Monday, December 31, 2007

Where's J's Signature

The San Diego Natural History Museum has had the eleven of the Dead Sea Scrolls on display for the last few months, including 4Q521 and the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice [4Q400]--two of the most important! They are leaving in a week, so I'm doing a couple of last minute trips over there with different groups. Today I took my wife's family.

My brother-in-law had the greatest one-liner in the parking lot afterward. We were talking about the different scrolls we saw and how ancient they were when he said with a grin:

"I just kept looking at the bottom of each of the scrolls to find a signature--to find the place where it was signed 'J' or 'E'".

Kim's father piped up--"I kept looking for 'Q'".

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Jesus and the Eschaton (Part 2.1.: Apocalyptic as Metaphor)

2.1. Apocalyptic as Metaphor
Despite the sensationalistic interpretations offered by Christians throughout the ages,[1] more recent approaches have emphasized the fact that apocalyptic texts often used cosmic language metaphorically to describe events which would take place within this world―not necessarily beyond it.[2] In this view, oracles of judgment using such imagery “were intended to be taken as denoting. . . socio-political events, seen as the climactic moment in Israel’s history.”[3] Here we shall mention a few of the texts often cited as examples.

Isaiah describes the fall of Babylon in association with language of cosmic destruction: the darkening of celestial bodies (Isa 13:10), the trembling of the heavens (Isa 13:13), and the earth being shaken “out of its place” (מִמְּקֹומָ֑הּ; Isa 13:13). Although cosmological language is employed here, it is also clear that Isaiah is clearly linking such language to the destruction of Babylon itself. The localized dimension of the prophecy is clear from the fact that the passage goes on to describe how the city will be uninhabited by humans in the future, becoming a home to wild animals (cf. Isaiah 13:20-22). Isaiah’s prophecy of the judgment of Edom later in the book likewise links it with the destruction of the heavenly bodies: “All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall…” (Isa 34:4). Like Babylon, it will become unpopulated and serve as the dwelling of desert animals (Isa 34:13).

Other passages could also be mentioned. Ezekiel describes the judgment of Egypt in terms of the darkening of the sun and the stars (Ezek 32:7-8).[4] Joel links the destruction of Jerusalem with such imagery: “The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining” (Joel 2:10; cf. 2:2, “a day of darkness and gloom”). Joel later links the same imagery with God’s judgment of the Gentiles (Joel 3:15).

[1] For an overview see the articles in Caroline Walker Bynum and Paul Freedman, Last Things: Death and the Apocalypse in the Middle Ages (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000).
[2] In his work on eschatology, R. H. Charles explains that apocalyptic literature most frequently described events of the past: “The chief part of these events [related in apocalyptic literature] belongs, it is true, to the past; but the apocalyptic writer regarded them not in their secular but in their eternal issues… as it were, arranged under certain categories of time, and as definitely determined from the beginning in the counsels of God and revealed by Him to His servants the prophets.” R. H. Charles, Eschatology: A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life in Israel, in Judaism, and in Christianity (2nd ed.; London: A. & C. Black, 1913; repr., Eugene: Wipft and Stock, 1999), 206; Marius Reiser, Jesus and Judgment: The Eschatological Proclamation in Its Jewish Context (original German 1990; L. M. Maloney, trans.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997), 238; Hans Schwarz, Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 36: “The Lord is a God of life, and the emphasis was upon life here on earth.”
[3] N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (vol. 2 of Christian Origins and the Question of God; Minneapolis: Fortress Press,1996), 97. Also see the treatment in R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament: His Application of Old Testament Passages to Himself and His Mission (London: Tyndale, 1971), 227-39. A slightly more nuanced view is G. B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1980). Caird believed that ancient Israelites were accustomed to using end-of-time language to earthly events so that the these later events could be seen either in light of the end of time or as the end of time. He explains how metaphor functions as “transference of a term from one referent with which it naturally belongs to a second referent, in order that the second may be illuminated by comparison with the first or by being ‘seen as’ the first” (66). For a discussion of the problem of the term “metaphor” see, James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, (vol. 1 in Christianity in the Making; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 401-403. We will come back to Caird later on, after looking at the critique offered by scholars such as Edward Adams, The Stars Will Fall From Heaven: Cosmic Catastrophe in the New Testament and its World (London: T & T Clark, 2007).
[4] It is interesting to note that all of the prophecies discussed so far describe God’s judgment of the nations. Indeed, many of the earliest examples of “apocalyptic” language emerge in similar contexts, raising interesting questions about the original nature of apocalyptic literature. See John G. Gammie, Holiness in Israel (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 174 n. 3.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Did the Virgin Mary Experience the Pains of Childbirth?

Taylor Marshall has an interesting post and discussion over at his blog, Canterbury Tales (, on whether the blessed Mother experienced the pains of childbirth. Rather than posting a long comment over there, I thought I'd make my contribution here as a final Advent post, drawing on two key points. This is a particularly pertinent topic since last years' Christmas movie, The Nativity--which was widely touted by many Catholics--graphically depicted Mary undergoing the birth-pangs of Jesus' birth.

Now, you won't find clarification of this matter in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, apart from the clear teaching in Mary's perpetual virginity, which states that that "Christ's birth 'did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it'" (CCC 499; citing Lumen Gentium 57). Nevertheless, I thought I'd add a couple of points in favor of the classical Catholic position that Mary did not experience the pangs of childbirth.

As Taylor points out, it is fitting that the Virgin Mary would not experience pain in childbirth, since she was conceived apart from the stain of original sin (see CCC 490-93) , and pain in childbirth is clearly taught in Scripture as one of the results of the Fall (Gen 3:16). (It is interesting to note here that--at least to my knowledge--other mammals do not experience birth-pangs as do human mothers.) I find this argument correct, but not necessarily conclusive, and thought I would support it with a couple of points from Scripture and ancient Jewish tradition.

First and foremost, it is worth noting that the notion of giving birth to children without the pains of birth is not an idea that is foreign to Scripture. In fact, it is part of the eschatological vision of the prophet Isaiah, in at least two places. In his prophecy of the new Creation--the "new heavens and the new earth"--Isaiah envisages a future times when the results of the Fall will be undone:

"They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox..." (Isaiah 65:23-25)

Here we see the curse of Adam (fruitless toil) and Eve (pain in childbirth) being undone in the eschatological age.

Even more striking is Isaiah's vision of the new Jerusalem:

"Before she was in labor, she gave bith;
before her pain came upon her
she was delivered of a son
Who has heard such a thing?
Who has seen such things?" (Isa 66:7-8)

Now, it is quite clear in the context that Isaiah is speaking of the city of Zion, of the new Jerusalem, and not directly of Mary. However, the allegorical application of the image of a holy city to an individual woman in salvation history is not unbiblical--think for example of Paul's identification of Hagar with the earthly Jerusalem and Sarah with "the Jerusalem above, who is our mother" (Galatians 4). This is perhaps why the early Church Fathers did not hesitate to see the Old Testament prophecies of the new Jerusalem as being fulfilled in Mary, the "daughter of Zion" (see Luigi Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church [Ignatius Press, 1999]), and John Damascus could say of Jesus' birth:

"It was a birth that surpassed the established order of birthgiving, as it was without pain; for, where pleasure had not preceded, pain did not follow" (De Fid. 4:14; cited in Dale Allison, The New Moses, p. 62).

(It is worth noting that this belief can be found as far back as the second century in the Protevangelium of James). Following the Fathers' lead, Isaiah presents interesting food for reflection: if Mary experiences the first-fruits of Christ's redemption in her own immaculate conception as the New Eve, it is easy to see why they would believe that she would similarly be able to taste the fruits of the eschatological age described by Isaiah, when women would be delivered from the curse of Eve.

An interesting addition to the discussion can be thrown into the mix from ancient Jewish tradition. I've recently been reading Dale C. Allison's absolutely brilliant book, The New Moses: A Matthean Typology (Fortress, 1993). In it, he points out that there was an ancient Jewish tradition, going back at least to the first century, that Moses' mother did not experience birth pangs when he was born:

[The faith of Moses' parents] "in the promises of God was confirmed by the manner of the woman's delivery, since she escaped the vigilance of the watch, thanks to the gentleness of her travail, which spared her any violent throes" (Ant. 2:218).

As Allison notes, according to Josephus, "Moses mother was not subject to the curse of Eve, as recorded in Gen 3:16: 'I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children'." (The New Moses, p. 147). He also notes that the same tradition about Moses' mother reappears in the Babylonian Talmud (b. Sota 12a) and the Midrash Rabbah (Exod. Rab. 1:20).

To my mind, this is an absolutely fascinating ancient Jewish tradition, given the fact that Jesus is very clearly depicted as a new Moses in the New Testament. Although we can only speculate, it is worth asking the question: if Matthew (and the other Jewish authors of the New Testament) believed that Moses' mother had been spared the pangs of childbirth, isn't it likely that they would have believed that Jesus' Mother--the virgin mother of the new Moses--would likewise be spared?

Just some thoughts . May the love of Christ and his blessed Mother be in all our hearts this holy Season, and may we all one day come to the glory of the new Jerusalem!

Enough theologizing. I've got to go now and help my wife and kids make Christmas cookies!

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Jesus and the Eschaton (Part 2: Jesus and 'Apocalyptic' Language)

2. Jesus and “Apocalyptic” Language
One of the most significant reasons scholars have distanced the historical Jesus from the teaching of the early Church has been the notion that Jesus preached an imminent end to human history. In this view, the Christian Church had to reformulate his teaching once this failed to occur.[1] Indeed, with a look at the “apocalyptic discourse”[2] of Jesus recounted in Mark 13 (cf. Matthew 24 // Luke 21), one can easily understand how they could have reached such a conclusion.[3] There, after describing the dissolution of the celestial bodies (Mark 13:24-25), the coming of the Son of man in the clouds (Mark 13:26) and the final gathering of the elect by the angels (Mark 13:27), Jesus concludes: Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη μέχρις οὗ ταῦτα πάντα γένηται. ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ παρελεύσονται, οἱ δὲ λόγοι μου οὐ μὴ παρελεύσονται ["Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away"] (Mark 13:30-31).

At first glance (as well as second and third!), it is hard to see how this language could not lead to the conclusion that Jesus was describing an imminent end of the physical universe. In this section, however, we will argue that such a reading only emerges due to a lack of understanding of the use and function of Jewish apocalyptic language. Once one grasps Jesus’ use of this prophetic style from within a first-century Jewish context, it is easy to see how Jesus’ description of a cosmic catastrophe indeed had a first-century referent. In this section, we will highlight what has been one of the most common themes in recent studies of apocalyptic, namely, the recognition of the “this-worldly” referent of its cosmic language.

Upfront it should be noted that defining “apocalyptic” is a notoriously difficult task and the literature on the topic is immense.[4] One of the reasons why it remains a challenging category to delineate is, like “eschatology,” “apocalyptic” is a modern term.[5] Technically, the term refers to “revelation,” which the figures described within “apocalyptic” texts often receive from a heavenly source through some kind of ecstatic/mystical experience.[6] Yet, there are other elements that also characterize the style: cosmic imagery, oracular language, heavenly figures, etc. Here we will use the term more broadly to describe passages which employ cosmic language in divine oracles relating to judgment and/or the dawning of the eschatological age.

[1] For an overview of the history of the discussion in Jesus research see George R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Last Days: The Interpretation of the Olivet Discourse (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993), 1-162; Scott M. Lewis, New Testament Apocalyptic (WATSA; New York: Paulist Press, 2004). For a contemporary advocate see Paula Fredricksen, From Jesus to Christ (2d ed; New Haven: Yale Nota Bena, 2000), 134-5.
[2] Of course, the term itself is problematic, since the sermon contains elements which are not characteristic of “apocalyptic” texts. Moreover, the problem is compounded inasmuch as it relates to the ever shifting definition of what exactly constitutes “apocalyptic” (see discussion below). Nonetheless, the term serves us well as it highlights this sermon’s relationship with certain Old Testament texts which emphasis cosmic upheavals. Indeed, many books, such as Isaiah, relate apocalyptic-like imagery alongside non-apocalyptic passages. For a fuller discussion, see T. J. Geddert, “Apocalyptic Teaching,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (J. B. Green, S. McKnight, I. H. Marshall, eds.; Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 21-23 [20-26].
[3] Interestingly, Albert Schweitzer, who is credited with highlighting Jesus’ apocalyptic message, did not base his interpretation on Mark 13, but derived his conclusion primarily on the grounds of Matthew 10:23. Apart from a passing reference dismissing its authenticity, Schweitzer never treated the sermon in his work. See Beaseley-Murray, The Last Days, 46.
[4] See, for example, the recent collection of essays in Knowing the End from the Beginning: The Prophetic, the Apocalyptic and their Relationships (L. L. Grabbe and R. D. Haak, eds.; JSPS 46; London: T & T Clark, 2003). Also see, R. E. Sturm, “Defining the Word ‘Apocalyptic:’ A Problem in Biblical Criticism” in Apocalyptic and the New Testament (JSOTSup 54; J. Marcus and M. L. Soards, eds.; Leiden Brill, 1997), 17-48; Michael A. Knibb, “Prophecy and the emergence of the Jewish apocalypses,” in Israel’s Prophetic Tradition; Essays in Honour of Peter Ackroyd (R. C. Coggins, A. Phillips, and M. Knibb, eds.; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 155-80. Groups from the society of biblical literature focusing on apocalyptic published their findings in Semeia in 1979 and 1986. Other major works include: J. J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination (New York: Crossraod, 1984); P. D. Hanson, The Dawn of the Apocalyptic (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975); P. D. Hanson, Old Testament Apocalyptic (Nashville: Abingdon, 1987); L. Morris, Apocalyptic (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972).
[5] The use of the term as specific literary genre is traced to Gottfried F. Lücke, Versuch einer vollständigen Einleitung in die Offenbarung des Johannes: oder, Allgemeine Untersuchungen über die apokalyptische Litteratur überhaupt und die Apokalypse des Johannes insbesondere (Second ed.; Bonn: Weber, 1852). The term was borrowed from Revelation 1:1 and used to describe Daniel and other books which shared literary and conceptual similarities with the book of Revelation. See H. S. Kvanvig, Roots of Apocalyptic: The Mesopotamian Background of the Enoch Figure and of the Son of Man (WMANT 61: Neukirchen-Vluyn:Neukirchen, 1988), 40, 56; David Aune, “Understanding Jewish and Christian Apocalyptic” in Word and World 25/3 (2000): 234. [233-245]
[6] See J. J. Collins, “Apocalyptic Literature," in the Dictionary of New Testament Backgrounds (C. A. Evans and S. Porter eds.; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 41; William Dumbrell, The Search for Order: Biblical Eschatology in Focus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 132. Also see the balanced discussion of the definition of “apocalyptic” which takes into account both the heavenly and earthly dimension of the genre in Adela Yarbro Collins, Cosmology and Eschatology in Jewish and Christian Apocalypticism (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 6-7.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Jesus and the Eschaton (Part 1: Introduction)

1. Introduction: The State of the Question of Eschatology

In the past few decades there has been an emerging discussion about the problematic “iron curtain”[1] that has come to separate the fields of systematic theology and biblical studies. Indeed, there have been a growing number of Protestant voices calling for an integration of biblical exegesis and theology.[2] Likewise, since the second Vatican Council urged theologians to make the bible “the very soul of theology,”[3] Catholic writers have been emphasizing the central role Scripture must play in doing theology,[4] speaking, for example, of its “referential language.”[5]

It is now generally recognized that the causes for this “divorce” can be traced back into certain philosophical presuppositions of Enlightenment or “modern” thought, out of which modern biblical criticism has emerged,[6] e.g., rationalism, an evolutionary approach to the question of origins, the pursuit of pure objectivity, and the rejection of tradition.[7] In this approach the teaching of Jesus was unhinged from both his Jewish milieu and the Christianity which followed him.[8] However, with the failure of the Enlightenment project there has emerged the current postmodern critique, which has advanced more holistic accounts of knowledge.[9] Such a shift has forced scholars to rethink previous positions and reexamine the continuity of Jesus with Judaism and Christianity. The collapse of modernity has thus opened the door for scholars to begin to consider the ways Judaism influenced Jesus and, in turn, how the teachings of this Jewish Jesus gave rise to Christian theology.[10] Thus more recent attempts have sought to find the origins of certain elements of Christian theology in the Judaism of the first century.[11]

In this paper, we will take such an approach to examine one particular branch of theology: eschatology. One could easily argue that among all the branches of theology, in its traditional role as the study of the “last things,” eschatology is the field which has the most to gain from such a method. Indeed, the term itself is in some ways problematic. It first appeared in the work of Abraham Calovius (1612-86) a Lutheran theologian, who used the word in his volume on death, resurrection, judgment and consummation.[12] Since then, “eschatology” has been used to describe the “last things.” However, it is now widely recognized by scholars that the teaching of the New Testament regarding eschatology involved a present dimension often neglected by classical eschatology. Theologians are thus asking whether perhaps we ought to reconsider the possibility of defining “eschatology” simply in terms of those things which are chronologically “last.”[13] Theologians such as Dermot Lane have argued that to properly explain the eschata, the “last things” (e.g., death, judgment, heaven, hell, etc.) theologians must first come to a better grasp of the Eschaton, the advent of the end of time in Christ.[14]

It is here that this paper takes its cue. Here we will look at the way Jesus believed he was ushering in the Eschaton. First we will examine how scholars have frequently misunderstood the function and meaning of apocalyptic language, often concluding that Jesus’ use of it necessarily involved the expectation of an imminent end of history.[15] Next, we will examine the role of restoration imagery in eschatological expectations. We will then turn to look at restoration eschatology in Jesus’ teaching.[16]

1. Introduction: The State of the Question of Eschatology

2. Jesus' “Apocalyptic” Language
2.1. Apocalyptic as Metaphor
2.2. Cosmic Language and Temple Cosmology

3. Second-Temple Jewish Restoration Hopes
3.1. The Hope for the New Exodus
3.2. The Hope for the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom

4. Jesus and His Restoration Eschatology
4.1. Jesus, the Restoration, and the New Exodus
4.2. Jesus, the Kingdom and the Last Supper: A Proposal

5. Conclusion

[1] Brevard Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), xvi.
[2] See the discussion by leading evangelical scholars in Joel B. Green and Max Turner, eds. Between Two Horizons: Spanning New Testament Studies & Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000). Some works by theologians who have attempted to bridge the gap include, Robert K. Johnston, The Use of the Bible in Theology: Evangelical Options (Atlanta: John Knox, 1985); Charles J. Scalise, From Scripture to Theology: A Canonical Journey into Hermeneutics (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1996). Indeed, massive projects such as the massive volume dedicated to the theological interpretation of the Bible edited by Kevin Vanhoozer [Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005] and the Brazos Theological Commentary series published by Brazos Press bear witness to this corrective effort.
[3] Dei Verbum 24. Cited from Austin Flannery, ed. Vatican II, Volume 1: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents (New Revised Edition; A. Flannery, e.d.; Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company, 1987), 763-4. This line was recently highlighted once again in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 132), promulgated by John Paul II in 1992. Indeed, many have noted that the new Catechism places an especially strong emphasis on the role of Scripture, primarily describing Catholic doctrine in scriptural quotations. Ratzinger writes, that it is “shaped from one end to the other by the Bible. As far as I know, there has never been until now a catechism so thoroughly formed by the Bible.” Gospel, Catechisis, Catechism: Sidelights on the Catehism of the Catholic Church (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1997), 61. For a fuller discussion see, John C. Cavadini, “The Use of Scripture in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” Letter & Spirit 2 (2006): 43-54.
[4] John Paul II once stated: “Theology must take its point of departure from a continual and updated return to the Scriptures read in the Church.”[4] Likewise, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger writes, “The normative theologians are the authors of Scripture.” Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theolgy (trans., M. F. McCarthy; San Francisco: Ignatius, 1987, 321). In fact, one of the defining characteristics of Pope Benedict’s theology has been its biblical focus. See Scott Hahn, “The Authority of Mystery: The Biblical Theology of Benedict XVI,” in Letter & Spirit 2 (2006):97-140. The relationship between exegesis and dogmatic theology has been explored in a number of works produced by Catholic theologians. See, for example, Karl Rahner, “Exegesis and Dogmatic Theology,” in Dogmatic vs. Biblical Theology (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1964), 31-65; Joseph T. Lienhard, The Bible, the Church, and Authority: The Canon of the Christian Bible in History and Theology (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1995); Luke Timothy Johnson and William Kurz, The Future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship: A Constructive Conversation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002).
[5] See Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Scripture and Christology: A Statement of the Biblical Commission with a Commentary (Mahwah: Paulist, 1986); Colin Brown, “Scripture and Christology: A Protestant Look at the Work of the Pontifical Biblical Commission,” in Essays in Honor of Paul K. Jewett: Perspectives on Christology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991)
[6] The bibliography tracing modern critical methods and Jesus studies to the Enlightenment is immense. See among others, James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered (vol. 1 in Christianity in the Making; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 25-97; John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (vol. 1 of The Roots of the Problem and the Person; ABRL Vol. 1; New York, Doubleday, 1991), 25; Ben Witherington III, The Jesus Quest The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 9; Mark Allan Powell, Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), 12-13; Roy A. Harrisville and Walter Sundberg, The Bible in Modern Culture: Theology and Historical-Critical Method from Spinoza to Käsemann (Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1995); C. Stephen Evans, “Methodological Naturalism in Historical Biblical Scholarship,” in Jesus and the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God (C. C. Newmann, ed.; Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 180-205; Scot McKnight, Jesus and His Death: Historiography, the Historical Jesus, and Atonement Theory (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2005), 3-46; Darrel Bock, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to the Sources and the Methods (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 153-162; Klaus Scholder, The Birth of Modern Critical Theology: Origins and Problems of Biblical Criticism in the Seventeenth Century (trans., J. Bowden; London: SCM, 1990); Greg Clark, “General Hermeneutics,” in The Face of New Testament Studies: A Survey of Recent Research (S. McKnight and G. R. Osborne, eds.; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 105-107; Edgar Krentz, The Historical-Critical Method (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1975), 16-22.
[7] Lundin describes the modernist pursuit of objective autonomy in terms of the “orphaned individual.” It is generally recognized that this move has its origins in the Protestant reformation, which proclaimed Sola Scripture, the notion that Scripture must be read apart from ecclesiastical tradition. For a fuller discussion see Roger Lundin, Clarence Walhout, Anthony C. Thiselton, The Promise of Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999), 1-64; W. H. Auden, Forewords and Afterwords (ed., E. Mendelson; New York: Random House 1973; repr., Vintage 1989); Roy Harrisville and Walter Sundberg, The Bible in Modern Culture, 15-17. Also see Jeffrey Stout, The Flight from Authority: Religion, Morality, and the Quest for Autonomy (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981).
[8] See the detailed discussion of the development of the criteria of “dissimilarity” in Gerd Theissen and Damgar Winter, The Quest for the Plausible Jesus: The Question of Criteria (M. E. Boring, trans.; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 1-171. Also see Jeffrey Stout, The Flight from Authority: Religion, Morality, and the Quest for Autonomy (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981).
[9] See Nancey Murphy, Anglo-American Postmodernity: Philosophical Perspectives on Science, Religion and Ethics (Boulder: Westview Press, 1997). This work will use the term “postmodern” as Alan G. Padgett defines it: “Mine is a mild sort of post-modernism. By ‘post-modern’ I only mean a view that is critical of the Enlightenment. Relativism is not implied in this term as I use it.” Alan G. Padgett, “Advice for Religious Historians: On the Myth of a Purely Historical Jesus,” in The Resurrection: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Resurrection of Jesus (S. T. David, D. Kendall and G. O’Collins, eds.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 287. Also see C. Stephen Evans, The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith: The Incarnational Narrative as History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 22.
[10] Indeed, the characteristic element of so-called Third Quest for the Historical Jesus has been the renewed appreciation for his Jesus roots. See the discussions in N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (vol. 2 of Christian Origins and the Question of God; Minneapolis: Fortress Press,1996), 34-5; Neil and Wright, The Interpretation, 379. In addition, see Ben Witherington, The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 379-403. For the influence of postmodernity on hermeneutics and theology see Craig Bartholomew, “Postmodernity and Biblical Interpretation,” in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (K. J. Vanhoozer, ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 600-5. Of course, such a project does not simply mean returning to a “pre-modern” or “pre-critical” state of affairs. The issues raised by such a project are indeed complex and it is beyond our scope here to discuss them. For a treatment see, Joel B. Green, “Scripture and Theology: Uniting the Two Son Long Divided,” in Between the Two Horizons, 23-43. Rather than seeking to bypass issues, such an approach seeks to show that a rigorous exegetical approach which has due concern for methodological judiciousness reveals important links between the teaching of the scriptural books, their Jewish context and the later development of theology. Indeed, a number of such works have recently been done in connection with atonement theory.
[11] For example, Pitre and McKnight have so examined atonement theory. Whereas for many it was previously unthinkable that a first-century Jew could believe he would offer his life as a sacrifice for sin, Brant Pitre has demonstrated that a number of first-century Jewish sources indicate that the final restoration of Israel would only come through a period of eschatological suffering. This suffering was frequently described in terms of atonement. For example, in a number of places the Dead Sea Scrolls uses the word for “affliction” to refer to the Day of “Atonement” (cf. CDa 6:19). For a fuller discussion see Brant Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation and the End of the Exile (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005). Also see the comments made in Scot McKnight, Jesus and His Death, 371-372 on the relationship between Jesus’ atonement theory and later Christian theology.
[12] Arland J. Hultgren, "Eschatology in the New Testament: The Current Debate," in The Last Things: Biblical & Theological Perspectives on Eschatology (C. E. Braaten and R. W. Jeson, eds.; Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 68.
[13] I am inclined to agree with Gordon J. Thomas that eschatology would be better defined as “the doctrine of the ultimate things”―particular as those things which represent the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation. See Gordon J. Thomas, “A Holy God Among A Holy People in a Holy Place: The Enduring Eschatological Hope,” in Eschatology in Bible and Theology: Evangelical Essays at the Dawn of a New Millennium (K. E. Brower and M. W. Elliot, eds.; Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 53-69 [especially 53-55].
[14] Dermot Lane, Keeping Hope Alive: Stirrings in Christian Theology (New York: Paulist, 1996), 2: “The primary emphasis in New Testament eschatology is one the significance of the appearance of the Eschaton in Christ which shapes our understanding of the present and the future. Over the centuries, however, the emphasis has fallen on a treatment of the individual eschata to the neglect of the Eschaton in Christ. Something of a separation has taken place between our understanding of the Eschaton in Christ and its relationship to the individual eschata.”
[15] Here I must emphasize that this paper is not challenging the notion that second temple Judaism included “other-worldly” hopes. Certainly visions of heavenly temples and angels are common in Jewish apocalyptic literature such as 1 Enoch and resist mere metaphorical interpretations. See, for example, the treatment on the Assumption of Moses and other works by David J. Bryan, “Exile and Return from Jerusalem,” in Apocalyptic and Tradition (C. Rowland and J. Barton, eds.; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 60-80. Moreover, Jewish hopes at Qumran involved a kind of hope for theosis. See Crispin Flectcher-Louis, All the Glory of Adam: Liturgical Anthropology in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Leiden: Brill, 2007). Nonetheless, here we will largely focus on the “this-worldly” dimension of Jewish expectations in relation to realized eschatology in Jesus’ teaching.
[16] Unfortunately, our limited space does not allow us to discuss questions of authenticity. Such issues will have to wait for a larger dissertation project.

New Series of Posts

I will be starting a new series of posts here on the blog, Jesus and the Eschaton: Bridging Jewish and Christian Eschatology. Hopefully, this will enable more regular posting... so check back frequently as I hope to keep a steady string of posts coming up throughout the week.

Friday, December 14, 2007

How Noah is a New Adam

Mark Giszczak has a great post up on the word the word kaphar, כִּפֶּר, which, according to the BDB (Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon), means: "to cover over", "to make propitiation," or to "pacify."

One can easily see how "to cover over" can also be applied to cultic propitiation contexts--sacrifice "covers over" sin.

Mark goes on to point out that the word is found in another unexpected context.
I found it very interesting that the same word is used in Gen 6:14 when the Lord commands Noah to cover the ark with pitch. Strangely enough, the same root is used for the word which means "pitch." Unfortunately, Gen 6:14 is the only occurrence of the word. But the image of God covering over sins with pitch is a powerful one, not that Gen or Ezek actually says that. The Ezek passage is referring to a future time when God will kaphar Judah's sins. I suppose it also has theological implications, but I don't want to take this too far. The point is that we can compare Ezek 16:63's use of kaphar with Gen 6:14 and come up with the image of God covering our sins with pitch. Cool.
In fact, Genesis seems to present Noah as a kind of new Adam, with numerous motifs reminiscent of the creation account. As in Genesis 1, in the story of the ark of Noah we see how a new creation emerges out of waters (Genesis 1:2; 7:11). The number “seven” also figures prominently. The flood begins after seven days, evoking the seven days of creation (Gen. 2:2; 7:10). As the Lord rested on the seventh day, the ark comes to a rest in the seventh month (Gen. 2:2-3; 8:4). Noah sends out birds every seven days (8:10-12). Noah was commanded to take seven pairs of clean animals (animals acceptable for sacrifice) into the ark (Gen. 7:2). We might also mention that “Noah” means rest--evoking the Lord's resting on the seventh day of the creation account.

Like Adam, Noah is told to be “fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 2:28; 9:1) and given “dominion” over the creatures of the earth (Gen. 2:28; 9:2). We might also note that the ark is created in three sections (cf. Gen 6:13) corresponding to the three realms of the cosmos created in Genesis 1. The tripartite structure is likely meant to indicate that the ark, like the cosmos, should be seen as a kind of temple [which had three sections: (1) Outer Court, (2) Holy Place, (3) Holy of Holies].[1]

In addition, we might also mention that the downfall of Noah is also reminiscent of Adam’s. Noah ends up in a vineyard, as Adam was in the garden. As Adam ate the forbidden fruit, Noah consumes too much of the fruit of the vine and becomes drunk. He is then found "naked". This results in his issuing prophetic statements about the consequences about what has just happened.

[1] For a fuller treatment see, S. W. Holloway, “What Ship Goes There: The Flood Narratives in the Gilgamesh Epic and Genesis Considered in Light of Ancient Near Eastern Temple Ideology,” in ZAW 103 (1991): 328-354; Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue (South Hamilton: Gordon Cornwell Theological Seminary, 1989), 156-59; C. T. R. Haywood, ‘Sacrifice and World Order: Some Observations on Ben Sira’s Attitude to the Temple Service,” in Sacrifice and Redemption (S. W. Sykes, ed.; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 22-34.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Messianic Interpretation of Genesis 49

Gen 49:1-2, 8-11: Then Jacob called his sons, and said, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in days to come. 2 Assemble and hear, O sons of Jacob, and hearken to Israel your father. . . 8 Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. 9 Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as a lioness; who dares rouse him up? 10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. 11 Binding his foal to the vine and his ass’s colt to the choice vine, he washes his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes; 12 his eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.

Messianic interpretation in Jewish Tradition:
2Q252 [Pesher on Genesis] 5:1-2: “A ruler will not depart from the tribe of Judah so long as Israel has dominion, and he who sits on David’s throne [will not be c]ut off.”

Targum Onqelos Gen 49:10: “The ruler shall not depart from the house of Judah, nor the scribe from his children’s children forever; until the messiah comes, to whom belongs the kingdom, and to him shall the peoples be obedient.”

Targum Neophyti Gen 49:10: “Kings shall not cease from the house of Judah, nor yet scribes teaching the law from the sons of his sons, until the time that the anointed king comes, to whom belongs the kingdom.”

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Benedict XVI on Christ the King

The Pope delivered an amazing homily a few weeks ago on the Feast of Christ the King at the consistory which created new Cardinals in the Church. Here are some excerpts. Thanks to Walker for the heads-up!

The liturgical Feast of Christ the King gives our celebration an especially significant background, outlined and illuminated by the Biblical Readings. We find ourselves as it were facing an imposing fresco with three great scenes: at the centre, the Crucifixion according to the Evangelist Luke's account; on one side, the royal anointing of David by the elders of Israel; on the other, the Christological hymn with which St Paul introduces the Letter to the Colossians. . .
We must begin from the central event: the Cross. Here Christ manifests his unique Kingship. . . St Cyril of Alexandria comments: "You see him crucified and you call him King. You believe that he who bears scoffing and suffering will reach divine glory" (Comment on Luke, Homily 153). According to the Evangelist John, the divine glory is already present, although hidden by the disfiguration of the Cross. But also in the language of Luke, the future is anticipated in the present when Jesus promises the good thief: "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Lk 23: 43). St Ambrose observes: "He prayed that the Lord would remember him when he reached his Kingdom, but the Lord responded: Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. Life is being with Christ, because where Christ is, there is his Kingdom" (Exposition of the Gospel according to Luke, 10, 121). The accusation: "This is the King of the Jews", written on a tablet nailed above Jesus' head thus becomes the proclamation of the truth. . .

If we now cast a glance at the scene of the royal anointing of David presented in the First Reading, an important aspect on royalty strikes us, namely, its "corporative" dimension. The elders of Israel go to Hebron, they seal a covenantal pact with David, declaring to consider themselves united to him and wanting to be one only with him. If we relate Christ to this image, it seems to me that this same covenantal profession applies very well precisely to you, dear Cardinal-Brothers. You too who form the "senate" of the Church can say to Jesus: "Behold, we are your bone and flesh" (II Sam 5: 1). We belong to you, and we want to be one only with you. You are the Shepherd of the People of God, you are the Head of the Church (cf. II Sam 5: 2). In this solemn Eucharistic celebration we want to renew our pact with you, our friendship, because only in this intimate and profound relationship with you, Jesus, our King and Lord, does the dignity that has been conferred upon us and the responsibility it bears have sense and value.
There now remains for us to admire the third part of our "triptych" that the Word of God places before us: the Christological hymn of the Letter to the Colossians. First of all, we make the sentiments of joy and gratitude that pour forth from it our own, for the fact that the Kingdom of Christ, the "inheritance of the saints in light", is not only something seen from a distance but a reality in which we are called to partake, into which we have been "transferred", thanks to the redemptive action of the Son of God (cf. Col 1: 12-14). This graced action opens St Paul's soul to the contemplation of Christ and his ministry in its two principal dimensions: the creation of all things and their reconciliation. The first aspect of Christ's Lordship consists in the fact that "all things were created through him and for him... in him all things hold together" (Col 1: 16-17). The second dimension centres on the Paschal Mystery: through the Son's death on the Cross, God has reconciled every creature to himself, has made peace between Heaven and earth; raising him from the dead he has made him the firstborn of the new creation, the "fullness" of every reality and "head of the [mystical] body", the Church (cf. Col 1: 18-20). We find ourselves again before the Cross, the central event of the mystery of Christ. In the Pauline vision the Cross is placed within the entire economy of salvation, where Jesus' royalty is displayed in all its cosmic fullness.
This text of the Apostle expresses a synthesis of truth and faith so powerful that we cannot fail to remain in deep admiration of it. The Church is the trustee of the mystery of Christ: She is so in all humility and without a shadow of pride or arrogance, because it concerns the maximum gift that she has received without any merit and that she is called to offer gratuitously to humanity of every age, as the horizon of meaning and salvation. It is not a philosophy, it is not a gnosis, even though it also comprises wisdom and knowledge. It is the mystery of Christ, it is Christ himself, the Logos incarnate, dead and risen, made King of the universe. How can one fail to feel a rush of enthusiasm full of gratitude for having been permitted to contemplate the splendour of this revelation? How can one not feel at the same time the joy and the responsibility to serve this King, to witness his Lordship with one's life and word?. . .
In conclusion, I would like to mention an aspect that is strongly united to this mission and that I entrust to your prayer: peace among all Christ's disciples, as a sign of the peace that Jesus came to establish in the world. We have heard the great news of the Christological hymn: it pleased God to "reconcile" the universe through the Cross of Christ (cf. Col 1: 20)! Well then, the Church is that portion of humanity in whom Christ's royalty is already manifest, who has peace as its privileged manifestation. It is the new Jerusalem, still imperfect because it is yet a pilgrim in history, but able to anticipate in some way the heavenly Jerusalem. Lastly, we can here refer to the Responsorial Psalm 121, belonging to the so-called "Song of Ascents". It is a hymn of the pilgrims' joy who, going up toward the holy city and having reached its doors, address the peace-greeting to them: shalom! According to popular etymology Jerusalem is interpreted as a "city of peace", whose peace the Messiah, Son of David, would have established in the fullness of time. We recognize in Jerusalem the figure of the Church, sacrament of Christ and of his Kingdom.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Review: Bird, Jesus and the Origin of the Gentile Mission (Part 2)

Bird begins his book by laying out the problem he sets out to address, giving a brief overview of the state of the question, and his methodology. I will tell you a little about what he has to say and then I will give you my own comments on the matter. Let’s begin with the problem.

The Problem
While the early Church included Gentiles in its evangelistic mission, the Gospels present Jesus as primarily focused on Israel. Consider the following passages.

Matthew 10:5-6: “These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Matthew 15:24: [Jesus said]: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

How does one reconcile such passages with the later practice of the early Christians of Gentile inclusion?

Indeed, Bird carefully lays out six reasons why the early effort to bring Gentiles into the Church is surprising:
1. Jesus was Jewish
2. As mentioned above, the Gospels describe Jesus as restricting his ministry to Israel
3. The Gospels never report Jesus making disciples in Gentile districts, and there are only a few references to Jesus even having contact with Gentiles (and these are often deemed inauthentic)
4. All of the early leaders of the Christian movement were Jews
5. The movement began in Palestine, not in the Diaspora
6. There was considerable debate about the inclusion of Gentiles later on

Bird’s Solution
After laying out the problem Bird lays out his proposed solution: “Jesus’ intention was to renew and restore Israel, so that a restored Israel would extend God’s salvation to the world. Since this restoration was already being realized in Jesus’ ministry” (3).

I think Bird’s answer to the puzzle is brilliant. What he in effect shows is that a careful analysis reveals that certain strands of Jewish eschatological hopes linked the restoration of Israel with Gentile inclusion. I will save a careful overview for the post on chapter 2, where Bird lays out his case more carefully―suffice it to say, if the Gospels are any indication about the prevalence of Isaianic eschatological traditions in Jesus’ teaching, one could hardly expect Jesus to not expect an eventual inclusion of the Gentiles.

In a survey of the history of the work done in this area Bird demonstrates that scholars have often made the mistake of assuming Jesus must have either been a radical universalist or particularist. Jeremias is one notable exception. Discussing his contribution, Bird explains that any attempt to reduce Jesus’ message to either of these two extremes “evaporates once Jesus is understood as operating within the story of Jewish eschatological hopes.” However, Bird goes on to explain to discuss some very significant questions raised by Jeremias’ work, describing issues that must be addressed further.

One important point Bird makes is that while he operated primarily within Israelite boundaries, given the state of affairs in the first century, Jesus could hardly avoid the issue. “Given that most of the Jewish populace was either living in Gentile lands or subjugated under Gentile hands, it would be strange if Jesus offered no answer to the ‘Gentile question’” (20). Rabbinic traditions reveal that their role and fate was debated within Jewish circles. It is hard to imagine Jesus simply being aloof when it came to the controversy.

Bird goes on to lay out his method at the end of chapter one. Since this is an issue that I have been working on quite a bit myself I found this section especially interesting. He begins by addressing what “historical Jesus” means. He writes,

“The ‘historical Jesus’ is not a positivistic or objective history of Jesus, but it comprises a fallible portrait of Jesus that emerges from dialogue with the textual history of early Christianity and in partnership with other readers of this history” (23).
Next, he explains a key problem: the primary purpose of the Gospels was to “convey the meaning and significance of Jesus for readers in the Graeco-Roman world, and not to write a life of Jesus which can cater to the interests of post-Enlightenment historiography” (23).

Yet, Bird is quick to point out that this should not lead us to conclude with the radical form critics that the Gospels were mere theological tracts devoid of contact with the historical Jesus. He writes, “the continued use of the name ‘Jesus’ and the absence (with a few exceptions) of the titles ‘Christ’ and ‘Son of God’ as terms of address for Jesus in the Gospels underscore the continued awareness of the pre-Easter history of Jesus.”

Going on, Bird cites the work of James D. G. Dunn: “What we actually have in the earliest retellings of what is now the Synoptic tradition . . . are the memories of the first disciples―not Jesus himself, but the remembered Jesus” [Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 130-31]. Here’s Bird’s description of what the Gospels are: “The Gospels are the interpretation and application of the memory for Jesus in the Graeco-Roman world” (24).

The problem then is separating the “history” from the “interpretation”. The problem is intensified by the fact of interdependence among the Gospel sources―i.e., which elements are attributable to Jesus and which are merely Mark’s? Bird writes, “The danger is that one maps the contours of the Marcan Jesus’ view of the Gentiles, and then attempts to pass this off as the perspective of the historical Jesus” (25).

Bird then states: “The primary way of off-setting this problem in Jesus scholarship is by employing the so-called criteria of authenticity” (25). Bird opts for multiple-attestation, embarrassment, historical plausibility, coherence and Palestinian context. However, Bird is quick to point out the problems of the criteria. He rightly comments that there is no agreed consensus on what they are or how they should be used. Likewise, he explains that calling them criteria of “authenticity” is problematic since their use can hardly prove anything is “authentic” or “inauthentic”. Moreover, an “inauthentic” saying or deed may indeed reflect the actual authentic attitude or teaching of Jesus. The best we can hope for is likelihood: “…an ‘authentic’ saying or event is one which we have good reason to believe is close to something that Jesus said―as close as we could hope for” (25).

Bird’s words here are telling? Why continue to speak of “authenticity” despite the limitations of the criteria? “With these caveats in mind, I shall continue to use the language of ‘authenticity’ for the reason that it is simply part of the grammar of historical Jesus research” (25).

Have we really come to the point where we have to continue to use virtually meaningless language simply because without it work would not be considered be other scholars in the field? It seems we have. For me, this assertion by Bird is almost as groundbreaking as the rest of the work in the book.

This book only confirmed the increasing sense I have that the use of the “criteria” of authenticity has nearly reached an impasse.

Elsewhere I have posted my own brief critique of the criteria—though my own thought has evolved quite a bit on the topic, I remain highly skeptical of their usefulness. In particular, I have been reading scholars such as Porter, Theissen and Winter who have leveled especially devastating critiques of the criteria.

The true problem however lies at a deeper level. Most scholars recognize that the criteria arose out of source-critical and form-critical assumptions about the Gospels. For one thing, form-critics viewed the Gospels through the lens of folkloric literature, concluding that the Gospels were actually the result of a long process of “traditioning.” According to form-critical "dogma", the teachings of Christ had been fashioned and shaped over a long period of time so that the Gospels ended up reflecting the communal traditioning process much more than Jesus’ teaching itself. Moreover, the early transmission process involved the creative invention of certain elements which because part of the Jesus tradition. The Gospels thus stand at the end of a long "traditioning" process through which the historical "core" of Jesus' identity and teaching was supplemented, adapted and according to some, even recast.

Yet, this view of the Gospels has increasingly come under fire of late. In fact, the recent SBL session on Richard Bauckham's new book, Jesus and the Eyewitness (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2006) has underscored this point. Whatever one thinks about his conclusions, the recent work done by Bauckham has seriously undermined the old form-critical theories. The Gospels were written within the living memory of the eye-witnesses who saw Jesus. In fact, Bauckham marshalls powerful support from patristic sources that the early Christians resisted such creative tendencies in the transmission of the Jesus tradition.

Bauckham highlights the work of Papias, a writer who knew those who had been in contact with some of the disciples of Jesus himself recounts his insistence upon hearing the actual commandments of Jesus.

“I shall not hesitate also to put into properly ordered form for you [singular] everything I learned carefully in the past from the elders and noted down well, for the truth of which I vouch. For unlike most people I did not enjoy those who have a great deal to say, but those who teach the truth. Nor did I enjoy those who recall someone else’s commandments, but those who remember the commandments given by the Lord to the faith and proceeding from the truth itself. And if by chance anyone who had been in attendance on the elders should come my way, I inquired about the words of the elder―[that is,] what [according to the elders] Andrew or Peter said, or Philip, or Thomas or James, or John or Matthew or any of the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and the elder John the Lord’s disciples, were saying. For I did not think that information from books would profit me as much as information from a living and surviving voice (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.39.3-4).
Bauckham goes on to draw on other studies--in particular, that done by Samuel Byrskog--who have also drawn our attention to the fact that eye-witness testimony was a key part of ancient historiography. Luke, in particular, makes a point to mention his dependence on them in the introduction of his Gospel:

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, 2 just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent The-ophilus, 4 that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed” (Luke 1:1-4).
And while Luke is the only one who mentions the use of eye-witnesses in his text, it is important to note that the Gospels themselves are linked with eye-witnesses via their titles. Matthew and John were understood by the early Church as being the apostles (pace Bauckham); Mark was believed to have recorded Peter's eye-witness testimony. While these titles are assumed to be later additions by most scholars today, Martin Hengel has made a persuasive case for their authenticity (cf. The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ [trans. lohn Bowden; London: SCM, 2000]). For one thing the universal attribution of the Gospels from the earliest times to these four figures--there is not a single case of one of them being associated with someone else!--is indeed difficult to explain.

It is also hard to imagine why Matthew, Mark and Luke would have been chosen as pseudonymous authors. Matthew had been a tax collector! Mark and Luke were not even apostles! If the titles are later additions one would have to assume that the early Church chose an odd set of names to authentic these works. Indeed, later pseudonymous works were written under the names of Peter, Philip and other more likely candidates.

Of course, it could be (and has been!) argued that Luke’s reference to eye-witnesses (what the ancients referred to as “autopsy”) was only included for rhetorical effect and does not reflect Luke’s actual practice. Yet, given the recent work being done, it doesn't seem that we have any more certainty of that than the alternative! It would seem that simply approaching the Gospels in the manner of the form-critics is not any more "critical" than "pre-critical" assumptions based on Christian tradition. Or must "critical" scholarship avoid "critiquing" the "critical" assumptions of old?

What might also refer here to the work done by Berger Gerhardsson who has looked at the transmission of the Jesus tradition in light of the memorization and oral transmission of Rabbinic teaching (cf. The Reliability of the Gospel Tradition [Peabody: Hendrickson]. I neglected to read this until Brant recently pointed out to me that Gerhardson has made a very significant convert to his view: Jacob Neusner. Neusner originally opposed Gerhardson--now, however, it would seem that one of the world's foremost rabbinic scholars is convinced by Gerhardsson! Again, this hardly ever gets mentioned--and without good cause.

Moreover, beyond the form-critical assumptions of the past, source-critical assumptions are being challenged. Mark Goodacre has leveled an extremely powerful critique against Q. (Even Kloppenborg had to mention his influence during his paper at the Bauckham session at SBL this month). "Q-skepticism" is making serious inroads--especially among younger scholars who have less published and therefore less invested in the theory. Bird even writes in a footnote:

"In this study I will assume the four-source theory with Marcan priority and the existence of a hypothetical document called 'Q'. I confess, however, that although I continue to affirm the existence of Q I postulate its existence with far greater reserve than when I first started this study, due to several works, including Mark Goodacre, The Case Against Q: Studies in Markan Priority and the Synoptic Problem (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press 2002), and Mark Goodacre and Nicholas Perin (eds), Questioning Q: A Multidimensional Critique (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005)" (23 n 138).
Drawing portraits of the historical Jesus based on the traditional criteria of authenticity (especially of multiple attestation) would seem to be risky business.

Furthermore, in my opinion, historical Jesus research has also largely ignored the work being done in another very important related field: genre studies. While all historical Jesus scholars construct their arguments using the Gospels as sources, few even mention the critical question of the genre of the Gospels. I owe this critique to my friend Brant Pitre, who turned me on to the discussion. (I would have never have known the importance of this debate from simply reading historical Jesus scholars--how ironic is that?!) Reading authors such as Richard Burridge and Samuel Byrskog I have come to see how such work has made tremendous contributions to our understanding of the most important sources of the life of Jesus. Indeed, Burridge’s work has been extremely well-received by the academic community.

What has Burridge argued? That contrary to the assumptions made by form critical analysts of New Testament the genre of the Gospels is not sui generis. In fact, comparing the Gospels with other ancient works (e.g., Plutarch, Seutonius, Lucian) it becomes strikingly apparent that they fit well within the genre of Graeco-Roman biography (bios).

The Gospels therefore are NOT written to simply reflect the theology of the early Church―they are meant to convey to us about what Jesus taught.

It has generally recognized that the “criteria” arose out of the form-critical theories about the formulation of the Gospels. Now, however, those assumptions are coming under increasing scrutiny and being viewed with growing suspicion. How can we build portraits of Jesus on such theories. "Assured results"? I think not!

Having said that, it seems that building a historical Jesus on the old form-critical assumptions may be akin to building a house on shifting sand.

But, I digress.

I should say, I don't mean any of this as a criticism of Bird's work--the implications of what I'm suggesting here is beyond the scope of his study.

Monday, November 26, 2007

SBL Audio!

Hey bibliobloggers, I'm expecting some major hat-tippage on this one.... Blogger Andy Rowell, a doctoral candidate at Duke, has posted the audio of various papers read at the Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion here. (Thanks to Evy Nelson for the heads-up!) Here is the audio of Richard Bauckham's excellent paper, which I mentioned in my prior post on SBL. And here also is the audio of N. T. Wright's "God in Public - The Bible and Politics in Tomorrow’s World.mp3".

The Papal Triple Crown and the Jewish High Priest's Miter

In order to celebrate the feast of Christ the King (the final day of the liturgical year, celebrated yesterday), I wanted to post just a brief piece of background on the Papal Triple Crown (frequently referred to as the papal "tiara"). Although it is little known, this crown has its roots (surprise!) in ancient Judaism. In particular, we find a direct parallel in the miter that was worn by the Jewish high priest!

Josephus--himself a first-century Jewish priest--gives us a detailed description of the High Priest's miter:

" The high priest's miter was the same that we described before, and was wrought like that of all the other priests; above which there was another, with swathes of blue embroidered, and round it was a golden crown polished, of three rows, one above another ; out of which arose a cup of gold..." (Josephus, Antiquities, 3.172; trans. Whiston, p. 90)

This liturgical head-gear was based on the description of the high priest's miter found in the book of Exodus:

"And you shall make a plate of pure gold, and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, "Holy to the LORD." And you shall fasten it on the miter (LXX mitras ) by a lace of blue; it shall be on the front of the mitre. It shall be upon Aaron's forehead..." (Exodus 28:36-38)

With such descriptions, we find the Jewish background for description of Christ as high-priestly Son of Man in the Van Eyck triptych I attached above (see picture). We also discover the background for the Catholic tradition that the Pope, as the successor to Peter, is not simply the chief bishop, but the High Priestly Vicar of Christ. I'm only speculating--perhaps someone could confirm this--but could the triple crown signify the threefold office: (1) Priest, (2) Prophet, and (3) King?

Along these lines, one day Michael and I will do a post on how Peter is depicted as the new High Priest in the Gospel of Matthew. For now, I will simply note the contrast between the confession of Peter at Caeasarea Philippi and the (anti-)confession of the Jewish High Priest Caiaphas at Jesus' Trial before the Sanhedrin:

Caiaphas, the old High Priest

"Tell us if you are the Christ,
the Son of God" (Matt 26:63)

Peter, the New High Priest

"You are the Christ,
the Son of the living God" (Matt 16:16)

Long live Christ the King and Priest!!!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Christ the King

Today the Church celebrates the end of the liturgical year with the feast of Christ the King.

I thought it appropriate to highlight my series on Jesus and the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom.

I also, once again, highly recommend Scott Hahn's article, “Kingdom and Church in Luke-Acts: From Davidic Christology to Kingdom Ecclesiology,” in Reading Luke: Interpretation, Reflections, Formation Scripture and Hermeneutics Series VI; eds., Craig Bartholomew, Joel Green, Anthony Thiselton (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), pp. 294-326.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Adventures at SBL

Wow, what a weekend! To sum it all up would take a book-length post!

This weekend was the annual gathering of the Society of Biblical Literature and this year it was here in San Diego. That meant, of course, that I got to spend time with two of my nearest and dearest friends: Scott Hahn and Brant Pitre.

In fact, about a year ago, when we discovered the SBL would be in San Diego, Brant discussed the possibility of staying with Kim and me. So for the past year we've been looking forward to this in a special way. He was nice enough to bring a bunch of books recently given to him which he already had copies of. This is only a few of them--there were a ton of them!

Martin Hengel, The Johannine Question (J. Bowden, trans.; London: SCM, 1989)

Giuseppe Ricciotti, History of Israel (2 vols; 2nd edition; C. Della Penta and R. T. A. Murphy, trans.; Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Co., 1958)

Robert Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993)

Martin Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer, Paul Between Damascus and
Antioch: The Unknown Years
(London: SCM; Louisville: Westminster/John Knox,

We got very little sleep, but we had a great time talking shop and goofing off until about 3am. (I'll have a little more about that later!) It was especially nice to talk without worrying that the cell phone would somehow drop out!

Scott and Brant were nice enough to offer to speak at the local parish where my wife is the Director of Religious Education. Suffice it to say, the parishioners are still on cloud nine. In my opinion, these two guys are the finest Catholic popular speakers around. Put it this way, I've never seen either of them give a talk which didn't end with the audience giving an extended standing ovation... and this event was no exception.

Of course, the amazing thing about these two guys is that they're so much more than just great speakers--they are incredibly impressive scholars. Brant's latest book is coming out through Eerdmans and Scott's will be published by Yale University Press. (While many people know Scott through his enormously successful books which are accessible to non-academic audiences, one can only fully appreciate his real genius once one reads his scholarly work [here is a sample])

On Friday I went to the Evangelical Theological Society and met Scott. We heard an extremely insightful paper on Elijah typology in Mark's Gospel presented by Warren Gage. Although I had recognized many of the parallels before, Gage highlighted a number of things I had never considered, including Herod's wife's role as the new Jezebel and the crucifixion scene as a reversal of Elijah's battle with the priests of Baal at Mt. Carmel. It was outstanding.

I then went to the airport to pick up Brant and Brian, a friend of Brant's who came to sell some material at the parish event. Brant and I headed back over to the ETS for a session on Scot McKnight's important book, Jesus and His Death: Historiography, the Historical Jesus, and Atonement Theory (Baylor University Press, 2005). So much could be said about that session--to say the least, it was stimulating. Scot was very kind and it was great to talk with him. Brant got up and made some very important contributions to the discussion. A number of people there recognized his name from his important dissertation, complimenting his work with words of high praise (including McKnight!).

That evening was the event at the parish. It was jam-packed. Kim did an awesome job promoting it and orchestrating things behind the scenes (...she does all things well!). Special thanks also goes to the pastor, Fr. Michael Robinson, for his support and to Monika, my cousin, who put a lot of work into making that evening a success.

On Saturday we arrived at SBL... and to hundreds of thousands of books on sale at greatly reduced prices. Not having to fly home, I didn't have to be concerned this year with being able to fit my purchases into luggage--which I suppose isn't necessarily a good thing! My one major goal this year was to find Crispin Fletcher-Louis' book, All the Glory of Adam, at Brill--a publisher with outrageously high-priced books. I knew I could get it for a discount if I played my cards right. It turns out that they only brought one copy of each book on sale. I found it, but I had a dilemna: I could either buy it for 25% off, putting it on reserve and picking it up at the end of the conference (thus saving on the book price and shipping), or I could wait and see if no one put it on reserve by the last day and purchase it for more than 50% off.

It was a gamble, but I chose to wait and hopefully save more than half off the sticker price. Very few people know how important his work is yet (shockingly!) so I thought the odds were it would not be picked up. I kept checking to see if it had been bought all weekend long.

Some of the other titles I picked up included:

Craig Evans and Bruce Chilton, eds., Authenticating the Activities of Jesus (Leiden: Brill, 1999)

Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory Boyd, The Jesus Legend (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2007)

James H. Charlesworth, ed. Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls: The Princeton Symposium on the Dead Sea Scrolls (3 vols; Baylor University Press, 2007)

Loren T. Stuckenbruck, Stephen C. Barton, and Benjamin G. Wold, Memory in the Bible and Antiquity (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007)

Birger Gerhardsson, Reliability of the Gospel Tradition (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2001)

Paul W. Barnett, Jesus and the Logic of History (New Studies in Biblical Theology 3; Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997)

Craig A. Evans, Ancient. Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature (Peabody, MA:. Hendrickson, 2005)

Karen J. Wenell. Jesus and Land: Sacred and Social Space in Second Temple Judaism. (London: T & T Clark, 2007)

David Flusser, Qumran and Apocalypticism (Judaism of the Second Temple Period 1; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007)

Roger T. Beckwith, Calendar, Chronology and Worship; Studies in Ancient. Judaism and Early Christianity (Leiden: Brill, 2005)

Later on Saturday, Brant and I went to the panel discussion on Richard Bauckham's seminal new book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. It was very stimulating and one of the highlights of the trip. I think I'll be processing it for a long time to come. (The Word is going around that Chris Tilling is trying to post the papers on-line... here's to hoping!)

Certainly one of the highlights was getting time in with Jeff Morrow, who recently earned his Ph.D. from the University of Dayton. If you haven't heard that name, remember it--he is an amazing young scholar. Jeff presented two papers at SBL, "Genesis 1-3 in a Liturgical Context: The Role of Liturgy in Christian Theological Interpretation of Scripture" (for an abstract right-click here) and "The Politics Behind Thomas Hobbes’s Early Modern Biblical Criticism" (for an abstract right-click here). If I had one regret about SBL it was that I missed these two papers. (Jeff, if you're reading, I'd be happy to get a rough copy somehow).

Other highlights of the conference involved getting to meet some of the following people for the first time:

1. Michael Bird, co-contributer to Euangelion and author of one of the best new books on the historical Jesus, Jesus and the Gentile Mission (stay tuned for more of review of that one!). Michael is just as great in person as he is on the web. It was a real pleasure to get to know him a little better. He talked a little bit about the work he is doing on Messianic studies and it sounds great. Bird is an unstoppable force out there. In addition, to his work on the concept of the Messiah he has 5 other books in the works and they all sound fascinating.

2. Chris Tilling of Chrisendom. On Sunday night Brant, Chris and I had an impromptu get-together at the lobby of the hotel which lasted until early in the morning. It was a lot of fun to talk Scripture together. He discussed his dissertation with us and--wow!--it sounds like it is going to make a huge contribution to the field of Pauline studies. Reading his blog, you get a sense for his ability, but he's really got some incredible ideas. Move over N. T. Wright... Pauline scholars are going to be blown away by this guy.

3. Mark Goodacre, a.k.a., the "blog-father" of Biblical studies. He was very kind, charming and friendly--it was great to speak with him. Goodacre's work on Q has had a massive influence on me--and on other scholars. In the Richard Bauckham seminar, discussion of the two-source hypothesis (Mark-Q) could not be maintained without at least a reference to his work. I found that fascinating. Q is no longer an unquestioned assumption in the mainstream of Gospel studies and that is largely due to Goodacre's important critique. Yet it was clear that despite his success he remains extremely accessible and friendly to those of us just starting out.

4. Craig Keener, author of two of the most comprehensive commentaries you'll ever find--one on Matthew and one on John. If you haven't got these on your shelf, shame on you. In my opinion, they are an absolute must for any scholar.

5. Mark Giszczak, a Ph.D. candidate in New Testament over at Catholic University. Mark blew me away--a great guy, a gifted doctoral student, and--low and behold!--the author of a great blog, Catholic Scripture Student. (Check this paper on theological hermeneutics out!) If you're not aware of him, add him to your favorites. I know I will! (P.S. Mark, if you read this, sorry again about ditching you at dinner. I will definitely make that up to you!)

6. Richard Burridge, author of the seminal work, What are the Gospels? I just finished reading his book a second time through prior to SBL (I think his work is critically important), so it was a little surreal when I saw a man with that name on his name-tag pass by me on the street. He was very gracious and kind and it was great to put a face to a name.

7. Jim West, author of the Jim West blog and founder of the Biblical Studies on-line group. It was a real treat to get to meet someone I read on the internet all the time. I think he made me laugh out loud each time I talked with him--a well-read scholar and a great guy!

8. James Crossley of Earliest Christian History. Crossley was on the panel discussing Bauckham's work. I only spoke with him briefly but, like Goodacre, he was extremely kind. His critique of Bauckham was by far the best-written of the bunch.

9. Christian Brady, the Targuman. We only spoke briefly but he was very kind, learned and engaging. I clearly need to read his blog more often and add it to my blogroll.

10. Justin Smith, a student of Richard Bauckham at Saint Andrews. Justin described his dissertation project, which advances the genre analysis of the Gospels put forward by Richard Burridge and the work on ancient historiography done by Byrskog and Buackham. This looks to be a tremendously significant work in a very important area. It was great getting to talk with a man who is about to make a key contribution to the field.

11. David Mills, editor of Touchstone Magazine... a brilliant, kind and hilariously funny man with a lot of knowledge and experience.

12. Mark Strauss, author of one of my favorite books, The Davidic Messiah in Luke-Acts: The Promise and Its Fulfillment in Lukan Christology (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1995). We had a brief conversation about Davidic Christology. It was really great to get to talk with him. He actually introduced me to eminent scholar Max Turner, who directed his dissertation work (and who is also working with Chris Tilling!).

13. Robert Cargill, a Qumran scholar who put together the "virtual tour" for the San Diego Natural History Museum's Dead Sea Scroll exhibit. Cargill was in line behind me Tuesday morning before the convention doors opened (and I found out whether or not I had gambled successfully on that Fletcher-Louis title). Cargill did an excellent job presenting a balanced view of the site for the museum. You can read his blog--Virtual Qumran--here. Cargill is also the biblioblogger blog of the month over at You can read Jim West's interview with him here.

It was also greet to get time in with old friends, Alan Padgett, Rob Corzine, Matt Leonard, and Rodrigo Morales (who was just named the new Scripture professor at Marquette--congratulations, Rodrigo!).

Oh... and Tuesday morning, the last day of SBL, I got to the convention center early so I could be ahead of the mad dash for the book tables. I got my Flether-Louis at 50% off.

I love going to SBL!

And last but not least here's a picture of Brant and me with Chris Tilling at about 1:30am after our incredible conversation in the lobby of the Marriot.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Evans on "Retrieving" Q

Many scholars derive conclusions about the historical Jesus based on four major hypothetical assumptions:
1) Mark wrote first and Matthew and Luke, at least in some ways, borrowed from him [Of course, many do not necessarily believe that the titles of the Gospels reflect the actual identity of the authors; it is held that the Gospels were written anonymously, something Martin Hengel has contested, but I digress...]
2) The similarities between Matthew and Luke are explained by the idea that they both borrowed from a common source, "Q"
3) That the Gospel writers not only adapted the teaching of the historical Jesus but also supplemented it with other teachings which may or may not have been consistent with Jesus' own understanding
4) That Q represents the earliest and least "developed" source of Jesus' teaching
As a result of all this the two most important sources for historical Jesus scholars have been Mark and Q. Matthew and Luke are used essentially when they agree with one another--i.e., when Q material is located.
Scholars have thus had a huge interest in Q. While no "Q" document has EVER been found, scholars have managed to not only identify what was in Q, they have developed a concordance of Q and even figured out what the particular theology of "Q" must have been.
In a tremendously good article, "Authenticating the Words of Jesus" [in Authenticating the Words of Jesus (B. Chilton and C. A. Evans, eds.; Boston: Brill, 2002): 3-14], Craig Evans illustrates some of the problems inherent in such a project. Anyone with an interest in Jesus studies should be absolutely required to read this article.
Evans demonstrates the absurdity of much of the "Q" research being done out there by assuming Markan priority and imagining that Mark, like Q, had been lost to history. Could we reconstruct Mark from the remaining sources?
Together Matthew and Luke contain approximately 96% of Mark. But we know this only because we have Mark and so know what Matthew and Luek actually borrowed from it. Because Luke only contains approximately 60% of Mark, we would not know for certain that that part of Mark preserved only in Matthew was in fact from Mark. All that we would know for certain that came from Mark was what we found in both Matthew and Luke, that is, less than two-thirds of Mark. For example, only Matthew preserves both of Mark's feeding stories. Would scholars assume that two stories had been present in Mark, or would they assume that Matthew, who is fond of doublets (e.g., two demoniacs, 8:28-33; two sets of two blind men, 9:27-31 + 2-:29-34; two donkeys, 21:1-9), made a doublet out of what would probably be assumed to have been only one feeding story in Mark? [ 6-7]
After laying out a comprehensive account of the material we would be able to "retrieve" from Mark's story from Matthew and Luke Evans makes some key points.
Not only are there several pericopes missing, but many of the pericopes listed above would be considerably reduced in size or greatly altered from the way they are preserved in Mark, if they were reconstructed strictly on the basis of the parallell materials found in Matthew and Luke. (The apparent lengths of the respective passages in the list above are misleading, in that they create the impression of far more recoverable material than would actually be the case.) From this reconstructed Mark would we be able to discern Mark's christology? Could we infer from reconstructed Mark the situation and interests of the Markan community?

Mark's opening verse, considered by most commentators and interpreters of Mark as vital to the understanding of the Gospel, would not be part of this reconstruction? Would we know that Mark's key christological formulation is that Jesus is the "son of God"? Not only is Mark 1:1 missing, but Jesus' bold affirmation in response to the High Priest's question, "Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed?" (Mark 14:61-62), would be blunted ina reconstruction based on the Matthean and Lukan parallels... Moreover, Mark's confession through the Roman centurian would also be lost: "Truly this mas was the son of God!" (Mark 15:39). Whereas Matthew again follows Mark closely, Luke reads: "Certainly this man was innocent!" (Luke 23:47). Given these deviations from Mark, would scholars really be in a position to discern the christology of Mark reconstructed from Matthew and Luke? [9]
Evans goes on to point out several other issues. His point is clearly made: "If a reconstruction of Mark is based solely on what can be extracted from Matthew and Luke is missing so many important elements, then why should we assume that in the case of Q, which must be reconstructed from Matthew and Luke, the situation is different in any significant sense?" [10].
This has huge implications for Jesus research... however, five years later, it seems most scholars haved ignored Evans' point and Jesus studies have proceeded along the same paths. It is strikingly ironic to me that scholars continue to demand acute exegetical precision when debating the authenticity of a text (e.g., whether or not a particular "Son of Man" saying is related to Danielic eschatology), while making sweeping conclusions regarding authenticity based on extremely tentative assumptions about Q.
I think fifty years from now scholars will only shake their heads in awe of the disparity.