Saturday, January 31, 2009

Did Augustine need the Bible?

I had my Hermeneutics class read the following from Augustine's On Christian Doctrine:
And thus a man who is resting upon faith, hope and love, and who keeps a firm hold upon these, does not need the Scriptures except for the purpose of instructing others. Accordingly, many live without copies of the Scriptures, even in solitude, on the strength of these three graces. So that in their case, I think, the saying is already fulfilled: "Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away." [1 Cor 13:8] (On Christian Doctrine, Book 1, Chapter 39)
Someone asked: "Did Augustine think he had arrived at the place where he no longer needed the Bible?"

I replied: "I don't know. Wish I could ask him."

A few days later I found the answer on Dustin Resch's blog, who quotes from a letter Augustine wrote to one Volusianus:
"For such is the depth of the Christian Scriptures, that even if I were attempting to study them and nothing else from early boyhood to decrepit old age, with the utmost leisure, the most unwearied zeal, and talents greater than I have, I would be still daily making progress in discovering their treasures; not that there is so great difficulty in coming through them to know the things necessary to salvation, but when any one has accepted these truths with the faith that is indispensable as the foundation of a life of piety and uprightness, so many things which are veiled under manifold shadows of mystery remain to be inquired into by those who are advancing in the study, and so great is the depth of wisdom not only in the words in which these have been expressed, but also in the things themselves, that the experience of the oldest, the ablest, and the most zealous students of Scripture illustrates what Scripture itself has said: 'When a man has done, then he begins' (Sirach 18:6).” (Epistle 137)
Thanks Dustin! I'll be using this in class next week--both because of Augustine's statement about Scripture and because of his quotation from Sirach as Scripture at the end.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


"There's nothing harder than learning how to receive."

From the Over the Rhine song I can't stop listening to this week:

The lyrics and a free mp3 to "All I need is everything" can be found here.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Helter Skelter

In case anyone wonders, a very full second semester began two weeks ago (a couple days after my last post), and I am trying to stay afloat. With four courses, including one new prep, and 160+ students, this one may well be the busiest yet. My schedule:





8:30 – 9:45 Gospels

8:00 – 11:00

8:30 – 9:45 Gospels

8:00 – 12:00

10:00 – 12:00

10:00 – 12:00

11:00-12:00 Office Hour

12:20 – 1:10 Greek II

12:20 – 1:10 Greek II

12:20 – 1:10 Greek II

12:20 – 1:10 Greek II

1:30 – 2:30

1:30 – 2:30

1:30 – 2:30

1:30 – 2:30

2:40 – 3:55 Acts

2:40-3:55 Hermeneutics

2:40 – 3:55 Acts

2:40-3:55 Hermeneutics

4:00 – 5:15

4:00 – 5:15

4:00 – 5:15 Office Hour

4:00 – 5:15

Like last year at this time, my week works like this:
When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide
Where I stop and turn and I go for a ride
Till I get to the bottom and I see you again
(cue the U2 version of "Helter Skelter")
Classes seem to have got off to a good start, though.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Gleanings from Calvin

After reading the Prefatory Address to King Francis and the first four chapters of Calvin's Institutes, I am impressed with his knowledge of Scripture (it would take me a long time to be able to prooftext that good!), his hatred of anabaptists, and his vision of God. Here are a few excerpts on the last topic:
"For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him--they will never yield him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him." (II. 1)

"For the pious mind . . . restrains itself from sinning, not out of dread of punishment alone; but, because it loves and reveres God as Father, it worships and adores him as Lord. Even if there were no hell, it would still shudder at offending him alone." (II.2)

"Accordingly, whoever heedlessly indulges himself, his fear of heavenly judgment extinguished, denies that there is a God." (IV.2)

Friday, January 9, 2009

Reading the Good Book Well: Jerry Camery-Hoggatt's Guide to Marcionite Interpretation

I finally stumbled upon the hermeneutics textbook I have spent years looking for--something suitable for first and second year college students, methodologically sophisticated, a book my students will actually read (and enjoy).

First clue: The blurb on the back says that Camery-Hoggatt writes academic stuff "In addition to his popular fiction." I picked up a copy at the Abingdon booth at SBL, not expecting much from yet another guide to reading Scripture, and could hardly put it down. Here is an example, chosen more or less at random:

Picture an archivist who works at a Hollywood film studio, carefully examining an old black and white film. In my mind's eye, she's using one of those cool monocles, leaning in close over a light table, examining the frames one at a time. This is, in fact, an important thing to do--for an archivist. But it's not what we do when we see a film in a theater. The individual frames pass before a light one at a time, but the mind blends them together into a fluid, moving picture on the screen. Within the mind, an even higher level of blending takes place, so that we're only tacitly aware of the moving pictures; what really makes our brainpans crackle are the plot sequences, the motivations of characters, the frustrations that occur as the plot complicates, the ironic twists, the tricks and traps. We hiss at the villains and admire the heroes; we learn to care about them, and we may even cry when they bite the dust.

When was the last time you cried when you read a biblical story? When was the last time you were surprised or hung on the plot, not breathing until the complications resolved themselves? Such things only happen when we read fluidly.

Jerry Camery-Hoggatt, Reading The Good Book Well: A Guide To Biblical Interpretation (Nashville: Abingdon, 2007), 205-6.
The guy knows how to write. One gets the sense the book is the product of years of teaching, not something rushed into print to gain tenure. It is chock full of funny and gripping illustrations, as well as crystal clear explanations of complex concepts. I discovered it too late to use as a textbook, but I expect to draw on it liberally in class this semester. My teaching will be the better for it.

There is only one problem: I counted five references to the Old Testament in the whole book, most of which are cited to illustrate a New Testament passage. (I missed a few: The index cites 10 OT books or passages, but compare that to 68 references to the NT.) Camery-Hoggatt is not an actual Marcionite, of course, but the book should probably be subtitled A Guide to New Testament Interpretation or --since the rest of the NT is hardly mentioned--A Guide to the Gospels.

Well, maybe two problems: Perhaps because I'm not as keen on social-scientific approaches, I found myself disagreeing with Camery-Hoggatt's actual examples of interpretation more often than not--but I can live with that in a textbook. More problematic for me because it smashes one of my hot-buttons is Camery-Hoggatt's statement that "rabbinic convictions place theory over pactice" (207). This is simply wrong. It perpetuates negative Christian stereotypes about Judaism and should be edited out of the next edition.

These caveats aside--no books does everything, and I don't want to condemn a book simply for having the wrong title--Reading the Good Book Well is, in many respects, still miles ahead of the competition. I will most likely adopt it as a textbook next year.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Reading Calvin's Institutes

I got a deal on Calvin's Institutes Of The Christian Religion in seminary. To maintain theological equilibrium I always shelve them next to the 3 volume Works of James Arminius, but unfortunately both remain among the unread books that line my study walls.
That will change this year, I hope, thanks to Princeton Seminary's read-the-Institutes-in-a-year plan to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth. At just a few pages a day, the reading schedule is not too demanding, and it's not too late to join in. You don't even have to own your own copy: Along with the reading schedule, this website provides the text for each day as well as a podcast version for those on the move.
Anyone up for the Works of Arminius in 2010?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Unfulfilled prophecy in Jeremiah

Early last year t. and I decided to read the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament backwards. It has been far too long since I read through the OT, and the idea was to start with the least familiar. We are reading the NJPS TANAKH translation in the Jewish Study Bible, but following the usual Protestant order. This morning we finished Jeremiah.

The translation is different enough to be refreshing, and the notes--references to Rabbinic discussions mixed in with standard historical-critical commentary by first-rate Jewish scholars--are often interesting and thought-provoking.

On the thought-provoking side, Marvin Sweeney's commentary on Jeremiah points to several apparently unfulfilled prophecies. I did not recall encountering these before, so I decided to check the old NIV Study Bible (notes on Jeremiah by Ronald Youngblood) that I was using the last time I read Jeremiah.

What follows is a comparison of these two Study Bibles, with the HarperCollins Study Bible (notes on Jeremiah by Leo Perdue and Robert Wilson) as a control. The quotations are from the JPS TANAKH translation:
  1. Jeremiah 34:1-5 The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, when King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon and all his army, and all the kingdoms of the earth and all the peoples under his sway, were waging war against Jerusalem and all its towns: 2 Thus said the LORD, the God of Israel: Go speak to King Zedekiah of Judah, and say to him: "Thus said the LORD: I am going to deliver this city into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will destroy it by fire. 3 And you will not escape from him; you will be captured and handed over to him. And you will see the king of Babylon face to face and speak to him in person; and you will be brought to Babylon. 4 But hear the word of the LORD, O King Zedekiah of Judah! Thus said the LORD concerning you: You will not die by the sword. 5 You will die a peaceful death; and as incense was burned for your ancestors, the earlier kings who preceded you, so they will burn incense for you, and they will lament for you 'Ah, lord!' For I Myself have made the promise -- declares the LORD."

    • Jewish Study Bible (JSB) note on 34:5: "The promise of a peaceful death for Zedekiah resembles the oracle of the prophetess Huldah to Zedekiah's father Josiah....Jer. 52.7-11...states that Zedekiah is in a Babylonian prison, having seen his sons slaughtered before his own eyes were put out, thus this is likely an unfulfilled prophecy of Jeremiah. It is quite remarkable that such prophecies were preserved."
    • NIV Study Bible (NIVSB): No comment. No reference forward to Jer 52:7-11.
    • HarperCollins Study Bible, Revised (HCSB): "Zedekiah was blinded and exiled to Babylon, where he died in prison (39.7; 52.8-11; 2 Kings 25.5-7). In contrast to Jehoiakim (see 22.13-19), Zedekiah will have a funeral and be lamented."

  2. Jeremiah 43:8-13 Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah in Tahpanhes: ..."I am sending for My servant King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, and ...11 He will come and attack the land of Egypt, delivering Those destined for the plague, to the plague, Those destined for captivity, to captivity, And those destined for the sword, to the sword. 12 And I will set fire to the temples of the gods of Egypt; he will burn them down and carry them off. He shall wrap himself up in the land of Egypt, as a shepherd wraps himself up in his garment. And he shall depart from there in safety. 13 He shall smash the obelisks of the Temple of the Sun which is in the land of Egypt, and he shall burn down the temples of the gods of Egypt."

    • JSB on 43:13: "Although the Babylonians never conquered Egypt, the Persian king Cambyses, who also ruled Babylonia, conquered Egypt in 525 BCE. This is another case (see 34.5) of a prophecy that is preserved although it was not fulfilled."
    • NIVSB on 43:11: "A fragmentary text now owned by the British Museum in London states that Nebuchadnezzar carried out a punitive expedition against Egypt in his 37th year (568-567 B.C.) during the reign of Pharaoh Amasis."
    • HCSB on 43:13: "Nebuchadrezzar did invade Egypt in 568/7 BCE and fought Pharaoh Amasis, though the outcome of the battle is not known. However, Babylonia did not conquer Egypt."

  3. Jeremiah 50:1-3, 14-15 The word which the LORD spoke concerning Babylon, the land of the Chaldeans, through the prophet Jeremiah: 2 Declare among the nations, and proclaim; Raise a standard, proclaim; Hide nothing! Say: Babylon is captured, Bel is shamed, Merodach is dismayed. Her idols are shamed, Her fetishes dismayed. 3 For a nation from the north has attacked her, It will make her land a desolation. No one shall dwell in it, Both man and beast shall wander away....14 Shoot at her, don't spare arrows, For she has sinned against the LORD. 15 Raise a shout against her all about! She has surrendered; Her bastions have fallen, Her walls are thrown down -- This is the LORD's vengeance. Take vengeance on her, Do to her as she has done!
  • JSB on 50.1-51.58: "Much of these two chs emphasizes that Babylonia will be destroyed through violence. In reality, however, Cyrus bloodlessly took over Babylon in 539 BCE, when the powerful priests of Marduk preferred him to the reigning Babylonian King Nabonidus." On 50:3: "The nation from the north is a common motif in Jeremiah's oracles....Many see this as a reference to Persia, which conquered Babylonian in 539. Persia actually lies to the east of Babylonia."
  • NIVSB on 50:3: "In Jeremiah, the foe from the north is almost always Babylon....Here, however, the reference is probably to Persia." On 50:14 "you who draw the bow. Including the Medes."
  • HCSB on 50:3: "The imagery of the 'foe from the north' transferred to the enemies of Babylonia (the Medes and the Persians)." On 50:11-16: "Babylon surrendered to the armies of Persia, led by Gobryas. It was not taken by force and destroyed."
My impressions: The NIVSB papers over (#2) or ignores (#1 and #3) puzzling features of Jeremiah. Boo!! JSB exaggerates the problems (#1 and #3 on Jer 50:3). HCSB wins the prize for balance. I'm curious to see how the new ESV Study Bible fares, but I don't have a copy and I am not going to purchase one this year.

Passage #1 is easily harmonized if one regards a natural death in prison as "peaceful" and imagines people mourning for Zedekiah. Passage #3 is not especially troubling if one recognizes the metaphorical nature of biblical prophecy. I am still puzzled by #2. If any OT specialists have read this far, I'd be glad for their thoughts.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Resolution

I'm not one to make new year's resolutions, but this seemed an important enough goal to formalize:

I have decided not to purchase any* books in 2009.

With apologies to the publishers and booksellers who I know still need to make a living, I have a serious backlog of books I haven't read, and I am tired of their taunting me from the walls of my study.

*Fine print: Normally there are a few steals in the Archibald Library's annual sale that are too good to pass up. I may make one or two exceptions for books I absolutely need for courses.