Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Should Christians Abandon B.C./A.D.?

I'd like to add my two cents to the interesting discussion by Bob Cargill and Daniel McClellan about whether Christians should abandon the customary "B.C." (Before Christ) and "A.D." (Anno Domini) dating system and adopt the "B.C.E." (Before the Common Era) and "C.E." (Common Era) in widespread use now in the academy.
Anyone who's ever taught or taken a class in biblical studies, much less published a book or article in the field, will have run into this question: Which dating system to use? And why?
With all due respect to Bob and Daniel, I wholeheartedly disagree with the specific proposal that Christians should abandon the B.C./A.D. system for the sake of following "the scientific community." 
The primary reason is that "B.C.E." and "C.E." are vacuous: they don't mean anything. What actually is the "common era"? Can anyone actually tell me what is "common" about the years 1-the present? And what was it that happened "before the common era" so as to make it, well, 'un-common'? 
It seems to mean the terminological shift is nothing but a rather facile attempt to take a dating system which clearly places the Incarnation at the center of human history and secularize it. But the attempt ultimately fails, since whether you use B.C.E/C.E. or B.C./A.D., the Incarnation is still at the center of the system. There's no other identifiable historical event that marks the transition from one age to the other, whatever one concludes about the chronological controversy regarding exact calendar date of Jesus' birth.  
Second, as a Catholic, I actually believe that all human history does revolve around the Incarnation of Christ. While Bob Cargill may be right that the "use of B.C. and A.D." is not "the central identifier of a person as a christian," historically, the confession of faith in the Incarnation stands at the very heart of the Gospel. As 1 Timothy states: "the mystery of our religion" is that "He was manifested in the flesh" (1 Tim 3:16).   If others find this confession of faith in the Incarnation offensive, then it seems to me that the consistent thing to do would be to create entirely different system, a secular system of dating that is based on some other event--rather than cloaking a Christocentric calendar in secular clothes. 
So, until such a system is created and forced upon me, I will happily continue to use B.C. and A.D., as well as other such unfashionable terms like "Old Testament" and "New Testament," and hope that my respect towards people of different faiths will be judged on other grounds. 

P.S. This is, of course, exactly what Bob said members of the Catholic Church would do ;).

As a sidenote, it's also worth pointing out the origin of the linguistic inconsistency in the B.C./A.D. dating system: Have you ever wondered why "B.C." derives from English ("Before Christ") and "A.D." from Latin (Anno Domini)? Pick up an old Catholic Bible, and you'll find no such inconsistency: in bygone days, the designation for the age before Christ was abbreviated "A.M." (Anno Mundi)--that is, "In the Year of the World." In this system, the dating was counted from creation to the Incarnation, following the biblical timeline, in a way similar to orthodox Jewish calendars.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Jesus, Hell, the Seventy and Much More (Video+More on Sunday's Readings)

Sunday, September 27, 2009: Liturgy Reflection from JP Catholic University on Vimeo.

Moses, the Seventy and Jesus
In the first reading, Moses commissions 70 elders to prophesy. Notably, nowhere are we explicitly told that these elders were Levites. Here then it seems then that we have a kind of charismatic role which is extended to lay Israelites (i.e., non-priests), who exercise a prophetic responsibility which compliments the divinely established office of the priests.

We might also add here that, while the details are a bit sketchy, it seems that Sanhedrin, the governing Jewish body in Jesus’ day, was associated with this tradition. In the Mishna we are told that the Sanhedrin that there were two Sanhedrins, a greater and lesser one. The greater Sanhedrin was composed of “one and seventy judges” (m. Sanh. 1.6). Why seventy? The Mishna directly quotes from Numbers 11―Moses appointed seventy elders.

Finally, we might also note that there is a certain New Testament fulfillment of Moses’ commissioning of the seventy. In the Gospel of Luke we read that Jesus himself appointed seventy. Since this was not the Gospel this week I decided to focus on other things in the video, but I thought I'd elaborate on the significance of Jesus' appointment of seventy in Luke here. In fact, my co-blogger, New Testament scholar Brant Pitre, presented an incredible paper at last year’s Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in which he showed the parallels between the arrangement of Israel under Moses and the description of the concentric circles of disciples Jesus gathers.[1] Here I want to recap what Brant presented.

First, we can note that Peter’s prominence―he is also listed first among the apostles. Second, we note that among the twelve three are typically singled out: Peter, James and John (cf. Mark 5:36; 9:2; 14:33). In fact, these three are the only ones ever explicitly said to be renamed by Jesus (cf. Mark 3:14, 16–17: “And he appointed twelve. . . 16 Simon whom he surnamed Peter; 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, whom he surnamed Bo-anerges, that is, sons of thunder”). Third, of course, there are the twelve disciples themselves. Fourth, as noted above, Luke tells us that Jesus appointed seventy disciples (Luke 10:1).[2]

As Brant explained in his paper, these concentric circles around Jesus seem to correspond with the description of Israel's leadership under Moses. In particular, Brant highlighted Exodus 24. There, as elsewhere, Aaron seems to have a kind of prominence. Likewise, as Jesus singled out three, God tells Moses to specifically take with him Aaron and two brothers, Nadab and Abihu (cf. Exod 24:1, 9). Interestingly, Jesus also takes aside Peter and two brothers, James and John. Furthermore, Moses has young men offer sacrifices on twelve pillars--it seems possible that here twelve are here envisioned (cf. Exod 24:4-5). Finally, in Exodus 24 Moses is specifically told to bring with him seventy elders (cf. Exod 24:1, 9). The parallels with the arrangement of disciples around Jesus is really quite amazing. Look forward to read about all of this with even greater depth and sophisitication in his new book on the Last Supper, which is due out next year. (I can't wait!) If you can't wait for the book, I suggest obtaining the audio from his Eucharistic Theology class lectures--they're dynamite.

The parallels here would all seem to underscore Jesus’ role as the New Moses, through whom the New Exodus is realized.

What the Hell?
As I explain in the video, the term originated as a reference to the “Valley of Hinnon” (גֵֽי־הִנֹּם֙, cf. Josh 15:8; 18:6), which was known as the site where children were offered as human sacrifices to the god Molech (2 Chron 28:3; 33:6; 2 Kgs 16:3). Because of its association with Molech worship the prophets had uttered condemnations of the valley and described how it would be a place of carnage and devastation in the coming divine judgment (Jer 7:30–33; 19:1–13; 32:34–35; cf. also Isa 31:9; 66:24; 2 Kgs 23:10; Lev 18:21). In later Jewish literature it is identified as the place of God’s eschatological judgment (cf. 1 En. 27:1–5; 54:1–6; 56:1–4; 90:26) and as the place of torment for the wicked dead (Apoc. Abr. 15.6; Sib. Or. 1.100–103; 2.292–310; 4.184–86; 4 Ezra 7:36; m. ʾAbot 1:5; 5.19; b. Šabb. 33a; 39a; 104a; b. ʿErub. 19a; b. Beýah 32b; b. Taʿan. 5a; b. Hag. 15a; b. Yebam. 63b; b. Sotah 4b; 41b; 10b; b. Qidd. 40a; b. B. Bat. 74a; 84a; 78b; b. ʿAbod. Zar. 18b; b. B. Meýiʿa. 59a) from which no one ever escapes (b. Roš. Haš. 16b-17a; b. B. Meýiʿa 58b), and even as the place of everlasting torment (Josephus, A.J. 18.14; B.J. 2.163; Sib. Or. 2.292–310; though see m. ʿEd. 2.10; b. Šabb. 33b; b. Roš. Haš. 16b-17a). In the Gospels, Jesus uses the term to describe the place to which the wicked will be condemned, emphasizing that those who are sent there will experience bodily punishment (cf. Matt 5:29; 10:28).[3]

[1] Brant Pitre, “Jesus and the Messianic Priesthood” (paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, 2008).
[2] There is a textual difficulty here. Some sources describe Jesus appointing “seventy-two”. As Marshall explains, the confusion may have emerged because in the Old Testament it is unclear if Moses simply appointed seventy or seventy-two, since Eldad and Medad, who were not enrolled with the seventy elders who were taken outside the camp were still given the gift of prophecy. Indeed, the LXX has Moses appointing seventy-two. Moreover, it should be noted that there number seventy is significant in that according to Genesis 10 the world is comprised of seventy nations. Again, the LXX diverts from the MT here, indicating that there were seventy-two nations. The mission of the seventy then can be taken as a prefiguring of the Church’s mission to evangelize the world. For further discussion see I. Howard Marshall, Gospel according to Luke (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 415.
[3] For a fuller discussion, see J. Lunde, “Heaven and Hell,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (eds. J. B. Green, S. McKnight, I. H. Marshall; Downers Grove; InterVarsity Press, 1992), 310–11 [307–21]; Joachim Jeremias, “γέεννα,” TDNT 1:657–58.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Proud of My Alma Mater's Huge Purchase!

So I realize that I am a little late in covering this, but I've got to post on this news story here. . . Azusa Pacific University has purchased five Dead Sea Scroll fragments!

Of course, it's big news whenever a university makes such a purchase. The story I link to below states--and I believe it's correct--that there are only three American universities that own any of the Dead Sea Scrolls. That one of them would be in Southern California is huge.

That one of them would be my alma mater is especially exciting!

I completed my undergraduate degrees in Theology and Philosophy at Azusa Pacific, minoring in New Testament Greek. I had an excellent experience there and look back at my time there fondly. APU is sort of a small school and so it doesn't really get the attention it deserves. You don't find reactionaries or second rate thinkers there but honest, thoughtful, faith-filled professors who really know how to inspire students. Of course, as a Catholic I had my share of theological differences with professors and fellow students. Nonetheless, we had far more in common than we had in disagreement. Indeed, APU was instrumental in helping me learn the value of authentic ecumenism. While I sometimes had theological disagreements with certain things I may have heard from professors and students I never found them to be disagreeable. In fact, I can honestly say that the school's faculty and students were models of Christian virtue and charity. And, of course, I learned a lot from them too!

I treasure my memories of APU. Hopefully the purchase of these scrolls will help raise the school's profile--it deserves it!

For more, see the story in the LA Times here. Bob Cargill also had a good post on this that deserves mention.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Jesus as the Suffering Son of Man (Video+More on Sunday's Readings)

Sunday, September 20, 2009: Liturgy Reflection from JP Catholic University on Vimeo.

This Sunday we hear Jesus’ passion prediction in Mark 9:31: “The Son of man will be given over the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise”. As I mention in the video there seem to be echoes of Daniel 7 in Jesus’ words. Here I thought I’d give a little more on that since I can’t get into all of the technicalities involved in the short video we do. By the way, I want to thank Nate Sjogren again for putting this together. He's just a Sophmore, but he's really an amazingly talented student. (And he's got the fiery enthusiasm of a new convert--he came into the Catholic Church at this year's Easter Vigil!)

As an aside I should note that, of course, all of our lectionary videos draw extensively from recent scholarship. In fact, I’m often pained that I cannot get into some of the subtleties I’d like to explain. My plan then is to post a little more on the videos here as often I can, giving some more background for what is said. That having been said, let’s look at Jesus’ prediction in Mark 9:31.

The Son of Man as Corporate Symbol and Eschatological Figure

In receiving the kingdom the Son of Man is closely identified with the saints, who, after undergoing the period of eschatological suffering, are vindicated by God. However, I think it is wrong to suggest that the figure is merely to be read as a corporate symbol. [1] For one thing, it seems clear that the Son of Man is some sort of divine figure―e.g., his coming on the clouds is an image reserved for God in Israel’s Scriptures (cf. Deut 33:6; Ps 68:5; 104:3). Moreover, it is well-known that certain figures in the ancient world such as kings were understood as rerepsentatives of their people, i.e., “corporate personalities.”[2]

That the latter phenemonen is going on elsewhere in Daniel 7 is abundantly clear since the imagery of the beasts is said to describe both four kingdoms and four kings (cf. Dan 7:17-18). Since the four beasts are described as both four kings and four kingdoms (cf. Dan 7:17, 23) it stands to reason that “son of man” could likewise be interpreted as both an eschatological figure and the representative of the nation.[3] In fact, not only kings but also priests were known as serving as corporate symbols. Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis has taken this in some interesting directions which we cannot explore here.[4] In fact, this is an area I spend a lot of time on in my dissertation project―you’ll have to read it all there! Suffice it to say, the high priest wore both the twelve stones symbolizing the twelve tribes and the divine name (cf. Exod 28).

Jesus’ Passion Prediction and Daniel 7

Aside from Jesus’ use of “son of man” language, as I explain in the video, scholars have caught other allusions to Daniel 7 in Jesus’ passion prediction. Indeed, the language there of Jesus’ being “given over” (παραδίδοται, paradidotai), “into the hands” (εἰς χεῖρας, eis cheiras) to be killed, and rising “after three days” (μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας, meta treis hēmeras) appears to have strong ties to Daniel 7:25, which describes how the saints, who are represented by the “son of man”, “shall be given” (OG.: παραδοθήσεται, paradothēsetai; Theod.: δοθήσεται, dothēsetai)” “into the hand (OG.: ἐν χειρὶ, en cheiri; Theod.: εἰς τὰς χεῖρας, eis tas cheiras) [of the beast] for a time, two times, and half a time.” It seems hard to believe the similarities are simply coincidental.[5]

In fact, as I explain, some scholars even think the frame of “after three days” corresponds to Daniel’s vision.[6] For example, Davies and Allison write, “if the pre-Easter predictions were eschatological in content, there is an intriguing parallel with Dan 7. Just as, in that important text, the saints of the Most High, who are identified with the one like a son of man, are delivered into the hands of their enemy, only to receive the kingdom after a time, the representative and head of the faithful community, will be delivered into the hands of men, only to be resurrected after three days.” [7] Rather, it seems as though Jesus formulated such a prediction using Daniel 7.

In fact, I think that it is abundantly clear that Daniel 7 was understood as describing a figure who represented the saints who suffer during the tribulation―in Matthew 20:28//Mark 10:45 Jesus explains that “the Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many.” That’s another passage I’ve spent a lot of time on in my dissertation project. It’s also a passage we will be looking at soon in the Sunday readings. I’ll wait until then to offer further comment.

On the Apostles’ Lack of Understanding

One other interesting note about the Son of Man: the Old Greek version of Daniel describes the “son of man” coming not “to” but “as [ὡς, hōs]” the Ancient of Days.[8] The author of the book of Revelation seems to have been aware of this reading.[9] It would seem then possible that some saw the figure as truly a divine individual. If the apostles were aware of this reading of Daniel―which is of course something we have no way of knowing for sure―it would go a long way to explaining why they are so shocked to hear that “the Son of Man” will be killed. It would also explain why when Jesus applies the term to himself before Caiaphas, he is accused with blasphemy.

[1] See Christopher Rowland, The Open Heaven: A Study of Apocalyptic in Judaism and Early Christianity (New York: Crossroad, 1982), 180: “If the Son of Man figure had merely been a symbol of the Saints of the Most High, we might have expected to find the same kind of identification between the Son of Man and the saints which we find in respect of the beasts and the kings in v. 18, but this is lacking.” See also, Collins, Daniel, 305: “The Ancient One is assumed to exist outside the dream, and there is no more appropriate or familiar language by which he might be described. Accordingly, we are subsequently given no identification of the Ancient of Days by the angel. It is highly significant that the ‘one like a human being’ is not interpreted either. He is associated with ‘the holy ones of the Most High’ insofar as they too are said to receive the kingdom, but there is no one-to-one equation, such as we have with the beasts and the kings.” Collins contrasts Rowland’s argument with the assertion made for the opposite position (i.e., that the Son of Man is merely a corporate image of the righteous) by Maurice Casey, Son of Man: The Interpretation and Influence of Daniel 7 (London: SPCK, 1979), 25: “if the author had viewed him as a real being who would lead or deliver the Saints, he must have mentioned him here.”
[2] See, e.g., H. W. Robinson, “The Hebrew Conception of Corporate Personality,” in Corporate Personality in Ancient Israel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 25–26; Joel S. Kaminksy, Corporate Responsibility in the Hebrew Bible (JSOTSup 196; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), 16, 109.
[3] See Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile, 54-55; Seyoon Kim, “Son of Man” as the Son of God (WUNT 30; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1983), 18.
[4] Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis, “The High Priest as Divine Mediator in the Hebrew Bible: Dan 7:13 as a Test Case,” SBLSP (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997): 161–93; idem., “The Revelation of the Sacral Son of Man: The Genre, History of Religions Context and the Meaning of the Transfiguration,” in Auferstehung–Resurrection. The Fourth Durham-Tübingen-Symposium: Resurrection, Exaltation, and Transformation in Old Testament, Ancient Judaism, and Early Christianity (ed. H. Lichtenberger & F. Avemarie; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2001), 247–298.
[5] Scott McKnight, Jesus and His Death: Historiography, the Historical Jesus and Atonement Theory (Waco: Baylor, 2005), 234, writes: “I continue to be amazed by scholars who refuse to think Daniel 7 could be the context for a suffering Son of Man. Daniel predicts suffering in the following words: ‘He shall speak words against the Most High, shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High, and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law; and they shall be given into his power for a time, two times, and half a time.' The Son of man of Daniel 7 is vindicated precisely because the Son of man, a figure for the saints of the Most High, has suffered.”
[6] See, e.g., J. Schaberg, “Daniel 7, 12 and the New Testament Passion-Resurrection Predictions,” NTS 31 (1985): 208-22, especially 210; Morna Hooker, “Is the Son of Man problem really insoluble?,” in Text and Interpretation (ed. E. Best and R. M. Wilson; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 166.
[7] Davies and Allison, Matthew, 2:661. In addition, see C. Caragounis, The Son of Man: Vision and Interpretation (WUNT 2/38; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1986), 197-201. Moreover, it could also be pointed out that the language of “resurrection” also appears in Daniel 12:1-2.
[8] Some dismiss this as a scribal error (cf. Collins, Daniel, 311). It should be noted, however, that such a view conveniently dismisses one of the major criteria for textual criticism, lectio difficilior potior.
[9] In Revelation 1 we read about the “son of man” who is identified with imagery evocative of the “ancient of days”, i.e., his hair is said to be white as “wool” and “snow” (cf. Rev 1:14 with Dan 7:9). See, e.g., G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 210 who suggests the influence of the Old Greek reading.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Humanizing the Academy: Benefits of Blogging and SBL

Daniel O. McClellen has updated his comprehensive collection of posts on the SBL-Biblioblog affiliation. I want to thank him for including my last post on the issue.

I think I have finally read through all the posts.

One other positive aspect of having a section with bibliobloggers which I over looked was mentioned by Chris Brady:
"And besides, I like meeting with you all. So order me a cuppa tea and let’s talk."
Amen to that! (Except, I drink Diet Coke, not tea). I think I've had a grand total of two short conversations with Chris. I look forward to having more. Indeed, I look forward to having more of an opportunity to spend time talking with all the people I read on a regular basis (in some cases every day!). Moreover, I know that meeting others will open me up to new blogs I have yet to discover.

One great thing about biblioblogging is that it puts a human face on scholarship. Most academic works are (appropriately!) rather devoid of personal information. I always find it fascinating to simply discover what a scholar looks like. (Sometimes I'm rather disappointed!). The truth is, we can almost reduce scholars to their ideas. Of course, it would be natural to primarily identify names with certain exegetical, historical, literary, philosophical or theological positions--most of the time that's all we know about them! But of course the great thing with blogging is that it at least has the potential allow the academic to open up a little bit more about himself--which is of course quite revealing oftentimes about their scholarship. Better know the scholar and you better understand where he's coming from.

This is, in my opinion, in fact why many people are hesitant about revealing too much about themselves on their blogs--and why some avoid blogging altogether! Scholars don't want to reveal too much about themselves. Abiding by Enlightenment principles, many in the academy would like to pretend that they are not affected by their ecclesial tradition, their spirituality (or lack thereof), their philosophy on life, their upbringing, their personal interests, etc. Conferences which bring about greater personal interaction is fine--so long as everyone is all dressed up in their best clothes and can read their thoughts to one another in well-prepared--and footnoted--papers.

In short, I think scholars actually sometimes fear that if these personal aspects of who they were to be revealed it could hurt them. Their ideas might be seen as--horror of horrors--products of who they are! Best to appear like a Vulcan--motivated by "pure logic" (oops, I think I just revealed one of my personal interests).

Blogging in fact can remove that "faceless" mask. In fact--in many cases--I think it humanizes scholarship. And rather than hurting it, I think it advances it. It personalizes it. When combined with a flesh-and-blood encounter--e.g., an SBL section--I think the Enlightenment model for scholarship fades. How postmodern of us!--we all want to actually get to know one another better and where we're all coming from!

Yet, let me be clear: blogging is not in-and-of-itself going to re-personalize scholarship. In fact, the emergence of the internet as an academic tool and the rise of blogging could of course only make the problem worse. Let me explain.

Not trying to get too heavy here but, as many have noted, while the internet has brought the world closer together in some respects, it has also paradoxically increasingly isolated us from one another. I could write a whole post on that whole idea. For example, the international community is much more aware of the problems and crises different people around the world are experiencing. The internet in this way has hugely helped get financial aid to people facing catastrophes. Of course, when the next major storm hits, the world forgets about the victims of the last Katrina and moves on to the latest story. Since we have no personal connection with such people our charity is a kind of charity that lacks any kind of real commitment!

Moreover, while we are much more aware of, say, the oppression of women in Iran, we often are more ignorant of the problems facing our local communities--even the personal crises the person who works in the office next to our own is facing. We read about people half-way around the world, but we don't even know the person sitting next to us! But I digress. . .

I think having a section where people who blog actually have to interact with one another face-to-face is vitally important to addressing the concern that the internet will de-personalize--even de-humanize--the academic community. As the role of the internet continues to expand in the academic community, having a place for academics who talk to each other on-line to meet "in the flesh" seems to be greatly needed.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The SBL-Biblioblogger Affiliation

Some people have expressed concern with the new relationship between bibliobloggers and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL). I'm not going to do a round-up of all the posts--Daniel O. McClellan has already done an excellent job of that over at his blog.

What concerns are there? Well, some are concerned that "bibliobloggers" are too loosely defined. Some have complained that there are not proper controls on which blogs will be officially affiliated with SBL. Academic respectability is a big concern here. Still others are asking what affiliation status even means? After all, since it doesn't really guarantee the academic integrity of a blog, what good is it?

Briefly here are my thoughts.

SBL: The Good, the Bad, and the Dilettantes
First, SBL membership itself really tells you nothing about the quality of a person's scholarship. There are all sorts of wacky people affiliated with SBL. People complaining that the SBL affiliate badge will in some way harm the prestige of SBL itself tend to gloss over the fact that the badge is displayed by people who are already members of the Society.

What Is "Academic Respectability"?
Second, this whole dust up raises an even more important issue--namely, what exactly constitutes "academic respectability". In my mind "academic respectability" is not determined by a person's affiliation. Whatever university or society a person may be associated with, the standard for judging someone's scholarship is the merits of their own work and the credibility of their own arguments. I think a major problem in biblical scholarship is that positions (i.e., exegetical, historical, theological, etc.) are often accepted or rejected on grounds irrelevant to the evidence and/or arguments attached with them.

Take for example the Secret Gospel of Mark. What is most surely a fraud still carries with it some academic clout simply because it is attached to the name Morton Smith.

Thankfully scholars are indeed waking up--years later. Yet there are still a plethera of other areas where "respectability" is afforded to positions simply because they have been advanced by scholars of "stature". Irregardless of the data, positions are deemed "respectable" or "unlikely".

I hesitate to begin to offer further illustrations because I know I'll alienate some people and because I also know I may just get carried away. But let me just point to one area--one I'm dealing with in detail in my thesis: assumptions inherited from the form-critics about the way the Jesus tradition was transmitted. Because of the form-critics, for example, many scholars today simply accept the idea--without any investigation!--that the the titles of the Gospels were likely later additions. As Martin Hengel so ably showed, this position is adopted without a single shred of evidence. Pay no heed to the actual evidence from the manuscripts! Forget the fact that the attributions are universally corroborated in the early Church! (There was no email back then--it's not like the Christians could just get everyone to agree magically overnight on a attribution which only emerged later). Skip over the fact that the Synoptic Gospels are attributed to unlikely figures (e.g., Matthew, the Gospel which is clearly trying to make Jesus palatable to Jewish audience is attributed to the former tax collector!; the second and third Gospels are not even attributed to apostles)!

In short, "academic respectability", if it has to do with something other than arguments and evidence, means little. In fact, you can tell when a scholar knows he's loosing an argument--he has to label the opposing position with terms such as "conservative" or "liberal", as if "guilt by association" were itself somehow to be counted as evidence against the credibility of their case.

What's The Point?
With that in mind, you might ask, "If SBL membership does not ensure solid scholarship and if 'academic respectability' should not have to do with affiliation, why even bother being affiliated with SBL?" The answer: because those who are likely to do cutting-edge, solid scholarship are likely to also be affiliated with SBL. Let's be clear, SBL is not great because it somehow guarantees the work being done by all of its members. SBL is important because so many of its members do important work.

Put it another way: I don't go to SBL meetings because I know that only solid scholarship is done there. I go because I know that it is one of the only places the majority of those doing great scholarship are likely to converge. Of course, there are great scholars who are not affiliated with SBL and who never attend. I'm not saying that SBL is where ALL great scholarship is done. But the one place I know I can go to find the most number of like-minded people is the annual SBL meeting.

Let's translate that now to the biblioblog affiliation. Blogs with the SBL badge are not necessarily going to have excellent scholarship. Just as there are wacky members in SBL there are going to be wacky SBL members with blogs. And just as there are great scholars who have nothing to do with SBL, there are going to be great scholars whose blogs will not be affiliated with SBL.

But just as I go to SBL because I know that there I'm more likely to find the kind of balanced, open-minded, solid scholarship that stimulates my thinking than elsewhere in the US, hopefully the same can be true with the SBL Affiliate blogging. There are host of crack-pot Bible blogs out there. But I go to the biblioblogs because I know that those interested in serious academic discussion seem to be drawn to it. In other words, the kinds of scholars I enjoy reading tend to be SBL members. It would make sense then that they would want to identify themselves with an SBL-affilate status. The tag therefore has value, though it doesn't guarantee solid scholarship any more than membership in SBL does.

The tag extends the SBL community beyond meetings. It creates a kind of on-line community which, among other things, can further academic discussion. And I'm all for that!

But there's more.

The Benefits and Limits of Blogs
In an excellent post Bob Cargill explained how the emergence of scholarly blogging corresponds to the larger issue of the academic respectability of the internet in general. Once academic institutions were completely oppposed to virtually any use of the internet; its benefits though made it impossible to resist.

Now, what I'm going to say next may surprise my students, from whom I virtually never accept papers using internet sources (one primary exception being Catholic magisterial sources, e.g., papal encyclicals which are all helpfully on the Vatican's website). But, as Bob points out, the internet is a valuable tool which simply cannot be dismissed. The key is recognizing the benefits and limits of blogging.

I think the key here is recognizing the difference between sites featuring peer-reviewed articles and those which don't. Sites like NT Gateway which compile peer-reviewed articles are especially helpful. Blogs, admittedly, are not peer-reviewed. As such, one must recognize that a blog is not in-and-of-itself a reliable source.

At the same time, that does not mean that blogs are never reliable. In fact, those written by extremely well-read scholars have a high degree of probability of producing solid content. To that end I've attempted to frequently write posts with a good degree of footnoting (e.g., my series on "Goodacre's Dating Game," i.e., on the Dating of Mark's Gospel [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6], which I realize I have yet to conclude!). In those posts you can check my sources.

Moreover, blogging can sharpen ideas. For example, I post regularly on things that I'm working through in my thesis. I love getting feedback (please, bring it on!). Scholars who blog therefore can air out ideas more freely with one another, get quick responses, and further polish theories. All of that simply furthers academic research--and who would oppose that?!

The Future Ingathering of Ten Lost Tribes of Scholars
Indeed, much of the academic community is only getting caught up with recent technological tools such as those provided by the internet. The number of academics I know who still do not even use Bible software programs astonishes me! Thus it is not a surprise that many are even further behind when it comes to thinking about the potential the web has for furthering research.

Who are those exploring those areas? Well, those interested in such cutting-edge tools are especially likely to blog. My hope is that the SBL Biblioblogging section will come up with ways to further academic research using internet tools.

Let me give one example: Web-Ex. Web-Ex is an amazing program our school uses for open houses and other events. Web-Ex allows a group of people to essentially have a huge conference call in which all participants can share a computer screen. In other words, when we do open-houses for people over the web, people hear a presentation on financial options here while looking at a Power Point presentation. People can be muted so only the presenter can speak. There is also a "raise your hand" option that works well for Q & A. In addition, there is public and private Instant Messenging, so that participants can communicate easily with one another.

What I find amazing is this: I know numerous people in other fields, e.g., business, medicine, etc., who will tell you that such web-conferencing is now industry standard. Why are biblical scholars so far behind here?

I would hope bibliobloggers could come to present options for the application of internet tools such as Web-Ex for furthering the academic discussion. Imagine the value of having papers presented in such a format. Scholars could interact with one another, present their ideas on a shared-screen, providing "handouts" or even the paper itself (there are no photocopying costs!). It's cheap, it's really easy (you get a phone number and an internet link in an email), and the benefits to such conferencing would be enormous.

Such applications could easily bring together scholars from around the world and also allow those who are unable to travel (e.g., those who are elderly or handicapped) to continue to participate in the community and the ongoing scholarly discussion. Blogging academics could play a key role in such an endeavor. Not only could they promote such events on their blogs, they could even help determine the subject matter. Papers on topical issues could easily be discussed. Furthermore, ideas for such papers could be flushed out by bloggers who could incorporate comments into their presentation seemlessly.

Really the possibilities are endless.

So, in short, yes, I think there are limits to blogging. But as Mark has explained, the benefits are just too great to ignore because of possible pitfalls.

My thanks again to Jim West for helping to bring this development about and to Bob Cargill for agreeing to head up the section at SBL in Atlanta.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

So Ancient Jerusalem Really Was Important!?

In case you missed it, a massive fortification wall from the early/mid-second millennium B.C. was recently discovered in the City of David, the heart of ancient Jerusalem.

Why is this significant?

Recent decades have seen the rise of the "minimalist" school of ancient Israelite history. Several important scholars have argued that, although the Bible portrays Jerusalem as an important fortress city already from the time of Joshua, in fact it was a relatively small and unimportant site until, say, the reign of Hezekiah.

The full implications of the discovery of this wall will take a while to digest, but this much is clear--it doesn't help the minimalists' case.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Pope's Jesus of Nazareth vol. 2 Coming Next Year!

The site Rome Reports has the story:

Though he fractured his wrist this summer, the pope still worked on the second part of his book “Jesus of Nazareth,” and dictated the revisions to it.

According to the Vatican spokesman, it will be published in the spring.

It’s a historical, theological, and ascetic reflection on the childhood, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.

When he published the first book, he said it was not meant to be a papal teaching, but the result of his personal investigation, and that no one should feel obligated to agree with him.

Joseph Ratzinger has published more than 100 books. Without counting three encyclicals and compilations of his speeches, Jesus of Nazareth is the second one he writes since becoming pope.

This is very good news. When I heard the news that Benedict had broken his wrist I thought it would mean a further delay in the publication of volume 2 of Jesus of Nazareth. I'm delighted to see that I was wrong. This obviously also shows us that the Holy Father is really intent on finishing this work.

Video on Sunday's Readings

Here we look at Jesus as the Suffering Servant and Peter's protest at Jesus' passion predictions. Sorry it is up so late. We are going to start getting these up earlier in the week. Anyways, Nate once again did a wonderful job. He had finals this week and I wouldn't let him work on it until he was done with them all--especially mine! :)

Sunday, September 13, 2009: Liturgy Reflection from JP Catholic University on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Papal Encyclicals on the Bible: Does Anybody Ever Read Them?

Sorry I've been quiet for a while; I'm in the midst of adjusting to my new job at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. A new job means new classes, which means new preps, and new work!
Right now, I'm working up a new course on Biblical Methodology, which has been a ton of fun so far. In it, we are currently doing a close reading of the three papal encyclicals on the Bible.
These are:
1. Pope Leo XIII, 
Encyclical Letter On the Study of Sacred Scripture,
Providentissimus Deus, 1893
2. Pope Benedict XV, 
Encyclical Letter Commemorating the Fifteenth Centenary of the Death of St. Jerome,
Spiritus Paraclitus, 1920
3. Pope Pius XII,
Encyclical Letter Promoting Biblical Studies,
Divino Afflante Spiritu, 1943
As I'm reading through these encyclicals again, I'm struck by what a treasure trove of teaching they are on a whole host of issues: inspiration, inerrancy, interpretation, the literal and spiritual senses of Scripture, the role of the Scripture in the spiritual life and mission of the Church, and on and on. 
But I'm also struck as I look around in secondary literature, both Catholic and Protestant, that no one seems to be actually reading these encyclicals and engaging them. This is an odd situation, one that seems to be peculiar to biblical studies. At least in Catholic circles, no moral theologian worth his or her salt would ever presume to speak about, say, the Church's teaching on contraception without reference to Paul VI's Encyclical Letter Of Human Life, Humanae Vitae (1968). Likewise, Catholic philosophers regularly make their students study John Paul II's Encyclical Letter On the Relationship between Faith and Reason, Fides et Ratio (1998), in close detail. 
By contrast, when it comes to introductions to the Bible, including Catholic ones, authors often precede blissfully along as if no detailed papal teachings on Scripture have ever been penned--or at least they mention them only in passing without any detailed analysis. Why? 
So, here's my questions:
If you are a Catholic, have you read any of the papal encyclicals on the Bible? Why or why not?
And if you are not Catholic--in particular, if you are a Protestant biblical scholar--have you ever read the papal encyclicals on the Bible? If not, why not?

P.S.: If actually you want access to these encyclicals on the Bible, you can find them all online at the Vatican website, or, even more handy, in Dean P. Bechard's excellent book, The Scripture Documents: An Anthology of Official Catholic Teachings (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2002).

Sunday, September 06, 2009

What do Bible scholars really do?

Some readers of this blog are bible scholars themselves, so they don't ponder the headline question of this post.

Others might. I mean, beside teaching and speaking at conferences, what do bible scholars do with all their time? What are the secret "scholarly" things they do that make them "scholars"?

Unfortunately, the answer is not always too exciting. The technical projects on which we often work, intended for other scholars, are frequently esoteric. It can take a while to explain why they are interesting at all.

Case in point: at the upcoming Society of Biblical Literature conference (the big professional meeting for North American bible scholars) in New Orleans, I'll be giving a paper discussing whether the ancient author of Leviticus 25 was copying from Deuteronomy 15 when he wrote.

Why is this interesting at all? It has to do with how the Pentateuch was written, and how the laws of the Bible developed.

I did my dissertation on Leviticus 25, and have spent a lot of time pouring over both that passage and also Deuteronomy 15, which has a different laws about some of the same topics.

I've never seen any close verbal parallels indicating that there was some copying going on, in one or the other direction, like what we see between the synoptic gospels. (Nonetheless, it seems to be a dominant opinion among those who work in Pentateuchal law that most of Leviticus is reworking Deuteronomy. I've never been able to see it myself, but then again, I've always been the odd man out.)

So I'm going to argue there is no "literary dependence" between these passages.

But I could be wrong. If any of our good readers can find a convincing example of copying between Lev 25 and Deut 15, let me know!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Biblioblogs Now Officially Affiliated With SBL

Jim West and Kent Richards, the Executive Director of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL)--the most prestigious professional society of biblical scholars--have announced a new affiliation between the SBL and bibliobloggers. Here's the news which is posted on both the SBL website and Jim West's blog:

Bibliobloggers as a group have become affiliated with the Society of Biblical Literature. We look forward to partnering at our North American and international meetings every year.

This partnership will make possible the fostering of biblical scholarship and communication among members of both groups. The affiliation will enable Bibliobloggers to meet and hold sessions in conjunction with SBL meetings. Individual bibliobloggers who are members of the Society of Biblical Literature and who wish to identify themselves as affiliates of the Society may post this ‘badge’ on their blog.

I want to thank Jim and his colleagues for their efforts. This is a partnership long overdue, and it’s great to see it come to fruition.
This is especially exciting news. For one thing it raises the academic respectability of biblioblogging.
Since Brant, John and myself are all three members of the Society of Biblical Literature, we are pleased to announce that this blog will henceforth be an SBL Affiliate Biblioblog.
Thanks in particular to Jim West for leading the charge of bibliobloggers everywhere!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


bpeuchtalk (right click to download)

This talk was delivered as part of a larger conference, entitled, "John~The Sacramental Gospel", which featured talks by Dr. Scott Hahn and Dr. Michael Barber. This week you can get the entire series at a great discount. Just call: 1-800-526-2151. You can also download the whole series (without a discount) as an mp3 set here.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Reading Too Much Into Jesus' Miracles?

Picture: A Photo of 4Q521

I was recently asked a great question by Alex in one of the comment boxes which I thought I'd share in a post:
Do you think the vast majority, if not all, of Jesus' acts (non-speech acts) were primarily symbolic meant to point to himself as Messiah, redeemer, what have you? Or at the very least, did the writers of the gospels tend to take all of the stories this way? My only thought, is what if the concept of "allusions" in the gospel is nothing more than speculation, and all Jesus was really trying to do was just feed hungry people to show his power and love.

So which is it: a) symbolic to show messiahship, redemption, fulfillment of Exodus, etc., or b) a show of his goodness, love, and power so people would look to him for
salvation. I think a) is the way that scholarship typically interprets it, while b) is the way the lay church typically interprets it. Heck maybe both are true, but I'd be curious to hear what you think?Here is what I would say.
To answer this question from a historical perspective, I want to turn to Matthew 11:2-6, which I think is immensley helpful here.

"Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 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."
In fact, most scholars recognize that Jesus' answer draws from two passages in Isaiah:
Isa 61:1: The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted. . .

Isa 35:5-6: 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.
Here it seems clear that Jesus is combining the two passages to answer the question about his identity―and the answer is in the affirmative, i.e., yes, he is the Messiah.

The historicity of Jesus’ answer is in fact accepted by a good number of scholars. As is well-known, in this saying Jesus conflates Isaiah 35 and 61, something that is mirrored in one very important fragment found among the Dead Sea Scrolls: 4Q521 (4QMessianicApocalypse).

The fragment is worth citing here. It begins by clearly speaking of the coming “anointed one”, i.e, the “Messiah”: “[for the heav]ens and the earth will listen to his anointed one. . .” (4Q521 II 2:1). It goes on to state in lines 7–8: “7 For he will honour the pious upon the throne of an eternal kingdom, 8 freeing prisoners, giving sight to the blind, straightening out the twis[ted]” (4Q521 II 2:7–8).) Likewise, in lines 11–12 we read: “11 And the Lord will perform marvelous acts such as have not existed, just as he sa[id] 12 [for] he will heal the badly wounded and will make the dead live, he will proclaim good news to the poor. . .” (4Q521 II 2:11–12).

The similarities with Jesus’ words are simply stunning. Strikingly, both the Qumran text and Jesus’ statement insert a statement about raising the dead prior to the reference to preaching to the poor[1]. It would seem then that Jesus’ answer involved not an original use of the Old Testament, but rather alluded to a commonly conjoined set of passages from Isaiah which were associated with the Messiah and understood as describing the Messiah’s future activities.

In fact, the case for the authenticity of the passage is strong. Davies and Allison highlight the following:
(1) John the Baptist appears to have been motivated by eschatological hopes thus it is likely he looked for to the coming of a messianic figure;
(2) the passage suggests that John was unclear about who Jesus was―a tradition we would not expect to be invented about John by the early church;
(3) the proofs provided for Jesus’ messiahship are not what we would expect from the early church.
Thus, as Davies and Allison explain, “The dominical origin of 11.5–6, which characteristically proclaims the presence of the Kingdom, is usually granted by modern scholars.”[2]

The implication here--which goes to the heart of the question asked by Alex--is that Jesus sees his miraculous actions as in general supporting his messianic mission. Thus I think it is safe to assume that even if Jesus worked a miracle simply out of compassion for someone, he clearly ALSO knew it would reinforce his larger eschatological claims.

As for other symbolic acts--e.g., cleansing the temple--I think the sayings associated with them (e.g., Isa 56:7 in the temple action) make it clear that Jesus intends to convey an eschatological message in them. Now of course one could take a radically skeptical view and insist that the sayings have all been added by the evangelists. Why on earth one would insist on accepting the authenticity of the deeds but doubt the sayings is beyond me. In general, though, I think however a good case can be made for the authenticity of both, as I have explained here and especially here.

So I think in general, yes, Jesus' miraculous acts and his symbolic deeds seem to point to his messianic mission. He certainly seemed to say so himself. Of course, that's not to say that we can over interpret a passage and possibly read too much into them in other ways!

[1] See 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: 2003), 180: “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.”
[2] See W. D. Davies and Dale Allison, The Gospel According to St. Matthew (ICC; 3 vols.; Edinbugh: T & T Clark, 1988), Matthew, 2:244–46. See also A. E. Harvey, Jesus and the Constraints of History: The Bampton Lectures, 1980 (London: Duckworth, 1982), 140: “[Isaiah 61:1–2] has so many points of contact with the gospel tradition as a whole that it is exceedingly unlikely to be the invention of any one evangelist or even. . . of the early church as opposed to Jesus or his disciples. Indeed, it introduces us to a complex of ideas which pervade the whole gospel record and are bound up with the style of preaching and action adopted by Jesus.”

Marriage and the Old Testament Narrative

I've seen the following piece on more than one website run by observant Jews. Since I've seen it in several places without attribution, I assume it is anonymous and public domain, so I reproduce it here. It discusses whether any of the major biblical characters would be good potential husbands from the perspective of traditional, observant Judaism:

"Would we make a Shidduch (marriage match) with anyone from the Torah?"

There's Avrohom Avinu (Abraham):
He seems to be frum but really he's a BT and his father made idols, not our

Yitzchak Avinu (Isaac):
Well his grandfather made idols, there was all that nastiness with Lot and his half brother is an Arab.

Yaakov Avinu (Jacob):
His great-grandfather made idols, his brother went off the derech, his mother comes from a very treyfe family and he wasn't shomer negiah with Rachel Imeinu before they were married and he spent a lot of time with his uncle, who's mammesh a rasha.

Yosef HaTzaddik (Josef):
His mother had an idol once and she died early, plus he's a slave and his brothers don't like him, must be something in that and with all the issues with Avraham Avinu and Yitzchak and Yaakov Avinu...better not to.

Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses):
Oy, what a maaseh!!!! His parents separated, then they got back together, his parents abandoned him, put him in a basket, he was raised by goyim...not our kind for sure. He may be close to HaShem but his background is so problematic we wouldn't want him in our family!

Dovid HaMelech (King David):
Descendants from a Geyoret, not our kind of people. Sure a few generations have gone by but all things being equal shouldn't we look for someone with more Jewish background?

Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon):
See above, and his mother's marriage was very dubious, he is rich though but the Yichus and family background is very tricky.

Shidduch = match (here, a marriage match)
frum = pious (like German “from”)
BT = Ba'al Teshuva; a “revert” to the faith
derech = lit. road; to "go off the derech" is to cease observing one’s faith
treyfe = not "kosher"
shomer negiah = the laws regulating touching between sexes, i.e. PDA
"mammesh a rasha" = bad dude
maaseh = story, tale
goyim = “nations” or “Gentiles; non-Jews
HaShem = the Name, i.e. pious reference to God
geyoret = female convert to Judaism
Yichus = family background, connections

The point is, from a contemporary observant Jewish perspective, many of the biblical characters themselves would be less than desirable marriage matches.

Compare what's going on in this piece with Matthew's genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1, where the apostle calls painful attention to some of the unusual marriages that formed the ancestry of Solomon, the greatest king and one of the most important Messianic types of the Old Testament.

It is worth noting that, contrary to the contention of some, the Old Testament writers tended not to revise the history of Israel in order to whitewash the deeds of the ancestors.