star Wars. Okay, deal.
Here's what this is. This is somebody who chose scenes from "The Force Awakens"
the most recent trilogy installation and then...Oh, actually from the whole first trilogy.
Can you guys even see?
Tim: Okay, good. All right. This is bad angle from here. Just watch it and you'll just see.
What are these movies about? Well, let's see. They open the same. They begin with
an introduction to enemy spaceships that make you realize they're gigantic, but then
there are robots. There are rescue robots somehow and then there's a smoky
introduction of the evil enemies and the soldiers. Then lots of good people are
But then there are little robots that are the crucial elements. They're going to save
the whole world through these crucial robots. Then this smoky entrance of the bad
guy. You guys get it?
Tim: I mean, It's crazy. The innocent victim is slain. Then the person who gave the robot
the information, and then the robot escapes into the desert. Did you guys notice this
stuff? If you're a Star Wars nerd, did you notice these things? I mean, look at this.
Then the person is captured who gave away the information. Then there's a whole
torture scene while trying to get the information.
Jon: It looks crazy actually.
Tim: Now what's interesting is that different scenes get overlapped in different ways. This
is escaping from the desert planet. The Millennium Falcon escape, that was so
obvious. I don't know if you spotted that one. Then the gun scene with the old
school sites. Just look at this. It's great.
Now what's most fascinating is, for example, the discovery of the lightsaber. This is
important. Notice, there are all these different scenes where people discover the
lightsaber. In the first one, it's Rey opening up. Here she's mapped on to Obi-Wan
Jon: A lot of people have the theory that she's....The Obi-Wan theory.
Tim: But then notice they parallel. When Luke turns on the lightsaber is paralleled to
when Finn turns on the lightsaber. The discovery of the lightsaber is something that's
about the Jedi. Finn, as far as we know, doesn't have Jedi. It's Rey who's the Jedi.
Jon: But he knows how to use one.
Tim: So you have the same motifs that can swap characters in these repeated scenes. It's
not just that the same character always does the same thing. It's that the
composition of the frame makes you all of a sudden compare two characters you
would have never thought to compare before. But then once you see it like this,
you're just like, "Yeah, I get it," in this scene.
Another good example is in comparing the destruction of the Death Star and the
battle of the trench scenes. Because in the battle trench of the Death Star in A New
Hope, who's the one who scores the winning shot? It's Luke. That's where one of his
first times of cluing into the force, where he becomes aware of his ability
and that's how we can get the things down the tiny little tunnel.
But in "The Force Awakens," who is it? Who goes down the trench? It's Poe Dameron.
And is he the budding Jedi in the story? He's not. Who’s the budding Jedi? It's Rey.
What's Rey doing at that moment in the story where Poe is up there doing this thing,
Rey is down on the planet discovering her Jedi powers. So they've taken the motif of
Luke discovering his Jedi powers while destroying the Death Star, and they split it up
between two characters. Do you see that spirit? You're just like, "That's brilliant."
Jon: J.J. did a good job.
Tim: Yeah. Now you could have a whole debate on how this is so unoriginal. What
unoriginal way to write a movie?
Jon: But it doesn't feel that way. It felt thrilling.
Tim: You could watch it by yourself, never having seen the first one and you just be like,
"That's an awesome story here "The Force Awakens." Then you could go back and
begin to reread the epic and then you would see all of the things that you never
noticed before through these parallels.
Jon: How much of this did you notice when you saw it the first time?
Tim: Quite a lot.
Jon: We saw it together, right? Was that your second time?
Tim: That was actually my third.
Jon: That was awesome. That was my first time.
Tim: Here's my point. We get this. This is like real-time in cinematic art in 21st-century
Western culture. The question is, is this a new thing to create epic story worlds where
later characters are playing and riffing off of earlier characters in stories in such a
way that you actually grasp deeper significance of what's happening here, only if you
grasp variations on the theme? We kind of expect this in the Star Wars universe.
There are different things like this going on in many epic narratives. I've never read
"Harry Potter," but the way my wife tells me how the stories work, it's very similar
iterations. "The Lord of the Rings" is like this. Are you with me? Is there a common?
I'm telling you guys, the biblical authors, it's uncanny. It's uncanny the level to which
they're doing this kind of thing. And it raises all kinds of questions about how the
narratives came into existence or the stages by which they do. And that's a
fascinating conversation about how the Mona Lisa came into existence, but don't
ever let that distract you from just staring at the Mona Lisa and seeing what it's
doing. It'll blow your mind.
Here's an example. Often this will happen in stories that are right next to each other.
I chose this example because we've actually talked it at length before. Which is how
the story of the temptation and rebellion of the first human characters whose names
are human and life - it's important - how they're precisely mapped on to each other
just like Luke and Poe Dameron in the Death Star trench. For example, you have a
human who has a significant choice set before them, but for kind of an unclear
Jon: The knowledge of the tree?
Tim: ..."Eat from any tree, not from this one."
Jon: I know. It's a pet peeve of mind. It's like they've been put in the middle of the garden.
Just put off to the side.
Tim: Yes, totally.
Jon: It's ridiculous.
Tim: But see, that's good. It's a gap in the narrative that it's so clearly forcing you to see,
like, "Okay, I guess..." Notice how without repeated words, the next story has the
same thing going on. Here it's about Cain being given a choice about what he's
going to do with his anger that God has chosen and favored Abel sacrifice but not
his own. Here's just a thematic overlap. You have two characters who now...
Jon: It's a choice?
Tim: The whole story is about their choice. And both of it it's a choice resulting from
something God did and the humans don't understand it. So their lack of
understanding God's decision or God's behavior is what creates the conflict in the
Then what's interesting is the agent of the human failure is depicted as another
entity. For human and life, it's a snake, animal. We've talked about this one. In the
Cain story - it's the first time the word sin appears in the Bible - it's sin. Then sin is
described with poetic animal language. It's as animal.
Jon: That "crouching" word is what animals do before they're going to pounce on you.
Tim: Lurking or something. Crouching. That's a good one. Usually, you're crouching
because you're going to leap or pounce. So once again, it's not a repeated word...
Jon: That's cool image of sin. Have you seen the new "Planet Earth" series?
Jon: It's really good.
Tim: Oh, the snake scene?
Jon: Oh, not the snake scene. But they show this mountain lion. I don't know exactly what
it was, but just pouncing. And it's amazing how high these things get. They are just
like really slowly moving, watching every step and then all sudden just blast in the
air. It's such a frightening if you were a mouse, right?
Jon: It's this massive mammal just flying at you.
Tim: That's a good example. Notice the intentionality there. Animals that crouch or they
are like that...Would you say they're surprising?
Tim: You don't realize how much muscle and energy is in that little crouching animal right
there. Notice this is the poetic nature of these narratives. Notice how that has this
thematic overlap with a snake, which doesn't pounce. But it is also mysterious and
sly and crafty. There's more than meets the eye here.
Somehow the temptation is depicted as you wouldn't expect that this thing's going
to ruin your life. When you first see it, it's weird what's going on, and it's the thing
that's going to destroy you.
Jon: And strike you quickly.
Tim: And it's an animal. It's also the first appearance of sin. Here the snake figure gets
overlapped with a more abstract concept of sin. It's brilliant. It's brilliant.
When the human gives in, they make the wrong decision. In life's case, it's taking
from the tree and then giving to her husband. In Cain's case, he was angry, gave in to
his anger, and kills his brother. God's first response in both stories is identical, both in
Hebrew and English. God called out to the human, "Where are you?" Which is what
God said to Cain. "Where's your brother?" God said to the woman, "What have you
done?" God said to Cain, "What have you done?" It's verbatim repetition.
In fact, that might be when you're reading through the story, you just like, "Oh, it's a
new story, Cain, and Abel." That's the first verbatim repetition.
Jon: And all sudden, you should be like, "Wait a second."
Tim: Yes. It's like that's the little trigger word. And then you're like, "Wait, that's what God
said to...hold on." Then you stop, then you go reread Genesis 3, then you reread
Genesis 4 again, and then you're "Oh, I see." Then you like spend a week just reading
these chapters of the Bible creating all the connections. It's the dense German bread.
The human dodges the question. The man, Adam says, "Well, it's the woman. She's
the one who gave it to me." Then the woman says, "It was the snake." Cain dodges
the question. "I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper?" The perpetrator is cursed in
which case it's the serpent, and he's cursed more than...in Hebrew, it's cursed from
every beast. Then the ground is cursed for the humans. And then Cain, this is the
same phrase. "You are cursed from the ground."
In both cases, working the ground will be more difficult. "In pain, the humans will eat
from the ground." Whereas Cain's says, "You'll work the ground, but it won't give you
anything, so you're going to be a wanderer." Then both cases and again with an
identical uncommon Hebrew word "banish"
Jon: Is that common?
Tim: It's not that common of a word. The only verbatim keywords are "what have you
done" and "banished." But then the moment your radar is triggered, then you are
meant to go back and reread the narratives and start seeing Poe Dameron and Luke
flying through the trench.
Think of what this does. I mean, I'll just ask you. All of a sudden, how does reading
these narratives that's overlapping, how does it enrich one's readings of the story?
What do you now start to think about the tree story and what is…?
Jon: We've talked about this before. I think what unlocked for me was seeing that these
stories in Genesis have a bigger motivation at hand than just telling us what
happened with first human.
Tim: Interesting things that happened a long time ago.
Jon: Interesting thing happens with first humans. It's a great story about my great-greatgrandpa.
It wants you to key in on one idea and really drill it home. And that idea
being, look how tragic it is when humans decide what is good and give in to this
mysterious evil. I guess the question is, why not just one story? That would have
been good enough. Let's pick one good story, but instead, then you get to that
parallel each other so closely.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. Remember the name of the characters in the first one, human.
Tim: Human. The first story in the Bible about people making a stupid decision, it's
human and life. And you go through the list, they redefine good and evil. Actually, it
will be good for me to do the thing that God said not to do, even though I don't
quite understand why. But it's all you go through.
Then the first story given to you is about a human. Another human replaying the
same exact thing. Then the moment those two are set there, it's like the western
quick drop pattern. These stories are giving us the fundamental template of the
Jon: I should see this pattern in my life.
Tim: Yes. And I should expect to see this pattern again in the story.
Jon: And I should expect this pattern in biblical stories.
Tim: It as if each now that I've been given the base template, the human story, pages 2
and 3, then all these other portraits that come after it's doing what we're going to
talk about and the character’s video, which is different examples. So maybe the one
with Saul doesn't land or something. Or maybe the story of Samson doesn't work.
But then maybe this one, I see myself and Abraham, where I see myself. And it's
becomes a whole wall of family portraits of stupid humans.
There's no way you're going to escape the Hebrew Scriptures without seeing yourself
in many of these characters because there are also reflective mirrors. Because they're
all about humans. And who am I sitting here reading this text? I'm a human. So it's
exactly right. The more I ponder how Genesis 1 through 4 works is amazing.
Jon: It's kind of like you talked about the musical analogy that happens in classical music.
You will be introduced to...what do they call it? A phrase?
Tim: Like the opening melody. The opening sentence.
Jon: Yeah. And then you'll hear it again and you go, "Okay, I'm going to expect to hear
that." So now your ears tuned to hear that melody. But you are hearing different
ways and you hear it overlapped with different thing.
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Jon: So that's what we're supposed to be listening for this melody of the human
Jon: From right off the bat, I'm on page 4 of the Bible, and I'm now, "Okay, I'm paying
attention. I know what's coming."
Tim: I get it. I get it now.
Jon: This whole book is going to be wrestling with this thing.
Tim: Those are in two stories right next to each other. Once you hear the melody or see
the thematic repetition or patterning, then you just tuck it away and you keep
reading in the story. I'm going to skip some examples because we're on this train
and this is just a setup for the next examples.
These are two stories next to each other. Human and life next to Cain and Abel. Let's
come back and just revisit a couple things then. I go back and I'm on example...Yeah,
that's right. Now I'm like, "Oh, okay, I need to go back and reread the human and life
story just to make sure I didn't miss anything that was important there." Because I
know this is the template now.
Jon: It's very thorough of you.
Tim: Let's track with some details. I put in bullet points here all the ones that are going to
be important for everything that follows. Here's the divine command. "From any tree
in the garden you may eat; from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you
shall not eat from it, for the day you eat of it you'll surely die." It's a crystal clear
divine command. We may not understand the motive, but what it is I'm supposed to
not do is immediately obvious.
Jon: Yeah, that's clear. "There's the tree, do not eat it."
Tim: That's right.
Jon: Got it.
Tim: And what is the narrative of the failure? Genesis 3:6. "When the woman saw..." We
had talked about this. It's the woman doing what God has been doing. God sees
what is good just because He provides what is good. But now it's the woman seeing.
What else does she see? She sees that it's desirable to the eyes. "I want that." "It's
good and I want it."
Jon: It must have been a nectarine.
Tim: I want it. It's also desirable. "Machmad.” It's desirable to make me wise. God's holding
out on me.
Jon: There's more to know.
Tim: "There's more maturity, there's more experience that's accessible to me if I do this
thing that God is prohibiting me from doing."
Jon: I've never thought that before.
Tim: She took from its fruit, she ate, she gave to her husband, he ate. What's the result?
Their eyes are open, and "Oh, we're naked." Saw this nakedness which keys back to
the thing of they were naked at first, but no shame. Total vulnerability. But now they
see that they're naked and they hide their bodies from each other.
Then they heard the voice. They heard the sound. This is tricky. This is a Hebrew
thing. The Hebrew word "qol" is the same word for "voice," "a personal noise" or
"sound." No, it is from an impersonal object. It's just "qol." That's important.
Jon: Got it.
Tim: Trust me, that's important. So they hear the sound of Yahweh God walking in the
garden and they hide themselves. Then God says, "Where are you? Where are you?"
Then He finds human. And human says, "The woman." The blame shifting, lame
excuse. "She gave it to me and I ate." Question, "What have you done?"
Then there's interesting little phrase there. He holds both the man and the woman
responsible. But He uses this phrase. He says, "Because you listened to the voice of
your wife." So the humans hear the voice of God walking, and then He says,
"Because you listened not to me, what I said to you, you listened to the voice of your
wife." There you go. So those are other interesting things that I noticed in the story.
I move on then. What's the next story in the Bible, as you're reading, about a
husband and a wife trying to navigate a difficult decision? You just read through it.
What's the next story about husband and wife navigating a difficult decision about a
divine promise that was given or a divine word? Abraham and Sarah. Now this story
is about how God promised that they were gonna have children - great family, which
is quite remarkable.
Jon: Because they're super old.
Tim: Yeah. But God was crystal clear "a family is going to come from you." That's in the
previous story Chapter 15. "Look up in the stars, a child will come from you not
someone else in your house." That kind of thing. The story begins. "Now Sarai,
Abrams wife, had no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar." Notice
how it's the female figure is the first main actor in the story.
"She says to Abram, 'Go now, have sex with my female slave; perhaps I will be built
up from her.'" It's the word for literally construct a building. It's a very odd turn of
phrase. "I will be built up from her." This is also something biblical authors - they
love to do this. I'm discovering. And it's something like what's going on in Star Wars
is they'll introduce some glitch in the story, a weird turn of phrase...
Jon: That's not a normal way to say that.
Tim: It's not a normal way to say that. That's a weird way to say that. I will be built up from
her like I'm a building. Can you think of anywhere earlier in the story where the
woman was built up? It's precisely the Hebrew word us to describe the creation of
the woman as the companion for the man. In Genesis 2, "God took from the side of
the human and built the woman." The word built appears just two times in the Bible
at this point in the story right there and right here. So now you're thinking about the
building of a family. It echoes the Adam and Eve story. Are you with me?
Tim: It's a subtle little queue. Maybe wouldn't think anything of it until you notice some
other things. Abrams like, "Hey, I get to have more sex," so he listened quite happily
to the voice of his wife.
Jon: Yeah, he didn't argue.
Tim: The whole story depict is very odd, especially after he's become the paradigm of
faith in the previous narrative. There he is, and it’s Sarah speaks first. "Have sex with
my Egyptian slave." And Abram's like, "Okay." Notice the phrasing. "He listened to
the voice of Sarai."
Jon: Oh, there it is. It's in bold.
Tim: "Sarai, the wife of Abram, the woman, took Hagar and gave her to Abram as a wife
and he had sex with her." When she, that is Hagar, became pregnant, and when she
saw, Hagar sees that she was pregnant, and her mistress became despised or
became less than her eyes." What goes on from the story here is so Hagar is the one
who sees. In the first story, it was "the woman saw," but now we're riffing off of her
Sarah was the one who took, gave to her husband, but it's Hagar, the other woman,
who sees. And what does she see? "Oh, now I could be the favored one in the family.
Sarah gets super ticked off. It just says, "She oppressed Hagar."
She goes to Abraham and says, "Look, she's pregnant now, and she's being rude to
me." And what's Abrams response?" "Look, your female slave is in your hand. Do to
her what's good in your eyes?" Good for the eyes. Come on. It's too good. "Sarah
oppressed Hagar, Hagar fled before her." And where does she go? She's banished to
the wilderness. Precisely like Adam and Eve. Do I need to say anything? You tell me
what you see is going on here.
Jon: What seems to be going on here is that the author wants you at this point not
just...it's not just a story of Abraham screwing up. This is a story of Abraham
wrestling with the same serious evil that all humanity has been wrestling with.
Tim: Is Satan mentioned in the story?
Jon: But he doesn't need to be.
Tim: He doesn't need to be. He was not on page three.
Jon: He was in there.
Tim: He was on the story about human. And you get the template.
Jon: The melody's coming out again now in the story of Abraham, and it's texturing the
story. It makes it way more meaningful.
Tim: You would read the story and you're just like, "It's so weird. The last story they were
heroes but now they're oppressing this Egyptian slave." Hagar's the victim here in
the story. She's the victim of their stupid decision and it's going to produce conflict
in their family. She's going to give birth to Ishmael. That's going to produce all this
conflict in the family.
Jon: So the biblical author could have said, "Look, they made a bad decision. It's going to
some family strife." But instead he crafted the story in such a way that it's now
echoing from this previous story.
Tim: It's another iteration of the theme. Notice here in the garden story, it was the
response to a divine command that I didn't understand the motive. Here, they're
responding to a divine promise that seems incredible. God said, "It's going to come
from you," and Abram and Sarai are like, "It's not happening so let's find our own
Jon: "We don't get it and we want to find her own solution."
Tim: Hagar becomes the fruit. She becomes the way that they are redefining good and
evil in their own eyes. Then all of a sudden, you have a very realistic narrative portrait
of the human condition. "Things are difficult. Things aren't working out the way I
wanted them to. God said this was going to happen this particular way, I don't think.
Sometimes you got to take things into your own hands." Who hasn't lived to that
story like 100 times? So powerful. Want to do another one?
Jon: Yeah, let's do one more.
Tim: Deal. Just one more?
Jon: Well, 10 minutes and then Q&R or…I don't know.
Tim: I have a lot more. And they actually just keep getting better. How are you doing? You
want to do some more?
Tim: Okay, right, deal. Here's the Israelites at Mount Sinai. They just got the 10
commandments. Smoking fire God shows up on the mountain and the first two
Jon: Don't have any other gods.
Tim: Don't make any idols. Crystal clear. It's crystal clear. What's the first narrative after...?
Jon: They make an idol of another god.
Tim: When the people saw that Moses was delayed...This is another one of these weird
ways to say that. Literally, it's when Moses bosheth. It's the word "shame."
Jon: Like the nakedness and shame.
Tim: And if you look, the last time the word "shame" is not a common word in the Torah
up to this point. The first time that it appeared was the shame of the first humans. So
Moses was making them ashamed by how long they had to wait. Do you remember
how long it was?
Jon: 40 days.
Tim: Yeah, 40. Coming down from the mountain? The people gathered against Aaron and
said, "Hey, get up. Make us some gods who will go before us. As for this man, Moses
who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what happened to him." So the
people end up doing the last thing...You get it?
Tim: Here's what happens. The people took their gold rings and Aaron took from their
hand, he makes the golden calf and he saw and he built an altar before it and
proclaimed..." Let's just stop right there. He saw what?
Jon: The calf? No? The altar?
Tim: There it is. "He fashioned the golden calf and Aaron saw and he built an altar before
it and proclaimed..." It's a completely unnecessary verb in the sentence.
Jon: To say he saw?
Tim: It doesn't say what he saw and it doesn't say how...
Jon: Like everyone's always seeing.
Jon: Yeah. It wasn't all sudden, like, "Oh, this guy's not paying attention with his eyes
Tim: But it's completely unnecessary to the story. There can be only one reason why this
unnecessary verb is introduced in the story.
Jon: Lazy writing it.
Tim: That's right. Silly green creature in front of me. So he built an altar before it and he
says, "Feast for Yahweh tomorrow." So they got up really early the next day. They
offered all these sacrifices. They're doing the very thing that God said not to do.
"Then the people sat down to eat, and they rose up to play." Now, this is a whole
other set of hyperlinks of playing with all of these sexual layers to its meaning that's
fascinating. But it's their eating results in something sketchy happening sexually.
The first thing God says to Moses, "Go. Get down." The narrative shifts. You see the
people doing this, then all of a sudden, you shift up to the top of the mountain, and
God's the first one who speaks. He speaks to Moses and He says, "Go, Get down."
Moses walks up, and as they're walking up Joshua is with him. And what does
Jon: Hears Moses coming.
Tim: No, it's Moses and Joshua. Moses joins Joshua and then they're walking into the
Jon: And they're listening to the voice of the people?
Tim: Yes, totally. Joshua listens to the voice of the people in the camp. This one's great
because the first time that appeared was human and life listening to God walk into
Jon: This is flipped.
Tim: That's right. Yes, it flipped. It's like Poe Dameron vs Luke and Rey.
Jon: They're playing the role of God here walking into the camp.
Tim: That's right. So what does Moses do? He gets angry. He takes the calf; he burns with
fire. Just sit with that one. He burns it with fire. He asked Aaron, "What did these
people do to you?" And Aaron said, "Oh, don't let my master's anger burn. You know
these people. They are in evil." Is what he says. "They are in evil." It's the same word
from good and evil. "And they said, 'make us a god," and I said, "Well, who has any
gold? Take it off. And they gave me the gold, I put it in the fire and okay Miss calf."
Notice the question is asked, "What did these people do to you?" And what's the
first thing he does? Blame shift with a terrible excuse.
Jon: Yeah, it's really bad. He just wasn't part of drunken orgies, so he probably had no
Tim: Notice here. What do we got to work with here? We have the "sea" and "taking," we
have "listening" in terms of repeated words. But now it's all...
Jon: And "taking." Did you say that? Sorry.
Tim: Yeah. But notice it's out of order. Things aren't in the same order they were in. But
this is the third time.
Jon: It's getting the planner on the melody a little bit.
Tim: That's right. It's like when you get into a symphony and it's the fourth time around
and it's the French horn doing the riff. Then it can play with it creatively to make its
own contribution. You want another one? Actually, to understand this one, you need
to have noticed the golden calf one.
Jon: How are going to make a video in five minutes?
Tim: We can figure it out. Actually, we totally can because with visual composition you
can tell these stories with characters in the same positions. I know we can.
Jon: It's going to be perfect for a video.
Tim: It's perfect.
Tim: You have the Battle of Jericho. It's the first moment of trust for God's people in the
promised land. The Battle of Jericho is itself designed all around these patterns with
Genesis 1, the most obvious one being "march around the city for six days." Then on
the first one, "stand and do nothing except blow the trumpets." Six, work; one, rest.
Then God gives this command in Joshua 6. "Watch yourselves. Don't take any of the
dedicated plunder less you take from the dedicated plunder and place it in the camp
of Israel and bring trouble on it. All the silver gold and all the articles of bronze and
iron are holy to Yahweh." Then they conquered the city and so on. And then there's a
little narrative aside.
"But the sons of Israel committed treachery with the dedicated plunder, namely, one,
Israelite, Achan - whose name sounds a lot like trouble. Akar, Acha. Akar, Achan.
Tim: It's good. What tribe does he belong to? The son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son
of Zerah, the tribe of... "He took from the dedicated plunder. Switched scenes. We go
from the battle scene immediately to Yahweh and Joshua.
Who's the first one to speak up? Yahweh. He says to Joshua, "Get up, go." He said to
Moses, "Go and go down." He says to Joshua, "Get up and go." This is a little bit
reversal. It's great. Verse 11, "Israel has sinned; they've broken My covenant that I
commanded. They've taken the dedicated things; they've lied and placed it in their
Then there's this whole weird scene. It's one of these things where you're just like,
"Why is this here?" It's this whole weird scene where they select by rolling dice
who've committed the sin. It's very odd. And it's all about these repeated words.
When somebody gets chosen by the dice, the word used is "they're captured." Then
you take the captured one and you bring them near. It's the little genealogy you
were just given in reverse order. You can just see it's really full of repeated words.
They finally get to Achan. Joshua, first thing he says to Achan is?
Jon: "What have you done?"
Tim: What have you done?
Jon: Which is what Moses and...?
Tim: It's what Moses said to Aaron. It's what God said to Cain. It's what God said to Adam
and Eve. Verbatim. The first and Achan's response; "I saw among the plunder a
Babylonian cloak, cloak of Shinar, a good one." He's like, "What's that for."
Jon: It just popped out.
Tim: Totally. A good one. It's a cloak of Shinar, whatever, but it's a tob one. "It's about two
hundred shekels of silver, also a tongue of gold." Not a brick of gold, it's the Hebrew
word "tongue." It's very odd phrase. A tongue of gold. "About fifty shekels, and I
desired them and I took them; and they're hidden in ground in my tent. Joshua sent
messengers, they ran to the tent and there it was." What's the response? They do to
him what Moses did to the golden cow.
It's interesting because notice how the motifs are switching here. Because the gold
thing is the fruit. The thing that represents the fruit in the golden calf story is the
golden calf in Achan's version, but now it's the perpetrator who suffers the fate of
the Golden calf.
Jon: What seems cool about this is at this point you're just saying the word and
everyone's tracking you like, "Okay, I see it now."
Tim: How are you guys? Are you guys tracking?
Tim: It's so obvious once you see it.
Jon: I mean you do have underlined and bold, but it's also easy.
Tim: Yeah, totally. Well, we don't have time, let me just quickly show you the next iteration
and then we can land the plane on this one here.
Jon: Okay, great.
Tim: There's a whole bunch of things in the Achan story that don't make any sense. Like
that weird lot castings scene. Dude, watch this. We're back to the story of Saul and
Jon: Got it.
Tim: 1 Samuel 8; "The people approach Samuel, give us a king like all the other nations."
And God says to Samuel, "Listen to their voice." Now that's interesting because up to
this point listening to the voice has been a sound of giving—
Jon: Someone coming to...
Tim: Oh, yeah someone's going to show up to deal with the sin.
Jon: Oh, that's listening to the sound. Yeah.
Tim: Or you listen to the voice of Adam. Listen to the voice of Abraham. Listen to the
voice. It’s part of giving into the temptation. That same phrase has been used in two
very different ways and now it's being used here. But it's God's saying it. It's God
giving the people what they want.
Jon: You're supposed to at this point go, "Why is God letting them give in to their
Tim: Normally, when God shows up and we listen to the voice of God coming, it was to
Jon: Typically to command.
Tim: To bring justice or to give a command. Here, it's God giving the people what they
want which is not going to be good for them. It's fascinating.
Jon: It's kind of like when your parent at some point they're just like, "Okay do whatever
you want." And you're like, "Wait a second. What's wrong here."
Tim: This happens all the time in parenting with all the kids. After a long day and you
know that they're going to go in and do that thing, but you've already dealt with
them so many times and you're just like, "Oh." You just give them over to
destruction. They're not going to die. They're just going to get into a fight and
Jon: Yeah, do whatever you want.
Tim: So God says to Samuel, "Listen to their voice. It's not you they're rejecting but me."
Then the next line God says, "You know they've been doing this since I brought them
up out of Egypt."
Jon: "Yeah, we've been looking at that."
Tim: "We've been through this before; abandoning me and serving other gods." Now just
stop right there. What does that have to do with...
Jon: Wanting a king?
Tim: Yes. Then you're like, "Oh. Somehow their wanting a king is a lot like them wanting
idols." Samuel listens to their voice and then God says, "But warn them what the king
is going to do." And Samuel gives this speech where he says, "Five times, the Kings
going to take your children, he's going to take your son's, he's going to take your
daughter's. He's going to take, take, take, take, take." Then the people said, "No, we
want it anyway."
Then we're introduced to Saul who we know is the choice and good. In fact, no one
else was more good than him. We're already back to the one that we did. Samuel
saw...You didn't know I was going to do this to you. Samuel saw Saul and the Lord
said, "Here's the guy."
This whole thing about Samuel said to Saul, "I'm the seer..." Oh, this is fascinating in
Chapter 9. "Samuel says to Saul, "I am the Seer. I'm the one who sees." Then he says
to Saul, "On whom is all the desire of Israel? Isn't it on you Saul. All of the Israel
desires you, Saul. They see you and they desire you."
Then Saul gets inaugurated and God gives the speech again saying, "You know since
the days of the Exodus you've been in rejecting me." Then it Saul's inauguration and
there's this weird story about how Saul is selected by casting lots, which is really odd
because he's already been anointed and presented to the people.
Jon: This is double checking.
Tim: It's very odd. It's a glitch and the story is logic. But it's this whole scene and it's about
how Samuel brought them, they cast lots. They brought him near, they captured him,
they brought him near. Finally, it's supposed to be Saul. "Oh, it's Saul." Then it's the
punchline, but they couldn't find him anywhere. They couldn't find Saul. Did you get
Jon: I'm missing it.
Tim: All right. Saul has been selected as King. Then all of a sudden he needs to be
selected all over again by rolling dice.
Jon: Which is back to the...?
Tim: Back to the Achan story. We're going to select the perpetrator. So then we're
selecting and we select. We get the tribe of Benjamin, captured him, we bring him in
near. Get the tribe of this, get the...and then all of a sudden we cast the dice and it's
Saul the so of Kish, and don't see him. Where did he go? Where did he go? Where is
he? He's hidden himself in the baggage. He's hidden himself in the baggage. Do you
get it? What other things have been hidden in temptation story?
Jon: The plunder.
Tim: The humans hide themselves. Then in Achan story, it's Achan took and he hid the
object of desire in the tent. Now all of a sudden...
Jon: It's like the author is kind of like, "If it was clear enough now, I'm going to have Saul
hide in the luggage. And if you don't get it at this point, you're not paying attention."
Tim: What on earth is this story of the rolling the dice and Saul hiding in the baggage. It's
so bizarre. It makes no sense in the story unless it's deliberately echoing the...Do you
see this here? If I had time I would create this chart.
But all of a sudden, you start seeing these stories all are aware of each other, and
they all have been introduced with little turns of phrase so that the Achan story, the
golden calf story, the Abraham story, they're all talking to each other. Which really it
says something profound about the unity.
We're talking about huge sections of the Hebrew Scriptures that were originally
different eye witness traditions in different quilt pieces, but you just start to realize
that they've been woven together with these patterns of unity. This is just one. We
could do this all day long with different motif and different themes. But this one is
beautiful because it's the fundament—
Jon: It's the human condition.
Tim: It's the human condition.
Jon: Back to this question - is it Kevin? Someone back there - how do we teach this to our
kids to think about how this is done? It'd be interesting to have your kids show this
and then say, "Cool, now write a story with all these elements of the hiding and the
taking and the seeing. And construct your own story of something in our modern
world." It gets you to start to wrestle with the same themes.
Because it seems like what God wants is for these ideas to become so embedded in
our psyche and our soul, that we just start seeing them everywhere. There's a pattern
that we're not just now seeing in Scripture we're seeing in lives.
Tim: In our own stories. The repetition does so many things. It's linking all these portraits
of human failure together. If I don't identify with the sex with an Egyptian slave one,
maybe identify with I want a human who I know is the choice and good one; surely
that will be our salvation.
This whole story is saying, "No, you know about humans." From page 3, you know
about human. You know what they're like. In this case, the human, Saul becomes the
forbidden fruit. So you have all these variety portraits.
Then at the same time, to your point, they're actually training you to see the world a
certain way and to see patterns of my own decision making so that I can recognize
the snake even when he's not visible. The snake doesn't appear in any of the stories
after page 3. But the clear implication is that he's underneath all of these. It's not just
something that happened a long time ago, it's the human condition. That's right.
That's a good point.
Jon: Thank you, Tim.
Tim: I know we can capture and communicate this in the video. I'm certain that we can.
Jon: Well, I guess I don't know how to do it. You got to a tell the story. You got to a tell
the story, you got tell a story and then go, "Now watch them all at the same time."
Tim: Oh, we could...Yes.
Jon: It's just you'd have to do it really quick.
Tim: I understand. But we could just do a few examples. We could tell three stories
quickly and then do the side by side.
Jon: Yeah, three. We don't have to do all five. That's very cool. What we'll do is we have 20
more minutes and what would be great is if you have any questions for Tim
regarding this patterning in biblical narrative or just any questions in general, we'll
take anything. Raise your hand. It is question and response. So if you have a
question, Tim will give a response. And it might be a good one. It might not. That's
why we don't call it question and answer.
Tim: That's right.
Jon: But it's probably going to be good.
Woman: In light of the repetitions, do you recommend a particular translation?
Tim: A lot of these might be hidden in translations. Our translations, it's like what Robert
Alter was saying. If our English translation's actually mimicked the repetitive patterns,
it would sound like bad English. Which is why our English translations often render
the same Hebrew word with two different English words in the same paragraph.
So the translation that does that the least is the New American Standard. That's still
comprehensible English. It's terrible English, but it's great Hebrew in English. The
New American Standard can get you a lot of the way there if you want to do this
kind of study.
But I really want to underscore that the first things you'll notice is usually some really
obvious clear repetitions that are so obvious. Notice it's also about narrative motifs
and patterns. So you're like, mmh stories about husbands and wives, there's only two
of them within that first stretch of Genesis and they're mapped onto each other.
Stories about people doing exactly what God told them to do right after He told
them, there's not that many. And once you look at them all, they're all talking to each
So it's also developing an awareness of repeated words, but also parallel scenes and
motifs. And it's a skill set. It takes practice. But once you start to develop it, you'll see
it's actually a designed convention just like the westerns and the quick Draw Sheriff
kind of thing.
Woman: I don't know whether this is a good context for this question, but I have a lot of
reluctant readers in my community. I was wondering what you would suggest
because a lot of this requires a lot of study, a lot of reading, which is total...I work
with youth. That's my community. What would you suggest for reluctant readers?
People don't want to open a book. Barely want to read.
Jon: What I've heard you talk about is just reading in community. You don't have to go
away by yourself, lock yourself up and read these stories privately. You can sit in a
group of people and read them and then discuss them and have community around
that. A small group where you just get together and read Scripture.
Tim: That's right. One way to make reading the Bible easier is to facilitate structures of
people just reading it aloud together. That's one way. And that's a really ancient
Christian and Jewish practice. But I know what you're talking about.
I think in a way, what we're trying to do with the videos is to tell the stories in a way
that highlights this kind of artistry and intentionality to get people excited. So
maybe the videos can pick some curiosity. But I'm with you.
I also find these narratives assume a pretty high degree of ability to track with
narrative arguments and themes like these. That's actually what makes you want to
keep rereading them is once you start getting the goodies. But getting people to
that first stage to even see this isn't a silly green creature, this the wise master, that's
the challenge. That's American phenomenon. Our brains are melted by TV and
Twitter and so we just don't...I don't know what I don't know. Do you know?
Jon: No, I don't know.
Tim: I don't know. There is a structure called the church. That's a group of people that get
together regularly to retell the story of Jesus and the story that makes sense of him.
So there's one right there to work within and through. I don't know. That's a good
question. Let me know what you come up with.
Man: When you talk about repetition and you compare it to Star Wars, or these epic tales,
it puts a lot of humanity on the Bible. Even the [quill? 01:00:38], like they had to put
the edges on him. Maybe they just weren't there when the first pieces came. In the
tradition I've grown up in, that's terrifying to talk about the humanity in the Bible.
How do we help people move from like this perfect golden book that fell out of the
sky, in the King James Version, and then moving them then to the humanity that's
there and how that not a scary thing?
Jon: We were just talking about that. We're going to talk it about tomorrow.
Tim: It's actually one of the main things we're going to talk about tomorrow in one of the
Jon: Our key point. This was really helpful for me. I mean, we were going through these
videos, we're talking about this, we're talking about the literary structure, all these
things, and I was having the exact same uncomfortable feeling of that we're talking
about the humanity of the Bible. Isn't the Bible at divine book?
In my tradition, you would say that the Bible is both human and divine. You would
hear that. Maybe you don't. But at least most people would admit to that that's part
of Orthodoxy. But then, there's kind of a wink nudge, but really divine. We want to
like polish off all the thumbprints of its humanity.
What I found for me is that when I approached the book, and I'm like, "This fell out
of the sky, and this is God's divine Word," I get to things that have humanity on it
and it's actually scandalous. And I get confused and feels weird and I'll give up or
But as we started looking at the Bible through its literary structure, and the humanity
of it, something really surprising started to happen, which is when I just stopped and
said, "Okay, this is a human book too," and we looked at that, suddenly, the human
book started seeming so beautiful. I mean, we just saw how the artistry of what
And not only is that sophisticated in its literary style, it's wrestling with something so
deep to me personally and to the people around me that they've got a grasp on
what's this essential part of being human in such a way that it just pulls on me, and
just all the sudden I'm going deeper and deeper, and then I'm confronted with its
divinity. It's like a backwards way of getting the sneak attack.
I think it's actually a much more natural way to get to the divinity of the Bible is to
start with its humanity. At least for me and I think probably a lot of people who
would have that inclination of being scandalized by that.
Tim: Just one quick response. And again, we'll talk about it more tomorrow. But it has
happened multiple times in Jewish and Christian history that because of a desire, I
think it's a right desire to elevate the authority, the divine authority that these texts
claim that they lay upon us, that causes what I think is an unnecessary sub-reaction,
which is to try and erase human agency from the origins of the Bible.
What that really speaks to is a deep division in our own thinking about, if God is at
work in history, it has to be with minimal or no human agency. That's really what is
the assumption driving - that fear of the humanity of the Bible. Once you say it like
that, just stop and read the Bible, and ask yourself the primary way that God works
through history in these narratives it's through humans.
I seem to remember the fundamental tenet of Christian Orthodoxy is of Jesus's
identity as fully God and fully human. Which means he spoke Aramaic, and he
pooped his diapers. He was actually fully human so it was easy to dismiss him as if
he wasn't who he really was.
So, on my mind, we're doing ourselves and people in our church communities a
gigantic disservice when we ignore the very human creativity in origins of the Bible.
The claim has always been that it's both. Then the theology of the Spirit, the Spirit is
working through humans. And when God's at work in and through humans by the
Spirit, they don't become less themselves. They become more themselves by the
power of the Spirit. So what else would you expect from spirit empowered human
than something as beautiful as this?
In my mind, this is a fundamental category reshape that Western Christianity needs
to undergo - when it comes to the Bible, it's just a dead end. The Golden Book from
heaven is a dead end. I think it actually doesn't help us understand what the Bible is.
Thank you for asking that question.
Man: I'm wondering how a non-PhD can stay current with these type of ideas and maybe
be engaged in the conversation to some chat room or something like internet or...?
Tim: I quoted Robert Alter a lot. There's some points where I disagree, but he is a Jewish
scholar who represents a whole movement of scholarship mostly by Israeli Jewish
scholars who were trying to tell the rest of the world like, "Dude, you guys wake up
to how incredible this literature is." That's mainly where the conversation lives at the
academic level is among people who have been raised speaking Hebrew, which
Jon: They are the ones cluing in.
Tim: Then they're teaching the rest of us how this literature works. I don't want to just say,
hang tight, but in a way that's how in most academic fields when there's a paradigm
shift happening, it just takes time before the new handbooks and the new
commentaries, and the new introductions get written in light of the recent
To be honest, that's where a lot of the field of Biblical Studies is at for a lot of
complex reasons I don't have time to go into. But this is a new edge to literary study
of the Bible and it's hard to find a lot of...
All right. This is Tim from the future interrupting Tim of the past. If I was listening
back to this conversation, and this question, in particular, I was really disappointed in
myself about how I answered that question. The question was about what are other
people writing on this topic of hyperlinks and design patterns in the Bible. Other
resources to go to.
The scholar that didn't come to my mind, I can't believe I forgot about his work
because he's one of my most influential teachers and mentors is the work of John
Sailhamer, who was really the first one who introduced me to the set of concepts
and how Hebrew narrative works.
John Sailhamer, he has a commentary on the Torah. It's called "The Pentateuch as
Narrative." In the introduction, he has a whole section on how a design pattern
works within the Pentateuch itself. Then there's a whole world of Jewish scholars that
he introduced me to. I referenced Robert Alter and that question. Even how I
respond to that question.
But also if you really want to take a deeper dive, check out the work of one of
Sailhamer students whose name is Seth Postell. He has a really stimulating book
called "Adam as Israel: Genesis 1-3 as the Introduction to the Torah and Tanakh" His
basic thesis is every random little word and detail in Genesis 1 through 3 is
previewing in seed form everything that's going to go down in the entire Old
Jon: What's his name again?
Tim: Seth Postell. We'll have his book in the show notes, like a reference to it.
Tim: But Sailhamer and Postell, and then Robert Alter who I mentioned in my response is
also a great place to start too. So this is Tim from the future signing off so that Tim
from the past can continue talking
Jon: Thank you, Tim from the future.
Tim: So create your own group. I mean, really at the end of the day, you'll notice this stuff
if you become Bible nerds, which is what Psalm 1 says. Psalm 1 tells you what to do.
It's a meta-poem telling you what to do with the book in front of you. Which is, to
get it, you need to live in this thing. That not sound good news to a culture whose
brains are melted on TV and Twitter. I know that. But it's just what it says.
This is the cave goes eternally deep and there's nothing for it. You just got to get a
group of friends and explore the cave. I don't know what else to tell you.
Jon: You showed me that that resource you just picked up, which was The Aramaic.
Would that be of any interest?
Tim: No, no.
Jon: Yeah, rabbit hole. Okay.
Tim: I'm trying to think. I would say Robert Alter's "The Art of Biblical Narrative" it's a
wonderful introduction. You'll need a little online dictionary sometimes when he's
writing. But it's a pretty accessible introduction that will blow your mind as to this
kind of stuff. It's a wonderful introduction. That's great place to start.
Jon: But also I feel like in the New Testament it's very obvious that all these authors are
wrestling and riffing off quoting and trying to understand how Jesus...making sense
of Jesus in light of all these stories. So what they're doing in these letters is basically
kind of what we're doing, which is trying to—
Tim: In the New Testament?
Jon: In the New Testament.
Tim: Totally. It is.
Jon: I mean, that's a good place to just start too is just...
Tim: New Testament used to be old. The way Jesus and the apostles read the Hebrew
Bible has seemed weird to much of Christians about Christian history.
Jon: But they're doing this.
Tim: Because they're doing this. They read the Bible this way and they do their theology
of the Bible this way. All of a sudden, then Paul can be talking about baptism and the
wilderness wanderings, and Jesus can talk about the snake lifted