Thursday, March 19, 2009

RBL Highlights: 3/20/09

Highlights from the most recent Review of Biblical Literature:

James Rowe Adams
From Literal to Literary: The Essential Reference Book for Biblical Metaphors
Reviewed by Christine Treu

Dianne Bergant
Scripture: History and Interpretation
Reviewed by Sean P. Kealy

Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert and Martin S. Jaffee, eds.
The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature
Reviewed by Daniel R. Schwartz

Randall Heskett
Messianism within the Scriptural Scrolls of Isaiah
Reviewed by J. Todd Hibbard

Lynn R. Huber
Like a Bride Adorned: Reading Metaphor in John's Apocalypse
Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas

Susan Niditch
Judges: A Commentary
Reviewed by Yairah Amit

Susanne Scholz
Introducing the Women's Hebrew Bible
Reviewed by Amelia Devin Freedman

Joseph B. Soloveitchik; edited by David Shatz, Joel B. Wolowelsky, and Reuven Ziegler
Abraham's Journey: Reflections on the Life of the Founding Patriarch
Reviewed by Ralph K. Hawkins

Charles H. Talbert
Ephesians and Colossians
Reviewed by Andrew T. Lincoln

Henry A. Virkler and Karelynne Gerber Ayayo
Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation
Reviewed by Oda Wischmeyer

Robert L. Webb and John S. Kloppenborg, eds.
Reading James with New Eyes: Methodological Reassessments of the Letter of James
Reviewed by Peter Frick

It's Actually Revelation

Jim West notes that NPR has succumbed to the common (and incredibly annoying) fallacy of tacking an s onto the title of the last book of the New Testament. Bleh! I'm constantly correcting my students on this point; I will not allow it to become commonplace, even among non-specialists. I will personally stem the tide of incorrect usage. And I will come after you, if you fall into the trap. So be warned! ;-)

Christian Iconography: A Brief Review (Part II)

The second (and final) portion of my review of Andre Grabar's Christian Iconography: A Study of Its Origins.


The final two chapters discuss images of a more explicitly theological nature, which are partitioned into two general categories: the fairly basic “dogmas expressed in a single image” and the elaborate “dogmas represented by juxtaposed images.” Together these groups represent the most novel and innovative aspects of early Christian art, as “the pagan religions had no iconography of their dogmas, lacking, as they did, any dogmas to express” (p. 110). Due to the ever-present constraints of time and space, Grabar restricts his analysis to images illustrative of the five major dogmas of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, baptism, and communion. He does not consider the initial stage of the marriage between depiction and doctrine to have been particularly successful, but rather “incomplete and accidental” (p.112). The thorny difficulties which still plague any attempt to visually present the Trinity account for its virtual absence from the early Christian portfolio, and also for the fact that only one Trinitarian trope (the hand and the dove with Christ at his baptism) survived through the medieval era. In short, “[W]hile such representations as these [of the Trinity and the Resurrection] were sometimes attempted, themes corresponding to dogmas seem nevertheless not to have held a central place in early Christian works” (p.127).

Grabar concludes with a brief survey of doctrines expressed through combinations of images. His whirlwind tour of illustrations of the Incarnation notes the general importance of the theme of (miraculous) conception, as well as clues to the development of the iconographical language behind this tenet. For example, the occasional representation of Joseph as an aloof figure, with his back turned to the rest of the Holy Family, may symbolize his status as surrogate parent only (as it does in a pavement mosaic depicting the birth of Alexander the Great, who, according to legend, also had no human father). Eventually, some artisans adopted a more abstract approach, preferring to use signs such as a star or rays of light to represent the divine presence in the Incarnational act. Grabar also discusses the utilization of Old Testament pericopes as prefigurations of and buttresses for the New Testament counterparts with which they often appear. He closes with the apt observation that the Christian artist’s use of both testaments “increased his potentiality for expression and rendered him more capable of accomplishing the tasks that the Christian religion set for him” (p. 146).

The fact that this study remains in print and available after so many years reflects the enduring quality and value of both its research and its conclusions. The painstakingly selected visual examples provide the perfect complement to Grabar’s learned examination of the interplay between early Christian art and its contemporaries. As Alfred Neumeyer writes, “The important message of Grabar’s work is presented in a dry and self-effacing style.” The study is, however, susceptible to a few minor critiques. In the introductory section, Grabar describes the iconographical language of the Greco-Roman world as “the most nearly perfect we know” (p. xliv), without elaborating further upon this apparently obvious conclusion. What is it that makes this particular language inherently superior to any other? This seems to be a bias in favor of Western culture and traditions. Similarly, Grabar states that the lack of any extant Christian imagery prior to 200 CE is a result of iconoclasm, without providing any evidence to support such a claim. Iconoclastic struggles certainly play a prominent role in later Christian history, but this does not require us to retroject them into the first and second centuries. It is equally possible that the nascent Christian movement’s intensely eschatological bent, with its disdain for most established cultural norms and practices, accounted for the first generations’ seeming failure to express themselves visually. Furthermore, while Grabar’s representation of ancient Christianity and Judaism as entirely separate communities was most likely a reflection of then-current scholarship, such views have since become dated. A number of influential scholars, including E.P. Sanders and Daniel Boyarin, have argued persuasively that the partition of Christianity from Hellenistic Judaism was a gradual occurrence, and may not have been completed for centuries. Finally, it should be noted that recent critics such as Thomas Mathews have objected to Grabar’s linkage of post-Constantinian Christian art and imperial propaganda. Mathews contends that only two early images of Christ, which amount to less than one-tenth of one percent of the total, display unmistakable imperial elements. But in Grabar’s defense, Mathews may be overstating his case; Grabar himself writes that only between the sixth and seventh centuries did the connection between portraits of Christ and those of the emperors become explicit (p. 86).

A volume which benefits experienced scholars, introductory students, and interested laymen is rare indeed, but Andre Grabar’s Christian Iconography: A Study of Its Origins fills this difficult order. The scholar will find provocative conclusions to weigh and consider and a dazzling array of images to pursue further. The student will find the perfect “buffet” introduction to early Christian iconography—just enough of everything to stimulate the palette, without providing too much of any single dish. And the layman will find expert analysis presented in a readable style surprisingly free of the convoluted sentences and excessive jargon which often mar academic writing. Other handbooks on this subject will certainly appear in the coming years; this one, however, is likely to continue to stand the test of time.

1 Alfred Neumeyer, “Review of Christian Iconography: A Study of Its Origins,” in Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 29.1 (1970), 139.
2 Thomas F. Mathews, The Clash of Gods: A Reinterpretation of Early Christian Art (rev. ed.; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 193.

Christian Iconography: A Brief Review (Part I)

Another review discovered deep within the bowels of my old computer: a review of Andre Grabar's landmark Christian Iconography: A Study of Its Origins. As this study (originally presented as a series of lectures in 1961) has had a profound impact on the study of early Christian art, I thought it worthy of an appearance on the blog. I've also posted a PDF copy here. Enjoy!


Andre Grabar, Christian Iconography: A Study of Its Origins (Bollingen Series XXXV.10; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968). 432 pp.

Nearly forty years after its initial publication, Andre Grabar’s landmark study of early Christian iconography (originally presented as a series of lectures at the A. W. Mellon Institute for the Fine Arts in 1961) remains required reading for all scholars, students, and others interested in this topic. Grabar states that his intention is not to provide a systematic or comprehensive treatment of early Christian imagery, but rather to demonstrate “that from its beginnings Christian imagery found expression entirely, almost uniquely, in the general language of the visual arts and with the techniques of imagery commonly practiced within the Roman Empire from the second to the fourth century” (p. xliii). Although this contention may appear self-evident to many readers—a possibility which Grabar himself admits—its importance for the evaluation of Christian art, and of the religion as a whole, certainly merits a rich and thorough reexamination.

The study begins with an analysis of the earliest extant Christian artwork, primarily funerary pieces such as catacomb murals and sarcophagi (the first of which are usually dated to 200 CE and 230 CE, respectively). Sensitive exegesis of the images of this category benefits from a number of significant observations which Grabar makes here. The images are more superficially decorative than they are inherently communicative or meaningful, although their “schematic” (i.e., they “imply more than they actually show”; p. 8) nature indicates that this simplicity is somewhat deceptive. The most frequently depicted biblical scenes are those which emphasize God’s salvific intercession on behalf of his faithful servants of old: the deliverance of Noah and his family from the flood, of Isaac from the sacrificial slab, of Daniel from the lion’s den, etc. New Testament pericopes are much rarer, apart from the raising of Lazarus—which should not be particularly surprising, given its similar content. While all of these images are certainly indebted to their larger Greco-Roman milieu, it is interesting that they do not include any explicit references to death. Furthermore, the iconic likeness of Christ, and his principal symbols, are largely absent at this point; more generic representations such as “The Good Shepherd” appear instead. Finally, frequent allusions to the sacraments of baptism and communion strongly suggest that the nascent Christian community was already endowing its art with some theological significance, however basic.

Grabar then turns to a more specific discussion of “Paleo-Christian art” and its reliance upon “the vocabulary of the current language of the visual arts” (p. 31), a language which is also expressed in Greco-Roman work of the same era. A number of relevant examples are offered, including similarities between the sleeping Jonah and the reclining Endymion, the Christian orant and its pious pagan counterpart, and the scroll of knowledge clutched by saint and philosopher alike. But while Christian and Greco-Roman artisans may have shared a single artistic tongue, they were certainly speaking different dialects. Thus Christians could portray Christ with a head similar to those of Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto without incorporating any pagan religious significance; “the powerful head… was a part of the repertory of the art of the period, and both the Christians and the pagans used it, as one can use the same word in different senses” (p. 35). Among the most notable uniquely Christian symbols to appear during this formative period was the Chi-Rho monogram, popularized by Constantine the Great after his successful bid for the Roman throne and subsequent publication of the Edict of Milan in 314 CE. These historical developments inaugurated a surge of imperial influences upon early Christian art.

Having properly set the stage for further discussion, Grabar devotes the next two chapters to the sub-genres of portraiture and scriptural scenes. In both cases, he finds additional affinities between early Christian and Greco-Roman exemplars—strong enough, in fact, to “set aside, or appreciably diminish the weight of, opinions that tend to regard all the early Biblical images as proceeding from direct illustration of the text of the Old and New Testaments” (p. 58). He rightly identifies the critical disparity between all ancient portraits and their modern descendents: the former’s preference for visual and emotional impact rather than accurate physical depiction. But if second-century medallions bearing images of Peter and Paul are greatly removed from Arrangement in Gray and Black No. 1 (Whistler’s Mother) or American Gothic, they remain closely tied to contemporary Roman commemorative coinage; both include additional symbols which identify and describe the chosen figures. By the beginning of the seventh century ornate portraits of Christ and the saints had attained a religious quality similar to that enjoyed by earlier portraits of the Roman emperors.

Likewise, representations of biblical events “also bear the imprint of traditions proper to this genre in [other] contemporary art” (p. 87). Grabar traces the evolution of Christian narrative art from the relatively crude, ambiguous “image-sign” to the more explicit “descriptive representation,” and notes that both types are employed by Roman art. While one might naturally expect narrative scenes to appear in biblical manuscripts alongside the corresponding pericopes as a kind of hermeneutical key, the few early illustrated manuscripts do not confirm this hypothesis. Nevertheless, numerous such scenes are extant in a variety of other media—including mosaic, ivory, gold, and wood—and at this point, it should come as no surprise that “pagan art supplies counterparts for the Christian cycles with which we have been concerned” (p. 102). Miniature illustrations of Christ’s childhood which surround portraits of Mary (e.g., a portion of a sixth-century ivory diptych now housed in Yerevan) unmistakably recall the widely portrayed deeds of the heroes Hercules and Mithras, or the deity Dionysus.

New Testament Notes: Week 9 (Wednesday)

Conflicts between "Hebrews" and "Hellenists," and the emergence of Gentile Christianity:

RELC 122 Notes: 3/18

GBCS, NCC, and Eco-Justice

A recent release from the UMC General Board of Church and Society:

General Board of Church & Society executive testifies before House subcommittee

Represents National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Working Group in urging legislators to avoid economic injustices in any global warming bills.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The director of Economic and Environmental Justice at the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) told the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee March 12 that the faith community supports strong and quick action to address the dangers of climate change. He emphasized, though, that solutions must mitigate rather than compound economic injustices.

John Hill testified at a hearing on Capitol Hill on “Consumer Protection Provisions in Climate Legislation.” He spoke on behalf of the National Council of Churches (NCC) as a member of its Eco-Justice Working Group. The NCC represents 35 Christian denominations in the United States.

“Global climate change is a real and growing threat to Creation with profound and potentially devastating environmental, economic and social consequences,” Hill said.

4 principles guide policy solutions

Hill pointed out that for more than 15 years, the NCC has worked to educate and equip its members and congregations to take action to reduce their own contributions to climate change. “And, [we] have petitioned our government to provide strong leadership in developing domestic and international frameworks to lower greenhouse gas emissions,” he added.

Hill was one of six persons asked to speak at the subcommittee hearing. Primary emphasis of the hearing was to examine a proposal to assist consumers under a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Hill identified four principals that guide the faith community in considering potential policy solutions: justice, stewardship, sustainability and sufficiency. He said a just climate policy must contain effective, mandatory emissions reduction targets “to prevent catastrophic impacts” for the people and planet.

“For too long climate change advocates have minimized the potential impact of climate legislation on the poor,” Hill said, “and opponents have used such impacts as a justification for inaction.” He cautioned the legislators not to “forget the devastating impact of inaction.”

Rising sea levels, more intense storms, floods, droughts and spreading disease were cited by Hill as global warming effects that disproportionately affect persons living in poverty, communities of color and other vulnerable communities. “The Gulf Coast hurricanes of 2004 demonstrated all too painfully the devastating consequences that occur when storms of nature interact with the storms of poverty and racism that batter communities in the United States and around the world,” he said.

Least responsible are most vulnerable

In developing policies, Hill urged the legislators to ensure that solutions don’t push families deeper into poverty due to higher energy-related costs. He said there are proposals that can “efficiently, effectively and justly” provide benefits to offset cost increases for low-income individuals and families. He mentioned one outlined by the Center on Budget Policies and Priorities, whose executive director, Robert Greenstein, also testified at the hearing.

“Those least responsible for the emissions that created this problem,” Hill said, “are most vulnerable to its effects. Let us not perpetuate further this injustice by forcing those same individuals to shoulder additional and disproportionate cost of proposed solutions.”

Hill said financial help for those living in poverty in the United States and international adaptation assistance for vulnerable communities abroad must be a part of any climate policy.

Using established, proven methods that provide funds sufficient to offset all energy-related price increases to deliver benefit for low-income consumers would be supported, according to Hill. He said mechanisms such as an electronic benefits transfer card and an expanded earned income tax credit would allow individuals and families flexibility to adapt to price increases for a variety of goods and services.

Hill said proposals that would use local distribution companies or other utilities to deliver a consumer rebate ignore over half the estimated costs to low-income families. He said these proposals require new delivery systems and outreach programs to encourage participation. "We believe established methods offer a more effective and efficient approach to reach the greatest percentage of low-income consumers," he said.

Four other persons testified before the subcommittee. They were Sonny Popowsky, Pennsylvania Office of the Consumer Advocate; Steve Kline, vice president of Corporate Environmental and Federal Affairs, PG&E Corp.; Steven Hayward, American Enterprise Institute; and Mike Carey, Ohio Coal Assn.

The full text of Hill's statement is available on GBCS's web site, Under "Issues and News," go to statements.

Next SIP Lunch: David Dault

Courtesy of Prof. Peter Ochs:

The SIP Faculty and Grads invite you to their next SIP Lunch featuring:

Prof. David Dault (PhD Vanderbilt University)

Chair of the Division of Bible and Theology American Baptist College, Nashville, TN.



Hosted by Peter Ochs

Prof. Dault is author of the forthcoming: The Accessorized Bible: the Rise of "Designer" Scripture, Yale University Press (2010); and THE COVERT MAGISTERIUM: THEOLOGY, TEXTUALITY AND THE QUESTION OF SCRIPTURE (in preparation)

Wednesday March 25, 12:00 (sharp) to 1:30: HALSEY FACULTY LOUNGE

(You are welcome to bring your own bag lunch; we'll provide cold drinks and cookies)

Best, The SIP Program

From Dove: Anchor (Yale) Bible Sale

All of Dove's stock of Anchor Yale Bible titles, old and new, are currently on sale, albeit at relatively modest discounts. The exception is the six-volume Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, whose sale price of $339.99 is a 33% savings. When did the regular list price for this set become $510.00?!? When I purchased it several years ago, it was $360.00... sigh...

Anchor Bible Dictionary

Freedman, David Noel Astrid Beck (eds)
Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 6 Volume Set
(Yale University Press, 1992)
Hardcover List: $510.00 Dove Price: $339.99
Save $170.01 (33%)

Recent Commentaries

Propp, William H C
Exodus 19-40
(Yale University Press, 2006)
Hardcover List: $65.00 Dove Price: $56.99
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Knoppers, Gary
1 Chronicles 1-9
(Yale University Press, 2004)
Hardcover List: $55.00 Dove Price: $47.99
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Knoppers, Gary
1 Chronicles 10-29
(Yale University Press, 2004)
Hardcover List: $55.00 Dove Price: $47.99
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Lundbom, Jack R
Jeremiah 21-36
(Yale University Press, 2004)
Hardcover List: $55.00 Dove Price: $47.99
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Lundbom, Jack R
Jeremiah 37-52
(Yale University Press, 2004)
Hardcover List: $55.00 Dove Price: $47.99
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Pre-Publication Announcement

Fox, Michael V
Proverbs 10-31
(Yale University Press, 2009)
Hardcover List: $60.00 Dove Price: $46.99
Save $13.01 (22%) NYP Due: 06/15/2009

This volume completes Bible scholar Michael V. Fox's comprehensive commentary on the book of Proverbs. As in his previous volume on the early chapters of Proverbs, the author here translates and explains in accessible language the meaning and literary qualities of the sayings and poems that comprise the final chapters. He gives special attention to comparable sayings in other wisdom books, particularly from Egypt, and makes extensive use of medieval Hebrew commentaries, which have received scant attention in previous Proverb commentaries. In separate sections set in smaller type, the author addresses technical issues of text and language for interested scholars. The author's essays at the end of the commentary view the book of Proverbs in its entirety and investigate its ideas of wisdom, ethics, revelation, and knowledge. Out of Proverbs? great variety of sayings from different times, Fox shows, there emerges a unified vision of life, its obligations, and its potentials.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

On My Doorstep...

... a lovely review copy of Philip W. Comfort's New Testament Text and Translation Commentary. Thanks to Christy Wong at Tyndale House Publishers for passing this along! My initial impressions are very positive; hopefully I'll have some more substantive comments next week. Stay tuned!

Biblia Patristica Available Online

Stephen Carlson notes that a searchable version of the Biblia Patristica--the definitive index of scriptural quotations from the early church fathers--is now available here. It's a free tool, although registration is required. I've added it to the list of "Related Links" for future reference.

Patristic scriptural quotations remain one of the most unmined aspects of New Testament textual criticism, largely due to the enormous size of the corpus (perhaps one million total citations). Technological innovations such as this initiative, however, could go a long way towards resolving the problem and fully appreciating one of the most vital and vibrant groups of witnesses to the New Testament text.

Monday, March 16, 2009

New Testament Notes: Week 9 (Monday)

An introduction to the post-resurrection Christian movement:

RELC 122 Notes: 3/16

Better Take Some of Your Own Medicine

C. Michael Patton has written an elegant and thoughtful post entitled "What if God Read Your Posts? A Reminder About Christian Conduct on the Internet." A number of his recommendations should appeal to religious commentators of all theological stripes, especially the following:

* You accurately represent all theological positions, even when you strongly oppose them.
* Your tone of engagement comes from a humble respectful attitude.
* Your primary goal is not to win an argument, but to contribute to understanding.
* Your defense of your position recognizes that strengths of the opposing side.
* You are gentle.

I heartily concur with all of these. But when I scroll down a bit, I notice that he Michael himself has recently written a three-part series (here, here, and here) primarily entitled: "'Belief Is No Good Without Practice' and Other Stupid Statements." I understand that the title is largely rhetorical, and that he's essentially making the argument that right action will flow naturally from right belief. But as someone who has always valued James 2:20, I was a bit taken aback. Furthermore, I know that there are Christians who would disagree with his interpretations of these verses and doctrines. I'm not sure that the above title, nor the entirety of what follows, come from a "humble respectful attitude."

From Dove: T & T Clark Sale

A number of titles are on sale at significant discounts (at least 60%). In particular, Fred Lapham's Introduction to the New Testament Apocrypha is a nice entry-level text for those unfamiliar with the wide array of apocryphal traditions in early Christianity. (I'm thinking of recommending this sale to the Director of Christian Education at my home church.)

JSNT Publications

Gibson, Jeffrey B
Temptations of Jesus in Early Christianity
(T & T Clark International, 2004)
Paperback List: $72.00 Dove Price: $21.99
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This study lays the groundwork necessary for establishing the validity of the thesis, proposed particulary by J.H. Yoder in his Politics of Jesus, that the early church held a selective and unified view of the nature and content of the various temptations to which Jesus was regarded as having been subjected in his lifetime. This leads to a clearer view of how the early church perceived the exigencies of its Lord's mission and message, and provides fresh insights into such prominent New Testament themes as sonship, obedience, faithfulness and discipleship. It also opens up new possibilities for firmly establishing the occasion of those New Testament writings, such as the Gospel of Mark and even the Epistle to the Hebrews, where notice of and appeal to the example of Jesus in temptation appears as a prominent feature.

Jack, Alison M
Texts Reading Texts, Sacred and Secular: Two Postmodern Perspectives
(T & T Clark International, 1999)
Hardcover List: $100.00 Dove Price: $16.99
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The language, themes and imagery of the Bible have been rewritten into texts across time. In the Revelation of John, the Hebrew Bible echoes and is reinvented, just as in James Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) many explicit and implicit readings and interpretations of the Bible are offered. In Texts Reading Texts, these readings of the Bible, and the ways in which Revelation and Hogg's Confessions have themselves been read, are considered from the two postmodern perspectives of marginalization and deconstruction. By reading the two seemingly unrelated texts side by side from these perspectives, traditional readings of them both are disturbed and challenged.

Kwong, Ivan Shing Chung
Word Order of the Gospel of Luke
(T & T Clark International, 2006)
Hardcover List: $192.00 Dove Price: $39.99
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This work studies the word order of the Gospel of Luke and some of its prominent messages with consideration of systemic functional linguistic theories. The first part of the work focuses on the relative positions of four constituents (subject, predicate, complement and circumstantial adjunct) of different types of Lukan clauses (independent, dependent, infinitival, participial and embedded clause). The result gives some unmarked (typical or common) word order patterns and some marked word order patterns of all Lukan clauses. The second part traces the foregrounded messages of the Gospel based on their related marked word order patterns incorporated with functional linguistic phenomena. The result highlights the messages of Jesus' disciples and his parents' failure in understanding him, Pilate's crime of handing over Jesus and Jesus' predictions of his future sufferings and Peter's future failure. JSNTS and Studies in New Testament Greek series

Landon, Charles
Text-Critical Study of the Epistle of Jude
(T & T Clark International, 1996)
Hardcover List: $180.00 Dove Price: $20.99
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The author writes in the tradition of C.H. Turner, G.D. Kilpatrick and J.K. Elliott, and attempts a reconstruction of the Greek text of Jude according to the rationale of thoroughgoing eclecticism. The aims of his study are to apply an eclectic approach to the resolution of textual problems in Jude, and to determine the extent to which the text of Jude published in the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament (GNT4) is a product of the eclectic ideal. In this work, eclecticism is defined in detail, distinctions being made between eclectic generalism, rational criticism, and thoroughgoing eclecticism. Each of 95 variation units is analysed individually and the apparatus provided for each unit shows as much variation as possible in a compact form.

Lapham, Fred
Peter: the Myth, the Man, and the Writings
(T & T Clark International, 2004)
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This book critically examines all the early and important Petrine pseudepigrapha to identify a distinctive Petrine theology which, it is believed, was later swamped by the tide of western orthodoxy. Despite the diversity of the books and tractates, ranging from Jewish-Christian writings to avowedly Gnostic works, a remarkably consistent Petrine tradition does emerge; and Peter is shown essentially to be neither the impetuous, undiscerning, and even vacillating figure portrayed in the Gospels and Acts, nor the magisterial and pontifical figure of later Church tradition, but a visionary who was concerned above all to hold together both the moral and cognitive aspects of the Faith.

Newport, Kenneth G C
Sources and Sitz im Leben of Matthew 23
(T & T Clark International, 1995)
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Matthew 23 presents the New Testament scholar with many problems. Not the least of these is the unequivocal acceptance of Pharisaic authority in vv. 2-3. In the same chapter the tithing of mint, dill and cummin is affirmed (v. 23) and the altar is said still to sanctify the gift (v. 19). This material seems out of place within the broader context of Matthew's Gospel. This study examines the origin and function of such material and argues that the bulk of the chapter (vv. 2-31) is formed from a single unified source and cannot be explained in terms of Matthew's editing of Q, M and Markan material. The focus of the criticism found in these verses is that the Pharisees are too slack: they strain gnats but swallow camels (v. 24), they 'say but do not do' (v. 4). To this unified source material, however, the evangelist has added his own (vv. 32-39) and by it launches an attack not just upon the Pharisees and scribes, but 'Jerusalem' and her children as a whole. Matthew therefore both heightens the polemic and extends its range.

Related to Gnosticism and New Testament Apocrypha

Franzmann, Majella
Jesus in the Manichaean Writings
(T & T Clark International, 2003)
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Manichaeism was a dualistic religious system with Christian, Gnostic and pagan elements, founded in Persia in the third century by Manes. This is the first full-length study of the Manichaean Jesus, since the publication of several major Manichaean texts such as the Homilies, Psalm Book and Kephalaia in the 1930s and 1940s. A knowledge of Manichaean Christology is important for any understanding of the development of Christologies in the early cen-turies CE, whether within mainstream Christianity or within associated het-erodox groups. This book undertakes a comprehensive study of six distinct figures of Jesus that can be found in both Eastern and Western Manichaean lit-erature. Previous partial studies of Manichaean Christology have tended to restrict their focus to texts from either Eastern or Western traditions alone. Majella Franzmann argues that a single Manichaean Jesus can be discerned behind the many different representations to be found.

Lapham, Fred
Introduction to the New Testament Apocrypha
(T & T Clark International, 2003)
Paperback List: $48.95 Dove Price: $17.99
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This book is a readable and analytical survey of those important but little-known Christian documents of the second and third centuries which are collectively referred to as the New Testament Apocrypha, and is intended to serve both as an introductory guide for interested clergy and laity, but also as a useful reference for thos pursuing higher research. Questions of the manufacture of the codices, the transmission of the texts, the discovery of the lost and hidden books, and of the classification of the documents are considered, and the books are placed and critically examined in their geographical and social setting.

Logan, Alastair H B A J M Wedderburn (eds)
New Testament and Gnosis
(T & T Clark International, 2004)
Paperback List: $72.00 Dove Price: $22.99
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This collection of essays commemorates two important events. The first if the retirement of Professor Robert Wilson, the leading British authority on the subject of Gnosis and Gnosticism and a foremost international scholar in this field, from the Chair of Biblical Criticism in the University of St. Andrews and from the Editorship of New Testament Studies in the autumn of 1983. The second is the recent appearance, both in facsimile form and in English translation, of the Nag Hammadi Codices. Some of these have become well known in various ways since their discovery in 1945-6, but it is only very recently that the complete corpus of material has been made generally available. Thus it is only now that we can begin to assess its significance both for our understanding of this area of early Church history and in particular for the question of the relationship between Gnosis and Gnosticism and the New Testament.

By John K. Riches

Riches, John K
Conflicting Mythologies: Identity Formations in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark
(T & T Clark International, 2000)
Hardcover List: $180.00 Dove Price: $33.99
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A cultural anthropological interpretation of Mark and Matthew which examines the formation of early Christian identity, world view and ethos. John Riches examines notions of sacred space and ethnicity. He shows how group identity emerged in the form of a dynamic process of reshaping traditional Jewish symbols and motifs, such as descent, kinship and circumcision, and interweaving them with early Christian traditions about Jesus. He also argues that the Evangelists were influenced by two opposing cosmologies, which accounts for the diversity of senses of identity which flow from the two narratives.
Preface Abbreviations 1 Identity and Change 2 Jewish Identity in the World of the Mediterranean Cities: Themes and Variations 3 Sight to the Blind 4 The Remaking of Sacred Space 5 Conflicting World-Views in Mark's Christology 6 Church of Disciples 7 Matthew and the Remaking of Sacred Space 8 Cosmology and Christology in Matthew 9 New Worlds and New Identities: The Gospels of Mark and Matthew and the Beginning of Christianity Bibliography Index of biblical references and ancient sources Index of modern authors Index of subjects

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Luke 4:16-30: A Truly Great Passage

While rooting through some of my notes and papers from my Yale days, I discovered this little gem: a multifaceted exegesis of Luke 4:16-30 which I prepared for Prof. Diana Swancutt's New Testament Interpretation course. I have great admiration for the author of Luke--in my opinion, he's one of the great creative geniuses of early Christianity--and this rich pericope really shows off his abilities. Check it out:

Exegetical Working Paper (Luke 4:16-30)

James McGrath on Homosexuality

James McGrath's Sunday School class is beginning a new series on divisive topics in Christianity. First up is homosexuality; James gives a nice summary of their discussion here.

He also includes a brief but familiar clip from NBC's The West Wing which he describes as "useful for those interested in raising some of these issues in a discussion forum of some sort." I tend to agree. It's a worthwhile reminder of the weighty problems which surround any woodenly literal interpretation of the biblical text, and which do not melt away in the wake of vague comments about the "New Covenant replacing the Old."

Carolyn Sharp Is Right

On Awilum, Charles Halton gives a brief quotation from Prof. Carolyn Sharp's most recent book, Irony and Meaning in the Hebrew Bible (Indiana University Press, 2009):

Reading is not a simple act of recognizing codes and cues inked onto parchment or engraved in stone. Apprehension of human communication through written texts, especially across time and across cultural boundaries, can be so complex as to defy description.

A beautifully worded observation, from a truly great teacher.

Extreme Right v. Extreme Left: A Hopeless Debate?

Over the past few days, I've become belatedly aware of a vigorous (and occasionally downright nasty) debate between atheists and conservative Christian apologists raging throughout the blogosphere, particularly involving exchanges between John Loftus and J.P. Holding--who represent the former and latter camps, respectively. Nick Norelli notes a list of claims recently posted by Holding in response to Loftus:

1) I have answers to ANY claim of “contradiction” you can come up with.

2) The authorship of the NT Biblical books is more solid than it is for any secular work of the ancient world.

3) We don’t have originals for ANY ancient work, but only nimwits like you think this is a problem, and can’t explain why.

4) You wouldn’t know how the canon was put together, since you think Dan Brown is a good source; much less could you criticize its composition intelligently.

5) The textual tradition of the NT is far more secure than that of any secular document, with zero evidence of tampering or corruption; nothing but legitimate interpretive modifications to accommodate shifting language and cultural needs.

6) The NT books were all written within 40 years of Jesus’ lifetime.

7) You couldn’t argue with me ten seconds on any of these points.

Nick provides brief responses to the first, second, fifth, and sixth of these points (after stating that he "couldn't care less" about the others):

(1) I’m sure that this is true but I doubt that all of the answers are equally good or persuasive.

(2) This is worded in such a way as to indicate that we know who the authors of all the NT books are, but clearly we don’t. Maybe we can argue that the authorship for the Pauline corpus is solid (and there’s more than a few of his books that are disputed) and I’d venture to say that Luke-Acts is pretty well established, but that’s about it. We simply don’t know the rest.

(5) This is just false when it comes to the claim of “zero evidence of tampering or corruption.” Maybe he’s defining those terms in a special way but if he simply means intentional changes that may or may not affect the meaning of a given passage then he’s wrong.

(6) Holding’s preterism colors his dating of the NT but I don’t see any convincing arguments for dating John, 1-3 John, Revelation, Jude, or 1-2 Peter within 40 years of Jesus’ lifetime. Good luck proving it.

I find myself in agreement with Nick's responses. I would briefly take up Holding's third point, however, and reply that ancient historians are absolutely concerned with the fact that the majority of texts have survived in copies of a very late date. As Helmut Koester and any number of others have convincingly argued, textual emendation most frequently occurs in the century immediately following the initial publication, an issue which often forces the editors of classical texts to propose conjectural readings not found in any surviving manuscript. Furthermore, works such as the writings of Josephus (e.g., the so-called "Testimonium Flavianum") and the Sybilline Oracles display unmistakable evidence of alteration by later generations of editors, to say nothing of the innumerable form-critical and text-critical studies of the New Testament. So, I would say that all historians of antiquity are frustrated by the lack of autographic texts, as it makes their studies more difficult and tenuous from the outset.

To briefly supplement Nick's comments, I would add that while almost all scholars and critics accept Luke-Acts as the product of a single author, the actual identity of that author remains unknown. As for the Pauline corpus, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, and Philemon are universally acclaimed as authentic, with some occasionally advocating the authenticity of 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, and Ephesians, and only the most conservative commentators identifying Paul as the author of the Pastoral Epistles. In his Anchor Bible (now Anchor Yale Bible) commentary on the Letter of James, Luke Timothy Johnson argues that the letter should be attributed to James the brother of Jesus, but this view has not won widespread acceptance (and was not universally accepted even in the patristic era).

Nick is absolutely correct when he identifies Holding's statement that the text of the New Testament displays "zero evidence of tampering or corruption" as "absolutely false." I can't see how anyone could defend such a claim, given the astronomical number of variant readings among the approximately 5500 extant Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, the fact that the Western text of Acts is approximately ten percent longer than the Alexandrian text, etc. Bruce Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament provides summary treatments of many problematic passages; Bart Ehrman's The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture is also worth reading on this subject. And as for questions of dating, apart from J.A.T. Robinson's bold but flawed Redating the New Testament, which placed the origins of all of the books before 70 CE, I haven't seen any recent publications make such an argument. If anything, some arguments for second-century dates are intensifying; Richard Pervo has made a strong case that Acts belongs to this period.

Generally, I've found both of the extremes of this debate sorely wanting, usually resorting to bombastic and poorly constructed rhetoric rather than a sober exchange of thoughts and opinions. And I'm left wondering why they're even bothering to engage one another. Perhaps they simply enjoy the battle, even if there's no end in sight.

Forthcoming From SBL: The Second Church

For more than four decades, Ramsay MacMullen has been one of the most vibrant and influential social historians of late antiquity, particularly concerning the conflict between Greco-Roman religion and the emerging Christian movement. His latest book will be released this month, and has already received very favorable comments from Helmut Koester, Wayne Meeks, and Brent Shaw (I just know I'm going to end up buying it):

The Second Church: Popular Christianity A.D. 200-400

Ramsay MacMullen

ISBN: 1589834038
Status: Forthcoming
Price: $24.95
Binding: Paperback
Publication Date: March, 2009

Christianity in the century both before and after Constantine’s conversion is familiar thanks to the written sources; now Ramsay MacMullen, in his fifth book on ancient Christianity, considers especially the unwritten evidence. He uses excavation reports about hundreds of churches of the fourth century to show what worshipers did in them and in the cemeteries where most of them were built. What emerges, in this richly illustrated work, is a religion that ordinary Christians, by far the majority, practiced in a different and largely forgotten second church. The picture fits with textual evidence that has been often misunderstood or little noticed. The “first” church—the familiar one governed by bishops—in part condemned, in part tolerated, and in part re-shaped the church of the many. Even together, however, the two constituted by the end of the period studied (AD 400) a total of the population far smaller than has ever been suggested. Better estimates are now made for the first time from quantifiable data, that is, from the physical space available for attendance in places of worship. Reassessment raises very large questions about the place of religion in the life of the times and in the social composition of both churches.

Ramsay MacMullen is Dunham Professor Emeritus of History and Classics at Yale University. He is the recipient of a lifetime Award for Scholarly Distinction from the American Historical Association and the author of numerous volumes on Christianity and the Roman Empire.

Click here for a printable title information sheet that you can put in your files or give to your librarian or bookstore.

“Ramsay MacMullen—for many years the spokesman for the majority of the people who are not represented in the writings of the elite—here focuses on the beliefs and practices of the mass of Christians. He brings forward impressive evidence, mostly archaeological, for the third and especially the fourth century C.E., showing the persistent predominance of pagan rituals among the vast majority of Christians, especially in burial practices and veneration of the dead. While only a small minority of them went to church, most could have been found celebrating the memory of the departed with food and wine at the cemeteries, often in a manner that their bishops hardly approved.

For the first time most of the relevant materials with illuminating illustrations have been brought together in this publication, which should be on the reading list of all courses teaching the history of ancient Christianity.”

— Helmut Koester, John H. Morison Research Professor of Divinity and Winn Research Professor of Ecclesiastical History, Harvard University

“Do not let the small size of this book mislead you. Anyone who wants to know what Christianity was like in the crucial two centuries discussed here—not just what the bishops and theologians were thinking, but what the other 95 percent were doing—will discover the weight of this book to be many times its physical heft. MacMullen, one of our most distinguished historians of Roman antiquity, tries here to refocus ‘the mind’s eye,’—the only tool we have, finally, to imagine that ‘second church’—to sweep away the double astigmatism that besets our usual scholarship, skewed by what our texts say Christians ought to be and what we want them to be. The result is history purged of wishful thinking, and it should make us all blink.”

— Wayne A. Meeks, Woolsey Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies, Department of Religious Studies, Yale University

“If you wish to know what it was like to be one of the ordinary Christians who lived in the Roman Mediterranean, then begin here. Through artifact and word, by means of a scholarly excavation of detail and fact from great metropolises and isolated hamlets strewn around the central sea, MacMullen brings to life the varied and contradictory life of Christians at ground level.”

— Brent D. Shaw, Professor of Classics and Andrew Fleming West Professor of Classics, Princeton University

Hardback edition available from Brill Academic Publishers (

The Future of Scholarly Publishing

Given the proliferation of electronic resources, rising production costs for printed volumes, and the current economic situation, I'm sure this will be an especially interesting talk. For those unfamiliar with the location of the Scholars Lab, turn left when you enter the library and head down the hallway immediately in front of you.

"Scholarly Publishing Today and Tomorrow"
Linda Bree
Senior Humanities Editor, Cambridge University Press
Tuesday, March 24 at 2:00 p.m.
Scholars' Lab, Alderman Library