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.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

διαθήκη [diathēkē] in Heb 9.16–17

I'm currently reading Scott Hahn's essay, "Covenant, Cult, and the Curse-of-Death: Διαθήκη in Heb 9:15–22" (Hebrews: Contemporary Methods—New Insights [Gabriella Gelardini, ed.; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005], 65–88). Hahn provides cogent reasons for rejecting the traditional interpretation of διαθήκη ["covenant, will, testament"] in Heb 9.16–17 as "testament," in particular that διαθήκη so obviously means covenant in 9.15 and 9.18. He then considers other arguments that have retained a cultic/liturgical understanding of διαθήκη [= "covenant"] across Heb 9.15–18 before moving on to suggest his own interpretation.

Hahn finds two primary "Difficulties in the Case for Διαθήκη as Covenant" (80–81): (i) that "covenants were not always ratified by the ritual slaughter of animals" (my emphasis), and (ii) "it does not seem plausible that the two phrases θάνατον ἀνάγκη φέρεσθαι τοῦ διαθεμένου, 'it is necessary for the death of the covenant-maker to be borne,' and ὅτε ζῇ ὁ διαθέμενος, 'while the covenant-maker is alive,' are intended in a figurative sense." I have the same objection as no. (ii), but I'm not sure no. (i) has any force. It seems to me that the literal ritual slaughter of sacrificial animals in the making ("cutting") of a covenant/oath isn't necessary, especially since the image of slaughter had come to be associated with the language of oath-making. Swearing an oath, in other words, was deadly business even without the sacrifice.

Hahn's proposal, however, attempts to deal with objection no. (ii) head-on. He reads διαθήκη in 9.16–17 not as a reference to "covenant" in general (so ὅπου γὰρ διαθήκη = "where there is a covenant/will") but to the Mosaic covenant given at Sinai and broken by Israel. Hence the reference to "transgressions" [παραβάσεων] in 9.15: Since [ὅπου] there is a covenant (v 16), and since there were transgressions (v 15), death has become necessary [ἀνάγκη; v 16 again] (see Hahn 2005: 81–82).

I've never read Scott Hahn before, but I've enjoyed this essay and find it compelling. More than that, he makes some comments (e.g., pp. 70–1, esp. n. 15) that frame the Hebrews text in explicitly, persistently, and emphatically Jewish terms. This, I think, is the proper way to read the New Testament.

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