Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

I'd like to wish all [both] of Verily Verily's readers a Happy New Year. I hope 2010 brings blessings and fulfillment for you. May 2009's joys be increased and its pains faded in the new year. If nothing else, at least now I can go to bed.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Judaism and Christianity (Ign. Magn. 8–10)

Michael Holmes introduces chapters 8–10 of his English translation of Ignatius' letter To the Magnesians with the subheading, "Judaism and Christianity." Naturally, my ears pricked up (which was a particularly strange sensation since I read with my eyes; thankfully, my eyes did not "prick up").

The section begins, "Do not be deceived by strange doctrines or antiquated myths, since they are worthless" (Ign. Magn. 8.1).1 In the preceding context (Ign. Magn. 7) Ignatius exhibits an affinity for Johannine theology, claiming that "the Lord did nothing without the Father" [ὁ κύριος ἄνευ τοῦ πατρὸς οὐδὲν ἐποίησεν; ho kyrios aneu tou patros ouden epoiēsen (7.1)]. He also echoes the Pauline encomium to unity in Eph 4.1–6, through which Ignatius emphasizes the role of the bishop (the singular is important) and the presbyters (note the plural) in delimiting "right" [εὔλογον; eulogon] worship from "worthless" [ἀνωφελέσιν; anōphelesin] "doctrines and myths" (8.1). So far nothing suggests an anti-Judaic polemic.

The very next phrase, however, makes clear Ignatius' meaning. "For if we continue to live in accordance with Judaism, we admit that we have not received grace" [εἰ γὰρ μέχρι νῦν κατὰ Ἰουδαϊσμὸν ζῶμεν, ὁμολογοῦμεν χάριν μὴ εἰληφέναι; ei gar mechri nyn kata Ioudaïsmon zōmen, homologoumen charin mē eilēphenai (Ign. Magn. 8.1)]. The word "Judaism" [Ἰουδαϊσμός; Ioudaismos] is a rare word, with only seven occurrences in all the texts comprising our Septuagint and New Testament.

  • In 2 Macc 2.21, Judas Maccabaeus and his brothers are said to have fought bravely for "Judaism" [ὑπὲρ τοῦ Ἰουδαϊσμοῦ; hyper tou Ioudaïsmou].
  • Similarly, in 2 Macc 8.1, Judas and his companions secretly enter the villages and summon "their kinfolk and those who had persisted in Judaism" [τοὺς συγγενεῖς καὶ τοὺς μεμενηκότας ἐν τῷ Ἰουδαϊσμῷ; tous syngeneis kai tous memenēkotas en tō Ioudaïsmō]. An observation and a question: First, 2 Maccabees 7 is the famous account of the woman and her seven sons who were martyred for their religious practice (not their religious faith). Second, Is the participial phrase "those who had persisted in Judaism" intended to identify a second group, separate from Judas' kinfolk, or is this two ways of identifying the same group? I lean toward the latter, perhaps with the stipulation that the participial phrase further specifies which of his kinsfolk Judas and his companions called to arms.
  • In 2 Macc 14.38, a man named Razis, an elder of Jerusalem who had been given the epithet "father of the Jews" [πατὴρ τῶν Ἰουδαίων; patēr tōn Ioudaiōn (v 37)], is said to have been accused observing Judaism [= Jewish practices] and to have surrendered both his body and his soul for Judaism (the term Ioudaïsmos occurs twice in this verse).
  • In 4 Macc 4.26 Antiochus tries to force the Jews "to renounce Judaism" [ἐξόμνυσθαι τὸν Ἰουδαϊσμόν; exomnysthai ton Ioudaïsmon] by forcing them via torture to eat defiling foods. It's worth noting that 4.23 makes clear that the observance of the ancestral law, rather than any particular religious conviction (or "faith"), is especially in view.
  • So the two occurrences of Ioudaïsmos in Gal 1.13–14 present a particularly interesting problem. Paul refers in 1.13 to "my former life in Judaism" [τὴν ἐμὴν ἀναστροφήν ποτε ἐν τῷ Ἰουδαϊσμῷ; tēn emēn anastrophēn pote en tō Ioudaïsmō] and claims in 1.14 to have "advanced in Judaism" [προέκοπτον ἐν τῷ Ἰουδαϊσμῷ; proekopton en tō Ioudaïsmō] beyond his peers. On the face of things Paul could be referring to either his religious convictions or his religious practice when he refers to his Ioudaïsmos. But on closer inspection, a number of factors push us toward understanding "Judaism" in terms of behavior rather than religious belief. First, this referent characterizes the other five uses of Ioudaïsmos in the Maccabean literature cited above. Second, Paul himself makes clear that he is discussion his former pattern of behavior, both by his use of ἀναστροφή [anastrophē; "behavior, life, conduct"] and by immediately going on to discuss his persecution of "the church of God" (a behavior rather than a belief). As a result, in Gal 1.14 when Paul describes himself as "more zealous for his ancestral traditions" [περισσοτέρως ζηλωτὴς τῶν πατρικῶν παραδόσεων; perissoterōs zēlōtēs tōn patrikōn paradoseōn], he is most likely referring to his observance of Judaic customs rather than his acceptance of Judaic theology.

Granted, the distinction here can only ever be analytical (practice and belief are, after all, mutually informing). But the biblical (LXX and NT) evidence suggests that the term Ioudaïsmos refers to practice more directly than it does to belief. When an author rejects living "according to Judaism" [κατὰ Ἰουδαϊσμόν; kata Ioudaïsmon (Ign. Magn. 8.1)], the likelihood is that he has in mind Jewish practices rather than Jewish beliefs.2 This is an important distinction, I think, because a lot of the NT attests debate regarding how to behave like faithful Israel rather than how to believe like faithful Israel. Even Ignatius, whose indebtedness to Hebrew biblical traditions is remarkably slight (as I've noted on three different occasions), goes on to appropriate Israel's prophetic tradition for "Christ Jesus" (Ign. Magn. 8.2).

In 9.1, then, Ignatius refers to those who lived [ἀναστραφέντες; anastraphentes (the same root that Paul used in Gal 1.13)] by the old practices and who "no longer [keep] the sabbath but [live] in accordance with the Lord's day." Here we seem to have a clear recognition that Jesus' first followers were Jewish, a fact that makes all the more significant their quitting the Sabbath and observing the first day of the week (the day of the resurrection). Implicit in all of this is a not-too-subtle critique of other Jews who, down to Ignatius' own day, continue to observe the Sabbath but not the Lord's day. Magnesians 10.1 refers explicitly to "the way we act" [καθὰ πράσσομεν; katha prassomen], and 10.3 goes on to declare it "utterly absurd to profess Jesus Christ and to practice Judaism" [ἄτοπόν ἐστιν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν λαλεῖν καὶ ἰουδαΐζειν; atopon estin Iēsoun Christon lalein kai ioudaïzein]. Holmes's translation of ioudaïzein as "to practice Judaism" rightly highlights the behavioral aspects of this verb; the issue is precisely one of behavior (which day of the week to observe, what foods to eat, etc.). Even the remainder of 10.3, which highlights "belief" [πιστεύω; pisteuō ("I believe")], maintains this emphasis (i.e., note that "belief" is something that "every tongue" does).

These three chapters—Ign. Magn. 8–10—provide some very interesting material to think about for any discussion of Judaism, Christianity, and the interaction/distinction between the two in the first centuries CE. I seriously doubt I've scratched the surface with these thoughts, but this passage, I think, is one to which I'll find myself returning in future writings.

1 Translations of Ignatius in this post, unless otherwise stated, come from Holmes 2007: 207, 209. All Greek texts come from Holmes 2007: 206, 208. Translations of Septuagintal texts are my own; the Greek LXX text is that of Rahlfs, accessed via BibleWorks 8.

2 Holmes lists two textual variants here. The reading found in the main text, "according to Judaism" [κατὰ Ἰουδαϊσμόν], is found in the Latin translation of the middle recension of Ignatius' letters. Codex Mediceo-Laurentianus (the only surviving Greek ms of the middle recension) reads "according to the law of Judaism" [κατὰ νόμον Ἰουδαϊσμόν (?; I would have expected the genitive here)]. The Greek mss of the long recension (and the Armenian version [middle recension]?) read "according to the Judaic law" [κατὰ νόμον Ἰουδαϊκόν]. These variants do not impact my argument, except insofar as the term Ioudaïsmos disappears in the third reading.

getting at the crux

I was able to continue reading Chris Keith's The Pericope Adulterae, The Gospel of John, and the Literacy of Jesus (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009) yesterday, in part because the family minivan contracted a vehicular strain of swine flu. I suspect a fair bit of scholarship—biblical or otherwise—takes place in automative waiting rooms around the globe.

At any rate, chapters 5–8 represent a turning point in Chris's argument. The first four chapters established the problem and some methodological groundwork, and the next four provide an exegetical discussion of the Pericope Adulterae and the context in which a scribe inserted it (viz., John 7–8). Chris states his thesis clearly at the beginning of chapter six:
What follows will therefore bring these issues to the fore of the discussion by focussing upon the interrelationship of authority, Moses, the law, judgment, and literacy/education as both the crowd and the Jewish leadership attempts to answer the question 'Who is Jesus?' in John 7. (Keith 2009: 143)

One of the marks of an insightful argument, in my judgment, is its power to open new doors in your mind. When you hear the thesis to be argued you begin to see its merits even before you hear the evidence in favor of that thesis. Chris's argument that the debate regarding Jesus' identity and his relation to Moses/the Mosaic Law in John 7 drew the Pericope Adulterae to John 7.53–8.11 more than Jesus' claim to judge no one in 8.15. The Pericope may not be Johannine, in other words, but it does provide evidence of a particular reading of John's gospel in the early (first three or four) centuries of the church's history.

One word of clarification: Notice that Keith's thesis, as stated in the passage quoted above, doesn't argue against John 8.15's relevance for understanding the Pericope's placement. Rather, Keith broadens his view and attempts to demonstrate that both the Pericope and John 8.15 belong to a larger nexus of issues with which John 7–8 (and even John's gospel as a whole) are concerned. Chris's attention to more global, holistic concerns—whether textually, historically, culturally, or whatever—strikes me as entirely appropriate.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Facebook ad: FAIL

I've noticed this ad pop up a number of times on the ad bar of my Facebook page. A number of questions occur to me:
  • Is this aimed at luring young Christian men (single or otherwise) away from traditional Christian values [girl as temptress]?
  • Is this aimed at luring young non-Christian men (single or otherwise) into Christian circles [girl as bait]?
  • Is there any sense in which this doesn't completely miss the point?

scribes and audiences

I've finally found some time to get back to Chris Keith's, The Pericope Adulterae, the Gospel of John, and the Literacy of Jesus (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009). I've finished the first four chapters, and to this point I've found very little to argue with. In fact, I've been somewhat surprised at the extent of the overlap between Chris's research interests and my own; for example, had I known about his argument regarding the identity and function of "the scribes" [οἱ γραμματεῖς; hoi grammateis] in the New Testament, I would have cited it in my own discussion of the relation between scribes and Pharisees in the synoptic accounts of the Beelzebul controversy (Structuring Early Christian Memory, pp. 180–185). If anything, the main point of difference between Chris's work and my own, I think, concerns his very intense focus on "text-brokerage" (by which the contents and significance of sacred texts are mediated via a small group of literate individuals to a largely illiterate [or insufficiently literate] populace) versus my own interest in the relation between tradition and the texts that embody that tradition. But even here we're both circling around a similar set of questions; namely, How do texts/traditions function within their wider social contexts?

But Keith's fourth chapter, "Scribal Literacy in the New Testament World: The Scribes (and Pharisees) as Text-Brokers," raises a slightly different sent of questions for me than those he pursues. In his comparison/contrast between the synoptic gospels' and Josephus' portrayal of "the scribes," Keith rightly recognizes that the social contexts in which the scribes are portrayed affects how they are portrayed. At one point Keith says,

Even the texts that could possibly be addressed to a predominantly Gentile audience (e.g., Gospel of Mark or Luke-Acts) presume a level of familiarity with a Jewish worldview, as indicated by the fact that these stories are replete with allusions to and direct quotations of the Jewish Scriptures. (Keith 2009: 108)

I like Chris's agnosticism here regarding the gentile make-up of Mark's, Luke-Act's, or even any of the NT texts' audiences. At the very least these texts "presume a level of familiarity with a Jewish worldview." I rather think that the texts posture their audience as a Jewish group regardless of their ethnic composition. For example, I think the author of 1 Peter does address predominantly gentile Christian groups, particularly on the strength of 1 Pet 4.3–4, which says explicitly that 1 Peter's audience used to pursue "the gentiles' desire" [τὸ βούλημα τῶν ἐθνῶν; to boulēma tōn ethnōn]. But 1 Peter also spends considerable time and energy reframing its audiences in Jewish terms, describing them as aliens and strangers, God's elect, a stone set in Zion, a chosen genos [race], a royal priesthood, a holy ethnos [nation], and even as the prophet Hosea's children (see esp. 1 Pet 2.9–10). In other words, when 1 Peter addresses a gentile audience, it takes special measures to address them as Jews.

I don't see any similar special measures in the gospels. Perhaps the difference is generic: The gospels are narratives that don't explicitly address their audience one way or another; 1 Peter, an epistolary text, does identify and address its audience. But more is going on here, I think. To come back to Chris's discussion, Josephus does write narrative (see his Antiquities of the Jews and Jewish War), but his narratives are couched in a rather different symbolic universe:
Josephus portrays scribes according to his 'aim to explain Jewish society in a more intelligible way to his Greek non-jewish audience.' For the Greek audience Josephus addresses, scribes were functionaries whose grapho-literacy [= ability to write] did not translate into sacred literacy [= ability to read/recite/interpret/apply sacred texts]. . . . Contrary to the writings of Josephus, the Synoptic Gospels aim to portray Jewish society (in this respect) on its own terms, even if portraying it as such for the benefit of Gentile readers. (Keith 2009: 109; citing Christine Schams)

Chris focuses narrowly on Josephus' portrayal of γραμματεῖς [grammateis; "scribes"] and the brokers of Jewish sacred texts (e.g., the "sophists" [σοφισταί; sophistai] at War 1.649). But he raises in my mind the question of how Josephus and the evangelists connect their intended (or at least imagined) audiences and sacred Israelite tradition. I don't have sufficient knowledge to speak authoritatively here (not that that usually stops me), but my impression—uninformed as it is—is that Josephus is demonstrably aware that Torah and the prophets are foreign texts vis-à-vis his audience. The gospels, on the other hand, nowhere demonstrate this awareness. The closest they come, unless I'm missing something, is their translation of Aramaic terms or their explication of (certain) Jewish customs (e.g., Mark 5.41; 7.3–4). But this is a long way from what I think we see in Josephus. Perhaps this is an area for further research.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Mark (BECNT)

Maybe I'm just getting grumpy, but . . .

That's probably not the best way to start this post. Let's try again.

This morning I read Robert Stein's introductory discussion of the gospel of Mark in his contribution to the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Mark [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008]), which I've assigned for the course I'm teaching on Mark in the Spring 2010 term. I appreciate the breadth and thoroughness of Stein's discussion, and I realize that the introduction to a commentary is not the place to expect original or groundbreaking scholarship. Also, I've read two others of Stein's books (A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible and The Method and Message of Jesus' Teachings [both 1994]), so I knew as I started this book that Stein represents a very traditional scholarly point of view.

So in the context of my broad appreciation for what Stein has accomplished in publishing this commentary (and it is significant), I found myself increasingly exasperated by Stein's rather uncritical approach to Christian origins and Mark's place therein. For instance,

From within Mark we learn a great deal abut the audience for whom it was written. We know it was a Greek-speaking audience that did not know Aramaic, as Mark's explanations of Aramaic expressions indicate (3:17–22; 5:41; 7:11, 34; 9:43; 10:46; 14:36; 15:22, 34). We also know that it was a Christian audience familiar with the gospel traditions. (Stein 2008: 9).

But do we know these things? And if so, how? Nevermind my general questioning of the utility of identifying Mark's audience as "Christian" (As opposed to what? Jewish? What does this mean?), which would be inappropriate for Stein to discuss, perhaps, in this venue. But why should Mark's explanations indicate necessarily that his audience—either in part or in whole—were unfamiliar with Aramaic? I find it just as probable—more so, even—that we should construe Mark's explanations as evidence that the Markan evangelist was accustomed to presenting the Jesus tradition in situations that might also include people (Jews? God-fearers? gentiles?) who were unfamiliar with Aramaic.

I also question the judgment that Mark's was "a Christian audience familiar with the gospel traditions." I wouldn't want to suggest that Mark wrote for people who were unfamiliar with the gospel. But I don't think familiar is a useful adjective for gospel scholarship. For too long we have spoken of the evangelists as "familiar" with gospel traditions or of those traditions as "sources" for their writings. But this language, rooted in earlier generations of scholarship, fail to express the significance that traditions and customs and ethics—in a word, culture—played in the earliest Christian communities (or any communities, for that matter).

Anthropologist Clifford Geertz famously described culture as "webs of significance" (granted, webs "that we ourselves have spun"), and it's well past time for NT scholars as a whole to appreciate that early Christians—the authors of our texts as well as their audiences—lived and moved and had their beings in worlds defined and constrained by their traditions. We might as well say that Mark's audience "was familiar with" oxygen. Or water. Or love. As I've argued elsewhere, this change in perspective has dramatic consequences not only for our interpretation of the biblical texts but also for our appraisal of them.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Torah scroll at Masada

A ritual scribe has committed himself to inscribing a Torah scroll in the location of Masada's famous synagogue. The story (from, is available here.

Biblical imagery in Ignatius' letter To the Ephesians

Yesterday as I sat in the lobby of my doctor's office I picked up Ignatius' epistle To the Ephesians (as one does). I continue to be impressed by the freedom Ignatius apparently feels vis-à-vis Hebrew biblical traditions, at least compared to the constraint (I think that's the word I want) other authors exhibited to live within a world defined by those traditions. Paul may have written his letters in Greek, and the evangelists (or someone[s] before them) may have translated the sayings from and stories about Jesus into Greek, but Ignatius seems to be transposing the gospel into another cultural-linguistic system rather than simply translating. Here, perhaps, is yet another example:
1 Ἄμεινόν ἐστιν σιωπᾶν καὶ εἶναι, ἢ λαλοῦντα μὴ εἶναι, καλὸν τὸ διδάσκειν, ἐὰν ὁ λέγων ποιῇ. εἷς οὖν διδάσκαλος, ὃς εἶπεν καὶ ἐγένετο· καὶ ἃ σιγῶν δὲ πεποίηκεν ἄξια τοῦ πατρός ἐστιν. 2 ὁ λόγον Ἰησοῦ κεκτημένος ἀληθῶς δύναται καὶ τῆς ἡσυχίας αὐτοῦ ἀκούειν, ἵνα τέλειος ᾖ, ἵνα δι᾽ ὧν λαλεῖ πράσσῃ καὶ δι᾽ ὧν σιγᾷ γινώσκηται. 3 οὐδὲν λανθάνει τὸν κύριον, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ κρυπτὰ ἡμῶν ἐγγὺς αὐτῷ ἐστιν. πάντα οὖν ποιῶμεν ὡς αὐτοῦ ἐν ἡμῖν κατοικοῦντος, ἵνα ὦμεν αὐτοῦ ναοὶ καὶ αὐτὸς ἐν ἡμῖν θεὸς ἡμῶν, ὅπερ καῖ ἔστιν καὶ φανήσεται πρὸ προσώπου ἡμῶν, ἐξ ὧν δικαίως ἀγαπῶμεν αὐτόν.

1 It is better to be silent with substance than to speak and lack substance. It is a good thing to teach, as long as the speaker heeds his own words. There is one teacher who speaks and reality conforms to his word; even the things he does in his silence are worthy of the Father. 2 The one who truly possesses Jesus' word is even able to hear [Jesus'] silence, so that he is perfect and he acts in accordance with what he says but is known through the things he doesn't need to say. 3 Nothing escapes the Lord; even our secrets are at his fingertips. Therefore, let us do everything in light of his dwelling among us, so that we would be his temples and he would be our God in our midst (since that is what he is, as will be made evident to us by those things we do out of our just love for him). (Ign. Eph. 15.1–3; Greek text from Holmes 2007: 194)

Holmes listed Eph. 15.1 as one of Ignatius' few allusions to biblical traditions (2007: 174, n. 14), as I mentioned here. Ignatius' description of Jesus [!] as the one teacher who speaks reality into existence [ὃς εἶπεν καὶ ἐγένετο; hos eipen kai egeneto] echoes the Septuagint's translation of Genesis 1. For example, "Then God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light" [καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεός, Γενηθήτω φῶς. καὶ ἐγένετο φῶς; kai eipen ho theos, Genēthētō phōs. kai egeneto phōs (Gen 1.3 LXX)]. This pattern of (i) God speaking [εἶπεν; eipen] and (ii) it being [ἐγένετο; egeneto] continues throughout Genesis 1 (see 1.6, 9, 11, 14–15, 20, 24). Interestingly, there is no corresponding egeneto after God eipen, "Let us make humanity in our image . . ." (1.26), unless I've missed something.

But even here, where I'd like to say that Ignatius is somewhat constrained by the world of Israelite tradition, nothing about Ignatius' language seems to capitalize on the semiotic potential of the first biblical creation account. Instead, Ignatius portrays Jesus as the one who speaks creation into existence (cf. John 1.1–5; Col. 1.15–17) and then goes on to speculate that even Jesus' silence is creative (redemptive?). Ignatius, in other words, seems to be reflecting less on the tradition of God creating the cosmos and more on New Testament traditions of Jesus, traditions which themselves do reflect more conscientiously and pervasively on, among other things, the tradition of God creating the cosmos.

But what I think is really interesting is that Ignatius could have taken up creation traditions in order to make the point he's making. The statement in Gen 1.26 that God wants to make humanity "in his image" takes aim, among other things, at polytheistic religious practices. The other nations worship images of their gods, but Israel is the image of her God. And if the images of the nations' gods dwell in man-made temples, the Spirit of Israel's God dwells among his people and sanctifies them as his holy presence. Ignatius, arrested for some unknown reason and being marched across the Roman empire to face the lions in Rome's newly built Coliseum, could have consoled himself and his readers that the Lord will avenge the desecration of his image (is anyone aware of any use of the creation accounts in this fashion among Jewish and Christian martyrological traditions?).

But instead, he turns immediately to the contrast between Jesus' creative word "in the beginning" and his redemptive silence before the Sanhedrin and before Pontius Pilate. In other words, Ignatius seems to dwell in a world colored by Hebrew biblical tradition only indirectly, inasmuch as Hebrew biblical tradition colors the texts and stories coming out of the first two or three generations of Christian activity. If I'm reading him rightly, Ignatius is reflecting consciously on various New Testament texts and only dimly, if at all, aware without any concern that those texts are indebted to the forms and expressions and significances of biblical tradition.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Pericope Adulterae and why it's there

A few weeks ago I began reading the published version of Chris Keith's PhD thesis (University of Edinburgh), The Pericope Adulterae, the Gospel of John, and the Literacy of Jesus (New Testament Tools, Studies and Documents 38; Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009), which I'm reviewing for Biblical Theology Bulletin. Chris and I went to college together and so have many of the same interests, though we work in different (but overlapping) sections of the canon. After the last book I reviewed, it's a breath of fresh air read a well-written, concise, and clear argument. On top of that, Chris is one of the most insightful NT critics I've met personally. Needless to say, I'm enjoying the book.

I don't have much to report at this time; my comments here are mainly to ease the pressure I feel for having started reading this book a few weeks ago but not mentioning it here. The introductory chapter lays a few methodological principles, and the first two chapters survey (i) the interpretation of John 7.53–8.11 and (ii) the referent of καταγράφω [katagraphō; "inscribe, register, write"] and γράφω [graphō; "write"], respectively. I'm reading the third chapter at this point, which discusses the dynamics of reading and writing (two separate and separable skills) in the ancient world.

All of this is in service of a larger argument that the significance of the interpolation of the Pericope Adulterae is that Jesus could write rather than what he wrote. Keith identifies thirty-eight [!!] interpretations of Jesus' writing in John 8.6, 8, and then, of course, the thirty-ninth position, which acknowledges that the text does not communicate—and so is not interested in—what Jesus wrote. So why the double-mention of Jesus writing? In our world, where even first-grade children know how to write letters in the ground, John 8.6, 8 don't make an impressive claim. But, Keith argues, in the first centuries of the church's history, writing had a different significance, and John 8.6, 8 claim that significance for Jesus.

More will come later, especially as I get into Keith's argument proper (rather than the foundational chapters I'm reading now). At $169 not many of you will be able to buy your own copy (though I was able to find a copy online for less than $115!). But I would recommend that everyone interested in John's gospel, the historical Jesus, or media dynamics of the ancient world find a way to get a copy of this book, whether through a local seminary or university library, interlibrary loan at a public library, or, in a few years, when used copies begin to crop up online for less than $50.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

why I love the muppets

This video isn't the reason I love the Muppets, but it contains all of those reasons in one five-minute clip. And does Keith Olbermann make a half-second cameo toward the end?

[HT: Robin Parry]

Friday, December 18, 2009

a martyrological discussion of Ignatius

I started reading Clayton Jefford's The Apostolic Fathers and the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2006), an easy-to-follow introduction to this disparate corpus of texts from sundry times, locales, and occasions. Of course, I'm especially interested in these texts' participation in traditional universes, and in particular how those universes relate to those of the NT texts. As I've stated elsewhere, Ignatius seems to be remarkably detached from the universes defined by and populated with Hebrew biblical traditions, traditions which seem to inform and contextualize just about every word of the New Testament.

So I was very intrigued when Jefford's begins his discussion of martyrologies in the Apostolic Fathers (a discussion that first turns to Ignatius' letters) by briefly mentioning 2 Maccabees and 4 Maccabees. The utility of these Jewish texts for framing Ignatius' letters isn't immediately apparent, as Jeffords notes (e.g., p. 47, n. 16). Jefford writes,

The matter of martyrologies within early patristic literature is most interesting in that the roots of this genre surely must lie within late [sic] Jewish and early Christian literature. At the same time, however, those roots are perhaps vague at best. For our present purposes, I will initiate the discussion of the genre "martyrology" with the works of 2 Maccabees and 4 Maccabees. . . . I begin with these texts because it is evident to me that the bishop Ignatius envisioned himself and his predicament within the borders of the philosophy of "reason over passion" extolled by the author of 4 Maccabees. (Jeffords 2006: 47)

I want Jefford to be right, but two points give me pause. First, I'm just not sure how Jefford conceives ancient Judaism that he can refer to Roman-era texts as "late Jewish literature." This, of course, was the standard way of referencing Jewish texts among NT scholars of a previous generation, and I hope Jefford is not falling into that way of thinking. This is a deceptively significant issue; Does Jefford conceive Judaism as coming to an end (and therefore no longer interacting with) the early church? I don't think so, but I can't explain the language otherwise.

Second, the link between Ignatius and 4 Maccabees is very tenuous: "The terminology that Ignatius employs in his letters and the position that he assumes with respect to his captors seem to betray his dependence upon the perspective of this text" (viz., 4 Maccabees; 2006: 47–48; my emphasis). Jefford only explicitly names one link: Ignatius' famous reference to his captors as "leopards" [λεόπαρδοι; leopardoi] at Ign. Rom. 5.1 (cf. 4 Macc 9.28). Otherwise, notice that the dependence is merely "upon the perspective of" 4 Maccabees. If this is all the two share, I'm inclined to side with Bowersock, "who argues that Ignatius and the author of 4 Maccabees simply are the common participants of their times" (Jefford 2006: 47, n. 16; citing G. W. Bowersock, Martyrdom and Rome [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995], 77–82).

If we prefer Bowersock to Jefford here, then it strikes me as all the more surprising that Jewish tradition, biblical as well as post-biblical, offered such robust resources for Ignatius to comprehend and respond to his world. But he doesn't utilize those resources in any significant way. And coupled with Paul's immersion in a biblical universe—Paul, of whom Ignatius is demonstrably fond—I am "doubly all the more surprised" at Ignatius lack of reference to Israelite tradition. Could this be intentional? If so, why? What does this say about the Antiochene bishop's conception of Christianity and the church? Questions questions everywhere!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A scholar goes into a BAR in Houson . . .

Okay . . . so I'm not as clever as I like to imagine. Still, April DeConick links to her "Debut in BAR." I'm not as cynical (is that the right word?) as DeConick about faith or scholarship. But I do think that texts and traditions such as the Gospel of Thomas are of tremendous importance for illuminating not only (i) how others were handling biblical traditions but also (ii) the discursive environment in which those ancient texts with which we are more familiar contested and struggled and maneuvered.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

silent praise

This was absolutely a hilarious video. I wish I could sing like these guys . . . er, brethren.

[HT: Chris Brady]

some (less) preliminary thoughts on Ignatius of Antioch

As I mentioned previously, I recently began reading the Apostolic Fathers. After reading Whitacre's text and translation of Ignatius' letter To The Romans (in A Patristic Greek Reader [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007]), I thought I noticed a shift in Ignatius (from the NT authors, the author of the Didache, and from Clement of Rome) regarding his use and thinking in terms of Hebrew biblical traditions.

Today, I returned to Michael Holmes's text of the Apostolic Fathers and read Holmes's introduction to Ignatius. He begins with a wonderful description of Ignatius, which I reproduce here:

Just as we become aware of a meteor only when, after traveling silently through space for untold millions of miles, it blazes briefly through the atmosphere before dying in a shower of fire, so it is with Ignatius, bishop of Antioch in Syria. We meet him for the first time for just a few weeks not long before his death as a martyr in Rome early in the second century. But during those weeks he wrote, virtually as his "last will and testament," seven letters of extraordinary interest because of the unparalleled light they shed on the history of the church at that time, and because of what they reveal about the remarkable personality of the author. (Holmes 2007: 166)

Still only on the basis of my cursory reading of Ignatius' To The Romans, I find Holmes's description compelling. In that letter Ignatius is almost obsessive in his concern that he be able to "attain God" [τοῦ θεοῦ ἐπιτυχεῖν; tou theou epituchein (Rom. 1.2, passim)], which is synonymous for Ignatius with his successful (and gruesome!) martyrdom.

In his discussion of Ignatius' "Sources and Cultural Context," Holmes acknowledges that Ignatius "makes very little use of the Old Testament" (2007: 174) and mentions only three citations (Eph. 5.3; Magn. 12; Trall. 8.2) and three allusions (Eph. 15.1; Magn. 10.3; 13.1; see Holmes 2007: 174, n. 14). Perhaps not surprisingly, Ignatius is very influenced by Pauline tradition and perhaps broader streams of New Testament tradition (including John and/or Matthew). But given the shot-through-ness of those earlier texts with allusions to, connections with, and even citations of Hebrew biblical traditions, I'm intrigued by how Ignatius can be shaped by Paul but largely unserved by the resources Hebrew biblical traditions offered him for understanding and responding to his arrest and martyrdom.

Tomorrow (or later today, since I'm not very motivated to get to my work), I'll start reading Ignatius' To the Ephesians. Should be fun!

Monday, December 14, 2009

in today's mail

Okay . . . so I've wanted to get to this post all day, but first my Gospel Narratives final exam and then Midnight Breakfast (which started at 9.00 pm!) kept me from my computer. When I got the mail today, hidden amidst the bills and various solicitations, was Structuring Early Christian Memory, the published version of my PhD thesis. I looks . . . well, it looks like every other volume in T&T Clark's Library of New Testament Studies series, except that it has my name on the cover and spine. In other words, it's very sexy.

A few of my colleagues have commented on the price, and I am a little embarrassed at the $140 list. The price, however, is a reflection of the very limited print run more than a statement of its intrinsic value. And no, I don't get $50 for each copy sold.

Speaking of copies sold, tonight at Midnight Breakfast one of my colleagues told me that she bought a copy. You can get it from for 37% off (which is actually better than my author's discount with T&T Clark!!), but it's still over $85. But hey, shipping's free, so . . . At any rate, she's the first person that I know of who's bought my book, so I should be slowly creeping up the Amazon Sales Rank now.

UPDATE: I was remiss in not providing requisite photographic evidence of the book; I have now rectified the oversight.

[HT: Chris Keith]

Saturday, December 12, 2009

in the meantime

The last month has been a bit of a blur, making it difficult to find time to blog. Now the semester is over (well, final exams are next week; but classes have finished), and all I have left is grading and preparing for next semester.

Since I finished reading through my Greek New Testament nearly a month ago, I've been working through the Apostolic Fathers in fairly unsystematic fashion. I've managed to acquire a number of helpful resources: For those with only a tenuous grasp of Greek, I've found Rodney A. Whitacre's A Patristic Greek Reader (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007) a very helpful introduction to the Greek texts of early Christian writings. For the complete text of the Apostolic Fathers I've been reading Michael W. Holmes's The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (third edition; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007). I also have the first volume of Bart Ehrman's revised Loeb Classical Library edition, The Apostolic Fathers (two vols.; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003 [volume 1; volume 2]), but I have stuck mostly to Holmes's one-volume edition.

In the last month I've read the Didache, 1 Clement, and Ignatius' epistle To The Romans. What has struck me thus far is the different ethos with respect to biblical tradition that characterizes those three texts. The Didache (an early church manual with strong resonances with Matthew) sounds a lot like a NT text, though considerably more focused on the life of the church. As a NT scholar, I'm used to inferring the church's conduct from gospel texts; the Didache, even more than the NT epistolary texts, explicitly addresses how the church ought to pray, celebrate the Eucharist, welcome itinerant missionaries, etc.

1 Clement, on the other hand, reads a bit more like a Pauline epistle (with considerable differences, to be sure). But 1 Clement, like the NT texts, lives in a world defined by and filled with Hebrew biblical traditions. Here Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Job, and others appear not just as characters but also reference points for apprehending and interpreting late-first-century realities and responding appropriately to them. In 1 Clement the church continues to find nourishment and succor from her Israelite roots.

Ignatius, however, strikes me differently. Granted, I've still six Ignatian letters to read through, and I don't know what I'll encounter there. But in To The Romans, Ignatius doesn't take advantage of the opportunities afforded by Hebrew biblical traditions to make sense of and respond to his impending martyrdom. He clearly does understand what will happen to him, but Israel's story doesn't seem to play much, if any, role in how he understands it. I'm wondering, in other words, if Ignatius, unlike the author of the Didache, Clement, or the NT authors, distinguishes between the stories of Christ and of Israel.

Friday, December 11, 2009

wishing you the world

I wish all of JBC's students (and everyone else besides) a very merry Christmas. May you find the peace and joy we all long for throughout the rest of the year.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

as the SBL looms . . .

Today's Chronicle of Higher Education features a new phenomenon just in time for this year's SBL Annual Meeting in New Orleans, LA (I leave Friday morning): "tweckling."
Tweckle (twek'ul) vt. to abuse a speaker only to Twitter followers in the audience while he/she is speaking.

I've panned presentations here on Verily Verily, but given that I don't Twitter I probably won't tweckle, either. I would only add to the Chronicle's feature a note that tweckling reflects not just on soporific presenters but also on easily distracted attendees.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

zeroing in on the nail's head

Since late 2005 I've been trying to put my finger on a problem within New Testament research that, I think, skews a great number of facets of that research. Yesterday, as I continued reading Barry Joslin's book, Hebrews, Christ, and the Law (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2008), I think I made some progress in trying to formulate the problem I hope to address in future research.

Joslin provides an exegetical discussion of Heb 8.1–13 in chapter five. Hebrews 8, of course, has the lengthy reference to Jer 31.31–34 [LXX = 38.31–34] in which YHWH promises a "new covenant" with the houses of Judah and Israel. Throughout Joslin's book this "new covenant" self-evidently implies the passing of the old, Mosaic covenant. The reference to Israel and Judah, then, become somewhat of a problem. Joslin writes,
Though Jeremiah specifically addresses Israel and Judah, it becomes clear that Hebrews sees the prophecy's fulfillment in the eschatological days of the present time, and that it is applicable to more than simply the Jewish nation, though clearly they are not excluded. (186; my emphasis)

The problem I have, I think, begins with the two clauses that Joslin introduces with the concessive conjunction "though." First, Joslin has to find a way to diminish the Jeremianic reference to Israel and Judah. I don't necessarily fault Joslin here; he's writing about Hebrews, not Jeremiah. If Hebrews diminishes the explicitly Israelite/Judahite focus of Jer 31.31–34, Joslin would need to do so as well. I'm not convinced that Hebrews does this, however, but that's another (though related) subject. In fact, now that I look back at Joslin's quote, this seems to be precisely his point: Jeremiah focuses on Israel and Judah; Hebrews, not so much.

But, and second, the second though-phrase has to back-pedal and reserve a place for Israel and Judah within the Jeremianic new covenant. At this point, then, either the author of Hebrews has misread Jeremiah, or Joslin has misread Hebrews. And it isn't simply deference for Hebrews's privileged place within the canon that makes me prefer the latter option. Hebrews invokes a world determined and defined by Hebrew biblical tradition, by the story of Israel's God and his relationship with his covenant people. Indeed, Hebrews takes up and manipulates those traditions and that story in order to achieve certain ends in its own present.

But one thing Hebrews—and the rest of the New Testament, it seems to me—does not do is "reserve" a place for Israel. The texts comprising the New Testament do not regard Israel (and the Jews enveloped within that label) as ancillary to God. Those texts, in different ways but all together, begin with a notion of God's election of Israel and proceed (again, in different ways but all together) to extend that notion to the nations beyond Israel. Any argument that has to include a caveat such as, "though clearly they are not excluded," is already moving in the wrong direction.

Whence comes this analytical anomaly? The self-evident split between Christianity and Judaism in our own world, I think, has distorted our analyses of the NT texts, of Christian origins, and of late Second Temple Judaism in general. Given that the NT texts are Christian texts, and given that Christianity ≠ Judaism, critical analyses have to explain the role Jews play in the symbolic universe(s) built and inhabited by Jesus' followers. As a result, scholarly discourse on Christian origins resembles a horse being led around by its cart, and exegetical work (such as Joslin's) guided by such a wayward horse is equally lost.

To be clear, eventually Christianity would become something other than Judaism, a fact that present religio-political realities make obvious. And even in antiquity, theologians and bishops comfortable wearing the label Christian but who refused the label Jew would have to wrestle with their strange patterns of identification. But the texts of the NT—and the authors thereof—don't seem to have made this distinction. The point in Heb 8.1–13 is clearly not that the Jews were clearly not excluded from the new covenant. This was never in doubt!

Monday, November 16, 2009


Last December I began reading through my Greek New Testament. Not in order (Matthew to Revelation). Not even very systematically. But [almost] every day. It was sorta a spiritual thing, but it was also about exposing myself to Greek texts everyday. More than that, it was about reading Greek texts everyday, as opposed to the closer, more analytical work I do (also almost daily) with Greek texts.

Of course I did a lot of translating on the way. But I also tried hard to understand without translating—to engage the text as a Greek text rather than to transmogrify the text into a quasi-English text before engaging it. I read a lot aloud, but probably not as much as I should have. But always my goal was to read the text rather than translate the text.

At any rate, today I finished the last book: Acts. I'm considering a similar program for Hebrew, though I can't even imagine trying to work through the Hebrew Bible in a year [!]. But maybe the Pentateuch. Or maybe just Gen 1. Best to start with reasonable expectations.

Regarding Greek, my plan is to start on the Apostolic Fathers next. I'd also like to work through some of the Greek Second Temple Jewish texts, but my immediate research interests pull me more vigorously toward those later texts at the moment. But today felt strangely like some sort of milestone, so I thought it deserved a mention here.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Is this a logical problem?

I'm still reviewing Barry C. Joslin's Hebrews, Christ, and the Law, and I'm struggling a bit to understand its logic. I earnestly welcome clarification from anyone who thinks they understand the logic behind this statement:
Drawing from the only other mention of Melchizedek besides Psalm 110:4, he describes his meeting with Abraham when Abraham was returning from the slaughter of the kings in Genesis 14. Hebrews is only concerned with Melchizedek insofar as much as [sic] he relates to Christ, and receives attention simply because his priestly office and this meeting with Abraham supply evidence for the writer's main thesis, viz., that there is a new priesthood that is superior to the old. (135–136; my emphasis)

Forget the grammatical problem in the middle of the quote; any work of this length and sophistication will suffer a few problems like this. Forget even the non sequitur at this quote's beginning, in which Joslin refers to Genesis 14 as "the only other mention of Melchizedek besides Psalm 110:4." Nothing about Genesis 14 is "the only other mention"; Genesis 14 provides the account of Melchizedek and Abraham, and Psa 110.4 is "the only other mention" of Melchizedek. But Joslin misses this because he isn't concerned with Melchizedek; he's only concerned about priesthood, and Melchizedek is a label that simply means "not-Levitical" (see 135, n. 7). The text might as well have said Christ is a priest forever according to the order of Gidget, and only the consonants מלכי־צדך [mlky-ṣdk] in Psa 110.4 prevented him from doing so.

But I'm struggling with the point that Joslin reads into Hebrews 7. Given the text's logic—that Levi was still in Abraham's loins when Abraham offered his tithe to Melchizedek and so Levi offered tithes to Melchizedek—I don't see how the writer's point could possibly be that Christ belongs to a new priesthood, and that this new priesthood is superior to the old one. If anything, it seems to me that Hebrews places the Levitical priesthood in the category new; Christ's priesthood, then, being according to the order of Melchizedek, is both older and, therefore, superior.

Am I missing something here?!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

What John doesn't say

A good friend of mine has explored the Fourth Evangelist's conception of memory in an interesting essay called, "Why John Wrote a Gospel: Memory and History in an Early Christian Community" (Memory, Tradition, and Text: Uses of the Past in Early Christianity [A. Kirk and T. Thatcher, eds.; Atlanta: SBL, 2005], 79–97), which he later expanded into Why John WROTE a Gospel: Jesus—Memory—History (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2006). In the essay he addresses the Fourth Evangelist's conception of "memory," especially given the somewhat unusual passages in John 2.21 and 12.16:
Then, when Jesus was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered [ἐμνήσθησαν; emnēsthēsan] that he said this, and they believed the scripture as well as the word Jesus had spoken. (John 2.21)

His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus had been glorified, then they remembered [ἐμνήσθησαν; emnēsthēsan] that these things were written about him, and that they did these things to him. (John 12.16)

Of course, the reference to the disciples later remembering what Jesus had said/done in John 2 comes at the end of John's account of the Temple incident, and especially Jesus' answer to "the Jews," "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it" (2.19). In John 12 the events that were later remembered concerned Jesus' entry into Jerusalem amidst acclaims of blessing as the one who comes in the name of the Lord. These are clearly pivotal events in the Fourth Gospel's account of Jesus' life, and the evangelist explicitly acknowledges that, beyond actually witnessing Jesus' ministry, "remembering" Jesus' life from a perspective informed by (i) the resurrection and (ii) the Paraclete [= Holy Spirit] are crucial for anyone wanting to properly understand Jesus.

As I was reading Craig Koester's The Word of Life: A Theology of John's Gospel (Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2008), a question stuck in my head. First, the passage from Koester responsible for making me think:
Jesus speaks of dying as the act of giving his flesh. He tells the crowd that what "I give for the life of the world is my flesh" (6:51). In what follows, Jesus speaks of those who eat his flesh and drink his blood, using disturbingly graphic terms to underscore the reality of his death (6:53–56). . . . [Many] recognize that the primary level of meaning concerns crucifixion, which is the way Jesus' flesh is given and his blood is shed." (84)

In John's gospel, Jesus says a lot of difficult things, whether about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, as here, or about living water flowing out of people, or those who oppose him being the children of the devil, and so on. What surprises me, however, is that the evangelist doesn't add more comments that later, after Jesus had appeared to his followers raised from the dead, that then they understood his comment about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. How appropriate it would have been, in my opinion, for the narrator to have added the words in bold:
Then Jesus said to them, "Verily, verily I tell you: Unless you eat the Son of Man's flesh and drink his blood, you do not have life among you. But whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood does have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them." His disciples had no clue what Jesus was talking about, but later, when he had been raised from the dead and had explained the Law and the prophets to them, they remembered his words and rejoiced. (John 6.53–56, and then some)

But John doesn't say that, and I'm a little intrigued why not. There are no answers to this question, of course; John also never tells us if Jesus ever got indigestion or if he ever sneezed so hard it hurt his back. But from where I sit, Jesus' words in John 6 are much more difficult to "remember" than his statement in the Temple or his acclamation on the road into Jerusalem. But I think one point is fairly clear: In order to read the whole gospel properly, the evangelist intends us to remember every pericope, every paragraph, even every word, with the enhanced memory informed by Jesus' resurrection and the guidance of the Counselor who comes in Jesus' absence (John 15.26–27).

200 posts

A bit after I published my last post, I realized that that was my 200th post. Now this isn't an impressive feat. I published my maiden post on Wednesday, 21 September 2005. So in a little over four years I managed to do what Jim West does in six hours. Still, 200 posts is 200 posts, and I've done it. I look forward to hitting that all-important milestone, 250 posts, sometime in 2016.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

a rather nice piece, I should think has a rather nice piece by—wait for it . . . —Christopher Hitchens. It isn't often that I can find myself in the descriptions of people like me (viz., conservative Christian who takes the traditional claims and teachings of the Christian church seriously enough to leave them open to question), especially when those descriptions are written by people like Hitchens.

There's still a world of disagreement; of course there is. But the tone Hitchens strikes in this essay enables, even invites conversation and debate. I can't help but think that Jesus would have enjoyed speaking with someone like Hitchens (well, Hitchens as he conducts himself in this particular Slate article). Of course, unless Hitchens brushes up on his Aramaic, they probably wouldn't have found very much to say to each other . . .

Pilate and Jesus' crucifixion

Last week I was writing a lecture on the political dynamics of the gospels' accounts of Jesus' trials and crucifixion. This morning, as I was reading through Craig Koester's book, The Word of Life: A Theology of John's Gospel (Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2008), I came across this quote, which resonated exactly with what I wrote a week ago.
It is not always clear whether readers are to see Pilate as a weak and indecisive figure or as a powerful and shrewd administrator (18:29–19:22). . . . Yet the appearance of weakness might be deceiving, since Pilate's actions finally serve Roman political interests quite well. He does not agree to crucify Jesus until the Jewish authorities reaffirm their loyalty to the emperor, and the sign Pilate puts above the cross simply calls Jesus the King of the Jews, which disturbs the Jewish leaders because it gives the impression that the Romans are executing an actual Jewish king. Pilate's refusal to change the sign suggests that the is quite content to give the impression that he is crucifying Jewish national aspirations along with Jesus. (Koester, The Word of Life, 72; my emphasis)

The irony, of course, is that Caiaphas sought to have Jesus executed in order to preserve the nation. But in Pilate's hands, the crucifixion of this supposed messianic pretender only further subjected the nation to Rome's power.

another reason to love Greek

Earlier I mentioned ἀποτυμπανίζειν [apotympanizein], a word that I might not need often but that comes in really handy when I do. I offer today another word that I might not use everyday. But if my wife spoke Greek, this word just might reduce the number of words I would need to answer the question, "What did you do at work today, honey?" According to the Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, μοσχοποιεῖν [moschopoiein] means "to make a calf-idol, to shape an idol in the form of a calf" (§6.101). I hereby coin an equally convenient English verb, to calfdolatrize, as the standard English equivalent to μοσχοποιεῖν.

The new, authorized translation of Acts 7.41 is, then:
They calfdolatrized in those days, and they offered a sacrifice to their idol, and they rejoiced in the works of their hands.

The word of the Lord.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Philo and Paul

In my reading of Joslin's book on Hebrews (see my comments here) I'm currently elbow-deep in his discussion of Philo's view of the law. In a sub-section entitled, "Philo and the Patriarchs" (71–72), Joslin writes,
Philo also paints an idealized picture of the patriarchs. He states that they embodied the law and intuitively obeyed the Torah before it was written by Moses. In short, the patriarchs lived according to true virtue since the written law codified what was known to be both true and virtuous. In his concluding statements on Abraham, Philo writes that the patriarch "obeyed the law . . . himself a law and an unwritten statute." (71; citing Philo, On Abraham 276)

Joslin also cites an article by John W. Martens ("Philo and the 'Higher' Law." Society of Biblical Literature 1991 Seminar Papers 30 [1991]: 309–22). My question: Is anyone aware of anyone bringing this Philonic evidence to bear on Paul's (nearly) contemporary argument in Rom 2.14–15 regarding the gentiles "being a law for themselves" [ἑαυτοῖς εἰσιν νόμος; heautois eisin nomos]? Is anyone out there familiar with Martens's work?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

help with my hermeneutic

I've started reading Barry C. Joslin's book, Hebrews, Christ, and the Law: The Theology of the Mosaic Law in Hebrews 7:1–10:18 (Paternoster Biblical Monographs; Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2008). I have to admit that I'm struggling with this one, in part because of the frequent use of passive verbs and awkward circumlocutions in order to avoid the first-person. But once I got past the first chapter (or rather, once the first chapter was gotten past by the present reader and reviewer), I've started to enjoy this book a bit more.

Even so, as I read Joslin's book I've noticed a number of phrases that make me scratch my head, and I would like to avail myself of your assistance, if you're able to make sense of these passages. I'll only provide two, but these are representative of Joslin's writing style:

[W]hen taken as a whole, what the writer of Hebrews envisions for the law in the [New Covenant] is its transformation. It is now viewed through the lens of Christ, and as such there is transformation that involves fulfillment and internalization. There are continuous and discontinuous aspects of the law, and this continuity and discontinuity turns on the hinge of Christ. (2)

This quote comes from the first chapter and as such introduces Joslin's thesis. I'm not convinced that the sentences I've quoted actually say anything. How is the law transformed? What does "viewed through the lens of Christ" mean vis-à-vis the law? In what sense is the law "fulfilled" and "internalized," and why are these things "transformation"? But since there remains the entire rest of the book, I'm willing to put these questions on hold. I can't figure out, however, how the subject of Joslin's last phrase ("this continuity and discontinuity") performs the action of the verb ("turns"), and how the door metaphor ("on the hinge of Christ") explains either the verb or the relationship of the double subject. Any help?

On a different note, Joslin provides a lengthy survey of Jews' view of the law/Law/Torah in the Second Temple period; such a survey is no easy task. Toward the beginning of his discussion of 2 Maccabees (34–37), Joslin writes,

After giving them the law Jeremiah is said to exhort his readers "not to let the νόμος depart from their hearts" in 2:3. What seems to be clear is that the specific referent for νόμος is the written commandment of the law of Moses. (34)

Again, I'm thirty-some pages into a lengthy monograph (330+ pages), so a lot of Joslin's argument is still to come. But already Joslin has mentioned a half-dozen times or so that he sees νόμος [nomos; "law"] and διαθήκη [diathēkē; "covenant"] as related terms but absolutely rejects that they are [near?] synonyms. So his comment on 2 Macc 2.3—that "the specific referent for νόμος is the written commandment of the law of Moses"—strikes me as a bit self-serving. Why is Jeremiah's exhortation limited to the written text he gives to the departing deportees? Or, at least, why does this limitation "seem to be clear"? The same text "seems clear" to me to refer to the written text as a cultural/material artifact that metonymically referenced any number of things simultaneously: the written text, the specific commandments inscribed therein, the covenant mediated via those commandments and communicated in that text, the interpretive traditions mediating the text's meaning and significance (and so the proper means of observation), the appropriate stance vis-à-vis the gentiles among whom the exiles would live, etc.

Given the important role this point will play in Joslin's argument, I'm baffled that he seems content to assert this interpretation without any argumentation whatsoever. With a flick of the wrist and a "seems to be clear," the point is made. Or perhaps, once again, my hermeneutic is failing me. Any suggestions?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

what arrived in today's mail

Today I received an examination copy of Elizabeth Struthers Malbon's most recent book, Mark's Jesus: Characterization as Narrative Christology (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2009; I couldn't find this book on BUP's website). Here's the blurb from inside the dust jacket:
Noted biblical scholar Elizebeth Struthers Malbon asks a literary question in this landmark volume: how does the Markan narrative characterize Jesus?

Through a close narrative analysis, she carefully examines various ways the Gospel discloses its central character. The result is a multilayered Markan narrative christology, focusing not only on what the narrator and other characters say about Jesus (projected christology), but also on what Jesus says in response to what these others say to and about him (deflected christology), what Jesus says instead about himself and God (refracted christology), what Jesus does (enacted christology), and how what other characters do is related to what Jesus says and does (reflected christology). Holding significant implications for those who wish to use Mark's Gospel to make claims about the historical Jesus, as well as for those who wish to use Mark's Gospel to construct confessions about the church's belief, Malbon's research is a groundbreaking work of scholarship.

I'm looking forward to having an opportunity to work through this book. I'm especially intrigued by the various lenses through which she explores Mark's christology, particularly the category refracted christology. I've struggled to explain to my students how to conceptualize the fact that everything Jesus says in the NT is actually Matthew, Mark, Luke, and/or John speaking without giving the impression that Jesus' words in the gospels and Acts are only the evangelists speaking. I think I like the idea that Jesus' words are refracted through the gospels, even more, perhaps, than the (problematic, in my view) idea of the ipsissima vox Jesu.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

recognizing Jesus

Despite all the rancor that accompanies NT scholarship, we do all agree (for the most part) on a few things. Two of those things, I think, regard the earliest Christians' perception and interpretation of Jesus:
  • First, the dominant perspective among Jesus' earliest followers insisted on identifying and contextualizing Jesus within the traditions preserved in the texts of the Hebrew Bible (loosely understood). Some may have tried to distance Jesus from Israel's sacred traditions, but these were decidedly in the minority.

  • Second, identifying Jesus in light of Israel's sacred traditions experienced a pivotal moment at Easter. The gospels are explicit here: The resurrected Jesus "opens the eyes" of his followers and shows them that everything that happened to him had to happen in order to fulfill what was written in the Law and the Prophets. This theme is widespread (see, for example, both Luke and John).

With respect to this second point, scholars generally suspect that the activities involved in connecting Jesus and Hebrew biblical traditions was more robust than the gospels let on. But this point goes beyond the consensus of the second point, so I list it separately.

I'm currently reading Craig Koester's The Word of Life: A Theology of John's Gospel (Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2008). As I read the following, I didn't really disagree with these comments so much as I thought they were a bit too imprecise. Let me know what you think.
The post-resurrection perspective also enables the evangelist to make connections with the Old Testament that were not evident during his ministry." (11)

John, of course, is explicit here; Jesus said and did things (and had things done to him) that his followers only later remembered in light of prophetic utterances (see the use of μιμνῄσκομαι [mimnēskomai; "I remember"] at John 2.17, 22; 12.16). Again, it would be too strong to say I disagree with Koester's point here.

But I can't help but think that we need to balance this point with a rigorous understanding that Jesus ministry itself (not simply the memory of his ministry) was perceived within a symbolic universe whose features were largely determined and set in place by Israelite sacred tradition. Indeed, at this time one of the major projects still underway (and about to get worse, given the war of 66–79 CE) was how that symbolic universe could account for and make sense of the Hellenization of the whole world and then Rome's domination over it. That Jesus and his followers (as well as John and his followers) were defined by Torah and engaged in navigating the Roman empire while maintaining faith in Torah does not mean that they would have been indistinguishable from other Jews. How Jesus, John, and their followers answered questions raised by Torah and Rome often differed significantly, but the questions with which the early Christians wrestled were largely the same questions that Jews across the Mediterranean world had to address.

In this light, Jesus' resurrection certainly resulted in a shift in the connections between Israel's sacred traditions and Jesus' life and ministry. What didn't change, of course, was the role of Hebrew biblical traditions in defining the world in which Jesus had to make sense.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hebrews: It is finished

I have finished reading Gabriella Gelardini's book, Hebrews: Contemporary Methods—New Insights. For the most part, this was a fascinating book that brought together in a single volume a number of interesting perspectives and insights. As with many edited volumes, there were moments when a bit of interaction between the essays would have been helpful. There were myriad references to Harold Attridge's Hermeneia commentary on Hebrews, as well as Craig Koester's Anchor Bible commentary. Likewise, there were numerous references (mostly positive) to David deSilva's Despising Shame: Honor Discourse and Community Maintenance in the Epistle to the Hebrews. But it would have been helpful if Ellen Bradshaw Aitken and Gelardini had acknowledged each other's essays, given that both were proposing a generative context for this enigmatic text (as I've noted elsewhere). Likewise, when Pamela Eisenbaum (see below) denies flatly that Hebrews "was a speech or sermon intended for a specific occasion or occasioned by a single event" (222), it would have been appropriate to at least acknowledge Gelardini's very careful argument that it was!

Even so, I've enjoyed this volume (and most of its essays) very much, and I look forward to exploring both Hebrews and scholarship on Hebrews more fully in the future. Here are some specific moments from the book that I found especially thought-provoking (even if my thoughts are sometimes disagreeable):

  • Pamela Eisenbaum's essay, "Locating Hebrews within the Literary Landscape of Christian Origins" (213–37) pursues the very program I'm interested in. That is, she sets out to recontextualize Hebrews within recent scholarship "that reframe[s] not only how we think about Christian origins and post-biblical Judaism, but how we think about Jewish-Christian relations and the construction of Jewish and/or Christian identity in the frist four centuries within the wider context of the Greco-Roman world" (214). Unfortunately, she then engages in a series of assertions without providing the argumentation that might have brought me along with her. For instance, she attributes the widespread dating of Hebrews to the first century to Hebrews's location within the NT canon: "the very presence of Hebrews in the canon unconsciously biases scholars toward a first-century date, in spite of the fact that scholars are well aware that Hebrews' canonical authority was questioned up to the fifth century" (216). Of course, the traditional terminus ad quem for Hebrews is its influence on 1 Clement, which is traditionally dated to 96 CE. Eisenbaum mentions in a footnote (215, n. 4) that she prefers to date 1 Clement in the second century ("as late as 140, though the current tendency is to date it within the first quarter of the second century"), but she doesn't provide any discussion in support of that argument. Given the limited scope of this essay (only 25 pages), that's understandable. But scholars have certainly relied upon more than their bias in favor of texts included in the Christian canon to date Hebrews before the end of the first century, her dismissive comments notwithstanding.

    Similarly, when proposing a rather late date for Hebrews, Eisenbaum says,
    Just as "the message declared through angels became valid (βέβαιος)," which is the author's way of saying that the word of God formerly spoken by the prophets—or the "old covenant," as he now thinks of it—was officially instituted, presumably in the form of Torah, so now what was spoken by the Lord has been "confirmed"; it has become a newly effectuated covenant. Such a view seems more plausibly located later, rather than earlier, in the first century. (228; my emphasis)

    But why should this view be indicative of a "later, rather than earlier" date? It may very well be, but Eisenbaum doesn't explain why. I'm especially curious, since Paul seems to have rather developed ideas of "new covenant" (2 Cor 3.6, 14; Gal 4.24; see also Galatians 3!), some of which he inherited (1 Cor 11.25). More than an assertion seems to be necessary here (and throughout this essay).

  • James C. Miller's essay, "Paul and Hebrews: A Comparison of Narrative Worlds" (245–64) was a very stimulating essay comparing the narrative worlds assumed by Hebrews and Paul. Miller is heavily influenced by N. T. Wright's discussion of story and worldview, which opens up the texts to some interesting insights. Wright's emphatically theological approach to worldview is also, I would suggest, a limitation that overlooks other interesting insights. Here the sociology of knowledge (invoked primarily in Knut Backhaus's essay on ethics in Hebrews) would have helped flesh out Wright's model. But this seems to me precisely the way to address Hebrews's relation to Paul's letters. That is, the question is less one of influence or (even less likely) of authorship, but rather of how their reflection and projection of reality compare and contrast.

If you're looking for an introduction to the scholarly discussion of Hebrews, Gelardini's book is as good a place as any to get started, I would imagine. It's an advanced text, but it's well worth the effort it takes to read the book.

where does "pierce" come from?

I'm writing a (very) brief study of Psalm 22. Most English translations render Psa 22.16 somewhat along the lines of the NASB, which reads:
For dogs have surrounded me; A band of evildoers has encompassed me; They pierced my hands and my feet.

The third phrase of this verse—the one that, for obvious reasons, is most significant for Christian readings of this passage—differs significantly from the text published in the BHS:
כי סבבוני כלבים עדת מרעים הקיפוני דארי ידי ורגלי

kî sĕḇāḇûnî kĕlāḇîm ‘ăḏaṯ mĕrē‘îm hiqqîpûnî kā’ărî yāḏay wĕraglāy

For dogs have encircled me; a congregation of the wicked surrounded me. As the lion my hands and my feet.

The Septuagint is similar, except [*sigh*] for the final phrase:
ὅτι ἐκύκλωσάν με κύνες πολλοἰ συναγωγὴ πονηρευομένων περιέσχον με ὤρυξαν χεῖράς μου καὶ πόδας

hoti ekyklōsan me kynes polloi synagōgē ponēreuomenōn perieschon me ōryxan cheiras mou kai podas

For many dogs have encircled me; a gathering of evildoers has surrounded me; they have dug out my hands and feet.

Brenton translates ὤρυξαν pierced, so I did a (very) little bit of work among the lexica. BDAG offers three general definitions, all of which are related to digging (§5393). Louw-Nida is similar (§19.55), as is Liddell-Scott-Jones (§31131).

Clearly, the English translations (NASB, NLT, NIV, KJV; but not NRSV, NET) exhibit a preference for "pierce" at Psa 22.16, including Brenton's translation of the LXX. Does anyone know where this preference comes from? Granted that the BHS reading is incomprehensible and the LXX isn't obviously related to a Hebrew Vorlage, this verse is certainly perplexing. But given the theological freight that the phrase "they pierced my hands and feet" bears, especially in the very psalm Jesus is said to have quoted from the cross, can anyone provide any rational justification for this translation?

Monday, October 19, 2009

request for suggestions

I'm looking to purchase some library management software, and I was wondering what people use, what reactions they've had to their software, and if you have any recommendations and/or things to watch out for. I've heard good things about Library Master, but it looks like that only runs on Windows. I do run Windows on Parallels, and if the best software is PC-only software, I could go that route. But if anyone has any suggestions for Mac OSX, please let me know.

Thanks in advance.

gender and reviewing books

Susan O'Doherty, on's Mama PhD blog, has a post on Gender and Book Reviews. (The issue regards the gender of the author being reviewed rather than the gender of the reviewer.) Given the recent discussion regarding gender and biblioblogging, I wonder if biblical scholars have noted (or ought to have noted) a similar phenomenon. Do we review books written by female and male scholars differently? Do we use different criteria and descriptors when reviewing books written by one gender over against the other?

A quick glance at my CV shows one review of a female author (Sidnie White Crawford's Rewritting Scripture in Second Temple Times [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008]; my review appeared in the Stone-Campbell Journal) and eight reviews of male authors. I have three more reviews in the queue, one of which is edited by two scholars, one female and one male. In addition, I have made comments on this blog on a number of books, most recently a series of comments on Gabriella Gelardini's edited volume on Hebrews (comments here). I'm not suggesting I'm not a part of the phenomenon O'Doherty addresses; I'm simply pointing to the data that would help make that determination.

So what of it? Do you male scholars suspect you or anyone else out there reviews books authored by female scholars differently? Do you female scholars feel your work isn't evaluated in the same terms or against the same standards as your male colleagues? If so, could we agree that this is a significantly more pressing problem than the gender gap among bloggers?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Justin and the rhetoric of movement

Once again I'm well outside my area of expertise; I would value any comment from those of you with knowledge of (i) Justin Martyr, (ii) second-century Judaism and Christianity, or (iii) the so-called "parting of the ways."

I'm reading Jan-Eric Steppa's essay, "The Reception of Messianism and the Worship of Christ in the Post-Apostolic Church" (The Messiah in Early Judaism and Christianity [ed. M Zetterholm; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007], 79–116). In his discussion of "Justin Martyr's Messiah" (85–89) Steppa suggests that the early church (or at least Justin) conceived of God's favor as moving from Judaism to Christianity.

For Justin, the failure of the Jews to comprehend the numerous scriptural evidences for the messiahship of Jesus completely disqualified them from possession of the Scriptures. Justin expresses here an uncompromising view of the transference of God's favor from the Jews to the Christians. From the moment of the Jews' rejection of Christ as the Messiah, Christians have become the rightful descendants of Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham, and thus the true spiritual Israel. (88; my emphasis)

I can't help but perceive some disjunction between the first sentence and the second, italicized sentence. Without any extensive knowledge of Justin, I'm wondering if Justin's rhetoric assumes a movement of the Jews from inside God's favor—descendants of the Patriarchs, possessors of the holy scriptures, etc.—to outside God's favor on account of their rejection of Jesus as Israel's messiah. As such (and in agreement with that first sentence), the Jews have forsaken their birthright, including (but not limited to) their right to the scriptures.

But does this necessarily equate a movement of God's favor from Israel to the church? Or does Justin conceive of the church as a static entity upon which God's favor rests (perhaps that entity to which the label Israel applies), into which those gentiles who accept the gospel and out of which those Jews who reject the gospel are transferred? In other words, is the church/Israel in Justin's universe less the heir of the scriptures and other symbols of God's favor and more their original possessors? And are the Jews less those whom God's favor has abandoned and more those who have abandoned God's favor (/messiah)?

My instinct is that, if the answers to these questions are "Yes," then these are distinctions that matter. Again, if this is a helpful way to think about Justin, then we need to be more precise about what/who moves, from/to where, and what the consequences of that movement might be.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Why I love Greek

ἀποτυμπανίζειν [apotympanizein], according to the abridged Liddell-Scott-Jones lexicon, means "to cudgel to death." You have to appreciate any language that has a single word for such an action and which thoughtfully and in advance reduces the linguistic effort needed to describe it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

more on the Bibs department at Sheffield

Alison Bygrave (the insider voice from the department) has posted the following update regarding the Biblical Studies department at The University of Sheffield[.]:
The University of Sheffield has today confirmed its position with regard to the future of the Department of Biblical Studies. In the light of concerns regarding inadequate consultation, as well as feedback from staff and students, the Department of Biblical Studies is no longer under review and a proposal that it should be reconfigured as a Postgraduate Centre has been withdrawn.

Instead the University has asked the Faculty of Arts and Humanities to consider, as a matter of urgency, a short, medium and longer term plan for the Department. With regard to the undergraduate intake for 2010, the University can confirm that it will recruit students for this year onto single and dual honours degrees in Biblical Studies. The Faculty of Arts and Humanities are working with colleagues to ensure that these students are appropriately supported, including through the recruitment of additional staff.

Looking to the future, the University recognises the outstanding reputation of the Department of Biblical Studies in Sheffield for scholarship and a superb student experience, and has confidence that all concerned will work together to enhance this for future students.

Professor Mike Braddick
Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Arts and Humanities

This is obviously good news. For all of you in any way responsible for making decisions at an institutional level, let this be a lesson to you that consulting people involved in a decision is always a wise thing to do before making that decision. I'm no organizational psychologist, but this seems to be one of the most frequently overlooked principles of, well, common decency.

HT: Bryan Lee

Monday, October 12, 2009

Biblical Studies at The University of Sheffield (or not, whatever)

Thank you to everyone who has sent me e-mails over the last week or so regarding the news that The University of Sheffield[.] is considering closing the undergraduate wing of the Biblical Studies department, a move that most (quite rightly) suspect would result in the end of biblical scholarship at Sheffield. The news was published on 8 Oct on the Students' Union website (via Education Officer Holly Taylor's blog). Subsequently, support for the department has exploded, with Jim West (posts available here), Mark Goodacre, Doug Chaplin, and many others following events and commentary. There is also a Facebook group and a website for those interested.

I have waited to comment on the situation in part because I'm really not sure what's going on and in part because I don't have access to the most reliable information. My opinions, therefore, are based less on solid facts and more on my impressions and observations from living and working in the department for over two years and with continued work in the department for an additional two-and-a-half years. Even so, the Bibs department has been the University's neglected step-child for some time, from a general lack of support for replacing faculty to a general view of the physical space inhabited by the Bibs department (on the 11th floor of the Arts Tower) as expansion potential for the Philosophy department (on the 12th floor). The department, admittedly, hasn't maximized the use of its space, but that problem could have been addressed without threatening the department as whole.

Despite all of this, the Biblical Studies department at The University of Sheffield[.] has a worldwide reputation and is a leading institution in terms of defining and embodying biblical scholarship. Its RAE scores attest the quality scholarship fostered by the department's faculty, to say nothing of the work put out by its graduates (myself included). Unlike many (most?) other theology and/or religion departments across the UK, the Bibs department is not religiously affiliated, and this has been the source of some criticism from circles to which I belong. But in my experience, this world-renowned, unaffiliated department was a welcoming, nurturing, and stimulating environment for biblical scholarship even for a conservative, confessional scholar such as I am. Sheffield is a truly unique place to pursue biblical scholarship, and the loss of the Biblical Studies department would be a loss both to The University and to professional biblical research.

more on Hebrews

I have continued reading Gabriella Gelardini's edited volume, Hebrews: Contemporary Methods—New Insights, and I've been surprised how much I'm enjoying it. Here I only have time to name a couple of interesting observations, whether about Gelardini's book, about Hebrews itself, or about other New Testament scholarship.
  • First, a structuralist observation. Gelardini's essay, "Hebrews, an Ancient Synagogue Homily for Tisha be-Av: Its Function, its Basis, its Theological Interpretation" (107–127), is the final essay of Part One (Cultic Language, Concepts, and Practice in Hebrews) and reads the text in thoroughly Judaic terms. Her discussion of ancient synagogue homilies and the Palestinian Triennial Cycle was fascinating (at least to me; I have absolutely no experience in this field), and her mapping of Hebrews onto this cycle was compelling. But it was especially interesting, I thought, that the next essay, Ellen Bradshaw Aitken's "Portraying the Temple in Stone and Text: The Arch of Titus and the Epistle to the Hebrews" (131–148), takes a radically different turn and reads Hebrews in a thoroughly Roman context.

    The disjunction between Gelardini's and Bradshaw Aitken's essays is not mitigated by the beginning of Part Two (Sociology, Ethics, and Rhetoric in Hebrews); they read the same text in completely different universes of discourse. For Gelardini, Hebrews means by way of its relation to tisha be-Av and its gravitational effects on the liturgical reading of Torah and the Prophets. For Bradshaw Aitken, Hebrews means primarily by way of its relation to Roman political discourse, "but doing so indirectly by means of typological reflection on the Yom Kippur rituals and inadequacy of the high priests in the earthly sanctuary" (142–143). The phrase "indirectly by means of" caught my attention. Perhaps I'm being too cynical, but it appears to me she's suggesting that Hebrews only appears to be concerned with Judaic universes of meaning; it's real semantic field is Roman (viz., Flavian) imperial rhetoric.

  • Knut Backhaus's essay, "How to Entertain Angels: Ethics in the Epistle to the Hebrews" (149–175) was a very interesting exploration of Hebrews' paraenetic significance. In view of our text's theological, philosophical, and exegetical gravity—anyone who's ever read Hebrews knows immediately that the text is a "heavy" text!—its ethical dimension is surprisingly anemic.

    Nevertheless, readers today are far from being impressed by the specific instructions eventually offered in the last major section, especially in Heb 13: Let us do good works (Heb 10:24)! Attend Sunday service (Heb 10:25)! Let the marital bed be undefiled (Heb 13:4)! Respect the church authorities (Heb 13:7, 17)! Keep to orthodox doctrine (Heb 13:9)! (150)

    Backhaus's conclusion deserves mention: "To arrive at exhortations of this kind, it may seem, the intellectual level of the Epistle of Jude would suffice" (150), to which I add my own exclamation point: ! But Backhaus provides a helpful re-examination of the ethical significance of Hebrews, a re-examination that is evident when pairing his essay's first words with its last:

    The theological mountain is in labor—but what is born is a moral mouse! It is this impression one may get reading the Epistle to the Hebrews in order to piece together its instructions into an ethical whole. . . . On the contrary, each human gesture in the everyday dramas of life, however meaningless it may seem, becomes infinitely meaningful and gains an immeasurable ethical relevance. In the midst of human affairs we “entertain angels,” keepers of transcendence in a disenchanted world. The theological mountain is in labor—and what is born is an ethical universe. (149, 175)

  • Then I read Benjamin Dunning's essay, "The Intersection of Alien Status and Cultic Discourse in the Epistle to the Hebrews" (177–198). Dunning's essay was interesting (despite an uncertain beginning; the first sentence asked, "What made Mormons different?", which made me ask, "Who switched my book?!"), but my interest was piqued obliquely by a reference to F. F. Bruce. Regarding Hebrews's reference to ἔξω τῆς παρεμβολῆς [exō tēs parembolēs; "outside the camp"] in 13.11, 13, Dunning says,

    The other major alternative is to interpret the appeal to join Jesus ἔξω τῆς παρεμβολῆς as a call to leave Judaism. According to this argument, as F. F. Bruce maintains, "the 'camp' stands for the established fellowship and ordinances of Judaism. To abandon them, with all their sacred associations inherited from remote antiquity, was a hard thing, but it was a necessary thing." (192–193)

    I could scarcely believe that F. F. Bruce would so blatantly pitch Hebrews against a Jewish background (rather than reading it within a Judaic symbolic universe), so I had to chase down the reference. Sure enough, Dunning was right. I cannot myself understand how we could read a text like Hebrews (!!), which is so thoroughly steeped in a world perceived and evaluated in terms of Hebrew biblical traditions, as being anything other than a Jewish text. How Hebrews advocates a move outside "Judaism" is utterly incomprehensible . . . or at least, it should be. The fact that it isn't ought to suggest to us that the habits we marshal when we turn to read the New Testament—the quintessentially Christian (= not-Jewish) canon of texts—have failed us even from step one.
According to the table of contents, I have five more essays in Gelardini's book. As a neophyte within Hebrews scholarship, I recommend this book with some enthusiasm. Those of you with more experience in Hebrews scholarship, please feel free to sound a warning if, in fact, these essays represent marginal rather than compelling arguments about perhaps the most enigmatic NT document.

My Visual Bookshelf