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.