Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hilarious Review of 2009

The well-known columnist Dave Barry has the best year overview of 2009 I've seen yet. My wife read the first few paragraphs to me this morning--we were laughing so hard I almost hurt myself.

I highly recommend reading it in its entirety:
It was a year of Hope -- at first in the sense of "I feel hopeful!'' and later in the sense of "I hope this year ends soon!''

It was also a year of Change, especially in Washington, where the tired old hacks of yesteryear finally yielded the reins of power to a group of fresh, young, idealistic, new-idea outsiders such as Nancy Pelosi. As a result Washington, rejecting "business as usual,'' finally stopped trying to solve every problem by throwing billions of taxpayer dollars at it and instead started trying to solve every problem by throwing trillions of taxpayer dollars at it.

To be sure, it was a year that saw plenty of bad news. But in almost every instance, there was offsetting good news:

BAD NEWS: The economy remained critically weak, with rising unemployment, a severely depressed real-estate market, the near-collapse of the domestic automobile industry and the steep decline of the dollar.

GOOD NEWS: Windows 7 sucked less than Vista.

BAD NEWS: The downward spiral of the newspaper industry continued, resulting in the firings of thousands of experienced reporters and an apparently permanent deterioration in the quality of American journalism.

GOOD NEWS: A lot more people were tweeting.

BAD NEWS: Ominous problems loomed abroad as -- among other difficulties -- the Afghanistan war went sour, and Iran threatened to plunge the Middle East and beyond into nuclear war.

GOOD NEWS: They finally got Roman Polanski.

In short, it was a year that we will be happy to put behind us. But before we do, let's swallow our anti-nausea medication and take one last look back, starting with. . . .


. . . during which history is made in Washington, D.C., where a crowd estimated by the Congressional Estimating Office at 217 billion people gathers to watch Barack Obama be inaugurated as the first American president ever to come after George W. Bush. There is a minor glitch in the ceremony when Chief Justice John Roberts, attempting to administer the oath of office, becomes confused and instead reads the side-effect warnings for his decongestant pills, causing the new president to swear that he will consult his physician if he experiences a sudden loss of sensation in his feet. President Obama then delivers an upbeat inaugural address, ushering in a new era of cooperation, civility and bipartisanship in a galaxy far, far away. Here on Earth everything stays much the same.

The No. 1 item on the agenda is fixing the economy, so the new administration immediately sets about the daunting task of trying to nominate somebody -- anybody -- to a high-level government post who actually remembered to pay his or her taxes. Among those who forgot this pesky chore is Obama's nominee for Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, who sheepishly admits that he failed to pay $35,000 in federal self-employment taxes. He says that the error was a result of his using TurboTax, which he also blames for his involvement in an eight-state spree of bank robberies. He is confirmed after the Obama administration explains that it inherited the U.S. Tax Code from the Bush administration.

Elsewhere in politics, a team of specially trained wildlife agents equipped with nets and tranquilizer darts manages, after a six-hour struggle, to remove Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office. He is transported to an undisclosed swamp, where he is released into the wild and quickly bonds with the native ferret population.



. . . that Congress passes, without reading it, and without actually finishing writing it, a stimulus package totaling $787 billion. The money is immediately turned over to American taxpayers so they can use it to stimulate the economy.

No! What a crazy idea THAT would be! The money is to be doled out over the next decade or so by members of Congress on projects deemed vital by members of Congress, such as constructing buildings that will be named after members of Congress. This will stimulate the economy by creating millions of jobs, according to estimates provided by the Congressional Estimating Office's Magical Estimating 8-Ball.

Despite this heroic effort, the economy continues to stumble. General Motors, which has sold only one car in the past year -- a Buick LaCrosse mistakenly purchased by an 87-year-old man who thought he was buying a power scooter -- announces a new four-part business plan, consisting of (1) dealership closings; (2) factory shutdowns;(3) worker layoffs; and (4) traveling backward through time to 1955.

The stock market hits its lowest level since 1997; this is hailed as a great investment opportunity by all the financial wizards who failed to let us know last year that the market was going to tank. California goes bankrupt and is forced to raise $800 million by pawning Angelina Jolie.

The Obama administration's confirmation woes continue as Tom Daschle is forced to withdraw as nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services following the disclosure that he, too, failed to pay all of his federal taxes. He blames this oversight on the fact that his tax returns were prepared by Treasury Secretary Geithner.

The Academy Awards are a triumph for Slumdog Millionaire, which wins eight Oscars, only to have them stolen by Somali pirates. . .

Read the rest here.

Picture by Eva Kemlein (1949), source: Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive).

Friday, December 25, 2009

Pope Benedict's Christmas Homily

Here's a snip--read the rest here:

The Angel had said to the shepherds: "This will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12; cf. 2:16). God's sign, the sign given to the shepherds and to us, is not an astonishing miracle. God's sign is his humility. God's sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God's power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love. Origen, taking up one of John the Baptist's sayings, saw the essence of paganism expressed in the symbol of stones: paganism is a lack of feeling, it means a heart of stone that is incapable of loving and perceiving God's love. Origen says of the pagans: "Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood" (in Lk 22:9). Christ, though, wishes to give us a heart of flesh. When we see him, the God who became a child, our hearts are opened.
In the Liturgy of the holy night, God comes to us as man, so that we might become truly human. Let us listen once again to Origen: "Indeed, what use would it be to you that Christ once came in the flesh if he did not enter your soul? Let us pray that he may come to us each day, that we may be able to say: I live, yet it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20)" (in Lk 22:3).
Yes indeed, that is what we should pray for on this Holy Night. Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, come to us! Enter within me, within my soul. Transform me. Renew me. Change me, change us all from stone and wood into living people, in whom your love is made present and the world is transformed. Amen.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Jesuit Bible Scholar on Source Criticism and Exegesis

Jesuit Father Dennis J. McCarthy was one of the great Catholic Old Testament scholars of the twentieth century. He enjoyed a long career at the Biblicum, and published widely, making important contributions especially on the topic of biblical covenants. Dr. Scott Hahn is deeply indebted to McCarthy, as a scan of the author's index to Hahn's tome Kinship by Covenant will show. McCarthy has a great quote on the task of the biblical exegete that I like to share with my friends:

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

For what it's worth, I think McCarthy is right. And restricting Old Testament catechesis to a study of Wellhausenian source criticism, which is actually done in some places, is, I think, not the way to go. What does everyone else think?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

A Major New Book on Jesus: Craig Keener's The Historical Jesus of the Gospels

Well, another SBL is come and gone, and I've spent the last week doing what I do every year the week after SBL: being torn apart between reading all the new books I bought and finishing up my semester of teaching work and finals grading.
This year, I have given in to temptation and can't stop reading Craig Keener's new book, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels (Eerdmands, 2009). I am currently about halfway through it, and, if all goes well, plan on doing a series of short posts on certain aspects of this very important new contribution to the historical study of Jesus.
Keener is one of the most learned New Testament scholars writing today, and one of the few historical Jesus scholars who has also penned full length commentaries on The Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans, 1999) and The Gospel of John (Hendrickson, 2003), of which the latter is arguably the most exhaustive commentary on John penned in the last century or so. For the last few years I've recommended Keener's commentary on John to colleagues not least because the opening chapter on the introduction to John--a chapter which is 330 single spaced pages!--is simply the best introduction to the Gospel I've ever read. (It almost should have been a separate monograph). Anyway, Keener's familiarity with the exegetical issues surrounding the Synoptic and Johannine tradition gives him a special edge and makes his work a unique contribution to the field of historical Jesus research.
With that being said, there are three introductory points that you should know about this new book, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels:
1. Although the book looks formidably long, it is actually extremely concisely written. While it totals out at 831 pages, only 350 of those are actually main text. The rest are endnotes (Why?Why? Why?!!!) appendices, indexes, and an over 100 page bibliography. This makes the book much more accessible for a wide audience than it might appear at first glance.
2. The book is divided into two main parts:
a. Methodology of Jesus Research
b. A 'Reconstruction' of the Life and Aims of Jesus
I'm currently finishing up the methodology section, so I can't say much about Keener's analysis of Jesus' aims, except to say that Keener himself points out that the main contribution of the book is in the method section, where he draws on his unbelievably vast knowledge of ancient Jewish and Greco-Roman literature in order to situate the genre and writing of the Gospels in their historical context.
So far, this methodology section is simple stunning: the chapters on "The Gospels as Biographies," "Luke-Acts as History," "The Gospels' Written Sources," and "the Gospels Oral Sources" are worth the price of the whole book. I have never read in one place such a concise and earth-shattering reevaluation of the assumptions, methods, and sources of Gospel study that is so thoroughly researched and entirely rooted in ancient primary sources, both Greco-Roman and Jewish. Keener strides across the threshold to the door that Richard Bauckham opened in his Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans, 2003), and does so in a way that is clear, concise, unbelievably erudite, and quite convincing, and which does not suffer from some of the weaknesses of Bauckham's case (e.g., the question of inclusio indicators of eyewitness sources.)
I cannot stress the point enough: any scholar or student who works in the historical study of Jesus needs to read carefully and reckon with Keener's arguments about the genre, historiographical characteristics, and oral and literary formation of the Gospels. If all I had were part 1 of this book, I would even go so far as to suggest that Keener's work represents something of a new stage in the historical study of Jesus, since it is the first major work to fully incorporate the advances that have been made into the literary genre of the Gospels as ancient biographies. Other works treat the Gospels like biographies, without fully discussing why (e.g., N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God), while other works note that the Gospels are biographies, but end up treating the Gospel material exactly like the form-critics who denied the biographical character of the Gospels (e.g., James Dunn, Jesus Remembered). Keener's work is different. However...
3. ...There's still one last observation, more critical than laudatory. There is a strange weakness in the book, which is frustratingly mis-titled. The title, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, gives the impression that Keener is going to build his reconstruction of Jesus' words and deeds from all four Gospels, not just the Synoptics. However, this book should have been called The Historical Jesus of the SYNOPTIC Gospels, for the Fourth Gospel is (virtually) nowhere to be found. Indeed, before we even get to page 1, Keener declares that he will abstain from drawing on the Gospel of John, for reasons of (1) length (the book is already too long); (2) previous publication (readers can find his thoughts on John in his commentary); and (3) avoiding controversy ("there are enough issues of controversy involved in the present discussion that it seemed superfluous to add another one" Keener, "Introduction," p. xxiv).
Although I can sympathize with these points, in the final analysis, they disappoint, for several reasons.First, the issue of length could have easily been solved by eliminating the 100 page bibliography. I'd have preferred 100 pages on Jesus and the Gospel of John from one of the foremost commentators on the Fourth Gospel rather than yet another bibliography. (For that matter, is there any real difference between an 800 page book and a 900 pager?)
Second, Keener himself states that the whole reason he wrote this book is because he overheard someone comment at a conference that "If you want those in the historical Jesus field to read your work, you don't stick it in the commentaries." Keener, p. xxix). In other words, the point of the book is to bring the results of his commentary work into the discussion of the historical Jesus. Why should this goal apply to the Synoptics and not to John? In my opinion, this was a real missed opportunity to have an expert in John allow his expertise to have a potential impact on the field of Jesus research.
Third and finally, while I can sympathize with the desire to avoid controversy and to pick battles that you can actually win, there is a serious methodological problem with using all of the first-century biographies written within the living memory of Jesus' disciples except John. At the end of the day, it is arbitrary, and by definition skews the overall reconstruction. What historical or methodological justification is there for eliminating an entire Gospel from your reconstruction, one which Keener himself regards as a first-century historical biography, written by an eyewitness? Why do this at a time when so many scholars (Keener among them) have recognized the historical value of John's Gospel on a number of points? (e.g., The SBL John, Jesus, and History Group) Again, it would have been very interesting to see how someone who knows John as well as Keener would have actually made use of his Gospel in a historical Jesus book.
Anyway, these criticisms aside, in my opinion, Keener's work, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, looks like it could be one of the most consequential books published on the historical Jesus in over a decade. He is to be commended for stepping out of the field of Gospel commentary writing and making such a momentous contribution to Jesus research.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reflections on SBL: Otto gives a stimulating talk on the Pentateuch

Much of the significance of SBL comes in private interaction between scholars outside of the official sessions. In fact, between the meetings we had with colleagues, it was especially hard this year to take in many of the sessions. One I did get to attend featured Eckart Otto, a very famous "elder statesmen" of Pentateuchal studies. Otto gave an impassioned appeal for greater attention to the Pentateuchal narrative when interpreting Pentateuchal law. He argued that the narrative has an intentional "hermeneutical function" that guides the reader into understanding the relative significance of the various codes of law present in the Pentateuch.

I resonated with Otto's basic message. After all, when Paul says that the "law was added because of transgression" (Galatians 3:19) or Jesus says that "Moses permitted ... for the hardness of your hearts," I think both are examples of allowing the Pentateuchal narrative to supply a hermeneutical (interpretive) function. To wit, both Jesus and Paul observe that some of the law of the Pentateuch was given in response to, or in consideration of, the failures of the people of Israel to live up to God's highest ideals for them. Therefore, not all of these laws are universally binding moral norms.

In any event, I believe it will be a good thing for Pentateuchal studies if more scholars heed Otto's call for greater attention to the narrative context of law.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Back in Steubenville

SBL is over, Brant is back on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain, and I'm back in Steubenville (see pic at left--Steubenville in its glory days). I imagine we'll have a little material to post about the conference in the next few days. However, today is still a class day. Thanksgiving Break doesn't start until tomorrow.

Sorry, no pics of famous bible scholars from the actual conference. Neither Brant nor I brought a camera.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Having Fun in New Orleans

Well, Brant and I are here in New Orleans enjoying the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting. This morning we went to mass with a bunch of colleagues at St. Louis Cathedral (picture at right), on the Feast of Christ the King. The church and the liturgy were beautiful, and the homily was solid. What a blessing. Afterwards we tried to get breakfast at the famous Cafe du Monde, but the line was half a block long. We settled for beignets and coffee in a lesser-known but lovely eatery, while a street musician serenaded us with hymns, spirituals, and excerpts of classical pieces on a soprano recorder. Heavenly!

The collegiality has been great. We've caught up with old friends from our Notre Dame days, and colleagues who work in our respective areas of specialization. On the Old Testament side of things, I've been privileged to have great conversations with Michael Lyons, Mark Leuchter, Jefferey Stackert, Matthias Henze, and Richard Averbeck, all top-notch scholars and each a real "Mensch."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Off to New Orleans: SBL 2009

I'm leaving tomorrow for the Society of Biblical Literature 2009 Congress in New Orleans. The SBL is the guild organization for North American bible scholars. As I mentioned before, I'll be presenting a paper on the relationship of the manumission laws of "H" (Leviticus) and "D" (Deuteronomy) at the Biblical Law session on Monday afternoon (1pm). Brant's already down there since he lives there, obviously. I'm looking forward to some good Cajun food, a chance to catch up with colleagues, and the opportunity to talk over some ideas with top scholars from around the country. Brant and I will probably both be blogging about the experience, although maybe not till next Wednesday.

Monday, November 16, 2009

For Unto Us A Child Is Born--Again!

It's boy!

Matthew Stephen Barber was born at 2:03pm on 11.10.09. He was 8 lbs. and 7 oz. My wife called it weeks ago: 11-10-09-8-7--a straight! My father-in-law suggested that we play the lottery.

Well, it already feels like we've won it!

Of course, Kim was, as always, amazing. She is such an incredible example of Christian virtue and charity. She totally trusted in the Lord--we prayed together throughout and it was, once again, a very mystical experience. Watching her enter into the mystery of suffering for the sake of our children and being there to pray her through it is a tremendous honor. I love my wife!

It was only last year (July) that we were at the same hospital--same operating room--welcoming little Michael into the world. Being right back there--with the same doctors and nurses was a bit surreal.

Little Matthew is doing well. He is a beautiful baby boy (as you can see from the pictures). He is very sleepy. In a certain way he is notably different from Michael Jr. Michael Jr. would only sleep if he was being held. It was a bit tiring for all of us. Matthew on the other hand sleeps anywhere and all the time--except for 11pm to 3pm!

Thanks so much for all the prayers and well-wishing emails.

And thanks be to God!

Atheists Heap Abuse on Mother Theresa: Scriptural and Theological Reflections

Altruism is difficult for atheists to explain within their worldview. This can be seen in their reaction to the modern icon of altruism, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
The famous sociobiologist E. O. Wilson argued that goodness was the result of “lying, pretense, and deceit, including self-deceit, because the actor is most convincing who believes that his performance is real.” He attributed Blessed Teresa’s altruism to self-interest. She was just “in it” just to get to heaven: “Mother Teresa is an extraordinary person but it should not be forgotten that she is secure in the service of Christ and the knowledge of her Church’s immortality.”

Wilson’s comments are mild compared to Christopher Hitchens recent comment during an interview with Dennis Miller (here). I have edited some of Hitchen’s crudity:

"Mother Theresa spent her whole life saying (that what Calcutta needs) is a huge campaign against family planning. I mean, who comes to that conclusion who isn’t a complete fanatic? She took – and I would directly say stole…millions and millions of dollars and spent all the money not on the poor, but on the building of nearly 200 convents in her own name around the world to glorify herself and to continue to spread the doctrine that, as she put it — when she got her absurd Nobel Peace Prize — that the main threat to world peace is abortion and contraception. The woman was a fanatic and a fundamentalist and a fraud, and millions of people are much worse off because of her life, and it’s a shame there is no hell for your b**** to go to."

As offensive and erroneous as Wilson’s and Hitchen’s remarks are, I think there is some benefit to reflecting on them, especially in this month of November as we contemplate the saints, the faithful departed, the final judgment, and the Last Things generally.

First, the venom of Hitchen’s remarks reminds me of the response Jesus received from the Pharisees with regard to his healing ministry. In the face of direct evidence of divine power and obvious goodness (miracles of healing), the Pharisees attribute Jesus’ powers to Satan. Likewise, Hitchens thinks Blessed Teresa is worthy of hell, if there was such a place. Sometimes the Gospels seem distant from us because we cannot relate to the social dynamic in some of the stories. Hitchens helps us close the gap between reader and text by showing us up close the twisted logic that can lead people to consider some of the clearest examples of goodness as evil.

Both Hitchens and the Pharisees are confronted with people who challenge their worldview, people who—according to their Weltanschauung—ought not to exist and do what they do. The reaction is violent revulsion, because nothing is more threatening to a person than to have their entire worldview threatened.

Secondly, Wilson’s attribution of Blessed Teresa’s goodness to self-interest based on her hope in heaven actually sheds light on a fact that has somewhat distressed me. Many of you know that after Bl. Teresa’s death her memoirs revealed that, in fact, she frequently did not have spiritual consolations nor a sense of the assurance of her salvation. She worked for long periods in spiritual dryness. When this information came to light, I was troubled personally, because I could not understand why God would not have granted such a selfless person the spiritual consolations that I felt she deserved.

The story of Job comes to mind. Like Wilson, Satan in the beginning of the Book of Job attributes Job’s goodness to self-interest. “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (Job 1:9). This is the “hermeneutic of suspicion,” the same hermeneutic Wilson and Hitchens employ. No one does good for goodness sake; everyone is “in it” because of something “for them.” Does any one do good only for the sake of good? Which is the same as asking, does anyone serve God for the sake of God alone?

Perhaps this is why God permitted Blessed Teresa to serve without spiritual consolations: to silence the Adversary. Her diaries showed E.O. Wilson to be wrong. Blessed Teresa was not some sanguine simpleton serving God for “pie in the sky by and by.” She was not continually consoled with assurance of heaven. Yet she continued to love both God and neighbor without guarantee of any return for herself. Thus her love was perfected and purified, because it was enabled to be without any self-interest. Her spiritual dryness enabled Blessed Teresa to make a perfect self-offering. God gave Bl. Theresa the opportunity to make a pure self-gift. We ought not to be surprised if at some point in our walk with God, we are given a similar opportunity.

(I originally wrote this post on All Saints Day, but it has taken a while to get it proofread and online.)

Saturday, November 07, 2009


I have to apologize for being M.I.A. lately. If you've been trying to reach me via email or phone I realize I may seem to be incommunicado.

Here's what's going on. . . Next week my wife and I are looking very much forward to welcoming our second child into the world. (Yes, pictures will be posted here.) We definitely would appreciate your prayers for mother and child. Please also keep Michael Jr. in your prayers as well--this is going to be an adjustment for him.

Because I know things are going to get really crazy, I've been working hard on finishing my dissertation. I'm done writing. Now I'm basically going through and finishing the bibliography. Of course, I would greatly appreciate any prayers for this project as well.

So I've got my head down and my eyes on the prize. If you've been trying to reach me, I'll be getting back to you, but it's going to take a little while. Thanks for your patience!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Who Are the 144,000 in Revelation 14?

Well, I'm off to the 5th annual Letter & Spirit conference at St. John's Seminary. This year's theme is "Priesthood and Blessing," and I'll be doing a presentation on "The Priestly Identity of the 144,000 in Revelation 14." The conference is a response to Pope Benedict's designation of this year as the "Year for Priests." It's also a lead up for Volume 5 of the Journal Letter & Spirit, which is coming out this week!

If you want the full paper, you'll have to come to the conference. But if you want a taste, I'll be looking at the Old Testament and ancient Jewish background of each the images used to describe the 144,00 in Revelation 14:

Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of kitharists playing on their kitharas, and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the one-hundred and forty-four thousand who had been ransomed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins; it is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes; these have been redeemed from mankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless. (Revelation 14:1-4)

In the paper, I argue that each of the key images used to describe the 144,000 are priestly images:
1. They wear the "name" of God on their foreheads (cf. Exodus 28; Sirach 45);
2. They have the exclusive right to sing the "new song" of the heavenly liturgy with "kitharas" (2 Chronicles 9; 1 Maccabees 4; Antiquities 20)
3. They abstain from sexual relations with women (Exodus 19; Leviticus 15; 1 Samuel 21);
4. They are sacrificial "first-fruits" who have been "ransomed" (Numbers 3)
5. No lie was found in their mouths (Malachi 2, the ideal priest).

It should go without saying that such a paper raises all kinds of questions about the biblical origins of priestly celibacy. But more on that anon; I've got to go catch a plane.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Happy Birthday, Scott Hahn!

This post is not about the new book.

I just wanted to write a note wishing my dear friend a very happy birthday, which is today.

Words will fail to express the deep debt of gratitude I owe to him. Of course, Scott's work has shaped my thought more profoundly than any other contemporary scholar.

But even more importantly, Scott has taught me about the love of Christ by the witness of his life. And I learned from him about it up-close and personal. Scott and his family took me in as a graduate student and allowed me to live with them during the years I studied at Franciscan University in Ohio. It was a truly blessed time of my life and I can honestly say that I don't think a day goes by even now--many years later--that I don't thank God for them. I truly consider the Hahn family my second family.

Scott, thanks for everything--for your generosity, your wisdom, and your example. May God bless you on this day.

I know I speak for Brant and John when I say: Happy Birthday!!!

Scott Hahn's new book on Pope Benedict's Biblical Theology

The picture on the right is of Scott Hahn's brand new book, Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI (Brazos).

The book deserves a post all its own but I'm absolutely swampted and knowing I probably won't get to doing one any time soon--we've got a new baby coming any day and I'm writing the conclusion to my thesis!--I wanted to mention it here.

It's remarkable. Any serious student of the Bible should check it out. Benedict's insights are profound and Scott Hahn synthesizes them and brings them all together amazingly well.

More than that, the book is extraordinarily well-written. It is more than just a summary of Pope Benedict's thought. It's a thoughtful overview of the basic principles and issues involved in doing Biblical Theology. The chapter on Benedict's view of historical criticism is simply worth the price of the book! Benedict insists that historical-critical study is necessary but he also stresses that this must be with a hermeneutic of faith.

What does that look like? Well, you've got to read the book.

Notice by the way that the book is published by Brazos. I especially hope non-Catholic Christians interested in biblical studies and theology will check this work out. What they will find in Pope Benedict will no doubt be surprising for them. I know that because I've already heard from them!

Check out some of the endorsements:

"A superb introduction to the way in which the theology of Pope Benedict XVI has been shaped by the Bible. Hahn's crisp and clear analysis puts the reader at the very center of this remarkable pope's thought." --Gary Anderson, University of Notre Dame

"Scott Hahn offers us a lucidly written and trenchant study of the biblical theology of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict. He shows how one of the most important theologians of the twentieth century gently but firmly corrected the historical critics who dominate much of contemporary academic Scripture study. Hahn further demonstrates how, in making this correction, Ratzinger/Benedict allowed for the recovery of much of the richness of patristic biblical interpretation, including typology, an integrated understanding of the Old and New Testaments, a sense of Jesus as the interpretive key for the whole of revelation, and the deep rapport between kingdom and Church. This is a beautiful and thought-provoking text, one that will prove helpful to any serious student of the sacred page." --Robert Barron, Francis Cardinal George Professor of Faith
and Culture, Mundelein Seminary, University of St. Mary of the Lake

"The increasingly painful bankruptcy of the historical-critical method in
our time has created a vacuum precisely at the point where the living Church
requires substantial nurture. Pope Benedict XVI has spoken into this crisis like
no one else, and his best expositor, Scott Hahn, has done us a tremendous
service by synthesizing Benedict's erudite and prayerful biblical theology into
a lively, readable, and intellectually reliable conspectus. This excellent
volume will be indispensable for all Christians who seek to be more maturely
grounded in Scripture."--David Lyle Jeffrey, distinguished professor of
literature and the humanities, Baylor University

Go here for many more.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pondering Psalm 1 on an Ordinary Day

The Psalm for today, Thursday of the Twenty-Ninth Week of Ordinary Time, is the short and beautiful Psalm 1.

Psalm 1 serves as an introduction to the entire psalter. It is a Psalm of the "wisdom" genre--that means, it has literary ties to the wisdom literature. By introducing the psalter with a wisdom psalm, the sacred author means to suggest that the psalter is, among other things, a book of wisdom. Wisdom was a practical rather than theoretical enterprise for the ancient Israelites. Wisdom was knowing how to live rather than knowing various abstractions. However, the psalter is by and large not didactic--it's not full of instructions, like most wisdom literature. Instead it consists of prayers and songs of praise. How do these compositions teach "wisdom"?

Psalm 1 compares the righteous man to a tree planted by streams of water, which stays green and regularly yields its fruit. In the Near East, water is scarce. Many locations cannot count on rain for moisture. I tree with deep roots to a source of water, that could be counted on to produce fruit, was and is a precious thing.

The point of the analogy is fidelity. The wise, righteous man, in the view of the psalmist, is one who is consistent and faithful, one who can be counted on. It is not necessarily the person with a "flashy" spirituality, who has dramatic spiritual experiences and draws the attention of others. These things are good in themselves, but they can be counterfeit and do not necessarily indicate maturity.

On a rather dull day in the liturgical calendar, during the doldrums of the academic semester, it is good to be reminded that the man blessed in God's eyes is the faithful one, who consistently bears fruit no matter what the "weather" is.

Healing of Bartimaeus (Video and Post Sunday's Readings)

Sunday, October 25, 2009: Liturgy Reflection from JP Catholic University on Vimeo.

So much could be said about this reading it is difficult to know where to start! Here I want to highlight Jesus' role as the Davidic healer.

Healing and the Eschatological/Messianic Age

The story of the healing of Bartimaeus clearly links Jesus’ role as healer to his identity as the Son of David. In fact, all of the Gospels link Jesus’ ability to heal to his role as the Davidic messiah (cf. Matt 9:27; 20:31; Mark 10:48; Luke 18:38–39). Indeed, a number of prophetic texts, Second Temple sources and later rabbinic writings specifically associate the arrival of the eschatological age with the idea of healing.[1] Here I will only list a few:

Isa 29:18: “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.”

Isa 35:5: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy.”

Numerous other biblical texts could also be cited (cf. Isa 19:22; 30:26; 53:5; 57:18–19; 58:7; Jer 30:17; 33:6; Ezek 47:12; Hos 6:1; 7:1; Mal 4:2). In addition, the eschatological age is also linked with healing in non-biblical Second Temple sources.

Jubilees 23:29–30: “And all of their days they will be complete and live in peace and rejoicing and there will be not Satan and no evil (one) who will destroy, because all of their days will be days of blessing and healing. And then the Lord will heal his servants, and they will rise up and see great peace.”

1 Enoch 96:3: “But you, who have experienced pain, fear not, for there shall be a healing medicine for you.”

One particular text is worth mentioning here. One of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 4Q521, which draws from the passage from Isaiah 35 cited above and links it with Isaiah 61, reveals that the Messiah will be a healer. The fragment begins: “1 [for the heav]ens and the earth will listen to his anointed one, 2 [and all th]at is in them will not turn away from the precepts of the holy ones. . .” The fragment then continues to explain that the Lord

“will honour the pious upon the throne of an eternal kingdom, freeing prisoners, giving sight to the blind, straightening out the twis[ted.]… And the Lord will perform marellous acts such as have not existed just as he sa[id,] [for] he will heal the badly wounded and will make the dead live, he will proclaim good news to the poor and […]…[…] he will lead […] … and enrich the hungry.” (4Q521 2 II, 7 and 11-13).

Jesus' Role as the Healer Messiah

The tradition linking healing to the eschatological age is especially present in Matthew and Luke, where Jesus appeals to his ability to heal lepers as evidence that he is the Messiah. One particularly important passage is found in both Matthew and Luke. When John the Baptist’s disciples come asking him whether he is “the one to come,” Jesus states, “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matt 11:5//Luke 7:22). As is well-known, in this saying Jesus conflates Isaiah 35 and 61, mirroring 4Q521. Strikingly, both the Qumran text and Jesus insert a statement about raising the dead prior to the task of preaching to the poor.[2]

Jesus' Role As the Davidic Healer

Of course, the Gospels link Jesus’ role as healer precisely to his role as the Davidic messiah. What is interesting about this is that there really is no clear pre-Christian text describing the Davidic messiah as a healer. There is at least one text that should be mentioned here: Ezekiel 34. There the Lord promises to help the sheep who are weak and crippled (cf. Ezek 34:4, 16) within the same context in which he promises to send a Davidic Messiah (cf. Ezek 34:23–24).[3] But even here the connection is rather ambiguous.

So how did Jesus’ role as healer come to be associated with his role as the eschatological Son of David? Well, certainly given the fact that the messiah was already linked with healing in 4Q521 it is not surprising that Jesus’ role as the Davidic Messiah would be connected with his healing. Yet we might also point out that the ink could have been established in connection with the fact that David was remembered for having exorcistic and healing abilities (cf. 1 Sam 16:14–23; Josephus, A.J. 166–68; 11QPsa XI, 2–11; L. A. B. 60:1). Even more descriptive are the numerous texts relating Solomon’s abilities as an exorcist and healer (cf. Josephus, A.J. 8:42–49; Apoc. Adam 7:13; cf. also Wis 7:20).[4] It is therefore easy to see how Jesus’ healing abilities could have been linked with his exorcistic powers and how these together could be have been linked with his role as the eschatological “Son of David.”

In fact, as Meier explains, that a Solomonic reference is present here is strongly suggested by the fact that, with the exception of one occurrence where it is linked with Absalom (cf. 2 Sam 13:1), the term “Son of David” is normally used as a referent to Solomon (cf. 1 Chron. 28:22; 2 Chron 1:1; 13:6; 30:26; 35:3; Prov 1:1; Eccl 1:1). [5] In light of this Bartimaeus cry is not at all surprising―“Have mercy on me, Son of David!”


[1] See also Apocalypse of Moses 2:275. For an excellent overview of biblical texts dealing with healing, see Michael L. Brown, Israel’s Divine Healer (SOTBT; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995); Lidija Novakovic, Messiah, the Healer of the Sick: A Study of Jesus as the Son of David in the Gospel of Matthew (WUNT 2.170; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003), 152–83.
[2] Novakovic (Messiah, the Healer of the Sick, 180) writes: “In contrast to the Jewish texts which are only thematically related to 4Q521, the Q passage preserved in Matt 11:2–6 and Luke 7:18–23 contains the closest known parallel to this document, because both texts go beyond their common scriptural basis in Isa 61:1 by adding the reference to the resurrection of the dead in front of the reference to preaching good news to the poor.” Likewise see M. O. Wise and J. Tabor, “4Q521 ‘On Resurrection’ and the Synoptic Gospel Tradition: A Preliminary Study,” JSP 10 (1992) 161 [149–62]: “Although it is unlikely that Luke knew the Qumran text directly, it seems that he shares with its author a common set of messianic expectations.”
[3] Puesch has argued that the messianic figure in 4Q521 is a royal messianic figure, finding a reference to a “scepter” in 4Q521 2 III, 6. However, the text is unclear. See Émile Puech, “Une apocalypse messianique (4Q521),” RQ 15/60 (1992): [475-522]; Collins, “The Works of the Messiah,” 103. See also David Aune, “The Problem of the Messianic Secret,” NovT 11 (1969): 39 [1–31]. We might also mention L.A.B. 60:3, where the exorcistic song sung by David has him telling the evil spirit, “But let the new womb from which I was born rebuke you, from which after a time one born from my loins will rule over you”. The passage is admittedly obscure. In favor of a messianic reading is the fact that the language bears close similarities to 2 Sam 7:11 (LXX), which is cited as a messianic prophecy in 4Q174. The passage also echoes Psalm 132:11 (LXX) and T. Levi 18:12, which may also signal messianic hopes. For those who advocate such an approach see Dennis C. Duling, “Solomon, Exorcism, and the Son of David,” HTR 68 (1975): 240; Paul Riessler, Altjüdisches Schrifttum ausserhalb der Bibel, übersetzt und erläutert (2d ed; Darmstadt; Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1966), 1318; Marc Philonenko, “Remarques sur un hymne essénien de caractère gnostique,” Sem 11 (1961): 52 [43–53].
[4] Especially important is the combination in Josephus’ account of Solomon’s exorcistic abilities with his role as healer (cf. A.J. 8.45: “[He was enabled] to help and heal human beings”). See also the discussion in Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2:689. In addition, see the exorcistic connections made with Solomon in the Aramaic magical texts discussed by Loren Fisher, “Can This Be the Son of David?,” in Jesus and the Historian: Written in Honor of Ernest Cadman Colwell (ed. F. T. Trotter; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968), 82–97; J. A. Montgomery, Aramaic Incantation Texts from Nippur (Philadelphia: The University Musueum, 1913), 232; Cyrus H. Gordon, “Aramaic Magical Bowls in the Instanbul and Baghdad Museums,” ArOr 6 (1934): 319–34, 466–74; C. D. Isbell, Corpus of the Aramaic Incantation Bowls (SBLDS 17; Missoula, Mont.; Scholars Press, 1975), 108-111, 114-115.
[5] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2:737 n. 47. explains that a Solomonic reference is strongly suggested by the fact that, with the exception of one occurrence where it is linked with Absalom (cf. 2 Sam 13:1), the term “Son of David” was regularly used for Solomon (cf. 1 Chron. 28:22; 2 Chron 1:1; 13:6; 30:26; 35:3; Prov 1:1; Eccl 1:1; cf. also Fisher, “Can This Be the Son of David?,” 90). See the discussion in Duling, “Solomon, Exorcism, and the Son of David,”235–52; idem., “The Therepeutic Son of David: An Element in Matthew’s Christological Apologetic,” NTS 24 (1977-78): 392–410.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

O Happy Day: SBL Paper on "H" and "D" Finished

And there is much rejoicing at the Bergsma household because Daddy has finished his "big paper" for the November SBL Conference, entitled "The Manumission Laws: Has the Dependence of H on D been Demonstrated?" Sounds fun, huh? I knew you'd think so. Anyway, now Daddy can play--well, at least after he finishes grading seventy more midterms.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Request of James and John and the Ransom Saying (Video on Sunday's Readings)

Sunday, October 18, 2009: Liturgy Reflection from JP Catholic University on Vimeo.

Here I want to tease out a few themes related to the request and the ransom saying. Once again, a huge word of thanks goes out to Nate--this was a long video (sorry again, Nate!). So much could be said, but here’s just a little further scholarship on the material in the video. One thing I especially wanted to touch upon, given that this is the Year for Priests, is the priestly language implied in Jesus' allusion to Isaiah 53 (see below). Of course, I will be drawing a lot from my earlier video and post on Jesus' role as the Suffering Son of Man.

The Apostles’ Sitting With Jesus
The request of James and John in fact seems to reflect their understanding that Jesus was coming to establish the kingdom of God. In fact, elsewhere Jesus makes it clear that the apostles will share in his reign―the image of them “sitting” (καθίζω) on “thrones” as judges over the tribes of Israel is attested in both Matthew and Luke (Matt 19:28; Luke 22:28–29)―in Matthew the saying comes shortly before this episode! The idea is mirrored in the Dead Sea Scrolls which associates the eschatological age with the institution of “twelve chiefs” who will govern over the twelve tribes of Israel (e.g., 1Q33 2:1–3). Especially interesting is one of the fragments in the Dead Sea Scrolls, 11Q19 57:12–13, which describes how the future royal figure will be joined with twelve princes, twelve priests and twelve Levites “who shall sit together with him for judgment.”

The Danielic Imagery
In the last line Jesus identifies himself as the Son of Man. As I have already explained, Jesus’ passion prediction in Mark 9:31 seems to evoke Danielic imagery―in fact, there he also identifies himself as the “Son of Man”. It is not surprising then that Jesus links the idea of his “giving his life” with “Son of Man” terminology.

However, it should be pointed out that imagery from the Son of Man vision in Daniel 7 actually dominates the passage. The point is especially underscored by my good friend and co-blogger Brant Pitre (Happy Birthday, buddy!) in his marvelous book on the historical Jesus and the tribulation.[1] Here I want to draw upon Brant’s excellent treatment.

The language of the request (“Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory”) bears marked similarities to Daniel 7, which in fact describes the Son of Man’s coming and his reception of “glory” (v. 14) in connection with “thrones” being set up (v. 9) and a court “sitting” (καθίζω) in “judgment” (v. 10). Imagery from Daniel 7 can also be found in Jesus’ response. First, Jesus’ reference to his “cup” depicts his suffering in terms of the sharing in the eschatological tribulation[2]―something we have already seen described by Daniel 7 (especially v. 23–25). Moreover, Jesus’ language in Matthew 20:25–27//Mark 10:42–44 referring to the rulers as “the great” (οἱ μεγάλοι) among the “Gentiles” (τῶν ἐθνῶν) who “lord it over” (κατακυριεύουσιν) those under them, reminds the reader of Daniel 7 where four Gentile kings are represented by “great (μεγάλα) beasts” (cf. Dan 7:17) who “lord it over many” (κατακυριεύσει αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ πολὺ; LXX Dan 7:3-11; 11:39 Theod.).[3] Furthermore, Jesus’ emphasis on “service,” particularly his insistence in the final verse that the “Son of Man has come not to be served but to serve (διακονῆσαι)” would seem an attempt to adjust the vision of glory the disciples likely inferred from Daniel 7, where all peoples serve (δουλεύσουσιν) the Son of Man (v. 14).[4] The use of the term “Son of Man” in verse 45 thus rounds out the Danielic which has permeated the discussion throughout the episode―it is not simply a saying haphazardly tacked on as an ending. Indeed, these overlapping themes strongly supports seeing the pericope as a single literary unit.[5]

The Motivation Behind the Request

Of course, the basic motivation behind the request is not hard to grasp. As Hooker explains, “No sooner is the end in sight, than the disciples begin to ask for a share in Jesus’ future kingly power.”[6] Specifically, it appears significant that the request appears just prior to Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. As others have noticed, it seems to indicate that the disciples expected that Jesus would somehow usher in the eschatological kingdom there.[7] By asking to sit on his right and left however the disciples are asking not merely for a participation in Jesus’ messianic reign but for the status of most exalted in the kingdom.[8] That Jesus has to go on to contrast the way Gentile rulers govern with a teaching to the other disciples that “it shall not be so among you” also probably implies that their vision of the kingdom also was in error.[9] Where James and John have gone critically wrong is imagining that Jesus’ eschatological kingdom will consist in a merely triumphalistic vision. For Jesus, the kingdom is not merely about reigning over one’s enemies from an exalted position―the kingdom is also linked with his death.[10]

The Ransom Saying
Jesus teaching that “the Son of Man has come not to be served but serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” seems to draw from the Suffering Servant song of Isaiah 53. Indeed the teaching has numerous points of contact with this prophecy, particularly as it stands in the MT [Masoretic Text, e.g., Modern Hebrew Bible]. Davies and Allison[11] list a number of parallels:
1. The terminology of “the many” (רבים) plays an especially important role in Isaiah 53:11–12. 2. The language of “for many” (ἀντὶ πολλῶν) evokes Isaiah 53:11, where the Servant is said to “make many [לרבים] to be accounted righteous.”
3. Jesus’ words about “giving his life as a ransom” (δοῦναι τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ λύτρον) is similar to the language in Isaiah 53:10, “when he makes himself an offering for sin” (אם־תשים אשם נפשו) in Isaiah 53:10 (cf. 53:12).[12]
4. Jesus explanation that he has come “to serve” (διακονῆσαι) evokes the imagery of the “servant” (עבד; Isa 52:13; 53:11).
In fact, Davies and Allison point out that Romans 4:25 reveals that the connection between Jesus’ death and Isaiah 53 was forged early on. Page puts it well:

“The link between the πολλῶν ("many") and rabbîm ("many"), which appears in Isa. 52:14, 15 and 53:11, 12, has often been pointed out, but it has not always been appreciated that what makes it significant is the occurrence in both Mark 10:45 and Isaih 53 is the notion of one dying in the place of the ‘many’. The similarities of detail, along with the fact that the general ideas of service and vicarious death are held in common, lead us to the conclusion that the ransom saying was formed in conscious dependence upon the Isaianic picture of the Suffering Servant.”[13]

Thus, while other Isaianic texts also seem to have connections with Jesus’ teaching,[14] the connection with Isaiah 53 therefore appears quite strong.[15]

Although it may at first seem strange that Jesus’ links his role as the Danielic Son of Man with imagery from the Isaianic Suffering Servant passage, it should be noted that elsewhere the book of Daniel itself appears to specifically describe the righteous of the eschatological age with imagery drawn from Isaiah 52–53 (cf. Dan 11:33; 12:1).[16] In addition, 1 Enoch also appears to link Isaianic imagery to the “Son of Man” figure.[17] The connection between “Son of Man” language and the Isaianic Servant is thus not lacking precedent.

Priestly Imagery
Given that this is the Year for Priests, I thought I also ought to highlight the priestly dimension of the saying.

Of course, that Jesus appears to allude to Isaiah’s Suffering Servant is especially significant for our purposes since the Isaianic figure is specifically linked with cultic imagery. The Servant serves as a cultic sacrifice, offering his life as a guilt offering (cf. Isa 53:10). Of course, implicit in this is a priestly role―he is the one who presents a sacrifice for sin.[18] Indeed, other cultic imagery also occurs within the passage. In particular, the Servant is said to “bear” (נשא) the iniquities of the people―an image not only linked with the scapegoat of Yom Kippur (cf. Lev 16:22) but also connected with the priests (cf. Lev 10:17: “that you may bear [נשא] the iniquity of the congregation”). That Jesus associates himself with the Suffering Servant would thus seem to imply that he perceives himself as in someway taking upon a priestly role.

In fact, that Jesus specifically identifies himself with the language of "ransom" (λύτρον) would also seem to point in the direction of some sort of priestly self-identification. What is virtually universally ignored by scholars is the fact that the only instance in Jewish literature in which humans are described as functioning as a "ransom" (λύτρον) is Numbers 3 and 8 where Moses is told to “present” the Levites before the Lord in the place of the first-born. Thus one can make the case that the idea of a human serving as a “ransom” is a priestly one.[19]

[1] Brant Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 384–455. See also Brant’s article, “The ‘Ransom for Many,’ the New Exodus and the End of the Exile: Redemption as the Restoration of All Israel,” Letter and Spirit 1 (2005):41–68
[2] The image of drinking from the “cup” is used an a metaphor for suffering the eschatological judgment of God (cf. Isa 51:17; Jer 25:15–29; Ezek 23:31–34; Zech 12:2; Ps 11:6; 75:8; Lam 4:21). Noteworthy is also the fact that the Targums speak of drinking of the cup of death (cf. Tg. on Gen 40:23; Deut 32:1). There is a fascinating parallel in the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah, where prior to being sawed in half the prophet tells his disciples, “for me alone the Lord has mixed this cup” (Mart. Ascen. 5:13). Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:90 write, “So the cup that Jesus will drink (cf. 26.39), and that his disciples should be prepared to drink (cf. Mk 9.49; Gos. Thom. 82), is the cup of eschatological sorrow, which will be first poured out upon the people of God (cf. Jer 25.15–29).”
[3] The four beasts are said to not only be four kingdoms but four kings (Dan 7:17:מלכין). The idea of an individual tyrannical king is especially present in Daniel 7:24–25.
[4] See Pitre, “The ‘Ransom for Many,’” 49: “Indeed, Jesus appears not only to be overturning the expectations of James and John regarding the messianic kingdom, but conclusions that could be drawn straight from the visions of the ‘one like a son of man’ in Daniel itself. In so doing, he is directly tying his (and possibly) the disciples’ imminent suffering to the eschatological tribulation described in Daniel 7.”
[5] See the extensive discussion in Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation and the End of the Exile, 386–90. In addition, we should note that Ched Myers (Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story about Jesus [Maryknoll: Orbis, 1988], 279) suggests that the language of the request of James and John stems from Psalm 110. However, this is unclear. See the critique in Gundry, Mark, 583.
[6] Hooker, Gospel of Mark, 247.
[7] See Collins, Mark, 495: “The saying probably presupposes that Jesus will be enthroned as the king and judge of the new age as God’s agent.” In addition, see Nolland, Gospel of Matthew, 818: “. . . what is being related to is not the anticipation of suffering, but the prospect of divine vindication and establishment of Jesus as messianic king.” Still also see Lane, Gospel of Mark, 378; Morris, Gospel According to Matthew, 509. Furthermore, it can also be noted that Matthew has the woman coming to Jesus and “worshipping” (προσκυνοῦσα) him. For more on this language see the discussion above in n. 126 in chapter 3.
[8] Of course, such a self-seeking petition clearly runs counter to Jesus’ earlier teaching in Matthew 18:1–4 and Mark 8:33–35 that to be the greatest in the kingdom one ought to humble oneself.
[9] This is recognized by most commentators, e.g., Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:92; Luz, Matthew, 544; Nolland, Matthew, 8:22; Lane, Gospel of Mark, 382-83; France, Gospel of Mark, 418; etc.
[10] For further discussion between the relationship between the cross and Jesus’ coming as the Son of Man see Michael F. Bird, “The Crucifixion of Jesus as the Fulfillment of Mark 9:1,” Trinity Journal 24/1 (2003): 23–36; Kent Brower, “Mark 9:1-Seeing the Kingdom in Power,” JSNT 6 (1980): 17–41; Paul Barnett, The Servant King (Sydney, NSW: AIO, 2000), 171–74; Ched Myers, Binding the Strongman: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1994), 248, 391–92; N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 650–51.
[11] See the discussion in Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:95–97.
[12] Here Davies and Allison cite Jeremias, New Testament Theology, 292 n. 3: “the further definition of the phrase ‘give’ or ‘take life’ by a predicative accusative is only evidenced in Isa 53:10 MT [ʾāśām], IV Macc 6.29 [ἀντὶψυχον] and Mark 10.45 [λύτρον].”
[13] Sydney H. T. Page, “The Authenticity of the Ransom Logion (Mark 10:45b),” in Gospel Perspectives: Studies of History and Tradition in the Four Gospels (eds. R. T. France et al; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1980), 140 [137–61].
[14] See, for example, the articles by Morna Hooker, Rikki E. Watts and N. T. Wright in William H. Bellinger, Jr. and William R. Farmer, ed., Jesus and the Suffering Servant: Isaiah 53 and Christian Origins (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1998). In particular Isaiah 43 appears related given that it uses ransom language (cf. Isa 43:3). Some have argued that it is primarily this passage and not Isaiah 53 which accounts for the language in Matt 20:28//Mark 10:45. See, e.g., Volker Hampel, Menschensohn und historischer Jesus: Ein Rätselwort als Schlüssel zum messianischen Selbstverständnis Jesu. (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1990), 326–33. However, the problem with such a view is that the “ransom” that is paid in Isaiah 43:3 is Gentile nations, not a figure who was likely understood as messianic. For an excellent critique of this view, see Gundry, Mark, 592. See also J. B. Higgins, Jesus and the Son of Man (London: Lutterworth, 1964), 56–57; France, Jesus and the Old Testament, 117–121; W. J. Moulder, “The Old Testament and the Interpretation of Mark x.45,” NTS 24 (1977): 121–23.
[15] For further arguments in favor of the Isaianic backdrop of the ransom saying see Rikki Watts, “Jesus’ Death, Isaiah 53 and Mark 10:45,” in Jesus and the Suffering Servant, 136–47; Peter Stuhlmacher, Reconciliation, Law, and Righteousness (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986), 19–20; Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:95-97. See also Craig Evans (Mark, 123) who is probably right to see Jesus combining both Isaiah 53 and Daniel 7 imagery: “[T]he Danielic elements do not necessarily compete with or contradict the underlying elements from Isaiah. The two scriptural traditions complement each other, with the Suffering Servant of Isa 53 redefining the mission and destiny of the ‘son of man’ of Dan 7. Indeed, the ‘son of man’ will someday ‘be served,’ but he first must serve, even suffer and die, as the Servant of the Lord.”
[16] For example, scholars have argued that the use of the terminology in Daniel 11:33 and 12:13 seems to draw on the language used in the Suffering Servant prophecy of Isaiah 53. See John J. Collins, Daniel (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 385, who, commenting on Daniel 11:33 [“ And those among the people who are wise [ומשכלי] shall make many understand, though they shall fall by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder, for some days”], wrties, “The designation משכילים is taken from the ‘suffering servant’ of Isa 52:13 (הנה ישכיל עבדי יָרום), who is said to ‘justify’ the רבים (Isa 53:11; cf. Dan 12:3).” Later, commenting on Daniel 12:3, Collins goes on to state, “As noted in the Commentary above, at 11:32, the maskîlîm take their name from the servant in Isaiah 52―53. The allusion is made all the clearer here when they are called מצדיקי הרבים (cf. Isa 53:11). The motif of exaltation is found in Isa 52:13. It is notworthy here the wise make the common people righteous, whereas in 11:33 they made them understand. The two notions are evidently closely related, if not equivalent.” See also Harold L. Ginsberg, “The Oldest Interpretation of the Suffering Servant,” VT 3 (1953): 400–404; Geroge W.E. Nickelsberg, Resurrection, Immortality, and Eternal Life in Intertestamental Judaism (HTS 26; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972), 24; Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 589 n. 190.
[17] For example, the language of the “Chosen One”, which is associated with the Son of Man figure is clearly taken from Isaiah 42:1. See George Nickelsburg, in Judaisms and Their Messiahs at the Turn of the Christian Era (eds. J. Neusner, W. S. Green and E. Frerichs; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 61, who, after citing 1 Enoch 49:4 [“He is the Chosen One before the Lord of the Spirits”] states, “Here the allusion is to the presentation of the Servant in Isaiah: ‘Behold my Servant, whom I uphold, my Chosen One in whom my soul delights. . .’” See also Black, Book of Enoch, 189: “The term ‘the Elect One’ points as unequivocally to the elect Servant of Second Isaiah, as does the term Son of Man to Dan. 7.”
[18] In addition, see 4Q541 (4QApocryphon of Levib) IX 1:2, which describes a coming figure who will “atone for all the children of his generation.” Scholars have seen allusions to Isaiah 53 here. This is of course significant since there the servant “makes himself an offering [אָשָׁם] for sin” (Isa 53:10). The word here is used for a sacrificial offering elsewhere (cf. Lev 5, 6:10; 7, 14, 19:21, 22 Num 6:12; 18:9; Ezek 40:39; 42:13; 44:29; 46:20; Ezra 10:19). Though the text in 4Q541 (4QApocryphon of Levib) contains no trace of the idea of an expiatory self-offering of the priest, it is nonetheless significant that here the figure of Isaiah 53 is linked with a priestly figure. For a fuller discussion see Émile Puech, “Fragments d’um apocryphe de Lévi et le personnage eschatologique: 4QTestLévic-d(?) et 4QAJa,” in The Madrid Qumran Congress: Proceedings of the International Congress on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Madrid 18–21 March, 1991 (eds. J. T. Berrera and L. V. Montaner; Leiden: Brill, 1992), 467–70; George J. Brooke, “4QTestament of Levid(?) and the Messianic Servant High Priest,” in From Jesus to John: Essays on Jesus and New Testament Christology in Honour of Marinus de Jonge (ed. M. C. De Boer; JSNTSup 84; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), 83–100; idem., The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 144–57; Collins, The Scepter and the Star, 123–26; Chester, Messiah and Exaltation, 257.
[19] LXX Numbers 3:12 reads: Καὶ ἐγὼ ἰδοὺ εἴληφα τοὺς Λευίτας ἐκ μέσου τῶν υἱῶν Ισραηλ ἀντὶ παντὸς πρωτοτόκου διανοίγοντος μήτραν παρὰ τῶν υἱῶν Ισραηλ, λύτρα αὐτῶν ἔσονται καὶ ἔσονται ἐμοὶ οἱ Λευῖται. See Jacob Milgrom, Numbers (JPSTC; Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1990), 18, who notes that the LXX relates the imagery here with “ransom” language. In light of this Fletcher-Louis writes, “That the Son of Man should act as a lu/tron is therefore fitting if he is of priestly (or Levitical) pedigree” (Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis, “Jesus as the High Priestly Messiah: Part 2,” JSHJ 5/1 [2006]: 60 [57–79)]. “Jesus as High Priestly Messiah: Part 2,” 60). In addition, see the closely related passage in Numbers 8:19 which describes the giving of the Levites for the purpose of making atonement: “And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the people of Israel, to do the service for the people of Israel at the tent of meeting, and to make atonement for the people of Israel. . .” Here the giving of the Levites is closely related to their role in making atonement for the people.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Do Atheists Really Want a Fair Debate?

I while ago I posted about the aftermath of the New Orleans Word of God conference, and various actions by the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association that could be interpreted as indications that they are not serious about a debate with a well-prepared proponent of a different perspective.

Apparently this is not a unique phenomena within the neo-atheist movement. It now comes to light that Richard Dawkins, über-atheist across the pond, is refusing to debate Stephen Meyer, a philosopher of science who has recently published a major contribution to origins research called Signature in the Cell. This is not the first time Dawkins has refused to debate. Christian apologist D'nesh D'Souza long ago issued a standing invitation to debate with him, but was refused. Eventually Dawkins accepted--but just once, and it was only covered by Al-Jazeera, ensuring that no one in the Western world would see it.

Why won't Dawkins debate Stephen Meyer. He says he won't debate "creationists" because it gives them "respectability" they don't deserve.

Stephen Meyer is not a "creationist," a term commonly reserved for those who believe in a young earth and a literal six-day creation. Dawkins knows this, but is engaging in name-calling.

Secondly, when you trounce someone in a debate, it humiliates them, not lends them respectability. Folks only gain respectability in a debate when they win or at least hold their own.

Therefore, what Dawkins means is, he won't debate Meyer because he thinks Meyer will win the debate or at least do well.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Monday, October 05, 2009

First Steps!

Yesterday was a huge day for my little boy, Michael Jr.--he took his first few steps! I'm sorry I don't have pictures or video of that, but in honor of the big accomplishment here are some pictures of him with his mom and dad.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

An Atheist at the Cajun Catholic Bible Conference: The Epilogue

As I posted here before, back in August we had a visit from an officer of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association to our Word of God conference in Cajun country, who was evidently confused by our advertising campaign. Although we billed the conference as an educational event for Catholics concerning the sacraments of marriage and priesthood, some evidently received the impression that it was going to be a value-neutral free exchange of alternative worldviews. Our friend from NOSHA was disappointed when Michael, Brant, and I began to consistently argue for a Catholic and biblical approach to various human realities. In particular he challenged me to a debate in a NOSHA-sponsored venue on the topic of marriage. I declined, as I am primarily a (unfrozen caveman) bible scholar, not a marriage-and-public-policy guy, but I offered to get him in contact with Brian Brown, one of the leaders of the National Organization for Marriage. Brian immediately jumped on the offer to debate and contacted NOSHA. Unfortunately, NOSHA wanted him to come and debate, but would not pay for any of his expenses, neither travel nor lodging.

For those who don't do public speaking professionally, let me make clear that no one pays their own way to come and speak. If you're serious about having a speaker--especially a nationally-recognized one--you pay expenses plus stipend. Would Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, or Daniel Dennett pay their own way to come to Franciscan University to debate with us? That's an easy question to answer.

Everyone can draw their own conclusions about how serious the interest in debate really was.

(For those who don't recognize him, the headshot is everyone's favorite British atheist, Richard Dawkins)

Saturday, October 03, 2009

For Your Hardness of Heart: Understanding Jesus' Teaching on Divorce

In the video I posted for this Sunday's readings, I mentioned that some ancient writers believed that the concession for divorce was made by Moses out of the desire to prevent wife-murder.[1] I want to explore yet another avenue which might help us further understand Jesus’ teaching here. Specifically, I want to highlight the fact that the so-called commandment for divorce is only found in Deuteronomy. Now, in his new volume, Meier has actually shown that the widespread acceptance of divorce in Second Judaism seemed to make more out of the Deuteronomic legislation than is actually there. Here I want to focus on a slightly different issue.

It is noteworthy that the concession for divorce is found only in the Deuteronomic legislation. In fact, the book makes other concessions not found in the laws of Exodus–Numbers. Indeed, it seems that Ezekiel himself referred to this book when he spoke of how God had given Israel “laws that were not good”. That Ezekiel had the Deuteronomic legislation in mind has been persuasively argued by Scott Hahn and, my co-blogger, John Sietze Bergsma.[2]

“Laws that Were Not Good”
The Ezekiel passage in question is found in Ezekiel 20. The chapter contains three panels (20:5–9; 20:10–17; 20:18–26), which each contain five common elements: “I lifted my hand” (20:5: ואשׂא ידי ; 20:15, 23: נשׂאתי ידי); “I am the Lord” (20:7, 12, 20: אני יהוה); an account of Israel rebelling against God (20:8, 13, 21); the threat of divine wrath being unleashed (20:8, 13, 21); God’s explanation that he withheld judgment because “I acted for the sake of my name” (20:9, 14, 22; וָאעשׂ למען שׁמי [14: ואעשׂה]. Clearly, the three panels are meant to describe the experience of the Exodus and Israel’s wilderness experience.

In the first panel, Ezekiel 20:1–9, we have a description of Israel in Egypt. The second panel, which begins in 20:10, begins with an account of how the Lord led the Israelites out to the wilderness. This is followed by a description of God giving his law to Israel in the wilderness, which is almost certainly meant to be taken as a reference to Sinai (20:11-12). The revolt that is described next and the following account of how God threatened to pour out his wrath upon the people should therefore be linked to the episode of the sin of the Golden Calf (20:13–15; cf. Exod 32–33). The final panel then, which describes the revolt of the second generation in the wilderness, should thus be linked with the disobedience associated with them in Numbers 22–36. The laws described as “not good” then are most likely a reference to those given to them in Deuteronomy.

That Deuteronomy is in view in the latter panel is further evident from a close examination of the words used for the divine legislation in 20:25. Significantly, the word used here for the “laws” that were “not good” in 20:25 is חקים, a male plural. A different form of the word, the feminine plural form, חקות, is used everywhere else in the chapter to refer to divine legislation (e.g., 20:24). The male plural is especially associated with the Deuteronomic laws. It is the male plural which introduces the Deuteronomic laws in Deuteronomy 12:1. In fact, the male plural form dominates the book of Deuteronomy. Significantly, the male plural appears only twice in all of Leviticus (10:11; 26:46), while the female plural occurs eleven times (18:4–5, 26; 19:19, 37; 20:8, 22; 25:18; 26:3, 15, 43). In addition, Ezekiel 20:25 also uses the term משׁפטים, which occurs only in Deuteronomy.

Distinguishing between the legislation at Sinai and that given in Deuteronomy is thus key to understanding the reference to these “laws that were not good” and the difficult statement in 20:26: “I defiled them through their very gifts, in their offering up all their firstborn, in order that I might horrify them, so that they might know that I am the Lord.” While some have interpreted this last verse as a reference to Molech worship due to the fact that the word העביר appears here, a word which is elsewhere associated with the Molech cult (cf. Ezek 20:31), it should be noted that the word was also frequently used for offerings which had no association with Molech at all (cf. 5:1; 14:15; 20:37; 37:2; 46:21; 47:3-4; 48:14). It should also be noted that Molech worship was never linked to the offering of firstborn children. Rather, the “defiling” nature of the sacrifices appears related to the priestly perspective of the author of Ezekiel. The Deuteronomic laws permitted something which was expressly condemned by the Levitical legislation: the killing and spilling of blood of animals in the land. While Leviticus requires one to bring all animals to be killed to the central sanctuary (cf. Lev 17:1–8), Deuteronomy only requires an annual sacrifice of the firstlings (cf. Deut 12:6, 17; 15:19, 20). It seems that it is this “defiling concession” to which 20:26 refers. See the article by Hahn and Bergsma for further arguments in favor of this interpretation and further interaction with other approaches.

Understanding Jesus’ Teaching on Divorce
I believe that Ezekiel’s prophetic explanation of the Deuteronomic laws as “laws that were not good” is helpful for understanding Jesus’ teaching on divorce. Of course, though Ezekiel seems to attribute God’s allowance of the Deuternomic “defiling concessions” to Israel’s sinfulness, there divorce is not specifically mentioned. Yet it is also important to note that nowhere in Deuteronomy is Israel’s “hard heartedness” explicitly stated as the cause for the concession to divorce. Where does Jesus’ teaching come from then? Well, first it is clear that divorce is criticized in other prophetic traditions. In Malachi, for example, the Lord does state “I hate divorce” (Mal 2:16). When combined with the recognition that Deuteronomy made defiling concessions―something clearly recognized by at least Ezekiel―we can begin to form a backdrop for understanding the prophetic matrix out of which Jesus’ teaching flows.

[1] Early Christian writers suggested that Moses allowed for divorce because he was concerned to prevent a greater evil―the murder of unwanted wives (cf. John Chrysostom, De virginitate 41.1; idem., Hom. 17 Matt. 4; Theodore of Mopsuestia, Comm. Mal. 2:14-16; Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Interp. Mal. 2:14-16;[Anonymous] Opus imperfectum in Matt. 19:8; Jerome, In Math. 3 (19:8).
[2] “What Laws Were ‘Not Good’? A Canonical Approach to the Theological Problem of Ezekekiel 20:25-26,” JBL 123/2 (2004): 201–218