Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Biblical Studies Carnival

Time for the obligatory mention of the Biblical Studies Carnival, this time hosted by Michael Pahl over on the stuff of earth. Another fantastic job.

And my hiatus is over (thank heaven for small miracles and all that. I'm about company-ed out. One can only keep their "I-have-guests" smile on for so long before the face begins to get weary), though posting probably won't be as frequent as it once was, with the baby and all.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Blogging Hiatus Update: I'm not Quite Dead Yet -- I think I'm Getting Better!

Roll again if you catch the reference in the title (come on now, you don't think you get a trivial pursuit pie piece for such an easy one?).

Just a quick update on my blogging hiatus today. We've had family come over from the other end of Canuckistan, who will be joining us for another two weeks. Once that's done, I hope to resume my usual dilettantist musings, so don't delete me from that blogroll just yet!

In the meantime, a Quote for the Day, that I think quite nicely captures one of the greater problems of Historical Jesus research--Who is really speaking, and to whom?

[R]eligious apologetics and polemics usually do not supply a sober description of either of the two parties engaged in argument. Despite the theoretical purpose of addressing and confuting one's adversaries outside, most religious apologetics and polemics are directed inward. Their real function is to give a sense of assurance and reinforcement to the group producing the polemics. Most apologetics and polemics are thus an attempt to shore up group solidarity and conviction within a community that feels insecure and under attack. . . Are we to imagine that Palestinian Pharisees actually heard and responded to such polemical traditions as Mark 2:23-26? I think, rather, that this dispute story, like most of the gospel traditions, is aimed primarily inward, addressing the Christian community that is in need of support and instruction.

John P. Meier, The Historical Jesus and the Plucking of Grain on the Sabbath, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 66.4 (Oct.2004), 581.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Last Self-Indulgent Post--Baby Pictures!

Here's a pic of my little girl before her transfusions (actually, it's about an hour into her first transfusion--she was initially even paler than this).

And here's a pic of her taken today.

Isn't she beautiful? Of course, I'm probably a little biased.


We just got back from the hospital, where our little girl had an MRI today (a follow-up from an EEG yesterday), which confirms that her brain is A-OK.

And on that fantastic note, I must sleep. Ideally for about a month.

Monday, September 18, 2006

It's a Girl!

Six pounds, one ounce of Rayne Kelcey Sumner joined the world at 15:28 yesterday! Happy Zeroth Birthday! (Hey, if Asimov can use "zeroth," so can I).

I hope readers will forgive another personal note, but after the stress of the last two days, I think I'm entitled a little self-indulgence, so bear with me.

It turns out that my daughter's incredibly low blood content was due to a tear in the placenta. They're still unable to find any such thing, but they did find 1.5 cups of my daughter's blood in my wife (an awful lot of blood when you're six pounds or so), so it was clearly leaking somewhere. Of course, any such loss of blood is bad, but knowing that's what it is is emphatically good--it means that there's no disorder behind it, just a loss of blood, and so the transfusion should be all she needs.

This is borne out by her current condition, which is hugely improved. All indications are that my little girl is going to be A-OK!

Unfortunately, my camera's still at the hospital with my wife--not that it matters much, since I can't find the cable for the thing--but I'll update this post with pictures once I have it here. I'll post one before, and one after the transfusion, to give a little perspective on just how lucky we are.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

What a Day - I'm a Dad! . . .Somewhat Tentatively.

I hope readers will excuse the more personal notes, but. . .wow.

My wife noticed this morning that her fetal movement had substantially diminished, so off we went to the hospital to have it checked out, expecting nothing more than the baby facing the wrong way or some other such minor problem. Monitoring there turns up nothign really wrong, per se, but nothing reassuring either, so they opt to induce labour. Further discussion about my wife's body's readiness for such a thing leads them instead to opt for a c-section.

Fast-forward two hours. While the baby was being removed, we hear her cry for about two seconds, before one of the doctors bellows "she's much too pale! Get Dr. Cook!"

Nothing is said to us while we hear great commotion going on on the other side of the curtain. Doctors are flying in (let this be a lesson to any readers who prefer home birthing. Today I became emphatically and unequivocally convinced that such a choice is purest idiocy--doctors go to med school for a reason!). We're left speechless, while I try to console my wife who has broken into the tears I was choking back--it was without question the most emotional five minutes of my life.

The next two hours are a blur of half-answered questions, while doctors and nurses milled about my daughter (and, of course, my recovering wife). Finally, we get a full rundown.

"Unknown causes" led my daughter to have incredibly severe anemia. Normal blood pH is 7.35-7.45. Fluctuation from that is very bad news. My daughter's was 6.94. Her hemoglobin count was thirty-four. That's less than twenty percent of what it should be (somewhere in the neighbourhood of 200). Her red blood cell count was 30 percent of normal.

By rights she should have been stillborn. Not only wasn't she, her heartrate was always fine, she could breathe on her own from the outset, and her oxygen levels were always on the low end of normal. The hematologist has no explanation for this. My daughter was in an oxygen tent for all of two hours, and that purely precautionary--again, her levels were fine.

An injection of saline was administered immediately to give her heart something to pump, and a transfusion was started a couple hours ago (a six hour process--I won't know the results of it until I return to the hospital in the morning, but she was progressing well when I left). The saline (and the doctor who so promptly administered it) unquestionably saved her life--at least as it stands now. It's impossible to say for certain that her body will produce it's own hemoglobin and red blood cells after the transfusion, but failing to do so is (I'm told) quite rare, so the prognosis is good. Amazingly, none of her organs--including her brain--show any indication of damage from what should have been a substantial lack of oxygen. Though it's still too early to tell for certain.

If we'd arrived at the hospital even an hour later, my daughter would be dead. I can't begin to describe how much I hope we made it in time.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Blogging Hiatus

I'll be on a bit of a hiatus for the next bit (well, not entirely, more or less as it is currently, and has been for the last couple weeks). As the big day approaches, I find there are more and more things I forgot to get to, making time a scarce commodity.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Biblical Studies Carnival IX

It's time for the obligatory (and, at this point, extremely redundant to most readers, though perhaps someone stumbling on my 'blog will arrive and be directed to the best of the biblioblogs for the month of August) mention of the Biblical Studies Carnival. It's a stroke of fantastic good fortune that so many able volunteers host these each month, the latest on Stephen C. Carlson's Hypotyposeis.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Quote of the Day - Why People Believe

One of the most interesting results to come out of this study was that the intellectually based reasons of "good design" and "experience of God," which were in first and second place in the first question of Why do you believe in God?, dropped to sixth and third place for the second question of Why do you think other people believe in God? Taking their place as the two most common reasons other people believe in God were the emotionally based categories of "comforting" and "raised to believe."

Michael Shermer, How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God (Second Edition), Owl Books, 2003. p.85

Shermer goes on to suggest that the reason for this is an attribution bias--we tend to view ourselves as rational, and others as emotional. I'd take it a step farther than that, and suggest we tend to see in others a reflection of self, while insight is--as Loren Rosson often points out--quite frequently self-deception.

Paul in The Lutheran

Wow. I don't even have a baby yet, and time is already a scarce commodity.

As mentioned by Mark Goodacre, there's an article in the most recent issue of The Lutheran dealing with the New Perspective on Paul.

Mark expresses his hope to offer some comments on the application of 1QS, and 4QMMT has been done to death (and, contra Wright, I think Donfried is right. It is expressing works-righteousness, though Wright is right in that the context affects what's being said such that it's not as contra Paul as it seems). So while I won't touch on either of those, I will note what seems, to me, to be another shortcoming of the article.

Evidence is increasingly mounting that Qumran has nothing to do with the Dead Sea Scrolls. While they may or may not be Essenes, it's becoming quite difficult to equate the texts with the site. While his point holds--whoever wrote the texts was clearly concerned with "purity,"--this can be established textually with ease. Why does he try to establish it from the remains of K. Qumran, an argument that is increasingly tenuous?

Another error, IMO, is the failure to even acknowledge, much less address, the arguments of Fitzmyer than 2Cor.6.14-7.1 is interpolated. To be sure, this suggestion has been challenged (Amador, for an example available online), but if one is going to analogue 2Cor to Qumran, one is loathe to neglect to so much as mention the possibility.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

I'm Still Here - Quote of the Day

Well, it's been quite the hectic week, including several computer crashes (playing with things I shouldn't be, as usual), and two trips to the hospital (my wife assures me she knows the difference between Braxton-Hicks and labour now. I remain a skeptic. But better to err on the side of caution and all that).

So, in a token display of my-blog's-not-dead, here's a quote of the day to tide you over until next time (which should be less of a wait than this has been):

Paul is a Jewish Christian concerned to see God’s promises to Israel brought to complete fulfillment. Christianity is the fulfillment of Judaism, not the annulment of it. The fulfillment of Judaism means the incorporation of Gentiles into the people of God. Paul’s argument in Romans is corporate. He is redefining the people of God to embrace Gentiles, as well as Jews. It is about God as the God of Jews as well as Gentiles; it is about the seed of Abraham; it is about incorporation into the new humanity of Christ over against the old humanity of Adam. Paul is redrawing the boundaries that mark out the covenant people of God.

Toews, John E.: Romans. Scottdale, Pa. : Herald Press, 2004 (Believers Church Bible Commentary), S. 31

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Paul the Law and the New Perspective Part V

Complete Series

I'd originally intended to present a few posts outlining covenantal nomism, however, further reflection has led me to suspect that not only is it not necessary to my topic question--What is the New Perspective on Paul--it might even serve to draw attention away from it. So further discussion on covenantal nomism might be the topic of a later series, while for now, I'll instead move directly into the final post in the series, and a look at the New Perspective on Paul

The New Perspective on Paul

We have seen thus far that there was a long tradition of viewing Judaism as legalistic, and viewing Paul in that light. More specifically, Paul was traditionally read as opposing that legalism. With Sanders' seminal work, Paul and Palestinian Judaism calling into question that perception of Judaism, suggesting instead that it should be viewed as a religion of covenantal nomism. This new understanding of Judaism demanded a new understanding of Paul, which Sanders turned his attention to in the second half of Paul and Palestinian Judaism as well as in his follow-up essays, collected in Paul, the Law and the Jewish People.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Sanders' understanding of Paul is the emphasis he places on who Paul's audience was: They were Gentiles. Paul preached to Gentiles, on behalf of Gentiles. The thrust of his message on justification concerns Gentiles over and against the Judaizers, who would have it that Paul's converts accept the Mosaic Law, including (and most emphasized by Paul) circumcision.

Sanders chooses to break this question of justification into two parts: "Getting in" and "staying in." Paul's criticism of the Law is thus based upon the question of "how to enter the body of those who would be saved."(1) It is a question of getting in, not one of staying in. Equally importantly, Sanders does not see Paul's opponents on the matter as "Jews," per se, rather they are "Jewish Christians." With this in mind, the suggestion that Paul's issue is one of "faith in Christ" versus "works of the Law," as either are traditionally understood, has little cogency. Paul is not here criticizing Judaism or Jews, he is offering a scathing criticism of Christian missionaries. The argument with these missionaries addresses how one "gets in," or more specifically, how one enters into the people of God to take advantage of the covenantal promises. Thus Sanders suggests that

when Paul opposed "faith" to "law" the question was what is required to be a member of the group that would be saved(3)

Sanders suggests that, as in traditional Judaism, Paul believed one would be saved (entered into the covenant) by virtue of faith, as in traditional Judaism, one's works would determine reward and punishment. As to the question of "staying in," Paul saw no opposition between faith and works, and indeed saw the latter as the natural expression of the former, and it is appropriate for a functional congregation that one preform some form of the Law (though Paul does not seem to espouse the more traditional Jewish acts of Torah).

To Sanders, the most important point in reading Paul is to understand the context--not only what he was saying, but why he was saying it and to whom. This seems almost a truism, but is one that had been frequently overlooked in Pauline studies.

[Paul]'s answers to questions of behavior have a logic of their own. There is no systematic explanation of how those who have died to the law obey it. Yet he regarded Scripture as expressing the will of God. We should recall that even the statements that righteousness is not by the law are supported in part by Scripture. Thus it was natural that, when questions of behavior arose, he would answer by waying that, among other things, that Christians should fulfill the Law. (4)

Yet while Sanders does not find in Paul the traditional rejection of Judaism for the traditional reasons, he still finds that Paul did reject Judaism (or at least Judaism as it is tradionally understood).

Paul in fact explicitly denies that the Jewish covenant can be effective for salvation, thus consciously denying the basis of Judaism.(5)

To Sanders, Paul has arrived at this by working backwards. He begins with the conviction that faith in Christ is God's ultimate plan for salvation. Faith in Christ is not the Law. Thus the Law does not lead one to salvation. Instead there exists a new plan, one entered into equally by Jew and Gentile alike--the previous boundaries, the markers for those engaged in the covenantal promises, the "tuition" from the previous analogy are no longer valid. Mosaic Law is excluded as a means of entry into the covenant, it is a covenant for all mankind. Paul's fundamental problem with Judaism, suggests Sanders, is that it has no Christ. In perhaps the most oft cited passage in the New Perspective on Paul, Sanders suggests that "“In short, this is what Paul finds wrong in Judaism: it is not Christianity.”(5)

While Sanders has had many critics both within(6) and outside(7) the NPP, the general paradigm of the New Perspective is nonetheless to be found in his works. Put in simplest terms, the NPP can be summarized like this: Paul did not oppose legalistic Judaism, and he wrote to Gentiles.

(1) E P Sanders, Paul the Law and the Jewish People, Fortress Press, p.45, hereafter PLJP

(2) PLJP 107-110

(3) PLJP 114

(4) PLJP 114

(5) PPJ, 551

(5) PPJ, 552

(6) See esp. the various works of James D G Dunn, though NPP critics of Sanders are plentiful--eg Wright, Gager etc.

(7) Eg Schreiner, Carson, Kim

Recommended Reading

The books mentioned here are uniformly positive on the NPP. The aim of the series has been to introduce one to it, not to debate its validity, so this seems the appropriate route to take.

E P Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism
E P Sanders, Paul, the Law and the Jewish People
James Dunn The Theology of Paul the Apostle
James Dunn Romans 2 Vols. (Word Biblical Commentary Series)
James Dunn Paul and the Mosaic Law
John Gager Reinventing Paul (see my comments here and here. Gager's construction of Paul is wrong, but as an introduction to the NPP, it's not too shabby, concise and easily understood by the novice)
N T Wright What St. Paul Really Said
Gerald F. Hawthorne et al. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters

Saturday, August 19, 2006

New Blogger Beta

Readers may notice the new layout--I'm not a big fan, but it's the best available, IMO, that takes advantage of the new blogger features available in the Blogger Beta.

Particularly useful, bloggers now have the option of using tags. I hadn't really appreciated how useful tags would be until I started by series on the New Perspective on Paul (which, by the way, will continue either later today or tomorrow AM. Things keep preventing me from getting to it, but the weekend is, for the most part, quite free). Fortunately, before I finished it, tags were available. So the entire series can be accessed from one link Which is quite useful indeed. My only caveat is that they're in descending chronological order (I'd prefer ascending), but I'm sure there will be a hack to get around that before it's out of beta.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Alas, I Hardly Knew Ye

Over six hundred billion pages of content. That's 100 pages for every person alive. A number comparable to all the content produced between 1895 and 1995.

One blog created every second. Paired with other updates and additions to blogs, homepages and other websites, we're talking about millions of pages of content created every day.

We live in a world where "wiki" is part of our everyday vernacular. Where people who don't know the difference between C++ and an orange soda know the principle of Open Sourced Software. A world of YouTube, Myspace and Google Video. A world of user-generated information.

Now some dates:

1980. 26 years ago. Tim Berners Lee develops the first working hypertext system for sharing information. It became the backbone for the World Wide Web.

August 9, 1995. The Netscape IPO changes the world. The 'net is made mainstream. The information age has begun.

The ten years since have done more to change the world than any other decade in history. The web makes the printing press look like the hoola-hoop in terms of impact. Nothing--nothing--has had so immediate, far-reaching, and global effect.

Nearly eleven years to the day later, that world comes crashing down. The web is on its last legs, and we will all be the less. For Roger Pearse has seen JSTOR.

Okay, so this has been a bit of a tongue in cheek poke at the hyperbolic title of Roger's post. But my disagreement with his suggested demise of the user-generated information that defines the current 'net (at least for those who share "our interests," but his reasoning carries over to pretty well any academic field) is genuine, and based entirely on the information and dates provided above.

It's easy to forget how young the Web is. It's so permeated nearly every aspect of our lives that it's difficult to imagine it not being there. We don't simply benefit from it, we rely on it. That view--not seeing the web as being in the infancy stages that it certainly is--is the fundamental flaw in Roger's pessimism.

An example of this pessimism? Roger suggests that the abundance of information on Severus Sebokht found in a search in the JSTOR proves its advantage over the 'net, where Google produces relatively few results (Google, incidentally, provides 339 results, which doesn't seem that bad for an obscure 7th century bishop. I'm not sure what the JSTOR provides--I can only access it at the university, which is a heck of a drive from here, but I'd guess it's actually less than that).

Let's stop a moment and reflect on this. Google, searching predominantly user-created pages, the huge majority of which were created in the last ten years, finds less information than over a century's worth of academic journals devoted to that subject matter. So what?

The fundamental--and wholly unexpected--premise of the 'net is that consumers create the content. As time goes on, more users will create more content. It's rate is constantly accelerating. If he was so inclined and so interested, Roger could create the content on the obscure bishop in question. And if he doesn't, sooner or later, someone else will.

Roger is right in that the user-generated web and projects like the JSTOR cannot co-exist indefinitely. But open standards always win out. And in the end it will be the web, not JSTOR, that remains. The web will do what JSTOR can never do in return: render it obsolete. While I would not match Roger's prediction of a scant ten years (though at the current rate of the net's accelerating growth, it might not be out of the question), in due course it will be the web that kills projects like JSTOR, not the other way 'round.

Roger's suggestions that the fat-cat publishers are going to endeavour to drive sites like his off the 'net is unrealistic. Even if Roger doesn't recognize the futility of such a gesture, publishing houses surely do. They don't have the RIAA (who is probably going to lose their first actual trial anyway) behind them. They cannot possibly hope to control access to such information, nor to prevent users from creating and providing it.

The web is going to become more heavily integrated into our lives, more of a creative outlet, more of a source to both dispense and gain information, not less. And the presence of JSTOR isn't going to change that.

As late as February of '95, pundits in such notable publications as Time and Newsweek were issuing the same sort of negative predictions Roger is now (the 'net will never succeed commercially, users will never create enough of their own content to make it worthwhile). Like Roger, they were all wrong.

Updated to Add

Just to add a bit above, in light of further consideration of Roger's comparison to iTunes in the comments, which is, in fact, quite useful here.

iTunes, in time, will also pass. It's simply an effort to adapt to the digital age. But it's ultimately a change in method of distribution. That's all well and good, but has nothing to do with why the web succeeds as it does.

The principle behind the distribution of content--all media content--is that consumers will not create their own. And it is this that was the unexpected discovery of the web: Given the resources and the audience, people will create content in abundance. It is not the method of distribution that is challenged, it is the entire model.

The collapse of traditional media will, of course, take time. But how fundamentally altered it has already been--again, it's only been a decade--attests to the fact that it will collapse.

A useful point is provided by Tim O'Reilly (of the O'Reilly computer books), who is probably the closest thing to a prophet of the digital age on the planet. When asked what he looks for to identify what will be a successful trend (something he's able to do with alarming frequency), he asks but one question: What are they doing to harness the intelligence of their users?

JSTOR is doing nothing. It's a useful resource, to be sure. But it's one that will facillitate the content that will ultimate destroy it. People will use resources like JSTOR to create more content for the web. This is an unequivocal and observable fact--it already happens.

What they won't do is use JSTOR to replace that content. It is simply another resource for the consumer to become the provider.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Paul the Law and the New Perspective Part IV

Introducing Covenantal Nomism

In previous posts, we discussed the view of Jewish legalism, its rise in early Christianity, and its expansion through NT scholarship at large in the twentieth century. In 1977, that tide would begin to shift, in the light of E P Sanders' Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Therein, Sanders would argue (citing many a Judaic scholar in agreement with him--in stark contrast to the overwhelming majority of NT scholars against) that "Palestinian Judaism" was, in fact, not a legalistic religion, that one wasn't justified by works, and that it should instead be defined by what he termed "covenantal nomism."

The other day I read a paper in the JETS (1) that analogued covenantal nomism with a classroom. In this class, a grade of 95% or better was required to stay in, but if you received that grade, you were passed not because of your score, but simply by virtue of being in the class. Readers familiar with covenantal nomism are now scratching their heads (much as I still am), I'm sure. As far as analogies go, it's terrible. Not only is it not covenantal nomism, it is a description of the very merit theology covenantal nomism is written against. But while this analogy is terrible, it does lead me to think of a better one. Like all analogies, it's not perfect, but it does provide an idea of the general model.

Imagine signing up for a class. You pay your tuition, and begin attending. In this class, if you preform well, you get to go on a field trip. If you preform badly, you get detention, write lines, or receive extra homework. But as long as you receive these punishments, acknowledge your need to improve, and endeavour to do so, there will be no additional recourse for your poor preformance. In addition to this, as long as you stay in class and give effort and intent to succeed in it, you cannot fail. Regardless of what your grades are, you pass in the end.

That, my reader, is covenantal nomism.

The covenant is, in essence, election in exchange for obedience. But one may fail to be obedient, that is unfortunate but understood. Because of that, there are means of atonement--sacrifice, the day of atonement, suffering, even death--which make up for those shortcomings. God will reward good behavior, and punish sin, because he is just. He's merciful, but that doesn't mean he's a patsy. One takes on circumcision as their "tuition" so to speak.

The Law analogues the subject matter of the class. Since you have all but a guaranteed pass, the appropriate and grateful response is to endeavour to learn the subject matter. You may not always do it perfectly, your marks may in fact suck. Your poor preformance will not go unnoticed, but it won't affect whether or not you pass in the end. What matters is that you try to learn it. It is the effort and intent, not the end results, that matter in the final judgment.

But this exchange--the election for obedience--is not a trade, per se. It's a relationship based on an existing understanding of God. The Law is given not as a chore to be completed in order that one may earn rewards based on it. On the contrary, the Law is given to Israel in order to mark her out, to give her a tangible way to show her trust in God's promise. But, in covenantal nomism, one does not earn salvation by preforming works of the Law.

This description is brief, and leaves many things out, but that will be discussed further in later pieces (I haven't decided yet whether I'll follow Sanders lead in breaking it up by type of literature, or more broadly by topic, we'll see how it goes). But I hope it at least captures its essence: Justification--passing the class--is not earned, it is promised.

As Sanders put it, describing Rabbinic religion:

One should conclude that debates on details reflect agreement on central issues. . .From debates about why God chose Israel we infer the centrality of the conviction that he chose Israel. The debates about how to obey reveal the concern to obey. Further, the concern to obey, when studied, turns out to show a reliance on God's fiddelity to the covenant which contains the laws, not an anxious concern to learn how, by obedience, to win God's favour. Perhaps most telling are the debates about which means of atonement atone for which sins. . .since atonement for individual sins restores the penitent sinner to the right relationship with God, he originally had a right relationship with God, a relationship established by God's mercy and maintained by the individual's obedience and repentence and by God's forgiveness. . .the Rabbis believed in the enduring validity of the covenantal promise. . .The pattern is based on election and atonement, it being understood that God gave commandments in connection with the election and that obedience to them, or atonement and repentence for transgression, was expected as the condition for remaining in the covenant community. The best title for this sort of religion is 'covenantal nomism.'(2)

(1) I can't for the life of me remember who by, or in which volume, this article was--all I can remember, other than the analogy I'm about to describe, is that it referenced Schreiner's JETS 27 paper on Galatians 3:10 as "devastating" to Sanders' suggestion that it does not address impossibility of doing the whole Law. I'll try and track it down, any help would be appreciated.

(2) PPJ, 235-6, all emphasis original.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Quote of the Day - Honor/Shame and the Beatitudes

Well, I pledged to produce the next in my series on The New Perspective on Paul, but unfortunately had some computer problems that I've just rectified, leaving me with no time to continue. In the meantime, here's an interesting take on the creation of the beatitudes:

To really be “righteous” in an honor/shame society requires public recognition. Matthew’s community had to compensate for the surrounding society’s negative judgment. They needed a public forum in which their righteousness could be affirmed. When we examine the beatitudes, we will see how an alternative quasi-public forum was created, an extraordinary tribunal, in which God provided their vindication.

Leland J. White, Grid and Group in Matthew’s Community: The Righteousness/Honor Code in the Sermon on the Mount in Semeia 35 ed John H. Elliott, 80.

If this reading--efforts to restore honor--can be found throughout Matthew--particularly (as is the case here) in "Q" passages, does this count as a point against Q? Or just convenience for Matthew? The latter seems suspiciously ad hoc to me.

Though, I suppose the flipside (as White implies in his paper) is that any Christian group would struggle with honor, having a leader who died so shamefully.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

A bit of an anomaly

While I would, to be honest, normally never bother with either this book, or any reveiw of it, it's oddly gratifying to see a conservative book on the Bible get panned by the popular media for being, well, conservative.

The Everything History of the Bible Book has decent material, mixed with stuff that Falwell and Robertson would love. The handy information and appealing style make it worth reading. But Donley's own advice, at book's end, is worth remembering: "Look at all the evidence, be logical, and most importantly, think for yourself."

Bible guide interesting, not impartial. A review of Jeffrey Donley's The Everything History of the Bible Book

As an aside for anyone interested, the NPP series is slated to resume tomorrow.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Quote of the Day - Interpretive Paradigms

"Thus, the distressing unwillingness of many interpreters to relinquish their sense of certainty is the result not of native close-mindedness but of imprisonment in a hermeneutic circle. Literary and biblical interpreters are not by nature more willful and un-self-critical than other men. On the contrary, they very often listen patiently to contrary opinions, and after careful consideration, they often decide that the contrary hypotheses “do not correspond to the text.” And of course they are right. The meanings they reject could not possibly arise except on the basis of a quite alien conception of the text. It is very difficult to dislodge or relinquish one’s own genre idea, since that idea seems so totally adequate to the text. After all, since the text is largely constituted by the hypothesis, how could the hypothesis fail to seem inevitable and certain?"

E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Validity in Interpretation (New Haven: Yale University, 1967) 166, as quoted in Walt Russel, Insights From Postmodernismís: Emphasis On Interpretive Communities In The Interpretation Of Romans 7 Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 37(2), p.517

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Paul the Law and the New Perspective Part III

From Weber to Bultmann

While Luther's general view of both Judaism and Paul would be sustained for the next four centuries, there was nonetheless a general tendency (recorded by Moore (1)) to attempt to show Christianity as cohering with Judaism, as its natural successor that any right-minded Jew should immediately convert to on those grounds alone. While there could still be a sharp bite of anti-semitism (they didn't convert, because Jews weren't right-minded), the emphasis was on continuity. This changed with the publication of F Weber's 1880 System der altsynagogalen palastinischen Theologie aus Targum Midrasch und Talmud. Weber's view would soon come to dominate Christian scholarship's opinion of Palestinian Judaism (1). Thus, for example, we find the following list regarding the interpretation of the term "works of the Law":

The most popular interpretation in the history of the church is that works of law refer to the attempt of human beings to establish their own righteousness by meritorious deeds (so Luther, Calvin, Sanday and Headlam, Burton, Barrett, Bruce, Bultmann, Käsemann, Cranfield, Morris, Fung). Works of law are often equated with legalism in this interpretation.

While we will come back to the phrase "works of the Law" later (in our discussion of The New Perspective itself), for now we'll focus instead on that particular interpretation of Judaism--as a religion of legalistic works-righteousness--and a whirlwind tour of the general model. The specifics will largely be left for later sections, where they will be discussed (and contrasted) with Sanders' covenantal nomism.

Weber's Judaism, which would later be endorsed (with subtle differences) by such notables as R H Charles, Wellhausen, Bousett, and of course Bousett's student, Rudolf Bultmann, had the following notable points (here drawing heavily from Sanders, 1977): The fall of man estranged man from God, though does not represent original sin in the Christian sense. An account was kept of both good deeds and sin, which would be weighed against each other in the judgment. Repentence exists, but its functionality is limited; it does not justify one, and it fails to bring one to the kingdom of heaven, which remained locked due to the aforementioned estrangement. Man was granted another chance, by being given the Law. The acceptance of the covenant provides short-lived grace, which is then reneged with the worship of the golden calf (a very curious interpretation!).

Fulfillment of the Law warrants salvation. Since no one can fulfill all of the Law, it ultimately comes down to the previously mentioned merits and demerits, which are weighed against each other. Additional good points can be earned for good works over and above the Law. Atonement both exists and is effective, but apparently has little effect on the final weighing (according to Sanders, Weber never really describes this conundrum).

Finally, and perhaps most misinformed, Weber suggests that God in Judaism was inaccessible.(3)

This view was disseminated rapidly. It was thus repeated by notable scholars like Albert Schweitzer and R H Charles, shortly before the turn of the century, could thus repeat it without reservation (though the latter omits the two falls) (4). Curiously (and just to mix it up a little with something not drawing heavily from Sanders), Charles could also cite Schechter and his take on the Law, in reference to Tobit, despite the fact that he is difficult to reconcile with Weber (5).

This view was later taken over by Bousett, though he would deny the possibility of transfer of merit. He would, in turn, pass it on to his student, Rudolf Bultmann, who, being the giant that he was, rapidly passed it on to NT scholarship at large, with some existentialist additions (6)

Meanwhile, Koberle's important (if incorrect) work on Judaism led to the important realization that Judaism is founded on the election. However, he saw the election as a form of nationalism, and the interpreted the literature as indicating that the commandments were a yoke. He sees Judaism as ultimately and inevitably leading to the pessimism of IV Ezra, however, he recognizes that Judaism could not have survived such a view. Here he finds the birth of the "weighing" of merits and demerits against each other. (7)

Perhaps most notable is the general absence of dealing with literature first-hand. Weber's view was, for the most part, simply repeated. It became more dangerous (and more easily promulgated), however, with the publication of Billerbeck's lenghty compilation of parallels between the NT and Rabbinic Literature. Billerbeck, having endorsed Weber's view, provided "parallels" which were frequently the product of his own imagination and preconception. Many NT scholars, lacking either access or training relevant to Tannaitic literature simply cited Billerbeck as though he was the primary source. (8) This misuse of Rabbinic material would become the basis for perhaps the most oft-referenced paper to ever come out of the JBL, former SBL president Samuel Sandmel's still relevant Parallelomania, which amounted to a crucifixion of those using Billerbeck for Rabbinic material.

Out of breath yet? Our rapid survey can perhaps be summed up as follows: There was (and in some circles still is) a pervasive view among NT scholars of Rabbinic Judaism being a religion of legalism, where one's standing before God was based on the weighing of merits, God was largely inaccessible, and atonement and grace largely ineffective as a means to correcting oneself. Judaism was viewed as a religion that brought salvation through obedience to the Law.

This can hardly be considered a thorough assessment of the view of Judaism as legalistic. I emphatically encourage any interested party to read Sanders' Paul and Palestinian Judaism, esp. p.33-59, for a more detailed survey.


(1) E P Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, Philladelphia Pa.: Fortress Press, 1997, 33. Hereafter PPJ

(2)John E. Toews, Romans, (Believers church Bible commentary Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2004), 414.

(3) PPJ, 36-38

(4) PPJ, 39 n22

(5) R. H. Charles, Apocrypha of the Old Testament, 1:304-305.

(6) PPJ 44-47

(7) PPJ 42-43

(8) PPJ 42

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Paul the Law and the New Perspective Part II

Solo Fides, the Jews and the Papacy

As discussed previously, it seems unjust to me to attribute to Martin Luther the invention of the notion that Judaism was characterized by works-righteousness. Whether the interpretation is right or wrong, it is one Luther drew upon from his predecessors, not one born of his own mind. Likewise, Luther is not the first to pit Paul against such legalism, a tendency that can be seen as early as Augustine's dispute with Pelagius (1).

What Luther did do, however, was bring these views to the forefront, and enhance the analogue between them and the Catholic Church, motivated not least by his doctrine of solo fides, or justification by "faith alone." He found both Jew and Catholic lacking on this front, and could thus consider Paul to have been addressing both. Thus, for example, Luther writes on Gal 3:19

The Jews had the opinion that if they kept the law they would be justified thereby.(2)

And on Gal 4:10

I have known many monks in the Papacy, which with great zeal have done many great works for the attaining of righteousness and salvation, and yet were they more impatient, more weak, more miserable, more faithless, more fearful, and more ready to despair than any other. The civil magistrates who were ever occupied in great and weighty affairs, were not so impatient, so fearful, so faint-hearted, so superstitious, and so faithless, as these justiciaries [and merit-mongers] were.(2)

This interchangability--finding in Paul conemdnation of both Jew and Papacy--is a view he would compound throughout his discussion. Luther seemed to find in Paul an uncanny semblance of his own disagreements with the Roman Church. So much so that the terms "Jews" and "Papacy" are all but interchangable in Luther's work on Galatians.

Luther's analogue is made more clear in his comments on Gal 4:3, where the comparison is explicit:

These outward virtues and honest conversations be not the kingdom of Christ, nor the heavenly righteousness, but the righteousness of the flesh and of the world; which also the Gentiles had, and not only the merit-mongers, as in the time of Christ the Pharisees, and in our time the monks and friars(4)

While much more could be spent on Luther's position both on Paul and Judaism, neither are necessary here. Suffice to say that Luther was history's most vociferous proponent of Judaism as works-righteousness, and that his voice was loudest when comparing it to Catholicism. He may not have started the ball rolling, but he does appear to have been guilty of finding in Paul a reflection of self.

Next we'll take a whirlwind look at commentators between Luther and Bultmann, before getting to the more interesting (at least to me) subject matter: Covenantal Nomism. The next section will be heavily dependent on Sanders' Paul and Palestinian Judaism and Neusner's Encyclopedia of Judaism for both the chronology and summaries (some of which I've verified, some not so much, notes will be made accordingly) of the positions of various scholars falling in that chronological range.


(1) Erwin Fahlbusch and Geoffrey William Bromiley, The Encyclopedia of Christianity, (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leiden, Netherlands: Eerdmans; Brill, 1999-2003), 3:93-94.

(2) Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, Gal 3:19.

(3) Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, Gal 4:10.

(4) Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, Gal 4:3.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Eisenman's new Book Plugged on The Jesus Dynasty 'Blog

As per the title, James Tabor has plugged Robert Eisenman's forthcoming book.

I must confess, after his last effort (which relegated his observations on the shortcomings of radiocarbon to his own thoroughly unqualified declarations by fiat) I'm more than a little reticient about anything Robert Eisenman might have to say about the Dead Sea Scrolls. What's offered in the publicity blurb posted on Tabor's site sounds eerily--too eerily for my tastes--like one Barbara Thiering.

For anyone interested in whether or not I'll overcome my biases and read the book, the answer is probably not. Fool me once, shame on you. . .

Nice Article On Romans 2:12-16

There was a nice article in Vol.42 of the JETS that readers might be interested in (yeah, it's a little dated, but I am a dilettante after all):

Paul, the Law, Jews, and Gentiles: A Contextual and Exegetical Reading of Romans 2;12-16 by Jeffrey S. Lamp

Paul and Conversion

I came across this summary of Krister Stendahl's position on Paul and conversion, as outlined in Paul Among Jews and Gentiles (which I haven't gotten out of boxes yet, so couldn't quote directly--I'm not even sure what box it's in!--though heaven knows I've wanted to.), that's germane to the discussions in the blogosphere on Paul and conversion, and largely summarizes my own take on it:

In fact, Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus was not really a conversion at all, according to traditional definitions of conversion. Paul did not change religions nor did he suffer from an inner experience of guilt or despair. Stendahl suggests that Paul’s experience is better understood as a call to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Because of this call he begins to ask questions about what happens to the Law now that the Messiah (see Christ) has come and what the Messiah’s coming means for relationships between Jews and Gentiles. Paul arrives at a new view of the Law as he answers these questions, not as he struggles with the meaning of the Law in his own life. Paul’s Damascus Road experience is part of his unique apostolic call and is not meant to be an example of a Christian conversion.

Gerald F. Hawthorne et al., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ( Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 157.

Paul the Law and the New Perspective Part I

Well, I'd originally planned to do this in fewer, but substantially longer, segments. But in the interests of time and brevity of posts, I've opted to go with shorter items in greater number. The current plan is 2 or 3 posts outlining Judaism as Legalistic, moving toward Sanders and Covenantal Nomism (which will have a few more posts than that, though I'm not sure how many yet), before finally culminating with a brief survey of current trends in NPP scholarship and opponents.

The title of the series is, of course, shamelessly stolen, though slightly adapted, from Sanders' Paul the Law and the Jewish People.

Works Righteousness, Paul and Judaism: A Long Tradition

Works righteousness can perhaps most succinctly be defined as a soteric conviction that one's standing before God is based on preforming meritous deeds. In the context of Judaism, it is the view that Judaism is characterized by a conviction that one must preform a sufficient number of acts of Torah (usually as contrasted to the weight of wrongdoings) to curry God's favor.

Such a view has a long tradition when assessing Judaism, dating at least to the authorship of the book of Luke, where we find in 18:14 the contrast between the Pharisee, attempting to righteous himself by works, and the tax collector, appealing to God's mercy.(1) If the parable is pre-Lukan, it could, of course, have had a different connotation in a different context, but that's neither here nor there for the moment. Luke's presentation of the parable betrays Luke's own conviction that the Pharisees were preaching a religion of works-righteousness.(2)

This trend continued through the early Church writers (who also incorporated it into their own writings, partly in order that they may save Jewish Scripture for their religion--a turn of events that would eventually play no small role in the reformation). Thus, for example, Tertullian's Against Marcion 5.3, or his Answer to the Jews Ch.2 (3), or Justin Martyr's Against Trypho Ch.14.

That Judaism lends itself easily to such a view--particularly Rabbinic Judaism (which will be discussed more fully in subsequent posts) seems self-evident. The focus on the law leads easily to the conclusion that it is motivated directly by soteriology. And it has done so to outside observers--particularly Christian outside observers (motivated, as they are, to look for it by virtue of the Pauline corpus) for millenia.

My next post will take a fuller look at commentators on Paul and their reading of him in the light of Jewish legalism--both their conception of Judaism, and their subsequent understanding of Paul (which, I will suggest, in fact works in reverse, with the former defined by the latter).

My primary purpose in this introduction has been to show that the equating of Judaism with legalism is not, as many commentators would have it, the invention of Luther. Nor was Luther wrong in equating "Jewish Legalism" with Catholicism. It is indeed the perception of the former that inspired the latter. When Luther read in Paul an analogue to his own situation (which I'd suggest he doubtlessly did), he did so primarily on the terms of existing interpretations, not on ones of his own making. He may have attributed his own theology to Paul, but the attribution of his opponents theology to Paul's opponents was not of his making.

And no (to head off the obvious supposition), I'm not Lutheran. Or any other kind of Protestant.


(1) Irvin A. Busenitz, "The Reformer's Understanding of Paul and the Law," (.pdf) The Master's Seminary Journal 16.2, p.248.

(2) While the parable employs obvious caricature--the characters are polarized to emphasize them as foils--the point nonetheless still holds.

(3) Somewhat ironically, Tertullian could also sound eerily Sandersian at times:

But even in the common transactions of life, and of human intercourse at home and in public, even to the care of the smallest vessels, He in every possible manner made distinct arrangement; in order that, when they everywhere encountered these legal instructions, they might not be at any moment out of the sight of God. For what could better tend to make a man happy, than having “his delight in the law of the Lord? ”“In that law would he meditate day and night" (Against Marcion, 2.18).

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Citation Wiki?

I was recently discussing with Chris Weimer the possibility of working on a "Wiki" for references pertaining to Biblical studies and general antiquities. Such databases already exist, of course, perhaps most notably in the form of the ATLA Database. However, as one living in the information age, it seems to me that these sorts of resources should be 1) Free, and 2) Exploiting the intelligence of their users.

Since compiling any sort of meaningful reference database would be a massive undertaking for one or two people, the suggestion of a "wiki" format (raised by Chris) seems to make sense. However, such a thing would be contingent on the willingness of those who might use it to both share their knowledge, and help improve the project.

Since my readership, presumably, consists of people who would use such a thing, I've posted a poll (on the right) where readers who are so inclined can vote on their own interest in either seeing or contributing to such a project. In true dilettante fashion, I'll then show that there's nothing more dangerous than an amateur with statistics based on insufficient samples by offering broad conclusions based on few responses. Or maybe not. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Biblical Studies Carnival VIII

The eighth edition of the Biblical Studies Carnival is up on Kevin Edgecomb's Biblicalia, so be sure to go and have a look.

Update Wow. Be sure to take a look at the Google results linked in the Carnival for The One Book Meme. It's wild how far and how fast it spread. Vive la blogosphere!

Monday, July 31, 2006

More Nice Series in the Biblioblogospher

Some interesting stuff posted recently. Matthew Hopper, over on Historical Jesus and Paul takes a look at ginomai (still ongoing at the time of this writing):

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Stephen C. Carlson, on Hypotyposeis has been having a bit of a class on why one shouldn't raise questions of motive against a lawyer. His series addresses Scott G. Brown's paper, The Question of Motive in the Case against Morton Smith, JBL 125 (2006): 351-383.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part IX

Yesterday, commemorating 30 years since the death of the great Rudolf Bultmann, Jim West presented a series on the giant of Biblical Crit.

In Memoriam Rudolf Karl Bultmann
Rudolf Bultmann's Breadth of Knowledge
A Lesser Known Side of Bultmann
Bultmann's Books

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Dictionary of Paul and His Letters: A Brief Review

Gerald F. Hawthorne et al., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ( Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 453.

This review will be brief not because I can't think of a great deal to say, on the contrary, because I can think of too much. With over 100 contributors and some 200 articles, a truly substantiative review would require a remarkably long engagement. Contributors vary broadly, and include such notables as Ben Witherington III, James D G Dunn, Larry Hurtado, F F Bruce, and many more.

The volume is packed with information, I'd emphatically reccommend people not follow my lead in reading it cover to cover. While there is still much to be learned engaging it in that fashion, it's simply too much to take in, and much of it ends up being forgotten. Here's a look at a section from the first article, Abraham:

Four major themes are found in these texts. First, the stress on Abraham as a tenacious monotheist, often portrayed as the first of his kind, is prevalent in texts from both Palestine and the Diaspora from 200 b.c. to a.d. 200 (Jub. 11:16–17; 12:1–5, 16–21; 20:6–9; Pseudo-Philo Bib. Ant. 6:4; Josephus Ant. 1.7.1 §§154–57; Philo Abr. 68–71, 88; Apoc. Abr. 1–8). Second, God establishes a covenant with Abraham through which his descendants are blessed (Jub. 15:9–10; Pseudo-Philo Bib. Ant. 7:4; 1QapGen 21:8–14) and are shown compassion (Pseudo-Philo Bib. Ant. 30:7; Pss. Sol. 9:8–11; T. Levi 15:4; As. Mos. 3:8–9). However, sometimes one must obey the stipulations of the covenant in order to remain within it (Jub. 15:26–27). Eventually other nations would be blessed as well (Sir 44:21). Third, Abraham’s character is extolled. He is righteous (T. Abr. 1:1A), hospitable (T. Abr. 1:1–3A; Philo Abr. 107–110; Josephus Ant. 1.11.2 §196) and virtuous (Josephus Ant. 1.7.1 §154; Philo Abr. 68). He is faithful (Sir 44:20; 1 Macc 2:52; Jub. 17:17–18), he loves God (Jub. 17:18) and is even called the friend of God (CD 3:2–4). Josephus maintains that Abraham and his seed are rewarded because of the patriarch’s virtue and piety (Ant. 1.13.4 §234). Fourth, Abraham lived according to the Mosaic Law (Jub. 15:1–2; 16:20; Sir 44:20) or the natural/philosophical law (Philo Abr. 3–6). Abraham is alive (4 Macc 7:19; 16:25; T. Levi 18:14; T. Jud. 25:1; T. Benj. 10:6) and praises those who die for keeping the Law (4 Macc 13:13–18). Abraham established the covenant by being circumcised (Sir 44:20). Additionally, Abraham is noted for his powers of intercession (T. Abr. 18:10–11A) and his ascension to the heavens where he receives revelation (Pseudo-Philo Bib. Ant. 18:5; T. Abr. 10–14; Apoc. Abr. 15:4–30).

As one can see, this is clearly not light reading! However, the non-specialist (the dilletante exegete, as it were) has no need to be intimidated. While an academic book, it nonetheless offers much to the amateur, or even the beginner.

Each article is prefaced with an outline of its contents, and succeeded by a substantial bibliography including both works cited, and related works.

My only real caveat is that, like so many others, the articles tend to speak of the NPP in terms restricted to Wright, Dunn and Sanders. While they are, of course, the most prolific proponents, and one would be loathe to disregard them, it nonetheless grows wearisome to hear the same three names, and only the same three names, related to the NPP. Some of this can, I think, be attributed to the date of the book (1993), but it's a trend that continues unabated, so it certainly can't all be blamed on that.

This minor quibble aside, this is an excellent resource that belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in Paul and his epistles.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Articles on the New Perspective

The Master's Seminary Journal dedicated volume 16.2 (fall 2005) to the New Perspective. While it's obviously several months back, I've not seen it mentioned anywhere, so some readers might be interested. Titles and abstracts follow (I've not read the pieces yet, so can't offer much in the way of comments). Judging by the abstracts, the assessments of the NP therein are uniformly negative, but I think one learns the most in the face of opposition. All articles are .pdf.

The New Perspective on Paul: It's Basic Tenets, History and Presuppositions, by F. David Farnell

Recent decades have witnessed a change in views of Pa uline theology. A growing number of evangelicals have endorsed a view called the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) which significa ntly departs from the Reformation emphasis on justification by faith alone. The NPP has followed in the path of historical criticism’s rejection of an orthodox view of biblical inspiration, and has adopted an existential view of biblical interpretation. The best-known spokesmen for the NPP are E. P. Sanders, James D. G. Dunn, and N. T. Wright. With only slight differences in their defenses of the NPP, all three have adopted “covenantal nomism,” which essentially gives a role in salvation to works of the law of Moses. A survey of historical elements leading up to the NPP isolates several influences: Jewish opposition to the Jesus of the Gospels and Pauline literature, Luther’s alleged antisemitism, and historical-criticism . The NPP is not actually new; it is simply a simultaneous convergence of a number of old aberrations in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The Reformer's Understanding of Paul and the Law, by Irvin A. Busenitz

For about two thousand years the doctrine of justification by faith has been the bedrock of Christianity, but recently the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) has proposed that such a teaching rests on a misunderstanding of Paul that was propagated by the Reformers. The NPP advocates a view of second-temple Judaism that was free from legalism and focused on an exclusivism based on racial privilege. Such texts as Acts 13:38-39, Luke 18:14, and Rom 9:30-32 show that Judaism of that day was definitely legalistic, however. Rabbinic writings of the same period confirm that fact. Writings of early church fathers such as Clement of Rome, Tertullian, Chrysostom, and Augustine reflect the church’s belief in justification by faith as a contrast with early Jewish legalism. Thomas Aquinas and other Roman Catholic sources of the Middle Ages show a belief in Paul’s picture of Judaism as teaching justification by human merit. Luther continued the tradition of the church’s belief in justification by faith and its antithesis, the works of the law. Though differing slightly from Luther’s view of the law, Calvin concurred with him that justification before God was unattainable without divine intervention in regeneration. Evidence is clear that the Reformers were not merely reacting to conditions of their day as the NPP contends, but continued a tradition of justification by faith alone handed down from the early church.

The New Perspective's View of Paul and the Law, by Jack Hughes

Scholars have not reached a consensus concerning Paul’s view of the law. Disagreement prevails even among those who believe in verbal plenary inspiration. Paul’s frequent references to the law come in many different contexts. Interpreting each reference accurately within its own context and synthesizing the interpretations into a systema tic whole are difficult challenges. The New Perspective [NP]on Paul has amplified the existing problem. Founders of the NP take a historical, highercritical, covenantal approach to interpreting Paul. Their low view of Scripture and their high view of extra-biblical literature have produced an entirely new way of understanding Paul’s view of the law and have led many to redefine key theological terms related to both law and gospel. The NP on Paul leads those who subscribe to it outside the limits of orthodox theology.

The New Perspective and "Works of the Law" (Gal 3:16 and Rom 3:20), by William D. Barrick

The New Perspective on Paul (NPP) differs from a traditional understanding of Paul’s references to the “works of the law .” Traditionally, Paul’s references to such works has been seen in a negative light, but the NPP takes a very opposite view of the works. Pre-NT references to works of the law show that they cannot be limited to circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, and dietary restrictions the way NPP advocates propose. Broadly considered, NT references to the same works show the same impossibility. Two crucial passages, Gal 2:16 and Rom 3:20, when analyzed in detail, indicate the grave error in the NPP position. Three occurrences of “works of the law” in Gal 3:20 show that they are the direct opposite of faith in m atters pertaining to salvation. The context of Rom 3:20 shows that “works of the law” refer to hum an deeds to earn merit with God and are not limited to circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, and dietary restrictions. Rather, they simply demonstrate how guilty human beings are before a righteous God. Salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone and not by the “works of the law.”

Hermeneutics of the New Perspective on Paul, by Robert L. Thomas

Recent changes in evangelical hermeneutical principles have opened a wide door for new-perspective (NP) proposals on Pauline literature and more basically NP proposals about second-temple Judaism. Setting aside the timehonored ideal of objectivity, the proposals have raised questions about longstanding views of Augustine and Luther and of the nature of first-century Judaism. E. P. Sanders has been a major figure in raising these q uestions. The questions arise in part through an allegorical versus a literal handling of G od’s OT covenants with Israel, i.e., through devising a system known as “covenantal nomism.” The NP system also seeks support through a neglect of the established principle of single versus multiple meanings for a given passage and through disregarding the importance of imm ediate context in interpretation. The NP builds on an erroneous base of wrong-headed conclusions about first-century Judaism and commits multiple hermeneutical errors in its approach to Pauline literature.

And finally (and always useful), a Bibliography of Works on the New Perspective of Paul, by Dennis M. Swanson

That Book Meme

I've been tagged by Chris Petersen for Ben Meyer's book meme, so here goes:

1. One book that changed your life:
Holy Blood and Holy Grail, Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh (as painful as that is to acknowledge--the first Biblical Studies related book I read)

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:
Jesus and Judaism, E P Sanders

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
Survive on a Desert Island, Claire Llewellyn

4. One book that made you laugh:
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

5. One book that made you cry:
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

6. One book that you wish had been written:
My Autobiography, Jesus

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors, Kersey Graves

8. One book you’re currently reading:
Dictionary of Paul and His Letters/a Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
Life of Jesus Critically Examined, David Strauss (I know, I know. I just never get to it).

10: One book you wish you had written (this one seems to appear on some lists, and not on others--it's not on Meyer's original list)
Paul and Palestinian Judaism, E P Sanders

11. Tag five people
Chris Weimer, Kevin Rosero, Matthew Hopper, Stephen C. Carlson and the next blogger to read this who hasn't put a response up.

More on the Prodigal Son

I just came across some interesting commentary on the Prodigal Son:

To ask one’s father for one’s share of the inheritance early was unheard of in antiquity; in effect, one would thereby say, “Father, I wish you were already dead.” Such a statement would not go over well even today, and in a society stressing obedience to one’s father it would be a serious act of rebellion (Deut 21:18–21) for which the father could have beaten him or worse. That the father grants the request means that most of the hearers will not identify with the father in this parable; from the start, they would think of him as stupidly lax to pamper such an immoral son.

15:15. At this point, Jesus’ Jewish hearers are ready for the story to end (like a similar second-century Jewish story): the son gets what he deserves—he is reduced to the horrendous level of feeding the most unclean of animals. The son is cut off at this point from the Jewish community and any financial charity it would otherwise offer him.

On the indignity of running, it's noted that:

15:20. It was a breach of an elderly Jewish man’s dignity to run, though familial love could take priority over dignity after a long absence (cf. Tobit 11:9—mother and son). Given the normal garb, the father would have to pull up his skirt to run. Kissing was appropriate for family members or intimate friends.

The comparison to Tobit is interesting, but I'm not sure that the analogue holds--Anna being a woman and all was probably a little different than, say, a man.

15:25–28. Dancing was used in both religious and nonreligious celebrations. Elder brothers were to reconcile differences between fathers and younger brothers, but here the elder brother, returning at the end of a long day’s work, refuses even to enter the house. This is also a grievous insult to the father’s dignity and could have warranted a beating (cf. 15:12).

I'm not sure what the source for the notion that elder brothers were responsible for mediating such reconciliations is (none is given), but it does seem in keeping with the parable. All the preceding citations are from:

Craig S. Keener and InterVarsity Press, The IVP Bible Background Commentary : New Testament, ( Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Wow. . .I've been included in Geoff Hudson's insanity. . .

For those who haven't seen Geoff Hudson's rants about how virtually everyone who posts on any e-list on the planet is in fact Jeffrey Gibson in disguise, prepare yourself for some lunacy. For those who have, enjoy another good laugh:

Ebla is a list that Jeffrey Gibson controls, although his name never appears in it. Gibson uses many false names on that list. One is Mark W. Ingalls. Others include: Peter Kirby, Finelly - "I'm new here", Angakuk, and Rick Sumner whose wife miraculously had a baby following a hysterectomy. The miraculous conception is typical of Gibson's Jesuit imagination. It reminds me of the time one of his other characters Dierk Van den Berg (who appears on various Gibson's lists) was shot while in Iraq, but miraculously recovered.

"Miraculously?" No, I'm afraid no miracle. Just medical irresponsibility (though it worked out in our favor).

Ah, how bland would life be without the insane.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"Polyvalent Narration" and the Prodigal Son

The Prodigal Son posts do what prodigal things should, and return again. Today I stumbled across some interesting takes on it way back in Semeia 9 (1977), "Polyvalent Narration," ed. John D. Crossan.

First, Mary Ann Tolbert contributes with "The Prodigal Son: An Essay in Literary Criticism from a Psychoanalytic Perspective" here's the abstract:

One of the major concerns of biblical interpretation is the need to relate ancient texts to contemporary situations. The tools and methodologies found in the field of literary criticism can aid immeasurably in this endeavor. As one possible example of such a study this essay explores the content of the parable of The Prodigal Son by the categories of a psychoanalytically oriented criticism and the form of the parable by a rhetorical analysis of its surface structure. Such a procedure emphasizes the unity of the narrative as a whole as well as the correspondences between thematic elements and their structural presentation. Elements of Freud’s mental typography, the id, the ego, and the superego, are shown to bear some striking similarities to the younger son, father, and elder son of the parable. In the central figure of the father, moreover, the basic human desire for reconciliation and restoration of unity, a theme developed by the parable as a whole, is symbolically expressed.

Next, Dan O. Via Jr. chimes in with "The Prodigal Son: A Jungian Reading."

An analysis (using Bremond’s model) is made of the narrative functions of the story showing that the prodigal son part and the elder brother part parallel each other in reverse order. Having demonstrated the narrative relationships within the story and allowing these to define the connections of the psychological categories, an intra-psychic interpretation is then given in the effort to show that the dynamics involved are the alienation of the ego from the Self and its reintegration through coming to terms with the shadow.

Finally, Bernard B. Scott contributes with "The Prodigal Son: A Structuralist Interpretation"

The traditional interpretation of the parable of The Prodigal Son has been dominated by the identification of the elder son with the Pharisees. The first part of the paper seeks to show that this identification will not adequately interpret the parable. The second part of the paper undertakes an analysis of two of the parable’s intermediate structures: the narrative and mythical structures. This analysis points out that the elder son is not rejected in the parable, but serves to call into question the audience’s traditional mythical understanding of the relation between elder and younger sons.

I might have more to say on these after I read them more thoroughly, and reflect on whether or not I think they're out to lunch (a possibility I can't rule out yet).

c800 CE Psalter Found in Ireland

The National Museum of Ireland said fragments of what appeared to be an ancient Psalter or Book of Psalms, written around AD 800, were uncovered by a bulldozer in a bog in the south Midlands

Complete Story

Paul the Law and the New Perspective

I get asked a fair bit what the "New Perspective" is. Since I'm starting to feel self-conscious about my usual response about "Paul in Jewish Context," followed up with a referral to The Paul Page, I'm going to endeavour to provide a fuller explanation of it in the coming weeks. Yes, it's been done, which makes it all the more apropriate here in Dilletante-land!

I plan to break it up into four parts, though that might change:

1) Judaism as Legalist Works Righteousness
2) Paul as a Reflection of Luther
3) Covenental Nomism
4) The New Perspective

I'll be heavily dependent on Sanders' Paul and Palestinian Judaism, at least in terms of outline, though resources will be considerably more diverse for topics 2 and 4.

I plan to have the first in the series up sometime in the week of Aug. 7-13. A lack of time, and a lack of motivation in the summer heat, will postpone it until then.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Kevin Rosero Reviews the Jesus Puzzle

For those interested in Earl Doherty and the argument for Jesus Mythicism, Kevin Rosero has a nice review of Earl Doherty's Jesus Puzzle over on his 'blog Rose and Rock

Saturday, July 22, 2006

A Functional Outline of Romans on the Busybody

Any readers who don't already read Loren Rosson III's blog (there must be one of you. . .or probably not) are encouraged to go take a look at his latest post, A Functional Outline of Romans

An excellent post, good to see that not everyone is as stifled by the summer heat as I am.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Charlesworth on the "Relatively Certain"

After re-reading James H Charlesworth and Walter P Weaver (eds) [u]Jesus 2000 Years Later[/u], following my reference to the Sanders' article therein the other day, I was struck by what is a sometimes apt, and sometimes not so much so, list of what Charlesworth considers "relatively certain" about the historical Jesus (p.107-113--it's a long list. He seems to have rather high hopes). Here's a look at some of the ones I find most questionable (to be fair, he notes that in the interests of succinctness, he does not, in most instances, provide argumentation):

Nothing can be known with any probability about the years before his public ministry. The intracanonical gospels and Josephus make no mention of his childhood or youth

This sounds good, but is immediately followed by:

Jesus was probably not born into a poverty-stricken, or even poor, family. If he knew Scripture as well as his contemporaries claimed, he must have spent some time studying, which would not have been possible for a peasant

Now, setting aside the question of whether Charlesworth has provided sufficient grounds to suggest that Jesus was not a peasant (a suggestion I doubt), he has, in directly sequential items, flatly contradicted himself. We cannot suggest that we can know nothing before his ministry with probability, and that we know it is probable that he was not impoverished before his ministry.

Jesus probably interpreted Isa 40:3 differently from John the Baptizer and teh Qumranites and their teacher. Unlike them, he did not think a voice had called him into the wilderness. For Jesus the voice was calling from the wilderness.

Jesus left the wilderness. . .

I've gotta say, I'm pretty skeptical that we can discern Jesus' preferred interpretation of Isa 40:3 on the fact that he left JBap.. Could be he left because John got arrested, and Isa 40:3 had nothing to do with it. Could be a lot of things. Calling this "relatively certain" is grasping.

Jesus was often invited to dinners and knew the joy of companionship and wine

This seems plausible, but "relatively certain"?!

Some Pharisees admired him, sought his company, and probably warned him about problems

Pharisees are generally an anachronism in the gospel references--retrojecting the realities of Post 70 CE to the 30s CE. As such, while Jesus may or may not have garnered the support of Pharisees who "probably warned him about problems," we can't say this with any measure of certainty.

Even if one doesn't find this particular suggestion persuasive (as apparently Charlesworth doesn't), it is of sufficiently wide support that to include it on a list of what "we" (ie scholars) can consider "relatively certain."

Jesus spoke primarily Aramaic, but he knew Hebrew, Greek, and a little Latin

Wow. And here this has been debated for nothing--we can be "relatively" certain of the answer.

The Beatitudes probably derive ultimately from Jesus because a form strikingly similar to them has now been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls; that is to say, this manner of speaking was not created by his followers

And apparently his followers are inherently less likely to mimic that manner of speaking than Jesus was. Why? Apparently only Charlesworth knows.

He was obsessed with God


It seems likely that James and John requested thrones beside Jesus. The embarassment of the tradition is obvious when one sees how Matthew shifts Mark's statement from them to their mother

The utter absence of embarassment in the original author is equally obvious when one considers that he writes it without apology.

He was tested, even persecuted, by scribes sent out from the priests in authority in Jerusalem.

The "scribes" serve as a foil--in Mark's narrative in particular, they serve to maintain the pace, keeping Jesus moving (and winning) from dispute to dispute. That they're primarily a literary device seems obvious to me.

I don't doubt that there's some legitimate history behind the sayings, but I do doubt that we can trust the context.

But here, here is real capper:

It is possible, and perhaps probable, that Jesus was raised by God, as Jews like Lapide explain and Flusser contemplate. It also makes sense in light of early Jewish theology. It is well attested in the intracanonical and extracanonical gospels, Paul, and other very early sources.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Quote of the Day

While not germane to most of the subject matter here, the following, from the recent special SCIAM on Evolution and the Rise of Intelligence, struck me as particularly poignant description of evolutionary process. Since many of my readers get here by way of the IIDB, they may appreciate it.

"When we contemplate the extraordinary abilities and accomplishments of Homo sapiens, it is certainly hard to avoid a first impression that there must somehow have been an element of inevitability in the process by which we came to be what we are. The product, it's easy to conclude, is so magnificient that it must stand as the ultimate expression of a lengthy and gradual process of amelioration and enhancement. How could we have got this way by accident?. . .Yet that seems not to be how evolution works; for natural selection is not--it cannot be--in itself a creative process. . .Evolution is best described as opportunistic, simply exploiting or rejecting possibilities as and when they arise, and in turn, the same possibility may be favorable or unfavorable, depending on environmental circumstances (in the broadest definition) at any given moment. There is nothing inherently directional or inevitable about this process. . ."(Ian Tattersall, How We Came to be Human)

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Prodigal "Prodigal Son" Posts.

Pertinent to recent comments both here and on The Busybody are Geza Vermes' comments on the Prodigal Son in his The Authentic Gospel of Jesus. While I was disappointed in the book in general, he offers an interesting Tannaitic parallel to the Prodigal Son, as well as a poignant response to Loren's suggestion that the father is the main character of the narrative. Contra me, he nonetheless traces its message back to the historical Jesus, opining that:

Nevertheless his compassionate father treats him much better than he deserves or asks for, and welcomes him back with warmth and joy. The message of repentance belongs without any doubt to the central core of the teachings of Jesus.

Commentators dispute whether the leading actor is th eson or the father, but in reality it is the young man who, with one exception, always takes the initiative. The exception consists in the father's forgiveness prior to the son's confession of sorrow. A similar repentance parable is told by Rabbi Meir, interpreting 'When you are in tribulation. . .you will return to the Lord your God' (Deut.4:30: 'To what can this be compared? To a king's son who set out on the path of wickedness. The king dispatched his tutor to ask him to come home. The son replied that feeling unworthy and deeply embarrassed, he could not return. But a fresh message was brought to him by the pedagogue, "My son, can a son be ashamed of returning to thi sfather? And if you return, is it not to your father you return?"'(Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:3).

I must confess to finding the analogue between the two parables particularly strong, however, the dating of Deut. Rabbah is a tricky business. While core material may predate 400 CE (in its written form), ascertaining what that material is seems to be anyone's guess. And even so, 400 CE is plenty of time for the Christian reading of the parable to have reached Jewish circles; there is a better than passing chance that Luke is, directly or indirectly, the source behind Deut. Rabbah's parable.

It might also bear noting that, while it would be extremely helpful to have early witnesses to the passage, such that we might see whether or not there were divergences of opinion, unfortunately that is not the case, with the earliest reference to it (at least according to Peter Kirby's e-catena) being probably Irenaeus, though I suppose that it's not entirely inconceivable that the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, in its original form, both contained a reference to the Prodigal Son and predated Irenaeus. These sources are unanimous in regarding the usual reading as correct, but being of such late date, that contributes little, since it allows more than sufficient time for Luke's understanding to become the only understanding.

I'm going to have to do some reading on that prodigal lad. No matter how I look at it, something always doesn't feel quite right.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

New Biblioblog

Thomas Hopper, a Masters Candidate at Georgia University, has started a new 'blog, The Historical Jesus and Paul:

He describes it thus:

That is precisely what this blog is centered around. It is intended to provide an ongoing discussion of all the pieces and points that I am studying and working through here at the University of Georgia Graduate Department of Religion. I'll also be posting lots of stuff concerning specific assignments, reading, projects, and essays I'll be working on here.

A Couple of Interesting Series in the Blogosphere

Resurrection Dogmatics, Chris Peterson's 'blog, has his promised assessment of E P Sanders up and running in a series, now up to three parts:

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Germane to his discussion of Sanders' treatment of sayings traditions is a somewhat more obscure essay by Sanders in Jesus Two Thousand Years Later (ed J H Charlesworth and W P Weaver), entitled How Do We Know What We Know About Jesus. Therein, Sanders focusses almost exclusively on how he treats, and what he thinks can be learned, from sayings traditions. It's interesting to see him tackle the subject, since he generally shuns it in his work. He also provides an interesting references to another ancient narrative that seems to draw from a decontextualized sayings tradition, Plutarch's Life of Phocion. I might offer more on this later (the wife and I are soon off to the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, so I won't have a chance to do so until later).

A second interesting series is going on over at Michael Pahl's The Stuff of the Earth, where he is taking a look at the evidence for Jesus' historicity.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Leonard Ridge Returns to the Busybody

Opposite day continues over on Loren Rosson III's blog, where guest poster Leonard Ridge has returned offering this time a commentary on what he sees as the fascist underpinnings of the Prodigal Son.

Interestingly, they're not complete opposites:

Preach instead Burton Mack's ludicrous fantasy of a cosmopolitan Jesus. Even if bogus, that's what we need for today's world.

This sounds a lot like something Loren might say, were he more prone to invective (it sounds even more like something I might say, since I am more prone to invective, but that's another story).

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

MIllenarian? Point/Counterpoint with Guest Poster Ryan Saunders

My good friend Ryan Saunders joins us again, for a quick look at Christianity as a Millenarian movement. In the interests of cohering to limitations on both of our time (coincidentally enough, we've both recently moved, and both have nurseries to put together for soon arriving daughters), we've agreed to look at individual arguments for Jesus as a prophet of the eschaton, rather than assemble lengthy posts on the matter. For the first posts in the series (which will probably occur with two or three day lapses between each) I will argue affirmative positions, to which Saunders will respond. After which, since in argument as in chess it's easier to attack than defend, we will do a switcheroo, with Ryan arguing for a non-eschatological Jesus, and I taking the role of critic.

Christianity as a Millenarian Movement

Malcolm B Hamilton helpfully cites Talmon's succinct definition of millenarian movements. They are "religious movements that expect imminent, total, ultimate, this-worldly, collective salvation." (1) Hamilton goes on to note (drawing partially from Cohn) more specific characteristics of millenarian movements: Salvation generally means the coming about of a perfect world, it is collective rather than individual salvation, it is brought about by miraculous means. Other common, though not as universal, characteristics include a central role of a prophetic or messianic character, participants are frequently swept up by intense emotions to the point of zealousness, feelings of guilt and inadequacy are common, as is the abandonment of longstanding behavior and morals. Expectations are usually quite strong, thus it is not uncommon to see groups destroy property or livestock, since they will be useless when the new day dawns (2).

That Christianity is a millenarian movement, and that at least one strand has been since at least the apostle Paul is undeniable. We can, for all intents and purposes, take that as a hard fact. I'd suggest that one of the stronger arguments in favor of Jesus as an eschatological prophet is how neatly it fits into the general model of millenarian movements. This can, of course, be traced at least to the apostle Paul, and probably before (millenarian characteristics are seen in the confession of 1Cor.15, which Paul attributes not only to himself, but rather "I or they."). The question becomes, how far back can this go before the context is that of Jesus himself? Or at least, close enough to him to demand that it is Jesus' preaching behind it?

I'd suggest it doesn't need to go much earlier than 1Thess, where Paul is perhaps most fervent in his millenarian expectations. By c.50 CE, not only is Paul rabidly millenarian, preaching a millenarian message to an ostensibly millenarian church, but there is no hint that anybody was preaching anything different. The issues Paul deals with are the first inklings that perhaps the promised eschaton wasn't coming, not hints that the eschaton was ever denied, seems to point a unanimity among the earliest traditions: Jesus was coming back soon to usher in the eschaton.

Yet if this group includes not only Paul, but presumably those who had known (or at least heard) Jesus--which seems quite a safe assumption--then it seems most reasonable to assume that the level of continuity here is high.

This is, of course, a play on the old argument of context: Jesus is framed by Paul, Paul was eschatological, therefore Jesus was eschatological. But the elaborations made to it (owing, largely, to Dale C Allison), drive it home with greater force: It is a nice fit as a millenarian movement. It's most reasonable, thus to assume that it was one.

Ryan Responds

Thanks again to Rick for welcoming me to post to his blog. His argument, I'm afraid, carries with it more presupposition than premise, and seems to misstate the case against an eschatological Jesus. Nobody is denying that Paul's Christianity was Millenarian. For that matter, one need not even deny that most early strands of "Christianity" (a term used anachronistically here) were millenarian. What is denied is that this demands that Jesus was millenarian.

Stop a moment, and look at things from the perspective of Paul, or, for that matter, Paul's contemporaries who, as Rick noted above, are likely to have known Jesus. Imagine with me a Jesus who did not preach a millenarian message, but who nonetheless convinced his followers, by virture of the resurrection experiences (a phenomena I'm not sure we can fully explain on the present evidence) that he was the Messiah. Many if not most Messianic expectations involved the eschaton. Upon their conviction that Jesus was the Messiah, it is only natural that they presumed that the eschaton was imminent. Jesus is the "prophet or Messianic figure" Rick notes above in the minds of his followers, that does not imply that he was in his own mind. Or, for that matter, that anyone else was either.

To head off the obvious response to this--that one could be Messianic without expecting the eschaton--I'll point to the instance I would most readily expect: Josephus proclaimed Vespasian the Messiah, but was not Millenarian. There are two fundamental differences. Firstly, Josephus was saving himself by his proclamation, something Christian proclaimers were, if anything, antithetical to. Secondly, Josephus was operating from the side of the dominant in his writing--he was an elite Roman citizen. The "perfect world" is most likely to be expected from those on the wrong side of the class system--the oppressed, the disenfranchised. Josephus no longer fit that description, and as such, his conception of the Messiah could quite plausibly have been substantially altered.

Further confusing matters, if Jesus saw himself as the "prophet" of the millenarian movement founded in his name, why does Paul's justification never come from Jesus? Why must we, as Rick suggests, presume continuity? Surely if Jesus himself had millenarian conceptions, Paul would have shared them. Yet when Paul speaks of his millenarian vision--when he thoroughly details the "religious movements that expect imminent, total, ultimate, this-worldly, collective salvation," it is not Jesus who he quotes, nor is it Jesus he attributes the message to. It is none other than God himself. Paul's information comes from God and from scripture--exactly where we should expect it to in the outline suggested above. When Paul (and other Christians) came to see Jesus as the Messiah, they scoured scripture, not Jesus' words, for what the implications of that Messianism was, and it was that scouring, and not Jesus' message, that birthed the millenarian movement that ultimately became what we now consider orthodoxy.


1) Y. Talmon, 'Millenial Movements,' Archives Europeennes de Sociologe, 7, 1966, p.166, as cited in 'Sociological Dimensions of Christian Millenarianism,' Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco, ed. Stephen J. Hunt, p.12

2) ibid, p.12-13

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Reflections on Opposite Day

I'm not stranger to playing Devil's Advocate: I, in fact, do it rather routinely--at least once a month--on the IIDB But some positions I never take the converse on--I never, for example, argue against Jesus' historicity, despite ample opportunity to play the case. Likewise I never argue against Jesus as a prophet of the eschaton.

It's hard to argue against yourself. My post wasn't nearly as strong as it doubtlessly could have been, which has given me pause. To be sure, some of it can be blamed on a lack of ample time for forethought, and justifiably so. But I'm not sure that this ad hoc amounts to much: I could put together a post in favour of eschatology with little trouble, and of substantially greater strength. Some of it can, of course, be attributed to the simple fact that it's the opposite of what I'd normally argue: If I could think of arguments against my position that I couldn't rebut, I wouldn't be so steadfast in the position.

Nonetheless, a failure to articulate the positions of your opponents points, I think, to a potential danger of becoming closed-minded; of rejecting opposing positions on the basis of their conclusions, rather than their argument. With that in mind, at some point in the (relatively) near future, the reader can expect a bit of a dialogue between me and my good friend, Ryan Saunders. Something of a point/counterpoint series of posts.