Sunday, June 27, 2010

"If we cannot help them in this, we do not help them at all": Bonhoeffer on Training for Ministry:

The following excerpt is from a letter Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to Karl Barth on 19 September 1936, regarding his underground seminary at Finkenwalde:
I am firmly convinced that in view of what the young seminarians bring with them from the university and in view of the independent work which will be demanded of them in the parishes . . . they need a completely different kind of training which such a life together in a seminary unquestionably gives. You can hardly imagine how empty, how completely burned out, most of the brothers are when they come to the seminary. Empty not only as regards theological insights and still more as regards knowledge of the Bible, but also as regards their personal life. . . . But there are very few who recognize this sort of work with young seminarians as a task of the church and do something about it. And it is really what everyone is waiting for. Unfortunately, I too am not able to do it properly, but I show them by having them practice with one another. That seems to be the most important thing to me.
. . .
. . . The accusation that such practices are legalistic does not really bother me at all. What is really so legalistic about Christians beginning to learn what it means to pray and spending a good part of their time on this learning process? When a leading man of the Confessing Church said to me recently, "We don't have any time now for meditation; the candidates should learn to preach and teach the catechism," that is either total ignorance of what a young seminarian is today, or it is culpable ignorance about how a sermon or catechism lesson comes to life. The questions that are seriously put to us today by young seminarians are the following: How do I learn to pray? How do I learn to read the Bible? If we cannot help them in this, we do not help them at all. . . . It is clear to me that all these things have a place only when really accurate theological, exegetical, and doctrinal work is done together with, and at the very same time as, these spiritual exercises. Otherwise, all these questions are given a false emphasis.
- Letter to Karl Barth, September 19, 1936 in Way to Freedom 117, and A Testament to Freedom 431 (Gesammelte Schriften 2:285) as excerpted in Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 5) (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 121-2.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Distinguishing Grabbe from Grabbe

I was looking for an affordable used copy of Lester L. Grabbe's important two-volume reference work, Judaism from Cyrus to Hadrian, published by Fortress Press in 1992, but noticed (again) that he has another multi-volume series coming out with T&T Clark that appears to deal with the same material: A History of the Jews And Judaism in the Second Temple Period: Yehud: a History of the Persian Province of Judah (2004); A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period: The Early Hellenistic Period (335-175 BCE) (2008). Is this a reprint, an updating and expansion, or something else entirely?

Also, what is the difference between An Introduction to First Century Judaism: Jewish Religion and History in the Second Temple Period (T&T Clark, 1996), and Introduction to Second Temple Judaism: History and Religion of the Jews in the Time of Nehemiah, the Maccabees, Hillel, and Jesus (T&T Clark, 2010)--aside from price?

I'm not knocking the scholarship; I just want to know whether it is still worth purchasing the older and now cheaper editions.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Roman Context of Acts

In Acts next semester I will be assigning Beverly Roberts Gaventa's Acts commentary (Abingdon, 2003) and, for lack of a more recent good succinct introduction to critical issues, Mark Allan Powell's What Are They Saying About Acts? (Paulist, 1991).

I would like also to assign a short, accessible (to upper level undergraduates), article-length, introduction to the first century Roman world to provide more historical context. Any suggestions?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Book Note: World Upside Down

World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman AgeI just finished reading C. Kavin Rowe's World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age (Oxford University Press, 2009). Since other summaries by J.R. Daniel Kirk, Gary Anderson, and Mike Bird (an interview) are available online, I will only say that it lives up to the hype. I'm looking forward to the review session devoted to the book at SBL this November.

My one disappointment is that the main text includes many citations of untranslated untransliterated Greek, along with the odd German quote. As a result the book is not suitable as a textbook for an advanced undergraduate course. Too bad, since in most--if not all--cases Rowe's argument would not suffer if he had relegated the Greek to the footnotes.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Why I don't recommend Logos Bible Software

Update: This post has been significantly revised in response to comments 1-3 below, and my own subsequent reflection:

At the end of their first year I tell my Greek Students,
Congratulations! You've worked hard, you've done well. You've learned enough to be dangerous. You are now equipped to use powerful Bible programs that will enable you to misread the text like never before--and do it convincingly.
For those who want to misread the Bible like never before, Logos 4 is the ideal program. Sound extreme? Let Logos speak for itself:
So how can you do better in word study if you’re not a specialist in Hebrew or Greek? There are three truly indispensable things you need for developing skill in handling the Word of God. First, you need a means to get at all the data of the text. Logos Bible Software is the premier tool for that. Through reverse interlinears, you can begin with English and mine the Bible for all occurrences of a Greek or Hebrew word....Second, you need someone who is experienced in interpretation to guide you in how to process the data in front of you. You need training in what questions to ask and why you’d ask them....Third, you need practice, practice, and more practice. - Michael Heiser
Our goal in Learn to Use Greek and Hebrew with Logos Bible Software is not for you to sight read the Greek NT or the Hebrew Bible without the helps. Instead, it’s to understand how to use the helps for interpreting the Bible. Do we still require you to be able to accurately identify the form of a particular word? Absolutely! But we don’t make you memorize a chart; we use our Visual Filter technology. After all, the inability to recognize liquid aorist verb at sight is not what makes a preacher “dangerous” with the biblical languages; it is being uninformed as to how the aorist tense works. - Johnny Cisneros

In its blog posts and promotional videos, Logos promises that its customers will be able to use Biblical Greek and Hebrew at a 3rd year level "without memorizing anything." While scholars may desire actually to learn the biblical languages, Logos is there to help the average student of the Bible get the payoff from language study without doing the work, to use Greek and Hebrew well, without learning the languages.

Sorry folks. It is not enough to learn theory about the aorist tense, you need to get a feel for how the language works as a language if you want to avoid misreading it. And the only way to get a feel for how Biblical Greek and Hebrew work is to spend a lot of time reading the Bible in Greek and Hebrew. Fortunately, the most important genuine insights from reading Greek and Hebrew come from patient, attentive, careful reading of whole passages in Greek and Hebrew, not individual word studies or gazing at an interlinear. To get beyond the point where you are dangerous there is no substitute for learning the languages, and learning any language takes time and memorization.

As usual, Carl Conrad is spot on the money:
[T]his pedagogy being peddled . . . effectively makes its user dependent upon predigested interpretation of the original-language texts. One learns not the languages, but the use of the software, and the software functions in such as way as to begin and end with English language versions of the Biblical text and English-language explanations of how and why the English-language version means what the original-language text says. I'm not happy about this, but I do think it is the wave of the future in the pedagogy of Biblical languages; in its own way, it's like the plume of slick oil spreading across the Gulf . . . .

What bothers me is that the industry and practice here are expended upon what is essentially predigested analysis done by others. For my part, I question the value of learning a little Greek or a little Hebrew if one isn't going to go deep enough to digest the original texts on one's own.
(Contrast Conrad's free advice with the $500/[$160 pre-pub] Logos is charging for its how-to videos.)

Let me be clear: Logos is one of the best Bible software programs around. As an integrated, searchable library it has no peer. Some of its syntactical resources for Greek and Hebrew are unmatched. I own a copy of Scholar's Library Gold (donated, thank you!), and I have been highly tempted by the recent release of the Göttingen Septuagint. By all accounts, Logos is a fantastic company to work for. The company actively fosters biblical scholarship by creating visionary high quality resources, such as the Anderson-Forbes Hebrew Bible, by hiring scholars, such as Steven Runge, and encouraging their academic work, and by sponsoring college and seminary scholarships.

I expect the video series created by Michael Heiser and Johnny Cisneros to explain how customers can “Learn to Use Biblical Greek and Hebrew with Logos Bible Software” is of high quality. And I think there is a place for teaching English readers how to take advantage of Greek and Hebrew, how to do word studies, and how to avoid errors in the process.

I am concerned, however, that the way Logos is designed and marketed will give users a false sense of confidence, and that English language customers will use Logos's power tools to make the sort of basic mistakes that come from not knowing the languages from the inside. If the videos frequently remind English users that they are still dangerous, I am encouraged. (My assumption is that those who take at least two years of a biblical language have an even greater awareness of how dangerous they really are, and are therefore more humble and careful in their approach to the text.)

In his response to the original version of this post, Michael Heiser says “It's a simple fact of academic life that 90% (at least) who take Greek and Hebrew the traditional way simply do not take the time to maintain it after class.” Wherever the percentages come from, the problem is real: Most pastors who take the languages don’t maintain them once they enter ministry. To the extent that Logos helps people use what they have learned and encourages them to learn more, they are performing a service. However, Mike and I disagree about how the problem should be addressed. In my view, Logos has surrendered to the status quo when it comes to teaching the biblical languages. I remain an idealist, convinced that pastors can reasonably be expected to acquire a reading knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, and maintain the languages while they are in ministry. Instead of giving up this goal in despair, I think educators (including myself!) should do all they can to teach better. It is not a question of either traditional language learning methodologies or using electronic tools. As I have argued before, there are better alternatives, such as Randall Buth’s Biblical Language Center in Israel, Christophe Rico’s Polis Koine, and schole.

The second main reason I don't recommend Logos is that its promotion and advertising seem misleading to me, and its products often strike me as overpriced: It may be the case that the "950 resources" in Scholar's Library Gold are "worth almost $15,000.00 in print", but who in their right mind would pay for them? Many of these resources are of low quality or are already in the public domain. The remainder—including the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, the New International Greek Testament Commentary Series, the complete collection of Semeia studies, the 3 volume Context of Scripture, and the Archaeological Encylopedia to the Holy Land--to name some that are important to me—may be worth $1379.95. Why not say that the price is based on the value of these copyrighted resources and give away the rest?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Publish and Perish

Scholars in Biblical studies are supposed to keep up with the most recent current literature in their sub-disciplines, read older literature and classical primary sources to catch up, teach, and do independent research. How?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Talk about Suffering Part 3: Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer came up in a comment on Part 2. The following quotations on suffering are from his Letters and Papers from Prison (London: SCM, 1953). Notice, in the second quote, Bonhoeffer's denial that he was suffering, and, in the rest, the connection between suffering and life:
Christ avoided suffering until his hour had come, but when it did come he seized it with both hands as a free man and mastered it. Christ, as the Scriptures tell us, bore all our human sufferings in his own body as if they were his own--a tremendous thought--and submitted to them freely. Of course, we are not Christs, we do not have to redeem the world by any action or suffering of our own. There is no need for us to lay upon ourselves such an intolerable burden. We are not lords, but instruments in the hand of the Lord of history. Our capacity to sympathise with others in their sufferings is strictly limited. We are not Christs, but if we want to be Christians we must show something of Christ's breadth of sympathy by acting responsibly, by grasping our "hour," by facing danger like free men, by displaying a real sympathy which springs not from fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer. To look on without lifting a helping hand is most un-Christian. The Christian does not have to wait until he suffers himself; the sufferings of his brethren for whom Christ died are enough to awaken his active sympathy. - p. 145 "After Ten Years" "Sympathy" (an essay written before his imprisonment)
This is my second passiontide here. People sometimes suggest in their letters that I am suffering here. Personally, I shrink from such a thought, for it seems a profanation of that word. . . . Frankly speaking, I sometimes feel almost ashamed to think how much we have talked about our own sufferings. Indeed, real suffering must be quite a different matter and have a quite different dimension, from anything I have experienced hitherto. - p. 80 (March 9, 1944)
To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to cultivate some particular form of ascetism [sic.] (as a sinner, a penitent or a saint), but to be a man. It is not some religious act which makes a Christian what he is, but participation in the suffering of God in the life of the world. This is metanoia [repentance]. It is not in the first instance bothering about one's own needs, problems, sins, and fears, but allowing oneself to be caught up in the way of Christ, into the Messianic event, and thus fulfilling Isaiah 53....This being caught up into the Messianic suffering of God in Jesus Christ takes a variety of forms in the New Testament....All that is common between them is their participation in the suffering of God in Christ. That is their faith. There is nothing of religious asceticism here. The religious act is always something partial, faith is always something whole, an act involving the whole life. Jesus does not call men to a new religion, but to life. - p. 123 (July 18, 1944) still discovering up to this very moment that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to believe. One must abandon every attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, a converted sinner, a churchman (the priestly type, so-called!) a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. This is what I mean by worldliness-taking life in one's stride, with all its duties and problems, its successes and failures, its experiences and helplessness. It is in such a life that we throw ourselves utterly into the arms of God and participate in his sufferings in the world and watch with Christ in Gethsemane. That is faith, that is metanoia, and that is what makes a man and a Christian (cf. Jeremiah 45). How can success make us arrogant or failure lead us astray, when we participate in the sufferings of God by living in this world? - p. 125 (July 21, 1944).

The only difference between the two Testaments at this point is that in the  Old the blessing also includes the cross, and in the New the cross also includes the blessing. To turn to a different point, not only action, but also suffering is a way to freedom. The deliverance consists in placing our cause unreservedly in the hands of God. Whether our deeds are wrought in faith or not depends on our realisation that suffering is the extension of action and the perfection of freedom. - 127 (July 28, 1944).

We must persevere in quiet meditation on the life, sayings, deeds, sufferings and death of Jesus in order to learn what God promises and what he fulfils. One thing is certain: we must always live close to the presence of God, for that is newness of life; and then nothing is impossible for all things are possible with God; no earthly power can touch us without his will, and danger can only drive us closer to him. We can claim nothing for ourselves, and yet we may pray for everything. Our joy is hidden in suffering, our life in death. But all through we are sustained in a wondrous fellowship. To all this God in Jesus has given his Yea and his Amen, and that is the firm ground on which we stand. - p. 130 (August 21, 1944).
Bonhoeffer was martyred on April 8, 1945.