Tuesday, February 27, 2007


There are some new articles around, which I've not had a chance to catch up on, but nonetheless note them here for my readers pleasures: JGRChJ hots the following new articles...
Jonathan M. Watt Contextual Disconnection in Bart Ehrman's Lost Christianities
Sean A. Adams Luke's Preface and its Relationship to Greek Historiography: A Response to Loveday Alexander
One should also continually explore: Apollos.ws. with their extensive range of NT materials not available elsewhere. There is some exceptional material here.

Does the Pope Drive?

After getting all of Pope Benedict's luggage loaded into the limo, (and he doesn't travel light), the driver notices that the Pope is still standing on the kerb. "Excuse me, Your Holiness," says the driver, "Would you please take your seat so we can leave?"

"Well, to tell you the truth," says the Pope, "they never let me drive at the Vatican, and I'd really like to drive today." "I'm sorry but I cannot let you do that. I'd lose my job! And what if something should happen?" protests the driver, wishing he'd never gone to work that morning.

"There might be something extra in it for you," says the Pope. Reluctantly, the driver gets in the back as the Pope climbs in behind the wheel. The driver quickly regrets his decision when, after exiting the airport, the Pontiff floors it, accelerating the limo to 105 mph. "Please slow down, Your Holiness!!!" pleads the worried driver, but the Pope keeps the pedal to the metal until they hear sirens. "Oh, dear God, I'm gonna lose my licence," moans the driver. The Pope pulls over and rolls down the window as the cop approaches but the Cop takes one look at him, goes back to his motorcycle, and gets on the radio. "I need to talk to the Chief," he says to the dispatcher.

The Chief gets on the radio and the cop tells him that he's stopped a limo going a hundred and five.

"So bust him," says the Chief.

"I don't think we want to do that, he's really important," said the cop. The Chief exclaimed, "All the more reason!"

"No, I mean really important," said the cop.

The Chief then asked, "Who ya got there, the Mayor?"

Cop: "Bigger."

Chief: "Governor?"

Cop: "Bigger."

"Well," said the Chief, "Who is it?"

Cop: "I think it's God!"

Chief: "What makes you think it's God?"

Cop: "He's got the Pope as a chauffeur!!"

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What's Mark About?

My long fascination with the Gospel of Mark has been met with delight at the new commentary by M. Eugene Boring. Although I've just opened the pages of this volume, it already looks to be rather good and helpful. Boring is a careful scholar and good writer and although I probably won't agree with all his conclusions, he'll still give me much to think and re-think. A stunning quote to entice your readership...
What is this story about? The obvious answer: it is about Jesus, who appears in almost every scene and is the subject of most of the verbs in Mark. One could also say: it is about the disciples, who are called in the first chapter and accompany Jesus and are taught by him throughout until they abandon him in chapters 14 and 15; they are the goal of the final revelation pointed to in 16:7. The real answer, however: the story is about God, who only rarely becomes an explicit character, but who is the hidden actor in the whole drama, whose reality spans its whole narrative world from creation to eschaton, and who is not an alternative or competitor to the view that regards Jesus as the principle subject. To tell the story of Jesus is to tell the self-defining story of God.
[M. E. Boring, Mark: A Commentary (WJK, 2006), pg. 3]

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bruce Metzger

A mighty man has fallen...
The news is out that Bruce Metzger has died at age 92.
What a proficient author, thinker and contributor to our fields...
His gap will be felt...

Science & Theology

Before my entry into the arena of biblical studies, I was an aspiring Systematic Theology student. I hope that this neither offends nor saddens my current readers. I left the field because studying early Christianity and particularly the historical Jesus seemed more exciting and fun, again - no offence intended to those of this persuasion. Recently though, I've been reading over my old notes and came across these beautiful quotes by John Polkinghorne. You see, my interest was [and sometimes still is] the interface between Science and Theology. And in this respect, I have found no-one better than John Polkinghorne. To celebrate the re-release of his outstanding book: Science and Creation, I offer a few quotes to stir the imagination to further thoughts. Enjoy...

If it is true that theology is no mere speculative system but a response to what is, then surely it will always have been in need of cool appraisal of the world it seeks to understand. Natural theology – the search for God through the exercise of reason and the inspection of the world – is then not an optional extra, for indulgence by the scientifically inclined, but rather it is an indispensable part of theological inquiry.
- J. Polkinghorne, Science and Creation, pg. xii
For the theist, the rational beauty of the physical world is not just a brute fact, but a reflection of the mind of the creator. Aesthetic experience and ethical intuitions are not just psychological or social constructs, but intimations of God’s joy in creation and of his just will. Religious experiences is not illusory human projection, but encounter with the divine reality. There is an integrating wholeness in the theistic account which I find intellectually satisfying, even though it must wrestle with the mystery of ‘infinite Being.’
- J. Polkinghorne, Science and Christian Belief, pg. 70
Once again the theistic conclusion is not logically coercive, but it can claim serious consideration as an intellectually satisfying understanding of what would otherwise be unintelligible good fortune. It has certainly struck a number of authors in this way, including some who are innocent of any influence from a conventional religious agenda. Such a reading of the physical world as containing rumours of divine purpose, constitutes a new form of natural theology to which the insight about intelligibility can also be added.
- J. Polkinghorne, Belief in God in an Age of Science, pg. 10
Delightful, isn't it?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Fabricating Jesus

Craig Evans new book: Fabricating Jesus is causing a stir, as we should expect.
Table of Contents Preface Introduction 1. Misplaced Faith and Misguided Suspicion: Old and New School Skeptics 2. Cramped Starting Points and Overly Strict Critical Methods: The Question of Authenticity 3. Questionable Texts--
Part I. The Gospel of Thomas 4. Questionable Texts--
Part II. The Gospel of Peter, The Egerton Gospel, the Gospel of Mary and the Secret Gospel of Mark 5. Alien Contexts: The Case Against Jesus as Cynic 6. Skeletal Sayings: Maxims Without a Context 7.Diminished Deeds: A Fresh Look at Healings and Miracles 8. Dubious Uses of Josephus: Understanding Late Antiquity 9. Anachronisms and Exaggerated Claims: Christianities Lost and Otherwise 10. Hokum History and Bogus Findings: Jesus Between the Lines 11. Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? Unfabricating His Aims and Claims
Appendix 1. Agrapha: Free-floating Sayings of Jesus Appendix 2. What Should We Think About the Gospel of Judas?
Book Excerpts Preface » Introduction » 1. Misplaced Faith and Misguided Suspicions » Full Notes to Text » About the Book » Reviews & Endorsements » Features & Benefits »

Abba & Imperial Theology

I'm currently reading through The Historical Jesus in Context, making sure that I emerse myself in primary sources. It's a fascinating read, and one that I readily recommend. Check out this quote...
Jews of the time, including Jesus, and the early Christians who cherished his memory, found in their God a father and king immeasurably greater than Rome’s ruler of the world. To announce God’s kingdom, God’s reign, was to remind oneself and one’s fellow Jews that it is God an not the emperor who truly reigns, to call upon the divine Father is to place oneself under a protection far greater than the reach of Rome. This is not to say that Jewish understandings of God as father originated under Roman influence; it is quite clear that the divine Father appears in much earlier texts. Rather, the resistance inspired by Roman rule and the accommodations it required enhanced the urgency of calls upon the Father and maker of all.[1]
D'Angelo continues with a smackeral of quotes from Jewish and Gentile sources concerning Fatherhood and the Emperor. Very informative...
[1] Mary Rose D’Angelo “Abba and Father: Imperial Theology in the Contexts of Jesus and the Gospels” in The Historical Jesus in Context eds. A. J. Levine, D. C. Allison Jr. and J. D. Crossan (Princeton University Press, 2006) pg. 66.
See also: M.R. D’ANGELO, "Abba and ‘Father’: Imperial Theology and the Jesus Traditions", JBL 111 (1992) 611-630.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

2 Stage Redaction of James?

R. P. Martin in his commentary on James [Word, 1988, pg. lxxiii], following P.H. Davids The Epistle of James [Eerdmans, 1982, pg. 12-13] and others have proposed a two stage redaction for the epistle of James. Davids explains that:

If one wishes to explain the apparent contradiction of fors, it will be necessary to come to some type of a two-level hypothesis for the composition of the work. This same hypothesis may also explain some of the curious divergeneces in vocabulary, some of the conflict between the very good Greek in places and Semitisms in others, and some of the apparent disjointedness between topics in the epistle...

The first stage is a series of Jewish Christian homilies, sayings, and maxims, many of which would have been composed in Greek by a person who spoke Aramaic as his mother tongue, while others may have been translations. The second stage is the compilation of an epistle by editing these pieces together into a whole. (12)

L.T. Johnson remains critical of this view. Johnson notes that, “all the usual criteria for positing a late dating for New Testament writings are absent… On the face of it, everything in the letter suggests an early dating rather than a late one.”[1] Also, Patrick Hartin has argued that:
An early date for this writing is required from the evidence noted..., namely, (1) the way the author refers to himself, expecting his hearers/readers to know his identity; (2) the closeness of the author to the heritage of Israel (he still sees himself as belonging to that world); (3) the use made of the Jesus traditions (prior to the appearance of the canonical gospels); (4) the closeness to the spirit and vision of Jesus; (5) the total lack of reference to the Gentiles in any form; and (6) the omission of any reference to the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem.[2]
Some of these reasons may be objected to, especially 5 & 6, but otherwise these are particularly apt. Ultimately though, for reasons not readily apparent, Hartin joins Davids, Martin and co in accepting that the letter of James was composed after James' death by an amanuensis or scribe in the mid 60's. My conjecture is that if James was edited by a later redactor, the traces of this redaction are extraordinarily hard to detect and one could postulate that what the redactor has done is perhaps remove narrative sections from the epistle so as to make it more useful in a wider context. This would explain the awkward genre of James and the abrupt ending that has puzzled scholars for some time. Or that the letter has undergone literary revision, as proposed by F. F. Bruce.[3]
The question I have is, are there any contemporary Jacobean scholars who argue [not merely assert] against a two stage composition, or for a single stage writing? (Other than L.T. Johnson) -> [If Jim Darlack knows the answer, could he please email me references so that I may acquire such arguments and assess them. Thanx!] This is a pivotal piece of my argument concerning James 5:6. Once I have resolved this, one may begin to fully lay out the arguments concerning that text.
[1] L. T. Johnson “The Social World of James: Literary Analysis and Historical Reconstruction” in Brother of Jesus, Friend of God: Studies in the Letter of James (Eerdmans, 2004), pg. 110. Johnson notes the specific criteria as: “no institutional development, no sense of tradition as a deposit, no polemic against false teachers, no highly developed Christology, no delay of the parousia.”
[2] P. J. Hartin, James (Liturgical Press, 2003) pg. 24
[3] F. F. Bruce "The General Letters" in G. C. D. Howley (ed.) A New Testament Commentary London, 1969)

Concrete Kingdom!

Jesus stands out as one who performs miracles of healing and proclaims good news to the poor as he travels throughout Israel in fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecies. Implicitly we are prepared for the insight that this is how God's kingly rule of Israel in the end time operates concretely and is experienced right now, through the ministry of Jesus. Something new and different is occurring in the prophetic work of Jesus. Everyone, including the Baptists, is challenged to accept the truth that God is the ultimate agent at work in Jesus' words and actions, however much the events contradict one's preconceived ideas of what the end time would be like for Israel.[1]
The kingdom of God could not be suffering violent opposition as Jesus speaks if it had not taken on concrete, visible form in the words and deeds of Jesus. The very idea of the kingdom of God suffering from such violence is an astounding notion, foreign to the OT, the intertestamental literature, and the rest of the NT. The idea implies that what is in essence transcendent, eternal, invisible, and almighty - God's kingly rule - has somehow become immanent, temporal, visible, and vulnerable in Jesus' ministry. While the present kingdom appeared in a basically positive context in Matt 11:11b//Luke 7:28b, its context in Matt 11:12-13//Luke 16:16 is darker and more troubling.[2]

[1] Meier, A Marginal Jew II, pg. 401 [2] Meier, A Marginal Jew II, pg. 403

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Did Paul kill John?

A shocking thought, but one which is plausible according to Ben Witherington. An interesting proposal building on his view that the Beloved Disciple was Lazarus. Now if Ben would interact with Bauckham's book, then we could have a real scholarly showdown.
Is there anyone in the Blogosphere who finds these arguments satisfying?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Beyond the Canon?

April DeConick posts on Beyond the New Testament Canon, which raises some fascinating questions. I appreciate the kind of raw honesty in such an approach but I find this sentiment to be a rather overstatement of the case which provides more confusion. I can agree with her statement that we must: "take very seriously the study of a variety of early Christian documents, and not operate within the boundaries of the New Testament canon." I concur with the fact that: "An enormous amount of literature was written by the early Christians in the first two centuries, and all of it needs to be studied critically in order to get a full picture of what was going on. If we only study the New Testament documents, our reconstruction of early Christianity is inherently flawed." But this is a far cry from saying: "The impediment is the fact that the majority of biblical scholars still have not dislodged themselves from their own faith perspectives. As long as this is the case, historical inquiry is impossible because the historical-critical perspective cannot be used uncompromisingly."
I'm currently reading Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses and I was very tempted to think, before I began reading, that this was masked apologetics. However, upon embarking on this journey, one quickly discovers that Bauckham's strength IS his historical analysis. Think of Bauckham's various writings, has his faith-perspective damaged/deluded his historical analysis? Most of the academy has not judged him like this, so DeConick is being unfair and rather biased with her comments. Rather, I am in complete agreement with Mark Goodacre who clearly states:
If it's scholarship that one is doing, my feeling is that personal faith has no part to play, at least not in the way that one's arguments are constructed or in the evidence one adduces. In other words, I am interested in scholarly arguments based on publicly available evidence, arguments that make sense to an audience of scholars and students who may not share one's own faith perspective. As soon as my arguments only work for those who share my faith perspective, at best my arguments become apologetics and at worse my arguments run the risk of becoming weak and unscholarly. As soon as I begin to use evidence that is not in the public arena and that cannot be submitted to scholarly scrutiny by everyone, I am not engaging in academic scholarship. I do not expect my students to use their personal faith in their essays; how much more would I not expect professional scholarship to bring personal faith into their work.
This is the kind of scholarship that we need. Add to that the legendary Craig Evans, who has done much to unveil the history the period in question, both Jewish, Gentile and Christian. I'm with Evans who notes that:
For me Christian faith makes investigation of Christian origins worth pursuing. This includes critical study of Christian Scripture, as well as related writings. It also means critical study of the early history and development of the Christian movement, from the historical Jesus, to the preaching, teaching, and activities of the first two or three generations that followed him. However, Christian faith, just as surely as agnosticism or atheism, can become a problem, if there are pre-conceived notions in place that prevent honest, critical study.
This is what you'll hopefully find on this blog, if not - please offer critical comments!

Factors & Forces

The real challenge in historical understanding is to figure our not only what happened, but also how it happened and why. The accurate logging and descriptions of the sources and all relevant data is crucial, of course, and is itself a fully worthy and demanding historical task. But the difficult intellectual tasks are to identify the forces and factors that prompted and shaped people and events, and to understand how these forces and factors operated.
Larry Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, (Eerdmans, 2003) pg. 27