Thursday, November 29, 2007

In the Mail...

Most came free as part of R.G. Mitchell's generous 9-free-books-for-professors program; two are part of my 50% SBL discount order, also from Mitchell's. (They matched SBL's discount, but unfortunately charged CDN prices.) All have copyright dates in 2006 or 2007*. Of making many books there is no end!

Next on my list: To order some concentrated reading time....
Does anyone know where to find good deals on time?

*To be precise, Chrys Caragounis' book is a reprint, originally published in 2004.

Here is the full bibliography:
Bock, Darrell L. Acts. BECNT. Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic, 2007.
Fee, Gordon D. Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007.
Skarsaune, Oskar and Reidar Hvalvik, eds. Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007.
Thiselton, Anthony C. Thiselton on Hermeneutics: Collected Works with New Essays. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006.
VanLandingham, Chris. Judgment & Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2006.
Young, Brad H. Meet the Rabbis: Rabbinic Thought and the Teachings of Jesus. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007.
Caragounis, Chrys C. The Development of Greek and the New Testament: Morphology, Syntax, Phonology, and Textual Transmission. Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic, 2006.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sundays are for Volf

I have decided to borrow an idea from Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed by starting a series of posts on a specific book. Whereas McKnight chooses brand new books that everyone should read, I have selected a book that just about everyone I know has read (except me): Miroslav Volf's Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation (Abingdon, 1996). The plan is to post something every Sunday on a successive chapter in Volf, but the fact that I am publishing the first Sunday post on Monday evening is not a good sign! I don't know what this will look like--I don't expect to provide chapter summaries; I do promise to keep the posts short. My primary goal is to encourage my own disciplined reading in an area that is not strictly required for course prep or research, but the book is significant enough that revisiting its contents may still be of value to those who have read it once already. So without further ado...

The book begins as follows: "After I finished my lecture Professor Jürgen Moltmann stood up and asked one of his typical questions, both concrete and penetrating: 'But can you embrace a cetnik?' It was the winter of 1993. For months now the notorious Serbain fighters called 'cetnik' had been sowing desolation in my native country, herding people into concentration camps, raping women, burning down churches, and destroying cities. I had just argued that we ought to embrace our enemies as God has embraced us in Christ. Can I embrace a cetnik...? It took me a while to answer, though I immediately knew what I wnated to say. "No, I cannot--but as a follower of christ I think I should be able to.' In a sense this book is the product of the struggle between the truth of my argument and the force of Moltmann's objection" (9).

Volf concludes his introduction with a handy summary of the metaphor of embrace and, I suspect, the book as a whole: "the will to give ourselves to others and 'welcome' them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, is prior to any judgment about others, except that of identifying them in their humanity. The will to embrace precedes any 'truth' about others and any construction of their 'justice.'...I immediately continue to argue, however, that the embrace itself--full reconciliation--cannot take place until the truth has been said and justice done" (29).

Other notes:
  • I like this: "Instead of reflecting on the kind of society we ought to create in order to accommodate individual or communal heterogeneity, I will explore what kind of selves we need to be in order to live in harmony with others" (20-21). Reminds me of this.
  • And I like Volf's description of the theologian's task: "When not acting as helpmates of economists, political scientists, social philosophers, etc.--and it is part of their responsibility to act as [sic. in?] this way--theologians should concentrate less on social arrangements and more on fostering the kind of social agents capable of envisioning and creating just, truthful, and peaceful societies, and on shaping a cultural climate in which such agents will thrive" (21).
Hmm...Short, I fear, is relative.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Second Semester Course Line-Up

It is about time for me to switch from my sabbatical research to active course preparation for next semester's classes. I have been assigned Gospels, Jewish Backgrounds to Early Christianity, Greek Exegesis I, and Advanced Greek Exegesis.

After three semesters teaching Gospels, I concluded I needed to rethink this required first year course from the ground up. Instead of working carefully through one Gospel with a glance at the other three, as is the usual practice here, I have decided to spend equal time on each Gospel. This change responds to feedback from students who expressed disappointment that we give the other Gospels (especially John) such short shrift. It also reflects my conclusion that most first year students respond to issues that appear relevant to their own lives, but are not prepared with the skills or the patience to read a foreign text closely on its own terms. The close reading exercises that we do in class will function as “training wheels” for a longer more intensive book study; the need to be selective in what I cover will help me focus on central passages that are suited to first year students.

I am especially excited about Jewish Backgrounds to Early Christianity since it is the only course in the curriculum that deals directly with Second Temple Judaism. I taught Jewish Backgrounds three years ago while I was still getting my teaching legs under me. Needless to say, this will also be a quite different course than the one I taught last time.

Biblical Studies majors at Briercrest College are required to take at least four semesters of either Greek or Hebrew. Greek Exegesis I is the fourth course in the Greek sequence. Almost two thirds of the course is devoted to a close reading of the Greek text of Colossians. We also learn to practice textual criticism, diagramming and word studies. I tell my students that in Greek Exegesis I their hard work over the past three semesters begins to pay off in earnest.

Advanced Greek Exegesis, the sixth and final Greek course in our catalog, will be a lot of fun for me and the two students who have signed up for the class. We will be looking at early Christian exegesis of Scripture in the speeches of Acts. The plan is to work through the speeches in Acts 1-15 and the Greek OT passages quoted or alluded to in the speeches. I was told after I had prepared the syllabus that Advanced Greek Exegesis has never been offered as a regular class before. Hopefully, another three or four students will join us before the semester begins.

I am excited about what I get to teach, but with four mostly classes and a new baby at home, it will be a very heavy semester. All the more reason to get started now...or in a few days when I get that second draft article finished!

Monday, November 19, 2007

שׁוֹשַׁנָּה אֲבִגָיִל and the Problem of the Dagesh Forte

It's official: We named our daughter שׁוֹשַׁנָּה אֲבִגָיִל. (She had to have a name before they released her from the hospital on Saturday, but for a variety of reasons involving a newborn baby it has taken me awhile to post the name here.)

The trouble with choosing Hebrew names is that one must decide how to spell them in English. Transliterating the middle name, אֲבִגָיִל, is straightforward and, because it appears in 1 Samuel 25 as the name for King David's second wife (formerly married to Nabal), and is relatively common in English, everyone knows how to spell and pronounce Abigail.

Unlike Abigail, שׁוֹשַׁנָּה is never used as a proper name in the Hebrew Bible. Strict adherence to the rules of transliteration would result in Shoshannah. We decided to do away with the final 'h' because it is silent, but the dagesh forte (the raised dot) in the 'nun' (נּ) created a small dilemma. The dagesh strengthens the consonant, which is normally represented in transliteration by a doubling of the letter--in this case, two n's. t. observed that the double 'n' might help in English pronunciation since English speakers expect the 'a' to be a long ah vowel before a double consonant, and a short eh vowel before a single consonant. The single consonant could have people pronouncing her name 'Shoshane-ah' instead of 'Shoshawnah. I preferred Shoshana to Shoshanna, however, and reasoned that the name was common enough for this not to be an issue. And so we went with Shoshana.

(A google search confirmed that the spelling Shoshana is more common than Shoshanna. I suspect this is because it is a predominantly Jewish name. Since Modern Hebrew is written without vowels or dageshes, the dagesh does not play a role in transliteration.)

It turns out that Shoshana is not at all common in these parts. No one seems to have heard the name before or to be sure how to pronounce it. I haven't heard 'Shoshane-ah' yet, but 'Shoshahnah' is a common first attempt. For the record, Shoshana is pronounced 'Shoshawna.'

In case you are wondering, Shoshana is the Hebrew word for lily (apparently including the water lily or lotus; see Song of Solomon 2:1-2; Hos 14:6). Although it is not used as a proper name in the Old Testament, the Greek transliteration of Shoshana appears in the story of Susannah in the Apocrypha; in Luke 8:3 a Susanna is included among the women who traveled with Jesus and the twelve and "who provided for them out of their resources."

Abigail means "my father was delighted." Fitting.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Introducing SiByL Miller

The Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting is the world's biggest annual gathering of scholars of the Bible and related literature. It's a great time to catch up with friends, make new connections, smooth talk big name scholars, buy books, and listen to academic papers. I missed last year's meeting in Washington, D.C., and was looking forward to going to this year's conference in San Diego while on sabbatical because I could avoid the pressure of making up for missed classes during a busy teaching semester. The prospect of spending the better part of a week in southern California was an added bonus. So t. and I had a good laugh earlier this year when we discovered we were expecting a baby on November 17, 2007--the first day of SBL.

We laughed again when Briercrest's library director suggested we name the baby "Sibyl" in honor of SBL. After carefully considering Brad's suggestion, we decided to name the baby .... Well, actually we are still working on a name (but it is not Sibyl!). In the meantime, baby arrived on November 15 at 4:02 a.m. (7 lbs, 1/2 oz).

Whatever her name ends up being, she is a wonderful gift and we thank God for her.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Turkey Travelogue - The End.

Five months, 40+ blog posts, and more hours than I care to admit later, I am finally finished the Turkey Travelogue. As I worked on this series, I kept thinking of the saying I read on a t-shirt in Topkapi Palace--"it's not the hours you put in, it's what you put into the hours." I tried to convince myself that what I was learning made it all worthwhile. At any rate, it is done. Here is the final "Index":

Turkey Travelogue 1 (June 4-5) - Culture Shock

Turkey Travelogue 2 (June 6) - To Bergama

Turkey Travelogue 3a (June 7) - Bergama/Pergamum
Turkey Travelogue 3b - Pergamum's Acropolis
Turkey Travelogue 3c - Locating "Satan's Throne" (Rev 2:13)
Update: More on Satan's Throne
Turkey Travelogue 3d - Why are there trees on ancient cultic sites?
Turkey Travelogue 4 - Kuşadasi (June 7-10)

Turkey Travelogue Maps - From Istanbul to Bergama, to Kusadasi

Turkey Travelogue 5a - Classical Views of Ephesus (June 8)
Turkey Travelogue 5b - St. Paul's Ephesus (ca. 55-57 CE)
Turkey Travelogue 5c - The Road Less Traveled in Ephesus
Turkey Travelogue 5d - The Harbour of Ephesus
Turkey Travelogue 5e - The Great Artemis of the Ephesians
Turkey Travelogue 5f - Sacrifice in the Greco-Roman World
Turkey Travelogue 5g - Selçuk Archaeological Museum
Turkey Travelogue 5h - St. John's Basilica

Turkey Travelogue - Regaining Momentum

Turkey Travelogue 6a - Paul the Traveler (June 9)
Turkey Travelogue 6b - From Ephesus to Miletus
Turkey Travelogue 6c - Priene
Update: Ephesus, Miletus, and the Ancient Aegean Coastline
Turkey Travelogue 6d - Didyma

Turkey Travelogue 7a - Pamukkale (June 10)
Turkey Travelogue 7b - Hierapolis Highlights

Turkey Travelogue 8a - Aphrodisias, but not Laodicea or Colossae (June 11)
Turkey Travelogue 8b - Aphrodisias: Under Construction
Turkey Travelogue 8c - Finding Our Way in Aphrodisias
Turkey Travelogue 8d - Public Life in Ancient Aphrodisias

Turkey Travelogue 9a - On to Cappadocia
Turkey Travelogue 9b - Göreme Open-Air Museum (June 12)
Turkey Travelogue 10a - Hiking the Cappadocian Valleys 1 (June 13)
Turkey Travelogue 10b - Hiking the Cappadocian Valleys 2
Turkey Travelogue 10c - Hiking the Cappadocian Valleys 3

Turkey Travelogue 11a - Istanbul, Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia (June 14)
Turkey Travelogue 11b - A Few More Hagia Sophia Pictures
Turkey Travelogue 11c - What does Istanbul have to do with Jerusalem?
Turkey Travelogue 11d - The Siloam Inscription
Turkey Travelogue 11e - Temple Warning Inscription, etc.
Turkey Travelogue 11f - The Instanbul Archaeological Museum (Cont'd)

Turkey Travelogue 12 - Herod the Great in Topkapi Palace (June 15)

Turkey Travelogue 13 - Welcome to Saskatchewan . . . (June 16)

Every good thing ends with a bibliography
(main printed sources):

The Lonely Planet Guide - Pat Yale, Jean-Bernard Carillet, Virginia Maxwell, Miriam Raphael, Turkey (9th ed.; Lonely Planet, 2005).

The Blue Guide - Bernard Mc Donagh, Turkey (Blue Guide; 3rd ed.; London: A&C Black, 2001).

ABD - David Noel Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary (6 vols.; New York: Doubleday, 1992).

OCD - Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, eds., The Oxford Classical Dictionary (3rd ed.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

Turkey Travelogue 13 - Welcome to Saskatchewan . . . (June 16)

After we were finished with Topkapi Palace and a nap in nearby Gülhane Park, we wandered toward the Spice Bazaar in search of food and souvenirs. Eventually satisfied with both, we made the long trek uphill back to the Apricot hotel, where we enjoyed a final evening listening to mosques from around the city competing with the Blue Mosque for the evening call to prayer.
(The evening would have been more enjoyable if I hadn't insisted on a late evening walk in search of "pide," the one Turkish food I hadn't sampled on our trip.)

At 3 a.m. the next morning we were waiting at the door of the hotel for an airport shuttle. 29 hours later it was 11 p.m. (on the same day), and we were descending an elevator at the Regina International Airport. Above the customs booths I noticed this ominous message:

Welcome to Saskatchewan . . .

"What does the ellipsis mean?" I wondered.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Turkey Travelogue 12 - Herod the Great in Topkapi Palace (June 15)

Click here for the Turkey Travelogue Index.
We reserved a final day in Istanbul to see more of the city. First on our list was Topkapi palace, home to the Ottoman sultans from 1453 until 1839. The guide books play to their reader's Orientalist assumptions, highlighting all that was exotic and extravagant in Ottoman rule. The palace, they say, is a tourist must see. Evidently the tourists believe them, because the site was overrun. For the record, the guidebooks have a point--especially if you admire intricate tile decorations:
I didn't take a lot of pictures as there were not many Greco-Roman antiquities to be seen, but as we wandered through the royal Harem, which was restored to look like it did in the 17th century, I couldn't help being struck by similarities to court life under king Herod the Great. I overheard a guide commenting that the Ottoman's ruled from between their belly and their knees. Only too happy to illustrate, the guidebooks tell of "Selim the Sot, who drowned in the bath after drinking too much champagne" (Lonely Guide), of Sultan Murat III (1574-95) who sired 326 children, of younger princes who spent their lives in the Harem "where nothing was denied them but their freedom", and of one such prince, Crazy Ibrahim, who was raised in the Harem by powerful women and eunuchs, and eventually elevated to the throne. Crazy Ibrahim, so the story goes, drowned all 280 of his concubines in response to a "slight to his honour" (Blue Guide).

Book 17 of Josephus's Jewish Antiquities, which I was reading at the time, tells of the court intrigue among Herod the Great's rather extensive family. (He had 10 wives.) Given to jealousy and paranoia, Herod murdered his beloved wife Mariamme. He eventually executed her two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, along with another son, Antipater. Shortly before his own death, Herod had the leading men of Judaea imprisoned in the hippodrome, and instructed his sister Salome to have them executed when he died so that "he would...have a grand funeral such as no other king had ever had, and there would be mourning throughout the entire nation, which would be lamenting from its very soul instead of mocking and ridiculing him" (Ant. 17.177). Fortunately, his sister didn't follow his instructions.
I was also impressed by the royal kitchens, where "cooks prepared food for more than 4000 people each day" (Blue Guide). Western visitors at the Sultan's court were impressed too, when they were invited to banquets where 40 different kinds of meat were served.

Stunning. Extravagant...And apparently typical, though you won't find this in the guide books: t. pointed out that what I reacted to was actually typical of the contemporary ruling courts of Europe. The Ottoman's were different in that they were more successful in their opulence. Unlike their Western European counterparts, they also believed in bathing regularly. (It helps to have an early modernist as your traveling companion.)
Just outside the Harem is the Tower of Justice, which adjoins the Ministry of Truth:

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Writer's Block

To overcome the terror of the blank screen and the blinking cursor threatening to erase my ideas in the process of fashioning them into words, I often scribble everything from emails to academic essays on paper first. This is an inefficient process, I know, but it beats staring off into space watching my thoughts collide. And it means nothing is lost. I can always go back after a false start. It also allows me to work simultaneously on the half dozen or so different ideas jostling for my attention at the same time. The filtering process comes later as I try to decipher what I have written and determine what ideas the scattered notes refer to.

So goes the theory. Sometimes, however, even pen and ink is no use:
At the end of this scribbling exercise, with my internal hamster fallen hard off its wheel, I put down my fountain pen, picked up my camera, and then started work on this blog post:
Time for a new blank page...

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Obedience of Faith in Luke-Acts

John Hobbins at Ancient Hebrew Poetry posted a fascinating excerpt from the Babylonian Talmud this morning in which Rabbi Simlai works through a series of passages from the Psalms and prophets that R. Simlai says sum up the 613 commandments of Torah in fewer words. R. Simlai finally settles on Habakkuk 2:4: "The righteous person will live by his faithfulness." (Hobbins's translation: "And the just person will live steady as she goes.")

The obvious contrast with R. Simlai is Paul, who--according to most modern translations of Romans 1:16--applies Hab 2:4 to faith in Christ. Many people see in Luke-Acts a similar contrast between salvation by faithfulness to the law of Moses and salvation by faith in Christ.

When it is mapped onto Luke's covenant language (including explicit statements as well as indirect allusions), the result is something like this: The arrows linking the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants to Jesus' followers show that, for Luke, the unconditional promises to Abraham and David are inherited by the church in the New Covenant. As scholars like to exclude it from Luke's understanding of "covenant," the Sinai Covenant with its covenant stipulations stands off on its own in the diagram. It is, however, contrasted with, and ultimately replaced by, the New Covenant.

As I suggested in an earlier post, I suspect Luke included the Sinai covenant as part and parcel of the covenants with Abraham and David. But however much we see the Sinai covenant as designed to achieve the same goal as the Abrahamic covenant (i.e., worship; cf. Luke 1:74; Acts 7:17), I now think something like the diagram must be correct. At Sinai, the people were instructed to hear the law as mediated by Moses. In Acts, the proper response to hearing the message about the risen Jesus is faith (e.g., Acts 4:4). The interpretation of the parable of the sower in Luke 8:11-15, which--unlike Mark and Matthew--emphasizes belief/faith, confirms that Luke's typical way of talking about the process of becoming a Christ-follower includes "faith."

The problem comes when one takes a flying leap off the Mount of Transfiguration into Post-Pentecost Acts, skipping over the immediate context with its emphasis on carrying one's cross, losing one's life, and following Jesus. Once again, faith, for Luke, cannot be separated from fidelity to Jesus, which issues in a life of faithful obedience.

In the end this is not so different from Paul, whose comment about the "obedience of faith" in Romans 1:5 (cf. 15:18) indicates that the obedience God calls for is faith and that this faith will be marked by obedience.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Salvation during Jesus' Ministry: Battle Skirmishes or Decisive Victory?

We have seen (see also here and here) that Luke emphasizes the saving significance of Jesus' death and resurrection in his Gospel and Acts, but that Jesus also provides salvation prior to his death. For the sake of convenience, I'll repost the main instances of the latter here:
  • In Luke 6:9, Jesus says: "I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?"
  • Jesus responds to questions about the forgiveness of sins by saying to the "sinful woman": "Your faith has saved you; go in peace" (Luke 7:50).
  • Jesus tells the woman with a flow of blood: "Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace" (Luke 8:48). (Most English translations read: "your faith has made you well," but the phrase is identical to 7:50.)
  • Jesus tells the one grateful ex-leper: "your faith has saved you" (Luke 17:19). All the lepers were made well; only one was saved.
  • And Jesus announces at Zacchaeus's party: "Today salvation has come to this house" (Luke 19:9; cf. the "today" in 4:21).
Some people take these statements at face value. Joel Green, for example, argues that death is only the supreme example of saving "reversal." Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension makes salvation more widely accessible, but his entire life is salvific:
"Luke, then, understands salvation as a reversal of positions, and sees in Jesus' career the decisive beginning of this salvation. Indeed, this transposition motif finds its zenith in Jesus' passion and exaltation. The cross, then, is not the contradiction of Jesus' divine mission, but is the means by which he fulfills God's purpose, after which he is exalted to God's right hand. In thus fulfilling the role of the Servant of Yahweh, Jesus effects salvation for all humanity, establishes the true character of discipleship as reversal, and lays claim on all who would follow him in faithful discipleship" ("'The Message of Salvation' in Luke-Acts," Ex Auditu 5 [1989]: 31).
Others maintain that instances of "salvation" in Luke's Gospel are only preliminary anticipations of Satan's final defeat--or, if you will, of lasting forgiveness and a new relationship with God--which occurred at Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension. Susan Garrett is, if I recall, a good representative of this view. Incidentally, Garrett argues "that Luke regarded the death, resurrection, and ascension as an 'exodus' because in these events Jesus, 'the one who is stronger,' led the people out of bondage to Satan." To make her view work, Garrett needs to argue that Jesus' vision of Satan falling from heaven in Luke 10:17-20 is a proleptic vision of what will happen at Jesus' death.

I am still not sure. What do you think?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Academic Blogroll

I began reading ״Biblioblogs" back in 2003 around the time that Jim Davila started PaleoJudaica. Mark Goodacre began his NT Gateway blog shortly thereafter, and I gradually became aware of a handful of others, which I added to my list of favorites. Since then the number of Bibliobloggers has exploded beyond the ability of any sane, employed person to follow. (But see this month's Biblical Studies Carnival and the follow-up Map of the World of Bible Bloggers for a noble attempt.)

Yesterday I added an Academic Blogroll to this blog that lists the 20 or so academic blogs I now track with Bloglines. This is not as hard as it looks, as several of my favorite bloggers--including Codex, Hypotyposeis, the stuff of earth, Jesus, Paul, and Luke, and the peerless Ralph the Sacred River--no longer post regularly. (They must not be on sabbatical.)

I seldom add new blogs to my roll simply because I have enough here to keep me occupied, but if you comment nicely on my blog--as John Hobbins did last night--I may just be tempted!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

What's so new about the 'New Covenant'?

I suggested earlier that the command to "hear" Jesus in Luke 9:35 is covenant language. The setting of the transfiguration recalls Sinai, where the covenant promise--"you will be to me a chosen people"--is matched to the demand--"hear my voice and keep my covenant" (Exod 19:5 LXX). The people of the covenant are now Jesus' family--those who hear and obey what he says (Luke 8:19-21; 11:28).

The word "covenant" never appears in the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36), however. And when Luke uses the term he normally refers to the covenant with Abraham:
  • "Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve [or: worship] him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days." (Luke 1:72-75 NRSV)
  • "You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, 'And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'" (Acts 3:25 NRSV)
  • "Then God gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision." (Acts 7:8)
There are also several allusions in Luke-Acts to the covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7, and scholars have noted how Luke "collapse[s] the Davidic and Abrahamic covenants together into one. The Davidic covenant becomes a specific way the Abrahamic covenant comes to fulfillment" (Brawley 1995).

While the covenants to Abraham and David may be combined, most people seem to assume that Luke would not have had anything positive to say about the Sinai covenant. After all, so the assumption goes, "Luke connects the Sinai Covenant with the law which he rejects as a means of salvation with a vigor...which almost matches that of Paul" (O'Toole 1983). If Luke does refer to the Sinai covenant, then, it must be to demonstrate Jesus' superiority to it.

But Luke does portray the Sinai covenant positively:
  • Pious people in Luke 1-2 such as Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, are careful to obey the law.
  • If the point of the Abrahamic covenant was to "serve/worship" God (Luke 1:74), Acts 7 explains that the point of the exodus and the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham (7:17) was to "serve/worship" God at Sinai (7:7).
  • At the last supper, Jesus identifies the cup with the "new covenant in my blood." The reference to blood echoes the ratification of the Sinai covenant in Exod 24:8.
Of course, "new covenant" also echoes Jeremiah's promise of a new covenant:
31 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt-- a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jer 31:31-34 NRSV; Deut 30:1-6; Ezek 11:17-20; 36:24-28)
My unexamined assumption about the "new covenant" was that it renders the old obselete. This is certainly the view of the author of Hebrews (8:13), but I am not so sure anymore that Luke or his readers would have automatically read Jeremiah 31 in this way.
  • For one thing, as the NET Bible note on Jer 31:33 explains, "The new covenant does not entail a new law; it is the same law that Jeremiah has repeatedly accused them of rejecting or ignoring....What does change is their inner commitment to keep it." (N.B. What is new about the 'new' covenant is debated: Zimmerli does think Jer 31 sets aside the Mosaic covenant; Lundbom in the ABD article on "New Covenant" thinks what is new is forgiveness.)
  • For my purposes, what Post-Exilic Torah-observing Jews believed about Jeremiah is more important than what Jeremiah meant. Jubilees, for example, echoes new covenant passages (1:22-24), but insists that the Sinai covenant was really an extension of the covenant with Abraham. There is, for Jubilees, only one real covenant that lasts forever. The Dead Sea Scrolls also combine interest in the "new covenant" with earnest fidelity to the law of Moses. Without looking around too much in the literature, my sense is that this is common.
What of the New Testament? Is it true that "NT writers were uncomfortable with the term, using it only to point out that in Christ the covenant was not law but faith or life in the Spirit"? (Lundbom ABD 4.1090 citing G.E. Wright approvingly)

Luke certainly believed that Moses and the prophets pointed forward to Jesus, and that salvation comes to those who respond to Jesus, but I see no reason why he should avoid using the Sinai covenant as a positive model for Jesus and for the response that is required from his followers. In fact, I think Luke does precisely this at the transfiguration: Jesus does not bring a new law, but as the Son he is the mediator between the Father and humanity. The requirement--"listen!"--is analogous, and the consequences are the same.

Comments are welcome, if you made it this far!