Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Uncritical Use of Redaction Criticism

I'm currently reading Darrell Bock and Robert L. Webb, Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus (WUNT 247; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2009). This is a must-own for any one serious about Jesus research. The book is full of articles by leading scholars on various crucial events in the Gospels, e.g., the baptism of Jesus, the Triumphal Entry, the Last Supper, the so-called "trial" before Caiaphas and the Jewish council, etc.

As much as I'm loving it, I do have some minor criticisms. In this post I want to mention one of them. I'll be developing what I present here in future papers, but I would love to get some feedback from any other scholars out there.

In a few places the authors in this monograph seem to fall prey to a presuppositional view which I think is utterly mistaken and wrong-headed. What is that view? To sum it up, here it is: scholars seem to conclude that material consistent with the narrative or theological interests of redactors constitutes evidence against authenticity. Going on, scholars seem to assume that redactional activity represents evidence of in authenticity. Indeed, this line of thought appears rather commonly in historical Jesus work.

It seems to appear in Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus as well. Take for example Craig Blomberg. He writes:

“Jesus’ compassion for outcasts of many different kinds―women, lepers, other sick persons, Samaritans, Gentiles, and the poor―forms of a major emphasis within Luke’s writing. So we cannot argue that the specific pericopae of Jesus’ meals with sinners in this Gospel fail to fit the Evangelist’s redactional tendencies. But there are plenty of other signs of authenticity.”[1]
It seems here that the assumption is that material that coincides with Luke’s larger narrative interests must be seen as historically suspect.

But why?

Clearly it is entirely possible―I think even probable!―that “redactors” included authentic material in their editorial work.

In fact, this very point is made by Robert Webb in the introductory essay to this compilation of essays:

“Often in historical Jesus studies, if something is identified as redactional material contributed by a Gospel author, it is usually discounted as not being historical with reference to Jesus. In many cases this may be appropriate, but sometimes it is applied in a heavy-handed manner that misses the point.”[2]
Indeed, Mr. Q himself, John S. Kloppenborg, makes this point: “It is indeed possible, indeed probable, that some of the materials from the secondary compositional phase are dominical or at least very old, and that some of the formative elements are, from the standpoint of authenticity or tradition-history, relatively young.”[3]

Likewise, Gundry explains, “. . . artistic composition does not imply lack of traditional data, for artists often use raw materials given to them rather than spinning material out of their own heads.”[4]

Kloppenborg goes on to make a point that I wish I could put into a frame and give to all of my graduate students: “Tradition-history is not convertible with literary history.”[5] Kloppenborg makes the point plainly in another work on Q: “It should be stressed that the assignment of a set of sayings to the framing [of Q] implies nothing about their ultimate tradition-historical provenance or their authenticity; it is a literary observation.”[6]

The point is often overlooked, especially among those still convinced by the Q theory―i.e., what is from Q is largely assumed to be historical, but what is seen as stemming from the redactional activity of Matthew and Luke is not.

Such an approach however is hugely problematic! Even in his work on Q Kloppenborg cautions:
“Redaction criticism, in particular the ground-breaking work of Werner Kelber (1983), should also have taught us that the choice of genre and the organizational patterns employed by the written Gospels are the choices of the authors involved; they cannot be used as indices by which to characterize the historical Jesus. The literary choice to feature sapiential and prophetic sayings and to ignore the miracle and passion traditions tells us in the first place about Q, not about the historical Jesus. It renders evidence of the persons who collected and framed its sayings. Their interests must be probed and their techniques analyzed. . . . To be sure, Q is an important source for the historical Jesus, but it is only one of several. It is neither complete nor is it unalloyed.”[7]
So let’s get it clear: we must decouple the questions of redaction history and historicity. Indeed, whatever one thinks about his conclusions about dating the New Testament documents, John A.T. Robinson’s discussion of the uncritical use of redaction criticism ought to receive more attention than it has.[8]

So now let me ask: what do you think?

NOTES
[1] Craig Blomberg, “The Authenticity and Significance of Jesus’ Table Fellowship with Sinners,” in Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus, 232.
[2] Webb, “The Historical Enterprise and Historical Jesus Research,” in Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus, 59.
[3] See John S. Kloppenborg, The Formation of Q: Trajectories in Ancient Wisdom Collections (SAC; Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2000), 244. See “. . . artistic composition does not imply lack of traditional data, for artists often use raw materials given to them rather than spinning material out of their own heads.” See also Meyer, Aims of Jesus, 71–72.
[4] Robert H. Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 723–24. See also Meyer, Aims of Jesus, 71–72.
[5] Kloppenborg, The Formation of Q, 244.
[6] John S. Kloppenborg, “The Formation of Q Revisited: A Response to Richard Horsely,” Society of Biblical Literature 1989 Seminar Papers (ed. D. J. Lull; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989), 206 [204–15].
[7] Excavating Q: The History and Settings of the Sayings Gospel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 351–52
[8] John A. T. Robinson, The Priority of John (London: SCM Press, 1985; repr., South Humphrey: Meyer Stone Books, 1987 [1985]), 28–33.

If the Federal Government Can't Plug a Hole

. . . what else can't they do?

Think about it.

It seems to me the oil spill reveals one thing above all else--the incompetence of the federal government.

And before I get complaining comments--yes, I know the spill was the result of the work of a private company. I'm definitely not saying private corporations are the answer to all our society's ills. But let's be clear: it isn't as if the choice between private businesses and the federal government is the choice between good and evil, between competence and incompetence.

All I'm saying is this: the next time you think about trusting the fed to solve your problems just remember this: with all their resources, the federal government couldn't plug a hole.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Why Does Trinity Sunday Follow Pentecost?

Tomorrow is Trinity Sunday. Why do we celebrate this mystery on the first Sunday after Pentecost? Here I thought I'd tackle that question.

The Centrality of the Trinity


The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the Trinity as the "central" mystery of faith. Here let me quote the Catechism in full.
"The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the "hierarchy of the truths of faith" [GCD 43.]. The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men "and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin" [GCD 47]" (CCC 234).
Why is the Trinity so important? Well, theologically the Trinity is unique. Specifically, while all the other mysteries of faith describe what God does for us, the doctrine of the Trinity alone teaches us who God is in his deepest mystery. As the Catechism stresses: "It is the mystery of God in himself."

In fact, the centrality of the Trinity in Catholic theology and spirituality is evident from its prominence in the most recognizable of all Catholic prayers: the Sign of the Cross. While signing themselves with the cross, Catholics pray: "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

Given its significance then it is no surprise that the Trinity has its own feast day. But why do Catholics celebrate the doctrine of the Trinity this Sunday.

Theologia and Oikonomia

How is it that we know about the doctrine of the Trinity? Indeed, there is no single verse in Scripture which states it succinctly--i.e., "there are three divine persons who share on divine nature". How is it that God reveals the truth about his Triune life to us? Once again, let me turn to the Catechism.
"The Fathers of the Church distinguish between theology (theologia) and economy (oikonomia). 'Theology' refers to the mystery of God's inmost life within the Blessed Trinity and 'economy' to all the works by which God reveals himself and communicates his life. Through the oikonomia the theologia is revealed to us; but conversely, the theologia illuminates the whole oikonomia. God's works reveal who he is in himself; the mystery of his inmost being enlightens our understanding of all his works. So it is, analogously, among human persons. A person discloses himself in his actions, and the better we know a person, the better we understand his actions."
In other words, God reveals who He is in His deepest mystery, i.e., His Trinitarian life, through what he does in salvation history (e.g., the oikonomia).
In particular, God is understood to reveal who He is in His deepest mystery in fullness in the coming of Christ and the Spirit.

First, God the Father sends the Son in the Incarnation:
"He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me" (Matt 10:40).

"he who receives any one whom I send receives me; and he who receives me receives him who sent me" (John 13:20).

"[Jesus in prayer to the Father]: I have given them the words which thou gavest me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from thee; and they have believed that thou didst send me" (John 17:8).
Next, the Son returns to the Father, i.e., the Ascension:
". . . now I am going to him who sent me" (John 16:5).

"I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father" (John 16:28).
Finally, the Father and the Son send the Spirit, i.e., Pentecost.
"I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7).

". . . the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:26).
What happens in salvation history is understood as reflecting the inner Triune life of God--i.e., what God does (oikonomia) reflects who God is (theologia). Thus, the sending of the Son and His return to the Father reflects the Triune life of God: the Son proceeds from the Father and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and (through) the Son.

Hence, after celebrating Pentecost we focus on the Trinity--the sending of the Spirit in a sense completes the revelation of Triune life of God.

In short--and obviously much, much more could be said--that's why we celebrate Trinity Sunday after Pentecost.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

St. Basil's Moving Letter to a Fallen Virgin

I covered St. Basil and his work this week in my Church Fathers class. One of the amazing things about him was that, unlike the other Cappadocian fathers, St. Basil had a knack for winning over his enemies. In other words, while Sts. Gregory of Nazianzus and Nyssa were tremendously important figures, they invariably alienated their opponents. In fact, St. Gregory of Nazianzus was never able to take possession of the see he was ordained as Bishop to lead--he was just unable to overcome his political enemies.

Not so with St. Basil. He was actually able to win over enemies, as St. Gregory of Nazianzus puts it, "blending his correction with consideration and his gentleness with firmness" (Or. xliii). In other words, not all saints excel at ecclesiastical politics. Not all have a gift for tact--e.g., read St. Jerome's life and writings.

The wonderful pastoral approach of St. Basil--the only Cappadocian father to be remembered as "the Great"--is especially on display in his Letter to a Fallen Virgin (Letter 46). I've produced it below. Here he writes to a young woman he apparently knew as a young girl. His great fatherly love for her is on display, as he writes about how her descent into sin has brought him great sorrow. The use of Scripture here is spectacular.

_____________________________________________________

1. Now is the time to quote the words of the prophet and to say, Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people. (Jeremiah 9:1). Though they are wrapped in profound silence and lie stunned by their misfortune, robbed of all sense of feeling by the fatal blow, I at all events must not let such a fall go unlamented. If, to Jeremiah, it seemed that those whose bodies had been wounded in war, were worthy of innumerable lamentations, what shall be said of such a disaster of souls? My slain men, it is said, are not slain with the sword, nor dead in battle (Isaiah 22:2). But I am bewailing the sting of the real death, the grievousness of sin and the fiery darts of the wicked one, which have savagely set on fire souls as well as bodies. Truly God's laws would groan aloud on seeing so great a pollution on the earth. They have pronounced their prohibition of old You shall not covet your neighbour's wife (Deuteronomy 5:21); and through the holy gospels they say that Whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery already with her in his heart (Matthew 5:28). Now they see the bride of the Lord herself, whose head is Christ, boldly committing adultery. So too would groan the companies of the Saints. Phinehas, the zealous, because he can now no more take his spear into his hands and avenge the outrage on the bodies; and John the Baptist, because he cannot quit the realms above, as in his life he left the wilderness, to hasten to convict iniquity, and if he must suffer for the deed, rather lose his head than his freedom to speak. But, perhaps, like the blessed Abel, he too though dead yet speaks to us, and now exclaims, more loudly than John of old concerning Herodias, It is not lawful for you to have her (Matthew 14:4). For even if the body of John in obedience to the law of nature has received the sentence of God, and his tongue is silent, yet the word of God is not bound (2 Timothy 2:9). John, when he saw the wedlock of a fellow servant set at nought, was bold to rebuke even to the death: how would he feel on seeing such an outrage wreaked on the marriage chamber of the Lord?

2. You have flung away the yoke of that divine union; you have fled from the undefiled chamber of the true King; you have shamefully fallen into this disgraceful and impious corruption; and now that you cannot avoid this painful charge, and have no means or device to conceal your trouble, you rush into insolence. The wicked man after falling into a pit of iniquity always begins to despise, and you are denying your actual covenant with the true bridegroom; you say that you are not a virgin, and made no promise, although you have undertaken and publicly professed many pledges of virginity. Remember the good profession which you witnessed before God, angels, and men. Remember the hallowed intercourse, the sacred company of virgins, the assembly of the Lord, the Church of the holy. Remember your grandmother, grown old in Christ, still youthful and vigorous in virtue; and your mother vying with her in the Lord, and striving to break with ordinary life in strange and unwonted toils; remember your sister, who copies their doings, nay, endeavours to surpass them, and goes beyond the good deeds of her fathers in her virgin graces, and earnestly challenges by word and deed you her sister, as she thinks, to like efforts, while she earnestly prays that your virginity be preserved. All these call to mind, and your holy service of God with them, your life spiritual, though in the flesh; your conversation heavenly, though on earth. Remember days of calm, nights lighted up, spiritual songs, sweet music of psalms, saintly prayers, a bed pure and undefiled, procession of virgins, and moderate fare. What has become of your grave appearance, your gracious demeanour, your plain dress, meet for a virgin, the beautiful blush of modesty, the comely and bright pallor due to temperance and vigils, shining fairer than any brilliance of complexion? How often have you not prayed, perhaps with tears, that you might preserve your virginity without spot! How often have you not written to the holy men, imploring them to offer up prayers in your behalf, not that it should be your lot to marry, still less to be involved in this shameful corruption, but that you should not fall away from the Lord Jesus? How often have you received gifts from the Bridegroom? Why enumerate the honours given you for His sake by them that are His? Why tell of your fellowship with virgins, your progress with them, your being greeted by them with praises on account of virginity, eulogies of virgins, letters written as to a virgin? Now, nevertheless, at a little blast from the spirit of the air, that now works in the children of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2) you have abjured all these; you have changed the honourable treasure, worth fighting for at all costs, for short-lived indulgence which does for the moment gratify the appetite; one day you will find it more bitter than gall.

3. Who would not grieve over such things and say, How is the faithful city become an harlot (Isaiah 1:21)? How would not the Lord Himself say to some of those who are now walking in the spirit of Jeremiah, Have you seen what the virgin of Israel has done to me? I betrothed her to me in trust, in purity, in righteousness, in judgment, in pity, and in mercy; as I promised her through Hosea the prophet. But she loved strangers, and while I, her husband, was yet alive, she is called adulteress, and is not afraid to belong to another husband. What then says the conductor of the bride, the divine and blessed Paul, both that one of old, and the later one of today under whose mediation and instruction you left your father's house and were united to the Lord? Might not either, in sorrow for such a trouble, say, The thing which I greatly feared has come upon me, and that which I was afraid of has come unto me (Job 3:25). I have espoused you to one husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2). I was indeed ever afraid lest by any means as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your mind should be corrupted (2 Corinthians 11:3); wherefore by countless counter-charms I strove to control the agitation of your senses, and by countless safeguards to preserve the bride of the Lord. So I continually set forth the life of the unmarried maid, and described how the unmarried alone cares for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit (1 Corinthians 7:34). I used to describe the high dignity of virginity, and, addressing you as a temple of God, used as it were to give wings to your zeal as I strove to lift you to Jesus. Yet through fear of evil I helped you not to fall by the words if any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy (1 Corinthians 3:17). So by my prayers I tried to make you more secure, if by any means your body, soul, and spirit might be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Yet all my toil on your behalf has been in vain. Bitter to me has been the end of those sweet labours. Now I needs must groan again at that over which I ought to have rejoiced. You have been deceived by the serpent more bitterly than Eve; and not only your mind but also your body has been defiled. Even that last horror has come to pass which I shrink from saying, and yet cannot leave unsaid, for it is as a burning and blazing fire in my bones, and I am undone and cannot endure. You have taken the members of Christ and made them the members of a harlot (1 Corinthians 6:15). This is an evil with which no other can be matched. This outrage in life is new. For pass over the Isles of Chittim and see; and send unto Chedar and consider diligently, and see if there be such a thing. Hath a nation changed their gods which are yet no gods (Jeremiah 2:10-11). But the virgin has changed her glory, and her glory is in her shame. The heavens are astonished at this, and the earth is horribly afraid, says the Lord, for the virgin has committed two evils; she has forsaken Me, the true and holy Bridegroom of holy souls, and has betaken herself to an impious and lawless destroyer of body and soul alike. She has revolted from God, her Saviour, and yielded her members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity. She forgot me and went after her lover from whom she will get no good.

4. It were better for him that a mill-stone had been hanged about his neck, and that he had been cast into the sea, than that he should have offended the virgin of the Lord. What slave ever reached such a pitch of mad audacity as to fling himself upon his master's bed? What robber ever attained such a height of folly as to lay hands upon the very offerings of God, not dead vessels, but bodies living and enshrining a soul made after the image of God?

Who was ever known to have the hardihood, in the heart of a city and at high noon, to mark figures of filthy swine upon a royal statue? He who has set at naught a marriage of man, with no mercy shown him, in the presence of two or three witnesses, dies. Of how much sorer punishment, suppose you, shall he be thought worthy who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and defiled His pledged bride and done despite unto the spirit of virginity? But the woman, he urges, consented, and I did no violence to her against her will. So, that unchaste lady of Egypt raged with love for comely Joseph, but the chaste youth's virtue was not overcome by the frenzy of the wicked woman, and, even when she laid her hand upon him, he was not forced into iniquity. But still, he urges, this was no new thing in her case; she was no longer a maid; if I had been unwilling, she would have been corrupted by some one else. Yes; and it is written, the Son of Man was ordained to be betrayed, but woe unto that man by whom He was betrayed. It must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom they come.

5. In such a state of things as this, Shall they fall and not arise? Shall he turn away and not return (Jeremiah 8:4)? Why did the virgin turn shamefully away, though she had heard Christ her bridegroom saying through the mouth of Jeremiah, And I said, after she had done all these things (committed all these fornications, LXX.), turn thou unto me, but she returned not (Jeremiah 3:7). Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered (Jeremiah 8:22). You might indeed find many remedies for evil in Scripture, many medicines to save from destruction and lead to health; the mysteries of death and resurrection, the sentences of terrible judgment and everlasting punishment; the doctrines of repentance and of remission of sins; all the countless illustrations of conversion, the piece of money, the sheep, the son who wasted his substance with harlots, who was lost and was found, who was dead and alive again. Let us not use these remedies for ill; by these means let us heal our soul. Bethink you of your last day, for you will surely not, unlike all other women, live for ever. The distress, the gasping for breath, the hour of death, the imminent sentence of God, the angels, hastening on their way, the soul fearfully dismayed, and lashed to agony by the consciousness of sin, turning itself piteously to things of this life and to the inevitable necessity of that long life to be lived elsewhere. Picture to me, as it rises in your imagination, the conclusion of all human life, when the Son of God shall come in His glory with His angels, For he shall come and shall not keep silence; when He shall come to judge the quick and dead, to render to every one according to his work; when that terrible trumpet with its mighty voice shall wake those that have slept through the ages, and they that have done good shall come forth unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation. Remember the vision of Daniel, and how he brings the judgment before us: I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head like the pure wool;...and His wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth before Him; thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened, (Daniel 7:9-10) clearly disclosing in the hearing of all, angels and men, things good and evil, things done openly and in secret, deeds, words, and thoughts all at once. What then must those men be who have lived wicked lives? Where then shall that soul hide which in the sight of all these spectators shall suddenly be revealed in its fullness of shame? With what kind of body shall it sustain those endless and unbearable pangs in the place of fire unquenched, and of the worm that perishes and never dies, and of depth of Hades, dark and horrible; bitter wailings, loud lamenting, weeping and gnashing of teeth and anguish without end? From all these woes there is no release after death; no device, no means of coming forth from the chastisement of pain.

6. We can escape now. While we can, let us lift ourselves from the fall: let us never despair of ourselves, if only we depart from evil. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. O come, let us worship and fall down; let us weep before Him. The Word Who invited us to repentance calls aloud, Come unto me all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). There is, then, a way of salvation, if we will. Death in his might has swallowed up, but again the Lord has wiped away tears from off all faces of them that repent. The Lord is faithful in all His words. He does not lie when He says, Though your sins be scarlet they shall be as white as snow. Though they be red like crimson they shall be as wool (Isaiah 1:18). The great Physician of souls, Who is the ready liberator, not of you alone, but of all who are enslaved by sin, is ready to heal your sickness. From Him come the words, it was His sweet and saving lips that said, They that be whole need not a physician but they that are sick....I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance (Matthew 9:12-13). What excuse have you, what excuse has any one, when He speaks thus? The Lord wishes to cleanse you from the trouble of your sickness and to show you light after darkness. The good Shepherd, Who left them that had not wandered away, is seeking after you. If you give yourself to Him He will not hold back. He, in His love, will not disdain even to carry you on His own shoulders, rejoicing that He has found His sheep which was lost. The Father stands and awaits your return from your wandering. Only come back, and while you are yet afar off, He will run and fall upon your neck, and, now that you are cleansed by repentance, will enwrap you in embraces of love. He will clothe with the chief robe the soul that has put off the old man with all his works; He will put a ring on hands that have washed off the blood of death, and will put shoes on feet that have turned from the evil way to the path of the Gospel of peace. He will announce the day of joy and gladness to them that are His own, both angels and men, and will celebrate your salvation far and wide. For verily I say unto you, says He, there is joy in heaven before God over one sinner that repents. If any of those who think they stand find fault because of your quick reception, the good Father will Himself make answer for you in the words, It was meet that we should make merry and be glad for this my daughter was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found. (Luke 15:32).

Friday, May 21, 2010

Jesuit D.J. McCarthy on Source Criticism and Biblical Interpretation


Fr. D.J. McCarthy, S.J., longtime professor at the Biblicum and one of the twentieth century's most significant contributors to the concept of "covenant" in the Bible and the ancient Near East, on source criticism and biblical interpretation:

"But the primary object of literary study is the text, its primary tools a knowledge of words and phrases and a feel for their use. A first call then: let us read the text for what it is with all the wit and skill we can bring to it. This sounds very simple, but it is not. Normally, the Biblist does not read the text. He breaks it up and reads parts. He tears out its sources. He does not explain the significance of the so-called “plague stories” in Exodus. He merely explains what the Yahwist writer or the Priestly writers thought about plagues. But it is the narrative as it stands which interests the Church or the men of culture concerned with the world’s classics. This also should be the Biblist’s interest in so far as he is concerned with explaining the Bible." [D. J. McCarthy, “God as Prisoner of Our Own Choosing: Critical-Historical Study of the Bible,” in Historicism and Faith (ed. P. L. Williams; Scranton, PA: SCS, 1980) 40]

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Implications of Redaction Criticism

"Redaction critics are rarely conscious of the consequences of their conclusions for the historical-critical evolutionary theory. . . . Nevertheless, the evolutionary theory has collapsed because redaction criticism has pulled the plug on its source of power. Whereas the theory saw the power of literary formation in a romantic symbiosis of tradition and environment, redaction criticism has relocated this power in authors on the one hand and in genres on the other, with genres now construed as cultural media of communication."
--Norman R. Petersen, Literary Criticism for New Testament Critics (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978), 18.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Miracles, Historiography, and Historical Jesus Research

One of the most common reasons scholars often raise questions about the historical veracity of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life is the simple fact that they include reference to miraculous healings. [1] In fact, it should be noted that this objection, strictly speaking, actually has nothing to do with the use of any of the “criteria of authenticity” typically used by historical Jesus scholars. Is this rejection of miraculous reports fair?

Here I am not going to launch into a detailed explanation.[2] Let me just make two points.

First, while historical work necessarily demands a certain critical judgment, the outright a priori denial of the possibility of such occurrences represents no less of a metaphysical commitment than one which accepts them. To rule out a priori the possibility of inexplicable events can hardly represent a truly critical methodology.[3]

Along these lines I must recommend the recent discussion by Eddy and Boyd concerning the importance of an “open-historical critical method” (The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007], 39–90). They explain that, “The claim that the natural world and its history constitute a ‘closed continuum’ of natural causes and effects is a metaphysical claim” (49). As such they go on and state why an open historical-critical approach that makes no a priori decisions about the possibility of miracles is superior to the alternative:

“In our estimation, this methodology is not less critical than the naturalistic historical-critical method; rather, it is more critical. For . . . this method requires that Western scholars be critical of their commitments to their own culturally conditioned naturalistic presuppositions. . . It requires that scholars not be uncritically committed to any metaphysical stance, but rather, in the name of critical scholarship, always bring a certain inquisitiveness to their presuppositional commitments” (53).
This seems eminently fair to me.

The second point I’d like to make is this: it must be observed that for the text to have historical value it is not necessary for a historian to prove that Jesus actually accomplished a miracle, something which by definition one would be hard-pressed to do.[4] Instead, the question here is this: does the account relate an event not created by the early church but rather an actual event which occurred during the public ministry of the historical Jesus?

To answer this question we need not answer the question of whether or not a miracle per se was involved. Rather, the question which lies before us in establishing the historicity of the accounts is whether or not it is probable that, e.g., a leper came asking Jesus for healing and received what was thought to be a true cleansing of his disease.

I like how Davies and Allison put it:
“For our immediate purposes, which are strictly historical, it does not matter
at all what explanation(s) one might offer for apparent miracles―God, coincidence, conscious deception, the placebo effect, or little recognized human powers. It also does not matter precisely how one defines a miracle. . . All that counts is the undeniable fact that many people have thought themselves to be witnesses to events resembling those in the NT gospels (including the so-called nature miracles). It follows that if a synoptic pericope recounts a miraculous deed, that by itself is not sufficient cause for supposing that pericope to have no foundation in the earliest tradition or even in the life of Jesus. Put simply, there is no reason, whatever one’s philosophical or religious disposition, to deny that people could have perceived Jesus doing seemingly miraculous things.”[5]

So is the a priori rejection of the historicity of accounts relating Jesus' miraculous deeds fair? I don't think so.

In fact, Josephus talks about other figures contemporary to Jesus who were known to work “marvels and signs” [τέρατα καὶ σημεῖα] (A.J. 20.168; cf. B.J. 2.258–60; 6.286–87), a term he associates with the miraculous works of Moses in the Exodus (cf. A.J. 2.327). Interestingly, Josephus relates that Jesus was known for performing "wonderful works" (παρὰδοξα ἔργα) (A.J. 18.63), the same term he uses to describe the miracles of Elisha earlier in his work (A.J. 9.182). It is worth noting that even the reconstructed versions of Josephus' testimony about Jesus offered by scholars include this as authentic. See, e.g., John P. Meier [A Marginal Jew, 1:56–88; idem., “Jesus in Josephus: A Modest Proposal,” CBQ 52 (1990):76–103] and Joseph Klausner [Jesus of Nazareth, 55–56]. Evans goes on to support Klausner’s reconstruction, citing the Arabic version found in Agapius’ Book of the Title (cf. Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies, 180).

Given all of this I think it is rather difficult for historians to insist that the Gospels' portrait of Jesus as a worker of inexplicable healings merely reflects the faith of the early community and that it must be seen as simply owing to Christian theology.

What do you think? I'd love feedback. . .

NOTES
[1] John Dominic Crossan is representative of an approach which denies a priori the possibility of the miraculous. For example, in commenting on the historical value of the account in John 11 where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, Crossan states: “I do not think this event ever did or could happen. . . I do not think that anyone, anywhere, at any time brings dead people back to life” (Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography [San Francisco: HaperSanFrancisco, 1994), 94–95. Of course, the very definition of the word “miracle” has been debated. For a survey of a variety of options see Meier, Marginal Jew, 2:524–25 n. 5. We shall take Thomas Aquinas’ definition as our own: Haec autem quae praeter ordinem communiter in rebus statutum quandoque divinitus fiunt, miracula dici solent. . .” (Summa Contra Gentiles 3.101.1). In other words, a miracle is a work which is a divinely accomplished work which occurs apart from the ordinary order of the natural things.
[2] For a full discussion, see Colin Brown, Miracles and the Critical Mind (Pasadena: Fuller Seminary Press, 2006). The literature on miracles and historical Jesus research is overwhelmingly immense. Some of the most helpful studies include also Graham H. Twelftree, Jesus the Miracle Worker (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 17–37; idem., “Miracle Story,” in Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus (ed. C. A. Evans; New York: Routledge, 2008), 416–20; Davies and Allison, Matthew, 2:62–65; Loos, Miracles of Jesus, 3–106; Theissen and Merz, Der historische Jesus, 256–284; Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 29–34, 102–4; Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2: 617–40, as well as the vast bibliography on 522, n. 4.
[3] See Meier, Marginal Jew, 2:517–18: “To judge a priori, before an examination of a particular case, that no matter what the evidence may be a particular action of Jesus could not possibly have been a miracle is a philosophical judgment, not a historical one.” Here we agree with much of what is said by Boyd and Eddy (Jesus Legend, 39–90) concerning the importance of an “open-historical critical method”. They explain that, “The claim that the natural world and its history constitute a ‘closed continuum’ of natural causes and effects is a metaphysical claim” (49). As such they go on and explain why an open historical-critical approach that makes no a priori decisions about the possibility of miracles is superior to the alternative: “In our estimation, this methodology is not less critical than the naturalistic historical-critical method; rather, it is more critical. For . . . this method requires that Western scholars be critical of their commitments to their own culturally conditioned naturalistic presuppositions. . . It requires that scholars not be uncritically committed to any metaphysical stance, but rather, in the name of critical scholarship, always bring a certain inquisitiveness to their presuppositional commitments” (53). See also Aviezer Tucker, “A Theory of Historiography as Pre-Science,” in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 24 (1993): 633–67; idem., Our Knowledge of the Past: A Philosophy of Historiography (New York: Cmabridge University Press, 2004).
[4] The conclusion that the cause of an event or occurrence is inexplicable in terms of natural cause and effect does not equate to proof for divine causality. See Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2:514–15: “[T]he historian can ascertain whether an extraordinary event has taken place in a religious setting, whether someone has claimed it to be a miracle, and, if there is enough evidence―whether a human action, physical forces in the universe, misperception, illusion, or fraud can explain the event. If all these explanations are excluded, the historian may conclude that an event claimed by some people to be miraculous has no reasonable explanation or adequate cause in any human activity or physical force. To go beyond that judgment and to affirm either that God has directly acted to bring about this startling event or that God has not done so is to go beyond what any historian can affirm in his or her capacity as a historian and to enter the domain of philosophy or theology.” Interestingly Meier goes on to discuss the contemporary example of healings at Lourdes, pointing out that even though numerous cases have been certified by impartial medical examiners as inexplicable (1,300 between 1948 and 1993), only 18 have been recognized by the Catholic Church as legitimately “miraculous” (cf. Meier, Marginal Jew, 2:528, n. 528). See also Geert Van Oyen, “Markan Miracle Stories in Historical Jesus Research, Redaction Criticism and Narrative Analysis,” in Wonders Never Cease: The Purpose of Narrating Miracle Stories in the New Testament and Its Religious Environment (LNTS 288; eds. M. Labahn, B. J. L. Peerbolte; London: T & T Clark, 2006), 87–88, who agrees with Meier, making the case that not only can the historian affirm that witnesses believed they had observed an extraordinary (i.e., miraculous) event but also that those who saw it attributed what had happened to God. It is worth noting that even the Catechismus Catholicae Ecclesiae makes a distinction similar to Meier’s, recognizing that miracles are only a motiva credibilitatis, not the cause of faith (no. 156).
[5] See Davies and Allison, Matthew, 2:63, who make a similar point. Their comments are worth quoting in full: “For our immediate purposes, which are strictly historical, it does not matter at all what explanation(s) one might offer for apparent miracles―God, coincidence, conscious deception, the placebo effect, or little recognized human powers. It also does not matter precisely how one defines a miracle. . . All that counts is the undeniable fact that many people have thought themselves to be witnesses to events resembling those in the NT gospels (including the so-called nature miracles). It follows that if a synoptic pericope recounts a miraculous deed, that by itself is not sufficient cause for supposing that pericope to have no foundation in the earliest tradition or even in the life of Jesus. Put simply, there is no reason, whatever one’s philosophical or religious disposition, to deny that people could have perceived Jesus doing seemingly miraculous things.” See also the full discussion in Meier, Marginal Jew, 2:509–34. Aside from Meier, it is surprising to note the scant attention paid to the miracles of Jesus in works written by scholars associated with “Third Quest”. See the comments to this effect in Twelftree, Jesus the Miracle Worker, 19.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Vol. II of the Pope's "Jesus of Nazareth" Complete

From Zenit News:
Benedict XVI finished the second volume of his work "Jesus of Nazareth," which was given to the publishers a few days ago.

A note of the Vatican press office explains that the book focuses on the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. The first volume of "Jesus of Nazareth" was published in April 2007, coinciding with the Pontiff's 80th birthday.

The Vatican clarified that "the German original has been given at the same time to Manuel Herder, the German editor who is publishing the Complete Works of Joseph Ratzinger, and to Father Giuseppe Costa, director of the Libreria Editrice Vaticana. The latter is in charge of the concession of the rights of the author, it will publish the Italian edition and will give the text to other authors for the different translations into other languages, which will be done directly from the German original."

"It is hoped that the publication of the book will take place contemporaneously in the most widespread languages. Hence, no matter how fast it is, it will still require several months, given the time necessary for a careful translation of such an important and awaited text," the communiqué noted.

The book is signed with the composite name Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI.

Work on "Jesus of Nazareth" began in 2003, when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Hahn on the "Politics of Biblical Interpretation"

This is a real treat--what a rockin' video! Here are two of my favorite contemporary theologians talking about Modernity, the Bible and Hermeneutics. Here Dr. Hahn mentions his new academic monograph, "The Politics of Biblical Interpretation", which I am especially excited about. Enjoy!

Students in my Biblical Hermeneutics course should pay close attention to this!

When I was a grad student Dr. Hahn and his family took me in. Watching videos like these makes me miss the regularity with which we used to have such conversations!

Origen on the Trinity: A Man Ahead of His Time

Origen (A.D. 185-254) was notably ahead of the curve, anticipating the later formulations of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ in surprisingly prescient ways.

As I prepared for my Early Church Fathers class today I was re-reading Origen's work. I was struck by just how forward-thinking he was. Yes, he had some big problems--we all know about those. But, notwithstanding the more problematic areas of his thought, the truth is, he really was ahead of his time.

1. Origen uses the term "trinity" (τριάς) (In Joh. 10, 39, 270; 6, 33, 166; In Jes. hom. 1,4,1).

2. Origen explains that the Son proceeds from the Father by way of an eternal spiritual act of generation: aeterno ac sempiterna generatio (In Jer. 9,4; De. princ. 1,2,4).

3. Anticipating Athanasius' refutation of Arias, Origen writes that there was no time when the Son was not (οὐκ ἔστιν ὅτε οὐκ ἦν) (De princ. 1,2,9f; 2; 4,4,1; In Rom. 1,5).

4. Origen writes that Christ's Sonship is by nature, not by adoption (it is not "per adoptionem spiritus filius, sed natura filius" (De princ. 1,2,4).

5. Origen even describes the Son's relation to the Father in terms of unity of substance, that is, homoousios (μοσιος) (In Heb. frg. 24, 359).

6. He describes Christ as the "God-Man" (θεάνθρωπος) (De princ. 2,6,3).

In addition, consider the following two excerpts.

In the first one Origen seems to anticipate the psychological model of the Trinity used by later writers to describe the divine processions.
“For if the Son do all those things which the Father does, then, in virtue of the Son doing all things like the Father, is the image of the Father formed in the Son, who is born of Him, like an act of His will proceeding from the mind. And I am therefore of opinion that the will of the Father ought alone to be sufficient for the existence of that which He wishes to exist. For in the exercise of His will He employs no other way than that which is made known by the counsel of His will. And thus also the existence (subsistentia) of the Son is generated by Him. For this point must above all others be maintained by those who allow nothing to be unbegotten, i.e., unborn, save God the Father only. . . As an act of the will proceeds from the understanding, and neither cuts off any part nor is separated or divided from it, so after some such fashion is the Father to be supposed as having begotten the Son, His own image; namely, so that, as He is Himself invisible by nature, He also begat an image that was invisible. For the Son is the Word, and therefore we are not to understand that anything in Him is cognizable by the senses. He is wisdom, and in wisdom there can be no suspicion of anything corporeal. He is the true light, which enlightens every man that cometh into this world; but he has nothing in common with the light of this sun. Our Saviour, therefore, is the image of the invisible God, inasmuch as compared with the Father Himself He is the truth: and as compared with us, to whom He reveals the Father, He is the image by which we come to the knowledge of the Father, whom no one knows save the Son, and he to whom the Son is pleased to reveal Him (De princ. 1,2,6 ANF).

Here is Origen coming to the conclusion that the Son is μοσιος with the Father.
"What else are we to suppose the eternal light is but God the Father, who never so was that, while He was the light, His splendor (Heb 1:3) was not present with Him? Light without splendor is unthinkable. But if this is true, there is never a time when the Son was not the Son. He will be, however, not, as we have described the eternal light, unborn (lest we seem to introduce two principles of light), but, as it were, the splendor of the unbegotten light, with that very light as His beginning and source, born of it indeed, but there was not a time when He was not.

"Thus Wisdom, too, since it proceeds from God, is generated out of the divine substance itself. Under the figure of a bodily outflow, nevertheless, it, too, is thus called 'a sort of clean and pure outflow of omnipotent glory' (Wis. 7:25). Both these similes manifestly show the community of substance between Son and Father. For an outflow seems μοσιος, i.e., of one substance with that body of which it is the outflow or exhaltation (In Hebr. frg. 24,359).

Everyone Come Home to the Church


I just came across this amazing website called "Catholics Come Home." Despite the name, it is for more than just Catholics. I highly recommend going there and watching at least their 2-minute "Epic" commercial. Click on the title of this post to take yourself there.

This website is part of a media initiative started by Tom Peterson, a media executive and revert to the Catholic Church. Click here for the full story.

Amazingly, in the six dioceses where these infomercials have been run, there has been an 11% increase in mass attendance. Folks, that is truly astounding. I used to be, essentially, a professional evangelist, and was current on the missiological literature in the late 80's and early 90's. If a church grows by 1% a year, that's a healthy growth rate. An 11% average increase in Church attendance is enormous for an evangelistic endeavor! The commercials run by this initiative are really powerful. I was left wondering: Why has it taken us so long to put together the best message in the world into a TV commercial format?

Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Church our Mother: Mother's Day Reflections on the Lectionary Readings

It’s a providential coincidence (if that is not an oxymoron) that Mother’s Day this year falls on the Sixth Sunday of Easter. One of the themes that tie together the Mass readings for today (click on the title of this post to read them) is the mystery of the Church, which is, of course, our spiritual mother. As the Church Fathers used to say, “No one can have God as his Father who does not have the Church as his Mother.”

The first reading, from Acts 15, gives us a synopsis of the events of the council of Jerusalem, a council which in hindsight might rightly be called the First Ecumenical Council of the Catholic (Universal) Church.

The controversy that led to this council was the issue of circumcision for Gentile Christians. Was it necessary for Gentiles to become Jews (i.e. submit to circumcision) in order for them to enter into the New Covenant community (the Church?). The response of the apostles and elders (presbuteroi, whence “priests”)of the early church was, “No.”

It’s instructive to observe here how the early Church handled controversy. Significantly, they did not split into two different denominations (The Church of the Gentile Mission and the True Orthodox Church of the First Covenant) and go their separate ways.

Instead, they submitted the question to those who had proper authority, and abided by their decision.

Notice the authority with which the leaders of the Church make their decision: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us …” The apostles and elders took seriously the words of Jesus recorded for us in the Gospel reading: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I told you.” The animation of the Church by the Holy Spirit is so tangible that the decisions of the Church are the decisions of the Holy Spirit.

As a Protestant pastor, I was always somewhat puzzled by why the Bible contained no instructions about when to break off and form a new church, about when to give up on the leadership of one’s “denomination” and start over from scratch. You will read nothing in the Bible about schism, or about what to do when the Church as a whole makes “the wrong decision”, or how to react when the Church is “hopelessly” corrupt. In hindsight, I understand why no such instructions are found there. The confidence of the early Church, reflected in the Scriptures, is that the Holy Spirit guides those entrusted with the care of the universal Church—whether “the apostles and elders” of the first century or their successors today. Schism is not justified, because it amounts to a lack of faith in the Holy Spirit to guide the Church aright.

That sounds like a strong statement to non-Catholic ears, but I suggest to you, there is no other ecclesiology (doctrine of the Church) that is either Scriptural or workable in practice.

The second reading speaks of the New Jerusalem coming out of heaven from God, built on the foundation of the apostles. This ties with the first reading, as the apostles and their decisions form the spiritual basis for the unity of the universal church. It also ties into the gospel reading, in which Jesus commissions the apostles for this ministry, and promises them the aid of the Holy Spirit to perform it. The New Jerusalem is not an exclusively eschatological (end times) reality. We experience it now, in the mystical Body of Christ we call the Church. Compare Eph 2:19-22 and Hebrews 12:22-24 with the imagery of Rev 21. The imagery of the New Jerusalem applies to the Body of Christ that we experience even now in this life.

Recently a close friend who is not a Catholic criticized me (gently) for my commitment to an "organization" (i.e. the Catholic Church) which "obstructs" my personal relationship with Christ. I do not find, however, that the Scriptures view the Church, even the visible Church, merely as an "organization." Instead, despite the failings of her human and imperfect members, she remains the voice of the Holy Spirit and the New Jerusalem of God.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

A Catholic Film School

JP Catholic is really coming into its own now. Our business program is amazing. Of course, we also have a graduate program in Biblical Theology. Here's the new ad for the film school at JP Catholic. . . I love it! Tell me what you think. . .

Friday, May 07, 2010

Worship: Entertainment vs. Liturgy

I'm going to make this real simple. . .

1. The worship of the early Church

"And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons."
--Justin Martyr, I Apol. 67 (A.D. 150-155)

2. What many today call Christian worship. . .



By the way, there's a little joke in here. The Hebrew tattoo deliberately incorrectly spells God's name. Instead of God's name (יהוה ), it says, ויהי , translated, "And it came to pass" or "And it was so." Of course the joke here is that people who get Hebrew tattoos really do not know how to read Hebrew at all.

Hilarious!

H/T Bob Cargill

Top Vatican Official Praises Scott Hahn

Scott Hahn was recently praised in an address given by Cardinal William Levada, the Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. For those who don't know, the man who formerly held that position was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI.

Levada gave an address in which he spoke of the need to respond to those such as the so-called "New Atheists", who have attacked the credibility of the Christian faith and the Gospel. Here's how the story read over at CatholicCulture.org:
In a wide-ranging talk that paid tribute to the writings of Msgr. Ronald Knox, Cardinal Francis George, C. S. Lewis, Scott Hahn, and others, Cardinal William Levada called for a “new apologetics” to counter “the likes of Richard Dawkins and his fellow apostles of the so-called ‘new’ atheism.”
You can read the whole address here.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Other SBL Papers on Blogging

I already talked about the paper I have been invited to present on Weblogs and the Academy at this year's annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. James McGrath (Exploring Our Matrix) and Jim Davila (PaleoJudaica) will also be presenting at the unit for Bloggers and On-Line Publishing. I am pleased to see that they have both posted on their papers.

This is very exciting to me. I am eager to hear both of their papers presented.

James' title is "The Blogging Revolution: New Technologies and their Impact on How we do Scholarship." Here's his abstract.
Not that long ago, in an academic galaxy not that far away, scholars steeped in traditional models, paradigms and technologies marveled that young academics would "fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way" by engaging in that rather frivolous activity referred to as "biblioblogging." But as blogging (and other new technologies and media) become increasingly mainstream, not only do the activities of blogging and online publication seem less frivolous, nor do they merely begin to appear to be highly appropriate topics for a session at the SBL annual meeting, but these technologies show themselves to have the potential to revolutionize the ways we do scholarship, every bit as much as the transportation and printing technologies that have made possible the types of interaction in person and in print that scholars in our time have come to take for granted. Two key examples will be discussed: the possibility of "blog conferences" to supplement if not replace conferences such as the one at which this paper is being read; and the possibility for harnessing interactive media to create textbooks which not only address readers but do so in response to readers' answers to questions the textbook has asked them. The key issue is no longer whether new media will impact the academy, but how to utilize them to their full potential, and not merely as yet another means of transmitting and viewing material which is otherwise presented in a traditional format.
Jim's paper is titled, "What Just Happened: The rise of "biblioblogging" in the first decade of the twenty-first century". Here's his abstract:
This paper recalls the rise of "biblioblogging" early in this decade, surveys its expansion and development since that time, and explores the ways in which it has affected the field of academic biblical studies. Biblioblogging has made possible rapid dissemination of information on new discoveries and other matters of interest – as well as dissemination of accessible specialist commentary on such matters – to a vastly enlarged audience, an effect increasingly amplified by the new "new media" such as podcasts, Facebook, and Twitter. It has helped to put a personal face on biblical scholarship by allowing scholars to speak with an informal public voice different from the voice of academic publication; it has encouraged biblical scholars to interact publicly with popular culture, including not only dubious television documentaries, but also the cinema and television series such as Lost; it has helped scholars to mobilize in support of their colleagues in an era of job cuts and financially threatened departments; and it has contributed at least a little to the accelerating erosion of the authority of the mainstream media. Blogging is likely to be with us for a long time to come and to be increasingly incorporated into our field as a fruitful contribution to biblical scholarship.
I am honored to be presenting with these guys at this ground-breaking session.

As an aside, I should note that James McGrath and I both share a passion that borders on obsession for the ABC television show LOST. By the way, his LOST posts are very good! James in fact points out that Jim Davila mentions LOST in his paper abstract as well. It appears then that despite our different exegetical and theological conclusions we can at least agree on what the most important show on television is! Hopefully, our papers won't be as confusing as the show is though!

Saturday, May 01, 2010

My SBL Paper on Weblogs and the Academy

I just got word that the paper I submitted for this year's annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature has been accepted. The paper will be presented at the Blogger and On-Line publications unit. I'm especially hoping that this will be of interest to all of you academic bloggers out there.
Title: "Weblogs and the Academy: The Benefits and Challenges of Biblioblogging."

Abstract:
A growing number of scholars have entered the world of academic blogging. Indeed, the influence of “biblioblogs” in the scholarly community is becoming increasingly evident in a number of ways. Alongside the names of the institutions where they teach and the titles of their previous books, academic publishers are now including the internet addresses of scholars’ weblogs on the book covers of their recent monographs, somewhat blurring the lines between print publications and on-line offerings. Moreover, a careful analysis of the blogosphere reveals ways in which scholars are “testing out” hypotheses prior to publishing them in academic journals. The on-line academic blogging community has thus become an important sounding board for scholars, at times playing an important role in influencing material later published in peer-review sources. Other benefits may also be recognized, e.g., humanizing scholars, drawing attention to important works published in obscure places, etc. At the same time, there are certainly pitfalls involved with engaging the blogosphere. Above all, blogs are not “peer-reviewed” sources. Identifying helpful sources from unhelpful ones is sometimes a difficult challenge. Moreover, while information produced by bloggers may be retrieved through search engines, finding the most helpful material often requires sifting through a great amount of material, taxing the patience of researchers. This paper will analyze the academic value of blogs, discussing ways to maximize the benefits of such websites while also offering suggestions regarding how to deal with the challenges inherent in consulting them as academic resources. In particular, the presenter will draw from his recent experience of completing a Ph.D. dissertation on the historical Jesus and the way his participation in the academic blogging community enhanced his work.

I'll be talking more about this paper as I continue doing the research for it.

In the meantime, I'm definitely interested in getting feedback. I'm going to put together a bunch of questions and see if I can get some input from other academic bloggers.


I want to thank Dr. Robert Cargill--archaeologist, YouTube sensation, and all-around good guy--for the opportunity to present this paper. I'm really look forward to this.