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 VIII
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


Huh?

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.


What!?!?

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.

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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.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Thoroughing Reality, a Guest Post by Ryan Saunders

Ah, what the hell. Everybody else is doing it, and I want to fit in! Here we have Ryan Saunders offering a criticism of my approach to Jesus' eschatology:

I like Rick, I really do. But having had the misfortune of seeing him on various discussion boards, and here on this 'blog, share his addle-pated approach to historical-criticism, I feel more than a little obligated to point out the error of his ways. Rather than offer an argument in favor of a non-eschatological Jesus, which I doubt Rick would understand, much less appreciate, I'll simply show the error of his arguments for Jesus' apocalypticism.

Sumner is, unfortunately, quite prone to pointing out how widely attested apocalypticism is in the Christian record. Surely, Rick proclaims, everybody would not have misunderstood Jesus so thoroughly! Such a movement would never get off the ground! This is indeed unfortunate because, with his customary lack of imagination, Sumner's reasoning is at best quite flawed. Since he has quite a penchant for Wizard of Oz analogies like this, or this perhaps he'll see the error of his ways if I take the same tact.

Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been read by millions--it's one of the best loved children's stories of all time. So why are most of those readers unaware that Oz was not a dream? Why, even when they have read and have access to Baum's book, do they still insist on seeing Oz through the lense of MGM's over-rated Musical? Applying Rick's reasoning, surely the moral of the entire story wouldn't be misunderstood by millions of fans! So, of course, MGM's version is original!

The nonsensical approach employed here is obvious: MGM didn't tell the story first, they just told it better. Of course Oz was a dream, Baum was silly for not seeing it. Likewise, of course the Messiah brought about the eschaton. How could Paul have thought of it any differently? How much trouble would he have finding an audience to support that? And when Mark told the story better, of course his would be remembered!

Even beyond this, ignoring, for the moment, his wrong-headed dismissal of Q (which is accepted with as close to a consensus as we're likely to see), it still isn't as widely attested as Rick would like you to believe. Mostly, I suspect, because he refuses to take his blinders off to assess the evidence. Where is the eschaton in James, for example? Across the board, sayings that are consistently the best represented among the texts are teachings, not bleak prophecies of divine genocide.

Rick furthers tends to point to the existence of "the Twelve," and traditions of them and "judging" the tribes as having some sort of merit regarding restoration eschatology, as well as other signs of an apocalyptic restoration movement. The first is, of course, borne of nothing more substantiative than Rick's imagination. A social message is no less served by a new "twelve," representing the twelve tribes, and traditions about them "judging" anyone exist nowhere outside of the imagination of Mark. The latter is more of the same: A tending toward the best telling, not the right story.

One could wax lyrical ad nauseum about Rick's wrongheaded, pseudo-historical approach, and, should Rick feel like having more holes revealed in his sieve-like position, I will certainly oblige him. However, due to time constraints I must, for the moment, leave it at that.

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Since I'm a glutton for punishment, the reader can indeed expect more input from Ryan over the coming weeks. Hopefully he'll develop his own position next time, instead of just attacking mine.

Opposite Day Today

Readers are encouraged to have a look at the "Opposite Day" posts on various Biblical Blogs. Rick Brannan, whose good friend Roberto argues that Paul could not possibly have written the Pastorals, and Loren Rosson III have kicked things off with the first of a promised two-part series by welcoming Guest Critic Leonard Ridge, who lambastes Loren's ("the Context-Group stooge of the biblioblogs") Honor-Shame sympathies as racist, stone-aged fascism. Other posts are to be forthcoming from Jim West, who will be welcoming Czech scholar Mij Tsew, who will emphasize the necessity of Fundamentalism, as well as a contribution from Richard Anderson

It's always a bit of a learning experience to take the role of your opponent. Still busy with moving and all, I was unfortunately unable to commit to anything this go 'round, but at some point in the future, expect a post from my good friend Ryan Saunders, who will suggest that apocalypticism is the product of misunderstanding, rather than Jesus' mission (the only position I hold steadfastly. . .I tend to waffle a lot).

Update: Mij Tsew has now weighed in on Jim West's 'blog.

Further Update: Lots of contributors today, here's a round-up (hopefully I don't miss anyone).

Carl Stephenson argued for the trustworthiness of Morton Smith over on Stephen C. Carlson's blog (and cited Yuri Kuchinsky no less!)
Leonard Ridge chimed in on the aforementioned post on The Busybody.
Brooks Vermuli argued that Matthew was a self-identifying Jew over on Chris Weimer's Thoughts on Antiquity.
Mij Tsew over on the Good Doc' Jim West's blog, as noted above.
Richard Anderson welcomes a guest post by the "Advocates for the Devil" over on dokeo kago grapho soi kratistos.
Hermann Acharias chimes in over on Danny Zacharias' blog on "Christian ethics and creation care"
Cardinal Sin pipes up on Chris Tilling's blog, Chrisendom, with a hilarious post on "Christian Counselling."
And of course, over on the 'blog that kicked it off, Rick Brannan welcomes his good friend Roberto to argue against Pauline authorship of the Pastorals.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Top Ten Historical Jesus Works

Chris Petersen, over on Resurrection Dogmatics has compiled a list of his Top Ten Historical Jesus Works. In that vein, here are my top ten (with more than a little overlap).

10) The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Meditteranean Jewish Peasant, by John Dominic Crossan. I think Crossan is wrong with mind-boggling frequency. It's enough to make me wonder if he doesn't actively try to find the wrong answers. But, paradoxically, he's consistently wrong productively, which is probably worth more than being right but not forwarding the discussion.

9) The Message and the Kingdom by Richard Horsley and Neil Asher Silberman. The first time I read this book, I was thoroughly unimpressed. I can in fact remember sending Peter Kirby an email expressing my disdain for it. Then I read it again and wondered "What the hell was I thinking?"

8) A Marginal Jew (3 Vols, 4th hopefully coming along) By John P Meier. Sometimes I think Meier's theology gets the better of him (most notably, of course, in the case of the virgin birth), and while he is best remembered for his contribution to discussion on the Testimonium Flavianum, I ultimately find him unpersuasive on that point. Nonetheless, his series is a must read, belonging on the bookshelf of anyone interested in the Historical Jesus.

7) The Quest of the Historical Jesus by Albert Schweitzer. Much of his argument seems outdated and uncritical by today's standards, but his general model--that of thoroughgoing eschatology--is, IMO, wholly correct. Perhaps his greatest contribution was showing that the Quest of the Historical Jesus frequently amounts to little more than a literary equivalent to Rorschach's inkblots: What we see in the image is ultimately a reflection of self.

6) Jesus After 2000 Years by Gerd L├╝demann. Far more a reference work than a book one might read cover to cover, and standing out on this list in that regard, L├╝demann provides a fantastic resource.

5) The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide by Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz Declining to offer the more normative, thoroughgoing model of the historical Jesus, Theissen and Merz instead opt to focus on various aspects of Jesus separately, such as "Jesus as Charismatic" or "Jesus as Prophet." An excellent resource for solid background information on virtually every aspect of HJ study--from the history of the "Quest" to the millieu of Jesus.

4) Jesus the Jew by Geza Vermes. Vermes really has no methodology to speak of, and as one who sees methodology as frequently getting in the way of plausibility, I can dig that (far moreso here than in his effort to assess the sayings material in The Authentic Gospel of Jesus, where I couldn't dig it much at all).

3) Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet by Dale C. Allison The first of two "Jesus of Nazareth" titles to appear on the list. Allison rejects efforts to obtain a non-eschatological Jesus, writing that "We cannot separate chemical compounds with a knife. Nor can we tell at the end of a river what came from the fountainhead and what from later tributaries" (p. 33). Because of this approach, Allison is able to reverse the normative trajectory. Instead of beginning by establishing historicity of individual traditions, Allison begins with eschatology, and uses that paradigm to assess the evidence.

Ultimately I am hard-pressed to believe that anyone's reconstruction does not follow that trajectory--beginning with a paradigm rather than developing one. Allison stands out because he realizes it.

2) Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews by Paula Fredriksen. The most correct book I think I've read on the historical Jesus. Fredriksen answers the question "Why did Jesus die, but his followers didn't," with, IMO, the best explanation offered.

1) I've gotta agree with Peterson for this one. Top spot goes to Jesus and Judaism by E P Sanders. While I might think he's hinged too much on the temple (as is implied by my agreement with Fredriksen), this book is nonetheless requisite. A benchmark of the type few will ever succeed in offering.

Star Wars, Superman and Parallelism

It's always interesting to attempt to apply methods used for Biblical Studies on non-biblical texts. If nothing else, it provides us an occasion to explore our methodology in instances where we might not have as much invested in the answers, and hopefully precludes some of the ad hoc reasoning I think all of us can be guilty of when investigating areas in which we've already voiced opinions. So, hot on the heels of my last post regarding the ruby slippers and Q, I offer another look at the Wizard of Oz, this time with a focus on parallelism.

I have, on numerous occasions, expressed my disdain for parallelism in general. It has always seemed, to me, that a rough parallel in narrative without an accompanying parallel in application is insufficient grounds to conclude influence. Recent musings, however, have left me somewhat less convinced of this. I'll give two examples that I think indicate the nature of the problem.

The first is the many analogues between Star Wars and the Wizard of Oz. This is the one that has given me pause in my tendency to disregard parallels with differences in application. One could point to dozens of such influences (Obi-Wan disappears leaving only a robe the same way the Wicked Witch did, the Jawas as the Munchkins, C3P0 being disassembled as Scarecrow having his straw removed, and so on). Yet the two stories are fundamentally different: Star Wars is a story of the ultimate triumph of good over evil. The Wizard of Oz has that element, but it isn't what the story is about, rather it's about the ultimate realization that what we need is right with us: No matter how fantastic it may be over the rainbow, there's no place like home.

The analogue between the two here is much stronger in the book, where Oz is not a dream, but turning to that weakens the overall parallelism substantially--Star Wars draws on MGM's musical, not Baum's book.

Applying my normal approach here (which certainly isn't unique to me), the difference in the "moral" of the stories provides a nice analogy to differences in soteriology. It is precisely this sort of thing that might cause me to dismiss a suggested parallel. It is furthered by differences in more immediate application: Obi-Wan, for example, is not evil, while the Wicked Witch is what her name implies.

But applying this method gives me, I think, the wrong answer. Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and countless critics are right: Star Wars was influenced by the Wizard of Oz, and the fact that it's not a simple retelling of it does nothing to negate that.

I've intentionally left one very clear parallel between the two out, because it's one that, taken on its own, points instead to a defense of my usual approach. Luke Skywalker, like Dorothy Gale, lived with his Aunt and Uncle on a farm. Now, while Lucas' depiction of Luke's home might be influenced by the sepia colored world of Dorothy's home in Kansas, I'm not sure that we can safely say the concept is, because rough analogue can be found in many places. Superman lived with adoptive parents on a farm. Spiderman likewise lived with his Aunt and Uncle, though here in a small town, rather than a farm.

We cannot, with a high degree of certainty, attribute the origin of Superman or Spiderman to the Wizard of Oz. Rather, it seems to be a tendency found across stories of heros: The hero lives with adoptive parents.

Drawing from these two examples we're left something of a conundrum: When is a parallel actual? I'd thought I had a reasonably good idea how to tell, but now I doubt that. So what substantiative grounds, other than individual tastes, can exist to determine it?

Friday, July 07, 2006

I Have Looked Into the Abyss. . .

6 days without the 'net. I no longer know fear, for I have endured the worst there is and survived.

Quick, what color are Dorothy Gale's shoes in Baum's The Wizard of Oz? Hold that thought, we'll be back to it.

Mark Goodacre has some nice quotes on his 'blog from a 1925 article by E W Lummis, "The Case Against Q." The second quote seems to me to capture the essence of my rejection of Q: Luke knows things that are identifiably Matthean, or, at the very least in this case, don't make sense without knowledge of the Markan narrative--a knowledge Q should lack.

Michael Goulder, while wondering Is Q A Juggernaut points to one such identifiably Matthean tendency in the use of paired animal imagery. One could list more (Goulder, in fact, does so at length; it's the essence of his argument against Q), but doesn't need to: It only takes one, as we shall see in a moment.

Some readers might have known the answer to the question about Dorothy's shoes. Others might have suspected a ruse, so questioned the answer they thought to be correct. Most readers were, of course, unequivocally certain that they knew the answer: Her shoes were red. Most readers are wrong, and it was indeed a ruse. Baum's slippers were silver. The ruby numbers were chosen by MGM to exploit the magic of Technicolor.

The Wizard of Oz has been told and retold time and again, with variations ranging from minor changes, to fundamental alterations of the narrative. Yet of one thing we can be certain: If the slippers are red (or, for that matter, Dorothy auburn-haired), then the author knows of Judy Garland's portrayal of Dorothy. To suggest otherwise seems absurd.

Kloppenborg(pdf) once said of the Farrer-Goulder Hypothesis:

The 2DH is difficult to displace not only because it still serves as an effective compositional hypothesis and because compelling counterevidence has not been produced; but it also allows for a relatively fulsome picture of Jesus and seems to lend support to general theological models concerning the gradual development and articulation of christological, eschatological, and ecclesiological doctrines.


I quote the full passage to avoid robbing it of context, though I must confess that I find the latter portion a baffling requirement. Christology, as we can clearly see from Paul or Hebrews, was more than capable of spiking without a "gradual development." Luke, even if he doesn't know Paul's epistles, clearly knows of Paul and Pauline communities, yet his christology doesn't follow a curve from that. It is presumption, rather than evidence, that demands such a succession.

Which brings us to the obvious analogy (and, like all analogies, it's not perfect, but it is IMO, sufficient), addressing the first half of Kloppenborg's words. That it serves as an "effective compositional hypothesis" or that he finds no "compelling counterevidence," (both points I disagree with, but that's neither here nor there, for the moment) is of little relevance. Luke knows that the slippers were red. The compelling evidence needs to be presented from the other end, else it is fairly demanded that, like the reader here, Luke knows of Judy Garland.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Biblical Studies Carnival VII

Biblical Studies Carnival VII is up on Daily Hebrew. Any readers who have not yet read Loren Rosson III's series on parables mentioned in the Carnival are emphatically encouraged to read them now. IMO, they're the best offering of the month.

Hopefully I'll return to more regular blogging by the end of next week. Though true horror will set in tomorrow when I am GASP! without internet for two days!

It's like I'll be living in the mid to late twentieth century, or some equally horrific period of history.