Saturday, October 30, 2010

Political Ads, circa 1800

For all the rhetoric about political campaigns getting too negative this election cycle, things really aren't that bad. Let us recall our history. . . and look at the kind of language used by Jefferson and Adams in the first contest for the White House. (Washington of course became the first president without a real challenger.) Actually, it seems things are getting a bit better!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Emery on the Biblical Methodology of Aquinas

The French Dominican scholar, Giles Emery, hits on a point I've been making a lot lately in his great work The Trinity in Aquinas (2004), namely, that Thomas Aquinas' theological method was highly--to a remarkable degree--biblical, focused in particular on the literal historical sense. This is especially evident in his Summa Contra Gentiles (not to be confused with the "other" Summa!). Check this out. . . Among other things, he points out that in his Trinitarian treatise Thomas doesn't cite Conciliar authorities in his primary treatment--his intent is to show that the Catholic faith, over and against the heretics (e.g., Sabellius, Arius, Photinus), preserves the teaching of Scripture.

Thomas’s method thus exploits all the resources of a literal reading on its own terms, particularly that of very frequent recourse context (circumstantia litterae, contextus litterae),[1] and to words preceding or following the text in question,[2] in order to provide the overall interpretation of a passage which makes up a whole. If necessary, Thomas gives several possible interpretations,[3] explains the general sense of a mode of expression found throughout the Bible,[4] or discusses a problem of textual criticism or of the Latin translation from the Greek.[5] His reading of Scripture is of course theological and doctrinal, intended to bring out the dogmatic content of the wording. . .
Finally, it should be pointed out that with the exception of the question of the Filioque, Thomas at no point calls upon the authority of the Church, the Councils, or the Fathers. Throughout all these pages, Scripture provides its own interpretation. This methodological characteristic evidently does not exclude the authority of the Church, as is clear from the numerous references to the ‘Catholic faith’ which implicitly point to Church authority. But what Thomas wants to demonstrate is the conformity of the Catholic faith to the teachings of Scripture. The specific point he intends to make is that of the Catholic Church being taught by the documents of Scripture (Sacrae Scripturae documentis Ecclesia catholica docta).[6] This clear affirmation of the primacy of Scripture, both in practice and in theory,[7] should be understood first and foremost in the light of the foundations of Trinitarian theology (only Scripture provides us with knowledge of the Trinity which is received in faith) and because of the acknowledged significance of heresies concerning the Trinity. There is no point in employing arguments relying on the authority of the Church when faced with doctrines which reject this authority: The debate should rather be located within a context recognized by the interlocutor as being authoritative.[8] The heresies being addressed by Thomas, however, and countered through the Catholic faith, claim to have their roots in Scripture. We should note, though, that the Fathers and the Councils (especially those of Nicea and Constantinople I) are never absent from the background discussion, and the Councils’ deliberations on matters of faith are actually at the heart of Thomas’s writing. It would seem appropriate at this point to suggest that Thomas is here setting out to provide his own, personal account of Patristic and Counciliar writings, based on scriptural and doctrinal sources. If therefore the heresies are dispelled, it is because the doctrines involved are not what Scripture teaches. This is an excellent illustration, in the characteristic style of the Summa contra Gentiles, of Thomas’s habit of equating sacred doctrine (theology) with Holy Scripture.”


[1] The two expressions are referred to in SCG IV, ch. 8 (#3430).

[2] See for example SCG IV, ch. 8 (#3431; #3433; #3435).

[3] SCG IV, ch. 8 (#3436); ch. 23 (#3597).

[4] For example in the case of exclusive expressions (exclusive mentions of whichever divine person), in SCG IV, ch. 8 (#3428–29); ch. 23 (#3596); ch. 25 (#3622); or for the interpretation of divine knowledge in the sense of ‘making known,’ ch. 8 (#3435); ch. 23 (#3600).

[5] See SCG IV, ch. 17 (#3527), regarding Phil 3:3; we also find a reference to Hebrew in ch. 7, regarding Jer 23:6 (#3408).

[6] SCG IV, ch. 7 (#3424).

[7] An implied reference to Pseudo-Dionysius in chapter 25 (#3621) recalls this.

[8] This principle governing discussion with non-Catholics is set out in an especially detailed manner in the De rationibus fidei, Prologue. It also provides the explanation for Thomas’s references to Councils of Antiquity in the discussion of the Filioque: such authorities were recognized by the Eastern Church.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Betz on Christianity vs. Platonism

John Betz has a two-part piece on the analogy of being that appeared in the journal Modern Theology. It mind-blowing. Here’s a snippet. I've included his own footnotes here:

In response to postmodern attempts to deconstruct theology on this basis, one might begin by pointing out that Christianity is not coterminous with Platonism (i.e., any stable economy of representation), whatever similarities there may be; that, unlike Platonism, it does not fear the sublime ocean of the infinite (apeirōn), but subverts Platonism’s metaphysical categories in order to speak of God’s infinite beauty (as David Hart, following Gregory of Nyssa, has recently argued).[1] In addition, given that much of the debate between Christianity and “post”-modernity comes down to what one under- stands by freedom, one must reaffirm that for Christianity—however unintelligible this may be to those outside of the Church—it is precisely obedience to love that leads to freedom,[2] even to ecstasy—admittedly, not the ecstasy of Dionysian frenzy, which is the terminus ad quem of postmodern autonomy (though postmodernism claims to have no teleology), but rather the ecstasy, beyond all violence, of loving union with God.

--John Betz, “Beyond the Sublime: The Aesthetics of the Analogy of Being (Part 1),” Modern Theology 21/3 (2005): 373–374 [367–411].

[1] The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), 104ff.

[2] Such freedom does not mean “choice”, i.e., “freedom” to enact one’s will, whatever it may hold in store at the given moment and however corrupt it may be, but freedom precisely from sin (cf. John 8:34)—that true freedom that Evagrius calls apatheia and whose daughter is love. In other words, Christian freedom (unlike modern freedom) means freedom from sin, from the passions, so that one is free to love—anything less than this is someform of slavery, which operates under the illusion of freedom.

Funniest Political Ad of the Season!

I don't care what your politics are. . . you have to admit, this is hilarious! This is a spoof on Barbara Boxer, who famously got flustered when a military general called her "ma'am"--the rough equivalent of "sir" in military culture--instead of "Senator," complaining, "I worked hard for that title." Here is what that looked like:

Now, here's the ad:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Samuel: A New Moses

Scholars recognize that Samuel is presented as a kind of New Moses [1] in the historical books. Indeed, Samuel shares a number of attributes associated with Moses.

Here's a short list:
  • He is a Prophet (1 Sam 3:20)
  • He is identified as a “Man of God” (1 Sam 9:6), a title elsewhere used for Moses (Deut 33:1; Josh 14:6; Ps 90:1; Ezra 3:2; 1 Chr 23:14; 2 Chr 30:16).
  • Like Moses, he was given up by his parents shortly after his birth (cf. 1 Sam 1:21–28; with Exod 2).
  • Like Moses, he become an intercessor for Israel (1 Sam 7:5, 8–9; 12:19–25; 15:10–31; cf. with Exod 8:8, 30; 9:33; 10:18; 17:11; 32:11–13, 30–33; 34:9; Num 11:2; 12:11–14; 16:20–24; 21:7; Jer 15:1; Ps 99:6; 106:23; Jub. 1:19–21; As. Mos. 2:11, 14, 17; 12:6; L.A.B. 19:3; cf. also Ps 70?).
  • The calling scene is virtually identical to the calling of Moses. The Lord says, “Samuel, Samuel", to which Samuel replies, "Here I am” (1 Sam 3:4). In Exodus 3:4 we read that the Lord called, “Moses, Moses . . .," to which he responded, "Here am I.”
  • Both called Israel away from idolatry (cf. 1 Sam 7:3–4; cf. Exod 32)
  • Samuel anoints others (1 Sam 10:1 [Saul]; 16:13 [David]) just as Moses anointed the Aaronic priests (cf. Lev 8:1–13).
  • Both lead Israel in war (1 Sam 7:7–14; cf. Deut 2:33–36).
  • Samuel is said to have written legislation for the king (1 Sam 7:3–6), a task of course especially evocative of Moses' role (cf. Deut 31:9–13).
  • Both give a farewell speech in which they lay out the two ways of obedience and disobedience (1 Sam 12; cf. Deut 28–30).

[1] The research here draws from Dale C. Allison's, The New Moses: A Matthean Typology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993). See also E. Jacob, “Prophètes et Intercessors,” in De la Tôrah au Messie: Mélanges Henri Cazelles (ed. M. Carrez, J. Doré and P. Grelot: Paris: Desclée, 1981), 209. See also P. D. Miscall, 1 Samuel: A Literary Reading (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), 1–3, 42–46. Miscall links him with the prophet like unto Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, 18 (pages 3, 44–46, 50–51). See also James Muilenburg, “The ‘Office’ of Prophet in Ancient Israel,” in The Bible and Modern Scholarship (ed. J. Philip Hyatt; Nashville: Abingdon, 1965), 91–93. Muilenberg identifies Samuel as a “second Moses”.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Stopping Pornography from Destroying Lives

There's a great piece in the National Catholic Register on the fight against pornography. The story focuses on Matthew Fradd. Fradd himself was addicted to porn before being freed from his addiction by the grace of God. He is now helping others. . .
OTTAWA, Ontario — After successfully battling an addiction to pornography, Matthew Fradd has dedicated himself to helping others.

“Porn is not just naughty — it’s evil,” said Fradd, a 27-year-old Australian living in Ottawa, Ontario. “It emasculates men, degrades women and destroys marriages.”

Fradd has begun his second year operating his anti-pornography website, . He launched it on Aug. 14, 2009, on the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, patron of addicts, using $12,000 in seed money donated to him by a priest-friend.

Fradd’s is a lonely voice going against the culture on the issue, especially considering that nearly 25 million websites (12% of all websites) and 25% of all daily search-engine requests are pornography-related.

In addition, a surprising number of women are regular viewers of pornography. A third of those Americans regularly visiting porn websites are women.

A variety of polls have revealed that those active in Christian churches have difficulties with porn. Promise Keepers, one of the largest Christian men’s conferences in the United States, asked men at their 2008 conferences in anonymous polls if they had viewed porn in the last week; 53% of the nearly 10,000 who responded admitted that they had.

Pornography is hard on marriages, too. In a 2002 survey of 350 members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, an association of divorce attorneys, for example, 56% said “obsessive interest in pornographic sites” was a factor leading to marital breakups.

Fradd’s site features information about how pornography affects men, women and marriages, inspirational stories of individuals who have become porn-free, information on how to beat porn addictions, videos, and opportunities to offer support to those who want to be free of porn. Fradd launched the site, he explained, because while there are millions of websites that feature pornography, “there’s not a lot out there for men and women who are struggling to be free from porn.”

‘Hooked’ at 8

Fradd, who is from southern Australia, got “hooked” on pornography at the age of 8 when he found some in his grandfather’s shed. By age 12, he was stealing porn from neighborhood stores, and in his teen years, he had acquired a vast collection.

“No one had to tell me it was a bad thing,” he said. “I knew it was shameful. I was hoping I’d grow out of it.”

Here's the rest.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Inspiring Catholic CEO on CBS's "Undercover Boss"

It's rare to see a faithful Catholic depicted on network TV in a positive light so this was a real treat. . .

The CEO of Frontier Airlines is apparently a devout Catholic! He goes on this show and appears undercover at entry level positions to find out exactly what his employees do every day. Along the way he talks about his fait--and his family of eight.

It gets good at the 3:12 mark--and is great from then on out.

Go here.

Dead Sea Scrolls On-Line

From Reuters:
Scholars and anyone with an Internet connection will be able to take a new look into the Biblical past through an online archive of high-resolution images of the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls.

Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the custodian of the scrolls that shed light on the life of Jews and early Christians at the time of Jesus, said on Tuesday it was collaborating with Google’s research and development center in Israel to upload digitized images of the entire collection.

Advanced imaging technology will be installed in the IAA’s laboratories early next year and high-resolution images of each of the scrolls’ 30,000 fragments will be freely accessible on the Internet. The IAA conducted a pilot imaging project in 2008.

“The images will be equal in quality to the actual physical viewing of the scrolls, thus eliminating the need for re-exposure of the Scrolls and allowing their preservation for future generations,” the Authority said in a statement.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Questions or Speeches

I've been to enough conferences to know how true this cartoon is! : )

Dissenting from Sola Scriptura

Caleb Roberts, a Protestant blogger who runs the blog gunu(re)flection, has posted on his recent abandonment of one of the major pillars of the Reformation, Sola Scriptura. In his post "Second Thoughts on Sola Scriptura," he writes:
To restate the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, it is the idea that only that which is contained in Scripture can be received with certainty of infallible divine inspiration. But think about this. When you open up your Bible to the first few pages and you come to the table of contents, has it ever occurred to you that that list is not itself a part of Scripture? That list, otherwise known as the canon, cannot be found within any book of the Bible. For what ever reason, God did not see fit to reveal to us a chapter-and-verse table of contents of what books possess that criterion of God-breathed Scripture. Therefore, given the Sola Scriptura principle, it would seem that any attempt to declare which books count as Scripture and which books do not is necessarily an extra-biblical claim that would be deemed uninspired and fallible because we don’t have an inter-Scriptural canon.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

More on the Literary Nature of Judges

Continuing on Michael's observation on the literary structure of Judges, there are other literary techniques involved in the book as well. For example, as others have noted, the choice of judges is almost continually ironic. With few exceptions, those who rise to judgeship are unusual, or display eccentricities that normally would not characterize those in leadership in the ancient Near East:

Ehud: Left-handed
Shamgar: Fights with an ox goad!
Deborah and Jael: Female
Gideon: timid youngest son of small clan
Jephthah: son of a harlot
Samson: a Nazirite, a womanizer, and none too bright.

This can hardly be an accident; sacred author seems to delight in telling us about the unusual judges. It seems to reflect the author's view that this was a chaotic period in Israel's history in which down was up and up was down. Whenever I read it, I think of 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Judges: A Note on Literary Coherence

It is often noted that the book of Judges seems to have almost two different introductions. The material in chapter 2 seems to step backward into the lifetime of Joshua. Of course, this leads many scholars to argue that Judges 1:1–2:5 was tacked on by a later redactor.

Yet whatever the pre-canonical development of the text, what is often missed is the literary coherence of the Judges narrative. In fact, the structure of chapter one seems to anticipate the narrative which follows.

In chapter 1, the territorial conquests and battles of the tribes of Israel are described in the following order:
Judah (vv. 2–20)
Benjamin (v. 21)
The tribes of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim (vv. 22–29)
Zebulon (v. 30)
Asher (vv. 31–32)
Naphtali (v. 33)
Dan (v. 34)
Note the tribes appear in accord with their geographical distribution—specifically, the narrative moves from south to north.

Interestingly enough then, the order of the Judges described in the following chapters (3:7–16:31) seems to follow the same schema—the Judges come from various tribes. Their appearance follows the same South to North pattern.
Othniel: Judah (3:7–11)
Ehud: Benjamin (3:12–30)
Deborah: Ephraim (4:1–5:31)
Gideon: Manasseh (6:1–8:35)
Jephthah: Manasseh (10:6–12:7)
Samson: Dan (13:1–16:31)
I find this fascinating.

That Dan comes in the last place is not surprising by the way. There seems to be a kind of shadow over Dan. Dan is not even mentioned in the list of those delivered from the twelve tribes in Revelation 7!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Simon Bar Kosiba's Failure to Perform Miracles

One of the fascinating figures we read about in Jewish literature is Simon Bar Kosiba, a failed messianic prophet. An ancient coin linked to his rebellion can be seen on the right.

In the end the movement he led was crushed. It was a bloody and costly defeat.

What gave it away that he wasn’t indeed the Messiah? Well, aside from the fact that his movement was thwarted, apparently the final give away was that he was unable to perform miracles.
Bar Kosiba reigned two and a half years, and then said to the Rabbis, 'I am the Messiah.' They answered, 'Of Messiah it is written that he smells and judges: let us see whether he [=Bar Kosiba] can do so.' When they saw that he was unable to judge by the scent, they slew him" (emphasis added; cf. also m. Ta'an. 4:6; b. Git 57a—b; Lam. Rab. 2:2 §4).
The passage alludes to Isa 11:3, 5: "And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear. . . he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked."

Notably, this passage's reference to the powerful breath of the servant may also have been linked to Bar Kosiba. According to Jerome's testimony. Simon "fanned a lighted blade of straw in his mouth with puffs of breath so as to give the impression that he was spewing out flames" (Rufinus 3.31; PL 23.480).

It should also be pointed out that according to rabbinic tradition the famous Rabbi Aqiba held Simon to be the messiah because he believed he was able to perform miraculous signs (cf.y. Ta'an. 68d; also cf. Mishneh Torah, Melakhim 11:3).

See the thorough discussion in Craig A. Evans, Jesus and His Contemporaries: Comparative Studies (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 183-211.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

RBL Review of Gray's "The Temple in Mark"

There's a very helpful review of an important book written by my friend Tim Gray in the latest RBL.

Gray's book, The Temple in the Gospel of Mark, was originally published by Mohr-Siebeck. Thankfully, Baker Academic has recently released a more affordable reprint of the title.

The reviewer, Vicki Phillips, does a fine job summarizing the book, offering only positive comments in the conclusion:
"The intertextual work is thoughtful, disciplined, and engaging in providing a rich context for understanding Mark’s use of the temple motif, thereby filling a gap in scholarship."
Check out the full review here and secure your copy of Gray's masterful treatment here.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Pope Benedict Confounds His Critics

There's a great piece up by William Doino:
Three weeks have passed since the Pope’s visit to Great Britain, and memories of it still fill my mind, because it was a triumph few had expected. Of all the remarkable things I saw, while blogging about it for First Things, nothing more surprised me than this: on September 18th, as his Popemobile rolled toward Hyde Park—with Benedict waiving to his supporters packed along the streets—a BBC reporter, watching in amazement, suddenly burst out: “The 83-year-old pontiff has confounded his critics!”

To appreciate the significance of that comment, one has to understand the BBC. For years, it has been among Benedict's most cynical media foes, questioning every aspect of his pontificate. The coverage has been so bad that Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien felt it necessary to speak out (Catholic bishops in the U.K. tend to keep their heads down), denouncing the network’s “consistent anti-Christian institutional bias,” particularly against the Catholic Church.

Yet there was that BBC reporter, undergoing an awakening, if only for an instant.

Even more astonishing was the reaction of another commentator, Joe Wilson, of BBC Radio Lancashire: “Somehow as the four days progressed, bit by bit, the Pope’s visit transformed from the worry of embarrassment that reaction would be tepid, to the glow of the eventual warmth given off by the obvious love so many felt for him.”

He quoted a pilgrim “still floating on a cloud somewhere” over Hyde Park: “It was really, really wonderful. We were just surrounded by so many different people. Young people, elderly people, more young people than elderly people, people of all nationalities. It was awesome.”

This was not supposed to happen.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Gospels & the Concerns of the Early Church

"The view mat much of the gospel material was simply created by the early church de novo to meet its religious needs and solve various religious problems is difficult to accept in the light of the fact that several of the major problems that the early church encountered never show up in the gospel materials. Since the first and most important issue that the early church faced was the question of whether Gentile Christians had to be circumcised, one would expect to find some saying of Jesus that dealt with this issue, if the church were creating material to solve certain problems."

--R. H. Stein, "The 'Criteria' for Authenticity," in Studies of History and Tradition in the Four Gospels (Gospel Perspectives 1; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1980), 227,

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Bible Translations, Profits and Politics

Why are there so many English Bible translations? What politics and profit-motives are driving the Bible-publishing market? Here's an interesting piece from Christianity Today which discusses these issues in relation to a brand new translation making its way to bookstores soon, Common English Bible (CEB):
With the Common English Bible (CEB) officially entering a crowded translation market tomorrow, five mainline publishing houses producing the new version hope initial New Testament sales are a harbinger of the reception of the finished product.

After giving away 20,000 copies this summer, total distribution to sales channels is expected to surpass 100,000 this fall. Paul Franklyn, associate publisher for the CEB and the United Methodist Church's Abingdon House, calls the Bible's readability—forged through widespread use of translation team reading groups—a primary distinctive.

"We brought extensive field testing to bear on the process before it went to editors," Franklyn said. "That's starting to pay off."

The question is whether the public is ready for another translation when no one seems sure how many exist. The American Bible Society says there are 32 translations on the North American market, while Christian Book Distributors offers over 50. offers 23 English versions. In his research for a book on translations, Phoenix Seminary professor Paul Wegner identified nearly 100 English versions by 1950. He estimates there are twice as many now, although only a handful controls a dominant share of the market.

"We've probably reached the saturation point," Wegner said. "It may be doing more damage than good. It's gotten to the point that people are making money." In other words, profit may be prompting more translations than readability concerns demand.
Read the rest here.

Nature Documentaries: Beware!

I always thought the claims made in nature / environmentalist documentaries seemed far-fetched. Could they really follow whales half-way around the world? Now my cynicism has been vindicated!