Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top Academic Reads of 2014 (Updated)

UPDATE: After some reflection, I've added two more titles that definitely belong on the list. See below. 

As we wrap up 2014, I thought it would be a good idea to put together a list of some of my favorite reads of the past year. Of course, coming up with a "best of" list is painful--there were so many great books I read this year and I can't write a long post. But in order to keep this short and meaningful (a list of 10 is just going to be too long), I'm going to list 5 7 of the most important books I read this year.

Two caveats: 

1. Notice I said these are seven "of the most important books". I can't say for sure these are the most important books; I've just left too many good ones off the list. If I had to come with the list of the m seven most important books, I'd agonize over it for so long that I'd never be able to finish this post. 

2. Not all of these books were released this year. The point is, I read them this year so they are still new to me. 

With those caveats in place, here are my picks.

1. Michael Bird, The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014). 

Bird's book, which I just recently finished, is a tour de force of Gospel scholarship and research into the transmission of the Jesus tradition. 

I can't say enough nice things about this book--in fact, expect a post or two on some elements of Bird's book in the future.

2. Nijay Gupta, Worship That Makes Sense to Paul: A New Approach to the Theology and Ethics of Paul's Cultic Metaphors (Berlin: De Grutyer, 2010). 

This year I poured myself into Pauline research with particular attention to soteriology and cultic imagery in Paul. This book by Nijay Gupta was particularly exciting. I've already posted on the book this year but I have to mention it again here. 

3. Henri de Lubac, History and Spirit: The Understanding of Scripture According to Origen (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007). 

De Lubac was one of the most influential patristic scholars of the twentieth century. This reprint reproduces some of his most important--and revolutionary!--research on Origen. 

Origen denigrated the value of history in favor of spiritual readings? Well, that's what everyone says--except those who have read this comprehensive study.

4. Beverly Gaventa, ed., The Apocalyptic Paul: Cosmos and Anthropos in Romans 5-8. (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2013).

This book contains numerous excellent essays but the one by John Barclay takes the cake--at least, that's my opinion. Barclay demonstrates how Paul's understanding of "grace" fits well within first-century Greco-Roman attitudes regarding the nature of gift-giving. 

The soteriological implications are incredibly profound. 

I must say, Barclay's essay in this book may be one of the top five most important pieces I have ever read on Paul. No exaggeration.

5. Matthew Ramage, Dark Passage of the Bible: Engaging Scripture with Benedict XVI and Thomas Aquinas (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2013).  

I must say that I may be confused here and might have read this book at the end of last year. Either way, I'd like to give it a shout out. 

Ramage looks specifically at some of the thorny exegetical issues in Catholic biblical interpretation. Guided by Benedict XVI and Aquinas, Ramage offers a wonderfully thoughtful approach to the difficult question of how some of the challenges of historical-critical methodology can be engaged in a way informed by Catholic tradition. 

UPDATE: Even though I was going to originally keep this list to five works, I had to add two more titles that I somehow failed to include above. Even though there are still many other books I could mention here, few works have been more impactful on my thinking than the two below. Apologies to Chris and Ben.

6. Ben Blackwell, Chistosis: Pauline Soteriology in Light of Deification in Irenaeus and Cyril of Alexandria (WUNT 2/314; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011). 

How I ever left this book off of my original list, I'm not sure. It might be because I first looked through it in 2013. Whatever the reason, I couldn't possibly neglect to mention it here. This easily should have been on my list. It was certainly far more important for my thinking than even the De Lubac work.

Put simply, this book is one of the most important monographs I have ever read on Pauline soteriology--in terms of my own thinking, it might even be the most important one. And, yes, I mean that.

In sum, Blackwell shows how patristic exegesis helps unpack Paul's thought. Specifically, Blackwell focuses on the way the fathers' understanding of theosis faithfully explicates what is found in the Pauline epistles.

To sum things up, Blackwell shows that, for Paul, salvation is about so much more than merely being "acquitted"; it involves nothing less than participation in the divine life through union with Christ.

Other scholars have also argued that the concept of theosis accurately captures Paul's reading. Here, in particular, I think of Michael Gorman, from whose work I have also learned much.

What I particularly like about Blackwell's work is his command of patristic sources. Contemporary exegesis often distances itself from Christian interpretive tradition. Either modern scholars convince themselves that we have simply moved beyond ancient Christian writers (and so, conveniently, we need not read them) or, worse, they simply dismiss their works, imagining that the earliest Christian thinkers grossly misunderstood the New Testament writers (implying a kind of scholarly triumphalism--no one really read the New Testament correctly until we can along).

While it is certainly true that the fathers do not engage certain important critical issues that contemporary scholarship has helped to shed light on, I believe we lose much by ignoring them. Ignorance is certainly not bliss.

Let me be clear: it is true that contemporary biblical scholarship has helped shed important light on the biblical texts. Among other things, materials like the Dead Sea Scrolls have made it possible for us to have a much more nuanced understanding of certain aspects of the Judaism of Jesus' and Paul's day than the fathers could have attained. 

At the same time, recognizing the strengths of contemporary exegesis does not necessarily mean that the fathers had nothing valuable to say. Indeed, they are often far more helpful in illuminating the biblical text than modern exegetes recognize. (Here I am getting into the very issues Ramage deals with in his important contribution mentioned above.)

This shouldn't be surprising. For example, the Greek fathers knew the biblical language extremely well--after all, it was their native language!

I could go on and on about specific aspects of Blackwell's important work but let me just say that it demonstrates the advantage of retrieving patristic readings in spades. If you pick up just one book on Pauline soteriology, let it be this one.

7. Chris Tilling, Paul's Divine Christology. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, forthcoming 2015). 

I also originally left this off the list. That was also a major mea culpa. 

Suffice it to say, this book is, in my opinion, the definitive work on Paul's Christology. Well-researched, carefully nuanced, and convincing, this book tackles a very complex subject with clarity and thoughtfulness.

Whereas other treatments of Paul's Christology focus on titles or limit their analysis to a handful of passages, Tilling looks at Paul's Christology against the larger matrix of his overall thought, examining numerous themes and facets of the Pauline corpus. At the same time, Tilling drills down into specific issues with exegetical rigor, offering numerous insights.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book is his analysis of Paul's Christology against the backdrop of Enochic literature. I won't spoil the surprise but let's just say he makes some tantalizing suggestions, which I find quite compelling.

Tilling's monograph, a revision of his doctoral thesis, was originally published by the prestigious German publisher, Mohr Siebeck. Unfortunately, although Mohr Siebeck is about as respectable as you can get when it comes to academic publication, the titles in their catalogue are not cheap. This meant the book was out of the price range of most readers.

Yet, despite the hefty price tag, the book has received a great deal of attention and praise--and rightfully so! I'm therefore delighted that it is being republished by Eerdmanns, an American publisher. Eerdmans is doing a nice roll out for the book, giving it the attention it deserves. Their reprint will also make the book much more affordable and help it find a wider audience.

The book's significance is also underscored by the fact that the new release will also feature a Foreword by Doug Campbell. In sum, expect to hear the name Chris Tilling a lot in the coming years as this seminal work is establishing him as one of the most important names in the future of Pauline scholarship.

As with Blackwell's book, I can't say enough about Tilling's. It easily should have made it into the top five above. The reality is, since I worked through it prior to this year it simply didn't come to mind as a "new find" for this year when I first wrote this post.

Nevertheless, I had to rectify the situation by updating this post. Suffice it to say, this was definitely one of the most important books I worked through this year.

Did Jesus deliberately misquote the Old Testament?

This is the second post in a few days in which I'm "exploring our matrix"--that is, interacting with a blog post by James McGrath.

In a post, "Was Jesus Wrong on Purpose?," James looks at the story in Mark 2 where Jesus appears to misremember the Old Testament.

In particular, Jesus defends his disciples' action of plucking grain on the Sabbath by referring to a story recorded in 1 Samuel:
And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” (Mark 2:25-26)
The problem is, the story Jesus references involves Ahimelech, not Abiathar.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Were the titles of the Gospels added later? The implications of the genre question

James McGrath has kindly linked over to a post I wrote a while back in which I briefly mention an article by Simon Gathercole. Gathercole meticulously examines the extant manuscripts of the Gospels and demonstrates that there is no textual evidence--not a shred!--to support the commonly held scholarly theory that the titles of the Gospels were added later.

James' post also includes a link back to a previous one he wrote on the topic. Although I missed it, I noted that he had written on the article long before I had.

In his earlier piece, James expresses openness to the possibility that the titles were original. He says,
It seems that, when the earliest texts are considered and both types of titles are considered, it may be that the widespread idea that the Gospels were originally anonymous may need to be discarded.
I have enjoyed reading James' thoughts on this.

There is one key dimension of the issue of the authorship question he doesn't mention though that I'd like to raise here.

"The Second Annunciation": The Gospel Reading for the Feast of the Holy Family

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. There are a number of options available in the lectionary for the first and second readings, and so, to simplify matters, I am just going to offer a brief post on the single Gospel reading that we will all here. 

GOSPEL: Luke 2:22-40
When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
They took him up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,
and to offer the sacrifice of
a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.
This man was righteous and devout,
awaiting the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
that he should not see death
before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple;
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus
to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
He took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
—and you yourself a sword will pierce—
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
There was also a prophetess, Anna,
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years,
having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the temple,
but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
And coming forward at that very time,
she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child
to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee,
to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him.
Much could be said about this reading. Here let me offer four thoughts.

1. The story stresses the Holy Family's obedience to Torah. 

According to the Old Testament, after a woman gave birth she was ritually unclean (cf. Lev. 12:1-5). In order to be purified, a sacrifice was required (Lev. 12:6-8). By telling us that they went up to Jerusalem, Luke is actually depicting Mary and Joseph as Torah observant Jews. The Holy Family, therefore, is presented as the model of obedience to God's Law.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Stephen: The Christ-Like Martyr

Yours truly at the traditional site of
St. Stephen's tomb. 
Happy Feast of St. Stephen! I have always loved the story of St. Stephen in the book of Acts - so much so, in fact, we named our second son after him: Matthew Stephen.

The book of Acts describes Stephen as a "Christ-like" figure.

As I have explained elsewhere on this blog, this coheres with a larger theme of the book of Acts--Luke describes the life of the early Church in terms similar to the life of Christ in the Gospel of Luke. The message is clear: Christ is continuing to live in his Church. (Go here for more on that).

Like Jesus, then, Stephen is arrested, made to stand before the ruling council, accused by false witnesses of claiming Jesus would destroy the temple (a charge leveled against Jesus at his trial in Matthew and Mark), questioned by the high priest, and executed.

The climactic moment of Jesus’ trial is Jesus' response to the high priest in which he explains that Caiaphas will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven (Luke 22:69–70). After this, of course, he is condemned to death (Luke 22:71).

In the book of Acts, Stephen’s trial climaxes with a similar statement: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).

After this, Stephen is martyred.

Moreover, Stephen is even described as being like Jesus in death. Just before dying Jesus prays, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46). Stephen likewise prays, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59).

Furthermore, when Jesus is crucified he prays, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Similarly, Stephen prays for his accusers: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). Notably, Acts goes on to describe the conversion of one of those who was involved in his murder, namely, Saul/St. Paul (cf. Acts 7:58; 8:1).

St. Augustine famously attributed great efficacy to Stephen's prayer, saying, “Had Stephen not prayed, the Church today would have no Paul” (Sermon on the Nativity of St. Stephen 6, 5).

I'll end this post with a quote from Benedict XVI:
The life of St. Stephen is entirely shaped by God, conformed to Christ, whose passion is repeated in him; in the final moment of death, on his knees, he takes up the prayer of Jesus on the cross, trusting in the Lord (Acts 7:59) and forgiving his enemies: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (60). Filled with the Holy Spirit, as his eyes are about to close, he fixed his gaze on "Jesus standing at the right hand of God" (55), the Lord of all, who draws all to him. 
On St. Stephen’s Day, we are called to fix our gaze on the Son of God, who, in the joyful atmosphere of Christmas, we contemplate in the mystery of his incarnation. . . Allowing ourselves be drawn by Christ, like St. Stephen, means opening our lives to the light that calls, directs and makes us walk the path of good, the path of humanity, according to God’s loving plan. (Angelus address, December 26, 2012)[source]

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"For unto us a child is born": Readings for Christmas Mass at Midnight

The lectionary readings for the Christmas mass at midnight focus on the coming of the glory of God in the person of Christ.

Of course, in scripture, God's glory is often associated with the imagery of "light" and "splendor".

As we celebrate the eucharist in the middle of the night ("midnight"), we reflect on the coming of the one who is the "light of the world".

The darkness of night helps us reflect on the state of humanity before the Incarnation. As our first reading explains, we "walked in darkness".

In Christ, we have "seen a great light".

Yet the lectionary selections are also meant to lead us to reflect upon the way Christians are still awaiting the dawning of the day when the fullness of Christ's glory will be revealed; as the Second Reading reminds us, we await "the blessed hope of the appearance" of Christ at the end of time.

The light "has come" yet it is also "still to come" in its fullness. The darkness has not yet been finally vanquished. (Anyone who has been to the mall this season is painfully aware of that!)

With all of this in mind, let us turn to our readings.

Christmas Readings for the Day

It's almost here!  I thought I would post on the Readings for Christmas Day at Dawn and Noon:

Mass at Dawn

1. Reading 1 Is 62:11-12
See, the LORD proclaims
to the ends of the earth:
say to daughter Zion,
your savior comes!
Here is his reward with him,
his recompense before him.
They shall be called the holy people,
the redeemed of the LORD,
and you shall be called “Frequented,”
a city that is not forsaken.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mystery Now Revealed: The Fourth Sunday in Advent

In this fourth Sunday of Advent, the Church calls us to contemplate the mystery kept secret from ages past that is now revealed. In fact, while this mystery was kept secret, it is also paradoxically found within the pages of the Old Testament, including in our first reading from 2 Samuel 7.

FIRST READING: 2 Sam 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16
When King David was settled in his palace,
and the LORD had given him rest from his enemies on every side,
he said to Nathan the prophet,
“Here I am living in a house of cedar,
while the ark of God dwells in a tent!”
Nathan answered the king,
“Go, do whatever you have in mind,
for the LORD is with you.”
But that night the LORD spoke to Nathan and said:
“Go, tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD:
Should you build me a house to dwell in?’ 
“It was I who took you from the pasture
and from the care of the flock
to be commander of my people Israel.
I have been with you wherever you went,
and I have destroyed all your enemies before you.
And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth.
I will fix a place for my people Israel;
I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place
without further disturbance.
Neither shall the wicked continue to afflict them as they did of old,
since the time I first appointed judges over my people Israel.
I will give you rest from all your enemies.
The LORD also reveals to you
that he will establish a house for you.
And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors,
I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,
and I will make his kingdom firm.
I will be a father to him,
and he shall be a son to me.
Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me;
your throne shall stand firm forever.”
In 2 Samuel 7, the Church puts before us one of the most significant passages in the Old Testament, for in it God enters into an everlasting covenant with the house of David. While the term “covenant” is not found in the passage, the content of a covenant is, and in this case, a certain kind of covenant.

In the Ancient Near East, covenants established kinship bonds between previously unrelated people by means of solemn oath taking and ritual enactment. While covenant making could take different shapes, Scott Hahn has helpfully suggested that covenant making falls into three basic categories: kinship (between equals), treaty, and grant.[1]

Christmas as a retelling of Egyptian Mythology? Maybe not (VIDEO)

H/T JP Catholic student Anna Rossi on Facebook

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Congratulations to Michael Bird!

Michael's book, The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus (Eerdmans) has just won Christianity Today's 2015 book award in the category of biblical studies.

This is great news. And it couldn't happen to a better scholar.

Michael's has done some excellent work on the historical Jesus and I hope the attention this book is getting will also inspire others to pick up his other books as well.

His monograph, Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission (Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2007), is a learned study and a model of academic erudition. In addition, his book, Are You the One Who Is to Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question (Eerdmans, 2009), is a wonderfully balanced study.

So I must confess that I am praising these works because I have not yet read his latest. It has been sitting on the top of my guilt pile but because my recent work has focused more on Pauline studies I haven't been able to get to it.

Brant Pitre, in particular, has been urging me to read it.

And so I look forward to reading it though over the Christmas break. It'll be my reward for finishing grading.

Get your copy, here and let me know what you think.

Monday, December 15, 2014

All I Want For Christmas. . .

Thanks to two anonymous readers I've been able to cross two books off my list. Thanks so very much! 

This time of year a number of internet sites and blogs run lists of gift ideas for "men".

For the record, I definitely don't want a flask or a knife or a pipe.

In years past, some very kind readers have amazingly sent gifts on Christmas. Those gifts have all been  helpful and, of course, very much appreciated.

To be honest, I've got a number of academic projects I'd really like to finish this coming year and I require a number of resources to realize those goals. And what I need isn't going to be cheap.

I don't mean to be presumptuous but if anyone is planning on helping out a young Catholic scholar with four little children this Christmas, this is what I would put on my wish list.

I've put in some links below but a quick check on www.Bookfinder.com is always the recommended way to find books at the lowest possible price. You can also check out my Amazon Wish list - see the panel on the right.

Martha Himmelfarb, Between Torah and Temple. Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2013. 

Markus Bockhmuehl. The Remembered Peter. Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2010. Price: ~$112

Ben Cooper. Incorporated Servanthood: Commitment and Discipleship in the Gospel of Matthew. London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2013. Price: ~$30

Holly Beers. The Followers of Jesus as the 'Servant': Luke’s Model from Isaiah for the Disciples in Luke-Acts. London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2015. Price: ~$112

Jonathan Knight, The Open Mind: Essays in Honour of Christopher RowlandLondon: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2015. Price: ~$112

Stefanos Mihalios. The Danielic Eschatological Hour in the Johannine LiteratureLondon: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2012. Price: ~$30

Karen Wenell. Jesus and Land: Sacred and Social Space in Second Temple Judaism. London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2012. Price: ~$125

R. Timothy McLay. The Temple in Text and Tradition: A Festschrift in Honour of Robert Hayward. London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2012. Price: ~$115

Jens Schröter. Jesus of Nazareth: Jew from Galilee, Savior of the World. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2014. Price: ~$50

L. M. Morales, Cult and Cosmos. Leuven: Peeters, 2014. Price: $140

If there is any kind soul out there interested in sending me something, books can be sent to the following address:
Dr. Michael Barber
c/o JP Catholic University
220 W. Grand Ave.Escondido, CA 92025

If anyone does plan on sending something my way, thanks so very much. And please leave a comment and tell me what I can cross of the list.


Friday, December 12, 2014

"I Am the Very Model of a Biblical Philologist"

H/T Nathan Eubank and Michael Thomson

Rejoice! The Readings for Gaudete Sunday!


Rejoice, everybody!  This Sunday we light the rose-colored (not pink!) candle of the Advent wreath, as a sign of our joy that we have passed the mid-point of Advent.  During this penitential season (are you practicing a small penance?) in anticipation of the coming of Our Lord, we take a break from our practices of self-denial this Sunday in order to celebrate that Christmas is drawing near!

The Readings for this Sunday are unified by the theme of rejoicing, and they provide a good meditation on the role of joy in the Christian life.  Perhaps a line from the first Reading best sums up the message of the Scriptures this Sunday: “God is the joy of my soul.”  How true this is!  How often we are tempted to put something else into the “God” slot in that statement: “________ is the joy of my soul.”  How do we fill in the blank?  Money?  Success?  Caffeine/Alcohol/some other drug?  Sex?  Football?  Some other sport? A hobby?  This Sunday is time to rejoice for all those who put “God” in the blank.

1. Our First Reading is Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11:

Sunday, December 07, 2014

The Readings for the Immaculate Conception

This Monday is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  It is a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics in the United States, since it is the patronal feast day of our nation.  (Have you ever pondered that the irony in the fact that our capital is a little square of territory nestled in the heart of “Mary-land”?)

The Readings for this Solemnity are extremely rich, and include two famous passages (the account of the curses of after the fall in Genesis 3; and the Annunciation in Luke 1) that are pivotal in salvation history and touch on mega-themes in biblical theology.  Mary is at the heart of the story of salvation; understanding her and her role properly entails understanding the divine economy (salvation history) properly as well.

The First Reading is from Genesis 3:

Thursday, December 04, 2014

"Prepare the Way of the Lord": Readings for the Second Sunday of Advent

During the time of Advent the Church both looks backwards and forwards. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:
When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 524)
In other words, during Advent the Church both reflects on (1) the coming of Christ in the Incarnation and (2) the future coming of Christ at the end of time.

Only by keeping this two-fold perspective in mind can we fully understand the lectionary readings chosen for us this Sunday.

As we shall see, by meditating on the former we learn lessons about how to prepare best for the latter. John the Baptist, for example, becomes not only the one to prepare the way for the Incarnation but also a model for what it means to prepare for the Second Coming.

FIRST READING: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Comfort, give comfort to my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that her service is at an end,
her guilt is expiated;
indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD
double for all her sins. 
A voice cries out:
In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be fil we led in,
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
the rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken. 
Go up on to a high mountain,
Zion, herald of glad tidings;
cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Fear not to cry out
and say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
Here comes with power
the Lord GOD,
who rules by his strong arm;
here is his reward with him,
his recompense before him.
Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
carrying them in his bosom,
and leading the ewes with care.
Isaiah is here announcing the hope for the future deliverance of Israel from exile. The language, however, draws from Israel's past. Specifically, Isaiah describes the future restoration of Israel in terms reminiscent of the Exodus. 
  • The people of God are told that their time of "service" (i.e., slavery) has come to an end
  • A way [Greek: hodos] is prepared in the wilderness 
  • The Lord's glory will be revealed (recall the cloud of glory that led Israel in the wilderness)
  • The language of getting up to a "high mountain", while pointing to Zion, also recalls Mt. Sinai

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Advent


Well, the season of Advent is here once again! Of all the liturgical seasons of the year, for me, Advent is certainly the most stressful, and it may be the most confusing.  We often seem to have a good grasp of Christmas, Lent, and Easter. But what is the deeper meaning of Advent? And how can understanding this season help us better prepare for Christmas?

In the Bible study Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Advent, I tried to show how a deeper understanding of the biblical prophecies of the Messiah can help unlock the hidden meanings of the season. It covers topics like:

The Sunday Lectionary Readings for Advent (Years A-C): The entire Bible study revolves around the Sunday lectionary readings for this season, which are (in my humble opinion) some of the richest and most fascinating passages in the Bible.

(NOTE TO PREACHERS: if you're preaching homilies for the Lectionary, the Bible study goes into readings from all three years, so that it can be useful for Advent preaching any year.)

The Second Advent of Christ: What will happen at the end of time? Why does Advent begin with end-time prophecies about the Tribulation, the Final Judgment, and the second coming of Christ?

Biblical Prophecies of the Messiah: How do we know that Jesus is really the Messiah and not just one more religious leader? What are the most important Old Testament prophecies about the first “coming” of the Messiah?

The Mystery of John the Baptist: Who was John the Baptist? Why did Jesus call him the greatest of all the prophets, and why does the Church spend so much time on him during the Advent season?

The Jesse Tree: What are the biblical roots of the Advent custom of the Jesse tree? Where does this tree come from in the Jewish Bible?

The Virgin Birth: Why was Jesus born of a Virgin? What should we say to those who are skeptical about this great miracle? And what does it mean for our lives as Christians?

And lots of other stuff. If you're preparing for Christmas and would like to dig deeper into the biblical roots of Advent, consider checking it out.

Have a blessed Advent.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

SBL 2014 highlights

What a tremendous time I had this year at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature! 

Above all, I had the honor of reading a paper co-written with John Kincaid. N.T. Wright, Pamela Eisenbaum, and Ward Blanton responded to it. It was incredibly gratifying to have these scholars carefully read our arguments and engage with us in conversation. I think it is safe to say that all three gave positive assessments to the paper's thesis, asking helpful clarifying questions.

After we were done, David Burnett presented a fascinating paper in the same section. Brant Pitre had an interesting exchange with N.T. Wright about it during the question and answer period that was fun to witness. I'd like to thank our student Luke Heintschel for the pictures as well as all those who came out to support us (including my wife!). 

"Already and Still More": The First Sunday in Advent

In this first Sunday of Advent, the Church invites us to prepare in a rather urgent manner for God’s coming in the person of Jesus Christ. If you are anything like me, it is tempting to view the Advent Season as celebrating something that is “in the rear view mirror”, that is, a definitive event of the past that defines the salvation we can now rejoice in as believers in Christ.

While this is true, it is nonetheless incomplete at best and dangerous at worst, for the coming of God in Christ requires an ever-present vigilance, one that is always ready for the coming of God.

FIRST READING: Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7 
You, LORD, are our father,
our redeemer you are named forever.
Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways,
and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants,
the tribes of your heritage.
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
with the mountains quaking before you,
while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for,
such as they had not heard of from of old.
No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you
doing such deeds for those who wait for him.
Would that you might meet us doing right,
that we were mindful of you in our ways!
Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful;
all of us have become like unclean people,
all our good deeds are like polluted rags;
we have all withered like leaves,
and our guilt carries us away like the wind.
There is none who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to cling to you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have delivered us up to our guilt.
Yet, O LORD, you are our father;
we are the clay and you the potter:
we are all the work of your hands.
In this first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks of the coming of God in rather apocalyptic terms, that is, that Yahweh would “rend the heavens and come down” and bring salvation. In context, Yahweh does indeed come down and bring salvation, for he comes and liberates Judah from Babylon and brings them back to Canaan.

However, as Loren Stuckenbruck rightly notes, apocalyptic salvation in the faith of Israel entails an “already and still more,”[1] and this dynamic can be seen within Isaiah itself, for reading the book as a whole helps to reveal that not all aspects of Isaiah’s promised salvation is completely fulfilled with Judah’s return from exile.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

SBL/AAR 2014 sessions I am looking forward to attending (Part 2: Sunday - Monday)

I still have more sessions to read about and I'm on the fence on what to do during a couple of time slots, but here are some thoughts on Sunday-Monday.

Of course, somewhere in all of this I have to set aside time for the most important part of SBL: the glorious exhibit hall where all the major publishers will be selling their wares (at discounted prices!).

Nonetheless, here are my thoughts on the sessions so far.

If you are going to SBL, I'd love to get your feedback. What are you planning on doing?

SUNDAY - 11/23/14

9am - 11:30am

Once again, another painful decision. On one hand, there is a session on Pauline soteriology on "righteousness/justice" in Paul involving Gorman, Gaventa, and de Boer, with Eubank responding. On the other, there's a section on the Fourth Gospel and liturgical issues, with Keener responding. They both look too good to pass up.  

Pauline Soteriology 
Room: Indigo Ballroom H (Level 2 (Indigo)) - Hilton Bayfront (HB) 
Theme: Righteousness/Justice in Paul 
Michael Gorman, Saint Mary's Seminary and University, Presiding
Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Baylor University
Righteousness/Justice in Paul: The View from Romans (35 min)
Martin de Boer, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam - VU University Amsterdam
Righteousness/Justice in Paul: A Comparison of Galatians with Romans (35 min)
Break (10 min)
Nathan Eubank, Notre Dame Seminary, Graduate School of Theology, Respondent (15 min)
Willie Jennings, Duke University, Respondent (15 min)
Discussion (20 min)
Discussion (20 min)
1pm - 3:30pm

Obviously, there's no question about what the most important session is in this time slot. The first paper is going to be dynamite. The paper by David Burnett, like the first paper, was presented earlier this year at the Paul and Judaism Conference at Houston Baptist University. It was fantastic. I'm looking forward to hearing that one again.

Anyone know who this N.T. Wright guy is who is responding to it?

Pauline Epistles 
Joint Session With: Pauline Epistles, Paul and Judaism/Paul Within Judaism, Disputed Paulines, Pauline Soteriology, Second Corinthians: Pauline Theology in the Making, Systematic Transformation and Interweaving of Scripture in 1 Corinthians

1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Sapphire Ballroom M (Level 4 (Sapphire)) - Hilton Bayfront (HB) 
Chan Sok Park, Harvard University, Presiding
Michael Patrick Barber, John Paul the Great Catholic University and John Kincaid, John Paul the Great Catholic University
Cultic Theosis in Paul and Second Temple Judaism: A Fresh Reading of the Corinthian Correspondence (18 min)
David A. Burnett, Criswell College
"So Shall Your Seed Be": Paul’s Use of Gen 15:5 in Rom 4:18 in light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions (18 min)
Pamela Eisenbaum, Iliff School of Theology, Respondent (8 min)
Ward Blanton, University of Kent at Canterbury, Respondent (8 min)
N. T. Wright, University of St. Andrews, Respondent (8 min)
Break (5 min)
Matthew E. Gordley, Regent University School of Divinity
Psalms of Solomon and Pauline Studies (18 min)
Hans Svebakken, Loyola University of Chicago
Romans 7:7-25 and a Pauline Allegory of the Soul (18 min)
Pamela Eisenbaum, Iliff School of Theology, Respondent (8 min)
Ward Blanton, University of Kent at Canterbury, Respondent (8 min)
N. T. Wright, University of St. Andrews, Respondent (8 min)
Discussion (25 min)
Luckily, there are no other interesting papers at this time. None. Don't even look at the Program Book. There isn't anything else you need to be doing during this slot. *cough 

4pm - 6:30pm 

There are a number of sessions that interest me. I'm very interested in the section on Mark. It's hard to turn down an opportunity to go and hear Joel Watts. The paper on intertextuality in Mark 11-12 sounds interesting too.

Yet Goodacre interacting with Kloppenborg on Q? How do I pass that one up!

Finally, there's a paper that seems to suggest animal sacrifices were in fact offered at Qumran. If true--and that seems to be a big if--that's huge. I'm interested to see what evidence can be cited--and equally keen on seeing what kind of reaction the paper gets. Finally, Stuckenbruck's paper looks intriguing.

Not sure what to do about this one.

Markan Literary Sources  
Room: F (Level 3 (Aqua)) - Hilton Bayfront (HB) 
Theme: Literary Sources for Mark 11 
Adam Winn, Azusa Pacific University, Presiding
Joel L. Watts, University of the Free State - Universiteit van die Vrystaat
There and Back Again, A Jesus Tale: The Poetics of Apologetic Reversal (10 min)
Discussion (35 min)
Matthew R. Hauge, Azusa Pacific University
The Creation of Person in Ancient Narrative and the Gospel of Mark (10 min)
Discussion (35 min)
Dennis R. MacDonald, Claremont School of Theology
Intertextuality in Mark 11–12 (10 min)
Discussion (35 min) 

Joint Session With: Q, Extent of Theological Diversity in Earliest Christianity 
Room: 303 (Level 3 (Aqua)) - Hilton Bayfront (HB) 
Theme: Q’s Difference: Contents, Silences, and PerspectivesThis session, sponsored jointly by the Extent of Theological Diversity in Earliest Christianity Section and the Q Section, revisits the question of how “different” Q seems to be given its contents, silences, and perspectives, especially where issues evidently crucial to other groups (such as the death and resurrection of Jesus) are concerned. Does Q make a difference to constructions of Christian origins? 
William Arnal, University of Regina, Presiding
Daniel A. Smith, Huron University College
What Difference Does Difference Make? Q’s Place within Christian Origins in Recent Research (30 min)
John Kloppenborg, University of Toronto, Respondent (10 min)
Mark Goodacre, Duke University, Respondent (10 min)
Discussion (20 min)
Break (10 min)
Joseph Verheyden, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
Is There a Place in the Inn? Some Reflections on How to Take Care of Q (30 min)
John Kloppenborg, University of Toronto, Respondent (10 min)
Mark Goodacre, Duke University, Respondent (10 min)
Discussion (20 min) 

Room: 501 C (Level 5 (Cobalt)) - Hilton Bayfront (HB) 
Theme: New Perspectives on Archaeology, Material Science, and Texts 
Eibert Tigchelaar, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Presiding
Ira Rabin, BAM Federal Institute of Materials Research and Testing
Did 1QIsaa and IQS Come from the Same Parchment Workshop? (30 min)
Jodi Magness, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Were Sacrifices Offered at Qumran? The Animal Bone Deposits Reconsidered (30 min)
Helen R. Jacobus, University College London
Two Aramaic Zodiac Calendars: Why 4Q318 Is Related to the Synchronistic Calendar of 4Q208-4Q209 (30 min)
Bernard M. Levinson, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Correcting the Restorations of Temple Scroll (11Q19) 2:8-9 (30 min)
Shani Tzoref, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
The Temple Scroll as Prequel and Interquel (30 min) 

Meals in the Greco-Roman World  
Joint Session With: Meals in the Greco-Roman World, Meals in the HB/OT and Its World 
Room: Room 5 B (Upper level) - San Diego Convention Center (CC) 
Theme: Meals and Justice 
The joint session between the "Meals in the Greco-Roman World" section and "Meals in the HB/OT and Its World" will focus on meals and justice, discussing how individual and divine justice are brought into connection with the table. The session will seek to bring together perspectives from the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and rabbinical texts, seeking the commonalities and divergences present between the various bodies of texts. 
Carol Meyers, Duke University, Presiding (5 min)
Walter J. Houston, University of Manchester
'To Share Your Bread with the Hungry': Justice or Charity? (30 min)
Michael Satlow, Brown University
Beggar at the Banquet (30 min)
Peter-Ben Smit, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Convivial Justice - Meals with Meaning in Early Christianity (30 min)
Loren Stuckenbruck, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Respondent (20 min)
Discussion (35 min)
MONDAY - 11/24/14

I have a number of commitments on Monday morning and so I can't make it to anything at that time.

In the early afternoon there are a number of sessions that look fascinating. I'm going to have to make some hard decisions here.

First, there's a review of N.T. Wright's new book on Paul that features, among others, Douglas Campbell. After watching the recent dialogue with Wright at Duke, taking a pass on this one is going to be difficult.

In addition, in the Papyrology and Early Christian Backgrounds section there are two papers that have caught my attention. First, there is one on wine consumption in antiquity and the story of the wedding feast in John 2. Second, one on Mark 10:1-12.

There is also a section on Social History of Formative Christianity and Judaism which focuses on priesthood and sacrifice. The papers here look very appealing.

Not sure what I'm going to do about these yet.
Pauline Soteriology 
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM 
Room: San Diego Ballroom Salon B (Lobby level) - Marriott Marquis (MM) 
Theme: Panel Review: N. T. (Tom) Wright's Paul and the Faithfulness of God 
Ann Jervis, Wycliffe College, Presiding
Steve Mason, University of Aberdeen, Panelist (25 min)
Douglas Campbell, Duke University, Panelist (25 min)
Alan J. Torrance, University of St. Andrews, Panelist (15 min)
Break (10 min)
N. T. (Tom) Wright, University of St. Andrews, Respondent (30 min)
Discussion (25 min)
Discussion (20 min)
Papyrology and Early Christian Backgrounds
1:00 PM to 3:45 PM
Room: Room 30 B (Upper level) - San Diego Convention Center (CC) 
Theme: Papyrology, the New Testament, and Early Christian Egypt 
Lincoln H. Blumell, Brigham Young University, Presiding
Hans Foerster, Universität Wien
Wine at the Wedding at Cana and in the Papyri: Some Observations on Wine-Consumption in Antiquity (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Annelies Moeser, Brite Divinity School (TCU)
Reading Mark 10:1-12 in Egypt: Marriage and Divorce (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Jennifer Strawbridge, University of Oxford
A School of Paul? The Use of Pauline Texts in Early Christian Schooltext Papyri (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Break (5 min)
James R. Royse, Independent Scholar
The Neglected Texts in the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus of Philo (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Iain Gardner, University of Sydney
The Kellis Coptic Papyri and Christianity in Fourth Century Egypt (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)

Social History of Formative Christianity and Judaism
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: 202 B (Level 2 (Indigo)) - Hilton Bayfront (HB) 
Theme: Priests, Meats, and Sacrifice: Representation and Praxis 
Gil Klein, Loyola Marymount University, Presiding (5 min)
Philippa Townsend, Ursinus College
“Priest of the Uncircumcised”: Melchizedek and the Gentiles in Hebrews and Beyond (25 min)
Mika Ahuvia, University of Washington, Seattle
Priestly Depiction of Sacrifice in the Mishnah: The Case of Tractate Tamid (25 min)
Anthony R. Meyer, McMaster University
From Praxis to Text: The Scripturalization of Priestly Ritual in the Mishnah and Invoking the Divine Name YHWH (25 min)
Jonathan P. Wilcoxson, University of Notre Dame
What Is Strangled? The Cultural Resonances of “Strangled” Meat in Acts, the Mishnah, and the Ancient Mediterranean (25 min)
Daniel Ullucci, Rhodes College
Who Sacrifices? Christian Experts and the Redefinition of Religion (25 min)
Discussion (20 min)
In the late afternoon, I am planning on attending the Blogger section. However, there is a section that is going to be hard to miss--and it features a prominent blogger, Mark Goodacre.  
Blogger and Online Publication
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: Room 1 B (Upper level) - San Diego Convention Center (CC)The session will conclude with a panel of scholars who blog (including Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne, among others), talking about key moments in the intersection of academic blogging and Biblical studies from recent months. One of the great things about blogging is that it allows discussion of Biblical studies and other academic news over the course of the year. This panel thus makes room for discussion of topics that could not be foreseen when the program was finalized in April. Expect mention of specific topics and panelists on the scholarly blogs prior to November! 
James F. McGrath, Butler University, Presiding
Kimberly Majeski, Anderson University (IN)
Biblioblogging: A Bridge for Church and Academy (30 min)

Maria, Mariamne, Miriam: Rediscovering the Marys  
Room: 202 A (Level 2 (Indigo)) - Hilton Bayfront (HB) 
Theme: Does Which Mary Matter?The papers in this session investigate the multifaceted early Christian traditions of the Marys—Mary of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany—in biblical and post-biblical contexts. 
Ann Graham Brock, Iliff School of Theology, Presiding
Deirdre Good, General Theological Seminary
Mary and Jesus in the Garden: Ban and Blessing (25 min)
Mark Goodacre, Duke University
The Magdalene Effect: Misreading the Composite Mary in Early Christian Works (25 min)
Deborah Saxon, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs
The Care of the Self in the Gospel of Mary (25 min)
Judith M. Davis, Goshen College
Virgin Mary Co-Priest or Not: The Continuing Trend of Redaction and Revision (25 min)
Ally Kateusz, University of Missouri - Kansas City
Collyridian Déjà vu Part Two: Male and Female Altar Priests (25 min)
Discussion (25 min)

Solemnity of Christ the King: The Readings

Congratulations, everyone!  God has seen fit to let us live to complete another liturgical year!  We have journeyed with Our Lord from his birth through his ministry, passion, death, resurrection, and into the growth of the Church and the spread of the Gospel to all the nations.  Now, at the end of the year, we reflect on the Final Judgment, when Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, will pass sentence on each and every human being, establishing justice, punishing evil and rewarding love and self-sacrifice.  The Feast of Christ the King is a profession of our faith that ultimately there is a moral standard to the universe, that all is not in flux or random, that the Good, the True, and the Beautiful triumph in the end over darkness, ugliness, and selfishness. 

Our First Reading comes from Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17: