Monday, September 12, 2016

Luke Timothy Johnson on Greek and Responsible Reading of the New Testament

"The New Testament is written in first-century Greek: diction, grammar, and syntax are not subject to the whim of readers. Writings can say only what the Koine of that time allows them to say. The only truly responsible reading of the New Testament, consequently, is one based on the Greek text in its historical specificity." - Luke Timothy Johnson, The New Testament: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: 2010), 5.

One could say the same thing, of course, about the Old Testament and Hebrew.

Monday, September 5, 2016

On Plagiarism

This summer--before the Melania Trump and Peter T. O'Brien plagiarism cases made news headlines--I was asked to contribute to an academic honesty mini-course designed for incoming Briercrest College students.

You can click on the video if you want to hear what I said, though I should note that the best thing about it is the short talk at the beginning by recent Briercrest graduate, Breanna Bowker, on the importance of reading.

At the risk of subverting the point I was trying to make in the video, what I'd like to do here is add a little nuance:

 (1) Plagiarism in biblical (and related) scholarship: Plagiarism, unfortunately, is not limited to college papers. Two examples:
  • I recently encountered a major work by a prominent scholar (who shall remain nameless), whose summaries of alternative views routinely quote verbatim from the sources that are summarized, without quotation marks. This is plagiarism. I have no idea how it made it through the review process. 
  • Last month Eerdmans announced that it is withdrawing three major commentaries by Peter T. O'Brien that appeared between 1991 and 2010 in highly-regarded commentary series (more information here). O'Brien, now in his 80's, was until this point a respected New Testament scholar. O'Brien released a statement admitting to problems in his research, which "generated clear-cut, but unintentional, plagiarism," and apologizing for this not-on-purpose error. Based on what I have seen (here), the plagiarism is indeed clear-cut and totally unacceptable. (Those who attempt to defend O'Brien on the basis that all commentaries say the same thing, should conclude rather that we need fewer commentaries.) I don't pretend to understand what led to the plagiarism. People and their motivations are complex, and I am not in a position to judge O'Brien's intentions. (As I note in the video, however, intentions don't matter.) I am happy to grant that O'Brien's teaching and writing have contributed in significant ways to the church and to scholarship. 
(2) Accidental quotation: The page-proofs of an article I wrote failed to type-set a lengthy quotation in block quotes. If I had not proof-read carefully, the quotation would have appeared in print as if it were my own. It would have been a mistake of the type-setter, entirely unintentional, but still--according to the definition I'm using--plagiarism. I hope my readers would have granted me grace.

(3) Forgotten Influences:  In the abstract for a paper that I am currently completing I referred to "a perceived threat to Jewish identity." When I composed the abstract, I'm sure I thought my formulation was original, but I recently came across Robert Tannehill's comment that "the cry of the accusers in the temple [in Acts 21:28] is the cry of a people trying to maintain itself against a perceived threat to its identity" (1990: 272), and I expect it influenced me when I first began work on the topic. Then again, F. Scott Spencer's 1997 commentary on Acts says almost the same thing without any reference to Tannehill: 
Throughout the Greco-Roman world, scores of Gentile converts ignorant of the Mosaic law, at best, or prejudiced against it, at worst, have been incorporated into believing communities alongside Jews, thus creating a perceived threat to Jewish identity. (Spencer 1997; repr. 2004: 209) 

Is this the independent identical formulation of a commonplace observation or a sign of the pervasive--but unacknowledged and possibly forgotten--influence of Robert Tannehill?

(3) Unmarked quotations and oral presentations: Conventions are less-defined for oral presentations, and it can be difficult to know what is appropriate documentation. In the script that I composed and basically memorized for the video, I included quotation marks when I defined plagiarism as "a failure to acknowledge sources," but I did not indicate where I got the phrase. (I reasoned that a popular talk of this sort would be distracting if I added a footnote.) Does this mean my definition of plagiarism is itself plagiarized? Just to be on the safe side, I hereby acknowledge my colleague, Rhoda Cairns, as my source. (For the ethics of documentation in sermons, see this post.)

All this does not change how I will deal with clear cases of plagiarism that I encounter in the classroom. No one will get away by appealing to the examples in this blog post.

When I do chat with students, however, I always emphasize that plagiarism is a major sin in an academic context, and I try to keep matters in perspective. There are far greater moral issues than this particular kind of theft, including the deadly sins of pride, envy, and greed, to which academics are perhaps especially prone. Still, I hope my students learn assiduously to avoid the minor sin of plagiarism in any academic and other writing and speaking that they do.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Rejected Prophets

I rang in the new year--just about--by hitting "submit" on my RBL review of Jocelyn McWhirter's Rejected Prophets: Jesus and His Witnesses in Luke-Acts (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014).

Nine months later, the review has now appeared. (For the record, I don't recommend binge writing over the Christmas holidays.)

Here is the final paragraph:

"Although readers will doubtless quibble over specific aspects of her argument, Rejected Prophets is a valuable contribution to scholarship on prophecy in Luke-Acts, and to the study of Luke-Acts in general. Specialists who are not persuaded by an approach that views Luke as a Jewish author writing within a Jewish context will still benefit from her careful attention to Luke’s use of the Jewish Scriptures, and to her explication of an important Lukan theme. Because it relates the theme of prophecy to other major themes in Luke-Acts, Rejected Prophets would work well as an introduction to Luke-Acts as a whole. The volume is accessible to beginning students who lack the original languages and who are unfamiliar with the historical context. More important still, McWhirter introduces Luke to her readers as a consummate story-teller and skillful reader of Scripture, illustrating at the same time how Luke’s own work may be read with profit."
 SBL members can view the whole review here:

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Pietists on Learning Greek and Hebrew

I am always on the look-out for comments about the importance of learning Greek and Hebrew to use in my language classes. Here are a few, courtesy of Stephen Westerholm's chapter on "The Pietists and Wesley" in Reading Sacred Scripture:

John Wesley (1703-1791), known today more for his preaching than his scholarship, insisted that those who wish to be pastors should learn Greek and Hebrew:
"Scripture, then, is sufficient, and sufficiently clear, to meet the needs even of uneducated believers; but more is to be expected of ministers of the gospel. 'Whether it be true or not, that every good textuary [i.e., master of the biblical text] is a good Divine [i.e., clergyman], it is certain none can be a good Divine who is not a good textuary' (Works 10.482). Without a knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, will not a minister find himself frequently at a loss, unable to explain even practical texts--let alone those that are controversial? Wesley responds to the implied question: 'He will be ill able to rescue [controversial texts] out of the hands of any man of learning that would pervert them: For whenever an appeal is made to the original, his mouth is stopped at once.' (Works 10.483). ... Never more at home than when searching his own or others' souls, Wesley then asks those who lack such knowledge to ask themselves, 'How many years did I spend at school? How many at the University? And what was I doing all those years? Ought not shame to cover my face?' (Works 10.491)" (290-1).
Wesley "published short grammars of English (1748), Latin (1748), Hebrew (1751), French (1751), and Greek (1765)" (287). His older contemporary, August Hermann Francke (1663-1727), laid out a curriculum:

"He first gives attention to the 'letter' of Scripture. False meanings are easily attributed to the inspired authors when the text is read either in translation or with an imperfect grasp of the original languages; therefore, it is important that the 'etymology, signification, syntax, and idiom' of Greek and Hebrew 'be fully understood.' Francke outlines what he claims to be a tried-and-true method by which students can acquire these skills. Following his program, the student should have acquired within three months a good grasp of Greek grammar while reading through the Greek New Testament -- twice. (Francke graciously concedes that such progress is possible only if students temporarily set other duties aside.) Learning Hebrew grammar and reading through the Hebrew Old Testament, he says, has been known to take another three months" (275; parenthetical references omitted).
All quotations taken from Stephen Westerholm and Martin Westerholm, Reading Sacred Scripture: Voices from the History of Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016).

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Victor Paul Furnish on 1 Corinthians 16:14

"'Let everything you do be done in love' .... One can imagine contexts in which this very general appeal would amount to little more than an encouragement to be kind to others. But here it is invested with the full weight of Paul's gospel as that comes to expression in 1 Corinthians. The love he has in view is the agape that is proper to God's own being, which both graces and claims the whole of creation and has been revealed in the saving power of the cross. In their belonging to the resurrected-crucified Christ, believers are formed into a community that lives from the cross and are called to be agents of God's love, both individually and corporately, within the particularities of their own time and place." - Victor Paul Furnish, The Theology of the First Letter to the Corinthians (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 121.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Assessing Ernst Haenchen on the Purpose of Acts

I summarized Ernst Haenchen's understanding of the purpose of Acts yesterday (here). Today I want to comment briefly on three key aspects of his model:

1. Authorizing Christianity - The suggestion that Luke wrote to secure approval for the early Christian movement as a "tolerated" religion remains very popular, at least in a modified form. Although some scholars deny that a religio licita category existed in the first two centuries CE (see Maddox, on the one hand, and the fine discussion in Keener, on the other), it is common to suggest that Luke presents Christianity in the Roman world as a legitimate and honorable religious alternative by highlighting its Jewish origins and appealing to the antiquity of its traditions in the Jewish Scriptures. (See e.g., Gerald Downing, Philip Esler, François Bovon, Daniel Marguerat, Craig Keener.)

My question is this: Does a bid for legitimacy in the Roman world adequately explain a trial narrative that appears to address and respond to Jewish concerns--in particular, concerns which I will argue elsewhere have to do with a perceived threat to Jewish identity posed by Paul's Gentile mission? Not impossible, but it seems an odd way to go about it.   

2. Jewish Opposition - Haenchen's model supposes that Jews complained to the Romans that Christian Gentiles were not legitimate Jews and hence were "hostile to the state." But when, where and under what circumstances would Jews care about Gentile Christians, and would they have been in a position to complain to the state after 70 CE? Shaye Cohen's recent comment about the "parting of the ways" seems relevant here:
    "There was no parting of the ways between gentile Christians and non-Christian Jews for the simple reason that their ways had never been united. ... [F]or gentiles who believed in Christ and for Jews who did not, there was no need for a parting of the ways, even if there was a need on occasion for polemic, apologetic, and recrimination" (From the Maccabees to the Mishnah [3rd ed; WJK, 2014], 232-3).
3. An External Audience - Haenchen's claim that Luke's apology in Acts was "designed to win over the Roman authorities" (116) has probably received the most criticism--and rightly so. C.K. Barrett's famous rejoinder is compelling: "No Roman official would ever have filtered out so much of what to him would be theological and ecclesiastical rubbish in order to reach so tiny a grain of relevant apology" (Luke the Historian in Recent Study [London: Epworth, 1961], 63).

Barrett, C. K. Luke the Historian in Recent Study. London: Epworth, 1961.

Bovon, François. “The Law in Luke-Acts.” In Studies in Early Christianity, by Bovon, François, 59–73. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Cohen, Shaye. From the Maccabees to the Mishnah. 3rd ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2014.

Downing, Gerald F. “Freedom from the Law in Luke-Acts.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 26 (1986): 49–52.

———. “Law and Custom: Luke-Acts and Late Hellenism.” In Law and Religion: Essays on the Place of the Law in Israel and Early Christianity, edited by Barnabas Lindars, 148–58. Cambridge: James Clarke, 1988.

Esler, Philip Francis. Community and Gospel in Luke-Acts: The Social and Political Motivations of Lucan Theology. SNTSMS 57. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Haenchen, Ernst. The Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971.

Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: Volume 1: Introduction and 1:1--2:47. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012.

Maddox, Robert. The Purpose of Luke-Acts. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1982.

Marguerat, Daniel. The First Christian Historian: Writing the “Acts of the Apostles.” Edited by Gregory J. Laughery and Richard Bauckham. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Other posts in this series:
Jewish Christianity in Acts: In Search of a Sitz im Leben
Part 1: Reflections on Hermeneutics and the Purpose of Acts
Part 2: The Purpose of Acts: Some Alternatives
Part 3a: Ernst Haenchen on the Purpose of Acts
Part 3b: Assessing Ernst Haenchen 

Assessing Ernst Haenchen

Ernst Haenchen (1894-1975) is not exactly a household name, except in scholarship on Acts and John. When his contribution to the prestigious German KEK series first appeared in 1955, it quickly established itself as the standard critical commentary on Acts. When a revised edition was translated and added to the NTL series in 1971, W.D. Davies lauded it as "a great work of scholarship" and celebrated its appearance, at last, in English.

Jacob Jervell, whose very different 1998 German commentary on Acts replaced Haenchen's in the same series, described his predecessor's contribution as "the most comprehensive and important work of the critical German post-World War II research on Acts."*

(As an aside, Martin Rese describes how "From the end of the sixties until his death in 1975 Ernst Haenchen took me as one of his discussion-partners. He called me up nearly every day for at least an hour, and we talked about the problems of interpreting Luke-Acts and the gospel of John."** What would that have been like, I wonder?)

(As a second aside, I note with dismay that, according to this German Wikipedia entry, Haenchen was a member of the Nazi party during WWII: That decision may have secured him a promotion during the War, but it cost him his official position, at least, after it was over. Update: See Joseph Tyson's longer discussion of Haenchen here. Tyson does not mention Haenchen's membership in the National Socialist party.)

For my part, I share W. Ward Gasque's judgement that the commentary "is in every way a magnificently impressive piece of scholarship -- a treasury of bibliographical, philological, and exegetical detail. ... Even when one does not agree with the conclusions of the author ... he must confess that Haenchen has made him look at  the text and the problem raised by it from every possible angle" (A History of the Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles [Hendrickson, 1989], 243).

To be sure, Gasque immediately went on to add:
"When all is said and done, however, it must be noted with a sense of disappointment that it is probable that Haenchen's great commentary will be regarded by future generations of scholars more as a historical phenomenon belonging to one era of the history of exegesis than as a lasting contribution to New Testament research. ... [W]hen the storm has subsided and New Testament critics are in a position to look back over the past two or three decades of research from the perspective of history they will, I think, be able to see that the commentary of Haenchen is as tendentious and ultimately as unhistorical as he thinks the author of the Book of Acts was." (Gasque, History, 244).

For better or worse, Gasque's prediction has not come true: Haenchen's commentary remains a classic, and the recent excellent critical commentary by Richard Pervo in the Hermeneia series stands very much in the same tradition. (See this post for my initial reflections on Pervo's commentary.)

*Jacob Jervell as translated and quoted in Martin Rese, "The Jews in Luke-Acts: Some Second Thoughts," in The Unity of Luke-Acts (J. Verheyden, ed.; Leuven: Peeters, 1999), 185-6.
**Martin Rese, "The Jews in Luke-Acts," 185.