Friday, December 29, 2006

Conference On The End

We are only a few weeks away now from our major West Coast Biblical Studies Conference. This year's presenters include Brant Pitre, Jesse Romero and yours truly. I've discussed Brant Pitre's important work here on a number of occassions--see here for example. Jesse Romero is known to Catholic audiences nationwide.

I am so excited about this conference. Brant, Jesse and I have worked hard to coordinate our presentations. I've never worked on a conference where the presentations were so carefully coordinated between presenters. Here's the schedule of talks:


Brant Pitre: The Destruction of the Temple

Michael Barber: Who is the Whore of Babylon?

Brant Pitre: The Rapture

Jesse Romero: What Will Happen When Christ Comes (The Teaching of the Catechism)?

Michael Barber: The Thousand Year Reign


Jesse Romero: The Second Coming in Sacred Liturgy and Sacred Scripture

Brant Pitre: The Final Judgment & the New Creation

Michael Barber: The Eucharist & Christ's Coming

For more information go here.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Jesus and the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom (Part 7: N. T. Wright)

N. T. Wright’s approach to the historical Jesus (1992, 1996)[1] follows Ben Meyer and E. P. Sanders in placing the Kingdom within the larger hope for the restoration of Israel. The Kingdom of God expresses the hope that God will vindicate Israel from exile, deliver them from the oppression of their enemies and rule over the whole world as King through them.[2] This hope included the fulfillment of the Torah and the cleansing of the land of Israel. This basic vision was ‘completely unsystematized’[3] – often involving a messianic figure who was commonly associated with David, although Davidic expectations were often merged with other images, particularly Daniel’s “son of Man.” Wright cites Horbury:

At the beginning of the Christian era, the Davidic hope already constituted a relatively fixed core of messianic expectation, both in Palestine and in the Diaspora. Exegetical interconnections attest that the ‘son of man’ is likely to have acquired, within its wide range of meaning, definite associations with this hope.[4]

The Kingdom in Jewish thought therefore involved national and political aspirations. Most importantly, though, it involved the expectation that God would once again rule as King.

According to Wright, Jesus interpreted the hope of restoration “theologically.” He believed that through his ministry the Kingdom of God was present inasmuch as God was establishing his rule as King by defeating Israel’s true enemies, the powers of evil.[5] Through his call to repentance Israel was being cleansed and restored to God. Wright writes that it was this radical rejection of the national-political hope that eventually led the Jewish leaders to put him to death.[6]

Wright’s books have played an important role in the re-vitalized interest in the role of restoration expectations in Second Temple Judaism.[7] However, Wright’s foundational assertion that Jews believed they were in exile because they were under Roman oppression is problematic. Wright believes Jews equated Roman occupation with exile—hence restoration is primarily understood as deliverance from foreign rule.[8] Yet, there is little evidence that Jews living in Palestine truly believed they were living in exile.[9]

Craig Evans has shown that Wright has also ignored a major element in Jewish eschatological visions: the hope for the restoration of the twelve tribes.[10] Before the southern kingdom of Judah was exiled to Babylon the northern tribes had already been scattered among the nations by the Assyrians in the 8th century. Although the Jews (residents of the southern kingdom of Judah) returned, the northern tribes taken by the Assyrians were never heard from again. Yet, Jewish hopes for their ingathering in a future age persisted. This belief is found throughout the biblical material,[11] the intertestamental era[12] and even in the sectarian writings at Qumran.[13]

Furthermore, Dunn has critiqued Wright’s assertion that the “end of exile” functioned as the controlling motif of Jesus’ ministry.[14] He mentions many other elements that may be found in Jesus’ work: healing, a great feast, an eschatological pilgrimage of the nations, the
land as the inheritance of the meek, suffering, the defeat of Satan and (final) judgment.[15]
Dunn does not completely discount the imagery of restoration, but thinks that it is only one
among many.[16]
[1] N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (vol. 1 of Christian Origins and the Question of God; Minneapolis: Fortress Press,1992); Jesus and the Victory of God (vol. 2 of Christian Origins and the Question of God; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996). Since his third installment deals with questions regarding the Resurrection we will not deal with it here. N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (vol. 3 of Christian Origins and the Question of God; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003).
[2] N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (vol. 1 of Christian Origins and the Question of God; Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press,1992), 302: “The ‘kingdom of god’, historically and theologically considered, is a slogan whose basic meaning is that Israel’s god is going to rule Israel (and the whole world), and that Caesar, or Herod, or anyone else of their ilk, is not.”
[3] Wright, New Testament and the People, 302.
[4] Wright, New Testament and the People, 319; William Horbury, “The Messianic Associations of ‘the Son of Man’” in Journal of Theological Studies 33 (1985): 54-5.
[5] Wright, Jesus and the Victory, 459-67.
[6] Wright, Jesus and the Victory, 472-4.
[7] See for example, Carey C. Newman, ed., Jesus and the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999).
[8] Wright, New Testament and the People, 268-9.
[9]F. G. Downing, “Exile in Formative Judaism,” in Making Sense in (and of) the First Christan Century (JSNTS 200; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000; Craig Evans, “Jesus and the Continuing Exile of Israel” in Jesus and the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God (ed. Casey C. Newman; Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999): 78; Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 474-475.
[10] Craig Evans, “Jesus and the Continuing Exile of Israel” in Jesus and the Restoration of Israel, 77-100.
[11] Shemaryahu Talmon, “’Exile’ and ‘Restoration’ in the Conceptual World of Ancient Judaism,” in Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Perspectives (vol. 72 in Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism; ed., James H. Scott; Leiden: Brill, 2001), 107-146; David E. Aune and Eric Stewart, “From the Idealized Past to the Imaginary Future: Eschatological Restoration in Jewish Apocalyptic,” in Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Perspectives (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism; ed., James H. Scott; Leiden: Brill, 2001), 147-77.
[12] Sir 48:10; Tob 13:5, 13; 14:5; Aune and Eric Stewart, “From the Idealized Past,” 147-177.
[13] Pss. Sol. 17:4, 21, 26-28; CD 7: 10-21; Jub. 16:17; T. Naph. 5:8; T. Ash. 7:2-7: T. Benj. 9:2; 10:8-11; 2 Bar. 78:4-7. See also Lawrence H. Schiffman, “The Concept of Restoration in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Perspectives (vol. 72 in Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism; ed., James H. Scott; Leiden: Brill, 2001), 203-21.
[14] Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 470-77.
[15] Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 475
[16] Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 476.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Mercy Beat to the Mersey Beat

I love biblical studies and theology. But there's a whole other side of me I never post on--my love for music, and especially, The Beatles.

I don't really get to it much here because this blog is really about biblical studies...but now I've got an odd opportunity to mention something Fab here.
Apparently, one of my favorite New Testament shares my affinity for the greatest rock band of all-time. Dale Allison--world famous for his many contributions to biblical studies--has a new one to make. But this one has little to do with Matthew, Mark or Luke. Allison has written a new book on George Harrison.

Here's the link.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Spiritual Devotion Meme

Jeff Miller has sent me a meme on favorite spiritual devotions. My answers won't be as good as Jeff's, but here are my responses anyway.

I'm tagging Amy, Gerald, Thomas, Father Z, Mark and Jimmy.

These questions are specific to Catholics, so I won't tag my non-Catholic friends with the same meme. Nonetheless, I'd love to see them post on their own daily personal spirituality habits. In particular I'd love to hear from Scot McKnight, Joel Willitts and Michael Bird, and other scholars for whom faith and study go hand-in-hand. Those without blogs should feel free to use my comment box.

1. Favorite devotion or prayer to Jesus. Of course, the Liturgy of the Mass. In addition, I would have to say the Divine Office (a.k.a. the "Liturgy of the Hours" or the "Breviary"). I love the way it helps focus your day around Scripture. The psalms, the Scripture readings, the early church fathers' homilies on Scripture--what better way is there to pray than to read Scripture with the Church. I love knowing what the Pope prayed each day. And you're not just reading with the Church today--you are also praying as Christians have prayed for centuries.

My prayer life is so wrapped up around the breviary that if I don't get morning prayer in the rest of the day usually falls apart.

2. Favorite Marian devotion or prayer. The Rosary--again because it focuses the mind on Scripture. Of course, many people do not realize the Rosary is not about simply repeating prayers--the set prayers provide a set time frame for meditation. One is not to reflect on the words of the Our Father's and Hail Mary's--one is supposed to contemplate the Gospel narratives while saying the words. John Paul II explained this so well in his Letter on the Rosary (a must read!). He calls the Rosary a “compendium” of the Gospel (n. 19).

Contemplation is an absolute must for Christian spirituality (cf. CCC 2708). Prayer should be more than a monologue--a litany of requests. As I tell my students, we need to talk to Jesus more than we talk about Jesus. But if your idea of prayer is simply rattling off requests, you miss the point. Spending time in his presence through contemplation helps us remain with him and helps us hear his voice so that our prayer is not simply about what we say to him.

We need to be still. We need to place ourselves in God's presence. We need find ourselves living in the Gospels. The Rosary helps us use our imagination the way God intended us to use it--we get lost in the Gospel stories, placing ourselves there, witnessing Christ's life with Mary and the apostles.

John Paul II explains: "The Rosary, precisely because it starts with Mary's own experience, is an exquisitely contemplative prayer. Without this contemplative dimension, it would lose its meaning, as Pope Paul VI clearly pointed out: “Without contemplation, the Rosary is a body without a soul, and its recitation runs the risk of becoming a mechanical repetition of formulas, in violation of the admonition of Christ: 'In praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think they will be heard for their many words' (Mt 6:7). By its nature the recitation of the Rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace, helping the individual to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord's life as seen through the eyes of her who was closest to the Lord."

3. Do you wear a scapular or medal? I can't wear things like that--they just are too uncomfortable and distracting for me.

4. Do you have holy water in your home? Yes. I have a little holy water font in my bedroom.

5. Do you "offer up" your sufferings? Yes. Jeff cited Col 1:24. Let me cite two passages I think about almost everyday:

Romans 8:15b-17: "When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him."

1 Peter 4:1, 13: "Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same thought, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin...rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed."

I include frustrations as "sufferings." I am so absent-minded--Kimberly Hahn used to tell me that it would make me a great professor some day. Added altogether, I think I spend a total of 30 minutes a day looking for my wallet, glasses, keys or cell phone. It's God's way of keeping me humble.

6. Do you observe First Fridays and First Saturdays? In general, yes, but it's not a priority. Fridays are usually very hectic days for me.

7. Do you go to Eucharistic Adoration? How Frequently? Three doors down from my office at John Paul the Great Catholic University is our Blessed Sacrament chapel. I also live five houses from the local church. God keeps me close by I think because he doesn't trust me to get too far away--I suppose I'm on a short leash.

8. Are you a Saturday evening Mass person or a Sunday morning Mass person? I can't do evening Mass--I have to start the day with it or else I'm too distracted during Mass. It also helps me get the day off on the right foot. We also have an amazing Sunday morning choir here--it's actually one of the highlights of my whole week.

9. Do you say prayers at mealtime? "Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Christ, Our Lord. Amen."

10. Favorite saints. Thomas Aquinas, Stephen, Paul, John, King David, Anthony of Padua (refer to #5), Francis De Sales, Peter, Michael, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Augustine, Josemaria Escriva, John Chrysostom, Miguel Pro, Maxamillian Kolbe, Irenaeus, and Jerome. I'd also add my grandfather, Papa, George Peter Irving II, who was saintliest man I ever knew.

11. Can you recite the Apostles' Creed by heart? Yes, but I think my version is a little unique--I'm not very good with "sitteth" and "thence".

12. Do you usually say short prayers (aspirations) during the course of the day? Yes. Here are a few regulars:
"Dear Lord, help me to find my keys."
"Lord Jesus, help that cop to not have had his radar gun on."
"Father in heaven, please let have this book."
"Bountiful God, help my credit card to not be declined."
"Jesus, teach me to offer prayers others than these."

13. Bonus Question: When you pass by an automobile accident or other serious mishap, do you say a quick prayer for the folks involved? Yes. However, sometimes I feel real guilty about it when I finally do. Let me explain.

I often drive 4 hours a day (from LA to San Diego). When there's terrible traffic I usually assume (correctly) that it's because there's an accident up ahead. Sometimes it's because some person lost a ladder he carelessly attached to a car or because some rude person cut someone off causing a minor fender bender. The result of these avoidable mishaps is hours of backed up traffic. If I'm sitting there for a long time, I sometimes think to myself: "When I get up to whatever this is, there better be dozens of bodies strewn all over the highway for this." But when it is a serious accident I then feel guilty for thinking that.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Gospel Truth About Christmas

What is the truth about Christmas? During this time of the year you will find all kinds of television specials and magazine treatments on the history of Christmas. These specials will oftentimes call into question the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts. Since the announcement of the Pope's new book we've been dealing with the historical Jesus here. In this post, I want to deal with some of the issues related to the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke.

Matthew's Account
First off, let’s deal with Matthew. Scholars will often claim that Matthew 1-2 is a midrash. Midrash is an ancient rabbinic interpretive approach to the Old Testament, which is probably best known for adding or embellishing the biblical narratives. In other words, midrash incorporated fictional details into stories of Scripture. By arguing that Matthew 1-2 is a midrash, scholars are essentially arguing against the historical reliability of his account.

Is Matthew a midrash? There are a lot of issues involved here and I simply can't get into them all in one post. A great scholarly treatment can be found in Scott Cunningham and Darrell Bock, “Is Matthew Midrash,” in Bibliotheca Sarca 144 (1987): 157-180. I also recommend The Truth of Christmas: Beyond the Myth by Rene Larentin (originally published Les Evangiles des L’Enfance du Christ: Verité de Noël au-delà des mythes; Paris, 1982; trans., M. J. Wrenn et al.; Petersham, Mass.: St. Bede’s Publications). I also recommend Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: Matthew (San Francisco: Ignatius 2000) and The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: Luke (San Francisco: Ignatius 2000).

A few things. First, Matthew 1-2 is different stylistically from midrash. It is not based on an Old Testament text and it is not a retelling of an Old Testament story. It tells an entirely new story, introducing new characters and events. Craig Blomberg writes,
". . . all the examples of midrashic rewriting of Scripture deal with what was already ancient, canonical history by the time of the first century. There is very little evidence that Jewish authors embellished contemporary history in the same way" [The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 49].
Moreover, Matthew sees the events he records as fulfillments of OT prophecies. I like what Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch write: “Unless these events are anchored in history in the first place, it seems unlikely that Matthew would fabricate stories as if Jesus fulfilled the OT. Scripture was never really fulfilled if the events Matthew narrates never happened. In this case, Matthew’s exegesis of the OT would amount to little more than an exercise in self-delusion” [ICSB: Matthew, 20].

Furthermore, had Matthew been inventing a story to fit the OT prophecies one would expect something entirely different than what one finds in chapters 1 and 2. For example, Ps 72:10 and Is 60:3-6 are seen as fulfilled in the coming of the wise men—but the story does not neatly fit into these passages. Matthew calls the visitors “magi,” not kings and Jesus receives three gifts not two (gold and frankincense). He also alludes to rather obscure passages: “He shall be called a Nazarene” (Matt 2:23) is a notoriously difficult verse. Likewise, in telling us about the return from the flight into Egypt, Matthew cites Hos 11:1 (“Out of Egypt I have called my son”)―a passage no one would have expected to have a messianic fulfillment. Matthew is hardly assembling easily recognized, long held messianic hopes. The idea that Matthew is inventing this from cloth to simply prove Jesus’ messianic status stretches the imagination.

In addition, Matthew 1-2 coheres well with what we do know from other records. For example, we do know of Jewish colonies in Egypt at that time (e.g., Alexandria)—the holy family’s flight there fits in well with that information. Likewise, the description of magi from the east fits well with the historical evidence regarding Persian astrologers. As for the slaughter of the innocence―we know Herod frequently did away with those he feared as threats to his power. He had no qualms killing his wife, his three sons, members of the Hasmonean dynasty―why would he not kill the children of the Jews?

Luke's Account
What about Luke? The issues here revolve around Luke 2:1-2: “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.” Three major problems emerge: identifying the year of Herod’s death, determining the nature of Augustus’ “enrollment,” and the chronology of Quirinius.

Herod’s death. This is important because we know Jesus was born during Herod’s reign―therefore, obviously, before his death. Most scholars today date his death to 4 B.C. His death was linked to a lunar eclipse—and since one occurred during March of 4 B.C. this year has been recognized as a perfect candidate. However, a growing number of scholars are recognizing problems with that view. Many are now looking at an eclipse that occurred in 1 B.C. (See John Pratt, “Yet Another Eclipse for Herod,” in Planetarian 19/4 (1990): 8-14). In fact, this would fit in well with the witness from the earliest Christians, who believed that Jesus was born between 3 and 2 B.C.

Caesar’s enrollment. Many people have dismissed this element as unhistorical since such enrollments have been seen as occurring for tax purposes and Herod, as king, would have collected his own taxes. Yet, many have argued that there may be another rationale behind the enrollment. Josephus recounts that Judea was required to take an oath of loyalty to Caesar during the end of Herod’s reign (Antiquities XVII. 41–45). Archeological evidence confirms it was taken in other places around 3 B.C. In fact, Orosius (5th cent) says Augustus required all to be enrolled with an oath. This oath apparently was established not long before 2 B.C., when Augustus came to be called “first of all men.”

Quirinius’ census. Quirinius’ role is the most difficult detail. Some scholars assert that Luke has made a mistake. We know that Quirinius became governor later and took a census in 6 A.D. Has Luke made a mistake. Why would Luke associate him with an earlier enrollment.

Luke's language here may be significant. In describing Quirinius, Luke uses the same term he uses for Pontius Pilate, a regional procurator, in 3:1, hegemon. Pilate was not a governor, but a regional authority. Perhaps Luke is indicating that Quirinius had some role as administrator prior to his appointment as governor. Justin Martyr testimony concurs with this as he records that Quirinius was procurator in Judea at this time (First Apology, 34).

In fact, Luke tells us that this was the "first" enrollment--implying he knows about a later one. He apparently mentions it in Acts 5:37.

Of course, as I explain to my students at John Paul the Great Catholic University, faith does not mean that we believe the Bible because we can prove every element in it. That was the failed project of the Enlightenment thinkers and the Deists (see the posts from November and December, especially the one on Pope Benedict on Historical Criticism!). That does not, however, mean we believe that the Gospels are false. The Gospels tell us what Jesus "really did and taught" (CCC 126). In truth, those who approach the Bible with an a priori rejection of its historical truth are often allowing a different kind of presupposition to limit their understanding of its meaning.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bye George

The Pope has been talking a lot about his concern that Europe is losing its Christian identity. With that in mind, take a look at this from the Telegraph:

Mohammed, and its most common alternative spelling Muhammad, are now more popular babies' names in England and Wales than George, reflecting the diverse ethnic mix of the population.

The Office for National Statistics said there were 2,833 baby boys called Mohammed in 2006.

The name is 22nd in the list of most popular boys' names, moving up a place from last year.

Spelled Muhammad, it is the 44th most popular name and enters the top 50 for the first time along with Noah, Oscar, Lucas and Rhys.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Jesus and the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom (Part 6: Chilton)

Bruce Chilton has made an attempt to find parallels between Jesus’ use of the concept of the Kingdom in the Gospels and its function in the Targums (1984).[1] Chilton argues that though they date to a later period, unlike the rabbinic literature of the same era, they uniquely preserve older traditions.[2] Chilton acknowledges that the overall image of the Kingdom in this literature is that of an earthly-political entity, however, he believes this image—as dominant as it is—was only introduced into the Tarugumic tradition after the destruction of the temple in A. D. 70.[3] He believes that the description of the Kingdom as God’s spiritual rule found in two strains of the Targumic tradition (Targum of Isaiah and Jonathan) represents an older tradition. It was this conception of God’s Kingdom that is expressed in Jesus’ teachings.
[1] Targums are ancient Aramaic translations of Old Testament texts. Bruce D. Chilton, A Galilean Rabbi and His Bible: Jesus’ Use of the Interpreted Scripture of His Time (Good News Studies 8; Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1984)..
[2] Chilton, A Galilean Rabbi, 139: “We have repeatedly cautioned that Jesus did not depend on the Targum as we know it, but he does seem to have been influenced and informed by traditions which the Targem preserves better than anything else.”
[3] Chilton, A Galilean Rabbi, 63-4.
Continue to the next post in this series...
Complete outline (with links) of "Jesus and the Restoration of the Kingdom" series

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Rocky is Born Again

It seems as though Stallone has been undergoing a spiritual conversion of sorts--and it has played a subtle role in the making of the new Rocky. Stallone explains in New Man Magazine, "In Rocky, if he's just a fighter, then it's just a boxing story, and I told the producers in the beginning, 'It's not a boxing story; it's a spiritual journey.’"

Stallone also told recently told pastors: "The more I go to church, and the more I turn myself over to the process of believing in Jesus and listening to His Word and having Him guide my hand, I feel as though the pressure is off me now."

For more, go here.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Benedict's Recent Homily on Biblical Criticism

The following is an excerpt from an address Pope Benedict gave on November 7th, to a group of bishops from Switzerland. (I'm sorry it took so long to post, but I wanted to give you some context by posting a review of Scott Hahn's article in the latest Letter & Spirit first.) Here the Pope talks about Catholic Education, focusing in on the importance of Scripture. The Holy Father talks about the need for Scripture study, the importance and the limitations of the historical-critical method.

I would now like to move on from this topic to "Catholic Education", touching on two areas.

One thing which I believe is a cause of "concern" -- in the positive sense of the word -- to all of us, is the fact that future priests and other teachers and preachers of the faith must receive a good theological training; we therefore need good theological faculties, good major seminaries and qualified theology teachers who not only impart knowledge but inculcate in students an intelligent faith so that faith becomes intelligence and intelligence, faith.

In this regard, I have a very specific wish.

Our exegesis has progressed by leaps and bounds. We truly know a great deal about the development of texts, the subdivision of sources, etc., we know what words would have meant at that time.... But we are increasingly seeing that if historical and critical exegesis remains solely historical and critical, it refers the Word to the past, it makes it a Word of those times, a Word which basically says nothing to us at all; and we see that the Word is fragmented, precisely because it is broken up into a multitude of different sources.

With "Dei Verbum," the Council told us that the historical-critical method is an essential dimension of exegesis because, since it is a "factum historicum," it is part of the nature of faith. We do not merely believe in an idea; Christianity is not a philosophy but an event that God brought about in this world, a story that he pieced together in a real way and forms with us as history.

For this reason, in our reading of the Bible, the serious historical aspect with its requirements must be truly present: we must effectively recognize the event and, precisely in his action, this "making of history" on God's part.

"Dei Verbum" adds, however, that Scripture, which must consequently be interpreted according to historical methods, should also be read in its unity and must be read within the living community of the Church.

These two dimensions are absent in large areas of exegesis.

The oneness of Scripture is not a purely historical and critical factor but indeed in its entirety, also from the historical viewpoint, it is an inner process of the Word which, read and understood in an ever new way in the course of subsequent "relectures," continues to develop.

This oneness itself, however, is ultimately a theological fact: these writings form one Scripture which can only be properly understood if they are read in the "analogia fidei" as a oneness in which there is progress towards Christ, and inversely, in which Christ draws all history to himself; and if, moreover, all this is brought to life in the
Church's faith.

In other words, I would very much like to see theologians learn to interpret and love Scripture as the Council desired, in accordance with "Dei Verbum": may they experience the inner unity of Scripture -- something that today is helped by "canonical exegesis" (still to be found, of course, in its timid first stages) -- and then make a spiritual interpretation of it that is not externally edifying but rather an inner immersion in the presence of the Word.

It seems to me a very important task to do something in this regard, to contribute to providing an introduction to living Scripture as an up-to-date Word of God beside, with and in historical-critical exegesis. I do not know how this should be done in practice, but I think that in the academic context and at seminaries, as well as in an introductory course, it will be possible to find capable teachers to ensure that this timely encounter with Scripture in the faith of the Church -- an encounter on whose basis proclamation subsequently becomes possible -- can take place.

Read the whole thing here.

Tip of the hat to Erno from Sterno.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Why Benedict Chose Doubleday

The news has come out that Pope Benedict will publish the English translation of his new book, Jesus of Nazareth, with Doubleday. I won't re-post the roundup on the book news with this new detail... I just wanted to say something about this.

This is a little surprising. Ignatius Press has been the Pope's publisher for years. Why is he now switching over to Doubleday?

To be honest, I don't really know. But I have a few thoughts.

First, Doubleday clearly has better circulation. They are better equipped for a major release.

Second, The Davinci Code is published by Doubleday. This means that the Pope's book will get the same distribution Dan Brown did--in fact, it will get on many of the same shelves.

This just reaffirms what I said here--the Pope is going after the pseudo-scholarship of Dan Brown, the Jesus Seminar, etc.

Don't forget the importance of this research--recall this, for example.

Oh, and by the way, Doubleday is also the publisher of many of Scott Hahn's fine works.

I might point out that Scott, of course, wrote the foreward to the English translations of Ratzinger's works The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood (1993) and Many Religions One Covenant (1999).

Scott also holds the Pope Benedict XVI Chair of Biblical Theology and Liturgical Proclamation, at St. Vincent’s Seminary in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

By the way, in addition to writing the foreward to the future Pope's books, Scott has also been kind enough to write the introduction to one of my own books: Singing in the Reign: The Psalms and the Liturgy of God's Kingdom (2001). (Thanks again, Scott!). So the Pope and I share the same "forewarder"!

No word yet on who will write the foreward to the Pope's new book... for the record, I'm available.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Under Investigation

The parish which JP Catholic (the University where I teach) belongs to has become the victim of some seriously sick vandalism. The story is making the news out here.

Police have launched a full investigation.

NBC's local affiliate station picks up the story:

SAN DIEGO -- Police are looking for the person or group of people responsible for vandalizing a statue of Jesus, 10News reported.

It happened Thursday night at the Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Mira Mesa.

... The statue was painted with obscenities, pentagrams and swastikas.

The images are too shocking and blasphemous for me to include here.

The article quotes the Fr. Michael Robinson, the wonderful pastor of Good Shepherd, as explaining: ""The statue is only a symbol of what really exists in this church and that's the spirit of Christ that lives in each part of the parishioners we have here and we will continue to be that out in the world."

His homilies in the wake of this episode have been amazing. This priest is extremely well-read. In fact, he knows Ratzinger's work extremely well!

Please pray for Good Shepherd parish during this difficult and scary time. Please also pray for the continued safety of all those who work at the church.


Police have made an arrest and others are pending. Watch the news report video here. I guess I can say it since it is in the video--the vandalism hasn't been limited to one incident but has been continuing since the initial attack last Friday, with other graffiti appearing over the nights in various places on the church's property.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Jesus and the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom (Part 5: Sanders)

While Harvey thinks Jesus’ message ran contrary to established thought, E. P. Sanders’ Jesus and Judaism (1985)[1] follows Meyer in relating the theme of restoration to Jesus’ message. Sanders is mostly focused on the meaning of the Kingdom in Jesus’ preaching, emphasizing its “wide range of meaning.”[2] However, throughout his discussion he does mention a few of the ways it was used within Judaism. It was used in the sense of covenant, particularly covenant fidelity and the blessing attached to faithfulness.[3] It was also spoken of something expected to come.[4] In addition, evidence from Qumran demonstrates that the arrival of this Kingdom would involve an “eschatological miracle”—God’s radical act of breaking into history to establish an ideal society where his justice would be realized.[5] Essential to the first-century understanding of this miracle was the re-gathering of the twelve tribes in the land in an earthly kingdom and the inclusion of the Gentiles.[6]

As mentioned above, Sanders admits that Jesus’ teaching of the Kingdom involved many different things. However, he stresses that Jesus’ formulation should be best seen as generally falling within first-century beliefs regarding the Kingdom: God’s rule was about to be made manifest in restoring Israel on earth. The major difference in Jesus’ teaching was that, whereas Jewish expectations involved a war prior to the establishment of God’s Kingdom, military means played no role in Jesus’ vision.[7]

Sanders, I believe, would strongly disagree with Meyer’s assertion that Jesus sought to bring about God’s Kingdom through a ministry of repentance. Rather, Sanders argues that “Jesus’ message . . . was not primarily oriented around a call to repentance. . .”[8] Jesus’ Kingdom was thus “earthly” inasmuch as it contained the hope of a literal national restoration, yet “otherworldly” in the sense that God would bring it about.[9]

Though Sanders agrees with Meyer that restoration was a key element of Jewish eschatological expectations he strongly emphasizes the diversity of messianic hopes.[10] He asserts that many did not want a restored monarchy.[11] Moreover, he finds no parallels between David and the Gospel portrayals’ of Jesus, saying “they do not present Jesus as being in the least like David.”[12]
[1] E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985).
[2] Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 152.
[3] Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 142.
[4] Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 142, 152.
[5] Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 234; E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus (London: Penguin Books, 1993), 184.
[6] Sanders, Historical Jesus, 184, 191.
[7] Sanders, Historical Jesus, 185.
[8] Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 204.
[9] Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 229-30. See Saucy, The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus, 201: “Sanders believes the nature of the Kingdom emerges as being primarily earthly, as in a new social order centered on the nation of Israel, and otherworldly, in the sense that the transformation of the world would be a miraculous event not necessitating the use of weapons.”
[10] Sanders, Historical Jesus, 89.
[11] Sanders, Historical Jesus, 90.
[12] Sanders, Historical Jesus, 89.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Benedict on the Historical Critical Method

In the last post I talked about Brant Pitre's fine article in Letter and Spirit. In that post, I mentioned another article in that same issue by Scott Hahn on Pope Benedict XVI. The full title of that article is: "The Authority of Mystery: The Biblical Theology of Benedict XVI."

Scott's article starts off by describing the significance of the election of Benedict: "Never before in the history of the Catholic Church has a world-class biblical theologian been elevated to the papacy" (76).

As Hahn's article explains, long before his papacy, Benedict was emphasizing the central place of Scripture for doing theology. In his book Principles of Catholic Theology, the Pope explains,
"The normative theologians are the authors of Holy Scripture."

But how does one interpret Scripture? As Hahn shows, that question has been one of the crucial themes of his work. After a brief overview of his career (77-79), Scott sketches out Benedict's views on the matter.

Since we've been talking here about historical Jesus research, I thought it appropriate to highlight some of the things the article reveals about Benedict's thought on the subject of historical critical methods.

Though he recognizes the important role of the historical-critical method, Benedict has also been voicing his concern about certain aspects of its aproach. Hahn explains, "Benedict, then, does not at all seek to invalidate the historical-critical method, only to 'purify' it through self-examination, so that it can truly serve its proper function in the search for the truth" (81).

Hahn highlights two elements of Benedict's "critique of criticism". At heart, his critique has to do with certain philosophical presuppositions made. In fact, Benedict has explained: "At its core, the debate about modern exegesis is... a philosophical debate. Only in this way can it be carried on correctly. Otherwise, it is a battle in a mist."

Hahn goes on to explain Benedict's argument:
"He roots what he calls the 'crisis' in modern biblical interpretation in philosophical, epistemological, and historical assumptions inherited from the Enlightenment. His most basic criticism of criticism is that it is far from what it purports to be—a value-neutral science akin to the natural sciences, the findings of which are objective and rendered with a high degree of certitude.
So much could be said, go here for more on my take on the influence of the Enlightenment on critical approaches to Scripture (see the subsequent parts of the series).

Of course, the Enlightenment project was reinforced by advances in natural sciences. Descartes and others wished to develop theories of knowledge through methods similar to those used in mathematics and the natural sciences. According to Benedict, such a concern is also latent in historical critical methodology. Hahn explains:
In the case of biblical criticism, Benedict pinpoints several deep-seated, yet unquestioned presuppositions that scholars bring to their work. The first they inherit from the natural sciences which they seem so anxious to emulate—the evolutionary model of natural development. Evolution posits that later, more complex life-forms evolve from earlier, simpler forms. Applied to Scripture study, this has led exegetes to suppose that, in Benedict’s words, "the more theologically considered and sophisticated a text is, the more recent it is, and the simpler something is, the easier it is to reckon it original" (81)
Think "Q" or the "Documentary Hypothesis."

Benedict, of course, explains that this kind of a priori decision by scholars is problematic. He states: "Spiritual processes do not follow the rule of zoological genealogies" (82).

Hahn explains that a close study of Church history reveals that the development of doctrine is much more complex than an evolutionary hypothesis can account for--it could even be considered an "anti-evolutionary" process (82).

As Benedict notes, the early Church’s beliefs about the identity of Jesus started from an original multiplicity of complex names and concepts found in Scripture and in the early liturgical and creedal tradition—Jesus as Prophet, Priest, Paraclete, Angel, Lord, and Son of Man. Finally, through a process of what Benedict calls "increasing simplification and concentration," Church authorities settled on the three titles found in the earliest creeds—Christ, Lord, and Son of God" (82).
Hahn also discusses a second major critique Benedict makes of historical critical analysis: the tendency to separate the biblical texts from their original ecclesial and liturgical contexts. Hahn writes, "The root of the problem is a refusal, on methodological grounds, to engage the divine nature of the religious text" (83).

With his usual brilliance, Scott sums up Benedict's critique with great precision:
Why would students of the Bible establish, as a methodological principle, the necessity of deliberately excluding reference to the texts’ original and living "habitats" in the faith communities that gave rise to these texts and still regard them to be sacred and authoritative? A natural scientist, by comparison, would never presume to study an animal or plant without considering its surrounding environment or ecosystem. Yet this is precisely the modus operandi of "scientific" exegesis (83).
(This was one of my favorite paragraphs in the whole article!). In fact, for most historical-critical scholars, to be "scientific" about studying Scripture one must view the faith of the communities which produced them, adopted them and passed them on with "suspicion". Here we may see part of the legacy of the Reformation's insistence on Sola Scriptura (85).

He goes on to talk about the root of the problem--the underlying Enlightenment bias against faith, the supernatural and the miraculous. Hahn writes, "This puts historical critics in the position of having to explain away rather than to explicate the plain sense of many biblical texts, such as those of Christ walking on water, multiplying loaves and fishes, healing the sick, and raising persons from the dead" (84).

The fundamental question here is this: doesn't the bias against faith fly directly in the face of scholarship's attempt to be objective? The answer is, most assuredly it does.

In response to approaches rooted in a "hermeneutic of doubt," Benedict has argued for the importance of a "hermeneutic of faith." Hahn explains, "The power of Benedict’s critique lies in its insistence that we evaluate the merits of modern exegesis purely on "scientific" methodological grounds" (84). Indeed, one cannot reduce Scripture's meaning to historical analysis and truly attempt to hear it on its own terms. Benedict explains, "To reduce all of reality as we meet it to pure material causes, to confine the Creator Spirit to the sphere of mere subjectivity, is irreconcilable with the fundamental message of the Bible" (86).

Moreover, one cannot separate Scripture from the community--the Church--from which it comes to us. "Considered historically, then, there is an obvious and undeniable 'interwoven relationship between Church and Bible, between the people of God and the Word of God'" (87). The liturgical context in which it was originally read and for which the canon was formed as well as the Tradition of the Church cannot simply be jettisoned (88-89).

Ratzinger speaks of the "Church as memory" (90). Hahn goes on to explain that for Benedict, the Church's Tradition is more than a mere collection of extra-biblical data--it is a "a sort of ongoing divine intervention in history that ensures that every succeeding generation may have the same contact with the risen Christ experienced by the first disciples" (90). This encounter with Christ is found in a special way in the liturgy, where Benedict states we have "contemporaneity with Christ" (90).

Here's where I'll leave off... but, take it from me, the rest of the article is amazing. Pick up the latest Letter and Spirit here.

Prosperity Praise

So many people are falling for this "prosperity" Gospel--be good, and God will give you earthly wealth and material goods. Here's a great spoof on that.

Tip of the hat to Chris Tilling.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Pitre on the New Exodus

I'm beginning to work my way through the articles in the new volume of the Saint Paul's Center academic journal, Letter and Spirit. Right now I'm reading the articles by my good friends Scott Hahn and Brant Pitre. Scott does a masterful work sketching out the biblical theology of Pope Benedict. I will talk about that more in another post.

But since I've been posting on historical Jesus issues I thought I might also call your attention to Brant Pitre's article, which draws out the New Exodus themes in the Lord's Prayer. He writes,

As we will see, each line of the prayer is rooted in the language and imagery of the Scriptures of Israel and in the prophetic hope for a new Exodus. When this Old Testament background is adequately taken into account, the Lord’s Prayer does, in fact, appear to be a prayer for the new Exodus and all that it entails: the coming of the Messiah, the release of God’s scattered people from exile, and the ingathering of the Israel and the Gentiles to the promised land of a new Jerusalem. To borrow a felicitous phrase from Wright himself, the Lord’s Prayer reveals what can be called a “typological eschatology,” in which the events of the first Exodus establish a prototype for how God will save his people in the end-times.
Brant goes on to show the New Exodus imagery behind the various parts of the prayer. For example, "Our Father" is used in Is 63:10-17--a passage rich in New Exodus imagery.

The article does a great job setting the prayer within the context of restoration expectations in Jesus' day.

If you don't know his work, do yourself a favor and visit Brant's site. Although he is a good friend, believe me when I say that his contribution to the historical Jesus discussion is invaluable. He is the author of Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck) / Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006).

I think the book is truly a watershed.

And don't just take my word for it. The following quotes from David Aune, Dale Allison, Scott Hahn and Scot McKnight are from the back cover.

"In this rich, exciting, and grand book, the author shows himself to be both a gifted New Testament scholar and a sensitive and thoughtful theologian. Initially inspired by the works of Albert Schweitzer and the rigorous historical Jesus methodology practiced by John Meier, the author argues that the historical Jesus spoke and acted in light of the widespread expectation of the Great Tribulation, inseparably linked to the enduring Jewish hope for a final and decisive End of the Exile of the twelve tribes of Israel. By meticulously sifting through the relevant Jesus traditions, Pitre argues that Jesus intended to set the Great Tribulation in motion with the conscious expectation of dying so that Israel would receive forgiveness of sins, thereby ending the exile and ushering in the kingdom of God. This book is a bold and reasoned challenge to many of the currently cherished assumptions of modern historical Jesus
scholarship as well as a theological tour de force."--David E. Aune, professor of New Testament and Christian origins, University of Notre Dame

"In this thought-provoking book, Pitre seeks to show not only that the expectation of eschatological tribulation was at home in the teaching of the historical Jesus but further that it is fundamental for understanding important parts of the synoptic tradition. The main line of argument, which is regularly punctuated by fresh exegetical observations and supported by instructive Jewish parallels, is convincing. The implications for the study of Jesus and early Christian theology are manifold."--Dale C. Allison Jr., Errett M. Grable Professor of New Testament Exegesis and Early Christianity, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

"Every once in a while, a scholar emerges who forces us to rethink long-settled opinions and reorient our reading of the New Testament. With this book, Brant Pitre demonstrates subtly but conclusively that the historical Jesus did indeed understand his mission in terms of Jewish messianism--expressed especially in Israel's restoration from exile, a new exodus, and the tribulation of the Messiah. Along the way, Pitre illuminates many of Jesus' most enigmatic statements. This is an original and important work. The author has taken New Testament scholarship to a new level."--Scott W. Hahn, Pope Benedict XVI Chair of Biblical Theology, Saint Vincent Seminary

"Brant Pitre's Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile is not only a good read but also simply an important contribution to scholarship and the down payment of much more to come from this young, insightful, and wise scholar. Of the dissertations I've read, this is perhaps the finest."--Scot McKnight, Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies, North Park University
I've been meaning to blog on this book... and when I can do it right, I'll really do it up.

But, for those of you interested in historical Jesus, New Testament studies and restoration eschatology--don't wait for me. You need to read this book. You also need to pick up the this Letter and Spirit Journal for his article on the Lord's Prayer (in fact, the whole thing is great!).

I should add, the book is really not for people just starting off in biblical studies. However, in addition to speaking to academic audiences, Brant also has the unique gift of being able to also communicate at the popular level. You can find a number of his audio sets here.
I've bought almost all of them--there's not a dud among them.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Dulles on Deists

There can be no doubt about the influence of Enlightenment thought on Jesus scholarship. Indeed, one could argue, a close scrutiny of contemporary methodology in Jesus research reveals close ties not only to "modernity" but also to Deism. Of course, Reimarus was himself a Deist.

That being said, I just found a great article by Avery Cardinal Dulles on Deism in First Things. He explains that for all its claims to reason, universalism and objectivity, its tenents were inescapably formulated in Christian terms.
Although deism portrayed itself as a pure product of unaided reason, it was not what it claimed to be. Its basic tenets concerning God, the virtuous life, and rewards beyond the grave were in fact derived from Christianity, the faith in which the deists themselves had been reared. It is doubtful whether anyone who had not been brought up in a biblical religion could embrace the tenets of deism.

Moreover, the Deist God--completely detached from the world--was a useless God. Dulles writes, "The pupils of the deists, carrying the critique of religion one stage further, questioned the existence of this idle Supreme Being. Thus deism came to be a halfway house on the road to atheism. Toland drifted gradually from deism into pantheism."

He goes on to sketch out some of Deism's principle philosophical flaws.
"They lacked the metaphysical principles needed to build a viable natural theology. Empiricists like Locke and rationalists like Newton lacked the rich ontology of Thomas Aquinas and the medieval schoolmen. Their epistemology was a shallow empiricism and their cosmology a universalized physics, both of which crumbled when faced with the penetrating critiques of David Hume and Immanuel Kant.

Additionally, the deist system suffered from some internal tensions. If there is an omnipotent God, capable of designing the entire universe and launching it into existence, it seems strange to hold that this God cannot intervene in the world He had made or derogate from the laws He had established. He might have good reasons for bestowing some added benefits not contained in the work of creation. American deists such as Jefferson and Franklin did not rule out all divine intervention. They were convinced that God punished evil and rewarded virtue both in this life and in the next. They also encouraged prayer in ways that seemed inconsistent with deism in its pure form.

If God was infinite in being, moreover, it was unreasonable to reject the
notion of mystery. It would seem quite natural to suppose that there are depths
of the divine being surpassing all that could be inferred from the created
world. We cannot know what is going on in the minds of our fellow human beings
unless they manifest it by word or deed. How much less, then, could we grasp the
thoughts of God unless He were to disclose them to us by revelation?..."

Dulles also discusses the critical reconstructions of Jesus' life offered by the Deists.
Finally, the deist reconstruction of the historical Jesus lacked any serious
foundation in biblical research. Jefferson claimed that it was “obvious and
easy” to distinguish the authentic words of Jesus from those attributed to him
by later Christians. In his view they were “as easily distinguishable as
diamonds in a dunghill.” But even the most confident members of the Jesus
Seminar today would make no such claim. Jefferson fell into the common error of
simply projecting onto Jesus the moral ideals of his age.
Read the whole article here. In this post on the rise of critical scholarship, I also briefly discuss the Deists.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Digging Up The Past

A couple of interesting archeological finds have been made public this week.

First, there is the exciting news about the possible discovery of the bones of St. Paul under St. Paul's in Rome. AmericanPapist has the best post on that so far.

Then there is also news of some finds in Jerusalem.

The most valuable find so far, Barkay believes, is a clay seal impression discovered last year. Its incomplete Hebrew lettering appears to name Ge’aliyahu, son of Immer. Immer is the name of a family of temple officials mentioned in Jeremiah 20:1.
Here's the full story on that.

And finally, there is this... a dig even Dr. Jones might run from.

After decades of researching the area of the Dead Sea, scholars have discovered precious documents and artifacts. Now, it seems they are really desperate for a new find. I kid you not - they are now analyzing the toilets the Qumran community used.
And, no, there were no other documents found nearby in a magazine rack.

I am, of course, half-kidding (note, I said "half"). Apparently the site gives us new insight into the community whose ritual concerns prescribed certain...well, practices. The long and short of it is that it wasn't the healthiest system. Near the end of the article one archeologist recalls, ""The graveyard at Qumran is the unhealthiest group I have ever studied in over 30 years."

(Of course, it is the Dead Sea Community.)

Here's that story.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Jesus and the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom (Part 4: Harvey)

Anthony E. Harvey’s Jesus and the Constraints of History[1] (1982) argues that Israel had long believed God was King, but awaited the day his reign would be established in some visible way not yet realized.[2] He holds that the first-century Jewish conception of the Kingdom took many forms. God’s reign might be made manifest in his sovereignty of Israel in particular or in terms of universal reign. It might be ruled by God directly or through an earthly king.[3] He goes on to argue that Jesus’ preaching of the Kingdom was radically new. For Harvey, Jesus’ formulation of the Kingdom described God’s sudden and imminent self-revelation of himself.[4] Little can be known about the role Jesus perceived for himself in this kingdom, although the regal nature of his entrance into Jerusalem cannot be denied.[5] In short, Harvey recognizes that first-century expectations regarding the Kingdom included the re-gathering of Israel—though Jesus’ conception of it as God’s revelation was altogether new.
[1] Anthony E. Harvey, Jesus and the Constraints of History (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1982).
[2] Harvey, Jesus and the Constraints, 144.
[3] Harvey, Jesus and the Constraints, 144.
[4] Harvey, Jesus and the Constraints, 87, 144.
[5] Harvey, Jesus and the Constraints, 145.

Continue to the next post in this series...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

New Wineskins

I want to point you all in the direction of the new St. Augustine Institute. Tim Gray and Edward Sri, who teach there, are two of the brightest and most insightful Catholic scholars around (click here for more on them). The graduate students at St. Augustine are blessed indeed. The proof is in the pudding--you can listen to samples of their lectures on-line!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Jesus and the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom (Part 3: Ben Meyer)

In The Aims of Jesus (1979),[1] B. F. Meyer examines the connection in Jewish tradition between language concerning “the reign of God” and the expectation of the “restoration of Israel.” In particular Meyer singles out the Psalms of Solomon (11:2), Isa 52:7-9 and the prayers of the Qaddiš and the Tephilla (eleventh benediction).[2] For him, the “reign of God” is understood in the larger context of the “restoration of Israel.” He argues that “the dissociation of the ‘reign of God’ and its proclamation from the ‘restoration of Israel’ is a priori implausible.”[3]

Furthermore, citing biblical passages referring to the Davidic king and Davidic messianism (Ps 2:7; 89:3-5, 20-38; 110:3; Hag 1.1; 2:20-23; Zech 6:12; 2 Sam 7:12-14; 23:5; Isa 9:5-6) as well as 4QFlor 1-13, Meyer argues that it was believed that this restoration would come about through a Davidic Messiah. Meyer concludes that Jesus saw himself as the messianic son of David through whom Israel would be restored.[4] Jesus’ actions, such as appointing “twelve apostles,” evoke the hope of the re-constitution of Israel.[5] That Jesus was executed “as a claimant to kingship (= a messianic pretender)” attests “beyond any reasonable doubt that there had been some pre-paschal thematization of Jesus as Messiah.”[6]

According to Meyer, the restoration begins in Jesus’ preaching of repentance. Saucy sums up Meyer’s understanding of the Kingdom as follows:

For Meyer, the Kingdom is present when Jesus announces God’s will for Israel to repent and when he begins to ‘restore’ Israel religiously; it is future in the imminent and final act of the history and the posthistorical restoration of all humanity.[7]
Nevertheless, in Meyer’s view Jesus does not simply spiritualize the eschatological hope of Israel. He argues that Jesus also believed that the hope for the salvation of all humanity hinges on “the historically rooted restoration of Israel.”[8] Although Meyer never mentions Vermes, The Aims of Jesus is an important response to his treatment of the question of Jewish expectations in Jesus’ time. Meyer devotes little space to first-century material, but the little he does say is important. By citing sources such as the Psalms of Solomon and 4QFlor 1-13 he reveals that Vermes has obfuscated the presence of messianic and restoration hopes in the Second Temple period. While Meyer could be criticized for ignoring other aspects of first-century Jewish eschatology—something Sanders will later emphasize—Meyer demonstrates well that it was clearly an important part of Jesus’ milieu. Furthermore, his recognition of restoration images in Jesus’ ministry, e.g., the “twelve apostles judging the twelve tribes,” indicates that Jesus was indeed intent on evoking these specific Jewish hopes.
[1] Ben. F. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus (London: SCM, 1979).
[2] Meyer, Aims of Jesus, 133, 138-9.
[3] Meyer, Aims of Jesus, 133. See also Ben F. Meyer, Christus Faber: The Master-Builder and the House of God (Princeton Theological Monograph Series 29; Allison Park, Pa.: Pickwick Publications, 1992), 119: “Under no hypothesis was the restoration of Israel optional.”
[4] According to messianic expectations, the Messiah would rebuild the Temple. Jesus fulfills this spiritually in the Resurrection and in the Church – the spiritual temple of God. Meyer, Aims of Jesus, 181-222.
[5] Meyer, Aims of Jesus, 154.
[6] Meyer, Aims of Jesus, 178.
[7] Mark Saucy, The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus in 20th Century Theology (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1997).
[8] Meyer, Aims of Jesus, 137.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Pope Book News Roundup

Following up on my initial post on the book, here is a summary of all the news regarding Benedict's new book, gathered from a wide variety of sources.

--Here's the English translation of the Preface.

--This is volume 1 of a proposed 2 volume work.

--Volume 1 is called "Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration", and it will cover (not surprisingly) the Baptism to the Transfiguration.

--The Pope decided to break it into two volumes because he realized he might not have the strength to complete the whole project.

--He started writing it in 2003. (Which conflicts with what I've heard elsewhere... Perhaps he envisioned this particularly work then and it was at that time that he started writing--though his interest in writing a book on this topic goes back much further).

--The book comes out next spring.

--The German edition will be published by Herder Verlag.

--CNS describes the book as "a major scholarly and spiritual book"

--CWN reports: "The Rizzoli publishing house described the forthcoming book as Pope Benedict's "very original reading and historico-theological analysis of the foundation of Christian faith." The book incorporates the product of the Pope's years of scholarly research in theology, the publisher says, yet it is written with remarkable clarity and simplicity, which will appeal to the ordinary reader. The book, Rizzoli says, combines rigorous scholarship with "great passion," as the Pope invites readers to "let themselves be touched by Christ."

--CNA cites the publisher as well: ""Benedict XVI describes Jesus with great passion, permitting every reader to reflect inwardly and to be touched by Christ; at the same time conserving a rigorous scientific line that characterizes the writings and speeches of the scholar."

Is the Bishop of Rome writing a book on Jesus in the style of a certain Bishop of Durham? Sounds like it...

One final note, some have grossly misrepresented the Pope's closing words:
"Certainly, there should be no need to say explicitly that this book is absolutely not a magisterial action, but is only the expression of my personal research into the 'face of the Lord" (Ps 27,8). And so everyone is free to contradict me."
In fact, a number of headlines have come out with wordings such as "Pope's book opens up debate over infallibility", implying that the Pope is overturning the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility. That's ridiculous. Zadok has more on that.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

One Reason To Engage Historical Jesus Research

Jesus and the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom (Part 2)

Photo: Geza Vermes
1.1. A Survey of the Kingdom in the Third Quest
Throughout the history of Jesus research many aspects of Jesus’ life and teaching have been debated. However, one element of the Gospel record is uncontested: Jesus preached about “the Kingdom of God.”[1] Conclusions regarding the self-understanding of the historical Jesus are therefore necessarily framed by how Jesus’ language regarding the Kingdom is interpreted.[2] Here we will survey some of the most influential works by Third Quest scholars and attempt to find some common consensus as to how Jesus’ message was related to Second Temple beliefs.

The first major work we might mention is Geza Vermes’ Jesus the Jew (1973).[3] The portrait of Jesus in Vermes’ work is that of a charismatic Galilean miracle worker, much like Honi the Circle Drawer and Hanina ben Dosa.[4] Vermes traces the development of Jewish thought regarding the Kingdom through the Old Testament to the first-century.[5] Four basic formulations emerge. The first model originates in the pre-exilic period, where God is believed to reign through an earthly king. The second model emerges with the exile as expectations emerge that God will restore his reign over the world through a future Davidic king. The third view dates from the intertestamental era and looks forward to a cataclysmic cosmic conflict in which the host of God will defeat the powers of evil. In the spiritual realm the victory would be given to the angel Michael, while on earth Israel would have dominion. The last concept may be traced back to the exilic and post-exilic period and is found in Deutero- and Trito-Isaiah (e.g., Isa 60:1-6). This vision of God’s Kingdom is related in spiritual terms, wherein God’s sovereignty over Israel and the Gentiles is realized not through war and violence but in Torah-obedience.

For Vermes, therefore, Jewish beliefs regarding the Kingdom shift from the political to the spiritual and abstract Reign of God.[6] Jesus’ view of the Kingdom follows along these more intangible lines. He observes that Jesus rarely used “royal” terminology for God, had no concern for earthly political power and was mostly concerned with the present reality, not future cosmic battles.[7] “Jesus, the existential teacher, was more concerned with man’s attitude and behavior towards the Kingdom than with its essence or nature.”[8]
To be continued...

[1] “There is, however, one area in the testimony of the gospels to Jesus the authenticity of which is agreed on by virtually all New Testament scholars—namely, the teaching of Jesus on the kingdom of God.” G. R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), x.
[2] In addition to Beasley-Murray’s, Jesus and the Kingdom of God, Bruce Chilton has done much work on the meaning of the phrase in the Targums. Bruce Chilton, Targumic Approaches to the Gospels: Essays in the Mutual Definition of Judaism and Christianity (Lanham: University Press of America, 1986), 99-112; Bruce Chilton, God in Strength: Jesus’ Announcement of the Kingdom (Studien zum Neuen Testament und seiner Umwelt B/1; Freistadt: Plöchl, 1979, 277-98. See also, Michael Lattke, “On the Jewish Background of the Synoptic Concept, “The Kingdom of God” in The Kingdom of God (ed., B. Chilton; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984): 72-91. Other sources which deal with Jesus and his Jewish context include discussions on the Kingdom in Jewish thought, though the question is not dealt with specifically, for example, James H. Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism (ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 1988).
[3] Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew (London: William Collins Sons & Co., 1973). Vermes is not typically associated with the Third Quest. However, since his work focuses on Jesus’ Jewishness it seems appropriate to mention it here.
[4] Vermes sums up his description of Jesus as “a charismatic prophetic preacher and miracle-worker, the outstanding ‘Galilean Hasid’ who, thanks to the ‘sublimity, distinctiveness and originality’ of his ethical teaching (Joseph Klausner), stood head and shoulders above the known representatives of this class of spiritual personality.” Geza Vermes, The Religion of Jesus the Jew (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 5.
[5] Vermes, Religion of Jesus, 121-135; Geza Vermes, Jesus and the World of Judaism (London: SCM Press, 1983; repri., Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 32-5.
[6] Vermes, Religion of Jesus, 121: “‘Kingdom’ being essentially a political notion, it is not surprising that its metaphorical association with God first retains an element of the original significance, i.e. a nation and territory ruled over by a (divine) king, before turning into a more abstract notion of the universal sovereignty and limitless power of the Deity.”
[7] Vermes, World of Judaism, 35-36.
[8] Vermes, Religion of Jesus, 137.

Continue to the next post in the series...

Complete outline (with links) of "Jesus and the Restoration of the Kingdom" series