Sunday, April 25, 2010

The influence of E.P. Sanders

Mark Goodacre has described E.P. Sanders as "the greatest living New Testament scholar" (here and here).  Joshua Schwartz says something similar in his review of a festschrift in Sanders' honour:
Most of us in academia hope to come up with a few new and original ideas that will impact upon scholars and scholarship. If we are lucky and this happens, we might remain in the eye of scholarship for a generation or two, but after that most of us and our work fade into various levels of academic oblivion. Only very few scholars produce work of such monumental importance that it becomes benchmarks not only for colleagues but for anyone wishing to study a particular field. Sanders has done this in not one or even two but in three centrally important areas of New Testament study: Judaism, Jesus, and Paul. Moreover, even if one does not study Christianity or Jesus, it is still impossible today to work on the Second Temple period without Sanders, and obviously this is the case regarding Jesus and Paul. This has been true for decades and will undoubtedly continue to be so for the coming ones. Few scholars have been able to bend, as it were, the not always pliant study of religious traditions and to form it into something new. Not all agree with him; his work has sometimes aroused opposition and criticism, but we cannot make do without it. The present volume is a fitting accolade for an outstanding scholar. - Joshua Schwartz, Review of Fabian Udoh, ed., Redefining First-Century Jewish and Christian Identities: Essays in Honor of Ed Parish Sanders, Review of Biblical Literature [] (2010).
I was getting ready to announce that גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב is on ice until further notice, when I ran across a few partial posts in my drafts folder that seemed worth completing. This is one of them.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


In other news, the massive snow drift in our back yard finally disappeared on Friday. These photos were taken Thursday afternoon:
And, for the sake of comparison, this is what our back yard looked like in January:

Bonhoeffer on Christianity, Science and a God of the Gaps

Bonhoeffers comments about the dangers of a God of the gaps strike me as prescient in light of the Bruce Waltke brouhaha (see here, here and here):
Weizäcker's book . . . has brought home to me how wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. For the frontiers of knowledge are inevitably being pushed back further and further, which means that you only think of God as a stop-gap. He also is being pushed back further and further, and is in more or less continuous retreat. We should find God in what we do know, not in what we don't; not in outstanding problems, but in those we have already solved. This is true not only for the relation between Christianity and science, but also for wider human problems such as guilt, suffering and death. It is possible nowadays to find answers to these problems which leave God right out of the picture. It just isn't true to say that Christianity alone has the answers. In fact the Christian answers are no more conclusive or compelling than any of the others. Once more, God cannot be used as a stop-gap. We must not wait until we are at the end of our tether: he must be found at the centre of life: in life, and not only in death; in health and vigour, and not only in suffering; in activity, and not only in sin. The ground for this lies in the revelation of God in Christ.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (London: SCM, 1953), 103-4.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bonhoeffer on Academic Specialization

The longer we are uprooted from professional activities and our private lives, the more it brings home to us how fragmentary our lives are compared with those of our parents. . . . What chance have any of us today of producing a real magnum opus? How can we do all the research, the assimilation and sorting out of material which such a thing entails? Where today is that combination of fine carefreeness and large-scale planning that goes with such a life? . . . The "polymath" had already died out by the close of the eighteenth century, and in the following century intensive education replaced extensive, so that by the end of it the specialist had evolved. The consequence is that today everyone is a mere technician . . . . This means that our cultural life has become a torso.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (London: SCM, 1953), 75-76.

(I should note that the link points to the forthcoming Fortress Press edition; I'm reading the shorter, and much cheaper, 1953 SCM edition.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

2010-11 Course Line-up

My course assignment for next year was finalized in March:

Fall Semester:
BLST103 Gospels
BLST213 Hermeneutics
BLST304 Acts

Winter Semester:
BLST103 Gospels
BLST213 Hermeneutics
BLST415 Advanced Studies in New Testament Literature
(BLST304 Acts - Create a Distance Learning course)

Why think about next year's teaching assignment already, you ask? Because I am anxious to transition from teaching and grading to reading and research (i.e., I want to acquire some books), and next year's course assignment will shape my reading choices over the summer.

In preparation for my my second time attempt at teaching Acts next fall, I'm looking forward to redesigning the course and reading more in the area--especially C. Kavin Rowe's World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age (Oxford: 2009). Advanced Studies in New Testament Literature will be a brand new course for me, but I have yet to decide on a topic.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

What he said

Since I am supposed to be busy marking and have no time to compose anything of significance, I refer you to the following:

First, the positive: Why are 1,100 People Going to a Conference about N.T. Wright?

Second, the frustrating: The End of Reformed Evanglical OT Scholars. Why would anyone fire Bruce Waltke?

Third, the enticing: Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics for $100.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Truth Telling

The man who tells the truth out of cynicism is a liar.
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer ~

Letters and Papers from Prison (London: SCM, 1953), 54.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

On Conversation

During Briercrest's SERVE conference a couple weekends ago (podcasts here), Ray Ortlund quoted Spurgeon as saying:
An individual who has no geniality about him had better be an undertaker, and bury the dead, for he will never succeed in influencing the living. . . . When a man has a large, loving heart, men go to him as ships to a haven, and feel at peace when they have anchored under the lee of his friendship. Such a man is hearty in private as well as in public; his blood is not cold and fishy, but he is warm as your own fireside. No pride and selfishness chill you when you approach him; he has his doors all open to receive you, and you are at home with him at once. - C.H. Spurgeon, "The Minister's Ordinary Conversation," in Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), 169.

Around the same time I read a student exegesis paper on Colossians 4:2-6 and got to thinking, again, about what it means to "redeem the time" speaking words "seasoned with salt."
According to C.F.D. Moule:
"seasoned with salt" in Colossians 4:6 "may well mean 'witty', 'not insipid'.... If so, this verse is a plea to Christians not to confuse loyal godliness with a dull, graceless insipidity. If a Christian is ever difficult company, it ought to be because he demands too much, not too little, from his fellows' responsiveness and wit" - The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Colossians and to Philemon (Cambridge: 1962), 135.
Over the weekend I read Robert Goldenberg's description of traditional Jewish study:
This mode of study, called in Aramaic havruta ("fellowship"), turns text study into dialogue and makes books into tools for overcoming, not strengthening, isolation. It makes the tradition of rabbinic learning a powerful source of community cohesion, a source of speech rather than silence. This activity was usually called not "study" but "learning," and in every Jewish community an invitation to fellowship could take the form of the proposal "Let's learn together." The life of the mind and the life of society were thus made one....It seems to me that solitary study tends to seek meaning, while study be-havruta tends to look for implications. When we read by ourselves, and we are satisfied that we have understood, we naturally move on. But when "learning" is a kind of conversation, then there is always more to be said. The rate of progress is more leisurely, the depth of analysis more penetrating." - Robert Goldenberg, “Talmud” in Barry W. Holtz, ed., Back To The Sources׃ Reading the Classic Jewish Texts (1984; repr. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 168-9.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Historical Criticism and the Talmud

Two things strike me in the following quotation from Robert Goldenberg's outstanding introduction to the Talmud: (1) The issues raised by historical criticism of the Talmud are similar to the issues raised by historical criticism of the Bible; (2) Goldenberg's response is to shift the locus of meaning from authors to texts:

Modern scholars approach the Talmud seeking the answers to all sorts of questions--usually questions of their own devising--and they have developed techniques for working out more or less reliable answers to these questions. In earlier ages, the pious Jew normally approached this same text with one unchanging question in mind, a question itself received from the past: how does the God of Israel, the Creator of the Universe, want me to live? Questions of historical reliability, or of outside cultural influence, were in the long run irrelevant to this kind if inquiry.

Modern historical consciousness actually makes the traditional inquiry more difficult than ever. The new types of investigation are not simply "irrelevant" to such a quest, they impede it. How can the Talmud reveal the eternal word of God if it turns out to be the work of third- or fourth-century men living in the fading world of Near Eastern antiquity? How can questions of Jewish law be resolved from a text that may conceal scribal error on every line? These considerations help explain why modern, critical Talmud study was long resisted in traditional yeshivot and is still excluded from many of them. Historical relativity in general and text criticism in particular turn out to raise new religious issues, issues that earlier masters of the rabbinic tradition never had to face.

Nevertheless, Talmudic study has remained entirely unchanged in a very important respect, and will remain unchanged as long as people engage in it. the Talmud is a book put together by people who saw intellectual activity as sanctifying. They found holiness in their effort to bring rational order to their tradition, and as a result problem solving and disciplined logic became important characteristics of rabbinic discourse. . . . This relish for complicated but careful argument is entirely available to the modern reader, and is very much in keeping with modern tastes. In an important sense, it is immune from historical criticism, because it comes from the text of the Talmud, not from the particular individuals who once composed that text. And the text is still there.

Robert Goldenberg, “Talmud” in Barry W. Holtz, ed., Back To The Sources׃ Reading the Classic Jewish Texts (1984; repr. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 165-6:

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Google Street View Hits Caronport

View Larger Map

My Briercrest College faculty office is down the hall way in the brown building to the right of the chapel. I decided not to link to Google's excellent image of my house. If family members are interested, send me an email; the rest of you are on your own...but Caronport is a small town.

HT: Luke Johnson.

Friday, April 2, 2010

An Easter Medley

1 I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea. 2 The LORD is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him. 3 The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is his name. 4 "Pharaoh's chariots and his army he cast into the sea; his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea. 5 The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone. 6 Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power -- your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy. 7 In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries; you sent out your fury, it consumed them like stubble. (Exod 15:1b-7; NRSV)

49 I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! (Luke 12:49-50; NRSV)

45 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." Having said this, he breathed his last. 47 When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, "Certainly this man was righteous." 48 And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. (Luke 23:44-48; NRSV modified)

8 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, "Get up quickly." And the chains fell off his wrists. 8 The angel said to him, "Fasten your belt and put on your sandals." He did so. Then he said to him, "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me." 9 Peter went out and followed him; he did not realize that what was happening with the angel's help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane, when suddenly the angel left him. 11 Then Peter came to himself and said, "Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me..." (Acts 12:7-11a; NRSV modified)

13 In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed; you guided them by your strength to your holy abode. . . . 17 You brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your own possession, the place, O LORD, that you made your abode, the sanctuary, O LORD, that your hands have established. 18 The LORD will reign forever and ever. (Exod 15:13, 17-18; NRSV)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

In defense of Pharisees

In a post a couple weeks ago on A Hermeneutics of the Golden Rule, I said:
"If we want to approach the Pharisees historically, as real people, we have to acknowledge that they would not have regarded themselves as hypocrites. "Loving" history will seek to recover a view of the Pharisees that made sense to them.'"
Here I want to respond in a little more detail to the widespread Christian assumption that the Pharisees of Jesus' day--if not most Jews--were hypocrites. I suspect many readers of the New Testament regard as typical the self-righteous Pharisee of Luke 18:9-14. And if Jesus selected a Pharisee to show-case the misguided posturing of those who "trusted in themselves that they were righteous" (Luke 18:9), and Paul accused his fellow Jews of "seeking to establish their own righteousness" (Rom 9:30), it is easy enough to view the Pharisee as the typical first century Jew, who--it turns out--goes home condemned by God.

This misreading of the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector rests on a misunderstanding of the "righteous" as those whose behaviour is free from sin. If we want to situate the parable in a more realistic first-century context, we would do better to view it as an address by a Pharisee to fellow Pharisees, reminding them of truths on which they all agree. This goes too far, of course, since Jesus was not a Pharisee. Nevertheless, first-century Pharisees, like most first-century Jews, would have agreed with Jesus that it is those who confess their sins and acknowledge their unworthiness before a holy God who are "justified." In other words, in first century Judaism those who were "righteous" did not regard themselves as sinless. Consider the following examples from the Psalms of Solomon, a pseudonymous Jewish work dated to the first century BCE, and sometimes associated with the Pharisees:
3: 5 The righteous stumbles and proves the Lord right; He falls and watches for what God will do about him; 6 he looks to where his salvation comes from. The confidence of the righteous (comes) from God their savior; sin after sin does not visit the house of the righteous. 7 The righteous constantly searches his house, to remove his unintentional sins. 8 He atones for (sins of) ignorance by fasting and humbling his soul, and the Lord will cleanse every devout person and his house.

9:7 You bless the righteous, and do not accuse them for what they sinned. And your goodness is upon those that sin, when they repent.
The same viewpoint is expressed in the Hodayot (1QH) from the Dead Sea Scrolls, whose hymns are sometimes attributed to the "Teacher of Righteousness":
“I know that Thou hast marked the spirit of the just, and therefore I have chosen to keep my hands clean in accordance with [Thy] will: the soul of Thy servant [has loathed] every work of iniquity. And I know that man is not righteous except through thee...” (1QH; Vermes 257-8 [I'll add column and line references later]).

“[Thou art a merciful God] and rich in [favours], pardoning those who repent of their sin and visiting the iniquity of the wicked. [Thou delightest in] the free-will offering [of the righteous] but iniquity Thou hatest always” (1QH; Vermes 255).
No doubt there were hypocritical, self-righteous Pharisees in the first century just as there are hypocritical self-righteous Christians today. Jesus criticized them. Then, as now, the criticism hit home.  But the New Testament offers enough counter-evidence to demonstrate that not all Pharisees were hypocrites in the popular sense of someone who pretends to be something they are not. Paul, for example, gives no indication that his commitment to the "strictest sect of our religion" was a sham (see Phil 3:5); according to Acts 23:6-9 and 26:5 he remained a Pharisee even after becoming a follower of Jesus. Other obviously sincere Pharisees include Nicodemus (John 3) and Gamaliel (Acts 5:34).

I don't know how to generalize from individuals to entire groups, but evidence from several different sources points to the reputation of the Pharisees as a group for righteous living. The explanation that makes the best sense of the evidence is the charitable one: Most Pharisees regarded sincere piety as a positive good, and tried to live according to their ideals. In all fairness, trying to live according to one's ideals was what the Law required. Jesus required the same thing (see Matt 5:48).

I suspect the central issue in Jesus' polemic against the Pharisees was not their sincerity, but their rejection of his own claims about himself (see Luke 7:28-35; 12:54-56). According to the Gospels, being a "hypocrite" can mean sincerely placing one’s priorities in the wrong place, not being insincere.

The irony is that leaving the Pharisees as one-sided stick figures enables us as Jesus' contemporary followers to distance ourselves from the Pharisees and so avoid listening to the practical significance of Jesus' teaching.