Thursday, March 31, 2011

Early Christian Books Found in Jordan

I just did an interview on the Drew Mariani Show (Chicago Metro drive-time radio) about this report on early Christian books found in Jordan.

Margaret Barker and Philip Davies have (apparently) already seen the books, or detailed images of them.  The story is breaking in the British press first and only slowly making it into the U.S. media.  Davies is not a man eager to believe things, but he seems genuinely intrigued by this find.  The small, lead books are bound with metal rings, and appear to be composed by Jewish Christians from the first century.  All this needs to be verified, of course.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Good News! Earth No Longer a Barren Wasteland

I got my copy of the NABRE in the mail yesterday, and quickly perused it, even though I was dead tired, just getting home from seven hours of lecturing and several meetings all the way up to 9:30pm.  I am happy to report that several readings have been changed, very much for the better!  Over the next couple days I will be blogging on some of the significant improvements--and a few changes that are perhaps less than optimal.  I still will be using the RSVCE2 for my personal reading and class teaching, but I do recommend that all Catholics involved in teaching ministry of any kind get themselves a copy of the NABRE, because it will be widely used in the Church.  Moreover, some parts are very good--like the Gospel of John, which was already good in the previous NAB.  The edition of the NABRE I purchased was this one, and I like it very much.  It has the words of Christ in red!  I personally love that, but I am shocked that such a pietistic feature got past the editorial board!  I'll have more to say on that issue in the future.

One of the first major improvements I noticed is that tohu wabohu in Genesis 1:2 is no longer egregiously rendered "barren wasteland," but rather "without form or shape," which is still a little odd but definitely a better representation of the Hebrew.  More on that tomorrow, Lord willing.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Bridegroom Messiah Shows Up in Samaria: Reflections for the Third Sunday of Lent

The Lectionary Readings for this weekend are so powerful, we can scarcely do them justice in a single blog post.

Beginning with this Sunday, the Lectionary turns to the Gospel of John for the remainder of Lent.  We are treated to the amazing trifecta of John 4, John 9, and John 11: three of the most powerful chapters in the most powerful book in the Bible, the Spiritual Gospel, the Soaring Eagle .... JOHN!

The Church turns to these texts from John at this point in the liturgical calendar, because John is, in so many ways, a mystagogical document, a gospel intended to takes us deeper into the mysteries, that is, the sacraments.

If one is not initiated into the sacraments, John remains in many respects a closed book.  I can attest to this from personal experience.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Archbishop Gomez on the Pope's Book as the Model for Scripture Study

Archbishop Jose Gomez has a piece in the latest Tidings, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, focusing on Benedict's new book. This is fantastic stuff! Would that all Catholic bishops would write to their faithful about the need to follow Benedict's example of Scripture study!

Pope Benedict's attempt to implement the Catholic biblical renewal envisioned by the Second Vatican Council will be alive and well in L.A. with a archbishop like this.

I've put in bold some of my favorite parts, but I must admit, I could have put almost the whole thing in bold!
I am starting to read Pope Benedict XVI's new book, "Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection" (Ignatius Press, $25).

This is the second volume of our Holy Father's proposed trilogy on the life and message of Jesus. It is a scholarly work that is beautifully written, deeply spiritual, and inspires meditation and prayer.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Catholic Teaching: Salvation by God's Grace Alone

Here is a passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that may be surprising to my non-Catholic friends. 
The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace.  
'After earth's exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone. . . . In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2011 citing St. Therese of Lisieux).
As a Catholic who earned his Ph.D. at Fuller Theological Seminary, I can say that I have found that there is quite a bit of misinformation out there--even at top-notch academic institutions like Fuller--about what Catholic teaching on salvation, justification, grace and merit really is. (There's also a lot of misinformation in Catholic circles about what non-Catholic Christians believe, but that's another post.)
If you did not expect to find this kind of statement in the Catechism of the Catholic Church then you really should start to consider the possibility that perhaps you have been misinformed on the topic. 
For further reading, see Richard White, "Sola Gratia, Solo Christo: The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification." White wrote this paper at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School under Dr. Harold O.J. Brown. At the time White was not a Catholic. That has changed. 

The Beginning of the New Exodus: Reflections on the Readings for the Second Sunday of Lent

This Sunday we are only eleven days into Lent, still very early along on our Lenten pilgrimage.  The readings today share the theme of beginning the journey of faith, even while giving us a glimpse of our final destination.

In all three years of the Lectionary cycle (A, B, C), the readings for the Second Sunday of Lent always pair a key pericope from the Abraham narrative (Gen 12-22) with an account of the Transfiguration from one of the Synoptic Gospels.

The First Reading is the famous opening of the Abraham narrative from Genesis, recounting God’s initial call to Abram while he was still in Ur:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hey There Delilah ...

First-person participatory dynamic-equivalent contemporizing exegesis of the Samson narratives:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fr. Younan on Biblical Theology at JP Catholic

The Second Vatican Council said that Scripture is "the soul" of sacred theology. Recently Pope Benedict also called for a theology that is exegetical. We're really trying to implement that vision at JP Catholic, especially in our M.A. in the Biblical Theology program. In addition to taking the usual courses in Christology, Eschatology, etc., students also take courses in every major category of biblical literature. In addition, they study Greek and Hebrew so they can begin to read these texts in their original languages.

Here's a great video of Fr. Andrew Younan, a professor at our school and rector of the local Chaldean Rite seminary, talking about our program. By the way, in addition to teaching Philosophy, Fr. Younan is quite an accomplished linguist. His knowledge of Semitic languages in particular is impressive. The Chaldean Rite uses Syriac in their liturgy and he is the official translator of their prayer books into English. So, in addition to teaching various philosophy courses, he also teaches Biblical Hebrew at JP Catholic.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Michael Jr. (Age 2) on Transubstantiation, the Hypostatic Union and More

Just in case you can't make it out on the video below, here are the questions and Michael's answers. And yes, I know I repeated one question twice; we got sidetracked by the ABCs (edited out). At the end, you also see Matthew (our one year old) walking around in the background with a birthday hat on, proudly proclaiming the letters of the magnetic alphabet which have been attached to the dish washer ("T!").

1. Q. What is it called at Mass when the bread and the wine turn into the Body and Blood of Jesus?
A. "Transubstantiation".

2. Q. Jesus is fully God and fully man. What is the name of this mystery?
A. "The Hypostatic Union".

Goodacre and the Scandal of Non-Engagement with Q Skepticism

This will probably raise some eyebrows. . . but, you know, Mark is right. 
In a comment on my post Another Introduction to the Bible, Another Chance to Ignore the Farrer Theory, one commenter (James) asks why this kind of phenomenon recurs in the introductory textbooks and he offers some interesting suggestions. Here is one of my thoughts on the issue. 
There is a huge pedagogical advantage in making Q critical orthodoxy in introductory courses because it is a tangible expression of participation in proper academic New Testament studies. It is a symbol that one is doing critical scholarship and not Bible Study, that one is engaging in the academy and not the church. 
The fact is that Q is not an element in most Christian Bible Studies. One of the big issues for many in teaching introductory courses on the New Testament is in persuading the students that this is going to be different from Bible Study. Q is a bit like pseudonymous authorship of the Pauline epistles -- it is something that some teachers use as a recognizable distinguishing marker that what we are doing is something different, something academic, something critical.
That is not to say that all those who advocate Q do it solely for its pedagogical advantages, of course. Many do it because they have engaged in serious study, they are familiar with the evidence, and have come to that solution. My point, though, is that Q can provide a useful shortcut, a speedy but concrete symbol of the difference between a historical approach and a confessional one.
Under such circumstances, it remains an attractive but also a useful hypothesis.

Jesus the New Adam: Reflections on the First Sunday of Lent

The readings for today’s Mass are exceptionally rich and could be the subject of several weeks' worth of lectures, so we will have to limit ourselves today to a few central themes.

(Disclaimer to my students: many of you have heard this before.  In fact, all of this is in the tradition.  I claim no originality.)

The First Reading is the account of the Fall, in which Eve, followed by Adam, gives in to temptation by eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The classic scriptural formulation of the nature of temptation is found in 1 John 2:15-16:

 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Craig Evans on the Pope's New Book: "Best Book I've Read on Jesus in Years"

Today Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 2, hits bookstores around the world.

I was sent an advance copy last month and it's taken quite a bit of will-power to refrain from posting on it (there was an embargo on it). I've got a post coming on it that should appear later today.

Here, however, I just had to highlight what noted New Testament scholar Craig Evans, a non-Catholic, has said about it. To some of you perhaps the name is unfamiliar but he is well-known to anyone engaged in New Testament scholarship. Evans is one of the most balanced and well-respected scholars writing about the historical Jesus today.  This quote blew my mind.
“It’s a remarkable achievement, the best book I’ve read on Jesus in years,” he commented. “This is a book that all Christians should read, be they Protestant or Catholic. Any Jewish person who is interested in the Christian story and who Jesus was, I think, will profit.”
Evans made the comment during a panel discussion which also included Jacob Neusner, Ben Witherington, and many others, including my friend and fellow blog contributor, Brant Pitre.

Check out the article here.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Most Aggressively Inarticulate Generation?

Hilarious. . . but you know it's true.

The Biblical Rationale for Lent and Its Origins in the Early Church: Addressing the Scandals of Mardi Gras

Jim West points out that, once again, some people in New Orleans are doing their best to pervert Mardi Gras, and, by extension, Lent. However, I strongly disagree with his conclusion that Lent is meaningless. Here I want to respond to my friend by revisiting some material I covered around this time last year.

This might seem like an overly long response to a short little post over on his site. But his comments are an expression of an attitude many non-Catholics have. As Mardi Gras stories hit the web today, many will have similar thoughts to those he expressed. Here then I want to take Jim's post as an opportunity to respond to non-Catholic perspectives on Lent.

The Scandal of Mardi Gras

First, here's Jim's post in full:
Want to expose yourself for little plastic beads?  No problem.  Want to stumble the streets in a drunken stupor?  Have at.  Want to do it with mobs of other like minded people?  There’s a place for you!  It’s New Orleans Mardis Gras… ostensibly the last ‘big party day’ before the season of ‘Lent’ commences.
So go an act as wickedly as you like… you can ‘repent’ during ‘Lent’ and then you can do it all over again next year.
[Which fact shows beyond doubt that neither repentance nor Lent are meaningful in any truly spiritual sense for the massa perditionis].
I enjoy Jim's blog. Of course, I don't always agree with him--would you really expect a Catholic to agree with everything on blog named after Zwingli?! But nonetheless, Jim is a friend, a believer, and he frequently offers thoughtful commentary on various theological and contemporary issues.

Having attended Protestant educational institutions for much of my academic career, I understand where he is coming from on this issue. Indeed, to non-Catholics, Lent appears to represent the very worst of Catholicism. It confirms their suspicion that Catholicism is about works-righteousness. The hypocrisy of abuses of Mardi Gras in particular reinforces the view that Catholicism is merely a "cultural" expression of Christianity without real personal commitment to Jesus.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Cardinal Mahony: Temptations on the Internet

With Lent fast approaching, Cardinal Mahony has an excellent piece up on the temptations of the internet. Specifically, he correlates the three temptations Jesus faced to three different kinds of temptations on the web.

This is really good stuff.
. . . The Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent always focuses upon the temptations which Satan offered to Jesus. We are all familiar with the story and the outcome.

However, if Jesus lived in 2011 and was tempted by Satan, what would be today's points of temptation? Where would Satan take Jesus today?

Exactly where he tempts us to go: Straight to the internet.

With all of its great advantage as a marvelous font of information, knowledge, and connectivity, sadly the internet has also become infected with a terrible "virus"--the Satan Virus.

Let me propose three internet temptation "sites" where Satan might take Jesus, and let's reflect ourselves on whether we have been tempted similarly.

First internet site: Where can I exert personal power over others, becoming my own god? How can I get even with someone, or even demean and destroy their reputation? There are too many sites which allow people to attack others viciously, posting all kinds of dribble and hurtful stories and accusations. The only purpose here is to demean, belittle, and harm someone else and their reputation. It's called "cyber bullying" among other things, but can become so destructive that some people who are so victimized even take their own lives because they can't stand it anymore.

My Lenten Question: Have I ever done something like this--whether in jest or in a destructive manner? Do I fully realize that once I launch such destructive material into cyberspace it cannot be retrieved--ever? Then I need to renounce this form of destruction of others. This Lent, let's refrain from this sites as an act of fasting from evil. Our Lord Jesus Christ will bless us!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Archbishop Gomez's Inspiring Inaugural Homily

The new archbishop of Los Angeles delivered a stirring homily today. I just had to mention some of it here:
. . . this is not a future I could have ever imagined for myself [i.e., becoming the archbishop of the largest diocese in America, Los Angeles]. But our God is a God of surprises—un Dios de sorpresas—as well as a God of blessings and tender mercies!
As I mark the start of my ministry today in this celebration of the holy Eucharist, I thank our good God for the awesome privilege of being able to serve you.
I ask you to please pray for me. Pray that our God will give me courage, strength and wisdom to continue to strive for holiness. Ask him to make me worthy of this beautiful task of serving the family of God in this great Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
The readings today from the Word of God are all about Catholic identity and Christian mission. They are about who God made us to be, and what he wants us to do.

The New Covenant Document is Completed

Covenant themes are shot through today’s readings, as Jesus finishes the Sermon on the Mount in a way reminiscent of covenant documents of antiquity.

Moses told the people,
“Take these words of mine into your heart and soul.
Bind them at your wrist as a sign,
and let them be a pendant on your forehead.
“I set before you here, this day, a blessing and a curse:
a blessing for obeying the commandments of the LORD, your God,
which I enjoin on you today;
a curse if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD, your God,
but turn aside from the way I ordain for you today,
to follow other gods, whom you have not known.” (from Deut 11:18-32)

Our first reading is from Deuteronomy, which is The Law of Moses par excellence, since Moses takes personal responsibility for the giving of the laws in Deuteronomy in a way unlike anything previously seen in Exodus through Numbers.  We see this in today’s reading: “Moses told the people, ‘Take these words of mine into your heart and soul ...”  Moses’ responsibility for some of the laws of Deuteronomy is highlighted in Jesus’ teaching: “Moses allowed you to divorce your wives ...” (Matt 19:8).  This is significant, because some of the laws of Deuteronomy are not God’s highest and best, but accomodations authorized by Moses.

Friday, March 04, 2011

February Biblioblog Carnival

Matthew Crowe has done a masterful job covering the best posts offered by bibliobloggers during the month of February. Several of my posts received attention, for which I am grateful. Go take a look!

This Man Puts Things in Perspective

We owe it to this newest of Catholic martyrs, to take two minutes and watch what has become his last testimony to his faith and his struggle for peace and justice in the Middle East:

Thursday, March 03, 2011

What Qualifies a Person as an Authority on Scripture or Theology?

I just received, as I am sure a lot of others did as well, several catalogs from the major theological publishers this week.  Browsing through this year's offerings, I found books by experts on every conceivable branch of theology promising to tell me what the "church" really ought to do, and what this or that portion of the bible "really" means.  I began to wonder to myself, what really makes a person an authority in these matters? 

Getting good grades and fellowships in grad school?

Landing a big contract with Brazos, Fortress, etc.?

An ivy league degree?

Being very rhetorically persuasive?

Getting a lot of speaking engagements?

Landing a "cherry" position at a major university or seminary?

What qualifies a person to understand and mediate the divine mysteries?  Is our "system" really designed to do that?

Yes, I know the sword cuts in all directions, because I've been part of the "system" myself!

Feel free to comment below.