Men of Honor, Direction of Languages, the Spies Did WHAT?, Something to Conserve

1.  Today marks the beginning of Black History Month!  At the present time, I’m starting off with movies I didn’t see last year.  Today, I watched Men of Honor, which my mom recommended on February 1, 2009 (see And Kicking Off Black History Month…).

Men of Honor is about Carl Brashear (played by Cuba Gooding, Jr.), who was the first African-American Master Diver in the U.S. Navy.  What’s admirable about Carl was that he never gave up in the pursuit of his dream.  He had to deal with racism.  Eventually, he lost his lower leg.  But that didn’t stop him, for, after a lot of hard work and commitment, he was reinstated in his position as master diver.  I’m not sure if I have the talent and the tenacity of Carl Brashear, but I’ll tell you one thing: he inspires me to keep on trying!

Robert De Niro plays Lesie “Billy” Sunday, who is Carl’s diving instructor.  Billy is a mixture of good and bad.  He’s demoted to diving instructor after he disobeys an order by diving into the water to save someone’s life.  And, although he admires Carl’s tenacity, he’s determined to see Carl fail.  His superior officer, “Mr. Pappy” (played by Hal Holbrook), tells Billy that the Navy’s not ready for a “colored” Master Diver. 

To be honest, I was a little bored with the movie for the first hour, but the scene that really got my attention was the one about the final exam.  The divers had to go underwater and assemble a device, and their tools were sent down to them in a bag.  But Billy had Carl’s bag ripped, such that the tools (and maybe even pieces of the device) were scattered all over the ocean floor.  But Carl stayed down there as long as it took, through harsh cold and intense water pressure, until he finally completed the device.  Despite Mr. Pappy’s objection, Carl became a Master Diver.

As Carl succeeds in his profession, Billy is demoted another notch after he punches an officer, the one he disobeyed when he saved that one person’s life.  Billy’s status as a diver is stripped from him, and he resorts to heavy drinking.  But he takes a chance at redemption by training Carl after Carl loses his leg.  Although Billy has a low rank, he still has the respect of many colleagues, and he uses that to get Carl another chance.

Billy is an interesting character.  In the first half of the movie, he likes to beat up on subordinates (especially Carl) because that makes him feel powerful, after he’d been dressed down and demoted to diving instructor.  But he comes to respect Carl’s tenacity, and that inspires him not to give up after his own status as a diver is stripped away.  Instead of continuing to wallow in self-pity, Billy looks for a way to help somebody else.

Inspiring movie!  Thanks for the recommendation, Mom!

2.  In Ancient Israelite Religion, I read Joseph Naveh’s “Proto-Canaanite, Archaic Greek, and the Script of the Aramaic Text on the Tell Fakhariyah Statue.” 

What interested me was the direction in which languages were written in the ancient Near East.  Hebrew is written from right to left.  In my post from a while back, Right to Left, Death, Intention, I wondered if that was the case with other ancient Near Eastern languages.  I wasn’t entirely sure about Akkadian because it had been a while since I took it.  Well, I checked my copy of David Marcus’ Manual of Akkadian (which I used for David Marcus’ class at Jewish Theological Seminary), and I saw that Akkadian read from left to right. 

Naveh comments on the direction of languages in a few places.  On page 102, he states that, from the middle of the eleventh century B.C.E., letters in the Canaanite language “were written only horizontally from right to left…”  On page 105, he says that other scripts were “written either from left to right or from right to left, or in boustrophedon” (which I’m not in the mood to look up).

I looked through John Huehnergard’s essay on languages in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, and I read that Ugaritic was written from left to right. 

Hebrew reads from right to left because it comes from Canaanite, which read from right to left.  But there are similarities between Hebrew and languages that read from left to right: Akkadian and Ugaritic.  Hebrew probably drew from those languages, or they all share similar features because they’re from an ancient Near Eastern setting.

Why did Canaanite go from right to left?  On pages 101-102, Naveh says that, in the second millennium B.C.E., the letters of the alphabet were pictures.  Bet means house, kaf means palm, etc., and the shapes of the letters were pictures of those things.  According to Naveh, “By the thirteenth century the number of Proto-Canaanite signs was reduced to twenty-two, but the pictographic conception still permitted the flexibility of the stances and writing in any direction: from left to right, from right to left, in vertical columns, and even in horizontal or vertical boustrophedon” (there’s that word again!).  By 1100 B.C.E., vertical writing disappeared, and Canaanite came to read from right to left. 

Naveh seems to be saying that, at a certain point, it didn’t matter whether Canaanite read from left to right, right to left, or vertically, for the pictures made the direction irrelevant.  Eventually, the Canaanites decided to go with right to left. 

I’m not sure if I totally understand his point about pictures.  Is Naveh saying that readers saw a picture of a house (bet), and that’s why it didn’t matter which direction “house” was written in?  But Naveh also states that the bet functioned as a “b” in a word. Maybe, in the end, direction doesn’t matter.  I’m used to reading from left to right, but that’s because of my culture; I can adapt to reading from right to left when I read Hebrew, and it doesn’t bother me that much as it did when I first studied the language.

3.  In Reading Between Texts, I read L. Daniel Hawk’s “Strange Houseguests: Rahab, Lot, and the Dynamics of Deliverance.”  Hawks states that the use of shakab (to lay) in Joshua 2:1 means that the two Israelite spies slept with Rahab, a prostitute.  I’ve heard that interpretation before, but I thought it sounded pretty tacky; yet, I can picture a modern-day Bible movie making a scene about that!  Hawks’ point seems to be that there’s a lesson here: the act of the two spies foreshadows how the Canaanite women will seduce the Israelites years later, turning the Israelites away from their God (Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 7:3-4; 31:16-18). 

Hawks still has respect for Rahab, though, for she acknowledges the God of Israel and secures the escape of herself and her loved ones from the sword of the Israelites.  But the Israelite spies still made a boo-boo.  Such a character defect would bite them in the behind years later!

4.  I’m still making my way through Theodore Mullen’s Ethnic Myths and Pentateuchal Foundations.  On page 77, Mullen quotes with approval minimalist Philip Davies’ contention that the Jews who “returned” to Palestine under Cyrus may not have been descended from the Jewish exiles; rather, for Davies, they could have been “subjects of transportation, moved to underdeveloped or sensitive regions for reasons of imperial economic and political policy.”  On page 80, in a footnote, Mullen denies that the traditions in the Hebrew Bible were composed whole-cloth during the Persian Period, for they could have been “quite ancient.”

Yesterday, in my post, Adam Cartwright, Creating Identity, Not So Vague This Time, Prayer About Distractions, I quoted Mullen’s statement that Israel composed her history when the exile threatened the Jews with assimilation or religio-cultural dissolution.

I wonder how all of this fits together.  For a people-group to compose a history in order to avoid assimilation or cultural dissolution, that implies that the people-group has to exist in the first place.  So I have a hard time reconciling this idea with the notion that random people were plopped into Palestine and had to develop a culture right on the spot, which (if i’m not mistaken) seems to be Davies’ proposal.  It makes more sense that the people who returned from exile were trying to preserve the culture of a distinct people-group, even if the expression of that culture in the Pentateuch was new at that time. 

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Bible, Black History Month, Movies, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.