Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Blue Parakeet Sighting

Her favourite page was the book's only illustration--the picture of Scot McKnight on the dust jacket.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Martin Hengel and the Sword of Damocles

News of Martin Hengel's death a couple weeks ago reminded me of his autobiographical comments in the preface to the English translation of his first monograph, The Zealots (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1989), xii-xiii:
It [his dissertation] was the work of a largely self-taught man. I had completed my studies relatively quickly in four university years, from 1947 to 1951, that is, in the difficult time following the end of the Second World War. Afterwards, the circumstances prevailing at the time had obliged me to spend some time first in Church work (1951/52) - the resulting experience was very valuable - and then, though not by choice, in the textile industry and in sales management (1945/6 and 1953/4). ....

During this all too brief novitiate in critical study at Tübingen, which only lasted for two and a half years, the sword of Damocles was always hanging over me: the threat that I would have to go back to industry. With a heavy heart, I left Tübingen in March 1957 and thought it would be for ever. I had written up about twenty per cent of the material and had made excerpts of the most important sources -- there were no photocopies at that time! I took my manuscript and materials with me when I returned of necessity to the completely different environment of industry and management, firmly -- I might almost say, desperately -- resolved, whatever happened, to finish the work I had begun. That I succeeded in doing this -- in spite of inexpressible difficulties, far from the university with its many stimuli to study and its abundant library resources and following a totally different and very exhausting profession -- I owe to a very great extent to the understanding, encouragement and patience of my wife.

The work that I submitted as my dissertation in 1959 appeared in print in 1961....I have placed this little autobiographical look at the past at the beginning of the English translation because this work is for me personally very much more than simply a first book that was followed by others in a relatively straight line. What I learned from it was an intimate association with ancient Jewish and Graeco-Roman sources and it was perhaps good that, for reasons of time and because many books were not available to me, I had to concentrate principally on those sources. At the same time, quite contrary to all human expectations, it also determined my future way of life and made it possible for me to return at the end of 1964 to the historical and theological study that I loved so much.
This Telegraph obit fills in the details nicely. The Times Online has another excellent obit.

Update: Roland Deines has published an excellent tribute on the SBL site here; David Neff has a Hengel retrospective at CT; HT: Mike Bird.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Paulinism on the brink of heresy

Here is some more good stuff from the introduction to Barth's commentary on Romans. Barth is talking about reading carefully, but I think he is also illustrating what it means to stand under the authority of Scripture--not deciding what we moderns can take or leave, but wrestling especially with the parts that moderns (and post-moderns) find disturbing.
"Paulinism has stood always on the brink of heresy. This being so, it is strange how utterly harmless and unexceptionable most commentaries on the Epistle to the Romans and most books about Paul are. Why should this be so? Perhaps because the uncomfortable points are treated according to Wernle's recipe." (13)
Wernle's recipe:
"Wernle wrote of me with some bitterness: 'NO single aspect of Paul's teaching seems to cause Barth discomfort. . . . There remain for him no survivals of the age in which Paul lived--not even trivial survivals.'" (11)

"In contrast with this comfortable dismissal of uncomfortable points it has been my 'Biblicism' which has compelled me to wrestle with these 'scandals to modern thought' until I have found myself able to undertake the interpretation of them, because I have discovered precisely in these points the characteristic and veritable discernment of Paul....When I am named 'Biblicist', all that can rightly be proved against me is that I am prejudiced in supposing the Bible to be a good book, and that I hold it to be profitable for men to take its conceptions at least as seriously as they take their own." (12)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

History, Criticism and Christian Conviction - Part 2

RogueMonk pointed out in a comment to my original post that "a study of scripture that is guided by Christain conviction is completely safe because [we believe] it it is firmly held in the hand of a sovereign God." This is an important corrective to my statement that reading Scripture is not a safe enterprise. Nevertheless, it remains true that a careful reading will lead--for some people on some occasions--to questions that deal with issues which are central to faith.

Because careful historical study and the reading of Scripture is not a safe enterprise (see part 1), I may at some point reevaluate certain of the convictions about the world that I now take as given. For this reason, I reject the claim that as a believer my historical study of the Bible requires affirmative answers.

However, I don't surrender hold on my deepest convictions whenever I read the Bible or enter into a historical question. We can't start from scratch as Descartes tried to do--not, at least, if we want to retain our sanity. My commitment to the historic Christian tradition means that I affirm the resurrection and the virgin birth, though I lisp at the Creed's "descended into hell." This commitment has as much to do with my own past experiences as it does with an examination of the evidence. This is not unreasonable, for in practice we consider our basic convictions warranted by experience as well as intellectual reflection.

So while reexamining and sometimes changing working assumptions about the world happens from time to time, to abandon my faith (μὴ γένοιτο!) would be to undergo a paradigm shift of the first magnitude. Historical criticism alone wouldn't lead me there. That is because the historical-critical method is not well-suited to address these reasonable but non-rational assumptions that form the basis of our world-views--assumptions, however varied, that are a part of the world-views of atheist and theist alike. Historical criticism is not well-suited, that is, to deal with what Leander Keck calls "self-involving truth claims"--the claims whose acceptance means the transformation of a world-view.

Another weakness of historical criticism is also one of its greatest strengths: It allows for conversation. This means, on the one hand, that I am limited in the reasons I can give for specific arguments in certain conversations. Because not everyone shares it, I cannot argue for a particular interpretation on the basis of the resurrection, though my whole life is shaped by it. On the other hand, in very many topics careful reading (whatever we label it) allows for conversation with and the opportunity to learn from all sorts of people.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Romans reading list

Last month I requested reading recommendations that will help me prepare to teach Romans this fall. Since I naively hope to get a lot of reading done after I leave this afternoon to visit family, I thought I'd post my list here:
  1. Romans. So far I have done more listening to my own recording of the Greek text than reading the printed text.
  2. Paul. It's a new concept, I'm sure, but what better way to prepare to teach one of Paul's letters than to read the Pauline corpus?
  3. Barth. I'm slowly working through Karl Barth's commentary on Romans. Though I'm disappointed that I can't follow Barth all the way much of the time, I find his vision of God enriching. I have also been impressed by the way Barth anticipates so much of modern scholarship on Romans. N.T. Wright's jabs at Barth in his own Romans commentary are amusing when you realize that Wright follows Barth on the subjective genitive in the πίστις Χρίστου debate, and that Barth (if I recall) insists, like Wright, on Christ as Israel in whom all the promises are fulfilled.
  4. Wright. I thought N.T. Wright's new book, Justification, would be a good, easy-reading, polemical way to get into some of the current debate around Paul's theology. This will be for the airplane ride to Toronto (and back, if necessary).
  5. Watson. I purchased but did not read Francis Watson's Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective (Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007) last summer. I've heard it is excellent, it deals extensively with Romans, and it will enable me to say that I'm attending to sociological and not just theological approaches to the book.
  6. Others lower on the priority list, in part because I'll have to read library copies: If I have time, I'd like to read Daniel Kirk's Unlocking Romans: Resurrection And The Justification Of God and Simon Gathercole's Where Is Boasting?. As for Lampe, on first perusal, it looks like a quick skim will give the gist of the argument; no need to labour through the whole tome.

(Stay tuned: Though I'm not taking my computer along, and I won't be blogging while I'm away, I have a couple posts schedule for tomorrow and the next day--including the long-lost sequel to History, Criticism and Christian Conviction Part I.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Greek Inscriptions from Israel 6

Kudos to Tyler Smith for his work on the Beit Alpha Synagogue Inscription.

Inscription 6 is from the magnificent Nabataean city of Avdat in the Judaean wilderness:

In one end of the Avdat fortress... a Byzantine church....

...with this burial inscription:

After you have transcribed and translated the inscription, let me know what you think the markings at the end are.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

History, Criticism and Christian Conviction - Part I (again)

I am republishing this post from 22 September 2008 because I'd like to finish part 2, which never appeared. Assuming that I complete part 2 in the near future, it will make more sense after (re)reading 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, July 9, 2009

Biblical Allusions in Popular Music

My friend, Ken Penner, has created a fantastic resource designed to collect and display biblical allusions in popular music. Check it out--and contribute to it--here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Barth and Barrett on Criticism

Barrett comes first because he is summarizing F.C. Baur (1792-1860) with whom he is here in agreement:
"[O]ur sources . . . do not tell the same story, and the historian's task is not to harmonize them but to set them over against one another. This is criticism; and it is when the reader observes that the first Christian decades were not a period of universal peace that he begins to ask why Acts gives the impression that they were, and to inquire what tendency led Luke to write as he did" - C. K. Barrett, Acts (ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998), 2.lxxiii.

And here is Barth, The Epistle to the Romans (Oxford: 1968):
"The commentator is thus presented with a clear 'Either--Or' The question is whether or no he is to place himself in a relation to his author of utter loyalty. Is he to read him, determined to follow him to the very last word, wholly aware of what he is doing, and assuming that the author also knew what he was doing?...Anything short of utter loyalty means a commentary ON Paul's Epistle to the Romans, not a commentary so far as is possible WITH him--even to his last word. True exegesis involves, of course, much sweat and many groans" (17).
But utter loyalty can be misunderstood:
"It is precisely a strict faithfulness which compels us to expand or to abbreviate the text, lest a too rigid attitude to the words should obscure that which is struggling to expression in them and which demands expression. this critical freedom of exegesis was used by Calvin in masterly fashion, without the slightest disregard for the discipline by which alone liberty is justified. The attentive reader will perceive that I have employed this method, believing it to be demanded by the text. ... I have resolutely determined not to make use of the method in order to criticize Paul..." (19).
I don't mean to set Barrett and Barth completely over against each other, as Barrett has been accused of being too Barthian himself. But it is interesting how Barth--fully aware how classic historical criticism operates--seeks to move beyond it:
"I have nothing whatever to say against historical criticism. I recognize it, and once more state quite definitely that it is both necessary and justified (6). . . . When, however, I examine their [historical critics'] attempts at genuine understanding and interpretation, I am again and again surprised how little they even claim for their work. By genuine understanding and interpretation I mean that creative energy which Luther exercised with intuitive certainty in his exegesis; which underlies the systematic interpretation of Calvin; and which is at least attempted by such modern writers as Hofmann, J. T. Beck, Godet, and Schlatter. For example, place the work of Jülicher side by side with that of Calvin: how energetically Calvin, having first established what stands in the text, sets himself to re-think the whole material and to wrestle with it, till the walls which separate the sixteenth century from the first become transparent! Paul speaks, and the man of the sixteenth century hears. The conversation between the original record and the reader moves round the subject-matter, until a distinction between yesterday and to-day becomes impossible." (7)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Israel Trip 2e (April 30) - Nazareth

We stopped briefly in Nazareth at the closest thing our guide could find to a cliff (see Luke 4:29). The historical village of Nazareth apparently fit within the compound of the Church of the Anunciation somewhere in the valley below:
Across the street from where we stopped is The Morgenthau Absorption Centre, which to a Canadian eye looks like something else:
That's it for Nazareth (I only took two pictures) and our second first day of touring. Stay tuned for day 3 two. (Getting ahead of myself.)

This is the 6th in a series on the 2009 Briercrest Israel Tour:
Israel Trip 1 (April 28-29) - Climate Change
Israel Trip 2a (April 30) - Caesarea
Israel Trip 2b (April 30) - Views from Mt. Carmel
Israel Trip 2c (April 30) - Megiddo
Israel Trip 2d (April 30) - Sepphoris (Zippori)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Greek Inscriptions from Israel 5

Today's inscription comes from a mosaic that lined the floor of the 6th century Beit Alpha Synagogue:
The design is not nearly as professional as the mosaics in urban Sepphoris--or perhaps it simply anticipates modern art:
Here is a close up of the inscription:
As usual, kudos and coffee to the first person who correctly transcribes and translates the Greek inscription in the comments. Bonus kudos if you translate the Aramaic too.
You can probably find a translation of the inscription online somewhere. Don't spoil the fun!

Other posts in this series:
Greek Inscriptions from Israel 1
Greek Inscriptions from Israel 1 Revisited
Greek Inscriptions from Israel 2
Greek Inscriptions from Israel 2 Revisited
Greek Inscriptions from Israel 3
Greek Inscriptions from Israel 4
Greek Inscriptions from Israel 4 Revisited

And now for something completely different, check out these pictures of the demolition of our WWII era hangar/hockey rink: Sparrow Gardens r.i.p.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A dubious honour

I was happy to be mentioned in the latest Biblioblog Carnival until I started to think about the significance of being included among Augustine's fart musicians. Uh, thanks Pat!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Israel Trip 2d (April 30) - Sepphoris (Zippori)

Update: See discussion of the mikveh "immersion pools" below.
Zippori (Sepphoris) is best known today for the "Mona Lisa of the Galilee," part of an amazingly detailed mosaic that once lined the floor of a triclinium dining room in a 3rd CE mansion:
At one end of the mosaic is the "Mona Lisa":
Near the other is the final scene from a drinking contest between Dionysus and Hercules:
Hercules lost.

The beautiful mosaic associated with the worship of Dionysus is intriguing because Zippori was at this time a center of Jewish religious life: Rabbi Judah the Prince moved the rabbinic Sanhedrin to Zippori at the end of the 2nd century, and the Mishnah was codified here around 200 CE.
(A miqveh immersion pool,* a sign of Jewish presence in Zippori)

"The city . . . was considered by Theodoret the church history to be entirely Jewish in the reign of Valens (364-78)" (Murphy-O'Connor 468). No doubt the city had a mixed Jewish and pagan population in the 3rd century (a 2nd CE Roman temple was recently discovered), but it is instructive to imagine the rabbis carry on their work in such a cosmopolitan setting.

*Update: That is, if the archaeologists are right in identifying the pools as immersion pools (miqva'ot). Consider Seth Schwartz in his excellent book, Imperialism and Jewish Society: 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. (Princeton University Press, 2001):
[O]ver twenty small bathtubs were discovered in a residential district of the city, which excavators have identified, with what justification is unclear, as miqva'ot. If this is correct, then the population of Sepphoris in approximately the third century was either radically diverse, consisting of a mixture of paganizers and the purity-obsessed or mind-bogglingly eclectic in their Jewish observance. While both options seem probable on other grounds, it is unclear why the bathtubs should not be considered simply bathtubs. (144)
Also interesting, giving the rabbinic prohibition of images, is the 5th century synagogue that we didn't take time to see: It has a colourful mosaic that contains the signs of the zodiac and depicts biblical figures such as Abraham, Isaac, and Aaron (see the pictures at the bottom of this page).

Sepphoris was made the capital of Galilee when the Romans took over in the first century BCE. It was destroyed by the Romans after a revolt in connection with Herod the Great's death (4 BCE). Herod Antipas, Herod the Great's son and successor in Galilee, rebuilt Sepphoris and made it his capital. Murphy-O'Connor speuclates that this "probably drew the artisan Joseph and his family to settle in nearby Nazareth (Matt. 2: 21-3); the project would provide work for many years" (468).

There is much more to see in Zippori--the national park pamphlet recommends 3-4 hours to view the whole 16 square kilometer site--but we were short on time, I was tired, and took few pictures.

If you want more, check out for always excellent photos, a few of which are free to view; the Wikipedia article, and especially

This is the 5th in a series on the 2009 Briercrest Israel Tour:
Israel Trip 1 (April 28-29) - Climate Change
Israel Trip 2a (April 30) - Caesarea
Israel Trip 2b (April 30) - Views from Mt. Carmel
Israel Trip 2c (April 30) - Megiddo