Saturday, December 31, 2011

What is the “Name” of God?: The Readings for the Octave of Christmas

Years ago, while I was living in Grand Rapids, Michigan, some very nice Jehovah’s Witnesses paid a visit to my home and tried to persuade me that I was missing out on God’s best in my life, because I was not praying to God by the correct name: Jehovah.

I disagreed with them, and still do, because of the truths that emerge from the Scriptures read at Mass for this weekend.

This Sunday is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, as well as the Octave Day of Christmas. We notice that the Readings chosen for Mass are not explicitly Marian, but tend to follow the theme of the Octave, with the Gospel Reading giving the account of the circumcision and naming of Jesus on the eighth day after his birth.

Thus, a dominant motif throughout the Readings is the name of God.

Friday, December 30, 2011

TSP 13: Mary, the Mother of God--Theotokos and Queen Mother

Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God (Theotokos). What is the history of this feast? How does our understanding of Mary relate to our understanding of Christ?

In the first half of the show we cover the Nestorian heresy and the Council of Ephesus. We then move on to talk about something that often gets overlooked: the role of the Queen Mother in the ancient Near East and then in the Old Testament (giberah). In particular, we look at royal maternity in the Davidic kingdom. We then turn to see how this forms a possible backdrop for understanding Mary's role in the New Testament--i.e., the Mother of the Son of David.

Below you'll find an outline of some of the items discussed plus more:

Podcast: The Feast of Mary the Mother of God: Theotokos and Queen Mother

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Sacred Page Podcast is Now Fully Functioning on iTunes

We announced last week that The Sacred Page podcast was coming to iTunes. It is now fully available there. Just do a search for "Sacred Page" or "Michael Barber" and you'll easily find it! You can also just go to this link.

Again, we'd really appreciate positive reviews. Please help us maintain a positive rating by going over to the site and posting there. All you have to do is scroll down to the bottom and you'll see where you can register a comment and give the podcast the rating.

On that score, I'd like to take a moment to offer heartfelt personal  thanks to "David" and "frjmt" for lending us a hand by posting in the review section on iTunes. We really appreciated the kind comments about the show. God bless you!

One last thing: please don't forget to tell your friends about our show. Some ideas:
  • Email your friends a link to The Sacred Page Podcast on iTunes
  • Post about The Sacred Page Podcast on Facebook
  • Rent an airplane with a banner that reads, "Listen to The Sacred Page Podcast on iTunes"
  • Go to a filming of a TV show like Good Morning America and stand behind the reporter on camera wearing a "Listen to The Sacred Page Podcast on iTunes!" t-shirt. 
  • Hire the Goodyear blimp and run an ad for The Sacred Page Podcast on iTunes on it
In short, we are grateful for any help we can get publicizing the show. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Why are there no Parables in the Fourth Gospel?

A reader of this blog from Papillion, Nebraska, asked the following via email:
Dear. Dr. Barber,
I was going over a list of parables when I notice that there are none in John. (I'm not a scholar!). I then read your article on the authorship of John. Do you think that the lack of parables says anything about the authorship? Do you know why there are no parables in John? I tried to do a search on it and couldn't find anything.
This is a good question.

Ultimately, I have to say: I'm not sure. However, I do have some assorted thoughts on the matter that might combine together to equal some sort of answer. This is sort of "half-baked", but let me just offer a couple of ideas.

John 21: Later Addition or Epilogue?

Is John 21--the chapter where, arguably, we learn the most about the "beloved disciple"--a later addition to the book or was it originally part of the Gospel?

It is widely acknowledged that John 20 stands as an appropriate ending to the book. It presents us with, what Beasely-Murray calls, a "total picture of the Easter story": the empty tomb, the witness of Mary Magdalene, the confirmation of the empty tomb by two disciples, an appearance of Jesus to Mary and other disciples, the reception of the Spirit and Jesus' commissioning of the apostles.

Moreover, the chapter ends with an epilogue, which seems to bring the book to a close: "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:30-31).

Beasely-Murray thus concludes: "Had he planned to record the appearance(s) to Peter and his colleagues narrated in chap. 21 he would have composed chap. 20 differently" [George R. Beasely-Murray, John (2nd ed.; WBC 36; Columbia: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 395].

Looking at chapter 21, many scholars argue that it was written by another hand. One of the reasons for this is that it seems as though chapter 21 does not follow neatly from chapter 20. In addition to the fact that John 20:30-31 seems to tie up the Gospel narrative in such a way as to conclude the Gospel, some have argued that John 21 also seems detached from what has come before it.

Is this so? Let us examine this more closely.

Did John Write the Fourth Gospel?

Since today is the feast of St. John the Apostle, I thought I'd look at a question many will be talking about: Is the Fourth Gospel written by John?

I've written on this before, but I thought I'd revisit this again in two posts today. Indeed, I've been revisiting this material lately. I am currently preparing for a graduate level course on the Gospel of John at JP Catholic, which I will be co-teaching with Dr. Scott Hahn at JP Catholic.

Patristic Sources

Once again, I'm feeling a little overwhelmed by the weight of the earliest testimony regarding the question of authorship.

Clearly the unanimous testimony of the early Church was that John the Apostle wrote the book. Two of the clearest references are found in Irenaeus and the Muratorian fragment.

“Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.”--Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3. 3. 4 (~180 A.D.)

Monday, December 26, 2011

St. Stephen's Christ-like Holiness

Happy Feast of St. Stephen! Since Stephen is one of my favorite saints I couldn't let the day go by without posting something in his honor. In fact, we named our second son after him: Matthew Stephen. This is from my earlier series of posts (Part 1Part 2, Part 3) on the book of Acts. (The picture to the right was taken at the traditional site of Stephen's tomb).

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Now on iTunes: The Sacred Page Podcast!

Today we get to make a huge announcement. 

After reviewing our podcast, "The Sacred Page with Michael Barber," the largest music store in the world, Apple's iTunes store, has agreed to carry our show. Apple is still configuring all the settings and it is not yet available through the search engine--give it a couple of days. 

Until then, you can download the show from iTunes here. 

Please, please consider writing a positive review so that we can get a positive rating--we would greatly appreciate it. And please also share this podcast with others! 

What We’ve All Been Waiting For: Reflections on the Readings for Christmas

Over the next twenty-four hours there are four Masses celebrated by the Church: the Vigil of Christmas, Midnight Mass, Mass at Dawn, and Christmas Day Mass. The Readings for all four are so beautiful, it is like one continual spiritual feast, a veritable gorging on Scripture.

The texts for this Feast Day include some of the most pivotal in all of Scripture, and there is no end to the comments that could be made on each. Books have been written on John 1:1-18 (the Gospel for Christmas Day) alone, so here I am just going to be very brief and selective.

We start off with appetizers at the Vigil Mass, the Readings for which are here.

Friday, December 23, 2011

TSP 12: Leroy Huizenga on Jesus as the New Isaac in Matthew' Gospel

This podcast I was joined by a very special guest: New Testament scholar Leroy Huizenga. Huizenga is Professor of Scripture at the University of St. Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, where he also serves as the Director of the Christian Leadership Center (more on that below).

I was so excited about having Huizenga on the show because I believe his work is very important. I think his doctoral dissertation, The New Isaac: Tradition and Intertextuality in the Gospel of Matthew (Leiden: Brill, 2009), is a ground breaking study. Here then he talks a bit about Jesus' role  as the New Isaac in Matthew.

Of course, given that we are about to celebrate Christmas, we pay special attention to the infancy narrative. Leroy has some fascinating ideas about Sarah-typology in Matthew's portrait of Mary.
In addition, we talk a bit about the historical value of infancy narratives, Jesus' baptism, his arrest and passion, and. . . well, you'll just have to listen.

Visit the Christian Leadership Center's website here (they have a number of good articles up in time for Christimas). He is also an editor (with Richard Hays and Stefan Alkier) of Reading the Bible Intertextually (Baylor Press, 2009). 

As always, I hope you enjoy our podcast! Please leave us your comments in the box below!

Podcast: Leroy Huizenga on Jesus the New Isaac in Matthew's Gospel 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Job Opening at JP Catholic

Want to live in San Diego? Want to be a part of a dynamic Catholic community? See the job opening below:
Vice President - Accreditation, Assessment, Planning, and Research 
JP Catholic University invites applications for the position of Vice President for Accreditation, Assessment, Planning, and Research. Reporting to the Provost, the Vice President (VP) leads and manages the University's: (1) Accreditation efforts and serves as the Accreditation Liaison Officer to the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC); (2) Institutional Research, which supports the University's mission and strategic initiatives, including the systematic collection and evaluation of longitudinal data to support planning and institutional accreditation; and (3) strategic academic planning and budgeting processes. 
The VP responsibilities will include. . . 
For more on the qualifications needed and the full job description go here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Podcast: Steve Ray on Archaeology, Bethlehem and Nazareth

In this episode we continue our series of podcasts on the Gospel reports of Jesus' birth. This time I was honored to be joined by my good friend, Catholic author and apologist Steve Ray. Among other things Ray has produced numerous television shows on the Holy Land (now available on DVD). He also takes large groups of pilgrims to the Holy Land each year.

Today we talk a little bit about Nazareth and Bethlehem. What are these places like? Does it snow in Bethlehem? What can we see about the traditional sites honored as Jesus' birthplace, Mary's house, etc.? Why have them become honored as pilgrimage sites?

I hope you enjoy our podcast! (As always, please leave us your comments in the box below!)

To learn more about Steve's work, please be sure to visit his site,

Podcast: Steve Ray on Archaeology, Bethlehem and Nazareth

For more on the theory that Christian "prophets" were the origin of some of the material in the Gospel tradition and other elements of this podcast--with specific references to academic works on the topics--go to earlier posts on here and here.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Beautiful NEW Catholic Scripture Study International Bible

For all you fans out there of the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition--the translation employed in the official Catechism of the Catholic Church--there's a new edition of the RSVCE that's been recently published that is worthy of your attention (and your purchase!).

I'm speaking of the new Catholic Scripture Study International Bible, published by St. Benedict Press, out of Charlotte, North Carolina.  This new edition of the RSVCE (1966 translation) is a fantastic addition to the world of Catholic Bibles. Some of the following features of the CSS Bible make it stand out from among other modern English versions:

1. Beautiful Layout, Binding, and Artwork
The first striking feature of the new CSS RSV is that it is beautiful outside and in. Black leather binding on the outside, the interior is filled with beautiful religious art and iconography. For whatever reasons, this kind of beauty is something that has been lost in many editions of the Bible published in the last few decades. Anyone familiar with the beautiful cover art that often accompanies books from St Benedict press won't be surprised by the quality of this new Bible. Particularly nice are the icons of various biblical figures and scenes that occur throughout the main text.

2. Wonderful Type, Section Headings, and Paper
In my book (no pun intended), what matters above all for ease of reading is font, font, font! The CSS RSV contains a nice medium-large sized font (I don't know the exact numbering) that is not too big and not too small, but just right. Being a vociferous opponent of glossy paper, the classic white is easy to read and great on the eyes, and get's two thumbs up in my opinion. (However, it is worth noting that that the paper is also a little thin, which makes the Bible smaller and lighter than it would otherwise be, but you can see through it somewhat, which may be a down-side for some readers.)

For those of you who like section headings in the main text of Scripture, the main text of the CSS Bible is filled with bold-faced section headings that give you a clue to the contexts of what you're reading.

3. Both a Reader's Bible and a Study Bible (of Sorts)
One of the unique features of this Bible is the way it spans the gap between a study Bible with footnotes (like the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, of worthy renown), and a simple reader's Bible, without any helps. The CSS RSV is a little bit of both:

On the one hand, the CSS Bible is technically not a study Bible, insofar as the main text is unencumbered by footnotes (though the standard explanatory endnotes that accompany the RSV can be found at the end of both testament).On the other hand, the CSS Bible is filled with dozens and dozens of "Faith Fact" Inserts, which provide short reference essays for many of the most common topics Catholic readers of Scripture will want to know about, such as:

From Sabbath to Sunday
Biblical Origins of the Mass
Christ's Real Presence in the Eucharist
Biblical Basis of Purgatory
The Church and Evolution
The Millennium and the Rapture
Sola Scriptura
Four Senses of Scripture
Canon of Scripture
Biblical Basis of Confession, etc. etc.

There's also a long list of "Catholic Apologetics Bible Verses" at the beginning that does a good job of covering all the major target topics and texts, as well as a "Topical Index" at the back that does a great job of answering the common question: "What does the Bible say about X?" from Abortion to Zeal...

In my experience, these kinds of topics, explained from the perspective of Sacred Scripture and tradition, are often where many Catholic readers of Scripture like to begin. These inserts and helps make this a particularly good Bible for beginners.  They can also be really helpful references to have right there in your Bible both for Bible study groups and for those occasions where you might want to have key passages in Scripture ready-at-hand for discussions about the biblical basis of certain Catholic teachings are controverted issues.

4. Calendar of Scripture Readings until the Year 2040
In my opinion, every Catholic Bible should have a calendar of Scripture readings so that you can read along with the Lectionary of Sunday and daily Masses. The CSS Bible has just such a calendar, going up to the year 2040. If you're my age, that should hold you till you die; if you're a bit younger, you might need to buy a new edition 30 yrs down the road. But in any case, if, for example, you enjoy doing lectio divina in your own Bible but along with the Lectionary, the CSS Bible is perfect.

5. Words of Christ in Red
Last, but not least, call me sentimental and old-fashioned, but the first real Bible I ever owned was an NAB with the words of Christ in red, and then, as now, I love it. (I realize that having a Ph.D. should have dispelled me of such affections, but I can't seem to shake 'em).  I don't know of any other RSV editions that have this quasi-liturgical feature (think of the red and black ink in Missals), but the new CSS Bible does, so if this something you like, it's another attractive feature that adds to the beauty of this edition.

A Great Christmas or Lenten Gift

In short, if you're looking for a great Christmas gift for family members and want to get a Bible that is so inviting someone might actually read it and learn from it, then the CSS RSV is a great idea. In particular, I'd recommend it for beginning readers of Scripture, older Catholics who might need a typeface that's big enough to be read easily, new Catholics going through RCIA or RCIC and who want to learn more about the biblical basics of their faith, or anyone who may be tired of the bad font and bad layouts that plague some editions of the Bible from the 1970s and 1980s. Readers enjoy!

Podcast: Are the Gospel Stories About Jesus' Birth Historical?

I've been swamped over the last few weeks finishing up the quarter and so I've been behind in posting the latest podcasts of The Sacred Page program. Now I'm going to get you all caught up.

Over the last couple weeks we've been focusing on the readings for Christmas, i.e., the "infancy narratives" of Christ. We've been looking at their historical value and meaning.

This show--the first in a series--explores some of the broad issues, although a lot more will be discussed in upcoming podcasts. Here, among other things, we look at the reason many scholars have been skeptical about the Gospels' historical worth. In particular, we look at the impact of Bultmann and other earlier "form-critical" scholars who viewed the Gospels in terms of "folklore". We then look at more recent discoveries that call their approach to the Gospels into question. We also explore the claim that the Gospel stories about Jesus' birth were invented to parallel myths about pagan gods.

I'd love to get your comments! Sound off in the box below!

Podcast: Are the Gospel Stories About Jesus' Birth Historical? 

For more on the theory that Christian "prophets" were the origin of some of the material in the Gospel tradition and other elements of this podcast--with specific references to academic works on the topics--go to earlier posts on here and here.

The Once and Future King: The Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

T.H. White wrote a fantasy novel about King Arthur in the 1950s called “The Once and Future King,” which my English class was assigned to read in 8th grade. The title comes from the legendary Latin inscription on Arthur’s tomb, Hic iacet Arthurus, rex quondam, rexque futurus: “Here lies Arthur, king at one time, and king to be.”

For the ancient Israelites, David was their “Arthur”: a king of fame and renown, to whom God had made great promises, and whose return they expected.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My New Book Now on Amazon

My popular book on Scripture is now posted on Amazon.  Actual publication is a few weeks or months off.  The book is a condensation of the approach I take to the Bible in my undergraduate survey courses on Old and New Testament.

Ave Maria Press, on the campus of Notre Dame, is publishing the book.

Click on the image to see the Amazon listing.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Webinar Tonight on the Blessed Mother

Michael and I will be talking live tonight, starting at 7:00PM EST, as part of a Fullness of Truth Advent Special on the Blessed Mother.  Here's the link to sign up for the event.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Courtship Continues: Readings for the Third Sunday of Advent

It may seem counterintuitive, but Advent has a courtship aspect to it.

Waiting for Christmas is like waiting for one’s wedding. A wedding unites two persons “as one flesh.” At Christmas, the LORD, bridegroom of Israel (Isaiah 54:4-8), unites his divine nature with our human nature, and the two become “one flesh,” as it were, in the incarnation.

Advent is like a courtship that anticipates the Christmas nuptials.

Subtle nuptial themes run in the background of this Sunday’s readings.

The First Reading, taken from Isaiah 61, divides into two parts (61:1-2 and 61:10-11). In the first part (Isa 61:1-2), Isaiah’s mysterious “servant of the Lord” is speaking in the first person. The identity of this “servant” was obscure in antiquity, as we can see from Acts 8:34, but Jesus clearly identifies himself as the “servant” in Luke 4:18-21, quoting the very verses from our First Reading.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Sodom and Gomorrah Excavated

By far the most interesting session at the recent Society of Biblical Literature Congress in San Francisco was one I wandered into by chance.  I am always curious about what is going on in biblical archeology, so one afternoon I decided to skip the dozen or so sessions dedicated to Bakhtinian Decontextualization of Identity Construction in Persian Yehud (I had to tear myself away) and go hear about the excavations at a certain site called "Tall-el-Hammam."  I had no idea what I was in for.  After about five minutes into the session, I realized that the archeological team assigned to this dig was convinced that they had found the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah.  After another half-hour, it seemed they had most of the participants convinced as well.  The sites fit the geographical and temporal context into which Sodom and Gomorrah are placed in the biblical texts.  The cities at the site were suddenly and completely wiped out in the Late Bronze Age, which makes a reasonably good fit with the biblical accounts of Abraham and Lot.  The entire presentation was very convincing, but never once did they deal with the "elephant in the room": what caused the sites to be suddenly abandoned?  As soon as the session was over, I was the first to raise my hand.  "Did you find any arrow heads?  Signs of invasion?  What happened to them?"  The lead archeologist paused for a moment.  "I didn't want to go there," he said.  Another pause. "I'm preparing material for publication."  Pause.  "All I want to say 'on camera' is, they appear to have been wiped out in a 'heat event'."

A "heat event"!?  What?!

"If you want to know more, I'll talk after the session off the record."

I wish I could divulge what he said to a small group of us clustered around the podium after the session was over, but it would break confidence.  We'll have to wait for the official peer-reviewed publications.

Here's a link the dig's main website.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

"Comfort Ye" Sunday: Musical Exegesis

This weekend I was too busy with the Science and Faith Conference at Franciscan University (more on that later) to blog on the readings, but here's a clip of George Frideric Handel's superb "musical exegesis" of today's First Reading.  It's a Dutch recording, in honor of Al Plantinga visiting Franciscan University (just joking):