Wednesday, November 26, 2008

SBL, Amazing Conversations, Friends, and the Historical Jesus

Well, Michael and I are back from SBL!
(For those of you who aren't familiar, SBL is the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. Every November, thousands of nerds--I mean, scholars--converge upon some unsuspecting city and spend three or four days sharing papers, ideas, and drinks. All in all, a grand time).

This year's SBL was quick, but here's are some highlights:

Amazing Conversations: Saturday night Michael and I went out to dinner for our annual meeting of Catholic scholars and friends, such as Scott Hahn, Timothy Gray, Jeff Morrow, and Father Pablo Gadenz. I was excited this year to share the feast with fellow bloggers and Josh McManaway (New Testament student) Mark Giszczak (Catholic Bible Student). We had an unbelievable conversation about the future of Catholic biblical studies, the papal Synod on Scripture, the importance of philosophy in the formation of biblical scholarship, and several wacky theories of my own (such as the notion that the Pharisees were a priest-led movement) that I threw out at the end as the wine began to get to me. 

On Sunday night, I was invited by James Ernest (of Baker Academic) to have dinner with Dale Allison, Larry Hurtado, and Simon Gathercole. Again I was somewhat impetuous and turned the conversation to Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses the scholarly myth that the Gospels ever circulated anonymously. Well, boy, let me tell you--the sparks began to fly! Don't get me wrong, everything was friendly, but Bauckham has certainly touched a nerve and opened the door to an extremely memorable night of conversations. I was delighted to learn afterward that Dale Allison is wrapping up his own 'big Jesus book' which should be coming out from Baker. That will be a must buy.

Finally perhaps my favorite conversation of all was with Michael and Joel Willitts on the way back to the Airport Monday. We had a phenomenal talk about the precise nature of Jesus and Jewish eschatology, especially with regard to the new Temple and the restoration of creation. Joel, thanks for the time!! (As per your request: "in the New Testament, the restored creation will be both as concrete and as supernatural as the glorified body of Jesus.")

Famous Scholars: this year I met several scholars I had not met before. In particular, Michael and I had a fantastic conversation with Craig Evans (author of Fabricating Jesus and Jesus and His Contemporaries) about the authorship and historicity of the Gospels. Also a first for me was meeting Aquila Lee, (author of  From Messiah to Preexistent Son), who was kind enough to attend my paper in the Historical Jesus section. Then of course there was the pleasure of having dinner with Simon Gathercole and Larry Hurtado, both of whom I hadn't met before. 

Old and New Friends: Michael and I caught up with a number of old friends, such as Brian Gregg, my best friend from my Notre Dame doctoral days (and author of Jesus and the Final Judgment Traditions in Q), and Joel Willitts and Michael Bird of Euangelion fame.  We also bumped briefly into James Crossley, who was staying in our hotel. I also got to meet Danny Zacharias, who was also kind enough to come to my paper. On the other hand, as James pointed  out over at Earliest Christian History, the mood of the conference was somewhat serious and subdued: I am convinced that this was because the absence of certain jovial British blogger. (Chris Tilling, you were sorely missed!)

Historical Jesus Session: Finally, on Monday morning, I was pleased to be able to present a paper on "Jesus and the Messianic Priesthood" in the Historical Jesus section. In the paper, I argued that Jesus saw himself as a priestly Messiah (according to the order of Melchizedek) and that he deliberately organized his circles of disciples to parallel the pre-Levitical priesthood and the Sanhedrin. I also pointed out that in Jewish eschatology, the priestly Messiah was expected to suffer, die, and atone for sin. Although I went too long and didn't have time for questions, I think it went over well--although the contrast between the skeptical conclusions of the vast majority of the papers and my own approach was marked, to say the least. Along these lines, I did notice that I was one of the few scholars to actually cite and discuss ancient Jewish sources... The more skeptical papers seemed to ignore this context. (Echoes of the Jesus seminar.)

Anyway, that's probably more than you wanted to know. But all in all, it was a magnificent weekend of intellectual stimulation. I'm already looking forward to next year, when I will be able to spend all of my airfare moneys on books, since it will be in New Orleans! (At least I know the food'll be good.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

When Were the Pastoral Epistles Written?

Those of you familiar with the standard introductions to the New Testament will be aware that it is common fare for modern scholarship to treat the Pastoral Epistles (1-2 Timothy, Titus) as a distinct grouping of letters within the Pauline corpus that is regarded as pseudonymous: i.e., falsely ascribed to Paul.

From this perspective, these three letters--which are clearly written around the same time to address similar issues--are commonly attributed to an unknown "disciple of Paul" who wrote them up in his name, sometime in the 80s-90s of the first century. Indeed, some scholars would even go so far as to date them to the late 2nd century A.D.

Although there are a number of reasons given in support of this claim of pseudonymity, one of the most common is that Paul's opponents in the Pastoral Epistles are supposedly different from his opponents in his "authentic" letters. Specifically, supporters of pseudonymity often identify the opponents in the Pastorals as early Christian gnostics. Because gnosticism is often held not to have developed in the early Church until the late first or early second century A.D., this fact is held out as proof that Paul could not have written the Pastorals.

But is this correct? Are Paul's opponents in the Pastorals really the gnostics? True, Paul does give a fleeting warning at the end of 1 Timothy to avoid "what is falsely called knowledge" (Gk gnosis) (1 Tim 6:20), but this hardly constitutes an uneqivocal reference to early Gnosticisism. Indeed, even a supporter of pseudonymity such as Raymond Brown admits that, even when one accepts the gnostic hypothesis, "the exact nature of what is being criticized in the Pastorals is hard to discern" (Intro. to the New Testament 665)?

But is it really? Are the opponents of Paul really that difficult to identify? To the contrary, I would submit that he explicitly names them, and that they are the same opponents Paul refers to in the Epistle to the Galatians. Compare the following texts:

For before certain men came from James, [Peter] ate with the Gentiles, but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. (Galatians 2:12)

For a bishop, as God's steward... must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it. For there are many insubordinate men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially the circumcision party; they must be silenced... (Titus 1:9-10)

Notice here that Paul's injunction to the bishop to teach sound doctrine is not some kind of abstract 'church rule', but is specifically ordered toward refuting and silencing the circumcision party. Indeed, in the Pastoral epistles, the various references to dissidents identify them as those who claim to be "teachers of the Law" but are not (1 Tim 1:7), and those who foster "quarrels over the Law" (Titus 3:9).

Does this sound like the kind of controversies with Gnosticism that the Church was wrestling with in the second century A.D.? Not to me. To me it sounds like the Pastoral epistles reflect the final stage of Paul's life, say, in the mid-60s, after his imprisonment in Rome, when the Circumcision faction that had plagued his early missionary efforts in Galatia continued to spread and cause division within the Churches he had planted.

When the references to the circumcision party and controversy over the Jewish law are given due weight, it seems to me that the situation addressed by the Pastoral epistles gives good reason for thinking them early first-century and authentic.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Catholics Appalled at Anti-Mormon Slur

We put this video up on youtube last night. It now has over 8,400 hits and is rated, as of this writing, the #1 "Favorited" video of the day. Special credit must go to Matt Connors, a very talented JP Catholic sophmore, who filmed the intro, recorded the audio and edited it all together in less than a day. Please help us spread it around. For more on this issue see this important article.

UPDATE: As of 10pm, the video has over 13,000 hits and has received a number of honors. In its category, Nonprofit and Activism, it is the #1 Most viewed video and the #1 Rated video. It also tops categories for other countries: e.g., #2 Most viewed in Mexico, Japan and South Korea, #3 Most viewed in Israel!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

St. Paul Center Website 2.0 and Letter & Spirit, vol. 4

A couple of new things available from the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.

First, the SPC has radically revamped its website. All I can say is, wow, what a transformation!

I especially like the running blog from Scott Hahn and Mike Aquilina. Go check it here.

Of course of the most impressive things the St. Paul Center is responsible for is its academic journal, Letter and Spirit. The latest edition, Temple and Contemplation: God’s Presence in the Cosmos, Church, and Human Heart is now available.

I just ordered a copy--I couldn't wait any longer!--and I'll be talking more about it after I've received it. In particular, I'm excited about the article written by SITR co-blogger, Brant Pitre: "Jesus, the New Temple, and the New Priesthood". His article focuses on the same themes I'm treating in my dissertation, which is entitled, "The Historical Jesus and Cultic Restoration Eschatology: The New Temple, the New Priesthood and the New Cult in the Synoptic Gospels."

Here's the full Table of Contents. I can honestly say that I'm excited about reading this cover to cover:

Towards a Theology of the Tabernacle and its Furniture--Gary A. Anderson

Jesus, the New Temple, and the New Priesthood--Brant Pitre

The Rejected Stone and the Living Stones: Psalm 118:22–23 and New Testament Christology and Ecclesiology--Michael Giesler
Temple, Sign, and Sacrament: Towards a New Perspective on the Gospel of John--Scott W. Hahn
Temple, Holiness, and the Liturgy of Life in Corinthians--Raymond Corriveau, C.S.s.R.
The Indwelling of Divine Love: The Revelation of God’s Abiding Presence in the Human Heart--Thomas Dubay, S. M.
Living Stones in the House of God: The Temple and the Renewal of Church Architecture--Denis R. McNamara

“The Mystery of His Will”: Contemplating the Divine Plan in Ephesians--William A. Bales

“You Are Gods, Sons of the Most High”: Deification and Divine Filiation in St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Early Fathers--Daniel A. Keating
Scripture, Doctrine, and Proclamation: The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Renewal of Homiletics--John C. Cavadini
The Sign of the Temple: A Meditation--Jean Cardinal DaniƩlou
Church, Kingdom, and the Eschatological Temple--Yves M.-J. Cardinal Congar
Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative
Aidan Nichols, Lovely Like Jerusalem
Robert L. Wilken, Isaiah: Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentators
John T. Pennington, Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew
The Great Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide, 4 vols.
Matthew A. Levering, Participatory Exegesis
G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, eds., Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

Monday, November 03, 2008

Jesus Lost The Only Election He Was Ever In

"Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. 19 Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much over him today in a dream.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the people to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified.” 23 And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified” (Matt 27:17-23).

(For more, go here.)