Thursday, December 15, 2011

And I thought I was busy...

John Wesley "started his day at 4:00 a.m. and packed it with ceaseless activity. According to informed estimates, he preached over 40,000 times, traveled in excess of 250,000 miles, and produced more than 200 written works"  - William Baird, History of New Testament Research Volume 1: From Deism to Tübingen (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 81.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Matera on the Spirit

"If contemporary believers find this Pauline teaching [on the Spirit] foreign, the fault does not lie so much with the apostle's theology as it does with the absence of an experience of the Spirit that often characterizes contemporary Christianity. For just as this experience of the Spirit accounts for the amazing growth and vitality of the early church, so the absence of this experience accounts for the malaise that afflicts much of contemporary Christianity." - Frank J. Matera, Romans (Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic, 2010), 210.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why did the Crowd of Disciples Quote Psalm 118 at the Triumphal Entry?

A public service announcement for sojourners in Southern Saskatchewan:

My colleague, Briercrest College Old Testament professor, Ken Guenter, will be presenting a paper on Friday as part of this year's Briercrest College and Seminary Bible and Theology Colloquium series. The paper is entitled "Why did the Crowd of Disciples Quote Psalm 118 at the Triumphal Entry?"

Please join us on Friday, November 18 in room S113 @ 12:30 PM if you can make it out.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Asher Lev on integrity, artistic ... and academic?

"The painting did not say fully what I had wanted to say; it did not reflect fully the anguish and torment I had wanted to put into it. Within myself, a warning voice spoke soundlessly of fraud. I had brought something incomplete into the world. Now I felt its incompleteness. . . . Only I would have known. But it would have made me a whore to leave it incomplete. It would have made it easier to leave future work incomplete. It would have made it more and more difficult to draw upon that additional aching surge of effort that is always the difference between integrity and deceit in a created work. I would not be the whore to my own existence. Can you understand that?" - Chaim Potok, My Name is Asher Lev (New York: Fawcett, 1972), 328.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Attachment Theory and the Elementary School: A Brief Archaeology of the Autonomous Consumer

A public service announcement for sojourners in Southern Saskatchewan:

My esteemed colleague, Glenn Runnalls, will be presenting a paper on Friday as part of this year's Briercrest College and Seminary Bible and Theology Colloquium series. The paper is entitled "Attachment Theory and the Elementary School: A Brief Archaeology of the Autonomous Consumer."

Please join us on Friday, October 21 in room S113 @ 12:30 PM if you can make it out.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Robert Morgan's must-read C.K. Barrett obituary

I break my blogging silence to mention Robert Morgan's must-read obituary of C.K. Barrett, who--says Morgan--tied with C.H. Dodd as "the greatest British New Testament scholar of the 20th century":
Barrett's natural gifts were reinforced by a robust constitution and formidable capacity for hard work. ... Each night [during his time as a pastor], the hours from 10pm to 2am were set aside for research. The lectureship at Durham in 1945, and chair in 1958, allowed him to settle into a more reasonable 14-hour day, which he carried into retirement.
Do read the whole thing. (HT: Mark Goodacre)

Here is another obituary in the Telegraph, whose author obviously missed Barrett's sense of humour.

My own reflections on Barrett are here.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A timely reminder of my most important vocation

When I arrived at my office this morning to prepare for the first class of the school year, I noticed an illustration from one of Shoshana's favourite children's stories on my door. It took me a while to realize that my name tag had been changed too!

Click on the image for a close-up of the illustration and of my fall semester class schedule:

And here is Shoshana anxiously waiting to head off to preschool for the first time this afternoon:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

C.E.B Cranfield on the writing of commentaries, the history of interpretation, and long sentences

Take a deep breath, and then read the following sentence aloud:
"But to gain something more than an altogether superficial knowledge of the course of the tradition is to learn a deep respect and affection for, and gratitude to, those who have laboured in the field before one, irrespective of the barriers between different confessions, theological and critical viewpoints, nations and epochs; to learn to admire the engagement with Paul's thought of some of the greatest minds from the third to the twentieth century, but also to be humbled by the discover that even the weakest and least perceptive have from time to time something worth while to contribute; to learn that it is naïve to imagine that old commentaries are simply superseded by new ones, since, even the good commentator, while he will have some new insights of his own and will be able to correct some errors and make good some deficiencies of the past, will also have his own particular blind spots and will see less clearly, or even miss altogether, some things which some one before him has seen clearly; and, above all, to learn that all commentators (including those who in the next few pages will be most highly praised and also--and this is perhaps the most difficult lesson for any commentator to grasp--oneself) have feet of clay, and that therefore both slavish deference to any of them and also presumptuous self-confidence must alike be eschewed." - C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans 1.31-32.

(Brilliant stuff, really.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Microsoft Anna reads I Kings 21:20 in Hebrew

I was looking around in BibleWorks 9, and noticed a "Read Text" option, which sounded neat because I occasionally want to double check my Hebrew pronunciation. Evidently "Microsoft Anna" has yet to learn Hebrew:

(I'm really pleased with BibleWorks 9, by the way. A recording in the original languages was probably too much to hope for.)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

R.I.P. C.K. Barrett

On Friday afternoon I decided to post something by C.K. Barrett. Before I got around to it, the news came that he passed away at the age of 94. Barrett was one of my academic heroes. He published his first book in 1947, his magisterial two-volume commentary on Acts 50 years later in 1994 and 1998. Barrett's The Gospel of John and Judaism was originally delivered as a series of lectures in German. The preface to his Romans commentary describes the "sustained enthusiasm and even excitement" he experienced reading Luther's 400 page Scholia on Medieval Latin. Robert Morgan's tribute to Barrett at 90*, mentions Barrett's close familiarity with Barth's Dogmatics; his preface to Romans says of reading Barth's commentary: "If in those [undergraduate] days, and since, I remained and have continued to be a Christian, I owe the fact in large measure to that book, and to those in Cambridge who introduced it to me." One of "those in Cambridge" was Francis Noel Davey, about whom Barrett wrote:
This is the first book I have published with S.P.C.K. since the death of its former Director, Dr Francis Noel Davey, and I cannot send it out without recording a sense of obligation that I shall never lose. It was in 1936 that I carried my first New Testament essay along Trumpington Street from Pembroke to his rooms in Corpus, and began an association that grew steadily in depth and in warmth. Information about the New Testament I had to collect for myself, but he more than anyone else helped me to see that to collect it, however great the labour, and to understand it, and the book itself, was the most responsible and rewarding task any scholar could undertake. He published my first book; and through the years a letter from him, the rare opportunity of conversation, have never failed to rekindle the flame. I can no longer thank him; but I am thankful to God for him. - C. K. Barrett, The Gospel of John and Judaism (London: SPCK, 1975), ix.
Barrett was a fine writer and he wrote a lot, and what he wrote is still worth reading because it was backed by scholarly substance. He had unmatched scholarly chops.
*Morgan's tribute to Barrett, published in The Expository Times 199.6 (2008): 226-228 is behind a pay wall, but it is well worth looking up a library copy.
**Also, I have reluctantly updated my list of nonagenarian NT scholars.

Update: Links to obituaries here.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tracking Pingbacks using Blogger

I'm looking for a little technical help: When James McGrath published Episode I of his September Biblioblog Carnival a couple weeks ago, I noticed that Jason Staples had responded to my first post on Jewish ethnocentrism with a post of his own. Blogger used to send out messages when someone linked to one of my posts, but the service 'broke', as I recall, when they started sending notifications every time a blogger who included my blog on their blogroll posted something.

I was sorry to overlook Jason's post, so I subscribed to his blog, tried signing up for Google alerts, and turned on Blogger's backlinks service. The trackback service seems to have the same problem as before, and Google alerts don't reliably inform me of my own blog posts, so I imagine they are equally useless in the event that someone else links to my blog.

So to my question: Is there a way to track pingbacks or trackbacks on Blogger or is the only solution to switch blogging platforms?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why Christianity is more ethnocentric than Judaism

This post tries (just as provocatively) to flesh out a bit of what I left unstated here...

A moment’s reflection will show that “Christianity” shares the six characteristics that Hutchinson and A. Smith claim ethnic groups ‘habitually exhibit’:
(1) ‘a common proper name’: Christian, etc.
(2) ‘a myth of common ancestry’: ‘in Christ’ – Christians are called “children of God” by their participation in Christ. Just as God created Israel from the barren seed of Abraham, the New Testament affirms that God created a people of God from the Messiah. Denise Kimber Buell argues that the language of kinship in early Christian texts was considered real rather than metaphorical.
(3) ‘shared historical memories’: The story of Israel and of Jesus.
(4) ‘one or more elements of common culture’: Check.
(5) ‘a link with a homeland’: ‘Our citizenship is in heaven.’
(6) ‘a sense of solidarity’: Check. 
According to 1 Peter 2:9, Christians ‘are a chosen race . . . a holy nation’. As with other nations, membership in the Christian ‘people of God’ is exclusive. New believers have to abandon their previous ethnic culture and polytheistic way of life to join in, and, as a result, they are no longer Gentiles/ ‘nations’. The Gospel of John suggests that love for members exceeds love for outsiders. Indeed, Christianity is more exclusive, more particularistic, more ‘ethnocentric’ than Judaism because orthodox Christianity holds that final salvation is limited to insiders, while normative Judaism expects righteous Gentiles to have a place in the world to come without having to become Jews (see Sanders, Donaldson, Runesson).

Note: My observations here are exploratory. My main point is to critique the common Christian denigration of Judaism as nationalist/particularist. Whatever Christianity is, it is not universal.

Buell, Denise Kimber. Why this New Race: Ethnic Reasoning in Early Christianity. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. 
Donaldson, Terrence L. Judaism and the Gentiles: Jewish Patterns of Universalism (to 135 CE). Waco: Baylor University Press, 2007. 
Hutchinson, John, and Anthony D. Smith. Ethnicity. Oxford Readers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. 
Runesson, Anders. “Particularistic Judaism and Universalistic Christianity? Some Critical Remarks on Terminology and Theology.” Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 1 (2000). 
Sanders, E. P. Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1977.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Paul, the Former Jew

I just had time to skim my former classmate Love Sechrest's published dissertation before returning it (late) to ILL. This excerpt seems to sum up Sechrest's thesis, more-or-less:
"Paul combines in himself both ascribed and voluntary elements of identity, as he things of himself as someone who was born a Jew but no longer considers himself one. That he privileges the voluntary without dismissing the ascribed is apparent from the way that he divides people into three distinct groups - Gentiles, Jews, and believers - while maintaining that the latter two collectives form separate groups of descendants from Abraham (Rom. 4.11-12, 16). Thus, in one sense Paul was both Jewish and Christian given that he was born Jewish and later chose to identify with Christ; but in another sense he was a former Jew, because he did not hold to both of those identities with equal loyalty when he considered the arc of his personal narrative (Phil. 3.3-11)." - Love Sechrest, A Former Jew: Paul and the Dialectics of Race (LNTS 410; London: T&T Clark, 2009), 159.
It's a really interesting argument, one that addresses a clear puzzle in Paul. I especially like her distinction between insider (voluntary) and outsider (ascribed) perspectives on group identity. I look forward to reading the whole thing carefully when I can drum up some time, and either $90 or a review copy--preferably the latter.

Update: I should note Joel Willitts's helpful critical response. Willitts thinks Sechrest "too boldly draws lines between the categories of Religion, Geography and Customs, Lifestyles and Laws", which may well be correct; I will have to check. In response to Joel's second complaint--that "Sechrest engages a narrow swath of scholarly literature"--it's worth observing that she engages helpfully with a wide "swath" of scholarship on race and ethnicity, and her choice of Daniel Boyarin and Caroline Johnson Hodge as conversation partners in the conclusion seems entirely appropriate.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sympathising with Nicodemus

A recent lunch time conversation at the Millers:

d.: That was when Mommy was pregnant. Who was Mommy pregnant with, Shoshana?

Shoshana (eyes wide): ...with me??

Mommy (helpfully): You were in Mommy's tummy.

Shoshana (incredulous): You ate me?!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Morton Smith on Forgery

"...This anachronism is one of the many traces of an unusually clumsy forger, who may have had some genuine text to expand, but who expanded it with palpable absurdities." - Morton Smith, Palestinian Parties and Politics That Shaped the Old Testament (New York: Columbia University Press, 1971), 199.

Smith is referring to an alleged anachronism in a letter recorded in 1 Macc 10.26-45, but his description of forgery will be of interest to those familiar with Stephen Carlson's, The Gospel Hoax (Waco: Baylor, 2005), and the debate about Smith's discovery (?) of the Secret Gospel of Mark.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The problem of Jewish ethnocentrism according to the New Perspective on Paul

Timothy Gombis's new book and excellent CT article on Paul seems to have stimulated a spate of positive posts on the "New Perspective on Paul" by evangelical bloggers. The "New Perspective" has taken on an ill-defined life of its own, but it originally referred to a reading of Paul from the fresh vantage point of a new understanding of Judaism instead of from the long tradition of Christian interpretation that--as John Barclay explains it--treated the Jews "in Paul's letters as symbols of something else, normally some negative trait in the human condition." For the sake of comparison, here are some prominent representatives of the old perspective:
  • Augustine: The Jews had a boasting problem. They were guilty of "the most fundamental human sin, the sin of self-reliance (an introverted idolatry)."
  • Luther: The Jews had a self-righteousness problem. "Luther took Paul's reaction to Judaism to be an assault on all forms of self-righteousness, which by 'doing' seek to make a claim on God and thus refuse his sheer grace in Jesus Christ."
  • F.C. Baur: The Jews had a particularity problem. "Paul stands for the 'universal' and the spiritual, as opposed to Judaism with its 'narrow' ethnic base and national 'particularity.'"
  • Käsemann: The Jews had a piety problem. "Paul is taken to criticize, via Judaism, the piety and self-conceit of 'the religious man': it is such piety that leads to pride in privilege or achievement, and where Paul discusses this problematic, according to Käsemann, he is attacking 'the hidden Jew in all of us.'"
(All quotations are from John M. G. Barclay's excellent essay, “Paul, Judaism, and the Jewish People,” in The Blackwell Companion to Paul [Stephen Westerholm, ed.; United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011], 188-201, here 190.)

I am very sympathetic to those who want a perspective for reading Paul that treats Judaism fairly. Perhaps I am prone to over-correction in this regard, since I find myself reacting to one common "New Perspective" construal of what Paul found wrong with Judaism. Consider the following examples:
  • First, Timothy Gombis's CT article: "First-century Judaism didn't have a legalism problem; it had an ethnocentrism problem. The first followers of Jesus were all Jewish, and had difficulty imagining that the God of Israel who sent Jesus Christ as their Savior could possibly save non-Jews without requiring them to convert to Judaism." (Also quoted and affirmed by Scot McKnight.)
  • Daniel Kirk, summarizing Gombis: "First, he challenges the common perception that at his conversion Paul left behind a legalistic Judaism in favor of a salvation-by-grace Christianity. This is a nice, short summary introduction to the New Perspective: Paul’s problem with Judaism wasn’t legalism, but ethnocentrism. But Paul himself remained a Jew and never called other Jews to leave their Judaism behind." 
  • Michael Bird: "What have we learned from the New Perspective, what gains are we to keep? ...2. The problem of Jewish ethnocentrism. What Paul opposed in Galatians was the view that one has to become a Jew in order to be a follower of Jesus. Instead, Paul argued that God saves Gentiles as Gentiles through the Lord Jesus. This is all the more pertinent if we map Paul onto an increasingly aggressive anti-Gentile sentiment in Judea in the 40s and 50s. That is why the logical opposite of justification by faith without works of law is the notion that God is the God of the Jews only (Rom 3:29). Paul effectively dissolves the categories of proselytes and God-fearers for Gentiles and makes them equal with Jews in the new covenant." In a follow-up post, Mike adds that "Paul’s problem with Judaism was not merely exclusivism ...", but ethnocentrism apparently still remains a problem.
It is curious that new perspective scholars in the Dunn / Wright tradition still create a negative picture of Judaism as a foil for early Christianity. It may just be me, but the sins Augustine and Luther identify seem more fundamental to the human condition than 'ethnocentrism'. The ideas preach better, and with greater power because they are centred in a big view of God (and in deep elements in Paul's thought) rather than on an admittedly grievous social ill. So if we have to stereotype Judaism, I'll take Augustine and Luther, thank you very much.

But of course, we can try not to stereotype ancient Judaism--which leads me to my next point: What was wrong with Jewish ethnocentrism? What is wrong about the people of God thinking they are the people of God? Isn't that what the Old Testament encourages? Was it even conceivable to think that Israel would be a light to the nations without being distinctive as a people? Would anyone have imagined that God would save all the nations of the earth without their joining the covenant of the people of God? And does Paul ever criticize non-believing Jews for being ethnocentric? (What am I missing?)

Finally, was early Christianity any different? Sure Gentiles were not required to become Jews, but they were required to join 'the people of God'. I submit that first century Judaism was not any more "ethnocentric" than normative Christianity is.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Teaching or Research

Whenever I work on a writing project, I worry that my time would be better spent doing something else. I'm used to it, but sometimes it keeps me up at night: How can I justify slaving over a technical article on a subject whose direct relevance to my teaching will amount to perhaps two minutes of class time in a course I teach every second year? Wouldn't my summer be better spent (only) reading and exploring questions directly related to the classes I have to teach this fall--even if nothing written or publishable comes of it? Is it enough to research something because it fascinates me? Does it pass the Annie Dillard test?
‎Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality? - Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (1989), 68.
In this case, maybe the best response is a note to self: Next time, think twice before volunteering to write on that esoteric topic!

But to counter Dillard and my internal interlocutor, I am reminded of a talk C.S. Lewis gave to a group of university students that defends the value of "Learning in War Time." Lewis's initial point is that, for Christians, learning in war time is no different than any other:
[E]very Christian who comes to a university must at all times face a question compared with which the questions raised by the war are relatively unimportant. He must ask himself how it is right, or even psychologically possible, for creatures who are every moment advancing either to heaven or to hell, to spend any fraction of the little time allowed them in this world on such comparative trivialities as literature or art, mathematics or biology. If human culture can stand up to that, it can stand up to anything. - C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 44.*
I've quoted from Lewis's affirmative answer before. Lewis goes on to say that the pursuit of learning is worthwhile and--to qualify Dillard--we don't always need to be able to explain how all our little projects relate to the big questions in life:
Humility, no less than the appetite, encourages us to concentrate simply on the knowledge or the beauty, not too much concerning ourselves with their ultimate relevance to the vision of God. That relevance may not be intended for us but for our betters--for men who come after and find the spiritual significance of what we dug out in blind and humble obedience to our vocation. - C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 49
Lewis, it seems to me, takes for granted a classic ideal of higher education that has been obscured, if not lost altogether, in a contemporary context where schools that emphasize teaching are distinguished from research universities, and where, in the latter, one is sometimes better off staying home and working through a textbook than attending class: The scholar is paid to research, not to teach. Since there is no reward for teaching, little effort goes into doing it effectively.

According to the classic ideal, teaching and research go together. You expect a scientist to do science not just to teach it. Part of learning from a scientist is to learn about what it means to live the peculiar life of the mind that is scientific inquiry--and that is best caught from someone who lives and loves their craft enough both to share it and to practice it.The point is not for all students to become scientists--or literary scholars, for that matter--but for all to learn disciplines of learning that will form them for their own vocation. Actually, Annie Dillard says something similar:
"Rembrandt and Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Gauguin, possessed, I believe, powerful hearts, not powerful wills. They loved the range of materials they used. The works possibilities excited them; the field's complexities fired their imaginations. The caring suggested the tasks; the tasks suggested the schedules. They learned their fields and then loved them. They worked, respectfully, out of their love and knowledge, and they produced complex bodies of work that endure. Then, and only then, the world flapped at them some sort of hat, which, if they were still living, they ignored as well as they could, to keep at their tasks" - Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (1989), 70-71.
*Lewis, obviously, hadn't read Rob Bell.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Philipp Jakob Spener on Pastoral Training

"In regard to the education of pastors, Spener [1635-1705] argues that they must be trained in universities and schools that should be recognized as 'workshops of the Holy Spirit rather than places of worldliness and indeed of the devils of ambition, tippling, carousing, and brawling.' In the selection of candidates for the ministry, Spener is convinced that 'a young man who fervently loves God, although adorned with limited gifts, will be more useful to the church of God with his meager talent and academic achievement than a vain and worldly fool with double doctor's degrees who is very clever but has not been taught by God.'" - William Baird, History of New Testament Research Volume 1: From Deism to Tübingen (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 61.

Baird calls this "implicit anti-intellectualism." I wouldn't call it that as long as Spener didn't consider academic training dispensible.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Twitter Miscellany

A selection of less ephemeral (??) updates from my twitter account (@ntdmiller) since I began tweeting in February:
  • 9 July: Why I suspect the prolific: "[P]erhaps twenty people can write a serious book in a year. Some people lift cars, too." (Annie Dillard)
  • 8 July: Just registered for 
  • 4 July: Contemplating organizing a study tour of Turkey and Greece...
  • Elmer Fudd Wikipedia ()! E.g., "In de Thai generaw ewection, de Pheu Thai Party... wins a wandswide majority..."
  • 30 June:  9 looks great on the NT side; still considering whether it is worth an upgrade for someone focused primarily on the Hebrew Bible
  • 25 June: Great price for a fantastic resource: Randall Buth's Living Biblical Hebrew Part One MP4 Version ()
  • 24 June: Looking for a succinct, scintillating, readable  commentary to use as an upper level undergraduate Biblical Studies textbook.
  • 23 June: Absolutely loving Bruce Fisk's Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus (). The trick is creating a course to go with the textbook.
  • 19 June: Nothing like having a Hebrew verb paradigm jingle running through your head for days on end.
  • 8 June: "Any humanities professor who comes up with one genuine idea in a lifetime should be recognized." - Mark Bauerlein ()
  • 4 June: "Fulfillment is a byproduct of how people engage their tasks, and can’t be pursued directly." - David Brooks ()
  • 18 May: What's the benefit of a  book priced the same as a printed edition?
  • 13 April: Here's to "a sensory deprivation tank in Siberia"! ...Dale Harris on the crisis in evangelical ecclesiology ().
  • 31 March: Jon Coutts on Rob Bell and the "twitter-fingers of a million popes" ().
  • 30 March: Attractive idea: "The Rules of Writing Group" ()
  • 26 March: "Ideally, we would like to see a decrease in publishing... One good article is worth a dozen mediocre articles."-RDH ()
  • 25 March: -18 C, feels like -27. Welcome spring!
  • 9 March: Noticed Augustine's conversion account in Confessions 8 is a meditation on Rom 7; conversion for A is incomplete without radical life change
  • 25 February: Decided I can't put off reading through Morton Smith's Palestinian Parties any longer.
  • 24 February: Ideal language learning scenario: .
  • 21 February: Ehrman's Forged () looks like unwelcome support for Carson & Moo's Introduction ().
I need to go full-bore on a non-bloggable writing project this month, so posts that require independent thought (such as my unfinished series on Christian prophecy) will be limited--unless the ideas are so distracting they bleed onto the page.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Annie Dillard on courageous writing

"Courage utterly opposes the bold hope that this is such fine stuff the work needs it, or the world. Courage, exhausted, stands on bare reality: this writing weakens the work. You must demolish the work and start over. You can save some of the sentences, like bricks. It will be a miracle if you can save some of the paragraphs, no matter how excellent in themselves or hard-won. You can waste a year worrying about it, or you can get it over with now. . . . The part you must jettison is not only the best-written part; it is also, oddly, that part which was to have been the very point. It is the original key passage, the passage on which the rest was to hang, and from which you yourself drew the courage to begin." - Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (Harper & Row, 1989), 4.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

What was old is new again: Richard Bauckham and Hugo Grotius on the Raising of Lazarus

One of the intriguing proposals in Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses explains why the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11 is ignored by the earlier Evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke:
"Lazarus could not have been protected in the early period of the Jerusalem church's life by telling his story but not naming him. His story was too well known locally not to be easily identifiable as his however it was told. For Lazarus 'protective anonymity' had to take the form of his total absence from the story as it was publicly told. . . . If the raising of Lazarus was not only the remarkable event that John portrays but also such a key event in leading to Jesus' death, its absence from Mark -- and so, presumably, from the pre-Markan passion narrative -- is certainly puzzling. But the difficulty is removed when we recognize that the need for 'protective anonymity' in Lazarus's case would require his complete absence from any public telling of the passion narrative in the early Jerusalem church" - Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Eerdmans, 2006), 196. 
The solution, it turns out, is not completely novel. According to William Baird, it was advanced at least as early as the 17th century, by Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), and subsequently adopted by others:
"As to the reason the other evangelists neglected to record the raising of Lazarus, Grotius adopts the hypothesis--popular with later apologetic exegetes--that Matthew, Mark, and Luke wanted to protect Lazarus and his family from the wrath of the high priests (12:10) and, therefore, kept the story secret. Years later, after their Gospels were written and the danger had passed, John was able safely to recount the miraculous event." - William Baird, History of New Testement Research, Vol. 1: From Deism to Tübingen (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 11.
Since Bauckham does not cite Grotius--or anyone else--in this regard, he may have come across the same solution independently. (After all, great minds think alike.) But Bauckham has a monograph on 16th century English apocalyptic thought, and he may have encountered Grotius in this connection.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Paul was no Genius

"Paul was no genius: he was, after all, hardly remarkable as a literary stylist, of unknown competence as a tent-maker, and, when it comes to profundity, not to be compared with a Plato or a Shakespeare. But even to consider him in these terms, no matter how complimentary our assessment of his gifts, is to rob him of his true importance. Paul was an apostle who spoke with authority the divine message he was commissioned to deliver. As such, he commands a hearing." - Stephen Westerholm, drawing on Søren Kierkegaard, in the introduction to The Blackwell Companion to Paul (Stephen Westerholm, ed.; Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 3.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Romans textbooks and the craft of scholarly writing

The last couple times I taught Romans, I assigned as textbooks Leander Keck's commentary and Stephen Westerholm's accessible introduction to the worldview of Romans. I think Keck is great, but realized last time that it is still a little too technical for a third year undergraduate course. On a quest for up-to-date alternatives to both books, I ordered in several evaluation copies, all published within the last couple years:

Oakes, Peter. Reading Romans In Pompeii: Paulʼs Letter At Ground Level. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2009.
Gombis, Timothy G. Paul: A Guide for the Perplexed. Continuum, 2010.
Hultgren, Arland J. Paulʼs Letter to the Romans: A Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011.
Matera, Frank J. Romans. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010.

Reading Romans in Pompeii: Paul's Letter at Ground LevelI thought Reading Romans in Pompeii might substitute for Westerholm as an engaging secondary text on the social context of Romans. While I found it fascinating as a thought experiment about how the letter may have been heard by Gentile readers of Paul's letter, the book does little to welcome modern readers who are not already interested. After a 2.5 pp. preface, chapter one begins:
"We are standing in a street in Pompeii, looking into the doorway of Region I, Block 10, House 6 . . . flanked by the narrower entrances to Houses 5 and 7 (Figure 1.1)." 
How can I assign undergraduates a book that opens with a data dump? ...Next please.

Paul: A Guide for the Perplexed (Guides For The Perplexed)Introductions to Paul are a dime a dozen. I ordered in Timothy Gombis's Guide for the Perplexed because it is recent, because it received positive online kudos from J.R.D. Kirk and Scot McKnight, and because I was pretty sure T&T Clark would send me a free evaluation copy. There's lots to like here. Gombis does a fine job compiling verses on both sides of selected debates, there are helpful charts, and I love his articulation of Paul's mission:
"Paul is a herald of the Kingdom of God and of the victory and Cosmic Lordship of Jesus Christ. This is an intensely political vocation, since Paul is proclaiming the emergent reality of a radically new political order--the Kingdom of God--along with an alternative ruler; the crucified, risen, and exalted Jesus. This calling as a herald inevitably involved a pastoral task, since Paul's aim was to see the creation and establishment of Kingdom of God communities throughout the world." (23)    
Unfortunately, Gombis's evaluation of debated issues sometimes struck me as simplistic and one-sided. No doubt this is partly because I sometimes disagreed with Gombis's conclusions, but--as will be clear below--I have no trouble assigning readings that I disagree with. My concern is that in a guide that aims to introduce debated issues, opposing views should be presented in such a way that critics will agree with the way they are portrayed. The upshot is that I've decided to stick with Westerholm.

Paul's Letter to the Romans: A CommentaryOne look at Arland Hultgren's large commentary on Romans convinced me that it wouldn't do as an undergraduate textbook. Compare the short paragraph in Keck's succinct commentary to the three pages Hultgren spends discussing the first line of Paul's letter. Still, it looks to be an important contribution--Scot McKnight thinks so too--and I hope to read it during the fall semester.

Romans (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament)
Frank Matera's contribution to the Paideia series is short enough to work as a textbook, and it looks like an insightful, up-to-date contribution by a first-rate Pauline scholar. I look forward to reading it. Unfortunately, I fear my students would not, after reading the first paragraph:
"Romans is the first of the Pauline Letters in the NT. Although it enjoys this pride of place because it is the longest of the letters, its placement is well deserved since it is the most detailed presentation of Paul's gospel, and since it has influenced the course of Christian theology more than any other writing of the NT."
Thud. Commentaries don't have to be written this way. Here is how Keck begins his:
"Like widely differing siblings raised by the same parents, each letter produced by Paul has its own distinguishing character. For the historically minded critic, each letter's unique traits provide important clues for detecting the circumstances in which Paul wrote it as well as what he hoped to achieve with it." 
N.T. Wright prefers an extended metaphor:
"Romans is neither a systematic theology nor a summary of Paul's lifework, but it is by common consent his masterpiece. It dwarfs most of his other writings, an Alpine peak towering over hills and villages." (395)
Wright's contribution to the New Interpreter Bible Vol 10 is a very good, readable commentary on Romans. I've decided to assign it as a textbook this fall as a replacement for Keck.

Wright and Westerholm make unusual bedfellows, to be sure, since Westerholm is usually cast as an opponent of the "New Perspective" on Paul, and Wright one of its champions--but that (and the fact that I disagree with Wright here and there) is half the point. More important, Wright and Westerholm share the two qualities I'm most looking for in authors that I make my students read. (1) In different ways, both model exemplary scholarship; students will learn the craft by reading. (2) They are also fine, engaging writers. If, as John Trimble says, "good writing is good manners," they are both scholars and gentlemen to boot.

The bottom line: I want textbooks that students want to keep reading, that will help me teach by making my students more rather than less interested in the subject matter. I'm betting Wright and Westerholm will do the trick.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Portland's Finest Bookstores

No trip to Portland is complete without a stop at Powell's City of Books, perhaps the greatest used and new bookstore anywhere.

No biblical scholar's trip should be complete without a stop at one of Portland's Windows Booksellers outlets. Better yet, plan in advance: Check the online inventory at their much larger bookstore in Eugene, and ask them to have your order ready to pick up when you arrive. The result is great selection, great prices and $0 shipping. As an added bonus, the copies of Caird's The Language and Imagery of the Bible and Davies' The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount that I ordered in were previously owned and annotated by Robert Kysar and Krister Stendahl respectively.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hoskyns & Davey on Criteria for the Study of the Historical Jesus

Perhaps this just shows just how little I know about 1930's historical Jesus scholarship, but these final two quotes from Hoskyns and Davey strike me as another instance of being ahead of their time.

This one reminds me of the reasonable insistence by recent scholars that one's reconstruction of the historical Jesus must be able to explain the existence of the church:
The life of Jesus "must be described in such a manner that the emergence of the primitive church is also intelligible on the basis of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. For any historical reconsturction which leaves an unbridgeable gulf between the faith of the primitive church and the historical Jesus must be both inadequate and uncritical: inadequate, because it leaves the origin of the church unexplained; and uncritical, because a critical sifting of the evidence of the New Testament points towards the life and death of Jesus as the groudn of primitive Christian faith, and points in no other direction." (170)
Their concern for the big picture reminds me of N.T. Wright:
"An historical reconstruction is possible only when the uniform nature of the whole material at our disposal is perceived, so that each fragment is seen not only to be part of the whole, but to contain the whole; or, to put it differently, so that each fragment of it not only rests upon a common background, but expresses it. To lay bare this uniform nature, this background, is to discover the Jesus of history" (172).

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

More from Hoskyns & Davey on Historical Criticism

Stephen Neill commented that Hoskyns and Davey's The Riddle of the New Testament (3rd ed.; London: Faber & Faber, 1947) "has great and abiding value" because "[i]t puts in clear form almost all the problems which have to be dealt with in the interpretation of the New Testament" (219). Judge for yourself:

On the assured results of historical criticism: "The progress of critical historical investigation of the New Testament cannot be compared to a gradual mounting the steps of a ladder. One generation does not achieve a number of results which pass into the text-books, so that the next generation is enabled to mount a few steps higher. Rather, as each advance is made, the problem as a whole begins to look different; and the 'assured results' of the previous generation require constant reconsideration when seen in a new perspective. This does not, of course, mean that the modern critic stands aloof from the older criticism. He is completely dependent upon the work of his predecessors. But, where they supposed that they had reached definite and final conclusions, he sees new problems; and the older conclusions appear in their new context almost irrelevant, and, at times, trivial" (11-12).

History and Christian theology: "The historian of primitive Christianity is a mere hewer of wood and drawer of water; it is his function to act as the slave of the theologian or of the philosopher, as the slave also of the simple believer or of the equally simple unbeliever...The historian has therefore to make clear and accessible the material which has shown such remarkable ability to galvanize thought and faith and unbelief. The historian, then, is neither an apologist for the Christian religion nor an apostle of irreligion; still less is he an interpreter of the New Testament in terms of modern thought" (171).

History and faith: "The whole spiritual and moral power of the primitive church rested ultimately, not upon a mystical experience, but upon its belief that what Jesus had asserted to have been the purpose of his life and death was in very truth the purpose of God. Further than this the historian dare not and cannot go. On the basis of a purely critical examination of the New Testament documents he can reconstruct a clear historical figure, which is an intelligible figure; and he can, as a result of this reconstruction, show that the emergence of the primitive church is also intelligible" (177).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hoskyns & Davey on Jesus' Jewish Context

This statement about parallels between Jesus and his contemporaries seems ahead of its time:
 "Those modern Jewish scholars who have busied themselves with a comparison between the ethical teaching of Jesus and the ethical teaching of the rabbis have given this judgement, that there is no single moral aphorism recorded as spoken by Jesus which cannot be paralleled, and often verbally paralleled, in rabbinic literature. With this conclusion Christian scholars working in the field of rabbinics are showing more and more agreement. For example, there can be no doubt that such a saying as 'The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath' would have been regarded as a self-evident truism by the best of the rabbis. Similarly, the constant insistence by Jesus that the righteousness which God demands is a righteousness of the heart could not have been strange or new teaching." - Hoskyns and Davey's The Riddle of the New Testament (3rd ed.; London: Faber & Faber, 1947), 135.
Hoskyns and Davey's statement of the difference strikes me as on track:
"It is not sufficient merely to draw up a list of parallels between his teaching and that of the rabbis. What requires explanation is the authority with which he spoke, the urgency which accompanied his moral demands, and the evident judgement of God which he declared would inevitably follow any refusal to obey him" (136).

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Riddle of the New Testament

I first encountered Sir Edwyn Hoskyns in Stephen Neill's fantastic history of The Interpretation of the New Testament, and have been intrigued by Hoskyns and Davey's The Riddle of the New Testament (3rd ed.; London: Faber & Faber, 1947) ever since reading Markus Bockmuehl's Seeing the Word. Neill calls it "a series of hammer blows, at what . . .was a widespread understanding of the gospels" (215). It is that, but it is also a series of hammer blows against theological liberalism, for, as Neill explains,  "[T]he most important thing of all about Hoskyns was that, like Karl Barth, he was a converted liberal" (213).

As one would expect from a book first published in 1931, parts of The Riddle of the New Testament are rather dated. I find the authors a little too confident in the results of historical criticism. However, it is worth your time at least as much as C.F.D. Moule's Birth of the New Testament, and it is an easier (and shorter) read. In many respects it seems far ahead of its time. It is also a model of clarity, forceful argument, and verve. The whole book is written around the riddle of the relationship between Jesus and the church:
"There is a riddle in the New Testament. And it is a riddle neither of literary criticism, nor of date and authorship, nor of the historicity of this or that episode. The riddle is a theological riddle, which is insoluble apart from the solution of an historical problem. What was the relation between Jesus of Nazareth and the primitive Christian church? That is the riddle. The New Testament documents, all of them, emerged from the primitive church. They reflected piety and encouraged faith. Was there, or was there not, a strict relationship between this rich piety and exuberant faith and the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth? Did the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth control the life of the primitive church? or were his life and death submerged by a piety and faith wholly beyond his horizon? . . . The adequacy of the modern historical critical method is therefore finally tested by its success or failure in answering the problem of the Jesus of history. The authors of this book are confident that the critical method does survive this very severe test, and that it does disclose results, even assured results..." (12).
Hoskyn's and Davey's answer is, in a word, Yes. The life and death of Jesus controlled the life of the primitive church:
"No single strand in the evidence deprives Jesus of the conscious sense that he was bringing into being a new order and working out a purpose . . . . Nowhere in the New Testament are the writers imposing an interpretation upon a history. The history contains the purpose, and is indeed controlled by it. That is to say, the historian is dealing in the end with an historical figure fully conscious of a task which had to be done, and fully conscious also that the only future which mattered for men and women depended upon the completion of his task. The future order, which it was the purpose of Jesus to bring into being, depended upon what he said and did, and finally upon his death." (172)
I, for one, find their answer compelling.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

C.F.D. Moule on the Birth of the New Testament

Although it first appeared almost 50 years ago, and was last revised in 1982, it is obvious from the quotations I've posted that I think C.F.D. Moule's, The Birth of the New Testament (3rd ed.; Harper & Row, 1982) is still well worth reading. Here's another gem:
"[I]n a genuinely Christian community there is a humility that renders mutual learning quick and easy--the intellectuals ready to learn from the silent witness of the less articulate, and vice versa." (207)
I found myself disagreeing with some of Moule's proposals--for example, that the Gospels weren't intended as preaching or that most of the NT can be dated pre-70. And, of course, one would turn elsewhere for a current introduction to Christian Origins. But for those already familiar with aspects of current scholarship, Birth offers an instructive glimpse into its history: to the giants on whose shoulders modern scholars--sometimes unknowingly--joust, and of those whose contributions have been forgotten to our collective loss.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Missing the Obvious?

Why is it that when I 'get' the need for grace, I struggle to grasp conversion? Paul never says, "Sorry, churches, I goofed." His conversion, like Augustine's, seems complete and total. To be sure, Paul insists that our whole life is to be lived through God's grace, not our own effort, but he assumes radical transformation. When he addresses failure, he exhorts people to become what they are, and to repent. He doesn't admit to being a continuing failure himself. (I assume that Paul is not talking autobiographically about his experience as a Christian in Romans 7.) Paul doesn't emphasize God's grace to forgive, he stresses grace to live. In short, Paul is not one to sympathize with moral weakness. His life and letters give little comfort to those who, like me, sometimes feel stalled, who need to start over again, and again, and again. Paul left his σκύβαλα (Phil 3:8) when he met the Messiah; what about those of us who sometimes look inside and σκύβαλα is all we see?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

C.F.D. Moule on New Testament Ethics

"Strictly speaking, there are no 'cardinal' virtues in Christianity, for Christian character does not 'hinge' round the disciplined practice of virtue: it is a spontaneous growth, it is a crop of qualities springing from the seed of new life divinely sown . . .; or--more characteristically described--it is life in the new age, resulting from incorporation in the new humanity which is Christ . . . . Agape is not a virtue among other virtues so much as an impulse, divinely implanted: it is God's love for us in Christ, reflected and responded to. And what in other systems might be called virtues are the shape spontaneously taken by agape in the Christian community . . . . Therefore, although in fact many Christian qualities seem to coincide with those on the Stoic list, the difference is a radical one. The Stoic virtues are the proud struggle of the human spirit to conform to nature and to gain the mastery over weakness; the Christian virtues emerge after the recognition of sin and the confession of human helplessness: they are the result of committal to God and dependence upon him" (193-4).

"In the last analysis, it is questionable, indeed, whether a Christian ethical system, as such, can exist. Christianity is concerned with the transformation, in Christ, of personal relations. The code which provides a framework or scaffolding within which this operates must, strictly speaking, be a borrowed one, for Christianity, as such, does not offer a distinctive code or system of conduct" (274).

C.F.D. Moule, The Birth of the New Testament (3rd ed.; Harper & Row, 1982).

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

C.F.D. Moule on New Testament Eschatology and Football

"New Testament eschatology at its deepest level concentrates upon entering into, implementing, loyally expressing that which is already given, which is Christ: it does not say, 'How long will it be before the whistle blows for the end of the game?' but, 'Where ought I to be now, to receive the next pass?' In other words, the fact that the kick-off has taken place, that the game is on, and that we have a Captain who can lead us to victory, is all that matters." - C.F.D. Moule, The Birth of the New Testament (3rd ed.; Harper & Row, 1982), 148.

(Football = soccer, of course.)

Monday, May 30, 2011

A child's experience of transcendence

It was actually more like a parent's experience of transcendence and a child's experience of either trust or foolhardiness--I'm not sure which. She always wanted to go deeper:
"Wave, come here! My feet are dirty. Wash me!
. . . Don't pick me up Daddy!" 
She loved the surging waves, the pull of the undertow against her legs. Terrified, I was never more than inches away.

...We'll save the water safety lesson for our next trip to the beach.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Luke's Conception of Prophets

(This post is part two in a series on Christian prophecy; part one is here.)

In my 2004 Ph.D. dissertation, I offered the following definition of "prophet" based solely on the evidence from Luke-Acts:
"Prophets" may be defined as those who by virtue of their nearness to God are enabled by the Holy Spirit to have insight into matters hidden from other humans, and (sometimes) to perform deeds beyond the ability of ordinary mortals; prophets are also empowered by the Holy Spirit to address divinely-commissioned messages to other humans or to proclaim words of praise to God.
  • My definition was self-consciously descriptive. I argued that the evidence does not permit a strict definition which isolates what is unique about the entity being defined—partly because Luke did not provide as many details about prophets as we would like and partly because there are few (if any) characteristics attributed uniquely to prophets. Nevertheless, I concluded that it is still possible to arrive at a descriptive definition of "prophet" which distinguishes between central and peripheral characteristics of prophets by analyzing the frequency in which characteristics appear and the degree to which they are tied to an individual's prophetic role.
  • In retrospect . . .
  • I'm surprised by the lack of reference in the definition to a worship context for prophetic activity since it appears so frequently in L-A and throughout the NT.
  • I would no longer include miracles in the definition, even though Luke obviously thought it was not unusual for prophets to perform them.
  • I wish I had thought more about how Luke might have defined prophecy and not simply what it meant to be a prophet. He seems to take for granted what it was, which makes our task frustratingly difficult.
  • You'll notice that I make no distinction between OT and NT prophets from Luke's perspective. That's because I concluded there is none.
Since I have no immediate plans to publish this section, I've made a longer excerpt available here, for those inclined to read more.

Feedback, of course, is welcome!

Next up: Did Luke believe all Christians are prophets?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

C.F.D. Moule on "the vital and decisive distinctiveness of Christian exegesis"

G.K. Beale's apologetic attempt to distinguish Jesus' approach to Scripture from that of the "wild and crazy" Essenes is worth comparing to C.F.D. Moule's more nuanced analysis:
"While it is undeniable that Christians applied the same arbitrary and artificial devices [as ancient Jews] and, again and again, used scripture in a merely 'vehicular' manner, the incentive for their choice of passages and their interpretations of them was the discovery that, in a historical and 'three-dimensional' way, Jesus actually implemented and achieved in his person, and represented the culmination of, that relation between God and man which is the basic theme of scripture. This genuinely historical and 'three-dimensional' approach to scripture--the lines of divine-human relations converging on Jesus--which has only become deliberate and conscious in 'modern' thought, is, nevertheless, implicit in ancient Christianity . . . . The 'vehicular' uses of scripture, common to both non-Christian and Christian exegesis, thus became in Christian exegesis only a symptom of something much profounder and deeper--something that the modern historian, whose approach is 'three-dimensional' not 'two-dimensional'*, can recognize as valid and supremely significant and quite distinctive." - C.F.D. Moule, The Birth of the New Testament (3rd ed.; Harper & Row, 1982), 87-88. 
*By contrast, in much typical Jewish interpretation, "it is broadly true no attention is paid to the original meaning or to historical perspective. The whole is treated in [a] . . . flat, two-dimensional way" (80).