Monday, March 31, 2008

The Annunciation (Luke 1:26-28): Contextual Analysis

Today is the Solemnity of the Annunciation (normally it would be on the 25th--nine months before Christmas--but because the Easter octave fell early the feast was moved). So much could be said about this great feast. Here I thought I'd touch on the relationship between the account of the Annunciation to Mary with the other "annunciation" in Luke's Gospel--the anouncement of John the Baptist's birth to Zechariah. (I just recently covered this episode in the Luke Bible study I invited you all to below.) The similarities are striking! Let's take a look.

First let's read the text. I'm going to italicize a few important lines.
Luke 1:5-8: In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah... and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. 8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth; 15 for he will be great before the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” 18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

Let's sum up what happened here.
1. Gabriel appears to a priest
2. The priest is troubled (1:12)
3. Gabriel says, “Do not be afraid” (1:13)
4. Gabriel announces the birth of a child and gives his name: “you shall call his name John” (1:13)
5. The child is described as having an eschatological role (e.g., like Elijah, cf. Luke 1:16-17; Mal 4:5-6; Sir 48:10).
6. Zechariah asks: “How shall I know this?” (1:18)
7. Zechariah explains that he is unable to have children (1:18).
8. He does not believe and is made mute until John’s birth (1:20).

Now let's look at the Annunciation to Mary:
Luke 1:26-38: In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” 35 And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. 36 And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Let's sum up what we've read here:
1. Gabriel appears to a virgin
2. Mary is "troubled" (1:29)
3. Gabriel says, “Do not be afraid” (1:30)
4. Gabriel announces the birth of a child and gives his name: "you shall call his name Jesus" (1:31)
5. The child is described as having an eschatological role (he is the Davidic Messiah, cf. Luke 1:32-33).
6. Mary asks: “How can this be…” (1:34)
7. Mary explains that she is unable to have children (1:34).
8. Mary responds in faith (1:38)
There are numerous similarities here. Yet, the similarities underscore the striking difference between Zechariah’s response and Mary’s. Whereas Zechariah, a priest serving in the temple fails to believe, Mary, a poor young peasant woman, responds in faith. If there's ever a place where an ancient Israelite would expect to have an angelic vision it's in the temple! Yet, Mary, whose angelic visitation is almost exactly like Zechariah's, believes the angel's word.
Indeed, she is "full of grace"!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

In-Depth Bible Study on Luke at JP Catholic

For those of you living in southern California, I want to invite you the free Bible study I'm leading at John Paul the Great Catholic University on Wednesday nights at 7pm. For directions, go here. If you So-Cal readers would help us spread the word, we would be grateful.

This is a very detailed study--we're going through about a chapter or a half of a chapter a session. Each night participants get a packet of handouts that contains outlines, summaries, and a ton of footnotes with bibliographic information for further study. We're looking at all kinds of elements and issues attached with the Gospel--historical, apologetic, theological, pastoral, etc. The effort is made to appeal to both a popular and more academically inclined audiences. We're going through everything from Catholic magisterial teaching to the Dead Sea Scrolls, the early fathers, contemporary scholarship, Pope Benedict's new book on Jesus, etc.

After we are through with Luke we will take up Acts of the Apostles.

Some of the issues we are discussing include:
--Whether the Gospel of Luke is historically reliable
--Why Jesus called himself "the Son of Man
--How the Dead Sea Scrolls relate to our understanding of Jesus and the Judaism of his day
--Why Mary is likely a source for Luke's knowledge of Jesus
--Why there are differences in the Gospel accounts of episodes and teachings of Jesus
--How Luke's Gospel is related to Paul's Epistles
--How Old Testament hopes are fulfilled in Jesus and his ministry
--Why the Apostles are described by Luke as priests of the messianic age
--How Daniel's prophecy of 490 years (cf. Dan 9) is related to Jesus' ministry
--How Jesus is presented as a new Adam, Isaac, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, etc.
--What contemporary scholarship is saying about the various Gospel episodes and the historical Jesus
--How the early Church interpreted Jesus' teachings
--and much, much more...

Next week: As we move into Luke 7, we will discuss:
--Jesus' role as the new Elisha
--miracles and historical research
--Why John the Baptist, who had leaped in his mother's womb at the Visitation and had baptized Jesus, sent messengers to Jesus with the question, "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (cf. Lk 7:19).
--and much more...

If you really want to do some extra preparation before each session, get a hold of the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: The Gospel of Luke (buy it through this link and support the St. Paul Center!).

Monday, March 24, 2008

Podcast of Radio Show with Dr. Pitre

Today Brant and I were on Catholic Answers Radio talking about Holy Saturday and the line in the Apostles' Creed which states that Jesus "descended into hell." (Hopefully the show taught about the subject and was not an experience of it!) Anyone interested can hear it on Catholic Answers' website tomorrow when it will be available as a podcast. Just click here and then click on the 4pm Monday slot (you'll see our names).

For more information on Jesus' Descent into Hell see 1 Peter 3:18-21, Ephesians 4:8-10, the treatment in Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica IIIa, q. 52 (the third Summa citation in three posts!), the Catechism of the Catholic Church 631-637, and the Catechism of the Council of Trent, art. 5.

The idea is found in some of the earliest Christian writings:

St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5, 31, 2 (c. 180 A.D.): "If, then, the Lord observed the law of the dead, that He might become the first-begotten from the dead, and tarried until the third day “in the lower parts of the earth" [Eph 4:9] then afterwards rising in the flesh, so that He even showed the print of the nails to His disciples, He thus ascended to the Father;—[if all these things occurred, I say], how must these men not be put to confusion, who allege that “the lower parts” refer to this world of ours, but that their inner man, leaving the body here, ascends into the super-celestial place? For as the Lord “went away in the midst of the shadow of death,” [Ps 23:4] where the souls of the dead were, yet afterwards arose in the body, and after the resurrection was taken up [into heaven], it is manifest that the souls of His disciples also, upon whose account the Lord underwent these things, shall go away into the invisible place allotted to them by God, and there remain until the resurrection, awaiting that event..."

Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, 60 (c. 197-220 A.D.): ... we read that Christ in His death spent three days in the heart of the earth [cf. Matt 12:40] that is, in the secret inner recess which is hidden in the earth, and enclosed by the earth, and superimposed on the abysmal depths which lie still lower down. Now although Christ is God, yet, being also man, “He died according to the Scriptures,” [ and “according to the same Scriptures was buried” [1 Cor 15:4]. With the same law of His being He fully complied, by remaining in Hades in the form and condition of a dead man; nor did He ascend into the heights of heaven before descending into the lower parts of the earth, that He might there make the patriarchs and prophets partakers of Himself."

It is also found in Melito of Sardis, the Odes of Solomon, Cyril of Jerusalem, and others. For a number of citations and a look at the iconography associated with the Descent into Hell, go to the Australian E-Journal of Theology 7 (2006).

I also recommend the audio set of Brant Pitre's excellent lecture series, Life After Death: The Seven Last Things.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Five Reasons the Resurrection Was Necessary

Picking up on Brant's last post, I thought it appropriate to list the five reasons Thomas Aquinas gives for the resurrection (ST IIIa, q. 53, art. 1).

1. It reveals God’s justice. Because Christ humbled himself and died on the cross out of love and obedience to the Father, God lifted him up by a glorious resurrection.

2. It was necessary for the confirmation of our faith in Christ. Thomas cites Paul, who explains that the resurrection attests to the power of God (2 Cor 13:4).

3. It gives us hope for the resurrection of our bodies. This, of course, is the whole point of 1 Corinthians 15. As Paul writes, “Now if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, how do some among you say, that there is no resurrection of the dead?" (1 Cor 15:12)

4. It means death to sin and new life in Christ for us. Since we are united with Christ we have not only died with him but been raised with him to newness of life. Thomas cites Romans 6:4, 11: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life… 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

5. It completes the work of salvation. This is an especially important point that is far too often overlooked. Christ’s death is not the only aspect of his work for our salvation. Again, Thomas cites Paul, who explains that Christ was “put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom 4:25). Most people forget about this verse and simply profess that Jesus died for our salvation--but that's only part of it!

Thomas pays very close attention to Paul’s language. Salvation involves two elements: (1) the payment of the debt due to sin, which is accomplished on the cross (e.g., he was “put to death for our trespasses”) and (2) he is raised for our sakes as well (e.g., "for our justification"). Ultimately, Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t for his sake but for ours. The goal of salvation was not simply to save us from sin, but to unite our humanity to God. Peter explains that we are called to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4). Christ’s resurrection then is the cause of our sharing in the new life of grace―the unity of our humanity with divinity. Salvation isn’t just a matter of being delivered from the punishment due to sin, namely, hell―it also means being delivered to life in God (cf. also ST IIIa q. 56, art. 2; cf. also IIIa q. 57, art. 6.; also see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 654).

Hallelujah―He is Risen!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Five Reasons the Cross was the Most Suitable Way for Our Redemption

In his Summa Theologica, St. Thomas gives the following five reasons for why the Crucifixion of Jess was the most suitable way for our redemption (III. Q.46, Art. 3). They are worth pondering during this Holy Week:

In the first place, man knows thereby how much God loves him, and is thereby stirred to love Him in return, and herein lies the perfection of human salvation; hence the Apostle says (Romans 5:8): "God commendeth His charity towards us; for when as yet we were sinners . . . Christ died for us."

Secondly, because thereby He set us an example of obedience, humility, constancy, justice, and the other virtues displayed in the Passion, which are requisite for man's salvation. Hence it is written (1 Peter 2:21): "Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps."

Thirdly, because Christ by His Passion not only delivered man from sin, but also merited justifying grace for him and the glory of bliss, as shall be shown later (48, 1; 49, 1, 5).

Fourthly, because by this man is all the more bound to refrain from sin, according to 1 Corinthians 6:20: "You are bought with a great price: glorify and bear God in your body."

Fifthly, because it redounded to man's greater dignity, that as man was overcome and deceived by the devil, so also it should be a man that should overthrow the devil; and as man deserved death, so a man by dying should vanquish death. Hence it is written (1 Corinthians 15:57): "Thanks be to God who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." It was accordingly more fitting that we should be delivered by Christ's Passion than simply by God's good-will.

As St. Augustine says (De Trin. xiii): "There was no other more suitable way of healing our misery" than by the Passion of Christ.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

New Scott Hahn book--Best Cover Ever!

This is hilarious...

Okay, as a general rule you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. But in the past, in addition to having great content inside, Scott Hahn's books have always been published with absolutely beautiful covers.

Consider the striking image of the prodigal son on the cover of Lord, Have Mercy (2003):

Or take a gander at Letter and Spirit (2005):

Apparently, Dr. Hahn is taking a different route with his next book, Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins' Case Against God (2008):

My order is in!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Pope Benedict: Jesus & the Purification of the Temple

Yesterday, Pope Benedict gave a great homily in which he talked about Jesus' activity in the Temple. . . Here's an account of what he said (take that S. F. Brandon!):
The "purification of the temple", however, is more than a "fight against abuses": it signifies "a new chapter of history", in which Jesus offers Himself as the New Temple, the new place in which God is encountered.

"The purification of the temple", the pope explains, "as the culmination of the solemn entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, is the sign both of the impending ruin of the building and of the promise of the New Temple; the promise of the Kingdom of reconciliation and love that, in communion with Christ, is established beyond all boundaries".

"Immediately after Jesus' words about the house of prayer for all peoples, the evangelist [Matthew] continues in this way: 'The blind and the lame approached him in the temple area, and he cured them'. And furthermore, Matthew tells us that there were children repeating in the temple the acclamation that the pilgrims had made at His entrance into the city: 'Hosanna to the son of David' (Mt 21:14 ff). To the selling of animals and the business of the moneychangers Jesus opposes his own healing goodness. This is the true purification of the temple. He does not come as a destroyer, He does not come with the sword of the revolutionary. He comes with the gift of healing. He dedicates himself to those who because of their infirmity are driven to the extremes of their life and to the margin of society. Jesus shows God as He who loves, and His power as the power of love. And so He tells us what will always be part of the true worship of God: healing, service, the goodness that heals ".

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Biblical Basis For Mary's Perpetual Virginity?

Something absolutely fascinating I found while reading the book of Numbers recently...

It is well-known that the Catholic Church teaches that the Blessed Virgin Mary not only conceived Jesus in a state of virginity but that she remained a virgin throughout her entire married life. This doctrine is known as the perpetual virginity of Mary (see CCC 499-501). It is also well-known that most of our Protestant brothers and sisters do not accept this doctrine, usually because the Gospels mention the "brothers" of Jesus such as "James and Joseph", who are assumed to be uterine siblings of Jesus, born of Mary (cf. Matt 13:55)

Now, I don't want to rehash the old arguments about whether these are Jesus cousins--Matthew himself tells you they are the sons of "the other Mary," not the Virgin Mary, a woman who was at the foot of the cross (Matt 27:56-61) and who in John is identified as the "sister" (GK adelphes) of the Virgin Mary (John 19:25). Instead, I want to focus on a more fundamental objection to the perpetual virgininty of Mary: namely, the plausibility of a married Jewish woman remaining a virgin in the first place. As one of my students put it so eloquently last week: "You don't expect me to believe that they were married and didn't have sex??" Well, yeah, that is what the Church expects you to believe; that is what Christians have believed for almost two thousand years... But is there any historical basis for this, apart from the later practice of Christian "spiritual marriages"?

Shortly after this in class discussion, I was reading the book of Numbers, and found an entire chapter I had never noticed before, regarding vows taken by women. What is fascinating about the passage is that, according to some commentators, it appears to specifically be concerned with vows of sexual abstinence taken by married women. Although this text is universally neglected in discussions of Mary's virginity, consider it closely. (I know it's long, but read it carefully, and then I'll break it down.) The question is: What kind of vows are in view? The answer is given at the end:

Vows Taken by A Young Woman in Her Father's House
[3] Or when a woman vows a vow to the LORD, and binds herself by a pledge, while within her father's house, in her youth, [4] and her father hears of her vow and of her pledge by which she has bound herself, and says nothing to her; then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. [5] But if her father expresses disapproval to her on the day that he hears of it, no vow of hers, no pledge by which she has bound herself, shall stand; and the LORD will forgive her, because her father opposed her.

Vows Taken by a Married Woman
[6] And if she is married to a husband, while under her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself, [7] and her husband hears of it, and says nothing to her on the day that he hears; then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she has bound herself shall stand. [8] But if, on the day that her husband comes to hear of it, he expresses disapproval, then he shall make void her vow which was on her, and the thoughtless utterance of her lips, by which she bound herself; and the LORD will forgive her.

Vows Taken by a Widow or Divorced Woman
[9] But any vow of a widow or of a divorced woman, anything by which she has bound herself, shall stand against her. [10] And if she vowed in her husband's house, or bound herself by a pledge with an oath, [11] and her husband heard of it, and said nothing to her, and did not oppose her; then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she bound herself shall stand. [12] But if her husband makes them null and void on the day that he hears them, then whatever proceeds out of her lips concerning her vows, or concerning her pledge of herself, shall not stand: her husband has made them void, and the LORD will forgive her.

Context: Vows to "Afflict Herself"
[13] Any vow and any binding oath to afflict herself, her husband may establish, or her husband may make void. [14] But if her husband says nothing to her from day to day, then he establishes all her vows, or all her pledges, that are upon her; he has established them, because he said nothing to her on the day that he heard of them. [15] But if he makes them null and void after he has heard of them, then he shall bear her iniquity."

All right: so what does all of this mean? The key is in the final section; the chapter is concerned with a woman's vows to "afflict herself," which, as the great Torah scholar Jacob Milgrom points out, was interpreted by ancient Jews as referring to fasting and refraining from sexual intercourse. Similar terminology is used in descriptions of the Day of Atonement, when Jews were expected to fast and refrain from sexual intercourse (see Milgrom, Harper Collins Study Bible n. Lev 16:29; citing Targum Pseudo-Jonthan; cf. also Exod 19:15). Once this terminology is clear, the whole chapter makes sense. It is discussion three kinds of vows:

1. Vows of sexual abstinence taken by a young, unmarried woman.
2. Vows of sexual abstinence taken by a married woman.
3. Vows of sexual abstinence taken by a widow or divorced woman.

In all three cases, the binding nature of the vow is dependant on whether the male party (whether father or husband), upon hearing of the vow, said nothing and in thereby consented to it. In each case, if he heard the vow and accepted it, the vow is perpetually binding.

Now, what this means is that if a young Jewish woman--say, Mary, in this instance--took a vow of sexual abstinence, and her legal husband--in our case, Joseph--heard of the vow and said nothing, then the vow stands, and she is bound to keep it. This provides a solid historical basis for Joseph and Mary having a perpetually virginal marriage: indeed, Numbers is very explicit in the final verse that if the husband changes his mind "and makes them null and void after he has heard of them," the the sin will be upon him: "he shall bear her iniquity" (Num 30:15). One can easily imagine a situation where some husbands would think better of deciding to accept such a vow! But as Matthew's Gospel tells us: Joseph was a "righteous man" (Matt 1:19), and obedient to Torah. If Mary took a vow of sexual abstinence--and her words "How can this be, since I know not man?" in Luke are evidence that she did (Luke 1:34)--and if Joseph accepted this vow at the time of their wedding, then he would have been bound by Mosaic Law to honor her vow of sexual abstinence under the penalty of sin.

However implausible it may sound to a sex-saturated Western culture that a man would ever do such a thing, the fact of the matter is that the Old Testament appears to assume it as a real possibility. Indeed, the fact that an entire chapter of the Bible is devoted to it appears to suggest that vows of sexual abstinence on the part of women must have been a visible enough part of the culture that a law was necessary to deal with the situation! (This should come as no surprise to students of antiquity; consecrated virgins were part of the religious landscape of the ancient world). Should there be any doubt about this, I would suggest in passing that the reader call to mind the controversy that faced Pauline churches about young widows renegging on their vows of sexual abstinence (1 Timothy 4) and the otherwise difficult and confusing passage in 1 Corinthians about what a man should do about marrying his "virgin" (1 Cor 7:36-38). If both these texts apply to the situation envisaged in Numbers 30, then Mary's situation is anything but unique in culture.

Anyway, love to hear your thoughts about this. It's just my take at this point. I'll need to do more research, but I thought I'd offer a little rose to Our Lady.

Totus Tuus, Maria.

Response to Objection
Note: I'd like to respond to one possible objection to this argument: "Couldn't a vow of abstinence be a temporary vow? I don't believe that those verses mentioned anything of a perpetual vow of abstinence." (tip of the hat to Billy for this great question!)
In response, I would certainly not deny that the text could be applied to temporary vows, but there are two things that make me think the primary context is permanent vows. (1) First, what meaning would a temporary vow of sexual abstinence have for an unmarried virgin in her father's house?!! This is the first category, and as far as I can see it must primarily refer to a permanent vow of abstinence, of which the father approves. To suggest otherwise would mean that Numbers envisions the unmarried woman having sexual relations outside of marriage. This makes no sense. (1) Second, what meaning would a temporary vow of abstinence have for a widow? If she was taking a vow of temporary abstinence for sexual relations with her husband, she would obviously be automatically be released from the vow by his death!
If a permanent vow of sexual abstinence is in view in both these cases, it makes sense to me to suggest that the primary meaning of the third category is the same: a permanent vow of sexual abstinence. In Mary's case, it is only a permanent vow that explains her response to Gabriel while she is betrothed to Joseph: "How shall this be, since I know not man" (Luke 1:34; present tense).

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Brown on Schweitzer: Ironies, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard

Colin Brown, my dissertation supervisor, has an amazing encyclopedic knowledge of the history of Jesus research. I highly recommend his work, Jesus in European Protestant Thought, 1778-1860 (Studies in Historical Theology, Vol. 1; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988).

Here I want to excerpt a section on Albert Schweitzer in his article "Historical Jesus, Quest of," in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (ed., J. B. Green, et. al.; Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 326-41:
There were certain ironies in Schweitzer's position. Although Schweitzer was concerned with critical history, he made no attempt to deal critically with sources. He accepted the Synoptic narrative more or less at face value (though with a preference for Mark supplemented by Matthew, understood in a non-supernatural way). Consistent eschatology was the connecting theme which gave the story credibility as history, though not as something to be believed in the twentieth century. Schweitzer himself did not accept the eschatological views of Jesus and the Gospels any more than did Johannes Weiss or the the liberal scholars who treated them as a husk to be discarded.
The Quest [for the Historical Jesus] (403) concludes by remarking on how good it was that the 'true historical Jesus should overthrow the modern Jesus.' Jesus was not a teacher, but 'an imperious rule,' as can be seen from his belief in himself as the Son of man. However, titles like Messiah, Son of man, Son of God, are merely 'historical parables.' 'We can find no designation which expresses what He is for us.' Jesus comes to us 'as One unknown,' summoning followers and setting new tasks in each generation. Those who follow shall learn 'as an ineffable mystery' in their own experience 'Who He is.' For Schweitzer himself, this meant life as a medical missionary in West Africa, guided by a philosophy based on 'reverence for life.'
If Harnack's historical Jesus was a reflection of the liberal Protestant scholar, Schweitzer's had an element of the heroic 'superman' of Nietzsche, a philosopher whom Schweitzer admired...
The monumental character of Schweitzer's Quest is apt to conceal its omissions and apologetic character. It is no clear that the enterprise did not begin with Reimarus, but with the English deists on whom Reimarus had heavily drawn and whose ideas were already well known in Germany. Among the British writers cited by Reimarus in his Apology were Toland, Shaftesbury, Collins, Tindal, Morgan and Middleton. His personal library included most of the English deists. Hobbes, Spinoza, and Hume were among the philosophers who had already raised doubts about the historical reliability of the NT picture of Jesus. Schweitzer's work took little account of the interplay between philosophy and theology, especially the influence of Kant, though Schweitzer himself had already written a dissertation on Kant's Philosophy of Religion from the Critique of Pure Reason to Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone (1899).
Schweitzer confined his attention largely to works in German, plus a few in French. Having adopted the methodological principle, allegedly forced upon him by Strauss, of working strictly with the 'historical' which was juxtaposed to the 'supernatural,' the work of systematic theologians could safely be left out of the account. Consequently, scant attention was paid to the Mediating School of theologians like I. A. Dorner (1809-94) whose History of the Development of Doctrine of the Person of Christ (ET 5 vols., 1861-63) concluded with an attempt to restate christology drawing on contemporary philosophy. Also ignored were the confessional theologians, like J. C. K. von Hofmann (1810-77) and Gottfried Thomasius (1802-75)...
It was perhaps inevitable that not only Schweitzer but also nineteenth-century theologians in general ignored the thought of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) whose works remained largely inaccessible until the twentieth century. Kierkegaard's Philosophical Fragments (1844) provided a counterpart to the Fragments of Reimarus. Kierkegaard asked what conditions would have to be fulfilled if God intended to save human beings. He replied that God might communicate with human beings by becoming human and thus utterly like them. This entaills the paradoxical conclusion that, in reaching out to human beings in history, God remains incognito in Christ...

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

News Flash: Moses Was A Hippie?

"True scholarship involves attempting to remain objective. It means allowing the text and not presuppositions to determine one's conclusions."

At one point or another all students of the Bible are told something along those lines.

However, as one continues to study one soon discovers that "true scholarship" also means something else. In many circles "true" scholarship means taking a metaphysical position. Now you might expect, given that students are studying the Bible, that this position would invovle something like the following: the natural world is not a closed system; the supernatural can sometimes break in and effect the natural order of things.

Such a position would be consistent with the beliefs of those who actually wrote the Bible. It would also be consistent with the worldview and culture in which the biblical texts were produced.

Unfortunately, such a position is not generally seen as acceptable for scholars.

Instead, students soon learn that "true" scholarship means accepting a very different metaphysical position. That position is as follows: the world is a closed system and there is no supernatural intervention within the natural order.

Make no mistake about it--that is a metaphysical claim as well. It makes a claim not only about the natural world but also about its relationship to the supernatural. Yet somehow this metaphysical claim is not only tolerable among academics, it is often seen as a prerequisite position for scholarly work.

Which leads us to the following actual news story relating the findings of one Israeli researcher:

High on Mount Sinai, Moses was on psychedelic drugs when he heard God deliver the Ten Commandments, an Israeli researcher claimed in a study published this week.

Such mind-altering substances formed an integral part of the religious rites of Israelites in biblical times, Benny Shanon, a professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem wrote in the Time and Mind journal of philosophy.

"As far Moses on Mount Sinai is concerned, it was either a supernatural cosmic event, which I don't believe, or a legend, which I don't believe either, or finally, and this is very probable, an event that joined Moses and the people of Israel under the effect of narcotics," Shanon told Israeli public radio on Tuesday.

Moses was probably also on drugs when he saw the "burning bush," suggested Shanon, who said he himself has dabbled with such substances.

"The Bible says people see sounds, and that is a clasic phenomenon," he said citing the example of religious ceremonies in the Amazon in which drugs are used that induce people to "see music."

He mentioned his own experience when he used ayahuasca, a powerful psychotropic plant, during a religious ceremony in Brazil's Amazon forest in 1991. "I experienced visions that had spiritual-religious connotations," Shanon said.

He said the psychedelic effects of ayahuasca were comparable to those produced by
concoctions based on bark of the acacia tree, that is frequently mentioned in the Bible.

No kidding, this has actually passed for "news" story. (Someone call Baruch Spinoza and tell him someone is stealing his press!) Here is the source.

Now, let's see here... just who is it that is allowing presuppositions to determine their conclusions about what happened to Moses? Ah, yes, that would be me, of course, since I believed the account of Moses talking to God was actually about Moses talking to God! I guess I totally read that into the text. Whew, I really missed the boat on that one! Drugs--it's so obvious. I see it now: Moses was a hippie. My mistake.

By the way, I'm preparing a press release of my own. Newsflash...: "Professor Says Ancient Account of Moses Talking to God Relates That Moses Talked To God".

Look for the following related story: "New Claim: Researchers Who Use Experimental Substances Misread Ancient Texts Due To Poor Reading Light From Lava Lamps".

(On the right there's a visualization of what me presenting this post orally would have looked like. You should also note that David Currie is not impressed.)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Blog Find: Fr. Robert Barron

I've just discovered a new blog, Word on Fire. The blog belongs to Fr. Robert Barron, whose work has greatly interested me. Fr. Barron is the author of numerous books including, Bridging the Divide: Musings of a Post-Liberal, Post-Conservative Evangelical Catholic (Lenham, MD: Sheed and Ward, 2004) and The Priority of Christ: Toward a Postliberal Catholicism (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2007).

As a professor at JP Catholic--a school where a large number of the students are studying media and the role faith has to play fo those working in that area--I also feel compelled to tell you that Fr. Barron is also a bit of a film critic. Here is his review of The Departed (2006)--not a movie I'd necessarily recommend, though the review is quite interesting. Also here is his review of Fargo (1996).

Go ahead and check Fr. Barron out!

For more about Fr. Barron check out Carl Olson's interview with him.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Hahn on the Sunday Readings

Check out the St. Paul Center's page for Scott Hahn's commentary on the Sunday readings.

Here are the readings. Here's the commentary. You can listen to an mp3 of Dr. Hahn's commentary here.
(By the way, though I doubt it, I can't help but wonder if that's Dr. Hahn playing the guitar there in the background. For those who don't know, he's an excellent Fender-bender.)
Great stuff!