Saturday, December 27, 2008

Can interpretation be separated from application?

I had a lively conversation around this question with a couple colleagues some years ago. I insisted yes, identifying what a text meant in the first century is different from asking what it means today--although of course the two should be related. (I have already registered my disagreement with the idea that application involves extracting timeless principles from the text here.)

My colleagues replied: No. Go read Gadamer.

I have finally begun taking their advice. Fortunately for me, Gadamer addresses the question early on:
The hermeneutic problem is universal and prior to every kind of interest in history because it is concerned with what is always fundamental to 'historical questions.' And what is historical research without historical questions? In the language that I use, justified by investigation into semantic history, this means: application is an element of understanding itself. If, in this connection, I put the legal historian and the practicing lawyer on the same level, I do not deny that the former has exclusively a 'contemplative,' and the other an exclusively practical, task. Yet application is involved in the activities of both. How could the legal meaning of a law be different for either? It is true that the judge, for example, has the practical task of passing judgment, and this may involve many considerations of legal politics that the legal historian (looking at the same law) does not consider. But does that make their legal understanding of the law any different? The judge's decision, which has a practical effect on life, aims at being a correct and never an arbitrary application of the law; hence it must rely on a 'correct' interpretation, which necessarily includes the mediation between history and the present in the act of understanding itself.

Of course, the legal historian will also have to evaluate a correctly understood law 'historically' as well, and this always means he must assess its historical importance; since he will always be guided by his own historical pre-opinions and pre-judgments, he may assess it 'wrongly.' This means that again there is mediation between the past and the present: that is, application.

From the forward to the second (German) edition of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (2nd rev. English ed.; London: Continuum), xxix.
For Gadamer interpretation and application are part of the same process because, I take it, our preunderstanding about the present always already shapes our interpretation of the past. I'm good with that.

But implicit in Gadamer's illustration is the fact that the process of working out a contemporary application can and, in some sense, should be separated from the process of working out a historical interpretation. The two processes deal with different contexts.

Perhaps the difference is that Gadamer wrote to counteract an over-emphasis on historical distance while my beginning students tend to approach the text without any sense of historical distance at all: I hear students talking about Jesus' criticisms of the church or notice them assuming that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians directly to them--that sort of thing. I find that getting my students to disintinguish what it meant from what it means helps them read the text more carefully. Jumping too quickly to Gadamer--or this aspect of Gadamer's thinking--may actually reinforce sloppy reading practices.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Computer-Free Zone

The next 36 hours or so have been declared a computer-free zone. I'm looking forward to curling up with the Tübinger Bibelatlas, and, perhaps, an Acts commentary or two.

Merry Christmas, one and all!

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Writing Life

Several weeks months ago now,* while describing his daily rhythm, Scot McKnight remarked: "Because I’m a writer, my posts don’t take me too long to write." Although it was not the point of McKnight's helpful post, one could easily infer that writing comes easily for writers--too bad for the rest of us.

Not so, says William Zinsser:
A school in Connecticut once held 'a day devoted to the arts,' and I was asked if I would come and talk about writing as a vocation. When I arrived I found that a second speaker had been invited--Dr. Brock (as I'll call him), a surgeon who had recently begun to write and had sold some stories to magazines. He was going to talk about writing as an avocation....

Dr. Brock was dressed in a bright red jacket, looking vaguely bohemian, as authors are supposed to look, and the first question went to him. What was it like to be a writer?

He said it was tremendous fun. Coming home from an arduous day at the hospital, he would go straight to his yellow pad and write his tensions away. The words just flowed. It was easy. I then said that writing wasn't easy and wasn't fun. It was hard and lonely, and the words seldom just flowed.

Next Dr. Brock was asked if it was important to rewrite. Absolutely not, he said. 'Let it all hang out,' he told us, and whatever form the sentences take will reflect the writer at his most natural. I then said that rewriting is the essence of writing. I pointed out that professional writers rewrite their sentences over and over and then rewrite what they have rewritten.

'What do you do on days when it isn't going well?' Dr. Brock was asked. He said he just stopped writing and put the work aside for a day when it would go better. I then said that the professional writer must establish a daily schedule and stick to it. I said that writing is a craft, not an art, and that the man who runs away from his craft because he lacks inspiration is fooling himself. He is also going broke.

...So the morning went, and it was a revelation to all of us. At the end Dr. Brock told me he was enormously interested in my answers--it had never occurred to him that writing could be hard. I told him I was just as interested in his answers--it had never occurred to me that writing could be easy. Maybe I should take up surgery on the side.
- William Zinsser, On Writing Well (6th ed.; HarperCollins, 2001), 3-5.
Earlier (as in 5 months ago) I quoted from Frederick Buechner's The Alphabet of Grace
on the work of writing:
"It is time to . . . go off to what it embarrasses me to call my work because it is my idiotic game instead, my solitaire, played out in an empty room where when I'm lucky, I manage to escape everything including the question whether there is anything anywhere that the world needs less in its pain than another lecture, another sermon, another book" (62).

"Then, as so often happens, just as I am ready to start writing, knowing pretty much what I want to say and excited about finding a way to say it well, something in me tries to get up and leave it--drink a glass of water, look out the window, read a magazine, [check blogs, surf the net, work on an unrelated blog post]. Just as the spell has a chance of working, I break it. Just as there is a chance of bringing light out of dark, I choose the dark, withdraw my hand from the hand I have reached out for" (88).
Annie Dillard's experience, as she tells it in her wonderful autobiography, The Writing Life, is similar.

Unfortunately, that writing comes hard, doesn't mean that one's writing sparkles with the sheer brilliance of a Buechner or a Dillard. And we can all use help becoming more efficient in our writing, and generally improving our craft. At least I can...

Better get to work before the babe wakes up!

*Who says blogging has to be timely?

Friday, December 19, 2008

SBL Retrospective (Nov 21-25)

This was my first SBL in three years, thanks to the arrival of "SiByL" last November, and other priorities the year before. My goal this year was to avoid spending too much money at the book display on important books I will never read. I was not completely successful, but how can you pass up the Tübinger Bibelatlas at just over 1/3 its list price?
(I notice Eisenbrauns has the Tübinger at 1/2 price during December--not too shabby!)

In other respects the conference was a success:
  • There was enough interaction with acquaintances new and old to satisfy the number one criterion of a good conference.
  • The 30 minute walk from my hotel to the convention center gave me the chance to get some exercise and sample the city, which is always a highlight--and Boston is a fine city. [Granted it was cold, but I'm from Saskatchewan.]
  • And, finally, there were enough interesting sessions to keep me thinking for some time to come.
Friday evening, I took in Joel Green's Institute for Biblical Research paper, "Acts as a Conversionist Narrative" (mentioned already here), and took advantage of the food and free books provided by BakerAcademic.

On Saturday I caught the excellent NT paper by Doug Moo on "Creation and New Creation" at IBR before heading out for a quick peak at the book display and lunch with contributors to the Online Critical Pseudepigrapha. Lunch must have gone late because I missed the first afternoon session and found myself wandering, once again, in the book display.

To keep this post manageable, I will simply list the other sessions I attended:


4:00-6:30 p.m. Paul and Scripture Consultation: Discussion of Bruce Fisk's paper, "Paul Among the Storytellers: Reading Romans 11 in the Context of Rewritten Bible" (full-text online), with discussion partners including Francis Watson, James Aageson, Linda Belleville, J. Ross Wagner, and Christopher Stanley.

7:00-8:00 p.m. SBL Presidential Address: Jonathan Z. Smith, "Religion and the Bible."


9:00 a.m. service at historic and lively Park Street Church off the Boston Common.

10:30 a.m. E. P. Sanders, Duke University, "Was Paul a Prooftexter? The Case of Galatians 3"

1:00-2:30 p.m. Archaeology of Jerusalem during the Second Temple and Byzantine Periods: I caught the end of Milton Moreland's minimalist presentation on "Roman Jerusalem as a Setting of Earliest Christianity," as well as Ronny Reich's talk on the pool of Siloam and Doron Ben-Ami's presentation on excavations in the city of David that have bearing on the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Both were fascinating. Archaeology presentations tend to have nice pictures too, which is nice.

Break for coffee and book browsing before the session I was most interested in. I found Miller's and Kuecker's presentations especially helpful:

4:00-6:30 p.m. Construction of Christian Identities: Ethnicity
James C. Miller, Asbury Theological Seminary - Ethnic Identity “in Christ” according to Paul
Whitney Shiner, George Mason University - Other People's Texts in the Memory of Non-Judean Participants in the Cult of Jesus
Julien C. H. Smith, Baylor University - The Construction of Identity in Mark 7:24–30: The Syrophoenician Woman and the Problem of Ethnicity
Aaron Kuecker, Trinity Christian College - “Ethnic Language” in Luke-Acts and the Construction of a Transethnic Social Identity
William “Chip” Gruen, Muhlenberg College - Constructing Monastic Identities: Ethnicity in the Lives of Anchoritic Monastics
(I especially regret missing the John Strugnell memorial session that conflicted with this one.)

There was no time for a break before the next conference highlight, a discussion of Martin Goodman's new book, Rome and Jerusalem, by an all-star panel chaired by Seth Schwartz, and made up of Shaye Cohen, Tessa Rajak, and John Barclay.


9:00-11:30 a.m. Book of Acts
F. Scott Spencer, Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond - The Rhetoric of Fear and Pity in the “Tragedy” of Ananias and Sapphira
David L. Eastman, Yale University - A Defense of Paul's Roman Citizenship by “Epiphanius”
James McConnell, Baylor University - The Rhetorical Use of Oracles in Plutarch's Lives and Old Testament Scripture in Luke-Acts: An Investigation (I had to step out for a sneezing fit during this one.)
Christoph Heil, Universität Graz - The “Godfearers”: A Phantom in the History of Early Christianity
Jennifer K. Berenson, Roanoke College - The Allusive Man of Macedonia

1:00 - 3:30 p.m. Historical Jesus: Rural-Urban Relations in First Century Galilee
Eric Meyers, Duke University - Contextualizing Rural-Urban Relations in First-Century Galilee
Jonathan L. Reed, University of La Verne - Morbidity and Mortality as a Socio-Economic Factor in Galilee
Mark A. Chancey, Southern Methodist University - Disputed Issues in the Study of Cities, Villages, and the Economy in Jesus' Galilee
Agnes Choi, University of Toronto - Choosing a Speciality: An Investigation of Regional Specialization in Galilee
Sean Freyne, Trinity College-Dublin - City and Village in Roman Galillee: Reexamining the Literary Evidence

4:00-4:40 p.m. John M. G. Barclay, Durham University - I Will Have Mercy on Whom I Will Have Mercy: Paul and Other Jews on Grace in the Desert (great paper; no abstract)

7:00-8:30 p.m. Panel discussion of Hanan Eshel's new book, The Dead Sea Scrolls And The Hasmonean State


9:00-11:30 a.m. Pauline Soteriology: Gift and Transformation: Agency and Grace in Pauline Theology
Alexandra R. Brown, Washington and Lee University - Divine and Human Agency in the Corinthian Correspondence
Stephen E. Fowl, Loyola College in Maryland - Grabbing and Being Grabbed: Gift, Transformation, and Formation in Paul
Murray Rae, University of Otago - Enabled by Grace: A Theological Account of Human Agency
Stephen Westerholm, McMaster University - “Splendid Vices”?: The Untransformed Moral Agent in Paul
Susan Eastman, Duke University, Respondent ...A great response, which led into a rich discussion.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

John Goldingay on Evil and the Exercise of Authority

"We are involved in a struggle against the ruling forces that are masters in a dark age. The powers of evil specialize in ruling, in exercising authority. As far as one can see from Genesis, there was no authority structure designed for human life in the world except the one contained in God. There was no authority of one human being over another until after sin came into the world: that was when people began to exercise domination over each other. There was no headship, no government. Human authority and resistance to human authority both belong to this age, not to the age of creation or the age of new creation. Whenever human authority is being exercised, we are in the realm where the powers of darkness operate.

"That applies to the world and to the church. When rectors or archdeacons or bishops give in to the temptation to act in an authoritarian way, or in a manipulative way, they act under the influence of the powers of darkness. When church councils or clergy either accept that kind of authority or rebel against it (you should listen to clergy talking about their bishops), they are working with the assumption that the church operates as an institution that belongs by its inner nature to this age. They are colluding with the powers of darkness. The same is true in a Christian community such as a theological college, in the way principal, tutors, and students operate. We get sucked into a way of working that is the way of the powers of darkness."

- John Goldingay, To the Usual Suspects: One Word Questions (Paternoster, 1998), 171-2.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Evangelical Bashing

One of the reasons I really like Nicholas Kristof is his willingness to commend Evangelicals for the relief work they do in the developing world. Some of Kristof's liberal NYT readers have more difficulty in this regard. Here is a sampling from the comments to Kristof's post, "A Huggable Evangelical":
  • Comment 18: "Are there any greater hypocrites then the evangelical christians in America? I’ve never seen a group so aggressively insist on following the tenets of the Bible and then in turn so universally ignore them."
  • Comment 19: "Too bad that the vitriolic believers in the evangelical churches have blinders on their mind. They would rather flock to the bombastic greedy power-hungry cheaters who talk a good talk but live corrupted lives."
  • Comment 22: "I will be more than happy to interact and work with evangelical Christians who really are Christians, not deranged barbarians with an old book and a lot of paranoid delusions. Maybe the NAE described above really does consist of the former."
  • Thankfully, comment 6 is not representative.
A typical conservative Evangelical response, I imagine, would be to attribute these comments to the persecution Christians inevitably experience. After all, "We should expect to be hated by the world for our allegiance to Christ."

Fine. Just make sure that that hatred is because of your allegiance to Christ. Sadly, Evangelicals today--unlike their ancient forebears--are more well-known for their strident views on a few so-called "social conservative" issues than for their care for the poor and socially marginalized.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Best thing I've read on pedagogy all year

Mark Goodacre points to some reflections by E.P. Sanders printed in the Duke graduate program in Religion faculty news on teaching Biblical Studies to undergrads. Sanders's piece on "Teaching and Learning" begins on page 3. Here's an excerpt:
I think that the greatest moment in a teacher’s life is seeing a student have an “ah ha” moment by his or her own endeavor. The instructor’s clever or even memorable phrasing is worth much less. I began my career by overestimating students: I did not realize how much they needed repetition and the practice of describing texts and ideas in their own words. The more patient I was, and the harder I worked at getting them to see things for themselves—rather than offering my own glib solutions of difficulties—the better I was at teaching and the more rewarding I found the activity. The hardest thing to do—at which I often failed in my early years—is to find the students’ own level. They are not at your level: few are as smart as you are,
and none know as much as you do. The best way to find their level is to give assignments early in the term that require them to write. And then you have to read their work carefully.
I confess I haven't read much on pedagogy this year, and this piece is fresh on my mind, but it is still very good. Read the whole thing.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


A new course on the docket for next semester is a third year book study of Acts. Here is how I introduce the course on the syllabus:

Acts is a riveting account of the progress of the Gospel despite shipwreck, persecution, Satanic opposition, and human unbelief. We read of prison escapes, miraculous healings, and disciples who testify to the resurrection of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. Though it is far from a conventional history in the modern sense, Acts is our earliest description of—and in many cases our only evidence for—the origins of the church in Jerusalem and its expansion through the Roman world. It is also a virtually indispensible framework for the interpretation of Paul’s letters.

But Acts is more than a window on the past. Its author, Luke, is a theologian as well as a historian who communicates his message through the way he tells his story. To recover it we must learn to read well, attending to the clues he provides through repetition, plot development, characterization, and the like. Reading attentively is also essential to discerning the significance of Acts in our own (post)modern contexts.

By the end of the course you will be able to summarize the plot of Acts, to trace Paul’s missionary journeys on a map of the ancient Mediterranean, to situate major events in their Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts, to identify major themes, to discuss the theology of Acts, and to recognize connections with the Gospel of Luke. You will also be familiar with major issues in current scholarship on Acts and, I hope, grateful for the ways in which contemporary scholarship can contribute to a deeper appreciation of this complex text. I hope too that you will grow more confident in your ability to identify the function of the stories contained in Acts and to see how the biblical story relates to our lives today. Most of all, I hope that we come away from our reading of Acts—this “dangerous document” as Beverly Roberts Gaventa describes it—challenged to more active discipleship, more committed to the church and its mission, more aware of the Holy Spirit’s work in our midst, and deeply grateful to God for the Gospel.

The success of this course and our own learning this semester depends on our joint engagement with Acts, with the assigned readings and with each other. Please consider this syllabus your learning contract: By choosing to take this course, you agree to prepare diligently, to participate in class actively, and to help create a positive learning environment for your fellow students.

The full syllabus can be downloaded here.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Susan Haber's new book

One book I purchased at SBL this year is They Shall Purify Themselves: Essays on Purity in Early Judaism (Brill/SBL, 2008). I bought it because it looks like a significant contribution to an important subject, but also because it is by Susan Haber, a friend and fellow grad-student at McMaster University who died suddenly of pancreatic cancer in 2006.

The monograph was edited by Adele Reinhartz, one of Susan's (and my) former professors.

I've heard of students who edit their professors' posthumous work. But a senior scholar who takes time out of a busy schedule to edit a student's work for publication--who does that?

The answer, I suppose, is someone who puts character before career.

Friday, December 5, 2008

ἡ παῖς μου περιπατεῖ!*

...Just a couple steps, a couple times this morning, but I think that counts. For logistical reasons we don't have pictures yet. These are from a week ago:

Of course, the event, no matter how dramatic, is of little significance if she does not continue to walk in the days to come--which reminds me of Joel Green's IBR paper a couple weeks ago on "Acts as a Conversionist Narrative." Green claims that the modern view of conversion as an internal event that occurs at a particular point in time is foreign to Luke. Though Luke sometimes compresses a process into a moment, conversion, for Luke, is a journey. I wasn't completely persuaded that Luke thinks conversion is always a process, but the larger point is well taken: Participation in the "Way" must be on-going.

*ἡ παῖς μου περιπατεῖ! means "my child is walking!"

Saturday, November 29, 2008


I am teaching Hermeneutics again next semester after a year's reprieve. (At Briercrest, Hermeneutics is a second year course required of students in all BA programs.) This time around I have attempted to align the assignments more closely with my overall goals for the course. I also reworked the course introduction in the syllabus:

This course is an apprenticeship in the craft of reading Scripture. We will practice reading skills—which, like any skill, require a lot of work to begin with—that are designed to mine its riches. We will consider how best to approach the diverse genres of biblical literature. We will reflect self-consciously on the reading process itself as we critically evaluate our own reading practices, and strive to develop more effective ones. And we will begin to grapple with persistent hermeneutical issues as we examine cultural and intellectual movements that have shaped the way the Bible has been read.

But the craft of reading Scripture requires more than skills and knowledge; it demands the development of habits, dispositions, discipline, and a willingness to listen attentively to others. This is especially true for Christians who affirm that the Bible is the Word of God that challenges and summons to a response. As you progress through this course, then, it is my hope that . . .
  • You will be convinced of the practical value of wide reading in, and careful study of, Scripture.
  • You will realize what you inevitably bring with you to the task of interpretation, including your presuppositions, your social and historical context, and your past experiences. As you do so, you will become more sensitive to the kinds of things that your background helps you see clearly, as well as to the kinds of things your background (and your bent human nature) keep you from seeing.
  • You will be eager to let your horizons be widened by encountering Scripture, and to let your readings be challenged by others whose backgrounds differ from your own.
  • You will recognize the importance of reading as part of the community of the Spirit, and of listening attentively to other readers past and present.
  • You will nurture an open mind that is willing to revisit questions and the evidence, as well as the humility that strives to learn from and be gracious towards those who arrive at different conclusions.
  • You will seek actively to acquire the wisdom needed to apply Scripture faithfully.
The full syllabus can be downloaded here.

Friday, November 28, 2008

CSBS 2008 Review - Part 3

I know, I know, I should get with the program and talk about SBL last weekend in Boston along with all the other bibliobloggers instead of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies Annual Meeting that was held almost six months ago. But a panel discussion on "A Week in the Life of an Academic" is especially timely at the tail-end of a busy semester, and several of the panelists' comments stuck with me.

I arrived in time to hear the first panelist, Michel Desjardins of Wilfrid Laurier University, saying "balance comes from within."

Next up was Terrence Donaldson, a New Testament professor at Wycliffe College, who recommended setting aside the first day of the work week for research before one is exhausted by other teaching, administrative or ministry demands. Or, as he might have put it, "pay yourself first."

Marion Taylor, an Old Testament professor also at Wycliffe College, talked about the challenges of raising a family when both spouses are full-time academics. Among other things she said that the old model--where the wife is expected to sacrifice her career goals to support her spouse--is obsolete. Couples must work as a team. I presume this means that neither is as academically "productive" as they would be on their own, for she added "don't worry about books you didn't write while kids are small." Family forces integration of academics and real life.

In contrast to the complete integration of academics and life exemplified by the Wycliffe College profs, Phil Harland (York University) insisted that academics is not life--at least not for someone who is not in "ministry." In addition to setting regular time each week aside for research, Phil tries to spend at least one day a week not working.


This is part 3 in a 2-part series. Part 4 dates from June 5.

Parts 1 and 2, alas, are destined for oblivion. There will be no summary of the three hour Dead Sea Scrolls session with papers on "Pseudo-autonomous Determinism" and abstracts that mention "1QS IX 5, 26, X 6 and CD XI 21." (The session might seem to reflect typical scholarly preoccupation with esoteric minutiae. But for those in the room who had read and taken courses on the scrolls, the discussion among a handful of scrolls scholars who care deeply about the texts and their social contexts was pulsating with life. One highlight I should mention was Eileen Schuller's report on the new edition of the Hodayot that will render all previous translations of the scrolls obsolete.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Powerlessness of Faith

“Paul did not believe in faith. He believed in God and emphasized faith—not because faith is powerful but because God is....Had Paul been interested in the power of faith, in the potency of our trusting, he might have organized ‘faith clinics’ in which he taught people how to ‘believe harder’ so that their faith would be more powerful. Then, of course, he would have said that God justifies the godly.”
– Leander E. Keck, Romans (ANTC; Nashville: Abingdon, 2005), 133 on Rom 4:23-25.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Augustine on the Hard Sayings of the Bible

Bill's comment reminded me of a great passage from Augustine's On Christian Doctrine. Since I don't have time to compose anything of my own, Augustine will have to do instead:
But many and varied obscurities and ambiguities deceive those who read casually, understanding one thing instead of another; indeed, in certain places they do not find anything to interpret erroneously, so obscurely are certain sayings covered with a most dense mist. I do not doubt that this situation was provided by God to conquer pride by work and to combat disdain in our minds, to which those things which are easily discovered seem frequently to become worthless.
Augustine illustrates his point with an allegorical reading of Song of Songs 4:2:
For example, it may be said that there are holy and perfect men with whose lives and customs as an exemplar the Church of Christ is able to destroy all sorts of superstitions.... But why is it, I ask, that if anyone says this he delights his hearers less than if he had said the same thing in expounding that place in the Canticle of Canticles where it is said of the Church, as she is being praised as a beautiful woman, 'Thy teeth are as flocks of sheep, that are shorn, which come up from the washing, all with twins, and there is none barren among them'? Does one learn anything else besides that which he learns when he hears the same thought expressed in plain words without this similitude? Nevertheless, in a strange way, I contemplate the saints more pleasantly when I envisage them as the teeth of the Church cutting off men from their errors and transferring them to her body after their hardness has been softened as if by being bitten and chewed....
And here is the point:
For the present, however, no one doubts that things are perceived more readily through similitudes and that what is sought with difficulty is discovered with more pleasure. Those who do not find what they seek directly stated labor in hunger; those who do not seek because they have what they wish at once frequently become indolent in disdain. In either of these situations indifference is an evil. Thus the Holy Spirit has magnificently and wholesomely modulated the Holy Scriptures so that the more open places present themselves to hunger and the more obscure places may deter a disdainful attitude. Hardly anything may be found in these obscure places which is not found plainly said elsewhere. - Saint Augustine: On Christian Doctrine, Book 2.6 (D.W. Robertson, trans.; New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1997), 37-38.
Whatever you make of the allegory, the pastoral point is still worth a hearing.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

F.F. Bruce on Evangelicals, Dogmatism and Scholarship

Making the rounds in Biblioblogdom is a great quote by F.F. Bruce on his hopes for the evangelical Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research:
No such conclusions [he is referring to pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic biblical scholarship] are prescribed for members of the Tyndale Fellowship. In such critical cruces, for example, as the codification of the Pentateuch, the composition of Isaiah, the date of Daniel, the sources of the Gospels, or the authenticity of the Pastoral Epistles, each of us is free to hold and proclaim the conclusion to which all the available evidence points. Any research worthy of the name, we take it for granted, must necessarily be unfettered. (F. F. Bruce, “The Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research,” The Evangelical Quarterly 19 (1947) 52-61) (HT: Michael Bird, who got it from Dan Reid)
Michael points to Bruce's autobiography and observes that the quote is surprising given that Bruce was "conservative as they come." This is true enough, though I got the impression from reading In Retrospect that Bruce was not as conservative as he let on. Here's another quote that hints at this:
A sense of security with regard to the foundations of faith and life encourages a spirit of relaxation with regard to many other matters. I am sure that an inner insecurity is often responsible for the dogmatism with which some people defend positions which are by their nature incapable of conclusive proof: there may be a feeling that, if those positions are given up, the foundations are in danger. I am sure, too, that a similar insecurity is responsible for the reluctance which some people show to acknowledge a change of mind on matters about which they once expressed themselves publicly: they may fear that their reputation for consistency is imperilled if they do . . . . Ultimately, the Christian’s faith is in a Person: his confession is ‘I know whom I have believed’, not ‘…what I have believed’ . . . . With this sense of liberty one can write freely – which is not the same thing as writing irresponsibly. A Christian will consider the probable effect of his words, whether spoken or written. - F.F. Bruce, In Retrospect: Remembrance of Things Past (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 172-3.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Kristof Defines an Intellectual

Here's how my favorite NYT columnist defines an intellectual in "Obama and the War on Brains":

An intellectual is a person interested in ideas and comfortable with complexity. Intellectuals read the classics, even when no one is looking, because they appreciate the lessons of Sophocles and Shakespeare that the world abounds in uncertainties and contradictions, and — President Bush, lend me your ears — that leaders self-destruct when they become too rigid and too intoxicated with the fumes of moral clarity.

(Intellectuals are for real. In contrast, a pedant is a supercilious show-off who drops references to Sophocles and masks his shallowness by using words like “fulgent” and “supercilious.”)
But, he adds:
As Mr. Obama prepares to take office, I wish I could say that smart people have a great record in power. They don’t. Just think of Emperor Nero, who was one of the most intellectual of ancient rulers — and who also killed his brother, his mother and his pregnant wife; then castrated and married a slave boy who resembled his wife; probably set fire to Rome; and turned Christians into human torches to light his gardens.

Two Approaches to Criticism

From Mark Elliott's review of Andrew T. Lincoln and Angus Paddison, eds., Christology and Scripture: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (London: T&T Clark, 2007):
"With the essays of Morgan and Lincoln we have a contrast of two styles, even attitudes. One is trying to be critical in the sense of asking questions about what were the probable factors at work in the expression of a witness that came to be known as the New Testament. Lincoln seems more interested to run the autopsy just to make sure the patient is dead."
Too bad for Lincoln.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Trouble with Unicode

I've been using Unicode when I work with Greek and Hebrew since the turn of the millenium. Unicode is great for all the reasons stated here. It is especially nice for Hebrew, because it keeps the correct right-to-left word order when there is a line break in the middle of a string of Hebrew text.

The problem--in my limited experience--is that most publishers remain wedded to legacy fonts. Until publishers and editors get on board, it is not true that "Unicode Fonts Unite Biblical Studies."

Monday, November 3, 2008

John Goldingay on Evangelicals and Scripture

I was preparing a rant--a, uh, pep talk--to deliver to my Gospels students as feedback on their first essays, when I read this, which says it for me:
If there are no aspects of scripture that they do not like and do not have to wrestle with, then they are kidding themselves. It means that they have bracketed them out or reinterpreted them. That is what as evangelicals we have to do. We know we have to accept all of scripture, so we make it mean something else so we can accept it. As a Bible teacher one of my basic concerns has become simply to get people to read the Bible with open eyes. Some people learn to, others do not. I want people to read the Bible, to be open to finding there things that they had not realized were there, to be enthralled and dazzled and appalled and infuriated and puzzled and worried and stimulated and kept awake at night by these extraordinary words from God, to let their mind and heart and imagination and will be provoked and astonished by them.
- John Goldingay, To the Usual Suspects: One Word Questions (Paternoster, 1998), 153-4.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Calling for a Moratorium on New Commentary Series

I recently checked the list of forthcoming commentaries on Jeremy Pierce's Parableman blog, and discovered 13 on Acts, 4 of which are due out this fall:
Loveday Alexander (Black's)
J. Bradley Chance (Smyth & Helwys)
Youngmo Cho (New Covenant)
Joel B. Green (NICNT, to replace F.F. Bruce)
Carl R. Holladay (New Testament Library)
Craig Keener (Eerdmans, not in a series)
Todd Penner (Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity)
Richard Pervo (Hermeneia, Nov 2008)
David Peterson (Pillar, probably late 2008 or early 2009)
Stanley Porter (NIGTC)
Mikeal C. Parsons (Paidaia, Nov 2008)
Eckhard J. Schnabel (Zondervan Exegetical)
Steve Walton, Acts 1-14 (Word, Nov 2008)
Steve Walton, Acts 15-28 (Word, Aug 2009)
J. Weatherley (Two Horizon's)
When you add in the 2007 contributions by Richard N. Longenecker (Expositor's) and Darrell Bock (Baker Exegetical), that makes 6 commentaries all coming out at more-or-less the same time--as if scholars wanted to be spared the burden of reading each other's work. These commentaries are in addition to the 50+ selected English language commentaries on Acts I included on my Acts syllabus for next semester.

A few of the forthcoming commentaries will join my old friends Gaventa, Fitzmyer, Johnson, Cadbury and Lake, Haenchen, Bruce, and especially Barrett, whose dry wit never fails to make me chuckle. Since I am teaching Acts next semester, I expect to purchase Pervo's and Walton's commentaries at SBL, perhaps Parsons' too, and I can't wait until Loveday Alexander's commentary in the reasonable-length Black's series comes out.

But why, friends, do we need a Zondervan Exegetical Commentary to go along with the Baker Exegetical Commentary and the Eerdmans Exegetical Commentary, etc.? Why do we need the 40 or so NT different commentary series on Jeremy's list if not to provide publishing opportunities for scholars and $ for publishers? As Max Weber observed long ago (and I read recently on Ben Myer's blog):
“Many elements conspire to render unlikely any serious possibility of a new communal religion borne by intellectuals…. Nor can a religious renascence be generated by the need of authors to compose books, or by the far more effective need of clever publishers to sell such books. No matter how much the appearance of a widespread religious interest may be simulated, no new religion has ever resulted from the needs of intellectuals or from their chatter. The whirligig of fashion will presently remove this subject of conversation and journalism, which fashion has made popular.”
Weber's prediction was wrong, but his diagnosis was, I think, correct in this case: Publishers sponsor commentary series because they can be counted on to sell consistently. Most of the commentaries will repeat the tired old comments that everyone else has made already. The result: Whoever wants to research a passage thoroughly has to wade through the sludge of similar material or ignore it altogether. It doesn't help scholarship. It doesn't really serve the church.

I wish more commentators would begin their writing with the customary apology for writing yet another commentary on this or that book, convince themselves that another commentary is not, in fact, needed and go on to something more productive for scholarship in general, and for the church in particular. What we need from a scholarly angle is more detailed long-term projects that actually make a contribution to knowledge--the kind that don't make money or advance careers in the short term. What we need from a pastoral angle is scholars who are in touch with the needs of the church, who are able to write well. The occasional popular level commentary by a fine scholar is okay, but we don't need 40 on each book.

Friday, October 31, 2008

John Goldingay on Worship and Theology

'Know then that Yahweh your God is God,' says Moses, and adds some further theological facts about Yahweh that the people are to know. It sounds like the essence of doing theology, and it is. But the NRSV rightly translates it as 'acknowledging' these facts about Yahweh, not just knowing them. It assumes that theology and commitment are one thing, not two things....When theological students are in the classroom they are not playing academic games. They are worshipping. And when they are in chapel, they are not playing religious games. They are knowing.

- John Goldingay, To the Usual Suspects: One Word Questions (Paternoster, 1998), 152.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

George Eliot on the Hermeneutical Circle

This quotation from George Eliot's Middlemarch sounds a lot like Schleiermacher's (1768-1834) concept of the "hermeneutical circle":
Lydgate talked persistently when they were in his work-room, putting arguments for and against the probability of certain biological views; but he had none of those definite things to say or to show which give the way-marks of a patient uninterrupted pursuit, such as he used himself to insist on, saying that 'there must be a systole and diastole in all inquiry,' and that 'a man's mind must be continually expanding and shrinking between the whole human horizon and the horizon of an object-glass' (Penguin Classics edition, 640).
I assumed at first that she got it from Schleiermacher himself. Since Eliot translated David Freidrich Strauss's Das Leben Jesu, and Strauss was influenced by Schleiermacher, it makes sense that she read Schleiermacher too. But I can't find any positive evidence that she did. However, we do know that Eliot read Spinoza, and if these two websites are correct it is Spinoza rather than Schleiermacher who first came up with the "hermeneutical circle."

Here's another dialogue that reminds me of romantic hermeneutics if not Schleiermacher in particular:
"I daresay not,' said Dorothea.... 'If you knew how it came about, it would not seem wonderful to you.'
'Can't you tell me?' said Celia, settling her arms cozily.
'No, dear, you would have to feel with me, else you would never know" (822).

Monday, October 27, 2008

John Goldingay on Clergy

"The clergy are simply paid functionaries whose position puts them in greater spiritual danger than anyone else in the church." - John Goldingay, To the Usual Suspects: One Word Questions (Paternoster, 1998), 149.


Semi-regular blogging will resume eventually.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Briercrest Faculty Blogs

To get my weekly Barth fix, I have subscribed to the new blogs by my theologian colleagues David Guretzki (Theommentary) and Dustin Resch ("...A Resch Like Me").

I've mentioned Old Testament prof Eric Ortlund's blog, Scatterings, before. The only other current faculty blogger I'm aware of is Danny Gamache, our business professor. Danny has been posting to his eponymous blog since the end of 2006. Are there others?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Good Things out of Briercrest

Charles Grebe--friend, colleague, and Briercrest Seminary grad--has created, an outstanding Biblical Hebrew website designed to accompany the Introductory Hebrew course he wrote for Briercrest Distance Learning. Lesser mortals would charge for these resources, but Charles wanted "to offer something to the community of those who have an interest in learning Biblical Hebrew."

Charles's latest edition is a Jonah comic, with audio, that can be viewed in multiple Hebrew scripts and translations:
Check it out!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Martin Hengel and Historical Criticism

Contrast the perspective of Troeltsch and Lüdemann with these excerpts from Larry Hurtado's tribute to Martin Hengel in The Expository Times:
[P]art of his aim has been to combine, quite deliberately and self-consciously, a profound theological concern with thorough and critical historical inquiry. For example, in the preface to Son of God (Eng. trans. 1976, vii), he indicated that in a time ‘when historical positivism and hermeneutical interest largely go their own ways in New Testament scholarship, it is vitally important to reunite historical research and the theological search for truth’.

In a still more vexed tone, in the preface to Paul Between Damascus and Antioch (1997, ix), Hengel decried in the current scholarly scene ‘a radical form of criticism which in the end must be said to be uncritical, because it wants neither really to understand the sources nor to interpret them, but basically destroys them in order to make room for its own fantastic constructions’.
So much for Lüdemann. Hurtado continues:
But, in the preface to his Acts and the History of Earliest Christianity 1979, vii), Hengel also rejected the misguided stance of those forms of Christian piety that exhibit what he called ‘the primitive ostracism of historical – and that always means critical – methods, without which neither historical nor theological understanding of the New Testament is possible’. In short, Hengel’s bold vision involved an unfettered and thoroughly critical historical approach that draws its motivation and energy from a passion for the Christian Gospel. That is, the sort of Christian faith-stance that Hengel sought to occupy is confident enough in the essential truth of the Gospel to allow the results of historical investigation to be determined by rigorous application of principles of thoroughness and critical analysis.
Hurtado concludes with the following evaluation:
First, Hengel has set a high standard of thoroughness of research that continues to instruct and inspire. Second, his frank acknowledgement of his Christian stance and theological concerns is commendable, both in its honesty and in his demonstration that (contrary to the anxieties of some) such a commitment can actually inspire dedicated and critical historical analysis that wins the praise of scholars of various faith-stances. Third, over against both anti-critical conservatism of a creedalistic or fundamentalist nature, and over against the now-fashionable disdain of the validity of critical historical investigation in some so-called ‘post-modernist’ circles, and also over against the tendency by some other NT scholars to play off critical historical study and hermeneutical concerns, Hengel’s body of work stands as a monumental refutation and inspiration.
Bibliography: Hurtado, Larry W. "Martin Hengel's Impact on English-Speaking Scholarship." Expository Times 120, no. 2 (2008): 70-6. (Click here [before Oct 31, 2008] to view the entire article along with the full content of every SAGE journal.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

The view from our backyard this (Canadian) thanksgiving morning:For the sake of comparison, this was sunset a week ago:
While I'm at it, here's Shoshana (Oct 8):
She started crawling last month (Sept 19), a week after uttering her first word, which was, appropriately, "uh oh!"

Her second word is "wow" (Oct 1):

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Why N.T. Wright is Not Totally Right

In an earlier post, I presented the evidence behind N.T. Wright's claim in his 1992 tome that most Jews thought of themselves as being, in some sense, in exile. Wright evidently faced some resistance on this point, because he returns to it in the introduction to Jesus and the Victory of God (1996), with this rejoinder:
"Without wishing to labour the point further, I would ask critics to face the question: would any serious-thinking first-century Jew claim that the promises of Isaiah 40-66, or of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, or Zechariah, had been fulfilled? That the power and domination of paganism had been broken? That YHWH had already returned to Zion? That the covenant had been renewed, and Israel's sins forgiven? That the long-awaited 'new exodus' had happened? That the second Temple was the true, final and perfect one? Or - in other words - that the exile was really over?" (xvii-xviii)
Well maybe. Wright's argument that "[t]he exile is not yet really over" (NTPG 269) because the promises mentioned in Isaiah and Ezekiel are never said to be fulfilled is one possible inference from the biblical prophets, but it doesn't substitute for evidence for what Second Temple Jews actually believed about the exile and their own situation. I have no quarrel with the idea that most Jews thought the words of the prophets had not been completely fulfilled, but it doesn't necessarily follow that they believed they were in exile long after the Persian period. As an analogy, consider how early Christians concluded that some prophecies had been fulfilled in Jesus' life, death and resurrection, while others awaited future fulfilment. Why couldn't the returnees from Babylon have done the same thing, assigning some prophecies to the return under Ezra and Nehemiah, and others to the future? Jews may have read the prophets in the way Wright proposes, but there is no reason why they had to read them this way.

And, in fact, there is good evidence that many did not:

First, when we examine the passages cited by Wright more closely, we see that they are, with one exception, set during or very soon after the Babylonian exile. Since Neh 9:36 was composed so close to the exile, it can hardly serve as evidence for typical Jewish thinking in the following 500 years. Tobit is written in the Diaspora from the perspective of a Diaspora Jew, and set (fictiously) during the Assyrian exile. Like Tobit, the fictive setting of Baruch is exile--this time the Babylonian exile. And the prayer in 2 Macc 1:27-29 is attributed to Nehemiah, who lived just after the return from exile. To be fair, Tobit describes the common hope for a restoration of the 12 tribes of Israel in the language of return from exile, and Baruch's expression of this same hope (4-5) draws on the language of Isaiah 40-66. However, I don't think we should conclude from the fictive setting of Tobit and Baruch that their authors still regarded themselves as being in exile. At any rate, that the desire for the restoration of the 12 tribes of Israel is associated in these texts with the concepts of exile and return does not make exile a ubiquitous concept.

The only passage cited by Wright that is not set during or shortly after the exile is CD 1.3-8, from the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, we need to be careful not to treat the Dead Sea Scrolls as representative of what most Jews believed. The Qumran community was, after all, a self-consciously sectarian group that saw itself in opposition to the rest of Israel.

Some Jews in some contexts may have likened the Diaspora, or life under Roman rule, as an exile of sorts, but we need to be careful not to extrapolate these scattered statements as the dominant metaphor for all of life.

On the positive side, Josephus begins his account of the return from exile by emphasizing the fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy about a 70-year exile:
In the first year of Cyrus's reign--this was the seventieth year from the time when our people were fated to migrate from their own land to Babylon--God took pity on the captive state and misfortune of those unhappy men and, as He had foretold to them through the prophet Jeremiah...He would again restore them to the land of their fathers and they should build the temple and enjoy their ancient prosperity, so did He grant it them. (Ant. 11.1-2)
Cyrus commanded the rebuilding of the temple, Josephus adds, because he had read "the book of prophecy which Isaiah had left behind two hundred and ten years earlier" (Ant. 11.5). Though he does not have a lot of source material to work with, Josephus's depiction of post-exilic life through the reign of John Hyrcanus is generally very positive. He criticizes the later Hasmonean rulers, and of course believed that the destruction of Jerusalem in his own time was a result of divine judgement that paralleled the Babylonian exile, but Josephus does not regard "exile" as a useful category to describe daily life before 70 CE.

Nor, apparently, does Philo of Alexandria, as Louis Feldman explains in this somewhat convoluted quotation:
"That...Philo does not regard the Jews, who, in his day, were living in the Diaspora as "exiles" in this sense [of punishment for sin] may be deduced from his statement (Virt. 19.117) that God may with a single call easily gather together from the ends of the earth to any place that He wills the exiles...dwelling in the utmost parts of the earth. The word which he here uses for exiles connotes those who have emigrated, who have settled in a far land, and who have been sent to colonize it, and has not the connotation of having been punished thus." - Louis Feldman, "The Concept of Exile in Josephus," in Exile: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Conceptions (James M. Scott, ed.; Leiden: Brill, ), 146.
(See also the similar summary of Philo's view on exile by John Byron in Slavery Metaphors in Early Judaism and Early Christianity [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003], 102-3.)

My biggest problem with Wright's model is that it requires an unduly negative view of first-century Jewish life. It is not so much that Wright is critical of first-century Judaism as that he requires first-century Jews to be critical of themselves: Since exile was regarded as divine punishment, Wright maintains that most Jews thought their nation was living under God's judgement. Again, Wright needs this to be true for his model of forgiveness-as-return-from-exile to work. It is a flawed historical model moulded to serve a theological purpose, and is rightly criticized as such by Martin Goodman.

The model is flawed not only because it fails to consider the range of evidence, but also because it is unimaginative. Wright's somber, dire portrait of a people in distress, desperate for God to act contrasts sharply with the humour of a Tobit or the temple celebration described in the Letter of Aristeas, or the apologetic historiography of Josephus, etc.

In sum, Christians are conditioned by the trajectory of the New Testament to think that everyone read their Scripture the same way, that there was, in fact, only one right way to read. The reality then, as now, is more complex. We are wise to have a healthy suspicion toward reconstructions of what "most Jews" believed, especially those that support Christian theology too well. They are often too good to be true.

This is the third and hopefully final post on this topic. Here are the other two:
The Myth of a Continuing Exile
N.T. Wright on the Continuing Exile

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Turkey Travel Bug

I've noticed a pattern developing over the last few years: By the time April comes around and courses are done for the year, leaving a mountain of marking in their wake, I come down with the travel bug.

Two years ago, we responded by taking a two-week trip to Turkey with our friends D&D. The trip fulfilled one of my long-standing dreams, and the resulting Turkey Travelogue jump-started this blog. Next year I will be going with a team from Briercrest on a tour of Israel. This spring--when I conceived this post--I found myself dreaming about returning to Turkey and the Middle East for a more extensive, more rugged, Greco-Roman/Early Christian archaeological extravaganza.

One can, of course, go on a guided tour. These handle a lot of the logistical details and minimize down-time between sites. Assuming you like the itinerary, they take you where you want to go. But they are expensive, they tend to restrict the amount of time you can spend at any given site, and most tours "In the footsteps of Saint Paul"--including this one that looks decent--don't actually follow Paul's itinerary through what is now Eastern Turkey. Instead, they focus on the popular sites along the Aegean that we visited, plus a dip down to Antalya on the Mediterranean. (These two tour options look more promising.)

If you are fortunate enough to travel with someone who knows how to get around in Turkey (as we were), you can do a trip on your own time for a lot less money, replacing the guide with a guidebook or two, such as the excellent Blue Guide, or one more focused on early Christianity such as Every Pilgrim's Guide to the Journeys of the Apostles or A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey. (I haven't seen the latter two.) For those interested in hiking, there is actually a 500km St. Paul Trail that follows parts of Paul's first missionary journey, and another 509km hiking trail that ends near ancient Perga in Pamphylia (modern day Antalya). The only down-side to this option is that you are limited by public transport, and end up spending many hours waiting for bus connections to major centers.

A more efficient alternative would be to rent a vehicle (and probably hire a Turkish driver). My dream itinerary would follow Paul's travels fairly closely, with stops at other ancient Greco-Roman sites, some of which are more valuable for understanding the ancient context of early Christianity. Since I'm dreaming, I'll include ancient Damascus and Antioch in Syria, as well as sites in Lebanon.

My dream tour would include a small group of people who share my enthusiasm for ancient ruins...and a good source of funding.

Want to come along?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Ernst Troeltsch on the Historical Method and Biblical Scholarship

April DeConick points to a new article by Gerd Lüdemann with the following superscription:
The historical method, once it is applied to biblical scholarship and church
history, is a leaven which transforms everything and which finally causes the
form of all previous theological methods to disintegrate. Give historical
method your little finger and it will take your whole hand.
—Ernst Troeltsch

Update: For an illustration, see John Hobbins's fascinating interview with Alan Lenzi at

The article, "Acts of Impropriety: The Imbalance of History and Theology in Luke-Acts" (TJT 24.1 [2008]: 65-79), is available on Lüdemann's website here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

N.T. Wright on the Continuing Exile

A few people asked me (in person and online) why I disagree with N.T. Wright's view that most Jews saw themselves as being in a state of continuing exile. I'll have to save my explanation for another post, because this summary of the evidence for Wright's view is already long enough:

In a rough-and-ready nutshell, Wright has argued that most Jews saw Roman domination as a continuation of the exile. Since the biblical promises of restoration (esp. in Isaiah 40-66) hadn't been fulfilled in the way they expected, they believed they were still living under divine punishment, and longed for divine intervention, which would ultimately signal divine forgiveness. So when Jesus came announcing the forgiveness of sins as part of the coming kingdom of "god," he was understood as proclaiming the return from exile and all that goes with it. To everyone's surprise, Jesus set out to end the exile by heading for the Jerusalem temple, where "the satan" had set up shop. There Jesus assumed Israel's role, and viewed his own death, as Israel, as atonement for the sins of the nation.

Wright's model seems to fit Jesus realistically into his first-century Jewish context, while making excellent--if unconventional--sense of much of the New Testament. For it to work, Wright needs to be able to show that many, if not most, Jews thought they were still in exile. The evidence for his view, presented on pp. 268-71 of The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), is as follows:

1) Isa 52:8 and Ezek 43:1-7 envision YHWH's return to Zion. "Nowhere in second-temple literature is it asserted that this has happened: therefore it still remains in the future. The exile is not yet really over" (NTPG 269).

2) Nehemiah 9:36 is part of a Deuteronomic prayer of repentance composed soon after the return from Babylon. Wright thinks it was "typical" of post-exilic piety: "Here we are, slaves to this day -- slaves in the land that you gave to our ancestors to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts."

3) A passage found among the Dead Sea Scrolls connects return from exile with the origins of the sect:
For when they were unfaithful and forsook Him, He hid His face from Israel and His Sanctuary and delivered them up to the sword. But remembering the Covenant of the forefathers, He left a remnant to Israel and did not deliver it up to be destroyed. And in the age of wrath, three hundred and ninety years after He had given them into the hand of king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, He visited them, and He caused a plant root to spring from Israel and Aaron to inherit His Land and to prosper on the good things of His earth" (CD 1.3-8; Vermes).
4) Tobit 14.5-7 (ca. 3rd century BCE) envisions a future return from exile:
5 But God will again have mercy on them, and God will bring them back into the land of Israel; and they will rebuild the temple of God, but not like the first one until the period when the times of fulfillment shall come. After this they all will return from their exile and will rebuild Jerusalem in splendor; and in it the temple of God will be rebuilt, just as the prophets of Israel have said concerning it. 6 Then the nations in the whole world will all be converted and worship God in truth. They will all abandon their idols, which deceitfully have led them into their error; 7 and in righteousness they will praise the eternal God. All the Israelites who are saved in those days and are truly mindful of God will be gathered together; they will go to Jerusalem and live in safety forever in the land of Abraham, and it will be given over to them. Those who sincerely love God will rejoice, but those who commit sin and injustice will vanish from all the earth. (NRSV)
5) Bar 3.7-8 (ca. 2nd century BCE) seems to confirm that Nehemiah's prayer is typical:
7 For you have put the fear of you in our hearts so that we would call upon your name; and we will praise you in our exile, for we have put away from our hearts all the iniquity of our ancestors who sinned against you. 8 See, we are today in our exile where you have scattered us, to be reproached and cursed and punished for all the iniquities of our ancestors, who forsook the Lord our God. (NRSV)
6) A letter included in 2 Macc 1.27-9 attributes to Nehemiah a prayer for God to "Gather together our scattered people, set free those who are slaves among the Gentiles, look on those who are rejected and despised, and let the Gentiles know that you are our God. 28 Punish those who oppress and are insolent with pride. 29 Plant your people in your holy place, as Moses promised."

On the basis of these passages, Wright concludes that "until the Gentiles are put in their place and Israel, and the Temple, fully restored, the exile is not really over, and the blessings promised by the prophets are still to take place" (270).

This is the second of three posts on this topic. Here are the first and third:
The Myth of a Continuing Exile
Why N.T. Wright is Not Totally Right

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Biblical Studies Opening in Dubai

Here's one you won't find listed at the SBL Career Center: I received the following email this morning from a certain Kumar Ali of Dubai:
Dear applicant,

we have found a suitable job for you in the Gulf area which matches your interests and your qulifications, to apply kindly log on to and submit your C.V as soon as possible

Kind regards,
Recruitment dept
Who knew universities in the Persian Gulf were hiring in New Testament studies?

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Sacred Bridge - A Recommendation for the Second Edition

I purchased a copy of Anson F. Rainey and R. Steven Notley's The Sacred Bridge: Carta's Atlas of the Biblical World (Jerusalem: Carta, 2006), a couple years ago when I still trusted publishers' blurbs. Though it is nothing in comparison to the Barrington Atlas, The Sacred Bridge is in many ways a tremendous achievement, with fabulous maps, a first-rate critical academic discussion of everything related to the historical geography of the Bible, and extensive primary sources presented in their original languages. (See the positive RBL review here.)

I read through several chapters as bed-time reading to justify the investment, and learned a lot, but I found it hard, at times, to relate the text to the accompanying maps and illustrations.

Even more frustrating, the atlas has no dedicated map index. Earlier this week I was looking for a map with the places mentioned in Acts 2:9-11:
Parthians, Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene, and Roman visitors, both Ioudaioi and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs...
I found one easily enough in the chapter on "The Early Days of the Church" (page 371), but the map did not include Elam. Turning to the index I found 15 page references after the entry for Elam, only 5 of which contain a map with Elam on it. What kind of atlas lacks a map index?

Hopefully, someday I will be able to announce on this blog that this problem has been rectified in the second edition of The Sacred Bridge and its abridgement, Carta's New Century Handbook and Atlas of the Bible, and that Carta has sent me a free copy...

Monday, September 22, 2008

History, Criticism and Christian Conviction - Part 1

I once dreamed I was trying to explain the difference between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith to a close relative. It was a nightmare really, brought on, I suspect, by reading Albert Schweitzer's brilliant Quest of the Historical Jesus. In his introduction Schweitzer explains that "hate as well as love can write a life of Jesus, and the greatest of them are written with hate" (4). He was thinking of Reimarus, and perhaps also of himself, for unlike many of his contemporaries whose Jesus was "only the reflection of Liberal Protestant face, seen at the bottom of a deep well" (George Tyrrell), Schweitzer did not like the deluded apocalyptic Jew he discovered. In an unforgettable passage, Schweitzer describes 'his' Jesus, who
"comes...and in the knowledge that he is the coming Son of Man lays hold of the wheel of the world to set it moving on that last revolution which is to bring all ordinary history to a close. It refuses to turn, and he throws himself upon it and is crushed" (370).
Schweitzer began with what he regarded as three assured results of scholarship: Markan priority, an apocalyptic Jesus, and naturalism--God may exist, but miracles do not. His review of the quest is a fascinating tale of conflict between confessional and secular scholarship in 19th century Germany. Sound familiar?

This brings me, in a roundabout way, to Nick's comment on my post (from back at the beginning of August) on Bill Arnal: "So what do you make of his [Bill's] charge that confessional scholars must necessarily find affirmative results in their investigation of the historical beginnings of their faith? It seems a fair question to ask."

I think he has a point. Conservative scholarship on the historical Jesus all too often unfolds like a Hollywood movie: You can enjoy the action because you know that everything will turn out in the end and that the ‘right’ answers you had at the beginning will be confirmed. Whatever the intentions of those involved, it seems like some scholars treat history as a game of lining up criteria and evaluating the evidence in order to confirm what they thought all along. The result tends to be predictable and rather dull.

Of course, we bring our past knowledge and experiences, our presuppositions, to everything we do. I am not advocating methodological doubt. It is fine to begin with a hypothesis that the narrative of Acts, for example, is reliable, and then test it as Colin Hemer and William Ramsay apparently did. But to study a historical question is to enter into the possibility of being wrong. It is not a safe enterprise.

The same goes for study of the Bible. Often this functions positively: Because the Bible is not safe, those who approach it as Scripture are challenged and shaped by studying it. Sometimes, however, a careful reading will lead--for some people on some occasions--to questions that deal with issues which are central to faith. For this reason too, honest study of the Bible is not a safe enterprise.

To be continued...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dispatches from Koine Greek Land - Part 2

The biggest downside to Reconstructed Koine so far is that, like Modern Greek, the short 'o' vowel, omicron (ο), and the long 'o' vowel, omega (ω), are pronounced the same. Both letters are common and the similarity in sound means that it is easier to confuse the spelling of words.

Another downside is that I can't encourage my students to take advantage of oral resources designed for Erasmian, such as Danny Zacharias's excellent NT Greek Vocabulary Expansion Packs (the pictures are still nice), Jonathan Pennington's vocab and NT recordings, or Ken Berding's Sing and Learn New Testament Greek.

On the other hand, to my ear Reconstructed Koine sounds much more like a real language than the pronunciation system commonly used in North America, and I think the students can already appreciate that.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The limits of historical study of religion

I find the comments of Israeli scholar, Daniel R. Schwartz, on the limits of a historical study of religion an interesting contrast with the secular approach I described last month (here):
[A]ny historical study of religion has its bounds: there are data, at times very important ones for a religion, which historians must leave untouched. Christianity is based upon one such datum: the perceived resurrection of Jesus, without which the movement would certainly have disappeared along with the movements following other charismatic figures in first-century Judaism. But resurrection is not susceptible to historical verification, analysis or explanation. Similarly, calls from heaven, such as that to Paul on the way to Damascus, are not susceptible to historical verification, analysis or explanation. Resurrection, calls from heaven and the like can figure in historical studies only as perceptions which, as such, functioned and entered into chains of causation. The sincerity of these perceptions needs no more proof than the numerous martyrdoms which literally testified to them.
- Daniel R. Schwartz, "Introduction: On the Jewish Background of Christianity," in Studies in the Jewish Background of Christianity (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1992), 2.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Myth of a Continuing Exile

"The notion that Jews in the late Second Temple period saw themselves as sinners permanently punished by God and in need of salvation from the sufferings of exile and Roman domination is a myth expressed particularly by New Testament scholars in order to provide a theological grounding for the mission of Jesus to Israel. The most that can be said is that some wicked actions, like the internecine struggles and other sins of the Hasmonaeans in the 60s BCE, could be having brought about specific national disasters such as the capture of Jerusalem by Pompey in 63 BCE."
So says Martin Goodman in Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations (London: Penguin, 2007), 194, and I agree. Although it is more nuanced than Goodman's summary suggests, N.T. Wright's view that most Jews still saw themselves as being in exile (in some sense) is wrong.

On the other hand, after teaching Mark 1 in class this afternoon, I am reminded again how well Wright's model explains the introduction to Mark's Gospel. Mark certainly uses the imagery of exile and return metaphorically to describe the activity of John--the voice calling in the wilderness (Isa 40:3)--and Jesus, whose Gospel ministry John prepared.

This is the first of three posts on this topic. Here are the other two:
N.T. Wright on the Continuing Exile
Why N.T. Wright is Not Totally Right

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Reconstructed Koine Greek Alphabet Song

My faculty assistant, a Briercrest College grad and future biblical scholar, Luke Johnson, was kind enough to compose and teach my students a catchy Greek alphabet song using the reconstructed Koine pronunciation. They loved it!

With Luke's permission, I have uploaded his recording here. Luke also sent me a pdf with the chords for anyone with the requisite guitar skills. (The recording may seem a bit fast, but the song can be played slower, and is suited to a call-and-response format.)

Dispatches from Koine Greek Land - Part 1

Reconstructed Koine pronunciation is more difficult for English-speaking students to learn than Erasmian. That difficulty was compounded by my requiring students to learn the alphabet along with the standard English transliteration system, which is based on Erasmian. That said, students seemed to be having the most trouble with traditional problems: ν looks like an English 'v', but is prounounced like an English 'n'; ρ looks like an English 'p', but is pronounced like an English 'r', and so on.

On Saturday afternoon, at the end of our 9 hours of "language camp," one of my students described how her Spanish teacher in South America spent a lot of time just talking to them in Spanish. In retrospect, I wish I had done a lot more talking or reading in Greek, and a bit less time up front trying to get them to talk.

So while I can hear the question, "is it really worth it?", I am more convinced than ever of the importance of extended exposure to the sound of the language. I'm pretty sure that confidence pronouncing the language fluidly, if not fluently, goes a long way toward easing the challenge of facing and translating unfamiliar texts.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Dead Air

It has been a very busy two and a half weeks. We were in Indiana over the long weekend for my sister's wedding: "We have folks who came from as far away as . . . Say-sketch-ee-wan. Did I say that right?" The next day in church I had this awkward conversation:

Lady: Where are you from?
d.: Saskatchewan
Lady: My geography is a little weak. Is that near where your brother lives?
(Long pause, as I ponder whether she thinks Saskatchewan is near the South Asian country where my brother normally resides, or merely near Ontario where he is on leave. I decide on the latter option.)
d.: Um...Saskatchewan is north of North Dakota. My brother lives in Ontario, which is north of Michigan.
Lady: Oh.

The conversation went down-hill from there, as much because of my stunted small-talk skills as anything else. But it was great to be at the wedding and to catch up with family!

Before our Indiana trip I tried unsuccessfully to complete second semester syllabi by our August 31 deadline. This evening I am putting the finishing touches on class prep for Introductory Greek language camp, which begins tomorrow afternoon and runs all day Saturday. Once that is done, I need to prepare for my first Monday evening Greek Exegesis II class. Then, perhaps, I will have time to polish off one of the dozen or so posts fermenting in my draft folder.

Oh, and I'm also trying to teach my daughter how to say upsilon in Reconstructed Koine:
She's got the 'ooh' part down, anyway.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Reconstructed Koine Greek Pronunciation

As I mentioned earlier, I am planning to use Randall Buth's "Reconstructed Koine" Greek pronunciation in my Introductory Greek class this year. I have prepared a handout and a few recordings for my students which I am happy to make available here:
  • The handout attempts to present Buth's system clearly using English examples. (Buth tends to cite Arabic, German and Spanish examples, which are beyond the linguistic competence I can expect from my students.) The handout is intended to replace charts on pp. 8-10 of Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003). See below for a summary of the differences between Erasmian and Reconstructed Koine.
  • Randall includes a few audio samples on his website, but no recording of the alphabet, so I made my own. The alphabet and the first diphthong recording follow the order on the handout. The second diphthong recording spells the dipthongs before pronouncing them.
  • Update: Don't miss the Reconstructed Koine Greek Alphabet Song (courtesy of Luke Johnson).
  • Suggestions for improvement (and feedback in general) are welcome!
My rationale for changing pronunciation systems is simple: Languages are best learned in a living environment that involves hearing, speaking, and writing as well as reading. If one is going to the effort to speak ancient Greek, one might as well learn a reasonably accurate pronunciation. It is well known that the standard Erasmian system doesn't cut it. Side benefits include insight into textual variations caused by errors of hearing, and an easier transition into Modern Greek.

Buth defends his pronunciation choices here. His system is apparently close to the conclusions reached by Geoffrey Horrocks and Francis Gignac; it is also close to Modern Greek pronunciation.

Summary of the Differences between Erasmian and Reconstructed Koine

There are only three major differences in the pronunciation of letters:
  • β is pronounced as ‘v’ instead of ‘b’
  • δ is pronounced as ‘dh’ instead of ‘d’
  • ο is pronounced as a long ‘o’ like ω
Most of the diphthongs have changed:
  • αι is prounounced like ε (met) instead of as ‘eye’
  • ει is pronounced like ι (‘ee’) instead of ‘eh?’
  • οι is pronounced like υ instead of ‘oy’
  • αυ, ευ, ηυ are pronounced ‘av’, ‘ev’ and ‘ehv’ or ‘af’, ‘ef’ and ‘ehf’ instead of ‘ow!’ and ‘ew!’
Other minor changes:
  • ι is always a long ‘ee’ sound
  • γ is pronounced ‘gh’ instead of ‘g’
  • π, τ, κ are unaspirated which makes them sound close to b, d, and g.
  • ζ is pronounced ‘z’ instead of ‘dz’