Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Some News: Introducing Dr. & Dr. Miller

Four years ago the Miller family traveled to England so that t. could pursue a PhD in History at the University of Cambridge. We returned to Saskatchewan in 2019, in time to shelter in place through a pandemic, but the Cambridge journey--or this leg of the journey--only recently came to an end. 

In a way this is old news for us: t. successfully defended her thesis in August during a Zoom viva. But she only received official approval from the faculty of history last week, along with the examiners' comments and a note that she passed with "no corrections."

Short of attending commencement, which is not in the cards, this is as official as it's going to be. And this is as much authorization as I am going to get to publicly congratulate Dr. Miller on a job well done!

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Old Testament Faculty Position at Briercrest College

I am happy to report that Briercrest College is looking to fill a faculty position in Old Testament: 

Briercrest College invites applications for a full-time faculty position in the field of Biblical Studies - Old Testament commencing August 1st, 2022. 

The successful candidate will be an enthusiastic teacher and researcher. Τhey will contribute to an established Biblical Studies Department in Briercrest's engaging intellectual and spiritual environment where the liberal arts, alongside biblical studies, stand at the core of all undergraduate degree programs. Candidates should possess a Ph.D. (although exceptional ABDs may be considered) and demonstrate potential for excellence in teaching, research, and service to the church. Experience teaching Biblical Hebrew using the communicative approach will be an asset.

More details about the position are here

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Vaccination Aphorisms

When Christians are unmoored from love it dishonours Love. 
When Christians are unmoored from truth it dishonours the Truth.
Notice that the aphorisms do not single out individuals for criticism. As Augustine observes in one of my favourite passages, those who are sincerely wrong—as we all are a lot of the time—are to be corrected, but those who knowingly spread falsehood are culpable. I would add that those who abet falsehood are also culpable. David French, I suspect, would agree. 

Christian leaders charged with speaking about the Truth must also speak truth as far as they are able. This does not mean anyone can or should comment on every matter of public interest (especially in areas outside their competence). Stamping out fires is a distraction from the Truth-speaker's and Truth-seeker's vocation. 

But posture matters. Part of the humility that comes with pursuit of truth and love for the Truth is acknowledgement of the limits of one's own knowledge and a posture of respect for those with expertise in fields other than one's own. 

And sometimes—say, in a national health crisis when evangelical Christians are among the most vaccine resistant—the truth is called for: Get vaccinated.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Greek Alphabet Song (Modern Greek Pronunciation)

Thirteen years ago my friend, Luke Johnson, composed and recorded a Greek Alphabet song for my Greek students, using a Reconstructed Koine pronunciation. 

This summer Katy Turgeon, one of the teaching assistants in our second Immersive Greek Semester, recorded a cover of Luke's tune with the help of Geoff Dresser, Briercrest's Worship Arts professor. The reason for the new version is our switch from Reconstructed Koine to Modern Greek pronunciation in our Ancient Greek language classes, but Katy's version--and Geoff's guitar solo--are worth a listen regardless of which pronunciation system you prefer.  

If the play button doesn't work on the embedded file, click here for Katy's recording.

You can listen to Luke's original here.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Romans Readings

I decided to switch up the reading requirements for this fall's modular course on Paul's letter to the Romans. I will still require Stephen Westerholm's Understanding Paul (Baker Academic, 2004), which remains a fine introduction to the worldview of Romans:

But instead of Leander Keck's much longer (385 pp.) commentary on Romans (Abingdon, 2005), I am assigning (1) Beverly Roberts Gaventa's short and wonderfully engaging, When in Romans: An Invitation to Linger with the Gospel According to Paul (Baker Academic, 2016):

(2) John Barclay's hot-off-the-press, Paul and the Power of Grace (Eerdmans, 2020):

(3) A longer selection of book chapters and journal articles by other Pauline scholars.

I still regard Keck's commentary as the best short commentary on Romans available—and my seminary students will still need to read it—but it is dense, and I am not sure my undergraduate students give themselves enough time to digest it. In different ways, Westerholm, Gaventa, and especially the chapters on Romans in Barclay will have to do as a shorter and more accessible pre-class discussion of Paul's argument.

Dropping Keck lets me assign a combination of recent and seminal journal articles and essays on parts of Romans, without adding (much!) to the overall reading load:

Dunn, James D. G. “The New Perspective on Paul.” Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library 65, no. 2 (1983): 95–122.

Eastman, Susan. “Double Participation and the Responsible Self in Romans 5-8.” Pages 93–110 in Apocalyptic Paul: Cosmos and Anthropos in Romans 5-8. Edited by Beverly Roberts Gaventa. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2013.

Gorman, Michael J. “‘Justified by Faith … Crucified with Christ’: Reconciliation with God through Participation in Christ.” Pages 111-131 in Reading Paul. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2008.

Hays, Richard B. “Abraham as Father of Jews and Gentiles.” Pages 61–84 in The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005.

Käsemann, Ernst. “‘The Righteousness of God’ in Paul.” Pages 168–82 in New Testament Questions of Today. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969.

Linebaugh, Jonathan A. “Announcing the Human: Rethinking the Relationship between Wisdom of Solomon 13-15 and Romans 1.18-2.11.” New Testament Studies 57, no. 2 (2011): 214–37.

McCaulley, Esau. “Freedom Is No Fear: The New Testament and a Theology of Policing.” Pages 25–46 in Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Wright, Nicholas Thomas. “Christ, the Law and the People of God: The Problem of Romans 9-11.” Pages 231–57 in The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991. (too long, unfortunately)

Zoccali, Christopher. “‘And so All Israel Will Be Saved’: Competing Interpretations of Romans 11.26 in Pauline Scholarship.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30, no. 3 (2008): 289–318.

The effect of assigning readings from a variety of perspectives will, I hope, increase student engagement as well as stimulate my own learning.

Here are the college and seminary versions of the syllabus for anyone who is interested:

For an assortment of other Romans-related posts, click here.


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

The Quest for Certainty and the Climax of the Book of Acts

Sunset at Waskesiu Lake, 23 May 2021
There is a humorous quality to the Roman tribune’s repeated attempts to find out the truth—literally, the “certainty” (τὸ ἀσφαλές; to asphales)—of the charges against Paul in Acts 21-23. First, there is too much of an uproar in the Temple (21:34). Then Paul’s speech to the crowd in the Temple sparks another riot, so the tribune decides on torture. Βut Paul is a Roman citizen, so he orders the Sanhedrin to meet because he wants to get to the bottom of the matter—the certainty (τὸ ἀσφαλές) of what he was accused by the Jews (22:30). Something similar happens in Caesarea when the Roman governor Festus explains to King Agrippa that he still does not have “anything certain” (ἀσφαλές τι) to write to the emperor about Paul (25:26).

If I may indulge in a bit of speculative word association, I am tempted to suggest that the references to “certainty” are clues. Αccording to Luke 1:4, Luke wrote to convince Theophilus of the “certainty” (ἀσφάλειαν) of the things about which he had been instructed. Are these speeches why Luke wrote Acts? Are the things about which Luke wants to convince Theophilus (and his other readers) embedded in these often ignored chapters?

Brown bear by Waskesiu Lake, 22 May 2021

For other reflections on the possible purposes of Acts, see these posts.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Koiné Greek Immersive Semester 2.0

This fall Briercrest College and Seminary will be offering its innovative immersive Greek semester for a second time, and there is still room for a few more students in the class.

Our intensive series of five three credit-hour courses is designed to take students from the Greek alphabet to an introductory / intermediate* reading knowledge of ancient Greek, including the Koiné Greek of the New Testament. In our immersive classroom context on the Briercrest College & Seminary campus, students will have the opportunity to learn ancient Greek in ancient Greek, as they would any modern language. Because it is geared to the way people naturally learn languages, an active communicative approach to Koiné Greek leads to deeper and longer-lasting learning than the conventional grammar-translation approach used in most North American academic settings; it also appeals to a wider range of learning styles (and is more fun!)

So if you want:
  • To begin to develop actual fluency in ancient Greek,
  • To read Koiné Greek with better comprehension than you would after a conventional grammar translation course of the same length,
  • And you want to complete a two-year Greek language requirement in one semester,
Then the program might be for you!

The immersive semester will run in-person five days a week throughout the 15-week fall semester, so you will need to relocate to our Canadian campus in order to participate. 

For more information, see the course descriptions (here), as well as my posts about the first immersive semester:

Monday, April 19, 2021

Etti Ankri (אתי אנקרי) sings the Psalms

Etti Ankri.jpg
CC BY-SA 3.0Link

My latest favourite Israeli singer is Etti Ankri. She received a lot of airtime at the tail-end of this semester's Introductory Hebrew II course both while I prepared for classes, and in class as ambient noise during group work and in the moments before class began each day. (Even if my students don't catch the words it counts as exposure to Hebrew.) 

Wikipedia will tell you that Etti Ankri is an Israeli actress and pop singer who underwent a sort of religious conversion to observant Judaism beginning in the early 2000's, and her music followed suit. Unlike the other Israeli musicians I highlighted in an earlier post, you won't find much more about Ankri in English online, though this 2009 interview in Haaretz is well worth your time (if you can get past the pay-wall) for its reflections on Jewish spirituality, song-writing, and just plain wisdom.

It goes without saying that Ankri is a fine musician. But although I enjoy her music a lot, I am especially attracted to the high incidence of biblical language and ideas in her lyrics. Frequently, in fact, her songs come straight out of the Psalms. 

Here are the examples I've noticed so far, beginning with her 2004 album, מיליונים ("Millions"):

Psalm 59  

The song ואני אשיר ("And I will sing") puts the Hebrew text of Psalm 59:17 to music:

Psalm 67

The final song on the album offers a rendition of Psalm 67 (including the superscription):

The album version is here.

Psalm 23

Ankri's 2009 album, בשירי רבי יהודה הלוי, puts to music some of the religious poems of the great medieval poet, Judah Halevi, but the album ends with a version of Psalm 23 that opens with a prayer influenced by Psalm 22:2 ('My God, My God, do not forsake me in darkness'):
The album version is here.

I noticed lines from the Psalms in three of the songs in Ankri's 2012 album, הניגוּן שלך ('Your Melody'):

Psalm 119

In פלגי מים, the chorus is drawn from Psalm 119:136, with a few minor changes--the most significant of which is a shift from third to first person. Instead of "Rivers of water run down my eyes, because they keep not thy law" (to quote the KJV) (פַּלְגֵי־מַיִם יָרְדוּ עֵינָי עַל לֹא־שָׁמְרוּ תוֹרָתֶךָ), Ankri sings "Rivers of water run down my eyes, because kept not thy law" (פלגי מים רבים ירדו עיני על שלא שמרתי תורתך):

Psalm 131

The chorus of מחוץ לזמן echoes a line from Psalm 131:1, "my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high (לֹא־גָבַהּ לִבִּי וְלֹא־רָמוּ עֵינַי). In her rendition, Ankri sings "So that my heart will not be lifted up, my eyes not raised too high, you protect me from myself": 

 שלא יגבה ליבי
 ולא ירמו עיני
 אתה שומר אותי מפני 

 The tune is nice too:

Psalm 118:1

As usual, the final song on the album is from the Psalms, this time from Psalm 118:1:

Saturday, March 6, 2021

A Few of My Favourite Things: Hebrew Music

I have been listening to Israeli music for two decades now, starting with the first four-disc Avodah Ivrit collection--picked up in 2001 from a vendor in Tel Aviv's old bus terminal--and moving on to Ahinoam Nini, Shlomo Artzi, David Broza, Ofra Haza, and the fabulous Idan Raichel Project

Although I seldom sit down to try to make out the meaning of an entire song, bits and pieces of familiar words and phrases have helped me retain more Modern Hebrew than I otherwise would have.

I often play Israeli music in class, normally as unintelligible ambient noise during small group discussions--though in Hebrew language classes it contributes more directly to an immersive environment and I actually hope my students will be distracted by what they hear. But my aims are not simply utilitarian: I enjoy listening to Israeli music, and I hope my students do too.  

Here are a few favourite artists and songs, arranged more-or-less in chronological order:

Ofra Haza, the "Israeli Madonna," recorded מישהו הולך תמיד איתי ("Someone always walks with me") in 1985: 

(hebrewsongs.com has a transliteration and English translation.)

David Broza also made it big in the 1980's, but my favourite David Broza recording is his 1998 cover of אצלך כמו תמיד on Avodah Ivrit:

Shlomo Artzi has been performing since the 1970's too. Like David Broza, he is still at it. This duet is from Artzi's 2000 album, אהבתיהם:

Ahinoam Nini performs internationally as Noa, often in collaboration with Gil Dor. Here is a live recording of בואי כלה, a Leah Goldberg poem that Noa and Dor put to music and recorded in 1993 on their first studio album: 

Last but not least, Idan Raichel and the Idan Raichel Project have received the most airtime since I first discovered Idan Raichel's music ten or twelve years ago. Check out last year's socially-distanced Independence Day concert to see why: 

My latest favourite Israeli singer is Etti Ankri, but her biblically-inflected music deserves a post of its own.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

On Jesus' address to God as Father and Ancient Judaism

It is a commonplace in New Testament scholarship that Jesus' characteristic address to God as Father was distinctive if not unique in the first century.

According to Scot McKnight, "'Father' occurs only occasionally in the evidence that survives from Second Temple Judaism." Jesus, by contrast, "taught his disciples to pray, as a matter of routine address, 'Our Father'" (McKnight 1999: 54-55; emphasis added).

Richard Bauckham maintains that Jesus' "almost exclusive use of 'Father' to address God was certainly very unusual" and proposes that Jesus' innovation was to adopt "the word 'Father' as his own chosen substitute for the Divine Name." (Bauckham 2020: 53)

Wesley Hill's brief popular exposition of the Sermon on the Mount contrasts Jesus' frequent use of "Father" for God with Old Testament and, by implication, with "[o]ther Jewish texts that ... use 'father' for God":

"T]here remains throughout the Old Testament a certain reserve about the father metaphor for God. ... It is almost as if these rare instances of the God of Israel being called (or calling Himself) 'father' are placeholders, awaiting some unforeseen future revelation that will cause them to take on a new resonance." (Hill 2019: 11 and 106 note 11).

Dale Allison's 1999 attempt at an accessible commentary on the Sermon on the Mount is now rather dated by the get-the-latest-new-book standards of New Testament scholarship, but seems to me to adopt a better approach:

"No prayer in the Hebrew Bible opens with this address, although the idea that God is the father of faithful Israel, his children, is certainly well attested. ... The Mishnah, however, does use the phrase, 'Our Father in heaven' ... and extrabiblical Jewish prayers do have invocations with 'Father.' .... In the light of all the parallels, especially the Qumran texts, it is unwise to insist (as so many have when writing on the Lord's prayer) that Jesus use of 'Abba' was unique. ... At the same time, it remains true that early Christian sources speak of God as Father much more frequently than contemporary Jewish sources; and since Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15; and Gal. 4:6 transliterate the Aramaic 'abba' into Greek, there is a good chance that the address was thought special because characteristic of Jesus." (Allison 1999: 117)

To be sure, McKnight, Bauckham and Hill are careful enough scholars to avoid referring to Jesus' usage as "unique," but they continue to emphasize discontinuity between Jesus and his Jewish context. Allison explores the same evidence in more detail, and stresses continuity.

I suspect the difference between Allison, on the one hand, and McKnight, Bauckham and Hill, on the other, comes down to scholarly posture:

(1) Allison is more cautious when it comes to filling in historical gaps: As evidence for ancient Jewish references to God as father, Allison quotes from a story in the Bablylonian Talmud about Hanan, the grandson of Honi the Circle Drawer:

"When the world was in need of rain, the rabbis used to send school-children to him who seized the train of his cloak and said to him, Abba, Abba, give us rain! He said to God: Lord of the universe, render a service to those who cannot distinguish between the Abba who gives rain and the Abba who does not." (b.Taanit 23b in Allison 1999:117)

In this case, Allison's caution is warranted. We know far less about Honi the Circle Drawer and his grandson than we do about Jesus. When we crunch the numbers and compare Jesus' usage with that of other ancient Jews, we need to keep the fragmentary nature of our surviving evidence in mind.

(2) Allison actively resists the deeply-ingrained Christian impulse to set Jesus over against his Jewish environment--and for good reason after centuries of Christian denigration of Jews and Judaism. To paraphrase Amy-Jill Levine, we don't need a bad Judaism to have a good Jesus. The authority of Jesus' teaching does not rest on its being unique in all respects. As Allison observes, "A Jew wanting to have nothing to do with Jesus could still pray the Our Father" (1999: 134).


Allison, Dale C. The Sermon on the Mount: Inspiring the Moral Imagination. New York: Crossroad, 1999.

Bauckham, Richard. Who Is God?: Key Moments of Biblical Revelation. Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020.

Hill, Wesley. The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying to Our Father. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019.

Levine, Amy-Jill. “Bearing False Witness: Common Errors Made about Early Judaism.” Pages 759–63 in The Jewish Annotated New Testament. Edited by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Levine, Amy-Jill. The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006.

McKnight, Scot. A New Vision for Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.

Friday, January 8, 2021

The Joy-Drenched Essence of All Things

Milton Steinberg's powerful novel about the rabbinic heretic, Elisha ben Abuyah, contains this remarkable description of the biblical--and rabbinic--worldview:
"Inevitably, contrasts suggested themselves between this [Greek] literature and that Scripture to which so many years of Elisha's life had been dedicated. It was a sternly earnest book, that of the Jews, and yet animated for all its dour austerity by a confident serenity which the Greeks seemed never to experience. For, given its presuppositions, all things were good by virtue of the God who pervaded them. There was for men no burning urgency in the quest for the fugitive experience. Love and laughter were but transient manifestations of the joy-drenched essence of all things." - Milton Steinberg, As a Driven Leaf (Behrman House, 1939), 354.
I first finished reading As a Driven Leaf ten years ago today, and blogged about it here, here, and here. (I see that I was struck by this passage the first time through as well.)