Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

I voted. I won't get any free ice cream, I probably won't get a free donut, and there's only a slight chance I'll get any free coffee. Still . . . I think it was worth it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Blue Parakeet: The Book and I

A few weeks ago I responded to an offer on Jesus Creed to receive an advance reader copy of Scot McKnight's The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (Zondervan, 2008).

I'm happy to announce that the book has arrived today. As the subtitle indicates, The Blue Parakeet takes a look at how Christians have read, are reading, and perhaps should read the Bible. The first chapter, "The Book and I," takes its starting point from the most problematic of slogans: "God said it, I believe it, that settles it for me!" (p. 11), to which Scot responds, "Hogwash!" He then goes on to chronicle a number of instances in which the Bible is very clear in what it says, whether about observing the Sabbath, tithing, foot washing, and so on, but in which serious-minded, Bible-believing Christians don't seem to be very serious-minded about actually doing what the Bible is saying.

Scot writes autobiographically here:
What I learned was an uncomfortable but incredibly intriguing truth: Every one of us adopts the Bible and (at the same time) adapts the BIble to our culture. In less appreciated terms, I'll put it this way: Everyone picks and chooses. I know this sounds out of the box and off the wall for many, but no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, it's true. We pick and choose. (It's easier for us to hear "we adopt and adapt," but the two expressions amount to the same thing.) (13; my emphasis)

At this point (remember, I've only just begun reading) I find myself appreciate Scot's discussion on two levels. First, he avoids the too-easy criticism that other people are picking and choosing which parts of the Bible to observe and which to marginalize and acknowledges up front and openly that everyone picks and chooses. As he eventually says, "I knew there was plenty of picking and choosing on both sides of every question (18; original emphasis). Second, and more importantly, Scot doesn't approaching this picking-and-choosing as a problem to be corrected. Rather than asking, How can we stop picking and choosing and start observing every written letter?, Scot turns his attention to why:
I believe many of us want to know why we pick and choose. Even more importantly, many of us want to know how to do this in a way that honors God and embraces the Bible as God's Word for all times. (13; original emphases)

This is exactly right. The idea that we should treat every word of the Bible as of equal moral and ethical weight is, to re-use a word, hogwash. Is the proscription in Deut. 14.21 against boiling a young goat in its mother's milk on the same level as the injunction to love the LORD with all one's heart, soul, and might (Deut 6.5)? Of course not. Even the insistence, should one want to make it, that rather than choosing between these two commands we should observe them both does not obviate the point that the latter is weightier than the former. Scot's question — How can we pick and choose in a way that honors God and embraces the Bible as God's Word for all times? — is exactly the question with which Christians ought to be wrestling.

In all of this Scot keeps his focus on something far more important than the book's subtitle might have led us to expect: Not just how we read the Bible but how we live the Bible in today's world. But reading the Bible — and examining and challenging how we read the Bible — runs its own risks, how much greater are those challenges presented by living the Bible.

As I've said, I'm only just beginning The Blue Parakeet, and it's far too soon to say I like this book (or that I don't). But at this point I appreciate the questions Scot raises as well as his focus on living the text over merely reading it. To be honest, I suspect that "living" is what most of us mean when we say "reading," but it's good for us every now and then to remind ourselves that this is what we mean. I also appreciate the personal tone of Scot's writing. The questions asked here aren't (if I understand him rightly) about what we should think about war or homosexuality or foot washing or charismatic gifts. Rather, the questions ask what we actually think about such things on the basis of how we actualize the biblical text in our own moral and ethical decisions. These are much more serious questions, and (to be honest) I'm much less comfortable asking them.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

unicode question

I hate PCs. Life on my Mac is wonderful, and I can't understand why anyone would willingly subject themselves to owning and using a computer that decides for itself whether it will do what you ask it to do.

But some of my students are stiff-necked and uncircumcised of heart, and I find myself having to know how to explain to my sometimes hapless students how to manipulate their PCs into doing what it's been told.

But one thing I can't figure out for the life of me is how to make a circumflex accent [ᾶ] and a iota subscript [ᾳ] appear with the same character [as in ᾷ, which I've done on my Mac]. This is really easy on my Mac, but I can't get it on this PC I'm using at the moment. Any ideas?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Ig Nobel Prize winners announced

This year's Ig Nobel Prize winners have been announced. As a teaser, here's the Economics Prize:
ECONOMICS PRIZE. Geoffrey Miller, Joshua Tybur and Brent Jordan of the University of New Mexico, USA, for discovering that a professional lap dancer's ovulatory cycle affects her tip earnings.
REFERENCE: "Ovulatory Cycle Effects on Tip Earnings by Lap Dancers: Economic Evidence for Human Estrus?" Geoffrey Miller, Joshua M. Tybur, Brent D. Jordan, Evolution and Human Behavior, vol. 28, 2007, pp. 375-81.

The rest are just as worthy of a quick glance.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

voting Green?

Cynthia McKinney, former Congresswoman (D) from Georgia and current Green Party presidential candidate, makes this asinine statement fully aware that cameras were rolling. As sick as I am of the current manifestation of our two-party system, this video reinforces my belief that political parties are like spouses: Problems with your current ones don't get better by adding more.

on digital natives

Today at insidehighered.com Andy Guess interviews John Palfrey and Urs Gasser about their book, Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives. They cover issues from encouraging students to develop the skills to assess information, to allowing or banning technology in the classroom, among others.

A short quote, this one from Urs Gasser:
From our interviews, we’ve learned that many digital natives place high trust in the pieces information that they find online. . . . Younger kids in particular are relying on quite surprising clues to make quality assessments online. The color of a Web site, for example, or the amount of text displayed on a Web site are frequently used as indicators of the level of quality of information. It’s rather obvious that these features are not necessarily reliable proxies. However, among the digital natives that spend a lot of time online, we see a different pattern emerge: They tend to be more skeptical when it comes to online information, and they usually visit more than one site to check whether the information found on a given Web site is credible or not. It’s somewhat counterintuitive: The more time kids spend online, the better the skills to make sound quality judgments. But it’s also important to understand that it’s generally challenging for children to assess the quality of information, regardless of whether on- or offline.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


I'm certain I'm missing something; I just don't know what. Perhaps you can help me out. In the NYTimes review of Religulous, the new movie from Bill Maher and Larry Charles that attempts to unite and call to action America's atheists and agnostics, I read the following:
Of the 16 percent who told Pew researchers they were [religiously] unaffiliated, only 4 percent said they were atheistic or agnostic; the others said they were “nothing in particular.” And even among disbelievers, 21 percent of atheists and 55 percent of agnostics said they believed in God[!]. (my emphases)

Clearly I've misunderstood what I thought was one of atheism's central atheological tenets . . .

[HT: Chris Brady]

Monday, September 29, 2008

what's wrong with America

In an earlier post I suggested that we increase elected officials' pay if they pledge not to actually do anything that affects our lives. This week (and it's only Monday!) the semi-permanent residents of the District of Columbia have offered hints that they're willing to do this for free. The current fear-mongering regarding the $700B bailout boggles the mind; I wouldn't be surprised to read in tomorrow's paper that the incidence of miscarriage among pregnant women (the demographic most in danger of suffering miscarriages, by the way) has skyrocketed in light of the House's failure to pass the Bailout Bill. I, of course, have no idea (and no way of having an idea) how serious the problem will be in the absence of massive government action, but I can't help but feel manipulated in light of the all the . . . well, fear-mongering (to repeat a phrase).

What is even more depressing is the way the Democrats have blamed the Republican leadership (I can barely type the phrase) for failing to strong-arm the twelve votes by which today's bill failed, while the Republicans have bravely laid the blame on a partisan speech (a speech!) by HM Pelosi. McCain and Obama, for fear of being pushed off the front pages, have likewise blamed each other and each other's party for today's non-events and the DOW's response. Apparently, we've had eight years (not ten, not six, but eight; 2000 was, if we remember it correctly, the zenith of American — nay, of human, culture) of a right-wing government screwing the ordinary person. Either that, or we have a slender majority of Legislative politicians only interested in partisan bickering. It depends on who you believe. (NB, it does not depend on any demonstrable and rational argumentation.)

Every politician, whether of the Rs or the Ds, has failed to recognize, however, that they are the problem. Not the D behind their name; neither the R. It is they. All of them. The problem isn't "the failed policies of the last eight years" (that cliché needs to be retired!); neither is it do-nothing Congress that, paradoxically, is both less popular than W and simultaneously poised to become more of what it already is come November. Rather, the problem is the utter and complete lack of leadership within the I-495 Beltway. There simply is no leadership in Washington, and by definition that leadership lacks both a D and an R.

That, I think, goes some way toward explaining the Palin phenomenon. I've watched with interest as April DeConick has vented her frustration (rage?) at both Palin and those who are energized by her presence in the race. DeConick, of course, has a number of legitimate concerns about Palin, and her expression of those concerns is in no way unique or unusual. But I'm not convinced that Palin is as popular as she is simply because men find her physically appealing or because conservative Republicans are stupid. Of course, neither am I convinced when she says Republicans
have nothing except their own self-interests at heart. They are using Palin to present themselves as a party for Every(wo)man, when in fact, they are a party dominated by a white male elites who are more concerned about making quick money (and getting bailed out) at our expense and our children's expense and their children's expense.

This is the same kind of partisan rhetorical excess of which both parties are guilty and which has no value except for being excessively partisan and rhetorical.

Rather, I think Palin has energized the Republican base because she taps into the general ethos throughout the country that beltway insiders — and not whether they have an R or a D after their names — are themselves the problem. Neither Obama nor Biden, and not even McCain, tap into this ethos as convincingly as the governor from almost-Russia. Palin is as far away from "inside Washington politics" as you can get, whether geographically or ideologically (which is to accede the point that she doesn't know what every other presidential and vice-presidential candidate knows). Of course, being from Alaska, she does have a unique vantage point vis-à-vis the energy debate we need to have. But I think she could accidentally call the British PM "Gordon Blair" and a significant portion of the country wouldn't care. She's not an insider. That might make her look uninformed, but it also makes her uninvested in the status quo. Obama's original appeal, by no means disappeared but certainly diminished (at least from last spring), was the appeal of an outsider, but his tit-for-tat campaigning against McCain, and especially his choice of insider-extraordinaire Joe Biden, has left Palin the sole candidate campaigning for office space at 1600 Pennsylvania with substantial NKOTB appeal.

Palin clearly isn't ready to be POTUS, and I can understand why many people worry about her being a heartbeat away from the Oval Office. But it seems to me that Obama is just like Palin, only without the heartbeat's breadth of insulation. The primary difference between Obama and Palin (apart from policy perspectives, of course)? Both have been enrolled in intensive tutorials on domestic and international politics since the summer, but Obama is a Sophomore, while Palin is still a Freshman. Oh . . . and Obama is at the top of the D-ticket. In the meantime neither Obama[-Biden] nor [McCain-]Palin are "what's wrong with America." Rather, it's the irrepressible partisan rankling that has distracted politicians of both parties that they serve the people of the USofA rather than their party membership.

UPDATE: Chris Brady makes available this voicemail from Obama's campaign. This is exactly the sort of thing I was talking about, above. Of course, McCain's campaign hasn't eschewed flinging mud of its own, though to be honest this voicemail surpasses anything I've seen that comes directly from either campaign.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

gone Greek (and I ate too much!)

Last night my family and I went to GreekFest 2008 at Knoxville's St. George Greek Orthodox Church. I have always enjoyed my experiences with the Greek Orthodox church; the sense of culture and history surpasses anything I ever experience in my own faith tradition. It's not just the food and the dancing; I also appreciate the challenges of perpetuating a native culture from inside American culture. In the Orthodox Church Christianity also has a heavy sense of history, of connection with something older than the Information Age. I'm uncomfortable with all the icons and general decor of the sanctuary (and its supporting theology), but there is something to be said about keeping in mind brothers and sisters in Christ from previous generations as we struggle to discern and be faithful to authentic Christianity in our own day.

On another note, a guy with a microphone making announcements and emceeing the entertainment made a comment that snagged in my brain. As he was encouraging visitors to take a tour of the church and hear the history and explanation of the Greek Orthodox faith, he called the Orthodox church "the original Christian faith." After that comment I began to wonder if the combination of emphatically Greek culture and Christian Church was, for the Orthodox, more than just an expression of Christianity but rather the expression of Christianity. In other words, the icons weren't merely images of Jesus and the saints as Christian heroes; they were images of Jesus and the saints as Greek heroes! In that ideological milieu, just as in my own faith tradition, it is all the more important that we remember that Christianity isn't a Western religion but an Asian one. Christianity is the expression of the Jewish faith that has dramatically and definitively impacted the Western world.

RBL Newsletter (26 Sept 08)

The latest Review of Biblical Literature is out. Here's what caught my eye:

Joseph H. Hellerman
Jesus and the People of God: Reconfiguring Ethnic Identity
Reviewed by Vernon Robbins

Joseph B. Soloveitchik; David Shatz, Joel B. Wolowelsky, and Reuven Ziegler, eds.
Abraham's Journey: Reflections on the Life of the Founding Patriarch
Reviewed by Dan W. Clanton Jr.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

more abuse?

Even if Tony Alamo is innocent (something on which I cannot comment either way), the guy is creepy and clearly has an over-inflated sense of self.

UPDATE: Cnn.com reports that six girls taken from Tony Alamo's compound remain in state custody. My wife and I were once a part of the foster system, and we only hope that these girls' current environment is more conducive toward healthy physical and psychological development than was their alleged previous environment.

Monday, September 22, 2008

just an observation

Last week Joe Biden, on ABC's Good Morning America said, "It's time to be patriotic," in response to Kate Snow's question that anybody making over $250K a year will pay more taxes in an Obama administration.

Of course the reaction to this comment has been fierce, among both conservatives and McCain supporters (who are not necessarily the same people). Biden defended his remarks in Akron, Ohio, as reported on ABC's blog Political Radar:
"Catholic social doctrine as I was taught it is, you take care of people who need the help the most," Biden said in Akron. "Now it'd be different if you could make the case to me that by giving this tax cut to the very wealthy, everybody else was going to be better off. We saw what happened the last eight years when we gave that tax cut. Tell me how everybody is better off. And the point I want to make to you is, and I mean this sincerely — wealthy people are just as patriotic, patriotic as poor people. We just have not asked anything of them.”

The problem, I think, with Biden's comments isn't the notion that paying taxes is somehow "patriotic," which is actually a very silly idea given that paying taxes is neither voluntary nor connected in any way to one's feelings for or against one's country. (Does anyone really think Biden could have said anything like this outside the current discursive efforts to claim "patriotism" as a value of the left or of the right?!) Rather, the problem is the effort by both sides (especially by pro-government partisans of either party) to socialize philanthropy.

When I first entered vocational ministry I had to make a decision regarding whether or not I would opt out of Social Security. The minister under whom I worked explained that the only way I could opt out of SS was to sign a paper saying, essentially, that I didn't think we should help people in need. As a Christian minister, of course, I didn't think that, and I wondered how any Christian minister could sign that honestly. Since then, however, I have come to question the assumption underlying that assertion; I think the point, rather, is (or at least ought to be) whether or not you think the government is the best avenue for helping others.

For Joe Biden, apparently, the best and most direct avenue for social responsibility runs straight through the executive and legislative centers of America's federal and state governements. I say this honestly, in part because, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the Bidens have averaged $369 per year in charitable giving for the past ten years. [I couldn't find similar info for McCain; though the same website reports that John McCain gave 26% of his income in charitable giving in 2007, it would be unfair to Biden to suggest these are comparable statistics.] I assume the Bidens's contributions to the IRS have been significantly more substantial, though I also assume that the Bidens also take advantage of the tax deductions for which they are eligible in order to keep as much of their money as they can. For the Bidens, then, paying taxes does indeed appear to be their way of being philanthopic and humanitarian (n.b. not patriotic).

But for many of us, including people like me who are neither liberally minded nor necessarily conservative, the government has proven itself inept and inefficient as a means for helping people whose lives are in desperate need of improvement. One needs only consider the response to Katrina, the current malaise of Galvestonians and Houstonians in Ike's wake, the state of those who depend upon Social Security, and any other governmental effort to improve the quality of life for the hard-pressed to see that suspicion of government programs is at the very least reasonable.

In the light of the acrimonious state of the American political scene, which seems to have become even more partisan since at least November 2000, I would plead with the American public, the media, and the Democratic and Republican political machines to reframe the debate. The question isn't about patriotism; it isn't even about whether or not those of us who "have" should identify with and assist those of us who "have not." The question, rather, is: What is the best, most effective, and most efficient avenue for us to help "the least of these."

Saturday, September 20, 2008


I apologize for the long silence; blogging has had to take a backseat for the last month or so. Besides the beginning of classes, my wife and I moved house (the garage is still packed with boxes four weeks later!), my college changed network systems (two weeks before the start of classes; that wasn't a popular move, to say the very least . . .), I had a handful of speaking engagements, and my wife had a significant birthday (I can't say how old she is; suffice it to say she is officially the age at which it is now impolite to ask a lady her age).

We've had a good month, and I hope to start commenting about it a bit more regularly here. So stay tuned . . . or not, it's up to you.

RBL Newsletter (13 Sept 08)

The latest Review of Biblical Literature is out. Here's what caught my eye:

James H. Charlesworth, ed.
The Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls: The Second Princeton Symposium on Judaism and Christian Origins
Reviewed by Matthew Goff

Zeba A. Crook and Philip A. Harland, eds.
Identity and Interaction in the Ancient Mediterranean: Jews, Christians and Others: Essays in Honour of Stephen G. Wilson
Reviewed by Thomas W. Gillespie

Rodney J. Decker
Koine Greek Reader: Selections from the New Testament, Septuagint, and Early Christian Writers
Reviewed by Pierre Johan Jordaan

Simcha Fishbane
Deviancy in Early Rabbinic Literature: A Collection of Socio-Anthropological Essays
Reviewed by Mayer I. Gruber

Mark W. Hamilton, Thomas H. Olbricht, and Jeffrey Peterson, eds.
Renewing Tradition: Studies in Texts and Contexts in Honor of James W. Thompson
Reviewed by Nathan Guy

B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort
The Greek New Testament with Dictionary
Reviewed by Allan J. McNicol

Friday, September 05, 2008

RBL Newsletter (5 Sept 08)

The latest Review of Biblical Literature is out. Here's what caught my eye:

Stephen C. Barton, ed.
Idolatry: False Worship in the Bible, Early Judaism and Christianity
Reviewed by Thomas J. Kraus

Kent E. Brower and Andy Johnson, eds.
Holiness and Ecclesiology in the New Testament
Reviewed by James M. Howard

David B. Capes, Rodney Reeves, and E. Randolph Richards
Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters, and Theology
Reviewed by Rodrigo J. Morales

Paul M. Fullmer
Resurrection in Mark's Literary-Historical Perspective
Reviewed by Pheme Perkins

Edith M. Humphrey, ed.
And I Turned to See the Voice: The Rhetoric of Vision in the New Testament
Reviewed by Bart J. Koet

Steve Moyise and Maarten J. J. Menken, eds.
Deuteronomy in the New Testament: The New Testament and the Scriptures of Israel
Reviewed by Michael A. Lyons
Reviewed by David Lincicum

Stanley E. Porter, ed.
Paul and His Opponents
Reviewed by Justin K. Hardin

Magnus Riska
The House of the Lord: A Study of the Temple Scroll Columns 29:3b-47:18
Reviewed by George J. Brooke

Norman Solomon, Richard Harries, and Tim Winter, eds.
Abraham's Children: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conversation
Reviewed by Joel N. Lohr

Sunday, August 31, 2008

eating the mushrooms

Okay, so the story behind this post's title is too long to share here; suffice it to say the title raises the question: What am I willing to risk to move my faith from belief in to acting upon. As I was challenged this morning to move from belief to action, the answer to that question was clear in my head. All afternoon, except during the nap that has become a Sunday tradition that I also try to observe on other days of the week, the words have echoed in my mind. Here's my answer:

I ask God to give us the strength to enter into the suffering of those in my community so that they might share in the blessings I've been given.

A brief explanation: My family and I live on the semi-rural campus of the college that employs me. Our house is provided and maintained by my employer (which has its problems, of course, but in the balance we are very well taken care of), so there's a whole area of life that we don't have to devote too much time or energy worrying about. Our neighbors are, without exception, faculty, staff, and students of this small private college. There isn't a single run-down, dodgy building within sight (even though there are three different trailor parks on campus). The things my neighbors worry about (and get upset about) include finishing midterm papers and preparing for exams, whether the neighbor mows his lawn with adequate frequency, whether the teenage children of my coworkers had permission when they accessed school facilities, and (this is a particularly pressing concern at the moment) whether residents observe the posted 15 mph speed limit in the residential areas of campus.

In other words, we are very sheltered.

In the midst of all of this, my greatest fears are these. First, that we will forget that outside this sheltered enclave is a real world where people have to worry about mortgages, neighbors, the cost of keeping their homes heated, dysfunctional and abusive domestic environments, and so on. My immediate world is untouched by these concerns. And while ours is a wonderful community to raise children, the fact is that many parents — single, teenage, homeless, unemployed, abused, underemployed, or whatever — cannot provide such a safe and caring environment for their children. Every day I run the risk of thinking, subconsciously if not on purpose, that these parents must not love their children as much as my wife and I love our daughter. I cannot imagine what it must be like to want to provide for your children and not be able to. This is a blessing that the vast majority of the world's population, I would imagine, have never known.

We are an explicitly and intentionally Christian community, but there is a real danger that as a Christian community we will forget that Jesus explicitly and intentionally sought out the hurting and poor around him. The paradox is striking and terrifying: Claiming to have committed to live lives faithful to him and his teachings, our day-to-day lives risk looking nothing like his. And how does that work? How do we who claim to be (or seek to be) his disciples live lives wholly unlike his?

Second, I worry that my daughter, who was seven months old when we moved here, will grow up thinking that the rest of the world is just like this little world she knows. The longer we stay here (and we have no plans to leave at the moment), the more she will think this place is "normal." What a shallow person she will be if she doesn't know that this place, rather than the city around us, is the oddity.

But I have a plan, a plan I've had in mind since my daughter was a bundle of elbows and knees poking and prodding my wife from the inside. I'm sure my plan, by itself, isn't enough to counter the pervasive secludedness of our community. But it's a beginning, a "square one" from which we can begin to take the blessings we've been given and share them with those around us. I can't give specifics here, but I'm coming to believe that now is the time to begin taking my daughter by the hand and introducing her, in measured doses at first, to the rest of the world.

But I also have a request. You don't need to live where I live to be sheltered like I'm sheltered. In fact, if you're a Western Christian, you probably know exactly what I'm wrestling with here. So, in the comments below, I invite you to answer the question, How have you poked holes in the bubble that protects you and your family from the rest of the world? What risks have you taken to keep from isolating yourself from the chaos outside?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

RBL Newsletter (27 Aug 08)

The latest Review of Biblical Literature is out. Here's what caught my eye:

Michael F. Bird
The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification and the New Perspective
Reviewed by Martin Meiser

Reta Halteman Finger
Of Widows and Meals: Communal Meals in the Book of Acts
Reviewed by Steve Walton

Ronald E. Heine
Reading the Old Testament with the Ancient Church: Exploring the Formation of Early Christian Thought
Reviewed by Martin C. Albl

David M. Scholer, ed.
Social Distinctives of the Christians in the First Century: Pivotal Essays by E. A. Judge
Reviewed by Tsalampouni Ekaterini

Dead Sea Scrolls online

A number of blogs (HT: PaleoJudaica.com and Codex) have mentioned the New York Time's report that the Dead Sea Scrolls are being rephotographed and will be made available online. This is great news for everyone interested in all aspects of Second Temple Judaism (not least the New Testament and Christian Origins). This project is not just about access to the scrolls' contents but also the preservation of their substance. The number of recent efforts to photograph ancient manuscripts and make them accessible online is perhaps the most important thing happening in biblical and related studies today. What an exciting time!

Monday, August 25, 2008

too little, too late for Edwards

Today's Daily News reports that former Senator and one-time media darling John Edwards (oh . . . and he also ran for POTUS) is busily making phone calls to former supporters begging forgiveness and expressing regret for his affair with staffer Reille Hunter. Edwards, apparently, is not offering excuses or explanations; he's only expressing regret:
One source who compared notes with other former colleagues said Edwards makes no attempt to justify or rationalize his behavior in these desperate phone conversations. He simply expresses his regret for deceiving them and asks for their understanding and forgiveness.
Apparently, however, his regret does not strike one-time supporters as sincere, or at least not sincere enough:
Many think he's still not telling the truth.

"As painful as it will be for him, he needs to come clean," one of them said. "There's an overwhelming view that he's still lying."

The sad truth is that Edwards has fallen victim to the common human condition: Ever the idealist (whether honestly or merely for political leverage), Edwards could not avoid the cold, hard reality of human fallenness. Theologians identify "sin" as inherent in the human animal. Maybe; I'm not so sure. Regardless, sin is pervasive. Perhaps that's why the Daily News piece saddened me. Edwards deserves every bit of shame and scorn he receives. But so do those heaping the shame and scorn. While we're at it, so do I.

I sympathize with his former supporters: They saw in him a hope for the future, regardless of what the rest of us saw, and now they feel betrayed and humiliated. Of course, the real victim in all of this is the hapless Mrs. Edwards. Well beyond being publicly humiliated, the man who had promised to forsake all others and to cherish and honor her forsook instead his vow, and this when she needed him most. I emphasize the wrongs done to her not to draw our attention to Mr. Edwards's flaws but to put in perspective the failings that plague us all.

To be sure, Edwards' defeat in the Democratic primaries was a victory for America (perhaps not an unbiased assessment). But his moral failure is no one's victory, and the sad aftermath of this drama, including John's spurned pleas for a second chance, reveals the worst in human behavior and relationships. Edwards's story reveals precisely the problem that Jesus' story solves. Before we point our fingers and cast aspersions on a man who once hoped to have his mail forwarded to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., let's make sure we remember that our stories, too, would be tragedies were it not for a man who once blessed the poor, the meek, and those who make for peace.

Friday, August 22, 2008

tragedy in Cincinnati

Both my wife and I are recent graduates of Cincinnati Christian University. So our hearts were broken when we heard about the tragic death of Jenna Edwards (see here for the words of a CCU administrator). Please pray for the Edwards family and for the faculty, staff, and students at CCU. These stories always break my heart, not only for the innocence of the life lost but also because this could happen to any of us (or at least to me). May God receive Jenna's precious spirit and comfort her loving, grieving family.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Greek vocabulary resource

I generally add links to online Greek resources to the sidebar, but as this is a commercial product for sale, I've decided not to add it there. Nevertheless, over on Deinde Danny Zacharias has just made available the catchily (and descriptively) named NT Greek Vocabulary Expansion Packs, available here. I will post a response to the Expansion Packs in a couple weeks. But at a mere $8.00 (with an offer for $8 off Flash! Pro [for PC users], making the Expansion Packs free), some of you might find it worth the cost to try these out on your own.

[NB: David Alan Black has provided free online flashcards for his first year Greek Grammar Learn to Read New Testament Greek (see the link on the sidebar). Danny's Expansion Packs are keyed to four different first-year grammars, including Black's.]

Monday, August 18, 2008

seven years of plenty

Today (Monday, 18 August 2008) my wife and I celebrate our seventh anniversary. During the last seven years I have had an up-close and intimate look at what real, unconditional love looks like. In ways mostly unintentional I test my wife's patience and commitment almost daily, and at every turn she proves herself up to the challenge of living with me. Better men than I have expressed in more poetic words than I can string together their admiration and appreciation for the women who put up with them. I can only say that even their words don't express how much I love my wife. I love her more today than seven years ago.

Friday, August 15, 2008

RBL Newsletter (15 Aug 08)

A number of bloggers already reproduce the Review of Biblical Literature newsletter, either in whole or in part, which I find helpful and therefore unnecessary for Verily Verily. Even so, I've been thinking about listing the reviews of those books that interest me. The links listed here (as well as in future, similar posts), then, are to those reviews of books that pique my interests, whether they relate specifically to the New Testament or otherwise. [NB: This does not mean that books not linked to here are uninteresting.]

With all the necessary prolegomena out of the way, take especial note of these reviews:

Paul J. Achtemeier
Jesus and the Miracle Tradition
Reviewed by Michael Labahn

Roland Boer, ed.
Bakhtin and Genre Theory in Biblical Studies
Reviewed by David W. Williams

Maria Brutti
The Development of the High Priesthood during the Pre-Hasmonean Period: History, Ideology, Theology
Reviewed by Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer

Leslie Houlden, ed.
Decoding Early Christianity: Truth and Legend in the Early Church
Reviewed by Robert M. Bowman Jr.

Tom Thatcher, ed.
What We Have Heard from the Beginning: The Past, Present, and Future of Johannine Studies
Reviewed by Cornelis Bennema

Francis Watson
Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective
Reviewed by James D. G. Dunn

The previous RBL newsletter had a few interesting books, too; the most important, for my interests, should be mentioned here:

Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik, eds.
Jewish Believers in Jesus
Reviewed by Elizabeth Boddens Hosang and Bart J. Koet

diversity of Christian campuses

A few weeks ago I commented on an Inside Higher Ed piece concerning racial diversity on college campuses and on their promotional materials (see here). Today's Inside Higher Ed has this piece on the diversity of Christian college campuses. I have a couple thoughts.
  1. First, this is good news. Diversifying Christian campuses, especially more conservative/evangelical campuses such as the one I proudly serve, is arguably more difficult than diversifying public or private non-religious institutions because requirements other than race have significant impact on the racial makeup of the student body. Christian campuses often have denominational affiliations that constrain the cultural and theological changes they can make to attract students from other faith traditions (read: races). Relatedly, those denominational affiliations also provide a major recruiting ground for Christian institutions, so colleges affiliated with traditionally White faith traditions already face an uphill battle in recruiting students of other races. Also, at many of these institutions (including mine) full-time faculty have to sign a statement of faith and/or attend a specific denominational church. As in the case of Calvin College, that means that professional and academic qualifications alone do not suffice to make one eligible to teach at Christian institution. The lack of diversity among full-time faculty is a major impediment to the diversification of the student body.
  2. Second, despite being a good thing, the article suffers from a major weakness. As I pointed out in my post on Facial Diversity, too often in American discussions of race focus exclusively (or nearly so) on the Black population. This comes through in the current article in two ways. (a) Most obviously, the article focuses exclusively on the (commendable) increase of Black students on Christian campuses. Other minorities are mentioned only as an after-thought, as in the following quote from Paul R. Corts, president of the CCCU:
    Seeing that there are more black students enrolled is only part of the picture because one of the reasons you get more black students is because you’ve been making your campus more welcoming to blacks and other minorities as well.

    ". . . and other minorities as well." While I'm sure this is unintentional, as a member of a non-Black minority group, I can't help but read this as a marginalizing of non-Blacks as quasi-non-minorities (but still also non-White/non-majority). While Black and White is more racially diverse than just White, it still misses out on a lot (even most) of the potential diversity that the Church (and all its affiliated institutions) should be pursuing. (b) More subtly, the article nowhere addresses the responsibilities of the Black community to participate in the effort to diversify Christian (and other) campuses. The phenomenal increases in enrollment of Black students reported in the article are not simply the result of the efforts of predominantly White Christian colleges to attract a broader mix of students. Those colleges have had to develop relationships with other organizations, not least traditionally Black faith traditions and churches, colleges and social organizations, which themselves have had to participate in the efforts to encourage Black students to matriculate into those colleges. In other words, I think the credit for the good things going on among CCCU's member institutions ought to be more broadly spread.
  3. Third, my own institution, as I've already said, still has a lot of work to do to diversify our student body, our faculty, and our staff and administration. That said, we already have a surprisingly diverse campus community, if race is not allowed to be the sole criterion of diversity. And while we do still have our work cut out for us, we also need to be up front that there are some aspects of diversity that our campus outright rejects. As the most obvious example, we will always be a Christian college, so religious diversity, beyond the boundaries of Christian praxis and theology, will never be welcomed here. That's not to say that Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and atheist individuals, etc. will be driven off campus by angry students with pitchforks and torches. But those individuals will never be integrated into our identity as an institution.

I hope that the trends identified in the IHE piece continue in up-coming years; even more to the point, I hope these trends are already more broadly applicable and continue to be so in the future. My dream of a more diverse Church (in all its related institutions) jives with the politically correct emphasis on diversity, but it is not motivated by political correctness. Rather, I have in view the vision of John the Elder, who was granted a glimpse into heaven and was surprised by the gathering from every nation, tribe, and tongue to worship the Creator of the universe. Making our colleges and universities more accurately reflect the racial make-up of the country (or even the world) isn't a bad idea; a better one is to bring our institutions into conformity with the racial make-up of heaven.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

translating Genesis 1–11 [LXX] — UPDATE

According to Murphy's Law, if it can go wrong, it will. I find this scarcely adequate; I'm often amazed at how often something that couldn't possibly go wrong suddenly goes pear-shaped.

Just days after announcing the "coming out" of a new wiki website for the translation of Genesis 1–11 [LXX], the wiki host I was using suffered a major attack and went offline for a couple days. Though the old site is still available, I have moved the whole wiki over to a new hosting service. The new website, GreekBible, is up and available for anyone interested. I have expanded the scope of GreekBible to include the entire, well . . . Greek Bible; as of right now, however, only the text of Genesis 1–11 is available.

I have added a link to GreekBible in my sidebar (under "collaboratives"). Feel free to check it out, join the community, and add to the discussion.

[UPDATE: I have just added the Greek text of Romans 1–8 to GreekBible (click here). More texts will be coming shortly, though probably not before next week.]

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

research resources

Over at Old in the New James Darlack has compiled a list of helpful starting points for biblical and theological research. As noted in the comments section, the task of compiling bibliographic resources is as gargantuan (and impossible) as documenting every instance of "manipulating the truth" in American presidential campaigns. Even so, a good starting point is a valuable ally. I hope you find this helpful.

in the Olympic spirit

Over on Targuman Chris Brady posted this video. I don't usually shamelessly reproduce other people's post, but this is hilarious. The first time I watched this I didn't even notice the other panda.

Monday, August 11, 2008

baptism and grace

I was baptized during the first week of January in 1997 at a small, rural church in NE Ohio. I was nineteen and (or so I thought) relatively creative and reasonably intelligent, even if no one else realized it. Even so, I never thought to do what this kid did, and now I will always wonder, What if? (HT: Thanks, Papa.)


BIBL 5107 Lesson 4:

Acts 13 — Barnabas's and Paul's adventures in Pisidian Antioch — represents a crucial narratological moment in the development of Acts's account of Paul's proclamation of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire. As R. Longenecker writes:
At Pisidian Antioch the typical pattern of the Pauline ministry was established: an initial proclamation in the synagogue to Jews and Gentile adherents and then, when refused an audience in the synagogue, a direct ministry to Gentiles. This pattern is reproduced in every city visited by Paul with a sizable Jewish population — except Athens." (Acts, 422)

I think Longenecker is spot on, for the most part. The extended account in Acts 13 establishes a basic pattern of ministry that is invoked in abbreviated form in every subsequent account of Paul's experiences in the cities of the Mediterranean. Luke, I think, does this deliberately as a way of instructing the reader on appropriate reading strategies (I'm incorporating here some of John Miles Foley's appropriation of Iser's and Jauss's Receptionalist work; cf. Foley 1995:42ff.) by which we can more faithfully read his account of Paul's proclamation. This is why I think Longenecker is spot on only "for the most part": If Luke intends for us to incorporate this pattern into each account of Paul's activities (with, of course, the explicit modifications to this pattern that Luke provides), then even Paul's experiences in Athens may incorporate this pattern (cf. Acts 17.17a). This is a narratological suggestion rather than a historical one.

This point becomes especially important, I think, because some scholars have suggested that Luke espouses a supersessionist theology in which God has abandoned his old people, Israel, and has chosen his new people, the Church. But this fails to notice that, in every possible instance of Paul's ministry (i.e., even in Rome [Acts 28] but not in Lystra [Acts 14]) Luke presents Paul as ministering explicitly to Jews, even after his caustic exclamation, ""It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles" (Acts 13.46). In Luke's presentation, Israel continues to be at the heart of both God's people (see, inter alios, Paul and Barnabas) and God's mission (e.g., Paul's proclamation).

As concerns the importance of Galatia as an aspect of "the world of the NT," I note two things. First, as already suggested, the pattern of Paul's ministry throughout the Roman world was established (again, at least narratologically speaking) in Galatia. This might be a minor point, but I want to connect it with another point (perhaps equally minor): Famously, Luke's account of Paul's and Barnabas's experiences in Lystra (i.e., in Galatia) is strikingly parallel to his account of Peter's and John's experiences in the Jerusalem Temple in Acts 3–4. In terms of Acts' story, then, I wonder if these observations can be pressed to pry open Luke's perspective on the interaction of continuity and discontinuity between (a) Christianity as it developed under Paul's influence in the context of the wider Greco-Roman world (again, in Galatia) and (b) Christianity as it originally found expression as a Judean (or, in Luke's presentation, as a Jerusalem) sect.

BIBL 5203 Lesson 4:
Antioch vs. Alexandria

I have to admit that I'm not sure what I think about the Antioch||Alexandria schema that seems ubiquitous. There are obvious differences, of course, and if (I'm genuinely ignorant here) the ancients understood themselves — as Antiochenes and as Alexandrians — in terms of their not being the other, then this schema appears more helpful. But if not, if Antioch did not intentionally see itself as an antidote to Alexandrian allegorism (and/or vice versa), then I can only wonder what this schema causes us to miss even as it reveals something about both schools.

But I lack the qualification to propose another solution, so, within the traditional schema, I'd like to offer a few thoughts regarding the two approaches to biblical interpretation. First, the debate between (or dichotomization of) Aristotelian empiricism and Platonic mysticism not only has a lengthy pedigree but also continues to influence contemporary biblical exegesis and theology. As an example, Eerdmans is currently putting out a series of commentaries, The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary, that seeks "to bridge the existing gap between biblical studies and systematic theology." I haven't looked through any of the four currently available volumes in this series, but the very perception of this "gap" corresponds to contemporary empirical analyses of texts, on the one hand, and a more philosophical theological enterprise. I'm not disparaging the THNTC series; indeed, this seems to me a strength in light of other series' failure to recognize the difference between these approaches (e.g., compare this commentary on Romans with this on I and II Thessalonians). I'm not, at this point anyway, disparaging either approach to biblical interpretation; but the differences between them should be recognized and respected.

With respect to the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches, I should first admit that I am whole-heartedly persuaded of the methodological superiority of an Antiochene approach to Scripture. I'm not here arguing for a literal rather than allegorical approach to exegesis so much as I am advocating an approach where texts are read within a reconstruction of their original socio-historical context rather than simply from an uncritical acceptance of our (the readers') contexts. Because allegorical interpretation generates meanings from a text that apply more directly (to say things kindly) to their readers than to their authors, this approach "de-natures" texts and treats them like contemporary rather than ancient artifacts. In other words, reading allegorically is akin to deciphering hieroglyphic inscriptions without need of the Rosetta Stone and the insights it affords: Who cares what the ancient Egyptians might have meant as they painted falcons and ankhs on the walls?

That said, I'm also wary of the reductionist potential inherent in emphatically literal interpretations of biblical texts. Some people, for example, insist so strongly on a particular, "literal" interpretation of certain texts that they fail to recognize the violence they themselves do to the texts they claim to be interpreting. In this way, ironically, I suggest that my own readings of the Genesis narrative are both more "literal" readings of the texts and yet do not necessitate specific literal events behind those texts. Not every text intends to communicate historical truth (see, e.g., Jesus' parable of the sower); reducing every biblical text to a historical statement fails to respect the other purposes texts — and language more generally — can serve. What is more, the significance a text can have for its readers does not depend on its original significance, at least insofar as this significance inheres between the text's author and original audience. In other words, "literal" interpretation does not end at a literal interpretation but can also raise questions the author never intended to raise. This last point, of course, lies at the heart of evangelical hermeneutics.

My last point, perhaps, is my most controversial. Let me first say that I am intentionally a biblical scholar and not a theologian. In recent years I have begun to appreciate the contribution theologians make, especially scholars such as Kevin Vanhoozer, John Franke, William Placher. (If my readings in theology appear narrow, that's probably because they are.) But earlier in my education I had only been exposed to theologians whose work seemed formulaic and rigid. That said, let me suggest that what we actually have in the Antioch||Alexandria dichotomy is not so much two approaches to biblical interpretation but rather two different methods of constructing Christianity. The Antiochene project (exegesis, in a broad sense) is biblical interpretation, whilst the Alexandrian project (theology, similarly broad) is not biblical interpretation but theological reflection. In the former, the text is primary and theological conclusions must be suggested by proposed interpretations of publicly available texts. In the latter, the text is a vehicle for expressing theological propositions that are not necessarily suggested by the text but are rather legitimated through them. The text, in this project, is ancillary to the allegorical meanings mapped onto the texts.

This tension between theology arising from the biblical text (Antioch), on the one hand, and theology finding expression through the biblical text (Alexandria), if I am correct in so naming this tension, has left an indelible mark on the Church (and its history of reading its sacred texts). Since Irenaeus at least — and arguably since the late-Pauline tradition — the purpose of biblical interpretation has often been to justify previously established theological conclusions rather than to refine and reform those conclusions. The naming of certain individuals and groups as "heretical" often — though not always — relies on theological convictions whose simplicity is at odds with the complexities of the texts themselves. I would suggest, tentatively, that many of the early Christological heresies fell victim to this move. It seems to me, for example, that Arius's portrayal of Jesus as the first born son of God, the instrument God created for the creation of the world, attempts (inadequately, in the end) to preserve the tension in the biblical text in the face of a (perceived?) denial of the distinction between God, the Creator of the world, and Wisdom/his Word, through whom God effected his creation. Similarly, the condemnation of emphatically Jewish expressions of Christianity as "heretical" seems, at least to me, at odds with the complexity of, for instance, Paul's arguments regarding the Law, the Jews, and God's covenant with humanity throughout Romans.

Perhaps some of these observations are too blunt to be of any historical, exegetical, or theological use. Perhaps the dichotomization of Antioch||Alexandria, as I first suggested, obscures some things even as it brings other things into view. But the tensions I'm trying to identify lie at the heart of my own faith tradition which seeks to marginalize Alexandria and to epitomize Antioch in slogans such as, "No creed but Christ; no book but the Bible" (see also my comments here). Even despite this slogan (or perhaps especially because of it), theological conflict in my tradition has often employed polemic and philosophical argument explicitly and neglected to pursue questions and answers through biblical interpretation. I suspect, in the end, that this is rooted in the oft-felt but rarely spoken recognition that sola Scriptura doesn't always (doesn't even usually, perhaps) support our own conclusions as clearly and as forcefully as we would like. In these cases, Alexandria becomes eminently useful; Antioch, not so much.

[For an Orthodox discussion of Antioch||Alexandria, see this article, though recognize that this site is remarkably partisan.]

Sunday, August 10, 2008

reading Jesus of Nazareth

This week I started reading Joseph Ratzinger's Jesus of Nazareth. I thought I'd give a few of my first impressions, and then make a few comments as I read the book.

Up to this point (I've read the Introduction and the first four chapters) this book doesn't strike me as a particularly academic book, though I am impressed by Ratzinger's reflectiveness and, for lack of a better word, sheer poeticism. It's easy to forget, as I read this book, that these are the thoughts of the man who epitomizes, for many people across the globe, the kingdom of God on earth. Ratzinger's writing is far from dogmatic, which came as a pleasant surprise given media reports, at the time of his appointment to the papacy (and since), that emphasized Ratzinger's nickname, God's Rottweiller. Some reviewer's on Facebook have referred to Ratzinger's humility, which I think goes a bit too far. That is, I'm not denying Ratzinger's humility, but I think the welcoming tenor in which Ratzinger wrote Jesus of Nazareth is more a function of his having written a legitimate contribution to the on-going conversation about Jesus taking place in the academy and the church. Ratzinger recognizes (and interacts with) this on-going conversation, and, to his credit, he doesn't hide behind the magisterium to silence that conversation or privilege his voice within it.

Otherwise, much of Ratzinger's comments on Jesus of Nazareth are fairly standard within the arena of historical Jesus research and do not necessarily advance the academic discussion of the historical Jesus very far. He makes some intriguing connections from time to time. For example, in his discussion of Jesus' third temptation (according to Matthew), Ratzinger connects Satan's taking Jesus "to a very high mountain" and offering him all the kingdoms of the earth (Matt. 4.8–9) with Jesus' taking his disciples to a mountain in Galilee and announcing, "All authority in heaven and upon the earth has been given me" (Matt. 28.16–20). Similarly, Ratzinger reads the temptation to "command these stones to become loaves of bread" (Matt. 4.3) in light of two other events in Jesus' ministry involving bread: the feeding of the five thousand and the Last Supper. These, I think, are insightful connections. At other times, Ratzinger's discussion avoids difficult issues. For example, his discussion of Jesus' baptism rightly stresses John's baptism as a rite of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, but he too quickly assumes that Jesus sets out to assume humanity's sin in his baptism in order to "fulfill all righteousness" (cf. Matt. 3.13–15). This too-quick assumption raises questions about the necessity of Jesus' crucifixion for humanity's sin, if his baptism already "fulfilled all righteousness" in this sense.

Even so, I'm excited as I read this book and am glad that I have assigned it for some of my freshmen Gospel Narratives students. Everyone should read the Foreword and the Introduction, especially as Ratzinger, in these sections, reveals his heart and pastoral intentions to a greater extent than he does in the book's actual chapters. For example, at the conclusion of his methodological discussion in the Foreword (which is well worth the read even if beginning students will sometimes wonder what all the fuss is about), Ratzinger nearly exclaims, "I trust the Gospels" (xxi; my emphasis). This affirmation of faith is all the more poignant for coming, as it does, at the end of a discussion in which he accepts as necessary and helpful the historical-critical analysis of these sacred texts (cf. Fitzmyer's similar discussion in The Interpretation of Scripture, which I have reviewed in a forthcoming volume of the Stone Campbell Journal). Whatever we ultimately think of Ratzinger's detailed utilization of the historical-critical method, he is certainly at least attempting to keep his portrayal of Jesus of Nazareth from being merely an exposition of the Nicene Creed.

As I've suggested above, the Foreword and the Introduction alone are worth the price of the book. I'd like to finish by interacting with two of Ratzinger's comments, one from the Foreword and one from the Introduction. First, in his discussion of the unity of Scripture, Ratzinger writes:
Modern exegesis has brought to light the process of constant rereading that forged the words transmitted in the Bible into Scripture: Older texts are reappropriated, reinterpreted, and read with new eyes in new contexts. They become Scripture by being read anew, evolving in continuity with their original sense, tacitly corrected and given added depth and breadth of meaning. This is a process in which the word gradually unfolds its inner potentialities already somehow present like seeds, but needing the challenge of new situations, new experiences and new sufferings, in order to open up." (pp. xviii–xix)

Ratzinger's subject here is in dire need of more attention, but his point is well taken. He states in theological terms (which we best understand in terms of the doctrine of the fourfold meaning of Scripture) what I think is more accurately and helpfully explained in terms of sociolinguistics and Immanent Art (for the latter, cf. the works of John Miles Foley, esp. 1991; 1995). That is, language that invokes one particular meaning (or set of meanings) within a given community will invoke another meaning (or, again, set of meanings) within another community. This happens as texts move geographically, but it also happens as texts move temporally, through history. But in the latter case, social memory theorists such as Barry Schwartz (Abraham Lincoln and the Forge of National Memory) and Michael Schudson (Watergate in American Memory) challenge us to account for the ways that the new contexts in which texts find themselves being read are already shaped by those texts. The issue here isn't simply how old texts accrue to themselves new meanings in new contexts (though this is, obviously, an important issue), but also and at the same time how those new contexts have already and even subconsciously been framed by those old texts. If we can modulate the question half a step (to use a musical metaphor), the issue isn't simply how the early Christians began to reinterpret Israel's biblical traditions in light of Jesus of Nazareth, but also how they already understood Jesus of Nazareth in terms of their biblical traditions.

Second, Ratzinger begins in the Introduction by framing Jesus in the context of Moses (though later he will make a predictable move and insist that Moses is woefully inadequate for understanding Jesus), which I think is one of a couple exactly right moves. If the Evangelists say anything at all about Jesus, they say that we cannot understand Jesus if we haven't first understood Moses (and vice versa, especially in John's gospel). Ratzinger is gold here:
The most important thing about the figure of Moses is neither all the miraculous deeds he is reported to have done nor his many works and sufferings along the way from the "house of bondage in Egypt" through the desert to the threshold of the Promised Land. The most important thing is that he spoke with God as with a friend. This was the only possible springboard for his works; this was the only possible source of the Law that was to show Israel its path through history. (p. 4)

This, I think, is exactly right and well worth exploring. I'm especially impressed with Ratzinger's correct assessment of Moses' miracles and their significance. These were not offered as proofs that Moses was who he claimed to be or that legitimated his assumption of considerable power from among the people of Israel (even appointing his brother's family as the nation's priests). Rather, these were themselves instances of God achieving the relationship with his people that he had always intended and which he had more concretely with Moses. The same point goes for Jesus: the healings, exorcisms, and miracles did not "prove" anything about Jesus' identity or legitimate his claim to stand at the head of the restored twelve tribes (as symbolized in his gathering around himself twelve disciples). Rather, they were themselves instances of the gospel working in power to restore humanity to the creator God. This is precisely the point of traditions such as Matt. 11.2–6||Luke 7.18–23, and Jesus says as much in Luke's account of his response to the accusation of collusion with Beelzebul (cf. Luke 11.20; the language of "the finger of God" is significantly more relevant in this specific instance than is the otherwise similar language in Matt. 12.28 regarding "the Spirit of God").

The next chapter I have to read is on the Sermon on the Mount. Given that, to this point, the longest chapter has been the 21-page discussion on Jesus' temptations (pp. 25–46), the 64-page chapter on Jesus' inaugural sermon (according to Matthew, for which gospel Ratzinger seems to have a penchant; cf. pp. 64–128) promises to be the most comprehensive discussion thus far. I'll let you know what I think, assuming what I think rises to the level of worthy to be mentioned on this blog (a scandalously low standard, indeed).

Friday, August 08, 2008

translating Genesis 1–11 [LXX]

I'd like to announce a new addition in the "collaboratives" section of Verily Verily's sidebar. I am currently developing a wiki that, I hope, will facilitate a community-driven translation of (portions of) Genesis 1–11 [LXX], including discussions of translational, linguistic, and interpretive issues involved in such a translation. This project is currently motivated by a seminar led by one of my colleagues on critical issues of Genesis 1–11, including literary, theological, and historical issues and expanding also to include issues of these chapters' reception, whether in the Hellenistic or modern eras (the LXX and a canon of Western literature, respectively).

The wiki is publicly accessible, but I have required a password in order to save changes made to any pages. If you're interested in participating in (rather than simply observing) this project, please leave a comment letting me know how to contact you and I'll send you the password. If you leave an e-mail address, be sure to leave it "in code" (e.g., rafael [at] yahoo [dot] com).

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

an excellent video

This video (HT: Steve Cook) is well worth the sixty-eight seconds it takes to watch it. This makes a similar point, I think, to what I was trying to say in my post on my surprise at my own biases.

Redneck Stonehenge

You have to love American approaches to conflict resolution. My favorite line from this story is when Rhett Davis, the farmer who erected this "fence made out of cars," admits, "It went a little beyond, you know, ordinary . . ."

Yes, Rhett . . . just a little.

UPDATE: Another example of Americans dealing with their problems in life-affirming ways, this time reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer. Keep in mind, this is a 71-year-old preacher on his way to church!

The Gospel of Israel

Over at Theological Scribbles Robin is engaged in a series of posts on "The Gospel of Israel." Robin's comments are insightful and well worth following up; I recommend you check out the series when you have a chance. Also, I've noticed that there is one reader who seems to consistently offer very intriguing comments . . .


BIBL 5107 Lesson 3:

Antioch played a significant role in the world of Second Temple Judaism, earliest Christianity (as one expression of Second Temple Judaism), and ancient Christianity (second through sixth centuries). Just as an administrative center alone, how often in Josephus's writings is Antioch mentioned as the place from which an administrative or military authority journeys to Jerusalem to address some issue, and/or to which said authority returns after having satisfied himself that matters have been resolved (or quelled)? The technical answer: A lot. As one important example, in Jewish War 2 Petronius marches out of Antioch and into Judea with the unenviable task of erecting Caligula's statue in the Jerusalem Temple. When the Jews, predictably, objected, they moved en masse to oppose the action, and the sympathetic Petronius agreed to intervene on the Jews' behalf and at great personal risk. Caligula, of course, was assassinated before Petronius could return to Rome; we cannot predict how the history of Judeo-Roman relations would be different if Caligula had survived to press his intentions, though the result would likely have been similar to the war that finally did break out in 66 CE. In the course of that war, the Roman legions would march out of Antioch to face the Jewish rebellion (cf. War 2.500 and 3.29).

Antioch also wrestled with the pressures and tensions concomitant with being a so-called "tolerant" or pluralistic city. For example, Josephus describes Antioch as a hospitable place for the Syrian Jews since the days of the abominable Antiochus Epiphanies (War 7.43–45), such that Antiochus's successors "granted them the enjoyment of equal privileges of citizens with the Greeks themselves" (7.44). But a pluralistic city will always have tensions, even if those are kept successfully under the surface. After the outbreak of the war with Rome, after Vespasian had sailed to Syria and anti-Judaic sentiment was on the increase throughout the eastern Roman provinces, a certain Antiochene Jew named Antiochus accused the city's Jewish population of conspiring to burn the city in one night. The Antiochene's burned the Jews Antiochus brought with him into the city theatre and set about attacking the rest of the city's Jewish population, "supposing, that, by punishing them suddenly they should save their own city" (7.49). Antiochus (remember, this was a Jewish man!) set out to demonstrate "his own conversion [to Greco-Roman religion and civic life], and of his hatred of the Jewish customs, by sacrificing after the manner of the Greeks" (7.50), and he suggested this as a means for other Jews to demonstrate their loyalty to the city and their innocence of the charge of conspiracy to burn the city. In other words, in order to be a loyal Antiochene one could no longer be a faithful Jew; this is the tension inherent in pluralistic, "tolerant" societies. To make things worse, Antioch was ravaged by fire shortly after Antiochus's accusations (and the abolition of the Sabbath), which once again stoked the city's anti-Judaic tensions. According to Josephus, however,
When Collega had made a careful inquiry into the matter, he found out the truth, and that not one of those Jews who were accused by Antiochus had any hand in it; but that all was done by some vile persons greatly in debt, who supposed that, if they could once set fire to the market place, and burn the public records, they should have no further demands made upon them. (War 7.60–61)

I draw our attention to this event — the flare-up of anti-Judaic sentiment and violence in Antioch "even though they had not borne an ill will at the Jews before" (7.56) — in order to raise the question for our own day: How does our own pluralistic society enable us to think we live in a "civilized," "orderly" society where the rule of law dictates how people are treated rather than racism, xenophobia, ethnocentricity when in fact we are only one incident away from turning against those who are different from us and yet find themselves our neighbor? As a personal example, I was mugged at gunpoint by a young Black man in mid-July, 1997, and even as late as November of that year I still found myself mistrusting and hating every Black man I encountered on the street, even though I had moved 250 miles away from where I had been mugged and would almost certainly never encounter the man that mugged me! I came face-to-face with my prejudice one wintery night when I was walking through a rougher section of Cincinnati (in Over-the-Rhine), and a group of Black men approached a blind man who was walking in front of me. I prepared myself for the violent encounter I expected, when the men warmly greeted the blind man and helped him to cross a dark street. I was, of course, ashamed of myself.

But I think problems like this are much more widespread in Western society than many of would like to admit. How many of us distrust anyone of south-Asian descent in the wake of the on-going War on Terror, even if the specific individual we're currently mistrusting is, say, Sikh rather than Muslim, or Muslim rather than militant Muslim, or even of other (or no) religious persuasion? Look at the problems France continues to face integrating its Muslim (and Jewish!) populations into French society and culture. In south Wales (UK) a court has just ruled that a Sikh teenager was wrongfully discriminated against when her school refused to allow her to wear a religious bracelet. Even in a predominantly Christian-religious country like the United States, the often-outrageous things that some Christian leaders say and do in public is held over the country's entire Evangelical population. The pendulum seems to be swinging the other way in the current election year, with the media reporting on theologically conservative Christians who are not so strongly committed to politically conservative (or simply Republican) agenda (for example, here). But the fact that this is a news story at all reveals the extent to which stereotypes vis-à-vis the "Religious Right" have marginalized Christians and their political interests in mainstream American discourse. It seems to me that we're a lot like Antioch after all!

Monday, August 04, 2008

BIBL 5203 Lesson 3:
Marcion's Bible

I'm fascinated by the second-century heretic, Marcion. There's so much I wish I knew, much of which has been lost to the ravages of time (barring some discovery like those of the mid-twentieth century at Nag-Hammadi and Qumran). For instance, it would be absolutely fascinating if a copy of Marcion's Bible were still extant, not least for what it could teach us about the reception of Luke's gospel and Paul's letters both among Marcion and his party as well as among the "orthodox" writers who opposed him (viz., Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian).

Ever since Walter Bauer (of BDAG fame) published Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum [1934; ET: Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, trans. and supplemented by Robert Kraft and Gerhard Kroedel, 1971], scholars have been wrestling with and contesting the ways that "orthodoxy" and "heresy" were constructed in the early church (and in its modern critics) and the way(s) this construction has masked the diversity that certainly characterized earliest Christianity (as is evident throughout the NT itself). Though the narrative of a unified, homogenous church in the first century (or even the first decades) was/is in dire need of deconstruction, some critics have gone too far, I think, in suggesting that "orthodoxy" and "heresy" are only discursive constructions imposed in later centuries.

What fascinates me most, I think, about Marcion's Bible is how Marcion could understand the story of Jesus apart from a framework that is made up almost completely by Hebrew biblical traditions and their reception in Second-Temple Judaism. How could Marcion have projected his narrative about Jesus (whatever the specific contours of that narrative) on the Jew Jesus? At every turn in Luke's gospel Jesus' story is an expression of Israel's story, from the angelic annunciation of Jesus' birth through his teachings and activities (esp. the healings and exorcisms) and especially his death and resurrection. I expect that some would claim Marcion didn't see (or project) his story of Jesus in the story of the Jew Jesus because he excised all the explicitly Jewish elements of Luke's gospel and Paul's letters. But this excision followed after he came to his understanding of Jesus, which would have been developed in the light of Luke's and Paul's stories of Jesus.

Here is one instance, then, where Bauer's thesis of the contemporaneous origins of orthodoxy and heresy falters: Marcion's canon is clearly later than and derivative of Luke's and Paul's earlier writings. This isn't to deny that a major component of heresiological discourse still remains the marginalization of previously acceptable ideas and practices as "heretical," but it does suggest the likelihood that heresiology is never merely discourse. Justin, Irenaeus, and Tertullian surely enjoyed the support of a significant portion of the "Christian" non-élite when they argued against Marcion's theology and his canon; in other words, these three writers (and especially Tertullian!) weren't simply constructing "orthodoxy" as something other than Marcionism. This is especially interesting, I think, because (as I argued here re: Irenaeus) these heresiologists were just as committed to understanding "Christianity" in terms of its relation to "Israel" ("Judaism"?) as they were to defining "Christianity" in contrast to "Judaism"!

On a more theological/pastoral level, perhaps, I wonder how prevalent Marcionite ideas are in the church today. It seems to me that a number of the teachings against which Ireneaus and Co. rail so passionately actually inform a lot of contemporary Christian practice today. How many of us avoid the Hebrew Bible in our own spirituality/theologizing? Even when we do read the Old Testament, how many of us are unable to read, say, Gen. 3.15 or Isaiah 53 on their own terms and without immediately reducing these texts' value to how easily they can be indexed to a passage in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John? And how many of us perceive, whether explicitly or subconsciously, a disjunction between God as he's portrayed in the Hebrew Bible and how he's portrayed in the New Testament? For all the danger of writings such as Tertullian's Adversus Iudaeos, real as they are, we should also appreciate that Tertullian — like Justin and Irenaeus before him — were wrestling with the question of Christian-Jew relations rather than denying them outright.

It seems to me, eighteen centuries after Tertullian, the church would do well to once again take up the struggle with the question and not allow itself to contentedly continue the anti-Judaic thinking and praxis advocated by Marcion and continued, in modulated if not in moderated form, by his "orthodox" opponents.

I have included below samples of Irenaeus's and Tertullian's writings against Marcion that specifically address his bibliology (cf. Early Christian Writings [HT: Thanks to Tom Thatcher]).

Tertullian, Prescription against Heretics, 17:
Now this heresy of yours does not receive certain Scriptures; and whichever of them it does receive, it perverts by means of additions and diminutions, for the accomplishment of it own purpose; and such as it does receive, it receives not in their entirety; but even when it does receive any up to a certain point as entire, it nevertheless perverts even these by the contrivance of diverse interpretations. Truth is just as much opposed by an adulteration of its meaning as it is by a corruption of its text. Their vain presumptions must needs refuse to acknowledge the (writings) whereby they are refuted. They rely on those which they have falsely put together, and which they have selected, because of their ambiguity. Though most skilled in the Scriptures, you will make no progress, when everything which you maintain is denied on the other side, and whatever you deny is (by them) maintained. As for yourself, indeed, you will lose nothing but your breath, and gain nothing but vexation from their blasphemy.

Tertullian, Prescription against Heretics, 39:
These were the ingenious arts of spiritual wickedness,” wherewith we also, my brethren, may fairly expect to have to wrestle,” as necessary for faith, that the elect may be made manifest, (and) that the reprobate may be discovered. And therefore they possess influence, and a facility in thinking out and fabricating errors, which ought not to be wondered at as if it were a difficult and inexplicable process, seeing that in profane writings also an example comes ready to hand of a similar facility. You see in our own day, composed out of Virgil, a story of a wholly different character, the subject-matter being arranged according to the verse, and the verse according to the subject-matter. In short, Hosidius Geta has most completely pilfered his tragedy of Medea from Virgil. A near relative of my own, among some leisure productions of his pen, has composed out of the same poet The Table of Cebes. On the same principle, those poetasters are commonly called AHomerocentones,” Acollectors of Homeric odds and ends,” who stitch into one piece, patchwork fashion, works of their own from the lines of Homer, out of many scraps put together from this passage and from that (in miscellaneous confusion). Now, unquestionably, the Divine Scriptures are more fruitful in resources of all kinds for this sort of facility. Nor do I risk contradiction in saying that the very Scriptures were even arranged by the will of God in such a manner as to furnish materials for heretics, inasmuch as I read that “there must be heresies, which there cannot be without the Scriptures.”

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.3.1–2:
1. Such, then, is the account they give of what took place within the Pleroma; such the calamities that flowed from the passion which seized upon the Aeon who has been named, and who was within a little of perishing by being absorbed in the universal substance, through her inquisitive searching after the Father; such the consolidation [of that Aeon] from her condition of agony by Horos, and Stauros, and Lytrotes, and Carpistes, and Horothetes, and Metagoges. Such also is the account of the generation of the later Aeons, namely of the first Christ and of the Holy Spirit, both of whom were produced by the Father after the repentance [of Sophia], and of the second Christ (whom they also style Savior), who owed his being to the joint contributions [of the Aeons]. They tell us, however, that this knowledge has not been openly divulged, because all are not capable of receiving it, but has been mystically revealed by the Savior through means of parables to those qualified for understanding it. This has been done as follows. The thirty Aeons are indicated (as we have already remarked) by the thirty youars during which they say the Savior performed no public act, and by the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. Paul also, they affirm, very clearly and frequently names these Aeons, and even goes so far as to preserve their order, when he says, “To all the generations of the Aeons of the Aeon.” Nay, we ourselves, when at the giving of thanks we pronounce the words, To Aeons of Aeons” (for ever and ever), do set forth these Aeons. And, in fine, wherever the words Aeon or Aeons occur, they at once refer them to these beings.

2. The production, again, of the Duodecad of the Aeons, is indicated by the fact that the Lord was twelve youars of age when He disputed with the teachers of the law, and by the election of the apostles, for of these there were twelve. The other eighteen Aeons are made manifest in this way: that the Lord, [according to them,] conversed with His disciples for eighteen months after His resurrection from the dead. They also affirm that these eighteen Aeons are strikingly indicated by the first two letters of His name [Ihsou~v], namely Iota and Eta. And, in like manner, they assert that the ten Aeons are pointed out by the letter Iota, which begins His name; while, for the same reason, they tell us the Savior said, “One Iota, or one tittle, shall by no means pass away until all be fulfilled.”

3. They further maintain that the passion which took place in the case of the twelfth Aeon is pointed at by the apostasy of Judas, who was the twelfth apostle, and also by the fact that Christ suffered in the twelfth month. For their opinion is, that He continued to preach for one youar only after His baptism. The same thing is also most clearly indicated by the case of the woman who suffered from an issue of blood. For after she had been thus afflicted during twelve youars, she was healed by the advent of the Savior, when she had touched the border of His garment; and on this account the Savior said, “Who touched me?” C teaching his disciples the mystery which had occurred among the Aeons, and the healing of that Aeon who had been involved in suffering. For she who had been afflicted twelve years represented that power whose essence, as they narrate, was stretching itself forth, and flowing into immensity; and unless she had touched the garment of the Son, that is, Aletheia of the first Tetrad, who is denoted by the hem spoken of, she would have been dissolved into the general essence [of which she participated]. She stopped short, however, and ceased any longer to suffer. For the power that went forth from the Son (and this power they term Horos) healed her, and separated the passion from her.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.8.2–3:
2. Then, again, as to those things outside of their Pleroma, the following are some specimens of what they attempt to accommodate out of the Scriptures to their opinions. They affirm that the Lord came in the last times of the world to endure suffering, for this end, that He might indicate the passion which occurred to the last of the Aeons, and might by His own end announce the cessation of that disturbance which had risen among the Aeons. They maintain, further, that that girl of twelve youars old, the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue, to whom the Lord approached and raised her from the dead, was a type of Achamoth, to whom their Christ, by extending himself, imparted shape, and whom he led anew to the perception of that light which had forsaken her. And that the Savior appeared to her when she lay outside of the Pleroma as a kind of abortion, they affirm Paul to have declared in his Epistle to the Corinthians [in these words], “And last of all, He appeared to me also, as to one born out of due time.” Again, the coming of the Savior with His attendants to Achamoth is declared in like manner by him in the same Epistle, when he says, “A woman ought to have a veil upon her head, because of the angels.” Now, that Achamoth, when the Savior came to her, drew a veil over herself through modesty, Moses rendered manifest when he put a veil upon his face. Then, also, they say that the passions which she endured were indicated by the Lord upon the cross. Thus, when He said, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” He simply showed that Sophia was deserted by the light, and was restrained by Horos from making any advance forward. Her anguish, again, was indicated when He said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death;” her fear by the words, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me;” and her perplexity, too, when He said, “And what I shall say, I know not.”

3. And they teach that He pointed out the three kinds of men as follows: the material, when He said to him that asked Him, “Shall I follow Thee?” “The Son of man hath not where to lay His head;” C the animal, when He said to him that declared, “I will follow Thee, but suffer me first to bid them farewell that are in my house,” “No man, putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of heaven” (for this man they declare to be of the intermediate class, even as they do that other who, though he professed to have wrought a large amount of righteousness, yet refused to follow Him, and was so overcome by [the love of] riches, as never to reach perfection) C this one it pleases them to place in the animal class; C the , again, when He said, “Let the dead bury their dead, but go thou and preach the kingdom of God,” and when He said to Zaccheus the publican, “Make haste, and come down, for to-day I must abide in thine house” C for these they declared to have belonged to the spiritual class. Also the parable of the leaven which the woman is described as having hid in three measures of meal, they declare to make manifest the three classes. For, according to their teaching, the woman represented Sophia; the three measures of meal, the three kinds of men C spiritual, animal, and material; while the leaven denoted the Savior Himself. Paul, too, very plainly set forth the material, animal, and spiritual, saying in one place, “As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy;” and in another place, “But the animal man receiveth not the things of the Spirit;” and again: “He that is spiritual judgeth all things.” And this, “The animal man receiveth not the things of the Spirit,” they affirm to have been spoken concerning the Demiurge, who, as being animal, knew neither his mother who was spiritual, nor her seed, nor the Aeons in the Pleroma. And that the Savior received first-fruits of those whom He was to save, Paul declared when he said, “And if the first-fruits be holy, the lump is also holy,” teaching that the expression “first-fruits” denoted that which is spiritual, but that “the lump” meant us, that is, the animal Church, the lump of which they say He assumed, and blended it with Himself, inasmuch as He is “the leaven.”

My Visual Bookshelf