Thursday, November 15, 2012

The difference five years make

Our little "SiByL" was born five years ago today. I'm missing out on SBL again this year, not because of Shoshana's birthday, but because I've already more than used up my annual "time away from family" allowance.

The birthday girl had a great day, despite the snow which arrived last week when this picture was taken.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Common English Bible: My New Favourite Translation

I am very tempted to acquire a printed copy of the Common English Bible to use in the classroom, because--based on my limited sampling--it is fresh, interesting, and seems often to go its own way. Take Acts 11:20, for instance: The CEB is the only translation ever (?) that says that in Antioch, the Christians from Cyprus and Cyrene broke new ground when they "began to proclaim the the good news about the Lord Jesus also to Jews who spoke Greek."

The NLT, by contrast, says they "began preaching to the Gentiles."

Behind these two opposing translations is a choice between the Greek words "Hellenist" and "Hellene." Most Greek manuscripts, including codex Vaticanus, opt for Hellenist. A few manuscripts offer the easier--and therefore less likely--"Hellene" or "Greek." In modern translations,  the NIV, NET, NAB and RSV choose "Greek," no doubt because it fits the context better (v. 19). The NLT equates Greek with Gentile.

The ESV, NRSV adopt "Hellenist", which is preferred by standard modern editions of the Greek New Testament. However, the ESV, at least, explains in a footnote that they take Hellenist to mean "Greek-speaking non-Jews." The problem is that in the two other instances where Luke uses the word, Hellenist clearly denotes Greek-speaking Jews, as the ESV note explains (see Acts 6:1; 9:29).

The CEB may be wrong here, but at least it is consistent--and thought-provoking!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Book of Undergraduate Blunders

To make marking essays more fun, I keep a book of undergraduate "blunders" in which I record student comments that make me smile. These entries from 2005-2007 are old enough to share without embarrassing my current students:
  • The carpeted disciples: “Throughout the land, footwear was removed before entering the house, especially when entering an Upper Room which was very nice and often carpeted, like the disciples were.”
  • Authorship issues: 
    • “Paul’s authorship to the Ephesians ultimately provides the only hope for a world, which stands under divine judgment of sin.” 
    • “Although there is evidence to support both theories, common view holds Paul as the main author of 1 Peter.” 
  • Deification: “Martin [Luther] claims that these verses helps us surpass the first commandment which is: ‘I am the Lord your God.’”
  • The divine plumber: “The Holy Spirit is the third member of the Godhead and works in many different faucets in our lives.”
  • Truth trumps redundancy:
    • “It may sound redundant to say that in order to be God, Jesus had to be God but this is true.” 
    • “Taking off clothes and putting on clothes is a daily routine for almost all of mankind.” 
I'll save the story about Jesus healing the leopard, and the "parable of the sewer" for another time, for "Although scholars have come to believe that the bible is a manuscript that has been read from top to bottom, forwards and backwards, several times; there is still continuously new information being found in the ancient pages that much of society reads."

For more along the same lines, check out this twitter feed: @BibleStdntsSay

Sunday, October 14, 2012

When God plays hide and seek

I was chatting with a friend from college a few weeks ago when we both started talking about one of the  most memorable sermons we have ever heard: Theology professor, Bob Seale, speaking from Isaiah 45:15--"Surely you are a God who hides himself"--and explaining in his own inimitable way that God hides himself because he wants to be found.

I think of that sermon every time I try to play hide and seek with my daughter, who takes "Ready or not, here I come" as the cue to shout out, "Here I am, Daddy, I'm over here! Come and find me!"

It took me a while to realize that she has it right: the best part is being found.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sabbatical Dreams

As pre-writing for a sabbatical proposal, I took out a  piece of paper and wrote down the question, "What do I want to do on sabbatical?"

Since I've been thinking for a long time about the project I would work on in the event of a sabbatical, my answers surprised me:

  • Get better at teaching languages. Read lots of Hebrew and extra-biblical Greek.
  • Go to [insert developing world country], and teach there.
  • Read primary sources and classic secondary sources for the sheer joy of learning.

This feels like rest, a real sabbatical, a break from the academic "publish and perish" rat race and the pressure of teaching seven classes a year, a chance to rediscover why I entered this vocation in the first place. I also expect it would do more to help my teaching than the major writing project I actually proposed.

Along the same lines, this description sounds very attractive:
"I have come a long way from where I was at the start of my sabbatical. The one activity I chose specifically to take me away from my work has become a central part of my work and of my life. As a professor, I am required to make reasoned and thoughtful professional plans, but going where my heart (rather than my head) led me has yielded unexpected, rejuvenating, and inspiring rewards."  - Dominick Scudera
(I should note that the fact that I submitted a sabbatical proposal is no guarantee that I will be awarded one. But I can keep dreaming.)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Productivity Tips for Academics

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ran a series of articles on academic productivity. Unfortunately, most of them are behind a paywall, and all I saved are the bits I highlighted on my e-reader:
"No one employed in the professoriate today was forced into the career, and anyone who plays victim while holding a tenured or tenure-track position should be ashamed. We are distracted only when we allow ourselves to be so." 
"Andrew Mozina, an associate professor of English at Kalamazoo, uses a stopwatch to reserve time for crucial tasks. “I will say: OK, for the next hour, you will not check your e-mail, you will just grade papers.” This summer he’s working on writing a collection of short stories and a novel about a harpist preparing for a symphony audition. He sets the stopwatch for three hours each day so he can write." 
For her part, Marybeth Gasman, "tries to set aside six hours a day for writing, an enormous chunk by most academic standards." Indeed.
The quotations apparently come from this issue of the Chronicle, for those who have access to it.

In a slightly different vein, here is a commendation of the "Long, Slow, Constant, Mindful Writing Life":
The frenetic pace of academic writing these days has costs. The adage “quality over quantity” has been cast aside. As a result, we devalue the person who might take many years to make her own contribution to a field, as compared with someone who churns out an argument a week. This devaluing is intellectually unhealthy....[W]e must teach our students to balance their career aspirations with a care and deliberateness about their intellectual development, and an understanding that the dissertation is only the first project, the beginning of a learning process will take longer, probably a lifetime. Being a scholar is a life practice of reading, thinking, and writing, which, ideally, will lead to one or some (or many) meaningful works. Scholarship is not the mechanical pursuit of written products." - Imani Perry
Enough procrastination. Time to get to work.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Class Policy on Electronic Devices

My syllabi typically include the following statement of policy:
The use of electronic devices of any kind (including cell phones and laptops) is forbidden in this class unless prior approval has been obtained from the course instructor.
I know there are all sorts of ways that technology contributes to learning, but in my experience the potential distractions outweigh the benefits in a college classroom setting. This is how I put it this year:
There are other important events, like funerals, where you turn off your phone as a matter of common courtesy. This is one of them. We are paying attention to the message of the text. The text message can wait until after class.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Peckett on the "Direct Method" of Teaching Latin and Greek

"The Classics...need not to be defended, but to be taught. And, in these days, the way they are taught is all-important. It must be a way which helps pupils to understand deeply their beauty....It is, after all, the pupil and not the teacher or the parent who decides what he will learn, and he will learn what is taught attractively..."

"[T]he best way to learn any language is the way one learns one's own, by mother-wit; and the best way to remember a language is by using it, even though it has been falsely called 'dead.'"

"[The Direct Method] is not, as some have supposed, a panacea. It will help to make a good pupil brilliant, and the mediocre ones enthusiastic; but it will not turn a numbskull into a scholar or banish hard work either for teacher or pupil. It is not personal magic, as some who have seen demonstrations suppose. As that wise man Quiller Couch said, 'Any teacher with the gift to teach, and any pupil with an innate curiosity to learn, can play skittles equally with any theory'; and again, 'The teacher's personal fire is the beginning and end of the art, and most of its middle.'"

"The Direct Method assumes that a language is meant to be spoken and we can best learn it by speaking it. Latin and Greek were specially meant for oral delivery. Cicero at a banquet did not take out his tablets,
write on them with a stylus "Da mihi sal" and pass them to his neighbour in silence, but turned to him and spoke up like a man. The method has been called 'direct' because it seeks to connect, in the pupil's mind, the
word or phrase directly with the object it describes, avoiding the intervening obstacles of grammar and translation. Translation is after all only a magnificent treachery, and an exercise for Sixth Formers in the use of their own language. It is not worth all the trouble."

"The Direct Method aims at teaching the pupil to think in a foreign language. Most of those who have not been taught in this way say that this cannot be done. All those who have been taught this way know that nothing is simpler."

- Quotations from C.W.E. Peckett, "Direct Method and the Classics," The Classical Journal 46.7 (April 1951), 331-4, 336-7.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

διήγημα ἀληθινόν

We were invited to prepare a Greek story for the last day of the Greek fluency workshop. Here, for what it's worth, is mine:

ἀνὴρ τις ἦν, ὅς ἐφύτευσεν δένδρα ἐν βρετανικὴ κολυμβία.
κατώ̣κησεν ἐν σκηνῆ̣, ἐνίψατο μὲν ὀλίγον καὶ ἠργάσατο δυσκόλως, ζωὴ δὲ ἦν καλή.
ἀλλὰ ἐφοβήθη ἄρκους*.

νύκτα μίαν, καθεύδοντος αὐτοῦ, φωνὴ φοβερὰ ἐγγὺς σκηνῆς διήγειρεν αὐτόν.
ἐφοβεῖτο σφόδρα λίαν μάλιστα!
καὶ εἶπεν, Ὕπαγε ἄρκε! Shoo!

πρωΐας δὲ γενομένης, ἀναστάντος αὐτοῦ, οἱ φίλοι εἶπαν, Ὕστριξ** ἦν!

I didn't realize the stories were supposed to be geared for beginners or I would have written it in the present tense and simplified it considerably. Apparently, it is a lot more difficult to teach something than it is to sit and absorb it.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Teaching Biblical Languages: Responding to Objections to a Living Language Approach

It is hard for me to appreciate why anyone would not be interested in using living-language approaches to teach Biblical Greek and Hebrew: Isn't it obvious that employing multiple senses and imitating how adults learn a second language will be more efficient and effective than the traditional "grammar-translation" method? (See here and here for my earlier comments along the same lines.)

Not everyone is so easily persuaded, however. My goal in what follows is to consider objections that I have heard seriously and (hopefully) respectfully, even as I attempt to respond to them:
  1. Some think trying to speak a "dead" language is at best a waste of time. It is certainly true that it will take more of my time using a living language approach than it would for me to pull out my old notes and do what I have always done in the past. 
  2. Efficiency: Why emphasize speaking Greek or Hebrew when all students need and want is a reading knowledge of the language? With reading proficiency as the goal, how can a living language approach be more efficient than traditional grammar-translation methods? There is a reason, after all, why grad students who "need German" gravitate toward summer courses in German for reading knowledge instead of sitting through four semesters of conversational German. 
  3. Class time is limited and the addition of oral drills must require sacrifices in other areas. Do any gains make up for what is lost? 
  4. Impressions: Someone once told me that the traditional approach seems to produce better readers than newer alternatives. 
  5. Redefining outcomes: To be sure, the grammar-translation method fails miserably if the goal is to help more than a few students develop a long-lasting reading knowledge of the biblical languages, but the majority who "lose" the languages will not lose the experience of learning it, a better knowledge of how languages work, and the ability to use research tools. If the goal is not language proficiency, but humility, then the traditional approach can still be defended as a success.
I will take the objections in reverse order:

5. I agree that the experience of taking a foreign language is incredibly valuable even for those who do not continue to work in the language, but--to borrow an example that Randall Buth has used repeatedly over the years--any two-year German course that does not produce German readers is a failure. Just so, any two-year Hebrew or Greek sequence of courses that does not produce proficient readers of Greek and Hebrew is a failure. I have no desire to make people who haven't kept up their languages feel guilty, but any language teacher who ditches proficiency in the language as a viable learning outcome is selling themselves and their students short--if, that is, there is an alternative.

4. I am concerned about how our views about teaching methodologies tend to be based on a very limited range of experience, mostly our own: The traditional model caters to analytical learners, who then go on to become teachers. If we even pause to consider the question, we think, "It worked for me, why shouldn't it work for everyone else?" We may also form opinions about other methodologies based on very limited exposure. My experience in immersion contexts informs my views about pedagogy, but my experience is not likely to convince on its own. What is needed is hard evidence that goes beyond individual impressions. I am vaguely aware of the literature on modern language-teaching methodologies. If you know of studies that examine the application of modern SLA approaches to Latin, Greek or Hebrew, please let me know.

3. Class time is limited, and I don't know yet what I will have to give up to make more time in class for oral living-language exercises. In my courses there will still be a textbook that covers traditional grammar using an analytical approach. One of the facilitators at the Fluency workshop put it this way: If you had a choice between a method that would work well for only 10% of the class, and another method that wouldn't harm anyone and would help 90%, which would you choose? Analytical learners can always read the textbook.

2. While a summer "German for reading knowledge" course may be the most efficient way to pass an exam, it takes a great deal more time and effort to get to the place where working through an article in German without resorting to Google Translate is not a major time-consuming, frustrating obstacle. I speak from experience. I suspect that most students who simply pass an exam quickly lose what sense of the language they acquired. If you want long-term retention, a modern language approach is far superior, far more effective than simply memorizing charts--although charts may still have their place. I am also persuaded from my own experience and from the stories I've heard this week, that--all other things being equal--a living language approach combined with an emphasis on reading will lead more quickly to greater reading fluency than the traditional approach. It is also more fun. And joy in learning has a great deal to do with whether or not students continue using the language in the long-term.

1. I conclude with a quotation by W.H.D. Rouse, a brilliant Latin teacher and an advocate of the "Direct Method", an early 20th-century precursor to what I am calling a "Living Language" approach:
"The third [objection to the "Direct Method"] is...that the current system of teaching classics is fool-proof. These are not my words, but the words of a defender. He said, "Any fool can teach it". Well, I am quite sure that no fool can teach on the direct method, but it does not need anything more than intelligence and willingness to take trouble. It is willingness to take trouble which has been our difficulty all along. Those who are invited, will not take the trouble to investigate the facts, which they can quite well do. No doubt the reason in their minds is, that if they did investigate them and found them to be true, they would then be bound to take some very troublesome steps in order to improve the existing system....The last thing that is always said, which I have already answered, is that a few men have a gift for this kind of thing, but the majority of men have not. Of course, that is quite untrue. The truth is, as I have said, that anyone with intelligence, who will take trouble, is quite able to do the thing in a first-rate way."
A couple clarifications:

  • I don't mean to imply that the traditional and living language approaches are two diametrically opposed monolithic entities, so that adopting one means rejecting the other. In reality, a spectrum of teaching methodologies exists, and there is nothing to stop a teacher from drawing on modern SLA approaches here and there, while retaining a traditional emphasis on grammar. In my view, SLA approaches are better, but for ordinary humans like me, change will necessarily be gradual.
  • I don't mean to condemn anyone who doesn't have time to develop new ways of teaching the biblical languages. If I can provoke dissatisfaction with the status quo, and a desire for change, I will be satisfied. That, after all, is what happened to me.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Teaching Biblical Languages and Childhood Memories

My album of childhood memories contains a snapshot of my father sitting on the porch of our Mombasa home, a stack of Bibles in various ancient and modern languages piled beside his chair. The discipline of multi-lingual daily Bible reading had the dual effect of helping my dad maintain his languages and of opening his eyes to new features of familiar texts.

The "album" also includes mental images of both Mom and Dad teaching English to African students, all of whom would have been working on at least their third or fourth spoken language.

This heritage means that I have always known it is possible to maintain a reading knowledge of a language long after the end of formal instruction, and that I have always had some acquaintance with what is involved in teaching a second language.

Because of this background, it just make sense to me that a "living-language" approach to teaching the Biblical languages would be more efficient (for students) than traditional approaches are. The only real obstacle is the need to develop enough proficiency to be able to teach at maximum efficiency.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Teaching Biblical Languages and Tilting at Windmills

In seminary I watched my friends on the M.Div track struggle through the two years of Greek and two years of Hebrew that TEDS required for their three year degree. By the end of the program, Greek was often a distant memory, with Hebrew not far behind.

I had already seen the payoff of learning Greek at the undergrad level, and I was determined not to lose my Greek or fledgling Hebrew. But what, I wondered, could be done differently for myself and everyone else? Is the project doomed to failure, with seminaries like TEDS last hold-outs against the inevitable? Mike Heiser has estimated that 90-95% of seminary students quickly lose the biblical languages after graduation. I don’t know where the percentages come from, but any way you slice it the statistics are dismal.

Almost 15 years later, I am still persuaded that the languages are worth learning well, that Bible software “power tools” are no substitute, and that—in theory—it should be reasonable for pastors to acquire a reading knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, and maintain the languages while they are in ministry. I am also committed to doing whatever I can to create a better long-term success rate for my students. This means helping students learn deeper with greater retention, and helping them see the payoff and have fun in the process so that they are motivated to continue learning once required classes are done. I am convinced the church needs pastors in general—not just a select few pastor scholars—who read the Bible in its original languages. Perhaps one of the most important ways I can serve the church is to teach the biblical languages effectively, working to turn theory into reality.

My own experience studying Modern Hebrew by immersion in Israel points the way to an alternative to the traditional grammar-translation approach: Why not learn Greek as you would a living language? Randall Buth and colleagues at the Biblical Language Center asked themselves the same question, and have come up with an answer: I am now part way through a 10-day “Greek Fluency Workshop” in Fresno, California, that is designed to help Greek teachers develop proficiency in spoken Koine. (See here for a description of last year's workshop.) So far, it has been a fantastic experience. I am learning a great deal from the workshop, as well as from other like-minded teachers, and I am excited about how it will pay off in the classroom this fall.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

B.H. McLean on the Blessing of Learning Greek

The introduction to B.H. McLean's new Greek textbook nicely explains why I think all pastors should take at least two years of Biblical Greek (or acquire a reading knowledge of Greek by hook or by crook some other way):
Given the fact that the New Testament is written in Hellenistic Greek, it follows that those who desire a deeper understanding of its message must strive to attain a thorough knowledge of this language. Learning Greek requires patience, perseverance, and the willingness to struggle. But those who are committed to understanding the Christian gospel should not view this task as an imposition, but as a blessing, for with it comes a deeper knowledge of Scriptures. 
There can be no doubt that the ability to read and interpret the New Testament in its original language is a central component of the Reformed tradition. Indeed, all theologians since the Renaissance, including Erasmus, Calvin, and Luther, emphasized the importance of studying the Bible in its original languages. . . . [W]hile mastering Hellenistic Greek may not be a realistic goal for every student of theology, total unfamiliarity with the original language of the New Testament is indefensible for theologians and seminarians. After all, there is probably no rabbi who cannot read the Tanakh in the original Hebrew, or imam who cannot read the Qur'an in the original Arabic language.
But Christians should not approach the study of Hellenistic Greek as if it were a trial or obstacle to overcome. Those who really commit themselves to the regular lifelong study of the Greek New Testament will come to know the true joy of being led through and beyond, its words to a lived, faithful, transformative relationship with the living God. Indeed, we must not forget that patience in the study of sacred Greek Scriptures nurtures patience in the grace of God!
- B.H. McLean, New Testament Greek: An Introduction (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011) 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Graham Twelftree on Luke on Mission with an aside on academic prose

One book that I hope to dip into more deeply before teaching Acts this fall is Graham Twelftree's People of the Spirit: Exploring Luke's View of the Church (Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic, 2009). Here is an appetizer from Twelftree's concluding chapter (pp. 214, 216-217):
  • "As Luke sees it, God is a missionary, Jesus is a missionary and so is the Church. Embodying Jesus so that he continues his mission is, for Luke, the prime function of the Church....[N]ot to be 'on mission' is to cease being the Church." 
  • "Luke raises the possibility that the Church would have had a greater impact on society if it had taken his view seriously, concentrating on proclamation accompanied by signs and wonders, and giving care to each other to the extent that outside observers would want to join the community of believers." 
  • Luke "places a far greater store on the quality of the community of believers than is generally recognized. If the quality of relationships and care among Christians approached the order proposed by Luke, I suppose that the Church could hardly accommodate or assimilate those who sought to belong to it."
  • "The purpose of the Church is the mission of proclaiming, and demonstrating in signs and wonders, the good news of God's salvation in Jesus so that others -- everyone -- can be saved and join the caring, joyful community of believers preparing for the return of Jesus."
I considered adopting People of the Spirit as a course textbook because of its provocative suggestions about applying Acts to the present and because it models one way of answering the central hermeneutical questions we will consider during the semester--namely, how is the narrative of Acts designed to shape Luke's audience? How do we as readers distinguish between reported event and normative example? Does Luke write nostalgically about a golden past age? Is he presenting an ideal to which the church should conform? Or does he simply celebrate the unique events of the church’s foundation narrative?

 In the end I decided in favour of Luke Timothy Johnson's Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church primarily because I prefer Johnson's writing style. (This may seem like a minor issue, but quality of prose ranks high on my list of criteria for textbooks not only because I want my students to complete the readings, but also because part of my job is to help students care about writing well--and I assume that providing exceptional models is one way of working towards this goal.)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Wacky Caronport Weather

Last Tuesday a tornado in the vicinity, this evening larger-than-golf-ball-sized hail:

Unfortunately, none of my hail photos turned out especially well:

But you get the idea:

 Add a couple lightning strikes just down the street and some fancy cloud formations:
...and you have an interesting afternoon:

(Educational too: I expect I'll be more cautious next time there's a thunderstorm overhead.)

Anyone up for a jog?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ioudaios Project Update

Long time followers of this blog may remember that almost five (!) years ago I published a series of posts on the meaning and translation of the Greek word Ioudaios. The series began as my attempt to sort through the competing arguments of Shaye Cohen, Philip Esler, John H. Elliott, and Steve Mason about the label we should adopt for the Second Temple people normally called "Jews." In a nutshell, Cohen argues that the Greek word Ioudaios acquired a religious meaning during the Second Temple period, and should be translated as ‘Jew’ instead of ‘Judaean’ when the religious meaning is in view. Esler and Mason insist that Ioudaios was an ethnic—not a religious—label, and should always be translated ‘Judaean’. Elliott agrees with Esler and Mason, but argues further that Jesus was an Israelite not a Judaean. After completing the blog series, I naively thought that it would be relatively easy to turn it into an article evaluating recent scholarship on the meaning and translation of Ioudaios. The article became a trilogy, parts 1 and 2 of which have now appeared in the journal Currents in Biblical Research:

Part 1--"The Meaning of Ioudaios and its Relationship to Other Group Labels in Ancient 'Judaism'"CBR 9.1 October 2010): 98-126--responds to Elliott and others who argue that the Ioudaioi were distinguished from Galileans, and that, with the exception of residents of Judaea in the narrow sense, Ioudaios was an outsider label and 'Israelite' an insider label. You can read more about it here. It is also available as a free download on the CBR website if you care to read the whole thing.

Part 2, which appeared earlier this year, began as a sub-section on the use of modern terminology for Ioudaios, and took on a life of its own. I ended up framing the article as a gentle push back against Denise Kimber Buell's choice of terminology in her excellent book, Why this New Race?: "My concern is that—whatever its other merits—using ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ interchangeably may obscure our understanding of the very conceptual history that Buell insists is necessary to ‘get beyond race.’" I also tried to score a few methodological points about "the dangers of confusing modern and ancient terminology of confusing modern and ancient perspectives on group identity, and of failing to distinguish between different modern meanings of the same technical term." Both quotations are from page 295 of "Ethnicity Comes of Age: An Overview of Twentieth-Century Terms for Ioudaios" CBR 10.2 (February 2012): 293-311. Here is the relevant section of the abstract:
This article, part two in a three-part series on the meaning of Ioudaios (‘Jew’ or ‘Judaean’), examines the use of ethnic terminology in scholarship on Ioudaios over the last seventy-five years, with a focus on representative studies from the 1930s–1950s as a point of comparison with more recent developments. The article traces shifts in the meaning of ethnic terminology after World War II and explores why ‘ethnicity’ eventually came to more-or-less supplant other terms such as ‘race’ and ‘nation’.
Sage will let you purchase a copy here for an exorbitant price. I recommend checking out a library copy or waiting until it appears in ATLA if you care to peruse the whole thing.

I presented a condensed draft of part of part 3 last month at the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies annual meeting. Rarely has the pressure of preparing a conference paper been so helpful to my writing. (Or maybe I have just forgotten what it is like.) In any case, it involved completing an ungainly 13,000 word draft, boiling it down to a still-too-long 4,300 word oral presentation that needed to be cohesive enough to keep people's attention--and finding my thesis in the process. Now my task is to blow it up again, put the pieces that still belong back together and write a new sub-section on religion, a final section on translation, and a conclusion before my window of research time closes for the summer. (When I mentioned to a professor at a Canadian research university that my standard teaching load is 7 courses a year, he nearly fell off his chair.)

Someone at CSBS commented that the topic is something of a research black hole. After spending the majority of my research time over the last 5 years on the project, I am inclined to agree. It doesn't help that new material--such as this issue of the Journal of Ancient Judaism--keeps getting published.

My working thesis for the final article is as follows:
The first section of this article begins by mapping the scholarly terrain, noting when scholars have isolated a religious meaning of Ioudaios and why they have done so. I then set Shaye Cohen’s defense of a religious meaning of Ioudaios in conversation with the competing models of Philip Esler and Steve Mason, as well as the rather different approach of Denise Kimber Buell. The comparison exposes the complexity of the debate, and prepares for an analysis of the central issues in section two: I will argue that if Cohen errs in suggesting that a transition to a religious meaning had already occurred, Esler and Mason err in suggesting that it had not begun. The result in both cases is a confusion of categories that distorts our understanding of what it would have meant to be a Ioudaios. Our challenge is to learn how to hit a moving target—how to describe identity as a process of change, not simply as a static thing. The evidence indicates that ‘What is a Ioudaios?’ was a live question in the Second Temple Period, and that ethnicity was not the only ancient answer: something like what we call ‘religion’ was emerging as an ancient category, before there was language to describe it. A final section will present and evaluate arguments for the translation of Ioudaios. Although conclusions about the meaning of Ioudaios in the Greco-Roman world necessarily play an important role in the term’s translation, I will argue that they do not settle the issue, for modern translations must also consider the reception history of the term and the contemporary political and ethical implications of its use. In the end, there are compelling contemporary reasons for translating Ioudaios by ‘Jew’ instead of ‘Judaean’.
On a more positive note, I am grateful for the chance to study and write on this stuff, and I am still intrigued by the issue, much as I wish part 3 was done.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Wilfred Cantwell Smith on the difference between outsider and insider perspectives

"The external observer's awareness is different from that of the engagé participant. A relationship of which you stand at one end, with your whole personality and perhaps your eternal destiny at stake, and at the other end stands God, crushingly overwhelming in His majesty and frightening in His imperious demands and yet utterly winsome in His unfrustratable love and concern for you as a person--this is a very different matter from those relationships that you may write down in your notebook as you observe other people's exotic behaviour, or even that you may infer from a careful study of others' symbols which, even if you finally come to understand their meaning, do not reach out and lay hold upon your life." - Wilfred Cantwell Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion (1963; repr. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 130.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Turkey & Greece 2013 Study Tour: A Preview

Five years ago my wife and I took a vacation in Turkey as a final fling before Shoshana came along. We traveled with our good friends D&D, who graciously invited us to join them, made all the travel arrangements in Turkey, and let me help set the itinerary. The only drawback was that we were limited to public transport, which meant a lot more time en route and a lot less time actually viewing Turkey's wonderful historical heritage.

Next year's Following Paul in Turkey and Greece study tour will be different: Thanks to our air-conditioned coach, we'll see way more sites in both Turkey and Greece, and our professional guides and the excellent teaching of Mark Wilson will help us make sense of what we see.

For those who interested in some of what we will see on next year's study tour, the links below will take you to posts (with pictures) from the Turkey Travelogue I compiled back in 2007:

Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia
More Hagia Sophia
The Istanbul Archaeological Museum, etc., etc., etc.
Topkapi Palace

Hierapolis Highlights

Finding Our Way in Aphrodisias
Public Life in Aphrodisias

Classical Views of Ephesus
St. Paul's Ephesus
The Road Less Traveled in Ephesus
The Harbour of Ephesus
The Great Artemis of the Ephesians
Selçuk Archaeological Museum
St. John's Basilica

Priene & Didyma
Priene, my "favorite Turkish ruins experience"
The Temple of Apollo at Didyma

Pergamum's Acropolis
Locating "Satan's Throne"
Why are there trees on ancient cultic sites?

Click here for more information about the tour.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Graham Twelftree on the priority of experience over Scripture

I came across this stimulating quote while evaluating Graham Twelftree's People of the Spirit  as a potential textbook:
"[T]he contemporary preoccupation with Scripture would probably puzzle Luke. He would be surprised that most twenty-first-century Christians see themselves essentially as people of the book, seeking guidance and their identity through reading sacred texts. Luke would argue that, even though Scriptures are important in developing Christian theology and practice, we do not find God in, or our initial identity through, reading Scripture. Scripture explains what God has already done and what we have already experienced of him. ... [I]n privileging event or experience over Scripture, Luke would affirm to us that knowledge of God and his guidance comes through the Spirit enabling inspired speech, and in providing dreams, visions and also prophets who predict the future, teach, encourage and influence, as well as providing the direction of Spirit-filled leaders. Nevertheless...Luke would also encourage us to see that texts...have their place to guide understanding and determine behaviour." - Graham H. Twelftree, People of the Spirit: Exploring Luke's View of the Church (Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic, 2009), 212-213.

I'm tempted to say, "read my colleague, Susan Wendel's book, Scriptural Interpretation and Community Self-Definition in Luke-Acts and the Writings of Justin Martyr (Leiden: Brill, 2011), and discuss. But comments are welcome even if you haven't completed all the assigned reading.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Book of Acts textbooks

I am looking for a secondary text to complement Beverly Roberts Gaventa's excellent, readable Acts commentary (Abingdon, 2003). The text needs to be well-written and accessible--something suited to a 300-level college course on the book of Acts--and should either introduce issues related to the study of Acts or stimulate reflection on the relevance of the book for Christians today. In the past, I have assigned Mark Allan Powell's What Are They Saying About Acts? (Paulist, 1991), which is a fine introduction to scholarship on Acts, except that it needs to be retitled What Were They Saying about Acts 20 Years Ago?

Luke Timothy Johnson's new Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church (Eerdmans, 2011), has lots of potential: It is organized around a major motif in Luke-Acts, Johnson does an excellent job connecting themes in Luke to Acts, and every chapter concludes with a "Challenge to the Contemporary Church." I may end up using it.

My main hesitation at this point--aside from the fact that Johnson interacts not at all with other scholars and that I disagree with his model of prophecy at some points--is that Johnson tends to set Jesus and the church over against Second Temple Judaism in a way that I find unhelpful. Take the following two quotes, for example:

(1) "Luke's description of Jesus' mission of embrace stands in starkest contrast to what might be considered two alternate prophetic programs within contemporary Judaism, each of which sought to secure a holy people, a restored people, on the basis of a strict observance of Torah and a sharp distinction between insiders and outsiders" (131). 
Read on and it becomes clear that one of the main problems with the Essenes and Pharisees is their strict "observance of purity regulations." What, I wonder, was the problem with purity regulations, which had their origin in God's law?

I am tempted to use this quote as a negative illustration next time I teach "Jewish Backgrounds to Early Christianity":
(2) "Luke also shows Jesus reversing conventional standards in the way he pays attention to and invites into fellowship those who, in the ancient world, were regarded as little deserving of attention and of little worth on the scale of social prestige....[T]he progressive silencing of women as agents in the Hebrew Bible--see above all 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah--is continued in the earliest protorabbinic writings, in which women appear mainly as distractions from the male work of studying Torah." (137-8)
What does Johnson do with early Jewish books like Tobit, Judith, and Susanna?

To be sure, I am happy to assign textbooks with which I disagree. The problem is that I would not ordinarily take time to deal with these issues in a course on Acts, but I would not want to leave comments like these unaddressed.

So my question is this: What else would you recommend?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

This is the way the blog ends...

This is the way the blog ends
This is the way the blog ends
This is the way the blog ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
- with apologies to T.S. Eliot

Don't go away, however. Such is the law of blogging that now that I have remarked on this blog's effectual demise, it will more than likely resume operation soon. Of course, I dare not mention what I hope to blog about lest I fall victim to the law of blogging's converse: advertised blog series inevitably fail to materialize.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Touring Classical sites in Turkey and Greece

I have a hard time imagining why anyone would not want to visit Greece, despite its impending financial collapse--well, anyone with an interest in the "Classics", at least. Greece, after all, is popularly regarded as the birthplace of western civilization. It is the home of Homer, the haunt of Plato and Socrates. Need I go on? Who wouldn't want to visit Athens,  Corinth, and Delphia or the royal tombs of Alexander the Great's father in Vergina?

Less well known is the fact that Western Turkey was part of ancient Greece too, and there are more, better preserved accessible archaeological sites from the Greek and Roman periods in Turkey than there are in Greece.

The focus of Briercrest's upcoming study tour of Turkey and Greece is of course NT sites related to the journeys of the apostle Paul and the seven cities of Revelation, so both countries are a must-see. Click here on the map below for a larger view of the sites we'll be visiting:

My colleague Kevin Daugherty and I were also interviewed by Julie Cole for a news article on the trip.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday, March 12, 2012

All Sad Songs

I realized today that is unwise to listen to this song from my favourite children's CD before heading off to class:

It’s been all sad songs since you’ve left
I’ve cried and I’ve kept my sorrow so deep inside
And I’ve swept up all of my pride
Sad songs since you died

It’s been all sad songs since you went away
I’ve been lost, and sleeping right through the day
This has cost me all that I had
Now the songs are all sad

Something deep inside of me
So wanted to believe
But that cost me all that I had
Now the songs are all sad

But then Mary came to our house of shame
To proclaim that you were alive again
And the grave was as empty and dark
As my broken heart

Something deep inside of me
So wanted to believe
That the grave is as empty and dark
As my broken heart

I know all sad songs have another verse
It’s the one the heavenly choirs rehearse
For that day when the broken will mend
And the sad songs will end

Not that we’ll forget, we’ll sing those songs yet
In a different key, we’ll sing differently
In the music God has arranged
All the sad songs will change

God will wipe away all our tears
Banish the fears we’ve collected for all these years
On that day when the broken will mend
The sad songs will end

Something deep inside of me
Can’t help it but believe
In that day when the broken will mend
The sad songs will end
In the music God has arranged
All the sad songs will change

The song is by Matthew Boulton of Butterflyfish on his band's self-titled album. The album is available on Amazon and presumably iTunes; I got my copy through emusic.
HT: Ben Myers

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sony Reader (PRS-T1): The Best E-Reader for Biblical Scholars

The ubiquity of the Kindle says more about the success of Amazon's marketing machine than the quality of its product. To be fair, the Kindle Touch would probably best the stock edition of my Sony Reader in a head-to-head comparison. Despite its pinch-to-zoom touch screen, good pdf support, browser, and general flexibility, the PRS-T1's PC/Mac Reader software is lousy, and user highlights aren't preserved on the "cloud" as they are with the Kindle. But the Sony has one feature that makes it far superior, in my opinion, to the competition: It runs Android OS 2.2, and can easily be rooted to run a wide variety of Android Apps, including the Kindle App for Android--so any concerns about accessing Amazon's wide selection are moot.

I was delighted to be able to access a mobile Android version of Anki's excellent free flashcard program:
A work-around has been developed to display Hebrew correctly right-to-left, although it involves stripping vowel points:
(I haven't tried any Greek databases yet, but they do work.)

You can also install a modified Home screen even without rooting the device:

Update: There is also a modified reader, which significantly improves the stock Sony Reader. After installing GentiumPlus as an additional font, getting Polytonic Greek texts to display with full accents is as simple as choosing the correct font.

Best of all, I was able to install the Logos Bible Software Android App, which gives me access to anything in my Logos library as well as morphologically tagged Greek and Hebrew Bibles:
 The Hebrew vowel points aren't perfect, but they are certainly readable, and the app works great:

  • Since I've criticized Logos in the past, I should note that their initiative to make libraries available to users across platforms at no extra charge is fantastic--definitely a selling feature.
  • Getting the Logos app working involved the rather more complicated process of installing a Micro SD card and resizing the data partition. I followed the directions here and here.  
  • If you don't own a desktop version of Logos several other Bible apps are available. 
In sum, the rooted Sony Reader can do just about everything my old Tungsten E2 could do, with a larger e-ink screen, a better battery, and internet access. If you are thinking about purchasing an e-reader, the Sony is definitely worth considering; calls it "the Best Advanced eBook Reader." The only downside is the time it takes to get all the "productivity software" up and running.

Note: Obviously, I can take no responsibility for what might happen to your device if you follow the same process.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Briercrest 2013 Study Tour: Biblical Sites in Turkey and Greece

Update: The official website is now live:

I am delighted to announce that Briercrest College and Seminary is organizing a 17-day study tour of Turkey and Greece in 2013. The tour will focus on Greco-Roman sites related to the journeys of Paul and the churches of Revelation. With stops in Troy, Athens, Corinth and Delphi, the trip will also be of interest to students of Classical Greece. I can say from experience that Turkey is amazing. I can't wait to go back and see Greece as well!

The trip will be hosted by me and my colleague, Dr. Kevin Daugherty, and will feature six days of teaching by Dr. Mark Wilson, director of the Seven Churches Network, and author of Biblical Turkey: A Guide to Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor (2010). Accommodation, travel, and guiding in Turkey and Greece will be organized by Tutku Tours. International airfare and travel insurance will be arranged by Menno Travel.

Our current itinerary is as follows:
  • April 28, Sunday Departure Regina, SK  
  • April 29, Monday Arrive Istanbul Meet our Tutku Tour guide and transfer to our hotel in Istanbul. The rest of the day is free. Overnight in Istanbul. 

  • April 30, Tuesday Istanbul On our first full day in Turkey we will sample some of the stunning sites in Istanbul, including the Hippodrome, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the Archaeological Museum, the Underground Cistern and the Grand Bazaar. Overnight in Istanbul.
  •  May 1, Wednesday Morning Flight to Antalya; Perga – Attalia After our arrival in Antalya, we will visit the Greco-Roman city of Perga (Acts 13:13-14; 14:25) and the Antalya Museum before taking a walking tour of Attalia that concludes at the Asia Minor Research Center. Overnight in Antalya. 

  • May 2, Thursday Pisidian Antioch – Colossae This morning we will drive to Yalvaç to visit Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:14) and Yalvaç Museum. We will then drive west past ancient Apollonia and Apamea, with a brief stop at the unexcavated site of Colossae. Overnight in Pamukkale. 
  •  May 3, Friday Hierapolis – Laodicea – Aphrodisias – Kusadasi Today we will visit the biblical cities of Hierapolis (Col 4:13) and Laodicea, and stop in Aphrodisias. Overnight Kuşadasi. 
  • May 4, Saturday Ephesus – Kuşadasi We will spend the day touring the ancient site of Ephesus, including terrace houses and the temple of Artemis, as well as St. John’s Basilica and the museum in Selçuk. Overnight Kuşadasi. 
  • May 5, Sunday Miletus – Didyma – Priene – Izmir Today we will visit Miletus (Acts 20:15, 17), the Temple of Apollo at Didyma, and the Hellenistic city of Priene. Overnight Izmir
  • May 6, Monday Smyrna, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Thyatira – Bergama Today we will concentrate on the cities mentioned in Revelation 2-3, with visits to Smyrna, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Thyatira. Overnight Bergama. 
  • May 7, Tuesday Pergamum – Assos We will spend most of the day visiting the extensive cite of Pergamum (Rev 2:12-17), including the acropolis, the Red Basilica, and the Asclepium. We will then drive past the port city of Adramyttium mentioned in Acts 27:2. Overnight Assos. 

  • May 8, Wednesday Assos – Troas – Troy - Transfer to Greece After an early breakfast, we will tour the site of Assos (Acts 20:13-14), and then travel to Greece with stops along the way in Troas and Troy. Overnight Kavala. 
  • May 9, Friday. Neapolis – Philippi – Amphipolis - We will begin our day in Neapolis and then follow the route of Paul’s second missionary journey with visits to Neapolis, Philippi and Amphipolis, and a final drive to Thessalonica. Overnight Thessaloniki. 
  • May 10, Saturday Thessalonica – Berea – Vergina After visiting ancient Thessalonica, we will drive to Berea (Acts 17), and then visit the royal tombs of Macedonia at Vergina. Overnight Delphi. 
  • May 11, Sunday Delphi We will spend the day at the beautiful ancient Greek city of Delphi. Overnight Corinth. 
  • May 12, Monday Corinth – Cenchrae We will spend the day in the famous city of Corinth and the port of Cenchrae. Overnight Athens. 
  • May 13, Tuesday Athens the acropolis and agora; Mars hill. On our final day, we will visit the acropolis of Athens, the extensive agora, and Mars hill. We will also tour the Parthenon museum. Overnight Athens. 
  • May 14, Wednesday Transfer to Athens Airport – Fly back to Regina, SK – End. 
  • (See my Turkey Travelogue for photos and more information on Istanbul, Hierapolis, Aphrodisias, Ephesus, Didyma, Priene, and Pergamum.) 
The tour is open to all Briercrest College and Seminary students in good standing as well as friends and alumni of Briercrest. So mark your calendar for April 28 - May 14, 2013, and stay tuned for more details!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

More on the influence of E.P. Sanders

As a footnote to my earlier post on the influence of E.P. Sanders, I observe that Sanders and Jacob Neusner are the only living scholars of early Judaism to merit a biographical entry in the Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism. (If memory serves, it was disagreement between Sanders and Neusner that prompted Sanders' Jewish Law from the Jesus to the Mishnah.)

The full list of biographical entries in the Eerdmans Dictionary is as follows:

Bickerman, Elias
Bousset, Wilhelm
Charles, Robert Henry
Goodenough, Erwin Ramsdell
Hengel, Martin
Moore, George Foote
Neusner, Jacob
Sanders, Ed Parish
Schürer, Emil
Smith, Morton
Tcherikover, Victor (Avigdor)
Wolfson, Harry Austryn

Who else should have been included?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Middle Eastern Irony

It took me a little while to appreciate the irony of this letter that came in the mail from Bethlehem Bible College late last year:

The stamp looks innocuous enough, displaying a typical Israeli dish of St. Peter's Fish:

But I'm guessing that no one from the occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank would have selected this stamp if they read the Hebrew:

שנהיה לראש ולא לזנב
"...that we will be the head and not the tail"

. . .  and recognized the allusion to Deuteronomy 28:13:

 וּנְתָנְךָ יהוה לְרֹאשׁ וְלֹא לְזָנָב
"The LORD will make you the head and not the tail"

The emblem of Bethlehem Bible College in the middle of the envelope points to a double irony. (Was it intentional?):

 For Christians who affirm that the star which rose in the east pointed to the Star "that rises from Jacob" (Num 24:17), the "lion of the tribe of Judah," Deuteronomy 28:13 will find its ultimate fulfilment in Bethlehem Bible College's Messiah.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

My youngest Hebrew student

I started teaching Shoshana the Hebrew alphabet to vary her bed-time routine. Then I gave her Hebrew alphabet magnets for Christmas to help her learn the shapes. The first time she recited them all on her own she announced,

"I'm learning! Pretty soon I'll be able to go to SBL!"

This evening I showed her the first few videos from the Biblical Language Center's excellent Living Biblical Hebrew MP4. As it turns out, she's been making pretty good progress on the numbers too:

Click here for a sample of the first Living Biblical Hebrew picture lesson. Simple enough "that even a child can follow," as they say.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The influence of E.P. Sanders

Mark Goodacre has described E. P. Sanders as "the greatest living New Testament Scholar" (here and here). Joshua Schwartz says something similar in his review of a festschrift in Sander's honour:
Most of us in academia hope to come up with a few new and original ideas that will impact upon scholars and scholarship. If we are lucky and this happens, we might remain in the eye of scholarship for a generation or two, but after that most of us and our work fade into various levels of academic oblivion. Only very few scholars produce work of such monumental importance that it becomes benchmarks not only for colleagues but for anyone wishing to study a particular field. Sanders has done this in not one or even two but in three centrally important areas of New Testament study: Judaism, Jesus, and Paul. Moreover, even if one does not study Christianity or Jesus, it is still impossible today to work on the Second Temple period without Sanders, and obviously this is the case regarding Jesus and Paul. This has been true for decades and will undoubtedly continue to be so for the coming ones. Few scholars have been able to bend, as it were, the not always pliant study of religious traditions and to form it into something new. Not all agree with him; his work has sometimes aroused opposition and criticism, but we cannot make do without it. The present volume is a fitting accolade for an outstanding scholar. - Joshua Schwartz, review of Fabian E. Udoh, Susannah Heschel, Mark A. Chancey, and Gregory Tatum, eds., Redefining First-Century Jewish and Christian Identities: Essays in Honor of Ed Parish Sanders (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008) [].

I was about to announce that גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב is officially on ice until further notice, but then I came across a few unfinished posts in my draft folder that seemed worth saving. The above quote was one of them.