Monday, October 31, 2011

Greek Text behind the King James Bible

Last week my institution (Johnson University) celebrated the King James Bible and the Quadricentenary of its original publication in 1611. Dr. Tommy Smith presented a brief overview of the historical context of Renaissance and Reformation Europe, esp. the controversies and conflicts facing the Church of England in the wake of Queens Mary and Elizabeth and the ascendance of King James to the English throne. Dr. Greg Linton addressed some mistranslations and misunderstandings in the KJV. Mr. Ron Wheeler discussed the heritage of the KJV on both the English language and English literature. I was assigned the topic, "The Greek Text behind the King James Version." And finally, Dr. Carl Bridges discussed the heritage of the KJV and its influence on subsequent English translations of the Bible.

The entire week was interesting, well-planned (I had no part in the planning), and well-received. No one, perhaps, would be surprised to hear that a quadricentennial celebration of the KJV would be enthralling (nb: sarcasm). But this really was an interesting event. There's talk of compiling the five presentations and making them available. I'll announce it if that happens. FWIW, here's the manuscript of my presentation. I've also included a PDF version of my accompanying PowerPoint presentation. But first, you might also enjoy one of the promotional videos made in preparation for last week. Note the Crocodile Dundee reference at the end.

King James Week Promo from Stuart Large on Vimeo.

KJV Four Hundred Year Celebration

Greek Text Behind the KJV Presentation)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

a breakfast your mom would approve of

This morning I was blessed to have been invited to breakfast at the house of Dr. Gerald Mattingly, probably Johnson University's most well-known faculty member at present. Dr. Mattingly was hosting Father Justin Sinaites, the Greek Orthodox monk who is at the center of current efforts to digitally photograph and preserve some of the world's most ancient manuscripts, including the famed Codex Sinaiticus. Father Justin lives at the famous and ancient St. Catherine's Monastery, situated at the foot of the traditional Mt. Sinai. Breakfast (and the conversation in particular) was a wonderful experience, and I am grateful to both the host and the guest of honor for allowing me to participate.

Father Justin is in the States, among other reasons, to offer presentations at a number of universities in the Southeast and in Texas and California. He'll be presenting at the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) on Wednesday, 26 October 2011. I don't think it would be inappropriate of me to share the flyer (though if I hear differently I will remove it post-haste.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pieter Craffert on historiography

Historiography refers, among other things, to "the body of techniques, theories, and principles of historical research and presentation; methods of historical scholarship" (, which suffices for our purposes). I am currently reading Pieter F. Craffert's article, "How Historiography Creates (Some) Body: Jesus, the Son of David—Royal Stock or Social Construct" (Scriptura 90 [2005]: 608–20). I'm not  persuaded by his main thesis—at least, not yet—but his description and diagnosis of standard historiographical practices among historians of Jesus is very good and well worth paying attention to.

For example, Craffert writes:
What historians learned from anthropologists is that "people lead meaningful lives, and that these meanings can only be discovered within the context of those lives, it cannot be imputed to them on the basis of some previously established ideas about the biological or psychological makeup of people" (Cohn 1980, 201). Therefore, anthropological historians recognise that they "must grasp the absolute presuppositions, the unspoken assumptions, of the society under review, in order to understand what has occurred" (Stanford 1986, 93). (Craffert 2005:611)

In other words, it will not do to run through historical documents (the Gospel of Mark, the Acts of the Apostles, Xenophon's Anabasis, or whatever) and attempt to isolate historically credible or plausible data that the historian can then use to reconstruct the past. Our documents are situated accounts of the past, written by people with particular perspectives—biases, expectations, values, ideas about what could happen, what should happen, and so on. And unless historians can approximate to some significant degree those particular perspectives, we simply will not be able to get in touch with "what actually happened" (the ultimate goal of most historiography) in any meaningful sense.

As a result, "[a]nthropological historians approach the documents as narrative constructs themselves of cultural realities and experiences" (Craffert 2005:611). This way of approaching texts matters, I think, not just because this more accurately perceives what our historical sources are (though this is true). Instead, it helps us to appreciate more acutely that our own historical reconstructions are similar phenomena: expressions of the past in terms that make sense within, communicate meaningfully to, and provide orientation for people in the present. Back in 2005 I made a similar point in a post on the SBL Forum (available here).

As I said above, I'm not persuaded by Craffert's main thesis regarding the claim of Davidic descent in the Gospels and (I would argue) during the life of the historical (= real) Jesus. However, he has offered us real insight in how we engage historical practice—historiography—as we try to know with some degree of precision and/or certainty what the past actually was. I strongly recommend you check out this essay.

My Visual Bookshelf