Thursday, April 16, 2009

Summer Project: Eusebius of Caesarea's Ecclesiastical History

This week I splurged a bit, and allocated a portion of my forthcoming tax refund to a book purchase: Loeb Classical Library's two-volume edition of Eusebius of Caesarea's Ecclesiastical History. While I've had these on my wish list for some time, I was especially inspired by a recent conversation with Prof. Harry Gamble--who noted that few courses, even at the graduate level, systematically examine the work in its entirety. I'm planning to read through it this summer. Anyone want to join me? ;-)

New Testament Notes: Week 13 (Wednesday)

An introduction to the Catholic Epistles: the Letter to the Hebrews, and the First Letter of Peter:

RELC 122 Notes: 4/16

RBL Highlights: 4/16/09

Highlights from the most recent Review of Biblical Literature:

H. Ausloos, F. García Martínez, M. Vervenne, J. Cook, and B. Lemmelijn, eds.
Translating a Translation: The LXX and Its Modern Translations in the Context of Early Judaism
Reviewed by Tuukka Kauhanen

Lytta Basset
Holy Anger: Jacob, Job, Jesus
Reviewed by Jutta Jokiranta

Elizabeth V. Dowling
Taking Away the Pound: Women, Theology and the Parable of the Pounds in the Gospel of Luke
Reviewed by James A. Metzger

Kathy Ehrensperger
Paul and the Dynamics of Power: Communication and Interaction in the Early Christ-Movement
Reviewed by Thomas R. Blanton IV

Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Andrea L. Weiss, eds.
The Torah: A Women's Commentary
Reviewed by Susanne Scholz

J. Cheryl Exum and Ela Nutu, eds.
Between the Text and the Canvas: The Bible and Art in Dialogue
Reviewed by Hennie Stander

Harry Alan Hahne
The Corruption and Redemption of Creation: Nature in Romans 8.19-22 and Jewish Apocalyptic Literature
Reviewed by Ron Fay

George Heyman
The Power of Sacrifice: Roman and Christian Discources in Conflict
Reviewed by Giovanni Battista Bazzana

Heidi J. Hornik and Mikeal C. Parsons
Illuminating Luke: Volume 3: The Passion and Resurrection Narratives in Italian Renaissance and Baroque Painting
Reviewed by Hennie Stander

Elizabeth A. McCabe
An Examination of the Isis Cult with Preliminary Exploration into New Testament Studies
Reviewed by John S. Kloppenborg

Kathryn McClymond
Beyond Sacred Violence: A Comparative Study of Sacrifice
Reviewed by Leigh Trevaskis

Saul M. Olyan
Disability in the Hebrew Bible: Interpreting Mental and Physical Differences
Reviewed by David M. Maas
Reviewed by Hector Avalos

Karel van der Toorn
Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible
Reviewed by Frank Polak

New From Baker/WJK: Hebrew Bible

Via Dove. Among these titles is a study of the prophets' relevance for the modern world by a former professor of mine, Carolyn Sharp. I can think of no one more qualified to write such a book.

Evans, Craig A, Emanuel Tov (eds)
Exploring the Origins of the Bible: Canon Formation in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective
(Baker Book House, 2008)
Paperback List: $22.99 Dove Price: $18.99
Save $4.00 (17%)

Hess, Richard S
Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey
(Baker Book House, 2007)
Hardcover List: $34.99 Dove Price: $27.99
Save $7.00 (20%)

Matthews, Victor H
Studying the Ancient Israelites: A Guide to Sources and Methods
(Baker Book House, 2007)
Paperback List: $24.99 Dove Price: $19.99
Save $5.00 (20%)

Seitz, Christopher R
Prophecy and Hermeneutics: Toward a New Introduction to the Prophets
(Baker Book House, 2007)
Paperback List: $22.99 Dove Price: $18.99
Save $4.00 (17%)

Sparks, Kenton L
God's Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship
(Baker Book House, 2008)
Paperback List: $26.99 Dove Price: $21.50
Save $5.49 (20%)

Niditch, Susan
Judges: A Commentary
(Westminster John Knox, 2008)
Hardcover List: $49.95 Dove Price: $39.99
Save $9.96 (20%)
Put hardcover in your Shopping Cart

Davies, Philip R
Memories of Ancient Israel: An Introduction to Biblical History-Ancient and Modern
(Westminster John Knox, 2008)
Paperback List: $24.95 Dove Price: $19.99
Save $4.96 (20%)

Sawyer, John F A
Concise Dictionary of the Bible and Its Reception
(Westminster John Knox, 2009)
Paperback List: $29.95 Dove Price: $23.99
Save $5.96 (20%)

Sharp, Carolyn J
Old Testament Prophets for Today
(Westminster John Knox, 2009)
Paperback List: $14.95 Dove Price: $12.99
Save $1.96 (13%)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

April SBL Forum

News and notes from the SBL, including the publication of an article by my former Hebrew teacher, Ryan Stokes! Congrats!

SBL E-Newsletter
April 14, 2009

Call for Papers
The Paul J. Achtemeier Award for New Testament Scholarship is open for submissions or nominations until 1 July 2009.

JBL 128.1 Spring 2009 has been posted

Religion and the Bible
Jonathan Z. Smith

Whatever Happened in the Valley of Shinar? A Response to Theodore Hiebert
André Lacocque

Ideology and Social Context of the Deuteronomic Women's Sex Laws (Deuteronomy 22:13-29)
Cynthia Edenburg

Samson's Last Laugh: S/ŠHQ The Pun in Judges 16:25-27

Charles Halton

Topographical Considerations and Redaction Criticism in 2 Kings 3
Erasmus Gass

Why 2 Kings 17 Does Not Constitute a Chapter of Reflection in the "Deuteronomistic History"
Hartmut H. Rösel

The Devil Made David Do It … Or Did He? The Nature, Identity, and Literary Origins of the Satan in 1 Chronicles 21:1
Ryan E. Stokes

"She Binds Her Arms": Rereading Proverbs 31:17
Tzvi Novick

Accession Days and Holidays: The Origins of the Jewish Festival of Purim
Jona Schellekens

Rachel's Tomb
Benjamin D. Cox and Susan Ackerman

April SBL Forum has been posted:

The Perils of Prepublication in the Digital Age: Essenes, Latrines, and the Dead Sea Scrolls
Ian Werrett

Biblical Studies in the Context of the Emerging Religion Major
Jane S. Webster

Evil in Contemporary American Film: Deep Darkness and Eschatological Hope
Greg Garrett

The Apocalypse of John and Its Mediators, or Why Johnny Cash Wrote a Better Apocalypse than John of Patmos!
William John Lyons

Inventory Reduction Sale through April 30

Almost 300 Society of Biblical Literature and Brown Judaic Studies titles at $7 each are included in the current SBL Inventory Reduction Sale, now through April 30. Click here to browse or download an order form and list of titles.

SBL Spring Sale

Almost all new, recent, and backlisted titles are available to SBL members at a forty percent discount during the spring sale. Download the order form, then mail, fax, or phone your order by June 15. If you prefer to order at the SBL Store, make sure to use the promo code SPG2009 at checkout to receive your discount.

NEW—Special rates for RBL subscriptions:

Individuals and institutions qualifying for SBL online books are also eligible for discount subscription rates to the Review of Biblical Literature. Click on this link to access the forms.

Monday, April 13, 2009

An Interruption of Ben's Interruption of Bart (Try Saying That Five Times Fast)

Over the weekend, I came across the second portion of Ben Witherington's ongoing review and critique of Bart Ehrman's Jesus, Interrupted. I'm looking forward to reading his responses in their entirety; he provides a number of clarifications and rejoinders, and has clearly engaged the book in a thoughtful way. I was particularly struck by a few comments:
There are then three dangers we learn of when reading and critically analyzing Gibbon’s classic work [The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire]: 1) history writing that either dismisses or is dismissive of the role of God in human history, claiming that that is not a part of the historian’s task, even if there is considerable evidence to the contrary, and 2) because of its skeptical bent, history writing that is prone to revisionism of a sort that distorts rather than dissects and correctly analyzes what happened back then and back there; 3) history writing that conveys 1) and 2) in a clear and eloquent and understandable fashion such that the clarity of the explanation makes it appear that the conclusions are obvious and should go without challenge. This of course is the power of good rhetoric—it persuades without necessarily providing the detailed evidence and analysis necessary to prove one’s point.

I suspect that an overwhelming majority of historians, particularly those who operate beyond the pale of religious studies, would view the first of these dangers with utter incredulity. Supernatural elements such as miraculous events or the actions of the divine exist beyond the capabilities of reasoned, scientific inquiry and are therefore not detectable or demonstrable according to most definitions of critical scholarship. The writings of the New Testament themselves do not constitute "significant evidence to the contrary" on this point, as their critically accessible strata reveal the convictions and assumptions of their authors and recipients. (I have not been convinced by arguments such as those of Richard Bauckham that the gospels should be classified according to a more reliable genre of written materials and therefore regarded as intrinsically superior to other ancient documents with similar contents or features.) As Bultmann and so many others have rightly argued, historical research reveals the relative certainty of the nascent Christian community concerning events such as the resurrection of Jesus, but it is incapable of verifying the event itself without radically redefining the nature and practice of the discipline. Simply put, we cannot conclusively demonstrate, by means of the prevalent historiographical approaches which have evolved since the Enlightenment, that the resurrection occurred; we can only demonstrate that early Christians were certain that it had. To adapt John Meier's useful terminology, this is the point where the historical and the metahistorical come together--where research ends and faith begins.

It is of course true that Paul does not directly mention ‘the virginal conception’, but what he says is not only compatible with the idea (see Gal 4.4—God sent his son, born of woman, born under the law. Notice Paul does not say, born of a good Jewish man with proper paternity), Rom. 8.3 suggest knows of the virginal conception idea for he says that God sent his son “in the likeness of sinful flesh”. Now what is the point of the word ‘likeness’ in this verse? I would suggest Paul is saying that Jesus really had flesh but it was not tainted with human fallenness the way all other human flesh was (see Rom. 5.12-21). In other words, Paul already knows about the idea of Jesus being conceived in a pure and sinless manner. The attempt to treat the NT writers as if they were ignorant or ignored or were polemicizing against one another or lived in splendid isolation from one another does not work.

I think this is an interesting bit of exegesis, and I'm not especially inclined to disagree with it (at least, not without doing some additional reading on my own!). However, I'm curious how Paul's reference to the designation of Christ as "Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:1; italics added) might affect this conclusion. If Paul has some notion of virginal conception, why not reference it here?

In fact all of the NT documents can be traced back to apostolic sources or were written by apostles—all of them can be traced to about 9-10 persons who were eyewitnesses or apostles or both. These persons include the Beloved Disciple, Mark, Luke, John of Patmos, Paul, probably Apollos, Peter, James and Jude. 2 Peter is a later composite document made up of material from Peter, Jude, and with a knowledge of the Pauline corpus, but you will notice it does not appear to draw on non-apostolic source material. The claims that we do not know who wrote these books, or that some of them are forged are greatly exaggerated claims, that many historians like myself do not find convincing or compelling on the basis of the actual historical evidence itself.

Again, I suppose this depends upon the definitions of the terms "historical evidence" and "apostolic." The various writings of the New Testament were all eventually associated with apostolic or immediately sub-apostolic authors and traditions. Some of these were widely accepted; others were not. Eusebius of Caesarea reports that many ancient commentators considered James to be spurious, a judgment shared by many contemporary scholars. I assume that Ben's reference to Apollos amongst this list presumes that he is the author of Hebrews, a supposition for which no firm evidence exists (a number of possibilities have been proposed throughout the centuries; one recollects Origen's famous conclusion that regarding the letter's actual author, "Only God knows"). If the author of the Book of Revelation is writing at the end of the first century (as many scholars assume) and is an otherwise unknown prophetic figure (as many exegetes, both ancient and modern, have suggested), is it appropriate to identify him and his work as "apostolic"? Similarly, what of 2 Peter, which is often dated to the second century? If one accepts the traditional attributions of the later church, then the New Testament corpus can indeed be definitively linked to a handful of key figures from the inception of the movement. Many scholars, however, have not seen sufficient internal and external evidence to do so.

Check out all of Ben's musings in their entirety... they're extremely stimulating! I'm hoping to get back to them at some point.

Coming Next November: Secret Mark

Stephen Carlson notes that the upcoming SBL Annual Meeting will feature a panel discussion of Peter Jeffrey's The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled: Imagined Ritual of Sex, Death, and Madness in a Biblical Forgery. The panelists include Jeffrey himself, Robin Jensen, Donald Capps, J. Ellens, and Raymond Lawrence. This is a nice collection of scholars (I'm a particular fan of Jensen's work on early Christian art), but it seems odd to organize any kind of panel on Secret Mark without including its most vociferous advocate: Scott Brown, who responded to Jeffery's book in the Review of Biblical Literature. Guy Stroumsa, who has written on Clement of Alexandria in general and the Secret Gospel in particular, would also have been a worthy choice.

In any event, it should be a lively, captivating discussion.

Ehrman v. Colbert

In case you missed it, Bart Ehrman recently appeared on The Colbert Report to promote his latest book:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Bart Ehrman
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest

Have You Seen This, James Tabor?

On Parchment and Pen, C. Michael Patton has posted an interesting summary of the traditions surrounding the various deaths of the Twelve. Interestingly, he apparently equates James the Less (James the son of Alphaeus) with James the brother of Jesus, as he associates the martyrological traditions of the latter with the former:

(8) The Apostle James the Lesser

James was appointed to be the head of the Jerusalem church for many years after Christ’s death. In this, he undoubtedly came in contact with many hostile Jews (the same ones who killed Christ and stated “His [Christ's] blood be on us and our children” (Matt. 27:25). In order to make James deny Christ’s resurrection, these men positioned him at the top of the Temple for all to see and hear. James, unwilling to deny what he knew to be true, was cast down from the Temple and finally beaten to death with a fuller’s club to the head.

Date of Martyrdom: 63 A.D.

Probability rating: B that he was cast down from the temple, D that he was being beaten to death with fuller’s club after the fall

Although Michael does not list the sources of these traditions, this cause of death is given, in slightly varying forms, by Clement of Alexandria and Hegesippus (via Eusebius of Caesarea). However, another account reported by Josephus (and also incorporated by Eusebius) gives the cause of death as stoning. Many scholars hold that this latter narrative is more historically probable. In general, I'm curious as to the nature of his ratings... what causes him to preference one tradition over another? Perhaps questions of dating?

Who Wrote the Book of Revelation?

Charles Garland concurs with Alan Bandy's recent post advocating John the son of Zebedee as the author of the Book of Revelation. In brief, Alan argues that the author's portrayal of himself as an authoritative yet familiar member of the community, combined with the strong Hebraic influences upon the Greek text and the geographic limitations of the Jewish apocalyptic genre, make this disciple an especially strong candidate. Personally, however, I don't feel that any of these generalizations mandate the acceptance of John as the author; they could apply to any number of potential candidates, both known and unknown. In her article on the book included in The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Anchor Doubleday, 1992), Adela Yarbro Collins provides a nice analysis of the evidence:

One notes that the author refers to himself as “John,” but not in such a way as to point clearly to John the son of Zebedee or to the anonymous beloved disciple in the gospel of John. The name John (Gk Ioannes; Heb Yohanan) was common among Jews from the Exile onward and among the early Christians (Swete 1909: clxxv). The author of Revelation never refers to himself as an apostle or disciple of the Lord. In the vision of the new Jerusalem, the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are seen inscribed on the twelve foundations of the wall around the city (21:14). The implication is that the Church in the author’s time prefigures the new Jerusalem or that it is the earthly counterpart of the heavenly Jerusalem. The interpretation of the foundations of the wall of the city as the twelve apostles is characteristic of a time in which the age of the apostles is past. It is unlikely that a living apostle would speak in such a way. Rev 21:14 has more in common with the post-Pauline Eph 2:20 than with Paul’s own remarks in 1 Cor 3:10–15. The conclusion that best fits the evidence is that the author of Revelation is a man named John who is otherwise unknown to us (for a more detailed discussion, see Yarbro Collins 1984: 25–34).

The historical quest for the identity of the author of Revelation has yielded primarily negative results. A more fruitful line of research has been the attempt to discern the social identity of the author. Considerable research has been done on the relation of the author and his work to the phenomenon of early Christian prophecy (Nikolainen 1968; Hill 1971–72; Müller 1976; Schüssler Fiorenza 1985: 133–56; Aune 1981; Yarbro Collins 1984: 34–49). Most scholars who have written on early Christian prophecy have distinguished community, congregational, or church prophets from wandering prophets. The primary evidence for community prophets is 1 Corinthians 11 and 14. The primary evidence for wandering prophets is the Didache. The community prophets are thought of as permanent, settled members of a particular Christian congregation. Wandering prophets are generally defined as translocal leaders, who traveled from place to place, proclaiming their teaching or the revelations they had received. This is a useful distinction but should not be pressed too far, given the great mobility of persons, especially of the nonrural population, that characterized the early empire. At least two types of wandering or itinerant Christian prophets may be distinguished: (1) the prophet who traveled to a particular place to execute a divine commission (Agabus in Acts 11:27–30 and 21:10–14; Hermas in The Shepherd of Hermas); (2) prophets whose wandering was an enactment of the ascetic values of homelessness, lack of family ties, and the rejection of wealth and possessions (Did. 11–13; prophets of the community reflected in the Synoptic Sayings source [Q]; Peregrinus in Lucian’s The Passing of Peregrinus [Aune 1981: 18–19, 29]).

In particular, note the beginning of the second paragraph: "[t]he historical quest for the identity of the author of Revelation has yielded primarily negative results." I haven't seen any recent arguments that would contradict this judgment.

UPDATE: Alan had posted an extensive presentation of external arguments for Johannine authorship here. I hope to take a closer look at these in due course. Check them out!

Read This

While catching up on my blogging (I've been in Louisville for the holiday weekend), I came across this little gem from James McGrath:

The unexamined faith is not worth having. Religion has had many critics from without, and still does. But one characteristic feature of the Biblical tradition is that it is full of critics from within, those who examine their own tradition and challenge themselves first, and then their contemporaries, to rethink it and to live it differently.

There are those who would like to avoid such critical introspection and self-examination, perhaps at all costs. "Leave us alone", they might say, "we're happy as we are." But just as one might believe oneself happy living in ignorance of one's wife's affair, for example, it can also be argued that the "happiness" in such cases is illusory. One's alleged happiness is maintained at the cost of a failing marriage and a decaying relationship infested with deceit. And presumably, were the wife happy and the relationship healthy, the affair would not be occuring. And so in such cases one is in fact valuing one's own deluded happiness over the happiness and well-being of others.

Be that as it may, if someone else wishes to live in uncritical self-deception (or at least the risk thereof) they are free to do so. I'd prefer to have a healthy marriage, an honest faith, and a critical approach to life. And so, if you'd prefer not to be aware of potential difficulties with Biblical inerrancy, amd historical uncertainties about the stories contained therein, and other things that often get noticed when one examines the Bible critically, then this blog is not for you. You are under no obligation to ask the questions I am asking about my faith, any more than you are obliged to accept my answers. But don't begrudge those of us who do ask them, or who answer them differently than you might.

Well said.

April's Biblioblogger of the Month...

... is Simon Holloway, author of Davar Akher: looking for alternative explanations. Check out his riveting interview with John Hobbins here.

Update on New Manuscripts

Parchment and Pen reports that the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts recorded eight previously uncatalogued manuscripts during its recent visit to the Benaki Museum in Athens. The Center has also posted a brief summary of the trip, which may be viewed here. Check them out.