Monday, December 21, 2009

Does the existence of text types support the idea that the Gospels were written for relatively insular communities?

A handful of prominent critics of Richard Bauckham's famous essay, "For Whom were the Gospels Written?", have argued that the existence of text types (Alexandrian, Western, Caesarean, Byzantine) is evidence against Bauckham's view that the Evangelists wrote, not only for their own "community", but also with an eye toward wider dissemination.

The argument goes something like this: the existence of distinguishable text types testifies to the strength and relative isolation of the individual churches which produced and preserved those manuscripts. This suggests, it is argued, that early Christian literature was produced primarily by and for individual communities.

I confess that this argument strikes me as specious, and I'm wondering if someone can help me see if I'm missing something.

While the list of commonly acknowledged text types may look impressive, it is misleading. The Byzantine text is thought to be, in part, the result of conflation of earlier text types, so it actually testifies to the interpenetration of streams of textual transmission in Christian antiquity, not to their isolation. Similarly, Bruce Metzger described the Caesarean text as being characterized by a mixture of Western and Alexandrian readings and as "the most mixed and the least homogeneous of any of the groups that be classified as distinct text types" (The Text of the New Testament, 2005 p.310-12).

Now we're left with just the Alexandrian and the Western texts, both of which appear to have emerged at some point during the second century, in the case of the the Western text the latter part of the second century. The existence of two identifiable text types does attest to some degree of isolation. Nevertheless, the significance of this relative isolation for the question of Gospel audiences is greatly attenuated by the fact that we're talking about a period of time 50 to 100 years after the composition of the Gospels. And of course both text types attest to all four canonical Gospels.

To sum up: when it comes to the debate over Gospel audiences, it seems to me that only the Alexandrian and Western texts count as evidence of the relative isolation of streams of transmission of Christian literature, and this evidence is too late and too weak to tell us much, if anything, about the concerns of the Evangelists.

I'd love to be shown if I'm missing something. That's what blogs are for, right?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cast your vote! What are the Gospels?

Everyone who votes will receive a free copy of Joel Marcus's Mark commentary!

Friday, December 11, 2009

David Kelsey on the New Perspective on Paul

A friend recently emailed me the following quotation from David Kelsey's new book, Eccentric Existence: A Theological Anthropology. It's illuminating, I think, to listen to a theologian attempt to summarize the insights of the last few decades of work on Paul.

When Paul inveighed against justification by works of the law, the law he had in mind was Torah, God's revealed positive law that specifies what God wills that human creatures ought to do. It might well be interpreted as including a positive duty to forgive others. In seventeenth-century Protestant-Roman Catholic theological polemics, Protestant theologians held that Paul’s critique of the project of ‘justification by works of the law’ included works evaluated by ‘law’ more broadly understood as moral law, whether revealed in Scripture or rationally discerned in the structure of created reality as natural law. Such law might well include a duty to forgive others. It has not been uncommon in modern Protestant theology for Paul’s critique to be broadened to cover the project of justifying one’s life by ‘works of the law’ where ‘law’ is understood to cover any social convention that serves as a criterion for excellence in behavior…

These successive broadenings of what Paul meant by ‘law’ move entirely outside the theological context in which he framed his critiques Paul’s concern was highly particularist and Christocentric. He was concerned to reconcile the unbrokenness of God’s covenant with Israel, and the continued validity of Torah as the expression of God’s will regarding life in the covenant, with the Gospel claim that in Jesus Christ God enacted reconciliation with estranged human creatures, including Gentiles outside the covenant and not subject to all the demands of Torah. Successive broadenings of understanding of ‘law’ in ‘justification by works of the law’ do not develop Paul’s theological point. They simply change the subject.”

(I'm sorry I don't have the page number. I asked my friend for the full reference, but he said he was busy updating his Facebook profile or something. Ah, the life of a PhD student in theology...)

I do have one question (similar to something pondered here): what's the difference between developing Paul's point and simply changing the subject? I don't dispute that there is a difference, but I'd be interested to hear how new perspective folks answer this.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Chris Tilling, Michael Gorman, and Douglas Campbell talk about Douglas Campbell

Chris Tilling posted a few thoughts about the session on Campbell's Deliverance of God and an interesting conversation ensued in the comments. Campbell and Gorman both make appearances, as does Richard Hays via Tilling's memory.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Audio from Romans as Christian Theology Session

Thanks again to Andy Rowell for recording this.

The papers are from Beverly Gaventa, Richard Hays, and Michael Gorman.

Update: the file only contains Gaventa's presentation.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

David Knauert Memorial at SBL

Matt Schlimm has just organized a memorial session at this year's SBL meeting in New Orleans to remember the all-too-brief life of our friend and colleague David Knauert (Hebrew Bible PhD, Duke 2009). It will be held Sunday (Nov 22) 7-8:30pm in Napolean A1 at the Sheraton Hotel.

More SBL info

Andy Rowell has discovered that a good number of presentations are missing from the list below. Here's one that looks particularly interesting (I will buy beer for anyone who records this):

Development of Early Trinitarian Theology
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Studio 7 - MR
In this introductory session, scholars in biblical studies and patristics will discuss the state of the conversation in each discipline. Presentations followed by moderated discussion among the panelists and audience.

Mark Weedman, Crossroads College, Presiding
Christopher Seitz, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, Panelist
Kavin Rowe, Duke University, Panelist
Matthew Levering, University of Dayton, Panelist
Matthew Drever, University of Tulsa, Panelist

I have an idea of what Kavin is going to say, and it's very interesting, to say the least.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

SBL Program changes

Just wanted to post one update on the information that Nathan posted about Duke students presenting at SBL.

Tommy Givens and I were to present on Sunday morning in the Matthew section, but we are now presenting Tuesday morning at 9am in Rhythms Ballroom 1-SH. So if you go to hear us on Sunday morning, you will be sadly disappointed...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Wish I were going to SBL 2009

I'm staying home this year. I feel a little left out, so this is my attempt to involve myself.

Here's a list of Duke-affiliated presenters (thanks Stephen).

Lots of these presentations sound great. There is one, however, that I've actually read, and it's fantastic: Hans Arneson's "Vocabulary and Date in the Study of Wisdom: A Critical Review of the Arguments”. If you're at all interested in the question of when Wisdom of Solomon was written, you do not want to miss this paper. I don't want to spoil the surprise, so I'll just say that it appears Arneson has demolished the widely accepted argument for determining Wisdom's date.

Saturday, November 21, 2009 at 4:00 PM
Kathy Barrett Dawson, “Intertextuality and Mimetic Reversal in Galatians 1-2: Pauline Autobiography and the Inclusion of the Gentiles” in 21-308 Biblical Criticism and Literary Criticism

Jill Hicks-Keeton, “Remember and Believe: Psalm 69:9 in the Johannine Temple Logion” in 21-322 Intertextuality in the New Testament Consultation

Richard B. Hays, “Spirit, Church, Eschatology: The Third Article of the Creed as Hermeneutical Lens for Reading Romans” in 21-336 Theological Hermeneutics of Christian Scripture

Lauren K. McCormick, “Ba'al's Guiding Light: Shapsh and Magic in the Ba'al Cycle and Other Texts” in 21-337 Ugaritic Studies and Northwest Semitic Epigraphy
Sunday, November 22, 2009 at 9:00 AM
Matthew Thiessen, “Abolishers of the Law and the Early Jesus Movement” in 22-129 Matthew

George Thomas Givens, “From the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel to All the Nations: A Challenge to Supersessionist Readings of Matthew” in 22-129 Matthew

Anathea Portier-Young, “Toward a Theory of Early Jewish Apocalypses as Resistance Literature” in 22-145 Social Sciences and the Interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures

Jill Hicks-Keeton, “Diasporic Space in Tobit” in 22-146 Space, Place, and Lived Experience in Antiquity

Bradley R. Trick, “Misinterpretation as Interpretive Key: Jesus’ Use of Ambiguous Parables to Harden Hearts” in 22-147 Synoptic Gospels
Sunday, November 22, 2009 at 1:00 PM
Eric Meyers, “From the Upper Galilee to the Lower Galilee: Reflections on the Rural-Urban Divide” in 22-203 Archaeological Excavations and Discoveries: Illuminating the Biblical World Joint Session With: Archaeology of Religion in the Roman World, Archaeological Excavations and Discoveries: Illuminating the Biblical World
Sunday, November 22, 2009 at 4:00 PM
Elizabeth A. Clark, “Christian Literary Culture in Late Antiquity: A Response” in 22-317 Eusebius and the Construction of a Christian Culture Consultation

Erin Darby, “Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Ghost?: The ‘Apotropaic’ Clay Images of Iron II Judah in Neo-Assyrian Context” in 22-327 Israelite Religion in its West Asian Environment
Monday, November 23, 2009 at 9:00 AM
Bradley R. Trick, “‘Lest Their Hearts Understand’: Hardening Hearts through Misunderstanding in Isaiah 6:1-9:6” in 23-119 Formation of Isaiah

David M. Moffitt, “New Papyrological Evidence Regarding the Meaning of the Term Proselyte” in 23-136 Papyrology and Early Christian Backgrounds

Hans Arneson, “Vocabulary and Date in the Study of Wisdom: A Critical Review of the Arguments” in 23-141 Pseudepigrapha
Monday, November 23, 2009 at 4:00 PM
Albert McClure, “Solar Functions of Messengers in Zechariah 1:7-6:15” in 23-305 Book of the Twelve Prophets

Mark Goodacre, “How and Why the NT Gateway was Rebooted, Revitalized and Relaunched” in 23-308 Computer Assisted Research

Ken Olson, “A Eusebian Reading of the Testimonium Flavianum” in 23-319 Historical Jesus
Tuesday, November 24, 2009 at 9:00 AM
Lori Baron, “Interpreting the Shema: Liturgy and Identity in the Fourth Gospel” in 24-109 Construction of Christian Identities

Stephen C. Carlson, “Origen's Use of the Gospel of Thomas” in 24-112 Function of Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphal Writings in Early Judaism and Early Christianity

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tendencies of the Pre-Synoptic Tradition

Anyone interested in the Historical Jesus of course needs to have some theory of the pre-synoptic tradition, that is, the sources (oral and/or literary) that lie behind Matthew, Mark, and Luke. For several decades, the dominant paradigm has been that originating with the form critics, with Rudolf Bultmann's History of the Synoptic Tradition being perhaps the classic statement of this approach. This paradigm, however, has recently been challenged by several scholars, notably James Dunn and (even more so) Richard Bauckham.

Dunn and Bauckham argue that the understanding of the pre-synoptic tradition derived from the form critics is defective (and one consequence of this is that it hinders our study of the Historical Jesus). Their main bone of contention is that the form critics have failed to appreciate the importance of distinctively oral modes of tradition transmission, by examining the pre-synoptic tradition through the lenses of a 'literary' paradigm. Dunn argues, instead, that the community as a whole would keep a close guard on the original tradition, whilst allowing limited variety within original pattern; Bauckham, of course, argues that this regulation comes from eyewitnesses.

The strengths and weaknesses of their positive proposals have been much debated, and I do not intend to engage them here. The question that I do want to engage is whether a broadly 'form critical' approach is really so unhelpful in understanding the pre-synoptic tradition.

The basic proposal which I would like to advocate is that the tendencies we see operating between the synoptic gospels provide us with evidence of the kinds of tendencies that would have been operative in the pre-synoptic period. This is what I take to be at the heart of the 'form critical' approach. Consider an example: in the synoptic gospels, it is widely agreed that there is a tendency to make more explicit and/or pronounced the subordination of John the Baptist to Jesus (seen, for instance, in the accounts of Jesus's baptism). From this, it is suggested, we can infer that in the pre-synoptic tradition, there may have been a similar tendency to increase subordination of John the Baptist to Jesus. One practical outcome of this approach might be that where, in the Markan tradition, we see subordination of the Baptist to Jesus (e.g. Mark 1:7), we might suspect (though not necessarily affirm) that this subordination is itself the result of a tendency that was also found in the pre-synoptic tradition. (I probably should emphasize that this is only a possible example of the kind of thing I am talking about; I am not especially interested here in making a strong claim about this particular tradition!)

As I see it, there are two possible objections to this line of reasoning. The first is that it is inappropriate to speak of 'tendencies' of the synoptic tradition at all. This criticism, if made, would probably be justified with reference to E.P. Sanders' Tendencies of the Synoptic Tradition (which of course was the inspiration for the title of this post!). However, the kinds of 'tendencies' of which Sanders is rightly critical are not those I am suggesting we should detect in the synoptic and (hence) pre-synoptic tradition. Sanders criticizes detection of 'mechanical' tendencies such as length of pericope, addition of names, and so on. It is not clear, however, that his criticism would apply to a tendency such as 'subordination of the Baptist to Jesus', which does not require a dubious regularization of the development of the tradition.

The second objection is this: that we cannot move from characterization of the synoptic tradition to characterization of the pre-synoptic tradition, because the pre-synoptic tradition was in some way 'fundamentally different'.

I would like to argue, however, that this objection does not go through. Firstly, this objection is often made from the perspective of 'oral vs. literary': the synoptic tradition (as we have it in our gospels) is of course written, and therefore it is illegitimate to infer from it the tendencies of the pre-synoptic tradition, which was oral. Even if this were true of oral traditions (see below), this objection would not apply to any of the written sources that Mark and the other evangelists used. So wherever we postulate a written source, it does not seem unreasonable to see some similarity between the tendencies of the synoptic tradition and the tendencies of the pre-synoptic tradition.

What, then, of 'oral' sources (to which Mark especially presumably had some access)? If we are to make any claims about developments of the tradition in cases where that tradition was orally transmitted, we need a theory of oral tradition, which in turn needs to be based on evidence, and I would suggest that the best evidence we have for how oral traditions were treated and developed is in fact the synoptic gospels themselves (rather than theories drawn from totally different geographical and/or temporal contexts). I am not saying, as does, for instance, Dunn, that the variant synoptic traditions themselves directly attest to oral traditioning (though this may be true in some cases). All I am suggesting is that the closest evidence we have to the treatment of Jesus traditions in the pre-synoptic period are the synoptic gospels themselves, and therefore, despite being written documents, the synoptic gospels should be given pride-of-place as evidence in our discussion of pre-synoptic tradition.

In conclusion, then, if the synoptic gospels are our most temporally and geographically proximate evidence for the pre-synoptic tradition, then in our discussion of the pre-synoptic tradition (whether oral or literary) the best place to start is with an examination of the tendencies that can be detected between these documents. From there, we can move on to tentatively identify possible tendencies in the pre-synoptic tradition. This is not an illegitimate construction of non-existent 'tendencies', nor is it a failure to understand 'oral tradition': it is simply an employment of the best evidence we have for the pre-synoptic tradition, namely, the synoptic gospels themselves. Therefore, recent criticisms of this sort of approach (e.g. from Dunn and Bauckham) are arguably misguided.

Monday, November 9, 2009

More on Douglas Campbell's DOG

Andy Rowell has organized all (or nearly all) the online reactions to The Deliverance of God to date.

Thanks for doing this Andy!

Friday, November 6, 2009

AAR Montreal

Today I arrived in Montreal for the Annual Conference of the American Academy of Religion. I forgot how fantastic Montreal is! To those who are currently in Montreal, here are a few things you must hit:


  1. Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Deli. This restaurant, just up the road from the Palais de Congrès (at 3895 St Laurent Boulevard), will blow you away. It is a Montreal institution that has been around for 80 years.
  2. Mont Royal. This is just west of Schwartz’s. There is a nice park at the base of the hill and an invigorating but brief climb to the top of the mountain that affords you a beautiful view of the city. Those who have watched the movie “Jesus of Montreal” will find this place rather familiar. Those of you who haven’t watched the movie should.
  3. The Old City (Vieux-Montreal). This is just south of the Palais de Congrès. Apart from some beautiful buildings such as the Basilique Notre-Dame, there are numerous great restaurants and bars on the picturesque cobblestone streets.
  4. Don’t be afraid of poutine. Yes, it consists of three forms of fat (French fries, beef gravy, and melted cheese curds), but life is short.


I wish I had more time here to enjoy the sights, not to mention Tim Hortons (which is on the ground floor of Palais de Congrès), but  after some conference-related activities, I have to make my way back to Durham tomorrow afternoon. My only solace is that the weather in Durham is supposed to be in the 70s, while here it is in the 30s.


In two weeks, I hit New Orleans for the annual conference of SBL. So the French connection continues, but the weather will improve.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

J. Z. Smith on Pedagogical Lying

Jonathan Z. Smith has a provocative piece at the Chicago website for the Center for Teaching & Learning, called "The Necessary Lie: Duplicity in the Disciplines". Here are two excerpts:

We lie, it seems to me, in a number of ways. We sometimes cheerfully call the lie words like 'generalization' or 'simplification,' but that's not really what we're doing. We're really lying, and lying in a relatively deep fashion, when we consistently disguise, in our introductory courses, what is problematic about our work.

I think there is very little to justify introductory lying. In the case of the introductory courses, we produce incredibly mysterious objects because the students have not seen the legerdemain by which the object has appeared. The students sense that they are not in on the joke, that there is something that they don't get, so they reduce the experience to "Well, it's his or her opinion."

I realize that Smith's "lying" is a harsh term and he's doing it to be provocative. But maybe that's how we should regard our temptation to over-generalize and over-simplify in our teaching. Sometimes we're torn because sometimes the easiest examples we can use to make a profound point with our students aren't quite right and explaining them correctly loses the point we're trying to get across. What are we to do?

Let me give an example. It would really be pedagogically useful if Q (the hypothetical saying source that Matthew and Luke independently used) actually existed. Then we can start to get our students thinking about historical sources for Jesus that lay outside the canon. Q was never canonized but its contents are in the canonical Matthew and Luke. Thus, Q lies halfway between our canonical sources and non-canonical sources. Q's contents are not strange to our students but its structure and organization are. Indeed, Q promises a different way about early Christian thinking about Jesus, a way that was not relentlessly focused on the cross. But to make this point with intellectual integrity, we have to point out that the extent of Q isn't really known with much clarity (it could have had a passion for all we know) and even that are serious problems with its very existence. What are we to do?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The deus ex machina of context

One way Christians all over the theological spectrum attempt to deal with troubling passages in the Bible is by emphasizing the difference between the writer's historical context and our own. For instance, I recently heard a theologian who wished to avoid making exclusive claims on behalf of Christianity explain away the exclusive claims of 1 John by arguing that 1 John is about the conflict within the Johannine community. 1 John does not, therefore, address contemporary inter-religious dialogue.

My intent here is not to say anything about 1 John or inter-religious dialogue, but to address this method of dealing with problem passages.

Every word in the Bible was originally addressed to someone else, to some situation other than our own. This point is probably a truism. But, if this is correct, then one of the tasks of those who accept these texts as normative or relevant for today is to ask how those words from the past can "leap the gap" - to use Richard Hays's phrase - and address very different situations. This leap is necessary not only when the Bible seems foreign and obsolete, but also when it sounds familiar and comforting. This leap is an unavoidable consequence of reading words addressed to someone else as addressed to us. That is, this leap is an unavoidable consequence of having Scripture.

If I'm on the right track, then the otherness of the biblical writer's context cannot, of itself, render a text irrelevant for contemporary questions. The question for those who read the Bible as Scripture is not whether a given biblical author speaks immediately to our situation - they never do. For this reason, I don't see how arguments such as the one mentioned above can avoid special pleading.

I am not saying that historical context is irrelevant for reading the Bible as Scripture. Quite the opposite. I am saying that any attempt to limit the significance of a particular passage to its Sitz im Leben implies that there are some other passages which speak immediately and simply to contemporary situations.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Deliverance of God

As many of you know, Duke's very own Douglas Campbell has a new book out--The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Reading of Justification in Paul. Many of us at Duke have been involved in some fashion with the production of this gargantuan volume.

The good news is that so far DOG (as it is known among initiates) is receiving quite the praise in the blogosphere.

Loren Rosson (The Busybody) writes: "Let me start by saying that I'm in awe of The Deliverance of God. There hasn't been a book of its kind since Sanders, pressing us to take a long look behind ourselves and then ahead again with new lenses. Parts of it need to be read at least twice for proper digestion, so don't expect to breeze through it curled up on the couch with a brandy snifter. In addition to the required mental exercise is the physical, which you'll get from lugging the damn thing around: it comes in at 936 pages, 1218 including endnotes. Is it worth all the effort? Unquestionably."

Chris Tilling (Chrisendom) has even gone so far as to call it "the most important book to have been published since Sanders' Paul and Palestinian Judaism."

I’m sure there will be many more reviews to come; I just thought it worthwhile to report the good news so far.

And here's a link to go and buy the book:

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Translation Contest: Bultmann!

This is the first ever Duke Newt translation contest/suggest a better sign contest.

This street sign comes from Rudolf-Bulmann Straße in Marburg.

The sign reads:

"Prof. D. Bultmann D.D. (1884-1976) suchte die christliche Botschaft gegenüber dem Wahrheitsbewußtsein der Neuzeit zu verantworten."

The challenge is:

A: Offer your own tranlation of the sign


B: Create your own description of Bultmann--your own "Rudolf-Bultmann-Straße" sign

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bultmann's Birthday

It was a warm afternoon in Marburg.

A Thursday. August 20.

His 125th birthday.

I sang "Zum Geburtstag viel Glück!" to him.

We talked a bit.

And then I rubbed his nose for good luck.

That was all.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Duke #14 Worldwide!

The Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings 2009 are now out. Duke students will be happy to know that Duke has basically stood its ground, coming in at #14 worldwide this year. For those graduate students considering Ph.D. studies in Religion, these overall rankings confirm Rusty Reno’s recent assessment of Duke’s merits at First Things.


As a Canadian, I was also elated to see 11 Canadian universities make the top 200:


McGill University moved up from #20 to #18.

University of Toronto moved up from #41 to #29.

University of British Columbia slid from #34 to #40.

University of Alberta moved up from #74 to #59.

Université de Montréal slid from #91 to #107.

University of Waterloo moved up from #129 to #113.

Queen’s University basically stood its ground at #118.

McMaster University slid from #117 to #143.

University of Calgary moved up from #170 to #149.

University of Western Ontario moved up from #159 to #150.

Simon Fraser University slid from #164 to #196.


For students thinking of pursuing doctoral work, let me make a plug for the University of Toronto. Toronto’s #29 ranking (again in conjunction with Reno’s recent rankings of Graduate programs in Theology) indicates a little-known secret: the University of Toronto is a fantastic place to pursue graduate work in Religion, and biblical studies in particular. I actually have a hard time believing Toronto only ranks 29th in the world, but perhaps I am unduly influenced by the fact that it is so strong in my own field of study. Toronto School of Theology (which is made up of a federation of seven theological schools and 105 regular faculty members!), the Centre for the Study of Religion, the Centre for Jewish Studies, and the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Studies together provide abundant resources to study biblical literature. Further, the U. of Toronto library system is the fourth largest academic library in North America (after Harvard, Yale, and Berkeley). All of this offered in the heart of a vibrant, cosmopolitan city! 



Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Pauline "Mystery"

Last week, during my stay in Marburg, I had the opportunity to meet with Friedrich Avemarie, who is Professor of NT at Philipps-Universität Marburg. (Marburg, by the way, seemed to me to be a wonderful place to do research or graduate work in NT. I did some work of my own in their library and had the chance to meet with a few of their doctoral students, who were all very friendly and hard at work on interesting projects). Professor Avemarie is, of course, the author of important works such as Tora und Leben. Untersuchungen zur Heilsbedeutung der Tora in der frühen rabbinischen Literatur, for which he is perhaps most widely known. He is also a very generous host; and I say this not just because he paid for my coffee and gave me some books.

Professor Avemarie is currently one of the editors (along with J. Frey, M. Bockmuehl, and H.-J. Klauck) of the WUNT II series. One of the books he gave me is from this series: Pablo T. Gadenz’s Called from the Jews and from the Gentiles: Pauline Ecclesiology in Romans 9-11. The dissertation on which this monograph is based was completed at the Pontifical Gregorian University (Rome) and directed by Prof. Jean-Noël Aletti.

The book is a fascinating study of Rom 9-11 in many respects, but I wanted to offer one extended quotation that I found especially provocative. This comes from the chapter on Rom 11. The specific issue under discussion is the mystery in 11:25 and the function of this verse in the larger argumentative context. I won’t waste space with further explanations. I’ll just give you the quotation.

“It thus appears that there are no scriptural passages which reveal this information. The reason is that it is something new, belonging to Christian revelation; Paul himself is the one that reveals this mystery (vv. 25b-26a), explaining that the hardening that has come upon a part of Israel will last until the incoming fullness of the nations, and so all Israel will be saved…Since it is something new, the mystery in 11,25b-26a is not contained as such in the (OT) Scriptures. The mystery itself goes beyond the Scriptures (but not against them), and indeed, the Scriptures can be re-read in light of the revealed mystery. As a result of the mystery, therefore, the proofs in Paul’s argument necessarily have to change…The proofs are no longer based on Scripture, nor can then be. This shift is often misunderstood by scholars…It is helpful to emphasize this point because it shows a limit in how Paul uses the Scriptures. We see here that Paul does not automatically cite Scripture to prove whatever point he wants to make, but rather that he respects the content of what is revealed in the Scriptures and realizes that in this case the issue at stake goes beyond them” (209-13).


Oh, and stay in touch; in the coming days I'll post a few pics of me and Bultmann in Marburg. We celebrated his birthday together.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Rusty Reno on Duke

Theologian Rusty Reno has, once again, offered his "crude and impressionistic" musings on what he takes to be the best graduate programs in theology, opining that Duke's program is the best, followed by Notre Dame.

While his claims are sure to ruffle feathers, perhaps especially at Duke, I thought readers of this blog might be interested in what he says about biblical studies at Duke:

There is a further reason why Duke is a remarkable place. In the mid-twentieth
century, Karl Rahner pronounced the Bible off limits for theologians. Systematic
theologians, he argued, should not presume upon the domain of properly
“scientific” historical exegesis. To my mind, this untenable divide between
theology and biblical interpretation has crippled both systematic and biblical
theology. Duke’s program works against this divide. Richard Hays, Kavin Rowe,
Stephen Chapman, and Ellen Davis are biblical scholars who can (and want) to
talk to students about Augustine, Aquinas, the Reformers, Karl Barth, and even
Karl Rahner. Moreover, Stanley Hauerwas has written a biblical commentary, and
Reinhard Hütter and Paul Griffiths are working on commentaries as well. Duke is
the ground zero for a restoration of theology to biblical exegesis, and biblical
exegesis to theology.

Feel free to raise objections!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

BC/AD vs. BCE/CE: Pitre + Wrong = Right

[Correction: Michael Barber was not the author of the post over at the Sacred Page - it was Brant Pitre! Whoops. Apologies to both.]

Robert Cargill's article in The Bible and Interpretation has triggered discussion on whether one should use BC/AD or BCE/CE, as Cargill argues.

Brant Pitre offers what I take to be an insightful criticism of the BCE/CE label:

The primary reason is that "B.C.E." and "C.E." are vacuous: they don't mean
anything. What actually is the "common era"? Can anyone actually tell me what is
"common" about the years 1-the present? And what was it that happened "before
the common era" so as to make it, well, 'un-common'?
It seems to mean the terminological shift is nothing but a rather facile attempt to take a dating
system which clearly places the Incarnation at the center of human history and
secularize it. But the attempt ultimately fails, since whether you use
B.C.E/C.E. or B.C./A.D., the Incarnation is still at the center of the system.
There's no other identifiable historical event that marks the transition from
one age to the other, whatever one concludes about the chronological controversy
regarding exact calendar date of Jesus' birth.

Pitre goes on to add: "If others find this confession of faith in the Incarnation offensive, then it seems to me that the consistent thing to do would be to create entirely different system, a secular system of dating that is based on some other event--rather than cloaking a Christocentric calendar in secular clothes."

Interestingly, N.T. Wrong makes a similar argument (as cited by Mark Goodacre):

By using ‘C.E.’ and B.C.E.’, we universalize a peculiar tradition. We make it
out to be ‘common’ or ‘natural’, not requiring any special marking or
qualification. As a consequence of the fact of Western power, the Gregorian
calendar has been adopted as the most-used calendar in the world, and so does
have some degree of ‘commonality’ in day-to-day use. But the change from A.D. to
C.E. (and from B.C. to B.C.E.) obscures the particular Christian basis of this
‘common’ calendar, misrepresenting it as ‘normal’ - as somehow transcending
historical particularities. By contrast, the other calendars are made out to be
the only ‘localized’ and ‘particular’ calendars. While the Christian calendar is
‘naturalized’ by its designation as ‘common’, other calendars (Jewish, Persian,
Islamic, Chinese, Hindu, Ethiopian, Thai, etc) are ‘artificial’ and
‘contingent’.Stop this neo-colonialism! Use A.D. and B.C. again!! The specific
marking of these older terms, which refers to the Christian concept of ‘Christ’,
may well be offensive to some people. But this offence is substantial and
systemic, not removeable by changing the name of the year which is dated from
the birth of Christ. The hegemony of the Western calendar is a fact, and just
one of the many effects of Western power in the world today — a minor but not
insignificant fact, given the universal importance of local calendars in shaping
culture. To obscure the Western calendar’s particularity by making it into a
false universal is a double injustice – both the initial violence of changing
local calendars, and then its covering up with the misleading term “common”.
This is ideology at work.

What does all this mean? I think I just proved that Brant Pitre is N. T. Wrong.

Prospects for Newly Minted Ph.D.s

Duke today just had its "Teaching and Learning Lunch" for students in the Graduate Program in Religion, with panel consisting of a provost, a dean, and a former head of an academic society. The topic was job prospects in religion and the humanities. I took away the following points:

  • No doubt about it, the humanities job market will be soft for a long time.
  • Economic pressures affect different schools differently. Particularly, the mix of funding sources (endowments, tuition, etc.) will have different effects in a tight economy.
  • The erosion in the jobs is mainly from the bottom. Weaker candidates are more at risk than ever before.
  • The weaker schools are also being hit harder. Fewer job openings there.
  • The top research schools may be less harder hit, but they will be as competitive as always (perhaps even more so).
  • Second and third private colleges are finding that tuition payers want more prestige from their bucks and are therefore facing a loss in enrollments.
  • On the other hand, public universities are faced with shortfalls from the state legislators. They are having to raise their tuitions, which may end up making the second and third tier colleges less uncompetitive price-wise for students.
  • The age of (over-)specialization may be over. Candidates should show that they can both research and teach in a broader range of subjects.
  • The religion faculty in most schools is tiny, 4-7 professors. Breadth of teaching subjects is important for such schools.
  • Ethics is hot now. Professors in religion should figure how to tie their teaching into ethics.
  • Those getting narrow doctorates from U.K. programs may be at a disadvantage compared to those graduating from American programs due to the their coursework requirements.
  • As schools squeeze administrative positions, new hires may be asked to take on more administrative responsibility than before.
  • Catholic colleges may represent some of the best opportunities for theological faculty in terms of openings. At many of these schools, religion courses are still required and their facing a spate of retirements among the teaching priests.
  • As for Protestant affiliated colleges, mainline denominational schools are shrinking in their enrollments, but evangelical schools seem to be more vibrant.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Miracles and the Historical Jesus 2

Thank you, all, for your feedback, especially the discussion on Phil Harland's blog. Here I would just like to offer a couple of clarifications, and possibly point towards some responses to people's comments.

Harland's argument
On the whole I agree with Harland - and I did not read his remarks as intending to supply a 'refutation'! I especially agree with the remark that historians should recognize the fact that Jesus and others were regarded as 'miracle workers' (something which I did not deny in my original post). In fact, this acknowledgement leads on to the very question that I wanted to ask, namely, that if we acknowledge that Jesus was regarded as a miracle-worker, why was he thus regarded? To me this seems like a normal historical question, and I was asking why this is 'off-limits' in the case of Jesus. In the case of Alexander of Abonuteichos (mentioned by Harland), for instance, I doubt anyone would deny that he was regarded by some as a miracle worker. And I expect that few historians would refuse to ask why he was regarded as a miracle-worker, on the basis of the limitations of the historical method.

Possible explanations for belief in Jesus as a miracle-worker
When we are faced with the question of why Jesus was regarded as a miracle-worker, there seem to be three main alternatives: the supernatural explanation (that he really was a miracle-worker), the rationalistic (e.g., that he successfully employed basic medical techniques), or the mythical (that Jesus was not actually a miracle-worker and that these stories were attributed to him at a later date for theological reasons). This tripartite division of possible solutions of course derives from Strauss, and the purpose of my original post was not so much to make a new contribution to this discussion as to ask why more recent scholars reintroduce 'miracle' as a category appropriate for talking about Jesus (at least with regards to his reputation), and rarely (if at all) discuss these three candidates for explaining this reputation.

At least two of these explanations (the rationalistic and the mythical) would not seem to be especially controversial as explanations in themselves (even if we would question the plausibility of some 'rationalistic' explanations). I expect that one or the other of these would normally be invoked in discussion of ancient (or even more modern) figures to whom miracles have been attributed - and yet scholars do not frequently invoke either of these explanations in connection with Jesus, but stop with his 'reputation'.

The 'supernatural' explanation and Hume's view
The 'supernatural' explanation would seem to be the most controversial, for the reason that few would regard it in most cases as an adequate historical explanation of a miracle report in the case of most historical figures (though, of course, many believers would regard it as appropriate in the case of Jesus). One reason we might reject the supernatural explanation is Hume's view. As I read Hume, his argument is not circular (or at least it is not obviously so). At the very least, we can state a weaker form of his argument that is not circular:

(1) Supernatural events (like 'miracles', if they occur) do not occur very often (they are 'very unusual'; I hope this is uncontroversial!).
(2) Very unusual events require extremely strong verification, especially if there is an alternative explanation that would require less strong verification.
(3) Therefore, we would need extremely strong verification to assert with justification that a miracle had occurred.
(4) If this extremely strong verification is absent, we should accept a non-supernatural explanation as more probable.

These premises all seem to be quite plausible, and if the argument is circular I do not see where it begs the crucial question. And even if the argument is not true in general terms (so as to rule out a miracle ever verifying that a miracle had occurred), it would surely be valid in the case of ancient texts such as the reports of the miracles of Alexander of Abonuteichos. If it is valid in cases such as this, then if we are treating the Gospels as historians normally treat other historical texts then this judgement should apply to them as well: and therefore we would be obliged to accept a rationalistic or mythical explanation of the origin of Jesus's reputation as a miracle worker.

The option remains open to the reader of the Gospels to reject Hume's argument (and any similar argument) and suggest that Jesus was regarded as a miracle-worker because he was a miracle worker (though I think this would have to be done on theological grounds rather than on any logical charge of circularity). Some scholars do this quite openly - for instance N.T. Wright. But many scholars do not, and instead choose to stop at Jesus's 'reputation' as a miracle-worker without asking the question of why he was so regarded. The purpose of my previous post was to suggest that the history of scholarship has provided us with at least two historically possible explanations of why Jesus was regarded as a miracle-worker (the rationalistic and the mythological), and therefore if some scholars choose not to examine this question they need to do so for reasons other than that it is not an historically proper question, or that an historically proper explanation cannot be provided.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Miracles and the Historical Jesus

We have recently been reading through a number of classic Historical Jesus texts - including D.F. Strauss's famous Life of Jesus Critically Examined (originally published in 1840; available online at Google Books), and a question has come up from Strauss that has been troubling me.

Strauss is of course famous for his application of the category of 'myth' to the Gospels - especially in connection with Jesus's miracles. As an Enlightenment historian, he rejects supernatural explanations of Jesus's miracles, but also any 'rationalist' explanations (which 'explain' Jesus's miracles non-supernaturally). The 'third way', for Strauss, is the category of myth: that the miracles attributed to Jesus are to be regarded as creations of the early church, often on the model of similar Old Testament 'miracles'.

With this argument, Strauss is said to have knocked miracles out of the arena of historical discussion of Jesus - at least until the Third Quest (see Dunn, Jesus Remembered). Many Third Quest scholars, however, argue that we cannot understand Jesus historically unless we pay proper attention to his 'deeds' - and in particular, his miracles (especially his healings). This re-raises the problem of Strauss's challenge to the miraculous.

A position adopted by Dunn (and I think by a number of other scholars) is that we can state with confidence that Jesus was 'remembered' as a miracle-worker - and we can go no further than that (by, for instance, asserting that Jesus actually was a miracle worker). I have been wondering, however, whether this limitation can actually successfully reintroduce 'miracles' into the discussion of the historical Jesus.

My main reason for this derives from Hume's famous argument against the possibility of ever verifying (with a degree of probability sufficient for justified belief) that a miracle has occurred: the evidence that a miracle has not occurred will always be greater. Regardless of whether we want to follow Hume all the way, it seems that the Gospels do not provide the kind of evidence that would be sufficient, from an historical point of view, to reasonably hold that a miracle had occurred (and this seems to be the kind of argument presupposed by Strauss in his discussion of miracles).

I presume that the reason that most historians wish to stop at 'reports' of miracles is that they accept an argument similar to Hume's. But if this is the case, we can and should go one step further, and say that regardless of the reports concerning Jesus's miraculous activity, from an historical perspective these must be regarded as false (unless we opt for a rationalist interpretation) - it is unjustified to stop at the reports and not go beyond these to consider the events being reported. Therefore I cannot see how Third Questers (or anyone interested in the historical Jesus) can 'rediscover' Jesus's miracles from an historical point of view: if they are regarded as miracles, they must be regarded as unhistorical (so Strauss, on the strength of a Humean argument).

The obvious retort to this is that the Strauss/Hume position presupposes an Enlightenment paradigm that the historian needn't accept (so, for instance, N.T. Wright). But unless we want to abandon any claims to 'historical' study altogether, I do not see how we can get round the anti-miracle argument put forward by Hume, and presupposed by Strauss. Any thoughts?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Other Duke Blogs

Duke University has two blogs of note and relevance for students in Duke's Graduate Program in Religion:

The Duke University Religion Department blog; and

Spotlight, the Duke Divinity School Library blog.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Gospel of the Hebrews: Did I just say something dumb?

In his Dialogi contra Pelagionos 3.2 Jerome quotes a gospel which he calls the Gospel according to the Hebrews. Here is A. F. J. Klijn’s translation:

In the Gospel according to the Hebrews which was written in the Chaldaic and Syriac language but with Hebrew letters, and is used up to the present day by the Nazoraeans, I mean the Gospel according to the Apostles, or, as many maintain, the Gospel according to Matthew, which is also available in the Library of Caesarea, the story runs: “Behold, the mother of the Lord and his brothers were saying to him: John the Baptist is baptizing for the remission of sins. Let us go and be baptized by him. But he said to them: ‘How have I sinned, that I should go and be baptized by him? Unless perhaps something which I said in ignorance.’”
Jewish-Christian Gospel Tradition (Leiden: Brill, 1992), 103.

And the Latin:

In evangelio iuxta Hebraeos, quod Chaldaico quidem Syroque sermone sed Hebraicis litteris scriptum est, quod utuntur usque hodie Nazareni, secundum apostolos, sive ut plerique autumant iuxta Matthaeum, quod et in Caesariensi habetur bibliotheca, narrat historia: Ecce, mater domini et fratres eius dicebant ei: Joannes baptista baptizat in remissionem peccatorum; eamus et baptizemur ab eo. dixit autem eis: Quid peccavi, ut vadam et baptizer ab eo? nisi forte hoc ipsum quod dixi ignorantia est.

The thing that interests me is Klijn’s translation of the last sentence. Klijn interprets the words nisi forte hoc ipsum quod dixi ignorantia est as an admission that Jesus may have sinned in ignorance, translating it “Unless perhaps something which I said in ignorance.” Assuming that hoc ipsum quod dixi refers to hypothetical past sins of ignorance, Klijn’s translates it as “something which I said.” This assumption seems questionable to me for a number of reasons: 1) hoc (this) is used to describe a thing close to the speaker, as opposed to illud (that). 2) hoc is not indefinite. One would expect aliquid or quoddam or the like if “something” were the correct translation. 3) ipsum intensifies the definiteness of hoc. 4) The use of est rather than erat also points to the immediate context rather than past sin, unless it’s a historical present. 5) hoc is restricted by quod dixi, so according to this interpretation hoc would refer only to past sins of speech.

For these reasons it seems far more likely to me that hoc ipsum quod dixi refers to Jesus’ immediately preceding words. Thus, the sentence may be paraphrased “Unless that which I just said is incorrect.”

Recently I stumbled on J. K. Elliot’s translation in The Apocryphal New Testament: “But he said, ‘What have I committed, that I should be baptized of him, unless it be that in saying this I am in ignorance?’” Sounds good to me.

Here’s why this question is interesting to me: according to my favored translation, Jesus dithers almost comically, objecting to the thought of baptism but then shrugging his shoulders and admitting that he might be speaking nonsense. This depiction would be at loggerheads with that other Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus overcomes John the Baptist’s objection with the words, “Let it be so now, for it is fitting for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness” (3:15).

Would anyone like to defend Klijn’s translation? Am I missing something?

Duke Newt?

I had to acknowledge the goofiness of the name. I promise to stick to NT stuff from now on.

Welcome to Duke Newt

Greetings. This is a new blog that is intended to provide an informal forum for students and others associated with the PhD in New Testament at Duke University to share their questions, concerns, opinions, or anything else related to the New Testament. So, if you feel you have something to say, please do share it - and hopefully this will prove to be a useful resource. All the best!