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.

My Visual Bookshelf