Thursday, July 30, 2009

Imminent Eschatology?

The widely accepted view that the whole early church believed in an imminent advent of Christ is based on a superficial reading of the evidence. The advent was imminent only in the sense that it might happen at any time, not because it must happen within a given period. The decisive act of God had already happened in the death and resurrection of Christ, and from then on men must live their lives under the shadow of the end. But the end would come when God’s purposes were complete, and this was something only he could decide (Mark 13:32; Acts 1:7).[1]
[1] Caird, Paul’s Letters from Prison, pg. 107
I find it fascinating that this perspective does not seem to have taken root in scholarship. How often do I read perceptions that still think the early Christians thought the world would end within their life time.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Graham Stanton Passed Away

This is sad news indeed. We have lost two giants among New Testament scholars this month! I was reading Stanton's Jesus and the Gospels just yesterday - thinking that his contribution, although cautious, was an outstanding example of biblical scholarship. I was looking forward to his ICC contribution to Galatians! Stanton was an outstanding scholar, and I'm glad that Paul's promise will apply to him.
ἔσχατος ἐχθρὸς καταργεῖται ὁ θάνατος·

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A God of Intolerable Violence?

There is an interesting discussion on the God of the First Testament vs. the God of the NT on the question of God's violence in the Hebrew scriptures. See Michael Whitenton, Daniel Kirk and Michael Gorman.
As someone who studies the New Testament writings, I value and appreciate the Hebrew Scriptures as the necessary story within which to locate the narratives of the first Christian writers. I love the Hebrew scriptures and both affirm their value and necessity for understanding Jesus and the first Christians. BUT!
I cannot reconcile the GOD revealed in Jesus of Nazareth with a few of the depictions of YHWH in the Hebrew scriptures. In fact, this is a significant problem for me. I'm currently wrestling through this issue, and I've tentatively arrived at some very uncomfortable positions. It appears that only a Christological reading of the Hebrew scriptures can solve this dilemma. But But I take a more radical position than Daniel Kirk appears to take.
If, as I believe, Jesus fully reveals to us the identity of God, and we are to live and decide what's right and wrong within the trajectory of Jesus' teachings, actions, ethics, life, etc. (the NT), why can't we read the Hebrew scriptures retrospectively, and through the lens of Jesus, assess whether or not Israel got it right when they heard God? I realise this sounds slightly like Marcion, but I have no desire to throw out the Hebrew Scriptures. However, I've got to question whether or not they (Israel or the particular writers of these traditions) heard right, or faithfully represented the intentions of YHWH when engaging in such horrific acts. I'm perfectly happy to concede that we are quite ignorant concerning the surrounding circumstances of these events and actions, and so our conclusions are tentative, but I think this Christological approach may help us.
Anthony Thiselton argues, concerning prophecy, that: The authentic is to be sifted from the inauthentic or spurious, in the light of the OT scriptures, the gospel of Christ, the traditions of all the churches, and critical reflections (Thiselton, 1 Corinthians, pg. 1140). Could a sifting perhaps apply to the writings of the Hebrew scriptures themselves? Could we, in light of other portraits within the Hebrew Scriptures, the Christ event, the teachings of the New Testament, and critical reflection, sift our teachings/traditions of these violent narratives which do not in fact accurately portray the intentions of YHWH? I'm almost convinced we instinctively do this anyway. We read 2 Sam 13 and affirm that the actions are heinous and evil. We read of a Elisha's cruel punishment of childish pranks (2 Kings 2:23-24), and we conclude what? That God really gave him the power to do this?
While I would not advocate deleting these traditions, it would then be possible to see them as instances where Israel or a prophet appealed to the authority or agency of God for these horrific events, but were in fact wrong to do so. AGAIN these are tentative thoughts which I find very uncomfortable because it challenges what I believe about the Bible. But I can't help but think this may be a better solution to the problem than just claiming we don't have enough information to make an informed decision. Or perhaps I'm wrong.
Does this make sense? Questions, comments and criticisms are all welcome.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Introducing the New Testament Class

Thanks to Rafael for asking about my teaching! So here's what I've decided regarding our intro course to the New Testament.
  1. David deSilva's An Introduction to the New Testament will be the class text, but we'll also be making plenty of use of Cohick, Burge and Green's The New Testament in Antiquity. The reason I chose deSilva is simply because it's so comprehensive. [I may teach hermeneutics next semester and I'll use this text with Michael Gorman's Element's of Biblical Exegesis] deSilva is the best introduction I own, and I've worked through at least 10 of them in preparing this course. The New Testament in Antiquity is very good, colourful, and informative, but deSilva just has more! Plus, I teach in a seminary and we're just as interested in academic study as we are in character and Spiritual formation, and deSilva's material is good.
  2. I have an overview lecture on the historical Jesus, focussing more his aims and intentions (following Ben Meyer and N. T. Wright) and his message of the reign of YHWH. I've set as an optional reflection an article on the Third Quest, and a compulsory reflection on Wright's chapter "The Mission and Message of Jesus" in The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions.
  3. I've tried to include a discussion of either a Jewish or Roman source in every lecture. So, when I deal with 1 Thessalonians, I'll be picking up on the imperial background, when I deal with Galatians, I'll be dealing with covenantal nomism, and so forth. I've found a great resource on coins of the ancient world. I'll also be using The New Testament in Antiquity as a resouce for background information, as well as giving them a list of anthologies dealing with primary sources. They also have to reflect on chapters 2 & 3 of deSilva which cover this terrain well.
  4. As noted above, we'll be using deSilva as the text, but also Cohick, Burge and Green. I've also put together a file of articles that they can reflect on or just read for themselves, as well as a small bibliography of helpful commentaries, books and articles on each gospel/epistle/apocalypse.
  5. I've chosen to deal with Paul letter by letter, but grouping them together and emphasizing a particular theme from each letter. So the obvious one is Romans & Galatians, where I'll be dealing with the New Perspective, and 1 & 2 Thessalonians where I'll be dealing with eschatology.

The outline will be a) Introduction & Setting; b) Jesus: Mission and Message; c) Matt & Mark; d) Luke & Acts; e) 1 & 2 Thessalonians; f) 1 & 2 Corinthians; g) Romans & Galatians; h) Philippians & Philemon; i) Colossians & Ephesians; j) Pastoral Epistles; k) 1 & 2 Peter plus Jude; l) Hebrews and James; m) Gospel of John; n) Epistles of John; o) Apocalypse of John. We may also have a guest lecture on Hebrews by our First Testament lecturer. If that happens, I'll shift Jude with James and do a lecture on the "The Wisdom of the Brothers."

I have three hours to teach each class, with a 25min break of course. The hardest lecture to write was on Jesus. There is SO MUCH to include, but in the end it's just a sketch. One is tempted to overwhelm students, but that's not going to help them. Perhaps another time will afford me the opportunity to explore the historical Jesus in depth!

Anything else you want to know?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Anthologies of Primary Sources

So following on the from the previous post, I've been thinking about alerting my students to some primary source material. I realise there are dangers in isolating various texts from their respective contexts, but I also feel that they are helpful in establishing the necessary context in which to read the New Testament writings. So here's a couple that I've found useful. If you know of any others, please suggest them!
    • C. K. Barrett, The New Testament Background: Selected Documents
    • M. Harding, Early Christian Life and Thought in Social Context
    • L. H. Feldman & M. Reinhold, Jewish Life and Thought Among Greeks and Romans
    • V. M. Warrior, Roman Religion: A Sourcebook
    • J. Shelton, As the Romans Did: A Sourcebook in Roman Social History
    • B. D. Ehrman, Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make it into the New Testament
    • M. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers
    • B. Davenport, The Portable Roman Reader

These books have been utterly helpful with introducing me to the wide variety of literature that make up the world of the 1st Century (pertaining to the study of early Christianity). Many of them have valuable introductions, and background information which show how the source is to be understood. Many of these also provide helpful bibliographies for further research, which is excellent. Some of these are also very helpful in that they arrange them thematically, which can be excessively helpful for those doing research on particular topics.

Go and enjoy some primary sources!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Most Influential Primary Sources

Kevin Scull has provided a helpful meme asking for different scholars and students to note their favourite primary sources. As Kevin notes, this is fast becoming an excellent resource and a steep learning curve as I discover sources I'd never heard of!
My own top 5 resources would include:

It would be interesting to see what specific quotes or sections of primary sources people have found most helpful. Also, are there specific inscriptions or archaeological finds that noteworthy? My own research last week discovered this oath on allegiance to the emperor:

This is the oath taken by the inhabitants of Paphlagonia and the Romans who do business among them. ‘I swear by Zeus, Earth, Sun, all the gods and goddesses and Augustus himself that I will be favourably disposed to [Cae]sar Augustus and his children and descendants all the time of my [life] in word and deed and thought… Whatever I may see or hear being said or plotted or done against them, I will report it and I will be the enemy of the person who says or plots or does these things . . . If I do anything contrary to this [oath] . . . I pray that there may come on me, my body and soul and life, destruction, total destruction until the end of all my line and of all my descendants…’ In these same words this oath was sworn by all the [inhabitants of the land] in the temples of Augustus throughout the local districts [of Paphlagonia] by the altars [of Augustus].

R. K. Sherk, The Roman Empire: Augustus to Hadrian (1988). Another version of this same oath is offered below:

Imperator Caes[ar,] son of the god, Augustus the twelfth consulship, third year (of the province, 3 BC), on the day before the Nones of March in Gangra in [camp(?)], the oath completed by the inhabitants of [Pa]phlagonia [and the] R[omans] who do business among them; I swear by Zeus, Earth, Sun all the gods [and] goddesses, and Augus[t]us himself that I will be favourably disposed toward [Cae]sar Augustus and his children and descendants all the time of my [life] in word and deed and thought, considering as friends those whom they may consider (friends) and holding as enemies those whom they may judge to be (enemies), and for things that are of interest to them I will spare neither my body [nor] my soul nor my life nor my children, but in every way for the things that affect them I will undergo every danger; and whatever I might perceive or hear against them being said or plotted or done, I will report it and I will be an enemy to the person saying or plotting or doing [any of] these things; and whomever they may judge to be their enemies, these, on land and sea, with arms and steel will I pursue and ward off. If I do anything contrary to this [oath] or anything not in agreement with what I have sworn, I pray that there may come upon myself, my body and soul and life, my children and all my family and whatever is of use to us, destruction, total destruction till the end of all my line [and] of all my descendants, and may neither the [bodies] of my family or of my descendants by earth or [sea] be received, nor may (earth or sea) bear fruit [for them.] In the same words was this oath sworn by all the [inhabitants of the land] in the temples of Augustus throughout the districts (of the province) by the altars [of Augustus.] And likewise the Phazimonians living in what is [now] called [Neapo]lis [swore the oath,] all of them, in the temple of Augustus by the [altar of] Augustus. [*]

What an extraordinary text describing the allegiance of some to the emperor!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Martin Hengel

John Dickson has a wonderful tribute to the late Martin Hengel. What a scholar! I was dipping into his books this week as I prepare a lecture on the historical Jesus, it's still some of the most helpful material written thus far.

Do make sure you read as much of Hengel as you possibly can, you will be a better informed thinker!