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